Chronicles of a Zoo Intern: Protecting Texas Wildlife

This post written by Melissa Talamantes

Texas, in my opinion, is a wonderful state, with many awesome things you cannot find anywhere else. We can claim Whataburger, sweet iced tea, and even some exotic animals. If you grew up in the city, like I did, it may seem weird to think there are wild animals that could be living in your backyard. The truth is there are! Texas is a huge state, and has different types of ecosystems that different animals can find habitable. We have plains, hills, deserts, swamps, and even mountains! Texas is home to many animals and plants, some famous, some not. Some famous ones are the state flower the bluebonnet, the state lizard which is the horned lizard, coyotes, rattlesnakes, cougars (which are also known as mountain lion or puma, depending on your area), and we are even known for our diverse bat population! However, there are some species of animals people never even knew lived in the United States, let alone Texas. Did you know that jaguars used to be found here? What about grey wolves, or ocelots? Those are just the mammals! Reptiles, fish, and invertebrates have a higher diversification of species. Since they are also smaller than mammals, they can be found in higher densities in one area.

Growing up, you may have noticed that the suburbs have created more houses, or the fields that you use to catch lizards in are gone because a new gated community is being built. This is happening everywhere, not just your town. With the population of humans increasing, and more people moving to the city, deforestation (the tearing down of natural land) is occurring at an alarming rate. With all of the development occurring, the animals are running out of land to live on that is undisturbed and safe. Even if only one species leaves the area, it can affect the entire ecosystem. For example, a certain species of mouse makes its home in an area of land. This land is developed to make housing, eliminating the mouse’s source of food and shelter. The mouse population could decide to leave to find other food. The cats, snakes, and even birds that eat the mice cannot hunt. Due to this, the predators can die from starvation, or leave the area to find other food. This affects the other animals that eat the snakes, birds, and cats. This continues on because everything is interconnected in an ecosystem. If there is no more land for an animal to go to, the species can eventually die out.

One prime example is the ocelot. This small cat used to be found all over Texas, but now only two small sub-populations can be found here. It is estimated that there are less than 100 ocelots in the Texas wild today. According to the USFWS (United States Fisheries & Wildlife Service), the ocelot is threatened with extinction in Texas. The global population is a different story. In South America, stable populations of ocelot can be found, however it is a different sub-species than the one found in Texas. There are two varieties: the general ocelot (in Texas) and the Brazilian ocelot (in South America). Due to the stable population of the ocelot, in general, the IUCN has listed this species as of least concern. As Texans, it is up to us to help preserve this species that has almost disappeared from our home.

One of the reasons the ocelot population declined was the demand for their pelt since it is so beautifully patterned. Ocelot fur was very popular, and everyone seemed to want one in the sixties and seventies. Ocelot are very small animals though, their weight ranges from 25-35 pounds, so it took nearly forty ocelots to create ONE coat! Another reason their population declined was the pet trade. Ocelots are small, gorgeous cats that people believed would make good pets. Not the best idea! Ocelots are completely different from your house cat. House cats have had thousands of years to be domesticated, and even then, all of our cats still have their natural instincts to hunt and stalk. Ocelots are not domesticated. They are wild animals. They may appear cute and cuddly, but they will defend themselves if threatened, and can cause severe damage.

One ocelot calls the Houston Zoo home; Novia first came to the Houston Zoo when she was one year old as part of a breeding program to help diversify the genetics in the species. (Because of the low population in Texas, there is a high probability of inbreeding. This can cause genetic mutations, medical conditions to arise, and even death.) When a carnivore first arrives to the zoo, they must stay in quarantine for thirty days to ensure they are healthy and safe. When Novia was in quarantine, it was discovered she actually had a medical condition that was genetic. This means that if she had kittens, her offspring might also have this condition. It was decided that she should be spayed, meaning she can no longer reproduce. Even though she could not have kittens anymore, the Houston Zoo decided it would be best for Novia to stay here. This was because the zookeepers knew her medical history and could best provide for her care.

Isn’t she just gorgeous!?


Novia is currently 4.5 years old, and weighs about 15 pounds. She is a bit smaller than the average ocelot, but every animal is different and she is in good body condition. Novia seems to enjoy cat toys and prefers mice to her meat diet, but we give her the mice to sneak in her medicine. (Shhh!) She is also a celebrity! National Geographic recorded a video of Novia going under surgery, and you can view it here. Like all ocelots, Novia is typically nocturnal and prefers to lounge and sleep during the day. You may have noticed her sleeping on her platform when you visit the zoo. This is not because of boredom; this is because that behavior is what is most natural to her. (Also like most cats, they love napping!) Her eyes are very large to allow light in at night, so she can see better (which is true for all ocelots), and if you look at her picture, you can see her beautiful coat. If you ever see an ocelot in the Texas wild, you are one extremely lucky person!

We should all try to preserve our great state’s land not only for ourselves, but also for the other species that call it home. It may be hard to remember that other species live in our backyard because they may be small, only out at night, or up in trees, but they do live with us. We should all be true Texans and fight for their home, just as we would fight for ours. 

Here we have Novia celebrating her birthday! (She just turned four.) The keepers decorated her exhibit with presents, enrichment toys, and a pool filled with a crab for her to enjoy!

Chronicles of a Zoo Intern: Jacquelyne Brauneis and the Houston Toad

This post written by Jacquelyne Brauneis

Hello, my name is Jacquelyne Brauneis and I am currently an Intern in the department of Conservation, working on the Houston toad Project. I am a junior at the University of Houston studying pre-veterinary medicine, and I am very honored to have the opportunity to Intern at the Houston Zoo. It’s been a little over a month since I started my internship and already I know it has changed my life in so many ways.

First let me introduce you to the Houston toad (Anaxyrus [Bufo] houstonensis), which unfortunately most people are unaware of.  Discovered in 1940s by John Wottring, they were named after the city of Houston, which they once called home. With their habitats being destroyed the number of Houston toads declined dramatically, and in 1970 they were federally listed as an endangered species (the first amphibian to be placed on the list, but unfortunately not the last). Currently, there are thought to be as few as 250 toads left remaining in the Bastrop, Austin, Burleson, Leon and Lavaca counties. Fortunately the Houston Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Texas Parks and Wildlife, along with Texas State University have partnered in an effort to save the Houston toads.

Interning here with the toads has been unbelievably rewarding, and has taught me a tremendous amount regarding amphibians. A “typical” day revolves around caring for the toads, which includes: general husbandry, medical treatments, preparing them for release (which will by far be the most rewarding experience!), and of course working on my research project.

One of the most surprising aspects of the toads is how cerebral they are. When I arrive in the morning, a few will hop to the end of their tank as if to say “Good Morning!” and will wait for me to come by and say hello. When they get really excited, the males will begin calling (which is used as a mating call in the wild). Once one male starts the other males feel the need to begin calling and soon the room is filled with “talking toads”. As a pre-veterinary student, I have worked with many different types of animals but seeing the toads do this type of behavior is by far the cutest thing I ever seen or heard!

The goal of the Houston toad Project is to release a certain amount of toads back into the wild in order to get their population back to an acceptable number while keeping a captive assurance colony at the Houston Zoo. What is a captive assurance colony you ask? It serves as a colony of toads, which are kept just in case something was to happen to the toads in their wild habitat, assuring that the species won’t simply disappear.

Working with an endangered species like the Houston toad is an incredible experience, and I feel extremely fortunate to be able to work with these animals. The keepers on the project are dedicated and passionate about the toad, which makes the experiences I have had invaluable. By far the most important aspect of conservation that I have learned since beginning of my internship is that no animal is more important than another. These toads deserve a place on this earth, and the Houston toad Project aims to keep that a reality.

Guest Blogger Carolyn Jess Busy Fundraising for Ocelots

We have invited Carolyn Jess back to help us out as guest blogger in 2013 with a focus on native wildlife. Jess is a 12 year old student who has agreed to be our special guest blogger about wildlife conservation. We first met Carolyn in October 2011 when she came out to the Zoo to meet our special guest Jack Hannah. If you would like to contact Carolyn or have comments, you may send them to

Operation Ocelot was busy fundraising this month.  March 3 was the day I celebrated my 12th birthday with a party at my house.  When I invited my friends, I gave them a page of information, with pictures too, about the ocelot, where it lives, and why it is an endangered species.  I also gave my friends information on what they can do to help the ocelot to survive.  One EASY way for them to help was for them to give me a donation instead of a birthday gift.   I explained that the money I collected would be sent in to Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Center.  Dr. Michael Tewes, Coordinator of the Feline Research Program, uses the funds I send in to purchase the remote camera systems that are used in South Texas.  The cameras monitor the ocelots that live in the scrub land there.   I know that asking for money for the ocelots is an easy gift for people to give me.  They don’t have to ask me what I want or what size clothes I’d like.  Most parents just chose to write a check to the research center.  I think it is much easier than going out to buy a gift.

Once my friends had left my party (I had 24 friends show up), I collected $420.  I set a goal of $400 every year, and it always feels good to meet and beat that goal.  I have sent that money in to Dr. Tewes and HOPE that he makes a big discovery of an ocelot population that he didn’t know existed, but in reality, I know that probably won’t happen.  I am glad that there are people like Dr. Tewes who care about the ocelot as much as I do and want to help this animal to get off the endangered list.  My best present I could get would be for the ocelot to get off that list, but until then, I’ll keep collecting money at my birthdays and teaching as many people as I can about the ocelot.  If people know what changes need to be made to help our endangered animals, we can make a difference.

If you would like to help the ocelot, there are a few things you can do.  You could have a bake sale, garage sale, or ask for donations instead of gifts at your next party.   You could start a club at your school about endangered animals in Texas.  There are a lot of things you can do to help our animals.  You just have to try.

Guest Blogger Carolyn Jess Discusses The New Year and Ocelots

We have invited Carolyn Jess back to help us out as guest blogger in 2013 with a focus on native wildlife. Jess is a 12 year old student who has agreed to be our special guest blogger about wildlife conservation. We first met Carolyn in October 2011 when she came out to the Zoo to meet our special guest Jack Hannah. If you would like to contact Carolyn or have comments, you may send them to

Happy New Year! I hope one of your New Year’s resolutions was to do something good for the environment!

I found out some awesome news last week from the Caesar Kleberg Journal. A group of 16 ocelots were found in the scrublands in south Texas. That makes me hopeful that we can help our ocelots to make a comeback, but we still have a lot of work to do to ensure its survival. Today, there may be less than 100 individual Ocelots remaining in Texas. We can all work together to help these animals have a chance to survive! If we don’t help them, who will?

I have a great idea for you to meet that resolution of doing something good for the environment. Why not donate your time or money to the Houston Zoo, World Wildlife Fund, or one of my favorite programs, the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute at Texas A&M Kingsville? All three of these places work with our endangered animals and do what they can to help increase their population.


El Final/ The End

This is the last of my Spanish/English blog series that started in October and had been doing as an intern. You will find the English version below the Spanish version (Versión en Ingles ofrecida debajo de la versión en español). I hope you will enjoy it, and spread the word, post it on your Facebook page, and Tweet it!  Please leave any comments for me after the blog post below. I’d love to hear from you.

Este es el ultimo en una serie de blogs en español e ingles que empecé en octubre. La versión en español se encuentra arriba de la versión en ingles. Espero que te guste y que me ayudes a compartir mi experiencia con otros a través de Facebook y Twitter. Favor de dejar tus mensajes o preguntas al final, me encantaría oír de ti. 

Me & The Renaissance crew during their visit to The Zoo

Toda jornada tiene su fin. Desafortunadamente ha llegado el fin de mi jornada con el Zoológico de Houston.  Primeramente quisiera darle las gracias a toda la gente que trabaja en el Zoológico por ser parte de mi experiencia y por ser siempre tan buena gente.  Ha sido un placer conocer a todos y aprender mas sobre la organización y todos los animales.

Jamás se me olvidara la experiencia que tuve aquí. Desde el día que llegue siempre me han recibido bien y me han ayudado con cualquier cosa que se me ofrezca. Hasta tuve la oportunidad de ir a las citas donde planeaban todos los eventos y aprendí cuanto tiempo se tiene que tomar para hacer un evento y que tienen que hacer para asegurarse que no les falte nada a los invitados.  También ayude a pensar en ideas para promocionar las diferentes cosas por Facebook, Twitter, y los blogs.  Lo que mas me gustaba hacer durante mi hora de almuerzo era ver a los animales relajándose o jugando con los demás.  Aunque se me haya acabado el tiempo como estudiante aquí jamás dejare de visitar el Zoológico.

Antes de irme quisiera invitarlos a un evento muy especial.  Es para toda la gente que le guste tomar fotos con paisajes bonitos o de animales preciosos.  Este evento se llama Photo Day y se tomara acabo el 17 de diciembre de 7 a 9 de la mañana.  Al comprar un boleto el Zoológico les dará un desayuno y la oportunidad de explorar el Zoológico como nunca lo haz hecho.  En las mañanas es cuando nuestros animales tienen mas energía y también es cuando les dan de comer entonces podrás ver todo eso y mas. Si quieres darte una idea de que tan especial es este evento VE Y MIRA las fotos que tomaron los previos visitantes del evento.

REGISTRATE POR INTERNET o compra tus boletos al llegar al evento a las 7 de la manana.  Para mas información sobre Photo Day VISITANOS AQUÍ.

Si aun no has leido mi serie de blogs puedes leerlos AQUÍ o si quisieras leer los otros blogs ofrecidos por el Zoologico los puedes ver AQUÍ

Now, in English!

During Zoo Boo I took a big bite of candy corn


There comes an end to every journey and unfortunately, I have come to the end of my journey with The Houston Zoo’s Marketing Department. SAD FACE!  First of all, I’d like to thank the entire Houston Zoo staff for being a part of my experience and always being so kind and helpful.  It’s been a pleasure getting to know everyone and learning more about wildlife.

My experience as a Web Intern has been one I’ll never forget.  Since day one everyone was so helpful and I was even able to sit in on meetings and see what it takes to plan and execute all event details.  I also helped come up with ideas to promote events and increase our visitors’ interactions on our social networks such asFacebook, Twitter, and our Blogs. One of my favorite things is that I got the chance to eat my lunch as I watched the animals relaxing and playing around.  Although I will no longer be an intern, I will still be around visiting the Zoo whenever I get the chance.

Before I go, I’d like to invite everyone to Photo Day! If you enjoy capturing great pictures and would like to snap a few when our animals are most active then this is perfect for you. It will take place on December 17, 2011 from 7-9 am.   With your purchase of a ticket you’ll get a continental breakfast and will get to take pictures of zoo grounds and several animals in their habitats.  Just TAKE A LOOK at some of the pictures taken by past Photo Day visitors!

REGISTER ONLINE or buy your tickets in person at 7 am that same morning. For more information check this out.

If you haven’t already read my previous blog posts or would like to see what other blogs are offered Click HERE!

Feast with the Beasts (En español & In English)

For those of you that are just now joining us, this is the third post of my blog series, written in both English and Spanish about my experience as a Marketing Intern, which I will be doing until mid-December.  CLICK HERE for the link to the entire series. 

First, the Spanish version, followed by English below…

Les estoy escribiendo por tercera vez en mi serie de blogs.  ¡Gracias por regresar! Y a los que están leyendo por primera vez: podrán leer mi serie (en español e ingles) hasta mediados de diciembre mientras hago mis practicas en el Zoológico de Houston. ¡Disfruta! Dejame tus comentarios o preguntas y compártelo a través de Facebook y Twitter.

Primeramente quisiera darle un aplauso a toda la gente que ayudo con el éxito de Zoo Boo.  A todos los empleados que planearon y trabajaron el evento y también a toda la gente que nos visito y participo en los juegos, ¡mil gracias!  Si te gustaría ver las fotos del evento visita el álbum AQUI.

Aunque ya termino Zoo Boo no quiere decir que nos podemos relajar.  En el departamento de mercadotecnia, aquí en el Zoológico de Houston, han estado preparando los detalles para el evento Feast with the Beasts.  Este evento es uno de los mas populares y los boletos se venden rápido.  Pero no te asustes con el nombre, no se tiene que compartir la cena con King Kong o Godzilla.  Es mas lo que mas da miedo es la gente que llega con un gran apetito.

Desafortunadamente, si aun no has comprado tus boletos para este evento lamento decirte que es muy tarde.  Y si te estas preguntando porque es tan popular este evento te diré que es porque con la compra de un boleto de entrada puedes probar los deliciosos antojitos de 65 restaurantes,  tomar 2 bebidas, ver presentaciones de animales, y ver el concierto de los B-52s!  Y como si eso no fuera suficiente, si compras un boleto te llenaras de gozo al saber que le ayudaste al Zoológico recaudar fondos para sus programas de conservación, educación, y cuidado de los animales.

Estoy contando los días que quedan para Feast with the Beasts y si fuiste una de las personas que alcanzo boleto entonces ¡te veo ahí!

Si quisieras mas información sobre Feast with the Beasts visita

Y si no haz leído mi serie desde el principio no te preocupes porque están todos AQUÍ.

For those of you that have been scrolling down to find the English version, you are in the right place!!  You can read the entire series about my experience as a Marketing Intern until mid-December HEREFeel free to leave me any comments or questions!  I will gladly reply as soon as possible. Also, don’t forget to share this with your friends via Facebook and Twitter.

First of all I’d like to give a big round of applause to everyone that participated in Zoo Boo’s success! Whether you are someone on the staff that helped organize it or a Zoo visitor that came and enjoyed the festivities, you did a great job. If you’d like to take a look at our pictures from Zoo Boo Click HERE!

Just when we here at the Zoo thought, “Zoo Boo’s over, now we can kick back and relax (insert sigh of relief),” we get reminded that there’s yet another exciting event right around the corner! 

The Marketing Department has been simultaneously organizing Zoo Boo and Feast with the Beasts and though it’s a lot of work, they’re doing a great job!

 Feast with the Beasts is one of our most popular events here at The Houston Zoo.  Though the name is slightly scary and gives me images of Godzilla stomping around the Medical Center as I eat a turkey sandwich, it’s really NOTHING to be afraid of.  In fact, if you love food just as much as I do then the scariest thing about this event would be you and your appetite.

Unfortunately, if you haven’t already bought your ticket then you will have to wait for next year’s tickets to go on sale. I’ve been told that this event gets sold out quickly. Why? Well because with a purchase of a ticket you get to taste delicious snacks from 65 Houston restaurants, 2 drinks, animal presentations, AND a concert featuring the B-52s, that’s why! Plus, each purchase of a ticket will help The Houston Zoo’s conservation, education, and animal care programs!

HOLY CANNOLI! I’m currently counting down the days ‘til Feast with the Beasts and it’s almost here! For those of you that purchased your tickets in time, I will see you there!

Catch your attention? Read more about Feast with the Beasts on our website and join us next year!

Also, if you haven’t already checked out my previous blog posts go ahead and click here!



Mi Aventura en Zoo Boo/ My Adventure in Zoo Boo

¡Gracias por regresar a leer mi segundo blog de esta serie! Recuerda que también está escrita en ingles ahí abajito de la versión en español. (In ENGLISH below) Disfruta, y compártelo con tus amigos especialmente por Facebook y Twitter.  Y recuerda que si tienes alguna pregunta o comentario que no te de pena escribirlo al final de esta pagina.

Hace dos Viernes me desperté muy alegre porque por primera vez este año abrió el evento de Zoo Boo!

Desde que empecé mis practicas aquí en el Zoológico de Houston e visto todos los ingredientes que le ponen a la poción de Zoo Boo dentro de la caldera mágica. Lo que no me dijeron era que esta poción me iba a dar efectos de felicidad y quizá me haría brincar de emoción! Si hubiera sabido esto antes, tal vez me hubiera preparado mejor. Pero bueno, durante mi tiempo aqui he ido a las reuniones y en cada  reunión hablan sobre cada cosa relacionada con el evento y las responsabilidades de cada departamento. Es aquí donde realmente aprendí que es necesario que todos los departamentos de una organización se apoyen y trabajen juntos.

Decidí asistir al evento como voluntaria para poder ver la transformación de un evento planeado en papel a una cosa visible y exitosa. El primer día que estuve ahí  me pusieron en la sección llamada Festival of Fun al lado de los Elefantes en el McNair Asian Elephant Habitat que viene siendo uno de los lugares que mas me gusta visitar dentro del zoológico.  En el Festival of Fun hay varios  juegos para los pequeños y pueden ganar premios por solamente participar.

Al siguiente día me toco asistir en las estaciones que rodeaban la Piscina de Reflección, o mas bien llamada The Reflection Pool.  A pesar de que se me cansaron los pies de tanto caminar, el día estuvo maravilloso.  En cuanto abrieron las puertas de la entrada se lleno de niños y niñas disfrazados y ansiosos por coleccionar dulces.  Las mesas de tatuajes temporales se ocuparon y el Monster Mural se cubrió de colores diferentes.  Los pequeños no podían creer que alguien les estaba dando permiso de pintar  una pared con marcadores!

La actividad que mas me asombro fue el TXU Energy Monster Mashquerade.  El DJ Captain Armando, vestido de Pirata, formo a los niños que querían participar y los llevo a hacer un desfile de disfraces.  Y luego, al terminar el desfile entraron los miembros del Aldine Dance Company vestidos como animales salvajes y les enseñaron a los niños y padres como hacer el baile de la canción “Thriller”.

El primer fin de semana Zoo Boo atrajo 30,092 personas y hemos recibido muchas felicitaciones por el éxito.  Todavía queda este fin de semana (Viernes 28 de Octubre – Lunes 31 de Octubre) para que puedes venir a disfrutar  y compartir tu experiencia con nosotros. ¡No te lo pierdas!

Si aun no haz leído mi serie de blogs haz clic aquí! Y si quieres mas información sobre este evento visita la pagina web


Thank you for returning to read my second blog post in my series! For those of you that are just now joining us, my blog series, written in both English and Spanish, will continue through mid-December.  You will find the English version located below the Spanish one.  I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures as a Houston Zoo intern and please, don’t be afraid to leave your questions or comments. Share this with your friends via Facebook and Twitter!

Two Fridays ago I woke up very excited and sleepy, but mostly excited because it was the grand opening of this year’s Zoo Boo. Also, it was my very first time being here for this event and I can’t believe it took me this long.

For the past few weeks I have been watching the staff stir up a rather exciting Zoo Boo potion into their Special Events cauldron.  I wish they would’ve warned me about the side effects because then I would’ve understood why I kept having this urge to jump up and smile every 5 minutes. Weird? No! At Zoo Boo it is perfectly normal to be thrilled, maybe because of all the candy they give you, but regardless, I fit in just fine. Although The Houston Zoo is made up of MANY different departments,  they all come together and discuss what every one’s role is for the event.  They go over everything you could possibly think of which has taught me that it truly is important for everyone in an organization to support each other and work together in order for everything to be successful. The Zoo’s ability to do so is really visible during the event because it’s so organized and each staff member knows how to help. I couldn’t wait to be a part of it and watch it unfold from plans on paper into an actual event. That is why I gladly volunteered to assist them in any way.

On the first day I was asked to help out at the Festival of Fun where the group Best Entertainers set up carnival games and gave the kids a prize for their participation.  My favorite part was seeing all the different costumes that came through and watching the kids play enthusiastically.  Oh, and lucky for me the Festival of Fun is located right next to the recently opened McNair Asian Elephant Habitat!  I really enjoyed being able to look back and see babies Tupelo and Baylor play around in their new home.

During the next two days as I volunteered, I walked around the Reflection Pool area and made sure that each station’s volunteers had everything they needed. I got to see how successful the Monster Mural is and just how much kids love the Zoo Boo tattoos. I also got to see the TXU Energy Monster Mashquerade up close as the children, lead by DJ Captain Armando, showed off their costumes during the parade and then gathered to learn the “Thriller” dance with the Aldine Dance Group.

Overall, the first two weekends of Zoo Boo were successful and everyone seemed to enjoy the activities. The first weekend alone attracted 30,092 visitors! Now that the weather has cooled down and Halloween is quickly approaching, we expect to see many more princesses and heroes come through our entrance! I hope you and your little one(s) won’t miss out on the last weekend of the festivities: Friday, October 29- Monday, October 31!

If you haven’t already read the Intro to this series, you can find it HERE! Also, if you’d like more information about Zoo Boo visit our page

My Intern Safari Ride through The Houston Zoo – En Ingles y Español!

*  This is the first in a Spanish/English blog series that will last until mid-December. You can find the Spanish version below the English version (Versión en Español ofrecida debajo de la versión en Ingles). I hope you will enjoy it, and spread the word, post it on your Facebook page, and Tweet it!  Please leave any comments for me after the blog post below. I’d love to hear from you.

Hello everyone! I’m Erika, a new intern at the Zoo’s Interactive Marketing Exhibit…I mean Department, yikes! I am a mammal but unlike Mtembei who’s on the left of me in the picture, I am of the Human species.  From now until the end of the year, I will be writing a series of blogs about my personal experience here and about all the great ways you can participate in the Zoo.

Before I start my blog series about all the cool stuff, I will tell you a few interesting things about myself. After getting to know me, I hope you too will tell me something about yourself and let me know if there’s anything you would like to see in my blogs.

I am a 21- year- old senior studying Marketing at the University of St. Thomas. Next Summer I will graduate and begin my journey through adulthood; although, I wish I could be a kid forever just like Peter Pan.

Anyway, I was raised here in Houston but my family and I are originally from Chihuahua, Mexico and oddly enough, we don’t own a Chihuahua.  I am fluent in both Spanish and English and will therefore be able to write a series of blogs in Spanish! I am definitely excited about that.

I’ve always loved learning new things, both in and out of classrooms. For this reason, I decided to do a study abroad program in France this past summer. I was very excited to be learning about international trade and finance as well as the French culture. After that adventure, I decided it would be great to get hands-on experience as an intern with a Houston organization.  Once I heard about the Houston Zoo’s Internship Program I knew it was the place for me.  Here, I will not only get to learn things about my career but also about wild animals and how we can help them out. After all, we all inhabit the same planet.

Please check back regularly for an update on what I’ve learned about the organization and the animals. I’ll also be letting you know about some of the great events you can attend right here at The Houston Zoo. So, don’t miss out and if you have any questions or comments feel free to write them in the comment section below.  I will gladly respond to you as soon as I can.

Don’t forget to check out our other blogs: Wild Conservation, Trunk Tales, and Education.


Ahora en Español

Este es el primero en una serie de blogs en español e ingles que durara hasta mediados de Diciembre. Normalmente podrás encontrar la versión en español arribe de la versión en ingles. Espero que te guste y que me ayudes a compartir mi experiencia con otros a través de Facebook y Twitter. Favor de dejar tus mensajes o preguntas al final, me encantaría oír de ti.  

¡Hola! Mi nombre es Erika y soy una estudiante haciendo mis practicas de mercadotecnia aquí en el Zoológico de Houston. Tengo 21 años y estoy en mi ultimo año de estudios en la Universidad de San Tomas. Nací en Chihuahua, México y crecí aquí en Houston pero mis padres siempre me han enseñado orgullosamente las tradiciones y el idioma de México.  Es por eso que estoy tan feliz que el Zoológico me ha dado la oportunidad de escribir una serie de blogs para nuestros visitantes que prefieren leer en español.

Desde pequeña siempre me ha gustado aprender cosas nuevas y no nada mas en la escuela si no también por medio de gente que viene de diferentes culturas. Hay tantas cosas que aprender de nuestro mundo y de la gente e animales que habitan en el. El verano pasado me fui a estudiar a Francia por tres semanas y aparte de las clases de finanzas que tomé, también aprendí muchísimo sobre el estilo de vida en Europa y las costumbres de la gente. Ahora en el Zoológico se que aprenderé bastante sobre los animales y el medio ambiente.

Ya que sabes unas cuantas cosas de mi dime lo que piensas o lo que te gustaria saber del Zoológico, los eventos, o los animales. Me encantaría escribir sobre esos temas que te interesan.

Bueno, es todo por ahorita pero no dejes de revisar la pagina de nuestros Blogs para oír de mis aventuras en el Zoológico de Houston.


Houston Zoo Guest Blogger Series: Meet Shannon Stilwell

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, my husband had a few vacation days. We wanted to take the boys on a day trip. We decided to head on over to the Houston Zoo. The boys have been there before, but they were much younger and I knew they’d enjoy it a lot more now. I had also heard a lot about the recently opened African Forest and wanted to check it out for myself.

My husband and our two boys on the carousel

My sons are two and three and my oldest has special needs. He absolutely adores animals so I couldn’t wait to get his reaction. We packed up some snacks, drinks and lunch in our cooler (we love that you can bring in food to the Zoo) and the boys’ backpacks and loaded the car with all of the necessary items for little ones (including strollers). I am so happy that we also packed our video camera since the zoo has changed a good bit since the last time we were there. I was able to catch my boys’ reactions and they now love watching their day on video much more than just looking at a few photos.

When planning our trip, the one thing I was a bit concerned with was whether there would be any parking left when we got there. The day we went was the only nice weather day of the week so I knew the Zoo would probably be a popular destination with kids out of school and parents wanting to entertain them. As sometimes happens with two little ones, we were running a bit later than we had hoped. We were pleasantly surprised that there were still a few parking spaces left. We needed a handicap space and there were a few open right up front.

I thought a Vlog, or Video Blog, of our day would be fun to watch. Actually seeing what the Zoo has to offer brings it to life better than just reading my description, in my opinion. It sure was fun to make. Here is our totally amateur documentary of our day at the Houston Zoo last week:

As you can see from the video, my boys loved the otters. I love them too. I could sit and watch them all day long. My sweet older son was having a meltdown until we stopped at this exhibit and it totally calmed him down. It’s amazing how animals have that affect on people of all abilities. We also loved the petting zoo and the wide open spaces that allowed for easy stroller access.

One of the animal friends we visited in the petting zoo

The boys had so much fun on the carousel and just watching all of the animals do their thing at the Houston Zoo. I was so impressed with the all of the exhibits and amenities.  I am going to be purchasing a family membership very soon. I was afraid that it would be hard for me to take both boys on my own, but I think it would be a great weekly trip for them and it’s big enough that there is always something new to see. I now know that the Zoo is mom and child friendly and that makes this mother happy!

As a mom, I look for good places to eat, clean bathrooms with changing tables and a child friendly atmosphere. I found all of these at the Houston Zoo. You can either pack your lunch and eat on the picnic tables inside the Zoo or walk to the neighboring  Hermann Park to let your kids run off some energy. You can also eat inside the zoo at their restaurants which offer a variety of foods.

My three year old only has a few words right now (he just learned yes and no but uses them together no matter what the answer is at this time… hey it’s a start) but used them a lot on this day. Anything that makes my boys express their feelings and interact makes me happy!

About me: My name is Shannon Stilwell and you can find my blog, Potamus Prefers, at You can also find me on twitter at @PotamusPrefers!

Meerkat Manners

Although they may look like a troop of squirrel-opossums, standing on their hind legs and scurrying about without any apparent organization or technique, in reality, meerkats work together systematically for the benefit and survival of their gang…often with little to no communication.

Living together in groups of 2 to 50, which are referred to as either “gangs” or “mobs,” meerkats’ survival is dependent upon their successful cooperation.
Living together in groups of 2 to 50, which are referred to as either “gangs” or “mobs,” meerkats’ survival is dependent upon their successful cooperation.

Because they do not store food, meerkats spend most of their time foraging for insects, bird and snake eggs, and even scorpions. But when you are the size of a football, dancing around the hot African savannah while hawks and foxes drool at your every move, focusing all attention on food can be risky business. So what does a mobber do? Well, he mobs, of course!

When confronted by a predator, the self-ordained sentinel, or “watch-kat,” of the group alerts the other members of the mob by barking in an alarmed manner. In the event of a potential attack from above, meerkats dive into their burrows for safety and cover any young, vulnerable pups. For some ground predators, however, such as venomous snakes, meerkats literally “gang-up” on the serpent and form a circle around it, snarling and hissing while trying to look big and menacing.

Meerkat at the Houston Zoo
Meerkat at the Houston Zoo

And while most animals, including humans, have been found to have an innate sense of self preservation above the preservation of others (with the exception of one’s own young, or course), meerkats cooperate and sacrifice for one another with little concern for personal reward.

Meerkats bathe, groom, teach, and nap with one another. At only a few months old, gang members learn to keep an eye out for tinier pups, and mature females without pups of their own act as babysitters when mothers are out foraging for food. Perhaps most amazingly of all, any group member will respond to the cries of any hungry pup, redirecting her food search toward the benefit of the helpless baby – even when it means that she herself may go hungry as a result.

Writer: Stefanie Hanselka

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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog:
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years. 
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Read more about Kan B, and the love his keepers had for him on our blog:


Comment on Facebook

Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory

I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.

Is this the one that had the limp?

This was my daughters favorite critter at the Zoo. We always went to say hello to him before anyone else whenever we went. When she was 7 years old we sent a post out to out neighborhood on Halloween saying Paisley was asking for pocket change donations in lieu of candy for Halloween and all amounts would be donated to Kan thru the zoo. She raised over $40 in coins! I still have the letter from the zoo thanking her for her donation. He was a sweet boy and will be missed. 😔

I saw him limping about 2 weekends ago. The first time we walked by he was fine. When we walked by on the way out he was limping and moaning pretty loudly. I wondered what happened but I figured his keeper already knew or would find out shortly. Super Sad. He was always a lively one.

Sorry to hear about your loss. We also lost a jaguar(melanistic variety) at Reid Park Zoo about a year ago. Nikita was 21 years old and was euthanized due to health-related issues. Sad, but they have a GOOD life at the zoo! No predators, a steady food supply, medical attention, loving kindness from her keeper(s) and admiration by the public. Geriatric animals have unique problems and we are blessed to get to know them as long as we do.

Jaguar habitat is in the Zoo or Jungle's? ??or is only entertainments for person's? ??$$$$$$$!.Sorry animals the person's don't love you ..

Thank you Houston Zoo for taking such good care of him and all the animals! I've been going to this zoo since I was little bitty. I always enjoy it.

Dunno if the Zoo staff considered him a pet but he was certainly a family member, and because of that i offer this: RainbowBridge Author Unknown Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....

Aww. When interning in the carnivore dept he was one of my faves. So smart! Ashley remember when Angie was teaching him to do the moonwalk after Michael Jackson passed?

Sending love to the keepers that are broken hearted right now. And thank you for all the care you’ve given.

Beautiful jaguar grateful for the Houston Zoo keepers and veterinary team that gave their time and efforts to share this awesome jaguar with us for so many years.

He was well-cared for and most of all well-loved. My heartfelt condolences to those missing Kan B as well as me. What an amazing ambassador for his kind. What a beautiful old gentleman. Thank you for loving him into old age and giving him peace.

What a great long life he lived because of his excellent care at the zoo Thoughts go out to his keepers and the entire Houston Zoo staff

Thank you for doing what was right and kind for Kan Balam even though it was hard and painful for you. That’s true love for an animal. ❤️

RIP Kan Balam. You have given the visitors so much pleasure just watching you over these years. You were taken care of by top notch professional handlers, etc.

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3

Aww I’m so sorry for the loss, I’ve seen him many times, he was absolutely gorgeous! I’m glad that you guys were able to make him comfortable, sometimes the best thing we can do is let them be at peace. Will miss this handsome guy; play hard at the Rainbow Bridge friend, day hi to my cat, Junior for me!! Much love to the HZI staff!!

Jaguars are one of my favorite and he seems like a sweet boy. I'm so sad but I'm happy he can be painless and be free now. RIP❤️

The Houston Zoo staff has lost several animals this year and I am sure each one is so hard to go through.

I am soo sorry for the loss of this handsome fella Kan Balam. May he rest in peace and run free or any pain over the rainbow bridge.. My heart and prayers go out to each and every one of the staff at the Zoo.

Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs

So sorry to the keeping staff for your loss i cant imagine how youre feeling :( his old age is a testimony to the amazing care he received

I will miss him. The last time I saw him he looked tired, and it appeared his foot was bothering him.

Sad to hear of this. Thanks for taking such good and compassionate care for him and the other animals.

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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: I'm still using this.
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Social Media Guy to Sea Lion Keeper: Can you send me a pic of you working with the sea lions in this chilly weather?

Sea Lion Keeper: Sure... (sends picture next to sea lion statue)

SMG: Im still using this.


Comment on Facebook

Are there some zoo animals that enjoy this weather?

SMG is another reason why Houston Zoo is the best Zoo!

Happy New Year “sea lion keeper “ 💖💖

More snow for TJ and Max ❤️ lucky them!

Are we positive that’s the statue rather than it really just being that cold? 😛

That’s my best friend Sophie for ya! 😂


Omg the Zoo is so awesome 😂😂😂 Alana Berry

Omg be warm sweetoe

Haha!! Good one!

Sweetie 💞

Ashley Jucker 😂

Lauren Gonzales

Mike DePope

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