Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration (HWCC)

Last year, I had the opportunity to participate in a Human-Wildlife Conflict Collaboration (HWCC) course.  It was an intense four day training that packed a punch!  It provided essential tools enabling me to handle conflict in any setting, but specifically focus around human-wildlife conflict.  The term “human-wildlife conflict” is a bit misleading. You may be picturing students in a room with a wild tiger, being told to “work things out”, but let me be clear: people have conflicts with other people about wildlife.

Participants hailed from all over the US.  Many of them were from organizations having the same goal of conserving wolves, but not having a history of working well together.  The dissonance between the group was so palpable, that at first we were asked not to reveal where we worked.  By the end of the training, all of the organizations were working together in harmony and happily revealed who they were during the last case study.  It was a testament to the HWCC course itself to see these groups working together and watch a history of conflicts resolved by the end of the training.
The course focused on providing tools to maintain peace for continued progress in wildlife conservation efforts. It prepares participants to recognize the potential signs of conflict and handle them in the earliest stages. In the world of conservation, time is of the essence. Endangered species often don’t have time for humans to fight amongst themselves. Conflict can bring species protection efforts to a complete halt, which is why this training is so valuable in wildlife conservation.

We are always looking for practical ways to assist our wildlife conservation partners in the field.  HWCC held a training last week in Kenya, and we were able to fund a park guard from the Niassa lion preserve in Mozambique, the lead conservation biologist of the Niassa Lion project in Mozambique, the lead education officer of Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe, and a researcher from the Senegal chimp project.

Niassa Lion Project in Mazambique, Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe and Senegal chimps representitives sent to HWCC training in Kenya

These are a few of the responses we received from the participants after the training:

Today we finished the training on Human Wildlife Conflict Collaboration at Ol Pejeta in Kenya. I would like to express my gratitude to you for every thing you have done to give to me the opportunity to participate in this training.
I will take this course seriously. I have learned as much I could to improve my contribution for conservation in Niassa National Reserve inMozambique. This course exceeded my expectation and I’m very happy to have this opportunity.”
Mbumba, Niassa National Reserve

Well, I can honestly say that was the best and most useful workshop I have ever attended. Thank you and the Houston Zoo so much for not only introducing us to HWCC but also for sponsoring Mbumba and I and paying for the travel costs. We very much appreciate it. Both of us walked away  with lots of new ideas and tools to help us deal with conflicts and also make sure that we don’t inadvertently create more conflict  as we move forward. My head is buzzing!  The timing was perfect as NLP moves into engaging community guardians, finding solutions to bush meat snaring  and developing  the Environmental and Skills training centre. It was an amazing group of people that attended from Kenya, Uganda,Tanzania mainly with Kelly from Senegal and a few others from other projects. Peter from the Grevy’s Zebra Trust was there and it was good to see him again and speak about their Guardian programs, and I had a long talk to Wilton from PDC about the bush school program which he runs. So it was so productive on all fronts.
So thank you, it made a big difference. Already I am thinking of other people I need to encourage to do the course as I think it should be essential for anyone working in conservation.  
Kind regards, and many thanks again.”
Colleen Begg
Niassa Lion Conservation

We are very excited to announce that we are hosting the HWCC training at the Houston Zoo in November for our local partners.  Conflict has collapsed conservation efforts in the past, but this training is equipping armies of conservationists with the tools to advance in the battle to save wildlife.





Bat Fest is Coming!

Get ready for a batty fun time at the Houston Zoo and the Waugh Bridge!  2012 has been named Year of the Bat by the United Nations Environment Program.  In celebration, the Houston Zoo, in association with Texas Parks & Wildlife and several other organizations will be hosting Bat Fest April 14-15, 2012.

The fun will start at the Zoo at 10:00AM.  On both Saturday and Sunday there will be booths, children’s activities and zookeeper chats about bats.  On Saturday only there will be a bat seminar with some awesome speakers from 10:00-12:15 in the Brown Education Center.

In addition, to help celebrate, The Naturally Wild Swap Shop will be giving double points for any Nature Journal on bats.  Dont know about the Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

The best part – all this is included in your paid zoo admission.

The festivities won’t stop there.  Be sure to join the Houston Bat Team at the Waugh Drive bat colony (corner of Waugh Drive & Allen Parkway) from 6:00-9:00PM.  The Waugh Drive bridge is home to a colony of 250,000 Mexican Free-tailed Bats.  There will be bat chat presentations from members of the Bat Team along with children’s activities and an amazing emergence from the bats at dusk. Click here to check Facebook for parking info.

Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders (EWCL)

Co-founder of EWCL, Jeff Flocken teaching about the importance of networking

Last week, I got to attend and assist with a unique training course called Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders.  The course was developed to provide support and inspiration to conservation professionals around the world.   There were participants from Ethiopia, Mongolia, Brazil, Europe and the US.  In this two year long program, participants come together for one week each year for workshops, training, and mentoring. The rest of the time is spent focusing on assigned conservation projects that they receive at the beginning of the course.  Participants put themselves into groups and are assigned to a species(one they don’t already work with) conservation effort.  The group then creates, implements and evaluates projects designed to enhance existing wildlife conservation efforts.

One group this year worked with a lion program in Africa.  The EWCL team found funding to purchase devices that park staff could carry to enable them to identify and mark individual lion’s locations while they are out on game drives with tourists.  They also designed a program to allow tourists to log onto a website to identify the lions they photographed while on safari.  The team had posters made for all of the safari lodges to advertise this ID program. This sustainable project benefits both the researchers and lions tremendously.  More eyes on the lions improves the ability to monitor the populations, and engaging the tourists fosters an ownership in the battle to save the species.

Bradford works to protect the St. Vincent's parrot.

The support this program offers to its participants is tangible.  Many of them are transitioning in their own careers and the network this program provides ensures these eager and skilled conservationists don’t slip though the cracks.  Some of the participants were a girl working in Snow Leopard conservation in Mongolia, a man working with St Vincent parrots on St Vincent island, a man working with bats and wind turbines in the US, and a girl lobbying for endangered species in the White house.  This is a dream team of conservationists training for the race to save endangered species!




Guest Blogger Carolyn Jess Discusses the Texas Blind Salamander

Carolyn Jess is an 11 year old student who has agreed to be our special guest blogger about wildlife conservation. We first met Carolyn in October 2011 when she came out to the Zoo to meet our special guest Jack Hannah, who was visiting the Zoo to speak at our Conservation Gala. If you would like to contact Carolyn or have comments, you may send them to

Texas Blind Salamander

The Texas blind salamander is a very interesting looking creature.  He is five inches long, is whitish-pink in color, and has two leaf like red gills behind where his ears should be to help get oxygen while in the water. The salamanders’ eyes are under the skin – you can faintly see black dots where the eyes should be.

I first learned about the Texas blind salamander by reading an article about it in the Texas Parks and Wildlifemagazine.  The picture of the salamander is what caught my attention!  He was so strange looking that I wanted to learn more about him.  I learned that the Texas blind salamander lives only in the water filled caves of the Edwards Aquifer near San Marcos, Texas.  He can’t see to eat so he moves his head from side to side to find shrimp, small snails, and other invertebrates (animals without backbones) at the bottom of the cave.  The salamander is endangered because the fresh water in the caves is being overused and polluted – and the recent drought does not help either.  The total adult population size is unknown but the species is believed to be rare with the need for continued monitoring


I wanted to help this animal.  I searched on the internet and found lots of information.  I clicked on different links and found out the same thing over and over – it is endangered.  Then I found something interesting:  there was research going on to help the blind salamander!!  Dr. Glenn Longley, director of Edwards Aquifer Research and Data Center at Texas State University was working on ways to protect this species.  Then an idea hit me like a bolt of lightning:  I needed to get the word out about the Texas Blind Salamander and collect some donations to help with the research!

 The real work was just beginning.  How would I go about collecting money?  I don’t get an allowance and I do jobs around my neighborhood, but that wouldn’t be enough.  After some thinking, I decided that I would use my next birthday party as a way for raising funds.  I would ask for money for the salamander instead of getting presents and I would teach everyone at my party about the salamander and what they could do to help.  I contacted Dr. Longley and he set up an account for my money at the research center.  My cause was put on the Edwards Aquifer website – which apparently A LOT of people in San Marcos read.  Soon, money was coming to me from all over the state of Texas!  My city’s newspaper did an article on me and then even more money came in.

 I sent informational flyers in my birthday invitations and asked my guest for money for the salamander instead of gifts. At my party, I talked to my friends about what they could do to help the Texas Blind Salamander.  Overall, I collected $600 for the research of the salamander and to help educate the public about ways they could help.

The future of the Texas Blind Salamander is still unclear.  If we conserve our water and help prevent water pollution, the salamander has a fighting chance.  Here are some things you can do to help this interesting creature:

  1. Fix any leaky faucet in your home.
  2. Turn off the water while you brush your teeth!
  3. If you must water your lawn, do it either early in the morning or at dusk.  That way the water isn’t being evaporated by the sun.
  4. Install faucets or appliances that use less water.
  5. Prevent water pollution – recycle and put your trash where it belongs!

For more information about the Texas Blind Salamander, you can read Ray Dixon’s book, Amphibians and Reptiles of Texas (W.L. Moody Jr. Natural History Series).  It has some great information for you!

Where in the World is Jeffery: Week 9!

Jeffery’s currently cruising around the country!  Follow his road trip adventures on Facebook and  Twitter!


A famous incident in 1947 put this town on the map despite the fact that the incident actually occured almost 100 miles away!

This caption contest should be hilarious!

International Veterinary Students

The Houston Zoo welcomed a friend from Rwanda his week as part of our Veterinary Externship. Methode Bahizi recently completed his studies in veterinary medicine in Rwanda where he designed and implemented a project for our partners at the  Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project to investigate the presence of disease vectors and the potential for disease transmission between livestock and wildlife.

In the summer of 2009, he led a University study team through countless rural communities in Rwanda working with 40 different sector veterinarians to visit over 450 families in Rwanda. The families that were visited had received cows from the Rwandan government in an effort to combat childhood malnutrition. In the “One Cow Per Poor Family” program, the cow is to provide milk and fertilizer in an attempt to increase the overall plane of nutrition for rural poor families in Rwanda. The concern is that the families were not experienced with animal husbandry and the project was designed identify areas of education that would help the families to better care for their livestock. The project was successful and Methode was recognized for his achievements.

Methode’s trip to the US is sponsored by Step One Foundation from Houston whose goal is to develop models for technology on farms that will improve animal welfare, farm productivity, and address environmental issues. This is Methode’s first trip to the US.

The Pollinator: A Superhero of Superheroes

Dressed in a multitude of colors, this superhero fights crime like no other – the potential of declining food production due to lack of pollination. They leap (flitter above actually) tall buildings, see through walls (sniff through backyard fences), and have super strength (you try flying around all day).

He/She is The Pollinator! Really, right there in the photo below. Yes that green cocoony thing with the three gold dots and as you can see he or she is amassing his or her forces of pollinator buddies in my backyard. 33 of them to be exact as of today.

Monarch Butterfly chrysalids hanging out on a fence post after a feast of Milkweed plants (Asclepia species)

Pollination occurs when pollen is moved within flowers or carried from flower to flower by pollinating animals such as birds, bees, bats, butterflies, moths, beetles, or other animals, or by the wind. In our case above, a Monarch Butterfly. The transfer of pollen in and between flowers of the same species leads to fertilization, and successful seed and fruit production for plants.  Pollination ensures that a plant will produce full-bodied fruit and a full set of viable seeds.

Here is why it is important according to our friends at the Pollinator Partnership:

  • Worldwide, roughly 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines need to be pollinated by animals in order to produce the goods on which we depend.
  • Foods and beverages produced with the help of pollinators include: apples, blueberries, chocolate, coffee, melons, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds, and tequila.
  • In the United States, pollination by honey bees, native bees, and other insects produces $40 billion worth of products annually.
    Monarch Buttrefly Caterpillar finishing breakfast before metamorphosis into chrysalid

It is simple to help pollinators – just plant a small garden – apartment dwellers can also place pollinator plants in pots out on balconies and porches – and before you know it (and I am not sure exactly how they find me, but they do) butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and more will be at your door wearing their little Superhero capes and saving the world through pollination. Get the BEE SMART Pollinator APP for planting tips here.

Houston Aeros Cell Phone Drive

Spring Break is probably the busiest week of the year for many of us. The zoo is full of visiting guests, families are traveling and the Houston Aeros Hockey Team played 6 home games in 8 nights.

Not only did the Houston Aeros win 5 of those 6 home games, they also assisted the Houston Zoo in our most successful recycled cell phone collection drive ever! Just for general reference, the zoo collected nearly 1,200 phones in 2011. During the week of March 10-18 of this year – the Houston Aeros collected 758 phones before their games at the Toyota Center!

Looks like someone just recycled Edward from Twilight. Score one for Team Jacob

Help Wildlife in the Congo:

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.
Donate your cell phone to the Houston Zoo and the Zoo will have it recycled ensuring that most of these cell phones and their accessories will be reused or properly disposed of.
A big thank you to the Houston Aeros and Aeros staff for all their help and support for the Houston Zoo. There are 7 more home games before the season ends on April 15th and the Houston Aeros start their playoff run to the Calder Cup Trophy. Check out their schedule and support Aeros hockey.

The African Vulture Crisis

Here is another great video in the series about the decline of vulture populations in the Masai Mara of east Africa. Over the last thirty years, vulture numbers in East Africa have been dropping rapidly largely due to poisoning. Pastoralists lace livestock carcasses with pesticides to kill lions and hyenas that have attacked domestic animals. One poisoned cow carcass can kill over 150 vultures. We are in the midst of a crisis for African vultures that will be difficult to reverse if poisoning continues.

This video was created by the nonprofit organization Wild Lens Inc. Wild Lens works alongside other non-profit and governmental organizations to document and communicate to the public the various risks to habitat and wildlife species, particularly in understudied populations. Goals for scientific research projects go beyond publishing in scientific journals with documentary storytelling used to explain the issues behind the research being conducted.

For more information about vultures and vulture conservation, visit the blog


That Puppet is Traveling Again! Week 8

For weeks now, I’ve been writing about the wonderful biodiversity of the Philippines.  Did you know you can see witness some of that biodiversity just by visiting the Houston Zoo?

In the bird department alone we have:

Palawan Peacock Pheasants

Emerald Doves

Nicobar Pigeons

Black-naped Fruit Doves

Pied Imperial Pigeons

Luzon Bleeding Heart Doves

Chestnut-breasted Malkohas

White-throated Kingfishers

Japanese White-eyes

Please visit the zoo on May 5th and 6th to help us celebrate the beautiful animals of the Philippines and the majesty of raptors!  We will als be featuring our own birds of prey with several species of owl, hawks, and Liberty, our Bald Eagle!

Time for another installment of Where in the World is Jeffery?  Please leave a caption for the first photo for a chance to win an extra 8 points! 

Recently, Jeffery visited the only Southeast Asian country that has never been taken over by a European power.

An elephant?!


Where am I?


There will be no wrap up blog this Friday the 23rd, as I will be traveling…with the puppet.  There WILL be another contest blog on Monday the 26th!

Follow Jeffery’s road trip antics on Facebook and  Twitter!

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