Baby Nyala Born May 21

This post written by Memory Mays
On May 21 2013, the hoofed stock team at the Houston Zoo greeted their newest and youngest member! Ivy, one of our female Nyala antelopes, gave birth to her first calf that day. The calf only weighs 11 pounds and has been named Willow.

Normally a baby Nyala will hide in bushes for about the first 2 weeks, receiving frequent visits from its mother to nurse. However, our little Willow is very easily seen in our new Nyala exhibit. Her favorite place is right in the center of the hay pile under the shelter so everyone can see her. When she isn’t taking a nap, she is probably playing and running with her half brother Peanut who is only 6 weeks older than her. During your next visit to the zoo, stop by to see these two adorable calves!

The Houston Zoo's Attwater's Prairie Chickens are getting ready to go back to the wild!

We still have Attwater’s prairie chicken eggs in incubators here at the Zoo, but the oldest chicks are now 45 days old.   Because these birds are being reintroduced into the wild our staff is focused on encouraging as much natural behavior as possible to prepare them for prairie life.


The oldest chicks are now getting more vegetation in their diet, so that they recognize their wild diet.    And, their outdoor enclosures are filled with branches and bushes to encourage their instinct to hide and protect themselves from predators that threaten their survival in the wild.    

We will start reintroducing Attwater’s prairie chickens in June and July.  In the meantime, we will keep everyone posted on their development here at the Zoo, so stay tuned!

If you are interested in helping us save this species from extinction click here.

A Houston Toad Success Story!

The past three weeks in the Houston toad facility have been a whirlwind of activity. Keepers, veterinary staff, and toads have all been racing the clock to get everything prepared to try to squeeze in a breeding event before the end of Houston toad’s normal breeding season. We are happy to announce that in all we were able to produce ~36,000 Houston toad eggs that have now been released in and around Bastrop State Park.

This marks the first release of eggs from the Houston toad facility. Generally, the survivorship of eggs in the wild is quite low, around 0.01%! However, our collaborators at Texas State University placed the egg strands inside wire cages, termed “predator excluder devices,” to protect the eggs from getting eaten by birds, fish, aquatic invertebrates, and even other amphibians! The eggs will develop and hatch inside the protective wall of these cages. Eventually, the resulting larvae and tadpoles will swim through the wire mesh; however, the cage will be left in the water so the tadpoles can continue to use it as a hiding place.

A graduate researcher from Texas State University is currently monitoring the developing eggs. She has recently observed very large Houston tadpoles hanging around one of the excluder devices from the first batch of eggs released, indicating that they are working and the tadpoles are surviving!

We kept a few of the eggs in the Houston Zoo’s toad facility to grow up to “toadhood” so they can be a part of our captive assurance colony.  These little toads are the offspring of some of our oldest and most “genetically precious” toads that we have here in the facility. Two of the females and three of the males that laid eggs last week are members of the very first group of toads that were brought into the toad program in 2007. We’re so happy that these toads are getting their offspring back into the wild!

Fingers crosses that the egg strands will produce lots of little toadlets that will be chorusing at the Bastrop ponds next year!

6 sea turtles in the Houston Zoo vet clinic on Memorial Day

Kemps Ridley with hook in its mouth

Six sea turtles were brought in to the Houston Zoo vet clinic this afternoon for examinations.   There were 4 Kemp’s ridleys, 1 green and 1 loggerhead sea turtle.  All of them had been injured or stranded on the Texas coast, and were in need of veterinary treatment.

Hook removed from the throat of this sea turtle

Two of the Kemp’s ridleys had swallowed hooks, and the vet staff was able to retrieve and extract the fishing hooks from inside the throat and mouth of the turtles.


Sea turtle with fishing hook in its throat.


After treatment all of the sea turtles were taken to the NOAA Sea Turtle Barn in Galveston to recover.

Same turtle as above with hook removed!

If you want to learn more about how the Houston Zoo is protecting sea turtles in the wild and how you can help, click here.  Stay tuned for more sea turtle rescues at the Houston Zoo!

Houston Toad Release Success!

Houston toad egg strands

Last week, we transferred 6 total egg strands (~20,000 eggs) to our collaborators at Texas State. We had the opportunity to assist a TSU graduate student in placing the eggs inside protective wire cages in an area outside Bastrop State Park. We were able to check on the eggs transferred the previous week and found very large Houston toad tadpoles, indicating that our first round of released eggs had survived. 

There were also three toadlets that would be the appropriate age to be the offspring of the first set of adult toads that were released from our facility (and subsequently laid eggs) at the same pond back in March.  

In summary this spring we have released:

139 adult Bastrop county toads

631 adult Leon county toads

~36,000 Bastrop county toad eggs

For more on this fabulous program and how you can help the Houston toad click here .

 Check back for more about how the Houston Zoo is helping to save animals in the wild!

‘Spotlight on Species’ Chimpanzee

Chimpanzees are very intelligent and incredibly resourceful when in comes to creating ways to obtain their food.  Visitors to the Houston Zoo can see an example of this creativity on a daily basis during the 12:30 keeper chat. The chimpanzee exhibit has its very own termite mound replica and guests can watch the chimpanzees modify and use branches to retrieve delicious treats such as yogurt, bananas, or juice .

Lucy fishing at replica termite mound.

Chimpanzees in the wild exhibit a similar behavior by modifying branches to fish for termites. Other examples of tool use by chimpanzees in the wild include modifying branches into spears for hunting small mammals, using rocks to crack nuts, wadding leaves as sponges to soak up water, and bunching leaves and branches to make comfortable nests to sleep in at night.

When visiting the Houston Zoo chimpanzee exhibit, take a second to watch the different techniques the chimpanzees use to ‘fish’ for their treats in the termite mound.  Lucy’s favorite spot is the top of the termite mound. This is prime real estate when it is time to ‘fish.’ It is also a great spot for her to observe guests of the zoo and all their entertaining antics. She usually chews on the end of her branch in order to make it better able to soak up liquids or makes it flatter so that it can scoop more treats out of the tubes.



Willie, the juvenile, has his own unique technique. Instead of modifying his own branch, he usually tries to steal someone else’s already modified tool. If he doesn’t steal the tool, he may sit just next to another chimpanzee and take their delicious treat off the end of their branch before they get a chance to enjoy it.




Let us know your suggestions for what tasty treat to put in the chimpanzees’ termite mound, then stop by on May 25-27 for a ‘Spotlight on Species’ focusing on Chimpanzees to see what they are fishing for that day. The ‘Spotlight on Species’ will be from 10am-3pm and there will be many fun and educational activities to help visitors learn about chimpanzees. You can bring in old cell phones for recycling in exchange for a chimpanzee conservation bracelet. Meet the primate keepers who care for the Houston Zoo’s chimpanzees at 12:30 and 2:30 during a keeper chat.

Zack Morris is calling…and he wants his phone back.

If you had the privilege of growing up in the days of Saved by the Bell and other memorable TV shows of the 1990’s then you know exactly what I mean by a “Zack Morris Phone”.

Zack Morris and his 1990’s cell phone. Photo courtesy of

And whether you can believe it or not, some people still have these phones tucked away in their closets, shoe boxes, garages, you name it…we know they are out there. Although we understand that you like hanging onto your Zack Morris phones and other old, discarded cell phones, we think that you may just love gorillas and chimpanzees more. For that reason, you should bring your old phone to the Zoo this Saturday, May 18th and recycle it at the main entrance to receive a discounted admission ticket to enter the Zoo that day!

I never thought I would be writing a blog about the conservation of gorillas and chimpanzees and be able to mention Zack Morris, but somehow I did it…and it kind of makes sense.


Old Zack Morris Phone + Recycling at the Zoo this Saturday, May 18th (9am-3pm)= Discounted Zoo admission AND helping to save animals in Central and West Africa like chimps and gorillas who suffer from the mining of materials which are in our cell phones.



By recycling your cell phone this Saturday, May 18th at the Zoo you not only spare a few dollars on your admission into the Zoo to celebrate Endangered Species Day (hey-you could use those extra few bucks to buy yourself a few seasons of Saved by the Bell on DVD…I checked…Amazon has them for $2.03), you also help animals like gorillas and chimps who live in areas of Africa where materials for your cell phone are mined.

Recycled phones! Bring yours to the Zoo on Saturday, May 18th from 9am-3pm and receive a discounted ticket to the Zoo!

By recycling cell phones we lower the number of materials that are taken from gorilla and chimpanzee habitat, which directly helps protect endangered species!

Event in a nutshell:

What: Endangered Species Day-bring your old cell phone to be recycled and receive a discounted admission ticket to the Zoo. One discounted ticket per every phone recycled.

Where: Houston Zoo-Cell phone recycling table in front of main entrance.

Who: Everyone!

When: Saturday, May 18th from 9am-3pm

Why: To save endangered species like gorillas and chimpanzees by recycling cell phones!


Attwater's prairie chicks getting upgrades!

Today some of our Attwater’s chicks had their first vet exam! Afterwards, they received upgraded bands because they are growing so fast. When born, the chicks only weigh about 17 grams (on average). Once they graduate to 50 grams, they receive their veterinarian exam in preparation for release to a larger outdoor area. Below, you can see one of our chicks showing off his new jewelry in his new home!

Attwater’s prairie chick with his new bling!

Check out the Houston Zoo Texas Conservation page to learn more about the Attwater’s prairie chicken or to make a contribution.

The Houston Zoo is releasing more toads!

The Houston Zoo has released over 20,000 Houston toads into the wild since we began our reintroduction program in 2007.   We are determined to protect the Houston Toad from extinction!

Four Houston toad egg strands (~12,000+ eggs) that were produced here at the Houston Zoo were released by Texas State this week.


Houston toad egg strands

Three of the strands are going to a private landowner and one strand will be headed to the state park. Each egg strand is being placed into a special wire cage to protect the eggs from predation.

Check back for more on how the Houston Zoo helps save animals in the wild! 

For more about this program and to find out how you can help click here .

Carnivores Hunting

I have been told that I can be a little competitive.  I would like to think it is just that I am driven and do not like to fail.  Regardless, the end result is that if something is a little difficult for me I will often keep trying until I can get it right.  I often see that same manic glint in the eyes of our zoo residents as they try to figure out an enrichment item.  Enrichment is something that keepers offer to the animals at the Zoo every day.  It can be something as simple as a new food item, or as complex as a giant barrel made to look like a bird and filled with meat.  Whatever it may be, it is something different in an animal’s environment that encourages natural behaviors.

For me, nothing is more powerful than watching our carnivores “hunt”.  The absolute stillness which overtakes their bodies as they stalk their “prey” makes me not want to blink for fear of missing that crucial lunge.  Of course the pounce is so big that there was never a chance of missing it in the first place!  The Carnivore Keepers at the Houston Zoo help to encourage those natural hunting behaviors through the enrichment items they provide.

One of the lions proves that this species can indeed climb trees. She was able to knock the large femur bone from its perch.
The African Painted Dog pack works together to tear down a hanging piece of meat from a zip-line.

The carnivores at the zoo are fed a special meat diet formulated to meet the nutritional requirements of both felids and canids (cats and dogs).  They also receive special treats ranging from fish, to chicken, to even meal worms and crickets!  Presenting their regular diet as well as special treats in a variety of ways helps to engage that hunting behavior and offers the carnivores as well as our guests something special.

This can be especially important for social carnivores such as Lions and African Painted Dogs.  Offering them special food items as a group or an opportunity to hunt as a pack reestablishes crucial social ties.  Lions, for example, eat in order of a specific hierarchy.  The male eats first followed by females in order of dominance.  While keepers feed the majority of their diet separately to discourage aggression and make sure each lion receives their fair share, it is important to occasionally encourage the social interaction that occurs around a carcass.

The 15th of every month allows keepers to do just that.  The carnivores are offered a treat called bone-in-meat.  This is a large hunk of meat with the bone still inside.  The larger cats receive pieces ranging anywhere from 15-30lbs!  Presentations of this treat vary from sending it down a zip-line to staking in on exhibit, but the ripping and tearing involved in the consumption of this treat is enriching for animals and guests alike.

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