Dog Days of Summer: Meet Aries, African Painted Dog

Aries 1

Name: Aries

Alias: The Protector

Age: 11 years
Aries is one of three African Painted Dogs that resides at the Houston Zoo.  He is brother to Blaze and uncle to Mikita.  Aries can most often be seen napping next to one of his pack-mates or patrolling the exhibit, protecting them from those pesky bunnies.  Though he seems to take on the protector role, Aries is the last of the pack to approach new things.  He will often wait until Blaze and Mikita begin to argue over a particular toy or food item, sneak up while they are busy with each other, and then grab the item in question to play with or consume at his leisure out of their line of vision.

Aries 4

The best way to tell Aries from his pack-mates is to look for a golden coat and short tail.  He is the most vocal of the dogs and will often growl a few short “barks” at his keepers while he is eating.  Vocalizations are very important in Painted Dog packs as they are one of the most communicative social carnivores.  Their sheer number of vocalizations is thought to be second only to dolphins.

What is the Houston Zoo doing to save the African painted dogs from extinction? 

The Houston Zoo loves its African painted dogs and is involved with efforts to protect them in the wild.   We help an organization called Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) in Zimbabwe, Africa, improve thier painted dog rehabilitation program by offering training to thier local staff.  They rehabilitate sick and injured wild African painted dogs and reintroduce them back into the wild.  We have also assisted with thier education, communications, research and community developement programs in the past.

Help us save African painted dogs from extinction!

Please join us August 3-4, 2013 for a special event called, Dog Days of Summer, a celebration of everything painted dog!  There will be Meet The Keeper talks, enrichment demonstrations, kid’s crafts, and the opportunity to aid Aries’ wild counterparts.  All funds raised will go to saving the painted dogs in the wild!  You can also click here to donate now to protect this beautiful animal in Africa!

Lemur Birthday Party!

This past weekend, 2 ring-tailed lemurs, Howie and Cairrean, celebrated their birthdays together. Howie turned 1, and Cairrean turned 11! We gave them a birthday cake stuffed with their favorite goodies and decorated their habitat with streamers.


Birthday parties are just one way we enrich our animals here at the Zoo – we keep life interesting for all our animals by providing them unique opportunities to have fun through work and play. In this case, it was seriously play!


You may have also seen the birthday party we threw last week for our three lion girls – Jonathan clearly didn’t realize that he wasn’t supposed to be the center of attention!


For more on animal enrichment, check out the animal care page on the Zoo website, or consider buying a treat for one of our animals from our Amazon Wishlist!

Thanks to awesome primate keeper Tina for the fantastic lemur photos, and to the primate and carnivore teams for their great ideas!

Reminder: No Free Afternoon at the Houston Zoo on August 6

The Houston Zoo offers free admission to our guests on the first Tuesday of each month, September through May, from 2 p.m. until closing. June, July, and August do not have Free Afternoons.

Q: Why has the Houston Zoo eliminated the free first Tuesday afternoons between 2 and closing during the summer months?
A: Nearly 12,000 people came to the Houston Zoo in a 3 hour period on the first Tuesday in June last year (2012). Traffic on Cambridge Street was extremely congested. Houston Fire Department ambulances and other emergency vehicles use Cambridge Street to access the emergency rooms at Ben Taub and Hermann Hospitals. The heavy traffic created a potentially adverse atmosphere that could have impacted the health and safety of citizens. The Houston Zoo is committed to providing free and discounted admissions to our guests, but not at the risk of creating a potential hazard to health and safety of the people of Houston.

Q: Why is the traffic congestion such a concern? Couldn’t you just have police direct traffic?
A: Houston and Metro police and Harris County Deputies bring great skill to bear managing heavy traffic for a variety of events. But when traffic congestion reaches a certain level regardless of the traffic management skill brought to bear, delays will occur. When people need emergency medical care in the Texas Medical Center access to that care must not be delayed.

Q: The free first Tuesday afternoons during the summer are really the only time families can participate. I don’t think that’s fair.
A: We understand your concern. However, the Zoo will still observe nine other First Tuesday free admission opportunities. On average over the last two years, nearly 30,000 people have enjoyed the Free First Tuesdays between September and May.

Q: What other free and discounted admission opportunities are available at the Houston Zoo?
A: We have many and they are all listed on our website on our Buy Tickets page:

Visit the Buy Tickets webpage to browse discounts and offers

Here’s some of our many discounts. Check the Buy Tickets page for the complete list.

  • Since 1989 public and private schools within the city limits of the City of Houston have been bringing their students to the Houston Zoo for free field trips. In 2011 that meant 67,643 children enjoyed the Zoo free of charge. In 2012 more than 76,000 children participated.
  • We partner with Fiesta stores which sell discounted adult and child admissions.
  • We are a part of Bank of America’s Museums on Us program which offers Bank of America card holders a free admission on the first full weekend of each month.
  • METRO bus and METRORail riders can get a discount when they present their Q Card or fare ticket at our admission booths.
  • Rice, St. Thomas, and University of Houston students receive one free admission when they present their valid current student ID.
  • Houston Community College Students receive a discount when they show a valid current ID.
  • There is a AAA auto club discount
  • We also offer discounts for employees of the Johnson Space Center and discounts for employees of M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Kelsey-Seybold, and Texas Children’s Hospital when they present their employee ID.
  • We also offer free admission to the families of active duty military personnel and discounts to the families of retired military personnel.

The Houston Zoo Loves Tortoises in the Zoo and in the Wild!

The Houston Zoo’s conservation purpose is to further the Houston Zoo’s mission of “fostering appreciation, knowledge, and care for the natural world” by connecting the public to our efforts to save species in the wild.  Through our wildlife conservation projects and partnerships, which work to conserve the wild counterparts of our ambassador animals at the zoo, we will inspire all people to respect, value and conserve wildlife and wild places.

At the Houston Zoo, we proudly display some of the largest and longest living animals on earth-the Galapagos tortoises! Resting easily in the shade of the trees in an exhibit next to Duck Lake, you can see 3 of these amazing reptiles that are only found on a few small islands in the Galapagos, west of the South American country of Ecuador. Unfortunately, the wild population of Galapagos tortoises isn’t thriving at the moment, and the Houston Zoo wants to do everything we can to protect these unique reptiles in their natural habitat, as well as our resident tortoises at the Zoo!

Galapagos Tortoise
Galapagos Tortoise

The Houston Zoo has been assisting with conservation efforts on the Galapagos Islands for many years. Our head veterinarian, Dr. Joe Flanagan, has traveled to the islands nearly two dozen times since 1992, working with biologists and scientists from Galapagos National Park and the Charles Darwin Foundation in an effort to restore some of the wildlife biodiversity to the islands. He has worked on giant tortoise conservation and provided consultation to the captive rearing centers on Santa Cruz and Isabela Islands in the Galapagos. This continued work provides an excellent connection between our Galapagos tortoises at the Zoo and what is happening to them in the wild.

In an effort to build on the work done by our Veterinary Staff, the Houston Zoo’s Education Department established a relationship with a Galapagos conservation education program called Ecology Project International (EPI) to further the education of local Ecuadorian students of their amazing biodiversity.

Local student from the Galapagos Ecology Project International program presents her project on Galapagos tortoises.
Local student from the Galapagos Ecology Project International program presents her project on Galapagos tortoises.

Houston Zoo staff visited the Galapagos and the employees of the Ecology Project International just two weeks ago to further our existing partnership and evaluate how the Zoo can continue to help! Zoo staff spent time sitting on a scientific committee to evaluate scientific projects done by local EPI students which were later presented to the entire community of the city of Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz island. Staff also met with EPI employees to evaluate their needs and assess how the Zoo can assist in their mission to provide opportunities for youth from local communities to assist in conservation to actively help protect threatened species and habitats.

The evaluation committee gathers in the Galapagos to assist with local EPI students as they present their scientific posters. Committee includes Houston Zoo staff, Galapagos tortoise researchers, EPI staff and Galapagos National Park staff.
The evaluation committee gathers in the Galapagos to assist with local EPI students as they present their scientific posters. Committee includes Houston Zoo staff, Galapagos tortoise researchers, EPI staff and Galapagos National Park staff.

More to come on this exciting partnership and the work being done with local students on the Galapagos Islands to help preserve some of the most unique and amazing wildlife and habitats in the world!

Dog Days of Summer: A Unique Relationship

Summer in Houston brings to mind several things: heat, humidity, and mosquitoes the size of your hand!  This year, the Houston Zoo would like to start a new tradition, The Dog Days of Summer!  Painted dogs are one of the most endangered carnivores in Africa.  The Houston Zoo loves its African Painted Dogs and wants to do everything we can to save them from extinction.  We are proud to partner with and support Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) in Zimbabwe.  PDC is dedicated to protecting painted dogs in the wild, through research, education, and engagement of the local Zimbabwean community.  The Houston Zoo’s unique relationship with PDC has enabled the exchange of resources, information, training, and expertise.

pup and adult

PDC Lead Builder and Bush Camp Guide, Dought Nkomo, and Lead Dog Keeper, Xmas Mpofu came to the Houston Zoo in 2011 to begin an exchange with Houston Zoo (HZI) staff that continues to this day.  The PDC staff worked alongside HZI staff, each sharing their techniques and expertise.  Dought and Xmas spent time with different areas of the zoo as they related to their jobs in Zimbabwe.

Dought-17, Jesse and Kyle

Six months later, Brandon Patterson of the Facilities Department, travelled to Zimbabwe where he aided in the reconstruction of a dip tank for cattle.  The dip tank is a ramp system where cattle are led down through the water at the bottom to treat them for flies and other paracites.  Rainwater was normally used in the dip tank, but the dry season made it difficult.  The community built a water catchment right next to the tank so they could continue to use it through the dry season.

Soon after Brandon’s visit a member of the conservation department and a Houston Zoo board member travelled to Painted Dog Conservation to enhance their conservation education programing.  They added amphibian and bat educational components to their existing eco-system based children’s Bush Camp education program.

With PDC recently building its onsite clinic, HZI’s Veterinary Hospital Manager Lisa Marie Avendano was sent to Zimbabwe with supplies for the treatment center and to assist in the training of the clinic staff.  The new onsite clinic will enable staff to treat sick or injured dogs right at the facility in lieu of a four hour drive to the nearest animal hospital.  With the donated equipment, they will even be able to run labs and diagnostic tests!


Cooperation between these two organizations has helped both to improve their programs and enhance their understanding of how to conserve painted dogs in the wild.  To learn more about PDC and what the Houston Zoo is doing to help save this amazing species, please join us for the Dog Days of Summer event August 3-4 at the Houston Zoo.  There will be Meet the Keeper talks, enrichment demonstrations, kids’ crafts, and the opportunity to aid our pack’s wild counterparts!


Houston Toad Release: Round 3

We are pleased to announce our third Houston toad release for the year! Last weekend, we delivered 200 juvenile toads (each averaging only between 1 – 2 grams) into an area outside of Bastrop State Park. We have now released three major life stages since March of this year – eggs, juveniles, and adults.

little toad

The toadlets released last week were from the same egg strands that were delivered to areas adjacent to Bastrop State Park in May. One of the zoo’s critical roles in the Houston toad recovery program is the maintenance of a captive assurance colony; therefore we keep back some individuals from each strand produced at the zoo that is destined for release. The captive assurance toads are in essence a “library” for the toads that we release to the wild.  These individuals that we keep will also become our breeders in the future.

We kept ~50 eggs from each of the egg strands released in May, expecting that many would not survive; however, almost all of the eggs we kept made it all the way through metamorphosis, producing too many captive assurance toads for us to keep! (This is certainly not a bad problem to have!) We contacted our collaborators at Texas State University and arranged for these “extra” juvenile toads to be released at the same ponds that the eggs (basically their brothers and sisters) had been previously taken.

little toad 2

Two of our volunteers, Stephanie (intern) and Jacquelyne (volunteer) accompanied graduate student Melissa (Texas State) and me out to the egg release sites.  The day was overcast and the ground was moist from the previous day’s rain, which are perfect conditions for toads! We placed the juvenile toads under deadfall (dead trees lying on the ground) taking special care to ensure that there was no sign of fire ants. The little toads either disappeared under the logs into hiding, or went boldly off into the woods to explore their new home.  It started raining at the last release site (again, great for toads but it made for a soggy ride home back to Houston). Cross your fingers that these summer rains keep on coming!

Melissa will continue to monitor these ponds throughout the rest of this year and next. Hopefully she will see some of our little guys again in the spring!

The Houston Zoo loves its elephants on-grounds and in the wild!

Elephants live nearby the local villages of Niassa Reserve.

The Zoo loves its elephants and wants to do everything we can to protect them in the wild. Zoo staff work 7 days a week to take care of our elephants on-grounds, and our staff also helps to support partners in the field who are working to save wild elephants.

One of our amazing stories from the field is from our friend, Mbumba, who works with our partners at Niassa Carnivore Project. Mbumba is currently pursuing his education and his thesis project is the very definition of conservation: the Niassa Beehive Fence Project.

The Niassa Beehive Fence Project uses beehive fences (that’s right! A string of beehives about 10 m apart from each other surround crop land) to naturally deter elephants. You can imagine how unpleasant it is to have a swarm of bees chasing after you, and well, just because an elephant is big doesn’t mean it wants that kind of attention! When elephants get near cropland to have a snack, local villages can get pretty displeased that all their hard farm work has been destroyed! To help alleviate the tensions between people and elephants these fences will humanely keep elephants away, and they even provide some tasty honey to sell for profit!

Everyone working together to build a beehive fence. Once the beehive is jostled by an elephant, their buzz sounds as a warning!
Everyone working together to build a beehive fence. Once the beehive is jostled by an elephant, their buzz sounds as a warning!


Niassa_Mbamba Boy guarding Machamba - photo taken By Agostinho. Everyone spends a lot of time this season protecting there crops from baboons, elephants, warthogs and bushpigs.
Mbamba Boy guarding Machamba. Everyone spends a lot of time this season protecting there crops from baboons, elephants, warthogs and bushpigs.

Conservation is not just about helping animals and the environment…remember that people work with animals and live in that same environment! The healthier the land and animals are, the better off people will be, as we need both to continue our existence. The Niassa Beehive Fence Project helps both people and wildlife in a humane and positive manner that creates a better future for both elephants and people!

Honey from the first harvest!
Honey from the first harvest!

Want to help out with saving elephants in the wild? Check out our elephant page for more information or to donate!

Join us in September and October as we highlight elephants in various events. Check back here and on our Facebook page to get more information as the events come closer.

A Future for Elephants online auction : September 9 – October 1

Houston Zoo Elephant Open House : September 21

Conservation Gala featuring Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants : October 9


A Winter Wonderland of Wildlife in Yellowstone…come with us!

Travel with the Zoo during February 1-6, 2014 and find yourself among some pretty amazing animals and journeying through a fantastic adventure!



The Winter Wonderland of Wildlife Yellowstone trip will take you on a private tour through Grand Teton National Park, the National Elk Refuge, and Yellowstone. You’ll have plenty of wildlife viewing, but some special viewing encounters including a sleighing adventure to get a closer look at some of the animals among an almost crystalline landscape!


The tour travels through multiple parks, and you’ll find yourself sleeping in the cozy Old Faithful Snow Lodge in Yellowstone getting ready for a day full of geothermal features and geological inspirations among the beautiful wildlife…quite a nice setting for a photo or two, no?


Search for the elusive gray wolves in private safari-style vehicles and breathe in the crispness of this brisk winter wonderland of wildlife. At the end of it all, you can relax in Chico Hot Springs and share stories of how you finally got that perfect shot, or how you practically tasted the geyser…or how you’ve forgotten how tasty hot chocolate is at the end of a day of adventurin’ !


Learn more at our Travel with the Zoo page !

Reserve Your Space Today:

Contact Renee Bumpus or 713-533-6881


What's new in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?

What an exciting day it was when Ms. Loverde’s second grade class from Sugarland came to visit the Swap Shop.  One of the students, Tommy Colihan (who is a current trader with us), shared a wonderful find with his classmates.  Tommy had an amazing Elk antler that he offered to let the class bring in as a group project.  The antler was very large (approximately 4′ long)  and in excellent condition, so it got a lot of points.  Each child in the class was able to get something for themselves in addition to some nice pieces for the classroom itself.

Elk are the second largest of the deer family – Moose are the largest.  While Elk once were found across most of North America, their range is now primarily western North America.  Luckily, while their natural range has diminished, Elk are not endangered at this time.  The antlers on a male Elk can reach as long as 4 feet above their heads.  They shed their antlers in March of each year and begin to grow new ones in May.  The males can reach upward of 700 pounds and the females from 500-525 pounds.  These majestic animals are herbivores and eat grasses, bark, shrubs and twigs.


Elk antler on display

We were very excited in the Swap Shop to see this beautiful antler and you will be able to see it too.  It will be a display piece for the Swap Shop.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

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