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!

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!

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.

You are Supporting a Wildlife Hero in the Galapagos!

As a supporter of the Houston Zoo, your entry ticket and/or membership allows us to partner with and support organizations around the world that are committed to saving wildlife. One such partner, Ecology Project International (EPI), works on the Galapagos Islands, educating local kids about the wildlife that lives in their area, while engaging them in hands-on activities to protect species (beach cleanups, monitoring sea turtle nests, etc.).

EPI participants collecting information on sea turtle hatchlings in the Galapagos

Through your visits to the Zoo, we have been able to support one of EPI’s staff, Juan Sebastian Torres, in his pursuit of a Master’s degree! JuanSe is the Galapagos Program Coordinator for EPI, and he is currently enrolled in Miami University of Ohio’s Master’s program, the Global Field Program.

We asked JuanSe a little bit about his work with youth and wildlife in the Galapagos, and how Zoo support of his degree is helping him improve the work he does.

Can you write your full name, your job title, and what you do for your job day-to-day?

My name is Juan Sebastián Torres Cevallos but my friends call me JuanSe. I work for EPI, a non-profit organization dedicated to develop environmental education programs/courses through science and conservation efforts with scientists and local leaders. I started leading Ecology courses for high school students and now I coordinate the field program in the Galápagos Islands. Every day I work on many aspects of the program in order to provide the best educative experience to our students. I work on itineraries, activities, doing coordination work with our science partners, supervising/supporting our instructor team, improving curricular components of the program among many other tasks.

What made you interested in the environment/nature/wildlife/education?

When I was a naturalist guide in the Amazon rainforest I saw for the first time the potential of environmental education when I took tourists and students into the forest and explained/taught about its unique complexity. Being there in the forest was the best “classroom” to explain how it functioned because the students were able to directly see with their eyes and other senses. I was very happy to reach out people sharing the beauty of an ecosystem I had always been in love and the conservation concerns/challenges it faced. When I had the opportunity to work in Galápagos with EPI I receive unique tools/strategies/structure to develop environmental educational programs and to create unique experiences that will change the perspective of our students working on their knowledge of nature, dispositions to take action and skills to solve problems.

JuanSe (far right) with students and staff from the Galapagos National Park, monitoring sea turtle nests.

What is your favorite part of your job?

When I have the opportunity to be in the field with students.

JuanSe (far left) with students participating in field work to save wildlife.

What is the most difficult part of your job?

Spending lots of time at the office when I have always been an outdoors person… but this challenge is worth it when I know the impact that our programs and my work has on the students.

Why is it so important for an organization like EPI to exist in the Galapagos?

We are the only organization that does environmental education on the islands. We are teaching the new generations why Galapagos is so important and the importance of conserving it. We want to get rid of the existing gap between people and nature.

What made you interested in pursuing your Master’s degree through the Global Field Program?

This is a unique opportunity to improve my work and knowledge in many aspects. My professional skills and duties overlap with many of the skills that can be learned with the Global Field Program. The inquiry component and community work are key to promote conservation worldwide and is totally linked with the work I do in Galápagos and with my personal goals.

You have been in the Master’s program for almost 1 year, what have you learned so far?

I had learn many new things, but specially how research takes place, to find background data through peer reviewed papers, dive into passionate conservation topics and the power of involving community are part of the projects I had done so far.  I have also learned the importance of sharing any idea/project/information with anyone, to receive and provide feedback is a unique skills that had increased my knowledge on several topics.

A Galapagos Tortoise takes in his beautiful surroundings.

How is this program helping you with the work you do to educate kids in the Galapagos?

I have already developed a project to research on the bird mortality on the highway of Santa Cruz Island with support of 12 high school students. I´m also adding more scientific background to the ecology program I coordinate and I’m improving aspects of our curriculum.

Every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you help projects like Ecology Project International, and ensure people like JuanSe can continue to do the important work they do to save wildlife.

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.

Saving Animals Through Community Support

All of the Houston Zoo’s conservation partners (a part of our extended Zoo family) who are saving lemurs in the wild were born and raised in Madagascar.  They all went to the University of Tananarive in the capital of Madagascar. This is where they met, Jonah Ratsimazafy, our Director of Madagascar Programs and leader of Madagascar conservation project, GERP. Jonah and his Malagasy (Madagascar people) team work on several areas on the island and all their efforts are focused on protecting 13 species of lemurs, 2 species of carnivore, 17 species of rodents, 3 species of insects, 84 species of birds, 35 species of reptiles, 25 species of amphibians and 433 species of plants. That is a lot of animals; a lot of unique animals as the majority mammals, reptiles, and plants exist nowhere else on Earth.

While different kinds of animals can face different kinds of threats, deforestation is the biggest threat for all the animals in Madagascar. Jonah guides his Malagasy team to strengthen their communities that live around the forests so that those communities can carry out protection efforts like patrolling the forest to stop the poaching of trees and animals and replanting to expand the forested areas. Last year, this group trained 16 local people to be rangers that monitor the forest. Local community members also replanted three hectares of forest and maintained three nurseries of trees for replanting.

We are so grateful and proud of our Madagascar team.  They proudly state that they will protect the species under their watch from extinction. We are also grateful for you, our Zoo visitors. Your trip to the Houston Zoo is saving the counterparts of the animals you visit at the Zoo as a portion of your admission and membership is going to this work in Madagascar.



Here’s How Your Visit Helps Others

The Houston Zoo partners with organizations around the world to save wildlife. In Central Africa, we partner with three organizations (GRACE, Gorilla Doctors and Conservation Heritage-Turambe) who are all working to save gorillas in the wild. These organizations often work together to achieve their missions of making sure gorillas are safe in the wild.

Recently, our partners at Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT) were able to take 57 children and 16 adults from Rwanda to visit their own local wildlife-mountain gorillas because of Houston Zoo funds generated from our guests and Members. The Zoo’s support and partnership with Conservation Heritage-Turambe helps make these gorilla trek experiences for local community members possible. Although these folks live right alongside gorillas and the National Park, the entry fees for going into the park and seeing gorillas are too high for most local people to afford.

Our friends at CHT reported back to us on the experience and we wanted to show you to see how your visit to the Houston Zoo can make a big difference across the globe.

Here’s what CHT had to say, “Recognizing that all living things are connected, CHT teaches its students the importance of promoting good health among human populations for the survival of mountain gorillas, and other nearby wildlife populations. Although some CHT’s activities like tree planting take place outside the classroom, most of CHT’s lessons take place inside the classroom.

After having seen mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, children were so happy and excited to share their experience in nature with the rest of their school, family members, neighbors and community.

We keep on discovering more about these children and what they think about the beauty, mountain gorillas in their community. They are neighbors and it is good they are eager to learn more about them. Then be able to conserve them!


Conservation Heritage – Turambe deeply thank very much Papoose Conservation Wildlife Foundation and Houston Zoo for their generous support. They have put smiles on these children’s faces. Thanks to your support, these children were able to learn from what they see. They are now aware of the beauty of the nature. They have been there and they felt it. Thank you once again for offering the nature experience to these children and the wonderful experience to be in nature. CHT Team, the children and partners thank you for your continuous support.”

All photos courtesy of Conservation Heritage-Turambe

Houston Zoo Wildlife Partner Fits Satellite Unit On a Rare Sunda Pangolin

Last week, a local villager from Kg Menggaris, Malaysia, found an adult female pangolin crossing a road near a palm oil plantation and immediately brought it home and told his son, who later shared it on his Facebook. Researchers at Houston Zoo partners Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) contacted the family and rescued the Sunda pangolin which then was fitted with a satellite unit and released near the center. This is the first time a Sunda pangolin has been tagged with a satellite tracking device.

“Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world, and are mainly threatened by poaching for international trade involving live animals, meat and scales, while another threat they face is habitat loss and fragmentation, although the severity of this threat requires further research in Sabah,” said Dr Benoit Goossens, director of Danau Girang Field Centre. “The Sunda pangolin is the only species found in Sabah,” added Goossens. Several government and private entities are working to revise the status of the Sunda pangolan to increst it to become a totally protected species.

The successful rescue and release operation was led by Sabahan Elisa Panjang, a Cardiff University PhD student currently working with DGFC and Dr Laura Benedict, a Sarawakian wildlife veterinarian from Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. The full procedure took about an hour and involved a medical check-up, biological sample collection and the attachment of the Global Positioning System (GPS) unit. The project is a long-term collaboration between DGFC and SWD and is financially supported by Houston Zoo and Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong.

“Pangolins are scaly mammals and this character makes it unique. The species is very difficult to study due to its elusive behavior and is now very rare too; in fact it is one of the most understudied mammals, and no detailed research has been carried out on the species,” said Elisa Panjang, the lead researcher from DGFC. “We want to understand how the pangolin responds to its environment, particularly in degraded and fragmented forest such as the Kinabatangan,” added Elisa. “The pangolin which has been named Asa, meaning ‘don’t give up’ in Malay, weighed 7.72 kilograms, and was attached with a GPS unit weighing 80 grams on its scales, situated at its hind leg near to its tail to minimize interference with its movement. The pangolin was kept at the center for a day to monitor its health before being released, and it has been successfully tracked for already a week,” concluded Elisa.

Houston Zoo herpetology senior keeper Chris Bednarski was visiting the Danau Girang Field Centre while on vacation in Borneo and was able to participate in the release. Chris has been a conservation advocate for turtles for his entire career, and has been instrumental in breeding several endangered species at the Houston Zoo. Chris says that being able to participate in the reintroduction of an animal like the pangolin was an incredible career highlight.

All photos courtesy of Chris Bednarski.

Update on baby Giant Anteater “Rio”

Written by: Memory Mays

Back in early September, the Houston Zoo introduced its newest Giant Anteater baby to the public. Now almost three months old, “Rio” has been bringing smiles to everyone who visits. Rio continues to grow at a normal and healthy weight, and has been developing a personality that everyone enjoys.
We often find Rio wandering the nearby surroundings, exploring and investigating everything while Rio’s mom is taking a nap. We’ve watched Rio learn how to run, play, try new food, and explore all of the fun and interesting smells our South America habitat has to offer (meanwhile never straying too far away from mom “Olive”).

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


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


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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