Bird fostering: How zoos pull out all the stops to save animals from extinction

Dallas Zoo Assistant Supervisor Marcie Herry gives San Antonio Zoo Senior Keeper Serenity Hyland one of two kori bustard eggs to be raised by the San Antonio Zoo.

What does it take to ensure the survival of a genetically valuable bird? Sometimes it means flying halfway across the country to pick up an egg and bring it back to Dallas to be fostered by a different set of parents.

This temperature controlled container was used to safely transfer the egg to the San Antonio Zoo

That was the case this spring bird season when a lappet-faced vulture egg was laid by a mom at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida. The mom, unfortunately, didn’t have the best track record caring for her young. Luckily, the Dallas Zoo has a great set of lappet-faced vulture parents that could act as foster parents—yes, there are foster parents even in the animal kingdom!

Fostering like this and even hand-rearing are options that Association of Zoos & Aquariums institutions have to consider for new births or hatchings to conserve and save wildlife.

The lappet-faced vulture hatching is just one example of the decisions the Dallas Zoo deals with every spring with 700-plus birds on grounds, spanning more than 100 different species—many of which are endangered, declining, or near threatened.

When the parents aren’t available, sometimes zookeepers step in as the foster parents, like with a new kori bustard hatchling this spring. We’re hand-rearing one of these, and another two kori bustard eggs were picked up by the San Antonio Zoo, where they have the space and manpower to raise these chicks.

Eggs sit in an incubator at the Dallas Zoo

In other instances, zoos even cross-foster between similar species if the same species is not an option. For example, a lappet-faced vulture chick may be reared by a white-backed vulture and vice versa. This is done very carefully, and only in the right circumstances.

Regardless of what it takes to ensure a chick’s survival, the Dallas Zoo and other AZA-accredited zoos are doing everything it takes—from hand-rearing to fostering internally or even delivering eggs and chicks to zoos hundreds of miles away—to save animals from extinction.

The next time you peer out into the flamingo pond and see a unique species of bird, remember—it might have been raised by mom and dad, or it may have taken a different path, like being raised by humans, foster parents, or even a different species altogether.

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

Zoo Corps electronics recycling initiative is here to stay

We’ve just wrapped up our second year of Zoo Corps, and I couldn’t be prouder of this year’s group of amazing high schoolers. Our youth-led conservation team meets twice a month throughout the school year and selects an important conservation issue to address. While I provide guidance along the way and connect the team with knowledgeable Zoo staff, these teens do it all – from conducting research to making key decisions.

This year’s group selected deforestation as their issue to tackle. Although a multi-faceted and daunting issue, the teens came up with a creative and effective way to make a positive impact.

During Endangered Species Weekend, Zoo Corps launched a new initiative to help save gorilla habitats and encourage Zoo guests to reforest their own backyards. As you may have read in their earlier blog post, gorillas, chimps, okapi and many other animals who call African rainforests their home are losing this critical habitat. Much of this habitat loss is due to mining coltan, a mineral used to manufacture electronics such as cell phones and tablets. By recycling or extending the life of these devices, you can help reduce the demand for coltan, and ultimately help save gorilla habitat!

While the potential for storms seemed to keep some people away on Saturday, May 20, we had a great turnout on Sunday, May 21, and overall, the weekend was a success! We collected a total of 56 devices, including phones, tablets and MP3 players. Each will be recycled with ECO-CELL, a handheld electronics recycling company founded in 2003.

Though team members were initially concerned about saving habitat in Africa, they also wanted to save wildlife in their own backyards. To help local wildlife, the teens gave out Texas native tree saplings to Zoo guests who brought a device to recycle. They also engaged visitors in conversations about gorillas, giving out saplings to guests who could answer trivia questions about the great apes. In total, Zoo Corps gave out 100 tree saplings from Texas Trees Foundation that were ready for guests to take home and plant in their yards!

In addition to the Zoo Corps cell phone recycling drive, Endangered Species Weekend featured 7 stations around the Zoo where visitors took specific pledges to help protect wildlife. Pledges were simple tasks that anyone can do, but they can make a big difference in small ways! In total, there were 3,200 pledges to save wildlife, with 250 specifically for gorillas.

I could not be more proud of these students who have so much passion and drive to save endangered species, and I look forward to welcoming the 2017-2018 Zoo Corps group who will make their own difference in the world. Applications will be live this August for students who will be in grades 9-12 for the upcoming school year.

If you didn’t make it to Endangered Species Weekend, you can still recycle your small electronics any time you visit the Zoo.

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

Celebrate World Oceans Day by doing these 5 simple actions

Today is #WorldOceansDay! From generating oxygen and regulating climate, to providing food and contributing to the advancement of medicine, oceans are vital ecosystems and critical to our survival. But items we use every day pose serious threats to wildlife who call oceans home. Did you know we use over 1 million plastic bags every minute? These bags can be mistaken for jellyfish by hungry sea turtles. It’s time for SEArious change.

Check out this infographic with 5 simple actions you can take to reduce pollution and save marine species, like the critically endangered #vaquita porpoise, of which there are less than 30 in existence.

LEARN MORE about World Oceans Day and The Ocean Project

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

10 ways to have the best Saturday ever at the Zoo

It’s Saturday, the sun is shining, and you’ve watched everything in your Netflix queue. Whether you’re ready to spend the day with your crew or going on a date, the Zoo’s got you covered. We’ve listed 10 suggestions for having the best Saturday ever with us and over 2,000 animals. So change out of those PJs, and head outside to experience the Zoo like never before!

1. Saturday, Caturday

We have the cutest baby animals ever (okay fine, we may be a tad biased). Have you met our little lioness Bahati? Head over to the lion exhibit first thing in the morning, and you might see her exploring. Believe us, she’s more entertaining than any internet cat video.

2. Get wild on a Backstage Safari

Sign up for a behind-the-scenes tour filled with up close encounters to make any animal lover swoon. This 90-minute tour lets you feed an elephant and a penguin as well as interact with some of our dynamic animal ambassadors (yes – that tamandua does like avocado as much as you!). All proceeds from Backstage Safaris go directly to our wildlife conservation efforts, helping to protect species and restore habitats around the world. Win-win!

3. Photo Ark photo op

We have an entire tunnel and dozens of kiosks with selfie-sized photos from the National Geographic Photo Ark, captured by photographer Joel Sartore. We promise you’ll score some likes if you snap a selfie with one of these animals. Use hashtag #SaveTogether. (Photo credit: Caitie Thrower)

4. Giraffe feeding

Have you ever touched a giraffe? We know some people with a bunch of lettuce and kale that can make that happen. You may even get a lick from Tebogo. #Goals.

5. Amazing monorail views

Take a rest. We’re the largest zoological park in Texas, and that means lots of walking. Grab a seat on our newly renovated Adventure Safari monorail, and travel on a one-mile loop that takes you to five African habitats you can’t see by foot. In addition to bird’s-eye animal views, you’ll also get a few glimpses of the Dallas skyline.

6. Hippo hype

If you haven’t met our new hippos Adhama and Boipelo, you’re missing out. Check out a keeper chat at 11:15 a.m. or 2:30 p.m., and you might even see them in action during a training session. Trust us – you’ll wanna ‘Gram it when their mouths are hope wide or they wiggle their ears. Not to mention, the underwater viewing window will bring you face-to-snout with these barrel-rolling hams – have your camera ready!

7. Two words – chicken fingers

Our new Coop on the Fly food truck is serving up some serious down-home, fried goodness, and you don’t want to miss out on chicken fingers and tater tots.

8. Cheers and chill

If that isn’t enough, we’ve got cold beer on tap from 10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. at locations near the flamingo pond in ZooNorth and by the monorail station in the Wilds of Africa, as well as the craft beer garden and brand new lounge on Cat Green. So sit back, relax, and have a sip of local flavor or a classic favorite.

9. Safari Nights

Safari Nights Powered by Breeze Energy means live music at sundown on shady Cat Green – you bring the lawn chair, we’ll bring the tunes. This Saturday at 7 p.m., we’ve got The O’s playing some catchy, acoustic pop tunes that anyone can dance to – don’t worry, the animals won’t judge! Concerts are every Saturday through July 15.

10. Cabana life

It’s Texas, and it’s hot! Avoid the back sweat, and spend a steamy summer night chilling out with your crew in one of our reservable cabanas, complete with chairs, fans, and water during Safari Nights!

And the very best part is that your adventure helps support conservation efforts around the world! That’s right, a portion of your admission goes to our conservation partners in order to save wildlife and protect the environment. So, have some fun and do some good this Saturday!

Categories: Conservation, Lion, Monorail Safari, Photography, Safari Nights, Simmons Hippo Outpost, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

World-famous giraffe Katie welcomes baby boy

We are elated to share that our beloved giraffe Katie gave birth to a healthy male calf on Tuesday, May 30, at approximately 1:45 p.m. As of Thursday morning, when the zoo’s veterinary team conducted a well-baby checkup, the almost 6-foot baby weighed in at about 150 lbs.

Katie and her new bouncing baby boy are doing very well, following what was a by-the-book, hour-long delivery. The calf has spent his first few days learning how to nurse and following mom around their area.

Katie lovingly nudges her new baby boy, born on Tuesday afternoon.

“We consider ourselves so lucky to get to welcome this (big) little guy to the world here at the Dallas Zoo,” said Harrison Edell, the Dallas Zoo’s vice president of animal operations and welfare. “Katie brought this calf into the world like a pro, and we continue to be amazed at how quickly this baby giraffe is taking to his surroundings and learning his way with Katie there to guide him.”

Now, at 9 years old, Katie has welcomed three calves with ease – two females, and now her first male. An excellent, proven mother, Katie will remain with her calf for the next few weeks as they bond behind the scenes.

The baby will then meet the truest gentle giant of them all – Uncle Auggie. Our oldest and most patient giraffe, Auggie is typically the first to meet new calves. And eventually, the calf will join the rest of the herd in the giraffe feeding yard.

We’re giving the honor of naming the baby giraffe to the zoo team that took such stellar care of mom during her pregnancy and are now caring for the newest addition to our giraffe herd. We’ll announce his name prior to the calf making his public debut.

The calf’s father, Tebogo, is one of the most popular giraffes at the Dallas Zoo. Matched with Katie on an Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan (SSP) breeding recommendation, the two were paired together to ensure appropriate breeding and genetic diversity in North America.

“Welcoming this baby giraffe to the Dallas Zoo is yet another milestone in what has been a very exciting year for us,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO. “We look forward to sharing the adorable awkwardness and cute baby face of the giraffe calf with our visitors. But we also want our guests to know how critical a role accredited zoos have in conservation efforts, as we try to help maintain the species’ existence given the numbers in the wild are diminishing so rapidly.”

Unfortunate news hit the giraffe population in late 2016 – the International Union for Nature and Conservation downgraded the species status from “least concern,” skipped the “near threatened” classification, and moved giraffes directly to the “vulnerable” category.

In the past 30 years, the giraffe population has suffered a nearly 40% drop due to human encroachment, poaching and habitat loss. It’s believed there are fewer than 97,000 individuals in the wild – scarcer than even African elephants.

And for reticulated giraffes, the subspecies we care for here at the zoo, only 4,700 remain. This all amounts to what researchers are calling a silent extinction for the tallest and longest-necked animal in the kingdom.

The Dallas Zoo proudly supports the Reticulated Giraffe Project and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) by funding efforts to monitor giraffes and remove snares in Uganda. We also help GCF raise anti-poaching awareness in African communities.

 

The more you know…

The Dallas Zoo’s new giraffe calf has been active and exploring since just after his birth on Tuesday.

We know you’ll have questions, so we thought we’d try to answer a few here –

  • How are Katie and the baby doing?  Both are healthy and doing very well. The calf has been right on schedule with his activities, standing, nursing, and showing a curiosity to explore – just as we want to see.
  • Was it an easy delivery?  Yes, Katie was in labor for less than an hour and all went as expected.
  • When will you be able to see the calf on exhibit?   It will likely be several weeks before he’s out on exhibit. Watch the zoo’s social channels for updates.
  • What is the calf’s name?  We’ll let you know soon! Once the team here at the zoo decides on the name, we’ll announce it.
  • Will the public have a chance to help name the baby giraffe?  We’re going to give our giraffe team the honor of naming the calf.
  • What has the zoo done to the exhibit to make sure it’s safe given what happened with Kipenzi?  We have modified the entry gate system and enhanced the fencing within the exhibit for additional protection for the whole giraffe herd. We believe these measures will help mitigate the possibility of an inadvertent injury in the exhibit.

Katie captured hearts in 2015 with first-ever “Giraffe Birth Live”

Katie received worldwide attention in 2015 when she delivered calf Kipenzi during a remarkable, first-ever live streamed birth on Animal Planet and Animal Planet L!VE web cameras. Millions of people around the world fell in love with Katie and her calf – the birth drew more than 2 million streams on APL.tv, and the “Giraffe Birth Live” TV special drew 1.4 million viewers.

The live project turned millions into devout, loyal giraffe fans. From admirers making their support permanent with giraffe tattoos, to flying across the world to meet Katie and Kipenzi in person, the impact this mother-daughter duo had was immeasurable.

This time around, we decided to not live stream Katie’s delivery. While some of Katie’s fans were sad to not be able to tune in for 24-hour access to the birth, we didn’t want to try to recreate the magic of the first “Giraffe Birth Live.”

Sadly, Kipenzi passed away in July 2015 following a tragic accident. After Kipenzi’s death, the Dallas Zoo and Animal Planet received hundreds of thousands of messages of sympathy and gratefulness for the unprecedented project. An outpouring of support from her fans led to nearly $100,000 in donations for giraffe conservation and other wildlife conservation efforts around the world.

Come visit our now 10-member giraffe herd, which roams the award-winning Giants of the Savanna, the only U.S. zoo habitat where giraffes and elephants mingle alongside other African species. In 2015, the habitat was named USA Today’s No. 3 “Best Zoo Exhibit” in the nation.

 

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

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