Domestic Dogs to Protect Painted Dogs

In a previous blog you met Enoch Zulu, a Wildlife Warrior from Painted Dog Conservation. As a part of his Wildlife Warrior award, he traveled to another conservation project to learn more about wildlife protection techniques. There, he was inspired by the use of domestic dogs assisting anti-poaching teams in finding snares and poachers.

Upon his return to Painted Dog Conservation, he set about to create a domestic dog anti-poaching program. Zulu is now managing a K9 unit to help his anti-poaching team be more effective in protecting wildlife. 2 anti-poaching team members recently trained with domestic dogs to be used in their new program. The Houston Zoo is supporting this new K9 unit by providing funding for their dog assistance facility.

Every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you are supporting Zulu and the Painted Dog Conservation project, as a portion of every ticket and membership goes to saving animals in the wild.

 

The Naturally Wild Swap Shop adds it’s 10,000th Trader

On October 15, 2017, The Naturally Wild Swap Shop in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo reached a huge milestone. We registered our 10,000th trader!

The honor was awarded to Maya Rojo. She is 4 years old and was so excited!

The Rojo family includes Oscar, Vanessa and of course, Maya.   Oscar is originally from El Paso and Vanessa is from McAllen but they made their way to Houston as soon as they could and have lived here for over 17 years now.  They are proud Rice and University of Houston alums.  Maya herself is a native Houstonian.

The Rojo Family are long time lovers of nature and the Houston Zoo. The Houston Zoo is just one of the places they go to fulfill their need for nature.  Their love of the outdoors has taken them to Brazos Bend, Huntsville State Park, Yosemite and more.

Following her parents lead, Maya is also a lover of nature. Her favorite animal is probably her dog Teddy, but she also loves finding garden insects – specifically praying mantis and lady bugs.  She loves pelicans and has had some great morning sightings at Huntsville State Park.  She will be soon going to visit her Tito and Tita in Corvallis, Oregon and hopes to see some wild turkeys when she is there.

They all learned about the Swap Shop during a presentation in the Children’s Zoo and had come in multiple times before Maya actually signed up and made her first trade. They had made a trip to Galveston and searched for shells to bring in.  Maya found some beautiful clam and oyster shells.  They also learned about jellyfish  careful to avoid stepping on them while hunting for shells.  Her shell treasures earned her points to spend in the Swap Shop and as a part of her award as 10,000th trader she also received 1,000 points along with a certificate and an amazing insect display!

Mr and Mrs Rojo had some wonderful things to say about the Swap Shop in response to Maya’s award.

Today we got our snacks ready to go to the zoo, but also packed a ziplock full of clam and oyster shells.  Our little one, Maya would be going to the swap shop to earn her first points.  She received a big surprise being named the 10000th trader. To commemorate the milestone, the staff made her a certificate and presented her with an amazing display of three beautiful beetles.  That was the obvious reward.  The less tangible one was the affirmation of our little 4-year-old lady’s hard work in writing her journals, collecting specimen etc. that the staff gave her.  We often, as do many others, tell her that those women and men in charge studied a lot to know so much about animals.  What they didn’t study but what is instead either a part of someone or not is the willingness and desire to affect this little generation of nose-picking, curious goofs.  There were 9,999 registered traders before Maya and countless more families that benefit from this knowledgeable and kind staff that time after time has been just pure class with so many of us.  From our little troop, a sincere thank you to Suzanne Jurek who came up with the idea to celebrate the 10,000th, Sara Riger for answering so many questions from so many with skill and to Angie Pyle for making the Children’s zoo so special.  Amber Zelmer, Wendy Morrison, Julie LaTurner, Brian Stuckey, Stephanie Turner, Kimberly Sharkey, Megan Paliwoda, Lisa Cariello all who we’ve seen throughout the zoo, from petting goats, learning about animal upkeep etc. From the McDonald’s observatory, Yosemite to Brazos Bend or Huntsville State Park, we’ll all keep encouraging our little ones to keep digging, asking questions.  That is in no small part due to you all.  Once again, thank you for being a part of our daughter’s life since she was tiny. Oscar, Vanessa and Maya

The Rojo family are involved in charity here and in Mexico. They have a small charity in San Miguel de Allende that focuses on academic support.  They also like creating a sense of community with some efforts in the Houston area.

They love coming to the zoo specifically what they consider to be the dynamic areas including the Swap Shop. They consider the Naturally Wild Swap Shop a connection to the outside world and for one, their Maya loves it.

We are so grateful that the Rojo family has shared their little Maya with us. We value every one of our 10,000 traders and love sharing our time and knowledge with each one of them.

Want more information about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here.

The November Birthstone

November – Is it Citrine or is it Topaz?

For years, those of us – including me – who have November birthdays knew that topaz was our birthstone. Now most birthstone lists say citrine.  Which is it?  Actually, it is both!  While citrine and topaz are different stones, they are both considered to be the birthstone for November.

So, how are they different?

Citrine is a yellow form of quartz. In the days before modern gemology, it was often mistaken for topaz.  Finding a natural citrine is actually rare.  Most of the citrine on the market today is heat treated amethyst.  Who knew if you heated amethyst it turned yellow?  Citrine has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale and the color varies from lemon yellow to reddish brown.

Topaz is a silicate like the quartz family but has a hardness of 8. Topaz also has a much wider variety of color.  They can come in yellow, pink, green, purple, orange, blue and white which is clear.

Topaz can be found in Russia, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and the U.S. Most citrine is found in Brazil but it can also be found in Russia, France and Madagascar.

There is a lot of history and lore about both stones.

Some of the largest cut gemstone pieces throughout history have been cut out of topaz. Ancient Egyptians believed that topaz received its golden hue from the sun god Ra. Golden Topaz was said to change color in the presence of poisoned food or drink.

Citrine has been said to aid in urinary, kidney and digestive diseases. It was also believed to ward off evil thoughts and protect from the effects of snake venom.  In ancient Greece, citrine was popular between 300 and 150 B.C.  It was also used to adorn weapons by Scottish weapon makers in the 17th century.    Queen Victoria loved citrine.  With the attention and admiration citrine received her parties, it became a part of shoulder brooches and kilt pins in Highland attire.  Even now, it is considered an essential part of the tradition.

What were some of the more notable stones? The Luxembourg Royal Family citrine and pearl tiara and earrings, the citrine and diamond tiaras by Cartier for the coronation ceremony of King George VI in 1937 and Kate Middleton’s citrine drop earrings.   The El Dorado Topaz is the largest faceted gemstone in the world at 31,000 (yes, that’s 31 thousand) carats.  The American Golden Topaz is a whopping 22,892.5 carats and is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

In the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, you can trade for citrine and topaz both!!

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here to find out more.

Zoe the Zookeeper’s Halloween Adventure

Written by Dena Honeycutt


Every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you are saving animals in the wild. Zoe the Zookeeper’s Howlerween Adventure (during Zoo Boo) highlights one of the many ways the Houston Zoo helps our partners in the field. The adventure involves four quick kid-friendly games that teaches kids the process of reintroducing injured or rescued wild howler monkeys back into the wilds of Belize.

When you visit the zoo during Zoo Boo, Zoe’s Howlerween Adventure is on the map. Kids will get a stamp in the guide map after each game and at the end of the adventure, they will receive a special Howler Conservation Hero button!

The Primate department has been raising awareness and fundraising for Wildtracks in Belize www.wildtracksbelize.org (rescues, rehabilitates and releases howler monkeys and manatees) since 2009 during Zoo Boo. We also have a merchandise table selling one of kind animal art work and items made by zookeepers. All proceeds benefit Wildtracks. We also have an annual adult-friendly event called Hops for Howlers at Saint Arnolds.

Houston Zoo Conservation Gala Raises Nearly $1 Million for Madagascar

Last week, the Houston Zoo hosted its 10th annual Feed Your Wildlife Conservation Gala in the zoo’s Masihara Pavilion.  This year’s gala was dedicated to raising funds for saving animals in Madagascar, and the event collectively raised $963,601, of which $250,000 was committed by Herb Simons for the five-year salary of the zoo’s Director of Madagascar Programs Jonah Ratsimbazafy, PhD. 

Credit: Daniel Ortiz

Nearly 500 guests dined on salmon and braised beef by City Kitchen and were captivated by special guests Russell Mittermeier, PhD and Dr. Ratsimbazafy who spoke from the heart about the work being done in Madagascar to save the island’s precious inhabitants, including lemurs. 

Credit: Daniel Ortiz

Some of the evening’s most vied for items included a chance to help bathe the zoo’s Asian elephants, flipping the ceremonial switch to turn on the lights at Zoo Lights Presented by TXU Energy, and the opportunity to get up-close to lions at a training session. Also on offer was a special primate tour led by Dr. Ratsimbazafy to take place the morning after the gala. 

The Houston Zoo is proud to connect communities with wildlife, inspiring action to save animals in the wild. During the cocktail reception, guests met and took photos with several animals representing Madagascar including Mr. Pickles the Madagascar radiated tortoise, Jonah (named for Dr. Ratsimbazafy) the Madagascar lesser hedgehog tenrec, and some Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Notable attendees:  Cathy & Joe Cleary; Coert & Molly Voorhees; Courtney & Bas Soleveld; David & Nancy Pustka; Dr. Cullen Geiselman; Lisa Marshall; Kay Onstead; Charles & Annie Duncan; Event Chairs Josh & Mindy Davidson; Matt & Rosemary Schatzman; Isabel and Danny David.

The Children’s Zoo’s Personal Artist

Have you ever noticed the amazing art work on the keeper chat sign in the Children’s Zoo?

There is one keeper in the Children’s Zoo responsible for that beautiful art. Her name is Nikki Blakely and she has been with the Houston Zoo for 4 years.  Her career here started with a part time position in April 2013 and she was promoted to full time in October of 2015.

Nikki is a primary keeper in our Ambassador Animal Building and takes care of  a wide variety of animals.  The Zoo’s Ambassador Animals are the animals you see at presentations, events and on Zoomobiles.   She is also a primary trainer on several animals, including one of her favorites, Luna the Virginia Opossum.

While Nikki isn’t the only Zookeeper with artistic talents, her art is what you are likely to see as you enter the Children’s Zoo.  We always have our Keeper Chat sign out in front of the Naturally Wild Swap Shop to let guests know what the Children’s Zoo chats are for the day.   (Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here form more info) As you can see, Nikki has used both flora and fauna for her inspiration.  She has also used her talents on some of the enrichment for the animals.

Nikki has been coming to the Houston Zoo her whole life.  Unlike many of us, she is a Native Houstonian.  She even stayed true to Texas as she chose a college.  She attending University of Houston and Texas A & M University earning a degree in Biology.  She has raised many animals at home too!  She has had horses, fish, birds and even chickens.  Currently her pets include a ball python, 2 cats and a dove.

What would Nikki like everyone to know about her job as a Zookeeper?  She says the job is very rewarding and in more ways than just being with the animals.  It has given her an outlet for connecting her artwork with guest enjoyment to make her job even richer.

The next time you are visiting the Children’s Zoo, take a look at the keeper chat sign.  And if you see Nikki on grounds, say hi and let her know how much we all appreciate what she does.

Celebrate World Okapi Day with Us!

Written by Mary Fields


 You love okapis? So do we! That’s why the Houston Zoo is celebrating World Okapi Day with a Spotlight on Species!

Our SOS will be from 10:00am-3:00pm this Wednesday, October 18th, in front of the okapi exhibit by our new elephant habitat.

The Houston Zoo is a supporter of the Okapi Conservation Project that helps preserve okapis in the wild. Okapis are an endangered species that, despite their zebra-like stripes, are actually related to giraffes! The main reason that okapis are endangered is habitat loss due to illegal mining in the Ituri Forest. What are they mining? Primarily coltan for cell phones, tablets and other handheld devices.

How can you help? It’s easy, you can help by recycling your old cell phones and other handheld electronic devices at the Houston Zoo and by visiting our SOS!

We will also be having a raffle that you can enter for paintings made by our very own male okapi, Kwame. You can enter the raffle by either donating an old cell phone or money that will go to the Okapi Conservation Project. So, come hang out with us, our okapis and help support okapis this Wednesday! We hope to see you there!

Gorilla Doctors Train at the Houston Zoo

Two veterinarians, Dr. Ricky and Dr. Fred, from the Gorilla Doctor project in Uganda visited the Houston Zoo last week to train with our Vet Clinic staff. Drs. Ricky and Fred, along with the other Gorilla Doctors, are first responders for gorillas in the wild, providing house calls in the forest.

The training with our staff in a clinic setting, with a variety of animals they would never see otherwise, was a new and invaluable experience for them. Dr. Fred found the visit “very rewarding to learn new techniques and appreciating the usual ones in a much more participatory way.”

Drs. Fred and Ricky had a full week, including a routine exam on a cougar and a trip to Galveston to see our local conservation work with sea turtle rehabilitation, with the added surprise of getting to help NOAA release two sea turtles. A big moment in their visit was a personal and transformative meeting with a rattle snake that positively altered their views of all snakes and inspired them to advocate for saving snakes in the wild; “during the training, I was amazed by the way the animal keepers handle snakes. This event changed my mind set to save snakes,” said Dr. Ricky.

We were proud to host these two impressive champions for wildlife and wish them the best! With every visit to the Houston Zoo, you are helping the Gorilla Doctors save animals in the wild!

Happy Howlerween – Learn About our Howler Monkeys

Written by Rachel Sorge

One of the first animals you’ll see when you walk into our Wortham World of Primates complex at the Houston Zoo are our Black Howler Monkeys! However, you may hear them before you see them. Howler monkeys are thought to be not only the loudest primate on the planet, but possibly one of the loudest living land mammals in the world. Their garbage-disposal like call can be heard up to 3 miles away in a dense forest. Our howler monkey troop tends to start calling in reaction to the leaf blowers we have on grounds.

During the month of October, the primate team at the Houston Zoo puts on a Howlerween fundraiser to help raise money for Wildtracks; an organization that cares for and rehabilitate orphaned, injured, and sick howler monkeys back into the wild.

Here at the Houston Zoo we have three howler monkeys. Vida who is 23, Garcia, who is 21, and Ramone, who is 14. Vida and Garcia were both born here in Houston, but Ramone came to us in 2012 from the Palm Beach Zoo in Florida.

Ramone is very easily distinguishable from our two girls due to his black color, while Vida and Garcia are both tan-brown in color. All howler monkeys are born a tan color to help them camouflage easily in the forest canopy, but the males develop the black color as they get older. Males are also much larger than the females.

Vida and Garcia may be difficult to tell apart by just a glance, but if you study their faces you can tell that Garcia has a much smaller and shorter face, while Vida’s face is wider and longer. Vida tends to be braver than Garcia, and is always ready to explore enrichment items or new objects placed in the exhibit by her keepers. Garcia however, likes to wait to see if new things are safe before exploring.

Our howler group has a variety of favorites that they enjoy. They will always come greet their keepers if there is a fig or hibiscus flower in hand and they react best to food enrichment when there are frozen bananas involved. The howler monkeys also really enjoy when their keepers hang up mirrors for them, because they absolutely love staring at themselves, and we don’t blame them!

A lot of our guests often wonder why our howlers are sleeping for a large portion of the day, and it’s not because they’re just lazy! In the wild, the howler monkey diet consists mostly of leaves and a small variety of fruits and nuts. Due to the lack of calories in their diet howler monkeys tend to sleep for a majority of their day, about 80%, saving their energy for the important things, like foraging for food and calling to defend their territory!

The next time you are walking through our Wortham World of Primates make sure to say hello to our trio!

 

 

October’s Featured Members: The Amador 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 a family of Zoo Members that deserve recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to October’s Featured Members: The Amador Family


We asked the Amador’s to share a few words about what being Zoo Members means to them. Here’s what they had to say.
“We received a Houston Zoo membership as a Christmas gift from some out-of-state family three years ago. We had so much fun bringing our (then infant) son to the zoo throughout that first year that we have renewed our membership each year since.

Our family has grown since then, and we each have our favorite animals and reasons to visit the zoo. We typically visit first thing in the morning when it’s cooler and many of the animals are eating breakfast, or late in the afternoon on Friday when it’s quiet. Zoo Lights has become one of our favorite cool-weather traditions, and last year Shepherd (now 3) had a blast wearing his costume (beware of the tiny tiger!) for Zoo Boo with his friends.

Houston Zoo is one of the best places in the city to enjoy time outdoors with young kids. The Zoo’s environment engages and encourages their sense of wonder about everything that creeps, crawls, soars, climbs, gallops, and glides. My kids crouch down to trace the “animal tracks” on the walking paths, press the sound buttons at the rhino and chimpanzee exhibits, crawl through the aquarium, and browse through the Swap Shop in wonder of all the curious natural treasures.

We go to the zoo at least once per month, and we ALWAYS see something new. We always learn something new, too. Whether it’s about the animals (did you know that cheetahs can’t retract their claws like other cats?), or about different challenges facing wildlife, and what we can do to help — like shop for household products that use sustainable palm oil.

Recently we attended one of Houston Zoo’s Saving Wildlife Expo events and we are SO impressed with our zoo’s commitment to supporting wildlife conservation all over the world. They don’t just talk the talk — Houston Zoo is walking the walk for wildlife. Because of the Expo and what we’ve learned about Houston Zoo’s conservation efforts, we now have a far greater appreciation for the oft-overlooked, albiet fascinating animals like tamarins, bats, and Grevy’s Zebra.

We’re proud to be members of Houston Zoo and count ourselves lucky to have access to this gem in the city. And you can bet the next time we visit, we’ll be marching straight to the cheetah corner to see those *beautiful* new ambassadors, Dash and Dinari!”

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

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