The Amazing Emerald

The month of May has one of my favorite stones for its birthstone – the emerald. It is also the stone for the 20th and the 35th wedding anniversaries.  Why is it one of my favorite stones?  Approximately 99% of all emeralds have inclusions, or flaws.  And yet, they are one of the most precious and valuable gemstones in the world.  It makes me think of all of us.  None of us are perfect and yet we are all valuable too, aren’t we?

Emerald Gemstones

Emeralds are a variety of beryl and its name comes from the Greek word for green. It is a hard, durable stone with a hardness rating of 7.5-8 on the Mohs Hardness Scale.  In comparison, diamond is a hardness rating of 10.  Today, they can be found worldwide including Colombia, Brazil, Afghanistan and Zambia.  In Colombia, the Muzo Indians had well-hidden and prized emerald mines.  They were so well hidden; it took Spanish Conquistadors 20 years to find them!

Emeralds have a long history and there is an abundance of folklore surrounding them. The first known emerald mines were in Egypt and were mined from at least 330 BC.  Cleopatra was known to have had a passion for emeralds and even claimed ownership of all emerald mines in Egypt during her reign.

Legends also say an emerald was one of the four precious stones given by God to King Solomon.

It has been believed that placing an emerald under the tongue gives one the ability to foresee the future, to reveal truth, and provides protection against evil spells. It was once also believed that emeralds could cure diseases like cholera and malaria.

Emeralds are also associated with lush green landscapes. Ireland is called the Emerald Isle and Seattle Washington is called the Emerald City.  Thailand’s most sacred religious icon is called the Emerald Buddha due to its lush green color even though it is carved from jadeite.

There have been many famous emeralds over the years.  Elizabeth Taylor’s emerald pendant sold for a record of $280,000 per carat for a total of $6,578,500.  The McKay Emerald is 167.79 carats and is the largest emerald in the Smithsonian National Gem Collection.   The Bahia Emerald weighs 752

Rough Emerald

pounds and an amazing 180,000 carats.  It originated in Bahia, Brazil.  This amazing stone, one of the largest in the world, is in a complex ownership dispute.  Approximately 8 different parties have claimed ownership.

Who has a May birthday and can claim this amazing stone as their birthstone? Singer Tim McGraw, Actor George Clooney, President John F. Kennedy and even Germany’s Red Baron, Baron Von Richtofen.

We often have emeralds for trade in the Naturally Wild Swap. Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Bronze Sculpture Soars at the Houston Zoo

This is the final piece of a three-part series on the history and current updates of the Houston Zoo Reflection Pool.

On Wednesday, May 24, the Houston Zoo held a dedication ceremony to honor the generous gift from the Marvy Finger Family Foundation, honoring Jerry and Ronny Finger. About 60 guests were in attendance, including close family members, zoo board members, and friends, including John and Jessie Killian, the couple who introduced the artist, Bob Guelich, to Marvy Finger.

The sculpture was commissioned in 1979 for a building Finger owned at the time. About three years later, the artwork, which features a flock of 10 Canada geese flying through the air, was complete.

“I envisioned these birds landing after a long migration southward from who-knows-where, honking and announcing their arrival,” said Guelich.

 

More than 30 years later, the sculpture was reconditioned and plans were set to bring it to the zoo. Standing at an impressive 18 feet long and 13 feet tall, this bronze sculpture weighs 8,500 pounds! It’s so massive that the zoo maintenance team had to use a large crane to get the sculpture to its current location in the Reflection Pool.

In an extraordinary act of generosity, Finger donated this sculpture for all to enjoy—now, and for generations to come. “It’s just overwhelming to me,” said Finger of his excitement that the sculpture would live at the zoo.

Left to right: Artist Bob Guelich, Marvy Finger, and Lee Ehmke, Houston Zoo CEO and president

During your next visit to the zoo, head over to the Reflection Pool to see this magnificent work of art. It’ll make for a great photo!

Rescued Sea Turtle Returns to Wild

This blog post was written by Heather Crane, a Houston Zoo staff member in our Sea Lion Department. The sea turtle release described below would not have been possible without prominent sea turtle conservationists at NOAA Galveston who provided all care and support to rehabilitate the sea turtles mentioned in this blog.

On October 30, 2016 a group of volunteers and I were at a scheduled Sea Lion team Surfside Jetty cleanup when we discovered an entangled green sea turtle. Cleanups are executed monthly by the Houston Zoo Sea Lion Team. Through a partnership between the Houston Zoo and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), fishing line is removed to prevent wildlife entanglement and pollution. We notified NOAA of the entangled sea turtle by calling the sea turtle hotline at 1-866-TURTLE-5. While we waited on a NOAA scientist to arrive, the turtle became more entangled and appeared distressed. My worst fear started playing out before me: this endangered turtle was drowning. Help was still 30 minutes from arriving. I made the decision to enter the water to disentangle and retrieve the sea turtle. My team of volunteers stood close by to assist and ensure my safety. Our Conservation Intern of the time, Taylor Rhoades, also entered the water to free me when my shoes also became entangled in fishing line. The in-water dangers that exist pose a threat and it is not recommended that members of the public enter the water. NOAA biologist, Lyndsey Howell, arrived and removed the fishing line that was tightly wound around the front left flipper of the turtle. She took the green turtle to the Galveston Sea Turtle Facility to begin what would become a seven month rehabilitation and recovery.

Green sea turtle entangled in discarded fishing line
Houston Zoo staff and intern retrieve sea turtle from in-water entanglement by fishing line

On Friday, May 19th, the sea lion team was invited to watch the rescued green sea turtle be released back into its natural habitat. This was an unexpected surprise and a very special and generous invitation from NOAA, which will forever have an impact on my life. NOAA was scheduled to release five green sea turtles on Friday. I was surprised when we were told our team would help release some of the turtles. We got a lesson from the biologists, Lyndsey and Heather, on safe handling and release practices before being allowed to release the turtles. I took the first turtle to the water and when it touched the surface of the water, it knew exactly what to do. I watched it until it disappeared into the water about 15 feet in front of me. Next, my supervisor, Sophie Darling, took a turn releasing a turtle too. After four turtles were released, the only one that remained was the turtle I had rescued in October.

Houston Zoo Sea Lion staff and NOAA biologist prepare a green sea turtle for release back into the wild
Houston Zoo Sea Lion Supervisor, Sophie, prepares a green sea turtle for release back into Galveston Bay
Houston Zoo sea lion staff helps return a rehabilitated sea turtle to the wild! This turtle was cared for by NOAA Galveston

The surprises just kept coming. Not only would I have the opportunity to watch the turtle I rescued go home, I was also going to be the one to release him! I had never imagined I would be part of this endangered animal’s story, and certainly never thought I would see the full circle process. When I peered in to the container in which the turtle had been transported, it appeared healthy and active. And WOW! It had doubled in size too! I would recognize this turtle anywhere, even if it had doubled in size. The posterior edge of the shell had a small hole in it when I first encountered it in October. Additionally, due to the tight fishing line that was wrapped around the front left flipper, there was distinctive line entanglement scarring. As I walked towards the water, I stopped to take a picture with the turtle before wishing it farewell and good luck. As I waded out into the shallows, I only felt excitement. I think I was still in shock that NOAA had included me in this turtle’s journey. I lowered the turtle to the water and it took just a moment for it to start swimming. First, it swam backwards, which both confused and humored me, but then, it swam gracefully away towards the deeper water. As I watched, I could think of fewer greater moments of joy in my life.

Houston Zoo staff member, Heather, was overjoyed to help release the green sea turtle she helped rescue from the Surfside Jetty just 7 months ago.

The Houston Zoo has empowered me to take an active role in conservation of wild animals. The Houston Zoo’s partnerships with NOAA and other conservation organizations are invaluable and are what make our conservation programming successful. I feel proud to know that this is only one example of how the Houston Zoo lives its mission of saving animals in the wild. Many people have thanked me and have told me how I impacted the life of the green sea turtle I rescued that day. In the end, we both impacted each other. When I reflect upon proud moments of my life and career, this experience will always be amongst the experiences of which I am most proud. I am proud, too, to be a part of team dedicated to ensuring clean waterways through the dedication of time and energy every month to cleaning the Surfside Jetty. And I could not be more thankful to NOAA and all the work they do to rescue, rehabilitate, and release these beautiful and endangered turtles.

To watch a short video of the green sea turtle being released, please visit: Sea turtle release

You can help protect sea turtles in Texas by disposing of fishing line properly. Place fishing line in designated monofilament recycling bins, or take it home with you and dispose of it in your trash so it does not blow into the ocean where animals like sea turtles, fish, dolphins, and birds can become entangled. 

Look for these bins when fishing-you can dispose of your fishing line here and it will be kept out of the ocean where it can harm animals like sea turtles!

Staying Hydrated and Saving Sea Turtles

It may not officially be summer yet, but it is starting to feel like summer! This summer you will probably be drinking a lot of water, because with the heat, comes dehydration.

Did you know that while you are keeping yourself healthy by drinking water, you can also save animals in the wild? Every time you use a refillable water bottle you are keeping plastics out of the ocean and out of animals’ homes, as it is one less single-use plastic bottle used.

The Houston Zoo is the perfect place to use your refillable bottles! Over the past year, we have installed water bottle refill stations throughout the Zoo. There are two types of refill stations to keep an eye out for – free standing, green fountains and silver, chilled fountains attached to walls.

You can also recognize the water bottle refill station by the signs that say “Save Sea Turtles Here,” because that is what you are doing by using these stations.

So, on your next trip to the Houston Zoo, don’t forget your reusable water bottle, and refill it at the water bottle refill stations to stay hydrated and save sea turtles in the wild!

Looking Back: A Brief History of the Zoo’s Reflection Pool

This is part two of a three-part series on the history and current updates of the Houston Zoo Reflection Pool.

The Reflection Pool at the Houston Zoo was first conceptualized shortly after the zoo’s opening in 1922. Designed by Hare & Hare in 1924 and constructed in 1926, the Reflection Pool was a collection of three smaller pools flanked by live oak trees along both sides. This design was intended to replicate, on a much smaller scale, the Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Reflection Pool located at the entrance of Hermann Park.

The Reflection Pool, in 1944, divided into three small pools.

Then, in the 1950s, the zoo’s Reflection Pool underwent construction when the “Monkey Mansion” (now the Wortham World of Primates) was built. This transformed the pool from the three mini pools into the one long pool that you can currently see at the zoo.

A 1971 aerial view of the Zoo shows the Reflection Pool as one long pool.

Though it has undergone changes in the last century, the Houston Zoo Reflection Pool maintains the lush landscaping and majestic oak trees that was originally planned and constructed by Hare & Hare in the early 1920s, a true historic landmark on zoo grounds.

Check back next week as we show you some of the recent changes we’ve made and unveil its newest sculpture!

Jaguar Matchmaking

Written by Katie Buckley-Jones


If you frequent the Zoo, you may have noticed our jaguar exhibit has been the hot spot for our new jaguar couple.

Here at the Houston Zoo, we have three jaguars.  Our oldest male, Kan Balam, has been at the zoo for 11 years and is 20 years old, significantly older than jaguars in the wild, and even considered old for a jaguar in a zoological setting. When his previous girlfriend passed away in 2015 at the age of 20, we noticed Kan Balam seemed to long for another friend. Jaguars are naturally solitary animals, but based on the personality of Kan Balam and his history of living with another jaguar, we wanted him to have a female friend.  We contacted the jaguar SSP, or Species Survival Plan, to see what they had in mind for Kan Balam. Kan Balam is a great-grandfather and his genetics are very well represented within the zoo community, so we wanted to pair him with a female for companionship rather than breeding.

Species Survival Plans are very important for endangered and threatened animals in the zoological setting.  There is a group of people who are dedicated to each specific species, whether it is something big like a lion or giraffe, to the Louisiana pine snake.  The group keeps track of all the individuals in all AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accredited facilities in the US and some zoos around the world. They match animals up based on genetic variability, institutional needs, and personalities of animals. This way, zoos can create a sort of zoo “ark,” using science to make sure the animals in our care are as healthy as possible throughout their bloodlines.

The SSP informed us there was a lovely six year old lady jaguar named Maya from the Turtleback Zoo, who would be a good match for Kan Balam. Maya is young and genetically important to the population.  The SSP, or “eHarmony for jaguars”, wanted to pair Maya up with a male for breeding as well. So the SSP decided to not only send us Maya, but a young male named Tesoro from the Living Desert Zoo to be her mate in the future.

As you can imagine, this has led to quite the soap opera when it comes to love triangles. Kan Balam, the older experienced male, was first introduced to Maya. Both cats got along very well and enjoy each other’s company! The carnivore keepers thought it best to wait until Tesoro got a bit older to meet Maya since both he and Maya had only ever been with their siblings.  When he first came to Houston, Tesoro was only 1.5 years old.  Jaguars do not become sexually mature until age 2.5 – 3 years old.  So this March, right around Tesoro’s third birthday, we decided to introduce him to Maya.

We waited until Maya was in estrus, the period at which female jaguars are cycling and most receptive to males, and began to do introductions. Maya was very interested in the younger, very attractive male and introductions went…let’s just say very well. We believe the success we have had with introducing Maya to Tesoro is in part thanks to Kan Balam. Being older and experienced, he taught Maya proper jaguar courtship and how to interact with male jaguars.

Maya is now the lucky leading lady of both Kan Balam and Tesoro’s lives and will be sharing her habitat with one or the other on a daily rotation.

 

Saving Lemurs in Madagascar with KPRC

Last October, the Houston Zoo hosted KPRC morning anchor, Rachel McNeil and her family on a journey to visit with our conservation partner, GERP, in Madagascar. Now we’re excited to share the adventure with you!

2016 – KPRC in Madagascar

During this one-hour special, Rachel shows you what it takes to protect Madagascar, which is renowned as a biodiversity hotspot. This island nation off the coast of Southeast Africa is home to more than 100 lemur species. In the wild, lemurs can only be found in Madagascar. As lemurs face an uncertain future due to habitat loss, hunting, and other threats, the work that GERP does – supported by each of you – is more vital than ever.

The special, which aired in April, is now available to watch online! Watch and learn how the Houston Zoo and you are saving lemurs in the wild!

 

A portion of each membership and admission ticket goes toward saving lemurs in the wild!

Houston-Area Schools Are Saving Wildlife!

What an incredible time we had at Party for the Planet Presented by CenterPoint Energy on Saturday, April 22nd!

At the Houston Texans Enrichment Zone, students from KIPP Academy Middle School put on a “Trashion” show with fashion they made from recycled products.  The students turned trash into art and had an amazing wildlife-saving message behind each beautiful creation.  Below is a picture of Susannah modeling her dashiki made from plastic bags, straws and cardboard.

We also had a grand performance of songs from The Lion King, sung by 2nd through 5th grade students from Lyons Elementary.  Lyons made all of their costumes and backdrop from recycled materials.  Their backdrop, a beautiful African sunset, was made from over 400 milk cartons that the students collected!

The Houston Zoo started working with Lyons Elementary through our Mascot Program.  The students raise money through their “Love Your Lions” initiative and all the funds go directly to Niassa Lion Project.  DeAndra Ramsey, School Program Coordinator in the  Houston Zoo’s Conservation Education Department, was able to attend the opening night of The Lion King at Lyons Elementary that was held at their school on April 20, 2017.  She opened the show by speaking on how the Houston Zoo works to save wildlife, the importance of practicing sustainable behaviors like recycling, and highlighting how the students at Lyons Elementary were becoming wildlife warriors! She was blown away by the wonderful efforts of the entire school! 

Both schools did an amazing job inspiring our guests to help save wildlife during Party for the Planet Presented by CenterPoint Energy by simply getting creative and reusing everyday items instead of throwing away.

Houston Zoo Bird Staff Saving Wildlife Part II

This blog was written by Kasey Clarke, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Bird Department. Kasey received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from her coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Kasey documents her work overseas.  

The process described below is part of the Mariana Conservation Program to relocate local bird species to neighboring islands that do not have the invasive brown tree snake, an introduced species that preys upon native birds. 

Field days are long and hot. In this blog entry I will walk you through a typical day in the field. With lots of photos!

We wake up at 4:00 am to be ready to head out to the field by 4:45 am. We get to our site at 5:15 am and unload the gear for the day and start opening the mist nets (a net used by ornithologists and biologists to safely gather birds for research and conservation purposes). At 6:15 all the nets should be open and then we wait. Nets are checked every 15-20 minutes for birds. All non-target birds (those birds we are not relocating as part of this conservation effort) are released immediately.

Mist nets are used for to safely catch birds for research and conservation. Here is our team setting up the nets for Mariana fruit doves.
Ellen, a Toledo Zoo staff member safely removes a wild bird from the mist net. Trained zookeepers who work with birds daily assist with this task due to their extensive background and training in handling birds.
A Mariana fruit dove
Birds are transported to a transport crate using soft cloth bags.
These transport crates are used to safely move birds.

There is a second field site for a different bird species, the Rufous fantails. The nets used for this species are not as tall and the mesh is also smaller. The fantails weigh about 8 grams while doves weigh about 75 grams.

Another mist netting site, setup to locate another species of bird, called the Rufous fantail.
Each bird is kept safe in a labeled cloth bag before it is moved to a transport crate.
Transport boxes for the birds.
Each label from the cloth bags is placed on the transport crate to identify the individual bird.

Flies are then collected and put in the box for the bird to eat. The fantails are very active birds and need to eat constantly. We catch flies by placing buckets over a tray of fish. If only you could smell through the internet!

Collecting flies for the birds to eat.
Modified petri dishes are used to collect the flies. The petri dishes are then placed in the box with the bird and the lid is removed quickly so that the flies don’t escape.

Someone makes runs out to both field sites to pick up birds every few hours to take them to the holding room.

At about 4:45 pm we will close up the nets and head back into town.

Next time I’ll tell you what happens to both this fantail and dove when they get to the “bird room”!

Houston’s Second Baby Giraffe Gets a Name and Makes Her Debut

The Houston Zoo’s second baby giraffe born in the month of April made her public debut today, Thursday, May 4. The giraffe team also selected the name Mara for the newest arrival. Early this morning, Mara and her mother, Asali, were given access to the main yard at the McGovern Giraffe Habitat, accompanied by one-month-old, Zindzhi and her mother Tyra. After Mara got acquainted with her surroundings, the team introduced the calf to the rest of the giraffe herd. Baby and mama will continue to spend time in guest-view for parts of each day in good weather.

Quick Birth Facts

Born: Monday, April 24 at 8:30 a.m.

Height: 6’6”

Weight: 148 (now 167!) pounds

How does the Houston Zoo help save giraffes in the wild?

Just by visiting the Houston Zoo, guests are helping save giraffes in the wild. Admission tickets and memberships help fund important work that protect giraffes in the wild.

The Houston Zoo provides funds and training for local people in Africa to protect wild giraffes from poaching and harm. They walk long distances in areas of Africa where giraffe live to arrest illegal hunters and collect harmful wire traps set for wildlife in the trees and bushes.

The Houston Zoo provided training and funds for Enock Zulu, an Anti-Poaching Unit Manager leading a local community anti-poaching unit in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. In his six years of leadership, Zulu’s teams have collected over 12,784 wire traps, rescuing 14 animals from snares, and have arrested nearly 90 poachers. He and his team risk their lives to protect giraffe and other wildlife every day.

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Houston Zoo Facebook Page

Take a look at our beautiful new elephant habitat that DOUBLES the existing elephant complex. It's open now, so come watch our elephants play, splash, and swim. You've gotta see this! ... See MoreSee Less

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Comment on Facebook

That is great! I can't wait to come see it. Are there any plans to expand the giraffe exhibit ever? I feel like it's very small compared to all of the other really awesome exhibits for the big animals.

I feel like I've never seen grass in a zoo elephant habitat before- I bet they're hard on it! The whole exhibit looks incredible- especially the deep water! Amazing design; hope I can get to Houston one day to see it!

I took some of my daycare kiddos yesterday specifically to see the new space. They had it blocked off and wouldn't let anyone pass through the elephant area through to the hoofed animals. We were really sad we didn't get to see it.

Keep wild animals captive for the human entertainment. - Are we not better then that yet?? Shameful😢😢😢 And don't try to use that word 'conservation' - critical thinkers are smarter than that.

Yes THANK YOU for providing a more natural. Habitat for the elephant's. They need SPACE to roam. N the water added is awesome....they really needed that!

Waiting for some stupid kid to jump in and ruin it for the elephants.

Why have so many elephants babies died at your zoo ? it is because they are not meant to live in Captivity. Please set them free and stop breeding elephants for monetary value.

Not fond of most zoos, but at least these elephants are safe from killers like the Trump sons.

Jenny Carlisle I see a great excuse for Kimber to come visit besides to see her cousins!!

John and JoAnn we need to take Grant again. He will be so excited to see this!

So happy to see the Zoos continued support of the amazing Elephant Program

Karl Schuhknecht Let's go again when you get home! We can never go too much, right?

Sergey!! We have to go!! Definitely bringing mama Nina too 🙂🐘

Thank you providing a beautiful setting for their physical and mental health!

Remember it was under construction when we were there Nicky Lichtl

Molly Pesl it's time for us to go on a rainy day.... 😎👍🏼

Eddie - we gotta go soon so Adrian can see his favorite animal splish-solash

Dang! That is awesome! Why didn't you tell me it was this pretty Kristin!? 😜

JoAnn, looks like we're taking Thomas to the zoo soon! 😍

Lesli Gietz James Gietz Grant going to love see this 💙 🐘

Nichole, I think a trip to the zoo is in our future!!

Does Tye get to play as well? Thought one of the elephants was in his on enclosure

Allison Jones I want to go see the elephants in the pool!

Awsome! Just in time for the hot summer ahead...#splish & #splash

Love elephants. Such quiet, gentle, strong and wise creatures.

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Houston Zoo was live.
Houston Zoo

We are live from our HUGE new elephant habitat expansion. This incredible new area opens tomorrow! ... See MoreSee Less

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Do the Asian and African elephants coexist well?

how would you save a elephant if they had difficult swimming?

Is there opportunities for the public to get up close to see the elephants behind the scenes?

Do you offer any type of feeding or event like you have with the giraffes? Or sticking with the bath time?

Can they climb up on that ledge or is that just to keep them back from the fence

Will males and females be always separated now?

Do the elephants hug and let you get kisses?

When do the trainers talk this summer?

Will the females get to share the yard too?

How/where will males and females interact?

How much did this cost the taxpayers of Houston???

What is the depth of the pool?

About how long can they hold breath

Is there a web cam at the new yard?

How can you tell who is Tucker and who is Baylor

Are the elephants on display today?

How many elephants are there?

When is it open to public?

How deep is the pool

Still want to know why only the males are getting to use the new area.

I know they had said this habitat is for the males, does that mean the males and females will always be separated from now on

Gross question, but I'm curious... Do elephants defecate under water & is maintenance similar to a home pool?

@Cheree Neil It is to do with habits. Elephants when lacking enrichment complete stereotypical behaviours as they're known and swaying is one of them. It essentially is a display of boredom.

Kelsey Patterson - we are going to get to the zoo before you pop! Even if i have to push you around in one of those sea lion carts! LOL!

Ian, we love you and are so proud of you. Thank you for being our son.

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