Volunteers

Wild Earth Action Team leads whooping success in Corpus Christi

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The Wild Earth Action Team birding in Blucher Park

The Wild Earth Action Team birding in Blucher Park.

The Dallas Zoo works with partners around the world to save wildlife and protect wild spaces, but a major effort recently happened closer to home with some important Texas neighbors.

The team observes the endangered whooping crane in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

The team observes the endangered whooping crane in the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

The zoo’s Wild Earth Action Team trekked south to Corpus Christi to restore coastal habitats in support of whooping crane conservation.

The whooping crane is the tallest bird in North America and migrates each year from central Canada to the Texas coast for the winter. The Dallas Zoo group dug in and got their hands dirty during a clean-up to help wildlife and their vital ecosystems.

The Wild Earth Action Team also took a four-hour adventure through the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, exploring the whooping crane’s winter grounds and observing 14 of these elegant birds. They even witnessed a rare moment when a whooping crane pair caught a snake and fed it to their young.

“It was thrilling to see whooping cranes up close,” said volunteer Becca Dyer. “I learned so much from the naturalists on the trip. I felt I was taking positive action participating in the beach cleanup.”

Removing litter from Corpus Christi's North Beach

Removing litter from Corpus Christi’s North Beach.

The entire experience was incredible for the team since this species once was so close to the brink of extinction. Our team of 23 volunteers and staff removed nearly 200 pounds of micro-litter along North Beach, including roughly 1,000 cigarette butts. Litter removal plays a key role in improving water quality and restoring coastal wetlands where many of the whooping crane’s food sources reside.

By the mid-1940s, only 15 whooping cranes existed in the wild. While still categorized as an endangered species, roughly 600 birds exist today due to the continued advocacy of conservation heroes across the United States.

“It made me feel overwhelmed with inspiration and gratitude for the conservation champions who went before us and stood up to save these cranes – all the work, the study, the policy advocacy, the habitat restoration and protection, the propagation and reintroduction by zoos and other conservation organizations – everything it takes to save animals from extinction,” said Ben Jones, dean of the Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy and trip co-leader.

Volunteers enjoy a visit to Dyers Aquarium

Volunteers Elizabeth Clay and Paul and Becca Dyer enjoy a visit to the Texas State Aquarium.

The weekend was filled with engaging learning opportunities as well. Alex Gilly, a bird keeper at the zoo, provided a fantastic presentation on the world’s 15 crane species as well as our role in crane conservation. The team was given a behind-the-scenes look at the Texas State Aquarium rehabilitation facilities, where they met an array of aquatic life and learned their unique stories. Dr. Liz Smith, the International Crane Foundation’s whooping crane biologist and Texas program director, even spoke to the group, providing an update on whooping crane preservation and efforts to combat the effects of climate change on coastal   wetlands.

All and all, the weekend stands as a whooping success for our Wild Earth Action Team as they extended the Zoo’s vision of creating a better world for animals. Still, it’s important to remember that conservation is a joint endeavor that requires dedication to produce results. It all starts with taking actions, no matter how small, and making sustainable changes.

The Wild Earth Action Team gathers for a group shot

The Wild Earth Action Team gathers for a group shot.

“Much of our conservation field efforts are done by volunteers who are a part of our Wild Earth Action Team,” said Julie Bates, director of Volunteers and trip co-leader. “This is a movement of volunteers that have a passion for nature and wildlife. The time and energy this team gives is priceless. Locally and across the state, we are creating a better world for animals by planting trees, restoring wildlife habitat, and cleaning beaches. We would love to have you join us on our next adventure!”

Stay tuned for more information about our next Wild Earth Action Team expedition when we travel to South Padre Island June 23–25 and work on Saving Sea Turtles.

 

Categories: Birds, Conservation, Education, Volunteers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Bob Butsch: Our longest Keeper’s Aide volunteer

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“Our volunteers are simply amazing! They bring a wealth of knowledge, skill, and enthusiasm that is unmatched. We could not accomplish what we do here without them. Together, we are building a better world for animals.”

~ Julie Bates, director of Dallas Zoo’s Volunteer Services

Long before the Dallas Zoo had an organized volunteer program,_mg_5396-bob-butsch-4x6-cb Bob Butsch spent his Saturdays helping take care of various animals in the Herpetarium where our reptiles reside. For free!

As of today, he’s our longest serving Keeper’s Aide volunteer, having volunteered almost every Saturday for nearly 30 years. (Yes, three decades.) If you do the math, half a day for 50 Saturdays out of the year for 29.5 years totals 5,900 hours! That’s 245 days. Can you imagine having that under your “Volunteer” tab on your resume? Wow.

Additionally, he’s been in the Herpetarium longer than anyone, including keepers and curators. Bob began as a volunteer at the Zoo on Memorial Day weekend in 1987. On a trip to the Zoo with his wife and then 2-year-old son, he wondered about putting his master’s degree in biology to work. He called the Zoo’s Education Department, who told him they had no openings for volunteer docents (who answer guests’ questions). They directed him to the reptile department, who took him in.

He’s had a weekday job for even longer, where he does IT programming for a medical company. But he graduated with his bachelor’s in Biology and Chemistry at the University of Texas-Arlington, then went on to complete his master’s in Biology at the University of North Texas. Volunteering at the Zoo, for him, is a way to exercise his knowledge in a meaningful way.

In 1987, he started out answering guests’ questions as a docent. After his first few months, a reptile keeper took him behind the scenes to give him an impromptu “evaluation.” This simply involved seeing how well he could handle the animals. After he handled a snake with no fear, he became a Keeper’s Aide Volunteer.

In July 1991, Bob Butsch was recognized at Dallas Zoo's volunteer of the month.

In July 1991, Bob Butsch was recognized at Dallas Zoo’s volunteer of the month.

Ever since, he’s worked with various animals in the Herpetarium, including amphibians and reptiles of all kinds. He’s done every job available to volunteers for this department. While he has helped in several different ways, he still must follow the rules specific to volunteers, despite his long career of volunteering.

“As a volunteer, I’m only allowed to do certain jobs,” he said. “In the reptile department, it is very important to follow the rules, because of the dangers that are present with venomous creatures.”

Yet he’s been around on Saturdays for so long that nobody has to watch over his shoulder as he goes about his work. “It’s really flattering when I come in,” he said. “They hardly bat an eye.” That’s the ultimate sign of trust that he’ll do the job right.

He’s seen many changes at the Zoo over the years, like the fact that the Herpetarium used to be an aviary, with birds and reptiles coexisting in the same building. He’s also lived through the replacement of the entire AC unit, taking care of animals out in the lobby so they were out of the way for the workers. And construction, lots of construction, as the Zoo remodeled and improved exhibits.

So why has he continued to volunteer 50 Saturdays out of the year for 29 years? The answer is simple: “The work I do is therapeutic for me, and it’s wonderful to come work in an environment full of happy friendly people who really love what they do.”

As for us at the Zoo, we love having such a dedicated and happy volunteer helping us build a better world for animals.

For information on how you can volunteer at the Zoo, check out our Volunteer page.

Categories: Reptiles and Amphibians, Volunteers | Tags: , | 2 Comments

The community who cleans together, stays together

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Kohl's, one of our most dedicated groups, works hard to clear bamboo out of our tiger habitat. We're honored Kohl's donated funds to our volunteer programs, and frequently spends time helping our Zoo.

Kohl’s, one of our most dedicated groups, works hard to clear bamboo out of our tiger habitat. We’re grateful that Kohl’s has donated funds to our volunteer programs, and frequently spends time improving our Zoo.

It’s time to get our hands dirty and clean up! Today we hosted our second-ever Corporate Workday event with more than 130 volunteers. Our staff worked alongside these selfless professionals on multiple projects throughout our 106-acre park.

Our friends from Kohl’s, Fossil Group, Humana, HP-E, Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Samsung, and American Airlines helped us get the Zoo squeaky clean. A few jobs they worked on today included: raking up leaves in the tiger habitat; spreading mulch in behind-the-scenes animal yards; gardening; and scrubbing down our animal hospital.

Our Corporate Workdays benefit everyone involved. Companies get a chance to give back to their community and spend valuable team-building time together, and we get much-needed help with some of our projects.

“Our volunteers are simply amazing! They bring a wealth of knowledge, skill, and enthusiasm that is unmatched,” said Julie Bates, director of Dallas Zoo’s Volunteer Services. “We could not accomplish what we do here without them. Together, we are building a better world for animals.”

As a non-profit, days like this are vital to making our Zoo the best it can be. You don’t have to be part of a corporate team to volunteer, though! Check out all the ways you can help the Zoo and give back to your community.

Kimberly-Clark Corporation volunteers clean the floors of our animal hospital.

Kimberly-Clark Corporation volunteers clean the floors of our animal hospital.

Volunteers from American Airlines work on winter window coverings for our gorilla building.

Volunteers from American Airlines work on winter window coverings for our gorilla building.

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Sea turtle mission: Saving the most endangered in South Texas

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Sun, sand, sea … and trash, and baby sea turtles, and a firsthand view of how to make a difference.

A team of 50 Dallas Zoo staff, volunteers, members and community supporters traveled to South Padre Island recently – not for vacation, but for conservation. The mission: Kemp’s ridley sea turtle habitat restoration.

Sea turtle conservation is close to the Dallas Zoo’s heart. Our affiliated Children’s Aquarium has a famous blue-eyed sea turtle named MJ that was rescued by Sea Turtle Inc.

The trip was part of the Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Action Team. Typically, the Zoo is called upon to support conservation organizations through funding or donations, but the Wild Earth Action Team takes it a step further with sweat equity.

“Action seems to be the most direct and powerful way to reinforce conservation identity,” said Ben Jones, dean of the Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy and organizer of the Wild Earth Action Team.

Everything comes back to habitat restoration, and that’s the bulk of the Wild Earth Action Team’s work. Locally they’ve cleaned rivers, planted trees and more. In August, the team will create a monarch butterfly habitat at the Dallas Zoo.

“The Zoo wants to activate our network to help animals, to change the world for wildlife, and this is a way to do it,” Jones said.

Click here to register for the next Wild Earth Action Team project and visit seaturtleinc.org to learn more about sea turtle rehabilitation and release.

(Video and photos by staffer Chelsea Stover)

WEAT - hatchling release CS
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Categories: Conservation, Education, Reptiles and Amphibians, Volunteers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Teen volunteers leave the Zoo for inspiring overnight adventure

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Nature Bound 162

Nature Bound teens included: Kalen Beacham, Kaleigh Beacham, Christian Hernandez, Xavier Hernandez, Wessie Simmons, Tylah Thurman, Victoria Langham, Jane Giles, Ethan Casas, and David Jester.

Dallas Zoo’s youth volunteer coordinator Courtney Crawford (and her teen volunteers) guest-blog on ZooHoo!

The Dallas Zoo’s Youth Volunteer program is in year No. 28, and it’s been a huge success, with more applicants than spots. As the youth volunteer coordinator, I’m always looking for ways to help our volunteers gain new experiences, learn more, and prepare them for their futures after high school. I truly believe “my” kids are going to be agents for change in our environment, and an inspiration to future generations.

So I decided to take an elite group of 10 youth volunteers off-site for a trip filled with fun, educational experiences, away from the hubbub of the city and a little bit closer to nature. Our destination: Glen Rose, Texas. This soon-to-be annual trip is called Nature Bound, and here’s a firsthand account of our adventure, written by the teens themselves:

We arrived at the Dallas Zoo on Monday afternoon and waved goodbye to our parents as we packed up the big Dallas Zoo van, headed for Nature Bound 807Glen Rose. The ride there was about an hour and a half, so we all talked and really got along well. When we arrived at Fossil Rim Wildlife center, we headed to the Children’s Animal Center, where we had a blast with the adorable goats and emus.

Afterward, we went on an amazing tour of the park. We went behind the scenes to see the Attwater’s prairie chicken. We learned that it’s one of the most endangered birds in Texas, and Fossil Rim is a part of the breeding program to help bring their numbers up. The chicks were incredible!

We also got to see (and smell) the maned wolves, a naturally musky and unique species native to South America. After learning about the species at Fossil Rim and what they are doing to help, we went to dinner before heading back to the cabins for some sleep.

The following morning, a few of us rose early to watch the sunrise and catch a view of some wildlife, while a couple of the groggier teens waited until breakfast. Soon we set off for Dinosaur Valley State Park, where we met staff members Nicole and Candace, who told us about their education and how it prepared them for careers in conservation. We toured various areas of the park and learned how each department worked together to run the park.

Next, we moved on to do some trail maintenance, lopping off wayward branches and vines while clearing litter from the path. Maintaining the trails keeps the land clean and keeps people safe while hiking. Afterward we broke for lunch, enjoying a brief blast from the past as we played on the swings and climbed rocks like little kids. Our next project was cleaning out a patch of invasive Japanese honeysuckle. We learned the importance of native plants and animals and how invasive species can affect the environment.

That evening, we returned to Fossil Rim and ventured into the park for a night tour. Armed with flashlights, cameras and a bucket of feed, we toured the park yet again, but this time we noticed new things. Some of the animals who had been much more active during our daytime tour seemed to be a little sleepier, while others who were hidden away in the trees during the day paid our tour van a special visit during the cooler evening hours. One of those was the elusive bongo. Many people drive right past them during the day, as they blend in easily with the forested corner of their pasture. But in the quiet of the evening, the bongos came right up to our van! It was so cool to see an endangered species so closely.

Nature Bound 795After returning to the cabin, we had a campfire and s’mores before doing some serious stargazing.  The sky in Glen Rose was completely filled with stars and planets! Mars, Jupiter and Saturn were visible.

Wednesday morning, we packed up the cabins at Fossil Rim and headed back to Dinosaur Valley State Park to partake in our final project for Nature Bound. Nicole and Candace taught us about citizen science and how we can help scientists identify plants and animals in the area. They split us into two groups. One group searched for different species of birds, while the other sought out different species of plants, using the app iNaturalist to upload photos and location information.

We concluded our experience with final remarks from Nicole and Candace about the future of conservation and careers in environmental science. Soon after, we began our trip home. Exhausted from the past two days’ activities, the ride back was a little quieter than before. Upon arrival, we said our goodbyes, knowing that this was not the end of our journey to a more sustainable ecosystem.

We were honored to be given a glimpse of how our efforts can create a thriving environment for wildlife across the globe. We were introduced to possible careers relating to environmental conservation, and the friendships we forged made the experience ever more enjoyable.

Learn more about our Youth Volunteers program.

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