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 www.HoustonZoo.org/zoolights.

  • $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.

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!

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.

See Them, Save Them: Your Visit to the Zoo is Saving Black Bears in Texas

When you think of Texas wildlife, a few animals probably come to mind – armadillos, cougars, longhorns, rattlesnakes…maybe even the whooping crane. Chances are the American black bear wasn’t on your radar, but thanks to its gradual return to Texas it soon will be. Many years ago, four of the 16 subspecies of black bear once roamed the state of Texas. Unfortunately, as the lone star state grew in popularity with settlers throughout the 19th century, the number of black bears began to dwindle as a result of habitat loss and unregulated hunting of the species. By the beginning of the 20th century, seeing a black bear within state lines was considered extremely rare. Today, at least two subspecies of black bear are making their way back into Texas due in large part to the growing populations of black bears in the surrounding states of Louisiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, but for those of us living outside of East Texas the black bear remains largely unheard of.

The recent opening of the Hamill Foundation’s Black Bear Exhibit at the Houston Zoo gives Houstonians the opportunity to see the bears up close and learn about what the Zoo is doing to protect them in the wild. The Zoo is participating in state protection planning through the Texas Black Bear Alliance. The alliance is focused on ensuring black bears return to their historic range in Texas by bringing together individuals, organizations, and state and federal government representatives to support the species’ recovery. Because black bears are still considered a rare species in the state, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department investigates each reported sighting in order to gain a better understanding of the number and rate at which black bears are returning to Texas. Having a clearer picture of the population size allows researchers to create wildlife management plans as well as offer educational outreach activities to community members living near black bear habitat.  In conjunction with these efforts the Zoo designed the Texas black bear reporting signs that are used all over the state.

Living outside of the black bears’ home range can make it tricky to know what actions you can take to protect this native Texan. Thankfully, small changes to your everyday routine can make a big difference. Bears need trees to live, so by using less paper or recycled-content paper products, fewer trees are cut down meaning you are contributing to saving black bears in the wild! Consider going paperless for billing or even when purchasing tickets for your next visit to the Zoo. Just last year the Houston Zoo saved 735 mature trees by committing to better paper choices and using digital documents! And remember, every time you visit the Zoo, you’re helping to save black bears like our very own Belle and Willow in the wild. See them, Save them – its as simple as that.

For the 11th annual Wildlife Conservation Gala at the Houston Zoo, we’re shining a spotlight on the species and habitats of the Lone Star State! We’ll come together as Texans to raise the funds our Zoo needs to keep saving Texas wildlife like the American black bear.

Celebrate World Gorilla Day by Recycling Your Old Cell Phone!

It’s no secret that gorillas are one of the most loved and recognizable species of our time. They are known for their unparalleled size and strength, as well as their striking resemblance to humans. Unfortunately, they are also world-renowned due to their struggle for survival in our constantly developing world. All of these reasons and more prompted the creation of World Gorilla Day back in 2016. This day is meant not only to celebrate this incredible species, but to encourage people around the globe to take action to save the mighty gorilla.

How can you save a species that lives on the other side of the globe you ask? The answer, as it turns out, fits in the palm of your hand. Cell phones contain a material called tantalum that is mined in areas where gorillas live. The over use of such a resource comes at a price – wildlife habitats and natural landscapes like those that the gorillas call home are altered, sometimes beyond repair. However, if we reuse and recycle small electronics like our cell phones, we can decrease the amount of mining that takes place in these vital habitats!

Pretty simple right? To contribute to saving gorillas all you have to do is dig those old cell phones out of the bottom of your drawer and recycle them! I know what you’re thinking – “that’s great and I want to help, but where in the world do I bring my old phone?” To the Zoo of course! Our electronics recycling box lives on Zoo grounds year-round, right by the guest services office near the front entrance. So, not only do you save wildlife through your admission to the Zoo, but you take it a step further each time you bring an old handheld electronic device with you to recycle!

If you’re feeling extra inspired, consider getting your school or organization signed up for the next Action for Apes Challenge. The Action for Apes challenge is an annual contest hosted by the Houston Zoo to see which team can recycle the most handheld electronics by the end of APE-ril. Just last year the challenge yielded a total of 1,977 handheld electronic devices – that’s 1,977 actions to help save animals in the wild! The Houston Zoo has been protecting gorillas in the wild for the past 10 years by providing training, funding and resources for three gorilla conservation projects in Central Africa-–Gorilla Doctors, Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE), and Conservation Heritage-Turambe–and is home to a renowned gorilla habitat.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is celebrating World Gorilla Day this year by launching a global, mobile phone recycling challenge, Gorillas on the Line…Answer the Call, based on the Houston Zoo’s very own Action for Apes Challenge. This will reach zoos and aquariums across the nation and the world to engage thousands of students, schools, community organizations and businesses to answer this important call: to help save gorillas in the wild.

Texans Helping Texans: Whooping Crane Population Count is Rising

Have you ever seen a whooping crane up close? If you haven’t, you will have the opportunity to do so soon with the Zoo’s new Texas Wetlands exhibit opening in the heart of the zoo! Standing at nearly 5 feet tall, with a 7-foot wingspan and bright crimson red accents on the top of their head, the whooping crane is hard to overlook. In fact, a history of human fascination with whooping cranes has been both a gift and a curse for this remarkable species. In the 1800s the whooping cranes’ beautiful feathers were used as fashionable additions to clothing, and rare eggs were sold to collectors willing to pay top dollar. The whooping crane saw its numbers drop to just 15 in the early 1940s, which led to the implementation of land protection efforts and public education initiatives geared toward saving this beloved bird. Decades later, whooping cranes are loved not for their feathers, but for their courtship dances and their annual migration to Port Aransas, Texas – the only place where you can see the world’s last naturally-occurring population of whooping cranes.

Thanks to zoo-goers like you, we have been able to support the International Crane Foundation’s (ICF) efforts to increase the number of whooping cranes in the wild, and we are excited to report that their numbers are on the rise! Surveys conducted over the 2017-2018 winter season concluded that the number of wild whooping cranes has increased to 505, up from 431 the previous year. Its been a long journey for our feathered friends, and while things are looking up, we still have a long way to go. The Houston Zoo recently teamed up with the ICF’s Texas office and established a Whooping Crane Outreach Coordinator position that will be funded by the Zoo. This individual will form partnerships that include involving hunters, landowners and other members of the community in monitoring and keeping watch over the whooping cranes in their areas.

We are so proud to be involved in this work to help save this unique community of Texans, and thanks to your continued support, this native species has an even better chance for a bright future. For the 11th annual Wildlife Conservation Gala at the Houston Zoo, we’re shining a spotlight on the species and habitats of the Lone Star State! We’ll come together as Texans to raise the funds our Zoo needs to keep saving Texas wildlife like the whooping crane.

Educators looking for a fun way to share information on these wildlife saving efforts with your students are encouraged to join us at our next Educators Night Out to participate in hands-on STEM activities that cover whooping cranes and other Texas wildlife.

Saving Elephants at the Zoo and Around the Globe

Back in May, many of you had the opportunity to meet Houston Zoo Conservation Field Staff member Dr. Nurzhafarina (Farina) Othman. Farina is a Malaysian scientist that studies Bornean elephants, both as a Research Associate at Danau Girang Field Centre and Director of her own project, Seratu Aatai. As we gear up for Elephant Appreciation Day this Saturday, September 22nd, we wanted to share what Farina has been up to since returning home from her visit to Houston!

Most recently, Farina has launched an UmbrElephant Campaign. What is an umbrelephant you ask? To put it simply, it is a beautifully designed umbrella that showcases an image of a Bornean elephant along with the phrase “Spare a thought for the gentle giant”. But don’t be fooled, this campaign’s purpose extends far beyond creating a fashionable accessory. The idea for the umbrelephant emerged from the realization that many people do not understand the behavior of elephants in the wild, which leads to fear and a lack of appreciation for the species. This campaign hopes to change that, by building pride among Malaysians and empowering them to protect the Bornean elephants who share their home. The umbrellas act as a tool, that not only help to raise money for Bornean elephant conservation but to help spread the word that elephants are something to love, not fear.

The first program under this campaign was a celebration of World Elephant Day, organized by Project Seratu Aatai and the Sabah Wildlife Department. The event, attended by students and guests to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, started with educational talk by Farina, followed by an elephant toy making session and cleaning up the children’s zoo by the students. On the 27th of August, the UmbrElephant Campaign was launched by The Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment of Sabah in Kota Kinabalu, YB Christina Liew. She is strongly supportive of these wildlife saving efforts and proud that there are now more Malaysians taking part in conservation work. In addition to the launch, an agreement was reached between Sabah Wildlife Department and Genting Plantations Berhad that will result in the creation of a 450 acre corridor connecting two protected areas making it easier for elephants to travel within their home range! This project is the outcome of a pioneering partnership between the Sabah State Government, Houston Zoo partner organization HUTAN, the Sukau community, and Genting Plantation Berhad. A big win for elephant conservation, this agreement received attention in both local and national newspapers. Farina hopes that as the campaign continues to grow it will give the people of Sabah the opportunity to express their concerns, interests, and passions to help Bornean elephant conservation using their own ideas, skills, and talent.

Back here in Houston, Elephant Encounters give you the opportunity to learn more about the Houston Zoo’s support efforts of elephant conservation in Borneo! With the Houston Zoo’s support, the population of elephants in Borneo has increased from 100 to 200 wild individuals. During the encounter, you will get to immerse yourself in the daily lives of our elephant Zookeepers and the magnificent animals they care for as well as discover different aspects of the elephants’ daily lives, like diets, care, training and more. We invite you to join us on one of these exclusive tours, and remember, when you see elephants at the Zoo, you support efforts to save them in the wild!

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