Critically Endangered Fish in the Swap Shop

Cichlids come in many colors
Cichlids come in many colors

The next time you visit the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, check out our newest residents. We have received 3 critically endangered Lake Victoria cichlids (Haplochromis perrieri) from the New England Aquarium.  Lake Victoria is one of the great lakes of Africa and it is the third largest lake in Africa.  Several factors have contributed to the decline of this species in the wild.  One of the biggest issues is the Nile Perch.  Nile Perch were introduced to Lake Victoria in the 1950’s.  This non-native species had a population boom in the 1980’s which coincided with the decline of Haplochromis perrieri from the lake.  Sadly, the Haplochromis perrieri haven’t been seen in the wild since the 1980’s.

Lake Victoria Cichlid
Lake Victoria Cichlid

In general, cichlids are very popular with fish enthusiasts. There are many varieties with a huge range of colors to choose from.  There are well over 1,000 cichlid species in the wild and it is estimated that there are several hundred species in Lake Victoria alone.

Cichlids are only found in tropical and subtropical zones of Africa, the Americas and Asia.  In Africa, they are found mostly in the lakes of the great rift valley in east Africa – Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika and of course, Lake Victoria.  They vary in size from the smallest at 1.4” to the largest species at 28-32” in length.

What are some of the most interesting things about cichlids?  These fish can change color to reflect their mood – such as aggression, stress or being ready to spawn.  They live in very different habitats including rocky shorelines, sandy or muddy bottoms or shores with and without vegetation.  Most cichlids are omnivores, eating things like mosquito larvae, tiny crustaceans and worms.  Some are pure carnivores and specialize in hunting smaller fish.  There are also cichlids that are strictly plant or algae eaters.  Some cichlid species are mouth

Cichlids provide lots of variety and color to your fish tank
Cichlids provide lots of variety and color to your fish tank

brooders.  Mouth brooders hold eggs in their mouths to hide them from predators.  Even after hatching, the babies are allowed into the parent’s mouth if they are in danger.

Our new cichlids are found I Lake Victoria over sand and mud in the littoral or shoreline zones.  They can reach a total length of approximately 2.5 inches.  The females are primarily gray with some black markings, while the males of the species show more color.  They are hunters, eating fish for their diet.  They are also mouth brooders and hold the eggs in their mouth until they hatch.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Three Tiny Bush Vipers at Houston Zoo

By: Jackie Wallace

13415660_10154349183977526_1128220140336758444_oThis spring, three tiny green bush vipers were born on March 26. Like most pit vipers, the neonates were born live instead of hatched from eggs like many other types of snakes. Originally a part of a group of six, only three have survived and have doubled in weight since their birth. They are expected to grow to be between 18-24 inches long. Despite their name, green bush vipers vary in color, mostly shades of green, but can also be bright yellow or grey. These snakes are found in the tropical rainforests of western and central Africa and get their name from their preference for lower bushes rather than the tall canopy trees. Guests can see all kinds of exotic and local snakes in the zoo’s Reptile and Amphibian House. The baby snakes will remain behind-the-scenes while they continue to grow.





New Girls in Town! African Painted Dogs

New Girls in Town!

Three female African painted dogs have crossed the pond and joined our two bachelors to make a pack of five! Amara, Ghost, and Akilah, formerly from a zoo in the United Kingdom, were introduced to Blaze and Mikita late April.  Their keepers have been enjoying seeing the new pack and how the boys appear to be enjoying the company of the new ladies!

dogs 1






From left to right: Ghost, Akilah, and Amara

With a larger pack comes a different challenge for keepers.  Carnivore keepers at the Houston Zoo work “protected contact” with the painted dogs.  This means that we do not go into their habitat unless they have “shifted” or moved into their bedrooms and the door is secure.  We usually call our carnivores into their bedrooms every morning and serve them breakfast before going outside to clean.  The dogs have discovered that they can send in a few “scouts” to quickly grab some treats and bring them back into the habitat for the rest of the pack!

dogs 2






Ghost and Akilah greet Mikita

Each girl is starting to show her own personality and it is fun seeing the boys react to their antics.  We will be highlighting our new females on the zoo blog in the weeks to come in order to usher in our 4th annual Dog Days of Summer Celebration!  Please come join our pack Friday June 10 and Saturday June 11 from 9AM-2PM for keeper interactions, enrichment demonstrations, and free kids’ crafts!


Endangered Wild Dogs Form New Pack

Painted Dog Intro-0007-9208For the Houston Zoo’s pair of elderly male African painted dogs, Tuesday, April 26 brought a whole lot of excitement as they were introduced to their new pack mates, three female dogs that recently moved to Houston from a zoo in the UK. The two- and three-year-old females spent the past 30 days in required quarantine and once they were given the all-clear from the staff veterinarians, moved to their new home where they will reside with Mikita (10) and Blaze (14). The new names of the females will be chosen by the keepers who care for them and will be announced soon. 

Painted Dog Intro-0005-8715

African painted dogs are also referred to as African wild dogs or African hunting dogs. As one of the most endangered species in Africa, with less than 5,000 left in the wild, the Houston Zoo works with conservationists at Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe to help save this species from extinction. Some of the ways the Houston Zoo helps save these animals in the wild is by providing vital financial support and training to the conservation programs which enables community members to conduct anti-poaching education, rehabilitate injured dogs, reintroduce dogs into the wild, and monitor wild packs. The zoo’s facilities team has also assisted with creating special tracking collars for researchers to use on wild painted dogs. These collars collect valuable data about the painted dogs’ movement patterns, as well as help protect them from deadly snare wire traps set out by poachers.

Rare Bird Hatches at the Zoo

Our newest hatchling is a Victoria crowned pigeon, hatched Jan. 24.  The party-hatted, blue knockout can be seen with its parents in the Birds of the World section of the zoo. While the gender of the bird is still unknown, the bird has a brother who hatched Dec. 21, 2015.
vic pig

vic pig2The first chick was hatched out by keepers after the parents abandoned the egg. He is currently being hand-raised behind-the-scenes by the zoo’s expert bird keepers.  While they can fly, the extinction-vulnerable Victoria crowned pigeons are ground-dwellers and native to the island of New Guinea. Victoria crowned pigeons are also monogamous, and typically mate for life.


New Tiger Joins Houston Zoo Family

The Houston Zoo is proud to welcome their newest resident, an adult male tiger named Berani. The three-year-old, 280lb Malayan tiger made his Texas debut Tuesday morning after making the long journey to Houston from Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, WA in late January. The move was the result of a recommendation by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP) to find Houston Zoo’s female Malayan tiger, Satu, a suitable companion.

© Stephanie Adams, Houston Zoo
© Stephanie Adams, Houston Zoo

Berani and Satu, will take turns in the tiger yard while they undergo a formal introduction process overseen by the zookeepers. They will spend increasingly longer periods of time together in the yard as they complete the formal introduction process.

Fewer than 3,500 tigers of all tiger subspecies remain in the wild today, according to the Tiger Conservation Campaign. Malayan tigers surviving on the Malay Peninsula are critically endangered with an estimated population of 300 remaining in the wild.

Meet January the Baby Gerenuk

Written by Memory Mays

Baby Gerenuk January-0001-2242What is small, cute, has really long skinny legs, and very tiny hooves? Have you ever seen a newborn Gerenuk gazelle calf? Well, enjoy this picture of absolute cuteness.

Like any baby, Gerenuk calves are extremely adorable even though they may look a little unique with their skinny long legs and neck. If you’ve never seen one before, you might want to think about visiting The Houston Zoo soon. We are extremely happy to announce that our resident Gerenuk named Josie has just given birth to a healthy calf on January 9, 2016. The calf is a little female and has been named January by her caretakers.

Weighing in at 7.8 pounds, January was already walking when she was 45 minutes old and exploring her new home shortly after. January will join her older brother Julius and father Mr. Lee on exhibit soon and will have many adventures there. Next time you visit the Houston Zoo, make sure you stop by to see January with her family. If she isn’t running around the yard having her adventures, she’ll probably be curled up napping in the grass, so keep your eyes wide open.

Baby Gerenuk January-0018-2377

Houston Zoo Welcomes First Baby Born in 2016

Baby Gerenuk January-0001-2242On the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 9 the first baby of 2016 was born at the Houston Zoo. The female gerenuk calf weighed 3.5 kg and began nursing within an hour of birth. The calf is named January in honor of her birth month and can now been seen with mom, Josie, with the rest of the gerenuk family (dad, Mr. Lee, and brother, Julius)at the zoo. Gerenuk are a species of long-necked gazelle and native to the Horn of Africa and the word “gerenuk” means “giraffe-necked” in the Somali language.

Not only do they look different, they have a unique ability that sets them apart from any other antelope or gazelle species. Gerenuk can stand and balance themselves on their hind legs to reach the higher leaves that many other animals cannot reach. Gerenuk have been known to stand on their hind legs like this at just two weeks old. It shouldn’t be long until we see January do the same.

Baby Gerenuk January-0027-2466

Nyala Babies – Bounding and Abounding

Baby Nyala Opal-0001-9371

Meet Opal. She’s one of four baby nyala born at the Houston Zoo over the past two months, and boy is she a cutie! The zoo’s keeper team noticed soon after she was born on Aug. 25 that she wasn’t nursing very well from mom, Ruby, so they quickly intervened and taught the calf to bottle-feed, but kept her living with her mother so they could continue to bond behind-the-scenes. Soon, however, the keepers saw Opal nursing from Ruby! This Monday, the team ended all bottles for Opal, and she is continuing to successfully nurse and eat solid foods which includes grain, hay, and produce.

Opal and her mom will continue to stay in their barn for a few more weeks, but guests and Members can see the other three new nyala frolicking around the yard every day at the zoo’s West Hoofed Run. Additional baby nyala include Wallace (mom Willow), born July 29; Fancy (Lola), Aug. 12; and Fern (Ivy), Sept. 8.

Baby Nyala Opal-0002-9379Nyala are members of the antelope family and the spiral-horned males can weigh up to 275 pounds and females weigh up to 150 pounds. When born, nyala generally weigh 10 pounds.

Malaysian Giant Pond Turtle Babies!

Baby Malayan Giant Black Pond Turtle-0005-6434The Malaysian giant pond turtle, Orlitia borneensis, is a large turtle found in the rivers and lakes of the Malay Peninsula, Borneo, and Sumatra.  Adults can reach almost three feet in length and can weigh over 100 pounds. Its diet consists mostly of fish, vegetation, and fruits. Listed as Endangered by the IUCN, the Giant pond turtle has been heavily exploited for its meat, and populations are in decline throughout the native habitat.


Because of the large size and nature of giant pond turtles, this species is rarely seen in zoos. Captive reproduction is very rare. The Houston Zoo was fortunate to acquire a group of these animals as juveniles and has been displaying them since 2002. The turtles have now reached maturity and we are proud to report that this summer, the Houston Zoo successfully hatched four adorable babies! Getting out of a shell can be tough work. Baby turtles have something called an egg tooth. The egg tooth or caruncle is a temporary structure that is used to cut through the egg membrane and break through the shell.  Once there is a hole in the egg, the turtle can break out. Although the hatchlings are currently not on display, you can see the adults in the orangutan moat; though you may have to be patient as they are a very secretive species!

Baby Malayan Giant Black Pond Turtle-0012-6886

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