It’s not every day Malayan tiger Batu searches his one-acre habitat for dozens of hidden meatballs. But when 25 volunteers spend four hours cleaning it, they get the special task of hiding his food and watching from a behind-the-scenes location as he enters to find it.
“Hiding Batu’s food was the best part,” said 16-year-old volunteer Cierra Smith-Vaughn. “The keepers said he can stand nine feet tall, so I tried to hide it as high as I could.”
Our wonderful volunteers put in much appreciated work that would have taken our zookeepers triple the amount of time to complete. Here’s the roundup:
Bagged 150+ 60-gallon bags of leaves
Filled two trailer loads full of dead bamboo
Wheelbarrowed in four tons of river rock to build a dry stream bed to control water erosion from the viewing building
Drained and cleaned the tiger pool and outside stream
Planted winter grass seeds
“I came because I know the keepers needed help and it’s a beautiful day,” said volunteer Caroline Moore. “I could volunteer anywhere else, but I want to be here. I love the Dallas Zoo.”
And it’s selfless volunteers like neighbors Cierra and Caroline, who drove from Fort Worth to spend their Saturday putting sweat, hard work and a lot of laughter into cleaning our tiger habitat.
The volunteers also received a behind-the-scenes tour of the tiger and otter night quarters, plus a free breakfast. For more information on becoming a Zoo volunteer, click HERE.
Not many people can say they enjoy their first cup of coffee in the morning while listening to a lion’s roar echo in the distance. But that’s how Randy Johnson’s day starts off.
Dallas Zoo horticulture manager, Randy Johnson
Randy’s been the horticulture manager at the Dallas Zoo for just over a year, and he’s made quite an impression. With a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M, a job managing private estate gardens for just over three years in the Dallas area, and working as Director of Horticulture at Texas Discovery Gardens in Fair Park, Randy was more than qualified for the job of caring for the Zoo’s plant life.
He also began his own consulting business, Randy Johnson Organics, where he grows and sells native Texas plants as well as other ecotypes throughout North Texas. To top it all off, he serves on the Board of Directors at Lakeland Community Garden in Dallas and is the current president of the Dallas chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas. The man bleeds chlorophyll.
His tall, wiry frame and shoulder-length hair, coupled with an Asian sun hat perched atop his head, make him instantly recognizable. Not only that, but he’s the very definition of “southern charm” when his country singer drawl emanates from staff radios throughout the Zoo. (Check out the audio file and you’ll see what we mean.)
Randy’s day-to-day responsibilities include “all things botanical.” He supervises eight people, and their work encompasses anything that emits oxygen. From the blades of grass on Picnic Ridge to the huge trees in ZooNorth and the shrubs of the Savanna, Randy and his team ensure that the Zoo’s plant life thrives, as well as making the park beautiful and shady for guests.
“There are lots of challenges,” he says. “But my goal is to make the Zoo a 100% organic ecosystem.” One of the reasons Randy wanted to work here is his philosophy of strengthening the Zoo’s native fauna, while reducing its invasive plant species.
“If a bird eats something invasive and poops it out somewhere else, we can’t have that,” he explains. “We have to be concerned with how we affect our surrounding environment.”
One of his favorite things: creating habitats that make animals feel at home. “We owe it to them,” he says with conviction. “It’s our job to provide the best quality of life for these animals. An elephant can’t raise money [for conservation], but we can.” These creatures may not be in their native lands, but Randy and his crew make them think they are.
One of Randy’s wildest experiences involved the time a massive tree collapsed into the flamingo pond. You’d think David Blaine was involved, from the way the entire staff cleaned up the mess and made it seem like it never happened. “It was awesome watching all these departments come together under this bad experience,” he said.
That’s the thing about the Dallas Zoo. It’s not only full of hundreds of interesting animals … hundreds of talented and fascinating individuals like Randy work here, too.
The guests are gone, the zoo is quiet – now it’s time to get to work. One by one, eight goats make their way into the 19,000-square-foot chimpanzee habitat.
With the chimps safely in their night quarters, the lights are left on for the goats, who’ll work into the morning. Their experimental task: eat all of the poison ivy that’s grown in the chimp and gorilla habitats.
To these nature’s lawnmowers, it’s just another green meal. The plant causes no harm to our primates or the goats, but it makes zookeepers’ jobs increasingly difficult. Preparing the habitats in the morning becomes a game of dodgeball as they try to avoid the toxic plants.
“They’re getting ivy all over their bodies,” said Keith Zdrojewski, mammal curator. “They’re out there wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants to trim the grass in 100-degree weather. It’s pretty cumbersome for everyone.”
The goats mow through the poison ivy with ease. “They’re an incredible species that can survive on a diet that other animals would starve on,” said Dr. Jan Raines, one of the Zoo’s veterinarians. “The compound in ivy that gives people allergic reactions is called urushiol. Goats lack a sensitivity to it. Their gastrointestinal tract is amazingly efficient at pulling every last nutrient out of anything they ingest.”
Zookeeper Ashley Orr’s personal goats are eating up our problem, saving us money by not having to hire a company to kill the ivy. And we’re doing it in an eco-friendly fashion. “This way, we’re eliminating chemicals from entering our animal’s habitats, and they’re leaving behind a clean natural fertilizer for the landscape,” Zdrojewski said.
When the sun rises, they’re back in their holding barn, waiting for the zoo to close again.
There’s so much going on at the Dallas Zoo, we had to start a blog to tell you about it all. Have an idea for a story or a question for us? Email Info@DallasZoo.com and put “ZooHoo!” in the subject line.