Sea Turtle Rescues in Christmas Bay

The following post was written by Justin, a local community member. Justin has a passion for sea turtles, and while he works full-time in the city, you can find him during his down time saving sea turtles all along the Texas Coast. On one of  his latest outings, Justin and his son Trenton came to the aid of almost a dozen sea turtles that had been cold-stunned. Since sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, they have to use the environment and sun to regulate their body temperature. If the water temperature drops too quickly and the turtles can’t get to warmer waters, their tiny bodies shut down and need help. Read about Justin’s adventure below: 

On December 5, 2017 a significant cold front hit our coast dropping water temperatures in Christmas Bay by more than 20 degrees in less than 72 hours. By mid-day of the 8th, the water had dipped below 50 degrees. As someone passionate about sea turtle conservation, I knew that we would likely have turtles cold-stunning so I pulled up to the south shore of the bay at 7:20AM on Saturday, 12/9. Before I even entered the water I could see a hypothermic turtle floating about 50 yards from shore. I approached the turtle and upon picking it up from the water was able to see it was alive. I loaded it into a decoy sled I had recently purchased for the purpose of rescuing turtles, and immediately called the sea turtle hotline at 1-866-TURTLE-5. I spoke to NOAA biologist, Lyndsey Howell, and notified her of the turtle and it’s condition. Since I had found one so quickly, we agreed that I would continue searching for turtles and keep her updated as I went. Immediately upon getting off of the phone, I could see another turtle floating to my east. By the time I arrived at turtle #2, I could see a 3rd…

By 8:00AM I had 3 live, hypothermic sea turtles in my sled. At 8:30, I was up to 6. By 9:00AM I had a 7th and #8 was within sight in a pocket of Drum Bay. Through this time I had continued to communicate with Lyndsey, and as my sled was quickly filling with turtles, she was heading my way. After a 30 minute ‘trek’ through 18 inches of water and thigh-deep mud, I was able to secure turtle #8. After the mud and pulling a sled full of turtles across the marsh to get back into Christmas Bay proper, I took a much needed break on the bank and let Lyndsey know I would be headed back toward my truck.

As she pulled up, I picked up my 9th turtle of the morning in nearly the same spot I had gotten the first.

After the turtles were safely at the Sea Turtle Facility in Galveston, I had other commitments for the afternoon but was back in the bay the following morning with my son, Trenton. After an hour and a half of looking we found another turtle, this one quite large at nearly 50 pounds, and it was alive. We again called the hotline and spoke to Lyndsey letting her know. After spending another hour looking and having not found any more, our turtle was transported to the facility in Galveston for recovery.

Every experience I have with sea turtles leaves its mark on me, but being able to rescue 10 in two days and share part of that experience with my son, was amazing. When the water temps drop again, I plan on being back out there in my waders and with my sled in hopes of getting to more in time to save them. I will never be able to thank Lyndsey and the team in Galveston at NOAA enough for the work they do on a daily basis to rescue, rehabilitate, and ultimately release these beautiful animals back into the wild.

If temperatures drop quickly in our area, please be on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles in the bay. If you find one, please report it immediately by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.


Searching for Reptiles and Amphibians in India: Day 4

This blog was written by Chris Bednarski, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department. Chris received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for reptiles and amphibians in the Western Ghats region of India. We will be posting a series of blogs as Chris documents his work overseas.  

Chris’s goal is to survey within a section of land purchased by the Tillari Biodiversity Research Trust and document what species are present, as well as discover new species and note their home ranges. These findings will help to strengthen the need to protect this land, and by protecting this land, we save species in the wild!

Day 4:

So today we got to visit a property we have never had access to, which I was very excited about.  A friend of a friend we stopped to get chai from told us he knew someone that wanted us to come to his property and tell him what kind of animals he had running around.  Our chai friend assured us his buddy was a good guy and had heard about our project.  Regardless to whether we found a bunch of animals on this property or not this was an important day for us.  Much like the Houston Zoo does for the Houston toad, we want to work on land owner agreements.  What we would like is to have a 33-year lease on the property, with the land owner agreeing to not destroy any more land and to not use any harmful pesticides.

We arrived at our new friend’s house, and in true Indian fashion we quickly sat down for a nice conversation and chai.   After this, he took us around his banana and pineapple groves, eventually leading us to the untouched portion of the property.   He told us about all of the snakes he has seen here including what he believes to be a king cobra.  On our tour we noted a few species of frog that do fairly well in disturbed areas, like the Indian tree frog (Polypedates maculatus).  We found an adorable 3 inch long Roux’s forest lizard (Calotes rouxii) hanging out on a leaf and one Travancore wolf snake (Lycodon travancoricus).  This certainly wasn’t one of our more productive nights as far as a species list goes, but we did make a new friend and a possible property to add to our conservation agreement!  This is one huge step to conserving the land and the species that use it!

Searching for Reptiles and Amphibians in India: Day 3

This blog was written by Chris Bednarski, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department. Chris received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for reptiles and amphibians in the Western Ghats region of India. We will be posting a series of blogs as Chris documents his work overseas.  

Chris’s goal is to survey within a section of land purchased by the Tillari Biodiversity Research Trust and document what species are present, as well as discover new species and note their home ranges. These findings will help to strengthen the need to protect this land, and by protecting this land, we save species in the wild!

Day 3:

Tonight we headed into one of our sites that we have surveyed pretty heavily over the last couple years.  During the monsoon season, we find many species of frogs along this path – there is a large stone wall covered in geckos and usually a few lizard eating species of snake as well. But the monsoon has passed now and it hasn’t rained here in some time.  This is an important time for us to survey because now we get to document what species are active in the drier part of the year.  We can see that a lot of the grasses and smaller shrubby plants have started to dry out and turn brown.   We noted quite a few leaf eating insects getting their last meals in for the year.  One of my favorites is a katydid that looks like it flew 100 mph into a brick wall and wound up with a flat face.  During the earlier part of the dry season, we have seen that the bush frogs (Pseudophilautus) are still around in decent numbers but they are not calling for mates – we assume they are fattening up for the cooler weather coming.  We encountered several forest lizards (Calotes sp.), both males and females, sleeping soundly on the thin ends of branches.  They choose these seemingly uncomfortable limbs for a good reason!  If any snake or bird land on the tree they are on, the branch will move and wake them up in enough time that they can hopefully escape.  On the large stone wall we found a massive species called a Bombay leaf toed gecko (Hemidactylus prashadi).  Over all we had a slower night than usual, but still noted some cool stuff!

Searching for Reptiles and Amphibians in India: Day 2

This blog was written by Chris Bednarski, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department. Chris received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for reptiles and amphibians in the Western Ghats region of India. We will be posting a series of blogs as Chris documents his work overseas.  

Chris’s goal is to survey within a section of land purchased by the Tillari Biodiversity Research Trust and document what species are present, as well as discover new species and note their home ranges. These findings will help to strengthen the need to protect this land, and by protecting this land, we save species in the wild!

Day 2: Cave stream survey

Today we started our surveys around 1:00pm.  Most reptiles and amphibians are not to active during the days in this area but we know of a hidden gem… a cave stream! The land my team has been surveying is a small piece of the Western Ghats that has never been formally surveyed, that being said, the possibilities of finding new species, rare species and documenting range extensions are endless!  Documenting our findings can play a huge role in conserving this beautiful habitat.  That’s what this is all about and what we are all about; conserving the land to conserve and protect the species we are so passionate about. After a short hike over some rocky hills then back down, we enter the mouth of the cave.  For safety’s sake, we only explore the first 100 meters or so inside the cave.  Along this stream we found an adult wolf snake (Lycodon travancoricus), many night frogs (Nyctibatrachus sp.), gigantic Indian bullfrogs (Hoplobatrachus sp.), cave crabs, vinegaroons and cave crickets.  Outside of the cave more Indian cricket frogs (Minervarya sp.) and a ton of spiders.  We also noted hoof prints and mud wallows of an Indian bison called a gaur (Bos gaurus). Not bad for a day time survey in this part of India!

Time for some samosas, chai and data logging.

Searching for Reptiles and Amphibians in India: Day 1

Here at the zoo we have over 420 staff members working hard to save wildlife, but our jobs as conservationists don’t end when we leave the zoo for the day. We all want to go above and beyond to do everything we can to save wildlife, and our unique program called the Staff Conservation Fund allows us to do just that! The Staff Conservation Fund was created as a way for staff to participate in wildlife-saving efforts around the globe. Each year, zoo employees can donate a portion of their hard-earned wages to the fund. This fund is then used to provide support to staff members who successfully create or enhance a conservation project and apply for funding to bring the project to life. To date, this fund has made it possible for 63 staff members to carry out 43 projects in 14 countries around the world!

One of the latest projects is being carried out in the northern Western Ghats region of India by Chris Bednarski, a senior keeper in the herpetology department. The Western Ghats is home to one-third of the plants, almost half of the reptiles, and more than three-fourths of the amphibians known in India. Unfortunately, this strip of rainforest is disappearing at an alarming rate due to logging and conversion for agricultural uses. In 2013, the Tillari Biodiversity Research Trust purchased 3500 acres in this region and began implementing several conservation initiatives. Chris’s goal is to survey within this section of land and document what species are present, as well as discover new species and note their home ranges. These findings will help to strengthen the need to protect this land, and by protecting this land, we save species in the wild! Chris has been documenting his trip, and sent us this journal entry to share with all of you about his first day in the field:

“After 22 hours of flights, a quick nap and several cups of chai my team and I were headed to our first survey zone.  It’s a beautiful plot of primary and secondary forest surrounded by several rice fields and pineapple farms.  It is a “sacred forest” that the local villagers have set up shrines and a small temple.  No plants or animals can be removed or harmed within this forest which makes this area so important for us to survey.  Over the years we have documented over 20 species of reptile and amphibian, too many birds to count, leopards, tigers, elephants and amazing invertebrates on this property.   

This is our first survey post monsoon this year and we had high hopes.  Past years have produced well for us and this trip was not a disappointment.  Our searching began at around 6:30pm as the sun was setting and we wrapped up around midnight.  We walked forest paths, streams, and around the temples.  In the lower branches of the trees we documented a critically endangered species of bush frog (Psuedophilatus sp.), in the streams an endangered species of Indian cricket frog (Minervarya sp.), and along the temple walls a plethora of Brook’s geckos (Hemidactylus brookii).  Many other species were found but these were the high lights for sure! 

Time to get all our data logged into our computers and get ready for the next day of surveys!”  

Tackling Plastics Pollution on the Texas City Dike

If you live in the Houston/Galveston area, chances are you have either made a trip to the coast to go fishing, or have friends and family that do. Here at the zoo, many of our own staff enjoy fishing too, and want to make sure that we keep our oceans and beaches clean so we can all enjoy this pastime for years to come! The Houston/Galveston region has several plastic pollution groups that make up the P3 Partnership. Through this partnership, the idea came about to get a number of organizations to team up and identify some of the major threats that plastics pollution poses to our local coastal birds and marine wildlife. This group, made up of members from the Audubon Texas Coastal Program, Galveston Bay Area Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, Houston Zoo, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality -Galveston Bay Estuary Program identified discarded fishing line as one of the biggest threats to wildlife like pelicans and sea turtles.

As a group, we felt confident that discarded fishing line was a problem along the Texas coast, but how could we know for sure? You certainly don’t want to work on finding solutions to a problem without knowing if that problem actually exists…so what do you do next? You identify an area to explore and search for evidence! The Texas City Dike (TCD) was selected as the area the group wanted to work in because of its reputation as a prime, year-round fishing spot. Once this study area was chosen, the group decided that the next step would be to take a trip to the dike, and collect discarded fishing line from specific locations along the dike to see just how much line was present. This collection of line took place on December 4th, and Sophie, one of our sea lion staff members, gave this account of her experience:

Over the last three years, the sea lion team has been focusing on the monofilament reduction efforts and cleanups at the Surfside Jetty, and I am so excited to now be a part of our first campaign to reduce the presence of fishing line at the Texas City Dike. Over the three hours that we spent at the Texas City Dike, I noticed a few things different at the dike than what I typically see at the Surfside jetty. The first thing was the lower presence of general litter. When walking the jetty, I typically find lots of beer cans, plastic bags, bait bags, cigarette butts, etc.. It may be the fact that I focused only on a few hundred square feet at TCD, but the presence of these larger waste items was lower. However, we could sit ourselves down in one spot and stay occupied within arm’s reach as we collected all the pieces of line; short, long, monofilament plastic, string, entangled in plant life… the list goes on. It seemed that the nature of the TCD (more natural ground, dirt and grass vs. the cement of the jetty) lends itself to accumulating more line itself, and offers more possibilities of the pieces of line to get tangled instead of just blowing into the surrounding waters. We ended up collecting close to as much line in a hundred square feet as we do on the entire surfside jetty, and in less time.

As we move forward with this project, the next step is to talk to the anglers and find out what the barriers are that stand in the way of containing their fishing line, and ultimately recycling it. I find myself wondering if the anglers at the TCD will say the same thing as the anglers at Surfside, or is there a difference that adds to this seemingly higher presence of line at the TCD? The line at the TCD was also far less encumbered by the man made debris that we normally find it weighed down by at Surfside; weights, hooks, litter… the most common entanglement we found during our TCD survey was line wrapped up in some plant life, possibly some with a few small weights and hooks. Why this difference? As we move through this campaign, and hopefully replicate it at the Surfside jetty, I hope to find these answers and continue to get closer to the successful prevention of monofilament entering our marine environments.

Thanks to an amazing team of volunteers, we were able to collect a total of 21.9 pounds of fishing line at the Texas City Dike on December 4th. Stay tuned for more updates coming in 2018!

Elephant Population Increases on Island of Borneo

Our wildlife protection partners in Borneo have recently announced that the population of elephants has doubled over the past 10 years! Thanks to your visit to the Houston Zoo, we are able to send vital support to protect elephants in Borneo. We are extremely fortunate to have members of our extended zoo family working in Asia to ensure the survival of Bornean elephants. The Kinabatangan Elephant Conservation Unit (ECU) works with local communities in Borneo to raise awareness, improve human-wildlife relationships, and give farmers the tools and training they need for elephant-friendly crop protection. The Danau Girang Field Centre is conducting the first population biology study of the Bornean elephant, and as a part of this effort, the zoo is able to provide funding for: radio collars, camera traps, and graduate student scholarships.

Here at home we continue to promote these partnerships at our McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, giving our Houston community the opportunity to learn about our herd of elephants at the zoo, and their wild counterparts. To learn more about our partnerships and how you can help Bornean elephants on and off zoo grounds click here.


Mountain Gorilla Population on the Rise

The Houston Zoo loves its’ troop of gorillas, and we do everything we can to protect gorillas in the wild.

The critically endangered mountain gorilla can be found in three countries; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.  These gorillas have adapted to living higher up in the mountains and despite pressures from poaching, habitat loss, and disease, our wildlife partners in Africa have seen an increase in the mountain gorilla population over the last several years, thanks to dedicated protection efforts!

Here at the Houston Zoo we are proud to support a number of organizations that work tirelessly to protect mountain gorillas in the wild. 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. Gorilla Doctors, an organization comprised of an international team of veterinarians, is the only group providing mountain gorillas and Grauer’s gorillas with direct, hands-on care in the wild. In addition to monitoring gorilla health and providing medical care, the veterinary team further protects gorillas by supporting health programs for people and their animals living and working in and around gorilla habitat. GRACE (Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center) provides care for rescued Grauer’s gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo and works alongside local communities to ensure gorilla survival in the wild. Facilities like GRACE are essential to this endangered species’ survival, and zoo staff is able to aid field researchers in meeting husbandry and management challenges for rescued gorillas housed at GRACE. The Houston Zoo acts as a resource to secure funding for these incredible programs, as well as offering training for project staff.

Each time you visit the zoo, you are helping to support these programs and protect gorillas in the wild! And remember, you can help to save gorilla habitat by recycling your cell phone and other handheld electronics during your next visit! These electronic devices contain a material called tantalum that is mined in areas where gorillas live – if we reuse and recycle these items, we can decrease the amount of mining that takes place in these vital habitats.

Wildlife Warrior Award Winner Visits Uganda

Our admissions’ team raises funds to help save animals in the wild through the sales of colorful wildlife bracelets guests can buy at the entrance to the Zoo.  In 2015, the Zoo established this conservation hero award program called Wildlife Warriors to use the bracelet funds to recognize and enhance the outstanding staff employed by the Zoo’s existing conservation partners. The program has awarded 15 Wildlife Warriors to date from our conservation projects in developing countries. All of the warriors honored were carefully chosen by the Zoo’s admissions’ team. The award is designed to increase the recipient’s conservation community network and inspire empowerment by providing opportunities to gain further education through training or experiences.

Valerie Akuredusenge, Program Director of Conservation Heritage-Turambe was selected as a Wildlife Warrior in 2016. Just last month she completed her training with a conservation education program in nearby Uganda called UNITE. Below is an account of Valerie’s training, in her own words:

To wrap up my story telling about my time with Unite, I am happy to share about my experience and what I took back from my visit.

During my visit with UNITE for the Environment,  I was able to learn about their conservation programs namely Teacher Training and Evaluation by observing teachers while they are teaching in the classroom to assess teaching methods, quality of content used, and whether or not they are integrating environmental education into their teaching.  In addition, I was also given the opportunity to visit two partner schools of UNITE.

What I took back from UNITE to CHT:

What I took back from the UNITE’s Teacher Training is that their approach helps in terms of sharing conservation messages to a wider audience  and one can expand upon the program to more areas. As far as CHT builds up its teacher training through annual open day, my experience with UNITE will significantly contribute in terms of strengthening and improving our existing program.

As far as the UNITE’s evaluation is concerned, I had time to also observe teachers while they were teaching.  By connecting my experience from Teacher training and that of teacher observation, I could really tell that the teachers were integrating environmental education in their teaching. This is another approach that CHT will try to see if it applies by collaborating with its partner schools and education officers.

By also visiting UNITE’s partner schools, I learned about what communities and schools are doing in terms of environmental conservation.

In short; I deeply thank the Houston Zoo and its Admission Team for having selected me as one of their wildlife warrior winners in 2016. I would also like to express my sincere thanks to the North Carolina Zoo for their wonderful program, UNITE for the Environment. Corrine Kendall finds my sincere thanks here as well for playing an important role while putting me in touch with UNITE. Additionally, I would however request a continuous collaboration between CHT and UNITE so we can keep on exchanging programs and learning from each other.

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles See Nesting Boom

The Houston Zoo is proud to be part of sea turtle protection efforts in our state. Thanks to a dedicated group of organizations and individuals, we are thrilled to announce that Texas and Mexico saw nearly 27,000 Kemp’s ridley nests on our beaches. This is a 35% increase in nests from 2016, which is a great sign for this local species!

Since 2010, the Houston Zoo has treated over 400 sea turtles in our veterinary clinic, many of which are Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Once treated, these sea turtles are brought to the NOAA sea turtle barn in Galveston where they are cared for before being released into the ocean.  Our team has also aided in the construction of monofilament (fishing line) recycling bins which provide a location to recycle your fishing line, rather than leave it on the ground, potentially entangling wildlife like sea turtles. Zoo staff also participates in weekly sea turtle surveys to look for stranded or nesting sea turtles, and monthly jetty clean-ups aimed at reducing the amount of trash that ends up in sea turtle habitat.

Last year 25,000 copies of the Houston Zoo Saving Wildlife, Sea Turtle Edition comic book were distributed throughout our community to increase knowledge about our local sea turtle species and the threats they face. As a result of our community’s dedication to saving wildlife, nearly 2,000 Houston Zoo guests pledged to go plastic bag free, keeping plastic out of the ocean that sea turtles may mistake for food.

Your visit to see sea turtles rehabilitating in our Kipp Aquarium helps protect sea turtles in the wild! To learn how you can join the Zoo and fellow Houstonians on their journey to reduce plastic waste and protect marine wildlife click here.

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If you're headed out to Bayou Greenway Day tomorrow, stop by our Zoomobile and say hello! We'd love to see your smiling face and talk to you about wildlife and how you can save animals in the wild.

Bayou Greenway DayMarch 24, 2018, 11:00amTidwell ParkBayou Greenway Day will be full of family-friendly activities, games, live music, FREE food and more. Get to know Halls Bayou Greenway and explore all the fun outdoor activities you can enjoy there.


🏈⚽️ Sports activities with the @[51931216313:274:Houston Texans] and @[20105631149:274:Houston Dynamo]! Mascots, cheerleaders, coaching drills, enthusiasm, and fun for the whole family.

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⚾️First 3,000 attendees will receive a FREE @[91703305430:274:Houston Astros] cap!

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🍭🐇 Easter egg hunt at 2 p.m.

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Today, we took snakes (and our snake expert!) over to the Houston Chronicle to talk about why these amazing animals are awesome. Check it out! from the Houston Chronicle
Today our friends from the Houston Zoo are at the Houston Chronicle to show us a few of the snakes from their collection and to answer some of your snake-related questions. As the weather warms up many Texans will be seeing more snakes in the wild and they have some tips on safety around them.

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