New @ The Zoo
Meet The Animals
Provide for the care and feeding of the Houston Zoo’s animal ambassadors and help protect their most vulnerable wild counterparts! Provide & Protect gives individuals and organizations the opportunity to make a substantial philanthropic gift of $500 or more that has an enduring effect on the Zoo and critical conservation efforts around the world.
The animals featured below live healthy, enriched lives at the Zoo thanks to the dedication of our friends and donors. In the wild, these species face tremendous adversity to their survival. Your generous contribution will be used where it’s needed most to care for animals at the Zoo and support our conservation partners in the field.
Residing in the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, the Houston Zoo’s eight Asian elephants – Thai, Methai, Shanti, Tess, Tucker, Tupelo, Baylor, and Duncan – amaze every guest with their size and intelligence. Our elephant care team has a combined 100 years of elephant experience to care for these precious pachyderms.
Each elephant receives a daily bath and their 80,000 gallon play pool gets plenty of use. Good thing, too, because they are fond of covering themselves in dirt and mud! We periodically add sand to their habitat to encourage this natural behavior and to keep the ground soft to maintain good foot health. Our keepers have developed close bonds with each elephant, allowing them to teach behaviors that help our veterinarian team conduct routine exams.
The Malaysian island of Borneo is one of the few places in the world that supports Asian elephant populations. Sadly, habitat loss due to the destruction of forests to build palm oil plantations has led to increased human-elephant conflicts. For this and other reasons such as poaching, Asian elephant numbers have declined by 50 percent or more over the last 75 years.
The Houston Zoo supports the Kinabatangan Elephant Conservation Unit which works with local communities in Borneo to raise awareness and give farmers tools to create elephant-friendly crop protection. We also provide funding for radio collars, camera traps, and graduate student scholarships for the Danau Girang Field Centre, which is conducting the first-ever population biology study of the Bornean elephant.
African painted dogs are one of the natural world’s most social canine species. Living in close-knit packs, painted dogs use a variety of vocalizations to coordinate their hunts. Their unusually large ears are excellent at picking up noise from far away and may help radiate heat.
Our veterinarians provide regular health examinations for our two painted dogs, Mikita and Blaze. Just as important, enrichment is used to encourage their natural instinct to hunt. For example, a goat carcass hanging above their habitat from a rope allows our pair of painted dogs to work together to bring down their “prey.”
In the wild, African painted dogs once ranged throughout sub-Saharan Africa with a population approaching nearly 500,000. Today, less than 7,000 painted dogs can be found in a handful of fragmented habitats in Africa. Fierce competition with other carnivores for food has certainly impacted painted dog numbers, but humans pose the greatest threat to their survival. Open snare-wire traps set by poachers have a particularly devastating impact.
The Houston Zoo works closely with Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) in Zimbabwe to preserve that nation’s status as a stronghold for painted dogs. PDC employs several conservation programs, including the deployment of anti-poaching units, rehabilitating injured painted dogs and reintroducing them to the wild, pack monitoring, and education outreach efforts. This combination of thwarting present threats while instilling a culture of conservation in young learners means PDC is building a better future for African painted dogs.
In the Malay language, “orangutan” means “man of the forest,” an apt name given that these great apes spend much of their lives climbing through the thick jungle canopies of Borneo and Sumatra. The Zoo’s orangutan habitat is built so that male Rudi and females Cheyenne, Kelly, Indah, and Aurora have plenty of climbing and swinging opportunities.
We go to great lengths to ensure these highly intelligent beings receive excellent care. No story illustrates this dedication better than that of baby Aurora. Soon after she was born in March 2011, mother Kelly abandoned Aurora, refusing to care for her newborn. After the decision was made to temporarily hand-rear Aurora, 50 trained staff and volunteers began providing round-the-clock care over the next 302 days. Eventually, Cheyenne stepped into the role of surrogate mother and now provides the motherly attention that young Aurora needs.
Orangutans depend on healthy rainforests for their survival, therefore the loss of pristine habitat due to logging and palm oil agriculture has greatly accelerated the decline of orangutans in the wild. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the number of orangutans living on Borneo has decreased more than 50% over the last 60 years.
To reverse this trend, the HUTAN-Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Program (KOCP) was established in 1998. KOCP is studying the effects that habitat fragmentation and destruction has on orangutans while using outreach to local communities to promote coexistence with orangutans. One of their most important findings has shown that there is an urgent need to re-connect forests that have been fragmented by palm oil plantations and logging. The more orangutans are isolated from each other, the less likely they are to survive as a species.
Some say cats and dogs can’t get along, but don’t tell that to the Houston Zoo’s cheetah brothers. Since they arrived at the Zoo in 2007, Kito and Kiburi have lived with Taji, a female Anatolian shepherd dog that assists our carnivore keepers in caring for the brothers by taking on a guardianship role. She regularly accompanies Kito and Kiburi on morning walks. Because there’s always interesting smells, sounds, and things to see at the Zoo, these walks help stimulate Kito and Kiburi’s keen senses.
Cheetahs are most well-known for their speed, so to really stretch their legs Kito and Kiburi are taken to the Houston Dynamo’s practice field where they chase a lure pulled by a high-speed winch. They’ve been clocked going as fast as 42 miles per hour, and even Taji gets in on the action!
Cheetahs once ranged widely from South Africa to India. Today, Southern and Eastern Africa remain the only strongholds for this species and even these regions are seeing the decline of cheetah populations. The most significant threat facing cheetahs in the wild is conflict with farmers who retaliate against cheetahs that prey on livestock.
Since 2008, the Houston Zoo has supported Cheetah Conservation Botswana (CCB), an organization dedicated to preserving that country’s cheetah population. To that end, CCB has reduced human-wildlife conflict through a program that provides farmers with guard dogs to protect their livestock. CCB has found that farmers who normally lost up to 40 livestock annually now only lose one or two thanks to the guard dogs. In turn, this has reduced the number of retaliatory killings against cheetahs.
It’s not uncommon for a guest of the Houston Zoo to have never heard of the Baird’s tapir before their visit. But once they see Noah in his habitat, he quickly garners the affection of our guests due to his stubby snout. Noah begins his day with breakfast in his barn and a check-up by his keepers. Tapirs are comfortable in water and Noah is especially fond of being sprayed with a garden hose; so much so that he vocalizes continuously as he trots through the spray. To provide further enrichment, his keepers may add interesting smells to his habitat like spices or cologne.
Noah’s habitat was renovated in early 2014 to add more foraging area and a stream to cool off during hot summer months. In addition, the expanded space allows for a family of capybara to share the habitat, which makes life more interesting for both species.
There are four species of tapir living in South America and all are listed as either vulnerable or endangered. Habitat loss from deforestation poses a significant threat, as does disease spread by domestic cattle and illegal hunting. In three generations, the tapir population in South America has declined by 50%.
The Houston Zoo partners with the Lowland Tapir Project in Brazil to support research that’s leading to a better understanding of how large herbivores such as tapirs play a role in maintaining a healthy biodiversity in their native habitats. The Lowland Tapir Project works in Brazil’s Morro de Diablo State Park, collecting data related to tapirs such as their movement patterns, population demographics, and genetic profiles.
If you didn’t see Tarak and Suksn on your last visit to the Houston Zoo, you may not have been looking high enough. Like most clouded leopards, these two love climbing and will often hang upside down from tree limbs using their tails for balance. We’ve arranged their habitat in such a way that Tarak and Suksn can climb very high to encourage this natural behavior.
The care we provide for our clouded leopards is unique among the Zoo’s big cats in that our keepers spent time every day with Tarak and Suksn in their habitat when they first arrived, helping them become accustomed to their surroundings and more comfortable when undergoing routine health exams.
Named for their spotted coats, clouded leopards are the smallest of the large cats. They are extremely elusive in the wild, making it more difficult for conservationists in the field to conduct population surveys. However, we do know that clouded leopards are suffering the consequences of poaching for their coats, the pet trade, and habitat loss due to growing demand for palm oil.
More research is needed to better understand the impact of these effects, which is why the Houston Zoo supports the Borneo Small Carnivore Program. Through the use of tools like camera traps and GPS collars, this research is leading to a better understanding of the current condition of clouded leopards in the wild.
Jonathan and three lionesses, Uzima, Nimue and Matungulu (Mattie), make up the Houston Zoo’s African lion pride. On your next trip to the Zoo, stop by the training window at the lion habitat to watch our carnivore keepers care for these big cats. While entertaining for guests, the training window allows keepers to teach behaviors such as placing a paw on the wire mesh for inspection.
Providing mental stimulation is an important part of caring for our lions, so we use enrichment to encourage their natural hunting instincts. For instance, sometimes our keepers will dangle a tempting chunk meat from a zip-line for the pride to pounce. New odors added to their habitat engage their strong sense of smell – Jonathan in particular loves to roll around in feces from our Ankole cattle!
Despite their fearsome reputation as the “King of Beasts,” lion populations are declining rapidly with less than 30,000 remaining in Africa. The Houston Zoo has been a long-time partner of the Niassa Lion Project (NLP), which works to save large carnivores in Mozambique’s Niassa National Reserve.
This vast expanse of wilderness is home to one third of Mozambique’s lion population, but such concentrations lead to conflict with human communities. We support NLP’s efforts to promote co-existence with lions through their long-term approach that focuses on the well-being of people as well as animals. For example, NLP is currently testing the viability of “living fences” made of thorny native plants that are easy to maintain and protect both lions and villagers’ livestock.
After years of work and planning, we look forward to welcoming gorillas back to the Houston Zoo in 2015! The newest major expansion of the Zoo, Gorillas of the African Forest, aims to immerse guests in the world of these incredibly intelligent and powerful primates.
While the $29 million habitat is still under construction, our first band of gorillas is currently residing at the Louisville Zoo. In the meantime, we have sent primate keepers to Louisville to begin working closely with the gorillas to ease the transition to their new lives at the Houston Zoo. As with all of our primates, our keepers and veterinary team will work diligently to ensure gorillas thrive in their new habitat through enrichment and expert healthcare.
With all four gorilla species and subspecies classified as endangered or critically endangered, there is an urgent need to save gorillas in the wild. Gorillas are threatened by habitat loss, war, poaching, and the illegal pet and bushmeat trades. We treasure our partnership with the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE) Center in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The first facility of its kind in east central Africa, GRACE can house up to 15 orphaned gorillas in 350 acres of natural habitat. Orphaned gorillas are often the result of poaching or having been taken from the wild as an infant for use in the pet trade. GRACE provides a safe haven for these gorillas so that they may form healthy bonds with each other and learn survival skills before being released into the wild.
Our three young and rambunctious rhino boys – George, Indy, and Mumbles – came to the Houston Zoo in 2013. Since then, they’ve taken well to their new role as ambassadors for a species that faces dwindling numbers in the wild. Each morning the rhinos are brought inside for breakfast and receive a quick visual check-up from their keepers. These rhinos love to roughhouse, which can occasionally cause superficial scrapes so our keepers make sure to apply topical treatments as needed.
A few showers each week helps their keepers get a better look at their hooves and skin. But the rhino boys aren’t clean for too long once they start playing in their mud wallow pit! For rhinos, mud makes an ideal sunblock and bug repellant. Having multiple species in a habitat is enriching for both guests and animals, so George, Indy, and Mumbles share their space with kudu antelope.
It’s difficult to imagine iconic animals like rhinos disappearing from the wild, but all five rhino species (black, white, Indian, Javan, and Sumatran) face threats to their future existence. As tough as rhinos are, they are no match for the insatiable demand for their horns, which in some cultures are mistakenly believed to have medicinal benefits. One need only look at the western black rhino, declared extinct in 2011, to see that the consequences of poaching are terrible and permanent.
The Houston Zoo partners with the International Rhino Foundation (IRF) to support urgently needed conservation efforts. IRF is working to save all five remaining species of rhino and their habitats. While there is still much work to be done, IRF’s work has helped stabilize black and white rhino populations in Africa.
The Houston Zoo is home to crowned, red-fronted, ring-tailed, and Coquerel’s sifaka (pronounced “she-fahk”) lemurs. Having a variety of lemur species allows us to show how diverse lemur populations are in the wild; by some estimates, there are over 100 different species of lemur that can be found on the island of Madagascar!
The births of sifaka and ring-tailed lemur babies in 2013 and 2014 kept our primate keepers busy making sure each one grows healthy. The first three days of life for a lemur baby are critical, so they are weighed daily to make sure they are gaining weight. To feed our growing family, our Horticulture team collects browse grown on Zoo grounds and brings it to our animal nutrition specialists for inspection and cleaning. This browse makes up about half of the daily diet for our sifakas.
Lemurs count among the many species of plants and animals that are endemic to Madagascar, an island nation just slightly smaller than Texas in terms of square miles. It is one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, yet ongoing environmental problems could spell the end for numerous native animals, including lemurs. Most species of lemur are endangered or vulnerable, primarily due to habitat destruction and hunting. Forests are cleared to make way for subsistence farming and pastures for grazing cattle. Illegal logging for rare hardwoods also takes its toll.
The Houston Zoo partners with GERP, whose name, translated from French, is the Primates of Madagascar Research and Study Group. Our support of GERP since November 2013 has resulted in several successes, including the translocation of a crowned sifaka group to a better habitat and the reforestation of 12,000 trees.
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