Rwanda: Alternative Fuel Sources

Hey – he’s just stealing other peoples blogs! Don’t re-create the blog I always say and I am fairly confident you are just not going to stumble across this by yourself.

How do you heat your home or cook on a stove when you do not have electricity? You cut down your forest trees and turn them into charcoal. The illegal charcoal trade is a serious issue in many Central and West African nations. One project we are familiar with is the Kibale Fuel Wood Project managed by the New Nature Foundation.

Back to the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project and some blog thievery on my part. In January, the Agriculture Project Coordinator for the MGVP One Health program helped introduce fuel briquette technology to the community, reducing their need for charcoal and turning it into a business opportuntiy. Click on the link for the full blog.

So – no direct plagiarism on my part and I am standing here in Rwanda staring at a fuel briquette which gives me at least some rights to steal their blog.

Cross-Zoo Traffic

Working at the Houston Zoo is a pretty awesome job. But some days are even better than others…

Like last week when I got to take KPRC Channel 2’s Traffic Reporter Jennifer Reyna around the Zoo for a day. That’s right – the Jennifer Reyna who gets you to work on time every morning.

Hangin' out with giraffes
Hangin’ out with giraffes


I met her in the employee parking lot and golf-carted her over to film a piece on our newly renovated jaguar exhibit. If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s pretty incredible – new mesh for clearer viewing, new waterfall, and new pool. In fact, it looks so different (and much, much better) that you probably won’t even recognize it next time you’re at the Zoo.

You know, I’ve always thought that it’s gotta be tough for a news reporter to focus during a video shoot outside and with people everywhere – but Jennifer made it look easy. Here’s a shot of her filming an interview at jaguars for the news broadcast.

Jennifer Reyna w/ Carnivore Keeper Angie Pyle
Jennifer Reyna w/ Carnivore Keeper Angie Pyle

After that we headed over to giraffes for some more fun and a behind-the-scenes tour. Feeding giraffes is my favorite thing to do at the Zoo. There’s just nothing else like being face-to-face with a 15+ foot giraffe that takes your breath away.

I think male giraffe Kiva has found himself a new girlfriend...
I think male giraffe Kiva has found himself a new girlfriend…

When you take a behind-the-scenes tours at giraffes, they will walk right up to you and even take food right out of your hands – it’s so cool. After Jennifer interviewed Hoofstock Keeper Kim Siegl (and after the giraffes were nice and fed), we looked at the new weather cam that KPRC will start airing live shots of during their weather portion of news broadcasts. So watch for Frank Billingsley, Khambrel Marshall, and the rest of the KPRC Weather Crew panning to shots of the Zoo’s Masai giraffes soon.

I don’t know what was more fun – feeding our giraffes or hanging out with Houston’s Favorite Traffic Reporter. Tough choice…

Check out Jennifer’s Bumper 2 Bumper blog here for some off-camera looks at how news stories are created and also for some very important traffic updates for the Zoo during Spring Break.

So that’s how the magic is made. Click on the video below to watch the final news segment that aired on the Channel 2 News:

vid screenshot

Rwanda: Gorilla Doctors

mtngorilla ectourThese are not your ordinary veterinarians, and they do make house calls – even if it takes trekking 6 hours up a mountian to get there…

Gorilla Doctors work for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP, Inc.)–one of few conservation programs in the world to provide health care for an endangered species in its natural habitat. MGVP’s mission is to improve the sustainability of Mountain Gorilla populations using an integrated, or “one-health,” approach that combines health care, research, capacity building, information sharing, and strategic partnerships.

Follow their blog here. The stories are inspirational, amazing and sometimes heartbreaking. The note that the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project dedicate every minute of the day to our amazing patients: the gentle giants of the forest, the critically endangered Gorillas.

I am lucky enough to know some of the Gorilla Doctors and they truly are 100% dedicated to the wildlife and communities they serve. Even today – in a worldm ired in technology, there are people who still do inspire others.


I am off to Rwanda to visit the town of Musanze at the base of the Volcanoes National Park, home to half of the worlds remaining 700+ Mountain Gorillas. This trip unfortunately will not bring me to the gorillas, but I will be spending time with our friends at Art of Conservation.

art_for_gorillas_logoArt of Conservation works in poor rural communities surrounding Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, teaching schoolchildren about the importance of maintaining a healthy environment for both people and animals and instilling them with an understanding and respect for themselves, their peers, and the natural world.

The Houston Zoo believes that the health of wildlife is directly linked to the health of the people with whom they share their habitat, as well as the health of the people living in the communities surrounding those habitats. Education and community health initiatives are equally important as wildlife research efforts. For a program to be successful, the three pieces cannot be separated from one another.

Long term education programs have to be put in place with the aim of changing the attitudes of local people to the value of wildlife. If we want to ensure the survival of wildlife and wild-places in the future we also have to address our conservation effort to the future generation – the children. At the same time, we have to help these communities find sustainable resources and economic solutions for those resources.

Spain has Picasso. France has Monet. The Houston Zoo has Cheyenne

Cheyenne's Electric Passion, 2008
Cheyenne's Electric Passion, 2008

Artists come in all shapes and sizes, all ages and skill levels, and now – in all species. Cheyenne, a 36-year-old orangutan, is our local art scholar. She is known for having a multi-faceted personality, which is reflected in the wide-range of art she has produced.

Whether she is being silly, serious, or serene, Cheyenne’s art is widely considered to be the most beautiful and impressive at the Zoo. So much so that one of her paintings was once featured on the Late Show with David Letterman.

Cheyenne’s limited edition artwork will be part of our next Pongos Helping Pongos Art Event and Auction to raise funds for Orangutan and Elephant conservation programs in Borneo. Visit Cheyenne’s webpage at

Red List of Threatened Species

We use the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species to determine the conservation status of a species. IUCN is the International Union for the Conservation of Species and the IUCN has for more than four decades been assessing the conservation status of species, subspecies, varieties, and even selected subpopulations on a global scale in order to highlight taxa threatened with extinction, and therefore promote their conservation.

Red List LOGOFor example, they list over 35,000 species by taxonomic group in their database. From crustaceans to arthropods, birds and frogs to mammals and plants, the IUCN evaluates every species they possibly can to help define its conservation need.

Pop on over to their website  type in the name of an animal and you will be taken to its designation along with maps, natural history and notes on the species conservation need.

Clouded Leopards and wild cats of Borneo

The Houston Zoo is involved in a number of efforts in Borneo focusing on elephants and orangutans and help out where we can in other areas. One of those areas is the Conservation of Carnivores in Sabah managed by our friends from Leibniz Institute for Wildlife Research and The Institute for Tropical Biology and Conservation (ITBC). The two primary investigators have recently shared some amazing footage with us from the project which can be seen here on the BBC Earth News Website.

The website notes: The film, the first footage of the cat in the wild to be made public, has been released by scientists working in the Dermakot Forest Reserve in Malaysia. The Sundaland clouded leopard, only discovered to be a distinct species three years ago, is one of the least known and elusive of all cat species. Two more rare cats, the flat-headed cat and bay cat, were also photographed.

There are 5  species of cats in Borneo and all five can be found at the research site which is pretty unique in itself. That the project has turned up a species known as the (Borneo) bay cat is newsworthy as the cat is little known and rarely seen, and even more rarely photographed. Other cats on the island include the Marbled cat and the Leopard cat.

We need to take this opportunity to thank our supporters in “Wildcat” conservation – the students of Velasquez Elementary in Richmond, Texas who for the second time in three years, have held a fundraiser to support wildcat (which is the school mascot) conservation in Borneo.

Primates of Vietnam: Part 2

Environmental Training in Kon Ka Kinh National Park:

Green Forest Magazine focusing on primates - 2008
Green Forest Magazine focusing on primates - 2008

As part of Education for Nature Vietnam’s National Mobile Wildlife Trade Education Progra, ENV conducted a short five day training program for participants from Kon Ka Kinh National Park and neighboring Kon Chu Rang Nature Reserve focusing on raising awareness about the protection of the critically endangered grey-shanked douc langur (Pygathrix nemaeus cinerea). The grey-shanked langur is a native of both aeas and endemic to the provinces in central vietnam and is threatened locally by hunting and the wildlife trade.

This training was aimed at preparing ENV’s local partners at both protected areas to integrate a primate lesson plan specfically focused on the grey-shanked douc langur’s  protection. ENV has carried out similiar training focused on some of Vietnam’s critically endangered primates at Cuc Phuong National Park and Van Long Nature Reserve with Delacour’s Langurs and Pu Huong Nature Reserve in Nghe An Province focused on White-cheeked gibbons.

This project was supported by the Houston Zoo and the Margot Marsh Biodiversity Foundation.


Prairie Chicken #1: Natural History of Attwater's Prairie Chicken

Welcome to a 5 part series focusing on the world’s of the Attwater’s Prairie chicken – one of the world’s most endangered birds. Follow us through our egg incubation in April and see what it takes to try and recover a species.

"Booming" male Attwater's Prairie Chicken
"Booming" male Attwater's Prairie Chicken

The Attwater’s Prairie Chicken is a native Texas bird that is brown with strong black bars and a short, round black tail.  They are sexually dimorphic, meaning that males and females have a different appearance.  The males have elongated feathers called pinnae at the back of their head and large orange air sacs on their neck that are inflated during their mating display, called  “booming”.  The tail of a male Attwater’s Prairie Chicken is solid black, while the tail of a female is black with brown bars.  On average, they are about 17 inches long and weigh between 1.5 and 2.5 pounds.  In the wild, adult Attwater’s Prairie Chickens live approximately two to three years, in captivity they can live to about seven years old.  Their diet consists mostly of insects early on; as they get older they begin to eat prairie grasses, seed, and plants as well. 

Attwater’s Prairie Chickens (Tympanuchus cupido attwateri) are members of the order Galliformes, family Phasianidae, subfamily Tetraoninae (grouse and relatives), and genus Tympanuchus (prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse). The Attwater’s prairie chicken is considered to be one of three subspecies of the Greater Prairie Chicken which also includes the extinct Heath Hen (Tympanuchus cupido cupido) and the Greater Prairie Chicken (Tympanuchus cupido pinnatus).

The Attwater’s historic range includes millions of acres of the coastal prairies of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana.  As a result of habitat loss due to farming, industrialization, and pollution, they are currently restricted to two small prairie reserves, The Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge (APCNWR) and The Nature Conservancy’s Texas Prairie Preserve (TNC) and one area of private land near Goliad, Texas.

iPhone App Updates

Checked out the FREE Houston Zoo iPhone App lately?

We just added 43 new animals, 15 new videos, and some new GPS locations.

New Animals Include (full list at bottom)…

11 from Natural Encounters
10 from the Aquarium
10 from the Reptile House
7  from the Tropical Bird House
4 residents of our Orangutan Moat
1 from the Children’s Zoo


New Videos Include…

Under “More” – A new area of our “Latest Videos”

Brand new red panda video!
Bald eagle video
Orangutan video & more!

GPS Points

Location of 80+ recycle bins to help you be green on your next visit

Search “Houston Zoo” in the App Store to download for free!

New Animals (Tropical birdhouse: African pygmy kingfisher, Asian fairy bluebird, Blue-breasted kingfisher, Crested Wood-partridge, Golden-headed Quetzal, Orange Bishop, Pekin Robin, Reptile house: Anegada island iguana Barton springs salamanders, Black-breasted leaf turtle, Chinese crocodile lizard, Cuban crocodile, Dyeing poison dart frog, Fantastic leaf-tailed gecko Lace Monitor, Panamanian Golden Frog, Rhinoceros Iguana, Aquarium: Banggai cardinal fish, Boeseman’s rainbowfish, Button polyp, Checkerboard freshwater stingrays, Discus, Long-spine sea urchin, Peacock Cichlid, Sea Jellies, Sea Turtle, Yellow spotted river turtle, Natural encounters: Black-headed python, Blue-bellied roller, Brazilian salmon pink tarantula, Four-eyed fish, Honeypot Ant, Pygmy Marmosets, Pygmy Slow Loris, Snake-necked Turtle, Three-banded Armadillo, Trinidad Giant Cockroach, Vulturine Guineafowl, Orangutan moat: Koi – Japanese Carp, Malaysian Giant Turtle, Mandarin Duck, Yellow-headed Temple Turtle, Children’s Zoo: Madagascar Hissing Cockroach)

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