The Easter Bunny – Really?

Back on the 2nd of February , I de-mystified GroundHog’s Day for you. Big fan of the rodent – just not his or her holiday. Today we tackle the Easter Bunny from a Lagomorph’s (taxonomic order including rabbits and hares) point of view. Later in the year I will explain why Guinea Pigs should also have their own holiday.

Rabbits

To start with – this is a non-denominational blog neither leaning towards the bunny, nor the chocolate easter egg. Disclaimer – DO NOT feed your pet bunny chocolate under any circumstances. Simply put – in ancient times (before the 1970’s) and in the ancient world (before the 1960’s), the rabbit has long been a symbol of fertility. The rabbit is known for its reproductive prowess. In Europe prior to the introduction of Christianity the ancient pagans already had their own springtime festivals, as did almost all other ancient peoples. Because spring is the time, after the harshness of winter that the world begins to bloom once more, it is seen as a time of replenishing and renewal, birth and rebirth, fertility. So there you have it – the rabbit symbolizes rebirth.

Rabbits and Hares – ok – these are two different animals completely and we will not get into the Pikas of which are cute but will add to the potential confusion. Hares and Jackrabbits belong to the family Lepus (Night of the Lepus was a great film from the 70’s where giant mutated jackrabbits turned over trailer homes. This of course was based on the novel The Year of the Angry Rabbit), and their young are called leverets. Hares do not bear young below ground but in a shallow depression which is why people so often come across baby hares while meandering through fields of wildflowers (when was the last time you meandered anywhere?).

All rabbits (except the cottontail rabbits) live underground in burrows or warrens, while hares (and cottontail rabbits) live in simple nests above the ground, and usually do not live in groups. Rabbit young are called kits. Rabbits are clearly distinguished from hares in that rabbits are altricial, having young that are born blind and hairless. In contrast, hares are generally born with hair and are able to see (precocial).

Hares are generally larger than rabbits, with longer ears, and have black markings on their fur. Hares have not been domesticated, while rabbits are often kept as house pets. Hares can run at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour – could you handle this running around your home? No, that’s why rabbits are pets, not hares. 

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Invasive Pests: Rabbits have been a source of environmental problems when introduced into the wild by humans. As a result of their appetites, and the rate at which they breed, wild rabbit depredation can be problematic for agriculture. Rabbits in Australia are considered to be such a pest that land owners are legally obliged to control them

Cultural Folklore – rabbits and hares seem to play a role in many cultures beliefs beyond the chocolate egg theory.

  • Somewhere in Central Africa, “Kalulu” the rabbit is widely known as a tricky character, getting the better of bargains.
  • In Aztec mythology, a pantheon of four hundred rabbit gods known as Centzon Totochtin led by Ometotchtli or Two Rabbit, represented fertility, parties, and drunkenness. This last part probably led to that particular myth.
  • A  Korean myth presents rabbits living on the moon making rice cakes. That’s one handy space rabbit.
  • Associated with the Chinese New Year (2014 is Year of the Horse), Rabbits are one of the twelve celestial animals in the Chinese Zodiac. It is noted that the Vietnamese lunar new year replaced the rabbit with a cat in their calendar, as rabbits did not inhabit Vietnam. Thirteen years ago, a new species of rabbit was discovered in Vietnam, the Annamite rabbit – time for them to change their calendars back.

Turtle: Success!

Thank you to everyone who joined us at the Zoo this past Saturday, March 1st for our Save a Turtle Saturday event! We had such a great turnout for the Member Morning at the Aquarium and throughout the day. We can’t wait to celebrate turtles with you again next year!

Some highlights from the day:

Did you know we have turtles living in exhibits with our primates? At the orangutan exhibit staff told guests about the turtles who live in the moat!
Did you know we have turtles living in exhibits with our primates? At the orangutan exhibit staff told guests about the turtles who live in the moat!
Everyone was excited to help save turtles!
Everyone was excited to help save turtles!
Kids recycled paper grocery bags and made their very own turtle shells!
Kids recycled paper grocery bags and made their very own turtle shells!
Guests learned about turtles through biofacts and saw signs that the Zoo made for public beaches in Galveston to create more awareness of our local sea turtles!
Guests learned about turtles through biofacts and saw signs that the Zoo made for public beaches in Galveston to create more awareness of our local sea turtles!
The Vet Clinic joined us to show guests how they assist wild sea turtles who visit the zoo when they need extensive medical care.
The Vet Clinic joined us to show guests how they assist wild sea turtles who visit the zoo when they need extensive medical care.
Guests stopped by the Reptile House to learn about exotic turtle species and how they could help save these animals in the wild!
Guests stopped by the Reptile House to learn about exotic turtle species and how they could help save these animals in the wild!
Visitors made different pledges of actions they could take to help save our local sea turtles!
Visitors made different pledges of actions they could take to help save our local sea turtles!

If you would like to help us save turtles in the wild, please click here to learn more and donate!

Bear Awareness Day

Come and join the Houston Zoo in celebrating our annual Bear Awareness Day on Saturday, March 8 . Also help us in welcoming the newest additions to our collection.  Belle and Willow, 12-month old Black bear cubs, arrived at the Zoo in December of last year.  They were both found orphaned in Maricopa, CA.  Black bears are found in almost all of North America including East Texas.  That’s right!!  East Texas was once home to the Louisiana black bear but by the 1950’s the last native black bear had been killed in Polk County.  In 1992 the Louisiana black bear, (Ursus americanus luteolus), was listed as threatened by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife.  Today, populations are finding their way back to East Texas.

baby bears

In 2005 the East Texas Black Bear Task Force was formed as a subcommittee of the Black Bear Conservation Coalition www.bbcc.org .  The task force promotes the restoration of the black bear in its historic range of East Texas through education, research, and habitat management by bringing together individuals, organizations, and state and federal government representatives to support the recovery.

Meet our Carnivore Keepers when they demonstrate the safe way of camping and hiking in bear country.  We will help you determine the difference between black and brown bears as well as show you what to do if you encounter a bear.  Come and join us for Bear Awareness Day on Saturday March 8th from 10 to 3 and learn how bears play an integral role in nature and how we can help support their return to East Texas.

Activites:

11:00 a.m. – Grizzly Bear Exhibit Keeper Skit- Hiking in bear country

2:00p.m. – Black Bear enrichment and keeper chat

Kids can experience how to forage for food like a bear and color a bear mask

Displays:

Big Thicket National Preserve

Texas A&M Forest Service

Bio Facts Table- skulls and furs

Campsite displaying the safe way to camp in bear country

The Houston Zoo Commissary- displaying a variety of food that bears eat.

Join us for Save a Turtle Saturday-March 1st!

There is no shortage of events here at the Houston Zoo and we are gearing up to talk all about turtles on Saturday, March 1st from 8:00am to noon. Join us for this special event on Zoo grounds highlighting turtles and tortoises, big to small, and learn how you can help save these awesome reptiles in the wild! You could even win a chance to visit the sea turtle barn in Galveston or a Zoo Family Membership!!

Save a Turtle Saturday Schedule of Events:

8:00-9:00am: Special Members Morning at the Aquarium! Join us in the front plaza for a special Q&A session with the Zoo’s head Vet and Sea Turtle expert, Dr. Joe Flanagan. Learn about his unique experiences working with sea turtles and then tour our aquarium with our expert staff! You’ll even find out ALL  about the green sea turtle we are rehabilitating in our Kipp Aquarium! Not a member? Sign-up now and join us for this event!

Find out how Dr. Joe Flanagan has saved sea turtles on the Texas Coast during a special Q&A at the Members Morning on March 1st!
Find out how Dr. Joe Flanagan has saved sea turtles on the Texas Coast during a special Q&A at the Members Morning on March 1st!

The following activities are free with your regular zoo admission:

9:00am- Sea Turtle keeper chat in the aquarium & feeding

9:00am– Special turtle visit on Werler Lawn!

9:00am-12:00pm On-going activities and information in the following areas:

  • Werler Lawn: Turtle crafts, educational games, and a visit by our turtle mascot!
  • Reptile House: Meet some non-native turtles, find out how they are doing in the wild and what you can do to help!
  • Swap Shop: Bring any item involving turtles or how plastic pollution affects them to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop and receive double points!! This includes: turtle shells, scutes, bones or scales, journals on turtles or tortoises and journals on how plastic pollution affects turtles.
  • Butterfly Pavilion: Learn all about turtles at our Story time, Zooper Challenge and animal encounters at the Butterfly Pavilion!
  • Wortham World of Primates: Did you know that we have turtles in the Wortham World of Primates? Find out about these awesome reptiles who reside with our lemurs and orangutans!
  • Aquarium: Check out the wild sea turtle on exhibit who has been rehabilitated by Houston Zoo staff. Learn about how eating the right seafood can save sea turtles, and take a pledge to use less plastic!
  • Front Plaza: Talk with a member of our Veterinary Staff and hear what it’s like to treat sick and injured sea turtles who are brought to the zoo’s clinic to be seen by our expert vet staff.

The Front Plaza will also feature our raffle-enter and you could possibly win a chance to visit the sea turtle barn in Galveston or a free family Zoo membership! Learn about the dangers to sea turtles in the wild, what is being done to help them, see a Turtle Excluder Device up-close and personal, purchase an Adopt-a-Sea-Turtle package to contribute to conservation efforts and buy a sea turtle bracelet and/or poster to take home as a reminder of how you contributed to save turtles in the wild!

10:00am-Turtle Story time at Butterfly Pavilion

10:30am-Live turtle encounter at the Butterfly Pavilion

10:30am-Turtle Keeper Chat in the Reptile House

11:00am-Turtle Story time at Butterfly Pavilion

12:00pm-Turtle Related Zooper Challenge at the Butterfly Pavilion

Check out the Malaysian Giant Pond Turtles in our Orangutan exhibit moat!
Check out the Malaysian Giant Pond Turtles in our Orangutan exhibit moat!

It's Groundhog Day! Well, it will be on Sunday…

So if you have been following our blogs a few years, you may have seen this one before. Basically, nothing has changed about Groundhogs Day in the past 200+ years, let alone since early 2013. But for all you newcomers – use this to make you friends believe you are a rodent genius.

Normally, our winters are mild but the past few months has pushed us to the precipice of Arctic disaster. This is not really true but groundhogs are alarmists and feel they take the blame for all weather – good or bad. This year, they take the blame for Houston’s cold weather.

Since you most likely need a little background on the winter vs. rodent discussion, I thought it would be a good idea to re-broadcast some Groundhogs Day (Feb. 2nd) information which also happens to be Super Bowl Sunday.  Groundhogs by the way do not like Broncos or Seahawks. One animal steps on their burrows and the other picks them up and drops them in the sea – let me repeat that this may not be true, Groundhogs just think it to be so.

Lets get something straight, “Groundhog” are not the Nostradamus of the rodent world. They can barely remember which drawer they left their pants in, let alone predict the changing of the seasons.

We do not hear much about weather predicting rodents in Houston as we normally only have two seasons: Hot and humid or gonna be hot and humid soon, but folks in the North go nuts over this critter every February. I am ignoring the past few 20 degree days here in January, it is Houston after all and this should not happen for another 10 years. According to folklore, if a groundhog emerging from its burrow on this day fails to see its shadow, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If on the other hand, the groundhog sees its shadow, the groundhog will supposedly retreat into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.

Tradition has it that the early German settlers in Pennsylvania thought the groundhog to be a particularly sensitive and intelligent creature. They decided that if the sun shone on Candlemas Day then a wise animal such as the groundhog would see its own shadow and hurry back to its burrow for another six weeks of winter. The origins go back to ancient European weather lore where they relied on a badger or a bear to help them determine the change of the season. Actually Germans used a hedgehog to predict “a second winter”. Who wants to be standing out in a field when a Badger or a Bear wakes up for the season and is hungry?

What is a Groundhog anyway? Also known as Woodchucks or Whistle Pigs, they are actually Marmots of which there are 14 species and at up to 13lbs, the largest member of the Squirrel family. Woodchucks are true hibernators, relying solely on body fat for winter survival. This begins at the first frost of the season and ends in early Spring. Is there a reason they wake up in early February other than to celebrate this tradition (envision groundhogs in party hats ringing in the new year…)? Emergence is determined by the outside daily temperature and an internal circannual clock which governs biological seasonality. Soon after leaving hibernation, sexually mature woodchucks begin the reproductive process. In essence, they are out looking to protect their territories from other males as well as find a mate, or they need to go the bathroom, possibly both. Humans manage to disrupt some of this by parading around their fields trying to figure out where a shadow is.

A few parting points here. On the news every year we see someone in Gobblers Knob, Pennsylvania with a Top Hat from the Groundhog’s Club Inner Circle (yes, this is for real) picking up Punxsutawney Phil to make his prediction. Do not try this at home! I repeat, keep your hands out of hibernating mammal dens. Next – did you know one of the most critically endangered mammals in North America is a Marmot? The Vancouver Island Marmot to be exact – link over to their website for more information and to see one of the cutest rodents on the planet.

Action for Apes 2014-The Challenge is ON!

Make no mistake about it, the Houston Zoo is serious about saving animals in the wild. Sometimes, it can seem difficult to save animals that live in Africa or Asia from our homes here in Houston, but don’t you fret-I’m about to tell you how you can do exactly that by simply joining our Action for Apes Challenge and recycling your old cell phone.

chimp grass

What in the world is the Action for Apes Challenge?

A yearly contest put on by the Houston Zoo to see which local Houston school, scout group, community group, organization or business can recycle the most cell phones by the end of APE-ril.

What do we get if our school/business/organization wins?

A HUGE one-of-a-kind painting done by the Houston Zoo’s chimpanzees! The winning group will be able to choose the paint colors to be used by our chimpanzee troop!

The 2013 Winners-Grady Rasco Middle School in Lake Jackson received this unique painting done by the Zoo's chimpanzees!
The 2013 Winners-Grady Rasco Middle School in Lake Jackson received this unique painting done by the Zoo’s chimpanzees!

Why do we recycle cell phones to save apes like chimps and gorillas?

Materials found in cell phones, laptops and cameras are mined in areas such as Central Africa, which happens to be where animals like chimpanzees, gorillas and okapis live. When the materials are taken from animal habitats to be used in electronics, the homes of chimps, gorillas and okapis become disrupted and these animal populations decrease. If you recycle your old cell phone with us, then the materials in the phone can be reused instead of getting new minerals from the ground in Central Africa.

How do I get my school, business or organization started?

Just check out our Action for Apes website and follow the steps to get started. Each group will need to complete the registration form found on that page before they can begin.

Is the Challenge difficult?

No way! Saving animals in the wild has never been easier! Just follow these simple steps and your group could be walking away with a one-of-a-kind painting as the 2014 Action for Apes winners in just a few months…

1. Register your group online.

2. Promote the challenge in your school/business/organization. Get others excited about recycling cell phones and saving apes!

3. Collect cell phones!

4. Ship your box (or boxes) of cell phones to the company Eco-Cell by April 30th, 2014 (don’t worry-we’ll send you a shipping label, so it’s easy and free!).

gorilla 2

That’s it! How could you not join our 2014 challenge? Our chimpanzees (and future gorillas) could never thank you enough for your participation! Questions? Contact conservation@houstonzoo.org.

Be a Holiday Hero-Recycle Your Old Phone at Zoo Lights!

Did you know you could be a holiday animal hero just by visiting the Houston Zoo this holiday season for our 2nd annual Zoo Lights event? A portion of every ticket sold here at the Houston Zoo goes towards saving animals in the wild. I bet you didn’t know that as a Houston Zoo guest, you are helping us save wildlife and wild places?! Well, it’s true.

And here’s something else to consider. You could be even MORE of a holiday animal hero by visiting our Zoo Lights event AND recycling an old cell phone at our front entrance (we know you have those old phones hidden somewhere!). Here is what you do:

1. Find old phone while cleaning the house and preparing for the holidays (we know this is on the to-do list).

2. Bring that old phone (or phones) with you, walk on up to our main entrance, and drop the phone in the recycling bin by our Guest Relations office (right before you hit the Admissions line!). Give yourself a pat on the back.

2. Visit TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights (6-10pm, Nov. 22nd-Jan. 4th), spend time with family and friends as you look at the beautiful lights throughout the Zoo and leave feeling GREAT that you not only helped animals in the wild by visiting the zoo, but you specifically helped animals like chimpanzees and gorillas by recycling your old cell phone with us.

Save chimps by recycling your old cell phone with us during Zoo Lights!
Save chimps by recycling your old cell phone with us during Zoo Lights!

Wait a minute…how in the world does recycling your cell phone at the zoo help animals like chimpanzees and gorillas?

1. A mineral (called coltan) is found in almost every cell phone, as well as laptops and cameras. This mineral comes from the ground in Central Africa, which happens to be where animals like chimpanzees, gorillas and okapis live.

2. When the mineral is taken from chimpanzee habitats to be used in electronics, the homes of chimps, gorillas and okapis become disrupted and these animal populations decrease.

3. If you recycle your old cell phone with us, then the materials in the phone can be reused instead of getting new minerals from the ground in Central Africa.

4. When you recycle your at the zoo, we return it to a company called Eco-Cell that sells the individual parts of the phone so that they can be reused. Any proceeds then go to conservation efforts to save animals in the wild.

The mineral coltan is found in most phones, and comes from areas in Africa where chimpanzees and gorillas live.
The mineral coltan is found in most phones, and comes from areas in Africa where chimpanzees and gorillas live.

So, bundle up, grab your old phones, and bring your family and friends to our 2nd annual Zoo Lights event-you’ll leave knowing you are an official holiday animal hero!

 

Climbing for Clouded Leopards! November 13 at Texas Rock Gym

Written by Ali Striggow

Join us at the Texas Rock Gym on November 13th for the third annual Climbing for Clouded Leopards event! Texas Rock Gym will be donating 50% of their proceeds between the hours of 4pm and 9pm to clouded leopard conservation. We will also have a silent auction and raffle from 6-9pm with tons of amazing paintings done by our zoo animals and prizes donated by community businesses. Don’t worry if you’ve never been rock climbing before, the fantastic gym staff will be happy to give you an introduction to climbing and we’ll have volunteers on hand to be climbing partners. There will also be slacklining and acro-yoga demonstrations and live animal visitors!
Clouded leopards are an elusive cat found in the forests of Southeast Asia. They are named for the beautiful cloud like spots on their coat. Clouded leopards are amazing climbers with large feet and a long tail to help them balance. They can climb upside down underneath tree branches, hang from their back feet, and descend trees headfirst, like a squirrel. The clouded leopard is also a fierce predator with the longest canine teeth relative to skull size of any modern carnivore. These impressive teeth have caused the clouded leopard to be compared to extinct saber-tooth cats. Clouded leopards are so secretive and rare that very little is known about their wild behaviors. Proceeds from the event will be donated to the Bornean Clouded Leopard Programme to help with their continued research and conservation efforts.

cfcl pic

The Houston Zoo is home to two young clouded leopards, Tarak and Suksn. Come visit them to see their awesome climbing abilities in action!

Clouded Leopard-0031-5230Clouded Leopard-0010-5146

 

When: Wednesday, November 13 from 4-9pm. Auction and raffle held from 6-9pm.

Where: Texas Rock Gym
1526 Campbell Road
Houston, TX 77055
Visit www.houstonzoo.org/climbing-for-clouded-leopards/ for more information or to make a donation today!

 

 

 

 

White Rhinos Are Actually Gray, and Other Rhino News

By Jessica Sigle and Ashley Roth

In preparation for our Rhino Spotlight on Species event we would like to introduce you to the five rhino species. Today we will be highlighting the two African species:  the White rhinos and Black rhinos.
white-rhino

Did you know white rhinos are not really white? They are actually gray or what ever color mud they decided to roll in that day. The name white comes from early English settlers misinterpreting the word “weit,” meaning wide. White rhinos have a very wide mouth that helps them to pull savannah grasses, like giant lawn mowers. The Houston Zoo’s rhinos each consume one bale of coastal hay a day with each bale weighing about 45 pounds. Though they are strictly grazers, white rhinos are the largest of the 5 species weighing on average 4,000 pounds.

reneerhino

 

Like the white rhinos, black rhinos are also gray. The best way to tell these two species apart is by looking at their lip. Black rhinos have a prehensile, triangular upper lip that they use to grab leaves off of trees and bushes. This feeding behavior is called browsing. The black rhinos can be found browsing for food in grasslands scattered through central and southern Africa.  They prefer a more solitary lifestyle than their social cousins the white rhinos.

All 5 species of rhinos are endangered or critically endangered due to poaching and habitat loss.  To learn more about these species and how you can help save them from extinction visit the Houston Zoo September 21 and 22 to celebrate World Rhino Day and support five species forever!

Be a Conservation Hero: Meet MARVEL Characters at the Zoo!

There are so many ways to be a conservation hero, not only at home but at the Zoo too!

We have so many events the weekend of September 21st and 22nd where you can Be a Conservation Hero! Not only can you join us at our Elephant Open House on 9/21 to save elephants in the wild, or visit the Rhino Spotlight on Species on 9/21 and 9/22 and donate a new or gently used wildlife book to educate kids in Zimbabwe living next to rhinos, but you can MEET MARVEL characters Spider-Man and Iron Man! These MARVEL characters will make appearances at the Zoo from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on September 21 and 22, greeting guests and posing for photos – so be sure to bring your camera!

Be a Conservation Hero! Join us the weekend of September 21st and 22nd to meet MARVEL characters, visit the Rhino Spotlight on Species and the Elephant Open House to protect animals in the wild!
Be a Conservation Hero! Join us the weekend of September 21st and 22nd to meet MARVEL characters, visit the Rhino Spotlight on Species and the Elephant Open House to protect animals in the wild!

You’ll also enjoy learning about how YOU can Be a Conservation Hero each and every day as you meet and greet the MARVEL characters.

Here are just some of the ways to Be a Hero and Protect Wildlife:

  • Recycle your old phone at the Zoo! Our recycling bin is next to the main exit by the Gift Shop. Recycling your phone means less waste in the landfill and less minerals taken from chimpanzee and gorilla habitat in Africa which is used in phones, laptops, cameras, etc.
  • Be a responsible consumer! Palm oil is a product found in SO many things-from shampoos to soaps and even some of our favorite candy and snacks! The homes of animals like orangutans are being cut down to plant palm oil, so be aware of what you buy and how it can affect wildlife.
  • Reduce your plastic use! Our Texas Gulf Coast animals (like sea turtles, sharks and birds) can become entangled and/or swallow the plastic we leave on the beach and in the water. Use a canvas bag instead of a plastic grocery bag, buy a reusable water bottle instead of a plastic one, and always clean up your trash when you’re at the beach!

We can’t wait to see you at the zoo for this SUPERHERO-sized weekend!

Make sure to check out our blog on the Elephant Open House and the Rhino Spotlight on Species for more information on ways to Be a Conservation Hero!

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