Searching for Reptiles and Amphibians in India: Day 3

This blog was written by Chris Bednarski, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department. Chris received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for reptiles and amphibians in the Western Ghats region of India. We will be posting a series of blogs as Chris documents his work overseas.  

Chris’s goal is to survey within a section of land purchased by the Tillari Biodiversity Research Trust and document what species are present, as well as discover new species and note their home ranges. These findings will help to strengthen the need to protect this land, and by protecting this land, we save species in the wild!

Day 3:

Tonight we headed into one of our sites that we have surveyed pretty heavily over the last couple years.  During the monsoon season, we find many species of frogs along this path – there is a large stone wall covered in geckos and usually a few lizard eating species of snake as well. But the monsoon has passed now and it hasn’t rained here in some time.  This is an important time for us to survey because now we get to document what species are active in the drier part of the year.  We can see that a lot of the grasses and smaller shrubby plants have started to dry out and turn brown.   We noted quite a few leaf eating insects getting their last meals in for the year.  One of my favorites is a katydid that looks like it flew 100 mph into a brick wall and wound up with a flat face.  During the earlier part of the dry season, we have seen that the bush frogs (Pseudophilautus) are still around in decent numbers but they are not calling for mates – we assume they are fattening up for the cooler weather coming.  We encountered several forest lizards (Calotes sp.), both males and females, sleeping soundly on the thin ends of branches.  They choose these seemingly uncomfortable limbs for a good reason!  If any snake or bird land on the tree they are on, the branch will move and wake them up in enough time that they can hopefully escape.  On the large stone wall we found a massive species called a Bombay leaf toed gecko (Hemidactylus prashadi).  Over all we had a slower night than usual, but still noted some cool stuff!

Give the Gift of the Photo Ark this Holiday Season

If you’re searching for the perfect holiday gift to give this season, kids and adults of all ages will fall in love with The Photo Ark: One Man’s Quest to Document the World’s Animals by National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore. Not only is this book a stunning collection of over 6,000 species marking the halfway point for Joel’s project, but it also includes animals from right here at the Houston Zoo!

In addition, Chris Holmes, Houston Zoo Assistant Curator of Birds, is featured in this book as a conservation hero for his work with critically endangered blue-billed curassows. Unique to Colombia, there are only a few hundred of these birds left in the wild due to habitat destruction and hunting. One way to make sure blue-billed curassows don’t go extinct is to make sure this species and its’ genetic diversity is represented in zoos. This ensures that if there are any major decreases in the wild, there is a genetically diverse population that could possibly be released to boost wild populations. Chris, using his unique skills developed with the Houston Zoo’s blue-billed curassows, partnered with the Colombian Zoo Association to save these birds in the wild through sharing knowledge gained from successful breeding efforts, providing the resources needed for a successful breeding program in-country, and collaborating in the creation of a five-year conservation plan. In January 2014, the National Aviary of Colombia became the first Colombian zoo to breed the blue-billed curassow in its native Colombia.

The Photo Ark project adds a creative twist to the world of wildlife conservation, using striking studio portraits of animals as a way connect people to wildlife and, in turn, inspire them to take action to save the animals we share the planet with. By using black and white backgrounds, all species – big and small, become equals, reminding us that each of these creatures have a voice, and a vital role to play in keeping our planet healthy for future generations.

Joel Sartore, the creator of the Photo Ark, is a longtime friend of the Houston Zoo, having photographed here many times in the past, and speaking at the zoo’s conservation gala back in 2016. We are proud to partner with Joel, and the feeling is mutual –

“Having friends in the world of zoos is critical in building the Photo Ark, and Chris Holmes is a perfect example of this. He’s worked for years with birds, especially in Columbia. People trust him, and his expertise, honed over years of hard work. With his recommendation, this allows me to work literally anywhere that he has established relationships. It’s remarkable and so appreciated. Indeed, without good references from folks like Chris, the Ark simply would not be able to proceed.” – Joel Sartore

Stop by the gift shop on your next visit to the zoo to pick up your copy! To explore the Ark and learn more about this incredible 25-year project, click here.

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles See Nesting Boom

The Houston Zoo is proud to be part of sea turtle protection efforts in our state. Thanks to a dedicated group of organizations and individuals, we are thrilled to announce that Texas and Mexico saw nearly 27,000 Kemp’s ridley nests on our beaches. This is a 35% increase in nests from 2016, which is a great sign for this local species!

Since 2010, the Houston Zoo has treated over 400 sea turtles in our veterinary clinic, many of which are Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Once treated, these sea turtles are brought to the NOAA sea turtle barn in Galveston where they are cared for before being released into the ocean.  Our team has also aided in the construction of monofilament (fishing line) recycling bins which provide a location to recycle your fishing line, rather than leave it on the ground, potentially entangling wildlife like sea turtles. Zoo staff also participates in weekly sea turtle surveys to look for stranded or nesting sea turtles, and monthly jetty clean-ups aimed at reducing the amount of trash that ends up in sea turtle habitat.

Last year 25,000 copies of the Houston Zoo Saving Wildlife, Sea Turtle Edition comic book were distributed throughout our community to increase knowledge about our local sea turtle species and the threats they face. As a result of our community’s dedication to saving wildlife, nearly 2,000 Houston Zoo guests pledged to go plastic bag free, keeping plastic out of the ocean that sea turtles may mistake for food.

Your visit to see sea turtles rehabilitating in our Kipp Aquarium helps protect sea turtles in the wild! To learn how you can join the Zoo and fellow Houstonians on their journey to reduce plastic waste and protect marine wildlife click here.

Saving Snakes in India

The Houston Zoo is proud to announce a new conservation partner, Murthy Kantimahanti. Murthy is the founder and lead conservation biologist for the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society. He has been working closely with communities in providing education and human-wildlife conflict intervention strategies.

Murthy works in the Eastern Ghats, located in Southern India, to mitigate human-snake conflict and build local community support in snake conservation. Fear and lack of knowledge about snakes has led to a rise 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.

With the support of the Houston Zoo and you, the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society will be able to give school presentations, awareness talks at universities in towns and community centers in rural areas with human-snake conflict. Through this work, communities will learn how to identify venomous vs. non-venomous snakes, as well as learn valuable snake bite and first aid skills.

Please join us in welcoming this amazing conservation partner to the Houston Zoo family. With every visit to the Houston Zoo, you are helping save animals, like the king cobra, in the wild.

Friend The Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society on Facebook to learn more!

Houston Zoo Closes Due to Inclement Weather Forecast

The Houston Zoo’s leadership team has been monitoring the path of Hurricane Harvey, and has made the decision to close the zoo Friday, August 25 through Sunday, August 27. The safety of team members, guests and animals is the zoo’s top priority, and the leadership team made this decision with that in mind. The decision on whether the zoo will reopen on Monday, August 28 will be made as the weather event continues.

The animals will be cared for during the storm by a select group of team members who will stay at the zoo throughout the weather event. The animals have safe and secure barns and night houses that have been constructed to weather storms like this one.

Celebrating a Wildlife Warrior

Photo Courtesy of Painted Dog Conservation

Enock Zulu, 2016 Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior from Painted Dog Conservation, now wears his Wildlife Warrior badge with pride as a part of his uniform. Zulu has been leading the ever-growing anti-poaching team for many years and the Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior award allowed him to travel to work with another anti-poaching project.

While visiting the other anti-poaching team, he was inspired by their use of domestic dogs in assisting with sniffing out snares and poachers. He came back with the idea to implement a domestic dog assistance unit program at Painted Dog Conservation.

Photo Courtesy of Painted Dog Conservation

Soon, Wildlife Warrior Enock Zulu will be managing a K9 unit to help his anti-poaching team be more effective in protecting wildlife. The Houston Zoo is providing funding for their dog assistance unit facility.

Congratulations Zulu! The Houston Zoo is proud to have him as a part of our team!

You too are helping Zulu and the Painted Dog Conservation project every time you visit the Houston Zoo, as a portion of every ticket and membership goes to saving animals in the wild!

African Painted Dog and pup
Photo Courtesy of Painted Dog Conservation

Houston Zoo Bird Staff Saving Wildlife Part III

This blog was written by Kasey Clarke, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Bird Department. Kasey received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from her coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Kasey documents her work overseas.  

The process described below is part of the Mariana Conservation Program to relocate local bird species to neighboring islands that do not have the invasive brown tree snake, an introduced species that preys upon native birds. 

The bird room for native birds who are being relocated to islands without the invasive brown tree snake

When the birds come in from the field, it’s time for some important record-keeping. The birds are banded, weighed, and their wings, legs, and tails are measured. They are also given a physical to make sure they are in good body condition. We check for signs of nesting as well (such as a bare spot on their belly). Each bird gets a metal band with a unique number engraved on it. This helps us to identify each bird and more easily keep track of them as we feed and monitor their condition.  Below are several photos of the process for both the fruit dove and the rufous fantail that we met in the previous blog entry.

Measuring the tarsometatarsus length
Measuring primary feathers
Measuring tail feathers
Checking feather quality
Measuring tarsometatarsus length
Banding the birds-putting small tags on the birds for identification purposes

After they receive their physical they are placed in their own individual box. The dove boxes are larger than the boxes for the fantails because they are much larger birds. They will then travel to Guguan (another island in the Mariana region). This travel time also gives us a chance to collect feather, blood, and fecal samples in order to determine sex and the stress level of every bird. Disney Animal Kingdom sends a team from their veterinary clinic to collect these samples for a study they are doing on cortisol (stress hormone) levels. I will go more in depth on the process of the medical exams next time.

Dove boxes
Fantail boxes

Every day the fruit doves are fed a mixture of papaya, Kaytee exact high fat formula, and water. This is done three times a day. The rufous fantails get fed meal worms and flies four times a day. The idea is to have them eat consistently to ensure they are as healthy as possible throughout their journey.

Next time we will see our rufous fantail friend get a medical exam.

Saving Animals in the Wild at Hotel Armadillo

The Houston Zoo hosted our Brazilian Conservation Research Associate, Gabriel Massocato, in Houston for the month of March. The Zoo has funded Gabriel’s work to save giant armadillos and giant anteaters in the Brazil for the past 5 years.

He was awarded our Wildlife Warrior award last year and requested to put the awarded funds towards English and conservation/education courses and training. You may have enjoyed his blog describing his experience from last month, if not you can read it here.

While here Gabriel experienced many different roles at the Houston Zoo. He participated in several Zoo events and was a part of 2 Facebook Live events, one of which was hosted on Animal Planet’s Facebook page. Gabriel also contributed to Texas endangered species field work by going on a Houston Toad tadpole release with members of our herpetology team and learned from our sea turtle conservation efforts and partners in Galveston. He learned about an adhesive they use to attached satellite tracking tags on sea turtle’s shells that may also work to attached satellite tracking tags on giant armadillo’s armor.

As Houston Zoo team members shared their wildlife saving roles and work with Gabriel, he shared his efforts to save giant armadillos in the wild. This week a documentary called Hotel Armadillo that features Gabriel and the Giant Armadillo Project’s work in Brazil’s Pantanal will air on PBS. The documentary, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, focuses on the important role that giant armadillos play in their environment and highlights the Outstanding conservation work Gabriel and his team are doing to save them from extinction.
Don’t miss Hotel Armadillo premiering Wednesday, April 19 at 7 p.m. (CT) on PBS.

Gabriel will be back to be a visiting instructor for the Houston Zoo’s college aged education program at the end of June. A portion of your admission and membership helps us fund Gabriel’s position to save giant armadillos and giant anteaters in the wild. Learn more and share in the successes of the Giant Armadillo Project by friending them on Facebook!

Saving the World’s Most Endangered Antelope

Written by John Scaramucci


Ali meeting the Houston Zoo Admissions team

This month the Houston Zoo had a very special visitor from the Hirola Conservation Program (HCP), Dr. Abdullahi H. Ali. He is one of our conservation partners that is doing incredible work in an effort to save the world’s most endangered antelope, the hirola.  He met with several members of the Houston Zoo staff that work on the advisory board of the HCP and others that manage the Hirola Facebook Page to discuss various technical strategies in growing the program and updating them on the work being done in Kenya.

In order to save the hirola, it will take strong leadership and heavy community involvement. There are only about 500 hirola left in the wild, and they are considered critically endangered.  All of the hirola occur outside of federally protected land in Eastern Kenya near the border with Somalia, making it very challenging for anyone to study them.

This has been the mission of Dr. Ali ever since he began his efforts to save hirola in 2005. Dr. Ali is a native born Kenyan of Somali descent. He was raised in a traditional pastoral community, in the heart of hirola country, where their livelihood is tied to herding livestock such as goats, cattle, and camels.  He retained strong ties to his local community even after leaving to attend school and earning his PhD in Ecology.

Hirola, Image Credit Hirola Conservation Program

Through engaging local communities with educational opportunities and inclusion in decision making, Dr. Ali has created a culture of conservation in the region. HCP has established anti-poaching ranger units which employ locals and help protect all the other species which live in the hirola’s habitat, such as cheetah, painted dogs, and gerenuk.

Over the past three decades, hirola populations have declined at an alarming rate. Scientists and field researchers believe habitat loss to be the most significant contributor to the hirola’s weak numbers, as the lush savannah grasslands preferred by this species have grown over with scrub forests due to the disappearance of elephants. Through the assistance of local communities, habitat restoration projects are underway to remove large tracks of invasive scrub forest and replant native grasses.

Dr. Ali and the Hirola Conservation Program are dedicated to protecting and increasing the numbers and distribution of hirola through participatory conservation, education, community involvement and international support.

The international support is where the Houston Zoo community plays such a strong role. From each guest that walks through our gate to the many departments that make up our staff, we all have made a difference.

Ali with the Hoofed Stock keepers that manage the HCP Facebook page, Memory and John.

February Featured Members: Thank You Stanley Family!

Thank you to the Stanley family for these kind words:

“The Houston Zoo holds a special place in our hearts. We moved to the Houston area just over six years ago when our first son, Hudson, was almost one and I was pregnant with our second son, Walker. We were excited to explore our new city and anxious to find ways to entertain (and wear out) ours sons. Hudson loves animals so we decided to check out the Houston Zoo, and fell in love. We quickly decided to become members, so we could enjoy a few hours at the zoo a couple times a month.

One of the things we look forward to the most during our visits to the zoo is the keeper talks outside the animal habitats. They are very informative and the keepers are always so patience when my sons ask them A LOT of questions about the animals. Through the zoo keeper talks and docents we have learned most of the animals’ names and their history, which makes the zoo feel more like “our zoo.”

Over the years we have enjoyed member mornings, discounts on Zoo Lights (a must during the holidays), and early access Feast with the Beasts tickets, but our favorite thing is the behind the scenes tours. We have made it a tradition to get Hudson (the animal lover) a behind the scenes tour for his birthday present. We have gone behind the scenes with the Rhinos and the Elephants. Each experience has been amazing. Getting to touch and feed the animals is something we will all remember.

We look forward to watching the zoo grow and build amazing new habitats.”

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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years. 
 
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/

 

Comment on Facebook

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory

I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.

Is this the one that had the limp?

This was my daughters favorite critter at the Zoo. We always went to say hello to him before anyone else whenever we went. When she was 7 years old we sent a post out to out neighborhood on Halloween saying Paisley was asking for pocket change donations in lieu of candy for Halloween and all amounts would be donated to Kan thru the zoo. She raised over $40 in coins! I still have the letter from the zoo thanking her for her donation. He was a sweet boy and will be missed. 😔

I saw him limping about 2 weekends ago. The first time we walked by he was fine. When we walked by on the way out he was limping and moaning pretty loudly. I wondered what happened but I figured his keeper already knew or would find out shortly. Super Sad. He was always a lively one.

Dunno if the Zoo staff considered him a pet but he was certainly a family member, and because of that i offer this: RainbowBridge Author Unknown Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Jaguar habitat is in the Zoo or Jungle's? ??or is only entertainments for person's? ??$$$$$$$!.Sorry animals the person's don't love you ..

Thank you Houston Zoo for taking such good care of him and all the animals! I've been going to this zoo since I was little bitty. I always enjoy it.

Aww. When interning in the carnivore dept he was one of my faves. So smart! Ashley remember when Angie was teaching him to do the moonwalk after Michael Jackson passed?

Aww I’m so sorry for the loss, I’ve seen him many times, he was absolutely gorgeous! I’m glad that you guys were able to make him comfortable, sometimes the best thing we can do is let them be at peace. Will miss this handsome guy; play hard at the Rainbow Bridge friend, day hi to my cat, Junior for me!! Much love to the HZI staff!!

Jaguars are one of my favorite and he seems like a sweet boy. I'm so sad but I'm happy he can be painless and be free now. RIP❤️

Beautiful jaguar ....so grateful for the Houston Zoo keepers and veterinary team that gave their time and efforts to share this awesome jaguar with us for so many years.

Thank you for doing what was right and kind for Kan Balam even though it was hard and painful for you. That’s true love for an animal. ❤️

What a great long life he lived because of his excellent care at the zoo Thoughts go out to his keepers and the entire Houston Zoo staff

Thank you to you and your staff for the years of quality care given this magnificant creature.

Sending love to the keepers that are broken hearted right now. And thank you for all the care you’ve given.

RIP Kan Balam. You have given the visitors so much pleasure just watching you over these years. You were taken care of by top notch professional handlers, etc.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3

I am soo sorry for the loss of this handsome fella Kan Balam. May he rest in peace and run free or any pain over the rainbow bridge.. My heart and prayers go out to each and every one of the staff at the Zoo.

Aww, so very sorry for your loss, Houston. Condolences to his keepers and all who loved him. ((((Lorie Fortner)))) He surely lived a long life with the great care he received at Houston.

Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs

He was well-cared for and most of all well-loved. My heartfelt condolences to those missing Kan B as well as me. What an amazing ambassador for his kind. What a beautiful old gentleman. Thank you for loving him into old age and giving him peace.

So sorry to the keeping staff for your loss i cant imagine how youre feeling :( his old age is a testimony to the amazing care he received

I will miss him. The last time I saw him he looked tired, and it appeared his foot was bothering him.

Sad to hear of this. Thanks for taking such good and compassionate care for him and the other animals.

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: I'm still using this.
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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: Im still using this.

 

Comment on Facebook

Are there some zoo animals that enjoy this weather?

SMG is another reason why Houston Zoo is the best Zoo!

Happy New Year “sea lion keeper “ 💖💖

More snow for TJ and Max ❤️ lucky them!

Are we positive that’s the statue rather than it really just being that cold? 😛

That’s my best friend Sophie for ya! 😂

Brrrrr

Omg the Zoo is so awesome 😂😂😂 Alana Berry

Omg be warm sweetoe

Haha!! Good one!

Sweetie 💞

Ashley Jucker 😂

Mike DePope

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