Guest Blogger Carolyn Jess is Back to Talk About Ocelots

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


If you have read my other blogs, you can see that ocelots mean a lot to me.  They are beautiful yet elusive and are quickly disappearing from their natural scrub land habitat in south Texas.  Habitat loss and highways are making this mysterious animal almost nonexistent.  Last year, two ocelots were hit by cars on highway 100.  The concrete barrier between the roads caused the ocelots to get trapped and confused.  The loss of these ocelots is devastating because it  diminishes the breeding population and shrinks the genetic diversity. But, I have some exciting news!  The Texas Department of Transportation is planning to install FOUR highway wildlife crossings for ocelots this summer.  These crossings are built to go under the roads so the ocelots can travel safely without crossing the busy streets.  The barriers work by having fencing up to block the animals from crossing the highways and funnels the animal down to the tunnel under the road.  This was done in Florida to help their panther population and has been successful.

Hearing this news and knowing that people are trying to make a difference for our Texas ocelots shows that there IS hope for our ocelots and people are aware of their situation.  This is a huge step in ocelot conservation.  This is how conservation works!!

By teaching and telling others about our endangered species, you can get the knowledge out there.  That knowledge spreads quickly!  Texas Department of Transportation is helping the ocelot stand a chance at surviving and YOU can too!  Spread the word about endangered species like the ocelot.  There are many ways you can help, but being aware is the very first step.  Next, find something you can do to help.  I had my annual fundraising for the ocelot and just sent my donations over to researchers at CKWRI – they work directly with the ocelots in south Texas.  You can even adopt an ocelot  on the Laguna Atascosa website. Be an advocate for the animals.

From the Wild: A Close Partnership All the Way From Rwanda

Written by: Valerie Akuredusenge

Hi! My name is Valerie Akuredusenge, the Program Director of Conservation Heritage – Turambe, (CHT). I grew up in Gakenke District in the Northern Province of Rwanda. I began my journey in wildlife conservation as a tour guide, leading others through the dense rainforests of central Africa. I facilitated influential conservation experiences for tourists by bringing them up close and personal with some of the world’s most amazing wildlife.

As my love and appreciation of this wildlife grew through those experiences, I knew I needed to share this excitement with the local communities living alongside animals like mountain gorillas.  I joined Art of Conservation in 2006 and became a leader in conservation education. I have taught over 2,800 children in communities bordering Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park about how to maintain healthy lives for the continued prosperity of the local communities and gorilla populations as well. Additionally, I am creating the next generation of Rwanda’s wildlife conservationists by inspiring local students to care about their natural resources, and act on behalf of wildlife and habitats.

CHT Staff, Left to Right: Innocent, Eric, Oliver and Valerie. Photo credit of CHT.
CHT Staff, Left to Right: Innocent, Eric, Oliver and Valerie. Photo credit of CHT.

In 2013, I became the Program Director of Conservation Heritage – Turambe, an off – shoot of the very successful international non–profit organization called Art of Conservation that worked in Rwanda for over 6 years conducting conservation and health awareness programs in Musanze District, Rwanda.

Conservation Heritage – Turambe is local non-profit organization based in Musanze District in the Northern Province of Rwanda. CHT works with local communities bordering Volcanoes Natinal Park home to the critically endangered mountain gorillas.

Since 2013, CHT has worked as a local non-profit organization in Rwanda. In Kinyarwanda, Turambe translates to “let us be sustainable”.   All 7 of the CHT staff members are Rwandan and committed to continuing the important and inspiring work that was done by AoC previously.

The goal of CHT is to educate local communities near Volcanoes National Park to ensure they live in harmony with mountain gorillas and their habitat. CHT believes that disease transmission between mountain gorilla populations and human populations is a major threat to gorillas. To make sure the lives of mountain gorillas and that of human populations next to the park is in balance, CHT conducts year – long after school conservation and health awareness classes in communities near the Volcanoes National Park, home to mountain gorillas.

Students living close to mountain gorillas learn about this critically endangered species. Photo credit of CHT.
Students living close to mountain gorillas learn about this critically endangered species. Photo credit of CHT.

To be able to do it, the CHT team and I utilize different methods to deliver conservation and health messages to local communities.  Art is a great tool we use to help spread our messages and also make our program more unique.

CHT Artist Eusebe teaches local kids about mountain gorillas using artistic methods. Photo credit of CHT.
CHT Artist Eusebe teaches local kids about mountain gorillas using artistic methods. Photo credit of CHT.

Through our classroom programming, CHT teaches over 200 local schoolchildren about conservation and health. These conservation lessons instill in students an understanding and compassion of nature and wildlife. Local community members are also encouraged to stay healthy because the health of wildlife is linked to that of people.

CHT students learn staying healthy messages like how to wash their hands and how to brush their teeth. Photo credit of CHT.
CHT students learn staying healthy messages like how to wash their hands and how to brush their teeth. Photo credit of CHT.

CHT’s work also improves local livelihoods through different initiatives. We conduct tree-planting activities to prevent soil erosion, provide animal habitat and create beautiful green space. We also donate water tanks to schools to ensure water availability.

Additionally we do community outreach through our local schools by conducting conservation and health awareness classes to remote schools.  We host annual events including the 3k Gorilla Fun Run to increase gorilla awareness with communities and partners and we host annual tennis tournaments to raise awareness of CHT and mountain gorillas, and how to stay healthy.

At the very end of our year long after school programming, we host a very big event – Parents As Partners’ Open House – to share with our partners, local authorities, parents of kids and participants of our program what we have achieved during the year and celebrate!

To achieve our goal, we also partners with different conservation organizations including the Houston Zoo. One of the Houston Zoo missions in the protection of mountain gorillas is to make sure they are safe in wild and partner with conservation organizations.  In this context, CHT is really honored to be have Houston Zoo staff here for a one-month visit.  Houston Zoo staff is incredibly helping my staff and me in capacity building where she has been assisting, coaching, teaching and training and inspiring us on how best we can improve our way of planning and improving our documents.

Together with her expertise, the CHT team including me have gained a lot of experience in strategic planning, evaluation, writing documents, and many more.  In addition to capacity building, Houston Zoo has been a very close partner of CHT. They have been sponsoring CHT’s staff salaries, project development, raising funds for CHT and marketing the project. We are very fortunate to be with their staff member, Martha, who is really making us strong readers in conservation to be able to reach our goal.  My staff and I cannot wait to use what we learnt from the Houston Zoo.

Science Made Simple: How’d That Fish Get On Your Plate?

My name is Ryan and I love science. Join me as I try to make tough science a little less confusing.

Follow along as I research the issues, untangle the mess, and figure out what you really need to know to help animals and the environment.


Today’s Topic: How’d That Fish Get On Your Plate?


 Short Version: The way that seafood is caught matters. Overfishing has drastically reduced the amount of fish in the ocean. Supporting practices that encourage sustainable fishing and harvesting will improve the health of the ocean, allow marine populations to recover, and ensure that seafood stays on the menu.

Confusing Science: “More than 80% of the world’s fish stocks are considered fully exploited or overexploited (FAO, 2012) and the global marine fish catches have stabilized around 80 million tons annually since the early 1990s (FAO, 2012). However, the effort spent to catch fish has steadily increased after the catches peaked (Anticamara et al., 2011), and the fishing fleets have expanded toward deeper and more remote fishing locations (Swartz et al., 2010)” (Emanuelsson et al., 2014).

What That Really Means: To put it plainly, people love seafood. Whether it be shrimp, halibut, Bluefin tuna, or one of many other fish species, we’ve all got our favorite seafood choice. Unfortunately, to put these fish on your plate, many species are being overfished. Overfishing means that the fish are being taken out of the ocean much faster than they can reproduce. Even though more and more commercial fishermen are out on the oceans, the total amount they catch isn’t increasing. This is a good example of overfishing.

Confusing Science: “Ecosystem health and human health are closely connected and interdependent (Fleming et al. 2006). Therefore assessing and promoting sustainability requires a focus on both ecosystems and people, and active participation and commitment by the latter” (Micheli et al., 2014).

What That Really Means: If we don’t pay attention to how seafood is caught, many different types of fish will not only disappear from our menu, but also from the ocean. Luckily, there is a growing movement that is working to keep the ocean healthy by fishing sustainably. Fisherman and companies that provide seafood can make changes that will ease up on the pressure we’re putting on the ocean and allow fish populations to increase. However, if the average person doesn’t show that this issue is important, there’s not a reason for companies to make a change!

Confusing Science:  “Generic seafood sustainability labels may not convey sufficient meaning to compel action, since consumers may fail to connect their purchases to contributing to a more sustainable fishery” (Gutierrez & Thornton, 2014).

What That Really Means: You can tell if seafood has been harvested sustainably by reading labels in restaurants and the supermarket. That’s important because as more people buy fish that was caught or farmed in environmentally responsible ways, we as consumers can show commercial fishermen and companies that we want to protect the oceans while still enjoying seafood.

What Can YOU Do?: You can help in the most deliciously simple way. All you have to do is eat or buy sustainable seafood. Next time you are buying seafood in a restaurant or in the grocery store, take 1 extra minute to read labels or ask if the fish was responsibly harvested. Promoting these environmentally friendly practices will allow us to keep a healthier planet and ensure a future for marine life! For more details on sustainable seafood, be sure you check out Seafood Watch.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more as I try to make science easier to understand. Never stop learning,

 Have a topic you’d like me to explore? Post it in the comments!


Anticamara JA, Watson R, Gelchu A, Pauly D (2011) Global fishing effort (1950–2010): trends, gaps, and implications. Fish Res 107(1– 3):131–136

Emanuelsson, A., Ziegler, F., Pihl, L., Sköld, M., & Sonesson, U. (2014). Accounting for overfishing in life cycle assessment: new impact categories for biotic resource use.International Journal Of Life Cycle Assessment, 19(5), 1156-1168.

FAO (2012) The state of world fisheries and aquaculture. United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome

Fleming, L., Broad, K., Clement, A., ( 2006). Oceans and human health: emerging public health risks in the marine environment. Mar Pollut Bull 53: 545–60.

Gutierrez, A., & Thornton, T. F. (2014). Can Consumers Understand Sustainability through Seafood Eco-Labels? A U.S. and UK Case Study. Sustainability (2071-1050), 6(11), 8195-8217.

Micheli, F., De Leo, G., Shester, G. G., Marione, R. G., Lluch-Cota, S. E., Butner, C., & … Sáenz-Arroyo, A. (2014). A system-wide approach to supporting improvements in seafood production practices and outcomes. Frontiers In Ecology & The Environment, 12(5), 297-305.

Swartz W, Sala E, Tracey S, Watson R, Pauly D (2010) The spatial expansion and ecological footprint of fisheries (1950 to present). Plos One 5(12):e15143.

Traveling to See Animals in the Wild With the Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation Program’s goal is to protect animals by connecting people to nature.  Our travel program encourages experiences in nature that foster care for the natural world and empower individuals to take action to save wildlife. Our Wildlife Conservation Program offers various opportunities to experience the wild with wildlife professionals.  Our Houston Zoo staff lead trips to exciting destinations, visiting biologists and scientists working to save animals all over the world.

Photo credit: Renee Bumpus
Photo credit: Renee Bumpus

Many people have had the amazing opportunity to explore exotic locations like the savannahs of Africa or the rainforests of South America without ever having experienced the splendor of North America’s Serengeti, Yellowstone National Park. It is arguably one of the most famous national parks in the world, and the best place to view wildlife in North America.  This historic park has been the host of many monumental wildlife catastrophes and victories.  Both bison and wolves have been eliminated and re-established in the park over the years.  The most studied wolf packs in the world have been in Yellowstone and much of what we know about wolf behavior today has been gained from observation and research performed there.

Photo credit: Dale Martin
Photo credit: Dale Martin

The Houston Zoo’s travel program began tours to Yellowstone in 2008 when a partnership with the Teton Science School, Wildlife Expeditions was established. Teton Science School offers some of the best conservation and educational programs in the country in the Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. We are proud to support their programing through this unique partnership.  Wildlife Expeditions has a staff of some of the best Yellowstone wildlife biologist guides.  These guides previously worked as park researchers, so they provide a special wildlife documentary style adventure on every trip.

Photo credit: Renee Bumpus
Photo credit: Renee Bumpus

The Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation Program leads trips overseen by Wildlife Expedition staff, who take us directly to the animal action in Yellowstone three times a year.  Each season offers unforgettable wildlife experiences.   In the winter, we travel by snow coach and sleigh to watch bison and elk face the harsh icy landscape.  We spy on wolves as they battle the snow and cold to find their next meal.  In the spring, we watch bears emerge from hibernation with cubs in tow.  We see owls in nests with owlets and shaky newborn bison calves discovering their legs.  We watch wolf packs play and hunt. We often see over 40 different species in the spring as the snow and ice melt away and new flora begins to emerge.  Last spring we watched a wolf and two grizzly bears eat a carcass.  In the fall, we watch impressive wildlife courtship displays and enjoy the haunting sound of bugling elk.  We observe bears foraging for food.  One fall evening we followed a radio collared grizzly bear named Scarface along the side of the road as he foraged right outside our vehicle.

Photo credit: Dale Martin
Photo credit: Dale Martin

No matter the season, a Houston Zoo traveler is bound to see amazing wildlife while learning about the importance of saving these animals and the places they call home. These trips are all inclusive and utilize a safari style adventure, in a vehicle that allows for ultimate viewing. The safari-like vans have a roof that opens enabling a safe up-close and personal experience with bears and bison.  Throughout the trip, we meet with rangers and researchers in the park that provide updates and current wildlife monitoring news.

If you have questions or are interested in signing up for these or other wildlife tours, please visit our travel page on our Houston Zoo website at:

Remember, every time you visit the Houston Zoo a portion of your admission goes to saving animals in the wild.

New Weekend Parking Option This Spring

During spring break, the Houston Zoo offered additional parking for all its guests and animal enthusiasts. Now the additional parking is offered Saturdays & Sundays through May 31. The lot is located at 7100 William C. Harvin – Entrance 35. Parking is $6 per car, but the shuttle is free and runs continuously from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. to the zoo. Early birds: park in the lots outside the zoo to enter at 9 a.m., right when doors open.



Free parking is available outside the zoo’s main entrance on Hermann Park Drive. These free parking lots are part of Hermann Park and are not owned or operated by the zoo.

On busy days, these lots can fill quickly, but more parking may be available in other Hermann Park lots. For more information about other parking areas and directions to the zoo, visit

Remember that every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you help save animals in the wild. So we hope to see you soon!

Fish of the Week – Post #6

You may have heard about sustainable seafood and know which choices to make, but if you haven’t, no worries – we will break it down for you!fishing boat

Sustainable seafood is defined as seafood that is either wild-caught or farm-raised that not only sustains current populations, but thrives over the long term. The methods by which the seafood is harvested or raised must not cause undue harm to their natural ecosystems. The Houston Zoo strongly believes that embracing the use of sustainable seafood is one of the best ways we can all contribute to our oceans’ health.

Each week we feature a sustainably-sourced seafood option along with a recipe provided by our very own Chef Larry. Not only will get you get to hear from one of the Zoo’s top chefs, but you can also prepare meals at home that help protect marine wildlife and their ecosystems!

This week’s recipe is Tex-Mex Shrimp & GritsTex Mex Shrimp and Grits

Taking that Southern classic and putting a Tex-Mex kick to it! Be mindful when you are buying your shrimp; U.S. Farmed and Alaskan Wild are going to be your best choices. Try to avoid Gulf Wild-caught for the time being, as their nets are not a great choice for turtles and other marine animals.


Shrimp Prep
1.5 lbs Large Shrimp (Peeled and Deveined)
1 tbls Vegetable Oil
1 tbls Minced Garlic
1 ea Roasted Poblano Pepper, Diced
½ cup Roma Tomatoes, Diced
¼ cup Green Onions, Bias Cut

Grits Prep
1 tbls Vegetable Oil
2 tsp Minced Garlic
1 cup Fresh Corn
1 cups Baby Spinach, Julienne
3 cups Water
¾ cup Grits
1 cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1 tbls Butter

¼ cup Chopped Fresh Parsley
¼ cup Green Onions, Bias Cut

Making the Grits:

In a large sauté pan, heat oil and add garlic. Cook 1 min.

Add fresh corn and cook for 2 min. Add spinach and cook until spinach is wilted. Turn off and hold.

Bring water to a boil, add grits slowly, stirring constantly. Cook for 5 min, reduce heat to low and add corn mixture, butter and cheese. Hold for service.

Cooking the Shrimp:

In a large sauté pan, heat oil. Add garlic and roasted peppers, cook for 2 min.

Add shrimp and cook 2 min on each side. Add tomatoes and green onions. Heat thru

Serving Family Style: In the middle of the large serving platter, pour grits and make a well in the center. Pour cooked shrimp in the well and garnish with chopped parsley and bias cut green onions.
Servings: 4
Degree of Difficulty: Moderately difficult

SFW LogoThere are even more ways to be ocean-friendly! Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch app to learn about “Best Choice” and “Good Alternative” seafood options. Click here to download the app from the Apple Store or Google Play. Be mindful and make smart choices about what you eat and where you buy it. If you are out enjoying a meal at your favorite restaurant, you can ask them if the seafood they serve is sustainable. This can make a huge impact on our oceans and the animals living there!

Thanks for doing your part to save wildlife. And remember, every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you help save animals in wild!

Action for Apes Groups Are Making A Difference!

There is a little over a month left in our 2015 Action for Apes Cell Phone Recycling Challenge, which means there is still time to participate!

We are up to 26 local Houston schools and organizations who are recycling cell phones to help save gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild! These 26 groups have an estimated 7,744 people participating to save apes in the wild!


Are you interested in participating in the 2015 Action for Apes Challenge? It’s easy and fun, and you get to save animals while you do it! Just check out our website to register your group.

AFA-gorilla-2Thank you to the following groups who have joined the 2015 Action for Apes Challenge and are working hard to save animals in the wild!

  • American Recyclers
  • Bay Colony Elementary
  • Berry Elementary
  • Birkes Elementary Student Council
  • Calder Road Elementary
  • Copeland Elementary
  • Cy Woods Student Leadership
  • East Early College High School
  • Environmental Action Club
  • George Brooks’ Office
  • Girl Scout Troop 16399
  • Go Green Club
  • Heritage of Towne Lake
  • HISD – Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School (MCLIMS)
  • Holbrook Elementary
  • HW Grady Middle School
  • Incarnate Word Academy
  • Jersey Village High School Science National Honor Society
  • Keeter Family
  • KIPP Liberation College Preparatory
  • Lake Jackson Intermediate
  • Lantrip Elementary
  • Noah Consulting
  • Smith, Seckman, & Reid
  • Sneed Elementary
  • T.H. Rogers School

If you haven’t signed up for the 2015 Action for Apes Challenge yet, it’s not too late – do it today! The Action for Apes Challenge is open to any business, community group, church, school, scout group, any group of people who would like to help save animals in the wild!


The Importance of Pollinators

Pollinating insects are a crucial part of the health and well-being of our planet. They enable plants to set seed and reproduce,

Pollinators - source USDA Forest Service
Pollinators – source USDA Forest Service

driving the Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems and providing us with fresh fruits, vegetables, greens, spices, coffee and fiber for clothing (to name a few items we can’t live without).   But did you know that pollinator insect populations are steadily declining year after year due to habitat loss, crop monoculture and pesticide use? Even if you are a hardcore carnivore, the animals you eat depend on a variety of insect pollinated plants for food, so their plight affects you, too. In short, if insect populations suffer, the human population will quickly follow suit. The relationships between organisms on our planet is beautifully complex. To illustrate how intertwined these relationships can be, I’d like to tell you the story of a sweet smelling orchid, a love-struck metallic green bee and the Brazil nut tree.

As most people are aware, the deforestation of our planet is rampant, especially in tropical areas. In the Amazon rainforest, areas are sometimes selectively logged and the understory plants are bulldozed or burned, leaving only certain trees standing that might continue to provide income. Since Brazilian nuts are of economical importance, Brazil nut trees are often left alone. Unfortunately, the trees stop producing nuts after the surrounding forest is cleared… but why?

To solve the mystery, we must turn to a very cool group of insects – the orchid bees. Orchid bees (also known as Euglossine

Orchid Bee  - source
Orchid Bee – source

bees) are the main pollinators of orchids that are familiar to orchid enthusiasts: Gongora, Stanhopea, and their relatives. The orchids in this group have perfumed flowers that smell strongly of vanilla, clove, wintergreen and even root beer! The flowers offer no nectar, so female bees collecting food for their young have no interest in them. It turns out that these flowers are pollinated only by male bees, and each species of bee prefers a single species of orchid. So what are the male bees getting out of this? In order to attract a female bee, the male has to smell nice… so he collects perfumed wax from his preferred orchid flower and transfers it to specialized “pockets” on his hind legs. He then flies to a spot attractive to females (such as a big Brazil nut tree with lots of nectar-bearing flowers) and performs a scented mating display with his orchid perfume. This sparks the female bee’s interest and mating occurs, ensuring future generations of orchid bees. And while they’re around, the female bees pollinate the Brazil nut tree so that it may produce seeds (this is the part we eat).

So why doesn’t pollination occur when we leave a Brazil nut tree standing in an otherwise cleared forest? The orchid perfume that the male orchid bees need to successfully mate is nowhere to be found – the orchid plants only live in the shaded understory. No orchid, no bees, no pollination, no Brazilian nuts. This is but one example of countless stories in nature; most of

Brazil Nut Tree - source
Brazil nut tree – source

these intricate relationships are not fully understood and many more have not even been documented.

The same types of relationships occur here in the U.S., and the less plant variety we have, the more our beneficial insect numbers decline. This affects the entire ecosystem (think of how many other animals depend on insects for food; not to mention the plants they pollinate). But never fear – you can do your part to help save this fascinating group of animals! Plant a pollinator friendly garden at home, at school, at the office… no plot of land is too small and every little bit helps. If we spread the word, we can create diverse urban and suburban habitats for all kinds of wildlife. We can reverse the damage we have done and bring the pollinators back! Learn more at:

Snakes and Reptiles – An Unfortunate Misunderstanding

In general, reptiles are a misunderstood and much-maligned group of animals. Literature published as far back as 1735 describes reptiles as “foul and loathsome animals.” Unfortunately, this viewpoint is still held by many people today, especially when snakes are the reptiles being discussed. The unreasonable fear of snakes is quite prevalent in our society and there are many myths and misconceptions concerning snakes and their habits. The general public conception is that snakes are the “enemy” and should be killed on sight. This attitude still persists in spite of overwhelming evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, on the important roles that snakes play in a healthy ecosystem. Areas where snakes are removed often display a population explosion of rodents, usually to the detriment of nearby agricultural enterprises.

The news media also plays a role in shaping this attitude. Most publicity concerning snakes is of a negative nature. Venomous snakebites often receive extensive local media coverage far beyond the actual threat to human life. Rarely is it pointed out that the chances of death from a venomous snakebite are considerably less than the chances of dying from a lightning strike or from an insect bite (Bureau of Vital Statistics, Texas Department of Health).

Judith-blog-resizeOut of all snakes, the rattlesnakes probably have received more unjust notoriety and have been persecuted needlessly more than any other group, especially in the United States. It is doubtful that any other animal group is more feared or less understood by the general public. This persecution has reached such a point that, in some states, “Rattlesnake Roundups” are a popular fund-raising event for organizations such as the local Chamber of Commerce or the Jaycees. The largest of these roundups is held each March in Sweetwater, Texas. This event began in 1958 and was advertised as a method of controlling the rattlesnake population in the area. However, it has progressed to the point where now rattlesnakes are collected months in advance often from over 100 miles from Sweetwater. They are often collected by flushing them out of their dens and hiding areas with gasoline and other toxic substances, which not only harms the snakes, but also any other animals that may be in the same place. They are then kept in substandard conditions and are in poor health by the time the rattlesnake roundup is held. The snakes are often cruelly strung up alive, decapitated and skinned in front of crowds which include children. These horrific events are promoted as safe and educational family fun.

In April of 1999, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association adopted a resolution condemning rattlesnake round-ups and advising member institutions, such as the Houston Zoo, to oppose these activities. The Houston Zoo is joining with other Texas Zoos in their opposition to rattlesnake roundups and encourages educational alternatives that promote awareness and respect for these animals.

Judith-blog-resize2Slowly, however, the bad reputation that snakes have had is changing, even when rattlesnakes are involved. This can be seen in the ever-increasing numbers of successful herpetological societies that are being established in North America, and also by the increasing popularity of non-venomous snakes as pets.

If you’d like to learn more about these awesome and unique American critters, the second annual Texas Rattlesnake Festival will be held in Round Rock, Texas on April 11-12, 2015. No animals are killed, harmed, or abused. Instead, it is an educational event where people can learn about the different species of rattlesnakes in Texas and the beneficial role they play in a healthy ecosystem.

Then on June 12-14, 2015, the fourth annual Snake Days will be held in Sanderson, Texas. This one isn’t specifically about rattlesnakes, but about snakes in general. It includes a day of informative lectures by herpetologists, a photo contest, fake snake contest, vendors selling herpetology related products, and a fundraiser, proceeds of which benefit Texas Parks and Recreation’s Wildlife Diversity Department.

All animals have a role in their respective environments, including rattlesnakes. Please avoid roundups, support humane and educational events, and leave snakes alone if you find them in the wild. And of course, visit us here at the Houston Zoo where we love rattlesnakes! We have eleven species on exhibit and are always happy to talk to zoo guests about them.

Science Made Simple: Is Using Recycled Paper Really That Important?

My name is Ryan and I love science. Join me as I try to make tough science a little less confusing.

Follow along as I research the issues, untangle the mess, and figure out what you really need to know to help animals and the environment.


Today’s Topic: Is Using Recycled Paper Really That Important?

Short Version: Trees are being cut down at an alarming rate in order to make all the different types of paper we use every day. From printer paper to toilet paper, you can help protect forests and the animals that live in them by recycling your paper and buying paper made from recycled content!
Confusing Science: “One of the most produced sanitary papers is toilet paper. The most important raw material is pulp, originates either from primary (virgin) cellulosic fibers or recovered fibers” (Vlase, 2013).


What That Really Means: It shouldn’t surprise you that people want/need toilet paper. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, it’s pretty much recession proof and grocery stores usually devote an entire aisle to it. Wood pulp is needed to make toilet paper, and lots of trees have to be cut down as part of the production process. As we’ve talked about in previous Science Made Simple posts, anytime trees are cut down, we reduce the habitat available to animals that rely on these forests for survival.

Confusing Science: “Between 2010 and 2030, the global demand for timber products is expected to rise by 70 % (FAO 2009). In this time period, the global demand for wood-based panels will increase from 280 to 500 million tons per annum, while the production of paper and paperboard will grow from 400 to 700 million tons annually” (Obidzinksi, 2012).

What That Really Means: The amount of paper we use for writing, printing, toilet paper, etc. is astronomical. I tried really hard to find a way to put the numbers above into perspective. The picture below is a United States Navy Ford-Class aircraft carrier. The Navy specifications on this type of aircraft carrier list a weight of approximately 100,000 tons.

Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier [Media]. U.S. Navy. Retrieved from
Ford-Class Aircraft Carrier [Media]. U.S. Navy. Retrieved from
So if that ship weighs 100,000 tons, you would need FOUR THOUSAND of those ships to equal the weight of the paper currently made each year! It’s nearly impossible to think about that amount of paper.

Confusing Science: “The logging that goes toward disposable paper products is especially frustrating given how much paper continues to be wasted. Each year, US consumers dump about 35 to 40 percent of all the paper they use into dumps and landfills. According to University of Colorado’s Environmental Center, “in this decade Americans will throw away over 4.5 million tons of office paper and nearly 10 million tons of newspaper … almost all of which could be recycled” (Robbins, 2010).

wipeWhat That Really Means: In short, we are throwing away far too much paper that could be made into other products. Recycling used office paper or newspapers can reduce the number of trees needed to meet our paper demands and preserve valuable wildlife habitat.

What YOU Can Do?: Fortunately, there are lots of companies that use recycled paper in their products. You can protect forests and the animals that live in them by recycling your paper and buying paper products that are made from recycled content. Here at the  Houston Zoo, we only use toilet paper made from recycled paper, and you can help animals by doing the same!

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for more as I try to make science easier to understand. Never stop learning,

 Have a topic you’d like me to explore? Post it in the comments!

Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) (2009) State of the world’s forests 2009. FAO, Rome

Obidzinski, K., & Dermawan, A. (2012). Pulp industry and environment in Indonesia: is there sustainable future?. Regional Environmental Change, 12(4), 961-966.

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