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

African elephants Nolwazi & Amahle settling into new home at Fresno Chaffee Zoo

Mother/daughter pair Nolwazi and Amahle moved to their new home at the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California this week.

A small task force from our animal care team has been hard at work for months preparing to relocate elephants from our herd to a new home. Those months of thoughtful preparation, diligent training, and a 32-hour trip are now over, and we’re happy to report that Nolwazi and Amahle have safely arrived at Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California.

The pair are getting acclimated to the zoo’s expansive, naturalistic mixed-species African Adventure habitat after arriving in Fresno on Tuesday evening, October 16.

The unique situation in Fresno presented an exciting opportunity to move Nolwazi (approx. 24 years old) and her daughter Amahle (approx. 9 years old) to an AZA-accredited zoo that shares our same philosophy of animal welfare and approach to animal care. The Fresno elephant team cares for one bull and one young female, and we hope the move will allow Nolwazi to assume a matriarchal position, leading a herd of her own – a role for which we believe she is well-suited. This also gives Amahle a similar-aged female with whom to socialize and play.

“We have been looking to grow our African elephant herd,” said Amos Morris, Deputy Director/Chief Operating Officer at Fresno Chaffee Zoo. “Having Nolwazi and Amahle join us accomplishes that, and will hopefully create a successful family group that may lead to breeding in the future.”

Fresno Chaffee Zoo’s herd now consists of four elephants, and Dallas Zoo remains home to an eight-elephant herd, including our four “Golden Girls,” and four elephants that were a part of the Swaziland rescue in 2016.

Planning for a massive move

Animal moves are complex, meticulously planned endeavors – particularly when they involve animals as intelligent and social as elephants. This move has been months in the making, and our team has worked closely with staff from Fresno to ensure a successful move and safe introduction to the new home for the elephant pair. Members of Fresno’s elephant team have visited Dallas multiple times over the last few months to work with our staff and to familiarize themselves with Nolwazi and Amahle’s routines and personalities.

During their visits, Fresno’s team observed both elephants were curious about them but did not appear nervous, and the team was able to start working with and have positive experiences with both Nolwazi and Amahle almost immediately. They also noted how critical it was to begin forming relationships with both elephants ahead of the move, which should help ease the transition now that they have arrived at their new home in California.

Dallas Zoo’s elephant team created and followed a comprehensive training plan in the months leading up to the move to ensure Nolwazi and Amahle would be as comfortable as possible with the transport crates that would house them during their trip to Fresno. Both crates were equipped with video cameras so the travel team could monitor the pair throughout the journey.

Four Dallas Zoo team members, along with a curator from Fresno Chaffee Zoo, two veterinarians, and two expert consultants, traveled with Nolwazi and Amahle during the drive from Dallas to Fresno, providing updates every few hours on progress and ensuring the animals’ comfort throughout the trip. By all reports, the trip went off without a hitch.

Dallas Zoo staff members will remain in Fresno for several days to work with the team and the elephants to help ensure a successful transition to their new home, where we are excited to see them continue to thrive!

A quick history lesson

Nolwazi and Amahle came to Dallas in March 2016, along with bull Tendaji, and females Mlilo and Zola, as part of a multi-zoo rescue project to save elephants from being culled (killed) in drought-stricken Swaziland, Africa. When these elephants arrived, they were underweight and in need of TLC, so our dedicated animal team immediately began administering round-the-clock care. Becoming comfortable with their new home and feasting on a well-maintained diet, the entire Swazi herd soon began to gain weight and bond with keepers.

Just two months later, our Swazi herd of five grew to six with the unexpected arrival of adorable baby Ajabu to mom Mlilo. Over the course of almost a year, Dallas Zoo’s elephant team carefully orchestrated introductions of the Swazi elephants to our “Golden Girls” – Jenny, Gypsy, Congo, and Kamba.

We’ve loved watching Nolwazi and Amahle’s personalities develop and grow over these last two years within our dynamic herd. While we’re sad that Nolwazi and Amahle have left our herd, we know the opportunity for them to be a part of a growing family herd at Fresno Chaffee Zoo will allow them to flourish. That’s what we want for every animal in our care – and that’s why we do what we do every day.

We know you’ll join us as we wish Nolwazi and Amahle well in their new home in Fresno!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo devastated by sudden loss of male hippo Adhama

Adhama’s sudden passing has shaken the Dallas Zoo family.

Dallas Zoo is saddened to announce that 7-year-old male hippo Adhama passed away suddenly on Tuesday evening.

The hippo keepers and our veterinary team had been monitoring Adhama’s health since late last week, after observing some lethargy and a diminished appetite. Adhama spent Monday and Tuesday behind the scenes under observation and resting, but there was nothing to indicate a serious issue. After hours on Tuesday evening, keepers observed via closed-circuit video that Adhama seemed to be non-responsive, and our animal care team responded immediately. Unfortunately, the team found that he had passed away suddenly with no external signs of stress or trauma.

Preliminary findings from the veterinary team indicate severe enteritis, which is an acute inflammation of the intestine. According to the veterinary team, given the condition of Adhama’s organs and his fat reserves, this does not appear to have been a long-term illness. The team is continuing to study the situation to learn more, but given the lack of significant symptoms, the team is confident there’s nothing they would have done differently.

Adhama arrived at the Dallas Zoo in 2017, when we opened the Simmons Hippo Outpost.

“From the time he arrived here at the Dallas Zoo, Adhama captivated us all with his curious nature and larger-than-life personality. He was a wonderful ambassador as we opened our Simmons Hippo Outpost and reintroduced hippos to Dallas last year,” said Gregg Hudson, President and CEO of the Dallas Zoo. “Our entire team is understandably shaken, given the suddenness of Adhama’s passing. Please keep our entire staff in your thoughts during this difficult time.”

Adhama and Boipelo came to the Dallas Zoo in March 2017 (from the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens and Albuquerque Zoo, respectively), ahead of the opening of the Zoo’s Simmons Hippo Outpost in April. These two hippos were matched on a breeding recommendation through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan.

The two quickly bonded and became an adorable pair, enjoying lounging together on the habitat’s sand beach or taking naps in the 120,000-gallon pool.

“We know so many people in our extended Zoo family share in our sadness since we have enjoyed watching Adhama and Boipelo as their personalities and relationship developed over these last 18-plus months,” said Hudson.

Boipelo gave birth to a calf in February 2018, but the calf did not survive. The hippo keepers report that Boipelo is subdued in the initial hours since Adhama’s passing. The team is focused on ensuring she is maintaining as much of a routine as possible in spite of the loss of her mate. She will be given access to the habitat starting today, but the Zoo staff will follow her lead on her day-to-day availability.

The Zoo will continue to provide updates as more information is available.

Categories: Africa, Hippo, Simmons Hippo Outpost | 21 Comments

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

Dallas Zoo continues to score conservation victories in the Herpetarium

The Herpetarium is buzzing with the news of several recent hatchings! You may have seen a few of these cold-blooded babies in the nursery, but our reptile team also cares for dozens of other animals behind the scenes.

Anytime we pair animals together to encourage breeding, it’s all done based on recommendations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP). This means the animals are facing serious threats in the wild – so we hope to breed them to help support population numbers and promote genetic diversity.

“Our reptile team is very excited to be working with these highly threatened animals,” said Ruston Hartdegen, Dallas Zoo’s Curator of Herpetology & Aquatics. “We are proud of the fact that we’re making a significant contribution to the survival of these species.”

Check out all of our recent hatchlings! Which do you hope to see on your next visit?

Leaf-tailed geckos
We care for three different species of leaf-tailed geckos: satanic leaf-tailed geckos, giant leaf-tailed geckos, and mossy leaf-tailed geckos. These unique lizards are found only in Madagascar and face a constant threat of extinction due to habitat destruction. We’re one of the only AZA-accredited zoos to have such success in breeding these lizards.

Burmese brown tortoise hatchlings

Burmese brown tortoise
Sadly, pressures like the illegal pet trade and loss of habitat threaten most reptile species in Southeast Asia. The Burmese brown tortoise is the largest tortoise in mainland Asia – they can grow up to 100 pounds in human care. We welcomed our first hatchlings last year, so we’re thrilled with this continued success!

Forsten’s tortoise hatchling

Forsten’s tortoise
Found only on the single island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, the Forsten’s tortoise is commonly hunted both for the meat and pet trade industries, which has left this species in desperate need of help. We’re one of only a handful of AZA-accredited institutions to hatch this species.

Grand Cayman rock iguana hatchling

Grand Cayman rock iguanas
Also called “blue iguanas” because they can turn blue while basking in the sun, Grand Cayman rock iguanas are the most endangered species of iguana in the world. In 2003, a survey indicated there were just 5-15 individual iguanas left in the wild. Populations have since increased due to an aggressive recovery program, and there are now approximately 750 in the wild. So we are proud to have added five to the overall population.

Green tree skink hatchling

Green tree skinks
Although this species is not considered threatened in the wild, much of their natural habitat has been lost to deforestation. We’ve had a lot of success with breeding green tree skinks, which is great for promoting the genetic diversity in populations under human care.

Samar cobra hatchling

Samar “spitting” cobras
We are the only AZA-accredited U.S. facility to handle and reproduce Samar cobras. Although they’re not able to spit their highly potent venom immediately after birth, they do hatch with miniature “hoods” at the ready. Click HERE to watch one of our clutches from 2015 hatch in real time!

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Brought to you by the Dallas Zoo