Sea Turtle Rescues in Christmas Bay

The following post was written by Justin, a local community member. Justin has a passion for sea turtles, and while he works full-time in the city, you can find him during his down time saving sea turtles all along the Texas Coast. On one of  his latest outings, Justin and his son Trenton came to the aid of almost a dozen sea turtles that had been cold-stunned. Since sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, they have to use the environment and sun to regulate their body temperature. If the water temperature drops too quickly and the turtles can’t get to warmer waters, their tiny bodies shut down and need help. Read about Justin’s adventure below: 

On December 5, 2017 a significant cold front hit our coast dropping water temperatures in Christmas Bay by more than 20 degrees in less than 72 hours. By mid-day of the 8th, the water had dipped below 50 degrees. As someone passionate about sea turtle conservation, I knew that we would likely have turtles cold-stunning so I pulled up to the south shore of the bay at 7:20AM on Saturday, 12/9. Before I even entered the water I could see a hypothermic turtle floating about 50 yards from shore. I approached the turtle and upon picking it up from the water was able to see it was alive. I loaded it into a decoy sled I had recently purchased for the purpose of rescuing turtles, and immediately called the sea turtle hotline at 1-866-TURTLE-5. I spoke to NOAA biologist, Lyndsey Howell, and notified her of the turtle and it’s condition. Since I had found one so quickly, we agreed that I would continue searching for turtles and keep her updated as I went. Immediately upon getting off of the phone, I could see another turtle floating to my east. By the time I arrived at turtle #2, I could see a 3rd…

By 8:00AM I had 3 live, hypothermic sea turtles in my sled. At 8:30, I was up to 6. By 9:00AM I had a 7th and #8 was within sight in a pocket of Drum Bay. Through this time I had continued to communicate with Lyndsey, and as my sled was quickly filling with turtles, she was heading my way. After a 30 minute ‘trek’ through 18 inches of water and thigh-deep mud, I was able to secure turtle #8. After the mud and pulling a sled full of turtles across the marsh to get back into Christmas Bay proper, I took a much needed break on the bank and let Lyndsey know I would be headed back toward my truck.

As she pulled up, I picked up my 9th turtle of the morning in nearly the same spot I had gotten the first.

After the turtles were safely at the Sea Turtle Facility in Galveston, I had other commitments for the afternoon but was back in the bay the following morning with my son, Trenton. After an hour and a half of looking we found another turtle, this one quite large at nearly 50 pounds, and it was alive. We again called the hotline and spoke to Lyndsey letting her know. After spending another hour looking and having not found any more, our turtle was transported to the facility in Galveston for recovery.

Every experience I have with sea turtles leaves its mark on me, but being able to rescue 10 in two days and share part of that experience with my son, was amazing. When the water temps drop again, I plan on being back out there in my waders and with my sled in hopes of getting to more in time to save them. I will never be able to thank Lyndsey and the team in Galveston at NOAA enough for the work they do on a daily basis to rescue, rehabilitate, and ultimately release these beautiful animals back into the wild.

If temperatures drop quickly in our area, please be on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles in the bay. If you find one, please report it immediately by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.

 

Searching for Reptiles and Amphibians in India: Day 5

This blog was written by Chris Bednarski, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department. Chris received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for reptiles and amphibians in the Western Ghats region of India. We will be posting a series of blogs as Chris documents his work overseas.  

Chris’s goal is to survey within a section of land purchased by the Tillari Biodiversity Research Trust and document what species are present, as well as discover new species and note their home ranges. These findings will help to strengthen the need to protect this land, and by protecting this land, we save species in the wild!

Day 5:

Tonight was a good night for snakes!  I don’t get to say that often enough…  About 30 feet from where we parked our car I began setting my camera gear up and set up my weather reading device.  I shine my flash light to a spot about 12-20 inches from my bag and I see a snake!  Not just any snake but one of the cutest and most dangerous species in our area, the saw scaled viper!!!!!  All I had to say was the word “saw” and all of my field partners started running to my location.  This is thought to be a very common species in the northern Western Ghats, but I have only seen 6 in my time working here.  This adorable little bundle of venom and sunshine was about a foot long and sleeping nicely on a leaf until it noticed 5 weirdos standing over him.  Once he saw us see him he decided to slither off further into the forest and we were just happy to have caught a quick glance of him.  After that we were all pumped up and ready for a good night of snakes and frogs.  We found a few more wolf snakes of two different species, a large Indian rat snake, several checkered keelback snakes and a bunch of vine snakes.  Finding one or two snakes a night is usually a decent night, but we found a total of 19 tonight! The vine snake is one of my favorite snakes to see in India.  A snake no thicker than a pencil can be 3 feet long!  These snakes specialize in eating lizards and frogs mostly.  You can find them active in the day and night, crossing roads or 50 feet up in a tree.  Beside all the awesome snakes, we found a few frog species and a really cool lynx spider.  Getting asleep tonight will be difficult – we are all pumped up on such a good snake night!

Searching for Reptiles and Amphibians in India: Day 2

This blog was written by Chris Bednarski, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department. Chris received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for reptiles and amphibians in the Western Ghats region of India. We will be posting a series of blogs as Chris documents his work overseas.  

Chris’s goal is to survey within a section of land purchased by the Tillari Biodiversity Research Trust and document what species are present, as well as discover new species and note their home ranges. These findings will help to strengthen the need to protect this land, and by protecting this land, we save species in the wild!

Day 2: Cave stream survey

Today we started our surveys around 1:00pm.  Most reptiles and amphibians are not to active during the days in this area but we know of a hidden gem… a cave stream! The land my team has been surveying is a small piece of the Western Ghats that has never been formally surveyed, that being said, the possibilities of finding new species, rare species and documenting range extensions are endless!  Documenting our findings can play a huge role in conserving this beautiful habitat.  That’s what this is all about and what we are all about; conserving the land to conserve and protect the species we are so passionate about. After a short hike over some rocky hills then back down, we enter the mouth of the cave.  For safety’s sake, we only explore the first 100 meters or so inside the cave.  Along this stream we found an adult wolf snake (Lycodon travancoricus), many night frogs (Nyctibatrachus sp.), gigantic Indian bullfrogs (Hoplobatrachus sp.), cave crabs, vinegaroons and cave crickets.  Outside of the cave more Indian cricket frogs (Minervarya sp.) and a ton of spiders.  We also noted hoof prints and mud wallows of an Indian bison called a gaur (Bos gaurus). Not bad for a day time survey in this part of India!

Time for some samosas, chai and data logging.

Give the Gift of Grub

You probably know that the Houston Zoo has celebrated many additions to our animal family in 2017. We welcomed the births of two Masai giraffes, a California sea lion, two red river hogs, two jaguars, and even an Asian elephant! We also welcomed the arrivals of two cheetah cubs, and Hasani, a male lion, just joined our pride

All of us at the Houston Zoo are grateful to know that no matter how much our animal family grows, they have your support. One of the ways you can help our animals is by giving them the Gift of Grub. This special year-end campaign directly supports the care and feeding of every animal at the Zoo. As ambassadors for their wild counterparts, Houston Zoo animals deserve the best care possible—starting with tasty treats and nutritious meals! Every dollar you give goes toward our animal care program, and our generous partner, TXU Energy, is doubling the grub goodness by matching $50,000 in contributions to this campaign.

Here’s what your gift could buy for our animals:

$25 could buy five pounds of tempting trout for our otters

$50 could buy 150 pounds of crunchable carrots for our red river hogs

$100 could buy 50 pounds of mouthwatering meat for our jaguars

$250 could buy 27 bales of hearty hay for our Asian elephants

Will you Give the Gift of Grub to Houston Zoo animals this holiday season? This campaign ends December 31st, so please give today at www.houstonzoo.org/grub!

Tackling Plastics Pollution on the Texas City Dike

If you live in the Houston/Galveston area, chances are you have either made a trip to the coast to go fishing, or have friends and family that do. Here at the zoo, many of our own staff enjoy fishing too, and want to make sure that we keep our oceans and beaches clean so we can all enjoy this pastime for years to come! The Houston/Galveston region has several plastic pollution groups that make up the P3 Partnership. Through this partnership, the idea came about to get a number of organizations to team up and identify some of the major threats that plastics pollution poses to our local coastal birds and marine wildlife. This group, made up of members from the Audubon Texas Coastal Program, Galveston Bay Area Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, Houston Zoo, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality -Galveston Bay Estuary Program identified discarded fishing line as one of the biggest threats to wildlife like pelicans and sea turtles.

As a group, we felt confident that discarded fishing line was a problem along the Texas coast, but how could we know for sure? You certainly don’t want to work on finding solutions to a problem without knowing if that problem actually exists…so what do you do next? You identify an area to explore and search for evidence! The Texas City Dike (TCD) was selected as the area the group wanted to work in because of its reputation as a prime, year-round fishing spot. Once this study area was chosen, the group decided that the next step would be to take a trip to the dike, and collect discarded fishing line from specific locations along the dike to see just how much line was present. This collection of line took place on December 4th, and Sophie, one of our sea lion staff members, gave this account of her experience:

Over the last three years, the sea lion team has been focusing on the monofilament reduction efforts and cleanups at the Surfside Jetty, and I am so excited to now be a part of our first campaign to reduce the presence of fishing line at the Texas City Dike. Over the three hours that we spent at the Texas City Dike, I noticed a few things different at the dike than what I typically see at the Surfside jetty. The first thing was the lower presence of general litter. When walking the jetty, I typically find lots of beer cans, plastic bags, bait bags, cigarette butts, etc.. It may be the fact that I focused only on a few hundred square feet at TCD, but the presence of these larger waste items was lower. However, we could sit ourselves down in one spot and stay occupied within arm’s reach as we collected all the pieces of line; short, long, monofilament plastic, string, entangled in plant life… the list goes on. It seemed that the nature of the TCD (more natural ground, dirt and grass vs. the cement of the jetty) lends itself to accumulating more line itself, and offers more possibilities of the pieces of line to get tangled instead of just blowing into the surrounding waters. We ended up collecting close to as much line in a hundred square feet as we do on the entire surfside jetty, and in less time.

As we move forward with this project, the next step is to talk to the anglers and find out what the barriers are that stand in the way of containing their fishing line, and ultimately recycling it. I find myself wondering if the anglers at the TCD will say the same thing as the anglers at Surfside, or is there a difference that adds to this seemingly higher presence of line at the TCD? The line at the TCD was also far less encumbered by the man made debris that we normally find it weighed down by at Surfside; weights, hooks, litter… the most common entanglement we found during our TCD survey was line wrapped up in some plant life, possibly some with a few small weights and hooks. Why this difference? As we move through this campaign, and hopefully replicate it at the Surfside jetty, I hope to find these answers and continue to get closer to the successful prevention of monofilament entering our marine environments.

Thanks to an amazing team of volunteers, we were able to collect a total of 21.9 pounds of fishing line at the Texas City Dike on December 4th. Stay tuned for more updates coming in 2018!

How Bees are Helping to Improve Human-Elephant Relationships

In recent years bees have been receiving more and more attention as the loss of pollinators becomes a more pressing concern around the globe. We know that the small but mighty bee is one of the best pollinators around, helping to produce up to 30% of the foods we eat, but it may surprise you to hear that these little guys are key players in helping to protect the world’s largest land mammal – elephants!

Elephants are expert foragers, and because of their large size, they need to eat A LOT of food every single day. As human development continues to spread, the land that elephants use to browse for food often merges with agricultural areas created by farmers. Unfortunately, when elephants stumble onto these crop fields they see the crops as an easy meal, and can cause a great deal of damage to the fields. The damage and loss of crops is a huge blow to farmers’ livelihoods, and as one would expect, this makes farmers very angry. This is where problems arise. To protect their land, farmers will take extreme measures to remove elephants from the area – while the methods may vary, this type of conflict can be very dangerous, and sometimes deadly for both elephants and people. So, how do we protect farmland and protect elephants so people and wildlife can live peacefully with one another? BEES!

Researchers in Kenya working with Save the Elephants were out in the field one day when they noticed that when elephants were around trees with large hives of bees, they would quickly move away. After years of testing and studying these interactions, it was discovered that just the sound of a buzzing beehive will keep elephants far away from an area. At this point researchers had a clever idea – by putting up a rope fence and hanging wooden boxes for beehives across them, farmers could successfully keep elephants away from their crops. Better yet, farmers could also collect the honey produced by the bees and use it for both food and as an extra source of income! A simple and genius solution that is a win-win for both humans and elephants.

Here at the Houston Zoo we help to support the Niassa Beehive Fence Project. Run by the Niassa Lion Project, their programs aim to show communities humane and positive ways to stop human-wildlife conflict. Each time you visit the zoo, you are helping to support projects like this one! We also have a model of one of these fences at the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat here at the zoo – check it out on your next visit! Just like the bees, our individual actions may seem small, but together we can make a mighty big impact – to learn more about what you can do to help save elephants in the wild, click here!

 

Santa Delivers 400-pound Surprise to the Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo is on Santa’s nice list for the 95th year! The big guy came early to the Houston Zoo and delivered an even bigger guy – a 400-pound male lion. Guests can see three-year-old Hasani most mornings in the lion habitat. While he’s currently getting to know the three lionesses, they’ll be alternating time in the yard until they are all better acquainted.

During Hasani’s first morning in the lion habitat, he took his time exploring the yard, climbing the rocks, and snacking on the special treats left throughout by his keepers to welcome him into his new home. Within the first hour, he found a comfortable position and settled in to take full view of the area from a high vantage point on the rocky boulders.

Hasani was born in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo in the Pacific Northwest as a result of the Species Survival Plan (SSP). The mission of the AZA’s SSP is to oversee the population management of select species within AZA member institutions and to enhance conservation of those species in the wild. The Houston Zoo does not have a current recommendation to pair Hasani with one of the females in the pride at this time.

The Houston Zoo’s lion pride are ambassadors for their wild counterparts in Africa and serve to educate guests about the work being done to help save this vulnerable species.  Scientists estimate there are only enough lions left in Africa to fill a football stadium, half the number of 20 years ago, and the biggest reasons for their decline are conflict with people and loss of habitat and prey due to human population growth. The Houston Zoo protects lions in the wild by providing funds for locals to guard lions by teaching people to live safely near lion populations, removing snare wire traps, and arresting poachers. A portion of every admission to the zoo provides direct protection for 20% of the lion population in the wild.

Hasani is the first male lion to reside at the Houston Zoo since the passing of beloved zoo-icon, Jonathan, in September 2016.

Wildlife Warrior Award Winner Visits Uganda

Our admissions’ team raises funds to help save animals in the wild through the sales of colorful wildlife bracelets guests can buy at the entrance to the Zoo.  In 2015, the Zoo established this conservation hero award program called Wildlife Warriors to use the bracelet funds to recognize and enhance the outstanding staff employed by the Zoo’s existing conservation partners. The program has awarded 15 Wildlife Warriors to date from our conservation projects in developing countries. All of the warriors honored were carefully chosen by the Zoo’s admissions’ team. The award is designed to increase the recipient’s conservation community network and inspire empowerment by providing opportunities to gain further education through training or experiences.

Valerie Akuredusenge, Program Director of Conservation Heritage-Turambe was selected as a Wildlife Warrior in 2016. Just last month she completed her training with a conservation education program in nearby Uganda called UNITE. Below is an account of Valerie’s training, in her own words:

To wrap up my story telling about my time with Unite, I am happy to share about my experience and what I took back from my visit.

During my visit with UNITE for the Environment,  I was able to learn about their conservation programs namely Teacher Training and Evaluation by observing teachers while they are teaching in the classroom to assess teaching methods, quality of content used, and whether or not they are integrating environmental education into their teaching.  In addition, I was also given the opportunity to visit two partner schools of UNITE.

What I took back from UNITE to CHT:

What I took back from the UNITE’s Teacher Training is that their approach helps in terms of sharing conservation messages to a wider audience  and one can expand upon the program to more areas. As far as CHT builds up its teacher training through annual open day, my experience with UNITE will significantly contribute in terms of strengthening and improving our existing program.

As far as the UNITE’s evaluation is concerned, I had time to also observe teachers while they were teaching.  By connecting my experience from Teacher training and that of teacher observation, I could really tell that the teachers were integrating environmental education in their teaching. This is another approach that CHT will try to see if it applies by collaborating with its partner schools and education officers.

By also visiting UNITE’s partner schools, I learned about what communities and schools are doing in terms of environmental conservation.

In short; I deeply thank the Houston Zoo and its Admission Team for having selected me as one of their wildlife warrior winners in 2016. I would also like to express my sincere thanks to the North Carolina Zoo for their wonderful program, UNITE for the Environment. Corrine Kendall finds my sincere thanks here as well for playing an important role while putting me in touch with UNITE. Additionally, I would however request a continuous collaboration between CHT and UNITE so we can keep on exchanging programs and learning from each other.

Houston Zoo’s Crisis Fund Provides Aid to Grevy’s Zebra

The past two years in northern Kenya have posed many challenges for our friends at the Grevy’s Zebra Trust. When the short rains of 2016 and the long rains of 2017 did not arrive, areas of Kenya that the Grevy’s zebra call home experienced a severe drought. Much like when we receive droughts in Texas, the lack of rain led to a significant decline in the amount of forage (food) available for both livestock and wildlife. As competition grew for use of this limited food supply, the already endangered Grevy’s zebra population was put in jeopardy.

Our friends at the Grevy’s Zebra Trust took action immediately and started a hay feeding program across all areas of Grevy’s zebra range in order to help prevent starvation and maintain the body condition of these zebras so that they could remain healthy enough to fight off the effects of drought and disease. In May of 2017, part of the range received much needed rain, but in Samburu and Buffalo Springs the rains did not come, and with the Grevy’s Zebra Trust out of funds to run their feeding program, nearly 150 Grevy’s zebra were still in danger of starvation.

The Houston Zoo has a crisis fund that is set up for emergency situations just like this one. Simply put, the crisis fund exists to provide support in the event that a wildlife conservation crisis or situation has occurred, and is in need of urgent action. In this instance, we were able to use this fund to cover the feeding costs for the Grevy’s zebra for an additional 5 weeks – just long enough to keep everyone fed before the rains returned and forage started to grow once again. 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. To learn more about this partnership and what you can do to help click here!

We are happy to announce that our partners at Ewaso Lions have informed us that the rains have returned to Samburu! The vegetation is finally growing back, and river beds are filling, meaning the supplementary feedings are no longer necessary.

Staff Saving Wildlife in Vietnam

One of our amazing veterinary technicians is currently in Vietnam training staff from the organization, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. Jess, our talented vet tech is training staff in Vietnam on medical procedures for animals including blood collection, animal handling skills, intubation techniques and how to respond to different anesthetic situations.

Developing these skills in the staff at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife will help them further develop their animal health assessments of critically endangered animals such as pangolins. Jess started her work immediately upon arrival, when the organization rescued a total of 32 pangolins, bringing the total under their care to 77. Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world.

Jess’s work is fully-supported by our Staff Conservation Fund, a grant for Houston Zoo staff, funded by Houston Zoo staff to support their passion to save animals in the wild. This is a unique program to the Houston Zoo and has allowed our staff to carry out 43 projects around the world to save wildlife over the past 10 years.

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Today, we are working with BBVA Compass Stadium to plant a new pollinator garden at the stadium! This beautiful new pollinator garden supports local pollinators like bees, butterflies, and more, and is located at the North entrance to BBVA Compass Stadium. Great partnership for an even greater good. ... See MoreSee Less

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I know you meant to say bees 🤣

Houston Zoo added 2 new photos.
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We have Attwater's prairie chicken eggs! Our bird team candles the eggs under a bright light to check on the developing chicks. The pencil marks on the eggs help us track where the air cell is within the egg. After a brief candling session, it's back into the incubators. ... See MoreSee Less

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We have Attwaters prairie chicken eggs! Our bird team candles the eggs under a bright light to check on the developing chicks. The pencil marks on the eggs help us track where the air cell is within the egg. After a brief candling session, its back into the incubators.Image attachment

 

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Beautiful birds!

Hoping for great success

Kimberly Jackson

Jeff Early

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