The Giant Armadillo Project

Contributors: Arnaud Desbiez, Giant Armadillo Project; Renee Bumpus, Houston Zoo

When you visit the Houston Zoo, you may be lucky enough to see our 3-banded armadillos out and around with our zookeepers.  We love our armadillos and are committed to helping their species in the wild. The Houston Zoo values its ability to be a voice for species that very few people have ever even heard of. The armadillo family has one of those members in great need of help called the giant armadillo.

Giant Armadillo

Millions of years ago South America was dominated by giants such as the gigantic ground sloths which could reach over nine feet long and weigh more than 750 pounds, or gargantuan heavily armored glyptodonts which could reach the size of a small automobile. Today, these giants are all but gone. However, almost forgotten by science, one species reminiscent of this amazing past still exists: the giant armadillo. Although much smaller than their prehistoric relatives, a 70 pound armadillo can still be very impressive.

Arnaud Desbiez has been dedicating his life to studying these amazing creatures about which very little are known. He started the Giant Armadillo Project in Brazil with a main goal to investigate the ecology and biology of this species and understand its function in the ecosystem.

One of the great discoveries of the project was the role of giant armadillos as ecosystem engineers (organisms that create or modify habitats). Our research in the Brazilian Pantanal shows that giant armadillo burrows are an important shelter and thermal refuge to over 25 species ranging from tiny lizards to large collared peccaries. Giant armadillo burrows offer an important refuge from extreme conditions (temperature in the deep burrow is a constant 750f) and their role may become more important as impacts from climate change increases.

Another big discovery of the project was documenting the birth and parental care of giant armadillos. We discovered that the gestation period is 5 months and they only have 1 young at a time which requires constant care and nursing for a minimum of 6 months!

Giant Armadillo Release

Giant armadillos are naturally rare throughout their distribution and are becoming even rarer because of human impacts. Due to their low population densities and low reproductive rates, they can rapidly disappear locally. Habitat loss and hunting are the main threats to the species. They may also be targeted by collectors for their giant middle fore claw. Other impacts contributing to the decline of populations include fire and being struck by vehicles on main roads.  Finally, the fact that few people know of their existence is a threat, if no one knows about an animal, who will protect it? Giant armadillos can go locally extinct without anyone noticing.

Giant Armadillo ClawThe Giant Armadillo Project provides training to the next generation of conservationists. They also work hard to educate the local community so that giant armadillos become ambassadors for biodiversity conservation and integrate the project into local and national conservation initiatives.

The Zoo is saving Giant armadillos in the wild by:

  • Assisting by providing promotional and educational materials for their outreach initiatives
  • Providing a salary for a local Brazilian biologist employee to assist with research and conservation

You can save Giant armadillos in the wild by:

The Action For Apes Challenge Has Begun!

Do you want to win a painting done by the gorillas (arriving soon!), chimpanzees and mandrills at the Houston Zoo and  help save these species in the wild?

If you answered yes, then the Action for Apes Challenge is for you!

The Action for Apes Challenge is a competition between Houston area schools, organizations, and businesses to see who can recycle the most cell phones. The group that recycles the most cell phones before April 30, 2015 wins a painting done by the gorillas(after they arrive, of course!), chimpanzees and mandrills at the Houston Zoo!
Chimpanzee painting

Want more information? See the neatly organized questions below!

Who can participate? Anyone who wants to save animals in the wild. Anyone who wants to win. Anyone who wants artwork painted by apes. Anyone with old cell phones and other electronics like GPS equipment, cameras and MP3 players.

How do I participate? First register online at https://www.houstonzoo.org/action-for-apes-challenge/. Then, start collecting cell phones! A box will be sent to you that you can use for the cell phones you collect, or you can decorate your own box. In order for your cell phones to be counted, they must be postmarked on or before April 30, 2015. Don’t worry, you don’t have to pay shipping; a mailing label will be sent to you.

Is anything other than cell phones accepted? Yes! This year we will accept cell phones, smart phones, MP3 players, iPads and other tablets, handheld gaming devices, GPS, wifi hot spots, and digital cameras. All of these will be counted in your total! We also accept electronic accessories such as chargers, blue tooth headsets, earbuds, etc., however these items will not be counted in your total. But you should still send them so they can be recycled instead of ending up in a landfill!

How will I find out if I win? We will announce the winner via email to all participants in mid-May. The winner will also be recognized on Facebook, Twitter, and the Action for Apes webpage.

How does recycling old cell phones help save animals in the wild? Materials found in cell phones and other handheld electronic devices are mined in areas such as the African Congo, which happens to be where animals like chimpanzees, gorillas, and okapis live. When the materials are taken from animal habitats to be used in electronics, the homes of chimps, gorillas, and okapis become disrupted and these animal populations decrease. If you recycle your old cell phone and other electronics, then the materials can be reused instead of getting new minerals from the ground and further endangering these animals.
Coltan_diagram

Want to get started? Just visit our Action for Apes website and fill out the registration form!

Questions? Contact conservation@houstonzoo.org.

The Houston Zoo is Protecting African Painted Dogs in the Wild!

The HoP. Dog029083uston Zoo loves its African Painted dogs and is committed to doing whatever we can to save them in the wild!  We partner with organizations that work tirelessly to ensure the protection of painted dogs in Africa and we strive to enhance their incredible work by providing many forms of support.

Next week we will be providing training for a Zimbabwean African painted dog researcher at the Houston Zoo.  MK is a conservationist from a local community in Zimbabwe employed by an organization called Painted Dog Research.  He will spend time with our veterinary staff and facilities staff to strengthen his skills and knowledge in animal care and construction.  He needs to have a good understanding for animal care when he is assisting other researchers with darting (shooting a dart that delivers a sedative) and providing medical care to wild painted dogs.  A solid understanding of construction will allow him to assist his team at Painted Dog Research and local communities with maintenance and building.  MK is on the front lines saving painted dogs and the Houston Zoo is proud to enhance his efforts.

MK with other researchers in the wild
MK with other researchers in the wild

One of the serious threats that faces painted dogs in Africa is being entangled in wire traps that are intended for animals like antelope.  The dogs get caught in them when they chase their prey. It is sort of like dolphins getting caught in tuna nets- the traps are not actually intended for the dogs like the nets aren’t intended for the dolphins.

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Painted Dog Research have used radio tracking collars  to follow the dogs for over 20 years and have witnessed numerous mortalities from the wire traps.  They designed a specialized tracking collar with a metal plate that provides some protection for the throat and neck from the wire, but staff at Painted Dog Research believed the design could be improved to be even more effective.  They approached the Houston Zoo for assistance with a new idea to give further protection to painted dogs.

Pack

Our skilled staff take pride in their work to save wildlife.  Our facilities team jumped at the opportunity to design clips that could be attached to the tracking collar to protect the dog’s necks from the wire.   They created several prototype collars with various sizes and styles of the clips to be tested on trained domestic dogs.  The testing will  reveal an effective and safe design that can hopefully be produced this year.

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A protective clip design for tracking collar
Collar
Collar prototypes with two different clip designs.

You can save animals here in Texas from being trapped in plastic traps that can be just as deadly as the wire traps the dogs face.  When plastic bags or plastic six-pack can holders end up in our environment, animals can ingest or become entangled in them.  Use canvas bags and remember to cut every hole of those six-pack can holders to save animals in Texas!

Every time you visit the Zoo you save animals in the wild.  Thank you! A portion of your admission makes it possible for us to protect wildlife from extinction.

Sabinga's Updates: The Houston Zoo Staff Conservation Fund

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Sabinga collecting marine debris in Galveston

The Houston Zoo is excited to welcome a new intern who comes to us all the way from Kenya, in East Africa. Sabinga is in the United States participating in the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP). The Community College Initiative Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Northern Virginia Community College onbehalf of the Community College Consortium (CCC) in partnership with Houston Community College. While participating in this program, he will join us at the zoo as an intern to learn all about what a modern-day zoo is like! Sabinga is already part of the conservation community as he has been working with Save the Elephants in Kenya for over 8 years. He will be documenting his experiences at the Zoo and we will share his thoughts with you here on our blog! Stay tuned for more! I joined the Houston Zoo as an intern in November 2014 in the conservation department, precisely under Renee Bumpus – Conservation Programs Manager. I understood the work of the Houston Zoo from Renee Bumpus with other accommodating and professional employees (Martha – Conservation Education Coordinator, Elyse – Conservation Coordinator, Ryan – Interactive Marketing coordinator and many more). They assisted me in everything I know, and Renee is fortunately not tired of me. She is my mega star on this matter I must say! She is constantly providing information according to Houston Zoo policy that an intern needs to know, to do and to learn. It’s a timely internship according to my school major and makes me feel on cloud nine (extreme happiness). On my internship I attend many meetings and workshops, join teams in the field, assist several departments according to schedule given. I extremely enjoy all of them, but I became tongue-tied by Houston Zoo Staff Conservation Fund.

SCF_with_tagline Staff Conservation Fund is a program where Zoo employees donate a portion of their hard-earned wages to conserve wildlife. The program provides funds for Houston Zoo staff to use to carry out programs to save wildlife. The program seeks to provide opportunities and resources for any Zoo staff member to become involved in conservation efforts and increase and strengthen the connections between Houston Zoo staff and conservation projects that help conservation, education, research, community outreach and allow staff to implement conservation initiatives on or off the Zoo ground, targeting those species, places and issues that need critical attention, or where the effects of the Staff Conservation Fund can have the greatest, widest impact. The Houston Zoo’s staff are pioneers on this Staff Conservation Fund Program that began in 2004 as a mechanism for staff involvement in conservation and saving wildlife. No other zoo in the United States operates such a successful program; it’s mind-blowing and heart opening in conservation.   This flourishing Staff Conservation Fund is well structured with a committee comprised of 11 staff members.  4 permanent positions on the committee are the conservation department; remaining 7 positions are from both animal and non-animal departments and rotate after 2 years terms. There are some successful projects that were funded by Staff Conservation Fund like Barton Spring Salamanders, Houston Toad Research, Marianas Islands Project, Painted Dog Rehabilitation Center Training and 22 other projects funded since the start of the program. To mention one, Lisa Marie – Veterinary Hospital and Animal Nutrition Manager at the Houston Zoo, applied for the Staff Conservation Fund and was awarded. She traveled across borders all the way to Africa to save painted dogs in the wild-an endangered species. She has done a marvelous job on assisting Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe to set up the new research laboratory, expand the project and use acquired parasitology skills to collect data on painted dogs by sampling scat for DNA, stress and reproductive hormones, prey hair analysis and now working together with the Houston Zoo Veterinary Clinic on basic parasitology. This entire project was funded by the Staff Conservation Fund. It’s unique in its conservation mission and yields unquestionable positive results and sheds light on conservation projects like Painted Dog Conservation.

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Lisa Marie training staff at Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe

The Save the Elephants organization in Kenya where I work has an almost matching program developed by field team and adopted by organization, called the Community Outreach Program. We have the Community Outreach Program because Save the Elephants is trying any way possible to win the battle against poaching of elephants. One example of an effort under the Community Outreach Program is reforming some of the notorious poachers to be conservationists and protectors of the wildlife. The battle is by no means won, but through Save the Elephants ever-growing Community Outreach Program, we see less elephants being poached. The Community Outreach Program is the project that Save the Elephants staff is doing outside of their normal daily activities; outside of our normal work to ensure animals are safe in the wild. This is very similar to the Staff Conservation Fund at the Houston Zoo, where employees take on work outside of their daily activities to make sure animals are safe in the wild. This is very encouraging program and big thumbs up to Houston Zoo staff, we need to follow their steps, it’s true time to set things right, enough for ourselves, for the wild we must fight, protect their kind, we have taken enough, now it is time to give and remember extinction is forever, we must act now, time is running out.

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Sabinga at an ivory burning in Kenya

Monkey & Ape Weights: Our Need to Know

Annie-WeightZoos all over the world now regularly weigh animals under their care. How does one weigh a huge orangutan or a tiny tamarin? Well, training your critter to sit on a scale is the first part, and patience is the second part. Oh, and a nice treat as a reward is the last (and best part) as far as our subjects are concerned.

Why do you suppose we need weights, anyway? Well, non-human primates have the same tendency as human primates do to gain excess weight and develop chronic diseases as a result. And, geriatric animals tend to drop weight – making sure that we are on top of weight loss is very important. In addition, medication dosages are based on body weight, so to be sure that our animals are getting a correct dose is vital.

Rudi-Weight
Rudi gets weighed sitting atop his bench.

We have scales that are specially built to weigh the smallest to the largest animal in the zoo. Our orangutans have a special platform built on top of their scale that they sit on so that all body parts stay on the scale: when you have long arms, they need to be on the scale and not on the floor to get a proper weight. So, Rudi (pictured) is sitting on that bench on top of the scale. He and all of the other orangutans receive juice for sitting on that bench long enough for the keeper to read the weight, which is in “the brains” of the scale sitting outside the mesh. His current weight is 121 kilos, which is 266 pounds. This weight is recorded in our daily documentation which goes to the veterinary clinic for review.

Roberto getting weighed.
Roberto getting weighed.

Roberto is the Pied tamarin in the next photo, and he is one of our older fellows who we need to weigh frequently to be sure he doesn’t lose too many grams in any given week. He is trained to sit inside a small nestbox which is perched atop a gram scale. You’ll notice he is sticking his tongue out at his keeper…this is a tamarin insult and his equivalent of saying “I am the boss of you!” in monkey language. Once the treat of a fat, juicy wax worm was delivered, he stopped tongue flicking and swallowed his delicious prize. If he did lose weight, primate managers could propose a diet increase to bump him up again.

Weighing our animals is just one small part of excellent husbandry that takes place at the Houston Zoo, and our keepers take pride in making sure this is done regularly – and they always make it fun for monkeys and apes.

Record Attendance in 2014!

baby-okapiAttendance at the Houston Zoo exceeded the previous year’s attendance mark by nearly 10 percent in 2014 with 2.38 million guests. In 2013, the destination welcomed 2.16 million guests.

Additionally, in its third year, the growingly popular TXU Energy presents Zoo Lights ushered in a record-breaking 298,554 visitors. That broke the previous record of 213,703 visitors in 2013.

“As we continue to delight and educate millions of guests, we are able to share our passion for animals with both Houstonians and visitors from around the world,” said Deborah Cannon, Houston Zoo’s CEO. “Our mission is simple, we aim to provide a fun, unique, and inspirational experience fostering appreciation, knowledge, and care for the natural world.”

Zoo officials expect 2015 to be another banner year with the opening of Gorillas of the African Forest Memorial Day weekend. The intricately designed space will hold two groups of western lowland gorillas who will spend their days alternating between an outdoor habitat filled with lush landscape that mimics an African forestand a multi-tiered night house that includes private bedrooms, an artistic 23-foot-tall climbing tree, and a behind-the-scenes outdoor yard.

“The tremendous support from our Houston community not only provides us with the funds to continue to improve the zoo, but allows us to truly make a difference in our goal of helping to save animals in the wild here in Texas and around the world,” stated Cannon.

The zoo’s continued evolution is part of a long-term plan for the nearly 100-year-old establishment. Also part of the organizations plan is an ever-increasing focus on wildlife conservation. With programs spanning the globe, the group is intently focused on solving word-wide issues pertaining to wildlife in need. While donations to the zoo’s conservation efforts are still being calculated for 2014, early results show that facet of the organization will also exceed previous years.

The Gift of Grub Helps All Year Long

2014 was an incredible year of growth here at the Houston Zoo. We welcomed many adorable babies such as our okapi calf, Miraq. Baby Okapi No 2014   Along with our new babies, many animals rely on specialized diets that we work hard to provide. Our Gift of Grub campaign, which supports the care and feeding of our more than 6,000 animal residents, received enormous support this year in 2014. We wanted to take a minute to sincerely thank all those who contributed to our Gift of Grub campaign. Your donations make a huge difference and we are very grateful. Thank you! Additionally, we were both flattered and thrilled when our partner, TXU Energy, announced that they would once again match every Gift of Grub donation up to $50,000 total! Since 2010, TXU Energy has doubled the impact of our donors through this matching gift challenge. More than 1,300 donors joined TXU Energy by contributing over $107,000 and counting to the 2014 Gift of Grub Campaign! Grub-banner Even though it may be redundant, here it is one more time: Thank you TXU Energy, and thank you to all those who gave the Gift of Grub!

Sabinga's Updates: How Saving Elephants is Like Saving Sea Turtles

Sabinga-Profile-ResizeThe Houston Zoo is excited to welcome a new intern who comes to us all the way from Kenya, in East Africa. Sabinga is in the United States participating in the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP). The Community College Initiative Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Northern Virginia Community College on behalf of the Community College Consortium (CCC) in partnership with Houston Community College. While participating in this program, he will join us at the zoo as an intern to learn all about what a modern-day zoo is like! Sabinga is already part of the conservation community as he has been working with Save the Elephants in Kenya for over 8 years. He will be documenting his experiences at the Zoo and we will share his thoughts with you here on our blog! Stay tuned for more!

It was Friday morning, I just reported back after Christmas and New Year break from my internship in the Houston Zoo, was the second day of January 2015. This day was planned last year for me to join Martha Parker (Conservation Education Coordinator) and Marketing team (Christine – Marketing Director, Shayla – Promotions Coordinator, Lauren – Marketing Coordinator, and Mary Kate– Marketing Coordinator) to travel to Galveston to visit NOAA’s sea turtle barn, the clock was ticking 11:01 am it’s time to go. We quickly get the big group ready to go. Christmas and New year stories occupied the air, each individual sharing their Christmas exciting memories, from beautiful Christmas trees full of sparkling, glittery ornament, sounds of giggling, toys blurring through the house and many more stunning detailed stories. Abruptly the stories were cut short because we had to go, six of us left “Oohing” and “Aaahing” Christmas season stories never stop, six of us continue chatting and laughing with joy! While Martha was driving and concentrating on the road, she kept contributing to the stories too, in about 30 minutes on the road, silence took control. I knew I didn’t contribute or tell my stories of my Christmas season, I knew it was my time! I didn’t know how to start my story of Christmas, so I asked Martha if I had told her about watching an NBA basketball game. Her exciting response it gave me energy to narrate was a nice story too, and I added more sweetness by showing pictures on my phone! By that time we were close to our destination.

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It was noon and one of us suggested if we can eat lunch before visiting the barn. It was the best suggestion and went unopposed, so we went to a restaurant, very nice and clean, looked like a museum with drawings and sculptures around the walls. We sat on one table, everyone served his or her favorite, and we enjoy our lunch like family in every aroma and every bite!  After lunch we headed to NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) sea turtle facility.

11NOAA is an agency that enriches life through science. Compound was not big, I might be wrong to estimate, but no matter the size it has much in it, it’s home for more than 400 turtles. It has big storage tanks you might think it’s for Oil storage and vessel but no-it’s just for circulation of water from the sea to more than 400 turtle pools so they feel they are in the sea!

22Question is why Houston zoo involved? Because the sad fact of the matter is that sea turtle populations around the world are plummeting. So they are getting to the heart of the matter to protect these vulnerable creatures. To involve protecting the adult and baby turtle is not just an important thing to do, it is also a step in the right direction to preserve this species for generations to come and protecting sea turtle is not only an act of compassion, it reinforces a necessary link in the fragile chain of our earth ecosystem. When humankind is in harmony with the wildlife on the land and in the sea the benefits are far reaching – we are all connected, that is why Houston zoo assists sea turtle efforts on the Texas Coast by partnering with organizations like NOAA, Moody Gardens, Sea Turtle Restoration Project, Texas A&M Galveston, among many others. The zoo provides staff expertise and resources to assist sea turtle efforts. These include staff to assist in weekly beach surveys, graphics assistance in designing sea turtle awareness signage for local beaches, and medical care and rehabilitation for injured sea turtles by our veterinary and aquarium staff. Experience the thrill of helping to save endangered sea turtles, when you go on a turtle tour, we saw four species of the sea turtles include Kemp’s Ridley, Hawksbill, Green and Loggerhead.  We learned a lot and I found many things related to work of Save the Elephants in Kenya.

33Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) is an amazing technology where it allows sea turtles to escape the back of the fishing trawl, while still capturing small animals like fish and shrimp. This is where zoo and government work with the community on saving sea creatures, where members of the community are part of conservation. The same idea where Save the Elephants works closely with the community by making them involved with conservation and be proud of their wildlife. An example is our beehive fence, where farmers use beehive fences around their farms, where bee sounds and stings scare elephants away before they can destroy crops. Also farmers harvest honey, thus reducing the conflicts between elephants and farmers.

Also Save the Elephants’ text message technique was best to bring community to conservation where farmers receive a text message from collared elephants telling them which way the elephants are coming including the time and date when elephants about 500 meters from the farm. This also makes the community to feel involved and part of conservation.

After the tour in turtle burn we head back, this time the stories in the car are different, all of us processing and remembering what we learned, some asking questions not because they failed to ask them at the barn but because it helped remind us what we learned. It reminded me of school where we always discuss what we learn, this is showing that everyone has the heart of conservation, besides their normal work.

What’s near and dear to our heart is cooperative conservation, and knowledge sharing can make the difference between survival and extinction, that’s why we inspire others to remain motivated and work together towards building and maintaining a winning team!

Let’s join hands to work together, so we can win this battle against extinction!

Guest Blogger Carolyn Jess Talks About Houston Zoo Crew

Carolyn-Jess-2014-ResizeWe have invited Carolyn Jess back to help us out as guest blogger in 2015 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. Carolyn was awarded the Alban Heiser Conservation Award in 2014, presented to her by Jack Hanna. If you would like to contact Carolyn or have comments, you may send them to conservation@houstonzoo.org.

 




If you are between the ages of 13 to 17 and have a passion for animals, then the Houston  Zoo’s teen volunteer program, Zoo Crew, might be the perfect  opportunity for you!  Zoo Crew is a volunteer program where you get a chance to learn more about animals, how to protect them, and the day-to-day operation of the Houston Zoo.  You first have to apply for a position and go through an interview process.  It is great experience and helps to guide you in the right direction for your future career.

When you apply, there are three different areas you can choose from, which are:  theater, education and Camp Zoofari.  After you turn in your paperwork by the due date and go through the interview process, you will get emailed whether you were accepted and which position you got.  You then choose the three weeks you can work.  Zoo Crew starts June 1st and ends August 7th.  It is very important to show up for your assigned weeks because lots of people, and animals, are depending on you.

Emma-Zoo-Crew

When you work Zoo Crew, everyday is always different!  Whether you are working with the younger campers, teaching the public about animal facts, or performing skits for Zoo guests to teach about conservation, every day is something new.  I worked in Theatrical Interpretation and had a lot of fun.  No matter the job, there is so much information to learn and to pass on to everyone you come in contact with.  I would love to tell you a typical day at Zoo Crew, but there really is no typical day.

I will be honest, the first day I was very nervous.  I applied for Theatrical Interpretation because I have experience in theater.  Despite my experience, I was still was not quite sure what to expect.  But, the group leaders were there to help with the daily schedule and expectations.  My three weeks that I worked were lots of fun and went by way too fast for me.  I was able to learn lots about the animals and I also made some really good friends those weeks.  Most importantly, my group was able to teach a lot of people about animal conservation.

Zoo Crew is an experience that any teen wanting to help animals should try.  It helps you to learn not only about animals and what it takes to operate a zoo, but you learn more about yourself too.  You get more confidence in your abilities, make new  friends, and Zoo Crew helps you learn more about a zoological career.

Applications for Zoo Crew are online now! You can find the Zoo Crew Application here.  Good luck and I hope to see you at Zoo Crew.

Skunk Works Out in Giant Wheel, Gets Fit

Lily the skunk was getting a bit round in the middle, and one of our amazing Houston Zoo volunteers came up with an ingenious solution – a giant wheel for her to jog in! Check out her workout:


When Lily was about a year old, keeper Stephanie Turner noted she had begun to put on a bit of weight. In addition to making healthy changes to her diet, she pondered a few ways for her to get more exercise. Volunteer Matthew Griffiths came up with a wild idea that had never been tried; a giant exercise wheel. If hamsters like running in wheels, why not skunks? Matthew had constructed a few items before as part of his volunteer work caring for zoo animals, but nothing this complex, and nobody was sure if the skunk would use it. Everyone was enthusiastic about the possibility, and Matthew spent several weeks designing and building a prototype.

The finished wheel is a combination of metal and 3D-printed plastic. Stephanie and Matthew set it up in Lilly’s room, and her natural curiosity took over – she hopped in to investigate. She grasped almost immediately how the wheel worked, and started regular walks and the occasional jog.

Lily’s enthusiasm for the wheel was so great that she wore out the original hollow shafts supporting the wheel; Matthew quickly replaced them and a few other small parts with sturdier pieces. The revised design has held up for more than six months of skunk workouts.

The best news is that Lily reached a healthy weight by the end of the summer, and has kept the weight off. Matthew is contemplating additions to the wheel such as a mile counter, and he’s pondering what other animals might enjoy a giant wheel to run in – mongoose wheel perhaps?

You won’t see Lily on exhibit in the Children’s Zoo; she’s a handling animal that comes out for the occasional Keeper Talk in the Children’s Zoo or a show at the Butterfly Stage. Her room and remarkable exercise wheel are tucked away in a private spot behind the scenes.

Houston Zoo volunteer Matthew Griffiths poses with exercise wheel he constructed using 3D printed parts for Lily the skunk.
Houston Zoo volunteer Matthew Griffiths poses with exercise wheel he constructed using 3D printed parts for Lily the skunk.
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