Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Action Team is on a mission to conserve Texas native wildlife

On a latest Saturday morning in east Oak Cliff, Dallas Zoo volunteer Thelva Balkus stood in a creek near Herndon Park, pen and paper at the all set.

In 90-degree warmth, about 50 % a dozen other volunteers in bright orange vests applied reacher grabbers to decide up litter scattered all through the creek mattress.

Volunteers termed out just about every piece of trash — 6 beer-bottle caps and an eyeglass lens here, two items of a plastic bag and a flip-flop there — as they bagged it up.

“It’s great for the atmosphere and for the animals,” mentioned Balkus, 59, as she methodically classified and tallied just about every sort of particles. “It’s pleasurable, and the folks are excellent that they give up their time.”

Volunteers Thelva Balkus, Cynthia Smoot and Angelita Howard count items of trash during the...
Volunteers Thelva Balkus, Cynthia Smoot and Angelita Howard depend items of trash during the Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Motion Crew litter cleanup at Herndon Park.(Shelby Tauber / Particular Contributor)

Balkus is a volunteer with the Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Motion Staff, a team that on a regular basis conducts mother nature conservation tasks.

While the team has been set up for many years, tasks have begun once more in earnest after a short hiatus due to the fact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Katie Emmons, conservation programs coordinator at the zoo, stated a single of the targets of the cleanups is to enable conserve mussels. Although people today do not typically affiliate litter with mussels, pollution could result in significant challenges in neighborhood waterways in the long time period, she explained.

“[Mussels] are filter feeders, so they aid keep our waterways clean,” she mentioned. “Plastic doesn’t at any time genuinely decompose it just breaks down into lesser and more compact parts.

“We’re acquiring that people pieces are getting so modest that the mussels are capable to filter them out of the h2o, which is fantastic for cleaning up our waterways, but then the mussels have litter pollution in their systems and it’s earning them ill.”

In other places in the park, teams of volunteers picked up trash scattered about a playground and along the upper creek banking institutions. All told, they bagged 122 pounds of litter — such as a tire, a tiki torch and a 10-gallon tub.

Conservation programs coordinator Katie Emmons weighs a tire that was found during the...
Conservation packages coordinator Katie Emmons weighs a tire that was observed all through the cleanup at Herndon Park.(Shelby Tauber / Exclusive Contributor)

At the close of the cleanup, zoo staff members logged the data into a citizen science application.

“Our city officials could appear and see, ‘Oh, this park had a ton of cigarette butts, possibly there’s not a correct disposal procedure there,’” Emmons stated. “For the wider scientific group, possibly they are just trying to determine out what types of trash we’re finding so that they can target those people industries or unfold a lot more education about the specific litter pollution problems.”

Emmons schedules regular monthly pickups throughout Dallas that local community customers are welcome to acquire portion in. In addition to a handful of zoo staffers, generally in between a dozen and 20 volunteers show up at every occasion, she said.

“I love observing the community occur together and that they are genuinely invested in using motion for wildlife,” Emmons stated, echoing a sentiment expressed by quite a few of the volunteers.

Neighbors about Herndon Park stood on porches and watched the crew perform. One particular man introduced doughnuts for the team to thank them for retaining the community clean.

“The men and women in the neighborhoods really enjoy it, and they arrive out and say thank you. It’s truly worthwhile,” Balkus stated.

Later on this yr, the Wild Earth Action Crew will journey during Texas for extra conservation projects.

In July, staffers and volunteers will go to South Padre Island for a seashore cleanup and nest security work to assistance sea turtles. In September, the staff will head to San Antonio to work on invasive-species removal and erosion management in an exertion to conserve the region’s bat colony.

Every single job has a “poster animal” that the crew focuses on. Those animals are preferred based on a single of the zoo’s 12 conservation priorities: protecting Texas native wildlife.

Volunteers Cynthia Smoot and Angelita Howard collect trash at Dallas Zoo's Wild Earth Action...
Volunteers Cynthia Smoot and Angelita Howard acquire trash at Dallas Zoo’s Wild Earth Motion Group litter cleanup at Herndon Park.(Shelby Tauber / Special Contributor)

“As one particular of our Safeguarding the Twelve priorities, we have Texas wildlife,” Emmons reported. “Even while we do not have them here at the zoo, there is species that are really essential to our Texas ecosystem, and they are also species that are really critical to the standard community.”

Emmons at some point hopes to program conservation projects throughout the United States.

But no issue in which the get the job done usually takes position, staffers and volun
teers say they are fulfilled recognizing they have a good outcome on the environment.

“It impacts the setting, so we know that ultimately it impacts us as well,” claimed Roxanne Welch, 56, who has been volunteering at the zoo with her loved ones for several a long time. “There’s plastic almost everywhere. If we can get it out, simply because not a lot of folks pick it up, it is a big variance.”