Saving Orangutans, One Bridge at a Time

While people around the world celebrated orangutan day this past Sunday, we took the opportunity to reflect on the work our partners at Hutan Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP) have done, and continue to do, in order to save one of the world’s most endangered apes from extinction. KOCP’s primary focus is to study orangutans in Borneo, which is home to some of the last remaining native habitat for wild orangutans. With over 50 highly trained staff, their work includes: assessing and monitoring orangutan population health, studying how orangutans adapt to living within degraded or fragmented forest patches, developing policies for population management within and outside of protected areas, and promoting community engagement and education in the conservation of orangutans and habitat, including environmental education programs for Malaysian school children. Just last year, environmental education programs reached 12,370 students and 914 teachers!

A focus on education is a must, but equally as important is coming up with creative solutions to keep orangutan populations happy and healthy while work is done to create protected areas and replant vital habitat. Logging to make room for palm oil plantations has made it almost impossible for orangutans to find tall old growth trees which they need in order to cross rivers and tributaries that divide sections of their habitat. If orangutans cannot move freely within their home range, they lose access to vital resources, and lack the ability to mate with other orangutans which leads to a decrease in genetic diversity. A lack in genetic diversity can have disastrous effects on a species whose numbers are already declining. So, our friends at KOCP had to figure out a system that would allow orangutans to navigate terrain easily, without having to rely on old growth trees. The answer, as it turns out, actually came from within the zoo world in the form of artificial bridges! Bridges made out of various materials like rope are used by orangutans in Zoos as a form of enrichment, and as a way to navigate their enclosure. You can see an example of one of these bridges here at the Houston Zoo when you visit our orangutans! In 2003, KOCP established the first orangutan bridge in the wild, and in 2010, after many years of waiting, they finally obtained camera footage of an orangutan using the bridge. The rest, as they say, is history. Last year, with support from the Houston Zoo, KOCP was able to refurbish 2 orangutan bridges, ensuring that orangutans will be able to continue to move freely across forest patches.

 

Of course, artificial bridges are only a short-term solution. Ideally, forest patches will be restored through replanting efforts and the cooperation of government and non-governmental organizations, as well as players within the palm oil industry. It will be a long process, but the hope is that one day artificial bridges will no longer be needed.  Texans can help save orangutans in the wild by shopping smart, and only buying from companies that support sustainable palm oil practices, and by visiting the Houston Zoo! A portion of every ticket to the Houston Zoo goes to help save animals like orangutans in the wild.

 

Saving Endangered Primates: How YOU are Helping the Cotton-top Tamarin

With their outrageous hairdos, there’s no question that in the primate kingdom the cotton-top tamarins are punk rock royalty. If you need more proof, just check out their scientific name Saguinus oedipus…it doesn’t get more hard core than that! If you’ve had a chance to visit these guys on a past visit to the Zoo, you’ll know that despite their large personalities they’re actually quite small – if it weren’t for their hair, you might mistake them for a squirrel. So how is it that such a small primate has earned itself a large enough reputation to have August 15th declared as Day of the Cotton-Top Tamarin?

Because they need our help. Cotton-top tamarins are one of the most endangered primates in the world due to deforestation and the pet trade. Luckily, our partners at Proyecto Tití in Colombia are working hard to make sure that this unique species can thrive in the wild for years to come. Proyecto Tití is committed to working with local communities to develop economic alternatives that assist in the protection of Colombia’s natural environment.  Some of their strategies to achieve this goal are as unique as the tamarin itself. Local women learn how to transform discarded plastic bags into colorfully designed, hand-knit mochilas (tote bags), which are then sold in an effort to support the community that is protecting cotton-top tamarins. Discarded plastic is also recycled and used to create fence posts farmers can use on their property. These fence posts last longer than wooden posts, and they reduce the need for wood to be harvested from the forests. More trees = more habitat for the tamarins!

There are plenty of reasons to love cotton-top tamarins, and as a result many end up in the illegal pet trade, eventually winding up in people’s homes. In many Colombian communities there is no distinction made between domestic and exotic wildlife, and many individuals do not understand how keeping a primate as a pet can be extremely harmful to the survival of the species. In 2017, the Houston Zoo supported 1,800 students that live around wild cotton-tops in Colombia to participate in education programs that focused on reducing the desire to keep cotton-top tamarins as pets. Students got to visit the forest and see cotton-top tamarins in their natural habitat. Proyecto Tití is working to reduce the number of native wildlife that are kept as pets in rural communities by encouraging families to adopt dogs and cats instead of cotton-top tamarins! By offering veterinary care and training classes, the team is helping communities bond with domestic animals reducing their desire to have wildlife as pets.

Our partners know better than anyone that there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to saving wildlife, and saving a unique species often requires unique solutions. We are inspired by the creative minds that are hard at work protecting the cotton-top tamarin, and thankful to each and every one of you that help save this species by purchasing a ticket to the Zoo.

Malagasy Student at Rice University is Saving Lemurs in the Wild

From left: Houston Zoo Senior Director of Wildlife Conservation, Hasinala Ramangason, Rice University Professor Dr. Amy Dunham, and Houston Zoo Director of Madagascar Programs Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy

The Houston Zoo seeks opportunities to support current and future conservation leaders locally and around the world.  In doing so, we can help to ensure that the future is filled with leaders ready to save animals from extinction. Rice University has been working in Madagascar for many years now and several years ago we discovered our Madagascar conservation efforts aligned.  In 2018, we provided a fellowship for a Malagasy student to attend Rice University. Here is his story:  

Hello Everyone! My name is Hasinala and I am a visiting scholar at Rice University and Houston Zoo Conservation Fellow. I recently received my Masters degree in Biodiversity, Ecology and Evolution from my home university in France.  I am originally from Madagascar, but moved to France in 2011, right after I graduated from high school in order to further my education. Despite my move to France several years ago, growing up in Madagascar, the world’s most biodiverse island, has definitely influenced my career goals and research interests. While I spent most my academic career in France, I have always been focused on returning to Madagascar. This is why I have done most of my research in Madagascar, studying their most iconic animals – the lemurs!

Choosing your advisor and where you are going to conduct your research for your Master’s thesis is of crucial importance as it will influence, to a certain extent, your future endeavors and what type of research you specialize in. I first heard about Dr. Amy Dunham, my advisor at Rice, a couple of years ago, when I met one of her former Malagasy PhD students, Onja Razafindratsima, in a research station in Madagascar. A year ago, when I first started to look for a research team to host me, Dr. Dunham was the first person I contacted among a list of +20 researchers, but lack of funding made it impossible for us to work together. While disappointing, I continued on my quest, and after several months I finally secured an internship with another research team conducting work in Madagascar. I couldn’t wait to get to work, but unfortunately nature had other plans. A plague outbreak started in Madagascar, causing the research team to postpone their trip, and once again I found myself without an internship. I desperately contacted Onja Razafindratsima, looking for labs that would host me. She suggested that I reach out to Dr. Dunham again and take another shot at collaborating with one another. A few weeks later, and against all odds, Dr. Dunham had managed to secure a fellowship for me working with her at Rice University thanks to the generosity of the Houston Zoo. The next thing I knew, I was at Rice University conducting research on seed dispersal by birds and lemurs and racing against time to wrap up my thesis. This has been, by far, the most exciting internship I’ve ever had! The main outcome of this research project has been to show that birds and lemurs, through seed dispersal, are crucial for the regeneration of forest gaps that were created by major cyclones in Madagascar. With climate change, it is expected that cyclone will be more frequent and more intense. This will cause more damage to tropical forests, and consequently there will be even more reliance on birds and lemurs to regenerate forests.

This research project has really ignited my interest for research in tropical ecology and conservation, and I am truly grateful to the Houston Zoo for making this possible. My next step ideally would be enrolling as a PhD student within the same research lab, but as you may have guessed, funding a PhD is a whole other ball game!

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

Over the past week, lucky Zoo goers may have had the pleasure of running into Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy, Houston Zoo’s Director of Madagascar Programs and one of the founding members of GERP, an organization saving lemurs in the wild. Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo, one of the Zoo’s research sites in Madagascar, are found only in Madagascar, including eight species of lemurs such as the black and white ruffed lemur, brown mouse lemur, eastern and lesser wooly lemurs, and one of the most critically endangered lemurs on the island, the James’ sportive lemur. There are small mammals such as tenrecs, falanouc (a cool mongoose like mammal), fossa and ring-tailed mongoose as well as nearly 60 species of birds and reptiles and amphibians such as geckos, mantella’s, Madagascar crocodiles and many others. In the past few years, Jonah and the team at GERP have discovered two new species of mouse lemurs – they continue to work tirelessly in order to save each and every one of these species from extinction.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Jonah has discovered several new species of lemurs in the wild over the past few years. He is working hard at saving all lemurs from extinction.  Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo, one of the Zoo’s research sites in Madagascar, are found only in Madagascar, including seven species of lemurs such as the black and white ruffed lemur, brown mouse lemur, eastern and lesser wooly lemurs, and one of the most critically endangered lemurs on the island, the James’ sportive lemur. There are small mammals such as tenrecs, falanouc (a cool mongoose like mammal), fossa and ring-tailed mongoose as well as nearly 60 species of birds and reptiles and amphibians such as geckos, mantella’s, Madagascar crocodiles and many others.

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

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

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

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

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

Helping Communities to Help Gorillas in Rwanda

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

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

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

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

 

Updates from the Wild: Saving Lemurs in Madagascar, Part 3

The Houston Zoo loves its lemurs and has worked in Madagascar with a lemur saving organization called GERP for a number of years. Peter Riger, VP of Conservation and Education at the Houston Zoo is currently in Madagascar and working with our Director of Madagascar Programs, Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy to visit lemur protecting project sites and discuss how to enhance the wildlife saving work in the country. The latest updates from Peter’s trip are below! 

Maromizaha Community Forest

The forest of Maromizaha or the “dragon forest” is a moist evergreen forest of medium altitude spanning an area of 11 square miles of Madagascar’s eastern facade formed by a chain of hills separated by narrow valleys.  The mammals of Maromizaha seem rather peculiar compared to other nearby forests. Over thirty species of mammals are present , including tenrecs, rodents, shrews, small carnivores, bats, and 13 species of lemurs. Three of the area’s lemur species; indri – the world’s largest lemur, diademed sifaka and, black-and-white ruffed lemur, are critically endangered. A recent study of insects made it possible to learn the presence of more than 800 species of moths and 400 species of beetles including something known as the giraffe weevil. Over 80 species of birds as well as nearly 80 species of reptiles and amphibians are native to the forest here.

The program in Maromizaha, which sits a few hours north of the capital by car on Madagascar’s ever-winding roads, is a few years ahead of the Manombo site and is a protected area. Similar programs such as tree nurseries, reforestation, and livestock programs including a growing rabbit breeding program and a new domestic pig program are in full swing at Maromizaha. The Houston Zoo, thanks to our supporters at the Tapeats Fund, has facilitated medical and dental consultation visits to this community since 2017, and there is a new guide and eco-tour program in place to help create revenue for the local communities. Many of these villages rely on subsistence farming, so any additional income goes along way and it all ties back to supporting communities who are supporting the protection of wildlife and their rainforest homes.

Winding Down and Gearing Up

The term rainforest seems to imply hot, humid, and wet. However, this time of year it is actually winter in Madagascar. The temperature is certainly cooler than Houston right now, but things are just as wet! Village roads are unpaved, which means muddy cars, muddy shoes, and despite my attempts to stay clean, muddy feet. Regardless, day to day life goes on, and for us it is a review of the ecotour guide program which means a 3 hour trek up the hills to look for the islands largest living lemur – the Indri, whose haunting calls can be heard as we wake to start the day. We are also on the lookout for Diademed Sifaka, Ruffed lemur and Bamboo lemur. Personally, my eyes are on the ground to help ensure I don’t slide off the thin, muddy, slippery trail and slide down the hill.

Three long hours later, there they were – the Indri. The researchers here monitor 11 separate social groups of Indri. Their work reminds me very much of our friends in Rwanda who track an bring visitors to see individual groups of mountain gorillas. We spent a few minutes watching them sit quietly in the trees eating their “breakfast” and then we moved back down he trail catching glimpses of red-ruffed lemur, sifaka, and bamboo lemurs in between the misty rain.

Madagascar is an amazing island with an unfortunate environmental past. Today, only a fraction of the native rainforest remains, but among it lives hundreds of plant and tree species, over 100 species of lemurs and a dizzying array of reptiles, amphibians, birds and invertebrates. This fragile land is prone to erosion, and seasonal cyclones, but it is an island whose biodiversity can be saved with the help of local communities. With every visit to the Houston Zoo, a portion of your admission goes towards saving animals in the wild. With your help, we are working with partners in Madagascar on a more sustainable future for wildlife.

Back in Houston, we will turn all the information from this visit into a working plan to create more community based conservation programs.

Updates from the Wild: Saving Lemurs in Madagascar, Part 2

The Houston Zoo loves its lemurs and has worked in Madagascar with a lemur saving organization called GERP for a number of years. Peter Riger, VP of Conservation and Education at the Houston Zoo is currently in Madagascar and working with our Director of Madagascar Programs, Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy to visit lemur protecting project sites and discuss how to enhance the wildlife saving work in the country. The latest updates from Peter’s trip are below! 

Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo are found only in Madagascar, including seven species of lemurs such as the black and white ruffed lemur.

What happened to days 2, 3 and 4? Madagascar happened, that’s what. Even if I ignore the two 12 hour flights and short layover in between, heading out from the capital of Antananarivo (“Tana”) with our partners at GERP to the village of Manombo in the south is close to a 18 hour drive. Not a bad drive, just a very long drive on a main road through small villages and communities.

Now at Manombo, we spent a few days visiting all the community activities that occur in order to create development activities for the villagers as part of the partnership to live more sustainably around the Reserve, and in turn, help save animals in the wild.

Four times a year, we sponsor a doctor and small team of nurses and nurse assistants to come to the village.

Some of those activities are similar to what you have seen in our other programs:

  • Beekeeping, which creates a secondary source of income for the beekeeper families in the community an, item that is heavily sought after in the region but difficult to find. One successful family can generate over 5 gallons of honey a year!
  • Basket weaving and sewing. The Women’s Association here creates and then sells baskets, mats, and other crafts in the local markets
  • Wildlife monitoring in the Manombo Special Reserve. A team of conservation biologist assistants monitors lemurs and other wildlife, as well as tree species, throughout the year. This includes the critically endangered James’ sportive lemur which is found nowhere else on the island
  • Tree Nursery and Reforestation program. Over 20 staff from Manombo maintain a tree nursery and the local community volunteers their time to plant these trees throughout the year. In 2017, 55,000 trees were planted!
  • Medical visits: it is difficult for these communities to get health care as they are over 10 miles from the nearest large town, and many cannot afford hospital or doctor visits. Four times a year, we sponsor a doctor and small team of nurses and nurse assistants to come to the village. This past Monday, the medical team spent seven hours treating over 150 patients, including administering measles vaccines for young children, flu vaccines, antibiotics for common illnesses, preforming pregnancy check ups, and  dispensing vitamins for potential malnutrition related issues. Both the care and medications are free of charge as part of this partnership.
Ranomafana National Park is one of the next stops on Peter’s trip!

After a few meetings with Ministry of Environment and regional authorities on future plans for the Manombo Special Reserve, we are heading back north with a quick stop at Ranomafana National Park and Centre ValBio, a world class research center here in Madagascar. Stay tuned for more updates when we get to our next project site at the Maromizaha Community Protected Area.

We are Saving Lemurs in Madagascar

The Houston Zoo loves its lemurs and has worked in Madagascar with a lemur saving organization called GERP for a number of years. GERP is a project run entirely by local Madagascar staff. The project aims to protect lemurs and other wildlife through research as well as address illegal export and poaching threats to lemurs by ensuring the enforcement of local wildlife protection laws. Peter Riger, VP of Conservation and Education at the Houston Zoo is currently in Madagascar and working with our Director of Madagascar Programs, Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy to visit lemur protecting project sites and discuss how to enhance the wildlife saving work in the country.

Peter arrived in Madagascar Thursday after 24+ hours of flying. This initial trek was followed by a 12-14 hour drive to Manombo, one of the two primary conservation sites the Zoo has supported with GERP. Situated in the southeastern part of Madagascar,  the Manombo Special Reserve was created in 1962. This 32sq. mile area is made up of lowland rainforest and marshlands which in part have been turned into rice paddies for local agriculture. Over 90% of the wildlife and plant life found in Manombo are found only in Madagascar, including seven species of lemurs such as the black and white ruffed lemur, brown mouse lemur, eastern and lesser wooly lemurs, and one of the most critically endangered lemurs on the island, the James’ sportive lemur. There are small mammals such as tenrecs, falanouc (a cool mongoose like mammal), fossa and ring-tailed mongoose as well as nearly 60 species of birds and reptiles and amphibians such as geckos, mantella’s, Madagascar crocodiles and many others. Plant life is abundant here including more than 50 different types of palm trees. It is also interestingly the reserve with the largest number of land snail species on the island – over 50 – because you can never have enough land snails!

Most of the communities here are dependent on fishing, cattle, agriculture and creating handicrafts. Being dependent on these natural resources to survive makes conservation a tricky balancing act in an area with such a large number of species found nowhere else on Madagascar, and for the most part nowhere else in the world. That being said, GERP has been hard at work in Manombo over the past year, planting over 43,000 seedlings that will provide food to the grey-headed brown lemur, and engaging local schools and community members in educational activities centered around the importance of conserving lemurs and their habitats.

To learn more about how the Houston Zoo and GERP are partnering to save wildlife in Madagascar, check out the 2017 Madagascar Special produced by KPRC. Dr. Jonah Ratsimbazafy will also be visiting us here in Houston next month, so stay tuned for information on how you can meet this wildlife saving hero at the Zoo!

Gorilla Doctor Noel Reflects on His Time at Houston Zoo

The following post was written by Dr. Jean Bosco Noheli (Dr. Noel), a Rwandan field veterinarian for Houston Zoo wildlife partner Gorilla Doctors, and 2017 Houston Zoo Wildlife Warrior. As part of his Wildlife Warrior award, Dr. Noel spent three weeks in Houston this February receiving training at the Houston Zoo. The Wildlife Warrior program recognizes outstanding staff employed by the Zoo’s existing wildlife conservation partners. Our Admissions’ team raises funds through the sale of colorful wildlife bracelets, and the funds from these bracelets then go to our Wildlife Warriors to receive a training of their choice. 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.

 

“Last year, I was chosen as a Houston Zoo wildlife warrior by the Admissions team.  As part of this award, I was given the opportunity to train with Houston Zoo veterinarians.  In addition to zoological medicine skills, I gained so much inspiration for the conservation of wildlife sometimes forgotten or ignored in some societies across the globe.

Dr. Noel destroying a crab trap after releasing animals that were accidentally caught

On Saturday 17th February 2018, I was lucky to be part of Galveston Bay Foundation’s Crab-Trap Clean-up at the Galveston beach. To me this experience was equivalent to our “Umuganda” which means “community work”. In Rwanda, every last Saturday all our communities come together to perform a selected activity of public benefits or use. Many thanks to Martha Parker, Conservation Impact Manager at the Houston Zoo for driving me all the way to and from Bolivar. With people from Dallas and Houston zoos, we all gathered to clean up the beach and collect and destroy illegal and/or abandoned fishing tools.

Martha Parker shows the team how sea turtles feed on plastic bags

 

 

 

 

 

Once every February this activity is organized as a way to protect and conserve sea animals; mainly sea turtles. My team went to remove garbage from the beach and Martha took the opportunity to talk to the team about how sea turtles are attracted to white plastic bags and will feed on them, which can have fatal consequences.  It was a little bit discouraging being on the beach because by the time we were removing garbage, some visitors who were at the beach were littering – this shows why an education around pollution is needed. My advice to these visitors would be “Enjoy the beach but make sure you keep it clean to protect water and its community”.

Dr. Noel and the team cleaning up the beach

During my stay in Houston; I also realized that people spend most Saturdays working on their gardens, but it seemed very few care about the cleanliness of the city. With my experience with Rwandan Umuganda, I was asking my Houston friends why they couldn’t expand efforts to their neighbors and beyond to make it something to bring people together for a common activity. Umuganda is not only about cleaning or making roads – it is very important for bringing people together, educating one another, and building love.

 

For example; that Saturday one could not tell who is from Rwanda, Dallas, Galveston or Houston because we were one great team for one great cause.”

A great team for a great cause
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