Posts Tagged With: zoo

Dallas Zoo vet’s commitment, thoroughness earn him top AZA honors

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Dr. Bonar checks the depth of anesthesia by monitoring a gorilla’s jaw tone. 

From fielding calls about a goose’s swollen eye, to observing a large mammal that’s “acting a little off,” a zoo veterinarian’s job requires nimbleness and the ability to multi-task.

A zoo and aquarium inspector, on the other hand, requires thoroughness and a methodical approach to comb through every nook and cranny of a facility striving for accreditation.

Dr. Chris Bonar does both. Really well.

Bonar’s experience and attention to detail has been recognized with the 2015 Inspector of the Year honors from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

Bonar, V.M.D., Dipl. A.C.Z.M., earned his veterinary degree from the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine after starting his career at Harvard University with plans to be a physician. His personal passion for animals steered him into his career, and across the globe studying animals like black rhinos and lungfish, and to board certification in Zoological Medicine through the American College of Zoological Medicine.

As the Dallas Zoo’s Senior Director of Animal Health, Bonar is actively involved in clinical medicine, surgery, diagnostic imaging, pathology, and nutrition. He supervises a team of veterinarians, technicians, keepers, records administration and a nutritionist at the $3.75 million A.H. Meadows Animal Health Care Facility.

Outside of his day-to-day duties, Bonar travels the continent inspecting zoos and aquariums up for reaccreditation through the AZA. To be accredited, facilities must meet AZA’s standards for animal management and care, including living environments, social groupings, health and medical care, nutrition, record keeping and much more.

Each of the AZA’s 233 zoos and aquariums must be reaccredited every five years. That’s where Bonar stays busy.

“I always look forward to inspecting other zoos because the process is important,” said Bonar, who has been an inspector for nearly 20 years.

The inspection team spends several days at a facility. The inspectors observe all aspects of operation, including animal care, keeper training, guest safety, staff and animal safety, educational programs, conservation efforts, veterinary programs, financial stability, risk management, and visitor services.

Bonar appreciates the opportunity to grow himself as he helps other zoos achieve reaccreditation.

“I always learn something new and come back with new ideas,” he said.

Bonar is one of six AZA inspectors who call Dallas Zoo home, in addition to Gregg Hudson, CEO and president; Lynn Kramer, D.V.M., Vice President of Animal Operations; Jan Raines, D.V.M., Associate Veterinarian; Ruston Hartdegen, Curator of Reptiles; and Harrison Edell, Senior Director of the Living Collection.

Congratulations, Dr. Bonar! We greatly appreciate your commitment to excellence for the Dallas Zoo and zoos and aquariums nationwide.

Categories: Veterinary Care | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Monorail Safari to get a complete renovation

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The renovated monorail will have an all-new look, as shown in this graphic of the train over the Nile crocodile habitat, in addition air-conditioned cars.

The renovated monorail will have an all-new look, as shown in this graphic of the train over the Nile crocodile habitat, in addition air-conditioned cars.

The Dallas Zoo will completely overhaul the popular Monorail Safari, updating electrical and mechanical systems and adding air-conditioning, with a goal of reopening the people-mover this summer.

After an extensive, months-long evaluation, electrical and structural specialists and engineers concluded that the monorail is in good condition, with only “minor issues.” Like a 25-year-old car, however, it needs more attention than a newer model.

“Our monorail has performed incredibly well for 25 years, serving nearly 4 million guests,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo president and CEO. “It’s a safe experience, with not a single injury in that time. But we want to provide only the best experience for our guests, and this renovation is necessary to do that.”

The $3 million project, scheduled to be finished by early summer, includes:

  • Upgraded electrical and mechanical components.
  • Air-conditioning for passenger cars.
  • Addition of a diesel-powered “tug” to bring trains back to the station in the event of a power failure, eliminating the need for passenger disembarkation along the route.
  • Renovation of the boarding station and ramps.
  • New paint and graphics.

The Monorail Safari includes three low-speed electric trains, each with 13 cars. The trains ease along at 3 mph on a one-mile loop around the back side of our 106-acre zoo, allowing visitors to see six habitats not accessible by foot: mountain, woodlands, river, arid, semi-arid and bush. Going through the waterfall on a hot day is a favorite experience. It also circles above the Chimpanzee Forest, Nile crocodile pond and Penguin Cove.

The Monorail Safari crosses under its cool waterfall in August 1990, soon after it opened. Nearly 4 million people have ridden the monorail in its 25-year history.

The Monorail Safari crosses under its cool waterfall in August 1990, soon after it opened. Nearly 4 million people have ridden the monorail in its 25-year history.

It’s extremely popular with our visitors, with more than 250,000 riders each year. Free monorail rides are included with certain levels of membership.

“Believe me, since August we’ve heard from thousands of our guests, and they want it back,” Hudson said. “And so do we. But like every other decision, we had to make it in a fiscally responsible way.”

The monorail, one of only a few in the nation, is rare because it runs uphill and downhill. The inclines are necessary because the Dallas Zoo sits on a hilly, heartland prairie forest.

Zoo officials closed the monorail in August after an Oncor power surge outside of the zoo burned out an electrical part aboard the Elephant train, stranding 48 passengers. While the train was just 12 feet off the ground, we exercised extra caution and asked Dallas Fire crews to assist. It was the third time in three years that fire crews had responded after stoppages.

The trains are designed with multiple “fail-safes,” which keep them from moving in the event of an electrical issue, such as a power surge or breaker burnout. All three stoppages were the result of these features. However, stoppages are unacceptable to us, and after the August incident, the decision was made by zoo officials to shut down the system for the evaluation.

The monorail has remained closed for the winter season, as we worked to put together financing for the overhaul. Replacing the monorail completely would be very costly. In 1990, it cost $20 million to build, and that number would be significantly higher today.

Categories: Exhibits and Experiences, Guest Services, Monorail Safari | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

PART TWO: Gorillas’ health a key part of habitat inspection

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Gorilla keeper Cindy McCaleb brings fresh food into the gorilla habitat./Dallas Zoo

Primate keeper Cindy McCaleb brings fresh food into the gorilla habitat./Dallas Zoo

Editor’s note: Dallas Zoo keepers are fully responsible for their animals, from their health to their habitats. This two-part series explores how some keepers care for the areas that are home to our residents. Part Two: The gorilla habitat.

Preparation of the gorilla habitat also begins early every morning, and includes an extra task: Anyone entering the building must don boots, and visitors also must wear rubber gloves and a mask, so no illnesses are passed to the gorillas, or vice versa. Gorillas can catch nearly any ailment that humans can, even the common cold!

Today the primary caretakers responsible for the care of the gorilla habitats are Cindy McCaleb, Primate Keeper, and Sarah Villarreal, Primate Supervisor, both of whom are very familiar with the eight Western lowland gorillas.

Inside the building, one of the volunteers prepares vitamin sandwiches. McCaleb heads out to walk the South habitat, cleaning and checking every corner for branches hanging into the exhibit, toxic plants, or food or trash that may have blown in. She points out squash and tomato plants that have begun growing out of dropped seeds from the gorilla food. Soon, these plants will start bearing fruit, and the gorillas will find a nice treat.

After the initial cleaning is complete, McCaleb circles back and dispenses food. The gorillas’ diet ranges from primate chow to many kinds of fruits and vegetables – these smart animals need a lot of diversity so they don’t tire of any one food. Today’s treat is corn on the cob, hidden away so the gorillas will have fun finding it.

McCaleb cleans the water features in the gorilla exhibit before the Zoo opens./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb cleans the water features in the gorilla exhibit before the Zoo opens./Dallas Zoo

After Cindy finishes both sides of the gorilla habitat, she returns to the kitchen. “The busiest time comes first thing in the morning,” she says. First, the keepers say good morning and do a visual check of all three females (Megan, Madge and Shanta) and five males (Zola, Shana, B’wenzi, Juba and Subira). The keepers look carefully for any abnormalities on the bodies of the animals, who range in weight from 175 pounds (Megan) to 430 pounds (B’wenzi).

“That’s where the medical aspect comes in,” McCaleb says. “You have to recognize the signs and know what’s normal and what isn’t.” This is crucial to keeping the gorillas healthy.

One keeper prepares juice and grapes to be used in training sessions, while another begins cleaning the habitats. The gorilla exhibit totals two acres, and sometimes one keeper must clean it all. After finishing, though, another keeper checks it for the safety of staff and animals. As with the big cats, the gorilla keepers also perform a detailed perimeter check.

McCaleb spreads the produce out for the gorillas to find./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb spreads the produce out for the gorillas to find./Dallas Zoo

The keepers have a training session with the females and Subira to teach behaviors, such as “open mouth” to check their teeth and “full body checks” for medical management. Then they’re released into their habitat.

The males have their own training session, presenting body parts so keepers can check for injuries or abnormalities, and may sometimes be taught a new behavior. For instance, the keepers have been preparing the gorillas for a cardiac ultrasound, so training includes getting them used to a plastic wand similar in size and feel to the one used in ultrasounds. Because gorillas are more communicative through body language than vocalizations, the keepers will point to the area they want the gorillas to present, in addition to saying it aloud.

After training, the males head into their habitat. But the keepers aren’t done: they quickly start cleaning the inside of the night quarters and prepare food for the next day. They also check the enrichment schedule and set out enrichment items for the gorillas to investigate overnight.

These enrichment items vary, from barrels that dole out small amounts of food when rolled around to raisin boards that act as a sort of puzzle for the gorillas to solve. When the animals come in for the night, they start playing with the enrichment toys immediately. McCaleb has even found them with the barrels on their heads!

The gorillas move around freely in their wooded habitat, designed with moats and secluded areas, which is why they may be harder for the public to spot. “We want to let the gorillas feel they have some sort of control, and they have the choice to move away,” McCaleb says.

McCaleb washes the inside viewing windows./Dallas Zoo

McCaleb washes the inside viewing windows./Dallas Zoo

Decisions such as that result from keepers becoming very close to the gorillas. “You in a sense become a part of the troop,” she adds. “If they like what you’re doing, they rumble – you know you’ve done well when you hear the rumble.”

And the way the keepers behave around the animals is important. “If you come in laid back and relaxed, they’ll be laid back and relaxed, too,” McCaleb explains. “If you come in stressed and tense, it will make them stressed and tense. You have to keep calm when you’re with them.”

24/7/365 dedication

Taking care of animals is a constant job — lions, cheetahs and gorillas don’t celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving. Every day, no matter what the weather is or if it’s a holiday, keepers feed and care for their animals.

“We’re here every day, no matter what,” says carnivore keeper Becky Wolf.

The keepers become family, spending most of their time with their animals and each other. And it’s a calling, a labor of love. “It’s the best job in the world,” Wolf adds. “But it’s not a job where you just play with animals – it’s a lot of work.”

A lot of science and research goes into their jobs; keepers at the Dallas Zoo have graduated from college, with degrees varying from biology to zoology to animal studies, even psychology. (McCaleb’s major was social work; she says it helps greatly in identifying animal behavior). Keepers regularly work on projects that involve studying and research.

Keeper Sara Squires began volunteering at the Denver Zoo at age 18 and has been a keeper of hoofstock, hogs, and now lions and cheetahs. She hopes to one day become a behaviorist, which would allow her to still have close contact with the animals.

McCaleb first became interested in gorillas as a child when she saw noted researcher Jane Goodall on television, eventually hearing Goodall speak at her school. She began working at the zoo 15 years ago as a research volunteer, then moved to the animal hospital, then to birds, eventually working her way to gorillas.

It’s a tough job, but a rewarding one.

“People come to this job because they’re so excited to work with the animals,” Cindy says. “They’re so passionate… and that’s what gets you up in the morning.”

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Enrichment, Gorilla, Mammals, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

PART ONE: Lion-cheetah habitat gets special attention

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Dallas Zoo keepers are fully responsible for their animals, from their health to their habitats. This two-part series explores how some keepers care for the areas that are home to our residents. PART ONE: The lion-cheetah exhibit.

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Squires mows the lion, cheetah habitat grass early in the morning./Dallas Zoo

It’s 6:45 a.m. when Sara Hamlin parks behind the lion and cheetah quarters. She’s followed closely by Becky Wolf and Sara Squires, the two primary keepers of these big cats. The sun is just rising and the lions are roaring.

“They’re just saying good morning to each other,” Hamlin explains. She’s been a part of the Dallas Zoo staff for just 10 days, and she’s already used to the noisy greetings. Or maybe she remembers the male lions, Kamaia and Dinari – she used to work at the zoo where they were born. “I got to watch them grow up, and it’s nice to see them again,” Hamlin says.

The two cheetahs are allowed night access to their habitat, so the first task is to bring them inside so it can be cleaned and restocked. As with any task directly involving the big cats, the keepers work in pairs – a door can’t be opened without one keeper announcing the action and the second keeper replying with an “OK.”

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

Keeper Sara Hamlin trims the bushes in the lion habitat before opening./Dallas Zoo

When the siblings are inside, Bonde lies down next to his sister Kilima, and starts vocalizing. He’s ready for breakfast, which has been prepared the day before. The cats are weighed every two weeks, and the Zoo’s nutritionist determines how much food they’ll get. Some guests ask if our cheetahs are underfed, but these cats – with a lean body built for speed – are kept at a healthy weight.

Once the first round of food has been delivered, the keepers move into the habitats to begin cleaning. They mow every two weeks, trim bushes and trees, scrub the inside of the glass, clean any mess the animals have made, check the levels in the pool and water bowls, and set out enrichment items for the day. Enrichment is a process by which keepers enhance the animal’s environment by adding scents, toys, sounds, food, substrate and other items to encourage natural behaviors and keep them physically and mentally fit.

The cheetahs, for example, love the smell of certain human perfumes. The keepers occasionally spray it in a patch of grass, and the cheetahs will rub their faces in it and roll around. Other enrichment items include empty ostrich eggs and small hay piles once used as zebra beds. Because the keepers schedule the cats into each habitat, the food and enrichment they put out vary from day to day. The whole cleaning process can take up to two hours, including a perimeter check of the entire habitat.

Before the lions are let out in the morning, they have a quick training session, which lets the keepers check their

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they've shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

Final step in the morning routine: keepers Becky Wolf & Squires feed the lionesses after they’ve shifted into the habitat./Dallas Zoo

overall health. They may examine the cats’ teeth and feet for problems or sores, and if one is detected, they apply medication with an oversized cotton swab if necessary.

As the keepers move behind the scenes, all three constantly check and doublecheck doors and locks. “Being [obsessive] can actually be helpful, because you have to do the same thing over and over again and you can’t forget,” Squires says. The keepers also perform a “positive head count,” going into the public viewing area and locating all of the cats (two cheetahs and two lions or lionesses), confirming that they’re safe in their habitat.

The animals are good at being where they need to be. If any of the cats are a bit slow to move in the morning, the keepers encourage them by setting out more meat treats – but they never yell or touch the animals. Dallas Zoo keepers won’t punish animals for challenging behavior. Instead, they ignore the cats until appropriate behavior is observed, then the keepers respond and reward appropriately.

As demonstrated by the public training sessions, rewards always come with good behavior. “Everything we do is training for them,” Squires says. The keepers are constantly aware of how their actions are perceived or may be reinforcing to the animals. For example, if one of the lions is pawing at or banging on a door, the keepers wait until they stop banging before they open the door. If the keepers open the door when they are banging, the cats will continue to do it. So the undesired behavior is ignored, and good behavior is rewarded.

COMING UP: The gorilla habitat.

Categories: Africa, Cheetah, Enrichment, Lion, Mammals, Nutrition, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giant dinosaurs roar into Dallas Zoo this spring

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The biggest zoo in Texas gets even BIGGER on April 1 with the opening of the Giants of the Jurassic exhibit, featuring more than 20 roaring, animatronic dinosaurs, plus the world-renowned, interactive theater puppet experience of Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live.

An 18-foot-tall, 43-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex that moves and roars is one of more than 20 dinosaurs in our upcoming Giants of the Jurassic exhibit./Billings Productions Inc.

An 18-foot-tall, 43-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex that moves and roars is one of more than 20 dinosaurs in our upcoming Giants of the Jurassic exhibit./Billings Productions Inc.

Our popular SOAR wildlife show also is being rethemed. The stars of the “DinoSOAR” show, presented by Kimberly-Clark, will highlight the connection between dinosaurs and modern-day animals.

As one of our continuing efforts to give back to the community, the $500,000 exhibit will be free with zoo admission, so guests pay no additional charge to explore the land before time. It runs from April 1 through Sept. 7.

“Who doesn’t love dinosaurs?” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO. “All the way until Labor Day, our guests will not only see some of our era’s biggest animals, such as elephants, giraffes, lions and tigers, but also a T-rex, a Stegosaurus and much more.”

Massive Triceratop will joing the dinosaur lineup./Billings Productions Inc.

Massive Triceratop will joing the dinosaur lineup./Billings Productions Inc.

Dinosaurs will include Tyrannosaurus rex, Brachiosaurus, Stegosaurus and baby, Orinthomimus, Amargasaurus and baby, six Compsognathus, Baryonyx, Quetzalcoatlus, Dilophosaurus and baby, Parasaurolophus and its nest, Triceratops, Megalosaurus, Carnotaurus and Coelophysis.

In addition, zoogoers can explore raised “dig box” and fossil boxes, operate a robotic Dimetrodon, put together a large wooden dinosaur skeleton, and say “cheese” with a very photogenic Tyrannosaurus rex. The exhibit will be spread across the area of ZooNorth known as Picnic Ridge, but renamed Raptor Ridge for the summer.

“The Zoo’s newest attraction will be one of the most comprehensive dinosaur experiences in the country,” said Sean Greene, Dallas Zoo’s vice president of guest experiences. “We’ve talked about this for many years at the Zoo, and now guests can experience a variety of prehistoric-themed programs that will really set Giants of the Jurassic apart from other dinosaur exhibits.”

In the new DinoSOAR show, which runs several times a day Wednesdays-Sundays in the Wildlife Amphitheater, exotic animals help the zoo’s “paleontologist” search for fossils to complete a dinosaur skeleton. DinoSOAR includes unique birds, including an African crowned crane, hadada ibis, Harris hawk, trumpeter hornbill, Eurasian eagle owl, toco toucan and a bald eagle. And two new faces are Fred and Ginger, capybara siblings who weigh almost 100 pounds each. (Capybaras are the largest rodents in the world, and scientists believe they are distantly related to giant ground sloths that once grew to 20 feet long.) Another addition is Willow, an American beaver.

Dinosaurs also will be key elements of the zoo’s educational programs and summer camps, and special dinosaur-themed events and birthday parties will be available.

Brachiosaurus/Billings Productions Inc.

Brachiosaurus/Billings Productions Inc.

The special engagement of Erth’s Dinosaur Zoo Live will include special 30-minute shows four times a day, on Thursdays through Mondays. The immensely popular, international experiential theatre production features a large-scale cast of dinosaur puppets brought to life by sophisticated design and presentation and puppet mastery. The production, created in Australia, will feature an array of dinosaurs on a special stage, including the awesome Tyrannosaurus rex and the peaceful giant Triceratops, which was created by Erth uniquely for the North American tour. These lifelike recreations connect children to paleontology in a fun and informative setting, as guests meet a menagerie of insects, mammals and dinosaurs that once roamed the planet millions of years ago.

The North American tour of Dinosaur Zoo Live is produced by Red Tail Entertainment. Founded by Phillip Drayer, Red Tail produces live entertainment and a variety of live performances by headline entertainers throughout the United States. The company recently produced the national tour of Scooby Doo Live! Musical Mysteries, a live musical designed specifically for children, and A Night with Janis Joplin on Broadway in 2013-14. Its subsidiary company, 35 Concerts, presents concerts by notable entertainers such as Tony Bennett, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and many more at venues throughout the U.S.

WATCH the suspense in 30 seconds.

Categories: Conservation, Education, Events, Exhibits and Experiences, Giants of the Jurassic, Reptiles and Amphibians | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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