Would a Monkey Make a Good Pet?

Tarzan had his monkey Cheetah, Disney’s Aladdin had Abu, and Curious George lives with the Man in the Yellow Hat. There’s plenty of movie and TV references to monkeys living mostly harmonious – just a bit mischievous – lives with humans. But would a monkey really make a good pet?

Aladdin and Abu
Aladdin and Abu

The risks of adopting a larger ape such as orangutan or chimpanzee are clearer. Apes are up to seven times as strong as the average human and unpredictably aggressive – they have natural behaviors that serve them well in the wilds of Africa or Borneo but don’t translate to living rooms or backyards. The worse-case scenario is detailed here.

Apes can have lifespans of 50-60 years or more and need the social context of fellow primates of their own species and a natural environment in which to thrive.

But are small monkeys suitable as pets? Capuchins, ring-tailed lemurs, and squirrel monkeys might be the most common ones considered; in the show Friends Ross briefly had a pet capuchin, before it was confiscated as an illegal pet. In fact it’s illegal in over a dozen states to keep any monkey or ape as a pet, as the dangers are real for you and for the potential pet.

Ross and his
Ross from the show Friends with a capuchin monkey

Lynn Killam, Assistant Curator of Primates at the Houston Zoo, has worked with and cared for primates here for 32 years. She has received many calls from those thinking of acquiring one, asking for advice. “I tell people that primates are wild animals, and all primates are potentially aggressive. That’s why we do not go in with our apes and monkeys; the risk of being bitten is always a possibility.” Primate teeth are very sharp, their jaws are very strong, and bites are often severe.

To see some personal accounts and (warning, VERY GRAPHIC) photos of monkey bites, have a look at the stories on the Pet Monkey Info website.  The stories all have the same ring to them – “Mr. Buttons was such a good little monkey for years until one day when out of the blue… and then I spent months recovering from my injuries and my hand (or foot or eye) will never be the same again.”

Small monkeys might be more docile as infants, but they mature quickly and can live for up to 25-35 years. Primate keeper Lucy Dee Anderson works with many of our smaller primates such as tamarins and lemurs. “People think they might make a good pet as babies, because they are super cute, but they can’t care for them as adults.” Monkeys are typically sold as infants, taken at much too young an age from their mothers, and their adult life as a “pet” is typically tragic.

“As adults they can get relegated to awful cages where they are neglected,” explained Killam. In the wild these monkeys live in family groups with complex emotional interactions; they need that constant social support and when left alone, they develop emotional and mental problems.

Physical health is as much a concern as mental health for you and for the monkey; they’re similar enough to humans to carry illnesses we can catch. I won’t even mention the ebola virus which you aren’t likely to catch, but you could get ringworm, pink eye or parasites, and tuberculosis and Herpes B are also transmitted by monkeys, as well as the common cold. And monkeys are messy – they cannot be “potty” trained as a dog or cat can, as defecating wherever they happen to be is a natural behavior for them (and in the wild, it helps to replenish the forest with seeds.)

“Monkeys and apes need regular vet care to be healthy just like your dog or cat,” noted Killam, but finding a vet who will care for a primate is not an easy task.

Want to read more about adopting a monkey as a pet? Here’s some great websites to find out more:

The Humane Society’s page on primate pets

A great article on monkeys as pets from National Geographic

An entire website dedicated to Pet Monkey Info

Pet Monkey information courtesy of the Lincoln Park Zoo

Why Do Babirusas Like Mud so Much?

Post written and video created by Joy Oria

There’s a good chance when you see our babirusas they’ll be coated in mud. Unable to cool themselves by sweating or panting, babirusas, like other pig species, use wallowing in water or mud to stay cool.

A female babirusa
A female babirusa

Wallowing has the added bonus of providing sunburn protection and removing skin parasites. Recently scientists have considered that perhaps pigs have not evolved functional sweat glands because they prefer to wallow, and that the act of wallowing is in itself pleasurable.

Decide for yourself if wallowing is fun by watching this video of Jambi, our ten year old male babirusa, getting into in a recently freshened mud wallow!

Games, Crafts All About Lemurs At Their Spotlight on Species Event

ringblog1Come out to the zoo August 31st – Sept 2nd from 10AM – 3PM for a fun filled day to learn about lemurs.  Our Spotlight on Species events are always free with admission and we’ll be having lots of activities for all ages.  Lemurs are a special kind of primate called prosimians.  There are over 100 species of lemurs and come in all different shapes and colors.    Come out to receive a special lemur that  kids can color and lots of fun “lemur” words that you can search for in our word search puzzle game.  You’ll also get a chance to see how our Ring-tailed lemurs communicate by helping us “mark” a tree.  Lemurs are amazing animals.  Did you know Coquerel’s Sifaka can jump OVER 15 feet?  Jump by our lemurs and see how far you can leap!  You’ll also be able to meet with the keepers who care for these and other amazing animals from Madagascar.  Be sure to check our daily keeper chat board for special keeper chats featuring our lemurs, tenrec, and fossa-all from Madagascar!

Come out and get your picture taken with a conservation  message that kids help color, so we can send it over to Madagascar to show them we care about lemurs, too.  You can even help create our “Tree of Life” that will be with our message.

While you’re here, don’t forget to check out our conservation table where we will have lots of items that make great gifts for you or your friends.  The primates here at the Houston Zoo  helped out by painting some special items.  Our little Coquerel’s Sifaka, Julius, was the inspiration for a wildlife painting by artist Corina St. Martin.  Prints will be available for purchase at the table while supplies last.  While here, you can participate in our face painting from 2PM – 3PM with a small donation.  All proceeds from our conservation table will go to helping lemurs in the wild.

So come out Labor Day weekend and join us in our celebration of lemurs!

Attwater's Prairie Chicken Breeding Season Was a Success!

It all started on March 19, when the very first egg of the season was laid by an Attwater’s prairie chicken at the Houston Zoo, 2 weeks earlier than expected. We knew it was going to be a wild ride this season, and the Birds Department began gearing up for what would end up being one of the most successful breeding seasons ever for this critically endangered grouse.

A male Attwater's prairie chicken
A male Attwater’s prairie chicken

This bird, native to the Texas Gulf Coast, was once thriving on the coastal prairies, but now there are less than 100 birds left in the wild. We work with US Fish & Wildlife, Texas Parks & Wildlife, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and 3 other Texas zoos in an effort to bring this bird back from the brink of extinction.

One of the ways we do this is to incubate eggs at the Zoo, keep the chicks healthy as they hatch, and gradually introduce them into the outdoors so they can eventually be released at Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge near Sealy, Texas.


This season, we achieved some major goals that will help the program continue to grow. With generous assistance from the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, we built 8 new pens near the Houston Zoo Vet Hospital to get the birds used to an outside environment after hatching and growing up a bit.

Progress photo of Attwater's prairie chicken pen construction
Progress photo of Attwater’s prairie chicken pen construction

The first 10 days of a chick’s life are the most important for determining whether it will be healthy and able to survive in the wild. We worked with the University of North Texas on genetic pairings of adults to make sure the chicks would be as healthy as possible, and it paid off. Our survival rate was the highest we’ve ever had.

The annual Name a Chick campaign is another way that guests can get involved in prairie chicken conservation. This year, 85 chicks were named, resulting in $4,200 in donations for the Attwater’s prairie chicken program.

If that's not a cute chick, we don't know what is!
If that’s not a cute chick, we don’t know what is!

Education is a huge part of helping an endangered species survive. We want to educate the public on how important it is to protect these animals by knowing they are there and to keep the prairie pristine for these animals and others that live in their habitat. We also want to keep learning about these animals (our work is never done) so we can continue to have success in breeding them and releasing them into the wild.

The coastal prairie, the native habitat of the Attwater's prairie chicken, is important to protect if we want these animal to thrive
The coastal prairie, the native habitat of the Attwater’s prairie chicken, is important to protect if we want these animal to thrive

And to continue our education and the education of others that work with prairie chickens, we just completed an animal care manual for the Attwater’s prairie chickens that can be used for other prairie grouse in the US that are facing increased threats and habitat loss (yep, this prairie chicken is technically a grouse). We also recently hosted an egg incubation workshop for professionals in the field so they can gain the skills needed to help out.

The Attwater’s prairie chickens that were born at our Zoo this year are literally being released out into the Refuge as we speak. This morning, we visited some of the lucky birds to watch them stroll out into their new home, equipped with bands and tracking collars so we can monitor their success.

For more on the Attwater’s prairie chicken and our efforts to send them back to the wild, visit the Houston Zoo website.

Leaping For Lemurs and Dodging Extinction!

Join us at Sky Zone Sports for where you can literally LEAP for LEMURS!    Come to the Sky Zone Sports anytime on Wednesday, September 4th or Thursday, September 5th to help support lemur conservation.  25% of the proceeds will go directly to saving lemurs in the wild.

This year we will also be having a Dodge ball tournament on Thursday, September 5th at 7PM for ages 13 and up.  This is a fun, non competitive, tournament to help the Houston Zoo raise money for the Lemur Conservation in Madagascar.

When: Thursday, September 5th @ 7pm.  All players must be checked in by 6:45pm.

Where: Sky Zone Sports Houston (South Gessner & Beltway 8)
10207 S. Sam Houston Pkwy W.
Houston, TX 77071

Cost: $13 per person – Fees due at check in.

There will be prizes for the winning team!

Single elimination tournament: participants will be allowed to open jump from 7:00p.m. to 8:00p.m. between games or after elimination.  Additional jump time, prior to the start of the tournament, will be available for purchase for those who want to jump earlier.

The spots are limited for this tournament (12 teams max), so get your teams signed up now!

We look forward to seeing you come out and leap into action to help save these amazing animals!

Call 713-292-5000 to register your team over the phone.

Attwater's prairie chickens released into the wild!

The Houston Zoo has been raising chicks this year to pump up the wild population with some hearty and happy Attwater’s prairie chickens (APCs), and yesterday we were able to reap the reward for all the efforts!

Yesterday, Houston Zoo Staff and US Fish and Wildlife headed out to the APC National Wildlife refuge to release some APCs that were raised at the Zoo. They will begin their life in the wild and hopefully strengthen the population by having chicks of their own!

All of the birds are radio-collared and tagged so that USFWS can monitor the populations and keep track of the general health of the birds.

The birds were initially released into these ‘soft pens’ to get them comfortable with the prairie land, and then after a few weeks were fully released into the wild. Good luck to them!

APC Release soft pens
A few APCs leaving the soft pen for the first time! The soon flew off and started their adventure in the open prairie!
APC release prairie chickens
A group of APCs that just walked out of the pens, checking out their new surroundings.

APC release prairie chickens in field



Find a Bargain at Our White Elephant Sale!

Call it what you will – a rummage sale, a garage sale, a yard sale. We like white elephant sale. Whatever you want to call it, you’ll find bargains and some unique items at the Houston Zoo’s first-ever White Elephant sale on Saturday, August 31, 2013 from 8 a.m. to noon. And all proceeds benefit the Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation Program in support of elephant conservation programs in Africa.

We’ve scoured storage lockers, closets and offices across the Zoo for weeks now and Zoo employees have also donated personal items for the sale. We’ve collected hundreds of items from books and lawn care equipment and tools to posters, decorative items (small gorilla carvings), toys, t-shirts and DVDs. Sorry. No white elephants.

Now it’s time for the big sale! Join us at the Masihara Pavilion near the entrance to The African Forest on Saturday, August 31. The Houston Zoo will open early for this first-ever Houston Zoo White Elephant Sale at 8 a.m. The sale closes promptly at noon.

The Fine Print
All sales final. No returns or exchanges. Cash or credit card only. From 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. all guests will be directed to the Masihara Pavilion ONLY. Buyers are responsible for removal and transport of purchased items from the Zoo. Regular Zoo general admission applies.

About the Future of Elephants in the Wild
There is no place in Africa where elephants are safe today. For the last 30 years, elephants have been killed for their ivory at the rate of almost 70 per day. The survival of the species is in jeopardy.

The ever-increasing demand in China and neighboring countries for ornamental ivory products could lead to the loss of 100,000 elephants in just the next 4 years.

The Houston Zoo has a goal of raising $250,000 to support initiatives which are working to end the ivory trade and to help local communities. The Zoo has partnerships with organizations that employ anti-poaching unites where wildlife is under threat from illegal activities. Finding sustainable solutions to reduce both the ivory trade and human-animal conflict is the key to ensuring a future for elephants.

Learn more about how the Houston Zoo is working to save elephants – we need your help!

What's It Like to Be a Zoo Photographer?

Being a Zoo photographer may be a dream job for some, but for Stephanie Adams, the Houston Zoo’s photographer extraordinaire, it wasn’t even on the radar when she grew up. She wanted to be a marine biologist. But math and science wasn’t her strongest suit, so after talking to a friend that worked at a camera shop, she figured a career as an underwater photographer might be the next best thing.

Stephanie and her buddy Miles, the giraffe. Stephanie has been photographing Miles since he was born, and she was the one that noticed he had a heart-shaped marking on his neck. Now, we all identify him using that mark!

That fateful conversation with a friend led her to Oklahoma State University, where she majored in Photography and happened upon an opportunity to do a photography internship at the Houston Zoo. Her aunt lived in Houston, so she had a place to live…why not try it? 10 years later, Stephanie’s iconic photographs have allowed millions of people to get a close-up perspective of some of the rarest animals on earth.

The fancy digital camera wasn’t always in Stephanie’s toolbox, though (her current camera of choice is a Nikon D800). Her very first digital camera at the Zoo was a Sony Mavica, which used floppy discs!

“You would push the button, and a couple of seconds later, it would take the photo,” Stephanie remarked. “You never knew exactly what you were going to get, but there were a couple times when a miracle happened and I got the perfect shot.”

One of the "miracle" photos Stephanie got from that Mavica camera - Patty the Lion in action, lapping up water.
One of the “miracle” photos Stephanie got from that Mavica camera – Patty the Lion in action, lapping up water.

A typical day for Stephanie is half inside, half outside. Say she needs to photograph an animal for an identification sign that is attached to their habitat. First, she works with the keepers to find a time of day that works for both the keepers and the animals (feeding, cleaning, and playtime schedules are all considerations), and then she organizes all her gear and gets ready to head over. While she’s photographing the animal, the best tool in her toolbox is patience.

“Animals don’t exactly do what you want them to do, so you have to be patient and wait for the right shot,” Stephanie says. “It could be a nervous bird that needs to calm down or a jaguar that just doesn’t want to turn around. You just never know what you’re going to get, but you have to be ready when they are.”

The meerkats also like to help Stephanie out when she photographs them. They want to assist her with her backpack (or really, just burrow inside it)!
The meerkats also like to help Stephanie out when she photographs them. They want to assist her with her backpack (or really, just burrow inside it)!

Editing is the next step, and that’s the inside part. Once you take the photo, the camera leaves it slightly flat, so it is important to make adjustments like saturation and contrast to make the photo similar to how the human eye sees it. And finding “the one” – just the right photo that shows the twinkle in an elephant’s eye, the slight grin on that mischievous tamarin – gives the viewer an insight into not just the animal species, but also the individual.

Stephanie says the most challenging part of her job is the barriers between her and the animals, all of which are necessary. Animals at the Zoo are still wild, and protective mesh on many habitats is necessary and important. It also often comes between Stephanie and her subjects. The light matters a lot, and so does the position of the animal in its habitat is also important, because it needs to be away from the mesh so Stephanie can focus on the animal without having the mesh visible.

Being a Zoo photographer also has its scary moments. You’d think the bigger animals might be the ones to fear, but often it’s the animal you’d least expect. In Stephanie’s case, it was a Pesquet’s parrot! This parrot only liked a specific keeper and definitely did not like Stephanie. When she opened the door to get the photo, the parrot flew right at her! A bird keeper had to put the parrot on their arm so it would be calm, and Stephanie later had to Photoshop that arm into a branch.

That Pesquet’s parrot just did not want to cooperate.

“My favorite photography shoot is really hard to choose, I love all the animals! There are only 2 exceptions: spiders and roaches! I’m not a fan of those. But one of the more rare encounters was when I got to go in the habitat with the clouded leopard cubs. That’s something I don’t get to do every day and it was a real treat!” The cubs were hand reared, so they were used to human interaction, lucky for Stephanie!

When asked what advice she would give someone wanting to be a Zoo photographer, Stephanie said that it’s very important to get a degree or some sort of training. Also, keep learning. Stephanie’s always improving every day, thinking about creative new ways to shoot a subject or trying another editing technique. Volunteering gets you in the door too – never underestimate the power of building relationships with an organization you’re passionate about. And keep your portfolio ready – you never know when you might need to show it to someone.

Stephanie photographing one of the many giraffes that have been born during her 10 year tenure as Zoo photographer

Visit the Zoo on Flickr or the Houston Zoo website to see more of Stephanie’s fantastic photography.

The Houston Zoo "Greens" Up Behind the Scenes!

There is a lot that goes on every single day at a zoo, and nobody knows that better than the employees of the Houston Zoo. Beginning in the wee hours of the morning before the sun even rises to the late hours of the night, there are staff members working hard to ensure the Houston Zoo provides great care for our animals  and creates a wonderful experience for our guests.

This is no small feat.

You may be able to guess some of the major tasks of Houston Zoo employees (feeding, caring for, and cleaning up after our animals)-but there are a lot of jobs you may never have thought about. What about our whole Accounting team who take charge of all of the Zoo’s finances on any given day? Or our Admissions team that assist every person coming through our gates, or maybe the Development staff who help raise money to care for our zoo animals and wildlife outside our gates? I bet you might not know that we have a Registrar Department who catalogs every. single. individual. animal housed at the zoo and organizes every bit of information that was ever available for each animal since the day they were born!!

What about our Facilities Department? They build, fix, create and ensure basically everything on grounds runs smoothly. They even take special care of making sure the zoo is as “green” as we can be. Take for instance our electrical team. Among a variety of tasks, they have taken on the daunting job of replacing many of our lightbulbs at the zoo with more energy efficient LED lights. LED stands for “light-emitting diodes” and are more efficient, durable and longer-lasting then some of the lightbulbs we have come to use over the past few decades (incandescent and CFL bulbs). LED lights have been known to use at least 75% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, and last 25 times longer!

LED lights were recently installed in our Commissary building-where all of our purchasing happens, as well as where we store and prepare the diets for our animals. Check out the difference LED bulbs can make!

Commissary building after LED installatio
Commissary building before LED installation

Wildlife artist donates artwork featuring Houston Zoo’s Coquerel’s Sifaka, Julius!

sifaka blog
Come out to the Houston Zoo on Labor Day weekend for our Lemur Spotlight on Species event to purchase an original print of our very own Coquerel’s Sifaka, Julius!  All proceeds will be donated to saving lemurs.

All the way from Indiana, wildlife artist Corina St. Martin has generously donated prints to help raise money to save these endangered animals.  She also is donating 50% of the proceeds from the sale of the original artwork, so keep an eye out for the auction!  The fun and vibrant colors capture Julius’ outgoing personality.  Be sure to visit Corina’s etsy shop for a chance to see more and purchase some of her AMAZING artwork:   http://www.etsy.com/shop/CorinaStMartinArt and www.corinastmartin.com.

To find out more details about the Lemur Spotlight on Species Event:   http://blogs.houstonzoo.org/2013/07/do-you-like-to-move-it-move-it/

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