Saving African penguins with a new home

 

Two penguins standing in front of one of the artificial nests.

“Penguins have been decimated by what people have done to them,” said Kevin Graham, bird supervisor at the Dallas Zoo. “We’ve done everything we can to wipe African penguins off the planet. We’ve stolen their eggs by the hundreds of thousands, we’ve polluted their environment, we’ve taken all their fish, we’ve taken their nest area, we’ve introduced predators and we’ve introduced disease. It’s about time we do something to help them.”

Kevin on Dyer Island installing the nests.

African penguins burrow and nest in guano, a term for their poop. About 110 years ago, there were over a million guano nests for African black-footed penguins. But South African natives started stealing the guano to use as fertilizer. Right now, there are only about 27 natural guano nests left. This has left the critically endangered African penguin population in serious trouble.

For the past three years, Kevin has been trying to resolve that problem. In addition to working with birds at the Zoo, he is also the artificial nest development project coordinator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). He studies, builds and installs artificial guano nests for African penguins to lay eggs in. And after three years of research and testing, he was finally able to install nests in South Africa along with the help of our incredible partners, Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA).

Over the course of two weeks this past February, Kevin and our Association of Zoos and Aquariums partners built and installed 200 nests in two South African penguin colonies. (Thanks to our Invest in the Nest Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign that helped AZA-accredited zoos raise the funds for this project!) And great news — the penguins seemed to settle into their new homes very quickly. At the end of February, 40 percent of the nests in one colony already had eggs in them, and 25 percent of the nests in the other colony had eggs! Kevin gets updates frequently on more and more eggs being laid.

African penguins will no longer have to incubate their nests in the open sun, and their eggs will be more protected from predators.

Over the next few months, Kevin and his team will be collecting environmental data from the nests. Once they’ve analyzed the data to ensure the nests are in tiptop shape for the penguins, they will start building 3,000 more nests to install. Long-term, he hopes to have 6-7,000 installed nests in total.

“If everything goes well and these nests continue to work, then we can keep giving them homes,” said Graham. “Each one we build is in an environmentally friendly deposit. We can’t solve the population decline with just the nests. Over-fishing, climate change, marine pollution, introduced pests, human incursion, habitat degradation—all of that has to be addressed. But at least if nothing else, we can give them a place to raise kids.”

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Dallas Zoo sends help to Madagascar after nearly 11,000 critically endangered tortoises were seized from a residential home

Jorge Chavez, one of our tortoise experts, is en route to Madagascar to help with an unprecedented wildlife trafficking crisis. Last week, nearly 11,000 radiated tortoises were confiscated from a residential home in the city of Toliara, located on the southwest coast of Madagascar. This seizure is the largest for tortoises in the history of the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) – one of the world’s leading turtle and tortoise conservation organizations, and a Dallas Zoo conservation partner.

A portion of the radiated tortoises living on the floor of the home./Turtle Survival Alliance

Right now, the critically endangered tortoises are receiving initial in-processing, health evaluations, triage, hydration, and food at a temporary facility. Sadly, hundreds of tortoises have already died from dehydration, malnutrition, and illness.

Led by the TSA, the Dallas Zoo is part of more than 20 institutions accredited by The Association of Zoos and Aquariums that’s helping send funds, supplies and emergency assistance to Madagascar. Our team of veterinarians, vet techs and zookeepers will arrive in Madagascar this weekend as part the first of three waves of help.

Known for their beautiful shell with a striking star pattern, radiated tortoises are a valued animal in the global illegal pet trade. This species has declined by more than 80 percent in the last 30 years, leaving these tortoises vulnerable to extinction in the wild in our lifetime.

Stay posted on our Facebook page as we share Jorge’s updates from the field over the next two weeks. If you’d like to help in this rescue effort, please donate now to the Turtle Survival Alliance.

Categories: Conservation, Reptiles and Amphibians | Tags: , , | Leave a comment
 
 

“Arty for the Planet” art contest details!

Booker T. Washington students create animal-inspired chalk art at last year’s Arty for the Planet event.

When Earth Day rolls around, it’s a party at the Zoo! On April 21 and 22 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., our Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo is hosting Arty for the Planet. Guests can bust out ZOOmba moves with us; create upcycled musical instruments and jam; look at stunning wildlife conservation-themed chalk art by local art students; watch animals engage in art; and create your own nature-inspired art, too!

ART CONTEST

But before we kick off Earth Day celebrations, we’re inviting artists of all ages to submit an original art project using upcycled materials from April 14—18. Artwork will be judged on originality and use of upcycled materials in each age group by a panel of Dallas Zoo’s staff artists and the public.

Guests can enter into these four categories: ages 5 and under, ages 6-10, ages 11-17, and ages 18 and up. In each category, awards will be given for Peoples’ Choice (determined by Zoo-goers) and Experts’ Choice (determined by a panel of Zoo staff).

Submissions can be delivered to the Dallas Zoo Membership Services booth from April 14-18 during Zoo hours (9 a.m.-5 p.m.). Art will be on display in the Children’s Zoo for guests to vote on, and the winners will be announced and contacted on April 22. (Plus, we’ll share it on the Zoo’s Facebook page!) Winners of each category will receive a Family 4-pack of Dallas Zoo tickets. Good luck!

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Dallas Zoo hatches the only perentie monitor lizards in the AZA

What hails from Australia, runs as fast as an Olympic sprinter, and is the fourth largest lizard species in the world? The perentie monitor. And who is the only AZA-accredited zoo in North America to successfully hatch them? We are.

Our world-class herpetologists are welcoming three new babies. Weighing about .13 pounds at hatch, these lizards could grow to be 33 pounds and 6.5 feet long.

These little ones are our first perentie monitor hatchlings since 2001, when we became the first AZA facility outside of Australia to reproduce them.

“I am proud of the staff and excited to see hatchlings again,” said Ruston Hartdegen, Dallas Zoo’s curator of herpetology and aquatics. “It’s been a very challenging project and continues to be so. This is the culmination of many years of effort, dedication, and hard work. I look forward to seeing many more hatchlings in the years to come!”

Housing these lizards can be extremely difficult, and you can’t find many outside of Australia. In fact, only two other North American AZA-accredited zoos care for perentie monitors: Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and the Los Angeles Zoo. While housing accommodations are challenging, it’s even more challenging to breed them in human care.

One of our newly hatched perentie monitor lizard babies.

“To successfully hatch this species, it takes a lot of time, attention, and care from reptile staff,” said Hartdegen. “Females also need a ton of space to nest. We actually built two large indoor habitats capable of deep nesting just for them.”

The Dallas Zoo has a lot of experience with monitor lizards, which is one reason we’ve been able to successfully reproduce perenties. Up next: Our herpetologists plan to focus efforts on crocodile monitors, a species that hasn’t been bred in North America in 20 years, mostly because of pairing issues with the animals. Dallas Zoo currently cares for ten crocodile monitors, putting us in a good position for success.

“Zoological expertise has been lost for crocodile monitors,” said Bradley Lawrence, reptile and amphibian supervisor. “We’re hoping to lead the zoo community in that soon, too.”

On your next Zoo visit, stop by the Herpetarium to see one of our crocodile monitors and congratulate our reptile keepers on their new perentie monitor babies. (We don’t have plans to make the hatchlings viewable to the public right now, but promise to let you know if that changes!)

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Help Zoo Corps teens tackle urban wildlife issues

Dallas Zoo’s youth-led Zoo Corps conservation club guest-blogs on ZooHoo! Our teens worked together to select a conservation issue, develop a solution, and will put it into action on March 31!

Stop by the Zoo Saturday, March 31 to not only experience more than 2,000 animals, but to also help local teens and their wildlife conservation efforts! Right past the entrance, Zoo Corps will have booths set up for guests to participate in animal-themed activities to benefit urban wildlife. It’s a great family-friendly way to learn more about Texas’s environment and native species. Zoo visitors can make bird feeders from recycled materials; pledge to protect snakes; and decorate planters for native seedlings.

Zoo Corps is a teen-led Zoo conservation organization that strives to make a lasting impact on wildlife while engaging the community to take action. Our conservation issue is focused on birds, pollinators and snakes and how people can help these species in their backyards. These species serve a valuable role to humans and the ecosystem. For example, a single purple martin bird can eat 2,000 pesky mosquitoes a day; a scarlet tanager bird can eat 35 harmful gypsy moth larvae in a minute; snakes control rodent populations like nothing else can; and pollinators are vital for 75-perfcent of crops and flowering plants. Because these species help us out so much, it’s time we help them, too.

Songbirds suffer from loss of habitat and food sources because of human expansion and development. Building bird feeders is a simple way we can help provide them with sustenance. We can also make pledges to not use pesticides in our yards, and to leave snakes alone when we come across them. Snakes are a feared and misunderstood group of animals, but in reality, they fear us more than we should fear them. More people are actually killed by lightning in Texas than by venomous snake bites. Lastly, native pollinator populations continue to decline due to habitat degradation and loss. One easy step we can take is planting native plants to provide a safe migration route for monarch butterflies, and other critical pollinators.

These are easy steps to take, so come take them with Zoo Corps on March 31!

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