Dallas Zoo proudly restores habitat for endangered birds

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

Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Action Team returned to the Big Thicket National Preserve to plant longleaf pines with the National Park Service. Our team of 15 students and five adults helped reforest 300 acres of habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. These students are Dallas Zoo youth volunteers from cities across our region, and they are passionate and committed to helping animals in every way they can. Many have already invested over 100 hours in wildlife conservation through service as Junior Zookeepers and Conservation Guides in the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo.

The Big Thicket National Preserve set a goal of planting 100,000 trees in honor of the National Park Service’s 100th birthday. We’re proud to say we helped them exceed their goal with our 11,000 contribution in 2016, and the additional 10,000 trees planted this month. Dallas Zoo is proud to partner with the conservation heroes of the National Park Service.

Photo of a red-cockaded woodpecker by Holly Dolezalik.

Photo of a red-cockaded woodpecker by Holly Dolezalik.

One of the most important reasons we’re helping plant these trees is to restore habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker. We have already lost America’s two largest woodpecker species, the ivory-billed woodpecker and the imperial woodpecker, to extinction due to rampant and unregulated logging. By the 1950s, they were gone. Some of the last photos of the ivory-billed woodpeckers were taken in 1938 as the population collapsed. You can see the only known videos of the imperial woodpecker here and here.

By restoring wildlife habitat, we are making conservation history with the hope of avoiding another woodpecker extinction. Red-cockaded woodpeckers were listed as endangered in 1970. Since 1988, they’ve been moved from threatened to vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, but there’s still plenty of work to do. No strategy to save animals is complete without a focus on habitat loss and the work to restore it.

The red-cockaded woodpecker is a small bird without brilliant plumage or spectacular display, but with a social system as complex as any North American animal, more like a primate than a bird. Like all woodpeckers, red-cockadeds are primary excavators creating cavities that form the foundation of the habitat web. This woodpecker creates shelter for more than 27 vertebrate species.

Volunteer Lilly has vowed to return to the Big Thicket when she's 93 years old to see the trees' growth.

Volunteer Lily has vowed to return to the Big Thicket when she’s 93 years old to see the trees’ growth.

These birds primarily rely on old-growth, longleaf pines for shelter, nesting, and food. This means that even though we’re working hard to get these trees planted, it could be up to 80 years down the road before they’re move-in ready for these birds. Wildlife conservation is long-term investment and demonstrated faith in the future! Our 13-year-old volunteer Lilly Zimmermann promised she’d return when she’s 93 to admire our planting work and remember our trip fondly.

Over 90 million acres of longleaf pine forest once stretched across the American south, but they’re pretty rare today. Beginning in 1940, vast areas of public and private land were converted to short-rotation forestry and now less than 10,000 acres of old-growth, longleaf pine remain. Restoring habitat is the most important action we can take to create a better world for this animal.

At the Dallas Zoo, we care deeply 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. Every action counts. Thanks for supporting us in all we do to create a better world for animals.

Join us on our next Wild Earth Action Team expedition on March 3 – 5 for a once in a lifetime opportunity at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and the Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi. It’ll be a weekend filled with conservation action, and saving whooping cranes.

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A hugely successful year with AAZK

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Russell Pharr, elephant keeper and president of the American Association of Zookeepers Dallas chapter, guest blogs on ZooHoo!

IMG_6203 SFRTwenty-sixteen was a very successful year for the Dallas American Association of Zookeepers Chapter!  We hosted a huge range of great events and, while having an amazing time, helped make the world a better place for animals.

Join us as we take a look back at 2016:

Bowling and Sailing for Rhinos

IMG_6113 SFRThis was our 25th year participating in the 26-year-old Bowling for Rhinos program, and our fifth year partnering with Alley Cats in Arlington.  In addition to bowling, arcade games, miniature golf, and laser tag, we debuted a BFR photo booth, had a bowling pin decorating contest for the second consecutive year, and hosted our first-ever takeover on Dallas Zoo’s Facebook to help promote the event!

Most importantly, Bowling for Rhinos in Dallas raised $18,000 – 100% of which goes directly to save rhinos, cheetahs, and other animals in Kenya and Indonesia. Nationally, AAZK chapters in the U.S. and Canada raised over $600,000 – an all-time record!

Our one-of-a-kind Sailing for Rhinos event raised $6,000 to help AAZK causes. We continued our partnership with Corinthian Sailing Club and had great weather once again for one of our favorite events.

Labor Day Book Sale

Our annual book sale broke records this year, raising more than $2,000 over three days of selling used books, DVDs, and other items donated by the Dallas Zoo community. Profits were split between the Okapi Conservation Project (the okapi was our 2016 “featured animal,” decided by a staff vote in our second annual AAZK March Madness contest) and the Bat World Sanctuary in Weatherford, Texas. Our book sale continued a partnership between Dallas AAZK and the Zoo’s Enrichment Committee as we sold animal-painted magnets and bookmarks, and allowed us the perfect platform to introduce tote bags with our chapter logo printed on them!

Painting with a TwistOther Conservation Events

Our first-ever painting event, the Painting With a Twist for World Giraffe Day in June, not only raised $1,300 for the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, but also provided a fun way to honor the memory of Dallas Zoo’s own, late Kipenzi.

Our first-ever Salamander Saturday event in May helped raise funds and awareness for some of nature’s less-appreciated creatures. Our contributed funds also helped the Foundation for Conservation of Salamanders to offer a Texas-specific grant for researchers working on salamanders (and we have some amazing endemic species here)! Read more »

Categories: Conservation, Events, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Never too late to learn: Spectacled owl becomes Zoo’s newest ambassador

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_MG_2366-Talum spectacled owl in public

Jeremy Proffitt, manager of applied behavior and animal welfare, guest blogs on ZooHoo!

_MG_2407-Talum spectacled owlTulum is a special bird that much of the public has never met, but not for long. This spectacled owl is proof that it’s never too late to learn because she’s one of the Zoo’s newest ambassador animals meeting guests in the park.

Tulum is a healthy 25-year-old that’s unable to fly due to an injury as a young owl. In the past, she was skittish around people and the equipment used to handle her. A new behavior plan was developed to build her comfortability with people and confidence in her surroundings.

Keeper Amanda Barr started the process months ago getting Tulum comfortable around her. Amanda’s calm demeanor and patience benefitted Tulum, even in the early days of working together.

Amanda transferred to another section and bird keeper Alex Gilly soon took on the project with open arms. She worked patiently and diligently building a trusting relationship with Tulum that would be paramount to the rest of the training.

With a trusting relationship established, Alex worked daily to introduce the glove, touch Tulum with it, and offer her food from it. Eventually Tulum was asked to stand on the glove, which would allow her to be carried into the park.

Keeper Alex Gilly and owl Tulum have formed a special relationship.

Keeper Alex Gilly and owl Tulum have formed a special relationship.

Alex’s next big step was walking Tulum out of her behind-the-scenes home. The training plan and relationship the keepers built shined through and allowed Tulum to see more of her world.

You might see her out-and-about near Wings of Wonder educating guests. Stop by and say hello!

Tulum’s interactions in the park are short right now, but they will become longer as this remarkable bird becomes more comfortable. Thanks to patient keepers and a special behavior plan, this great little owl gets to broaden her world, and guests get to meet an amazing animal.

The Dallas Zoo has a new little ambassador and she’s ready to meet her world.

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What’s it take to be a zookeeper? An inside view on the best job in the world

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_MG_8806-4x6-Stacey Lapori

Being a zookeeper at the Dallas Zoo is a dream career for many, but it’s more involved than you may think. To give you the inside scoop, we’ve debunked eight myths about zookeepers.

Myth No. 1: They don’t need higher education.

Truth: Actually, zookeepers at AZA-accredited institutions need a college degree, extensive internships and volunteer hours. The most _MG_9878common bachelor’s degrees are in Biology or Zoology, but comes paired with specialization in specific animals, conservation research, and tons of hands-on time that isn’t usually paid. Some zookeepers go on to earn their masters and doctorate degrees, too.

Myth No. 2: It’s easy to snag a job as a zookeeper.

Truth: Nope. Zookeeper jobs are highly competitive because, let’s face it, it’s a dream job. You definitely need a degree. And even if you’re well-educated, you certainly need a ton of experience – think volunteer and intern hours. You need to be prepared, passionate, and willing to work long hours. Most zoos offer internship and volunteer opportunities because it’s the best way to give students a stepping stone to securing a zookeeper job later on. You’ll need a night job, too, because many of these internships are unpaid.

Myth No. 3: Zookeepers are only responsible for the immediate care of their animals.

Truth: Zookeepers do much more than swoon over their cute critters. They must keep up with the latest information on conservation, training techniques, behavioral studies, education and more. And they definitely have to track what’s going on with animal populations in the wild. Zookeepers often talk to guests about animals, teaching the public about them. Add all of that to feeding, cleaning, and training, and it’s quite a lot to keep up with. Being a zookeeper is like having 10 different jobs in one, and every day is uniquely different.

IMG_0506 TX Horned Lizard - Bradley Lawrence CSMyth No. 4: Zookeepers don’t help animals in the wild.

Truth: Zookeepers and accredited zoos have some of the best resources to help wild populations. We like to call our animals at the Zoo “ambassadors” for their species. When we educate guests and get them excited about the animals they see at the Dallas Zoo, they often choose to take action on behalf of wildlife and wild places. In fact, a portion of every Dallas Zoo ticket you purchase goes directly to our Wild Earth Conservation Fund, helping troubled animals in the wild.

Myth No. 5: Zookeepers don’t scoop poop.

Truth: Zookeepers are the caretakers for their animals. Just like you have to pick up your dog’s poop when you go on a walk, zookeepers clean up after their animals, keeping their habitats clean. This kind of job isn’t for people who are afraid to get dirty. But we promise zookeeping entails a lot more than just scooping poop. It’s one of the most rewarding careers there is.

Myth No. 6: Zookeepers can take vacation whenever they want.

Truth: Most zoo residents need care every single day. That means Thanksgiving, Christmas, when it’s 3 degrees and snowing, and when it’s 112 degrees under a blazing Texas sun. Of course, there’s never only one keeper per animal or group of animals, so schedules are organized accordingly, but holidays are definitely tricky at the zoo. When you’re just beginning your career as a zookeeper, you can expect to be scheduled on unusual days to step in for more experienced keepers who’ve earned their Christmas day off at home.

IMG_0998-4x6Myth No. 7: The breeding process is left up to veterinarians and the animals themselves.

Truth: Zookeepers play a large role in the breeding process of their animals. A great deal has to do with carefully monitoring the behavior of each animal and tracking their responses toward each other, to make sure they’re even interested in breeding. Additionally, zookeepers must keep up with introductions between animals, and follow the Zoo’s guidelines on which animals should breed. Here at the Dallas Zoo, we follow the guidelines established by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), including the many Species Survival Plans that build self-sustaining populations of specific species, ensuring those animals remain on earth.

Myth No. 8: Zookeepers eventually get tired of the job and leave.

Truth: The turnover rate for zookeepers is exceptionally low. Keepers are likely to stay in their chosen profession for the rest of their life. They’re a passionate bunch and love the work they do, despite how difficult it can be with education, cleaning, training, feeding and providing medical care. They love our animals so much that no words can truly describe that kind of affection.

We hope these insights help you understand just what makes zookeepers so special. We’re very thankful for our team and all of the hard work they do for our residents at the Dallas Zoo!

Categories: Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

Teen Science Café proves science is cool at Dallas Zoo

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Ninth grader Ronak Dhingra, and Teen Science Café teen leader, guest-blogs on ZooHoo!tsc_logo

The Teen Science Café Network, founded by the National Science Foundation, is a national organization that aims to get teens passionate and excited about science at an early age, with the hope they will consider a STEM career. Why teens? We are the next generation of the workforce and the future of society.

According to the STEM advocacy group Change the Equation, only 36 percent of all high school graduates are ready to take a college-level science course. Our cafés bring science to life by people who love it and experience it everyday – real scientists. These scientists share what is fun about what they do (without using any jargon). Our hope is to shift some perspectives and get teens to see that maybe they do like science even though they may not enjoy it at school.

The Dallas Zoo Teen Science Café was started last summer. We selected the Dallas Zoo to host because of its reputation as a leading zoo in the nation, and its many programs geared towards children. I felt, as a former Dallas Zoo Youth Volunteer, that the Zoo would be a great sponsor for a Teen Science Café.

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Humboldt penguins along the Peruvian coast during Dr. Patty McGill’s last trip in Jan. 2016. Photo credit: Austin McKahan, Kansas City Zoo digital marketing manager

Dallas Zoo’s vice president of Conservation and Education, Dr. Patty McGill, kicked off our first-ever café. She has a cool job that includes traveling up and down the Chilean and Peruvian coasts counting and studying Humboldt penguins. She led the audience in a series of activities in which we had to look at a picture of many birds from afar and estimate how many penguins there were. This may seem easy, but it gets hard when there are many black and white birds standing in a crowd!  It was also very cool to walk through the Zoo at night when nobody else is there.

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Dr. Patty McGill (far right), and Dallas Zoo Director of Education, Marti Copeland, pose with teen leader, Ronak Dhingra, and other café members.

Our second café featured Professor John Sibert from the University of Texas at Dallas who spoke about “The Mighty Atom: From Discovery to Molecular Architecture.” He demonstrated how molecular architecture was connected to the building we were sitting in. He also had us make our own spectroscopes, which are instruments that allow us to identify elements and materials using light spectrums.

When I looked through my spectroscope, I saw the element “signatures,” which were bands of color differing from one element to another in small ways. It’s amazing to think of how these relatively few building blocks make everything up.

From these cafés with amazing speakers, teens take away cool facts and knowledge about science and, most importantly, a passion for STEM.

Hey, teens, join us at one of our next cafés:

Jan. 15: Computation + Creativity: The New Literacy by Professor Greenberg (Southern Methodist University, computer science)

March 19: Professor Gonzalez (University of Texas at Dallas, biology)

April 23: Professor Ranganathan (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, biology)

I promise these events will be fun and exciting! Hope to see you then.

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