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Animal Care

Animal Enrichment


Animals in nature have to work for a living – to find food, to make nests, and to find shelter. Play is another natural activity. Life for the animals at the Houston Zoo is more predictable than in the wild. That’s why our keepers use enrichment to create variety through work and play.

At the Houston Zoo, we choose items and activities that are safe and encourage natural behaviors, such as:

• Giving orangutans branches of plants like mulberry and bamboo to make nests

• Hiding crickets in a cardboard box for our maned wolves to discover

• Running treats like chickens down a zip line over the lion exhibit to help our lions run, jump, and reach

• Giving tasty ostrich eggs to our very appreciative Komodo dragon, Smaug

• Making ice pops for carnivores and primates out of their favorite foods to help them stay cool on a hot day

Enrichment News (via Facebook)

It's a beautiful day to play in a sand pit or so we're guessing that's what our baby Asian elephant Duncan is thinking. Keepers can put different substrates on exhibit for the animals to go explore. Looks like Duncan mastered this enrichment! ... See MoreSee Less

1 week ago

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Merry Morris, Ashley Thomas and 23 others like this

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Janet DentonDuncan is hilarious. He runs everywhere!1 week ago
Lyn Ann AdamsHe is so cute1 week ago
Tiki Kimsooo cute! .. i haven't had time to keep up with some things, i dont even think i knew you had babie duncan! he is adorable! watching baylor and tupelo play has brought many smiles. will keep an eye out for this little ones fun times!1 week ago
Derick McNairThat's way to cute!1 week ago
Taylor PetersonWhen I visited the zoo, baby Duncan was running around the enclosure like a hooligan, and his momma slapped him real hard with her trunk! Put that little guy in his place!1 week ago

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Does that carnivore realize that not only does she have a pumpkin in her mouth, but she's also standing in water...hmmm...(maybe she forgot she's a lion) Should we tell her? Nope, let her have her fun! Not only does the carnivore department give their animals novel produce the 1st of every month, but all the animal sections are getting into the Halloween festivities here at the zoo. Come by and check them out every weekend until October ends. ... See MoreSee Less

2 weeks ago

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Merry Morris, Trudy Perry and 23 others like this

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Janet DentonThe girls are so funny! See you guys tomorrow!2 weeks ago
Genevia Litty-DavisThank- you for sharing!!2 weeks ago
Donna Jean<3 :-)2 weeks ago
Becky Zahn WalckerWe hv a lioness that like to play in water too! Glad she's not alone😊2 weeks ago
April Walker McSwainI've never seen the lions in the water before! So cute!2 weeks ago
Cloudspace USAbeautiful2 weeks ago

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It's October and the animals are getting into the fun. Here you can see the Gila Monster digging into pumpkin enrichment. Come out and see what spooky goodies the animals get this Zoo Boo. Check our website for Zoo Boo details! Happy Hauntings! ... See MoreSee Less

2 weeks ago

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Colleen La Beau, Andrea C. Schäfer and 23 others like this

Tiki Kimawesome! did he have creepy crawlie treats in side? .. sharing on my group Awesome Animal Enrichment2 weeks ago
Kim NietzscheDo they eat pumpkin? :D2 weeks ago
Houston Zoo Animal EnrichmentThis little monster is going after an egg that was put inside the pumpkin. Other then they really only eat small mammals.2 weeks ago   ·  2
Tiki Kimthankx for the info! i now see the eggs!2 weeks ago

Comment on Facebook

#TBT-Parties are always so much fun, especially birthday parties!!! Here we threw it back to Solaris 5th birthday. Now that looks like a GOOD TIME! Did you know that the different sections celebrate their animals birthdays by throwing them parties and giving them a bunch of enrichment goodies?! ... See MoreSee Less

4 weeks ago

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Give a Gift to the Houston Zoo Animals!

Want to help our animals work and play with different enrichment items? Consider purchasing an item off our Amazon.com wish list!

You can also donate these new items in their original, unopened packaging:

• Perfumes, spices (salt-free), and extracts for scent (olfactory)

• Animal sound CDs, wind chimes, mirrors, wind socks, and bells for visual and auditory enrichment

• Items for exhibit enhancements: PVC pipes, caps, and threaded caps of all diameters; carabineers to hang ropes and toys; unpainted wicker baskets; and nylon and natural fiber ropes up to 1’ in diameter

• Live plants such as bromeliads, monkey grass, bamboo, ginger,
hibiscus, banana, flowering kale, and mint.

• We also welcome gift cards from home improvement and pet stores!

Not sure what to give?

Make a monetary gift to support Animal Enrichment! Just $25 could help our elephants chill out with tropical fruit ice pops…..and $100 could help our chimps get artsy with painting supplies! You’ll help keep our animals healthy and happy.

Donate Now

Feeding 6000 Hungry Mouths

© Houston Zoo/Stephanie Adams

The Houston Zoo has more than 6,000 animals to feed every day. The Zoo’s Animal Nutrition staff begin work at 5 a.m. so they can have meals prepared and delivered to the animal sections in time for breakfast. There is a whirlwind of activity in their building including thawing meats, chopping produce, sorting insects, and loading bales of hay and bags of grain.

Each of our animals receives uncompromising excellence in animal care including the best in nutrition. The dietary needs of our animals are almost as varied as the animals themselves. All animal diets are developed in consultation with a specialist in exotic animal nutrition and are regularly analyzed for nutrient composition in order to ensure the optimal health and welfare of our animals. Diet sheets are kept for every animal that outline the type and amount of food needed every day of the week.

The Animal Nutrition building boasts a state of the art kitchen that includes commercial-grade appliances and equipment, 540 square feet of freezer space, three walk-in coolers, 2,000 square feet of dry storage, and a 4,000-square-foot hay barn. Despite all the activity, at the end of every day the kitchen is left clean and sparkling.

Veterinary Care

What’s it like to be a veterinarian at a zoo? Every single day is a different but exciting challenge! The vets and support staff at the Houston Zoo work hard every day to ensure the health of our more than 6,000 animals. This includes:

Preventive care: Animals are examined routinely and given vaccinations for diseases such as West Nile, Rabies, Tetanus, and Distemper. Yes, this also includes fecal examinations to detect parasites before they become a problem!

Quarantine: Before a new animal is allowed into an exhibit, we must be sure it is healthy. All new animals are quarantined and receive a thorough examination.

Wellness physical examinations: Veterinary staff performs routine physicals on Zoo animals, including blood analysis, dental work, TB testing, and bank blood serum or plasma for future needs.

Treatment: When an animal has a medical problem, the vet staff is there to help by providing necessary medical treatment, including diagnostic testing, writing prescriptions, and doing surgery. We also consult with outside specialists when needed to be sure all our animals receive the best care possible.

Rudi the Orangutan Gets His Heart Checked

About the Animal Hospital

The Denton A. Cooley Animal Hospital, built in 1985, is open 365 days a year to serve the animals of the Houston Zoo. Here you’ll find radiology, ultrasound, surgery, laboratory, treatment, examination areas, a diet preparation kitchen, and housing for species ranging from tiny amphibians to antelope!

Meet the Vet: Dr Joe

Dr. Joe Flanagan

Dr. Joe is one of 4 vets at the Zoo and has tended to the health care needs of Houston Zoo animals since 1982. His reptile and amphibian expertise has taken him to the Galapagos Islands, home of the Charles Darwin Scientific Station and Galapagos National Park, where he provided assistance in the health assessment of birds and tortoises. He also donates his time along with the other vet staff (in partnership with the NMFS Galveston Lab Sea Turtle Facility) to help injured sea turtles, removing hooks, rehabilitating them, and releasing them into the Gulf!

American Association of Zoo Keepers

This nonprofit, volunteer organization is made up of professional zoo keepers and other people dedicated to professional animal care and conservation. They are a resource for professional development, enrichment, training, and conservation for zoo keepers and animal care professionals. Follow our Greater Houston Chapter on Facebook to keep updated on important happenings!

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Animal Care