Plastic Recycling and the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

As a leader in conservation, the Houston Zoo has decided to focus our efforts on 6 new initiatives.  They are as follows:

  • Cell Phone Recycling
  • Paper Recycling
  • Plastic Recycling
  • Seafood Watch
  • Palm Oil
  • Pollinators

You will be seeing information on all of these topics, but today we will focus on plastics.

According to the EPA, in 2012, 32 million tons of plastic were generated, but only 9% of that was recovered for recycling.

These floating bags look like edible jellyfish to wildlife.
These floating bags look like edible jellyfish to wildlife.

Every year, billions of pounds of plastic end up in the world’s ocean sas pollution.   Plastics that are not recycled end up in our  landfills and may take up to 1,000 years to decompose.  Thousands of fish, birds, marine mammals and turtles ingest or become entangled in plastic items resulting in injury or even death.

How can you help?

Recycle!  Most community recycling programs accept at least some types of plastics.  The number on the bottom of the plastic container will help you determine if it is accepted by your local

Reusable bags are a great way to reduce plastic waste.
Reusable bags are a great way to reduce plastic waste.

program.  Cut or break the rings from beverage cans.  That way animals will not become entangled.

How is the Swap Shop involved?  We will be giving points to anyone 18 and under who brings in a

single use plastic shopping bag or beverage ring along with a report on recycling those items.  And we have two special days coming up where traders

Wildlife can become entrapped in 6 pack rings.
Wildlife can become entrapped in 6 pack rings.

can earn double points.  On April 19th we will be celebrating Earth Day with Party for the Planet.  And, on June 7th, we will celebrate World Ocean Day.  On both of those days, any trader bringing in a plastic bag or ring with a report will receive double points!

Don’t know about The Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.


Help Us Clean Up the Galveston Beach – Saturday, Aug. 23

We’re organizing a beach clean-up day and need your help! Come volunteer with us as we work to make Galveston beaches a little cleaner.


When: Saturday, August, 23, 2014   8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Where: We will be meeting across the street from “The Spot” restaurant near the Pleasure Pier (3204 Seawall Blvd, Galveston, TX 77550)
Clean up location: Galveston seawall between 29th st. & 39th st.
How to sign up: E-mail to sign up and get more information


Volunteers will be required to complete a release of liability form before participating in Beach Cleanup Day. Please print, complete, and bring the form with you on Saturday, August 23. BeachCleanupRelease.pdf


It’s very important to keep our beaches free of trash and debris, namely plastic. Take a look at how damaging plastic pollution can be.

Challenges of Plastic Pollution:

  • There is roughly 315,000,000,000 pounds of plastic in our oceans right now.
  • The average American will throw away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.
  • Plastic bags are petroleum-based and do not biodegrade.
  • 100,000 marine animals die each year from eating plastic pollution in our oceans.
  • Sea turtles and other marine creatures mistake plastics and other garbage as food (such as jellyfish) and ingest it. This causes blockages within their digestive system and lead to severe medical issues.

How You Can Help:

  • Come to our beach clean-up day!
  • Be a hero-use biodegradable garbage bags and pet waste bags! They break down naturally, and don’t leave harmful chemicals behind.
  • Visit the Houston Zoo-a portion of every ticket purchased goes towards saving animals in the wild!
  • Be a hero-avoid using plastic! Buy a reusable water bottle and reusable canvas grocery bags instead of the plastic alternatives. By Using a canvas bag you can eliminate the use of 1,000 plastic bags!

Dickinson High School Takes Home 1st Place in 2014 Action for Apes Challenge!

10365925_708674479195725_7798650179364826206_nWe have just concluded our 2014 Action for Apes Cell Phone Recycling Challenge and it was incredibly successful with 49 local Houston schools and organizations participating! Over 25,000 participants were involved in this challenge-recycling cell phones as quickly as they could by APE-ril 30th, 2014 to join the Houston Zoo’s efforts to save gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild! A material found in almost every cell phone (tantalum) is taken from the ground in Central Africa where these amazing apes live, and by recycling phones we can reuse these materials and reduce the need to mine in animal habitats to get more tantalum.

At the end of APE-ril, the participants began shipping their recycled phones to Eco-Cell who counted every single phone from the challenge and reported the totals to the Houston Zoo. We are very excited to announce that Dickinson High School  won 1st place in the challenge, recycling a total of 384 phones! Dickinson High School will win a huge painting to be hung in their school, specially painted by the Houston Zoo’s chimpanzee troop in the colors of their choosing.

action for apes

Coming in at 2nd place was Birkes Elementary, recycling 242 phones, and 3rd place went to Parkwood Elementary School, who recycled 155 phones. Overall, all participating groups brought in a total of 2,032 cell phones which means 2,032 actions to save animals in the wild!

We are so thankful for the collaborative effort of our community in recycling cell phones to save gorillas and chimpanzees in the wild, and we could not do this important work without the Houston community. Thank you to everyone who participated and we’re already looking forward to 2015!

How Your Next Seafood Dinner Can Help the Ocean

Sometimes, I get a minute at my desk to read over the  highly informative and educational journals/magazines/publications that relate to protecting animals and their habitats. Today, I had the opportunity to read the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s 2nd Edition of Turning the Tide (The State of Seafood) publication. Many of you may not have access to this, so let me give you the gist:

Our oceans are in trouble. Why? Many species of fish have been over fished, and done so without considering how long it will take for these animals to get back to healthy populations.

Spotted eagle rays-Photo courtesy of Nat Geo
Spotted eagle rays-Photo courtesy of Nat Geo

Why else? Marine debris, plastic pollution…trash in our oceans! You have probably seen pictures of this on our Houston Zoo Facebook pages:

A green sea turtle in Surfside, Texas entangled in fishing line.
A green sea turtle in Surfside, Texas entangled in fishing line.

So what can we do? Well…a lot, actually. Making smart choices about what we eat and where we buy it is a huge step. We can also limit our use of plastics, and when we do use plastics-make sure they end up in recycling, not on our beaches or on the land in any way.

If you are wondering how to make smart seafood decisions (I don’t blame you…we live on the Gulf Coast and have easy access to seafood!), check out this list of top North American Sustainable Seafood Companies (go to them first to buy your seafood). This list is from the Turning the Tide, The State of Seafood publication:

Grocery Stores:


Kroger Company




Publix Super Markers

Ahold USA (Stop & Shop, Giant, Martin’s Food Market)

BJ’s Wholesale Club

Whole Foods Market (who also just helped us raise money for elephant conservation! Thanks Whole Foods!)

Giant Eagle

Trader Joe’s

A & P

Winn-Dixie Stores

Thank you to these stores for keeping our oceans healthy, and the animals who live in our oceans healthy!

Our Texas sea turtles are appreciative of your sustainable seafood choices!
Our Texas sea turtles are appreciative of your sustainable seafood choices!

These stores have public sustainable seafood sourcing policies and work in partnership with members of the Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions.

If you’re interested in finding out more about specific types of seafood to eat, or avoid, check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch recommendations.

OR, check out this page for a list of seafood to eat and to avoid that is specific to those of us in Texas!

Thanks for doing your part to save wildlife. And remember, every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you help save animals in the wild!

Thank You Spider, for Killing the Bugs That Bug Us

Image courtesy of Runt of the Web

Poor spiders! They seem to be at or near the top of most folks’ list of creepy crawly icky things that they don’t want anywhere near them. They usually make the sides of pest control vans too, even though they’re practically the opposite of a pest. Spiders never infest your food supplies, but they eat some of the things that do, they don’t bite you without a good reason, and some of them construct super cool webs.

Argiope aurantia, Black and Yellow Garden Spider

According to National Geographic, the average spider eats about 2,000 insects a year, so spiders are good to have around the home.

Of the more than nine hundred species of spider in Texas, only two are potentially dangerous (barring an allergic reaction similar to how some people react to bee stings); the black widow and brown recluse. Both of these are quite shy, choosing to stay hidden and let food come to them.

The red spot is on the belly of the black widow. Image courtesy of wikipedia
Brown recluses aren’t much bigger than a penny. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Spiders are an incredibly diverse and fascinating group of animals. There are small ones, big ones, fuzzy ones; some burrow, some make huge webs way up high, some use silk as a lasso, some take care of their babies for a time, some dive under water taking along a bubble of air. There is even one that spits a combination of glue and venom at its prey-how cool is that? Some are just downright cute.

Phidippus regius female jumping spider. Photo by Thomas Shahan via flickr
Phidippus regius female jumping spider. Photo by Thomas Shahan via flickr

As with other venomous creatures, many people tend to be overly concerned about them. Bites do happen on occasion, though almost always from accidental contact. We come close to many more spiders than we will ever know because of their usual small size and reclusive habits. This Halloween, let’s give spiders some credit and think of them as natural pest control instead of pests themselves!

Comb-clawed spider chomping down on some pesky ants
Comb-clawed spider chomping down on some pesky ants

Find out more cool stuff about spiders – check out Spider Facts on the Discovery Channel website

Wolf spider mom carrying dozens of babies on her back.
Wolf spider mom carrying dozens of babies on her back.




Wildlife Heroes is an awesome book, and we have the author coming to the Zoo!

Join us on May 19th and 20th for Wildlife Heroes weekend at the Houston Zoo.  On May 20th we welcome Jeff Flocken, co-author of Wildlife Heroes: 40 Leading Conservationists and the Animals they are Committed to Saving for a book-signing and presentations by zoo staff on the focus species of the book. Wildlife Heroes will be available for sale at the zoo on May 20th, quantities are limited!  Books are also available for  pre-order on the Houston Zoo website at: a dicounted price until May 17th.

My first heroes were animal people.  When I went to zoos my heroes were the zoo keepers and when I watched animal documentaries the researchers were my heroes.  We all need amazing people to inspire us and that is why the new book Wildlife Heroes is so wonderful. 

The book includes 40 people overcoming impossible odds to save endangered species all over the world.  If you are looking for real heroes for your children to look up to look now further! 

The unique stories in this book of local communities becoming involved in anti-poaching, education and research efforts for wildlife in their own back yard are immeasurably inspiring!  In one story a young boy, Thia grew up in Northern Vietnam watching his village hunt the very species he fights to save today.  His passion to help a unique species called the pangolin will warm your heart!
I have had the honor of meeting many of the heroes in this book (including the authors) over the years and they inspire me to move forward in my own wildlife conservation work.  These are real people making a real difference! 

This book introduces readers to pollinator and amphibian decline and other environment issues that continue to threaten our world.  But it also offers great messages of hope.  In the last chapter Jack Hannah suggests ways the reader can help, and the good news is that by purchasing the Wildlife Heroes book you are already helping- 100 % of the proceeds go to the projects featured in the book.  A win for everyone!

Hope to see you at the Houston Zoo for our Wildlife Heroes weekend May 19th and 20th!

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