Home Schoolers Go Above and Beyond for Wildlife

Written by Kate Unger


Every time someone visits the Houston Zoo, they are helping to save animals in the wild! Our guests learn a lot on a Zoo visit, from animal stories to conservation projects. One audience that is going above and beyond to learn how they can make a difference is our Home Schoolers! This group took part in three programs last fall, all created just for them with animal experiences and a wildlife focus. They worked out their brain muscles during Eco-Experiments, became a field researcher at the Texas City Prairie Preserve, and searched the Zoo for clues at Scavenger Hunt Safari. These days all focused on animals and tied into many of our six wildlife saving initiatives, including plastics pollution and pollinators.

Students were able to think outside the box and come up with ways to help wildlife, both locally and worldwide. They learned about an endangered local habitat, the Texas coastal prairie, and discovered ways to learn about ecosystems in new and meaningful ways. This spring, we will be learning even with new classes focusing on hands-on learning and exploration in nature. Thank you to the families that participated this fall and we look forward to new and exciting programs with you in the spring!

“So You Play with Animals All Day?”

This blog was written by Houston Zoo employee: Leia Cook, Early Childhood Programs Coordinator.

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My name is Leia Cook and I get this question a lot. I am not sure what surprises people most, the fact they’ve met someone who works at a zoo or that I don’t really play with the animals all day. I am actually part of a team called the Conservation Education department and have recently (and proudly) reached my one-year anniversary at Houston Zoo this past summer. When I first came aboard, I was assigned the Home School section of the education department. I was responsible for coordinating the program which included four, fun, yet educational, days on zoo grounds and one field day out at Texas City Prairie Reserve. It was my first foot into the door and it was pretty cool. But soon after I came on board, our department received a makeover and we shook some things up.

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You see, during the summer the Houston Zoo hosts a children’s camp. The ages ranged from four years old to the age of 12. For the entire summer, I worked with the “littles” as we called them. Our four and five age groups were by far, the most entertaining ones to me! Once you got past the “I miss my mommy” tears during the morning drop off, these kids were ready and raring to go! They are always so full of life and some are extremely knowledgeable about the animals at that age! I had a blast with the “littles” and it showed. When Melanie, our Senior Director of Conservation Education, was hired, she decided to chat with us about our positions. In this meeting, we asked her suggestions on where she saw each of our team members excelling. It was then, I was officially given my niche of Early Childhood.

My full title is a bit of a mouthful. I am the Early Childhood Programs Coordinator. While the name is big, the program has some catching up to do! I am currently coordinating the only program under this umbrella, Wild Wheels. Wild Wheels is geared towards zero to three years olds and their adults. It offers them a front of scenes tour and classroom time where they have an array of nature items like smooth river rocks, pine cones and tree cookies for manipulation. One of the highlights is the sensory bin which is filled with a unique substance each time they come to class. They also have a chance to meet and maybe even touch an animal friend.

rainbow-bubbles-binIn the coming months, it will be my job to build as well as expand upon the early childhood programs. Using the zoos mission, I intend to create a number of opportunities for children and their adults to begin their connection to nature.

Zoo Employees: Expedition to Kenya Pt. 5

This blog was written by Mollie Coym, a Supervisor in the Zoo’s Bird Department. Mollie Coym received an award from the American Association of Zoo Keepers and support from the Houston Zoo to visit Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.  We will be posting a series of blogs as Mollie documents her experiences overseas.


tree-lewaAs our fantastic trip to Lewa came to a close, I was able to reflect on everything we had seen and learned about.  Lewa is so much more than just a wild animal reserve.

They are not only a great conservation reserve where you can go on game drives and see exotic wildlife, but they serve as an education center, healthcare provider, entrepreneur support, and provide security for the surrounding communities.  All of these projects help to improve the surrounding communities and encourage people to think about conservation in a different way.

By supporting zoo conservation efforts and events like Bowling for Rhinos, you can help support these initiatives to not only save wildlife and wild place, but to make a real difference in other people’s lives.

 

To learn more about Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, please visit www.lewa.org.

Zoo Employees: Expedition to Kenya Pt. 4

This blog was written by Mollie Coym, a Supervisor in the Zoo’s Bird Department. Mollie Coym received an award from the American Association of Zoo Keepers and support from the Houston Zoo to visit Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.  We will be posting a series of blogs as Mollie documents her experiences overseas. 


water-project-lewaLewa Wildlife Conservancy does a lot of work with the surrounding communities to help improve the quality of life for the people through capacity building.

I mentioned in a previous post about their expansive security team.  Lewa’s Rangers provide security for the surrounding communities by helping to resolve issues with thefts and trespassing, among other things.  Lewa is also working with local farming communities to build safe drinking water reservoirs and practice sustainable farming techniques.

Another community effort has been the addition of several clinics around Lewa.  These clinics provide care for pregnant women, immunizations for children, and basic medical care for everyone and mobile clinics for communities in remote areas.  This is a very important effort since there are no hospitals nearby.

Lewa also works with local women who are interested in starting a business.  They provide small business loans to get their ideas off the ground.  Once they have repaid the loan, they are eligible to get a larger loan and expand their business.

crafts-lewaIt is important to note that these projects require the communities to work towards these goals.  Lewa assists with funding and expertise, but the people must be involved in planning, building, and executing the projects.  By helping the people live healthy, productive, and safe lives, Lewa gains support and allies for conservation.

 

To learn more about Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, please visit www.lewa.org.

Dandy the Elf Returns Home to the North Pole

 Dandy is the Houston Zoo’s elf off the shelf zoo keeper that visits after Thanksgiving and returns to her home in time for Christmas. She wanted to share a collection of her favorite moments of working at the Houston Zoo this holiday season.


Hello friends! I’m Dandy the Elf and I’ve traveled all the way from the North Pole to be a part of the Houston Zoo team. Every year I receive direct orders from Kris Kringle himself to fly down to Texas and care for Houston Zoo animals during the holiday season. I have to say this is my second time doing so and I love it! Unfortunately, my time at the Houston Zoo this holiday season is coming to an end. It’s all tiny hands on deck tonight and the big boss needs me back home at the North Pole. But, before I go I would like to share some magical moments I have had during my stay at the Houston Zoo.

 


Here are some of my favorite photos.

 

On the very first day I arrived at the Houston Zoo I was so excited to do one of my favorite parts of the job, which is hang with the animals! I sat with a baby African Pygmy Falcon outside of the Kipp Aquarium. The excitement was almost too much to contain.


 

 

Later, I was given more duties like feeding the giraffes on the giraffe feeding platform.
I think the some candy cane bits got into the pieces of lettuce I gave to my tall friends.

 


I felt so proud to be a part of the grand opening of TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights!
The zoo transformed into a magical wonderland of twinkling stars and great music. I drank tons of hot cocoa that night.


 

Ahhhh. Some of the best parts about being in Texas is the weather. I’m from way up north where we do not get much sun. I appreciated this day by the Chilean flamingos.


Taking rides on the carousel before starting my day was a must.


Someone snapped me reflecting in the Natural Encounter’s Exhibit.
This journey with the Houston Zoo in 2016 has been one of my greatest experiences.


 

This is the last photo I want to leave everyone with! This year’s holiday season was magical. I enjoyed working next to all the zoo staff and caring for the animals. The Houston Zoo really cares about helping save wildlife and wild places. This experience was a breath of fresh air, and just what I needed.


Thank you Houston Zoo for inviting me back for another year.
I look forward to seeing everyone in 2017!

Candy canes & kisses,

Dandy the Elf

Zoo Employees: Expedition to Kenya Pt. 3

This blog was written by Mollie Coym, a Supervisor in the Zoo’s Bird Department. Mollie Coym received an award from the American Association of Zoo Keepers and support from the Houston Zoo to visit Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.  We will be posting a series of blogs as Mollie documents her experiences overseas. 


villagers-lewaOne of the key factors of conservation is education.  Lewa strives to educate people of all levels.  One of the educational services they provide is their Conservation Education Center.  The CEC is like a small museum with educational displays that teach visitors about Lewa, why poaching is bad, why it is important to practice sustainable farming, and why pollinators are important.  They also have dorms on site that allow groups from further away communities to have the opportunity to spend the night and learn all about Lewa.

Lewa also helps to sponsor many local schools through funding new buildings, food programs so the children stay in school, and scholarships that support further education.  Many of the students who receive the scholarships are orphaned and needy children.  The schools also work to teach the children about responsible farming, wildlife protection and water usage.  In addition, Lewa also conducts adult literacy programs.

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All of these educational programs are key to getting the surrounding communities involved in caring about wildlife and taking action to conserve the environment. The communities get to see the direct benefits of protecting wildlife through Lewa’s support of schools and the bursary programs.

 

To learn more about Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, please visit www.lewa.org.

Year of the Monkey: December

Written by: Brianna Bauer
Allen’s Swamp Monkey



2016 is almost at an end, and so is the Year of the Monkey. We will be rounding out the year with one of my favorite species, Allen’s swamp monkey. Houston Zoo has two Allen’s swamp monkeys. Naku and Calvin. Let’s start with a question. What do ducks, otters, turtles, and swamp monkeys all have in common? The pictures might give you a hint. They love water and they have webbed feet! Swamp monkeys may not have fully webbed feet, like a duck, but they do have some webbing between their toes. They spend some time in the water and they can even swim! They will also dive into the water to escape from predators. The webbing in between their toes helps them swim.

This is just one example of how you can tell a lot about an animal, just by looking at it. You just have to know what to look for. So what else can we tell about a swamp monkey?

Some monkeys spend most of their time up in the trees, while others spend more time on the ground. What if I told you that you could make a pretty good guess about whether primates live in the trees or on the ground by looking at their arm to leg ratio? It can also tell you how they move around. Primates that live in the trees, but run on all fours, have legs that are slightly longer. DeBrazza’s guenons are an example of this. Orangutans and gibbons are examples of primates that live in the trees and get around by swinging from branch to branch. They have arms that are much longer than their legs. There are primates that have longer legs. These either walk around on two legs, like people, or they are tree-dwelling vertical clingers and leapers, like sifaka. Primates like swamp monkeys, that tend to live on the ground, usually have arms and legs that are about the same length. Swamp monkeys don’t spend all of their time on the ground, though, and when they do climb trees, they use their long tails to help them balance.

Swamp monkeys display what is called ‘sexual dimorphism’. This means that there are physical differences between males and females. In the case of swamp monkeys, the males are bigger than the females. The size difference suggests that males have to compete for females, or protect females from other males. Swamp monkeys live in groups consisting of multiple males and females. Primate species that tend to form monogamous pairs are more likely to have males and females that are similar in size, like gibbons or tamarins.

If you watch Calvin and Naku here at the zoo, you’ll see them both on the ground, and climbing around the exhibit. And especially when it’s hot, you might see them in the water, or just dipping their toes in. They don’t only use water to cool off, but you might also see Naku wash his food off before eating it.

Next time you’re at the zoo, walk around and take a really good look at all of the primates. What can you learn about their lifestyle, just by looking at them?

Update on baby Giant Anteater “Rio”

Written by: Memory Mays



Back in early September, the Houston Zoo introduced its newest Giant Anteater baby to the public. Now almost three months old, “Rio” has been bringing smiles to everyone who visits. Rio continues to grow at a normal and healthy weight, and has been developing a personality that everyone enjoys.
We often find Rio wandering the nearby surroundings, exploring and investigating everything while Rio’s mom is taking a nap. We’ve watched Rio learn how to run, play, try new food, and explore all of the fun and interesting smells our South America habitat has to offer (meanwhile never straying too far away from mom “Olive”).

Zoo Employees: Expedition to Kenya Pt. 2

This blog was written by Mollie Coym, a Supervisor in the Zoo’s Bird Department. Mollie Coym received an award from the American Association of Zoo Keepers and support from the Houston Zoo to visit Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.  We will be posting a series of blogs as Mollie documents her experiences overseas. 



Travelling to Kenya was a long journey.  Between airports and airplanes, we were travelling for over 24 hours before arriving in the capital, Nairobi, around 10 PM.  It took a while to get our bags as they experience rolling black outs.  Just before midnight, we were on our way to stay at the Wildebeest Eco-Lodge. Then, the next morning, it was about a 1 hour drive to the smaller Wilson Airport where we got on a Safarilink flight to Lewa.  This was 2 short flights that took about an hour.
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Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a 61,000-acre wildlife reserve.   While a strong focus is placed on protecting rhinos, they also strive to protect all wildlife that is found there including elephants, gazelle, many species of birds, warthogs, and lions, Grevy’s zebra to name a few.  The Grevy’s zebra is also endangered and can only be found North of the equator in Kenya.
cranes-lewaLewa has not had any rhinos poached since 2013.  This is in large part due to their strong security efforts.  The security team has a very high tech system of computers, radios, etc that let them monitor Lewa closely.  There is a team of Rangers always on guard.  Lewa also has a dog tracking team and we got to see a great demonstration of their skills on our first full day at Lewa.  These highly skilled dogs can trace the scent of poachers/vandals/thieves and guide the security team to them so that they can be arrested.  They also work closely with the people in the surrounding communities.  People let them know if they see something suspicious happening.

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Lewa works with many other conservancies as part of the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) to track elephant movements.  They help to provide a corridor so that the elephants may travel safely. In addition, Lewa provides safe environment for all species within the habitat.  While we were there, we saw a great variety of wildlife including many species of birds, cheetahs, lions, elephants, warthogs, monkeys, giraffes, and impala, just to name a few.

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To learn more about Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, please visit www.lewa.org.

Zoo Employees: Expedition to Kenya Pt. 1

This blog was written by Mollie Coym, a Supervisor in the Zoo’s Bird Department. Mollie Coym received an award from the American Association of Zoo Keepers and support from the Houston Zoo to visit Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.  We will be posting a series of blogs as Mollie documents her experiences overseas. 


bowling-for-rhinos-2rhino-at-lewaBowling for Rhinos (BFR) started in 1990 as an American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK) fundraiser to support the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in Kenya.  Since then, over 80 AAZK chapters from all over the country host annual bowling events and all the donations are sent to directly support rhino conservation areas in Kenya and in Indonesia.  Each June, the Greater Houston Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers (GHCAAZK) hosts a Bowling for Rhinos event.  The Houston chapter has donated over $160,000 since we started hosting BFR events in 1991.

Each year, AAZK awards two people the opportunity to see how their efforts help aid wildlife conservation at Lewa Conservancy in Kenya.  In 2015, I was awarded the Anna Merz Champion Honorary trip to Lewa.  With additional support from the Houston Zoo, I was able to travel to Lewa in October 2016.
safari-airplane-pilotThe Lewa Wildlife Conservancy is a model for community based conservation and became a UNESCO world heritage site in 2013.  Not only does Lewa work to protect the habitat and the species that live within their boundaries, but they also work with other neighboring conservancies and the surrounding communities.  Through a variety of security programs, school programs, clinics, and community based projects, Lewa works with the communities to improve their livelihoods which, in turn, helps wildlife.

In this blog series, I will talk about my amazing experiences and explain how Lewa collaborates with many community partners to protect not just rhinos, but a whole ecosystem.

To learn more about Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, please visit www.lewa.org

To learn more about Bowling for Rhinos, please visit https://www.aazk.org/bowling-for-rhinos/

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