Posts Tagged With: conservation

Conservation concerns brought to life with interactive art displays from 9th graders

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Conservation concerns about animals may not be top of mind for most teenagers, but the ninth graders at Village Tech High School are far from typical.

The students from the Cedar Hill charter school were challenged this past spring to think deeply about endangered animals for a semester-long project integrating many different school subjects with an end goal of a prototype interactive sculpture.

A partnership with the Dallas Zoo elevated the original challenge by giving the students the opportunity to talk with experts and possibly have their work displayed to the public.

“The Zoo gives the project credibility and an authentic audience,” said Justin Robinson, the director of the Forge, the school lab that brought these projects to life.

By the end of the year, the ninth graders completed four interactive art display prototypes highlighting the ocelot, African elephant, hawksbill sea turtle and western lowland gorilla. These projects used art, engineering, science and more to tell the tale of endangered species.

“We want every project to result in people taking action,” said Dallas Zoo director of Education, Marti Copeland. “[Their work] exceeded my expectations.”

Learn more about each project:

Western lowland gorilla African elephant

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The western lowland gorilla team planned to create a gorilla sculpture that looks like it is covered in concrete, emphasizing the habitat destruction that is threatening the animal’s population.

elephant

This team created a mechanical sculpture showing the stride of an adult elephant. An integrated 15 minute countdown clock reminds the public how often an elephant is killed in the wild for its ivory.

Ocelot Hawksbill sea turtle

ocelot

The ocelot team created a sand timer wheel with facts about the carnivore. As you spin the wheel and read the facts about ocelots, the sand timer continually empties, much like the ocelot species in the wild.

hawksbill

The team created a hologram projection of a hawksbill sea turtle swimming. It’s activated with a 3D-printed button. The team tried using living dinoflagellates marine plankton to illuminate the activation button.

The hawksbill sea turtle and African elephant projects were selected by Zoo judges to be scaled up and adapted into public displays at the Children’s Aquarium and Dallas Zoo.

It’s onto the (now) tenth graders to press on with the projects. With the conceptual idea and prototypes created, they must solve more problems like how to scale up the sculptures, make them self-maintaining and safe for the public before eventually debuting the sculptures at the two venues.

Congratulations to the students at Village Tech. We can’t wait to see these larger-than-life projects with important message inside our Zoo and Aquarium gates!

Categories: Conservation, Education | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Sea turtle mission: Saving the most endangered in South Texas

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Sun, sand, sea … and trash, and baby sea turtles, and a firsthand view of how to make a difference.

A team of 50 Dallas Zoo staff, volunteers, members and community supporters traveled to South Padre Island recently – not for vacation, but for conservation. The mission: Kemp’s ridley sea turtle habitat restoration.

Sea turtle conservation is close to the Dallas Zoo’s heart. Our affiliated Children’s Aquarium has a famous blue-eyed sea turtle named MJ that was rescued by Sea Turtle Inc.

The trip was part of the Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Action Team. Typically, the Zoo is called upon to support conservation organizations through funding or donations, but the Wild Earth Action Team takes it a step further with sweat equity.

“Action seems to be the most direct and powerful way to reinforce conservation identity,” said Ben Jones, dean of the Zoo’s Wild Earth Academy and organizer of the Wild Earth Action Team.

Everything comes back to habitat restoration, and that’s the bulk of the Wild Earth Action Team’s work. Locally they’ve cleaned rivers, planted trees and more. In August, the team will create a monarch butterfly habitat at the Dallas Zoo.

“The Zoo wants to activate our network to help animals, to change the world for wildlife, and this is a way to do it,” Jones said.

Click here to register for the next Wild Earth Action Team project and visit seaturtleinc.org to learn more about sea turtle rehabilitation and release.

(Video and photos by staffer Chelsea Stover)

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Categories: Conservation, Education, Reptiles and Amphibians, Volunteers | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Through Their Eyes’: Kids put passion to print with interactive book

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Students that worked on the interactive book showed off their creation at the Dallas Zoo.

Students who worked on the interactive book show off their creation during Dallas Zoo’s Endangered Species Weekend this spring.

As if being a seventh-grade student isn’t stressful and busy enough, a group of talented and passionate preteens went above and beyond to complete a unique project for the Dallas Zoo. The students created an interactive book to teach the public about our conservation message. That may seem like a large task for such young kids, but they stepped up to the challenge and exceeded all expectations.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 9.54.16 PMScience students from Coppell Middle School East, Coppell Middle School West and Westlake Academy came up with the idea to create a resource that others would not only enjoy but also learn from. Through Their Eyes tells the stories of eight endangered animals living at the Zoo. The book describes each animal’s habitat, behavior, and adaptations and explains how organizations around the world are trying to protect these animals and increase their presence in the wild.

To present accurate and relevant information, the students teamed up with animal experts locally and globally. They interviewed our zookeepers, talked to students in Thailand to learn more about elephants, video chatted with a penguin rescue group in South Africa and received project feedback from several wildlife conservation organizations.

“The Dallas Zoo does so much that most people don’t know about and I wanted my kids to find out what a great resource the Zoo is and know how much good they do to protect animals around the world,” said Coppell Middle School East science teacher, Jodie Deinhammer.

More than 750 students competed to have their content published in Through Their Eyes. The students came from different schools, cliques and lifestyles but were all bonded by their shared love of wildlife and worked together to create the best possible product.

“We are so proud of the hard work these youth invested in the iBook project. We’re changing the world for wildlife, and we need more partnerships like this. No one brings about change better than youth,” said Dallas Zoo director of Education, Marti Copeland.

Thanks to this group of talented preteens, people all over the world can read about endangered species and learn more about the important role zoos play in preserving wildlife. Click here to download the book on iOS devices.

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Rat snake study the longest of its kind at Dallas Zoo

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For more than 20 years, the Dallas Zoo has studied an animal that doesn’t even have a permanent home inside Texas’ largest zoo.

The Texas rat snake (P.obsoleta) slithers (and climbs!) onto the Dallas Zoo grounds every spring in search of food. These snakes, while not venomous or harmful, may alarm Zoo guests because of their large size.

Since 1989, Zoo herpetology staffers have captured, marked, examined, and released the snakes away from Zoo animals and guests. It’s the longest study of urban snakes of any kind.

Wait, releasing the snakes?!?

“They’re completely harmless, big snakes that eat a lot of rats,” Herpetology Supervisor Bradley Lawrence said.

Given that a female rat can produce hundreds upon hundreds of babies, Texas rat snakes are like Dallas Zoo junior staff members, keeping the rat population maintained. Because the Zoo sits on more than 100 acres of heartland prairie forest, rats are simply part of the ecosystem.

The snakes are tracked with digital transponders, the size of a grain of rice, inserted just below the skin. This transponder identifies the individual snake with a unique number. When a snake is found, reptile keepers scan for the transponder and note weight, length, sex, and physical description. They also add notes of what they find: “Swallowed decoy egg … Regurgitated fledgling bird.”

Texas rat snakes that find themselves with injuries or other ailments (like swallowing a decoy egg, used to encourage nesting) get an extra-long stay at Château Dallas Zoo to see our veterinarians before being released back in the wild.

Since tracking began, 20 different snakes have been caught repeatedly over four-year periods, and two snakes have lived around the Zoo for more than seven years.

The data, which has more than 1,000 captures, is teaching Zoo herpetology staff about how these urban-environment reptiles live.

“We want to learn growth rates, what they prey on, their movement pattern, and how urban spaces affect their population,” Herpetology Curator Ruston Hartdegen said.

Don’t be alarmed if you see a Texas rat snake, at the Zoo or anywhere else in Dallas. If you’re visiting us, just alert Zoo staff and we’ll happily scoop the snake up to be examined, released and tracked.

Categories: Reptiles and Amphibians | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Hopping to the rescue: Protecting the critically endangered dusky gopher frog

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IMG_9168 Gopher Frog CS

For eight hours, Ruston Hartdegen drove. Through the flatlands of East Texas, then the red clay of northern Louisiana, and finally into the thick pine forests of Mississippi.

The Dallas Zoo’s curator of Herpetology was on a mission years in the making – a tadpole rescue mission.

His journey ended deep in the DeSoto National Forest, an hour north of Gulf Coast, where he gathered 188 dusky gopher frog tadpoles to bring back to the Dallas Zoo – not for exhibit, but to save them from extinction.

In 2012, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) named Rana (Lithobates) sevosa one of the top 100 endangered species in the world, with only 100 to 200 adults remaining.

The longleaf pine forest habitats that dusky gopher frogs call home are disappearing as paper companies harvest the trees and replace them with faster-growing loblolly and slash pine. Today, the dusky gopher frog has only a few homes in the wild remaining, including the geographically isolated Glen’s Pond.

The Zoo's biosecure facility is an asset to growing and breeding the dwindling gopher frogs.

Zoo staff are required to wear special suits and boots to enter the quarantined gopher frog facility.

The Dallas Zoo and more than a dozen other institutions are participating in a Species Survival Plan to breed and raise these 3-inch-long, dark-spotted victims of deforestation. The plan is a kind of zoo-backed insurance policy to help the species survive: Should wild populations continue to decline, the frogs raised at Dallas, Detroit, Memphis and other participating zoos could be released to bolster numbers.

“Amphibian decline is a global phenomenon,” said Hartdegen. “One out of every three species of amphibians is under serious threat. Our involvement with the gopher frog SSP allows us the opportunity make a significant difference for a critical endangered species in our backyards.”

The Dallas Zoo was invited to participate because of the unique, biosecure facility available in ZooNorth’s herpetarium.

The tadpoles, which began as eggs at Glen’s Pond, were transferred to holding tanks at Harrison Experimental Forest Station before being collected by Hartdegen. After a long drive home, they are now in an isolated quarantine space at the Dallas Zoo, being cared for by the herpetology staff.

But the efforts don’t stop there.

“Protection of habitat is crucial to saving a species,” said Matt Vaughan, the Dallas Zoo’s assistant supervisor of Herpetology.

Hoping to keep dusky gopher frogs from disappearing from the earth, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated nearly 6,500 acres of land in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi as critical habitats for them. Longleaf pine restoration efforts also are under way.

The partnership between governmental agencies and non-profit zoos will give these struggling little creatures a chance to beat the odds, and the Dallas Zoo herpetology team is proud to be on the front lines in this crucial conservation effort.

Matt Vaughan and Anna Campitelli contributed to this story.

IMG_3453 Gopher Frog Tadpoles CS

Gopher frog tadpoles are examined by a reptile keeper.

IMG_9163 Gopher Frog CS

An adult dusky gopher frog.

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