Zoo Employees: Expedition to Kenya Pt. 4

This blog was written by Mollie Coym, a Supervisor in the Zoo’s Bird Department. Mollie Coym received an award from the American Association of Zoo Keepers and support from the Houston Zoo to visit Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.  We will be posting a series of blogs as Mollie documents her experiences overseas. 

water-project-lewaLewa Wildlife Conservancy does a lot of work with the surrounding communities to help improve the quality of life for the people through capacity building.

I mentioned in a previous post about their expansive security team.  Lewa’s Rangers provide security for the surrounding communities by helping to resolve issues with thefts and trespassing, among other things.  Lewa is also working with local farming communities to build safe drinking water reservoirs and practice sustainable farming techniques.

Another community effort has been the addition of several clinics around Lewa.  These clinics provide care for pregnant women, immunizations for children, and basic medical care for everyone and mobile clinics for communities in remote areas.  This is a very important effort since there are no hospitals nearby.

Lewa also works with local women who are interested in starting a business.  They provide small business loans to get their ideas off the ground.  Once they have repaid the loan, they are eligible to get a larger loan and expand their business.

crafts-lewaIt is important to note that these projects require the communities to work towards these goals.  Lewa assists with funding and expertise, but the people must be involved in planning, building, and executing the projects.  By helping the people live healthy, productive, and safe lives, Lewa gains support and allies for conservation.


To learn more about Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, please visit www.lewa.org.

PRIDE: Saving Lions in the Wild

Houston Zoo conservation partner, The Pride Lion Conservation Alliance was created on the idea that we can do more to save lions in the wild by working together. Founded by six women with over 100 years of collective experience, Pride is a new model of collaboration that works across different African countries to save more lions and to inspire and improve future conservation.


Photo Credit: Niassa Lion Project

In 2016, the Pride Lion Conservation Alliance members achieved the following:

– Protected 20% of Africa’s remaining free-range lion population

– Employed nearly 300 local community members – including 47 new team members this year

– Worked in more than 81,700 km2 of lion range across 4 key countries, this is roughly the size of South Carolina.

– Managed 460 camera traps, 60 of which were added this year

– Directly engaged more than 4,000 local people in conservation education and alternative livelihood programs

– Provided 26 student scholarships so local children could continue their education


The lion population has declined nearly 90% in the last 50 years. With most of their remaining habitat outside of National Parks, community actions are key to their survival. The five projects represented in Pride are working together to combine their efforts to save lions. By working together and combining knowledge and resources, Pride members can achieve more success in saving lions in the wild.

Photo credit: Niassa Lion Project


You too are saving lions in the wild every time you visit the Houston Zoo, as a portion of tickets and memberships goes directly towards wildlife-saving projects like Pride.


To learn more about Pride, visit their website and like them on Facebook.

Dandy the Elf Returns Home to the North Pole

 Dandy is the Houston Zoo’s elf off the shelf zoo keeper that visits after Thanksgiving and returns to her home in time for Christmas. She wanted to share a collection of her favorite moments of working at the Houston Zoo this holiday season.

Hello friends! I’m Dandy the Elf and I’ve traveled all the way from the North Pole to be a part of the Houston Zoo team. Every year I receive direct orders from Kris Kringle himself to fly down to Texas and care for Houston Zoo animals during the holiday season. I have to say this is my second time doing so and I love it! Unfortunately, my time at the Houston Zoo this holiday season is coming to an end. It’s all tiny hands on deck tonight and the big boss needs me back home at the North Pole. But, before I go I would like to share some magical moments I have had during my stay at the Houston Zoo.


Here are some of my favorite photos.


On the very first day I arrived at the Houston Zoo I was so excited to do one of my favorite parts of the job, which is hang with the animals! I sat with a baby African Pygmy Falcon outside of the Kipp Aquarium. The excitement was almost too much to contain.



Later, I was given more duties like feeding the giraffes on the giraffe feeding platform.
I think the some candy cane bits got into the pieces of lettuce I gave to my tall friends.


I felt so proud to be a part of the grand opening of TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights!
The zoo transformed into a magical wonderland of twinkling stars and great music. I drank tons of hot cocoa that night.


Ahhhh. Some of the best parts about being in Texas is the weather. I’m from way up north where we do not get much sun. I appreciated this day by the Chilean flamingos.

Taking rides on the carousel before starting my day was a must.

Someone snapped me reflecting in the Natural Encounter’s Exhibit.
This journey with the Houston Zoo in 2016 has been one of my greatest experiences.


This is the last photo I want to leave everyone with! This year’s holiday season was magical. I enjoyed working next to all the zoo staff and caring for the animals. The Houston Zoo really cares about helping save wildlife and wild places. This experience was a breath of fresh air, and just what I needed.

Thank you Houston Zoo for inviting me back for another year.
I look forward to seeing everyone in 2017!

Candy canes & kisses,

Dandy the Elf

Houston Zoo Wildlife Partner Fits Satellite Unit On a Rare Sunda Pangolin

Last week, a local villager from Kg Menggaris, Malaysia, found an adult female pangolin crossing a road near a palm oil plantation and immediately brought it home and told his son, who later shared it on his Facebook. Researchers at Houston Zoo partners Danau Girang Field Centre (DGFC) contacted the family and rescued the Sunda pangolin which then was fitted with a satellite unit and released near the center. This is the first time a Sunda pangolin has been tagged with a satellite tracking device.

“Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world, and are mainly threatened by poaching for international trade involving live animals, meat and scales, while another threat they face is habitat loss and fragmentation, although the severity of this threat requires further research in Sabah,” said Dr Benoit Goossens, director of Danau Girang Field Centre. “The Sunda pangolin is the only species found in Sabah,” added Goossens. Several government and private entities are working to revise the status of the Sunda pangolan to increst it to become a totally protected species.

The successful rescue and release operation was led by Sabahan Elisa Panjang, a Cardiff University PhD student currently working with DGFC and Dr Laura Benedict, a Sarawakian wildlife veterinarian from Sabah Wildlife Department’s Wildlife Rescue Unit. The full procedure took about an hour and involved a medical check-up, biological sample collection and the attachment of the Global Positioning System (GPS) unit. The project is a long-term collaboration between DGFC and SWD and is financially supported by Houston Zoo and Ocean Park Conservation Foundation Hong Kong.

“Pangolins are scaly mammals and this character makes it unique. The species is very difficult to study due to its elusive behavior and is now very rare too; in fact it is one of the most understudied mammals, and no detailed research has been carried out on the species,” said Elisa Panjang, the lead researcher from DGFC. “We want to understand how the pangolin responds to its environment, particularly in degraded and fragmented forest such as the Kinabatangan,” added Elisa. “The pangolin which has been named Asa, meaning ‘don’t give up’ in Malay, weighed 7.72 kilograms, and was attached with a GPS unit weighing 80 grams on its scales, situated at its hind leg near to its tail to minimize interference with its movement. The pangolin was kept at the center for a day to monitor its health before being released, and it has been successfully tracked for already a week,” concluded Elisa.

Houston Zoo herpetology senior keeper Chris Bednarski was visiting the Danau Girang Field Centre while on vacation in Borneo and was able to participate in the release. Chris has been a conservation advocate for turtles for his entire career, and has been instrumental in breeding several endangered species at the Houston Zoo. Chris says that being able to participate in the reintroduction of an animal like the pangolin was an incredible career highlight.

All photos courtesy of Chris Bednarski.

Zoo Employees: Expedition to Kenya Pt. 3

This blog was written by Mollie Coym, a Supervisor in the Zoo’s Bird Department. Mollie Coym received an award from the American Association of Zoo Keepers and support from the Houston Zoo to visit Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.  We will be posting a series of blogs as Mollie documents her experiences overseas. 

villagers-lewaOne of the key factors of conservation is education.  Lewa strives to educate people of all levels.  One of the educational services they provide is their Conservation Education Center.  The CEC is like a small museum with educational displays that teach visitors about Lewa, why poaching is bad, why it is important to practice sustainable farming, and why pollinators are important.  They also have dorms on site that allow groups from further away communities to have the opportunity to spend the night and learn all about Lewa.

Lewa also helps to sponsor many local schools through funding new buildings, food programs so the children stay in school, and scholarships that support further education.  Many of the students who receive the scholarships are orphaned and needy children.  The schools also work to teach the children about responsible farming, wildlife protection and water usage.  In addition, Lewa also conducts adult literacy programs.


All of these educational programs are key to getting the surrounding communities involved in caring about wildlife and taking action to conserve the environment. The communities get to see the direct benefits of protecting wildlife through Lewa’s support of schools and the bursary programs.


To learn more about Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, please visit www.lewa.org.

Year of the Monkey: December

Written by: Brianna Bauer
Allen’s Swamp Monkey

2016 is almost at an end, and so is the Year of the Monkey. We will be rounding out the year with one of my favorite species, Allen’s swamp monkey. Houston Zoo has two Allen’s swamp monkeys. Naku and Calvin. Let’s start with a question. What do ducks, otters, turtles, and swamp monkeys all have in common? The pictures might give you a hint. They love water and they have webbed feet! Swamp monkeys may not have fully webbed feet, like a duck, but they do have some webbing between their toes. They spend some time in the water and they can even swim! They will also dive into the water to escape from predators. The webbing in between their toes helps them swim.

This is just one example of how you can tell a lot about an animal, just by looking at it. You just have to know what to look for. So what else can we tell about a swamp monkey?

Some monkeys spend most of their time up in the trees, while others spend more time on the ground. What if I told you that you could make a pretty good guess about whether primates live in the trees or on the ground by looking at their arm to leg ratio? It can also tell you how they move around. Primates that live in the trees, but run on all fours, have legs that are slightly longer. DeBrazza’s guenons are an example of this. Orangutans and gibbons are examples of primates that live in the trees and get around by swinging from branch to branch. They have arms that are much longer than their legs. There are primates that have longer legs. These either walk around on two legs, like people, or they are tree-dwelling vertical clingers and leapers, like sifaka. Primates like swamp monkeys, that tend to live on the ground, usually have arms and legs that are about the same length. Swamp monkeys don’t spend all of their time on the ground, though, and when they do climb trees, they use their long tails to help them balance.

Swamp monkeys display what is called ‘sexual dimorphism’. This means that there are physical differences between males and females. In the case of swamp monkeys, the males are bigger than the females. The size difference suggests that males have to compete for females, or protect females from other males. Swamp monkeys live in groups consisting of multiple males and females. Primate species that tend to form monogamous pairs are more likely to have males and females that are similar in size, like gibbons or tamarins.

If you watch Calvin and Naku here at the zoo, you’ll see them both on the ground, and climbing around the exhibit. And especially when it’s hot, you might see them in the water, or just dipping their toes in. They don’t only use water to cool off, but you might also see Naku wash his food off before eating it.

Next time you’re at the zoo, walk around and take a really good look at all of the primates. What can you learn about their lifestyle, just by looking at them?

Saving Elephants in the Wild

Every time you come see the Asian elephant herd here at the Houston Zoo, you are saving elephants in the wild. Read more to find out how!

Photo credit HUTAN KOCP

Elephants require large amounts of land to live and when that land is turned into farms or plantations, the elephants sometimes move through the crops to get to more habitat. “Elephants are not moving through palm oil plantations to raid crops but they are using it to reconnect to their surrounding habitat because the corridors that have been left for them are too small,” says Nurzhafarina (“Farina”) Othman, Houston Zoo elephant conservationist and researcher in Borneo. 

Borneo is an island in Southeast Asia that also has orangutans and a growing palm oil plantation industry. Farina is a Malaysian PhD Candidate whose fieldwork is based gaining a better understanding of Bornean elephant habitat needs. She is studying the elephants’ migratory patterns through the Kinabatangan River range. Land use and development are extremely important in this region and Farina’s study is helping local communities and government agencies reduce the conflict surrounding elephants needing to cut through local crops and plantations to get back to the river. She is working with palm oil plantations to find solutions for wildlife as well as helping with the Borneo tourism industry of which elephants are a large draw for the local economy.


You are helping Farina save Bornean elephants through memberships and admissions tickets, as a portion of each goes directly to protecting elephants in the wild.


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