Prior to departure – ALWAYS count your crates!

We are taking 20 GOWE and 12 MAFD back to AZA zoos in the US mainland.  Their journey is long and we will be there to help them and monitor them the entire way.

We finally are able to book a flight for the birds and us to get to Guam.  We work with Star Marianas Airlines and they help us charter a small twin engine plane for us.  It seats up to 10 people – or 8 crates of birds and 3 people (plus the pilot and co-pilot).

Our plane awaits - with the crates being loading in.
Our plane awaits – with the crates being loading in.
Roomy interior with all window seats!
Roomy interior with all window seats!

So far there seems to be one flaw in the plan for departure:

Tapah might just interfere.
Tapah might interfere.



We wake up on departure day and it is a rainy cloudy mess.  It seems none of us bothered to check the weather.  Her name is Tapah and she is a Tropical Storm that is headed our way.  We go ahead and plan for departure.  Luckily the storm is far enough away and Guam is close enough that we can go ahead and leave.

Our stormy departure!
Our stormy departure!

We fly to Guam in about 1 hour.  The flight was not bad, but we did have to brace the crates well so that they would not move during flight.  Luckily my feet (clad in lovely purple flip flops) did the job and held the crates firmly in place.  The birds even started to sing mid-flight.

At least my pedicure held up!
At least my pedicure held up!

When we land in Guam, before we can even stick our heads out of the airplane, we have to wait for the Customs and USDA officials.  The plane and all of its cargo (including us) have to be checked for Brown Tree snakes.  Luckily, they know we have the birds with us – so it is not a very long wait.

Waiting for inspection
Waiting for inspection

The Customs agent speeds us through the hidden underbelly of the airport (where I am not sure I was supposed to take pictures?) and approves our and more importantly the birds’ entry into Guam.

Customs Officer helping us move the birds
Customs Officer helping us move the birds
Can I take Pictures here?
Can I take Pictures here?


The dark underbelly of the airport (or the elevator to customs)
The dark underbelly of the airport (or the elevator to customs)



We are met by the employees of the Guam Rail lab – they will allow us to keep the birds there overnight. The Rail Lab is where the good folks of Guam work with the endangered Guam Rail  as well as the Micronesian Kingfisher.  They have a great set-up that works well for our bird’s overnight stay.

We feed the birds an early evening snack and then leave them to rest while we get an early evening dinner and to our hotel room for the night.

The birds have to be back at the airport for their flight at 3 AM.  This means we have to feed them around 2 AM.

It is 2 AM - I am sleepy and so are the MAFD.
It is 2 AM – I am sleepy and so are the MAFD.

Burly eyed- we arrive at the Rail lab and feed the doves and GOWE.  We get everyone packed up in the car and leave the keys to the building in the kitchen.  Walking out to the car it appears we have plenty of time to get the birds safely to the airport.  Peter is dropping the birds off, so it allows Ellen and I to go to our hotel and clean up before our 24 + hours of travel that we have in front of us.

But – it is not that straight-forward.  As we are getting all of our luggage together, we get a phone call from Peter.  There are 7 crates of birds at the airport….. BUT we have EIGHT! Crates….

In the packing of the car, we all forgot the first rule of shipping birds – count your crates before you lock the door.  As Ellen and I nervously wait at the hotel for Peter, we contemplate whether or not we can break into the Rail Lab – and what kind of punishment we would be willing to put up with to save our birds.  Luckily, Peter was able to contact a Rail Lab employee that was able to come unlock the building and thus preventing our journey into crime for the sake of our birds….

the forgotten crate - hiding in plane sight!
the forgotten crate – hiding in plain sight!

We got all the birds to the flight in time.  And they did great during the transportation – however, it took me a few hours to finally stop nervously shaking with worry about forgetting the crate.

Now I just have the 2 – 8 hour flights until I am back in Houston.

Bug House Now Open

The Bug House is open! Excuse our excitement, but this is a bug big deal!

Our Bug House is a brand new exhibit that is solely dedicated to showcasing bugs and why they are so important to our ecosystem.

Children and adults alike will be fascinated by the colorful beetles, centipedes, millipedes, stick insects, giant katydids, tarantulas, domino roaches, grasshoppers, leaf cutter ants, and even scorpions.
Hercules Beetle-0001-3009

Insects and spiders are the most numerous and arguably the most diverse of all animals on our planet. There are more than a million species of insects and spiders, representing more than half of all known living organisms. Insects perform vital roles in the ecosystems they inhabit, such as decomposition (clean up), food production, silk production, and as a food source for other animals. In addition, pollinating insects are important for plant reproduction and crop production. Spiders prey on insects and help to control the populations of pest insects that have the potential to create widespread destruction of crops.

We can’t wait to show you these amazing creatures! Stop by this permanent exhibit on your next trip to the Zoo!

Check out some amazing bug facts below.

Bugs by the Numbers

  • There are 1.5 billion insects for every human.
  • Nearly a quarter of all living multi-cellular organisms are beetles.
  • Ants can lift and carry more than 50 times their own weight.
  • Dragonflies can fly 50-60 mph.
  • A cockroach can live for nine days without its head.
  • The strongest animal in the world is the rhinoceros beetle. It can lift 850 times its own weight.
  • The world’s termites outweigh the world’s humans 10 to 1.
  • There are about as many species of just ants as there are of all species of birds combined (about 8,800).
  • Honeybees need to travel an average of 43,000 miles to collect enough nectar to make a pound of honey.
  • The mantis is the only animal that can turn its head 360 degrees.

Ring-Tailed Lemur Twins Starting to Venture Off of Mom

The ring-tailed lemur twins born on March 25th are growing up fast, and are even starting to get off mama and play with each other.

Ring-tailed Lemur-Babies-0051-9818

Play is a rehearsal for what they need to do in their adult life, so wrestling is for learning combat skills and running around after each other is good practice for avoiding predators. They still run back to mom after all that activity, however, and climb up on her back. Or, one will take the “jockey” position and the other will cling to her belly for nursing privileges.


Their two older brothers Howie and Finnegan are delighted with their new, tiny siblings, and occasionally try to run off with them when they do venture off. Mother Cairrean has an opinion about that, and chases them down and cuffs their ears as discipline for stealing her newest charges, before abruptly taking them back.


The twins still spend a lot of time perched on mama’s back, surveying the world from the safety of her fur. They startle at grackles, seem astounded at the Madagascar big-headed turtles when they move, and look to the protection of their mother when a Life Flight helicopter flies over their exhibit. Everything is new and interesting right now and they still have a lot to learn!

Check out this video and see if you can spot both babies. It’s not easy…

Dickinson High School Takes Home 1st Place in 2014 Action for Apes Challenge!

10365925_708674479195725_7798650179364826206_nWe have just concluded our 2014 Action for Apes Cell Phone Recycling Challenge and it was incredibly successful with 49 local Houston schools and organizations participating! Over 25,000 participants were involved in this challenge-recycling cell phones as quickly as they could by APE-ril 30th, 2014 to join the Houston Zoo’s efforts to save gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild! A material found in almost every cell phone (tantalum) is taken from the ground in Central Africa where these amazing apes live, and by recycling phones we can reuse these materials and reduce the need to mine in animal habitats to get more tantalum.

At the end of APE-ril, the participants began shipping their recycled phones to Eco-Cell who counted every single phone from the challenge and reported the totals to the Houston Zoo. We are very excited to announce that Dickinson High School  won 1st place in the challenge, recycling a total of 384 phones! Dickinson High School will win a huge painting to be hung in their school, specially painted by the Houston Zoo’s chimpanzee troop in the colors of their choosing.

action for apes

Coming in at 2nd place was Birkes Elementary, recycling 242 phones, and 3rd place went to Parkwood Elementary School, who recycled 155 phones. Overall, all participating groups brought in a total of 2,032 cell phones which means 2,032 actions to save animals in the wild!

We are so thankful for the collaborative effort of our community in recycling cell phones to save gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild, and we could not do this important work without the Houston community. Thank you to everyone who participated and we’re already looking forward to 2015!

New Painted Dog Collar Saves Them From Snare Wire Traps

painted-dog-collar-snare-wire-1Animals in the wild are faced with dangers every day. Many of those dangers are man-made. African painted dogs are the second most endangered carnivore in Africa and are frequent prey to the snares set up by poachers. The poachers are not particularly interested in the dogs, but are after animals like antelope to sell to the bush-meat trade. However, snares are indiscriminant and many other species are caught.

Conservationists in Zimbabwe are combating this by modifying radio collars to help snared dogs be able to break the wire. The Houston Zoo has partnered with Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) and Painted Dog Research Trust (PDRT) in order to help design a more effective, lightweight collar. Members of the Zoos’ maintenance staff came up with several ideas for clips to attach to the collars that would catch the wire and then focus it to a breaking point.

Combined with the efforts of anti-poaching units dispatched to collect snares from the bush, these new collars will be instrumental in saving the lives of painted dogs in the wild. The loss of even one dog to a snare can completely decimate a pack, and with numbers estimated at 3,000-5,000 the dogs need every chance they can be afforded.


The Houston Zoo loves its painted dog pack and wants to help protect them in the wild. We have a unique relationship with PDC and PDRT and have dispatched staff members to the research sites in order to utilize their particular expertise. In exchange, PDC has sent staff to the Houston Zoo to work with us to exchange techniques and ideas.

We also assist with the African painted dog conservation effort by offering snare wire art for sale to our guests. Snare wire is collected by anti-poaching units and then delivered to local artisans who craft different animals out of it. This gets the wire out of the country as well as brings funds to local villages. 100% of the proceeds go back to Zimbabwe.


The Houston Zoo is celebrating everything painted dog on the weekend of June 7 and 8 during our annual Dog Days of Summer celebration! Please join us for keeper chats, enrichment demonstrations, and kid’s crafts. The event is scheduled to run from 10AM-2PM each day at the painted dog exhibit.


Mac the Chimpanzee Passes Away

It is with great sadness and a profound sense of loss that the Houston Zoo announces the passing of Mac, one of our beloved chimpanzees.


On Tuesday, May 13, Mac and 2 members of the Houston Zoo’s chimpanzee family were sedated for their regularly scheduled veterinary medical examinations. The sedation and the exams proceeded normally. However, when the Zoo’s veterinary team began to reverse Mac’s sedation, he did not immediately respond. The veterinary team immediately administered aggressive supportive therapy including oxygen support, antibiotics, and analgesics (pain medication). An analysis of an MRI scan by experts in human neurological medicine revealed that despite the supportive care provided following the sedation reversal, Mac’s neurological functions were compromised and irreversible. Mac was humanely euthanized.


Mac has lived at the chimpanzee habitat in the Houston Zoo’s African Forest since he arrived in July 2010 with 9 members of his extended chimpanzee family. Mac settled in to his new home, his family and his keepers saw him emerge as a leader of the troop. The Houston Zoo’s chimpanzee keepers will closely observe the family’s behavior over the coming days and weeks and provide supportive care for Mac’s family. The Houston Zoo is providing grief counseling during this time as Mac’s keepers mourn the loss of a respected and beloved member of their animal family.

Please join us in extending our deepest condolences to the members of the veterinary medical team and the primate keepers who loved and cared for Mac during his time with us.


Waiting for departure

We have to hold the birds going back to the US in a quarantine situation for 7 days prior to departure.  The hotel room we are using qualifies as an appropriate quarantine area.  We also have to work with Guam and Hawaii to get import permits – as both these areas are very strict about what animals come into and go out of each island.

Our humble quarantine area for the birds
Our humble quarantine area for the birds

Most challenging so far is getting the birds from Saipan to Guam.  Our normal carrier, Freedom Air, is no longer flying.  We used to use Continental Micronesian, but with the merger with United, there have been changes to the planes used and we cannot always transport live birds on the planes.  So we wait, and look at all options.

While waiting, we work on one of the other aspects of the MAC program that we are currently developing.  Disney’s Animal Kingdom has helped the MAC program by setting up an education component.

This year, we are all participating in a community education outreach.  The Environmental Expo has  environmental groups from all over CNMI participating.  When the 3 day Expo is complete we will reach about 1800 middle  school age children.  We work with them and their schools to promote native wildlife, conservation, and environmental responsibility. Our participation even made the local paper!

Here are a few pictures of the day’s activities:

Environmental Expo
Environmental Expo


The ONLY time it is OK to kill a snake - BTS education booth at the expo
The ONLY time it is OK to kill a snake – BTS education booth at the expo


Laulau Bay Conservation Banner
Laolao Bay Conservation Banner with a GOWE mascot
Brown tree snake
Brown tree snake at the education booth
A trap that is used at airports to stop the spread of the Brown Tree Snake
A trap that is used at airports to stop the spread of the Brown Tree Snake
Brown tree snake trap on the fence at the Saipan International Airport
Brown tree snake trap on the fence at the Saipan International Airport







Houston Zoo's Jessica Clark and Honolulu's Susan Arbuthnot talking to school kids about the MAC program
Houston Zoo’s Jessica Clark and Honolulu Zoo’s Susan Arbuthnot talking to school kids about the MAC program
The "Save the Birds" education board created by Disney's Animal Kingdom for the MAC Program
The “Save the Birds” education board created by Disney’s Animal Kingdom for the MAC Program
Jessica and Susan talking about the birds of CNMI
Jessica and Susan talking about the birds of CNMI
A Reef fish finishing up at the Expo
A Reef fish finishing up at the Expo

The MAC co-founders, Peter Luscomb and Herb Roberts, will also be meeting with the 19 school principals on Saipan to discuss future education opportunities and partnerships.

In addition to this outreach program, we worked with our first CNMI intern this year.  Shirley Taitano is a Sophomore at the Northern Marianas College.  She is studying environmental science and she worked for 7 days with the Tinain field crew.  Shirley is a bright and energetic student and worker.  Her participation is the first step in getting  more community participation in the MAC project.

2014 MAC Field Team: 10 different zoos participated and our intern from CNMI
2014 MAC Field Team: 10 different zoos participated and our intern from CNMI

As we continue to take care of the birds each day, we spend the extra time discussing how we can make an impact on CNMI; both the people and the birds.

Translocation day for the birds from Tinian

We have been worried all week about weather.  Not only did the bad weather slow down our trapping schedule, it almost impacted our ability to translocate the RUFA from Tinian to Sarigan. There was a weather “system” developing (the description sounded like a tropical storm system to me).  This would severely impact our ability to fly a helicopter to Sarigan with the birds.  Thankfully, the storm dissipated and we were able to schedule departure.

So on Monday, we moved 51 Rufous Fantails (RUFA) from Tinian to Sarigan.  This is one of the largest translocation that MAC will be undertaking.  They were accompanied by Department of fish and Wildlife staff as well as one MAC team member.

a trip of a lifetime!
a trip of a lifetime!

To say it is a trip of a lifetime (for both the birds and the people) is a colossal understatement.

Last year, Peter Luscomb and Herb Roberts, the MAC team leaders, chose me to accompany the birds on translocation so I can accurately describe the amazing journey.

Sarigan is a small uninhabited island in the CNMI chain.  In the early 1900s, it was a German penal colony.  Sparsely inhabited, it was turning over to Japan after World War I.  After WWII, there was a small population on the island and it was used mostly for a coconut plantation.

It has always been difficult to reach Sarigan.  There is only one small area that a boat can safely come ashore.  This is why we use a helicopter and even this is not an easy task.

To release the birds, the helicopter company needs to make sure they have enough gasoline stores on the island to refuel.  They generally keep several large barrels of gasoline on the island for this purpose.

Our view from Sarigan's  gas station  (2 gasoline barrels and a hand crank gas pump)
Our view from Sarigan’s gas station (2 gasoline barrels and a hand crank gas pump)

We flew to Sarigan in a little less than 1  hour.  It is an unnerving feeling flying this far without seeing land.  It makes you appreciate how vast the Pacific Ocean is…

No Land in sight!
No Land in sight!

We land in a field that is one of the few flat areas on the island and release the birds in the near-by forest.  It is an amazing, safe, sanctuary for these birds.  No people, no predators…

RUFAs resting prior to release on their new home
RUFAs resting prior to release on their new home


Fields Falcone (from the Memphis Zoo) releasing RUFA on Sarigan in 2014
Fields Falcone (from the Memphis Zoo) releasing RUFA on Sarigan in 2014









We do pass other smaller islands on the way – the closest island to Sarigan is not part of our translocation plans.  Anatahan is an active volcano.  After the release, we fly over the crater and see the green sulfur water that has filled the caldron.

Sulfurous green cauldron of Anatahan
Sulfurous green caldera of Anatahan


Anatahan from the helicopter
Anatahan from the helicopter

Sarigan is the last island we will be able to take a helicopter too. Unless there is a change in the plan, all other translocations will take place using a boat.

The Micronesian - our next mode of transportation for the birds (and us)
The Micronesian – our next mode of transportation for the birds (and us)

This journey will take over a day there and back and will come with its own logistical challenges – but as we are all ready for the challenge, we happily await next year’s work.

Spotlight on the Species: Arachnids

Little known fact: Sometimes jumping spiders wear water droplets for hats
Little known fact: Sometimes jumping spiders wear water droplets for hats


On Saturday, May 17, from 9:30 to 3:30, the Houston Zoo is going to celebrate some amazing arachnids with a Spotlight on the Species Event in the front plaza of the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo!  Come help us build an epic yarn spider web, play some games, and meet some of the Zoo’s spider and scorpion VIP’s.  We will have live animals present all day and will be giving you a chance to see some of the future residents of our incredible new Bug House before its grand opening!


On Saturday you might meet:

Emperor Scorpion

Emperor Scorpion
Emperor Scorpion

The Emperor Scorpion is one of the largest species of scorpion in the world.  They hail from rainforests and savannasin West Africa.  Although the Emperor Scorpion is black, it glows a bluish green color under UV light.  This scorpion can look pretty big and scary, but their sting is about the same as a bee sting.  In fact, they are more likely to pinch than sting.  Really, they’re the gentle giants of the scorpion world. 


Gooty Sapphire Ornamental Tarantula:

This rare gem of a tarantula will be one of the crowning jewels of the Zoo’s new Bug House.  First discovered in the

Gooty Sapphire Ornamental Tarantula
Gooty Sapphire Ornamental Tarantula

town of Gooty in Southern India, they are native to an area of deciduous forest less than 40 square miles in size.  Encroachment on their incredibly specialized habitat, as well as over-collecting for the pet trade, threatens their population.  A shy, arboreal species, they hide in holes in tall trees and eat insects. Probably due to their small range and the limited availability of holes for them, this species has been observed living communally – something rare in the spider world! 


Check out the schedule below to see when you might be able to see these and our other special arachnids, and we’ll see you Saturday!

Arachnid SOS Schedule

9:30-10:00 – Family Feud – Brown Widow, Black Widow

10:00-11:00 – Spiders in Texas – Black Widow, Huntsman, Spitting Spider, Texas Brown Tarantula

11:00-12:00 – Exceptional Beauty – Gooty Sapphire Ornamental Tarantula, Mexican Redleg Tarantula

12:00-1:00 – Natural Pest Control – Green Lynx Spiders, Spitting Spider

1:00-2:00 – The World’s Largest Spider Species – Goliath Birdeater Tarantula

2:00-3:00 – Scorpions – Desert Hairy Scorpion, Emperor Scorpion

3:00-3:30 – Comparing Spiders and Scorpions – Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula, Desert Hairy Scorpion

Springtime and Snakes

Hello, and welcome to spring.  With the warm weather, your odds of encountering a snake go way up, and Texas has lots of snakes.   From 7 foot rat snakes, to the diminutive earth snake, Harris County snakes are quite variable.  Most are harmless, but we do have a few venomous species.  On Saturday, May 31, the Herpetology  ( reptiles and amphibians) Department will be hosting a Save our Species event focusing on local area snakes.
Copperhead snake
Unless you know them well, snakes can be very difficult to identify.  We will have 8 of the most common snakes of Harris County out of their exhibits and in aquariums so you can get a good and safe close up look at them.  We’ll have lots of information and photos, some fun things for the kids, and staff on hand to answer any questions you may have.  We hope to inform, educate, alleviate fears, have some fun, and hopefully save some snake lives.  Please join us!

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