December’s Featured Member: Susan Spjut

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 Zoo Member that deserves recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to December’s Featured Member: Susan Spjut.

Sistersgiraffe-painting

“I grew up in Houston, and have been coming to the Houston Zoo as long as I can remember.  I remember that my brother, John, (when he was probably about 12?) brought home a rooster from the zoo.  It was attacking children in the petting zoo, so they gave the bird to my brother.  That bird crowed every morning under my bedroom window.

I grew up on Sunset Blvd.  Sometimes I could hear the lions roar. It was pretty cool. When my kids were young, we would often come to the zoo, it was free back then.

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I have been a member for several years now.  Mainly to support the zoo. Also because I am an artist at Archway Gallery.  I take photos of the animals and using them as references paint pictures of your animals.

I love the Houston zoo, and have watched it become a much better environment for animals.  I wish the world did not need zoos for the survival of so many species.  The Gorilla exhibit is awesome!”

– Susan Spjut

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

2016 Wildlife Warriors!

Our admissions’ team raises funds to help save animals in the wild through the sales of colorful wildlife bracelets guests can buy at the entrance to the Zoo.  In 2015, the Zoo established a conservation hero award program to use the bracelet funds to recognize and enhance the outstanding staff employed by the Zoo’s existing conservation partners. The program, named Wildlife Warriors, has just awarded four new 2016 Wildlife Warriors from our conservation projects in developing countries. All of the warriors honored were carefully chosen by the Zoo’s admissions’ team. The award is designed to increase the recipient’s conservation community network and inspire empowerment by providing opportunities to gain further education through training or experiences.

The 2016 Wildlife Warriors are from our partner projects all over the world saving lions, orangutans, and hirola antelope. Here are this year’s winners.


Eusebio Waiti: Niassa Carnivore Project

Eusebio calls the lions his family and over this period he has changed from a very experienced hunter to a conservationist.  He frequently speaks up at community meetings about his experiences and his belief that conservation holds the future for his community; a difficult thing to do when so few believe in conservation and there is so much resistance to stopping illegal resource use.  Recently at a monthly staff meeting he said to all our staff “We are from the villages here, we are the ones that have to speak to our families and our people about why it is important to conserve them not Mama and Papa Nculi.  It has to come from us and this is important for our future”.

Eusebio would like to take a computer course and visit more conservation programs where communities are involved in conservation, ecotourism, and human wildlife conflict to broaden his experience.


Eddie bin Ahmad: HUTAN Kinabatangan Orang-utan Conservation Program

Initially Eddie was following wild habituated orang-utans at the intensive KOCP study site.  His enthusiasm, personal interest and curiosity were remarkable. Eddie then started to learn remote sensing techniques, such as GIS and other softwares.  After a few years, Eddie started to develop his own unit, the KOCP GIS Unit, which he still leads today.

Eddie would like to travel to Australia to learn some of the latest applications of camera trapping for biodiversity monitoring.


Luke Maamai: Lion Guardians

Luke has been working with Lion Guardians since 2008 and has dedicated his life to conserving lions and preserving cultures. Luke is the Program Manager for Lion Guardians and supervises over 50 staff on the ground, including training non-literate Guardians, all data collection and analysis, conflict-mitigation on the ground (e.g., stopping lion hunts), and all HR matters.

Luke would like to attend leadership seminars in Nairobi and would love to travel to other sites and learn from others working in conflict situations.


Ali Hassan: Hirola Conservation Project

aliHis story is unusual not because he is the only non-Somali member of the team, but because he hails from a bush meat dependent family. Surprisingly and without the mentorship of any individual, Ali innately became a passionate conservationist fighting many battles with poachers some of which are near death experiences across the hirola’s geographic range.

Ali would like further training in wildlife monitoring, anti-poaching skills and working with communities.

Cookies for Conservation

The Houston Zoo works hard to protect animals in the wild. We consider every guest and supporter of the Zoo to be a very valuable conservationist and we are constantly inspired by the species saving action taken in our community.

Photo courtesy of Grevy's Zebra Trust
Photo courtesy of Grevy’s Zebra Trust

At 12 years of age, young Houstonian Conservationist, Sophie, has raised over $10,000 for conservation over the past 2 years. In 2014, Sophie decided to combine her love for animals with her love for baking into Cookies for Conservation. That year she raised over $1,000. In 2015, that amount doubled, with $2,025 raised to benefit the International Rhino Foundation.
This year, after meeting Belinda and Peter of the Grevy’s Zebra Trust at the Saving Wildlife Expo held in April, Sophie decided to raise money to protect the Grevy’s Zebra. She had a goal of $6,000, enough to buy a much-needed new motorbike for the project. In her Bake Sale Wrap-Up, Sophie announced that she had surpassed her goal.
“I would like to thank all my friends and family for supporting this great cause! I am thrilled to announce that my bake sale, along with donations made through my website, raised over $8,000! My goal was to raise $6,000 to cover the cost of a new motorbike for Grevy’s Zebra Trust; but with everyone’s generous donations and bake sale purchases, they’ll be able to do so much more! And, for that, I thank YOU!”M

Sophie’s bake sale also included a special guest this year, Peter Lalampaa from Grevy’s Zebra Trust.
Sophie’s bake sale also included a special guest this year, Peter Lalampaa from Grevy’s Zebra Trust.

When you visit the Houston Zoo, you too are saving animals in the wild as a portion of every ticket and membership goes toward conservation.

Year of the Monkey: November

Year of the Monkey: November

Schmidt’s red-tailed monkey

By Dena Honeycutt; photos by Houston Zoo staff

One of my favorite monkeys is the Schmidt’s red-tailed monkey. They share the exhibit in WWP with Allen’s swamp monkeys. There are a lot of cool things about the red-tails including the following:

1. White nose – Most primates have coloration to aid them in concealing themselves from predators, so not sure the purpose of the white nose, other than it makes them really cute. They are not born with a white nose, but by 6 months they have adult coloration.

2. Long red tail – Interestingly enough, like the white nose, they are not born with red on their tail. Their long tails aid them in balancing on vines and branches (and ropes in the exhibit). I enjoy watching them navigate the ropes and seeing their tails switching back and forth to help them keep balance. They are much better at it than the swamp monkeys (who share the exhibit with them) who have a much shorter tail.yotmxnovximagex3

3. Cheek pouches – gives all new meaning to “all you can eat buffet”! This is a fun adaptation, since they are not at the top of the food chain in the wild, sometimes they need to grab food and run, so they can store food in their cheeks to eat later. In captivity, where they don’t need to worry about predators, they still will use cheek pouches to store food, so they can grab favorite foods when the dominant animal isn’t looking and eat it later.

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It’s Just One Piece: Surfside Jetty Clean-up and Sea Turtle Rescue

This blog post was written by Taylor Rhoades, Conservation Impact Intern at the Houston Zoo. 

It’s just one piece. Surely someone else will come along and pick it up, right? If it’s still there after my meeting I’ll come back and throw it away when I’m not in such a hurry.

How many of us have muttered those phrases to ourselves as we walk by trash on the street or drop something as we are rushing about our day? As easy as it is for us to pick up just one piece of trash and help clean up the areas around us, it is equally as easy, in the hustle and bustle of a huge metropolitan area, for us to disconnect from our surroundings and not think twice about where our litter ends up.

Some of our trash can make its way into our waterways, which lead to larger bodies of water like lakes or oceans. Here in Houston, we often find that trash ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. This body of water that we flock to each summer to escape the Texas heat is also home to hundreds of marine species that may find their homes polluted by debris.

It is because of this understanding that trash in our waterways can negatively impact local animals like sea turtles and pelicans that our Houston Zoo staff began assisting partners at NOAA who initiated a fishing line recycling program at the Surfside Jetty. The sea lion team that has taken the lead on this collaborative effort became deeply invested in this project because of Astro, a former Houston Zoo sea lion who came to us from California with a neck injury that is suspected to have been caused by trash in the ocean. Here at the Houston Zoo our animals serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts, so whether we are working with sea turtles or sea lions we want our actions both on and off zoo grounds to reflect our mission of connecting communities to animals and inspiring action to save wildlife. As the zoo’s conservation impact intern, I was given the opportunity to join one of these jetty clean-ups on Halloween weekend.

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.

I will be first to admit that participating in a jetty clean-up can be daunting – the jetty stretches out as far as the eye can see, and trash is abundant. Down on the rocks, with waves crashing against me, I found myself determined to reach every piece of trash I could see yet frustrated by how much surrounded me and how difficult it could be to pry bottles and fishing line free. But then, something incredible happened – we saved a sea turtle.

Green sea turtle entangled in fishing line off the Surfside Jetty, Texas.
Green sea turtle entangled in fishing line off the Surfside Jetty, Texas.

A visitor to the jetty spotted the turtle about 20 feet out from the jetty wall, and recognizing that it was struggling to swim, reported the sighting to zoo volunteers. We immediately notified the sea turtle hotline (1-866-TURTLE-5). Soon, we received instruction to monitor the turtle and have someone stay with it and report any changes. From the shore, it appeared that the green sea turtle was entangled in fishing line and was struggling to free itself. As we awaited, the turtle appeared to becoming more stressed and more entangled. As it fought to get free, it only exacerbated the problem. After thoughtful deliberation and safety planning, it was decided that if this turtle was to survive, it would be absolutely necessary to enter the water and extract the turtle. It is never recommended for members of the public to enter the water to extract a turtle due to the in-water dangers that exist. However, given the circumstances, Heather (the leader of our group) and I waded out to it without hesitation, cut it free, and brought it back to shore where we could monitor it. Shortly thereafter, biologists from NOAA arrived and provided the care the sea turtle needed, bringing it back to their facility in Galveston for rehabilitation. When the fate of another living being is resting quite literally in your hands, the importance of such clean-up efforts hits you on an entirely different level. It is no longer just about picking up trash – it is about how even the smallest of actions can help to prevent a potential life or death situation.

Houston Zoo staff and intern rescue a green sea turtle entangled in discarded fishing line.
Houston Zoo staff and intern rescue a green sea turtle entangled in discarded fishing line.
Green sea turtle flipper entangled in discarded fishing line.
Green sea turtle flipper entangled in discarded fishing line.
Ball of fishing line mixed with seaweed. Discarded fishing line is a major threat to animals like sea turtles who can become entangled in it, making it difficult for them to swim and find food.
Ball of fishing line mixed with seaweed. Discarded fishing line is a major threat to animals like sea turtles who can become entangled in it, making it difficult for them to swim and find food.

Tired from the endeavor, we began our trek back to the picnic benches to sort through the waste we had collected. We couldn’t help but scan the jetty walls as we walked. After saving that turtle, could we really call it a day when there was more trash to be collected? It was like an itch that had to be scratched – we immediately jumped back into action, picking up pieces as we went. By the end nine of us had collected 70 lbs of recycling, 89 lbs of trash, and 15 lbs of fishing line.

If nine of us could collect almost 200 lbs of waste in a day, imagine the difference we could all make if everyone picked up a piece of trash each day and disposed of it properly. Just one simple action could mean the difference between seeing a sea turtle in distress and seeing it swim freely. With only one percent of sea turtle hatchlings reaching adulthood the turtles in our Texas waters have overcome incredible odds – let’s do our part to keep them healthy!

Successful rescue of a green sea turtle on the Surfside Jetty! If you see a sea turtle on the beach or in need of help, please report it by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.
Successful rescue of a green sea turtle on the Surfside Jetty! If you see a sea turtle on the beach or in need of help, please report it by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.

You can help save sea turtles and other ocean animals by:

  • Using re-usable bags and water bottles instead of plastic, which can end up in the ocean causing harm to animals!
  • If you fish, dispose of your used line at home, or in monofilament bins located along the coast at popular fishing spots – this will help to ensure that fishing line does not make its way back into the water
  • Pick up trash on daily walks or trips to the beach to help reduce the amount of debris that could make its way into our oceans!
  • Report any sea turtles on the beach to NOAA biologists at 1-866-TURTLE-5

 

 

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