Orangutan Super Mom and Ambassador

Written by the Primate Team

As we celebrate the moms in our lives, this Mother’s Day, we will be celebrating our own special mom here at the Houston Zoo, Cheyenne the orangutan.

This Mother’s Day, Cheyenne will be celebrating her 46th birthday.  Cheyenne was born at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado on May 13, 1972.  Cheyenne came to the Houston Zoo in 1993. She exhibits high intelligence and a complex personality.

Cheyenne’s nurturing side was not fully appreciated until she became a foster mother.  A hybrid between the two species of orangutan, Bornean and Sumatran, she has no kids of her own, but when in 1999, a 2-year-old orangutan infant named Luna Bela needed a foster mother, primate staff immediately considered Cheyenne.  After gradual introductions between Cheyenne and the infant, Luna was allowed the opportunity to enter Cheyenne’s room.  The new mother gently coaxed Luna through the door and waited patiently for her approach, and they were together until Luna grew up to be a successfully socialized orangutan.

Since Cheyenne’s first experiences with being a foster mother, she has successfully fostered 2 more orangutan infants, Elok, who now lives at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Indah, who now lives at the Sacramento Zoo.

In 2011, Cheyenne once again became a foster mother to her fourth infant, Aurora. At the tender age of 9 months, Cheyenne’s youngest foster infant, entered her life.  Cheyenne has shown a whole new depth to her level of mothering with this infant, and allowed the infant to ride on her back, climb onto her head, and sleep in her nest at night. Aurora, who is 7-years-old, can still be found sleeping in the same nest at night with Cheyenne and she depends on Cheyenne helping her enter and exit the exhibit.

As we are celebrating Cheyenne and all our moms, it is the perfect day to celebrate and pay tribute to orangutan mother’s too.

Each year more and more orangutans, moms and infants, are killed or left homeless as their native rainforest habitat is cleared for palm oil plantations. On Sunday, May 13, 2018, the Houston Zoo will be participating in M.O.M., Missing Orangutan Mothers, campaign. To help raise awareness for the protection of these amazing creatures, primate keepers will be on hand at 12:00PM and 3:30PM, to share information, stories and tips on how our small actions can make a big difference in orangutan’s lives.

Please join us on May 13, 2108 at 12:00PM to wish Cheyenne a happy 46th birthday and Happy Mother’s Day!!

Zoo Raises Record Funds at Annual Ball

2018 Zoo Ball

On Saturday, May 5, Zoo Ball: An Evening in Borneo Presented by Phillips 66 rose vital funds for the Houston Zoo. At this year’s black-tie gala, more than 600 Houstonians celebrated the rhythm of the rainforest and raised a record-breaking $1.12 million dollars to support the zoo. This year’s event, hosted by chairs Peggy Kostial and Macey Reasoner Stokes, was themed to highlight the zoo’s work on the front-lines in Borneo to protect its precious wildlife, and welcomed special guest, Dr. Nurzhafarina Othman, a Malaysian scientist and Houston Zoo conservation partner.

The party-goers turned up the volume on gowns and glamour, and the zoo transformed its tented event space, Masihara Pavilion, into a colorful ballroom. City Kitchen served an island-themed, multi-course dinner beginning with sesame shrimp wonton tostada and roasted rainbow cauliflower and noodle salad, followed by succulent duck breasts in plum wine reduction over coconut rice and vegetables, and a guava pana cotta for dessert.

2018 Zoo Ball

During dinner, Houston Zoo board chair, Stacy Methvin thanked the co-chairs and warmly recognized event honoree Jim Postl for his years of service as a zoo board member and his generosity as a long-standing donor. Additionally, zoo president and CEO, Lee Ehmke shared the zoo’s master plan, and multi-year, $150 million-dollar fundraising campaign that will see the zoo to its 100th anniversary in 2022.

Guests bid on silent auction items during cocktail hour with the highest bid going for the Honorary Observer spot for two at the final round of the 2019 Houston Open for $3,280. After dinner, a spirited live auction called by auctioneer Logan Thomas, highlighted five very competitive items. Week-long stays in private homes on Lake Travis and Telluride went for $5,000 and $8,000, respectively. A safari to Tanzania sold for $13,000, $16,000 got a guest a week at a private villa in Tuscany, and the night’s honoree, Jim Postl, won with the chance to name a wild elephant in Borneo with his donation of $21,000.

This year, the zoo’s young professional’s donor club, Flock, hosted the after party called Rainforest After Dark presented by Accenture. Taylor Pace Orchestra kept revelers dancing until midnight.

Hannah the Binturong

Written by Sydney Fitzpatrick

Hi! Let me introduce myself. I am Hannah the binturong, and I live a wonderful life here at the Houston Zoo. What’s that? You don’t know what a binturong is? Then you should come out to the Houston Zoo on May 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to celebrate World Binturong Day!

Let me tell you a little history about myself and my species:

Like I said, my name is Hannah, and I’m now 11 years old. I live at the Houston Zoo in the Natural Encounters building, but you won’t see me on exhibit. I have a home behind the scenes. Since I am an Ambassador Animal for my species, I love to meet Zoo guests during special chats that are all about me. I am here to educate and inspire you to care about binturongs that live in the wild.
Binturongs are the largest of the civets, a small family of carnivorous mammals that are mostly nocturnal. Sometimes people call binturongs “bearcats,” but, because I’m related to neither bears nor cats, it doesn’t make much sense to me. You can find most of us living in dense forests of southeast Asia. We grow to weigh around 25 pounds, and can be over six feet long. We spend most of our time up in the trees, and camouflage well with our black, grey or brown fur. It makes us hard to see because we look just like a shadow, but, if you look up, you might be lucky enough to spot a binturong!

At the Zoo, I live with a lot of logs and beams to climb on. I enjoy having two of my very own houses—one even has a skylight. I spend most of my days napping with my blankets and favorite stuffed animals, but I can be quite adventurous too. Binturongs love climbing, and have a special prehensile tail to help us out. I use my tail like another arm or leg. I like curling my tail around branches, and I can even hang from it! A wild binturong likes to eat birds, insects and fruit, so our prehensile tails can really come in handy for navigating the tree tops. Here, my zookeepers give me meat, special leafeater biscuits and fruit. The fruit is my favorite.

Even though I can do a lot, we binturongs like to live life at a leisurely pace. We would much rather spend our days hanging in the trees than running around like some of those other animals. In between naps, I like to climb around my yard and explore new enrichment items my keepers have given to me. Sometimes, I even find food inside the fun items.

Every day, I spend time with my keepers and trainers, and I’ve learned a lot of behaviors that I show off during special tours and presentations. On May 12, I’ll be out making special appearances during the day at the Natural Encounters building. You will get to learn about me, my unique adaptations (like that I smell like buttered popcorn) and some of the threats other binturongs face in the wild. You will even learn easy things you can do every day to help save them. Also, I’ve heard there will be some fun children’s games and activities, too.

Come out and join the Zoo in celebrating me on May 12!

May’s Featured Members: The Duncan 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 May’s Featured Members: the Duncan family.

We asked the Duncans to share a few words about what being Zoo Members means to them. Here’s what they had to say.

“Like Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book mongooses we strive to live by the family motto “Run and Find out!” The Houston Zoo affords us with consistent opportunities to do just that. We have been members of the Houston Zoo for the past three years, years that have given us countless opportunities to learn and to grow, to ask questions and to seek answers, and to quite literally run and find out.

The Naturally Wild Swap Shop has long been a favorite of our family. No matter where we are we keep our eyes peeled for interesting natural finds that we can collect and research and trade. Our son, Nils (4), has been saving up his swap shop points and dreams of one day owning his own piece of dinosaur coprolite. Our daughter, Carolena (6), has been swapping for years and now has an amazing collection including an African porcupine quill, a pearl, and a small fossilized dinosaur bone. The swap shop has encouraged us to keep asking questions and finding answers and looking for interesting discoveries at every turn.

One of the best things about our trips to the Houston Zoo is gaining first-hand exposure to such a variety of animals. Lions, and tigers, and… Go Away Birds! Our children are often asked “what is your favorite animal?” when people discover we frequent the zoo. We can’t help but laugh at the surprise in people’s faces when our son enthusiastically replies, “the Go-Away Bird!” Birds are popular with us as Carolena loves the flamingoes, Casey loves the storks, and Chris always stop hoping to hear the kookaburras laugh. The zoo continues to introduce us to animals we never knew and reintroduce us to the ones we only thought we did.

Time at the zoo is always time well spent. We never regret the choice to spend time with family and friends, enjoying the outdoors, and growing deeper in our appreciation for animals and one another. Whether bundled up in coats or slathered in sunscreen, no matter the season you can find our family enjoying the Houston Zoo and all it has to offer.  From the tropical bird house to the giraffes and yes, the mongooses whose family motto we share, our family loves to spend time at the Houston Zoo where we run and find out.”

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to the Duncans 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!

Getting Dirty to Save Animals in the Wild

On April 26, the Houston Zoo hosted our first-ever Brew at the Zoo beer tasting event for guests 21-and-up. The event was also another first for our zoo-based conservation organization. Brew at the Zoo was our first major attempt at a full-sized zero waste consumer event. Zero waste is a goal for achieving a 90% or more diversion from landfill through reducing, reusing, recycling, and composting materials.

There are many definitions for zero waste, here at the Houston Zoo, we are beginning our zero waste journey by hosting events with a goal of zero-waste to landfill. At Brew at the Zoo, we diverted 80% of the waste from landfill through composting and recycling! This was accomplished through careful planning and communication between various departments within the zoo and our food partner SSA, as well as the composting company New Earth. We looked at the items being used throughout the event, from the souvenir beer sampling mugs, to the items food was served on, to lanyards that can be reused. While we encountered a few unexpected items in the bins, through careful sorting, we were able to ensure that as much of the waste as possible was able to be recycled and composted. The cans and glass bottles that the beer was poured from were recycled and the food items, including the utensils and cups were driven by zoo staff members to a commercial composting facility.

Why are we doing all of this? Our mission is to inspire action to save wildlife, what better way to celebrate local breweries than by saving local wildlife, like bobcats, by keeping waste out of landfills? The less space for landfills, means more space for wildlife! By recycling and composting, these materials are being given a chance to extend their usable lifespan.

Brew at the Zoo was just the beginning our our zero waste event journey. This event allowed us to look at the way we source and use products, so that at each event we will become closer to achieving our goal of zero-waste to landfill.

K9 Patrol Dogs are Saving Painted Dogs in the Wild

Man’s best friend. It’s no secret that dogs have many talents when it comes to helping humans – they are recruited as therapy and support animals, work with rescue crews, serve alongside soldiers and police officers, provide aid as guide dogs and guard dogs…and of course, they show us unconditional love. With such a stellar reputation as our number one sidekick, it’s no surprise that dogs have taken on yet another special role – protecting and saving their wild canine counterparts the painted dog in Zimbabwe!

Painted dogs are an endangered and truly unique species of canine. No two wild dogs have the same markings, making them easy to identify as individuals. They also have very distinctive rounded ears that help them to keep track of members of their pack over long distances. Did I mention that they only have 4 toes, while other dogs have 5? Unfortunately, painted dogs are endangered because they can accidentally be caught and/or killed in wire snares that have been set to hunt other local wildlife, like antelope.

A K9 unit of highly trained, domestic dogs is now helping to protect painted dogs from poaching (which is when painted dogs are harmed through wire snares). The domestic dogs have excellent tracking abilities-they can smell products that are illegal, and they can find humans who are doing illegal activities. These skills, unique to domestic dogs, help a team called an anti-poaching unit become more effective in reducing wildlife poaching.

Thanks to your visit to the zoo, we were able to fund our partners in Africa at Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) to spend time and learn about anti-poaching units and K9 dogs from another successful project in the region. Because of this success, we then assisted PDC with building a facility for their own K9 anti-poaching unit.

We look forward to hearing more as the K9 unit is brought into the field, taking action to save wildlife like painted dogs. Make sure to stop by and visit our pack of painted dogs on your next visit to the Zoo and come face to face with one of the many species you are helping to save in the wild.

Principle Goes to the Zoo

A peek behind the scenes from the creative firm chosen to redefine the Houston Zoo’s new identity.

Contributed by Principle

As lifelong patrons and admirers of the Houston Zoo, our team at Principle was beyond thrilled to get a late Fall call from their team. Would we be interested in helping them re-brand their organization?

We quickly consulted our bucket list—check!—and happily accepted.

We kicked off the project by diving into a two-day tour and strategy session with the Zoo’s creative and marketing team, leadership staff, board members, conservation specialists, keepers, volunteers, and others to better understand how their zoo works, and our role in all of it.

We emerged brimming with excitement, adrenaline, a small mountain of notes, and a fair share of butterflies. This was no small task. And no ordinary zoo.


The Challenge

We were wowed by the clarity of the Zoo’s vision, the thoughtfulness of the extraordinary new Master Plan, the infectious unity of the Houston Zoo’s team—and the sheer magnitude of what the Houston Zoo actually does every day, for people and animals all over the planet.

We had no idea.

And many still don’t—exactly their motivation behind the re-branding effort.

The mission behind the re-brand.


We asked ourselves:

How do we symbolize conservation?

How do we reframe the conversation around zoos?

How do we help represent this organization’s leadership and their life’s work as smart and professional and bold and important, without neglecting the joy and excitement that stems from time spent outdoors at the zoo with loved ones (animal and otherwise!)?

And in an age when major re-brands are often measured in years versus weeks, how do we do it most thoroughly?


The Design Process

We whittled many hours’ worth of listening, learning, scheming, sketching, writing, researching, (and trading pictures of baby animals with each other) into five core takeaways that drove the design solutions we presented.

Overwhelmingly, we heard THEIR PEOPLE championed again and again.

The human element is critical in saving wildlife.

So we narrowed down themes related to these core takeaways, and explored how we might articulate them visually.

Themes explored.


We presented a wide range of logo solutions—from highly contemporary to more conservative—which we then refined further after insightful feedback from their team. Final selections were presented to an executive committee, and with board approval, a winner emerged.


The Solution

Houston Zoo logo anatomy.


A balanced approach

The new logo reflects the meaningful balance in the zoo’s new tagline, See them. Save them.

The duality of the shape represents the human element so critical in saving wildlife—the coming together of two hands—and the continued connection, conversation, and collaboration needed to succeed in protecting the home we all live in. You and me. Cause and effect. Locally and globally. Today and tomorrow.

See them. Save them.


Naturally inspired

The mark pays respect to the habitats of wildlife—two halves of a leaf—with a natural palette that draws from the landscapes of the Zoo’s future exhibits and their corresponding partner efforts in the wild, from the African forests to the Galapagos to our own Texas Wetlands.

A global palette.


A quiet force for good

Lastly, the negative space in the mark forms the letter Z, representing the zoo at the heart of these efforts—and pays subtle tribute to the Z that has historically nestled within the Houston Zoo’s logo.

Logo embossed.



Just the Beginning

We always like to point out that a logo is only the tip of the iceberg. The Houston Zoo is as unique and complex an organism as those it harbors.

Overall, our shared goal was to uncover an elegant solution that feels fresh, clean and simple, but can flex within a serious brand system. One that avoids the familiar trappings of visually championing one animal, or defaulting to the popular safari theme—because the Houston Zoo’s focus and reach are so truly comprehensive.

By way of thoughtful typography, color, and fabrication techniques, the new identity can push, pull and pivot across the Zoo’s myriad audiences and applications—from vibrant and playful to understated and polished—and spark conversation around what a contemporary zoo can do.

From playful to polished, the new zoo travels comfortably all over the planet.


It’s been such a privilege to partner with the Houston Zoo, and to learn that the humans behind all these animals are just as inspiring, intelligent and fun. We’re honored to continue on this journey with them—much more in the works!—and we can’t wait to share what’s next.

Celebrating the brand reveal with custom ties and scarves.


Principle’s Houston Team at the Campaign Kickoff

Watch How You Are Saving Elephants in Borneo

Thanks to your visit to the Houston Zoo, we are able to send vital support to protect elephants in Borneo. We are extremely fortunate to have members of our extended zoo family working in Asia to ensure the survival of Bornean elephants. The Kinabatangan Elephant Conservation Unit (ECU) works with local communities in Borneo to raise awareness, improve human-wildlife relationships, and give farmers the tools and training they need for elephant-friendly crop protection. The Danau Girang Field Centre is conducting the first population biology study of the Bornean elephant, and as a part of this effort, the zoo is able to provide funding for radio collars, camera traps, and graduate student scholarships. During the month of May, you will have the chance to meet Dr. Nurzhafarina (Farina) Othman, a Malaysian scientist and member of the Houston Zoo conservation field staff.

Last fall, Zoo staff and crew from KPRC Channel 2 traveled to Borneo to meet with Farina, the team at the Danau Girang Field Centre and Hutan to see the projects the Houston Zoo supports firsthand. You can learn all about Farina’s work and how you are helping her to save elephants in the wild by tuning in to channel 2 this Wednesday, April 25th at 8pm and watching the Borneo special! Here at home we continue to promote these partnerships at our McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, giving our community the opportunity to learn about our herd of elephants at the zoo, and their wild counterparts. This year’s Zoo Ball, An Evening in Borneo presented by Phillips 66 will raise vital funds for our Houston Zoo, which through partners like Farina, works on the front lines in Borneo to protect its precious wildlife. To meet Farina, make sure to check out the Elephant Open House at the zoo on Sunday May 6th.

Teens Working Together to Protect Texas Ecosystems

By Teen Programs Participants: Madi S., Julia S., Makynzie L., Lilianna G., Skyler N., Connor P., Ethan S., Michael T., Habib A., and Aly A.

During the second week of March, a group of teens, accompanied by staff from the Houston Zoo, piled into a van and drove to Big Thicket National Preserve. The preserve, which covers 100,000 acres, has many interesting features:

  • It is the site of one of the biggest biological convergences in the world.
  • It is split up into many regions and contains nine different types of ecosystems.
  • Within the boundaries of the preserve, many unique animals and plant life can be found such as carnivorous plants, snowy egrets, and many species of spider.
  • The preserve is much different than most preserves or parks; it allows hunting and fishing,
  • The preserve is under threat; poaching, litter, and invasive species have become prevalent in the eyes of the community.
  • One of the numerous species of plant life that is protected by the preserve’s borders is the longleaf pine. Logging and the shrinking preserve borders have drastically reduced the population of the tree down to three percent of its original size. The longleaf is unique to many plants; it relies on controlled fires to sprout to its full size.

The teens assisted in the conservation efforts of the preserve by eliminating the invasive plant species, Chinese Tallow, that has ravaged the area. Chinese Tallow is detrimental to native Texas plants because it they outcompete the natives for space and sunlight. One of the teens, Julia, described this experience as “Exciting. I got to do something destructive but helpful.” In clearing this area, the teens discovered several surprises, including tree frogs, wolf spiders, skinks, centipedes, pitcher plants, and the carnivorous sundew.

Earlier that day, the teens started out their morning by clearing out an area near the visitor’s center that would soon become a pollinator garden. This garden will be essential to the survival of many pollinator species. Pollinator awareness is one of the Houston Zoo’s six Take Action Initiatives. The Houston Zoo encourages visitors to plant native plants to help local pollinators like monarch butterflies and bees. Pollinators are vital to our food sources. About a third of our foods, like chocolate, vanilla, honey, and many fruits and vegetables, produced with the help of pollinators. Without them, our world would be very different. Eventually this area in front of the Big Thicket National Preserve Visitor Center will become habitat for local pollinators like bees and butterflies. While clearing the area, Connor remarked, “It’s fun seeing all the creatures.” Makynzie, another teen, said her favorite part was, “Getting dirty.”

The next day, the teens explored the Neches River, and got on their lifejackets. Using canoes, the teens scoured the shores and the water for any trash. In the process, the teens also took down several fishing lines, some of which had fish still hooked on them. One of the Zoo’s Take Action Initiatives is plastic pollution reduction. Monofilament fishing line is very harmful to many marine animals and has been identified as the number one plastics threat to wildlife in our region. By removing the fishing line from the Neches River, we are ensuring the fishing line will not end up in the ocean which will help save animals like sea turtles. Madi observed the scenery around the river as they removed paddled and removed trash and noted, “I had to maneuver through the cypress like Indiana Jones.”

On the last day, the teens took a scenic hike at Big Sandy Creek. There, they found cypress trees and insects of all sorts. The teens also got to see a different portion of the Neches River. Aly commented, “I was really surprised. The trail was very peaceful.” Later that day, they cleaned up an area near a trail head and repainted some of the signs. Lastly, the teens took another hike and cleaned up trash along the trail.

Together, the teens and the Zoo are working together to better protect our wildlife. You don’t have to hop in a kayak to make a difference. Doing something as simple as picking up trash or recycling can make a huge impact. Houston Zoo Teen Programs participants encourage you to take action by doing something like starting a recycling drive at your school or within your community. You could also get a group of friends together to do a beach clean-up or build a pollinator garden in your neighborhood. In fact, the Big Thicket National Preserve wasn’t founded by a governing body, but by a group of community members that worked together to save the area when they noticed the damage being inflicted on it. Next time you visit the Houston Zoo, you can visit our pollinator gardens and/or the carnivorous plants that are near the Bug House to get a closer look at what lives in the wilderness of Texas. If you want to venture into the wilderness yourself, visit the Big Thicket. Get your feet dirty and help continue our everlasting efforts to conserve and protect the wildlife that we share this earth with.

Continued Search for Rare Bird in Colombia

Blue-billed curassow
A couple of months back, we ventured to Colombia with assistant bird curator Chris Holmes. Chris has been directly involved in the conservation of a rare bird, the blue-billed curassow since joining the Houston Zoo full-time in 2000. In February, with the help of Houston Zoo partner Proyecto Titi, Chris, who serves as the American Zoos and Aquariums regional program population manager for the species and Christian Olaciregui, the Colombian population manager for blue-billed curassows and head of biology and conservation at Barranquilla Zoo, ventured into the Montes de Maria region of Colombia  – an area where the blue-billed curassow is believed to live but has been rarely seen. During their first trip into the study area, Chris and Christian set up and installed 6 camera traps in an attempt to locate any blue-billed curassows that might be in the area. Determining if these birds are in the area will help to fill a current gap in the knowledge of this species’ current range, and will help to shape future conservation efforts. Chris has since returned back home to Texas, but Christian and the team in Colombia have been checking the traps periodically to see what images they are able to recover! Highlights from their latest report are listed below: 
Image of a puma (cougar) caught on one of the installed camera traps
  • No records of blue-billed curassows were obtained during the first month following camera trap installations, but images of 35 reptile, bird, and mammal species were recovered!
  • One puma (cougar) was spotted on camera, which is the most recent record of this species in the study region.
  • Cameras also recorded the first known images of a striped hog-nosed skunk and a greater grison (resembles a honey badger) in the Montes de Maria region.
Striped hog-nosed skunk



Christian and Oscar Medina, Animal Care Coordinator at Barranquilla Zoo were able to collect this valuable research with the help of Daniel Martinez and Roberto Meza. Both men own the properties within the Montes de Maria region where the camera traps were installed. They have been living in the region for over 20 years and can both attest to the presence of blue-billed curassows in the area! While the team may not have found any evidence of this elusive bird yet, they haven’t given up hope. Throughout the first half of April, the team will be visiting three other sites in the region which have been recommended by locals – 6 camera traps will be installed at each site.

Greater grison

Knowing if these birds are in the area will help to strengthen conservation efforts for this critically-endangered bird species, and will inform next steps as plans for the future are discussed. While we await the results gathered by this new batch of camera traps, make sure to drop by and check out the wattled curassow, an endangered relative of the blue-billed curassow, on your next trip to the zoo and come face-to-face with one of the many species you are helping to save in the wild!

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