Zoo Corps teens make small impact to help big pollination crisis

Dallas Zoo’s Zoo Corps youth-led conservation team guest-blogs on ZooHoo! Our group of 13 Corps members worked together to select a conservation issue, develop a solution, and put it into action. Here’s their story.

IMG_9865 Bee on purple flower CSOur planet is in the midst of a pollination crisis. Because of human actions, pollinators are facing extinction – making plants around the world unable to reproduce. If we don’t make changes, this crisis could spark a major food shortage, and possibly a global famine.

Nature is a truly wondrous thing. Even people who live in urban areas, like Dallas, can enjoy the beauty of nature. Pollination is an extremely important process that happens to be the quickest and most efficient process to help flowering plants reproduce. Without pollination, flowering plants would have to rely on wind and water to reproduce, which is an extremely sluggish method.

So what exactly are pollinators? A pollinator is an animal that transports pollen from one plant to another, fertilizing the plants. Pollinators include birds, bees, insects and bats, along with a large variety of other organisms. Without pollinators the earth would eventually be reduced into a mere wasteland.

The Zoo Corps teens installed a pollination garden in the Children's Zoo.

The Zoo Corps teens installed a pollination garden in the Children’s Zoo.

How is pollination carried out? When an organism goes towards a flower to get its nectar, it brushes against the flower. The flower will sense this and release pollen onto the organism. This organism will go to other plants for more nectar. When the animal does this its drops off the pollen from the other plant, pollinating that plant.

Unfortunately, thousands of species of pollinators die every year from habitat loss, pollution, car exhaust, pesticides and more. Bees are earth’s biggest pollinators and their populations are rapidly dwindling. We lose about 30 percent of the bee population each year.

4Because the Dallas Zoo cares so much for pollinators, we built a pollination garden through our Zoo Corps event called Operation Pollination. We planted 72 native plants in the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo including, purple cone flower, milkweed, blackfoot daisy and more. We also made and distributed 414 “seed bombs” filled with Texas native pollinator seeds for guests to easily plant their yards. We also installed two hummingbird feeders and one bat box for our local pollinators to enjoy.

If you didn’t make it out to our event, you can still help pollinators by planting your own garden with plants that are native to Texas. (See photos from our event and our entire Zoo Corps experience on our Instagram page!)

Categories: Conservation, Volunteers | Tags: | 3 Comments

A Texas-sized ‘thank you’ to our selfless volunteers

IMG_4430 farmers volunteersAs the director of Volunteer Services at the Dallas Zoo and Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park, I’m continually amazed at the wonderful things our volunteers do. They bring a wealth of knowledge, skill and enthusiasm that is unmatched. And they help us in almost every area.

Staff love our volunteers, guests love them and, of course, our animals REALLY love them! They’re a pleasure to be around and a pleasure to work with. They are here because they choose to be here. Their hearts are in it 100 percent. They show up with a smile and leave with a smile. Most importantly, they help us achieve our mission of “Conserving Wildlife and Inspiring a Passion for Nature” day in and day out.

In 2015, the Dallas Zoo set a new attendance record of welcoming more than one million visitors!  We also set new records in our volunteer department. Here are a few statistics from the fiscal year:

  • 277 core volunteers contributed 22,595 hours of service
  • 1,343 corporate and group volunteers contributed 11,048 hours of service
  • 24 interns and veterinary externs contributed 9,580 hours of service

That’s 1,644 volunteers who gave 43,223 hours of time to the Dallas Zoo and Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park, and we’re on trackIMG_3168 volunteers raking leaves CS to top those numbers this year!

Are you wondering how you can join us? You don’t have to be an animal expert or a master in conservation. As long you’re at least 18, have a passion for wildlife and nature, and are able to meet the time commitment required for the volunteer opportunity you choose, we would love to talk to you!

Some of our volunteer opportunities include:

  • Animal keeper aides
  • Gorilla Research Station (GRS) ambassador
  • Base camp ambassador
  • Park ambassador
  • Education program assistants
  • Animal Nutrition Center (ANC) aide
  • Horticulture volunteer
  • Clerical volunteer
  • Conservation “Wild Earth” Action Days volunteer
  • Special events – SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) weekends, Halloween Nights, Zoo to Do and more

CLICK HERE to learn more about our volunteer opportunities. We’d love to welcome you to our Dallas Zoo family.

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Dallas Zoo helps plant a record-setting 11,000 trees

Dean of Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy, Ben Jones, guest blogs on ZooHoo! 

big thicket 1Our Dallas Zoo Wild Earth Action Team led 65 volunteers last Saturday to help reforest a 300-acre tract in Big Thicket National Preserve. The area was heavily impacted by hurricanes and past logging. According to the National Park Service, we set an all-time record by planting 11,000 longleaf pines in the Preserve in one day.

big thicket 3

Photo credit: Audubon.org

Dallas Zoo delivered this action for animals on behalf of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and in honor of the centennial anniversary – 100 years – of the National Parks Service. It’s a long-term investment as our trees will be ready for the red-cockaded woodpecker (and bi-centennial celebration) when they mature in about 80 years.  Tell your grandkids to visit!

The red-cockaded woodpecker is a small bird without brilliant plumage or spectacular displays, but with a social system as complex as any North American animal, more like a primate than a bird. For their cavity homes, they need old, living pine trees, which are pretty rare today. Over 90 million acres of longleaf pine forest once stretched across the American south. But beginning in 1940, vast areas of public and private land were big thicket 2converted to short-rotation forestry and now less than 10,000 acres of old-growth longleaf pine remain today.

No strategy to save animals is complete without a focus on habitat loss and the work to restore it. Saving animals from extinction is not only a battle, but also a movement made up of scores of passionate and dedicated people caring and working together. At Dallas Zoo, we care for animals and we know our members, guests, and volunteers do, too. Every forest protected, every waterway restored, every endangered species saved begins with us. Our Dallas Zoo network, working and caring together, will change the world for wildlife.

Categories: Conservation, Volunteers, Zookeepers | Tags: | Leave a comment

As they grow, teens help grow Zoo, too

Dallas Zoo’s youth volunteer coordinator Courtney Crawford guest blogs on ZooHoo!

Did you know the Dallas Zoo has one of the biggest zoological Youth Volunteer Programs in the country? We have space to place more than 400 volunteers at a time in jobs such as Junior Zookeepers, Conservation Guides, Aquarium Guides and Junior Camp Counselors.

Since 1988, children ages 11-18 who are passionate about conservation (just like us!) have helped make us the best zoo possible.

And the program is growing! This year we rolled out a new job – Park Ambassador. What really sets this program apart is that these volunteers must be 16-18 years old and have already volunteered with us for at least one session. This program also gives our up-and-coming volunteers another fun position to work towards.

While you may have seen Youth Volunteers throughout the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo (where they have mainly worked for the past 26 years), Park Ambassadors are now helping all around the zoo to educate visitors about our animals and wildlife conservation. Many of our Park Ambassadors have volunteered since they were 11, and have logged hundreds of hours.

Volunteering with us is a 10- to 12-week commitment. But ask any of our kids – they’ll tell you it’s well worth it.

“My biggest personal challenge has always been talking to strangers,” said Park Ambassador Erin Estep. “This program has helped me to overcome it more than I already have with other programs.”

These children truly do make a difference in our park by engaging visitors, spreading awareness about wildlife conservation, and ensuring our guests enjoy their time with us. One visitor recently said their zoo visit was “really special because of a couple of thoughtful and knowledgeable young volunteers.”

It’s inspiring to see these young people engaging visitors and dedicating their time to help others learn about our natural world. I love watching them grow in knowledge and confidence through the years, and even through one volunteer session.

“I volunteer at the Dallas Zoo because I love animals, and I want to make a difference in the community,” said Kenzi Appell, one of our very first Park Ambassadors in 2015.

Our Park Ambassadors have gone beyond the comforts of their “home” in the Children’s Zoo to Simmons Safari Base Camp and our Herpetarium to share the Dallas Zoo’s conservation messages. By helping the Zoo educate visitors, Youth Volunteers also achieve personal growth that will help them succeed as they grow into young adults.

Our Youth Volunteers are key helpers in supporting the Dallas Zoo’s mission of “Conserving Wildlife and Inspiring a Passion for Nature,” and it brings me great joy to be able to expand the program and provide even more opportunities for our dedicated and passionate volunteers.

Our NEW Park Ambassador program kicks off again Sept. 6. For more information about all of our Youth Volunteer Programs and how to apply, CLICK HERE.

Check out this slideshow of some of our Park Ambassadors sharing why they volunteer at the Dallas Zoo. Photos by Courtney Crawford and Shannon Linton.

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Categories: Volunteers, Zookeepers | Tags: , | 2 Comments

Little hands build big enrichment for animals

Christina Eastwood, hoofstock keeper and Dallas Zoo enrichment committee chair, guest blogs on ZooHoo!.

Little girl makes a papier-mâché ball for the chimpanzee enrichment.

Little girl makes a papier-mâché ball for chimpanzee enrichment.

With a collection of more than 2,000 animals, providing fun enrichment to help our residents stay active and elicit natural behaviors isn’t the easiest task. We need extra hands to build “enrichment” items with us.

They may be smaller, sometimes sticky, hands, but they’re full of energy and the desire to help. Since 2011, children ages 5 to 19 from the 4-H Dallas chapter have created enrichment items with us. After our Enrichment Committee invited the kids out for the first time, we were so impressed with their hard work and ambition that we made it a permanent partnership.

The 4-H students work on items from papier-mâché balls for the chimps to break open and find a food surprise, to bamboo curtains for giraffes to scratch between their ossicones, to fire-hose cubes for elephants to swing in the air with their massive trunks.

4-H volunteers drill holes while making a wood/coconut mobile for giraffes.

4-H volunteers drill holes while making a wood/coconut mobile for giraffes.

Some animals spar with the items, or rip them open to eat the treats inside, just like they would in the wild. Because of the quick destruction, we constantly need to replenish our supply — which is why this partnership benefits the Zoo so immensely.

4-H teens make fire-hose cubes for elephant enrichment.

4-H teens make fire-hose cubes for elephant enrichment.

One Saturday every month, the 4-H students come to the Zoo and construct new items for our animals. In turn, we teach them helpful skills, such as using tools and learning about construction design. And the best part: after creating these items, the kids get to watch the animals enjoy them. And the students get to interact one-on-one with zookeepers and learn about the animal’s lifestyle and conservation needs. For many kids, it opens up their eyes to a new career field.

Through this unique partnership, the Dallas County 4-H groups have received both regional and national recognition by their peers and have been a model for other groups nationwide. They’ve inspired other groups to reach out to animal and wildlife facilities. We’re very proud of this partnership and look forward to continuing it for many years to come.


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