In Honor of World Pangolin Day, Hear the Latest on Wildlife Warrior Elisa’s Journey to Texas and Her Quest to Save Pangolins in the Wild

Elisa and Celina strike a pose with a three-banded armadillo at the conservation stage

If you made a visit to the zoo during the last week of January, you may have been among our lucky visitors that had the chance to meet Elisa Panjang, a Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior that works with pangolins in Malaysia. Impressed by her passion about the wildlife she has grown up with and her commitment to saving this fascinating creature from extinction, Houston Zoo staff chose Elisa, a long-time partner of the zoo, as a 2017 recipient of the Wildlife Warrior Award. This award is funded through the sale of saving wildlife bracelets sold by the admissions team here at the zoo, and recognizes exceptional individuals from our wildlife conservation partner programs and provides them with an experience that will increase their abilities/knowledge. Elisa was stateside for a conference in Florida, so we jumped at the chance to bring her to town for a few days to meet with guests and staff!

Elisa meets with the admissions team who selected her to receive the Wildlife Warrior Award in 2017

 

 

Elisa’s short visit was packed with activities, like touring the zoo and visiting with a handful of departments including veterinary staff, the development team, and conservation education. Elisa did a keeper chat with Ali from the Children’s Zoo introducing guests to a three-banded armadillo. Together, they were able to share information about both of these unique creatures and talk about some of the characteristics they share like having keratin that creates hard surfaces around their bodies, eating ants and termites, and rolling into a ball in order to protect themselves from danger. Elisa also did a joint presentation for staff with Houston Zoo veterinary technician Jess Jimerson, who traveled to Vietnam last year to work with pangolins at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. Both women were able to talk about their experiences working in the field, and what it will take to save pangolins in the wild. Reflecting on her time at the zoo, Elisa said: “My trip to the Houston Zoo was amazing, and seeing all of the dedicated zoo staff protecting and conserving wildlife gives me hope that those of us in the field are not alone.”

Elisa and Ali talk with curious young guests

After a whirlwind trip, Elisa returned back to Malaysia, but will be on the road again soon! With the funds from the Wildlife Warrior Award, Elisa will join the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program in Vietnam, a well-known Sunda pangolin rescue and rehabilitation center. She hopes to learn husbandry skills to care for pangolins and gain an insight into conservation issues faced in Vietnam, and what is being done to save their wildlife, which will be important for Elisa to experience herself and eventually use this knowledge and skills to help wildlife in her country. We are so grateful for the time we had with Elisa, and can’t wait to hear more about her work in the coming months!

While different in appearance, the pangolin has a lot in common with our state animal, the armadillo!

Rwandan Vet, Dr. Noel from Gorilla Doctors Helps Save Texas Wildlife While Training at the Houston Zoo

Many of our guests have already had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Jean Bosco Noheri (Dr. Noel) during his SOS Member Morning chat with the primate team at gorillas. Dr. Noel is here from our partners at Gorilla Doctors after being chosen by the Houston Zoo admissions team as a 2017 Wildlife Warrior Award recipient.  This award is funded through the sale of saving wildlife bracelets sold by the admissions team, and recognizes exceptional individuals from our wildlife conservation partner programs. The award provides wildlife warriors with an experience that will increase their abilities/knowledge – Dr. Noel chose to use this as an opportunity to train with our veterinary staff here at the zoo. As part of his training, Dr. Noel has been assisting with efforts to save some of our amazing local species, the Houston toad and green sea turtles – experiences he was very excited to share with all of you!

Friday, February 9th was the beginning of the Houston toad captive populations breeding season. This colony lives at the zoo and is cared for by members of our herpetology and veterinary teams. The goal is to help healthy toads breed and lay eggs, with the hope that surviving offspring will boost Houston toad numbers in the wild, and add genetic diversity to the existing population, which is essential for any species’ survival. Before the first round of breeding for each season, Houston Zoo Vet Dr. Maryanne examines each toad and provides Stan Mays, our herpetology curator, with a list of healthy females who are at the right age to lay viable eggs. Based on genetic analysis, Stan then provides a list of ideal male-female pairings and the toads are coupled for breeding purposes. Before the females are introduced to their partners, they receive a series of hormone injections to help their bodies prepare for mating, and if all goes well, egg laying! Just last year, the Houston Toad team was able to release 900,000 eggs back into the wild, which is an incredible success for a species that would otherwise be on the brink of extinction. This year, our partner Dr. Noel arrived just in time for breeding season, and got to help administer the first round of injections to 20 lucky females! Reflecting on his experience, Dr. Noel said “working with the Houston toad was really very special – to see something so small and to see how much people care for it because it carries hope for this species, was very powerful.”

Dr. Noel has also had the opportunity practice his wildlife saving skills on another Texas species – the green sea turtle! Accompanied by Dr. Joe Flanagan, Houston Zoo Sr. Veterinarian and long-time sea turtle protector, Dr. Noel made the short journey down to Galveston where he visited our partners at NOAA Fisheries. While at the sea turtle barn, Dr. Noel helped to weigh and x-ray a number of sea turtles that had been rescued along the coastline to make sure they were in good health. He and Dr. Joe also checked up on a recent surgical patient to make sure the sea turtle’s incision was healing properly. Dr. Noel recalled that the “sea turtle was doing very well and it was neat to work with this species because most people would not think you could do medical procedures on reptiles.” After their veterinary work was done, Dr. Noel was able to tour the NOAA facility, and learn about the turtle excluder devices (TEDs) they develop to ensure that shrimp boats do not catch sea turtles when they go out to sea. To cap off the day, Dr. Noel had his very first experience on the beach after only having seen the ocean from planes!

While both of these species are very different than most of Dr. Noel’s typical mountain gorilla patients, veterinary training and the ability to practice his skills on a variety of species is vital, as he is often called upon to care for wildlife other than gorillas back in Rwanda, like elephants, golden monkeys, and jackals. All of the new and additional skills and lessons Dr. Noel gains through training with the veterinary team here will help him and his team back home on their quest to save Rwanda’s wildlife! To learn more about Gorilla Doctors and see Dr. Noel in action, watch the KPRC special “Saving Gorillas: From Houston to Rwanda” here! 

Anchors for the Ocean: Your Visit to the Zoo Helps Protect Marine Species around the Globe

It is no secret that the Houston Zoo has been hard at work to protect our local marine wildlife by going plastic bag and bottle free, participating in sea turtle surveys and crab trap clean-ups, and organizing staff led jetty clean-ups down in Surfside. Many of you have even joined us on our journey by pledging to go plastic bag free when we hosted the Washed Ashore exhibit back in 2016 – but your impact doesn’t stop there! Each time you visit the Houston Zoo to see marine species like sea turtles and sharks, a portion of your admission ticket goes to support MarAlliance in their work to save ocean wildlife. While the zoo may be surrounded by the hustle and bustle of any major city, many members of our extended zoo family are hard at work saving wildlife in both remote and metropolitan areas all around the globe! One of these partners, MarAlliance, works to protect threatened marine species in Central America, Micronesia, and West Africa.

MarAlliance aims to improve the understanding and conservation of threatened marine species and their habitats, especially sharks and rays, on the Mesoamerican reef. This is done by monitoring the abundance and characteristics of species in key sites, which in turn creates new knowledge that can be shared throughout local and global communities. MarAlliance trains local fishermen to help with research at sea and engage local communities in order to obtain information on sightings of important species. The knowledge gained from this work is shared in many different formats to many different audiences, from the youngest audiences in pre-schools all the way to politicians and other decision-makers. Through this, they hope to inspire a sense of wonder about the ocean, to promote sustainable tourism, and to foster the effectiveness of marine protected areas.

MarAlliance had a fantastic year in 2017 and wanted to share these updates will all of you:

  • Educated thousands of kids on marine wildlife and conservation strategies and took hundreds to meet and study fish like sharks, rays, and grouper.
  • During 233 days of work in the field conducted with fishers, students and community-leaders, thousands of fish were counted as teams swam over 250 km (155 miles) of coastal and reef habitats. This is just shy of the distance you would travel from the Houston Zoo to Austin, Texas!
  • Uncovered new information on fisheries, species behavior and habitats that is pushing the frontiers of science and informing both management decisions and conservation action.
  • Put small tags on little known sharks of the deep waters, and tracked increasingly threatened whale sharks, manta rays and tiger sharks to better understand how they move about in the ocean, and reinforce strategies for protection.

There is never a dull moment for our friends at MarAlliance! We are extremely proud of all of the hard work MarAlliance has put in this year to save marine species, and we can’t wait to see all of the amazing things they are able to accomplish in the new year. Remember, every time you visit the zoo you are helping to support projects like this one – thank you for your help in saving animals in the wild!

Part of the Pride: How You and the Houston Zoo are Saving Lions like Hasani in Africa

As 2017 came to a close, we eagerly welcomed Hasani, a 3 year old male lion, to our pride at the Houston Zoo. He has received a very warm welcome as thousands of Houstonians have made their way to the zoo to catch a glimpse of our new feline friend, but did you know that each time you visit the Houston Zoo to see Hasani and our pride of lions, a portion of your admission ticket goes to support work to save lions in the wild? Houston Zoo conservation partner, The Pride Lion Conservation Alliance was created on the idea that we can do more to save lions in the wild by working together. Founded by six women with over 100 years of collective experience, PRIDE is a new model of collaboration that works across different African countries to save more lions and to inspire and improve future conservation. Collectively, Pride Alliance members lead carnivore conservation efforts in 4 key lion range countries, researching and protecting 20% of Africa’s existing wild lion population. Combining science with community conservation efforts, these projects collectively employ hundreds of local people and engage thousands in efforts each year to address the biggest threats to lions and improve the lives of local people.

Located in Kenya, Ewaso Lions is a member of the Pride Lion Conservation Alliance that works to improve relationships between humans and carnivores through raising awareness of ecological problems and solutions, developing strategies for reducing conflict with carnivores, and educational initiatives that illustrate the benefit of wildlife for local livelihoods. The team at Ewaso Lions has had quite the year, and they couldn’t wait to tell their extended family here at the Houston Zoo all about it!

This year came with its challenges, as parts of Kenya, including the area where Ewaso Lions is based, were hit hard by a very severe drought. The Ewaso Nyiro River dried up in early January and wildlife and livestock converged around small waterholes, increasing the conflict between lions and humans. The river flowed again temporarily in February/March, but it had dried up by June 2017. Fortunately, the rains arrived towards the end of October and carried to November, bringing much needed relief to the region.

While the drought put a great deal of stress on both lions and humans in the area, it did not stop the Ewaso Lion project from seeing a number of incredible successes! Two of the lionesses tracked by the project gave birth to cubs – Nabulu gave birth in late 2016, and Naramat gave birth to 4 cubs in April of 2017. A number of new male lions also arrived in the region, and 6 lions were collared to help identify key routes the lions use to move around within the community landscape.

Ewaso Lions Scouts have been conducting transect surveys to record lion (and other carnivores) sightings and tracks, wild prey and livestock, and incidents of conflict with livestock. They patrol, almost on a daily basis, a total of 24 fixed transects (each almost 2 miles long) distributed across the lion range. Up until the end of October, a team of 25 conducted a total of 665 patrols, covering a distance of 3,477 miles on foot with over 2,000 patrol hours. In addition, the project has trained 20 tour guides and rangers in lion identification, ecology, conservation issues, and data collection using a custom smartphone app. These participants are now certified Lion Watch Guides who help Ewaso Lions gather data on lions by recording sightings during the course of their work.

Through their Mama Simba program, Ewaso Lions has engaged more than 300 Samburu women in conservation. This year the Mama Simba ladies went on 5 wildlife safaris in to Samburu National Reserve, piloted new ideas to help them better dispose of waste, particularly plastic waste which poses a serious threat to livestock and wildlife, and organized 3 events with women from local villages. The ladies brought together women, elders and children from their communities and played a specially designed conservation game.

In addition, a total of eight Lion Kids Camps have been held and 213 Kenyan children have been exposed to conservation education through the Camps. This program is helping to foster the next generation of wildlife heroes in Kenya. Following a special Reunion Camp in August 2015, 66% of children wanted to pursue a career related to wildlife (e.g. conservationist, wildlife vet, tour guide, or ranger), with a further 5% openly supporting conservation while in pursuit of an alternate career.

Talk about a busy year! We are beyond proud of all of the hard work and dedication our family at Ewaso Lions has put in this year to save lions in the wild, and we can’t wait to see all of the amazing things they are able to accomplish in the new year. We’d like to thank all of our guests for supporting projects like this one through the purchase of your admission ticket here at the Houston Zoo. Make sure to stay tuned for updates!

No Ordinary Veterinarian: Houston Zoo’s Gorilla Saving Wildlife Warrior Dr. Noel Comes to Town

Dr. Noel and Dr. Methode work together in the lab
Dr. Eddy working with Houston Zoo veterinary staff on his visit to Texas

For those of us with pets at home, if one of our animals gets sick, we hop in our cars and drive to an office where the veterinarian does an examination and provides us with a course of treatment. It is a fairly simple process here in the city, but what if our pets didn’t have us there to help them? Wild animals encounter this problem regularly, and it is especially difficult for species like mountain and eastern lowland (Grauer’s) gorillas to receive care due to their homes being located in mountainous regions with dense forest cover. Luckily, our partners at Gorilla Doctors are not afraid of a challenge, and their dedicated team of veterinarians sometimes trek up to 6 hours in order to provide care to wild gorillas living in the national parks of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Gorilla Doctors is dedicated to saving ill or injured gorillas, one patient at a time, and each time you visit the Zoo, you are helping to support projects like Gorilla Doctors, even making it possible for us to bring members of their team here for important veterinary training.

Dr. Ricky and Dr. Fred assist with a sea turtle release on their trip to Texas

 

 

The Houston Zoo has a long history of working with veterinarians from Gorilla Doctors, having had 4 members of their team come to Houston over the past several years to work alongside our veterinary staff. These team members include: Dr. Eddy from the DRC, Dr. Methode from Rwanda, and Dr. Ricky and Dr. Fred from Uganda. We are excited to announce that a 5th gorilla doctor, Dr. Noel, will be traveling to Houston for training in February!

Dr. Jean Bosco Noheri (Dr. Noel for short) first joined the staff of Gorilla Doctors in Rwanda as a laboratory technician in 2009 and rose through the ranks to become a field veterinarian in 2012. Every week, he treks into the Volcanoes National Park to check on the health of the mountain gorilla families. Noel received the Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior Award in 2017, which is funded through the sale of saving wildlife bracelets sold by the Admissions Team here at the Zoo! This award recognizes exceptional individuals from our wildlife conservation partner programs and provides an experience that will increase their abilities/knowledge.

Dr.Noel will be the 5th Gorilla Doctor to receive training at the Houston Zoo

Because Dr. Noel is often called upon to care for other wildlife in Volcanoes National Park, like elephants, golden monkeys, and jackals, he will participate in hands-on clinical training with our veterinary staff so he can apply new and additional skills and lessons to save Rwanda’s wildlife. Keep an eye out for him during the first week of February, and if you see him on grounds don’t hesitate to say hello!

 

The Plight of the Pangolin: Learn How You are Helping to Save One of the Most Threatened Species on Earth!

Photo of a rescued pangolin receiving care at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife

Like most of us after reading that headline, you’re probably saying what in the world is a pangolin, and why are they in trouble? Pangolins are arguably one of the most fascinating looking creatures in the animal kingdom. Often referred to as a spiny anteater, the pangolin is actually a mammal that researchers believe is most closely related to carnivores like hyenas, bears, and wolves! Their small bodies are almost completely covered in what look like dragon scales that are actually made of keratin, the same material that your fingernails are made out of. The name pangolin comes from the Malay word pengguling, which means to roll up. Rolling up is exactly what pangolins do when they are threatened, and in their tight protective ball, not even the teeth of a lion can penetrate their strong scales! Unfortunately, these scales are very highly valued in some cultures, and as a result, pangolins are disappearing from the wild. Here at the Houston Zoo we want to do everything in our power to help save this species, and through your admission ticket purchases, we are able to support pangolin protectors like our very own veterinary technician Jess Jimerson, and Ms. Elisa Panjang, who works with our partners at the Danau Girang Field Center on the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia.

Jess Jimerson provides medical care to a pangolin in Vietnam

Jess Jimerson, a veterinary technician here at the Houston Zoo embarked on a journey to Vietnam in October of last year to work with pangolins at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. Jess was able to do this due to funds she received from the Staff Conservation Fund; a very unique grant program that is managed by Houston Zoo staff for Houston Zoo staff. With this grant, Jess went to Vietnam to train local employees at Save Vietnam’s Wildlife on how to conduct medical care work such as collecting and analyzing blood samples to improve their animal health assessments. The day Jess arrived, the organization helped with a confiscation of 32 pangolins, all of which were alive, and Jess worked with the team to ensure these animals were well cared for. Staff like Jess here at the Zoo work to help pangolins across the world, but we also have extended staff like Elisa who live in pangolin regions and help pangolins in their own country!

Wildlife Warrior Elisa – Keep an eye out for her on grounds during her visit!

Born and raised in Malaysia, Elisa Panjang has dedicated her life to protecting the pangolin. Impressed by her passion about the wildlife she has grown up with and her commitment to saving this fascinating creature from extinction, Houston Zoo staff chose Elisa, a long-time partner of the zoo, as a 2017 recipient of the Wildlife Warrior Award. This award is funded through the sale of saving wildlife bracelets sold by the admissions team here at the zoo, and recognizes exceptional individuals from our wildlife conservation partner programs and provides them with an experience that will increase their abilities/knowledge. Elisa is a PhD student from Cardiff University. In addition to doing her PhD research with our partners at Danau Girang Field Center, she is also a Pangolin Conservation Officer and is actively involved in conservation programs such as environmental education to protect the endangered wildlife species. Pangolin is a rare and elusive species, which makes it a difficult animal to work with. Nonetheless, Elisa never gives up, and has been doing research on pangolin for seven years and counting. With the funds from the Wildlife Warrior Award, Elisa will join the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program in Vietnam, a well-known Sunda pangolin rescue and rehabilitation center in the world. She hopes to learn husbandry skills to care for pangolins and gain an insight into conservation issues faced in Vietnam, and what is being done to save their wildlife, which will be important for Elisa to experience herself and eventually use this knowledge and skills to help wildlife in her country. Elisa will be visiting us here in Houston during the last week of January, so if you see her on grounds make sure to stop and say hello!

Tickets for Tapirs: How Your Visit to the Houston Zoo is Saving South America’s Largest Land Mammal

Last February, the Houston Zoo celebrated the birth of Antonio, a Baird’s tapir, and quite possibly the cutest bundle of joy any of us have laid eyes on. It certainly was a treat to see Antonio sporting his watermelon-like stripes and spots as he readily greeted his adoring fans. These days Antonio is sporting a new, more mature look, but thanks to a portion of your admission ticket going towards saving animals in the wild, we are able to help protect baby tapirs like Antonio in Brazil with the help of our friends at the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative (LTCI). Over the past 12 months the team found a total of 53 tapirs, including 28 new individuals that had never been seen before. Overall, for the past 21 years, the team at LTCI has found 144 individual tapirs, and 94 of these were radio-collared and monitored for extended periods. Finding tapirs and processing data on individuals before they are released back into the wild helps conservationists understand more about them, which then helps to create protection plans for them. This project continues to build the most extensive database of tapir information in the world and has been successfully applying their results for the conservation of tapirs in Brazil and internationally!

You may remember that the Houston Zoo hosted the IUCN/SSC Tapir Specialist Group (TSG) Seventh International Tapir Symposium back in November. Patricia Medici, the chair of the Tapir Specialist Group, also happens to be the coordinator for LTCI. During the symposium, LTCI launched their environmental education curriculum called TAPIR TRACKS, which will be used in schools and focuses on tapirs and conservation.  In the coming months, the team hopes to have the curriculum translated into Portuguese and Spanish. In Brazil, the curriculum will be presented to the Brazilian Ministry of Education (federal level) and State Departments of Education for inclusion as part of the formal curriculum in primary schools.

For the past three years, the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative has been functioning as a base for training and capacity building for members of the TSG and other tapir researchers and conservationists worldwide. To date, the project has hosted 16 TSG Fellows. Each of these fellows spent two weeks in the field with the LTCI staff, which provided everyone involved with multiple opportunities to share ideas and experiences, to discuss future tapir conservation initiatives, and to establish collaborations and partnerships. Multiple new tapir research and conservation programs are now being designed and implemented in Brazil and other Latin American countries because of the TSG Fellowship Program.  In 2017, the project hosted TSG Fellows from Argentina, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Peru.

In early September 2017, camera-traps were installed in front of 15 underpasses that lie beneath the MS-040, a major highway in the LTCI study region. This was done as part of a plan that the team has developed with the hope of reducing the number of road fatalities seen when tapirs and motor vehicles come into contact with one another. Over the past 2 years, the team has recorded 95 tapir deaths connected to road collisions, and these encounters can be extremely dangerous for people as well. The camera traps that were installed in front of the selected underpasses will record data for 6 months in order to evaluate how often these pathways are used by tapirs and other wildlife. The ultimate goal of the LTCI is to use the results of this study to develop similar plans for at least three other highways in the state, in an effort to make traveling safer for both tapirs and people. 

The LTCI team also carried out 50 interviews with members of the local community in order to gauge how they feel towards tapirs and view interactions with them. The amount of information gathered through the interviews was truly incredible, and the team aims to have the data analyzed by early this year! 

We are blown away by how much our family in Brazil were able to accomplish in 2017, and we can’t wait to see all of the amazing things they are able to do in the new year. We’d like to thank all of our guests for supporting projects like this one through the purchase of your admission ticket here at the Houston Zoo. Make sure to stay tuned for updates!

Sea Turtle Rescues in Christmas Bay, Part 2

Many of you may remember a post from a few weeks back about Justin, a local community member, and sea turtle superhero. Justin has a passion for sea turtles, and while he works full-time in the city, you can find him during his down time saving sea turtles all along the Texas Coast. The last time we caught up with Justin, he and his son Trenton had come to the aid of almost a dozen sea turtles that had been cold-stunned in early December. Since sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, they have to use the environment and sun to regulate their body temperature. If the water temperature drops too quickly and the turtles can’t get to warmer waters, their bodies shut down and need help. With the recent cold front, Justin and his three children Cheyenne, Trenton, and Emma, headed back out to Christmas Bay in search of turtles in need of rescue.

Justin was able to make it out to Christmas Bay four days during the first week of January, braving the worst of the cold weather. Over the course of the week, Justin and his kids picked up a total of 20 sea turtles! Unfortunately, 3 of these turtles had already passed away, but the 17 remaining turtles are receiving care from our partners at NOAA Fisheries in Galveston. The NOAA Fisheries Galveston Laboratory operates a sea turtle research and wild sea turtle rehabilitation center. This facility is the only one of its kind in the world, raising hundreds of turtles each year for fisheries and biological research while also serving as a sea turtle hospital for the upper Texas Gulf coast. The Houston Zoo assists NOAA with weekly sea turtle surveys along the Texas coast, and the veterinary team provides care for any sick or injured sea turtles that NOAA brings in. When speaking of NOAA, Justin said: “I will never be able to thank Lyndsey and the team in Galveston at NOAA enough for the work they do on a daily basis to rescue, rehabilitate, and ultimately release these beautiful animals back into the wild.” As for Justin, he’ll be out there for as long as the turtles need his help – after rescuing his first turtle entangled in line 6 or 7 years ago, he was hooked on what he refers to as both his passion, and obsession. While his wife dedicates her time to pet rescue efforts, Justin says there’s nothing he would rather do with his time than rescue sea turtles and make sure they are able to return safely back into the wild.

If temperatures drop quickly in our area, please be on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles in the bay. If you find one, please report it immediately by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.

Whooping Cranes Weather the Storm with the Help of You and the Zoo

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we were reminded of the importance, and the sheer strength of community. For many months now, Texans all along the Gulf Coast region have been working to rebuild and re-establish a sense of safety and security – a place to once again call home. In the aftermath of any storm, it is not just the people that have to rebuild; and you may not know it, but through a portion of your admission fee to the Houston Zoo, you have been lending a helping hand to a very special community of Texans – the whooping cranes.

Weighing around 15 pounds, the whooping crane has a wingspan of more than 7 feet and is as tall as many humans, reaching a height of around 5 feet, making it the tallest bird in North America! Whooping cranes are best known for their courtship dance, finding mating partners through an elaborate display of kicking, head-pumping, and wing-sweeping. Adult whooping cranes can be spotted fairly easily thanks to their bright white feathers and accents of crimson red on the top of their head. The only remaining self-sustaining population of whooping cranes is the naturally occurring flock that breeds in Canada and winters right here in Texas!

If you were able to attend Nature Connects – Art with LEGO Bricks at the Houston Zoo this past summer, you may recall seeing a striking figure of this beautiful bird. At its feet were a cluster of tiny white dots – a visual representation of the number of whooping cranes that remain in the wild here in the US. One of the rarest birds in North America with an estimated population of 612 world-wide, the whooping crane saw its numbers drop to just 15 in the early 1940s, but with the help of land protection and public education, their numbers have continued to steadily increase. But what happens when natural disaster strikes?

When the cranes arrived in Texas this past fall after their 2,400 mile journey from their nesting grounds in Canada, they returned to vegetative damage from the storm surge, and increased salt content in the inland freshwater ponds that the birds rely on for drinking. Our partners at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) went to work immediately, replacing damaged ground water pumps to replenish the freshwater these birds need to survive. Notified of the situation, the Houston Zoo donated to ICF’s Hurricane Harvey rebuild in Rockport campaign.  The Houston Zoo also teamed up with the International Crane Foundation’s Texas office and established a Whooping Crane Outreach Coordinator position that will be funded by the Zoo. Filling this role is Corinna Holfus of Houston, Texas, who will work with partners like the Houston Zoo, groups, and individuals to develop awareness and caring for whooping cranes and foster their commitment to safeguard whooping cranes in their areas. Holfus will form partnerships that include involving hunters, landowners and other members of the community in monitoring and keeping watch over the whooping cranes in their areas.

With the establishment of this position, the International Crane Foundation’s North American Program Director stated “The uniqueness of having the world’s only naturally producing flock of whooping cranes choosing to winter on the Texas coast is something to cherish, take pride in and celebrate. Thanks to the incredible generosity of the Houston Zoo allowing the hiring of Holfus we’ll now be able to greatly accelerate and expand our efforts to increase the appreciation, awareness, and protection of this still fragile, slowly expanding flock.” It would seem as though birds of feather truly do flock together, and thanks to the continued support of Zoo goers like you, this native species has an even better chance for a bright future.

Community Comes Together to Rescue Sea Turtles During Record Breaking Cold-Stunning Event

As we rang in the new year, 2018 treated a large portion of the US to a dose of chilly weather. While we Texans in the southern part of the state normally escape the winter months untouched, last week surprised us with a rapid decrease in temperature, with some areas dropping below freezing. Most of us are able to turn on our heaters and survive the cooler temperatures with relative ease, but our friends in the wild are not always as lucky. This is especially true of sea turtles that rely on the environment and warmth of the sun to regulate their body temperature.

Known for their resiliency, with species dating back to the time of dinosaurs, sea turtles have managed to survive despite the many obstacles thrown in front of them throughout history. As a cold-blooded species living in the ocean, these turtles have adapted to live in tropical or semi-tropical waters which helps to keep their bodies warm. Typically, sea turtles can do just fine during cold spells as long as they are far enough away from shore where water temperatures are at or above 55 degrees, but if temperatures drop very quickly, there is not always time to move away from land. This causes what we call “cold-stunning”, which is very similar to hypothermia in people. Sea turtles experiencing the side-effects of cold-stunning have a slowed heart rate, which decreases circulation and makes it very difficult for them to swim or find food. Cold-stunning is seen most often in our area with green sea turtles that like to hang out in shallow waters in the bays where they can easily feed off of vegetation on the ocean floor. With the onslaught of cold temperatures last week,  305 green sea turtles were rescued on the Upper Texas Coast, with over 2,000 total rescued along the Texas Coast. This was the highest number seen in our area to date, and getting these turtles to safety required the quick-action, hard-work, and dedication of organizations and community members from nearby cities.

Groups worked tirelessly to collect, examine, and care for turtles as they arrived at sea turtle facilities, with our own team of veterinarians joining our partners at NOAA fisheries in Galveston over the weekend to assess the health of the rescued turtles. With warmer water in South Texas, the decision was made to drive the healthy turtles to South Padre for release. How exactly do you transport almost 250 sea turtles to a destination over 400 miles away? On a truck!

Over the past two days, teams from Moody Gardens, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Texas Master Naturalists, Turtle Island Restoration Network, NOAA Fisheries, Texas A&M and the Houston Zoo met down in Galveston before sunrise to transport turtles from their holding tanks into containers which were then loaded into the back of a truck that the NOAA team would drive to South Padre. Yesterday 72 sea turtles made their trip south, where they and the NOAA team were greeted by staff and volunteers that helped to get the turtles off of the truck and into the ocean for release. Once the NOAA team returned the turtles to the wild, they hopped back in their truck and made the trek back to Galveston in order to repeat the process all over again the next day. By 8am this morning, our collective group had another 82 turtles loaded up and ready to go. A second truck carrying 93 sea turtles being held at Moody Gardens was also prepped for the drive down south. The turtles should be close to reaching their destination by now, and will be released back into the wild later this afternoon. It is truly amazing what we can accomplish when we come together as a team to reach a common goal. We wish our sea turtle friends the best of luck as they head back out to sea, and we are grateful for the opportunity to be part of a community that comes together to protect wildlife.

If temperatures drop quickly in our area, please be on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles in the bay. If you find one, please report it immediately by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.

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This is Pop, one of our capybaras. The human in the picture is Wren, and she's working on a training session where Pop stands and is rewarded with yummy treats. This behavior is important because it lets the keepers get a good look at the underside while building a strong keeper and animal bond. Great work, Wren! ... See MoreSee Less

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This is Pop, one of our capybaras. The human in the picture is Wren, and shes working on a training session where Pop stands and is rewarded with yummy treats. This behavior is important because it lets the keepers get a good look at the underside while building a strong keeper and animal bond. Great work, Wren!

 

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Could y’all maybe free range those just in the general zoo pathways? I want to be standing next to a capybara as we both ooh and aah at elephants. Kthnxbai.

Jo you need one! lol Right Jenna Vallone Wasden!

Looks like a giant guinea pig

Laura Alicia Cardenas, It's Pickle!

This is Pop, a capybara. The human in the picture is Wren, and she feels her personal space has been violated by Pop. Pop does not care and proceeds closer. Wren decides she has had enough. Wren tells Pop, "Talk to the hand you big gerbil." Pop hurt by such a statement plots his scheme to dismantle Western Civilization due to Wren's behavior.

Kirsten Ufer - whaaaaat?! Where are the capybaras?!?! I didn’t know we had them!!!

My girl Wren❤, raised up her entire life with guinea pigs decided to go big or go home 😁

Amberlin Parson!!! We need them!

I want a capybara

Emily it’s name is Pop!!! 😩😩😩😩😩😩😩😩

Blake Meyer it's Valentino!!

Sid Byrd Maybe they need volunteers

Love this and capybaras❣️❣️

Loren Westerfield...did you see this!? :)

Hi Wren! You are awesome!

Lindsay Crum!!!

Debra Erica

Cori Salinas Byllye Benavides

Kaylee

Christian

Tara Hans Saxton

Nyxinnia Poe

Cayle McCreary

Rebekah Rea

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