Campers Championing Conservation!

Every summer, the Houston Zoo welcomes over 2,000 campers into our summer camp program: Camp Zoofari.  These children spend a week learning about the Houston Zoo, its amazing animals, and all the ways we are working to save animals in the wild.  We wanted to increase our emphasis on conservation actions and engage our campers to feel empowered that THEY can truly make a difference, no matter how old they are! Thus the Water Bottle Pledge and the Trash Audit Program came into being.

It is no secret that summers in Houston can be brutally hot.  Staying hydrated is a must, especially for our campers.   Starting on Monday, the first day of the camp week, we start highlighting the importance of reducing plastic use.  One of the easiest ways we can do this is by using a reusable water bottle.  This helps marine life, like sea turtles.  On Wednesday, the middle of the camp week, we give the campers the opportunity to make a personal pledge:   to use a reusable water bottle through the rest of the summer to help save sea turtles in the wild.  If they chose to take the pledge, they are able to decorate a water droplet and then place it on the pledge banner.  This has been a huge hit with our campers so far this summer!  Each week, we get well over 100 pledges.  Campers point out the pledge banners to their parents and even ask to have their picture taken next to their pledge sign.

Another way campers are helping to save animals is through our lunch Trash Audit Program. Campers are quick to point out that recycling is important in helping to save wildlife and natural spaces. Toward this end, our campers are challenged each day to bring reusable lunch items when able, and to properly recycle when they cannot. Each day after lunch, the camper waste is weighed versus the weight of recyclable materials brought. So far, each camp week has increased their percentage of recyclable materials and on average are recycling 16% of what they bring for lunch. To assist in this effort, signs have been posted on the trash bins and recycle bins at lunch showing pictures of items that can and cannot be recycled. Campers enjoy matching their items to the pictures each week as they explore what can and cannot be tossed into the recycle bins!

Through these two programs, campers are making a difference for wildlife and demonstrating how everyone can make a difference! We encourage you to take on these challenges within your own home!

 

A Wild Lesson in Photography

Here in the Conservation Education Department at the Houston Zoo, we say that ANYONE can be a champion for wildlife and use their skill set to save our wild spaces.  Whether you are an ecologist or an accountant; a biologist or a carpenter; everyone can contribute something to the cause!

Recently, Ms. Charlotte Schilten the Yearbook Sponsor for New Caney Middle School, reached out to the Houston Zoo to see if there would be an opportunity for yearbook students to come learn from one of photographers here at the Zoo on the best way to use their new cameras.  The New Caney School district has an educational foundation that awards grants for educators with exceptional, innovative ideas. This year, Ms. Schilten was one of 3 teachers from her campus to be awarded a grant which allowed the campus to purchase 5 new cameras, including memory and zoom lenses, for her students.

Immediately after receiving Ms. Schilten’s email, I had the thought: “What an awesome opportunity to pair this awesome group of students with one of our amazing photographers here at the Zoo while helping them see that even a skill such as photography can be used in the field of conservation!”  I set to work arranging everyone’s schedule and getting the day organized.

The yearbook students, along with Ms. Schilten, came to the zoo on January 24th.  They were able to spend some time with one of our amazing volunteer photographers, Dale Martin.  He showed them different ways to use their cameras, some things to always keep in mind when photographing animals, and some of the tricks he uses photographing animals here at the zoo.  The students then got to practice on the Ambassador Animals that I brought for them to photograph.

Here are some of the students’ favorite photos that they took.

 

Photo credit: Abby Rojas

“I really enjoyed going to the Houston Zoo. It turned out to be better than I thought it was going to be. My favorite part of that experience was when they brought out some animals and the talked about them. I had a really great time, and I hope we get to do this again. Thank you for allowing us to have that trip, and hopefully we will see you again.”

Photo credit: Grace Gideon

“The zoo to us wasn’t just a place to mess around and look at animals, it was a place to teach us how to look at the real beauty in photography.”

Photo credit: Jackie Walters

“I enjoyed the zoo so much! It was such a great experience to see and take pictures of the animals. I also learned so much from this trip!”

Photo credit: James Watson

“The trip itself was more amazing than I thought it was going to be in the first place! But my favorite part was when they brought out the animals. I knew they were going to be bring out them out, but it was so amazing to see such beautiful animal, and it was great to practice on moving subjects!  I had an amazing time and I hope we get to do something like this again sometime soon!”

Photo credit: McKinlee Lucas

Thank you to the Houston Zoo for this experience in using our new cameras to photograph the animals. I learned that day so much about photography that will definitely help me in the future. This something I would do again and recommend for other students.

Photo credit: Valerie Morales

“I enjoyed capturing the different moments in the animals lives and it was a very new and exciting experience. Thank you for giving us the chance to go.”

Photo credit: Ashlynn Cantu

“Going to the Houston Zoo was a great experience to have for yearbook. I loved being involved with the animals and getting to be a part of their day. I learned a lot that day about the cameras. I’m glad I got to have that experience, and I hope we can visit again soon.

 

Conservation Education Staff Travel to Belize – Day 2

After a very…noisy…first night at Wildtracks, we woke up to a beautiful Belizean morning.  We walked around the first floor of the sanctuary, found some breakfast in the kitchen, and enjoyed watching the sunrise from the back patio.

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Sunrise over a peaceful lagoon; our first morning in Belize was beautiful

Since we arrived late the night before, we had not had the opportunity to meet all the volunteers that help Wildtracks do the amazing work they do.  And there were MANY volunteers to meet.  It seemed as if they were coming out of the woodwork.  We had a wonderful morning and met all the volunteers that had literally come from around the world to work at Wildtracks.  Their stories were many and varied, and they hailed from places that ranged from Canada to the UK to Australia.  It was so inspiring to see all these people come together to further conservation efforts and to be able to share a little bit of our story with them.

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The main building on the Wildtracks grounds. This building housed the kitchen, the primate nursery, as well as some of the sleeping quarters for staff and visitors (including us).

Paul Walker was kind enough to give a tour of the facilities during the mid-morning hours.  We saw their enclosures for manatees that had been injured in boating accidents as well as their pre-release enclosures that opened up into the lagoon.  Manatees are able to slowly become accustomed to the life outside the safety of Wildtracks, which greatly enhances their chances of survival.

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A manatee that had injuries from a boating accident currently undergoing rehabilitation.
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A juvenile manatee in the lagoon pen
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The lagoon pens that house the manatees during the soft-releases and acclamation periods

We also toured the primate facilities at Wildtracks.  Yucatan black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) and Geoffroy’s spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) both call Belize home.  Both species are under pressure from habitat loss and the pet trade.  Wildtracks works with the local officials as well as other conservation organizations to find these primates that are often housed in deplorable conditions, removed them from the pet trade, and work to provide the health care and nutrition they desperately need.  Once the primates return to good health, the work of rehabilitating them for life in the wild begins.  Paul and Zoe Walker, along with all the volunteers at the Wildtracks facility, have had an amazing survival rate post-release of both species of primates.  Research has been done that not only shows individual monkeys are surviving, but thriving to the point of raising families of their own in the forests of Belize.

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Yucatan black howler monkey (Alouatta pigra) undergoing rehabilitation
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Geoffroy’s spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi) undergoing rehabilitation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The amazing lunch prepared by the amazing Wildtracks staff.

 

After our busy morning, we were able to share a delicious lunch with everyone at Wildtracks. During lunch, one of the past interns that completed research at Wildtracks gave a presentation over her work documenting post-release behaviors of individuals.  Her work showed just how successful Wildtracks has become at introducing these primates back into the wild and ensuring their survival.

We were able to spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the beautiful Wildtracks facility and ensuring everything was ready for our conservation conference that was starting the next day.  We also distributed the supplies that the Primate Team at HZI had sent down, along with T-shirts, printed material, and other goodies for everyone at Wildtracks.

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A few of the volunteers at Wildtracks listening to the lunch time presentation

Along with Paul Walker, Zoe Walker, and Emma Farlow (Wildtracks Education and Outreach Coordinator), we left Wildtracks around 5:00 p.m. to start our journey to Belmopan, Belize.  It was roughly a 4 hour drive.  We arrived at Belmopan safely, checked in to the Hibiscus Hotel, and had dinner at the restaurant before turning in for the night.

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Elizabeth Fries, Zoe Walker, Paul Walker, and DeAndra Ramsey leaving Wildtracks to go to Belmopan

Conservation Education Staff Travel to Belize – Day 1

1The Houston Zoo has partnered with Wildtracks in Belize since 2010.  The Wildtracks wildlife rehabilitation center is located in the north east corner of Belize outside Sarteneja on the shore of the Corozal Bay. Originally a Manatee rescue/ rehabilitation and release center in Belize, Wildtracks added the endangered Yucatan Black Howler Monkey in 2010 to their wildlife rehabilitation program and have a successful release program.  Primate keepers from the Houston Zoo began the relationship with Wildtracks by going down to the facility in Belize and sharing their expertise in howler monkey husbandry and aiding Wildtracks staff in releasing rehabilitated animals into the wild.  With the Wildtracks’ animal husbandry techniques excelling, the decision was made to focus our efforts on enhancing the public outreach component of the Wildtracks mission.

2Through the Houston Zoo’s Staff Conservation Fund, which consists of donations from Houston Zoo staff designated for Houston Zoo staff conservation efforts, we were granted the opportunity to travel down to Belize and aid our partners in their community outreach, public education, and national conservation messaging endeavors.

After many months (almost three years!) of planning and preparing, the time for our trip finally arrived.  On January 26th, we left from the fancy, new international terminal at Houston Hobby Airport. The flight from Houston to Belize City, Belize was a bit over two hours in length.   We were both surprised by how easy it was to travel from Houston to Belize.  Honestly, it is more of a challenge to get to other cities in the U.S. than it is to travel internationally to Belize.

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DeAndra Ramsey and Elizabeth Fries – Ready for take-off!

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Flying over Belize
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Welcome to Belize

After our very easy flight, Paul and Zoe Walker picked us up from the Belize International Airport.  Paul and Zoe Walker run the Wildtracks facility.  We had roughly a 5 hour journey via their SUV to get from Belize City to the Wildtracks facility.  Along the way, we stopped at various shops for supplies as well as our first meal in Belize.

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Our first meal in Belize: a fabulous dinner in the town of Orange Walk at Nahil Mayab Restaurant

We finally reached the Wildtracks facility around 9:00 pm on January 26th.  We helped unload the vehicle, set up our sleeping quarters in the produce room, and called it a day.  We had a very interesting night of being woken up every two to three hours by various creatures being very loud in the jungle.  Since the room we were sleeping in was a screened in porch, we could hear every little sound that was being made.  It definitely made for a memorable first night in Belize.

Be sure to catch our next installment where we will cover our exciting Day 2 at the Wildtracks facility.

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Our sleeping quarters
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Our sleeping quarters

 

 

 

 

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: I'm still using this.
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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: Im still using this.

 

Comment on Facebook

Are there some zoo animals that enjoy this weather?

SMG is another reason why Houston Zoo is the best Zoo!

Are we positive that’s the statue rather than it really just being that cold? 😛

More snow for TJ and Max ❤️ lucky them!

That’s my best friend Sophie for ya! 😂

Brrrrr

Omg the Zoo is so awesome 😂😂😂 Alana Berry

Omg be warm sweetoe

Haha!! Good one!

Sweetie 💞

Ashley Jucker 😂

Mike DePope

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We've heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing? ... See MoreSee Less

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Weve heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing?

 

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Ok, it took me a minute to get this. I was literally zooming in to try to find the mouse. 🤦🏻‍♀️🙄😂

Cindy Christina Angela Ramirez see I told y’all! Lol

“Baby it’s cold outside!”

That's nothing! Talk to keepers from the northern states or Canada!

i was honestly looking for a mouse lol

Annecia Wesley but where is the ice bacon? Lol

Wow,that is so neat!

Two words. Pipe insulation.

That’s awesome!

Ana Rivers Smith cool!

Cortez

Pauline Ervin

Denise Daigre

Ashley Nguyen

Vicente Gonzalez

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Brrrr. It’s cold out there! We have made the decision to close the Houston Zoo tomorrow, Wednesday, Jan. 17. Don’t worry, the animals are safe and warm in their night houses!

A limited number of staff from departments like Animal Programs, Safety and Security and Operations/Facilities will be onsite to perform essential services and have the Zoo ready for us to reopen Thursday morning.

A big ol' high-five to our awesome team members who braved this icy cold to come in and care for our animals and zoo facilities.
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Safety and welfare of the animals first! Thanks guys for all you do.

Yes thank you for everything yall do to keep the animals safe .. y'all keep safe and warm

Thank you for taking good care of our animals!

Thank u for keeping those Babies safe and warm!❤️

Thank you for all you do!

Thank you for ZOO LIGHTS. it was amazing this year!

Thank you, zoo team. Stay safe!

Mandy Rinker— really? Too cold? You’re from the Midwest girl

💙

thank you for all you do and keep the furry babies warm

Ty

Thank you for taking care of our precious animals that we love to come see!

Thank you for keeping those beautiful animals safe. 💕

Thank you for making sure the animals are safe and warm.

Thank you for all you do for these amazing animals!!

Go, Erika!!!

Thank you 💕

💖

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