Community Cleans the Beach for Wildlife

On Saturday, July 15, the Houston Zoo and Whole Foods hosted a beach clean-up at the Galveston Island State Park. About 60 guests came out to help clean, collecting 15 full bags of trash and 4 full bags of recyclable items! It’s important to keep trash off the beaches, and out of the ocean, to protect the animals living there. Thank you to these wonderful volunteers!

Written by Stephanie Krail, Marketing Intern

Photo Credit: Amy Blackmon

This was my first beach clean-up to ever participate in and I am so glad it was with the Houston Zoo. The first hour I spent cleaning up the beach with the other volunteers because I wanted to see first-hand what was out there and how the volunteers were reacting to it. We had volunteers of all ages helping to clean the Galveston Island State Park. I was thrilled to see that families with young children came as this is a great way to educate a child on the importance of recycling, using reusable items, and not littering. We all had a great time seeing what we could find. It was almost like a scavenger hunt, seeing who could pick up the most unusual items. We found everything from milk jugs to soles of shoes. But the most common item that we found was plastic bottle caps. We found over a thousand bottle caps in two hours. This really shocked me as bottle caps are something that we could use less of every single day. The use of reusable bottles not only reduces the numbers of plastic bottles in the ocean but also plastic bottle caps.

Sorting trash and recycling

The last two hours we spent digging and sorting through the trash that the volunteers collected. Another popular item was cigarette butts. This was really sad for me to find because not only is it littering but it can be toxic to a marine animal if they ingest it. I was so glad to do this with the zoo because they had so much information and facts about what all we were finding. They knew which plastics were recyclable and which things had to be thrown away as trash.

Overall, it was such a neat experience and I hope that the Houston Zoo continues to hold it. This is something that you could do without a huge group or budget, all you need is a trash bag and a few helpful hands! This experience helps you see just a sliver of the trash that is out on our beaches and shores and allows you to see that something as simple as using a reusable water bottle every day really can make a difference.

Most Found Items:

  1. Plastic Bottle Caps – 1,362
  2. Tiny Plastic Pieces – 761
  3. Straws – 137

Strangest Items Found:

  1. Shoes/Shoe insoles – 3
  2. Beach Balls (still partially inflated) – 2
  3. Bathing suit – 1

Pen Pals to Save Okapi: “How Do Zoos Help?”

Written by Mary Fields and M’monga Jean Paul

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:

Keepers Kendall and John talking to guests about how to help okapis in the wild.

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.”

Sukari is an ambassador for okapis in the wild.

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!

Houston Zoo Affiliates Honored for Saving Animals in the Wild

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 with the Houston Zoo bird team

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 and Chris Holmes, Assistant Curator of Birds, at the 2016 Saving Wildlife Expo at the Houston Zoo

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!


Cotton-top Tamarin
Grey Crowned Crane








Learn more about their amazing work by friending the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association and Fundación Proyecto Tití on Facebook

Connecting People to Nature

Last week two of our partners marked this year’s World Environment Day’ theme, ‘Connecting People to Nature,’ in unique and impactful ways.

Wildlife DVD viewing, photo courtesy of Ruaha Carnivore Project

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.

Photo courtesy of Ruaha Carnivore Project

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.”

Niassa Lion Project and Mbamba Village Partner Agreement signing. Photo courtesy of Niassa Lion Project

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!

To learn more about these projects and their activities on World Environment Day, like the Niassa Lion Project and Ruaha Carnivore Project on Facebook!


Every time you visit the Houston Zoo you are saving lions in the wild as a portion of every ticket and membership goes toward saving animals in the wild.


My Return to Yellowstone

Written by Sue Cruver, Wildlife Expeditions Participant

©Sue Cruver

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!

©Sue Cruver

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.

©Sue Cruver

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!

©Sue Cruver

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!

©Sue Cruver

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!

©Sue Cruver

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.

©Sue Cruver

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!


May 2017

Staying Hydrated and Saving Sea Turtles

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!

Saving Lemurs in Madagascar with KPRC

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!

2016 – KPRC in Madagascar

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!

Celebrate Tapirs with Baby Antonio!

Written by Mary Fields

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!

Saving a Species One Chick at a Time

Chris with a blue-billed curassow

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.

©Joel Sartore/

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.

Blue-billed curassow chick

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.

Saving Animals in the Wild at Hotel Armadillo

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!

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