Ali and Kevin Learning About Wombats in Australia

You may have already heard: The Houston Zoo will soon be home to wombats! Two of our wonderful employees Ali and Kevin are in Australia right now learning lots of information about wombats. Here’s our latest communication with Ali.
ali-wombatGreetings from Australia! Kevin and I arrived at Healesville Sanctuary, outside of Melbourne, yesterday afternoon to start learning how to take care of wombats. We met the two wombats who will be coming to Houston, Lilly and Lullaby, as well as several other resident wombats. Lilly and Lullaby definitely have their own distinct personalities! Lilly still acts somewhat like a young wombat and is very playful and inquisitive. Lullaby is all grown up, she is three months older after all, and prefers to observe from a distance and only approach when she’s a little more sure of you.

Lilly and Lullaby, like all the wombats at the sanctuary, were orphaned when their mom was hit by a car. This is a fairly common occurrence in Australia since wombats are nocturnal and fairly slow moving. Wombats have a bony plate under the skin covering their rump that they use to protect themselves while in their burrows and this plate also protects the young that are still in the pouch. For this reason the babies will often survive when the mother is hit by a car. The babies are usually placed with wildlife rehabilitators to be raised and released. However, occasionally they are un-releasable for one reason or another and that’s where Healesville Sanctuary comes in.

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The keepers at Healesville will raise the un-releasable babies (even taking them home with them at night when they’re very young) and then place them in zoos in Australia and abroad. Needless to say, the keepers become very attached to the wombats and they will be sad to see Lilly and Lullaby leave but we’ve told them they’re welcome to visit anytime! Check back later in the week for another update from down under!

-Ali

Home to One of the World's Most Endangered Primates

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There is a mystique to Van Long Nature Reserve and an old legend of the cliffs in this region. While passing the highest mountain, a fairy saw the charming landscape and stopped to behold it. She met and fell in love with a poor man who lived on the mountain. Due to their love they were punished by the gods and turned into two mountains, called Nghien and Fairy Mountains. These mountains sit side by side but they have never become husband and wife.

Delacour's langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.
Delacour’s langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.

Other cliffs have curious names from Scratching Cat (Meo Cao) to Tray of Sticky Rice (Mam Xoi) but we have come to see the cliffs and caves that 120 of the worlds remaining 200 Delacour’s Langurs (remember the monkey who wore shorts?) survive. There are more than two dozen caves cut into these cliffs, some at waters edge, others high up on the mountains.

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Surrounded by water and accessible by flat bottom boats, during the rainy season the region is well known for its migratory birds including storks, herons and numerous species of waterfowl. It is also home to over 400 species of plants, loris, langurs, and small deer as well as King Cobra, water monitors, pheasants and others. This large wetland reserve covers 3000 hectares and is an east drive from Cuc Phuong.

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It is our last day here and we spend almost two hours floating through the reserve, surrounded by cliffs at every turn, with mist shrouded valleys in the distance. We know the langurs come down between 4pm and 5pm through the trees into their high mountain caves for the night. But as we scan the grey and white limestone cliffs for the black and white monkey who wears shorts, we do not see them on this day.

Delacour's langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.
Delacour’s langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.

After being surrounded by Loris, Gibbons, and the Douc, Hatinh, Francois, Lao, Grey, Cat Ba and Delacour Langurs all week at the a Endangered a Primate Rescue Center, it reminds us how small this population of langurs really is and we hope the photos taken this week do not serve as a reminder in the future of species gone extinct, primates we have a chance of saving no matter how little their numbers are today.

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Great Apes Aren't Doing So Great

Simple fact: Great Apes are in trouble. The next few years could determine the fate of some of the smaller populations of apes such as orangutans, chimpanzees and gorillas spread across their range countries. Gorillas are of particular concern these days as they are being lost for human reasons – lost to habitat fragmentation, disease issues, hunted for meat and young taken to sell into the wildlife trade. And while some populations are stabilizing, the Eastern Lowland Gorillas of the Democratic Republic of Congo continue to decline:

Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) contains between 125,000 and 200,000 individuals remaining in the wild in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Gabon, Republic of Congo, and Equatorial Guinea.

Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) only 250-300 individuals remain in Nigeria and Cameroon

Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla beringei) may be as low as 5,000 individuals, down from 17,000 in 1995. This population is difficult to monitor due to political instability in their range countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo

Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) less than 900 individuals remaining in Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo

Gorillas Sitting

The Houston Zoo currently partners with two amazing programs in Central Africa you have seen on our websites and social media. The Gorilla Doctors work in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and are literally Doctors who make house calls – for gorillas. With a focus on keeping the worlds remaining Mountain Gorillas healthy across three countries and assisting with confiscating and caring for orphaned Eastern Lowland gorillas when called upon, the Gorilla Doctors are at the front line of protecting these species. You can find out more about what they do at www.gorilladoctors.org. A little further north in the DRC sits a unique sanctuary for orphaned Eastern Lowland gorillas called GRACE – Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education center. A one-of-a-kind facility dedicated to recusing, caring for, and one day releasing these individuals back in the wild. More on this project can be found at www.gracegorillas.org

gorilla babyyWorking in regions where poverty is high is complicated and each program offers the development of initiatives to help support local communities; from health to education and even some jobs. Today, protecting wildlife could not be successful without programs which empower these communities to participate in a future for gorillas.

Africa has a mystique. It is awe-inspiring, a living place yet dark and formidable. It is full of cultures and heritage, wildlife and wild places. But, Deepest Darkest Africa is in danger. There is a Congolese proverb which says you do not teach the paths of the forest to an old gorilla. But what if those paths are gone forever? How will the gorilla find its way? And worse, what if the old gorillas have gone away, lost to humans? Who will show the young the paths of the forest?

200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote for if one link in nature’s chain might be lost, another might be lost, until the whole of things will vanish by piecemeal. If we have the opportunity to protect and hold dear this chain; wildlife, habitat and human communities, then we must take that opportunity and act while the old gorilla can still teach the young, his forest path.

 

Moving Islands

The plan was for 5 of us to head back to Saipan when the Tinian group got settled in and started catching birds.  We arrived back in Saipan on the 15th and keeping with the flexibility theme we have run into some hurdles. 1 Saying Good-bye to Tinian

We got back to the summer holiday hotel and were able to pretty quickly set- up the bird room. Pretty straight forward: 15 MAFD (Mariana Fruit Dove) boxes and 24 GOWE (Golden white-eye) boxes.

Setting up dove boxes.
Setting up dove boxes.
3 Overly ripe papaya - it is like candy for GOWE
Overly ripe papaya – it is like candy for GOWE

Also, we had to seek out food for the GOWE. We generally bring in a supply of papaya; as the availability of really ripe papaya varies on the island.  Because of complication with flight availability, we were not able to bring in the papaya.  This year, I was really worried. When we would drive to and from our trap sites (& at our trap site too), the wild papayas are still hard and green.  However, I luck out… at the local fruit market I find several perfect ripe papayas.  So at least the bird room is ready for action.

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Sawing trees down.

I wish I could say the same is happening in the field. On Tuesday evening we went out to check the trap sites.  Looking around we see 3 good locations for doves nets.  For the next 2 hours we clear areas with machetes, saws and pruners to open spaces for the nets. The entire time we hear a symphony of doves calling all around us. We then move over to the forest sites and clear 2 more lanes for the GOWE trapping.  It is hard sweaty work but somehow satisfying.  4

Wednesday, the plan is to get up early, set nets and start trapping.  We achieve the get up early part…

I dropped my coworkers off at the trap sites- my duty for the morning was to buy fresh fish and ship it to Tinian. It took a few hours and a lot of haggling to get $2.50 a pound but I was finally in possession of 4 tuna, packed in a cooler to be sent via Star Airlines cargo to feed the flies. I thought this would be the harder part of the day.

Back at the net sites, the 20′ metal poles are being troublesome and setting up the nets is taking much longer than anticipated. By 2 PM we have 5 nets up (3 doves, 3 forests). We rest for a short time and then open nets from 3-6 PM.

This too is fraught with difficulty. It keeps on raining.  We open and close nets several times and in Between the rains the humidity sky- rockets. It feels like a sauna.

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Removing a collard kingfisher from a net.

At the dove site- we catch 2 collared kingfishers. And then have to reset one of the nets in the pouring rain. They don’t fare much better at the forest GOWE site- a few birds but no GOWE.

At this point we plan for an extra early departure on Thursday morning.  We make it out to the trap sites by 6:15.  I go to the dove site with Kurt and Scott and we are setting up the first net when the rains really start. The forest site has it a little better. They get gentle sprinkles but at the dove site- maybe because of the location on the island- we get down pours.

After the rain lets up, I head up the road to see if I can figure out where the doves moving to and eating.  I get up about 150 yards and the skies open. In the distance there is a small shelter and a cattle water trough.  I have to go over 2 barb-wire fences and waist-high lantana riddled with spiders, but I do make it to the shelter before being soaked to the bone.

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Shelter to wait out the storm

I wait out the squall and watch the spiders around me.  The sun comes out and I get a brief view of a beautiful rainbow.

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Hopefully there is a pot of MAFD at the end of this rainbow

Here’s to hoping there is a group of female MAFD at the end of this rainbow.

All day long it is sun/rain/ sun/ rain…. Nets up, nets down. Wet, dry, wet, dry.

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First MAFD in the holding room

At the end of the day the total was sparse- but we did end up with 3 MAFD and 6 GOWE.

Of Pangolins and Civets in Vietnam

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An Owston’s palm civet (Chrotogale owstoni) named ‘Bao’ at the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) at the entrance to Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam.

The Houston Zoo recognizes that strategic partnerships strengthen our ability to save animals in the wild.  We began our partnership with an organization called The Photo Ark in 2010.   It was founded by National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore.  The goal of the Photo Ark is to photo document and display all of the world’s captive species in a way that people will want to care about them before they disappear.

Joel Sartore and Peter Riger, the Houston Zoo’s Vice-President of Conservation, are in Vietnam visiting a variety of rehabilitation and rescue centers to take photos of some of the rarest species in captivity. Here is a post about the adventure from Peter Riger.

 

There is an amazing amount of wildlife diversity in Southeast Asia and Vietnam specifically has a number of endemic species, some of which we have shown you with the primates. My first trip to Vietnam for the Houston Zoo was around 2006 to visit with what was then the Owston’s Palm Civet (OPC) project based out of Cuc Phuong National Park.

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A masked palm civet or gem-faced civet (Paguma larvata) named ‘Meo’ at the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) at the entrance to Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam

At the time we were considering working with OPC and even importing some non-releasable animals for the zoo from the center. In the end, the civets were not a good fit for the Houston Zoo, but a number of zoos in the UK are now managing them.

OPC’s role at the time was to handle confiscations, rehabilitate and breed for potential release, thus very unique species. Later, they became the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Center (CPCC) and act as a rehab facility for small carnivores like the Owston’s Palm Civet and Asian Pangolins.

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A Sunda pangolin (Manis javanica) named Lucky at the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) at the entrance to Cuc Phuong National Park in Vietnam.

Stay tuned for more from the Houston Zoo’s Vice President of Conservation, Peter Riger and the Photo Ark’s, Joel Sartore in Vietnam.

To donate and learn more about the Photo Ark click here.  And remember the Houston Zoo is saving animals in the wild, every time you visit the Zoo you help us to do this awesome work!

There's Still Time To Take Action for Apes!

We currently have 47 local Houston schools and organizations who are recycling cell phones to help save gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild! These 47 groups have an estimated 25,669 people participating to save apes in the wild!

Are you interested in participating in the 2014 Action for Apes Challenge? It’s easy and fun, and you get to save animals while you do it! Just check out our website to register your group. The challenge runs through April 30th, but it’s not too late to sign up and see how many cell phones you can recycle!
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How does recycling cell phones help apes you may ask?

A material called tantalum is found in almost every cell phone, as well as in laptops and cameras. This metal comes from the ground in Central Africa, which happens to be where animals like chimpanzees, gorillas and okapis live. When the metal is taken from chimpanzee habitats to be used in electronics, the homes of chimps, gorillas and okapis become disrupted and these animal populations decrease.

If you recycle your old cell phone with us, then the materials in the phone can be reused instead of getting new minerals from the ground in Central Africa.
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How else can you help protect apes in the wild?

Visit the Zoo! A portion of every ticket and membership purchased to enter the zoo goes towards saving animals in the wild!

Learn more about ways the zoo works to protect chimpanzees and gorillas in the wild. Click on our gorilla and chimpanzee pages to find out what projects we support in Africa.

Donate to the zoo to help us continue to save these animals in the wild!

Forgotten supplies, finding net sites, and the flies…

We forgot the needles and syringes… and there is no hospital on Tinian – oh and these are really not the easiest items to procure anyway….

Where you go when you need things - the police station is down on the left
Where you go when you need things – the police station is down on the left

While we hope we will not need vet supplies like this, we will need a few for emergencies. So if you are on an island in the middle of no-where and have no hospital – you go to the Police Station. Thankfully, we were able to get about a half dozen needles and syringes for use.

The next step for us is finding net sites.  Ideally what we are looking for is a forested area that is not too dense that is near some open areas where birds will cross over to different forest patches. There is just the place on Tinian for such work… Runway Able.

Driving down Runaway Able at Sunset
Driving down Runaway Able at Sunset

Tinian has a very famous/infamous place in world history.  I am constantly moved that so much history can be contained on an island that is smaller than the Inner Loop of 610 in Houston.  Runaway Able is part of 4 runways that were built by American forces in 45 nights and days in July 1944 after Tinian was taken from Japanese control by the US Navy.  As the home of the Twentieth Air Force XXI Bomber Command, Runway Able was the launching point for the B-29 Superfortress bomber “Enola Gay” as well as the B-29 bomber “BocksCar” that delivered the atomic bombs that ended World War II.

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Bomb pit that housed “Little boy”

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This historic air base was abandoned after 1947 and the 4 runways, Able, Baker, Charlie, and Delta, were allowed to return to nature.  Today, the runways are still visible and there are many monuments to the many people who fought on both sides of WWII. The taxi-ways and auxiliary roads are over-grown with both native plants and non-native Tangen-tangen trees.  All of the area is ripe habitat for the birds we are seeking.

 

 

It takes some time and planning and working in very humid rainy weather. We also have to be very wary when we are setting up nets – it is a banner year for Boonie Bees, a type of aggressive paper wasp that likes to attack when it is disturbed.  We set-up nets and catch 4 rufous fantail

.  We want to start slow so that we can keep up with the food source – the flies.

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Setting up nets and waiting for the rufous fantail.

Feeding flies to flycatchers is not an easy task.  Rufus Fantails like to “hawk” for their food.  This basically means that they catch food while flying.  So to encourage the birds to eat – the flies have to … well, fly.

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Feeding fish.

Peter Luscomb, the retire General curator at the Honolulu Zoo and the co-founder of Pacific Bird Conservation organization, designed a unique way to provide live flies while minimizing (maybe) the frustration to the care-givers. We take a petri dish and melt a small hole in the bottom of it.  We cut the top part so that it will slide off the top easily.  Then we hold the covered dish over a screen funnel in the top of the fly trap.  The flies will crawl up into the dish.  We try to load anywhere from 40-60 flies in the dish.  The biggest trick is (other than getting the flies into the holding cage with the rufous fantails) is that 50 flies can lift the lid of a petri dish if you aren’t watching.  So we have to fill the dish, place it carefully on our carrying tray and then put a rock on top.

The other issue with the flies is that they eat dead fish – so when you have a container of a couple thousand flies – they smell like dead fish too.  This does not generally make us friends at the hotels where we stay – but we manage and the Hotel owners are understanding of the needs to conserve these birds.

After we load up the fly dishes, we have to feed them to the rufous fantails.  We carefully place the dish into the holding cage and then QUICKLY pull off the lid and shut the door.  This allows the flies to fly and the rufous fantails to chase them.  Of course we have escapes – of the flies.  By the end of the first day, there are already dozens of flies, flying free around the bird room.  If we get desperate for food, we can always net them and try to get them in the rufous fantail boxes.

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Fly food ready to go!

We trap on and off the next day, the weather is keeping us on our toes.  Rain, sun, rain, sun… we close the nets during the rain so that the birds don’t get trapped and then soaked.   We end up with about 15 rufous fantails at the end of the day.  Luckily the fish we are using to trap flies is really ripe and the flies are swarming and being trapped.  So we have plenty of food.

On Tuesday – about half of us are going back to Saipan to start trapping golden white-eyes and marianas fruit dove.  As we are planning for the trapping schedule on Tuesday, the Police Chief of Tinian arrives at JC’s restaurant (one of the 2 restaurants on Tinian) to find us.  He was looking all over the island for us – the Marines will be doing a military exercise and the runways need to be cleared by 9 AM.  So our morning trapping will be delayed by the military… I am not sure if that is better than delay from the weather or not.

live-fire

 

More About Red River Hogs!

We’ve already gone over what Red River Hogs look like and where they are from. But there is still more information about these cool hogs we have to share here at the Houston Zoo! If you missed the previous blog, Red River Hogs are native to the forest, swampy-like areas in Africa.
red river hog 2

When these hogs aren’t wallowing in the mud or napping in the shade to cool down, they will be foraging for food. Their favorite foods to eat are grasses, berries, roots, insects, small vertebrates and occasionally carrion. Most of their foraging is done at night when it is dark because the darkness gives them protection from predators. Because of their nightly adventures, Red River Hogs have an exceptional sense of sight that allows them to wander through the forests in the middle of the night without bumping into obstacles. Their sense of hearing is excellent as well. So well in fact, they can detect the movement of an earthworm in the dirt.

A herd of Red River Hogs typically consists of 4-6 females, 1 dominant male, and their piglets. Like any baby animal they are adorable! The piglets have a very unique brown coat pattern that consists of orange spots and stripes. They will loose these stripes and spots over time as they grow their orange-red adult coat of fur. When the completed African Forest is open be sure to stop by to visit our Red River Hog family to see these interesting and colorful pigs at the Houston Zoo.

A morning with the Gibbons in Vietnam

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A northern yellow cheeked gibbon (Nomascus annamensis) at the Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.

The Houston Zoo recognizes that strategic partnerships strengthen our ability to save animals in the wild.  We began our partnership with an organization called The Photo Ark in 2010.   It was founded by National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore.  The goal of the Photo Ark is to photo document and display all of the world’s captive species in a way that people will want to care about them before they disappear.

Joel Sartore and Peter Riger, the Houston Zoo’s Vice-President of Conservation, are in Vietnam visiting a variety of rehabilitation and rescue centers to take photos of some of the rarest species in captivity. Here is a post about the adventure from Peter Riger.

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‘Jonas’, a male southern white-cheeked gibbon (Nomascus siki) at the Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.

Gibbons are particularly smart, stubborn, tenacious, curious and suspicious all at the same time. The process for having them shift into a space so that we can photograph them on black or white background could be particularly tricky. But the Gibbons here at EPRC seemed comfortable enough and we were quickly photographing a female Southern Yellow-cheeked Gibbon by 9am.

A couple of treats, capture the photos we need and back into her enclosure she goes for her mid morning “breakfast” in the gibbon area of the center. Breakfast is quickly met with the calls of gibbons from all around. As the calls echoed through the trees you could not be heard talking so you just wait and listen as they go through their morning rituals.

Next up was a young confiscated male Northern Yellow-cheeked gibbon. There are 6 species of gibbons here in Vietnam and this one is a bit rarer than the others. It is the same routine with him and then back to his enclosure for lunch.

Our new Photo Ark “team” took a little break in between gibbons for lunch and an Easter egg hunt provided by the a Director of the center and our gracious hosts, Tilo Nadler and his family. Then, it was back to the photo shoot for a female Northern White-cheeked gibbon and finally one of the centers Slow Loris adults.

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A female slow loris (Nycticebus bengalensis) a vulnerable species at the Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.

A few more species to go over the next three days, and a visit to the Van Long Nature Reserve, home to approximately 120 Delacour Langurs. This is the majority of the wild population and only one of two places (the other being here in Cuc Phuong) this species survives.

Stay tuned for more from the Houston Zoo’s Vice President of Conservation, Peter Riger and the Photo Ark’s, Joel Sartore in Vietnam.

To donate and learn more about the Photo Ark click here.  And remember the Houston Zoo is saving animals in the wild, every time you visit the Zoo you help us to do this awesome work!

Shop at Whole Foods Market April 23 to Help Save Animals in the Wild

Shop at Whole Foods Market on Wednesday, April 23rd, and you’ll be helping to save wild elephants, lions, orangutans, sea turtles and a unique rare bird called a blue-billed curassow. Six Houston-area stores including all of the Houston locations and the Katy store are participating in this one-day-only event (Sugar Land has supported a different cause). Whole Foods will donate 5% of their profits earned that day to this fundraiser.

ZooBingoZoo staff will be at all participating locations from 11-1 to thank you for your support and answer any questions you might have about these conservation programs. Thank you Whole Foods Market for supporting us with this Community Giving Day!

There’s more ways to give and have fun at the same time at the Kirby Whole Foods Market: play Zoo Bingo from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and win Zoo prizes! The proceeds from each pint of Karbach Love St. sold during Zoo Bingo will be donated to support the Houston Zoo’s wildlife conservation efforts.

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