New Kid on the Block – Another Baby Sifaka Is Born!

On the 13th of December another infant Coquerel’s sifaka made his appearance. We knew that mama Zenobia was pregnant again, but this baby was born earlier than any of her previous kids. This is her fourth baby, and she is really a pro at mothering by now.  Protective and affectionate, she washes her baby enthusiastically and frequently and spends time examining all his limbs, fingers and toes as if fascinated.


New mama and infant outside for the first time since birth - photo by Stephanie Adams
New mama and infant outside for the first time since birth – photo by Stephanie Adams

As with all baby sifakas, we weighed the infant on the first day and he was a petite 92 grams (a tad over 3 ounces). He has gained on each successive weigh-in and two weeks later is a whopping 134 grams (4.7 ounces of fun!) The weighing is a necessity to make sure that these delicate infants gain properly – none of our other primate babies are ever removed from the mother for weighing unless they have a health problem.

Gulliver in hand after weighing - photo by Lucy Dee Anderson
Gulliver in hand after weighing – photo by Lucy Dee Anderson

The weighing process is a very quick one that Zenobia has become acclimated to. Keepers enter her enclosure and the infant is swiftly removed with a gloved hand. He is then put onto a small surrogate doll so that he can cling to it, and, once weighed, put straight back onto mama’s belly. Vets are there for the first few weigh-ins just to make sure all is well with the new wee one, christened “Gulliver”. So far, so good: we have a healthy baby that will make his appearance with his family soon, weather permitting, at the Wortham World of Primates!

Guest Blogger Carolyn Jess Spots Whooping Cranes

We have invited Carolyn Jess back to help us out as guest blogger in 2013 with a focus on native wildlife. Jess is a 12 year old student who has agreed to be our special guest blogger about wildlife conservation. We first met Carolyn in October 2011 when she came out to the Zoo to meet our special guest Jack Hannah. If you would like to contact Carolyn or have comments, you may send them to

Recently,  I was able to participate in the Audubon Christmas Bird Count at the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge with my Junior Naturalist group.    We volunteer every year to help identify and check off the birds we see.  It was very cold that day, but we were all prepared and had lots of layers of clothes on along with our binoculars, scope, bird guides, and checklists.  We were able to find almost 30 different species of birds in our 15 mile radius.

The Audubon Society always needs volunteers to help with the bird counts.  It’s a fun family activity that you can take part in during the holidays.   Another fun family activity to do over the Christmas break is to go to Rockport to see the whooping cranes.  There are a lot of tour boats and charter boats that take families and groups out to go see the whooping cranes.

The whooping crane is the tallest North American bird and grows to be five feet tall and have a wingspan of seven and a half feet.  They are white with a red head and black wing tips.  They mate for life and produce one chick per year.    Whooping cranes breed in Canada and migrate down to the Texas Gulf Coast in the winter months.  The whooping crane is an endangered species – there are only about 300 of them left.  In the 1940s, there were only about 20 whooping cranes.  The 300 we have now are all descendants of those original 20.  Their population was being wiped out by hunting and loss of habitat.  Hopefully, with our conservation efforts, we will continue to increase their numbers.   If you would like to help out the whooping crane, you can visit the International Crane Foundation.  They list ways you can help this endangered species survive.

New Baby Black Bears at the Houston Zoo

Black Bear Cubs-0004-5079Recently, we received two orphaned black bear cubs from California Fish and Game.  Their mother was killed by a hunter and the two have been adjusting well at the Houston Zoo since their transition a little over a month ago. The two cubs, Willow and Belle, weighed about 40 pounds when they arrived and weigh about 50 pounds now. Today, the carnivore team introduced the pair to the Andean bear habitat around noon. Approximately 25 minutes later, both bears climbed over the top of the back wall of the habitat, and the keepers issued an alert to the rest of the Zoo and began procedures to get the bear cubs secured. One cub was secured and crated at approximately 1:15. The second cub was secured and crated at around 3:45.

At no time were the bears or Zoo guests in any danger. Additionally, at no time were the bears in a public area or an area that was accessible to the public.  Zoo Rangers, our on grounds guest relations team, secured the area to ensure that our guests and our bears were safe throughout the entirety of the ordeal.

The keepers coaxed the bears into their crates with treats that included fruit and peanut butter. Now, keepers will assess the best way to secure the habitat so that this event will not occur again.  In the meantime, the cubs will live in the habitat’s holding area, where they will have access to plenty of space to safely explore.

We would like to express a special thanks to our guests, all of which were very understanding and cooperative while we handled the situation.

Black Bear Cubs-0014-5262

How Our Primates Get Their Grub On

One of the most important duties that zookeepers have is to make sure that the animals in their care are engaging in “species-typical behavior.” This means that we want our animals to behave in the Zoo the same way they behave in nature. And, in nature, a good portion of a primate’s day is spent looking for food. Ripping up bark and leaves, searching for fruit, insects and gum exudates (a sap-like substance), as well as digging in the dirt for tubers or roots are all ways that primates can find food in the wild.

In the Zoo, primates do identical behaviors with their enrichment foods. We scatter sunflower seeds, peanuts or mixed nuts around their exhibit before releasing them from their night houses.


We take ketchup, mustard or relish and drizzle tiny bits of it in places where it will be a surprise when they find it. Sometimes a teaspoon of non-fat yogurt or low-fat peanut butter might be smeared on some branches here and there, to the delight of the monkeys who find it. All of these foods are spread out in unexpected places and found only after the primates have eaten their most nutritious foods of primate biscuits and leafy greens, which are served for breakfast.

Our Animal Nutrition department prepares all of these goodies, and also procures earthworms, waxworms, mealworms and crickets, all of which are part of a rounded primate diet. Although primates are mostly vegetarian, some will slurp up a nice fat earthworm without a moment of hesitation!

Sea Turtle Rescued After Being Stunned By The Cold!

Cold weather may be welcomed during the holidays to give us that festive feel, however our native wildlife doesn’t always cope well with a sudden drop in temperature. Reptiles (like sea turtles) are cold blooded, so they get their warmth from the environment. This is opposite of animals like us (mammals)-we are able to generate our own body heat so we can travel from warm to cold temperatures easily. Sea turtles cannot do this! When the temperature of the air and water drop suddenly, like they have been doing over the past few weeks (and looks like they will continue to do), sea turtles actually become stunned by the drastic change in temperature. They often drift into marshes and bays when this happens, so cold that they are unable to perform their usual activities (like swimming!).

On Monday, Houston Zoo staff assisted in the weekly beach survey done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), looking for injured or stranded sea turtles. We got a call from a wildlife rehabilitator who had come upon a cold stunned green sea turtle, and we made arrangements to meet up with her to get the turtle back to Galveston where it could be rehabilitated.

Green sea turtle rescued from being cold stunned on the Texas Coast. If you see a sea turtle on the beach call 1-866-TURTLE-5.
Green sea turtle rescued from being cold stunned on the Texas Coast. If you see a sea turtle on the beach call 1-866-TURTLE-5.

When we got the green sea turtle, we packed it up in the backseat of the NOAA vehicle in a crate and used towels to keep it warm. It is important to not only increase the body temperature of the sea turtle, but also maintain a consistent temperature so that the turtle doesn’t experience drastic changes in cold vs. hot environments. We kept the heat warm in the truck for the drive from Surfside back to Galveston, and then unloaded the turtle in a bigger enclosure inside the heated turtle barn that NOAA oversees. We gave the turtle a bit of water to swim around in but it was too weak to move. So, the turtle was given a dry enclosure with plenty of towels for warmth overnight and the next morning the turtle was doing well-active and alert!

Green sea turtle rehabilitating well at NOAA's sea turtle facility in Galveston
Green sea turtle rehabilitating well at NOAA’s sea turtle facility in Galveston

Now, the turtle is in water and will stay in the warmth of NOAA’s sea turtle facility until it can be brought back to a healthy condition.

If you would like to help protect our local sea turtles, consider making a donation to the Houston Zoo for our sea turtle conservation efforts. You can also come check out our Zoo Lights event with your family-every time you visit the Zoo, you help save animals in the wild!

Sea Turtles Get Check-ups at the Zoo!

2 sea turtles visited the Houston Zoo today for a check-up by our Veterinary Staff. Both were green sea turtles that came in from the wild with injuries.

The first green turtle is one that was found late summer completely entangled in fishing line (in fact, the turtle was still attached to a fishing pole when someone found him/her). The turtle suffered terrible injuries to both front flippers, and unfortunately lost one flipper. The remaining front flipper is still recovering-Houston Zoo Vet Staff took a look to make sure it is healing properly. Hopefully with a few months longer in rehab, this turtle will be healthy enough to be released back into the wild. Sea turtles are able to survive in the wild with only 3 functioning flippers, and we have high hopes this turtle will be no different.

Green sea turtle who was entangled in fishing line at the end of this summer. This turtle lost one flipper but can survive with the remaining 3.
Green sea turtle who was entangled in fishing line at the end of this summer. This turtle lost one flipper but can survive with the remaining 3.

The 2nd green turtle that Vet staff checked on also suffered from a front flipper injury. Staff from the NOAA-Galveston Lab are unsure as to how this sea turtle became injured, but it was found floating in the ship channel in Galveston. It has wounds near the front left flipper and looks to have suffered a dislocated flipper-this type of injury is very uncommon among sea turtles!

Our Vet Team at the Houston Zoo took x-rays to monitor the flipper injury and hope to see it back in a few weeks for further treatment. A twist to this sea turtle’s story is that this exact turtle was released with the help of the Houston Zoo in May of 2013. The turtle had lost a back flipper several months ago, was rehabilitated in Galveston, and then released into Galveston Bay with Houston Zoo staff help earlier this year. We know the history of this sea turtle because before it was released it was given a flipper tag with an ID number on it. We had hoped this turtle would not have returned with yet another injury, but we are optimistic that the turtle will be returned one more time to the wild and stay there unharmed, thriving in its’ natural habitat.

Green sea turtle with dislocated front flipper. The liquid coming from the turtle is salt water being flushed out from a special gland behind the eye.
Green sea turtle with dislocated front flipper. The liquid coming from the turtle is salt water being flushed out from a special gland behind the eye.

Both turtles will remain at NOAA’s sea turtle facility in Galveston as they rehabilitate. Thanks to the work of the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), these turtles will have another chance to return to the wild!

This time of year is especially tough for sea turtles. When the temperature drops drastically, sea turtles  become stunned or shocked from the sudden temperature drop. They often rise to the top and float into the shore. If you visit Texas beaches this holiday season and happen to see a sea turtle on the beach please call 1-866-TURTLE-5. You can also help sea turtles daily by reducing your use of plastics-products like plastic water bottles, soda pack rings, and plastic bags end up in our oceans and animals like sea turtles and dolphins can become entangled in these items or eat them, mistaking them for food. By using reusable grocery bags and reusable water bottles, you can help save sea turtles each day!



You can also help sea turtles by visiting the Houston Zoo this holiday season-each time you purchase a ticket or a Zoo membership, a portion of the proceeds go towards saving animals in the wild. 

Saving Sea Turtles in the Wild

How the Zoo saves sea turtles in the wild:

Dec.3 sea turtleOn Dec. 3rd eight sea turtles were brought to the Houston Zoo’s vet clinic after being stranded on the upper Texas coast.  There were 4 Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles that recieved medical treatment and check ups after swallowing fishing hooks and 4 green sea turtles were treated after feeling the affects of the sudden cold snap.  After the turtles had physical examinations and received treatments they were transported to the  NOAA Sea Turtle Barn in Galvaston to recover.   They will be released as soon as we are sure they are stable and the weather is a bit warmer.

 Fact:  Our veterinary staff have assisted in saving over 75 injured or stranded wild sea turtles in this year alone.



More ways the Zoo saves sea turtles:

Our staff participates in reducing threats to sea turtles by performing patrols to find stranded and sick turtles and creating signs that give direction to public and fisherman that encounter sea turtles.  For more on our sea turtles saving efforts visit here  .

Come to the Zoo to see the sea turtle in our aquarium.  He was also found stranded and weak on the upper Texas coast and is visiting us until he is strong enough to be released into the wild again.







How you can help save sea turtles in the wild:

  • Remember to say no to plastic and use reusable shopping bags and drink cups whenever you can!
  • Every time you purchase a ticket to visit the Zoo or a membership a portion goes to saving animals in the wild.

December 12: Give the Gift of Grub, and Get Some Grub Too!

Help give the Gift of Grub by grabbing your own grub at Chipotle on Thursday, December 12! Bring a printout of the this flyer or show it on your smartphone (must show flyer for proceeds to benefit Houston Zoo) at any Houston area Chipotle, anytime on December 12, and 50% of the proceeds of your purchase will come back to the Houston Zoo to help feed our animals. Spread the word!




Give the Gift of Grub to Banded Mongooses!

Often when people come across an animal that is working with a trainer here at the Houston Zoo, they see how much fun everyone is having. And it’s true – it is a lot of fun! Guests enjoy watching the keepers interact with the animals and the keepers love training – it’s one of the coolest parts of our job. Even the animals seem to enjoy themselves and it’s very stimulating for them. Because we use positive reinforcement training at the Houston Zoo, the animals choose to participate in training and it’s one of the most dynamic ways we can enrich them, both physically and mentally.

Porcupine Training

All fun aside, there’s a deeper purpose to a lot of the training we do here. When we train an animal to get on a scale, to climb in a kennel, or even voluntarily receive an injection, those are important behaviors – we call them husbandry behaviors – that help make the routine care our animals receive safe and much easier for everyone involved. This type of training is essential, and it can’t happen without…GRUB! Positive reinforcement training only works if there is something that motivates the animal to participate, and for most animals (including me!) delicious food is extremely motivating.

Recently I began caring for a new group of animals in the Children’s Zoo – banded mongoose! There are six of them, three males and three females. They are active, curious and fun to watch – if you haven’t seen them yet, stop by the McGovern Children’s Zoo – but there are several big challenges to caring for them. How do you weigh, medicate, or check on a very intelligent animal that has a burrow underground? How do you even tell them apart?! Training is the answer, so it’s a good thing for us that the mongooses are VERY food motivated.


The mongooses are omnivores just like us. They love to eat mice, chicks, meat, worms, crickets, and when they can’t find anything else, they’ll eat their salad (again, just like me!). We’ve used their love of food to train the females to come eat on one side of the exhibit and the males to eat on the other. Now when we need to get a good look at them to figure out who is who, we only have three to compare instead of all six at once. This is a huge help with medicating them and when we eventually teach them to get on a scale, it will help with that, too! Soon we will start using their favorite foods to encourage them to enter a kennel. Once they get comfortable with that it will be a piece of cake for us to move them at any time. That reduces stress for everybody!


When you give the Gift of Grub, you are giving much more than just food. You help us enrich the animals and make their lives healthier and better in so many ways. If you haven’t seen the mongoose in action yet make sure you stop by and watch them running, digging, and playing. With animals this rambunctious, I’m sure you’ll see why we’re glad for all the help we can get!

A gift of just $12 could provide 3 boxes of worms and $22 could deliver 3 boxes of crickets – two treats sure to please our mongooses! Visit the Grub Gift Shop to learn more about our annual grocery list and how you can give the Gift of Grub to the animals at the Houston Zoo. TXU Energy will double every donation made to the Gift of Grub campaign by December 31, dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000! Don’t miss this opportunity for your contribution to have twice the impact on feeding your friends at the Zoo.



Six New Chimpanzees Make Their Public Debut!

newchimpOn October 30, 2013 6 chimpanzees found a new home at the Houston Zoo thanks to the combined efforts of Lincoln Park Zoo’s Project ChimpCARE, the Houston Zoo, and Curtis and Bea Shepperson, the chimps’ owners.

The Sheppersons had been under pressure from officials in the Mechanicsville, Virginia area to relocate the chimpanzees because of a recent escape and the lack of proper licenses.

On Tuesday, December 3, 2013 at 9 a.m. the chimps – Toby, Kenya, Tanzee, Kira, Chaos and Sierra – completed their standard 30 day quarantine period and enjoyed their first day outside in the African Forest’s Onstead Foundation Chimpanzee Habitat. Tuesday was also Sierra’s 14th birthday.

The Onstead Foundation Chimpanzee Habitat is the newest such facility in the nation and widely regarded as one of the world’s pre-eminent facilities.

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