Rescued Sea Turtles Need Your Help!

Though you may not see them all the time, Texas is full of unique animals. Some, like sea turtles are with us year round, but your chances of spotting one in the wild are much higher during the summer which is sea turtle nesting season! There are 5 species of sea turtles inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico, all of which are considered to be either threatened or endangered. They include the Kemp’s ridley, green, leatherback, Atlantic hawksbill, and loggerhead sea turtles.

One of the main threats that sea turtles face is plastic pollution that ends up in our waterways, eventually working its way into the ocean. Just last week our partners at NOAA Fisheries responded to four calls of sea turtles in need of rescue. Two of these sea turtles were accidentally caught by fishermen – a large loggerhead at Seawolf Park, and a small Kemp’s ridley at 61st Street Pier. The other two sea turtles recovered by NOAA were entangled in plastic debris. A Kemp’s ridley was found in Surfside Thursday morning tangled up in balloon strings along with other trash, and yet another Kemp’s ridley was found on the beach connected to the lid of a trashcan by a shoelace. Many of these turtles were brought to the Houston Zoo, where our veterinary team was able to perform hook removals and provide health check-ups before NOAA took them back to Galveston. Luckily all of these sea turtles are expected to make full recoveries at NOAA’s facility, where they will remain until they are healthy enough to be released back into the wild. On average, the Houston Zoo provides care to 80 stranded or injured sea turtles a year – that’s over 500 turtles since 2010!

Thanks to the hard work of many local organizations, our once decreasing sea turtle population is on a slow path to recovery, but we need your help to keep them safe. You can help sea turtles in a number of ways, but the biggest action you can take is to help reduce the amount of plastic that makes it into the ocean! Here are some tips:

  1. Blow bubbles not balloons! Remember, every balloon that is released into the outdoors will eventually find its way back to the ground – bubbles are a safe and fun alternative.
  2. Taking a stroll on the beach? Bring a bag with you and pick up trash as you walk along the shore
  3. Reduce your plastic use! Opt for reusable shopping bags and water bottles whenever possible.
  4. Try going plastic straw free the next time you dine out – simply tell your waiter you would like to skip the straw.

And remember, if you accidentally catch or spot a sea turtle on the beach, call 1-866-TURTLE-5. Thanks for helping to save sea turtles in the wild!

 

 

 

 

 

K9 Patrol Dogs are Saving Painted Dogs in the Wild

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

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

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

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

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

Watch How You Are Saving Elephants in Borneo

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. During the month of May, you will have the chance to meet Dr. Nurzhafarina (Farina) Othman, a Malaysian scientist and member of the Houston Zoo conservation field staff.

Last fall, Zoo staff and crew from KPRC Channel 2 traveled to Borneo to meet with Farina, the team at the Danau Girang Field Centre and Hutan to see the projects the Houston Zoo supports firsthand. You can learn all about Farina’s work and how you are helping her to save elephants in the wild by tuning in to channel 2 this Wednesday, April 25th at 8pm and watching the Borneo special! Here at home we continue to promote these partnerships at our McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, giving our community the opportunity to learn about our herd of elephants at the zoo, and their wild counterparts. This year’s Zoo Ball, An Evening in Borneo presented by Phillips 66 will raise vital funds for our Houston Zoo, which through partners like Farina, works on the front lines in Borneo to protect its precious wildlife. To meet Farina, make sure to check out the Elephant Open House at the zoo on Sunday May 6th.

Continued Search for Rare Bird in Colombia

Blue-billed curassow
A couple of months back, we ventured to Colombia with assistant bird curator Chris Holmes. Chris has been directly involved in the conservation of a rare bird, the blue-billed curassow since joining the Houston Zoo full-time in 2000. In February, with the help of Houston Zoo partner Proyecto Titi, Chris, who serves as the American Zoos and Aquariums regional program population manager for the species and Christian Olaciregui, the Colombian population manager for blue-billed curassows and head of biology and conservation at Barranquilla Zoo, ventured into the Montes de Maria region of Colombia  – an area where the blue-billed curassow is believed to live but has been rarely seen. During their first trip into the study area, Chris and Christian set up and installed 6 camera traps in an attempt to locate any blue-billed curassows that might be in the area. Determining if these birds are in the area will help to fill a current gap in the knowledge of this species’ current range, and will help to shape future conservation efforts. Chris has since returned back home to Texas, but Christian and the team in Colombia have been checking the traps periodically to see what images they are able to recover! Highlights from their latest report are listed below: 
Image of a puma (cougar) caught on one of the installed camera traps
  • No records of blue-billed curassows were obtained during the first month following camera trap installations, but images of 35 reptile, bird, and mammal species were recovered!
  • One puma (cougar) was spotted on camera, which is the most recent record of this species in the study region.
  • Cameras also recorded the first known images of a striped hog-nosed skunk and a greater grison (resembles a honey badger) in the Montes de Maria region.
Striped hog-nosed skunk

 

 

Christian and Oscar Medina, Animal Care Coordinator at Barranquilla Zoo were able to collect this valuable research with the help of Daniel Martinez and Roberto Meza. Both men own the properties within the Montes de Maria region where the camera traps were installed. They have been living in the region for over 20 years and can both attest to the presence of blue-billed curassows in the area! While the team may not have found any evidence of this elusive bird yet, they haven’t given up hope. Throughout the first half of April, the team will be visiting three other sites in the region which have been recommended by locals – 6 camera traps will be installed at each site.

Greater grison

Knowing if these birds are in the area will help to strengthen conservation efforts for this critically-endangered bird species, and will inform next steps as plans for the future are discussed. While we await the results gathered by this new batch of camera traps, make sure to drop by and check out the wattled curassow, an endangered relative of the blue-billed curassow, on your next trip to the zoo and come face-to-face with one of the many species you are helping to save in the wild!

Meet Tapir Researcher Dr. Pati Medici at the Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo supports researchers saving adult and baby tapirs in the wild. We provide funding and resources for Dr. Pati Medici, and her team at the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative to protect tapirs in Brazil by following them with tracking devices. 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! Pati will be visiting us here in Houston at the end of April to celebrate Dia del Nino, and participate in the Tapir Spotlight on Species event! Pati will be out on zoo grounds from 10:30am to 2:30pm on the 28th and 29th of April. Hear from the keepers at 11am and 2pm each day to learn how they care for our tapirs, and see the tapirs get some special enrichment. You will get to hear from Pati on how you are helping to save tapirs in the wild and have the opportunity to take photos with this wildlife superstar! Throughout each event you’ll be able to participate in games and activities as well as purchase tapir-related souvenirs – proceeds will be donated to help save tapirs in the wild. Want to get in on the fun? Both events are free with your paid Zoo admission and are free for Zoo members – all you have to do is show up.

Tapirs were big news here at the Houston Zoo last year with the birth of Antonio, a Baird’s tapir, and a visit by the Tapir Specialist Group which is comprised of researchers from all over the globe working to save this species in the wild. That being said, with tapirs being about as unique as the mythical unicorn, it can be hard to remember just what they are or what they look like. Tapirs are the largest land mammal in South America and can be easily recognized by their unique noses – resembling a shortened trunk, it can be used to grab leaves when foraging for a snack and even acts as a snorkle when swimming! 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. We hope to see you at the zoo celebrating this amazing species with us – thanks for helping to save species like the tapir in the wild!

 

 

Become a Sea Turtle Superhero in 4 Easy Steps

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

News from the Wild: How You’re Helping Turtles in Indonesia

Turtles, tortoises, terrapins…is one of these not like the other, or are they all the same? It turns out that while the 3 Ts are similar enough to belong to the same order, each has slight differences that make it possible to tell them apart. For example, terrapins are a type of turtle, but they spend their time either on land, or in swampy, slightly salty water. You can see a very special turtle, the painted terrapin, right here at the Houston Zoo. What’s better than that? Just by coming to visit the painted terrapin, you are helping to save this species in the wild through your ticket proceeds supporting projects like the Satucita Foundation in Indonesia!

You may be asking, what makes the painted terrapin so special? For starters, the painted terrapin is ranked among the 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles on earth. At first glance, this terrapin may not seem very remarkable, with its grey/brown coloring that matches its swampy surroundings. However, when breeding season arrives, the males become quite colorful! Their shells will lighten to reveal bold black markings, and their grey heads turn pure white with a bright crimson red strip developing between the eyes. This species also has an upturned snout, which makes it easier for them to feed on vegetation lying on the surface of the water.

Painted terrapins face a number of threats in the wild, including: poaching for eggs, predation, the pet trade, and habitat loss. When project founder Joko Guntoro first started his painted terrapin research in 2009, no one knew if the species even existed in the Aceh Tamiang region of Indonesia, as it had already gone extinct in Malaysia, Brunei, and Thailand. In that first year, only 9 adult painted terrapins were found, but by putting regular patrols of nesting beaches in place as well as doing community outreach and improving methods for egg incubation, this project has seen amazing success. As of March 8th, 61 eggs from the latest nesting season that were being raised in the hatchery have successfully hatched! This nesting season the team was able to save 443 eggs from threats such as egg poaching and natural predators like wild pigs. To date, 1,204 hatchlings have been released back into the wild to restore the painted terrapin population in the Indonesian district of Aceh Tamiang.

The Satucita Foundation team still has a long road ahead of them, but each year the future looks a little brighter for painted terrapins in Indonesia. We are honored to have such incredible partners in the field saving wildlife, and it is an even greater honor to be able to introduce our community to such a unique species right here at the Zoo. Make sure to drop by the orangutan habitat in the Wortham World of Primates on your next visit to catch a glimpse of not one, but two species that you are helping to save in the wild.

Texans are Protecting Federally Endangered Ocelots

Come meet our resident ocelot on your next visit to the zoo

Here in Houston we are all very familiar with the presence of Cougars – if the mention of this species doesn’t bring a certain university to mind, the name Shasta just might! While Shasta is quite the local celebrity, there is another Texas cat making the news a few hours south of us – the ocelot. The city of Brownsville is leading the charge to save the federally endangered ocelot, and thanks to your visit to the zoo, we’ve been able to lend a hand by providing 10 refurbished tracking collars that will help local programs keep tabs on their ocelot population.

Ocelots are endangered within the United States with less than 100 individuals in one region-south Texas. Their main threats include habitat loss (more people means more land used for agriculture, oil/gas, homes, etc.) and collisions with vehicles on roads.

Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge is where many endangered ocelots go in search of a safe place to live

One method to save ocelots in south Texas is to create roads that are safe for both animals and humans Several years ago, in an attempt to make roads safer for Brownsville locals and visitors headed to vacation on South Padre Island, concrete barriers were put in place to separate cars traveling in opposite directions. This measure helps protect drivers on the road, but unfortunately made it difficult for ocelots to cross to the other side of the road to get to remaining patches of habitat (their small size makes it difficult to see cars on the other side of the barrier, so they aren’t sure when it’s safe to attempt to cross). When it became clear that the barriers were a hazard for the ocelots, the people of Brownsville came together and asked the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to come up with a way to keep both humans and local wildlife safe.

In response to the public’s concern for the ocelots, TxDOT has joined forces with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to build 12 tunnels beneath two roads that cut through or border the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge, where many of the endangered cats go in search of a safe place to live. On these tunnels, chain link fencing extends from above the underpass and along the sides to help funnel the cats to the under-the-road crossings, which are large enough for the cats to see what’s on the other side. This is a huge undertaking for TxDOT, who is both building the tunnels and helping to monitor their use, in order to determine what species in the area actually choose to travel via the underpasses. While it is too soon to tell which species are using the tunnels most frequently, TxDOT did spot an ocelot on one of their motion sensor cameras by a tunnel opening just last month, which has sparked excitement and hope for what is to come.

Guests attend a talk at the 2018 Ocelot Conservation Festival

There is a lot of love for ocelots in south Texas, which is evident through the community’s effort to make these wildlife underpasses a reality. The ocelot is even celebrated annually at the Ocelot Conservation Festival and Ocelot run – events that are organized by the Friends of Laguna Atascosa and hosted by Gladys Porter Zoo. Many landowners are also actively involved in saving ocelots by setting aside land that serves as preserved natural habitat for the cats. We may be a 6 hour drive from Brownsville, but despite the distance you’re saving ocelots too each time you visit the zoo! On your next trip make sure to say hello to Jack, our resident ocelot.

Gorilla Guardians: Houstonians are Protecting Gorillas through Electronics Recycling at the Zoo!

What do the zoo, cell phones, and Grauer’s gorillas have in common? YOU! Each year, the Houston Zoo runs the Action for Apes Challenge, in which community groups and organizations can sign up and compete against each other to recycle the greatest number of cell phones and small electronics by the end of April.  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. The good news doesn’t stop there – you have the opportunity to recycle these devices on zoo grounds year-round each time you visit, and just through the purchase of your admission ticket you are helping to support our partners at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE) in their work to save the critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla in the wild!

Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), GRACE is the world’s only sanctuary for rescued Grauer’s gorillas. While nursing orphaned gorillas back to health and reintroducing them into the wild is the ultimate goal for the team at GRACE, their work extends far beyond that. GRACE works with local communities on conservation education and forest protection, as well as helping Congolese communities develop long-term solutions that will allow for them to live and work peacefully alongside neighboring gorilla troops. Working with a critically endangered species in a country that has a long history of war and insecurity comes with its own unique challenges, but the success that GRACE has seen speaks volumes to the importance and power of community involvement in saving wildlife.

Despite the return of political instability to the DRC in 2017, GRACE was able to not only continue their day-to-day operations but also launched projects that provided employment for more than 250 people. In addition, they were able to invest in projects like tree planting, village clean-ups, and starting vegetable gardens at local schools to help get communities through these hard times. GRACE hosted the first annual World Gorilla Day celebrating gorillas and their importance to the community, and had a turn out of over 3,000 people – the largest local gathering in recent memory! The team was also able to expand the forest habitat for the 14 orphaned Grauer’s gorillas in their care, giving these gorillas an additional 15 acres to practice skills needed for life in the wild.

This year, GRACE will open the newly expanded gorilla habitat and complete its Community Education Center, which will become a central meeting place for education activities and community collaboration. Thanks to new partnerships within the DRC, the education program will expand, reaching more individuals living within the gorilla home range and spreading awareness and encouraging peaceful coexistence with these non-human primates. GRACE will also launch an exciting new project with local communities in the coming months – a fuel-efficient stove project. By reducing the amount of wood used to fuel cooking fires, this project will help save trees that make up vital gorilla habitat!

Our partners at GRACE are doing amazing work that is a win for both people and gorillas, and we could not be more proud to be a part of their extended family. By visiting the zoo you are helping to support the work of GRACE and our other partners around the globe that are working non-stop to save wildlife. Remember, you can help great apes like gorillas and chimpanzees directly by recycling your old cell-phones and small electronics on your next visit to the zoo, and challenge others to do the same!

Protecting Kenya’s Endangered Wildlife: How you are Helping Giraffes and Hirola Survive in the Wild

Have you heard of the hirola? Found only in northeastern Kenya and southwest Somalia, the hirola is a critically endangered species of antelope. Hirola are not in zoos so you won’t see one here on grounds, but you can visit and even have a special face-to-face encounter with giraffes here at the zoo, who are neighbors to the hirola in the wild! Both of these species are currently being protected in the wild through your visit to the zoo, with a portion of your admission fee supporting the work of our friends at the Hirola Conservation Program (HCP) in Kenya.

The Hirola Conservation Program aims to save hirola in Kenya through scientific research, habitat restoration, and strengthening community-based conservation and education efforts. Like many of our partners, the team at the HCP know that there is power in community when it comes to saving wildlife, and as a result, their focus is not just on the hirola – it is on the people that live alongside them. For example, while speaking and writing in Arabic is easy for most locals along the Kenya-Somalia border, reading and writing in English is an ongoing challenge since learning how to raise and take care of livestock takes priority over a more formal education. Realizing that this makes it difficult for younger generations to become involved in alternative livelihoods like science and conservation, the HCP has created adult literacy classes for their ranger staff. By providing rangers with this training, doors will open for community members as new knowledge is shared, representing a unique opportunity towards improving citizen science. In December, rangers were also taken on a camping trip where they learned more about shelter building, wildlife tracking, and foraging. This training not only helped to build ranger skill sets, but also served to enhance team work and give the rangers the opportunity to get to know one another better.

The HCP serves as an important resource for many members of the community, and as a result, was the go-to for advice when locals began to run into trouble with giraffes. With recent draught conditions, the local communities have moved their farms closer to water ways in areas that overlap with the paths that giraffes take to drink.  This move made it impossible for giraffes to reach their water source without trampling local community’s food sources. To help reduce mounting tensions, the HCP began work to revitalize the Garissa Giraffe Sanctuary, located near communities experiencing conflict with giraffes. In 2017, the team at HCP was able to restore old watering troughs and provide new sources of water for giraffes in the area, while also creating giraffe awareness in 5 surrounding villages. Through raising awareness and working directly with members of the community, the team in Kenya hopes to generate renewed levels of enthusiasm among locals, government agencies, and the international conservation community, which in turn, will help to protect species like the hirola and giraffe for years to come.

We are amazed by how much our family in Kenya 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. Two of our team members will be traveling to Kenya this year to help produce a documentary on the hirola for the HCP, so stay tuned – exciting updates are headed your way!

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