Posts Tagged With: texas

Rat snake study the longest of its kind at Dallas Zoo


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

Zoo is forever home to bobcat Rufus

It’s a story that hasn’t been told in more than 13 years. (If you know it, here’s an update; if you don’t, you can share this little piece of history with your family and friends.) Bobcat Rufus had a long journey to get here — one that saved his life and gave him a forever home.

Rufus' photo on the cover of Dallas Zoo's ZooKeeper magazine in 2001.

Rufus’ photo on the cover of Dallas Zoo’s ZooKeeper magazine in 2001. Dallas Zoo/Cathy Burkey

In spring 2001, the wild bobcat made headlines after he killed three of our small antelope, known as dik-diks. Stories began running nationwide on the “unwanted zoo visitor,” and the media even updated the public daily on attempts to capture the elusive bobcat.

At one point, Dallas County Animal Control employees hid in bushes waiting for Rufus to appear, armed with tranquilizer guns. Finally, months later, the wily fellow was snared in a trap on August 21, 2001.

However, his fate was unclear. The Texas Department of Health recommended he be euthanized to test for rabies, but Zoo officials argued that the Zoo was a perfect isolation facility, which meant the risk for infection was low.

We prevailed, and Rufus was given a place to live out his life with daily meals, medical care, enrichment items and a lot of attention.

“We’re all animal lovers at the Zoo, and these cats have to eat in the wild. Unfortunately, he chose to prey on our animals, but he didn’t know better,” said Lora Baumhardt, mammal supervisor. “Prey is

Rufus today, now estimated to be 14  years old.

Rufus today, now estimated to be 14 years old. Dallas Zoo/Ashley Allen

prey, and if it was easily accessible to him, I don’t blame him for getting that.”

Now estimated to be about 14, Rufus is in very good health for his age. “We’ve been able to provide a good life for him here, as opposed to him being euthanized back then. I feel good about it,” Baumhardt said.

Staying out of the headlines today, Rufus lives what his keepers say is a spoiled life. His favorite treat is licking condensed milk out of a spray bottle, and he eats a special rabbit meal on Tuesdays.

“If we never caught him, he probably would have passed away by now in the wild, because he’s 14, and they don’t generally live that long,” Baumhardt said.

She says the sneaky little guy will never play with his favorite green ball in public, but when his keepers return in the morning, it’s always in a different spot than where they left it the day before.

Living out his life in a safe environment is all we ever wanted for Rufus.

Categories: Conservation, Mammals, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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