Meet the Staff: Jennifer Stevenson

Jenn shows off Miles, a Texas Tortoise, who is a resident animal at the ClinicHometown: Corpus Christi, TXSection: Clinic- Clinic KeeperSpecial Interests/ Hobbies:Anything outdoors, 4-wheeling in Goliad, TX and fishing.Interesting Fact:I have an identical twin sister.What made you want to become a zookeeper?I've always loved animals . I originally started volunteering in elephants and then was hired as a keeper there. I then transferred to the clinic so I could work with a greater variety of animals.How would you describe your job duties?As clinic keepers we are mainly in charge of daily husbandry. That means we clean, feed, medicate, and observe clinic “patients”. We also assist vets with treatments of the animals.We also maintain quarantine, and its animals. Zoo quarantine is not for sick animals, it is used to keep all incoming animals separate from the zoo collection until thoroughly examined and free of illnesses.Jenn assists the Zoo's Vets and Vet Techs with many procedures. Here she secures a dove while Vet Tech Ryanne tube feeds him.

What is a typical day like working in the clinic?
Every day is different, you never know what it will hold.

What is your education, training, and previous institution(s) you attended before coming to the Houston Zoo?
I have a one year certification from HCC as a veterinary paramedic.

What sort of advice would you give to anyone wanting to enter the zoo field?
Start volunteering and stick with it.  It is a great way to get the experience zoos require and you have a greater chance of getting hired on when you have been a volunteer.

What is your favorite animal story?
My great-grandparents had a ranch in Goliad, TX where I spent a lot of time as a child.  When I was about 10 I tried to get the goats and cows to like me and to approach me willingly.  Finally, 2 bulls approached me and I was able to hand-feed them.  All the time afterwards that they lived on my great-grandparent’s ranch, I could walk up to the fence and call them over and they would come running to me.  That was my first big animal experience.

Mountain Gorilla: Summer Reading

If you are not visiting the Houston Zoo, swimming in a pool or going to the beach – you are most likely locked inside with air conditioning turned on. I understand completely, they tell us the official start of summer is June 21st but it has been ascorching hot for 6 weeks and we are tired of it already.

So add this to your summer reading list – that’s right reading, something us older folks did “back in the day” of 3 television channels which were black and white. The horror! Actually it was horrible as we did not have books like this to read.

GORILLA DOCTORS: SAVING ENDANGERED GREAT APES by Pamela S. Turner. GORILLA DOCTORS: SAVING ENDANGERED GREAT APES written for children age nine to twelve was named an American Library Association Notable Book, a National Science Teachers Association Outstanding Science Trade Book, and is the winner of the Flora Stiglitz Straus Nonfiction Award and the ASPCA Henry Bergh Award. Half of all royalties from the sale of the book go directly to Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project. -the same program we have been gorilla blogging about the past few days.

There are a number of reasons to get this book. It has great photographs, a fantastic story about wildlife veterinarians who literally make house-calls in the forest-many who you are meeting through the blogs, and it supports the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project. Can’t get out of the house for fear of melting in the Houston sun? Easy enough then, you are already on the computer so just link here “Gorilla Doctors” and pop over to Amazon for the book.

Chimp Building Update: A Roof Over Our Heads

A few more weeks of construction and the building has a roof – this place is starting to look like a chimp building.

check out the truck for a size reference - this place is huge!

The tall part of the building is the 2-story dayroom – lots of natural light and lots of room to play.

soon this space will be filled with benches and climbng structures

Oh yeah, one more thing – if you’re on Twitter, we’re tweeting about chimps! Follow @HZIChimps for even more info about animals and construction, including updates from the road as the chimps make their way to Houston.

Mountain Gorilla: through mud, hills, more mud…

Three days ago (for those of you with short-term memory loss) I noted that the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) wildlife veterinarians and staff  have some of the most difficult jobs, and most rewarding jobs in the profession. Dr. Jan Ramer, MGVP ‘s Regional Veterinary Manager gives us a brief glimpse into how catching up with a Mountain Gorilla group is not as easy as a stroll in the park:

We got a call from trackers that Agahozo, a 5 year old male gorilla in Pablo group, was coughing and staying behind the group. This is the season when we begin to worry about respiratory disease in the gorillas – the end of the rainy season. It has been rainy and cool recently, and Pablo group is very high on the volcano so it is very cold where they live. We were concerned. Dr. Jean Felix went up to assess Agahozo last Thursday and while he was coughing a bit, and moving a bit slowly, he was not in a life threatening situation. We decided to wait it out, getting reports from the field daily. Unfortunately the next day news was not good – Agahozo had a wound on his neck that smelled bad and was he was far behind the group.

Pablo group has 47 individuals with 3 silverbacks including Cantsbe, one of the oldest and wisest silverbacks in the area. We needed to be very careful. Dr. Magda, Dr. Jean Felix, Dr. Fred and I headed up to the group early the next morning along with Joel from Karisoke and many very experienced trackers. Of course if we decided to do an intervention once we got to the group and re-assessed Agahozo, we would all be garbed in masks and gloves, to protect both ourselves and gorillas from any exchange of disease.

It was a long, difficult climb. We trudged up the slopes of Visoke for over 5 hours, through mud up to our knees and beyond, up and down steep, muddy ravines, over a raging river, finally finding the group above the tree line (above 10,000 feet), eating on either side of a deep ravine. I was exhausted – I had not been in the forest for almost a month, and had not yet re-acclimated to the altitude. Drs. Magda and Jean Felix were in the advance team (I was definitely in the rear guard…) and the reports were good – Agahozo was bright and alert, in the middle of the group, behaving normally and feeding well! No coughing at all. He was cleaning a wound on his neck that looked to be an abscess that had ruptured – no wonder he felt better! After a brief meeting with everyone involved we decided that there was not a good reason for any intervention. We were all relieved, and started the long walk back to the truck. That day I didn’t even see a gorilla.

So you are saying to yourself, the team climbed for 5 hours at an altitude of 10,000, at times through knee deep mud, and she did not even get to see a gorilla! And, yes, they then had to climb back down the same way they came. Visit the complete MGVP update here and scroll down to May 2010 which includes numerous photos and videos from the months event as well as the highs and lows of everyday life for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Team.

Mountain Gorilla Susa Group photo courtesy S. Kaufman

Mountain Gorilla Blog

Two weeks ago, one of the Gorilla Doctors field veterinarians, Dr. Eddy Kabale, posted an update on two Mountain Gorilla orphans, Ndeze and Ndakasi who were transferred from Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to a facility in Senkwekwe at Rumangabo, DRC about 6 months ago. You can watch a short video of Ndeze and Ndakasi’s move to Senkwekwe back in December here.

Dr. Eddy Kabale is the groups Democratic Republic of Congo in-country Field Veterinarian. Eddy’s duties include monitoring Grauer’s gorillas (eastern lowland gorillas) as well as mountain gorillas—and caring for the orphans.

Yesterday I mentioned that the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) was a field project – treating wildlife in their natural habitat. Although never intended, MGVP has also taken the duel role of having to care for and manage confiscated orphan gorillas. Sadly, poaching and illegal trade have resulted in the confiscation of mountain and Grauer’s gorillas in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

MGVP's Orphan Guardianship Program
In their lovely home, Ndeze and Ndakasi are enjoying a fresh, suitable and cleaned environment with very little pollution compared to Goma. They are taking enough fresh forest food and they are still discovering new forest food items. They enjoy playing, climbing, rolling over and are progressively getting use to their new home, and are behaving normally.

Nevertheless, even in this healthy state, they continue with the quarterly preventive medicine program that includes visual and physical examinations and a de-worming program for Ndeze and Ndakasi.

So how do you perform a check-up on a gorilla? On May 11, 2010, Dr. Arthur, the ICCN veterinarian and I visited Ndeze and Ndakasi for their quarterly health check. We found them to be very active, playful, running, rolling over on grass, climbing on us very often and showing a degree of their satisfaction! We took the opportunity to start lesson teaching the little gorillas to be comfortable with stethoscope, syringes and needles. We will progress to getting them to accept injection as part of this activity. 

I used a sterile syringe without a needle for this training session; Ndeze and Ndakasi played with the syringe with no fear. After that I took another sterile syringe with sterile needle on it, and a second syringe filled with honey (they LOVE honey!). I offered them the honey and when they ate it I pricked them in the arm, one after another. Because they had honey as a reward for accepting the injection, no one ran – they gave me a positive reaction! After this lesson I put in the syringe the indicated dose of Ivermectin for their quarterly de-worming and gave it directly in mouth to Ndeze and Ndakasi, they continued even lapping drug on the empty syringe. Success – they took their medicine, they accepted some small pricks in their arms and left Ndeze and Ndakasi with a very good memory!

Bee-lieve it or Not…

Blue Faced Honeyeater Photo courtesy of:

Honeyeaters are important pollinators of many Australian flowering plants.  All 170 species of honeyeaters have a unique adaptation:  a long tongue with a brush-like tip that they use to get nectar from flowers.  The tongue can be extended into the nectar about 10 times per second!

Honeyeaters aren’t the only birds that help pollinate.  Honeycreepers, sunbirds, Brush-tongued parrots, and hummingbirds are just a few of the birds all over the world who are pollinators.  There are 2,000 bird species globally that feed on nectar, the insects, and the spiders associated with nectar bearing flowers. 

For more Bee-lieve it or Not facts, come join the Houston Zoo in celebrating National Polinator Week on June 26th and 27th. We will have tables and chats from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. all about our favorite pollinators.  Bee sure to  record your pollinating adventures in a nature blog to share at the Swap Shop!

Chimp Building Update: Forms and Functions

At the last update, the building was just starting to take shape – once the walls start going up you can start to picture what its going to look like. Building a home for chimpanzees is a little different than building a house in your neighborhood. First, it has to be strong – imagine building a daycare for superheroes. Second, it has be easy to clean – imagine said superheroes keep house like college kids. Third, it has to be comfortable and meet all the needs of one of the smartest, most complex species on the planet.

Concrete is the best material to meet the first 2 needs – its strong and can be hosed down for cleaning. After the slab was poured, forms were built for the walls and filled with concrete.

A few days later the forms come down and we can see walls!

Of course you may have noticed there still isn’t a roof, but at this point we could walk around the building, see the layout, and start to appreciate how much space 4000 square feet really is.

One person's trash, is another person's turtle!

Straight from the AP Newswire on Friday: Tiny turtle causes taxiing plane to return to gate 

ATLANTA (AP) — A caged, 2-inch turtle traveling with a 10-year-old girl caused a crew to turn around a taxiing plane, take the girl and her sisters off the flight and tell them they couldn’t bring their pet along.

The sisters threw the animal and cage in the trash and returned to their seats crying Tuesday after AirTran Airways employees on the jetway said they couldn’t care for the turtle while their father drove to retrieve it.

There’s more to the article but lets stop right here. Regardless of who is at fault (airline, travelers, cheetos induced sugar coma) the thought that a person or persons would care so little for the welfare of a animal that it just gets thrown in the trash is too bizarre for me to understand. What if the animal had not been rescued from the trash (locked in it’s cage) – how many days would it have been before it died and does anybody these days realize the consequences of their actions?

And with that, I am going into a mild state of apathy and going home. I could use a cheetos sugar induced coma right about now…

No turtles were harmed in the taking of this photograph

Bee-lieve it of Not…

Bumblebee on Lantana

In the U.S., the economic value of pollination services provided by native insects (mostly bees) is estimated at $3 billion each year.  Bumblebees are highly efficient in pollinating many crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cranberries, and blue berries.  Yumm!  Best of all, most bumblebees won’t bother you unless you bother them.  When gardening at home, please consider using native plants.  Most of all, be kind to pollinators, consider going organic.  Insecticides tend to kill indiscriminately and will eliminate a lot of your pollinators.  The larger the variety of wildlife in your yard or garden (insects, birds, toads, lizards, etc.) the less “pest” insects you will have.  Naturally!

For more information on creating a native garden, visit:

For more Bee-lieve it or Not facts, come join the Houston Zoo in celebrating National Polinator Week on June 26th and 27th. We will have tables and chats from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. all about our favorite pollinators.  Bee sure to  record your pollinating adventures in a nature blog to share at the Swap Shop!

Mountain Gorilla’s and the people who care for them

We are going to spend the next few days getting to know some of the wildlife veterinarians and staff who have some of the most difficult jobs, and most rewarding jobs in the profession. The Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project dedicate every minute of the day to their amazing patients,  the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda, Ugandan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is not a captive setting, these wildlife veterinarians routinely trek hours into the fields and mountains to check on the health of individual groups of mountain gorillas.

There are approximately 720 Mountain Gorillas left on earth; they live only in two small parks, one in Uganda and one that includes a corner of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In order to ensure a healthy future for this special animal, we monitor the gorillas on a regular basis; provide life-saving medical care, conduct health studies, and do all we can to build local capacity in veterinary medicine and ecosystem health.  

Much of the information you will find here can be seen on the MGVP website at

MGVP’s veterinary staff—collectively, the Gorilla Doctors—are a unique, diverse, and interesting group of people. They differ in terms of  nationality, training, and experience, as well as in the territory they cover. The in-country field vets are stationed in their home countries, either Rwanda, Uganda, or the DRC, while the regional vets and project director move about. MGVP’s regional headquarters are located in Ruhengeri (Musanze), Rwanda for two main reasons: most of the world’s habituated mountain gorillas live in Rwanda, and Ruhengeri itself is about halfway between the border with Uganda to the northeast and Congo to the west.

Please check in with us over the next few days as we highlight the Gorilla Doctors blog and introduce you to one of the world’s most amazing wildlife programs.

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