Working Together to Save Elephants

By: Dr. Christine Molter

Elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus (EEHV) is a potentially deadly disease that not only affects elephants in human care, but also those living in the wild. Populations of wild Asian elephants are impacted by this disease in addition to threats like habitat fragmentation and poaching. To understand and combat this disease, veterinarians, researchers, conservationists, and elephant caretakers formed a collaborative team, called the EEHV Asia Working Group. The 3rd EEHV Asia Working Group meeting was hosted by Kasetsart University in Hua-Hin, Thailand. As part of the Houston Zoo’s on-going commitment to investigating EEHV and to save Asian Elephants in the wild, I was able to participate in this group.

Traveling to Hua-Hin is a long process. After more than 24 hours in flight from Houston, Texas to Tokyo, Japan to Bangkok, Thailand and 3-hour van ride, I finally made it to Hua-Hin. A total of 70 attendees from 12 countries made similar journeys to be at the meeting.

The two-day conference started with updates from those different countries and included India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, the United States, Vietnam, and a summary from all of Europe. Each representative shared their successes and unique EEHV challenges, with common themes of needing more regional laboratories with the ability to test samples for the virus, education for local people working with elephants about EEHV, increased availability of anti-viral medications for treatments, and further wild elephant research. To help address these challenges, discussions and brainstorming sessions took place and the group outlined strategic goals for EEHV efforts in Asia. In addition to defining goals, practical lectures and demonstrations also occurred. I taught elephant blood crossmatching, a necessary step prior to administering potentially life-saving plasma transfusions to elephant calves sick with EEHV, to ensure that the plasma donor and recipient are a good match.

 

At the end of the conference, an excursion to Kuiburi National Park was planned. We spotted two wild female Asian elephants with 3 calves between them. The sight of elephants in the wild was poignant, as it embodied the goal that everyone at the meeting is working towards together – to save elephants.

The Houston Zoo is a leader in global EEHV efforts. The protocol developed at the Houston Zoo, to monitor, diagnose, and treat this disease is utilized by people all over the world. It is humbling to hear directly from those working with elephants in range countries, that our Houston Zoo protocol provides important clinical guidelines for them. It is through our collective information sharing, research partnerships, global meeting participation, and local support that the mission of the Houston Zoo is achieved – to save animals in the wild.

Many thanks to all who work tirelessly for elephants and to those who diligently organized the EEHV Asia Working Group meeting, especially to Dr. Sonja Luz from Wildlife Reserves Singapore, Dr. Supaphen (Amm) Sripiboon from Kasetsart University, and Dr. Lauren Howard from San Diego Zoo Global for their leadership.

Efforts to combat EEHV are on-going and collaborative. More information about EEHV can be found at www.eehvinfo.org. Previous Houston Zoo blogs on the EEHV Asia Working Group can be found here.

Blue Topaz is the Birthstone for December

December has a beautiful stone as its birthstone – blue topaz. It is also the stone for the 4th and 19th wedding anniversaries. It has become the second most popular stone, second only to sapphire. It is also the state gemstone of Texas!

Topaz comes in a wide range of colors, from the colorless white topaz to pinks and blues among others. Blue topaz in nature is rare and when it is found it tends to be a light blue. The vivid blues on the market today are usually created by treating white topaz with irradiation and heat. It is a durable stone with a hardness rating of 8 on the Mohs scale. They can be found worldwide including in South America, Australia and Africa.

Another stone that is often confused for topaz is citrine. Citrine is in the quartz family and is a completely different stone. Citrine is a yellow form of quartz. In the days before modern gemology, it was often mistaken for topaz. Finding a natural citrine is rare. Most of the citrine on the market today is heat treated amethyst. Who knew if you heated amethyst it turned yellow? Citrine has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale and the color varies from lemon yellow to reddish brown.

Topaz is a silicate like the quartz family but has a hardness of 8. Topaz also has a wider variety of color. They can come in yellow, pink, green, purple, orange, blue and white which is clear.

Like many gemstones, there is a lot of history and lore around blue topaz.

Blue topaz has long been considered a symbol of love and affection and has been said to aid in one’s sweetness and disposition. In ancient Egypt, it was a symbol of Ra, the sun god. In Europe it was linked to Apollo, another solar being.

Ancient Greeks believed that topaz gave them strength. Other ancient civilizations believed blue topaz to have cooling powers and was used to help relieve burns and cool boiling water. Many believed that wearing a topaz ring would keep death from coming prematurely and would control insomnia and greed.

In Africa, healing rituals with topaz were practiced establishing communication with the spirit realm.

Some notable blue topaz includes -The El Dorado Topaz is the largest faceted gemstone in the world at 31,000 (yes, that’s 31 thousand) carats. The American Golden Topaz is a whopping 22,892.5 carats and is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

There is often blue topaz for trade in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. Don’t know about the shop? Click here for more information.

SMG’s Borneo Travel Log, Thursday

Thursday: We are finishing up our time here in Borneo. This afternoon, we went for a boat ride to visit a tree planting project run by Hutan. It’s an all female run project and these women are doing great work to reforest a large tract of land that was previously clear-cut but a palm oil plantation. In the evening we toured a small tributary to survey wildlife and we came across a family of long-tailed macaques that were eating on a branch overhanging the water. We stopped to enjoy the view for a bit and then headed back around sunset.

Houston Zoo’s SMG (Social Media Guy) is on the trip of a lifetime to Borneo!

From Dec. 1–11, 2017 the Houston Zoo and Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 are traveling to southeast Asia and the island of Borneo to document the work you are supporting to protect the counterparts of the wildlife that you see when you visit the Zoo. Houston Zoo conservation associates who have dedicated their careers to protecting elephants, orangutans, pangolins and a whole host of other amazing species on the world’s third largest island will give us an in-depth look at what it means to save species from extinction.

We’ve created a special webpage to follow their exciting journey around the world, go behind the scenes, and learn more about how we can all save animals in the wild. Follow along with SMG!

SMG’s Borneo Travel Log, Wednesday

Wednesday Morning and Afternoon: Today we set out for a long trek through the jungle. Nurzhfarina “Farina” Othman, Houston Zoo Conservation Associate, updated us on the latest positions of the elephants and we hopped back in for another long boat ride down river. When we got close to the spot where the last satellite position was, Farina switched over to the radio telemetry tracker to listen for beeps. After that, it’s into the jungle. Our guide Coco led us in and we began bushwacking through some of the thickest forest I’ve ever been in. We continued for about two hours this way, only pausing to take water breaks and listen to the radio signal. We could hear the elephants as we got close and it was an eerie sound to hear when you can’t see them. As we got closer and closer to the signal, Farina tells us that only two of us can go up with her at a time because the elephants aren’t very happy we have been following them. We sent our camera man up, and I followed behind him. We were crawling on the ground to minimize our noise and slow us down and then….a trunk. Elephants. I can’t believe how easily they can move through this dense forest that we had been tripping on all morning.  We  spend just a few moments with the elephants before we have to head back and start our return walk to the boat. We started at 8 a.m. and we arrive to the boat at 2:15 p.m., completely exhausted and wiped out but happy we have seen the incredible Bornean elephant.

Houston Zoo’s SMG (Social Media Guy) is on the trip of a lifetime to Borneo!

From Dec. 1–11, 2017 the Houston Zoo and Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 are traveling to southeast Asia and the island of Borneo to document the work you are supporting to protect the counterparts of the wildlife that you see when you visit the Zoo. Houston Zoo conservation associates who have dedicated their careers to protecting elephants, orangutans, pangolins and a whole host of other amazing species on the world’s third largest island will give us an in-depth look at what it means to save species from extinction.

We’ve created a special webpage to follow their exciting journey around the world, go behind the scenes, and learn more about how we can all save animals in the wild. Follow along with SMG!

Christmas Shopping in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

Ah, November. Cooler weather coming in, pumpkin spice everything and dreams of turkey and dressing.

Of course, you know what that means………CHRISTMAS IS COMING!!   It’s time to start thinking about travel plans, gift lists, family outings and more.

Not only are the adults among us thinking in terms of gift buying, but the kids are too. That might cause an issue.  Unless your kiddo has saved allowance and birthday money since he or she was born, they may not have a lot of resources.

We have an alternative. They can shop in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop and they won’t need cash!

How? The Naturally Wild Swap Shop is designed for people of all ages to bring in things they find in nature.  They can bring rocks, minerals, fossils and shells among other things. (click the link below for more information)  As many as three things per person can be brought in a day.  These items will earn points based on how unusual they are and what condition they are in.  Knowledge points can also be earned if they can tell us about their item.  When you trade, you can also earn extra points for having items from our Take Action list.  That includes reusable bottles and bags, pictures of recycling, sustainable seafood and more.  Then, those points can be spent in the shop!

What kinds of things can you get with your points? There is a lot to choose from!  Rocks, minerals, shells, even cut gemstones.  The shop has items ranging from 5 points to 50,000 points so there is something for the spender and the saver alike.

In the rock and mineral section, you might like the geodes or the rose quartz. If mom or dad is a fossil fan, the kids might want to get them an ammonite or a fossil sea biscuit.  There are shells in a multitude of colors, shapes and sizes for them to pick out someone’s favorite color shell as a gift.  For those who have saved up some points, we even have cut gemstones in amethyst, aquamarine, citrine and more.

While trading is now open to all ages, the younger of our traders may be more likely to want to shop with points to make their holidays merry. We hope to see you in the shop soon.

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

SMG’s Borneo Travel Log, Tuesday

Tuesday Morning: We woke up to the indescribable sound of rain in the jungle. It’s almost magical. While eating breakfast, our group discussed how we planned to track elephants for the day. Suddenly, one of the students working here comes running down the path yelling, “CROCODILE!” A croc had been caught in one of the traps we set on Monday. The entire field centre started moving. The plan had been for the crocodile researchers to head out early in the morning to check the traps, if they had caught a croc, they’d send word back and wait until the group of research assistants and field guides could join. We dropped what we were doing and set out with the team moving in on the trapped croc. As we got closed, we saw him – Inside a 12′ trap was what turned out to be a 14′ crocodile. It was not tiny. It was impressive to watch the research assistants work. They moved the trap to the shore, and began to tie ropes around the croc’s snout. The researchers inserted a microchip (similar to how you’d microchip your pet), took a tissue sample, and affixed a satellite tracker. After about an hour on land, the group of muddy researchers and field assistants released the massive crocodile back into the river.

The crocodile work closely with our partners.  All of the conservation projects in the area benefit from one another’s information and efforts to protect all of the wildlife in Borneo!

Tuesday Afternoon: Heading out with Houston Zoo Conservation Associate, Farina at 1:00 p.m. We’re planning to trek into the jungle in search of elephants. Wish us luck!

Tuesday Afternoon, Continued: We went out with Farinha to look for elephants after getting a good GPS location. After a 45min boat ride, we got out and began trekking through the jungle. After a short walk, we realized that the elephants were on the other side of an impassible swamp and had to turn around for the day. It was a bummer but we are going to try around tomorrow.

Houston Zoo’s SMG (Social Media Guy) is on the trip of a lifetime to Borneo!

From Dec. 1–11, 2017 the Houston Zoo and Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 are traveling to southeast Asia and the island of Borneo to document the work you are supporting to protect the counterparts of the wildlife that you see when you visit the Zoo. Houston Zoo conservation associates who have dedicated their careers to protecting elephants, orangutans, pangolins and a whole host of other amazing species on the world’s third largest island will give us an in-depth look at what it means to save species from extinction.

We’ve created a special webpage to follow their exciting journey around the world, go behind the scenes, and learn more about how we can all save animals in the wild. Follow along with SMG!

December’s Featured Members: The Pollock Family

We love our Members. Their incredible support allows us to make a difference to animals both locally and all over the world. This month, we’re spotlighting a family of Zoo Members that deserve recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to December’s Featured Members: The Pollock Family

We truly cherish being zoo members! Our boys are now 8 and 10, and they have grown up visiting the zoo. When we travel, we also go to other zoos, which keeps reminding us how amazing our zoo is here is Houston!

Just a couple of monkeys watching some primates.

The whole family feels like a part of the Houston Zoo community. And it truly feels like a community. Our boys have always wanted to get up close and involved with the animals. Through the Adopt and Animal program, we were able to create a shared experience with their cousins (who live near Washington D.C. and are also passionate about animals). When the cousins come to town, all of the kids insist on going to the zoo to visit “their animals”. Additionally, we were thrilled when we learned that our next-door neighbor was a zoo volunteer. When she shared that elephants love to eat kumquats and asked if we would be willing to allow her to gather some from our own backyard tree, we jumped at the chance to be a part of feeding the elephants. When we see the orange-colored peels on the ground, there is a sense of excitement that those are our fruits!

Then, there is zoo camp. Our boys LOVE zoo camp. It has taught them so much about animals, the environment, our impact on and inclusion in the animal kingdom, as well as giving direct, hands-on experiences that extend beyond what we ever expected. To say that we (their parents) are envious of everything they get to do and experience while at camp would seriously be a huge understatement!

 

Perhaps most importantly for our family, the Houston Zoo absolutely allows for and encourages a diversity of experiences that provides the chance to feel close to the animals. Our family absolutely feels personally involved and invested in the zoo and the animals. This investment is not just at the zoo, but extends to all animals worldwide. We are so grateful to have this experience so close to home and to be able to participate in an affordable, quality experience. From the habitat-style spaces, to viewing windows, keeper talks, education and enrichment programs, and the interaction opportunities (holy moly is it fun to feed a giraffe!), the Houston Zoo creates a world-class, inclusive environment that seems uniquely its own. We are so proud to call it ours!

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to the Buchanan’s and all of our Zoo Members. As a Houston Zoo Member, your support truly makes an impact on the growth of our Zoo and conservation efforts. THANKS!

SMG’s Borneo Travel Log, Monday

Monday morning: We started the morning with a group of researchers collecting data on crocodiles. Crocodiles here get BIG, like BIGGGGG. We loaded up two gigantic crocodile traps and headed out in the boats to set them. The boat ride in the daytime was beautiful, and much less stressful than last night. KPRC team interviewed the group setting the traps and we asked why it was important to collect this data. The researcher explained that she wants to know how the crocs are moving and start to assess how people affect their movement and behavior in the Kinabatangan.

Monday Afternoon: In the afternoon, we met up with Farinha and set out to see if we could find an elephant herd she has been tracking. After getting the last GPS coordinates, we took a 45 minute boat ride down-river and then tried to get radio telemetry “beeps.” We knew the elephants were inside the forest and not on the edge of the river, but since it was late in the day and the sun was going down, we decided not to leave the river. We headed back to the field centre and had dinner.

 

Monday Night: After dinner, we packed our expedition bags up and head out with python researcher, Rich, to look for pythons. Rich is studying important characteristics such as how pythons move through their habitat, if there are any influencing factors as to where pythons may be located, as well as parasites that the pythons may be carrying. During our dark ride down the river at night, Rich explains that to catch a python, he spots it with a headlamp, points the boat towards it, and then jumps off the boat to catch it….with his hands. Bare hands. Reading it might sound interesting but watching a person jump off a boat to grab a wild python is incredible. With a python in hand, Rich places it in a snake bag which he’ll transfer to a special container when we get back. On Tuesday morning, he plans to measure and collect all the data he needs to continue his research.

The crocodile and python researchers work closely with our partners.  All of the conservation projects in the area benefit from one another’s information and efforts to protect all of the wildlife in Borneo!

Houston Zoo’s SMG (Social Media Guy) is on the trip of a lifetime to Borneo!

From Dec. 1–11, 2017 the Houston Zoo and Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 are traveling to southeast Asia and the island of Borneo to document the work you are supporting to protect the counterparts of the wildlife that you see when you visit the Zoo. Houston Zoo conservation associates who have dedicated their careers to protecting elephants, orangutans, pangolins and a whole host of other amazing species on the world’s third largest island will give us an in-depth look at what it means to save species from extinction.

We’ve created a special webpage to follow their exciting journey around the world, go behind the scenes, and learn more about how we can all save animals in the wild. Follow along with SMG!

SMG’s Borneo Travel Log, Sunday

Houston Zoo’s SMG (Social Media Guy) is on the trip of a lifetime to Borneo!

From Dec. 1–11, 2017 the Houston Zoo and Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 are traveling to southeast Asia and the island of Borneo to document the work you are supporting to protect the counterparts of the wildlife that you see when you visit the Zoo. Houston Zoo conservation associates who have dedicated their careers to protecting elephants, orangutans, pangolins and a whole host of other amazing species on the world’s third largest island will give us an in-depth look at what it means to save species from extinction. 

Here is some reporting from the field:

Sunday afternoon: After four flights and days of travel, we arrived in Sandakan and met the team that would take us to the field centre. We got in a van and drove two hours to a dock where we loaded everything on boats and started on our boat trip down river to DGFC.

 

Sunday night: The sun had set as we started our boat ride, which was supposed to take about 30 minutes. As the moon rose over the jungle, we noticed our feet were wet. Water in the boat. Our boat driver stopped a few times to scoop water out of the boat but as soon as we started driving again water was filling up the boat. While I was pretty confident everything was going to be fine, for a moment, I was overtaken with the thought of swimming through a river infested with crocodiles in the pitch black night. To be sure that didn’t happen, I volunteer to bail water out of boat so our driver could continue down the river. I’m happy to say we made it safely and we were happy to be on dry land. We settled into our rooms and quickly fell asleep, happy to be done moving.

 

We’ve created a special webpage to follow their exciting journey around the world, go behind the scenes, and learn more about how we can all save animals in the wild. Follow along with SMG!

 

Give the Gift of the Photo Ark this Holiday Season

If you’re searching for the perfect holiday gift to give this season, kids and adults of all ages will fall in love with The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. Not only is this book a stunning collection of over 6,000 species marking the halfway point for Joel’s project, but it also includes animals from right here at the Houston Zoo!

In addition, Chris Holmes, Houston Zoo Assistant Curator of Birds, is featured in this book as a conservation hero for his work with critically endangered blue-billed curassows. Unique to Colombia, there are only a few hundred of these birds left in the wild due to habitat destruction and hunting. One way to make sure blue-billed curassows don’t go extinct is to make sure this species and its’ genetic diversity is represented in zoos. This ensures that if there are any major decreases in the wild, there is a genetically diverse population that could possibly be released to boost wild populations. Chris, using his unique skills developed with the Houston Zoo’s blue-billed curassows, partnered with the Colombian Zoo Association to save these birds in the wild through sharing knowledge gained from successful breeding efforts, providing the resources needed for a successful breeding program in-country, and collaborating in the creation of a five-year conservation plan. In January 2014, the National Aviary of Colombia became the first Colombian zoo to breed the blue-billed curassow in its native Colombia.

The Photo Ark project adds a creative twist to the world of wildlife conservation, using striking studio portraits of animals as a way connect people to wildlife and, in turn, inspire them to take action to save the animals we share the planet with. By using black and white backgrounds, all species – big and small, become equals, reminding us that each of these creatures have a voice, and a vital role to play in keeping our planet healthy for future generations.

Joel Sartore, the creator of the Photo Ark, is a longtime friend of the Houston Zoo, having photographed here many times in the past, and speaking at the zoo’s conservation gala back in 2016. We are proud to partner with Joel, and the feeling is mutual –

“Having friends in the world of zoos is critical in building the Photo Ark, and Chris Holmes is a perfect example of this. He’s worked for years with birds, especially in Columbia. People trust him, and his expertise, honed over years of hard work. With his recommendation, this allows me to work literally anywhere that he has established relationships. It’s remarkable and so appreciated. Indeed, without good references from folks like Chris, the Ark simply would not be able to proceed.” – Joel Sartore

Stop by the gift shop on your next visit to the zoo to pick up your copy! To explore the Ark and learn more about this incredible 25-year project, click here.

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Thursdays update from SMGs trip to Borneo is up now! https://www.houstonzoo.org/saving-wildlife/journey-to-borneo/
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Jack the ocelot and his tiny snowman friend (and some tasty meatballs!) ... See MoreSee Less

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Jack the ocelot and his tiny snowman friend (and some tasty meatballs!)

 

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Jack is so cute I wish I could take him home and cuddle with him.

Look, Steve Hawkins! Ethan’s favorite animal there!

Bret!! :DDD

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