It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Zoo Lights

‘Tis the season for TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights at the Houston Zoo. This holiday spectacular features sparkling LED lights, twinkling replicas of zoo animals, the return of Candy the Zoo Lights Zebra presented by H-E-B, and a 33-foot-tall, glittering Holiday Tree presented by TransCanada. This year, Zoo Lights opens one hour earlier, with guests able to enter at 5 p.m.

From Nov. 17 through Jan. 13, the Houston Zoo is transformed into a winter wonderland, and one of Houston’s most well-loved holiday traditions. Guests will sip hot chocolate as they stroll through the beautiful Houston Zoo grounds and take in the sights and sounds of the season. Fifteen miles of earth-friendly LED lighting illuminate the zoo’s historic oak trees and decorate the paths to light the way.

Opening just in time for the event is the fully re-imagined Cypress Circle Café, right in the heart of it all. This conscientious café will focus on providing locally sourced, sustainable fares. The signature pizza and bowls will change seasonally and will start with a white pizza called The White Pie Affair, which pairs a creamy alfredo base with garlic, grilled chicken, wild mushrooms and broccoli. The bowl will be a couscous bowl with cilantro-lime Israeli couscous, charred poblano corn relish, pico de gallo, cotija cheese, and blackened chicken. Holiday revelers can also make s’mores and snack on house-made kettle corn and other holiday treats.

For the first time in Zoo Lights history, Santa is stopping by to take photos with families on select nights. Guests can line up to get a photo made and share their holiday wishes with the Big Guy most nights inside Twiga Café.

Zoo Lights sights include a Texas-themed area presented by Texas Direct Auto, as well as an animal Watering Hole presented by Texas Capital Bank. Other features include the Holiday Train Village presented by Macy’s, and the Enchanted Forest presented by King & Spalding LLC.

During the nightly event, the zoo animals settle down for their long winter’s nap, and the star attraction is the lights. To see the zoo’s animals, guests are encouraged to visit the Houston Zoo during regular daytime hours.

TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights is a separately-ticketed event, held daily starting at 5:00 p.m. The zoo closes for the day at 4:00 p.m. and re-opens as TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights at 5:00 p.m. On Prime nights, the event will stay open until 11 p.m. For more information, including nights of operation, or to purchase tickets, visit

  • $12.95             Value Nights, Member
  • $17.95             Value Nights, Non-Member
  • $17.95             Prime Nights, Member
  • $22.95             Prime Nights, Non-Member

LED Lights Help Wildlife

  • The Houston Zoo saves wildlife by only using energy-saving LED lights during TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights. The LED lights are using 85% less power than incandescent lights, allowing the Houston Zoo to conserve lots of energy.
  • Tons of holiday lights end up in landfills which spill over into animals’ natural homes. To help cut down on this waste, the Houston Zoo has recycled more than 12,826 pounds of holiday lights to date. Everyone can save wildlife by recycling broken or old holiday lights at the Houston Zoo throughout Zoo Lights. From Nov. 17 –Jan. 13 guests can bring in unwanted strings of holiday lights to help protect wildlife. Save money on electricity bills and save wildlife by using LED lights at home.

Specialty Nights

Sensory-friendly Night is back on Nov. 26. This night is designed for guests with sensory sensitivities and their families. On this night, guests can expect a smaller crowd, quieter music, limited flashing lights, and two designated quiet areas.

Additional specialty nights include Military Mondays (code: Military18) on Dec. 3, 10 and 17 and First Responder Tuesdays  (code: Responder18) on Dec. 4, 11, and 18. During these evenings, members of the military and first responders can enter for only $12 when they buy online and show their professional ID at the gate.

This year, College Student Wednesdays (code: College18) on Dec. 5 and 12 give Texas college students $12 admission when they purchase online and show student IDs at the gate.

Educator Thursdays (code: Educator18) on Dec. 6, 13, 20 give teachers, school administrators and other educators a $12 admission when they book online and show their educator ID.

Deep in the Hearts of Texans for Conservation

Thursday night, the Houston Zoo hosted its 11th annual Wildlife Conservation Gala in the zoo’s Masihara Pavilion. This year’s gala was dedicated to raising funds for saving animals right here in Texas, and the event collectively raised more than $750,000.

KPRC Meteorologist Justin Stapleton emceed the fall evening and spoke of his own connection to the zoo through last year’s journey to Borneo where he got up-close to the Houston Zoo’s efforts to save elephants in the wild. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith was the evening’s speaker. Carter regaled the crowd with tales of the natural history of Texas and spoke passionately about the work the Houston Zoo is doing to save native species like the Attwater’s prairie chicken and Houston toad.

Nearly 600 guests dressed in their Texas chic attire dined on Texas favorites with a twist. A Gulf coast shrimp cocktail martini was followed by a main course of prime aged NY strip steak medallions with rosemary jus and crispy tobacco onions accompanied by King Ranch enchiladas with wild mushrooms and poblano. Dessert included Texas peach and blueberry crisp with whiskey hard sauce.

Photo credit, Daniel Ortiz for the Houston Zoo

Some of the evening’s most vied for items included a stay for two at Cal-A-Vie Health Spa, four tickets to see George Strait at Houston Rodeo 2019 from a private suite, and Bats and Bubbly on the Bayou with Dr. Cullen Geiselman.

The evening under the Texas stars capped off with the Conservation Gala’s first-ever After Party, chaired by sisters Elise Lubanko and Kaia Kessler, and featured a private concert by country artist Pat Green where guests two-stepped the night away.

Houston Zoo Executive Joins Board of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

Houston Zoo president and CEO, Lee Ehmke, has been appointed to the board of directors for a prestigious international gorilla conservation organization, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

© Stephanie Adams, Houston Zoo

The Fossey Fund is dedicated to saving critically endangered gorillas in Africa, through daily protection, scientific study, education, and helping local communities.

As a member of the Board, Ehmke will support the work of the Fossey Fund and provide mission-based leadership and strategic governance.

“I am honored to join this esteemed group of conservation professionals to continue furthering their work to save gorillas in the wild,” said Ehmke. “I am especially interested in helping to find ways to foster greater communication and synergies between the multiple organizations involved in the various aspects of gorilla conservation and related community support.”

Ehmke has had a career where gorillas and Central African conservation have been a constant, from years at Wildlife Conservation Society designing and building Bronx Zoo’s Congo Gorilla Forest and working with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and USAID to help launch gorilla tourism in Uganda, to his current role with the Houston Zoo.

The Houston Zoo has been protecting gorillas in the wild for the past 10 years by providing training, funding and resources for three other gorilla conservation projects in Central Africa-–Gorilla Doctors, Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE), and Conservation Heritage-Turambe–and is home to a renowned gorilla habitat.

The Houston Zoo connects communities with animals to inspire action to save wildlife and is committed to being a leader in the global effort to save animals in the wild.

Learn more about how the Houston Zoo works with international gorilla partners.

Bears Move into New Beautiful Habitat

Next week, we’re opening a completely redesigned home for our two North American black bears. The Hamill Foundation Black Bear Exhibit is the first project to be completed thanks to generous donor support of the Zoo’s Keeping Our World Wild centennial capital campaign. This expansion more than triples the space for five-year-old black bears, Belle and Willow, to explore. The beloved duo got their first look at their new home on Monday, and starting Friday, Aug. 31, guests will be able to experience the world of bears and get nose-to-nose with them 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.

Belle and Willow came to the Houston Zoo in 2013 from California where they were being fed by patrons of a restaurant and appeared to be orphaned. US Fish and Wildlife rescued them and asked the Houston Zoo if it could offer them a home. Belle is often seen playing in the pool and rough-housing with Willow. She is the larger of the two and tends to prefer naps. Willow is the mastermind behind the brawn of Belle. She is smaller and seems to like engaging with her enrichment. You can often see her working through a puzzle feeder.

June’s Featured Members: The Buhr Family

We love our Members. Their incredible support allows us to make a difference to animals both locally and all over the world. This month, we’re spotlighting a family of Zoo Members that deserve recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to June’s Featured Members: the Buhr family.

We love being members of the Houston Zoo! My daughter Mikaela and I received a family membership as a gift when we first moved to Houston 5 years ago and we’ve renewed it ever since. We definitely make good use of our membership, as we usually visit the zoo three to four times a month. Sometimes these visits are only an hour or two and sometimes they take an entire afternoon, but no matter how long we are there, we always have a great time.

One of our favorite things about the zoo is the large selection of keeper chats and we try to time our visits to attend as many as possible. We have learned about llamas, cheetahs, bats, kookaburras, mole rats, buzzards, tarantulas and more in the past month. The keepers are enthusiastic about their animals and are always willing to answer any questions, whether it’s during an official chat or when you approach them in the zoo. We especially like learning the little things about the animals that you wouldn’t know otherwise, like their names, favorite foods, and quirks that make them so unique.

If I had to choose two main things that keep us coming back to the zoo so frequently, it’s the staff and the zoo’s mission. The Houston Zoo staff is comprised of amazing people that enjoy their jobs and are passionate about the animals. We’re on a first name basis with staff at the entrance gates and Swap Shop, as well as some of the keepers and they always have a smile on their faces. We’ve never had a bad experience with the staff in the years we’ve been there and, in fact, several have gone above and beyond to make our visits even better.

The zoo’s mission is near and dear to our hearts. Animal and environmental conservation is something we care about, and it’s great to see an organization that not only says it’s passionate it but follows through. The support and training that the zoo provides for organizations directly impacting endangered species is important and I’m happy to know that my membership money contributes to that. I’m also impressed with the zoo’s recycling program and their commitment to have all of their food provided by local sourcing.

The 2018 Sea Lion Save Our Species Event: The Who, What, When, Where, and Why!

Written by sea lion keeper, Anastasia

Come one, come all, to the Spotlight on Species party here at the Houston Zoo! On Sat., June 9th, from 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., join the sea lion department and learn more about sea lions and how we can better take care of our oceans with fun activities, special sea lion presentations, and zoo-wide World’s Ocean Day festivities.

To commemorate your visit make sure to check out the merchandise table before you leave.  Our sea lions are helping make this Spotlight on Species memorable, so we made one of a kind painted (by sea lions!) reusable canvas bags and pilsner glasses that you could take home. The sea lion team banded together and has created some crafts as well, in order to raise money to support causes near and dear to our hearts.

All proceeds from the merchandise sold will be going to two separate causes: Houston Zoo partner Dr. Marcy Uhart and her marine debris efforts in Argentina and Surfside Jetty cleanup.

A conservationist based in Argentina, Dr. Uhart works with the University of California Davis to protect a variety of marine animals such as sea turtles, sea lions, sea birds, and whales. A portion of the proceeds from the sea lion Spotlight on Species event will be donated to Dr. Uhart to help her host a behavior change workshop for the local communities. In addition to providing training, funding will assist in being able track their results from data collected, all in an effort to reduce marine debris on the beaches of Argentina.

The Surfside Jetty cleanup is a conservation project right in our own backyard, started in 2014 by the Houston Zoo sea lion team. Each month the sea lion team leads a jetty clean up at the Surfside Beach jetty, Texas. With the help of other staff members and volunteers, we have collected approximately 260 pounds of fishing line (monofilament), 1192 pounds of recyclables, and over 2000 pounds of trash! The trash and recyclables get disposed of properly, and the monofilament gets taken back to the zoo where it is sorted and cleaned. Once cleaned, the line gets passed on to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who ensures that the monofilament is recycled. The profits from our SOS event designated for this local conservation effort will provide more supplies and tools to help keep our beaches clean and our wildlife healthy. We are hoping to see this project grow and involve the community…stay tuned!


By visiting the Houston Zoo, YOU are helping to save animals in the wild, and making memories that will last a lifetime.

On behalf of our sea lions here at the Houston Zoo, as well as ALL of their marine animal counterparts in the wild…we hope to see you here!!


32 Sea Turtles Released on World Turtle Day

This morning, 11 rescued sea turtles concluded their final rehabilitation test, and swam out in to the Gulf of Mexico. Our partners at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted a public release of the sea turtles on Stewart Beach in Galveston, surrounded by more than a hundred eager watchers. Later in the morning, 21 green sea turtles were released into Christmas Bay.

Many of the 32 turtles released were given medical care by the Houston Zoo veterinary clinic staff. The zoo provides medical care to nearly 80 wild sea turtles each year!

Enormous Mother’s Day Announcement

Asian Elephant Approaching Conclusion of Two Year Pregnancy

The Houston Zoo has made a HUGE Mother’s Day announcement – Asian elephant Tess is pregnant, and after a two-year gestation, the 35-year-old Asian elephant will give birth this summer.

Tess is one of the Houston Zoo’s nine Asian elephants, and mother to Tucker (13) and Tupelo (7). Zoo officials are optimistic that this pregnancy is advancing normally and on schedule. Tess has received nearly two years of prenatal care by the zoo’s elephant team and four veterinarians with regular ultrasounds and blood work.  The zoo team will continue to monitor Tess as she progresses into the labor process, indicated by a hormonal change in her daily blood analysis.

Tess will give birth in the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat cow barn under the supervision of her keepers and veterinary staff. After delivery, she and the calf will undergo post-natal exams and spend several days bonding behind the scenes. The elephant team looks forward to watching the pair share several key moments that will prepare them for their public debut. Nursing, communicating with mom, and hitting weight goals are important milestones for a growing baby elephant.

Last July, the zoo welcomed Joy, born weighing 305-pounds to mother Shanti. Joy now weighs nearly 1,300-pounds, and is thriving under the care of her mother, aunties and animal care team as she approaches her first birthday.

Just by visiting the Houston Zoo, guests help save baby elephants and their families in the wild. A portion of each zoo admission and membership goes straight to protecting wild elephants in Asia. The Bornean elephant population has increased since the Houston Zoo started its wildlife saving support in 2007. The Houston Zoo provides funds for elephant conservationist, Nurzhafarina “Farina” Othman and her team in Asia, to put tracking collars on wild elephants. The collars are used to follow wild elephants, collecting valuable movement data that is used to inform future protection for the elephants as they travel through the forests. Farina also works with farmers that grow and produce palm oil, offering her guidance in elephant-friendly practices on their farm lands.

Orangutan Super Mom and Ambassador

Written by the Primate Team

As we celebrate the moms in our lives, this Mother’s Day, we will be celebrating our own special mom here at the Houston Zoo, Cheyenne the orangutan.

This Mother’s Day, Cheyenne will be celebrating her 46th birthday.  Cheyenne was born at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado on May 13, 1972.  Cheyenne came to the Houston Zoo in 1993. She exhibits high intelligence and a complex personality.

Cheyenne’s nurturing side was not fully appreciated until she became a foster mother.  A hybrid between the two species of orangutan, Bornean and Sumatran, she has no kids of her own, but when in 1999, a 2-year-old orangutan infant named Luna Bela needed a foster mother, primate staff immediately considered Cheyenne.  After gradual introductions between Cheyenne and the infant, Luna was allowed the opportunity to enter Cheyenne’s room.  The new mother gently coaxed Luna through the door and waited patiently for her approach, and they were together until Luna grew up to be a successfully socialized orangutan.

Since Cheyenne’s first experiences with being a foster mother, she has successfully fostered 2 more orangutan infants, Elok, who now lives at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Indah, who now lives at the Sacramento Zoo.

In 2011, Cheyenne once again became a foster mother to her fourth infant, Aurora. At the tender age of 9 months, Cheyenne’s youngest foster infant, entered her life.  Cheyenne has shown a whole new depth to her level of mothering with this infant, and allowed the infant to ride on her back, climb onto her head, and sleep in her nest at night. Aurora, who is 7-years-old, can still be found sleeping in the same nest at night with Cheyenne and she depends on Cheyenne helping her enter and exit the exhibit.

As we are celebrating Cheyenne and all our moms, it is the perfect day to celebrate and pay tribute to orangutan mother’s too.

Each year more and more orangutans, moms and infants, are killed or left homeless as their native rainforest habitat is cleared for palm oil plantations. On Sunday, May 13, 2018, the Houston Zoo will be participating in M.O.M., Missing Orangutan Mothers, campaign. To help raise awareness for the protection of these amazing creatures, primate keepers will be on hand at 12:00PM and 3:30PM, to share information, stories and tips on how our small actions can make a big difference in orangutan’s lives.

Please join us on May 13, 2108 at 12:00PM to wish Cheyenne a happy 46th birthday and Happy Mother’s Day!!

Zoo Raises Record Funds at Annual Ball

2018 Zoo Ball

On Saturday, May 5, Zoo Ball: An Evening in Borneo Presented by Phillips 66 rose vital funds for the Houston Zoo. At this year’s black-tie gala, more than 600 Houstonians celebrated the rhythm of the rainforest and raised a record-breaking $1.12 million dollars to support the zoo. This year’s event, hosted by chairs Peggy Kostial and Macey Reasoner Stokes, was themed to highlight the zoo’s work on the front-lines in Borneo to protect its precious wildlife, and welcomed special guest, Dr. Nurzhafarina Othman, a Malaysian scientist and Houston Zoo conservation partner.

The party-goers turned up the volume on gowns and glamour, and the zoo transformed its tented event space, Masihara Pavilion, into a colorful ballroom. City Kitchen served an island-themed, multi-course dinner beginning with sesame shrimp wonton tostada and roasted rainbow cauliflower and noodle salad, followed by succulent duck breasts in plum wine reduction over coconut rice and vegetables, and a guava pana cotta for dessert.

2018 Zoo Ball

During dinner, Houston Zoo board chair, Stacy Methvin thanked the co-chairs and warmly recognized event honoree Jim Postl for his years of service as a zoo board member and his generosity as a long-standing donor. Additionally, zoo president and CEO, Lee Ehmke shared the zoo’s master plan, and multi-year, $150 million-dollar fundraising campaign that will see the zoo to its 100th anniversary in 2022.

Guests bid on silent auction items during cocktail hour with the highest bid going for the Honorary Observer spot for two at the final round of the 2019 Houston Open for $3,280. After dinner, a spirited live auction called by auctioneer Logan Thomas, highlighted five very competitive items. Week-long stays in private homes on Lake Travis and Telluride went for $5,000 and $8,000, respectively. A safari to Tanzania sold for $13,000, $16,000 got a guest a week at a private villa in Tuscany, and the night’s honoree, Jim Postl, won with the chance to name a wild elephant in Borneo with his donation of $21,000.

This year, the zoo’s young professional’s donor club, Flock, hosted the after party called Rainforest After Dark presented by Accenture. Taylor Pace Orchestra kept revelers dancing until midnight.

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