Pen Pals to Save Okapi: Camera Trap Conservation

Written by Mary Fields and M’monga Jean Paul


In the last pen pals blog, Jean Paul told us why he thinks zoos are great for conservation. In this blog, we will be learning about the importance of camera traps in the Okapi Wildlife Reserve (OWR).

Okapis, forest elephants, chimpanzees and many other species call the OWR home. Camera traps help document the presence of these species within the Ituri Forest. These photos and videos are extremely important for research and conservation efforts of okapis. Instead of relying on droppings and footprints in the 13.7 square kilometers that is the OWR (about 5.3 square miles), researchers can record data through photos and videos! This also allows them to check on the state of the animal and to check the animal’s identity.

Along with telling us about the importance of camera traps, Jean Paul sent us some camera trap photos and videos. Some of these animals’ cousins call the Houston Zoo home, including okapis, duikers and chimpanzees. These photos help researchers see what animals go through an area on any given day.

So how can you help okapis? Come visit our Okapi Spotlight on Species event at the Houston Zoo on October 18th! You will be able to recycle your old cell phones for a chance to win an okapi painting, play fun games and learn more about okapis in honor of the second annual World Okapi Day! Make sure to follow our blog to continue learning about okapi conservation and hear more from Jean Paul!

 

World Gorilla Day – Sunday, September 24

Written by Helen Boostrom


Why have a day to celebrate gorillas?

In fact, if you ask me and our youngest male gorilla, Ajari, gorillas should be celebrated every day!

But for those of you who need more convincing about celebrating this special day, read on for cool facts about gorillas.

Gorillas are social apes and typically live in a harem society with multiple females and one dominant male leader.  Occasionally, unattached males will form loose coalitions, or “bachelor groups” consisting of multiple male gorillas. Houston Zoo is home to both a family group and a bachelor group.

Female gorillas usually only produce one offspring every 4-6 years giving birth only about 3-4 times in their life. This low reproduction rate makes it difficult for gorilla populations to sustain themselves amid growing threats.

There are two species and four subspecies of gorilla: mountain gorilla, Grauer’s gorilla, western lowland gorilla, and cross river gorilla. The gorillas at the Houston Zoo are western lowland gorillas.

World Gorilla Day was created to help encourage people all over the world to take action to help these amazing but highly endangered animals.

How can you Take Action & Celebrate World Gorilla Day:

  • Recycle your mobile device
    • Recycling your cell or smart phone, tablet, or MP3 player will help reduce the demand for ore that is mined in some gorilla habitats, plus if you recycle it at the Houston Zoo, you’ll help raise funds for gorilla conservation.
  • Visit your local conservation organization that supports gorillas!
    • Between 2010 and 2014, Association of Zoos and Aquariums- accredited zoos contributed over $4.5 million to gorilla conservation efforts. Underlining zoos’ financial investments in these programs are their long-term commitments to bolstering their success through organizational support, scientific research, educational opportunities, and veterinary consult.

You can also join me and Ajari in our goal to make every day a gorilla celebration by learning more about these awe-inspiring animals and ways you can help. Start here.

A Tiny Monkey with a Big Story

Written by Amy King


On the morning of February 28, 2017, keepers found a baby Goeldi’s monkey clinging to the bottom of the enclosure where the Goeldi’s are housed at night. It felt cold to the touch so zookeepers wrapped the infant in a blanket and rushed it to the vet clinic. At the clinic, he determined to be a male and weighed in at 44 grams. Typically, newborns weigh between 50 and 60 grams so it was assumed that he was born prematurely. Keepers attempted to introduce the infant back to his family group, but he was unable to cling to his mother, which is crucial for babies to to do. The decision was made that zookeepers would have to step in and hand raise the baby until he became more independent and the team would follow a hand-rearing protocol written by the Brookfield Zoo.

After a short time, the infant was given the name “Benjamin” and was moved to the clinic to get around-the-clock care and was housed in an incubator with his hairy mama (a stuffed animal with hair similar to his mother’s). His family was also moved to the clinic so that they could be near each other at all times. It was very important for Benjamin to know he was monkey and not get too attached to his human caretakers. Goeldi’s live in small family groups and the whole family helps raise the babies. Benjamin’s family consists of his mom, dad, and older brother.

During the day, Benjamin’s incubator was kept in the same area as his family so that they could all see, hear, and smell each other. When he was taken out of the incubator for feedings, keepers sat right next to the family’s area so they could get up-close and see him. At night, he was moved to a different room so that the family’s sleep pattern wasn’t disrupted. He started off getting fed every 2 hours, just like a newborn human. Keepers had to feed him one drop of formula at a timeand massage his throat to encourage him to swallow. He received a special mixture of Enfamil, Ensure, and protein powder and was fed via syringe with a small nipple attached to the tip. He was encouraged to urinate and defecate with a warm, wet cotton ball before and after each feeding.

The primate team typically does not go in the enclosures with the primates, but it was necessary to do so with the Goeldi’s for the whole re-introduction process. We had to get the family used to us being in their space before we brought Benjamin in with us. We made our time in the enclosure with them a positive experience. We put treats and favored produce in their food bowls when we went in the enclosure. The family quickly became very comfortable with us, so we started bringing Benjamin in for feedings so that the family could get up close and touch him if they chose to do so.

Once the incubator temperature was lowered to the same temperature as the building, Benjamin was could spend the day out of the incubator in a “howdy box.” Benjamin and his hairy mama were placed in the howdy box inside the family’s enclosure during the day. This allowed him to be more immersed in the group. The family spent time sitting on top of the box while eating or grooming each other. They also liked to sit on the branches near the howdy box and vocalize back and forth with Benjamin. He was getting to learn their behaviors up close and they were getting used to him being a part of their daily lives.

Benjamin was slowly introduced to solid foods in addition to his formula and keepers slowly weaned him off his formula as he started to eat more solids. His favorite food was (and still is) banana. He also enjoys worms and grapes.

Over the next few weeks, Benjamin’s howdy box was left open so that the family could interact with him and Benjamin could explore the enclosure whenever he chose to do so. Keepers were hopeful that Benjamin would start riding on the back of one of his family members. At this point, he was still at the age where babies are carried around on the backs of their family members. His dad, Opie, spent a lot of time next to him and would present his back to Benjamin to encourage him to jump on, but Benjamin seemed nervous and unsure about what he was supposed to do.

As more time passed, Benjamin started becoming more comfortable with his family, especially Opie. Opie was very good about sharing his food with Benjamin and would bring pieces of food over to Benjamin and let him eat out of his hand. In the wild, this is one way youngsters learn which food is good to eat. Benjamin also started awkwardly riding on Opie for brief amounts of time and even began snuggling up side-by-side with his family members at night.

Right after Benjamin turned three months old, the whole family was brought back down to their habitat in Wortham World of Primates. Benjamin had become pretty independent and the whole family was getting along well. When they first entered the habitat, Benjamin hitched a ride on his mom’s back and after a few minutes of safely taking in all the new sights and sounds he hopped off and began exploring on his own. He put his running and jumping abilities to the test. While he miscalculated his jumps a few times, he did not let that discourage him.

Today Benjamin is six months old and now weighs over 300 grams and is about half the size of the adults. He enjoys spending time with his family and playing with enrichment. He is growing up so quickly and we are very proud of all the progress he and his family have made!

Patty Bear Dies After Long Life

We are sad to announce the death of the current, oldest Andean bear in any AZA-accredited zoo, Patty. Also known as a spectacled bear, Andean bears are native to South American and live to be in their mid-20s in human care. Patty lived to be 31 years old, most of her long life at the Houston Zoo.

Patty suffered from allergies much of her life which resulted in thinning hair, but the keepers who spent their lives caring for Patty gave her local honey which helped her allergies.  One and a half years ago, Patty was found to have cancer that the zoo’s veterinarians removed, however, this week during an exam, her cancer was found to have returned and spread. Due to her advanced age, and the progression of the cancer, the animal care team made the decision to euthanize Patty.

Patty’s keepers will remember her relaxed personality and for how much she seemed to like building and fluffing nests out of sheets and wood wool, so she could find the perfect sleeping or napping position.

September’s Featured Members: The Dalmolin 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 September’s Featured Members: The Dalmolin  Family


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

“We have been members for the last 2 years. I have always loved the Houston Zoo and after our first daughter was born we knew would be frequent zoo visitors. We have 2 girls (3 and 1). It has been fun seeing their love for animals develop as we visit each exhibit. We can always count on the zoo to provide us with some great family memories. Each year we attend Zoo Lights and Zoo Boo. I love that Zoo Boo is including in the membership. We usually make it a big family event and invite grandparents and cousins. There are so many games and activities that are age appropriate for the kids. Of course my daughters favorite part is wearing her costume and going around to all the candy stations, shouting “Trick or Treat”. The pumpkin patch with mini pumpkins that the kids can decorate is another favorite event.

Zoo Lights can be a bit crowded but definitely worth seeing my girls face light up as they see all the light displays. Pair the lights with some hot chocolate and its another memorable family event we participate in each year to help kick off the holiday season. We had a chance to host daughters and my nieces’ 2nd birthday party in the yellow pavilion last year. It was one of the easiest experiences for us as both families just had our second babies. We had an air conditioned room to take a break from the heat and the kids had a blast.

This summer we took advantage of our membership by adding our nanny as a cardholder. She was able to take the girls to the zoo during the day while my husband and I worked. They would head out in the morning and sit down with their packed lunch and eat before it got too hot. Last time they were there both girls had a hard time leaving the carousel and the oldest requested to ride the rhinos:) We love that the Houston Zoo allows you to bring coolers of food and drinks, makes for an economical trip. Our daughter has assigned us all with our favorite animals; she says her favorite animals are the lions, my husbands are the wolves, the youngest likes the elephants and I like the giraffes. We thank the Houston Zoo for providing our family with some great memories. We plan to keep enjoying our membership for years to come.”

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to the Dalmolin’s 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 Reopens Friday with Discounted Admission, Launching Employee Relief Fund

Although the storm has moved on, most of Houston is still reeling in hurricane Harvey’s aftermath. The entire Houston Zoo team is humbled by the concern and support shown by this community, and we could not be more proud of our fellow Houstonians as the city begins to recover.

As a place for families and communities to gather and find respite, the Houston Zoo will resume limited operations on Friday, Sept. 1.  The zoo will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last ticket sold at 4 p.m. A special ticket price of $5 will be offered at the main gate for both child and adult admission ($5 tickets not available online). Included in the $5 ticket are unlimited rides on the Texas Direct Auto Wildlife Carousel, as well as admission to Nature Connects: Art with LEGO Bricks.

“I am grateful to report that our zoo is an island of relative normalcy in an ocean of crisis,” said Lee Ehmke, Houston Zoo CEO and president. “My deepest gratitude goes to the ride-out crew members who worked tirelessly for our animals and facilities over the past seven days.”

Throughout the storm, the animals at the zoo were safe and secure in their barns and night houses and cared for by a dedicated crew of team members who stayed at the zoo for the duration of the weather event.

The zoo sustained minor storm-related flooding and downed tree limbs, but no significant damage.  However, many of the zoo’s team members were affected by this catastrophe. The zoo has launched an employee relief fund to help its team members who need assistance during this difficult time. Information about the relief fund can be found at https://www.houstonzoo.org/harveyrelief/.

Standard operating hours and admission prices will resume Saturday, Sept.2.

 

Hurricane Harvey Update – Tuesday, Aug. 29

A Message From Houston Zoo CEO, Lee Ehmke

Tuesday, Aug. 29

We continue to hear devastating news about our beloved city, and our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by this terrible event.  I am grateful to report that our Zoo is still an island of relative normalcy in an ocean of crisis, with my deepest gratitude going to my fellow ride-out crew members.  These incredible individuals have been working tirelessly for our animals and facilities.

I also want to share some information about how our fellow AZA-accredited Texas zoos are pitching in.  This morning, the San Antonio Zoo and SeaWorld San Antonio flew a helicopter full of supplies and assistance into Houston to help the Downtown Aquarium, which has suffered major flood damage.  This group has also begun arranging to help the Texas Zoo in Victoria.  I have been receiving messages of concern and support from all over the world, and wanted you to know that we have an army of people who are pulling for us.  We have re-activated some of our animal webcams to provide reassurance to our many supporters, stakeholders and fans that we are doing okay.

We will be closed tomorrow, Wednesday, August 30, and have started discussions on when we might re-open, keeping in mind the ability for our team members and guests to safely travel to the Zoo.  As soon as those decisions have been made, we will certainly let you know. Until then, stay safe!

– Lee

 

What Do Veterinary Interns Do?

Written by Jennifer Urda


Hello, my name is Jennifer Urda and I am just finishing a veterinary research internship involving the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken. I will be starting my second year of veterinary school at Midwestern University in Arizona in the fall. The Houston Zoo is like a second home to me, as I have spent the previous three summers here as an intern in two different departments (Birds and Children’s Zoo) and also as a seasonal zookeeper for the Attwater’s Prairie Chickens. Every summer I’ve spent here has been incredible; I’ve truly gained invaluable experience and knowledge associated with the husbandry and care of the species in the Zoo’s collection as well as made valuable friendships. I am incredibly honored and proud to have had the opportunity to intern with the veterinary clinic this summer and would like to share some of my experiences in hopes of creating awareness for other current and future veterinary students that might like to apply to this program. This internship is one of two the Houston Zoo offers (the other internship involves the Houston Toads) to first and second year veterinary students, which makes it very unique as most other AZA accredited institutions only accept students on their clinical rotations.

First, I’d like to talk about the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken (APC). The Attwater’s Prairie Chicken is a critically endangered species of grouse (not a chicken!) found only in the coastal prairies of Texas. About 100 years ago, there were once around 1 million of these birds between the Texas and Louisiana coastal prairies, but throughout the 20th century their numbers began to dwindle, largely due to habitat destruction; there are estimated to be less than 100 APCs left in the wild today. Thankfully, the Houston Zoo is part of a captive breeding program for these rare birds, and birds that are eligible for release in the late summer are slowly introduced back into the wild.

As the APC veterinary intern, I am largely responsible for administering medical treatments on the growing prairie chickens. These birds can be challenging to raise and often require medical care such as administering fluids via injection and antibiotics as well as tube feeding food, sometimes up to three times a day. I am also responsible for inputting the medical records on these birds, recording my observations, and discussing treatment plans and options with the veterinarians at the Zoo. As a large component of my internship involves research, I was able to pick a topic that would be both beneficial to the Zoo and the preservation of the species, so much of my time was also spent in this manner. Additionally, I have had some opportunities to shadow the Zoo’s veterinarians and participate in other procedures such as drawing blood from a duck and giving routine vaccinations. In the coming months I hope to submit a scientific paper to Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine regarding the findings of my research over the summer.

The veterinary hospital staff is an amazing team, and I’ve learned so much from every single one of them; all are incredibly passionate about their work and the Houston Zoo’s message of conservation and education. I know that the experience I have gained here as well as the connections I’ve made will be valuable in my future as a veterinarian. I highly recommend any first or second year veterinary student with a passion for conservation or zoo and wildlife medicine to apply — the experience and mentoring you will receive is phenomenal.

Earn Points in the Swap Shop

Written by Sara Riger


Have you visited The Naturally Wild Swap Shop in the Children’s Zoo? When trader’s come to the shop, they usually have treasures in their hands to trade. These may include rocks, shells, or even a pinecone. They could also bring a report about their favorite animal, a poster showing the life cycle of a butterfly, or a drawing of mountain gorillas. Anything that sparks their imagination and appreciation for nature. These objects will earn points that can then be traded for items in the shop. There are so many fun and creative ways to earn points. Now there are even more ways, and if you participate you can help save animals in the wild.

As a way of encouraging traders to be more aware of their impact on the environment, the Shop has developed a new category called Take Action. We want traders to be a part of our Take Action initiatives and to earn points. Below are Take Action initiatives that will earn points in the Shop.

 

PLASTIC POLLUTION 

  • Carry your items to the shop in a reusable bag.
  • Recycle items here at the zoo.
  • Bring you reusable bottle of water when you visit.
  • Tell us you will be refilling your drink containers with filtered water from any of the 12 refill stations located on zoo grounds. There happen to be 2 located right outside the Swap Shop, one by the Texans Stage and one by the restrooms.

Help the Zoo to be plastic free. Each of these actions will earn points toward your existing account.

  • Beach cleanup. Plastic litter on our Texas sands ends up in the Gulf of Mexico where sea life can mistake it for food and ingest it. Bring photos of your efforts to clean up beaches.

Help eliminate plastic from oceans and beaches and earn points.

CELL PHONE RECYCLING 

  • Bring old cell phonesto the Shop.
  • Bring old electronics to the Shop.

They will all be recycled by the Zoo. Cell phone recycling is an important step to reduce waste. Make a difference and earn points.

OCEAN-FRIENDLY SEAFOOD

  • Purchase sustainable seafood and show us how you are doing it. Ocean-friendly seafood is seafood that has been caught in a way that protects animals like sharks, sea turtles and ensures fish populations thrive over time. Share ways that you are practicing this through photos. Download the free Seafood Watch App from the Monterey Bay Aquarium and show us your phone. You can download the app to learn which seafood options are best choices or good alternatives. Use this app when making ocean-friendly seafood purchases at grocery stores or ordering at restaurants.

Anything that involves these Take Action topics can be researched and a report or project can be done. For example, make a poster incorporating the beach trash that you picked up and bring it to the Shop. Guess what? You will earn points. These are all tools the Naturally Wild Swap Shop is using to raise awareness about how personal choices make a difference. Have discussions with the Shop naturalists about actions you have taken so we can celebrate your successes with you. Ask what more can be done to help save wildlife. Together we can make a difference.

Wild About School – August 20

Written by Heather Kilway & Nikki Blakley


Are your little ones getting restless with the end of summer drawing near? Are they dragging their feet when you go shopping for new supplies? Do they complain of boredom, and NOTHING to do? Well we have a solution that is sure to get them excited about the new school season: an entire day of adorable animals in the Children’s Zoo enjoying THEIR OWN new school supplies!

This particular day will be focused on giving Back To School-related ENRICHMENT to some of our animals in the Children’s Zoo. Enrichment is anything new or different that we give to our animals to make their lives more fun, interesting, and to encourage natural behaviors. These things can be boxes, plastic toys, different plants, or even just new bedding. Enrichment is important for our animals’ welfare, and can also be really fun for our guests to watch too!

The Children’s Zoo keepers love to make painted enrichment just for fun, and in honor of HISD school starting on the 28th, we decided to make a special day out of Sunday August 20th and give our Children’s Zoo animals “back to school” themed enrichment! For several weeks, the keepers have been cutting cardboard, making paper mache, and painting with non-toxic tempera paint in their spare time to make cool new enrichment that our animals have not received before.

Below is a schedule of activities and the enrichment that will be given to which animals. So come with your cameras ready for adorable photo opportunities, and your minds sharp to learn some interesting stories about these animals!

 9:00 AM – 2:30 PM
                Naturally Wild Swap Shop “Draw Your Own”
                 Visit the Naturally Swap Shop and share with us what you’ve learned or loved at the Houston Zoo on our Back To School dry-erase board!

9:00 AM – 6:00 PM
                Ocelot Exhibit “Artistic Ocelots”
                 Come see what our ocelots have painted on their window about school!

9:30 AM
                 North American Porcupine Exhibit “Pencil’s Down”
                  Cody can’t wait to tear into those essays.

10:00 AM
                 Swift Fox Exhibit “Lesson Of The Day”
                  Check out what our swift fox, Sookie, is learning today on her new chalk board!

11:00 AM
                 Bobcat Exhibit “Teacher’s Pet”
                 Our bobcat has a special treat for her teacher, is that worm real?

1:00 PM
                Banded Mongoose Exhibit “Catch The Bus”
                 The mongoose are going to be late to school! Can they all fit on board?

2:00 PM
               Llama and Cow Arena “Farm Yard Art Class”
               Can the llama’s and cow use giant paintbrushes? Probably not, but they sure love the bristles!

3:00 PM
             Naturally Wild Swap Shop “Spelling T-a-r-a-n-t-u-l-a”
             We can’t leave out our smaller friends! See Blondie “sit” down for class!

And if you loved seeing all this cool enrichment, make sure you come back on September 16th for the zoo-wide enrichment day where all the different s

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There's still time to explore the Houston Zoo’s special exhibit – Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks Presented by Coca-Cola!
Now through October 1, see some of your favorite animals unlike ever before, built with tens of thousands of LEGO bricks.

www.houstonzoo.org/natureconnects/
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Theres still time to explore the Houston Zoo’s special exhibit – Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks Presented by Coca-Cola! 
Now through October 1, see some of your favorite animals unlike ever before, built with tens of thousands of LEGO bricks.
 
https://www.houstonzoo.org/natureconnects/

 

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My kids dragged me to this and it was totally worth it - I think I liked it more than they did. Amazing sculptures!

Wow..! Reminds me the iguanas in Puerto Vallarta..!

We have to go!! Erik Baza

Awe you should take Arian! Ariana Chavez

How did they do that

Technicolor Chameleon...that's pretty cool!

Gaby Torres mira tu niño seria feliz ahi

JP Harvey!

Michael Enstein

Jonathan Drake

Becky Turner, Ashley Martin, Susan Rives Horridge

José Julian Coronado Zury Coronado

Natasha Wallace

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Our latest Ten Second Science video goes deep to explore how interesting nature can be. Enjoy! #SequentialHermaphroditism ... See MoreSee Less

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Monday... It's okay to start thinking about happy hour already, right? Right?!

Join us at Saint Arnold Brewing Company on Friday to support howler monkey conservation efforts in the wild. From 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., $1 from every pint sold will go directly to Wildtracks, a rescue and rehabilitation center for howler monkeys in Belize.
... See MoreSee Less

1

Monday... Its okay to start thinking about happy hour already, right? Right?!

Join us at Saint Arnold Brewing Company on Friday to support howler monkey conservation efforts in the wild. From 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., $1 from every pint sold will go directly to Wildtracks, a rescue and rehabilitation center for howler monkeys in Belize.

 

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