Give the Gift of Grub to 6,000 animals at the Houston Zoo

It’s New Years Eve folks!  The last day of the year to contribute to our Gift of Grub fundraising campaign and receive a tax deduction for  2010. Help us to feed our 6,000 animals and priovide everything they need to be healthy and happy in the coming year by clicking or our CONTRIBUTE tab on Facebook!

We’ve looked all month in this blog series at just what it takes to feed our 6, 000 animals at the Houston Zoo, and provide what they need to be healthy and happy.

It all starts with our commissary, and while our first five blog posts focus on the variety of items they procure and prepare, this video gives you a true feel for what goes on while the rest of us are still asleep…

Have a safe and happy New Years Eve everyone!

We appreciate you so much for visiting us here to read our four blogs, to comment, Like, Tweet and share them on Facebook.

There’s all kinds of fun and interesting things in store for our blog readers in the coming year so we’ll see you in 2011!

Nick, the Tapir 1978-2010

As the 2010 holiday season draws to a close, the Houston Zoo bids a fond farewell to a dear old friend.

In 1984 a 6 year old Brazilian tapir named Nick arrived at the Houston Zoo.  He soon became a favorite not only of the Zoo’s hoofed stock keepers but also of Zoo guests who enjoyed meeting him during behind the scenes tours.

Known for his gentle disposition, Nick always walked up to greet keepers when they entered his exhibit. He enjoyed nothing better than a good scratch.  The person administering the scratching would know they were doing a good job when Nick would first sit down and then roll over on his side or his back, moving his upper lip into something that could only be interpreted as a tapir smile.

Nick basked in the limelight of media fame, appearing twice in the children’s Saturday morning TV show ‘Houston Zooperstars Challenge’ that ran for 3 seasons on KHOU-TV.

Nick’s favorite foods were apples, yams and bananas.  He enjoyed bobbing for banana slices the keepers would float in the tapir pool and swimming after yam slices keepers would skip across the water like stones.

Nick turned 32 in November, achieving a milestone reached by only a very small group of Brazilian tapirs in accredited zoos. With his advanced age affecting his quality of life, Nick was humanely euthanized on December 30 in the presence of the keepers who cared for him over the years.

Nick was loved and cherished at the Houston Zoo and will always be remembered fondly by those who lovingly cared for him through out his life. He was an outstanding ambassador for his counterparts in South America. To find out more about the status of Brazilian tapirs in the wild, please visit the Tapir Specialist Group online at

Gift of Grub Series: Browse on Zoo Grounds

Please consider giving a year-end, tax-deductible gift of grub to help feed our animals in the coming year by clicking or our CONTRIBUTE tab on Facebook!

A snack for Toby, the red panda

This month-long series has mentioned so many kinds of foods that are bought or ordered by the commissary, then further prepared and dispensed by keepers. In almost each post you may have noticed the use of the mysterious term “browse” that many of our animals get as well.

A babirusa with fresh browse

Browse simply means the leaves and tender shoots that our animals might come across to nibble on in daily life in the wild.  We duplicate this by providing browse for them in their habitats.  The thing that may be a surprise to our guests is that we grow quite a bit of this browse on grounds.

Our Coquerel Sifaka dives in

We have a large, full-time horticulture team, led by Joe Williams. Like the old phrase, they are at hard at work outside, whether it’s in pouring rain, cold temps, or high humindity. Monday through Friday they spent between four and six hours doing cutting browse, which accrues anywhere from 100 to 200 pounds of it a day!  

Horticulture Manager Joe Williams and some of his team collect browse grown on grounds almost every day

Most of the plants and trees used for browse grow naturally, so they don’t take a lot of time or energy to plant.  We do add ginger, banana and a variety of bamboos, but those are planted in the Zoo’s overall landscape and when they are normally trimmed, that’s used as browse. 

A little nosh for our South American Tapir

At some point, horitculture may plant a browse garden or pockets of browse in a couple locations on Zoo property.  Proper pruning techniques are used to ensure that the health of the plants or he aestheics of the Zoo grounds are not affected.

Written by Rochelle Joseph, and Joe Williams, Horticulture Manager 

Our handsome okapi say gimme some browse!

It takes $600,000 a year to feed our over 6,000 animals at the Houston Zoo. That’s a big bill!

Please consider gifting your furry, feathered and fanged friends this holiday with a tax-deductible donation  during our Gift of Grub campaign at: or click the Contribute button on Facebook!

Time for reflection

Let’s end this year with a final quote,  shall we…

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”  Jane Goodall

How will you impact the world around you? Try one simple thing to start; recycle a cell phone, recycle at home, turn off a light, use less water, carpool when you can, turn off your computer at night, use green energy (yes – it can be cheaper), turn down your thermostat 1 degree in winter / up 1 degree in summer, pay bills online, wash clothes in cold water, adopt a shelter dog or cat, stop receiving junk mail, switch your lights to compact flourescents, use rechargeable batteries, turn off the light when out of a room, inflate your tires properly (it helps save gas), install a tankless water heater, install a programmable thermostat at home, support your favorite wildlife causes …all simple things you can do to impact the world around you.

Give the Gift of Grub: Feeding 800 Birds

Please consider giving a year-end, tax-deductible gift of grub to help feed our animals in the coming year by clicking or our our CONTRIBUTE tab on Facebook!

At the Houston Zoo Bird department, we make A LOT of diets. We have over 800 birds in our collection and they need to be fed every day.

A handful of our staff are what we call “kitchen keepers.”  We have one main kitchen keeper and some substitute keepers that come in around 5 a.m. each morning to get diet ingredients for 4 out of 5 different areas within the department ready for the rest of us when we come in at 7a.m.


Each area will bring a tub out to their section that is full different types of food  – fruits, veggies, different kinds of pellets, a mixture of lettuces, meat, and supplemental food items, like the ones you see below:


We prepare over 185 diets —  80 trays and 105 bowls of food — and distribute them in the actual exhibits.

There are a few special birds that get fed differently based on the way they would eat in the wild. Some, like our Cinereous Vultures, have their food given to them as if they were coming across carrion, while Kookaburras are encouraged to fly down to the ground to “catch” their food. Our ducks on Duck Lake are given their food, in pellet form, on the ground to replicate how they would find food naturally. Then the flamingos are given a pellet that is distributed on the surface of their pool so they can eat by filter feeding.

Feeding the birds at the Houston Zoo is a lot of work but it is also a lot of fun!

By Jessica Clark, Senior Bird Keeper

How much does it cost to feed your family for a year? At the Houston Zoo, our annual grocery bill adds up to more than $600,000! With a bill that big, imagine the impact that your support could have. Your gift might help purchase these tasty treats for 800 beaks. Make your tax-deductible donation at or, click our our CONTRIBUTE tab on Facebook!

You can email for more information.

Breaking News! Mountain Gorilla Population Increase

photo courtesy S. Kaufman

The population of critically endangered mountain gorillas living in Africa’s Virunga Massif has grown by 26.3%  to approximately 480 individuals in the past seven years according to the newly released results of the 2010 mountain gorilla census. The last mountain gorilla census of the Virunga region in 2003 estimated a total of 380 animals. The Virunga Massif encompasses national parks in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Some 302 additional mountain gorillas live in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which was not included in this year’s census.

“These amazing results show how the team work of three countries and multiple NGOs collaborating on mountain gorilla conservation has been truly effective,” says Dr. Mike Cranfield, Director of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP). “Not only is the census news great, it’s also a measure of the success of the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project’s ability to save gorilla lives in field as well as the dedicated efforts of other organizations and the national park authorities.”

The Houston Zoo is proud to support the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Prorgam One Health Program. To read more go to:

Say Whaat? A Very Special White-bellied Go Away Bird

What’s a Mr. McBouncy Pants?

This December 29th, we here at the Houston Zoo are celebrating the Hatch Day of a very special bird, Mr. McBouncy Pants!  Keepers in the Tropical Bird House are often asked the question, “What’s a Mr. McBouncy Pants?”  The answer sounds almost as silly as the question; he is a White-bellied Go-away Bird.


Mr. McBouncy Pants himself, a handsome bird

The first part of the species name, White-bellied, (Corythaixoicles leucogaster) refers simply to the white feather coloration on the stomach of the birds, while the second half of the species name, Go-away Bird, alludes to the distinctive call of the Go-away Birds, which, as you may have guessed, sounds like they are saying, “Go away!”

As for this bird’s individual name, or ‘house name’, in zoo world jargon, his natural behavior gives an indication of where the “Mr. McBouncy Pants” moniker originated.  Go-away birds are a species of turaco, a family of raucous, boisterous and often flamboyantly colored birds the Houston Zoo’s Bird Department has a long and distinguished history of housing and breeding.  Turacos are not known for extended bouts of flight, and they often fly only short distances from branch to branch of a tree, where they can be seen running up and down branches, somewhat like a squirrel.  This bouncing run of theirs has translated into the name Mr. McBouncy Pants.  Plus, it is just plain fun to say.

How much is that Bouncy in the window....

So, how does a bird at the zoo earn hundreds of adoring fans (link to his Facebook Fan Page  here – and a blog in his honor for his 12th Hatch Day?  Mr. McBouncy Pants hatched at the Houston Zoo on 29 December 1998, and was hand-raised by our curator, Hannah Bailey. Most of the chicks hatched here at the zoo are raised in the nest by their parents, but hand-raising a chick is occasionally an unavoidable (and rather enjoyable!) necessity.

In the Bird Department, the overwhelming majority of birds do not seek out interaction with people, but Mr. McBouncy Pants is different.  Not all hand-raised birds are personable.  Many are as aloof as any parent-raised bird out there, and that’s why this animal is so unique and we celebrate his hatch day every year.

Mr. McBouncy Pants is not afraid of people at all, and he loves to interact with guests and employees.  He serves as an ambassador to the world of birds, allowing young and old to gather around close, and even touch his back and tail!  He is a star at special events and Tropical Bird House tours, as well as a bit of a camera hog.

He's always at the center of the action!

When Mr. McBouncy Pants is not out and about, perched on a keeper’s hand and greeting guests, he can be found in his exhibit in the Tropical Bird House, just past our giant walk through Tropical Rainforest free-flight aviary.  He is extremely interactive on exhibit, and often picks up pieces of food to offer to guests through the glass.  Come by and visit him, perhaps he will offer to share his grapes with you, and don’t forget to wish him a Happy Hatch Day!

Written by Megan Neal, Bird Keeper

Meet the Staff: Nathalie Jolicoeur

You can see why Natalie is known as a smiler!

Name: Nathalie Jolicoeur
Hometown: Quebec, Canada

Section: Primates- Chimpanzee Keeper

Quote: If you’re gonna be a bear, be a grizzly-When in Rome

Favorite animal: Chimps — I also train them.

Interesting Facts: I speak fluent French.  I haven’t been working here long, but I hear I am already referred to as “that person who’s always walking fast, smiling and waving.”

How long have you been in the animal care field and what institutions did you work at prior to coming to the Houston Zoo?
I worked with Chimpanzees at the Center for Great Apes in Florida for 4 years and at Seaworld in Orlando in the Education Department for 2 years.  I have been working at the Houston Zoo for 1 month.

What made you want to be a zookeeper?
I love to work with animals and I like the challenge they present.  I was volunteering at the Center for Great Apes to get closer to animals and I was exposed to zookeeping.  I was a psychologist but I wasn’t able to work with animals.  I was volunteering one day a week for a year before I was hired at the Center for Great Apes.

Natalie with one of the chimps she works with

What is your previous education/training?
I have my Bachelors of Science and Masters Degree in Psychology from Laval University in Canada.  I had my license in Psychology and had my own practice for a year and a half before I became a keeper.  All of my keeper training was on the job at the Center for Great Apes.

What sort of advice would you give to anyone wanting to enter the zoo field?
Don’t expect the perfect job right away.  Get as much experience as you can and keep learning. You always have to be constantly learning in this job.

What is your favorite animal story?
At the Center for Great Apes we had a baby Chimp named Stryker.  Bubbles, the Chimp that belonged to Michael Jackson, lived at the sanctuary as well.  Mother Chimps are extremely protective and usually do not let their babies wander off anywhere.  One day the baby ventured over to Bubbles, and his mom let him!  Stryker, this little 5 lb baby, was climbing all over Bubbles, who weighed over 200 lbs!  He would climb all over his head, pull on his hair, his ears, poking him in the eyes, and Bubbles never did anything.  Stryker would just hang over his head while Bubbles walked around, and Bubbles was always so patient and gentle.  When Stryker was done, he would climb back to his mom.  Stryker would also mimic Bubbles.  I have this image in my head of Bubbles pushing around a large barrel and Stryker following after him pushing a little can.  They had a really special relationship.

Memories of Christmas and the Houston Zoo

There can be no denying that a childhood enriched by the Houston Zoo is one filled with wondrous and vivid memories, a first glimpse into the beauty that is the natural world. Many keepers can tell stories of their first memories of zoos and aquariums, explaining how the animals they observed helped shape their desire to care for them, and emphasized the importance of preserving nature to any who would cross their path. I am not exempt from this; it just happens that my most vivid memory is also one that reflects the magic of the holiday season.

Most animal-lovers will acknowledge that they possess traits that many others would call “eccentric”; having been a biophile (someone with an affinity for living things including plants and animals) all of my life, I expressed these traits at a young age by writing my Christmas letter and wishlist to Rudolph.

My intent was actually quite logical: Rudolph didn’t get as many letters as Santa, so he would be better able to read and address them. Pointing out that reindeer can’t read only causes me to point out that NORMALLY reindeer can’t fly. Obviously Santa’s magic reindeer are an exception… Plus, Santa had to go wherever his reindeer took him, so it only made sense to butter up the reindeer with a bit of extra recognition.

On Christmas Eve, the cookies for Santa were left out with carrots and celery because I was asking for something BIG.

I wanted an elephant. My grandma absolutely loved elephants, and watching them interact with each other at the Houston Zoo was one of our favorite things to do; We could spend hours just watching them. My plan was that Santa would bring MY elephant to live at my grandma’s house. We would drain her pool and the elephant would be able to live there happily, cared for by my grandma and myself.

Now, my mother recognized the problem of trying to provide an elephant for Christmas and pointed out a few of the obvious problems. Our elephant would be lonely without any elephant-friends, and neither myself nor my grandma knew how to take care of one. My mother’s suggestion was that I write and ask for my elephant to be delivered to the Houston Zoo. Not only would there be plenty of elephants for my new friend to play with, but there would also be a number of qualified people ready to take the best possible care of the elephant I would surely get for my good behavior.

Christmas day came and went, and there was absolutely no mention of my elephant on the news. I felt completely cheated by Santa and the reindeer. Hadn’t I been well-behaved the entire year? And for what? There was no mention of this new arrival to the Zoo, and certainly every news station would want to cover the story of an elephant that arrived at the front of the Zoo with a bow on it’s head! Perhaps it was even wrapped in colorful paper, possibly even laughing as keepers tried to shake the package to guess what was inside…

My mother, being the ever-capable storyteller that she is, came up with a wonderful explanation. Even if it is just a baby, an elephant is a BIG present to wish for. Obviously there wasn’t enough room in the sleigh for Santa to accommodate my elephant in addition to all the other presents good little girls and boys wanted. She assured me that Santa would return to the North Pole and (perhaps after a hearty meal and long nap), return with my elephant. Years later, she revealed that her goal was to distract me long enough that I would give up thinking about it. She would point to a random elephant the next time we went to the Zoo and insist that it was the one Santa delivered specifically for me. If only she had known this would not be the case…

Singgah, the Asian Elephant, was born at the Houston Zoo on December 29, 1993. Her birth was a bit of a surprise, and as I expected, every news station was covering the birth of this Christmas miracle. We promptly planned our trip to see MY elephant, and certainly were not disappointed when we got there. A temporary graphic had been put up for the baby elephant, explaining it’s name meant “fell from the sky.” Apparently the birth had been so sudden that the infant almost fell on a keeper. At least that’s what everyone else thought; I was one of the few people who knew that Santa had actually delivered an elephant to the Houston Zoo for me, because I had been brave enough to ask Rudolph for such a BIG present.

The holidays may mean many things to many people. Traditionally people mention a sense of goodwill and joy associated with the brightly colored lights and ornaments of Christmas. The same is true for me, but I also remember the sense of wonder at what the natural world is capable of that I felt while watching MY elephant run around the yard.

It has gotten much easier to give the gift of an animal at the Houston Zoo. If you know someone who would appreciate it, why not give the gift of an animal adoption to a special little boy or girl who has been particularly good? There are a wide variety of animals eagerly awaiting you! Not only does your support help take care of that animal here at the zoo, it also helps fund conservation projects to help take care of the natural world on a much grander scale.

Gift of Grub: Primates

We all eat to live (although some of us live to eat) and primates are no exception. In fact, if you go to visit monkeys and apes in nature, what you will probably see is foraging and lots of eating.

Here at the Houston Zoo, we spend as much time preparing animal food as the animals do consuming it. From the Commissary, where the dietary items are delivered and freshly prepped, to the primate kitchen, where the ingredients are made into individual diets, we are busy nearly all day making sure our animals are well fed.

Primates are primarily vegetarian, so we have a great assortment of beautiful fruits and vegetables to turn into monkey meals.

They get most of their essential nutrition from their primate biscuits: dense little packets of grains, vitamins and minerals that we feed early in the day, when everyone is the hungriest —  sort of like making sure children get their spinach before they can have dessert. Then, throughout the rest of the day, our animals are working hard to look for the rest of their diets, just as they do in the wild.

Part of making sure that our primates stay healthy is making sure they expend calories prior to taking in calories: they work for a living by looking for food that is scattered or hidden around their enclosures.

The bulk of their diets are made up of the many leafy greens that approximate the vegetation that they eat in the forests of their native habitat. The remainder of their food (depending on the species, of course) is usually fresh produce: from blueberries to avocados, these animals get the best, the most healthful and the most delicious of assortments. And, of course, we throw in a lovely array of insects that are the smattering of protein that many of our primates love to crunch on. Mealworms, waxworms, crickets and goliath worms are a tiny bit of dining entertainment that our animals have come to appreciate.

The best part of being a monkey (at least an Old World Monkey, from Africa or Asia) is that most of them have cheek pouches.

These handy pockets are useful for cramming as much fruit into your face as possible and then going off to eat it leisurely and privately, without competition from more dominant group members. For the keepers and guests, watching the animals literally “stuffing their faces” and enjoying their food is the best part of the entire diet process!

Written by Lynn Killam, Primate Supervisor

How much does it cost to feed your family for a year? At the Houston Zoo, our annual grocery bill adds up to more than $600,000! With a bill that big, imagine the impact that your support could have. Your gift might help purchase a tasty steak (or ten) for our tigers. Make your tax-deductible donation at or, click our our CONTRIBUTE tab on Facebook!

You can email for more information.

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