As the world celebrated the closing ceremonies at the Rio Olympics on Sunday, we wanted to celebrate an amazing species that calls South America home – the tapir. Just as the USA’s medal count kept going up, so does the number of tapirs that have received a tracking collar for research with the Houston Zoo’s help. Since we started working with our tapir conservation partner, 57 tapirs have received a tracking collar. These tracking collars provide critical information for protecting tapirs in the wild.
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. This endangered animal is native to Central America.
At the Houston Zoo, we work to save tapirs in the wild through a partnership with the Tapir Specialist Group. It 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.
Since the Olympic games were in Brazil, Patricia Medici participated in the Olympic torch route on June 26 through the city of Rio Brilhante.
The Houston Zoo also supports our partner with an event called Tapirs Helping Tapirs. For this event, Houston Zoo tapirs paint canvases that are sent to Brazil to be sold in a huge art exhibit to raise funds for protecting wild tapirs. This past April, we held a World Tapir Day event here at the zoo. This event had activities, a photo-op, and sold conservation items to benefit our conservation partner’s work saving tapirs in the wild.
This blog was written by Valerie Akuredusenge, the Program Director of Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT). CHT is a conservation partner of the Houston Zoo. Valerie visited us in March to build her capacity and skills to further educate local communities living alongside Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. This is one blog in a series about Valerie’s experience in the United States.
Hi there. This is Valerie Akuredusenge, the Program Director of Conservation Heritage – Turambe with more news about my visit at Houston Zoo.
Martha Parker, the Houston Zoo staff member took me to the Zoo as I continued to enjoy my visit. I was very excited to see how big the Zoo is and what kinds of animals are calling the Zoo their home. To be honest with you, I couldn’t visit all animals in the Zoo but it was my goal. The Houston Zoo is huge!! I was only able to see about half of the animals in the Zoo. Regarding the animals I saw, some were familiar to me, others I had no idea they have ever existed on this Planet Earth! I was so impressed by seeing the coral reef. I went back home to Rwanda and shared my experiences, but even so, my colleagues back in Rwanda do not get the idea about what is the coral reef. I will try to keep explaining it to them.
I learned a lot from my visit with the Houston Zoo and still cannot finish telling the story about it.
From Plastic Bottles to Protecting Tamarins: First Tití Posts Installed at Tití’s Biological Reserve
With a turn of a shovel and a pound of a hammer, members of Proyecto Tití installed 100 Tití Posts this month to build a fence around Tití’s Biological Reserve in San Juan. Tití Posts have a huge impact on cotton-top tamarins as they protect a reserve designed especially for our fluffy haired friends and also reduce the need to harvest wood for traditional fence posts. However, their impact doesn’t end there! Tití Posts are made from recycled plastic collected by local community members. This reduces contamination of land and waterways and allows families to earn a small income from collecting plastic. We are so thankful to all of you that have donated to our “Save a Tree, Save a Tamarin” campaign to help us make and install these new posts. We still have more forest to protect and more cotton-top tamarins to conserve, so visit the project here to support the Tití Post campaign. A donation of $15 can help both cotton-top tamarins and local community members in Colombia.
The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild, and is taking steps to ensure that everything we do on Zoo grounds is done with the environment and wildlife in mind. If you have a surplus of used batteries, be them alkaline or rechargeable, you can take them to your local recycling center to ensure that the remaining chemicals and substances don’t harshly affect the wildlife that’s directly outside your doors!
Any battery that is disposed of in a landfill (like if you toss them in your normal trash), or that finds its way into the environment, has the potential to leak its old chemicals into the soils and waters that wildlife like amphibians call home.
Because amphibians like frogs, toads, even salamanders, have skin that can easily absorb liquids found in damp soils or the waters and streams they frequent, they can get sick from things like leaking batteries. Often, harsh or foreign chemical interactions can affect populations long-term by changing the behavior of animals, affecting female or male reproductive abilities or even influencing the development of eggs.
The Zoo works to help our local amphibians by recycling our alkaline and rechargeable batteries with a company that specializes in battery disposal. You can do the same by finding your local recycling center; if you’re in Houston you can go to the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center and they will take most options besides alkaline. You can also recycle more than the typical AA, AAA, C, and D batteries – items like power tools, cars, small electronics like tablets or smart phones, hearing aids, watches, and all manner of things take a variety of batteries.
By using rechargeable batteries you can also ensure that the materials that were mined to make your batteries last for a much longer time period than with single-use alkaline batteries. Rechargeable batteries will go dull over time, but you can get multiple uses out of them and lessen the stress on the environment by finding products and items that you can use over and over before recycling!
How Our Staff Recycles Batteries at the Zoo
On Zoo grounds we will often offer recycling information that you can see when you visit. We recommend you take your batteries to a local recycling center to ensure they don’t end up in landfills that can encroach on the space of wildlife as well as affect the soils and waters amphibians and other animals call home.
Behind the scenes, our staff utilize a special battery drop-off for spent batteries. By encouraging staff to recycle these items the Zoo is able to see how many batteries we use as an organization, and how many we use that are rechargeable! Alkaline batteries are not rechargeable, so taking a look at our staff battery needs shows us where we could potentially get more rechargeable batteries rather than single-use alkaline batteries. We can also weigh our battery recycling over time and see how much space we have saved in landfills and how many batteries have been prevented from harshly affecting our wildlife habitats.
Be Safe When Collecting Batteries for Recycling
Alkaline: these are more often the common batteries like AA, AAA, C, or D as well as 9-Volt. Do not store any of these batteries together without packaging. Once they have been used there is still potential for them to ‘pop’ open as there are residual chemicals that can be discharged and react with other batteries they are near. This could cause injury if someone is nearby. The 9-Volt batteries are commonly used in your fire alarms and are properly prepared for the recycling center by putting duct-tape over the positive and negative transistors (basically, the top two prongs need to be covered so they don’t come into contact with other batteries). Note that some centers do not accept alkaline batteries for recycling.
Rechargeable: these batteries are widely used in items like power-tools, phone batteries, laptop batteries, or even your more common AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-Volt options. There are no alkaline battery options that cannot be replaced with rechargeable options. You will find rechargeable batteries in forms of Nickel Cadmium (NiCd), Lithium-ion (Li-ion), and Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH). All of these batteries have the potential to get hot and should be packaged separately from each other in preparation for recycling; Li-ion should be particularly tended to in ensuring there is no other metal or battery contact once discharged.
A huge thank you to all of our amazing nominees for the Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior award. Their work shows how they are incredible heroes! After much careful thought our selection committee has decided on our 2015 Houston Zoo Wildlife Warriors. These exceptional leaders demonstrated excellence and were selected based on their outstanding work in the field. Below is the criteria for the award.
Has to be a current employee of an existing Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation partner
Nominated by an existing Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation partner
Grassroots community conservationist, local employee from the project region( local people on the front lines of conservation)
Performed extraordinary things in their communities to save wildlife
Here are the 2015 Wildlife Warriors:
Where he is from: Born in Tanzania
Why he is a Wildlife Warrior:
Ayubu Msago has been the Ruaha Carnivore Project’s community liaison officer since 2009, but has dedicated his whole life to wildlife conservation. Msago gave up his job to come and help start RCP under very difficult conditions – there were only 3 people living in small tents in a remote wilderness area, and the local Barabaig tribe were extremely hostile. Msago worked tirelessly to build a project field camp, and spent years patiently building relationships with the Barabaig, who were killing dozens of lions annually. One night, a young Barabaig girl went missing, so Msago helped organize a search party and searched for 3 days till she was found, very dehydrated but alive. This helped him bond with the fearsome Barabaig warriors, and he became the first outsider they accepted and were willing to work with. Msago tirelessly leads local conservation efforts to help villagers prevent carnivore attacks, even sleeping at households in danger of attack to deter carnivores. He heroically saved the life of a villager who was being attacked by a lion, at extreme risk to his own life, by shooting over the head of the lioness to scare her off the severely injured man and then driving him to the hospital more than 2½ hours away. Long-term conservation depends upon local people seeing real benefits from conservation, so Msago has dedicated years to developing meaningful community benefit initiatives which are linked to wildlife presence. He led local efforts to equip a healthcare clinic, helped establish secondary school scholarships for pastoralist children, developed a program to link village schools with international schools, and implemented Tanzania’s first specialized livestock guarding dog program. He is endlessly passionate about conservation – he conducts wildlife DVD nights in local villages, which have engaged over 20,000 people, and has taken hundreds of warriors, women and schoolchildren on educational Park visits. Living hundreds of miles from his wife and children, Msago is working exceptionally hard to conserve some of the world’s most important carnivore populations, while also helping local communities see real benefits from carnivore presence.
How the award will help:
This award will send Msago to another lion conservation project, the Niassa Lion Project in Mozambique, to learn from their programs to save lions.
Where he is from:
Born in Democratic Republic of Congo
Why he is a Wildlife Warrior: George has been with Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education GRACE in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)since its inception in 2008. Hired as a driver, he was quickly promoted to Facility Manager due to his impressive technical expertise, unparalleled work ethic, and outstanding leadership qualities. His commitment is unwavering. George even stayed with the project throughout a period of insecurity in 2009. To us, George is considered absolutely irreplaceable, as we depend on him in so many ways, from repairing solar panels at the gorilla facility to expertly navigating North Kivu’s treacherous roads to safely transport staff, supplies, and rescued gorillas. George’s accomplishments in 2015, however, show how exceptional he is.
Fourteen gorilla orphans now live at GRACE in a single surrogate family group. GRACE’s ultimate goal is to reintroduce them into their natural habitat, where they can help save the rapidly
dwindling wild Grauer’s gorilla population. For the past three years, George led a massive construction initiative to build the world’s largest forest enclosure to give gorillas an environment
to practice survival-critical skills (e.g., foraging, nest building, coordinating group movements) in preparation for their return to the wild. This groundbreaking achievement, which was completed
in March, was accomplished in one of Africa’s most remote places and all labor was done by hand. George’s team employed over 200 people from local communities, so this project truly
“took a village”.
How the award will help:
This award will send George to a computer training course in the Democratic Republic of Congo to improve his abilities to communicate and share his talents.
Where he is from: Born in Northern Kenya
Why he is a Wildlife Warrior:
Jeneria grew up in Westgate Community Conservancy in northern Kenya. As a Samburu herder, he saw lions only as livestock killers – a threat to his livelihood. In 2008,
however, Jeneria joined Ewaso Lions, whose mission is to conserve lions and other large carnivores by promoting coexistence between people and wildlife.
First working as a Lion Scout and then a Field Assistant, Jeneria learnt that the animal he always knew as a threat was actually itself threatened and wanted to change this. He realised the only way to protect lions would be to engage his own age-class – Samburu warriors; a group traditionally neglected from conservation but who play a central role in protecting their communities and livestock from external threats. In 2010, Jeneria conceived the idea for Warrior Watch, Ewaso Lions’ flagship program.
Warrior Watch encourages warriors to become ambassadors in their communities, raising awareness about carnivores, and advocating for peaceful coexistence. It builds on their traditional protection role by increasing capacity to mitigate human-carnivore conflict and leverages their presence in wildlife areas to monitor threatened species and record conflict incidents. Today, Jeneria manages a network of 18 warriors across 4 Community Conservancies (673 square miles), coordinating their work based on lion movements, and providing leadership and training.
When valuable livestock is lost, tensions can run high but because of his deep connection to the community and constant outreach, Jeneria is usually the first person his community
contacts. Jeneria often intervenes and risks his own life to protect lions. In the past 5 years, Jeneria and his warriors have prevented over 35 retaliatory attacks on lions.
Jeneria has shown such tremendous growth and talent that he has taken on a significant leadership role. As Field Operations and Community Manager, he spends countless hours in the field monitoring lions (covering 1,157 square miles), leads community workshops, and provides management for Ewaso Lions’ community programs: Mama Simba, Lion Kids Camps, and Lion Watch.
Jeneria has already made a significant impact on the survival of lions in Samburu and is shaping up to be a key leader for lion conservation in Kenya.
How the award will help:
This award will send Jeneria to a leadership course that will strengthen his peacemaking skills to encourage peaceful solutions for local people living with lions.
The Houston Zoo is so grateful for and proud of all of these outstanding wildlife saving heroes!
The Houston Zoo partners with organizations around the world to save wildlife. In Central Africa, we partner with 3 organizations (GRACE, Gorilla Doctors and Conservation Heritage-Turambe) who all work to save gorillas in the wild. These organizations often work together to achieve their missions of making sure gorillas are safe in the wild. Below is an update from Conservation Heritage-Turambe who recently had a Gorilla Doctors staff member visit their classroom to teach Rwandan youth about what it’s like to work in the field as a veterinarian for wild gorillas.
Blog written by Valerie Akuredusenge, Program Director of the conservation education program, Conservation Heritage-Turambe (Rwanda).
Conservation Heritage – Turambe (CHT) partners with Gorilla Doctors on messaging and leading classes on the conservation and protection of the critically endangered mountain gorillas. Last week, Dr. Methode Bahizi (Gorilla Doctors) came to a CHT class to talk about when, why, and how they treat mountain gorillas.
During his discussion with students, he focused on activities that Gorillas Doctors do such as monitoring the health of gorillas, treating ill and injured gorillas, doing research, conducting necropsies and collecting samples to analyze them. He also demonstrated how they treat gorillas using real equipment.
This lesson is very important for CHT students because they learn about their community’s natural resources. In addition, Rwandan students see someone from their local community with a very important conservation job, which helps them to understand what jobs they could grow up and have if they work hard.
During the lesson, CHT students realize how their health is really linked to that of mountain gorillas. Humans get the same illnesses that mountain gorillas get such as pneumonia, intestinal parasites (protozoans or worms) and some of these parasites affect humans and gorillas equally.
CHT team thanks so much Gorilla Doctors for coming to class to keep on inspiring the future conservationists of Rwanda.
You can help gorillas all the way from Houston by simply visiting the Zoo! A portion of every ticket sold goes directly to our wildlife saving efforts. In addition, you can recycle your small electronics (like cell phones) at our main gate. These electronics contain a material mined in gorilla habitat and when we recycle that material, less of it needs to be mined from the homes of gorillas. Find out more about taking action at the Houston Zoo here!
The Houston Zoo created a new program called Wildlife Warriors to honor the outstanding heroes from developing countries protecting their local wildlife. Wildlife Warriors are awarded with an a educational experience (training course, exchange to another related conservation project, etc.) of their choosing and a $500 donation to their conservation program efforts.
These brave individuals are on the front lines protecting lemurs, tapirs, lions, gorillas and other wildlife in harsh landscapes. They are over coming all odds to save species from extinction and we want to make sure their efforts are recognized.
Meet our outstanding candidates for the Houston Zoo 2015 Wildlife Warriors! Our selection committee had a hard time selecting the winners, but stay tuned to see who fit the criteria for the award the best.
Ayubu Msago is saving lion and other wildlife in Africa.
Msago was born in Tanzania and works for the Ruaha Carnivore Project in Tanzania. He heroically saved the life of a villager who was being attacked by a lion, at extreme risk to his own life. Msago has helped establish school scholarships for children, developed a program to link village schools with international schools, and implemented Tanzania’s first specialized livestock guarding dog program for locals to live peacefully with lions.
The Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior award would enable Msago the opportunity to go to the Niassa Lion Project in Mozambique to learn from their programs to save lions.
Gabriel Massocato is saving giant armadillos and other wildlife in Brazil.
Gabriel was born in Brazil and started working for the Giant Armadillo project in Brazil in 2011. Gabriel´s progress as a field biologist has been outstanding. He has excellent field skills, loves to share his knowledge with trainees, is a great project spokesman and is easily able to convey his passion for our work to local people.
The Wild Warrior Award could enable Gabriel to take an English course.
George Kayisavira is saving gorillas in Africa.
George was born in Democratic Republic of Congo and has worked with GRACE gorilla project since 2008. George led a massive construction initiative to build the world’s largest forest enclosure to give orphaned gorillas an area to recover in until they can be reintroduced into the wild. George’s team employed over 200 people from local communities.
The Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior award would give George the opportunity to take a computer training course in Rwanda to improve his abilities to communicate and share his talents.
Jeneria Lekilele saving lions and other wildlife in Africa.
Jeneria grew up in Kenya and works for Ewaso Lions in Kenya. He often intervenes and risks his own life to protect lions. He created an idea called Warrior Watch. Warrior Watch encourages locals to become wildlife protectors in their communities. He trains and manages the warriors to track lions and watch over the lions. coordinating their work based on lion movements.
The Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior award would enable Jeneria to participate in a leadership course that would strengthen his peacemaking skills to encourage peaceful solutions for local people living with lions.
José Ralison saving lemurs and other wildlife in Africa.
José was born and raised in Madagascar and is currently a technical coordinator within the GERP association (an organization for primates’ study and research). José is always providing training for the local communities so that they can protect plants and wildlife. He has published lemur conservation articles in both national and international journals. Jose listens to local people to empower them to assist with conservation efforts.
The Wildlife Warrior award could give Jose training in communication skills.
Valerie Akuredusenge is saving gorillas and other wildlife in Africa.
Valerie grew up in Gakenke District in the Northern Province of Rwanda and is the Program Director for Conservation Heritage – Turambe. She has taught over 3,200 children in communities bordering Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park about how to maintain healthy lives for the health of the local communities and the local gorilla population. She is creating the next generation of Rwanda’s wildlife conservationists by inspiring local students to care about their natural resources, and act on behalf of wildlife and habitats.
The Wildlife Warrior award could give Valerie the opportunity to visit other conservation organization’s education programs.
We love our painted dogs at the Zoo and are partnering with people in Zimbabwe to protect them in the wild. In May of this year the Houston Zoo designed a sticker for Painted Dog Conservation to save wildlife in Zimbabwe. The sticker features a phone number that people can call to report any illegal wildlife activity or report on sightings of Painted dogs in the area. The message on the sticker is in the three local languages.
Dominic J. Nyathi, Conservation Clubs & Programs Coordinator of Painted Dog Conservation has reported that the community has been very excited about the stickers and the hotline calls are increasing as a result.
Here is their recent report.
“We had praises and appreciation on the language used from the Chief.
Last week, the volunteers found a snared antelope during their patrol and used the line to get in touch with the APU manager.
We have discovered a new pack in the forestry area that is near the communal land. People have called us to let us know of their presence.
We have also made some arrest through the hotline. A poacher was arrested through the tip from the line.
Another woman was also arrested when found selling some meat through the line. It was later discovered by the police that she got the meat from hunters.
We have also received some messages on wildlife crimes.
The stickers have been given to village heads to use them in their community meetings.
The stickers are doing great and all need them. Motorists also want them on their vehicle!”
The past twenty years have seen a phenomenal boom in the use of bottled water. While many of us find the packaging convenient, what is the cost of that convenience to the environment? Did you know:
Each bottle requires triple its own volume in water, just to be manufactured
The fuel consumed annually in the transportation of bottled water could fuel 1 million cars for a year
Nearly half of the water on store shelves is bottled from municipal supplies (tap water)
The earth’s freshwater supply is being depleted as it is redistributed, consumed, and emptied into the sea
Only about one out of five plastic bottles ever gets recycled
The good news is, there are things we can all do to bring positive change! The Houston Zoo has already eliminated plastic shopping bags from our gift shops in favor of stylish canvas alternatives, and recycling receptacles can be found throughout the Zoo. As always, a portion of every ticket or membership sold supports local and international conservation programs.
What can you do? Helping at home is easy! Do your part to save the environment, money, and wildlife by filtering water at the tap or from a pitcher. Even sodas can be made at home! Then, fill up a reusable water bottle when you go out. Make sure waste is disposed of properly; reduce or reuse it whenever possible.
Greetings from Panama City! The Houston Zoo recently visited Florida with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to test turtle excluder devices (TEDs) for fisheries across the globe to incorporate into their shrimp nets. These TEDs are critical – and required by federal law – to ensure the safety of sea turtles while fishermen work to provide some of our favorite seafood, like shrimp!
Every summer NOAA staff spends three weeks in Panama City testing newly-constructed or tweaked TED designs that will, if approved, later be used by fishermen. Turtle excluder devices are used to allow fishermen to catch animals like shrimp, while excluding animals like sea turtles that may accidentally be caught in their nets.
Each year, about 200 sea turtles are driven to Florida from Galveston to test each TED, and about 25 turtles will attempt to swim through each TED. That’s a lot of turtles and swim time! The sea turtles are then released back into the wild after the weeks of TED testing.
Our partners at NOAA Galveston spend all year getting the sea turtles in their care ready for this critical work! This year, they allowed Houston Zoo staff to come along and observe the process of ensuring shrimp nets around the world are safe for sea turtles.
In addition to field work assistance in Panama City this summer, the Houston Zoo helps save sea turtles in a number of ways. One way the Zoo helps is by providing veterinary care to sea turtles brought in from Galveston, sometimes also housing rehabilitating sea turtles at the Zoo in the Kipp Aquarium. The Zoo also hosts sea turtle events at the Zoo to increase awareness, participates in weekly beach surveys to look for stranded or nesting sea turtles, and serves only ocean-friendly seafood to Zoo animals and guests!
Be sure to check back soon for more information on TED testing in Panama City!
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As National Zoo Keeper Week concludes, we’d like to introduce you to a special family here at the Zoo. Meet the Mays, a family of zookeepers, and see what it was like for one young keeper growing up at the Houston Zoo and sharing her parents’ love of animals. ... See MoreSee Less
Written by Memory Mays Normally the blogs that I write about involve Hoofstock baby announcements or fun facts about the animals I work with. This time this blog is going to be different. It’s going to be about people. Three people in fact. What better way to celebrate National Zookeeper Week than t...
Thank you so very much for this personal insight. Traveling is difficult for me now but I visit you and all of your posts, learning areas, and animals nearly everyday.
In a quiet, virtual way you bring me so much joy, sadness sometimes too, but always joy. The level of caring glows through your entire website.
What a great story and family! I'm proud to know ya!
Thank you May family for all you do at the Houston Zoo!
Congratulations on a wonderful story. Your dad is an old friend and I can only imagine how proud he is of you.
Stan, I hate that we didn't stay in contact after school. Glad to hear of you and your family enjoying life!
Happy National Zoo Keeper Week! We are proud of all the hard work, passion, and dedication seen in ALL our zoo keepers, and Sara Riger is no exception! Sara has been nominated for the American Association of Zoo Keepers #goldenkeeper award, and you can vote for her to win. Simply follow the link to the original post and LIKE her photo. Next time you're at the Houston Zoo, stop by the Naturally Wild Swap Shop to see Sara in action! ... See MoreSee Less
I actually met her a few months ago with two of my friends kids. She brought out a Madagascar Hognose snake. She was super informative and kind to my kiddos. They has a great experience talking to her and talked about it all day! You go girl!!!!
Sara is truly phenomenal!!!! Go LIKE this picture!!!!