Houston Zoo’s Mobile Site is Growing in Popularity

Houston Zoo Mobile Website
The Zoo’s mobile site is handy for checking our hours, directions and parking information, and schedule of Meet the Keeper Talks, feedings and daily activities.

The Houston Zoo’s mobile website www.houstonzoo.org/_mobile/has been growing in popularity by leaps and bounds lately. In the last 30 days we’ve had more than 21 thousand visits to the mobile homepage, three times that of this time last year. I keep an eye on the top five most popular webpages on the Houston Zoo’s website, and in March for the first time ever I saw the mobile homepage pop up in the top five.

We launched the mobile Houston Zoo web in the summer of 2009. We kept it simple, including five webpages with the basics of hours, prices, directions, and a schedule of daily activities. In the summer of 2010 we added a page about the visiting DINOSAURS! exhibit, which went away after they departed last October.

In the meantime we also launched the Houston Zoo’s free iphone app. It’s been very popular too, and has some added features not available elsewhere, such as the Friend Finder. Soon we’ll be launching an Android app as well. But the mobile site is available to any cell phone with internet access, making it a convenient option for everyone.

We’d like to make it easier for you to get the latest info about the zoo on your mobile phone. Are you one of these thousands of mobile visitors? Do you view our mobile site at the zoo or somewhere else? We’d like to hear from you with your thoughts and ideas about expanding the mobile site and continuing to enhance its functionality.

Visiting villages to see livestock practices -By Peter Riger, reporting from Zimbabwe

Peter Riger, the Houston Zoo’s Director of Conservation, is reporting on his trip to African to visit some of our wildlife conservation partners.  He hopes to identify new ways to provide support for our African projects.  If you missed the first few posts in this new series you can find it if you just scroll down or CLICK HERE. 

Tuesday April 26th
Today we decided we would start visiting some of the local livestock owners in the local villages with Painted Dog Conservation’s community officer Dominic who happens to speak 7 or 8 local languages fluently. What brought us to Zimbabwe was to further devlop PDC’s community outreach programs. They are very involved in local education programs both at local schools and their Centre’s Bush Camp as well as with community gardens and the art centre. Many people here rely on cows, chickens, goats and crops such as sorghum, corn or small vegetables to feed their families and for income. In order for the community to support a local conservation programs ideas in protecting wildlife, those programs must be mutually beneficial to the community.  The two most basic needs on any society are simply food and health security for their families and education for their children. By providing basic assistance in these areas, we strengthen the bonds with local villages and strengthen our ability to protect wildlife and habitat in many regions.

Our first visit of the day was to Chief  who oversees all the social and political matters of many villages in this region. The Chief acts as an administrator in many cases and rules on decisions for the communities as well as on conflicts. It is common to get advice from the Chief in these matters and his support for any work in the community. He also happened to have cows and goats so this was a good place to start finding out about the problems the local villagers may be having with their livestock. We made a number of other stops today including the district veterinarian, a few more homesteads with cattle, a butcher shop, Lupeto School and community garden which works closely with PDC and finally , a trip to Dete to visit Iganyana Arts and Craft Centre before heading home for the evening.

Sitting outside eating dinner is always interesting here. Last night we heard a lion, jackal, and hyaena fairly close to where we are staying and tonight an elephant was wandering by somewhere in the distance.

By Peter Riger

Stay tuned for more exciting wildlife conservation updates from Zimbabwe.

"Ape"ril Special Event: Spotlight on Species

How do you measure up to the Houston Zoo Apes?
Can you pick termites out of a termite mound like the chimpanzees?

 How many steps will it take you to measure one swing of a siamang?

Do you know what it is like to be an orangutan with an arm span that is 8 feet wide?

On April 30 and May 1st from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., join the Houston Zoo’s primate staff, volunteers and docents to celebrate all things Ape! It’s Ape-ril at the Houston Zoo.  Learn about chimpanzees, orangutans and siamangs and their rainforest habitat. 

We will have a table in front of Chimpanzee exhibit on Saturday, April 30 and in front of the Orangutan glass viewing area on Sunday, May 1.  Visit our booth at the chimpanzee or orangutan exhibit to shop for orangutan painted magnets, ape photo note cards, chimpanzee and orangutan painted flower pots, siamang, chimpanzee and orangutan paintings, orangutan painted ceramic plates and cups and many other items… 

All proceeds from the SOS sales will support the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project that helps orangutan and elephant conservation projects in Indonesia, the Jane Goodall Institute that helps chimpanzee conservation projects in Africa and Flora and Fauna International that supports gibbon conservation projects in Asia.

During this weekend, the Houston Zoo’s primate staff will conduct a Meet the Keeper Talks at the Wortham World of Primates orangutan and siamang exhibits and a Meet the Keeper Talk at the Chimpanzee exhibit in The Africa Forest. Also, you can vote and help us choose our favorite ape, Aurora our 2-month old orangutan, Leela our 7-month old siamang, and Willie our 7-year old chimpanzee.




The Apes

The apes are undoubtedly the animals that fascinate people the most and the reason is not hard to see.  Of all the world’s creatures, the apes are the closest to us in form and behavior.  They can stand upright; they have fingernails and fingerprints, large brains, and expressive faces.  Most of all, they have an obvious intelligence that both amuse us and puzzle us.

The larger apes or “great apes” are gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos.  The small or “lesser apes”  are the siamangs and gibbons.

We invite you all to come to the Houston Zoo this weekend and meet our wonderful apes.

Written by Primate Keeper Tammy Buhrmester

Waterhole project in Zimbabwe -By Peter Riger reporting from Zimbabwe

The Houston Zoo’s Director of conservation, Peter Riger is visiting our wildlife conservation partners Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe.  He hopes to identify more ways the Houston Zoo can provide support to this community based conservation project.  Click here or scroll down to read his previous post.

Monday, April 25th we headed into Hwange National Park to get a better look at the wildlife and some issues revolving around the development of large numbers man-made waterholes which the park pumps water up into (using pumps run by diesel fuel) from the water table 100 feet below the surface. The idea stemmed from the thought that this would make wildlife more accessible to tourists visiting the park but in reality, it has changed the diversity of species visiting the waterholes. For example, elephants dominate the waterholes and most other animals are either chased from or are forced to hang around the edge of the brush waiting for elephants to leave. This is good for elephants but not favorable for other species who have to move more often to find these resources. The constant access to water may have also increased the elephant population unnaturally to where there is an overabundance in the park itself. At one waterholes today we observed 12 female elephants with 9 calves which would seem a highly disproportionate ratio for a herd of elephants.

We set up a time lapse camera at one waterhole to start looking at abundance and diversity of species using the space and hopefully expand to a number of other locations this year.

Other species in the park we came across today included Lesser Kudu, Cheetah, Steenbuck, Impala, hornbills, Crowned Crane, Marabou Stork, Duiker, Slender Mongoose, Giraffe, Zebra, Jackal, Baboon and Lion as well as a few Baobob Trees.

By Peter Riger

Stay tuned for more wildlife conservation reports from Peter Riger in Zimbabwe.

Avian Enrichment: Golden Conures Take a Bath

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

Zookeepers are often faced with a great variety of questions, and not all of them have simple answers. For example, one common question a guest might ask is, “When is the best time to come see the animals?” This is a particularly hard question to answer since we have such a wide variety of animals (one of the largest avian collections in the country), and all of these animals have different preferences. I typically encourage guests to try to come at a time they wouldn’t necessarily think of as ideal. This means the animals will be reacting differently and give the guests an entirely different range of natural behaviors to observe.

These are our Golden Conures (Aratinga guarouba) enjoying simulated rainfall. Some birds enjoy bathing in their water bowls and some will even bathe with sand or dust; however, many parrots enjoy a thorough rain shower. Bathing is an important behavior for birds as it helps the animals maintain the quality of their feathers. However, sometimes it is also just good fun.

In addition to these benefits, simulated rain showers are also one of the best means of cooling off animal exhibits in the excruciating heat of the Houston summer. All of our outdoor flight cages are equipped with sprinkler systems that can be used to mist our exhibits during the heat of the day, and the evaporative cooling that results from this can lower the temperature in the exhibits by over ten degrees!

A few examples of birds that typically react well to the sprinklers include parrots, toucans, hornbills and cranes. However, many pheasants and curassows (birds that typically dust bathe) will quickly move to get out of the water. The notion of the Houston Zoo being “a new zoo everyday” is even more apparent when you consider the difference of animals reacting to their surroundings on a daily basis.

A Visit with Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe

The Houston Zoo’s Director of Conservation, Peter Riger,  is on a journey through Africa to visit some of the wildlife conservation projects we support there.   

We arrived at the Painted Dog Conservation Centre on the edge of Hwange National Park around midday on Saturday. Tourism to Hwange National Park is starting to puck up and PDC sits right on the main road making it very accessible. They are the only place in the region with an education and interpretive center and groups can take a walking tour of the facility and catch a glimpse of the rescued painted dogs currently going through rehabilitation or socialization into a lack. There are currently 9 Painted Dogs at the center with 6 getting ready for a reintroduction back into the NW region of Zimbabwe in coming weeks.

The center also sells the famous Snare Wire Art which is produced about 25km away in the snail town of Dete by Iganyana Arts and Craft Centre. Illegal snares, basically any wire poachers can find, are collected by PDC’s Anti-Poaching unit by the thousands every year and turned over to the center for use in crafts. Selling the product puts funds in the pockets of local villagers who may typically get by on subsistence farming. This also removes the snare wires from future use by poachers. The Houston Zoo and a small handful of other zoos sell this product in their gift shops.

By Peter Riger

Stay tuned for more from Peter at Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe.

Where's The Gorilla?: Remembering M'Kubwa

M’Kubwa (Eastern Lowland Gorilla Gorilla gorilla graueri) also known as “Mac” to his staff of doting keepers passed away quietly in May of 2004. He lived in the Gorilla Habitat at the Houston Zoo for almost twenty years. We still get the question “where’s the gorilla?” or “where is that building that was like a cave?” I cannot believe it has been seven years since he passed. 


This sign was posted on the Gorilla Habitat after Mac’s passing


Here’s a bit of Mac’s background:

Mac was wild born and was captured near Tulakwa, which is 130 miles northwest of Bukavu, Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) in 1953. His early records were not complete and he ended up at the Oklahoma City Zoo in 1963. At first he was identified as a Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla beringei). Dian Fossey, famed gorilla researcher who wrote “Gorillas in the Mist” (a film was made about her life starring Sigourney Weaver) heard about a mountain gorilla in captivity and came to the Oklahoma City Zoo to see him. She positively identified him as not a Mountain Gorilla but an Eastern Lowland Gorilla. However, he was still very unique since at the time of Mac’s death, he was 1 of only 3 Eastern Lowland Gorillas in captivity.  All the other gorillas that you see in zoos are Western Lowland Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla). Mountain Gorillas have never been kept in captivity, as they can’t survive due to their fragile nature and specialized dietary needs. You’ll need to visit them in the wild!! See Primate Supervisor Lynn Killam’s blog about her trip to Rwanda to find out more about them.

Mac stayed at the Oklahoma City Zoo for 20 years and was housed with gorillas off and on. He really seemed to prefer to be alone; which is contrary to the natural history of gorillas since they live in groups in the wild and in captivity. So after 20 years, Mac came to the Houston Zoo in the mid 80’s and lived in the Gorilla Habitat for the remainder of his years. We too tried to give him companionship over the years and he ended up shared his exhibit with different species of monkeys and birds. He never did warm up to other gorillas but that probably had a lot to do with the early years of his life; he was most likely kept alone and never learned to properly socialize.

Mac eyeing zoo visitors in the Gorilla Habitat

I knew Mac since I started at the zoo in 1990; I remember walking into the back of the gorilla habitat and being overcome by the smell. If you remember him, I’m sure you know what I am talking about; it is a heavy musky oniony odor. For most, it smelled like really bad sweaty body odor. For gorilla zoo keepers, however it is a wonderful smell and I really miss it (which I didn’t realize until I visited the gorillas at the Bronx Zoo in February).

Whenever anyone used to ask me what Mac was like, I would tell them that he was just a grumpy old man. It was no different the first time I met him, in fact it was the same way for probably 10 years. He was grumpy and didn’t want anything to do with me and told me so with angry grunts and a slap at the cage bars. He was very particular about many things including how you held his cup of juice for him in the morning and if you tilted it too much or not enough, he’d grunt at you to tell you, you were doing it wrong. He was also, very particular about where he wanted to make his nest. If you put hay across the exhibit, or in a different cage in the back, he’d carry the hay back to his favorite spot and make a very elaborate nest. HE WAS SO AWESOME!

He loved his veggies, carrots and sweet potatoes. I remember several times I would cut up his produce really small and spread it around so he’d have to spend a long time finding his food. Mac would go around and eat all the carrots and sweet potatoes first, then go around again and eat the rest of the fruits and veggies all the while giving me the evil eye as I watched him exercise and move around the exhibit! He didn’t like to share his food either; we’d have to make sure the monkeys wouldn’t get to his food (and vice versa). Most learned quickly to “stay away from the gorilla!” I have a vivid memory of one such monkey that learned the hard way. She had come down to the ground to steal a bite or two from Mac, and she didn’t notice Mac walking up to her (how you miss a 400lb gorilla, I have no idea) and Mac grunted and back swung his arm launching  this 4lb monkey into the air and literally across the exhibit. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen but don’t worry, the monkey was just fine. She still continued to steal some food from Mac, but she was sneakier about it.

Mac patiently waiting for his next meal

Insert Funny Story Here:

I have a funny story, I’d like to share. I was in jury duty and was selected for a panel and when I waiting to be called by the judge. A jury clerk came running; she was out of breath. She looked at her sheet, and looked at me and said “Are you Dena Strange?” My heart skipped a beat; I thought, I’m arrested, my car was crashed into, the house is on fire, my parents are dead, the world is ending…amazing what crosses your mind in two seconds. I stuttered and said yes. Then she said, “Why don’t you give that gorilla a bath? He smells really bad!” Okay, world is not ending, this woman while sorting the jury summons saw that I worked at the zoo, and ran across the street up a flight of stairs to ask me that! So, I explained to her that you can not give a 400lb gorilla a bath and that the smell is actually his own natural body odor. “But he smells really bad; there isn’t anything you can do?” No, this is what they smell like in the wild. She walked away very disappointed. I was, however, the star of that jury panel!

I’m not sure Mac knows what to make of this mess!

Mac did mellow out in his later years, not by much, but he was nicer to me and actually would greet me and let me groom his back on occasion. In February of 2003, we decided to celebrate Mac’s 50th birthday. We didn’t know his exact birthday, but knew he was born sometime in 1953. At that time he was the oldest living gorilla in captivity.  We planned his party with the special events department and our primate staff. We held a private celebration with just staff and cake that morning before the zoo opened. Then for the guests, we decorated his exhibit (that was fun!), wrapped his food up to look like presents, did a few extra keeper chats and handed out cupcakes after everyone sang Happy Birthday to him! It really wasn’t that much and just like planning any party, you just hope someone shows up! So we were all really surprised at the number of Houstonians that came out that day to help us celebrate. We had a line wrapped around outside the gorilla habitat for hours! It was so amazing; I had no idea he had such an effect on anyone other than our staff. Needless to say, we ran out of cupcakes pretty quickly.

Mac eating his very healthy “Birthday Cake”

As he got older, however he did start to succumb to the effects of chronic old age.  He had some arthritis and congestive heart failure among other ailments, but he had a great team of staff including the vets and human doctors attending to his every symptom and trying to make his life more comfortable.  One morning in May of 2004, however, Mac didn’t get out of his nest. He was responsive but not very interested in food; Mac was telling us it was time. After deliberating over it very carefully with many phone calls to all primate staff and zoo management we all decided that the best thing for Mac would be to humanely euthanize him.

Once again I was amazed by Houstonians, at the outpouring of sympathy we received; many came to the zoo to sign a giant sympathy card we had in front of the Gorilla Habitat and many more donated money to the zoo in his memory. It was truly remarkable. He was such an amazing animal and he is truly missed.

I feel very honored to have known M’Kubwa. And I really look forward to the expansion of The African Forest when they build the new Gorilla habitat. It will be good to have gorillas in Houston again!!

Let us know if you have any favorite memories of Mac in the comment section below.

Did Someone Rub Hamburgers on the Windows?

At the Houston Zoo, one of the unique difficulties managing birds in the Tropical Bird House comes from our glass-fronted exhibits.  While they are fantastic for the guest experience, glass is not something birds ‘get’ without a little help from their keepers. 

Every time we introduce a new bird to an exhibit, we soap the exhibit window.  This simply means we go out to the front of the exhibit with a bowl of water, some bars of Dial soap, and we smear the soap over the window until it becomes opaque. 

Keeper Jeremy preparing a window for a bird transfer in the Tropical Bird House.

Guests can still see into the exhibit, and the new birds can learn exactly where that glass is.  After a week or so, we remove the soap. 

A soaped window

This also varies depending on what type of bird we are introducing or moving.  Doves aren’t known for their mental acuity, so any time we move a dove into an exhibit, even if it was just out of the exhibit for a couple days, we soap the windows.  Starlings and corvids, on the other hand, learn the boundaries of their exhibit a little faster. 

I have worked in the Tropical Bird House for about six years now, and although we have signs that explain why the windows are so foggy, I have heard some wonderful explanations from guests for the cloudy windows:

1. “It’s condensation on the window.”  This is the most common explanation I overhear.  It is very humid in the Bird House, because tropical birds really dig humidity, so this is probably the most valid guess.

2. “Someone rubbed ice cream cones all over the window”. It could happen.

3. “There are better ways to clean a window than that!”  It really would be a labor intensive way to clean windows, but they do sparkle after we remove that soap!

4. “Someone rubbed hamburger grease all over the windows!” This is my favorite, by far.  The bird house is near a concessions area, and I think the aromas imbed into our subconcious, because I often find myself day dreaming of a juicy burger as well. 

Next time you visit the zoo, make sure to stroll through the Tropical Bird House.  If you see a hazy window, you’ll be in the know!

Unfortunately, our exhibits in the bird house are not the only place where birds need a little help from humans to avoid collisions.  Want to make sure your windows are safe for our feathered friends?  Check out this helpful website!

FOTO FRIDAY Winner of the Week!

Welcome to the Houston Zoo’s FOTO FRIDAY Caption Challenge results post from Friday, “Ape”ril 22!

Last Friday, we posted a photo on Facebook and asked you to leave your best caption in the comment section. Then readers could “like” each caption comment to vote for their favorites. 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 winning caption by Janet Denton!!! (insert your best chimp song!)


Gaaaaaawwwwd bless Uh-mare-ick-uhhhhhh. Laaaaaand that I luuuuuuuuv!

(which we thought was hilarious)

*Renae Hunt Mitchell: “Aaaahhhhhaaaaa I haven’t laughed this hard since Tarzan smacked into that tree!!”


(which we loved)

*Aaron Harvey: “WHAAT?? We’re on live web cam? I feel so exposed!!”

(there’s two)

Kathy Breard Pratt “Do-Re-Me-Fa-So-La-Te-Doooooooooooooo!”
Melissa FellersOh I get it…the chicken crossed the road to get to the other side!”


* Brad Orr: ” Ohhhhhh im the king of the swingers ohhhh the jungle vip, ive reached the top and had to stop cause thats whats botherin me, I wanna be a man mancub, and stroll right into town, and be just like the other men, im tired of swingin around!”


* Erik Burington “Who let the apes out?! Hoo, Hoo, Hoo, Hoo!”


Thanks to everyone for participating



DID YOU KNOW: Palm oil is a form of edible vegetable oil produced from the African oil plam tree (Elaeis guineensis) which has been planted on plantations throughout Malaysia and Indonesia, home to some of the world’s most endangered wildlife — including orangutans.

Palm oil is used in many cookies, candies and products. Become a responsible consumer and support orangs by starting to look for palm oil on labels and buying either palm oil free products or ones that are part of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm oil. CLICK HERE for more info and a list of palm oil free candies – just in time for Easter!

Learn more about all the primates we have in our Wortham World of Primates. Better yet, come on by and visit!! There is a daily Keeper Talk there every day at noon!

The Houston Zoo is celebrating all things APE throughout the entire month of “Ape”ril. Check out all the activities in store by visiting https://www.houstonzoo.org/ape-ril/


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 http://www.facebook.com/houstonzoo and become a fan.

Building lion-proof fences for gardens in Mosambique.

Have you ever needed to keep lions out of your garden?  Can you imagine the fence you would have to build in order to do so?  Mozambiquians face lion attacks during the dry season and are finding ways to safely coexist with this large predator. 

The dry season is also crop planting season and although locals know to avoid being out at night during this time pests that invade thier gardens force them to venture outside after dark against their better judgement.  Wart hogs and bush pigs raid crops and the lions are usually following closely behind.  The people come out to scare the pigs and warthogs off and hungry lions are often there waiting. 

The Niassa Lion Project is a conservation organization with a mission to secure lions in the Niassa National Reserve by reducing human-induced threats and promoting co-existence between lions and people.  They work closely with communities in the local area and  have introduced a locally sustainable solution called “living fences”.  They started a program called “good fences make good neighbours” to trial and introduce the idea and it is spreading like wildfire.  

So how do you build a lion proof fence you say?  First, you find the thorniest native plant in all the land.  African Myrr is the preferred choice, and seems to make an effective barrier.  Then, simply cut branches off a living bush, densely plant them around the garden area and allow to grow.  This technique is reducing crop damage by the local herbivores and has even detoured elephants. 

This effective program has taken on a life of its own.  Communities across Niassa National Reserve are asking community members that have existing fences for clippings to start their own.  The people have discovered that the fencing can also serve as a great goat corral.

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