Nyala Babies – Bounding and Abounding

Baby Nyala Opal-0001-9371

Meet Opal. She’s one of four baby nyala born at the Houston Zoo over the past two months, and boy is she a cutie! The zoo’s keeper team noticed soon after she was born on Aug. 25 that she wasn’t nursing very well from mom, Ruby, so they quickly intervened and taught the calf to bottle-feed, but kept her living with her mother so they could continue to bond behind-the-scenes. Soon, however, the keepers saw Opal nursing from Ruby! This Monday, the team ended all bottles for Opal, and she is continuing to successfully nurse and eat solid foods which includes grain, hay, and produce.

Opal and her mom will continue to stay in their barn for a few more weeks, but guests and Members can see the other three new nyala frolicking around the yard every day at the zoo’s West Hoofed Run. Additional baby nyala include Wallace (mom Willow), born July 29; Fancy (Lola), Aug. 12; and Fern (Ivy), Sept. 8.

Baby Nyala Opal-0002-9379Nyala are members of the antelope family and the spiral-horned males can weigh up to 275 pounds and females weigh up to 150 pounds. When born, nyala generally weigh 10 pounds.

House Calls for Monkeys and Apes – Doctors in the Zoo

sifaka weeksDid you know primates have to see doctors? Those doctors happen to be veterinarians, but it’s true! Primates are very similar to humans, and we can get a lot of the same sicknesses. Something that doesn’t seem so bad for humans, like the common cold, can be devastating to a primate if it turns into pneumonia. This is one of the many reasons why primates make bad pets; it is simply too dangerous for the primates’ health.

Our primate keepers here at the Houston Zoo have to be cleared of certain illnesses (like tuberculosis) before they can even work with our prosimians, monkeys and apes. To help protect against the spread of these diseases, keepers wear gloves and face masks when cleaning up after their animals. And if one of our keepers is sick they have to stay home, or, if just a minor problem, wear gloves and masks all day.

So let’s say that one of our primates gets sick. Here at the Zoo we have all kinds of ways to try and help them out. If a primate has a runny nose and a cough for more than a couple of days, the vets may prescribe cold medicine or antihistamines to help clear that up. Other injuries may require pain medicine. Prevention is important too, so all of our primates receive regular treatments on a monthly basis, similar to your pets at home.

Ever wonder why we ask guests not to throw snacks at our animals? Controlling calories is one reason. Another is that many species are very sensitive to unfamiliar food which could trigger severe gastric upset. We specially design the diets of all of our animals. And lastly, as was mentioned above, primates can become very sick from germs transferred from a guest via food thrown at them.

Chronic illnesses can occur in primates as it can in humans. Diabetes is one of these chronic illnesses that can impact a non-human primate’s quality of life. To help with this disease, our vets will evaluate the animal’s diet to reduce foods with too much sugar, which in turn will lower the animal’s blood sugar, and prevent or reverse weight gain. That, along with medications to help keep the illness in check, will help them live a long and healthy life. And, acute illnesses like a bladder or kidney infection are treated with appropriate antibiotics and intensive care, when necessary.

Here at the Houston Zoo we strive to make all of our animal’s lives long and happy ones. Sometimes it is harder than others with animals that don’t want to take their medication, or eat what is best for them. But that is just part of the amazing challenge that we face to give our primates all that they deserve. The vet team and animal care teams work together to ensure the best care for all of the animals in the zoo, and it is a daunting task, but one we all embrace wholeheartedly!

Big News in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop


Our staff is growing! Meet Sara Riger, our newest Naturalist. Sara has been a part of the Houston Zoo for 11 years and has a vast range of experience and knowledge. She has worked with animals in Natural Encounters, Primates and Carnivores during her time with the zoo.

Sara Riger Naturalist
Sara Riger Naturalist

But her experience goes even further back than that! During her career, she has also worked at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York, and the Nashville Zoo. She is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, The Clouded Leopard Management Committee, and is Co-chair for the Houston Zoo’s Enrichment Committee.

Originally from New York State, Sara and her husband, Peter, (who she met at the Bronx Zoo and who now also works for the Houston Zoo) have made a happy home in the Houston area along with their four legged kids – Peanut, Shaemus, Fluffy, Sebastian and Mateo.

Sara is a wonderful addition to the Swap Shop with her knowledge, experience and enthusiasm for working with people of all ages. The next time you are at the Houston Zoo, come by and say hi to Sara and welcome her to the team. (It might even earn you 5 points in the shop!)

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.



Houston Zoo Stickers Protecting Wildlife in Africa


We love our painted dogs at the Zoo and are partnering with people in Zimbabwe to protect them in the wild.  In May of this year the Houston Zoo designed a sticker for Painted Dog Conservation to save wildlife in Zimbabwe. The sticker features a phone number that people can call to report any illegal wildlife activity or report on sightings of Painted dogs in the area. The message on the sticker is in the three local languages.

Dominic and the local chief
Dominic and the local chief

Dominic J. Nyathi, Conservation Clubs & Programs Coordinator of Painted Dog Conservation has reported that the community has been very excited about the stickers and the hotline calls are increasing as a result.

Here is their recent report.

We had praises and appreciation on the language used from the Chief.

Last week, the volunteers found a snared antelope during their patrol and used the line to get in touch with the APU manager. 

We have discovered a new pack in the forestry area that is near the communal land. People have called us to let us know of their presence.

We have also made some arrest through the hotline. A poacher was arrested through the tip from the line.

Another woman was also arrested when found selling some meat through the line. It was later discovered by the police that she got the meat from hunters.

We have also received some messages on wildlife crimes.

The stickers have been given to village heads to use them in their community meetings.

The stickers are doing great and all need them. Motorists also want them on their vehicle!”

Local people in Zimbabwe with sticker
Local people in Zimbabwe with sticker

Plastic Bags Extinct at the Zoo

Forget paper or plastic, the Houston Zoo is now asking “no bag or reusable?” in both gift shops as we go completely bag free for wildlife conservation. Zoo gift shops now allow guests to choose to be completely bag-free, purchase reusable bags or use a tote they’ve brought from home. The decision was made in unison with our third-party retail partner, Service Systems Associates (SSA).

“This is a significant step for our organization, one we hope will serve as an example for other companies,” said Peter Riger, vice president of wildlife conservation for Houston Zoo. “As a zoo-based conservation organization it’s important for us to walk the walk, and talk the talk. We are using this action specifically to highlight the need protect marine animals from debris. It also allows our guests to play a direct part in making a difference on our planet.”

HZI Sea Turtle Release - Twitter Header

This move will keep an estimated 80,000 plastic bags from entering landfills and the environment each year. There is roughly 3.15 billion pounds of plastic in our oceans right now and the average American will add to this epidemic by throwing away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.  Wildlife like endangered sea turtles and other marine creatures often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods.

The organization started this change as part of a test in July and when guests proved to support this initiative, the zoo decided to make the switch permanent. Since then, the organization has saved approximately 200 plastic bags per day.

“Service Systems Associates is proud to join the Houston Zoo in this sustainability initiative,” said SSA executive vice president-retail, Patrick Brown.  “Our Members and guests have long proven that they care about and support programs that help save animals in the wild, and simply choosing a reusable bag is a step everyone can take.  It is amazing how one little change can have such a far reaching impact.”

The Houston Zoo also has an expanding collection of canvas bags artistically designed with images depicting the animals that benefit from a reduction of plastic bags in the ocean. The series includes sea lions, sea turtles, and coming soon, pelicans.

Another Responsible Choice 

The Houston Zoo serves only responsible seafood to all of the animals and people. The sea lions, otters, birds, and fish-eating carnivores enjoy seafood that is listed as “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” as set by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guidelines. On-site food vendor Sodexo also serves only responsibel seafood options in restaurants and at special events held at the zoo. Everyone can choose ocean-friendly seafood, too! Simply download the Seafood Watch app on a smart phone and choose “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” options when shopping at the grocery store or at a favorite restaurant.

Featured Members: The Anello 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 Featured Members for October: The Anello Family.

We asked the Anello’s to tell us about their experience at the Zoo and why they are Members. Here’s what they had to say:

“We live in the Old Sixth Ward, so we’re a quick ten minute drive from the Zoo. We became members when our son Phineas was less than a year old. Back then, the Zoo was one of our primary outing destinations. We were at the Zoo easily once a month and attended all the special member events: Zoobilee, the African Forest preview, Member Mornings, you name it. As he got older, we found that we weren’t able to get to the Zoo as much but we kept our membership because we wanted to support the Zoo and love having the flexibility to visit whenever we can. We also have really come to enjoy the magazine and annual calendar.

featured members anello


Finally, we were able to visit in late August to celebrate the last day of summer vacation and we had a fantastic experience. Phineas loves learning about animals and has become quite the walking encyclopedia of animal knowledge gathered from books and TV. He walked into the Zoo with a mental list of all the animals he wanted to see because he’d read about them but hadn’t seen them up close: the albino alligator and the black mamba snake topped his list. He quickly grabbed a map and – thanks to the new letter labeling on the map and within the Zoo – he was able to navigate and – bonus! –  we were able to practice his map skills.  For the rest of the visit, it felt like our lucky day.

featured members anello2 We had the good fortune to catch a keeper talk with Victoria about the Indigo Snake, then we made it in time to feed a giraffe, then we sat down for lunch and got a great member meal deal on a Texas Patty Melt! Best. Zoo Meal. EVER. It was also great to see the focus our Zoo has on protecting animals and their habitats around the globe. We’ve always felt so lucky to live so close to a world class Zoo. It feels even better to be members of a Zoo that is far, far more than a park with animals available for viewing.

Cosimo, our youngest son who is now five months old, benefited nicely from the shady stroll and long nap.”

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to the Anello’s 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!

Shasta Is Turning 4!

Written by Samantha Junker, Senior Keeper


Turning 4 is a big deal and the Houston Zoo is throwing our cougar, Shasta, a birthday party to remember! We invite our guests to join us for fun, games, and of course singing happy birthday to Shasta as he receives his ice pop cake!

Shasta 2Shasta has dual roles here at the zoo; not only is he an ambassador for wild cougars, but he is also the official mascot of the University of Houston! Shasta VI (his official title) makes appearances at UH games via live webcam and also guards the UH senior rings before the class ring ceremony.

While his roles here keep him busy, Shasta had an uncertain beginning to his life.  Orphaned in the wild at a very young age, it took the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife several days to find him.  He was hiding so well, the searchers had to chirp like a cougar in order to locate him.  Shasta chirped back and was quickly found.  He was hungry and thirsty, but otherwise ok!  Since Shasta was still too young to fend for himself, a forever home was needed and that is where the Houston Zoo stepped in.

Shasta currently resides at the Houston Zoo with a female cougar named Haley, also orphaned in the wild.  Please join us at the cougar exhibit on Sunday, September 27 from 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. to help celebrate everything Shasta!


Terrifically Tiny Turtles Hatch at the Zoo

Houston Zoo is experiencing a baby boom. A very small baby boom of critically endangered,terrifically tiny turtles. In late August, eight Madagascar big-headed turtle babies were found swimming in their parents’ home in the lemur moat at the zoo’s Wortham World of Primates. Also discovered was a pregnant mama turtle full of 20 eggs that she has since laid, which are expected to hatch in the next few months. The babies and eggs are currently being cared for behind-the-scenes.


The Madagascar big-headed turtle was once widely distributed throughout the rivers and lakes of western Madagascar.  However, overexploitation from a growing human population has drastically reduced and fragmented its range.  One of the most endangered turtles in the world, this species is included on the Turtle Conservation Fund’s top 25 endangered turtles list and is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

Madagascar Big-headed Turtle Babies 2015-0002-9042

In December, 2005, two male and five juvenile female big-headed turtles were confiscated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and donated to the Houston Zoo.  In 2008, these turtles were transferred to the moat surrounding the lemur habitat at the zoo’s Wortham World of Primates.  In order to keep the turtles outside year-round, a swimming pool heater was installed to keep the moat warm during the winter months.  Since these turtles can be aggressive towards each other, underwater boxes fashioned from roofing tiles and bricks were added to the moat so that the turtles could hide in them when needed.

Madagascar Big-headed Turtle Babies 2015-0009-9079Hatchlings have an average weight of less than .02 pounds.  The average shell measurements are 1.3 inches long and 1 inch wide (that’s a tiny turtle!).  The young turtles began feeding immediately on a diet of aquatic turtle pellets and romaine lettuce.

Aging Grizzly Bear, Bailey, Quietly Passes

baileyThis morning, elderly grizzly bear, Bailey, was humanely euthanized due to complications resulting from extensive arthritis and old age. Bailey’s keepers and zoo veterinarians made this difficult decision after exhausting a comprehensive treatment plan spanning the past eight years. 

Despite excellent care and a thorough treatment regimen, Houston Zoo carnivore keepers and veterinarians decided to peacefully euthanize Bailey after noticing a decline to his already limited mobility. In addition to administering pain medication, keepers worked hard to modify Bailey’s habitat with hopes of alleviating pain in his movements. This included re-sloping areas of the bear exhibit to reduce strain on Bailey’s joints and adding sand to bedding.

Bailey and brother grizzly bear, Boomer, were born in 1980. The pair came to the Houston Zoo in 2007 from the Houston SPCA where they had lived for a year after the organization confiscated them from a private individual who was not taking good care of them. They had lived in tiny cages and were found to be in very poor health, with severe dental disease, and obesity from lack of exercise. In recent years, both Boomer and Bailey had been receiving treatment for chronic arthritis. Boomer passed earlier this year, and these two bears will be incredibly missed by their keepers and zoo visitors. 

Whenever an animal dies, no matter what the reason, it is a tragic event and our staff morns the loss of a member of their family. The health and wellness of our animals is a great priority to our team and with four incredible veterinarians and a complete veterinary clinic and world-class animal keepers, our animals receive the best care possible.  While it’s always exciting to celebrate births at the zoo, we also mourn heavily when one of our animals dies.

This Weekend, We’re Featuring Enrichment and Rhinos!

This weekend, the Houston Zoo is hosting two fun and engaging events, Enrichment Day and a Spotlight on Species featuring rhinoceros.

rhino enrichment1

Enrichment happens every day at the Houston Zoo. Zookeepers work hard to provide a variety of enrichment for the 6,000 animals. But just what is enrichment? It’s creative stimulation to keep the animals’ minds and bodies healthy and to encourage natural behaviors. Things like toys, newspaper, novel food items, or scents are all types of enrichment.

Enrichment Day is from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19, where zoo guests can learn all about how zookeepers incorporate enrichment into the daily lives of Houston Zoo animals. Guests can travel the zoo along recommended tracks to see enrichment in action, like puzzle feeders for the bears or ice pops for gorillas. Some zoo animals even paint a picture!

Enrichment Day activities are 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Many of our animals will enjoy Enrichment Day treats this weekend.

This Saturday and Sunday is also Spotlight on Species: Rhino at the zoo.  From 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. each day guests can spend time with the zoo’s rhino keepers to learn all about these amazing animals. Members and guests can also participate in rhino-themed crafts and games, touch educational biofacts and interact with the keepers during special Meet the Keeper Talks Presented by Phillips 66.

Both events are included in zoo admission, and free to Members. See the full Enrichment Day schedule here!

Search Blog & Website
[jetpack_subscription_form title="Subscribe to the Blog" subscribe_text="Enter your email address to subscribe and receive new blog posts by email."]
Houston Zoo Facebook Page
Animals In Action

Recent Videos