Meet Wesley

If you are a regular here at the Houston Zoo, you might have noticed an unfamiliar animal face in the John P. McGovern’s Children Zoo. It is a very interesting and unique face, and one that most guests might not recognize immediately. While we are in the midst of some rearranging and exhibit construction, one of our very special Ambassador Animals has been taking a daily vacation out on exhibit. Wesley has been enjoying his time in the public eye, but he has left many guests scratching their heads trying to figure out just exactly what type of animal he is.

Keepers have gotten many different guesses from guests over the past few weeks, but we will just go ahead and tell you that Wesley is a Patagonian cavy or mara. While he may look similar to a rabbit, he is not actually closely related to rabbits. Wesley is a type of rodent, and you could think of him as a giant version of a guinea pig, or a smaller version of a capybara.

Rodents are one of the most diverse groups of mammals on the planet, and they comprise over 40% of all mammal species!* Rodents can look very different, but the one thing they have in common is their teeth. All rodents have two pairs of incisors, their front teeth, that continue growing for their entire lives. Rodents use their teeth in many different ways: beavers gnaw down trees to build dams and lodges, porcupines eat bark and twigs from trees and mole rats use their teeth to excavate their burrows.

Cavies/maras, like Wesley, can be found on the pampas grass plains of Argentina. Maras are grazing animals. They feed on grasses and live in communal burrows, which they dig themselves. Maras use their long legs to evade predators, and can reach speeds of 20 – 25 mph. Maras are considered “threatened” in the wild. The major threats they face are habitat loss and competition from invasive species, such as European hares.

By visiting the Houston Zoo and recycling your paper products, you can help save animals like Wesley in the wild.

*Animal Diversity Web – University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

Year of the Goat – Featuring Juniper

In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat! We have over 20 different goats representing 5 different breeds. In addition to their different colors, shapes, and sizes, all of our goats also express individual preferences and personalities!

To highlight our goats individual ‘flair’, we’ve decided to feature a different goat each month and share what makes each one so unique and lovable!


When October begins, most people tend to start thinking of pumpkins, apple cider and Halloween! Juniper isn’t a traditional ingredient used in pumpkin pie spice, but Juniper the goat IS orange like a pumpkin! As a Nigerian dwarf goat, Juniper has a fairly round belly, so her middle even resembles a little Jack-o-lantern! As you may have learned from last month’s goat blog, Juniper’s round stature is caused by gas from the plant material fermenting in her four chambered stomach.

juniper1

Aside from impersonating seasonal squash, Juniper enjoys more mentally stimulating activities as well. She has begun participating in bi-weekly learning sessions with her trainer, Brian. She has already mastered several different behaviors, such as climbing onto a bench, standing on her hind legs, and even shaking hands/hooves with Brian!

Come to the zoo to congratulate Juniper on her training progress and her ‘Goat of the Month’ status, and stay to celebrate our annual Zoo Boo festivities!  Beginning on October 16th, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday are Zoo Boo days!  There will be a pumpkin patch, a candy cave and many other fun activities for children and adults alike!

juniper

Juniper was so excited about Zoo Boo that she dressed up early! Be sure to follow Juniper’s lead and come in costume! At 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM every day there will be a Costume Parade. You never know, you might even find some of the animals visiting to join in the parade!

 

What is Enrichment?

Have you ever visited the zoo on a hot summer day and thought, ‘None of the animals ever DO anything!’ When it’s 95 degrees (or more!) and the humidity is high, any exhibit you go to is likely to have a lot of animals just laying low. They might be sleeping, hiding in the shade or just lying there resting. Unlike some humans, animals are not wasteful! So when the sun is high and the temperatures soar, all of the animals know that it’s better to relax and conserve their energy! By remaining inactive during peak daytime temperatures, the animals use less energy to cool themselves and have more energy at their disposal when temperatures drop and it’s time to forage.

mongoose baby enrichment

As zookeepers, we respect the animals’ natural behaviors and try our best to encourage them to exhibit the same behaviors here at the Houston Zoo that they would in the wild. However, we also understand that acres and acres of sleeping animals aren’t exactly the most exciting thing in the world for guests to see! By offering enrichment to our animals on a daily basis, zookeepers both facilitate the exhibition of natural behaviors by our animals and provide an opportunity for guests to see them demonstrating those behaviors!

enrichment watermelon1Enrichment makes something more meaningful, fuller or rewarding. By enriching our animals every day, we keepers try to make their day more rewarding and full of new experiences. Consequently, this can have a meaningful impact on our guests if they are lucky enough to see our animals enjoying their enrichment. That’s why Enrichment Day is hands-down the best day to see pretty much all of the animals doing exciting things! While keepers enrich the animals every day, on Enrichment Day, all of the sections in the zoo take extra time to put together the most exciting enrichment activities possible and engage guests by having extra Keeper Chats to explain what behaviors we are encouraging our animals to display.

chickens enrichment

While there are many ways to categorize enrichment, 3 of the most common categories are ‘naturalistic,’ ‘novel/different’ and ‘food-based.’ If we wanted to highlight ‘naturalistic’ behaviors we keepers might put out fresh branches from a tree to encourage a porcupine to nibble on them or spray perfume in an exhibit to entice a fox or mongoose to scent mark the area. When we want the animals to experience ‘novel/different’ enrichment we may put a plastic pool filled with balls in with our chickens or give a giant ball to an eland or giraffe to kick around. Food-based enrichment is by far the animals’ favorites and are almost always guaranteed to get a response. Sometimes keepers make it easy and put the animals’ favorite food right out where they can see it, but sometimes we make it more challenging! Putting their food under some hay so that they have to forage to find it or freezing it into an ice pop so they have to work to get it out are ways we can challenge our animals to ‘work’ for their food, just like they would in the wild! When we keepers are feeling really crazy we might even combine these categories into a multi-faceted enrichment and that is the sort of thing you guests can expect to see a lot of on Enrichment Day!

So join us, on September 19th 2015, and make sure to check the ‘Plan Your Day’ kiosk at the front of the zoo or take a look at our special Enrichment Day map so that you know which animals are getting enriched at what time! The only bad thing about Enrichment Day is that there are so many chats going on that you won’t be able to see them all. Make sure you plan to visit your favorite animals and enjoy seeing more animals doing things this summer than you ever thought possible!

Year of the Goat – Featuring Jack

In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat! We have over 20 different goats representing 5 different breeds. In addition to their different colors, shapes, and sizes, all of our goats also express individual preferences and personalities!

To highlight our goats individual ‘flair’, we’ve decided to feature a different goat each month and share what makes each one so unique and lovable!


JackAs zookeepers in the Contact Area in the Children’s Zoo, we receive a lot of questions about our goats. Most people want to know their names or how old they are. When it comes to Pygmy goat twins, Jingle and Belle, most guests want to know if they’re babies. (In case you were wondering, they were born in December of 2013 so they are just a little over a year and a half old at the moment. So they are not technically ‘babies’ any longer; they’re just really small goats!) But the goat that keepers get the most questions about is probably Jack. ‘Is she pregnant?’ is the most-asked question in the yard, and we keepers smile and shake our heads as we reply, ‘No, HE is not pregnant.’

Just like humans, goats come in all shapes and sizes. Some goats are tall and skinny, and some goats are short and round. As a Nigerian dwarf goat, Jack was bred to be short in stature. In addition to his short legs, Jack just happens to have a barrel belly which has some guests convinced that his belly is full of baby goats! In fact, Jack’s belly is just full of gas!

Jack naps in the goat yard
Jack naps in the goat yard

As ruminants, goats have a four-chambered stomach. Each chamber has a different job to help break down plant material, which is very difficult to digest. The rumen is the largest chamber of their stomachs and is where most of the fermentation of the plant material occurs. This fermentation produces gas, and gas can expand when it’s hot; often giving our goats a slightly balloon-like appearance.

Jack doesn’t seem to be bothered by the cases of mistaken identity and is one of the friendliest goats in the yard. He can often be seen hanging out with the twins Bono and Trent, who are Jack’s younger brothers. In fact, Jack is currently the oldest goat in the Contact Area! Come visit Jack on September 12th as he celebrates his 12th birthday!

 

Year of the Goat- Featuring Raisin Bran and Bailey

In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat! We have over 20 different goats representing 5 different breeds. In addition to their different colors, shapes, and sizes, all of our goats also express individual preferences and personalities!

To highlight our goats individual ‘flair’, we’ve decided to feature a different goat each month and share what makes each one so unique and lovable!


 

goats1Did you know that the astrological sign of Gemini presides over the majority of the month of June? The symbol for Gemini is a pair of twins, so we welcome the month of June with our first ever DOUBLE goat of the month! In past blogs it has been mentioned that goats very frequently give birth to twins so it was easy for keepers to find a pair of twins in the Contact Area; the challenge was choosing WHICH set of twins to highlight!  Keepers finally decided that the twins Raisin Bran and Bailey deserved some time in the spotlight.

goats2The first thing many guests may wonder is why is there a goat named Raisin Bran? Both Raisin Bran and Bailey were born on a farm and their former owner named them for us. Raisin Bran was originally named ‘Coffee’ because their owner used to enjoy her morning coffee while playing with the goat kids and he liked to jump in her lap. Coffee just didn’t seem to fit so she changed his name to Raisin Bran because his color reminded her of bran flakes. Bailey was given her name in honor of the owner’s sister’s horse.

goats3As kids, both Raisin Bran and Bailey had very different personalities. Raisin Bran was the cuddly one and Bailey was a bit more shy and standoffish. When they first came to the Houston Zoo, the twins continued this trend. As time went on, Bailey began to hang out with our adult female Saanen goat Elsa. Elsa is a confident goat and some of her confidence seems to have rubbed off on Bailey. Bailey will now come up to be brushed and petted by children just like her brother Raisin Bran does. If you would like to see more photos of the twins as kids you can visit their former owner’s blog at: http://farmfreshforensics.com/farm_blog/?y=2013&m=4.


Year of the Goat – Featuring Han Solo

With so many animals here at the Houston Zoo, it can be difficult to come up with unique names. Those of you who read the blog last month learned that we named April’s goat after Easter candy.  May’s goat of the month is named not for food but for a famous character in a movie. Star Wars fans will immediately recognize Han Solo as one of the most charming adventurers to ever pilot a spacecraft.  Here in the Children’s Zoo Han Solo is one of the most charming goats to ever jump onto a bench.

Han-Goat-Resize

Han Solo is a tall, sleek, Alpine goat with bright eyes and black points on his coat. Like many of the other goats in the Children’s Zoo, Han Solo is a twin. His twin brother is also named after a Star Wars character. Han Solo’s twin has longer hair, making him the shaggier version of the two.  It seemed only fitting that he be dubbed ‘Chewbacca’ in honor of Han Solo’s shaggy, wookiee co-pilot in the movie.

photo8

Much like their namesakes in the movie, Han and Chewie can be a bit mischievous. Last winter the zookeepers in the Children’s Zoo just couldn’t figure out why the lights in the barn were on every morning.  Keepers would remind each other to turn them off and double check the switches before leaving each night. Even so, the barn would still be lit up brightly every morning. It wasn’t until a crafty keeper snuck up quietly and discovered the culprits were the goats themselves! Some of the goats were having fun playing with the cover over the light switches!

twins

Han and Chewie were even captured on film helping each other lift up the cover to play with the light switches! You can see the video of these naughty goats in the video below. Come visit these troublemakers in the Contact Area and see if you can tell them apart!


In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat! We have over 20 different goats representing 5 different breeds. In addition to their different colors, shapes, and sizes, all of our goats also express individual preferences and personalities!

To highlight our goats individual ‘flair’, we’ve decided to feature a different goat each month and share what makes each one so unique and lovable!

Year of the Goat – Featuring Peep

Peep, the Goat

Peep's birthday celebration!
Peep’s birthday celebration!

We hope that you had a happy Easter! It just so happens that April’s Goat of the Month is Peep! She and her twin brother, Cadbury, were born on 3/27/2005, which just happened to be Easter Sunday! Peep the goat is not named after the sound that a fluffy, yellow baby chicken makes. She is actually named after a sticky, yellow, chick-shaped Easter confection! In keeping with the Easter theme, Cadbury was named after the company that makes everyone’s favorite creme-filled chocolate egg!

The twins celebrated their 10th birthday here in the Children’s Zoo last week where they each received an animal approved ‘cake.’ These ‘cakes’ were made of bread, peanut butter, strawberries and a little bit of jelly. Peep enjoyed her cake so much that she got peanut butter all over her nose! Maybe she was too excited to eat it neatly or maybe she was just trying to save some of it for later!

You may not be able to tell just by looking at her, but Peep is actually an accomplished artist! That’s right, Peep can paint! Peep’s former trainer, Andrea, spent months teaching Peep to hold a paintbrush in her mouth. Peep mastered the technique and can now make paintings with a little help from her keepers. Peep’s paintings, and those of other painting animals around the zoo, are often requested for conservation fundraisers or other events hosted by the zoo where they raise money to help support the animals here in the Houston Zoo and help conserve animals in the wild!

peeppainting
Peep is a better artist than most of her keepers!

 


In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat! We have over 20 different goats representing 5 different breeds. In addition to their different colors, shapes, and sizes, all of our goats also express individual preferences and personalities!

To highlight our goats individual ‘flair’, we’ve decided to feature a different goat each month and share what makes each one so unique and lovable!

Year of the Goat – Featuring Bono

Trent-&-Bono-R
Bono (right) stands with his twin Trent (left)

March’s Goat of the Month is…(drumroll please)… Bono! (Musical pun intended). Unlike his famous namesake, Bono the goat is not much of a singer, though he can get pretty vocal around feeding time! Like the majority of our goat herd here in the Children’s Zoo Bono is a Nigerian dwarf goat. This breed originated in West Africa but has become very popular in America as a companion goat for hobbyists.

Bono-&-Michelle-R
Bono and keeper, Michelle

Bono is one of the most affectionate goats in the Contact Area and when he wants attention he will ask for it! He frequently comes up to keepers (and guests) and gently leans his head up against their leg to encourage them to give him a nice scratch on the head.  Bono also enjoys training sessions with his trainer Michelle and can often be found lounging around the yard with his twin brother Trent. Bono and Trent were born right here at the Houston Zoo on 3/12/2005 so they will be celebrating their TENTH birthday this month!

Fun fact: Goats frequently give birth to multiple kids so twins and even triplets are a common sight in the yard. Because they are highly social herd animals, goats tend to form strong familial bonds. If you watch the goats you can often figure out which goats are related by watching which other goats they spend the most time with. You can often find siblings sleeping side by side in the yard or sharing a pile of hay. Not only does Bono spend a lot of time with his twin Trent, they both like to hang around with their older brother Jack as well! Jack and Bono look a lot alike but if you look closely Jack has yellow eyes while Bono’s eyes are baby blue. Come say ‘hello’ to Bono and his siblings in the Contact Area this month!


In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat! We have over 20 different goats representing 5 different breeds. In addition to their different colors, shapes, and sizes, all of our goats also express individual preferences and personalities!

To highlight our goats individual ‘flair’, we’ve decided to feature a different goat each month and share what makes each one so unique and lovable!

Year of the Goat – Featuring Elsa

In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat! We have over 20 different goats representing 5 different breeds. In addition to their different colors, shapes, and sizes, all of our goats also express individual preferences and personalities!

To highlight our goats individual ‘flair’, we’ve decided to feature a different goat each month and share what makes each one so unique and lovable!


Else-resizeElsa the Goat

Our very first ‘Goat of the Month’ for 2015 is Elsa! Elsa is a purebred Saanen goat. Saanen goats originated in Switzerland and are a very popular breed of dairy goat. Elsa is a fairly new edition to our herd here in the Children’s Zoo and she’s becoming very popular with ‘Frozen’ fans!

When Elsa first arrived in the Children’s Zoo she had a fancy name to match her purebred status. Her original name was ‘Standing Ovation.’ Even though Elsa’s proud personality works well with her fancy title, the name is quite a mouthful! Elsa’s pure, white coloring reminded the keepers of snow and we all know that everyone’s favorite Snow Queen is Elsa. A vote was held and Elsa won by a landslide!
Elsa-resize-2

Much like the Disney Queen that is her namesake, Elsa is shy around large crowds of people. With some gentle encouragement from her keepers, Elsa is beginning to realize that people can provide a nice pampering brushing session or a good scratch on the head. One of Elsa’s favorite activities is walking on a leash and exploring new areas with her trainer Lyndsey, so you might encounter her in some surprising places around the Children’s Zoo.

Stay tuned for next month’s featured goat!


Get Swap Shop Points for Learning the Goat of the Month!

For those of you that are involved in the Swap Shop here at the Houston Zoo, we are offering an opportunity to earn some extra points this year.  Any child who learns the ‘Goat of the Month’ (either by visiting the blog OR going out to the Contact Area and asking the keepers there) can tell the Swap Shop keeper the name of the ‘Goat of the Month’ and get 5 points placed into their Swap Shop account!  The points are available to first time traders OR frequent fliers but each child can only earn the ‘Goat of the Month points’ ONCE during each month.  For those of you who have never been to the Swap Shop, check it out here!

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