Can you count toad eggs?

There are multiple animal exhibits in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. One of them is home to two Houston Toads: Tina Toad and her friend, Mr. Toad.

The Houston Toad is one of Texas’ most imperiled species. Its range was formerly known to include 12 counties in Texas, but it is now only in a few counties in east-central Texas.  The largest remaining populations are found in the Lost Pines region of Bastrop County.

The Houston Zoo has a 1200 square foot Houston Toad quarantine facility, managed by two full-time

Tina Toad's egg strand
Tina Toad’s egg strand

Houston Toad specialists, that serves as a location for the captive breeding and head-starting of wild Houston toad egg strands for release. Part of the Houston Toad specialist’s job is to count the eggs in each egg strand!

The egg strand after it has been counted
The egg strand after it has been counted

Look at the pictures in this post. What you are seeing is a picture of one of Tina the Houston Toad’s egg strands.   The version with the white dots is an example of how the eggs are counted and marked as they go through the photo of the egg strand.

We recently had a contest in the Swap Shop to guess how many eggs were in the strand. The total in the strand, according to the toad keepers, was 8,533.  Our closest guess was from Isabel S. who guessed 8,600.  For her expertise in counting toad eggs, she received 100 points to spend in the Swap Shop!

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

September’s Featured Members: The Eikenburg 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 September’s Featured Members: The Eikenburg Family.

Eikenburg September Featured MemberWe asked the Eikenburg’s to share a few words about what being a Zoo Member means to them. Here’s what they had to say.

“Our Houston Zoo Membership takes raising our children from a labor of love to a literal walk in the park. Once we walk through the gates, our children get to take control, set the agenda and lead the way.

Our son and I had another memorable visit at the recent June 4th Members’ Morning. The conditions were perfect – terribly early (for a Saturday) and rainy! The zoo was his to share with only the animals and zookeepers. The highlights of this excursion for my son were watching the Komodo dragon massage his back under the waterfall in his habitat and watching the mongooses’ morning feeding. At the feeding, the zookeeper patiently answered all his questions while doling out the vegetables. She then gently warned that the feeding was going to get a bit grisly as she shifted the menu to protein. My son was transfixed, loving every circle-of-life moment of the feeding.

We take advantage of several of the programs that the Zoo offers. Top of the list has been Zoo Camp and the Swap Shop. Our son is always on the lookout for Swap Shop items when we are out and about. When he’s not able to provide physical evidence of the natural encounter, he’s quick to make a journal entry and share it with the staff.

It’s quite fortuitous that my children enjoy going to the Houston Zoo; they would likely be there anyway because I love going and have for over forty years and look forward to at least another forty.”

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

Tapir Conservation Partner in Brazil

As the world celebrated the closing ceremonies at the Rio Olympics on Sunday, we wanted to celebrate an amazing species that calls South America home – the tapir. Just as the USA’s medal count kept going up, so does the number of tapirs that have received a tracking collar for research with the Houston Zoo’s help. Since we started working with our tapir conservation partner, 57 tapirs have received a tracking collar. These tracking collars provide critical information for protecting tapirs in the wild.

Tapirs are the largest land mammal in South America with females weighing up to 700 pounds! There are four species of tapir in the world, with three of the four species found in Latin America – Baird’s, lowland, and mountain. The fourth species, the Malayan tapir, is found in Southeast Asia. Here at the Houston Zoo, we have a family of Baird’s tapir. This endangered animal is native to Central America.


At the Houston Zoo, we work to save tapirs in the wild through a partnership with the Tapir Specialist Group. It is a global group of biologists, zoo professionals, researchers and advocates dedicated to conserving tapirs and their habitat. The Houston Zoo works closely with this group’s Chair, Patricia Medici, to support a Lowland Tapir Project in Brazil.

Since the Olympic games were in Brazil, Patricia Medici participated in the Olympic torch route on June 26 through the city of Rio Brilhante.

The Houston Zoo also supports our partner with an event called Tapirs Helping Tapirs. For this event, Houston Zoo tapirs paint canvases that are sent to Brazil to be sold in a huge art exhibit to raise funds for protecting wild tapirs. This past April, we held a World Tapir Day event here at the zoo. This event had activities, a photo-op, and sold conservation items to benefit our conservation partner’s work saving tapirs in the wild.

To learn more about tapirs, come see the family of tapirs at the Houston Zoo, or visit

Year of the Monkey: August

Written by Amy Berting, Nina Russo and Rachel Sorge

Pied Tamarin “Summer” taken by Nina Russo
Pied Tamarin “Summer” taken by Nina Russo

Summer has arrived! No, not the season; “Summer” is our newest pied tamarin that arrived at the Houston Zoo. The zoo’s original pair of pied tamarins were brothers. Ricardo and Mario got along well but it was time to separate and find mates. Mario moved to Chicago to meet his new mate while Ricardo patiently waited for Summer to arrive. Summer’s original home was the Philadelphia Zoo, but she was sent here with a breeding recommendation through the pied tamarin Species Survival Plan (or SSP for short). SSP’s are a breeding program that all AZA accredited zoos participate in to help preserve and save our endangered species. It is our hope that Summer and Ricardo will hit it off and become first time parents here at the Houston Zoo.

Pied Tamarin “Ricardo” taken by Nina Russo
Pied Tamarin “Ricardo” taken by Nina Russo

You may be wondering what a pied tamarin is. They are a small species of New World monkeys that live in the rainforests of Brazil. They have white and brown furry bodies with a characteristic bald head. Pied tamarins live in large social groups with multiple males and females. Pied tamarins almost always have twins during birthing season. These tiny mammals are able to manage raising twins due to the fact that they co-parent. This means that both mom and dad care for the offspring. The infants are passed to the mother for nursing, but spend a great deal of quality time with dad.

pied 3A large portion of a pied tamarin’s day is spent foraging for food. Their diet mainly consists of fruit and insects. When they aren’t looking for food they can be found grooming each other or communicating with one another through a variety of vocalizations or scent marking.

Pied tamarins are endangered as their rainforest habitat is being destroyed. Because of their small stature and cute features, they are also being captured and sold as pets. It is never a good idea to have a monkey as a pet!

Come show your support for pied tamarins by coming to the Houston Zoo and visiting our new couple in the Wortham World of Primates!

A Very Happy Hatch Day

Written by Kelly Pardy & April Zimpel

rioWith the 2016 Olympics, Rio de Janeiro is getting a lot of attention, but the Houston Zoo has a Rio that deserves some attention of her own. Today, the bird department is celebrating the 28th Hatch Day of one of our Northern Helmeted Curassows! Affectionately called ‘Rio’, this bird came to Houston from the Rio Grande Zoo, which is now the Albuquerque Biological Park, in 1989. At 28, she is no longer producing chicks, but instead living out her retirement on exhibit in Birds of the World. Some of her favorite pastimes include eating watermelon, banana and peanuts, sunbathing, taking dust baths and being an ambassador for her species!

Northern Helmeted Curassow (Pauxi pauxi) are a South American species of bird located throughout portions of Colombia and Venezuela.  They primarily inhabit densely covered slopes of cloud forests and forage mainly on fallen fruits, seeds, and tender plant buds. This species is named for the large blue-grey casque, or ‘helmet’, located on their forehead. They stand about three feet tall and are usually characterized by white feathers on the legs and underside of the body with black feathers everywhere else.

Sadly, significant habitat destruction and fragmentation has led to drastic declines in the wild populations.  Hunting as a source of food, or for its decorative “helmet”, has also played a role in its decline throughout some portions of its range.  P. pauxi are currently listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and are estimated to have fewer than 2500 breeding individuals left in the wild.  Little research has been conducted in regards to population distribution and density, so this species may be worse off than what is currently suspected.

The current North American population was established in 1968 and there has been a continued concentration in the Houston Zoo bird department since then. The population has grown to over 60 individuals since the first successful breeding in 1978.  Rio was one of the first P. pauxi hatched in the United States and she has played a crucial role in helping propagate this captive species that faces the threat of extinction in the wild.  With 13 direct offspring and 35 additional descendants, she is one of the most well represented individuals in the captive collection.  The typical life expectancy for this species in captivity is early to mid-20’s, which also makes Rio the oldest Northern Helmeted Curassow in the current North American population and the second oldest in recorded US history.


Baby Copperheads Born at the Zoo

copperhead babiesThe Houston Zoo is proud to welcome five new additions to our reptile family! This summer one of our copperhead snakes gave birth to five babies weighing between 5.8g and 8.5g. Unlike many snakes, whose young hatch from eggs, copperhead snakes give birth to living juvenile snakes which are born with a yellow tip at the end of their tail, a characteristic also found in their close relative, the cottonmouth.

Copperheads are the most common venomous snake found locally in Houston and rely on their outstanding camouflage for both hunting prey and avoiding predators. Adult copperheads are identifiable by their copper (brownish-red) colored head and light brown body with dark hourglass shaped bands. They are expected to grow to a length of 2′-3′ and will eat small rodents and insects. They play a critical role in keeping the rodent population regulated. You can find them at the Houston Zoo in the Reptile and Amphibian building in a large exhibit with a canebrake rattlesnake and two Texas rat snakes.

Help Save Elephants in the Wild and Wear Gray for World Elephant Day!


Calling all elephant enthusiasts! Did you know elephant population numbers are rapidly declining in the wild? Do you know there are ways YOU can help protect these magnificent animals in the wild? You can start by joining the more than one hundred zoos and thousands of individuals across the country on Friday, August 12 in celebrating World Elephant Day! Guests that wear gray to the zoo will have a chance to win fun door prizes.

Elephants are the largest land mammals in the world and among the most intelligent animals on earth. Unfortunately, Asian elephants are also among the world’s most endangered species. At the turn of the 20th century, more than 100,000 Asian elephants roamed their native habitat. Today, approximately 40,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild. And this number continues to decline due to habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and poaching for their ivory tusks.

Here at the Houston Zoo, we are committed to protecting animals outside of our Zoo gates, and elephants are in serious need of our support. In the past five years, the Houston Zoo has worked closely with partners in both Africa and Asia, funding over $500,000 in field conservation programs.

YOU can help, too! Simply by visiting the Houston Zoo, you help protect animals in the wild – a portion of your admission ticket goes directly to conservation efforts around the world. You can also attend special events throughout the year, such as our Elephant Open House that will be held September 17, 2016 from 8 am – 10:30 am, where registration fees are also donated to conservation efforts.


A great time to visit the Houston Zoo is World Elephant Day on Friday, August 12, 2016.

World Elephant Day Activities Include:

11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Find out more about the Houston Zoo’s Asian elephant herd: Thai, Methai, Shanti, Tess, Tucker, Tupelo, Baylor & Duncan

Help keepers decorate enrichment items to give to the elephants throughout the day.

See and have a chance to purchase artwork done by our Pachyderm Picassos!

Learn all about elephant conservation and what YOU can do to help save them in the wild.

Wear gray on your Zoo visit to show your support plus talk with our Zookeepers, while the elephants are outside playing in the yard.

Penny Makes Her Move

Well, my plan worked! I have moved into a beautiful new room in the Ambassador Animal Building!   I have directed

Look at this awesome cat tree!
Look at this awesome cat tree!

my staff…..I mean the zookeepers, on what to put in my room and how to arrange it.

I have cat trees, boxes, kennels, and lots of toys. So many things to keep me happy and busy.  And, the keepers talk to me and keep me company all the time. I feel so regal in this new spot that I am considering wearing my tiara.

Perhaps I will wear my tiara
Perhaps I will wear my tiara

My next door neighbor is Peanut, the Aardvark. She is a very pleasant neighbor.  In fact, she sleeps most of the day so she is no bother at all.  Denver the Macaw gets a little loud sometimes, but that’s ok too.  I can handle it – even though I might have to have a talk with him at some point.  There are chinchillas, rabbits, birds, and reptiles here too.  I have some amazing neighbors.

I still get to go out in the zoo.  My handlers bring me out on my leash to visit and see zoo guests. I also get to go to presentations and classrooms.   I still go to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop from time to time too.

I will miss getting to say hello to the regular traders at the Swap Shop, but this new room is amazing!

The beautiful Penny in her new room.
The beautiful Penny in her new room.

Don’t forget about me.   I sure won’t forget about you.  I still love all my pals that come to the Swap Shop.  When you are at the zoo, keep your eyes open.  You never know where or when you will see me.

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

Galapagos Conservation Partner Furthers his Education in Belize!

The Houston Zoo works to save animals around the world, and we are able to do that because of our nearly 2.5 million annual guests who visit us. One of the biggest aspects of our conservation work is to support communities around the world that live next to wildlife. By providing them training, tools, and the ability to develop their skills-they can then protect the animals that are native to their area. The Houston Zoo partners with Ecology Project International (EPI) in Galapagos-a conservation education program that takes youth from the Galapagos Islands out into nature to conduct field research, and learn about the incredible species that call the Galapagos Islands home. Because of your ticket purchases to enter the Zoo, we have been able to provide funding to one of the EPI staff to further his education and receive a Master’s degree from Miami University of Ohio through the Project Dragonfly/Global Field Program. Read below to hear in his own words, about his experience in his first field course in Belize.

My name is Juan Sebastián Torres, I’m an Ecuadorian guy that lives in the Galápagos Islands and just a few months ago I was able to start a Master´s Program with Miami University as part of a Fellowship between the Houston Zoo and Miami´s graduate program called Project Dragonfly-the Global Field Program.

Juan Sebastian Torres, one of the Zoo's conservation partners from the Galapagos Islands, visits Belize to further his education!
Juan Sebastian Torres, one of the Zoo’s conservation partners from the Galapagos Islands, visits Belize to further his education!

As part of the program a field course in Belize – Central America took place at the end of June. In Belize, me and a group of 23 students from the US had the amazing opportunity to explore unique places in this little country. Belize’ s Zoo and its Tropical Education Center were our base homes, what a great place to begin this journey. At the Tropical Education Center the Savanna Forest was a new world to me and I was excited for all the wildlife nearby, lots of birds, iguanas, snakes and even small mammals like agoutis were wandering around. Among many of the activities we did in this site we had the opportunity to be a part of a research activity about Yellow headed Parrots and learn about the conservation challenges that these birds face.

JuanSe visiting the Belize Zoo!
JuanSe visiting the Belize Zoo!

The baboon sanctuary was another place I had the opportunity to explore. It was very interesting to see how this community manages itself to live in harmony with Howler Monkeys and at the same time do many economical activities that involved the conservation of this species, no doubt a great example of community-based conservation. This community gave me and the rest of my partners the opportunity of a local home stay experience; we all were located with different families and spent one night together. This shared time with a host family provided a great cultural immersion to learn more about Belize and its inhabitants and their culture. After the time spent at baboon community we headed to “Altun Ha”, an archeological Maya site that preserves pyramids and other ancient buildings built by this unique civilization.

The field course participants at the baboon sanctuary-a location dedicated to conserving howler monkeys.
The field course participants at the baboon sanctuary-a location dedicated to conserving howler monkeys.

Afterwards we went to Tobacco Key, a little island on the coast; part of the Great Caribbean barrier reef.  At this place we explored the coral reef, what an extraordinary biodiversity; I was totally overwhelmed every time I got my head into the water. During the time on the Key we did research on different topics, my group studied the change of behavior that fish species have with human presence, very interesting and funny. We had the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian Research Station nearby, it was great to see their facilities and learn the research they do.

Tobacco Caye, Belize
Tobacco Caye, Belize
Juan Sebastian conducting marine transects to find out more about fish behavior in Belize.
Juan Sebastian conducting marine transects to find out more about fish behavior in Belize.

Many inquiry activities were part of this experience, the ones that were already mentioned above and others I was able to be part of; for example a very curious study about Spider Monkey behavior at Belize Zoo and Epiphytes abundance on palm trees at the Tropical Education Center.

We had the opportunity to learn about other research projects and the people behind them, for example we knew Jamal, a person better known as the Manatee Man and who provided us great information about manatees and the conservation efforts behind them. We went with Jamal to look for manatees near the coastal zone of Belize City, it was a unique experience to observe this incredible animal and even more rewarding to know how Jamal is struggling for their conservation. A similar example was another man called Celso, who showed us the work he is doing for the conservation of tapirs, the iconic animal of Belize.

Jamal-a Belizean committed to saving local manatees!
Jamal-a Belizean committed to saving local manatees!
Signs in the waters of Belize telling boaters to slow down to protect this species.
Signs in the waters of Belize telling boaters to slow down to protect this species.

All these inquiry activities came with the guidance of our incredible instructors Jill Korach and Joshua Meyer who did a terrific job surfing through all of our doubts and questions and providing vital knowledge and guidance with the topics assigned to study on this course.

No doubt I took a lot back home, I have many ideas in my mind that could be implemented not only in the Galápagos Islands but in Ecuador as well, I feel very passionate about community-based conservation and citizen science. I will probably do my Master´s Plan on this topic.

After this experience I only have a lot of gratitude with all the people that supported me to be part of such life experience. Thank you!

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