Saving One of the Rarest Animals in the World

The Houston Zoo partners with the Hirola Conservation Program in Africa to save the hirola, one of the rarest mammals in the world from extinction. Hirola can only be seen in the wild in Africa, they are not in any zoos. They live around many of the animal species we have here at the Zoo like painted dogs and gerenuk, by protecting this extremely rare animal we are also protecting the other wildlife in the area.

Here is an exciting report from our partners at the Hirola Conservation Program:

A herd of hirola inside Ishaqbini Conservancy, Kenya

The Hirola Conservation Program:works in Ishaqbini Conservancy, Hirola sanctuary and in Arawale National reserve and works with local communities to save hirola. We are in the middle of the dry season and only four herds of hirola have remained in Ishaiqbini conservancy. Other herds have moved out in search of pasture and water resources outside the conservancy. Within the conservancy, two poachers have killed one common zebra but our scouts have later arrested these poachers and taken them to court in collaboration with the local police. No Hirola mortality recorded in the conservancy this month which is a great news.
Six hirola groups exist in the sanctuary and two hirola females have given birth this month—July 2015. We recorded seven carcasses inside the sanctuary this month (one zebra, three male giraffes, one lesser kudu and two gerenuks. Regarding our collared females over two years ago only 3 out of 9 are currently on animals and most of the animals have been killed by predators.


Our field team in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Service Rangers went out for anti-poaching exercise. During this patrol exercise, we recorded two poaching incidences along the river. We found remains of a buffalo killed but transported and unfortuantely no one was arrested. However, during the same day, we caught a poacher with kill of a dikdik (dwarf antelope common in eastern Kenya) and the poacher was arraigned in court.

Local scouts patrolling and protecting hirola from poachers
Local scouts patrolling and protecting hirola from poachers

In collaboration with international partners particularly the Houston Zoo, we initiated a world’s first Hirola Day to be marked in August every year.  As a starting point of this long-term event, we focused this year on awareness creation, with meeting of local youths culminating in a football match between locals clubs. In the coming years we will continue to mark this event.

Local youths marking the first ever world’s hirola Day!

Bottle It Up! Bottled Water Facts & Figures

The past twenty years have seen a phenomenal boom in the use of bottled water. While many of us find the packaging convenient, what is the cost of that convenience to the environment? Did you know:

  • Each bottle requires triple its own volume in water, just to be manufactured
  • The fuel consumed annually in the transportation of bottled water could fuel 1 million cars for a year
  • Nearly half of the water on store shelves is bottled from municipal supplies (tap water)
  • The earth’s freshwater supply is being depleted as it is redistributed, consumed, and emptied into the sea
  • Only about one out of five plastic bottles ever gets recycled

Whale bottle

The good news is, there are things we can all do to bring positive change!  The Houston Zoo has already eliminated plastic shopping bags from our gift shops in favor of stylish canvas alternatives, and recycling receptacles can be found throughout the Zoo. As always, a portion of every ticket or membership sold supports local and international conservation programs.

What can you do? Helping at home is easy!  Do your part to save the environment, money, and wildlife by filtering water at the tap or from a pitcher. Even sodas can be made at home! Then, fill up a reusable water bottle when you go out. Make sure waste is disposed of properly; reduce or reuse it whenever possible.

You Want Me to Do What?

Written by Tammy Buhrmester

This is the time of year that many students are getting physical exams when going back to school, so here we will tell you about how the keepers do daily health checks and examinations on the primates in conjunction with our veterinary team.

The little ones are headed back to school!
The little ones are headed back to school!

When you visit your doctor, they start with very basic tests to make sure that you are healthy.  The doctor may take your temperature, have you stand on a scale to obtain your weight, listen to your heart and may take a sample of blood for laboratory tests. We are always monitoring our primates to ensure that they stay healthy. You may wonder:  how do you take a temperature of an ape? How do you weigh primates that can be as small as 400 grams and as large as 380 pounds? What is a normal heart rate for an ape? We achieve this by training our animals to do specific behaviors that we ask of them.  Training is teaching specific responses to certain cues and then giving positive reinforcement for that behavior like juice, peanuts or grapes, as well as lots of praise. Training is most valuable for management and husbandry behaviors.

Cheyenne getting her temperature taking with an ear thermometer
Cheyenne getting her temperature taking with an ear thermometer

So how do you take a temperature of an ape?  The apes at the zoo are trained in three ways to take their temperature: using an ear thermometer, a forehead thermometer and a LifeChip.  Some of the apes are trained to present their ear and allow the keeper to place the ear thermometer inside and hold it until the thermometer beeps.  Some of the apes are trained to present their forehead to the keeper while the keeper holds the thermometer to their forehead until the thermometer beeps.  The last way is reading a LifeChip. Similar to a pet transponder, the apes have their LifeChip inserted between the shoulder blades during a sedation or immobilization. A special scanner is used to read the microchip. We train the apes to present their back and hold still as we wave the scanner over the designated area until the scanner beeps. We can then read their identification number and their temperature.

Getting monkeys and apes on the scale is also very similar to what we do.  Most of the primates, small and large, are trained to step onto a scale.  The scale varies in size from a small kitchen scale to a large livestock scale.  The black howler monkeys are trained to climb inside a basket and sit as they are weighed from a hanging scale, sort of like the kind you might find in the grocery store.

Rudi sits on a scale

When you see the doctor, they may use a stethoscope to listen to your heart.  The chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans are trained to present their chest and allow the keepers and vets to see images of their heart using an ultrasound machine. The images show the heart pumping and valves opening. Did you know that Rudi, our male orangutan, has a heart rate of 118 beats per minute?

Lastly, you may have to get a sample of blood taken.  Our orangutans are now being trained on how to present their arm for us to take their blood. Due to orangutans having such long arms they have to have a specially made structure to place their arm in for taking the sample.  The orangutans are trained to rest their arm inside a long, steel tube and hold completely still in order to allow the keeper and veterinarian technician to access their vein in order to get a blood sample. They receive treats throughout this process and will get a big bonus treat for actually giving blood.

So, as you can see, going to the doctor is something everyone has to do.  Training the primates to do these procedures can take up to many months depending on the animal and the behavior. The keepers want to make sure the animals are healthy and training plays a very large role in their daily activity. We want all of our animals to get a clean bill of health – just as Houston students are doing when going back to school!

Animals + College Credit = Amazing Zoo Intern Experience

Want to work with animals? You can gain valuable career experience (and have a great time doing it!) as a Houston Zoo intern.


This summer, interns across many departments braved the elements and intense Houston heat, joining our staff in creating an awesome zoo experience for guests while significantly expanding their skill set. Among many opportunities to learn and network, we held our first ever intern-curator luncheon in July, giving interns the opportunity to interact with fourteen leaders from our animal departments and executive team. We were fortunate to have known so many enthusiastic individuals during our busy summer season and wish them well as they return to school or move on to their next adventure.

We met up with Lucy, an intern working with our sea lion team, to hear about her experience as an intern. Here’s what Lucy had to say about her internship.

Fall interns will be arriving in early September and will quickly begin learning a multitude of skills, taught by our incredibly talented employees. Interested in joining our team? Good news! The Volunteer Office, which coordinates the Houston Zoo Internship Program, is accepting applications until October 31st for the 2016 spring session, which begins in January. Opportunities for in-depth experiences are being offered in multiple departments including carnivores, primates, and interactive marketing. Each intern will be provided a training plan to maximize learning and will also be given expert guidance to foster professional development.

Learn more and apply for the Houston Zoo Internship Program.

Our Sea Lion Team is Saving Marine Wildlife & You Can Too!


Next time you visit the Zoo make sure you catch our sea lion presentations to hear how the sea lion team is organizing efforts to save marine animals in the wild! All of our animal care specialists love the animals they provide care for and feel a devotion to protecting their wild counterparts.


In the past year, the sea lion team has organized 11 trips with Zoo staff to Galveston and collected:

  • 140 lbs of fishing line from specially-designed bins placed along the jetties. These bins were built by the Zoo!
  • 140 lbs of recycling from the beach
  • 250 lbs of trash from the beach


sohie and bins
On the left is a monofilament bin and the right is a member of the sea lion team digging fishing line out of the rocks!

During these animal saving expeditions, they have talked to beach goers and fisherman about the importance of properly discarding fishing line in the designated containers along Galveston jetties so that the line does not blow into the ocean or onto the beaches. The Houston Zoo assists with the rehabilitation of approximately 85 stranded or injured wild sea turtles a year, with some of them showing injuries resulting from becoming entangled in the fishing line and other garbage.


Please help us save wildlife by spreading the word. 

If you like to fish, know local fishermen, or like to spend time at the beach, make sure you tell everyone you can about how to save wildlife by:

  • Properly disposing of all fishing line in the designated bins
  • Properly sorting the recycling and garbage you find or bring to the beach
  • Calling 1-866-Turtle-5 (1-866-887-8535) if you happen to catch a sea turtle while fishing, or see an injured or stranded turtle.


Thank you for protecting wildlife with us!

Baby Rhino Born to Former Houstonian

Baby Rhino - K. Meeks, White OakWe’re excited to share the adorable photos of the newborn female white rhinoceros born in Florida on Aug. 12. Many of our friends might recognize her mama, Lynne, who lived here at the Houston Zoo from 2010-2013 before her move to Florida. The new calf was born at White Oak in Yulee, Florida at 12:15 p.m. after a very short and easy labor. The Houston Zoo has had a long relationship with White Oak and is proud to share in this joyful news.



Here at the Houston Zoo, guests and Members can visit with the three young male white rhinos in The African Forest – half-brothers Mumbles, George, and Indy. They share the same father but have different mothers.

Baby Rhino - K. Meeks, White Oak

White Oak is one of the world’s premiere wildlife breeding, education, and training facilities.  Located along the St. Marys River in northeast Florida, the wildlife conservation facility spans 10,000 acres of pine and hardwood forest and wetlands. Founded in 1982, White Oak is an Association of Zoos and Aquariums certified facility and works closely with zoo and conservation partners to advance its conservation mission.

White Oak has dedicated significant natural areas, facilities and staff to care for rhinos. The facility has produced over 35 rhino calves and is recognized as a leader in rhino conservation breeding. For more information on White Oak please visit

Saving Sea Turtles in the Gulf – Part 2

Lauren 2We’re back with more sea turtle-saving stories from Panama City! The Houston Zoo recently visited Florida with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to test turtle excluder devices (TEDs) for fisheries across the globe to incorporate into their shrimp nets. These TEDs are critical – and required by federal law – to ensure the safety of sea turtles while fishermen work to provide some of our favorite seafood, like shrimp!

Each year, about 200 sea turtles are driven to Florida from Galveston to test each TED, and about 25 turtles will attempt to swim through each TED. That’s a lot of turtles and swim time! Our partners at NOAA Galveston spend all year getting the sea turtles in their care ready for this critical work! This year, they allowed Houston Zoo staff to come along and observe the process of ensuring shrimp nets around the world are safe for sea turtles.

From Wednesday through Friday, Houston Zoo staff got aboard NOAA’s boat, the Caretta, and what a beautiful three days it was!  We arrived at NOAA’s Panama City, Florida site each day at 6 a.m. and immediately began preparing the turtles and the boats for the days’ adventures. This work included feeding those turtles that had already swum through the TED a delicious breakfast of squid and crating other turtles that would swim through an excluder device that day. Once everyone arrived to the site, we boarded the boat and headed out for a short 12-hour day on the water.

Lauren 1

So, how does it work? TED testing requires three different boats: the main boat where the sea turtles are released into the ocean, the dive boat where the three divers launch, and the catch boat where staff retrieve the sea turtles from the water after they’ve journeyed through the TED. We were able to experience each boat throughout the day, all the while hearing stories from all of the NOAA staff and learning why TEDs are so important to protect these threatened and endangered sea turtles.

In order for a TED to be approved and certified, a sea turtle must be able to make its way safely through the net in five minutes or less. Three divers are underwater with the shrimp net to document the turtle’s journey through the water and to ensure the turtle gets back on the boat. They take very detailed notes and video so the team can evaluate the turtles’ performances that day and whether or not they need to adjust the TED design.

After all of the turtle excluder devices have been tested, the Caretta returns back to its home in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and the loggerhead sea turtles are released back into the ocean.

Be sure to check back soon for more information on TED-testing and how YOU can help save sea turtles in the wild!

You Can Protect Wildlife With a Quick Call

The Zoo is here to show everyone how they can help animals in the wild. We partner with people and organizations working to save the wild counterparts of the animals we have here at the Zoo and enhance many of their creative forms of protection efforts in their own communities.

Painted DogsA few months ago, our wildlife conservation partners at Painted Dog Conservation(PDC) in Zimbabwe, Africa informed us that they were excited about having a new number that local community members could call if they see poaching/illegal hunting activity or spot painted dogs in the wild, but were struggling to get this number out for their public’s use. Fortunately, we have had some experience locally with spreading the word about phone numbers public can call to get help for wildlife. Wildlife saving phone numbers or hotlines are a powerful wildlife protection tool that significantly increases the amount of eyes watching and protecting wildlife.




The Houston Zoo helps local sea turtle conservation partners publicize the hotline for stranded and injured sea turtles along the Texas coast. Our talented graphics team created attractive stickers for distribution to our local public to put on their cars and for fishermen to put on their tackle boxes.  The goal was to have the number accessible when people needed it. We shared this story with PDC, and they loved the idea!

Sticker designer, Evelyn Lozano


Our design team went to work on a graphically appealing wildlife saving hotline sticker for our communities in Zimbabwe. Our designer was challenged with the task of including three the different local African languages on the stickers but managed to create a clear and beautiful product that PDC is proud to pass out to their local communities. This sticker has increased the wildlife saving pride in the area and empowered more people to join in the race to save painted dogs and other animals from extinction.


You can save local wildlife by:

  • Calling 1-866- TURTLE-5 (1-866-887-8585) if you see a stranded or injured sea turtle.
  • Reporting local wildlife sightings and encounters here in Houston.
  •  “Like” the Texas Parks and Wildlife Urban Wildlife Facebook page and you can send photos or make comments about your own wildlife experiences here.


Zoo Grieves Geriatric Jaguar

Today, the Houston Zoo humanely euthanized its 19-year-old female jaguar, Cocoy.  The great-great-grandmother was born at the Guadalajara Zoo in Mexico and moved to Houston in 2006. She and her mate, Kan Balam (18), shared the habitat and even had several cubs together over the years. Due to the tremendous care provided to her by her keepers and the Houston Zoo veterinary team, Cocoy lived well beyond her expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.


The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after it became evident that she was in kidney failure. At her advanced age, dialysis was not a viable option and further treatments would not have added to her quality of life.

jaguar portrait

Cocoy has always been one of the zoo’s most exuberant and fastest training animals. Guests have long been able to recognize her by her shorter-than-average tail, due to an injury sustained in Mexico.

“When caring for aging animals, we first do everything in our power to make sure they have a great quality of life,” said Sharon Joseph, vice president of animal operations at the Houston Zoo. “We manage their diet and exercise, as well as their medication if necessary. It is never an easy decision to euthanize an animal, but it is one we make with the animal’s well-being as the top priority. With world-class animal keepers, four incredible veterinarians, and a complete veterinary clinic, our animals receive the best care possible, and that includes end-of-life decisions.”

Jaguar’s range covers South and Central America, with some venturing north into Mexico and southwestern US. They are listed as near threatened by International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and their numbers continue to decline mostly due to habitat loss.

jaguar landscape


Extremely Rare Parrot Hatches at the Zoo

2015_St._Vincent_Parrot_Chick-0017-78_daysOn May 24, 2015 the Houston Zoo’s flock got a little larger.  The zoo is proud to announce the addition of a male St. Vincent Amazon parrot, Mustique Springer. The tiny bird weighed only 16.69 grams when hatched and now is standing a proud 510 grams. The bird derives his full name from Mustique Island, which is off the coast of his native St. Vincent, and from the late Fitzroy Springer who dedicated his life to the conservation of this species. The chick is named in his memory and will go by Springer for short.

A team of bird keepers at the zoo have been hand raising Springer behind-the-scenes since he poked through his shell, providing round-the-clock care in the first few weeks following his hatching. This included taking Springer home with them and waking up every few hours to keep with his strict feeding schedule.

“Hand-rearing a bird is a time consuming process,” said Chris Holmes, assistant curator of birds and Springer’s main caretaker. “Life revolves around the chick’s feeding schedule and sometimes you forget to feed yourself! It is very rewarding to know that the chick you are investing so much time in could live for hopefully 40 or more years.”


Like many other species that call the Houston Zoo home, the St. Vincent Amazon parrot has a special history with the zoo. In 1972, the Houston Zoo became the first institution to successfully hatch the species. Springer is the fourth chick hatched at the Houston Zoo and the first male since 1972. The last chick to be hatched was a female, Vincent, in 2008. Springer’s birth is significant in more ways than one. His mother, Baliceaux, was also hatched at the Houston Zoo in 1999 and Springer’s birth marks the first time a Houston Zoo hatched bird has reproduced. The St. Vincent Amazon parrot is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated 734 remaining in the wild based on a 2004 census, however their population is slowly increasing. Being the national bird of St. Vincent Island and the Grenadines, the parrots are native to the forested mountains of these Caribbean Islands. Although they are characterized by their unique multi-colored feathers, Springer was born with whitish down and will continue to get more colorful as he matures.


Springer will need to be a bit older before making his public debut in a few years. Guests can see the four other St. Vincent Amazon parrots already in public view at the Houston Zoo in Birds of the World.

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