Save Amphibians by Recycling Your Batteries!

Houston Toad 2

Batteries, Wildlife, and How You Can Take Action

The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild, and is taking steps to ensure that everything we do on Zoo grounds is done with the environment and wildlife in mind. If you have a surplus of used batteries, be them alkaline or rechargeable, you can take them to your local recycling center to ensure that the remaining chemicals and substances don’t harshly affect the wildlife that’s directly outside your doors!

Any battery that is disposed of in a landfill (like if you toss them in your normal trash), or that finds its way into the environment, has the potential to leak its old chemicals into the soils and waters that wildlife like amphibians call home.

Because amphibians like frogs, toads, even salamanders, have skin that can easily absorb liquids found in damp soils or the waters and streams they frequent, they can get sick from things like leaking batteries. Often, harsh or foreign chemical interactions can affect populations long-term by changing the behavior of animals, affecting female or male reproductive abilities or even influencing the development of eggs.

The Zoo works to help our local amphibians by recycling our alkaline and rechargeable batteries with a company that specializes in battery disposal. You can do the same by finding your local recycling center; if you’re in Houston you can go to the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center and they will take most options besides alkaline. You can also recycle more than the typical AA, AAA, C, and D batteries – items like power tools, cars, small electronics like tablets or smart phones, hearing aids, watches, and all manner of things take a variety of batteries.

By using rechargeable batteries you can also ensure that the materials that were mined to make your batteries last for a much longer time period than with single-use alkaline batteries. Rechargeable batteries will go dull over time, but you can get multiple uses out of them and lessen the stress on the environment by finding products and items that you can use over and over before recycling!

How Our Staff Recycles Batteries at the Zoo


Battery Sign Zoo Events

On Zoo grounds we will often offer recycling information that you can see when you visit. We recommend you take your batteries to a local recycling center to ensure they don’t end up in landfills that can encroach on the space of wildlife as well as affect the soils and waters amphibians and other animals call home.

Houston Toad Battery 1.0

Behind the scenes, our staff utilize a special battery drop-off for spent batteries. By encouraging staff to recycle these items the Zoo is able to see how many batteries we use as an organization, and how many we use that are rechargeable! Alkaline batteries are not rechargeable, so taking a look at our staff battery needs shows us where we could potentially get more rechargeable batteries rather than single-use alkaline batteries. We can also weigh our battery recycling over time and see how much space we have saved in landfills and how many batteries have been prevented from harshly affecting our wildlife habitats.Houston Toad Battery 1.3

Be Safe When Collecting Batteries for Recycling


Houston Toad Battery 1.1

Alkaline: these are more often the common batteries like AA, AAA, C, or D as well as 9-Volt. Do not store any of these batteries together without packaging. Once they have been used there is still potential for them to ‘pop’ open as there are residual chemicals that can be discharged and react with other batteries they are near. This could cause injury if someone is nearby. The 9-Volt batteries are commonly used in your fire alarms and are properly prepared for the recycling center by putting duct-tape over the positive and negative transistors (basically, the top two prongs need to be covered so they don’t come into contact with other batteries). Note that some centers do not accept alkaline batteries for recycling.

Rechargeable: these batteries are widely used in items like power-tools, phone batteries, laptop batteries, or even your more common AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-Volt options. There are no alkaline battery options that cannot be replaced with rechargeable options. You will find rechargeable batteries in forms of Nickel Cadmium (NiCd), Lithium-ion (Li-ion), and Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH). All of these batteries have the potential to get hot and should be packaged separately from each other in preparation for recycling; Li-ion should be particularly tended to in ensuring there is no other metal or battery contact once discharged.

This is a sustainability reference document. 

Our Houston Zoo Plastic Bottle Sculpture

In celebration of the Washed Ashore exhibit, which contains sculptures of plastics found washed up along coasts and beaches, the Houston Zoo has used YOUR recycled plastic bottles to create a unique plastic sculpture of our own!

Sea Lion Recycling

Each time you visit the Zoo you have the option to take actions, like recycling plastic bottles, to help protect wildlife as you walk throughout the Zoo. The plastics and trash that build up along coasts are things we use daily that are either left on beaches or simply not recycled, often blowing and falling out of trash cans to be taken by rains into storm drains and eventually released into our oceans. By recycling items like plastics, you help to ensure that wildlife like sea turtles don’t interact with them in the wild, as they often eat plastics that look like jellyfish in the water or can get entangled in plastics like soda ties. Washed Ashore is a great visualization of how we forget about our trash, and how such a large amount of it can actually be reused and end up again in our hands as new products rather than in the environment affecting animals.

Sculpture Process 5

Running from January 15 to April 15, the first item you will see when walking into the Washed Ashore exhibit is an installation above your head at the entrance that includes the ‘Ocean Wave’ sculpture of plastic bottles from the recycling bins on Zoo grounds…from the bottles you recycled at your visit here! Our innovative Zoo teams were able to create this sculpture with the environment in mind, sourcing materials that could easily be recycled or reused on Zoo grounds, and planning for the sign itself to be able to be disassembled and used again in future exhibits. Your actions in recycling at the Zoo have allowed these bottles to have not just a second life, but countless more after we eventually recycle this sculpture in the future.

Check out some of the process of how our Theming and Design Team constructed the ‘Ocean Wave’ sculpture:

Scuplture Process 4

Many, many plastic bottles were gathered straight from the recycling bins you use when visiting us! It may seem a bit gross right now, but watch how what is considered trash evolves to a beautiful sculpture, especially when visiting the huge jellyfish sculptures at the Washed Ashore exhibit.

Scuplture Process 1Scuplture Process 2

We started out with a background of the ocean, and then began to form our sculpture bottle by bottle.

Sculpture Process 3

Once you see the transition it’s easier to visualize that the things we throw away are often not trash at all, but resources we can use to make new things. Take a look at what is in your trash daily, and imagine if those items could have a second life away from landfills or the environment that wildlife calls home.

For an advanced challenge, ask yourself if you can reduce the plastics you buy to lessen the amount of waste you have overall. Reducing the need for one-time-use plastics lessens the need to create more items like plastic bottles.


At the Zoo, your options to take action for wildlife start simply with your admissions ticket, as a portion of each ticket funds local and global wildlife projects the Houston Zoo works with. As you make your way through the Zoo, you will see easy options to take action to protect wildlife in doing things like refilling your reusable water bottles, planting pollinator gardens, learning about ocean-friendly seafood options, recycling your cell phones, choosing earth-friendly ingredients, and even by visiting our gift shop to get a reusable tote (the Zoo is plastic-bag free!). Learn more about all of our Take Action initiatives you can do at the Zoo on our webpage.


This is a sustainability reference document. 


Helping Wildlife…With Paint!


Paint and Wildlife

The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild, and is taking steps to ensure that everything we do on Zoo grounds is done with wild animals in mind. A simple effort like being aware of what types of paints we use has a surprisingly large impact on wildlife because it impacts their natural environment.

Paints can have harsh chemicals that affect the air we all breathe, or if you dispose of leftover paint improperly, it can get into the streams and waters wildlife like sea turtles call home.

Help our local sea turtles by being aware of what’s going into their water.

Paint and the Houston Zoo

Recently the Zoo used environmentally friendly paint to label the storm drains behind the scenes as a reminder that the cleaner we keep our waters, the healthier our wildlife. Storm water drains are a part of all cities, helping alleviate flood waters that build up during storms and are meant only to have rainwater since Houston storm drains lead right back out to our bayous, and eventually flow to the Gulf of Mexico.

Storm Drain Action Shot
Storm water drains being painted at the Houston Zoo!

For our storm drain project we were able to visit New Living to source paint that is water-based and contains no volatile organic compounds in both the paint and paint pigments. These compounds, called VOCs, are immediately noticed as the intense “paint smell” that can give you a fast headache. This smell is from chemicals that people should not breathe, and animals should not have in their water supply. The paint that New Living offers allows us to be sure that when we‘re using paint for projects, we have the option to choose a product that is made in a more environmentally friendly way, contains less harsh chemicals, and if ever exposed to the environment would not impact it harshly like with traditional paints.

As a Zoo-Based Conservation organization, we have chosen to include no-VOC paint whenever possible to ensure all operations of the Zoo are done in a way that is friendly for wildlife. The Houston Zoo aims to be a leader in being a part of these new and innovative practices that are conscious of our wildlife and our interactions with the natural world we all live in.



You can help save wildlife too!

  • If you are using paint that contains VOCs, be sure to wear safety masks and take any remainder paint to a hazardous waste facility. In Houston, you can take this kind of paint (like oil-based paint) to the West Park Consumer Recycling Center located in Houston. If you have-water based paint, you can let the paint dry (often people will mix it with cat litter for a faster drying process) and toss the dry paint in the trash for regular pick-up. 
  • Next time you buy paint, ask for no-VOC paint to ensure the products you are using are safe for wildlife. Visit stores like New Living to ensure you are purchasing wildlife-friendly products.

This is a sustainability reference document. 

Saving Wildlife with Robotics!

The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild and is working within our global community to help wildlife. There are many ways to affect wildlife, and we work with all types of groups that are using innovative and effective ways to keep our world healthy for all of its inhabitants.seaturtle_DK

Something that all of our friends, groups, partners, and even visitors have in common is trash, plastics in particular…but what does that have to do with saving wildlife? Our wild animals come into contact with a lot of our trash; our friends in Africa have seen giant elephants grab plastic bags that are tangled in grasses thinking that it’s food, and our local friends in Galveston have seen our Texas sea turtles eat plastic bags floating in the ocean because they look like a tasty jellyfish.

This league is connecting two areas that don’t seem like they’d work together, robotics and waste, to make a beautiful solution to help save wildlife! There are some innovative ways that robots can help us to protect wildlife, from using drones to gauge poaching areas to creating robotic fish that measure ocean health, and this league is a group of students that is putting their brains together to come up with more ways that robotics can help our animals and our Earth. This is the first installation of a blog series that will track what the league is doing, why they are doing it, and how you can help out too!

Please welcome our guest bloggers for this series, the Jersey Voltage Purple FIRST Lego League Robotics Team:


JV Lego Team 1

Hi there! We are the Jersey Voltage Purple FIRST Lego League (FLL) robotics team. We are a team of 10 students who live in Jersey Village, Texas and we are here to not only talk about trash (plastics in particular); but we are here to clean it up or at the least create excitement and awareness of the world’s plastics. We’re working on a project now, so photos are to come, but below you can check out why we chose to focus on plastics and see some great pictures of us while in the brainstorming stage!

Did you know that the very first plastic was developed in Britain way back in 1862, and plastics were exhibited at the Great Exhibition in London?! Plastics are used in many important ways that help humans and animals stay healthy, like in the medical field, and use of plastics exploded in the first decade after World War II. Just in the past 30 years, the plastic industry has gotten huge and includes many plastic products that could potentially be replaced by reusable items, like reusable water bottles or plastic bags.


This explosion of the use of plastics greatly impacts our eco-system and affects our wildlife. All of us have used many water bottles in our lifetime, but how many of those bottles have been made of plastic? Last year, the average American used 167 disposable plastic water bottles, but only recycled 38. Do you know how many get into our eco-system? Of the millions of water bottles used every day, most of them will eventually end up in an animal’s environment. So we’re here to help. Many people are trying to limit the amount of plastic they use, and some have come up with some pretty creative solutions to this somewhat overwhelming problem!


Take Action Now: You can save wildlife today by using a reusable tote for your groceries instead of single-use plastic bags. You can also exchange your single-use plastic bottles for a long-term refillable bottle. Visit the Houston Zoo’s Take Action page and find out what else you can do!


In our next blog we will tell you about a few ideas that we uncovered in our research and what we’ve been working on with our robotics to help save wildlife! So stay tuned, more to come and plenty to do!


Founded in 1989 and based in Manchester, NH, FIRST is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public charity designed to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, and to motivate them to pursue education and career opportunities in STEM fields.


This is a sustainability reference document. 

Attwater's prairie chicks are here!

The Houston Zoo has already hatched 209 Attwater’s prairie chicks this Spring!

APC Eggs 2014-0001-2318

All of these guys have made it through to the next stage of their lives and will stay with us here at the Zoo until they are ready for release as strong juveniles into the wild!

apc april

Attwater’s prairie chickens are vanishing from the coastal prairies of Texas. It is estimated that less than 100 of these birds are left in the wild, so the Houston Zoo has breeding facilities both behind the scenes at the Zoo and at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to help revive the wild populations.  When the birds hatch and grow large enough, they are slowly introduced and then released into the wild, where they will support the already existing populations.

If you are inspired to give these chicks a stronger chance for survival, help them out by learning more, or even donating!

Home to One of the World's Most Endangered Primates

photo 5

There is a mystique to Van Long Nature Reserve and an old legend of the cliffs in this region. While passing the highest mountain, a fairy saw the charming landscape and stopped to behold it. She met and fell in love with a poor man who lived on the mountain. Due to their love they were punished by the gods and turned into two mountains, called Nghien and Fairy Mountains. These mountains sit side by side but they have never become husband and wife.

Delacour's langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.
Delacour’s langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.

Other cliffs have curious names from Scratching Cat (Meo Cao) to Tray of Sticky Rice (Mam Xoi) but we have come to see the cliffs and caves that 120 of the worlds remaining 200 Delacour’s Langurs (remember the monkey who wore shorts?) survive. There are more than two dozen caves cut into these cliffs, some at waters edge, others high up on the mountains.

photo 1

Surrounded by water and accessible by flat bottom boats, during the rainy season the region is well known for its migratory birds including storks, herons and numerous species of waterfowl. It is also home to over 400 species of plants, loris, langurs, and small deer as well as King Cobra, water monitors, pheasants and others. This large wetland reserve covers 3000 hectares and is an east drive from Cuc Phuong.

photo 4

It is our last day here and we spend almost two hours floating through the reserve, surrounded by cliffs at every turn, with mist shrouded valleys in the distance. We know the langurs come down between 4pm and 5pm through the trees into their high mountain caves for the night. But as we scan the grey and white limestone cliffs for the black and white monkey who wears shorts, we do not see them on this day.

Delacour's langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.
Delacour’s langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.

After being surrounded by Loris, Gibbons, and the Douc, Hatinh, Francois, Lao, Grey, Cat Ba and Delacour Langurs all week at the a Endangered a Primate Rescue Center, it reminds us how small this population of langurs really is and we hope the photos taken this week do not serve as a reminder in the future of species gone extinct, primates we have a chance of saving no matter how little their numbers are today.

photo 2

The Monkey Who Wore Shorts

The Houston Zoo recognizes that strategic partnerships strengthen our ability to save animals in the wild.  We know that it will take armies of nature saving minds to preserve our planet’s biodiversity, which is why we seek to partner with conservation partners that will reach new audiences and connect them to the urgent need for conservation action.

We began our partnership with an organization called The Photo Ark in 2010.   It was founded by National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore.  The goal of the Photo Ark is to photo document and display all of the world’s captive species in a way that people will want to care about them before they disappear.

Joel Sartore and Peter Riger, the Houston Zoo’s Vice-President of Conservation, are in Vietnam visiting a variety of rehabilitation and rescue centers to take photos of some of the rarest species in captivity. Here is a report from Peter on how everything is going:

The Monkey Who Wore Shorts

Many of the langur species have varying coats of grey and slightly different facial features from white “mustaches” to white tinged heads. The Cat Ba Langur is also called the golden Headed langur due to their unique “golden” head. But the Delacour’s Langur is unmistakably the langur who wears a white pair of shorts.

The Endangered Primate Rescue Center (EPRC) holds confiscated individuals and successfully breeds this species for future release. They are the only captive facility in the world with this species.

Delacour's langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.
Delacour’s langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.

This striking coloration may make them stand out in a photo but in their native habitat, among the limestone karst cliffs of Vietnam, their dark coat and white shorts blend perfectly with the light and shadows coming off the gray cliffs and caves they call home.

Delacour’s Langur easily falls into one of the 25 most critically endangered primates in the world and is split into two populations here in Vietnam which are unconnected and many miles apart. A location we will visit this week, the Van Long Nature Reserve hosts approximately 120 individuals,a number of which were introduced from EPRC. Surrounded in large part by water, Van Long can only be visited by poled flat bottom boats that supports tourism which in turn helps the local community, bringing pride, and jobs, in protecting these langurs. EPRC also supports local park rangers for Van Long to help protect the Delacour’s.

The second much smaller population is here in Cuc Phuong National Park. In total, it is believed there are under 200 wild individuals surviving today. 200.

Delacour's langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.
Delacour’s langur (male) at Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong National Park, Vietnam.

Those familiar with the Houston Zoo know our auditorium seats 250 people. You can fit every Delacour Langur in the world – wild and captive – into that small auditorium of ours and that really makes you realize how close we are to losing this beautiful primate, the only monkey who truly wears shorts.

Stay tuned for more from the Houston Zoo’s Vice President of Conservation Peter Riger and the Photo Ark’s Joel Sartore in Vietnam.

Donate or learn more about the Photo Ark.  And remember the Houston Zoo is saving animals in the wild, so every time you visit the Zoo you help us to do this awesome work!

First Blue-billed curassow born under controlled conditions!

Wonderful news! The critically endangered Blue-billed curassow, which is native to South America, has been successfully born under controlled conditions! This bird has been losing habitat and is a victim of poaching, leading to still declining numbers in the low hundreds. The Houston Zoo in partnership with Colombian Zoos and wildlife organizations held an incubation workshop last year, and will be doing so again this Febuary 2014, to help teach methodology to successfully produce hatchlings to eventually introduce to and increase wild populations.

It looks like things are headed in the right direction as this week has seen the first Blue-billed curassow hatchling!
It looks like things are headed in the right direction as this week has seen the first Blue-billed curassow hatchling!


Adult Blue-billed curassow
Adult Blue-billed curassow

Official Press Release:

The National Aviary Foundation of Colombia together with ACOPAZOA Colombia and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, formed the Captive Breeding Program Blue-Billed Curassow ( Crax alberti ), that includes the monitoring of wild birds , captive breeding and the development of educational campaigns. After two years of signing this agreement as a group, born in the facilities of the National Aviary Foundation of Colombia is the first Colombian Blue-billed curassow ( Crax alberti ) under controlled conditions, this chick is a step towards the conservation of this bird that is endemic to Colombia and according to the IUCN it is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, mainly due to habitat destruction and hunting.

The chick was born on January 16 , with an approximate size of 13.6 cm. and a weight of 121 gr. , based on the beak we can tell it is a female, and she is in perfect condition-she has been observed very active and healthy.

The team at The National Aviary Foundation of Colombia coordinated by zoo staff member Guillermo Gálviz , has worked for 4 years in the reproduction of different species in the family Cracidae, specializing 2 years in the reproduction of the blue-billed curassow ( Crax alberti ), during this time they have achieved many things in the reproduction of these birds including successful fertility and now the birth of this baby , which we hope is not the only chick of this species to be born during this year.


Adult blue-billed curassow
Adult blue-billed curassow

The species in addition to the risks it faces in nature, presents difficulties in captive breeding due to their biological behavior, in which the male usually shows aggression toward the generally nervous female, the demand and preference in building material nest, having no more than two eggs per breeding season and the complexity for establishing a partner (each individual chooses his partner) , for these reasons the National Aviary staff has worked hard to achieve these positive results.

The birth of this bird is considered a great achievement for the conservation of the species. We thank ACOPAZOA member institutions , the Houston Zoo and Cracid & Crane Breeding and Conservation Center CBCC Belgium, for their contributions to the conservation of Colombian Cracids .


We Can Save Elephants in Africa With Beehives? It's the Bees' Knees!

If I were to tell you that we use an Anatolian Shepherd (that is a really big dog, really big!) in front of our Cheetah exhibit to tell the story of how livestock owners in Africa use dogs to protect livestock and chase away cheetahs you would think, ok – that makes some sense. Chasing away cheetahs means villagers and ranchers do not need to kill cheetahs to protect their livelihoods, something which happened much too often in the past.

I would then go on to say that people use dogs to chase away elephants and that would be ridiculous. We need something meaner, more aggressive, like – an African bee! And that would also make no sense. Who has pet bees?

It is much too long to explain here but researchers in Kenya working with Save the Elephants noticed one day that when elephants were around trees with large hives of bees, they would quickly move away. And after years of testing, it turns out that even the recorded sound of an angry buzzing hive will make elephants go far out of their way to stay out of the bee’s way.

So let me put this into perspective. I am pulling weeds in my yard (Brazoria County, not Africa) and I hit a yellow jacket nest get stung twice and run for my life. If I am an elephant and an angry swarm of African bees is heading my way, I too would make a quick exit.

Back to my story. Researchers then took it a step further. How do you keep an elephant from walking into your field, eating most of your crops, destroying the rest as they wander through the field and putting you and your community on the verge of having nothing to eat? You put up a rope fence, sting some wooden beehives across them and keep out the elephants. Even better, you can collect the honey for both food and extra income. A win-win for the people, the elephants.

How can you help protect elephants and support local communities in Africa? Funny you should ask. We have an option on our new online auction event where you can donate funds to purchase new beehives and support local community projects for as little as $15. Go to our Future for Wild Elephants Online Auction—- and help us protect elephants, and support local people in Africa.

Well done Mbumba and the Mbamba village beehive fence team. At least 3 of the 12 initial hives have already been colonized by bees, and possibly more soon. The community reports that 10 elephants ran away from the fence last week!
Well done Mbumba and the Mbamba village beehive fence team. At least 3 of the 12 initial hives have already been colonized by bees, and possibly more soon. The community reports that 10 elephants ran away from the fence last week!
The first elephant- beehive fence in Niassa!
The first elephant- beehive fence in Niassa!
First 7.5 litres of honey harvested from the first elephant beehive fences.
First 7.5 litres of honey harvested from the first elephant beehive fences.

Attwater's prairie chickens released into the wild!

The Houston Zoo has been raising chicks this year to pump up the wild population with some hearty and happy Attwater’s prairie chickens (APCs), and yesterday we were able to reap the reward for all the efforts!

Yesterday, Houston Zoo Staff and US Fish and Wildlife headed out to the APC National Wildlife refuge to release some APCs that were raised at the Zoo. They will begin their life in the wild and hopefully strengthen the population by having chicks of their own!

All of the birds are radio-collared and tagged so that USFWS can monitor the populations and keep track of the general health of the birds.

The birds were initially released into these ‘soft pens’ to get them comfortable with the prairie land, and then after a few weeks were fully released into the wild. Good luck to them!

APC Release soft pens
A few APCs leaving the soft pen for the first time! The soon flew off and started their adventure in the open prairie!
APC release prairie chickens
A group of APCs that just walked out of the pens, checking out their new surroundings.

APC release prairie chickens in field



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