Posts Tagged With: conservation

Heeding the call: Earthwatch expedition to save chimpanzees

Cristina P. in Uganda on her Earthwatch expedition to BCFS.

Primate keeper Cristina P. guest blogs on ZooHoo!

In August of 2016 I received an unexpected call from the Dallas Zoo’s HR director. She informed me that I had been selected as one of the finalists for an Earthwatch Fellowship, and 9 months later I was on my way to an adventure I will never forget.

Our group met up at a hotel in Entebbe, a city on the Northern Shores of Lake Victoria, 23 miles from the national capital Kampala, Uganda. We had only 5 participants in our team – 3 from Australia, one from Switzerland, and myself. Being in a small group allowed us to really form personal connections, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet people from around the world, including the great people of Uganda.

Chimps gathered near our cabin in the forest.

We left for the Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS), and 6 hours later we arrived to the most remote location I had ever been. The nearest town was 45 minutes away, I was not going to be in communication with anyone via phone or internet for the next 10 days, and primates were my new neighbors. I could not have been more excited.

We were surrounded by groups of blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys (also called guenons), baboons and black and white colobus. We saw many bushbucks (a brownish-red hoofed stock) as well as a few genets and civets at night. We heard the nightly calls of the tree hyrax.  Birds were abundant in the area making it a great spot for bird watchers. The butterflies were the prettiest I had ever seen.

BCFS has been around since 1990, and over the years, researchers have noticed that some of the fruit trees (which provide the chimps’ natural food source) have been producing drastically fewer amounts of fruit. The local villagers also believe that chimps and baboons have been raiding their crops more frequently. Could the decline of fruit availability be causing the increase in crop raiding? Could the fruit decrease be caused by global warming? Is this simply part of a natural cycle of the forest? The area had been exploited for many decades by the British for mahogany, so there’s also a theory that maybe as the forest regenerates and trees get taller, there is less sun getting through to the shorter fruit trees, thus affecting their development.

BCFS tries to look at every piece of the puzzle, so many of the tasks we performed were for the purpose of furthering this research. One day we set up mist nets in the forest to catch birds and catalog them, since they are important in spreading seeds (they were released after we were done with measurements, banding and pictures). BCFS field assistants monitor types of leaves and fruit levels on around 1,400 fruit trees in the area, so we assisted in data collection for that project as well.  But most importantly, we observed 2 troops of chimpanzees, which was an experience like no other.

We observed this chimp enjoying a snack.

Some days, we’d start walking before dawn so we could find the chimps as they were waking up. One of the groups, called Sonso has been studied since the beginning of the project and is fully habituated, which means they see the people as part of their environment and do not mind human presence. The second group, Waibira, has been studied since 2011 and are still in the process of habituation. For the purposes of minimizing disease transmission and our safety we were told to keep a distance of approximately 23 feet to the chimps. The only problem with that was the animals don’t know that rule and at times came pretty close to us. It was fascinating to be so close to an animal that is so strong and powerful, yet they seemed to just go about their day as if we weren’t even there.

A chimp is observed with injuries from being caught in a snare.

We also had the chance to assist the snare removal team. In this particular area, chimps are not hunted for bush meat. Instead the targets are bush pigs, blue and red duikers, and bushbucks. Unfortunately though, chimps inadvertently get caught in those, and about 25% of the animals in this area have a snare-related injury. One particular female had gotten caught by a snare 3 different times! They have even been observed trying to free one another from the snares. It was also noted that there was no difference in how the injured chimps were treated by their troop and they seem to eventually adapt to their new reality of missing fingers, toes, etc. Unfortunately some are not so lucky and do end up dying from their injuries. Occasionally the BCFS veterinary team will sedate an injured chimp and remove a snare if the animal is left behind by its troop.

On one of our last days we visited a nearby village to interview the local farmers and learn about the impact that chimps, baboons, and small monkeys have on their crops. Years ago, BCFS helped them identify what kinds of foods would be least appealing to the animals and provided them with seeds, which were then planted near the forest edge. They do this in the hopes that the animals might keep walking further out to search for foods they like better. The farmers depend on these crops, not only for income, but also to feed their families.

Leaving BCFS was bittersweet. I still miss seeing the chimps and all the people I met! But since I’ve returned from Uganda, I have a renewed hope that there are people out there doing amazing things every day to save these animals from extinction.

Categories: Africa, Chimpanzee, Conservation, Zookeepers | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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: , , , , | 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: , , , | 1 Comment

Former Dallas Zoo camper turns passion for marine life into ‘ReefLove’

Mary Katherine Futrell shows what a healthy coral reef looks like (left jar) opposed to coral bleaching (right jar).

We feel like we’ve won Olympic gold when we learn about kids who grew up going to the Dallas Zoo and turned their passion for animals and nature into conservation projects and careers. Bishop Lynch High School sophomore Mary Katherine Futrell is doing just that.

When Mary Katherine was six years old as a camper in Dallas Zoo’s summer camp, she met Mango, an African penguin she still remembers today. Interacting with Mango helped shape what kind of work she wanted to do as she got older. Now, she’s teaching our community to protect marine life.

“All of the animal encounters we got to do during camp were just so crazy awesome,” said Futrell. “We got to see what’s in the wild and what we need to help protect. The staff was so passionate and engaging. We got to do so much hands-on stuff that I was like, ‘Wow, I really want to work with animals when I grow up.’”

When our famous Texas heat rolls in, most people will put on sunscreen before heading out to enjoy the sun. But did you know you could actually help the environment by avoiding sunscreens that contain certain chemicals? We recently invited Mary Katherine out to our affiliated Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park to teach guests about her ReefLove project, something she created for her Girl Scout Gold Award. ReefLove is an initiative that spreads awareness about coral bleaching. One way coral bleaching happens is when sunscreen chemicals wash off of people, land on coral reefs, and kills them.

“It’s a huge problem, but we can actively do something about sunscreen coral bleaching,” said Futrell. “The fact that you can cover yourself up with special sun-protective clothing, or use reef-safe sunscreens and help protect coral reefs is amazing. We can easily make a difference.”

Her website, reeflove.org, shares more about the solutions to coral bleaching, and about how we can protect the reefs at the same time we protect ourselves.

Zoo Education Supervisor Tonya McDaniel said she’s proud of seeing a former Zoo camper grow up and make a platform to help protect species. Tonya believes any camp member can become inspired and help evoke change.

“From our Zoo Corps teens initiating a cell phone recycling program to save gorillas, families recording frog sightings and calls for citizen science projects, to an educational activity like what Mary Katherine developed, the possibilities are endless to inspire change with everyone we interact with in education,” said McDaniel.

To meet Futrell, hear more of her story and learn about ReefLove, come out to our Safari Nights concert series this spring and summer. She’ll be there to present her project and answer your questions. Check out DallasZoo.com for more information about the 2018 Safari Nights concert series coming soon.

 

Categories: Conservation, Education | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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