Whooping Crane Festival Brings Hope to Storm Ravaged Town

On the last Saturday in February, Houston Zoo staff rose before the sun and piled into a zoo van to make the 4-hour journey south to Port Aransas. While most would be sleeping, the van was full of excited chatter as the team neared its destination – the 22nd annual Whooping Crane Festival! The festival celebrates the yearly return of the whooping cranes to their wintering habitat. Due to Hurricane Harvey, the International Crane Foundation wasn’t sure if the festival would take place this year, but knowing how important this festival is for both the birds and the community, several local partners including the Houston Zoo were able to lend a helping hand to make sure it happened!

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. This section of the Texas coast is the only place where you can see the world’s last naturally-occurring population of Whooping Cranes.

At the festival, zoo staff got to spend the day with Corinna Holfus, the new Whooping Crane Outreach Coordinator whose position is being funded by the Houston Zoo. Corinna, a Houston native, was well aware of the post-Harvey struggles Port Aransas was facing when she joined the team in October of 2017. She didn’t always plan on working with Texas species, but when the opportunity arose she recalled how excited she was at the prospect of becoming a “craniac” – a designation shared among crane lovers within the birding community. Since landing the job, Holfus has been working with hunters, landowners, and other members of the community to develop awareness and caring for whooping cranes with the hope of fostering their commitment to safe guard these unique birds. You might think that saving wildlife is the last thing people want to add to their plates when recovering from a natural disaster, but Holfus has found the community’s response to be nothing short of inspiring. “With everything that has been happening here, the whooping cranes have actually become a symbol of hope for the community. So many things feel out of your control, but people realize that they can do something to help these birds, and they have started to rally around them which has been really special to watch.”

While the storm negatively impacted human communities, it actually did a lot to help clean debris and pollution out of whooping crane habitat, which in turn led to an increase in the amount of available food sources. This has ultimately led to some pretty impressive numbers of cranes spending the winter in Port Aransas, with the number reaching a record high of around 431 birds last year. On our day out on the water we saw over 50 whooping cranes – this may not seem like much, but for people like Houston Zoo veterinarian Dr. Joe Flanagan who has been traveling to view the whooping cranes for many years it is quite an exciting turn out. “Back in the 80s to see 50 birds would have meant you had seen the entire remaining population”, he told us while looking eagerly through his binoculars.  One of the rarest birds in North America, 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, with an estimated population of 757 world-wide.

We are so proud to be involved in this work to help save a very unique community of Texans, and thanks to the continued support of Zoo goers like you, this native species has an even better chance for a bright future. Stay tuned for updates on Corinna’s work with the International Crane Foundation’s Texas office!

Your Visit Helps to Provide Vital Training to Snake Saving Partner Murthy

Murthy Kantimahanti

During the last week of January, we had the pleasure of hosting one of our newest team members, Murthy Kantimahanti here at the Houston Zoo. Murthy, who works to save snakes in India, was brought to the Houston Zoo in order to train with zoo staff and expand his skill set while sharing his knowledge with our team members at the same time! These vital training sessions are made possible through a portion of your admission ticket going towards supporting partners like Murthy, who are hard at work all around the globe to save wildlife.

Murthy works in the Eastern Ghats, located in Southern India, to improve relationships between humans and snakes, and build local community support for snake conservation. Fear and lack of knowledge about snakes has led to a rise in the killing of many snake species, including the king cobra. Murthy and his team are working to transform the fear of snakes into a respect and appreciation for the important role that snakes play in the ecosystem. Snakes are an important species to control rodent populations that spread deadly diseases.

Murthy meets with guests during a keeper chat at the reptile house

While in town, Murthy was able to spend a great deal of time with the herpetology team, learning more about husbandry for snakes and reptiles. Simply put, husbandry refers to the handling and care of different species. This is an important skill to have when working with any animal, and good husbandry skills are essential when handling venomous snakes. Murthy and the team were also able to brainstorm ideas on building local community support for snake conservation; a priority for Murthy’s project and something our herpetology team strives to do for snake species native to Texas.

Murthy makes friends with the conservation education team’s resident snake

 

Murthy also had the opportunity to talk with guests during keeper chats at the reptile house, as well as presenting his work to zoo staff and meeting with the conservation education team where he discovered their resident snake! Getting to spend time within all different sections of the zoo was extremely important to Murthy, and he is very excited to take what he learned here back to India: “The exposure visits for conservation partners are incredibly useful not only to exchange information, but also better understand the role of zoos in conservation. It will benefit our field projects as well through interactions with various sections in the zoo and tailoring those learnings to apply in local conditions back home.”

If you didn’t have the opportunity to meet Murthy, don’t worry – Fox 26 came to interview him and the herpetology team! You can watch the interview here:

To keep up with Murthy and is team follow the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society on Facebook, and don’t forget to drop by the reptile house on your next visit to the zoo to see our king cobra – the species Murthy is protecting in the wild!

Your Visit is Helping a Rare Bird in Colombia

Press pause on life for a moment and journey with us to the wilds of Colombia. Upon arrival you meet with your travel partner and guide and embark on an 8 mile hike into the mountains where you will spend the night at a farmers house. You wake with the sun the next morning, listening to the call of howler monkeys as you climb out of your hammock and prepare yourself for a day of hiking. For the next two weeks, your days are full of trekking through the mountains, talking to locals, and setting up camera traps. What are you in search of? A rare and elusive bird – the blue-billed curassow.

This is the exact journey our assistant bird curator Chris Holmes has recently returned from. Chris has been directly involved in blue-billed conservation both in the US and Colombia since joining the Houston Zoo full-time in 2000. Unique to Colombia, there are only a few hundred blue-billed curassows left in the wild due to habitat destruction and hunting. Currently, the only known location of this bird is within a reserve in the southern portion of its range and little research has been done in the northern half, leaving a huge gap in the knowledge base about this species. 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, hope to close this gap by exploring this area of Colombia that has been historically inaccessible. As fate would have it, Proyecto Tití, a Houston Zoo partner working with cotton-top tamarin monkeys just happens to be situated in the Montes de Maria region of Colombia – an area where the blue-billed curassow is believed to live but has been rarely seen. 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.

Chris’s time in Colombia was not just focused on seeking out blue-billed curassow tracks and setting up camera traps in an attempt to locate the birds – he and Christian also spent a great deal of time talking with local organizations and land owners as they are playing a huge role in leading conservation efforts in the study area. As Chris explains it: “On day two, we walked out of the forest along the riverbed to go back to the City of San Juan as there was a meeting of the Regional Protected Areas System which included, The Colombian Environmental Authority, Proyecto Titi, other regional NGOs, and local farmers to discuss the projects they are working on together.This meeting illustrated the massive amount of work and dedication that is going on in this region. There is a lot of work being put into connecting the National Park through-out this area via a system of corridors, to ensure that there are not any patches of forest that are isolated by cattle farming or agricultural activities. All of these groups have seen successes in having private land owners set aside plots of their private property to remain, or be developed into corridors to connect habitat.”

The fact that these efforts are already underway in the region is excellent, and will be particularly important should the camera traps provide evidence of blue-billed curassows in the area. Christian and the team in Colombia will continue to check the traps periodically to see what images are recovered, and we can’t wait to see what they find! While we await the results, 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!

 

 

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!

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