Mourning the Loss of Our Geriatric Jaguar, Kan Balam

This morning, the Houston Zoo humanely euthanized its male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and the Houston Zoo veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Kan Balam was well known as one of the carnivore department’s most intelligent animals. The great-grandfather knew about 30 different behaviors and found joy in attempting to outsmart his keepers who dedicated their lives to caring for him.

 

“When caring for aging animals, we first do everything in our power to make sure they have a great quality of life,” said Lisa Marie Avendano, vice president of animal operations at the Houston Zoo. “We manage their diet and exercise, as well as their medication if necessary. It is never an easy decision to euthanize an animal, but it is one we make with the animal’s well-being as the top priority. With world-class animal keepers, four incredible veterinarians, and a complete veterinary hospital complex, our animals receive the best care possible, and that includes end-of-life decisions.

Kan Balam was born at a zoological facility in Mexico. His keepers often refer to him as “Kan B” for short. Before coming to the Houston Zoo, he had an altercation with another jaguar and lost part of his front right foot and for many years received laser acupuncture and annual chiropractic adjustments.

Jaguars range covers South and Central America, with some venturing north into Mexico and southwestern US. They are listed as near threatened by International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and their numbers continue to decline mostly due to habitat loss. The Houston Zoo is protecting jaguars in the wild by providing support to conservation partners in Brazil who work with the Brazilian government on saving the forested homes of these beautiful cats.

Zoo Crew Alumna Reflects on Experiences

Written by Maya Kanani
Five years ago, I first stepped foot into the Brown Education Center at the Houston Zoo. I had visited the zoo as a child, but never been inside that building in particular. Visiting for orientation for Zoo Crew, I knew very few people, and was embarking on a journey unlike anything I had ever tried before. But, I am so glad I did because it led to some of the best experiences of my life.

Zoo Crew is a program which allows teenagers to learn about the inner workings of the zoo. There are numerous avenues down which they can go, including being a camp mentor, theatrical performer, a naturalist who teaches guests about specific animals, or even a junior zookeeper. Each of these paths teaches Zoo Crew members about the zoo, animals, and guest interactions.

I began the program as a Camp Mentor. As a 13 year old, I was generally placed in camps with younger kids, but through my three years of working with Camp Zoofari, I gradually had the opportunity to work with a wide array of age groups and campers. My fourth year, I was selected to be a Junior Zookeeper in Kipp Aquarium. I continued in this position this past, my final, summer. The experiences taught me so much, but in addition to that, were incredibly memorable and unique.

Though I have had many, many unforgettable moments working at the zoo, the one that stands out to me most was from my last day. As I mentioned before, I worked in the aquarium, which houses the giant Pacific octopus. As a part of her enrichment, one of the things the octopus does is paint, a task which involves PVC pipe, lots of paint, and even more shrimp. As a last day gift, the keepers in the aquarium had her paint for me, and that painting, though abstract in subject matter, has so much meaning to me.

There is so much I could discuss in regards to my experiences as a part of Zoo Crew, but more than anything, I am just thankful for all of the opportunities I was given. When I found out that I was one of the recipients of the Zoo Crew scholarship, my first thought was how grateful I was that my hard work and dedication to the program had allowed me this opportunity. Everything I experienced through Zoo Crew, and now accepting this scholarship, has been nothing short of remarkable.

Through Zoo Crew, I learned, not only about conservation of habitats and animals, but also about the people who are so dedicated to protecting them. It truly opened my eyes to the impact people can play on the world when they make the effort to protect the earth, a lesson I will keep with me in all my future endeavors.

-Maya Kanani, 2017 Zoo Crew Scholarship Recipient

 


2017 Zoo Crew Scholarship Recipients

Every year, the Houston Zoo Teen Programs honors several exceptional teens from our Zoo Crew program with a $1,000 scholarship. Recipients are chosen based on their dedication and outstanding performance in the Zoo Crew program. These are teens who have dedicated countless hours of their time to educating our guests, mentoring our campers, and caring for our animals. The scholarships are funded by The Houston Zoo, Don and Diane Kendall, Karen Hinson, Bobbi Samuels, Barbara Goldfield, and generous donations from Houston Zoo Volunteers. This year we awarded five scholarships to five bright, passionate, and motivated teens. Meet the 2017 Zoo Crew scholarship recipients!

Maya Kanani

My name is Maya Kanani and I’m a senior at Bellaire High School this year. I joined Zoo Crew the summer before my eighth grade year, and have done it ever since. I began as a camp counsellor for Camp Zoofari, then transferred to working in Kipp Aquarium, which I have done for the past two years. I have loved everything about my experience as a part of the Zoo Crew team and have learned so much working with the staff there. Throughout my five years, I got to work with so many different people and animals, which opened my mind so much and led me to try new things. In college, I am looking into the liberal arts path, and possibly majoring in journalism. I have been a part of my school newspaper staff for three years, this year as both paper and online editor-in-chief, as well as been a photography student, and written for the Buzz Magazines for four years. I love both writing and photography and hope I can pursue both in college and my life after college.


Remi Pattyn

Hello, my name is Remi Pattyn and I am the first born outside of Europe in my family. I am currently entering my senior year of high school, and I plan on attending UNT or Texas State once I graduate. I’ve always had a passion for animals, and I’ve always been around zoos! As a member of Zoo Crew I have been given opportunities that very few people ever get in their lives, to follow and be a part of an organization and community that they want to spend so much of their time being a part of. Since starting my Zoo Crew career as a teen educator and just finishing this previous summer as a junior herpetology keeper, I have learned so much about myself and what I wanted to do with my future. It was getting to be around the zoo so much and getting to know some of the people that work here that has influenced my decision to get on the path towards becoming a keeper at the Houston Zoo. With the scholarship granted to me by the zoo I plan on studying ecology and/or wildlife biology in college. And with that education and my experience at the zoo I hope to return and get started on that career as a full time keeper at the Houston Zoo.


Julia Moacyr

Animals have always been my driving passion, as from a very young age I knew I had to work with all kinds of animals. The Zoo Crew program has solidified in my mind that after college I want to work at a zoo as a keeper in order to help take care of animals, and educate guests on the importance of conservation and wildlife. My plans are to go to Sam Houston State University and major in animal sciences, with a minor in wildlife management. I hope to intern at the Houston Zoo, while in college, and volunteer to get as much experience under my belt before graduating and applying for a job as a keeper. This program has given me some of the greatest memories I could ever have wished for, and I am very grateful to have been selected for this scholarship.


Emily Ostermaier

My name is Emily Ostermaier and I was honored to be a recipient of the 2017 Zoo Crew Scholarship! I am an art student at my high school and I also surf for fun! I play three instruments: piano, guitar, and clarinet. I have learned a lot while in Zoo Crew, including the need to conserve our environment and resources for the sake of the animals that share this planet with us. I also learned a lot about the care of various types of animals, ranging from the marine life in the aquarium to the primates, while being granted the opportunity to help keepers behind the scenes day-to-day. My experience here was one I will never forget. After 5 years of service, I decided that the best-fit field for me was one involving science. I am interested in pursuing a biological degree in Genetics as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University at College Station and then going onto Medical School to become a physician.


Sydney Han

I am a senior attending the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. There I love to play the flute, participate in STEM Club, and spend time with my friends. And although I am passionate about music, I plan to major in either Biology or Biochemistry in college (while continuing to play flute on the side). I have volunteered at the zoo for three years as a camp mentor and enjoy interacting with and teaching the kids all about the animals at the zoo. Volunteering has helped me gain a better understanding of habitat loss and the importance of conservation. It has also helped me see a future in working with kids. For the time being, I want to become a pediatrician, but I’m keeping my options open!

 

Points on Pepper

Pepper is a 10-month-old Allen’s swamp monkey, daughter of first-time parents Naku and Calvin, and she is the life of the party in her habitat. At almost any given time of the day, you can find her running, jumping, climbing, swimming, or trying to play with the other animals in her habitat, whether they are monkeys, tortoises, or rabbits.

Like most young animals, she is extremely curious about everything around her. She will chase after birds and rabbits, stalk butterflies, catch bugs, and even try to pounce on bees! Bobbi the tortoise lives in the habitat during the summer, and she wasn’t safe from Pepper either. Pepper would follow Bobbi and try to grab her feet as she walked. And once Pepper became bold enough, she decided to hop onto Bobbi’s shell for a ride, albeit a very slow one. Calvin didn’t approve of this and would watch anxiously until Pepper got off.

Pepper also watches her mom, Calvin, very carefully. A lot of young animals learn how to behave from their parents, and swamp monkeys are no exception. Swamp monkeys sometimes like to wash their food, or rub it on rocks before eating it. They will perform this behavior while playing with enrichment items or rocks or anything else they can find. Calvin did this once when Pepper was only a few months old. Before we knew it, Pepper was trying to copy her mom. She grabbed a stick and rolled it on the ground. Calvin is an expert forager. She will spend hours digging through the mulch and dirt in the habitat, looking for bugs or for forage items that we put in there, like bird seed or currants. Pepper has mastered this behavior and will dig through the dirt with enthusiasm. And when she finds a long earthworm, she will go running around with it.

Pepper is an adorable little monkey, but she is also an important ambassador for her species. Not only is Naku a first-time dad, he was also born in the wild. Fifteen years ago, he was rescued from a market in Africa when he was about two years old. Because he was born in the wild, he has some very important genes, which he has now passed on to Pepper.

January’s Featured Member: Laurie Easter

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 January’s Featured Member: Laurie Easter


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

“I have lived in Houston since 1982 and in the 1990’s, I often took our daughters to the Houston Zoo when they were young.  As they became teenagers and developed their own interests, we stopped going together as much and they went on to graduate from college and start their careers.

Recently, however, my daughter Jessica Easter and her boyfriend Cameron Loucks inspired me to become a member of the Houston Zoo once again.  They participate in many of the Zoo’s events, and also support the Zoo’s efforts to protect endangered species and promote education about animals in the wild.  They introduced me to their favorites-primates, big cats, and elephants, although they appreciate all of the animals at the Zoo.  We also plan to make a trip to the Zoo Lights a new family tradition-it is unlike any other holiday experience.

After many conversations about their experiences with the Zoo and the importance of the Zoo’s mission, I initially joined mainly to support the Zoo financially.  Then I discovered a totally new way to enjoy the Zoo.  While taking a foreign exchange student to the Zoo, I discovered the Houston Methodist 1-mile walking path marked on the map.  I like to walk for exercise and overall health, but the treadmill can get boring; the mall is nice but indoors as well, and the city streets require close attention to traffic and intersections.  What better way to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors than to go to the Zoo?  I soon bought a membership online and arrived at the Zoo when it opened at 9 a.m.  Walking through the gates, I joined the usual early morning crowd of young moms with babies in strollers, grandparents enjoying the morning with their grandkids, and some school groups excitedly beginning their day.  I then followed the walking path marked on the map, and after leaving the main plaza in front of the gates, I quickly found myself alone with all of the wonderful animals starting their morning routines, along with the occasional Zoo employee who always gave me a friendly “hello”.  There I was face to face with a silent jaguar, an inquisitive gorilla, a stoic giraffe, and a baby elephant wagging its ears at me.  It was peaceful, beautiful, and quiet (except for the caws of the birds and occasional growl of a big cat), and I marveled at being able to enjoy and appreciate these residents of the Zoo in the calm, uncrowded morning.  Needless to say, my first morning walk was much more of a stroll to allow taking in all that the Zoo has to offer.

Since then, I’ve picked up the pace, but still make sure to pause and check in with my favorites—the jaguar, the giraffes, and the elephants.  I also have started to vary and lengthen my route, since one mile is no longer enough to enjoy everything I want to experience.  And as the fall weather arrives, I won’t be alone in my walks-after hearing me describe how much fun I have every morning, my husband plans to join me.  In addition, I’ve added the Zoo to my list of places I must take out of town family and friends to visit, and everyone has loved to experience it.

Medical experts say that almost everyone can benefit from a brisk walk—it’s good for your heart, bones, muscles, and most importantly, your sense of well-being.  I urge everyone to get a Houston Zoo membership, and enjoy the benefits of walking through the lush landscaped grounds.   It costs a lot less than a gym membership, and you’ll not only feel better physically, but you will support the Zoo’s mission to preserve and protect animals and their habitats, and also learn a lot about the creatures with whom we share this planet.”

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

Give the Gift of Grub

You probably know that the Houston Zoo has celebrated many additions to our animal family in 2017. We welcomed the births of two Masai giraffes, a California sea lion, two red river hogs, two jaguars, and even an Asian elephant! We also welcomed the arrivals of two cheetah cubs, and Hasani, a male lion, just joined our pride

All of us at the Houston Zoo are grateful to know that no matter how much our animal family grows, they have your support. One of the ways you can help our animals is by giving them the Gift of Grub. This special year-end campaign directly supports the care and feeding of every animal at the Zoo. As ambassadors for their wild counterparts, Houston Zoo animals deserve the best care possible—starting with tasty treats and nutritious meals! Every dollar you give goes toward our animal care program, and our generous partner, TXU Energy, is doubling the grub goodness by matching $50,000 in contributions to this campaign.

Here’s what your gift could buy for our animals:

$25 could buy five pounds of tempting trout for our otters

$50 could buy 150 pounds of crunchable carrots for our red river hogs

$100 could buy 50 pounds of mouthwatering meat for our jaguars

$250 could buy 27 bales of hearty hay for our Asian elephants

Will you Give the Gift of Grub to Houston Zoo animals this holiday season? This campaign ends December 31st, so please give today at www.houstonzoo.org/grub!

Redesigned Bear Habitat Coming Soon

Next year, the Houston Zoo will open a completely redesigned bear habitat for its two black bears thanks to the generous support of the Hamill Foundation. This expansion more than triples the space for Belle and Willow to explore. Guests will be able to experience the world of bears with unobstructed views of the habitat and get nose-to-nose with the beloved duo through a brand-new glass wall. The expanded habitat was designed to give the bears the highest quality of life and includes engaging features throughout like a revamped water feature, specially created climbing structures, and ample shade.

The Houston Zoo saves bears in the wild by participating in state protection planning in Texas. The team also leads efforts to help save bears in the wild through promotion of paper reduction and the use of recycled paper products. Bears need trees to live, and by using less paper or recycled-content paper products, fewer trees are cut down.

November’s Featured Members: The Buchanan 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 November’s Featured Members: The Buchanan Family

We are thrilled to have been zoo members for almost a year now! Our membership was purchased as a Christmas gift for our family last year from Honey and Papa (Hanna’s mom and dad). We could not have asked for a better present, and have made so many wonderful memories. A zoo visit is always our first choice when looking to entertain out of town guests, family and friends. Last year was our first year to attend zoo lights and it was magical. Our children Annie (3) and Rhett (1) were mesmerized by all of the little twinkles, and managed to stay awake, entertained, and happy way past bedtime. When trying to decide how we were going to spend Annie’s birthday this past June, a morning at the zoo was an easy choice!

Our zoo routine usually consists of getting there early, enjoying snacks along the way, and ALWAYS seeing the elephants, gorillas, and giraffes. Feeding the giraffes and riding the zebra on the carousel are Annie’s favorite activities, while Rhett’s favorite is crawling in the fish tunnel inside the natural encounters exhibit. At our last visit one of the incredible zoo keepers went out of her way to let the kids pet Max, the super elephant herding dog as we were watching baby Joy. It made their day, and Max was just precious! The Houston zoo provides so many fun learning opportunities as well as family friendly events. We definitely look forward to renewing our membership again.

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

 

Zoe the Zookeeper’s Halloween Adventure

Written by Dena Honeycutt


Every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you are saving animals in the wild. Zoe the Zookeeper’s Howlerween Adventure (during Zoo Boo) highlights one of the many ways the Houston Zoo helps our partners in the field. The adventure involves four quick kid-friendly games that teaches kids the process of reintroducing injured or rescued wild howler monkeys back into the wilds of Belize.

When you visit the zoo during Zoo Boo, Zoe’s Howlerween Adventure is on the map. Kids will get a stamp in the guide map after each game and at the end of the adventure, they will receive a special Howler Conservation Hero button!

The Primate department has been raising awareness and fundraising for Wildtracks in Belize www.wildtracksbelize.org (rescues, rehabilitates and releases howler monkeys and manatees) since 2009 during Zoo Boo. We also have a merchandise table selling one of kind animal art work and items made by zookeepers. All proceeds benefit Wildtracks. We also have an annual adult-friendly event called Hops for Howlers at Saint Arnolds.

Houston Zoo Conservation Gala Raises Nearly $1 Million for Madagascar

Last week, the Houston Zoo hosted its 10th annual Feed Your Wildlife Conservation Gala in the zoo’s Masihara Pavilion.  This year’s gala was dedicated to raising funds for saving animals in Madagascar, and the event collectively raised $963,601, of which $250,000 was committed by Herb Simons for the five-year salary of the zoo’s Director of Madagascar Programs Jonah Ratsimbazafy, PhD. 

Credit: Daniel Ortiz

Nearly 500 guests dined on salmon and braised beef by City Kitchen and were captivated by special guests Russell Mittermeier, PhD and Dr. Ratsimbazafy who spoke from the heart about the work being done in Madagascar to save the island’s precious inhabitants, including lemurs. 

Credit: Daniel Ortiz

Some of the evening’s most vied for items included a chance to help bathe the zoo’s Asian elephants, flipping the ceremonial switch to turn on the lights at Zoo Lights Presented by TXU Energy, and the opportunity to get up-close to lions at a training session. Also on offer was a special primate tour led by Dr. Ratsimbazafy to take place the morning after the gala. 

The Houston Zoo is proud to connect communities with wildlife, inspiring action to save animals in the wild. During the cocktail reception, guests met and took photos with several animals representing Madagascar including Mr. Pickles the Madagascar radiated tortoise, Jonah (named for Dr. Ratsimbazafy) the Madagascar lesser hedgehog tenrec, and some Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

Notable attendees:  Cathy & Joe Cleary; Coert & Molly Voorhees; Courtney & Bas Soleveld; David & Nancy Pustka; Dr. Cullen Geiselman; Lisa Marshall; Kay Onstead; Charles & Annie Duncan; Event Chairs Josh & Mindy Davidson; Matt & Rosemary Schatzman; Isabel and Danny David.

Happy Howlerween – Learn About our Howler Monkeys

Written by Rachel Sorge

One of the first animals you’ll see when you walk into our Wortham World of Primates complex at the Houston Zoo are our Black Howler Monkeys! However, you may hear them before you see them. Howler monkeys are thought to be not only the loudest primate on the planet, but possibly one of the loudest living land mammals in the world. Their garbage-disposal like call can be heard up to 3 miles away in a dense forest. Our howler monkey troop tends to start calling in reaction to the leaf blowers we have on grounds.

During the month of October, the primate team at the Houston Zoo puts on a Howlerween fundraiser to help raise money for Wildtracks; an organization that cares for and rehabilitate orphaned, injured, and sick howler monkeys back into the wild.

Here at the Houston Zoo we have three howler monkeys. Vida who is 23, Garcia, who is 21, and Ramone, who is 14. Vida and Garcia were both born here in Houston, but Ramone came to us in 2012 from the Palm Beach Zoo in Florida.

Ramone is very easily distinguishable from our two girls due to his black color, while Vida and Garcia are both tan-brown in color. All howler monkeys are born a tan color to help them camouflage easily in the forest canopy, but the males develop the black color as they get older. Males are also much larger than the females.

Vida and Garcia may be difficult to tell apart by just a glance, but if you study their faces you can tell that Garcia has a much smaller and shorter face, while Vida’s face is wider and longer. Vida tends to be braver than Garcia, and is always ready to explore enrichment items or new objects placed in the exhibit by her keepers. Garcia however, likes to wait to see if new things are safe before exploring.

Our howler group has a variety of favorites that they enjoy. They will always come greet their keepers if there is a fig or hibiscus flower in hand and they react best to food enrichment when there are frozen bananas involved. The howler monkeys also really enjoy when their keepers hang up mirrors for them, because they absolutely love staring at themselves, and we don’t blame them!

A lot of our guests often wonder why our howlers are sleeping for a large portion of the day, and it’s not because they’re just lazy! In the wild, the howler monkey diet consists mostly of leaves and a small variety of fruits and nuts. Due to the lack of calories in their diet howler monkeys tend to sleep for a majority of their day, about 80%, saving their energy for the important things, like foraging for food and calling to defend their territory!

The next time you are walking through our Wortham World of Primates make sure to say hello to our trio!

 

 

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We're celebrating the hatching of our first Attwater’s prairie chicken of the 2018 breeding season, with many more soon-to-hatch eggs currently in incubation. The chick marks an important phase in the zoo’s conservation breeding program which is focused on reintroducing the critically endangered birds to their native coastal prairie habitat. ... See MoreSee Less

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Awesome work as usual Houston Zoo!

Wonderful!

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Action shot of our little Shallot by Mary from the hoofed stock team. We were going to make a (admittedly bad) joke about pigs flying, but Shallot doesn't need any help being adorable. ... See MoreSee Less

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Action shot of our little Shallot by Mary from the hoofed stock team. We were going to make a (admittedly bad) joke about pigs flying, but Shallot doesnt need any help being adorable.

 

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They named him Shallot tho Anastasia Bolshakov

Love the name!!

What a cutie pie!

Love the name!

very cute 😊

Ellie Wheeler, so cute!

Allison Wagner can we go see this little bug in action

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