Children’s Zoo (Lacerte Family)

How to train a mongoose 101

Dwarf mongoose Happy waits for his food reward for stationing on the scale.

Dwarf mongoose Happy waits for his food reward for stationing on the scale.

How in the world do you find out if a dwarf mongoose is pregnant?

You weigh her! And that’s also a great way to monitor an animal’s overall health.

But teaching these adorably sassy critters to sit on a scale isn’t for the impatient. Luckily, the Dallas Zoo has keeper Sara Bjerklie, who’s developed a special relationship with Happy, Sleepy, Sally and Jada.

Since last fall, she’s worked diligently five times a week with the small African carnivores. The key: cat food. It’s part of the mongooses’ daily diet and is a delicious, motivating snack.

“It’s been fun to see their individual personalities come out during training,” Bjerklie said. “Happy lives up to his name and loves to train, just not always on his station. I like to think he has an excess of energy and just can’t stop moving. Sleepy’s the opposite, he’s a little shy guy. But with a lot of time spent together, he’s warmed up and we’ve created a great bond.”

Keeper Sara Bjerklie gives Happy his cat food reward during positive reinforcement training.

Keeper Sara Bjerklie gives Happy his cat food reward during positive reinforcement training.

Mother and daughter duo Sally and Jada are typically the dominant pair in the pack. But they seem a little wary to train, and they took longer to grasp it.

The animals first trained on blue plates placed on the ground, and Bjerklie would ask them to “station” on their individual plate. As progress was made, she moved the plates on top of a small scale. And voila, we have weights! Kudos to Sara on her skill – and her persistence.

Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family), Enrichment, Veterinary Care, Zookeepers | Tags: | Leave a comment

Attention Kids: How to reap rewards from nature

IMG_8457-4x6-Nature Exchange (800x533)Hey, kids and teens! Make a point this summer to score big points with a nature journal!

Seasoned traders as well as Nature Exchange newbies can reap big rewards by participating in the Nature Journal Contest sponsored by the Hillcrest Foundation Nature Exchange in the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo. Winners can really rake in the points: first prize wins a whopping 10,000 points, second prize earns 7,500 points, and third prize is worth 4,500 points.

All you have to do is record your observations while spending time in nature. You can record an entry during a trail hike, walk through a park or garden, a fossil hunt, a camping or fishing trip, or even while playing in your own backyard.

Kids Leaning in Nature Exchange, Cathy Burkey (800x533)You can’t win if you don’t try, but in the Nature Journal Contest, everyone who does try earns 500 points. That’s 500 points added to your Nature Exchange account, just for submitting an entry!

First, second, and third prizes will be awarded to each age group: 5-7 years, 8-10 years, 11-13 years, 14-17 years. Points can be redeemed at the Hillcrest Foundation Nature Exchange, and do not expire.


Contest Rules:

  • Turn in a photocopy of your one page nature journal entry
  • Include the date, time, and weather, along with any written or rendered (draw, sketch, paint, photograph, etc.) observations of the plants and animals that you see
  • Only one entry per child

The deadline for submissions is September 7, 2015. Winners will be announced on September 21, 2015.

For those unfamiliar with the Hillcrest Foundation Nature Exchange, it’s the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo’s wildly popular “swap shop,” where zoo guests can trade in nature items, earn points for those items – and even more points if you know a little bit about your items, and then use those points to buy cool stuff off the Nature Exchange shelves. There’s no money involved: just nature, knowledge, and listening skills! (Adults, please note that while the journal contest is for younger guests, folks of all ages enjoy trading at the Nature Exchange.)

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Top 10 reasons to go to Zoo camp

School’s winding down and the temps are rising – which means it’s time for Wild Adventures Summer Camp at the Zoo and Children’s Aquarium at Fair Park! Our weeklong and single-day camps run from June 15 to Aug. 15, so check out 10 reasons why your kids (ages 3 through high school) need to be here. If spending a week or day doing amazingly awesome Zoo activities makes you shake your tail feathers, register HERE. 

1. Find answers to tough questions like “Why is a giraffe’s tongue black?” (I Wonder How Camp)

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2. Create special enrichment items for zoo animals. (Various)

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3. Dinosaurs! DINOSAURS!! (Fun-tastic Fossils, Tiny Paleontologists, Jump Into The Jurassic)

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4. Snack with flying, chirping companions. (Various)

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5. Zookeepers love animals – find out what’s your future could hold. (Careers Camp)

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6. “Hey, look!” Discover and identify local plants. (Texas Born and Bred Camp)

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7. Meet scaly, furry, feathery ambassadors from faraway lands. (Single-day Passport Camps)

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8. Make new bearded friends. (Various)

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9. Solve mysteries of the prehistoric world. (Cretaceous Cases Camp)

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10. Get hands-on with something fishy. (Camp H20)

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Categories: Children's Zoo (Lacerte Family), Education, Zookeepers | Tags: | Leave a comment

Baby pony wins our hearts and mom’s too

The Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo just got a little bit busier – and a whole lot cuter – with the arrival of Epona, a foal born May 19 to Gracie, our mixed-breed pony mare.

Just days old, Espona naps in the barn.

Just days old, Epona naps in the barn.

At just over a week old, Epona is already running, leaping and exploring the Don & Linda Carter Barn. Just like her famous Zoo friend Kipenzi, Epona’s been on her feet since shortly after birth.  Whether they’re born in the wild or born in a barn, baby ponies – and baby giraffes – must be up and ready to move as soon as possible.

For a few minutes every morning and afternoon, the barn is closed so Epona can follow her mother out of the stall and onto the scale. Daily weigh-ins are a very important part of tracking a zooborn’s progress.

“We are all thrilled to watch Epona grow, mentally and physically. She gained 10 pounds in her first week, and continues to become more confident and curious,” said Melissa Medlen, Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo supervisor.

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Born May 19, Epona and mom Gracie are doing well in the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo.

Gracie is a patient and relaxed mother who lets zookeepers help take care of her little girl. Known for her gentle, sweet nature, Gracie navigated the entire pregnancy, birthing, nursing and bonding process like a champ. Like all good moms, she’s not hesitant to provide Epona with a little parental guidance and discipline when necessary.

Named for the Celtic goddess of horses, Epona is a spirited and curious filly (female baby horse) who loves being outside in the exercise paddock. Once there, she’s usually kicking up her heels, racing around – sometimes under her mother –and executing graceful side passes worthy of a trained show horse. These big bursts of energy are usually followed by a nursing session, and a long nap.

“Epona and Gracie will continue to be mostly behind the scenes for a while,” Medlen said. “It’s important for both mom and baby to have bonding time and privacy while Epona is nursing and exploring her new environment.”

Weather permitting, guests may be able to glimpse mama and baby out in the paddock, located next door to the Simmons Family Pony Trek.

Espona stays close to mom Gracie in the exercise paddock.

Epona stays close to mom Gracie in the exercise paddock.


Is a pony a baby horse?

Ponies are a breed of horse. A baby horse – or a baby pony –  is called a foal.

What’s the difference between a filly and a colt?

A filly is a female foal. A colt is a male foal.

What kind of pony is Epona?

Epona soaks up the Texas sunshine.

Epona soaks up the Texas sunshine.

All of the Children’s Zoo ponies are mixed-breeds, except for Cleo, who is a registered Haflinger.

What’s a “hand?”

A “hand” is a special measurement for horses and ponies. Horses are measured from the ground to the top of their “withers,” or shoulders. One hand equals four inches. Of our adult ponies, Cleo is the tallest at 14.1 hands, and Gracie is the shortest, at 10.1 hands.

A Children’s Zoo Kid Challenge!

How many hands tall are you? Remember, one hand equals four inches.

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Reinventing the natural world explorer

Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo supervisor, Melody Wood, guest blogs on ZooHoo.

Splashing in a puddle. Building a snowman. Making a wish on a dandelion cast to the wind. Building a fort in the woods.

Momentous Institute teachers rediscover how to play.

Momentous Institute teachers rediscover how to play.

Most of us remember such moments from childhood. Unfortunately, memories like these are increasingly scarce for today’s children, who are trading authentic experiences for ones seen on a screen. But zoos and aquariums are stepping up to help reverse the trend of lost nature experiences.

Research has shown that zoological park visits promote an increased connection with nature, acting as a gateway to the wild world for millions of visitors every year.

With the help of a $10,000 grant, the Dallas Zoo is combatting couch-potato syndrome.

Teachers made a weaving board from an old cereal box and items found in nature.

Teachers made a weaving board from an old cereal box and items found in nature.

We recently were awarded a “Nature Play Begins at Your Zoo & Aquarium” grant from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and The Walt Disney Co., one of just 30 zoos and aquariums chosen to receive this special funding, designed to get families outside, playing in nature.

We’ve used the grant to create a new program, WildFUN (Families United in Nature), to introduce urban, under-served families to unstructured nature play, both on Zoo grounds and in community parks.

Facilitators from the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo recently flew south to lead staff from the Dallas Zoo’s Children’s Zoo, Education Department, and teachers from our program partner, Momentous Institute, in a three-day nature play training workshop called NatureStart.

NatureStart was designed as a training program for informal education professionals working with young children and their families at museums, zoos, aquariums, and nature centers. Participants rediscovered environmentally friendly ways to encourage children to care about the natural world and their role in it.

The Zoo has made a five-year commitment to work with pre-K children and their families at the Momentous Institute, a private school where 80 percent of students come from low-income families. At the end of the first year, the WildFUN participating families will create their own Family Nature Club. The program will include trips to local parks, neighborhood green spaces and, of course, the Zoo.

Dallas Zoo and Momentous Institute NatureStart workshop participants.

Dallas Zoo and Momentous Institute NatureStart workshop participants.

Equipped with techniques and activities designed to encourage exploration and discovery, Dallas Zoo staff are now ready to encourage kids to jump, run, dance, and build their way to a play-based nature adventure.


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