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You may not have heard of a banteng, which is a species of wild cattle found only in Southeast Asia, but there’s a good reason for that – there is not much information that exists about them. The Borneo banteng, Bos javanicus lowi, is one of the rarer endangered large mammals in Sabah (Malaysia, Borneo) yet very little is known of their ecology or exact population size. Current estimates of the island’s population place the number of individuals at around 550 with a trend that is in decline.
The Houston Zoo is working with the Danau Girang Field Centre and Sabah Wildlife Department to do a field study on bantengs in order to capture baseline data on the demographics, population, genetic structure, and reproductive dynamics of this important animal. We hope to establish an overview of herd population dynamics, the movement of herds, and where they are distributed; assess the importance of mineral licks and water sources; and create a catalog of images and information through tracking collars and remote camera traps.
Even though there are no gorillas at the Zoo, we believe it is critically important to raise awareness of the plight of gorillas in the wild and to save them from extinction. The Houston Zoo supports the Gorilla Doctors project to do just that.
Gorilla Doctors: Saving a Species One Gorilla at a Time
The Gorilla Doctors are dedicated to saving the lives of critically-endangered mountain and Grauer’s gorillas through health care. Our international team of veterinarians is the only group providing these animals with direct, hands-on care in the wild.
With approximately 800 mountain gorillas left in the world today, it is critical to ensure the health and well-being of every individual gorilla. The distribution of gorillas includes the Virunga Volcanoes Massif, which spans Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, DR Congo’s Virunga National Park, Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
Gorilla Doctors also focus on human health in one of the most densely populated regions in Africa. Recognizing that the health of the gorillas is inextricably linked to that of the entire ecosystem, in addition to providing life-saving care, our veterinary team further protects gorillas by supporting health programs for people and their animals living and working in and around gorilla habitat.
The two most prominent species on Borneo, the world’s third largest island, are the orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) and the Asian elephant(Elephas maximus), both of which are classified as Endangered and have lost significant habitat to logging and the subsequent conversion of natural forest to oil palm plantations. The only hope for these animals is that remaining forests be included within the national protected area systems of Indonesia and Malaysia – the two principal countries into which Borneo is divided.
In the state of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, the Houston Zoo has partnered with the French non-governmental organization Hutan, the Sabah Wildlife Department, and several other zoological parks here in the United States to support conservation programs in and around the 27,000-hectare Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. One of these critical projects is Hutan’s Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP). This project is run entirely by trained staff from the nearby village of Sukau. Priorities and goals include:
Giant tortoises are thought to have numbered in the tens of thousands before pirates and whalers began removing them for food on the Galapagos Islands. As a result of the over-exploitation in past centuries, tortoises were believed to be extinct on Pinta, one of the islands in the Galapagos, during much of the past century. Though Lonesome George, a Galapagos tortoise, was discovered on the island in 1971, he was removed in 1972 and transported to another island to ensure his safety. The introduction of 40,000 goats in 1959 also greatly affected the ecosystem, and while they have been gone since 2003, the damage has been considerable.
Dr. Joe Flanagan, a veterinarian at the Houston Zoo, has been working with other vets from the US and Galapagos National Park to get giant tortoises back to the island in order to restore balance to the ecosystem. In 2009, preparation began for this project: they quarantined the turtles to ensure they were not carrying invasive plant species with them, and they had to be sterilized to ensure hybrid species would not create hybrid young. In May 2010, they released 39 tortoises onto the island. Dr. Joe and the Houston Zoo continue even today to work with conservation partners to ensure the successful reintroduction of tortoises to the island of Pinta.
Lions once roamed freely across most parts of Africa. Having already disappeared from northern Africa, they are now found only in parts of southern and eastern Africa and in the southern part of the Sahara desert. With only 23,000-40,000 lions remaining in the wild, the African lion population is only a fractionof what it was in the early 1950s. Mozambique’s Niassa National Reserve is home to one of only five healthy lion populations left on the continent.
Niassa Lion Project’s strategy for helping lions in the wild is twofold: first, researchers track and vaccinate lions in order to help support population growth. Second, they work with locals through community outreach and education on how to safely live with lions.
We assist the Niassa Lion Project by:
Donate to help lions in the wild:
In recent years, conservation biologists have drawn our attention to a worldwide decline in wild populations of frogs, toads, and salamanders - a phenomenon that has come to be called the Global Amphibian Crisis. While habitat loss is still considered the most serious threat to the majority of species, especially in the humid tropical forest regions of the world, a fungal disease known as chytrid has been identified as being exceptionally deadly to amphibians.
The Houston Zoo has joined a number of other AZA zoos and aquariums, academic institutions, and international conservation organizations to establish the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in central Panama, one of the regions where the chytrid epidemic has erupted. Half of the center is devoted to quarantine, treatment, and captive breeding efforts, and the other half is open to the public, with exhibits showcasing the native Panamanian species of frog.
There are four living species of tapir; three in Latin America: Baird’s, Lowland, and Mountain and the Malayan Tapir of Southeast Asia. All of these are classified as either vulnerable or endangered. These animals play a critical role in shaping and maintaining the biological diversity of tropical ecosystems. Because of their size and sensitivity to changes in their environment, they are among the first species in a habitat to be affected by human disturbance.
The Houston Zoo has partnered with the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group in supporting field research on the ecology of the world’s threatened tapir species, genus Tapirus. We work closely with Patricia Medici, this group’s Chair, in supporting a Lowland Tapir Project in Brazil’s Morro de Diabo State Park. The goal is to help researchers determine the influence of large herbivores on neotropical forests. This data will allow biologists to quantify the influence that large herbivores like tapirs have on forest structure and species diversity, and ultimately help them develop management plans that are designed to prevent the disappearance of these animals.
The Zoo is home to a large, healthy group of chimpanzees, and it’s not hard to find lots of great photo and video of chimpanzees on television or the web. It would seem like the wild population of chimpanzees would be pretty stable then, right? Wrong. Chimpanzee populations are declining at an alarming rate in the wild, and here are the projects Houston Zoo is supporting to help stop it:
Two of the world’s five rhinoceros species are found in Africa, the white rhino (Ceratotherium simum) and the black rhino (Diceros bicornis). Both are victims of illegal hunting, which is done for the sole purpose of obtaining their horns. Rhino horn is used to concoct traditional medicines in Asia and to produce ceremonial dagger handles in certain Middle Eastern countries.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, the white rhino was perhaps the most endangered of the five rhino species, but it has rebounded to a population of more than 11,000 thanks to successful conservation efforts both in captivity and in the wild, and the species is no longer considered threatened. The black rhino, by comparison, has been seriously reduced in numbers to only a few thousand individuals in Africa’s Miombo-Mopane Wilderness region and is listed as Critically Endangered by IUCN-The World Conservation Union.
In response to the critical situation facing Africa’s black rhino, the Houston Zoo has joined with the International Rhino Foundation to support the return of this species to Botswana, a country in which it used to occur, but from which it has been extirpated (wiped out). We have pledged $150,000 to help launch this ambitious project. The funds will be used to repair fences that protect remaining black rhino populations and to better equip anti-poaching unit.
Painted dogs, also known as African wild dogs, have been decreasing in range and number in Africa – a 1992 study showed that during the 2 years the study was conducted, human-induced incidents from snares, shootings, and road kills accounted for 95% of all painted dog mortalities. There was also a problem with lack of education on these animals in the local community – unless these situations were addressed, the species would become extinct.
The Houston Zoo supports Painted Dog Conservation (PDC), the organization that conducted the 2 year study. Now, it has developed an experiential education program for local children that is linked to their national curriculum. A community development officer from PDC also visits local schools to teach children about conservation of natural resources, including wildlife. They also developed a program to make sculptures out of snare wire removed from the bush by Anti-Poaching Units.
If you’ve ever been to our Zoo, you’ve probably noticed the largest animals in our collection: Asian Elephants. These majestic creatures are struggling to survive in the wild, and we partner with two important organizations to ensure elephants will exist for a long time to come.
Due to conflict with humans, cheetah numbers have plummeted by 90% in the last century. Botswana has one of the last free-ranging cheetah populations in the world, making it an essential stronghold for the future of the species. Unable to compete with healthy populations of more powerful predators in reserves, Botswana’s cheetahs are forced to live closer to villages where human/predator conflict jeopardizes their survival.
The Houston Zoo supports the work of Cheetah Conservation Botswana, an organization that aims to preserve the nation’s cheetah population through scientific research, community outreach and education, working with rural communities to promote coexistence with Botswana’s rich diversity of predator species. We offer funding for both operating support and educational programming.
Clouded leopards, as well as a whole host of other carnivores such as leopard cats, sun bears, and civets live in a place in Borneo (Southeast Asia) called the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. Many of these carnivores, including the clouded leopard, are considered threatened. For the survival of these species, it will be critical to understand how these animals are distributed, as well as understand how many of these animals are left in this area.
The Houston Zoo is partnering with Sabah Wildlife Department, Danau Girang Field Centre, Cardiff University, HUTAN, and the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the University of Oxford to try to advance the understanding and conservation of these threatened carnivore species. The goal of this program is to determine the distribution and conservation status of these animals in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary.
Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation Program’s Mission: Connecting People. Conserving Wildlife.We support projects in our local community, and we strive to positively impact the efforts of projects worldwide. Our partners are leaders in wildlife conservation and research. They focus on the preservation of wildlife and their habitats by combining conservation with education and promotion of sustainable livelihoods in local communities. Finding ways for humans to peacefully coexist with wildlife and to preserve some of these last wild places is the conservation challenge of our generation. The Houston Zoo partners with conservation organizations around the world to help solve these problems. The goal is to create a future for all biodiversity, including humans, which share space and resources in these fragile landscapes.
The programs we assist with in Asia inspire and empower local communities to preserve Asian wildlife and their habitats. They include everything from training local people to collect data on the ecology and behavior of wild orangutans to restoring relationships between elephants and local communities.
From the islands of the Galapagos to the jungles of Panama, the Zoo is working with partner organizations to ensure the survival of frog populations, return Galapagos tortoises to the island of Pinta where they were previously extinct, and conducting research on how the Brazilian tapir interacts with its environment.