Attend Zoo Boo & Learn How to Help Animals in the Wild!

Our annual Zoo Boo event is a Houston favorite…costumes, candy, zoo animals, tatzoos, you name it-we have it! But did you know that this event includes incredibly fun activities for kids and families to help save animals in the wild?!

Visit us at Zoo Boo this year and learn how you are helping the Zoo to save animals in the wild!
Visit us at Zoo Boo this year and learn how you are helping the Zoo to save animals in the wild!

Zoe the Zookeeper’s Howlerween Adventure has been part of Zoo Boo for many years now, calling attention to how howler monkeys are doing in the wild and highlighting how our Primate Staff have helped secure a future for these primates in their natural habitat. This year, this interactive section of Zoo Boo has been expanded to include activities, games and information about all of the rehabilitation and release programs the Houston Zoo is involved in. This means you can learn about how we rehabilitate and release sea turtles and howler monkeys, as well as breed and release Attwater’s prairie chickens and Houston toads!

On this fun adventure (located next to Duck Lake) you’ll learn how to keep a sea turtle’s home clean, what food a howler monkey should eat, where the Attwater’s prairie chicken lives in the wild, and how Houston toads communicate! You may even be lucky enough to get a special surprise if you complete all 4 activities! Not only is this fun, it is another way for you, our guests and members, to learn how you are helping us to make a difference for animals in the wild. Without your continued support we would not be able to do what we do for howler monkeys, sea turtles, Houston toads, Attwater’s prairie chickens and many other species. So, thank you! We hope to see you at the last weekend of Zoo Boo!

Kids enjoying the Zoe the Zookeeper's Howlerween Adventure activities at Zoo Boo!
Kids enjoying Zoe the Zookeeper’s Howlerween Adventure activities at Zoo Boo!

Zoo Boo will be open October 25 & 26 from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

The Cameroon Stumptail Chameleon

Did you know that dwarf chameleons have a very unique way to deter predators and rival chameleons? They vibrate like a cell phone!

At the Houston Zoo, guests can see a pair of male and female Cameroon stumptail chameleons inside the Reptile and Amphibian House. The pair came to the Zoo under tragic circumstances just one year ago.  In October 2013 the Zoo’s herpetology department received the two chameleons from a United States Fish & Wildlife confiscation.  During the raid, more than 500 of these tiny chameleons were confiscated from someone attempting to illegally import them into the pet trade in the US. These animals came into the United States in despicably poor condition, severely dehydrated and overcrowded.  Of that original 500, only around 50 animals survived to be sent to different AZA accredited facilities.  The pet trade and habitat loss due to illegal logging are the major threats to the survival of this and many other species.


This is a very small species of chameleon reaching a staggering length of 2-2.5”.  Stumptail chameleons have a very short lifespan of only 1-3 years on average.  They live in evergreen to semi-evergreen wet forests of Western Africa.  Typically, this species will lay 1-2 eggs up to six times a year.  It takes 45-100 days for the hatchlings to emerge.

Once at the Houston Zoo after a brief stay in the Veterinary quarantine holding building they made their way to the Reptile and Amphibian building.  Almost one year to the day of their arrival, our first baby stumptail chameleon was born on exhibit with mom and dad. This little one is only 3/4″ long and a mere 0.4 grams! We hope this is the first of many to come!


Zoe the Zookeeper's Adventure

This post is written by Houston Zoo Aquarist Amy Trang.

If you have ever visited Kipp Aquarium here at the Houston Zoo, you may know we have a sea turtle in one of our main exhibits. But what you might not know is these sea turtles are being rehabilitated and will be released back into the ocean when they are healthy! I am here to tell you the process of how this happens…

Sea turtle
Green sea turtle at the Kipp Aquarium.


The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) facility in Galveston responds any time there is a report of a stranded or injured sea turtle. A few reasons a sea turtle might get stranded is an injury from a hook or fishing line, missing flippers, caught in sargassum that has washed ashore, or stressed due to the cold in winter months. NOAA staff will bring any turtle needing medical attention to our veterinary clinic. If space is available in Kipp Aquarium, we are given a turtle to rehab while on exhibit for the public to learn about these awesome creatures!

Our main goal when rehabilitating a sea turtle is to make sure it is eating and growing. Most turtles we care for just need a safe place to gain some weight, giving them a much higher chance of survival. In the wild, a green sea turtle is primarily herbivorous as an adult, therefore each day the sea turtle eats lettuce in the morning, which we spread throughout the exhibit so the turtle can forage for itself. Most of the weight gain will come from the turtle receiving some sort of protein (shrimp, capelin fish, and squid) in the afternoon. The turtles receive monthly weights and measurements to ensure it is growing. To give you an idea, the green sea turtle we rehabilitated from June 2013 to May 2014 came in weighing about 6 pounds and when released weighed over 25 pounds! We usually have them for about a year before they get released. When our veterinarian and NOAA staff agrees that they are at an optimum size and the temperature of the Gulf of Mexico is warm enough (usually May or June), we will prep the animal for release. The sea turtle will have its measurements taken one last time and will be given pit tags. Pit tags are a means of identification for an individual sea turtle.

Pit Tag being placed in a sea turtle before release.
Pit Tag being placed in a sea turtle before release.

If a turtle becomes stranded, a handheld scanning device can be placed over the area where a tag was inserted and will read a code that can identify this turtle. If no code appears, this turtle has not been stranded before. Pit tags don’t track the turtle, but allows NOAA to know if they have seen the turtle if it becomes stranded again.
One last crucial aspect of the release is the location. The release location depends on the species of sea turtle and what its primary diet is. A green sea turtle would be released on the bay side of Galveston Island because this is where seagrass, a green’s main food source, is plentiful. We would release a kemp’s ridley sea turtle on the ocean side of the island, however, because its primary diet is crabs and that is where crabs are more common. Then we drive out to the island, let them go and say good luck!

Sea turtle being released by Houston Zoo staff.
Sea turtle being released by Houston Zoo staff.

We love successfully rehabbing sea turtles each year and returning them to the wild. We hope you enjoy learning about these amazing animals!
If you ever seen a stranded or injured sea turtle, please call 1-866-TURTLE-5 to report it!

Be sure to stop by “Zoe the Zookeeper’s Adventures” on Fridays October 10, 17, 24 from 9am-1pm and on Saturdays and Sundays October 11 & 12, 18 & 19, 25 &26 from 9am-4pm to learn more about these efforts and to participate in some fun activities.

There’s More in That Chocolate Than You Think

Halloween is right around the corner, which means lots of candies and chocolates for me to eat trick-or-treaters. You’re probably familiar with the idea that some ingredients in our food might not be healthy for humans. But what if some ingredients pose a danger to animals?

Palm Oil – Oil Palm…What?
Halloween-candyI’m going to give you a quick lingo lesson to make this a little easier to digest. Two terms you’ll read are “oil palm” and “palm oil”. Seems like they should mean the same thing, right? For the sake of discussion, we’ll say that “oil palm” is referring to the African oil palm tree, and “palm oil” is referring to the actual oil produced from the fruit of this tree. Lingo lesson over. You passed.

Palm oil is in everything. Ok, it’s not in everything, but the oil that comes from the fruit of the African oil palm has made its way into a staggering amount of products. You can find palm oil in products such as candy, cosmetics, soap, packaged food, and it is often used as cooking oil across the world.

There’s a good chance that you’ve already come in contact with palm oil today. The oil palm grows exceedingly well in tropical climates like Malaysia and Indonesia which are in Southeast Asia. This palm is so efficient that 1 acre of oil palm trees can produce more oil than 4 acres of other similar vegetable oils.

Sounds great. What’s the catch?

DeforestationHere’s where we’re at: 1) Grows great in tropical climates, 2) Useful in everything from food to cosmetics, and 3) Its yield is so high that no other oil producing plant even comes close to matching it. Seems like a miracle crop, right? Unfortunately, this miracle has been quiet a nightmare for wildlife in areas growing oil palms. Because of its benefits, the global demand for palm oil has caused devastating levels of deforestation in order to clear land for new palm oil plantations. These plantations are made by clear-cutting or burning huge amounts of forest, running off (and sometimes, killing) the animals, and planting one species of tree – oil palms. Make no mistake, these plantations have one purpose and it is to produce as much palm oil as possible, in the shortest amount of time. Replacing large areas of rainforest with palm oil plantations reduces the habitat of orangutans and creates significant consequences for animals that rely on this sensitive ecosystem for survival.

Here’s why you should care:
Some of the products that you consume every day have an ingredient that’s obtained by taking away the homes of animals. There’s a very high probability that something you ate today came from an area that used to host wildlife like orangutans, and now exists only as a plantation for palm oil. Take a minute and let that sink in. Orangutans, tigers, pygmy elephants, and rhinos suffer immensely from habitat loss created from establishing oil palm plantations. Without a change, the future of both the animals and the forest is grim.


It’s not all bad news.
When I was first learning about palm oil, I felt guilty that I’d been buying all this palm oil stuff and didn’t even know what it was. If this is all new to you, don’t fret. Take comfort in the fact that many people don’t know about this issue, but now you do, and you can be a hero for change.

If you really look at it, palm oil isn’t the problem. The issues stem from the people and processes that go into its production. That doesn’t mean that we should stop buying anything with palm oil in it. Although boycotting seems like an easy fix, it’s unrealistic to think that the world would stop using the most efficient oil producing plant ever discovered. Oil palms are here to stay, and rightly so. Instead of boycotting, we should support changes to the industry that protect wildlife and hold producers accountable.

RSPOThere are already a growing number of people and companies who are working to harvest palm oil in ways that reduce impacts on the environment. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a group that is looking to transform palm oil production by certifying companies and people who follow special guidelines that protect wildlife. These certifications will help consumers become better informed on what they’re buying. We’ll be able to tell which companies have made changes and want to source their palm oil from suppliers that are operating sustainably.

Here’s what I’m asking you to do: spend just 5 minutes to read more about palm oil. Take five small minutes while you’re sipping coffee or playing on your phone and learn something that you didn’t know before.

Need a place to start? Here’s a jumping off point:
Association of Zoos and Aquariums – Palm Oil Position Statement
Starbucks and Sustainable Palm Oil
Nestle’s Commitment to Traceable Sustainable Palm Oil
Dunkin’ Donuts Commits to 100% Sustainable Palm Oil by 2016
Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil


Also, visit the Houston Zoo to learn more about this issue. During Zoo Boo, we are offering candy made with sustainable (zero-deforestation) palm oil. Swing by your favorite animal’s habitat and see how we are working to save animals in the wild!


Guest Blogger Carolyn Jess Talks Giraffes

We have invited Carolyn Jess back to help us out as guest blogger in 2013 with a focus on native wildlife. Jess is a 13 year old student who has agreed to be our special guest blogger about wildlife conservation. We first met Carolyn in October 2011 when she came out to the Zoo to meet our special guest Jack Hannah. If you would like to contact Carolyn or have comments, you may send them to

Have you heard of The Call of The Wild Speaker series at The Houston Zoo?  The Zoo has many important people who work directly with endangered or threatened animals and has them speak in the evenings at the Brown Education Center.  The speakers are people who have a passion about the wildlife they work to protect and share a lot of their knowledge with their audience.  The speaker series is open to anyone who wants to come. All you have to do is just sign up on the website.

I recently got to listen to Julian Fennessy at the Speaker Series talk last month.  He is the Executive Director of Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) and he is very passionate about giraffes.  He shared some information with us about giraffes that I was not aware of.

I always pictured there to be plenty of giraffes roaming the savannas of Africa, but I discovered that is not exactly true.  Giraffe populations are falling very fast and there are many reasons for that.  The first reason is poaching.  I never thought that someone would actually poach a giraffe, but they are actually another source of bush meat that is often sold illegally in markets.  Giraffes are actually easy to hunt because they  pretty much stand still and glare at the threat before they run away.  This makes them easy targets for poaching.  Some people believe that giraffe hair is lucky, so their tails are cut off to get the hair to make bracelets and jewelry.

Another threat to the giraffes is loss of their habitat.  Many times the land the giraffes live on is clear cut for agriculture and to harvest lumber, which causes the giraffe to have to move elsewhere, but they are running out of space to move.


What Julian and his group do is study the giraffes and their movements.  This is not an easy task, so one way to do this is to attach a satellite tracking collar to the giraffe’s neck.  Julian explained that this is a tricky thing to do, but through hard work and taking some time, the tracking collars are placed on the giraffes.  The Giraffe Conservation group tracks the giraffes’ movements using GPS units.

The Giraffe Conservation Fund is working hard to protect the giraffes in Africa.  Through educating the public and the people who live and work around the giraffes in Africa, our giraffes will have a chance at survival.  You can help the giraffes too by telling others about the giraffe issue and donating your used GPS devices to the Houston Zoo.  Just drop them into the cell phone recycling box beside the entrance to the guest service office at the entrance of the Zoo.  They will send them to the GCF to help track the giraffes’ movements in the wild.  Every time you visit the Zoo you help save animals in the wild!

Zoe the Zookeeper's Adventure

Houston Zoo keepers are very passionate about conservation efforts concerning a variety of animals! One of the awesome aspects of working at the zoo is the opportunity to assist with rehabilitation and release efforts for some of these animal species.

During the month of October, guests can learn about four of the rehabilitation and release programs that Houston Zoo staff have had had the opportunity to work with by participating in “Zoe the Zookeeper’s Adventures”. Each Friday, we will also highlight one of these programs in this blog.
The first amazing animal we are featuring is the Howler Monkey!Howler Monkey Female-0001

There are several species of howler monkeys that can be found in forests throughout Central and South America. One of the most distinctive features of the howler monkey is their territorial call, which is where the name “howler” monkey comes from. This call can be heard from over 2 miles away. They actually have an enlarged hyoid bone which is what enables them to produce this call.

Another cool feature of the howler monkey is that they have a prehensile tail. This basically means that they can use their tail like a third hand! This is really helpful for the howler monkey since they rarely come down to the forest floor and spend all their time in the trees. Being able to hold on to branches with their tail allows them to use their hands for other important tasks like picking leaves and fruit to eat.

Howler monkeys, like other primates, do not make good pets. Having a howler monkey as a pet can be harmful for both the people and the monkeys involved. Houston Zoo primate keepers have traveled to Belize the last three years to assist ‘Wildtracks’ in its program to rehabilitate confiscated ex-pet howler monkeys. Once they have been integrated into a group and mastered the skills needed to thrive in the wild, they are then released and monitored in an area of protected forest.


Be sure to stop by “Zoe the Zookeeper’s Adventures” on Fridays October 10, 17, 24 from 9am-1pm and on Saturdays and Sundays October 11 & 12, 18 & 19, 25 &26 from 9am-4pm to learn more about these efforts and to participate in some fun activities.

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