Orangutan Transfers: Why and How?

One of our orangutans, 10 year old “Solaris”, recently moved from the Houston Zoo to the Virginia Zoo in Norfolk, Virginia. This move took a lot of coordination between our two institutions, as well as cooperation between our Keeper staff and the orangutans.

Solaris and Dara bonding

Orangutans have the longest period of dependency on their mother of any primate, staying with mom for 8-9 years or longer. This bond is a naturally strong one, but when it is time for the kid to move out and away from mama, she lets them know in a firm way. In nature, she might gradually encourage independence of her offspring, or she might start throwing sticks at him to make him leave to go and find his own territory. Here, Solaris nursed until he was 7 years old, which is perfectly normal, but we found that Solaris was sleeping in a separate night nest from mom Kelly by the time he reached 8 years. By 9 years, he had moved his night nest into the adjoining room from her, as if instinctively knowing that it was getting to be time to move on.

We used those cues to begin doing both separation training and crate training. There is a ton of preparation that goes on prior to a move of any of our animals, but most particularly with the great apes. Keepers began closing the door in between Kelly and Solaris’ rooms for a quick second to start out with and then moved to longer intervals, rewarding both of them for allowing the door to be shut. The crate training began just as slowly and gradually: once the crate was attached to the door, Solaris had free access to it and it became a place for him to play. Over a 2 year period, we very slowly closed one of the doors so that he became used to being inside with a small gap to go in and out of. And, we made the crate a fun place by adding substrates, ropes to swing on, and of course he got treats when he went inside it.

Many guests ask the question: why do we send out our animal’s offspring when they grow up? The answer has to do with genetics. We do not want our animals to inbreed – they have very good systems of avoiding inbreeding in the wild, but here we have to help them. Matches that are genetically appropriate are made by the Species Survival Plan (SSP) and zoos all over the world carry them out by moving animals around. The orangutan SSP also looks at the behavior and personality of animals when they do their matchmaking, in addition to those all-important DNA traits.

Lynn blog 2
Solaris and Dara play outside

A keeper and a veterinarian from the Virginia Zoo came to the Houston Zoo three days prior to the shipment, so that they could get to know Solaris prior to his move. This is one of the important steps that most zoos like to take now to make sure that their animals don’t get too many surprises when they go off to a new home. Solaris was delighted by their company.

On May 1st, Solaris was calmly loaded into his crate, and we set off in a van to go to the airport. His main keeper Tammy went with him, and sat next to him in the truck as we headed off to the terminal. She was there nearby throughout the flight and then in the next van that drove him to the Virginia Zoo. She fed him various produce items, gave him drinks of water and juice, and handed him fabric that he would wrap around himself and play with during the trip. He always knew that someone familiar and friendly was with him during his travels.

When they arrived at his new facility, he was easily released from the crate and he began to explore his new digs. The Virginia keepers had set up a nice bedroom with places for him to swing, climb and rest. He could immediately see his new female friend “Dara” and within 3 days was introduced to her. They have bonded nicely and after passing their quarantine period are now going outside into a beautiful new outdoor enclosure which features tall sway-poles, hammocks and platforms, an expansive grassy area and a stream.
Lynn blog 1

Mom Kelly, in the meantime, is now acting more relaxed and playful than keepers have seen her in years, telling us that it really was time to “cut the cord” on this relationship. And, she has been reintroduced to adult male Rudi, whom she hasn’t visited with in twelve years. They have rekindled an old friendship which they’ve shared ever since the two of them were kids, and it was lovely to see them back together again. Come to the Wortham World of Primates to see this pair enjoying one another’s company once more!

A New Anole

Written by Monty Criswell

The Hispaniolan Giant Anole (Anolis ricordi) is a large anole that inhabits the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, which comprises the countries of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.  It is thought to be widespread throughout the island; however, the species has not yet been evaluated by the IUCN.  This anole is considered a “crown giant”, which means that it spends most of its time on the highest trunks and branches of trees.  Although not the largest anole species, the Hispaniolan Giant Anole can reach a size of 11-12 inches in total length and weigh 90 grams. Their diet mainly consists of a variety of insects and other invertebrates, but due to their large size, they can even prey on small vertebrates such as baby birds.  Another physical characteristic that sets crown giants apart from other anole species are the massive, casqued heads and spiky crests running down their backs.


All anole species have dewlaps, a longitudinal flap of skin under the neck, which can be extended and retracted and are usually a different color than the rest of the body.  Anoles use their dewlaps to ward off predators by making themselves appear much larger than they actually are, as well as for male anoles to attract females.  The baby Hispaniolan Giant Anole born at The Houston Zoo, the first to be bred here, hatched on Saturday, June 14, 2014, weighing only 2.5 grams.  These anoles are a uniform green color as babies and change to a dark reddish brown upon maturing. adult-anole-resizw

Wombats! Coming Soon to the Houston Zoo

This summer, not only are we featuring giant bugs and our all new Bug House, but there will also be a new mammal making its debut at the Houston Zoo: the wombat!

The wombat hails from Australia, and there are 3 types: the northern hairy-nosed, the southern hairy-nosed, and the common wombat. The Houston Zoo will be receiving two female common wombats from the Healesville Sanctuary in Australia, which is part of Zoos Victoria. There are only 6 zoos in North America that house wombats.

This is what a wombat looks like!
This is what a wombat looks like!

One of the reasons for this is that the permitting process can be quite extensive. It has taken nearly a year for the Houston Zoo to get through the process, and they haven’t even arrived yet! The curator of our John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo as well as one of our keepers in this area have traveled to Australia to meet our wombats,  and received important training on how to take care of them.

Wombats are marsupials, which means they are related to koalas and opossums, and they carry their young in a pouch. They behave a lot like prairie dogs or groundhogs, though, because they create burrows in the ground. A bony plate on their hind end helps protect them from predators when they are in their burrows – they stick out their rear for protection!

Speaking of the rear end of a wombat (bet you never thought you’d hear that phrase), probably the most interesting fact about them is that they literally poop cubes that look like dice – without the numbers, of course. Try throwing that little gem out at your next dinner party!

Did we mention that wombats are adorable? You probably noticed that from the photo above.

There are some important issues facing wombats in Australia. Because they are really good at digging, farmers often see them as pests. Wombats literally transform the landscape where they live – their tunnels can be 50-60 feet long…or more. And when you’re a farmer trying to plant crops, this can be particularly frustrating. There are ongoing efforts in Australia to educate farmers about wombats and to find ways to help them coexist without conflict.

The Houston Zoo is also contributing to conservation programs that help protect wombats. We have a long history in offering support for conservation efforts in Australia, mostly with koalas. We more recently have supported the Wombat Awareness Organization, Community for Coastal and Cassowary Conservation, and the Penguin Foundation Ltd. to assist with the Faerie Penguin Rehabilitation Project.

Stay tuned to learn when our wombats have arrived and when you can see them in their new habitat!

Thanks to Kevin and Ali in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo for the fantastic information contained in this blog!

The World Cup Mascot is a Three-Banded Armadillo – Meet Ours Named Tuck

Written by Casey Norra 

This is Tuck
Tuck & Soccer Ball
He is our Three-banded armadillo living in the Drylands “Desert” exhibit over at natural encounters. You might not always see him on exhibit, due to him being nocturnal, but every once in a while you can catch this guy running around causing trouble. Whether he is harassing the keepers in the morning while they are trying to clean, wanting to play with the Springhaas while he is trying to sleep, or simply trying to ram into the Ground squirrels for unknown reasons. With all that being said he is still a rather cool little guy. For instance he can roll up into a ball due to having the strongest abdominal muscles for any animal equal to size, trap air under his shell to make it across a river, or just walk hold his breath for five minutes and walk the river bottom. Also with being an armadillo means he totally digs bugs. Haha get it digs bugs…because armadillos dig and…moving on. Even though armadillos are known for digging holes for safety, the three-banded prefers hiding in bushes. This is because he always has his armor on his back.

With these few facts about Tuck and armadillos alike there is probably one thing you might have never guessed about him, and it’s that he loves soccer (Fútbol) and is rooting for the U.S. in this year’s World Cup. Even though his species comes from South America, he is rooting for our guys. Also the Caatinga Association, a Brazilian environmental NGO, launched in January 2012 a national campaign proposing the three-banded armadillo to become mascot of the 2014 World Cup. In March 2012, the Brazilian weekly, Veja, reported the three-banded armadillo would be the official mascot for the 2014 World Cup hosted by Brazil. Official announcement came in September 2012. So Tuck is really excited about this, you know with them vulnerable in the wild and stuff, It really lets people know these guys are out there.

Celebrate World Giraffe Day at the Zoo

Written by Kendall Thawley

The Houston Zoo is currently home to a family of nine Masai Giraffes. Few animals are as recognizable or as iconic as the Giraffe. Their impressive height makes them hard to mistake, even from a distance. This quintessential African species is loved worldwide for their beauty and grace.
giraffe face

It is currently believed that there is only one species of Giraffe worldwide, and it is listed as a species of Least Concern. This means that there is not a huge focus being placed on conservation work protecting Giraffes in the wild. However, among the one Giraffe species there are nine subspecies, and this is where research is needed. There is much debate about these subspecies; research is increasingly suggesting that some of the subspecies may not be different at all and that others might be actual species in their own right. It is important for us to know whether these subspecies are their own species or not. If they are, they will subsequently be listed as Endangered and enjoy the protection and conservation attention that comes with it.

Despite limited research and confusion regarding Giraffe subspecies, what we do know is this: Since 1998, Giraffe populations have declined by a shocking 40% across Africa. In some places the decline is as high as 65%. Poaching, disease, habitat fragmentation, and civil unrest are all posing serious threats to the future of Giraffes in the wild. Their natural habitat is being destroyed by humans clearing the land for agriculture and ranching. Domestic livestock transmit diseases into the Giraffe population. Indiscriminate use of wire snares by poachers results in fatalities as Giraffes get caught in traps meant for other animals.

giraffe in wild

Standing by idly as a species creeps towards extinction is a bad plan of action. Conservation efforts are needed now to ensure that Giraffes have a future in the wild. To aid in this, The Houston Zoo will be hosting a Giraffe Spotlight on Species on Saturday, June 21st. That Saturday will be the very first World Giraffe Day, established by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and celebrated worldwide by conservation institutions dedicated to protecting this amazing species. We will be having extra Giraffe Keeper Chats throughout the day and (as always) guests will have the opportunity to feed our nine wonderful Giraffes at the Giraffe Feeding Platform for $5. We will have coloring pages available for children (or adults who feel young at heart) and the chance to purchase Giraffe-themed merchandise, the proceeds of which will go directly to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

If anyone would like more information about Giraffe conservation or about World Giraffe Day, feel free to visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s website at http://www.giraffeconservation.org/ and we would love for everyone to come by The Houston Zoo on Saturday, June 21st to help us celebrate World Giraffe Day. If you cannot join us in person, feel free to visit https://www.houstonzoo.org/ for lots of information about Giraffes and to check out the Giraffe Webcams any day of the week to see what our herd is up to.

Clouded Leopard Cubs Born at the Zoo!

Friday, June 6 was an exciting day at the Houston Zoo as we welcomed two clouded leopard cubs to our family. The unnamed male cubs were born after an unassisted, one-hour labor.  After a healthy proclamation by our chief veterinarian, zookeepers began steps to hand-raise the cubs.  The cubs began successfully nursing from a bottle within four hours of birth.
Clouded Leopard Cubs
The cubs are a result of the first pregnancy for two-year-old Suksn who gave birth in a private den off-exhibit.  A few hours after their birth, the cubs were moved to the veterinary clinic to begin receiving 24-hour care by the zoological team. The pair will remain behind-the-scenes for several months while they continue to grow and thrive.
This birth is not only the first birth for Suksn, but also the first clouded leopard birth for the Houston Zoo.  This is also the first offspring for the cubs’ father, Tarak, also two years old.  Suksn and Tarak have been residents of the Houston Zoo since 2012.
Clouded leopards are vulnerable to extinction because of deforestation and hunting.  Since this animal is so rare, it is important to do everything possible to ensure the health and well-being of every clouded leopard born in the care of man. The current practice among zoos is to hand-raise all newborn clouded leopards.  Following best-practices from successful breeding programs like the Nashville Zoo and the National Zoo Breeding Facility, our keepers and veterinary staff are extremely well-equipped to ensure these cubs receive the best care possible.
About Clouded Leopards
The clouded leopard is unusual among the world’s cat species. They are the smallest of the large cats, have the largest canine teeth in proportion to their body size of any other cat species, and their coat is striking, yet so well blended for their habitat, that they are extremely difficult to see.
Named for its spotted coat, the clouded leopard and its habit has remained a mystery. They live in an area ranging from the foothills of the Himalayas down the islands of Sumatra and Borneo in Southeast Asia. They are under pressure from habit loss, poaching for their attractive coats and even the pet trade in a number of countries throughout Asia.
Clouded leopards excel at climbing; there are few cats in the world which can run up a tree, rotate their ankles to run down a tree headfirst or hang upside down from a tree limb using their long tails for balance. 

-Article contributors: Sharon Joseph, Beth Schaefer, and Sara Riger

Elephant Exercise at the Zoo

We take the health and well-being of our animals incredibly seriously at the Houston Zoo.  Throughout our Zoo, each of our 6,000 animals is constantly monitored by top veterinary staff and world-class keepers.  Each animal is on an individualized care program that includes specialty diets and targeted exercise.

For example, with our elephants it’s really no different than when a person goes to a gym to set up an exercise program. They each have a specialized, balanced diet of grain, produce, and hay that was developed with the help of nutritionists. We set goals for each of our elephants individually and design exercise routines for them.  Baylor and Tucker prefer the pool, so the keepers encourage them to swim every afternoon.  With Thai, our large male elephant, we play frisbee for added activity.  For Tess, we’ve designed a walking element as a part of her fitness and wellness program. And like humans, we evaluate the success of all of the elephant fitness/exercise programs and modify them as needed.


Tess’ walking portion of her fitness routine is brand-new as she is 6% overweight and veterinary experts have decided that she needs to lose the extra weight.  That’s like if a 200-pound man wanted to shed 12 pounds.  This is especially important for Tess because she is preparing for an exciting event.  Our Tess is pregnant!  The experts have also found good evidence that obesity is associated with difficult births, which can be caused by over-sized calves or ineffective labor.

The elephant staff has worked hard for quite a while to train Tess to walk in the habitat yard with the keepers encouraging her from outside the fence. And now it’s time to increase her distance. Tess needs the type of cardiovascular exercise that will increase her heart rate. It is thought that walking her at a brisk pace for up to two miles a day is what is needed to shed the pounds and keep it off through the duration of her pregnancy. Tess will be taken on her walks each day before the Zoo opens to guests.

Houston Zoo Sadly Announces the Passing of Two Animals

It is with great sadness that the Houston Zoo announces the passing of two animals – a leopard and a Grant’s zebra.

ivy release Ivy, the elderly female leopard, was humanely euthanized after discovering that her chronic bone and joint issues had reached a critical point. Ivy had been undergoing specialized treatment for her numerous joint and bone problems for the past three years. However, four days ago she started showing a severe increase in discomfort.  Today, our veterinary staff preformed x-rays and blood work and discovered that one of her front elbows had a break in it.  After reviewing all options, our veterinary and leopard experts decided that the most humane option was to euthanize her peacefully.



hatari-release-resizeHatari, our male zebra, was injured in an incident yesterday with one of his yard-mates whom he had lived with for several months without showing any aggressive behavior towards each other. After emergency veterinary intervention, the zebra did not survive his injuries.









Attwater's prairie chicks are here!

The Houston Zoo has already hatched 209 Attwater’s prairie chicks this Spring!

APC Eggs 2014-0001-2318

All of these guys have made it through to the next stage of their lives and will stay with us here at the Zoo until they are ready for release as strong juveniles into the wild!

apc april

Attwater’s prairie chickens are vanishing from the coastal prairies of Texas. It is estimated that less than 100 of these birds are left in the wild, so the Houston Zoo has breeding facilities both behind the scenes at the Zoo and at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to help revive the wild populations.  When the birds hatch and grow large enough, they are slowly introduced and then released into the wild, where they will support the already existing populations.

If you are inspired to give these chicks a stronger chance for survival, help them out by learning more, or even donating!

Not Your Usual Box Turtle

Photograph © National Geographic/George Grall

There is a turtle in the state of Coahuila, Mexico that doesn’t act like a regular box turtle.  This turtle is semi- aquatic.  It has the handy dandy hinges so that it can close itself up for protection but it spends at least as much time in the water as it does on land.  This turtle only lives in the Cuatro Cienegas Basin in Coahuila and inhabits permanent and seasonal wetlands.

An animal with a very restricted range is already more susceptible to extinction; add to that the fragmentation of their habitat due to manmade canals and wells and exotic invasive plants, and you have a recipe for disaster.  So as you can imagine, the Coahuilan box turtle is endangered.  We are happy to have them here at our zoo and after 65 days of incubation and weighing in at a whopping 4.8 grams, we are especially happy to announce the hatching of our newest baby-a Coahuilan box turtle!

baby turtle

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