World Gorilla Day: Celebrating gorillas by celebrating our littlest one

Baby Saambili’s has grown so much since her birth on June 25, 2018!

World Gorilla Day marks the 16th anniversary of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International’s Karisoke Research Center, which is the longest running field site dedicated to gorilla research and conservation.

In honor of this special day, we sat down with Assistant Great Ape Supervisor Tamara Jochem to talk about how much baby Saambili has grown since her birth on June 25, 2018.

Today is not only about celebrating these magnificent animals – we are also reminded of the very serious threats they face in the wild. YOU can make a difference! Read on to get the inside scoop on all things Saambili and learn a few simple actions you can take to help support gorillas conservation efforts everyday.

How much has Saambili grown and changed physically since she was born?
We don’t know exact numbers because she’s with mom 24/7. But she has a lot of extra skin that she’s ready to grow into. She also has a little belly and lots of muscles in her arms and legs. She’s a stout little thing! And her teeth started coming in about a month ago. We think she’s got about six teeth on the bottom and four on the top, so far.

Will she go through teething, like a human baby?
Yep, she will. She’s handling that pretty well, based on our observations. She will chew on her fingers, or anything she can fit in her mouth – lettuce, kale, broccoli – and she might get a bit fussy from time to time.

Hope supports Saambili’s bottom while walking on her knuckles.

Tell us about the relationship between Hope and Saambili.
Gorilla babies are born already able to cling, so she’s been able to hold onto Hope’s hair since the beginning. Hope is a very attentive mother, so most of the time she is either supporting or holding on to her baby. She has started to put Saambili’s bottom in her hand, and Hope will walk around on her knuckles. Within the next month or two, we will probably start seeing Saambili start to ride on Mom’s back. Saambili needs a little more strength and coordination for that because the hair on Hope’s back isn’t as long. And eventually Saambili will start to crawl and move around on her own independently.

When do we think she might start walking?
Right now, she can definitely stand up on her own if she’s holding on to something, so she has the strength in her arms and legs. She wants to crawl, we can tell. But mom is being very cautious and protective. At this point, it’s kind of up to Hope.

What kind of interaction has she had with the other members of her family troop at this point?
When she was first born, Subira (her dad) immediately came over and inspected her. He put his lips on her very gently, and touched her gently. Periodically, he will come over and look at her. As she gets older and becomes more mobile, that’s when she’ll really start interacting with some of the other members. They may “babysit” or play with her. She may jump around on them, essentially using them as a playground. We’re obviously not to that point yet because she’s still so young.

Megan gently inspects baby Saambili.

But the other two females has shown a lot of interest in her. Megan has shown the most interest – she’s the youngest in the group, and she’s grown up in family troops her whole life. For the first few weeks of Saambili’s life, Megan was constantly following Hope around because she wanted to look at the baby. And she would hold Saambili’s hand – she’s been very gentle.

Hope doesn’t mind this?
No, Hope deals with Megan really well. If Megan gets too rough or if the baby needs to sleep, Hope will just move Megan’s hand away or turn her body so Megan can’t see Saambili. Megan is very persistent, so Hope spends a lot of time dealing with that. Luckily, Hope is a very socially-savvy female, so she knows how to handle all of this. Sometimes you’ll see Hope holding Megan’s hand. That’s not necessarily because they’re friends, she’s just saying “stop touching the baby.” What we’re seeing from Megan is a very normal level of interest from a young female, though.

And Shanta is very interested in the baby, too – she’s even cleaned her a few times. With Shanta being the lower-ranking animal in the troop, she isn’t able to spend as much time with the baby – although we think she would like to.

With Subira, it’s really up to him on what role he’ll play. Silverbacks are the protectors of the family, but every silverback is different. A lot times they’re just sort of a jungle-gym. So if they’re napping, the baby might jump onto them from things, hit them, run around, or pull their hair. We suspect Subira will be really tolerant of all those things, which will be oh-so-cute to watch.

What is the biggest threat that Saambili’s wild counterparts face?
Habitat loss and being hunted for bushmeat. Mining and other agricultural and farming activities are taking away food sources and habitat for gorillas in the wild. And then there’s poaching, where snares are often used. Even if they don’t get caught in a snare, gorillas can lose an arm or die from infected wounds. There are actually some troops in the wild that have learned to recognize snares and undo them, which is great.

Baby Saambili is very curious and ready to explore!

How can the general public help protect gorillas?
Be conscious when you’re buying wood or paper products. Make sure you’re buying rain forest-friendly and sustainable products that are made from recycled materials so you’re not contributing to deforestation.

You can also bring your old cell phones, tablets, MP3 players, etc. to the Dallas Zoo, and we’ll recycle them responsibly!

These electronics require the mineral coltan, which is mined in Africa – the natural habitat of critically endangered gorillas and other species. Deforestation and mining associated with coltan production have impacted and displaced gorillas, forcing them dangerously close to extinction. Recycling these devices and extending the life of electronic devices (do you really need a new mobile phone as soon as your contract is up?) reduces the demand for coltan mining. For more information on this initiative and how you can help, click HERE.

Categories: Conservation, Gorilla, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day at the Dallas Zoo

Help us #SaveOurScavengers

 

Known as “nature’s clean-up crew,” vultures have a pretty dirty job. But they play such a vital role in their ecosystems, and they help out humans too! Unlike other birds of prey vultures are scavengers, which means they eat carrion (aka, dead animals). This helps prevent the spread of diseases such as rabies, anthrax, cholera, botulism, and tuberculosis, which can often be found in those animal carcasses.

What a thankless job. Luckily, vultures are equipped with adaptations that help them thrive in this role.

  • Vultures’ highly acidic stomach acid and super strong immune system allow them to eat decaying and potentially infectious meat that would make most other animals sick.
  • Some vulture species rely on keen eyesight to locate their food; others rely on their keen sense of smell to search out hidden carcasses by detecting gasses that are released during decomposition.
  • Vultures will vomit up semi-digested food to ward off predators, or to help lighten their weight if they need to escape from a predator quickly.
  • Many species of vultures have bald heads – there is speculation that this helps them stay clean, but this may also help them with temperature regulation.

Unfortunately, these amazing birds are under siege when it comes to survival.

  • 16 of the 23 vulture species in the world are considered threatened, endangered, or critically endangered.
  • Vultures have been disappearing from Africa at an alarming pace over the last 30 years, having declined between 62-95% across the continent.
  • Globally, vultures are the most endangered group of birds.

Vultures are being poisoned by the thousands, especially in Africa and Asia; sometimes indirectly by farmers who poison large carnivores that threaten their livestock. The vultures consume the poisoned carcasses, and die as a result. More alarming is that poachers have begun intentionally poisoning the carcasses of poached animals to kill off vultures who may give away their location to authorities.

Which is why the first Saturday of September is now known as International Vulture Awareness Day, to help raise awareness about vultures and the conservation issues they face around the world.

Vultures at the Dallas Zoo

We love our vultures here at the Dallas Zoo! We care for eight different species, and we take pride in educating our community about the importance of saving these amazing birds.

You may have seen our black vulture, Baldwin, strut his stuff on the Wild Encounters Stage. Baldwin has been making our guests fall in love with vultures since 2016, when he came to us from a local rehabilitation facility. Fittingly enough, his third birthday falls on International Vulture Awareness Day this year.

“We love introducing Baldwin to our guests!” says Robin Ryan, Supervisor of Animal Encounters. “He has such charisma and personality, which I think can inspire people to see vultures in a more positive way.”

We’re also celebrating International Vulture Awareness Day throughout the weekend, during our special Member Mornings events this Saturday and Sunday. Members can join us for a private Vulture Keeper Chat both days at 8:30 a.m. in front of the vulture habitat, and we’ll have special vulture-themed arts & crafts projects.

We hope you’ll join us in wishing Baldwin the happiest of birthdays. And use International Vulture Awareness Day as your incentive to help us change this species’ reputation – toss out some of the fun facts above and tell others about these crazy-cool birds.

Not a member? Click here for more information, and to join today!

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

Getting submerged in new training

Our hippos, Boipelo and Adhama, love to show off their skills during keeper chats!

Dallas Zoo Hippo Keepers Christina E. and Christine S. guest blog on ZooHoo!

We train almost every animal that calls the Zoo home. Training lets animals participate in their own care and enables staff to provide excellent animal husbandry. It can be something as simple as teaching the animal to shift from one space to another. Or as complex as training the animal to allow ultrasounds. Animals, like the hippos, can be asked to present certain body parts to keepers to facilitate routine checkups, or to open their mouths for teeth examinations and x-rays. To do this we use operant conditioning, focusing on positive reinforcement techniques. This means if the animal does the behavior we ask, they are rewarded. A reinforcement or reward can be anything the animal enjoys. Food is the most common reinforcer, but some animals prefer attention, tactile reinforcement, or their favorite enrichment item.

Keeper Christina E.
and Adhama during a recent training session.

At the Simmons Hippo Outpost, our hippos LOVE to show off trained behaviors that they have learned over the last year. During our keeper interactions, you may have seen Adhama and Boipelo opening their mouths to present their teeth, swimming across the pool, or targeting. Targeting is one of the first behaviors most animals learn because it is a good starting tool that leads to more complex behaviors. Adhama and Boipelo are asked to touch their noses to the end of the target. Their target stick is a long bamboo pole with a buoy on the end that’s lightweight and floats, making it ideal for our hippos. This behavior is typically easy to teach.  Most animals are curious by nature, so when the target is first presented they want to examine it and come closer. After they take that first step towards it, they’re rewarded. They continue to be rewarded the closer they get until finally touching the target. Once the animal learns that touching this target gets them a reward, it becomes one of their favorite behaviors.

Keeper Christine S. works with Boipelo on target training.

We recently started training some behaviors at our underwater viewing area, which brings Adhama and Boipelo so close that you just might think you’re in the water with them.  Boipelo is a pro at targeting underwater, while Adhama prefers to stay above the surface at the moment. Boipelo tends to be shyer in front of crowds and lets her boyfriend shine. Adhama definitely likes to monopolize the spotlight and will do some targeting, opening his mouth, and moving back and forth across the window.

 

In Greek, Hippopotamus means “river horse,” and they do look like graceful horses trotting in slow motion underwater. However, don’t let this fool you! Hippos are actually closest related to whales and dolphins. With this up-close view you can really examine them to see some of the similarities they have with their relatives.

The training at the underwater viewing area is still in the early stages, but the hippos and trainers are enjoying this new level of interaction. Come by Simmons Hippo Outpost to see Adhama and Boipelo in action!

Categories: Africa, Simmons Hippo Outpost, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Mischievous meerkats master their training

The five members of our meerkat mob!

Our five meerkats (males Orbee and Widget; and females Poppet, Huxley, and Twig) are working hard on their crate and station training, which will make it easier for our vets and keepers to perform routine health care and check-ups. These cute little predators are officially able to enter crates to receive their monthly vaccines, which keeper Amberlee B. tells us wasn’t always smooth sailing:

“It required two keepers and was usually chaotic, with the meerkats popping in and out of the crates constantly. It made it difficult to keep track of who had actually received their medication, and who had not.”

Meerkats are vocal animals and operate in a matriarchal group, also known as a “mob.” Poppet acts as our mob’s alpha female. She’s known to be very smart, and picks up on new things during training sessions quickly. Poppet, Orbee, and Widget are known to keepers as the “trouble makers.” Sometimes the trio will even climb on top of one of their tortoise neighbors.

As you might imagine, training these quirky ‘kats can be tricky. To get them used to entering crates, the meerkats were presented with a high-value reward (keepers discovered they loved ground meat, similar to what we feed our big cats) each time they entered the crates. Animal staff then worked get them to stay in the crates for longer periods of time, until finally they were able to comfortably and quietly remain in the crates long enough for keepers to apply their monthly flea/tick treatments.

A meerkat waits patiently for his reward during a recent station training session.

Keepers are also currently using a similar training approach to work on station training. For this behavior, each meerkat has their own colored spot marker to sit on. This has proven essential to the meerkat care team! By putting the markers on top of a small scale, they have successfully recorded weights on all five meerkats. “This was something we have only been able to do during the check-ups, which happen about twice a year,” Amberlee says. “By having more up-to-date weights, we can adjust their diet as needed to keep them at a healthy weight.”

Visit our meerkat mob on the Gorilla Trail in the Wilds of Africa, and stay a few minutes to observe their frisky antics!

Categories: Mammals | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Dallas Zoo animal staff remain committed to our animals throughout their golden years

We love all of our animals at the Dallas Zoo, but our geriatric animals are some of the most special. When some of our animals reach retirement age and are no longer comfortable shifting in and out of their habitats, we move them to an area behind the scenes designed for their comfort, where dedicated keepers care for their every need.

Dara, the yellow-backed duiker

For Dara, the yellow-backed duiker, that time came about six years ago. Dara was one of our oldest and most beloved residents, and sadly, she passed away recently from age-related health issues. At age 26, she lived to be the oldest duiker in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and she had a wonderful and gentle personality.

Duikers are a type of African antelope. Their name means “diver” in Afrikaans, because they dive into vegetation and brush when spooked. Native to Central and Western Africa, adult duikers have a bold yellow stripe down their back, which becomes more visible when they’re on alert and their hair stands up.

Duikers are very intelligent – their brains are proportionally larger than other hoofstock, such as some antelope and gazelles. Most are hesitant of new things before they learn more about them, but Dara was very curious and loved to explore her surroundings. She absolutely loved pumpkins! She would roll them up and down the length of her habitat before finally eating them.

Although it was tough to say goodbye, we are proud to have provided Dara with the best possible care during her golden years. Her keepers made sure she had mats covering the floor of her stall so that she had better traction and a softer surface for her joints. Her keepers also performed routine hoof care, gave her hoof and joint supplements, and of course, lots of love and attention. Zoo staff say that it was such a privilege to care for Dara. She will be missed!

Honeydew, the tapir, enjoyed a special “cake” for her 35th birthday (January 2016)

Our other senior resident is 37-year-old Honeydew, a South American tapir. She is currently living out her “retirement” away from public view, where she is pampered with brushes, baths, special foot care, and leisurely swims in her personal pool. Honeydew’s sweet demeanor makes her a joy to care for and a keeper-favorite!

Categories: Africa, Uncategorized, Veterinary Care | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Brought to you by the Dallas Zoo