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Animal Care

Animal Enrichment

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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)

Spring has OFFICIALLY arrived and even the critters at the zoo seem to be enjoying the flowers in bloom! The Natural Encounters department planted several rose bushes as enrichment inside the meerkat exhibit. Not only does this plant enrich the exhibit by changing the scenery up, it also produces new smells for them to investigate. ... See MoreSee Less

2 days ago

Taji the Anatolian Shepherd is one happy dog in her tub filled with hay and her elephant friend. She got to use this as a bed for a few days then it was given to the cheetahs last night so they could snuggle in it when the temperature dropped overnight. Another generous gift from our friends at Signet Interactive. These Rubbermaid tubs can be purchased on the HZI Enrichment Amazon.com wish list for Carnivores. If you have a favorite animal at the zoo check out the department list and consider making a dontaion. Maybe it is a reptile or a bird or even a fish. We enrich all of the animals here at the HoustonZoo. ... See MoreSee Less

5 days ago

Aaron Herridge, Erin Quassa and 23 others like this

Signet InteractiveWe love seeing these photos! Please keep 'em coming - they make our day at the office!1   ·  5 days ago

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Muffin, the Yellow-backed Duiker, is investigating her new Jolly Apple toy. Our amazing friends at Signet Interactive purchased this enrichment from the HZI Amazon enrichment wish list. It is generous donations like this that help us keep the animals here stimualted and busy. ... See MoreSee Less

1 week ago

What The Fauna?, Belinda Binkley and 23 others like this

What The Fauna?Like learning about funny and unique behaviors in the animal kingdom? Check out WTFauna’s Facebook page!6 days 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)
enrichment

• 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


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!

Learn More

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!

Animal Care