Houston Zoo’s Dr Lauren Travels to Singapore to Save Elephants – Post # 6

One of our expert veterinarians is currently in Singapore working with other wildlife professionals to save elephants from a deadly virus. Embark on this journey with her as she writes about the efforts being made to eradicate the virus and protect Asian elephants around the world.


The hotel on the left is the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, check it out. Yes thats a boat on toop of three buildings. Makes the theatre in the middle that looks likea blooming onion look boringWith almost 6 million people, Singapore is one of the world’s smallest countries. That said, it has four official languages, six digit zip codes, and has transformed itself from a “third-world, mosquito infested swamp” to modern, vibrant city in less than 50 years.  The architecture and ambiance struck me as a cross between New York City and Las Vegas, with an added emphasis on green spaces and ecologically responsible design. Minus the litter, panhandlers, and chewing gum encrusted on the sidewalks, of course. (Chewing gum, and littering, are punishable offenses here). Today was our one day off from the workshops to see a bit of the city, and I got a chance to look around with Dr. Paul Ling, of the Baylor College of Medicine. If you want to see an absolutely crazy building, check out the Marina Bay Sands Hotel of Singapore, which looks like three hotels with a boat on top of them.

Dr. Ling and I have traveled to Singapore to participate in the 1st Asian EEHV Strategy Meeting, a three-day workshop hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore and including 38 people from 8 Asian elephant range countries as well as Singapore, Europe, Canada and the US. Together we are sharing information on EEHV (elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus), a deadly virus that can cause acute, often fatal hemorrhagic disease in young Asian elephants, both under human care and in the wild. The Houston Zoo and Baylor College of Medicine have worked together on extensive research on this virus, and it was our privilege to take what we’ve learned in North America and use the information to help veterinarians detect and treat EEHV in Asian elephants throughout their 13 native range countries.

As we wrapped up our EEHV Meeting, the work of some of our new friends was just beginning as they started a two day meeting on the 2nd ASEAN Captive Elephant Working Group Meeting. I was able to sit in on one day of their discussion, where they focused on captive elephant care in elephant camps throughout Asia. There are many elephant camps that welcome tourists in Thailand and other Asian countries, and the quality of elephant care in these camps can vary greatly. It is the daunting task of this group to establish some guidelines, and possibly even a scoring or accreditation system similar to the AZA, for these camps. This would allow for more regular veterinary care of the elephants, improved living conditions for elephants and their caretakers, and will give well-meaning tourists the information they need to support the camps that do best by their animals.1st Asian EEHV Strategy Meeting Delegates 11.5.15

Whether you are traveling 20 hours by plane to Asia or just as far as Hermann Park in Houston, there is a lot you can do to help save animals in the wild, and to contribute to Asian elephant health and conservation. Every time you visit the Houston Zoo, your money helps to save animals in the wild. If you’d like to learn more about elephants and EEHV, the virus that has claimed the lives of almost half the Asian elephants that have been born in North America since 1980, please visit our www.eehvinfo.org. The critical, lifesaving research we do to better understand and manage EEHV would not be possible without financial support from people like you, who love elephants just as much as we do.Dr. Dennis Schmitt of Ringling Bros Center for Elephant Conservation examines the map of the 62 EEHV cases identified so far in Asia

It was a great opportunity for me to travel on behalf of the Houston Zoo and share all of our hard won information on EEHV with my new friends and colleagues from Singapore, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Cambodia, Borneo, and Vietnam. It’s not often you get to participate in a meeting where you really feel like your presence made a big difference, and I am grateful for the chance to experience that! Many people might assume that anyone who works at a zoo travels to far away, exotic places all the time, and some of us do. It’s just usually not me. With two small children I adore and a husband I never see enough of, the most exotic travel I usually do for conservation is to get out to Bastrop State Park once a year to participate in egg releases for our critically endangered Houston toad program. Becoming involved in EEHV collaboration and research has given me the opportunity to see some pretty incredible places and meet some amazing people, and also to stretch my wings and try my hand at new skills such as facilitation, consensus building, and even blogging! It just goes to show that you never know where a career in veterinary medicine may take you, or what you may end up dedicating your life to. I consider myself very lucky to be able to call the Houston Zoo, with its focus on conservation and science, home!

The Year of the Gibbon – Happy Thanksgibbon!

By Diane Shea & Tammy Buhrmester

siamangHave you ever been to the Wortham World of Primates at the Houston Zoo and heard singing but did not know where it was coming from?  Once you find them, do you know what animal they are and why they are singing that song?

Gibbons are full of mysteries!

Gibbons are primates; apes more specifically.  Most people are familiar with the great apes (gorilla, chimpanzee, orangutans, and bonobos), however, there are also lesser apes (meaning smaller in size).  Gibbons are lesser apes.

Gibbons are small-bodied (about 12-20 pounds) and fast.  Gibbons are masters of their primary mode of locomotion called brachiation, or swinging from branch to branch using their arms. They can travel through the canopy of the forest up to 35 miles per hour.  You will find gibbons at home in the treetops, seldom coming to the ground.  When they are on the ground they will walk bipedally with their arms raised up for balance. They are the fastest and most agile of all tree-dwelling, nonflying mammals.  Since they are so high in the trees and travel so quickly, it is very difficult to see them in their native habitat of Asia.

Gibbons are social animals; they are strongly territorial and defend their boundaries with vigorous visual and vocal displays. There are few sounds in nature more evocative than the whooping song of a gibbon.  The sound can be heard for a distance of up to half a mile consisting of a duet between a mated pair.  Yet the songs, performed by both sexes, are highly complex and their subtleties and nuances are far from fully understood.  Males accompany females and create complex duets and the degree of synchronization between the sexes increases with practice, and the quality of the song relates to the length of time they have been together. Each species of gibbon has its own song, and each male and female song differs from one another.

The Houston Zoo is home to a pair of siamang gibbons who have been living together for a couple of years. You will most likely hear their duet early in the morning before they go outside, or later in the afternoon. Male and female siamangs are normally similar in size, but Jambi, our 19 year old female, is quite a bit larger than our 15 year old male, Berani.  You will find the pair relaxing together, or grooming each other, and occasionally engaging in play behavior. Jambi is particularly fond of twirling around and around on a large sheet tied to a rope in the exhibit, and Berani will hang from a rope above Jambi and tap her gently to get her to play with him.

siamang 2The song of the siamangs is often enhanced by the voice of our agile gibbon, Susie.   She will frequently start her own song early in the morning and the siamangs will begin theirs in response.  Susie is an extraordinary 43 years old, and is one of the Zoo’s longest residents.  Despite her advanced age, she is still a feisty lady and makes her preferences for certain foods known by open-mouth threatening keepers if they make the mistake of offering her the least favorite items in her diet first.

Susie is a special, but all too common, case. In her earliest years she was taken from her mother and kept as a pet by a private individual. By the age of three she had grown too dangerous to handle and was donated to the Zoo.  Having missed the chance for proper socialization with her own kind, she cannot be placed with another gibbon.  Because of this she gets extra attention from her keepers each day.  Although Susie was born in captivity, many gibbons continue to be taken from the wild for the pet trade, often with far less pleasant results.

In addition to the pet trade, gibbons are threatened by habitat destruction.  One of the main causes of deforestation is the palm oil industry.  Palm oil is in many of the common substances and foods that we use.  By purchasing products that use certified sustainable palm oil, we can ensure that we are supporting companies that are committed to helping gibbons.

The plight of the gibbon is often overshadowed by their larger ape cousins, but they are considered the most threatened primate; a gibbon will likely be the first ape extinction our generation will witness.

On Saturday, November 28 and Sunday, November 29, the Houston Zoo primate department will be celebrating the Year of the Gibbon, with an event called “Thanksgibbon”.  We would like to invite you to come to the zoo and meet these wonderful apes, learn about them, perhaps  hear them sing, and help us raise money to support this beautiful species by purchasing palm oil free body products, paintings done by Houston Zoo primates, and assorted conservation products.

Once you have given thanks for your friends and family, filled your belly with Thanksgiving food, taken that after meal nap, and done your Black Friday shopping, please join us to help! And, give Thanks that we have gibbons!

Penny Always Has Something to Say

Hi everyone.  It’s Penny the Swap Shop cat.

Penny
Penny

I have been enjoying seeing so many guests lately!  There were lots of people here for Zoo Boo.  That was so much fun.  Now, it’s time for Zoo Lights and everyone likes that! We have had some rainy days, but the dry days were amazing.  Lots of people came out on the good weather days.  I like that weather too.   I especially like sitting in the windows in the sun.

There was a different kind of guest in the Shop recently.  I didn’t get to stay out and see him, but I knew he was out there.   I heard all about it (and smelled him too!).  It was a goat!  His name is Alvin, and he

Visitors meet Alvin in the Swap Shop
Visitors meet Alvin in the Swap Shop

is a Nubian goat.  I heard that he is really tall – much taller than me.  He came in with his trainer, Amber.  I already knew Amber; she is one of the Zookeepers in the Children’s Zoo.  I found out that Nubian goats are dairy goats and originally came from Africa.  They like really hot climates – so they must really love Houston.  They also have some really awesome long ears.    You can meet Alvin and lots of other goats in the Contact Area of the Children’s Zoo.

Of course, if you want to meet me, you will have to come to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.

Alvin and his trainer Amber
Alvin and his trainer Amber

As an Ambassador for the zoo, I sometimes go out to classrooms or presentations. But, when I am not working, I live in the Swap Shop.  The Naturalists that work there seem to understand that I am the one really in charge.

Don’t know ab0ut the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Houston Zoo’s Dr Lauren Travels to Singapore to Save Elephants – Post # 5

One of our expert veterinarians is currently in Singapore working with other wildlife professionals to save elephants from a deadly virus. Embark on this journey with her as she writes about the efforts being made to eradicate the virus and protect Asian elephants around the world.


They put me to work right away helping to facilitate discussionsWildlife Reserves Singapore consists of four separate animal parks: the Singapore Zoo, Singapore Night Safari, Singapore River Safari, and the Jurong Bird Park. The Singapore Zoo has an enormous Orangutan exhibit that houses 27 individuals in an amazing tree top exhibit.  The Night Safari is open only in the evening and focuses on nocturnal animals (and has a delicious dinner buffet to boot!). The Jurong Bird Park contains a massive enclosed aviary with a breathtaking waterfall that falls over a natural cliff around which the park was built. Wildlife Reserves Singapore is hosting our 1st Asian EEHV Strategy Meeting and funded the travel for many wildlife veterinarians and researchers from Asian elephant range countries so that they can attend this important first step in understanding EEHV’s impact in this region. My travel was funded by the Houston Zoo, as part of our ongoing effort to understand EEHV and also to share information and encourage international collaboration.

We learned yesterday that elephant deaths from EEHV (elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus) have been identified in five Asian elephant range countries (India, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Myanmar). Our task now is to clarify our next steps in both sharing what we know about EEHV with those that need to know it, and also in learning what we can about the impact of EEHV in this part of the world.The Jurong Bird Park has an amazing collection of birds and aviary surrounding this enormous waterfall, which falls over a natural cliff on which the park is built

Many veterinarians I met are just like my colleagues and I at the Houston Zoo, providing medical care for baby elephants under human care and wanting to do whatever they can to increase their chances of survival.  Some of these veterinarians live onsite with the elephants and have access to diagnostic laboratories and a wide range of veterinary drugs, and some of these vets take a whole day’s travel to even get to the baby elephants, and then make it only if the bridges aren’t out. Some of these elephants are in complex, highly regulated logging camps where their hours worked and medical care are carefully monitored, and some elephants are privately owned and live and work in small camps or with mahout families. Many vets also provide veterinary care and post mortem examinations on wild elephants, and help to care for wild elephants that come into conflict with humans on the border of human/elephant habitats.

The Singapore Zoo has two large male Asian elephants, a father and son, who live together in one exhibit.
There is much to learn about EEHV in wild elephants, and this is the hardest population of elephants to monitor and to determine numbers of and causes of death for. Mapping out the impact of a disease like EEHV on free ranging elephant populations across South Asia requires a well-organized effort and a long term commitment to sample collection and population monitoring. And we are just beginning.

Veterinarians from Thailand and India cast their votes for the most pressing issues regarding EEHV in Asia
Veterinarians from Thailand and India cast their votes for the most pressing issues regarding EEHV in Asia

Today our group identified several documents that we can put together to guide local veterinarians, mahouts and government officials, which we will complete by the end of 2015 and be ready to share by Feb 2016. These documents will be compiled into an EEHV in Asia Strategy Booklet, and will be the basis for the next steps we’ll take in tackling EEHV in this region. Our first step is to get everyone up to speed on what EEHV is, and how to recognize it, and, for those that are able, how to treat it. While we are doing that, we’ll also be encouraging veterinarians to document cases, collect data and start banking samples on captive and wild elephants whenever possible. Next we need to identify resources with which we can help to set up diagnostic laboratories in the countries that really need them, such as Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia, and others. We’ll be meeting again in Nov 2016 to gauge our progress and make the next set of plans.

Stay tuned for one more blog about Singapore and about what you can do to help elephants!!

Houston Zoo’s Dr Lauren Travels to Singapore to Save Elephants – Post # 4

One of our expert veterinarians is currently in Singapore working with other wildlife professionals to save elephants from a deadly virus. Embark on this journey with her as she writes about the efforts being made to eradicate the virus and protect Asian elephants around the world.


Friday night in hotel room after meeting:

Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is responsible for 42% of the deaths of Asian elephants born in North America since 1980. It is certainly a leading cause of mortality in the young Asian elephants in our country, and better understanding of this devastating disease is a high priority for the research collaboration established between the Houston Zoo and Baylor College of Medicine. What does EEHV mean for Asian elephants in their 13 range countries across South Asia? Does it impact elephants that are under human care in camps, orphanages, zoos, and logging operations? Does it impact free ranging Asian elephant populations, which are already under immense pressure from habitat destruction and fragmentation, human elephant conflict, and poaching?

Elephant Mating

Today we took the first steps to finding answers to some of these questions. Today was the second day of our three day 1st Asian EEHV Strategy Meeting, hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Thirty three veterinarians, conservationists, researchers and elephant specialists from eight elephant range countries as well as Singapore, the Netherlands, Canada and the US came together to share information and discuss priorities and plan our next steps in regard to EEHV in Asia. The largest regional need identified was the need to increase awareness and education about EEHV in all groups including  those taking care of the elephants every day (the mahouts) as well as elephant and wildlife veterinarians, veterinary colleges, and government officials. Another important issue identified was the need to establish more laboratories that can diagnose EEHV within range countries;  currently, of 13 elephant range countries, only 3 have EEHV diagnostic capabilities (India, Thailand, and Indonesia). EEHV can cause death within 1 to 2 days of the start of visible illness, making close availability of diagnostic laboratories of paramount importance.Asian Elephant Baylor-0489-1886

A third priority identified was the need to learn more about the impact of EEHV on Asian elephant populations in range countries. Together, we identified 62 cases of EEHV in five of the range countries represented at our meeting (India, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia), with 3 of these 62 elephants surviving infection with intensive treatment by Thai veterinarians. Of the 59 identified EEHV fatalities, 47 were in captive elephants and 12 were documented in wild elephants in India, where wildlife veterinarians already have an extensive monitoring and necropsy protocol. We now know for certain that EEHV-associated mortalities occur in wild elephants, and need to learn much more about its prevalence in and impact on wild populations.

It was a long day and long laundry list of needs and problems to address…. Wherever do we start…. Stay tuned next time for the answers! (well, at least some of them…..)

Houston’s Favorite Dragon Humanely Euthanized

smaug eggSmaug, the Houston Zoo’s 17-year-old Komodo dragon was humanely euthanized on Nov. 17, 2015 after significant lumbar spinal cord compression was found. The zoo’s herpetology and veterinary team made the decision after an MRI and CT scan showed that his condition was severe and his quality of life was beginning to suffer as he was unable to walk.

The zoo went to extraordinary measures to make the more than 200-pound lizard comfortable. Just last year, Smaug was treated for a complicated front limb weakness that gained national recognition (Washington Post) for the zoo’s incredible attention to animal health and well-being. For the past year and a half, Smaug was thoroughly evaluated and treated by team of specialists from all over Houston including veterinary chiropractor Dr. Jessica Marziani and Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialist’s neurologist, Dr. Randy Longshore, as well as a team from the Orthotics and Prosthetics Program at nearby Baylor College of Medicine.

The experts have determined that his lumbar spinal cord compression is not linked to his previous weakness in his right front limb.

Smaug was a guest and staff favorite at the zoo ever since he was brought to Houston in 2001 as a young lizard. He was hand-raised by reptile supervisor Judith Bryja and was a can’t-miss part of zoo visits. He was a frequent participant in both Enrichment Day and Feast With the Beast where guests could see him powerfully devour ostrich eggs or even whole goat carcasses.

smaug judith

“Smaug was an incredible ambassador for his species and he will forever be missed,” said Sharon Joseph, vice president of animal operations at the Houston Zoo. “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.”

Komodo dragons are listed as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN. They are the world’s largest lizard and native to the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia.

Little Tikes: Gigi the Spunky Giraffe

Have you ever wondered what our baby animals are up to after they’re born? How much have they grown? How do the keepers maintain the animal’s healthy diet? We want you to learn about our adorable babies as they grow up, so we’ve decided to give you a small peek into the lives of our little superstars.


gigi updateI sat down with Memory Mays, one of our giraffe keepers, to learn more about how our baby giraffe Gigi has been adapting to her new home:

It’s been two months since Gigi joined the Houston Zoo family and every minute has been spent in the excellent care provided by our keepers. In just a short time with us, Gigi has sprung from 6 feet 3 inches and 130 pounds at birth to a current 7 feet 4 inches and 310 pounds. To most of us that sounds like a surprising amount of growth for a newborn, however Memory said that Gigi is growing at a normal rate and that most Masai giraffes are at this height by the time they are Gigi’s age. Due to this rapid growth rate from giraffes, the keepers monitor Gigi’s weight on a consistent basis to make sure that she is growing up healthy.  Right now Gigi’s weight is being monitored once every other day to insure she is getting the proper nutrients from her mother’s milk. Memory said once Gigi gets a little bit older she will only receive weight checkups once a week like the rest of her herd.

gigi update 2Most of you probably want to know what Gigi does on a daily basis. Is she active? Is she enjoying her new home? Well you will be happy to know that Gigi is not only energetic but has become one of a kind! Memory said that giraffes usually have the same type of personality but out of the herd, Gigi is definitely the spunkier and more independent one. Gigi is known to be very reliable and does what she is asked to do. Gigi just comes right up to Memory and the other keepers and when they are done doing a training session, Gigi will go right back to playing in the yard with ease. According to Memory, Gigi and her three siblings typically stick together in their own mini heard, running around and kicking up dust.

gigi update 3Since giraffe feeding is one of the coolest things to do here at the Houston Zoo, most of you may be looking to feed Gigi on your next visit. However, you may have to wait a little longer. Although Gigi is adapting well to her environment, she still is very much trying to figure everything out around her. Gigi is still nursing from her mother, Asali, and is in the beginning stages of trying to consume solid foods. When Gigi reaches about six months old, she will be able to fully join the herd in eating all the solid food she needs: grain, carrots, and sweet potatoes are just a few of the goodies given to our giraffes. Until then you can catch Gigi running around the yard with her siblings and enjoying the wonderful life we provide our animals here at the Houston Zoo.

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