Maned Wolf Pups: Making Friends

So Dora and Diego are growing fast, and starting to look like real wolves. Believe it or not, they will grow into these ears.

sniffing out the camera

 Any time we raise an animal instead of their parents, its critical that we find ways to make sure they are properly socialized and grow up to be well socialized, rather than thinking they are people. These pups are cute right now, but soon they will be much larger and wilder, and someday they will go off to be paired with other wolves. In order for that to be successful, we need to make sure they know how to act like maned wolves.

The best option would have been to introduce them to another maned wolf litter that was being mother-raised but there were no other females due at the same time as our pups. So we looked internally and one candidate stood out as being right for the job: Taji, the Anatolian Shepherd Dog.  Taji was raised with the cheetahs and works as part of our Cheetah Ambassador Program. You may have seen her out greeting our guests or hanging out with cheetahs Kito and Kiburi.

When the puppies were just a few days old, we started letting Taji come up to clinic to meet them. She was immediately interested in them and and seemed eager to help.

naptime for everyone

As you can see in this photo, things got off to a great start and so Taji is hired as the latest member of the maned wolf pup team.

Need to catch up on Dora and Diego’s story? Check out these earlier posts.

Avian Enrichment: Great Blue Turaco Gets Bamboo

Everyday Enrichment: Making Life More Interesting for our Avian Residents – Part IV

As a child, I absolutely hated spinach. I was not a particularly finicky eater, but spinach was the one food substance that would not be accepted under any terms. In my opinion it was slimy, smelly and altogether quite inedible. As I have grown older, I’ve found that there are a variety of ways in which spinach can be a perfectly acceptable component of my diet. Raw spinach in salads is neither slimy nor smelly; spinach baked on a pizza with chicken and red onion is barely even noticeable. The fact of the matter is that there are a wide variety of ways to provide food substances that otherwise might have been deemed unacceptable.

This is a Great Blue Turaco (Corythaeola cristata) enjoying a bit of bamboo browse. Here at the Houston Zoo, we regularly provide our animals with a variety of safe plant material to eat, use as nesting material or otherwise simply destroy. Examples of plants we use in our browse program include hibiscus, bamboo, pyracantha, banana, ginger, mulberry, hackberry and willow. Browse not only provides added supplementation to the nutrition of our animals, it also gives the birds something to do; if a bird wants to eat the new growth found on the branches, it must actually search for the new growth and figure out how to get it.

Our birds react quite favorably to this form of enrichment; it also demonstrates yet another way our keepers must continually think about the presentation of the diet to ensure it is appealing to our animals. For example, the Great Blue Turaco seen in this video enjoys Romaine Lettuce as an occasional treat. Leaves that are broken up are eaten with relish, and there is nothing more exciting than watching this bird thoroughly enjoy half a head of lettuce that is secured to an enclosure wall. However, individual leaves that are placed in the animals bowl will be picked up and thrown on the floor. Turacos are not able to hold and tear food items like other birds can because of their diet; in nature, fruits and leaves are found attached to a tree which means these birds can just bite off pieces of acceptable food material until they are food.

All these examples just demonstrate the wide variety of ways keepers must constantly assess and evaluate the dietary needs of our animals. The dietary care of our animals must provide for nutritional balance as well as mental stimulation – food would not show up in the same place daily in the wild, and our animals demonstrate a great increase in natural behavior from having to work just a little harder to get their food.

To this day, I refuse to believe that spinach that comes from a can has even the slightest properties of food. However, many of our birds at the Houston Zoo will let you know that simply changing up the presentation of a diet (turning over a new leaf, as it were) can provide our animals with a diet that is nutritionally fortified and fun!

You can visit this fabulous bird in our Birds of the World habitat. Hope to see you soon!

FOTO FRIDAY Winner of the Week!

Welcome to the Houston Zoo’s FOTO FRIDAY Caption Challenge results post from Friday, February 18!

We have the best Zoo/Facebook fans ever. You all had us in stitches! Last Friday, we posted a photo on Facebook and asked you to leave your best shot at a caption in the comment section. Then readers could “like” each caption comment to vote for their favorite captions. Their votes, combined with those of our own panel, determined the caption to appear under the picture right here on the Official Houston Zoo Blog this week. We hope you’ll come back for the fun EVERY FRIDAY.


Here is the picture that was posted on Facebook last Friday, with the sweet winning caption by Christina Long (drumroll please).



And the first Runner Up is Frances Zollinger:

All right, Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my closeup.


Once again we had an enormous showing of creative and humorous captions.  Here’s just a sample:

*Sheila Livingston:  I beg your pardon but would you happen to have any Grey Poupon?

*Christine Forisha:  Sorry! From up here you looked like a dandelion!

*Katie Broussard:  Do you think I need to trim my nose hairs?

* Stephanie Hiller:  Does this angle make my nose look big?? and *Rachel Lundy:  HEY! Does my nose look BIG or is it just ME?

*Dina Smith Ferreri:  Can you tell me if I have a “Bat in the Cave?”

And it even inspired a poem by Rachael McClanahan and what could easily be a little song Elise Mangin… check back on our Facebook post to read them all.


Check out our Facebook page to see the rest of the entries. We hope this brought a smile to your face. And stay tuned for next Friday’s photo!

Tell your friends, share this on Facebook, Twitter or your own blogs, and start your office pools to see who can come up with the best lines. (To show the picture and link on your social media, just click the little icons under the title SHARE THIS on the lower left of this post).

To find us on Facebook, type in Houston Zoo Inc. in the search field or go to and become a fan.

Maned Wolf Pups: Play Time All the Time

At 5 weeks old, Dora and Diego are getting much more mobile, therefore more playful. After feeding time, they run around the pen, attacking stuffed animals and wrestling with each other. Playing looks like fun, but its also how puppies practice and learn hunting and social skills they will need as adults.

The puppies will soon outgrow their accommodations, but while they’re here, let’s take a tour. The “puppy room” is located at the Veterinary Clinic. We took over a room normally used to house sick or injured animals and moved in a refrigerator and microwave (for storing and warming formula), a table for all our supplies (scale, bottles, etc.), detailed log books for recording feedings and behavior, and a cot to sleep on. Several staff take turns caring for the pups during the day and someone stays with them overnight. Here’s the latest video, where you can see the setup and of course, some ridiculously cute puppy playing.

In the puppy pen, Dora and Diego have toys, blankets and a crate to sleep in. One of their favorite features is the “puppy fort” which is just a blanket attached to the pen to make a dark quiet space. They like to sleep back here, probably because it is similar to the den that their mother would dig for them in the wild.

hanging out in the fort

Coming soon: Blogs about the puppies’ first trip outside and and introduction to their new friend. Stay tuned! 


Borneo's Sun Bear Champion

International Save the Bears Day is February 21st so we are highlighting the Borneo Sun Bear. First – to view a super cute Sun Bear video:

What in the world is a Sun Bear Champion? I would actually call him one of the most dedicated and inspiring conservationists on the planet, but I digress..

Conservation success is about individuals and their committment to a species or project. In Borneo, a person who exemplifies this success is Siew Te Wong, a true champion for the Sun Bear.  His interest in Sun Bears began  in 1994 when he first started planning a study on the species in Malaysia.

Siew Te Wong is a Malaysian wildlife biologist and sun bear expert. For the last 13 years, Wong has been studying and working on the ecological conservation of the sun bear. He is one of the few Malaysian wildlife biologists trained in a western country. He did both his Bachelor of Science and Master of Science at the University of Montana in Missoula, and is continuing for his doctorate degree there. His pioneering studies of sun bear ecology in the Borneo rainforest revealed the elusive life history of the sun bear in the dense jungle.

13+ years and a great deal of never-ending work, public relations, research and fundraising later, his dream of the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Center was realized with its opening on March of 2010.

To read more about Siew Te Wong and Borneo’s Sun Bears: or

Borneo Sun Bear Photo Danau Girang Field Centre


The visit to Virungas National Park in Rwanda continues for Houston Zoo Primate Supervisor Lynn Killam. A very exciting day in the midst of an already quite amazing record of her trip thus far…   

The next day’s trip to observe Golden Monkeys was cloudy but the rain had thankfully ceased. Re-energized by sleep and breakfast, we were again ready for another climb. After meeting our new guide and a group of tourists who joined us for this leg of our journey, we headed off up another slope. This climb was a bit more manageable, although once the animals had been spotted and we came off the trail, we found ourselves up to our hips in thick vines. Suddenly a flash of orange-gold became apparent in the midst of bamboo and tangled vegetation, and we realized we were in the midst of a huge group of Golden Monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis kandti).  

* Male golden Monkey overseeing group

Monkeys of every golden hue in an orange rainbow surrounded us. Rowdy juveniles were encircling us and running practically underneath us, as if teasing the newcomers. The more dignified adults groomed one another further away: mothers rifled through their golden infants’ fur and big males watched over the troop from bamboo perches.  

We enjoyed an hour of entrancing primate behavior, as youngsters nimbly climbed to the top of bamboo stalks, bent them down to their fullest extent, and dropped off into apparent mid-air, landing many yards below us on tousled vines. Three youngsters played hide-and-go-seek with each other practically under our feet, balling up into play-fights and then sprinting away into invisibility. The joy of just being seemed to rule their lives. We felt very lucky to have been able to have a glimpse into their private world.   

*Female Golden monkey in bamboo

Gorillas were our ultimate goal, and they did not disappoint. The anticipation of our visit was surprisingly stressful: Would we see them? Would it rain, preventing photos and video taping? Might we get sick prior to our visit and be unable to go?  

The worry dissipated as we found ourselves again hiking through cultivated fields to get to our first gorilla group: the Kwitonda group had been chosen for us this visit. We were told that Kwitonda was very special because it had not one, but three silverbacks; for us, this was unheard of. We knew of a group called the Susa Group which had two silverbacks and a huge amount of blackbacks and females, but it had split into two fairly recently. But three? In one group? As we hiked towards the mountain we all got more and more excited.    

Our guide kept in touch with the gorilla trackers by walkie-talkie, and he stopped quite abruptly and said something questioning in Kinyarwandese. We all waited to see if there was a problem, concerned. He looked at us, smiled, and said “They are out of the park.” This was apparently very unusual, and as we hustled to the waiting trackers he explained that every once in awhile, the gorillas leave the park and come down into eucalyptus plantations to eat the pith of the trees. This is problematic to say the least, for the farmers growing these trees have large swathes of their property destroyed by the gorillas, and then have to go to the government to be reimbursed for the damage. However, the gorillas have no sense of legal boundaries, and if they feel like noshing on eucalyptus, they just wander out of the park and do so.    

We came around a corner and there they were. Spread out before us were some twenty or so gorillas, dotting the hillside, calmly foraging. Barbara had tears streaming down her face as she and Paul approached, and we all knelt down to watch the closest animal strip bark from one of the small trees. We were encouraged by our guide to move slowly around through the grove of trees to get better views and to really see all the group members.  

I found myself riveted by one of the silverbacks, who lay on his side to rip bark from a tree and then, in a fascinating feeding technique, scraped his teeth along the pith to get the soft interior of the tree into his mouth. I turned my head to see another silverback pass by me not twenty feet away, and looked to Barb and Paul in amazement as gorillas walked amongst us, unconcerned.  

***Paul and Barb embrace after seeing gorillas

A mother with a youngster on her back sauntered by, causing me to hastily move out of the way to make sure that I stayed as far away as we all agreed to. Another silverback stood to his full height and, with muscles rippling, yanked a medium sized tree down, snapping it like a twig. Another male did the same thing nearby, causing a rather large chunk of eucalyptus bark to fly through the air past our heads. We all relaxed and tried to focus on what was before us, as this glorious troop leisurely fed, foraged and walked around. The air was thick with gorilla scent and the piney-peachy smell of the destroyed eucalyptus.  

** Me… with a silverback as he eats eucalyptus pith

The hour passed quickly, and at the end of it, as if a clock had chimed, the gorillas got up and looked to their leader; the biggest silverback led them quietly back into the forest, leaving us alone. It was quite suddenly only a memory.    

Written by Lynn Killam   

 * photos by Barbara Lester, **Photo by Paul Freed, ***Photo by Lynn Killam  

If you are loving this awesome series, why not let Lynn know in the comments? Or share it on your Facebook page by clicking the little blue F icon on the bottom left of this post.

Jane Goodall March 2011 Speaker Event

Jane dropping a coin in one of the Goodall Institute kiosks located around the Zoo

Jane Goodall will be in Houston on March 9, 2011 as a special guest speaker in The Progressive Forum series held at The Wortham Center’s Cullen Theater in downtown Houston.

Gombe and Beyond: The Next 50 Years is presented in celebration of the summer when she ventured into the African forest to study chimpanzee behavior with a global lecture tour and the release of her latest book, Jane Goodall: 50 Years at Gombe.

Please go to for ticket information. This event is sponsored in part by the Houston Zoo.

Maned Wolf Pups: I Want One!

The response to the maned wolf puppies has been overwhelming – hundreds of you have watched their videos and commented on their photos. Social media is allowing us to share so much more of what goes on behind the scenes at the zoo, which is as much fun for us as it is for our guests. I’m going to take some time today to answer some of your frequently asked questions and respond to some of your comments.

Why aren’t the puppies being raised by their mother and how is she doing since the birth?

Dora and Diego’s mother, Lucy is still inexperienced at motherhood and that first night she was having some trouble with the pups. Because it was so cold that night, we had to intervene or there was a danger the pups could have frozen to death. For more on how that first night went, check out the first post in this series. Lucy and Seis are doing fine and are out on exhibit together. Unfortunately we won’t be able to put the puppies back with their parents because we still need to feed them ourselves.

Dora and Deigo at 4 weeks old

They are so cute, I want one!

I suspect that most of the time this is said as an impulsive response to cute baby photos but there are a few people out there that think an exotic pet might be a neat idea. On the contrary, its a really bad idea, and here’s why: exotic animals are not domesticated like cats, dogs, goats, etc. so while they might be tame and cute as youngsters, they outgrow that and start acting like wild animals eventually. This usually results in a phone call to the zoo asking us to take the animal because its too expensive, its destroying the house, or worse, it has injured a person or a pet. Unfortunately we can’t take all these animals and their owners struggle to find good homes for them. Still not convinced? There’s more info on our website.

I wish I was there helping raise those puppies – how do I get that job?

Working here at the zoo is one of the best jobs in the world, but its not all playing with cute animals. Zookeeping is hard work, you spend most of your time outdoors, you work weekends, nights, holidays, hurricanes and snowstorms. Its hard physical labor cleaning cages and hauling hay bales, but it also requires a strong educational background in animal behavior, conservation, and biology.

Still want to be a zookeeper? A degree in a wildlife related field is a good place to start but the field is competetive, so you’ll need some experience too. Time spent as an intern or volunteer gives you the chance to do all of the above (for no pay of course). Volunteering is a great way to see if this is the job for you and it also allows people that already have another career a chance to work at the zoo too.

My point is, its a lot of hard work that leads up to the opportunity to do something this special, and whether you are staff or a volunteer, you have to the whole job, not the fun parts.

carnivore keeper Angie feeds Dora

When will the puppies be on exhibit?

We’re still working on the plan for this one, but we hope to have them out for at least part of the day in the next few weeks. Before they can leave the zoo clinic, they have to get their shots and we want to make sure its warm enough for them to go outside. We’ll keep you posted here on the blog when they are ready to make their big debut!

Thanks for all your interest and support and let me know in the comments if you have more questions! And keep checking back for the next news about the maned wolf pups.

Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation is on Facebook!


Booming chickens on prairies and adventures to find bear hair in the Big Thicket. Leech infested forests? Monsoons? Leg swallowing mud and Sea Gull poo? Wild Orangutans that use bridges and toads with implants.  Confused? Don’t be. Join us and interact with local and global conservation on our new Houston Zoo Conservation Facebook page. Keep up with the conservation department and our partners in the field, and don’t forget to comment along the way!

Link here and follow along:!/houstonzooconservation

Avian Enrichment: Flamingo Flock Gets Krill

Everyday Enrichment: Making Life More Interesting For Our Avian Residents – Part III

Anyone who has been lucky enough to visit the Houston Zoo recently has most likely gotten a glimpse of enrichment and has an idea of how it is used to better the lives of the macro-mammals at the zoo. However, problems arise with the fact that some of our animals really have no interest in interacting with their human caretakers. When that occurs (as is typical with many bird species), keepers must think of new and innovative means to keep our animals mentally fit.

These are our Chilean Flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis) enjoying a snack of krill. This is actually a special treat for our flamingos since they do not get the krill (small shrimp) on a regular basis; instead, our birds are fed a nutritionally-complete pelleted diet that is designed to provide the proper balance of vitamins and nutrients to provide them with everything they need. Also, our birds get different pelleted diets at different times of the year to provide for the variation in metabolic needs that is associated with the breeding season. However, krill are certainly one of the favorite food items and there is no reason why a favored food item can’t be offered in moderation. Here at the Houston Zoo, we readily use the favored food items of our animals to enrich them, train them and encourage them to take active part in their own husbandry.

This instance was actually the first time that the newest editions to our flamingo flock had ever gotten krill; as you can see, they are a bit intimidated by it at first. Flamingos are a prey species, which means that their instincts tell them that anything new should be treated with caution as it could be a potential predator. However, our 6-month old flamingo chicks (noted by the grey/black plumage) eventually pluck up the courage and take to eating the krill with gusto.

Take note of the distinctive stained-glass artwork and the artificial concrete trees visible in the video – the flamingo yard is one of the oldest exhibits in the zoo and these objects are wonderful examples of the obvious appreciation for aesthetics the Houston Zoo has had with regard to animal exhibits. Of course, when guests come to the zoo they can typically look past these unique items of zoo history and simply stare mesmerized at the beauty of our Chilean Flamingo flock. Of course, we also have scheduled flamingo feedings several times a week and also encourage guests to consider “adopting” a flamingo to help provide for the care of these amazing animals. For our guests who can’t seem to get enough of our feathered friends, the Houston Zoo offers “Flocking,” a fun and interesting way to help support avian conservation!

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