Your Next Gift Shop Purchase Could Save Wildlife

At the Houston Zoo, we know that even the smallest of actions can help save wildlife. Small actions as simple as refusing a plastic bag or single-use plastic straw protect sea turtles, but we realize even these small everyday changes can come with their own host of challenges. Having gone single-use plastic bag, bottle, and straw free on Zoo-grounds, we realize just how hard change can be – luckily Service System Associates (SSA), our food and retail partners, has started offering wildlife-friendly products on grounds that make the adjustment just a little bit easier for both staff and guests.

Most recently, Houston Zoo gift shops have started carrying reusable metal straws to help save marine wildlife like sea-turtles! These straws come with their own pouch, so they can be kept clean and easily transported in your purse or backpack. Each year, the Houston Zoo veterinary staff cares for around 80 stranded or injured sea turtles; many of which come to the clinic after ingesting or getting tangled up in plastic debris. With the Gulf of Mexico less than an hour away, it should come as no surprise that reducing the use of single-use plastics is one of our main focuses – by switching to a reusable straw you are helping us achieve our mission of saving animals in the wild!

Already made the switch? Don’t fret! There are many other wildlife-saving options to choose from. Some items you buy in the gift shop are helping to save wildlife without you even knowing! New tank tops and t-shirts made from plastic water bottles are saving sea turtles in the wild, and some animal plushes are actually filled with stuffing that comes from collecting and shredding plastic bags found in Africa. Purchasing a t-shirt, reusable tote, or reusable water bottle can help keep hundreds of thousands of plastic bags and bottles from entering landfills and the environment each year. You can even be a trendsetter by telling all of your friends that you are saving wildlife with the t-shirt you are wearing.

While these changes can be challenging, they are equally rewarding. Every purchase matters, since a percentage of all sales of everything purchased from SSA goes towards supporting the Zoo’s wildlife-saving efforts around the globe. Better yet, every guest that takes home and uses one of these items is another conservation hero helping the Zoo achieve its wildlife saving mission!


It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Zoo Lights

‘Tis the season for TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights at the Houston Zoo. This holiday spectacular features sparkling LED lights, twinkling replicas of zoo animals, the return of Candy the Zoo Lights Zebra presented by H-E-B, and a 33-foot-tall, glittering Holiday Tree presented by TransCanada. This year, Zoo Lights opens one hour earlier, with guests able to enter at 5 p.m.

From Nov. 17 through Jan. 13, the Houston Zoo is transformed into a winter wonderland, and one of Houston’s most well-loved holiday traditions. Guests will sip hot chocolate as they stroll through the beautiful Houston Zoo grounds and take in the sights and sounds of the season. Fifteen miles of earth-friendly LED lighting illuminate the zoo’s historic oak trees and decorate the paths to light the way.

Opening just in time for the event is the fully re-imagined Cypress Circle Café, right in the heart of it all. This conscientious café will focus on providing locally sourced, sustainable fares. The signature pizza and bowls will change seasonally and will start with a white pizza called The White Pie Affair, which pairs a creamy alfredo base with garlic, grilled chicken, wild mushrooms and broccoli. The bowl will be a couscous bowl with cilantro-lime Israeli couscous, charred poblano corn relish, pico de gallo, cotija cheese, and blackened chicken. Holiday revelers can also make s’mores and snack on house-made kettle corn and other holiday treats.

For the first time in Zoo Lights history, Santa is stopping by to take photos with families on select nights. Guests can line up to get a photo made and share their holiday wishes with the Big Guy most nights inside Twiga Café.

Zoo Lights sights include a Texas-themed area presented by Texas Direct Auto, as well as an animal Watering Hole presented by Texas Capital Bank. Other features include the Holiday Train Village presented by Macy’s, and the Enchanted Forest presented by King & Spalding LLC.

During the nightly event, the zoo animals settle down for their long winter’s nap, and the star attraction is the lights. To see the zoo’s animals, guests are encouraged to visit the Houston Zoo during regular daytime hours.

TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights is a separately-ticketed event, held daily starting at 5:00 p.m. The zoo closes for the day at 4:00 p.m. and re-opens as TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights at 5:00 p.m. On Prime nights, the event will stay open until 11 p.m. For more information, including nights of operation, or to purchase tickets, visit

  • $12.95             Value Nights, Member
  • $17.95             Value Nights, Non-Member
  • $17.95             Prime Nights, Member
  • $22.95             Prime Nights, Non-Member

LED Lights Help Wildlife

  • The Houston Zoo saves wildlife by only using energy-saving LED lights during TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights. The LED lights are using 85% less power than incandescent lights, allowing the Houston Zoo to conserve lots of energy.
  • Tons of holiday lights end up in landfills which spill over into animals’ natural homes. To help cut down on this waste, the Houston Zoo has recycled more than 12,826 pounds of holiday lights to date. Everyone can save wildlife by recycling broken or old holiday lights at the Houston Zoo throughout Zoo Lights. From Nov. 17 –Jan. 13 guests can bring in unwanted strings of holiday lights to help protect wildlife. Save money on electricity bills and save wildlife by using LED lights at home.

Specialty Nights

Sensory-friendly Night is back on Nov. 26. This night is designed for guests with sensory sensitivities and their families. On this night, guests can expect a smaller crowd, quieter music, limited flashing lights, and two designated quiet areas.

Additional specialty nights include Military Mondays (code: Military18) on Dec. 3, 10 and 17 and First Responder Tuesdays  (code: Responder18) on Dec. 4, 11, and 18. During these evenings, members of the military and first responders can enter for only $12 when they buy online and show their professional ID at the gate.

This year, College Student Wednesdays (code: College18) on Dec. 5 and 12 give Texas college students $12 admission when they purchase online and show student IDs at the gate.

Educator Thursdays (code: Educator18) on Dec. 6, 13, 20 give teachers, school administrators and other educators a $12 admission when they book online and show their educator ID.

November’s Featured Member: Shawn Knight

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  Zoo Member that deserves recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to November’s Featured Member: Shawn Knight

We asked the Shawn to tell us a little about what being a Zoo Member means to her. Here’s what she had to say.

I love being a member of the Houston Zoo! I visit three or four times a week. I like to walk there after work in the evenings for exercise and to get some fresh air after being in an office all day. Monday evening is the best time…I have the whole place to myself! Plus, in the summer, the animals are more active in the evenings when it’s cooler. The zoo is so clean, pretty and shady. It feels like a little oasis in the middle of the city. I like to make the rounds and see all the animals, of course, but if I’m in a rush before closing time, I will just zip around and see all the babies and youngsters. I have an individual membership so I sometimes bring a friend or family member with me. I also like to give zoo memberships as gifts.

There are many things I love about the zoo, including watching the animals grow and develop. My favorite animal is Duncan, one of the young elephants. He is so clever and has a unique personality. He seems to be a good big brother as well, sometimes doting on Joy. I’m very fortunate to be there often enough to see these things. A highlight during the year is seeing the reclusive and adorable binturong at a weekend keeper chat. I also really love the special events like Feast with the Beasts and Zoo Lights, which are very fun and highlight how beautiful the zoo is at night. The special exhibits like Nature Connects (giant Lego animals) and the animatronic Bugs do an excellent job engaging kids and adults alike. The zoo staff is so friendly and knowledgeable. They do an excellent job taking care of the animals and also educating visitors. Even though I go often, every visit to the zoo is special because the animals are always doing something different and interesting.

I think the work the Houston Zoo does in the wild is extremely important, especially trying to help humans and animals co-exist in areas that both groups need to survive. I enjoy reading about the Wildlife Warriors in the email newsletters, and I’m pleased to know the zoo supports so many individuals and organizations doing good work around the world. It’s always a treat to meet one of these people or other conservationists the zoo supports when they are visiting Houston. I enjoy talking to them about their daily work and their research and conservation methods and successes. Sometimes I wish I had chosen a different career path!

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to Shawn 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!

Houston Zoo Staff are Saving Bats in Texas

Mexican free-tailed bat at Waugh Dr. bridge

With Halloween just a few days away there’s no better time to spend a few minutes learning a bit more about one of Halloween’s most recognizable symbols – the bat. This time of year we see their image plastered everywhere, but did you know these guys actually live in your backyard? It’s no secret that everything is bigger in Texas, and yes, that means even our bat diversity. In fact, Texas has the largest number of bat species in the country with a total of 33 recorded to date! As a creature of the night, the bat has often been associated with things that scare or strike fear into the hearts and minds of humans, like vampires, rabies, abandoned houses, and our beloved Halloween. Despite their somewhat frightful reputation, bats are actually one of our greatest allies acting as pollinators, seed dispersers, and even one of the primary consumers of flying insects like our honorary state bird – the mosquito! The Houston Zoo loves bats and wants to do everything we can to protect them in the wild. Recently, we were asked to assist with collecting valuable data that would inform future protection plans for Texas bats.

Over the last two years, Zoo staff have been using acoustic monitoring devices to record the calls of bats we have here on Zoo grounds. Following guidance from Bat Conservation International and Lincoln Park Zoo, the sound monitors are placed at a specific location, left to record for four nights, and then taken down.  All of the audio files that the monitors record are saved onto a SD card that can later be removed from the device and transferred to a computer where staff runs the recordings through a software called SonoBat.  This software analyzes the calls and helps staff to identify which bat species made an appearance on Zoo grounds each evening the recording device was running!

Zoo staff and Zoo crew installing bat monitoring devices

So far, five different species have been heard on zoo grounds:

  • Mexican Free-tail bat
  • Eastern red bat
  • Silver-haired bat
  • Northern yellow bat
  • Hoary bat

Collecting this data will inform researchers of which bats are living here in Houston, when they are active, and where they like to spend their time! Learning more about bats and the important role they play will help us to develop programs aimed at changing the public perception of bats and hopefully lead to the protection of many bat species and their habitats. Each time you visit the Zoo, you are helping to save species in the wild – by supporting programs like this one, you’ve just lent a helping hand to a species living right in your own backyard!

Thank you TXU Energy for keeping it cool this summer!

It was hot this summer but thanks to our sponsor TXU Energy we were able to Chill Out at the Houston Zoo.

Every day this summer was a chance to retreat from the heat into the Zoo’s 13 Chill Zones. Zoo-goers found respite at these locations throughout the Zoo.  From underwater fish adventures in the Kipp Aquarium to watching from the Arrival Building as gorillas explored their habitats, taking a break from the sun didn’t mean missing a moment with our animals. Guests who did want their time in the sun brought their swim gear and splashed into the Kathrine McGovern Water Play Park.

It was a hot one this summer, but our animals stayed nice and cool too! TXU Energy provided the animals with ice enrichment treats to help keep them cool all summer long. The meerkats met their match with a meerkat-sized snowman, and our cheetahs slowed down for an ice pop break. The elephants enjoyed daily baths, and the sea lions swam around their chilly pool as well.

Because of TXU Energy’s incredible support, the Houston Zoo stayed open late on Fridays AND Saturdays this summer, so guests could enjoy the animals and special activities in the cooler evening weather. Evening Chill featured activities, music, animals, and more – with different themes like special movie nights on a giant screen, where guests could relax and picnic with family and friends. TXU Energy helped make it snow for the kick-off weekend of Evening Chill, and we wrapped up the summer event with Zoo-themed trivia night. Whether enjoying snow, 80’s night, painting, or music from around the world, our Evening Chill guests stayed cool while being cool.

As we now enjoy the Houston fall, we look back at our amazing summer with gratitude to TXU Energy for helping us all Chill Out at the Houston Zoo.

How You and the Zoo are Helping to Save Bats in Rwanda

When we last caught up with Houston Zoo partners Dr. Olivier Nsengimana and Marie Claire Dusabe, the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA) had just started a new project to help save straw-colored fruit bats in Rwanda! As people all around the globe celebrate bat appreciation month and we prepare for Dr. Olivier’s visit to Houston at the end of this week, it seemed like the perfect time to share some exciting updates from the field.

Marie Claire, Bat Project Coordinator for RWCA, and her team have been hard at work trying to establish the important role that the African straw-colored fruit bat plays in Rwanda’s ecosystem. What is a straw-colored fruit bat, you ask? As you may have guessed, this species got its name from the yellowish or straw-colored fur on its body. It is also known as a mega-bat due to its large size – an individual bat can reach a length of 5-9 inches and can have up to a 2.5-foot-long wingspan! The Central African region, including Rwanda, is known to be home to about 60% of all Africa’s bat species, yet they are the least studied in comparison to other mammals – something the team at RWCA hopes to change.

Since February, the team has been travelling around Rwanda to 12 different locations to conduct monthly counts of straw-colored fruit bats. This data allows researchers to track changes to bat population numbers across the country, as well as make note of any major differences in the number of roosting sites (places where bats gather to rest) being utilized. Next year, the team will begin tagging select bats from each location with GPS units which will help them to better understand where bats go and what might cause movements from one area to the next.  Team members have also spent time collecting bat droppings from colonies of straw-colored fruit bats to gain a better understanding of the role bats play in keeping the forest healthy through seed dispersal. Additional studies on insectivorous bats to find out what insects they are eating will also help the team demonstrate to communities just how beneficial bats can be, whether they are acting as accidental pollinators or controls for mosquitoes and agricultural pests.

While the data collection is invaluable to the project, community outreach is equally as important when it comes to saving these bats, which is why the team has been working with schools and community groups living in close proximity to bat colonies. 489 primary students participated in an RWCA workshop, spending time learning about the life, role, and importance of bats, and each class was given a copy of a “Bats of Rwanda” comic book. Students and community members were also asked to complete a short questionnaire which would allow the team to see people’s current perception of bats and whether or not they believe the species should be protected. Project support groups made up of locals have also been put in place. Participants will work with researchers to monitor bat colonies and perform basic data collection as well as protect any existing colonies from illegal activities.

Projects like this one take a great deal of dedication and collaboration and we are proud to support RWCA’s efforts to protect a species that is often feared and misunderstood. You can help us support this important wildlife saving work by visiting our colony of fruit bats on your next visit to the Zoo. See you soon!

Unusual Pollinators and the Plants They Love

We are all familiar with bees and butterflies as pollinators.  But, did you know there are some very unexpected and unusual pollinators?  Read on to learn about a few of them.

The largest of the pollinators is a mammal!  The Black and White Ruffed Lemur from Madagascar pollinates the Travelers Palm also known as the Travelers Tree.   Compared to the most common pollinators, these guys are huge.  They have a body length of 10-22 inches and a tail length of 24-26”.  Quite a bit bigger than say a monarch butterfly with a 4-inch wingspan.  They primarily eat fruit but seeds, leaves and nectar are also part of their diet.

How about lizards and skinks and geckos?  Oh my!  The Noronha Skink pollinates the Mulungu tree in Brazil.  The Mulungu is used by the indigenous peoples in Brazil as a medicine.  Then there is the Blue Tailed gecko from the Island of Mauritius who pollinates the Trochetia flower.  The Trochetia is the national flower of Mauritius.  In New Zealand, more than 50 geckos along with birds and bees pollinate the metrosideas excelsa tree.  This tree blooms around December and has vibrantly colored blooms earning it the nickname “Christmas Tree”.   AND, in Tasmania a native snow skink visits the Richea scoparia plant. The Richea scoparia blooms in the summer with flowers that make the plant look like it is covered in candles and are a food source for wallabies.

Have you ever heard of a rodent pollinator?  Spiny Mice in Africa pollinate the Protea or sugarbush plant. The Protea got its name from Proteus, the son of Poseidon and the King protea is the national flower of South Africa.    Africa is also home to the Bush baby.  These animals get their name from the childlike wailing vocalization they make, and they pollinate the iconic Baobab Tree.

Australia has some interesting pollinators too.  The Sugar Gliders pollinate the Banksia species and the adorable Honey Possum pollinates several plants.  Honey Possum don’t actually eat honey and live on nectar and pollen.  They feed on Banksia, Bottlebrushes, Heaths and the Kangaroo Paw Plant among others.

Why are all pollinators important?  Without them we would lose 1/3 of the world’s agriculture crops along with essentials like coffee, tequila and chocolate.  What can you do to help?  Plant a pollinator garden!  You can also bring in pictures of your pollinator garden to the Houston Zoo’s Swap Shop.  You will be registered as a Pollinator Pal and earn points to spend in the shop.  That is a win-win!

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

Deep in the Hearts of Texans for Conservation

Thursday night, the Houston Zoo hosted its 11th annual Wildlife Conservation Gala in the zoo’s Masihara Pavilion. This year’s gala was dedicated to raising funds for saving animals right here in Texas, and the event collectively raised more than $750,000.

KPRC Meteorologist Justin Stapleton emceed the fall evening and spoke of his own connection to the zoo through last year’s journey to Borneo where he got up-close to the Houston Zoo’s efforts to save elephants in the wild. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Executive Director Carter Smith was the evening’s speaker. Carter regaled the crowd with tales of the natural history of Texas and spoke passionately about the work the Houston Zoo is doing to save native species like the Attwater’s prairie chicken and Houston toad.

Nearly 600 guests dressed in their Texas chic attire dined on Texas favorites with a twist. A Gulf coast shrimp cocktail martini was followed by a main course of prime aged NY strip steak medallions with rosemary jus and crispy tobacco onions accompanied by King Ranch enchiladas with wild mushrooms and poblano. Dessert included Texas peach and blueberry crisp with whiskey hard sauce.

Photo credit, Daniel Ortiz for the Houston Zoo

Some of the evening’s most vied for items included a stay for two at Cal-A-Vie Health Spa, four tickets to see George Strait at Houston Rodeo 2019 from a private suite, and Bats and Bubbly on the Bayou with Dr. Cullen Geiselman.

The evening under the Texas stars capped off with the Conservation Gala’s first-ever After Party, chaired by sisters Elise Lubanko and Kaia Kessler, and featured a private concert by country artist Pat Green where guests two-stepped the night away.

This Monkey’s Call Sounds Like a Garbage Disposal

Story written by Houston Zoo primate keepers.

One of the first animals you’ll see when you walk into our Wortham World of Primates are our Black Howler Monkeys! You may hear them before you see them:

Howler monkeys are thought to be not only the loudest primate on the planet, but possibly one of the loudest living land mammals in the world. Their garbage-disposal like call can be heard up to 3 miles away in a dense forest. Our howler monkey troop tends to start calling in reaction to the leaf blowers we have on grounds in the early mornings.

Here at the Houston Zoo we have two howler monkeys. Vida is 23, and Garcia turned 22 on October 2nd. Vida and Garcia were both born here in Houston and are sisters.

Female black howler monkeys are brown.

You may be looking at our lovely, tan-brown, ladies thinking “If they’re called ‘Black Howler Monkeys’, why aren’t they black?” Well, the male monkeys are black, and the females are tan-brown! All howler monkeys are born a tan color to help them camouflage easily in the forest canopy, but the males develop the black color as they get older and the females remain tan in color. Males are also much larger than the females.

Vida and Garcia may be difficult to tell apart by just a glance, but if you study their faces you can tell that Garcia has a much smaller and shorter face, while Vida’s face is wider and longer. Vida tends to be braver than Garcia and is always ready to explore enrichment items or new objects placed in the exhibit by her keepers. Garcia however, likes to wait to see if new things are safe before exploring. Both girls are very smart and participate in regular training sessions with their keepers.

Our howler pair has a variety of favorites that they enjoy. They will always come greet their keepers if there is a fig or hibiscus flower in hand. They react best to food enrichment when there are frozen bananas involved. They love hard-boiled eggs and avocado. The howler monkeys also really enjoy when their keepers hang up mirrors for them, because they absolutely love staring at themselves, and we don’t blame them!

A lot of our guests often wonder why our howlers are sleeping for a large portion of the day, and it’s not because they’re just lazy! In the wild, the howler monkey diet consists mostly of leaves and a small variety of fruits and nuts. Due to the lack of calories in their diet howler monkeys tend to sleep for a majority of their day, about 80%, saving their energy for the important things, like foraging for food and calling to defend their territory!

During the month of October the primate team at the Houston Zoo puts on a Howlerween fundraiser to help raise money for Wildtracks; an organization that cares for and rehabilitate orphaned, injured, and sick howler monkeys back into the wild.

The next time you are walking through our Wortham World of Primates make sure to say hello to our duo!

Snakes Aren’t the Enemy

Written by Judith Bryja

Throughout much of human history, snakes have been among the most maligned and persecuted groups of animals.  The unreasonable fear of snakes is quite prevalent in our society and myths and misconceptions abound whenever snakes are brought up in conversation. The general public conception is that snakes are the “enemy” and should be killed on sight

The news media also plays a role in shaping this attitude.  Most publicity concerning snakes is of a negative nature.  Venomous snakebites often receive extensive local media coverage far beyond the actual threat to human life.  Rarely is it pointed out that the chances of death from a venomous snakebite are considerably less than the chances of dying from a lightning strike or from an insect bite or sting (Bureau of Vital Statistics, Texas Department of Health).

These fears persist despite overwhelming evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, on the important roles that snakes play in a healthy ecosystem.  Many scientific articles point to the value of snake species in food chains in temperate and tropical ecosystems.  Areas where snakes are removed often display a population explosion of rodents, usually to the detriment of nearby agricultural enterprises.

Out of all snakes, the rattlesnakes probably have received more unjust notoriety and have been persecuted needlessly more than any other group, especially in the United States.  It is doubtful that any other animal group is more feared or less understood by the general public.  This persecution has reached such a point that, in some states (seven, to be exact), “Rattlesnake Roundups” are a popular fund-raising event for organizations such as the local Chamber of Commerce or the Jaycees.  The largest of these roundups is held each March in Sweetwater, Texas and shows no sign of diminishing in spite of recent criticism by many private herpetological organizations, various nature and conservation societies, and many animal welfare groups. Roundups are cruel affairs.

Slowly, however, the bad reputation that snakes have had is changing, even when rattlesnakes are involved.  Several traditional roundups are now educational festivals where snakes are not killed and people can learn about them and see them up close.  One fairly new event that the Houston Zoo supports is Lone Star Rattlesnake Days.  LSRD will be held this October 12-14 at Texas Discovery Gardens in Fair Park, Dallas in conjunction with the Texas State Fair.  There will be lots of snakes to see up close, venom extractions done by professionals, activities for the kids, and zookeepers to talk to.  Please visit and the Lone Star Rattlesnake Days Facebook page for more information.

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