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.”

Pen Pals to Save Okapis

Written by Mary Fields


 

The Houston Zoo would like to introduce you to Jean Paul M’monga from the Okapi Conservation Project! Our Hoofstock keepers have recently become pen pals with Jean Paul to help each other with education and conservation!

So who is Jean Paul? Jean Paul is the Education Assistant Coordinator at the Okapi Conservation Project, or OCP. He educates local communities on okapis and other species, such as forest elephants and chimpanzees in the Ituri forest. He grew up in the Ituri region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and received his Master’s degree in Environment and Sustainable Development at the Bukavu Technical College of Rural Development.

The Houston Zoo partners with many great conservation groups around the globe. The Zoo has been able to help Jean Paul by providing a grant, allowing the OCP to hire Jean Paul fulltime and continue his work at the Okapi Wildlife Reserve.

Jean Paul hopes to share his experiences with the Houston Zoo and improve upon his ways of educating the local communities in his country. As a return, we will be sharing information about how we educate people at the Houston Zoo and what the Hoofstock department does every day!

Houston Zoo Hoofstock keeper with Tulia, one of the okapis at the Houston Zoo

How can you help okapis in the wild? By recycling your cell phones and tablets! You can do this at the Houston Zoo’s main entrance. Make sure to follow our blog to continue learning about okapi conservation and about what Jean Paul does!

Recycle Holiday Lights to Save Wildlife

A bobcat, like the ones you are saving by recycling your holiday lights.

It may not feel like winter, but the holidays are almost here and with that comes the task of putting up your holiday lights. This task comes with many issues, what if you put them up and they don’t work? What if they have gone out of style? What if they just use too much energy and you want to buy LED lights instead?

If you are having any of these issues or other issues and need a place to dispose of your old or broken string lights you can bring them to the Houston Zoo to recycle! Recycling holiday lights keeps them out of landfills. Less space for landfills means more space for animals, animals like bobcats, deer, and the Texas State Small Mammal, the armadillo.

Recycle your holiday string lights in this bin, located at the Houston Zoo’s main entrance.

You can bring your holiday string lights to the main entrance of the Houston Zoo until January 14. Simply place them in the bin that says, “Recycle your holiday lights here and help save animals in the wild!” We will make sure they are responsibly recycled and you can enjoy your holidays knowing that you helped save animals in the wild!

With your help, the Houston Zoo has recycled more than 7,486 pounds of holiday lights to date. This is nearly the same weight as a female Asian elephant!

 

Only string lights will be accepted for recycling, please do not bring flood lights, extension cords or light hooks.

Saving Endangered Grey Crowned Cranes

The Houston Zoo is proud to announce a new partnership with the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association to save the endangered grey crowned crane.

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While working as a field veterinarian with another Houston Zoo conservation partner, the Gorilla Doctors, Olivier Nsengimana was motivated by his childhood experiences of seeing the cranes dance and hearing their calls, to branch off of the Gorilla Doctors to start this project. grey-crowned-craneHe created a multipart project aimed at addressing all sides of the threats facing grey crowned cranes. “As soon as I was out in the field, working with these animals, I thought, wow, this is me, conservation is what I was meant to do with my life.”
 
The grey crowned crane is the only species of crane in Rwanda. Its population has fallen by up to 79% over the past 45 years due to illegal poaching and trade. A symbol of wealth and longevity, the grey crowned crane is often kept as pets by hotels and wealthy families who are unaware of the harmful impact this has on the individual crane and the species.

 

Each step of the project aims at building on the previous step to help save grey crowned cranes in the wild as well as help the local communities around the cranes.

Step 1: A national media campaign. This step is focused on raising awareness about the cranes and the threats they face.

grey-crowned-crane-school-groupStep 2: Creating a national database of all captive cranes. The database includes information on the cranes as well as the owners. The creation of the database included fitting the cranes with a uniquely numbered leg band. By knowing how many cranes are in captivity and where they are located, the project is able to identify any new cranes in captivity.
Step 3: Community engagement and education. This step is a crucial component for the reintroduction of the cranes to be sustainable in the long term. In order to deter people from poaching cranes, an alternative source of income has to be found, this involves educating the local community.  Nsengimana wants to inspire other young conservationists in Rwanda, the same way the Gorilla Doctors inspired him. This is accomplished through visits to local schools as well as through the creation of an educational comic book.

Step 4: The rehabilitation and reintroduction of captive cranes to the wild. The reintroduction of the grey crowned cranes is the main goal of the project, but can only be accomplished in conjunction with the other steps. Captive cranes with a high potential of thriving in the wild are moved to a quarantine facility for health checks, then to a rehabilitation facility in Akagera National Park. When the cranes feel ready, they can fly out of the rehabilitation facility and into the wild.

 

So far, 70 captive cranes have been reintroduced to the wild and 6 chicks have been born from those reintroduced cranes.

grey-crowned-crane-chicks

How can you help save Grey Crowned Cranes?

To learn more about saving endangered Grey Crowned Cranes visit the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association webpage.

All photos by the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association.

Houston Zoo Chief Veterinarian Helps Restore Giant Tortoise Population in Galapagos

Written by Dr. Joe Flanagan, Chief Veterinarian at the Houston Zoo


 

The Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative is a long-term plan to restore giant tortoises in Galapagos to their original populations and densities.  In November 2015, I participated in one of the most ambitious projects yet to recover species.  In an accident of human history, giant tortoises originally intended to be food on long ocean voyages, landed on the west coast of Isabela Island where they established a small colony, adjacent to the “native” tortoises of Wolf Volcano, the northernmost volcano of Isabela Island.

Genetics done by Yale University scientists show that these unique animals are remnants of 2 populations of tortoises now thought to be extinct.  The Pinta Island tortoise went officially extinct in 2012 with the passing of “Lonesome George”, but the population was depleted nearly 100 years ago.  The Floreana Island tortoise went extinct in about 1850, shortly after the island was visited by Charles Darwin.

32 Animals were brought into captivity to form the breeding nucleus that will hopefully restore giant tortoises where none have roamed for as much as 200 years!  I was invited to treat the tortoises for ectoparasites (ticks) and endoparasites (worms) to prevent these from becoming problems for the breeding population at the rearing center on Santa Cruz Island.

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As a zoo veterinarian for over 30 years, I know that moving an animal to a new home is one of the most stressful things that can happen to it. Moves from zoo to zoo can bring out disease symptoms from otherwise unapparent bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Moves from the wild to captivity are even more likely to create problems — with a change in diet, a new social environment, and a need to learn to navigate new habitat, which includes people. To help animals in this transition, we treat them for both internal and external parasites — such as ticks — to reduce the load.

Ticks. Nasty, skin-crawling, blood-sucking, head-burying, disease-transmitting ticks. I hate them. Wild giant tortoises in Galapagos are frequently infested with dozens or even hundreds of ticks attached to their skin and even to their shells! I was fortunate to participate in the 2008 tortoise census on Wolf Volcano, and on that trip we encountered ticks on most of the hundreds of tortoises observed, as well as along tortoise trails. For the 2015 expedition, it was my job to get rid of as many of these nasty creatures as I could from the tortoises headed to the Tortoise Center on Santa Cruz.

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While ticks are “normal” on giant tortoises in Galapagos — part of the process of natural selection, as are the diseases they might carry — they are problematic for captive animals and the people who care for them.

As for internal parasites, the primary ones affecting tortoises are worms. Like their external counterparts, there is a balance between the worm load and the tortoise, with wild tortoises regularly exposed to low levels. Some think the presence of intestinal parasites may help tortoise digestion. When a tortoise is stressed, however, a heavy population of worms can further weaken it. Although it is nearly impossible to eliminate all worms from the tortoises, by reducing the burden, the tortoises have a better chance of adapting to captivity.

During the planning phase of the 2015 Wolf Expedition, I worked closely with GC’s Wacho Tapia to develop a treatment protocol for tortoises moving to the Tortoise Center on Santa Cruz and to ensure we had all the necessary supplies. After each tortoise was carefully delivered onto the deck of theSierra Negra and freed from the net, we did a brief physical examination, took standard measurements, made sure each animal had a microchip for identification, collected a blood sample to verify genetics, and — in some animals — to look for tick-born disease.

Joe-blog_tortoise-spray

Before placing the tortoise into the ship’s hold, it was sprayed with a tortoise-safe insecticide and treated orally with a de-wormer, effective against the most-probable worms. Our goal was to improve the health of each tortoise, prevent “seeding” the corrals at the Tortoise Center with ticks and tortoise parasites, and, in consideration for the crew of the Sierra Negra, make sure the ship didn’t get infested with ticks!

As described in previous blogs in this series, locating tortoises on Wolf was slow until it rained on the third day. Rain brings tortoises “out of the bush.” The dispersed teams started to find tortoises, sometimes in very high numbers! Native Wolf tortoises are a large, dome-shaped species, which still occurs in high numbers due to the inaccessibility of their habitat precluding much harvest by whalers and other seafarers in centuries past. Although majestic and fascinating, these tortoises were not the objective of our mission so they were only counted and measured, then left to live their lives in one of the most unspoiled habitats in the world.

But when a few of the teams started encountering tortoises “of interest” — animals previously identified by the Yale team as genetically significant or with the characteristic saddleback shape of those animals — we found ourselves scrambling, with tortoises arriving two or three at a time; sometimes with up to six giants wandering the deck before we could examine them.

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Near the end of the expedition, we worried we’d run out of space to house all the animals that were coming in! The ship’s hold was full. We started lining the gunnels with larger animals that were “misbehaving” in the ship’s hold — climbing over their brethren, and knocking over what we thought was safely stowed gear. We ultimately collected 32 animals to form the breeding nucleus to resurrect two species of tortoises and to restore ecological balance to Floreana and Pinta Islands.

While my main “job” on this expedition concerned tortoise health and prophylactic treatment for potential disease organisms, I also joined the team that searched a patch of Wolf Volcano’s lower slopes for tortoises, going ashore each morning. Our zone was a patchwork of a’a lava, broken plates of pahoehoe lava, and fine soil, with vegetation ranging from completely barren to thick, impenetrable stands of woody vegetation. At this low elevation, we encountered few adult tortoises; most animals we found measured 6-18 inches in length. It is hard to believe that tortoises could survive in such a harsh environment, without anything green to eat and no source of water to drink. We humans left bits of skin and blood as we walked over the rough terrain and through thick and thorny vegetation.

Joe-blog_tortoise-measuring

Each afternoon, we returned to the ship to receive and process tortoises. After the call-ins from the field teams, the helicopter made several trips to collect the tortoises. We’d watch its return against the backdrop of Wolf’s green slopes, trailing a net full of tortoises.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of being part of a conservation effort of this magnitude. For more than 20 years I’ve been lucky to visit these remote islands and work with their unique species, volunteering on numerous projects with myriad organizations. Over the years, I have witnessed many positive changes: invasive species have been eliminated on some islands; populations of some native and endemic species are recovering; and every year more of Galapagos is protected and restored to its primordial condition.

Joe-blog_Wolf-landscape

But these projects are costly. Funding for this expedition came from the government of Ecuador, Galapagos Conservancy, and Yale University, as well as out of the pockets of the expedition’s participants (many who donated their time). This high level of collaboration allowed funding from Galapagos Conservancy to be leveraged, resulting in a project many times larger than could be done by any one organization.

One of the greatest rewards of working in Galapagos is the great mix of people. The 2015 Wolf Expedition included participants from four continents — biologists, botanists, veterinarians, geneticists, technicians, park rangers, geologists, mariners, and pilots. Getting to know each other as we focused on our mission — talking, dining, traveling, and working together — a synergy occurred. New questions formed; some were captured for further consideration for future research projects; others were resolved or discounted. All resulted in friendships and collaborations that will last a lifetime. The conservation of one of the world’s greatest treasures is a unifying force. Galapagos is a magic place.

Joe-Flanagan-2-cropped_SM

To read more about this historical expedition, please visit the Galapagos Conservancy blog here. You can also visit the Zoo’s Galapagos tortoises near Duck Lake. Every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you help save animals (like giant tortoises) in the wild!

Year of the Goat- Featuring Raisin Bran and Bailey

In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat! We have over 20 different goats representing 5 different breeds. In addition to their different colors, shapes, and sizes, all of our goats also express individual preferences and personalities!

To highlight our goats individual ‘flair’, we’ve decided to feature a different goat each month and share what makes each one so unique and lovable!


 

goats1Did you know that the astrological sign of Gemini presides over the majority of the month of June? The symbol for Gemini is a pair of twins, so we welcome the month of June with our first ever DOUBLE goat of the month! In past blogs it has been mentioned that goats very frequently give birth to twins so it was easy for keepers to find a pair of twins in the Contact Area; the challenge was choosing WHICH set of twins to highlight!  Keepers finally decided that the twins Raisin Bran and Bailey deserved some time in the spotlight.

goats2The first thing many guests may wonder is why is there a goat named Raisin Bran? Both Raisin Bran and Bailey were born on a farm and their former owner named them for us. Raisin Bran was originally named ‘Coffee’ because their owner used to enjoy her morning coffee while playing with the goat kids and he liked to jump in her lap. Coffee just didn’t seem to fit so she changed his name to Raisin Bran because his color reminded her of bran flakes. Bailey was given her name in honor of the owner’s sister’s horse.

goats3As kids, both Raisin Bran and Bailey had very different personalities. Raisin Bran was the cuddly one and Bailey was a bit more shy and standoffish. When they first came to the Houston Zoo, the twins continued this trend. As time went on, Bailey began to hang out with our adult female Saanen goat Elsa. Elsa is a confident goat and some of her confidence seems to have rubbed off on Bailey. Bailey will now come up to be brushed and petted by children just like her brother Raisin Bran does. If you would like to see more photos of the twins as kids you can visit their former owner’s blog at: http://farmfreshforensics.com/farm_blog/?y=2013&m=4.


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We're celebrating the hatching of our first Attwater’s prairie chicken of the 2018 breeding season, with many more soon-to-hatch eggs currently in incubation. The chick marks an important phase in the zoo’s conservation breeding program which is focused on reintroducing the critically endangered birds to their native coastal prairie habitat. ... See MoreSee Less

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Awesome work as usual Houston Zoo!

Wonderful!

Kimberly Jackson

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Action shot of our little Shallot by Mary from the hoofed stock team. We were going to make a (admittedly bad) joke about pigs flying, but Shallot doesn't need any help being adorable. ... See MoreSee Less

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Action shot of our little Shallot by Mary from the hoofed stock team. We were going to make a (admittedly bad) joke about pigs flying, but Shallot doesnt need any help being adorable.

 

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They named him Shallot tho Anastasia Bolshakov

Love the name!!

What a cutie pie!

Love the name!

very cute 😊

Ellie Wheeler, so cute!

Allison Wagner can we go see this little bug in action

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Heather Marie Romp

John Gray

Haley

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