Celebrate World Lion Day

Carolyn-Jess-2014-ResizeWe have invited Carolyn Jess back to help us out as guest blogger in 2015 with a focus on native wildlife. Jess is a 14 year old student who has agreed to be our special guest blogger about wildlife conservation. Carolyn was awarded the Alban Heiser Conservation Award in 2014, presented to her by Jack Hanna. If you would like to contact Carolyn or have comments, you may send them to conservation@houstonzoo.org

This summer seemed to go by extremely fast, which, like it or not, leads into going back to school very soon. Just before I head back into the classroom, I am feeling the need for one more celebration before I hit the books and my studying. What is there to celebrate when there is so much back to school mayhem? World Lion Day of course! World Lion Day is on August 10th and is a great way to celebrate our lions everywhere in the world. These majestic creatures symbolize strength, honor, and bravery. I think back on books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched with lions in them, and all of them use lions to suggest strength and courage. Our lions in Africa and India are strong and courageous, but they need our help in a battle that they are continually fighting. This is a battle that is truly hard for them to win, but all of us can help them to overcome this struggle. One struggle the lions are facing is called human-wildlife conflict. Basically, as more land is taken away from the lions’ territory for agricultural development and as populations increase, more human –wildlife conflict is occurring. This seems to be a difficult problem to fix, but there is a solution that has proven to be successful. Lion Guardians, men who are in charge of protecting lions, are helping to increase the lions’ population and intervening in positive ways. Lion guardians help with building protective fences around livestock, help find lost and wandering livestock, warn farmers when lions are spotted on their land, and are creating an awareness of the lion’s importance for the people who live in these areas. These men use what is called “conflict mitigation” and they have been successful in helping their communities gain a greater understanding of carnivores.


The Houston Zoo supports projects which provide training and resources for the Lion Guardians. These projects provide the materials and critical resources needed to the villagers in these areas that provide hope for our lions. Without these groups, we could one day only see these lions in the books and movies and not in the wild.
Let’s celebrate the importance of our world’s lions and create awareness for them. August 10th is the lions’ special day, so why not visit them at the zoo?

Learn about all the organizations that the Houston Zoo works with to save lions in the wild and read about the 2015 Feed Your Wildlife Conservation Gala on October 14th 2015.  You can help us protect lions in Africa.  This event will support a regional effort called Pride: Lion Conservation Alliance, that is finding solutions to save lions from extinction across East Africa.

Year of the Goat – Featuring Fauna

In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat! We have over 20 different goats representing 5 different breeds. In addition to their different colors, shapes, and sizes, all of our goats also express individual preferences and personalities!

To highlight our goats individual ‘flair’, we’ve decided to feature a different goat each month and share what makes each one so unique and lovable!

FaunaHere in Houston, August is a month where many residents tend to embrace their air conditioning and lay low to avoid the extremely hot and humid weather.  Lacking any major holidays, August is also a month that tends to pass by unceremoniously.  August’s goat of the month was chosen because, like August, she tends to fly under most people’s radar and isn’t much of a showoff.  Fauna, the Nigerian dwarf goat, may not be the flashiest goat in the yard but she makes up for this with her easy-going nature.

Fauna is a ‘go with the flow’ kind of goat and takes life here in the Children’s Zoo in stride. Whether there are 3 guests or 30 guests in the Contact Area, Fauna can generally be found enjoying the shade and calmly chewing her cud. Fauna will gladly stand still to be brushed and gratefully accept a little bit of scratching between her ears.

In the summer months Fauna and her goat friends have a secret to keeping their cool when temperatures are soaring: ice!  Any guest that braves the summer temperatures on Saturday or Sunday afternoons can watch as the Contact Area keepers bring bowls of icy refreshments to the herd! Sometimes the ice is flavored with fruit juice and sometimes it comes in the form of a large ice pop with vegetables frozen inside of it.  However it’s served up, guests can see the goats enjoy their icy treats at 2:30 PM every weekend for the duration of this summer’s TXU Energy Chill Out promotion!

Elderly Tiger Pandu Laid to Rest

Pandu, one of the Houston Zoo’s two elderly Malayan tigers, was humanely euthanized today after a long life. The decision was made by the tiger’s keepers and veterinary team after the 16-year-old tiger began to become uninterested in food, lethargic, and showing signs of pain. After an extensive medical review, our veterinary and tiger experts decided that the most humane option was to peacefully euthanize him.

pandu drinks

For  many years, Pandu received a combination of stem cell therapy and arthroscopic surgery to address orthopedic issues in his right elbow courtesy of Dr. Brian Beale of Gulf Coast Veterinary Specialists and Michael Coleman, Ph. D. and Jonathan Davis, stem cell specialists with InGeneron, Inc. These treatments greatly added to his quality of life, and gave him the energy to participate in some of his favorite activities – swimming and painting.

Affectionately called “Professor” by his keepers, Pandu was an extremely vocal cat, so much that the team had to train him to be quite while they were feeding him so that they could hear one another talk. Also one of the zoo’s most requested painters, Pandu had a preference for purple paint and his work can be found hanging in homes around Houston. Pandu was also a frequent participant in the popular tiger training window enrichment exercises.

“It is never an easy decision to euthanize an animal, but it is one we make with the animal’s well-being as the top priority,” said Sharon Joseph, vice president of animal operations at the Houston Zoo. “With four incredible veterinarians, a complete veterinary clinic and world-class animal keepers, our animals receive the best care possible, and that includes end-of-life decisions.  While it’s always exciting to celebrate births at the zoo, we also mourn heavily when one of our animals dies.”

Malayan tigers are critically endangered with only about 300 remaining in the wild. Pandu is survived by his habitat mate, a 14-year-old female Malayan tiger named Satu.

A Day in the Life of a Houston Zoo Intern

This post was written by Annie Murchison.

rhinoHow many people can say they have shoveled giraffe AND rhino poop?  I, Annie Murchison, Public Relations intern at the Houston Zoo can now proudly cross that one off my bucket list. In order to better understand the inner workings of the zoo, I ventured outside of my usual office routine to shadow the hoofed stock team last Thursday.  Hoofed stock keepers care for mammals with hooves and include everything from rhinos to okapis to giraffes.

I grew up coming to the Houston Zoo for camp, field trips, and family fun.  My six-year-old self desperately wanted to be a zoo keeper, all the way up until the point where I realized that biology was not my strong suit. (However, I learned Thursday that one can work their way up to become a keeper with a psychology major and good amount of experience.) Thursday was essentially a childhood dream come true.

giraffeMy day started bright and early at 7 a.m. in the hoofed stock trailer for a team meeting before heading off to begin work. The team meets up every morning before the zoo opens to get their assignments and discuss goals for the day. I was assigned to team of keepers and their interns that looked after giraffes and rhinos for the morning. Our first stop was the rhino exhibit—we began with clearing yesterday’s hay from the exhibit, along with any poop. Once this was done, we spread out new bales of hay and scattered lettuce and carrots around the habitat for the rhinos to find. Heading back to the barn, I was able to get up close and personal with the zoo’s three white rhinos, watching keepers perform training exercises and weigh all three before moving them to their outside yard. The zoo’s rhinos weigh about 3,000 pounds each and still have a bit of growing to do. Adult male white rhinoceroses can weigh up to 5,000 pounds! Next we moved to giraffes. Like rhinos, our first duty was clearing the space of any poop from the outdoor yard and placing food around the habitat. Once that was done, we moved the giraffes outside and began to clean the poop that accumulated in the barn over the night—no easy task. To fully clean the barn we shoveled it out, hosed the barn down, and eventually power washed the floor, all of which took about three hours.

Unfortunately my day as a zookeeper at the zoo ended at noon, when I returned to my office for an entirely different kind of work. Thursday provided me with a behind-the-scenes look at, not only the animals that call the Houston Zoo home, but the keepers who go above and beyond to care for them. They do more than just clean the exhibit, feed, and care for the animals; they have a special bond with each animal and can recognize their individual personalities and daily moods.  Life as an animal (and intern) at the Houston Zoo is pretty awesome.

Making the Right “Call” for Chimpanzees and Gorillas

This post was written by Meredith Ross and Ashley Kramer.

gorillaDid you know that doing something as simple as recycling your cellphone here at the zoo can help save chimpanzees and gorillas in the wild? Join us on the weekend of July 18th and 19th from 10 AM – 3 PM to celebrate “Spotlight on Species: African Apes” to learn more about our great apes here at the zoo and how to help their wild counterparts.  During the event, you can exchange three cell phones or small electronic devices for a magnet painted by one of our great apes.  Just turn them in to the primate staff working the event at the Great Ape Gallery in our African Forest and receive your prize.

Charlie, our oldest chimpanzee, will be celebrating his 44th birthday with a Christmas in July theme.

On Saturday we will be wishing our chimpanzees Abe and Charlie a happy 42nd and 44th birthday with a Christmas in July themed party. On Sunday we will be throwing a 31st birthday extravaganza for one of our silverback gorillas, Chaka.There will be tons of fun activities for the whole family where you can learn how chimpanzees use tools, how to tell the difference between a monkey and an ape, and more! We will also have special feedings for our chimpanzees and gorillas all throughout the day.

Chaka will be celebrating his 31st birthday extravaganza during the Spotlight on Species: African Ape

Items will be for sale painted by our very own primates here at the zoo to benefit two amazing African ape sanctuaries, Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Sanctuary and GRACE.  We hope to see you all there! Go to www.gracegorillas.org and www.janegoodall.org/programs/tchimpounga-chimpanzee-rehabilitation-center to learn more about GRACE and Tchimpounga Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

Year of the Goat- Featuring Levi

This post was written by Amber Zelmer

In the Chinese Zodiac calendar, the ‘Year of the Goat’ is also known as the ‘Year of the Ram.’  A male sheep is also called a ram, so July’s “goat” of the month is actually a sheep!  Levi is our only resident sheep here in the Children’s Zoo, so we get a lot of guest questions about him.

Levi is a Jacob sheep, and he has not just two, but FOUR horns.  In fact, this breed of sheep can have up to SIX horns!  Jacob sheep are a piebald breed of sheep.  They are a popular breed in England, although their country of origin is thought to be Syria.  In the Book of Genesis, Jacob took every spotted or speckled sheep from his father-in-law’s flock and bred them.  Thus the Jacob sheep may be the earliest documented case of selective breeding, and their name is in honor of their original shepherd.


Like all sheep, Levi has wool instead of fur and does not shed his coat in the summer.  The keepers here shear Levi every summer to make him more comfortable in the warm Houston weather.  This year Levi lost nearly 4 lbs. of wool at his shearing!  Though many clothes can be made from wool, the keepers here use the wool as enrichment for the other animals around the zoo.  Our mongoose, kookaburra and skunk all enjoyed tossing the wool around or rolling in it.  Sometimes the Carnivore keepers will come over and get some of the wool to give to their animals to enjoy as well!


Not only is Levi a provider of entertainment for guests and other animals, he is also a part of our internship program at the Houston Zoo!  Levi knows several different behaviors such as turning in a circle, walking around a trainer, and even walking through weave poles!  Interns have the opportunity to learn his behaviors from the zookeepers so that they can work with Levi in their spare time.  In fact, Levi’s weave pole behavior was taught to him by a former intern!  Come visit Levi in the Children’s Zoo, and you may be able to see him working with one of our interns or part-time staff members to keep his skills sharp.

Spotlight on Species – Tyra, the Masai Giraffe

This post was written by Kendall Thawley.

Tyra with calf, Hasani
Tyra with calf, Hasani

Soon, The Houston Zoo will be celebrating World Giraffe Day with a Spotlight on Species for Giraffes. For just a moment, though, we’d like to shine the spotlight on one of our resident Masai giraffe, Tyra. Although her overall disposition is quite sweet and calm with her keepers, Tyra is wary of strangers and rarely seen eating at the Giraffe Feeding Platform, so many of our guests might not be as familiar with her as some of our other giraffe.  At 16 years old, Tyra is the oldest member of our giraffe herd, and has been an excellent mother to eight calves, five of which still live at The Houston Zoo. Oftentimes, when in the late stages of her pregnancies, she becomes very reluctant to leave the barn in the summer. She prefers the quiet, coolness of the barn to the heat of the outside. She also enjoys grabbing hold of small sticks and twirling them around in her mouth with her tongue and many of her offspring have picked up on the same habit. One of her sons, Jack, in particular can be seen doing this frequently throughout the days. Tyra was also the model for the large giraffe statue located directly across from the giraffe yard here at The Houston Zoo. It’s about eight feet tall, and perfect for taking photos with!

Windows Photo Viewer Wallpaper

Tyra and her family have a very important job to do here at The Houston Zoo. They are all ambassador animals for the wild giraffe populations in Africa. Worldwide, giraffe populations are plummeting. In just the past 17 years, the total number of giraffes on the planet has dropped over 40%. There are now less than 80,000 that remain. Habitat loss, poaching, and disease are claiming the lives of wild giraffe every day.  We cannot sit back and let these giants of the savannah slip quietly into extinction. On June 21st, 2015 The Houston Zoo will be holding a giraffe SOS. With it, we hope to bring awareness to the plight of wild giraffe and to do that we will have several giraffe-themed activities for people of all ages. We will also have some special and unique items for sale and all the proceeds will go towards the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, the only conservation institution focused primarily on researching and protecting giraffe in the wild. Come join us at The Houston Zoo on Sunday, June 21st and help us save giraffe!

Year of the Goat- Featuring Raisin Bran and Bailey

In honor of the Chinese animal zodiac, we’re celebrating the Year of the Goat! We have over 20 different goats representing 5 different breeds. In addition to their different colors, shapes, and sizes, all of our goats also express individual preferences and personalities!

To highlight our goats individual ‘flair’, we’ve decided to feature a different goat each month and share what makes each one so unique and lovable!


goats1Did you know that the astrological sign of Gemini presides over the majority of the month of June? The symbol for Gemini is a pair of twins, so we welcome the month of June with our first ever DOUBLE goat of the month! In past blogs it has been mentioned that goats very frequently give birth to twins so it was easy for keepers to find a pair of twins in the Contact Area; the challenge was choosing WHICH set of twins to highlight!  Keepers finally decided that the twins Raisin Bran and Bailey deserved some time in the spotlight.

goats2The first thing many guests may wonder is why is there a goat named Raisin Bran? Both Raisin Bran and Bailey were born on a farm and their former owner named them for us. Raisin Bran was originally named ‘Coffee’ because their owner used to enjoy her morning coffee while playing with the goat kids and he liked to jump in her lap. Coffee just didn’t seem to fit so she changed his name to Raisin Bran because his color reminded her of bran flakes. Bailey was given her name in honor of the owner’s sister’s horse.

goats3As kids, both Raisin Bran and Bailey had very different personalities. Raisin Bran was the cuddly one and Bailey was a bit more shy and standoffish. When they first came to the Houston Zoo, the twins continued this trend. As time went on, Bailey began to hang out with our adult female Saanen goat Elsa. Elsa is a confident goat and some of her confidence seems to have rubbed off on Bailey. Bailey will now come up to be brushed and petted by children just like her brother Raisin Bran does. If you would like to see more photos of the twins as kids you can visit their former owner’s blog at: http://farmfreshforensics.com/farm_blog/?y=2013&m=4.

There’s a New Member of the Gerenuk Herd

On April 30 the Hoofstock team at the Houston Zoo welcomed its newest member to our Gerenuk herd. Josie (a first time mom) delivered a healthy baby boy around mid-day. Forty-five minutes later, the calf was already on his feet and nursing. “Julius” is already showing his personality as a strong, spunky little calf who loves running.

Josie Gerenuk

Gerenuk are other worldly looking gazelles, known for their long skinny necks and legs. Actually, the term Gerenuk means “giraffe-necked” in the Somali language. Not only do they look different, they have a unique ability that sets them apart from any other antelope or gazelle species. Gerenuk gazelles are able to stand and balance themselves on their hind legs to reach the higher leaves that many other animals cannot reach. Gerenuk have been known to stand on their hind legs like this at only 2 weeks old. It shouldn’t be long until we will be seeing Julius do the same.

Josie with mom 2

Next time you come to the Houston Zoo, make sure you stop by to visit our Gerenuk family. And keep your eyes wide open. Julius often likes to nap in the grass when he isn’t playing.


Snaring is Not Only an Exotic Problem

Several times during the year, you can find Houston Zoo staff scouring the beaches of Galveston. All too often, trash, especially plastic products, is improperly disposed of and ends up in our waterways and the surrounding areas. What many people do not know is that these items can prove deadly to local wildlife. Plastics can take anywhere from 20 to over 600 years to decompose in the environment, and they can come into contact with countless organisms within that time.

sea turtleFish and other marine life can become entangled in leftover fishing line. Sea turtles can ingest plastic bags. Raccoons, turtles, and ducks can become stuck inside the loops of an uncut 6-pack ring. Once in the environment, plastic will remain until it is collected and disposed of properly. Houston Zoo staff assist with this by organizing beach and crab trap clean up days where employees, and often their family members, travel to Galveston and spend the day collecting trash and abandoned traps before they can become a hazard to our native wildlife.

painted dogAcross the globe, anti-poaching units in Zimbabwe are faced with a similar struggle. However, instead of a few days out of the year, this is a full time job for them. They travel through the bush, collecting snares left behind by poachers seeking game such as antelope.  Many animals, like lions and African painted dogs, fall prey to these traps. Without the anti-poaching units, these traps could be present in the environment for years. Since the Painted Dog Conservation’s anti-poaching unit’s inception in 2001, over 15,000 traps have been collected!


What can you do to help animals in the wild?

  • Just by coming to the zoo you are helping to save animals in the wild as a portion of every admission goes right back to conservation programs!
  • Recycle! Recycling items such as plastics can help keep them out of landfills and away from wildlife.
  • Reuse! Purchase reusable shopping bags to reduce the amount of waste that goes into making and disposing of plastic ones.  It also keeps plastic bags from ending up in our waters where it can be potentially consumed by animals like sea turtles.
  • Dispose! Properly dispose of items like monofilament (fishing) lines.  Many fishing areas have labeled bins for your convenience!

Want to learn more about African painted dogs and what the Houston Zoo is doing to help save them in the wild? Join us for our 3rd annual Dog Days of Summer celebration on June 5 and 6 from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.!

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