Updates from the Wild: Saving Lemurs in Madagascar, Part 3

The Houston Zoo loves its lemurs and has worked in Madagascar with a lemur saving organization called GERP for a number of years. Peter Riger, VP of Conservation and Education at the Houston Zoo is currently in Madagascar and working with our Director of Madagascar Programs, Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy to visit lemur protecting project sites and discuss how to enhance the wildlife saving work in the country. The latest updates from Peter’s trip are below! 

Maromizaha Community Forest

The forest of Maromizaha or the “dragon forest” is a moist evergreen forest of medium altitude spanning an area of 11 square miles of Madagascar’s eastern facade formed by a chain of hills separated by narrow valleys.  The mammals of Maromizaha seem rather peculiar compared to other nearby forests. Over thirty species of mammals are present , including tenrecs, rodents, shrews, small carnivores, bats, and 13 species of lemurs. Three of the area’s lemur species; indri – the world’s largest lemur, diademed sifaka and, black-and-white ruffed lemur, are critically endangered. A recent study of insects made it possible to learn the presence of more than 800 species of moths and 400 species of beetles including something known as the giraffe weevil. Over 80 species of birds as well as nearly 80 species of reptiles and amphibians are native to the forest here.

The program in Maromizaha, which sits a few hours north of the capital by car on Madagascar’s ever-winding roads, is a few years ahead of the Manombo site and is a protected area. Similar programs such as tree nurseries, reforestation, and livestock programs including a growing rabbit breeding program and a new domestic pig program are in full swing at Maromizaha. The Houston Zoo, thanks to our supporters at the Tapeats Fund, has facilitated medical and dental consultation visits to this community since 2017, and there is a new guide and eco-tour program in place to help create revenue for the local communities. Many of these villages rely on subsistence farming, so any additional income goes along way and it all ties back to supporting communities who are supporting the protection of wildlife and their rainforest homes.

Winding Down and Gearing Up

The term rainforest seems to imply hot, humid, and wet. However, this time of year it is actually winter in Madagascar. The temperature is certainly cooler than Houston right now, but things are just as wet! Village roads are unpaved, which means muddy cars, muddy shoes, and despite my attempts to stay clean, muddy feet. Regardless, day to day life goes on, and for us it is a review of the ecotour guide program which means a 3 hour trek up the hills to look for the islands largest living lemur – the Indri, whose haunting calls can be heard as we wake to start the day. We are also on the lookout for Diademed Sifaka, Ruffed lemur and Bamboo lemur. Personally, my eyes are on the ground to help ensure I don’t slide off the thin, muddy, slippery trail and slide down the hill.

Three long hours later, there they were – the Indri. The researchers here monitor 11 separate social groups of Indri. Their work reminds me very much of our friends in Rwanda who track an bring visitors to see individual groups of mountain gorillas. We spent a few minutes watching them sit quietly in the trees eating their “breakfast” and then we moved back down he trail catching glimpses of red-ruffed lemur, sifaka, and bamboo lemurs in between the misty rain.

Madagascar is an amazing island with an unfortunate environmental past. Today, only a fraction of the native rainforest remains, but among it lives hundreds of plant and tree species, over 100 species of lemurs and a dizzying array of reptiles, amphibians, birds and invertebrates. This fragile land is prone to erosion, and seasonal cyclones, but it is an island whose biodiversity can be saved with the help of local communities. With every visit to the Houston Zoo, a portion of your admission goes towards saving animals in the wild. With your help, we are working with partners in Madagascar on a more sustainable future for wildlife.

Back in Houston, we will turn all the information from this visit into a working plan to create more community based conservation programs.

Updates from the Wild: Saving Lemurs in Madagascar, Part 2

The Houston Zoo loves its lemurs and has worked in Madagascar with a lemur saving organization called GERP for a number of years. Peter Riger, VP of Conservation and Education at the Houston Zoo is currently in Madagascar and working with our Director of Madagascar Programs, Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy to visit lemur protecting project sites and discuss how to enhance the wildlife saving work in the country. The latest updates from Peter’s trip are below! 

Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo are found only in Madagascar, including seven species of lemurs such as the black and white ruffed lemur.

What happened to days 2, 3 and 4? Madagascar happened, that’s what. Even if I ignore the two 12 hour flights and short layover in between, heading out from the capital of Antananarivo (“Tana”) with our partners at GERP to the village of Manombo in the south is close to a 18 hour drive. Not a bad drive, just a very long drive on a main road through small villages and communities.

Now at Manombo, we spent a few days visiting all the community activities that occur in order to create development activities for the villagers as part of the partnership to live more sustainably around the Reserve, and in turn, help save animals in the wild.

Four times a year, we sponsor a doctor and small team of nurses and nurse assistants to come to the village.

Some of those activities are similar to what you have seen in our other programs:

  • Beekeeping, which creates a secondary source of income for the beekeeper families in the community an, item that is heavily sought after in the region but difficult to find. One successful family can generate over 5 gallons of honey a year!
  • Basket weaving and sewing. The Women’s Association here creates and then sells baskets, mats, and other crafts in the local markets
  • Wildlife monitoring in the Manombo Special Reserve. A team of conservation biologist assistants monitors lemurs and other wildlife, as well as tree species, throughout the year. This includes the critically endangered James’ sportive lemur which is found nowhere else on the island
  • Tree Nursery and Reforestation program. Over 20 staff from Manombo maintain a tree nursery and the local community volunteers their time to plant these trees throughout the year. In 2017, 55,000 trees were planted!
  • Medical visits: it is difficult for these communities to get health care as they are over 10 miles from the nearest large town, and many cannot afford hospital or doctor visits. Four times a year, we sponsor a doctor and small team of nurses and nurse assistants to come to the village. This past Monday, the medical team spent seven hours treating over 150 patients, including administering measles vaccines for young children, flu vaccines, antibiotics for common illnesses, preforming pregnancy check ups, and  dispensing vitamins for potential malnutrition related issues. Both the care and medications are free of charge as part of this partnership.
Ranomafana National Park is one of the next stops on Peter’s trip!

After a few meetings with Ministry of Environment and regional authorities on future plans for the Manombo Special Reserve, we are heading back north with a quick stop at Ranomafana National Park and Centre ValBio, a world class research center here in Madagascar. Stay tuned for more updates when we get to our next project site at the Maromizaha Community Protected Area.

We are Saving Lemurs in Madagascar

The Houston Zoo loves its lemurs and has worked in Madagascar with a lemur saving organization called GERP for a number of years. GERP is a project run entirely by local Madagascar staff. The project aims to protect lemurs and other wildlife through research as well as address illegal export and poaching threats to lemurs by ensuring the enforcement of local wildlife protection laws. Peter Riger, VP of Conservation and Education at the Houston Zoo is currently in Madagascar and working with our Director of Madagascar Programs, Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy to visit lemur protecting project sites and discuss how to enhance the wildlife saving work in the country.

Peter arrived in Madagascar Thursday after 24+ hours of flying. This initial trek was followed by a 12-14 hour drive to Manombo, one of the two primary conservation sites the Zoo has supported with GERP. Situated in the southeastern part of Madagascar,  the Manombo Special Reserve was created in 1962. This 32sq. mile area is made up of lowland rainforest and marshlands which in part have been turned into rice paddies for local agriculture. Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo are found only in Madagascar, including seven species of lemurs such as the black and white ruffed lemur, brown mouse lemur, eastern and lesser wooly lemurs, and one of the most critically endangered lemurs on the island, the James’ sportive lemur. There are small mammals such as tenrecs, falanouc (a cool mongoose like mammal), fossa and ring-tailed mongoose as well as nearly 60 species of birds and reptiles and amphibians such as geckos, mantella’s, Madagascar crocodiles and many others. Plant life is abundant here including more than 50 different types of palm trees. It is also interestingly the reserve with the largest number of land snail species on the island – over 50 – because you can never have enough land snails!

Most of the communities here are dependent on fishing, cattle, agriculture and creating handicrafts. Being dependent on these natural resources to survive makes conservation a tricky balancing act in an area with such a large number of species found nowhere else on Madagascar, and for the most part nowhere else in the world. That being said, GERP has been hard at work in Manombo over the past year, planting over 43,000 seedlings that will provide food to the grey-headed brown lemur, and engaging local schools and community members in educational activities centered around the importance of conserving lemurs and their habitats.

To learn more about how the Houston Zoo and GERP are partnering to save wildlife in Madagascar, check out the 2017 Madagascar Special produced by KPRC. Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy will also be visiting us here in Houston next month, so stay tuned for information on how you can meet this wildlife saving hero at the Zoo!

Come to the Zoo to Meet Gabriel Massocato, a Biologist Protecting Giant Anteaters in the Wild

This Saturday, June 16th Gabriel Massocato, Brazilian Giant Armadillo Project Biologist and Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior, will come from his field work in Brazil to meet guests at the Zoo’s giant anteater exhibit. The event Saturday runs from 10am – 2pm, with special talks from Gabriel and keepers taking place at 11am and 1pm.

Giant anteaters are found in the wild in Central and South America, where they face threats from habitat loss and agricultural expansion. The Houston Zoo has partnered with the Giant Armadillo Project for the past 6 years to assist with establishing long-term protection plans for wildlife in Brazil, with an emphasis on giant anteaters and giant armadillos!

Gabriel Massocato, Brazilian Giant Armadillo Project Biologist and Houston Zoo conservation associate, came from his field work in Brazil last year to be a guest instructor for the Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program. College students are specially selected for this conservation focused training program. He lead the interns on current field conservation topics such as monitoring techniques, properly engaging stakeholders, and addressing human/wildlife conflict. Reflecting on his last visit, Gabriel said: “One of the most important roles for field conservation projects is the support of the zoos, which help us in publicizing the field work and keep us connected with the people who visit the zoo. Each guest is invited to know the projects that the Houston Zoo supports. The support of the Zoo is fundamental for the conservation of species because at the Zoo guests have the opportunity to better know the role of the species and the environmental service that they provide in the ecosystem.”

The Spotlight on Species event this weekend will be a fantastic opportunity for zoo goers to hear from our special guest on how he is helping giant anteaters and giant armadillos in the wild and learn more about how to support this important work. In addition to meeting Gabriel, guests will have the opportunity to enjoy anteater and armadillo-themed activities for the young (and young at heart), as well as meet the keepers who care for our anteaters here at the Zoo! The event Saturday runs from 10am – 2pm, with keeper chats taking place at 11am and 1pm. Can’t make it on Saturday? You’ll have an additional opportunity to meet Gabriel on Sunday from 11am-12pm!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zoo Goers are Saving Marine Wildlife in Argentina

Join the sea lion team at their SOS event June 9th from 10am-3pm

Just a short drive from Galveston, the Houston Zoo has strong ties to the Texas coast. Regular participation by staff in sea turtle surveys and beach cleanups help to keep our local marine wildlife safe, as do efforts to reduce our plastic intake by going plastic bag and bottle free on Zoo grounds.  However, with animal ambassadors from all over the world in our care, our goal is to not just protect local marine life, but to help our ocean dwelling friends like sea turtles, sea lions, and sea birds all around the globe! This Saturday, June 9th from 10am to 3pm the Houston Zoo’s sea lion team will be hosting a spotlight on species (SOS) event in celebration of World Oceans Day, where you can learn more about these efforts and support projects like the one run by our partner Dr. Marcela Uhart in Argentina.

A veterinarian and long-time conservationist, Dr. Uhart works with the University of California Davis as the Regional Director of the Latin American Program at the Wildlife Health Center. For over 20 years, Dr. Uhart has focused on the health of marine species, and works to protect a variety of animals such as sea turtles, sea lions, sea birds, and whales. Much like the work we are doing here, Dr. Uhart and her team are able to best protect marine species through efforts to reduce marine debris. In 2017, these efforts were carried out in a variety of ways:

  • With the help of over 300 volunteers, the team completed their 2nd marine debris census and beach cleanup. The cleanup covered 13 coastal towns near Buenos Aires, and resulted in the collection of 40,000 debris items – 82% of the items recovered were plastics.
    Results of the 2nd marine debris census
  • During April and May 2017 the team performed weekly beach surveys, covering over 100 miles (that’s similar to the distance from the Zoo to Texas A&M University) of Buenos Aires province coastline. These surveys resulted in the discovery of 30 deceased sea turtles, an improvement over the numbers found in 2016. Determining the cause of death can help to influence policy and the promotion of better commercial fishing practices.
  • Additionally, the team also hosted a workshop on a method called Community Based Social Marketing (CBSM), a method of creating changes in behavior by identifying and addressing barriers and benefits individuals or communities may face as a result of a change. An introduction to CBSM was presented to 24 local participants, providing them with tools to improve their impact on public policies in their communities as well as help them more effectively drive cultural and behavioral changes in citizens, with the common goal of reducing pollution of the coastal environment.
    Volunteers helping with a beach clean up in Argentina

 

 

 

 

 

 

We are extremely proud of all of the hard work Dr. Uhart and her team are putting in to save marine species, and we can’t wait to see what they are able to accomplish in the coming months. By attending the sea lion team’s SOS event this Saturday, you will be helping to support Dr. Uhart’s efforts to host a second behavior change workshop for the local communities. In addition to providing training, funding will assist in being able track results from data collected this year, all in an effort to reduce marine debris on the beaches of Argentina.

K9 Patrol Dogs are Saving Painted Dogs in the Wild

Man’s best friend. It’s no secret that dogs have many talents when it comes to helping humans – they are recruited as therapy and support animals, work with rescue crews, serve alongside soldiers and police officers, provide aid as guide dogs and guard dogs…and of course, they show us unconditional love. With such a stellar reputation as our number one sidekick, it’s no surprise that dogs have taken on yet another special role – protecting and saving their wild canine counterparts the painted dog in Zimbabwe!

Painted dogs are an endangered and truly unique species of canine. No two wild dogs have the same markings, making them easy to identify as individuals. They also have very distinctive rounded ears that help them to keep track of members of their pack over long distances. Did I mention that they only have 4 toes, while other dogs have 5? Unfortunately, painted dogs are endangered because they can accidentally be caught and/or killed in wire snares that have been set to hunt other local wildlife, like antelope.

A K9 unit of highly trained, domestic dogs is now helping to protect painted dogs from poaching (which is when painted dogs are harmed through wire snares). The domestic dogs have excellent tracking abilities-they can smell products that are illegal, and they can find humans who are doing illegal activities. These skills, unique to domestic dogs, help a team called an anti-poaching unit become more effective in reducing wildlife poaching.

Thanks to your visit to the zoo, we were able to fund our partners in Africa at Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) to spend time and learn about anti-poaching units and K9 dogs from another successful project in the region. Because of this success, we then assisted PDC with building a facility for their own K9 anti-poaching unit.

We look forward to hearing more as the K9 unit is brought into the field, taking action to save wildlife like painted dogs. Make sure to stop by and visit our pack of painted dogs on your next visit to the Zoo and come face to face with one of the many species you are helping to save in the wild.

Watch How You Are Saving Elephants in Borneo

Thanks to your visit to the Houston Zoo, we are able to send vital support to protect elephants in Borneo. We are extremely fortunate to have members of our extended zoo family working in Asia to ensure the survival of Bornean elephants. The Kinabatangan Elephant Conservation Unit (ECU) works with local communities in Borneo to raise awareness, improve human-wildlife relationships, and give farmers the tools and training they need for elephant-friendly crop protection. The Danau Girang Field Centre is conducting the first population biology study of the Bornean elephant, and as a part of this effort, the zoo is able to provide funding for radio collars, camera traps, and graduate student scholarships. During the month of May, you will have the chance to meet Dr. Nurzhafarina (Farina) Othman, a Malaysian scientist and member of the Houston Zoo conservation field staff.

Last fall, Zoo staff and crew from KPRC Channel 2 traveled to Borneo to meet with Farina, the team at the Danau Girang Field Centre and Hutan to see the projects the Houston Zoo supports firsthand. You can learn all about Farina’s work and how you are helping her to save elephants in the wild by tuning in to channel 2 this Wednesday, April 25th at 8pm and watching the Borneo special! Here at home we continue to promote these partnerships at our McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, giving our community the opportunity to learn about our herd of elephants at the zoo, and their wild counterparts. This year’s Zoo Ball, An Evening in Borneo presented by Phillips 66 will raise vital funds for our Houston Zoo, which through partners like Farina, works on the front lines in Borneo to protect its precious wildlife. To meet Farina, make sure to check out the Elephant Open House at the zoo on Sunday May 6th.

Continued Search for Rare Bird in Colombia

Blue-billed curassow
A couple of months back, we ventured to Colombia with assistant bird curator Chris Holmes. Chris has been directly involved in the conservation of a rare bird, the blue-billed curassow since joining the Houston Zoo full-time in 2000. In February, with the help of Houston Zoo partner Proyecto Titi, Chris, who serves as the American Zoos and Aquariums regional program population manager for the species and Christian Olaciregui, the Colombian population manager for blue-billed curassows and head of biology and conservation at Barranquilla Zoo, ventured into the Montes de Maria region of Colombia  – an area where the blue-billed curassow is believed to live but has been rarely seen. During their first trip into the study area, Chris and Christian set up and installed 6 camera traps in an attempt to locate any blue-billed curassows that might be in the area. Determining if these birds are in the area will help to fill a current gap in the knowledge of this species’ current range, and will help to shape future conservation efforts. Chris has since returned back home to Texas, but Christian and the team in Colombia have been checking the traps periodically to see what images they are able to recover! Highlights from their latest report are listed below: 
Image of a puma (cougar) caught on one of the installed camera traps
  • No records of blue-billed curassows were obtained during the first month following camera trap installations, but images of 35 reptile, bird, and mammal species were recovered!
  • One puma (cougar) was spotted on camera, which is the most recent record of this species in the study region.
  • Cameras also recorded the first known images of a striped hog-nosed skunk and a greater grison (resembles a honey badger) in the Montes de Maria region.
Striped hog-nosed skunk

 

 

Christian and Oscar Medina, Animal Care Coordinator at Barranquilla Zoo were able to collect this valuable research with the help of Daniel Martinez and Roberto Meza. Both men own the properties within the Montes de Maria region where the camera traps were installed. They have been living in the region for over 20 years and can both attest to the presence of blue-billed curassows in the area! While the team may not have found any evidence of this elusive bird yet, they haven’t given up hope. Throughout the first half of April, the team will be visiting three other sites in the region which have been recommended by locals – 6 camera traps will be installed at each site.

Greater grison

Knowing if these birds are in the area will help to strengthen conservation efforts for this critically-endangered bird species, and will inform next steps as plans for the future are discussed. While we await the results gathered by this new batch of camera traps, make sure to drop by and check out the wattled curassow, an endangered relative of the blue-billed curassow, on your next trip to the zoo and come face-to-face with one of the many species you are helping to save in the wild!

Meet Tapir Researcher Dr. Pati Medici at the Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo supports researchers saving adult and baby tapirs in the wild. We provide funding and resources for Dr. Pati Medici, and her team at the Lowland Tapir Conservation Initiative to protect tapirs in Brazil by following them with tracking devices. Finding tapirs and processing data on individuals before they are released back into the wild helps conservationists understand more about them, which then helps to create protection plans for them. This project continues to build the most extensive database of tapir information in the world and has been successfully applying their results for the conservation of tapirs in Brazil and internationally! Pati will be visiting us here in Houston at the end of April to celebrate Dia del Nino, and participate in the Tapir Spotlight on Species event! Pati will be out on zoo grounds from 10:30am to 2:30pm on the 28th and 29th of April. Hear from the keepers at 11am and 2pm each day to learn how they care for our tapirs, and see the tapirs get some special enrichment. You will get to hear from Pati on how you are helping to save tapirs in the wild and have the opportunity to take photos with this wildlife superstar! Throughout each event you’ll be able to participate in games and activities as well as purchase tapir-related souvenirs – proceeds will be donated to help save tapirs in the wild. Want to get in on the fun? Both events are free with your paid Zoo admission and are free for Zoo members – all you have to do is show up.

Tapirs were big news here at the Houston Zoo last year with the birth of Antonio, a Baird’s tapir, and a visit by the Tapir Specialist Group which is comprised of researchers from all over the globe working to save this species in the wild. That being said, with tapirs being about as unique as the mythical unicorn, it can be hard to remember just what they are or what they look like. Tapirs are the largest land mammal in South America and can be easily recognized by their unique noses – resembling a shortened trunk, it can be used to grab leaves when foraging for a snack and even acts as a snorkle when swimming! There are four species of tapir in the world, with three of the four species found in Latin America – Baird’s, lowland, and mountain. The fourth species, the Malayan tapir, is found in Southeast Asia. Here at the Houston Zoo, we have a family of Baird’s tapir. We hope to see you at the zoo celebrating this amazing species with us – thanks for helping to save species like the tapir in the wild!

 

 

News from the Wild: How You’re Helping Turtles in Indonesia

Turtles, tortoises, terrapins…is one of these not like the other, or are they all the same? It turns out that while the 3 Ts are similar enough to belong to the same order, each has slight differences that make it possible to tell them apart. For example, terrapins are a type of turtle, but they spend their time either on land, or in swampy, slightly salty water. You can see a very special turtle, the painted terrapin, right here at the Houston Zoo. What’s better than that? Just by coming to visit the painted terrapin, you are helping to save this species in the wild through your ticket proceeds supporting projects like the Satucita Foundation in Indonesia!

You may be asking, what makes the painted terrapin so special? For starters, the painted terrapin is ranked among the 25 most endangered tortoises and freshwater turtles on earth. At first glance, this terrapin may not seem very remarkable, with its grey/brown coloring that matches its swampy surroundings. However, when breeding season arrives, the males become quite colorful! Their shells will lighten to reveal bold black markings, and their grey heads turn pure white with a bright crimson red strip developing between the eyes. This species also has an upturned snout, which makes it easier for them to feed on vegetation lying on the surface of the water.

Painted terrapins face a number of threats in the wild, including: poaching for eggs, predation, the pet trade, and habitat loss. When project founder Joko Guntoro first started his painted terrapin research in 2009, no one knew if the species even existed in the Aceh Tamiang region of Indonesia, as it had already gone extinct in Malaysia, Brunei, and Thailand. In that first year, only 9 adult painted terrapins were found, but by putting regular patrols of nesting beaches in place as well as doing community outreach and improving methods for egg incubation, this project has seen amazing success. As of March 8th, 61 eggs from the latest nesting season that were being raised in the hatchery have successfully hatched! This nesting season the team was able to save 443 eggs from threats such as egg poaching and natural predators like wild pigs. To date, 1,204 hatchlings have been released back into the wild to restore the painted terrapin population in the Indonesian district of Aceh Tamiang.

The Satucita Foundation team still has a long road ahead of them, but each year the future looks a little brighter for painted terrapins in Indonesia. We are honored to have such incredible partners in the field saving wildlife, and it is an even greater honor to be able to introduce our community to such a unique species right here at the Zoo. Make sure to drop by the orangutan habitat in the Wortham World of Primates on your next visit to catch a glimpse of not one, but two species that you are helping to save in the wild.

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