Baby De Brazza’s Monkey Makes First Appearance!

New baby
New baby!

There are 91 De Brazza’s Monkeys at 31 zoos in the North American Species Survival Plan (SSP) managed population. Of all those, we believe we have one of the cutest individuals, in the form of the baby that was born on the last day of 2013. It has been fascinating to watch this kid’s development and coloration changes. Rupert …or Ruby… has gone from an astonishing brilliant golden color to the nearly adult pelage of the parents in the past six months. On those two names: we haven’t been positively able to see if the baby is male or female so we are leaving the question open until we are sure. (Whenever we get close enough to get a good look, the baby jumps into mom’s arms and she runs off, making a closer inspection impossible.) So, Rupert or Ruby it is until we get a look or we do the baby’s first physical exam, which usually occurs sometime around a baby turning one year old.

At 4 months on prop JPG
4 months of age

At six weeks of age a lovely white beard and mustache appeared on the infant’s face, but the golden color of the fur remained. We began to see the baby getting off mom and tottering around for small jaunts at this stage. At seven weeks of age the infant started eating kale and peas, which were picked up very delicately with tiny fingers and chewed contemplatively.  At eight weeks we documented the face getting somewhat darker, and at nine weeks he or she really starting to locomote around with much more confidence. At four months old baby was clinging to mama much less and climbing around and had graduated to eating lots more solid food. By five months, the facial coloration of an adult De Brazza’s monkey but the body fur was now a rust color.

 

 

At 6 months
6 month photo

Now, at the age of six months, the baby has developed into a mini-me of his mother and father and is very independent and starting to behave like a typical baby monkey, with all of the hijinks that go along with that: climbing, hanging upside down, swinging with great abandon, and generally just having fun.

Ruby being groomed by mom. Photo credit Tyler Kirchoff
Ruby being groomed by mom. Photo credit Tyler Kirchoff

This trio can be seen at the Wortham World of Primates in a newly renovated exhibit: go just past the patas monkeys and mandrills up on the elevated walkway and you will find them. They have a thickly planted exhibit so they may be a challenge to find at first, but have patience and wait – you will be rewarded with the sight of a beautiful new baby and a proud set of parents!

Telling Success Stories – Saving Animals in the Wild

Telling success stories is really not what the media does best. There are many out there but my email box is overwhelmed daily with people sending me wildlife related news content – really bad news related content. In just one day, I received the following  links for me to take a look at.

Great apes face extinction says conservationist Jane Goodall http://news.yahoo.com/great-apes-face-extinction-conservationist-jane-goodall-135038678.html

Rare Pangolins May Be Eaten to Extinction, Conservationists Warn http://news.yahoo.com/rare-pangolins-may-eaten-extinction-conservationists-warn-172120049.html

Poachers threaten new slaughter of South African elephants http://news.yahoo.com/poachers-threaten-slaughter-south-african-elephants-160710660.html

DSC_0333

How can we even try to inspire people to learn about the people working around the world to save wildlife when all we really see are articles depicting a crisis scenario? And the problem is, these articles are the truth – these really are crisis scenarios.

Although we need to work harder to reduce these losses and turn the tide in favor of wildlife, there really are a number of programs making positive gains to protect animals and their habitat.

This spring in Botswana, work began to identify and capture black rhinos from South African protected areas and transport them to neighboring Botswana, where they will be released to secure habitat in the Okavango Delta. Black rhinos were effectively “poached” out of Botswana and classified locally extinct there by 1992.

So this year, six black rhinos were collected from Kruger National Park, held in bomas, and then air-lifted by the Botswana Defense Force to their new home. More than a month later, an additional 10 rhinos (four males and six females, including two calves) were collected from South Africa’s Northwest Parks and similarly transported to Botswana.  The project is a collaboration between the International Rhino Foundation, Wilderness Safaris, and the governments of South Africa and Botswana, and is supported largely through grants from the Tiffany Foundation, Houston Zoo, Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, the Leiden Foundation, and other donors.

Loggerhead Sea Turtle release-Galveston Bay
Loggerhead Sea Turtle release-Galveston Bay

Closer to home, you have heard us talk about local work to protect sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and in just this year alone, we have worked closely with our colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to treat and return 53 sea turtles back to the wild.

In East Africa, partners are working in Mozambique at the Niassa Lion Project and in Tanzania at the Ruaha Carnivore Project to make a difference for not only wildlife but all the local communities that need to live day-to-day with the potential conflict between large predators and their livestock. These projects are absolutely making a difference and seeing positive signs of change. These are just a very small sample of the great working going on around the world.

DSC_0306

We should not need to go out and look for signs of hope and a future for wildlife but the media makes it difficult some times to see through the tragedies. The world’s population is going to continue to grow and with it the need for more and more natural resources and in all this, there are solutions for both wildlife and people. We just need a little hope and to support the people who have dedicated their lives to making a difference.

Go to https://www.houstonzoo.org/saving-wildlife/ for more on these and other programs.

Velasquez Elementary in Richmond, TX worked with the zoo to support Lion Fun Days in Mozambique
Velasquez Elementary in Richmond, TX worked with the zoo to support Lion Fun Days in Mozambique

Naked Mole-rats: The Super Heroes of the Animal World

What can feel no pain, is impervious to cancer or Alzheimer’s, and can chew through pretty much anything in a single bound? The naked mole-rat! These little creatures aren’t the prettiest to look at, but they are possibly some of the most fascinating—and superhero like—animals around.

Meet the naked mole-rat!
Meet the naked mole-rat – our super hero!

When a naked mole-rat begins life, he pretty much looks the exact same as he does when he’s an old man – wrinkly, pink, and well…naked. Just tinier. You’ll notice whiskers around his mouth that act as sweepers to push away dirt, as well as teeth that are meant for digging.

You could say naked mole-rats have two mouths, in fact – one for digging, and one for tearing up food, which mainly consists of fruits, veggies, and roots. This is convenient, because the live in massive underground networks, so roots make a lot of sense as food. They are able to close their “second” mouth, the eating one, when digging their tunnels.

Mmm, snacks! Naked mole-rats love fruits, veggies, and roots.
Mmm, snacks! Naked mole-rats love to eat fruits, veggies, and roots.

It’s hard to compare a naked mole-rat to much else in the animal kingdom, but their social structure definitely works like a beehive. Everyone has a role in the colony and it is highly organized. There is a queen of the colony, and if that queen dies, everything falls apart and the other females engage in a fight to the death until a new queen is chosen. That new queen will morph into a baby producing machine, too – her hormones cause physical changes that make her spine actually arch upward so she can hold more babies!

Because they live so far underground, naked mole-rats can survive with little to no oxygen. It’s a good thing they can tunnel well, because their main predators are ground-dwelling snakes. These animals aren’t endangered, but they can be a nuisance to farmers trying to grow crops. Or, if you take it the other way, the farmers provide much excitement for the mole-rats, giving them a steady and consistent banquet!

At the Zoo, we create tunnels for the mole-rats so they can feel right at home!
At the Zoo, we create tunnels for the mole-rats so they can feel right at home!

So if you live underground and it’s pitch black (and your eyesight isn’t that great anyways), how do you tell your friends from your enemies? Smell, of course – and not the best smell either. Naked mole-rats build latrines where they all go to the bathroom, and then they roll around in the latrine so they smell like well…let’s just say the rest of the colony.

At the Zoo, we’ve got 48 naked mole-rats in our Carruth Natural Encounters building, along with other species of mole-rat like Damara mole-rats, another species that is much bigger and much less naked. You can’t miss them when you visit, because there’s a gigantic mole-rat sculpture above their burrows!

The Damara mole-rat: not quite so naked
The Damara mole-rat: not quite so naked

Have mole-rat mania and can’t wait to learn more? Visit us in our Natural Encounters building and ask us about them – you haven’t even heard the half of the crazy facts about these guys.

Thanks to Casey Norra, Zookeeper in Natural Encounters, for sharing his passion about mole-rats and giving us this fantastic animal information!

Keeper Profile: Memory Mays – National Zoo Keeper Week Series

From July 20-26, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be an animal keeper. Be sure to follow along with our keeper profile series during this great week celebrating zookeepers!

Keeper Profile: Memory Mays

Hi Memory! Tell us a little about yourself. Since we’re always asked what it takes to be a zookeeper, can you give us some details about your journey to the Houston Zoo?
Hi! I’ve been employed here for a little over 2 years now. I received a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a Minor in Chemistry from University of Houston. The Houston Zoo is, so far, the only zoo I’ve worked at. I even volunteered here as Zoo Crew when I was 13 years old. And even then, I volunteered in the Hoofstock Department. I love hoofstock!

What is a typical day like for you?

Every day at 7 a.m., we start our day with a morning meeting where we all discuss the day’s upcoming events and projects that need to be done. After that, the team splits up to go to their assigned sections. This is when I say ‘good morning’ to all of the animals that I get to work with and check to make sure everyone was comfortable over night. Then, it’s time to prepare foods and distribute them to everyone and give medications to any animals that need it. After that comes the most time-consuming part of the job. Cleaning. We clean the exhibits, let the animals out onto exhibit, and then we clean all of our barns, dishes, tools, and much more. The afternoon is normally spent working on projects and, my personal favorite, animal training sessions.

What would you say is the part of your job that you enjoy the most?

My absolute favorite part of being a zookeeper is spending time with the animals and learning all of their funny little quirks. Just like people, animals have personalities and some of their quirks are really funny.

What is the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of the job is definitely the fact that we work outside in the Houston weather. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, scorching hot, or on rare days…freezing; you’re going to see us zookeepers out there taking care of the animals, making sure they are happy and comfortable. Even if that requires us to sweat a lot, or wear 5 layers of clothing, we do it because we love what we do.

What is one thing you want visitors to know about being a zookeeper?

It takes a long time before you can call yourself fully trained as a zookeeper. In some other jobs, you go through a 4-week or 6-month training period. I’ve been here for a little more than 2 years now, but I’m still learning new things every day.

Do you have any good stories to share?

One very cold winter day, my co worker and I decided to give the rhinos and greater kudu antelope some natural enrichment. Enrichment involves different items, scents, or props we use to encourage the animals to use behaviors they would use in the wild. For this day, what we had in mind required one of us to climb into the rhino mud wallow and smear mud all over a barrel. Guess who drew the short straw… yours truly! After 15 minutes in the very cold mud wallow with mud up to my elbows, we hung the barrel up and left the exhibit. As we let the animals out on exhibit, we anxiously watched to see if they would play with it… Guess what happened. Nothing! All of the animals walked right by the barrel without a second glance.  That’s what happens sometimes when you put out enrichment items. That’s OK though because we got a good story and some funny pictures out of it!

Keeper Profile: Kelly Pardy – National Zoo Keeper Week Series

From July 20-26, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be an animal keeper. Be sure to follow along with our keeper profile series during this great week celebrating zookeepers!

Keeper Profile: Kelly Pardy
Kelly picture

Hey Kelly. Tell us a little about yourself. Since we’re always asked what it takes to be a zookeeper, can you give us some details about your journey to the Houston Zoo?

No problem. I work in the bird department, and I’ve been at the Zoo for almost a year. Before the Houston Zoo, I spent some time at the Minnesota Zoo, Northeastern Wisconsin Zoo, and the International Crane Foundation.

 

What does a typical day look like for you?

We start off with feeding all of the birds and cleaning all of the exhibits. After our morning routine, we have “rounds,” which involves the whole bird department getting together to talk about what’s happening in each separate bird section (e.g. eggs laid, medical notes, general observations).  After rounds and lunch – human lunch, that is – we feed out the rest of the food – bird food, that is – to the birds.  The rest of the day is pretty variable.  We generally work on projects (re-perching, extra cleaning, records, etc.), and we do keeper chats.  Red-crowned cranes, laughing kookaburras, and king vultures are the particular chats that I present.  At the end of the day, we pull all the food, clean the dishes, and lock up until the next day when we start all over again.

Whats the most enjoyable part of your job?

I love working with a wide variety of species because it facilitates a great learning environment.  I’m always observing new behaviors, different interactions, or even just researching general life histories about the birds which may be currently unfamiliar to me.

And the hardest part of your job?

Being from Wisconsin, which has more defined seasonal changes, the Texas heat has been a huge adjustment for me.  I’m getting used to it, but I still have a long ways to go!

What is one thing that you would like visitors to know about being a zookeeper?

Working so closely with animals is an amazing experience, but there’s a lot more to the job than that.  It’s a lot of hard work and most people do it because they are incredibly passionate about the animals with which they work.

Any good stories that you can share?

One thing that I’m really excited about is our golden-breasted starlings.  We haven’t had any golden-breasted starling eggs hatch at the Houston Zoo for nearly 30 years.  This summer, we’ve had 3 chicks hatch and all have fledged from the nest!  They can all be found together in Birds of the World.  Stop by and check them out!

 

Keeper Profile: Jeff Bocek – National Zoo Keeper Week Series

From July 20-26, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be an animal keeper. Be sure to follow along with our keeper profile series during this great week celebrating zookeepers!

 

anegadaKeeper Profile: Jeff Bocek
Hi Jeff. Tell us a little about yourself. We’re always asked what it takes to be a zookeeper, so can you give us some details about your journey to the Houston Zoo?
I’ve been a part of the Houston Zoo team for about one year and eight months. I currently work in the herpetology department, and my favorite animal is the crocodile monitor. Before the Houston Zoo, I worked at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.

What does a typical day entail for someone working in herpetology?
My mornings are spent cleaning, feeding, and performing general husbandry duties. Afternoons are usually spent maintaining equipment and completing ongoing projects.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
The favorite part of my job is designing new exhibits and training our lizards for husbandry tasks.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
The most challenging (and also most interesting) part of my job is staying on top of the knowledge one needs to have about animal natural history and staying meticulous when it comes to venomous snake handling.

Any good stories? 
I’m pretty proud that through training one of our Anegada Island iguanas, I was able to use a target pole to get her onto a scale. A target pole is simply a stick with a little red ball at the end. Without lots of training sessions and dedication, it remains just a stick. But, by working a little bit each day, I taught her to recognize that the target pole was an invitation to move where I wanted her to go, and I would reinforce the good behavior with treats. This makes getting weight measurements much easier!

Keeper Profile: Lucy Dee Sheppard – National Zoo Keeper Week Series

From July 20-26, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be an animal keeper. Be sure to follow along with our keeper profile series during this great week celebrating zookeepers!

rudi1

Keeper Profile: Lucy Dee Sheppard

Hey Lucy! Tell us a little about yourself. We’re always asked what it takes to be a zookeeper, so can you give us some details about your journey to the Houston Zoo?
Absolutely! I work with primates here and I’ve been at the Zoo for the past 6 years. Actually, the Houston Zoo was my first job and I even interned here before I was hired as a keeper.

What can a primate keeper expect to experience in a typical day?
The answer… a lot? You ready for this? Here we go.

Each keeper is assigned to one of our 7 animal sections every day, or as our dietitian. Starting at 7 a.m., we meet with the whole department to discuss what’s going on that day and share news from across the sections. From 7:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., we prepare diets and make the rounds. During the 8-9 a.m. hour, we clean our exhibits, put out enrichment items(objects or certain types of food to stimulate minds and encourage natural behaviors) and deliver breakfast outside. Then, it’s time to shift the animals onto their exhibits. From 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., we clean the indoor night-house areas and put additional enrichment inside for when the animals come in at night. During lunchtime, we feed our animals – some examples of food could be plant material browse (leafy branches), primate biscuits, or ice treats. After all the primates have had their lunch, the primate keeper team eats – usually between 1 and 2 p.m. The late afternoons are spent providing more food to our animals and working on some animal training sessions. We may also work on projects like exhibit maintenance or making complex enrichment.  Afternoons are also a great time for meetings due to the busy mornings!

What’s the part of your job that you enjoy the most?

I love to work with animals on training behaviors.  Primates are very intelligent and they can be taught a number of different behaviors.  The behaviors we teach them help us with husbandry.  A good example of this would be teaching our chimpanzees to present specific body parts to us. This allows us to check legs, arms, and hands for any scrapes or notable marks so we can be sure everyone stays healthy and happy.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

The hardest part of my job is when an animal passes away.  We work with our animals every day, often spending more time with them than we do our own families. Because of that hard work, along with our access to amazing veterinary resources,  most of our animals live long and happy lives into an old age. However,  that doesn’t make it any easier when it is time for them to go.

Any good stories you can share with us?

I think one of my fondest memories from my time here so far was an interaction I had with Solaris, the Bornean Orangutan.  Orangutans are very intelligent and know individual keepers and have a different relationship with each of us.  Once, when Solaris was outside on exhibit, there was a huge crowd of people at the orangutan viewing window.  I passed by and Solaris caught my eye.  I went up to the window and put my hand on the glass.  He ran right up and put his hand exactly on the same spot on the opposite side.  This showed me not only how smart they are, but that we were friends!

 

Spotlight on Zookeepers

Zoo Keeper Mandy trains Houston Zoo elephants Shanti and Baylor
Zoo Keeper Mandy trains Houston Zoo elephants Shanti and Baylor

On Saturday, July 19, the Houston Zoo will be celebrating a different kind of Spotlight on the Species.  We will be spotlighting Zookeepers for Zookeeper Appreciation Week!

The Naturally Wild Swap Shop will be participating in the day’s festivities too!  Any nature report, journal or project brought in about animal care will receive DOUBLE points.

cynthia
Zoo Keeper Cynthia working with a tapir

Need some ideas?  What do you think a typical day is like for a Zookeeper?  What things have you seen the Zookeepers doing to take care of the animals here?  What things do you do to take care of your animals at home?  Do you know what animal enrichment is?  How do the Zookeepers provide enrichment to the zoo animals?  Do you provide enrichment for your animals at home?  What conservation programs are Houston Zoo keepers involved in?

Zoo Keepers taking the Flamingo chicks for a walk
Zoo Keepers taking the Flamingo chicks for a walk

Come join in on the festivities and the kids can earn double points in the Swap Shop.  Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more info.

 

Zoo Keepers Celebrated During Honorary Week

cheetah walkThe Houston Zoo employs more than 150 Zoo keepers who passionately care for the animals at the Zoo. This week, we’re celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week and we’ll be posting daily keeper spotlights right here on the Zoo Blog. From designing enrichment programs and overseeing medical care to cleaning exhibits and implementing positive reinforcement training, our keepers do everything it takes 365 days a year to care for our animals.

At the Houston Zoo, our keepers have a variety of backgrounds and interests and we hope you’ll enjoy getting to know a few of them all-week-long. You’ll also learn a little about their daily routine, including some tasks you might not know a keeper does. For instance, did you know that every day the elephant keepers use a giant tractor called a skid steer to help them scoop 2,000 pounds of poop out of the elephant yard? And that’s just from overnight! Also, the Zoo employs seven keepers whose sole job is preparing all the food for our animals. Each day this crew arrives at 4 a.m. to chop, bake and wash all the food for the Zoo. They even chop 25 pounds of salad mix every day just to satisfy the growing appetites of the endangered Attwater’s prairie chicks.

Our keepers even provide round-the-clock care for the animals in extreme circumstances. If a hurricane is barreling toward Houston, keepers are an essential part of the Zoo’s ride-out team who ‘ride out’ the storm at the Zoo to keep the animals safe. Keepers also stay close-by 24/7 waiting to assist in the delivery when a giraffe is preparing to give birth. And if keepers have to hand-raise an animal, they share overnight duty to make sure the newborns are fed and monitored.

It takes a lot of hard work and an equal amount of passion to be a Zoo keeper. Next time you’re at the Houston Zoo, help us say “thank you” for all that they do.

National Zoo Keeper Week is celebrated each year beginning on the third Sunday in July. During the week, zoos nationwide honor animal care professionals and the work they do in animal care, conservation, and education. There are approximately 6,000 animal care professionals in the United States.

 

 

Keeper Profile: Stephanie Mantilla – National Zoo Keeper Week Series

From July 20-26, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be an animal keeper. Be sure to follow along with our keeper profile series during this great week celebrating zookeepers!

 

Keeper Profile: Stephanie Mantilla
Steph-Bug-Resize

Hi Stephanie! Tell us a little about yourself. Since we’re always asked what it takes to be a zookeeper, can you give us some details about your journey to the Houston Zoo?

Sure! I have actually been at the Houston Zoo for three years now and I work with our carnivores. I hold a B.S. in Biology and Environmental Science and I have lots of experience working with animals. Before I came to Houston, I worked at the Brookfield Zoo for three years, Virginia Aquarium for two years, and held internships at the Cosley Zoo, Racine Zoo, and The Wildcat Sanctuary in Sandstone, Minnesota.

 

So what does a typical day look like for you in the carnivore department?

I come in at 6 a.m. and our entire department has a morning meeting to plan out the day. After that, I’ll go to my section and we begin to work on training sessions with the animals that I care for (Willow the black bear cub, Mattie the lion, Tarak the clouded leopard, and Haley the cougar). This helps us maintain the relationships that all keepers have with their animals. It takes a lot of hard work to establish trust with an animal. Our next task it to shift our animals around so we can monitor diets and at this time we’ll also administer any medications if necessary. Next, it’s cleaning the exhibit areas, then more shifting to get the group on exhibit and even more cleaning the inside areas that the animals just left. Enrichment is an important part of the day so I’m always sure to spend some time working in various enrichment to the routine. We’ll do keeper chats and/or lion and tiger window tours depending on the day. And guess what…. all of this happens before lunch! The afternoons tend to be a little quieter, and we typically work on things like developing future enrichment ideas, training exercises, and finishing projects.

What would you say is your favorite part of working at the Zoo?

For me, it’s seeing animals up-close every day. It’s also very rewarding to watch our animals develop behaviors after working tirelessly on our training sessions.

What would you say is the hardest part of your job?

It has to be the weather! From freezing winters in Chicago, to the humid heat of Houston, we’re out there all the time, all day long.

What is one thing you want visitors to know about being a zookeeper?

Being a zookeeper isn’t just playing with animals. Nearly all zookeepers have at least a bachelor’s degree, some master’s degrees. If you’re interested in becoming a zookeeper, it’s important to pay attention in school and get good grades.

Do you have any good stories you can share with us?

Sometimes, Shasta the cougar likes to play a game before he will shift to our inside areas. Cougars enjoy stalking their prey, so if Shasta can see us inside our building, we’ll turn our backs to him. When we turn back around to face him, he will be closer but frozen in a different position as he stalks closer to us. It is like a more intense version of “red light, green light.” Don’t worry though, we’re not in Shasta’s area. We’re in a safe spot so Shasta can enjoy the chase, and we can enjoy providing some enrichment that mimics natural behaviors.

Stay tuned for more interviews with our fantastic keepers!

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

[youtube_channel]