Celebrate World Gorilla Day by Recycling Your Old Cell Phone!

It’s no secret that gorillas are one of the most loved and recognizable species of our time. They are known for their unparalleled size and strength, as well as their striking resemblance to humans. Unfortunately, they are also world-renowned due to their struggle for survival in our constantly developing world. All of these reasons and more prompted the creation of World Gorilla Day back in 2016. This day is meant not only to celebrate this incredible species, but to encourage people around the globe to take action to save the mighty gorilla.

How can you save a species that lives on the other side of the globe you ask? The answer, as it turns out, fits in the palm of your hand. Cell phones contain a material called tantalum that is mined in areas where gorillas live. The over use of such a resource comes at a price – wildlife habitats and natural landscapes like those that the gorillas call home are altered, sometimes beyond repair. However, if we reuse and recycle small electronics like our cell phones, we can decrease the amount of mining that takes place in these vital habitats!

Pretty simple right? To contribute to saving gorillas all you have to do is dig those old cell phones out of the bottom of your drawer and recycle them! I know what you’re thinking – “that’s great and I want to help, but where in the world do I bring my old phone?” To the Zoo of course! Our electronics recycling box lives on Zoo grounds year-round, right by the guest services office near the front entrance. So, not only do you save wildlife through your admission to the Zoo, but you take it a step further each time you bring an old handheld electronic device with you to recycle!

If you’re feeling extra inspired, consider getting your school or organization signed up for the next Action for Apes Challenge. The Action for Apes challenge is an annual contest hosted by the Houston Zoo to see which team can recycle the most handheld electronics by the end of APE-ril. Just last year the challenge yielded a total of 1,977 handheld electronic devices – that’s 1,977 actions to help save animals in the wild! The Houston Zoo has been protecting gorillas in the wild for the past 10 years by providing training, funding and resources for three gorilla conservation projects in Central Africa-–Gorilla Doctors, Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE), and Conservation Heritage-Turambe–and is home to a renowned gorilla habitat.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is celebrating World Gorilla Day this year by launching a global, mobile phone recycling challenge, Gorillas on the Line…Answer the Call, based on the Houston Zoo’s very own Action for Apes Challenge. This will reach zoos and aquariums across the nation and the world to engage thousands of students, schools, community organizations and businesses to answer this important call: to help save gorillas in the wild.

Texans Helping Texans: Whooping Crane Population Count is Rising

Have you ever seen a whooping crane up close? If you haven’t, you will have the opportunity to do so soon with the Zoo’s new Texas Wetlands exhibit opening in the heart of the zoo! Standing at nearly 5 feet tall, with a 7-foot wingspan and bright crimson red accents on the top of their head, the whooping crane is hard to overlook. In fact, a history of human fascination with whooping cranes has been both a gift and a curse for this remarkable species. In the 1800s the whooping cranes’ beautiful feathers were used as fashionable additions to clothing, and rare eggs were sold to collectors willing to pay top dollar. The whooping crane saw its numbers drop to just 15 in the early 1940s, which led to the implementation of land protection efforts and public education initiatives geared toward saving this beloved bird. Decades later, whooping cranes are loved not for their feathers, but for their courtship dances and their annual migration to Port Aransas, Texas – the only place where you can see the world’s last naturally-occurring population of whooping cranes.

Thanks to zoo-goers like you, we have been able to support the International Crane Foundation’s (ICF) efforts to increase the number of whooping cranes in the wild, and we are excited to report that their numbers are on the rise! Surveys conducted over the 2017-2018 winter season concluded that the number of wild whooping cranes has increased to 505, up from 431 the previous year. Its been a long journey for our feathered friends, and while things are looking up, we still have a long way to go. The Houston Zoo recently teamed up with the ICF’s Texas office and established a Whooping Crane Outreach Coordinator position that will be funded by the Zoo. This individual will form partnerships that include involving hunters, landowners and other members of the community in monitoring and keeping watch over the whooping cranes in their areas.

We are so proud to be involved in this work to help save this unique community of Texans, and thanks to your continued support, this native species has an even better chance for a bright future. 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 the whooping crane.

Educators looking for a fun way to share information on these wildlife saving efforts with your students are encouraged to join us at our next Educators Night Out to participate in hands-on STEM activities that cover whooping cranes and other Texas wildlife.

Meet Max and Murray

Meet Max and Murray! Two white-cheeked gibbon brothers recently moved into their new digs at the Houston Zoo after moving to Texas from another Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoo in Florida. Guests can see the active duo inside the Wortham World of Primates.

The Houston Zoo protects white-cheeked gibbons in the wild by providing support in Vietnam for the training and educating of locals and law enforcement officers to better understand and effectively carry out wildlife saving actions.

White-cheeked gibbons are native to Southeast Asia, primarily in Laos, Vietnam, and Southern China. The arboreal primates brachiate through the treetops using their long arms to swing from branch to branch. Max (5) and Murray (8) can be seen brachiating throughout their habitat. Kids get outside and try their skills at brachiating on the monkey bars at their local park.

Houston Zoo Executive Joins Board of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International

Houston Zoo president and CEO, Lee Ehmke, has been appointed to the board of directors for a prestigious international gorilla conservation organization, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

© Stephanie Adams, Houston Zoo

The Fossey Fund is dedicated to saving critically endangered gorillas in Africa, through daily protection, scientific study, education, and helping local communities.

As a member of the Board, Ehmke will support the work of the Fossey Fund and provide mission-based leadership and strategic governance.

“I am honored to join this esteemed group of conservation professionals to continue furthering their work to save gorillas in the wild,” said Ehmke. “I am especially interested in helping to find ways to foster greater communication and synergies between the multiple organizations involved in the various aspects of gorilla conservation and related community support.”

Ehmke has had a career where gorillas and Central African conservation have been a constant, from years at Wildlife Conservation Society designing and building Bronx Zoo’s Congo Gorilla Forest and working with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and USAID to help launch gorilla tourism in Uganda, to his current role with the Houston Zoo.

The Houston Zoo has been protecting gorillas in the wild for the past 10 years by providing training, funding and resources for three other gorilla conservation projects in Central Africa-–Gorilla Doctors, Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education (GRACE), and Conservation Heritage-Turambe–and is home to a renowned gorilla habitat.

The Houston Zoo connects communities with animals to inspire action to save wildlife and is committed to being a leader in the global effort to save animals in the wild.

Learn more about how the Houston Zoo works with international gorilla partners.

Saving Elephants at the Zoo and Around the Globe

Back in May, many of you had the opportunity to meet Houston Zoo Conservation Field Staff member Dr. Nurzhafarina (Farina) Othman. Farina is a Malaysian scientist that studies Bornean elephants, both as a Research Associate at Danau Girang Field Centre and Director of her own project, Seratu Aatai. As we gear up for Elephant Appreciation Day this Saturday, September 22nd, we wanted to share what Farina has been up to since returning home from her visit to Houston!

Most recently, Farina has launched an UmbrElephant Campaign. What is an umbrelephant you ask? To put it simply, it is a beautifully designed umbrella that showcases an image of a Bornean elephant along with the phrase “Spare a thought for the gentle giant”. But don’t be fooled, this campaign’s purpose extends far beyond creating a fashionable accessory. The idea for the umbrelephant emerged from the realization that many people do not understand the behavior of elephants in the wild, which leads to fear and a lack of appreciation for the species. This campaign hopes to change that, by building pride among Malaysians and empowering them to protect the Bornean elephants who share their home. The umbrellas act as a tool, that not only help to raise money for Bornean elephant conservation but to help spread the word that elephants are something to love, not fear.

The first program under this campaign was a celebration of World Elephant Day, organized by Project Seratu Aatai and the Sabah Wildlife Department. The event, attended by students and guests to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park, started with educational talk by Farina, followed by an elephant toy making session and cleaning up the children’s zoo by the students. On the 27th of August, the UmbrElephant Campaign was launched by The Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment of Sabah in Kota Kinabalu, YB Christina Liew. She is strongly supportive of these wildlife saving efforts and proud that there are now more Malaysians taking part in conservation work. In addition to the launch, an agreement was reached between Sabah Wildlife Department and Genting Plantations Berhad that will result in the creation of a 450 acre corridor connecting two protected areas making it easier for elephants to travel within their home range! This project is the outcome of a pioneering partnership between the Sabah State Government, Houston Zoo partner organization HUTAN, the Sukau community, and Genting Plantation Berhad. A big win for elephant conservation, this agreement received attention in both local and national newspapers. Farina hopes that as the campaign continues to grow it will give the people of Sabah the opportunity to express their concerns, interests, and passions to help Bornean elephant conservation using their own ideas, skills, and talent.

Back here in Houston, Elephant Encounters give you the opportunity to learn more about the Houston Zoo’s support efforts of elephant conservation in Borneo! With the Houston Zoo’s support, the population of elephants in Borneo has increased from 100 to 200 wild individuals. During the encounter, you will get to immerse yourself in the daily lives of our elephant Zookeepers and the magnificent animals they care for as well as discover different aspects of the elephants’ daily lives, like diets, care, training and more. We invite you to join us on one of these exclusive tours, and remember, when you see elephants at the Zoo, you support efforts to save them in the wild!

Save Wildlife on Your Next Vacation with the Houston Zoo

It’s no secret – everyone loves a good vacation. Whether it’s an action packed adventure or a time for leisure and relaxation, travel gives us the opportunity to escape the day to day routine and reconnect with the world, animals and people around us. As it turns out, your next vacation could do even more – on expeditions with the Zoo you can save wildlife!

One of the biggest challenges faced globally when it comes to saving species is being able to showcase the true value of wildlife to a country’s government and top decision makers. Typically, countries have wealth that is directly tied up in natural resources like forests, minerals, and land that could be used for agricultural purposes. Using, and in many cases, the over use of these resources comes at a price – wildlife habitats and natural landscapes are altered, sometimes beyond repair. So, people working to protect species are presented with a challenge – they must be able to demonstrate that an animal like the gorilla is just as, if not more valuable long-term, than the precious minerals that can be extracted from their habitat. This is where a specific type of travel comes into the equation – ecotourism. Tourism targeted at a specific species like gorillas can be carefully tracked to prove how much money the species can make for the country. Tourist dollars spent on transportation, lodging, food, and entertainment is accounted for and credited to the gorillas. Wildlife-focused tourism provides evidence to governments that it is more profitable to have thriving wildlife populations than to participate in practices that harm wild places. Perhaps most importantly, ecotourism provides an opportunity for a long-term and sustainable economy. But what’s in it for you, you ask?

The Houston Zoo’s travel program offers “behind the scenes” experiences to see wildlife through the eyes of researchers and conservationists working in the wild to protect the counterparts of the animals we have here at the Zoo. What better way to see the heart of Africa than to sit beside gorillas foraging through thick vegetation and hear heroic tales from Gorilla Doctors, a team of local veterinarians that risk their lives to provide medical care for wild gorillas. All of our expeditions are guided by local wildlife experts and experienced zoo staff, guarantying our travelers a once in a lifetime wildlife experience and the opportunity to witness the work the Zoo is assisting with to protect animals in the wild.

When you join the Zoo to see wildlife, right here in Houston or around the globe, you are helping to save species from extinction. A portion of every admission, membership, event ticket, food item, or gift purchased at the Zoo goes to wildlife saving efforts around the globe. So please, join us on this important mission – see them, save them.

Save Rhinos at Member Morning this Saturday!

What if I were to tell you that unicorns – those magical, mystical creatures from fairy tales actually exist? It may not be identical to the image you have in your head, but it is as real as you and me, and you can see it here at the Zoo! Affectionately known as the “chubby unicorn”, rhinos are a hint of magic in our ordinary world, and, like all precious things, rhinos need protection, both at the Zoo and in the wild.

In Namibia, our partners at IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation) have been working to save rhinos since the mid-1990s, when community conservation became an official component of government policy. By teaming up with local community leaders, IRDNC has been able to take action to stop widespread poaching of wildlife, including the black rhino. This conservation project employs local people to guard wild rhinos and creates incentive programs that provide support for local villages that protect rhino populations. To put it simply, if local people see a direct benefit from having rhinos in the area, they will protect them, and the more eyes watching over the rhinos, the safer they are! The Houston Zoo supports IRDNC’s efforts by providing funding for communication and outreach events, as well as day to day Rhino Ranger operations, including salaries and equipment maintenance which makes it possible for the rangers to effectively monitor rhino populations. In 2017, the team set a baseline for rhino sightings and are working hard to see that number increase by 10% this year through their patrol work.

If you have ever wondered what it was like to be a rhino ranger, just ask our rhino keepers here at the Zoo. While they may not be monitoring and protecting rhinos in the wild, they are constantly monitoring the health and behaviors of rhinos at the Zoo – collecting information that can help to inform work being done to save this species around the globe.  In many ways, their jobs mirror one another, and ultimately boil down to a common goal – saving rhinos! The most important part of a rhino keeper’s job here at the Zoo is caring for our rhino trio who act as ambassadors for their wild counterparts. George, Indy, and Mumbles play a very special role as they get to connect with each and every one of our guests and show us all just how magical and truly unique they are. By visiting our rhinos you are supporting this species in the wild through the purchase of your admission ticket, and we hope an encounter with these guys inspires you to continue to save wildlife even after you leave the Zoo.

To learn more about how you are saving rhinos in the wild, find out all about our rhino trio, and meet the keepers who care for these rhinos each day, make sure to join us on Saturday September 1st for a member morning featuring, you guessed it, RHINOS! If you aren’t able to join us this weekend, keep an eye out on the schedule for our upcoming Rhino Spotlight on Species event on September 30th. After all, when you see them, you save them. See you at the Zoo!

September’s Featured Members: The Woolard 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  Zoo Member that deserves recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to September’s Featured Members: The Woolard Family.


We asked the Woolard family to tell us a little about what being Zoo Members meant to them. Here’s what they had to say.

Curiosity is the Fuel for discovery, inquiry and learning! What better way to learn, explore, question and foster a love for animals and our world than at our Houston Zoo!  Each year my daughters are gifted with a Houston Zoo Membership by their Gran.  My mom brought me to the zoo when I was younger, and she wanted to make sure her grandkids had the same opportunity to enjoy and explore nature by being surrounded by animals from all over the world.

We have been zoo members for over 4 years and could not imagine not having our zoo membership. During the summer we spend at least one day a week, if not more at the zoo. Our membership allows us time to slow down and explore every animal and learning opportunity the zoo has! We love going early in the morning to watch the elephants get their bath and attend as many meet the keeper talks as possible. Members only mornings give us a more intimate setting and allows us to feel like it is “our” zoo.

The girls each have favorite animals that we must see each time. Lillian loves the Tortoise’s and aquarium, Lola loves the lions, tigers and cougar, while Lyzabeth enjoys the fish, otters and Gorilla’s.  We all love the otters and elephants! One of our favorite parts of the zoo is the splash pad and carousel. They are typically the last thing or the “icing on the cake” of our trip! The girls know that will be the last place we go no matter where we start.

We enter the zoo and each time we chose a different path. Each path is familiar yet different. No matter how many times we go to the zoo each time is unique and different. Our zoo is every changing, yet they manage to hold on to things from the past that make our zoo so special. One of these is the Lion water fountain. I remember using that water fountain when I was young and seeing it brings back memories from my childhood. My girls think it is the neatest thing in the world and it is a staple for our trips.

I recently learned (last September) That Shasta the UH mascot and I share the same birthday month, I could be wrong, but I think we also share the same birthday (September 28).

Two events we look forward to each year are Zoo Boo and Zoobilee. My kids love Halloween and the zoo goes above and beyond to make it special, fun and exciting. We dress up and spend the entire day at the zoo. We dance, trick or treat and enjoy all the fun activities such as mazes, pumpkin patch and bounce houses. Zoo Boo is a great activity for kids of all ages and there is no shortage of things to do during this event.

Zoobilee has become a must do in our household and this year we took the day off from school to spend at the zoo. My best friends and their children went with us.  We had a total of 11 people in our group (3 adults and 8 kids)! Thanks to my membership we didn’t have to buy any extra tickets. We spent 8 hours at the zoo that day and not one kid cried! Why you ask? The zoo made sure that everywhere you went you felt like a VIP! The kids were overwhelmed with the amount of “extras” offered to them including ice cream, spray tattoos, leather stamp bracelets and games. So many animals were out, and we had the opportunity to pet them. We had a blast playing the Texans football throw, sack races and Dynamo games. Zoobilee is an amazing event we do not miss!

Something new we did this year was Zoolights. We had not had the opportunity to go and I am so glad we made time to go this year. The lights were so beautiful, and it made for a different atmosphere walking through the zoo after dark.

Our zoo membership not only allows us to create memories for our family but also to bring our extended family with us when they come to visit. My nephew spends the summer with us and we can take him for no charge because of our package. That also means when his mom, dad and my niece come we can all go together.

The Houston Zoo is family friendly and educational. We go to the zoo so often, yet I have never left without learning something new. I am a teacher and the zoo helps me foster a love of learning in my girls. My oldest daughter has decided to be a marine biologist specializing in sea turtles and wants to one day be an oceanic advisor to the president. The Houston Zoo brings the ocean close and she can learn about animals right here in her own back yard. It keeps the love of learning alive and growing.

I could talk about all the wonderful things the Houston Zoo has to offer but honestly, one trip and you will know. A membership to the Houston Zoo is the perfect gift. My girls know when their membership runs out and they start bugging my mom about a month ahead just to make sure she doesn’t forget.

The Houston Zoo is a staple of Houston. Our summers would be so boring without the zoo not to mention our Halloween and Christmas.

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to the Woolards and all of our Zoo Members. As a Houston Zoo Member, your support truly makes an impact on the growth of our Zoo and conservation efforts. THANKS!

Saving Orangutans, One Bridge at a Time

Having recently celebrated world orangutan day, we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect on the work our partners at Hutan Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP) have done, and continue to do, in order to save one of the world’s most endangered apes from extinction. KOCP’s primary focus is to study orangutans in Borneo, which is home to some of the last remaining native habitat for wild orangutans. With over 50 highly trained staff, their work includes: assessing and monitoring orangutan population health, studying how orangutans adapt to living within degraded or fragmented forest patches, developing policies for population management within and outside of protected areas, and promoting community engagement and education in the conservation of orangutans and habitat, including environmental education programs for Malaysian school children. Just last year, environmental education programs reached 12,370 students and 914 teachers!

A focus on education is a must, but equally as important is coming up with creative solutions to keep orangutan populations happy and healthy while work is done to create protected areas and replant vital habitat. Logging to make room for palm oil plantations has made it almost impossible for orangutans to find tall old growth trees which they need in order to cross rivers and tributaries that divide sections of their habitat. If orangutans cannot move freely within their home range, they lose access to vital resources, and lack the ability to mate with other orangutans which leads to a decrease in genetic diversity. A lack in genetic diversity can have disastrous effects on a species whose numbers are already declining. So, our friends at KOCP had to figure out a system that would allow orangutans to navigate terrain easily, without having to rely on old growth trees. The answer, as it turns out, actually came from within the zoo world in the form of artificial bridges! Bridges made out of various materials like rope are used by orangutans in Zoos as a form of enrichment, and as a way to navigate their enclosure. You can see an example of one of these bridges here at the Houston Zoo when you visit our orangutans! In 2003, KOCP established the first orangutan bridge in the wild, and in 2010, after many years of waiting, they finally obtained camera footage of an orangutan using the bridge. The rest, as they say, is history. Last year, with support from the Houston Zoo, KOCP was able to refurbish 2 orangutan bridges, ensuring that orangutans will be able to continue to move freely across forest patches.

 

Of course, artificial bridges are only a short-term solution. Ideally, forest patches will be restored through replanting efforts and the cooperation of government and non-governmental organizations, as well as players within the palm oil industry. It will be a long process, but the hope is that one day artificial bridges will no longer be needed.  Texans can help save orangutans in the wild by shopping smart, and only buying from companies that support sustainable palm oil practices, and by visiting the Houston Zoo! A portion of every ticket to the Houston Zoo goes to help save animals like orangutans in the wild.

 

Bears Move into New Beautiful Habitat

Next week, we’re opening a completely redesigned home for our two North American black bears. The Hamill Foundation Black Bear Exhibit is the first project to be completed thanks to generous donor support of the Zoo’s Keeping Our World Wild centennial capital campaign. This expansion more than triples the space for five-year-old black bears, Belle and Willow, to explore. The beloved duo got their first look at their new home on Monday, and starting Friday, Aug. 31, guests will be able to experience the world of bears and get nose-to-nose with them through a brand-new glass wall. The expanded habitat was designed to give the bears the highest quality of life and includes engaging features throughout like a revamped water feature, specially created climbing structures, and ample shade.

The Houston Zoo saves bears in the wild by participating in state protection planning in Texas. The team also leads efforts to help save bears in the wild through promotion of paper reduction and the use of recycled paper products. Bears need trees to live, and by using less paper or recycled-content paper products, fewer trees are cut down.

Belle and Willow came to the Houston Zoo in 2013 from California where they were being fed by patrons of a restaurant and appeared to be orphaned. US Fish and Wildlife rescued them and asked the Houston Zoo if it could offer them a home. Belle is often seen playing in the pool and rough-housing with Willow. She is the larger of the two and tends to prefer naps. Willow is the mastermind behind the brawn of Belle. She is smaller and seems to like engaging with her enrichment. You can often see her working through a puzzle feeder.

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