November’s Featured Member: Shawn Knight

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 November’s Featured Member: Shawn Knight

We asked the Shawn to tell us a little about what being a Zoo Member means to her. Here’s what she had to say.

I love being a member of the Houston Zoo! I visit three or four times a week. I like to walk there after work in the evenings for exercise and to get some fresh air after being in an office all day. Monday evening is the best time…I have the whole place to myself! Plus, in the summer, the animals are more active in the evenings when it’s cooler. The zoo is so clean, pretty and shady. It feels like a little oasis in the middle of the city. I like to make the rounds and see all the animals, of course, but if I’m in a rush before closing time, I will just zip around and see all the babies and youngsters. I have an individual membership so I sometimes bring a friend or family member with me. I also like to give zoo memberships as gifts.

There are many things I love about the zoo, including watching the animals grow and develop. My favorite animal is Duncan, one of the young elephants. He is so clever and has a unique personality. He seems to be a good big brother as well, sometimes doting on Joy. I’m very fortunate to be there often enough to see these things. A highlight during the year is seeing the reclusive and adorable binturong at a weekend keeper chat. I also really love the special events like Feast with the Beasts and Zoo Lights, which are very fun and highlight how beautiful the zoo is at night. The special exhibits like Nature Connects (giant Lego animals) and the animatronic Bugs do an excellent job engaging kids and adults alike. The zoo staff is so friendly and knowledgeable. They do an excellent job taking care of the animals and also educating visitors. Even though I go often, every visit to the zoo is special because the animals are always doing something different and interesting.

I think the work the Houston Zoo does in the wild is extremely important, especially trying to help humans and animals co-exist in areas that both groups need to survive. I enjoy reading about the Wildlife Warriors in the email newsletters, and I’m pleased to know the zoo supports so many individuals and organizations doing good work around the world. It’s always a treat to meet one of these people or other conservationists the zoo supports when they are visiting Houston. I enjoy talking to them about their daily work and their research and conservation methods and successes. Sometimes I wish I had chosen a different career path!

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to Shawn 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!

Snakes Aren’t the Enemy

Written by Judith Bryja

Throughout much of human history, snakes have been among the most maligned and persecuted groups of animals.  The unreasonable fear of snakes is quite prevalent in our society and myths and misconceptions abound whenever snakes are brought up in conversation. The general public conception is that snakes are the “enemy” and should be killed on sight

The news media also plays a role in shaping this attitude.  Most publicity concerning snakes is of a negative nature.  Venomous snakebites often receive extensive local media coverage far beyond the actual threat to human life.  Rarely is it pointed out that the chances of death from a venomous snakebite are considerably less than the chances of dying from a lightning strike or from an insect bite or sting (Bureau of Vital Statistics, Texas Department of Health).

These fears persist despite overwhelming evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, on the important roles that snakes play in a healthy ecosystem.  Many scientific articles point to the value of snake species in food chains in temperate and tropical ecosystems.  Areas where snakes are removed often display a population explosion of rodents, usually to the detriment of nearby agricultural enterprises.

Out of all snakes, the rattlesnakes probably have received more unjust notoriety and have been persecuted needlessly more than any other group, especially in the United States.  It is doubtful that any other animal group is more feared or less understood by the general public.  This persecution has reached such a point that, in some states (seven, to be exact), “Rattlesnake Roundups” are a popular fund-raising event for organizations such as the local Chamber of Commerce or the Jaycees.  The largest of these roundups is held each March in Sweetwater, Texas and shows no sign of diminishing in spite of recent criticism by many private herpetological organizations, various nature and conservation societies, and many animal welfare groups. Roundups are cruel affairs.

Slowly, however, the bad reputation that snakes have had is changing, even when rattlesnakes are involved.  Several traditional roundups are now educational festivals where snakes are not killed and people can learn about them and see them up close.  One fairly new event that the Houston Zoo supports is Lone Star Rattlesnake Days.  LSRD will be held this October 12-14 at Texas Discovery Gardens in Fair Park, Dallas in conjunction with the Texas State Fair.  There will be lots of snakes to see up close, venom extractions done by professionals, activities for the kids, and zookeepers to talk to.  Please visit and the Lone Star Rattlesnake Days Facebook page for more information.

October’s Featured Members: The Phillips 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  Zoo Member that deserves recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to October’s Featured Members: The Phillips Family

We asked the Phillips family to tell us a little about what being Zoo Members meant to them.

The Phillips family is comprised of parents Jennifer and William, as well as their adult daughter Catherine and teenage son Andrew who are both volunteers in addition to being members of the Houston Zoo.

Jennifer and William: We have been members of the Houston Zoo for so long that I can’t remember not being a member!  We have experienced the tremendous amount of growth and change the Zoo has gone through and eagerly anticipate the newest additions to Bears and Texas Wetlands. One of the reasons we continue to enjoy visiting year after year remains in the fact that nothing remains the same from visit to visit.  Each time we visit a different animal or feature catches our eye and attention!  On recent visits I have particularly enjoyed the Red River Hogs, the Mole Rats, and the growth of last summer’s babies – Pepper and Joy.  We also appreciate that the Zoo has extended its outreach to aid endangered species in other countries and promote ways that we can help the environment just by changing a few habits. My car is now stocked with reusable shopping bags.  My children also shamed me into forgoing plastic straws for plastic free July!

I love the flexibility our membership brings so that we can just drop in for a quick visit or for a special event. When my kids are volunteering, I frequently arrive an hour early and make it a point to visit a different area. The Zoo Cool Nights in particular have been a lot of fun the past few summers.  It is so pleasant and magical to be in the Zoo as it gets to be evening and many of the animals are more active.  Our original membership was a gift from my parents and it has definitely been the gift that keeps on giving!

Catherine: Being a member of the Houston Zoo from a very young age introduced me to many causes that I remain passionate about to this day. I loved volunteering at the Zoo as a teen, so I decided to continue my journey as an adult volunteer! I now attend college in San Antonio, but I always make it a point to come volunteer during school holidays and breaks. I have volunteered for about 8 years now and have been a member of the Zoo for a much longer period of time! What keeps me coming back to the Houston Zoo is its authenticity and demonstrated passion for both conservation and guest service. I feel so honored to be even a small part of an organization that does so much for our community and natural world. I’m sure many volunteers and members alike feel the same. If you have any interest in being an adult volunteer I highly recommend applying!

Andrew: I was so lucky to be a Zoo member throughout my childhood. Some of my favorite memories have involved the Houston Zoo, including being part of Zoo Crew. Being involved in this educational program for Teenagers 13 to 17 years old has taught me how to conserve and protect animals in a world dominated by single-use packaging, negative attitudes, and uninformed people! My volunteer engagement this summer has been as member of the Teen Leadership Council/Lead Naturalist. This position allowed me to mentor the Zoo Crew Explorers as they underwent two weeks of educating Zoo visitors about our six unique Take Action Initiatives (Plastic Recycling and Reduction, Sustainable Seafood, Paper Reduction and Recycling, Electronic Device Recycling and Reduction, Pollinator Awareness, Sustainable Palm Oil). I’m already looking forward to next summer’s adventure!

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to the Phillips 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!

Houston Zoo Wins Five Major Awards

On September, 24, 2018, during the annual conference of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in Seattle, the Houston Zoo was presented five major awards to recognize its substantial contributions in wildlife conservation and volunteer engagement.

The zoo’s volunteer program staff and corps received Top Honors for Volunteer Engagement, noting that in addition to supporting zoo operations and guest service needs, its volunteers regularly champion conservation efforts both on and off zoo grounds. Over the past two years, Houston Zoo volunteers have donated more than 42,00 hours of service to further the organization’s mission to connect communities with animals to inspire action to save wildlife.

Top Honors in North American Conservation was awarded to Houston Zoo and Ft. Worth Zoo for support of, and participation in the Houston Toad Recovery Program, a comprehensive effort combining the creation of assurance colonies, successful re-introduction into the wild, and community engagement and education.  As a winner of this prestigious award, the program will receive $25,000, thanks to the generosity of the Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation.

Additionally, out of four winning submissions for the William G. Conway International Conservation Award, the Houston Zoo was named in three.

The Houston Zoo shared Top Honors in International Conservation Award with the Minnesota Zoo and North Carolina Zoo for the Scaling Up Community-based Black Rhino Conservation in Namibia Project, which has played a significant role in reducing poaching by 83% over the past five years. Rhino tourism activities have generated over $1,000,000 since 2012.  This acknowledgement also comes with a $25,000 award, which will be used to continue the important work on the ground in Namibia.

A Significant Achievement Award for the Lowland Tapir Conservation Project was presented to the Houston Zoo, along with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Walt Disney World Resorts, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, supporting the crucial long-term work of Dr. Pati Medici, a leading researcher working with tapirs in South America.

A Significant Achievement Award for the Okapi Conservation Project was also presented to Houston Zoo, joining eight institutions protecting the world’s largest population of okapi in the turbulent environment of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The zoo is honored to be recognized with these awards and proud to be part of an impressive group of organizations and wildlife conservation partners making a positive global difference for wildlife.

Meet Max and Murray

Meet Max and Murray! Two white-cheeked gibbon brothers recently moved into their new digs at the Houston Zoo after moving to Texas from another Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo in Florida. Guests can see the active duo inside the Wortham World of Primates.

The Houston Zoo protects white-cheeked gibbons in the wild by providing support in Vietnam for the training and educating of locals and law enforcement officers to better understand and effectively carry out wildlife saving actions.

White-cheeked gibbons are native to Southeast Asia, primarily in Laos, Vietnam, and Southern China. The arboreal primates brachiate through the treetops using their long arms to swing from branch to branch. Max (5) and Murray (8) can be seen brachiating throughout their habitat. Kids get outside and try their skills at brachiating on the monkey bars at their local park.

September’s Featured Members: The Woolard 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  Zoo Member that deserves recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to September’s Featured Members: The Woolard Family.

We asked the Woolard family to tell us a little about what being Zoo Members meant to them. Here’s what they had to say.

Curiosity is the Fuel for discovery, inquiry and learning! What better way to learn, explore, question and foster a love for animals and our world than at our Houston Zoo!  Each year my daughters are gifted with a Houston Zoo Membership by their Gran.  My mom brought me to the zoo when I was younger, and she wanted to make sure her grandkids had the same opportunity to enjoy and explore nature by being surrounded by animals from all over the world.

We have been zoo members for over 4 years and could not imagine not having our zoo membership. During the summer we spend at least one day a week, if not more at the zoo. Our membership allows us time to slow down and explore every animal and learning opportunity the zoo has! We love going early in the morning to watch the elephants get their bath and attend as many meet the keeper talks as possible. Members only mornings give us a more intimate setting and allows us to feel like it is “our” zoo.

The girls each have favorite animals that we must see each time. Lillian loves the Tortoise’s and aquarium, Lola loves the lions, tigers and cougar, while Lyzabeth enjoys the fish, otters and Gorilla’s.  We all love the otters and elephants! One of our favorite parts of the zoo is the splash pad and carousel. They are typically the last thing or the “icing on the cake” of our trip! The girls know that will be the last place we go no matter where we start.

We enter the zoo and each time we chose a different path. Each path is familiar yet different. No matter how many times we go to the zoo each time is unique and different. Our zoo is every changing, yet they manage to hold on to things from the past that make our zoo so special. One of these is the Lion water fountain. I remember using that water fountain when I was young and seeing it brings back memories from my childhood. My girls think it is the neatest thing in the world and it is a staple for our trips.

I recently learned (last September) That Shasta the UH mascot and I share the same birthday month, I could be wrong, but I think we also share the same birthday (September 28).

Two events we look forward to each year are Zoo Boo and Zoobilee. My kids love Halloween and the zoo goes above and beyond to make it special, fun and exciting. We dress up and spend the entire day at the zoo. We dance, trick or treat and enjoy all the fun activities such as mazes, pumpkin patch and bounce houses. Zoo Boo is a great activity for kids of all ages and there is no shortage of things to do during this event.

Zoobilee has become a must do in our household and this year we took the day off from school to spend at the zoo. My best friends and their children went with us.  We had a total of 11 people in our group (3 adults and 8 kids)! Thanks to my membership we didn’t have to buy any extra tickets. We spent 8 hours at the zoo that day and not one kid cried! Why you ask? The zoo made sure that everywhere you went you felt like a VIP! The kids were overwhelmed with the amount of “extras” offered to them including ice cream, spray tattoos, leather stamp bracelets and games. So many animals were out, and we had the opportunity to pet them. We had a blast playing the Texans football throw, sack races and Dynamo games. Zoobilee is an amazing event we do not miss!

Something new we did this year was Zoolights. We had not had the opportunity to go and I am so glad we made time to go this year. The lights were so beautiful, and it made for a different atmosphere walking through the zoo after dark.

Our zoo membership not only allows us to create memories for our family but also to bring our extended family with us when they come to visit. My nephew spends the summer with us and we can take him for no charge because of our package. That also means when his mom, dad and my niece come we can all go together.

The Houston Zoo is family friendly and educational. We go to the zoo so often, yet I have never left without learning something new. I am a teacher and the zoo helps me foster a love of learning in my girls. My oldest daughter has decided to be a marine biologist specializing in sea turtles and wants to one day be an oceanic advisor to the president. The Houston Zoo brings the ocean close and she can learn about animals right here in her own back yard. It keeps the love of learning alive and growing.

I could talk about all the wonderful things the Houston Zoo has to offer but honestly, one trip and you will know. A membership to the Houston Zoo is the perfect gift. My girls know when their membership runs out and they start bugging my mom about a month ahead just to make sure she doesn’t forget.

The Houston Zoo is a staple of Houston. Our summers would be so boring without the zoo not to mention our Halloween and Christmas.

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to the Woolards 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!

August’s Featured Member: Nancy Hyde

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 August’s Featured Member: Nancy Hyde.

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

“I love my zoo membership! It is a special place where I can spend time with my grandchildren and enjoy nature. I have been a member of the zoo for 9 years since joining in 2009. I decided to join because of the animals and the activities.  There are always exciting new exhibits, such as when the Gorilla exhibit opened.  I also enjoy knowing that my membership helps support animals at the zoo as well as Texas Wildlife.

My husband and I take frequent “weekend walks” through the zoo to see what the animals are up to while getting in some exercise. We probably come to the zoo about 2 times a month on average. Once my first grandchild was born I couldn’t wait to take him on his first trip to the zoo!  He loves seeing the fish swimming in the fish house, watching the elephants, and playing in the piranha tunnel in the Close Encounters exhibit.

I frequently teach him animal names and sounds – now that he is 2 and a half years old he loves pointing to them and identifying them and studies them more closely. I am excited for when my other two grandchildren are a little older so I can start teaching them all about the animals. We also enjoy the family attractions like the carousel and feeding the giraffes. The Children’s Zoo is wonderful.

We have a certain path we always take when we go tot he zoo. We start out with the meerkats and work our way to the elephants, and then onward to the gorillas and chimps.  Of course the giraffes are right after and then we wrap up with the seals and Natural Encounters exhibit.  This allows us to see all of our favorite animals!

My daughter has had such a great time when I have invited her using my guest pass that she decided to get a family membership in 2017. We are looking forward to many more years enjoying the Houston Zoo as a family!”

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to Nancy 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!

Zoo Keeper Skills – Operant Conditioning

Written by Kathy Watkins

Have you ever wondered what we do when a tiger has a sore tooth or a black bear has a stomach ache? With your dog, you can open his mouth or you can pick your cat up and carry her to the vet. It can get kind of tricky when you work with carnivores who are built to eat and hunt. We have to be very careful when we work around these dangerous predators so we use operant conditioning training, allowing the animals to voluntarily participate in their care. Our job is to make sure we give the best care possible and to ensure everyone stays safe and that takes a lot of teamwork.

We have a leopard who was trained to allow us to put ointment on a sore on his tail thanks to Ben’s training plan. When our Africa Painted Dog’s were getting ready to move to their new home, Tori trained them to go into the crate for a smooth drive. Our clouded leopard will let us get images of her belly thanks to Danielle’s work. With Cortney’s help, bears have been trained to accept the injection that helps them to fall asleep so we can safely treat them. As you can imagine, moving a 545 pound lion takes some team work! Keepers like Jordan and Paul have been crucial in helping with lion sedations because they are great about staying calm, jumping in quickly when needed and they are comfortable holding up the head of a sleeping lion as we move them to our state-of-the-art vet hospital. Talk about brave! Even the newest additions to the carnivore team, Alicia and Megan have been a huge help when it comes to assisting the vets during procedures and stepping in when needed. By working together with multiple departments in the zoo, the carnivore team provides world class care to the meat-eating animals that call the Houston Zoo home. As the carnivore supervisor, I am thankful for the hard work and dedication of the carnivore staff, and I am lucky to be a part of such a great team.

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.


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