Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior Lady Márquez is Headed to Town!

This weekend, the Zoo is welcoming another special guest who is visiting us from the Galapagos Islands! Lady Márquez is here from our partners at Ecology Project International (EPI) after being chosen by the Houston Zoo admissions team as a 2017 Wildlife Warrior Award recipient. This award recognizes exceptional individuals from our wildlife conservation partner programs and provides wildlife warriors with an experience that will increase their abilities/knowledge.

“We were most impressed with the fact that Lady is dedicating her life to empowering the next generation of conservation leaders in Galapagos!” – Houston Zoo Staff 

 

Born and raised in the Galapagos Islands, Lady is an EPI alumni, and now acts as their Outreach Program Coordinator. In this role, she works to empower local teens to be future conservation leaders. Driven by her passion to inspire others to save wildlife, Lady helped to create an ecology club which brings together more than 20 local teens on a weekly basis to participate in various conservation activities like: wildlife documentary screenings, beach clean ups, bird mortality awareness campaigns, ecological monitoring, and many other citizen science based programs.

One of these efforts, centered around the protection of green sea turtles, resulted in 22 students receiving training in monitoring protocols, while another 40 students helped to collect data and protect nesting sites. In 2016, this project led to the protection of 53 green sea turtle nests, and documented sightings of 1,940 hatchlings! In collaboration with the Galapagos National Park and Charles Darwin Foundation, the eco club was also successful in creating awareness on nest protection among visitors to a public beach that also acts as a nesting ground for the turtle species.

Lady has used her Wildlife Warrior Award to attend a week-long training focused on enhancing conservation efforts at the community level. This opportunity has allowed her to explore different teaching methods and begin designing her own strategies for empowering her students to address threats to wildlife and take action to save species! Now that her training is complete, Lady will spend several days in Houston working with our conservation education team exchanging ideas and learning more about how our programs like Zoo Crew and Camp Zoofari inspire the next generation of Houstonians to become wildlife saving heroes.

Saving Lemurs in Madagascar through Empowering the Next Generation of Wildlife Saving Heroes

Over the past week, lucky Zoo goers may have had the pleasure of running into Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Houston Zoo’s Director of Madagascar Programs and one of the founding members of GERP, an organization saving lemurs in the wild. Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo, one of the Zoo’s research sites in Madagascar, are found only in Madagascar, including eight 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. In the past few years, Jonah and the team at GERP have discovered two new species of mouse lemurs – they continue to work tirelessly in order to save each and every one of these species from extinction.

Jonah  took a break from his work in the field and spent all of last week visiting us here in Houston serving as a guest instructor for the Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program sponsored by ExxonMobil. Each year, 10 students from universities around the US are selected to spend a summer at the Houston Zoo in order to train, learn, and work alongside Zoo staff and regional conservation partners. Jonah led the interns through discussions and activities focused on current community-based conservation topics such as properly engaging and empowering local communities, addressing human/wildlife conflict, and effective leadership. Opportunities to learn from conservation heroes like Jonah are rare, and the interns treasured every moment they had with him. As Jamie put it, “his perseverance in life shines through in every accomplishment he has made, and listening to him speak you could feel his passion fill the room”. When their week with Jonah came to an end, the interns were left with one feeling shared between them all – they were inspired:

“Jonah’s visit left me with more confidence than I have ever felt in the field of conservation that is usually filled with consistent challenges and failure. As he explained over and over, it is okay to fail as long as you get back up, and as long as you set your goals and stick to them. I will never forget his visit and hope that we will one day meet again – but instead of being a college student, being a conservation hero alongside him.”  – Brooke, 2018 CCP Intern

 

It is safe to say that the lessons learned during this week will not soon be forgotten.

Dr. Jonah spent the remainder of his time in Houston making wildlife saving plans with our team at the Zoo and sharing his love of lemurs with guests out on Zoo grounds. Jonah says that no lemurs will become extinct on his watch, and we believe him! He reminds us that no matter what you do for a living, everyone has a skill that can benefit conservation, and just by visiting the Zoo you are helping to save lemurs in the wild.

To see more about the Zoo’s lemur saving work , check out this KPRC special feature.

Meet Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy this Weekend and Learn how YOU are Saving Lemurs in Madagascar!

This Saturday, July 7th Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, the Houston Zoo’s Director of Madagascar Programs, will come from his field work in Madagascar, saving lemurs, to meet guests at the Zoo’s ring-tailed lemur and sifaka exhibit in the Wortham World of Primates. The event runs Saturday and Sunday from 10am – 3pm, with special talks from Dr. Jonah and the lemur keepers taking place at 12pm and 3:30pm.

Dr. Jonah has discovered several new species of lemurs in the wild over the past few years. He is working hard at saving all lemurs from extinction.  Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo, one of the Zoo’s research sites in Madagascar, 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.

See more about the Zoo’s lemur saving work on this KPRC special feature https://www.houstonzoo.org/conservation/saving-lemurs-madagascar/ .

Dr. Jonah is here to make wildlife saving plans with our team at the Zoo, and spend a week as a guest instructor for the Zoo’s Collegiate Conservation Program. College students are specially selected for this conservation leadership training program. He will lead the interns on current community-based conservation topics such as properly engaging and empowering local communities, addressing human/wildlife conflict and effective leadership.

The Zoo’s Spotlight on Species event this weekend will be a fantastic opportunity for zoo goers to meet and hear from our special guest on how the Zoo is helping lemurs in the wild and learn more about how to support this important work. In addition to meeting Jonah, guests will have the opportunity to take part in interactive activities and shop for animal paintings, pint glasses, magnets and more (while supplies last!) 100 percent of all proceeds will be donated to saving lemurs in the wild.

Zoo members will have an additional chance to chat with Jonah during the member morning event on Saturday. Members can enter the Zoo one hour before the general public and see the keepers prepare enrichment and animal areas all around the zoo. Jonah will be near the Ring-Tailed Lemur exhibit at 8:30am.

Make sure to join us and learn how you are helping to save lemurs in Madagascar – see you there!

Amazon to Andes Field Course Inspires Youth to Save Wildlife

Houston Zoo Galapagos conservation partner, Ecology Project International (EPI)  is educating local kids on the Galapagos Islands about the wildlife that lives in their area, while engaging them in hands-on activities to protect species (beach cleanups, monitoring sea turtle nests, etc.). This year the Houston Zoo supported development opportunities for EPI students.  A student named Ibrahi recently took part in EPI’s “Amazon to Andes” field course with the Houston Zoo’s support. This is Ibrahi’s story: 

Alongside a number of students from California, we went to the Amazon to Andes Course of EPI which covers several different locations within the Amazon rainforest, the Andean cloud forest, and paramo (a treeless, elevated area in South America). During the course, we fulfilled many amazing activities, and also took part in some new activities that not all people have access to. First, we made new friends because as a Mola Mola Eco-club member, we got to know students from the US, and also reconnect with one chaperone who was once a student in the Galapagos Islands Ecology Course. During our time in the field, we had to go kayaking on the river in order to get to our camping site, which was both a new and incredible experience. We also had the opportunity to interact with a Kichwa community (the only community within the national park), and learned how to make the famous “chicha”, which is a traditional beverage.

Taking a night walk in the Amazon rainforest in the search of caiman’s hatchlings was amazing, even if we didn’t end up spotting any! Making our way up to the Andean part of Ecuador was great because special birds received us – hummingbirds! I learned more about the differences between ecosystems and how to use satellite telemetry in order to find species. In the mountains, we were in search of Andean Bears and Tapirs, which are both endangered species. We weren’t lucky enough to see both animals, but an Andean male tapir, wearing a collar allowed us to track him using satellite telemetry, putting the skills we had learned to good use.

Throughout this experience we learned a lot about our ecological footprint and how we can reduce it by changing our buying habits as consumers. As I return home to study at university, I hope to make changes in order to reduce my ecological footprint and live more sustainably. By continuing in the field of wildlife conservation, I hope to become a marine biologist to do my own research about sea turtles.

Helping Communities to Help Gorillas in Rwanda

Here at the Houston Zoo we are proud to support a number of organizations that work tirelessly to protect mountain gorillas in the wild. One of these organizations, Conservation Heritage-Turambe (CHT) runs after-school programs for local primary school students and community outreach efforts that promote both healthy living habits and gorilla conservation through education and empowerment in communities bordering Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.

CHT puts added emphasis on the importance of good hygiene in their programming, due to humans and gorillas in these communities living in close proximity to one another. Gorillas and humans are genetically very similar, and as a result human illnesses have the potential to spread to wild gorilla populations. In addition to teaching good habits, CHT also works to improve the livelihood of people in these communities, making adopting good hygiene practices easier. Last year the Houston Zoo provided a water tank for a CHT partner school, enabling 1,500 school children as well as their families and other members of the community to access clean water. In addition, two school gardens and 40 kitchen gardens were built, inspiring the local community to eat a healthy diet while lessening the need for people to venture into gorilla habitat looking for vegetables.

Promoting good hygiene practices is certainly important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. CHT also works with students to help them understand the importance of protecting mountain gorillas and their habitat. In 2017, 219 students enrolled in a year-long after school conservation and health education program. 200 of these students received sheep that their families can use as a source of alternative income. The sheep can be used to provide wool that can be sold, which acts as a replacement for harvesting fire wood from the forest to sell. By the end of the year-long program, 78% of students reported that they better understood why mountain gorillas are important to their community, and almost 90% said that they learned that trees are important because of their role as animal habitat, their ability to prevent soil erosion, and their ability to produce the oxygen that we breathe!

When it comes to saving wildlife, there is never a “one size fits all solution”. Our partners at CHT are a great example of how creative solutions to multiple obstacles can positively contribute to conservation efforts. By helping to meet the communities’ needs, while also including community members in the discussion about issues facing wildlife and what actions each individual can do to help save them, projects like CHT not only provide a brighter future for wildlife, but for their human counterparts as well.

 

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.

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