Posts Tagged With: mountain lion

Dallas Zoo to close historic Cat Row, says goodbye to Texas cats

Bobcat Rufus was once a wild cat who was rescued by the Dallas Zoo in 2001.

As we look to continue building updated, naturalistic habitats, we’re closing our oldest animal exhibit located within ZooNorth – Cat Row, featuring our Texas felines.

Mountain lion Apollo will remain with his best pal Lakai in their new Bridgeport, Texas home.

Our male bobcat, male and female ocelot pair, and male cougar pair will all be relocated to other respected institutions ahead of the closure. The zoo will host a goodbye weekend on Saturday, Sept. 30 and Sunday, Oct. 1, so guests can say farewell to the beloved animals.

The habitat was originally built in the late 1930s with Federal Works Project Administration (WPA) labor and funding, and Centennial bond money. Over the decades, it has undergone renovations and design improvements, but we’re ready to say goodbye to the small piece of history.

“As one of the nation’s top zoos, we pride ourselves on continuously evolving and building bigger and better habitats for our animals,” said Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s Vice President of Animal Operations and Welfare. “Cat Row doesn’t reflect Dallas Zoo’s progressive philosophy of care. There’s no doubt our cats are well cared for, and live enriched lives here – their home just doesn’t represent our growth and vision, and it’s time for change.”

The five cats will begin moving to their new homes over the next month. The first feline to leave, bobcat Rufus, has an interesting history at the zoo. He was rescued as a young, wild cat in 2001 after he killed three of the zoo’s small antelopes, known as dik-diks.

The Texas Department of Health recommended he be euthanized to test for rabies, but zoo officials urged that the zoo was a great isolation facility, which meant the risk for infection was low. Estimated to be 17 years old, Rufus leaves the Dallas Zoo on Sept. 26 and will retire to the Southwest Wildlife Conservation center in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Ocelot Joaquin and his mate Milagre will stay together at the Audubon Zoo.

On Oct. 6, male and female ocelots, Joaquin and Milagre, will head to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. Joaquin and Milagre have welcomed two babies together at the Dallas Zoo as part of a pairing through the Ocelot Species Survival Plan. The duo will remain together and continue to provide their valuable genes to the SSP through their breeding recommendation.

As early as late October, bonded mountain lion males, Apollo and Lakai, will move to the nearby Center for Animal Research and Education (CARE) in Bridgeport, Texas, where they’ll open a new habitat that’s nearly three times the size of their current home. Both cats were rescued as cubs in Canada and are estimated to be around 7 years old. They were brought together at the Dallas Zoo in 2010 and have been inseparable ever since.

“Moving these amazing cats wasn’t an easy decision, but it’s what’s best for them. We’re confident they’ll live safe, healthy lives in their new homes,” said Edell. “We want nothing more than for our guests to fall in love with wildlife in the right setting, and to support us as we find ways to create a better world for animals.”

As we build out our master plan for ZooNorth, we’ll initially use Cat Row as a much-needed extension to our outdoor event space. The zoo’s annual Halloween Nights event returns Oct. 26-29. Then coming to ZooNorth on Nov. 17, the park will transform in the evening into Dallas Zoo Lights Presented by Reliant, with nearly one million twinkling lights and illuminated displays, entertainment, arts and crafts, and holiday-themed drinks and snacks. The inaugural Dallas Zoo Lights Presented by Reliant spans 33 nights, through Jan. 2.

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‘Rockstar’ cooperative cat aides Zoo medical study

Pull, poke and squeeze a cat’s tail, and you may not like the results – but Lakai, the Dallas Zoo’s 7-year-old mountain lion, isn’t like most cats.

He doesn’t mind having his tail prodded and squeezed, and it’s helping zookeepers and veterinarians explore a lesser-known medical field.

Zoo staff are taking blood pressure readings on Lakai’s tail using an inflating cuff, similar to one used on humans. The readings will help monitor his well-being and track data in a medical area without a lot history.

“There is very little data on blood pressure on awake mountain lions. The majority of blood pressures are taken on mountain lions while anesthetized,” said Dianna Lydick, manager of the zoo’s A.H. Meadows Animal Care Facility.

Lakai’s blood pressure training and readings are generating interest and buzz internally and throughout the zoo community nationwide.

“There are definitely people wanting this information,” said keeper Libby Hayes, adding that any time you can avoid aestheticizing an animal for medical treatments, it’s better for the animal.

To get to this point, Hayes and keeper Caron Oliver worked on tail training with Lakai every week starting in May. Over time, the mountain lion became comfortable staying in position, allowing keepers to grab his tail, prod it with a needle for blood draws and squeeze it tightly to take the blood pressure readings.

All aspects of the tail training is voluntary and done with positive reinforcement. If Lakai doesn’t want to participate, he doesn’t have to. Luckily, he doesn’t mind trying new things, Oliver said.

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Mountain lions: Understanding an elusive Texas icon

Zookeeper Stacy Lupori guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

Dallas Zoo's male mountain lions Apollo and Lakai.

Dallas Zoo’s male mountain lions, Apollo and Lakai, were both born in 2009.

Many people are aware of the plight of better-known exotic animals around the world, like tigers, chimps, and elephants. But what about the animals in our own back yard who are suffering from both population and habitat loss? I’m an officer of the Dallas chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK), and we’re always looking for ways to help native wildlife. Last year, I started researching wildlife issues in Texas, and the status of mountain lions sparked concern.

As a former keeper of Dallas Zoo’s beloved mountain lions, Apollo and Lakai, I’ve always had a deep-rooted love for these big cats. But I was desperate to know more about their wild counterparts. Are mountain lions really important to keeping a balanced ecosystem? What are their numbers in the wild?

I reached out to Monica Morrison, who’s spearheading Balanced Ecology Inc.’s (BEI) Texas Mountain Lion Conservation ProjectBEI is a Texas-based conservation organization that addresses wildlife challenges in Texas and around the world. I’m here to share highlights on what I’ve learned, and the questions we need to answer to protect the future of this native Texan.

The Numbers

Overall, the U.S. mountain lion population is estimated at about 30,000. That’s not a very large number. Sadly, mountain lions have a range from complete to no protection in the 14 states where they reside. In fact, Texas is the only state with no protection or management implementation for mountain lions. They are considered non-game animals with an open season, meaning they can be hunted at any time with no limit on take.

Mountain lion have the largest range of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere.

Mountain lions have the largest range of any terrestrial mammal in the Western Hemisphere.

So what exactly is their status in the Lone Star State? The most recent research was conducted about 20 years ago, so a true population estimate is unknown. Texas does have two distinct populations: the west Texas and the south Texas groups. The west Texas population is considered stable; it’s geographically connected to mountain lions from both New Mexico and Mexico, keeping the genetic variation at a healthy level.

However, the south population is imperiled. These mountain lions are isolated from any other group, with no connectivity to other populations. Adding more concern: Their primary habitat is being developed by Eagle Ford Shale at an unprecedented rate, which will continue to increase road traffic and human disturbances to these mountain lions.

Are they important?

Mountain lions are apex predators, which means they aren’t prey to any other animals. And because they’re an umbrella species, their decline directly affects the food web and biodiversity. Texas doesn’t have any other top predators, such as wolves, to control the population of herbivores and therefore their numbers boom.

The areas around water sources suffer the most. First, the herbivores begin to overgraze the vegetation on the river banks. These plants and trees prevent erosion by creating a stable bank and provide a protective cover for countless amphibians, reptiles and aquatic species. They also provide shade, and without shade the water temperatures rise. Many wildflower species can only grow on stream banks with saturated soil. Without stable, wet soil, these wildflower seeds cannot hold, leaving little for butterflies and bees to pollinate.

These silent predators hunt prey two to three times their own size.

These silent predators can hunt prey two to three times their own size.

In a nutshell, with no control methods in place, these areas soon become uninhabitable for most wildlife. In addition to affecting ecosystems, mountain lions help control the feral pig population and maintain a healthy deer population by preying on those who are weak, old, or infected with diseases. This lets the strong deer pass on their superior genes.

Are they dangerous?

To deer, feral hogs, raccoons, and a few other animals, mountain lions are a highly feared predator. But they’re not naturally harmful to people. Mountain lions are elusive, solitary creatures with large home ranges that avoid humans at all costs.

What about livestock? As mountain lion habitat becomes more and more fragmented, their home range becomes peppered with farms and industry. Mountain lions will come into these territories that were once theirs, searching for food, and stumble upon an easy meal: unprotected livestock.

Some very simple steps can deter mountain lions from preying upon livestock or pets. All animals should be brought indoors at night. If this is not possible, at least young, old or sick animals should stay inside. High fencing around the enclosure, topped with a string of hot wire or hot grass “planted” in front of the fencing, can work wonders. Motion-sensing lights and/or sprinklers will frighten off mountain lions, too. However, one of the best deterrents are herding dogs, like Anatolian sheepdogs or Great Pyrenees, that are trained to keep out the uninvited.

An unclear future

Mountain lions can jump an impressive 18 feet from the ground into a tree.

Mountain lions can jump an impressive 18 feet from the ground into a tree.

So how can we help make sure these animals remain a part of Texas culture? To maintain a stable mountain lion population, genetic variability must be maintained. The habitats they call home must be protected from further development. And we need to establish corridors that can connect the south and west populations.

Lastly, we need a management plan that requires a more accurate mountain lion count; enforces a specific hunting season that requires bag limits; protects breeding females; and allows for the population to remain genetically sound.

In my spare time, Monica Morrison and I are working with other researchers to get an accurate number on the troubled south Texas population. Once we understand their status, we will write a grant proposal that will establish corridors connecting Texas’s south and west populations.

Stay posted on our ZooHoo! blog for more updates as we work to secure a future for Texas’s iconic mountain lion.

(A special thanks to Texas master naturalist and big cat volunteer veteran of 15 years, Monica Morrison, for sharing her wealth of knowledge on mountain lions.)

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