Have Yourself a Hairy Little Christmas!

fireplace blogBy Lacey Penning

Is there anything more exciting than Christmas morning? Yummy treats, special presents just for you and being surrounded by the people you love…Here at the Houston Zoo primate department, we strive to make the animal’s Christmas morning just as memorable. Christmas day is one of the two days a year when the Houston Zoo is closed to the public; the other day being Thanksgiving. But as they say, the show must go on. There are homes to clean, mouths to feed, and in this case…stockings to be filled with pine shavings? Let me explain.

It all starts with something animal care staff calls “enrichment”. David Shepherdson describes enrichment as something that enhances the quality of captive animal care by identifying and providing the environmental stimuli necessary for optimal psychological and physiological well-being. Basically, in a nutshell roasting on an open fire, enrichment is something that keeps life exciting and always stimulating, encouraging natural behaviors in the process. Enrichment is a constant everyday occurrence for the animals here at the Houston Zoo. On a typical day, you will find things used throughout exhibits such as forage piles heaped of sand, puzzle feeders made of PVC and even various extracts sprayed about to entice scent-marking primates. But on Christmas, things get a whole lot more holly jolly.

Zookeepers spend weeks prepping, constructing and gathering all of those special details they know are their primate’s favorite things…similar to Santa’s elves. On Christmas morning, while most of Houston is still nestled snug in their beds with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, zookeepers can be found Santa-hats donned and Christmas music playing, filling animal exhibits to the brim with presents, streamers and wrapping paper with only the mere audience of the animals to please. The presents are simply any animal-safe box (tape and staples removed) wrapped and filled with a variety of things ranging from: new baskets, wiffle balls and frisbees if you’re an orangutan, new blankets and children’s books if you’re a chimpanzee, new Kong toys if you’re a De Brazza’s monkey and maybe some nice new hanging bells and mirrors if you’re a Goeldi’s monkey. But what good would presents be if you didn’t have delicious treats to go along with them? Although all the primates receive a variety of fruits and vegetables every day, on Christmas they may get supplemented with favored food items that they only receive sparingly such as dried fruits, honey-peanut butter smears and grape juice for everyone! While exhibits are being serviced by keepers in the morning, some apes may even be lucky enough to watch their favorite holiday flick such as Frozen or How the Grinch Stole Christmas, as keepers set up TVs and DVD players for them. Sure, there’s the typical tug of war over everyone’s favorite blanket or movie seat, but what household doesn’t have that? Once everything is said and done, the excitement and happiness felt is worth all the hard work. After all, it wouldn’t be Christmas if you weren’t spending it with primates you love.chimp snow

We know what you’re thinking, and no, zookeepers couldn’t do this alone, we are mere mortals after all. Without the help of our extraordinary and selfless volunteer staff and donors who thoughtfully purchase and donate animal-safe presents for the animals every year, those presents would be a little bit more bleak. If this all sounds like something too merry to miss out on, there are simple ways to get involved! You can give the gift of grub! By donating to the Houston Zoo this holiday season, your money can go specifically towards all those yummy treats and meals that make things like this so special. Even better, whatever you donate TXU Energy will match, up to $50,000! Click on the link below to check it out.
https://www.houstonzoo.org/grub/

Happy holidays and foraging to you and yours!

 

Sea Lion Enrichment

Sea Lion-0317-4805Animals in the wild have to work for a living to ensure that they can find food and shelter. At the zoo our animals’ daily lives are more predictable than in nature, which is why our zookeepers provide a variety of enriching activities that will challenge the animals physically and mentally. The sea lion keepers are no exception as they provide some of the coolest enrichment activities for our favorite marine mammals here at the zoo.

The lives of our sea lions are constantly being filled with enrichment. Just about everything the sea lions do on a daily basis involves a form of enrichment. Sea lion keeper, Anastasia Kotara, said that the keepers cannot force anything upon the sea lions because they want them to voluntarily choose to play on their own. Due to this, the keepers are constantly shaking things up in terms of enrichment so they can keep the sea lions guessing, remaining curious about their daily schedule. A constant change of schedule sets the sea lions apart from most animal areas at the zoo and a large reason behind this is due to the different personalities and natural behavior of our sea lions; requiring the keepers to remain diligent in preparing activities. Keepers use many of their enrichment tools to encourage the sea lions to work for their food and show off natural instincts. Enrichment devices such as containers, balls, and hoops to swim through all serve a purpose in enriching our sea lions. Typically, fish are put in the containers or in the middle of toy balls where sea lions can work on cognitive skills as well as playing to bring out characteristics they would naturally have in the wild.sea lion blog

Training is a huge part of our sea lions’ lives. Considering that the keepers train them throughout the day, training is a form of enrichment. Every keeper has their own enrichment device that they have chosen to train with, making every training session unique and positive for the sea lions. A sea lion’s level of training solely depends on how long they have been training for. Some of the sea lions, such as Rocky, are new to the style of enrichment that our keepers provide, requiring the keepers to take a different approach. Anastasia said training Rocky is a refreshing experience because he is willing to participate in all enrichment activities. Some of the sea lions can be stubborn and lose interest in an activity if it becomes familiar. The female sea lions have been at the zoo since they were ten months old, requiring a form of training and conditioning that keeps them seeing new and exciting activities. A big part of their change in enrichment is through the sea lion show for the guests. Demonstrations such as having the sea lions distinguish between objects are just one of the many activities our guests can see and the show is constantly switching routines to not only keep the sea lions playful but to keep the guests guessing; enriching the experience for both.

Every year the sea lion keepers have an intern to whom they ask to come up with an enrichment project that will benefit the sea lions and other endeavors in animal enrichment.  This is one of the many ways the zoo keeps things fresh for our sea lions. This year Daniel Magid, sea lion intern, came up with a project involving the construction of a fire hose raft for our sea lions. Partnering with the Volunteer Enrichment Committee, Daniel oversaw the completion of the raft which is made up entirely of fire hose material and PVC pipe. No hardware was involved in making the raft which is important for the safety of the sea lions and the salt water environment. The PVC forms the outer rim of the raft while the fire hose material fits together through slits to make up the body of the raft. Daniel said that through the completion of the raft, they realized that there were potential safety hazards for the sea lions so the team went back and added weaving to tighten up the material. The raft is currently entered in a competition known as Hose2Habitat where it will go up against other enrichment building tools made from fire hose and other types of material. The winner receives a fire hose cutter which would be utilized for all the animal departments in the zoo. Regardless of what happens in the competition Daniel and his team are incredibly proud of the raft as it will not only provide the sea lions new and exciting enrichment building but also showcase an idea that others can use as well.

The point of enrichment building is to change up the animal’s environment with the hope of bringing out their natural characteristics. Through the constant creation of fresh ideas provided by our keepers, enrichment building has never been more exciting and successful for our sea lions.

What Makes Giraffe Feedings So Popular?

My name is Austin Williams and I am currently working as an intern at the Houston Zoo. Recently, I got a chance to experience a giraffe feeding that guests can participate in twice a day here. Read on to see what makes feeding giraffes so special.


 

Feed_Giraffes_Tall_Tile

The Houston Zoo has many exciting and fun activities to offer the people who come and visit our animals, but perhaps the most popular activity at the zoo is Giraffe feeding.  People line up on a daily basis just to get the chance to interact with our Masai giraffes, which begs the question: why is giraffe feeding so popular?

To answer this question myself, I headed over to the giraffe platform to observe and participate in feeding our lovable giraffe family. Approaching the platform I immediately realized that this experience was unpredictable. Why you may ask?  You never know which member of the giraffe family you will interact with, and with each one displaying their own habits, every experience is excitingly unique.  I had the pleasure to feed the head of the giraffe family, Mtembei, father of our newly-born baby Gigi. Similar to the rest of the family, Mtembei is a very gentle natured and curious giraffe. When guests are given romaine lettuce for the feeding, the giraffes are curious as to who will be fed next and they will move in your direction to make sure they are the lucky winner. During my experience Baridi, son of Mtembei, approached the platform, giving me the opportunity to observe the different habits between father and son. From the start it was very clear that Mtembei was a persistent and eager eater who would not stray from the platform until feeding time was over. Baridi on the other hand only stuck around for a few pieces of lettuce before going back to the yard. During my time at the platform I learned that the giraffes respond to their names; something you might not know unless you experience giraffe feeding firsthand. The rangers who supervise the feedings will call the giraffes by name to come over when guests are waiting to feed them. However, witnessing this first hand also showed me that the giraffes can be like children in the sense that they don’t always respond to their names being called. I realized that one of the biggest draws to giraffe feeding is the educational experience.Giraffe_Feeding_Platform_Medium2

Aside from learning about the giraffes, what I believe to be the key to giraffe feeding popularity is the engaging family experience. From elderly couples to toddlers, the giraffe feeding platform welcomes all ages offering the opportunity for the zoo and our giraffes to make a lasting impression on the guests. Kids become ecstatic the first moment they are handed a piece of lettuce to give to our giraffes. The fact that they get the chance to interact with an animal rather than watching behind glass makes their day. Parents love the experience because their child is happy and they get to capture a special moment that will last forever through pictures. There’s also nothing like seeing a parent carrying their toddler right up to a giraffe for it to eat the lettuce right out of their little hands. Each experience is special, creating a memory that will last a lifetime.giraffe

Giraffe feeding runs two-fold, not only impacting our guests but also impacting our giraffes in a positive way. Guests provide enrichment for our giraffes through the activity because it keeps the giraffes active and they also like the romaine lettuce. The giraffes receive a nutritionally balanced diet every day and since the lettuce is 97% water, it does not impact their diet making it fun for us and enjoyable for the giraffes.

The fact that giraffe feeding not only excites our guests but also keeps the giraffes healthy and active is a testament to why this experience is so popular. Sharon Joseph, VP of Animal Operations, said “the primary reason we started doing the giraffe feedings is because it provides such an impactful, personal animal experience for our guests,” and after my experience, I truly believe that is the case.

Year of the Goat- Featuring Jingle and Belle

In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat! We have over 20 different goats representing 5 different breeds. In addition to their different colors, shapes, and sizes, all of our goats also express individual preferences and personalities!

To highlight our goats individual ‘flair’, we’ve decided to feature a different goat each month and share what makes each one so unique and lovable!


 

As we enter into December, it seems that the year has flown by. The chill in the air brings the anticipation of hot chocolate with gingerbread cookies, and Christmas carols can be heard wherever you go. December’s goats of the month are Jingle and Belle, and they get their names from a popular Christmas carol. The twins were born on December 15th, 2013, and have been keeper favorites from the very instant they arrived here at the Houston Zoo.
jingle goat2

Even though Jingle and Belle are almost two years old, many people still think they are babies. They are African pygmy goats, which tend to remain shorter (and stouter!) than many of the other goat breeds. They’re popular with many of the younger children at the Zoo because they’re the perfect height for them to pet!jingle goat

When you visit the Zoo this holiday season, be sure to look beneath the taller goats so you can wish Jingle and Belle happy holidays! If you like to sing, the keepers in the Children’s Zoo will be throwing an early birthday party for Jingle and Belle in the Swap Shop on December 12th.  So come on by and watch them enjoy some tasty treats while dressed in their holiday finest.

 

The Year of the Gibbon – Happy Thanksgibbon!

By Diane Shea & Tammy Buhrmester

siamangHave you ever been to the Wortham World of Primates at the Houston Zoo and heard singing but did not know where it was coming from?  Once you find them, do you know what animal they are and why they are singing that song?

Gibbons are full of mysteries!

Gibbons are primates; apes more specifically.  Most people are familiar with the great apes (gorilla, chimpanzee, orangutans, and bonobos), however, there are also lesser apes (meaning smaller in size).  Gibbons are lesser apes.

Gibbons are small-bodied (about 12-20 pounds) and fast.  Gibbons are masters of their primary mode of locomotion called brachiation, or swinging from branch to branch using their arms. They can travel through the canopy of the forest up to 35 miles per hour.  You will find gibbons at home in the treetops, seldom coming to the ground.  When they are on the ground they will walk bipedally with their arms raised up for balance. They are the fastest and most agile of all tree-dwelling, nonflying mammals.  Since they are so high in the trees and travel so quickly, it is very difficult to see them in their native habitat of Asia.

Gibbons are social animals; they are strongly territorial and defend their boundaries with vigorous visual and vocal displays. There are few sounds in nature more evocative than the whooping song of a gibbon.  The sound can be heard for a distance of up to half a mile consisting of a duet between a mated pair.  Yet the songs, performed by both sexes, are highly complex and their subtleties and nuances are far from fully understood.  Males accompany females and create complex duets and the degree of synchronization between the sexes increases with practice, and the quality of the song relates to the length of time they have been together. Each species of gibbon has its own song, and each male and female song differs from one another.

The Houston Zoo is home to a pair of siamang gibbons who have been living together for a couple of years. You will most likely hear their duet early in the morning before they go outside, or later in the afternoon. Male and female siamangs are normally similar in size, but Jambi, our 19 year old female, is quite a bit larger than our 15 year old male, Berani.  You will find the pair relaxing together, or grooming each other, and occasionally engaging in play behavior. Jambi is particularly fond of twirling around and around on a large sheet tied to a rope in the exhibit, and Berani will hang from a rope above Jambi and tap her gently to get her to play with him.

siamang 2The song of the siamangs is often enhanced by the voice of our agile gibbon, Susie.   She will frequently start her own song early in the morning and the siamangs will begin theirs in response.  Susie is an extraordinary 43 years old, and is one of the Zoo’s longest residents.  Despite her advanced age, she is still a feisty lady and makes her preferences for certain foods known by open-mouth threatening keepers if they make the mistake of offering her the least favorite items in her diet first.

Susie is a special, but all too common, case. In her earliest years she was taken from her mother and kept as a pet by a private individual. By the age of three she had grown too dangerous to handle and was donated to the Zoo.  Having missed the chance for proper socialization with her own kind, she cannot be placed with another gibbon.  Because of this she gets extra attention from her keepers each day.  Although Susie was born in captivity, many gibbons continue to be taken from the wild for the pet trade, often with far less pleasant results.

In addition to the pet trade, gibbons are threatened by habitat destruction.  One of the main causes of deforestation is the palm oil industry.  Palm oil is in many of the common substances and foods that we use.  By purchasing products that use certified sustainable palm oil, we can ensure that we are supporting companies that are committed to helping gibbons.

The plight of the gibbon is often overshadowed by their larger ape cousins, but they are considered the most threatened primate; a gibbon will likely be the first ape extinction our generation will witness.

On Saturday, November 28 and Sunday, November 29, the Houston Zoo primate department will be celebrating the Year of the Gibbon, with an event called “Thanksgibbon”.  We would like to invite you to come to the zoo and meet these wonderful apes, learn about them, perhaps  hear them sing, and help us raise money to support this beautiful species by purchasing palm oil free body products, paintings done by Houston Zoo primates, and assorted conservation products.

Once you have given thanks for your friends and family, filled your belly with Thanksgiving food, taken that after meal nap, and done your Black Friday shopping, please join us to help! And, give Thanks that we have gibbons!

Little Tikes: Gigi the Spunky Giraffe

Have you ever wondered what our baby animals are up to after they’re born? How much have they grown? How do the keepers maintain the animal’s healthy diet? We want you to learn about our adorable babies as they grow up, so we’ve decided to give you a small peek into the lives of our little superstars.


gigi updateI sat down with Memory Mays, one of our giraffe keepers, to learn more about how our baby giraffe Gigi has been adapting to her new home:

It’s been two months since Gigi joined the Houston Zoo family and every minute has been spent in the excellent care provided by our keepers. In just a short time with us, Gigi has sprung from 6 feet 3 inches and 130 pounds at birth to a current 7 feet 4 inches and 310 pounds. To most of us that sounds like a surprising amount of growth for a newborn, however Memory said that Gigi is growing at a normal rate and that most Masai giraffes are at this height by the time they are Gigi’s age. Due to this rapid growth rate from giraffes, the keepers monitor Gigi’s weight on a consistent basis to make sure that she is growing up healthy.  Right now Gigi’s weight is being monitored once every other day to insure she is getting the proper nutrients from her mother’s milk. Memory said once Gigi gets a little bit older she will only receive weight checkups once a week like the rest of her herd.

gigi update 2Most of you probably want to know what Gigi does on a daily basis. Is she active? Is she enjoying her new home? Well you will be happy to know that Gigi is not only energetic but has become one of a kind! Memory said that giraffes usually have the same type of personality but out of the herd, Gigi is definitely the spunkier and more independent one. Gigi is known to be very reliable and does what she is asked to do. Gigi just comes right up to Memory and the other keepers and when they are done doing a training session, Gigi will go right back to playing in the yard with ease. According to Memory, Gigi and her three siblings typically stick together in their own mini heard, running around and kicking up dust.

gigi update 3Since giraffe feeding is one of the coolest things to do here at the Houston Zoo, most of you may be looking to feed Gigi on your next visit. However, you may have to wait a little longer. Although Gigi is adapting well to her environment, she still is very much trying to figure everything out around her. Gigi is still nursing from her mother, Asali, and is in the beginning stages of trying to consume solid foods. When Gigi reaches about six months old, she will be able to fully join the herd in eating all the solid food she needs: grain, carrots, and sweet potatoes are just a few of the goodies given to our giraffes. Until then you can catch Gigi running around the yard with her siblings and enjoying the wonderful life we provide our animals here at the Houston Zoo.

The Orangutan Workshop – Coming Together to Make a Difference

By Tammy Buhrmester

Have you ever wondered how the staff at the Houston Zoo stays current on taking care of the animals? Many keepers, supervisors, curators and administration staff attend workshops and conferences to learn as much as they can to make the animal’s lives at the Houston Zoo the best they can be.

Tammy BuhrmesterFrom October 12-15, more than 70 orangutan experts gathered for the 9th annual Orangutan SSP Husbandry Workshop, which was held in Wichita, Kansas.  Two keepers from the primate department were included in this assembly of experts. The workshop covered many topics, including husbandry, behavioral enrichment, veterinary techniques, training and conservation.  Each day specific topics were presented and discussed.  The first day covered SSP (Species Survival Plan) updates and ongoing projects to aid the orangutans in zoos and in the wild. Did you know that 54 North American zoos house 219 orangutans?  We learned that Cheyenne, one of our orangutans, is the 3rd oldest hybrid female in captivity in the United States. We discovered that this is the first time in a very long time that we have equal amount of Bornean and Sumatran orangutans in captivity. We discussed how taking pictures of and notes about our orangutan’s teeth can aid in establishing the age of orangutans in the wild.  Did you know that they have the same number of teeth that we do?  Aging is done by counting how many teeth the youngsters from the age of 0-12 have behind their canine teeth and when they come in.

We also were honored to hear a lecture by Lone Droscher Nielsen, a woman who founded the world’s largest orangutan rehabilitation center in Borneo.  Through all of her dedication and hard work, Nyaru Menteng is the biggest orangutan sanctuary in the world, with over 600 young orangutans in its care. 148 of these animals have been released and another 100 currently are eligible for release as space becomes available. Each confiscated baby orangutan that they care for represents one adult female who was killed when her forest home was destroyed.

On the second day, we covered maternal care, nutrition, cardiac care and veterinary care. We heard how Utah’s Hogle Zoo taught their 9 year old female orangutan to mother her new little brother after their mother passed away.  We discussed pregnancies (normal and high-risk), births, and maternal care training for mothers expecting babies. Two zoos presented together on how they are helping other zoo’s monitor cardiac care.  The number one cause for death in orangutans in captivity is heart disease. Many zoos are training their orangutans to present their chest to their keeper and vet in order to take ultrasound pictures of their hearts.  It is a training technique that takes time, patience and trust.  It is very hard to explain to an orangutan that we are going to smear a gooey substance on their chest and then take a plastic stick that is hooked to a machine and place it on their chest!

The veterinary portion covered many topics such as parasite control, teeth cleaning, dry skin treatment, chronic respiratory disease, how to disinfect properly, cardiac care, weights, diet preparation and vitamins.

The third day consisted of management and husbandry practices. We discussed many topics, such as nesting behaviors, shifting, enrichment, training, growth charts for infants, exhibit design, introductions, and problem solving. This was our day to do a presentation about flexible social housing of orangutans.  We use this technique as a management tool that mimics what can happen in the wild.  If you spent a couple of days in front of the orangutan exhibit, you would see a different combination of animals out on exhibit. You might see Kelly and Rudi on exhibit together, then another day you may see Kelly and Indah together.  You might see them alone. (Orangutans in nature are semi-solitary and do spend time on their own, with the exception of mothers and infants.)

Orangutan

On the last day, topics included past, present and future management, and conservation. We learned about several zoos that are designing new exhibits and night houses.  We were honored to watch two presentations on two elderly female orangutans, Maggie and Daisy, who have helped their species because their keepers have shared knowledge about their husbandry. A presentation followed by a discussion of how zoos and keepers can educate their guests about orangutans in the wild was also held.

Going to workshops and conferences offer many educational opportunities for zoo staff.  No matter how experienced we are, there is always room to learn more.  Networking with peers offers time to discuss problems, spark ideas and get to know each other.  Discovering new products, husbandry tools, and enrichment and training techniques will only make the animal’s lives better.  Attending workshops has allowed the staff to learn new things which help to make each individual animal at every zoo enjoy a high quality of life, and that is the goal that all of us share.

House Calls for Monkeys and Apes – Doctors in the Zoo

sifaka weeksDid you know primates have to see doctors? Those doctors happen to be veterinarians, but it’s true! Primates are very similar to humans, and we can get a lot of the same sicknesses. Something that doesn’t seem so bad for humans, like the common cold, can be devastating to a primate if it turns into pneumonia. This is one of the many reasons why primates make bad pets; it is simply too dangerous for the primates’ health.

Our primate keepers here at the Houston Zoo have to be cleared of certain illnesses (like tuberculosis) before they can even work with our prosimians, monkeys and apes. To help protect against the spread of these diseases, keepers wear gloves and face masks when cleaning up after their animals. And if one of our keepers is sick they have to stay home, or, if just a minor problem, wear gloves and masks all day.

So let’s say that one of our primates gets sick. Here at the Zoo we have all kinds of ways to try and help them out. If a primate has a runny nose and a cough for more than a couple of days, the vets may prescribe cold medicine or antihistamines to help clear that up. Other injuries may require pain medicine. Prevention is important too, so all of our primates receive regular treatments on a monthly basis, similar to your pets at home.

Ever wonder why we ask guests not to throw snacks at our animals? Controlling calories is one reason. Another is that many species are very sensitive to unfamiliar food which could trigger severe gastric upset. We specially design the diets of all of our animals. And lastly, as was mentioned above, primates can become very sick from germs transferred from a guest via food thrown at them.

Chronic illnesses can occur in primates as it can in humans. Diabetes is one of these chronic illnesses that can impact a non-human primate’s quality of life. To help with this disease, our vets will evaluate the animal’s diet to reduce foods with too much sugar, which in turn will lower the animal’s blood sugar, and prevent or reverse weight gain. That, along with medications to help keep the illness in check, will help them live a long and healthy life. And, acute illnesses like a bladder or kidney infection are treated with appropriate antibiotics and intensive care, when necessary.

Here at the Houston Zoo we strive to make all of our animal’s lives long and happy ones. Sometimes it is harder than others with animals that don’t want to take their medication, or eat what is best for them. But that is just part of the amazing challenge that we face to give our primates all that they deserve. The vet team and animal care teams work together to ensure the best care for all of the animals in the zoo, and it is a daunting task, but one we all embrace wholeheartedly!

This Weekend, We’re Featuring Enrichment and Rhinos!

This weekend, the Houston Zoo is hosting two fun and engaging events, Enrichment Day and a Spotlight on Species featuring rhinoceros.

rhino enrichment1

Enrichment happens every day at the Houston Zoo. Zookeepers work hard to provide a variety of enrichment for the 6,000 animals. But just what is enrichment? It’s creative stimulation to keep the animals’ minds and bodies healthy and to encourage natural behaviors. Things like toys, newspaper, novel food items, or scents are all types of enrichment.

Enrichment Day is from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19, where zoo guests can learn all about how zookeepers incorporate enrichment into the daily lives of Houston Zoo animals. Guests can travel the zoo along recommended tracks to see enrichment in action, like puzzle feeders for the bears or ice pops for gorillas. Some zoo animals even paint a picture!

Enrichment Day activities are 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

African-Crested-Porcupine-Enrichment-Day-2014
Many of our animals will enjoy Enrichment Day treats this weekend.

This Saturday and Sunday is also Spotlight on Species: Rhino at the zoo.  From 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. each day guests can spend time with the zoo’s rhino keepers to learn all about these amazing animals. Members and guests can also participate in rhino-themed crafts and games, touch educational biofacts and interact with the keepers during special Meet the Keeper Talks Presented by Phillips 66.

Both events are included in zoo admission, and free to Members. See the full Enrichment Day schedule here!

Enrichment – Works With Pets Too!

Written by Samantha Junker

enrichment-blog-21Most of us have experienced that feeling when we get home and walk through the front door. Something’s wrong. Our eyes dart around the room trying to pinpoint what is different and then we see it. The couch. The pillow. The brand new lithium battery for my laptop (THANKS BENNIE!). Whatever it was, our pet has destroyed it.

After going through the stages of grief for my lost battery, (and making sure Bennie was ok!) I sat down and came up with a game plan of how to prevent it from happening again. Apparently, my dog was in need for something to occupy her time with. I started with her food and its presentation; fed her in toys, teasers, or hollow bones sealed with frozen peanut butter. What once took her 30 seconds now took the better part of an hour and I noticed an immediate decrease in the destruction of my property!

Looking back, it was so simple! I am a zookeeper! Enrichment is something I do every single day here at the Houston Zoo! It’s only natural I should be doing it at home as well!

If you have ever walked by any of our carnivores and noticed a toy, a hanging log, paper, or a box on exhibit, you are looking at enrichment. Enrichment is anything that encourages a natural behavior, and our zoo animals need it just like our pets at home for all of the same reasons. To change it up. To do something different. To be active and engaged.

African Lion Enrichment-0014

Zookeepers have found that if we provide something to tear, like paper, our cats get to exhibit a natural behavior, but not necessarily at the expense of our exhibit plants. If we present their food in a new or unique way, they spend more time eating. If we offer them new scents such as perfume and spices, they spend more time exploring and marking. We are offering them more choices throughout their day.

Join us for Enrichment Day on September 19 to see all of the different ways the animals at the Houston Zoo are enriched! Maybe you will find some new and exciting ideas to try at home!

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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years. 
 
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog: https://www.houstonzoo.org/blog/mourning-loss-geriatric-jaguar-kan-balam/

 

Comment on Facebook

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory

I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.

This was my daughters favorite critter at the Zoo. We always went to say hello to him before anyone else whenever we went. When she was 7 years old we sent a post out to out neighborhood on Halloween saying Paisley was asking for pocket change donations in lieu of candy for Halloween and all amounts would be donated to Kan thru the zoo. She raised over $40 in coins! I still have the letter from the zoo thanking her for her donation. He was a sweet boy and will be missed. 😔

I saw him limping about 2 weekends ago. The first time we walked by he was fine. When we walked by on the way out he was limping and moaning pretty loudly. I wondered what happened but I figured his keeper already knew or would find out shortly. Super Sad. He was always a lively one.

Dunno if the Zoo staff considered him a pet but he was certainly a family member, and because of that i offer this: RainbowBridge Author Unknown Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Thank you Houston Zoo for taking such good care of him and all the animals! I've been going to this zoo since I was little bitty. I always enjoy it.

Is this the one that had the limp?

Jaguars are one of my favorite and he seems like a sweet boy. I'm so sad but I'm happy he can be painless and be free now. RIP❤️

Aww. When interning in the carnivore dept he was one of my faves. So smart! Ashley remember when Angie was teaching him to do the moonwalk after Michael Jackson passed?

Beautiful jaguar ....so grateful for the Houston Zoo keepers and veterinary team that gave their time and efforts to share this awesome jaguar with us for so many years.

Thank you for doing what was right and kind for Kan Balam even though it was hard and painful for you. That’s true love for an animal. ❤️

Run free in the heavens, your limp is no more. Prayers for all his caretakers at the Houston Zoo

What a great long life he lived because of his excellent care at the zoo Thoughts go out to his keepers and the entire Houston Zoo staff

Sending love to the keepers that are broken hearted right now. And thank you for all the care you’ve given.

Thinking of you all. What an amazing life he had thanks to the dedication of the zoo staff! ❤️

RIP Kan Balam. You have given the visitors so much pleasure just watching you over these years. You were taken care of by top notch professional handlers, etc.

Thank you to you and your staff for the years of quality care given this magnificant creature.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3

I am soo sorry for the loss of this handsome fella Kan Balam. May he rest in peace and run free or any pain over the rainbow bridge.. My heart and prayers go out to each and every one of the staff at the Zoo.

Aww, so very sorry for your loss, Houston. Condolences to his keepers and all who loved him. ((((Lorie Fortner)))) He surely lived a long life with the great care he received at Houston.

Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs

He was well-cared for and most of all well-loved. My heartfelt condolences to those missing Kan B as well as me. What an amazing ambassador for his kind. What a beautiful old gentleman. Thank you for loving him into old age and giving him peace.

So sorry to the keeping staff for your loss i cant imagine how youre feeling :( his old age is a testimony to the amazing care he received

I will miss him. The last time I saw him he looked tired, and it appeared his foot was bothering him.

Sad to hear of this. Thanks for taking such good and compassionate care for him and the other animals.

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: I'm still using this.
... See MoreSee Less

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: Im still using this.

 

Comment on Facebook

Are there some zoo animals that enjoy this weather?

SMG is another reason why Houston Zoo is the best Zoo!

Happy New Year “sea lion keeper “ 💖💖

More snow for TJ and Max ❤️ lucky them!

Are we positive that’s the statue rather than it really just being that cold? 😛

That’s my best friend Sophie for ya! 😂

Brrrrr

Omg the Zoo is so awesome 😂😂😂 Alana Berry

Omg be warm sweetoe

Haha!! Good one!

Sweetie 💞

Ashley Jucker 😂

Mike DePope

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We've heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing? ... See MoreSee Less

2

Weve heard of stalagmites but is stalagmice a thing?

 

Comment on Facebook

Ok, it took me a minute to get this. I was literally zooming in to try to find the mouse. 🤦🏻‍♀️🙄😂

Cindy Christina Angela Ramirez see I told y’all! Lol

Andrew Kaufmann Look its Richard Jr! 😂

“Baby it’s cold outside!”

Wow ... good photo shot ... show the world that you need to protect your pipe ... if not, freezing water will expand the pipe and crack the pipe !!!

I fell for the mouse thing too..

My gutters had glaciers in them!

That's nothing! Talk to keepers from the northern states or Canada!

i was honestly looking for a mouse lol

Wow,that is so neat!

Annecia Wesley but where is the ice bacon? Lol

Johnnie R. Summerlin, cool, see the "stalagm ice"?

Two words. Pipe insulation.

That’s awesome!

Ana Rivers Smith cool!

Cortez

Ashley Nguyen

Pauline Ervin

Denise Daigre

Vicente Gonzalez

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