Dragon Coming to the Zoo in 2016

You thought they were a figment of your imagination, but they are for real! An exclusive partnership between Houston Zoo and Lockington Medical Institute (LMI) in Wimbledon, United Kingdom has produced the first known dragon offspring in at least 750 years.

Fossilized dragon eggs were found in 1996 by Rodney Tarrington in a small hamlet outside of Blackpool and have resided at the British Museum since then. Scientists have tried to extract DNA in order to replicate these amazing creatures, but up to now have been unsuccessful.

Three months ago, DNA extraction and replication was successful, and the first dragon was hatched in LMI’s labs. Due to the funding for research provided by the Houston Zoo, LMI has agreed to arrange transport for the animal once it is old enough to make the journey – approximately three months from now.

After the Gorillas habitat opens at the Houston Zoo, the Zoo’s focus will turn toward constructing a naturalistic environment with plenty of horizontal and vertical space for the dragon to grow and to promote natural behaviors such as flying. This new exhibit will be open one year from today, April 1, 2016.

Once the dragon is comfortable in its new home, LMI and Houston Zoo will continue work on creating additional dragons in the hopes of one day producing natural offspring.

More information about dragons coming to the Houston Zoo

Can’t wait until 2016 to see our dragon? Don’t forget to visit Smaug, the Houston Zoo’s resident Komodo dragon, here in the Reptile and Amphibian House at the Houston Zoo!

Smaug, one of the Houston Zoo's resident Komodo dragons
Smaug, one of the Houston Zoo’s resident Komodo dragons

Sam, the "People" Steer

Just four years ago this month, a small baby steer arrived at the Houston Zoo. His name was Sam – Sam Houston to be exact. At about the same time, a wide-eyed new zookeeper named Emma started in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo.

Sam Houston the steer, as a baby, right when he got to the Houston Zoo
Sam Houston the steer, as a baby, right when he got to the Houston Zoo

Emma was sitting in a meeting one day when one of her supervisors asked, “Does anyone want to train Sam?” Emma, not having any training experience, was eager to take on her first challenge, so she raised her hand. From then on, Emma and Sam were learning from each other.

When Sam first got to the Zoo, he, like all the other animals, spent 30 days in what we call “quarantine” – it’s an area separate from the other animals where residents get their vet checkups and we make sure they are healthy enough to enter the Zoo.

Sam was pretty skittish at first, but Emma and the other keepers worked tirelessly with him during those first 30 days to get him comfortable with a halter and lead using food, toys, love, and affection. At the end of his quarantine, Sam was proudly walked over to his new home in the Children’s Zoo on that halter and lead, with no issues at all. From then on, Sam was what you would call a “people” steer.

It's pretty obvious that Sam likes people!
It’s pretty obvious that Sam likes people!

While Sam enjoyed Zoo guests and especially loved his frequent walks with Emma and the other keepers behind-the-scenes, he also had another friend at the Zoo: Zamir the zebu.

Zamir the zebu as a baby - he's a lot bigger now!
Zamir the zebu as a baby – he’s a lot bigger now!

“Zamir and Sam were best buds. When we went on a walk with Sam and returned back to the yard, Zamir would moo at Sam, and then Sam would moo back at Zamir,” said Emma. They would also play and give each other baths.

Over the past year or so, it became apparent that Sam was getting a little too big to stay at the Zoo. He grew and he grew and he grew until he was over 1,250 pounds! While Sam still enjoyed his frequent mud baths (his favorite) and walks behind-the-scenes, it was time to find a new home for him that gave him more space to stretch out.

At about the same time we were trying to find a new home for Sam, an incredible place in the hill country called Camp For All was looking for a steer.

Started in 1993 just outside of Brenham, Camp For All hosts campers with cancer, autism, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, severe burns, sickle cell, cerebral palsy, veterans with post-war challenges, and so much more. Most of the campers come from the greater Houston area and southeast Texas.

The camp is barrier-free, which means that campers can participate in things like archery, aquatics, ropes courses, horseback riding, and dozens of other fun activities, and those activities are specially designed to make sure each camper can reach their individual potential and have lots of fun in the process. There is also a Small Animal Farm where campers can learn about and enjoy their favorite barnyard animals, and it had been a while since Camp For All had a steer there.

Because Camp For All is such a special place for all kinds of campers, they couldn’t just bring in any steer. This steer had to be a “people” steer.
Kelly, the Equestrian Supervisor at Camp For All, came to the Zoo to put Sam to the test and make sure he’d be good with the campers. Sure enough, Sam passed with flying colors. It was time for Sam to head to his new home.

There were plenty of tears shed as Sam’s trailer headed out of the Zoo, particularly by his trainer Emma, but Sam didn’t seem to mind – he had more alfalfa than he’d ever seen in his life to keep him company until he got to his destination!

Now that Sam is at Camp For All, he’s stepping into his new role seamlessly.

Sam in his new home at Camp For All, just in time for the holidays
Sam in his new home at Camp For All, just in time for the holidays

“With Sam Houston’s big personality, he is going to fit right in with our very hands-on barnyard program where our campers will brush, pet and adore the big guy. He has made friends with all the barnyard pals, and he enjoys the pasture life as well as his people time,” says Kelly. “We love him.”

More New Babies at the Houston Zoo!

Adorable baby okapi not enough cuteness for you? Never fear, more Zoo babies are here! These little ones were born recently at the Houston Zoo. We hope you have a chance to come out and visit them soon!

This year, we had not one, but two baby De Brazza’s monkeys! A baby was born in January after seven years of hoping that Amelia and Albert would have one. Then this month we were excited to welcome another new baby into the family! One of the most important jobs of a zoo is breeding animals that are declining in the wild, and this animal is declining in the wild because of habitat loss and other serious issues. This sweet newborn still doesn’t have a name. Our keepers are waiting to know if the baby is a “she” or a “he” before deciding on a name.

Baby De Brazza's Monkey

This baby bongo’s name is Sheldon. Bongos are among the largest of the African forest antelope, and they are the only forest antelope to form herds. They are critically endangered, and there may be as few as 200 left in the wild.

Sheldon, the Baby Bongo
Sheldon, the baby bongo

Also recently born is this baby male nyala named Rowan. Nyala are almost invisible in the habitats where they live in southeast Africa because their coats provide excellent camouflage.

Baby Nyala Rowan
Baby nyala, Rowan

Saving the Blue-billed Curassow

Imagine you’ve been transported deep into the humid, tropical forests of northern Colombia, traversing the El Paujil reserve. You scramble down a steep hillside, trying to stay on your feet as you dodge low-hanging branches and push through dense, prickly underbrush. You’ve been searching for what seems like forever, and you’re tired. You sit down to rest and have a drink of water. Your eyes glance up to a small clearing, and you can’t believe it. You see what you’ve been searching so hard to find: a bird so rare that fewer than 700 still exist in the wild…possibly many less. You found the blue-billed curassow.

Blue-billed Curassow

The blue-billed curassow, as beautiful as it is rare, is facing some serious issues in the wild that are causing its population to decline. Its habitat is being used for agriculture; the forests are being replaced with farms. The El Paujil reserve is the only one in the world dedicated to the blue-billed curassow (which is called El Paujil in its native Colombia).

Fortunately, there are people working every day to make sure these birds will never go extinct. One way is to make sure there are birds in zoos so that if the wild population takes a drastic nose dive, the population still stays viable.

Zoos work together to determine which birds have the most genetic diversity and then pair them together so they can ensure the long-term survival of the species. The Houston Zoo, for example, worked with Zoo Lourosa in Portugal to trade pairs of blue-billed curassows for this purpose. After the trade, the new birds were then paired with other existing birds, and now there have been babies born at both zoos.

Baby Chick from Portugal
One of the blue-billed curassow chicks that was hatched in Portugal after trading bird pairs with the Houston Zoo

It is also important that people see curassows in person and appreciate their uniqueness so they will care about them and want to help them.

The Houston Zoo has been working to save these birds since the 1970s – there have been more than 50 blue-billed curassows born in Houston. Zoos in Colombia have also been working for many years with species like the curassow that can be challenging to breed. The Houston Zoo has been working with Colombian Zoos since 2004 to share our knowledge and our resources to help their breeding programs. The ultimate goal is for Colombian zoos to be successful in breeding these birds, and then to release birds back into the wild once the population can be sustained.

And there is good news from this very important effort: in January 2014, the Aviario Nacional de Colombia became the first Colombian zoo to breed the blue-billed curassow in its native Colombia. The very next month, the Houston Zoo’s Chris Holmes, assistant curator of birds, traveled to Colombia and hosted an incubation workshop at this same place to train 21 staff members from four Colombian zoos. Four incubators and other related equipment was also donated.

To date, there have been 10 chicks that have hatched at the Aviario Nacional de Colombia.

What can you do to help? Visit the Houston Zoo and see the blue-billed curassow for yourself. The more you appreciate and understand this bird, the more knowledge you can share with others. And when you visit, a portion of every ticket goes to saving animals in the wild.

A Million Thanks to TXU Energy

What makes the Houston Zoo such a cherished place to learn and play? The devotion of staff and volunteers and a family of 6,000 animal ambassadors are critical to a quality experience for our guests. But as a non-profit, our success begins with the exceptional philanthropic support of the Houston community, including corporate partners like TXU Energy. This generous friend of the Zoo has embraced our mission through giving that recently surpassed the $1 million milestone.

TXU Energy Presents Chill Out
Our animals enjoy cool treats all summer long, thanks to TXU Energy!

As the presenting sponsor of Chill Out since 2011 and Zoo Lights since its inception, TXU Energy makes summer sublime while adding a bit of wonder to winter. With their sponsorship of Pollinator Palooza, TXU Energy helps highlight the importance of birds, butterflies, and bees in our daily lives. Further still, this company leads by example during our annual Gift of Grub campaign by matching every donation up to $50,000, boosting individual giving by an average of more than 20% over the past two years. TXU Energy’s contributions enhance our ability to care for our animals, provide enlightening educational programming, and save endangered species in the wild.

TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights
TXU Energy has been a sponsor of Zoo Lights since its inception!

TXU Energy’s dedication to the Houston Zoo is ingrained in their culture. “For over 130 years, the family of companies that TXU Energy stems from has made social responsibility a priority. Our commitment to being a company of people who support the communities where we live, work and serve unites and strengthens us as an organization,” says Sydney Seiger, TXU Energy Chief Marketing Officer. The Zoo’s partnership with TXU Energy is reinforced by our mutual enthusiasm for conservation education: “We share a philosophy of educating individuals to make positive impacts wherever they can. For example, whether you’re making decisions for your home or your business, the benefits of managing your energy usage can really make a difference for the environment and your budget,” says Ms. Seiger. “The Houston Zoo is a top-notch destination for family fun and wonderful educational programs. Our partnership with the Zoo gives us a unique opportunity to interact with our customers in a tremendous environment.”

TXU Energy matches every donation up to $50,000 in the yearly Gift of Grub campaign
TXU Energy matches every donation up to $50,000 in the yearly Gift of Grub campaign

We proudly recognize TXU Energy for their active role in growing the greater Houston community and extend our sincere thanks for everything TXU Energy does to brighten the lives of the Houston Zoo’s animals and guests!


TXU Energy Logo



Colobus Monkey Gets a Second Chance at Sight with Cataract Surgery

This post written by Bailey Cheney of the Houston Zoo Primate Department.

We first realized that Caesar, our geriatric Eastern black and white Colobus monkey, was losing his sight around January of 2013. It started off with one of the keepers realizing that his eyes were a little cloudy. Then we noticed that he was slightly hesitant about moving around his bedroom. A sure sign that his sight was in decline was when one of the keepers noticed him bump into a new bench that had been installed. After that, it seemed that his sight was going downhill at an alarming rate. He would sit in the same spot for a long time. Whenever he moved, he would pat the ground where he walked to feel his way around.

Caesar is the oldest eastern black and white colobus monkey in a zoo at 32 years old. He lives with his mate “Bibi” in an off-exhibit special-care facility where geriatric primates are housed with indoor/outdoor access. Instead of going outside once his sight decreased, he would sit right in the doorway to feel the sunshine and enjoy the breeze all from the comfort and safety of his “old man porch.” He moved around less, understandably, and as time passed, the entire primate staff was growing more concerned about him.

Our veterinarians got in contact with Dr. Nicholas Millichamp of Eye Care for Animals. The clinic is about a forty-five minute drive from the Houston Zoo. The day of the surgery, Caesar was moved into a crate with just enough room to relax and be comfortable. Once sedated, Caesar was given a pre-surgery screening to make sure that he still had functional retinas. Thankfully, he passed that test and the surgery began. During the surgery, Dr. Millichamp dyed the cataracts for better contrast to see what he was working on. He used a very small instrument to scrape, and then suck away, the old cataracts. After removing them, Dr. Millichamp put new lenses into both eyes. During the whole surgery, the doctor used a microscope to be able to closely see what he was doing. This microscope was set up to a camera and a screen so that those observing could see everything that Dr. Millichamp saw.


Once he returned home to the zoo and recovered, the entire primate staff was very anxious to see results. The first time that I realized that he could see was when a piece of zucchini (one of Caesar’s favorites) was rolling off of the feeding tray and Caesar caught it quickly.  We observed him walk right up to his food, and he walked with confidence on the props in his bedrooms.

After a few bumps in the road as his eyes were a little slow to heal, he was finally cleared to go outside. When the door was opened, Bibi immediately went out, but Caesar hesitated. Then, he took a few steps forward and stepped onto the high walkway and followed Bibi over to a ray of sunshine, where he basked delightedly. We saw him enjoying the warm sun, watched birds fly by, and contentedly enjoy his surroundings.

Caesar continues to do amazingly well and it seems to us as if he’s lost ten years off of his 32 years. He vocalizes and displays vigorously in the morning to show the keepers who is boss, and interacts more with Bibi. These are all behaviors he had stopped doing when he was blind. He continues going strong, to the delight of the entire primate staff, and we hope to have much more time with him. We are all very thankful to the veterinary ophthalmologists who donated their time to so improve the quality of our old man’s Caesar’s life!

Caesar the colobus monkey
Caesar the colobus monkey

Help Save Elephants in the Wild!

Asian elephants at the Houston Zoo

Post by Lauren St. Pierre

Calling all elephant enthusiasts! Did you know elephant population numbers are rapidly declining in the wild? Do you know there are ways YOU can help protect these magnificent animals in the wild? You can start by joining the more than one hundred Zoos and thousands of individuals across the country on Tuesday, August 12 in celebrating World Elephant Day!

Elephants are the largest land mammals in the world and among the most intelligent animals on earth. Unfortunately, Asian elephants are also among the world’s most endangered species. At the turn of the 20th century, more than 100,000 Asian elephants roamed their native habitat. Today, less than 50,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild. And this number continues to decline due to habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and poaching for their ivory tusks. Each day, 96 elephants are gunned down for their ivory.

Here at the Houston Zoo, we are committed to protecting animals outside of our zoo gates, and elephants are in serious need of our support. In the past five years, the Houston Zoo has worked closely with partners in both Africa and Asia, funding over $500,000 in field conservation programs.

YOU can help, too! Simply by visiting the Houston Zoo, you help protect animals in the wild – a portion of your admission ticket goes directly to conservation efforts around the world. You can also attend special events throughout the year, such as Elephant Open House, where registration fees are also donated to conservation efforts.

Check out the Houston Zoo’s website to learn more of how we and YOU can help elephants.

We can’t be the generation that allows elephants to disappear. Sign the petition at www.96elephants.org to support a moratorium on ivory products in America.

World Elephant Day Activities Include:

10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

  • See and touch an elephant tooth
  • Create your own elephant mask
  • Sign our petition to ban the sale of ivory and ivory products
  • Find out more about the Houston Zoo’s Asian elephant herd: Thai, Methai, Shanti, Tess, Tucker, Tupelo, Baylor & Duncan

10 a.m. – Daily Elephant Bath at The McNair Asian Elephant Barn

1:30 p.m. – Meet the Keeper Talk at The McNair Asian Elephant Habitat

The Making of Houston Zoo Kids

It all started because of a problem, as many things do.

As a Zoo, we work hard to protect animals in the wild every day, and we have lots of ways we inform our guests about what is happening out there and how they can help. This information has always been accessible to adults, but we just hadn’t figured out a really good way to get kids in on the fun. So we sat down, kicked some ideas around, and realized that we had arrived at the perfect solution: build a truly immersive, interactive, educational…and most importantly, FUN website just for kids!

Now…how to build it?


First, you have to assemble a talented team. We started within the Zoo, bringing together our conservation, education, and animal teams as well as assembling a talented group of people to execute the task. We needed photos, videos, illustrations, animal facts, and sounds. We also needed somebody to put it all together in a beautiful and functional package and somebody to actually make it work.

Our “dream team” from outside the Zoo was assembled from three different cities: Kansas City, Seattle, and New Orleans. First, there was Tad Carpenter – he’s an incredible illustrator that has worked with everybody from Conan O’Brien to Jack Johnson and creates some of the most imaginative illustrations you’ve ever seen.


Next, the guy who put it all together: Kevyn Smith. He did an amazing job redesigning the main Houston Zoo website, so we literally couldn’t imagine anybody else designing this one. If you could only peek into his brain – it’s full of so many great ideas!

Finally, the guy who made it all live and breathe: Chris Boyd, owner of Apptitude. If there’s something out there he can’t make work, we’d like to see it – because we don’t believe it. We were lucky enough to get to collaborate with Apptitude on some other website projects, and we knew they were the perfect company for the task.


One of the most important things on the site is to make sure that all the information we provide to kids is up-to-date and accurate. We worked with our conservation, animal, and education teams to ensure that all the environments and animal illustrations were reflective of what you would actually see in nature. We sat down with these same teams to determine what animal facts we would present, how they would be written, and to ensure everything was correct.

The next to-do on our list was FUN. How can we make sure that kids are learning, but also having fun, so they will want to come back and learn even more? We decided on a series of games where kids can actually save animals in the wild and become field researchers themselves. They can also explore the three environments of the game with real tools from the field: binoculars, a camera, and a camera trap. Kids can then save everything they collect in their field journal.


We hope you have enjoyed exploring the site, and if you haven’t – well, it’s time to have some fun! Visit http://kids.houstonzoo.org to begin your adventure!

Naked Mole-rats: The Super Heroes of the Animal World

What can feel no pain, is impervious to cancer or Alzheimer’s, and can chew through pretty much anything in a single bound? The naked mole-rat! These little creatures aren’t the prettiest to look at, but they are possibly some of the most fascinating—and superhero like—animals around.

Meet the naked mole-rat!
Meet the naked mole-rat – our super hero!

When a naked mole-rat begins life, he pretty much looks the exact same as he does when he’s an old man – wrinkly, pink, and well…naked. Just tinier. You’ll notice whiskers around his mouth that act as sweepers to push away dirt, as well as teeth that are meant for digging.

You could say naked mole-rats have two mouths, in fact – one for digging, and one for tearing up food, which mainly consists of fruits, veggies, and roots. This is convenient, because the live in massive underground networks, so roots make a lot of sense as food. They are able to close their “second” mouth, the eating one, when digging their tunnels.

Mmm, snacks! Naked mole-rats love fruits, veggies, and roots.
Mmm, snacks! Naked mole-rats love to eat fruits, veggies, and roots.

It’s hard to compare a naked mole-rat to much else in the animal kingdom, but their social structure definitely works like a beehive. Everyone has a role in the colony and it is highly organized. There is a queen of the colony, and if that queen dies, everything falls apart and the other females engage in a fight to the death until a new queen is chosen. That new queen will morph into a baby producing machine, too – her hormones cause physical changes that make her spine actually arch upward so she can hold more babies!

Because they live so far underground, naked mole-rats can survive with little to no oxygen. It’s a good thing they can tunnel well, because their main predators are ground-dwelling snakes. These animals aren’t endangered, but they can be a nuisance to farmers trying to grow crops. Or, if you take it the other way, the farmers provide much excitement for the mole-rats, giving them a steady and consistent banquet!

At the Zoo, we create tunnels for the mole-rats so they can feel right at home!
At the Zoo, we create tunnels for the mole-rats so they can feel right at home!

So if you live underground and it’s pitch black (and your eyesight isn’t that great anyways), how do you tell your friends from your enemies? Smell, of course – and not the best smell either. Naked mole-rats build latrines where they all go to the bathroom, and then they roll around in the latrine so they smell like well…let’s just say the rest of the colony.

At the Zoo, we’ve got 48 naked mole-rats in our Carruth Natural Encounters building, along with other species of mole-rat like Damara mole-rats, another species that is much bigger and much less naked. You can’t miss them when you visit, because there’s a gigantic mole-rat sculpture above their burrows!

The Damara mole-rat: not quite so naked
The Damara mole-rat: not quite so naked

Have mole-rat mania and can’t wait to learn more? Visit us in our Natural Encounters building and ask us about them – you haven’t even heard the half of the crazy facts about these guys.

Thanks to Casey Norra, Zookeeper in Natural Encounters, for sharing his passion about mole-rats and giving us this fantastic animal information!

Let the Season Begin: It's Attwater's Prairie Chicken Time!

It’s our biggest and best year yet for breeding a very special local species, the critically endangered Attwater’s Prairie Chicken! We’re very lucky to have gotten a record number of eggs from our flock so far, with more to come.

The very first Attwater's prairie chicken egg of the breeding season!
The very first Attwater’s prairie chicken egg of the breeding season! We do something called candling the eggs, which means looking inside of them, to be sure the future chicks are healthy and progressing properly.

Last year’s breeding season was an incredible success, so we can’t wait to see what this year has in store for us. These eggs will begin to hatch in late April, so get ready to see tons of adorable baby chicks in the very near future!

Attwater's Prairie Chicken chick photo by Mollie Coym
Attwater’s Prairie Chicken chick photo by Mollie Coym

Considering there are less than 100 Attwater’s prairie chickens left in the wild, a successful breeding season at the Houston Zoo is essential for the survival of the species. We partner with a number of other organizations to ensure this humble grouse doesn’t go extinct.

Male Attwater's Prairie Chicken
Male Attwater’s Prairie Chicken

The Houston Zoo is involved in a number of ways, the most important of which is breeding animals in a protected environment that helps bring out their natural behaviors at our Johnson Space Center facility (thanks, NASA!), hatching the eggs at the Zoo, caring for the chicks, and then releasing those young birds into the wild at protected sites once they get old enough.

Male Attwater’s prairie chicken at Johnson Space Center – thank you, NASA, for helping us protect this critically endangered species!

Letting people know that the Attwater’s prairie chicken exists is also one of our most important jobs – and if you’re reading this, you are already contributing toward this animal’s survival. If people don’t know what the issues are, they can’t care. And if people care, the species won’t stand a chance! If you’d like to learn more and share with your friends, check out Houston Zoo Bird Keeper Danny Keel’s talk about the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken and our efforts to save it!

Attwater Talk – Danny Keel – Houston Zoo from Coastal Prairie Partnership on Vimeo

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