Borneo Travel Log, Part 4

This article is part of a series of journal entries by Natural Encounters Supervisor, Amanda Daly, on her recent trip to visit the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project in Borneo.

22 May 2009: Goodbye, Danau Girang.

We heard Phoebe’s reassuring croak a couple of hours before dawn. Maybe little Pisang was having a bad dream. Maybe she dreamed about macaques.

The sun rose to the now-familiar sound of bearded pigs chomping sengkuang pits. Hoping for one more glimpse of Phoebe and Pisang, Martina and I slipped out of our bunks and went outside to scan the trees from the path in front of the cabin. The macaques were arriving from their sleeping trees at the river, blithely crossing the path and making their way around the cabin to get some fruit. Up in the highest branch of the sengkuang tree, we could see an indistinct rusty brown shape broken up by the leaves. Orangutans are big animals. It’s amazing how well they blend in.

It's amazing how well orangutans blend in.
It's amazing how well orangutans blend in.

It was hard to tell for sure from a distance, but this orangutan looked too small to be Phoebe. Also, we weren’t hearing any Pisang noises. Rachel Henson had told us the previous day that Phoebe was often followed at a distance by an adolescent daughter. After several minutes, Martina, quite sensibly, went back to bed. Orangutan freak that I am, I stood peering over the cabin for at least half an hour until the orangutan slid down her branch and I could get a clear look at her. Yes! She was just the right size to be a young female and she definitely wasn’t carrying a baby. I watched her negotiate the macaque-filled branches to leave the sengkuang tree and melt back into the forest. Our third wild orangutan and we hadn’t even made it to Sukau where we were actually expecting to see orangutans.

We had breakfast: noodles and Nescafé. Malaysians tend to eat the same dishes for breakfast as they do for lunch and dinner, all of it good. And Nescafé is huge. It’s practically synonymous with coffee. It was our last morning with the researchers and staff of Danau Girang sitting family style around a long table and I felt sentimental. We listened to Rachel Hensen and her fellow research assistant, Chloe Parker relate their adventures with a wild rat that hadguesthouse-featured taken to breaking into their cabin and shredding Rachel’s – only Rachel’s – clothes. As animal lovers and conservationists, their options for dealing with the rat were more or less limited to excluding the rat from the cabin or relocating the rat far away, neither of which had worked so far.

College undergraduates from Cardiff University, Rachel and Chloe are the first research assistants to work at Danau Girang. As their school year was drawing to a close, it was clear that they had set high standards for the next year’s assistants to live up to and had gained great insight into how field research is conducted.

Two more orangutans over the guest house, a mother and small baby, younger than Pisang! No one had seen them before! No one could believe our luck! Our wet clothes packed away, we filled the interval between lunch and leaving standing out in the long grass by the guest cabin with Marc’s binoculars, Min experimenting with her new camera, snapping photos of the pair.  One more orangutan and sengkuang tree would have been even with the collection at the Houston Zoo!

Houston Toad News

Houston Toads are all over the news this week after a recent release of 140 headstarted Houston Toads in Bastrop County and 220 in Austin County – check out the nice article in the Austin American Statesman:

and then catch both article and video on the Animal Planet Blog site:

Behind the Scenes: The Fun Part

Breakfast is done, the yard is clean, now what? Well, it almost 9:00 so its time for the cheetahs to head back outside.


Before we leave the building, we update the dry erase board so that anyone who comes in the barn knows where all the animals are.

dry erase board
translation: dogs are in the back and side yards, cheetahs have access to the exhibit and barn
Next time: What will the cheetahs get for enrichment today?

A Malaysian tale: The Orang-utan

We ran this back in May 2009 but thought we would reprint for some of our newer blog visitors:

The 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.

A Malaysian tale: The Orang-utan

Simon_figsLong ago, human beings (or orangs in Malay) 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 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” and today can only be found living among the trees.

Monarch Mania!

monarch2Every fall thousands and thousands of amazingly beautiful winged invertebrates cross our massive state on their migration from Canada to Central Mexico. Some fly as far as 3,000 miles!

Monarchs- like some some birds and mammals travel far south in the fall to reach warmer climates with abundant food. Most come from Canada and the northern U.S. Somehow they find thier way to fir forests that grow high in the mountains of Central Mexico. Over winter, they roost together in large numbers among the branches. In the spring, they return to Texas and the southern U.S. lay eggs on milkweeds and die. The young then hatch and mature into adults butterflies, which continue northward. By September and October, great-grandchildren (and sometimes great-great-grandchildren of the monarchs that migrated the previous fall arrive back in Canada and the northern U.S. Then the cycle begins again!

Did you know?

  • The monarch is Texas’ state insect!
  • Adult monarchs that hatch in the fall can live op to eight months. Adults that hatch in the spring and summer live only four to six weeks.
  • A butterfly drinks through its straw-like mouth (probiscsis) but tastes with its feet!

Fun Fact: Scientists who study butterflies and moths are called lepidopterists.

Monitor Monarch Butterflies through the Texas Nature Trackers program!



Taken from article “Mysterious Monarchs”, Keep Texas Wild, Vol 2, Issue 2, October 2009
Photo courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

National Public Lands Day- Lend a helping hand!

DSC_0077National Public Lands Day Event Scheduled in
Big Thicket National Preserve 

Village Creek clean-up planned for September 26.

 Saturday, September  26, is National Public Lands Day.  Volunteers all across the country will be participating in projects to improve public lands. Big Thicket National Preserve and the National Parks Conservation Association are hosting a clean-up of Village Creek on that day.  Join park staff to remove trash from several boat launch sites, or bring your own canoe or kayak and pick up trash along the creek.

For more information, contact NPCA event coordinator Suzanne Dixon at or 214-383-5381, or Mary Kay Manning at or 409-951-6720.

Behind the Scenes: Cleanup Crew

So all that food is great, but what goes in must come out.  The next part of the morning routine is cleaning the yard. Kevin heads out into the yard in search of poop…

Next we’re off in search of the prize. Overnight rain means everything is a little bit mushy.

And here are our spoils for the whole day – if only I could have gotten t the Smell-o-Vision working…

its a dirty job
its a dirty job

Oh wait, I think I found one more pile

and that's why they pay me the big bucks
and that's why they pay me the big bucks

*This is part 4/4 in our CheetahDog Blog Giveaway. Post a comment and you’ll be entered to win two free tickets to the Zoo! If you answer all 4 in this series, your chances of winning increase.

Behind the Scenes: Breakfast Part 2

In the last post we told you all about what the cheetahs get for breakfast, so now its time to deliver.

You’ll see that the cheetahs are excited to get their breakfast each morning and we use this as part of their training to get them to come inside. The great outdoors is way more interesting but sometimes we need to lock them in the barn to get work done or if there is bad weather. If they always get a big bowl of food inside, then INSIDE=GOOD TIMES and they are eager to come for us each day.

And now its Kiburi’s turn

Next time: Cleaning the yard. Hopefully the Smell-O-Vision will be up and running by then.

*This is part 3/4 in our CheetahDog Blog Giveaway. Post a comment and you’ll be entered to win two free tickets to the Zoo! If you answer all 4 in this series, your chances of winning increase.

Behind the Scenes: Breakfast of Champions

After we check on everyone in the morning, the first task of the day is breakfast. As you can see, the kitchen at the cheetah barn is quite cozy. That’s Carnivore Supervisor Kevin making breakfast today.

cheetah barn kitchen-featured
time to make the donuts...

It does have everything a cheetah keeper would need though – brushes, leashes, dog food, tools, cleaning supplies, and safety equipment.

cheetah barn kitchen wall

Mmmmm yummy!

*This is part 2/4 in our CheetahDog Blog Giveaway. Post a comment and you’ll be entered to win two free tickets to the Zoo! If you answer all 4 in this series, your chances of winning increase.

Get the Lead Out! E-Waste


Computers, Monitors, T.V.’s

E-waste accounts for 70% of toxic waste in landfills. For example, each computer monitor contains between 4 to 8 pound of lead, a well as other toxic materials that are harmful to the earth. These toxins can contaminate soil and drinking water and affect human health, plant and animal health.






Most manufacturers have “take-back” programs and will recycle your computer at little or no cost.


Maintain and keep your computer as long as possible. Only replace parts when necessary. When upgrading a TV, donate your old one if it still works. If not, recycle it.


Think about what you really need when buying a computer. Do you need the whole system or just a new hard or memory?

For your closest e-waste recycling center please visit

Information from the Houston-Galveston Regional Recycling & Conservation Guide


Search Blog & Website
[jetpack_subscription_form title="Subscribe to the Blog" subscribe_text="Enter your email address to subscribe and receive new blog posts by email."]
Houston Zoo Facebook Page
Animals In Action

Recent Videos