Author Archives: Laurie Holloway

A very special little vulture

_MG_1871-White-backed Vulture chick 6-9-15-CB (427x640)This little chick is a very big deal.

The video below shows the Dallas Zoo’s new white-backed vulture, the first chick hatched in a U.S. zoo in 19 years, being watched over carefully by her parents. Even more good news: tests on the chick’s feathers determined that it’s female, which is critically important.

That matters so much because there are only 13 white-backed vultures, including this one, in U.S. zoos. (Her hatching increased the number by 8%!) The small population also skews male, so a new female chick offers great potential for successful breeding.

Hatched May 25, she’s growing fast, now weighing nearly 6 pounds. When full-grown, these vultures can weigh 15 pounds, with a wingspan of up to 7 feet.

These endangered birds are native to sub-Saharan Africa. Their numbers have fallen rapidly in recent decades due to the use of carbofuran, a highly toxic pesticide, and diclofenac, an anti-inflammatory drug used in cattle. Vultures are carrion-eaters, and they ingest the toxic drugs in animal carcasses. Populations are down 50% across their ranges, and as much as 90% in western Africa.

Dallas Zoo Bird Curator Sprina Liu and her staff are part of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for these birds, and will work with the SSP coordinator to determine where the chick will reside after she’s grown.

The chick, while much smaller than her parents, is visible from the viewing area closest to Camp Okapi, on the Gorilla Trail. Congratulations to our bird team for this remarkable achievement!

Categories: Africa, Birds, Conservation, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: , | 1 Comment

An amazing spring for our Bird Team

Dallas Zoo's Bird Curator, Sprina Liu

Dallas Zoo’s Bird Curator, Sprina Liu

While giraffe and ocelot babies have gotten a lot of attention at the Dallas Zoo this spring, our world-class bird department quietly has been notching success after success in breeding remarkable, threatened animals. The births are very carefully planned under recommendations from the Species Survival Plans, coordinated through the Association of Zoos & Aquariums to help ensure the survival of endangered species.

Here are just a few of the new hatchings, and why they matter so much:

White-backed vultures: One chick, hatched May 25. This is a remarkable achievement; we’re just the fourth North American zoo to hatch these African birds, and the first in 16 years to do so. There are only 13 white-backed vultures, including our chick, in U.S. zoos.

_MG_1871-White-backed Vulture chick 6-9-15-CB (427x640)

Kori bustards: Two chicks. These threatened African birds are among the heaviest flighted birds in the world; the males can weigh more than 40 pounds when full-grown. They’re being raised off-exhibit, so you can’t see them just yet. These new additions give us seven!

_MG_1002-Kori Bustard Chicks Barn 8-CB (640x640)

African spoonbill: Six chicks, making us home to 22, more than any other U.S. zoo. (And we expect to have a few more soon, too!) The chicks are being raised off-exhibit so they continue to thrive, but you can see our adult African spoonbills in the A.D. Martin Forest Aviary in the Wilds of Africa.

_MG_1060-African Spoonbill chicks-Barn 8-CB (640x427)

Yellow-billed storks: Three chicks, giving us 14.These hatchings are hugely significant, because they’re genetically important key players in the Species Survival Plan. There are only about 50 in U.S. zoos, and 14 of them are at the Dallas Zoo.

_MG_9986-Yellow-billed stork-Barn 9-CB (640x427)

Southern ground hornbill: One chick. Only a handful of these threatened African birds hatched out within the last year in the United States. These are the “wolves of the bird world,” living in family groups. You can see them along the monorail habitats when it reopens this fall.

African Ground Hornbill chick-KG (640x427)

Marabou storks: Four chicks. These African birds are being raised off-exhibit, but one is being raised by its parents in an outdoor nest among the Bush Overlook in the Wilds of Africa. You’ll need a sharp eye to spot the nest! These baby birds look a lot like pterodactyls, but we promise they have nothing to do with the Giants of the Jurassic exhibit. These new babies are significant because husbandry of this species is challenging.

_MG_9835-Marabou stork chicks-CB (640x447)

Waldrapp ibis: One chick. This little one is extremely significant because Waldrapp ibis are the most critically endangered bird at the Dallas Zoo. They’re native to Morocco and one or two other places in the world, but only a few hundred remain in the wild. About 150 live in U.S. zoos, including our 12. (Harrison Edell, our senior director of Living Collections, is the coordinator of the Species Survival Plan for this species.) Meet the Waldrapp ibis in the Forest Aviary, along the Gorilla Trail in the Wilds of Africa.

IMG_0609-Waldrapp Chick-KG (469x640)

Hadada ibis: Two chicks, both hatched in the past three weeks. These African birds, easily distinguishable by their long, thin beaks and iridescent feathers, aren’t easy to breed. They’re being raised off-exhibit, but you can see adult Hadada ibis in the Forest Aviary. (Edell is also the SSP coordinator for these.)

_MG_1066-Hadada chick in Barn 8-CB (640x427)

African black-footed penguin: One chick. As previously noted here on ZooHoo!, this April 15 hatching is the first penguin chick ever at the Dallas Zoo, making it the tenth member of our exhibit flock. The chick now weighs about 6 pounds, and is beginning to grow feathers to replace its soft gray down. Once those feathers grow in, the chick can begin to practice swimming in Don Glendenning Penguin Cove.

_MG_1922-Penguin Chick 6-9-15-CB (427x640)

King vulture: One chick, our newest, hatched June 6. The strikingly unique birds have beautifully colored orange-and-purple heads, hairless as is typical of vultures. (It keeps them cleaner, since they are carrion eaters.) They’re native to Central and South America, but you’ll find ours on Wings of Wonder in ZooNorth.

DSC02401-King Vulture-SL (640x427)

“A combination of factors contributed to our success this spring,” said Sprina Liu, the Dallas Zoo’s bird curator. “First and foremost, our bird keepers have a total of over 300 years of experience, and many came here with experience from other institutions. So we have a strong team that keeps a close eye on the birds to ensure they have the environment they need to breed successfully.

“We give the adults what they need to breed and they do the rest,” Liu said. “If not, having the observational and technical skills to identify problems and decide what to do is vital. If we encounter problems, we methodically review each step of our management (both historical and current), how the birds or chicks reacted to it and what we need to do to make it better. We did that many times this year, and depending on the situation, we modified our approach every few hours.

“In addition, we have strong animal nutrition and veterinary staffs that react immediately to changes that needed to be made.

“And lastly, while much has to do with skill, in some situations I think just plain dumb luck helped us out,” she added with a smile.

The Dallas Zoo’s bird experts will continue to work with SSP coordinators for these birds to determine where they will be placed.

Categories: Birds, Conservation, Penguins, Zookeepers | Leave a comment

Dear Kipenzi: A big bro’s letter to his baby sister

Dear Kipenzi-Letter

Categories: Africa, Giraffe | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

Giants of the Savanna CLOSED June 2-4

IMG_7412Tuesday through Thursday (June 2-4), most of the Giants of the Savanna will be closed so we can clean the ponds and waterfalls, which were clogged with mud during the torrential rains in May. This includes the giraffes, elephants, zebras and impala; the lions and cheetah habitats will be open.

Because we hate to have to close any part of the Zoo, we’re offering half-price admission: $7.50 for adults, $6 for children and seniors. And we’re going to work as fast as we can, so we’ll open it back up as soon as possible. Thanks for your understanding as we continue to recover from that crazy record-breaking weather!

Categories: Africa | Leave a comment

Zoo mourns loss of Mama, elderly elephant matriarch

The Dallas Zoo is heartbroken to announce the death of African elephant “Mama” due to age-related health conditions.

Elephants "Mama" was the matriarch of the all female "Golden Girls" herd. She will forever be missed.

Elephant “Mama” was the matriarch of the all female “Golden Girls” herd. She will forever be missed.

At 45, Mama was the oldest of our five-member geriatric female herd. She lived more than seven years past the 38-year median life expectancy for a female African elephant in human care, and was one of the 10 oldest elephants in the United States. She had been undergoing dedicated geriatric health care for many months, including massage, baths, blood tests, medication and heat-lamp treatments. In recent weeks, Mama’s health had declined, and her care evolved to hospice-style efforts designed to keep her comfortable.

“Mama’s longevity and excellent quality of life are a testament to the loving care and expertise of our elephant keepers and veterinary team,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO.

Mama shines in the golden sun on an autumn day in 2013.

Mama shines in the golden sun on an autumn day in 2013.

“This is a difficult day for our staff and the community. We take our responsibility to care for these magnificent animals very seriously,” said Lynn Kramer, D.V.M., the zoo’s vice president of Animal Operations. “We’re heartened that her final years were spent in a social herd in which we saw positive, normal elephant behavior.”

Mama, whose estimated birthdate was January 1970, was often called an “old soul.” This curious mother and grandmother was known for her sweet tooth, favoring sugar cane, and tidy eating habits (she would rake her food into a neat pile and daintily scoop it up). From the time Mama arrived at the Zoo in 2010, zookeepers noticed she was very curious and could be the instigator of mischief. She loved being groomed, especially “pedicures,” getting attention from guests and her keepers, and being vocal with her herd.  She was the matriarch of our “Golden Girls” and received much special care because of her advanced age and conditions resulting from injuries she sustained long before she came to the Dallas Zoo.

Pictured from left to right: Kamba, Congo, Jenny, Mama and Gypsy greet one another on the Savanna in Dec. 2014.

Pictured from left to right: Kamba, Congo, Jenny, Mama and Gypsy greet one another on the Savanna in December 2014.

After Mama died, the other elephants in the herd, Gypsy, Jenny, Congo and Kamba, were given time to say goodbye, during which they gently touched her face with their trunks and trumpeted softly.

The elephant herd’s home, the Giants of the Savanna, was specifically designed for the care of older elephants, as well as younger ones. The habitat can be changed to address the needs of individual animals, such as adding logs and piles of sand for leaning and resting for older animals. The habitat also was designed, with help from elephant expert Dr. Charles Foley, to include migration pathways that allow the herd to walk more than 10 miles per day.

Mama (left) dusts her back with dirt with Kamba nearby in Dec. 2014.

Mama browses for food nearby while Kamba dusts her back with dirt in December 2014.

It’s a very difficult time for our staff, so please keep us in your thoughts. Our keepers, committed to conservation efforts, ask that anyone wishing to honor Mama donate to Dr. Foley’s Tarangire Elephant Project, one of our partners helping elephants in Africa. Information can be found at Donations may be mailed to Mama Elephant Memorial, c/o Dallas Zoo, 650 S. R.L. Thornton Freeway, Dallas, TX 75203.

Please watch this tribute video we made in honor of Mama.

Categories: Africa, Elephant, Mammals, Veterinary Care | Tags: , | 5 Comments

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