Principle Goes to the Zoo

A peek behind the scenes from the creative firm chosen to redefine the Houston Zoo’s new identity.

Contributed by Principle

As lifelong patrons and admirers of the Houston Zoo, our team at Principle was beyond thrilled to get a late Fall call from their team. Would we be interested in helping them re-brand their organization?

We quickly consulted our bucket list—check!—and happily accepted.

We kicked off the project by diving into a two-day tour and strategy session with the Zoo’s creative and marketing team, leadership staff, board members, conservation specialists, keepers, volunteers, and others to better understand how their zoo works, and our role in all of it.

We emerged brimming with excitement, adrenaline, a small mountain of notes, and a fair share of butterflies. This was no small task. And no ordinary zoo.


The Challenge

We were wowed by the clarity of the Zoo’s vision, the thoughtfulness of the extraordinary new Master Plan, the infectious unity of the Houston Zoo’s team—and the sheer magnitude of what the Houston Zoo actually does every day, for people and animals all over the planet.

We had no idea.

And many still don’t—exactly their motivation behind the re-branding effort.

The mission behind the re-brand.


We asked ourselves:

How do we symbolize conservation?

How do we reframe the conversation around zoos?

How do we help represent this organization’s leadership and their life’s work as smart and professional and bold and important, without neglecting the joy and excitement that stems from time spent outdoors at the zoo with loved ones (animal and otherwise!)?

And in an age when major re-brands are often measured in years versus weeks, how do we do it most thoroughly?


The Design Process

We whittled many hours’ worth of listening, learning, scheming, sketching, writing, researching, (and trading pictures of baby animals with each other) into five core takeaways that drove the design solutions we presented.

Overwhelmingly, we heard THEIR PEOPLE championed again and again.

The human element is critical in saving wildlife.

So we narrowed down themes related to these core takeaways, and explored how we might articulate them visually.

Themes explored.


We presented a wide range of logo solutions—from highly contemporary to more conservative—which we then refined further after insightful feedback from their team. Final selections were presented to an executive committee, and with board approval, a winner emerged.


The Solution

Houston Zoo logo anatomy.


A balanced approach

The new logo reflects the meaningful balance in the zoo’s new tagline, See them. Save them.

The duality of the shape represents the human element so critical in saving wildlife—the coming together of two hands—and the continued connection, conversation, and collaboration needed to succeed in protecting the home we all live in. You and me. Cause and effect. Locally and globally. Today and tomorrow.

See them. Save them.


Naturally inspired

The mark pays respect to the habitats of wildlife—two halves of a leaf—with a natural palette that draws from the landscapes of the Zoo’s future exhibits and their corresponding partner efforts in the wild, from the African forests to the Galapagos to our own Texas Wetlands.

A global palette.


A quiet force for good

Lastly, the negative space in the mark forms the letter Z, representing the zoo at the heart of these efforts—and pays subtle tribute to the Z that has historically nestled within the Houston Zoo’s logo.

Logo embossed.



Just the Beginning

We always like to point out that a logo is only the tip of the iceberg. The Houston Zoo is as unique and complex an organism as those it harbors.

Overall, our shared goal was to uncover an elegant solution that feels fresh, clean and simple, but can flex within a serious brand system. One that avoids the familiar trappings of visually championing one animal, or defaulting to the popular safari theme—because the Houston Zoo’s focus and reach are so truly comprehensive.

By way of thoughtful typography, color, and fabrication techniques, the new identity can push, pull and pivot across the Zoo’s myriad audiences and applications—from vibrant and playful to understated and polished—and spark conversation around what a contemporary zoo can do.

From playful to polished, the new zoo travels comfortably all over the planet.


It’s been such a privilege to partner with the Houston Zoo, and to learn that the humans behind all these animals are just as inspiring, intelligent and fun. We’re honored to continue on this journey with them—much more in the works!—and we can’t wait to share what’s next.

Celebrating the brand reveal with custom ties and scarves.


Principle’s Houston Team at the Campaign Kickoff

Launching into 2022 With a New Zoo

Launching the Most Ambitious Fundraising Campaign for Our Centennial Anniversary

See the Future of the Zoo

In 2022, the Houston Zoo will celebrate its 100th anniversary by completing the most dramatic transformation in its history. Today, the zoo launched its $150 million centennial fundraising campaign and unveiled plans for several new multi-species habitats during an event at the zoo’s historic Reflection Pool. During the momentous occasion, Houston Zoo president and CEO Lee Ehmke, Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Houston Zoo campaign co-chairs Cullen Geiselman and Joe Cleary shared the zoo’s vision for the next five years, revealed a new visual identity, and announced significant campaign successes. One such success includes a $50 million gift from the John P. McGovern Foundation, the largest gift in the zoo’s history. In total, more than $102 million has been secured for the campaign through individual, foundation, and corporate contributions and the zoo’s own cash flows.

“We aim to redefine what a zoo can be with beautiful and immersive habitats, compelling guest experiences, and an unyielding commitment to saving wildlife,” said Lee Ehmke, Houston Zoo president and CEO. “I invite you to join me on this thrilling journey to build the world-class zoo Houston deserves. Together, we will keep our world wild.”

Since privatization in 2002, more than $150 million in community investment has revitalized the Houston Zoo. Today, the zoo is a leading conservation and education organization providing care to thousands of animals. All while remaining a cherished destination for fun, family, and inspiration for all of Houston’s diverse communities.

In order to fully connect communities with wildlife to inspire action to save animals in the wild the zoo embarked on a strategic planning process in 2016 that identified eight strategic priorities to guide the future, and the mission, of the Houston Zoo.  One of the priorities recognized that a new zoo required a new logo. The new visual identity for the Houston Zoo was created by local branding agency Principle and symbolizes the connection people share with the world around them, reflects the Houston Zoo’s commitment to saving animals in the wild, and will represent the zoo in Houston and around the world.


The Houston Zoo’s strategic plan brought to life by a new 20-year master plan, which will reconfigure the campus into experiential zones that highlight wildlife and ecosystems found in Texas and around the world. With conservation messaging integrated throughout these zones, guests will leave the zoo inspired to take action to save animals in the wild.

The Keeping Our World Wild: Centennial Campaign will secure $150 million from individuals, foundations, corporate partners, and the Houston Zoo’s operational cash flows to complete Phase I of the master plan by 2022. Every year leading to the centennial, an exciting new chapter will open for guests to explore.

Additional Campaign Facts

  • Nearly half of the Houston Zoo’s acreage will be redeveloped by 2022
  • $5 million from the campaign will be dedicated to conservation projects

Multi-Species Habitats

Heart of the Zoo – 2018 – 2019

Celebrating the biodiversity of Texas, enhancing amenities, and setting the stage for a more navigable Houston Zoo.

  • Cypress Circle Café will be transformed into a signature gathering place (late 2018)
  • Texas Wetlands habitat featuring alligators, bald eagles, whooping cranes, turtles, and waterfowl (Spring 2019)
  • Enhanced orangutan and bear habitats

The Texas Wetlands exhibit will engage visitors in the zoo’s breeding, monitoring, rehabilitation, and release programs with local species of birds, reptiles, bats, and pollinators; students can connect this exhibit with hands-on, in-the-field conservation work experienced through zoo-led education programs.

Pantanal: Trail of the Jaguar – 2020

Exploring the legendary tropical wetlands of Brazil – home to South America’s greatest concentration of wildlife.

  • Lush South American wetland with jaguars, monkeys, giant river otters, capybaras, birds, and tapirs
  • Shaded Animal Encounter Hacienda for informal presentations with ambassador animals and zoo staff

The zoo partners with on-the-ground conservationists in South and Central America to study and protect jaguars, macaws, tapirs, and other Pantanal inhabitants; the exhibit will strengthen the zoo’s conservation investment by offering visitors and students a more immersive, engaging experience of this ecosystem.

Ancient Relatives Phase I – 2021

Showcasing the zoo’s signature, award-winning bird conservation work.

  • Reimagined Bird Garden with interactive bird feeding opportunities for guests
  • New Avian Conservation Center will relocate many birds into new, lushly landscaped aviaries, setting the stage for a later expansion of bird, reptile, and amphibian exhibits
  • New incubation and rearing room that allows for behind-the-scenes experiences

The new facility will directly support the zoo’s breeding programs for rare curassows and macaws as well as the signature program to breed and release Attwater’s prairie chickens, a local endangered species.

Galapagos Islands, North Entry, and Reflections – 2022

A first-of-its-kind exhibit starring the landscape and wildlife that made history, plus enhancements to the Houston Zoo’s main entry.

  • Unique Galapagos exhibit featuring sea lions, sharks, giant tortoises, and other iconic species
  • New Arrival Plaza to welcome guests
  • New Reflections event hall and terrace, as well as a new casual café, enhance the historic Reflection Pool and garden area

No place better illustrates the wonders of unique species, the delicate balance of ecosystems, or the pressing need for conservation action than the Galapagos. This exhibit will immerse visitors in that sense of place; highlight the zoo’s ongoing field work with giant tortoises, birds, and marine animals; and serve as a jumping-off point for educational experiences, including travel.

To learn more about the centennial campaign, visit



Green Mantella Froglets Are Baby New Year Times Eleven

Eleven green mantella froglets completed their transformation into frogs from tadpoles just after the new year at the Houston Zoo. These tiny frogs are smaller than a dice and gain their green moniker as they mature. Native to the island of Madagascar, guests to the Houston Zoo can spy these tiny endangered froglets in the Reptile and Amphibian House and are saving them in the wild through their visit.

The Houston Zoo has conservation leaders in Madagascar saving frogs through a Malagasy (native people of Madagascar) conservation organization in Madagascar called GERP. This group is comprised of many Malagasy researchers and conservationists that have grown up around the areas where they now work to protect the wildlife and habitat. Not only do they address threats to the animals, they have a clear understanding of the challenges their own local people face as well. In finding solutions that benefit the people and animals, they ensure long-term wildlife saving sustainability and success. The Houston Zoo supports young Malagasy women and men to have careers protecting nature, through GERP.


Guest Blogger: Maddie Davet – 2017 Collegiate Conservation Program Intern

Maddie Davet is a sophomore at Duke University and was a Collegiate Conservation Program (CCP) intern during the 2017 summer.  Take a look at Maddie’s experience and head to the CCP website to learn more and to apply for summer 2018!

What do you get when you put together thirteen strangers, an endless supply of animal crackers, and one glistening white work van full of gas? I got one of the best summers of my life.

Reflecting on my time with the Houston Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program conjures a whole sea of memories – from work to play, and hill country to bay. After 10 weeks spent learning alongside some of the motivated environmentalists I have met to date, it is daunting to gather my thoughts. I have changed for the better, that is for sure. I am armed with renewed passion for conservation, an arsenal of field skills, and a network that spans well beyond Texas’s borders.

One of the greatest opportunities CCP provided me was simply the ability to connect with my fellow interns. As an undergraduate at Duke University, I have met other students from all around the world, studying everything from patent law to molecular physics; however, I’ve struggled to find diverse perspectives within my school’s environmental department. A program like CCP, which selects from undergraduate applicants across the entire country, provides opportunity for diverse dialogues about conservation and sustainability. These conversations were constantly unfolding between our group of interns, and I developed a reputation for jumping into heated discussion every chance I got.

The other undergraduates were just one source of inspiration, however. Between our on-grounds days at the Houston Zoo, the many excursions we made to the Zoo’s local partners, and the handful of global conservationists who skyped in or visited us in Houston, there were a plethora voices to be heard from. I found myself learning everything from how to effectively wield a machete in East Texas to the ins and outs of community outreach in the Brazilian Pantanal. Hearing from all sorts of Zoo visitors and employees, from Exxon’s Communication Director to the CEO of the Zoo to our favorite keeper, was an indelible gift. Their insight, alongside the many experiences I gained this past summer, gave me the confidence to choose a way forward in my own life as a conservationist.

By the end of the internship, after many introductions as the “undecided” girl with an interest in anthropology, I had been inspired to declare my plans. I stood up at the final presentation and proclaimed my intent to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, the formal declaration of which I am writing up today. For that confidence, and for the many memories it accompanies, I will forever be grateful to CCP.

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 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!

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