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.

Houstonians are Saving Rhinos in the Wild

Standing SophiephotoA young Houstonian is doing all she can to save her favorite animals in the wild.  Sophie held a bake sale in her local Houston neighborhood and this was the invitation that was sent out last month.

Well, I love rhinos (among other zoo animals)! And I just discovered that I love baking! Combine those two, and what do you get? A bake sale for rhinos (and other zoo animals)!
Come over to my house to enjoy Sophie’s Cookie Bar, featuring my favorite recipes, including:
Chocolate Mint, Peanut Butter Chunk, and my special Leslie Chip cookies (milk chocolate, white chocolate, butterscotch, and chocolate filled with caramel chips).  All proceeds will benefit the Houston Zoo’s conservation efforts!”

Sophiephoto

Sophie’s Bake Sale was a huge success and she raised $1,033 to save animals in the wild! She also sold the Zoo’s conservation bracelets along with her delicious cookies.

Sophie moneyphoto
Sophie has been raising funds and awareness for rhinos for the past few years. She designed her own special rhino shirt and continues to recruit everyone she can to join her in her quest to protect rhinos from extinction.

Standing sophiebackphoto

 

Thank you, Sophie and supporters of the bake sale! thThanks to Houston Zoo friends like Sophie, last year we funded a major conservation effort to reintroduce 20 black rhinos into the wild. Remember, just coming through the gates of the Zoo is saving animals in the wild. A portion of every Zoo admission ticket goes straight to helping animals in the wild!

 

Happy Birthday to Mumbles the Rhino! He's Three Years Old

Not only is it Cinco de Rhino today, but it is also a very important birthday! Today is the 3rd birthday of our White Rhino, Mumbles! Mumbles is the largest of our three rhinos weighing at 2,300 pounds. Surprisingly he’s not fully grown just yet! White rhinos can tip the scales at 4,000 pounds so Mumbles still has some growing to do. But since he’s still young, we decided the best way to celebrate would be to throw a rhino birthday party!

Rhinos-L-to-R-Indy-George-Mumbles-blog
From left to right, Indy, George, and Mumbles.

How exactly do you celebrate a rhino birthday? Well, since it’s also Cinco de Rhino, we decided to throw a fiesta! There is a festive colored piñata filled with alfalfa cubes (a white rhino’s favorite treat). This paper Mache piñata obviously isn’t pretty after a rhino birthday celebration. Instead of breaking open the piñata with a stick, these fun rhinos used their horns!

Not only is there a piñata, but there’s also a rhino cake! Well, not really. It’s more of an ice Popsicle cake provided by the Houston Zoo Animal Nutrition Department made just for our rhinos. Our Animal Nutrition Department made the ice pop with fun colors, and they even carved the carrots to look like candles! Mumbles and his brothers, George and Indy, think this Popsicle cake is more fun to push around and crush, rather than eat it.

Join us in wishing a big Happy Birthday to our sweet Mumbles!

White Rhinos Are Actually Gray, and Other Rhino News

By Jessica Sigle and Ashley Roth

In preparation for our Rhino Spotlight on Species event we would like to introduce you to the five rhino species. Today we will be highlighting the two African species:  the White rhinos and Black rhinos.
white-rhino

Did you know white rhinos are not really white? They are actually gray or what ever color mud they decided to roll in that day. The name white comes from early English settlers misinterpreting the word “weit,” meaning wide. White rhinos have a very wide mouth that helps them to pull savannah grasses, like giant lawn mowers. The Houston Zoo’s rhinos each consume one bale of coastal hay a day with each bale weighing about 45 pounds. Though they are strictly grazers, white rhinos are the largest of the 5 species weighing on average 4,000 pounds.

reneerhino

 

Like the white rhinos, black rhinos are also gray. The best way to tell these two species apart is by looking at their lip. Black rhinos have a prehensile, triangular upper lip that they use to grab leaves off of trees and bushes. This feeding behavior is called browsing. The black rhinos can be found browsing for food in grasslands scattered through central and southern Africa.  They prefer a more solitary lifestyle than their social cousins the white rhinos.

All 5 species of rhinos are endangered or critically endangered due to poaching and habitat loss.  To learn more about these species and how you can help save them from extinction visit the Houston Zoo September 21 and 22 to celebrate World Rhino Day and support five species forever!

Be a Rhino Hero: Donate a Wildlife Book!

There are many ways the Houston Zoo works to help protect wildlife, habitats and people around the world. Our guests can be part of the Zoo’s efforts to save wildlife in any number of ways.

Help save rhinos in the wild! Donate a wildlife book at the Rhino SOS on 9/21 or 9/22!
Help save rhinos in the wild! Donate a wildlife book at the Rhino SOS on 9/21 or 9/22!

On September 21st and September 22nd, visit the Houston Zoo for the Rhino Spotlight on Species. The Rhino Spotlight on Species event is FREE with Zoo admission! Learn more about our rhinos at the Zoo and how rhinos are doing in the wild. Be part of this unique event and help save rhinos in the wild by donating a wildlife book at the Zoo between 10:00am and 3:00pm on either day.

Directly contribute to saving rhinos in the wild by bringing in a new or gently used book about wildlife to donate to our friends in the field who are protecting rhinos in Africa. These books will be used to educate local communities in Zimbabwe about their amazing wildlife!

Each person that donates a book will receive a rhino conservation bracelet AND a Houston Zoo Conservation Hero pin!

Book donation details:

    • New or gently used
    • Appropriate for ages 9-12 years
    • Books include photos and information about African animals such as rhinos, elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, hippos, etc.

Each person that donates a wildlife book on Sept 21st or 22nd will receive a rhino bracelet and a Houston Zoo Conservation Hero pin! *Note 1 bracelet & 1 pin per person.

Each person who brings a new or gently used wildlife book to the Rhino SOS on 9/21 or 9/22 will receive a rhino bracelet and conservation hero pin!
Each person who brings a new or gently used wildlife book to the Rhino SOS on 9/21 or 9/22 will receive a rhino bracelet and conservation hero pin!

Want to be a conservation hero ALL weekend long? Check out some of the other events you can participate in to be a Conservation Hero!

Elephant Open House: Saturday, September 21st from 8:00-10:30am. Buy tickets online now!

-Visit the MARVEL Superheroes Spider-Man and Iron Man at the Houston Zoo on Saturday, September 21st or Sunday, september 22nd from 10am-3pm. This event is FREE with your Zoo admission!

Be an Elephant Hero – Upcoming Elephant Events, Online Auction

At the Houston Zoo we are proud to exhibit some of the world’s most unique, intelligent and fascinating animals. Our Asian elephants at the Zoo are hard to miss- we have lots of them and they are quite big! We are determined to protect our zoo’s elephant counterparts in the wild, both in Asia and Africa, but we can’t do it without you!

Asian elephants at the Houston Zoo
Asian elephants at the Houston Zoo

Did you know you are a conservation hero every time you visit the Zoo? Just by coming here and watching our animals, you are helping to save species in the wild. A portion of every ticket sold goes towards conserving animals in their natural habitats.

Did you know you can be an elephant conservation hero? By attending the Elephant Open House on Saturday, September 21st (8:00am-10:30am) you’ll not only have fun, learn more about our Asian elephant herd and the dedicated keepers that take care of them-you’ll also contribute to efforts to save these giants in the wild??? Sounds like a win-win!

There are so many ways you can be a conservation hero, whether you are hoping to help protect elephants, rhinos, or even toads-we want you to be part of our efforts to save wildlife and wild places!

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Can’t make it to the zoo for our elephant open house but still want to help protect them in the wild?

  • Check out our online auction running September 9th through October 1st. All proceeds help save elephants in the wild. Items range from exclusive dinners at top Houston restaurants to fabric wildlife animals made by women n Rwanda.
  • Join us at our annual Feed Your Wild Life Conservation Gala on October 9th featuring Save The Elephants founder Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton.
  • Join us and other friends in Houston on a March for Elephants on October 4, starting at City Hall.
  • Donate to the Houston Zoo to save wild elephants.

Join us for other conservation hero related events the weekend of September 21st and 22nd. Events include a rhino spotlight on species (celebrating World Rhino Day!) with a wildlife book donation to benefit students in Zimbabwe who live alongside rhinos, and a meet a superhero event featuring MARVEL characters Spider-Man and Iron Man!

Look out for more be a hero blogs here and events on our zoo calendar!

The Year in Blogs

I do not even know where to start to make sense of some of our blog posts in 2012, all written to try and bring your attention to both the successes and issues facing our environment. I really have no idea what may or may not have caught your attention. No matter how often our IT and web team send me graphs and charts showing reader algorithms, viral feeds (unrelated to a blog on emerging infectious diseases), hits and views – it is beyond my grasp of the new world we live in. Remember, I have a smart phone and do recall saying it was making us all a little dumber, me especially.

So a quick look back at MacGyver, Cheddar Bacon and Peppermint Shakes, Chicken Pants and the fact that  Groundhogs are not the Nostradamus of the rodent world as they can barely remember which drawer they left their pants in, let alone predict the changing of the seasons.

These were all very important topics, near and dear to my heart from pollinators to climate change and even Chicken Pants which I have no idea what I was thinking of at the time that spurred that thought process. But the point is simply this – the world is a messy place, our role in the zoo is to focus on wildlife and so most of what you see and read here is about the environment and the people who work tirelessly to protect wildlife and their habitats around the clock.

We can do more to help our partners and the environment and it is so simple it hurts my head to think about it.

Have 30 seconds to spare? Try this: Recycle a cell phone – protect wildlife in Africa. Lets make this a friendly disease called the Responsible Consumer Syndrome. You can catch this syndrome by also understanding where the Palm Oil in your products originates – and protect Orangutans in Southeast Asia

The great plastic debate? Not really a debate – we are addicted to plastic shopping bags and water bottles. Do you think Krogers, Randalls, HEB and others realizes how much money they could save by not providing its customers millions of plastic bags every year which in turn would protect the environment and wildlife? Probably equal to the economy of a small country. Interesting someone thought enough of the water bottle issue to ban them from Grand Canyon National Park – I guess they think it is prettier than the other parks since it is the only one that bans plastic water bottles.

Who would have thought the National Park System would be following the lead of these countries  (mild disclaimer – these countries have banned plastic bags but they still drink water): Papua New Guinea, Germany, Kenya, South Korea, Belgium, Sweden, Bhutan, Botswana and a handful of others. You may recall I ranted about this on my  bestselling blog Doggie Doo’s and Doggie Dont’s (another disclaimer, my blogs are not for sale but I found a quarter after posting that one).

So for 2013 – we can do better. Smartphones and Smart tablets can inform us but cannot lead us to action – that is a human trait that we need to figure out how to enhance if we are going to continue to protect the worlds wildlife in the face of growing human populations and habitat loss. We have to care more to do more.

One thing I really do not care to learn more about is Poutine which my Canadian colleague tried to poison me with this year. I like my french fries with ketchup thank you, not brown gravy and curd cheese. But what we want you to learn more about are all are wonderful partners which can be found on our website or at a few of the links below:

Niassa Lion Project Mozambique, Cheetah Conservation Botswana, Hutan-Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation, Danau Girang Elephant Conservation, Painted Dog Conservation Zimbabwe, Gorilla Doctors, Education for Nature VietnamFaleme Chimpanzee Conservation Senegal, Coastal Prairie Partnership, Lowland Tapir Project Brazil, El Valle Amphibian Conservation Panama, Jane Goodall Institute, International Rhino Foundation, Art of Conservation Rwanda, NOAA’s Sea Turtle Program, USFWS, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Texas State University, National Marine Fisheries Service, Human Wildlife Conflict Collaboration, Terra Incognita EcotoursWildlife Conservation Network, Galapagos Tortoise Program, Natural Habitat Adventures, and a Thank You to all of our zoo staff, zoo members and supporters including Land Rover UAE, Anadarko, Chevron, numerous private foundations, individuals and followers.

A Day in the Life of a Rhino Keeper

Cleaning up after 3 rhinos is no small chore!

This post written by Ashley Roth

The three white rhinos housed at the Houston Zoo are not alone in their exhibit. They share their home with antelope called Greater Kudu. It takes the keepers on average one hour to clean the exhibit. The kudu defecate wherever they please while the rhinos like to defecate in the same spot, making it slightly easier to clean. However, it still takes 4-6 wheelbarrow loads with each one weighing over 200 lbs. to clean the entire exhibit.  New hay is then placed on exhibit. The three rhinos will eat a combined 2-3 bales of hay everyday with each bale weighing 65-70 pounds.

 

Sibindi enjoys his baths!

Bath time for our rhinos comes several times a week. To get the rhinos clean, they are hosed down. Annie Kamariah, our 6 year old female rhino loves her bath more than the other two. When she is on exhibit or in the holding yard, she will run through the stream of water then roll around in the puddle that forms underneath her. She also positions herself in front of the hose for whatever part of her body she wants to have cleaned.  Our rhinos love to roll around in their mud wallow to cool down and protect their skin from getting sunburned.

 

Once the barns are clean the Kudu’s dinner is placed in their overnight holding. They receive herbivore pellets, alfalfa, and produce. Several days a week they receive freshly cut vegetation provided by the Houston Zoo’s horticulture staff. If there is extra time, keepers work on projects which includes anything from exhibit maintenance, providing enrichment, keeper chats, and/or animal training.

Sibindi also enjoys practicing for his next bath.

The rhino and kudu here at the Houston Zoo require many hours of care to meet their basic needs. The keepers are passionate about providing the best possible animal husbandry for their animals. To find out what it takes to be a rhino keeper, head out to the Houston Zoo on September 22 & 23. We are celebrating World Rhino Day with a Rhino Spotlight on Species event. Meet some of the keepers to learn why rhinos are so important to their ecosystems as well as to the keepers and zoo guests here in Houston.

How to Train Your Rhino

This post written by Tim Junker & Jessica Sigle

A rhino opens his mouth for keepers to take a look inside.

The Houston Zoo’s three rhinos came to us straight out of Africa without knowing any trained behaviors or even their own names.  It became critically important to get these animals to at least come over to us when called, otherwise no training could proceed.  It didn’t take long for us to find that alfalfa was their favorite treat.  Many other captive rhinos enjoy more trainer-friendly chopped produce items such as apples, carrots, or sweet potatoes, but ours just wanted the hay.  Once they associated us with alfalfa, we quickly made friends.

Some of the most important behaviors that these animals needed to learn were simple body positions.  I’m not talking “downward facing dog” or the “lotus pose,” but instead “come here,” “lean in,” and “back up.”  These uncomplicated maneuvers offer keepers the ability to examine the rhinos from any angle upon request and treat any potential wounds.  This is very important for animals that spend some of their free time sparring with each other using their sharp horns.

A keeper engaging in target training.

A behavior that we find to be of great use is to “target.”  This is used by many animals all over the zoo to bring them to a certain location on cue.  Often a target is a ball on a stick or some variation of that, which the animal is trained to touch a part of their body to (usually their nose) in exchange for a reward.  With this behavior trained, the rhinos can be moved anywhere in the exhibit or holding area that the keepers can reach a target to.

Keepers drawing blood from a rhino’s ear.

With the basics now trained, we are able to move on with other, more complex behaviors; such as blood draws.  For many people this is the moment they dread most in a doctor’s visit.  For the rhinos, a slight ear twitch is usually the only reaction that they have.  Twice a week, we collect blood from the two female rhinos and twice a month for the male.  Our rhinos are still young, so we collect the blood to monitor the progesterone levels of the females so we will know when they begin to cycle and become receptive to breeding.  Blood is collected from their large ear veins into glass viles and examined in the zoo’s vet clinic or sent off to an outside lab for more specialized tests.  If any of the rhinos appear to be ill, we can easily collect blood to check for infection.

Another behavior currently in training is to get the rhinos to accept a toenail trim.  In general, rhinos need little in the way of foot work, but there may be occasions down the road which will require us to address an immediate concern.  We hope that once trained, the rhinos will lift up each of their feet and place them on a block so that the nails can be filed and the bottom of the foot can be examined.  With some of the basic  behaviors already trained, the rhinos will likely be very accepting of these more complex behaviors.

The relationships that we build during  these  many training sessions makes day-to-day care of the animals far simpler. The benefits gained from cooperative animals makes for a virtually stress free environment.  On September 22 and 23, the Houston Zoo is celebrating World Rhino Days.  We invite you to come join us to learn more about how we train and care for these amazing animals and what you can do to help these endangered species.

Double Points in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

 How can you get DOUBLE points in the Swap Shop?  Any time an animal section has a Spotlight on the Species or other program focused on an animal or plant – bring in a Nature Journal on that topic! 

Komodo Dragon

Nature Journals can be as simple as information on sheets of notebook paper.  They can be as detailed and elaborate as you like – your only limit is your imagination. But remember, the more work you do, the more points you get!   So do some research and get ready for double points!

Need more information on the Naturally Wild Swap Shop and how it works?  Click here

Some of the species that will be in the Spotlight the remainder of 2012 include:

 

Red Panda

September 22 Spotlight on the Species – Rhinos

October 6 Spotlight on the Species – Komodo Dragon

November 7 Climbing for Cloudeds (Clouded Leopards)

November 10 Spotlight on the Species – Vultures

December 1 Spotlight on the Species – Red Panda

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At 8:00 p.m., KPRC2 / Click2Houston will air a one-hour special about saving elephants, orangutans, crocodiles and more in Borneo. Tune in or set your DVR, you don't want to miss this! Read about the special and why it is so important here: www.houstonzoo.org/elephant/tune-kprc-tomorrow-night-learn-saving-elephants-borneo/ ... See MoreSee Less

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At 8:00 p.m., KPRC2 / Click2Houston will air a one-hour special about saving elephants, orangutans, crocodiles and more in Borneo. Tune in or set your DVR, you dont want to miss this! Read about the special and why it is so important here: https://www.houstonzoo.org/elephant/tune-kprc-tomorrow-night-learn-saving-elephants-borneo/

 

Comment on Facebook

Very good special! We will be visiting the Zoo Saturday!

Sabrina Polk

Houston Zoo shared KPRC2 / Click2Houston's photo.
Houston Zoo

Tonight is the night! Don't miss this incredible one-hour special. Set those DVRs for 8:00 p.m.! ... See MoreSee Less

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Tonight is the night! Dont miss this incredible one-hour special. Set those DVRs for 8:00 p.m.!

 

Comment on Facebook

I can't wait to finish my degree and be a part of something like this someday! Hopefully with this wonderful facility!! 😍

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