Houston Zoo Crew Teens Travel to Galapagos to Work Alongside Wildlife Warrior Lady Márquez

Last month, the Houston Zoo welcomed a special guest all the way from Galapagos. Lady Márquez, from our partners at Ecology Project International (EPI) came to visit us here in Houston after being chosen by the Houston Zoo admissions team as a 2017 Wildlife Warrior Award recipient. This award recognizes exceptional individuals from our wildlife conservation partner programs and provides wildlife warriors with an experience that will increase their abilities/knowledge.

Born and raised in the Galapagos Islands, Lady is an EPI alumni, and now acts as their Outreach Program Coordinator. In this role, she works to empower local teens to be future conservation leaders. Driven by her passion to inspire others to save wildlife, Lady helped to create an ecology club which brings together more than 20 local teens on a weekly basis to participate in various conservation activities like: wildlife documentary screenings, beach clean ups, bird mortality awareness campaigns, ecological monitoring, and many other citizen science based programs. Lady spent several days in Houston working with our conservation education team exchanging ideas and learning more about how our programs like Zoo Crew and Camp Zoofari inspire the next generation of Houstonians to become wildlife saving heroes.

This past weekend, a select group of 16 Houston Zoo Crew teens embarked on an exciting journey to visit Lady and see first hand how she and teens in the Galapagos are working to save wildlife. Today, Houston Zoo teens met up with Galapagos teens that are part of the conservation ecology club called Mola Mola. The Mola Mola club showed the Houston Zoo teens how they survey the beaches of Tortuga Bay for marine debris and explained how they monitor sea turtle nests. In 2016, this project led to the protection of 53 green sea turtle nests, and documented sightings of 1,940 hatchlings! In collaboration with the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Foundation, the eco club was also successful in creating awareness on nest protection among visitors to Tortuga Bay, a public beach that also acts as a nesting ground for the turtle species.

The Zoo has provided training, scholarships, and support for these future Galapagos conservation leaders and their instructors over the past 5 years. Throughout the rest of the week, Zoo Crew teens will participate in giant Galapagos tortoise monitoring research, visit the Charles Darwin Research Center, and much more! To learn more about our teen programs, click here.

Houston Zoo’s New Veterinary Clinic Provides Care for Rescued Sea Turtles

Along the Gulf of Mexico, we all know summertime is actually spelled BEACH. Texans from all around flock to the sandy shores during the hottest months of the year in search of relaxation and relief from the heat. As it turns out, we aren’t the only ones making a beeline for the shore! April marks the beginning of nesting season for sea turtles along the Gulf Coast, which means the number of Kemp’s ridley and green sea turtles making use of our beaches skyrockets. Unfortunately, a trip to the beach for our endangered friends may not always be smooth sailing as plastic pollution, fishing equipment, and natural predators make formidable opponents – but that’s where our veterinary clinic, clinic team and partners at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) come in!

Our vet clinic team provided medical support for a number of sea turtles in our clinic this summer. Two sea turtles, a large loggerhead and a smaller Kemp’s Ridley were accidentally caught by fishermen at Seawolf Park and 61st Street Pier. Two more Kemp’s ridleys were found entangled in plastic debris – one was found on the beach connected to a trashcan lid by a shoelace, and the other was tangled up in balloons and ribbons along with other trash. A handful of sea turtles were also stranded along our shoreline as a result of the rotating ocean currents that gifted us with unusually clear water over Memorial Day weekend.

While the summer can seem like a perilous time for sea turtles, it can also mark the start of a second chance at life in the wild. At the end of May, our partners at NOAA conducted a public release of 11 rescued sea turtles on Stewart Beach in Galveston, followed by a private release of an additional 21 green sea turtles that eagerly ventured off into Christmas Bay. Some of these lucky turtles are among the ~80 sea turtles that receive medical care from the Houston Zoo every year. Thanks to your support, we are able to not only provide medical care for sea turtles, but also participate in monthly beach cleanups that will help to ensure this species can continue to call Texas home for many years to come.

Every Monday, NOAA biologists and a Houston Zoo staff member drive over 70 miles of beach from Bolivar to Surfside searching for signs of sea turtles and responding to calls reporting sea turtles in need of help. Any turtles collected by NOAA are driven here to the Zoo, where our veterinary team take xrays, administers medications, performs hook extractions, and anything else the turtle may need in the Zoo’s new veterinary clinic.

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 sea turtles. To learn more about how you can save sea turtles, click here.

Celebrating Our Pride of Lion Protectors on World Lion Day

Each time you visit Hasani, you are helping to save lions in Africa!

In honor of world lion day, we are shedding light on how your visit to the Zoo is saving lions in Africa! Each time you come to visit Hasani and our lovely lionesses, a portion of your admission ticket goes towards supporting organizations like Pride Lion Conservation Alliance (PRIDE), a Houston Zoo conservation partner. In fact, just by visiting the Zoo, you are helping to protect 20% of the lion population in Africa. PRIDE was created on the idea that we can do more to save lions in the wild by working together on a landscape level. Founded by six women with over 100 years of collective lion conservation experience, PRIDE is a collaborative effort that works across different African countries to save more lions and to inspire and improve future protection work. Located in Kenya, Lion Guardians is a member of PRIDE that works to save lions by recruiting young Maasai warriors and providing them with the skills necessary to transition from lion killers to lion protectors.

Lion Guardians are taught how to read, write, and speak in Swahili.

The opportunity to join the Lion Guardians team can be a life-changing experience for young Maasai warriors that have had no previous exposure to a formal education. Guardians are taught how to read, write, and communicate in Swahili, and are trained in wildlife management and conflict mitigation techniques. After completing their training, Lion Guardians are able to monitor lion movements, warn pastoralists when lions are in the area, recover lost livestock, reinforce protective fencing, and intervene to stop lion hunting parties. By protecting the livestock local communities depend on, Lion Guardians build tolerance among locals for neighboring lions and other carnivores. This conservation model can be adapted to fit the needs of many cultures and wildlife species, which has given Lion Guardians the ability to expand outside of Kenya, into Tanzania and beyond.

Lion Guardian Luke is a Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior. Photo by: Philip J. Briggs

Since 2007, this unique approach has helped to reduce lion killing by more than 90 percent! The team has documented a tripling of the lion population in the non-protected areas of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem and provided passage between the Ngorongoro and Serengeti lion populations in Tanzania. Hard work and dedication over the past year has resulted in an 80% reduction in hunting parties from previous years – an impressive feat given the high levels of human-wildlife conflict currently being experienced in and around project areas. In addition, 2017 resulted in the protection of 136 bomas (livestock enclosures), the recovery of 90% of lost or threatened livestock, and the prevention of 8 lion hunts.

We are continually blown away by the hard work and dedication our family at Lion Guardians and PRIDE put into saving lions in the wild. As part of our pride, each and every one of you are lion protectors too! World lion day may only happen once a year, but every day is a good day to share your love of these big cats. So go ahead, let out a roar, and tell everyone you know how you are saving lions in Africa!

Houston Zoo’s Crisis Response Fund Lends a Hand to Wildlife Saving Partners

We all know that one person that always keeps their cool in an emergency. They are our rock, logically assessing the situation, keeping everyone around them calm, and working hard to resolve whatever issue they are confronted with. Here at the Zoo, we have a whole team dedicated to responding to emergencies, and ensuring the safety of everyone on Zoo grounds – the Rangers. Our Ranger team is not only responsible for safety and security on Zoo grounds, but they also provide support to our wildlife conservation partners around the globe whenever they need help mitigating a crisis. How is this done? Through the Zoo’s Crisis Response Fund. Simply put, the crisis fund exists to provide support in the event that a wildlife conservation crisis or urgent situation has occurred, and is in need of urgent action. Members of our Ranger team sit on a committee that assesses each situation and uses a criteria to see how the Zoo can help partners in their urgent time of need. Since the beginning of the year, the conservation team has sent Rangers requests from three of our partners in need of support:

Okapi Conservation Project – Democratic Republic of Congo

Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo is home to multiple armed groups that compete for control of the region’s vast mineral resources. This can make living and working in the area quite dangerous, but it is also the only place in the world the endangered okapi live in the wild. On February 17th, one of the Okapi Conservation Project’s vehicles was ambushed by an unidentified group while carrying staff back to the okapi reserve. Tragically, 7 individuals lost their lives and an additional 3 were injured in the attack. The team’s truck was also damaged beyond repair. The Crisis Response Fund was able to help the Okapi Conservation Project purchase a new truck in order to ensure that daily operations could continue as the team worked to recover from this tremendous loss.

 

Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) – Madagascar 

On the night of April 10, TSA staff were alerted to the confiscation of 10,976 critically endangered radiated tortoises from a single residence on the southwest coast of Madagascar. This is the largest rescue the TSA has encountered to date, and as such, it presented staff with many challenges. Each tortoise needed to be processed, evaluated, and provided with any medical care necessary before being placed in a temporary housing facility where they could be monitored throughout their recovery. An undertaking of this size is both labor-intensive and time consuming, and ongoing care can become quite expensive. The Houston Zoo was able to provide additional funding to help TSA carry out their wildlife-saving mission.

 

Hirola Conservation Program – Kenya 

Over the last three months, the area in and around the Hirola Conservation Program have experienced some of the worst flooding ever recorded, second only to the disastrous El Niño of 1997. These periods of high rainfall and flooding have previously proved to trigger livestock disease outbreaks that are escalated by vectors such as mosquitoes not only in Kenya, but across the East African region. Throughout the hirola’s geographical range, several million head of livestock co-occur with hirola and other wildlife species, as does the risk of viral and bacterial disease spread across species. The spread of disease from one species to another can lead to mass mortality of wildlife, livestock and in some cases, even humans. With the support of the Houston Zoo, the Hirola Conservation Project was able to secure crisis funds to vaccinate local livestock against various diseases, lessening the threat of an outbreak and further protecting the critically endangered hirola.

 

We are dedicated to doing everything we can to help save animals in the wild, and are grateful to each and every one of you who make programs like this possible through your visit to the zoo.

Meet the Houston Zoo 2018 Wildlife Warriors

In 2015, the Zoo established the Wildlife Warrior award program. Carefully chosen by the Zoo’s Admissions team, this award recognizes exceptional individuals from our wildlife conservation partner programs and provides wildlife warriors with an experience that will increase their abilities/knowledge and grow them as future conservation leaders. We are excited to share that the Admissions team has just announced three new recipients for the 2018 year, that will join the ranks of 15 Wildlife Warrior alumni based in developing countries around the globe!

The 2018 Wildlife Warriors are from our partner projects all over the world saving lions, hirola antelope, and painted dogs. Here are this year’s winners:


Maria Njamba: Painted Dog Conservation 

Maria Njamba is a mother of four children and resident of Hwange. She is the Interpretive Guide at the Painted Dog Conservation Visitors Centre in Hwange. Before being employed by Painted Dog Conservation,  Maria relied on selling baskets by the road in order to make enough money to care for herself and her children.
Her life and her children’s lives changed when she was offered a job at the Bush Camp. She thought she was one of the luckiest people alive and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Her job was the help take care of the children, feed them and make sure they were safe and happy. In her free time, Maria would learn more and more about the dogs because her main interest had become educating people about the dogs and the importance of conserving them.
Because of her passion, she became the first Interpretative Hall guide at our Visitor Centre. She has influenced or reinforced love for conservation of wildlife to more than 70,000 local and international visitors to Zimbabwe and more than 11,000 children from our Bush Camp have listened to her convincing voice as she recites the story of “Eyespot.” A compelling story that depicts the challenges the painted dogs face.

“Maria was chosen for her influence and passion for spreading the conservation message to over 80,000 Zimbabwe visitors”

 


Celestino Dauda: Niassa Carnivore Project 

In 2006,  Celestino became one of the first of 5 Wildlife Guardians in our community monitoring and extension program. Working on a small stipend he never wavered from his work and has now been a wildlife guardian for 12 years.  In 2014, we promoted him to the permanent position as Head Guardian and he works tirelessly with Horacio (the program coordinator) to coordinate  and inspire the team of 35 guardians across  remote villages collecting information on human wildlife conflict, sightings of animals and fishing.  These guardians are our connection to the villages in Niassa Reserve and this work is critically important for our team.
Celestino enjoys his work  and believes it is very important as he is learning which animals are a big problem to communities so that he can help them. We asked Celestino what his advice would be for all of us. He says we must still keep fighting to promote the message that wild animals and people can live together. This is the only way forward. He lives it and breathes our mission which is to promote coexistence between wildlife, especially lions and people.

“Celestino was chosen for his long term commitment to inspiring a team of guardians and promoting coexistence between wildlife, especially lions and people”


Aden Ibrahim: Hirola Conservation Program

Aden comes from a nomadic culture – because herding was his primary focus as a child, he did not attend school. However, he wasn’t willing to herd for long, and as such, escaped from his father’s homestead to spearhead charcoal burning for almost seven years. In 2014, Hirola Conservation Program identified him as one of the people destroying wildlife habitats and subsequently recruited him as a ranger. Although illiterate, he has worked with us for the last 3.5 years and has risen through the ranks steadily. Today he is the Manager of Rewamo Conservancy (formally Sangailu) established and overseen by the HCP. He leads a team of 12 local rangers, where amongst his great achievements is the recent discovery of the previously unknown population of Oribi antelope. Further, because of their patrols, a total of 90 hirolas were counted within the conservancy in March 2018.

Aden continues to mentor youths to join conservation and has recruited a dozen of them so far who would otherwise be vulnerable to drugs, terrorism and cattle rustling activities.  Aden is hopeful about the future where he aims to expand habitat for wildlife (a problem he contributed to in the past).

“Aden (right) was chosen for his desire to expand habitat, creating a hopeful future for hirola and other wildlife”

Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior Lady Márquez is Headed to Town!

This weekend, the Zoo is welcoming another special guest who is visiting us from the Galapagos Islands! Lady Márquez is here from our partners at Ecology Project International (EPI) after being chosen by the Houston Zoo admissions team as a 2017 Wildlife Warrior Award recipient. This award recognizes exceptional individuals from our wildlife conservation partner programs and provides wildlife warriors with an experience that will increase their abilities/knowledge.

“We were most impressed with the fact that Lady is dedicating her life to empowering the next generation of conservation leaders in Galapagos!” – Houston Zoo Staff 

 

Born and raised in the Galapagos Islands, Lady is an EPI alumni, and now acts as their Outreach Program Coordinator. In this role, she works to empower local teens to be future conservation leaders. Driven by her passion to inspire others to save wildlife, Lady helped to create an ecology club which brings together more than 20 local teens on a weekly basis to participate in various conservation activities like: wildlife documentary screenings, beach clean ups, bird mortality awareness campaigns, ecological monitoring, and many other citizen science based programs.

One of these efforts, centered around the protection of green sea turtles, resulted in 22 students receiving training in monitoring protocols, while another 40 students helped to collect data and protect nesting sites. In 2016, this project led to the protection of 53 green sea turtle nests, and documented sightings of 1,940 hatchlings! In collaboration with the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Foundation, the eco club was also successful in creating awareness on nest protection among visitors to a public beach that also acts as a nesting ground for the turtle species.

Lady has used her Wildlife Warrior Award to attend a week-long training focused on enhancing conservation efforts at the community level. This opportunity has allowed her to explore different teaching methods and begin designing her own strategies for empowering her students to address threats to wildlife and take action to save species! Now that her training is complete, Lady will spend several days in Houston working with our conservation education team exchanging ideas and learning more about how our programs like Zoo Crew and Camp Zoofari inspire the next generation of Houstonians to become wildlife saving heroes.

How Food and Retail Partner, SSA is Helping the Zoo Achieve its Wildlife Saving Mission

Each July over 250 Zoo staff and volunteers challenge themselves to reduce their plastic usage, saving animals in the wild

Here at the Zoo, we believe that even the smallest of actions can help to save wildlife. During the month of July, we put our staff to the test, encouraging them to participate in Plastic Free July. For 31 days, over 250 Zoo staff and volunteers challenge themselves and each other to “choose to refuse” single-use plastic, saving animals in the wild. This includes taking actions like refusing single-use plastic straws, using personal containers from home to carry take-out food, and many, many more. In a lot of ways, this challenge acts as a catalyst, encouraging staff to not only reduce their plastic use at home, but within their departments on Zoo grounds as well.

By going single-use plastic bottle and straw free, the zoo will be able to prevent an estimated 300,000 plastic bottles and nearly 23,000 plastic straws from entering landfills and the environment each year.

Since going single-use plastic bag, bottle, and straw free, our food and retail partners, SSA, have made huge strides towards helping the Zoo achieve its wildlife saving mission, and as a result they’ve even influenced shifts in the food and retail industry nation-wide proving that small actions can have HUGE impacts. Take french fries for example – when outside vendors used to ship fries to the Zoo, they would come in plastic bags. Our partners at SSA saw this as an opportunity to create change, and seized the opportunity by telling the vendors they were prepared to switch to another company unless a more sustainable alternative to the plastic bag was used for shipping food. Not long after, the company announced that their bags would be made from  cornstarch from now on, meaning they would biodegrade instead of sitting in a landfill. Their influence hasn’t stopped there. SSA also encouraged the company that provides souvenir cups to make a lid that was 100% straw free – the straw free alternative sold out in a matter of hours! Next up? The team hopes to help the industry develop trash bags that are completely compostable, further eliminating single-use plastic from the waste stream.

New tank tops made from plastic water bottles are saving sea turtles in the wild

While these changes can be challenging, they are equally rewarding. Every Purchase matters, since the zoo gets a percentage of all sales of everything purchased from SSA. Since swapping plastic bags in the gift shop for reusable totes, the gift shop was not expecting  their sales  to increase by six times in the first year after making the wildlife-friendly change. When Nancy Gonzalez, Houston Zoo SSA General Manager stopped giving away the plastic bags, the zoo provided supportive signage for the guests. The response was resoundingly positive to the transition. Additionally Nancy has received numerous calls from other zoo venues wanting to know how to transition away from the single use plastic bags. “We heard other zoos say, if a zoo like Houston Zoo can do it with over 2 million guests a year, we can do it too!” Since then, SSA has worked to replace single-use toy cases with reusable ones that are great for travel, and SSA Corporate continues to work with vendors to reduce the amount of plastic wrap being used to cover toys. Some items you buy in the gift shop are helping to save wildlife without you even knowing! New tank tops 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 on beaches in Africa.

Our SSA General Manager Danny Anchondo didn’t grow up recycling, but now he works hard to find wildlife-friendly solutions in everything that he does thanks to his number one inspiration – his kids. “It isn’t just about me recycling – it is knowing that for the next 80 or 90 years that my kids are on this Earth they will continue to reuse and recycle, and at the end of the day, it is the little victories I’m most proud of. We start small, and at some point our actions turn into something bigger. In 3 or 5 years we may go to another Zoo and see them eliminating their plastic use as well, and know we helped to make that transition possible.”

Saving Lemurs in Madagascar through Empowering the Next Generation of Wildlife Saving Heroes

Over the past week, lucky Zoo goers may have had the pleasure of running into Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Houston Zoo’s Director of Madagascar Programs and one of the founding members of GERP, an organization saving lemurs in the wild. Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo, one of the Zoo’s research sites in Madagascar, are found only in Madagascar, including eight species of lemurs such as the black and white ruffed lemur, brown mouse lemur, eastern and lesser wooly lemurs, and one of the most critically endangered lemurs on the island, the James’ sportive lemur. There are small mammals such as tenrecs, falanouc (a cool mongoose like mammal), fossa and ring-tailed mongoose as well as nearly 60 species of birds and reptiles and amphibians such as geckos, mantella’s, Madagascar crocodiles and many others. In the past few years, Jonah and the team at GERP have discovered two new species of mouse lemurs – they continue to work tirelessly in order to save each and every one of these species from extinction.

Jonah  took a break from his work in the field and spent all of last week visiting us here in Houston serving as a guest instructor for the Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program sponsored by ExxonMobil. Each year, 10 students from universities around the US are selected to spend a summer at the Houston Zoo in order to train, learn, and work alongside Zoo staff and regional conservation partners. Jonah led the interns through discussions and activities focused on current community-based conservation topics such as properly engaging and empowering local communities, addressing human/wildlife conflict, and effective leadership. Opportunities to learn from conservation heroes like Jonah are rare, and the interns treasured every moment they had with him. As Jamie put it, “his perseverance in life shines through in every accomplishment he has made, and listening to him speak you could feel his passion fill the room”. When their week with Jonah came to an end, the interns were left with one feeling shared between them all – they were inspired:

“Jonah’s visit left me with more confidence than I have ever felt in the field of conservation that is usually filled with consistent challenges and failure. As he explained over and over, it is okay to fail as long as you get back up, and as long as you set your goals and stick to them. I will never forget his visit and hope that we will one day meet again – but instead of being a college student, being a conservation hero alongside him.”  – Brooke, 2018 CCP Intern

 

It is safe to say that the lessons learned during this week will not soon be forgotten.

Dr. Jonah spent the remainder of his time in Houston making wildlife saving plans with our team at the Zoo and sharing his love of lemurs with guests out on Zoo grounds. Jonah says that no lemurs will become extinct on his watch, and we believe him! He reminds us that no matter what you do for a living, everyone has a skill that can benefit conservation, and just by visiting the Zoo you are helping to save lemurs in the wild.

To see more about the Zoo’s lemur saving work , check out this KPRC special feature.

Meet Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy this Weekend and Learn how YOU are Saving Lemurs in Madagascar!

This Saturday, July 7th Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, the Houston Zoo’s Director of Madagascar Programs, will come from his field work in Madagascar, saving lemurs, to meet guests at the Zoo’s ring-tailed lemur and sifaka exhibit in the Wortham World of Primates. The event runs Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 3pm, with special talks from Dr. Jonah and the lemur keepers taking place at 12pm and 3:30pm.

Dr. Jonah has discovered several new species of lemurs in the wild over the past few years. He is working hard at saving all lemurs from extinction.  Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo, one of the Zoo’s research sites in Madagascar, are found only in Madagascar, including seven species of lemurs such as the black and white ruffed lemur, brown mouse lemur, eastern and lesser wooly lemurs, and one of the most critically endangered lemurs on the island, the James’ sportive lemur. There are small mammals such as tenrecs, falanouc (a cool mongoose like mammal), fossa and ring-tailed mongoose as well as nearly 60 species of birds and reptiles and amphibians such as geckos, mantella’s, Madagascar crocodiles and many others.

See more about the Zoo’s lemur saving work on this KPRC special feature https://www.houstonzoo.org/conservation/saving-lemurs-madagascar/ .

Dr. Jonah is here to make wildlife saving plans with our team at the Zoo, and spend a week as a guest instructor for the Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program. College students are specially selected for this conservation leadership training program. He will lead the interns on current community-based conservation topics such as properly engaging and empowering local communities, addressing human/wildlife conflict and effective leadership.

The Zoo’s Spotlight on Species event this weekend will be a fantastic opportunity for zoo goers to meet and hear from our special guest on how the Zoo is helping lemurs in the wild and learn more about how to support this important work. In addition to meeting Jonah, guests will have the opportunity to take part in interactive activities and shop for animal paintings, pint glasses, magnets and more (while supplies last!) 100 percent of all proceeds will be donated to saving lemurs in the wild.

Zoo members will have an additional chance to chat with Jonah during the member morning event on Saturday. Members can enter the Zoo one hour before the general public and see the keepers prepare enrichment and animal areas all around the zoo. Jonah will be near the Ring-Tailed Lemur exhibit at 8:30am.

Make sure to join us and learn how you are helping to save lemurs in Madagascar – see you there!

Helping Communities to Help Gorillas in Rwanda

Here at the Houston Zoo we are proud to support a number of organizations that work tirelessly to protect mountain gorillas in the wild. One of these organizations, Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT) runs after-school programs for local primary school students and community outreach efforts that promote both healthy living habits and gorilla conservation through education and empowerment in communities bordering Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

CHT puts added emphasis on the importance of good hygiene in their programming, due to humans and gorillas in these communities living in close proximity to one another. Gorillas and humans are genetically very similar, and as a result human illnesses have the potential to spread to wild gorilla populations. In addition to teaching good habits, CHT also works to improve the livelihood of people in these communities, making adopting good hygiene practices easier. Last year the Houston Zoo provided a water tank for a CHT partner school, enabling 1,500 school children as well as their families and other members of the community to access clean water. In addition, two school gardens and 40 kitchen gardens were built, inspiring the local community to eat a healthy diet while lessening the need for people to venture into gorilla habitat looking for vegetables.

Promoting good hygiene practices is certainly important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. CHT also works with students to help them understand the importance of protecting mountain gorillas and their habitat. In 2017, 219 students enrolled in a year-long after school conservation and health education program. 200 of these students received sheep that their families can use as a source of alternative income. The sheep can be used to provide wool that can be sold, which acts as a replacement for harvesting fire wood from the forest to sell. By the end of the year-long program, 78% of students reported that they better understood why mountain gorillas are important to their community, and almost 90% said that they learned that trees are important because of their role as animal habitat, their ability to prevent soil erosion, and their ability to produce the oxygen that we breathe!

When it comes to saving wildlife, there is never a “one size fits all solution”. Our partners at CHT are a great example of how creative solutions to multiple obstacles can positively contribute to conservation efforts. By helping to meet the communities’ needs, while also including community members in the discussion about issues facing wildlife and what actions each individual can do to help save them, projects like CHT not only provide a brighter future for wildlife, but for their human counterparts as well.

 

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