Meet Wesley

If you are a regular here at the Houston Zoo, you might have noticed an unfamiliar animal face in the John P. McGovern’s Children Zoo. It is a very interesting and unique face, and one that most guests might not recognize immediately. While we are in the midst of some rearranging and exhibit construction, one of our very special Ambassador Animals has been taking a daily vacation out on exhibit. Wesley has been enjoying his time in the public eye, but he has left many guests scratching their heads trying to figure out just exactly what type of animal he is.

Keepers have gotten many different guesses from guests over the past few weeks, but we will just go ahead and tell you that Wesley is a Patagonian cavy or mara. While he may look similar to a rabbit, he is not actually closely related to rabbits. Wesley is a type of rodent, and you could think of him as a giant version of a guinea pig, or a smaller version of a capybara.

Rodents are one of the most diverse groups of mammals on the planet, and they comprise over 40% of all mammal species!* Rodents can look very different, but the one thing they have in common is their teeth. All rodents have two pairs of incisors, their front teeth, that continue growing for their entire lives. Rodents use their teeth in many different ways: beavers gnaw down trees to build dams and lodges, porcupines eat bark and twigs from trees and mole rats use their teeth to excavate their burrows.

Cavies/maras, like Wesley, can be found on the pampas grass plains of Argentina. Maras are grazing animals. They feed on grasses and live in communal burrows, which they dig themselves. Maras use their long legs to evade predators, and can reach speeds of 20 – 25 mph. Maras are considered “threatened” in the wild. The major threats they face are habitat loss and competition from invasive species, such as European hares.

By visiting the Houston Zoo and recycling your paper products, you can help save animals like Wesley in the wild.

*Animal Diversity Web – University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

Sea Turtle Rescues in Christmas Bay, Part 2

Many of you may remember a post from a few weeks back about Justin, a local community member, and sea turtle superhero. Justin has a passion for sea turtles, and while he works full-time in the city, you can find him during his down time saving sea turtles all along the Texas Coast. The last time we caught up with Justin, he and his son Trenton had come to the aid of almost a dozen sea turtles that had been cold-stunned in early December. Since sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, they have to use the environment and sun to regulate their body temperature. If the water temperature drops too quickly and the turtles can’t get to warmer waters, their bodies shut down and need help. With the recent cold front, Justin and his three children Cheyenne, Trenton, and Emma, headed back out to Christmas Bay in search of turtles in need of rescue.

Justin was able to make it out to Christmas Bay four days during the first week of January, braving the worst of the cold weather. Over the course of the week, Justin and his kids picked up a total of 20 sea turtles! Unfortunately, 3 of these turtles had already passed away, but the 17 remaining turtles are receiving care from our partners at NOAA Fisheries in Galveston. The NOAA Fisheries Galveston Laboratory operates a sea turtle research and wild sea turtle rehabilitation center. This facility is the only one of its kind in the world, raising hundreds of turtles each year for fisheries and biological research while also serving as a sea turtle hospital for the upper Texas Gulf coast. The Houston Zoo assists NOAA with weekly sea turtle surveys along the Texas coast, and the veterinary team provides care for any sick or injured sea turtles that NOAA brings in. When speaking of NOAA, Justin said: “I will never be able to thank Lyndsey and the team in Galveston at NOAA enough for the work they do on a daily basis to rescue, rehabilitate, and ultimately release these beautiful animals back into the wild.” As for Justin, he’ll be out there for as long as the turtles need his help – after rescuing his first turtle entangled in line 6 or 7 years ago, he was hooked on what he refers to as both his passion, and obsession. While his wife dedicates her time to pet rescue efforts, Justin says there’s nothing he would rather do with his time than rescue sea turtles and make sure they are able to return safely back into the wild.

If temperatures drop quickly in our area, please be on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles in the bay. If you find one, please report it immediately by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.

Zoo Crew Alumna Reflects on Experiences

Written by Maya Kanani
Five years ago, I first stepped foot into the Brown Education Center at the Houston Zoo. I had visited the zoo as a child, but never been inside that building in particular. Visiting for orientation for Zoo Crew, I knew very few people, and was embarking on a journey unlike anything I had ever tried before. But, I am so glad I did because it led to some of the best experiences of my life.

Zoo Crew is a program which allows teenagers to learn about the inner workings of the zoo. There are numerous avenues down which they can go, including being a camp mentor, theatrical performer, a naturalist who teaches guests about specific animals, or even a junior zookeeper. Each of these paths teaches Zoo Crew members about the zoo, animals, and guest interactions.

I began the program as a Camp Mentor. As a 13 year old, I was generally placed in camps with younger kids, but through my three years of working with Camp Zoofari, I gradually had the opportunity to work with a wide array of age groups and campers. My fourth year, I was selected to be a Junior Zookeeper in Kipp Aquarium. I continued in this position this past, my final, summer. The experiences taught me so much, but in addition to that, were incredibly memorable and unique.

Though I have had many, many unforgettable moments working at the zoo, the one that stands out to me most was from my last day. As I mentioned before, I worked in the aquarium, which houses the giant Pacific octopus. As a part of her enrichment, one of the things the octopus does is paint, a task which involves PVC pipe, lots of paint, and even more shrimp. As a last day gift, the keepers in the aquarium had her paint for me, and that painting, though abstract in subject matter, has so much meaning to me.

There is so much I could discuss in regards to my experiences as a part of Zoo Crew, but more than anything, I am just thankful for all of the opportunities I was given. When I found out that I was one of the recipients of the Zoo Crew scholarship, my first thought was how grateful I was that my hard work and dedication to the program had allowed me this opportunity. Everything I experienced through Zoo Crew, and now accepting this scholarship, has been nothing short of remarkable.

Through Zoo Crew, I learned, not only about conservation of habitats and animals, but also about the people who are so dedicated to protecting them. It truly opened my eyes to the impact people can play on the world when they make the effort to protect the earth, a lesson I will keep with me in all my future endeavors.

-Maya Kanani, 2017 Zoo Crew Scholarship Recipient

 


2017 Zoo Crew Scholarship Recipients

Every year, the Houston Zoo Teen Programs honors several exceptional teens from our Zoo Crew program with a $1,000 scholarship. Recipients are chosen based on their dedication and outstanding performance in the Zoo Crew program. These are teens who have dedicated countless hours of their time to educating our guests, mentoring our campers, and caring for our animals. The scholarships are funded by The Houston Zoo, Don and Diane Kendall, Karen Hinson, Bobbi Samuels, Barbara Goldfield, and generous donations from Houston Zoo Volunteers. This year we awarded five scholarships to five bright, passionate, and motivated teens. Meet the 2017 Zoo Crew scholarship recipients!

Maya Kanani

My name is Maya Kanani and I’m a senior at Bellaire High School this year. I joined Zoo Crew the summer before my eighth grade year, and have done it ever since. I began as a camp counsellor for Camp Zoofari, then transferred to working in Kipp Aquarium, which I have done for the past two years. I have loved everything about my experience as a part of the Zoo Crew team and have learned so much working with the staff there. Throughout my five years, I got to work with so many different people and animals, which opened my mind so much and led me to try new things. In college, I am looking into the liberal arts path, and possibly majoring in journalism. I have been a part of my school newspaper staff for three years, this year as both paper and online editor-in-chief, as well as been a photography student, and written for the Buzz Magazines for four years. I love both writing and photography and hope I can pursue both in college and my life after college.


Remi Pattyn

Hello, my name is Remi Pattyn and I am the first born outside of Europe in my family. I am currently entering my senior year of high school, and I plan on attending UNT or Texas State once I graduate. I’ve always had a passion for animals, and I’ve always been around zoos! As a member of Zoo Crew I have been given opportunities that very few people ever get in their lives, to follow and be a part of an organization and community that they want to spend so much of their time being a part of. Since starting my Zoo Crew career as a teen educator and just finishing this previous summer as a junior herpetology keeper, I have learned so much about myself and what I wanted to do with my future. It was getting to be around the zoo so much and getting to know some of the people that work here that has influenced my decision to get on the path towards becoming a keeper at the Houston Zoo. With the scholarship granted to me by the zoo I plan on studying ecology and/or wildlife biology in college. And with that education and my experience at the zoo I hope to return and get started on that career as a full time keeper at the Houston Zoo.


Julia Moacyr

Animals have always been my driving passion, as from a very young age I knew I had to work with all kinds of animals. The Zoo Crew program has solidified in my mind that after college I want to work at a zoo as a keeper in order to help take care of animals, and educate guests on the importance of conservation and wildlife. My plans are to go to Sam Houston State University and major in animal sciences, with a minor in wildlife management. I hope to intern at the Houston Zoo, while in college, and volunteer to get as much experience under my belt before graduating and applying for a job as a keeper. This program has given me some of the greatest memories I could ever have wished for, and I am very grateful to have been selected for this scholarship.


Emily Ostermaier

My name is Emily Ostermaier and I was honored to be a recipient of the 2017 Zoo Crew Scholarship! I am an art student at my high school and I also surf for fun! I play three instruments: piano, guitar, and clarinet. I have learned a lot while in Zoo Crew, including the need to conserve our environment and resources for the sake of the animals that share this planet with us. I also learned a lot about the care of various types of animals, ranging from the marine life in the aquarium to the primates, while being granted the opportunity to help keepers behind the scenes day-to-day. My experience here was one I will never forget. After 5 years of service, I decided that the best-fit field for me was one involving science. I am interested in pursuing a biological degree in Genetics as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University at College Station and then going onto Medical School to become a physician.


Sydney Han

I am a senior attending the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. There I love to play the flute, participate in STEM Club, and spend time with my friends. And although I am passionate about music, I plan to major in either Biology or Biochemistry in college (while continuing to play flute on the side). I have volunteered at the zoo for three years as a camp mentor and enjoy interacting with and teaching the kids all about the animals at the zoo. Volunteering has helped me gain a better understanding of habitat loss and the importance of conservation. It has also helped me see a future in working with kids. For the time being, I want to become a pediatrician, but I’m keeping my options open!

 

Elephant Population Increases on Island of Borneo

Our wildlife protection partners in Borneo have recently announced that the population of elephants has doubled over the past 10 years! 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.

Here at home we continue to promote these partnerships at our McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, giving our Houston community the opportunity to learn about our herd of elephants at the zoo, and their wild counterparts. To learn more about our partnerships and how you can help Bornean elephants on and off zoo grounds click here.

 

Mountain Gorilla Population on the Rise

The Houston Zoo loves its’ troop of gorillas, and we do everything we can to protect gorillas in the wild.

The critically endangered mountain gorilla can be found in three countries; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.  These gorillas have adapted to living higher up in the mountains and despite pressures from poaching, habitat loss, and disease, our wildlife partners in Africa have seen an increase in the mountain gorilla population over the last several years, thanks to dedicated protection efforts!

Here at the Houston Zoo we are proud to support a number of organizations that work tirelessly to protect mountain gorillas in the wild. Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT) runs after-school programs for local primary school students and community outreach efforts that promote both healthy living habits and gorilla conservation through education and empowerment in communities bordering Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Gorilla Doctors, an organization comprised of an international team of veterinarians, is the only group providing mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas with direct, hands-on care in the wild. In addition to monitoring gorilla health and providing medical care, the veterinary team further protects gorillas by supporting health programs for people and their animals living and working in and around gorilla habitat. GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center) provides care for rescued Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo and works alongside local communities to ensure gorilla survival in the wild. Facilities like GRACE are essential to this endangered species’ survival, and zoo staff is able to aid field researchers in meeting husbandry and management challenges for rescued gorillas housed at GRACE. The Houston Zoo acts as a resource to secure funding for these incredible programs, as well as offering training for project staff.

Each time you visit the zoo, you are helping to support these programs and protect gorillas in the wild! And remember, you can help to save gorilla habitat by recycling your cell phone and other handheld electronics during your next visit! These electronic devices contain a material called tantalum that is mined in areas where gorillas live – if we reuse and recycle these items, we can decrease the amount of mining that takes place in these vital habitats.

Seventh International Tapir Symposium Comes to Houston

Like most of us after reading that headline, you’re probably saying what in the world is a tapir, and why are they having a meeting? Tapirs are the largest land mammal in South America with females weighing up to 700 pounds! There are four species of tapir in the world, with three of the four species found in Latin America – Baird’s, lowland, and mountain. The fourth species, the Malayan tapir, is found in Southeast Asia. Here at the Houston Zoo, we have a family of Baird’s tapir.

While the tapirs may not have come to town, the specialists from all over the world that work with them did, and we enjoyed every moment of their visit. The symposium was made up of members from the Tapir Specialist Group (TSG) – a team we partner with to help save tapirs in the wild! The TSG is a global group of biologists, zoo professionals, researchers, and advocates dedicated to conserving tapirs and their habitat. The Houston Zoo works closely with this group’s Chair, Patricia Medici, to support a Lowland Tapir Project in Brazil. Every 2-3 years, the TSG will meet, giving these experts the opportunity to share their successes, struggles, thoughts, and ideas in order to work together and plan for the future of tapir conservation. The first part of the conference usually features paper and poster presentations, as well as keynote speakers, while the second part is devoted to workshops and round-tables addressing topics relevant to tapir conservation worldwide. Topics can range from veterinary and genetic issues, to husbandry and captive management, to environmental education and the involvement of local communities. It sounds like a lot of hard work packed into just five days, but don’t worry! Everyone at the symposium had the opportunity to get out and explore the city, and they even made a trip to visit all of us here at the zoo!

This year, we were proud to have our very own hoofed stock keepers John Scaramucci and Mary Fields present for the TSG about the Tapir SOS event we host here on zoo grounds each year. This event gives our zoo guests the opportunity to learn more about tapirs, to connect with field researchers, and learn fun and easy ways to help save these animals in the wild.

Gatherings such as this one have proven to be critical to the success of global conservation efforts. At first glance you may think that projects in Brazil and Malaysia have very little in common, or that field researchers and zookeepers play very different roles. However, when a meeting of the minds occurs, you find out just how much they all have in common, and how vital the exchange of ideas can be to the survival of a species like the tapir. We are honored to be a part of such a collaborative effort, and wish our extended family at the TSG luck as they return to their field sites!

To learn about what you can do to help save tapirs in the wild, click here.

November’s Featured Members: The Buchanan 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 November’s Featured Members: The Buchanan Family

We are thrilled to have been zoo members for almost a year now! Our membership was purchased as a Christmas gift for our family last year from Honey and Papa (Hanna’s mom and dad). We could not have asked for a better present, and have made so many wonderful memories. A zoo visit is always our first choice when looking to entertain out of town guests, family and friends. Last year was our first year to attend zoo lights and it was magical. Our children Annie (3) and Rhett (1) were mesmerized by all of the little twinkles, and managed to stay awake, entertained, and happy way past bedtime. When trying to decide how we were going to spend Annie’s birthday this past June, a morning at the zoo was an easy choice!

Our zoo routine usually consists of getting there early, enjoying snacks along the way, and ALWAYS seeing the elephants, gorillas, and giraffes. Feeding the giraffes and riding the zebra on the carousel are Annie’s favorite activities, while Rhett’s favorite is crawling in the fish tunnel inside the natural encounters exhibit. At our last visit one of the incredible zoo keepers went out of her way to let the kids pet Max, the super elephant herding dog as we were watching baby Joy. It made their day, and Max was just precious! The Houston zoo provides so many fun learning opportunities as well as family friendly events. We definitely look forward to renewing our membership again.

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

 

The Children’s Zoo’s Personal Artist

Have you ever noticed the amazing art work on the keeper chat sign in the Children’s Zoo?

There is one keeper in the Children’s Zoo responsible for that beautiful art. Her name is Nikki Blakely and she has been with the Houston Zoo for 4 years.  Her career here started with a part time position in April 2013 and she was promoted to full time in October of 2015.

Nikki is a primary keeper in our Ambassador Animal Building and takes care of  a wide variety of animals.  The Zoo’s Ambassador Animals are the animals you see at presentations, events and on Zoomobiles.   She is also a primary trainer on several animals, including one of her favorites, Luna the Virginia Opossum.

While Nikki isn’t the only Zookeeper with artistic talents, her art is what you are likely to see as you enter the Children’s Zoo.  We always have our Keeper Chat sign out in front of the Naturally Wild Swap Shop to let guests know what the Children’s Zoo chats are for the day.   (Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here form more info) As you can see, Nikki has used both flora and fauna for her inspiration.  She has also used her talents on some of the enrichment for the animals.

Nikki has been coming to the Houston Zoo her whole life.  Unlike many of us, she is a Native Houstonian.  She even stayed true to Texas as she chose a college.  She attending University of Houston and Texas A & M University earning a degree in Biology.  She has raised many animals at home too!  She has had horses, fish, birds and even chickens.  Currently her pets include a ball python, 2 cats and a dove.

What would Nikki like everyone to know about her job as a Zookeeper?  She says the job is very rewarding and in more ways than just being with the animals.  It has given her an outlet for connecting her artwork with guest enjoyment to make her job even richer.

The next time you are visiting the Children’s Zoo, take a look at the keeper chat sign.  And if you see Nikki on grounds, say hi and let her know how much we all appreciate what she does.

Happy Howlerween – Learn About our Howler Monkeys

Written by Rachel Sorge

One of the first animals you’ll see when you walk into our Wortham World of Primates complex at the Houston Zoo are our Black Howler Monkeys! However, 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.

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.

Here at the Houston Zoo we have three howler monkeys. Vida who is 23, Garcia, who is 21, and Ramone, who is 14. Vida and Garcia were both born here in Houston, but Ramone came to us in 2012 from the Palm Beach Zoo in Florida.

Ramone is very easily distinguishable from our two girls due to his black color, while Vida and Garcia are both tan-brown in color. 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. 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.

Our howler group 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 and they react best to food enrichment when there are frozen bananas involved. 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!

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

 

 

Bat Houses for the Bayou

Caoilin, Enya, Keenan, Skyler, Joaquin, Noe, and Lila built bat houses for the displaced bats of the Waugh Street Bridge.

The Waugh Street bridge, built over Buffalo Bayou, is a Houston landmark for bat watching. The flood waters from Buffalo Bayou during Hurricane Harvey caused the bats to leave their home under the bridge and take refuge elsewhere.

Seven young Houstonians took it upon themselves to help the displaced bats from Waugh Street Bridge by building them new homes in the form of bat houses. “My daughters and her friends were upset about the Waugh bridge bats so they responded by making these rocket houses,” said Woodland Heights resident, Alan. The plans for the rocket houses came from Bat Conservation International.

The new bat houses will be mounted along Buffalo Bayou, near the Waugh Street Bridge.

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Today, we are working with BBVA Compass Stadium to plant a new pollinator garden at the stadium! This beautiful new pollinator garden supports local pollinators like bees, butterflies, and more, and is located at the North entrance to BBVA Compass Stadium. Great partnership for an even greater good. ... See MoreSee Less

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I know you meant to say bees 🤣

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We have Attwater's prairie chicken eggs! Our bird team candles the eggs under a bright light to check on the developing chicks. The pencil marks on the eggs help us track where the air cell is within the egg. After a brief candling session, it's back into the incubators. ... See MoreSee Less

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We have Attwaters prairie chicken eggs! Our bird team candles the eggs under a bright light to check on the developing chicks. The pencil marks on the eggs help us track where the air cell is within the egg. After a brief candling session, its back into the incubators.Image attachment

 

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Beautiful birds!

Hoping for great success

Kimberly Jackson

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