November’s Featured Member: Shawn Knight

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 November’s Featured Member: Shawn Knight

We asked the Shawn to tell us a little about what being a Zoo Member means to her. Here’s what she had to say.


I love being a member of the Houston Zoo! I visit three or four times a week. I like to walk there after work in the evenings for exercise and to get some fresh air after being in an office all day. Monday evening is the best time…I have the whole place to myself! Plus, in the summer, the animals are more active in the evenings when it’s cooler. The zoo is so clean, pretty and shady. It feels like a little oasis in the middle of the city. I like to make the rounds and see all the animals, of course, but if I’m in a rush before closing time, I will just zip around and see all the babies and youngsters. I have an individual membership so I sometimes bring a friend or family member with me. I also like to give zoo memberships as gifts.

There are many things I love about the zoo, including watching the animals grow and develop. My favorite animal is Duncan, one of the young elephants. He is so clever and has a unique personality. He seems to be a good big brother as well, sometimes doting on Joy. I’m very fortunate to be there often enough to see these things. A highlight during the year is seeing the reclusive and adorable binturong at a weekend keeper chat. I also really love the special events like Feast with the Beasts and Zoo Lights, which are very fun and highlight how beautiful the zoo is at night. The special exhibits like Nature Connects (giant Lego animals) and the animatronic Bugs do an excellent job engaging kids and adults alike. The zoo staff is so friendly and knowledgeable. They do an excellent job taking care of the animals and also educating visitors. Even though I go often, every visit to the zoo is special because the animals are always doing something different and interesting.

I think the work the Houston Zoo does in the wild is extremely important, especially trying to help humans and animals co-exist in areas that both groups need to survive. I enjoy reading about the Wildlife Warriors in the email newsletters, and I’m pleased to know the zoo supports so many individuals and organizations doing good work around the world. It’s always a treat to meet one of these people or other conservationists the zoo supports when they are visiting Houston. I enjoy talking to them about their daily work and their research and conservation methods and successes. Sometimes I wish I had chosen a different career path!


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

This Monkey’s Call Sounds Like a Garbage Disposal

Story written by Houston Zoo primate keepers.

One of the first animals you’ll see when you walk into our Wortham World of Primates are our Black Howler Monkeys! You may hear them before you see them:

Howler monkeys are thought to be not only the loudest primate on the planet, but possibly one of the loudest living land mammals in the world. Their garbage-disposal like call can be heard up to 3 miles away in a dense forest. Our howler monkey troop tends to start calling in reaction to the leaf blowers we have on grounds in the early mornings.

Here at the Houston Zoo we have two howler monkeys. Vida is 23, and Garcia turned 22 on October 2nd. Vida and Garcia were both born here in Houston and are sisters.

Female black howler monkeys are brown.

You may be looking at our lovely, tan-brown, ladies thinking “If they’re called ‘Black Howler Monkeys’, why aren’t they black?” Well, the male monkeys are black, and the females are tan-brown! All howler monkeys are born a tan color to help them camouflage easily in the forest canopy, but the males develop the black color as they get older and the females remain tan in color. Males are also much larger than the females.

Vida and Garcia may be difficult to tell apart by just a glance, but if you study their faces you can tell that Garcia has a much smaller and shorter face, while Vida’s face is wider and longer. Vida tends to be braver than Garcia and is always ready to explore enrichment items or new objects placed in the exhibit by her keepers. Garcia however, likes to wait to see if new things are safe before exploring. Both girls are very smart and participate in regular training sessions with their keepers.

Our howler pair has a variety of favorites that they enjoy. They will always come greet their keepers if there is a fig or hibiscus flower in hand. They react best to food enrichment when there are frozen bananas involved. They love hard-boiled eggs and avocado. The howler monkeys also really enjoy when their keepers hang up mirrors for them, because they absolutely love staring at themselves, and we don’t blame them!

A lot of our guests often wonder why our howlers are sleeping for a large portion of the day, and it’s not because they’re just lazy! In the wild, the howler monkey diet consists mostly of leaves and a small variety of fruits and nuts. Due to the lack of calories in their diet howler monkeys tend to sleep for a majority of their day, about 80%, saving their energy for the important things, like foraging for food and calling to defend their territory!

During the month of October the primate team at the Houston Zoo puts on a Howlerween fundraiser to help raise money for Wildtracks; an organization that cares for and rehabilitate orphaned, injured, and sick howler monkeys back into the wild.

The next time you are walking through our Wortham World of Primates make sure to say hello to our duo!

Houston Zoo Wins Five Major Awards

On September, 24, 2018, during the annual conference of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in Seattle, the Houston Zoo was presented five major awards to recognize its substantial contributions in wildlife conservation and volunteer engagement.

The zoo’s volunteer program staff and corps received Top Honors for Volunteer Engagement, noting that in addition to supporting zoo operations and guest service needs, its volunteers regularly champion conservation efforts both on and off zoo grounds. Over the past two years, Houston Zoo volunteers have donated more than 42,00 hours of service to further the organization’s mission to connect communities with animals to inspire action to save wildlife.

Top Honors in North American Conservation was awarded to Houston Zoo and Ft. Worth Zoo for support of, and participation in the Houston Toad Recovery Program, a comprehensive effort combining the creation of assurance colonies, successful re-introduction into the wild, and community engagement and education.  As a winner of this prestigious award, the program will receive $25,000, thanks to the generosity of the Arthur L. and Elaine V. Johnson Foundation.

Additionally, out of four winning submissions for the William G. Conway International Conservation Award, the Houston Zoo was named in three.

The Houston Zoo shared Top Honors in International Conservation Award with the Minnesota Zoo and North Carolina Zoo for the Scaling Up Community-based Black Rhino Conservation in Namibia Project, which has played a significant role in reducing poaching by 83% over the past five years. Rhino tourism activities have generated over $1,000,000 since 2012.  This acknowledgement also comes with a $25,000 award, which will be used to continue the important work on the ground in Namibia.

A Significant Achievement Award for the Lowland Tapir Conservation Project was presented to the Houston Zoo, along with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Walt Disney World Resorts, Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, supporting the crucial long-term work of Dr. Pati Medici, a leading researcher working with tapirs in South America.

A Significant Achievement Award for the Okapi Conservation Project was also presented to Houston Zoo, joining eight institutions protecting the world’s largest population of okapi in the turbulent environment of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The zoo is honored to be recognized with these awards and proud to be part of an impressive group of organizations and wildlife conservation partners making a positive global difference for 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.

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!

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.

 

Malagasy Student at Rice University is Saving Lemurs in the Wild

From left: Houston Zoo Senior Director of Wildlife Conservation, Hasinala Ramangason, Rice University Professor Dr. Amy Dunham, and Houston Zoo Director of Madagascar Programs Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy

The Houston Zoo seeks opportunities to support current and future conservation leaders locally and around the world.  In doing so, we can help to ensure that the future is filled with leaders ready to save animals from extinction. Rice University has been working in Madagascar for many years now and several years ago we discovered our Madagascar conservation efforts aligned.  In 2018, we provided a fellowship for a Malagasy student to attend Rice University. Here is his story:  

Hello Everyone! My name is Hasinala and I am a visiting scholar at Rice University and Houston Zoo Conservation Fellow. I recently received my Masters degree in Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution from my home university in France.  I am originally from Madagascar, but moved to France in 2011, right after I graduated from high school in order to further my education. Despite my move to France several years ago, growing up in Madagascar, the world’s most biodiverse island, has definitely influenced my career goals and research interests. While I spent most my academic career in France, I have always been focused on returning to Madagascar. This is why I have done most of my research in Madagascar, studying their most iconic animals – the lemurs!

Choosing your advisor and where you are going to conduct your research for your Master’s thesis is of crucial importance as it will influence, to a certain extent, your future endeavors and what type of research you specialize in. I first heard about Dr. Amy Dunham, my advisor at Rice, a couple of years ago, when I met one of her former Malagasy PhD students, Onja Razafindratsima, in a research station in Madagascar. A year ago, when I first started to look for a research team to host me, Dr. Dunham was the first person I contacted among a list of +20 researchers, but lack of funding made it impossible for us to work together. While disappointing, I continued on my quest, and after several months I finally secured an internship with another research team conducting work in Madagascar. I couldn’t wait to get to work, but unfortunately nature had other plans. A plague outbreak started in Madagascar, causing the research team to postpone their trip, and once again I found myself without an internship. I desperately contacted Onja Razafindratsima, looking for labs that would host me. She suggested that I reach out to Dr. Dunham again and take another shot at collaborating with one another. A few weeks later, and against all odds, Dr. Dunham had managed to secure a fellowship for me working with her at Rice University thanks to the generosity of the Houston Zoo. The next thing I knew, I was at Rice University conducting research on seed dispersal by birds and lemurs and racing against time to wrap up my thesis. This has been, by far, the most exciting internship I’ve ever had! The main outcome of this research project has been to show that birds and lemurs, through seed dispersal, are crucial for the regeneration of forest gaps that were created by major cyclones in Madagascar. With climate change, it is expected that cyclone will be more frequent and more intense. This will cause more damage to tropical forests, and consequently there will be even more reliance on birds and lemurs to regenerate forests.

This research project has really ignited my interest for research in tropical ecology and conservation, and I am truly grateful to the Houston Zoo for making this possible. My next step ideally would be enrolling as a PhD student within the same research lab, but as you may have guessed, funding a PhD is a whole other ball game!

August’s Featured Member: Nancy Hyde

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 August’s Featured Member: Nancy Hyde.


We asked Nancy to share a few words about what being Zoo Members means to her. Here’s what she had to say.

“I love my zoo membership! It is a special place where I can spend time with my grandchildren and enjoy nature. I have been a member of the zoo for 9 years since joining in 2009. I decided to join because of the animals and the activities.  There are always exciting new exhibits, such as when the Gorilla exhibit opened.  I also enjoy knowing that my membership helps support animals at the zoo as well as Texas Wildlife.

My husband and I take frequent “weekend walks” through the zoo to see what the animals are up to while getting in some exercise. We probably come to the zoo about 2 times a month on average. Once my first grandchild was born I couldn’t wait to take him on his first trip to the zoo!  He loves seeing the fish swimming in the fish house, watching the elephants, and playing in the piranha tunnel in the Close Encounters exhibit.

I frequently teach him animal names and sounds – now that he is 2 and a half years old he loves pointing to them and identifying them and studies them more closely. I am excited for when my other two grandchildren are a little older so I can start teaching them all about the animals. We also enjoy the family attractions like the carousel and feeding the giraffes. The Children’s Zoo is wonderful.

We have a certain path we always take when we go tot he zoo. We start out with the meerkats and work our way to the elephants, and then onward to the gorillas and chimps.  Of course the giraffes are right after and then we wrap up with the seals and Natural Encounters exhibit.  This allows us to see all of our favorite animals!

My daughter has had such a great time when I have invited her using my guest pass that she decided to get a family membership in 2017. We are looking forward to many more years enjoying the Houston Zoo as a family!”

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

Zoo Keeper Skills – Operant Conditioning

Written by Kathy Watkins

Have you ever wondered what we do when a tiger has a sore tooth or a black bear has a stomach ache? With your dog, you can open his mouth or you can pick your cat up and carry her to the vet. It can get kind of tricky when you work with carnivores who are built to eat and hunt. We have to be very careful when we work around these dangerous predators so we use operant conditioning training, allowing the animals to voluntarily participate in their care. Our job is to make sure we give the best care possible and to ensure everyone stays safe and that takes a lot of teamwork.

We have a leopard who was trained to allow us to put ointment on a sore on his tail thanks to Ben’s training plan. When our Africa Painted Dog’s were getting ready to move to their new home, Tori trained them to go into the crate for a smooth drive. Our clouded leopard will let us get images of her belly thanks to Danielle’s work. With Cortney’s help, bears have been trained to accept the injection that helps them to fall asleep so we can safely treat them. As you can imagine, moving a 545 pound lion takes some team work! Keepers like Jordan and Paul have been crucial in helping with lion sedations because they are great about staying calm, jumping in quickly when needed and they are comfortable holding up the head of a sleeping lion as we move them to our state-of-the-art vet hospital. Talk about brave! Even the newest additions to the carnivore team, Alicia and Megan have been a huge help when it comes to assisting the vets during procedures and stepping in when needed. By working together with multiple departments in the zoo, the carnivore team provides world class care to the meat-eating animals that call the Houston Zoo home. As the carnivore supervisor, I am thankful for the hard work and dedication of the carnivore staff, and I am lucky to be a part of such a great team.

Search Blog & Website
[jetpack_subscription_form title="Subscribe to the Blog" subscribe_text="Enter your email address to subscribe and receive new blog posts by email."]
Houston Zoo Facebook Page
Animals In Action

Recent Videos

[youtube_channel]