Kids from Houston connecting with children in Mozambique in a “Lion Fun Day”

Written by Angie Pyle

On Saturday and Sunday (September 8th – 9th 2012) come and join us at the Houston Zoo.   We will be hosting our 2nd annual Lion Fun Days from 10am-3pm.

During Lion Fun Days, guests can enjoy numerous keeper chats, craft stations, and games.  Various one of a kind Items will be sold to raise money for the Niassa Carnivore Project.  Please plan on visiting the Zoo on September 8th or 9th to learn about how you can help save the African lion.

Why do lions need your help?  Unfortunately African Lion populations are dropping at a devastating rate.  During the 1950’s there were an estimated 500,000 Lions in Africa.  Today they estimate 20-30,000 Lions in all of Africa.

The Niassa Carnivore Project has been working since 2003 exclusively in the Niassa Reserve.  Researchers have been tracking animals, vaccinating animals, educating the locals, and working with the locals on how to safely live with Lions.    One of the methods for community outreach and education that the project was involved with was “Lion fun days.”  The entire Niassa Carnivore project team got together and came up with activities, games, and puzzles for the children of Mbamba, Mozambique to take part in.  The idea is to teach the children about the importance of Carnivores in their ecosystem through fun and engaging activities.  The children painted animal masks ran relay races, acted out plays; just to name a few of the activities.  They also participated in a special eco-system tug of war. ”The majority of people in Niassa believe their lives would be better without lions, elephants and leopards. We wanted to spark some thoughts on what the consequences might be if these animals were all to disappear from Niassa. Would it matter if all the lions or elephants were gone? We divided the children into two teams for a ‘tug of war” using our tow rope with each child representing different elements of the ecosystem – lions, leopards, elephants, honey badgers, eagles, bees, trees, grass flowers, fish, sunlight, rain etc. One side was the reserve and the other an unprotected area. Initially the tug of war was equal but as more and more elements disappeared, some connected to each other resulting in a cascade of effects, the unprotected team started to fall apart while the Reserve team was still strong and pulling together. ” At the end of the day the children bring home solid conservation messages to their parents from these activities and crafts. – Colleen Begg



We organized “Lion fun day” here at the Houston Zoo on November 3rd – 4th of2011 in conjunction with Mozambique’s and it was a great success.  American and Mozambique children learned that children around the world are learning about their role in conservation.



So bring your family to the Houston Zoo on September 8th or 9th and help us celebrate and save the African Lion.



The Houston Zoo is Leaping for Lemurs & We Want You to Join In!!!!!!!

Did you know that Coquerel’s sifaka can leap over 20 feet from tree to tree?


Gaius: Male Coquerel’s Sifaka


These amazing animals are endangered and found only in the northwestern forests of Madagascar. They have strong legs that not only help them make these incredible long leaps but also assist in their typical locomotion style called vertical clinging and leaping. It is called this because they maintain an upright posture when moving. On the ground, they move in a distinct sideways hop. High up in the trees, they leap from branch to branch or tree trunk to tree trunk, swivel in mid-air,  and then cling to whatever they land on.


Zenobia: Female Coquerel’s Sifaka

Interested in learning more about these leaping lemurs? Join the primate zookeepers on September 1, 2 & 3 from 9am-3pm in the Wortham World of Primates at the Houston Zoo for a Spotlight on Species event highlighting the Coquerel’s Sifaka as well as many other Madagascar species. In addition to speaking with zookeepers, visitors will have a chance to take part in several fun ‘lemur’ activities as well as support lemur conservation through the purchase of unique item from Madagascar and Houston Zoo animal paintings. Then see how your leaping skills measure up by visiting Sky Zone Sports ( indoor trampoline park for “Leaping for Lemurs” on September 5th & 6th. They will donate 25% of the proceeds on these two days to lemur conservation in Madagascar. So come out and leap into action to help save these rare and beautiful animals!

Octopuses (Yes, that is correct)

Welcome back to a conservation blog series on Belize! I recently returned from spending 10 days in the diverse Central American country as part of a Master’s program through Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Here I will be highlighting some of the conservation projects going on throughout the country in hopes to connect our Houston community with the global conservation community. 

Luckily for me (an aquatic species at heart) our class involved learning all about the diverse marine ecology of coral reefs. Belize has the largest barrier reef system in the western hemisphere (only 2ndin the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia). We traveled by small boats from Dangriga (a city on the east coast of Belize) to Tobacco Caye; a tiny island (which you can circle in 5-minutes) with only about 20 permanent residents.

Tobacco Caye-A tiny island formed by ocean currents passing sediment along a coral reef

Several days were spent in the water using a variety of field methods to survey fish diversity and abundance, coral diversity, overall health of the reefs, fish identification, and the list goes on and on! This may sound glamorous -but don’t underestimate the work that marine biologists must do. I could not foresee the amount of physical and mental effort needed to conduct these studies-just try communicating data with a group as you’re bobbing up and down in the ocean with very fragile coral beneath you, and a variety of marine life circling your feet! Thank goodness for special whiteboards and pencils which allow you to record information in the water.

You can see the location of the barrier reef by where the white caps form

If all that time in the water wasn’t enough, we even had the opportunity to venture out at night to observe the nocturnal creatures of the sea. If you ever get the chance to do this-I highly recommend it. The first thing we observed after entering the water was an octopus, then eels, puffer fish, stonefish and lots rays!

Octopus sighted on our night snorkel!

One of the highlights of being involved in this Master’s program is getting to feel like a kid again. Most people would say they would neverwant to return to school, but when your job involves being the teacher or leader of a group, it feels great to let go of control and be a student again! Participating in the field activities (night snorkeling, inquiry-based outdoor experiments, manatee tracking, etc.) reinvigorated the feeling that most of us wildlife-loving people had when we were kids playing outside.

A ray about the size of your hand-look at that camouflage!

As a conservation educator, it is my job to make sure the future generations of my community experience this same feeling-exploring the wonderful world outside of our cement walls so that we may all care a little bit more about our natural world, and try to save it.


The Houston Zoo is Leaping for Lemurs and We Want You to Join In!!!!!!!

Lemurs are an amazing group of primates that are only found in Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa. There are a wide variety of lemur species with a great deal of diversity in appearance and behavior, from the tiny mouse lemur to the elusive nocturnal aye-aye. Different species consume a vast array of diets such as the bamboo lemurs that survive mainly on bamboo or the fruit-eating ruffed lemurs. Some lemurs, like the ring-tailed lemur, live in large troupes led by a dominant female, others, like the red-fronted lemur, have no noticeable hierarchy within their smaller groups. Despite all their differences, one thing that all lemurs have in common is that they are all affected by habitat loss, poaching and the pet trade, and need our help.


Travis, a crowned lemur, and
Beet, a red-fronted lemur. Photo by Tina Carpenter.


With so much diversity and with so many fascinating facts, we can’t help but love lemurs and that is why we are having almost a whole week dedicated to promoting lemur conservation!

It all starts on September 1st with a three day Spotlight on Species highlighting the Coquerel’s sifaka. This event will occur from 9am-3pm in the Wortham World of Primates at the Houston Zoo every day through September 3rd. Visitors to the zoo will be able to learn all about lemurs and other animals native to Madagascar from the zookeepers that care for these species here at the zoo. They will be able to see a wide variety of Madagascar species including our very own Coquerel’s sifaka pair, “Zenobia” and “Gaius”, as well as the newest addition to the primate department, a baby ring-tailed lemur! There will also be face-painting and fun ‘lemur’ activities for the whole family. While learning about lemurs, you can also support lemur conservation as zookeepers will be selling a wide variety of unique items from Madagascar as well as paintings completed by animals here at the zoo with the profits going to support conservation efforts in Madagascar.

Ring-tailed Lemur Family. Photo by Stephanie Adams.

On September 5th & 6th, show off your lemur leaping skills by visiting Sky Zone Sports indoor trampoline park (www.houston.skyzonesports.comfor “Leaping for Lemurs”. They will donate 25% of the proceeds on these two days to lemur conservation in Madagascar. So come out and leap into action to help save these amazing animals!

Doggie Doo and Doggie Dont's

We are a pet loving society and companies take advantage of our fondness for our furry friends by selling us everything from treats to sweaters, hats and everything in between. But there are a few necessities for the dog walking elite we rarely ever think about. “Doggie Bags” and not the kind leftover Chinese food comes home in.

Please call for help -and tell them someone put a chicken on my head

Not only are we a pet loving society, but also a plastic loving society and that is not good for our environment. Convenient, but dangerous to wildlife as it does not break down in landfills and ends up in our water stream entangling animals. Yes, it seems as though I am blaming your companion for the downfall of civilization but he/she cannot pick up after himself so it is up to you to make a difference and you can do it with this simple product: Biodegradeable doggie bags.

They do not look very exciting, but who wants to draw attention to what is in your little baggie anyway?

That”s right, now your pet can do his or her business and feel better about it in the morning knowing that all those little plastic bags you have been hiding his/her treasures in will break down in the landfill and not harm or entangle wildlife. And while you are at it, you can get similar compostable garbage can liners for your home. Some stores now sell them but check Amazon or other online vendors as they may be less expensive there.

There are a number of products on the market like this one

So next time you look down and think your dog is smiling at you, they are because they are proud you have become a responsible consumer and your dog can take credit for doing something they need to do 2-3x a day anyway.

Turtle Tuesday

Oh the life of a conservation biologist!

Every Monday, a NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-yeah…it’s a mouthful) employee from our Galveston lab drives about 90 miles of beach from the Bolivar Peninsula through Galveston to Freeport looking for stranded or deceased sea turtles. Fortunately, the Houston Zoo has been given the opportunity to ride along on these beach surveys a few times a month. We will report what we find each Tuesday morning to keep you updated on all the sea turtle happenings on the upper Texas coast.

NOAA stickers on the side of the survey truck

Our Monday’s start bright and early at 7:00am, where we meet our fisheries biologist at the sea turtle facility in Galveston. We load up the truck with plastic bins, towels (for injured/stranded turtles), tow ropes, tool boxes, data sheets, a field notebook, buckets, and LOTS of water, coffee, and snacks for our 10-12 hour day.

You never know what cool things you'll stumble upon when you go outside!

Tow ropes are important because a lot of small cars think they can make it across a nice sandy beach-think again. We usually have to pull 1 or 2 cars out of the sand on any given survey day. Being a wildlife conservation biologist involves lots of skills-including how to hook up a tow rope!

Lyndsey-a NOAA employee hooking up the tow rope yesterday

We first drive onto the ferry which takes us across to Bolivar Peninsula. Yesterday I saw several dolphins on our ferry trip and the area was FILLED with boats! We survey about 30-45 miles of beach on Bolivar-as much as the truck can endure. As we drive further away from civilization the beaches become narrow and difficult to drive on. When we survey, we drive 5 miles of beach at a time, looking for turtles along the beach, and recording our coordinates and our findings. Most of the time we find A LOT of trash (even sites where trash is burned on the beach), but thankfully no stranded or deceased turtles yesterday!

Burning beach chairs and other trash-this does not keep it from going into our water

After returning to Galveston on our return ferry trip, we start at East Beach and work our way all the way down to Freeport. We were stopped several times yesterday because people were asking us if we were conducting water quality tests. If you couldn’t smell the fish from Houston, I’m surprised. We were told by beachgoers that the thousands of dead fish that washed up over the past few days were because of warm water temperatures, which decreases the available oxygen in the water. I did a little research this morning, and it looks like the fish died because of a toxic algal bloom.

A toxic algal bloom caused thousands of fish to die

The dead fish made for a very smelly survey day…even the seagulls seemed disinterested in the easy prey!

After we finish our beach surveys, we walk down the Freeport Jetty (a very busy fishing area) to collect monofilament line from some amazing recycling bins that were put together through a collaborative effort by many institutions. Monofilament line is used by most recreational fishermen to catch fish. If this line is cut and left on the rocks of the jetty, the green sea turtles that come to feed on the algae of the rocks can become entangled.

Monofilament recycling bin filled with trash

Unfortunately, there are no trash cans on the jetty, so people are using the monofilament recycling bins as trash cans. It’s great to get the trash off the ground, but little room is left for the line to be contained. It would be amazing to see trash and recycling cans next to each of these monofilament bins so we can keep this busy fishing area clear!

Non-trash monofilament recycling bin filled with trash

The Freeport Jetty is not only a great fishing spot, but a wonderful tourist location to observe green sea turtles. We saw 2 in a matter of 30 minutes yesterday as we cleaned and organized the line and trash.

After a long day of surveying the beach, answering fish and turtle questions, and collecting trash and monofilament line, it’s back to the sea turtle facility to check on a few of the wild sea turtles who are being rehabilitated.

A recent Kemp's Ridley hatchling with thumb to show actual size!


You may remember this turtle from Facebook...he had a shoe wrapped around his flipper

Legend of the Orang-utan

We ran this a few years ago but thought we would reprint for some of our newer blog visitors:

The Orangutan is a fascinating ape which is in serious decline on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo – the only two places on earth they can be found in the wild. “Orangutan” in the native language means “people (orang) of the forest (utan or hutan).” Their decline is mostly due to habitat loss, development and hunting pressures. It is believed that if this rate of decline and habitat fragmentation continues, we will lose the orangutan within the next 50 years. Actually, since we ran this piece a few years ago, the orangutan situation on both islands has become increasingly dire due to habitat loss pressures.

Bornean Orangutan, Sabah, Malaysia

A Malaysian tale: The Orang-utan

Long ago, human beings (or orangs in Malay) lived in the virgin jungles of Borneo. They stayed in groups, sharing their long houses, subsisting on plants and animals provided by Mother Nature. Within the different groups, this peaceful way of life was however troubled by all sorts of problems and conflicts involving treacheries, malices, gossips and other issues that are specific to humans. A peace-loving minority of orangs decided to split from the major group in order to escape the clamors of the village life and went deep into the jungle. They established a new home and lived happily for years. More and more orangs from their former community decided to join this idyllic existence, up to a point that the newly created village became overcrowded and full with problems that follow humans at all times and places (pollution, noise, habitat destruction, cruelty and meanness).

The original group decided to break up one more time and wandered far away from this place. They established themselves on the mountains where life was paradise. Of course they didn’t stay on their own for long: more and more people joined them and troubled this peaceful existence. Fed up beyond belief, the original orangs decided that enough was enough: because they wouldn’t be able to find peace below the trees, they decided to climb up to the treetop and to settle down in the forest canopy.

Bornean Orangutan, Sabah, Malaysia

They also decided to not have any kind of relations with ground-dwelling orangs any more. From this day, this group became the orang-utans, or “people of the forest” and today can only be found living among the trees.

Learn more about our partners at HUTAN’s Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project

To learn about how Palm Oil is having a devasting effect on orangutan habitat and how you can be a responsible consumer – view our Palm Oil Page

Palm Oil Plantation after secondary forest is cut down and area cleared of vegetation.

Off to Greener Sea Grass Beds

On Thursday, August 9th, a green sea turtle (native to our Gulf Coast waters) was released into Galveston Bay through a coordinated effort by NOAA Fisheries, Moody Gardens, and the Houston Zoo. NOAA Fisheries is responsible for responding to stranded sea turtles along the upper Texas coast, like this small green sea turtle.

I'm ready for the open water!!

The turtle was found stranded last year near Matagorda Bay. Sea turtles can strand on our Texas beaches for any number of reasons; caught on a hook/line, injuries due to boats or nets, disease, algal blooms, cold weather, entanglement, or pollution.

Monofilament line used for fishing can often cause sea turtle entanglement

When sea turtles are found stranded on the upper Texas coast they are checked over by the NOAA Fisheries staff who can then include local veterinarians (like our Houston Zoo Vet Staff!) if further medical assistance is needed. A select group of organizations can then house the stranded sea turtles until they are healthy enough to be released (check out our small green sea turtle in the Kipp Aquarium who is a great example of this collaborative work!).

All turtles must be photographed and documented before being released

The small green sea turtle was housed in Moody Gardens during his rehabilitation period, and then brought to the Houston Zoo to have one final checkup by our Vet Staff before being released Thursday morning. He swam away quite happily it seemed as he intermittently came up for several breaths before diving down below the murky water.

The release!

We hope to have plenty of success stories like this one to share with you as we document all of the sea turtle happenings on our Texas Coast. Stay tuned for our sea turtle series coming soon!

Cows of the Sea

Welcome back to a conservation blog series on Belize! I recently returned from spending 10 days in the diverse Central American country as part of a Master’s program through Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Here I will be highlighting some of the conservation projects going on throughout the country in hopes to connect our Houston community with the global conservation community.  

After spending a considerable amount of time in the rainforest (with the bug bites to prove it!) we spent a full day on the water with a manatee researcher, Jamal Galves, from Sea to Shore Alliance. Belize boasts one of the highest populations of the Antillean Manatees in the world, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee. In the U.S. we have the other subspecies of the West Indian manatee commonly known as the Florida Manatee.

Antillean Manatees (Photo courtesy of SeaPics)

The morning was spent identifying individual manatees in a particularly dangerous speed boat area just north of Belize City where a freshwater river and the Caribbean meet. We spotted between 6-10 individual manatees, and watched closely as boats traveled through this touristy area. Manatees are largely affected by boat propeller accidents, and although they can be upwards of 1,000 lbs., they surface every few minutes to breathe (with only their nose breaking the surface). This makes them particularly vulnerable to boats speeding in heavily populated areas.

Jamal Galves-a manatee research associate in Belize

 Jamal is working with local tour guide/boat operators to deliver educational workshops on how to spot manatees, learn about their behaviors, and how to avoid them with their boat propellers. This type of training is two-fold; it benefits the manatees, and it also benefits the tour operators!  An increased number of healthy manatees results in more tourists, and more profits. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Tagging a manatee to help researchers understand manatee behavior in hopes to conserve them (Photo courtesy of Sea2Shore Alliance)

During the afternoon we used radio telemetry to track one of three tagged manatees. Manatees are tagged using a belt that fits loosely around the base of their tail. A tether is attached to the belt, which then connects to a floating tube that holds the transmitter (this does not harm the manatee and will break loose easily if the manatee travels into vegetation). Using radio signals, we can track the manatees and monitor their movements. This information allows researchers to better understand manatee behavior, thus helping to conserve them.

Underwater view of the tag in action (Photo courtesy of Sea2Shore Alliance)
Illustration of a tag on a manatee (Photo courtesy of

Baboons Are In Fact Howler Monkeys

Welcome back to a conservation blog series on Belize! I recently returned from spending 10 days in the diverse Central American country as part of a Master’s program through Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. Here I will be highlighting some of the conservation projects going on throughout the country in hopes to connect our Houston community with the global conservation community.

After spending some time at the Belize Zoo we traveled further East to the Community Baboon Sanctuary. Don’t let the name of this community-based conservation organization fool you.  The local Creole word for the Black Howler Monkey is baboon.

Howler monkey doing what he does best-eating lots of leaves!

 This organization started in 1985 with the idea that local landowners in villages where black howler monkeys live could voluntarily pledge to conserve and practice sustainable land management practices. 27 years later, the organization is still going strong, and is led by a group of women called the Women’s Conservation Group. Over 200 people in 7 small communities across 20 square miles have pledged to conserve their land for the black howler monkey. The Women’s Conservation Group has representatives from each community. These women attend monthly meetings and bring news back to their communities to share in the conservation effort. They are also in charge of tourism at the sanctuary, educational efforts, managing the museum, lodging, tours, and the list goes on and on.

Look at that prehensile (gripping) tail-great for holding on while snacking!

We had the privilege of sitting down with some of the members of the Women’s Conservation group to pick their brains about all things-conservation. They are a wonderful example of perseverance and dedication to a cause. The communities in the CBS struggle with providing their children with backpacks and writing utensils to attend school, yet they remain focused on saving one of their country’s most charismatic species.

After learning about the sanctuary, we were taken into the rainforest by a very knowledgeable guide who taught us all about the local flora and fauna. We saw leaf-cutter ants, blue morpho butterflies, agouti, mahogany trees, cohune palm trees, termite mounds, and of course-black howler monkeys! There was a group of about 6 individuals (including a mom and offspring) that we observed eating in a small patch of rainforest right alongside someone’s home. It’s amazing to see wildlife and humans co-existing, and these black-howler monkeys serve as proof that is it not too late to conserve the wild places that surround all of us.

Look at those TEETH!
Search Blog & Website
[jetpack_subscription_form title="Subscribe to the Blog" subscribe_text="Enter your email address to subscribe and receive new blog posts by email."]
Houston Zoo Facebook Page
Animals In Action

Recent Videos