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

While people around the world celebrated orangutan day this past Sunday, we took 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.

Local High School Student is Saving Wildlife, One Bottle of Water at a Time

This blog is written by Carolyn Jess, a high school student who helped us out as a guest blogger from 2013-2016 with a focus on native wildlife. Carolyn reached out to the Houston Zoo last year for advice on installing a water bottle refill station. Read on for her successes.

My high school is BIG. We are a 6A school with around 2,400 students and 250 teachers. We excel at many things – we have tons of school pride, great love for one another, and a strong desire to help others every chance we get…but the one thing we are really good at? Recycling. Most of our classrooms have gone paperless, but recycling bins are abundant for those that still need paper. In fact, there are recycling bins everywhere you look – we all know where the big green recycling bins are should we need them, and everyone recycles their plastic water bottles in a specially made bin. We know how to recycle.

But recently, I started thinking, are we too good at it? Is that even possible? It seems like our recycling bins are always filled to the brim, and in some cases overflowing. Plastic bottles will spill out, and despite the dedication of the recycling team and custodians, excess bottles end up in the trash. Plenty of students bring their own refillable bottle, but the fountains on campus are not built to easily refill a bottle. Students stand awkwardly at the fountain trying to hold the bottle at the right angle, and most can only get the bottle filled halfway before they have to rush off in order to beat the tardy bell. As a result, many of the students who try to do the right thing end up retiring their reusable bottles and resort to using the throw away kind since they are a faster and easier option. At the rate we are going, with 2,400 students using 2 bottles a day, 5 days a week we are looking at 24,000 plastic bottles discarded EVERY WEEK.

Something needed to be done to fix our plastic problem, so I started researching refillable water bottle stations. I wasn’t sure about costs, installation, or maintenance, but after looking at various makes, models, and prices, I found a great online resource called becausewater.com. After reading their website, I made contact with them and our question and answer session began. They offered so much assistance when it came to choosing the right model for my campus and figuring out the associated costs. Once I knew my options, I typed up a proposal and timeline for my school principle. I scheduled a meeting with her and explained what exactly it was that I wanted to do and how I would go about getting a unit installed.

It took a little while, but I finally got the go ahead to start fundraising to pay for the unit! With the help of my student council, we will have 3 fundraisers during the upcoming school year and use some of our homecoming dance proceeds to pay for the unit. The principal has decided to match our efforts – If we can raise the funds to buy and install one station on our main campus, she will get one and have it installed on our freshman campus. We will get the district’s maintenance staff to install the unit to cut down on costs, and I will be on hand to help with the instillation process as much as I am allowed. Once the unit is installed, I know our students and staff will be excited to start filling up their bottles with ease, plus it will be fun for them to see the counter at the top of the fountain showing how they are minimizing plastic waste in our environment! I am a senior this year and want to leave my school knowing that I was able to take action to help our environment and our local wildlife.

My campus is big, and it has a big heart. I hope that there is a student next year, that continues with this plan and installs another unit, and another, until all our fountains have the water bottle refill option. With these small steps come big results, 2400 times two times five, to be exact. Taking action like this leads to helping our animals in the wild, one plastic bottle at a time.

July’s Featured Member – Ashley England

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 July’s Featured Member: Ashley England.


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

“I became a member in 2014 when my daughter was born. The Houston Zoo perfect to bring her as an infant, giving me an interesting place to get out and about while allowing her to experience new sights and sounds. At first, she viewed the zoo from the comfort of a baby carrier, but as she grew, she began to explore every corner all on her own. After years of coming several times a month, she now knows the perfect route to see all her favorite animals and still attend most of the keeper talks held throughout the day. Some mornings are dedicated to watching the elephant baths and learning more about their personalities from their keepers, others we head straight to the McGovern’s Children’s Zoo to visit with the native Texas animals followed by some time at the amazing new Nature Play area.

One of our favorite parts of the zoo is the Swap Shop. An avid collector of ‘treasures’, she was given the perfect place to bring objects found on walks and learn more about them. This has grown into a family activity that encourages her to be more aware of the world around her and fosters a spirit of exploration. Her excitement in finding an antler shed or a burr oak acorn is only topped when she gets to show them to Ms. Sarah.  She loves to visit with the Swap Shop crew and share all she has learned about her items, then spend time closely examining them under the magnifying glasses.

I have been amazed at the number of educational opportunities the Houston Zoo provides for both of us. The Keeper talkers teach us about conservation and steps we can take to help preserve the natural world while interacting with some of the animals. ZooSprouts with Mrs. Leia focuses on different species and their habitats each month. During our visit to the bug house with her in January,  we learned about the important jobs of insects and were able to feed Millie the three banded armadillo meal worms. Even our visits to feed the giraffes on the platform are packed full of information about the zoo’s efforts to support endangered species and help conservation efforts in other parts of the world.

I appreciate the flexibility that membership provides. We prefer to dedicate an entire day to our visits, but our membership makes it easy to drop in for just a couple of hours in the morning before a winter cold front blows through, or for a short visit after a rainstorm has cooled off a hot summer day. It even helps keep us in the loop about events happening at the zoo, like preview nights for Zoo Lights, and brings us up to date on all the newest zoo baby announcements.  We simply love the Houston Zoo and are grateful to have such a wonderful place to visit and enjoy!”

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

Amazon to Andes Field Course Inspires Youth to Save Wildlife

Houston Zoo Galapagos conservation partner, Ecology Project International (EPI)  is educating local kids on the Galapagos Islands about the wildlife that lives in their area, while engaging them in hands-on activities to protect species (beach cleanups, monitoring sea turtle nests, etc.). This year the Houston Zoo supported development opportunities for EPI students.  A student named Ibrahi recently took part in EPI’s “Amazon to Andes” field course with the Houston Zoo’s support. This is Ibrahi’s story: 

Alongside a number of students from California, we went to the Amazon to Andes Course of EPI which covers several different locations within the Amazon rainforest, the Andean cloud forest, and paramo (a treeless, elevated area in South America). During the course, we fulfilled many amazing activities, and also took part in some new activities that not all people have access to. First, we made new friends because as a Mola Mola Eco-club member, we got to know students from the US, and also reconnect with one chaperone who was once a student in the Galapagos Islands Ecology Course. During our time in the field, we had to go kayaking on the river in order to get to our camping site, which was both a new and incredible experience. We also had the opportunity to interact with a Kichwa community (the only community within the national park), and learned how to make the famous “chicha”, which is a traditional beverage.

Taking a night walk in the Amazon rainforest in the search of caiman’s hatchlings was amazing, even if we didn’t end up spotting any! Making our way up to the Andean part of Ecuador was great because special birds received us – hummingbirds! I learned more about the differences between ecosystems and how to use satellite telemetry in order to find species. In the mountains, we were in search of Andean Bears and Tapirs, which are both endangered species. We weren’t lucky enough to see both animals, but an Andean male tapir, wearing a collar allowed us to track him using satellite telemetry, putting the skills we had learned to good use.

Throughout this experience we learned a lot about our ecological footprint and how we can reduce it by changing our buying habits as consumers. As I return home to study at university, I hope to make changes in order to reduce my ecological footprint and live more sustainably. By continuing in the field of wildlife conservation, I hope to become a marine biologist to do my own research about sea turtles.

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