Training 101: Back to Kindergarten

Sometimes we teach an animal how to do something then one day they won’t do it any more. Maybe they forget, maybe they’re confused, we don’t always know why. Regardless of the reason, one way we fix it is to “go back to kindergarten”, a trainer’s term for taking a few steps backward in the process.

After a few sessions of really speedy running, the cheetahs started to slow down. There are a couple ways we could handle this. The first method is to find something else that makes cheetahs want to run fast. Hmmm, what could that be…

Ha Ha. Carnivore keepers think they are SO funny

Cheetahs love to chase things. In fact, they can’t help it, if something is moving, they want to chase it. When they were little, one of their favorite games was to chase a ball. Ta-dah! we found a way to get the cheetahs to run again. And lick the camera, what’s that about?

Training 101: Positive Reinforcement

The principles of animal training are the same for all species, from your dog at home to a cheetah at the zoo. Our favorite training method is positive reinforcement – simply put, when the animal does what the trainer asks, they get something they like (which in the case of cheetahs is a big pile of meat). The animal then makes a positive association with that behavior and wants to do it again.

As I mentioned earlier, we want to show off the cheetah’s speed. Contrary to popular opinion, cheetahs don’t spend their day racing around at 65 mph. Running is a lot of work, especially when your food just sits on a plate waiting for you.

The cheetahs were already trained to come to the trainer when called so we started by calling them out to the front of the exhibit. The faster they run, the bigger the treat. Check out the Cheetah Cam:

Fast running = Big Pile o’ Meat. See, this isn’t that hard.

It's Show Time

the whole gang out for a walk


Some of you may have seen the cheetahs and dogs out in the zoo, but we also wanted to provide some great guest experiences at their exhibit as well. 

We are working on developing a show, for lack of a better word. Now don’t get too excited, there won’t be any dance numbers or costumes – our show will focus on the animals’ amazing adaptations and behaviors.




cheetahs schmeetahs, I need a nap!


So what’s so cool about cheetahs and dogs?

Well, everybody knows cheetahs are fast – in fact, they are the world’s fastest land mammal. So we’ll show off their speed for sure but a few other things as well.

The dogs like to show off that they can do anything cheetahs can do and maybe a few other tricks as well. More on that later…

Beach bunnies, be on the lookout!


 FIND A SEA TURTLE? If you spot a sea turtle during the day digging a nest on a beach in Galveston, it is likely the Kemps ridley, the most critically endangered sea turtle on the planet! To report a nesting sea turtle, hatchlings, sea turtle eggs, or an injured or dead sea turtle on the Texas coast, call toll free:



 1-866-TURTLE-5 !

Forest the Sllooowww Loris

Don't Worry Be Happy
Don't Worry Be Happy

So much here at the Houston Zoo goes unnoticed by the casual visitor. Take for instance my personal favorite Zoo animal, Forest. He’s a slow loris.


Not only does Forest move in super slo mo, he’s usually curled up in a ball in his tree – so he’s tough to spot. But if you can use your Where’s Waldo skills to find him, you won’t forget him.

We adopted him from Moody Gardens after Hurricane Ike.  He’s so calm and laid back that he can live in peace with Asian small-clawed sea otters in the same exhibit. Pretty cool.

If I was an animal I’d be Forest the slow loris.

He’s just like me. He moves around really slow. He’s curled up in a ball most of the time. He even looks like me when I wake up in the morning.

Hit The Snooze Button
Hit The Snooze Button

Find Forest in Natural Encounters next time you visit. You won’t be disappointed.

Check out Forest on Flickr.

Cue the Cheetah Cam!

Hey, that’s a little close, watch out for the —

Don’t worry, no cheetahs or cameras were harmed in this little test. Video is a great tool for animal trainers and we can use it to go back and see what worked and what didn’t work.  We’ve been taking video of the cheetahs and dogs since they arrived here and it also helps us see how much they have improved.

Of course, video also makes a great tool for a blog so we’ll be posting a lot of it here. If you want to see videos or more than just cheetahs and dogs, check out the Houston Zoo’s YouTube channel.

Animal Party Tricks: I can regurgitate my own stomach, who am I?

Animal Party Tricks: I can regurgitate my own stomach, who am I?

spadefootcallingA little random, but did you know that some species of frogs have the ability to regurgitate their entire stomach if they accidentally eat something that is poisonous to them? Once the stomach is outside its body, the frog wipes away the undesirable food with its legs and then GULP, swallows it’s stomach again! That’s really cool people. There are a couple of occasions in which that function could have come in handy for me.

Learn more about cool frog stuff and how you can help keep frogs happy at

Photo courtesy of Paul Crump

You and toads. A match made in heaven.

toadsThey have big googly eyes. They are warty. They kind of resemble Jabba the Hut and they reside under ground for a good part of the year. I know that for most of you (with the exception of 6 year old little boys), they really give you the Icks. Yes, I am speaking of toads, ladies and gentlemen.


The fact of the matter is that even if toads give you the willies, they are important. To you and the planet. What’s not to love about a toad anyways?


They both eat, and are eaten. They play an important role in the food web as both predator and prey, maintaining the delicate balance of nature.


If we didn’t have amphibians, you could be paying $5 for an apple. Amphibians eat pest insects, benefiting successful agriculture around the world and minimizing the spread of diseases, including Malaria and West Nile Virus.

The skin of amphibians has substances that protect them from some microbes and viruses, offering possible medical cures for a variety of human diseases, including AIDS.



Biologists refer to amphibians as “the canary in the coal mine”.They are among the first species to be affected by environmental stressors; so when they show declines in the wild, it serves as a warning to other species, including humans.


Frogs have had a special place in various human cultures for centuries, cherished as agents of life and good luck.


The Houston Zoo is involved in 2 primary amphibian conservation projects, Houston toads and Panamanian Amphibians.


Photo courtesy of Rachel Rommel

Mosquitoes. Leg swallowing mud. Sea gull poop.

Mosquitoes. Leg swallowing mud. Sea gull poop. Sticky heat. Third degree sun burns.

These are all of the joys of studying terrapins in Galveston Bay. The Diamondback terrapin, a brackish water, blue-headed, polka dotted, fabulous little turtle, is much smarter than us. They are buried in the mud when the sun pokes out in the mid to late morning. These guys dig down in the marshy mud to keep cool and sleep the day away amongst cord grass, irritated crabs, and periwinkle snails.

In the spring I may also assume they are attempting to escape the incoming bomb raid of feces and the shreeking laughter of sea gulls. A rainshower of gull and various other sea bird poop narrowly missed my head at least 60 times yesterday. Although we managed to escape unscathed today, I did hear another girl did not fair so well last week. She was hit multiple times.

Read more about Diamondback terrapin research at

Photo courtesy of Paul Crump


What do you know about orangutans?

orangs-featured-200x3001The Orangutan is a fascinating ape which is in serious decline on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo – the only two places on earth they can be found in the wild. “Orangutan” in the native language means “people (orang) of the forest (utan or hutan).” Their decline is mostly due to habitat loss, development and hunting pressures. It is believed that if this rate of decline and habitat fragmentation continues, we will lose the orangutan within the next 50 years.

Out of Malaysia and Indonesia comes a long told myth about the evolution of the orangutan:

Long ago, human beings (or orangs) lived in the virgin jungles of Borneo. They stayed in groups, sharing their long houses, subsisting on plants and animals provided by Mother Nature.

Within the different groups, this peaceful way of life was however troubled by all sorts of troubles and conflicts involving treacheries, malices, gossips and other problems that are specific to our species. A peace-loving minority of orangs decided to split from the major group in order to escape the clamors of the village life and went deep into the jungle. They established a new home and lived happily for years.

More and more orangs from their former community decided to join this idyllic existence, up to a point that the newly created village became overcrowded and full with problems that follow humans at all times and places (pollution, noise, habitat destruction, cruelty and meanness). The original group decided to break up from their populations one more time and wandered far away from this place. They established themselves on the mountains where life was paradise.

Of course they didn’t stay on their own for long – more and more people joined them and troubled this peaceful existence. Fed up beyond belief, the original orangs decided that enough was enough – because they wouldn’t be able to find peace below the trees, they decided to climb up to the treetop and to settle down in the forest canopy. They also decided to not have any kind of relations with ground-dwelling orangs any more.

From this day, this group became the orang-utans, or “people of the forest”.

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