What a Cute… Watermelon?

Written by Memory Mays


We’ve got a new cute addition to our Hoofed Stock Department at the Houston Zoo. This is Antonio, a baby Baird’s tapir.

After a 13 month gestation period, our female Baird’s tapir “Moli” experienced a short labor before birthing our newest baby male tapir. The calf was quickly on his feet and walking only about 20 minutes after being born! At birth he weighed 20 pounds and has been gaining weight over this past week at a normal growth rate.

You may notice the calf has a different coat color than his mother. Tapir calves are known for this coat pattern where the white stripes and spots covering their bodies resemble the stripes of a watermelon. This coloration helps the calves camouflage into the bushes and shrubs of the forests in Central America. These markings will slowly fade into the adult coloration after about a year.

With only about 5,500 Baird’s tapirs left in the wild, this birth is very important to help save this endangered species. On your next visit to the Houston Zoo, make sure to stop by our Tapir yard to see this amazing Baird’s tapir!

Pen Pals to Save Okapis: Conservation in the Ituri Forest

Written by Mary Fields


Last time we were in contact with our pen pal, Jean Paul, he told us all about what he does to help okapis in the wild. This time, he told us about the Okapi Wildlife Reserve and how it helps with conservation!

So what is the Okapi Wildlife Reserve? It is a world heritage site located in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that helps protect the Ituri Forest and its inhabitants. The Ituri Forest is one of the last reservoirs for biodiversity in Africa and a refuge for okapis, chimpanzees and forest elephants.

It is not just plants and animals that the OWR helps preserve; they help preserve the lifestyle of the indigenous people living in the forest. The Ituri Forest is home to the hunter-gatherer and deep forest-dwelling Mbuti and Efe pygmies.

The OWR focuses on working with the communities within and surrounding its boundaries. They provide zones for hunting, agriculture and full conservation. They also provide outreach programs for the public, schools and the government to help educate them on the importance of conservation and the reserve.

So how can you help okapis in the wild? By recycling your cell phones and electronics! You can recycle your cell phones at the Houston Zoo’s entrance and the African Forest. Make sure to follow our blog to continue learning about okapi conservation and hear more from Jean Paul!

Valentine’s Day Keeper Showdown – Who Makes the Best Enrichment?

Written by Nina Russo


Roses are red
Violets are blue
This Valentine’s Day
I’ll be at the Zoo!

What’s going on this Valentine’s Day that’s fun for the animals, zoo keepers, and you? The animals are getting wildly fun Valentine’s Day themed enrichment this year. Enrichment is anything added to the animal’s environment or routine that encourages natural behaviors, more choices, and novel challenges.  Dried treats inside a papier-mache Valentine’s heart was certainly novel for our resident chimpanzees the past.

Enrichment keeps the animals mentally engaged, physically active, and happy. It’s something keepers work into the animals’ daily routine; but sometimes we like to put our creative enrichment skills to the test! The Houston Zoo’s Primate Department is holding an enrichment contest for the keepers. The rules: the enrichment has to be Valentine’s Day themed, animal safe, and completely fun!

Stop by the Houston Zoo with your Valentine and see all the wild things the animals will be getting!

New Year, New Chickens

Written by Stephanie Turner


January 28, 2017 marked the beginning of the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese animal zodiac! To celebrate, the Houston Zoo would like to introduce two of our newest animals, the chickens Chanticleer and Marilyn! Both were hatched here at the zoo on October 24, 2016 and have since taken on their roles as ambassador animals.

Chickens were first domesticated over 7,000 years ago in eastern Asia from a bird called the red junglefowl, which is still found in the wild today. The chicken has since spread around the world and is now the most numerous species of bird on the planet. There are over 100 chicken breeds recognized by the American Poultry Association, and they are kept by people as a source of food as well as for companionship.

Meet Chanticleer

Chanticleer is a salmon Faverolles rooster. This breed originated in the city of Faverolles, France and is known for their feathered legs and fluffy “mutton chops” or cheek feathers.


Meet Marilyn

Marilyn is a blue Andalusian hen. This breed comes from the Andalusia region of Spain and gets its name from the typical bluish grey color of the feathers. Not all blue Andalusians are blue though; about half are either black or white.

Look for Chanticleer and Marilyn on your next visit to the Houston Zoo!

Life in the Dunes

Written by Kali Tindell

My name is Kali Tindell and I’m currently a junior in high school. This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Namibia, an ecologically and culturally diverse country on the south-western coast of Africa, and study both wildlife conservation and photography with National Geographic Student Expeditions. I was introduced to the many ways nonprofits conserve Namibia’s habitats and felt inspired to share my experience. I hope these blogs encourage you to learn about how conservation can be fun and to take a closer look at what makes your environment unique.


If I were to show you a picture of a Namibian sand dune, would you believe it is home to any life? Sure, a thorny bush may be rooted at its base and a few blades of brittle grass may grow beside it, but is that enough to convince you that a thriving ecosystem is captured in that photo?

As we piled into the trucks, I wasn’t completely convinced that we would see much on our living desert tour. However, I was excited nonetheless. The three tour trucks followed the same gravel path that they follow on every other tour and that’s not because they’re not adventurous. On the gravel plains hugging the coast of Namibia in the Dorob National Park, right outside the city of Swakopmund, tracks made by both humans and animals can last a lifetime. There isn’t enough water to wash the tracks away (rain is a rare event in this desert) and the wind isn’t strong enough to erase marks in the gravel. Our guides stressed the importance of stepping in the tracks of those before us so that we would reduce our impact on the plain.

Barely a few minutes after entering the park, our caravan of trucks came to a halt. One of the guides had spotted a small rivet in an otherwise flat and sandy area. We looked out the window curiously, wondering what animal was hidden beneath the sand, before filing out of the trucks and around the spot in question. Sure enough, a pale, spotted Palmato gecko was hidden beneath a layer of sand. Its little body blended in the orange-yellow surroundings perfectly. Without the help of our guide, I doubt we would have discovered the little reptile. We also spotted a Namaqua chameleon, a Peringuey’s adder, a shovel-snouted lizard, numerous beetles, and Tractrac chats that afternoon.

You might be thinking, how in the world do these animals survive? The key is fog. Both the plants and the animals rely on fog. Beetles, for instance, harvest water from the fog by using their own bodies. Grooves in the body of the beetle direct the condensation collected on abdomen and thorax toward its mouth. Just like the beetles, the dollar bush uses its glossy leaves to direct water toward its roots. If you were to squeeze one of its round leaves, you would find that the plant holds a lot of moisture. Thus, it’s not surprising that many animals in the park use the dollar bush for hydration.

 

It’s hard to believe that an area as dry and stark as Dorob National Park is home to so many different species (some of which are found nowhere else on the planet). In an area this harsh, animals need numerous adaptations to survive. Visiting the dunes and gravel plains of Namibia has really made me appreciate the complexity and awesomeness of nature even more.

The Art of Camera Trapping

Written by Kali Tindell

My name is Kali Tindell and I’m currently a junior in high school. This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Namibia, an ecologically and culturally diverse country on the south-western coast of Africa, and study both wildlife conservation and photography with National Geographic Student Expeditions. I was introduced to the many ways nonprofits conserve Namibia’s habitats and felt inspired to share my experience. I hope these blogs encourage you to learn about how conservation can be fun and to take a closer look at what makes your environment unique.


The light on the camera trap blinked as it snapped a series of crisp photos of our group. One person held the information sheet with the camera’s ID number, the location, and the time while the rest of us huddled close and smiled. We wouldn’t be able to see the photos ‘till the end of the week when we would return and retrieve the trap. Hopefully, in that time, the camera would capture some other animals as well.

Before taking the photo, we had discussed where the best location for the trap would be. We aimed to capture photos of wildlife passing by a riverbed while also setting up the camera at an angle that would detect both small animals, like mongoose, and larger ones, such as kudu. Furthermore, the trap had to be well protected from curious baboons (they are known to remove camera traps from trees and play with them).

We decided to wrap the camera around a bent branch that snaked out into the trail. However, the branch offered no natural protection from animals so we gathered thorny branches and wove them around the tree. Luckily, when we returned to retrieve the camera a few days later, it was untouched.

Sorting through the pictures and identifying the animals photographed was not an easy task. However, when we saw certain species over and over again, we began to identify them with more ease. I’ll never forget how excited and surprised we were when a male warthog appeared in one of the photos or when a small duiker wandered into the frame.

Setting up our own camera trap gave us a taste of a tool many researchers use regularly. Camera trap photos can be used as valuable data for analyzing the population density of animal species, identifying animals in the area, and monitoring animal behavior. Researchers can leave traps in the field for months before returning to view the pictures. Thus, they can collect data in a very non-invasive way.

Recycling Electronics = Saving Animals

Thank you for saving animals in the wild! On Saturday, January 21, Houstonians rallied at the Zoo to recycle their old and unused electronics. Sponsored by Verizon, this event directly helped wildlife by reducing the need to obtain new materials from mines in Central Africa, home to animals like chimpanzees, gorillas, okapis, and mandrills.

A total of 24 pallets of electronics were recycled, weighing in at nearly 12,000 pounds! Families that brought electronic items to be recycled received a tote bag and a voucher for half-price admission to the Zoo.

As Houston prepares to host Super Bowl LI, a partnership between the NFL, Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, Verizon and Trees for Houston, and the Houston Zoo is working to promote green initiatives and encourage environmentally friendly behaviors. For more ways you can take action and protect wildlife, visit our website!

 

Behind the Scenes – Efforts of the Volunteer Office

Written by Heidi Garbe, Houston Zoo Volunteer Coordinator


When you visit the Houston Zoo, you see the animals, you see the animal keepers, you see the grounds team, you see restaurant staff. You also see volunteers, and if not, you should know there are volunteers helping behind the scenes daily. There are so many people and departments that allow a zoo to function; a team that you may not see is the staff of the Volunteer Office.

With a team of over 1,000 volunteers each year, it takes some staff to coordinate those efforts, matching interests and skills with the needs of the zoo. One facet of our volunteer program is engaging community and corporate groups in single-event projects. Zoo Boo, for example, requires over 600 volunteers during the fall season, which is a perfect opportunity for groups to come out and support the zoo. As you may imagine, getting that many people in place requires much planning. Think how often your plans can change; the Volunteer Office must constantly be ready for a significant shift in volunteer coverage, requiring flexibility and constant communication.

Zoo Boo is likely the most common place you may encounter a group volunteer, but they also help year-round in other projects. Our animal teams regularly depend on small groups to accomplish beautification and up-keep projects. Volunteers may assist in mulching, raking, weeding, or replacing sand substrate in some of our animal exhibits. Although these opportunities do not allow for interaction with animals, the hard work pays off and volunteers can see the difference – as can all of the guests. The animals surely appreciate it, too!

Besides our one-time group volunteers, we have hundreds of year-round volunteers doing all sorts of shifts each week. It is thanks to their independence and drive that just three people can manage such a large volunteer program, yet there is always plenty to do. We quite often spend time at our computers organizing people and associated activities. We use a computer program that allows volunteers to self-schedule but with so many people involved, much communication with zoo staff and our volunteers is still necessary to facilitate and trouble-shoot. We also work to create new programs and training to enhance the volunteer experience and create more informed, engaging volunteers. It takes three of us working very diligently to keep up with all the requests from both staff and volunteers for activities happening day and night.

So what’s normal in a day as Volunteer Coordinator at the Houston Zoo? There is no “normal!” We operate in a non-stop, fast-paced atmosphere enriched with a lot of incredible people donating their time. It is an honor and a privilege to connect the community with unique opportunities at the Houston Zoo, all with the end goal of saving animals in the wild.

Houston Zoo Hosts Urban Pollinator Planting Project

In partnership with the NFL, Houston Super Bowl Host Committee, Verizon and Trees for Houston, the Houston Zoo celebrated the opening of a new pollinator garden at the zoo on Monday, Jan. 16. As Houston prepares to host Super Bowl LI, this group of organizations is working to promote green initiatives and encourage environmentally friendly behaviors like planting backyard gardens that help pollinators and native wildlife. A brief opening ceremony included speakers Jack Groh – Director, NFL Environmental Program; John Dorn – Verizon; LaMecia Butler – Houston Super Bowl Host Committee; Barry Ward – Trees for Houston; and Lee Ehmke – President & CEO, Houston Zoo.

Texans Cheerleaders, team mascot TORO, and representatives from the partnering organizations created a buzz around the newly established garden as visitors enjoyed educational activities and met pollinating animals like a macaw and Hercules beetle. Bees, birds, bats, and many other animals are all pollinators that play a critical role in the production of the fruits and vegetables eaten across the world.

Houston provides a key resting stop for pollinators as they journey from Canada to Mexico, making this project an important step in protecting numerous species. Houstonians can make a difference for these imperative animals by planting native plants in their backyards and reducing the use of pesticides.

Volunteers Giving More than Just Their Hearts

Written by Heidi Garbe, Houston Zoo Volunteer Coordinator


Volunteers help at the zoo in so many ways, but recently, they truly went above and beyond. Every two years, our Volunteer Fundraising Committee runs a unique auction to raise funds for conservation. Over several months, volunteers are asked to collect new t-shirts from conservation-related places they visit (from zoos to national parks, and everything in between) for an end-of-year auction.

Our Volunteer Fundraising Committee organizes volunteer-based financial support, offering funding for staff working on conservation programs as well as directly to our zoo field partners. Late in 2016, volunteers voted in advance where t-shirt auction funds should go and settled on Ecology Project International based in the Galapagos, which empowers youth to advance their education and take active roles in conservation.

At the Volunteer’s holiday gathering in December, over 60 t-shirts had been collected and put on display. These shirts, along with a few other small auction items, raised $1,255! This amount is remarkable in itself, but even more impressive is that it was driven completely by Volunteers, from individuals purchasing t-shirts to donate, to voting on the organization to support, and from the Volunteers organizing the auction, to those that participated by buying items.

Karen Hinson, the chair for the Volunteer Fundraising Committee, notes “Year after year, the generosity of our volunteers never ceases to amaze me. Not only did they purchase the t-shirts to donate for the auction but in many instances they turned around and bought at the auction. A special thank you to one volunteer who purchased the ten remaining t-shirts at minimum bid. This is just another example how dedicated the volunteers are to supporting the zoo’s conservation partners in the wild.”

In addition, many volunteers purchased gifts for our zoo animals through wish lists created by our animal teams. Our animals brought in 2017 with a variety of new enrichment items thanks to our caring volunteers! This “Giving Tree” of wish list items was facilitated by Volunteer Enrichment Committee chair Heather Simm.

This is a truly passionate group of individuals and we’re so glad they have joined our efforts to conserve the animals we all care so deeply about saving. Way to go Houston Zoo Volunteers! Making a difference here at the zoo and around the world.

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We might be biased, but we're thinking #TapirTuesday should be a thing... ... See MoreSee Less

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We might be biased, but were thinking #TapirTuesday should be a thing...

Comment on Facebook

No, not biased! It should totally be a thing.

Is he out for public viewing yet?

Alex here's the baby we saw Sunday!😍

we saw him on sunday and he was pretty cute!

We saw him Saturday and he was adorable!

Saw this baby yesterday. What a cutie!!

awe. such a cutie

Oh my goodness cuteness alert

Cute

Literally the reason I went the other day

Terminal cuteness!

Jessie Kate we saw him!!!!!

O. M. G. Daniel Head 😍😍😍

Gessica Grape Hannah Grape Angela Grape Victoria Lynn Polasek 😍😍😍😍

Baleigh Hildebrandt Audree needs to see this!

Nelson Tassin

Rachel Annalise Huygen What's his name?

Katie Plaeger I NEED HIM

Jessica Cheng omg

Megan Pounds!!

Jackie Walker

Michelle Salido

Sam Kendrick

Tan Ngu

Hilda Montano

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