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!

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”!

April Showers Bring Masai Flowers – Baby Giraffe at the Zoo!

The Houston Zoo is proud to announce the birth of a female Masai giraffe, born at 9:04 a.m. on Monday, April 10 in the McGovern Giraffe Barn at the African Forest. After a 2-hour labor both mom, Tyra, and the yet-to-be-named calf are doing well and are currently bonding behind the scenes with keeper and veterinary teams watching over the pair. After a few days alone with her mother, the new calf will make her public debut.

On average, giraffe pregnancies last from 14 to 15 months. A new born Masai giraffe calf typically weighs between 125 and 150 pounds at birth and measures approximately six feet tall.  Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animals, with the average male standing at 17 feet tall and weighing 2,500 pounds. Females average more than 14 feet tall. The new calf weighs 139 pounds and is estimated to be 6 feet 3 inches tall.

Over the last decade, the number of giraffes in the wild has dropped by 40%, with less than 80,000 giraffes remaining. Of the nine subspecies of giraffes, the Houston Zoo is now home to six Masai giraffes.

Saving Giraffes in the Wild 

You help save giraffes in the wild every day! Proceeds from every zoo admission ticket and membership help 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 11 animals from snares, and have arrested over 89 poachers.

Thank you for helping us save animals in the wild!

Water: The Science Beneath the Surface

This post written by Mike Fannin, Manager, Life Support Systems

Life Support Systems?! What the heck does that department do?  From filtration to chemistry, this blog series is a behind the scenes look into the Zoo’s most mysterious department.


Part I: Koi Stream in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo

As anyone with a pond knows, the battle to keep things looking good is a never-ending one. Water can turn green overnight, making it difficult to see fish, and a thick carpet of slime can appear, seemingly out of nowhere. Both of these situations arise from some sort of imbalance in the pond, but the culprit is the same – algae.

There are tens of thousands of types of algae in natural aquatic systems. Mother Nature keeps them in check (just like all other species on the planet) as other organisms compete for resources, food and living space. Man-made water features are not as diverse as they are in nature, so there is little to no competitive pressure; in an outdoor pond, algae are often free to run wild.

This was the case with the newly renovated Koi Stream feature in the Children’s Zoo. The filtration system was upgraded, which made quick work of the single-celled algae that is able to turn clear water into pea soup, but hair algae is not so easily controlled – it is not suspended in the water like the single-celled varieties. If left unchecked, it grows on everything, trapping detritus (such as leaves and leftover food), slowing water flow and clogging filter intakes. In short, it can be an aquatic nightmare.

Algae in the koi stream.

So… what to do? There are a lot of chemicals that can be added to the water to kill algae, but none will permanently solve the problem. In fact, most will end up spawning even more problems! Here at the Houston Zoo, we prefer to work smarter and do things naturally; we needed to create more biological diversity in our aquatic habitat, and we decided that a great start was the addition of a teeny tiny invertebrate, the amphipod.

Amphipods are micro-crustaceans found in aquatic environments all over the world and vary widely in their habits. Some eat plants, others are scavengers, some are fierce predators, and some are even parasites. We needed a plant-eating species to tackle our algae issues, so with a few ampiphods donated by a Zoo volunteer, we began with a 600mL beaker of water with a sprig of aquatic plant and dead oak leaves to hide in. We offered these amphipods different types of algae found in various aquatic systems throughout the Zoo, but they didn’t seem to like any of it… we would have to try another species of ampiphod. Next, we collected a different species of amphipod from the Zoo’s Reflection Pool and offered them the same array of algae that we gave the first group – they didn’t seem to care for anything until we gave them hair algae from the Koi Stream, which they ate immediately.  We continued to offer Koi Stream algae over the next couple of weeks to make sure the novelty didn’t wear off.  Not only were the amphipods devouring the algae, they were growing and reproducing – SUCCESS!

Now that we had found the type of amphipod to address our algae situation, we needed a lot more of them. Three, twenty gallon amphipod breeding aquariums were set up in a secret location (not many amphipods get to have gorillas for neighbors!) We added sponge filters, submersible heaters, and plants, plus leaf litter to make their new home complete. Then, we divided our small colony between the three tanks and added a few dozen individuals from the Reflection Pool to supplement the population.  Once a week, we harvested hair algae from the Koi Stream to feed our new friends and within a few months, the population exploded into the thousands! Now we had the numbers to keep the Koi Stream algae under control, but we didn’t have the habitat to support this large population of hungry crustaceans… We couldn’t put them to work until they had a place to call home.

Amphipods can easily swim around to search for food, but the adults and young need small, confined spaces to hide in. Their preferences are dense aquatic plants (especially the roots) and leaf litter. Leaf litter wasn’t a good choice for us because it could interfere with our ability to keep the filtration system running smoothly. The Koi Stream has some natural hiding spots, but not enough for the number of amphipods we need to effectively control algae. And plants? Sometimes it’s difficult to establish plants in a koi system because koi love to eat plants!

We needed something that would support aquatic plant life while somehow keeping the plants away from the fish, that would also conform to the long narrow shape of our koi exhibit. “Floating islands,” which are planters that float on the water’s surface, allowing plant roots easy access to stream water were our best choice. Not only was this the answer to all the needs listed above, but the dense mesh that makes up the islands also provides ample habitat for our amphipods!

As mentioned before, nature is all about balance. Waste products generated by fish supply nutrients for plant life, and the more fish you have in a body of water, the more nutrients are available. By adding more plants to our koi system, we limit the nutrients available to algae since they are in direct competition with the plants for food. The plants (and floating islands themselves) will also create shade, which will help decrease algal growth, since the algae typically prefers direct sun. Adding voracious algae-eaters, our army of amphipods, will ensure that any hair algae that does manage to grow in the stream will be kept under control. The expected result will be a healthy, well-balanced exhibit with crystal clear water, using nothing but simple filtration and biodiversity.

Be sure and visit often to monitor our improvements to the Zoo’s outdoor aquatic systems – and stay tuned for floating planter updates and photos in our next blog entry, Children’s Zoo Koi Stream: Part II!


The beautification of the Koi Stream in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo is an ongoing team project between the Houston Zoo Water Quality department, Horticulture department and Children’s Zoo husbandry staff.

A Week I Will Never Forget

This blog post was written by Sue Cruver, a Houston Zoo Travel Program participant who recently experienced the wonders of Yellowstone with the Houston Zoo. If you would like to travel with the Houston Zoo, please visit our travel site

It began sitting at my computer one day last fall. I was reading the latest online Houston Zoo newsletter when I saw a section called “Travel with the Houston Zoo.” Curious, especially because I had been thinking about taking a trip somewhere, I clicked on the page and started learning about the different excursions available to people like me – people who love animals and are concerned about their survival in the wild.

Bald eagle in Yellowstone. Photo credit: Sue Cruver Photography

When I read about an adventure to “Greater Yellowstone in Winter” to view the wildlife and learn about this outstanding ecosystem, I got excited. It was a trip conducted by Teton Science School’s (TSS) Wildlife Expeditions, based in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and a Houston Zoo education and conservation partner.  For so many reasons, I knew it was something I had to do.  As a serious photographer, I envisioned capturing the beauty of the region and the wildlife that wintered there. So, on February 2, 2017, I boarded a plane to Bozeman, Montana for a week I will never forget.

Yellowstone. Photo credit: Sue Cruver Photography

Winter weather can be very unpredictable. I grew up in New Jersey and have lived in Massachusetts, so I knew how the cold and snow can impact travel, and how you have to dress in layers for warmth. But having lived in the Houston, Texas area for the past 43 years, I realized it was going to be a physical challenge to put myself out in that environment again. Winters in Yellowstone have been known to be extremely cold, with temperatures sometimes dropping well below zero. In addition, I was going from a city that is 12 to 17 feet above sea level to altitudes between 6,500 and 8,300 feet. Could I handle it? It definitely was worth a try.

Observe incredible wildlife with the Houston Zoo’s travel program. Photo credit: Sue Cruver Photography

So try I did, and I haven’t been the same since. It was hard to come home.

Yellowstone in winter. Photo credit: Sue Cruver Photography

The week was truly magical. The landscapes were absolutely breathtaking, and I felt like a child again walking in the snow. As for wildlife, there was plenty — bison, elk, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, wolves, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, bald eagles, mule deer, white-tailed deer, moose, trumpeter swans, a bobcat, and so much more.

Bobcat in Yellowstone. Photo credit: Sue Cruver Photography.

Seeing Old Faithful, the other geysers, and hot springs in winter was awesome. Everywhere I looked, there was a picture to be taken. And I took many, despite the fact that most days were cloudy and snowy. As I mentioned, winter weather can be challenging; this week, it only added to the adventure.

Visit Yellowstone with the Houston Zoo-more information can be found on our travel page. Photo credit: Sue Cruver Photography

Temperatures weren’t bad at all, ranging between the teens and low 30s. Snowdrifts and an avalanche did lead to some temporary road closures within the park, but these only resulted in some changes to our itinerary.  Much credit for the smoothness of these transitions goes to the incredibly professional TSS staff and guides. They were amazing!

Bison in Yellowstone. Photo credit: Sue Cruver Photography

And “amazing” is not the only takeaway I have from this adventure. I am very impressed with the Houston Zoo’s travel program and how it provides children, families, and retirees, like me, the opportunity to observe wild animals in their home environments. By partnering with the non-profit Teton Science Schools organization, the Zoo was able to add local Yellowstone guides and biologists to lead this trip. These experts knew where to find the wildlife and were able to answer everyone’s questions.

 In retrospect, this trip was not only fun, but also inspirational. I look at my photographs and am transported back to the peacefulness and beauty of the Yellowstone region. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and remember the cold, clean, fresh air.  I focus on the quiet I found there and am less stressed. Instead of listening to the noisy media and tech world that constantly bombards us, I now think about the magnificence of this part of our country and its incredible wildlife. I can’t wait to return.

Sue Cruver

Saving Wildlife Expo Returns to the Houston Zoo

If you love lions, swoon for sharks, are zany for zebras or just adore all animals, the Saving Wildlife Expo is the place to be Saturday, March 25.

The Houston Zoo and the Wildlife Conservation Network are once again partnering to host the Saving Wildlife Expo at the Houston Zoo on March 25 inside the Brown Conservation Education Center.

As a zoo-based conservation organization, the Houston Zoo knows that animals will be saved from extinction through strong wildlife partnerships, which is why the zoo’s main conservation focus is in building strong partnerships around the world with groups that have likeminded purposes. One such organization is the Wildlife Conservation Network (WCN) with which the zoo has partnered for the past seven years.  WCN provides a supportive platform for conservation leaders all over the globe.  They save wildlife by helping independent conservationists build connections and create strong, sustainable plans for their organizations.

Together with WCN, the Houston Zoo will host the Saving Wildlife Expo at the zoo on March 25. At the ticketed event, five of the world’s strongest community-based conservation leaders will give presentations and interact with guests at this full-day expo.  Each leader will share stories and successes, as well as highlight threats that zoo guests can help mitigate through simple actions.  There will also be a host of conservation organizations exhibiting for the entire day.

The speakers for the Saving Wildlife Expo have dedicated their lives to saving animals from extinction.  They all lead conservation programs that protect the wild counterparts of the animals represented at the Houston Zoo. Tickets start at $34 for members and students and can be purchased on the Houston Zoo website.

Speakers and their organizations include:

Grevy’s Zebra Trust – Kenya

Belinda Mackey runs the Grevy’s Zebra Trust (GZT) in Kenya. GZT is a conservation organization in El Barta, the northern region of Kenya that seeks to protect grevy’s zebra by finding solutions for local people to live peacefully with wildlife. Zebras rely on the same resources as the local people and provide an essential balance in the African landscape. GZT empowers local communities to protect these animals from extinction through monitoring programs.

At the Houston Zoo, guests can see two Grant’s zebras at the rhino habitat in the African Forest.


Niassa Lion Project – Mozambique

Niassa Lion Project Founder, Dr. Colleen Begg along with her husband Keith Begg and a team of local Mozambicans are working to conserve lions and other large carnivores in an immense wilderness called Niassa Reserve in northern Mozambique. Niassa National Reserve is home to one of only five healthy lion populations left on the continent. Niassa Lion Project’s strategy for helping lions in the wild is twofold: first, researchers track and vaccinate lions to help support population growth. Second, they work with locals through community outreach and education on how to safely live with lions.

The Houston Zoo is home to a trio of lion sisters, Nimue, Mattie and Uzima. The pride is a part of a yearly Lion Fun Day celebration that takes place both at the Houston Zoo and in Mbamba village in Mozambique, hosted by the Niassa Lion Project as a way to connect communities and wildlife.


MarAlliance – Central America

The Houston Zoo is proud of all the work done to protect the animals in the waters along the Texas coast as well as around the world. Fascinated with the sea from the early days of growing up in Tunisia, MarAlliance founder and Executive Director, Dr. Rachel Graham has worked for nearly two decades with fishers and partners in several countries to identify threats and research needs and conservation opportunities for threatened marine wildlife and their habitats. MarAlliance is a community-based conservation organization that works with communities to protect ocean wildlife such as sharks, rays and sea turtles. Based in Central America, they employ local fishers to engage in wildlife monitoring and protection efforts and work closely with the government and other conservation organizations.

Houstonians can help protect ocean animals by using reusable water bottles instead of single-use plastic bottles.


Tapir Specialist Group – Brazil

The Houston Zoo is home to three beloved Baird’s tapirs and staff members assist organizations that aim to protect tapirs in the wild. As Chair of the Tapir Specialist Group, Dr. Patricia Medici launched the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative in Brazil aimed at establishing tapir conservation programs in all areas where tapirs live, specifically the Pantanal. The goal is to help researchers determine the effects that large animals, such as tapirs, have on their habitats and the other animals living around them.  This will help to design plans to prevent the disappearance of these animals.


Bat Conservation International – Texas

The Houston Zoo has three species of bats, two in Natural Encounters and one in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo. Bats are incredibly important animals, as they are pollinators. Pollinators are responsible for up to 30% of what we eat! Dr. Cullen Geiselman is a bat researcher and conservationist. Her research focuses on seed dispersal and pollination by bats. She has coauthored a book with botanists from the New York Botanical Garden entitled Seed Dispersal by Bats in the Neotropics. A former Bat Conservation International staff member, she currently serves as the Chair of the Bat Conservation International Board of Directors, she serves on the Board of Directors for the Houston Zoo and many other organizations around Houston.

Every visit to the Houston Zoo helps save animals in the wild.  This expo will connect guests with some of the top conservation leaders in the world and help Houstonians learn what simple actions they can do to help save animals from extinction.

Registration for Camp Zoofari is Open!

Summer vacation just got wild! Public registration begins Monday, Feb. 27 for Camp Zoofari at the Houston Zoo. Camp Zoofari is a summer camp experience for children ages 4 through 16 that features fun and educational activities among an array of exotic wildlife. Running May 30 through Aug. 11, 2017, Camp Zoofari offers an exciting lineup of programs that have been specially created to teach children about animals and the natural world.

Camp Zoofari has listened to feedback from past camp participants and added several new and exciting programs in 2017.  Teens, ages 13 through 16, will have a new way to interact with our animal collection in two camps specifically created for them.

Each day of Camp Zoofari is action-packed to keep kids moving and stimulate an interest in the amazing species that call the zoo home. The expert zoo team takes summer camp to the next level and helps each camper create happy memories that make them eager to learn more about nature.

The zoo has added 11 brand-new camp programs for summer 2017. Themes like Wild Arts, Wild Survival, and LEGO join returning favorites that help kids make friends and have fun at camp while learning about wildlife. These new themes expand the zoo’s already-diverse collection of educational programs, giving parents and children more ways to connect with nature while at camp.  Before and after care has also been added to help families.  Finally, many of our camps are so popular, they sell out fast!  This year, the zoo has added a waitlist to immediately notify families of a vacancy.

“We are really looking forward to welcoming campers back to the Houston Zoo this summer,” said Melanie Sorensen, senior director of conservation education. “Our team of professional educators work throughout the year to improve and build exciting experiences into each camp session. With such a fascinating collection of animals only steps away, Camp Zoofari creates a unique connection with wildlife to inspire action to save animals in the wild.”

Camp Zoofari is operated by the Houston Zoo conservation education department. To complement the zoo’s 11 full-time educators, each week-long session is supported by 26 contracted teachers, and nearly 50 members of Zoo Crew, the organization’s teen volunteer initiative. Camp Zoofari staff maintain an 8-to-1 student-teacher ratio, surpassing the 10-to-1 ratio mandated by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Registration and additional information can be found at www.houstonzoo.org/education/camp-zoofari.

What a Cute… Watermelon?

Written by Memory Mays


We’ve got a new cute addition to our Hoofed Stock Department at the Houston Zoo. This is Antonio, a baby Baird’s tapir.

After a 13 month gestation period, our female Baird’s tapir “Moli” experienced a short labor before birthing our newest baby male tapir. The calf was quickly on his feet and walking only about 20 minutes after being born! At birth he weighed 20 pounds and has been gaining weight over this past week at a normal growth rate.

You may notice the calf has a different coat color than his mother. Tapir calves are known for this coat pattern where the white stripes and spots covering their bodies resemble the stripes of a watermelon. This coloration helps the calves camouflage into the bushes and shrubs of the forests in Central America. These markings will slowly fade into the adult coloration after about a year.

With only about 5,500 Baird’s tapirs left in the wild, this birth is very important to help save this endangered species. On your next visit to the Houston Zoo, make sure to stop by our Tapir yard to see this amazing Baird’s tapir!

Little Love Born Just in Time for Valentine’s Day

Houston Zoo Welcomes Baby Baird’s Tapir
On Saturday, Feb. 5, the Houston Zoo welcomed the birth of a male Baird’s tapir. This is the first Baird’s tapir born at the Houston Zoo, and first baby for mother Moli and father Noah.

Baird’s tapirs are born with a colorful pattern of stripes and spots that will disappear as they grow older. The newborn tips the scales at 24.5 pounds, and when he’s full-grown zoo experts anticipate this bouncing baby boy could weigh more than 550 pounds! While he doesn’t have a name yet, the keepers who care for the tapir family will have the honor of naming the tiny tapir.

There are four species of tapir, three in South America and one in Malaysia. In South America where Baird’s tapirs are found, tapirs are the largest land mammal and live throughout the marsh and swamps from Mexico to Western Brazil and Ecuador.

 

 

1 of the 9 tapir babies being tracked in Brazil. He only has spots left on his feet.

The Baird’s tapirs at the Houston Zoo are ambassadors for their wild counterparts in South America. The Houston Zoo supports the protection of this endangered species in Central America as well as the Lowland tapir in Brazil through a partnership with the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group to support field research in Brazil’s Pantanal region.

Since the inception of this partnership, 57 tapirs have received tracking collars to help the group understand this elusive animals’ range. The tracking collars provide the best protection for adult and baby tapirs in the wild, including the 9 mothers and babies currently being tracked. Some of these babies that are being protected through the partnership in Brazil have already started losing their spots!

Metamorphosis – What Is It?

Metamorphosis is a fun word, but what does it mean? The word comes from meta ,meaning change, and morphe, meaning form, so it literally means to change shape or transform. Though our topic is amphibians, I must point out that most insects do this as well and go through even crazier changes.

While some have what is called direct development where a miniature adult hatches from an egg, the majority (except for most caecilians) have a larval stage between egg and adult. The time from the egg hatching to the adult animal can take anywhere from 2 weeks (toads that breed in very temporary puddles basically) to up to 4 years for some spring salamanders. The time is dependent on species and/or environmental conditions. There are even some salamanders, like the axolotl, which never do it all the way, they stay forever in the water with gills, even becoming sexually mature and reproducing.

Because the transformation is more extreme for frogs and toads, the following is geared toward them. Depending on the species, eggs are laid in a variety of places, including in the water, attached or not to vegetation, on leaves overhanging water, and even in water filled tree holes. What hatches out of the eggs usually looks something like this:

In this stage, they are fully aquatic and get oxygen via gills. They have sucker type mouths and most feed on vegetation by filter feeding or scraping algae off of rocks and things; however, some  are carnivorous!

Tadpoles go through tremendous change. Not only is the outside of their bodies drastically changing but the inside as well. They switch from gills in the water to lungs on land, skeletal changes occur (some things that were cartilage change to bone), eyes, skin, mouth parts, digestive system, all of this has to change.

Usually the back legs emerge first, starting as little nubs.

By contrast, the front legs appear first for salamanders and newts. The back legs grow and eventually the front legs pop out too. Often at this time, tadpoles will start coming partway out of the water. The time switching to lungs differs a lot between species and the type of habitat the tadpoles are from. At this point, they look something like this:

The tail is then absorbed (it would be a waste for it to just fall off) and the frog or toad is a bona fide, air breathing, land dwelling critter. There are frogs and toads that are semi or even wholly aquatic (they still breathe air) and there are some frogs that spend all of their time in trees, even breeding and hatching young without coming to the ground.

Here is a salamander larva.  Some of them have stunningly beautiful feathery gills.

Amphibians are an incredibly diverse and fascinating group of animals. If you’d like to learn more, there are a lot of great resources out there. Check out: www.amphibanark.org , www.amphibiaweb.org , www.iucn.org, www.parcplace.org

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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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