**UPDATE** Check out more information on James Dondero in this article, here.
Thanks to Highland Capital Management and other private investors, visitors of the Dallas Zoo will be treated to the beautiful sight of the hippos for the first time since the death of Papa in 2001. This is because, the company which is run by James Dondero has sponsored, in part, the construction of the recently unveiled 2.1-acre Simmons Hippo Outpost within the Dallas Zoo. The company donated $1 million which paid for the construction of the 5000-square-foot Highland Capital Lodge which is intended for private events and special displays. According to Gregg Hudson, the CEO of the zoo, the entire $14 million hippo outpost is expected to take the zoo to the next level. The zoo now stands to witness an increase in the number of visitors after four years of planning.
Still, the Dallas Zoo is but one of the numerous philanthropic efforts by James Dondero. He has also previously donated millions to non-profit organizations and charities in Dallas. James Dondero’s dedication to the improvement of education opportunities in his area has seen Highland Capital Investment establish partnerships which are beneficial to the people of Dallas. The philanthropy of Dondero and his firm has been demonstrated in projects such as SMU’s Highland Capital Management Tower Scholars Program, Snowball Express, Perot Museum of National Science, and Capital for Kids, Uplift Education and now the Dallas Zoo.
These philanthropic efforts made under the leadership of James Dondero have helped to earn the company co-owned by Mark Okada a place among the Dallas Business Journal’s 2015 Best Places to Work. Nevertheless, the Dallas Zoo Project is a major philanthropic effort as it poses a great significance to the economy, the Dallas Zoo as a whole and the individual people who have longed for the opportunity to see the hippos.
The considerations in constructing the Simmons Hippo Outpost
The design of the hippo exhibit posed a great challenge as the zoo had to circulate large quantities of fresh water through the outdoor and small pools. According to Harrison Edell , the Vice President of animal operations and welfare, the pool needed to be designed to “withstand the rigors of hippo mouths and large body weight thrown around” while maintaining a natural appearance.
These needs were satisfied after consultation with experts in horticulture and water filtration who were sourced from within the zoo, the CLR Design firm from Philadelphia and Turner. The team considered every bit of detail and decided that the best sand to use was the soft grain used in sand traps of golf courses. The experts also consulted a couple of keepers who worked with Papa. These keepers still work at the zoo but were first sent to Albuquerque and Los Angeles to study the animals and learn their behavior. Edell commented that it was cool to see the zoo keepers from the previous barn that had been made out of concrete go over to observe as the hippos moved in the giant glass pool, and lounged on the sandy floor of the pool. He added that he thought it was quite rewarding for the keepers to witness a physical evidence of the commitment to the welfare of animals.
The new Simmons Hippo Outpost is generally different from the previous habitat the zoo used for the hippos which the hippos had to share with other animal species especially the elephants and the giraffes. The previous habitat was built in 1959 and funded exclusively by public bonds amounting to $224,685. It was greatly aged by 2010 and did not appear as naturalistic as desired by zoos. Even Edell admits that the exhibit which housed Papa the hippo was pretty awful. A picnic area was created in its stead in 2012.
The zoo now boasts of two hippos, Adhama and Boipelo. Adhama is a male aged 6 while Boipelo is a 10-year-old female. Adhama is more boisterous and adventurous and seems to enjoy playing in the water. Megan Lumpkin who is one of the keepers has observed that Adhama is like a dancer in the water as he likes to roll in the water near the glass exhibit which makes him appear rather graceful despite his size.
Boipelo is very pretty with a shiny skin that appears like a jellybean. She is, however, shyer as compared to Adhama as there was no underwater viewing in Albuquerque where she grew up. Being in the giant glass pool in Dallas has required her to adjust. She is making a smooth transition into the new environment with the help of the keepers who have learned how to best handle her. According to Lumpkin, Boipelo also seems to be less shy when playing in the water and loves apples.
The zoo keepers are hopeful that Boipelo will learn to take the lead in her new home as they expect Adhama to trail behind. The two hippos have been bonding quite well and even lay on the sand together at times. Adhama and Boipelo were matched in the hopes that they will deliver the zoo a baby hippo someday. This was part of the Species Survival Plan of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The keepers of the zoo are working to establish husbandry behaviors with the hippos which will aid them in monitoring wellness. The hippos are also being trained for demonstrations.
In conclusion, the role of Highland Capital Management in the construction of the new Simmons Hippo Outpost at Dallas Zoo cannot be downplayed. The donation made by the firm has gone a long way in making the project a success. In the company’s involvement with the project, James Dondero sought the services of Dallas civic leader Linda Owen to help direct the philanthropic efforts of the company. Owen served as Highland Capital Management’s charitable giving manager and partnered with the Dallas Foundation, the organ which administers the charitable giving fund of the firm.
James Dondero said that the expansion of the firm’s philanthropic efforts had created a desperate need to add a committed expert to the team who would ensure the firm’s charity was felt widely. Dondero also added that Linda Owen had a proven track record of establishing reliable partnerships between the public and the private sector. According to him, Linda Owen shared the firm’s vision in creating immediate tangible change which was helpful in the success of the project.