Santa Delivers 400-pound Surprise to the Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo is on Santa’s nice list for the 95th year! The big guy came early to the Houston Zoo and delivered an even bigger guy – a 400-pound male lion. Guests can see three-year-old Hasani most mornings in the lion habitat. While he’s currently getting to know the three lionesses, they’ll be alternating time in the yard until they are all better acquainted.

During Hasani’s first morning in the lion habitat, he took his time exploring the yard, climbing the rocks, and snacking on the special treats left throughout by his keepers to welcome him into his new home. Within the first hour, he found a comfortable position and settled in to take full view of the area from a high vantage point on the rocky boulders.

Hasani was born in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo in the Pacific Northwest as a result of the Species Survival Plan (SSP). The mission of the AZA’s SSP is to oversee the population management of select species within AZA member institutions and to enhance conservation of those species in the wild. The Houston Zoo does not have a current recommendation to pair Hasani with one of the females in the pride at this time.

The Houston Zoo’s lion pride are ambassadors for their wild counterparts in Africa and serve to educate guests about the work being done to help save this vulnerable species.  Scientists estimate there are only enough lions left in Africa to fill a football stadium, half the number of 20 years ago, and the biggest reasons for their decline are conflict with people and loss of habitat and prey due to human population growth. The Houston Zoo protects lions in the wild by providing funds for locals to guard lions by teaching people to live safely near lion populations, removing snare wire traps, and arresting poachers. A portion of every admission to the zoo provides direct protection for 20% of the lion population in the wild.

Hasani is the first male lion to reside at the Houston Zoo since the passing of beloved zoo-icon, Jonathan, in September 2016.

Working Together to Save Elephants

By: Dr. Christine Molter

Elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus (EEHV) is a potentially deadly disease that not only affects elephants in human care, but also those living in the wild. Populations of wild Asian elephants are impacted by this disease in addition to threats like habitat fragmentation and poaching. To understand and combat this disease, veterinarians, researchers, conservationists, and elephant caretakers formed a collaborative team, called the EEHV Asia Working Group. The 3rd EEHV Asia Working Group meeting was hosted by Kasetsart University in Hua-Hin, Thailand. As part of the Houston Zoo’s on-going commitment to investigating EEHV and to save Asian Elephants in the wild, I was able to participate in this group.

Traveling to Hua-Hin is a long process. After more than 24 hours in flight from Houston, Texas to Tokyo, Japan to Bangkok, Thailand and 3-hour van ride, I finally made it to Hua-Hin. A total of 70 attendees from 12 countries made similar journeys to be at the meeting.

The two-day conference started with updates from those different countries and included India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United States, Vietnam, and a summary from all of Europe. Each representative shared their successes and unique EEHV challenges, with common themes of needing more regional laboratories with the ability to test samples for the virus, education for local people working with elephants about EEHV, increased availability of anti-viral medications for treatments, and further wild elephant research. To help address these challenges, discussions and brainstorming sessions took place and the group outlined strategic goals for EEHV efforts in Asia. In addition to defining goals, practical lectures and demonstrations also occurred. I taught elephant blood crossmatching, a necessary step prior to administering potentially life-saving plasma transfusions to elephant calves sick with EEHV, to ensure that the plasma donor and recipient are a good match.

 

At the end of the conference, an excursion to Kuiburi National Park was planned. We spotted two wild female Asian elephants with 3 calves between them. The sight of elephants in the wild was poignant, as it embodied the goal that everyone at the meeting is working towards together – to save elephants.

The Houston Zoo is a leader in global EEHV efforts. The protocol developed at the Houston Zoo, to monitor, diagnose, and treat this disease is utilized by people all over the world. It is humbling to hear directly from those working with elephants in range countries, that our Houston Zoo protocol provides important clinical guidelines for them. It is through our collective information sharing, research partnerships, global meeting participation, and local support that the mission of the Houston Zoo is achieved – to save animals in the wild.

Many thanks to all who work tirelessly for elephants and to those who diligently organized the EEHV Asia Working Group meeting, especially to Dr. Sonja Luz from Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Dr. Supaphen (Amm) Sripiboon from Kasetsart University, and Dr. Lauren Howard from San Diego Zoo Global for their leadership.

Efforts to combat EEHV are on-going and collaborative. More information about EEHV can be found at www.eehvinfo.org. Previous Houston Zoo blogs on the EEHV Asia Working Group can be found here.

SMG’s Borneo Travel Log, Thursday

Thursday: We are finishing up our time here in Borneo. This afternoon, we went for a boat ride to visit a tree planting project run by Hutan. It’s an all female run project and these women are doing great work to reforest a large tract of land that was previously clear-cut but a palm oil plantation. In the evening we toured a small tributary to survey wildlife and we came across a family of long-tailed macaques that were eating on a branch overhanging the water. We stopped to enjoy the view for a bit and then headed back around sunset.

Houston Zoo’s SMG (Social Media Guy) is on the trip of a lifetime to Borneo!

From Dec. 1–11, 2017 the Houston Zoo and Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 are traveling to southeast Asia and the island of Borneo to document the work you are supporting to protect the counterparts of the wildlife that you see when you visit the Zoo. Houston Zoo conservation associates who have dedicated their careers to protecting elephants, orangutans, pangolins and a whole host of other amazing species on the world’s third largest island will give us an in-depth look at what it means to save species from extinction.

We’ve created a special webpage to follow their exciting journey around the world, go behind the scenes, and learn more about how we can all save animals in the wild. Follow along with SMG!

SMG’s Borneo Travel Log, Wednesday

Wednesday Morning and Afternoon: Today we set out for a long trek through the jungle. Nurzhfarina “Farina” Othman, Houston Zoo Conservation Associate, updated us on the latest positions of the elephants and we hopped back in for another long boat ride down river. When we got close to the spot where the last satellite position was, Farina switched over to the radio telemetry tracker to listen for beeps. After that, it’s into the jungle. Our guide Coco led us in and we began bushwacking through some of the thickest forest I’ve ever been in. We continued for about two hours this way, only pausing to take water breaks and listen to the radio signal. We could hear the elephants as we got close and it was an eerie sound to hear when you can’t see them. As we got closer and closer to the signal, Farina tells us that only two of us can go up with her at a time because the elephants aren’t very happy we have been following them. We sent our camera man up, and I followed behind him. We were crawling on the ground to minimize our noise and slow us down and then….a trunk. Elephants. I can’t believe how easily they can move through this dense forest that we had been tripping on all morning.  We  spend just a few moments with the elephants before we have to head back and start our return walk to the boat. We started at 8 a.m. and we arrive to the boat at 2:15 p.m., completely exhausted and wiped out but happy we have seen the incredible Bornean elephant.

Houston Zoo’s SMG (Social Media Guy) is on the trip of a lifetime to Borneo!

From Dec. 1–11, 2017 the Houston Zoo and Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 are traveling to southeast Asia and the island of Borneo to document the work you are supporting to protect the counterparts of the wildlife that you see when you visit the Zoo. Houston Zoo conservation associates who have dedicated their careers to protecting elephants, orangutans, pangolins and a whole host of other amazing species on the world’s third largest island will give us an in-depth look at what it means to save species from extinction.

We’ve created a special webpage to follow their exciting journey around the world, go behind the scenes, and learn more about how we can all save animals in the wild. Follow along with SMG!

SMG’s Borneo Travel Log, Tuesday

Tuesday Morning: We woke up to the indescribable sound of rain in the jungle. It’s almost magical. While eating breakfast, our group discussed how we planned to track elephants for the day. Suddenly, one of the students working here comes running down the path yelling, “CROCODILE!” A croc had been caught in one of the traps we set on Monday. The entire field centre started moving. The plan had been for the crocodile researchers to head out early in the morning to check the traps, if they had caught a croc, they’d send word back and wait until the group of research assistants and field guides could join. We dropped what we were doing and set out with the team moving in on the trapped croc. As we got closed, we saw him – Inside a 12′ trap was what turned out to be a 14′ crocodile. It was not tiny. It was impressive to watch the research assistants work. They moved the trap to the shore, and began to tie ropes around the croc’s snout. The researchers inserted a microchip (similar to how you’d microchip your pet), took a tissue sample, and affixed a satellite tracker. After about an hour on land, the group of muddy researchers and field assistants released the massive crocodile back into the river.

The crocodile work closely with our partners.  All of the conservation projects in the area benefit from one another’s information and efforts to protect all of the wildlife in Borneo!

Tuesday Afternoon: Heading out with Houston Zoo Conservation Associate, Farina at 1:00 p.m. We’re planning to trek into the jungle in search of elephants. Wish us luck!

Tuesday Afternoon, Continued: We went out with Farinha to look for elephants after getting a good GPS location. After a 45min boat ride, we got out and began trekking through the jungle. After a short walk, we realized that the elephants were on the other side of an impassible swamp and had to turn around for the day. It was a bummer but we are going to try around tomorrow.

Houston Zoo’s SMG (Social Media Guy) is on the trip of a lifetime to Borneo!

From Dec. 1–11, 2017 the Houston Zoo and Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 are traveling to southeast Asia and the island of Borneo to document the work you are supporting to protect the counterparts of the wildlife that you see when you visit the Zoo. Houston Zoo conservation associates who have dedicated their careers to protecting elephants, orangutans, pangolins and a whole host of other amazing species on the world’s third largest island will give us an in-depth look at what it means to save species from extinction.

We’ve created a special webpage to follow their exciting journey around the world, go behind the scenes, and learn more about how we can all save animals in the wild. Follow along with SMG!

December’s Featured Members: The Pollock 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 December’s Featured Members: The Pollock Family

We truly cherish being zoo members! Our boys are now 8 and 10, and they have grown up visiting the zoo. When we travel, we also go to other zoos, which keeps reminding us how amazing our zoo is here is Houston!

Just a couple of monkeys watching some primates.

The whole family feels like a part of the Houston Zoo community. And it truly feels like a community. Our boys have always wanted to get up close and involved with the animals. Through the Adopt and Animal program, we were able to create a shared experience with their cousins (who live near Washington D.C. and are also passionate about animals). When the cousins come to town, all of the kids insist on going to the zoo to visit “their animals”. Additionally, we were thrilled when we learned that our next-door neighbor was a zoo volunteer. When she shared that elephants love to eat kumquats and asked if we would be willing to allow her to gather some from our own backyard tree, we jumped at the chance to be a part of feeding the elephants. When we see the orange-colored peels on the ground, there is a sense of excitement that those are our fruits!

Then, there is zoo camp. Our boys LOVE zoo camp. It has taught them so much about animals, the environment, our impact on and inclusion in the animal kingdom, as well as giving direct, hands-on experiences that extend beyond what we ever expected. To say that we (their parents) are envious of everything they get to do and experience while at camp would seriously be a huge understatement!

 

Perhaps most importantly for our family, the Houston Zoo absolutely allows for and encourages a diversity of experiences that provides the chance to feel close to the animals. Our family absolutely feels personally involved and invested in the zoo and the animals. This investment is not just at the zoo, but extends to all animals worldwide. We are so grateful to have this experience so close to home and to be able to participate in an affordable, quality experience. From the habitat-style spaces, to viewing windows, keeper talks, education and enrichment programs, and the interaction opportunities (holy moly is it fun to feed a giraffe!), the Houston Zoo creates a world-class, inclusive environment that seems uniquely its own. We are so proud to call it ours!

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to the Buchanan’s and all of our Zoo Members. As a Houston Zoo Member, your support truly makes an impact on the growth of our Zoo and conservation efforts. THANKS!

SMG’s Borneo Travel Log, Monday

Monday morning: We started the morning with a group of researchers collecting data on crocodiles. Crocodiles here get BIG, like BIGGGGG. We loaded up two gigantic crocodile traps and headed out in the boats to set them. The boat ride in the daytime was beautiful, and much less stressful than last night. KPRC team interviewed the group setting the traps and we asked why it was important to collect this data. The researcher explained that she wants to know how the crocs are moving and start to assess how people affect their movement and behavior in the Kinabatangan.

Monday Afternoon: In the afternoon, we met up with Farinha and set out to see if we could find an elephant herd she has been tracking. After getting the last GPS coordinates, we took a 45 minute boat ride down-river and then tried to get radio telemetry “beeps.” We knew the elephants were inside the forest and not on the edge of the river, but since it was late in the day and the sun was going down, we decided not to leave the river. We headed back to the field centre and had dinner.

 

Monday Night: After dinner, we packed our expedition bags up and head out with python researcher, Rich, to look for pythons. Rich is studying important characteristics such as how pythons move through their habitat, if there are any influencing factors as to where pythons may be located, as well as parasites that the pythons may be carrying. During our dark ride down the river at night, Rich explains that to catch a python, he spots it with a headlamp, points the boat towards it, and then jumps off the boat to catch it….with his hands. Bare hands. Reading it might sound interesting but watching a person jump off a boat to grab a wild python is incredible. With a python in hand, Rich places it in a snake bag which he’ll transfer to a special container when we get back. On Tuesday morning, he plans to measure and collect all the data he needs to continue his research.

The crocodile and python researchers work closely with our partners.  All of the conservation projects in the area benefit from one another’s information and efforts to protect all of the wildlife in Borneo!

Houston Zoo’s SMG (Social Media Guy) is on the trip of a lifetime to Borneo!

From Dec. 1–11, 2017 the Houston Zoo and Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 are traveling to southeast Asia and the island of Borneo to document the work you are supporting to protect the counterparts of the wildlife that you see when you visit the Zoo. Houston Zoo conservation associates who have dedicated their careers to protecting elephants, orangutans, pangolins and a whole host of other amazing species on the world’s third largest island will give us an in-depth look at what it means to save species from extinction.

We’ve created a special webpage to follow their exciting journey around the world, go behind the scenes, and learn more about how we can all save animals in the wild. Follow along with SMG!

SMG’s Borneo Travel Log, Sunday

Houston Zoo’s SMG (Social Media Guy) is on the trip of a lifetime to Borneo!

From Dec. 1–11, 2017 the Houston Zoo and Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 are traveling to southeast Asia and the island of Borneo to document the work you are supporting to protect the counterparts of the wildlife that you see when you visit the Zoo. Houston Zoo conservation associates who have dedicated their careers to protecting elephants, orangutans, pangolins and a whole host of other amazing species on the world’s third largest island will give us an in-depth look at what it means to save species from extinction. 

Here is some reporting from the field:

Sunday afternoon: After four flights and days of travel, we arrived in Sandakan and met the team that would take us to the field centre. We got in a van and drove two hours to a dock where we loaded everything on boats and started on our boat trip down river to DGFC.

 

Sunday night: The sun had set as we started our boat ride, which was supposed to take about 30 minutes. As the moon rose over the jungle, we noticed our feet were wet. Water in the boat. Our boat driver stopped a few times to scoop water out of the boat but as soon as we started driving again water was filling up the boat. While I was pretty confident everything was going to be fine, for a moment, I was overtaken with the thought of swimming through a river infested with crocodiles in the pitch black night. To be sure that didn’t happen, I volunteer to bail water out of boat so our driver could continue down the river. I’m happy to say we made it safely and we were happy to be on dry land. We settled into our rooms and quickly fell asleep, happy to be done moving.

 

We’ve created a special webpage to follow their exciting journey around the world, go behind the scenes, and learn more about how we can all save animals in the wild. Follow along with SMG!

 

Happy Great Ape Day! September 9 & 10

Written by: Tammy Buhrmester, Zookeeper

Did you know that there are six distinct species of great apes and that the Houston Zoo is home to three species?

Orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees are members of the great ape family.

Is It a Monkey or an Ape?

One easy way to tell the difference between a monkey and an ape is to look for a tail.  The great apes are tailless primates that have larger bodies and bigger brains than other primates.

The Social Lives of Great Apes

Gorillas live in “harem” groups (one adult male with several females and their offspring) of around five to ten individuals in a family group, although on occasion the group can be larger.

Chimpanzees live in multi-male, multi-female groups which can consist of a few dozen individuals, or more than one hundred.  Chimp groups practice “fusion-fission” which means smaller subsets exist with the larger group and members come together and split apart depending on food availability and other factors.

Orangutans tend to live alone more than gorillas and chimpanzees.  Adult females will travel with their offspring and recently have been found to also travel with another female and her offspring. Males and females only interact in order to produce an offspring.

The Houston Zoo Great Apes

At the Houston Zoo, we have 27 individual Great Apes; 7 gorillas, 14 chimpanzees and 6 orangutans.

When you visit the Great Ape gallery in the Africa forest, you get the opportunity to be surrounded by chimpanzees and gorillas.  When you watch the chimpanzee exhibit you may see Lucy sitting on her perch on the large termite mound watching over the group.  You may catch Lulu sitting in front of the air conditioner in the training room.  Willie our youngest male, may be in the yard playing a game of tag with Abe, Charlie, Kenya or Kira.

If you visit in the Great Ape Gallery in the morning, you will have the opportunity to see our gorilla family in their large indoor playroom.  Zuri, our dominant male of the family group may be eating or resting with his large foot resting on the glass.  Look up and you may see one of the three females sitting on the large tree or resting on the platform in the middle of the playroom.  Binti, our oldest female normally is found resting on the ground the floor on the left side of the play room. We also have three amazing bachelor males that can be seen outside in the large yard.  Mike usually can be found in the middle of the exhibit sitting under a tree and Chaka and Ajari are usually near each other.

When you visit the orangutan exhibit, you may see one or two orangutans on exhibit at the same time.  Each day, the orangutans take turns out on the exhibit. They each get several hours a day outside.  We vary the times that they go outside.  Normally we rotate them at 9AM, 12PM and 3PM.  Rudi Valentino prefers to go outside in the morning and Kelly likes to go out anytime of the day.  Pumpkin loves to sit by the glass and look at everyone visiting.  Cheyenne and Aurora usually can be found sitting around the platform at the front of the exhibit.  Aurora loves to hang out on top of the platform, so if you don’t see anyone, look up and you might see her.

Take Action: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

One of the major threats facing Great Apes is habitat loss and fragmentation. Habitat loss due to logging, mining, palm oil plantations and human encroachment has had a devastating impact on Great Ape populations.

On Great Ape Day, we encourage everyone to reduce the use of paper products by purchasing Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood, paper and furniture products. When you are grocery shopping, read labels and purchase only products that is made with sustainable palm oil or no palm oil product.

Great Ape Day will be celebrated at the Houston Zoo on Saturday and Sunday, September 9 and 10.  Please stop by at the Africa Forest Great Ape gallery at 12:30PM to learn all about our chimpanzees and gorillas and at 3:30PM at the orangutan exhibit at the Wortham World of Primates to learn all about orangutans.

 

Houston Zoo Receives Rescued Sea Turtle in Sharpstown

On Wednesday, Aug. 30, the Houston Zoo answered the call to receive a green sea turtle who had been rescued by a resident in Sharpstown, and handed over to the firefighters at Houston Fire Station 51. The first responders named the turtle “Harvey” after the natural disaster that likely brought the turtle so far out of his natural habitat.

The resident found the turtle in road and just knew it didn’t belong this far inland.  The firefighters immediately put it into a cooler with a wet towel to maintain its body temperature and keep it wet, as directed by sea turtle biologists after the rescue was reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Galveston. NOAA, a long-time partner of the Houston Zoo, called our team to see if we could get to the turtle.

 

Fortunately, the zoo’s conservation impact manager, Martha Parker, lives a few miles from the fire department and could safely get to fire department, and also to the Houston Zoo.

The green sea turtle was checked over by one of the zoo’s four veterinarians, and found to be healthy. Harvey suffered a few minor scratches on his big journey north, and he is now safely with the zoo’s aquarium team until it can be re-released into Galveston Bay or moved to NOAA’s sea turtle facility.

If you find an injured or stranded sea turtle, please call 1-866-TURTLE-5 so someone can respond to the turtle-giving it adequate care and attention.

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