12 Days of Grub: Day 12 – Twelve Flamingos Flocking

On the Twelfth Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Twelve Flamingos Flocking, Eleven Meerkats Mobbing, Ten Chimps a Chasing, Nine Fruit Bats Flying, Eight Giraffes a Galloping, Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

Chilean Flamingos Feeding at the Houston Zoo


Here at the Houston Zoo, one of the most beautiful sights is our large flock of Chilean Flamingos. These brightly-colored birds are social, vocal and highly interesting. Amazingly, the size of our flock is nothing compared to the spectacular gatherings these birds would naturally form in the wild; Chilean Flamingos are known to form flocks numbering into the thousands!


Flamingos have grooves along the edges of their beaks used for filtering small food items from the water

Without question, one of the most intriguing aspects of these unique birds is the way they feed. Flamingos have a specialized beak designed to help “filter” small plants and animals out of the water, which are then consumed and metabolized to create the striking pink coloration! Flamingos will take in a mouth full of water (along with whatever happens to be in the water), and then use their tongue to push all the water through special grooves on their beak. The result is a mouthful of food that these birds will then eat!

Here at the Houston Zoo, our flamingos are fed a variety of different pelleted diets (depending on the time of year and their current metabolic needs). These pellets are made to be nutritionally complete, which could easily help contribute to the fact that several of our flamingos are in their forties and fifties!  Our flamingos also receive krill, a small species of shrimp that is relished as a treat.

A large group of animals can prove to be ravenous; Chilean Flamingos are no exception. Our flock of birds readily eats through 50+ cups of pelleted diet per day. In addition, 5lbs of krill per week are consumed by our flamingos. When temperatures hit lows in the winter, these amounts are increased to keep up with the metabolic needs of these amazing birds.

Give the Gift of Grub by December 31 to help provide our flamingos and the rest of the Zoo’s 6,000 animal residents with all the tasty and nutritious grub they need to stay happy and healthy in the New Year! 

Thank you to TXU Energy for generously matching the first $25,000 in donations this year!

We're Closed on Christmas Day

The Houston Zoo will be closed on Christmas Day. Keepers will work abbreviated shifts on December 25 cleaning exhibits and feeding the Zoo’s 6,000 animals. The Zoo will reopen December 26 observing the standard 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. operating hours. Christmas Day is the only day of the year the Zoo is not open to the public.  The Zoo will also close early at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, with the last guest entry at 2 p.m.

“A zoo is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week operation. We’ve arranged shifts for our keepers to ensure that all the animals will receive their regular care and feeding but still give the staff time to enjoy Christmas with their families,” said Zoo Director Rick Barongi.

First Ever Zoo "Crowd Curated" Exhibit!

So many good thoughts this week!  Several of you  brought up good points that must be considered when curating an exhibit.

I think you’re right Trowaman when you say capybaras might be better off in a large area like our South America yard but pudu might do well in a space the size of our exhibit.   As Laci Bertrand pointed out, pudu live in dense forest habitats so we’d need more plantings to provide hiding places for them to feel safe, but that’s easy enough to accomplish.
MP, you bring up a very good point.  Sometimes even if we want a species to exhibit in our zoo, they just aren’t available.  Trowaman‘s comment about never having seen a uacari in a zoo is probably a good clue that they aren’t easy to obtain.

 Pudu Baby. Pretty cute! Photo credit: Belfast ZooBaby pudu.  Pretty Cute! Photo Credit: Belfast Zoo

Spider monkeys are a popular option so I looked up space requirements for spider monkeys. As a zoo that exhibits animals for the public, we are subject to standards that are regulated by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) branch of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)  There are many standards to which we must adhere and we can be inspected without warning at any time. We work diligently to remain USDA compliant at all times. Space requirements are part of these standards. Technically our exhibit is big enough for several spider monkeys, but unfortunately our holding area is not.

So from the comments, it looks like pudu might be a good choice for the ground so I’ll start talking to other zoos to see if any are available. We still need more consensus on a primate species though.  Again going by comments and the space we have available, emperor tamarins, golden headed lion tamarins, Goeldi’s monkeys and titi monkeys could all work.  Over the Christmas weekend, think about which of these species we should look into and hopefully by New Year’s weekend we’ll at least know what we’d like to explore as far as primate species.

Enjoy whichever holiday you celebrate with your family & loved ones!

12 Days of Grub: Day 11 – Eleven Meerkats Mobbing

On the Eleventh Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Eleven Meerkats Mobbing, Ten Chimps a Chasing, Nine Fruit Bats Flying, Eight Giraffes a Galloping, Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

One of the most popular exhibits at the Houston Zoo is our meerkat yard. Located just outside the entrance to the Carruth Natural Encounters building, the meerkats are fun to watch as they go about their lives. And if you need a break from walking, the benches are a great place to sit and watch them.

Meerkats are small, African mammals related to the mongoose. They live in groups called “mobs,” which can have up to 40 meerkats, but it is more common for a mob to have 10 to 15 individuals. There is an alpha pair which includes the dominate members of the mob responsible for reproduction. When there is a new litter, each meerkat contributes to caring for the young by helping to find food, digging new burrows, and even babysitting the new litter. Acting as a lookout, called sentry, is another important job for meerkats. A sentry helps to protect the colony by looking out for predators and will sound the alarm if any threat is present.

In the wild, a meerkat will eat mostly insects, but it will also catch and eat reptiles, birds and other small mammals. A mob will even work together to catch venomous snakes and other larger prey.  The meerkats at the Houston Zoo love spending their days digging new burrows, exploring their enrichment, play wrestling with each other and sunbathing on exhibit. The next time you’re at the Houston Zoo, take a few minutes to enjoy the antics of the meerkats. Our meerkat yard is definitely an exhibit that is fun to see again and again!

Written By Kamryn Suttinger

Help provide tasty and nutritious grub for the Zoo’s meerkat mob and the rest of our animal family this holiday season: Give the Gift of Grub!

Thank you to TXU Energy for generously matching the first $25,000 in donations this year.  Our mob says that’s an offer you can’t refuse!

12 Days of Grub: Day 10 – Ten Chimps a Chasing

On the Tenth Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Ten Chimps a Chasing, Nine Fruit Bats Flying, Eight Giraffes a Galloping, Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

For most wild animals, the acquisition and consumption of food is not just a casual activity, but in fact a full-time job.  A wild chimpanzee in Africa must always be on the search for ripe fruit, edible greens, tasty termites or antshard-shelled nuts  and yes, even small animals to hunt and eat.

Although we can’t re-create a wild chimpanzee diet, here at the Houston Zoo, we provide our chimps with a healthy variety of food including many types of lettuce, fruits, vegetables, nuts, different types of local plants and a specialized “biscuit” made for primates in zoos.  We also give them many types of treats which make up only a small portion of their diet, but are their favorites, including popcorn, peanut butter, honey and fruit juice.

Lucy enjoys some sweet potato and sunshine

Our chimps did not grow up hunting or eating termites, ants or meat, so this is not included in their Houston Zoo diet, but they are given the daily opportunity to show off their amazing ability to use tools by “fishing” for sweet or savory treats in our termite mound replica.

The chimps enjoy using sticks to “fish” for delicious treats

In order to keep their day interesting and to keep them active, the chimps’ meals are provided at different times throughout the day.  One of their favorite types of food is “browse”, or edible plants collected for them throughout the zoo by our own amazing Horticulture team.  Everyday the chimps get some combination of mulberry, banana leaves, willow, fig leaves or other edible plants.

Mac enjoys fig leaves

Chimps aren’t great at sharing their food with one another with a few notable exceptions (moms and their babies, males “wooing” receptive females, etc.)   They have a fairly stable social hierarchy and the higher-ranking chimps have first access to the yummy stuff.  For that reason, it is important that we make sure the food is scattered throughout the chimps’ entire habitat so that each member has the opportunity to collect food, and there is always enough for everyone.

Feeding the zoo’s animals is one of the best parts of being a zookeeper.  We enjoy giving them their food almost as much as they enjoy eating it!

Give the Gift of Grub this holiday season to help provide tasty meals for our chimpanzees and all of the animals at the Houston Zoo!  Our chimps send their ape-preciation for your support.

Thank you also to TXU Energy for generously matching the first $25,000 in donations this year!

12 Days of Grub: Day 9 – Nine Fruit Bats Flying

On the Ninth Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Nine Fruit Bats Flying, Eight Giraffes a Galloping, Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

At the Houston Zoo, Straw-colored fruit bats (Eidolon helvum) can be seen in the Bat Cave area of the Carruth Natural Encounters building. These are one of the largest species of fruit bats in the world and the Houston Zoo has 24 of them on exhibit! Just as their name implies, Straw-colored fruit bats love to eat fruit. In fact, at the zoo, they eat 15lbs of fruit every day! In the wild, these African bats roost high up in treetops during the day and at night fill the sky as they forage for figs and other types of fruit.

When you stop at the bat exhibit, look for bats with their mouths full of the 3 different types of fruit they get each day. Their favorite fruits to eat are grapes, bananas and cantaloupe, but they also have mango, apple, pear, papaya and honey-dew melon. When a bat finds a tasty piece of fruit, it takes the biggest bite it possibly can and swallows all the juice from the fruit as it chews. When there is no more juice, the bat spits the remaining pulp, seeds and skin out onto the floor. In the wild, this habit is crucial to the forests’ health. The pulp and skin from the fruit decays on the forest floor, which helps enrich the soil, and by spitting seeds out, bats help more plants grow. If a bat happens to swallow a seed, it will pass, undamaged, through the bat’s digestive tract and, eventually, be deposited on the ground in one of the world’s best fertilizers: bat feces. In this way, the bats ensure that there will always be a plentiful supply of their preferred foods.

You may not know it, but many different species of bats help us get some of the foods we like to eat too. Bats are important pollinators. Fruit bats, like the ones in Natural Encounters, help spread pollen from one plant to another while foraging for fruit in the tree tops. Without bats, a lot of things we like to eat would be much more difficult to produce. Foods like avocado, peaches, carob and many others are all pollinated by different types of bats.

Like many other animals, wild bat populations are suffering due to things like habitat loss, disease, and even the pet trade. To learn more about native Texas bat populations and how you can help bats worldwide, visit Bat Conservation International or stop by the bat cave in the Carruth Natural Encounters Building.

Written by Kamryn Suttinger

Give the Gift of Grub for the holidays to help feed our fruit bats and the rest of the Zoo’s 6,000 animal residents! 

Our thanks to TXU Energy for generously matching the first $25,000 in donations this year!

12 Days of Grub: Day 8 – Eight Giraffes a Galloping

On the Eighth Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Eight Giraffes a Galloping, Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

What is the best thing to do after your afternoon snack?  Well if you are Asali, the Houston Zoo’s nine-month-old Masai giraffe, the best thing is to gallop.  Nothing feels better than to stretch out those long, long legs.

While it was too hot that afternoon to get the rest of her family involved in the fun, the heat was of no concern to Asali.  Even the ostriches watched in amazement as Asali worked off those calories.

Dinner Time at The Houston Zoo

What is on the menu for the Masai giraffe at Houston Zoo?  Our giraffes enjoy hay, fruits and vegetables, and romaine lettuce.  However, their most favorite food of all time is the vast array of different plant material provided by the horticulture staff at Houston Zoo.  The horticulture staff will search the entire zoo looking for tasty treats for the animals, and since they are so tall, the giraffes are able to see them bringing the food from across the zoo.  The giraffe keepers will then place the branches up really high so that the giraffes have to reach up high for them.

This behavior is exactly the same in the wild.  Giraffes are able to reach very high up in the trees to get the tastiest leaves.  Please come by The Houston Zoo’s African Forest exhibit and watch our herd of Masai giraffes as they explore their exhibit, look for food, lounge in the shade, and of course, stretch out those long giraffe legs.

Written by John Register, Hoofed Stock Supervisor


Help provide tasty and nutritious grub for the Zoo’s giraffes and the rest of our animal family this holiday season: Give the Gift of Grub!

Our thanks to TXU Energy for matching the first $25,000 in donations this year.  That’s a LOT of lettuce!


12 Days of Grub: Day 7 – Seven Snakes a Slithering

On the Seventh Day of Grub, your zoo gift will help to feed…Seven Snakes a Slithering, Six Mole-rats Mining, Five Golden Frogs, Four Calling Birds, Three Wild Dogs, Two Grizzly Bears, and Darwin the Cassowary! CLICK HERE to read them all!

The 2900 species or so of snakes are incredibly diverse in terms of colors, size, and habitat.  However, they all share certain common characteristics.  One of these is that all snakes are carnivorous and must consume whole prey.  Snakes have a very highly modified skull which allows them to consume very large prey items.

The type of prey consumed and method of capture is quite diverse.  Some snakes are sit-and-wait ambush predators while others actively hunt for their food.  Some, like boas and pythons, kill their prey by constriction.  Contrary to popular thought, venomous snakes use their venom as a prey capturing device, and not as a means of defense. Next time you are visiting The Houston Zoo, please visit the Reptile and Amphibian building.  Check our keeper chat board and you might be able to see one of our staff feeding some of our snakes!

Aruba Island rattlesnake (Crotalus unicolor)

Some snakes are generalists, and will eat a wide variety of other animals; others are more specialized and consume only specific prey items.  For example, wild King cobras consume only other snakes.  They have even been known to eat each other on occasion!  Others, like the Aruba Island rattlesnake pictured here, will eat several types of different lizards and rodents.  Several species of snakes are known to eat only eggs, while one species eats only snails.

Angolan python (Python anchietae)

Although snakes in the wild consume live prey, here at the zoo we have trained most of our snakes to accept previously euthanized food items.  Most eat rats and mice while our large pythons eat rabbits.  While the amount varies, the Herpetology section uses around 165 rats and 588 mice of all sizes to feed our animals each month.

The size of the food item and the amount depends upon the species of snake we are talking about.  Snakes have a lower metabolic rate than mammals or birds, so consequently they need less food.  Most of our snakes eat only once a week, while others might go several weeks to a month between feedings.  During periods of hibernation, snakes may go several months without eating.

Speckled kingsnake (Lampropeltis getulus holbrooki)

Some of our snakes are more finicky or are more specialized in their diets.  In addition to rodents and rabbits the Herpetology Department also receives dietary items such as quail, lizards, frogs and toads, and even other small snakes!  For these species, a detailed knowledge of the snake’s natural history and considerable training in methods of herpetological husbandry is required.  This is where the skills of our highly experienced and knowledgeable staff are employed.

Written by Stan Mays

Give the Gift of Grub this holiday season to help provide tasty meals for our snakes and all of the animals at the Houston Zoo!  Our reptilian friends thank you in advance for your support.

Thank you to TXU Energy for generously matching the first $25,000 in donations this year!

Free Educational iPad Book About Chimps Now Available

Chimps Should Be Chimps is designed for early readers

Available just in time for holiday reading, a new children’s book for iPad, Chimps Should Be Chimps is now available for download fre free from the App Store.

Published by Lincoln Park Zoo’s Project ChimpCARE, Chimps Should Be Chimps is designed for early readers aged 3 to 8 years of age and offers an interactive and engaging story that aims to educate and inform kids – and their parents – perceptions about chimpanzees.

“Too often, first impressions about chimpanzees are formed by seeing them in human clothes performing in movies or television shows,” said Steve Ross, PhD, founder of Project ChimpCARE.

“Unfortunately, recent research suggests that these impressions can be lasting and have detrimental consequences for this endangered species,” added Ross.

Chimps Should Be Chimps provides kids, and their parents, with a different impression – one that looks at life from the perspective of the chimpanzee. Through rhyming, lyrical prose, the story is told through the eyes of two chimpanzee characters: wise old Poe and his granddaughter Lulu who live amongst other chimps at a local zoo.

The engaging story is highlighted with bright, colorful and playful illustrations which seem to come to life with the stroke of a finger on the iPad screen. The multisensory book includes the sounds of waterfalls, music and birds to bring the characters to life.

The story highlights things that chimpanzees love to do including climbing and swinging in trees, fishing for termites, building nests and playing with other chimpanzees.

The story carefully conveys a message about things that do not make chimpanzees happy, such as being separated from their mother at an early age and being isolated from their peers to be used for performances in movies or TV shows.
“The inspiration for the book came from trying to talk to my own children about chimpanzees,” explained Ross. “The story aims to relate how chimpanzees deserve to be free from these antiquated practices of being dressed up for human amusement. But perhaps just as importantly, it conveys to kids the importance of being yourself and believing in what comes naturally to you.”

Chimps Should Be Chimps was created in partnership with Manning Productions. Find out more about this free iPad book, see illustrations, view the book trailer and get details behind the scenes interviews about the creation of this children’s app and the work of Project ChimpCARE when you visit www.chimpsshouldbechimps.com.

One lucky person could win a brand new iPad! Sign up to win when you visit www.lpzoo.org/chimpcare until December 31. The lucky winner will be notified on January 16, 2012.


Kids for Science, AND TOADS! @ Painted Dog Conservation- Zimbabwe


At the request of Painted Dog Conservation, I traveled to project headquarters in Zimbabwe to assist in the implementation of a new conservation education program called “Kids for Science”. Accompanying me on this visit was Cullen Geiselman PhD (HZI Board Member member and bat biologist), and her friend, Leighton Dancy, a professional photographer who documented PDC activities and programs. During our visit we would pilot the first ever Kids for Science program for eleven, 14 year old students from Nechilibi High School, the students’ full time teacher, their school’s Conservation Club Coordinator, the entire education staff from Painted Dog Conservation, Dr. Gregory, one master’s student, and a game warden from Hwange National Park.

It might seem unlikely that a conservation organization focused on a large charismatic carnivore would be interested in using frogs and toads to teach students about research, biology and conservation. Amphibians lend themselves to classroom study as they are an ecological indicator species in a habitat in which the Painted Dog depends on survival, are relatively abundant, easily handled, and observed by students. Amphibians are a model organism in which to cover taxonomy, biology, adaptations, ecological concepts, environmental threats and how students can help implement conservation action.

Before the students from Nechilibi High School were to arrive at the Painted Dog Conservation Iganyana Bush Camp, Dr. Cullen and I had to scout out potential study sites for the Kids for Science camp and become familiar with the native amphibians and bats we would be teaching the students about throughout the course. I conducted nightly visual and audio searches to document the presence of amphibian species in the area and became familiar with their natural history and behavior through observation and field guides. In addition to visual searches, I employed the use of a “Frog logger”, a wildlife acoustic recording device at a pan adjacent to our lodgin accommodations to record vocalizations for 10 minutes every hour throughout the day and night. I recorded close to 2,000 minutes of amphibian and bird calls over the course of our stay at Painted Dog Conservation and documented 16 species of amphibians.

Here are a few photos of some of the special frogs and toads that call Zimbabwe home.


Rain frogs, these are burrowing, frowny faced little frogs whose tadpoles develop directly from egg to small frog without metamorphosis











Foam Nesting Grey Treefrogs, these frogs communally deposit their eggs into this rich foam that is whipped up by their back legs. The eggs are protected by this foam until they hatch and the tadpoles fall into the water below. Amazing adaptation!















Marbeld Shovel Nosed Frog. These pointy nosed little burrowing frogs are great moms. They protect their eggs in underground burrows and when they hatch, tadpoles are carried on moms back from the burrow to a nearby pond.
















More frogs photos coming over the next few days, I hope you can sleep until I post more!


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