Christmas Treecycling

Written by Amber Zelmer


Now that we have stuffed ourselves silly for Thanksgiving, people are putting up their Christmas decorations & getting into the holiday spirit! Many people might be wondering whether to choose a real or artificial tree for their household this year. You may be surprised to learn that using a real Christmas tree can be a better choice for the environment than an artificial tree!

The benefit of artificial trees, is that they don’t need to be watered and are able to be reused year after year. However, most artificial trees are used for less than 4 years before they are thrown out. There are almost no facilities that recycle artificial trees and they can take up to 500 years to break down in a landfill! Most artificial trees are manufactured overseas in China or Korea & must be shipped for sale here in the U.S. According to Audubon magazine, you would have to keep an artificial tree for at least 20 years before it would be a better alternative than the real deal.

Christmas tree farms in the U.S. are a more sustainable source for your holiday tree. It can take a pine tree around 7 years to grow to a harvestable size. During the time it is growing, the tree is providing a habitat for migratory birds & other native wildlife. These trees are also producing oxygen & sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

If you are wondering how to dispose of your natural Christmas tree after the holidays there are many ways that you can use the tree to keep benefitting the environment! Many communities offer drop off sites for your old trees & may use them to help prevent erosion by creating barriers along beaches to help preserve sand dunes. The City of Houston offers an annual Christmas tree recycling program and will pick up trees and turn them into mulch or, if you have the space, you can mulch it yourself and use it in your garden or landscaping. Make sure to check online to see which day your neighborhood is collecting trees for the program. When recycling your tree, you must remove all ornaments, decorations, lights, tinsel & tree stands; flocked trees cannot be recycled. If you are not a resident of Houston proper, be sure to check online for local sites that are participating in tree recycling programs or repurposing used trees.

This holiday season we can all be a little more green!

Elephant Population Increases on Island of Borneo

Our wildlife protection partners in Borneo have recently announced that the population of elephants has doubled over the past 10 years! Thanks to your visit to the Houston Zoo, we are able to send vital support to protect elephants in Borneo. We are extremely fortunate to have members of our extended zoo family working in Asia to ensure the survival of Bornean elephants. The Kinabatangan Elephant Conservation Unit (ECU) works with local communities in Borneo to raise awareness, improve human-wildlife relationships, and give farmers the tools and training they need for elephant-friendly crop protection. The Danau Girang Field Centre is conducting the first population biology study of the Bornean elephant, and as a part of this effort, the zoo is able to provide funding for: radio collars, camera traps, and graduate student scholarships.

Here at home we continue to promote these partnerships at our McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, giving our Houston community the opportunity to learn about our herd of elephants at the zoo, and their wild counterparts. To learn more about our partnerships and how you can help Bornean elephants on and off zoo grounds click here.

 

Mountain Gorilla Population on the Rise

The Houston Zoo loves its’ troop of gorillas, and we do everything we can to protect gorillas in the wild.

The critically endangered mountain gorilla can be found in three countries; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.  These gorillas have adapted to living higher up in the mountains and despite pressures from poaching, habitat loss, and disease, our wildlife partners in Africa have seen an increase in the mountain gorilla population over the last several years, thanks to dedicated protection efforts!

Here at the Houston Zoo we are proud to support a number of organizations that work tirelessly to protect mountain gorillas in the wild. Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT) runs after-school programs for local primary school students and community outreach efforts that promote both healthy living habits and gorilla conservation through education and empowerment in communities bordering Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Gorilla Doctors, an organization comprised of an international team of veterinarians, is the only group providing mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas with direct, hands-on care in the wild. In addition to monitoring gorilla health and providing medical care, the veterinary team further protects gorillas by supporting health programs for people and their animals living and working in and around gorilla habitat. GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center) provides care for rescued Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo and works alongside local communities to ensure gorilla survival in the wild. Facilities like GRACE are essential to this endangered species’ survival, and zoo staff is able to aid field researchers in meeting husbandry and management challenges for rescued gorillas housed at GRACE. The Houston Zoo acts as a resource to secure funding for these incredible programs, as well as offering training for project staff.

Each time you visit the zoo, you are helping to support these programs and protect gorillas in the wild! And remember, you can help to save gorilla habitat by recycling your cell phone and other handheld electronics during your next visit! These electronic devices contain a material called tantalum that is mined in areas where gorillas live – if we reuse and recycle these items, we can decrease the amount of mining that takes place in these vital habitats.

Seventh International Tapir Symposium Comes to Houston

Like most of us after reading that headline, you’re probably saying what in the world is a tapir, and why are they having a meeting? Tapirs are the largest land mammal in South America with females weighing up to 700 pounds! There are four species of tapir in the world, with three of the four species found in Latin America – Baird’s, lowland, and mountain. The fourth species, the Malayan tapir, is found in Southeast Asia. Here at the Houston Zoo, we have a family of Baird’s tapir.

While the tapirs may not have come to town, the specialists from all over the world that work with them did, and we enjoyed every moment of their visit. The symposium was made up of members from the Tapir Specialist Group (TSG) – a team we partner with to help save tapirs in the wild! The TSG is a global group of biologists, zoo professionals, researchers, and advocates dedicated to conserving tapirs and their habitat. The Houston Zoo works closely with this group’s Chair, Patricia Medici, to support a Lowland Tapir Project in Brazil. Every 2-3 years, the TSG will meet, giving these experts the opportunity to share their successes, struggles, thoughts, and ideas in order to work together and plan for the future of tapir conservation. The first part of the conference usually features paper and poster presentations, as well as keynote speakers, while the second part is devoted to workshops and round-tables addressing topics relevant to tapir conservation worldwide. Topics can range from veterinary and genetic issues, to husbandry and captive management, to environmental education and the involvement of local communities. It sounds like a lot of hard work packed into just five days, but don’t worry! Everyone at the symposium had the opportunity to get out and explore the city, and they even made a trip to visit all of us here at the zoo!

This year, we were proud to have our very own hoofed stock keepers John Scaramucci and Mary Fields present for the TSG about the Tapir SOS event we host here on zoo grounds each year. This event gives our zoo guests the opportunity to learn more about tapirs, to connect with field researchers, and learn fun and easy ways to help save these animals in the wild.

Gatherings such as this one have proven to be critical to the success of global conservation efforts. At first glance you may think that projects in Brazil and Malaysia have very little in common, or that field researchers and zookeepers play very different roles. However, when a meeting of the minds occurs, you find out just how much they all have in common, and how vital the exchange of ideas can be to the survival of a species like the tapir. We are honored to be a part of such a collaborative effort, and wish our extended family at the TSG luck as they return to their field sites!

To learn about what you can do to help save tapirs in the wild, click here.

Wildlife Warrior Award Winner Visits Uganda

Our admissions’ team raises funds to help save animals in the wild through the sales of colorful wildlife bracelets guests can buy at the entrance to the Zoo.  In 2015, the Zoo established this conservation hero award program called Wildlife Warriors to use the bracelet funds to recognize and enhance the outstanding staff employed by the Zoo’s existing conservation partners. The program has awarded 15 Wildlife Warriors to date from our conservation projects in developing countries. All of the warriors honored were carefully chosen by the Zoo’s admissions’ team. The award is designed to increase the recipient’s conservation community network and inspire empowerment by providing opportunities to gain further education through training or experiences.

Valerie Akuredusenge, Program Director of Conservation Heritage-Turambe was selected as a Wildlife Warrior in 2016. Just last month she completed her training with a conservation education program in nearby Uganda called UNITE. Below is an account of Valerie’s training, in her own words:

To wrap up my story telling about my time with Unite, I am happy to share about my experience and what I took back from my visit.

During my visit with UNITE for the Environment,  I was able to learn about their conservation programs namely Teacher Training and Evaluation by observing teachers while they are teaching in the classroom to assess teaching methods, quality of content used, and whether or not they are integrating environmental education into their teaching.  In addition, I was also given the opportunity to visit two partner schools of UNITE.

What I took back from UNITE to CHT:

What I took back from the UNITE’s Teacher Training is that their approach helps in terms of sharing conservation messages to a wider audience  and one can expand upon the program to more areas. As far as CHT builds up its teacher training through annual open day, my experience with UNITE will significantly contribute in terms of strengthening and improving our existing program.

As far as the UNITE’s evaluation is concerned, I had time to also observe teachers while they were teaching.  By connecting my experience from Teacher training and that of teacher observation, I could really tell that the teachers were integrating environmental education in their teaching. This is another approach that CHT will try to see if it applies by collaborating with its partner schools and education officers.

By also visiting UNITE’s partner schools, I learned about what communities and schools are doing in terms of environmental conservation.

In short; I deeply thank the Houston Zoo and its Admission Team for having selected me as one of their wildlife warrior winners in 2016. I would also like to express my sincere thanks to the North Carolina Zoo for their wonderful program, UNITE for the Environment. Corrine Kendall finds my sincere thanks here as well for playing an important role while putting me in touch with UNITE. Additionally, I would however request a continuous collaboration between CHT and UNITE so we can keep on exchanging programs and learning from each other.

Houston Zoo’s Crisis Fund Provides Aid to Grevy’s Zebra

The past two years in northern Kenya have posed many challenges for our friends at the Grevy’s Zebra Trust. When the short rains of 2016 and the long rains of 2017 did not arrive, areas of Kenya that the Grevy’s zebra call home experienced a severe drought. Much like when we receive droughts in Texas, the lack of rain led to a significant decline in the amount of forage (food) available for both livestock and wildlife. As competition grew for use of this limited food supply, the already endangered Grevy’s zebra population was put in jeopardy.

Our friends at the Grevy’s Zebra Trust took action immediately and started a hay feeding program across all areas of Grevy’s zebra range in order to help prevent starvation and maintain the body condition of these zebras so that they could remain healthy enough to fight off the effects of drought and disease. In May of 2017, part of the range received much needed rain, but in Samburu and Buffalo Springs the rains did not come, and with the Grevy’s Zebra Trust out of funds to run their feeding program, nearly 150 Grevy’s zebra were still in danger of starvation.

The Houston Zoo has a crisis fund that is set up for emergency situations just like this one. Simply put, the crisis fund exists to provide support in the event that a wildlife conservation crisis or situation has occurred, and is in need of urgent action. In this instance, we were able to use this fund to cover the feeding costs for the Grevy’s zebra for an additional 5 weeks – just long enough to keep everyone fed before the rains returned and forage started to grow once again. We are dedicated to doing everything we can to help save animals in the wild, and are grateful to each and every one of you who make programs like this possible through your visit to the zoo. To learn more about this partnership and what you can do to help click here!

We are happy to announce that our partners at Ewaso Lions have informed us that the rains have returned to Samburu! The vegetation is finally growing back, and river beds are filling, meaning the supplementary feedings are no longer necessary.

Recycle Holiday Lights to help Save Animals in the Wild

Recycle your holiday string lights here and help save animals in the wild! Recycling keeps items out of landfills. Less space for landfills means more space for animals! A recycling bin is located at the Zoo’s main entrance. Only string lights will be accepted for recycling; please do not bring other items such as flood lights, extension cords or light hooks.

The collection bin will be open through the last day of Zoo Lights on January 14.


A bobcat, like the ones you are saving by recycling your holiday lights.

It may not feel like winter, but the holidays are almost here and with that comes the task of putting up your holiday lights. This task comes with many issues, what if you put them up and they don’t work? What if they have gone out of style? What if they just use too much energy and you want to buy LED lights instead?

If you are having any of these issues or other issues and need a place to dispose of your old or broken string lights you can bring them to the Houston Zoo to recycle! Recycling holiday lights keeps them out of landfills. Less space for landfills means more space for animals, animals like bobcats, deer, and the Texas State Small Mammal, the armadillo.

Recycle your holiday string lights in this bin, located at the Houston Zoo’s main entrance.

You can bring your holiday string lights to the main entrance of the Houston Zoo until January 14. Simply place them in the bin that says, “Recycle your holiday lights here and help save animals in the wild!” We will make sure they are responsibly recycled and you can enjoy your holidays knowing that you helped save animals in the wild!

With your help, the Houston Zoo has recycled more than 7,486 pounds of holiday lights to date. This is nearly the same weight as a female Asian elephant!

Redesigned Bear Habitat Coming Soon

Next year, the Houston Zoo will open a completely redesigned bear habitat for its two black bears thanks to the generous support of the Hamill Foundation. This expansion more than triples the space for Belle and Willow to explore. Guests will be able to experience the world of bears with unobstructed views of the habitat and get nose-to-nose with the beloved duo through a brand-new glass wall. The expanded habitat was designed to give the bears the highest quality of life and includes engaging features throughout like a revamped water feature, specially created climbing structures, and ample shade.

The Houston Zoo saves bears in the wild by participating in state protection planning in Texas. The team also leads efforts to help save bears in the wild through promotion of paper reduction and the use of recycled paper products. Bears need trees to live, and by using less paper or recycled-content paper products, fewer trees are cut down.

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles See Nesting Boom

The Houston Zoo is proud to be part of sea turtle protection efforts in our state. Thanks to a dedicated group of organizations and individuals, we are thrilled to announce that Texas and Mexico saw nearly 27,000 Kemp’s ridley nests on our beaches. This is a 35% increase in nests from 2016, which is a great sign for this local species!

Since 2010, the Houston Zoo has treated over 400 sea turtles in our veterinary clinic, many of which are Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Once treated, these sea turtles are brought to the NOAA sea turtle barn in Galveston where they are cared for before being released into the ocean.  Our team has also aided in the construction of monofilament (fishing line) recycling bins which provide a location to recycle your fishing line, rather than leave it on the ground, potentially entangling wildlife like sea turtles. Zoo staff also participates in weekly sea turtle surveys to look for stranded or nesting sea turtles, and monthly jetty clean-ups aimed at reducing the amount of trash that ends up in sea turtle habitat.

Last year 25,000 copies of the Houston Zoo Saving Wildlife, Sea Turtle Edition comic book were distributed throughout our community to increase knowledge about our local sea turtle species and the threats they face. As a result of our community’s dedication to saving wildlife, nearly 2,000 Houston Zoo guests pledged to go plastic bag free, keeping plastic out of the ocean that sea turtles may mistake for food.

Your visit to see sea turtles rehabilitating in our Kipp Aquarium helps protect sea turtles in the wild! To learn how you can join the Zoo and fellow Houstonians on their journey to reduce plastic waste and protect marine wildlife click here.

Staff Saving Wildlife in Vietnam

One of our amazing veterinary technicians is currently in Vietnam training staff from the organization, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. Jess, our talented vet tech is training staff in Vietnam on medical procedures for animals including blood collection, animal handling skills, intubation techniques and how to respond to different anesthetic situations.

Developing these skills in the staff at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife will help them further develop their animal health assessments of critically endangered animals such as pangolins. Jess started her work immediately upon arrival, when the organization rescued a total of 32 pangolins, bringing the total under their care to 77. Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world.

Jess’s work is fully-supported by our Staff Conservation Fund, a grant for Houston Zoo staff, funded by Houston Zoo staff to support their passion to save animals in the wild. This is a unique program to the Houston Zoo and has allowed our staff to carry out 43 projects around the world to save wildlife over the past 10 years.

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