Saving the World's Most Critically Endangered Antelope

Houston Zoo partner, Hirola Conservation Program, is working hard to save a beautiful and unique antelope called a hirola. This species is endemic (only found in a small area) to northeastern Kenya and southwest Somalia, and they are critically endangered. The latest aerial survey in 2011 estimated that only 300-500 hirola are left! Read on to learn about hirola and what the Hirola Conservation Program is doing to protect these animals.

hirola editHirola At A Glance:

  • Slender, medium sized antelope that eats short grasses
  • Distinctive glands below each eye giving the appearance of four eyes
  • Now found only in the Kenya- Somali border region,
  • 40 years ago they numbered close to 10,000 but only 300-500 remain today
  • There are no hirola living in captivity

hirola pictureThreats to Hirola:

  • Habitat loss
  • Drought & disease
  • Poaching

About the Hirola Conservation Program:
Director and founder of the Hirola Conservation Program, Abdullah H. Ali, is a native Kenyan working to save wildlife in Kenya, Ijara District. A PhD candidate at the University of Wyoming and EDGE Fellow at ZSL, “Ali” has a long-term conservation plan to save hirola in Kenya through scientific research, habitat restoration, and strengthening community-based conservation and education efforts.

How You Can Make A Difference:
Just by learning about hirola, you are helping to spread awareness about this endangered species. You can also view this page to view updates on Hirola Conservation Program’s progress and donate to their efforts.

Pollinator Pals in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

Meet the first of the Houston Zoo’s Pollinator Pals!

 Ollie, Drake and Ginger are regular traders in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, and now they are also Pollinator Pals! They each picked out the plant they wanted to grow and what pollinators they wanted to attract. Ollie planted hyacinth bean to attract hummingbirds, Drake planted passion flower vine to attract gulf fritillary butterflies, and Ginger planted milkweed to attract monarch butterflies.

Drake planting passion flower
Drake planting passion flower

Pollinators are extremely important to us, and they are declining. Our lives would be severely impacted by the loss of any of our pollinators. Many of the foods we eat rely on pollinators.  Fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, cotton, alfalfa (for the cattle we rely on), honey, coffee, agave, chocolate and more!

Ginger gives a thumbs up for her milkweed seeds
Ginger gives a thumbs up for her milkweed seeds

How does one become a Pollinator Pal? Plant a pollinator garden! It can be as small as a potted plant or as large as a full scale garden. Once your garden is planted, take some pictures and bring a report about it to the Swap Shop to earn points. Then as

Check out Ollie's hyacinth bean seeds
Check out Ollie’s hyacinth bean seeds

your garden grows and attracts pollinators, bring in reports on what you have seen and how the garden is doing. Your points can then be spent in the Swap Shop for some amazing natural items.

Learn more about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop!

More than 50 Endangered Sea Turtles Set for Release

On Wednesday May 27, NOAA Fisheries, the Houston Zoo and Moody Gardens will release 51 sea turtles at Stewart Beach in Galveston, Texas. Forty-nine of the turtles are Kemp’s ridleys and were part of a group brought in last December after suffering from the cold in Cape Cod, New England. The Boston Aquarium sent the sick turtles to NOAA’s Galveston Sea Turtle Facility as well as 17 other sea turtle rehabilitation centers, zoos, and aquariums throughout the country. The other two turtles, one Kemp’s ridley and one loggerhead were already at the NOAA facility for treatment and rehabilitation.

120519-Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Releases
© Houston Zoo/Stephanie Adams

The turtles were part of a record setting cold stunning event which included a total of 1,200 turtles. They were dehydrated and emaciated due to the cold. Symptoms of cold stunning include a decreased heart rate, decreased circulation, lethargy, followed by shock, pneumonia and eventually death if not rescued.

© Houston Zoo/Stephanie Adams
© Houston Zoo/Stephanie Adams

Now, after months of rehabilitation and warmer temperatures, the turtles are ready to be returned to the wild. The release will take place promptly at 8am, Stewart Beach Park, 201 Seawall Blvd. in Galveston. The public is invited to come out and witness this exciting release. The normal parking fee for Stewart Beach will be waived for those who arrive before 9 am to attend the release.

Ben Higgins, who runs the NOAA Galveston Laboratory’s sea turtle program and Dr. Joe Flanagan, head veterinarian at The Houston Zoo, will be on hand to answer questions after the release. Dr. Flanagan is the attending veterinarian for all sea turtles rescued and rehabilitated by the NOAA Galveston Laboratory. A special thanks also to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their help in getting the turtles to Galveston from Boston.

The Kemp’s ridley is the smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world. For more on the Kemp’s ridley, please visit NOAA Fisheries fact page about the species.

Turtle Logos

Magnificent Madagascar Turtles!

This post was written by Bailey Cheney.

mad close upIf you’ve stopped by the ring-tailed lemur exhibit at Wortham World of Primates recently, you might have seen some turtles basking in the sun. Often, while keepers feed the lemurs, they get asked if they’re real turtles. This is because the turtles sit perfectly still as they enjoy the heat from the sun. The answer is yes; they are real turtles. In fact, they’re Madagascar big-headed turtles (Erymnochelys madagascariensis). These turtles can be found in the western lowland river basins of Madagascar. In the wild, they spend most of their time basking on logs, rocks, and river banks, pretty much exactly what they enjoy doing in our lemur exhibit.

Erymnochelys madagascariensis are fresh water turtles. They eat plant matter as well as fish and small invertebrates. Madagascar big-headed turtles are critically endangered turtles. This decline in wild populations is because of  habitat fragmentation and destruction in Madagascar. Oftentimes, they are forced to move from their habitat because of the agricultural industry in the country. Much of this agriculture and habitat destruction occurs on their nesting grounds as well. This, coupled with the fact that females lay eggs only every other year, does not bode well for the Madagascar big-headed turtle. They are, unfortunately, also caught and killed for their meat and for the traditional medicine trade in Asia. Surprisingly, this is a common plight that many turtle species face.

Mad babies

Because of their critical state, several conservation efforts are being undertaken to make sure that they continue their survival. Collaborations with local Malagasy fishermen and local people is the most important current conservation effort. Locals are being taught how vital these turtles are to the ecosystem and how to avoid damaging them and their nest sites. A conservation program is only as strong as the community who supports it; hence, it is always essential to have the support of the local people. Captive breeding is another conservation effort being undertaken. The Houston Zoo is an active participant in this breeding program. Our Madagascar big-headed turtles have produced several clutches of eggs and will hopefully continue to do so. If you’re interested in seeing their offspring, then you should head over to the Reptile House (they’re pretty cute)! And, of course, you must visit the magnificent adults who share their exhibit with our lemurs!

Houston Zoo Saddened by Passing of Beloved Giraffe, Neema

NeemaWe are heartbroken to share the news that eight-year-old Masai giraffe, Neema, passed away overnight in the giraffe barn. Neema began showing signs of illness on May 14. The entire hoofed stock team and our veterinary staff began an immediate intensive course of medical care to identify and treat her symptoms. The group discovered that she was suffering from intestinal disease and was treated to relieve pain and resolve infection while maintaining her hydration with intravenous fluids. Unfortunately, last night, her condition became worse and she passed away around 9 p.m. from the short, but aggressive illness.

Neema was a beloved part of the ten-member herd and a regular attendee at the popular giraffe feedings that so many of our guests and Members have enjoyed over the years. Her light coloring made her easy to identify, and her participation in giraffe feedings made her especially memorable and loved.

Neema was also a terrific mother to our most recently born calf, Kamili, who was born August 2014.

We are all grieving and devastated by the loss of Neema. She remains a treasured member of our family and she will be missed by everyone.

Working with Conservation Partners in the Galapagos Islands

The Houston Zoo is proud to partner with organizations around the world that actively save wildlife. We have been working in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador for many years, providing expertise in veterinary medicine as well as environmental education.

Educators participate in an activity about their unique islands led by our partners at Ecology Project International
Educators participate in an activity about their unique islands led by our partners at Ecology Project International

This past week, Houston Zoo staff visited the Galapagos to help facilitate a 3-day workshop with local teachers who wanted to improve their skills and knowledge in environmental education. 8 educators from 3 different islands attended the workshop. Most of these teachers are not only in charge of their day-to-day classes, but also lead Eco-Clubs after school with children of various ages.

4In collaboration with our local partners, Ecology Project International (EPI) and Galapagos Tortoise Movement Ecology Program (GTMEP), as well as the Galapagos Conservation Trust and the St. Louis Zoo, we led various activities and trainings focused on conservation education and engaging students in hands-on science and research. Thanks to our partners, we even had the opportunity to bring these educators out into the field to track wild Galapagos tortoises and learn about radio telemetry!

Workshop participants practice using radio telemetry in the field!
Workshop participants practice using radio telemetry in the field!

In addition to tracking tortoises, a favorite activity from the workshop included hearing from several local teenage students about their experience participating in EPI’s successful after-school environmental club. In this club, students play a major role in determining club activities. Students in this program complete beach cleanups, work with the Galapagos National Park to count and monitor green sea turtle nests on local beaches and carry out plastic campaigns, visiting local schools to talk about the importance of not only recycling, but using less plastic in general. EPI’s environmental club was an incredible model to show to the participants of the workshop to help generate more ideas for activities they could take back and use on their respective islands.

In total, the workshop was a big success and the participants walked away with more knowledge and tools to engage their students in environmental education!


Houston Zoo Guests are Helping to Save Sharks in the Wild

Whitespotted Bamboo Shark Baby-0002-8227 (1)
Baby bamboo shark hatched at the Houston Zoo last year

When visiting the Zoo, you may see our sharks, rays and sea turtles. The ocean is close to Houston’s heart with the Gulf of Mexico just down the road. Keeping the ocean healthy is a high priority to the Houston Zoo and sharks do just that.  This misunderstood species works hard to keep a healthy balance in our oceans. The Houston Zoos and all of our guests support marine wildlife organization, Mar Alliance, based in Central America. Mar Alliance is doing great work for big fish like sharks and other wildlife in the sea. We know that local involvement and employment is critical for the
success of any long-term conservation effort. We require all of our conservation partners to be working towards local ownership and management of all the conservation and research programs.

Mar Alliance staff tagging shark

Mar Alliance hires local people to carry out monitoring and awareness efforts in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Houston Zoo staff recently visited the Mar Alliance in Belize and assisted with their marine wildlife protection efforts. We worked along side their local fisherman staff. The fishers have a vast understanding of the ocean and it greatly enhances the research and conservation efforts. All of the local fisherman have grown up by the sea and began free diving for conch and lobster to support their families at a very young age. They can free dive up to 100 feet!


In the past, local fishermen have been taught by previous generations to have a great fear and dislike of sharks. They spoke to us about seeing hammerheads and other species while free diving when they were young, and being very afraid. The fishermen that have joined the Mar Alliance team have had their perception of sharks transformed. The conservation and research activities have guided them to develop a great understanding of the sharks behavior and a deep respect their role in the health of the ocean. Mar Alliance protection efforts include swimming with sharks to monitor, capture and tag them. These fishermen have become the best advocates for sharks and are influencing a lot of change in their communities to protect them.

Local Mar Alliance staff with sharks

You can protect sharks in your everyday life by eating seafood that is responsibly caught. Even though they are not the target, countless sharks are killed when fishing is not done properly. Download Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch consumer guide to learn which seafood options are best choices or good alternatives. The app is available from the Apple Store or Google Play to help you identify shark and ocean-safe seafood.

Your visit to the Zoo helps save sharks in the wild. The Zoo supports over 25 wildlife conservation projects in 10 countries around the world and your admission ticket strengthens that support.

Staff Spotlight: Chris Bednarski

The world’s turtles and tortoises (collectively called chelonians) are in big trouble; they need our help more than ever in their struggle to survive. These animals are quickly losing their habitat and being snatched up – often illegally – from countries around the globe to feed China’s insatiable appetite for rare and endangered animals. In celebration of World Turtle Day on May 23rd, I would like to take a moment to tell you about the Houston Zoo’s Senior Herpetology Keeper, Chris Bednarski. – I don’t know anyone more dedicated to chelonian conservation than he is.

At the zoo, Chris is our resident freshwater turtle and tortoise expert – he has successfully bred many of the species we have on and off exhibit and he regularly attends and presents at the Turtle Survival Alliance annual conference. In addition, Chris has been a part of numerous conservation efforts and is currently working on a conservation project proposal that will help protect imperiled turtles and tortoises in SE Asia.

But his work doesn’t stop there… most chelonian species need a good amount of space to thrive, and Chris has dedicated his entire backyard for that very purpose.

He and his wife, Dani, searched high and low for a house (and yard!) specifically to accommodate their turtle and tortoise collection. They’ve built three large greenhouses on their property so that they can keep even tropical species outdoors year-round and have taken great care to landscape with edible plants to provide variety and enrichment for the physical and mental health of all of their shelled friends.

Chris has been a voice for turtle conservation for 20 years, getting his start working with Spotted Turtles in his native Rhode Island, moving on to the University of Florida and then the Maryland Zoo before coming to Houston in 2007. His enthusiasm is contagious and he enjoys educating Houston Zoo visitors about these fascinating animals any chance he gets; if you’re lucky you might catch him at the Galapagos Tortoise Yard behind Duck Lake at feeding time! And if he’s not there, he’s probably traveling the world photographing turtles… Thank you Chris, on behalf of all the chelonians of the world, for your passion and undying dedication!

Want to learn more about how you can help turtles? Click here!

Eat Pizza. Save Gorillas!

We have another fun (and tasty) way for you to help save gorillas!papa-johns-pizza-1

This Thursday, May 21, order Papa John’s online, use promo code GORILLA, and $1 of your purchase will be donated to the Houston Zoo’s gorilla conservation program. This offer is valid only on May 21. Order online at, and don’t forget to use the promo code GORILLA.

And be sure to visit the gorillas at the Zoo this summer! The new habitat opens this Friday, May 22, and you can experience what makes these animals so wonderful. Up close and incredible.Gorillas Explore Their Habitat

Want to learn how the Houston Zoo helps gorillas in the wild, and how you can, too? Visit

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

Over 1,500 Cell Phones Recycled During Action for Apes Challenge!

This is just a handful of the cell phones recycled!

We have just concluded our 2015 Action for Apes Challenge, during which 1,562 cell phones and other handheld electronic devices were recycled! Over 30 schools, businesses and community groups around Texas competed to see who could recycle the most cell phones by April 30th, 2015. Each cell phone that was recycled is an action taken to save gorillas, chimpanzees and mandrills in the wild!

A material (tantalum) found in almost every cell phone and other handheld electronics is taken from the ground in Central Africa where these amazing animals live. Every time a device is recycled, we can reuse the materials and reduce the need to mine for new tantalum.
Willie bamboo termite eating

We are excited to announce that Incarnate Word Academy in Corpus Christi won 1st place in the challenge, recycling 536 phones! Incarnate Word Academy will win a painting to be hung in their school, specially created by primates at the Houston Zoo.

Coming in 2nd place was Birkes Elementary, who recycled 175, and 3rd place went to Jersey Village High School Science National Honor Society with 168 phones! 1,562 cell phones and other handheld electronic devices were recycled overall! That is 1,562 actions taken to save animals in the wild!

We are so thankful to have had so many wonderful groups participate in this year’s Action for Apes Challenge and look forward to 2016’s Challenge!

Thank you to all the groups that participated this year:
American Recyclers
Bay Colony Elementary
Berry Elementary
Birkes Elementary Student Council
Calder Road Elementary
Cathy Blum of Greenwood King Properties
Copeland Elementary
Cub Scout Pack 883
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
No Label Brewing Co.
Noah Consulting
Pack 678 Den 4
Smith, Seckman, & Reid
Sneed Elementary
T.H. Rogers School

And a special thank you to Eco-Cell for counting and recycling all the phones collected!

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