Little Love Born Just in Time for Valentine’s Day

Houston Zoo Welcomes Baby Baird’s Tapir
On Saturday, Feb. 5, the Houston Zoo welcomed the birth of a male Baird’s tapir. This is the first Baird’s tapir born at the Houston Zoo, and first baby for mother Moli and father Noah.

Baird’s tapirs are born with a colorful pattern of stripes and spots that will disappear as they grow older. The newborn tips the scales at 24.5 pounds, and when he’s full-grown zoo experts anticipate this bouncing baby boy could weigh more than 550 pounds! While he doesn’t have a name yet, the keepers who care for the tapir family will have the honor of naming the tiny tapir.

There are four species of tapir, three in South America and one in Malaysia. In South America where Baird’s tapirs are found, tapirs are the largest land mammal and live throughout the marsh and swamps from Mexico to Western Brazil and Ecuador.

 

 

1 of the 9 tapir babies being tracked in Brazil. He only has spots left on his feet.

The Baird’s tapirs at the Houston Zoo are ambassadors for their wild counterparts in South America. The Houston Zoo supports the protection of this endangered species in Central America as well as the Lowland tapir in Brazil through a partnership with the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group to support field research in Brazil’s Pantanal region.

Since the inception of this partnership, 57 tapirs have received tracking collars to help the group understand this elusive animals’ range. The tracking collars provide the best protection for adult and baby tapirs in the wild, including the 9 mothers and babies currently being tracked. Some of these babies that are being protected through the partnership in Brazil have already started losing their spots!

Life in the Dunes

Written by Kali Tindell

My name is Kali Tindell and I’m currently a junior in high school. This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Namibia, an ecologically and culturally diverse country on the south-western coast of Africa, and study both wildlife conservation and photography with National Geographic Student Expeditions. I was introduced to the many ways nonprofits conserve Namibia’s habitats and felt inspired to share my experience. I hope these blogs encourage you to learn about how conservation can be fun and to take a closer look at what makes your environment unique.


If I were to show you a picture of a Namibian sand dune, would you believe it is home to any life? Sure, a thorny bush may be rooted at its base and a few blades of brittle grass may grow beside it, but is that enough to convince you that a thriving ecosystem is captured in that photo?

As we piled into the trucks, I wasn’t completely convinced that we would see much on our living desert tour. However, I was excited nonetheless. The three tour trucks followed the same gravel path that they follow on every other tour and that’s not because they’re not adventurous. On the gravel plains hugging the coast of Namibia in the Dorob National Park, right outside the city of Swakopmund, tracks made by both humans and animals can last a lifetime. There isn’t enough water to wash the tracks away (rain is a rare event in this desert) and the wind isn’t strong enough to erase marks in the gravel. Our guides stressed the importance of stepping in the tracks of those before us so that we would reduce our impact on the plain.

Barely a few minutes after entering the park, our caravan of trucks came to a halt. One of the guides had spotted a small rivet in an otherwise flat and sandy area. We looked out the window curiously, wondering what animal was hidden beneath the sand, before filing out of the trucks and around the spot in question. Sure enough, a pale, spotted Palmato gecko was hidden beneath a layer of sand. Its little body blended in the orange-yellow surroundings perfectly. Without the help of our guide, I doubt we would have discovered the little reptile. We also spotted a Namaqua chameleon, a Peringuey’s adder, a shovel-snouted lizard, numerous beetles, and Tractrac chats that afternoon.

You might be thinking, how in the world do these animals survive? The key is fog. Both the plants and the animals rely on fog. Beetles, for instance, harvest water from the fog by using their own bodies. Grooves in the body of the beetle direct the condensation collected on abdomen and thorax toward its mouth. Just like the beetles, the dollar bush uses its glossy leaves to direct water toward its roots. If you were to squeeze one of its round leaves, you would find that the plant holds a lot of moisture. Thus, it’s not surprising that many animals in the park use the dollar bush for hydration.

 

It’s hard to believe that an area as dry and stark as Dorob National Park is home to so many different species (some of which are found nowhere else on the planet). In an area this harsh, animals need numerous adaptations to survive. Visiting the dunes and gravel plains of Namibia has really made me appreciate the complexity and awesomeness of nature even more.

Metamorphosis – What Is It?

Metamorphosis is a fun word, but what does it mean? The word comes from meta ,meaning change, and morphe, meaning form, so it literally means to change shape or transform. Though our topic is amphibians, I must point out that most insects do this as well and go through even crazier changes.

While some have what is called direct development where a miniature adult hatches from an egg, the majority (except for most caecilians) have a larval stage between egg and adult. The time from the egg hatching to the adult animal can take anywhere from 2 weeks (toads that breed in very temporary puddles basically) to up to 4 years for some spring salamanders. The time is dependent on species and/or environmental conditions. There are even some salamanders, like the axolotl, which never do it all the way, they stay forever in the water with gills, even becoming sexually mature and reproducing.

Because the transformation is more extreme for frogs and toads, the following is geared toward them. Depending on the species, eggs are laid in a variety of places, including in the water, attached or not to vegetation, on leaves overhanging water, and even in water filled tree holes. What hatches out of the eggs usually looks something like this:

In this stage, they are fully aquatic and get oxygen via gills. They have sucker type mouths and most feed on vegetation by filter feeding or scraping algae off of rocks and things; however, some  are carnivorous!

Tadpoles go through tremendous change. Not only is the outside of their bodies drastically changing but the inside as well. They switch from gills in the water to lungs on land, skeletal changes occur (some things that were cartilage change to bone), eyes, skin, mouth parts, digestive system, all of this has to change.

Usually the back legs emerge first, starting as little nubs.

By contrast, the front legs appear first for salamanders and newts. The back legs grow and eventually the front legs pop out too. Often at this time, tadpoles will start coming partway out of the water. The time switching to lungs differs a lot between species and the type of habitat the tadpoles are from. At this point, they look something like this:

The tail is then absorbed (it would be a waste for it to just fall off) and the frog or toad is a bona fide, air breathing, land dwelling critter. There are frogs and toads that are semi or even wholly aquatic (they still breathe air) and there are some frogs that spend all of their time in trees, even breeding and hatching young without coming to the ground.

Here is a salamander larva.  Some of them have stunningly beautiful feathery gills.

Amphibians are an incredibly diverse and fascinating group of animals. If you’d like to learn more, there are a lot of great resources out there. Check out: www.amphibanark.org , www.amphibiaweb.org , www.iucn.org, www.parcplace.org

New Male Bornean Orangutan at the Houston Zoo

Meet Pumpkin! This 31-year-old, Bornean orangutan recently made his public debut in the orangutan habitat at the Houston Zoo after moving to the Bayou City from Jackson, Mississippi late last year. Pumpkin is noticeably larger than the four female orangutans, and fluffier than Rudi, the other male orangutan. Where Rudi is distinctive for his wide cheekpads and massive dreadlocks, Pumpkin’s cheekpads angle forward and he has a smoother looking coat. Since orangutans are mostly solitary animals, guests will find Pumpkin alternating time in the yard with his fellow orangutans.

Bornean orangutans are one of the most endangered apes in the world due to deforestation devastating their wild habitats. The Houston Zoo is helping orangutans in the wild along with conservation partner, Hutan’s Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP). Texans can help save orangutans in the wild by shopping smart, and only buying from companies that support sustainable palm oil practices, and by simply visiting the Houston Zoo. A portion of every ticket to the Houston Zoo goes to help save animals in the wild.

The Art of Camera Trapping

Written by Kali Tindell

My name is Kali Tindell and I’m currently a junior in high school. This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Namibia, an ecologically and culturally diverse country on the south-western coast of Africa, and study both wildlife conservation and photography with National Geographic Student Expeditions. I was introduced to the many ways nonprofits conserve Namibia’s habitats and felt inspired to share my experience. I hope these blogs encourage you to learn about how conservation can be fun and to take a closer look at what makes your environment unique.


The light on the camera trap blinked as it snapped a series of crisp photos of our group. One person held the information sheet with the camera’s ID number, the location, and the time while the rest of us huddled close and smiled. We wouldn’t be able to see the photos ‘till the end of the week when we would return and retrieve the trap. Hopefully, in that time, the camera would capture some other animals as well.

Before taking the photo, we had discussed where the best location for the trap would be. We aimed to capture photos of wildlife passing by a riverbed while also setting up the camera at an angle that would detect both small animals, like mongoose, and larger ones, such as kudu. Furthermore, the trap had to be well protected from curious baboons (they are known to remove camera traps from trees and play with them).

We decided to wrap the camera around a bent branch that snaked out into the trail. However, the branch offered no natural protection from animals so we gathered thorny branches and wove them around the tree. Luckily, when we returned to retrieve the camera a few days later, it was untouched.

Sorting through the pictures and identifying the animals photographed was not an easy task. However, when we saw certain species over and over again, we began to identify them with more ease. I’ll never forget how excited and surprised we were when a male warthog appeared in one of the photos or when a small duiker wandered into the frame.

Setting up our own camera trap gave us a taste of a tool many researchers use regularly. Camera trap photos can be used as valuable data for analyzing the population density of animal species, identifying animals in the area, and monitoring animal behavior. Researchers can leave traps in the field for months before returning to view the pictures. Thus, they can collect data in a very non-invasive way.

The Birthstone for February is Amethyst

Amethyst is the birthstone for February and is also the gemstone for the 6th and the 17th anniversary of marriage.  While my birthday isnt in February, I do love the rich purple color of amethyst and my birthstone, citrine, is even in the same family as amethyst

Who has a February birthday? Rosa Parks, Babe Ruth, Jennifer Anniston, Abraham Lincoln and more.

Amethyst Geode on display in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop
Amethyst Geode on display in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop
It is a purple variety of quartz but, the color can range from a light pinkish violet to a deep royal purple.  It is a durable and lasting stone with a rating of 7 on the Moh’s hardness scale.  This makes it an excellent option for jewelry.  Amethyst can be found worldwide.

There is plenty of history and lore around this beautiful stone. While it is considered a semi-precious stone today, it was a “Gem of Fire” and considered a precious stone in ancient times – at times in history worth as much as a diamond.  During the middle ages, amethyst stood for piety and celibacy and was therefore worn by members of the clergy.  It was believed that wearing an amethyst ring would keep them well grounded in spiritual thought.   In a similar story, during the renaissance, amethyst stood for humility and modesty.

Polished Amethyst

Through history amethyst has also been worn by travelersto protect them from treachery and surprise attacks and it was also believed that it would keep soldiers from harm and gave them victory over their enemies.

Amethyst has been included in royal collections all over the world from ancient Egypt to the British Crown Jewels.   Ancient Egyptians believed the stone would guard them against guilty and fearful feelings.  Rumor also has it that amethyst was a personal favorite of Queen Catherine the Great of Russia.

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. even has an amethyst that weighs 400 pounds!

Cut Amethyst Gemstone

While the Naturally Wild Swap Shop doesn’t have amethyst as large as the Smithsonian has, we do have amethyst for trade. You can get polished stones, amethyst geodes and even cut gemstones ranging from 150 points to 8,000 points.  There is also a beautiful amethyst geode cathedral on display.

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

February Featured Members: Thank You Stanley Family!

Thank you to the Stanley family for these kind words:

“The Houston Zoo holds a special place in our hearts. We moved to the Houston area just over six years ago when our first son, Hudson, was almost one and I was pregnant with our second son, Walker. We were excited to explore our new city and anxious to find ways to entertain (and wear out) ours sons. Hudson loves animals so we decided to check out the Houston Zoo, and fell in love. We quickly decided to become members, so we could enjoy a few hours at the zoo a couple times a month.

One of the things we look forward to the most during our visits to the zoo is the keeper talks outside the animal habitats. They are very informative and the keepers are always so patience when my sons ask them A LOT of questions about the animals. Through the zoo keeper talks and docents we have learned most of the animals’ names and their history, which makes the zoo feel more like “our zoo.”

Over the years we have enjoyed member mornings, discounts on Zoo Lights (a must during the holidays), and early access Feast with the Beasts tickets, but our favorite thing is the behind the scenes tours. We have made it a tradition to get Hudson (the animal lover) a behind the scenes tour for his birthday present. We have gone behind the scenes with the Rhinos and the Elephants. Each experience has been amazing. Getting to touch and feed the animals is something we will all remember.

We look forward to watching the zoo grow and build amazing new habitats.”

Tasty New Food Options at the Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo is thrilled to announce a new food service partnership with Service System Associates (SSA). These fine people will be serving up new and improved, tasty food options all around the Zoo – starting now! From hand-battered chicken tenders to hand-stretched pizza, and from Dole Whip to cold-pressed juices, quality is key in the new food options at the Houston Zoo.
The new menu items will feature some stand-outs including:

  • Crispy, hand-battered chicken tenders
  • Fresh and juicy 1/3-pound black Angus burgers on a locally baked, artisan bun
  • Hand-tossed fresh pizza dough, topped with house-made pizza sauce. The pizza is then fired in a 650-degree stone pizza oven at Twiga Cafe
  • Hand-carved deli sandwiches with freshly baked bread
  • Brand-new BBQ restaurant with great smoked meats and awesome sides like creamed jalapeno corn

Look for the new food items the next time you visit the Houston Zoo at Macaw Café, Twiga Café, or Cypress Circle.

Search Blog & Website
[jetpack_subscription_form title="Subscribe to the Blog" subscribe_text="Enter your email address to subscribe and receive new blog posts by email."]
Houston Zoo Facebook Page
Animals In Action

Recent Videos

[youtube_channel]