At The Houston Zoo, there are 6,000 animals and 800 species to wonder at as you make your way through our 22 acres. Each of the 6,000 animals housed at The Houston Zoo has a story to tell. As ambassadors for their counter parts in the wild, they serve as a reminder of how vital they are for our planet. Their role is an important one, and no group of people knows this better than those that take care of them each and every day. Freeze or fry, wet or dry, there is a dedicated group of people at the Zoo 365 days-a-year to care for the animals in their respective departments. On any given day you can see keepers cleaning tanks, mowing enclosure lawns, placing enrichment items in exhibits, and generally caring for the happiness and well-being of every animal at The Houston Zoo. Their day starts early as animals are fed and enclosures are cleaned, and throughout the day you can see them giving Keeper Chats so you, our guest, can learn more about these animal ambassadors.
As you make your way around the Zoo you may notice Keeper Chats at different exhibits. These Keeper Chats give you face-time with our incredible animal staff as well as information on our animals’ daily lives. Training is a crucial part of everyday interaction. It is important to remember that the animals housed at the Zoo are not pets, and they must always be treated with respect and caution. However, for their well-being, they are trained to mimic behaviors they would perform in the wild or actions that help maintain their good health. To help encourage natural behaviors, keepers perform what is known as “enrichment”. Enrichment is vital for our animals’ happiness. Every day an effort is put forth to keep all the animals active and engaged. It can be anything from placing items into enclosures for playing, strategically placing new scents in new areas for animals to seek out, or anything that encourages a variety of different behaviors. Anything approved by our keepers that can be used as a tool or toy is enriching their lives at the Zoo and keeps our animals active an engaged. Some departments keep track of Enrichment Charts so the animals in their care are occupied with different activities and don’t see the same items too often. Tracking the enrichment a particular animal chooses to engage, or not engage in, helps the keepers know how to better care for that animal and gives them insight into their individual personalities.
You may ask yourself, why would someone do all of this each and everyday? One of the rewards of working with these amazing animals is aiding conservation efforts. At The Houston Zoo we are involved in 20 different projects in 9 different countries. Beyond that, there are countless programs in place that aid in the conservation of the ever-increasing numbers on endangered species list. However, educating you, our guests, about choices you can make that impact the environment helps take names off of that long list.
A lot of work is involved in the daily upkeep of animals at zoos across the country, you can see it by visiting The Houston Zoo or your local zoo, but a good representation of the love that goes into caring for animals can be seen theatrically in We Bought a Zoo, the movie starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansen. As of April 3, We Bought a Zoo is out on Blu-Ray™ and for a limited time your purchase of the Blu-Ray disc also gets you ONE FREE child admission ticket to The Houston Zoo with the purchase of an adult ticket! This offer is valid until June 30, 2012. For more information visit AZA.org/weboughtazoo.