The Houston Zoo Launches our First-Ever Comic Book!

At the Houston Zoo we are passionate about the animals in our care, the animals they represent in the wild, and the challenges they face in their native homes. One of the biggest responsibilities we have at the Zoo is to tell the stories of wildlife around the globe, connect them to our animals at the Zoo, and encourage our community to take action to help!

comic book coverLocally, the Houston Zoo is very proud of our partnership with numerous organizations to save sea turtles. To celebrate the achievements of our local community in saving sea turtles, the Houston Zoo designed a comic book to tell this important conservation story in a fun and interesting way! The comic book, “Saving Wildlife: Sea Turtle Edition” focuses on a family visiting Galveston who happens to find an injured sea turtle that needs help. You’ll have to pick up your very own copy of the comic book in the Zoo’s Naturally Wild Swap Shop to find out the rest of the story, but you will not be disappointed! Simply visit the Zoo’s Swap Shop (in the Children’s Zoo) and say this secret code (tortuga power!to receive your copy of this limited edition comic book!

Make sure to check out the back inside cover page where you can learn how to take action to help save sea turtles locally. By filling out this page and bringing it back to the Zoo’s Naturally Wild Swap Shop (open daily 9:00 – 11:45 a.m. and 1:00 – 3:45 p.m.) you can earn points to be used to swap for cool items like rocks, fossils and bones!

emma comic book shot

What’s happening again?

What: Limited edition “Saving Wildlife: Sea Turtle Edition” comic book

Where: Houston Zoo’s Naturally Wild Swap Shop

Why: Learn about our local sea turtles, the challenges they face in the wild, what the Zoo and other partners are doing to help, and how you can help! Plus, you can earn points to use in the Swap Shop just by reading and learning from a comic book!

How: Visit the Swap Shop and say the secret code (tortuga power!to Houston Zoo staff to receive your comic book.

When: Comic books available starting today! The Swap Shop is open daily 9:00am-11:45 am and 1:00pm-3:45pm.

Responsible Palm Oil: How One Company is Making the Switch

Orang-palm-oil-blogPalm oil is a common ingredient in everyday items like candy, chocolate, shampoo, snacks, and lots more. It is found in so many products, there is a good chance that you have already eaten or used something with palm oil in it today! Because palm oil can be so widely used, the demand is rapidly increasing and huge areas of pristine tropical forests are being cut down to make more palm oil plantations.

The good news is that a growing group of people are working to protect these areas and the animals who live there. Some large American companies are now switching to more responsible practices, and there is growing support for the movement to produce palm oil in a way that does not harm wildlife or their habitat. Pursuing deforestation-free palm oil is a lengthy process that spans the globe and addresses every link of the supply chain beginning on plantations in the tropics, through factories in North America, to its final destination on shelves in your local store.

Here’s a look at how one company, General Mills, is doing it:

General Mills Palm Oil Graphic with HZI link.resizeto550w

Since the summer of 2014, more than 5,000 visitors to zoos in Portland, Tacoma, Houston and Philadelphia have thanked General Mills for pursuing deforestation-free palm oil. You can join in the movement and send a message to General Mills on our website!

Here’s what General Mills had to say:
“We share your concern about deforestation and its negative impact on biodiversity. For this reason, it matters to us that our palm oil purchases do not harm the world’s rainforests.

While General Mills is a relatively small user of palm oil, we are committed to sourcing 100% of our palm oil from responsible and sustainable sources. We are making good progress towards our goal: in 2014, we sourced 83% of our palm oil sustainably.

Thanks again for taking time to voice your support. We appreciate it and believe that together, we can protect and conserve the natural resource upon which we all depend.”


The World Needs an Auto Correct

I am not completely technologically challenged but my iPhone feels that I am. Auto Correct can be helpful, except apparently to me. So when I type in “What would you like for dinner” and the message that goes out is “I have a lamb named Lew Alcinder” you can understand why my wife does not respond.

And this is exactly what has happened to wildlife much in part due to our news leading off with every bad story they can find. We no longer pay attention and respond. Organizations and media follow this path and every bad bit of news is right there at your fingertips. How does that make you feel? Helpless? Hopeless? Not your problem?


96 elephants die every day for the ivory trade to be made into carvings in people’s homes.

5 rhinos die every day so their horns can be used in “traditional” medicine.

4,000 endangered Philippine Pond Turtles were confiscated in May on their way to being someone’s dinner in another country.

The Pangolin: the world’s most heavily traded mammal. 1 million animals lost in the last 10 years so their scales can be used for medicine and their bodies for soup.


How in the world is any of this going to make you believe you can make a difference? It makes you sad, upset, and confused (What is a Pangolin!!) but it also makes you move on to the next media story because you see no simple action that will make a difference. And if you cannot make a difference in the lives of elephants, rhinos, turtles and pangolins, how can you be inspired to care? Basically, we have a smaller attention span than a gnat these days and creating a simple action to help save animals in the wild is the difference between tuning out and caring.

I am a Pangolin. Now finish reading the blog.

So the world needs an Auto Correct.

You know right from wrong so I am not going to tell you what you should not do (do not buy ivory, stop eating shark fin soup…sorry, I will stop right there).

So, what if I told you (I am telling you right now) that you can protect sea turtles by using less plastic and keeping the plastic you use out of the waste stream? Would that action help you to care?

What if you recycled your cell phone and electronics? They are oddly connected to gorillas, okapi and elephants in Central Africa through the product in their circuit boards. Closer to home, you do not want all of that electronic waste in the landfill finding its way into our waterways and eventually the Gulf of Mexico so recycling once again is a simple solution.


What if you planted one plant on your patio or in your backyard for a butterfly or hummingbird? Would seeing that butterfly or hummingbird inspire you to care?

What if one simple action from every zoo guest, all 2.3 million of you, made a difference? It can and it will and it will inspire you to care. That is simply why the world needs to auto correct.

Until then I need to figure out how to stop my iPhone from chastising my tortillas and pickling my verbs.

Take Action_Logo_Pollinators

Houston Zoo is Ditching Plastic Bags

Take-Action-Logo-300pxOn July 1, we will begin asking shoppers to find alternate ways to take their merchandise home from the Zoo’s Gift Shop. Why you ask? Plastic pollution is harmful to wildlife such as sea turtles and pelicans. Known to many as “the world’s most preventable problem,” plastic pollution has grown exponentially over the last 50 years suffocating our oceans. While that sentence is full of disheartening truth the reality is that all hope is not lost!

Plastic most definitely enters oceans via activity on land. The miracle polymer that has provided humans with engineering and medical advances certainly has a place in the world. Can you imagine a hospital without a sterile IV? However, the single-use, throw away items could be used less. Drink lids, straws, and single-use plastic bags are some of the most prevalent items found floating in the open ocean. The good news is they all have reusable options! So what happens to the plastic when its time on land is done and it makes its way out to sea?t It will eventually, though it may take years, make its way to one of the five gyres. These gyres are located in the North and South Pacific Oceans, the North and South Atlantic Oceans, and the Indian Ocean. Think of a gyre as a huge tornado of currents that pulls in the plastic aimlessly floating around. Plastics in our oceans harm wildlife and are susceptible to removal by animal consumption. Laysan albatross are attracted to colorful plastic pieces that look like small fish and sea turtles may confuse a plastic bag with a tasty jellyfish. Not only do marine animals have to watch out for plastics they can see, but an even more substantial issue is the plastic they can’t see. Plastic never REALLY goes away. It’s so efficient in its construction that it only breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces, but never actually biodegrades. Instead, it becomes microplastic. Small enough to integrate into schools of phytoplankton and krill, microplastics then become a part of one of the largest part of the ocean’s food chain and are ingested by whales and other marine wildlife.

Buy this reusable canvas bag in the Houston Zoo Gift Shop on your next visit!

Such a huge problem seems like it can never be solved, but that is not the case. By taking action and making small choices in your everyday life YOU can be a part of the solution! Use a reusable shopping bag and water bottle, politely decline straws and drink lids, and buying products that don’t contain microbeads are easy, everyday choices all of us can make that add up to big solution.

The Houston Zoo wants to be a part of the solution. Next time you visit the Zoo gift shop bring your own resuable bag, buy one of the reusable options if you don’t already have one, or decline the use of a bag completely. Thank you for taking action and helping save wildlife.

Protect the Pack!

African painted dogs face many threats in the wild.  One of the largest dangers to dogs is snaring.  Poachers set up snares in the bush, meaning to capture animals for bush meat.  However, snares are indiscriminant and capture more than what they are intended for.

Mock ups 2 copyConservationists in Zimbabwe discovered that specialized radio collars can help keep collared dogs from receiving mortal wounds due to snaring.  These original collars did well, but the researchers felt that they could be improved.  Staff from the Facilities Department in the Houston Zoo collaborated with other institutions to help design and build a new collar.

Brandon working on a new collar.
Brandon working on a new collar.

The new collars have a lighter-weight material and clips attached, designed to catch the snare wire before it can constrict around a dog’s neck.  Once the wire is caught within the clips the dog can easily break it.  These simple modifications can help save dogs’ lives!

The 5th clip design for the new collars is currently being tested.  Once those trials are done, almost 900 tests will have been performed!  Much of this collaboration is made possible by Painted Dog Protection Initiative .

If you would like to learn more about this collar project and other ways the Houston Zoo is helping to save animals in the wild, please join us for our 3rd annual Dog Days of Summer celebration on June 5 and 6 from 10:00AM – 2:00PM!

Saving the World's Most Critically Endangered Antelope

Houston Zoo partner, Hirola Conservation Program, is working hard to save a beautiful and unique antelope called a hirola. This species is endemic (only found in a small area) to northeastern Kenya and southwest Somalia, and they are critically endangered. The latest aerial survey in 2011 estimated that only 300-500 hirola are left! Read on to learn about hirola and what the Hirola Conservation Program is doing to protect these animals.

hirola editHirola At A Glance:

  • Slender, medium sized antelope that eats short grasses
  • Distinctive glands below each eye giving the appearance of four eyes
  • Now found only in the Kenya- Somali border region,
  • 40 years ago they numbered close to 10,000 but only 300-500 remain today
  • There are no hirola living in captivity

hirola pictureThreats to Hirola:

  • Habitat loss
  • Drought & disease
  • Poaching

About the Hirola Conservation Program:
Director and founder of the Hirola Conservation Program, Abdullah H. Ali, is a native Kenyan working to save wildlife in Kenya, Ijara District. A PhD candidate at the University of Wyoming and EDGE Fellow at ZSL, “Ali” has a long-term conservation plan to save hirola in Kenya through scientific research, habitat restoration, and strengthening community-based conservation and education efforts.

How You Can Make A Difference:
Just by learning about hirola, you are helping to spread awareness about this endangered species. You can also view this page to view updates on Hirola Conservation Program’s progress and donate to their efforts.

Over 1,500 Cell Phones Recycled During Action for Apes Challenge!

This is just a handful of the cell phones recycled!

We have just concluded our 2015 Action for Apes Challenge, during which 1,562 cell phones and other handheld electronic devices were recycled! Over 30 schools, businesses and community groups around Texas competed to see who could recycle the most cell phones by April 30th, 2015. Each cell phone that was recycled is an action taken to save gorillas, chimpanzees and mandrills in the wild!

A material (tantalum) found in almost every cell phone and other handheld electronics is taken from the ground in Central Africa where these amazing animals live. Every time a device is recycled, we can reuse the materials and reduce the need to mine for new tantalum.
Willie bamboo termite eating

We are excited to announce that Incarnate Word Academy in Corpus Christi won 1st place in the challenge, recycling 536 phones! Incarnate Word Academy will win a painting to be hung in their school, specially created by primates at the Houston Zoo.

Coming in 2nd place was Birkes Elementary, who recycled 175, and 3rd place went to Jersey Village High School Science National Honor Society with 168 phones! 1,562 cell phones and other handheld electronic devices were recycled overall! That is 1,562 actions taken to save animals in the wild!

We are so thankful to have had so many wonderful groups participate in this year’s Action for Apes Challenge and look forward to 2016’s Challenge!

Thank you to all the groups that participated this year:
American Recyclers
Bay Colony Elementary
Berry Elementary
Birkes Elementary Student Council
Calder Road Elementary
Cathy Blum of Greenwood King Properties
Copeland Elementary
Cub Scout Pack 883
Cy Woods Student Leadership
East Early College High School
Environmental Action Club
George Brooks’ Office
Girl Scout Troop 16399
Go Green Club
Heritage of Towne Lake
HISD – Mandarin Chinese Language Immersion Magnet School (MCLIMS)
Holbrook Elementary
HW Grady Middle School
Incarnate Word Academy
Jersey Village High School Science National Honor Society
Keeter Family
KIPP Liberation College Preparatory
Lake Jackson Intermediate
Lantrip Elementary
No Label Brewing Co.
Noah Consulting
Pack 678 Den 4
Smith, Seckman, & Reid
Sneed Elementary
T.H. Rogers School

And a special thank you to Eco-Cell for counting and recycling all the phones collected!

Guest Blogger Carolyn Jess is Back to Talk About Endangered Species Day

Carolyn-Jess-2014-ResizeWe have invited Carolyn Jess back to help us out as guest blogger in 2015 with a focus on native wildlife. Jess is a 13 year old student who has agreed to be our special guest blogger about wildlife conservation. Carolyn was awarded the Alban Heiser Conservation Award in 2014, presented to her by Jack Hanna. If you would like to contact Carolyn or have comments, you may send them to


Wouldn’t it be great if there was a whole day dedicated to endangered species around the world? Wait, there IS such a thing!  This Friday is Endangered Species Day – the whole day is for these animals to get  the attention they need and to create awareness about who they are, where they live, and why they are endangered.  Endangered Species Day is celebrated  in the United States every year on the 3rd Friday in May.  Now that you know there is a special day to celebrate endangered animals, here are some ways to celebrate.  First, you can talk to a teacher or librarian to see if they could help support you in getting the word out.  You could have some informational booths set up at school about different endangered species around the world and reasons why they are in decline.  You could also get a club at your school to sponsor a movie night and show one of the Disney Nature movies.  As a fundraiser, you could sell popcorn and drinks and send that money to the Zoo or Wildlife Refuge since they work with many of these endangered animals.

Carolyn Jess APC

You could also do something as simple as making a few changes in your home to help these species.  Practicing using less water when you bathe or shower and brush your teeth would be a great idea.  The Texas Blind Salamander is endangered due to the overuse of water in the aquifers that they live in San Marcos.

Another idea would be to volunteer at a wildlife refuge or wildlife rescue center.  These places could really use the help and they work directly with many of these endangered animals.  You could volunteer just once a week and truly make a difference for the wildlife in your area.

Carolyn Jess HT

There is also a pretty easy way to get the word out really fast – social media.  You can advertise this  day of awareness with pictures of your favorite endangered animal or captions that tell about  Endangered Species Day.

One last thing you can do is to go out to your local wildlife refuge, Zoo, aquarium or other place that works with wildlife on Endangered Species Day.  Most of these places will have events and activities planned out to spread the word about these animals and what you can do to help them.   Maybe next Endangered Species Day, you can be the one handing out information and teaching others about what they can do to help our animals in the wild.

Carolyn Jess PD

What is Coltan? What is Tantalum? How You Can Help!

Written by Joshua Cano

willie chimpDid you know that you can help tens of thousands of animals in the wild with one simple action? In today’s world almost everyone has some type of electronic device. You are most likely reading this blog on your personal computer, tablet or cell phone. These and most other electronic devices share one thing in common, an element called tantalum. Tantalum is used in your microprocessors, cameras, and circuit boards. This important component is mined throughout the world, but it is destroying national parks in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Materials used to manufacture cell phones are taken from places where animals like chimpanzees and gorillas live.
Materials used to manufacture cell phones are taken from places where animals like chimpanzees and gorillas live.

Tantalum is often mistaken for coltan, which stands for the 2 ores, columbite and tantalite, which are found together. When refined, the ore tantalite becomes metallic tantalum. These ores are being illegally mined from land’s that belong to the DRC’s national parks. Large chunks of lush forests are cleared away in order to mine for tantalum. With the increase in the bush meat market, due to the increase of the human population in the area, many animal populations have dropped by as much as 50% in those areas.


So, how can you help save these beautiful animals? What is the simple action you can take? The tantalum in your electronics can be reused, thus reducing the need to mine for more. Last year, the United States was able to supplement 30% of its tantalum needs from recycled electronics.  7000+ Houstonians helped supplement that 30% by bringing in their old electronics to the Houston Zoo to be properly recycled. Next time you are at the Houston Zoo look for our electronics deposit boxes located at both entrances.

Will you be part of that 7000+ people?

Plants, Pollinators, and Pansies

Springtime is finally here, which means that vibrant and colorful plants and flowers that we love are finally in bloom! During this time, several species of plants are starting to blossom throughout the zoo, including those in the butterfly garden, the carnivorous plants, Chinese Fringe trees, and Ground Orchids just to name a few – it’s no wonder that the horticulture team at the Houston Zoo spends almost 600 hours a week keeping all of the plants healthy and lively across our 55-acres.

Azaleas can be seen all around the zoo!
“During the spring season we get a lot of people asking about the Texas Mountain Laurel because it smells like grape bubblegum,” horticulture supervisor Anna Land said. “Also, people always love taking pictures in front of the azaleas when they are in bloom.

Azaleas can be easily spotted throughout the zoo – over by Cypress Circle and next the Reflection Pool. Land said that among other guests’ favorites include milkweed during the monarch season and many guests ask about the Jacaranda tree when it blooms, which is the next “big” plant that guests can look forward to. It commonly blooms in May (while some bloom as early as April) with trumpet-shaped deep blue or lavender clusters of flowers.

Monarch Butterflies

In addition to tending to the general landscape, the horticulture team also pays close attention the needs of the animals that call the zoo home.

“We do try to match up animals and native plants that are from that area of the world. For example, we predominantly use African plants in the African Forest,” Land said. “We aren’t always able to stick strictly to that because growing conditions are not always the same, so we’ll choose something that grows well here, but looks similar to a plant native to the animals’ home range to give the overall look we want.”


By the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo, near the Bug House, guests are met with a small colony of blooming carnivorous plants such as the Venus fly trap and the Pitcher plant. Named the “Children’s Zoo Carnivorous Plant Project,” this project was initiated by horticulture team lead Ariel Sklar last year to engage young bug enthusiasts about the relationships between bugs and plants.

With more than 740 known species of carnivorous plants, it’s no wonder that this species developed in many different ways to fill the different needs within the ecosystem. For example, some carnivorous plants have developed symbiotic relationships with other insects and reptiles that benefit both species to benefit the overall health of their habitat.

Pictured above: Pitcher plant
“It ties in nicely with the Bug House and the butterfly garden,” Land said. “We chose a location where we could do talks about pollinators and the diverse interactions that insects have with plants and the importance of those interactions.  Now that we have plants in an area that use insects in two very different ways is really interesting for kids and makes it easier to get them interested in bugs.”

Important to note about pollinators is that they account for up to 30 percent of what we eat – maple syrup, chocolate, and ice cream just to name a few foods that we all know and love! So how can you help? It’s as easy as buying organic products or creating a wildlife-friendly backyard. To learn more about pollinators, visit

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