How Food and Retail Partner, SSA is Helping the Zoo Achieve its Wildlife Saving Mission

Each July over 250 Zoo staff and volunteers challenge themselves to reduce their plastic usage, saving animals in the wild

Here at the Zoo, we believe that even the smallest of actions can help to save wildlife. During the month of July, we put our staff to the test, encouraging them to participate in Plastic Free July. For 31 days, over 250 Zoo staff and volunteers challenge themselves and each other to “choose to refuse” single-use plastic, saving animals in the wild. This includes taking actions like refusing single-use plastic straws, using personal containers from home to carry take-out food, and many, many more. In a lot of ways, this challenge acts as a catalyst, encouraging staff to not only reduce their plastic use at home, but within their departments on Zoo grounds as well.

By going single-use plastic bottle and straw free, the zoo will be able to prevent an estimated 300,000 plastic bottles and nearly 23,000 plastic straws from entering landfills and the environment each year.

Since going single-use plastic bag, bottle, and straw free, our food and retail partners, SSA, have made huge strides towards helping the Zoo achieve its wildlife saving mission, and as a result they’ve even influenced shifts in the food and retail industry nation-wide proving that small actions can have HUGE impacts. Take french fries for example – when outside vendors used to ship fries to the Zoo, they would come in plastic bags. Our partners at SSA saw this as an opportunity to create change, and seized the opportunity by telling the vendors they were prepared to switch to another company unless a more sustainable alternative to the plastic bag was used for shipping food. Not long after, the company announced that their bags would be made from  cornstarch from now on, meaning they would biodegrade instead of sitting in a landfill. Their influence hasn’t stopped there. SSA also encouraged the company that provides souvenir cups to make a lid that was 100% straw free – the straw free alternative sold out in a matter of hours! Next up? The team hopes to help the industry develop trash bags that are completely compostable, further eliminating single-use plastic from the waste stream.

New tank tops made from plastic water bottles are saving sea turtles in the wild

While these changes can be challenging, they are equally rewarding. Every Purchase matters, since the zoo gets a percentage of all sales of everything purchased from SSA. Since swapping plastic bags in the gift shop for reusable totes, the gift shop was not expecting  their sales  to increase by six times in the first year after making the wildlife-friendly change. When Nancy Gonzalez, Houston Zoo SSA General Manager stopped giving away the plastic bags, the zoo provided supportive signage for the guests. The response was resoundingly positive to the transition. Additionally Nancy has received numerous calls from other zoo venues wanting to know how to transition away from the single use plastic bags. “We heard other zoos say, if a zoo like Houston Zoo can do it with over 2 million guests a year, we can do it too!” Since then, SSA has worked to replace single-use toy cases with reusable ones that are great for travel, and SSA Corporate continues to work with vendors to reduce the amount of plastic wrap being used to cover toys. Some items you buy in the gift shop are helping to save wildlife without you even knowing! New tank tops made from plastic water bottles are saving sea turtles in the wild, and some animal plushes are actually filled with stuffing that comes from collecting and shredding plastic bags found on beaches in Africa.

Our SSA General Manager Danny Anchondo didn’t grow up recycling, but now he works hard to find wildlife-friendly solutions in everything that he does thanks to his number one inspiration – his kids. “It isn’t just about me recycling – it is knowing that for the next 80 or 90 years that my kids are on this Earth they will continue to reuse and recycle, and at the end of the day, it is the little victories I’m most proud of. We start small, and at some point our actions turn into something bigger. In 3 or 5 years we may go to another Zoo and see them eliminating their plastic use as well, and know we helped to make that transition possible.”

Local High School Student is Saving Wildlife, One Bottle of Water at a Time

This blog is written by Carolyn Jess, a high school student who helped us out as a guest blogger from 2013-2016 with a focus on native wildlife. Carolyn reached out to the Houston Zoo last year for advice on installing a water bottle refill station. Read on for her successes.

My high school is BIG. We are a 6A school with around 2,400 students and 250 teachers. We excel at many things – we have tons of school pride, great love for one another, and a strong desire to help others every chance we get…but the one thing we are really good at? Recycling. Most of our classrooms have gone paperless, but recycling bins are abundant for those that still need paper. In fact, there are recycling bins everywhere you look – we all know where the big green recycling bins are should we need them, and everyone recycles their plastic water bottles in a specially made bin. We know how to recycle.

But recently, I started thinking, are we too good at it? Is that even possible? It seems like our recycling bins are always filled to the brim, and in some cases overflowing. Plastic bottles will spill out, and despite the dedication of the recycling team and custodians, excess bottles end up in the trash. Plenty of students bring their own refillable bottle, but the fountains on campus are not built to easily refill a bottle. Students stand awkwardly at the fountain trying to hold the bottle at the right angle, and most can only get the bottle filled halfway before they have to rush off in order to beat the tardy bell. As a result, many of the students who try to do the right thing end up retiring their reusable bottles and resort to using the throw away kind since they are a faster and easier option. At the rate we are going, with 2,400 students using 2 bottles a day, 5 days a week we are looking at 24,000 plastic bottles discarded EVERY WEEK.

Something needed to be done to fix our plastic problem, so I started researching refillable water bottle stations. I wasn’t sure about costs, installation, or maintenance, but after looking at various makes, models, and prices, I found a great online resource called becausewater.com. After reading their website, I made contact with them and our question and answer session began. They offered so much assistance when it came to choosing the right model for my campus and figuring out the associated costs. Once I knew my options, I typed up a proposal and timeline for my school principle. I scheduled a meeting with her and explained what exactly it was that I wanted to do and how I would go about getting a unit installed.

It took a little while, but I finally got the go ahead to start fundraising to pay for the unit! With the help of my student council, we will have 3 fundraisers during the upcoming school year and use some of our homecoming dance proceeds to pay for the unit. The principal has decided to match our efforts – If we can raise the funds to buy and install one station on our main campus, she will get one and have it installed on our freshman campus. We will get the district’s maintenance staff to install the unit to cut down on costs, and I will be on hand to help with the instillation process as much as I am allowed. Once the unit is installed, I know our students and staff will be excited to start filling up their bottles with ease, plus it will be fun for them to see the counter at the top of the fountain showing how they are minimizing plastic waste in our environment! I am a senior this year and want to leave my school knowing that I was able to take action to help our environment and our local wildlife.

My campus is big, and it has a big heart. I hope that there is a student next year, that continues with this plan and installs another unit, and another, until all our fountains have the water bottle refill option. With these small steps come big results, 2400 times two times five, to be exact. Taking action like this leads to helping our animals in the wild, one plastic bottle at a time.

Saving Lemurs in Madagascar through Empowering the Next Generation of Wildlife Saving Heroes

Over the past week, lucky Zoo goers may have had the pleasure of running into Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Houston Zoo’s Director of Madagascar Programs and one of the founding members of GERP, an organization saving lemurs in the wild. Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo, one of the Zoo’s research sites in Madagascar, are found only in Madagascar, including eight species of lemurs such as the black and white ruffed lemur, brown mouse lemur, eastern and lesser wooly lemurs, and one of the most critically endangered lemurs on the island, the James’ sportive lemur. There are small mammals such as tenrecs, falanouc (a cool mongoose like mammal), fossa and ring-tailed mongoose as well as nearly 60 species of birds and reptiles and amphibians such as geckos, mantella’s, Madagascar crocodiles and many others. In the past few years, Jonah and the team at GERP have discovered two new species of mouse lemurs – they continue to work tirelessly in order to save each and every one of these species from extinction.

Jonah  took a break from his work in the field and spent all of last week visiting us here in Houston serving as a guest instructor for the Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program sponsored by ExxonMobil. Each year, 10 students from universities around the US are selected to spend a summer at the Houston Zoo in order to train, learn, and work alongside Zoo staff and regional conservation partners. Jonah led the interns through discussions and activities focused on current community-based conservation topics such as properly engaging and empowering local communities, addressing human/wildlife conflict, and effective leadership. Opportunities to learn from conservation heroes like Jonah are rare, and the interns treasured every moment they had with him. As Jamie put it, “his perseverance in life shines through in every accomplishment he has made, and listening to him speak you could feel his passion fill the room”. When their week with Jonah came to an end, the interns were left with one feeling shared between them all – they were inspired:

“Jonah’s visit left me with more confidence than I have ever felt in the field of conservation that is usually filled with consistent challenges and failure. As he explained over and over, it is okay to fail as long as you get back up, and as long as you set your goals and stick to them. I will never forget his visit and hope that we will one day meet again – but instead of being a college student, being a conservation hero alongside him.”  – Brooke, 2018 CCP Intern

 

It is safe to say that the lessons learned during this week will not soon be forgotten.

Dr. Jonah spent the remainder of his time in Houston making wildlife saving plans with our team at the Zoo and sharing his love of lemurs with guests out on Zoo grounds. Jonah says that no lemurs will become extinct on his watch, and we believe him! He reminds us that no matter what you do for a living, everyone has a skill that can benefit conservation, and just by visiting the Zoo you are helping to save lemurs in the wild.

To see more about the Zoo’s lemur saving work , check out this KPRC special feature.

Amazon to Andes Field Course Inspires Youth to Save Wildlife

Houston Zoo Galapagos conservation partner, Ecology Project International (EPI)  is educating local kids on the Galapagos Islands about the wildlife that lives in their area, while engaging them in hands-on activities to protect species (beach cleanups, monitoring sea turtle nests, etc.). This year the Houston Zoo supported development opportunities for EPI students.  A student named Ibrahi recently took part in EPI’s “Amazon to Andes” field course with the Houston Zoo’s support. This is Ibrahi’s story: 

Alongside a number of students from California, we went to the Amazon to Andes Course of EPI which covers several different locations within the Amazon rainforest, the Andean cloud forest, and paramo (a treeless, elevated area in South America). During the course, we fulfilled many amazing activities, and also took part in some new activities that not all people have access to. First, we made new friends because as a Mola Mola Eco-club member, we got to know students from the US, and also reconnect with one chaperone who was once a student in the Galapagos Islands Ecology Course. During our time in the field, we had to go kayaking on the river in order to get to our camping site, which was both a new and incredible experience. We also had the opportunity to interact with a Kichwa community (the only community within the national park), and learned how to make the famous “chicha”, which is a traditional beverage.

Taking a night walk in the Amazon rainforest in the search of caiman’s hatchlings was amazing, even if we didn’t end up spotting any! Making our way up to the Andean part of Ecuador was great because special birds received us – hummingbirds! I learned more about the differences between ecosystems and how to use satellite telemetry in order to find species. In the mountains, we were in search of Andean Bears and Tapirs, which are both endangered species. We weren’t lucky enough to see both animals, but an Andean male tapir, wearing a collar allowed us to track him using satellite telemetry, putting the skills we had learned to good use.

Throughout this experience we learned a lot about our ecological footprint and how we can reduce it by changing our buying habits as consumers. As I return home to study at university, I hope to make changes in order to reduce my ecological footprint and live more sustainably. By continuing in the field of wildlife conservation, I hope to become a marine biologist to do my own research about sea turtles.

Helping Communities to Help Gorillas in Rwanda

Here at the Houston Zoo we are proud to support a number of organizations that work tirelessly to protect mountain gorillas in the wild. One of these organizations, Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT) runs after-school programs for local primary school students and community outreach efforts that promote both healthy living habits and gorilla conservation through education and empowerment in communities bordering Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

CHT puts added emphasis on the importance of good hygiene in their programming, due to humans and gorillas in these communities living in close proximity to one another. Gorillas and humans are genetically very similar, and as a result human illnesses have the potential to spread to wild gorilla populations. In addition to teaching good habits, CHT also works to improve the livelihood of people in these communities, making adopting good hygiene practices easier. Last year the Houston Zoo provided a water tank for a CHT partner school, enabling 1,500 school children as well as their families and other members of the community to access clean water. In addition, two school gardens and 40 kitchen gardens were built, inspiring the local community to eat a healthy diet while lessening the need for people to venture into gorilla habitat looking for vegetables.

Promoting good hygiene practices is certainly important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. CHT also works with students to help them understand the importance of protecting mountain gorillas and their habitat. In 2017, 219 students enrolled in a year-long after school conservation and health education program. 200 of these students received sheep that their families can use as a source of alternative income. The sheep can be used to provide wool that can be sold, which acts as a replacement for harvesting fire wood from the forest to sell. By the end of the year-long program, 78% of students reported that they better understood why mountain gorillas are important to their community, and almost 90% said that they learned that trees are important because of their role as animal habitat, their ability to prevent soil erosion, and their ability to produce the oxygen that we breathe!

When it comes to saving wildlife, there is never a “one size fits all solution”. Our partners at CHT are a great example of how creative solutions to multiple obstacles can positively contribute to conservation efforts. By helping to meet the communities’ needs, while also including community members in the discussion about issues facing wildlife and what actions each individual can do to help save them, projects like CHT not only provide a brighter future for wildlife, but for their human counterparts as well.

 

The Art of Plastic Reduction to Save Wildlife at Carnegie Vanguard High School

This blog was co-authored by Cason Hancock, a senior at Carnegie Vanguard High School.

In recent months, reports on the harmful effects of single-use plastics for both humans and wildlife have gone viral in the news and on social media. The news for many comes as no surprise, but the lingering question remains – what can we do about it? Here at home, students at one local high school saw the need for change, and challenged themselves to find a solution, with the hope of  inspiring their community to do the same. The Student Conservation Association (SCA), in partnership with Carnegie Vanguard High School (CVHS), received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to do something incredible and they delivered: the reduction of single-use plastics on Carnegie Vanguard’s campus and increased knowledge of the region’s waterways.

SCA and CVHS approached the grant from a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) perspective. With the EPA funding, every student and staff member received a reusable water bottle, 4 water bottle filling stations were installed on campus, 640 high school students received education about local waterways, 100 CVHS students participated in hands-on conservation experiences, 150 elementary and middle school students received programming about the health of waterways, and CVHS designed and built an Art Car as part of the outreach on single-use plastic reduction. Partners throughout the grant included Galveston Bay Foundation, Bayou Preservation Association, Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, the CVHS Parent Teacher Organization, and Houston-Galveston Area Council. The most visible part of this project was the construction of the Art Car. Generously donated by a parent, the Nissan Maxima was transformed with a hand-painted coral reef mural and 3D sea creatures. The picturesque scene was threatened by a wave of plastic bottles crashing ashore. The wave was built from the collected plastic water bottles on campus and the car’s 3D turtle gets its body from the bottle caps collected. This message on wheels was presented to the local community in Houston as it competed in the 31st Art Car Parade. Amanda Feldman, a senior at CVHS reflected on the experience of showcasing the vehicle to 250,000 Houstonians: “Working on the art car was a fun experience and knowing that the car would make an impact made all of the work worth it. With the Art Car Parade being so popular, I know a lot of people were exposed to the idea of single-use plastic reduction and I hope it has impacted them”. 

Post Parade, the art car is back on the high school’s campus, surrounded by two model water bottles standing almost 7 feet tall that represent how much CVHS has reduced their consumption of  single-use plastic bottles. Since the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, students and faculty on campus have reduced their consumption of plastic bottles by almost 43% compared to the numbers recorded during the 2016-2017 school year. The team of students that spearheaded this initiative concluded that the decrease was largely due to the instillation of water-refill stations and the distribution of reusable water bottles to the student body. The introduction of these alternatives to single use plastic bottles also raised awareness as to how one small action can make a huge difference. From senior Ernie Vita’s perspective, “there are many things in life that are hard to change, but reducing single-use plastics is not one of these. And in making the change, there is a large scale impact without sacrificing much.” 

The Houston Zoo has also committed to reducing its consumption of single-use plastics, having gone plastic bag and bottle free in order to save wildlife like sea turtles and pelicans that often encounter plastic debris that has traveled downstream and ended up in the ocean. There are water bottle filling stations located zoo-wide, so on your next visit, we encourage you to join the wildlife saving movement by bringing your own reusable water bottle! As we continue to eliminate the need for single-use plastics on zoo grounds, Carnegie Vanguard High School says the water bottle filling stations, recycling bins, and push for single-use plastic reduction will remain on campus with the hope of a greener, more wildlife friendly, plastic-free school.

 

 

K9 Patrol Dogs are Saving Painted Dogs in the Wild

Man’s best friend. It’s no secret that dogs have many talents when it comes to helping humans – they are recruited as therapy and support animals, work with rescue crews, serve alongside soldiers and police officers, provide aid as guide dogs and guard dogs…and of course, they show us unconditional love. With such a stellar reputation as our number one sidekick, it’s no surprise that dogs have taken on yet another special role – protecting and saving their wild canine counterparts the painted dog in Zimbabwe!

Painted dogs are an endangered and truly unique species of canine. No two wild dogs have the same markings, making them easy to identify as individuals. They also have very distinctive rounded ears that help them to keep track of members of their pack over long distances. Did I mention that they only have 4 toes, while other dogs have 5? Unfortunately, painted dogs are endangered because they can accidentally be caught and/or killed in wire snares that have been set to hunt other local wildlife, like antelope.

A K9 unit of highly trained, domestic dogs is now helping to protect painted dogs from poaching (which is when painted dogs are harmed through wire snares). The domestic dogs have excellent tracking abilities-they can smell products that are illegal, and they can find humans who are doing illegal activities. These skills, unique to domestic dogs, help a team called an anti-poaching unit become more effective in reducing wildlife poaching.

Thanks to your visit to the zoo, we were able to fund our partners in Africa at Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) to spend time and learn about anti-poaching units and K9 dogs from another successful project in the region. Because of this success, we then assisted PDC with building a facility for their own K9 anti-poaching unit.

We look forward to hearing more as the K9 unit is brought into the field, taking action to save wildlife like painted dogs. Make sure to stop by and visit our pack of painted dogs on your next visit to the Zoo and come face to face with one of the many species you are helping to save in the wild.

Become a Sea Turtle Superhero in 4 Easy Steps

Spring has finally sprung here in Texas, and Texans much like the rest of the animal kingdom are emerging from their winter hideouts to embrace the sunshine. For many, clear skies and warm weather are an invitation to leave the city and make a break for the coast  – after all, who doesn’t want to spend a gorgeous day at the beach playing in the water or trying to land that perfect catch? What you may not know is that it isn’t just humans flocking to Texas beaches this spring, it is sea turtles too! April marks the beginning of nesting season, which means a heightened presence of Kemp’s ridley and green sea turtles is likely as summer approaches. A trip to the beach for our endangered friends is not always as pleasant as our trips as they are faced with many threats including plastic left in the water and on land, but luckily we have some simple ways to help make their journey safer so they continue to call Texas home for many years to come!

We want to do everything we can to help save sea turtles, but we need your help! Here are four easy ways you can become a sea turtle superhero:

  1. If you accidentally catch or spot a sea turtle on the beach, call 1-866-TURTLE-5
  2. Going fishing? Place any broken or unusable line in a monofilament recycling bin – line is recycled and made into products like tackle boxes!
  3. Taking a stroll on the beach? Bring a bag with you and pick up trash as you walkalong the shore
  4. Visit the zoo! Just by purchasing a ticket to the zoo you are helping to save sea turtles in the wild by supporting efforts like those mentioned below:
    Look for a fishing line recycling bin like this one next time you need to dispose of line!

Here at the Houston Zoo, we work to save sea turtles in a number of ways. Every Monday, a member of our staff assists our partners at NOAA Fisheries with their weekly sea turtle surveys. Additionally, some sea turtles NOAA picks up when they receive a call are in need of medical care.  These turtles are brought here to our vet clinic where Dr. Joe Flanagan and his team will take xrays, administer medications, perform hook extractions, and anything else the turtle may need. The sea lion team has been organizing and running monthly clean-ups at Surfside Jetty since 2014. Houston Zoo staff and volunteers spend an entire day down at the mile-long jetty picking up trash, recycling, and fishing line to help ensure that this debris is properly disposed of so it doesn’t end up in the ocean where it becomes a threat to animals like sea turtles.

The newest project we are involved in is in partnership with members from the Audubon Texas Coastal ProgramGalveston Bay Area Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality -Galveston Bay Estuary Program. This team identified discarded fishing line as one of the biggest threats to wildlife like sea turtles and pelicans, and devised a plan to help solve this problem by working directly with members of the community! The Texas City Dike (TCD) was selected as the area the group wanted to work in because of its reputation as a prime, year-round fishing spot. Once this study area was chosen, the group decided that the next step would be to take a trip to the dike, and collect discarded fishing line from specific locations to see just how much line was present. This collection of line took place on December 4th of last year and thanks to an amazing team of volunteers, we were able to collect a total of 21.9 pounds of fishing line from TCD. Since then, the team has made trips to some of our region’s most popular fishing locations and have conducted surveys with over 200 anglers in order to learn more about their current fishing line containment and disposal practices. From this data, we will come up with several potential messages to test with a focus group of anglers to see what resonates best with them to encourage the recycling of fishing line.

For the 11th annual Wildlife Conservation Gala at the Houston Zoo, we’re shining a spotlight on the species and habitats of the Lone Star State! We’ll come together as Texans to raise the funds our Zoo needs to keep saving Texas wildlife like sea turtles.

 

 

 

Become a Houston Zoo Pollinator Pal

What is a Pollinator Pal? Possibly the coolest conservation title ever!

Most of us know the importance of pollinators. Without them, our grocery store shelves and our pantries would be pretty empty.  By some reports, we would lose half of the food in our grocery stores, as well as things like coffee, chocolate and tequila without our pollinators!  Even the clothes we wear would be different.  Cotton that is used to make a lot of clothing relies on….you guessed it…..pollinators.

So, the question is, how can we help them?

First, you can plant a pollinator garden at home. A pollinator garden can be as small as one Milkweed plant in a pot or as large as a full-blown flower bed.  There are a huge number of plants that attract or feed pollinators in every stage of their lives.  Check with your local nursery to find out what native pollinator plants would be best for your area.

Another big help? Use natural products in your garden that won’t harm the bees, butterflies and other pollinators that visit it.  Pesticides can have a huge effect on them.

Build your own Pollinator Palace or Pollination Station to provide living space for pollinators. They are a fun way to create a decorative, natural space in your yard.

Now, back to Pollinator Pal. You can earn that amazing title for helping pollinators in your own back yard.  Bring pictures, reports or drawings of your pollinator garden to The Naturally Wild Swap Shop at the Houston Zoo.  You will not only be registered as one of the Houston Zoo’s Pollinator Pals, but you will earn points to spend in the shop as well.

Another way to participate is by posting observations of pollinators seen on zoo grounds on iNaturalist. There is a project titled “Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo” in iNaturalist.  If you post a pollinator picture to the project and show the Naturalists in the Swap Shop, you can be registered and earn points!

Don’t know about The Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.

Now get out there and look for those pollinators! Before you know it, you will be a Pollinator Pal too!

 

Your Visit to the Zoo Saves Bats in Africa

When I say bats, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it disease? Vampires? Halloween? Maybe its my personal favorite – Batman! While Batman may not have been created with actual bats in mind, the two do actually share a few common characteristics. Let’s think about it for a second…Batman is a superhero that fights crime by night and protects people from harm. Similarly, our nocturnal bat friends take flight at night and lend a hand to humans by acting as seed dispersers, pollinators, and some species of bats even act as a form of natural pest control, protecting us from insects like mosquitoes. Bats are in their own unique league of superheroes, and thanks to your visit to the zoo, we are excited to announce that we will be providing support to a new project to help save straw-colored fruit bats in Rwanda!

Led by Houston Zoo partner Dr. Olivier Nsengimana, this project will be an addition to his team’s work with endangered grey crowned cranes in Rwanda. After having worked as a Gorilla Doctor, Dr. Olivier saw a need to protect lesser-known species in his country and as a result started the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA). Adding African straw-colored fruit bats as the next species to work with was a natural choice, as the Central African region, including Rwanda, is known to be home to about 60% of all Africa’s bat species, yet they are the least studied in comparison to other mammals. So what do we know about the straw-colored fruit bat? First, it got its name from the yellowish or straw colored fur on its body. This species can reach a length of 5-9 inches and has a wingspan that can reach a length of up to 2.5 feet – a size that earns it the title of mega-bat. They are very strong fliers, and each year in November, over 8 million straw-colored fruit bats migrate to Zambia (similar to the distance from Houston to Tallahassee, Florida), forming the largest mammal migration in the world!

Despite what we do know about bats being important pollinators and consumers of pest insects, they are typically ignored or feared by many people which can lead to conflict that threatens bat numbers. In Africa, bats face challenges due to conflict with fruit growers, habitat loss, and being hunted for food. Occasionally, bats will roost (rest in their upside down hanging position) inside of homes and buildings which unfortunately further damages their reputation as they are thought to be involved in the transmission of infectious diseases. In reality, little is known about if and how bats actually transmit diseases to humans. Dr. Olivier and his team will be working to track bat population numbers and their movements, which will help to provide a greater understanding of how bats come into contact with humans, and how frequently this occurs. Knowing this information will add another dimension to the research being done on bats as pathogen (bacterium or virus that causes disease) carriers and transmitters – the more we know about bat behavior, the more we can learn about how coming into contact with them affects us.

Marie Claire Dusabe has recently assumed the position of Bat Project Coordinator for the RWCA, and will be helping with work that will establish the important role this species plays in Rwanda’s ecosystem. By generating new knowledge and providing community outreach, the team hopes to change the public perception of bats in Rwanda, with the long-term goal of protecting this species and its habitat. Animals have certainly been inspiration for folklore, tales, and fears, and our straw-colored fruit bat friends are a prime example of a misunderstood species. We are excited to see what great work the RWCA team is able to accomplish, and we thank each and every one of you for your continued support of projects like this one through your visit to the zoo. On your next trip, don’t forget to drop by and visit our own colony of fruit bats in the Carruth Natural Encounters building!

 

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