Tagging Monarch Butterflies

Monarch butterflies are unique among butterflies because they migrate every year, Thurs morning team - Bravo Zulu!traveling up to 3,000 miles. They travel to the warmer climate in Mexico because they cannot survive a cold winter. Part of their migration takes them through Texas. You can see their migration patterns at MonarchWatch.
For the past two months, Houston Zoo staff and volunteers have been taking part in field work here on Zoo grounds by tagging Monarch butterflies. If you have visited recently, you may have seen small groups walking through the Zoo with nets, searching for butterflies.

Tagging is something that is done with many kinds of animals. Tagging tells you where and when the animal was tagged, providing information about how and where the animal travels. This is important because if it is known where the animal has been, protection plans can be set up in those areas.

monarch-butterfly-tagged-0003-0125Tagging a Monarch involves patience and quick reflexes. It may surprise you to know that Monarchs have very good eye sight, they can see the net coming! Catching a Monarch involves creeping up slowly, while keeping the net very low, until you are close enough to catch it in the net. This can sometimes be a challenge if the butterfly is higher up on the plant. Not shying away from a challenge, Houston Zoo staff and volunteers tagged 23 Monarch butterflies this season!
This is 23 butterflies whose migration patterns can be tracked!

You can help pollinators like, Monarch butterflies, in your own backyard by planting native plants. Not sure what to plant? On your next visit to the Houston Zoo stop by the Conservation Stage, located to the right as soon as you enter. The Conservation Stage is lined with native plants and signs letting you know what each plant is! Simply take a picture of the sign and bring it with you when you go to the nursery to buy your plants!




Conservationists from MarAlliance Receive Training at Houston Zoo

Last week the Houston Zoo hosted Cecilia, Gaby and Megan from MarAlliance, our shark and ray conservation partner in Belize, Honduras and Panama for conservation education training. They spent time with many departments, including education, taking part in and learning about education programs for all ages. They also had the opportunity to visit with NOAA in Galveston and learn about the work they do with sea turtles, as well as see the saving wildlife murals along the Seawall. “It was great seeing all the work the Houston Zoo does to support conservation all over the world and feel very fortunate that MarAlliance is one of those organization,” said Gaby. It was a great week filled with collaboration and ideas about saving animals in the wild.

ceciliaCecilia Guerrero
Operations Coordinator
Belize/El Salvador

Following a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from the University of El Salvador and thesis focused on the epibiont communities on the roots of red mangroves in Barra de Santiago, El Salvador, Cecilia Guerrero returned to Belize to support monitoring and outreach and education programs with a range of marine conservation organizations including the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, the sea turtle conservation program with Flora, Fauna y Cultura de Mexico in Xcacel and the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE). In 2012, Cecilia worked as the Outreach and Education Officer for the Southern Environmental Association and subsequently the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Gulf and Caribbean Sharks and Rays Program. Since April 2014, Cecilia has worked with MarAlliance as the Outreach and Education Coordinator to integrate research results into both public and focused outreach and education initiatives.

gabbyGaby Ochoa
Country Coordinator – Honduras

Gabriela (Gaby) Ochoa graduated from Texas A&M University, with a Bachelor’s in Marine Biology in 2012. During her time at A&M she worked at the Marine Invertebrate Lab, on a taxonomic study and description of a new species of Amphinomid (fire worms). She moved back to Honduras in 2012, and volunteered with several NGOs. In 2013 Gaby became involved with The GEF Small Grant Programme (SGP), as technical project assistant executing four development projects on the Pacific coast of Honduras. There she worked closely with fishers and turtle poachers to standardize data collection on Olive Ridleys (Lepidochelys olivacea). She moved to the Island of Roatan in 2014 and began a Hawksbill monitoring program (Eretmochelys imbricata). In 2015, Gaby joined the MarAlliance team, as Coordinator for Honduras and is responsible for coordinating long term baseline monitoring for marine megafauna in the North Coast and Bay Islands in Honduras.

meganMegan Chevis
Country Coordinator – Panama

As the daughter of a marine animal veterinarian, Megan’s passion for marine wildlife developed early. She was involved with sea turtle and cetacean research, rescue, and rehabilitation for 12 years, including following Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. After graduating with a BSc in Environmental Science from the University of Southern Mississippi in 2012, Megan spent two years traveling as well as being a whale watching guide in the Pearl Islands of Panama and a research assistant with Latin American Sea Turtles (LAST) in the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. Her MSc research project with the University of Exeter-Penryn, under the guidance of Dr. Brendan Godley and Dr. Graham, focused on the spatial ecology of hawksbill turtles at Lighthouse Reef Atoll in Belize using passive acoustic telemetry. After receiving her degree, Megan moved back to Panama and now works as MarAlliance’s Coordinator for Panama.

Amazing Evening Dedicated to Saving Rhinos

rhino-event-2On Thursday, October 20, the Houston Zoo hosted a record number of guests with more than 600 in attendance at the 9th annual Feed Your Wildlife Conservation Gala: Saving Rhinos – Stories from Africa. At the event, the zoo honored former Houston Zoo Director and 2016 World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA)Heini Hediger Award Winner, Rick Barongi along with longtime Houston Zoo supporter, Donald Kendall. The special event raised funds for rhinoceros conservation efforts in the wild. Early estimates show that the event raised more than $1 million.

Once, hundreds of thousands of rhinoceroses roamed Africa. Today, scientists estimate less than 30,000 rhinoceroses are left in the world. The reason for their population decline is the illegal trade of their horn. The Houston Zoo partnered with Lowveld Rhino Trust, Namibia’s Black Rhinos and the International Rhino Foundation to help protect the rhinoceros species. Each conservation partner focuses on preserving wildlife and wild places by supporting education awareness and safeguarding of wild animals and their habitats.


Houston Zoo guests showed their support for the rhinoceroses during the Paddles Up! portion and brought in $187,955. The silent auction featured an array of exciting experiences including the top items, “Delicious Drinks in the African Forest” – a private cocktail party at the Nau Family Gorilla Treehouse in the Houston Zoo, which sold for $7,790, and a spectacular painting by Leroy Neiman called “Jaguar Family,” which sold for $5,700. The most-bid-upon item was “A Morning Walk with the Cheetahs” experience that had 50 bids.

Notable guests included honorees Rick Barongi and Donald Kendall, event keynote speaker and founder of the internationally acclaimed work The Photo Ark Joel Sartore, Raoul du Toit and Natasha Anderson of the Lowveld Rhino Trust, and Jeff Muntifering of Namibia’s Black Rhino Trust, and the 2016 Gala co-chairs, Nancy and David Pustka and Randa and K. C. Weiner.


Proceeds will fund programs that employ local people to guard rhinoceros in the wild, fund local incentive programs that increase support for local villages when rhinoceros populations are protected, and fund educational outreach and awareness materials to support rhinoceros.

Year of the Monkey: October

Howler Monkey Female-0001Hey, everyone! It’s my favorite time of year again: Zoo Boo! Zoo Boo would not be complete without Howlerween. Howlerween you say? Are you sure you don’t mean Halloween? Nope! Here at the Houston Zoo we have been calling it Howlerween for the last 7 years. Howlerween is a cool play on the Halloween season, but it features Howler monkeys!

This is the perfect time to learn all about our prehensile-tailed relatives that live in the Wortham World of Primates. Come out and earn a special conservation hero button that you can only get at Howlerween! To do this you must join Zoe the Zookeeper as she navigates her way through 4 activities focusing on the rehabilitation and release process: picking a good habitat, preparing the animals for release, releasing the animals and monitoring the animals. You will also learn about sea turtles, Houston toads and Attwater’s prairie chickens as they go through these steps!

In addition, every Howlerween we help raise funds for a sanctuary in Belize called Wildtracks. This is a non-profit organization that helps to rehabilitate howler monkeys that people thought would make good pets. In Belize it is illegal to have a howler monkey as a pet so if you do, that animal will get confiscated by the Belizean Forestry Department and then taken to Wildtracks. There, they help sick and injured howler monkeys by giving them medical care and putting them in a troupe so they have lifelong friends. Eventually after a lot of hard work, they relocate them and put them back into the wild in a protected part of the forest. This is an amazing feat!
Howler Monkey Male-0001


The Houston zoo has been helping Wildtracks with monetary donations since 2010, and the first year we were only able to send about $500, which for a non-profit is still a good chunk of money. Last year we were able to send over $3,000!!!! Our goal every year is to keep making that number go higher. They use this money to help fund the release itself; for example, buying transport crates and helping to feed the monkeys while they transition to being in the wild. We not only send them money, we also are able to send our own staff including primate keepers, education, and conservation staff to Wildtracks. There, we help them with monkey husbandry (care) and we both learn from each other.


Wildtracks has accomplished many amazing things over the last six years. They have just rescued their 100th monkey, have released 49 monkeys back into the wild, and have had 13 babies born in the wild to mothers that were rescued! Their most recent howler monkey rescue was injured multiple times by an air riffle pellet gun and will need a lot of medical care going forward. Their goal is to never have to rescue a monkey again, which they can only do by educating the people of Belize about the natural treasures they have in their backyards. That the monkeys are comfortable enough to have babies in the wild is a true testament to the amazing work they do. They currently have 46 monkeys that they still have to rehabilitate and will eventually release.

Wildtracks is just one conservation effort that the Houston zoo has its hands in right now. So come on out and learn with Zoe the zookeeper on how else to help save animals in the wild. You will find her by our duck lake, right next to the Wortham World of Primates during Zoo Boo.

Meet the Okapis

Written by Mary Fields

okapi-0121-3316The Houston Zoo is home to one male and two female okapis named Kwame, Tulia and Sukari. Each of our okapis have very different personalities! Kwame came to us in 2002 and is the zoo’s breeding male and friendliest okapi. Kwame is easy to tell apart from the girls because he has ossicones. Ossicones are the two horn-like bumps on the heads of giraffes and male okapis!


baby-okapi-0003-3141Next up is our largest okapi, weighing in at almost 700 pounds, Tulia! Female okapis tend to be larger than male okapis, with females ranging from about 530 to 790 pounds and males ranging from about 400 to 575 pounds. You may remember Tulia as the mom to Miraq, a calf born in 2014. Miraq has since moved to the Memphis Zoo’s Zambezi River exhibit.


okapi-0125-7644Last, but not least, our current breeding female, and newest okapi, is Sukari! Sukari arrived to the Houston Zoo in late 2014 from the San Antonio Zoo. Okapi gestation is about 14 to 15 months and produce a calf that ranges from 30 to 65 pounds at birth. Kwame and Sukari have been introduced to each other in hopes of having another adorable okapi calf!

Do you want to learn more about our okapis? Tuesday, October 18th, was the first annual World Okapi Day! For this very special event, we will be having an Okapi Meet the Keeper chat every day at 11:00 am; Monday, October 17th through Friday, October 21st. These chats will be in front of our okapi exhibit along our west hoof run exhibits. During the chat, the okapis will be given some fun enrichment! So make sure to stop by and meet our okapis!

Celebrate World Okapi Day with Us: What is an Okapi?

Written by Mary Fields

okapi-0125-7644Happy World Okapi Day! So what is an okapi? Okapis are the only living relative of giraffes. Giraffes and okapis share several similar characteristics, including their tongue and ossicones! Both giraffes and okapis have long tongues that help them grab all the delicious plants they would ever want to eat. Okapi also have the special ability of cleaning their eyes with their tongues! Another shared characteristic is that both giraffes and male okapis have ossicones! Ossicones are the horn-like bumps on the head of giraffes and male okapis. Ossicones are also a great way to help identify our okapis at the Houston Zoo.


In 2013, okapis were listed endangered, so how can you help? Recycle your cell phone! Coltan is a mineral mined in the okapi’s native habitat. Recycling your cell phone helps minimize the mining and conserves their home! The Houston Zoo has several spots to recycle your old cell phones, including the entrances and in our African Forest. Learn more here.

This Tuesday, October 18th, is the first annual World Okapi Day! For this very special event, we will be having an Okapi Meet the Keeper chat every day at 11:00 am; Monday, October 17th through Friday, October 21st. These chats will be in front of our okapi exhibit along our west hoof run. During the chat, the okapis will be given some fun enrichment! The Houston Zoo is partnered with the Okapi Conservation Project.

Endangered Keeled Box Turtle Babies

Hatching in time for Halloween is a keeled box turtle, an endangered Asian turtle. The Houston Zoo is one of only a few institutions to breed this species and we are very excited to welcome three new babies!


Keeled box turtles have a wide range, but their numbers are very low. They are endangered due to over-collection for consumption and habitat destruction, problems that also face many other Asian turtles.

baby-turtle-2They live in rocky forests and eat plants, fruits, and invertebrates like worms and snails. Interested in learning more? Visit our website to learn how the Houston Zoo is saving animals in the wild and check out these great sites with loads of turtle info: www.turtlesurvival.org and www.asianturtleprogram.org


Zoo staff assist partners at NOAA with sea turtle surveys

As part of our efforts to save sea turtles in the wild, Houston Zoo staff have the opportunity to participate in weekly beach surveys conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Galveston. NOAA biologists conduct weekly beach surveys to look for dead, stranded, injured, or nesting sea turtles, respond to reports from the 1-866-TURTLE-5 hotline, and collect fishing line from the Surfside Jetty. Below is a summary of one Houston Zoo employees’ experience, Brenda Rico, part of our Call Center team. 

My experience out with Lyndsey [NOAA biologist] was great, really thankful for having an opportunity like that. On my survey experience I was able to see what the turtle hospital looks like and just how many of them they [NOAA] care for. I was able to assist Lyndsey in keeping records of the GPS coordinates in case we ran into a turtle that maybe needed rescue. I was also able to assist with recording data on a dead sea turtle we found over at Bolivar Peninsula. A really neat thing that I got to experience was witnessing two necropsies that she performed, to determine how these turtles died, what type of diet they had, and where they were consuming their food from. I learned that turtles can easily drown with fishing line that fishermen might accidentally leave behind, they can grow to be up to 1,000 lbs and they don’t develop fully until adulthood that’s when you are able to identify their sex. We probably went down the beach roughly around 70 miles and at the end of the survey we got to rescue a pelican!

During this sea turtle survey, Brenda also had the chance to release a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that had been rehabilitated by NOAA. 

During survey, Brenda helped release a Kemp's ridley sea turtle that was rehabilitated by NOAA
During survey, Brenda helped release a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that was rehabilitated by NOAA
Brenda happily releasing this sea turtle back into the wild!
Brenda happily releasing this sea turtle back into the wild!

You can help save sea turtles by ensuring your fishing line always ends up in a proper recycling bin. Discarded fishing line can entangle sea turtles, making it difficult for them to swim, find food, and come up for air. You can also help by reporting any sea turtles in our area by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5. 

This is a monofilament bin located on the Surfside Jetty. You can recycle your fishing line in bins like this one.
This is a monofilament bin located on the Surfside Jetty. You can recycle your fishing line in bins like this one.

October’s Featured Members: The Hollingsworth-Latimer 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 October’s Featured Members: the Hollingsworth-Latimer family.

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

october-featureds“When our family moved to Houston from New Jersey seven years ago, we weren’t quite sure what to we’d gotten ourselves into. We were settling into new jobs and readying our home in the Museum District for our first child. My husband began his quest for great Italian food in the land of brisket and sweet tea. A native Southerner, I looked forward to the return to mild winters and warm summers; and, oh boy did Texas abundantly gift us with both! One of the first things we did after our daughter Sloan was born was become members of the Houston Zoo. As an educator, it is important for me to give our children early exposure to a diverse range of animal species and their habitats. Going to the Houston Zoo every few weeks provided that introduction to biodiversity and a much-needed break in our daily routine.

october-featureds2It was after we welcomed our second daughter, Talia, that our family began taking full advantage of our Houston Zoo membership. We absolutely love Member Mornings on the first Saturday of each month! It’s really special to see the animal exhibits up-close and talk to the animal husbandry experts in the Meet the Keeper talks before the Zoo opens for the day. Our girls were thrilled to have a more intimate experience watching the elephants get fed and bathed at our most recent visit to the Zoo in May.  Sloan’s first time at Camp Zoofari this year was fun and engaging; as a result, she is now completely at ease as our family’s officially unofficial Houston Zoo tour guide.

We’re especially looking forward to the Houston Zoo’s next stage of wildlife conservation efforts and learning more about how our family can get involved. And, Talia, who has been little vexed at being too young to attend Camp Zoofari is anxiously counting the days until her fourth birthday so she, too, can become a Houston Zoo tour guide like her older sister.”

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

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