Saving endangered gorillas takes all of us

What do you think they’re talking out?

Lower Wilds of Africa zookeeper, Will Bookwalter, guest-blogs on ZooHoo! 

Gorillas have an otherworldly presence, there is just something incredibly special about them – size, majesty, silence that speaks volumes.

The deep chorus of rumbles through a happy troop breaks the hush of an otherwise ominously quiet setting. I sometimes describe it like the moments before a thunderstorm rolls in – there’s a certain force around you that you can’t quite identify and your stomach sinks with anticipation.

Subira is our incredible silver back over our family troop.

Sharing a moment with them is immensely humbling; just a brief second of eye contact is enough to lock you into their world for life and it’s an honor to be there.

The story of gorillas cannot be told without the story of humans. Our lives are intertwined in both the best and worst of ways, but we have the opportunity to effect change and a movement is taking shape across the globe.

A small part of the force that once destroyed habitats and populations has now pivoted to try and save what’s left, those people hope to protect the global treasures that live within the forests of Africa. Many have now learned that the crack of a rifle in the forest is far less valuable than the shutter of a camera. And in that regard, many former poachers have joined the elite corps of rangers who risk their lives everyday to protect the gorillas we have left.

While these brave men and women keep their boots-on-the-ground, standing across the battlefield from poachers, militias, and warlords, each one of us can have our own positive impact on gorilla populations right here at home. We all have the power to create a better world for gorillas.

Staggering numbers 

There are actually four types of gorillas, two species that each have two subspecies. The gorillas we care for

in AZA-accredited zoos are all Western lowland gorillas. In the wild, their population has dropped to 125,000 individuals; they’re classified by the IUCN as critically endangered. The other three subspecies aren’t as lucky. It’s believed there are only 3,800 Grauer’s gorillas left (our partner GRACE is working to save them); Eastern mountain gorillas are struggling with just 880 individuals remaining; and the Cross River gorillas are barely holding on with as few as 100 animals left.

Amani is an orphaned Guarer’s gorilla, living with our partner, the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), in the Congo.

But, wait! There’s good news on the horizon. Not only can we help, we ARE helping!

According to our conservation partner, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, mountain gorilla populations in Bwindi National Forest, Uganda, have actually increased from 302 individuals to no less than 400 between 2006 and 2012. Five years after the last census, we’re still trending upwards.

Gorillas don’t have any true natural predators. From time-to-time they may encounter a leopard interested in a youngster, but the silverback will protect the troop with his 500-pound frame and two-in-a-half inch canine teeth. Unfortunately, the remaining threats to gorillas are all human. In a way, that can be viewed as a positive. You can’t explain conservation to a leopard, but human behavior can be changed, and beliefs and opinions can be swayed with new information.

Gorillas are poached for many reasons, for example, bushmeat is an issue we often encounter. People kill and eat lots of endangered animals, gorillas are certainly included. And while their meat is valuable, bio-facts like hands, feet, and skulls can fetch much more on the black market.

The wildlife trade is a problem born purely out of greed and corruption, and we’re watching animals go extinct before our eyes in the name of trophies and pseudo-science. At the lowest levels of these operations, human lives are destroyed, as well, in order to feed and protect families, while war lords and corrupt politicians enjoy the luxuries that come along with exploitation.

With issues like these, simple conversations go a long way in changing minds. Consumers can sometimes be persuaded to stop purchasing items, like rhino horn and elephant ivory. There are a million different ways we can use our purchasing power to protect these precious habitats. Everyday electronics that we use contain minerals, like gold and coltan, mined in the areas where our gorillas live, and the vicious cycle begins there.

The trade of conflict minerals destroys the lives of humans and animals alike, and most of us have no idea the pain, struggle, and loss that goes into the obtaining the components of a new laptop.

We have proven before the power of the consumer, we are rapidly taking steps to convince companies to use sustainably sourced products across the entire spectrum of
manufacturing. As I mentioned above, each one of us truly does have the power to change the world.

On this historic World Gorilla Day, we hope you will join us at the Dallas Zoo, today through Sept. 26, to support our initiatives to raise $10,000 to protect these incredible gentle giants of the forest. Looking into a gorilla’s eyes, we can all see a reflection of ourselves. We share so much with these amazing animals, it’s time we share some of ourselves with our hallowed cousins. Together, we truly can create a better world for gorillas.

BREAKING NEWS: The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is considering rolling back a rule that helps protect wildlife, like critically endangered Grauer’s gorillas, from the effects of illegal mining operations. Tell them NO on conflict mineral amendment in #HR3354. Add your voice HERE. 

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Dallas Zoo to close historic Cat Row, says goodbye to Texas cats

Bobcat Rufus was once a wild cat who was rescued by the Dallas Zoo in 2001.

As we look to continue building updated, naturalistic habitats, we’re closing our oldest animal exhibit located within ZooNorth – Cat Row, featuring our Texas felines.

Mountain lion Apollo will remain with his best pal Lakai in their new Bridgeport, Texas home.

Our male bobcat, male and female ocelot pair, and male cougar pair will all be relocated to other respected institutions ahead of the closure. The zoo will host a goodbye weekend on Saturday, Sept. 30 and Sunday, Oct. 1, so guests can say farewell to the beloved animals.

The habitat was originally built in the late 1930s with Federal Works Project Administration (WPA) labor and funding, and Centennial bond money. Over the decades, it has undergone renovations and design improvements, but we’re ready to say goodbye to the small piece of history.

“As one of the nation’s top zoos, we pride ourselves on continuously evolving and building bigger and better habitats for our animals,” said Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s Vice President of Animal Operations and Welfare. “Cat Row doesn’t reflect Dallas Zoo’s progressive philosophy of care. There’s no doubt our cats are well cared for, and live enriched lives here – their home just doesn’t represent our growth and vision, and it’s time for change.”

The five cats will begin moving to their new homes over the next month. The first feline to leave, bobcat Rufus, has an interesting history at the zoo. He was rescued as a young, wild cat in 2001 after he killed three of the zoo’s small antelopes, known as dik-diks.

The Texas Department of Health recommended he be euthanized to test for rabies, but zoo officials urged that the zoo was a great isolation facility, which meant the risk for infection was low. Estimated to be 17 years old, Rufus leaves the Dallas Zoo on Sept. 26 and will retire to the Southwest Wildlife Conservation center in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Ocelot Joaquin and his mate Milagre will stay together at the Audubon Zoo.

On Oct. 6, male and female ocelots, Joaquin and Milagre, will head to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. Joaquin and Milagre have welcomed two babies together at the Dallas Zoo as part of a pairing through the Ocelot Species Survival Plan. The duo will remain together and continue to provide their valuable genes to the SSP through their breeding recommendation.

As early as late October, bonded mountain lion males, Apollo and Lakai, will move to the nearby Center for Animal Research and Education (CARE) in Bridgeport, Texas, where they’ll open a new habitat that’s nearly three times the size of their current home. Both cats were rescued as cubs in Canada and are estimated to be around 7 years old. They were brought together at the Dallas Zoo in 2010 and have been inseparable ever since.

“Moving these amazing cats wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s what’s best for them. We’re confident they’ll live safe, healthy lives in their new homes,” said Edell. “We want nothing more than for our guests to fall in love with wildlife in the right setting, and to support us as we find ways to create a better world for animals.”

As we build out our master plan for ZooNorth, we’ll initially use Cat Row as a much-needed extension to our outdoor event space. The zoo’s annual Halloween Nights event returns Oct. 26-29. Then coming to ZooNorth on Nov. 17, the park will transform in the evening into Dallas Zoo Lights Presented by Reliant, with nearly one million twinkling lights and illuminated displays, entertainment, arts and crafts, and holiday-themed drinks and snacks. The inaugural Dallas Zoo Lights Presented by Reliant spans 33 nights, through Jan. 2.

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Six months with lion cub Bahati & the journey to get here

 

The lucky one

Guests have fallen in love with our now 6-month-old Bahati Moja, the first lion cub born at the Dallas Zoo in 43 years. Her birth on St. Patrick’s Day this year via a scheduled C-section left nothing to chance. The positive outcome was the result of a well-coordinated and meticulously planned group effort between our animal care, veterinary, and nutrition teams.

Planning for baby

The veterinary team knew that Bahati’s mother, Lina, has a narrow pelvic canal and small hips, which had resulted in two stillborn cubs during her previous pregnancy. Once keepers noticed Lina breeding with Kamau, the planning began to try to ensure a healthy pregnancy and birth. The team determined the safest option for mom and baby would be a scheduled C-section. Then the staff planned out 105-110 days, the length of lion gestation, so that full veterinary and carnivore care teams could be on hand for the day of delivery.

Bahati nuzzles up to mom Lina.

When the big day finally arrived, all the careful planning paid off. The veterinary team performed a by-the-book C-section and ran into no issues during the procedure. Bahati was strong and vocal immediately after birth. Mother and cub returned to the carnivore barn soon after delivery so Lina could wake up from anesthesia, recover from surgery, and meet her cub in familiar surroundings. Keepers bottle-fed Bahati a special formula the first few days until mom fully recovered, but Lina showed excellent maternal instincts and took over care just 30 hours after her operation.

Meeting benchmarks

Bahati has been consistently gaining two to three pounds per week, and now weighs 60 pounds. In addition to nursing, the little predator now gets her own diet of bones and ground meat. In the wild, these carnivorous cats are opportunistic feeders and prey on zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, antelope, and other sources of meat.

This smart cub has mastered shifting from her yard to the barn and is working on target training, lying down, and sitting during voluntary training session with keepers. Soon she will advance to presenting her paws for inspection and conducting blood draws on her tail. Guests can watch her progress during training demonstrations at Predator Rock in our Giants of the Savanna habitat.

During a weighing session, newborn Bahati sticks her head out of the scale box.

Social life

Since lions are the only true social species of big cats, females tend to work together to raise all the cubs in their pride. It’s no surprise, then,  that aunt Jasiri enjoys her wild and playful niece and often helps Lina by babysitting. Even dad, Kamau, is playing a part in rearing the cub. When Bahati practices her stalking on Kamau’s thick mane and tail, dad is loving but stern in his response.

Bahati is putting her climbing skills to good use, exploring the rocks and hills in her habitat and climbing over mom, dad, and aunt Jasiri. In Africa, lions will lounge underneath trees to escape the heat and insects, and you’ll often see the same with our pride here.

Purr-fectly adorable

You may hear Bahati mew and growl, but it will still take a few more months for her to develop a full roar. As she grows, she’ll lose the spots of a newborn and will develop a full tail tuft. Come to Predator Rock – or the Serengeti Grill windows – to see our new pride and joy for yourself!

Bahati was born via C-section.
Bahati was born via C-section.
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Saving sea turtles in South Texas

 

It takes just one year for trash from DFW to make it into the Gulf of Mexico through storm drains, hurting South Texas’s marine life and other species. Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Action Team (WEAT) is on a Texas-proud mission to restore critical habitat for animals across the state.

The team put in sweat equity and removed 2,750 pounds of litter pollution from the beaches and dunes. They also participated in a sunrise release of 26 Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchlings – the ocean’s most endangered species of turtle.

“Every wildlife habitat restored and every species saved from extinction begins with us. It’s a great feeling to know we have members, guests and volunteers right beside us working to create a better world for animals,” said Ben Jones, dean of the Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy and co-leader of the trip.

When the team wasn’t squealing over baby sea turtles or picking up litter, they spent time at Sea Turtle, Inc., helping spruce up the non-profit’s building.

Dallas Zoo staff also proudly presented a check to Sea Turtle Inc. to help the conservationists continue their work to save the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.

Take action at home to protect marine life by reducing your plastic consumption with reusable straws, water bottles and canvas bags; choose to eat sustainably harvested seafood; and help keep litter pollution out of Texas waterways.

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Introducing Dallas Zoo Lights, a bright new holiday celebration

 

The Dallas Zoo will debut a new seasonal tradition starting this November, hosting its inaugural holiday celebration – Dallas Zoo Lights Presented by Reliant. This kicks off a three-year relationship with the electricity and home services provider as the signature sponsor of the Dallas Zoo Lights event.

Dallas Zoo Lights will transform the Dallas Zoo into a winter wonderland with nearly one million twinkling lights that illuminate the night sky throughout the holiday season.

Spanning 33 select nights from Nov. 17 through Jan. 2, guests can stroll along a path that covers 25 acres within the Zoo, enjoying an array of light-wrapped trees, overhead and hanging light displays, lighted 2-D decorations, and fantastic 3-D light sculptures. Various lighted vignettes throughout the Zoo will give you the feeling of being transported from an African watering hole within the Zoo to a holiday candy land at the North Pole.

“We are thrilled to announce we’re teaming up with Reliant to bring a distinctive event like Dallas Zoo Lights to the community this holiday season,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo president and CEO. “This is an opportunity for everyone to experience the Zoo in a whole different light, and we’re so grateful Reliant is joining forces with us to start this new holiday tradition. From the dazzling light displays to the nightly holiday entertainment, we’re excited to share our holiday spirit with guests from near and far.”

Designed as an event for all ages, Dallas Zoo Lights will feature:

  • holiday music performances,
  • a special holiday light show set to music, running multiple times during the evening,
  • tasty winter treats for kids and adults (including gourmet donuts, cookies, hot chocolate, and holiday crafted adult beverages),
  • crafts and activities for the kids,
  • great locations for fun holiday family photos, and
  • a carousel and mini-train rides, each lit up by holiday lights.

“The holidays are one of our favorite times of year at Reliant. That’s why we’re excited to bring a new family tradition to Dallas with Zoo Lights,” said Elizabeth Killinger, president of Reliant. “No one knows how to light up the night like Reliant, and we look forward to Zoo Lights bringing out the very best of the holiday season.”

Beginning Nov. 17, Dallas Zoo Lights Presented by Reliant is open every Friday through Sunday, as well as select weeknights. The event will be closed on Dec. 24 and 25. This unique holiday event is free with regular Zoo admission, meaning guests can come during the day to walk around and see the animals, and stay for the holiday celebration at night for no additional charge. Guests can also come just for the lighted holiday festivities, which are scheduled from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. each evening of Dallas Zoo Lights. A special Dallas Zoo Lights event calendar will be available soon on DallasZoo.com with details about dates, nightly entertainment, and other activities, so you can plan your visit.

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