Zoo staff assist partners at NOAA with sea turtle surveys

As part of our efforts to save sea turtles in the wild, Houston Zoo staff have the opportunity to participate in weekly beach surveys conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Galveston. NOAA biologists conduct weekly beach surveys to look for dead, stranded, injured, or nesting sea turtles, respond to reports from the 1-866-TURTLE-5 hotline, and collect fishing line from the Surfside Jetty. Below is a summary of one Houston Zoo employees’ experience, Brenda Rico, part of our Call Center team. 

My experience out with Lyndsey [NOAA biologist] was great, really thankful for having an opportunity like that. On my survey experience I was able to see what the turtle hospital looks like and just how many of them they [NOAA] care for. I was able to assist Lyndsey in keeping records of the GPS coordinates in case we ran into a turtle that maybe needed rescue. I was also able to assist with recording data on a dead sea turtle we found over at Bolivar Peninsula. A really neat thing that I got to experience was witnessing two necropsies that she performed, to determine how these turtles died, what type of diet they had, and where they were consuming their food from. I learned that turtles can easily drown with fishing line that fishermen might accidentally leave behind, they can grow to be up to 1,000 lbs and they don’t develop fully until adulthood that’s when you are able to identify their sex. We probably went down the beach roughly around 70 miles and at the end of the survey we got to rescue a pelican!

During this sea turtle survey, Brenda also had the chance to release a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that had been rehabilitated by NOAA. 

During survey, Brenda helped release a Kemp's ridley sea turtle that was rehabilitated by NOAA
During survey, Brenda helped release a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that was rehabilitated by NOAA
Brenda happily releasing this sea turtle back into the wild!
Brenda happily releasing this sea turtle back into the wild!

You can help save sea turtles by ensuring your fishing line always ends up in a proper recycling bin. Discarded fishing line can entangle sea turtles, making it difficult for them to swim, find food, and come up for air. You can also help by reporting any sea turtles in our area by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5. 

This is a monofilament bin located on the Surfside Jetty. You can recycle your fishing line in bins like this one.
This is a monofilament bin located on the Surfside Jetty. You can recycle your fishing line in bins like this one.

Houston Zoo Releases Sea Turtles Back into Gulf of Mexico

Release May 2016

On Thursday May 26, NOAA Fisheries and the Houston Zoo released nine sea turtles at Stewart Beach in Galveston, Texas surrounded by hundreds of onlookers.

Release May 2016

Six of the turtles are Kemp’s ridleys, the other three are loggerheads. All but one of the turtles suffered injuries related to fishing interactions when they were accidentally caught and swallowed fishing hooks.

Release May 2016

The degree of rehabilitation and length of stay at the NOAA sea turtle facility in Galveston varied, ranging from one week to nine months. Call 1-866-TURTLE-5 to report an injured sea turtle.

Release May 2016

Success! 9 Sea Turtles Released into the Wild!

Every month, Houston Zoo staff assist the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with their weekly beach surveys, looking for stranded, injured, or nesting sea turtles. We drive the beach, sometimes for more than 10 hours searching for turtles that need help, and respond to calls to the sea turtle hotline (1.866.TURTLE.5).

This past Monday, we had the pleasure of releasing 9 sea turtles during the weekly survey! 3 Kemp’s ridleys were successfully released after being rehabilitated at NOAA’s Galveston Laboratory. They all came in, caught on fishermen’s hooks. Houston Zoo veterinary staff provided medical care for these turtles to ensure their speedy recovery.

Later in the afternoon, we released 6 green sea turtles into the bay. These turtles stranded for a variety of reasons, but one was found entangled in fishing line and plastic bags.

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Green sea turtle found on our Texas beaches, entangled in fishing line and plastic bags.

NOAA and the Houston Zoo worked together to provide medical care to this green sea turtle as it was rehabilitated in Galveston. Thankfully, it made a full recovery and was able to go back to the wild.

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NOAA staff releases the green sea turtle into the bay after it was successfully rehabilitated.

Everyone can play a role in saving sea turtles. Ensure that our local turtles do not get caught in plastic bags by making the switch to reusable fabric bags every time you go to the grocery store. This is an easy way to be a marine animal hero!

Discover What Makes the Houston Toad So Unique

IMG_9112The Houston Zoo is excited to welcome a new intern who comes to us all the way from Kenya, in East Africa. Gilbert Sabinga is in the United States as participating in the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP). The Community College Initiative Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Northern Virginia Community College on behalf of the Community College Consortium (CCC) in partnership with Houston Community College. While participating in this program, he will join us at the zoo as an intern to learn all about what a modern-day zoo is like! Sabinga is already part of the conservation community as he has been working with Save the Elephants in Kenya for over 8 years. He will be documenting his experiences at the Zoo and we will share his thoughts with you here on our blog!

Sabinga writes:

Sabinga blogHouston Zoo is the nature in it’s wildest. Every day coming to the zoo it offers me a new chance to get up close from wildlife around the world, and learn close facts about the animals. This time I was introduced to toads!!!! The little I knew about the toads is valuable part of our outdoor heritage. Most of people probably don’t give them much thought, and rarely credit what we consider lesser life not with emotions big as ours; but we need these amphibians to control destructive insects and to offer their voices to the sounds of spring and summer nights. Just hearing or seeing them adds to our enjoyment of outdoor joy and makes our environment beautiful. I visited and got to help in the toad department under the instruction of Tyler Parker, who never get tired of me asking questions about toads. He really taught me much on toads and expanded my knowledge about the toads especially Houston toads.

Sabinga blog2Today, with species threatened and habitats disappearing worldwide, the Houston Zoo  is playing a new role in conservation: the Zoo is expanding their efforts far beyond keeping animals alive in captivity. An example of this is the toad quarantine facility that serves as a location for captive breeding and head- starting of Houston toads eggs stand for release in to the wild, and this facility is managed full-time by Houston toad specialists who care for the toads and work closely. I never thought of how great this is wow! Credit to toad keepers.

The best part is that we would all love to think that wild animals in reality are at least a little bit like they are in National Geographic movies – cute, cuddly and happy to be in human company. Certainly toads can get used to human caretakers. Dr. Lauren Howard held one told and I was surprised that the toad did not struggle and even closed its eyes! I was wondering is it love? Or, the warmth of Lauren’s hand, or cues from the toad that it enjoys the care.  We all need to care for these magnificent local Texas creatures.

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Amphibian species are now on the verge of extinction. How do we save them?

– Toads like to take their time crossing the road…give them a brake! Roadkill is a significant cause of toad and frog mortality in many parts of the world. So drive slower on wet nights. Help a frog or toad cross the road (careful: don’t cause an accident or get squashed yourself).

– If you are building a pond, and want to support a healthy toad community, do not stock fish in it–even native species. Fishless ponds always tend to have a higher amphibian biodiversity than do ponds with fish.

– Most of the products we use in our daily life, and even the things we take for granted (food, water, electricity) have been removed from their natural place in the environment. We therefore offer the following suggestions on how you can reduce your ecological footprint: Turn off your air conditioning when it’s not in use. Take a shorter shower. Put a lid on that pot of boiling water. Turn off your lights. Print on both sides of the sheet of paper. Turn your jacuzzi off when it’s not in use. Going for a picnic? Don’t use styrofoam plates; most supermarkets sell biodegradable corn plates.

For more information visit; conservation@houstonzoo.org

Point to remember; Toads may be begging for their environmental freedom!!!

Attend Zoo Boo & Learn How to Help Animals in the Wild!

Our annual Zoo Boo event is a Houston favorite…costumes, candy, zoo animals, tatzoos, you name it-we have it! But did you know that this event includes incredibly fun activities for kids and families to help save animals in the wild?!

Visit us at Zoo Boo this year and learn how you are helping the Zoo to save animals in the wild!
Visit us at Zoo Boo this year and learn how you are helping the Zoo to save animals in the wild!

Zoe the Zookeeper’s Howlerween Adventure has been part of Zoo Boo for many years now, calling attention to how howler monkeys are doing in the wild and highlighting how our Primate Staff have helped secure a future for these primates in their natural habitat. This year, this interactive section of Zoo Boo has been expanded to include activities, games and information about all of the rehabilitation and release programs the Houston Zoo is involved in. This means you can learn about how we rehabilitate and release sea turtles and howler monkeys, as well as breed and release Attwater’s prairie chickens and Houston toads!

On this fun adventure (located next to Duck Lake) you’ll learn how to keep a sea turtle’s home clean, what food a howler monkey should eat, where the Attwater’s prairie chicken lives in the wild, and how Houston toads communicate! You may even be lucky enough to get a special surprise if you complete all 4 activities! Not only is this fun, it is another way for you, our guests and members, to learn how you are helping us to make a difference for animals in the wild. Without your continued support we would not be able to do what we do for howler monkeys, sea turtles, Houston toads, Attwater’s prairie chickens and many other species. So, thank you! We hope to see you at the last weekend of Zoo Boo!

Kids enjoying the Zoe the Zookeeper's Howlerween Adventure activities at Zoo Boo!
Kids enjoying Zoe the Zookeeper’s Howlerween Adventure activities at Zoo Boo!

Zoo Boo will be open October 25 & 26 from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Texas Sea Turtles Getting Checkups and Returning to the Wild!

This week was a busy one for sea turtles on our coast-and it’s been this way for pretty much the entire summer! On Monday, Houston Zoo staff assisted NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) with their weekly beach survey. It was a fairly quiet day in the way of turtles on the beach, but we did happen to see the enormous amounts of sargassum on the beaches which you may have already heard about.

Sargassum buildup on the Galveston beaches. Unfortunately, trash often washes in during sargassum events as well as wildlife!
Sargassum buildup on the Galveston beaches. Unfortunately, trash often washes in during sargassum events as well as wildlife!

Here is a report from a local news station about the sargassum in our area. While the sargassum may make the beaches less than desirable to visit, they are can be important to sea turtles, especially green sea turtles and plenty of other wildlife! If you venture out onto the beach despite the somewhat smelly conditions, you may be delighted to see some amazing wildlife in the seaweed.

Sargassum is basically huge football fields of brown algae floating in the ocean. When it washes up on the beach, it can help build up the dunes which are great storm protection for us and our homes! Animals like shrimp, fish and green sea turtles love to hang out in these football fields of algae in the ocean-it’s a great way to float around in the busy ocean, and your food is right next to you all the time!

This summer, NOAA has responded to several green sea turtles who have stranded on the beach, in the sargassum. Because green sea turtles are pretty much the exact color of the sargassum, it’s really important to keep your eye out for them if you are driving or traveling on the beach! You can call 1-866-TURTLE-5 if you happen to see a turtle on the beach or in the sargassum. We are still technically in sea turtle nesting season, so if you are so lucky as to see a turtle nesting on the beach (or their tracks) make sure to call the turtle hotline to report it!

A green sea turtle blends in perfectly with sargassum on the beach! Keep an eye out for them this holiday weekend and call 1-866-TURTLE-5 if you see one!
A green sea turtle blends in perfectly with sargassum on the beach! Keep an eye out for them this holiday weekend and call 1-866-TURTLE-5 if you see one!

After traveling through the huge patches of sargassum to complete our sea turtle survey, we were fortunate enough to be able to release one of the Kemp’s Ridley turtles that NOAA has been rehabilitating. This turtle was caught on a recreational hook and line, and thankfully was reported to NOAA who took it to their facilities to give it a full medical checkup and provide care until it was healthy enough to go back to the wild.

A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle that was rehabilitated and released by NOAA staff this week!
A Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle that was rehabilitated and released by NOAA staff this week!

And our turtle work did not stop after Monday’s survey! Yesterday, 11 sea turtles visited the Houston Zoo clinic and our awesome vet team to get checkups. Some of these turtles had suspected hooks and needed x-rays and others were turtles that had stranded and needed to get a routine checkup by our vet staff.

Kemp's ridley sea turtle who got a checkup by Houston Zoo vet staff yesterday.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle who got a checkup by Houston Zoo vet staff yesterday.

All of the 11 turtles were successfully looked at and suggestions were given by the Houston Zoo vet team for each individual’s care. We look forward to seeing these turtles go through successful rehabilitation and then return to the wild!

If you’d like to learn more about the zoo’s efforts to save sea turtles in the wild, check out more info here

If you want to help save sea turtles, take these few simple steps (especially during this busy beach holiday weekend!):

-Leave only footprints when you go to the beach. Make sure to put all of your trash in a can and recycle items when possible. Do not leave tents, fireworks, or other trash on the beach-it is harmful for wildlife and dangerous for the health of our beaches!

-Use canvas bags instead of plastic bags whenever you buy groceries or take items to the beach! The Houston Zoo’s gift shops sells awesome durable sea turtle canvas bags, with all proceeds going back to saving turtles in the wild! Reducing our use of plastic in general helps save sea turtles and other ocean animals.

Sea turtle canvas bags available in our gift shop. All proceeds go towards sea turtles in the wild.
Sea turtle canvas bags available in our gift shop. All proceeds go towards sea turtles in the wild.

Attwater's prairie chicks are here!

The Houston Zoo has already hatched 209 Attwater’s prairie chicks this Spring!

APC Eggs 2014-0001-2318

All of these guys have made it through to the next stage of their lives and will stay with us here at the Zoo until they are ready for release as strong juveniles into the wild!

apc april

Attwater’s prairie chickens are vanishing from the coastal prairies of Texas. It is estimated that less than 100 of these birds are left in the wild, so the Houston Zoo has breeding facilities both behind the scenes at the Zoo and at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to help revive the wild populations.  When the birds hatch and grow large enough, they are slowly introduced and then released into the wild, where they will support the already existing populations.

If you are inspired to give these chicks a stronger chance for survival, help them out by learning more, or even donating!

Let the Season Begin: It's Attwater's Prairie Chicken Time!

It’s our biggest and best year yet for breeding a very special local species, the critically endangered Attwater’s Prairie Chicken! We’re very lucky to have gotten a record number of eggs from our flock so far, with more to come.

The very first Attwater's prairie chicken egg of the breeding season!
The very first Attwater’s prairie chicken egg of the breeding season! We do something called candling the eggs, which means looking inside of them, to be sure the future chicks are healthy and progressing properly.

Last year’s breeding season was an incredible success, so we can’t wait to see what this year has in store for us. These eggs will begin to hatch in late April, so get ready to see tons of adorable baby chicks in the very near future!

Attwater's Prairie Chicken chick photo by Mollie Coym
Attwater’s Prairie Chicken chick photo by Mollie Coym

Considering there are less than 100 Attwater’s prairie chickens left in the wild, a successful breeding season at the Houston Zoo is essential for the survival of the species. We partner with a number of other organizations to ensure this humble grouse doesn’t go extinct.

Male Attwater's Prairie Chicken
Male Attwater’s Prairie Chicken

The Houston Zoo is involved in a number of ways, the most important of which is breeding animals in a protected environment that helps bring out their natural behaviors at our Johnson Space Center facility (thanks, NASA!), hatching the eggs at the Zoo, caring for the chicks, and then releasing those young birds into the wild at protected sites once they get old enough.

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Male Attwater’s prairie chicken at Johnson Space Center – thank you, NASA, for helping us protect this critically endangered species!

Letting people know that the Attwater’s prairie chicken exists is also one of our most important jobs – and if you’re reading this, you are already contributing toward this animal’s survival. If people don’t know what the issues are, they can’t care. And if people care, the species won’t stand a chance! If you’d like to learn more and share with your friends, check out Houston Zoo Bird Keeper Danny Keel’s talk about the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken and our efforts to save it!

Attwater Talk – Danny Keel – Houston Zoo from Coastal Prairie Partnership on Vimeo

Sea Turtle Update: Getting the Green Light for Release

Last week, the Houston Zoo vet clinic and NOAA checked out 9 sea turtles: 4 Kemp’s ridleys, 4 greens, and 1 hawksbill. The Kemp’s ridleys have been recovering from injuries at the NOAA Galveston facility, and will be released over the next few months. Threats to sea turtles are primarily people. People in the form of boats, plastic pollution/littering, fishing hooks, etc. The Kemp’s ridleys looked strong and we hope they’ll go on to live happy sea turtle lives.
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The 4 green sea turtles are what is called “cold stunned” turtles. Because turtles are reptiles, they cannot regulate body heat. When the temperature drops quickly, if the turtles are stuck in small inlets of water (shallow water cools much faster than the ocean)and cannot get to larger and warmer water, their tiny bodies begin to shut down. Since green sea turtles enjoy sea grasses and algae, their species is more likely to be in the small bays and marshes that experience the quick drops in temperature. Based on their progress and recovery timeline, the 4 greens visiting us might be released in the future, or allowed a longer recovery to make sure they are as strong as possible.

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This is a hawksbill sea turtle. Notice the beautiful overlapping pattern on the carapace.

And finally, the hawksbill. This particular hawksbill sea turtle is undergoing treatment for some issues with the carapace (shell). He’ll need some extra time to recover so that NOAA and the Houston Zoo can monitor his progress.

That’s it for this week’s sea turtle update. Stay tuned for more news as we break into nesting season!

Why wait for Easter for an “egg-travaganza?!”

The Houston toad team at the Houston Zoo has been working up a storm this spring – a storm of Houston toad eggs! As of this writing, the team has bred 23 groups of adult Houston toads (the groups consist of either one female and one male or one female and two male) since the middle of February using assisted breeding methodologies. In total, we have produced ~80,000 Houston toad eggs!! This is more than twice as many as we produced last year and is a tremendous success for our program!! However, I’m sure you are all wondering just what in the world are we doing with all of those eggs??

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Each and every one of the Houston toad egg strands produced at the Zoo going back to the wild to help augment the wild population.  Researchers from Texas State University (TSU) are strategically placing the egg strands in two counties, Austin County and Bastrop County, which are in the historic range of the Houston toad. Both of these counties still harbor small, wild populations of Houston toads that are being monitored by TSU and USFWS.

Researchers from TSU and Houston toad staff and interns are placing the eggs inside protective, wire cages as the strands are placed into the release ponds. Cages? What are those for? One of the biggest complications for the Houston toad recovery effort is that everything LOVES to eat Houston toads – especially their eggs! Birds, fish, aquatic invertebrates, raccoons, you name it; they all love to snack on tasty toad eggs. The cages prevent these hungry critters from feasting on these precious, endangered egg strands, helping to ensure that many of these eggs will survive to make tiny toadlets!
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TSU researchers are monitoring each of the release sites and are on the lookout for Houston toad tadpoles and metamorphs. Are the cages working? Are the eggs going to hatch? Stay tuned to find out!

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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...

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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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