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!

Sea Lion Keeper Reflects on Her Inspiration

By: Heather Crane

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. – Jacques Yves Cousteau

It was August and I was approaching my 13th birthday. I had never seen or experienced the ocean before. As I sat in the back of my mother’s blue Toyota Camry sedan, I wondered what it might feel like to see, smell, and hear— to experience the ocean for my first time. As we drove from Oklahoma on a two-week road trip, I passed the time looking at a National Geographic map. As we neared the Oregon coast, I followed the routes of the highway with my finger. This activity didn’t seem significant at the time, but a pinpoint on the map was about to change my life forever. I remember the text being so small I could barely read it. As I looked a little closer I read aloud “Sea Lion Caves.” I hardly knew what a sea lion was, hardly knew what to expect, but I knew I had to go. My mom and my stepfather, Lee, told me that if I could help navigate using the map, we could take the detour to visit. So, I figured it out and we were on our way!

I remember walking down the long sidewalk, hoping I might catch sight of a whale like the signs indicated. I didn’t see one, but the anticipation as I walked to the elevator entrance was exciting enough. I took the ride down the elevator, and as I meandered through the cave, I felt my excitement building. There, at the end of the path, I could see sunlight shining through and could hear the sound of waves crashing into a rocky wall. And then I heard it: the sound of a colony of sea lions. All that separated me from these giant and curious creatures was some old chain link to protect them from us and us from falling. As I watched, it felt like time stopped. All that mattered to me was taking in every precious moment. Even as a kid, I knew this experience was special. I found treasure in the Sea Lion Caves that day. I watched the sea lions exhibit their natural behavior and as I did, I was overcome with true and pure joy. I could think of nothing that made me any happier in all of my 13 years. Eventually, I had to leave, but that experience made its way deep into my heart and forever changed who I was and who I would become. It cast an eternal spell of wonder. At the time, I already wanted to be a veterinarian. But after seeing sea lions, I knew they were important to me so I thought I might grow up to be a sea lion veterinarian.

When it came time for college I studied pre-veterinary medicine. Just 20 days before I graduated, I realized maybe that wasn’t for me after all. I had lunch with E.O. Wilson, a prominent biologist, a hero that further inspired my interest in conservation. After listening to my story he suggested that perhaps veterinary medicine was not my destiny. He told me the world needed me to help conserve, and I believed him. Lucky for me, paths are not set in stone and when I applied I was not accepted into vet school. Unsure of where my life would lead me next, the one thing I knew for sure was my passion for sea lions was unwavering. But where does one find sea lions in Oklahoma? I looked to my community zoo, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Gardens, for volunteer opportunities. Not long after, I was hired to work with the training department. I had proximity to sea lions, but I was still missing the conservation piece. Within the year, I got married and moved to Houston, where I was hired as a full time sea lion keeper at the Houston Zoo.

A primary goal of the Houston Zoo is to connect communities to inspire action to save animals in the wild. Experiencing the Sea Lion Caves inspired me to work with sea lions in human care so that I could further spread the importance of conserving wild animals. I continued to graduate school to receive my master’s degree in wildlife science so that I could further contribute to wildlife conservation. As I have watched my career develop over the years, I am always brought back to my memory of the day I experienced the Sea Lion Caves and how I felt so moved from awareness to action from that single experience. My hope is to share this passion that was inspired all those years ago for this magnificent species. I find the most rewarding part of working for the Houston Zoo (outside of working directly with the sea lions) is inspiring others to take simple actions that contribute to saving animals in the wild. People find connections in their experiences at the zoo and I am humbled to know that my work can play even a small part in changing someone’s life, as the Sea Lion Caves visit did for me. Working with and caring for California sea lions brings me much joy. This year, the Houston Zoo welcomed a female pup. TJ was born to Jonah and Kamia and is a pleasure to watch as she masters new milestones. TJ is the first sea lion pup born at the Houston Zoo in 22 years and it is my great fortune to watch her grow and contribute to the education and awareness of many to come. I am thankful to our sea lions: Cali, Kamia, Jonah, Rockie, and TJ for making my dream possible.

I credit my single experience at the Oregon Sea Lion Caves for inspiring me to actively participate in conservation actions. It shaped my life and career. Our California sea lions at the zoo are ambassadors for the Houston Zoo’s plastic pollution and ocean-friendly seafood Take Action initiatives. As a sea lion keeper, I am able to live this mission of saving animals in the wild and use the zoo’s platform to influence and inspire others. I feel forever grateful that fate would have it for me to discover the Sea Lion Caves as a tiny spec on the map that day. Many thanks go to all involved in operating the Caves and sharing its beauty so others may have experiences similar to my own.

Originally written for Oregon Sea Lion Caves.

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!

You are Saving a New Species of Lemur in the Wild

Ring-tailed Lemurs at the Houston Zoo

If you have been to the Houston Zoo lately, you may have seen our ring-tailed lemurs. These are the lemurs most people picture when they think of lemurs. But did you know there are over 100 known species of lemurs in Madagascar?
Houston Zoo conservation partner GERP protects lemurs and other animals in Madagascar through empowering local communities to conserve and protect their forests that house lemurs.

GERP works to improve not just the lives of lemurs, but of the human populations living in or around protected primate habitat. They are also saving the newly discovered species of lemur, the Sheth’s dwarf lemur, one of the smallest of the dwarf lemurs. This discovery helps show the importance of Madagascar as home to a great variety of unique animals.

 

 

Sheth’s Dwarf Lemur, Image credit: Richard Randriamampionona

 
To give you an idea of how big, or should I say how small, the Sheth’s dwarf lemur is, let’s compare it to a ring-tailed lemur, which is about the size of a house cat. A ring-tailed lemur can be up to 17 inches long, not including its tail. That is almost a foot and a half! The Sheth’s dwarf lemur can be up to 7 inches long, not including its tail. That is almost a foot smaller than the ring-tailed lemur and smaller than some people’s hands!

The next time you visit the Houston Zoo be sure to stop and see the lemurs. When you do, try and picture how small the newly discovered Sheth’s dwarf lemur is and know that by visiting the Houston Zoo you are saving lemurs in the wild!

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!

Little Love Born Just in Time for Valentine’s Day

Houston Zoo Welcomes Baby Baird’s Tapir
On Saturday, Feb. 5, the Houston Zoo welcomed the birth of a male Baird’s tapir. This is the first Baird’s tapir born at the Houston Zoo, and first baby for mother Moli and father Noah.

Baird’s tapirs are born with a colorful pattern of stripes and spots that will disappear as they grow older. The newborn tips the scales at 24.5 pounds, and when he’s full-grown zoo experts anticipate this bouncing baby boy could weigh more than 550 pounds! While he doesn’t have a name yet, the keepers who care for the tapir family will have the honor of naming the tiny tapir.

There are four species of tapir, three in South America and one in Malaysia. In South America where Baird’s tapirs are found, tapirs are the largest land mammal and live throughout the marsh and swamps from Mexico to Western Brazil and Ecuador.

 

 

1 of the 9 tapir babies being tracked in Brazil. He only has spots left on his feet.

The Baird’s tapirs at the Houston Zoo are ambassadors for their wild counterparts in South America. The Houston Zoo supports the protection of this endangered species in Central America as well as the Lowland tapir in Brazil through a partnership with the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group to support field research in Brazil’s Pantanal region.

Since the inception of this partnership, 57 tapirs have received tracking collars to help the group understand this elusive animals’ range. The tracking collars provide the best protection for adult and baby tapirs in the wild, including the 9 mothers and babies currently being tracked. Some of these babies that are being protected through the partnership in Brazil have already started losing their spots!

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.

Metamorphosis – What Is It?

Metamorphosis is a fun word, but what does it mean? The word comes from meta ,meaning change, and morphe, meaning form, so it literally means to change shape or transform. Though our topic is amphibians, I must point out that most insects do this as well and go through even crazier changes.

While some have what is called direct development where a miniature adult hatches from an egg, the majority (except for most caecilians) have a larval stage between egg and adult. The time from the egg hatching to the adult animal can take anywhere from 2 weeks (toads that breed in very temporary puddles basically) to up to 4 years for some spring salamanders. The time is dependent on species and/or environmental conditions. There are even some salamanders, like the axolotl, which never do it all the way, they stay forever in the water with gills, even becoming sexually mature and reproducing.

Because the transformation is more extreme for frogs and toads, the following is geared toward them. Depending on the species, eggs are laid in a variety of places, including in the water, attached or not to vegetation, on leaves overhanging water, and even in water filled tree holes. What hatches out of the eggs usually looks something like this:

In this stage, they are fully aquatic and get oxygen via gills. They have sucker type mouths and most feed on vegetation by filter feeding or scraping algae off of rocks and things; however, some  are carnivorous!

Tadpoles go through tremendous change. Not only is the outside of their bodies drastically changing but the inside as well. They switch from gills in the water to lungs on land, skeletal changes occur (some things that were cartilage change to bone), eyes, skin, mouth parts, digestive system, all of this has to change.

Usually the back legs emerge first, starting as little nubs.

By contrast, the front legs appear first for salamanders and newts. The back legs grow and eventually the front legs pop out too. Often at this time, tadpoles will start coming partway out of the water. The time switching to lungs differs a lot between species and the type of habitat the tadpoles are from. At this point, they look something like this:

The tail is then absorbed (it would be a waste for it to just fall off) and the frog or toad is a bona fide, air breathing, land dwelling critter. There are frogs and toads that are semi or even wholly aquatic (they still breathe air) and there are some frogs that spend all of their time in trees, even breeding and hatching young without coming to the ground.

Here is a salamander larva.  Some of them have stunningly beautiful feathery gills.

Amphibians are an incredibly diverse and fascinating group of animals. If you’d like to learn more, there are a lot of great resources out there. Check out: www.amphibanark.org , www.amphibiaweb.org , www.iucn.org, www.parcplace.org

New Male Bornean Orangutan at the Houston Zoo

Meet Pumpkin! This 31-year-old, Bornean orangutan recently made his public debut in the orangutan habitat at the Houston Zoo after moving to the Bayou City from Jackson, Mississippi late last year. Pumpkin is noticeably larger than the four female orangutans, and fluffier than Rudi, the other male orangutan. Where Rudi is distinctive for his wide cheekpads and massive dreadlocks, Pumpkin’s cheekpads angle forward and he has a smoother looking coat. Since orangutans are mostly solitary animals, guests will find Pumpkin alternating time in the yard with his fellow orangutans.

Bornean orangutans are one of the most endangered apes in the world due to deforestation devastating their wild habitats. The Houston Zoo is helping orangutans in the wild along with conservation partner, Hutan’s Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP). Texans can help save orangutans in the wild by shopping smart, and only buying from companies that support sustainable palm oil practices, and by simply visiting the Houston Zoo. A portion of every ticket to the Houston Zoo goes to help save animals in the wild.

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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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