Penny Makes Her Move

Well, my plan worked! I have moved into a beautiful new room in the Ambassador Animal Building!   I have directed

Look at this awesome cat tree!
Look at this awesome cat tree!

my staff…..I mean the zookeepers, on what to put in my room and how to arrange it.

I have cat trees, boxes, kennels, and lots of toys. So many things to keep me happy and busy.  And, the keepers talk to me and keep me company all the time. I feel so regal in this new spot that I am considering wearing my tiara.

Perhaps I will wear my tiara
Perhaps I will wear my tiara

My next door neighbor is Peanut, the Aardvark. She is a very pleasant neighbor.  In fact, she sleeps most of the day so she is no bother at all.  Denver the Macaw gets a little loud sometimes, but that’s ok too.  I can handle it – even though I might have to have a talk with him at some point.  There are chinchillas, rabbits, birds, and reptiles here too.  I have some amazing neighbors.

I still get to go out in the zoo.  My handlers bring me out on my leash to visit and see zoo guests. I also get to go to presentations and classrooms.   I still go to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop from time to time too.

I will miss getting to say hello to the regular traders at the Swap Shop, but this new room is amazing!

The beautiful Penny in her new room.
The beautiful Penny in her new room.

Don’t forget about me.   I sure won’t forget about you.  I still love all my pals that come to the Swap Shop.  When you are at the zoo, keep your eyes open.  You never know where or when you will see me.

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

Penny checks out the building

Penny looks around the Animal Ambassador Building

Well.  This looks pretty nice in here.  I wonder who will be living in this room?  I have heard it is called the Ambassador Animal Building.

Look! Some of  the animals have started moving in!  Ernie the North American Porcupine is here.  So is Fiona the  Flemish Giant rabbit.  These guys are getting some really nice spaces to live in.  The building has room for all the Ambassador mammals and a whole separate room for the Ambassador reptiles.  There are going to be some amazing birds in here too.  A Kookaburra, some parrots and even a roadrunner.  Staff and volunteers can take these animals to classrooms, presentations and special events.

Checking out the corner room

Just look at this corner room.  No one has moved in yet.  I could totally live here.  I could turn that space into a kitty paradise.  Oh, I am envisioning cat trees, toys, my own furniture.  Yes, I can see it now.

And look outside!  Is that our own exercise yard?  With a pool?  This building is amazing!

The Exercise Yard
The Exercise Yard

That settles it!  I am finding a way to move in.

Shark conservationist receives education training at the Houston Zoo



Shark conservationist, Alerick Pacay, Program Coordinator at Fundación Mundo Azul, a non-profit conservation organization, based in Guatemala, received conservation and education training at the Houston Zoo.  Alerick had participated in a video conservation messaging workshop Houston Zoo staff held in Belize last year for marine conservation organizations.  He and his organization,  reached out to Houston Zoo staff when he learned more about the Houston Zoo’s conservation and education programming.

IMG_2742Fundación Mundo Azul main goal is to protect the ocean.  Alerick works with local fishermen to monitor the 30 species of sharks in Guatemala and spends much of his time inspiring visitors to the Guatemala Zoo and local communities about the importance of protecting sharks.  He educates his audiences about the importance of sharks and other wildlife in the ocean and how they can save this wildlife by reducing their plastic use.  Plastic and other trash in the oceans is one of the biggest threats to marine life.

The training he received provided him with the knowledge to increase his impact with his audiences.  Our staff also learned a tremendous amount from Fundación Mundo Azul’s programs.

Along with training at the Zoo, he also got to accompany our staff and our partners at NOAA in some sea turtle protection work in the wild.  He assisted with rescuing a very big loggerhead sea turtle in Galveston.

We are so grateful for all of the work Fundación Mundo Azul and Alerick are doing  to protect our oceans and save marine animals.  Alerick would like all readers to know that you can help us all save animals like sharks by saying no to straws.  Millions of straws end up in the oceans and they can be harmful to marine animals when they mistaken them for food.  You can purchase medal straws here and carry one with you, if you don’t want to go without.IMG_2793

Helping Wildlife…With Paint!


Paint and Wildlife

The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild, and is taking steps to ensure that everything we do on Zoo grounds is done with wild animals in mind. A simple effort like being aware of what types of paints we use has a surprisingly large impact on wildlife because it impacts their natural environment.

Paints can have harsh chemicals that affect the air we all breathe, or if you dispose of leftover paint improperly, it can get into the streams and waters wildlife like sea turtles call home.

Help our local sea turtles by being aware of what’s going into their water.

Paint and the Houston Zoo

Recently the Zoo used environmentally friendly paint to label the storm drains behind the scenes as a reminder that the cleaner we keep our waters, the healthier our wildlife. Storm water drains are a part of all cities, helping alleviate flood waters that build up during storms and are meant only to have rainwater since Houston storm drains lead right back out to our bayous, and eventually flow to the Gulf of Mexico.

Storm Drain Action Shot
Storm water drains being painted at the Houston Zoo!

For our storm drain project we were able to visit New Living to source paint that is water-based and contains no volatile organic compounds in both the paint and paint pigments. These compounds, called VOCs, are immediately noticed as the intense “paint smell” that can give you a fast headache. This smell is from chemicals that people should not breathe, and animals should not have in their water supply. The paint that New Living offers allows us to be sure that when we‘re using paint for projects, we have the option to choose a product that is made in a more environmentally friendly way, contains less harsh chemicals, and if ever exposed to the environment would not impact it harshly like with traditional paints.

As a Zoo-Based Conservation organization, we have chosen to include no-VOC paint whenever possible to ensure all operations of the Zoo are done in a way that is friendly for wildlife. The Houston Zoo aims to be a leader in being a part of these new and innovative practices that are conscious of our wildlife and our interactions with the natural world we all live in.



You can help save wildlife too!

  • If you are using paint that contains VOCs, be sure to wear safety masks and take any remainder paint to a hazardous waste facility. In Houston, you can take this kind of paint (like oil-based paint) to the West Park Consumer Recycling Center located in Houston. If you have-water based paint, you can let the paint dry (often people will mix it with cat litter for a faster drying process) and toss the dry paint in the trash for regular pick-up. 
  • Next time you buy paint, ask for no-VOC paint to ensure the products you are using are safe for wildlife. Visit stores like New Living to ensure you are purchasing wildlife-friendly products.

This is a sustainability reference document. 

Terrifically Tiny Turtles Hatch at the Zoo

Houston Zoo is experiencing a baby boom. A very small baby boom of critically endangered,terrifically tiny turtles. In late August, eight Madagascar big-headed turtle babies were found swimming in their parents’ home in the lemur moat at the zoo’s Wortham World of Primates. Also discovered was a pregnant mama turtle full of 20 eggs that she has since laid, which are expected to hatch in the next few months. The babies and eggs are currently being cared for behind-the-scenes.


The Madagascar big-headed turtle was once widely distributed throughout the rivers and lakes of western Madagascar.  However, overexploitation from a growing human population has drastically reduced and fragmented its range.  One of the most endangered turtles in the world, this species is included on the Turtle Conservation Fund’s top 25 endangered turtles list and is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

Madagascar Big-headed Turtle Babies 2015-0002-9042

In December, 2005, two male and five juvenile female big-headed turtles were confiscated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and donated to the Houston Zoo.  In 2008, these turtles were transferred to the moat surrounding the lemur habitat at the zoo’s Wortham World of Primates.  In order to keep the turtles outside year-round, a swimming pool heater was installed to keep the moat warm during the winter months.  Since these turtles can be aggressive towards each other, underwater boxes fashioned from roofing tiles and bricks were added to the moat so that the turtles could hide in them when needed.

Madagascar Big-headed Turtle Babies 2015-0009-9079Hatchlings have an average weight of less than .02 pounds.  The average shell measurements are 1.3 inches long and 1 inch wide (that’s a tiny turtle!).  The young turtles began feeding immediately on a diet of aquatic turtle pellets and romaine lettuce.

Icy Treats for Enrichment Day!

Written by Phyllis Pietrucha-Mays, Animal Nutrition SupervisorElias making ice-pops

Did you know that the Animal Nutrition department here at the Houston Zoo is also involved in helping the animal sections with daily enrichment?  One of their top requests is for their famous ice-pops!

The Animal Nutrition Department staff definitely enjoy making ice-pops for the Houston Zoo’s animals.

This is normally done throughout the summer months and for special events. All staff members not only hold the title of Animal Nutrition Zookeeper but are all considered “ Ice-Poptologists.” They are always looking for ways to give the animals enrichment and ice-pops are a big hit. It keeps the animals cool, but also stimulates them mentally and physically. The ice-poptologists use different treats such as sunflower seeds, currants, assorted produce or fish, colored waters, decaf fruit teas, and sugar free Kool-Aid. The animals may lick the ice, turn it over or push it trying to get out what ever treat might be in there. Ice-pops come in an assortment of sizes from a 3 oz. cup to a 55 gallon bucket depending on the animal receiving the icy treat.

This year, orangutan keeper, Tammy Burhmester took a bag of assorted toys, consisting of loofah sponges, toothbrushes and rubber duckies to the Animal Nutrition staff. Elias Cantu is the Animal Nutrition keeper in charge of making orangutan ice-pops. He chooses a toy and adds it to the bucket along with sugar free Kool-Taylor making bear icepopAid and a chain to hang it in the exhibit. Visitors have fun watching the orangutans as they lick the ice to see what the prize is.

Taylor Mullikin, an Animal Nutrition keeper, is the ice-poptologist for bear ice-pops. She switches off between fish and assorted produce and adds colored water and sprinkles to her creations.

The Houston Zoo animals get these amazing icy treats all thanks to TXU Energy Presents Chill Out.



Animals + College Credit = Amazing Zoo Intern Experience

Want to work with animals? You can gain valuable career experience (and have a great time doing it!) as a Houston Zoo intern.


This summer, interns across many departments braved the elements and intense Houston heat, joining our staff in creating an awesome zoo experience for guests while significantly expanding their skill set. Among many opportunities to learn and network, we held our first ever intern-curator luncheon in July, giving interns the opportunity to interact with fourteen leaders from our animal departments and executive team. We were fortunate to have known so many enthusiastic individuals during our busy summer season and wish them well as they return to school or move on to their next adventure.

We met up with Lucy, an intern working with our sea lion team, to hear about her experience as an intern. Here’s what Lucy had to say about her internship.

Fall interns will be arriving in early September and will quickly begin learning a multitude of skills, taught by our incredibly talented employees. Interested in joining our team? Good news! The Volunteer Office, which coordinates the Houston Zoo Internship Program, is accepting applications until October 31st for the 2016 spring session, which begins in January. Opportunities for in-depth experiences are being offered in multiple departments including carnivores, primates, and interactive marketing. Each intern will be provided a training plan to maximize learning and will also be given expert guidance to foster professional development.

Learn more and apply for the Houston Zoo Internship Program.

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

National Zoo Keeper Week – Michelle

From July 19-25, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and hear their stories. Check back each day to see new keeper profiles during this great week celebrating zoo keepers!

Michelle Witek – Senior Keeper Children’s Zoo

ocelotSince I was a little girl, I have always been drawn to animals. This most likely led me to having a career involving animals. My path to the Zoo was not as clear to me then, but once I got accepted to Texas A&M University, I simultaneously began volunteering at the Houston Zoo. During three years of volunteering I was also privileged in receiving the Exxon Mobile Internship, which assisted me greatly in furthering my experience in this field. Once I graduated college with a Bachelors of Science degree in Wildlife Management, I knew that the Houston Zoo was where I wanted to be. With the networking and relationships I built while interning and volunteering, I was able to begin my career at the Houston Zoo only 9 short months after graduating college.

I have worked as zoo keeper for almost 8 years now, 6.5 years with the carnivore department and the last 1.5 years as part of the Children’s Zoo team. The part of my job that I enjoy the most is animal training and enrichment, which helps keep the animals active and stimulated. It also allows me to build stronger relationships with the animals under my care.

I think people interested in becoming a zoo keeper should know that the job involves many fun and interesting aspects, but it comes with its share of difficulties as well. An unusual work schedule and dealing with the unpredictable and sometimes unbearable Texas weather are certainly difficult. But, at the end of the day it is all worth it. I get tremendous fulfillment from my work and enjoy what I do immensely. I am continuously learning and growing as a keeper every single day, and I cannot think of a better profession to be a part of.


National Zoo Keeper Week – Wren’s Story

From July 19-25, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and hear their stories. Check back each day to see new keeper profiles during this great week celebrating zoo keepers!

Wren Schroeder – Hoofstock Keeper

hoof stockI always knew I wanted to work with animals, but I wasn’t always 100% sure how I wanted to do that. So I did an internship working with birds of prey and hoofstock animals at another AZA zoo, just to see if I for sure liked it. I realized that if I could be an unpaid intern and be excited to get out of bed every day to go to a job like that, then that was what I wanted to do as a career.

The most enjoyable part about my job is finding people in the public that appreciate a unique species as much as I do. Seeing the excitement, enthusiasm, and compassion of guests is what I love the most. What makes this job worthwhile and the most rewarding are the amazing guests that will sit through a Meet the Keeper chat and express their curiosity about the animals and ask questions to learn more about the individual animals here at the Houston Zoo and the conservation efforts being done internationally and locally to help different species.

I would advise volunteering/interning as much as possible. You can sit and learn about animals and their behaviors in books. Then just simply applying what you have learned in those books by working around them, seeing how they react to things, and getting hands on experience is what truly will help you in zoo keeping career. Also, work with some different species while you volunteer, other than just the obvious ones you already like. You would be surprised by animals that never really interested you, but then after working with them you have a new found respect for them.

I would want people to know that this job is not just about feeding the animals and cleaning up after them. After enduring the weather Houston throws at us, doing workload that comes with working with any animal, and the highs and lows of the job. It is then also about taking the time during the day to go out and educate the public about each of the animals that we get the opportunity to work with. Every animal we work with is different and unique in their own way. Getting to see the guests’ faces light up when we share our own stories about each of these animals is what really makes the hard work worth it.

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