Creating memories one step at a time

David Bacon (left) and Joe Barentine (right) walking at the Zoo.

Did you know that if you visit the Zoo frequently enough, some of the animals may actually recognize you? Some even go beyond simple recognition and want to interact with you. Don’t just take our word for it, though. Ask Dallas Zoo member Joe Barentine and his partner, David Bacon.

“One time Joe came home and said ‘I have a new friend at the Zoo,’” said Bacon. “It was giraffe Tebogo. Joe said Tebogo followed him around, but I didn’t believe him at first.”

Until he saw it for himself.

Joe had been walking at least two days a week at the Zoo since 1991. Over the course of his routine walks, Tebogo started recognizing him. Of course when the same man walks by the same habitat at the same time of day multiple times a week, some animals—like Tebogo—pick up on it. So when David started joining Joe on his Zoo walks, he saw Tebogo spot Joe from across the mixed species habitat, walk over to him, and let Joe pet his nose, a moment he specially calls “communion.”

This isn’t the only interaction he’s had with our animals. He’s had moments range from the humorous—like when one monkey started recognizing Joe, and it tried to startle him every week by jumping out at him in its habitat—to the cathartic, like when he would look into the eyes of former hippo Papa.

“It was like he was a telepath,” said Barentine. “He could interrupt my thoughts if I had bad ones. He could very easily re-arrange my thinking. It was really therapeutic.”

What started out as exercise for Joe quickly turned into something more. Twenty-seven years ago when he found the Zoo, he just wanted a safe place in Oak Cliff to walk.

“Oak Cliff today is not the same place it was by any means,” said Barentine. “I lived close to the Zoo, so I thought ‘Why not walk at the Zoo?’ It’s got terrain, it’s safe; it has water, restrooms, and animals!”

Walking at the Zoo is now a meditative experience for Joe. As a member of the Zoo, he has the opportunity to enjoy our nature, our animals, and all it may bring multiple times a week with his partner, David. In fact, walking at the Zoo is the second longest practice Joe has had in his life.

For 30 years, Joe was involved in the practice of law. However, now that Joe is retired, that practice has come to an end. In just three more years, walking at the Dallas Zoo will be the longest single thing he will have done in his life. And from the types of experiences he’s had here, it’s easy to guess that he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Categories: Exhibits and Experiences, Membership | Tags: , , | Leave a comment
 
 

A special baby Witten update on World Giraffe Day

 

 Dallas Zoo North Savanna Assistant Supervisor Allison Dean, and Giraffe Keeper II Jessica Romano guest blog on ZooHoo!

It’s always exciting when we are expecting a new giraffe calf, but once that little… well, big bundle of joy is here, it takes a lot of work to integrate them into the herd. While giraffes are herd animals that live in large groups called “towers,” it’s important for mom and calf to have some private time in those first couple of days. Here at the Zoo, Chrystal and Witten spent their first days in our maternity stall away from the inquisitive herd. This area is filled with sand that helps newborns find sturdy footing as they learn to walk and keep up with mom. It also allows for uninterrupted bonding between mom and baby.

Witten stands close to mom Chrystal.

Once the calf is nursing well and is bonded with mom, we begin the process of introducing them to the rest of the herd. First up, our oldest giraffe, Auggie. His gentle nature, extreme tolerance, and protective personality makes him the go-to guy for babysitting when mom needs a break. Some individuals need more introduction time than others. Younger giraffes, like three-year-old Betty, are often more curious and can inadvertently be a bit of a bother to mom while she’s in protective-mommy mode. It’s all a normal part of herd dynamics and learning social behaviors for everyone, not just the new calf. The progress of the introductions is always on mom’s terms. After introductions are complete, it’s time to head out to a whole new world – the giraffe feeding habitat.

Learning to shift from the barn to the habitat can take a bit of work. Sometimes calves learn this process quickly and other times they need a little extra encouragement from mom to get over those first day jitters. Little by little, the calves get used to their new surroundings and make their way out to the habitat.

It’s hard to believe that Witten will be two months old next week. Seems like just yesterday he was taking his first steps and now he makes regular trips to the giraffe feeding habitat like a pro (or a pro-football player, *nudge nudge*). He’s sprouted up to 7 feet tall and weighs nearly 250 pounds! Those lanky legs are good for running post routes around the trees (and his mom). We’re sure Witten would spike the ball if he could carry one, but he usually just turns loose a high kick and a stomp to signify the completion of his run.

Witten has already made an impression and has become a great ambassador for his reticulated giraffe sub-species – it’s estimated there are less than 8,700 left in the wild. Giraffe populations are undergoing what conservationists call a “silent extinction” – the species is already extinct in at least seven African countries. They are currently listed as vulnerable to extinction due to a 40-percent population decline in the past 15 years with fewer than 80,000 wild giraffes left. Human encroachment on their habitat has led to significant conflict and poaching.

On June 21, we celebrate World Giraffe Day to bring awareness to the issues facing this amazing species. Our partners at the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) work tirelessly in the field every day to protect these majestic animals. We’re proud to help fund GCF’s efforts to monitor giraffes and remove snares in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda, home to more than 90 percent of the wild population of the Rothschild’s giraffe sub-species.

Learn more about how we’re helping save giraffes with GCF, and please consider donating directly to GCF on this special day dedicated to saving the long necks of the animal kingdom.

PS: It’s also National Selfie Day today, so we highly suggest you make a trip out to snap a selfie with our giraffes!

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Giraffe | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment
 
 

Dallas Zoo animals bring smiles to tiny hospital patients and beyond

A small Children’s Health patient prepares to meet a Dallas Zoo animal ambassador penguin along with Outreach Supervisor Shannon College.

Whether it’s a tamandua high up in the sky at Reunion Tower or penguins at a Texas Rangers ballgame, you never quite know where the Dallas Zoo’s Animal Adventures outreach team will go next. With just seven staff members, the team carries out nearly 1,000 animal outreach programs a year across North Texas, bringing animal encounters to places like, schools, hospitals, businesses, convention centers, and many iconic Dallas locations.

When the small staff is not on the road, they’re tending to the needs of the 40 educational ambassador animals that delight, inspire and educate those attending an outreach experience. The job sounds demanding, however for Animal Adventures outreach team manager, Allyssa Leslie, the well-being of the ambassador animals remains top priority, “We work hard to ensure our animals feel safe and comfortable traveling with us. It’s great to see that when we go out to these events, the animals choose to come out with us because they know they’re safe and it’s interesting for them to go to new places.”

Despite all the variety this team experiences, some trips are so special that they’re repeated over and over again. Thanks to the Simmons Animal Safari program, and a treasured partnership with Children’s Health established in 2014, the outreach team returns to the hospital every few months to provide magical up-close animal encounters to small patients overcoming big obstacles.

The outreach team, including two-toed sloth Lola and African penguin duo, Sid and Jazz, arrive with the humble goal of encouraging smiles while gifting a special experience to those families who have more on their plate than planning a trip to the Zoo at this time.

Excitement filled the room as the children enjoyed the animals on stage.

“Even for the children that cannot physically come down to see the presentation, Children’s Health broadcasts the program into their rooms so they can enjoy it as well,” Leslie shares of the experience, “We are glad to be able to go out and hopefully bring some joy and fun memories for the patients and their families.”

Following the animal presentation, families are encouraged to come up close and commemorate the experience with a photo with an animal ambassador. Leslie watches on as the patients eagerly line up to have their moment at the front of the stage, “It’s so wonderful to see the excitement on the kids and their families’ faces when they get to see the animals so close!” she gushes.

At the close of the presentation, one last parting gift is revealed, each family is given tickets as a standing invitation to visit the Dallas Zoo. We look forward to many future visits to Children’s Health, bringing enjoyment to these extraordinary kids and their families with each animal encounter.

(Interested in hosting an Animal Adventures outreach program? Click here for more information.)

Categories: Education, Events, Penguins, Wild Encounters | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oak Cliff students host free dog wash with Zoo support

What’s the best way to learn valuable information about pet care all while getting your dog to be squeaky clean? Visit a dog wash! Our AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), Chloe Miller, hosted a dog wash event Wednesday in Dallas with the help of elementary students from the Momentous Institute in Oak Cliff.

For the past few months, Chloe has helped Momentous Institute children come up with a local project to benefit the animals in the South Dallas community. The students identified an issue within the community and worked to help solve it. When they began discussing proper pet care and stray animals in the area, they saw a concern and wanted to implement a project that would help. Their initiative was quite impressive, too. They made a proposal to their classmates about the need to address this issue, they voted on which solution to pursue as a group, and they had experts come talk to them about viable options.

“By the end of the day, they were jumping out of their seats from excitement,” Miller said. “The idea is to give them the power and the tools they need to effect the change they wish to see. Most kids feel that they are too young to make a difference in their world, because that is exactly how they are treated. But I have learned through this experience that if you give them the opportunity, they will surprise and impress you continually.”

From the very start of Chloe’s time with the students, she wanted to introduce them to conservation work. She was able to help teach 30 students about conversation work while they did a litter cleanup in Cedar Creek. Since then, she has been encouraging them to see themselves as scientists and conservationists rather than passive bystanders.

This encouragement seemed to help because the students were very active with their project of choice. All their hard work culminated in Wednesday’s event. For an hour and a half, the kids washed 36 dogs for free while talking to the 100-plus guests about proper pet care, addressing topics like free spays and neuters.

Chloe said that during this whole process, she’s seen the students’ eyes light up with amazement as they discover what can be possible with conservation work—an experience she won’t forget soon.

“Kids are so much more open to new ideas than adults are,” said Miller. “Their potential as change-makers is utterly untapped. This feeling of reverence for the Earth is so powerful that if you experience it at a young enough age, you will never escape it. It’s meaningful to them, because they now possess a small window into the serenity of nature that they can expand.”

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

Go “Inside The Zoo” with Dallas Zoo’s new hospital series

In our highly-anticipated new Inside the Zoo video series, we’re pulling back the curtain and taking you inside our $3.75 million A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility. This is where our veterinarians, vet techs and hospital keepers care for the Dallas Zoo’s 2,000+ animals.

WATCH our first episode as we tour the hospital with manager Dianna Lydick.

Our hospital keepers have bragging rights to one really cool job. In our second episode, we share behind-the-scenes footage of new chimps, Kirk and Margaret, as they settle into a standard quarantine in our hospital before moving into their new home. We also dive into the incredible story of Galápagos tortoise Twelve – he entered our hospital over a year ago and has made a slow recovery, but will reunite with his tortoise crew soon.

WATCH episode 2:

In our third episode, meet our amazing veterinary technicians as they go on a “house call” to treat our black mamba, and see them give pregnant tamandua Xena an ultrasound. These ladies are champs and we’re proud to have them care for our animals!

WATCH episode 3:

In our FINAL episode, we take you inside our hospital like we’ve never done before. Meet our three veterinarians as they perform lifesaving surgeries on Sumatran tiger Hadiah and Galápagos tortoise Twelve, and watch them perform a quarantine exit exam on our new chimps before they join the troop.

WATCH episode 4:

PS: Join us for a Facebook Live Q&A with our lead vet Dr. Chris Bonar on Friday (May 25) at 11:30 a.m. Get all your animal-related health questions ready! Dr. Bonar will also have some special animal guests join him. Don’t miss this!

Categories: Veterinary Care | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Brought to you by the Dallas Zoo