It's “Howlerween” Time Again!

The Houston Zoo Primate Department is gearing up for the 3rd annual “Howlerween” celebration this October. The purpose is to help to raise awareness about Wildtracks and the illegal pet trade that surrounds Howler Monkeys.

The Yucatán Black Howler Monkey (Alouatta pigra) is one of the many primates listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red list.  This species, which is native to Central America, faces numerous threats that contribute to this status. 

One of the top threats these monkeys face includes the illegal pet trade which is often times a by-product of hunting these animals for the sale of bush meat in local and international markets. Confiscation of Black Howler Monkeys from the pet trade is overwhelming the Belize Forest Department and the Belize Zoo.  As a viable alternative to leaving these illegally procured monkeys with their owners, confiscated pets are being transferred to a non-profit organization called Wildtracks, operated by Paul and Zoe Walker.  You can visit the Wildtracks website and also their Facebook Page.

Wildtracks rehabilitates these former pets and reintroduces them into the wild forests of northern Belize.  Primate keepers Rachel Vass and Helen Boostrom visited Belize in June and spent time working at Wildtracks with some of these rehabilitated monkeys. You can read their awesome blog posts on the Houston Zoo’s Wild Conservation Blog!

 

Throughout the entire month of Howlerween, there will be special Howler Monkey Meet the Keeper Talks everyday at 3:30. “Howlerween” will coincide with Zoo Boo from 9am to 3pm both days inside Wortham World of Primates near the Howler Monkey exhibit.  Then on the weekend of October 22-23 we will be holding a Spotlight on Species event which will include educational activities, Howler Monkey keeper chats at 10:00, 2:00, and 3:30, and a variety of merchandise that will be on sale to help raise money for Wildtracks. 

Visit our website to learn all the details about our special Howlerween Spotlight on Species weekend on October 22-23, located in our Wortham World of Primates. Please come out and visit us for a howling good time!

JOIN US FOR THE 3RD ANNUAL STATE OF THE PRAIRIE CONFERENCE – Building Prairies From the Back Yard to the Back 40

JOIN US FOR THE 3RD ANNUAL STATE OF THE PRAIRIE CONFERENCE

BUILDING PRAIRIES FROM YOUR BACKYARD TO THE BACK 40

NOVEMBER 18-19 IN HOUSTON

 

Coastal Prairie Partnership and Native Prairie Association of Texas are proud to announce the 3rd Annual State of the Prairie Conference to be held in Houston, TX from Nov. 18-19 at the Houston Zoo’s Brown Education Center, followed by field trips to prairie remnants all over Houston. Each year this event attracts the sharpest minds in prairie conservation from Texas, Louisiana, and the Midwest to spark lively conversations and provide practical, real-world solutions to restore, conserve, and educate about local prairies for multiple uses.

 

We’ll have presentations and field experiences that focus on prairies and cattle production, landscaping with prairie natives, ecotourism, biodiversity, prairie wetlands and more. So if you are a rancher, conservationist, landscape architect, educator, naturalist, or just curious about building build prairies in rural or urban areas, this event is for you!

 

What: 3rd Annual State of the Prairie Conference

When: November 18-19, 2011

Where: Houston Zoo’s Brown Education Center – November 18. Various locations around Houston – November 19.

How Much: $50 for indoor session at Houston Zoo (student rate available) on November 18 and $10 – $25 for November 19 Field Experiences.

Registration: Full details and registration available at www.coastalprairie.org

 

FOTO Friday Winner of the Week

Welcome to the Houston Zoo’s FOTO FRIDAY Caption Challenge results post from Friday, September 23!

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.

YOUR VOTES HELP DETERMINE THE WINNERS!

Here is the picture that was posted on Facebook last Friday, with the top voted caption by Kathy Burgamy! (Insert happy dance)

Ok so I'm a guy right? So who is trying to trick me with this egg looking thing?

 

FIRST RUNNER UP:

Kristen McGrady: If these green pigs won’t eat the egg then I will!

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SECOND RUNNER UP

Erik Burington Why can’t we go back to the good days where they used to hide our pills in our food?

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Tie for THIRD RUNNER UP

Esmeralda Hernandez: What? Im helping it hatch! Jeez!

Tree Richards: If youre laying an egg…. youre doing it wrong

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MANY Funny Honorable Mentions:

Kathy Russell: I hate it when they misplace my bowling bag

Aurora Gonzalez: It’s “JAWBREAKER VS JAWBREAKER!

John Larkin: Smaug!! How many times do I have to tell ya – stop biting your brother!!!

Alma Garza Mescher: I’m a professional. Do NOT try this at home!

Mica Arismendez ‎Maybe I should forget about this ball, the foot in front of me would be much easier to gnaw on!

( …and the opposite opinion!) Jonathan Plazek: The foot is tempting, but I’ll take the egg

Barbara Blanchard Reed From the Schweddy family recipe  

Alan G Pallister Whoever invented all-day gobstoppers is a genius.

Brad Orr Is it just me or are these pills getting bigger???

Dorothy Simms ‎Oh I get it, the largest egg on earth for the largest lizard on earth!

Dana Rice ‎ Well, she said ‘go suck an egg’…I hope this makes her happy

 Racheal Emig: Fido’s got nothin on me!

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Come visit Smaug, and our monitor, his pal next door. You will find them both in their habitats at the far end of the Reptile House, on your way to see the new Elephant Habitat. They both have windows that face the outdoors, and Smaug is usually front and center, hangin’ on his rock, waiting to take pictures with you.

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CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL!

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. Click here for all our chill activities and tips.

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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.

 

Dora & Diego Visit the Houston Zoo!

Well-loved characters Dora and Diego, from the hit Nickelodeon shows Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go!, are visiting the Houston Zoo on Saturday and Sunday, October 1 and 2! They will make appearances throughout the day and greet adoring fans, young and old alike, to pose for photos. Be sure you bring your camera to capture this exciting experience! This is included in your regular Zoo Admission or membership.

Dora and Diego will be near the 4-D Experience in The African Forest on Saturday and Sunday, October 1 and 2 from 10:00 a.m.- 2:00 p.m. each day. While they will be out from 10:00 a.m.- 2:00 p.m., they may take a few brief breaks during this time.

 

Dora the Explorer!

 
Also, guests can watch them in action in the exciting and interactive Dora and Diego’s 4-D Adventure: Catch That Robot Butterfly! at the Zoo’s 4-D Experience. The 4-D Experience is $5 for non-members and $4 for members.
 

Dora & Diego's 4-D Adventure!

The Diminutive Dekay's Snake

This is the third in a series on snakes that’s being written for you by The Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department Supervisor, Judith Bryja. Our Herp Department knows their stuff, and since we get so much interest in snakes, Judith is writing this informative blog series each week just for you!  If you’d like to read the series from the beginning, click here.

Let’s talk about Dekay’s snakes (Storeria dekayi).  Also known as brown snakes, there are many subspecies of this diminutive snake; we have two of them in Texas.  Adult size is only 9-13 inches.  Most are some shade of brown or grey with a wide stripe down the back and small spots on either side of the stripe.  The belly is whitish or yellowish.

They live in a variety of habitats including pine forest, grasslands, and brackish and freshwater marshes.  They prefer wet shaded places that have ground cover and surface leaf litter; this provides shelter and their main prey animals.  Their diet is mostly earthworms and slugs but they will also eat other invertebrates and small fish and frogs.  About 12 babies are born in late summer.  They are 3-4 inches long at birth.  When bothered, this inoffensive little snake will usually lay quite still.  If further disturbed, they will try to get away, and if that doesn’t work, they may flatten the body revealing rows of dark and light scales.  This sudden change in appearance can confuse a predator.  Rarely do they ever try to bite (not that it would do much if they did!).

Written by Judith Bryja
Photos by Charlie Mann

Come back next week for another installment in this Snake Series!

Houston Zoo Animal Enrichment Wish List Now at Amazon.com!

Do you love to shop?!  The Houston Zoo animals now have a wishlist on Amazon.com!  We all enjoy buying that perfect gift for someone special…..and who’s more special than the animals at the zoo!  I know you’ve often wondered, if I were buying a gift for Jonathan the lion what on earth would he want?  And where would I go to buy it?  What about a baby gift for Aurora the orangutan?  Well today’s your lucky day and you don’t even have to leave the comfort of your air conditioned home, yes shopping in the summer without breaking a sweat!!

All of the animals now have brought their needs and wants to you through Amazon.com, just a click away.  Here’s an example of some of the items you can purchase and enrich the lives of your favorite animal.

The Carnivores are asking for boomer balls, catnip and many other items, you know how cats love to wind themselves up on catnip, then start chasing everything in sight!   Like this Jolly Ball available at Amazon.com, peppermint scented!

Horseman's Pride Jolly Ball

The Primates are asking for a Look Lous feeding mirror….hmmmm is that so Rudy orangutan can make sure there are no crumbs on his face when he finishes his favorite breakfast??  Just a click away!

Looky Lou Feeder 14" X 10" Acrylic w/ 3/4" holes (.125 wall) Mirror on one side: 4 in.

Find your favorite animals and see what they’re wishing for at Amazon.com. Then just sit back, shop, click and send your animal of choice a wonderful gift to enrich their life!  They really do appreciate it and so does the Houston Zoo!

Enrichment Day at the Houston Zoo is today, Saturday, September 24th.  This is a great opportunity to see all of the animals enjoying special enrichment, hear keeper chats and loads of  fun games for kids of all ages!  Enrichment Day celebrates the meaning and joy of enriching our animals and visitors! If you are so inspired by this day, or have a favorite species at the Houston Zoo, you can now go on Amazon.com anytime of the year and make a difference!

 

Animal Enrichment: Well, They Certainly Have Something to Say About That…

People like to watch animals actively engaged in their environment – it’s true. It’s my opinion that natural behaviors are so inviting because they create the feeling of being somewhere special. Particularly when observed in the presence of our beautifully kept and planted grounds, animals presenting natural behaviors gives the feeling of being somewhere “wild.”

For our part, keepers do our best to encourage a variety of natural behaviors. Not only is it beneficial for our guests to see the amazing natural behaviors that cause us to love every minute of our jobs, it’s enormously beneficial to provide for the mental and physical wellness of our animals by providing enrichment opportunities. Did you know that an effective enrichment program can help to stabilize fluctuating weight, help with mild health concerns and even encourage breeding in some species? It really is that important to the overall well-being of our animals.

These are our Grey-winged Trumpeters (Psophia crepitans) utilizing a basic puzzle feeder. Such items are wonderful because they make enriching animals a much more viable possibility. The simple fact is that there are only so many hours in a day, and when keepers are responsible for such a diverse animal collection (more than 800 avian residents in our bird department, alone!) such readily prepared items are nothing less than magical.

Enrichment Day at the Houston Zoo is Saturday, September 24th.  This is a great opportunity to come and join in the fun.  Come out and see all of the animals enjoying special enrichment, hear keeper chats and loads of  fun games for kids of all ages!  Enrichment Day celebrates the meaning and joy of enriching our animals and visitors!

Find your favorite animals and see what they’re wishing for at Amazon.com. Then just sit back, shop, click and send your animal of choice a wonderful gift to enrich their life!  They really do appreciate it and so does the Houston Zoo!

Happy World Rhino Day!!!! By Ashley Roth, Hoofstock Keeper

Happy World Rhino Day!

Today, September 22, we are celebrating all five Rhinoceros species and creating awareness about the use of rhino horn to help save these magnificent animals. The Houston Zoo is home to three White Rhinoceroses; two females and one male. Our trio of rhinos have called Houston home since October 2010. Previously they lived in Kruger National Park, which has a carrying capacity of 12,000 rhinos. When Kruger has more rhinos that they can sustain, they send younger rhinos off to institutions such as the Houston Zoo. This way we can build up a diversity of genes in captivity and also insure the safety of these animals. Several months prior to our rhinos coming to Houston, they were brought to a smaller game reserve about an hour outside of Kruger National Park. There, our rhinos had guards watching over them 24/7 in order to protect them against any possible poachers. During that time they were also trained to comfortably go into a crate that was specially designed to hold each individual rhino on their 54 hour trip from South Africa to Houston.

Our rhinos settled into their new home here at the Houston Zoo quickly, which has allowed the keepers to build strong relationships with the rhinos. Having a good relationship with your animals greatly benefits any training program. The animals will respond better to the trainer and quickly learn the behaviors asked of them. Our work with our rhinos have demonstrated their docile and playful manner, which contradicts shows and movies that have them portrayed as scary monsters that will charge at anything that moves. Since rhinos are so large and tough, they have no natural predators in the wild and will only charge when threatened. Though they have no natural predators, rhinos are facing a dilemma due to dwindling numbers caused by poaching for their horn.

The White Rhinoceros has been the only rhino success story. Their population was as low as fifty to two hundred individuals at the beginning of the 20th century. They were saved from extinction due to the help of conservation work. Their population is now between seventeen thousand and eighteen thousand individuals. The White Rhinos individual population is greater than all other four rhino species combined. However, with a growing demand for rhino horn, poaching has increased to a rate of about one rhino being poached every day.

Rhinoceros are poached only for their horns. Their horns are made of keratin; compressed hair, which is the exact same material as our own finger nails. However, many Asian cultures use rhino horn as a traditional form of medicine, even though it has been scientifically proven that there are no medicinal properties in rhino horn. It would be the equivalent to chewing on your own finger nails. Additionally, some Middle Eastern countries use rhino horn for ornamental use such as a dagger handle which is a status symbol in their countries.

Unfortunately, poachers are using very high tech equipment and also poaching at night, making it more difficult for parks and reserves to protect the rhinoceros. A large majority of the poaching occurs in South Africa, which alone is home to about ninety-three percent of the White Rhinoceros population. The poaching is now been determined to not be a crime of poverty. Criminal syndicates control the poaching of rhinos, which also makes it more difficult to fend against as they are highly organized and intelligent gangs. Recently, studies have a correlation between the increased number of Asian businesses in Africa and poaching being at a sixteen year high. The Houston Zoo’s trio of rhinos are animal ambassadors for their counter parts in the wild. They not only represent White Rhinoceros, but all five species of rhinos as a whole. With our help, we can save these animals and pull them back from the brink of extinction. Every individual makes a difference. Conservation cannot be effective if done alone. The sharing of knowledge, raising awareness and the spread of compassion for these spectacular creatures is what will make the difference. Rhinos have existed for over fifty million years. It would be a shame to loss such a big part of the ecosystem due to the selfish measures of several groups of people. The Houston Zoo assists and supports an organization that fights you to save rhinos in the wild called the Iternational Rhino Foundation.  To Find out what we are doing and how you can help click HERE.

Written by Ashley Roth, Houston Zoo Hoofstock keeper

Animal Enrichment: It's an Elephant's Life

Enriching the herd of Asian elephants here at the Houston Zoo  is a very important part of our day.  Elephants are highly intelligent animals (probably the most intelligent at the zoo) and they need many different types of enrichment. 

Training is one of the most important parts of an Elephant keeper’s day, and is extremely enriching for our elephants as well.  It allows the Elephant keepers to get very close to each animal and inspect their body condition and care for them, but it also helps to form a strong relationship between each keeper and each elephant.  Training new behaviors encourages our elephants to think critically to receive the reward of food and praise — and also helps to keep the elephants active. 

Along with mental stimulation, physical enrichment, such as toys, scents, spices, leafy browse and musical instruments are all vital to keeping our elephants active, enriched, and engaged.  When you visit the Houston Zoo, it is easy to spot the items that are placed daily in the yard.  These commonly include small and large tires, bells, bowling balls, large rubber balls, large hanging chimes and large logs.  Of course, all of these toys are elephant proof and safe for our two calves, Baylor andTupelo, to play with as well. 

What you may not be able to see are the various spices and areas scented with extracts or perfume, which encourage the elephants to walk around the yard to find and taste new and different items. Leafy browse, such as Mulberry and Bamboo, is also vital for elephants. Found in their natural diet, leaves and bark are nutritionally important and they also provide a fun toy. 

Our elephants are commonly seen using large sticks to scratch their backs and behind their ears.  New or novel substrates like sand and dirt are also used as enrichment. Baylor and Tupelo especially seem to enjoy a nice pile of fresh sand or a mud wallow. The pool in the new yard will be an excellent addition to the facility and will be enriching to the herd for years to come.  

Hopefully, the elephants will be moving in to the new exhibit in September. It is really just up to the keepers to challenge ourselves to find ways to keep the elephants enriched and think of new ideas.

Written by Andrea Pohlman, Elephant Keeper

Enrichment Day at the Houston Zoo is Saturday, September 24th.  This is a great opportunity to come and join in the fun.  Come out and see all of the animals enjoying special enrichment, hear keeper chats and loads of  fun games for kids of all ages!  Enrichment Day celebrates the meaning and joy of enriching our animals and visitors!

Find your favorite animals and see what they’re wishing for at Amazon.com. Then just sit back, shop, click and send your animal of choice a wonderful gift to enrich their life!  They really do appreciate it and so does the Houston Zoo!

Snares in Exchange for Infrastructure Support to the Communities Around Hwange National Park -By John Huston, Houston Zoo Agriculture Associate

John Huston is helping the Houston Zoo’s conservation department implement better livestock management for the communities that our partner’s, Painted Dog Conservation work with in Zimbabwe.  He has had experience assisting rural people in Africa with their livestock practises in the past, so we are very grateful for his help.

John with cattle in Zimbabwe

When Zoo employee Brandon arrived he went straight to work at the livestock dip tank.  He seems to be a natural at working without regard for straight edges and right angles.  We did manage to get the poles anchored down to the block wall and even had the roof on in no time.

 

We have been moving a bunch of dirt and doing it the old fashioned way.  It is hard work, especially in this intense Zimbabwean sun.  Members of the community work in shifts throughout the day.  Each day we get over 40 different people.  The hole is nearly 3 meters deep now and we are going to 4.  When the tank is done it will hold nearly 50,000 liters of water and the community will be able to keep clean water in their dip tank. 

Cattle Dip

Why is this important?  The dip tank is where they treat cattle for ticks.  Cattle are very important to the community.  They provide food through milk and meat, the serve as a bank account, and they provide the much needed draft power for cultivating fields and transporting goods.  The people loose valuable resources when the cattle are not healthy.  By helping the community to improve the health of their livestock we are providing a tremendous service. 

In exchange for our infrastructure support to the community they then supply us with 1,000 snare wires from the national forest and surrounding areas.  From a practical sense, we need the snare wire to reinforce the concrete that will be used in constructing the tank.  From an idealistic perspective, wire that is removed from the community reduces the opportunity for animals to be poached.  Approximately one third of the painted dog deaths recorded in this part of Zimbabwe over the past 5 years is from dogs that are actively hunting wildlife and are caught in snare wire. 

We know that we will not likely see an end to poaching but by working with the community through education and infrastructure support we can see the illegal activity reduced.  And that is a step in the right direction.

Written by John Huston

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