Posts Tagged With: Cheetah

Winspear & Amani: From babies to boys

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Cheetah Winspear and Labrador retriever Amani aren’t your average BFFs. Some assume it’s unusual for cats and dogs to form close bonds, but these boys have been inseparable since the day they met. Slobbery kisses are frequent, playing is constant, napping together is the norm, and sticking by each other’s side is for life.

With fewer than 10,000 cheetahs left in the wild, the world’s fastest land mammal is racing against extinction. Winspear and Amani were brought together as babies to help teach the public about the serious threat wild cheetahs face. Winspear is an incredible ambassador for his species. Together, they’re helping the public make genuine connections to Africa’s most endangered cat.

In the wild, male cheetahs naturally form bonds with their brothers – it’s called a coalition. Born just three days apart and living together since they were six weeks old, Amani has grown up as Winspear’s brother, forming their own coalition.

Amani helps Winspear feel calm and safe in public settings, since cheetahs are naturally shy, submissive animals. Can you guess who takes the alpha role in this relationship? Yep, Amani’s the canine in charge.

These boys live together full time and travel to schools, hospitals, and events in North Texas, spurring real conversations about how to help cheetahs in the wild. They also can be seen five days a week at the ZooNorth Cheetah Encounter.

We couldn’t be more proud of the bond they have and the story they’re sharing. Winspear, who was born July 8, and Amani who was born July 10, will celebrate their second birthday together on July 11. Please join us at the Cheetah Encounter this Saturday at 9:45 a.m. as these BFFs devour their birthday cake.

And enjoy this slideshow of the duo who’ve grown up before our eyes these past two years!

Baby Winspear at just a few weeks old.
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Categories: Africa, Cheetah, Cheetah Encounter, Conservation, Education | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

PART ONE: Lion-cheetah habitat gets special attention

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Dallas Zoo keepers are fully responsible for their animals, from their health to their habitats. This two-part series explores how some keepers care for the areas that are home to our residents. PART ONE: The lion-cheetah exhibit.

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

It’s 6:45 a.m. when Sara Hamlin parks behind the lion and cheetah quarters. She’s followed closely by Becky Wolf and Sara Squires, the two primary keepers of these big cats. The sun is just rising and the lions are roaring.

“They’re just saying good morning to each other,” Hamlin explains. She’s been a part of the Dallas Zoo staff for just 10 days, and she’s already used to the noisy greetings. Or maybe she remembers the male lions, Kamaia and Dinari – she used to work at the zoo where they were born. “I got to watch them grow up, and it’s nice to see them again,” Hamlin says.

The two cheetahs are allowed night access to their habitat, so the first task is to bring them inside so it can be cleaned and restocked. As with any task directly involving the big cats, the keepers work in pairs – a door can’t be opened without one keeper announcing the action and the second keeper replying with an “OK.”

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

When the siblings are inside, Bonde lies down next to his sister Kilima, and starts vocalizing. He’s ready for breakfast, which has been prepared the day before. The cats are weighed every two weeks, and the Zoo’s nutritionist determines how much food they’ll get. Some guests ask if our cheetahs are underfed, but these cats – with a lean body built for speed – are kept at a healthy weight.

Once the first round of food has been delivered, the keepers move into the habitats to begin cleaning. They mow every two weeks, trim bushes and trees, scrub the inside of the glass, clean any mess the animals have made, check the levels in the pool and water bowls, and set out enrichment items for the day. Enrichment is a process by which keepers enhance the animal’s environment by adding scents, toys, sounds, food, substrate and other items to encourage natural behaviors and keep them physically and mentally fit.

The cheetahs, for example, love the smell of certain human perfumes. The keepers occasionally spray it in a patch of grass, and the cheetahs will rub their faces in it and roll around. Other enrichment items include empty ostrich eggs and small hay piles once used as zebra beds. Because the keepers schedule the cats into each habitat, the food and enrichment they put out vary from day to day. The whole cleaning process can take up to two hours, including a perimeter check of the entire habitat.

Before the lions are let out in the morning, they have a quick training session, which lets the keepers check their

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they've shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they’ve shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

overall health. They may examine the cats’ teeth and feet for problems or sores, and if one is detected, they apply medication with an oversized cotton swab if necessary.

As the keepers move behind the scenes, all three constantly check and doublecheck doors and locks. “Being [obsessive] can actually be helpful, because you have to do the same thing over and over again and you can’t forget,” Squires says. The keepers also perform a “positive head count,” going into the public viewing area and locating all of the cats (two cheetahs and two lions or lionesses), confirming that they’re safe in their habitat.

The animals are good at being where they need to be. If any of the cats are a bit slow to move in the morning, the keepers encourage them by setting out more meat treats – but they never yell or touch the animals. Dallas Zoo keepers won’t punish animals for challenging behavior. Instead, they ignore the cats until appropriate behavior is observed, then the keepers respond and reward appropriately.

As demonstrated by the public training sessions, rewards always come with good behavior. “Everything we do is training for them,” Squires says. The keepers are constantly aware of how their actions are perceived or may be reinforcing to the animals. For example, if one of the lions is pawing at or banging on a door, the keepers wait until they stop banging before they open the door. If the keepers open the door when they are banging, the cats will continue to do it. So the undesired behavior is ignored, and good behavior is rewarded.

COMING UP: The gorilla habitat.

Categories: Africa, Cheetah, Enrichment, Lion, Mammals, Nutrition, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giving 100%: Zoo’s veterinary team is always on duty

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The patient was rushed to the hospital, less than a quarter-mile from her home, with a neck injury and a puncture wound to her abdomen.

Unable to communicate, she was quickly anesthetized so the scope of her injuries could be determined. Exploratory surgery revealed no intestinal damage and the deep wound was flushed and cleaned. X-rays identified a slight neck fracture, which was immobilized by an improvised splint, because there was nothing standard to fit her tiny neck. She was given antibiotics and painkillers, and was fed through an intravenous tube until she could eat on her own.

Most of the world’s scavengers don’t get this level of care, but the African white-backed vulture and other animals at the Dallas Zoo have access to four full-time veterinarians, a top-flight hospital, and more than a dozen other professionals who provide care and nutrition.

The $3.75 million A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility sits behind the elephant and gorilla habitats in the Wilds of Africa. The hospital, as well as other areas of the Zoo that involve animals and zookeepers, are overseen by Lynn Kramer, D.V.M., vice president of animal operations and welfare. A veterinarian, Kramer follows the progress of animals treated by the hospital staff and consults on special cases.

“This hospital is one of the best,” Kramer said. “It ranks in the top 10 percent of zoo hospitals around the country – and I’ve seen most of them.”

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Dallas Zoo veterinarians put koala Tekin under anesthesia to perform an annual checkup on him recently. He got a clean bill of health. Dallas Zoo/Cathy Burkey

Day-to-day care is led by Christopher J. Bonar, V.M.D., Dipl. A.C.Z.M., director of animal health, who came to the Dallas Zoo and Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park in January 2013. Bonar is involved in all aspects of clinical medicine, surgery, diagnostic imaging, pathology and nutrition, as well as reviews of preventive medicine, quarantine, and anesthesia protocols. He oversees three full-time veterinarians as well as vet technicians, hospital keepers, a hospital record administrator, a certified nutritionist, and the Animal Nutrition Center and nutrition team. And he’s responsible for developing research and publication goals for the department.

Bonar was planning to become a doctor when he attended Harvard University for his undergraduate and master’s degrees in biology, and expected to support his love of zoos and aquariums through philanthropy. But with his father’s encouragement, Bonar followed his passion, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, and became part of a select group of zoo veterinarians who have earned board certification from the American College of Zoological Medicine. He works with Jan Raines, D.V.M., and Maren Connolly, D.V.M., to care for more than 2,100 animals (not including invertebrates).

The team makes it a point to keep their calendars clear for a portion of every day to accommodate emergencies, and someone is on duty or on call 24 hours each day. Most of their time is filled with well-patient care: administering tuberculosis tests, performing chest X-rays, updating vaccines, and conducting dental and ophthalmic exams.

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X-ray of a Thompson’s gazelle.

Incoming animals, which are quarantined for 30 to 45 days, get physicals and X-rays, and are checked for parasites and viruses. Vets also examine outgoing animals to ensure that they are free of contagious diseases before they leave Dallas.

The veterinarians talk with curators and zookeepers about any unusual animal behavior that may warrant further investigation. For example, if an animal has started limping or is lame, vets may prescribe an anti-inflammatory drug (for minor cases) or may immobilize an animal to treat more serious issues.

Recently, the Dallas Zoo team monitored the health of an Aldabra tortoise for almost a year, because it wasn’t eating as much as it had in the past. Keepers and vets couldn’t find an obvious problem, and its large shell and the arrangement of tortoises’ internal organs made ultrasounds, x-rays, and laparoscopic tests ineffective. So the tortoise was taken for a CT scan. Tests revealed a tongue lesion that was repaired with a laser supplied by another veterinary specialist. The tortoise is now eating well.

“Here’s an animal that was 15 years old, but has a very long, long life ahead of him,” Bonar said, referring to the 150-year life span of Aldabra tortoises.

In another instance, the carnivore keepers at Giants of the Savanna noticed that Bonde cheetah wasn’t eating as usual, and they were concerned that he had ingested a foreign object. Raines studied blood and fecal samples and examined the cheetah with an endoscope. When Bonde hadn’t eaten 48 hours later, she administered a barium radiograph and identified an intestinal adhesion, which would have been fatal if not treated. Raines removed the problem, and the cheetah was up and running days later.

The health care and well-being of animals at the Dallas Zoo and the Children’s Aquarium are the primary focus of everyone associated with the A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility, the ANC, and an entire team of zookeepers, staff, volunteers, and supporters. It’s likely that Aldabra tortoise will outlive all of us – and that’s the goal of this team.

Categories: Birds, Cheetah, Koala, Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians, Veterinary Care | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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