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.

Your Visit to the Zoo Saves Bats in Africa

When I say bats, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it disease? Vampires? Halloween? Maybe its my personal favorite – Batman! While Batman may not have been created with actual bats in mind, the two do actually share a few common characteristics. Let’s think about it for a second…Batman is a superhero that fights crime by night and protects people from harm. Similarly, our nocturnal bat friends take flight at night and lend a hand to humans by acting as seed dispersers, pollinators, and some species of bats even act as a form of natural pest control, protecting us from insects like mosquitoes. Bats are in their own unique league of superheroes, and thanks to your visit to the zoo, we are excited to announce that we will be providing support to a new project to help save straw-colored fruit bats in Rwanda!

Led by Houston Zoo partner Dr. Olivier Nsengimana, this project will be an addition to his team’s work with endangered grey crowned cranes in Rwanda. After having worked as a Gorilla Doctor, Dr. Olivier saw a need to protect lesser-known species in his country and as a result started the Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA). Adding African straw-colored fruit bats as the next species to work with was a natural choice, as the Central African region, including Rwanda, is known to be home to about 60% of all Africa’s bat species, yet they are the least studied in comparison to other mammals. So what do we know about the straw-colored fruit bat? First, it got its name from the yellowish or straw colored fur on its body. This species can reach a length of 5-9 inches and has a wingspan that can reach a length of up to 2.5 feet – a size that earns it the title of mega-bat. They are very strong fliers, and each year in November, over 8 million straw-colored fruit bats migrate to Zambia (similar to the distance from Houston to Tallahassee, Florida), forming the largest mammal migration in the world!

Despite what we do know about bats being important pollinators and consumers of pest insects, they are typically ignored or feared by many people which can lead to conflict that threatens bat numbers. In Africa, bats face challenges due to conflict with fruit growers, habitat loss, and being hunted for food. Occasionally, bats will roost (rest in their upside down hanging position) inside of homes and buildings which unfortunately further damages their reputation as they are thought to be involved in the transmission of infectious diseases. In reality, little is known about if and how bats actually transmit diseases to humans. Dr. Olivier and his team will be working to track bat population numbers and their movements, which will help to provide a greater understanding of how bats come into contact with humans, and how frequently this occurs. Knowing this information will add another dimension to the research being done on bats as pathogen (bacterium or virus that causes disease) carriers and transmitters – the more we know about bat behavior, the more we can learn about how coming into contact with them affects us.

Marie Claire Dusabe has recently assumed the position of Bat Project Coordinator for the RWCA, and will be helping with work that will establish the important role this species plays in Rwanda’s ecosystem. By generating new knowledge and providing community outreach, the team hopes to change the public perception of bats in Rwanda, with the long-term goal of protecting this species and its habitat. Animals have certainly been inspiration for folklore, tales, and fears, and our straw-colored fruit bat friends are a prime example of a misunderstood species. We are excited to see what great work the RWCA team is able to accomplish, and we thank each and every one of you for your continued support of projects like this one through your visit to the zoo. On your next trip, don’t forget to drop by and visit our own colony of fruit bats in the Carruth Natural Encounters building!

 

Gorilla Guardians: Houstonians are Protecting Gorillas through Electronics Recycling at the Zoo!

What do the zoo, cell phones, and Grauer’s gorillas have in common? YOU! Each year, the Houston Zoo runs the Action for Apes Challenge, in which community groups and organizations can sign up and compete against each other to recycle the greatest number of cell phones and small electronics by the end of April.  These electronic devices contain a material called tantalum that is mined in areas where gorillas live – if we reuse and recycle these items, we can decrease the amount of mining that takes place in these vital habitats. The good news doesn’t stop there – you have the opportunity to recycle these devices on zoo grounds year-round each time you visit, and just through the purchase of your admission ticket you are helping to support our partners at the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE) in their work to save the critically endangered Grauer’s gorilla in the wild!

Located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), GRACE is the world’s only sanctuary for rescued Grauer’s gorillas. While nursing orphaned gorillas back to health and reintroducing them into the wild is the ultimate goal for the team at GRACE, their work extends far beyond that. GRACE works with local communities on conservation education and forest protection, as well as helping Congolese communities develop long-term solutions that will allow for them to live and work peacefully alongside neighboring gorilla troops. Working with a critically endangered species in a country that has a long history of war and insecurity comes with its own unique challenges, but the success that GRACE has seen speaks volumes to the importance and power of community involvement in saving wildlife.

Despite the return of political instability to the DRC in 2017, GRACE was able to not only continue their day-to-day operations but also launched projects that provided employment for more than 250 people. In addition, they were able to invest in projects like tree planting, village clean-ups, and starting vegetable gardens at local schools to help get communities through these hard times. GRACE hosted the first annual World Gorilla Day celebrating gorillas and their importance to the community, and had a turn out of over 3,000 people – the largest local gathering in recent memory! The team was also able to expand the forest habitat for the 14 orphaned Grauer’s gorillas in their care, giving these gorillas an additional 15 acres to practice skills needed for life in the wild.

This year, GRACE will open the newly expanded gorilla habitat and complete its Community Education Center, which will become a central meeting place for education activities and community collaboration. Thanks to new partnerships within the DRC, the education program will expand, reaching more individuals living within the gorilla home range and spreading awareness and encouraging peaceful coexistence with these non-human primates. GRACE will also launch an exciting new project with local communities in the coming months – a fuel-efficient stove project. By reducing the amount of wood used to fuel cooking fires, this project will help save trees that make up vital gorilla habitat!

Our partners at GRACE are doing amazing work that is a win for both people and gorillas, and we could not be more proud to be a part of their extended family. By visiting the zoo you are helping to support the work of GRACE and our other partners around the globe that are working non-stop to save wildlife. Remember, you can help great apes like gorillas and chimpanzees directly by recycling your old cell-phones and small electronics on your next visit to the zoo, and challenge others to do the same!

Gorilla Doctor Noel Reflects on His Time at Houston Zoo

The following post was written by Dr. Jean Bosco Noheli (Dr. Noel), a Rwandan field veterinarian for Houston Zoo wildlife partner Gorilla Doctors, and 2017 Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior. As part of his Wildlife Warrior award, Dr. Noel spent three weeks in Houston this February receiving training at the Houston Zoo. The Wildlife Warrior program recognizes outstanding staff employed by the Zoo’s existing wildlife conservation partners. Our Admissions’ team raises funds through the sale of colorful wildlife bracelets, and the funds from these bracelets then go to our Wildlife Warriors to receive a training of their choice. The award is designed to increase the recipient’s conservation community network and inspire empowerment by providing opportunities to gain further education through training or experiences.

 

“Last year, I was chosen as a Houston Zoo wildlife warrior by the Admissions team.  As part of this award, I was given the opportunity to train with Houston Zoo veterinarians.  In addition to zoological medicine skills, I gained so much inspiration for the conservation of wildlife sometimes forgotten or ignored in some societies across the globe.

Dr. Noel destroying a crab trap after releasing animals that were accidentally caught

On Saturday 17th February 2018, I was lucky to be part of Galveston Bay Foundation’s Crab-Trap Clean-up at the Galveston beach. To me this experience was equivalent to our “Umuganda” which means “community work”. In Rwanda, every last Saturday all our communities come together to perform a selected activity of public benefits or use. Many thanks to Martha Parker, Conservation Impact Manager at the Houston Zoo for driving me all the way to and from Bolivar. With people from Dallas and Houston zoos, we all gathered to clean up the beach and collect and destroy illegal and/or abandoned fishing tools.

Martha Parker shows the team how sea turtles feed on plastic bags

 

 

 

 

 

Once every February this activity is organized as a way to protect and conserve sea animals; mainly sea turtles. My team went to remove garbage from the beach and Martha took the opportunity to talk to the team about how sea turtles are attracted to white plastic bags and will feed on them, which can have fatal consequences.  It was a little bit discouraging being on the beach because by the time we were removing garbage, some visitors who were at the beach were littering – this shows why an education around pollution is needed. My advice to these visitors would be “Enjoy the beach but make sure you keep it clean to protect water and its community”.

Dr. Noel and the team cleaning up the beach

During my stay in Houston; I also realized that people spend most Saturdays working on their gardens, but it seemed very few care about the cleanliness of the city. With my experience with Rwandan Umuganda, I was asking my Houston friends why they couldn’t expand efforts to their neighbors and beyond to make it something to bring people together for a common activity. Umuganda is not only about cleaning or making roads – it is very important for bringing people together, educating one another, and building love.

 

For example; that Saturday one could not tell who is from Rwanda, Dallas, Galveston or Houston because we were one great team for one great cause.”

A great team for a great cause

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!

Your Visit Helps to Provide Vital Training to Snake Saving Partner Murthy

Murthy Kantimahanti

During the last week of January, we had the pleasure of hosting one of our newest team members, Murthy Kantimahanti here at the Houston Zoo. Murthy, who works to save snakes in India, was brought to the Houston Zoo in order to train with zoo staff and expand his skill set while sharing his knowledge with our team members at the same time! These vital training sessions are made possible through a portion of your admission ticket going towards supporting partners like Murthy, who are hard at work all around the globe to save wildlife.

Murthy works in the Eastern Ghats, located in Southern India, to improve relationships between humans and snakes, and build local community support for snake conservation. Fear and lack of knowledge about snakes has led to a rise in the killing of many snake species, including the king cobra. Murthy and his team are working to transform the fear of snakes into a respect and appreciation for the important role that snakes play in the ecosystem. Snakes are an important species to control rodent populations that spread deadly diseases.

Murthy meets with guests during a keeper chat at the reptile house

While in town, Murthy was able to spend a great deal of time with the herpetology team, learning more about husbandry for snakes and reptiles. Simply put, husbandry refers to the handling and care of different species. This is an important skill to have when working with any animal, and good husbandry skills are essential when handling venomous snakes. Murthy and the team were also able to brainstorm ideas on building local community support for snake conservation; a priority for Murthy’s project and something our herpetology team strives to do for snake species native to Texas.

Murthy makes friends with the conservation education team’s resident snake

 

Murthy also had the opportunity to talk with guests during keeper chats at the reptile house, as well as presenting his work to zoo staff and meeting with the conservation education team where he discovered their resident snake! Getting to spend time within all different sections of the zoo was extremely important to Murthy, and he is very excited to take what he learned here back to India: “The exposure visits for conservation partners are incredibly useful not only to exchange information, but also better understand the role of zoos in conservation. It will benefit our field projects as well through interactions with various sections in the zoo and tailoring those learnings to apply in local conditions back home.”

If you didn’t have the opportunity to meet Murthy, don’t worry – Fox 26 came to interview him and the herpetology team! You can watch the interview here:

To keep up with Murthy and is team follow the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society on Facebook, and don’t forget to drop by the reptile house on your next visit to the zoo to see our king cobra – the species Murthy is protecting in the wild!

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