Elephant Population Increases on Island of Borneo

Our wildlife protection partners in Borneo have recently announced that the population of elephants has doubled over the past 10 years! Thanks to your visit to the Houston Zoo, we are able to send vital support to protect elephants in Borneo. We are extremely fortunate to have members of our extended zoo family working in Asia to ensure the survival of Bornean elephants. The Kinabatangan Elephant Conservation Unit (ECU) works with local communities in Borneo to raise awareness, improve human-wildlife relationships, and give farmers the tools and training they need for elephant-friendly crop protection. The Danau Girang Field Centre is conducting the first population biology study of the Bornean elephant, and as a part of this effort, the zoo is able to provide funding for: radio collars, camera traps, and graduate student scholarships.

Here at home we continue to promote these partnerships at our McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, giving our Houston community the opportunity to learn about our herd of elephants at the zoo, and their wild counterparts. To learn more about our partnerships and how you can help Bornean elephants on and off zoo grounds click here.

 

Mountain Gorilla Population on the Rise

The Houston Zoo loves its’ troop of gorillas, and we do everything we can to protect gorillas in the wild.

The critically endangered mountain gorilla can be found in three countries; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.  These gorillas have adapted to living higher up in the mountains and despite pressures from poaching, habitat loss, and disease, our wildlife partners in Africa have seen an increase in the mountain gorilla population over the last several years, thanks to dedicated protection efforts!

Here at the Houston Zoo we are proud to support a number of organizations that work tirelessly to protect mountain gorillas in the wild. 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. Gorilla Doctors, an organization comprised of an international team of veterinarians, is the only group providing mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas with direct, hands-on care in the wild. In addition to monitoring gorilla health and providing medical care, the veterinary team further protects gorillas by supporting health programs for people and their animals living and working in and around gorilla habitat. GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center) provides care for rescued Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo and works alongside local communities to ensure gorilla survival in the wild. Facilities like GRACE are essential to this endangered species’ survival, and zoo staff is able to aid field researchers in meeting husbandry and management challenges for rescued gorillas housed at GRACE. The Houston Zoo acts as a resource to secure funding for these incredible programs, as well as offering training for project staff.

Each time you visit the zoo, you are helping to support these programs and protect gorillas in the wild! And remember, you can help to save gorilla habitat by recycling your cell phone and other handheld electronics during your next visit! These electronic devices contain a material called tantalum that is mined in areas where gorillas live – if we reuse and recycle these items, we can decrease the amount of mining that takes place in these vital habitats.

Seventh International Tapir Symposium Comes to Houston

Like most of us after reading that headline, you’re probably saying what in the world is a tapir, and why are they having a meeting? 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.

While the tapirs may not have come to town, the specialists from all over the world that work with them did, and we enjoyed every moment of their visit. The symposium was made up of members from the Tapir Specialist Group (TSG) – a team we partner with to help save tapirs in the wild! The TSG 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. Every 2-3 years, the TSG will meet, giving these experts the opportunity to share their successes, struggles, thoughts, and ideas in order to work together and plan for the future of tapir conservation. The first part of the conference usually features paper and poster presentations, as well as keynote speakers, while the second part is devoted to workshops and round-tables addressing topics relevant to tapir conservation worldwide. Topics can range from veterinary and genetic issues, to husbandry and captive management, to environmental education and the involvement of local communities. It sounds like a lot of hard work packed into just five days, but don’t worry! Everyone at the symposium had the opportunity to get out and explore the city, and they even made a trip to visit all of us here at the zoo!

This year, we were proud to have our very own hoofed stock keepers John Scaramucci and Mary Fields present for the TSG about the Tapir SOS event we host here on zoo grounds each year. This event gives our zoo guests the opportunity to learn more about tapirs, to connect with field researchers, and learn fun and easy ways to help save these animals in the wild.

Gatherings such as this one have proven to be critical to the success of global conservation efforts. At first glance you may think that projects in Brazil and Malaysia have very little in common, or that field researchers and zookeepers play very different roles. However, when a meeting of the minds occurs, you find out just how much they all have in common, and how vital the exchange of ideas can be to the survival of a species like the tapir. We are honored to be a part of such a collaborative effort, and wish our extended family at the TSG luck as they return to their field sites!

To learn about what you can do to help save tapirs in the wild, click here.

Houston Zoo’s Crisis Fund Provides Aid to Grevy’s Zebra

The past two years in northern Kenya have posed many challenges for our friends at the Grevy’s Zebra Trust. When the short rains of 2016 and the long rains of 2017 did not arrive, areas of Kenya that the Grevy’s zebra call home experienced a severe drought. Much like when we receive droughts in Texas, the lack of rain led to a significant decline in the amount of forage (food) available for both livestock and wildlife. As competition grew for use of this limited food supply, the already endangered Grevy’s zebra population was put in jeopardy.

Our friends at the Grevy’s Zebra Trust took action immediately and started a hay feeding program across all areas of Grevy’s zebra range in order to help prevent starvation and maintain the body condition of these zebras so that they could remain healthy enough to fight off the effects of drought and disease. In May of 2017, part of the range received much needed rain, but in Samburu and Buffalo Springs the rains did not come, and with the Grevy’s Zebra Trust out of funds to run their feeding program, nearly 150 Grevy’s zebra were still in danger of starvation.

The Houston Zoo has a crisis fund that is set up for emergency situations just like this one. Simply put, the crisis fund exists to provide support in the event that a wildlife conservation crisis or situation has occurred, and is in need of urgent action. In this instance, we were able to use this fund to cover the feeding costs for the Grevy’s zebra for an additional 5 weeks – just long enough to keep everyone fed before the rains returned and forage started to grow once again. We are dedicated to doing everything we can to help save animals in the wild, and are grateful to each and every one of you who make programs like this possible through your visit to the zoo. To learn more about this partnership and what you can do to help click here!

We are happy to announce that our partners at Ewaso Lions have informed us that the rains have returned to Samburu! The vegetation is finally growing back, and river beds are filling, meaning the supplementary feedings are no longer necessary.

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles See Nesting Boom

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

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

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

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

Staff Saving Wildlife in Vietnam

One of our amazing veterinary technicians is currently in Vietnam training staff from the organization, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. Jess, our talented vet tech is training staff in Vietnam on medical procedures for animals including blood collection, animal handling skills, intubation techniques and how to respond to different anesthetic situations.

Developing these skills in the staff at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife will help them further develop their animal health assessments of critically endangered animals such as pangolins. Jess started her work immediately upon arrival, when the organization rescued a total of 32 pangolins, bringing the total under their care to 77. Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world.

Jess’s work is fully-supported by our Staff Conservation Fund, a grant for Houston Zoo staff, funded by Houston Zoo staff to support their passion to save animals in the wild. This is a unique program to the Houston Zoo and has allowed our staff to carry out 43 projects around the world to save wildlife over the past 10 years.

Critically Endangered Fish in the Swap Shop

Cichlids come in many colors
Cichlids come in many colors

The next time you visit the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, check out our newest residents. We have received 3 critically endangered Lake Victoria cichlids (Haplochromis perrieri) from the New England Aquarium.  Lake Victoria is one of the great lakes of Africa and it is the third largest lake in Africa.  Several factors have contributed to the decline of this species in the wild.  One of the biggest issues is the Nile Perch.  Nile Perch were introduced to Lake Victoria in the 1950’s.  This non-native species had a population boom in the 1980’s which coincided with the decline of Haplochromis perrieri from the lake.  Sadly, the Haplochromis perrieri haven’t been seen in the wild since the 1980’s.

Lake Victoria Cichlid
Lake Victoria Cichlid

In general, cichlids are very popular with fish enthusiasts. There are many varieties with a huge range of colors to choose from.  There are well over 1,000 cichlid species in the wild and it is estimated that there are several hundred species in Lake Victoria alone.

Cichlids are only found in tropical and subtropical zones of Africa, the Americas and Asia.  In Africa, they are found mostly in the lakes of the great rift valley in east Africa – Lake Malawi, Lake Tanganyika and of course, Lake Victoria.  They vary in size from the smallest at 1.4” to the largest species at 28-32” in length.

What are some of the most interesting things about cichlids?  These fish can change color to reflect their mood – such as aggression, stress or being ready to spawn.  They live in very different habitats including rocky shorelines, sandy or muddy bottoms or shores with and without vegetation.  Most cichlids are omnivores, eating things like mosquito larvae, tiny crustaceans and worms.  Some are pure carnivores and specialize in hunting smaller fish.  There are also cichlids that are strictly plant or algae eaters.  Some cichlid species are mouth

Cichlids provide lots of variety and color to your fish tank
Cichlids provide lots of variety and color to your fish tank

brooders.  Mouth brooders hold eggs in their mouths to hide them from predators.  Even after hatching, the babies are allowed into the parent’s mouth if they are in danger.

Our new cichlids are found I Lake Victoria over sand and mud in the littoral or shoreline zones.  They can reach a total length of approximately 2.5 inches.  The females are primarily gray with some black markings, while the males of the species show more color.  They are hunters, eating fish for their diet.  They are also mouth brooders and hold the eggs in their mouth until they hatch.

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

Can you count toad eggs?

There are multiple animal exhibits in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. One of them is home to two Houston Toads: Tina Toad and her friend, Mr. Toad.

The Houston Toad is one of Texas’ most imperiled species. Its range was formerly known to include 12 counties in Texas, but it is now only in a few counties in east-central Texas.  The largest remaining populations are found in the Lost Pines region of Bastrop County.

The Houston Zoo has a 1200 square foot Houston Toad quarantine facility, managed by two full-time

Tina Toad's egg strand
Tina Toad’s egg strand

Houston Toad specialists, that serves as a location for the captive breeding and head-starting of wild Houston toad egg strands for release. Part of the Houston Toad specialist’s job is to count the eggs in each egg strand!

The egg strand after it has been counted
The egg strand after it has been counted

Look at the pictures in this post. What you are seeing is a picture of one of Tina the Houston Toad’s egg strands.   The version with the white dots is an example of how the eggs are counted and marked as they go through the photo of the egg strand.

We recently had a contest in the Swap Shop to guess how many eggs were in the strand. The total in the strand, according to the toad keepers, was 8,533.  Our closest guess was from Isabel S. who guessed 8,600.  For her expertise in counting toad eggs, she received 100 points to spend in the Swap Shop!

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

Help Save Elephants in the Wild and Wear Gray for World Elephant Day!

tupelo-tess-elephant-slider

Calling all elephant enthusiasts! Did you know elephant population numbers are rapidly declining in the wild? Do you know there are ways YOU can help protect these magnificent animals in the wild? You can start by joining the more than one hundred zoos and thousands of individuals across the country on Friday, August 12 in celebrating World Elephant Day! Guests that wear gray to the zoo will have a chance to win fun door prizes.

Elephants are the largest land mammals in the world and among the most intelligent animals on earth. Unfortunately, Asian elephants are also among the world’s most endangered species. At the turn of the 20th century, more than 100,000 Asian elephants roamed their native habitat. Today, approximately 40,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild. And this number continues to decline due to habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and poaching for their ivory tusks.

Here at the Houston Zoo, we are committed to protecting animals outside of our Zoo gates, and elephants are in serious need of our support. In the past five years, the Houston Zoo has worked closely with partners in both Africa and Asia, funding over $500,000 in field conservation programs.

YOU can help, too! Simply by visiting the Houston Zoo, you help protect animals in the wild – a portion of your admission ticket goes directly to conservation efforts around the world. You can also attend special events throughout the year, such as our Elephant Open House that will be held September 17, 2016 from 8 am – 10:30 am, where registration fees are also donated to conservation efforts.

elephants-outside-playing

A great time to visit the Houston Zoo is World Elephant Day on Friday, August 12, 2016.

World Elephant Day Activities Include:

11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

Find out more about the Houston Zoo’s Asian elephant herd: Thai, Methai, Shanti, Tess, Tucker, Tupelo, Baylor & Duncan

Help keepers decorate enrichment items to give to the elephants throughout the day.

See and have a chance to purchase artwork done by our Pachyderm Picassos!

Learn all about elephant conservation and what YOU can do to help save them in the wild.

Wear gray on your Zoo visit to show your support plus talk with our Zookeepers, while the elephants are outside playing in the yard.

They are Toadally Texan!

Some of the most amazing things about Texas are all of the fabulous native wildlife species.  Texas has a long and rich natural history – from the Horned Lizard, to the Nine Banded Armadillo, to the state flying mammal, the Mexican Free-tailed Bat.  But, some of our native species are in jeopardy.

Meet Tina Toad.  She is one of the Houston Zoo’s ambassador animals and is a retired Houston Toad that was a part of the Zoo’s breeding program.  After laying over 10,000 eggs (yes, Moms, I said 10,000), she was retired and came to live in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.  Recently, we were able to get a picture of her with another kind of Texan.  Kurtis Drummond, safety with the Houston Texans, came by along with Bethany and Brianna from the Houston Texans Cheerleaders.

The Houston Toad is one of Texas’ most imperiled species.  Its range was formerly known to include 12 counties in Texas, but it is now only in a few counties in east-central Texas.  The largest remaining populations are found in the Lost Pines region of Bastrop County.  Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation are the most serious threats facing the Houston Toad.  Red fire ants can also have a devastating impact by killing young toads and altering local insect and arthropod populations which the toads feed on.

From Left to Right: Sr. Naturalist Suzanne, Houston Texans Cheerleaders Bethany and Brianna, Texans Safety Kurtis Drummond and Sr. Keeper David.
From Left to Right: Sr. Naturalist Suzanne, Houston Texans Cheerleaders Bethany and Brianna, Texans Safety Kurtis Drummond and Sr. Keeper David.

Their habitat is associated with deep sandy soils within the Post Oak Savannah of east central Texas.  The toads burrow into the sand for protection from cold weather in winter and hot dry conditions in the summer.

Breeding season peaks in March and April.  Large numbers of eggs are produced; however, each egg has less than one percent probability of survival.  Eggs hatch within seven days and tadpoles turn into tiny toads in as little as fifteen days.

The Houston Zoo has a 1200 square foot Houston Toad quarantine facility, managed by two full-time Houston Toad specialists, that serves as a location for the captive breeding and head-starting of wild Houston toad egg strands for release.  Approximately 1,950 Houston toad tadpoles were transferred from the Houston Zoo to Texas State University for release into native habitat as of January 2015.  The zoo also has established a collaborative, conservation-based Houston Toad research project with local universities including Rice University and the University of Saint Thomas.

To meet Tina the Houston Toad, come by the Naturally Wild Swap Shop between 9AM and 5PM any day the Zoo is open.

 

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here to find out more.

 

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Houston Zoo added a new photo — in Sukau, Sabah, Malaysia.
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Thursday's update from SMG's trip to Borneo is up now! www.houstonzoo.org/saving-wildlife/journey-to-borneo/ ... See MoreSee Less

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Thursdays update from SMGs trip to Borneo is up now! https://www.houstonzoo.org/saving-wildlife/journey-to-borneo/
Houston Zoo added a new photo.
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Jack the ocelot and his tiny snowman friend (and some tasty meatballs!) ... See MoreSee Less

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Jack the ocelot and his tiny snowman friend (and some tasty meatballs!)

 

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Jack is so cute I wish I could take him home and cuddle with him.

Look, Steve Hawkins! Ethan’s favorite animal there!

Bret!! :DDD

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