Your Visit Helps to Provide Vital Training to Snake Saving Partner Murthy

Murthy Kantimahanti

During the last week of January, we had the pleasure of hosting one of our newest team members, Murthy Kantimahanti here at the Houston Zoo. Murthy, who works to save snakes in India, was brought to the Houston Zoo in order to train with zoo staff and expand his skill set while sharing his knowledge with our team members at the same time! These vital training sessions are made possible through a portion of your admission ticket going towards supporting partners like Murthy, who are hard at work all around the globe to save wildlife.

Murthy works in the Eastern Ghats, located in Southern India, to improve relationships between humans and snakes, and build local community support for snake conservation. Fear and lack of knowledge about snakes has led to a rise in the killing of many snake species, including the king cobra. Murthy and his team are working to transform the fear of snakes into a respect and appreciation for the important role that snakes play in the ecosystem. Snakes are an important species to control rodent populations that spread deadly diseases.

Murthy meets with guests during a keeper chat at the reptile house

While in town, Murthy was able to spend a great deal of time with the herpetology team, learning more about husbandry for snakes and reptiles. Simply put, husbandry refers to the handling and care of different species. This is an important skill to have when working with any animal, and good husbandry skills are essential when handling venomous snakes. Murthy and the team were also able to brainstorm ideas on building local community support for snake conservation; a priority for Murthy’s project and something our herpetology team strives to do for snake species native to Texas.

Murthy makes friends with the conservation education team’s resident snake

 

Murthy also had the opportunity to talk with guests during keeper chats at the reptile house, as well as presenting his work to zoo staff and meeting with the conservation education team where he discovered their resident snake! Getting to spend time within all different sections of the zoo was extremely important to Murthy, and he is very excited to take what he learned here back to India: “The exposure visits for conservation partners are incredibly useful not only to exchange information, but also better understand the role of zoos in conservation. It will benefit our field projects as well through interactions with various sections in the zoo and tailoring those learnings to apply in local conditions back home.”

If you didn’t have the opportunity to meet Murthy, don’t worry – Fox 26 came to interview him and the herpetology team! You can watch the interview here:

To keep up with Murthy and is team follow the Eastern Ghats Wildlife Society on Facebook, and don’t forget to drop by the reptile house on your next visit to the zoo to see our king cobra – the species Murthy is protecting in the wild!

Searching for Reptiles and Amphibians in India: Day 6

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 6:

This was the last night of surveys for this trip and what a night it was!!!  We decided to visit a stream we have passed a few times on this trip just to see what it looked like.  We all kept pointing this stream out every time we drove by it, but for some reason or another never stopped to check it out.  We parked our car on the side of the road and jumped down into the stream.  From the first second I got down into the stream until the second I left the stream it was “frog-o-mania”!  We saw so many frogs we were having a seriously hard time counting.  We estimate we saw well over 1,000 frogs of at least 6 different species but probably more like 8-12 species.  We found tadpoles and eggs of the Night frogs for the first time in our surveys.  This stream had checkered keelback snakes, wolf snakes, Brook’s geckos and one Indian black turtle!!!  I am a huge turtle nerd and finding a turtle on a night like this just puts the icing on the cake.  If we were not having such a productive night I may have been far more nervous than I was – my nemesis was everywhere… the giant fishing spiders!  With a leg span the size of a dinner plate and the ability to run across water, they make me a bit uneasy when walking forest streams at night.  Thankfully I was too preoccupied with all the amazing amphibians.

I will be hopping onto my first flight around 4AM to come back home to Houston.  I haven’t even left and I already miss being here.  Good thing the team and I will probably be meeting back up in early March to continue our surveys!!!  Until then, cheers.

 

Searching for Reptiles and Amphibians in India: Day 5

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 5:

Tonight was a good night for snakes!  I don’t get to say that often enough…  About 30 feet from where we parked our car I began setting my camera gear up and set up my weather reading device.  I shine my flash light to a spot about 12-20 inches from my bag and I see a snake!  Not just any snake but one of the cutest and most dangerous species in our area, the saw scaled viper!!!!!  All I had to say was the word “saw” and all of my field partners started running to my location.  This is thought to be a very common species in the northern Western Ghats, but I have only seen 6 in my time working here.  This adorable little bundle of venom and sunshine was about a foot long and sleeping nicely on a leaf until it noticed 5 weirdos standing over him.  Once he saw us see him he decided to slither off further into the forest and we were just happy to have caught a quick glance of him.  After that we were all pumped up and ready for a good night of snakes and frogs.  We found a few more wolf snakes of two different species, a large Indian rat snake, several checkered keelback snakes and a bunch of vine snakes.  Finding one or two snakes a night is usually a decent night, but we found a total of 19 tonight! The vine snake is one of my favorite snakes to see in India.  A snake no thicker than a pencil can be 3 feet long!  These snakes specialize in eating lizards and frogs mostly.  You can find them active in the day and night, crossing roads or 50 feet up in a tree.  Beside all the awesome snakes, we found a few frog species and a really cool lynx spider.  Getting asleep tonight will be difficult – we are all pumped up on such a good snake night!

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.

Reticulated Python Joins Reptile House

The Houston Zoo would like to give a warm-blooded welcome to the latest cold-blooded housemate to join our reptile family. She’s an 18-foot (5.4 m) long reticulated python, weighing in at 156 lbs (70 kg). Her species hails from Southeast Asia, but she is a native Texan herself. Her name is…well we haven’t found the perfect name yet.

Our latest beautiful python has not yet been given a name, but we’re excited to have her here. So far, she has made quite the impression on zoo guests with just her size alone. Eighteen feet of pure muscle can cause a stir in the reptile house. Her species can grow upwards of 28 feet in length and is known to the be longest of all snakes on earth.

python-constricted
The name “reticulated” was given to this species because of their patterns in their scales. These designs of yellow, brown, tan and black help reticulated pythons stay hidden from predators and allows them to attack prey in the shadows of the forests in reticulated-python-smaller-close-upSoutheast Asia. Like all pythons, the reticulated python is a non-venomous constrictor that uses its body strength to kill prey. A typical diet for these reptiles consists of almost anything they can catch including rats, birds, pigs, and deer.

Please join us in welcoming this incredible animal, and we hope you will stop into our reptile building to see her on your next visit to the Houston Zoo.

Three Tiny Bush Vipers at Houston Zoo

By: Jackie Wallace

13415660_10154349183977526_1128220140336758444_oThis spring, three tiny green bush vipers were born on March 26. Like most pit vipers, the neonates were born live instead of hatched from eggs like many other types of snakes. Originally a part of a group of six, only three have survived and have doubled in weight since their birth. They are expected to grow to be between 18-24 inches long. Despite their name, green bush vipers vary in color, mostly shades of green, but can also be bright yellow or grey. These snakes are found in the tropical rainforests of western and central Africa and get their name from their preference for lower bushes rather than the tall canopy trees. Guests can see all kinds of exotic and local snakes in the zoo’s Reptile and Amphibian House. The baby snakes will remain behind-the-scenes while they continue to grow.

 

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Sensational Snakes: Houston Zoo Puts a Spotlight on Native Snakes

Snakes are a part of life in Texas, and the Houston Zoo is passionate about their conservation. Snakes of all kinds play a vital role in our ecosystem as one of nature’s best pest control agents since they eat rats, mice, and other small animals. Even so, many people don’t like to see them in their own backyard. This becomes a major conflict as the weather warms up and Houstonians start to become more active outside and human-snake encounters become increasingly more common. As cold-blooded animals, snakes thrive in the warmth of Southeast Texas which makes this area ripe for a diverse population of this remarkable reptile.

The Houston Zoo is working hard to change snakes’ bad reputation by participating in a variety of special events created precisely to squelch fears of these valuable animals.

On Saturday, May 7, the Houston Zoo’s snake experts will be sharing their knowledge of local snakes at the Reptile House from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.  From Texas rat snakes to copperheads and cottonmouths to milk snakes, guests will learn all about the snakes that call Houston home. During the event, the keepers will have a variety of local snakes in easy-to-see table top tanks so guests can get closer than ever to these incredible animals.

Keepers will discuss the anatomy and biology of the snakes that live in the area, and what Houstonians can do to help protect these important animals. They’ll also tell you what to do if you become face-to-face with any snake.

Herpetology supervisor Judith Bryja will also represent the Houston Zoo at this weekend’s Lone Star Rattlesnake Days event in Austin. The event is April 30 and May 1 at the Travis County Expo Center and is aimed at changing the way people think about rattlesnakes.

It is doubtful that any other animal group is more feared or less understood by the general public. This persecution has reached such a point that, in some states, “Rattlesnake Roundups” are a popular fund-raising event for organizations like the local Chamber of Commerce or the Jaycees. The largest of these roundups is held each March in Sweetwater, Texas. This event began in 1958 and was advertised as a method of controlling the rattlesnake population in the area. However, it has progressed to the point where now rattlesnakes are collected months in advance often from more than 100 miles away from Sweetwater. They are collected by flushing them out of their dens and hiding areas with gasoline and other toxic substances, which not only harms the snakes, but also any other animals that may be in the same place. They are then kept in substandard conditions and are in poor health by the time the rattlesnake roundup is held. The snakes are sometimes cruelly strung up alive, decapitated and skinned in front of crowds which include children. These horrific events are promoted as safe and educational family fun – but they are not. The best way these events to end is if people stop participating in the slaughter.

In April of 1999, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association adopted a resolution condemning rattlesnake roundups and advising member institutions, such as the Houston Zoo, to oppose these activities. The Houston Zoo is joining with other Texas zoos in their opposition to rattlesnake roundups and encourages educational alternatives that promote awareness and respect for these animals.

Save Amphibians by Recycling Your Batteries!

Houston Toad 2

Batteries, Wildlife, and How You Can Take Action

The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild, and is taking steps to ensure that everything we do on Zoo grounds is done with the environment and wildlife in mind. If you have a surplus of used batteries, be them alkaline or rechargeable, you can take them to your local recycling center to ensure that the remaining chemicals and substances don’t harshly affect the wildlife that’s directly outside your doors!

Any battery that is disposed of in a landfill (like if you toss them in your normal trash), or that finds its way into the environment, has the potential to leak its old chemicals into the soils and waters that wildlife like amphibians call home.

Because amphibians like frogs, toads, even salamanders, have skin that can easily absorb liquids found in damp soils or the waters and streams they frequent, they can get sick from things like leaking batteries. Often, harsh or foreign chemical interactions can affect populations long-term by changing the behavior of animals, affecting female or male reproductive abilities or even influencing the development of eggs.

The Zoo works to help our local amphibians by recycling our alkaline and rechargeable batteries with a company that specializes in battery disposal. You can do the same by finding your local recycling center; if you’re in Houston you can go to the Westpark Consumer Recycling Center and they will take most options besides alkaline. You can also recycle more than the typical AA, AAA, C, and D batteries – items like power tools, cars, small electronics like tablets or smart phones, hearing aids, watches, and all manner of things take a variety of batteries.

By using rechargeable batteries you can also ensure that the materials that were mined to make your batteries last for a much longer time period than with single-use alkaline batteries. Rechargeable batteries will go dull over time, but you can get multiple uses out of them and lessen the stress on the environment by finding products and items that you can use over and over before recycling!

How Our Staff Recycles Batteries at the Zoo

 

Battery Sign Zoo Events

On Zoo grounds we will often offer recycling information that you can see when you visit. We recommend you take your batteries to a local recycling center to ensure they don’t end up in landfills that can encroach on the space of wildlife as well as affect the soils and waters amphibians and other animals call home.

Houston Toad Battery 1.0

Behind the scenes, our staff utilize a special battery drop-off for spent batteries. By encouraging staff to recycle these items the Zoo is able to see how many batteries we use as an organization, and how many we use that are rechargeable! Alkaline batteries are not rechargeable, so taking a look at our staff battery needs shows us where we could potentially get more rechargeable batteries rather than single-use alkaline batteries. We can also weigh our battery recycling over time and see how much space we have saved in landfills and how many batteries have been prevented from harshly affecting our wildlife habitats.Houston Toad Battery 1.3

Be Safe When Collecting Batteries for Recycling

 

Houston Toad Battery 1.1

Alkaline: these are more often the common batteries like AA, AAA, C, or D as well as 9-Volt. Do not store any of these batteries together without packaging. Once they have been used there is still potential for them to ‘pop’ open as there are residual chemicals that can be discharged and react with other batteries they are near. This could cause injury if someone is nearby. The 9-Volt batteries are commonly used in your fire alarms and are properly prepared for the recycling center by putting duct-tape over the positive and negative transistors (basically, the top two prongs need to be covered so they don’t come into contact with other batteries). Note that some centers do not accept alkaline batteries for recycling.

Rechargeable: these batteries are widely used in items like power-tools, phone batteries, laptop batteries, or even your more common AA, AAA, C, D, and 9-Volt options. There are no alkaline battery options that cannot be replaced with rechargeable options. You will find rechargeable batteries in forms of Nickel Cadmium (NiCd), Lithium-ion (Li-ion), and Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH). All of these batteries have the potential to get hot and should be packaged separately from each other in preparation for recycling; Li-ion should be particularly tended to in ensuring there is no other metal or battery contact once discharged.

This is a sustainability reference document. 

Success! 9 Sea Turtles Released into the Wild!

Every month, Houston Zoo staff assist the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with their weekly beach surveys, looking for stranded, injured, or nesting sea turtles. We drive the beach, sometimes for more than 10 hours searching for turtles that need help, and respond to calls to the sea turtle hotline (1.866.TURTLE.5).

This past Monday, we had the pleasure of releasing 9 sea turtles during the weekly survey! 3 Kemp’s ridleys were successfully released after being rehabilitated at NOAA’s Galveston Laboratory. They all came in, caught on fishermen’s hooks. Houston Zoo veterinary staff provided medical care for these turtles to ensure their speedy recovery.

Later in the afternoon, we released 6 green sea turtles into the bay. These turtles stranded for a variety of reasons, but one was found entangled in fishing line and plastic bags.

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Green sea turtle found on our Texas beaches, entangled in fishing line and plastic bags.

NOAA and the Houston Zoo worked together to provide medical care to this green sea turtle as it was rehabilitated in Galveston. Thankfully, it made a full recovery and was able to go back to the wild.

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NOAA staff releases the green sea turtle into the bay after it was successfully rehabilitated.

Everyone can play a role in saving sea turtles. Ensure that our local turtles do not get caught in plastic bags by making the switch to reusable fabric bags every time you go to the grocery store. This is an easy way to be a marine animal hero!

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