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!

Family Programs

The fun never stops at the Houston Zoo! As part of our mission to connect communities with animals, inspiring action to save wildlife, the Zoo offers several family-geared experiences to get you outside exploring nature. Play, explore, learn and grow both at the Zoo and at natural spaces in Houston and beyond.

Looking for ways to connect your adventure-seeking family with our native Houston environment? Look no further than our Family Adventure Programs! Experience truly one of a kind, immersive adventures all over Houston and the surrounding gulf coast area.

Family Nature Club is an opportunity for families to explore the natural world together at various parks and nature centers around the Houston area. Join other parents and caregivers in knowing that you are providing your little one with meaningful opportunities for exploration and play, instilling confidence in them and increasing their sense of wonder and awe for nature close to home. Come explore with us as we take a nature walk through Sheldon Lake State Park, May 12 starting at 9 a.m. Spot native wildlife like herons and alligators, and climb the John Jacob Observation Tower for a panoramic view of the Bayou City.

Calling all night owls! Family Overnights are back with brand new adventures. Join us for Zoo Overnight: Nocturnal Nights, a special after-hours event, May 12 starting at 7 p.m. We’ll see what the animals are up to at dusk on a guided hike around the Zoo and meet endangered animals up close as we camp out indoors in our Brown Education Center.

Summer’s right around the corner, and what better way to have fun than to join your child for Camp Zoofari Family Camp? You and your camper are invited to two action-packed days of animal-themed adventure. Learn all about the care and enrichment Zoo residents receive as you partake in camp games, parents versus children challenges and more! Family camps will be offered July 2 – 3 and July 5 -6. Camps start at 8:45 a.m. and end at 3:45 p.m.

And last, but most certainly not least, is the grand adventure for those that are seriously committed to getting out in nature. As part of our Family Travel Program, join the Houston Zoo for Yellowstone: A Family Adventure, June 25 – 30. This truly one-of-a-kind experience will take you to two of the world’s most beautiful and wild-life abundant hotspots—Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park! Participate in a Scenic Float Trip on Snake River, view wildlife in Oxbow Bend, hike Trout Lake in Lamar Valley, explore the Old Faithful area and more! Can you believe there’s more? This exclusive program is limited to six families, so sign up today for the adventure of a lifetime.

Family connections and experiences are critically important, and what better opportunity to create memories than to get outside and explore our natural world together. We can’t wait to see you and your family at our next event. For event dates and more information, visit www.houstonzoo.org/experiences/families/. Register today!

Representing the Houston Zoo’s Mission

Today the Houston Zoo unveiled exciting plans for the future. We’re transforming the very heart of the Zoo and taking our visitors around the world from the far reaches of South America and the Galapagos Islands to our very own Texas wetlands. These projects are the physical expression of our mission to connect communities with animals to inspire action to save wildlife.

Our commitment to our mission goes deeper than our physical footprint. We are passionately committed to living this mission every day, in everything we do. To more effectively express the Zoo’s mission and vision visually, we are proud to introduce a new Houston Zoo logo.

The new Houston Zoo logo is fresh and crisp, and it embodies what the Houston Zoo stands for today. It symbolizes the connection we share with the natural world around us and reflects our commitment to saving animals in the wild. It’s built of two hands, which emphasizes the critical role people play in saving wildlife; the green colors reflect natural landscapes; and the “Z” that has been a part of the Houston Zoo logo for so many years still has its place, in a new, modern way.

To craft this new visual identity, we worked with local design firm Principle. They met with Zoo stakeholders, conducted many interviews, sketched more than 400 ideas, presented concepts, and worked with us to finalize what you see today. We could not be more pleased with our partnership with their firm and the work they have done with us.

Soon you’ll start seeing the Houston Zoo logo around town, online, globally at our conservation partner sites, and when you visit the Zoo. When you see it, we hope you will be reminded of everything it stands for. We hope you will be inspired to see the animals at the Houston Zoo and to help save them in the wild.

Toothbrush Recycling at the Houston Zoo

Did you brush your teeth this morning? Use floss?  I did!  What do you do with that toothbrush when you get a new one?

We all need toothbrushes but, they cannot be recycled with general recyclables. Over 1 BILLION toothbrushes are thrown away in the US every year!     Here is the good news, the Houston Zoo is offering you an alternative to just throwing it away.  You can now recycle toothbrushes, toothpaste tubes, floss containers and toothbrush packaging at the zoo.

Colgate has partnered with Terrracycle to offer a program to turn these objects into school supplies for the Kids in Need Foundation! The items they collect are used to make bags, folders and other supplies.

The Children’s Zoo recently collected items like these from staff for a “Plastic Free July Challenge”. They collected 31 toothpaste tubes, 6 empty toothbrush packages, 4 floss containers and 50 toothbrushes.  That came to 2.5 pounds of plastic that didn’t go to the landfill!  If the Zoo Staff can collect that much in just one month, just think about the impact we could have if we ALL recycle our toothbrushes and dental hygiene items.

Even better news, there is an added bonus. If you bring your items to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, you will get points to spend in the shop!  It is suggested that you replace your toothbrush every 3 months, so if you are due for a new one this month the timing is perfect!  You can drop off your items in the designated recycle bin in the Swap Shop.  Please cut toothpaste tubes down the side with scissors and rinse out any toothpaste residue prior to bringing them in.  (please note that electric toothbrushes and battery toothbrushes are not recyclable with this program)

Another way to help keep this extra plastic out of the trash is to buy an eco-friendly toothbrush, such as the “Humble Brush” or another bamboo toothbrush which can be found online at humblesmile.org or Amazon.com.

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

Your Visit Helps to Provide Vital Training to Snake Saving Partner Murthy

Murthy Kantimahanti

During the last week of January, we had the pleasure of hosting one of our newest team members, Murthy Kantimahanti here at the Houston Zoo. Murthy, who works to save snakes in India, was brought to the Houston Zoo in order to train with zoo staff and expand his skill set while sharing his knowledge with our team members at the same time! These vital training sessions are made possible through a portion of your admission ticket going towards supporting partners like Murthy, who are hard at work all around the globe to save wildlife.

Murthy works in the Eastern Ghats, located in Southern India, to improve relationships between humans and snakes, and build local community support for snake conservation. Fear and lack of knowledge about snakes has led to a rise in the killing of many snake species, including the king cobra. Murthy and his team are working to transform the fear of snakes into a respect and appreciation for the important role that snakes play in the ecosystem. Snakes are an important species to control rodent populations that spread deadly diseases.

Murthy meets with guests during a keeper chat at the reptile house

While in town, Murthy was able to spend a great deal of time with the herpetology team, learning more about husbandry for snakes and reptiles. Simply put, husbandry refers to the handling and care of different species. This is an important skill to have when working with any animal, and good husbandry skills are essential when handling venomous snakes. Murthy and the team were also able to brainstorm ideas on building local community support for snake conservation; a priority for Murthy’s project and something our herpetology team strives to do for snake species native to Texas.

Murthy makes friends with the conservation education team’s resident snake

 

Murthy also had the opportunity to talk with guests during keeper chats at the reptile house, as well as presenting his work to zoo staff and meeting with the conservation education team where he discovered their resident snake! Getting to spend time within all different sections of the zoo was extremely important to Murthy, and he is very excited to take what he learned here back to India: “The exposure visits for conservation partners are incredibly useful not only to exchange information, but also better understand the role of zoos in conservation. It will benefit our field projects as well through interactions with various sections in the zoo and tailoring those learnings to apply in local conditions back home.”

If you didn’t have the opportunity to meet Murthy, don’t worry – Fox 26 came to interview him and the herpetology team! You can watch the interview here:

To keep up with Murthy and is team follow the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society on Facebook, and don’t forget to drop by the reptile house on your next visit to the zoo to see our king cobra – the species Murthy is protecting in the wild!

March’s Featured Member: Karla Hamilton

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 March’s Featured Member: Karla Hamilton.


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

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“I love being a member of the Houston Zoo. In June of 2010, I went to The Houston Museum of Natural Science everyday to see Lois the Corpse flower while she was blooming. In September of 2011, a friend of mine called to tell me about Pewtunia the Corpse flower at the Houston Zoo. I immediately went down there to see her and became a member of the Zoo that day! I try to get to the Zoo every member morning as my schedule allows. I am a freelance artist and calligrapher and love taking pictures for my own pleasure and to incorporate in my drawings. I love talking to the keepers and appreciate the love they have for the animals and their jobs. I also am a member because I see that the Houston Zoo is a vital part to bringing awareness to the plights of animals in the wild and hope my small contribution is a help.

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Also I appreciate how some of the animals were rescued from bad situations and given a better life at the Zoo! I have become fascinated with the Gorillas and the Red River Hogs. I love seeing the babies that have been born there, especially the Flamingos and how fast those little white balls of fluff grow. I try to always see the Cats (I have 3 house cats of my own) and was sad when Jonathan died, but he had a good life. After December’s Member morning, I have now put the Elephants on my regular walk. I can’t wait to see their new environment. I am a great fan of Dinosaurs and was thrilled by the Dinosaur exhibit I went twice. Each month I try to see either the Reptile house, Birds, Bugs, Aquarium and Natural Encounters. There is so much to see and learn about I never get tired of going and appreciate the extra perks like Photo day and the Horticultural tour!”


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

Welcome to The Year of the Bird!

Written by Jessica Clark


We here at the Houston Zoo are very excited to be participating in monthly events to get the word out on how important and cool birds are. The month of February is when The National Audubon Society does their Great Backyard Bird Count. This count helps researchers at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society learn more about how birds are doing, and how to protect them and the environment. A bunch of us at the Zoo love to go out on our time and bird watch. So, we thought it would be fun to give you some bird watching tips.

  1. Find a good field guide. The ones we like here, are Sibley’s Guide to Birds and National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of North America is a classic. But if you want photograph’s instead of drawings, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America and the Kaufman Field Guide to the Birds of North America are the way to go. There are also some great field guide apps.

2. Get a decent pair of binoculars. For birding you want a magnification of 8 or 10. So look for a pair that says it is 8×42 or 10×42, for example. Binoculars fit everybody’s eyes differently, so head to a sporting goods store and try a few out. They also come in a large price range, but there are some good, inexpensive ones out there. And don’t forget that strap!

  1. Find out what to expect to find. If you are going to a park (and Texas has some awesome state and local parks) see if they have a checklist. Some of them have them online and some you can pick up at the ranger offices. These checklists will tell what you may see while visiting a park. They are usually categorized by time of year you may see the bird and how common they are.

There are also some websites that tell you birds you can find in your area if you are doing some backyard or roadside birding.

  1. Learn the four-step of identification. What is the bird’s size and shape; what its main color pattern; take note of its behavior; and factor in what habitat it’s in. Do a little research on where the birds will be. Are they going to be in the tree tops, on the ground, or in the water for example. The internet and your field guide should be able to help with this. Don’t want to be wasting your time looking for an arboreal dwelling bird if you are in scrublands or a duck in the desert.

5. Find a birding group. Your local Audubon website, can let you know if there are groups or trips in your area. Like us here at the zoo, birders love to talk about birds.

  1. Record your sightings. Buy a diary to help you keep track of what and where you have seen birds. There are so many birds, it is easy to forget what you have seen. There are also apps for that. The Ebird app is a great one and you can use it to let other birders know what you have seen.

Houston is a wonderful place for birding because we are on the migratory bird route. You can see many varied species in the area. We took a thirty-minute walk just around Herman park a few days ago and saw 17 different species. From water birds like Ring- billed ducks, Pie – billed grebes, Gadwalls, American coots, Black- bellied whistling ducks and both Double crested and Neo tropic cormorants, to Robins, Yellow – rumped warblers, Pine warblers, Cardinals and Blue Jays.  We even saw a juvenile Bald eagle flying with a Red – tailed Hawk.

So, get out there, enjoy nature, and go birding!

 

In Honor of World Pangolin Day, Hear the Latest on Wildlife Warrior Elisa’s Journey to Texas and Her Quest to Save Pangolins in the Wild

Elisa and Celina strike a pose with a three-banded armadillo at the conservation stage

If you made a visit to the zoo during the last week of January, you may have been among our lucky visitors that had the chance to meet Elisa Panjang, a Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior that works with pangolins in Malaysia. Impressed by her passion about the wildlife she has grown up with and her commitment to saving this fascinating creature from extinction, Houston Zoo staff chose Elisa, a long-time partner of the zoo, as a 2017 recipient of the Wildlife Warrior Award. This award is funded through the sale of saving wildlife bracelets sold by the admissions team here at the zoo, and recognizes exceptional individuals from our wildlife conservation partner programs and provides them with an experience that will increase their abilities/knowledge. Elisa was stateside for a conference in Florida, so we jumped at the chance to bring her to town for a few days to meet with guests and staff!

Elisa meets with the admissions team who selected her to receive the Wildlife Warrior Award in 2017

 

 

Elisa’s short visit was packed with activities, like touring the zoo and visiting with a handful of departments including veterinary staff, the development team, and conservation education. Elisa did a keeper chat with Ali from the Children’s Zoo introducing guests to a three-banded armadillo. Together, they were able to share information about both of these unique creatures and talk about some of the characteristics they share like having keratin that creates hard surfaces around their bodies, eating ants and termites, and rolling into a ball in order to protect themselves from danger. Elisa also did a joint presentation for staff with Houston Zoo veterinary technician Jess Jimerson, who traveled to Vietnam last year to work with pangolins at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. Both women were able to talk about their experiences working in the field, and what it will take to save pangolins in the wild. Reflecting on her time at the zoo, Elisa said: “My trip to the Houston Zoo was amazing, and seeing all of the dedicated zoo staff protecting and conserving wildlife gives me hope that those of us in the field are not alone.”

Elisa and Ali talk with curious young guests

After a whirlwind trip, Elisa returned back to Malaysia, but will be on the road again soon! With the funds from the Wildlife Warrior Award, Elisa will join the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program in Vietnam, a well-known Sunda pangolin rescue and rehabilitation center. She hopes to learn husbandry skills to care for pangolins and gain an insight into conservation issues faced in Vietnam, and what is being done to save their wildlife, which will be important for Elisa to experience herself and eventually use this knowledge and skills to help wildlife in her country. We are so grateful for the time we had with Elisa, and can’t wait to hear more about her work in the coming months!

While different in appearance, the pangolin has a lot in common with our state animal, the armadillo!

Anchors for the Ocean: Your Visit to the Zoo Helps Protect Marine Species around the Globe

It is no secret that the Houston Zoo has been hard at work to protect our local marine wildlife by going plastic bag and bottle free, participating in sea turtle surveys and crab trap clean-ups, and organizing staff led jetty clean-ups down in Surfside. Many of you have even joined us on our journey by pledging to go plastic bag free when we hosted the Washed Ashore exhibit back in 2016 – but your impact doesn’t stop there! Each time you visit the Houston Zoo to see marine species like sea turtles and sharks, a portion of your admission ticket goes to support MarAlliance in their work to save ocean wildlife. While the zoo may be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of any major city, many members of our extended zoo family are hard at work saving wildlife in both remote and metropolitan areas all around the globe! One of these partners, MarAlliance, works to protect threatened marine species in Central America, Micronesia, and West Africa.

MarAlliance aims to improve the understanding and conservation of threatened marine species and their habitats, especially sharks and rays, on the Mesoamerican reef. This is done by monitoring the abundance and characteristics of species in key sites, which in turn creates new knowledge that can be shared throughout local and global communities. MarAlliance trains local fishermen to help with research at sea and engage local communities in order to obtain information on sightings of important species. The knowledge gained from this work is shared in many different formats to many different audiences, from the youngest audiences in pre-schools all the way to politicians and other decision-makers. Through this, they hope to inspire a sense of wonder about the ocean, to promote sustainable tourism, and to foster the effectiveness of marine protected areas.

MarAlliance had a fantastic year in 2017 and wanted to share these updates will all of you:

  • Educated thousands of kids on marine wildlife and conservation strategies and took hundreds to meet and study fish like sharks, rays, and grouper.
  • During 233 days of work in the field conducted with fishers, students and community-leaders, thousands of fish were counted as teams swam over 250 km (155 miles) of coastal and reef habitats. This is just shy of the distance you would travel from the Houston Zoo to Austin, Texas!
  • Uncovered new information on fisheries, species behavior and habitats that is pushing the frontiers of science and informing both management decisions and conservation action.
  • Put small tags on little known sharks of the deep waters, and tracked increasingly threatened whale sharks, manta rays and tiger sharks to better understand how they move about in the ocean, and reinforce strategies for protection.

There is never a dull moment for our friends at MarAlliance! We are extremely proud of all of the hard work MarAlliance has put in this year to save marine species, and we can’t wait to see all of the amazing things they are able to accomplish in the new year. Remember, every time you visit the zoo you are helping to support projects like this one – thank you for your help in saving animals in the wild!

The March of the Flamingos: A look into Flamingo “Dating”

Written by Carrie Mansfield


As we approach the spring season, you may notice our Chilean Flamingos becoming more active than usual. Chilean Flamingo courtship happens long before they even begin to build their nests in the summer time. Around January and February, our flock at the Houston Zoo can be seen head flagging, which is one of the first breeding behaviors they start to display. The flamingos will elongate their necks as much as possible and move their heads side to side, looking a lot like flags blowing in the wind.

In March and April, the flock will begin to do wing displays. Some can be seen standing tall and sticking their wings straight out to their sides. Others can be seen leaning forward, like a bow, and flipping their wings straight up to the sky. Some even do a wing display including one of their legs. They will stretch their leg back and to the side while simultaneously stretching their wing on the same side.

Once it gets closer to May, our flock can be seen marching around the island in their exhibit. This is by far my favorite behavior they do, because the whole flock will do it together. This is the indication that the flock is ready to start breeding and they will soon start to pair off. The females will choose the male that has the most impressive dance moves. Once paired off, you can spot the males closely following their female mate wherever they go.

I know a lot of this may be hard to picture, so here is a video from National Geographic of a flamingo flock marching.

Some of our Conservation Education team have also performed an interpretive dance depicting flamingo breeding behaviors. Enjoy.

 

Take some time on your next visit to the zoo to observe our Chilean Flamingo flock and see if you can spot any of these unique behaviors.

And if you’re looking for environmentally friendly ways to impress your sweetheart this Valentine’s day, here are a few things you can do:

  • Make a stuffed animal out of old clothing. The gift will be one of a kind and a great way to upcycle clothes you aren’t using anymore
  • Give a potted plant instead of a bouquet of flowers. A potted plant can be enjoyed for many years
  • If you take your special someone out for dinner, say no to the straw and bring your own Tupperware for leftovers. This will help prevent more plastic waste from entering our oceans
  • Or the best gift of all: create your own jazzy flamingo dance. Who doesn’t love a good dance partner?!

Thanks for reading and I hope that you will join us and National Geographic in the celebration of the year of the bird!

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