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.

 

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!

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