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

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

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

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

We are amazed by how much our family in Kenya were able to accomplish in 2017, and we can’t wait to see all of the amazing things they are able to do in the new year. We’d like to thank all of our guests for supporting projects like this one through the purchase of your admission ticket here at the Houston Zoo. Two of our team members will be traveling to Kenya this year to help produce a documentary on the hirola for the HCP, so stay tuned – exciting updates are headed your way!

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.


 

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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.

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.

Baby Giraffe at the Zoo!

We are proud to announce the birth of a female Masai giraffe, born shortly before 7:45 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 31 in the McGovern Giraffe Habitat at the African Forest. After a 3-hour-long labor both first-time mom Asali and the yet-to-be-named calf are doing well and are currently bonding behind the scenes with keeper and veterinary teams watching over the pair.

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“It’s always exciting when we have a new baby at the zoo, and when that baby is more than six feet tall, it’s an incredible moment,” said Hoofed Stock Supervisor John Register. “Our team is thrilled to welcome a new baby to our giraffe herd.” The calf weighs 160 pounds and is 6 feet, 3 inches tall.

On average, giraffe pregnancies last from 14 to 15 months. A new born Masai giraffe calf typically weighs between 125 and 150 pounds at birth and measures approximately six feet tall. Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animals, with the average male standing at 17 feet tall and weighing 2,500 pounds. Females average more than 14 feet tall.

Over the last decade, the number of giraffes in the wild has dropped by 40%, with less than 80,000 giraffes remaining. Of the nine subspecies of giraffes, the Houston Zoo is now home to ten Masai giraffes, including six males and four females. According to the statistics available from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, there are currently slightly more than 100 Masai giraffes living in 28 North American zoos.

The honor of naming the newest member of the Houston Zoo herd will go to Jim Postl, Houston Zoo board of directors’ member, who won the naming rights during an enthusiastic live auction at the 2015 Zoo Ball. After a few days bonding with her mother, the new calf will make her public debut and her name will be announced.

A Day in the Life of a Houston Zoo Intern

This post was written by Annie Murchison.


rhinoHow many people can say they have shoveled giraffe AND rhino poop?  I, Annie Murchison, Public Relations intern at the Houston Zoo can now proudly cross that one off my bucket list. In order to better understand the inner workings of the zoo, I ventured outside of my usual office routine to shadow the hoofed stock team last Thursday.  Hoofed stock keepers care for mammals with hooves and include everything from rhinos to okapis to giraffes.

I grew up coming to the Houston Zoo for camp, field trips, and family fun.  My six-year-old self desperately wanted to be a zoo keeper, all the way up until the point where I realized that biology was not my strong suit. (However, I learned Thursday that one can work their way up to become a keeper with a psychology major and good amount of experience.) Thursday was essentially a childhood dream come true.

giraffeMy day started bright and early at 7 a.m. in the hoofed stock trailer for a team meeting before heading off to begin work. The team meets up every morning before the zoo opens to get their assignments and discuss goals for the day. I was assigned to team of keepers and their interns that looked after giraffes and rhinos for the morning. Our first stop was the rhino exhibit—we began with clearing yesterday’s hay from the exhibit, along with any poop. Once this was done, we spread out new bales of hay and scattered lettuce and carrots around the habitat for the rhinos to find. Heading back to the barn, I was able to get up close and personal with the zoo’s three white rhinos, watching keepers perform training exercises and weigh all three before moving them to their outside yard. The zoo’s rhinos weigh about 3,000 pounds each and still have a bit of growing to do. Adult male white rhinoceroses can weigh up to 5,000 pounds! Next we moved to giraffes. Like rhinos, our first duty was clearing the space of any poop from the outdoor yard and placing food around the habitat. Once that was done, we moved the giraffes outside and began to clean the poop that accumulated in the barn over the night—no easy task. To fully clean the barn we shoveled it out, hosed the barn down, and eventually power washed the floor, all of which took about three hours.

Unfortunately my day as a zookeeper at the zoo ended at noon, when I returned to my office for an entirely different kind of work. Thursday provided me with a behind-the-scenes look at, not only the animals that call the Houston Zoo home, but the keepers who go above and beyond to care for them. They do more than just clean the exhibit, feed, and care for the animals; they have a special bond with each animal and can recognize their individual personalities and daily moods.  Life as an animal (and intern) at the Houston Zoo is pretty awesome.

Happy Giraffe/Father’s Day

This post was written by Jessica Sigle.


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As many of you know, this Sunday is Father’s Day, but it’s also World Giraffe Day! The Houston Zoo would like to invite you, and your fathers, to come celebrate World Giraffe Day with our giraffe dad, Mtembei. Mtembei is a Masai giraffe and a proud father to our three youngest giraffes; three year old Ghubari, one year old Baridi, and ten month old Kamili. Mtmebei is our eight year old breeding bull for the herd of nine Masai giraffes. You may recognize Mtmebei from your last visit to the Houston Zoo due to his dark coloration. His coloration makes him easy to recognize from the herd and he is a regular at our public giraffe feedings that occur at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.

This year is the second annual celebration of World Giraffe Day. World Giraffe Day began to bring awareness to the declining population and the lack of research on giraffes in the wild. Giraffe populations in the wild have declined 40% within the last 15 years and have already gone extinct in seven countries.

This year’s World Giraffe Day will include children’s crafts, giraffe bio facts, a giraffe-themed photo booth, opportunities to meet the giraffe keepers, giraffe paintings, and more! All donations will go to support the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Festivities start at 10 am and end at 3 p.m. We hope to see you there!

Guest Blogger Carolyn Jess Talks Giraffes

We have invited Carolyn Jess back to help us out as guest blogger in 2013 with a focus on native wildlife. Jess is a 13 year old student who has agreed to be our special guest blogger about wildlife conservation. We first met Carolyn in October 2011 when she came out to the Zoo to meet our special guest Jack Hannah. If you would like to contact Carolyn or have comments, you may send them to conservation@houstonzoo.org.

Have you heard of The Call of The Wild Speaker series at The Houston Zoo?  The Zoo has many important people who work directly with endangered or threatened animals and has them speak in the evenings at the Brown Education Center.  The speakers are people who have a passion about the wildlife they work to protect and share a lot of their knowledge with their audience.  The speaker series is open to anyone who wants to come. All you have to do is just sign up on the website.

I recently got to listen to Julian Fennessy at the Speaker Series talk last month.  He is the Executive Director of Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) and he is very passionate about giraffes.  He shared some information with us about giraffes that I was not aware of.

I always pictured there to be plenty of giraffes roaming the savannas of Africa, but I discovered that is not exactly true.  Giraffe populations are falling very fast and there are many reasons for that.  The first reason is poaching.  I never thought that someone would actually poach a giraffe, but they are actually another source of bush meat that is often sold illegally in markets.  Giraffes are actually easy to hunt because they  pretty much stand still and glare at the threat before they run away.  This makes them easy targets for poaching.  Some people believe that giraffe hair is lucky, so their tails are cut off to get the hair to make bracelets and jewelry.

Another threat to the giraffes is loss of their habitat.  Many times the land the giraffes live on is clear cut for agriculture and to harvest lumber, which causes the giraffe to have to move elsewhere, but they are running out of space to move.

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What Julian and his group do is study the giraffes and their movements.  This is not an easy task, so one way to do this is to attach a satellite tracking collar to the giraffe’s neck.  Julian explained that this is a tricky thing to do, but through hard work and taking some time, the tracking collars are placed on the giraffes.  The Giraffe Conservation group tracks the giraffes’ movements using GPS units.

The Giraffe Conservation Fund is working hard to protect the giraffes in Africa.  Through educating the public and the people who live and work around the giraffes in Africa, our giraffes will have a chance at survival.  You can help the giraffes too by telling others about the giraffe issue and donating your used GPS devices to the Houston Zoo.  Just drop them into the cell phone recycling box beside the entrance to the guest service office at the entrance of the Zoo.  They will send them to the GCF to help track the giraffes’ movements in the wild.  Every time you visit the Zoo you help save animals in the wild!

The Birth of a Baby Giraffe Helps Us Grow by 6 Feet!

We’re all smiles and happy to announce the birth of another Masai giraffe! Neema delivered the healthy female calf shortly after 7 a.m. on Sunday at the McGovern Giraffe Habitat at The African Forest following a 14-month pregnancy.

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“After a very short labor, Neema delivered her baby girl at 7:20 a.m. Sunday, August 3,” said Houston Zoo Hoofed Stock Supervisor, John Register.  “The calf was standing on her own and nursing shortly after,” added Register. The calf weighs 132 pounds and is six feet tall.

With this new arrival, our herd of Masai giraffe has grown to 10, including six males and four females. Mom, Neema, and father, Mtembei (Ma-tim-bay), are both seven years old.  The new baby will be closely monitored by the keeper team and veterinary staff to ensure she continues to grow healthy and strong.

The giraffe keepers who cared for Neema during her pregnancy will have the honor of naming the newest addition to the giraffe herd. We’ll be sure to let everyone know once a name is picked.

Celebrate World Giraffe Day at the Zoo

Written by Kendall Thawley

The Houston Zoo is currently home to a family of nine Masai Giraffes. Few animals are as recognizable or as iconic as the Giraffe. Their impressive height makes them hard to mistake, even from a distance. This quintessential African species is loved worldwide for their beauty and grace.
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It is currently believed that there is only one species of Giraffe worldwide, and it is listed as a species of Least Concern. This means that there is not a huge focus being placed on conservation work protecting Giraffes in the wild. However, among the one Giraffe species there are nine subspecies, and this is where research is needed. There is much debate about these subspecies; research is increasingly suggesting that some of the subspecies may not be different at all and that others might be actual species in their own right. It is important for us to know whether these subspecies are their own species or not. If they are, they will subsequently be listed as Endangered and enjoy the protection and conservation attention that comes with it.

Despite limited research and confusion regarding Giraffe subspecies, what we do know is this: Since 1998, Giraffe populations have declined by a shocking 40% across Africa. In some places the decline is as high as 65%. Poaching, disease, habitat fragmentation, and civil unrest are all posing serious threats to the future of Giraffes in the wild. Their natural habitat is being destroyed by humans clearing the land for agriculture and ranching. Domestic livestock transmit diseases into the Giraffe population. Indiscriminate use of wire snares by poachers results in fatalities as Giraffes get caught in traps meant for other animals.

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Standing by idly as a species creeps towards extinction is a bad plan of action. Conservation efforts are needed now to ensure that Giraffes have a future in the wild. To aid in this, The Houston Zoo will be hosting a Giraffe Spotlight on Species on Saturday, June 21st. That Saturday will be the very first World Giraffe Day, established by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation and celebrated worldwide by conservation institutions dedicated to protecting this amazing species. We will be having extra Giraffe Keeper Chats throughout the day and (as always) guests will have the opportunity to feed our nine wonderful Giraffes at the Giraffe Feeding Platform for $5. We will have coloring pages available for children (or adults who feel young at heart) and the chance to purchase Giraffe-themed merchandise, the proceeds of which will go directly to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

If anyone would like more information about Giraffe conservation or about World Giraffe Day, feel free to visit the Giraffe Conservation Foundation’s website at http://www.giraffeconservation.org/ and we would love for everyone to come by The Houston Zoo on Saturday, June 21st to help us celebrate World Giraffe Day. If you cannot join us in person, feel free to visit https://www.houstonzoo.org/ for lots of information about Giraffes and to check out the Giraffe Webcams any day of the week to see what our herd is up to.

Baby Giraffe at the Houston Zoo!

We are proud to announce the birth of a male Masai giraffe. Mom Tyra delivered the healthy male calf shortly before 1 p.m. on Tuesday at the McGovern Giraffe Habitat at The African Forest following a 14 month pregnancy.
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“Tyra went into labor at approximately 10:45 AM on Tuesday, February 4 and delivered her baby boy at 12:49 p.m.,” said Houston Zoo Giraffe Senior Keeper Kim Siegl.  “The calf was standing on his own by 1:17 p.m. and was nursing by 1:57 p.m.,” added Siegl.

140204 - Baby Giraffe“The calf weighs 165 pounds and is 6 and a half feet tall. He’s a big healthy boy,” said Siegl.  This is 15 year old Tyra’s eighth calf.  The proud father, Mtembei is 6 years old.  With this new arrival, the Houston Zoo’s herd of Masai giraffe has grown to 9, including 5 males and 3 females.

The giraffe keepers who cared for Tyra during her pregnancy and were present for the birth will have the honor of naming the newest addition to the Houston Zoo’s giraffe herd.

Giraffe numbers in the wild appear to have plummeted by 40% over the last decade. There are currently slightly over 100 Masai giraffe living in 28 North American zoos according to the statistics available from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animal.  The average male is about 17 feet tall and can weigh 3,000 pounds, while an average female is over 14 feet tall.  On average, Masai giraffes typically weigh between 125 and 150 pounds at birth and stand approximately 6 feet tall.

140204 - Baby Giraffe

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