Success! 9 Sea Turtles Released into the Wild!

Every month, Houston Zoo staff assist the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with their weekly beach surveys, looking for stranded, injured, or nesting sea turtles. We drive the beach, sometimes for more than 10 hours searching for turtles that need help, and respond to calls to the sea turtle hotline (1.866.TURTLE.5).

This past Monday, we had the pleasure of releasing 9 sea turtles during the weekly survey! 3 Kemp’s ridleys were successfully released after being rehabilitated at NOAA’s Galveston Laboratory. They all came in, caught on fishermen’s hooks. Houston Zoo veterinary staff provided medical care for these turtles to ensure their speedy recovery.

Later in the afternoon, we released 6 green sea turtles into the bay. These turtles stranded for a variety of reasons, but one was found entangled in fishing line and plastic bags.

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Green sea turtle found on our Texas beaches, entangled in fishing line and plastic bags.

NOAA and the Houston Zoo worked together to provide medical care to this green sea turtle as it was rehabilitated in Galveston. Thankfully, it made a full recovery and was able to go back to the wild.

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NOAA staff releases the green sea turtle into the bay after it was successfully rehabilitated.

Everyone can play a role in saving sea turtles. Ensure that our local turtles do not get caught in plastic bags by making the switch to reusable fabric bags every time you go to the grocery store. This is an easy way to be a marine animal hero!

Featured Members: The Hoffman Family

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 a family that deserves recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to our August Featured Members: The Hoffman Family.


 

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We reached out to The Hoffman Family (Geoffrey and Paula) to share a few words about being Zoo Members.

Paula says, “When we moved to Houston in October of 2009, we were the proud parents of a single baby boy. We settled in right by the Houston Zoo and bought a Membership the next day. Every morning we’d wave goodbye to daddy and walk over to watch the zookeepers bathe the elephants at 10 and then head over to story time at the Butterfly Stage at 11 am. Bennett was our favorite storyteller. He still is!

As our family grew (Ollie now has a younger brother and a younger sister), we found more and more treasures that appeal to different ages and personalities. Ollie and Louie both love the Swap Shop best. They’ve learned so much from Ms. Suzanne! Whenever they find a natural treasure like a beetle or an acorn or a butterfly egg, they take it to the Swap Shop and earn points. Once Ollie earned enough points to earn a raccoon skull! Louie loves crawling through the aquarium tunnel in Natural Encounters and feeding the giraffes. Violet loves playing in your splash pad and brushing your goats (even though she thinks they are dogs).

I like the elephants best! They are such wonderful, devoted mothers. Once, when Tupelo was a helpless little baby, her brother Baylor kept trying to knock her down. All of the elephants banded together and made a circle around the baby, keeping her mischievous brother away. It was a firm but loving way to discipline Baylor and keep Tupelo safe. They worked so well together to raise the little ones.”

Ollie has even been featured in a few official Houston Zoo videos. Here, you can see him hosting a video that shows how children can help animals!

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

Corpse Flower “Reek”

Update 7/28/15
reek down

Unfortunately, we came in this morning to discover that Reek has suffered from our recent extreme Texas heat. In its native habitat, the corpse flower does not experience temperatures much above 90 degrees. While the plant has not perished, the bloom has been lost this time around.


Backstory on Reek  7/26/15
We have a corpse flower at the Zoo! Our horticulture team has appropriately named the flower known for its odor, Reek. We are now closely monitoring this incredible plant species and expect the pungent bloom to appear in the coming weeks. It’s impossible to know exactly when the corpse flower will begin blooming, but we’re keeping a watchful eye and we’ll be sure to let everyone know when the “magic” begins. Take a look at the progress so far!

A slider with the ID of 102 was not found.

What the heck is a corpse flower?!

Native to the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, the corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanium) is the largest inflorescence in the world. Not technically a flower by itself, the cluster of flowers are located on the large, misshaped stalk seen emerging from the center of the display. It takes about 7-10 years for the plant to bloom for the first time and the bloom lasts only 24-48 hours.

 Amorphophallus titanium gets the common name, corpse flower, from the odor it releases which is reminiscent of the smell of decomposing mammals (yum). During flowering, the plant warms up to 96-100⁰F to help carry the smell for up to a half mile. The corpse flower has evolved to exude this smell in order to attract flies and carrion beetles, which act as pollinators for the plant.

These plants are at risk in their native habitat due to deforestation which is also endangering many animal species, including the rhinoceros hornbill, an important seed distributor for this plant as well as many others.

National Zoo Keeper Week – Tyler’s Story

From July 19-25, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and hear their stories. Check back all week to see new keeper profiles during this great week celebrating zookeepers!


Tyler W. Parker – Houston Toad SSP Coordinator/Studbook Keeper; Husbandry Keeper

I’m originally from the Midwest. I went to Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where I received a Bachelor’s in Zoology. I knew from elementary school that I wanted to be a zoo keeper.

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Some of my daily responsibilities are: cleaning, maintaining water quality, feeding toads, making new enclosures (tanks) for toads, breeding invertebrates for toad food, and applying medication to toads when necessary.

As a Species Survival Plan Coordinator (SSP)/Studbook keeper, I am in charge of helping coordinate and set up the inter-institutional breeding efforts for each breeding season, arranging transfers and breeding loans to all involved programs for future breeding endeavors, managing the genetic diversity for the Captive Assurance Colonies at all participating institutions. Throughout the breeding season, we also participate in facilitating egg releases with our partners, USFWS, TPWD, and Texas State University.

The most enjoyable part of my job is working with so many talented people and being able to see a difference we are making in helping to recover a critically endangered species only found in this area.

If you want to do this job, like anything, try and become a Jack of all trades. Don’t just limit yourself to working with one type or group of animals. Try and learn a little about everything. You’ll need to know a little about construction, water chemistry, biology, local policy and administration (wildlife law). Also, you’ll need to be willing and able to work well with others as a team and understand you are all working toward the same goals.

National Zoo Keeper Week – Agnieszka’s Story

From July 19-25, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and hear their stories. Check back each day to see new keeper profiles during this great week celebrating zoo keepers!


Agnieszka Podraza – Primate Keeper

I work in the Houston Zoo’s primate department and I have been here since January 2015. Before moving to Texas, I worked as a primate keeper at the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas as well as other Midwest zoos and animal-related facilities. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a Bachelor’s degree in zoology.

agnieszka-resizeOn a regular work day, the primate staff meets at 7AM to discuss the day’s plans. After saying “Good morning!” to all the primates, it’s time to prepare and deliver their breakfast. While the animals are busy eating, we spend the majority of our time preparing their outdoor exhibits. This includes cleaning, maintenance, setting up food, and putting out enrichment items. When an exhibit is ready, the animals are shifted outside so the keepers can set up their night holdings. Around noon, the animals receive some veggies or another snack. With the primates fed, it’s time for the keepers to enjoy their own lunch break! When our break ends in the afternoon, the primates can again enjoy extra food and treats. Keepers then use the rest of their time to train the animals, work on special projects, attend meetings, or create fun enrichment items for the next day.

One of the duties I most enjoy at my job is training. Primates are trained to present—or show—different body parts such as their ears, teeth, fingers, feet, etc. I delight in these training sessions because they help us take better care of the animals. In other words, if an animal has any cuts or scrapes, we can address those right away. Furthermore, I enjoy training because it allows me to build a relationship with that primate. A training session takes a lot of trust for both the animal and the trainer. After a lot of work is put in, a stronger relationship develops and that particular primate is more willing to work with me; this in turn makes the session more rewarding for both of us. It’s so exciting to see that moment when an animal realizes what you are asking them to do. It’s like a light bulb turning on in their mind.

Being a keeper is very physically demanding. It involves lifting, bending, climbing and staying on your feet for the majority of the day. Rain, shine, tornado, or hurricane, someone needs to be there to take care of the animals. Zoo keepers cannot decide to not show up to work. The lives of numerous exotic species depend on them, 365 days a year.

National Zoo Keeper Week – Alissa’s Story

From July 19-25, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and hear their stories. Check back each day to see new keeper profiles during this great week celebrating zoo keepers!


Alissa Van Der Kamp – Senior Primate Keeper

I get to work with all of the primates. I have a B.S. in animal science with a concentration in zoo and exotics. Typically you can find me working with chimpanzees, but I love every species of primate I work with. Everyone has a very distinct personality. Some are playful and some are affectionate, always presenting a back or a shoulder for us to groom them.

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Willie, one of the male chimpanzees, enjoys some great enrichment!

Training is a big part of our job. Since we don’t go inside the habitats with our primates, we rely on animal training. This helps them know when and how to move from their exhibit to their night houses so that we can clean and vice versa. Also training is a necessity when we need them to sit on a scale to monitor health. We even need to give them injections from time to time. All of these tasks are accomplished through training.

Another big aspect of my job is enrichment. Enrichment can be anything that is stimulating and encourages natural behaviors. We just added a few hammocks to the chimpanzee yard. With this addition to the exhibit, the chimps gain arboreal resting spots, new places to climb on, new arboreal travel paths, as well as shady spots. Adding hammocks involved three keepers, an extension ladder, two A-frame ladders, and about two hours of climbing, tying rope, and moving ladders! Skills like safe ladder handling, rope braiding, and power tool use may not be what people associate with zoo keepers, but they’re absolutely necessary!

Malaysian Giant Pond Turtle Babies!

Baby Malayan Giant Black Pond Turtle-0005-6434The Malaysian giant pond turtle, Orlitia borneensis, is a large turtle found in the rivers and lakes of the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, and Sumatra.  Adults can reach almost three feet in length and can weigh over 100 pounds. Its diet consists mostly of fish, vegetation, and fruits. Listed as Endangered by the IUCN, the Giant pond turtle has been heavily exploited for its meat, and populations are in decline throughout the native habitat.

 

Because of the large size and nature of giant pond turtles, this species is rarely seen in zoos. Captive reproduction is very rare. The Houston Zoo was fortunate to acquire a group of these animals as juveniles and has been displaying them since 2002. The turtles have now reached maturity and we are proud to report that this summer, the Houston Zoo successfully hatched four adorable babies! Getting out of a shell can be tough work. Baby turtles have something called an egg tooth. The egg tooth or caruncle is a temporary structure that is used to cut through the egg membrane and break through the shell.  Once there is a hole in the egg, the turtle can break out. Although the hatchlings are currently not on display, you can see the adults in the orangutan moat; though you may have to be patient as they are a very secretive species!

Baby Malayan Giant Black Pond Turtle-0012-6886

National Zoo Keeper Week – Michelle

From July 19-25, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and hear their stories. Check back each day to see new keeper profiles during this great week celebrating zoo keepers!


Michelle Witek – Senior Keeper Children’s Zoo

ocelotSince I was a little girl, I have always been drawn to animals. This most likely led me to having a career involving animals. My path to the Zoo was not as clear to me then, but once I got accepted to Texas A&M University, I simultaneously began volunteering at the Houston Zoo. During three years of volunteering I was also privileged in receiving the Exxon Mobile Internship, which assisted me greatly in furthering my experience in this field. Once I graduated college with a Bachelors of Science degree in Wildlife Management, I knew that the Houston Zoo was where I wanted to be. With the networking and relationships I built while interning and volunteering, I was able to begin my career at the Houston Zoo only 9 short months after graduating college.

I have worked as zoo keeper for almost 8 years now, 6.5 years with the carnivore department and the last 1.5 years as part of the Children’s Zoo team. The part of my job that I enjoy the most is animal training and enrichment, which helps keep the animals active and stimulated. It also allows me to build stronger relationships with the animals under my care.

I think people interested in becoming a zoo keeper should know that the job involves many fun and interesting aspects, but it comes with its share of difficulties as well. An unusual work schedule and dealing with the unpredictable and sometimes unbearable Texas weather are certainly difficult. But, at the end of the day it is all worth it. I get tremendous fulfillment from my work and enjoy what I do immensely. I am continuously learning and growing as a keeper every single day, and I cannot think of a better profession to be a part of.

 

National Zoo Keeper Week – Wren’s Story

From July 19-25, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and hear their stories. Check back each day to see new keeper profiles during this great week celebrating zoo keepers!


Wren Schroeder – Hoofstock Keeper

hoof stockI always knew I wanted to work with animals, but I wasn’t always 100% sure how I wanted to do that. So I did an internship working with birds of prey and hoofstock animals at another AZA zoo, just to see if I for sure liked it. I realized that if I could be an unpaid intern and be excited to get out of bed every day to go to a job like that, then that was what I wanted to do as a career.

The most enjoyable part about my job is finding people in the public that appreciate a unique species as much as I do. Seeing the excitement, enthusiasm, and compassion of guests is what I love the most. What makes this job worthwhile and the most rewarding are the amazing guests that will sit through a Meet the Keeper chat and express their curiosity about the animals and ask questions to learn more about the individual animals here at the Houston Zoo and the conservation efforts being done internationally and locally to help different species.

I would advise volunteering/interning as much as possible. You can sit and learn about animals and their behaviors in books. Then just simply applying what you have learned in those books by working around them, seeing how they react to things, and getting hands on experience is what truly will help you in zoo keeping career. Also, work with some different species while you volunteer, other than just the obvious ones you already like. You would be surprised by animals that never really interested you, but then after working with them you have a new found respect for them.

I would want people to know that this job is not just about feeding the animals and cleaning up after them. After enduring the weather Houston throws at us, doing workload that comes with working with any animal, and the highs and lows of the job. It is then also about taking the time during the day to go out and educate the public about each of the animals that we get the opportunity to work with. Every animal we work with is different and unique in their own way. Getting to see the guests’ faces light up when we share our own stories about each of these animals is what really makes the hard work worth it.

National Zoo Keeper Week – Chris’ Story

From July 19-25, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and hear their stories. Check back each day to see new keeper profiles during this great week celebrating zoo keepers!


Chris Valdez – Herpetology Keeper

IMG_2239I’ve always had interest in small critters and spent a lot of time outdoors as a child. I bought my first ball python when I was in the 6th grade and from then on, continued to accumulate as many species as my parents would let me keep. Not knowing exactly what I wanted to do but having a strong passion for nature, I attended Texas A&M University and received my degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science.

After graduating, I began volunteering at the Houston Zoo in the herpetology department and a year later, I applied for an open position and I feel very fortunate to have been hired. It has been an awesome experience being able to work with a large and diverse collection of animals in reptile house. In my section, I am responsible for the daily care of a variety of rattlesnakes and tropical pit vipers.

When I first started at the Zoo, working with venomous snakes was definitely a new experience and challenge for me. Now, it is one of my favorite parts of the job! I think it is important for people to know that the animals we take care of here are not “pets” and are not just here for out amusement, but that they are here primarily for education and to spread a conservation message.

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