Extremely Rare Parrot Hatches at the Zoo

2015_St._Vincent_Parrot_Chick-0017-78_daysOn May 24, 2015 the Houston Zoo’s flock got a little larger.  The zoo is proud to announce the addition of a male St. Vincent Amazon parrot, Mustique Springer. The tiny bird weighed only 16.69 grams when hatched and now is standing a proud 510 grams. The bird derives his full name from Mustique Island, which is off the coast of his native St. Vincent, and from the late Fitzroy Springer who dedicated his life to the conservation of this species. The chick is named in his memory and will go by Springer for short.

A team of bird keepers at the zoo have been hand raising Springer behind-the-scenes since he poked through his shell, providing round-the-clock care in the first few weeks following his hatching. This included taking Springer home with them and waking up every few hours to keep with his strict feeding schedule.

“Hand-rearing a bird is a time consuming process,” said Chris Holmes, assistant curator of birds and Springer’s main caretaker. “Life revolves around the chick’s feeding schedule and sometimes you forget to feed yourself! It is very rewarding to know that the chick you are investing so much time in could live for hopefully 40 or more years.”

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Like many other species that call the Houston Zoo home, the St. Vincent Amazon parrot has a special history with the zoo. In 1972, the Houston Zoo became the first institution to successfully hatch the species. Springer is the fourth chick hatched at the Houston Zoo and the first male since 1972. The last chick to be hatched was a female, Vincent, in 2008. Springer’s birth is significant in more ways than one. His mother, Baliceaux, was also hatched at the Houston Zoo in 1999 and Springer’s birth marks the first time a Houston Zoo hatched bird has reproduced. The St. Vincent Amazon parrot is classified as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, with an estimated 734 remaining in the wild based on a 2004 census, however their population is slowly increasing. Being the national bird of St. Vincent Island and the Grenadines, the parrots are native to the forested mountains of these Caribbean Islands. Although they are characterized by their unique multi-colored feathers, Springer was born with whitish down and will continue to get more colorful as he matures.

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Springer will need to be a bit older before making his public debut in a few years. Guests can see the four other St. Vincent Amazon parrots already in public view at the Houston Zoo in Birds of the World.

Year of the Goat – Featuring Fauna

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!


FaunaHere in Houston, August is a month where many residents tend to embrace their air conditioning and lay low to avoid the extremely hot and humid weather.  Lacking any major holidays, August is also a month that tends to pass by unceremoniously.  August’s goat of the month was chosen because, like August, she tends to fly under most people’s radar and isn’t much of a showoff.  Fauna, the Nigerian dwarf goat, may not be the flashiest goat in the yard but she makes up for this with her easy-going nature.

Fauna is a ‘go with the flow’ kind of goat and takes life here in the Children’s Zoo in stride. Whether there are 3 guests or 30 guests in the Contact Area, Fauna can generally be found enjoying the shade and calmly chewing her cud. Fauna will gladly stand still to be brushed and gratefully accept a little bit of scratching between her ears.

In the summer months Fauna and her goat friends have a secret to keeping their cool when temperatures are soaring: ice!  Any guest that braves the summer temperatures on Saturday or Sunday afternoons can watch as the Contact Area keepers bring bowls of icy refreshments to the herd! Sometimes the ice is flavored with fruit juice and sometimes it comes in the form of a large ice pop with vegetables frozen inside of it.  However it’s served up, guests can see the goats enjoy their icy treats at 2:30 PM every weekend for the duration of this summer’s TXU Energy Chill Out promotion!

Year of the Goat- Featuring Levi

This post was written by Amber Zelmer


In the Chinese Zodiac calendar, the ‘Year of the Goat’ is also known as the ‘Year of the Ram.’  A male sheep is also called a ram, so July’s “goat” of the month is actually a sheep!  Levi is our only resident sheep here in the Children’s Zoo, so we get a lot of guest questions about him.

Levi is a Jacob sheep, and he has not just two, but FOUR horns.  In fact, this breed of sheep can have up to SIX horns!  Jacob sheep are a piebald breed of sheep.  They are a popular breed in England, although their country of origin is thought to be Syria.  In the Book of Genesis, Jacob took every spotted or speckled sheep from his father-in-law’s flock and bred them.  Thus the Jacob sheep may be the earliest documented case of selective breeding, and their name is in honor of their original shepherd.

Levi

Like all sheep, Levi has wool instead of fur and does not shed his coat in the summer.  The keepers here shear Levi every summer to make him more comfortable in the warm Houston weather.  This year Levi lost nearly 4 lbs. of wool at his shearing!  Though many clothes can be made from wool, the keepers here use the wool as enrichment for the other animals around the zoo.  Our mongoose, kookaburra and skunk all enjoyed tossing the wool around or rolling in it.  Sometimes the Carnivore keepers will come over and get some of the wool to give to their animals to enjoy as well!

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Not only is Levi a provider of entertainment for guests and other animals, he is also a part of our internship program at the Houston Zoo!  Levi knows several different behaviors such as turning in a circle, walking around a trainer, and even walking through weave poles!  Interns have the opportunity to learn his behaviors from the zookeepers so that they can work with Levi in their spare time.  In fact, Levi’s weave pole behavior was taught to him by a former intern!  Come visit Levi in the Children’s Zoo, and you may be able to see him working with one of our interns or part-time staff members to keep his skills sharp.

What is Browse and Why Do Our Primates Like It?

will blog browse canWhat is browse? Is it looking at a magazine while you’re at the doctor’s office? Or trying to find something on the internet? Well, no, when we talk about browse in the zoo we’re talking about plants and vegetation.  The definition of browse at the zoo is: fresh plants that are given to an animal for food and enrichment as a replacement for some of their wild food sources.

There is a wide range of browse that we can use here in Houston. Due to our semi-tropical climate we are able to grow all kinds of browse. Even some that may grow amongst our animal’s natural homes in Africa, Asia, or South America!

There are some great advantages and a few disadvantages in giving primates browse. But with proper inspection, and dedicated keepers to make sure their animals are safe, the disadvantages basically disappear. Browse is used mainly to promote behavioral enrichment. This just means that the animal is exhibiting behavior that they would in the wild. It can also add to the animals’ nutrition, providing fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Sometimes you may even see some of our young primates just playing with leftover browse that mom and dad have left behind.

will blog orangutan browse

 

Some disadvantages may be potential toxins that are in the plant. This is where zookeepers and horticulturists work hand in hand. Our horticulture staff will bring zookeepers browse that they know is non-toxic. They know what part of the plants the animals can and cannot have. Some of our browse has to be cut a certain way to make sure the animals don’t get part of the plants that they shouldn’t. It is very important not to feed animals’ random plants because unless you are an expert like out horticulture staff, as it may be deadly for our animals.  Zookeepers always check with them before we feed it to our animals.

There are thousands upon thousands of plants out there in this world. Some are edible and some are not. Some are sweet and some are bitter. Our animals all have their favorite types of browse, and of course least favorite. For instance, our gorillas love to eat willow branches. Our mandrills do not like to eat ginger, but occasionally one will tear into it. Our sifaka love to eat rose petals.

Sifaka and rose petals
Sifaka and rose petals

Overall, browse is an important part of an animal’s life at the zoo. It has so many uses, and there are so many types for our animals to choose from. None of this would go as smoothly as it does if it weren’t for the horticulture team here. So, whenever you see one of them out and about planting more browse for our animals, give them a big thank you!

Spotlight on Species – Tyra, the Masai Giraffe

This post was written by Kendall Thawley.


Tyra with calf, Hasani
Tyra with calf, Hasani

Soon, The Houston Zoo will be celebrating World Giraffe Day with a Spotlight on Species for Giraffes. For just a moment, though, we’d like to shine the spotlight on one of our resident Masai giraffe, Tyra. Although her overall disposition is quite sweet and calm with her keepers, Tyra is wary of strangers and rarely seen eating at the Giraffe Feeding Platform, so many of our guests might not be as familiar with her as some of our other giraffe.  At 16 years old, Tyra is the oldest member of our giraffe herd, and has been an excellent mother to eight calves, five of which still live at The Houston Zoo. Oftentimes, when in the late stages of her pregnancies, she becomes very reluctant to leave the barn in the summer. She prefers the quiet, coolness of the barn to the heat of the outside. She also enjoys grabbing hold of small sticks and twirling them around in her mouth with her tongue and many of her offspring have picked up on the same habit. One of her sons, Jack, in particular can be seen doing this frequently throughout the days. Tyra was also the model for the large giraffe statue located directly across from the giraffe yard here at The Houston Zoo. It’s about eight feet tall, and perfect for taking photos with!

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Tyra and her family have a very important job to do here at The Houston Zoo. They are all ambassador animals for the wild giraffe populations in Africa. Worldwide, giraffe populations are plummeting. In just the past 17 years, the total number of giraffes on the planet has dropped over 40%. There are now less than 80,000 that remain. Habitat loss, poaching, and disease are claiming the lives of wild giraffe every day.  We cannot sit back and let these giants of the savannah slip quietly into extinction. On June 21st, 2015 The Houston Zoo will be holding a giraffe SOS. With it, we hope to bring awareness to the plight of wild giraffe and to do that we will have several giraffe-themed activities for people of all ages. We will also have some special and unique items for sale and all the proceeds will go towards the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the only conservation institution focused primarily on researching and protecting giraffe in the wild. Come join us at The Houston Zoo on Sunday, June 21st and help us save giraffe!

Year of the Goat- Featuring Raisin Bran and Bailey

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!


 

goats1Did you know that the astrological sign of Gemini presides over the majority of the month of June? The symbol for Gemini is a pair of twins, so we welcome the month of June with our first ever DOUBLE goat of the month! In past blogs it has been mentioned that goats very frequently give birth to twins so it was easy for keepers to find a pair of twins in the Contact Area; the challenge was choosing WHICH set of twins to highlight!  Keepers finally decided that the twins Raisin Bran and Bailey deserved some time in the spotlight.

goats2The first thing many guests may wonder is why is there a goat named Raisin Bran? Both Raisin Bran and Bailey were born on a farm and their former owner named them for us. Raisin Bran was originally named ‘Coffee’ because their owner used to enjoy her morning coffee while playing with the goat kids and he liked to jump in her lap. Coffee just didn’t seem to fit so she changed his name to Raisin Bran because his color reminded her of bran flakes. Bailey was given her name in honor of the owner’s sister’s horse.

goats3As kids, both Raisin Bran and Bailey had very different personalities. Raisin Bran was the cuddly one and Bailey was a bit more shy and standoffish. When they first came to the Houston Zoo, the twins continued this trend. As time went on, Bailey began to hang out with our adult female Saanen goat Elsa. Elsa is a confident goat and some of her confidence seems to have rubbed off on Bailey. Bailey will now come up to be brushed and petted by children just like her brother Raisin Bran does. If you would like to see more photos of the twins as kids you can visit their former owner’s blog at: http://farmfreshforensics.com/farm_blog/?y=2013&m=4.


The Life and Times of Opie the Goeldi’s Monkey

Written by Amy Berting & Nathan Fox

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Opie and Peach pose for a picture!

Once upon a time at the Houston Zoo, there was a boy Goeldi’s monkey named Andy, and he met this beautiful girl Goeldi’s monkey named Peach. They quickly became inseparable, and through hard times and good times they were the ideal couple. They had so many adventures at the zoo and met so many other primates, but decided it was finally time to settle down. Their love brought them the greatest joy of their lives, their son Opie.

Goeldi’s monkeys (Callimico goeldii) are small primates found in the forests of northern South America. They live in small family groups, mostly consisting of a breeding pair and their offspring. After a gestation period of approximately 5 months, the female will give birth to a single offspring. Our breeding pair, Peach and Andy, arrived here at the zoo in April of 2012. After 2 unsuccessful pregnancies, Peach finally gave birth to a healthy male named Opie on November 10, 2014! Due to Peach being a first time mother, keepers kept a close eye on the new family to make sure that Opie was nursing and clinging well to Peach’s back. An infant Goeldi’s will typically ride on its mother’s back for one month, and  after that, the father will take turns carrying the baby. Andy was first seen showing interest in Opie when he was about 6 days old. Keepers saw Andy grooming Peach and then grooming Opie’s face.

Opie-Edited

When Opie was one month old, keepers saw him get off Peach’s back for the first time and then a few days later, Opie was seen riding on Andy’s back for the first time. These days, Opie is very independent and only occasionally clings to his parents. He can typically be seen running around and exploring the exhibit on his own. During feeding times, he likes to run over to his parents and steal food out of their hands. However, they normally don’t mind sharing. As with most monkeys, Opie’s favorite foods include bananas, grapes, figs, and currants.  He has also started coming up to his zookeepers for treats, handed over carefully through the mesh. He is even mastering the vocalizations his parents have taught him and can be heard all over the Wortham World of Primates.

Opie is a wonderful addition to the primate family of the Houston Zoo and he continues to grow and discover his world.  Every day is new with  obstacles that he crashes through bravely. He brings joy to keepers and guests alike …. and they all continue to live happily ever after.

Our Little Jumping Bean!

Written By Joshua Cano

Louise and AnnabelleIf you have been to the zoo recently and gone to the mandrill exhibit, you have probably seen our little bundle of joy hopping around the exhibit next to mom.  Annabelle is now 5 months old! She is the first offspring of Louise (mom) and Ushindi (dad).  Annabelle’s birth here at the Houston Zoo was a very important birth for not only our zoo, but for every zoo in the United States with mandrills. And, she is the very first mandrill ever born at the Houston Zoo!

When Annabelle was first born she did not have the typical mandrill coloration, but she is just starting to get her color. She now looks like a miniature adult. Annabelle is very curious, playing with browse, playing with her mom’s enrichment items, and walking further and further away from mom exploring her home. While inside, she is a very vocal little girl! She lets her keepers and her mom know exactly what she wants. It is not uncommon to hear her screaming at mom for not paying enough attention to her. And, she has just started to do the “crow” vocalization that is typical of this species.

 

Mandrills are considered vulnerable in the wild according to the IUCN Red List. Mandrills in the wild are hunted for bush meat and affected by the mining of tantalum, used for cell phones and computers. You can help save mandrills in the wild by recycling your old electronics at the zoo by joining our Action for Apes Challenge.

What is the best time to see Annabelle and her family? She and her family are out every day that the weather is good, and in spring, that is most of the time. If you haven’t seen Annabelle yet, next time you stop by the zoo, be sure to stop by mandrills and say hi to our sweet little girl, Annabelle.

Mandrill Baby Dec 2014-0038-4599

Year of the Goat – Featuring Peep

Peep, the Goat

Peep's birthday celebration!
Peep’s birthday celebration!

We hope that you had a happy Easter! It just so happens that April’s Goat of the Month is Peep! She and her twin brother, Cadbury, were born on 3/27/2005, which just happened to be Easter Sunday! Peep the goat is not named after the sound that a fluffy, yellow baby chicken makes. She is actually named after a sticky, yellow, chick-shaped Easter confection! In keeping with the Easter theme, Cadbury was named after the company that makes everyone’s favorite creme-filled chocolate egg!

The twins celebrated their 10th birthday here in the Children’s Zoo last week where they each received an animal approved ‘cake.’ These ‘cakes’ were made of bread, peanut butter, strawberries and a little bit of jelly. Peep enjoyed her cake so much that she got peanut butter all over her nose! Maybe she was too excited to eat it neatly or maybe she was just trying to save some of it for later!

You may not be able to tell just by looking at her, but Peep is actually an accomplished artist! That’s right, Peep can paint! Peep’s former trainer, Andrea, spent months teaching Peep to hold a paintbrush in her mouth. Peep mastered the technique and can now make paintings with a little help from her keepers. Peep’s paintings, and those of other painting animals around the zoo, are often requested for conservation fundraisers or other events hosted by the zoo where they raise money to help support the animals here in the Houston Zoo and help conserve animals in the wild!

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Peep is a better artist than most of her keepers!

 


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!

Dragon Coming to the Zoo in 2016

You thought they were a figment of your imagination, but they are for real! An exclusive partnership between Houston Zoo and Lockington Medical Institute (LMI) in Wimbledon, United Kingdom has produced the first known dragon offspring in at least 750 years.

Fossilized dragon eggs were found in 1996 by Rodney Tarrington in a small hamlet outside of Blackpool and have resided at the British Museum since then. Scientists have tried to extract DNA in order to replicate these amazing creatures, but up to now have been unsuccessful.

Three months ago, DNA extraction and replication was successful, and the first dragon was hatched in LMI’s labs. Due to the funding for research provided by the Houston Zoo, LMI has agreed to arrange transport for the animal once it is old enough to make the journey – approximately three months from now.

After the Gorillas habitat opens at the Houston Zoo, the Zoo’s focus will turn toward constructing a naturalistic environment with plenty of horizontal and vertical space for the dragon to grow and to promote natural behaviors such as flying. This new exhibit will be open one year from today, April 1, 2016.

Once the dragon is comfortable in its new home, LMI and Houston Zoo will continue work on creating additional dragons in the hopes of one day producing natural offspring.

More information about dragons coming to the Houston Zoo

Can’t wait until 2016 to see our dragon? Don’t forget to visit Smaug, the Houston Zoo’s resident Komodo dragon, here in the Reptile and Amphibian House at the Houston Zoo!

Smaug, one of the Houston Zoo's resident Komodo dragons
Smaug, one of the Houston Zoo’s resident Komodo dragons
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Today, we are working with BBVA Compass Stadium to plant a new pollinator garden at the stadium! This beautiful new pollinator garden supports local pollinators like bees, butterflies, and more, and is located at the North entrance to BBVA Compass Stadium. Great partnership for an even greater good. ... See MoreSee Less

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