School Partner – Lyons Elementary

The Houston Zoo is creating the next generation of saving wildlife heroes.  One way we are achieving that goal is by forming lasting partnerships with school groups in and around the Houston area.  Each partnership looks a bit different from one another, but they all have one thing in common: they are inspiring students, teachers and communities to take action to save wildlife!  Lyons Elementary is an example of one school that is partnering with the Houston Zoo to save lions through the Mascot Program.

The partnership between Lyons Elementary, located off the Hardy Toll Road, and the Houston Zoo started back in 2014. The students rallied together and raised funds to send to Niassa Carnivore Project to save their mascot: the lion!  Niassa Carnivore Project has been a longtime conservation partner of the Houston Zoo, working to save carnivores in Mozambique. They promote co-existence with lions within the local communities surrounding the Niassa National Reserve.  The school collected spare change during their “Love Your Lions” event: a two-week period in February centered around Valentine’s Day.

Two lions in Niassa Reserve – one has a tracking collar so researchers can monitor their movements, ensure their safety, and learn more about them.


Ms. Izquierdo had the wonderful idea of incorporating the arts into the partnership with the Houston Zoo.  The school’s drama department had the chance to perform a play that featured their very special mascot:  Lion King!  The Zoo attended the opening night performance at the school.  The students were able to come to the Houston Zoo and perform for the guests attending our “Party for the Planet” Earth Day celebration.  You can read more about their Houston Zoo performance here: 


The cast of “The Lion King” celebrating an amazing opening night performance!

The 2017-2018 school year began with the “Love Your Lions Kick-off Event.”  Zoo staff spoke to the entire student body of Lyons Elementary to share how they could save lions in the wild. The students were able to learn more about the lions who call the Houston Zoo home and the amazing work that students will be doing to help Niassa Carnivore Project save lions in the wild.

Lyons Elementary decided to add another component to this year’s “Love Your Lions” event.  Each class chose to decorate their money collection box.  The only guidelines were that their designs had to address one of the following topics:

  • Lions
  • Africa
  • Conservation

At the conclusion of the collection period, the boxes were transported to the Houston Zoo.  Staff members from the Conservation Education team, the carnivore animal care team, and the Grounds/Housekeeping team all had the chance to vote on the box that they felt was the most impressively decorated.  Ms. Delcid’s third grade class won the decoration contest and received a special prize!

The collection boxes packed up and ready to go to the Houston Zoo!


At the end of the “Love Your Lions” fundraising drive, the school tallied up the funds brought in by each class.   Students brought in over $2,500!  These funds were sent to our Conservation Partners at the Niassa Carnivore Project to help save lions in Mozambique.  Ms. Chavarria’s fourth grade class brought in almost $400, making this class the top fundraisers of the campaign.

Ms. Chavarria and her students were able to come to the Zoo on March 23 to participate in a Lion Fun Day that was held in their honor to thank them for all their hard work saving lions in the wild.  The students were able participate in the same games and crafts that the communities in Mozambique do in their Lion Fun Day as well.  The day culminated with a special experience with our carnivore keepers and an up-close interaction with our lions here at the Houston Zoo.

Lyons Elementary is another shining example of a school that is taking action to save wildlife.

The students from Lyons Elementary having a wonderful experience with our lions here at the Houston Zoo!




School Partner – Ridgecrest Elementary

The Houston Zoo is working toward creating the next generation of saving wildlife heroes. One way we are achieving that goal is by forming lasting partnerships with school groups in and around the Houston area.  These partnerships all look a bit different from one another, but they all have one thing in common: they are inspiring students, teachers and communities to take action to save wildlife!  Ridgecrest Elementary is an example of one school that is partnering with the Houston Zoo to save pollinators through our Pollinator Partnerships.

The partnership between Ridgecrest Elementary and the Houston Zoo started when Ms. Lindsey Duke came to one of our Educator Events. “It all started when I attend my first Educator’s Night Out at the Houston Zoo.  I was so intrigued at what I experienced there and I knew that I wanted my students to experience the same” stated Ms. Duke.  During the event, she learned more about the importance of pollinators, the threats they are facing, and how her students can help.  She decided to reach out to DeAndra Ramsey from the Houston Zoo and start the process of forming a partnership centered around helping pollinators.

“Teaching kindergarten at a new campus I was a little nervous at how the initial pitch of the partnership and garden project would go but it was received with full support from administration and staff. We selected a spot on our campus that had once been a garden but had a lot of potential to be transformed into a pollinator garden”, says Ms. Duke.   In addition to picking the place for the garden and choosing the native plants that will be planted, the students have been learning about how a healthy pollinator population is vital to a healthy ecosystem.  Ambassador animals that are native to this area of Texas have been brought to the campus so that the students can see first-hand the animals they are helping with their work in the garden.

Families came together to work in the pollinator garden during the first Ridgecrest Elementary Garden Day

But it doesn’t stop in the classroom! “My goal was to make this not only a school wide project but also a community/family project.  So we had our first Ridgecrest Elementary Garden Day.  We invited families and community members out to our campus one Saturday and together we weeded and prepared our garden area.  I was blown away but the participation this event received.  To see so many families working together was amazing”, says Ms. Duke.  The Houston Zoo was able to attend the family gardening day and work side-by-side with the students and their families to transform this space into a wonderful pollinator habitat.  Starting a pollinator garden has multiple benefits, including connecting children to nature.  Preparing the space allowed families to get up close and person with a variety of Texas native wildlife such as frogs, snakes, and lizards.

Students were able to get up close and personal with some native Texas wildlife while working in the garden. A small snake quickly became the center of attention once the children learned there was nothing to fear.

As anyone who has started a garden knows, it does not happen overnight. “[We] have continued to work step by step slowly but surely transforming the garden into a space not only for pollinators to come and feast but also a learning spot for all ages.  The students along with their families have designed garden stones which we will use to trim the garden areas.  We painted reading stumps so that classes can go out and observe, write and learn in the garden.  Currently we are holding a coin drive to purchase pollinator plants for the garden and plan to have another Garden Day this spring”, Ms. Duke reported in January.

Students painted reading stumps in the garden. This will allow the entire school to enjoy the garden along with the pollinators.

Through the partnership between Ridgecrest Elementary and the Houston Zoo, the students are making connections with the natural world around them. They are taking action to save wildlife in their very own back yards and becoming wildlife heroes.  “None of this would be possible without our Partnership with DeAndra and the Houston Zoo.  Our students have had so many opportunities already in the first year of this partnership.  They have had ambassador animals come to the school and they have begun to learn about conservation of resources and species.  To hear them randomly throughout the day talking about things connected to our project is so encouraging”, says Ms. Duke.

A few of the families that took action to save pollinators during the Ridgecrest Elementary Gardening Day.

Ridgecrest Elementary has been a shining example of a school that is taking action to save wildlife. Ms Duke’s passion and dedication has inspired the students through out the school to work together to save pollinators and empowered them all to make a difference in their communities.

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.

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.

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.

A manatee that had injuries from a boating accident currently undergoing rehabilitation.
A juvenile manatee in the lagoon pen
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.

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












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.

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.

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.


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

Flying over Belize
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.

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.

Our sleeping quarters
Our sleeping quarters





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