We’re Accepting Volunteer Applications!

Written by Shina Bharadwaja


Adult volunteer applications are open through March 31, 2017!

We are so appreciative of our Zoo Volunteers, who play an important role in nearly every department at the Zoo. Whether you are interested in volunteering with events, animal teams, horticulture, or even administration, there is something for everyone. Our volunteers utilize service shifts to positively impact the Houston Zoo’s conservation efforts, locally, and around the world. With diversity in mind, we know that everyone has something unique and important to contribute to our Zoo. Therefore, we strive to provide opportunities where strengths can be applied while serving an important cause.

As a new volunteer, there are many opportunities to personalize your service by choosing from an array of shifts, such as guest service, events, and assisting in the goat contact yard. As our volunteers gain experience, they’re able to take advantage of specialized training opportunities like animal handling, interpretive storytelling, and much more! Volunteers can also join one of our many important (volunteer-run) committees which help the development of programs and shaping of Zoo culture.

If the Houston Zoo sounds like the place for you, join our conservation efforts and become part of our family by applying to be a volunteer! 

Houston Zoo Ambassadors Raise Funds for the Zoo

Written by Brittany Mead

Thank you to everyone who supported the Ambassadors Foodie Fête presented by Northern Trust! Raising more than $73,000 for the Houston Zoo’s animal care, education, and wildlife conservation efforts, this was a truly successful event.

We are especially grateful to Chairs Candace and Brian Thomas for their leadership, the host committee, and our incredible sponsors. You helped make this first Foodie Fête a night to remember for our 200 guests!

 

 

If you are not yet a member of one of our donor clubs, learn more here and join today. The Asante Society, Ambassadors, and Flock all feature amazing benefits and events that bring you closer to yo ur Houston Zoo like never before.

Teeny Tiny Baby Cardinalfish

Next time you visit Natural Encounters at the Houston Zoo, you might run into a male mouthbrooder. No, not mouth breather, mouthbrooder! In some fish, like the Banggai cardinalfish, the males take the eggs into their mouth after fertilization and incubate them through hatching.

Credit: Dale Martin, Houston Zoo

 

 

Then, the larvae are kept in the male’s mouth for 10 days after hatching and released as teeny-tiny versions of the adults!We’ve recently seen the birth of several baby cardinalfish in the aquariums inside Natural Encounters. You can spy these tiny fishes hiding in the anemones in the Coral Reef aquarium.

March’s Featured Zoo Members: The Darbonne Family

We love our Members. Their incredible support allows us to make a difference to animals both locally and all over the world. This month, we’re spotlighting a family of Zoo Members that deserve recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to March’s Featured Members: The Darbonne Family


We asked the Darbonne’s to share a few words about what being a Zoo Member means to them. Here’s what they had to say.

“The Houston Zoo is a family story for us: So many of our favorite memories of good times together involve the zoo. We became members in 2014 when I visited a first time in more than a dozen years. So much had changed—so much so that I wondered briefly (and ridiculously) if the zoo had moved. But the long pond at the entrance was/is still there and clearly had been for decades; the loving attention to its detail is unmistakable.

At the zoo, my brother, Jude, and I discovered that his son, Jackson, 5, is quite the presentation-maker. Last year, he adopted Liberty, the bald eagle who resides at the Children’s Zoo. We know her as Betsy (Ross), since, when I gave him the adoption certificate, I didn’t recall her name and quickly thought of a name of a female American revolutionary.

Jackson reminds us all on each zoo visit that he will be visiting Betsy; therefore, we should remember to take him to see her. At the display, he will tell anyone/everyone, “This is my eagle. She is a bald eagle. Her name is Betsy. I adopted her.” Just as seriously, he will move to the sign, point to it and say, “She got an X-ray.”

On another visit, he and Jude simultaneously placed old cell phones of mine into the recycling bin. (Jackson’s fell in first, so he won “the race.”) We had been reading about this at the gorilla exhibit on previous visits and Jackson was extremely excited to participate in the campaign.

We’ve also heard the rhino-keeper’s talk, where he learned that the boys are brothers and what “the sticks” are for. (The rhinos rub their horns on them.) At the elephant-keeper’s talk, we learned that they are trained to offer their feet for cleaning and inspection. And we have hundreds more memories than space here to recount them all.

We are thankful for the Houston Zoo for making positive impressions on Jackson—and on us too—about what we can do to protect and nurture our fellow inhabitants of Earth. We are proud to get to participate in its important work by sharing our support of our Houston Zoo. Our world is a better place because of the Houston Zoo.”


From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to the Darbonne’s and all of our Zoo Members. As a Houston Zoo Member, your support truly makes an impact on the growth of our Zoo and conservation efforts. THANKS!

Houston Toad Breeding Season Begins

Written by Amie Bialo


Over in the Houston toad facility we certainly do get excited about Texas-sized things. After counting our egg strands from the 2016 breeding season, we found we had something big to celebrate. During week 6 of breeding, we had a pair of toads produce over 15,000 eggs. Collected from previous years, our data shows us that on average our females lay around 7,000 eggs per strand. In 2016 we had 12 females produce strands that contained more than 10,000 eggs. There are many variables that impact egg production, though – even the weather.

 

While 15,000 eggs certainly sounds like a lot, it’s important to consider why toads produce that many. The Houston toad is an r-strategist species when it comes to reproduction. What this means, in general, is that they produce a large number of offspring, but don’t put very much effort into caring for them. The offspring of r-strategist species are often small, and quick to mature, with a low percentage chance of survival, and this is definitely true of the Houston toad. To contrast, a species that uses a K reproductive strategy will generally have offspring that is larger in size, slow to mature, and their parents will put in a lot of care to help them survive (think elephants).

As the 2017 breeding season begins, our hopes are high that we’ll see many large egg strands. Ideally, we hope we can combine the toads’ r-strategy with the extra care of our keepers and partners who help release the strands in the wild, and let the toads see some of the benefit of K-strategy leading toward higher offspring survival numbers than they would see alone in the wild.

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.

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!

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 Birthstone for February is Amethyst

Amethyst is the birthstone for February and is also the gemstone for the 6th and the 17th anniversary of marriage.  While my birthday isnt in February, I do love the rich purple color of amethyst and my birthstone, citrine, is even in the same family as amethyst

Who has a February birthday? Rosa Parks, Babe Ruth, Jennifer Anniston, Abraham Lincoln and more.

Amethyst Geode on display in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop
Amethyst Geode on display in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop
It is a purple variety of quartz but, the color can range from a light pinkish violet to a deep royal purple.  It is a durable and lasting stone with a rating of 7 on the Moh’s hardness scale.  This makes it an excellent option for jewelry.  Amethyst can be found worldwide.

There is plenty of history and lore around this beautiful stone. While it is considered a semi-precious stone today, it was a “Gem of Fire” and considered a precious stone in ancient times – at times in history worth as much as a diamond.  During the middle ages, amethyst stood for piety and celibacy and was therefore worn by members of the clergy.  It was believed that wearing an amethyst ring would keep them well grounded in spiritual thought.   In a similar story, during the renaissance, amethyst stood for humility and modesty.

Polished Amethyst

Through history amethyst has also been worn by travelersto protect them from treachery and surprise attacks and it was also believed that it would keep soldiers from harm and gave them victory over their enemies.

Amethyst has been included in royal collections all over the world from ancient Egypt to the British Crown Jewels.   Ancient Egyptians believed the stone would guard them against guilty and fearful feelings.  Rumor also has it that amethyst was a personal favorite of Queen Catherine the Great of Russia.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. even has an amethyst that weighs 400 pounds!

Cut Amethyst Gemstone

While the Naturally Wild Swap Shop doesn’t have amethyst as large as the Smithsonian has, we do have amethyst for trade. You can get polished stones, amethyst geodes and even cut gemstones ranging from 150 points to 8,000 points.  There is also a beautiful amethyst geode cathedral on display.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.

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Don't miss this great event!Spring is coming, and so is Houston’s rainy season! This year you could save $$$ and protect the health our Bay by using a rain barrel! Go to galvbay.org/hzrbw and sign up to attend our Houston Zoo Rain Barrel Workshop (sponsored by LyondellBasell) on Saturday, April 8th! ... See MoreSee Less

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