Posts Tagged With: conservation


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,, 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 for more information about the 2018 Safari Nights concert series coming soon.


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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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Save the vaquita: Near extinct porpoise needs help fast

Dallas Zoo’s conservation intern Heaven Tharp guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

The vaquita porpoise is the world’s most endangered marine mammal — there’s fewer than 30 left. But I bet you didn’t know that.

The Dallas Zoo, along with AZA SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction), is supporting a heroic $1 million emergency rescue plan to save the vaquita. This weekend, July 14-16, we’re raising awareness and money with a Save the Vaquita Weekend Beach Party.

The vaquita is the ocean’s smallest cetacean, only reaching up to 5 feet in length and weighing about 120 pounds. That’s about as big as an average 13-year-old boy. They’re best known for the unique black ring around each eye, and black curved lips that are often described as a smile. Vaquitas have the most restricted range of any marine mammal — they’re only found in the northern Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez.

Photo of a vaquita caught in a gillnet by NOAA Fisheries West Coast

This small porpoise wasn’t discovered until 1958, and sadly, a half century later, it’s on the verge of extinction. Vaquitas are continuously caught in the cross fires of fishermen fishing for totoaba; it’s a critically endangered fish that’s in high demand across China because their swim bladder is considered a delicacy. For vaquitas, the biggest problem is the fishing gear itself. Gillnets cause accidental trapping, and it’s leading to their demise. Just last month, Mexico placed a permanent ban on the use of gillnets in the northern Gulf of California. Unfortunately, illegal fishing with these nets is still a huge problem.

This weekend, we invite you to join us in taking immediate action to save the remaining 30 vaquitas. Spearheaded by a committee of interns and volunteers passionate about this species, Dallas Zoo’s Save the Vaquita Beach Party kicks off Friday, July 14, on Cat Green. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day (with extended hours until 8 p.m. during Saturday’s final Safari Nights concert) we’ll have children’s beach games, a bounce house, and face-painting on Cat Green in ZooNorth. The party and games are free with Zoo admission (bounce house and face painting are $5 each). And donations to Vaquita SAFE are appreciated!

Also, visit the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo Discovery House and write a note of encouragement to the vaquita conservation heroes on the front lines. We’ll be sure to mail it to them!

You can also purchase a specially designed “Save the Vaquita” t-shirt ($15), stickers ($2), or a limited-edition wristband ($5). A $20 donation gets you all three! There will also be unique handmade vaquita-themed merchandise for sale, and we’ll all have a lot of beach party fun.

You can also help the vaquita by:

  • Choosing to buy sustainable seafood.
  • Spreading the word: tell five people about why the vaquita needs our help!
  • Donating to the Dallas Zoo’s “Save the Vaquita” effort. We’ll send all money raised directly to Vaquita SAFE to save this marine mammal from extinction.

We look forward to seeing you — let’s party #4aPorpoise!

Categories: Conservation, Education, Events, Volunteers | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo partners with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to foster change in Rwanda

Every morning, more than 100 trackers set out from the Karisoke Research Center in Rwanda to protect nearly half of the nation’s mountain gorilla population. The trackers monitor the gorillas round-the-clock, serving as the first line of defense against poachers. Each individual tracker is assigned a gorilla group; it is their job to locate group members and record data used to study the species. This continued daily commitment is what it takes to ensure the survival of critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Dallas Zoo based Fossey Fund board members at headquarters in Rwanda with Tara Stoinski

The Dallas Zoo and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International are in this battle together, pledging resources, time, and efforts toward gorilla conservation. Established in 1978, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund has dedicated nearly 50 years to protecting mountain gorilla populations. As a result, mountain gorillas are the only species of ape whose numbers are slowly increasing; how ever, with less than 900 individuals remaining, this species is still critically endangered. And at the Dallas Zoo, we’re honored to support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund as one of our conservation partners.

In January, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund President and CEO/Chief Science Officer Tara Stoinski spoke during a Dallas Zoo Wild Earth Conservation Lecture held at the Angelika Film Center here in Dallas. In addition, she gave an inspiring talk for Dallas Zoo keepers and staff about the Fund’s latest developments and updates on the animals they protect. But the story doesn’t stop there.

Gregg Hudson, president and CEO of the Dallas Zoo, currently is the immediate past chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International, in which he’s been a member since 2007. In celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary, he and the rest of the board of trustees traveled to Rwanda in late February to meet the partners of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund who are working in the wild. This group also included two of the Fossey Funds newest Trustees – Dallas Zoo board member Diane Brierley and the Zoo’s Special Counsel Bill Evans.

Tara Stoinski speaks to staff at the Dallas Zoo

“It’s amazing to take what we do at zoos, our special talents, and apply them to other meaningful organizations. Zoos are a conduit from our communities to these important, large-scale projects. We have a responsibility to go beyond our gates and be involved in wildlife initiatives outside of the Zoo,” explained Hudson.

Once in the heart of the Virunga Mountains, the trustees embarked on treks through the Rwandan bush to see both gorillas and golden monkeys.

This amazing experience also highlighted the Fund’s numerous health, education, and economic development initiatives, which encourage Africans to become conservation leaders. The trustees visited community education and health projects in Bisate Village and spent a gratifying afternoon with the Karisoke trackers.

Dallas Zoo President and CEO Gregg Hudson hikes through the African bush to see gorillas

“I am just blown away by what the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund does. It’s one of the longest, continuous field projects in the world. On top of that, it’s connected to this incredible community in Rwanda where they have helped build a health clinic and create educational programs at local schools. Gorillas are fascinating animals, but the impact of the Fossey Fund on the community is incredible, too,” Hudson said.

The trip culminated with a reception at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Erica J. Barks-Ruggles, an eminent supporter of gorilla conservation, fostering hope for the future of a troubled species.

Hudson’s trip emphasizes the importance of partnerships like those between the Zoo and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund as they bring together conservationists from around the world to collectively further research and prevent species extinction.

“The Rwandan people see gorillas as part of what makes their nation special. I feel a lot of personal pride for helping with each new sustainable, long-term initiative. It’s a rare and fulfilling chance to create a legacy project that will help gorillas in the future,” Hudson stated.

Learn more about how you can support the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund’s conservation efforts by symbolically adopting a gorilla.

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

Meet our world renowned okapi herd

For the past 50 years, we’ve been working with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Okapi Species Survival Plan (SSP) to substantially increase the population of these endangered “African unicorns” in human care. Nearly 75 percent of all okapi in the SSP are related to Dallas Zoo offspring, and in our history we’ve welcomed 36 calves!

Though they’ve been off exhibit during the construction of the Simmons Hippo Outpost, you can now view these solitary creatures in two different yards. Learn about our six okapi and how to tell who’s who!


Kwanini is a dedicated and attentive mother who was born at the Dallas Zoo when the Wilds of Africa originally opened. Nearly 27 years old, she’s given birth to 7 calves, including Ikenge, a son who still lives here.

Although shy around other adult herd members, Kwanini is a caring, maternal figure. She enjoys interacting with calves and grooming them (and occasionally keepers) with her rough tongue.

You can recognize Kwanini by her deep chocolate coloring and very defined brows.

Kwanini (pictured left) with son Ikenge


Niko was born at White Oak Conservation Center in Florida and arrived in 2000 at the age of three as a breeding male. His father was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, making his genetics extremely valuable to the SSP. Since 2001, he’s fathered 7 calves.

Known as the friendliest okapi ever encountered by our keepers, he’ll seek out the company of keepers and happily approach strangers for a head rub, which is atypical for this solitary species. In fact, Niko’s developed an interesting habit of bobbing his head at other animals and staff to get their attention.

Niko is tall, dark, and handsome. He’s especially recognizable by his ossicones, which are only about 2 inches long because he likes rubbing them on trees and branches.



Desi was born at Dallas Zoo in 1999, and is now almost 18 years old. She is currently our primary breeding female, and has birthed two calves. As the herd’s dominant, leading lady, the other okapi will submit to her—even the males! She is very comfortable and confident around keepers, and enjoys a good neck or ear rub.

Desi learns very quickly and has been known to playfully test new staff members by not shifting (moving to a new space when asked) unless she is offered a treat. Though strong-willed, she’s a sweet girl.

Look for Desi’s mahogany face and fuzzy fringe around her ears.



Uche is 6 years old and will begin introductions with females this summer as an up-and-coming breeding male. Born at San Diego Safari Park, he came to Dallas 3 years ago as Desi’s mate. He is often shy around female okapi, though enjoys saying howdy to them through stall windows.

Upon first meeting, Uche appears aloof, but warms up quickly to familiar faces. When he first arrived, he was not fond of touching or direct feeding, but our keepers have earned his trust, and he now willfully approaches them to have his ears and ossicones scratched. He’s a quick learner with training, too.

You’ll notice Uche’s very light face and thick ossicones. Still a rather young okapi, he is smaller than the other males and females.



Ikenge was born at Dallas Zoo to mother Kwanini and father Niko. At only five years old, he’s still a little shy, but loving and playful nonetheless. When he isn’t visiting mom through the stalls, you’ll find him energetically running around the habitat.

This little calf is very trusting and will follow keepers into new areas without hesitation. He appreciates being groomed by other okapi and his keepers, and enjoys training sessions and time out on exhibit.

Although he is short, Ikenge is very muscular. Look for his dark face and long eyelashes.



Kilua is the newest addition to our herd and our youngest. She was born in Cincinnati, but came to become a primary breeding female in the future. But don’t let her age fool you—Kilua is one of the largest okapi our keepers have ever seen.

A gentle giant, she is both brave and friendly. Kilua likes to interact with people, and happily tolerates hoofwork. Though calm, she is still playful at heart and enjoys enrichment items, like her bamboo curtain and puzzle feeder.

Kilua is huge, weighing in at nearly 800 lbs. With her massive frame, you’ll easily be able to identify her.


Visit our okapi herd in person, and learn more about this unique species during an okapi keeper chat, occurring daily at 2:15 p.m.

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

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