Posts Tagged With: Enrichment

Gorilla groovin’: Promoting play through enrichment

 

Dallas Zoo’s Primate Keeper II Ashley Orr guest blogs for ZooHoo!

You may have seen the original viral video of gorilla Zola dancing in a puddle when he was a youngster living at Calgary Zoo, and his passion for splashin’ has only continued with age! However, there’s a lot more to this behavior than a great ape groovin’ in the water.

Zola is a 14-year-old male Western lowland gorilla, and the youngest member of our bachelor troop. When he isn’t hanging out in the South gorilla habitat, Zola spends his hours inside our roomy gorilla building. The big, blue pool featured in this video is one of many enrichment items the gorilla keepers use to engage primates.

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums defines enrichment as a process to ensure that the behavioral and physical needs of an animal are being met by providing opportunities for species-appropriate actions and choices. Enrichment helps enhance the environment and lives of animals by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior. This is an important component in caring for all zoo animals, but primate enrichment is among the most complex and varied.

Enrichment can take many forms; it can be an object such as a ball, a scent like an herb or perfume, visual stimulation such as a mirror, a change in an animal’s company or location, an activity like painting or training, introduction of a new food, or a challenging food presentation… the options are almost limitless! As keepers, we are constantly coming up with new and fresh ways to enrich our animals. And clearly the pool is a favorite for Zola!

Zola’s “dancing” is really just a play behavior (there was no breakdance music playing in the building, we promise). Play is a natural behavior present in a wide array of animals. In fact, the presence of play can signify an animal is content or comfortable, and it is recognized as an indicator for general welfare. It is easy for anyone to appreciate the good time that Zola is having in the pool because we recognize some of the same signs of play that we see in people.

Gorillas in the wild have been observed to willingly enter the water to feed or to cross to other areas. Some gorillas have even been documented using long sticks to probe beneath the water and gauge depth for safe passage (fun fact, gorillas are anatomically too dense to swim). This is an impressive example of great ape intelligence.

Visit Zola and the three other gorillas in our bachelor troop, or the four members of the family troop, to watch them engage with enrichment in their habitats. Proceeds from your visit help purchase enrichment items for our Zoo animals, and also support our conservation partners in the field, like the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE), that help gorillas in the wild.

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

Hockaday high school students monkey around with primate enrichment

Hockaday students present their enrichment devices at the Zoo

Hockaday students present their enrichment devices at the Zoo

For most high school students, the semester is filled with standard classes like calculus, biology, english, and history – but a group of five Hockaday students can proudly add monkeying around with STEM to their academic repertoire.

President and CEO Gregg Hudson congratulates the students on their hard work

President and CEO Gregg Hudson congratulates the students on their hard work

It all began with a unique partnership between the Zoo and the Hockaday School. Several Hockaday students were already involved in our Teen Science Café and Zoo Corps group, so it only seemed natural to find a way to further engage other students, using Zoo related problem solving.

“We value long-term partnerships like this because they can result in a deeper connection with the Zoo’s conservation mission. As the students delve into their projects and learn more about the animals they are helping, they can come away feeling more connected to the animals, which is important since their generation does and will have so many opportunities to make a positive difference for species worldwide,” said Dallas Zoo’s director of Education Marti Copeland.

The Hockaday School had just the person for taking on this wild task. Science teacher Leon de Oliveira began a brand new course for the semester entitled “Community Impact by Design.” The class allowed students to work in small groups while engaging in the design and engineering process in order to solve a problem. This year’s challenge: find a creative way to encourage small primates to use more vertical space in their exhibit.

Keepers put Wendy's and Kate's treat shaker to the test

Keeper Audra C. put Wendy’s and Kate’s treat shaker to the test after filling it with food

How exactly does one prompt a primate to move onwards and upwards? Through enrichment, of course! However, Zoo staff left the designing fully up to the students. The class made multiple trips to the Zoo to observe their subjects while working closely with primate keepers and our education team. After multiple models and prototypes made out of various approved materials, the students were able to turn their ideas into actual enrichment items.

“I have just been blown away by their creativity and perseverance throughout the challenge. To see the whole process starting from their initial cardboard designs to the final product was incredible. What a transformation!” Education supervisor Courtney Jonescu said.

Hockaday seniors Wendy Ho and Kate Keough created a “treat shaker” out of PVC pipe. The capsule shaped item, designed to hang from a tree branch, has maze-like layers of plexiglass on the inside. Primates must shake the apparatus to move food through the levels until it falls out a small hole at the bottom in order to be consumed.

Sophomore Meredith Jones approached the task from a different perspective, developing a “treat tree” with branches for food pieces to hang. Primates must pull levers in order to release the tree, allowing it to sprout out of a PVC pipe and reveal more and more treats depending on which lever is activated.

Spider monkeys eagerly engage with the enrichment device

Spider monkeys eagerly engage with the enrichment device

Junior Annie Allen and senior Audrey Black cleverly worked together to craft a “ball box.” The cube-like structure is made of mesh and houses a second cube within it, filled with whiffle balls, which have perfectly sized holes for primates to reach their fingers into and attempt to work food out.

“You had to really think like a monkey and consider everything that they could do, like their strength,” Allen explained.

And think like a monkey they did! Wendy’s and Kate’s treat shaker was even put to the test on May 11 after the students presented their final enrichment deliverables to Zoo staff and interested onlookers. Keepers hung the device from a branch in the spider monkey habitat, warning that the primates might be somewhat shy to approach it – but the troop proved otherwise.

“The device worked exactly like the students hoped it would, and the spider monkeys were immediately interested in it. They looked down the tube through the plexiglass window, just like the girls imagined they would.  Then they manipulated the tube until yummy treats fell out of the flawlessly cut hole at the bottom. It turned out to be perfect and all of us were thrilled to see that,” said Jonescu.

We think the students deserve an A+ for their hard work, creativity, ingenuity – after all, it’s not every day that one receives the monkey seal of approval.

Categories: Education, Enrichment, Mammals, Monkey | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Bamboo donation a welcome treat


Red river hog plays in enrichment-CBThree acres of overgrown bamboo is a good problem to have, as long as you’re a Dallas Zoo animal! Our red river hogs, primates and many other animals are now benefiting from Paula Hagan and George Muszejnski’s landscape problem at their Lake Tyler property.

The couple donated more than 3,000 feet of valuable timber bamboo to be used as animal enrichment.

Enrichment is anything that enhances animal behaviors or their natural environments, according to Dallas Zoo Enrichment Committee Chair Jenifer Joseph. This can include spreading an evening snack for a tiger all across the habitat or building complex scratching structures out of natural products for the hogs and giraffes.

Bamboo is especially useful for animal enrichment because of its versatility. Food is stuffed in it for animals to dig out (think nature’s Kong toy), and it’s made into fencing, scratchers and more for the animals.

IMG_7806 Bamboo 4H CS-resize“George and I had thought about trying to find a buyer for it, but we were also wondering if the Dallas Zoo would have any use for it,” said Hagan. “Then we visited the Zoo in May with our family and noticed bamboo fencing the same size as what we had cut down.”

Hagan and Muszejnski are happy to do a good deed for Hagan’s late grandmother, who was an animal lover and originally planted the bamboo to use as fishing rods.

Now in the hands of the Zoo, staff and volunteers are giving the bamboo a second life all across the Zoo’s 106 acres.

But what about enrichment for our larger-than-life animals? Easy. DSC_0165We love larger-than-life natural donations. The Zoo’s award-winning Giants of the Savanna exhibit received a root ball from a large tree removed from Highland Park. Our elephants treat large logs and tree roots like furniture, moving them all around the habitat.

Interested in helping with Dallas Zoo animal enrichment? Check out these two options:

  • E-mail info@dallaszoo.com if you have a very large quantity of tree limbs, root balls, logs, etc. that you would donate.
  • Visit the Local Oak restaurant in Oak Cliff this weekend (June 23-26). A portion of all food and beverage sales will be donated to the Zoo’s Enrichment Committee.
IMG_1051 IMG_7820 Bamboo 4H CS-resize
Categories: Enrichment | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Root Balls: An elephant delicacy

Each morning, our five female elephants enter the Giants of the Savanna and look for their breakfast. But recently, the “Golden Girls” discovered a new treat. Temple Emanu-El, a reform Jewish synagogue in Dallas, donated nine massive red oak root balls to us after they were excavated from a building project at the temple. The root balls were scattered throughout the habitat, used as enrichment to stimulate the elephants’ natural behaviors. It gives the girls something new to explore, and guests from the temple got to see the amusing sight of them ripping apart roots with their trunks.

The root balls are delivered to the Zoo.
The root balls are delivered to the Zoo.
Ashley Allen/Dallas Zoo
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Categories: Africa, Elephant, Enrichment, Mammals | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Naked sheep roaming at the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo

With bikini season in full swing, our four resident sheep have shed a few pounds – 8 pounds of wool, to be exact.

Mary, Matha, Alice, and Herbert look a little lighter than usual in the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo farmyard. To keep them cool and comfortable during warmer months and to prevent their hair from covering their eyes, they are carefully sheared twice a year. Summer temperatures have been known to get as high as 110 degrees in Dallas, and that’s too warm if you’re wearing a wool coat.

But it’s not as easy as getting a haircut. Each sheep was bathed with a special lanolin shampoo a day before so its thick wool could dry completely before shearing. With the help of our Junior Zookeepers, all of the dirt, pine shavings, and hay that had hibernated into their wool was removed. The next day, one by one, the sheep were brought into the barn for a gentle trimming with electric clippers. Unlike commercial farms, where shearing is done quickly, our staff takes their time to ensure that it’s a good experience for the animals.

Ours also don’t have as much wool as other species of sheep, because they’re one of the smallest breeds, often called miniatures. Known as Babydoll Southdown sheep, they’re one of the oldest English breeds, originating in the South Down hills of Sussex County, England. And they produce some of the best wool — their fleece is so fine, it’s put into the class of cashmere.

Of course, we never want to see anything go to waste. “We give the wool to other animals in the Zoo as part of enrichment,” zookeeper Sarah Brys said. “They can smell it, play with it, just get a sense of another animal’s coat.”

Sheep Mary relaxes after her shearing; Alice waits for her turn.
Sheep Mary relaxes after her shearing; Alice waits for her turn.
Dallas Zoo/Ashley Allen
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Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family), Enrichment, Exhibits and Experiences, Mammals, Volunteers, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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