Have you ever wondered what our baby animals are up to after they’re born? How much have they grown? How do the keepers maintain the animal’s healthy diet? We want you to learn about our adorable babies as they grow up, so we’ve decided to give you a small peek into the lives of our little superstars.
I sat down with Memory Mays, one of our giraffe keepers, to learn more about how our baby giraffe Gigi has been adapting to her new home:
It’s been two months since Gigi joined the Houston Zoo family and every minute has been spent in the excellent care provided by our keepers. In just a short time with us, Gigi has sprung from 6 feet 3 inches and 130 pounds at birth to a current 7 feet 4 inches and 310 pounds. To most of us that sounds like a surprising amount of growth for a newborn, however Memory said that Gigi is growing at a normal rate and that most Masai giraffes are at this height by the time they are Gigi’s age. Due to this rapid growth rate from giraffes, the keepers monitor Gigi’s weight on a consistent basis to make sure that she is growing up healthy. Right now Gigi’s weight is being monitored once every other day to insure she is getting the proper nutrients from her mother’s milk. Memory said once Gigi gets a little bit older she will only receive weight checkups once a week like the rest of her herd.
Most of you probably want to know what Gigi does on a daily basis. Is she active? Is she enjoying her new home? Well you will be happy to know that Gigi is not only energetic but has become one of a kind! Memory said that giraffes usually have the same type of personality but out of the herd, Gigi is definitely the spunkier and more independent one. Gigi is known to be very reliable and does what she is asked to do. Gigi just comes right up to Memory and the other keepers and when they are done doing a training session, Gigi will go right back to playing in the yard with ease. According to Memory, Gigi and her three siblings typically stick together in their own mini heard, running around and kicking up dust.
Since giraffe feeding is one of the coolest things to do here at the Houston Zoo, most of you may be looking to feed Gigi on your next visit. However, you may have to wait a little longer. Although Gigi is adapting well to her environment, she still is very much trying to figure everything out around her. Gigi is still nursing from her mother, Asali, and is in the beginning stages of trying to consume solid foods. When Gigi reaches about six months old, she will be able to fully join the herd in eating all the solid food she needs: grain, carrots, and sweet potatoes are just a few of the goodies given to our giraffes. Until then you can catch Gigi running around the yard with her siblings and enjoying the wonderful life we provide our animals here at the Houston Zoo.
From July 19-25, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and hear their stories. Check back each day to see new keeper profiles during this great week celebrating zoo keepers!
Wren Schroeder – Hoofstock Keeper
I always knew I wanted to work with animals, but I wasn’t always 100% sure how I wanted to do that. So I did an internship working with birds of prey and hoofstock animals at another AZA zoo, just to see if I for sure liked it. I realized that if I could be an unpaid intern and be excited to get out of bed every day to go to a job like that, then that was what I wanted to do as a career.
The most enjoyable part about my job is finding people in the public that appreciate a unique species as much as I do. Seeing the excitement, enthusiasm, and compassion of guests is what I love the most. What makes this job worthwhile and the most rewarding are the amazing guests that will sit through a Meet the Keeper chat and express their curiosity about the animals and ask questions to learn more about the individual animals here at the Houston Zoo and the conservation efforts being done internationally and locally to help different species.
I would advise volunteering/interning as much as possible. You can sit and learn about animals and their behaviors in books. Then just simply applying what you have learned in those books by working around them, seeing how they react to things, and getting hands on experience is what truly will help you in zoo keeping career. Also, work with some different species while you volunteer, other than just the obvious ones you already like. You would be surprised by animals that never really interested you, but then after working with them you have a new found respect for them.
I would want people to know that this job is not just about feeding the animals and cleaning up after them. After enduring the weather Houston throws at us, doing workload that comes with working with any animal, and the highs and lows of the job. It is then also about taking the time during the day to go out and educate the public about each of the animals that we get the opportunity to work with. Every animal we work with is different and unique in their own way. Getting to see the guests’ faces light up when we share our own stories about each of these animals is what really makes the hard work worth it.
How many people can say they have shoveled giraffe AND rhino poop? I, Annie Murchison, Public Relations intern at the Houston Zoo can now proudly cross that one off my bucket list. In order to better understand the inner workings of the zoo, I ventured outside of my usual office routine to shadow the hoofed stock team last Thursday. Hoofed stock keepers care for mammals with hooves and include everything from rhinos to okapis to giraffes.
I grew up coming to the Houston Zoo for camp, field trips, and family fun. My six-year-old self desperately wanted to be a zoo keeper, all the way up until the point where I realized that biology was not my strong suit. (However, I learned Thursday that one can work their way up to become a keeper with a psychology major and good amount of experience.) Thursday was essentially a childhood dream come true.
My day started bright and early at 7 a.m. in the hoofed stock trailer for a team meeting before heading off to begin work. The team meets up every morning before the zoo opens to get their assignments and discuss goals for the day. I was assigned to team of keepers and their interns that looked after giraffes and rhinos for the morning. Our first stop was the rhino exhibit—we began with clearing yesterday’s hay from the exhibit, along with any poop. Once this was done, we spread out new bales of hay and scattered lettuce and carrots around the habitat for the rhinos to find. Heading back to the barn, I was able to get up close and personal with the zoo’s three white rhinos, watching keepers perform training exercises and weigh all three before moving them to their outside yard. The zoo’s rhinos weigh about 3,000 pounds each and still have a bit of growing to do. Adult male white rhinoceroses can weigh up to 5,000 pounds! Next we moved to giraffes. Like rhinos, our first duty was clearing the space of any poop from the outdoor yard and placing food around the habitat. Once that was done, we moved the giraffes outside and began to clean the poop that accumulated in the barn over the night—no easy task. To fully clean the barn we shoveled it out, hosed the barn down, and eventually power washed the floor, all of which took about three hours.
Unfortunately my day as a zookeeper at the zoo ended at noon, when I returned to my office for an entirely different kind of work. Thursday provided me with a behind-the-scenes look at, not only the animals that call the Houston Zoo home, but the keepers who go above and beyond to care for them. They do more than just clean the exhibit, feed, and care for the animals; they have a special bond with each animal and can recognize their individual personalities and daily moods. Life as an animal (and intern) at the Houston Zoo is pretty awesome.
This post was written by Meredith Ross and Ashley Kramer.
Did you know that doing something as simple as recycling your cellphone here at the zoo can help save chimpanzees and gorillas in the wild? Join us on the weekend of July 18th and 19th from 10 AM – 3 PM to celebrate “Spotlight on Species: African Apes” to learn more about our great apes here at the zoo and how to help their wild counterparts. During the event, you can exchange three cell phones or small electronic devices for a magnet painted by one of our great apes. Just turn them in to the primate staff working the event at the Great Ape Gallery in our African Forest and receive your prize.
On Saturday we will be wishing our chimpanzees Abe and Charlie a happy 42nd and 44th birthday with a Christmas in July themed party. On Sunday we will be throwing a 31st birthday extravaganza for one of our silverback gorillas, Chaka.There will be tons of fun activities for the whole family where you can learn how chimpanzees use tools, how to tell the difference between a monkey and an ape, and more! We will also have special feedings for our chimpanzees and gorillas all throughout the day.
Great zoos require great ambition across multiple departments, however, it is the community support which contributes to so many grand accomplishments. The enthusiasm of over 400 year-round adult volunteers and approximately 1,400 other seasonal volunteers help make it happen. While a dedicated staff is essential, our volunteers bridge the gap daily in making conservation efforts possible by educating over two million guests each year and by helping our staff meet countless demands. We are proud to know so many individuals willing to donate their time and their talents. Many of these volunteers are people with full time jobs, many are retired. All of them have other activities they could choose to do, yet they choose to be here at the Houston Zoo. Whether rain or shine, hot or cold, complex or simple tasks, our volunteer team rises to every request for help.
The Volunteer Programs staff is pleased to welcome our newest adult volunteers that joined us in May. Already, these volunteers have donated well over 285 hours of their time to the Zoo. This outstanding group of individuals brings a variety of backgrounds and interests to our team but all come ready to enrich the lives of both animals and guests, making your visit more enjoyable. Volunteers may assist with filing paperwork behind the scenes, directing guests on grounds, designing enrichment for our animals, or aiding in exhibit upkeep. Whatever the challenge, we are grateful to know we have the support of a team motivated by ambition rather than a paycheck. Their efforts allow us to maximize our conservation efforts around the world.
“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude” (author Cynthia Ozick). Next time you visit the Houston Zoo, take notice of our blue-shirt Volunteers. May we all draw inspiration from their hearts and minds in making our community and our planet a better place! Our thanks could never be enough to credit these folks for all they do.
Boomer, one of the Houston Zoo’s two elderly grizzly bears, was humanely euthanized today after a long life. The decision was made by the bear’s keepers and veterinary team after the nearly 40-year-old bear began to become uninterested in food, less active, and less responsive to his pain medications. After reviewing all options, our veterinary and bear experts decided that the most humane option was to peacefully euthanize him.
The geriatric bear came to the zoo with another grizzly bear, Bailey, in 2007 from the Houston SPCA where they had lived for a year after the organization confiscated them from a private individual who was not taking good care of them. The pair had lived in tiny cages and were found to be in very poor health, with severe dental disease, and obesity from lack of exercise. Since moving to the Houston Zoo, Boomer underwent extensive dental care including five root canals and seven tooth extractions performed by veterinary dental specialist Dr. Bob Boyd. Boomer was diagnosed with lymphoma in both eyes in 2010 by a veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Nick Millichamp and underwent oral chemotherapy later that year. His right eye was removed 2012 when it became ulcerated and painful. The lymphoma in the left eye caused complete blindness but Boomer was able to navigate his enclosure well. In recent years, Boomer began receiving treatment for chronic arthritis and a non-resolving infection that unfortunately had become debilitating, regardless of medication and care. Boomer was beloved by the zoo staff, who have fond memories of his love for his pool.
Whenever an animal dies, no matter what the reason, it is a tragic event and our staff morns the loss of a member of their family. The health and wellness of our animals is a great priority to our team and with four incredible veterinarians and a complete veterinary clinic and world-class animal keepers, our animals receive the best care possible. While it’s always exciting to celebrate births at the zoo, we also mourn heavily when one of our animals dies.
Greetings from Panama City! The Houston Zoo recently visited Florida with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to test turtle excluder devices (TEDs) for fisheries across the globe to incorporate into their shrimp nets. These TEDs are critical – and required by federal law – to ensure the safety of sea turtles while fishermen work to provide some of our favorite seafood, like shrimp!
Every summer NOAA staff spends three weeks in Panama City testing newly-constructed or tweaked TED designs that will, if approved, later be used by fishermen. Turtle excluder devices are used to allow fishermen to catch animals like shrimp, while excluding animals like sea turtles that may accidentally be caught in their nets.
Each year, about 200 sea turtles are driven to Florida from Galveston to test each TED, and about 25 turtles will attempt to swim through each TED. That’s a lot of turtles and swim time! The sea turtles are then released back into the wild after the weeks of TED testing.
Our partners at NOAA Galveston spend all year getting the sea turtles in their care ready for this critical work! This year, they allowed Houston Zoo staff to come along and observe the process of ensuring shrimp nets around the world are safe for sea turtles.
In addition to field work assistance in Panama City this summer, the Houston Zoo helps save sea turtles in a number of ways. One way the Zoo helps is by providing veterinary care to sea turtles brought in from Galveston, sometimes also housing rehabilitating sea turtles at the Zoo in the Kipp Aquarium. The Zoo also hosts sea turtle events at the Zoo to increase awareness, participates in weekly beach surveys to look for stranded or nesting sea turtles, and serves only ocean-friendly seafood to Zoo animals and guests!
Be sure to check back soon for more information on TED testing in Panama City!
Steve Howard is in the Northern Mariana Islands, working with Pacific Bird Conservation to protect birds and blogging about his experience.
This post was written by Steve Howard
Before I came to Tinian, I read about using mist nets to trap birds. I imagined a small net put in a quiet corner forest while we watched to see if birds went in. Not so much. It turns out there is a LOT of work involved.
The nets are large – 18 to 36 feet long and 8 feet high, and if the forest is at all dense, which this forest is, a space must be cleared for the net. First, you have to cut a path through the forest, all the time looking for a good spot to put up a net. The undergrowth has to be cleared and fallen braches removed in order to make a trail. When an open spot can be found where a net can be put up with a minimum of clearing, you cut a “lane” to make room for the net. Once the lane is cleared, the net is strung on two poles, usually fly fishing poles that telescope together, and the poles are secured with cord tied to tress or roots.
Then you continue to cut the path and look for another spot to make a lane. It’s hot and humid in the forest, and there is very little breeze. In there, hacking with a machete and cutting things out of the way with a saw is hot, hard and tiring work. I have blisters on my feet, and my arms and legs are scratched up and sore. And I love it!!!
The birds that we catch will start a new population on another island. This will help to protect a vulnerable animal from extinction. All my life I have been sad to think of the extinction an animal as beautiful as these birds. Now, I have the chance to do something about it, directly. So, for all the hard work and blisters, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything!!
Hello all. Penny the Swap Shop cat here. There is something new going on at the zoo.
I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I kept hearing about these new animals at the
zoo…..gorillas. So, I did some research.
It seems the Houston Zoo has added 7 new gorillas. A bachelor group and a family group. I didn’t think they would be so impressive until I saw pictures of them. They are actually amazing!
There are three males in the bachelor group – Ajari (14 yrs. old), Chaka (30 yrs. old) and Mike (23 yrs. old). The family group consists of one male, Zuri (31 yrs. old), with Holli (25 yrs. old), Sufi (13 yrs. old) and Benti (40 yrs. old). Their exhibit is beautiful and took a long time
to build. They have a much bigger house than I have in the Swap Shop. But then, they are a lot bigger than me so I suppose that is fair – even if they aren’t cats. I guess that also explains why they get to be outside without a leash when I don’t.
I learned that gorillas are disappearing in the wild. It is due to habitat loss and illegal hunting. That made me pretty sad. But, the Houston Zoo is working with organizations in the field to help save the gorillas. They work with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE) to help the wild gorillas. Every time you come to the zoo to see our gorillas, you are helping wild gorillas.
Come and see me at the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. I will be here carefully contemplating gorillas.
Don’t know about the Swap Shop? Click here for more information.
Soon, The Houston Zoo will be celebrating World Giraffe Day with a Spotlight on Species for Giraffes. For just a moment, though, we’d like to shine the spotlight on one of our resident Masai giraffe, Tyra. Although her overall disposition is quite sweet and calm with her keepers, Tyra is wary of strangers and rarely seen eating at the Giraffe Feeding Platform, so many of our guests might not be as familiar with her as some of our other giraffe. At 16 years old, Tyra is the oldest member of our giraffe herd, and has been an excellent mother to eight calves, five of which still live at The Houston Zoo. Oftentimes, when in the late stages of her pregnancies, she becomes very reluctant to leave the barn in the summer. She prefers the quiet, coolness of the barn to the heat of the outside. She also enjoys grabbing hold of small sticks and twirling them around in her mouth with her tongue and many of her offspring have picked up on the same habit. One of her sons, Jack, in particular can be seen doing this frequently throughout the days. Tyra was also the model for the large giraffe statue located directly across from the giraffe yard here at The Houston Zoo. It’s about eight feet tall, and perfect for taking photos with!
Tyra and her family have a very important job to do here at The Houston Zoo. They are all ambassador animals for the wild giraffe populations in Africa. Worldwide, giraffe populations are plummeting. In just the past 17 years, the total number of giraffes on the planet has dropped over 40%. There are now less than 80,000 that remain. Habitat loss, poaching, and disease are claiming the lives of wild giraffe every day. We cannot sit back and let these giants of the savannah slip quietly into extinction. On June 21st, 2015 The Houston Zoo will be holding a giraffe SOS. With it, we hope to bring awareness to the plight of wild giraffe and to do that we will have several giraffe-themed activities for people of all ages. We will also have some special and unique items for sale and all the proceeds will go towards the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the only conservation institution focused primarily on researching and protecting giraffe in the wild. Come join us at The Houston Zoo on Sunday, June 21st and help us save giraffe!
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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