Getting Dirty to Save Animals in the Wild

On April 26, the Houston Zoo hosted our first-ever Brew at the Zoo beer tasting event for guests 21-and-up. The event was also another first for our zoo-based conservation organization. Brew at the Zoo was our first major attempt at a full-sized zero waste consumer event. Zero waste is a goal for achieving a 90% or more diversion from landfill through reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting materials.

There are many definitions for zero waste, here at the Houston Zoo, we are beginning our zero waste journey by hosting events with a goal of zero-waste to landfill. At Brew at the Zoo, we diverted 80% of the waste from landfill through composting and recycling! This was accomplished through careful planning and communication between various departments within the zoo and our food partner SSA, as well as the composting company New Earth. We looked at the items being used throughout the event, from the souvenir beer sampling mugs, to the items food was served on, to lanyards that can be reused. While we encountered a few unexpected items in the bins, through careful sorting, we were able to ensure that as much of the waste as possible was able to be recycled and composted. The cans and glass bottles that the beer was poured from were recycled and the food items, including the utensils and cups were driven by zoo staff members to a commercial composting facility.

Why are we doing all of this? Our mission is to inspire action to save wildlife, what better way to celebrate local breweries than by saving local wildlife, like bobcats, by keeping waste out of landfills? The less space for landfills, means more space for wildlife! By recycling and composting, these materials are being given a chance to extend their usable lifespan.

Brew at the Zoo was just the beginning our our zero waste event journey. This event allowed us to look at the way we source and use products, so that at each event we will become closer to achieving our goal of zero-waste to landfill.

Christmas Treecycling

Written by Amber Zelmer

Now that we have stuffed ourselves silly for Thanksgiving, people are putting up their Christmas decorations & getting into the holiday spirit! Many people might be wondering whether to choose a real or artificial tree for their household this year. You may be surprised to learn that using a real Christmas tree can be a better choice for the environment than an artificial tree!

The benefit of artificial trees, is that they don’t need to be watered and are able to be reused year after year. However, most artificial trees are used for less than 4 years before they are thrown out. There are almost no facilities that recycle artificial trees and they can take up to 500 years to break down in a landfill! Most artificial trees are manufactured overseas in China or Korea & must be shipped for sale here in the U.S. According to Audubon magazine, you would have to keep an artificial tree for at least 20 years before it would be a better alternative than the real deal.

Christmas tree farms in the U.S. are a more sustainable source for your holiday tree. It can take a pine tree around 7 years to grow to a harvestable size. During the time it is growing, the tree is providing a habitat for migratory birds & other native wildlife. These trees are also producing oxygen & sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

If you are wondering how to dispose of your natural Christmas tree after the holidays there are many ways that you can use the tree to keep benefitting the environment! Many communities offer drop off sites for your old trees & may use them to help prevent erosion by creating barriers along beaches to help preserve sand dunes. The City of Houston offers an annual Christmas tree recycling program and will pick up trees and turn them into mulch or, if you have the space, you can mulch it yourself and use it in your garden or landscaping. Make sure to check online to see which day your neighborhood is collecting trees for the program. When recycling your tree, you must remove all ornaments, decorations, lights, tinsel & tree stands; flocked trees cannot be recycled. If you are not a resident of Houston proper, be sure to check online for local sites that are participating in tree recycling programs or repurposing used trees.

This holiday season we can all be a little more green!

Recycle Holiday Lights to help Save Animals in the Wild

Recycle your holiday string lights here and help save animals in the wild! Recycling keeps items out of landfills. Less space for landfills means more space for animals! A recycling bin is located at the Zoo’s main entrance. Only string lights will be accepted for recycling; please do not bring other items such as flood lights, extension cords or light hooks.

The collection bin will be open through the last day of Zoo Lights on January 14.

A bobcat, like the ones you are saving by recycling your holiday lights.

It may not feel like winter, but the holidays are almost here and with that comes the task of putting up your holiday lights. This task comes with many issues, what if you put them up and they don’t work? What if they have gone out of style? What if they just use too much energy and you want to buy LED lights instead?

If you are having any of these issues or other issues and need a place to dispose of your old or broken string lights you can bring them to the Houston Zoo to recycle! Recycling holiday lights keeps them out of landfills. Less space for landfills means more space for animals, animals like bobcats, deer, and the Texas State Small Mammal, the armadillo.

Recycle your holiday string lights in this bin, located at the Houston Zoo’s main entrance.

You can bring your holiday string lights to the main entrance of the Houston Zoo until January 14. Simply place them in the bin that says, “Recycle your holiday lights here and help save animals in the wild!” We will make sure they are responsibly recycled and you can enjoy your holidays knowing that you helped save animals in the wild!

With your help, the Houston Zoo has recycled more than 7,486 pounds of holiday lights to date. This is nearly the same weight as a female Asian elephant!

Domestic Dogs to Protect Painted Dogs

In a previous blog you met Enoch Zulu, a Wildlife Warrior from Painted Dog Conservation. As a part of his Wildlife Warrior award, he traveled to another conservation project to learn more about wildlife protection techniques. There, he was inspired by the use of domestic dogs assisting anti-poaching teams in finding snares and poachers.

Upon his return to Painted Dog Conservation, he set about to create a domestic dog anti-poaching program. Zulu is now managing a K9 unit to help his anti-poaching team be more effective in protecting wildlife. 2 anti-poaching team members recently trained with domestic dogs to be used in their new program. The Houston Zoo is supporting this new K9 unit by providing funding for their dog assistance facility.

Every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you are supporting Zulu and the Painted Dog Conservation project, as a portion of every ticket and membership goes to saving animals in the wild.


Celebrate World Okapi Day with Us!

Written by Mary Fields

 You love okapis? So do we! That’s why the Houston Zoo is celebrating World Okapi Day with a Spotlight on Species!

Our SOS will be from 10:00am-3:00pm this Wednesday, October 18th, in front of the okapi exhibit by our new elephant habitat.

The Houston Zoo is a supporter of the Okapi Conservation Project that helps preserve okapis in the wild. Okapis are an endangered species that, despite their zebra-like stripes, are actually related to giraffes! The main reason that okapis are endangered is habitat loss due to illegal mining in the Ituri Forest. What are they mining? Primarily coltan for cell phones, tablets and other handheld devices.

How can you help? It’s easy, you can help by recycling your old cell phones and other handheld electronic devices at the Houston Zoo and by visiting our SOS!

We will also be having a raffle that you can enter for paintings made by our very own male okapi, Kwame. You can enter the raffle by either donating an old cell phone or money that will go to the Okapi Conservation Project. So, come hang out with us, our okapis and help support okapis this Wednesday! We hope to see you there!

Gorilla Doctors Train at the Houston Zoo

Two veterinarians, Dr. Ricky and Dr. Fred, from the Gorilla Doctor project in Uganda visited the Houston Zoo last week to train with our Vet Clinic staff. Drs. Ricky and Fred, along with the other Gorilla Doctors, are first responders for gorillas in the wild, providing house calls in the forest.

The training with our staff in a clinic setting, with a variety of animals they would never see otherwise, was a new and invaluable experience for them. Dr. Fred found the visit “very rewarding to learn new techniques and appreciating the usual ones in a much more participatory way.”

Drs. Fred and Ricky had a full week, including a routine exam on a cougar and a trip to Galveston to see our local conservation work with sea turtle rehabilitation, with the added surprise of getting to help NOAA release two sea turtles. A big moment in their visit was a personal and transformative meeting with a rattle snake that positively altered their views of all snakes and inspired them to advocate for saving snakes in the wild; “during the training, I was amazed by the way the animal keepers handle snakes. This event changed my mind set to save snakes,” said Dr. Ricky.

We were proud to host these two impressive champions for wildlife and wish them the best! With every visit to the Houston Zoo, you are helping the Gorilla Doctors save animals in the wild!

Saving Snakes in India

The Houston Zoo is proud to announce a new conservation partner, Murthy Kantimahanti. Murthy is the founder and lead conservation biologist for the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society. He has been working closely with communities in providing education and human-wildlife conflict intervention strategies.

Murthy works in the Eastern Ghats, located in Southern India, to mitigate human-snake conflict and build local community support in snake conservation. Fear and lack of knowledge about snakes has led to a rise killing of many snake species, including the king cobra. Murthy and his team are working to transform the fear of snakes into a respect and appreciation for the important role that snakes play in the ecosystem. Snakes are an important species to control rodent populations that spread deadly diseases.

With the support of the Houston Zoo and you, the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society will be able to give school presentations, awareness talks at universities in towns and community centers in rural areas with human-snake conflict. Through this work, communities will learn how to identify venomous vs. non-venomous snakes, as well as learn valuable snake bite and first aid skills.

Please join us in welcoming this amazing conservation partner to the Houston Zoo family. With every visit to the Houston Zoo, you are helping save animals, like the king cobra, in the wild.

Friend The Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society on Facebook to learn more!

Bat Houses for the Bayou

Caoilin, Enya, Keenan, Skyler, Joaquin, Noe, and Lila built bat houses for the displaced bats of the Waugh Street Bridge.

The Waugh Street bridge, built over Buffalo Bayou, is a Houston landmark for bat watching. The flood waters from Buffalo Bayou during Hurricane Harvey caused the bats to leave their home under the bridge and take refuge elsewhere.

Seven young Houstonians took it upon themselves to help the displaced bats from Waugh Street Bridge by building them new homes in the form of bat houses. “My daughters and her friends were upset about the Waugh bridge bats so they responded by making these rocket houses,” said Woodland Heights resident, Alan. The plans for the rocket houses came from Bat Conservation International.

The new bat houses will be mounted along Buffalo Bayou, near the Waugh Street Bridge.

Meet the newest Wildlife Warriors

The Houston Zoo’s Wildlife Warriors are chosen from the staff of our wildlife Conservation Partners all over the world. The directors of our partner projects submit a member of their staff for this enhancement award. The Wildlife Warrior Award provides funds to support training and experiences that will strengthen the candidate’s skills and knowledge in saving wildlife. The Houston Zoo staff that welcome you at the entrance of the Zoo select the Wildlife Warriors based on wildlife saving criteria. Remember to ask them about these winners the next time you visit.

Here are the most recent recipients of the Wildlife Warrior Award:
Ms. Elisa Panjang was born and raised in Sandakan, Sabah, a town in the northern part of the Malaysian island Borneo. She is a Malaysian PhD student dedicating her studies to protecting the pangolin, the world’s most trafficked mammal.
Our staff was captivated by her passion for the wildlife she has grown up with and her commitment to saving this fascinating creature from extinction. Funds from this award will provide her with support for training in further protection techniques for pangolins.

Dr. Jean Bosco “Noel” Noheri is a Field Veterinarian with Gorilla Doctors and works out of the headquarters in Rwanda, his home country. Every week, he treks into the high-¬‐altitude Volcanoes National Park to check on the health of mountain gorilla families. Every time there is a report of an ill or injured gorilla, Noel is the first one of the team to check on it. To date in 2017, Gorilla Doctors has performed 12 separate clinical interventions to save the lives of wild gorillas.
Our staff was so amazed by Noel and very excited about the fact that he would like to use the funds from this award to support him with a Veterinary training program here at the Houston Zoo. He will travel to the Zoo and work with our veterinarians to strengthen his wildlife veterinary skills.

Lady is a wildlife biologist born in the Galapagos Islands. She created an ecology club which brings together more than 20 local youth, between 15 and 18 years old, weekly to monitor and lead projects that protect wildlife. Her students watch over sea turtle nests on Galapagos beaches and track giant tortoise in Galapagos National Parks.
Our staff was moved with Lady’s dedication to empowering the next generation of conservation leaders in Galapagos. Lady would like to use the funds from this award to support her participation in an environmental education training course in the United States, to further expand her impact.

Mr. Aden Mohamed is from rural Kenya with no formal education. He has 6 kids, has herded cattle all his life and in the past, relied on poaching to survive. Mr. Aden is now committed to saving wildlife and his knowledge of the poacher’s tricks and locations have saved animals like giraffe, hirola, kudu and gazelles.
Our staff was awe-inspired by his wildlife protection efforts to turn dangerous poachers in to the authorities, confiscation of harmful wire traps in wildlife habitat, and his work in transforming 3 former poachers into conservationists. They were also moved by Mr. Aden wanting to use the funds to support him in training school to learn how to read and write.

Andrew Letura is 32 years old, from Samburu, Kenya. Growing up next to Samburu National Reserve, Andrew was always interested in wildlife and now works tirelessly to save zebra. Andrew oversees 29 zebra protection staff (19 women and 10 men), training and supporting them in monitoring, data collection, and conservation outreach.
Our team was impressed with how he feels very passionate about supporting women in this training, so that they can gain more respect in their communities. And, how he has been known to camp out with injured wild zebras until veterinary assistance arrives.

With every visit to the Houston Zoo, you are helping these Wildlife Warriors in their work to save animals in the wild!

Celebrating a Wildlife Warrior

Photo Courtesy of Painted Dog Conservation

Enock Zulu, 2016 Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior from Painted Dog Conservation, now wears his Wildlife Warrior badge with pride as a part of his uniform. Zulu has been leading the ever-growing anti-poaching team for many years and the Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior award allowed him to travel to work with another anti-poaching project.

While visiting the other anti-poaching team, he was inspired by their use of domestic dogs in assisting with sniffing out snares and poachers. He came back with the idea to implement a domestic dog assistance unit program at Painted Dog Conservation.

Photo Courtesy of Painted Dog Conservation

Soon, Wildlife Warrior Enock Zulu will be managing a K9 unit to help his anti-poaching team be more effective in protecting wildlife. The Houston Zoo is providing funding for their dog assistance unit facility.

Congratulations Zulu! The Houston Zoo is proud to have him as a part of our team!

You too are helping Zulu and the Painted Dog Conservation project every time you visit the Houston Zoo, as a portion of every ticket and membership goes to saving animals in the wild!

African Painted Dog and pup
Photo Courtesy of Painted Dog Conservation
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