Africa

Vultures make the world a better, cleaner place

Vultures are known as “nature’s clean-up crew” because they rid our environment of toxic animal carcasses. (White-backed vulture)

Vultures play a critical role in the environment and are beneficial to all animals, including humans. They consume carrion (or dead animals), which rids the environment of potentially deadly carcasses. “Without vultures, we would quickly be up to our necks in diseases that could severely impact our health,” says Dallas Zoo Bird Supervisor Kevin Graham. “It takes all vultures working as a team to fully clean a carcass.”

Ruppell’s vulture have long necks that help them reach interior organs within carrion.

Larger African vultures, such as the lappet-faced and white-backed varieties, get the job started once a carcass is initially detected. Lappet-faced vultures, with their large, powerful beaks are able to tear into tough hides to expose the meat within the carrion. White-back and Ruppell’s vultures, with their long necks, specialize in cleaning out interior muscle and organs. Then, in come the hooded vultures for the final clean-up. Hooded vultures are equipped with long, slender bills that allow them to get meat from harder-to-reach areas like between the ribs and inside the skull.

Sadly, these incredible birds are under siege right now when it comes to survival, including in Africa where they’re being poisoned by the thousands. African vulture populations have declined about 90% in the last 50 years, and if we don’t do something, they could very well be extinct within our lifetimes.

Vulture poisonings are two-fold. Farmers will poison large carnivores that threaten their livestock – like lions and wild dogs. The vultures consume the poisoned carcasses and die as a result. Poachers have also begun intentionally poisoning the carcasses of their illegally hunted animals in order to kill off vultures who may give away their location to authorities, which is even more alarming.

Fortunately, accredited zoos and aquariums, including your Dallas Zoo, are working hard to ensure the survival of African vultures and countless other species through Species Survival Plans (SSPs) as well as promoting pro-wildlife behaviors. We care for eight different species of vultures at the Dallas Zoo, and we take pride in educating our community about the importance of saving these amazing birds.

We care for 8 different vulture species at the Dallas Zoo, several of which are breeding pairs through their respective SSPs. Each season that the bird team welcomes a baby chick is a major success for their endangered species.

Once a chick hatches, the Dallas Zoo bird team works tirelessly to make sure that the precious baby bird has everything he or she needs to thrive. “We check the chick daily to ensure it is in healthy body conditions and to make sure their wings, feet and eyes are all working and growing properly,” Graham says. “We also closely monitor their current weight and adjust their diets as necessary. Because they clean carcasses, we have to provide them with a diverse diet that’s nutritionally balanced.”

Categories: Africa, Birds, Conservation | Leave a comment

An update on Witten’s passing


Thank you for your outpouring of love and support over the loss of our beloved giraffe Witten. Monday was a tragic whirlwind. We know you have a lot of questions, and we’ve tried to answer them below.

What happened to Witten? Our one-year-old giraffe Witten passed away on Monday, June 17, during a routine physical exam in preparation for his move to another AZA-accredited zoo in Canada on a breeding recommendation made by AZA’s Giraffe Species Survival Plan. Before crossing any borders, animals are required to undergo routine, yet extensive, medical testing, per government regulation. Witten was sedated so our vets could safely perform the physical and viral tests, including tuberculosis and brucellosis testing. Tragically, Witten stopped breathing during the exam and passed away after unsuccessful resuscitation efforts. We are conducting an internal investigation of the incident, including a necropsy (an animal autopsy).

Why did he need to be sedated? Any procedure requiring a sedative requires careful planning, and that decision is not one we make lightly. The safety of both the animal and our staff are top priority.

Are giraffe endangered in the wild? Why is the AZA’s Species Survival Plan so important? Yes, many people don’t realize that giraffes are facing a silent extinction in the wild. In the past 30 years, giraffes have experienced a 40% decline in population. Today it’s estimated that fewer than 97,000 giraffes remain in the wild. Many factors affect giraffes including human encroachment, poaching, and habitat loss. But organizations like zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums are helping save giraffes in the wild through conservation efforts and raising awareness.

Why would moving Witten have been important for the SSP? The AZA’s Species Survival Plan closely monitors genetic diversity to ensure the long-term survival of endangered animals. The Giraffe SSP determined that Witten was a good match for the females at another zoo. He was intended to be that zoo’s dominant bull and was recommended to breed there once mature. He would not have been able to stay at Dallas Zoo, as his father would have driven him out of the herd once he was of breeding age.

How is his mom Chrystal? Chrystal is doing well, and our zoologists are keeping a close eye on her. Male giraffes typically leave their moms around 15 months in the wild, so this was a natural time he would be moving on his own.

How did giraffe Kipenzi die in 2015? Kipenzi attempted to make a sharp turn while rough-housing with her brother, and ran into the perimeter edge of the giraffe habitat, breaking three vertebrae in her neck, and dying immediately. Kipenzi’s death was a tragic loss for the Zoo after her birth was broadcast live on Animal Planet. In honor of Kipenzi, the Dallas Zoo was able to raise nearly $50,000 for giraffe conservation.

How can we help? Please consider making a donation to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, our partner in the field who we work closely with to save giraffes in Africa: www.giraffeconservation.com.

Our hearts are broken over this loss, and we ask that you continue to keep our Zoo family in your thoughts.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Giraffe | 3 Comments

Dallas Zoo welcomes endangered African painted dogs back to Dallas for the first time in 57 years

8-year-old African painted dog Ola explored her habitat for the first time on June 12, 2019.

We are bringing back a very special species for the first time in 57 years – three endangered African painted dogs! African painted dogs are one of the most social mammals on earth, with the most structured, organized hierarchy of any carnivorous species.

“African painted dogs are an incredibly intelligent, fascinating species and we know our guests are going to fall in love with these pack animals,” said Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation. “As Africa’s most successful hunters, they’re also very nurturing – they work together for the welfare of the whole pack and care for the young and the ill, so no member is left behind.”

We will care for one 8-year-old female named Ola, and two 2-year-old brothers, Jata and Mzingo, making them the only African painted dogs in North Texas. Ola hails from the Brookfield Zoo and was the first dog to enter the habitat today (June 12) in the Giants of the Savanna. The two males are coming from Columbus Zoo’s The Wilds, a private, non-profit safari park, and will join Ola later this week.

“This is one of the most delicate introductions we’ve ever done because African painted dogs have such an intricate social network. We have to ensure there is little disruption to their hierarchy,” said Keith Zdrojewski, Dallas Zoo’s Curator of Carnivores and Primates. “Ola will naturally assume the alpha female role, and one of the brothers will need to step up to the alpha male role. We’re excited to watch this pack grow and bond together – they’re going to be amazing ambassadors for their endangered species.”

Ola in her former home at Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo/photo credit: Chicago Zoological Society

African painted dogs are known for their large, round ears, and mottled pattern of black, yellow, brown, and white fur that helps make the pack look larger, which confuses prey and predators. Their scientific name, Lycaon pictus, means “painted wolf,” but they are not a wolf or a dog – they are a unique species that is the only member of their genus. They live and hunt in packs and have tremendous endurance and stamina to pursue their prey for miles without tiring.  Operating as a single unit, they are the most efficient predators in Africa, being successful about 80 percent of the time.

African painted dogs are one of the most endangered carnivores, with fewer than 6,000 dogs remaining in parts of southern and eastern Africa. Their numbers continue to decline due to habitat loss, shooting by ranchers to protect their livestock, disease, and more. There are currently 136 individuals living in U.S. zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.

We are working to help rescue and rehabilitate African painted dogs with its partner in Namibia, the Cheetah Conservation Fund. By supporting the nonprofit Dallas Zoo, YOU can help create a better world for African painted dogs. A portion of every ticket sold goes directly to saving animals in the wild.

Guests are welcome to meet the trio starting Monday, June 17. They can be found in the former cheetah habitat next to the lions in the Giants of the Savanna. (The cheetahs have moved to the mandrill habitat, which is better suited for them as geriatric animals. The mandrills are now living at Primate Place in a habitat that is specially designed for monkeys.)

Categories: Africa, Mammals | Leave a comment

Dallas Zoo welcomes a healthy baby hippo

Calf born to mom Boipelo Tuesday evening

Hippo mom Boipelo and baby captured snuggled up on May 15.

The Dallas Zoo is proudly welcoming a Nile hippopotamus calf born Tuesday, May 14, around 6:30 p.m. to 12-year-old mom Boipelo after an eight-month-long gestation. Both mom and calf are doing well – labor lasted roughly seven hours, and the calf was observed nursing just two hours after birth. The animal care team was able to observe labor and delivery via the hippo barn’s closed-circuit camera to give mom privacy.

“We timed Boipelo’s contractions every moment she barrel rolled in the water, and after about 100 rolls, we saw a baby emerge,” said Matt James, Dallas Zoo’s Senior Director of Animal Care. “The baby immediately began moving and kicking and Boipelo swiftly nudged it to the ledge of the pool, where the baby sprawled out and took a break. Boipelo has been very attentive, gently nudging the calf to the surface for air after each nursing session. Hippo calves need to come up every 30 seconds to breathe, and she’s doing a great job ensuring the baby is getting everything it needs. ”

The zoo’s veterinary and animal care experts have prepared for the calf’s arrival since January, when they first preformed a successful ultrasound on 2,420-pound Boipelo. In 2018, the Dallas Zoo became the first U.S. zoo to capture serial fetal growth images on a pregnant hippo through voluntary ultrasound.

The team performed weekly ultrasounds capturing images of the baby’s heart, chest cavity, head, feet, and other body parts. With very few high-quality images of hippo fetal growth in zoos, Dallas Zoo’s experts have built a foundation of growth norms to share with other institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

“Performing ultrasounds on hippos has always been challenging because of the sheer size of the animal. Being able to successfully track this baby’s growth is really a testament to the relationships the zoologists have built with Boipelo,” said Jan Raines, D.V.M., Dallas Zoo’s associate veterinarian. “After the tragic loss of our male hippo Adhama last October, the zoologists went above and beyond to provide Boipelo with the emotional support she needed. I know the bonds they’ve formed have really helped during our ultrasound sessions.”

Boipelo and Adhama were paired together on an AZA Species Survival Plan breeding recommendation shortly before Adhama passed away.

In February 2018,Boipelo lost her first calf moments after delivery – the calf never took a breath due to its lungs not fully inflating.

“We have gone through great loss to get to this remarkable moment of welcoming a healthy hippo calf,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo’s president and CEO. “Our animal care team and our female hippo are nothing short of resilient. We are grateful to have Adhama’s legacy live on in this new baby.”

Over the past six months, zoologists have observed very positive behaviors in Boipelo as she’s grown into her independence.

“Boipelo has really come out of her shell; this time of adjustment has been very important for her,” said John Fried, Dallas Zoo’s mammal curator. “She’s developed her own personality and has gained a lot confidence that will surely contribute to giving her newborn the best care possible.”

In the wild, hippos live in social settings for greater protection from predators. In order to replicate the most natural environment for Boipelo, the animal care team will bring in another male hippo later this year from an AZA-accredited institution.

Native to sub-Saharan Africa, hippos are listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) due to habitat loss, and poaching for their meat and ivory-canine teeth.

The Dallas Zoo opened its $14 million award-winning Simmons Hippo Outpost in April 2017. The habitat features an immersive African waterhole with a 120,000-gallon pool and a 24 by 8-foot underwater viewing window. The habitat also includes a herd of critically endangered okapi that guests can learn about up close in daily keeper chats.

Boipelo and her calf remain behind the scenes where they are bonding privately. The zoo will announce their public debut in the coming weeks, along with the baby’s name and gender. In the meantime, guests are encouraged to visit the red river hogs who are currently in the habitat, with the okapi nearby.

Categories: Africa, Hippo | 4 Comments

Dallas Zoo helps release flamingo chicks back into the wild after life-saving emergency rescue in South Africa earlier this year

49 lesser flamingo chicks were released back into the wild in South Africa earlier this week!

In January, the Dallas Zoo was part of an unprecedented rescue effort after 1,800 lesser flamingo chicks were abandoned at their nesting grounds due to severe drought. But the work was far from over. Animal care professionals have worked tirelessly over the past four months to nurse the chicks back to health, and this week the Dallas Zoo helped lead a team in Kimberley, South Africa in the release of 49 of those chicks back into the wild. The rescue, rehabilitation, and release of these birds has never been done before, until now.

The drought affected Kamfers Dam in Kimberley, the capital of the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, causing adult flamingos to abandon their nests, leaving thousands of eggs and chicks behind. With only four breeding colonies of lesser flamingos in Africa and one other in India, Kamfers Dam is one of the most important breeding locations for this species in the world.  

The Dallas Zoo led the effort to funnel emergency funding to South Africa in coordination with the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA), sending more than $52,000 from U.S. zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). In addition, AZA-accredited institutions sent 53 of their top U.S. animal care experts and vet teams to help in the mission. The Dallas Zoo contributed $18,500, sent ten of its staffers, and funded the trips for five additional experts to lend their support. Harrison Edell, Dallas Zoo’s Executive Vice President of Animal Care and Conservation, is there now to assist in the release.

“We’re feeling intense relief right now knowing a release of this magnitude has never been done before,” said Edell. “It was a massive undertaking to rescue these flamingos, get them healthy, prepare them to reenter the wild, and then watch them go. The zoo community really stepped up to make this happen and help keep these birds alive.”

The 49 birds were the first group to be released back into Kamfers Dam after they were deemed the most fit for the initial release. Animal caretakers have worked around-the-clock to keep the hundreds of birds alive.

“It’s been a delicate balance – since January, we’ve worked hands-on with the chicks to keep them fed and healthy, but as they’ve grown, we needed to be hands off to ensure they did not imprint on us. We needed to know that they were not interested in people, and only birds, before they were cleared for release,” said Edell.

Each bird also went through a physical health exam, and was given a leg band and microchip before the release. A few chicks will remain in human care, including one that is blind and a few with wing injuries. Those not fit for survival in the wild will become ambassadors of their species at PAAZA-accredited zoos.

Hundreds more flamingo chicks are set to be released in the coming weeks.

“It’s been incredible to release our first flock and see them walk toward the other 20,000 wild adult flamingos at Kamfers Dam, and just fit right in. We hope they continue to thrive,” said Edell.

More AZA experts will travel to South Africa to see the final releases through, and U.S. officials will continue to be a sounding board on the project to ensure future success for all of the birds.

Lesser flamingos are currently listed as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Species (IUCN), primarily due to habitat destruction and climate change. It is the smallest species of the six species of flamingos in the world. They’re found primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and some parts of India.

Categories: Africa, Birds, Conservation | Leave a comment

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