Come with the Zoo to Yellowstone in the winter


Have you ever seen the air sparkle?  Well, that happens in Yellowstone during the winter. During February 2014, 6 Houstonians ventured to Yellowstone for a special winter adventure with the Houston Zoo. All of our Yellowstone adventures are made possible by our partners at Teton Science School’s Wildlife Expeditions. The Teton Science School is an incredible educational non-profit organization that provides us with leading Yellowstone wildlife biologists to guide our trips.

DSC_1666Our trips are always full of unforgettable wildlife sightings, and this winter trip was no exception.  We found ourselves eye-to-eye with several herds of bighorn sheep foraging for food on the side of the road.



DSCN0684We spotted several moose and witnessed an exciting, aggressive display between two adults.   We had some great photo opportunities as the large mammals reared up and kicked each other with their sharp front hooves.





We joined thousands of elk in a horse drawn cart in the National Elk Refuge. The herds remained calm with the horses allowing us to be in very close proximity of huge bull elk.




Bobcat photoWe saw many bison trudging through deep snow, foraging for food with snow balls on their beards.  Birds of prey like the ruffed-legged hawk sat on high vantage points to wait for rodent movement in the snow.  One of our guides even spotted some tracks that lead us to a very rare, exciting site, a bob cat!  He was quietly sitting beside a river waiting for unsuspecting ducks to pass by.







Old Faithful and the thermal features were outstanding!  They spewed liquid that evaporated in midair.  We stayed the night at a lodge near old faithful and had an early morning walk that allowed us to see some Old Faithful eruptions without anyone else around.




One of the highlights of this winter Yellowstone experience was rides in a special vehicle called a snow coach.  The heavy snow is not conducive to regular traffic at the high elevations of the park so snow coaches (cars with ski thingies on the bottom) and snow mobiles become a necessary mode of transportation.  We got to spend two days riding around in these cool vehicles.

We enjoyed some thrilling wolf watching.  The wolves love the cold weather and were very active.  We spied on a pack of five bounding through the snow for a half hour one day.

DSC_2290Yellowstone is magical in the winter.  This was a fun filled adventure and it was the first time we have been in Yellowstone in the winter.  We lead wildlife focused Yellowstone tours regularly in the Spring and Fall, so you can join us to see baby animals in the Spring or hear the impressive elk bugle in the Fall.  Visit HERE  for more on how to join us on these exciting adventures.

The Houston Zoo houses several North American animals that are found in Yellowstone, like our newest bear cubs and bobcat kitten, and we are very proud to do what we can to support that beautiful National Park.   We provide funding to the Teton Science School for their wildlife research and educational programming to ensure long-term protection for wildlife in North America’s first National Park.

Remember, every time you visit the Zoo or come on a trip into the wild with us, you help us protect animals in the wild.  A portion of your admission, membership or trip price goes directly to saving animals in the wild.

All of the photos in this post are courtesy of Winter Yellowstone traveler, Bill Fisher.  Thank you, Bill!

Saving Lions is Elementary for Lyons Elementary

This post written by Angie Pyle.

Lions have always been a symbol of strength and power.  The truth is lions in the wild are not doing well. Lions have lost over 80% of their original range and we have seen 30% decline in lion populations throughout Africa in the past 2 decades.  Today there are only an estimated 35,000 African Lions left in the wild.  The only threat lion’s face in the wild are people.  As the human population increases, the conflicts between humans and lions increase. The good news is that there are several lion conservation projects throughout Africa researching, collecting data, educating local communities, and providing alternative solutions to human lion conflicts, and protecting the remaining lion populations.  The Houston Zoo partners with the Niassa Lion Project, which works in the Niassa Reserve in Northern Mozambique.  The Niassa Reserve has been listed as one of the strongholds or healthy lion populations left in Africa.

How does the community of Houston, Texas help save the African lion?  The best thing we can do as individuals is learn more about lion conservation, and spread the word.  The more people that are aware of the drastic decline in African lions, the more attention and contributions the groups trying to save them will receive.  Awareness brings action.  Several years ago, a local teacher by the name of Donna Fletcher approached the Zoo with a check for over $1000.  Mrs. Fletcher came up with the “cash for cats” campaign where elementary school children learned about various cat conservation projects and then brought in their spare change to donate to the Zoo to save cats in the wild.  This partnership is still going strong, and has expanded to another local elementary school, Lyons Elementary.

The Lyons Elementary School’s mascot is the Lion, so it only makes sense for them to help save them in the wild.  Not only do the children of Lyons learn about conservation, wildlife and other cultures, but they learn to take action for something they believe in.  Carnivore staff members visited the school to give a presentation on the Zoo’s role in conservation as well as a presentation on the African Lion.   The Zoo actively participates in the Lyons Elementary Science night program as well.   The children of Lyons Elementary, grades pre-k through 5th, raised $3722.25 in two weeks to help save lions in the wild!  The classroom that raised the most amount of money will be coming to the Zoo for a special “Lion Fun Day” of their own in April.  The students will get to create crafts, play conservation games, and most importantly meet the pride of lions that live at the Houston Zoo. Through community partnerships like this children can see the impact a school can have on the future for wildlife. We cannot thank Lyons enough for this incredible contribution and dedication to save wild lions.

The wheelbarrow of money we received from Lyon’s Elementary!

Principal, Cecilia Gonzales, has been supportive of the partnership from the beginning and is no doubt beaming with pride for what her students were able to accomplish for the Niassa Lion Project.  Teacher, Sarah Izquierdo, has driven the “love your lions” campaign at Lyons Elementary, and is a great example of enthusiasm, and commitment for her students.


Stay tuned for an update on Lyons Elementary students “Lion Fun Day” at the Houston Zoo in April.

To learn more about the Niassa Lion Project please visit the Houston Zoo website.

Elderly Animals at the Houston Zoo

When you think of carnivores like jaguars and bears, what comes to mind? Sharp teeth and claws, perhaps? Maybe you wouldn’t want to run into them in a dark alley? This is true, but at the Houston Zoo, they have something else in common – ours are getting up there in years, and they have really interesting stories to tell.

Our two jaguars, Cocoy and Kan Balam, are quite the adorable elderly couple. If you were to compare Cocoy to one of the Golden Girls, she would most certainly be Sophia. She’s 18 years old, and her keepers describe her as a “feisty old woman.” Her age doesn’t stop her from being active, though – when keepers put enrichment items in her habitat to play with, she jumps on them like she’s a kitten! She is a great grandmother, and she and Kan Balam get into spats just like an old married couple.

Cocoy definitely enjoys her enrichment items!
Cocoy definitely enjoys her enrichment items!

Kan Balam, the younger of the jaguar pair, is still getting up there at 16 ½ years old. Most jaguars in zoos live into their late teens or early twenties, which is much longer than they live in the wild. When you visit Kan Balam, you’ll see that he limps – at a place where he previously lived before he got to the Zoo, another jaguar bit off ¾ of his front right paw. In his older years, he has developed arthritis because of this injury. That doesn’t stop him from moving quickly when he wants to get somewhere, though!

Kan Balam lost his paw before he got to the Houston Zoo, and he has developed arthritis as a result of his injury
Kan Balam lost his paw before he got to the Houston Zoo, and he has developed arthritis as a result of his injury

Our jaguars are also pretty darn smart. They, like most cats you probably know, don’t like to take pills much. If they see their keepers put them in meatballs, they’ll just spit out the pills when they gobble up the meatballs. The keepers are wise to this, though, and have learned to hide around the corner to prepare them so they don’t know the pills are in there!

Another Golden Girl is Patty, the Andean Bear. Her keepers say that she’d definitely be Blanche – she’s quite the flirter, especially with guests! Her keepers also note that she can be a bit manipulative by giving them “sad eyes.” One time, she even convinced her keepers that she didn’t get her dinner yet, and she ended up getting it twice! Her favorite foods are grapes, bananas, peanut butter, and fish.

Patty, the Andean bear
Patty, the Andean bear

Patty came to our zoo in May of 1987 at 1 year of age and lived most of her life with Willie, her mate, who passed away of old age in April of last year. She is still going strong, though, despite her ailments. She’s allergic to pretty much everything – grass, dust, cockroaches, mold – you name it! She gets local wild honey and allergy medications to get a bit of relief. She is on medicine for joint pain too, but that doesn’t stop her from climbing down into her moat without using the stairs!

Patty may be old, but that doesn't stop her from climbing!
Patty may be old, but that doesn’t stop her from climbing!

The Zoo’s two grizzly bears, Boomer and Bailey, are in their mid-30s, and they have had pretty rough lives. Before they came to the Zoo in 2007, they lived at the SPCA for a year. They were confiscated by the SPCA from a private individual who was not taking good care of them. They lived in tiny 6×4 foot cages, and they were in very poor health – their teeth were particularly bad. You may remember a video from a few years back when Bailey had a tooth removed.

Boomer has had cancer twice, which has resulted in blindness. This caused a particularly unique challenge with getting him to learn his surroundings, as he needed to go inside to get fed and so his keepers could clean his habitat, and he needed to go outside to get sun and relax. His clever keepers created a system to help him out – they spread a vanilla scent inside, and a garlic scent outside. Once he learned to associate those scents with each area, he learned to go inside and outside and navigate his habitat.

Boomer looking beautiful!
Boomer looking beautiful!

Thanks to Carnivore Keepers Angie, Cortney, and Sam for telling these wonderful stories so they could be written down, but more importantly for their love and passion for these amazing animals. We’re lucky to have incredible keeper and veterinary staff that is so dedicated to the care of every single animal at the Zoo, particularly the ones who need the most care in their older age.

Farewell to Aries, African Painted Dog

As the New Year dawned, the Houston Zoo bid a sad but fond farewell to Aries, one of our three African painted dogs.  Twelve year old Aries had lived at the Houston Zoo with pack mates Mikita, his nephew, and Blaze, his brother since their arrival from the Bronx Zoo in 2009.

African Painted Dog Aries
Farewell to Aries, the African Painted Dog

Painted dogs are incredibly social creatures, and they are known to mourn. As Aries’s health declined due to his advanced years, his nephew Mikita, the alpha male of the pack, took care of Aries by making sure that Aries received his share of the food. Mikita also slept next to Aries during this time, a behavior that is common within painted dog packs.

Aries was the most vocal member of his pack, often growling a few short “barks” at his keepers while he was eating. One of the most communicative social carnivores, vocalizing is very important in painted dog packs. The number of vocalizations they produce is thought to be second only to dolphins.

Aries - African Painted Dog
Aries, the African Painted Dog

Aries was a distinguished ambassador for his  counterparts in the wild. He represented all the African painted dogs the Houston Zoo works to save. The Zoo partners with an organization called Painted Dog Conservation, which rehabilitates sick and injured painted dogs in Zimbabwe and reintroduces them back into the wild.

Learn more about how the Houston Zoo helps African painted dogs in the wild

Climbing for Clouded Leopards! November 13 at Texas Rock Gym

Written by Ali Striggow

Join us at the Texas Rock Gym on November 13th for the third annual Climbing for Clouded Leopards event! Texas Rock Gym will be donating 50% of their proceeds between the hours of 4pm and 9pm to clouded leopard conservation. We will also have a silent auction and raffle from 6-9pm with tons of amazing paintings done by our zoo animals and prizes donated by community businesses. Don’t worry if you’ve never been rock climbing before, the fantastic gym staff will be happy to give you an introduction to climbing and we’ll have volunteers on hand to be climbing partners. There will also be slacklining and acro-yoga demonstrations and live animal visitors!
Clouded leopards are an elusive cat found in the forests of Southeast Asia. They are named for the beautiful cloud like spots on their coat. Clouded leopards are amazing climbers with large feet and a long tail to help them balance. They can climb upside down underneath tree branches, hang from their back feet, and descend trees headfirst, like a squirrel. The clouded leopard is also a fierce predator with the longest canine teeth relative to skull size of any modern carnivore. These impressive teeth have caused the clouded leopard to be compared to extinct saber-tooth cats. Clouded leopards are so secretive and rare that very little is known about their wild behaviors. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Bornean Clouded Leopard Programme to help with their continued research and conservation efforts.

cfcl pic

The Houston Zoo is home to two young clouded leopards, Tarak and Suksn. Come visit them to see their awesome climbing abilities in action!

Clouded Leopard-0031-5230Clouded Leopard-0010-5146


When: Wednesday, November 13 from 4-9pm. Auction and raffle held from 6-9pm.

Where: Texas Rock Gym
1526 Campbell Road
Houston, TX 77055
Visit for more information or to make a donation today!





Lions: The Pride of the Houston Zoo!

At the Houston Zoo, we have 4 lions, including Jonathan, our male, and 3 females: Nimue, Mattie, and Uzima.  Our prides of lions, like all the animals at the Zoo, serve as ambassadors for their species in the wild.

Two of the lion girls enjoy an ice cold treat on a very hot day
Two of the lion girls enjoy an ice cold treat on a very hot day

Lions are the only cat that lives in a true social group, called a pride. Most cats are solitary, which means that they live by themselves. Female lions that are born into the pride will remain with the pride for the remainder of their lives.  Males are encouraged to leave the pride around 2 years of age, and after that, they find another pride to take over.

Jonathan, the Houston Zoo's male lion...king of his domain!
Jonathan, the Houston Zoo’s male lion…king of his domain!

Ever wondered why male lions have those big manes? It serves as armor to protect the neck when fighting and is also appealing to female lions. And that mane can grow seriously long! It can surround his shoulders and group halfway down the length of his body.

Lions have always been a symbol of strength and power, being used as mascots, icons, and even idols in some cultures. The truth is, though, lions aren’t doing so well in the wild. They have lost over 80% of their original range, and there has been a 30% decline in their population over the last 2 decades. Today, there are only an estimated 35,000 lions left in the wild.

A lion sleeps under a rock in Niassa Reserve, located in northern Mozambique, Africa
A lion sleeps under a rock in Niassa Reserve, located in northern Mozambique, Africa

The problem for lions, and the reason for their population decrease, is people. The amount of space they have is shrinking, and they are being forced into villages and areas where people live, which causes problems when those villages don’t have strategies to live with lions, like building lion-proof fences for their livestock to sleep in at night.

The great news, though, is that people are working to help lions in the wild by researching, collecting data, educating local communities, and helping people live safely among lions.

Two lions in Niassa Reserve - one has a tracking collar so researchers can monitor their movements, ensure their safety, and learn more about them.
Two lions in Niassa Reserve – one has a tracking collar so researchers can monitor their movements, ensure their safety, and learn more about them.

One of these projects that the Houston Zoo supports is called the Niassa Lion Project, which works in the Niassa Reserve in northern Mozambique. This is where one of the few healthy lion populations left in Africa lives. They train and mentor local Niassa residents on solutions to human/lion conflicts. The goal is to teach the local people the importance of the wildlife that surrounds them so they will want to protect it.

Two residents of Niassa track lions that are collared so they can learn their movements in order to learn more about them and keep them safe.

So what can you do? First, come to the Zoo. A portion of ticket sales goes directly to protecting lions and other animals in the wild. Attend fun events like Lion Fun Day to learn more about lions and meet the keepers that work with them at the Zoo. And finally, learn more about great projects like the Niassa Lion Project, and support them if you can!

Thanks to Angie Pyle, an awesome Carnivore Keeper at the Houston Zoo, for this fantastic information!

Dog Days of Summer: Meet Blaze, African Painted Dog

Blaze 1

Name: Blaze

Alias: The Hunter

Age: 11 years

Blaze is one of three African Painted Dogs that reside at the Houston Zoo.  He is brother to Aries and uncle to Mikita.  Blaze is the fearless dog and is often the first to stalk, grab, or crash into any new food or enrichment item.  Anything might be something to eat, so he has to make sure!  He is prone to exhibit the hey, he has a better bone than I do mentality, so the rest of the pack will often hide their bones out of Blaze’s sight so that they can eat in peace.

Blaze 2

The best way to tell Blaze from his pack-mates is to look for his golden coat and long tail.  He rarely vocalizes to keepers and instead seems to save it for Mikita and their wrestling matches.  They sound like high-pitched squeaky toys when they play or wrestle over food or toys.  While observing this behavior, it is good to note that Painted Dogs are possibly one of the most cooperative social carnivores.  After a kill is made, the alpha pair ensures the pups along for the hunt eat first.  The rest of the hunting pack then gorges, filling their large capacity stomachs as much as they can before other carnivores, like lions, come to steal their food.  Painted Dogs can eat up to 1/3 of their own body weight!  The reason behind is that they would then go back to their burrow where nursing dogs and their pups are waiting to be fed.  The pack will then regurgitate the meat to feed the dogs that could not hunt!  They will even feed sick or injured dogs that are unable to hunt for themselves.

The Houston Zoo loves its African Painted Dogs and is involved with efforts to protect them in the wild. Please join us August 3-4, 2013 for Dog Days of Summer, a celebration of everything Painted Dog!  There will be Meet the Keeper talks, enrichment demonstrations, kid’s crafts, and the opportunity to aid Blaze’s wild counterparts.

Dog Days of Summer: Meet Aries, African Painted Dog

Aries 1

Name: Aries

Alias: The Protector

Age: 11 years
Aries is one of three African Painted Dogs that resides at the Houston Zoo.  He is brother to Blaze and uncle to Mikita.  Aries can most often be seen napping next to one of his pack-mates or patrolling the exhibit, protecting them from those pesky bunnies.  Though he seems to take on the protector role, Aries is the last of the pack to approach new things.  He will often wait until Blaze and Mikita begin to argue over a particular toy or food item, sneak up while they are busy with each other, and then grab the item in question to play with or consume at his leisure out of their line of vision.

Aries 4

The best way to tell Aries from his pack-mates is to look for a golden coat and short tail.  He is the most vocal of the dogs and will often growl a few short “barks” at his keepers while he is eating.  Vocalizations are very important in Painted Dog packs as they are one of the most communicative social carnivores.  Their sheer number of vocalizations is thought to be second only to dolphins.

What is the Houston Zoo doing to save the African painted dogs from extinction? 

The Houston Zoo loves its African painted dogs and is involved with efforts to protect them in the wild.   We help an organization called Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) in Zimbabwe, Africa, improve thier painted dog rehabilitation program by offering training to thier local staff.  They rehabilitate sick and injured wild African painted dogs and reintroduce them back into the wild.  We have also assisted with thier education, communications, research and community developement programs in the past.

Help us save African painted dogs from extinction!

Please join us August 3-4, 2013 for a special event called, Dog Days of Summer, a celebration of everything painted dog!  There will be Meet The Keeper talks, enrichment demonstrations, kid’s crafts, and the opportunity to aid Aries’ wild counterparts.  All funds raised will go to saving the painted dogs in the wild!  You can also click here to donate now to protect this beautiful animal in Africa!

Dog Days of Summer: A Unique Relationship

Summer in Houston brings to mind several things: heat, humidity, and mosquitoes the size of your hand!  This year, the Houston Zoo would like to start a new tradition, The Dog Days of Summer!  Painted dogs are one of the most endangered carnivores in Africa.  The Houston Zoo loves its African Painted Dogs and wants to do everything we can to save them from extinction.  We are proud to partner with and support Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) in Zimbabwe.  PDC is dedicated to protecting painted dogs in the wild, through research, education, and engagement of the local Zimbabwean community.  The Houston Zoo’s unique relationship with PDC has enabled the exchange of resources, information, training, and expertise.

pup and adult

PDC Lead Builder and Bush Camp Guide, Dought Nkomo, and Lead Dog Keeper, Xmas Mpofu came to the Houston Zoo in 2011 to begin an exchange with Houston Zoo (HZI) staff that continues to this day.  The PDC staff worked alongside HZI staff, each sharing their techniques and expertise.  Dought and Xmas spent time with different areas of the zoo as they related to their jobs in Zimbabwe.

Dought-17, Jesse and Kyle

Six months later, Brandon Patterson of the Facilities Department, travelled to Zimbabwe where he aided in the reconstruction of a dip tank for cattle.  The dip tank is a ramp system where cattle are led down through the water at the bottom to treat them for flies and other paracites.  Rainwater was normally used in the dip tank, but the dry season made it difficult.  The community built a water catchment right next to the tank so they could continue to use it through the dry season.

Soon after Brandon’s visit a member of the conservation department and a Houston Zoo board member travelled to Painted Dog Conservation to enhance their conservation education programing.  They added amphibian and bat educational components to their existing eco-system based children’s Bush Camp education program.

With PDC recently building its onsite clinic, HZI’s Veterinary Hospital Manager Lisa Marie Avendano was sent to Zimbabwe with supplies for the treatment center and to assist in the training of the clinic staff.  The new onsite clinic will enable staff to treat sick or injured dogs right at the facility in lieu of a four hour drive to the nearest animal hospital.  With the donated equipment, they will even be able to run labs and diagnostic tests!


Cooperation between these two organizations has helped both to improve their programs and enhance their understanding of how to conserve painted dogs in the wild.  To learn more about PDC and what the Houston Zoo is doing to help save this amazing species, please join us for the Dog Days of Summer event August 3-4 at the Houston Zoo.  There will be Meet the Keeper talks, enrichment demonstrations, kids’ crafts, and the opportunity to aid our pack’s wild counterparts!


Stem Cell Therapy for Ivy the Black Leopard

Ivy the black leopard has been suffering from arthritis pain in her legs. With the help of Ingeneron, a Houston-area firm that specializes in regenerative cell therapy, Ivy has just received an injection of stem cells to treat her pain and stiffness. The injection was followed by shockwaves applied directly to her knees to “turn on the biology” and help assist healing, according to Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialist Brian Beale who worked with Houston Zoo veterinarians to perform the procedure. Watch as Ivy receives this innovative stem cell treatment and see how well she moves and jumps just a day later!

Can’t view this video? Want to see more? Here’s some photos of Ivy’s procedure:

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