Houston Zoo Bird Staff Saving Wildlife Part III

This blog was written by Kasey Clarke, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Bird Department. Kasey received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from her coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Kasey documents her work overseas.  

The process described below is part of the Mariana Conservation Program to relocate local bird species to neighboring islands that do not have the invasive brown tree snake, an introduced species that preys upon native birds. 

The bird room for native birds who are being relocated to islands without the invasive brown tree snake

When the birds come in from the field, it’s time for some important record-keeping. The birds are banded, weighed, and their wings, legs, and tails are measured. They are also given a physical to make sure they are in good body condition. We check for signs of nesting as well (such as a bare spot on their belly). Each bird gets a metal band with a unique number engraved on it. This helps us to identify each bird and more easily keep track of them as we feed and monitor their condition.  Below are several photos of the process for both the fruit dove and the rufous fantail that we met in the previous blog entry.

Measuring the tarsometatarsus length
Measuring primary feathers
Measuring tail feathers
Checking feather quality
Measuring tarsometatarsus length
Banding the birds-putting small tags on the birds for identification purposes

After they receive their physical they are placed in their own individual box. The dove boxes are larger than the boxes for the fantails because they are much larger birds. They will then travel to Guguan (another island in the Mariana region). This travel time also gives us a chance to collect feather, blood, and fecal samples in order to determine sex and the stress level of every bird. Disney Animal Kingdom sends a team from their veterinary clinic to collect these samples for a study they are doing on cortisol (stress hormone) levels. I will go more in depth on the process of the medical exams next time.

Dove boxes
Fantail boxes

Every day the fruit doves are fed a mixture of papaya, Kaytee exact high fat formula, and water. This is done three times a day. The rufous fantails get fed meal worms and flies four times a day. The idea is to have them eat consistently to ensure they are as healthy as possible throughout their journey.

Next time we will see our rufous fantail friend get a medical exam.

June’s Featured Members – The Hill 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 Zoo Members that deserve recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to June’s Featured Members: the Hill family.


We asked the Hill’s what being Zoo Members meant to their family. Here’s what they had to say. “I didn’t even know I could have so much fun at a zoo!” My 5 year old niece proclaimed this after a morning spent with our out-of-town family at the Houston Zoo.  I’m proud of my city and I love showing it off to my friends and family when they visit from out of town. And no trip is complete without a day at the Houston Zoo!

Becoming members was a no-brainer for us: my sons would spend every waking hour there if we let them! The zoo has been a constant for my four year-old, Bradley, since our first play date there— when he was three months old! Even at that young age we saw the zoo as a place where he could learn and experience new sights, sounds and smells.

As he began to walk, the zoo was a safe place where we could allow him to “lead the way”. We would bounce between the various exhibits and point to the different animals. He loved pressing the buttons placed around the zoo that play animal noises!

The day before our second child, Brenham, was born we knew we wanted to do something special with just Big Brother. A family trip to the zoo was just the right thing! I waddled along behind him and we found gifts for Little Brother in the gift shop. When out-of-town family came to meet our new baby? Well you’d better believe they also took Bradley to the zoo (twice!) before they left town!

As our family continues to grow (now three sons: 4, 2, almost 1) the zoo provides us with more and more educational entertainment. We absolutely love the member mornings when we can beat the crowds (and the heat!) and see zookeepers feeding and caring for the animals. The Swap Shop has opened new ways of exploring our environment and Bradley proudly brings his treasures in to swap and share. Our Houston Zoo is set up in such a wonderful way that my kids can learn through play as they slide like otters, pop-up in the middle of the mongoose habitat or crawl through the fish aquarium.

We love our Houston Zoo and love being members. So, really, it came as no surprise when our niece proclaimed her new-found love for animals after her visit there with us. We are so thankful for the team of keepers, vets, staff and volunteers who keep the Houston Zoo a fun, safe, clean and educational place to bring our children and family. And we’ll continue to visit, with Texas-sized pride, for years to come!”

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

The Amazing Emerald

The month of May has one of my favorite stones for its birthstone – the emerald. It is also the stone for the 20th and the 35th wedding anniversaries.  Why is it one of my favorite stones?  Approximately 99% of all emeralds have inclusions, or flaws.  And yet, they are one of the most precious and valuable gemstones in the world.  It makes me think of all of us.  None of us are perfect and yet we are all valuable too, aren’t we?

Emerald Gemstones

Emeralds are a variety of beryl and its name comes from the Greek word for green. It is a hard, durable stone with a hardness rating of 7.5-8 on the Mohs Hardness Scale.  In comparison, diamond is a hardness rating of 10.  Today, they can be found worldwide including Colombia, Brazil, Afghanistan and Zambia.  In Colombia, the Muzo Indians had well-hidden and prized emerald mines.  They were so well hidden; it took Spanish Conquistadors 20 years to find them!

Emeralds have a long history and there is an abundance of folklore surrounding them. The first known emerald mines were in Egypt and were mined from at least 330 BC.  Cleopatra was known to have had a passion for emeralds and even claimed ownership of all emerald mines in Egypt during her reign.

Legends also say an emerald was one of the four precious stones given by God to King Solomon.

It has been believed that placing an emerald under the tongue gives one the ability to foresee the future, to reveal truth, and provides protection against evil spells. It was once also believed that emeralds could cure diseases like cholera and malaria.

Emeralds are also associated with lush green landscapes. Ireland is called the Emerald Isle and Seattle Washington is called the Emerald City.  Thailand’s most sacred religious icon is called the Emerald Buddha due to its lush green color even though it is carved from jadeite.

There have been many famous emeralds over the years.  Elizabeth Taylor’s emerald pendant sold for a record of $280,000 per carat for a total of $6,578,500.  The McKay Emerald is 167.79 carats and is the largest emerald in the Smithsonian National Gem Collection.   The Bahia Emerald weighs 752

Rough Emerald

pounds and an amazing 180,000 carats.  It originated in Bahia, Brazil.  This amazing stone, one of the largest in the world, is in a complex ownership dispute.  Approximately 8 different parties have claimed ownership.

Who has a May birthday and can claim this amazing stone as their birthstone? Singer Tim McGraw, Actor George Clooney, President John F. Kennedy and even Germany’s Red Baron, Baron Von Richtofen.

We often have emeralds for trade in the Naturally Wild Swap. Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Bronze Sculpture Soars at the Houston Zoo

This is the final piece of a three-part series on the history and current updates of the Houston Zoo Reflection Pool.

On Wednesday, May 24, the Houston Zoo held a dedication ceremony to honor the generous gift from the Marvy Finger Family Foundation, honoring Jerry and Ronny Finger. About 60 guests were in attendance, including close family members, zoo board members, and friends, including John and Jessie Killian, the couple who introduced the artist, Bob Guelich, to Marvy Finger.

The sculpture was commissioned in 1979 for a building Finger owned at the time. About three years later, the artwork, which features a flock of 10 Canada geese flying through the air, was complete.

“I envisioned these birds landing after a long migration southward from who-knows-where, honking and announcing their arrival,” said Guelich.

 

More than 30 years later, the sculpture was reconditioned and plans were set to bring it to the zoo. Standing at an impressive 18 feet long and 13 feet tall, this bronze sculpture weighs 8,500 pounds! It’s so massive that the zoo maintenance team had to use a large crane to get the sculpture to its current location in the Reflection Pool.

In an extraordinary act of generosity, Finger donated this sculpture for all to enjoy—now, and for generations to come. “It’s just overwhelming to me,” said Finger of his excitement that the sculpture would live at the zoo.

Left to right: Artist Bob Guelich, Marvy Finger, and Lee Ehmke, Houston Zoo CEO and president

During your next visit to the zoo, head over to the Reflection Pool to see this magnificent work of art. It’ll make for a great photo!

Rescued Sea Turtle Returns to Wild

This blog post was written by Heather Crane, a Houston Zoo staff member in our Sea Lion Department. The sea turtle release described below would not have been possible without prominent sea turtle conservationists at NOAA Galveston who provided all care and support to rehabilitate the sea turtles mentioned in this blog.

On October 30, 2016 a group of volunteers and I were at a scheduled Sea Lion team Surfside Jetty cleanup when we discovered an entangled green sea turtle. Cleanups are executed monthly by the Houston Zoo Sea Lion Team. Through a partnership between the Houston Zoo and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), fishing line is removed to prevent wildlife entanglement and pollution. We notified NOAA of the entangled sea turtle by calling the sea turtle hotline at 1-866-TURTLE-5. While we waited on a NOAA scientist to arrive, the turtle became more entangled and appeared distressed. My worst fear started playing out before me: this endangered turtle was drowning. Help was still 30 minutes from arriving. I made the decision to enter the water to disentangle and retrieve the sea turtle. My team of volunteers stood close by to assist and ensure my safety. Our Conservation Intern of the time, Taylor Rhoades, also entered the water to free me when my shoes also became entangled in fishing line. The in-water dangers that exist pose a threat and it is not recommended that members of the public enter the water. NOAA biologist, Lyndsey Howell, arrived and removed the fishing line that was tightly wound around the front left flipper of the turtle. She took the green turtle to the Galveston Sea Turtle Facility to begin what would become a seven month rehabilitation and recovery.

Green sea turtle entangled in discarded fishing line
Houston Zoo staff and intern retrieve sea turtle from in-water entanglement by fishing line

On Friday, May 19th, the sea lion team was invited to watch the rescued green sea turtle be released back into its natural habitat. This was an unexpected surprise and a very special and generous invitation from NOAA, which will forever have an impact on my life. NOAA was scheduled to release five green sea turtles on Friday. I was surprised when we were told our team would help release some of the turtles. We got a lesson from the biologists, Lyndsey and Heather, on safe handling and release practices before being allowed to release the turtles. I took the first turtle to the water and when it touched the surface of the water, it knew exactly what to do. I watched it until it disappeared into the water about 15 feet in front of me. Next, my supervisor, Sophie Darling, took a turn releasing a turtle too. After four turtles were released, the only one that remained was the turtle I had rescued in October.

Houston Zoo Sea Lion staff and NOAA biologist prepare a green sea turtle for release back into the wild
Houston Zoo Sea Lion Supervisor, Sophie, prepares a green sea turtle for release back into Galveston Bay
Houston Zoo sea lion staff helps return a rehabilitated sea turtle to the wild! This turtle was cared for by NOAA Galveston

The surprises just kept coming. Not only would I have the opportunity to watch the turtle I rescued go home, I was also going to be the one to release him! I had never imagined I would be part of this endangered animal’s story, and certainly never thought I would see the full circle process. When I peered in to the container in which the turtle had been transported, it appeared healthy and active. And WOW! It had doubled in size too! I would recognize this turtle anywhere, even if it had doubled in size. The posterior edge of the shell had a small hole in it when I first encountered it in October. Additionally, due to the tight fishing line that was wrapped around the front left flipper, there was distinctive line entanglement scarring. As I walked towards the water, I stopped to take a picture with the turtle before wishing it farewell and good luck. As I waded out into the shallows, I only felt excitement. I think I was still in shock that NOAA had included me in this turtle’s journey. I lowered the turtle to the water and it took just a moment for it to start swimming. First, it swam backwards, which both confused and humored me, but then, it swam gracefully away towards the deeper water. As I watched, I could think of fewer greater moments of joy in my life.

Houston Zoo staff member, Heather, was overjoyed to help release the green sea turtle she helped rescue from the Surfside Jetty just 7 months ago.

The Houston Zoo has empowered me to take an active role in conservation of wild animals. The Houston Zoo’s partnerships with NOAA and other conservation organizations are invaluable and are what make our conservation programming successful. I feel proud to know that this is only one example of how the Houston Zoo lives its mission of saving animals in the wild. Many people have thanked me and have told me how I impacted the life of the green sea turtle I rescued that day. In the end, we both impacted each other. When I reflect upon proud moments of my life and career, this experience will always be amongst the experiences of which I am most proud. I am proud, too, to be a part of team dedicated to ensuring clean waterways through the dedication of time and energy every month to cleaning the Surfside Jetty. And I could not be more thankful to NOAA and all the work they do to rescue, rehabilitate, and release these beautiful and endangered turtles.

To watch a short video of the green sea turtle being released, please visit: Sea turtle release

You can help protect sea turtles in Texas by disposing of fishing line properly. Place fishing line in designated monofilament recycling bins, or take it home with you and dispose of it in your trash so it does not blow into the ocean where animals like sea turtles, fish, dolphins, and birds can become entangled. 

Look for these bins when fishing-you can dispose of your fishing line here and it will be kept out of the ocean where it can harm animals like sea turtles!

Staying Hydrated and Saving Sea Turtles

It may not officially be summer yet, but it is starting to feel like summer! This summer you will probably be drinking a lot of water, because with the heat, comes dehydration.

Did you know that while you are keeping yourself healthy by drinking water, you can also save animals in the wild? Every time you use a refillable water bottle you are keeping plastics out of the ocean and out of animals’ homes, as it is one less single-use plastic bottle used.

The Houston Zoo is the perfect place to use your refillable bottles! Over the past year, we have installed water bottle refill stations throughout the Zoo. There are two types of refill stations to keep an eye out for – free standing, green fountains and silver, chilled fountains attached to walls.

You can also recognize the water bottle refill station by the signs that say “Save Sea Turtles Here,” because that is what you are doing by using these stations.

So, on your next trip to the Houston Zoo, don’t forget your reusable water bottle, and refill it at the water bottle refill stations to stay hydrated and save sea turtles in the wild!

Looking Back: A Brief History of the Zoo’s Reflection Pool

This is part two of a three-part series on the history and current updates of the Houston Zoo Reflection Pool.

The Reflection Pool at the Houston Zoo was first conceptualized shortly after the zoo’s opening in 1922. Designed by Hare & Hare in 1924 and constructed in 1926, the Reflection Pool was a collection of three smaller pools flanked by live oak trees along both sides. This design was intended to replicate, on a much smaller scale, the Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Reflection Pool located at the entrance of Hermann Park.

The Reflection Pool, in 1944, divided into three small pools.

Then, in the 1950s, the zoo’s Reflection Pool underwent construction when the “Monkey Mansion” (now the Wortham World of Primates) was built. This transformed the pool from the three mini pools into the one long pool that you can currently see at the zoo.

A 1971 aerial view of the Zoo shows the Reflection Pool as one long pool.

Though it has undergone changes in the last century, the Houston Zoo Reflection Pool maintains the lush landscaping and majestic oak trees that was originally planned and constructed by Hare & Hare in the early 1920s, a true historic landmark on zoo grounds.

Check back next week as we show you some of the recent changes we’ve made and unveil its newest sculpture!

Jaguar Matchmaking

Written by Katie Buckley-Jones


If you frequent the Zoo, you may have noticed our jaguar exhibit has been the hot spot for our new jaguar couple.

Here at the Houston Zoo, we have three jaguars.  Our oldest male, Kan Balam, has been at the zoo for 11 years and is 20 years old, significantly older than jaguars in the wild, and even considered old for a jaguar in a zoological setting. When his previous girlfriend passed away in 2015 at the age of 20, we noticed Kan Balam seemed to long for another friend. Jaguars are naturally solitary animals, but based on the personality of Kan Balam and his history of living with another jaguar, we wanted him to have a female friend.  We contacted the jaguar SSP, or Species Survival Plan, to see what they had in mind for Kan Balam. Kan Balam is a great-grandfather and his genetics are very well represented within the zoo community, so we wanted to pair him with a female for companionship rather than breeding.

Species Survival Plans are very important for endangered and threatened animals in the zoological setting.  There is a group of people who are dedicated to each specific species, whether it is something big like a lion or giraffe, to the Louisiana pine snake.  The group keeps track of all the individuals in all AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited facilities in the US and some zoos around the world. They match animals up based on genetic variability, institutional needs, and personalities of animals. This way, zoos can create a sort of zoo “ark,” using science to make sure the animals in our care are as healthy as possible throughout their bloodlines.

The SSP informed us there was a lovely six year old lady jaguar named Maya from the Turtleback Zoo, who would be a good match for Kan Balam. Maya is young and genetically important to the population.  The SSP, or “eHarmony for jaguars”, wanted to pair Maya up with a male for breeding as well. So the SSP decided to not only send us Maya, but a young male named Tesoro from the Living Desert Zoo to be her mate in the future.

As you can imagine, this has led to quite the soap opera when it comes to love triangles. Kan Balam, the older experienced male, was first introduced to Maya. Both cats got along very well and enjoy each other’s company! The carnivore keepers thought it best to wait until Tesoro got a bit older to meet Maya since both he and Maya had only ever been with their siblings.  When he first came to Houston, Tesoro was only 1.5 years old.  Jaguars do not become sexually mature until age 2.5 – 3 years old.  So this March, right around Tesoro’s third birthday, we decided to introduce him to Maya.

We waited until Maya was in estrus, the period at which female jaguars are cycling and most receptive to males, and began to do introductions. Maya was very interested in the younger, very attractive male and introductions went…let’s just say very well. We believe the success we have had with introducing Maya to Tesoro is in part thanks to Kan Balam. Being older and experienced, he taught Maya proper jaguar courtship and how to interact with male jaguars.

Maya is now the lucky leading lady of both Kan Balam and Tesoro’s lives and will be sharing her habitat with one or the other on a daily rotation.

 

Saving Lemurs in Madagascar with KPRC

Last October, the Houston Zoo hosted KPRC morning anchor, Rachel McNeil and her family on a journey to visit with our conservation partner, GERP, in Madagascar. Now we’re excited to share the adventure with you!

2016 – KPRC in Madagascar

During this one-hour special, Rachel shows you what it takes to protect Madagascar, which is renowned as a biodiversity hotspot. This island nation off the coast of Southeast Africa is home to more than 100 lemur species. In the wild, lemurs can only be found in Madagascar. As lemurs face an uncertain future due to habitat loss, hunting, and other threats, the work that GERP does – supported by each of you – is more vital than ever.

The special, which aired in April, is now available to watch online! Watch and learn how the Houston Zoo and you are saving lemurs in the wild!

 

A portion of each membership and admission ticket goes toward saving lemurs in the wild!

Houston-Area Schools Are Saving Wildlife!

What an incredible time we had at Party for the Planet Presented by CenterPoint Energy on Saturday, April 22nd!

At the Houston Texans Enrichment Zone, students from KIPP Academy Middle School put on a “Trashion” show with fashion they made from recycled products.  The students turned trash into art and had an amazing wildlife-saving message behind each beautiful creation.  Below is a picture of Susannah modeling her dashiki made from plastic bags, straws and cardboard.

We also had a grand performance of songs from The Lion King, sung by 2nd through 5th grade students from Lyons Elementary.  Lyons made all of their costumes and backdrop from recycled materials.  Their backdrop, a beautiful African sunset, was made from over 400 milk cartons that the students collected!

The Houston Zoo started working with Lyons Elementary through our Mascot Program.  The students raise money through their “Love Your Lions” initiative and all the funds go directly to Niassa Lion Project.  DeAndra Ramsey, School Program Coordinator in the  Houston Zoo’s Conservation Education Department, was able to attend the opening night of The Lion King at Lyons Elementary that was held at their school on April 20, 2017.  She opened the show by speaking on how the Houston Zoo works to save wildlife, the importance of practicing sustainable behaviors like recycling, and highlighting how the students at Lyons Elementary were becoming wildlife warriors! She was blown away by the wonderful efforts of the entire school! 

Both schools did an amazing job inspiring our guests to help save wildlife during Party for the Planet Presented by CenterPoint Energy by simply getting creative and reusing everyday items instead of throwing away.

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