Life Aquatic: Borneo in the rainy season

logodanauTypically when you work in a seasonal floodplain, you expect nothing less than seasonal flooding. But sometimes, the river overflows its banks and intrudes like rarely seen before.

Our partners in Elephant Conservation work out of the Danau Girang Field Centre in the Malaysian State of Sabah on the island of Borneo. Geography Assigment – google a map on find Sabah on the island. The Centre sits on the banks of the Kinabatangan River, a 560km river which runs from the mountains of SW Sabah down to the Sulu Sea. Find this on the map as well, I will wait…

Danau Girang underwater...
Danau Girang underwater...

When I visited last October, the giant meandering river was easily 10feet below the bank. The field house photo below is then another 100-150 yards into the forest. All travel in the area is thankfully by boat but you can imagine how difficult it must be to track elephants, orangutans, and other animals in this environment. Not to mention issues with clean drinking water, flooding generators and whether your clothesline will float away in the night.

I of course cannot forget to mention how much closer this flooding will be bring crocodiles, who normally stay on the riverbanks, to your door now that they think your door is the riverbank.

“Good morning dear, there is a 15 foot crocodile on our front porch”.

“Oh, lovely, invite him in for tea…”

A Date with the Whales of Baja

0002Valentine, Schmalantine! How about romance on the high seas in December instead? Ok, maybe the low seas? Not sure if the Sea of Cortez is high or low but there be Whales there and we are booking cabins now for our December 10-15 tour for our Baja Escape: Exploring the Sea of Cortez tour.

Explore the underwater world of Baja alongside an Undersea Specialist aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird Explorer.

  • Utilize kayaks to uncover the coastal beauty of pristine islands and inlets.
  • Enjoy a beach barbecue under a starry sky.

Escape to a world teeming with wildlife; where the cactuses are the tallest on earth, the island beaches show no footprints except your own, and the setting sun seems to glow orange for hours.


Contact for more information

Tapirs, Brazil and The Pantanal

The Pantanal is the largest inundated plain in the world and is a refuge for endangered species like the jaguar, tamandua, hyacinth macaw, the giant anteater and the giant otter. Covering approximately 160,000 km² of low elevation floodplain of the upper Rio Paraguay and its tributaries, in the center of the South American continent, roughly the size of the United Kingdom.

The dry and wet seasons are a remarkable characteristic of this ecosystem and dictate the rhythm of the incredible wild life sheltered in its ecosystem. There are an estimated 3,500 species of plants, 124 species of mammals, 177 species of reptiles, 41 species of amphibians and at least 423 species of birds. 

The Pantanal is considered “globally outstanding” in terms of biological distinctiveness and “vulnerable” in terms of conservation. The establishment of the long-term lowland tapir project in the Pantanal  region is a very important due to the key role tapirs play in maintaining critical ecosystem functions. As an indicator species, the tapir is critical for the long-term conservation of the Pantanal.

The Houston Zoo has supported Tapir field researcher Patricia Medici and her work for since 2004. Over the past 12 years, Patricia Medici’s lowland tapir project in the Atlantic Forest has successfully captured, radio-collared and monitored twenty-five (25) tapirs (13 females and 12 males), and has collected hundreds of samples of biological materials, which allows a considerable amount of new information about tapir ranging behavior, demography, dispersal patterns, genetics, epidemiology, and feeding ecology.

Male Tapir, Brazil. Photo by Pati Medici
Male Tapir, Brazil. Photo by Pati Medici

This is the first long-term tapir conservation initiative carried out in Brazil and has provided a detailed database of information about the conservation status and needs of tapirs in the fragmented landscape of the Pontal do Paranapanema Region. Pati has expanded her project in terms of continuing to promote the conservation of lowland tapirs in Brazil to conduct research and conservation initiatives to other regions of the country, more specifically other types of biomes. 

For more on Pati Medici and Tapirs, please go to

You can travel with the Houston Zoo to visit Pati Medici and the Pantanal in July 2010

And now for a Random Plug…

National Geographic Photographer and friend of the Houston Zoo Joel Sartore has published another fantastic book: Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species which features portraits of some of the country’s most endangered creatures from flies to wolves. Some of them are likely to go extinct without people ever knowing they existed. Go to to view and tell me how the St. Andrew’s Beach Mouse is not absolutely the most adorable rodent ever photographed.

disclaimer – Houston Zoo receives no compensation for this – the book is just full of fantastic images and the message is something we all need to be aware of

Why Do You Love The Zoo?

You know you love the Zoo – now show us why!

Show us why you love the Houston Zoo & be entered to win a free pair of tickets to one of our Valentine’s Weekend events at the Houston Zoo.

Here’s the idea: In 3 words, show us why you love the Houston Zoo. Snap a photo of it, and upload it to us on the Houston Zoo’s Facebook page, tweet it to us at,  or even e-mail it to

We’ll announce the 3 big winners on February 9 to win a pair of tickets to our Wild for Love lecture, our Valentine’s Day Brunch, or our Princess Party.

It’s as easy as that. Just 3 words.

Here are a few examples to get your creative juices flowing:

Meet The Keeper
Meet The Keeper
Living The Dream... errr I mean Exploring The Unknown
Living The Dream… errr I mean Exploring The Unknown
Lounging Lace Monitor
Lounging Lace Monitor
Touch and Feel
Touch and Feel

Have fun!

*Note – You can take your photos at home, the Zoo, or anywhere – as long as it shows your 3 words of Houston Zoo love.

New Year, New Ideas

I’ve spent this little hiatus thinking about where to go next with this blog – now, don’t get me wrong, I love writing about cheetahs and dogs but there is a lot more that goes on at the zoo. We’re thinking about expanding this blog to cover more animal-related topics – what do you think?

For example, the behind the scenes series was popular (hopefully not just because we gave away some free tickets) so we could do more of those in other areas. I’m also hoping to get some of my colleagues to pitch in with stories from other sections. I’m going to try out a few things the next few weeks and I’d love to hear from all of you on what you like and what you’d like to see.

African Wild Dog
African wild dog, one of the Africa’s most endangered carnivores – want to see more about them here?

Last Call for Borneo!

DSC_0407Reservation for our Borneo’s Elephants and Orangutans Tour will be closing soon with limited spaces available. The Houston Zoo is offering a one-of-a-kind experience on the island of Borneo. An encounter with  elephants and orangutans in the wild along the Kinabatangan River May 13-24, 2010.

The Kinabatangan River is 560km long and the Lower Kinabatangan region is estimated to have the largest concentration of wildlife in all of Malaysia. The area is renowned for its tropical birds including all 8 species of Hornbill found in Borneo. Crocodiles, monitor lizards, wild pigs, otters, civets, 10 species of primates including the island’s own proboscis monkey and Bornean Orang-utan , and of course, Borneo’s  elephants.
Contact for more information or go to our travel webpage

January 28th Speaker Event: Rhinos!

Tickets are going fast…

The Houston Zoo’s 2010 Call of the Wild Speaker Series resumes January 28, 2010 with a very special guest – Dr. Susie Ellis, Executive Director of the International Rhino Foundation, the leading non-governmental organization for rhino conservation in the world.

Rhinos have existed on earth for more than 50 million years.  Today, from Africa to Indonesia, all but one of the world’s 5 surviving species of rhinos is on the verge of extinction.   Join us on January 28 in the Houston Zoo’s Brown Education Center auditorium as Dr. Ellis weaves a fascinating story about a species on the brink with first hand accounts from the field of efforts to save these amazing creatures.

Dr. Susie Ellis takes a hands on approach to rhino conservation.  In fact, on January 22, just six days before her Call of the Wild Speaker Series presentation, Dr. Ellis will be returning from near two weeks of field work in Indonesia to protect the few remaining Sumatran and Javan rhinos left on earth.   

Dr. Ellis’ dedication to the mission of the International Rhino Foundation has moved people of all ages to take action for rhino conservation. Two dedicated young conservationists will be introduced and honored during Dr. Ellis’ presentation.  Eight year old Jax Bittner of Buda, Texas created his own rhino conservation Web site ( and has raised more than $600 for rhino conservation.  Another Texan inspired by IRF’s work, 9 year old Eva Malone has raised $400 for rhino conservation. 

Don’t miss a minute of the Call of the Wild Speaker Series with Dr. Susie Ellis and her special guests.  Ticket prices are $10 for members, $15 for non-members, and $5 for children, students and Houston Zoo volunteers.  Buy tickets on-line when you visit   

Orangutans vs Palm Oil in Malaysia

The Houston Zoo has supported the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project since 2005 with a primary focus on the orang-utans use of secondary forest. Recently, program co-director Dr. Marc Ancrenaz was interviewed about orangutans and the palm oil issue in Malaysia on the website Mongabay.

The conflict between Palm Oil Industry and the protection of wildlife  habitat is a difficult one and has led to PR campaigns on both sides. For the full article, click over to

If you would like to help protect orang-utans and elephants in the wild, join us on March 27th for our 4th Pongos Helping Pongos Auction event.

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