Houston Zoo Conservation Partner Visits the United States-Part II

This blog was written by Valerie Akuredusenge, the Program Director of Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT). CHT is a conservation partner of the Houston Zoo. Valerie visited us in March to build her capacity and skills to further educate local communities living alongside Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. This is one blog in a series about Valerie’s experience in the United States.

Hi there. This is Valerie Akuredusenge, the Program Director of Conservation Heritage – Turambe with more news about my visit at Houston Zoo.

Martha Parker, the Houston Zoo staff member took me to the Zoo as I continued to enjoy my visit. I was very excited to see how big the Zoo is and what kinds of animals are calling the Zoo their home. To be honest with you, I couldn’t visit all animals in the Zoo but it was my goal. The Houston Zoo is huge!! I was only able to see about half of the animals in the Zoo.  Regarding the animals I saw, some were familiar to me, others I had no idea they have ever existed on this Planet Earth!  I was so impressed by seeing the coral reef. I went back home to Rwanda and shared my experiences, but even so, my colleagues back in Rwanda do not get the idea about what is the coral reef. I will try to keep explaining it to them.

I learned a lot from my visit with the Houston Zoo and still cannot finish telling the story about it.

I learned about the cell phone recycling system that is helping save gorillas in wild.

Valerie posing with the Zoo's recycled cell phone statue.
Valerie posing with the Zoo’s recycled cell phone statue.

I learned about the recycling and reusing methods at Houston Zoo.

Palm oil tree created by our primate staff to showcase the everyday items that contain palm oil, and which companies to buy from who are making palm oil in a way friendly to wildlife.
Palm oil tree created by our primate staff to showcase the everyday items that contain palm oil, and which companies to buy from who are making palm oil in a way friendly to wildlife.

They are growing a vegetable garden at Houston Zoo. And guess what – we are doing the same thing at CHT too!

Children's Zoo vegetable garden-complete with a rain barrel to harvest and catch rain water.
Children’s Zoo vegetable garden-complete with a rain barrel to harvest and catch rain water.

Once again, thank you very much Houston Zoo for hosting me. I learned a lot during my visit which I have started applying and sharing at Conservation Heritage – Turambe (CHT). More to come soon!

Houston Zoo Conservation Partner Visits the United States!

This blog was written by Valerie Akuredusenge, the Program Director of Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT). CHT is a conservation partner of the Houston Zoo. Valerie visited us in March to build her capacity and skills to further educate local communities living alongside Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. This is one blog in a series about Valerie’s experience in the United States.

Hi there. My name is Valerie Akuredusenge, the Program Director of Conservation Heritage – Turambe (CHT). CHT works with local communities bordering Volcanoes National Park, home to the critically endangered mountain gorillas in Musanze District, Rwanda. The work focuses on teaching schoolchildren about how to maintain healthy lives through staying healthy messages such as covering your mouth when they cough and sneeze, brushing their teeth, washing their hands, eat a healthy diet, keep a clean home and getting a regular exercise. The next part focuses on conservation of wildlife with an emphasis on mountain gorillas. All our lessons on conservation of mountain gorillas turn around the theme of “One – Health Approach”. Children get to realize themselves how their everyday activities can affect the environment so they decide to get involved.

Our mission is educating local communities living near Volcanoes National Park to ensure they live in harmony with mountain gorillas and their habitat.

I am very happy to report on my very recent trip to USA specifically my visit with Houston Zoo now. The aim of my visit was to see and learn about the Zoo. In addition, I got chance to meet the staff, volunteers, partners and friends.  I was very fortunate they all wanted to learn about CHT’s work too! This become an exchange of ideas and it was what I really wanted.

Upon my arrival in Houston Texas, I met Martha Parker who came to pick me up at the Houston Airport. She warmly welcomed me and took me to her house. My first question to her was to know where the Houston Zoo was and is located. She told me it was close! I was so excited to see the Zoo, how big it is and what kind of animals live there!

I went to bed thinking of what I had to see the next day. Early morning, Martha Parker called me and said:” Let us go see the sea turtles”. I became so excited! Every time we moved, I was asking questions to her. What is that? How about that? And so on.  I was so fortunate because it was Ocean Discovery Day, the day on which many people from the community go to Galveston to learn about how to save sea turtles and ocean life and I met many people who came to visit and learn about saving the sea turtles.

Ocean Discovery Day at NOAA, Galveston
Many people came to learn about saving sea turtles and I was there too.

I learned about the type of nets they developed to be able to catch shrimp and release the sea turtles.

Valerie with a shrimp net and the turtle excluder device.
Valerie with a shrimp net and the turtle excluder device.
Process of excluding sea turtles from a shrimp net.
Process of excluding sea turtles from a shrimp net.
Visiting the sea turtles at NOAA, Galveston
Visiting the sea turtles at NOAA, Galveston

Thank you so much Martha Parker for taking me there because I learned about sea turtles which I had never seen in my life!! What a great opportunity for me to learn about new things!

Valerie visiting the Waugh Drive bat colony with zoo education staff member, DeAndra
Valerie visiting the Waugh Drive bat colony with zoo education staff member, DeAndra
Valerie enjoying herself learning about Texas sea turtles!
Valerie enjoying herself learning about Texas sea turtles!

Thank you so much Houston Zoo and St. Lawrence University for arranging my visit in USA in March 2016. More on my visit with Houston Zoo to come soon…

From Plastic Bottles to Protecting Tamarins: News from our friends in Colombia

Blog written by our friends at Proyecto Titi in Colombia.

Cotton-top tamarin, which Proyecto Titi works to protect in the wild in Colombia
Cotton-top tamarin, which Proyecto Titi works to protect in the wild in Colombia

From Plastic Bottles to Protecting Tamarins: First Tití Posts Installed at Tití’s Biological Reserve

With a turn of a shovel and a pound of a hammer, members of Proyecto Tití installed 100 Tití Posts this month to build a fence around Tití’s Biological Reserve in San Juan. Tití Posts have a huge impact on cotton-top tamarins as they protect a reserve designed especially for our fluffy haired friends and also reduce the need to harvest wood for traditional fence posts. However, their impact doesn’t end there! Tití Posts are made from recycled plastic collected by local community members. This reduces contamination of land and waterways and allows families to earn a small income from collecting plastic. We are so thankful to all of you that have donated to our “Save a Tree, Save a Tamarin” campaign to help us make and install these new posts. We still have more forest to protect and more cotton-top tamarins to conserve, so visit the project here to support the Tití Post campaign. A donation of $15 can help both cotton-top tamarins and local community members in Colombia.

Cleaning up plastic trash to make the Titi posts.
Cleaning up plastic trash to make the Titi posts.
The Titi posts, made from recycled plastic, ready to be used!
The Titi posts, made from recycled plastic, ready to be used!
The final product!
The final product!

Save Water, Save Wildlife, and Save Money-May 21st Rain Barrel Workshop!

Save water, save money, and save wildlife at the Houston Zoo on May 21st! The Zoo is partnering with the Galveston Bay Foundation to hold a rain barrel workshop from 9:00 a.m.-11:00 a.m. at the Zoo’s Brown Education Center. Your workshop registration includes 1 rain barrel and 1 kit, at a low price of $35! Interested participants can sign up by here.

Rain barrels are a great addition to your home-they can help reduce your water bill by capturing rain water that you can reuse for your lawn and plants all-year long. Reusing rain water helps ensure there is enough water in the future for wildlife (like Houston toads) and people.

Local wildlife like the critically endangered Houston toad can benefit when we reuse water.
Local wildlife like the critically endangered Houston toad can benefit when we reuse water.

The Houston Zoo has several rain barrels to help ensure we reuse water. If you have been to our produce garden in the Children’s Zoo, you may have seen one of our rain barrels.

Children's Zoo rain barrel in the produce garden. Water collected here is reused on nearby plants.
Children’s Zoo rain barrel in the produce garden. Water collected here is reused on nearby plants.

In addition to the rain barrel in the Children’s Zoo, we have 2 rain barrels behind-the-scenes. One is located at our commissary-where all of the diets are prepared daily for our animals. It is located next to another produce garden and collects water to be reused on a variety of plants. Finally, we have a very large, 5,000 gallon rain barrel by our rhino barn. In 2015, this rain barrel alone collected and used nearly 35,000 gallons of water! In Texas, that is the equivalent (by 2013 data) of 1 above-average Texas household’s annual water needs.

You can take action and reuse water in your own backyard by participating in our rain barrel workshop at the Zoo on May 21st from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. Reusing rain water is a simple action to take that not only helps wildlife, but helps you to save on your water bill! After our workshop, participants will have a chance to paint their rain barrels and enter it into an art contest! Check out some of the decorated rain barrels from previous workshops (photos courtesy of Galveston Bay Foundation rain barrel workshop participants):

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We Are All Conservationists

Recently, a local Houston student asked us for an email interview to help her complete an English essay. We thought we’d share her questions and our thoughts on the answers.

Why is it important to conserve our wildlife? Conserving wildlife is important for many reasons, and may depend on one’s culture, background, region, experiences, etc. Overall, conserving wildlife helps ensure our planet has biodiversity (the variety of life in a particular ecosystem). When biodiversity loss occurs, we upset the delicate balance of food chains and natural relationships and processes, which ultimately will impact humans. Humans depend on wildlife and natural habitats for so many of our resources (water, food, medicine, etc.) and by losing wildlife and the habitats they live in, we can lose some of the most important resources we need to survive. Additionally, in some locations protecting wildlife helps to protect critical habitats, which is also important for the survival of all species on our planet. Further, many people would argue that living things like animals deserve to be protected because they are part of our planet, part of our ecosystems, and are living, breathing beings that deserve respect. Many cultures and traditions believe animals to be sacred, and that they serve a purpose beyond what we can see.

Tanzania, Africa
Tanzania, Africa. Elephants are highly regarded in many cultures and are known to maintain savannas and open woodlands by knocking down trees, allowing other important plants to grow.

What are the long-term benefits of conserving wildlife? As described above, long-term benefits of conserving wildlife include preserving our rich biodiversity for generations to come, ensuring protection and future use of important natural resources, and preserving important traditions and cultures that are deeply tied to wildlife and natural places.

What are the costs of conserving wildlife? If you mean financial costs, certainly they are high. Supporting field conservation efforts around the world is not cheap, however at the Houston Zoo we like to promote simple actions that don’t cost a lot of money that everyone can do to protect wildlife.

Take Action with the Houston Zoo! You can make small changes that make a big impact for wildlife.
Take Action with the Houston Zoo! You can make small changes that make a big impact for wildlife.

Do the benefits of conservation outweigh the costs? I may be a bit biased, but I believe so, or I wouldn’t be dedicating my career to this effort.

Should conservation be funded by a charity, the government, or some other source? I think it’s important to ensure every entity-whether it is charitable organizations, the government, NGO’s, etc. understands how wildlife and wild places relates to them so that they can see themselves as an important part of the solution, and will want to participate in conservation.

Is it important to educate kids and young adults on conservation? Why or why not? Absolutely! It’s important to bring everyone, no matter their age or background, into the conversation about saving wildlife. Making sure our natural places are protected is not solely up to younger generations, it’s a role we should all see ourselves in.

A Houston toad-a native Texas species, only found in tiny pockets of land in our state. Amphibians are critical bio-indicators, they alert us of potential issues in an ecosystem far earlier than other species.
A Houston toad-a native Texas species, only found in tiny pockets of land in our state. Amphibians (like toads) are critical bio-indicators, they alert us of potential issues in an ecosystem far earlier than other species.

How should we educate the younger generation about conservation? We are finding out through current research that providing information doesn’t necessarily lead to people becoming better stewards for our environment. That is not to say providing information isn’t important, but it might be more effective if traditional education is paired with time spent outdoors in natural places, observing, playing and interacting. I think it’s also important that people learn about conservation through doing-being participants in conservation efforts rather than simply learning about them in a book.

One of our Alternative Teen Break participants enjoying time in the Big Thicket planting long-leaf pine trees to save wildlife!
One of our Alternative Teen Break participants enjoying time in the Big Thicket planting long-leaf pine trees to save wildlife!

Why are zoos so important to wildlife conservation? Zoos are critical in wildlife conservation for many reasons. First, we have the capacity and skills to breed animals and maintain healthy genetic pools, which (depending on the species) may be needed for the wild population. Also, we breed and release animals that are critically endangered to help ensure specific species do not go extinct (in Houston we do this with Houston toads and Attwater’s prairie chickens). Further, we use a portion of all the money made at the Zoo to support more than 30 conservation projects in 16 countries around the world. We also provide our staff skills to these projects to help them with everything from website design to animal husbandry. Finally, we support wildlife conservation by ensuring as many of our 2.5 million annual guests as possible understand how animals are impacted in the wild, while giving them specific actions they can take to help preserve wildlife in their daily lives.

Our Zoo guests are saving wildlife!
Our Zoo guests are saving wildlife!

How will conserving wildlife and habitats benefit the ecosystem? By ensuring we have as much species diversity as possible, we can ensure that habitats and the animals in them are thriving. A healthy ecosystem, full of diversity, creates a healthy planet for all of us.

Is this a good career field to enter into? Why or why not? Absolutely! However, we would like to emphasize that no matter what career you go into, you can be a conservationist. So, you could be a graphic designer, a public relations employee, or a teacher (anything!) and still incorporate conservation into your work and personal life. You certainly do not have to have a title like “conservation biologist” to help save wildlife. It’s up to all of us, no matter our career.

Our Zoo graphics team is critical in our efforts to save wildlife. They assist with projects both locally and globally to provide important conservation information in a visually appealing way.
Our Zoo graphics team is critical in our efforts to save wildlife. They assist with projects both locally and globally to provide important conservation information in a visually appealing way.

What is some advice you would give to someone interested in entering this field? My advice would be to get as much experience as possible-volunteer, intern, meet as many people in the field as possible and keep up with your network. Show your passion and hard work and you will be placed in positions that are right for you.

 

Staff Saving Wildlife in the Mariana Islands (Part 6)!

This blog was written by Steve Howard, a member of the Zoo’s Bird Department. Steve Howard received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Steve documents his work overseas. 

An educational opportunity in Tinian.

With just a few more days to go here on the island of Tinian, we had an opportunity to talk to the students (ALL of them!) in the local elementary school. They came in two groups, k-3 and 4-6, of about 140 students each.

Two members of our group, Fields Falcone from Memphis Zoo and Ellen Gorrell from the Toledo Zoo put together a great PowerPoint program covering the birds of the island, why they were endangered and what we were doing, as well as what the kids could do to help.

Fields Falcone discussing native birds with local school kids.
Fields Falcone discussing native birds with local school kids.

We had a demonstration net to show how we trap the birds, as well as transport boxes so we could explain the process of moving them to their new home. Josh Minor, a member of the education team at the Toledo Zoo, did a great job talking to the kids and getting the concepts across to them. The children were interested in the birds from their home, some of which they never see if they don’t go into the forest. The older children especially were interested in the process, and wanted to know why we would come from so far to do this. It was a chance to share my love of birds and my concern and fear that we may lose these wonderful animals.

Josh Minor highlighting the need to conserve these birds, found nowhere else on the planet!
Josh Minor highlighting the need to conserve these birds, found nowhere else on the planet!

It was also a chance to raise awareness of the fact that these birds are from nowhere else on the planet, and that it is possible that we could lose them. Josh actually ran into one of the kids in the grocery store the next day, and he said “I’m not going to eat birds any more”! So the information did get across!

Conservation work isn’t just something that’s done directly with the animals. Raising awareness of the problem and the threat to the animals, encouraging children to learn what they can about the birds and what they can do to help (like plant a tree), is just as much a part of the work as the translocation of the birds. It was good this year to have a part in both.

Audience at the local school.
Audience at the local school.

To find out more about our Houston Zoo staff saving wildlife, click here.

Staff Saving Wildlife in the Mariana Islands (Part 5)!

This blog was written by Steve Howard, a member of the Zoo’s Bird Department. Steve Howard received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Steve documents his work overseas. 

Hello again From the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands!

Netting the birds is going well. We now have 54 Tinian Monarchs and 28 Bridled Whited Eyes in our bird holding room. We’ll collect another 25 White-eyes to reach our goal numbers. While we have the birds, they are maintained in small boxes, fed and monitored by zookeepers and veterinarians working on the project. Any bird not doing well, is overly stressed or appears to be going downhill is released where it was trapped.

While in holding, the birds are weighed daily to monitor how well they are eating. They are also given a full exam, including drawing blood for diagnostic blood work. The boxes have a perch attached to a bar on top of the box. The bar is lifted up and a scale put under it, so that when the bird sits on the perch it can be weighed. This allows us to monitor the weight and not stress the bird. This picture shows the perch and the bar on top that the scale goes under.

Scale bar
Scale bar

But my part is more simple; prepare diets, clean the boxes, feed the birds and do the dishes. While the boxes are cleaned, we prepare the diets and then feed the birds. It may not seem it, but this is still part of the overall conservation effort, and an important part of maintaining the bird. And there are a lot of dishes to clean and birds to feed!

Dirty dishes
Dirty dishes
Clean dishes!
Clean dishes!

 

Steve Howard (Houston Zoo Bird Department) preparing food for the birds
Steve Howard (Houston Zoo Bird Department) preparing food for the birds

So we’re getting closer to the day of release, when the birds we’ve collected will be moved to Guguan Island, north of the island of Tinian. In the meantime, I got to talk to some elementary school children about our project. More about that later!

To find out more about our Houston Zoo staff saving wildlife, click here.

Houston Zoo Staff Saving Wildlife in the Mariana Islands (Part 4)!

This blog was written by Steve Howard, a member of the Zoo’s Bird Department. Steve Howard received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Steve documents his work overseas. 

Greetings again from Tinian!

Things have been going fast – we’ve already trapped 40 of the 54 Tinian Monarchs that are to be translocated to Guguan. Along with the birds moved last year, this should assure that there is a “safe harbor” population of birds from Tinian (the Tinian Monarch is found nowhere else in the world). So, should disaster strike in the form of the Brown Tree Snake invading the island, there will be birds safe in another place. The picture below is of a Rufous Fantail just extracted from the net. They are beautiful and curious birds, and will often fly to a nearby branch to investigate what you’re doing.

Ken timo
Rufous Fantail

There are other species of birds here that are not being moved at this time. These are birds that live on multiple islands and are not endangered. These “non-target species” are released when caught. This is me holding a collared kingfisher that I had removed from the net.

steve king
Collared kingfisher

Today there are more people coming in to work on the project. There is a start-up crew, which I’m on, and a close-down crew, the ones coming in tomorrow, and they overlap by about a week. Since we’re doing so well with the trapping, we’ll take a day off tomorrow and spend some time meeting and getting to know each other. Then we’ll head out to the field again and continue trapping. We have most of the Tinian Monarchs, now it’s time to start collecting the Bridled White-eyes. These birds are beautiful, and so tiny! They weigh in at around 7 grams.

So that means the bird room, where the birds are held and maintained until release, is about to get busy! I’ll be working there now, so I’ll write more about that next.

One last thing for today – I took a walk down to the beach this afternoon and wanted to share this picture. It really is a beautiful place!

image1

To find out more about our Houston Zoo staff saving wildlife, click here.

Houston Zoo Staff Saving Wildlife in the Mariana Islands (Part III)!

This blog was written by Steve Howard, a member of the Zoo’s Bird Department. Steve Howard received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Steve documents his work overseas. 

Friday April 22, 2016

Hello again from Tinian! This was a looong, hot day, but we wound up with 21 mist nets set up! The spots for the nets are cleared using saws, machetes and muscle, and are linked by trails cut the same way. Some are easy, some require some branches to be removed to make way. We cut as little as possible, so our impact on the forest is minimal, but it’s still a lot of work! I’ve included a picture of a cleared trail, and a net all set up. This net is stretched between two telescoping plastic poles. It’s very hard to see the net because it’s made from such fine nylon thread, but that’s the point! The birds miss it too.

martha blog 3
Left-a trail cleared by biologists working to save native birds. Right-a mist net setup to catch birds to move them to another island.

Tomorrow we’ll open the nets and start catching birds. We would have begun today, but we didn’t have enough flies. Yes, flies. We set up a flytrap with tuna (that’s a WHOLE tuna) as bait, and collect them to feed to the birds that we catch. Tinian Monarchs, one of the target species this year, are fly-eaters. They will eventually start eating meal-worms, but for the first few days we feed them live flies. I’ll tell you later how we get them into the bird box without letting them go! I’ll describe the bird boxes in future posts as well, the boxes are ingenious and allow us to keep the bird healthy until it’s released.

One last thing – I was walking through the woods today listening to Mariana Fruit Doves call. This island was blasted flat in World War II, defoliated and some even paved over. There are 5,000 people presently living here. Still, after all that, there are native birds left to sing to us. Lets hope we can keep that going!

A beautiful Mariana Fruit Dove. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Adams, Houston Zoo.
A beautiful Mariana Fruit Dove. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Adams, Houston Zoo.

To find out more about our Houston Zoo staff saving wildlife, click here.

Houston Zoo Staff Saving Wildlife in the Mariana Islands (part II)!

This blog was written by Steve Howard, a member of the Zoo’s Bird Department. Steve Howard received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Steve documents his work overseas. 

Tinian, Thursday April 21st.

This was the first day of field work. Today we cleared underbrush in the forest to make trails, along which we will set up our mist nets. So why are we here trapping birds? The short answer is the brown tree snake. This is an aggressive predatory snake that loves birds. After its accidental introduction to Guam, it wiped out nearly all native birds on the island. There are no snakes on the island of Tinian at this time, but it could happen in the future that the brown tree snake makes it here, and that would be disastrous for the local avifauna (birds). So birds are trapped, and then moved to another island that doesn’t have a population of brown tree snakes. Then, should the snake make it to Tinian in the future, at least some birds will be safe on another island.

Brown tree snake. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian.com, Isaac Chellman
Brown tree snake. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian.com, Isaac Chellman

To do this though, we have to get the birds! So that brings us back to today’s job – clearing a path and space in the forest to put up nets. The nets are 36 feet long, and are stretched between polls (telescoping plastic poles). When open they are about 10 feet from top to bottom. So space must be cleared to stretch them out, with enough clear vertical space to raise the nets up. This picture shows us clearing a net lane prior to putting up the poles and net.

Clearing space to setup mist nets
Clearing space to setup mist nets

Tomorrow – more work in the forest! Then we’ll open the nets and see what we catch!

To find out more about our Houston Zoo staff saving wildlife, click here.

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Today, we are working with BBVA Compass Stadium to plant a new pollinator garden at the stadium! This beautiful new pollinator garden supports local pollinators like bees, butterflies, and more, and is located at the North entrance to BBVA Compass Stadium. Great partnership for an even greater good. ... See MoreSee Less

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