Zoo Goers are Saving Marine Wildlife in Argentina

Join the sea lion team at their SOS event June 9th from 10am-3pm

Just a short drive from Galveston, the Houston Zoo has strong ties to the Texas coast. Regular participation by staff in sea turtle surveys and beach cleanups help to keep our local marine wildlife safe, as do efforts to reduce our plastic intake by going plastic bag and bottle free on Zoo grounds.  However, with animal ambassadors from all over the world in our care, our goal is to not just protect local marine life, but to help our ocean dwelling friends like sea turtles, sea lions, and sea birds all around the globe! This Saturday, June 9th from 10am to 3pm the Houston Zoo’s sea lion team will be hosting a spotlight on species (SOS) event in celebration of World Oceans Day, where you can learn more about these efforts and support projects like the one run by our partner Dr. Marcela Uhart in Argentina.

A veterinarian and long-time conservationist, Dr. Uhart works with the University of California Davis as the Regional Director of the Latin American Program at the Wildlife Health Center. For over 20 years, Dr. Uhart has focused on the health of marine species, and works to protect a variety of animals such as sea turtles, sea lions, sea birds, and whales. Much like the work we are doing here, Dr. Uhart and her team are able to best protect marine species through efforts to reduce marine debris. In 2017, these efforts were carried out in a variety of ways:

  • With the help of over 300 volunteers, the team completed their 2nd marine debris census and beach cleanup. The cleanup covered 13 coastal towns near Buenos Aires, and resulted in the collection of 40,000 debris items – 82% of the items recovered were plastics.
    Results of the 2nd marine debris census
  • During April and May 2017 the team performed weekly beach surveys, covering over 100 miles (that’s similar to the distance from the Zoo to Texas A&M University) of Buenos Aires province coastline. These surveys resulted in the discovery of 30 deceased sea turtles, an improvement over the numbers found in 2016. Determining the cause of death can help to influence policy and the promotion of better commercial fishing practices.
  • Additionally, the team also hosted a workshop on a method called Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM), a method of creating changes in behavior by identifying and addressing barriers and benefits individuals or communities may face as a result of a change. An introduction to CBSM was presented to 24 local participants, providing them with tools to improve their impact on public policies in their communities as well as help them more effectively drive cultural and behavioral changes in citizens, with the common goal of reducing pollution of the coastal environment.
    Volunteers helping with a beach clean up in Argentina

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are extremely proud of all of the hard work Dr. Uhart and her team are putting in to save marine species, and we can’t wait to see what they are able to accomplish in the coming months. By attending the sea lion team’s SOS event this Saturday, you will be helping to support Dr. Uhart’s efforts to host a second behavior change workshop for the local communities. In addition to providing training, funding will assist in being able track results from data collected this year, all in an effort to reduce marine debris on the beaches of Argentina.

Behind the Scenes with the SPARK Team

Written by Celina Burgueño


The wide brim of my hat is slipping down over my eyebrows. I push it back, reaching my other hand around to check the switch of my microphone. It’s pushed to the left: on, just like it has been the last fourteen times I repeated this routine. The audience is pouring into the space, filling the room all the way to my toes, but is oblivious to my presence, focused on the stage at the front. I take a few steps backwards, stand in the corner and calm myself, shaking out one limb at a time until the hat slips forward again. I push it back one last time and take a deep breath as the opening announcement is made and the crowd goes silent for the start of the SPARK World Tour.

Of course, to call it a “World Tour” is a bit of an exaggeration. It was one stop, 15 minutes down the road. What is not an exaggeration is how much it thrilled our SPARK Team trio. If you’re a reader of these blogs, you’ll have seen the post a few months back about what it is that our SPARK Team does for the zoo. If you haven’t, I can summarize it in this: we are a three-person team focused on guest engagement on zoo grounds. And as much as our trio loves that role, we always talk about our biggest dream: to take our work beyond the zoo gates. This was especially true for our favorite project, The Conservation League of Heroes, the SPARK team’s fifteen-minute play of antics focused on how recycling plastic saves sea turtles.

As the busy summer crowds at the Zoo were winding down with the start of school, it seemed our beloved show was heading towards a winter hiatus. Then came MacGregor Elementary School. With the support of the Zoo, the students at MacGregor held a loose change fundraiser, raising over $1500 for the Tiger Conservation Campaign in honor of their school mascot, and we wanted to congratulate that work. But how? It had to be something that could go to the students instead of bringing 550 of them to us. It had to be something that would engage children spanning in age from pre-k to fifth grade. And it had to be something that would remind them they could continue to save animals in the wild, long after their fundraiser had ended. It had to be The Conservation League of Heroes.

The long road to the tour is running on looped montage in my mind as I stand behind the crowd, ready to make my entrance: the first performance for Camp Zoofari, the trims and additions to the script, building the pop-art style “Conservation Wall of Fame”, the slips and falls every time we practice the chase scene. 20 minutes later there’s a new clip for the montage: the way it looked from the stage when every hand in the auditorium filled the air, curled into the shape of a C, as the students recited our Conservation Pledge, those last few, monumental minutes of the play:

I pledge to be a hero, take action big and small.
To help protect our planet, for once and for all.

No matter how many stops our World Tour makes, I think that moment will always be my favorite.

National Dairy Goat Awareness Week

By: Heather Kilway and Megan Paliwoda

On a beautiful summer morning, under a yellow tent in the shadow of the Washington Monument, representatives of the American Dairy Goat Association presented 6 kids (baby goats) to the US Department of Agriculture, officially marking June 12th, 1986 as the first ever National Dairy Goat Awareness Day. Two years later, on June 17th, 1988 the United States Congress voted that the second Saturday through the third Saturday of June would from that day forward be recognized as National Dairy Goat Awareness Week. This week is typically celebrated every year with fun goat activities such as: milking, hoof trimming, and goat obstacle courses. In honor of National Dairy Goat Awareness Week 2018, the Houston Zoo would like for you to come out and celebrate with us; but in the meantime, here are some fun facts about our dairy goats.

The Houston Zoo is home to 5 different breeds of dairy goat, which can be found in the petting zoo area of the McGovern’s Children’s Zoo:

Nigerian Dwarf: This breed originated in West Africa and is known as one of the smaller breeds of dairy goat, standing roughly 23” (2 feet) high at the shoulder. Nigerian Dwarves are known for their high-quality milk which contains a large percentage of butterfat (high butterfat content gives milk a richer, more creamy taste). They are also very friendly and hardy goats, that can thrive in almost any climate.


Alpine: Originating in the French Alpine mountain region, Alpine goats were introduced to the U.S. in 1920. They are known for their long lactation periods and for producing large amounts of high-quality milk. Alpines are also famed for being curious, friendly, and strong willed. Another fun fact is that Alpines can come in a variety of colors and usually have LONG HAIR!! At the Houston Zoo, our two Alpines, Chewbacca and Han Solo, love getting their hair brushed by guests.


Nubian: Nubian’s today have both African and Indian ancestors. This breed is known for their high-quality, high butterfat milk production. They are very adorable with their long floppy ears, strong “Roman” noses, and their tendency to be vocal. At the Houston Zoo, our Nubians (Alvin, Simon, and Theodore) are easy to spot due to their rich brown color and the fact that Nubian goats are generally at least 30” (almost 3 feet!) tall at the shoulder, and normally weigh around 135 pounds.


Saanen: Saanen goats are the largest of all the dairy breeds (even taller than Nubians!) and are even referred to as “Queen of the Dairy Goats” due to their majestic appearance and calm nature. Saanen goats originated in Switzerland and can come in different shades of white. They are known for regularly producing large amounts of milk, as well as for their sturdiness and tolerance of environmental change. Elsa, is the only Saanen goat currently at the Houston Zoo, and is considered by many to be Queen of the Herd.


Pygmy: Originally from Africa, this very small breed of goat stands no bigger than 22”-23” tall at the shoulder. Pygmies are referred to as being “compact” and having a large circumference (meaning they are noticeably round in the middle). They are known for their high-quality milk production which has an incredibly high butterfat content. Not only that, but Pygmies are hardy, animated, and very social. The three pygmy goats that live at the Houston zoo are: Belle, and her younger twin brothers, Seamus and Finnegan. (You may even see the Fantastic Finnegan performing at The Houston Texans Enrichment Zone!)

2018 Action for Apes Results

We’re excited to announce the 2018 Action for Apes results!

This year, we had 29 organizations take part in the challenge with an estimated 8,000 participants across the greater Houston area and beyond.  With these numbers, it was no surprise that the challenge was a competitive one!  

The collective participation in this program yielded a total of 1,977 handheld electronic devices which amounts to 1,977 actions to help save animals in the wild!  

So, without further delay, our top 3 participating groups for the 2018 Action for Apes Challenge are:

  1. Schmalz Elementary School – 458 handheld electronic devices! – WINNER!
  2. Incarnate Word Academy- 390 devices!
  3. Tomball ISD – 326 devices!

By recycling these cell phones and other handheld electronic devices, these participants have helped the Houston Zoo divert approximately 165 POUNDS of battery waste containing harmful chemicals from our landfills, local habitats and waterways. Materials, like tantalum, from these phones and other handheld devices can now be reused in new devices, reducing the demand for this material mined from gorilla habitat.

In addition, money raised from the recycling of these devices helps pay for a month’s salary of one of the Houston Zoo’s conservation education staff partners in Rwanda.

Remember to recycle your unused electronic devices too! The collection box is at the front of the Zoo near Guest Relations.

Click here for more information about handheld electronic recycling and reduction. 

 

June’s Featured Members: The Buhr Family

We love our Members. Their incredible support allows us to make a difference to animals both locally and all over the world. This month, we’re spotlighting a family of Zoo Members that deserve recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to June’s Featured Members: the Buhr family.


We love being members of the Houston Zoo! My daughter Mikaela and I received a family membership as a gift when we first moved to Houston 5 years ago and we’ve renewed it ever since. We definitely make good use of our membership, as we usually visit the zoo three to four times a month. Sometimes these visits are only an hour or two and sometimes they take an entire afternoon, but no matter how long we are there, we always have a great time.

One of our favorite things about the zoo is the large selection of keeper chats and we try to time our visits to attend as many as possible. We have learned about llamas, cheetahs, bats, kookaburras, mole rats, buzzards, tarantulas and more in the past month. The keepers are enthusiastic about their animals and are always willing to answer any questions, whether it’s during an official chat or when you approach them in the zoo. We especially like learning the little things about the animals that you wouldn’t know otherwise, like their names, favorite foods, and quirks that make them so unique.

If I had to choose two main things that keep us coming back to the zoo so frequently, it’s the staff and the zoo’s mission. The Houston Zoo staff is comprised of amazing people that enjoy their jobs and are passionate about the animals. We’re on a first name basis with staff at the entrance gates and Swap Shop, as well as some of the keepers and they always have a smile on their faces. We’ve never had a bad experience with the staff in the years we’ve been there and, in fact, several have gone above and beyond to make our visits even better.

The zoo’s mission is near and dear to our hearts. Animal and environmental conservation is something we care about, and it’s great to see an organization that not only says it’s passionate it but follows through. The support and training that the zoo provides for organizations directly impacting endangered species is important and I’m happy to know that my membership money contributes to that. I’m also impressed with the zoo’s recycling program and their commitment to have all of their food provided by local sourcing.

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!!

 

School Partner – Lyons Elementary

The Houston Zoo is creating the next generation of saving wildlife heroes.  One way we are achieving that goal is by forming lasting partnerships with school groups in and around the Houston area.  Each partnership looks a bit different from one another, but they all have one thing in common: they are inspiring students, teachers and communities to take action to save wildlife!  Lyons Elementary is an example of one school that is partnering with the Houston Zoo to save lions through the Mascot Program.

The partnership between Lyons Elementary, located off the Hardy Toll Road, and the Houston Zoo started back in 2014. The students rallied together and raised funds to send to Niassa Carnivore Project to save their mascot: the lion!  Niassa Carnivore Project has been a longtime conservation partner of the Houston Zoo, working to save carnivores in Mozambique. They promote co-existence with lions within the local communities surrounding the Niassa National Reserve.  The school collected spare change during their “Love Your Lions” event: a two-week period in February centered around Valentine’s Day.

Two lions in Niassa Reserve – one has a tracking collar so researchers can monitor their movements, ensure their safety, and learn more about them.

 

Ms. Izquierdo had the wonderful idea of incorporating the arts into the partnership with the Houston Zoo.  The school’s drama department had the chance to perform a play that featured their very special mascot:  Lion King!  The Zoo attended the opening night performance at the school.  The students were able to come to the Houston Zoo and perform for the guests attending our “Party for the Planet” Earth Day celebration.  You can read more about their Houston Zoo performance here: https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/houston-area-schools-saving-wildlife/ 

 

The cast of “The Lion King” celebrating an amazing opening night performance!

The 2017-2018 school year began with the “Love Your Lions Kick-off Event.”  Zoo staff spoke to the entire student body of Lyons Elementary to share how they could save lions in the wild. The students were able to learn more about the lions who call the Houston Zoo home and the amazing work that students will be doing to help Niassa Carnivore Project save lions in the wild.

Lyons Elementary decided to add another component to this year’s “Love Your Lions” event.  Each class chose to decorate their money collection box.  The only guidelines were that their designs had to address one of the following topics:

  • Lions
  • Africa
  • Conservation

At the conclusion of the collection period, the boxes were transported to the Houston Zoo.  Staff members from the Conservation Education team, the carnivore animal care team, and the Grounds/Housekeeping team all had the chance to vote on the box that they felt was the most impressively decorated.  Ms. Delcid’s third grade class won the decoration contest and received a special prize!

The collection boxes packed up and ready to go to the Houston Zoo!

 

At the end of the “Love Your Lions” fundraising drive, the school tallied up the funds brought in by each class.   Students brought in over $2,500!  These funds were sent to our Conservation Partners at the Niassa Carnivore Project to help save lions in Mozambique.  Ms. Chavarria’s fourth grade class brought in almost $400, making this class the top fundraisers of the campaign.

Ms. Chavarria and her students were able to come to the Zoo on March 23 to participate in a Lion Fun Day that was held in their honor to thank them for all their hard work saving lions in the wild.  The students were able participate in the same games and crafts that the communities in Mozambique do in their Lion Fun Day as well.  The day culminated with a special experience with our carnivore keepers and an up-close interaction with our lions here at the Houston Zoo.

Lyons Elementary is another shining example of a school that is taking action to save wildlife.

The students from Lyons Elementary having a wonderful experience with our lions here at the Houston Zoo!

 

 

 

Pollinators of the Dark

There are so many pollinators in the world and each one of them is important.

My favorite pollinator?  Bats!

Bats are known for their excellent pest control and seed dispersal, but many people don’t know they are also pollinators. Over 500 species of plants rely on bats for pollination.  The Lesser Long Nosed Bat and the Mexican Long Tongued Bat are found in the southwestern U.S. all the way to Central America and  are just a couple of the bat species working hard to provide us with some of the things we love.

Bats pollinate many of the fruits and nuts we eat such as avocado, cashew, coconut, mango, banana and guava. They also pollinate the cocoa plant that is used to make chocolate!  Who doesn’t love an animal that helps bring us chocolate?

One of the more interesting plants they pollinate is the amazing Saguaro cactus found in the western part of the country. These cacti are the largest in the United States!  They can live 150 to 200 years and reach heights of 40 to 60 feet.  They are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Western Sonora, Mexico.

There is another interesting plant bats pollinate that provides a product many people are fond of. The Agave plant! This is the plant that is used to make tequila.  If you have ever enjoyed a tasty margarita, you will certainly want to thank a bat!  The agave is a desert succulent – not a cactus.  It is found in hot, dry climates and requires very little water to survive.  Not only is it a nectar source for bats, it is a food source for other pollinators as well.

How can you support our VIPs (Very Important Pollinators)? Become a Houston Zoo Pollinator Pal! Bring pictures, reports, or drawings of pollinators or your pollinator garden to the Swap Shop.  You will be registered as a Pollinator Pal and earn points to spend in the shop!

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

Zoo Crew Teen Reflects on Saving Wildlife Experience

This blog was written by Skyler Nix, a Zoo Crew member who participated in one of the Zoo’s Adventure Programs. Through these programs, teens explore natural areas in Texas and participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing, kayaking, camping, etc. as well as participating in conservation projects such as beach clean-ups and habitat restoration. 

Our sea lion family has grown over the past few years with the birth of two pups, Tj and Max. It takes quite a lot of effort, as well as time, to train, feed, monitor, and care for these now five sea lions in addition to conducting keeper chats and engaging with zoo guests. On top of all of this, the sea lion staff work additional hours to help keep our oceans clean for wildlife right here in Texas.

The Sea lion staff assists with a fishing line recycling program that aims to diminish the quantity of monofilament line on the Surfside Jetty in Surfside, Texas. This program was organized by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) together with Texas A&M University’s Monofilament & Recycling Program. Monofilament line is endangering wildlife such as sea turtles, fish, rays, dolphins, birds, and sea lions because it can snare and entangle animals, making it difficult and sometimes even impossible to for them to swim, fly, or find food. Our sea lion staff manages monthly clean ups on the Surfside Jetty to empty the monofilament bins as well as to collect trash, recyclables, and line caught in between rocks. In addition, these trips also provide Zoo staff, volunteers, and teens opportunities to get out in nature and take action to save wildlife.

A few weeks ago on April 21, a group of eight teens and myself were given the opportunity to travel, under the supervision of Zoo staff, to the Surfside Jetty and assist in the recycling project. We arrived early in the morning that Saturday full of excitement and ready to get to work. After meeting up with the sea lion staff on the jetty, we headed back to their truck to gear up. We equipped ourselves with gloves, trash pickers, nail clippers (great for cutting line), and buckets. We split into three groups to cover as much ground as possible – the sea lion staff at the far side of the jetty, half of the teens on the beach, and the other half covered the center.  My group was determined to get every piece of trash spotted; even if it meant getting knocked and drenched by oncoming waves. We made great progress, consistently emptying out our buckets into trash bags.

About half way through the day, we stopped for lunch. We sat together at a picnic table near the jetty, ate our lunches, refilled our water bottles, and shared our progress. What happened next will forever influence my life. A gust of wind passed over our table, and seamlessly, a plastic bag was lifted into the air and flew away (we later found the bag and properly disposed of it). It made me realize how easily trash can make its way into the ocean. Nearly 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean each year; 91% of plastic isn’t recycled; every minute, a garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the oceans.  The majority of trash doesn’t start in the ocean; is starts when you decide to throw away a plastic bottle instead of recycling it. It then makes its way to a landfill, then, by wind or water, it will make its way into the ocean.

After we finished lunch and refilled our water bottles, we went back to work. This time we covered the rest of the beach and the backside of the jetty. Though we only spent an hour or so there, we got the most trash; nearly twice as much as in the center of the jetty. Plastic plates, styrofoam cups, plastic wrappers, soda cans, water bottles- all every day items we use, yet, we never really consider the consequences of not recycling these items – the consequences wildlife have to pay.

Though the day was rather daunting, in the end I felt that day was a learning experience, and I’m sure the rest of the teens I spent the day with would agree. One of the teens, Claire, couldn’t believe how never ending the trash seemed. Other teens, like Nicole and Mia, found it crazy how random items like shoes and toothbrushes made it all the way to the jetty. Hannah found a coke bottle, dated from 22 years ago (1996)! This was an overall amazing trip for me; I made new friends and helped the environment, that’s a win-win for me.

By the end of the day, we had collected 3 pounds of monofilament line (which is insane considering how light it is), 65 pounds of trash, and 58 pounds of recyclables. The line and recyclables were brought back to the zoo to be sorted and eventually recycled.

There are three things I do every day in my life that help animals in the wild that you can do too! I use a reusable water bottle, recycle, and reuse everyday items to make eco-friendly alternatives to things like plastic. For example, you can easily turn an old shirt into a new reusable bag. Since this trip allowed me to experience the effects plastic pollution has on the environment first hand, it makes me feel accomplished to know that I have kept trash out of the ocean by doing those 3 simple things.

Here are some other things you can do to help save animals in the wild!

  • Using reusable bags and water bottles instead of plastic, which can end up in the ocean causing harm to animals. The Houston Zoo is now plastic bag and plastic water bottle free!
  • If you fish, dispose of your used line in monofilament bins located along the coast at popular fishing spots – this will help to ensure that fishing line does not make its way back into the water, and can be recycled into new products
  • Pick up trash on daily walks or trips to the beach to help reduce the amount of debris that could make its way into our oceans!
  • Report any sea turtles on the beach to NOAA biologists at 1-866-TURTLE-5
  • Visit the Zoo! The fee you pay to visit the Zoo goes towards saving animals in the wild!

The next time you visit the Zoo, make sure to stop by the sea lion pool and say hi to Max, Tj, Cali, Kamia, and Jonah for me, and don’t forget to take a look at the Marine Debris Wall on the deck! Interested in going on a trip similar to mine? Click here to register for a Teen Adventure Program!

 

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!

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