Zoo Reopens Friday with Discounted Admission, Launching Employee Relief Fund

Although the storm has moved on, most of Houston is still reeling in hurricane Harvey’s aftermath. The entire Houston Zoo team is humbled by the concern and support shown by this community, and we could not be more proud of our fellow Houstonians as the city begins to recover.

As a place for families and communities to gather and find respite, the Houston Zoo will resume limited operations on Friday, Sept. 1.  The zoo will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last ticket sold at 4 p.m. A special ticket price of $5 will be offered at the main gate for both child and adult admission ($5 tickets not available online). Included in the $5 ticket are unlimited rides on the Texas Direct Auto Wildlife Carousel, as well as admission to Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks.

“I am grateful to report that our zoo is an island of relative normalcy in an ocean of crisis,” said Lee Ehmke, Houston Zoo CEO and president. “My deepest gratitude goes to the ride-out crew members who worked tirelessly for our animals and facilities over the past seven days.”

Throughout the storm, the animals at the zoo were safe and secure in their barns and night houses and cared for by a dedicated crew of team members who stayed at the zoo for the duration of the weather event.

The zoo sustained minor storm-related flooding and downed tree limbs, but no significant damage.  However, many of the zoo’s team members were affected by this catastrophe. The zoo has launched an employee relief fund to help its team members who need assistance during this difficult time. Information about the relief fund can be found at https://www.houstonzoo.org/harveyrelief/.

Standard operating hours and admission prices will resume Saturday, Sept.2.


Houston Zoo Receives Rescued Sea Turtle in Sharpstown

On Wednesday, Aug. 30, the Houston Zoo answered the call to receive a green sea turtle who had been rescued by a resident in Sharpstown, and handed over to the firefighters at Houston Fire Station 51. The first responders named the turtle “Harvey” after the natural disaster that likely brought the turtle so far out of his natural habitat.

The resident found the turtle in road and just knew it didn’t belong this far inland.  The firefighters immediately put it into a cooler with a wet towel to maintain its body temperature and keep it wet, as directed by sea turtle biologists after the rescue was reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Galveston. NOAA, a long-time partner of the Houston Zoo, called our team to see if we could get to the turtle.


Fortunately, the zoo’s conservation impact manager, Martha Parker, lives a few miles from the fire department and could safely get to fire department, and also to the Houston Zoo.

The green sea turtle was checked over by one of the zoo’s four veterinarians, and found to be healthy. Harvey suffered a few minor scratches on his big journey north, and he is now safely with the zoo’s aquarium team until it can be re-released into Galveston Bay or moved to NOAA’s sea turtle facility.

If you find an injured or stranded sea turtle, please call 1-866-TURTLE-5 so someone can respond to the turtle-giving it adequate care and attention.

Hurricane Harvey Update – Tuesday, Aug. 29

A Message From Houston Zoo CEO, Lee Ehmke

Tuesday, Aug. 29

We continue to hear devastating news about our beloved city, and our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by this terrible event.  I am grateful to report that our Zoo is still an island of relative normalcy in an ocean of crisis, with my deepest gratitude going to my fellow ride-out crew members.  These incredible individuals have been working tirelessly for our animals and facilities.

I also want to share some information about how our fellow AZA-accredited Texas zoos are pitching in.  This morning, the San Antonio Zoo and SeaWorld San Antonio flew a helicopter full of supplies and assistance into Houston to help the Downtown Aquarium, which has suffered major flood damage.  This group has also begun arranging to help the Texas Zoo in Victoria.  I have been receiving messages of concern and support from all over the world, and wanted you to know that we have an army of people who are pulling for us.  We have re-activated some of our animal webcams to provide reassurance to our many supporters, stakeholders and fans that we are doing okay.

We will be closed tomorrow, Wednesday, August 30, and have started discussions on when we might re-open, keeping in mind the ability for our team members and guests to safely travel to the Zoo.  As soon as those decisions have been made, we will certainly let you know. Until then, stay safe!

– Lee


Houston Zoo Closes Due to Inclement Weather Forecast

The Houston Zoo’s leadership team has been monitoring the path of Hurricane Harvey, and has made the decision to close the zoo Friday, August 25 through Sunday, August 27. The safety of team members, guests and animals is the zoo’s top priority, and the leadership team made this decision with that in mind. The decision on whether the zoo will reopen on Monday, August 28 will be made as the weather event continues.

The animals will be cared for during the storm by a select group of team members who will stay at the zoo throughout the weather event. The animals have safe and secure barns and night houses that have been constructed to weather storms like this one.

Augmented Reality Sandbox comes to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

What is Augmented Reality Sand? To describe it in one word – Awesome. In fact, if you come into the Swap Shop and we aren’t at the desk, check to see if we are playing in the sandbox.

It was developed by University of California Davis’ W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences and was supported by the National Science Foundation.  It combines 3D visualization applications with a hands-on sandbox exhibit to teach about earth science concepts.   It uses a computer projector and a motion sensing input device (Xbox 360 Kinect 3D camera).  By changing the levels of the sand, the Kinect detects the distance to the sand below and elevation is projected on the sand, complete with color and contour lines.  Already sounds amazing doesn’t it?  Ever wish you could create your own lake on a hot day?  Or build a mountain to climb?    You can even hold your hand out about 2 feet above the sand surface and the program will simulate rain.  The rain will drain into the lowest lying areas in the sand.  Watersheds, mountains, lakes, rivers.  You can make them all!

If we are in a drought, freshwater is not being added to the watershed. A watershed is an area of land which drains to a specific point.  (such as the Clear Lake watershed or the Armand Bayou watershed) That lack of rain causes lots of problems.  Let’s start with our drinking water.  We need it for survival – I mean how would we even make coffee in the mornings??  Then, think about our lawns and all the plants around us.  They all need water to survive too. So, do our pets and wild animals – birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.  The issues don’t stop there.  If there isn’t freshwater from rainfall coming into the watersheds it can even have an impact on the bay.  If enough freshwater isn’t coming into the bay from the watersheds, the salt (or salinity) goes up.  That change in salinity can have an adverse effect on plants and animals both.  One example is that oysters cannot thrive in a salt level that is too high.  And, oysters are big business on the gulf coast.  Water is critical to all forms of life – both plant and animal.  Understanding water cycles and how a water shed works is fundamental to protecting that valuable resource.

And the other side of that same coin – floods. We are well versed in flooding in our area, aren’t we?  What have we seen when hurricanes bring a storm surge?  Or when a tropical storm stalls out in our area?  Sometimes the drainage can’t keep up and the watershed has more water than it can handle.  The rising water can not only cause damage to property but, sometimes even lives are lost.  Flooding invades areas that animals would normally be living in causing them to lose their habitat and can cause problems with all the plants around us and leave us stranded.

The goal of the Augmented Reality Sandbox is for our guests to learn about topography, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees and more. We want to raise public awareness and increase understanding and stewardship of freshwater ecosystems.  We hope you will come by and check out the new sandbox.

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

Click here to learn more about Augmented Reality Sand and even find out how to build your own.

What Do Veterinary Interns Do?

Written by Jennifer Urda

Hello, my name is Jennifer Urda and I am just finishing a veterinary research internship involving the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken. I will be starting my second year of veterinary school at Midwestern University in Arizona in the fall. The Houston Zoo is like a second home to me, as I have spent the previous three summers here as an intern in two different departments (Birds and Children’s Zoo) and also as a seasonal zookeeper for the Attwater’s Prairie Chickens. Every summer I’ve spent here has been incredible; I’ve truly gained invaluable experience and knowledge associated with the husbandry and care of the species in the Zoo’s collection as well as made valuable friendships. I am incredibly honored and proud to have had the opportunity to intern with the veterinary clinic this summer and would like to share some of my experiences in hopes of creating awareness for other current and future veterinary students that might like to apply to this program. This internship is one of two the Houston Zoo offers (the other internship involves the Houston Toads) to first and second year veterinary students, which makes it very unique as most other AZA accredited institutions only accept students on their clinical rotations.

First, I’d like to talk about the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken (APC). The Attwater’s Prairie Chicken is a critically endangered species of grouse (not a chicken!) found only in the coastal prairies of Texas. About 100 years ago, there were once around 1 million of these birds between the Texas and Louisiana coastal prairies, but throughout the 20th century their numbers began to dwindle, largely due to habitat destruction; there are estimated to be less than 100 APCs left in the wild today. Thankfully, the Houston Zoo is part of a captive breeding program for these rare birds, and birds that are eligible for release in the late summer are slowly introduced back into the wild.

As the APC veterinary intern, I am largely responsible for administering medical treatments on the growing prairie chickens. These birds can be challenging to raise and often require medical care such as administering fluids via injection and antibiotics as well as tube feeding food, sometimes up to three times a day. I am also responsible for inputting the medical records on these birds, recording my observations, and discussing treatment plans and options with the veterinarians at the Zoo. As a large component of my internship involves research, I was able to pick a topic that would be both beneficial to the Zoo and the preservation of the species, so much of my time was also spent in this manner. Additionally, I have had some opportunities to shadow the Zoo’s veterinarians and participate in other procedures such as drawing blood from a duck and giving routine vaccinations. In the coming months I hope to submit a scientific paper to Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine regarding the findings of my research over the summer.

The veterinary hospital staff is an amazing team, and I’ve learned so much from every single one of them; all are incredibly passionate about their work and the Houston Zoo’s message of conservation and education. I know that the experience I have gained here as well as the connections I’ve made will be valuable in my future as a veterinarian. I highly recommend any first or second year veterinary student with a passion for conservation or zoo and wildlife medicine to apply — the experience and mentoring you will receive is phenomenal.

Earn Points in the Swap Shop

Written by Sara Riger

Have you visited The Naturally Wild Swap Shop in the Children’s Zoo? When trader’s come to the shop, they usually have treasures in their hands to trade. These may include rocks, shells, or even a pinecone. They could also bring a report about their favorite animal, a poster showing the life cycle of a butterfly, or a drawing of mountain gorillas. Anything that sparks their imagination and appreciation for nature. These objects will earn points that can then be traded for items in the shop. There are so many fun and creative ways to earn points. Now there are even more ways, and if you participate you can help save animals in the wild.

As a way of encouraging traders to be more aware of their impact on the environment, the Shop has developed a new category called Take Action. We want traders to be a part of our Take Action initiatives and to earn points. Below are Take Action initiatives that will earn points in the Shop.



  • Carry your items to the shop in a reusable bag.
  • Recycle items here at the zoo.
  • Bring you reusable bottle of water when you visit.
  • Tell us you will be refilling your drink containers with filtered water from any of the 12 refill stations located on zoo grounds. There happen to be 2 located right outside the Swap Shop, one by the Texans Stage and one by the restrooms.

Help the Zoo to be plastic free. Each of these actions will earn points toward your existing account.

  • Beach cleanup. Plastic litter on our Texas sands ends up in the Gulf of Mexico where sea life can mistake it for food and ingest it. Bring photos of your efforts to clean up beaches.

Help eliminate plastic from oceans and beaches and earn points.


  • Bring old cell phonesto the Shop.
  • Bring old electronics to the Shop.

They will all be recycled by the Zoo. Cell phone recycling is an important step to reduce waste. Make a difference and earn points.


  • Purchase sustainable seafood and show us how you are doing it. Ocean-friendly seafood is seafood that has been caught in a way that protects animals like sharks, sea turtles and ensures fish populations thrive over time. Share ways that you are practicing this through photos. Download the free Seafood Watch App from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and show us your phone. You can download the app to learn which seafood options are best choices or good alternatives. Use this app when making ocean-friendly seafood purchases at grocery stores or ordering at restaurants.

Anything that involves these Take Action topics can be researched and a report or project can be done. For example, make a poster incorporating the beach trash that you picked up and bring it to the Shop. Guess what? You will earn points. These are all tools the Naturally Wild Swap Shop is using to raise awareness about how personal choices make a difference. Have discussions with the Shop naturalists about actions you have taken so we can celebrate your successes with you. Ask what more can be done to help save wildlife. Together we can make a difference.

Wild About School – August 20

Written by Heather Kilway & Nikki Blakley

Are your little ones getting restless with the end of summer drawing near? Are they dragging their feet when you go shopping for new supplies? Do they complain of boredom, and NOTHING to do? Well we have a solution that is sure to get them excited about the new school season: an entire day of adorable animals in the Children’s Zoo enjoying THEIR OWN new school supplies!

This particular day will be focused on giving Back To School-related ENRICHMENT to some of our animals in the Children’s Zoo. Enrichment is anything new or different that we give to our animals to make their lives more fun, interesting, and to encourage natural behaviors. These things can be boxes, plastic toys, different plants, or even just new bedding. Enrichment is important for our animals’ welfare, and can also be really fun for our guests to watch too!

The Children’s Zoo keepers love to make painted enrichment just for fun, and in honor of HISD school starting on the 28th, we decided to make a special day out of Sunday August 20th and give our Children’s Zoo animals “back to school” themed enrichment! For several weeks, the keepers have been cutting cardboard, making paper mache, and painting with non-toxic tempera paint in their spare time to make cool new enrichment that our animals have not received before.

Below is a schedule of activities and the enrichment that will be given to which animals. So come with your cameras ready for adorable photo opportunities, and your minds sharp to learn some interesting stories about these animals!

 9:00 AM – 2:30 PM
                Naturally Wild Swap Shop “Draw Your Own”
                 Visit the Naturally Swap Shop and share with us what you’ve learned or loved at the Houston Zoo on our Back To School dry-erase board!

9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
                Ocelot Exhibit “Artistic Ocelots”
                 Come see what our ocelots have painted on their window about school!

9:30 AM
                 North American Porcupine Exhibit “Pencil’s Down”
                  Cody can’t wait to tear into those essays.

10:00 AM
                 Swift Fox Exhibit “Lesson Of The Day”
                  Check out what our swift fox, Sookie, is learning today on her new chalk board!

11:00 AM
                 Bobcat Exhibit “Teacher’s Pet”
                 Our bobcat has a special treat for her teacher, is that worm real?

1:00 PM
                Banded Mongoose Exhibit “Catch The Bus”
                 The mongoose are going to be late to school! Can they all fit on board?

2:00 PM
               Llama and Cow Arena “Farm Yard Art Class”
               Can the llama’s and cow use giant paintbrushes? Probably not, but they sure love the bristles!

3:00 PM
             Naturally Wild Swap Shop “Spelling T-a-r-a-n-t-u-l-a”
             We can’t leave out our smaller friends! See Blondie “sit” down for class!

And if you loved seeing all this cool enrichment, make sure you come back on September 16th for the zoo-wide enrichment day where all the different s

Meet Dash and Dinari!

These two-and-a-half-month-old cheetah cubs joined the Houston Zoo as animal ambassadors for their species from two different Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoos and have spent the last month behind the scenes getting to know their keepers while the veterinarian team makes sure they are healthy enough to enter our zoo family.

Dash was born at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, on June 4. His mother did not show interest in him or his littermates so the decision was made to hand-rear the cubs. Dash was soon paired with a male cub, Dinari, from another litter that was also being hand-reared for the same reasons. Dinari was born at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, TX on June 11.

The Houston Zoo protects cheetahs in the wild by providing support for trained African anti-poaching scouts to walk around the areas where cheetahs live in Africa, to remove wire traps and arrest illegal hunters.

Dash and Dinari will soon make their public debut, and we will let you know when they do. Stay tuned!

Green Sea Turtle from Kipp Aquarium Returns to the Wild

Through our partnership with NOAA Galveston’s sea turtle conservation program, the Houston Zoo spent the last several months rehabilitating a green sea turtle in our Kipp Aquarium. Last Tuesday, the green sea turtle was successfully released into the Bay! NOAA Galveston responds to sea turtle strandings on the Upper Texas Coast, and when medical support and/or rehabilitation support is needed for a stranded animal, the Houston Zoo is proud to work alongside NOAA to provide this care.

Three other turtles were released last Tuesday afternoon, including an injured turtle that was found by the Foster family in the ship channel. The Foster’s reported the turtle to NOAA by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5, and the family was able to assist in its release after the turtle recovered from its injuries. Thanks to local community members like the Fosters, this turtle lived to be rehabilitated and released back into the ocean.

You can ensure Texas sea turtles are protected by reporting any injured or accidentally caught turtle to 1-866-TURTLE-5. Additionally, you can reduce your use of plastic to prevent trash from ending up in our waters, which sea turtles may mistake for food and eat. The Houston Zoo has gone plastic bottle and plastic bag free, and you can too! Try switching to reusable water bottles and fabric shopping bags to reduce your plastic consumption. Find out more about our efforts to reduce plastic pollution here.

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