SOS Cheetah a Huge Success!

Spotlight on Species: Cheetah raised over $800 this weekend for Cheetah Conservation Botswana! Thanks to everyone who came out and saw keeper chats, training demonstrations, enrichment, and our fabulous table of cool cheetah stuff!

someone check the radar gun!
someone check the radar gun!

There was so much going on, this is going to take more than one post. Today we’ll focus on one of my favorites, the lure course. This is the same type of device that is used for racing dogs and cheetahs LOVE it. It turns out our dogs love it too – check out these action shots from Carnivore Supervisor Kevin Hodge.

run Taji run!
run Taji run!

Did you come by for SOS Cheetah? What was your favorite part?

How Do We Keep 55 Acres Watered, Especially Now (Part 3)?

Houston Zoo Horticulture Team Member
Houston Zoo Horticulture Team Member

Efficient, intelligent watering is one of the most important factors in gardening.  Rain is, of course, the most effective method of providing water and normally, we receive close to the perfect amount here in Houston.  This year we haven’t seen near enough rain.  When it comes to providing additional water to your plants, there are a number of things to consider.  The most important thing is to provide less frequent, deep watering.  This promotes healthy root and plant growth and ensures that the plant doesn’t stay saturated. 

We always want to ensure that we aren’t wasting water either, there is only so much available.  Currently there may not even be enough water, anybody that is dealing with water restrictions will agree.  Sidewalks don’t need to be watered; those of us that have irrigation it’s important that we make sure that all of our sprinkler heads are hitting the correct areas.  This also goes for when we are watering from a hose as well; shut-off valves are effective and easy to use. It isn’t necessary to water your porch when you are watering your potted plants.   There are a number of watering wands available also, which have diffuser heads that provide a soft shower of water rather than a jet or stream of water.  When the water pressure is too high, the soil doesn’t take in the water as readily and we displace the soil, which impacts the roots and root hairs limiting the plants ability to take in nutrients and water. 

The most effective time to water is during the early morning hours.  When we water during the heat of the day, most water is lost to evaporation and some plants can actually get burnt.  When we water late at night the plants may not be taking in water as readily and there is the possibility of the plants sitting in water, providing opportunity for infection or damage.  This being said, any time that you see a plant needs water, water it.  If a plant dies, there is no amount of care that you can do to bring it back.  Irrigation with a clock timer is a great way to make certain that you are watering at the proper time and that you don’t accidentally leave the water on wasting vast quantities of water. There is always going to be a degree of adjustment, both initially and seasonally, but irrigation on a clock eliminates a number of problem areas.   Also those of you that have irrigation, will be having irrigation installed or that use a hose and are interested, adding a dechlorinator of some type will be very beneficial.  The chlorine and chloramines in our water wreak havoc with the beneficial micro-organisms in our soils, but we will discuss soils a little later.  

There are number of other things I can discuss about irrigation and hand watering, but I could go on forever.  There is no cut and dry water plan that will be effect for everyone.  Each plant requires different amounts of water, even virtually identical plants.  We need to observe the conditions in our gardens.  There’s a pretty big difference between a wilted and an over-watered plant.  Check your soil.  If the soil feels like it is damp, it probably doesn’t need water.  If it feels dry, then it probably needs water.  If when you water the water just runs off, you may need water a little, let the water absorb and then come back later, when the ground is ready to receive water. 

Hopefully this is effective information.  We’ve kept our 55 acres here at the zoo, with 12 horticulturists pretty well watered using them.  Next time, I’ll be discussing soils and how healthy soils can help in keeping our plants watered and happy.

Article written by: Joe Williams, Manager of Horticulture at the Houston Zoo

You've Got Mail…E-mail

Tired of your snail mail building up?  Go Paperless!
Tired of your snail mail building up? Go Paperless!

E-mail means something different to everyone.  Personally, chcecking it is one of my favorite past times.  I love chatting with friends, hearing about sales, and dreaming of taking vacations to those faraway places!  It is a time of relaxation.  That is why the Houston Zoo gives members the option to go paperless.

Going paperless means that all those flyers and updates the Zoo sends in the mail will now be sent to your computer.  There are almost 33,000 Zoo members-Imagine how much paper could be saved if they all went paperless.

In order to go paperless, just visit the website.  Click go paperless, plug in all your information, and DONE! Reduce all that junk mail in your home mailbox.

Many members enjoy having their Wildlife Magazine sent to their home, so they can look at the pictures as well as showing it off to friends.  NO PROBLEM.  Wildlife Magazine will still be sent to your house even if you opt to have everything else sent to your e-mail.   Going paperless does not affect the magazine being sent to your home.

Have a Green Day!

Whass-a Fossa?

Menacing-eyed fossa
Menacing-eyed fossa

The forests of Madagascar house a lemur-eating predator with retractable claws, a long, thick tail, and menacing amber eyes. With no natural predators on the island, the fossa seems to do what it pleases; it is active both day and night, depending on how it feels on that particular day, it attacks its prey ambush-style, and it maneuvers through the branches of a tree just as easily as it runs along the flat forest floor.

Although much research on fossas began in the 1830s, still relatively little is known about this odd, yet somewhat endearing, cat-weasel-like creature. In fact, scientists have struggled to even observe the fossa in the wild – its agility in the tree branches allows it to move at such high speeds, it is difficult to get a good perspective on its character and lifestyle.


Originally thought to be a variety of wild cat, the fossa has been determined by researchers to have shared a common ancestor with the mongoose. Its central source of food in its natural habitat is lemur, with the fossa’s long tail and sharp claws helping it to balance, cling, and jump through the trees quickly and efficiently.

When female fossas are close to giving birth, they often conveniently construct a den out of a hollowed-out log or an ancient termite mound they come across in their forest habitat. Each litter is comprised of two to four pups that excessively rely on their mother for survival, as they are born with both closed eyes and toothless mouths. Fossa babies become independent after a year with their mothers and don’t stop growing until they reach the age of two.

But because of human influence, two has become an age that not Fossa3many more fossas may live to see. People have cleared out so much of Madagascar’s exclusive forests that less than 10% of the animals’ natural island habitat still remains intact. Many fossas are also killed by angry locals when they feed on farm chickens and by rabies spread by domestic dogs. Although such factors have caused these creatures to become endangered, funds generated by ecotourism and the fact that they are now protected from export and trade may help fossas get back on their feet as the top predators of their island home.

Writer: Stefanie Hanselka

Source 1
Source 2

Cheetah Profile: Kito

I was browsing a recent coworker’s blog entry and saw suggestions in several comments that we provide more in-depth info about our animals. Well, since this blog is devoted to 4 of the most popular animals at the Houston Zoo, I thought I better get started. First up, Kito the Cheetah:

Kito and Taji
Kito loves dogs, he even shares his training snacks with them!

Name: Kito (Swahili for “precious”)

Vital Stats: Kito is a male cheetah and he will be 2 years old in September. As you know from previous entries, he was born in Florida and came to the zoo at just a few days old. He has one brother here at the zoo and a sister in Florida.

Interests: Chasing stuff, napping, hanging out with his friends, teaching people about threats to wild cheetahs

Kito is self confident, with a ready-for-anything attitude and an eagerness to train, all of which makes him a great animal ambassador at the zoo.

kito's tail
BLOG ONLY INFO: you can tell Kito apart from Kiburi by his tail - Kito has a solid black tip with a spot, Kiburi has stripes

Orangutans face habitat loss

There is a nice article in the July 22nd issue of New Scientist which can be seen online at:

There are many issues facing the survival of this species both on Borneo and Sumatra, the only two places in the world wild orangutans exist. Habitat loss and severly fragmented habitat from logging and palm oil plantations have taken a heavy toll on the islands populations. Many young animals in both Indonesia and Malaysia end up in rescue centers. These animals are difficult to rehabilitate for release and there are very few places left for them to be released to.

The Houston Zoo actively supports both the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Program and elephant studies based out of the Danau Girang Field Centre. For more on these programs, go to: and

Map from New Scientist Article, Sabah, Borneo (Malaysia)
Map from New Scientist Article, Sabah, Borneo (Malaysia)

Images of Africa

Please join the Houston Zoo and Houston photographer Paul Swen in supporting wildlife conservation through: Images of Africa
Nearly 40 images of Africa and Houston Zoo wildlife are available at
Masharafa: A male lion of Tanzania relaxes after a successful hunt and feeding. The title is derived from the slang used by guides to identify lions

How Do We Keep 55 Acres Watered, Especially Now (Part 2)?

One of many big oak trees at the Houston Zoo
One of many big oak trees at the Houston Zoo

In the my last entry, I wrote about our dense canopy.  Shade is another important means of keeping plants happy during extreme weather.  It not only keeps the air cooler by preventing the intense sun from getting through, but it also helps the soil retain more water.  If it isn’t as hot, will the water evaporate as quickly?  Unfortunately even big trees that provide the shade also require additional water.  Especially when the temperatures are high and a fair number of trees throughout Texas haven’t been hand watered or irrigated because they haven’t needed it until now.  When we experience temperatures near 100 degrees and haven’t had rain, there just isn’t available ground water.  Another drawback to assessing the water requirements of large trees is that by the time they are showing that they need water it can be too late. 

Most plants appear to appreciate shade of whatever type recently.  We have a number of plants that desire full sun, planted in a fair amount of shade.  With the frequency and the intensity of the sun here, most plants will meet their required light needs.   A negative of planting where the light requirements aren’t met is that plants will become “leggy”, stretching towards the sun with a decrease in the amount of foliage.  We haven’t had a big problem with this.  

 Those of us that have attempted vegetable gardens this summer have seen signs of what the heat and sun can do.  Even when the garden is prepared and planted exactly as it’s recommended, our yield is greatly reduced and normally not as appealing.  There are a few vegetables like squash, corn and okra that don’t miss a beat, but plants such as tomatoes and peppers tend not to even set fruit when the temperature is near 100 degrees.  A method that can be utilized is putting some type of shade structure above your plants, so they are protect during the heat of the day.  This could be as simple as tarp on some type of post such as bamboo, 2×2 lumber or anything that keeps the tarp high enough that it doesn’t actually touch the plants.  Tarps are usable, but there are quite a few, very affordable, shade cloth options, which are available at most home improvement stores or garden centers. 

 In summation, when temperatures are this high, plants need shade.  Providing some means of protection from intense sun and heat for your plants could be just enough help to keep them alive and thriving.  Look for my next post, where I discuss irrigation and hand watering.

Article written by: Joe Williams, Manager of Horticulture at the Houston Zoo

All About Cheetahs and Dogs this Saturday!

dog and cheetah at BEC lawn-featured

Come out to the zoo this Saturday to join us for Spotlight on Species (SOS): Cheetahs. SOS is a new event developed by the Houston Zoo Keepers to highlight a the conservation of a particular species at the zoo. Previous events have focused on sifakas and patas monkeys and have been a huge success, raising money for conservation and providing a great opportunity for our guests to get in-depth knowledge about our animals.

The Carnivore staff has big plans, with a day full of keeper chats, training demonstrations, a lure course, and maybe even a meet and greet with Taji the Anatolian Shepherd Dog. We’ll have merchandise for sale (maybe even some original artwork by our cheetahs) with the proceeds benfiting Cheetah Conservation Botswana.


Disclaimer: some of these events will be weather dependent, we don’t ask our animals to do anything strenuous if it is too hot. But don’t worry, we’ll make it worth your time either way. Cheetahs and dogs will definitely be there and so will the staff to answer all your questions.

See you Saturday!

What Came First, the Giant or the Red?

It’s a raccoon! It’s a cat! It’s…Toby! The adorable…panda? Well of course Toby is a panda, a red panda to be exact. And even though he doesn’t exactly look like the stereotypical, black and white idea of what we think a panda bear should look like (those ones are giant pandas), Toby can claim to have held the highly coveted title of panda first, at least as Westerners know it.

Cutest Animal in the World
Cutest Animal in the World

Although the very first manuscript record of a red panda sighting was discovered within an ancient Chinese scroll dating back to the 1200s, the first time Europeans heard of the animal was in 1821. Thomas Hardwicke was the first to make mention of the red panda in the West, calling it first a “Wah,” because of the noises it makes, and then a “poonya,” a name he had brought back from Asia.

From there, “poonya” became known as “panda” as it evolved into the English language, and the rest is history. But perhaps the most significant detail of this history of the panda namesake is that it wasn’t until 1869 that any mention of the giant panda made its way to European consciousness. Therefore, the very first image that comes to most of our minds when someone says “panda”…is actually out of order in the grand scheme of things.


But hey, that’s okay – Toby’s a good sport about it. He just spends his days hanging around his enclosure in the Natural Encounters building, munching bamboo and fruit, watching all the people that have come to watch him. Yup, climbing trees and napping in a soft, bushy, blanket-like tail sure is the life. After all, Toby does hold one title that the giant panda hasn’t yet touched…he is officially the Cutest Animal in the World!

Writer: Stefanie Hanselka                                                                                                 Source 1 Source 2

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