Meet the Staff: Kristin Windle

Kristin holding our American Alligator during an Animal Presentation.
Kristin holding our American Alligator during an Animal Presentation.

Name: Kristin Windle
Hometown: Lake Jackson
Age: 20
Section: Children’s Zoo Intern
Favorite Animal: Elephant

Special Interests/Hobbies: Dance: Ballet for 16 years and tap for 15 years

What animals do you have?: I have a dog named Grady

Education/Training: Certified Veterinary Assistant, Bachelor of Science in Animal Science in progress

Jobs: Veterinary Assistant for 3 years. I started as a kennel attendant and worked my way up to receptionist and then veterinary assistant.

What do you want to do in the future?
Apply to veterinary school to work with small animals.

Why did you want this internship?
I love animals, and I wanted to get more experience with small animals than just in a veterinary clinic!

What is it like to be an intern here at the Houston Zoo?
There is no typical day. There’s lots of raking, cleaning, and loving on the animals…a bunch of fun! And lots of sweating.

What advice do you have for people wanting to enter this field?
Work hard at school! Make sure it’s something you love and have fun at, or you might be miserable (although this goes with any job!).

What is your favorite animal story?
When I got Grady: I was working, and someone abandoned him at the end of the veterinary office driveway. I went out to get an appointment, and he ran right up to me. I loved on him for a while and got him set up in a kennel. We picked each other right then and there!

There are several ways to join in on the fun at the Houston Zoo! To learn more about becoming an intern, visit the zoo’s Internship Programs page, or to learn more about volunteering, visit the zoo’s volunteer page.

Save Electricity Save Money and Go Green

Have you ever thought about changing electricity providers? No, because it was much too confusing? You pay by the Kilowatt hour (Kwh) used which makes about as much sense to us as a British Thermal Unit (BTU).

What in the world is a Kilowatt hour anyway? I think I understand so here is an example: For every hour of electricity you run the lights, washer, computer, and air-conditioner in your home, divide the amount of time you spend worrying about your budget, subtract number of people in your household, add the square root of your pets, divide by pie (3.14 – cherry or apple pie works best here) and add the number of slugs you find on your patio when the Houston humidity is 88% or higher.

In Algebra it looks like this: A(Kwh x 4)-3+2b2d(3.14 cherry) + 8 slugs @88% = 0.112 cents per Kwh. Simples!

Two years ago and with much consternation, I made the leap to a green energy supplier and freaked out when my monthly bill went down. How is this possible in a free society? My bill went down, really? A few weeks ago I found a site which makes switching even easier than my leap of faith (which is also the title of an excellent video on amphibians) at or

You just click on a button and it gives you not only all the companies and their rates in the area but shows how much 1,000Kwh would cost you so you can see actual dollars and decide if you want the company that cost you $109 per 1,000Kwh or $130 per Kwh. It does not matter if you know how many hours you use, the price is the price and you can find your current company to compare. Benefit here is you can look at green energy (wind, solar, water) suppliers and will see their costs are only a few dollars more which is a bonus to you and the environment.

Benefits – no speaking to humans on the other end of a phone – we all love this. Save money on your monthly bills. Find a green company and use less coal based electricity. Can be done from the comfort of your air conditioned home regardless of how many slugs are outside your door. Did I mention you could Save Money? 

Tune in next time to learn about BTU’s and why British wearing Thermals is related to how cold your air conditioner is. I can tell you a BTU is equal to about 1 kilojoule which means another Algebra equation is on it’s way, this time featuring dormice.


Gorilla Country

In the Republic of Congo, the Houston Zoo is partnering with the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Program in the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park. Mbeli Bai is the only long-term demographic study on western gorillas which uses direct observations to provide important baseline information on the social organization, demography and behavior of an intact population of gorillas. Detailed studies are also undertaken on the activity of other large mammal species using the bai, such as forest elephants, sitatungas, forest buffaloes as well as otters and many other species. 

Why should we care to protect wildlife in places so far away? Watch the video of wildlife living in and around Mbeli Bai in the Republic of Congo.

Did you watch the video? All 5 minutes? We would like to hear your thoughts on this 5 minute glimpse into a very special place.

If you would like to help support the Mbeli Bai Gorilla Program and the Houston Zoo’s efforts to save threatened wildlife in Africa, please click on the button below.

Lady Raven's identity

Natural Encounters Keeper Amelia with our finally identified Lady Raven.

No longer will we need to sit  engaged in guessing, with multiple syllables expressing the gender of Raven.  We got the lab tests results and SHE will grow into a beautiful Lady as she gets older.  Now comes the fun part, choosing her name!  We’d love to hear suggestions from the audience!




Rwanda Calling? Volunteers Wanted!

Looking for a new experience working with children at the base of a volcano where half the world’s Mountain Gorillas remain? If so, you can volunteer with Art of Conservation in Rwanda. 

Art of Conservation, Inc. educates Rwandans about conservation and the importance of maintaining a healthy environment for both people and animals while instilling in them an understanding and respect for themselves, their peers, and the natural world. The Houston Zoo is a proud supporter of the Art of Conservation program in Rwanda

Art of Conservation (AoC)  is seeking a dedicated, experienced administrative support intern to work directly with AoC Director Julie Ghrist. Interns must commit at least six weeks to the position. After six weeks, the intern position may be extended at the discretion of the Director. For a description of the position and application – link here

Rushubi Primary School 5th grade class

AoC also occasionally accepts volunteers (link here for application) for short- to medium-term volunteer placements. Their needs vary depending on the staffing situation and class schedule. In general, they seek honest, hard-working individuals who can offer support in one or more of the following areas:

  • Teaching the English-language portion of our conservation education curriculum. We are particularly interested in volunteer teachers who have a background in conservation, biology, agriculture, medicine, or public health.
  • Teaching the English-language portion of our art curriculum. We are particularly interested in volunteer teachers who have a background in drawing, painting, music, or drama.
  • Administrative work including memo writing and grant research.
  • English-language training for non-English speaking staff.
  • Computer skills training for staff.

Ready for an experience of a lifetime? Well, here is one where you can both learn and give at the same time.

I wonder if Art of Conservation will let me volunteer with them this week...maybe I will just eat some bamboo instead

Guinea Hog Piglets Soon to Make Their Debut at the John P. McGovern Children's Zoo!

Spring is typically thought of as a time for baby animals and flowers, but not for the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo!  This year, our babies are arriving right in the middle of summer, and they definitely don’t smell like flowers!  We have two adorable Guinea Hog piglets that arrived at the zoo in July, soon to make their debut on exhibit in the Children’s Zoo.  Now, adorable may not be a word that you typically use to describe pigs, but how can you describe these faces as anything else?

You will be able to see this adorable face up close soon in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo!

These girls may be small now, weighing about 25 lbs, but in a few years they will be about 150 lbs!  That may seem very large, but Guinea Hogs are actually one of the smaller breeds of pigs.  Guinea Hogs originated from West Africa and have been crossbred to create their unique breed, found only in North America, making them a true American Heritage Breed.  You won’t find this breed in the wild, they are only bred and kept on farms and ranches.  Guinea Hogs are omnivores, spending their days foraging for grasses, roots, nuts and the occasional small mammal or snake. Once one of the most commonly kept pigs, there are now fewer than 200 remaining making them a critically rare, or a minor breed.  Similar to a wild animal being classified as threatened or endangered, the term minor breed is used to describe nearly 100 breeds of livestock in North America that are declining.  Many of these breeds, like the Guinea Hog, were once kept widely and played a major role in the development in North American agriculture.  Over time, these breeds have been replaced by specialized breeds to meet the increasing production demand.  Guinea Hogs have a very sweet and docile disposition, and are extremely receptive to attention and training from keepers.  Our new additions have been receiving regular training from the time that they arrived.  Being very intelligent, Guinea Hogs are able to learn new behaviors quickly, already mastering target and station, seen below.  This consistent training is not only important as enrichment, but is also helpful for veterinary check ups, lessening the stress to the animal and staff.

Target is commonly one of the first behaviors any animal learns. Here, one of our girls targets to trainer Russell’s hand. She must touch her snout, or gruntle, to his open palm to receive a reward.

Our girls will be venturing out onto exhibit in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo very soon.  Check back to see how much they enjoy their new home, exciting enrichment, and learning fun new behaviors, and be sure to visit them soon at the Houston Zoo!

Visit the American Guinea Hog Association to learn more about Guinea Hogs.

To learn more about American Heritage Breeds visit the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy.

Kids Get to be Biologists and Track Toads


When I was a kid I always knew that I wanted to work with animals. I used to tell everyone I’d be a marine biologist.  I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but I knew they got to work closely with whales and dolphins.  I had every pet my parents would allow and asked to go to every aquarium and zoo that I could find, just to get close to animals.  As I got older I started to question what I could realistically do with this desire. Anyone that got to work with them in the field or in captivity were like celebrities.  I don’t think I ever thought of it as a job — it was more like a dream.  The only animal related career that I was really exposed to was a veterinarian.  And when I decided against that, it was difficult to visualize what I could do. I was very fortunate to meet the curator of a small zoo that took me under his wing and brought me into the wonderful world of zoo keeping.  But I have been very aware that not everyone gets this type of opportunity.
I am so excited for this generation of animal lovers in Houston.  The Houston Zoo offers so much to get kids involved and connected to the animal world.  It would have been a dream come true to be a part of the zoo camps and internships they offer here!
Recently, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to assist with a new, unique, interactive conservation education program called Toad Trackers.  It was developed by my very talented coworker, Rachel Rommel, and allows kids to connect with the world of research and animal science.   

Rachel with students


 The Toad Tracker students are introduced to the same equipment field biologists use in their research and are exposed to some of the methods used in the scientific study of animal populations.  I got to assist with the evening class where the students get to actively search for a common toad species on Zoo grounds: the Gulf Coast Toad.  When it came to listening for the toads, the kids were very serious and quiet.  I was so impressed with their level of concentration, and how well they were able to control their excitement and really focus on the task at hand.  When a toad was found, they remembered exactly what they were taught in the classroom about approaching and handling it.  The students were then carefully guided through weighing and measuring each individual, determining its’ gender, and recording its’ GPS coordinates, citing exactly where it was found.  The kids then got to observe as Paul Crump (the Houston Zoo’s Amphibian Conservation Programs Manager) pit tag each toad, which is similar to the microchip in your cat or dog.  They were very intrigued by this process.     

Students measuring toad

 Over time, the locating and tagging of these toads will provide valuable information on their growth rates, reproductive events, and movement patterns on zoo grounds.  As important as this data is, more importantly, this program is inspiring local kids and leaving them hungry for more.   I really felt the gratitude of the kids involved in this program; their intrigue was tangible!  Rachel  is creating a whole army of amphibian advocates and future biologists through Toad Trackers.


To learn more about this program check out the Houston zoo Toad Tracker website and join the Toad Trackers group on Facebook.


16 Years With Chimpanzees is Just a Start

Wednesday, July 14, the day we arrived in Houston with chimpanzees, was also the 50th anniversary of the beginning of Jane Goodall’s research at Gombe. This 50 year anniversary got me thinking about my first encounters with chimpanzees years ago at Sunset Zoo. I was just an intern but I was fascinated with chimpanzees Mac, Suzy, Rachel and Sesa and wanted desperately to be a chimpanzee keeper. Eager to learn more about chimps (and to impress my boss with my knowledge), I spent my lunch breaks reading Through a Window, caught up in the lives of Fifi and David Greybeard.

Fifi and Family - Michael Nichols, National Geographic

Like many other young women interested in primates, I was inspired by the work of Jane Goodall and dreamed of traveling to Africa and to study chimpanzees in the wild. Last weekend Jane Goodall wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal about those early years at Gombe and about how much things have changed. I did make it to east Africa eventually and found it really was the magical place she described. But unlike her, I couldn’t stay, my work was here at the zoo.

Sixteen years after I first opened Jane Goodall’s book I find myself responsible for 10 chimpanzees that now make their home at the Houston Zoo, which supports chimpanzee conservation all over Africa. I hope Dr. Goodall would approve.

Stay out of the water

Back in the 1970s, I did my best to stay out of the water. First, it was never easy to find a uncrowded beach in Brooklyn, and second, JAWS was in the water. I knew he was in Jersey and it would take him a few hours at least to get down to my beach, but why take a chance? I never understood why he was terrorizing so many people in New Jersey. All New Yorkers knew that nobody went to Jersey for any reason, so where did all those people on the beach he was eating come from?

This week,  I have two more reasons to stay out of the water and it has nothing to do with the issues related to oil.

1) 40-ton southern right whale lands on yacht and swims away. That’s leaving the scene of an accident buddy and CSI: South Africa will find you – you can’t hide among the plankton, we know that ages-old trick.

2) Four never before discovered species of octopus–as well as venom that remains effective at sub-zero temperatures–have been located by researchers. Do the Ice Road Truckers know this before they get out of their vehicles? Sweet potate pie! I cannot even go to the Antarctic to escape their venom? I do not like the sound of this at all. Last quote of the article sent a chill up my spine: Nature has designed a perfect killing weapon …” Are they talking about Chuck Norris or the octopus?

Well, there you have it. Wildlife of the sea are bent on our ultimate destruction. It was bound to happen at some point. Another fond memory of my childhood beach days was when there would be a jellyfish “invasion” and hundreds of people would get stung. Between the jellyfish and Jaws, I had pretty much given up all hope of aquatics. 30 years later, just as I was becoming comfortable with the idea of watching shows on cable tv with water related themes, whales and octopus are plotting their revenge once again.

One day next week we will see one of these headlines: “Family Musselled to Death in Gulf Waters”, “Crabtastrophy on the Coast”, “Spongebob was really a spy for Coral Reefs”.

Here we are trying to support Coral Reef Conservation and the deep blue turns agianst us.

I am going to go hide under my desk now. That was what we did in elementary school when there was a threat of nuclear war, it saved me then and it should save me now. That and I am 40 miles from any deep body of water.

Pangolin: Endangered by the Wildlife Trade

The Pangolin, also called “Scaly Anteaters” are covered in tough, ovelapping scales – consider them the armadillo of the rainforest. They are a burrowing mammal which have a long, sticky tongue for eating ants and termites (much like South America’s Giant Anteater). Their body shape allows them to roll into a tight defensive  ball when threatened.

photo of mom and baby courtesy Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Center, Vietnam

There are eight known species of Pangolins across Asia and Africa (south of the Sahara region). Hunting for the illegal wildlife trade has quickly turned the Pangolin into one of the most endangered groups of mammals in the world.

Our friend from the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre has provided a nice video of a Malayan Pangolin the wild which can be seen here:

Southeast Asia’s Pangolin populations have been decimated by the  illegal wildlife trade for their meat, skin and scales which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Earlier this year, nearly 30,000 pounds of pangolin meat and parts were seized. At only 30-40lbs per individual, this was equal to nearly 1,000 individual animals in one confiscation alone.

Then on June 6th, Chinese customs agents seized TEN TONS (over 2,000 individuals plus 90 cases of scales) of pangolins being smuggled across on a fishing vessel. Follow the story here as reported on

To learn more about Pangolins, go to

photo courtesy Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Center, Vietnam
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