July’s Featured Member – Ashley England

We love our Members. Their incredible support allows us to make a difference to animals both locally and all over the world. This month, we’re spotlighting a  Zoo Member that deserves recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to July’s Featured Member: Ashley England.


We asked Ashley to share a few words about what being Zoo Members means to her. Here’s what she had to say.

“I became a member in 2014 when my daughter was born. The Houston Zoo perfect to bring her as an infant, giving me an interesting place to get out and about while allowing her to experience new sights and sounds. At first, she viewed the zoo from the comfort of a baby carrier, but as she grew, she began to explore every corner all on her own. After years of coming several times a month, she now knows the perfect route to see all her favorite animals and still attend most of the keeper talks held throughout the day. Some mornings are dedicated to watching the elephant baths and learning more about their personalities from their keepers, others we head straight to the McGovern’s Children’s Zoo to visit with the native Texas animals followed by some time at the amazing new Nature Play area.

One of our favorite parts of the zoo is the Swap Shop. An avid collector of ‘treasures’, she was given the perfect place to bring objects found on walks and learn more about them. This has grown into a family activity that encourages her to be more aware of the world around her and fosters a spirit of exploration. Her excitement in finding an antler shed or a burr oak acorn is only topped when she gets to show them to Ms. Sarah.  She loves to visit with the Swap Shop crew and share all she has learned about her items, then spend time closely examining them under the magnifying glasses.

I have been amazed at the number of educational opportunities the Houston Zoo provides for both of us. The Keeper talkers teach us about conservation and steps we can take to help preserve the natural world while interacting with some of the animals. ZooSprouts with Mrs. Leia focuses on different species and their habitats each month. During our visit to the bug house with her in January,  we learned about the important jobs of insects and were able to feed Millie the three banded armadillo meal worms. Even our visits to feed the giraffes on the platform are packed full of information about the zoo’s efforts to support endangered species and help conservation efforts in other parts of the world.

I appreciate the flexibility that membership provides. We prefer to dedicate an entire day to our visits, but our membership makes it easy to drop in for just a couple of hours in the morning before a winter cold front blows through, or for a short visit after a rainstorm has cooled off a hot summer day. It even helps keep us in the loop about events happening at the zoo, like preview nights for Zoo Lights, and brings us up to date on all the newest zoo baby announcements.  We simply love the Houston Zoo and are grateful to have such a wonderful place to visit and enjoy!”

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to Ashley and all of our Zoo Members. As a Houston Zoo Member, your support truly makes an impact on the growth of our Zoo and conservation efforts. THANKS!

Baby Elephant Tilly, Born on Father’s Day

The sweetest little Father’s Day present is here! Less than a year after Houston welcomed Asian elephant calf, Joy, a new kid is on the block. This morning at 2:38 a.m., 35-year-old Asian elephant, Tess, gave birth to a 345-pound female without complication, and the calf began learning how to nurse within the first few hours. The calf has been named Tilly by the team who have dedicated their lives to the care, well-being, and conservation of these incredible animals.

 

 

“Our animal team is thrilled that the birth has gone smoothly,” said Lisa Marie Avendano, vice president of animal operations at the Houston Zoo. “We look forward to continuing to watch Tilly and Tess bo

 

nd, and introducing her to Houston.”

Tess gave birth in the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat cow barn under the supervision of her keepers and veterinary staff. She and the calf will undergo post-natal exams and spend several days bonding behind the scenes, before they are ready for their public debut. During the bonding period, the elephant team is watching for the pair to share several key moments like communicating with mom and hitting weight goals. This is the third calf for Tess, who is also mother to Tucker (13) and Tupelo (7), and raises the number of elephants in the Houston Zoo herd to ten, four males and six females.

Baby elephants are quite wobbly when they’re first born, so Tilly will wear a harness for a few days so the zoo’s elephant team can help her stand steady while she’s nursing.

Just by visiting the Houston Zoo, guests help save baby elephants and their families in the wild. A portion of each zoo admission and membership goes straight to protecting an estimated 200-250 wild elephants in Asia. The Houston Zoo started its work in Borneo in 2007 and also provides funds for elephant conservationist, Nurzhafarina “Farina” Othman and her team in Asia, to put tracking collars on wild elephants. This group uses collars to follow wild elephants, conducting valuable research that aids in protecting the elephants as they travel through the forests. Farina also spends time working with farmers that grow and produce palm oil, offering her guidance in responsible cultivation practices that are wildlife-friendly.

 

Zoo Now Free of the Big 3 Single-Use Consumer Plastics

In 2015, the Houston Zoo removed plastic bags in the gift shops to protect animals in the wild. In 2017, the zoo-based conservation organization eliminated single-use plastic water bottles. As of March of 2018, the zoo has taken its third step in plastic reduction, removing single-use plastic straws from all concession stands on zoo grounds.

This move is a monumental achievement for the organization, as the Houston Zoo is among the first zoos and aquariums to eliminate these single-use consumer plastic items. Removing these single-use consumer plastics was made possible through a collaboration between the zoo and its retail, food and beverage partner, Service Systems Associates (SSA).

Because of the Houston Zoo’s commitment to conservation and its mission of inspiring action to save wildlife, the zoo will be able to prevent an estimated 80,000 plastic bags, 300,000 plastic bottles, and nearly 23,000 plastic straws from entering landfills and the environment each year. There is roughly 3.15 billion pounds of plastic in our oceans right now and the average American will add to this epidemic by throwing away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.  Wildlife like endangered sea turtles and other marine creatures often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods, with tragic consequences. Reducing plastics keeps this type of trash out of our oceans and prevents harm to animals like sea turtles and other marine life.

“Removing single-use plastic items is a direct action to protect wildlife,” says Peter Riger, vice president of conservation and education. “The Houston Zoo is steadfast in its commitment to save animals and we encourage our visitors to join us in going single-use plastic free. Everyone that chooses to reduce their use of plastic is helping to protect wildlife.“

In zoo gift shops, guests can actively participate in saving wildlife by choosing to be completely bag-free, purchase reusable bags or use a tote brought from home. Guests have two choices when purchasing water at the zoo – an aluminum reusable water bottle (pre-filled with water) or a JUST Water recyclable, paper-based carton at any of the restaurants or kiosks. The carton itself is made of paper from certified forests and the plastic cap is made from sugarcane, making JUST Water cartons 100% recyclable. Across the park, water bottle refilling stations are available to refill JUST Water cartons, or any other reusable container, made possible by a partnership with Texas Plumbing Supply.

 

Behind the Scenes with the SPARK Team

Written by Celina Burgueño


The wide brim of my hat is slipping down over my eyebrows. I push it back, reaching my other hand around to check the switch of my microphone. It’s pushed to the left: on, just like it has been the last fourteen times I repeated this routine. The audience is pouring into the space, filling the room all the way to my toes, but is oblivious to my presence, focused on the stage at the front. I take a few steps backwards, stand in the corner and calm myself, shaking out one limb at a time until the hat slips forward again. I push it back one last time and take a deep breath as the opening announcement is made and the crowd goes silent for the start of the SPARK World Tour.

Of course, to call it a “World Tour” is a bit of an exaggeration. It was one stop, 15 minutes down the road. What is not an exaggeration is how much it thrilled our SPARK Team trio. If you’re a reader of these blogs, you’ll have seen the post a few months back about what it is that our SPARK Team does for the zoo. If you haven’t, I can summarize it in this: we are a three-person team focused on guest engagement on zoo grounds. And as much as our trio loves that role, we always talk about our biggest dream: to take our work beyond the zoo gates. This was especially true for our favorite project, The Conservation League of Heroes, the SPARK team’s fifteen-minute play of antics focused on how recycling plastic saves sea turtles.

As the busy summer crowds at the Zoo were winding down with the start of school, it seemed our beloved show was heading towards a winter hiatus. Then came MacGregor Elementary School. With the support of the Zoo, the students at MacGregor held a loose change fundraiser, raising over $1500 for the Tiger Conservation Campaign in honor of their school mascot, and we wanted to congratulate that work. But how? It had to be something that could go to the students instead of bringing 550 of them to us. It had to be something that would engage children spanning in age from pre-k to fifth grade. And it had to be something that would remind them they could continue to save animals in the wild, long after their fundraiser had ended. It had to be The Conservation League of Heroes.

The long road to the tour is running on looped montage in my mind as I stand behind the crowd, ready to make my entrance: the first performance for Camp Zoofari, the trims and additions to the script, building the pop-art style “Conservation Wall of Fame”, the slips and falls every time we practice the chase scene. 20 minutes later there’s a new clip for the montage: the way it looked from the stage when every hand in the auditorium filled the air, curled into the shape of a C, as the students recited our Conservation Pledge, those last few, monumental minutes of the play:

I pledge to be a hero, take action big and small.
To help protect our planet, for once and for all.

No matter how many stops our World Tour makes, I think that moment will always be my favorite.

National Dairy Goat Awareness Week

By: Heather Kilway and Megan Paliwoda

On a beautiful summer morning, under a yellow tent in the shadow of the Washington Monument, representatives of the American Dairy Goat Association presented 6 kids (baby goats) to the US Department of Agriculture, officially marking June 12th, 1986 as the first ever National Dairy Goat Awareness Day. Two years later, on June 17th, 1988 the United States Congress voted that the second Saturday through the third Saturday of June would from that day forward be recognized as National Dairy Goat Awareness Week. This week is typically celebrated every year with fun goat activities such as: milking, hoof trimming, and goat obstacle courses. In honor of National Dairy Goat Awareness Week 2018, the Houston Zoo would like for you to come out and celebrate with us; but in the meantime, here are some fun facts about our dairy goats.

The Houston Zoo is home to 5 different breeds of dairy goat, which can be found in the petting zoo area of the McGovern’s Children’s Zoo:

Nigerian Dwarf: This breed originated in West Africa and is known as one of the smaller breeds of dairy goat, standing roughly 23” (2 feet) high at the shoulder. Nigerian Dwarves are known for their high-quality milk which contains a large percentage of butterfat (high butterfat content gives milk a richer, more creamy taste). They are also very friendly and hardy goats, that can thrive in almost any climate.


Alpine: Originating in the French Alpine mountain region, Alpine goats were introduced to the U.S. in 1920. They are known for their long lactation periods and for producing large amounts of high-quality milk. Alpines are also famed for being curious, friendly, and strong willed. Another fun fact is that Alpines can come in a variety of colors and usually have LONG HAIR!! At the Houston Zoo, our two Alpines, Chewbacca and Han Solo, love getting their hair brushed by guests.


Nubian: Nubian’s today have both African and Indian ancestors. This breed is known for their high-quality, high butterfat milk production. They are very adorable with their long floppy ears, strong “Roman” noses, and their tendency to be vocal. At the Houston Zoo, our Nubians (Alvin, Simon, and Theodore) are easy to spot due to their rich brown color and the fact that Nubian goats are generally at least 30” (almost 3 feet!) tall at the shoulder, and normally weigh around 135 pounds.


Saanen: Saanen goats are the largest of all the dairy breeds (even taller than Nubians!) and are even referred to as “Queen of the Dairy Goats” due to their majestic appearance and calm nature. Saanen goats originated in Switzerland and can come in different shades of white. They are known for regularly producing large amounts of milk, as well as for their sturdiness and tolerance of environmental change. Elsa, is the only Saanen goat currently at the Houston Zoo, and is considered by many to be Queen of the Herd.


Pygmy: Originally from Africa, this very small breed of goat stands no bigger than 22”-23” tall at the shoulder. Pygmies are referred to as being “compact” and having a large circumference (meaning they are noticeably round in the middle). They are known for their high-quality milk production which has an incredibly high butterfat content. Not only that, but Pygmies are hardy, animated, and very social. The three pygmy goats that live at the Houston zoo are: Belle, and her younger twin brothers, Seamus and Finnegan. (You may even see the Fantastic Finnegan performing at The Houston Texans Enrichment Zone!)

May’s Featured Members: The Duncan Family

We love our Members. Their incredible support allows us to make a difference to animals both locally and all over the world. This month, we’re spotlighting a family of Zoo Members that deserve recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to May’s Featured Members: the Duncan family.


We asked the Duncans to share a few words about what being Zoo Members means to them. Here’s what they had to say.

“Like Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book mongooses we strive to live by the family motto “Run and Find out!” The Houston Zoo affords us with consistent opportunities to do just that. We have been members of the Houston Zoo for the past three years, years that have given us countless opportunities to learn and to grow, to ask questions and to seek answers, and to quite literally run and find out.

The Naturally Wild Swap Shop has long been a favorite of our family. No matter where we are we keep our eyes peeled for interesting natural finds that we can collect and research and trade. Our son, Nils (4), has been saving up his swap shop points and dreams of one day owning his own piece of dinosaur coprolite. Our daughter, Carolena (6), has been swapping for years and now has an amazing collection including an African porcupine quill, a pearl, and a small fossilized dinosaur bone. The swap shop has encouraged us to keep asking questions and finding answers and looking for interesting discoveries at every turn.

One of the best things about our trips to the Houston Zoo is gaining first-hand exposure to such a variety of animals. Lions, and tigers, and… Go Away Birds! Our children are often asked “what is your favorite animal?” when people discover we frequent the zoo. We can’t help but laugh at the surprise in people’s faces when our son enthusiastically replies, “the Go-Away Bird!” Birds are popular with us as Carolena loves the flamingoes, Casey loves the storks, and Chris always stop hoping to hear the kookaburras laugh. The zoo continues to introduce us to animals we never knew and reintroduce us to the ones we only thought we did.

Time at the zoo is always time well spent. We never regret the choice to spend time with family and friends, enjoying the outdoors, and growing deeper in our appreciation for animals and one another. Whether bundled up in coats or slathered in sunscreen, no matter the season you can find our family enjoying the Houston Zoo and all it has to offer.  From the tropical bird house to the giraffes and yes, the mongooses whose family motto we share, our family loves to spend time at the Houston Zoo where we run and find out.”

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to the Duncans and all of our Zoo Members. As a Houston Zoo Member, your support truly makes an impact on the growth of our Zoo and conservation efforts. THANKS!

Mourning Zuri

We are mourning the loss of 34-year-old Western lowland gorilla, Zuri. The elderly gorilla was under treatment for severe gastrointestinal disease for the past few months, and after a full assessment of his quality of life, and the worsening of his disease despite treatment, the gorilla team and the veterinarians made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize the nearly 400-pound ape.

Zuri was the head of the family troop of gorillas and could be seen most afternoons in the habitat in the company of Holli, Binti, and Angel. Zuri was an easy-going silverback and sired 10 offspring, including 15-year-old Sufi Bettine, who recently moved to the Toledo Zoo as a part of the gorilla species survival program.

Zuri had a known heart condition that has been under treatment in partnership with MD Anderson cardiologists. Cardiac disease is a known problem for great apes, like gorillas, and the Houston Zoo has been working with the Great Ape Heart Project for many years to help study this matter.

The Houston Zoo has helped to increase wild gorilla populations in Africa through partnerships with Gorilla Doctors providing medical care for wild individuals, Conservation Heritage–Turambe providing gorilla saving education, and GRACE: Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center providing care for orphaned wild gorillas.

Gorillas face many challenges in the wild, but the zoo is part of efforts in Africa that are finding solutions to these threats.

Representing the Houston Zoo’s Mission

Today the Houston Zoo unveiled exciting plans for the future. We’re transforming the very heart of the Zoo and taking our visitors around the world from the far reaches of South America and the Galapagos Islands to our very own Texas wetlands. These projects are the physical expression of our mission to connect communities with animals to inspire action to save wildlife.

Our commitment to our mission goes deeper than our physical footprint. We are passionately committed to living this mission every day, in everything we do. To more effectively express the Zoo’s mission and vision visually, we are proud to introduce a new Houston Zoo logo.

The new Houston Zoo logo is fresh and crisp, and it embodies what the Houston Zoo stands for today. It symbolizes the connection we share with the natural world around us and reflects our commitment to saving animals in the wild. It’s built of two hands, which emphasizes the critical role people play in saving wildlife; the green colors reflect natural landscapes; and the “Z” that has been a part of the Houston Zoo logo for so many years still has its place, in a new, modern way.

To craft this new visual identity, we worked with local design firm Principle. They met with Zoo stakeholders, conducted many interviews, sketched more than 400 ideas, presented concepts, and worked with us to finalize what you see today. We could not be more pleased with our partnership with their firm and the work they have done with us.

Soon you’ll start seeing the Houston Zoo logo around town, online, globally at our conservation partner sites, and when you visit the Zoo. When you see it, we hope you will be reminded of everything it stands for. We hope you will be inspired to see the animals at the Houston Zoo and to help save them in the wild.

March’s Featured Member: Karla Hamilton

We love our Members. Their incredible support allows us to make a difference to animals both locally and all over the world. This month, we’re spotlighting a Zoo Member that deserves recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to March’s Featured Member: Karla Hamilton.


We asked Karla to share a few words about what being a Zoo Member means to her. Here’s what she had to say.

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“I love being a member of the Houston Zoo. In June of 2010, I went to The Houston Museum of Natural Science everyday to see Lois the Corpse flower while she was blooming. In September of 2011, a friend of mine called to tell me about Pewtunia the Corpse flower at the Houston Zoo. I immediately went down there to see her and became a member of the Zoo that day! I try to get to the Zoo every member morning as my schedule allows. I am a freelance artist and calligrapher and love taking pictures for my own pleasure and to incorporate in my drawings. I love talking to the keepers and appreciate the love they have for the animals and their jobs. I also am a member because I see that the Houston Zoo is a vital part to bringing awareness to the plights of animals in the wild and hope my small contribution is a help.

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Also I appreciate how some of the animals were rescued from bad situations and given a better life at the Zoo! I have become fascinated with the Gorillas and the Red River Hogs. I love seeing the babies that have been born there, especially the Flamingos and how fast those little white balls of fluff grow. I try to always see the Cats (I have 3 house cats of my own) and was sad when Jonathan died, but he had a good life. After December’s Member morning, I have now put the Elephants on my regular walk. I can’t wait to see their new environment. I am a great fan of Dinosaurs and was thrilled by the Dinosaur exhibit I went twice. Each month I try to see either the Reptile house, Birds, Bugs, Aquarium and Natural Encounters. There is so much to see and learn about I never get tired of going and appreciate the extra perks like Photo day and the Horticultural tour!”


From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to Karla and all of our Zoo Members. As a Houston Zoo Member, your support truly makes an impact on the growth of our Zoo and conservation efforts. THANKS!

Welcome to The Year of the Bird!

Written by Jessica Clark


We here at the Houston Zoo are very excited to be participating in monthly events to get the word out on how important and cool birds are. The month of February is when The National Audubon Society does their Great Backyard Bird Count. This count helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment. A bunch of us at the Zoo love to go out on our time and bird watch. So, we thought it would be fun to give you some bird watching tips.

  1. Find a good field guide. The ones we like here, are Sibley’s Guide to Birds and National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of North America is a classic. But if you want photograph’s instead of drawings, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America and the Kaufman Field Guide to the Birds of North America are the way to go. There are also some great field guide apps.

2. Get a decent pair of binoculars. For birding you want a magnification of 8 or 10. So look for a pair that says it is 8×42 or 10×42, for example. Binoculars fit everybody’s eyes differently, so head to a sporting goods store and try a few out. They also come in a large price range, but there are some good, inexpensive ones out there. And don’t forget that strap!

  1. Find out what to expect to find. If you are going to a park (and Texas has some awesome state and local parks) see if they have a checklist. Some of them have them online and some you can pick up at the ranger offices. These checklists will tell what you may see while visiting a park. They are usually categorized by time of year you may see the bird and how common they are.

There are also some websites that tell you birds you can find in your area if you are doing some backyard or roadside birding.

  1. Learn the four-step of identification. What is the bird’s size and shape; what its main color pattern; take note of its behavior; and factor in what habitat it’s in. Do a little research on where the birds will be. Are they going to be in the tree tops, on the ground, or in the water for example. The internet and your field guide should be able to help with this. Don’t want to be wasting your time looking for an arboreal dwelling bird if you are in scrublands or a duck in the desert.

5. Find a birding group. Your local Audubon website, can let you know if there are groups or trips in your area. Like us here at the zoo, birders love to talk about birds.

  1. Record your sightings. Buy a diary to help you keep track of what and where you have seen birds. There are so many birds, it is easy to forget what you have seen. There are also apps for that. The Ebird app is a great one and you can use it to let other birders know what you have seen.

Houston is a wonderful place for birding because we are on the migratory bird route. You can see many varied species in the area. We took a thirty-minute walk just around Herman park a few days ago and saw 17 different species. From water birds like Ring- billed ducks, Pie – billed grebes, Gadwalls, American coots, Black- bellied whistling ducks and both Double crested and Neo tropic cormorants, to Robins, Yellow – rumped warblers, Pine warblers, Cardinals and Blue Jays.  We even saw a juvenile Bald eagle flying with a Red – tailed Hawk.

So, get out there, enjoy nature, and go birding!

 

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