August’s Featured Member: The Marcotte 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 of Zoo Members that deserve recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to August’s Featured Members: The Marcotte Family

We asked the Marcotte’s to share a few words about what being a Zoo Member means to them. Here’s what they had to say.


marcottes“We’ve had our membership for just under a year, but I can already say with confidence that it is the best gift we have ever received.  As a stay-at-home mom, I have lots of opportunities to come during the week with my two girls, Jenna (2 1/2) and Juliette (8 months).  We also frequently come as a family on the weekends, and my husband, Jacob, loves to take the girls on his own for special daddy/daughter dates.  It’s the perfect setting because there are so many places for the girls to explore, play, and learn.  To me, a membership means a relaxed and truly enjoyable visit to the zoo.  There’s no pressure to see every exhibit or push my two littles to exhaustion because we can always come back the next day.


The layout of the zoo is so family friendly.  All of the exhibits are enjoyable and accessible for grown-ups and toddlers alike.  Our favorite spots to visit right now are the sea lions, big cats, Children’s Zoo, Natural Encounters building, and Tropical Bird house…to name a few! 🙂  We can (and do!) spend entire mornings crawling through the fish tunnel, tip-toeing across the “bird bridge,” and sliding down the otter waterfall.  I especially love all of the shade and indoor exhibits for those hot summer months!

Of course, our favorite zoo feature right now is the “DINOSAURS!” exhibit!  It is a constant topic of conversation in our house and an absolute must-see.  The way the dinosaurs move and roar is really incredible.  All of us wanted to go through again and again, and the girls left sporting a bracelet of their new favorite dinosaur, the T-Rex!


Mostly, I love all of the different special events the zoo has throughout the year.  For Easter, the girls and I loved watching the lions and chimpanzees discovering treats inside large papier-mache eggs.  Jenna talked for weeks about the chimpanzees eating strawberries, just like her.  The Cool Nights events are also really wonderful!  The different themes are so fun, and it’s been a really special way for us to unwind and spend time as a family at the end of each week.

Thank you, Houston Zoo for designing such a wonderful place for families to learn and enjoy!”

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

Year of the Monkey: Golden Lion Tamarins

DSC_1920By Abby Varela

Last month you were introduced to the golden-headed lion tamarins. Did you know there were three other kinds? There’s the black-faced lion tamarin which has a black head and an orange body, the black lion tamarin with all black fur except for an orange posterior, and the golden lion tamarin. True to their name, golden lion tamarins are completely covered in orange-gold fur that gets brighter the more time they spend in the sunlight. On average, golden lion tamarins are slightly larger than their close relatives, making them the largest of all the tamarin species. But that’s like saying they’re pretty big for a little monkey. At 400 to 800 grams, an adult weighs about the same as a can of soup!

Like all lion tamarins, wild golden lion tamarins can only be found in Brazil but you can see Zuno and Coari at the Natural Encounters Department of the Houston Zoo. Zuno is a male that was born at the Houston Zoo 11 years ago and Coari is a 4 year old female that came to the Houston Zoo a year ago to be his companion. Coari and Zuno could not be more different, but they go together like two peas in a pod. Zuno has always been more skittish. He is hesitant to shift into holding and is shy around new people. He swears the world is about to come to an end when he spots the star tortoises moving around on the ground beneath him. Coari on the other hand is bold, daring, has a, let’s say “strong” appetite and is definitely a positive influence on Zuno. When Zuno vocalizes his fear of the tortoises, Coari can be seen going about her business grooming herself, sunning, eating, etc., while still giving Zuno comforting chirps until he calms back down. When keepers are shifting these tamarins, Coari comes in right away and shows Zuno that there is nothing to fear and that there are plenty of great rewards for shifting. Of course, Zuno never wants to be far from Coari. He has a long history of getting along well with the pygmy marmosets that share his exhibit. Coari has taken greatly to Zuno’s friends as well and now all four can be seen frequently playing together, grooming each other, or sunning together.


Now that you know Zuno and Coari, let’s talk some about wild golden lion tamarins, as they have an interesting conservation story… In 1992, the population ranged from 200-600 individuals, classifying them as critically endangered. They were divided in groups across 14 different forests with some being isolated to the forests they inhabited. The biggest problem they faced was deforestation and fragmentation of their habitat. Over the past 30 years zoological and conservation institutions have worked together through the Golden Lion Tamarin Conservation Program of the National Zoological Park to establish new populations through relocation of 47 individuals that were isolated, which would lead to their populations eventually dying out. The individuals were moved to the União Biological Reserve and the numbers were also increased by the reintroduction of captive born individuals to the wild. Approximately one third of the wild populations are descendants of individuals from this program. Currently, the population in União Biological Reserve is thriving and is projected to be at maximum carrying capacity.  In 2003 this population’s status was switched to endangered. There are now approximately 1,000 golden lion tamarins in the wild, with few suitable habitats left to expand the population to. If they inhabited all suitable areas, the population would most likely still remain below 2,000 individuals, which is enough to save the species in the short term, but not enough to have this species around for decades to come.

At this point, the key to saving this species at this point is continued population management and reforestation to connect the fragmented pieces of habitat.

So what can you do? One of the most fun ways you can help is visiting Zuno and Coari, where part of the money paid for each Houston Zoo ticket goes directly into conservation. You can change your everyday practices by reducing, reusing and recycling paper.

You can also donate directly to the cause through Save the Golden Lion Tamarin at This organization supports the Associação Mico-Leão-Dourado, which is leads international efforts to save golden lion tamarins. They are currently working to reconnect forest fragments where tamarins live, educating local people, and monitoring and protecting the wild tamarins.

Sea Lion Staff Make a Wild Impact

You may have heard the news of our adorable female sea lion pup that was recently born at the Houston Zoo. What you may not know is that in between caring for our sea lions, training them, conducting keeper chats, and engaging zoo guests, our sea lion staff is also working additional hours to create a healthier ocean for wildlife right here in Texas.

The Sea Lion Staff assists an ongoing fishing line recycling program which aims to reduce the fishing line on the Surfside Jetty in Surfside, Texas while providing an opportunity for other Zoo staff and volunteers to get involved in work outside our Zoo gates. This program was created through NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Sea Grant at Texas A&M University’s Monofilament Recovery & Recycling Program. Fishing line is a hazard to wildlife such as sea turtles, fish, rays, dolphins, and shore birds because it can entangle animals, making it hard for them to swim or fly and find food. The Sea Lion Staff conducts monthly cleanups on the Surfside Jetty, removing and recycling fishing line from the monofilament bins, as well as collecting line that is caught in between the rocks. In addition to the fishing line, they also recover trash and recyclables.

Zoo staff cleaning up the Surfside Jetty.
Zoo staff cleaning up the Surfside Jetty.

Here are their accomplishments so far:

• Began program in August 2014 
• Pounds of fishing line recycled to date – 94 lbs
• Pounds of other trash and recycled items collected to date – trash: 592 lbs, recycling: 429 lbs
• Number of staff and volunteers involved to date – 22 staff, 3 interns, 20 volunteers
• Number of different departments involved to date – 14 Zoo departments

Zoo staff removing discarded fishing line and debris from the Surfside Jetty so it does not end up entangling/harming ocean animals.
Zoo staff removing discarded fishing line and debris from the Surfside Jetty so it does not end up entangling/harming ocean animals.

The Sea Lion Staff became extremely passionate about the issue of marine debris after working with one of our previous sea lions, Astro. Astro was a California sea lion that came to us with a wound on his neck, possibly from becoming entangled in marine debris, possibly a carelessly discarded fishing net or fishing line. After working alongside Astro, the Sea Lion team dedicated their time off, weekends, and work time to reduce the threat of marine debris and entanglement on ocean animals.

Astro the sea lion was an ambassador for his species-bringing awareness to the problem of marine debris.
Astro the sea lion was an ambassador for his species-bringing awareness to the problem of marine debris.

If you visit the sea lions at the Houston Zoo, you may get a chance to see a replica fishing line recycling bin and hear about how you can help save ocean animals here in Texas. Our sea lions are not only ambassadors for our ocean-friendly seafood initiative, but they also help us tell the story of marine debris and the dangers of discarded fishing line in our oceans. You can help protect ocean animals by making sure your fishing line doesn’t end up in the water-instead, place it in a monofilament recycling bin! These bins can be found all along the Upper Texas Coast.

Look for fishing line recycling bins like this one when you are out fishing in the Galveston area! You can discard your fishing line here.
Look for fishing line recycling bins like this one when you are out fishing in the Galveston area! You can discard your fishing line here.

Green sea turtle rehabilitating in Kipp Aquarium

A green sea turtle has taken up temporary residence at the Houston Zoo! You can find the green sea turtle in the Kipp Aquarium.

Come visit the Kipp Aquarium to see a wild green sea turtle being rehabilitated!
Come visit the Kipp Aquarium to see a wild green sea turtle being rehabilitated!

This sea turtle was accidentally caught by a fisherman. The turtle was reported and biologists from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) responded and brought the turtle to the Houston Zoo to be rehabilitated until it is ready to be released into the wild.

When a sea turtle is reported and picked up by NOAA biologists, information is taken on the individual so staff can keep track of when it came in, when it is released, its' size, etc.
When a sea turtle is reported and picked up by NOAA biologists, information is taken on the individual so staff can keep track of when it came in, when it is released, its’ size, etc.

The turtle may be ready to be released by the end of the summer, so there is a possibility it will only be at the Zoo for a short time. NOAA staff will determine when the sea turtle is ready to be released. Thanks to NOAA, Houston Zoo clinic, and aquarium staff for ensuring this turtle’s recovery and future release back into the ocean!

We hope you can visit our temporary sea turtle resident soon. You can help save sea turtles in the wild by:

  • Reducing your usTake Action_Logo_FullColor_webe of plastic. Switch from plastic grocery bags to reusable bags. Plastic grocery bags are lightweight and can blow into our waterways/bayous, ending up in the ocean. Animals like sea turtles mistake these bags for food like jellyfish. When plastic is ingested, sea turtles can become quite sick. By reducing your plastic use, you are helping to save marine animals like sea turtles.
  • Choose only ocean-friendly seafood in restaurants and the grocery store. The way our seafood is caught or farmed can be harmful to wildlife like sea turtles. Download the FREE Seafood Watch App on your phone, which will help tell you the best choice seafood to buy and eat.

Bornean Orangutans Are Now Critically Endangered

Written by Dr. Marc Ancrenaz

Dr. Marc Ancrenaz is the scientific director of the NGO Hutan and co-director of the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project, a community-based program active in wildlife research, conservation and community development in Sabah, Malaysia since 1996. The Houston Zoo is proud to support Dr. Ancrenaz and HUTAN in efforts to protect wildlife from extinction.

Orangutans are now one step closer to extinction. Based on an assessment led by Borneo Futures, scientists from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) have officially downgraded the status of the orangutans living in Borneo to “Critically Endangered”, the last step before reaching the dreadful status of “Extinct into the Wild”[1]. Scientists have proven that the number of orangutans will decline by about 80% between 1950 and 2025 (given current development plans by the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia).


These numbers are hard to fathom. To put them in perspective, a 80% decline is equivalent to losing four out of five people we know; it is equivalent to the disappearance of a staggering six billion of the current global human population in 75 years with no new births.

orangutan-resizeActually, many populations of orangutans have already disappeared in Borneo. Some of them because of climate changes over the past millennia, most of them because of human activities; some of them because of forest destruction and conversion to agriculture, most of them because of hunting and killing.  What is clear is that at this current rate, many more populations are going to follow this path of oblivion in a near future.

But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the species is going to go extinct anytime soon. Indeed, drastic changes about the management of the orangutan habitat could be made to save the species from extinction.

However, we need to first recognize what is orangutan habitat…

Orang-utans are great apes and are our closest living relatives. This means that they are clever and highly adaptable. Despite early claims that orangutans could only survive in pristine habitats, in Borneo, orangutans are learning how to survive in deeply modified landscapes where the original forests have been replaced with oil palm or acacia plantations. For example, they are learning how to feed or to build their nests in man-made forests planted with exotic species; they feed on new plant species introduced by humans[2]. They are also changing their behavior as a response to human disturbance: they engage in crop-raiding activities at night, when people are sleeping, although they are naturally active in the daytime[3].


But there is something that the orangutan species cannot adapt to and cannot sustain: hunting. These great apes are extremely low breeders with a young being produced once every six to eight years on average. Hunting for meat, to mitigate conflicts (e.g. to stop crops from being raided by orangutan) or for any other reason has always been and remains till today the major driving force of orangutan decline in Borneo[4].

Are orangutans doomed in Borneo? This does not have to be the case as orangutans are now recognized to survive in man-made as well as natural degraded landscapes. We need first to identify ways for people and orangutans to cohabit peacefully in non-protected forests. Conservation needs also to happen OUTSIDE of the network of protected forests. Establishing and maintaining patches and corridors of forests across a landscape transformed by man would go a long way to support orangutans and many other animal species. This downgrade in status is an urgent call to reconcile people and wildlife and to reinvent ways for people and orangutans to share the same environment.

All of us need to adhere to a new vision of our world, where people and animals share rather than compete for the same ecosystems and natural resources. This is possible, this is our choice. If we fail, orangutans may follow the ever-growing list of species “Extinct Species in the Wild”.



[2] Ancrenaz et al., 2015.

[3] Hockings et al., 2015.

[4] Abram et al., 2015.

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