For this pen pals blog, we asked our conservation partner, Jean Paul from the Okapi Conservation Project, what he thinks about zoos. The first question we asked was, “What do you think of zoos and why are zoos good?” Here’s Jean Paul’s response:
“Zoos bring people and animals together. By doing this, zoos have the potential to educate the public about conservation issues and inspire people to protect animals and their habitats. Zoos also carry out important research into subjects like animal behaviour and treating illnesses.”
Our second question was, “How do zoos help out animals in the wild?” His response was:
“Zoos protect species from going extinct. A species protected in captivity provides a reservoir population against a population crash or extinction in the wild. A good number of species only exist in captivity and still more only exist in the wild because they have been reintroduced from zoos. Without these efforts there would be fewer species alive today and the world as a whole would be poorer for it.”
We agree with Jean Paul, zoos are important! From helping out injured sea turtles from the Gulf of Mexico, to uniting with other AZA facilities to protect the critically endangered vaquita porpoise; the Houston Zoo and many other zoos are saving animals in the wild.
To help okapis in the wild, you can recycle your cell phones at the Houston Zoo’s entrance. And the easiest way to help is just by visiting the Houston Zoo! A portion of every admission and members fee goes to help programs like the Okapi Conservation Project.
Make sure to follow our blog to continue learning about okapi conservation and hear more from Jean Paul!
This past week, Houston Zoo conservation affiliates were awarded the 2017 National Geographic Society/Buffett Awards for Leadership in Conservation. This award was established by the Society and The Howard G. Buffett Foundation to recognize and celebrate unsung heroes working in the field. Two recipients are chosen each year – this year Dr. Olivier Nsengimana received the award for Leadership in African Conservation and Rosamira Guillen received the award for Leadership in Latin American Conservation.
Dr. Olivier worked as a field veterinarian with Gorilla Doctors before founding his own project, the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association, working to protect the endangered grey crowned cranes from illegal wildlife trade. The Houston Zoo has been supporting Olivier’s project for the past two years. Through community engagement and education, Olivier works to rehabilitate and reintroduce cranes into the wild. So far, the project has reintroduced 127 grey crowned cranes back into the wild.
Rosamira has worked tirelessly to protect Cotton-top tamarins, an endangered species of primate found only in Colombia. Rosamira cofounded Fundación Proyecto Tití to study cotton-top tamarins and educate the local community about the need to protect them. An important part of the project are the innovative strategies used to empower local people to get involved in protecting cotton-top tamarins. One strategy is the creation of Tití Posts – fence posts made from recycled plastic. These posts last longer and are more durable than wooden posts.
A huge congratulation to Dr. Olivier Nsengimana and Rosamira Guillen! You are supporting their work every time you visit the Houston Zoo, as a portion of all tickets and memberships goes toward saving these animals in the wild!
Last week two of our partners marked this year’s World Environment Day’ theme, ‘Connecting People to Nature,’ in unique and impactful ways.
Ruaha Carnivore Project works in Ruaha National Park, the largest park in Tanzania. RCP connects people to nature every day as they work in close partnership with local villagers to reduce people-wildlife conflicts and create a greater understanding of wildlife.
Two ways Ruaha Carnivore Project has done this is through Park Trips and DVD Nights. These provide an opportunity for villagers who live near Ruaha National Park to experience wildlife, particularly carnivores, in a positive manner. These outreach programs are wildly popular with more than 30,000 attendees at DVD Nights and more than 1,000 people participating in Ruaha National Park trips!
Niassa Carnivore Project works to protect lions in Niassa National Reserve in Mozambique. This year, they celebrated World Environment Day by signing a two-year partnership agreement with Mbamba Village. This remote village used to be in the top three poaching villages in Niassa Reserve. Signing this agreement has taken the entire Niassa Lion Project team, the village association, elders and traditional chiefs hundreds of hours of negotiations and meetings with a lot of frustration and endless listening.
All this cooperation is creating tangible results. In the small area that Niassa Lion Project manages with Mbamba village, elephant poaching has reduced from 22 a year to less than 5. Animal numbers in this area, including lions, are up. With the support of Niassa Lion Project, the number of households involved in alternative livelihoods is increasing. As the director of Niassa Lion Project says in the Facebook post announcing this agreement, “Honoring people and wildlife and meeting the actual needs of people who live in this special place is in our opinion the only long lasting solution. A major step forward.”
While World Environment Day has passed, every day can be world environment day! We have amazing wildlife here in Houston, so take a stroll through a park, or come visit us here at the Houston Zoo!
Written by Sue Cruver, Wildlife Expeditions Participant
In February of this year, I took my first journey into the wild with the Houston Zoo to Yellowstone National Park. It was an amazing, life-changing experience. Led by the outstanding expedition biologists from the Teton Science Schools (TSS), I found myself surrounded by breathtaking beauty and an abundance of wildlife. I learned so much about the different animal species, their habits and the environment, as well as the balance of nature and park conservation.
Weather made that trip a challenging one. It was cold, cloudy and snowing most of the time. Several entrances in and out of Yellowstone had to be temporarily closed, resulting in changes to our itinerary and travel routes. Not a problem. Our experienced TSS guides provided alternatives and our adventure never missed a beat. At the end of the week, it was hard to come home. I couldn’t wait to return!
The Houston Zoo provides some great opportunities to “Travel with the Zoo.” Each year, it includes two trips to the Yellowstone and Grand Teton parks in partnership with TSS. Together, the two organizations give participants the chance to enjoy the region in different seasons and to see how wildlife adapts to seasonal changes.
Bears, for example, are hibernating in February, but not in May. Springtime means much of the wildlife will now be with their young. It also means sunshine, green grass and blue skies. As a photographer who had taken dozens of “white” pictures in February, that could mean great color shots! What was I waiting for? The Zoo still had openings for its May 2017 trip and I had to go. So I did.
Weather! Always be prepared, don’t assume, and be sure to layer your clothing. That is one lesson I’ve got down pat. Snow in the middle of May? Never happens, but that’s how our May adventure started, along with a road closure into Yellowstone from Jackson Hole. But again, our wonderful TSS guides provided a detour that got us there via Idaho. Not a problem.
The May trip is three days in the wild. Snow fell the first day as we traveled from Jackson Hole, Wyoming (south of Yellowstone) to Cooke City, Montana (northeast corner outside the park). Along the way we saw bison with their calves, elk, deer, pronghorn antelope, and a few grizzly bears with year old cubs. To see these animals in a few inches of snow vs. a few feet of snow already gave me a different perspective of life in Yellowstone. And, I now could add “bears in snow” to my photographic efforts!
As we drove back into the park at dawn the next day from Cooke City, the sun broke through the clouds and the temperature began to rise. Snow began to melt and color started to emerge everywhere. It was incredibly beautiful and truly magical!
The snowy white landscape sparkled from the sunlight, and the fields and hills gradually transformed into variations of greens and browns. The sky was blue with streaks of sunlight and scattered with clouds. Tall pine trees released snow from their boughs, adding more depth and color everywhere you looked. Wildflowers peeked through a remaining thin blanket of snow. I was in photography heaven!
Throughout the day and the next, we witnessed a variety of wildlife and bird life as all enjoyed the return of springtime—big horn sheep relaxing on a hillside, grazing herds of bison with their calves, coyotes on the hunt or devouring a kill, grizzly bears with cubs on the move. Some special observations included finding the den of a wolf pack and its recently born cubs, an osprey resting on top of its nest near the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone waterfall, and a four-year old “teenage” bald eagle displaying its not-yet full adult plumage—a rare sighting.
Again, it was hard to come home after such a successful Houston Zoo and Teton Science Schools adventure. Will I return again next year? That’s the plan!
It may not officially be summer yet, but it is starting to feel like summer! This summer you will probably be drinking a lot of water, because with the heat, comes dehydration.
Did you know that while you are keeping yourself healthy by drinking water, you can also save animals in the wild? Every time you use a refillable water bottle you are keeping plastics out of the ocean and out of animals’ homes, as it is one less single-use plastic bottle used.
The Houston Zoo is the perfect place to use your refillable bottles! Over the past year, we have installed water bottle refill stations throughout the Zoo. There are two types of refill stations to keep an eye out for – free standing, green fountains and silver, chilled fountains attached to walls.
You can also recognize the water bottle refill station by the signs that say “Save Sea Turtles Here,” because that is what you are doing by using these stations.
So, on your next trip to the Houston Zoo, don’t forget your reusable water bottle, and refill it at the water bottle refill stations to stay hydrated and save sea turtles in the wild!
Last October, the Houston Zoo hosted KPRC morning anchor, Rachel McNeil and her family on a journey to visit with our conservation partner, GERP, in Madagascar. Now we’re excited to share the adventure with you!
During this one-hour special, Rachel shows you what it takes to protect Madagascar, which is renowned as a biodiversity hotspot. This island nation off the coast of Southeast Africa is home to more than 100 lemur species. In the wild, lemurs can only be found in Madagascar. As lemurs face an uncertain future due to habitat loss, hunting, and other threats, the work that GERP does – supported by each of you – is more vital than ever.
The special, which aired in April, is now available to watch online! Watch and learn how the Houston Zoo and you are saving lemurs in the wild!
A portion of each membership and admission ticket goes toward saving lemurs in the wild!
Join baby Antonio and the Houston Zoo in celebrating World Tapir Day! We will be holding our third annual Tapir Spotlight on Species this weekend, April 29th and 30th, from 10:00 am until 3:00 pm.
Last year, Moli was new to our Tapir SOS as our new breeding female. But guess what? Moli had a baby named Antonio! Antonio was only about 20 pounds when he was born, but will reach around 550 pounds when he is full size! Antonio is typically exploring or sleeping on exhibit from 9:00 am until 2:15 pm, weather dependent.
There are four species of tapir, including three Latin American species, Baird’s, Lowland, and Mountain. The Malayan tapir is the fourth species and the only Asian species of tapir.
Along with celebrating tapirs, we will also be celebrating Día del Niño, or Children’s Day! So, come out this weekend to the Houston Zoo and learn about tapirs, play fun tapir-related games and of course to see baby Antonio!
Chris Holmes, Houston Zoo Assistant Curator of Birds, recently received two prestigious awards from the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the organization responsible for accrediting zoos) for his conservation work with critically endangered blue-billed curassows. He is featured as a conservation hero for his work with these birds in National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore’s new book, The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals.
Unique to Colombia there are only a few hundred left in the wild due to habitat destruction and hunting. One way to make sure blue-billed curassows don’t go extinct is to make sure this species and its’ genetic diversity is represented in zoos. This ensures that if the wild population decreases, there is a genetically diverse population that could possibly be released to bolster wild populations.
Zoos work together to determine which individuals have the most genetic diversity and then pair them together so they can ensure the long-term survival of the species. This is called a Species Survival Plan or SSP. Chris Holmes, manages the SSP for blue-billed curassows.
Blue-billed curassows are difficult to breed for several reasons, including how they choose their mate and having just two eggs per breeding season. The Houston Zoo has been involved with the efforts to protect blue-billed curassows since the late 1970s, with more than 50 blue-billed curassows born here.
Chris and the Houston Zoo have partnered with the Colombian Zoo Association to save these birds in the wild through sharing knowledge gained from successful breeding efforts, providing the resources needed for a successful breeding program in-country, and collaborating in the creation of a five-year conservation plan.
Chris established 3 goals for his own work, “My first goal with working with the Blue-billed was to increase the AZA population. My second goal was to help with the Colombian population. My third goal became recording the international population so if needed captive bred birds could go back to Colombia.” All 3 goals work to increase the number of blue-billed curassow available for possible reintroduction to the wild.
In January 2014, the National Aviary of Colombia became the first Colombian zoo to breed the blue-billed curassow in its native 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. You can purchase The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals in the Zoo gift shop. And when you visit, a portion of your membership and ticket goes to saving animals in the wild.
The Houston Zoo hosted our Brazilian Conservation Research Associate, Gabriel Massocato, in Houston for the month of March. The Zoo has funded Gabriel’s work to save giant armadillos and giant anteaters in the Brazil for the past 5 years.
He was awarded our Wildlife Warrior award last year and requested to put the awarded funds towards English and conservation/education courses and training. You may have enjoyed his blog describing his experience from last month, if not you can read it here.
While here Gabriel experienced many different roles at the Houston Zoo. He participated in several Zoo events and was a part of 2 Facebook Live events, one of which was hosted on Animal Planet’s Facebook page. Gabriel also contributed to Texas endangered species field work by going on a Houston Toad tadpole release with members of our herpetology team and learned from our sea turtle conservation efforts and partners in Galveston. He learned about an adhesive they use to attached satellite tracking tags on sea turtle’s shells that may also work to attached satellite tracking tags on giant armadillo’s armor.
As Houston Zoo team members shared their wildlife saving roles and work with Gabriel, he shared his efforts to save giant armadillos in the wild. This week a documentary called Hotel Armadillo that features Gabriel and the Giant Armadillo Project’s work in Brazil’s Pantanal will air on PBS. The documentary, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, focuses on the important role that giant armadillos play in their environment and highlights the Outstanding conservation work Gabriel and his team are doing to save them from extinction.
Don’t miss Hotel Armadillo premiering Wednesday, April 19 at 7 p.m. (CT) on PBS.
Gabriel will be back to be a visiting instructor for the Houston Zoo’s college aged education program at the end of June. A portion of your admission and membership helps us fund Gabriel’s position to save giant armadillos and giant anteaters in the wild. Learn more and share in the successes of the Giant Armadillo Project by friending them on Facebook!
This blog was written by Gabriel Massocato, Houston Zoo Conservation Research Associate from our partner, the Giant Armadillo Project in Brazil. Gabriel is currently training at the Zoo as a part of his Wildlife Warrior Award. This is the first post in a series as Gabriel experiences the Houston Zoo.
In the first week of getting to know the Houston Zoo I had the opportunity to meet all the different departments that are working together to show the public their species and mainly the field conservation programs that they are supporting in different parts of the world.
One great pride for me was to see all of the employees of the Houston Zoo getting to know my work with Giant Armadillos and Giant Anteaters, my daily work in the field in Brazil, and knowing that I am doing hard work for the conservation of the species in your Zoo.
One of the most important roles for field conservation projects is the support of the zoos, which help us in publicizing the field work and keep us connected with the people who visit the zoo. Each guest is invited to know the projects that the Houston Zoo supports. The support of the Zoo is fundamental for the conservation of species because at the Zoo guests have the opportunity to better know the role of the species and the environmental service that they provide in the ecosystem.
Each department of the Zoo has dedicated a time to share their experiences of the day and the successes of the animals at the Zoo as well as the projects of rehabilitation and reintroduction, like the Houston Toad.
As a Wildlife Warrior, I am very proud to have this opportunity to get to know the conservation programs and environmental education that the Houston Zoo performs daily. You can be sure that I will share this knowledge with the people that I work with.
I am very happy to be part of this huge family of the Houston Zoo. Without the support of the Houston Zoo I will not be able to realize my dreams of working with the fascinating Giant Armadillo and Giant Anteater in the most important stronghold of biodiversity of South America, the Pantanal.
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.
Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory
I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.
This was my daughters favorite critter at the Zoo. We always went to say hello to him before anyone else whenever we went. When she was 7 years old we sent a post out to out neighborhood on Halloween saying Paisley was asking for pocket change donations in lieu of candy for Halloween and all amounts would be donated to Kan thru the zoo. She raised over $40 in coins! I still have the letter from the zoo thanking her for her donation. He was a sweet boy and will be missed. 😔
I saw him limping about 2 weekends ago. The first time we walked by he was fine. When we walked by on the way out he was limping and moaning pretty loudly. I wondered what happened but I figured his keeper already knew or would find out shortly. Super Sad. He was always a lively one.
Dunno if the Zoo staff considered him a pet but he was certainly a family member, and because of that i offer this:
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....
Thank you Houston Zoo for taking such good care of him and all the animals! I've been going to this zoo since I was little bitty. I always enjoy it.
Is this the one that had the limp?
Jaguars are one of my favorite and he seems like a sweet boy. I'm so sad but I'm happy he can be painless and be free now. RIP❤️
Aww. When interning in the carnivore dept he was one of my faves. So smart! Ashley remember when Angie was teaching him to do the moonwalk after Michael Jackson passed?
Beautiful jaguar ....so grateful for the Houston Zoo keepers and veterinary team that gave their time and efforts to share this awesome jaguar with us for so many years.
Thank you for doing what was right and kind for Kan Balam even though it was hard and painful for you. That’s true love for an animal. ❤️
Run free in the heavens, your limp is no more. Prayers for all his caretakers at the Houston Zoo
What a great long life he lived because of his excellent care at the zoo Thoughts go out to his keepers and the entire Houston Zoo staff
Sending love to the keepers that are broken hearted right now. And thank you for all the care you’ve given.
Thinking of you all. What an amazing life he had thanks to the dedication of the zoo staff! ❤️
RIP Kan Balam. You have given the visitors so much pleasure just watching you over these years. You were taken care of by top notch professional handlers, etc.
Thank you to you and your staff for the years of quality care given this magnificant creature.
I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3
I am soo sorry for the loss of this handsome fella Kan Balam. May he rest in peace and run free or any pain over the rainbow bridge.. My heart and prayers go out to each and every one of the staff at the Zoo.
Aww, so very sorry for your loss, Houston. Condolences to his keepers and all who loved him. ((((Lorie Fortner)))) He surely lived a long life with the great care he received at Houston.
Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs
He was well-cared for and most of all well-loved. My heartfelt condolences to those missing Kan B as well as me. What an amazing ambassador for his kind. What a beautiful old gentleman. Thank you for loving him into old age and giving him peace.
So sorry to the keeping staff for your loss i cant imagine how youre feeling :( his old age is a testimony to the amazing care he received
I will miss him. The last time I saw him he looked tired, and it appeared his foot was bothering him.
Sad to hear of this. Thanks for taking such good and compassionate care for him and the other animals.