Updates from the Wild: Saving Lemurs in Madagascar, Part 2

The Houston Zoo loves its lemurs and has worked in Madagascar with a lemur saving organization called GERP for a number of years. Peter Riger, VP of Conservation and Education at the Houston Zoo is currently in Madagascar and working with our Director of Madagascar Programs, Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy to visit lemur protecting project sites and discuss how to enhance the wildlife saving work in the country. The latest updates from Peter’s trip are below! 

Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo are found only in Madagascar, including seven species of lemurs such as the black and white ruffed lemur.

What happened to days 2, 3 and 4? Madagascar happened, that’s what. Even if I ignore the two 12 hour flights and short layover in between, heading out from the capital of Antananarivo (“Tana”) with our partners at GERP to the village of Manombo in the south is close to a 18 hour drive. Not a bad drive, just a very long drive on a main road through small villages and communities.

Now at Manombo, we spent a few days visiting all the community activities that occur in order to create development activities for the villagers as part of the partnership to live more sustainably around the Reserve, and in turn, help save animals in the wild.

Four times a year, we sponsor a doctor and small team of nurses and nurse assistants to come to the village.

Some of those activities are similar to what you have seen in our other programs:

  • Beekeeping, which creates a secondary source of income for the beekeeper families in the community an, item that is heavily sought after in the region but difficult to find. One successful family can generate over 5 gallons of honey a year!
  • Basket weaving and sewing. The Women’s Association here creates and then sells baskets, mats, and other crafts in the local markets
  • Wildlife monitoring in the Manombo Special Reserve. A team of conservation biologist assistants monitors lemurs and other wildlife, as well as tree species, throughout the year. This includes the critically endangered James’ sportive lemur which is found nowhere else on the island
  • Tree Nursery and Reforestation program. Over 20 staff from Manombo maintain a tree nursery and the local community volunteers their time to plant these trees throughout the year. In 2017, 55,000 trees were planted!
  • Medical visits: it is difficult for these communities to get health care as they are over 10 miles from the nearest large town, and many cannot afford hospital or doctor visits. Four times a year, we sponsor a doctor and small team of nurses and nurse assistants to come to the village. This past Monday, the medical team spent seven hours treating over 150 patients, including administering measles vaccines for young children, flu vaccines, antibiotics for common illnesses, preforming pregnancy check ups, and  dispensing vitamins for potential malnutrition related issues. Both the care and medications are free of charge as part of this partnership.
Ranomafana National Park is one of the next stops on Peter’s trip!

After a few meetings with Ministry of Environment and regional authorities on future plans for the Manombo Special Reserve, we are heading back north with a quick stop at Ranomafana National Park and Centre ValBio, a world class research center here in Madagascar. Stay tuned for more updates when we get to our next project site at the Maromizaha Community Protected Area.

Pollinating Night and Day

While all pollinators are important and vital to our lives, some are more striking than others such as butterflies and moths   Butterflies are busy pollinating by day and the moths cover the night.  Not many things in life get 24/7 coverage but pollination does!

The success of over 75% of the worlds flowering plants and over 150 food crops in the U.S. depend on pollinators. That tells us about pollinators in general but what do butterflies and moths provide us?

Many of the sweet fragrances we enjoy in lotions, soaps and perfumes come from plants that are pollinated by butterflies. Gardenia, Lilac, and Yucca to name a few.  There are also some edible items associated with these flowers.  For example, bee balm makes a nice tea or jelly, marigolds can also be used for tea. Some of these flowers and plants have edible parts such as some marigolds and day lilies.    There are some medicinal uses too! Marigolds is believed to have antiseptic properties and several plants like Floss Flower and Marigold are mosquito repellents.

If you would like to attract butterflies and moths to your pollinator garden, plant some of the host plants that they like. Vines like pipevine and passion flower are host plants for Pipevine Swallowtails and Gulf Fritillary butterflies.  Herbs like dill, parsley and fennel will attract Black Swallowtail butterflies.  Even trees are host plants such as White Birch, Walnut, Hickory and Sweetgum are host plants for the amazing and beautiful Luna Moth.

What else can you do to attract them? Plant a variety of colors and shapes of flowers and provide a shallow water source.  You can alsolso use natural, pollinator safe pesticides.

Another thing you can do to help promote pollinators is to become a Houston Zoo Pollinator Pal in the Swap Shop. Bring in photos or reports about your pollinator gardens and what pollinators you see there.  You will be able to earn points to trade for cool items in the shop.

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

 

We are Saving Lemurs in Madagascar

The Houston Zoo loves its lemurs and has worked in Madagascar with a lemur saving organization called GERP for a number of years. GERP is a project run entirely by local Madagascar staff. The project aims to protect lemurs and other wildlife through research as well as address illegal export and poaching threats to lemurs by ensuring the enforcement of local wildlife protection laws. Peter Riger, VP of Conservation and Education at the Houston Zoo is currently in Madagascar and working with our Director of Madagascar Programs, Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy to visit lemur protecting project sites and discuss how to enhance the wildlife saving work in the country.

Peter arrived in Madagascar Thursday after 24+ hours of flying. This initial trek was followed by a 12-14 hour drive to Manombo, one of the two primary conservation sites the Zoo has supported with GERP. Situated in the southeastern part of Madagascar,  the Manombo Special Reserve was created in 1962. This 32sq. mile area is made up of lowland rainforest and marshlands which in part have been turned into rice paddies for local agriculture. Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo 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. Plant life is abundant here including more than 50 different types of palm trees. It is also interestingly the reserve with the largest number of land snail species on the island – over 50 – because you can never have enough land snails!

Most of the communities here are dependent on fishing, cattle, agriculture and creating handicrafts. Being dependent on these natural resources to survive makes conservation a tricky balancing act in an area with such a large number of species found nowhere else on Madagascar, and for the most part nowhere else in the world. That being said, GERP has been hard at work in Manombo over the past year, planting over 43,000 seedlings that will provide food to the grey-headed brown lemur, and engaging local schools and community members in educational activities centered around the importance of conserving lemurs and their habitats.

To learn more about how the Houston Zoo and GERP are partnering to save wildlife in Madagascar, check out the 2017 Madagascar Special produced by KPRC. Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy will also be visiting us here in Houston next month, so stay tuned for information on how you can meet this wildlife saving hero at the Zoo!

Come to the Zoo to Meet Gabriel Massocato, a Biologist Protecting Giant Anteaters in the Wild

This Saturday, June 16th Gabriel Massocato, Brazilian Giant Armadillo Project Biologist and Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior, will come from his field work in Brazil to meet guests at the Zoo’s giant anteater exhibit. The event Saturday runs from 10am – 2pm, with special talks from Gabriel and keepers taking place at 11am and 1pm.

Giant anteaters are found in the wild in Central and South America, where they face threats from habitat loss and agricultural expansion. The Houston Zoo has partnered with the Giant Armadillo Project for the past 6 years to assist with establishing long-term protection plans for wildlife in Brazil, with an emphasis on giant anteaters and giant armadillos!

Gabriel Massocato, Brazilian Giant Armadillo Project Biologist and Houston Zoo conservation associate, came from his field work in Brazil last year to be a guest instructor for the Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program. College students are specially selected for this conservation focused training program. He lead the interns on current field conservation topics such as monitoring techniques, properly engaging stakeholders, and addressing human/wildlife conflict. Reflecting on his last visit, Gabriel said: “One of the most important roles for field conservation projects is the support of the zoos, which help us in publicizing the field work and keep us connected with the people who visit the zoo. Each guest is invited to know the projects that the Houston Zoo supports. The support of the Zoo is fundamental for the conservation of species because at the Zoo guests have the opportunity to better know the role of the species and the environmental service that they provide in the ecosystem.”

The Spotlight on Species event this weekend will be a fantastic opportunity for zoo goers to hear from our special guest on how he is helping giant anteaters and giant armadillos in the wild and learn more about how to support this important work. In addition to meeting Gabriel, guests will have the opportunity to enjoy anteater and armadillo-themed activities for the young (and young at heart), as well as meet the keepers who care for our anteaters here at the Zoo! The event Saturday runs from 10am – 2pm, with keeper chats taking place at 11am and 1pm. Can’t make it on Saturday? You’ll have an additional opportunity to meet Gabriel on Sunday from 11am-12pm!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zoo Now Free of the Big 3 Single-Use Consumer Plastics

In 2015, the Houston Zoo removed plastic bags in the gift shops to protect animals in the wild. In 2017, the zoo-based conservation organization eliminated single-use plastic water bottles. As of March of 2018, the zoo has taken its third step in plastic reduction, removing single-use plastic straws from all concession stands on zoo grounds.

This move is a monumental achievement for the organization, as the Houston Zoo is among the first zoos and aquariums to eliminate these single-use consumer plastic items. Removing these single-use consumer plastics was made possible through a collaboration between the zoo and its retail, food and beverage partner, Service Systems Associates (SSA).

Because of the Houston Zoo’s commitment to conservation and its mission of inspiring action to save wildlife, the zoo will be able to prevent an estimated 80,000 plastic bags, 300,000 plastic bottles, and nearly 23,000 plastic straws from entering landfills and the environment each year. There is roughly 3.15 billion pounds of plastic in our oceans right now and the average American will add to this epidemic by throwing away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.  Wildlife like endangered sea turtles and other marine creatures often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods, with tragic consequences. Reducing plastics keeps this type of trash out of our oceans and prevents harm to animals like sea turtles and other marine life.

“Removing single-use plastic items is a direct action to protect wildlife,” says Peter Riger, vice president of conservation and education. “The Houston Zoo is steadfast in its commitment to save animals and we encourage our visitors to join us in going single-use plastic free. Everyone that chooses to reduce their use of plastic is helping to protect wildlife.“

In zoo gift shops, guests can actively participate in saving wildlife by choosing to be completely bag-free, purchase reusable bags or use a tote brought from home. Guests have two choices when purchasing water at the zoo – an aluminum reusable water bottle (pre-filled with water) or a JUST Water recyclable, paper-based carton at any of the restaurants or kiosks. The carton itself is made of paper from certified forests and the plastic cap is made from sugarcane, making JUST Water cartons 100% recyclable. Across the park, water bottle refilling stations are available to refill JUST Water cartons, or any other reusable container, made possible by a partnership with Texas Plumbing Supply.

 

The 2018 Sea Lion Save Our Species Event: The Who, What, When, Where, and Why!

Written by sea lion keeper, Anastasia

Come one, come all, to the Spotlight on Species party here at the Houston Zoo! On Sat., June 9th, from 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m., join the sea lion department and learn more about sea lions and how we can better take care of our oceans with fun activities, special sea lion presentations, and zoo-wide World’s Ocean Day festivities.

To commemorate your visit make sure to check out the merchandise table before you leave.  Our sea lions are helping make this Spotlight on Species memorable, so we made one of a kind painted (by sea lions!) reusable canvas bags and pilsner glasses that you could take home. The sea lion team banded together and has created some crafts as well, in order to raise money to support causes near and dear to our hearts.

All proceeds from the merchandise sold will be going to two separate causes: Houston Zoo partner Dr. Marcy Uhart and her marine debris efforts in Argentina and Surfside Jetty cleanup.

A conservationist based in Argentina, Dr. Uhart works with the University of California Davis to protect a variety of marine animals such as sea turtles, sea lions, sea birds, and whales. A portion of the proceeds from the sea lion Spotlight on Species event will be donated to Dr. Uhart to help her host a behavior change workshop for the local communities. In addition to providing training, funding will assist in being able track their results from data collected, all in an effort to reduce marine debris on the beaches of Argentina.

The Surfside Jetty cleanup is a conservation project right in our own backyard, started in 2014 by the Houston Zoo sea lion team. Each month the sea lion team leads a jetty clean up at the Surfside Beach jetty, Texas. With the help of other staff members and volunteers, we have collected approximately 260 pounds of fishing line (monofilament), 1192 pounds of recyclables, and over 2000 pounds of trash! The trash and recyclables get disposed of properly, and the monofilament gets taken back to the zoo where it is sorted and cleaned. Once cleaned, the line gets passed on to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who ensures that the monofilament is recycled. The profits from our SOS event designated for this local conservation effort will provide more supplies and tools to help keep our beaches clean and our wildlife healthy. We are hoping to see this project grow and involve the community…stay tuned!

 

By visiting the Houston Zoo, YOU are helping to save animals in the wild, and making memories that will last a lifetime.

On behalf of our sea lions here at the Houston Zoo, as well as ALL of their marine animal counterparts in the wild…we hope to see you here!!

 

32 Sea Turtles Released on World Turtle Day

This morning, 11 rescued sea turtles concluded their final rehabilitation test, and swam out in to the Gulf of Mexico. Our partners at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducted a public release of the sea turtles on Stewart Beach in Galveston, surrounded by more than a hundred eager watchers. Later in the morning, 21 green sea turtles were released into Christmas Bay.

Many of the 32 turtles released were given medical care by the Houston Zoo veterinary clinic staff. The zoo provides medical care to nearly 80 wild sea turtles each year!

The Art of Plastic Reduction to Save Wildlife at Carnegie Vanguard High School

This blog was co-authored by Cason Hancock, a senior at Carnegie Vanguard High School.

In recent months, reports on the harmful effects of single-use plastics for both humans and wildlife have gone viral in the news and on social media. The news for many comes as no surprise, but the lingering question remains – what can we do about it? Here at home, students at one local high school saw the need for change, and challenged themselves to find a solution, with the hope of  inspiring their community to do the same. The Student Conservation Association (SCA), in partnership with Carnegie Vanguard High School (CVHS), received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do something incredible and they delivered: the reduction of single-use plastics on Carnegie Vanguard’s campus and increased knowledge of the region’s waterways.

SCA and CVHS approached the grant from a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) perspective. With the EPA funding, every student and staff member received a reusable water bottle, 4 water bottle filling stations were installed on campus, 640 high school students received education about local waterways, 100 CVHS students participated in hands-on conservation experiences, 150 elementary and middle school students received programming about the health of waterways, and CVHS designed and built an Art Car as part of the outreach on single-use plastic reduction. Partners throughout the grant included Galveston Bay Foundation, Bayou Preservation Association, Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, the CVHS Parent Teacher Organization, and Houston-Galveston Area Council. The most visible part of this project was the construction of the Art Car. Generously donated by a parent, the Nissan Maxima was transformed with a hand-painted coral reef mural and 3D sea creatures. The picturesque scene was threatened by a wave of plastic bottles crashing ashore. The wave was built from the collected plastic water bottles on campus and the car’s 3D turtle gets its body from the bottle caps collected. This message on wheels was presented to the local community in Houston as it competed in the 31st Art Car Parade. Amanda Feldman, a senior at CVHS reflected on the experience of showcasing the vehicle to 250,000 Houstonians: “Working on the art car was a fun experience and knowing that the car would make an impact made all of the work worth it. With the Art Car Parade being so popular, I know a lot of people were exposed to the idea of single-use plastic reduction and I hope it has impacted them”. 

Post Parade, the art car is back on the high school’s campus, surrounded by two model water bottles standing almost 7 feet tall that represent how much CVHS has reduced their consumption of  single-use plastic bottles. Since the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, students and faculty on campus have reduced their consumption of plastic bottles by almost 43% compared to the numbers recorded during the 2016-2017 school year. The team of students that spearheaded this initiative concluded that the decrease was largely due to the instillation of water-refill stations and the distribution of reusable water bottles to the student body. The introduction of these alternatives to single use plastic bottles also raised awareness as to how one small action can make a huge difference. From senior Ernie Vita’s perspective, “there are many things in life that are hard to change, but reducing single-use plastics is not one of these. And in making the change, there is a large scale impact without sacrificing much.” 

The Houston Zoo has also committed to reducing its consumption of single-use plastics, having gone plastic bag and bottle free in order to save wildlife like sea turtles and pelicans that often encounter plastic debris that has traveled downstream and ended up in the ocean. There are water bottle filling stations located zoo-wide, so on your next visit, we encourage you to join the wildlife saving movement by bringing your own reusable water bottle! As we continue to eliminate the need for single-use plastics on zoo grounds, Carnegie Vanguard High School says the water bottle filling stations, recycling bins, and push for single-use plastic reduction will remain on campus with the hope of a greener, more wildlife friendly, plastic-free school.

 

 

Enormous Mother’s Day Announcement

Asian Elephant Approaching Conclusion of Two Year Pregnancy

The Houston Zoo has made a HUGE Mother’s Day announcement – Asian elephant Tess is pregnant, and after a two-year gestation, the 35-year-old Asian elephant will give birth this summer.

Tess is one of the Houston Zoo’s nine Asian elephants, and mother to Tucker (13) and Tupelo (7). Zoo officials are optimistic that this pregnancy is advancing normally and on schedule. Tess has received nearly two years of prenatal care by the zoo’s elephant team and four veterinarians with regular ultrasounds and blood work.  The zoo team will continue to monitor Tess as she progresses into the labor process, indicated by a hormonal change in her daily blood analysis.

Tess will give birth in the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat cow barn under the supervision of her keepers and veterinary staff. After delivery, she and the calf will undergo post-natal exams and spend several days bonding behind the scenes. The elephant team looks forward to watching the pair share several key moments that will prepare them for their public debut. Nursing, communicating with mom, and hitting weight goals are important milestones for a growing baby elephant.

Last July, the zoo welcomed Joy, born weighing 305-pounds to mother Shanti. Joy now weighs nearly 1,300-pounds, and is thriving under the care of her mother, aunties and animal care team as she approaches her first birthday.

Just by visiting the Houston Zoo, guests help save baby elephants and their families in the wild. A portion of each zoo admission and membership goes straight to protecting wild elephants in Asia. The Bornean elephant population has increased since the Houston Zoo started its wildlife saving support in 2007. The Houston Zoo provides funds for elephant conservationist, Nurzhafarina “Farina” Othman and her team in Asia, to put tracking collars on wild elephants. The collars are used to follow wild elephants, collecting valuable movement data that is used to inform future protection for the elephants as they travel through the forests. Farina also works with farmers that grow and produce palm oil, offering her guidance in elephant-friendly practices on their farm lands.

Rescued Sea Turtles Need Your Help!

Though you may not see them all the time, Texas is full of unique animals. Some, like sea turtles are with us year round, but your chances of spotting one in the wild are much higher during the summer which is sea turtle nesting season! There are 5 species of sea turtles inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico, all of which are considered to be either threatened or endangered. They include the Kemp’s ridley, green, leatherback, Atlantic hawksbill, and loggerhead sea turtles.

One of the main threats that sea turtles face is plastic pollution that ends up in our waterways, eventually working its way into the ocean. Just last week our partners at NOAA Fisheries responded to four calls of sea turtles in need of rescue. Two of these sea turtles were accidentally caught by fishermen – a large loggerhead at Seawolf Park, and a small Kemp’s ridley at 61st Street Pier. The other two sea turtles recovered by NOAA were entangled in plastic debris. A Kemp’s ridley was found in Surfside Thursday morning tangled up in balloon strings along with other trash, and yet another Kemp’s ridley was found on the beach connected to the lid of a trashcan by a shoelace. Many of these turtles were brought to the Houston Zoo, where our veterinary team was able to perform hook removals and provide health check-ups before NOAA took them back to Galveston. Luckily all of these sea turtles are expected to make full recoveries at NOAA’s facility, where they will remain until they are healthy enough to be released back into the wild. On average, the Houston Zoo provides care to 80 stranded or injured sea turtles a year – that’s over 500 turtles since 2010!

Thanks to the hard work of many local organizations, our once decreasing sea turtle population is on a slow path to recovery, but we need your help to keep them safe. You can help sea turtles in a number of ways, but the biggest action you can take is to help reduce the amount of plastic that makes it into the ocean! Here are some tips:

  1. Blow bubbles not balloons! Remember, every balloon that is released into the outdoors will eventually find its way back to the ground – bubbles are a safe and fun alternative.
  2. Taking a stroll on the beach? Bring a bag with you and pick up trash as you walk along the shore
  3. Reduce your plastic use! Opt for reusable shopping bags and water bottles whenever possible.
  4. Try going plastic straw free the next time you dine out – simply tell your waiter you would like to skip the straw.

And remember, if you accidentally catch or spot a sea turtle on the beach, call 1-866-TURTLE-5. Thanks for helping to save sea turtles in the wild!

 

 

 

 

 

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