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!

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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.

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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.

 

Houston Zoo Releases Sea Turtles Back into Gulf of Mexico

Release May 2016

On Thursday May 26, NOAA Fisheries and the Houston Zoo released nine sea turtles at Stewart Beach in Galveston, Texas surrounded by hundreds of onlookers.

Release May 2016

Six of the turtles are Kemp’s ridleys, the other three are loggerheads. All but one of the turtles suffered injuries related to fishing interactions when they were accidentally caught and swallowed fishing hooks.

Release May 2016

The degree of rehabilitation and length of stay at the NOAA sea turtle facility in Galveston varied, ranging from one week to nine months. Call 1-866-TURTLE-5 to report an injured sea turtle.

Release May 2016

Endangered Species Day

Endangered Species Day is an opportunity for people of all ages to learn about the importance of protecting endangered species as well as everyday actions they can take to help protect them. The Houston Zoo, and other AZA-accredited institutions around the world, have united to bring awareness to the global conservation effort to save endangered species and their habitats in the wild.

What makes a species endangered? According to the International Union for Conservation in Nature (IUCN)

An Endangered species is a species which has been categorized by the IUCN Red List as likely to become extinct. “Endangered” is the second most severe conservation status for wild populations in the IUCN’s schema after Critically Endangered.

We have a number of endangered species at the Houston Zoo and some of them might be your favorite animals! Did you know Asian elephants, orangutans, and gorillas are all endangered? The Zoo’s Conservation team works with 30 conservation partners in 16 different countries to help these animals and others including the Grevy’s zebra, shark and ray species, cheetahs, and more! Global partners use our conservation resources for funding, business development, and even event planning to connect their local cultures to the animals they’re trying to save.

In addition to our global conservation efforts, the Houston Zoo works diligently to help three local species and increase their chances of long-term survival.

toadLocal conservation projects happen behind-the-scenes at the Houston Zoo where dedicated keepers work with these animals daily to increase their numbers in the wild. One such animal is the Attwater’s prairie chicken. This dynamic bird used to call the plains of Texas home, but now only about 100 exist in the wild. The good news is, 362 eggs are currently being incubated to raise and release back into the wild thanks to the amazing bird department here at the Zoo!

A mature, male Attwater’s prairie chicken at the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge.

The juvenile birds are released at the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge to grow to maturity and repopulate the area. Last year 176 chickens were released!

Similarly, the Houston toad is no longer in Houston, but its numbers are growing thanks to the work of the Herpetology department and volunteers at the Zoo. The Herpetology department at the Houston Zoo currently has 700,000 eggs ready to be released in the Bastrop area. In 2015 they released 600,000 eggs in cases that protect the fragile eggs until they become tadpoles.

Local wildlife like the critically endangered Houston toad can benefit when we reuse water.
Local wildlife like the critically endangered Houston toad can benefit when we reuse water.

So far, 2016 has been a successful year thanks to those 600,000 eggs. In past years, mating calls of Houston Toads have been scarce, but were more prominent this year. A very good sign for long-term sustainability!

Finally, the Zoo partners with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to help save sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. Our veterinarians provided medical care for 124 turtles in 2015 and 17 in 2016 to-date.

A common green sea turtle rehabs in the Houston Zoo Kipp Aquarium.

All five species of sea turtle – Kemp’s ridley, green, loggerhead, leatherback, and hawksbill – found in the Gulf are endangered.

What can you do to help?

Attwater’s prairie chicken 

A male Attwater's prairie chicken
A male Attwater’s prairie chicken

Come to the Zoo! Each time you visit, a portion of your ticket goes towards our conservation programs – including the Attwater’s prairie chicken!

Houston toad 

Recycle your old batteries. Batteries leak harmful chemicals into waterways when they aren’t disposed of properly. Since amphibians, like the Houston toad, have sensitive skin that absorbs the environment around them, recycling batteries will help keep them healthy!

Sea turtle 

Keep an eye out for green sea turtles who often wash up "cold stunned" during these sudden temperature drops. Call 1-866-TURTLE-5 to report a sighting of a cold stunned turtle.
Keep an eye out for green sea turtles who often wash up “cold stunned” during these sudden temperature drops. Call 1-866-TURTLE-5 to report a sighting of a cold stunned turtle.

Use a reusable bag when you go shopping. Single-use plastic bags are often confused by sea turtles as sea jellies – one of their favorite foods! Using a reusable bag when you go to the store will keep these single-use bags out of the environment and keep sea turtles out of harm’s way.

Want to know more about what you can do to help save animals in the wild? TAKE ACTION

Save Amphibians by Recycling Your Batteries!

Houston Toad 2

Batteries, Wildlife, and How You Can Take Action

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

 

Battery Sign Zoo Events

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.

Houston Toad Battery 1.0

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.Houston Toad Battery 1.3

Be Safe When Collecting Batteries for Recycling

 

Houston Toad Battery 1.1

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.

This is a sustainability reference document. 

11,000 Trees Planted for the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker!

The Houston Zoo is proud to protect wildlife both locally and globally. This past Saturday, Houston Zoo staff as well as Dallas Zoo staff and volunteers, in partnership with the National Park Service, planted long-leaf pine seedlings to reforest an area in the Big Thicket National Preserve. In just one day, we planted 11,000 trees! This is a new one-day planting record, and we’re proud to participate in such an important activity!

Houston Zoo and Dallas Zoo at the long-leaf pine planting in the Big Thicket!
Houston Zoo and Dallas Zoo at the long-leaf pine planting in the Big Thicket!
2 stages of long-leaf pine growth.
2 stages of long-leaf pine growth.
Taking a lunch break before continuing to plant!
Taking a lunch break before continuing to plant!

Long-leaf pine trees are a critical habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. This woodpecker prefers the long-leaf pine trees because the trees often suffer from red heart disease, a fungus which attacks the center of the trunk and causes the inside of the tree to be very soft. This allows the red-cockaded woodpecker to easily create cavities inside the tree to use as shelter!

Red-cockaded woodpecker. Photo courtesy of Audubon.
Red-cockaded woodpecker. Photo courtesy of Audubon.

We spent the majority of the day working in teams of 2. One person held a bag of long-leaf pine seedlings, while the other person used a tool called a dibbler which digs a hole the exact size of the seedling. So, as one person used the dibbler to make holes in the ground, the other teammate followed along behind planting the seedlings in the holes. It was a very effective method, which allowed us to get to the new one-day planting record in the area of 11,000 trees!

Houston Zoo staff member, Alex, using a dibbler to make holes.
Houston Zoo staff member, Alex, using a dibbler to make holes.
Zoo staff member, Andrea, places long-leaf pine seedlings in the ground.
Zoo staff member, Andrea, places long-leaf pine seedlings in the ground.

These trees will take nearly 80 years to grow before the red-cockaded woodpecker will use them for shelter. They are slow growing trees which can live more than 300 years! The decline in long-leaf pine trees occurred because of human development, agriculture, and timber production. It is critical that we protect this important habitat for our local species. You can take action by participating in a local planting effort-keep an eye out on the Zoo website and blog for the next event!

Zoo staff member, John, next to a growing long-leaf pine tree.
Zoo staff member, John, next to a growing long-leaf pine tree.
Our conservation partners in Madagascar do similar planting activities to save lemurs!
In 2015, the Houston Zoo’s conservation partners in Madagascar conducted similar tree-planting activities to save lemurs!

Houston Zoo Chief Veterinarian Helps Restore Giant Tortoise Population in Galapagos

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe-blog_tortoise-spray

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

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

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

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

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

Joe-blog_tortoise-measuring

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

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

Joe-blog_Wolf-landscape

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

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

Joe-Flanagan-2-cropped_SM

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

Terrifically Tiny Turtles Hatch at the Zoo

Houston Zoo is experiencing a baby boom. A very small baby boom of critically endangered,terrifically tiny turtles. In late August, eight Madagascar big-headed turtle babies were found swimming in their parents’ home in the lemur moat at the zoo’s Wortham World of Primates. Also discovered was a pregnant mama turtle full of 20 eggs that she has since laid, which are expected to hatch in the next few months. The babies and eggs are currently being cared for behind-the-scenes.

 

The Madagascar big-headed turtle was once widely distributed throughout the rivers and lakes of western Madagascar.  However, overexploitation from a growing human population has drastically reduced and fragmented its range.  One of the most endangered turtles in the world, this species is included on the Turtle Conservation Fund’s top 25 endangered turtles list and is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.

Madagascar Big-headed Turtle Babies 2015-0002-9042

In December, 2005, two male and five juvenile female big-headed turtles were confiscated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and donated to the Houston Zoo.  In 2008, these turtles were transferred to the moat surrounding the lemur habitat at the zoo’s Wortham World of Primates.  In order to keep the turtles outside year-round, a swimming pool heater was installed to keep the moat warm during the winter months.  Since these turtles can be aggressive towards each other, underwater boxes fashioned from roofing tiles and bricks were added to the moat so that the turtles could hide in them when needed.

Madagascar Big-headed Turtle Babies 2015-0009-9079Hatchlings have an average weight of less than .02 pounds.  The average shell measurements are 1.3 inches long and 1 inch wide (that’s a tiny turtle!).  The young turtles began feeding immediately on a diet of aquatic turtle pellets and romaine lettuce.

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Take a look at our beautiful new elephant habitat that DOUBLES the existing elephant complex. It's open now, so come watch our elephants play, splash, and swim. You've gotta see this! ... See MoreSee Less

2

Comment on Facebook

That is great! I can't wait to come see it. Are there any plans to expand the giraffe exhibit ever? I feel like it's very small compared to all of the other really awesome exhibits for the big animals.

I feel like I've never seen grass in a zoo elephant habitat before- I bet they're hard on it! The whole exhibit looks incredible- especially the deep water! Amazing design; hope I can get to Houston one day to see it!

I took some of my daycare kiddos yesterday specifically to see the new space. They had it blocked off and wouldn't let anyone pass through the elephant area through to the hoofed animals. We were really sad we didn't get to see it.

Keep wild animals captive for the human entertainment. - Are we not better then that yet?? Shameful😢😢😢 And don't try to use that word 'conservation' - critical thinkers are smarter than that.

Yes THANK YOU for providing a more natural. Habitat for the elephant's. They need SPACE to roam. N the water added is awesome....they really needed that!

Waiting for some stupid kid to jump in and ruin it for the elephants.

Why have so many elephants babies died at your zoo ? it is because they are not meant to live in Captivity. Please set them free and stop breeding elephants for monetary value.

Not fond of most zoos, but at least these elephants are safe from killers like the Trump sons.

Jenny Carlisle I see a great excuse for Kimber to come visit besides to see her cousins!!

John and JoAnn we need to take Grant again. He will be so excited to see this!

So happy to see the Zoos continued support of the amazing Elephant Program

Karl Schuhknecht Let's go again when you get home! We can never go too much, right?

Sergey!! We have to go!! Definitely bringing mama Nina too 🙂🐘

Thank you providing a beautiful setting for their physical and mental health!

Remember it was under construction when we were there Nicky Lichtl

Molly Pesl it's time for us to go on a rainy day.... 😎👍🏼

Eddie - we gotta go soon so Adrian can see his favorite animal splish-solash

Dang! That is awesome! Why didn't you tell me it was this pretty Kristin!? 😜

JoAnn, looks like we're taking Thomas to the zoo soon! 😍

Lesli Gietz James Gietz Grant going to love see this 💙 🐘

Nichole, I think a trip to the zoo is in our future!!

Does Tye get to play as well? Thought one of the elephants was in his on enclosure

Allison Jones I want to go see the elephants in the pool!

Awsome! Just in time for the hot summer ahead...#splish & #splash

Love elephants. Such quiet, gentle, strong and wise creatures.

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Houston Zoo was live.
Houston Zoo

We are live from our HUGE new elephant habitat expansion. This incredible new area opens tomorrow! ... See MoreSee Less

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Do the Asian and African elephants coexist well?

how would you save a elephant if they had difficult swimming?

Is there opportunities for the public to get up close to see the elephants behind the scenes?

Do you offer any type of feeding or event like you have with the giraffes? Or sticking with the bath time?

Can they climb up on that ledge or is that just to keep them back from the fence

Will males and females be always separated now?

Do the elephants hug and let you get kisses?

When do the trainers talk this summer?

Will the females get to share the yard too?

How/where will males and females interact?

How much did this cost the taxpayers of Houston???

What is the depth of the pool?

About how long can they hold breath

Is there a web cam at the new yard?

How can you tell who is Tucker and who is Baylor

Are the elephants on display today?

How many elephants are there?

When is it open to public?

How deep is the pool

Still want to know why only the males are getting to use the new area.

I know they had said this habitat is for the males, does that mean the males and females will always be separated from now on

Gross question, but I'm curious... Do elephants defecate under water & is maintenance similar to a home pool?

@Cheree Neil It is to do with habits. Elephants when lacking enrichment complete stereotypical behaviours as they're known and swaying is one of them. It essentially is a display of boredom.

Kelsey Patterson - we are going to get to the zoo before you pop! Even if i have to push you around in one of those sea lion carts! LOL!

Ian, we love you and are so proud of you. Thank you for being our son.

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