Zookeepers

Remembering Honeydew

Princess Honeydew enjoys a special birthday treat made by her keepers.

When some of our animals reach retirement age and are no longer comfortable shifting in and out of their habitats, we move them to a special home designed for their comfort, where dedicated keepers care for their every need away from the public eye. Our beloved South American tapir Honeydew lived her golden years behind the scenes where she was pampered daily. She recently passed away due to age-related health issues – and impressively, she lived to be the nation’s oldest tapir in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Honeydew would have celebrated her 38th birthday this month. Lovingly referred to as “Princess” Honeydew, she received the royal treatment from her keepers, who went above and beyond to ensure she had the best possible care throughout her geriatric years. And her birthday is one they’d never forget. Her care team was diligent about making her indulgent birthday cakes each year to show her just how much she was loved. Honeydew was also constantly pampered with brushes, baths, special foot care, leisurely swims in her personal pool, and of course tons of love and attention.

Another fun birthday moment. Just look at that snoot!

Her keepers have shared some of their favorite Honeydew moments as we say farewell to this sweet girl:

  • She would dramatically flop over for belly rubs, which were her favorite.
  • You could tell when she was really happy when she would close her eyes and wrinkle up her snout.
  • She would get wild and excited when it was bath time.
  • Her snoot. It was always moving, smelling, exploring and seeing what trouble she could get into.
  • She LOVED visitors and thrived off of attention. The more we doted on her, the happier Princess Honeydew was.
  • Animals like her define zookeepers. It didn’t matter if you had been her keeper for years or you just met her, she made an impression.

Our keepers were always willing to give her their hearts and do whatever she needed, and we couldn’t be more proud of that! Honeydew will be dearly missed by all of us at the Dallas Zoo.

Categories: Mammals, Zookeepers | 1 Comment

Beyond exercise: The adventurous animals in the Lacerte Family Children Zoo go exploring

Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo goats explore the tiger viewing area on a recent adventure!

Animal Care Supervisor Lisa Van Slett Guest Blogs on ZooHoo!

For most people, taking your dog for a walk is a common event. It feels natural to say that your dog (and you) need exercise to stay in shape. Beyond good exercise, these walks are also a way for you to bond with your four-legged best friend.

But what about other animals? While we are limited by species at the Dallas Zoo (I would not recommend walking your giraffe around Oak Cliff), the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo has room to roam. On any given day you may find the keepers walking goats, sheep, pigs, chickens or our longhorn!

Upon first glance walking these animals may seem straight forward, but there is more to it than meets the eye. Our keepers start training the animals with the basics, like getting comfortable with wearing a harness, halter, or collar. Just like people, individual animals have different levels of confidence. Sometimes we get lucky, and a goat is comfortable wearing a collar right away! Other times we have to build up to it, which is when the relationship between animal and keeper is vital. We use positive reinforcement to build those strong relationships and earn the animals’ trust. Once they are dressed and ready to go, we can start exploring the Zoo!

Penny and Oliver say hello to the Komodo dragon in the Herpetarium.

Another less obvious benefit of walking our animals around different parts of the zoo is how enriching it is for everyone involved. The animals get to see and explore something new, and it’s also fun for guests at the Zoo! Although you can go into our contact yard with the animals, there is something very special about bumping into them somewhere unexpected. The keepers get just as excited and request that we call them to tell them when the goats are coming for a visit! We also love seeing the reactions of the other species. The penguins and otters are always curious. Killa, the harpy eagle likes to watch the goats, and the Komodo dragon comes to the glass to see the pigs up close.

Keepers have a lot of factors to consider when deciding which animals to take out and what destination to pick. For instance, our goat herd contains 11 goats! As fun as that would be to walk the whole herd, we mix and match within the group, and only take out two or three at a time. Our Kune Kune pigs, Penny and Oliver, are always a big hit too. They are both halter training and can usually be seen walking within the Children’s Zoo, but occasionally you might find them out in ZooNorth. They have even made appearances in the Herpetarium! The sheep are our most adventurous animals. They have gone through the tunnel to the Wilds of Africa to visit the lions, cheetahs, mandrills, and penguins.  Everyone comes out to take a look!  Bahati the lion took a seat at the window, sitting as close as she could to the sheep. Mshindi the chimp likes to look at the chickens and watch as they walk around.

There are endless possibilities for adventure and exploring with our contact animals.  If you would like to see our animals in action, there are several options. You can come for a visit on Monday, Thursday or Saturday around 10-11 am (weather dependent) when we have our scheduled goat walks.  You may also see the sheep greeting guests as they come into the Zoo during our monthly Dallas Zoo Member Mornings. However, on the nicer days you never know what (or who) you may see around the Zoo during your visit!

Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family), Uncategorized, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Heeding the call: Earthwatch expedition to save chimpanzees

Cristina P. in Uganda on her Earthwatch expedition to BCFS.

Primate keeper Cristina P. guest blogs on ZooHoo!

In August of 2016 I received an unexpected call from the Dallas Zoo’s HR director. She informed me that I had been selected as one of the finalists for an Earthwatch Fellowship, and 9 months later I was on my way to an adventure I will never forget.

Our group met up at a hotel in Entebbe, a city on the Northern Shores of Lake Victoria, 23 miles from the national capital Kampala, Uganda. We had only 5 participants in our team – 3 from Australia, one from Switzerland, and myself. Being in a small group allowed us to really form personal connections, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet people from around the world, including the great people of Uganda.

Chimps gathered near our cabin in the forest.

We left for the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS), and 6 hours later we arrived to the most remote location I had ever been. The nearest town was 45 minutes away, I was not going to be in communication with anyone via phone or internet for the next 10 days, and primates were my new neighbors. I could not have been more excited.

We were surrounded by groups of blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys (also called guenons), baboons and black and white colobus. We saw many bushbucks (a brownish-red hoofed stock) as well as a few genets and civets at night. We heard the nightly calls of the tree hyrax.  Birds were abundant in the area making it a great spot for bird watchers. The butterflies were the prettiest I had ever seen.

BCFS has been around since 1990, and over the years, researchers have noticed that some of the fruit trees (which provide the chimps’ natural food source) have been producing drastically fewer amounts of fruit. The local villagers also believe that chimps and baboons have been raiding their crops more frequently. Could the decline of fruit availability be causing the increase in crop raiding? Could the fruit decrease be caused by global warming? Is this simply part of a natural cycle of the forest? The area had been exploited for many decades by the British for mahogany, so there’s also a theory that maybe as the forest regenerates and trees get taller, there is less sun getting through to the shorter fruit trees, thus affecting their development.

BCFS tries to look at every piece of the puzzle, so many of the tasks we performed were for the purpose of furthering this research. One day we set up mist nets in the forest to catch birds and catalog them, since they are important in spreading seeds (they were released after we were done with measurements, banding and pictures). BCFS field assistants monitor types of leaves and fruit levels on around 1,400 fruit trees in the area, so we assisted in data collection for that project as well.  But most importantly, we observed 2 troops of chimpanzees, which was an experience like no other.

We observed this chimp enjoying a snack.

Some days, we’d start walking before dawn so we could find the chimps as they were waking up. One of the groups, called Sonso has been studied since the beginning of the project and is fully habituated, which means they see the people as part of their environment and do not mind human presence. The second group, Waibira, has been studied since 2011 and are still in the process of habituation. For the purposes of minimizing disease transmission and our safety we were told to keep a distance of approximately 23 feet to the chimps. The only problem with that was the animals don’t know that rule and at times came pretty close to us. It was fascinating to be so close to an animal that is so strong and powerful, yet they seemed to just go about their day as if we weren’t even there.

A chimp is observed with injuries from being caught in a snare.

We also had the chance to assist the snare removal team. In this particular area, chimps are not hunted for bush meat. Instead the targets are bush pigs, blue and red duikers, and bushbucks. Unfortunately though, chimps inadvertently get caught in those, and about 25% of the animals in this area have a snare-related injury. One particular female had gotten caught by a snare 3 different times! They have even been observed trying to free one another from the snares. It was also noted that there was no difference in how the injured chimps were treated by their troop and they seem to eventually adapt to their new reality of missing fingers, toes, etc. Unfortunately some are not so lucky and do end up dying from their injuries. Occasionally the BCFS veterinary team will sedate an injured chimp and remove a snare if the animal is left behind by its troop.

On one of our last days we visited a nearby village to interview the local farmers and learn about the impact that chimps, baboons, and small monkeys have on their crops. Years ago, BCFS helped them identify what kinds of foods would be least appealing to the animals and provided them with seeds, which were then planted near the forest edge. They do this in the hopes that the animals might keep walking further out to search for foods they like better. The farmers depend on these crops, not only for income, but also to feed their families.

Leaving BCFS was bittersweet. I still miss seeing the chimps and all the people I met! But since I’ve returned from Uganda, I have a renewed hope that there are people out there doing amazing things every day to save these animals from extinction.

Categories: Africa, Chimpanzee, Conservation, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Boipelo update: a Q&A with mammal supervisor Megan L.

Boipelo has been adjusting well after the loss of her companion, Adhama.

We are so grateful for the outpouring of support we’ve received in the past two weeks since Adhama’s sudden passing. Many of you have reached out with questions about how Boipelo has been adjusting, so we sat down with Megan L. (Dallas Zoo mammal supervisor, and one of our primary hippo keepers) to give you an update.

In general, how has Boipelo been feeling and behaving since Adhama’s passing?

She is an incredibly strong and resilient animal. But she has just been a little bit slower to do things that she would’ve done faster in Adhama’s company. Boipelo is a shy individual as it is, so she is just taking a little longer to feel confident in certain situations. With Adhama, she would pretty much encourage him to do everything before her. It was always: “You go check out that enrichment device/toy/new snack first.” And that goes back to hippos’ group mentality. The dominant animals will typically have other members of the group check things out first, to be sure they’re safe.

She’s doing great at interacting with us during training sessions and keeper chats. We train for husbandry behaviors – like ultrasounds and other routine medical procedures – that allow our animals to voluntarily participate in their own healthcare.

We’ve also seen her on the monitors at night playing with her favorite giant ball. She’ll push it back and forth in her pool behind the scenes. And she’s maintained a consistent appetite and normal feeding schedule throughout this time. These behaviors indicate to us that she’s adjusting and doing well.

How have keeper interactions with her changed?

She has a team of at least four people that work with her regularly, and she interacts extremely well with all of us. Relationship-building takes time, especially with her since she is naturally shy. That makes it really rewarding when you get those positive reactions from her though. And she’s getting a lot of extra attention. Yesterday, she was laying down, and we got down next to her and she was vocalizing and seemed excited to have that interaction and connection with us in that moment. She is getting lots of treats and attention from all of her keepers.

What kinds of things did you do to make sure Boipelo was doing well in those first days after Adhama’s death?

We wanted her routine to be as normal as possible. We did go out to her behind-the-scenes habitat and interact with her a bit more in those first few days, just to try to make her feel comfortable. She didn’t engage with the offer of interaction with us every time. But we wanted to give her plenty of opportunity for attention if she wanted it.

How are you and Adhama’s other keepers dealing with his loss personally?  

We’re animal professionals. Loss is a part of our job, because that’s part of the circle of life. It’s always hard. He was very charming and one of those animals that was such a joy to be around. We’ll never be able to forget him, and of course we wouldn’t want to. But the focus is now on caring for our other animals, including Boipelo, which makes it easier to keep going.

One thing that has helped us is seeing the public sharing pictures and memories of him – it reminds us how much he meant to people. He used to go to the glass and just hang out with guests. That was so “him” – giving a part of himself to the public, and it was a really magical thing. Think about all the zoo animals…which ones respond and seem to interact with guests like that? They don’t have to do that. But Adhama did.

We also SO appreciate everyone’s kind words of support during this time. It means so much to us to read all of the comments on social media – they have really touched us and made us feel so supported.

Will the Dallas Zoo bring in another hippo as a companion for Boipelo?

That’s the plan, but the time frame is still to be determined. We’re in no rush. In time, we’ll work with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Hippo Species Survival Plan team to try to identify a potential companion for our Boipelo.

Categories: Africa, Hippo, Simmons Hippo Outpost, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo mourns the loss of beloved red river hog, Hank

With heavy hearts, we announce that 15-year-old red river hog Hank passed away due to T-cell lymphoma. Hank was loved by our animal care staff and guests alike, and will be greatly missed.

Hank was loved by many, and will be missed.

In January of 2017, routine bloodwork showed that Hank’s white blood cell count was extremely elevated. After further testing, he was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma – a type of cancer that begins in immune system cells and affects the lymph nodes. Hank was moved to a special area behind the scenes where he could be more comfortable during his oral chemotherapy treatment.

Chemotherapy can cause some negative side effects, but Hank thankfully displayed none and continued to be a happy and active hog during his nearly two years of treatment. He even enjoyed going out into the exhibit with his friend, Zena, at least once a week for a few hours, before returning to his enclosure behind the scenes for an afternoon nap.

Our dedicated animal care staff worked very closely with Hank during his illness. In addition to his treatment, keepers saw to it that he had plenty of enrichment and training activities to encourage his natural behaviors and keep him mentally stimulated. Mulberry logs were his favorite. Keepers say that he would spend hours chewing all of the bark off of them. Animal care staff members spend a lot of their day behind the scenes, so Hank received lots of love and attention. He particularly enjoyed getting belly scratches, which keepers were always happy to give.

Prior to Hank’s treatment, there was very little information available about using chemotherapy to treat hogs with lymphoma. Our veterinary staff were unsure what to expect, but because they chose to proceed with Hank’s treatment, we were able to give him nearly two more years of happy and enriched life following his diagnosis. Veterinary staff gathered significant information during Hank’s treatment that could potentially help other animals in the future, here at the Dallas Zoo and elsewhere.

Since Hank was with us for 8 years (he came to us from San Diego Zoo), many of our keepers got to care for and love him. Here are some of their fondest memories:

“I worked with Hank at my last zoo. Every time he heard a tractor come by, he would run and vocalize with excitement. And, when approached would immediately lay down for scratches. He greeted me with that same excitement, every single time!“ – Tanya B.

“If you just lightly touched his belly while he was standing, Hank would tip over like a tree falling and lay there waiting for belly rubs. I also loved to push his pine shavings into a giant pile and watch him bury himself completely in them when he went to bed. “– Jessi V.

“Hank used to run laps around his habitat. When he finally completed the behavior you’d see him sprint around the corner to the ‘finish line’ with his ear tassels just flying in the wind. In that moment, he seemed like the happiest hog on earth.” –Christina E.

Categories: Africa, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | 1 Comment

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