Hockaday high school students monkey around with primate enrichment

Hockaday students present their enrichment devices at the Zoo

Hockaday students present their enrichment devices at the Zoo

For most high school students, the semester is filled with standard classes like calculus, biology, english, and history – but a group of five Hockaday students can proudly add monkeying around with STEM to their academic repertoire.

President and CEO Gregg Hudson congratulates the students on their hard work

President and CEO Gregg Hudson congratulates the students on their hard work

It all began with a unique partnership between the Zoo and the Hockaday School. Several Hockaday students were already involved in our Teen Science Café and Zoo Corps group, so it only seemed natural to find a way to further engage other students, using Zoo related problem solving.

“We value long-term partnerships like this because they can result in a deeper connection with the Zoo’s conservation mission. As the students delve into their projects and learn more about the animals they are helping, they can come away feeling more connected to the animals, which is important since their generation does and will have so many opportunities to make a positive difference for species worldwide,” said Dallas Zoo’s director of Education Marti Copeland.

The Hockaday School had just the person for taking on this wild task. Science teacher Leon de Oliveira began a brand new course for the semester entitled “Community Impact by Design.” The class allowed students to work in small groups while engaging in the design and engineering process in order to solve a problem. This year’s challenge: find a creative way to encourage small primates to use more vertical space in their exhibit.

Keepers put Wendy's and Kate's treat shaker to the test

Keeper Audra C. put Wendy’s and Kate’s treat shaker to the test after filling it with food

How exactly does one prompt a primate to move onwards and upwards? Through enrichment, of course! However, Zoo staff left the designing fully up to the students. The class made multiple trips to the Zoo to observe their subjects while working closely with primate keepers and our education team. After multiple models and prototypes made out of various approved materials, the students were able to turn their ideas into actual enrichment items.

“I have just been blown away by their creativity and perseverance throughout the challenge. To see the whole process starting from their initial cardboard designs to the final product was incredible. What a transformation!” Education supervisor Courtney Jonescu said.

Hockaday seniors Wendy Ho and Kate Keough created a “treat shaker” out of PVC pipe. The capsule shaped item, designed to hang from a tree branch, has maze-like layers of plexiglass on the inside. Primates must shake the apparatus to move food through the levels until it falls out a small hole at the bottom in order to be consumed.

Sophomore Meredith Jones approached the task from a different perspective, developing a “treat tree” with branches for food pieces to hang. Primates must pull levers in order to release the tree, allowing it to sprout out of a PVC pipe and reveal more and more treats depending on which lever is activated.

Spider monkeys eagerly engage with the enrichment device

Spider monkeys eagerly engage with the enrichment device

Junior Annie Allen and senior Audrey Black cleverly worked together to craft a “ball box.” The cube-like structure is made of mesh and houses a second cube within it, filled with whiffle balls, which have perfectly sized holes for primates to reach their fingers into and attempt to work food out.

“You had to really think like a monkey and consider everything that they could do, like their strength,” Allen explained.

And think like a monkey they did! Wendy’s and Kate’s treat shaker was even put to the test on May 11 after the students presented their final enrichment deliverables to Zoo staff and interested onlookers. Keepers hung the device from a branch in the spider monkey habitat, warning that the primates might be somewhat shy to approach it – but the troop proved otherwise.

“The device worked exactly like the students hoped it would, and the spider monkeys were immediately interested in it. They looked down the tube through the plexiglass window, just like the girls imagined they would.  Then they manipulated the tube until yummy treats fell out of the flawlessly cut hole at the bottom. It turned out to be perfect and all of us were thrilled to see that,” said Jonescu.

We think the students deserve an A+ for their hard work, creativity, ingenuity – after all, it’s not every day that one receives the monkey seal of approval.

Categories: Education, Enrichment, Mammals, Monkey | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

New male mandrill to unite family troop


Keeper Annie Birdsong guest-blogs on ZooHoo!


Jax shares an inquisitive moment with Saffron and her son Obi.

We’re loving our new male mandrill, Jax, who joins Saffron and her son, 2-and-a-half-year-old Obi! Jax’s timely arrival brings our family troop together once again.

During the short history of our mandrill troop since little Obi arrived, we’ve suffered two difficult losses. Born March 28, 2014, Obi was the first mandrill born at the Zoo in nearly 25 years. Sadly, three months later, Obi lost his father, 18-year-old Milo, to a form of lymphatic cancer.

Milo’s sudden death left Dallas Zoo staff at a loss. But that winter, after a long search, we welcomed Savuti, a geriatric 23-year-old male mandrill from the Buffalo Zoo. Savuti would become Obi’s father figure.

But more than a year later, Savuti passed away from age-related health issues, which wasn’t unexpected due to his advanced age. And again, our search was on to find a male who would bring our family troop together and teach Obi how to be a respectful adult, so he could one day take over the troop.

That’s where 9-year-old Jax comes in. He arrived in August from Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla. Jax lived with his father, and due to this, he hasn’t developed into his full male mandrill size. But that’s about to change, and all our visitors will be lucky enough to witness his transformation.

img_4093-jax-mandrill-csJuvenile male mandrills who live in close contact with a dominant male can be hormone-suppressed, and may stay skinny with drab colorations, as to not compete with the dominant male.

Dominant male mandrills have even more brightly colored faces and rumps than females and juvenile males, and an impressive mane and beard, too. They also have a stockier body, and you can see that our Jax is still rather skinny and lanky. We’re excited to see that since Jax has moved into our mandrill barn and met his new family, his colors already have begun to pop.

Here on an Association of Zoos and Aquariums Mandrill Species Survival Plan (SSP) breeding recommendation, Jax has been paired with Obi’s mom, Saffron, and we hope they will bring Obi a little brother or sister, as well as becoming a needed male role model in Obi’s life.

Jax sits in the window of the mandrill habitat and absolutely loves to smile at visitors. Mandrills are the only primate species, besides humans, who actually “smile” as a greeting; most other primates only show their teeth when they’re “fear grinning.” He also is very particular about his food, rinsing off produce in the habitat streams before he eats it.

Come watch Jax, Obi, and Saffron getting to know each other in our mandrill habitat at the entrance of the Wilds of Africa. We look forward to sharing more developments as our troop becomes more bonded.

Categories: Africa, Mandrill, Monkey | 1 Comment

At 2 years old, mandrill Obi continues to steal our hearts

Zookeeper Annie Birdsong guest-blogs on ZooHoo!

Now a juvenile, Obi's more comfortable venturing without mom Saffron.

Now a juvenile, Obi’s more comfortable venturing without mom Saffron.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been two years since little mandrill Obi was born to first-time mom Saffron! Obi was the first mandrill baby at the Zoo in 24 years. From day one, the precocious baby clung to Saffron, taking in his new environment.

As soon as he was comfortable, he took wobbly steps, exploring his big new world. At first, the pink fuzzy monkey would stay very close to mom, with one hand always on her. But avid fans of Obi know he has no fear anymore. He runs, jumps and explores, having a ball all day long.

Obi Mandrill with log square 4 CS

Obi with his trusty stick.

When Obi began exploring his exhibit, he found a stick that quickly became his favorite toy. That stick, nicknamed “Wilson” by keepers, has seen better days. After constantly being thrown about, “Wilson” ended up in the habitat’s water feature and has since been retired. Obi now has a bigger stick he plays with – you can often see him spinning it in circles and throwing it all around the exhibit. We thought this was a special quirk of Obi’s, but photos of other baby mandrills at zoos show them also playing with a favorite stick. (Here’s video proof of Obi’s obsession with his stick!)

Obi is still dependent on Saffron and will remain close to her until he’s 5 or 6. Mandrills don’t reach full maturity until about 9 years old. The largest species of monkey, Obi eventually will grow to about 60 pounds.

_MG_4049-Saffron & Obi

As a baby, Obi always remained close to Saffron.

His antics have earned him many admirers, and it’s easy to see why. When he takes a break from running around, he often sits in the window and interacts with visitors. He especially loves to look at small children, and loves bouncing off the glass, to onlookers’ delight. Come see Obi and mom Saffron in the mandrill habitat at the entrance of the Wilds of Africa.

(More from Annie Birdsong on Obi’s story: “A Mandrill Puzzle: How We Brought a Broken Troop Together”)


Categories: Africa, Mandrill, Monkey | 2 Comments

10 animals who wear fall well

Forget the flannel, cable-knit sweaters, and scarves – no one knows fall style better than the animal kingdom. We’re laying down some fall fashion with 10 animals who make this season look better than ever.

1. African crowned cranes rock autumn’s trendiest hairdo like fall royalty. They sport a golden crown of feathers atop their head, distinguishing them from other cranes. Their red neck wattle adds a nice splash of color, too.

African Crowned Crane2. A creature that resembles a large, ripe tomato deserves a major autumn accolade. Tomato frogs are brightly colored to warn predators that they’re not good to eat – but we think they’re juicily good-looking.

_MG_9734 Tomato Frog CB3. Giraffes’ spotted coats prove nature has a sense of style. Within all nine giraffe subspecies, each individual’s markings are as unique as our fingerprints. The reticulated giraffe subspecies, which you’ll find at our Zoo, sports a dark coat with a beautiful web of fine white lines.

4. Because no other animal can model a bed of fall leaves as adorably as our African pygmy hedgehog. These tiny guys use their coat of spines to escape predators – they’ll curl up into a tight ball and their spines will raise, forming a protective barrier.

Hedgehog-African Pygmy5. African red river hogs got it goin’ on. From their striking coloration and prominent tassels on their ears, to the hairy white Mohawk running along their spine, these hogs wear fall like no other.

Red River Hog Hank6. Yellow and black has never looked so good. Amiright? Tiger salamanders’ colors and markings vary throughout their wide North American range, but their most common marking resembles the striped pattern of their big cat namesake.

Tiger Salamander7. Golden lion tamarins rock nature’s fieriest coat. These small monkeys get their name from their vibrant reddish-orange fur and the long hair round their face that forms a perfect mane.

IMG_1599 Golden Lion Tamarin CS8. The chestnut-breasted malkoha manages to flaunt every fall color flawlessly. Males and females have near identical plumage, and wear those red eye patches like bosses.

ChestnutBreastedMalkohaMilkyEyelashes9. Tigers totally own fall. Their symbolic stripes act as camouflage in high grasses or dense forests. Sumatran tigers, like our boy Kipling, have the darkest orange coat of any tiger subspecies.

Kipling10. Thanks to our fall-loving chimps, playing in foliage has never looked so good.

Categories: Birds, Chimpanzee, Giraffe, Mammals, Monkey, Reptiles and Amphibians, Tigers | Leave a comment

Longtime animal couples set the bar for love

It’s not just humans who show love and affection toward each other. During this season of love, we wanted to share with you some of our longtime animal couples who just can’t get enough of each other. Humans: take note of these inspiring, lovable partnerships.

Mason & Julius: These gibbons have been together for four years, earning the name “the newlyweds” by their keepers. While they haven’t had a baby yet, Mason and Julius couldn’t be more bonded. Gibbons are one of the few serial monogamous primates. These two are constantly hugging and cuddling — making some of the simplest tasks, like separating them to work on training techniques, nearly impossible for their keepers.

Gibbons Mason and Julius share a sweet embrace./Dallas Zoo

Gibbons Mason and Julius share a sweet embrace./Dallas Zoo

Cory & Bolivia: Together for more than 13 years, with 11 babies together, these titi monkeys know how to keep the love going! Adult titi monkeys form lifelong partnerships. Cory and Bolivia are often seen sitting in the Primate Place treetops with their tails intertwined while they groom one another. Cory is very protective of his leading lady and can’t stand to be away from her for very long.

Titi monkeys Cory & Bolivia caught on the "kiss cam!"/Dallas Zoo

Titi monkeys Cory & Bolivia caught on the “kiss cam”/Dallas Zoo

Curtis & Darlene: These true “love bids” have been together for six years and remain a very affectionate and faithful couple. Guest favorites in Travis & Zach’s Birds Landing, cockatiels Curtis and Darlene have hatched four chicks together. The duo and their offspring are usually the first to greet visitors as they walk into the aviary, even if they don’t buy food! Curtis likes to woo guests with his whistle song and preen their hair. Darlene’s a cool chick and never gets jealous — she usually watches his antics from atop the nearest guest’s head or shoulder.

Cockatiels Curtis and Darlene share a meal together./Dallas Zoo

Cockatiels Curtis and Darlene share a meal together./Dallas Zoo

Batt & Carol Lee: Brought together in 2005, Batt didn’t need to court Carol Lee – there was an instant attraction. And shortly after meeting, their three pups were born. Batt is one of the oldest Asian small-clawed otters on record, at almost 19 years old. As he’s aged, he’s developed sight issues but Carol Lee has proved to be a loyal partner, guiding him with a nudge of her nose and bringing him food. The two can be seen sharing quite a few snuggly naps together.

Otters Batt and Carol Lee cuddling during a nap./Dallas Zoo

Otters Batt and Carol Lee cuddling during a nap./Dallas Zoo

Ramona & KC: Ramona came to the Zoo in 2006 and instantly caught KC’s eye. Three years later, they welcomed little Kona. KC also may be the father of 1-year-old Mshindi, but we’re awaiting paternity results to confirm. Their relationship has its ups and downs just like any, but they show sweet moments of affection, which make for great photo opportunities!

KC and Ramona hug with little Mshindi in between./Dallas Zoo

KC and Ramona hug with little Mshindi in between./Dallas Zoo


Categories: Africa, Birds, Chimpanzee, Monkey, Otter | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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