Special Thanks to BG Group from The Houston Zoo

Part of the Houston Zoo’s mission focuses on education to inspire future generations to become leaders in conservation. To help fulfill this mission, the Zoo was fortunate enough to receive a very generous donation from BG Group, a natural gas company with a significant Houston-based workforce, to provide a new TEKS-based, citizen-science, poster curriculum to 4,500  third graders in the Greater Houston area.  

This poster curriculum assists educators in teaching their students the basics of water and wetland conservation and preservation through a series of interactive classroom lab activities. Students also learn about the various animal species (wood frog, Houston toad, Attwater’s prairie chicken, and American alligator) that call both the wetlands and the Houston Zoo home.

“BG Group is proud to support critically needed, science-based education that will help students when they become the next generation of stewards of our world,” said David Keane, VP of Policy & Corporate Affairs at BG Group. “By actively engaging and teaching students about conservation, the Eco-Learning Lab proves that students can have fun while they learn.”

“Within the Houston Zoo Education Department, we strive to ignite in all people a passion for learning and conservation,” said Chance Sanford, Director of Education at the Houston Zoo. “We hope that through the interactive labs taught in the classroom and the reminder that the poster provides, students who participate will go out and initiate some small changes in their lives that help to preserve and conserve wildlife and wild places for generations to come.”

On the morning of May 27, 188 excited elementary and middle school students arrived at the Zoo. Katie Bennett of BG Group and 15 BG Group staff volunteers also came to the Zoo to help our Education staff with one of the Eco Learning Labs and see our partnership in action.

The day began with a 20-minute interactive presentation by some of the Zoo’s Education staff. It included an introduction to more Zoo animals that call the wetlands home and a discussion of the ways students could use conservation techniques at school and at home.  The children were then treated to a meet and greet with one of the Zoo’s animal ambassadors: a baby American alligator.  Finally, before heading out to explore the Zoo, the students were given a set of LaMotte water testing kits to put into practice all that they had learned about water conservation.

We want to thank BG Group for their continued partnership with the Zoo and for helping us to reach out to these local children. Together, we are working to inspire the next generation of citizen conservationists!

Some words from a student in the Houston Zoo's new Collegiate Conservation Program sponsored by ExxonMobil

This spring our Director of Education and Director of Conservation wrote a grant for a brand new collegiate level internship program at the Houston Zoo.  This is a very exciting program that I would have loved to have the opportunity to be in when I was in college.  College level students were selected through an appliation process .  ExxonMobil generously donated the money needed to fund this comprehensive conservation-education 8- week long program.

The students were asked to describe their experience in the program so far.  The following is by student, Kelly Schmite.  She is a junior at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, TX pursuing her bachelor’s of science in environmental science with a minor chemistry and theology. A native Houstonian, she is an active member of the community and volunteering with the University of St. Thomas Recycling Club as well as assisting in planting a community garden.

I have been participating in the Houston Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation internship sponsored by ExxonMobil for five out of eight weeks so far.  Every opportunity I have had thus far has been interesting, and I have learned a lot, but I would say that my favorite project to work on was during the week of international conservation programs.

I learned that a lot of conservation programs begin by researching the different wildlife using camera traps.  We began by setting up our own camera trap in the Zoo’s Duck Lake to see the “wildlife” that lives there.  It was relatively simple since the camera fell over and only captured clouds! 

Next, we were given pictures taken in Zimbabwe overlooking a man-made waterhole.  What I liked about this was that I was actually a part of a researcher’s research project, giving him pertinent information that could be used to change things that can make a difference in the natural world for the better. 

Finally, we were given over 50,000 pictures taken in Borneo.  Again, it was a fun experience, given that the pictures were taken up-close and many different species were caught on film that are either very endangered or doing things unknown to man before.  The experience in all was exciting and fun since you never knew what you would get to see, it has definitely been my favorite opportunity so far. “

There will be more blogs from the students in this terrific program to come.

Lee Elementary School Third Graders Host a WILD Fundraiser for The Houston Zoo

Visiting the Houston Zoo allows you to see endangered animals up close. When you learn more about these animals vanishing from the wild each year, it’s hard not to want to help. One dedicated group of children from Lee Elementary decided to make their own impact to help the Zoo and endangered animals.

It all started when six third grade students (An, Isaiah, Lillian, Biagio, Vanessa and Kaitlyn) were researching tigers and pandas on the internet. “To me it was random chatter of students who were once again using their wild imaginations to help fulfill a dream that they might accomplish when they were older.” said Kimberly Chapman, third grade teacher at Lee Elementary. But the kids had made up their minds and soon were finding out who might want to help them “save the tigers and pandas.” The Houston Zoo came to their minds and the kids learned the different ways to support the Zoo.

Now that the kids had an idea, they needed to set a goal. They decided to try to raise $3,000, of which $2,500 would go to the Zoo and the rest would go to Lee Elementary’s school library to purchase books about endangered animals. With the permission of their principal, Tonya Goree, the kids began their project. They made posters, hung signs around school, and collected their own money (with a little help from mom and dad) to open the “Animal Shop.”

The Animal Shop was open Tuesdays and Thursdays during recess and offered animal-themed bookmarks, pencils, pens, note pads, whistles and more. The kids also had enough supplies to give each class their own “animal box” for student donations. Teachers showed their support by allowing the kids to explain what they were doing and to come back throughout the week to collect the money. Through it all, the kids never lost sight of their goal. “My favorite thing about running the animal shop fundraiser was having to work with kids and make money,” explained Vanessa.

“Never once did I hear the students worry or complain about how their plan wouldn’t work. They just did what needed to be done and had a goal in mind to accomplish,” said Ms. Chapman. After two weeks, the kids tallied up the money they had raised, which totaled $800! It may not have been the $3,000 goal, but the kids were thrilled with their success. With $100 they each purchased a book on endangered animals to donate to the Lee Elementary school library, and the remaining $700 was given to the Houston Zoo. 

The third grade students who had a vision, and made it a reality

The kids along, with Ms. Chapman, visited the Zoo in June to present their donation and see the animals their gift would help to support. Everyone had a different favorite animal to tell us about. The kids also participated in a giraffe feeding and rode the Carousel. When asked why the Zoo is important, An, replied, “because it takes care of animals in the wild.” Lillian, said “it shows us animals we might not see anywhere else.”

Ms. Chapman shared her thoughts with us about the entire fundraiser “I was speechless and so amazed at the hearts of these six students to devote early mornings, some of their lunch time, and their recess to making this a success. I am so proud of these students who took an idea and acted on it. They encouraged a lot of parents, teachers, and students to just believe and support them no matter how young they may be or how hard their idea may have been to come true.”

The Houston Zoo would like to thank the students of Lee Elementary for their hard work and for choosing to support the Zoo with their Animal Shop Fundraiser. Learn more about how you can support the Zoo by visiting our website.

I am very dissapointed with you

How is that Houston is not on the list of the top ten places for recycling cell phones in 2010? Have you not been listening to us? Have you not visited Willie the Chimpanzee in African Forest and said to yourself “what can I do to help wildlife”? Recycling cell phones help keep wildlife in Africa safe(r). Seems bizarre, but it’s true.

Here are a list of the cities and institutions who have cast shame upon you and will probably do so again in 2011 if you do not go home and empty your drawers of all unneeded cell phones immediately. Numbers to the right are how many they collected for recycling.

  1. Cincinnati Zoo, 10365
  2. Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, 5061
  3. San Diego Zoo, 2611
  4. Calgary Zoo, 2510
  5. Louisville Zoo, 2484
  6. Philadelphia Zoo, 1904
  7. Lion Country Safari, 1626
  8. Boys and Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico, 1626
  9. Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (Zoo Atlanta), 1535
  10. Bluegrass PRIDE, 1482


How is it that a canadian city, someone who has pride in Bluegrass and a handful of zoos in cities smaller than ours managed to collect more cell phones than Houston – we were around #15 at 1,150 phones recycled in 2010 by the way. There are 2 million of you living outside our doors, and everyone of you has a phone!

Well, Houston can do better and our zoo has a special drop box at the front gate for your unwanted cell phones, digital cameras, iPods, laptops, MP3’s, portable hard drives and handheld game systems or you can simply mail them to the Houston Zoo. How about running a company cell phone drive? Boy Scouts? Summer Camp Program? Come on, I know these broken electornics are just lying around in your house reminding you about that bad purchase or how you dropped your phone in a bowl of tomato soup!

I will say this one time and one time only Houstonians:

Why recycle your cell phone? First, it can help the environment by recycling hazardous waste but it also may help animals in the wild. Columbite-tantalite, or Coltan for short, is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of the African Congo. It is used in cell phones, laptops, pagers and other electronic devices. When refined, coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. 
Some types of Coltan mining may occur illegally in protected lands all across the Congo which in turn put wildlife such as Elephants and Gorillas of the Congo region at risk. Eighty percent of the world’s known coltan supply is in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, it is mined by hand by groups of men digging basins in streams, scraping away dirt to get to the muddy coltan underneath. Recycling unused cell phones can help protect the wildlife, since reuse of the phones results in the need for fewer new ones, which reduces the need for coltan mining.

Have You Met Liberty, Our Bald Eagle?

With the 4th of July coming up, why not pay a visit to our National Bird?

Meet Liberty, our Southern Bald Eagle

Come to the Houston Zoo’s McGovern’s Children’s Zoo and say hello to our majestic Bald Eagle. The Eagle was adapted as the nation’s official symbol when George Washington became the first President. It appears on most of our gold and silver coins and as an emblem in many official United States seals. It’s also used decoratively for patriotic purposes. It’s truly breathtaking to see such a striking bird as this up close, and hard not to be stirred by all he represents.

What’s New? Liberty’s Exhibit!

We’ve been very busy working to improve and enlarge Liberty’s habitat.  

A new window has been added to maximize your view — and you’ll see Liberty has new perching, an improved, naturalistic pool and a refurbished forest mural as a backdrop.

The deck has been expanded and now has ceiling fans, a shade structure, beautifully crafted, wood-like detailing through out, and eye-catching new graphics.

What’s more, a new keeper chat area has been added so that we can bring Liberty out for up-close experiences!

It’s pretty awesome to get that close to a bird whose species is so stunning, it was chosen to be our national emblem on June 20, 1782. The eagle represents freedom, and also long life, strength, dignity.

What are you waiting for? Come in to the McGovern’s Children’s Zoo to pay Liberty a visit today!

And if you want to see a great video of Liberty, just click the green underlined link to the blog post below this sentence.

FOTO Friday Winner of the Week

Welcome to the Houston Zoo’s FOTO FRIDAY Caption Challenge results post from Friday, June 24!

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 top voted  caption by two time winner —Guppy Man!!! (insert appreciative Big Cat yawn!)



Kay Sutton Koci: Next time I’ll COUNT the sheep….Not eat them!! 


Michael Byron: Soft kitty, warm kitty Little ball of fur. Happy kitty, sleepy kitty Purr purr purr.


Elaine Thompson: One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor.

Kelly Van Gelder: Seriously… who designed this lounge area???

And some wildly funny HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Jeff Bricmont: Where did I get all these tattoos from???

 Megan Neal: I HOPE the photos from last night don’t end up on Facebook!!

Erik Burington:  Ohhhh! I knew I shouldn’t have gone to that party with Blanco

last night!

Bridget Robbins Haines: I don’t care what you say, I don’t believe I have narco-zzzZZZZZ.



Thanks for joining in the fun!

And please come on back for next Friday!

TXU Energy Presents Chill Out at the Houston Zoo:

Houston summers are hot, but the Houston Zoo is cool.

Guess what’s new? Starting today, you can enjoy four brand new misting stations in addition to the mister fans that are spread out all over our grounds! You can find them here:

*at the lawn by the okapis

*off Duck Lake on the side near our Wortham World of Primates

*next to the wishing well at the start of the McGovern’s Childrens Zoo

* at the entrance to The African Forest.

Click here for all our chill activities and tips.


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.


Just what you wanted: Recycle This!

More numbers and figures on recycling. Ready? Let’s go:

Recycling One Ton of Paper will save: 17 trees, 6,953 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 587 pounds of air pollution, 3.06 cubic yards of landfill sapce and over 4,000 kilowatt-hours of energy.

How about One Ton of Glass? By the way glass is heavier than paper so you can reach a ton much quicker! Saves 1,330 pounds of sand, 433 pounds of limestone, 433 pounds of soda ash (the same stuff that maintains your swimming pools pH level) and 151 pounds of feldspar which is a mineral you can find in ceramics, glass and silverware.

Feldspar would also make an excellent name for your next pet. “Have you seen my Guinea Pig Feldspar around the house today?” ” Why, yes I have. He is out checking the pH of your pool with Gilgamesh the Sumerian Bunny”.

Plastic bottles can be recycled into other products such as fleece jackets, sleeping bags, carpeting and more beverage bottles.  And don’t forget aluminum, that is easily recycled everywhere.

So help conserve our natural resources, save energy and landfill space by recycling every product you community or county will allow. And while you are at it  – stop using styrofoam immediately or we will hire Feldspar to do your pool maintenance.

Great Pacific Grabage Patch. Yes, this photo is in the ocean somewhere..

Mystery Image Mondays at the Houston Zoo: Week Four

It’s Monday morning and you know what that means! Time for another Mystery Image Monday at the Houston Zoo! If you want to brush up on your sleuthing skills, or just want to check out what you’ve been missing in our past installments, just click here!

The rules for the game are very easy: we are about to show you a portion of a photo- it may be of an animal, a habitat, or some other point of interest found on Zoo grounds. Your knowledge of the Zoo, partnered with the three clues that will follow the photo, will aid you in identifying the location and subject of the photo. Post your guesses below and return this afternoon between 3:00 and 4:00 pm to find out if you were right!

Are you ready? This week is a tricky one! Good, then let the (scavenger) hunt begin! We are proud to present…

This Week’s Image, a.k.a #4:

The Clues

1. I’m the newest member of the Zoo family- I was born just last week!

2. You may not believe your eyes when you first catch a glimpse of me- or the rest of your senses for that matter!

3. I’m not one to brag- but I’ve heard guests say that I’m even better than those blue rays!

Good Luck Everyone! Make sure to post your guesses below, and check back this afternoon for the answers! Happy (Scavenger) Hunting!

Psst- here’s freebie hint: all the photos are Chill Out-themed!


The Answer:

That’s right, you guessed it! This photo was taken inside our brand new 4-D Experience and features the state of the arts seating that creates the movie magic!

The Houston Zoo's new 4-D Experience!

For those unfamiliar with 4-D movies, the technology is very cutting edge and results in a completely immersive experience for guest. The process involves combining digital projection, 3-D film and perfectly synchronized special effects in a thrilling new ways!

Our family-oriented films will be shown several times an hour, in the new 4-D Experience Theater located across from the Herzstein Trading Post in The African Forest. More information, including tickets, times and prices for our first two films (Planet Earth’s 4-D Experience: From Pole to Pole and Dora and Diego’s 4-D Adventure) can be found here. We hope you see- heard, smell and feel- one of these films on your next visit to the Zoo! See you soon!


We hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Mystery Image Mondays at the Houston Zoo! Come back next Monday, and every Monday throughout our TXU Energy presents Chill Out at the Houston Zoo!

Go Batty During Pollinator Week!

It’s National Pollinator Week… so get out of the house and give thanks to the pollinators of the world (that includes bats!) by attending the Houston Zoo‘s 2nd Annual Spotlight on Species: Pollinators!  You may be familiar with bees that pollinate our crop plants, but did you know that some bats are pollinators too?  They are primary pollinators of delectable guavas; a favorite food of  primates big and small, the banana; and my favorite fruit EVER, mangoes.  Thank you, bats!!   Man, a bowl of fresh fruit salad would be good about now… but I digress.


Bats also pollinate many different cacti including the stately Saguaro, Arizona’s state cactus – that’s the one that looks like a tall, weird prickly green person with permanently bent arms…  (if you don’t have an overactive imagination as I do, here’s a picture).  AND, bats pollinate the Agave plant.  This is exciting to me because I love Agave nectar, but exciting to normal people because the Agave plant is used to make Tequila!  Have you ever had a margarita without tequila?  Well, its just boring.  So again, thank the bats for all those margaritas you probably don’t remember drinking.

Bats Emerging at Bracken Cave, TX


Most folks know about the Congress Avenue Bridge bat colony in downtown Austin, but that’s a bit of a drive for an after-dinner family excursion.  Want to get out and see bats here in Houston?  Check out the Waugh Bridge Mexican free-tailed bat colony one of these evenings…  all the action happens around dusk.  Most US cities don’t have a free bat show, so take advantage of the natural beauty Houston has to offer!  And be sure to thank all those bats for eating so many mosquitoes (unless you like mosquitoes, in which case you might see plenty of those too  – you just can’t lose!).  To learn even MORE about bat pollination click here and for general bat information, peruse the Bat Conservation International website.  Or better yet, join us at the Houston Zoo this weekend to learn all about bats and other fascinating pollinators!


Bat photo – NaturallyEarthFriendly.com


Bee Bloggin

Bees. You either love em, or you run away from them – there is a rarely a moment in between. I know a little about bees. They like our Mexican Heather plant, and our Fosters Holly when it is blooming. But I am not nearly the bee genius our Herpetology keeper Karen S. is and here is what she has to say about Bees:

Most people are familiar with European honeybees, some people are familiar with bumblebees, but very few people are familiar with solitary bees.  It may interest you to know that the United States is home to an estimated 4,000 species of solitary bee (compare this to the ~5,000 mammal species found in the entire world).   Experts say that about 200 bee species can be found in the greater Houston area.  So… European honeybees are but one species (and not even one native to this country, hence the name “European”), there are a handful of bumblebee species, but the vast majority are solitary bees.  Individual solitary bees may nest in the same general area, but they are in it for themselves – they do not form hives, live in a colony or help each other out in any way. 

About 70% of the solitary bees found in the US are ground nesters, digging tunnels in the soil to lay their eggs – the remaining 30% of solitary bees are cavity nesters, laying their eggs in natural holes in wood, reeds, etc.  The cavity nesting species are the bees our wooden houses will hopefully attract. These particular bees do not drill holes in your house and ruin your brand new wooden patio furniture (those are carpenter bees, which are cool in their own right…), they use only existing holes.   There are a few early emerging bees that you may see around in spring, but the active season for most species is mid to late summer.



Do solitary bees sting?

All female* bees have the ability to sting, but solitary bees are not aggressive and are not interested in human interaction – if you leave them alone, they will return the favor.

(* A bee/wasp/hornet/ant stinger is a modified ovipositor [egg-laying tube] used for venom injection.  Most bees you encounter are females, males don’t do much other than mate and die…)

What do solitary bees look like?

Some may approach the size of a honeybee, but most are much smaller – some species are so small you might mistake them for a gnat.  These bees are variable in appearance too. They can be smooth or fuzzy (or both) and range in color from solid black to metallic blue or green.  Some even have stripes or blotches of different colors.  

Doesn’t the Houston Zoo have enough bees already?

The bees you see in and around the trash cans on Zoo grounds are European honeybees – you may also see hornets, flies and various other insects exploiting our wastefulness.  To be blunt, human beings are enormous slobs and eat entirely too much sugar.  When a honeybee finds a huge deposit of cotton candy or a melting sno-cone in the trash you can imagine the bee’s excitement:  “Now that I’ve found this mountain of free sugar, why bother visiting all those flowers for nectar – its so time consuming… I’m going to tell ALL of my sisters so they can come here too!”  Again, honeybees are colonial animals working for a common purpose – solitary bees have their own agenda, it is not in their best interest to “spread the word”.  Solitary bees stick to flowers, but even if they were desperate enough to visit a discarded churro, they simply wouldn’t have anyone to tell about it.

Will solitary bees disturb the guests/ruin my sister’s wedding/form a huge swarm and abscond with my children?


What exactly is going on in those wooden bee houses?

When the female bee finds a suitable hole to nest in, she starts gathering provisions (nectar and pollen).  She forms these goodies into a food ball, places the food ball in the far end of the hole and then lays an egg on it or next to it.  Then she walls off the egg and food ball with mud or leaf-cuttings and starts the process again.  The end result is a number of chambers along the length of the hole – in the last two or three chambers closest to the opening of the nest hole she lays unfertilized eggs.  These will be males.  After the eggs hatch, the larvae will have enough food to last through the summer/fall as they grow.  The larvae will then pupate and rest over the winter  – in the spring or summer (depending on species) mature bees will emerge from their nests.  The first to emerge are males (since they are the closest to the opening of the hole) – they buzz around the nest holes waiting for the females to emerge so that they have first dibs when it comes to mating…  Then the whole process starts again.  Adult solitary bees only live for a few weeks, so the entire life cycle (egg-larva- pupa-adult) lasts about 1 year.

Why should I care about any of this?

Bees pollinate an estimated 30% of our food crops and we depend heavily on European honeybees to do the all the work.  If we lose the honeybees (look up “Colony Collapse Disorder” – CCD – for more info), we darn well better have a back-up plan if we want to continue eating…  Nurturing our native bees is a very wise choice for this reason.  Plus they pollinate scores of other plants, plants that directly or indirectly support virtually every other organism in the ecosystem – birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, fishes, insects.  Yes, it’s all a big, crazy food web we can’t afford to screw up.  So our job is to inform the public so that they can make wise decisions such as using biological controls instead of pesticides in the garden, planting lots of bee-friendly flowers (native if possible), providing backyard habitats, etc…  The kinder we are to Mother Nature, the greater the rewards.

For more information about pollinator conservation, please visit The Xerces Society website: http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/  And, come to the Zoo this weekend for Pollinator weekend!  For more information about this event go here.

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