Conservation All the Way from Central America

The Houston Zoo is saving wildlife around the world.  We collaborate with people working in the wild to protect the counterparts of the animals we have at the Houston Zoo.  We have great admiration for our sharks, rays and turtles that live in our aquarium and we are passionate  about keeping these species safe in the wild.  To that end, we provide funds and enhancement for a conservation organization in Central America called the Mar Alliance.  They are committed to ensuring the protection of marine animals through research, education and conservation efforts.


Last year our Zoo staff provided photo cataloging training and fundraising and planning guidance to enhance the Mar Alliance conservation efforts.  This year Mar Alliance expressed a need for clearer and more effective marine conservation messaging through video.  The marine wildlife conservation community struggles with connecting public to their protection efforts.  Effective video is critical to inspire conservation action and support for ocean health. Our Houston Zoo videographer has a lot of experience with effective wildlife saving messaging so he assisted Mar Alliance with a manual and offered his expertise for a workshop in Belize for marine conservation organizations in the area.


Conservationists from Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico attended and gained a deeper understanding of effective shooting, storytelling and editing techniques.   Participants were from marine wildlife research, law enforcement, environmental education, community capacity building and rehabilitation.


The workshop started with a full day of classroom work on day 1 and day 2 consisted of a field trip to Shark and Ray alley and other amazing snorkeling sights in Belize to collect footage.   Over the following 2 days they applied their newly acquired skills and worked with the Zoo’s videographer to create short, quality conservation videos.


This workshop empowered and strengthened people from 9 different conservation organizations in Central America.  It provided new connections and built networks to enhance future marine conservation efforts.  The Houston Zoo believes that long-term conservation is a collective task and is proud to partner with conservation organizations like Mar Alliance who strive to encourage collaboration within the wildlife conservation community.


Every time you come and visit our sharks, rays and turtles at the Zoo you help us support saving their counterparts in the wild.  A portion of your admission or membership goes to wildlife saving efforts like these, so thank you Houston!

Featured Member: John Bederman

We love our Members. Their incredible support allows us to make a difference to animals both locally and all over the world. This month, we’re spotlighting one particular Zoo Member that deserves recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to May’s Featured Member: John Bederman


Featured Member: John Bederman

We reached out to John and asked him to share a few words about being a Zoo Member.

John says, “There are times when I like to get out of the house, so I’ll go to the Zoo and Hermann Park, just to walk around and take pictures. One of the reasons why I’m a Member of the Zoo is because I can stop by the Swap Shop and drop off some of my art for the kids. In addition, I’ll also have bowls that I’ve made out of rocks and Ammonites to show Suzanne in the Swap Shop, along with her coworkers.  When my daughter was young, I had already been a Member for 10 years.  These days, I take care of my grandson.  I started taking my grandson, Corbin, to the Zoo when he was about 2 months old and we’d go 4 days a week. When Corbin arrives at the Zoo, he wants to hold the Membership card to get in the gate because the Zoo employees greet him by name.  Corbin knows the Zoo so well that he usually leads me around. The bug house is on the top of his list, as he enjoys the ants and spiders. When we are feeding the ducks in the morning, sometimes I will ask a family or a Dad and his son or daughter if they would like to go to the Zoo on my dime, as my treat.”

John is a close friend to many of us, especially the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. If you’ve ever traded in our Swap Shop, you have probably met the incredible Suzanne Jurek. Suzanne wanted to be sure John wasn’t being too modest and said, “He has been such a friend to the Swap Shop. He has donated so many agate slabs and geodes that I don’t think I could even count them. I have even seen him come in and give out quartz crystal points to kids in the shop (he loads up his pockets for just this purpose) so they can either have them for their own collection or trade them in. He is an amazingly kind and generous man.”

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to John and all of our Zoo Members. As a Houston Zoo Member, your support truly makes an impact on the growth of our zoo and our conservation efforts. THANKS!

Corals to Curassows: Wildlife Saved Across the Globe

From Houston Toads to sea turtles, corals to curassows, Houston Zoo keepers, veterinarians, other staff and volunteers are working to help save many species from extinction.


Here’s a visual recap of some of our successes in 2014. Click on the images to find out more about these victories for wildlife!


The Houston Zoo vet clinic not only treats zoo animals, but for years has cared for injured wild sea turtles rescued from the Gulf of Mexico. In 2014 alone we saved 89 turtles!


The Houston Zoo manages the captive breeding programs for the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken. We have breeding facilities both behind the scenes at the Zoo and at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.


Gorillas in the wild are endangered, and the Houston Zoo works with several organizations in Africa to protect and save them: Conservation Heritage – Turambe, Gorilla Doctors and GRACE.


The Houston Zoo supports the Lemur Conservation Network who work to save this unique group of animals in Madagascar. In 2014 through our support they replanted lemur habitat with 12,000 native plants!


The Houston Zoo has partnered with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas State University, and Texas Parks and Wildlife in an effort to recover the wild Houston toad population. Our goal is to keep this unique amphibian species from being lost to extinction forever!


Our Veterinary staff travels to the Galapagos Islands to assist with efforts to remove non-native animals introduced to the Galapagos that compete for resources and threaten the Galapagos tortoises.


The Houston Zoo has been working to save these birds since the 1970s – there have been more than 50 blue-billed curassows born in Houston.


We provide vital financial support to rhino conservation programs which enable community members to conduct anti-poaching efforts and monitor critical rhino populations.


You help wildlife just by visiting the zoo! A portion of each Houston Zoo ticket purchased goes towards protecting animals in the wild.

Happy Birthday Willie!!!

The Houston Zoo is wishing chimpanzee Willie a very Happy Birthday! Over the past five years, since the opening of the chimpanzee exhibit in 2010, we have watched as Willie has grown from a playful juvenile chimpanzee to a mature adult chimpanzee. During this past year, he has risen in rank to become the dominant male in the group.

10 - year old Willie the Boss
10 – year old Willie the ‘Boss’

When Willie first came to the Houston Zoo, he was the smallest member of the group and at six years old still spent the majority of his time with Lulu and Lucy, the mothers of the group. He continued to rely on them for protection during group conflicts and his primary goal in life and in interactions with the group was to just have fun and play. He played an important part in getting the original chimpanzee group comfortable living together in their new home as his solution to any tension or nervousness was to encourage everyone to play!

Willie (2)
6 – year old Willie the ‘Kid’

In the wild, chimpanzees spend the first seven years of their lives with their mothers. These juvenile chimpanzees are characterized by tan faces and a white tuft of hair above their rear ends. Between the ages of 6-9, adolescent chimpanzees will start interacting more socially with other members of the group. They lose their white tuft of hair and their faces start to change from a light tan color to black. During this time, males will spend less and less time with their family and more time interacting with adult males in the group. It is during this time that young males start participating in boundary patrols and begin to try to figure out their place in the male hierarchy. These young ‘teenage’ chimpanzees often find themselves involved more in conflicts as they try pushing boundaries and establishing themselves in the hierarchy.

At eight years old, Willie started spending less time with Lucy and Lulu and more time with Mac, the dominant male at the time. Keepers called him “Mac’s Shadow” as he would never be very far from Mac’s side. He always seemed to be looking to Mac for guidance on how to behave. During this time, Willie also started challenging the females and lower ranking males. Anytime a conflict occurred, you could find Willie right in the middle of it. His favorite tactic was to throw dirt and then run away before anyone could catch him. The only chimpanzee that could discipline ‘teenage’ Willie successfully was Mac. Willie gained rank quickly.

Willie 1
8 – year old Willie the ‘Teenager’

Over the last two years, the original chimpanzee group has been integrated with a new chimpanzee group of six chimpanzees. Willie initially was very friendly but shy about meeting his new friends. His initial interactions with the new chimpanzees were submissive and friendly. Due to his friendly initial interactions and his playful nature, Willie quickly made friends with the new chimpanzees. As the groups were combined and Willie became more confident in the new group, keepers started noticing him intervening in conflicts instead of causing them. Keepers also noticed that many of the chimpanzees started to look to Willie for reassurance and support during conflicts. One of a dominant male chimpanzee’s main roles is to manage conflict within the group. Willie seemed to be fulfilling this role in the new group.

Willie can often be found at the center of grooming and play sessions within the newly combined chimpanzee group. Besides being strong enough to maintain order, another important trait for a high ranking chimpanzee is the ability to gain and maintain allies. Bullies usually don’t last long as dominant males as the other chimpanzees in a group often band together and overthrow them. Willie’s friendly nature has gained him lots of allies. Even though he is now in charge, his favorite strategy to maintaining order is to encourage everyone to play. The one thing that has not changed about Willie in the past five years is that his primary goal in life is to just have fun and play!
Chimpanzees in zoos can live into their sixties. We look forward to celebrating many more birthdays with Willie and watching him as he continues to learn and grow into an impressive adult male chimpanzee!

Hey Kids! Celebrate Dia del Nino at the Zoo This Sunday

Dia del Nino LogoMany nations throughout the world celebrate Día del Niño, or Children’s Day, to honor and celebrate children who represent the hopes and dreams of every community. This Sunday, April 26 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., we will be joining in the celebration with games, activities and music just for kids!

Visit the booth in the Zoo’s Front Plaza to color a picture of Zoe the Zookeeper and pick up your scavenger hunt that will send you throughout the Zoo looking for Latin American animals. Those who complete this activity can return to the booth for a special prize!

Continue down the Reflection Pool for more games including Pin the Tail on the Donkey, the coloring mural, and learn what howler monkeys eat (and shouldn’t eat!). Zoo volunteers will host a table of interesting biofacts to teach kids about different Latin American species; be sure to stop by and learn some fun facts about these animals. Free airbrush temporary tattoos will also be available – pick your favorite animal and have it painted on your face or arm.

What’s a celebration with music and dancing? We’ll have a DJ on-site playing music and encouraging kids to dance, as well as special Latin dance performances by Ballet Folklorico Azteca de Houston for all to enjoy.

Ballet Folklorico
Ballet Folklorico Azteca de Houston will perform at 11:30, 12:30, and 1:30 at the Reflection Pool.

Plus, there’s MORE! The Children’s Maze will be up, located just past elephants; can you find your way to the end? Visit the Tapir Spotlight on Species event, taking place at the tapir habitat, and learn how the Houston Zoo helps this species in the wild, as well as how YOU can help them, too!

Be sure to also check out these special Meet the Keeper Talks presented by Phillips 66:

    10:15 – Latin American Amphibians (Reptile House)
    10:30 – Caiman Lizard (Reptile House)
    11:00 – Jaguar
    12:00 – Tamarins (Wortham World of Primates)
    1:00 – Tamandua (Natural Encounters)
    1:30 – Prehensile-tailed Porcupine (Naturally Wild Swap Shop in the Children’s Zoo)
    2:00 – Cougar
    2:30 – Brazilian Rainbow Boa (Natural Encounters)
    3:30 – Howler Monkeys (Wortham World of Primates)
    4:00 – New World Monkeys (Natural Encounters Rainforest)

All of these exciting events are included in your Zoo admission and free for Members. We hope to see you at the celebration!

And remember, every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you help save animals in the wild!

Celebrate Tapirs with Us: Tapir SOS

Post by Mary Fields
This weekend, April 25th and 26th, the Houston Zoo will be holding a Tapir Spotlight on Species from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm. Throughout the day we will have fun activities for everyone to play, a photo-op with our “camera trap”, and a chance for you to help enrich our very own tapir, Noah!


While we celebrate tapirs, we will also be celebrating Día del Niño, or Children’s Day. There are four species of tapir, including three Latin American species, Baird’s, Lowland, and Mountain. The Malayan tapir is the fourth species and only species that is located in Asia.

The Houston Zoo is home to Noah, a Baird’s tapir. You will often see Noah sleeping during the day as tapirs are known to be “crepuscular”. Crepuscular means that their activity levels are highest during dusk and dawn or when the temperatures are cooler. Noah also has a large pool for him to take a dip in and is often seen submerged in the deep end on hot summer days.

The Houston Zoo is partnered with the Tapir Specialist Group to support field research of these incredible animals. Come by our tapir yard to learn all about tapirs and how the Houston Zoo helps them in the wild.


What is Coltan? What is Tantalum? How You Can Help!

Written by Joshua Cano

willie chimpDid you know that you can help tens of thousands of animals in the wild with one simple action? In today’s world almost everyone has some type of electronic device. You are most likely reading this blog on your personal computer, tablet or cell phone. These and most other electronic devices share one thing in common, an element called tantalum. Tantalum is used in your microprocessors, cameras, and circuit boards. This important component is mined throughout the world, but it is destroying national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Materials used to manufacture cell phones are taken from places where animals like chimpanzees and gorillas live.
Materials used to manufacture cell phones are taken from places where animals like chimpanzees and gorillas live.

Tantalum is often mistaken for coltan, which stands for the 2 ores, columbite and tantalite, which are found together. When refined, the ore tantalite becomes metallic tantalum. These ores are being illegally mined from land’s that belong to the DRC’s national parks. Large chunks of lush forests are cleared away in order to mine for tantalum. With the increase in the bush meat market, due to the increase of the human population in the area, many animal populations have dropped by as much as 50% in those areas.


So, how can you help save these beautiful animals? What is the simple action you can take? The tantalum in your electronics can be reused, thus reducing the need to mine for more. Last year, the United States was able to supplement 30% of its tantalum needs from recycled electronics.  7000+ Houstonians helped supplement that 30% by bringing in their old electronics to the Houston Zoo to be properly recycled. Next time you are at the Houston Zoo look for our electronics deposit boxes located at both entrances.

Will you be part of that 7000+ people?

Looking Back with Mary Ann Chambers

From the small fence to the now size of 55-acres, the Houston Zoo has grown exponentially not just in size but in the number of species that call the zoo home. Starting out with a small collection of a few species to 6,000 animals of 900 different species, Houstonians like 75-year-old Mary Ann Chambers can recall a time when the zoo was only a fraction of the size of what it is now.

“I can remember as a young child going to the zoo either with my mother or great uncle, and it was always such a treat to see what I thought then was a large variety of animals,” Chambers said, who is a resident at St. Dominic Village and was born in Roscoe, TX. “Of course, I know now from the early ‘40s is that it was probably much smaller than what it was now, but it’s been a while since I’ve been out there.”

Mary Ann Chambers. Photo courtesy of St. Dominic Village.

In January of 1989, after being accredited by the then-known-as American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA), the zoo initiated a public admission fee of $2.50 for adults and 50 cents for children. In 2000 the zoo opened the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo and continued to improve throughout the years with the addition of various species such as the komodo dragons and jaguars. And in July 2002, the Houston Zoo became a private non-profit organization with a 50-year lease and operating agreement from the city.

“What impressed me most was how much it grew,” Chambers said. “When I was a little girl, I would go to the zoo and it would seem big and yet we’ve had such wonderful additions to it so to me that’s always been important.”

The 1990s also saw the $1.2 million renovation of the Janice Seuber McNair Asian Elephant facility, as well as extensive renovations of the Aquarium and Tropical Bird House. Many of these improvements were financed through the popular Zoo Ball parties.

“What was significant to me were the elephants because they’re such large animals and yet they move with so much grace,” Chambers said. “My great uncle loved animals and going to the zoo as a child was such a treat, so I think that’s where I got my love for animals. True, animals are not like humans, but we all age similarly.”

Click here to read about what other residents had to say.

Looking Back with Annette Reynolds

Vosswood Nursing Home resident Annette Reynolds is not an average Houstonian. 94-year-old Reynolds was born in 1920, and her father even read George H. Hermann’s will; if the name sounds familiar it’s because he was responsible for presenting a very famous piece of land to the City of Houston – Hermann Park!

Reynolds remembers visiting the zoo in its early days during the 1920s. For her family, going to the zoo was a Sunday treat.

“The first time I went, that I can recall, would be when I was seven years old in 1927,” Reynolds said. “My mother used to say, ‘Now, we’re gonna get dressed because we’re going to the zoo tomorrow!’ Oh, my brother and I would be so excited. It’s helpful to a city to have a beautiful zoo, and I know many people who visit Houston and they make it a point to visit the zoo.”

Formerly referred to as the Hermann Park Zoo, it was a city-operated zoo and free to all visitors until 1989. The first staff member was a German zookeeper named Hans Nagel, who quickly built up the collection and became the first zoo manager/director.

Conveniently located in Hermann Park, the Houston Zoo brings fond memories for residents who would also hold special events at both the zoo and the park, such as Reynolds.

“As a child, my birthday parties were held in the front part of Hermann Park,” Reynolds said. “I remember my son’s birthdays at the park, and we’d have them at the zoo too. I know that we couldn’t live without Hermann Park.”

(From left to eight) Annette Reynolds pictured with her friend, Jean Whitaker.
(From left to right) Annette Reynolds pictured with her friend, Jean Whitaker.

The Houston Zoo has come a long way since its early days and has even more ambitious plans for the next decade. None of this would have been possible without an incredible staff, board and volunteers to implement all these changes and renovations.

“Of course, back then it wasn’t nearly the size as it is now,” Reynolds said. “But I saw a lot of improvement at the zoo growing up; it was very small but the zoo has been done up really nicely. The whole appearance of the zoo has improved tremendously, and I think they [the staff] have done wonders with the zoo.”

We think so too, Mrs. Reynolds!

Click here to read about what other residents wanted to share.

Looking Back with Lynn Gillespie

One common memory that residents can recall is the change in size of the Houston Zoo – the zoo has vastly grown from that first bison and continues to develop new changes and exhibits such as such as the Gorillas of the African Forest (opening Memorial Day weekend). Born and raised in Houston, 72-year-old Lynn Gillespie grew up not too far from the zoo and her childhood love for the zoo continues to this day.

“Our zoo is spectacular,” Gillespie said, who is the administrator for independent & assisted living at St. Dominic Village. “I take my kids to the zoo all the time. In fact the last time I went was Zoo Lights in 2013 with my daughter, and it was fabulous.”

Lynn Gillespie. Photo courtesy of St. Dominic Village.
Lynn Gillespie. Photo courtesy of St. Dominic Village.

Gillespie said when she was a child there was not an aquarium or a bird house, but that all changed when our third and longest tenured director John Werler joined the Houston Zoo in the late ‘50s. During Werler’s time the zoo added a small mammal house (later expanded to become Natural Encounters), a tropical bird house, Children’s Zoo, rhino exhibit, large cat exhibits, vet clinic, and aquarium. The Brown Education Center was dedicated in 1988, a gift from the former Zoological Society of Houston.

“During my time, I want to say the most significant things happening at the zoo were the opening of the bird house and the bear exhibits,” Gillespie said. “Just things opening at the zoo is what made a splash on the papers since it was so small at the time more so than now.”

In December 2010 the zoo opened the first phase of the African Forest immersion habitat. This six-acre, $40 million project includes chimpanzees, white rhinos, giraffe, and kudu antelope as well as a large African-themed restaurant, gift shop and trading post.

“What I remembered most as a child were the monkeys,” Gillespie said. “As a child I think I remember there only being one or two different species of monkeys. I think the zoo has done such a great job on the educating the public of what area and what region of the country each animal comes from.”

In 2000 the zoo opened the $6.5 million John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo and continued to improve with the addition of several other species such as the okapi and spectacled bear.

“I remember when the zoo brought in the petting zoo, and that must’ve come when my children were little because we used to have birthday parties out there,” Gillespie said. “That was the most significant thing to my children, but I do remember spending a lot of time at the seal pool and looking at elephants and hippos with them too. It was just always a lot of fun going to the zoo.”

Click here to see what other residents wanted to share.

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