The Houston Zoo Supporting Painted Dog Conservation with Social Media

The Houston Zoo’s conservation department is always looking for practical ways to assist our wildlife conservation partners.  We strive to provide them with the tools they need to succeed in saving species. 

Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) is a very good community-based conservation project in Zimbabwe that hires over 60 locals to help run their various conservation programs.  Their efforts have had tremendous results, but they often struggled to promote and share the successes effectivley with their supporters.   To that end, last month we sent social media specialist Molly Feltner, communications officer for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project, to PDC to help them with their external communications. During her time she was able to record audio interviews with all the project’s management staff, which will be used to rewrite text for the website and produce a multimedia video. Staff were taught how to edit photos for the web and how to make the best use of social media through Facebook.

Molly documented aspects of the project in order to create a complete hi-res photo archive for PDC staff to use in publicity.  She photographed the children’s education program(the Bush Camp), conservation club classes, the community projects funded by PDC (such as bore holes, community gardens, and projects with the health clinics), the captive painted dogs housed at the rehabilitation center and the wild packs living around the center.  She got footage of the anti-poaching unit activity and the Iganyana art center and artisans that create the snare wire sculptures. She also helped redesign the newsletter that is sent out to the PDC’s supporters on a monthly basis. 

We will continue to assist PDC with this effort, but we are happy to report that many of PDC’s staff are better equipped to share the good news coming from Zimbabwe!

Houston Zoo Featured in National Geographic Magazine

Houston Zoo Jaguar “Cocoy”

December Issue of National Geographic Magazine
Spotlights 8 “Cats in Crisis”

National Geographic, December 2011

Planet Earth is home to 37 species of cats. All are facing an uncertain future. Even though humans have coexisted with predators for thousands of years, the world’s cats are losing ground to habitat loss, illegal hunting and retaliatory killing when they prey on livestock. Yet conservationists see hope.

In the December issue of National Geographic Magazine, on newsstands November 29 and available now as a digital magazine, author and world-renowned field biologist George B. Schaller proposes bold action to ensure their survival.

Schaller’s essay, Politics Is Killing the Big Cats is accompanied by a 5-panel pullout poster featuring stunning photos of 8 of the world’s big cats, seven of which are cats from the Houston Zoo, captured in stunning detail by National Geographic photographer Vincent J. Musi.

“We are proud and honored that our Houston Zoo big cat ‘ambassadors’ were chosen to accompany George Schaller’s essay and grateful that National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiative is raising awareness about the conservation status of the world’s cat species,” said Houston Zoo Carnivore Curator Beth Schaefer.

Assisted by Houston Zoo carnivore keepers, Vincent J. Musi photographed the Zoo’s male African lion Jonathan and 6 other cats (clouded leopard, jaguar, cougar, leopard, cheetah, and Malayan tiger) during a week-long photo session in February. Each cat was photographed in its off exhibit ‘bedroom’ against a black backdrop. Each photo in the pullout poster is accompanied by a brief profile that includes the cat’s estimated wild population and its conservation status. The National Geographic Society is working to save big cats through its Big Cats Initiative; find out more at

Houston Zoo African Lion “Jonathan”

“We are deeply appreciative of the Houston Zoo’s hospitality. It is unusual for one facility to have such a diversity of big cats, and their generousity in facilitating Vince’s photo shoot helped us to illustrate the animals’ beauty and power for our 40 million readers worldwide,” said Kathy Moran, senior photo editor in charge of the National Geographic magazine’s natural history coverage.

The December issue of National Geographic magazine is available on newsstands November 29 and as a digital magazine at the National Geographic App Store, Prints of Musi’s photographs are available at


Houston Zoo Clouded Leopard “Rama”


Houston Zoo Cougar “Rocky”



Houston Zoo Leopard “Kadu”



Update from Borneo Carnivore Project

Houston Zoo Carnivore Supervisor Kevin Hodge is checking in from Borneo:

We just got back from another camping trip in the Crocker Mountain Range here in Sabah, Borneo, Malaysia and Houston Zoo summer intern Lyndsey went with us this time. It was just a two day and one night trip. We collected photos from 4 different sites and each site has at least two cameras with a few having four. When we go to the camera site we change batteries, clean the cameras, put new silica gel to absorb the moisture and download the pictures. The last camera site we were going to heck took 6 hours for us to get to in some very steep and slippery terrain only to find that someone had stolen the cameras. All of the data was lost along with $1000 worth of Reconyx cameras.

On the second day the entire day was uphill including a few nearly vertical climb on very wet soil. We climbed from 600 meters above sea level to 1400 at our highest point. The gps is acting up a bit so sometimes we are not getting accurate readings where we are. When we got home today we looked at the photos and there was a clouded leopard on one of them! This makes 4 sites and a total of 5 clouded leopard photos which is pretty impressive considering there has not been much luck with getting photos in this region for these species.

After looking closely at the pictures we have determined it is the same male clouded leopard we have seen at all sites so there is at least 1 in the area. The carnivores seem to prefer traveling the ridge lines of the mountains which is a lot easier to travel than up and down the sides of the mountains but the hunters also like to use these same ridge lines.

So far we have photos of hose’s civet, clouded leopard, marbled cat, Malay civet, pangolin, common palm civet, banded palm civet, masked palm civet, linsang, binturong, Malay weasel, yellow throated Martin, short tailed mongoose, Malay badger,sun bear, leopard cat, bearded pig, red and yellow muntjac, sambar deer, mouse deer, great argus pheasant, pitta, tree shrew, moon rat, squirrels, and hornbill. We have also heard orangutans and Bornean gibbons, grey leafed monkey and a possible sun bear. It has been a great trip but exhausting.

Leopard Cat

We are going to Sepilok tomorrow to visit the Borneo Sun Bear Conservation Centre and then I will be home in about a week!

In case you were curious about what a Borneo Sun Bear looked like. Photo from Danau Girang Field Centre 2010

A Rainbow in the Swap Shop??

Yes indeed there was a rainbow in the Swap Shop.  But this was Rainbo the Electus Parrot.  Rainbo is one of our animal ambassadors here at the  Houston Zoo and often comes out for presentations.  He knows quite a few behaviors and recently spent some time in the swap shop, to the delight of our guests.

Rainbo painting with trainer Amber Zelmer

One of his favorite learned behaviors is painting.  His trainer dips the brush in paint and then Rainbo holds it in his beak and sweeps the brush across the canvas.  He is quite artistic and has his own distinctive  style.   Rainbo is also quite a talker and knows more than a dozen different words and phrases.   He does several animal imitations including cat, dog, snake, and his newest imitation, monkey. 

An interesting thing about  the Eclectus Parrot is that the male and female are VERY different in appearance.  While you can see Ranbo is a beautiful green – the females are a bright scarlet red.  This is called sexual dimorphism.  Electus parrots are so sexually dimorphic that they were thought to be two different species for a long time.


You never know who you will see in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.  Don’t know about the Swap Shop?  Click here for more information. 


Spotlight on Species: Vultures!

Did you know the Houston Zoo has a pair of Cinereous vultures? They are located right across from the furthest elephant habitat, which is next to our okapis. They have big bodies and cool blue heads.  We also have King vultures in our Fischer bird garden closer to where our sea lions are.

If you haven’t been, you have to come meet them. And to that end, on Saturday, December 3 we’re having a very special day that you might just want to check out! Visit our website for a chedule of Keeper Talks, games and activities.

One of our two cinereous vultures, with their beautiful bright blue coloring

While turkey and black vultures seem so abundant to us here, vulture species around the world range from threatened to critically endangered. By spotlighting our ambassador species of King and Cinereous vultures here at the Houston Zoo, we can bring the ongoing plight to the attention of the public.

The King vulture

The Cambodia Vulture Conservation Project has been since 2004 to restore a healthy population of the three species of critically endangered species of vultures found there.  They are currently the only Asian country to have an increase in their numbers. All proceeds from The Houston Zoo’s celebration of International Vulture Awareness Day will go towards helping them continue to fight the battle.

Come by the vulture enclosure on Saturday, December 3 to enjoy interactive activities for  kids of all ages, as well as educational keeper chats and feedings.

Written by Jessica Clark, Bird Supervisor

12 Days of Grub: Day 1 – Darwin the Cassowary

Sing along with us!  On the First Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed… Darwin the Cassowary!  (Who needs a partridge in a pear tree, when you’ve got a bird that can eat a pear in one gulp!?)

Our Double-wattled Cassowary, Darwin, may be the most notorious chow hound at the Houston Zoo.

Darwin weighs in at 110 pounds and eats 11 pounds of food daily.  His diet consists of a wide variety of fruit (strawberries are his favorite), vegetables, and a special dry pellet diet, that smells and looks a little like guinea pig food!   That’s over 4000 pounds of food a year, about the weight of a fully grown male elephant!

Darwin doesn’t just eat a TON (or two!) of food, he can eat very large pieces of fruit as well.  He doesn’t chew or break up his food very often; he just tips his head back and swallows the food whole. Check him out:

Due to their impressive eating talents, cassowaries in the wild are known as a keynote species in their native rainforests.  These birds are the only known animals who can distribute the seeds of over 70 different kinds of trees whose fruit is too large to be swallowed by any other animal.

Not only that, but there are 80 species of plants whose seeds have such a high toxicity that only the cassowary can eat and distribute these fruits!  Cassowaries are aided in this by the relatively shortest and fastest digestive system in the bird world, a powerful liver, and a very unique set of stomach enzymes.

This super fast digestion means that very often, fruit will pass through Darwin’s system before being fully digested.  Cassowaries practice coprophagic behavior…let’s just say they recycle the undigested pieces of food.  Waste not, want not!

To see just how quickly Darwin can eat, you must watch this nail-biting video of a peach eating contest between Darwin and his keepers.  It may not end the way you would guess!


Give the Gift of Grub this holiday season to help provide tasty meals for Darwin and all of the animals at the Houston Zoo!  Between now and December 31, TXU Energy has generously agreed to match all donations, up to $25,000 total, so your gift could go TWICE as far.  That means you could help provide TWICE the peaches for Darwin!

Amazón Grill hosts Flock, the Houston Zoo's Young Supporters

On Tuesday, November 8, a Flock of young professionals gathered at Amazón Grill for a special happy hour benefiting the Houston Zoo. Chef David Cordúa is a long time member of Flock, the Houston Zoo’s Young Supporters and serves on the advisory board. While mingling with other professionals, guests nibbled on Latin bites, sipped margaritas and enjoyed a preview of Amazón Grill’s new interior.

Flock is a group for young professionals who have a passion for wildlife, conservation and the growth of the Houston Zoo. Each year Flock hosts three cocktail parties tucked between the Zoo’s wild exhibits. These events give members the opportunity to have an up close and personal experience with the Zoo’s animal ambassadors and learn more about the conservation issues their wild counterparts face.

With an annual donation of $150, Flock members not only receive free admission to the cocktail events, but they also receive discounted tickets to Feast with the Beasts, the Zoo’s annual culinary event, opportunities for exclusive Zoo travel and many other fantastic benefits. For a complete list of benefits, please visit the Flock website.


Don’t miss Flock’s final event of the season on November 30 from 8:30 pm until 11:00 pm at the Houston Zoo. Flock members can come in an hour early and meet some of the Zoo’s unique animal ambassadors. This event is free but an RSVP is required. Please RSVP to by November 28. We would like to thank Momentum Audi for their continued support of Flock and the Houston Zoo. Special thanks to our event sponsors Yelp, St. Arnold, and Elegant Beginnings.

To learn more about Flock or to RSVP for the upcoming event, please click here.

Borneo's Sumatran Rhinoceros. One step away from extinction

Borneo’s Sumatran Rhinoceros is literally one step away from extinction. There are an estimated 200 Sumatran rhinos surviving.  Between 12 and 25 animals remain on the island of Borneo, Sabah, Malaysia. The remainder of the population lives in three Indonesian National Parks in Sumatra: Gunung Leuser, Way Kambas, and Bukit Barisan Selatan.

Sumatran Rhinoceros "Tam". Borneo Rhino Sanctuary, Tabin Wildlife Reserve. Photo by Paul Swen.

So, at best guess, no more than 25 animals are living on Borneo in a completely fragmented habitat and it is believed that none of these have reproduced for nearly four years. A recent editorial in Malaysia’s New Strait Times paper by John Payne, a world renowned conservationist who has lived in Sabah, Borneo since the 1970’s notes that open discussions need to take place with both government and non-government organizations or we will be witness to the disappearance of yet another iconic mammal.

Too many species disappear not only from habitat loss and poaching but from the failure of organizations, with apparently the best interest of the animal in mind, to not be able to cooperate with each other. Hopefully, the Sabah Wildlife Department and partners will be able to make a difference for this species.

Sumatran Rhino, Borneo 2008

A last-ditch effort to save the species, the Borneo Rhino Sanctuary programme, is under way in Sabah, a government programme implemented by the Sabah Wildlife Department with support from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, Borneo Rhino Alliance and Yayasan Sime Darby and World Wildlife Fund.

Read more: Last ditch bid to save the rhinos – Columnist – New Straits Times

Meet the Staff: Alissa Fuhrman

Hometown: Livermore, CA

Section: Primates-I mostly work in Chimps right now.

Quote: “If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it.” Willy Wonka

Special interests/hobbies: I’m a member of a Drum and Bugle Corps.  I play the French horn and the Mellophone.  I also have 5 fresh water fish tanks at home.

Favorite animal: Amelia, a De Brazza’s Guenon; she is really cute.  Penda, a Swamp Monkey; she has a great personality.  Kerchak, a Red-capped Mangabey; he can be aggressive and unpredictable but I’ve taught him some fun behaviors that kind of off-set his personality.

Animals you train: Mangabeys, Red-tailed guenons, Swamp Monkeys, De Brazza’s Guenon, Chimpanzees

How long have you been in the animal care field?  I was a volunteer/intern beginning in 1997 at the Charles Paddock Zoo and the Oakland Zoo.  I have been a keeper here at the Houston Zoo since 2001.

What made you want to be a zookeeper? Animals are cool and can be easier to relate to than people sometimes.  In Junior High I wanted to work at Seaworld and work with marine mammals.

What is your previous education/training? I have a Bachelors of Science in Animal Science with a concentration in Zoo and Exotics from California Polytechnic State University.

What sort of advice would you give to anyone wanting to enter the zoo field? Volunteer and be well rounded. You need to know how to work with tools and be creative.  Work on making fun toys for your dog, similar to how we enrich animals here at the zoo.  You should also read “Don’t Shoot the Dog” by Karen Pryor to learn more about animal training.

What is your favorite animal story?
Naku, our Swamp Monkey, loves his pool. He likes to take things from the yard and soak them in the pool.  We decided to put grass sod in the yard for greenery and give them something else to walk on.  The day we put the sod in, Naku decided to take each sheet and drag it to the pool.  80 squares of grass was in the water.  He had fun that day.

Well, I am still alive, and in Borneo

Forest Leech

Houston Zoo Carnivore Supervisor, Kevin Hodge is part of an effort to assist the Borneo Clouded Leopard Project (BCLP) in Sabah, Malaysia. This is his second update from the field which has limited internet access but seems to have plenty of forest leeches.

Let me interject here for Kevin that he ends his email with “All and all things are going great!”

I went out on what was supposed to be a 3 night camping trip that turned in to 5 days and 4 nights.  My legs are covered with leech sores and my feet are swollen.  I had hundreds of leeches on me one day but if you took time to pull them off more would just climb on you so I would wait until they filled with blood and squeeze them until the ruptured. I also have had a few ticks on me which are worse than the leeches.

Banded Palm Civet

We went high in to the mountains and saw a lot of hunter’s camps and notified the Sabah Wildlife department which is starting to go out with us to destroy the camps.  We have 1 male clouded leopard on the camera traps so far, a marbled cat, hoses’s civet, malay civet, grey leafed monkey, linsang, banded palm civet, bearded pig, pitta, pig tailed macaque, mongoose, moon rats, tree shrews and the malayan giant squirrel.  So we are pretty pumped up that there are clouded leopards here.  We also caught a few hunters and their dogs on camera. 

Our camping diet consists of rice, sardines, ramen noodles and corned beef every day with coffee in the morning.  It was very cold at night and after falling and floating down stream in the river my sleeping bag and tent were wet so I froze a few nights and almost fell off a cliff on another occasion. (Remember – “All and all things are going great!”)

My legs are getting stronger but the altitude still presents a problem for me on the uphill ascents.  The adidas kampung shoes they recommended for me (these are like soccer shoes with rounded cleats) to wear has good traction on the slippery soil but not on rocks and with out any type of support my feet are in terrible shape. I noticed that the local people that we work with have feet that are the same length as mine but twice as thick and twice as wide with no arch which works better on this terrain apparently. We have off today and tomorrow to rest up in Kota Kinabalu then I go out for another camping trip. All and all things are going great!


Bornean Bearded Pig


Some background on the Crocker Range in Sabah, Malaysia on the island of Borneo. Sabah by the way is one of the 13 Malaysian states. 11 are on Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and Sarawak are on Borneo.

The Crocker Range separates the east coast and west coast of Sabah. At an average height of 1800m, it is the highest mountain range in Sabah. Mount Kinabalu (at 13,000 feet), which is one of the highest mountains in Southeast Asia, is part of this range. Part of the range, has been gazetted for protection as Crocker Range National Park since 1984. The area surrounding Mount Kinabalu has been a national park since 1964 and was the country’s first World Heritage Site.

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