Meet Tootsie, Polly Rose and Other Houston Zoo Chickens

In an earlier blog, we learned about why the Zoo has a free-range chicken flock. Now, it’s time to meet these lovely ladies and gentlemen!

Silver Bullet is the bossiest and smartest member of our flock, and very enthusiastic about food. She sounds like a goose when she is really letting us know she wants to eat! She gets so excited about eating bugs and worms that she wants to jump on your arm to get them. The bird keepers have even tried some enrichment for Silver Bullet – they placed some bugs hidden in a toy puzzle ball. The other chickens were stumped, but Silver Bullet figured it out and got her snack!

Silver Bullet
Silver Bullet

A less extroverted member of the flock is Polly Rose, who tends to hang out in what we call “Pheasant Run” which is by the big bird bank in the Birds of the World area. She has a penchant for jumping right up on the prep table and helping herself to food while keepers are trying to make food for all the birds!

Polly Rose, Being Shy
Polly Rose, Being Shy

Tootsie is one of the oldest chickens. She’s called Tootsie because she has extra toes! She’s very loud.


Another older hen is Big Mama – she’s about 8 years old, and she’s big and brown. She’s a bit slower than the rest, so if she’s crossing the path, it may take a bit more time for her to do so.

Big Mama
Big Mama

Mary Jane is the only black hen we have, and she’s the softest member of the flock, because her breed is called Silky. She is named after candy just like Tootsie and several other hens…see if you can pick out which ones!

Mary Jane
Mary Jane

Twizzler is aptly named because she has one curly toe on each foot, similar to the twisty candy of the same name.

Twizzler, sitting on a blue-billed curassow egg. The parents weren't quite sure how to lay on the egg, so Miss Twizzler helps them out!
Twizzler, sitting on a blue-billed curassow egg. The parents weren’t quite sure how to lay on the egg, so Miss Twizzler helps them out!

The roosters, the two men of the flock, are named Long John (his color happens to be Silver – ha!), and Tobe (short for Toblerone) he is the smaller of the two (about half the size of Long John). These guys rule the roost for sure.


The Zoo’s flock is also very well-trained: they get fed out of a red plastic Folgers coffee can, and when the bird keepers bang on it, they know to come running. This is how they know to show up for their chicken chat, too – did you know you can meet our chickens every Tuesday at 2:30?

Thanks to Kasey, one of our awesome bird keepers, for the great information!

See the Siamangs Swing Through Their New Habitat

If you haven’t made it over to Wortham World of Primates recently, the newly renovated Siamang & Agile Gibbon Habitat is breathtaking. We’ve replaced the heavy wire mesh on the front with invisimesh, and you can see (and photograph!) through it like it wasn’t even there. Here’s one of the residents you’ll see:

Leela the siamang. This photo was taken through the new invisimesh!

Leela is our juvenile siamang, daughter to Jambi. She’s approaching her third birthday on October 3rd. Siamang babies take about four years to reach maturity, and she still spends lots of time with her loving mother. Here’s the two of them:

Leela and her mother Jambi

Leela is tilting her head up and vocalizing, which is why her throat sac is inflated. Siamangs are one of the apes you can hear throughout the zoo; their loud calls are designed to carry miles through the forests of their native southeast Asia. Here’s a great video of them vocalizing:

Fantastic video of siamangs vocalizing on (skip ahead to 00:28 when the vocalizations begin)

In this video they are also brachiating like circus stars. The new mesh in our Siamang & Agile Gibbon Habitat isn’t the only improvement; primate keepers worked with our Facilities staff to install an extensive system of new ropes and oak branches suspended by heavy ropes, for them to brachiate, or swing along.

OK they’re not brachiating here but this is a great photo, isn’t it? Watch the video for brachiation.

Leela and her mom Jambi have a new family member; male Berani was introduced to them this spring. He’s quite a bit smaller than Jambi so you might get them confused. Look for the tail-like tuft of hair and you’ll know it’s the male you’re seeing. These are apes, not monkeys; apes do not have tails.

These guys are not monkeys!
Apes = no tail
Monkeys = tail

Berani, our new male.

Smaller primates such as lemurs and marmosets also have tails.

Our siamangs were born and raised in zoos, but in the wild siamangs are endangered. Their native habitat in Malaysia and Borneo is being rapidly deforested. One of the main reasons is the planting of palm oil plantations. Find out more about palm oil and how your choices at the grocery store can help siamangs, orangutans and other endangered animals in the rainforest.

Leela’s siamang cousins in the wild are endangered.

These siamangs share their exhibit with Susie the agile gibbon. (Siamangs are the largest species of gibbon; the agile gibbon is smaller.) Susie is a rescued animal, who lived the first few years of her life as  “pet” and was neglected. Because of her difficult past she cannot live with other gibbons or primates, but they do not mind taking turns with their expansive habitat and giving her the run of the place when they are in their night house.

Susie the agile gibbon

See the siamangs and gibbon in the Wortham World of Primates daily. Keep in mind primates like the same nice weather we do and will be inside if it’s freezing or pouring rain.

Jambi and Leela basking in the sun and grooming

The Houston Zoo's Chicken Flock Roams Free!

If you’ve been reading the Zoo’s blog for any length of time, you’ve probably come upon a story about Attwater’s prairie chickens, the critically endangered birds that we’re trying to bring back from the brink of extinction. Those birds deserve some serious press coverage, but we’re talking about different birds in this blog – straight up, unadulterated, free-range domestic chickens!

Behold: our chicken flock!
Behold: our chicken flock!

The Houston Zoo has a free-roaming flock of 20 hens and 2 roosters and 4 juvenile roosters. You may have seen them while checking out the kookaburras or dining outside at Macaw Café – they literally can go wherever they want. They can choose to hang out behind the scenes, or they can venture out into the Zoo if they wish. These are very important birds!

These hens, like other chickens you might know, are excellent moms. They sit on eggs like nobody’s business. And that’s what makes them so valuable to the Zoo – they are foster moms for some of our most endangered species. Some birds, like our Blue-billed curassows who recently laid eggs, are first time parents, so they sometimes aren’t quite sure how to take care of eggs yet.

Plus, curassows are critically endangered birds, and to make sure we help out the species as much as possible, we want them to lay as many eggs as possible. They won’t lay eggs if they are already sitting on some, so we allow the chickens to sit on their eggs and cross our fingers that the new parents will lay even more.

One of the Houston Zoo's hens being foster mom to a blue-billed curassow
One of the Houston Zoo’s hens being foster mom to a blue-billed curassow chick

The chicks that the chickens help us with are from birds that are considered “precocial” – this means that when the chicks hatch, they are fuzzy (have down feathers) and can eat and walk by themselves. This way, the chickens don’t have to teach them much. They still like to help the chicks eat their food and protect them, like good moms do.

And when the hens lay eggs, around 4-12 eggs per day as a flock, those eggs get collected and given to other animals that eat eggs, like certain reptiles, primates, and carnivores. So everybody wins!

Did we mention that we love chickens!?
Did we mention that we love chickens!?

On top of all of this, chickens are great natural pest control! They happily eat all the creepy crawlies that you might not want to think about (cockroaches, for example), and this helps the Zoo keep those critters at bay.

Want to get to know our chicken flock a bit better? Every Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. we have a chicken chat, where you can meet our chickens and ask any questions you may have!

Thanks to bird keeper Kasey for the fantastic information!

White Rhinos Are Actually Gray, and Other Rhino News

By Jessica Sigle and Ashley Roth

In preparation for our Rhino Spotlight on Species event we would like to introduce you to the five rhino species. Today we will be highlighting the two African species:  the White rhinos and Black rhinos.

Did you know white rhinos are not really white? They are actually gray or what ever color mud they decided to roll in that day. The name white comes from early English settlers misinterpreting the word “weit,” meaning wide. White rhinos have a very wide mouth that helps them to pull savannah grasses, like giant lawn mowers. The Houston Zoo’s rhinos each consume one bale of coastal hay a day with each bale weighing about 45 pounds. Though they are strictly grazers, white rhinos are the largest of the 5 species weighing on average 4,000 pounds.



Like the white rhinos, black rhinos are also gray. The best way to tell these two species apart is by looking at their lip. Black rhinos have a prehensile, triangular upper lip that they use to grab leaves off of trees and bushes. This feeding behavior is called browsing. The black rhinos can be found browsing for food in grasslands scattered through central and southern Africa.  They prefer a more solitary lifestyle than their social cousins the white rhinos.

All 5 species of rhinos are endangered or critically endangered due to poaching and habitat loss.  To learn more about these species and how you can help save them from extinction visit the Houston Zoo September 21 and 22 to celebrate World Rhino Day and support five species forever!

Be a Conservation Hero: Meet MARVEL Characters at the Zoo!

There are so many ways to be a conservation hero, not only at home but at the Zoo too!

We have so many events the weekend of September 21st and 22nd where you can Be a Conservation Hero! Not only can you join us at our Elephant Open House on 9/21 to save elephants in the wild, or visit the Rhino Spotlight on Species on 9/21 and 9/22 and donate a new or gently used wildlife book to educate kids in Zimbabwe living next to rhinos, but you can MEET MARVEL characters Spider-Man and Iron Man! These MARVEL characters will make appearances at the Zoo from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on September 21 and 22, greeting guests and posing for photos – so be sure to bring your camera!

Be a Conservation Hero! Join us the weekend of September 21st and 22nd to meet MARVEL characters, visit the Rhino Spotlight on Species and the Elephant Open House to protect animals in the wild!
Be a Conservation Hero! Join us the weekend of September 21st and 22nd to meet MARVEL characters, visit the Rhino Spotlight on Species and the Elephant Open House to protect animals in the wild!

You’ll also enjoy learning about how YOU can Be a Conservation Hero each and every day as you meet and greet the MARVEL characters.

Here are just some of the ways to Be a Hero and Protect Wildlife:

  • Recycle your old phone at the Zoo! Our recycling bin is next to the main exit by the Gift Shop. Recycling your phone means less waste in the landfill and less minerals taken from chimpanzee and gorilla habitat in Africa which is used in phones, laptops, cameras, etc.
  • Be a responsible consumer! Palm oil is a product found in SO many things-from shampoos to soaps and even some of our favorite candy and snacks! The homes of animals like orangutans are being cut down to plant palm oil, so be aware of what you buy and how it can affect wildlife.
  • Reduce your plastic use! Our Texas Gulf Coast animals (like sea turtles, sharks and birds) can become entangled and/or swallow the plastic we leave on the beach and in the water. Use a canvas bag instead of a plastic grocery bag, buy a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic one, and always clean up your trash when you’re at the beach!

We can’t wait to see you at the zoo for this SUPERHERO-sized weekend!

Make sure to check out our blog on the Elephant Open House and the Rhino Spotlight on Species for more information on ways to Be a Conservation Hero!

Get Out and Play! More Outdoor Activities

Presented by Kelsey-Seybold Clinic
Saturday, September 14
9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

Kelsey-Seybold Clinic and the Houston Zoo are challenging you and your family to let go of the electronics and Get Out and Play! Join us on Saturday, September 14 for Get Out and Play, Presented by Kelsey-Seybold Clinic!

This Zoo-wide event will be filled with exciting and challenging games and activities for children and adults to enjoy. All of the activities seek to inspire everyone to Get Out and Play more often and explore the world around you.

For more info on Get Out and Play, check out out special webpage here: Get Out and Play Presented by Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.

– See more at:

We’ve got even more suggestions for you to get outside and enjoy the outdoors. If you happened to miss our first blog with some outdoor activities, you can find it here. Below are a couple more suggestions to have fun outdoors without breaking the bank.


Campout at Home

Supplies:  Tent and sleeping bags.

Purpose: Outdoor experience for the very young ones, or those not ready to camp away from home.
This one is super easy, and great for those young campers who might not be old enough to camp away from home. Set up a tent in the back yard with the kids and sleep under the stars! You can tell scary or funny stories, read books by flash light, and more(get creative)! If the kiddos don’t enjoy it, you can always head right back inside. This is a great activity because you never have to worry about strange places or dirty campground bathrooms.

Lawn and Order

Supplies: TV and extended cabling if needed.

Purpose: Outdoor time for those kiddos who have a hard time putting down the electronics
If you little ones have a hard time putting down the electronics and getting outside, we have a suggestion for you. With a little prep, this activity can be a great way to enjoy the outdoors with the family. Set up the TV outside and watch a movie with the family from the comfort of sleeping bags and chairs in your backyard. If moving the TV all the way outside is too tough, try to move it close to a window and open the window to the backyard. Make some popcorn and watch your movie in the fresh air. This can be a great way to introduce the little ones into the importance of fresh air and being outside.

We Can Save Elephants in Africa With Beehives? It's the Bees' Knees!

If I were to tell you that we use an Anatolian Shepherd (that is a really big dog, really big!) in front of our Cheetah exhibit to tell the story of how livestock owners in Africa use dogs to protect livestock and chase away cheetahs you would think, ok – that makes some sense. Chasing away cheetahs means villagers and ranchers do not need to kill cheetahs to protect their livelihoods, something which happened much too often in the past.

I would then go on to say that people use dogs to chase away elephants and that would be ridiculous. We need something meaner, more aggressive, like – an African bee! And that would also make no sense. Who has pet bees?

It is much too long to explain here but researchers in Kenya working with Save the Elephants noticed one day that when elephants were around trees with large hives of bees, they would quickly move away. And after years of testing, it turns out that even the recorded sound of an angry buzzing hive will make elephants go far out of their way to stay out of the bee’s way.

So let me put this into perspective. I am pulling weeds in my yard (Brazoria County, not Africa) and I hit a yellow jacket nest get stung twice and run for my life. If I am an elephant and an angry swarm of African bees is heading my way, I too would make a quick exit.

Back to my story. Researchers then took it a step further. How do you keep an elephant from walking into your field, eating most of your crops, destroying the rest as they wander through the field and putting you and your community on the verge of having nothing to eat? You put up a rope fence, sting some wooden beehives across them and keep out the elephants. Even better, you can collect the honey for both food and extra income. A win-win for the people, the elephants.

How can you help protect elephants and support local communities in Africa? Funny you should ask. We have an option on our new online auction event where you can donate funds to purchase new beehives and support local community projects for as little as $15. Go to our Future for Wild Elephants Online Auction—- and help us protect elephants, and support local people in Africa.

Well done Mbumba and the Mbamba village beehive fence team. At least 3 of the 12 initial hives have already been colonized by bees, and possibly more soon. The community reports that 10 elephants ran away from the fence last week!
Well done Mbumba and the Mbamba village beehive fence team. At least 3 of the 12 initial hives have already been colonized by bees, and possibly more soon. The community reports that 10 elephants ran away from the fence last week!
The first elephant- beehive fence in Niassa!
The first elephant- beehive fence in Niassa!
First 7.5 litres of honey harvested from the first elephant beehive fences.
First 7.5 litres of honey harvested from the first elephant beehive fences.

Houston Zoo to Receive Federal Grant for Elephant Project

IMLS_photoThe Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) recently announced nearly $30,000,000 in grants to museums across the nation.  The Houston Zoo is receiving one of the 244 awards through the agency’s grant programs.  The Zoo is receiving $459,147 through the National Leadership Grants for Museums program for a project to support the Zoo’s research partnership with Baylor College of Medicine (BCM), Johns Hopkins University and the National Elephant Herpesvirus Laboratory at the Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park which is making significant advances in the understanding of elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV).

Dr. Paul Ling, associate professor of virology and microbiology at BCM and Houston Zoo Associate Veterinarian Dr. Lauren Howard will travel to Washington, DC, for a workshop and ceremony on September 18, to be recognized for the award. The event will showcase the many ways museums support learning experiences, serve as community anchors, and are stewards of cultural and scientific heritage through the preservation of their collections.

“IMLS recognizes three valuable roles museums have in their communities: putting the learner at the center, serving as community anchors, and serving as stewards of cultural and scientific collections,” said IMLS Director Susan Hildreth.  “It is exciting to see the many ways our newly announced grants further these important museum roles. I congratulate the slate of 2013 museum grant recipients for planning projects that advance innovation in museum practice, lifelong learning, and community engagement.”

The Houston Zoo and its partners will conduct a research project to deepen the zoo community’s understanding of Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV). The research will determine whether any of the currently available anti-herpesvirus drugs have efficacy against EEHV, develop sensitive tests to evaluate specific immune responses to EEHV, and continue attempts to grow the virus in the laboratory. The results of this project will be treatments for elephants with EEHV and a better understanding of elephant immunity which will inform future vaccine development.

“IMLS grants are very competitive and highly regarded in the non-profit community,” said Houston Zoo Director Rick Barongi.  “Receiving such a large grant is testimony to the critical need for more research into the most serious threat to the survival of young Asian elephants in zoos and the wild.  This grant will not only help all elephants but heighten awareness of this devastating disease so more people join the fight to find a treatment, a vaccine and eventually a cure”

Be a Rhino Hero: Donate a Wildlife Book!

There are many ways the Houston Zoo works to help protect wildlife, habitats and people around the world. Our guests can be part of the Zoo’s efforts to save wildlife in any number of ways.

Help save rhinos in the wild! Donate a wildlife book at the Rhino SOS on 9/21 or 9/22!
Help save rhinos in the wild! Donate a wildlife book at the Rhino SOS on 9/21 or 9/22!

On September 21st and September 22nd, visit the Houston Zoo for the Rhino Spotlight on Species. The Rhino Spotlight on Species event is FREE with Zoo admission! Learn more about our rhinos at the Zoo and how rhinos are doing in the wild. Be part of this unique event and help save rhinos in the wild by donating a wildlife book at the Zoo between 10:00am and 3:00pm on either day.

Directly contribute to saving rhinos in the wild by bringing in a new or gently used book about wildlife to donate to our friends in the field who are protecting rhinos in Africa. These books will be used to educate local communities in Zimbabwe about their amazing wildlife!

Each person that donates a book will receive a rhino conservation bracelet AND a Houston Zoo Conservation Hero pin!

Book donation details:

    • New or gently used
    • Appropriate for ages 9-12 years
    • Books include photos and information about African animals such as rhinos, elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, hippos, etc.

Each person that donates a wildlife book on Sept 21st or 22nd will receive a rhino bracelet and a Houston Zoo Conservation Hero pin! *Note 1 bracelet & 1 pin per person.

Each person who brings a new or gently used wildlife book to the Rhino SOS on 9/21 or 9/22 will receive a rhino bracelet and conservation hero pin!
Each person who brings a new or gently used wildlife book to the Rhino SOS on 9/21 or 9/22 will receive a rhino bracelet and conservation hero pin!

Want to be a conservation hero ALL weekend long? Check out some of the other events you can participate in to be a Conservation Hero!

Elephant Open House: Saturday, September 21st from 8:00-10:30am. Buy tickets online now!

-Visit the MARVEL Superheroes Spider-Man and Iron Man at the Houston Zoo on Saturday, September 21st or Sunday, september 22nd from 10am-3pm. This event is FREE with your Zoo admission!

The Little School Raises $3000 For Wild Frogs

I am always impressed with the drive and passion of young people-especially when it comes to protecting wildlife. The students at The Little School in Bellevue, Washington are just one example of what a small group of people can accomplish together.

Spencer (3 yrs old) and Luci (9 years) of The Little School in Washington proudly display signs demonstrating their fundraising efforts for amphibians in Panama!
Spencer (3 yrs old) and Luci (9 years) of The Little School in Washington proudly display signs demonstrating their fundraising efforts for amphibians in Panama!

The Little School is a progressive preschool & elementary school for 160 children in Washington state. They first became interested in frogs, and specifically frogs at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center in Panama after they visited the Wildlife Conservation Network Expo last year in San Francisco (by the way…the expo is coming up again soon-October 12th from 10am to 6pm if you’d like to attend!). The entire school was presented with numerous projects to raise funds for, and they voted on frogs! From there, it didn’t take much to mobilize and energize these young students to raise awareness and funds for some of the most interesting and important vertebrates on the planet!

In just under a year, the Little School raised $3,000 for frogs in the wild!!!

The students were able to raise this money through various events including a “Hop into Summer Reading” used book sale and a “Frog Friday” Lemonade and Cookie Stand. With  just a bit of guidance from their school leaders, the Houston Zoo and El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center, these students were off and running on their fundraising campaign, and it paid off.

Thank you to the students and faculty of the Little School for your efforts to raise awareness and funds for amphibians in Panama. We can’t wait to see what this energized and passionate group of students does next!

Thank you toThe Little School from the amphibians of Panama!
Thank you to The Little School from the amphibians of Panama!
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