Vietnamese language tiger website

From our friends at Education for Nature Vietnam:
Some estimates suggest that as few as 30 wild tigers may remain in the wild in Vietnam, surviving in a handful of parks and protected areas located mostly in the central provinces of Vietnam and in forested areas along the border of Laos and Cambodia.

Efforts to save our tigers must focus on stringent protection of tigers in their habitat, as well as strict enforcement of laws prohibiting commercial trade of tigers and their parts. At the same time, measures must be taken to eliminate demand for tiger products through increased awareness, and actively encourage public support and involvement in tiger protection.

As part of efforts to protect the world’s last tigers, ENV has launched a new Vietnamese-language webpage promoting tiger protection.

In addition to providing important information about tigers and their protection needs, the webpage includes video clips, a photo gallery, a tiger quiz, games and other activities for visitors

You may not be able to read them all in Vietnamese, but join us with this tiger puzzle game :

Rhino's Return Series: Rhino's Loaded…at Last!!!

Johannesburg, here we come!

At long last, the day we had been planning for dawned, along with a feeling of uneasy deja vu for us!  But this time, the crates were ready, Louis had his team ready to switch the containers, and the veterinarians would be on hand to help load the rhinos and sign the last minute paper work.

We we once again packed our bags and tried occupy ourselves through the morning, hoping against hope that all would go according to plan this time! We would be loading the rhinos in the evening and driving six hours through the night to Johannesburg in order to be there at 8:00 AM to check the rhinos in for their first flight. Driving at night served several purposes.  We wanted to minimize the amount of time that the rhinos would be in their shipping containers, and it’s cooler to drive at night which is much more comfortable for the rhinos.  Aside from the normal road hazards we were also worried about hitting traffic if we arrived too late in the morning. Johannesburg  is infamous for having the worst traffic in the world, and the last thing we needed was for any hitch in our journey to be because of a traffic jam!

There was one more critical point to the ground transport.  I have previously mentioned the poaching situation in Africa.  Literally every rhino on the continent of Africa is in danger from poaching.  Rhino horn is unfortunately extremely valuable on the black market so people will go to great lengths and take huge risks because the payoff is so big.  Rhinos have even been hijacked and poached during translocation transports like ours.  This is obviously dangerous to the people transporting the rhinos as well as to the rhinos themselves. Louis wasn’t taking any chances. Traveling at night when there was less traffic meant that not only could we travel faster, but less people would be around to wonder what was in our containers.  There are many international regulations that determine how crates must be marked during transport by air, including “Live Animal” labels and also labels indicating the contents of the container.  Large “Rhino on Board” labels aren’t exactly subtle.  Louis was adamant that we  not mark the containers until we were safely inside the cargo area at the airport behind locked gates.  Until then our containers would just be three more non-descript shipping containers driving down the highway.

Thankfully, for once, the catch this night was that there was no catch.  Louis’ crew is expert at moving animals.  It was fun and exciting to watch them riding on the crates and chains as they swapped out the trainer containers for the shipping containers. The rhinos were given some more of the “happy drugs” that we used when we moved them down from their quarantine boma and they went into their crates without too much fuss. The crates were then loaded onto the flatbed trucks and secured for the journey. The whole process took about four hours, but finally we were ready.

Here is some video of the shipping containers being moved into place.  Quite the production!

The HZI team loaded luggage and all of Dan’s camera gear into our rented vehicle that seemed to get smaller with each bag that we stuffed in, and at 9:15 PM we pulled out of Ngongoni Lodge  and were finally, at last, after much ado, on the road with our three rhinos!

Wonder what's in those crates?

Chimpanzees of Gombe

If you caught the 60 minutes episode this Sunday featuring Jane Goodall at her field site in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, then you are not going to want to miss this once in a lifetime trip to visit the Chimpanzees of Gombe and Wildlife of Selous Reserve with the Houston Zoo July 2nd-July 9th, 2011.

This trip has it all!  In just ten days we will spend time in Gombe National Park watching the exact same Chimpanzees that Jane Goodall has studied for over 50 years. We will see Africa as David Livingstone first experienced Africa, with a few days in the incredible and remote Selous – home to African Wild Dogs, Leopards, Lions and so much more.  We end with a few days of relaxation on the private Chapwani Island, just a short distance offshore of Stone Town on the magical spice island of Zanzibar.
Trip is limted to a maximum of 12 participants. Full itinerary can be found at or by contacting

Chimp Update: The Great Outdoors

Finally, after years of planning and months of construction, the time has come to open the door. This would be the chimps’ first glimpse at their 18,000 square foot outdoor exhibit. We spent several weeks discussing what the plan would be for letting them out, as this is a bit more complicated than people might think.

As many of you know, we have 10 chimpanzees and while it would fun to just open the door and let them go outside, there are a few concerns we have to consider. First, if all 10 go out at once, they might be a little tough to keep track of and we want to watch closely these first few days. Its possible that one of the animals might get scared or they might break something we thought was chimp-proof so we need might need to get them back in quickly. Its also possible they might refuse to come inside. By leaving part of the group inside, there is more motivation for them to come back in when we ask.

So in the end, we decided that Lucy, Lulu and Willie were the right candidates for the inaugural events. What did they think? Just watch.

This was just day one – more updates on the chimps and how we get them to come back inside are coming soon.

Houston Toad Cover Feature

The Houston Toad has made the cover and feature article in the November issue of Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. The Houston Zoo and partners are involved in a “head starting” project which could save the endangered Houston Toad.

Texas Parks and Wildlife has a short video up on their website highlighting the work to protect this species which can be found at

The Houston toad (Bufo houstonensis) was the first amphibian granted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Critical habitat was designated in Bastrop and Burleson counties in 1978, in areas supporting the largest populations known at that time. Historically, the Houston toad ranged across the state’s central coastal region, but disappeared from Harris and Fort Bend counties in the 1960s following an extended drought and Houston’s urban expansion. Although this species has been found in nine additional counties (Austin, Bastrop, Burleson, Colorado, Lavaca, Lee, Leon, Milam, and Robertson) as recently as the 1990s, several of these populations have not been detected since their discovery.

Headstarting consists of collecting eggstrands from native ponds and rearing them at the zoo to assure the highest number of individuals survive. They are then released back into the same ponds they were collected from throughout the year. For more on the Houston Zoo’s efforts with the Houston Toad – link here

The Houston Zoo recieved financial support in 2010 from US Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and Anadarko Petroleum Corporation to assist the zoo and our partners in helping to recover the wild Houston Toad population.

Vote for Wildlife!

Your Vote for Wildlife can make a difference – the Zoo Boise Conservation Fund allows the public to choose projects to be funded by their conservation program. They offer you their top 6 picks and the three with most votes will be awarded funding.

Seems simple enough. Just go to this website to view the proposals:

Two of six listed are also projects supported by your very own Houston Zoo. Both Finalist #2, the International Rhino Foundation, and Finalist #3, The Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project, have been conservation partners of the Houston Zoo for many years and could use your vote to secure critical funding for their wildlife conservation programs.

Zoo Confidential Part 3

Go behind the scenes at the Houston Zoo on Tuesday October 12 at 8:00pm when the three-part series Zoo Confidential premiers on Nat Geo WILD.

Zoo Confidential is an opportunity to get an insiders view of the Houston Zoo – from the birth of an Asian elephant and the newborns first nursing, to the breeding of the critically endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken.   Find out how Blanco, the leucistic American alligator gets a bath and how to entertain a Komodo dragon at meal time. 

Accompany the Houston Zoo’s veterinarians on their rounds and look over their shoulders during diagnostic and surgical procedures.  Join the Zoo’s keepers as they create engaging and unique devices to enrich the lives of their animals – from a floating ‘banquet table’ for a Malayan tigers to sway poles for the gibbons at Wortham World of Primates. 

Get behind the scenes at the Kipp Aquarium as keepers create a new home for the lion fish and find out what orangutan family planning is all about.

Episode Three – Urban Jungle

Tuesday, October 26, 8 p.m. CDT

Primate keepers at Wortham World of Primates install sway poles to entertain the gibbons; Kelly the female orangutan gets a little help from the vets with family planning; The first hatching of the 2010 Attwater’s prairie chicken breeding season is observed by Zoo bird keepers; Zoo vets perform surgery on a lizard that is unable to lay eggs.

Nat Geo WILD is available on the following cable systems in the greater Houston area.

U-Verse            266

Comcast           250

Episode One and Two  aired October 12th and 19th– watch for re-runs on the Nat Geo Wild channel:

Episode One – Special Delivery

The elephant care team makes final preparations for Shanti to deliver her calf.  Blanco, the leucistic (white) American alligator gets a bath.  Nat Geo cameras visit the Attwater’s prairie chicken breeding facility at NASA’s Johnson Space Center; carnivore keepers construct a floating ‘banquet table’ for Pandu the Malayan tiger’s special meal time.

Episode Two – Operation Ocelot

Two pairs of lemurs are moved in together, under the watchful eye of Zoo primate keepers; baby Asian elephant Baylor goes out into the exhibit with the other elephants for the first time; Novia, a female ocelot gets special attention from Zoo vets and vet specialists to track down the source of her kidney stones.

Jane Goodall – 60 minutes

 60 Minutes segment featuring Jane and JGI in light of the Gombe 50th anniversary will air this Sunday, October 24 at 7 p.m. EST (after football).  Jane Goodall brings Lara Logan and “60 Minutes” cameras back to the forests of Tanzania, where she began her love affair with chimpanzees 50 years ago, to remind the public that chimps are endangered.

No one in the world knows chimpanzees the way Goodall does. She spent decades living among them in the Gombe Forest on Lake Tanganyika, studying and recording their ways so humans could better understand their nearest animal relative. So near, in fact, they display sadness and can even laugh, says Goodall. “I’ve seen a mother laugh when she sees her older child who hasn’t paid attention and hasn’t noticed which way she’s gone,” Goodall tells Logan. “And the older child is going through the forest whimpering, crying and the mother is up in the tree quite quiet…just laughing.”

Goodall perfectly mimics the laugh and a chimpanzee greeting she learned from years of experience in the wild. Another, more surprising and disappointing way the chimps are like humans is in their violence toward their own species. “I hated the fact that they could be very cruel and brutal and that they have a dark side just like us,” says Goodall. “I thought they were like us but nicer.”

She left the forests some years ago to help save the chimps, of which there were an estimated million plus when she first encountered them in 1960. Today, they are less than 300,000.

Read more:

Rhinos Return Series: Rhino's Rescheduled

A few more hurdles as the team scrambles to reschedule the rhino’s air transport!

When last I posted, it was about 4:30 AM, Africa time.  We were exhausted, disappointed and frustrated.  Even when the shipping containers finally arrived, they weren’t actually finished!  They only had a coat of primer on them and would need to be partially dismantled and have three coats of paint applied.  With the next possible flight only two days away, there really was no time to lose.

After a few hours of exhausted sleep, Louis, the translocation manager, mobilized his team to complete the containers while the Houston Zoo team headed into town to begin communication with Johannesburg and Houston about rescheduling our flight.  Planes large enough to carry three rhinos don’t exactly leave every few hours!  Our only windows of opportunity were Mondays or Wednesdays and after missing our Monday flight we were hoping to get on the Wednesday flight.

Translocation Manager Louis and Joe Kalla check out the not-quite-finished transport containers.

Unfortunately, our hopes of a Wednesday flight were soon dashed.  The planes were full.  While disappointed, we weren’t overly surprised by this news given the months of planning it took to get this project coordinated in the first place.  To add to the stress of the rhino move, we all began making calls home to spouses, pet sitters and friends who were expecting us.  There were kids that needed care, pet tortoises that needed to come inside before the evenings got too cool in Houston, weddings that would be missed…..our own logistics seemed as complicated as moving rhinos from Africa!

Eventually things looked good for the following Monday. We set a time line for painting the shipping containers, switching them with the training containers, loading rhinos and setting off  for Johannesburg the following Sunday evening.

But our planning wasn’t quite over yet.  In addition to the logistics of physically moving the rhinos, Dr. Joe had to go through all the permitting paperwork again and determine what needed to be redone.  Some permits are good for 30 days, while others only last a week, and still others need to be signed as the animals are loading.  Some of this paperwork needed to be completed by a veterinarian licensed in South Africa and some required the signature of the Mpumalanga state veterinarian. (Mpumalanga is the beautiful South African state where we were staying.) By this point the South African vets were on speed dial on our cell phone!

At last things were once again on track and we suddenly had a week in Africa on our hands.  Of course, if one has to be stuck somewhere, Africa is not a bad place.  What to do?  As fate would have it, a veterinarian that Joe K. and I used to work with at our former institution, and that Dr. Joe has known from many years of being in the zoo vet field was actually in Africa, working in Kruger National Park. Joe K. put in a call to Dr. Michelle and we were soon on our way to Kruger, only about an hours drive away.

We had many adventures in our short time at Kruger Park and saw evidence of poaching for ourselves, which is definitely a story for another blog.  It was good for us mentally to decompress for a day and we were starting to feel more relaxed and pragmatic about the rhino transport… Here’s a picture of the Houston Zoo Africa Team looking much happier!

HZI Africa Team: Dan Breton, Dr Joe Flanagan, Beth Schaefer and Joe Kalla

How short lived that was!  It may be no surprise to those of  you who have been following along with our story that fate was not quite finished with us yet.  We got a call from Houston that I truly thought was a joke at first.  Sharon Joseph, VP of Animal Operations, was calling to let us know that we actually weren’t going on the flight next Monday.   I had to hear it several times before I believed that she wasn’t having a bit of fun with us.  The flight from Johannesburg to Amsterdam had space available, but the connection from Amsterdam to Houston did not have cargo space available for our three rhinos.

This time, a deep breath wasn’t going to do it.  This latest disappointment called for drastic action.  We went for “Sundowners”* with Dr Michelle and the other Kruger veterinarians.

Dr Joe & Joe K enjoying Sundowners with Dr Michelle and the Kruger Park veterinarians.
Visitors at our Sundowner celebration

* Sundowners are cocktails and hoers d’ oeuvres in the bush, on the savanna or by a hippo pool, where wildlife can be seen up close and personal.  The rules in Kruger National Park are that you can’t get out of your car because of the danger of being charged by a hippo or eaten by a lion.  When it comes to Sundowners, however, the rules are somewhat flexible.  If you get out of your car and you get eaten by a lion, then the park has no responsibility.  It’s your own fault for getting out of your car in the first place.  This adds an element of danger and excitement to the Sundowner celebration.  Fortunately, we didn’t get eaten.

Editors note: When the Houston Zoo team set off on what we called an adventure, little did we know just how accurate that would be! Their misfortune has become a splendid story, as many of you have been telling us. If you can’t wait for what happens next, check back for Beth’s next blog post!

Another update from Dought NKomo at the Children's Bush Camp at Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe


As I have mention in my previous post, Dought Nkomo (and fellow PDC employee Xmas Impofu) will be flown out to join us from Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) in Zimababwe  to the Houston Zoo in March.  They will be staying for 2 weeks to learn from our various departments at the Houston Zoo.   Dought is very eager to gain knowledge from our education department here at the zoo, and our education folks are equally excited to learn all they can from him about PDC’s outstanding Children’s Bush Camp in Zimbabwe.  

Dought, with his family, at his village in Zimbabwe

Here is a recent update from Dought, reporting from PDC’s children’s Bush in Zimbabwe. 

“We did a Bush camp last week with the Harare International School (HIS),it was all fun with the kids.We had several activities with them along with the original program we do  with our local schools.The new activity they wanted was to visit the Iganyana Arts and Crafts centre and learn how crafts are made and try their hand too in arts.For the first time kids from HIS did not want to go back home,they all wanted to stay.Among them was a girl who visited the camp with her parents two years ago and also did not want to leave the moment she saw the camp.”

In Dought’s update he mentions the Iganyana Art Center.  The center was created by Painted Dog Conservation in Dete, Zimbabwe  in 2003.  We purchase products, like the snare wire scuptures, from Iganyana Arts to sell in the Houston Zoo gift shop. 
Snare wire art
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