Green Sea Turtle from Kipp Aquarium Returns to the Wild

Through our partnership with NOAA Galveston’s sea turtle conservation program, the Houston Zoo spent the last several months rehabilitating a green sea turtle in our Kipp Aquarium. Last Tuesday, the green sea turtle was successfully released into the Bay! NOAA Galveston responds to sea turtle strandings on the Upper Texas Coast, and when medical support and/or rehabilitation support is needed for a stranded animal, the Houston Zoo is proud to work alongside NOAA to provide this care.

Three other turtles were released last Tuesday afternoon, including an injured turtle that was found by the Foster family in the ship channel. The Foster’s reported the turtle to NOAA by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5, and the family was able to assist in its release after the turtle recovered from its injuries. Thanks to local community members like the Fosters, this turtle lived to be rehabilitated and released back into the ocean.

You can ensure Texas sea turtles are protected by reporting any injured or accidentally caught turtle to 1-866-TURTLE-5. Additionally, you can reduce your use of plastic to prevent trash from ending up in our waters, which sea turtles may mistake for food and eat. The Houston Zoo has gone plastic bottle and plastic bag free, and you can too! Try switching to reusable water bottles and fabric shopping bags to reduce your plastic consumption. Find out more about our efforts to reduce plastic pollution here.

Rescued Sea Turtle Returns to Wild

This blog post was written by Heather Crane, a Houston Zoo staff member in our Sea Lion Department. The sea turtle release described below would not have been possible without prominent sea turtle conservationists at NOAA Galveston who provided all care and support to rehabilitate the sea turtles mentioned in this blog.

On October 30, 2016 a group of volunteers and I were at a scheduled Sea Lion team Surfside Jetty cleanup when we discovered an entangled green sea turtle. Cleanups are executed monthly by the Houston Zoo Sea Lion Team. Through a partnership between the Houston Zoo and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), fishing line is removed to prevent wildlife entanglement and pollution. We notified NOAA of the entangled sea turtle by calling the sea turtle hotline at 1-866-TURTLE-5. While we waited on a NOAA scientist to arrive, the turtle became more entangled and appeared distressed. My worst fear started playing out before me: this endangered turtle was drowning. Help was still 30 minutes from arriving. I made the decision to enter the water to disentangle and retrieve the sea turtle. My team of volunteers stood close by to assist and ensure my safety. Our Conservation Intern of the time, Taylor Rhoades, also entered the water to free me when my shoes also became entangled in fishing line. The in-water dangers that exist pose a threat and it is not recommended that members of the public enter the water. NOAA biologist, Lyndsey Howell, arrived and removed the fishing line that was tightly wound around the front left flipper of the turtle. She took the green turtle to the Galveston Sea Turtle Facility to begin what would become a seven month rehabilitation and recovery.

Green sea turtle entangled in discarded fishing line
Houston Zoo staff and intern retrieve sea turtle from in-water entanglement by fishing line

On Friday, May 19th, the sea lion team was invited to watch the rescued green sea turtle be released back into its natural habitat. This was an unexpected surprise and a very special and generous invitation from NOAA, which will forever have an impact on my life. NOAA was scheduled to release five green sea turtles on Friday. I was surprised when we were told our team would help release some of the turtles. We got a lesson from the biologists, Lyndsey and Heather, on safe handling and release practices before being allowed to release the turtles. I took the first turtle to the water and when it touched the surface of the water, it knew exactly what to do. I watched it until it disappeared into the water about 15 feet in front of me. Next, my supervisor, Sophie Darling, took a turn releasing a turtle too. After four turtles were released, the only one that remained was the turtle I had rescued in October.

Houston Zoo Sea Lion staff and NOAA biologist prepare a green sea turtle for release back into the wild
Houston Zoo Sea Lion Supervisor, Sophie, prepares a green sea turtle for release back into Galveston Bay
Houston Zoo sea lion staff helps return a rehabilitated sea turtle to the wild! This turtle was cared for by NOAA Galveston

The surprises just kept coming. Not only would I have the opportunity to watch the turtle I rescued go home, I was also going to be the one to release him! I had never imagined I would be part of this endangered animal’s story, and certainly never thought I would see the full circle process. When I peered in to the container in which the turtle had been transported, it appeared healthy and active. And WOW! It had doubled in size too! I would recognize this turtle anywhere, even if it had doubled in size. The posterior edge of the shell had a small hole in it when I first encountered it in October. Additionally, due to the tight fishing line that was wrapped around the front left flipper, there was distinctive line entanglement scarring. As I walked towards the water, I stopped to take a picture with the turtle before wishing it farewell and good luck. As I waded out into the shallows, I only felt excitement. I think I was still in shock that NOAA had included me in this turtle’s journey. I lowered the turtle to the water and it took just a moment for it to start swimming. First, it swam backwards, which both confused and humored me, but then, it swam gracefully away towards the deeper water. As I watched, I could think of fewer greater moments of joy in my life.

Houston Zoo staff member, Heather, was overjoyed to help release the green sea turtle she helped rescue from the Surfside Jetty just 7 months ago.

The Houston Zoo has empowered me to take an active role in conservation of wild animals. The Houston Zoo’s partnerships with NOAA and other conservation organizations are invaluable and are what make our conservation programming successful. I feel proud to know that this is only one example of how the Houston Zoo lives its mission of saving animals in the wild. Many people have thanked me and have told me how I impacted the life of the green sea turtle I rescued that day. In the end, we both impacted each other. When I reflect upon proud moments of my life and career, this experience will always be amongst the experiences of which I am most proud. I am proud, too, to be a part of team dedicated to ensuring clean waterways through the dedication of time and energy every month to cleaning the Surfside Jetty. And I could not be more thankful to NOAA and all the work they do to rescue, rehabilitate, and release these beautiful and endangered turtles.

To watch a short video of the green sea turtle being released, please visit: Sea turtle release

You can help protect sea turtles in Texas by disposing of fishing line properly. Place fishing line in designated monofilament recycling bins, or take it home with you and dispose of it in your trash so it does not blow into the ocean where animals like sea turtles, fish, dolphins, and birds can become entangled. 

Look for these bins when fishing-you can dispose of your fishing line here and it will be kept out of the ocean where it can harm animals like sea turtles!

Zoo staff assist partners at NOAA with sea turtle surveys

As part of our efforts to save sea turtles in the wild, Houston Zoo staff have the opportunity to participate in weekly beach surveys conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Galveston. NOAA biologists conduct weekly beach surveys to look for dead, stranded, injured, or nesting sea turtles, respond to reports from the 1-866-TURTLE-5 hotline, and collect fishing line from the Surfside Jetty. Below is a summary of one Houston Zoo employees’ experience, Brenda Rico, part of our Call Center team. 

My experience out with Lyndsey [NOAA biologist] was great, really thankful for having an opportunity like that. On my survey experience I was able to see what the turtle hospital looks like and just how many of them they [NOAA] care for. I was able to assist Lyndsey in keeping records of the GPS coordinates in case we ran into a turtle that maybe needed rescue. I was also able to assist with recording data on a dead sea turtle we found over at Bolivar Peninsula. A really neat thing that I got to experience was witnessing two necropsies that she performed, to determine how these turtles died, what type of diet they had, and where they were consuming their food from. I learned that turtles can easily drown with fishing line that fishermen might accidentally leave behind, they can grow to be up to 1,000 lbs and they don’t develop fully until adulthood that’s when you are able to identify their sex. We probably went down the beach roughly around 70 miles and at the end of the survey we got to rescue a pelican!

During this sea turtle survey, Brenda also had the chance to release a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that had been rehabilitated by NOAA. 

During survey, Brenda helped release a Kemp's ridley sea turtle that was rehabilitated by NOAA
During survey, Brenda helped release a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that was rehabilitated by NOAA
Brenda happily releasing this sea turtle back into the wild!
Brenda happily releasing this sea turtle back into the wild!

You can help save sea turtles by ensuring your fishing line always ends up in a proper recycling bin. Discarded fishing line can entangle sea turtles, making it difficult for them to swim, find food, and come up for air. You can also help by reporting any sea turtles in our area by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5. 

This is a monofilament bin located on the Surfside Jetty. You can recycle your fishing line in bins like this one.
This is a monofilament bin located on the Surfside Jetty. You can recycle your fishing line in bins like this one.

Houston Zoo Releases Sea Turtles Back into Gulf of Mexico

Release May 2016

On Thursday May 26, NOAA Fisheries and the Houston Zoo released nine sea turtles at Stewart Beach in Galveston, Texas surrounded by hundreds of onlookers.

Release May 2016

Six of the turtles are Kemp’s ridleys, the other three are loggerheads. All but one of the turtles suffered injuries related to fishing interactions when they were accidentally caught and swallowed fishing hooks.

Release May 2016

The degree of rehabilitation and length of stay at the NOAA sea turtle facility in Galveston varied, ranging from one week to nine months. Call 1-866-TURTLE-5 to report an injured sea turtle.

Release May 2016

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.

IMG_0879
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.

IMG_0189
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!

Discover What Makes the Houston Toad So Unique

IMG_9112The Houston Zoo is excited to welcome a new intern who comes to us all the way from Kenya, in East Africa. Gilbert Sabinga is in the United States as participating in the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP). The Community College Initiative Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Northern Virginia Community College on behalf of the Community College Consortium (CCC) in partnership with Houston Community College. While participating in this program, he will join us at the zoo as an intern to learn all about what a modern-day zoo is like! Sabinga is already part of the conservation community as he has been working with Save the Elephants in Kenya for over 8 years. He will be documenting his experiences at the Zoo and we will share his thoughts with you here on our blog!

Sabinga writes:

Sabinga blogHouston Zoo is the nature in it’s wildest. Every day coming to the zoo it offers me a new chance to get up close from wildlife around the world, and learn close facts about the animals. This time I was introduced to toads!!!! The little I knew about the toads is valuable part of our outdoor heritage. Most of people probably don’t give them much thought, and rarely credit what we consider lesser life not with emotions big as ours; but we need these amphibians to control destructive insects and to offer their voices to the sounds of spring and summer nights. Just hearing or seeing them adds to our enjoyment of outdoor joy and makes our environment beautiful. I visited and got to help in the toad department under the instruction of Tyler Parker, who never get tired of me asking questions about toads. He really taught me much on toads and expanded my knowledge about the toads especially Houston toads.

Sabinga blog2Today, with species threatened and habitats disappearing worldwide, the Houston Zoo  is playing a new role in conservation: the Zoo is expanding their efforts far beyond keeping animals alive in captivity. An example of this is the toad quarantine facility that serves as a location for captive breeding and head- starting of Houston toads eggs stand for release in to the wild, and this facility is managed full-time by Houston toad specialists who care for the toads and work closely. I never thought of how great this is wow! Credit to toad keepers.

The best part is that we would all love to think that wild animals in reality are at least a little bit like they are in National Geographic movies – cute, cuddly and happy to be in human company. Certainly toads can get used to human caretakers. Dr. Lauren Howard held one told and I was surprised that the toad did not struggle and even closed its eyes! I was wondering is it love? Or, the warmth of Lauren’s hand, or cues from the toad that it enjoys the care.  We all need to care for these magnificent local Texas creatures.

Sabinga blog3
Amphibian species are now on the verge of extinction. How do we save them?

– Toads like to take their time crossing the road…give them a brake! Roadkill is a significant cause of toad and frog mortality in many parts of the world. So drive slower on wet nights. Help a frog or toad cross the road (careful: don’t cause an accident or get squashed yourself).

– If you are building a pond, and want to support a healthy toad community, do not stock fish in it–even native species. Fishless ponds always tend to have a higher amphibian biodiversity than do ponds with fish.

– Most of the products we use in our daily life, and even the things we take for granted (food, water, electricity) have been removed from their natural place in the environment. We therefore offer the following suggestions on how you can reduce your ecological footprint: Turn off your air conditioning when it’s not in use. Take a shorter shower. Put a lid on that pot of boiling water. Turn off your lights. Print on both sides of the sheet of paper. Turn your jacuzzi off when it’s not in use. Going for a picnic? Don’t use styrofoam plates; most supermarkets sell biodegradable corn plates.

For more information visit; conservation@houstonzoo.org

Point to remember; Toads may be begging for their environmental freedom!!!

Attend Zoo Boo & Learn How to Help Animals in the Wild!

Our annual Zoo Boo event is a Houston favorite…costumes, candy, zoo animals, tatzoos, you name it-we have it! But did you know that this event includes incredibly fun activities for kids and families to help save animals in the wild?!

Visit us at Zoo Boo this year and learn how you are helping the Zoo to save animals in the wild!
Visit us at Zoo Boo this year and learn how you are helping the Zoo to save animals in the wild!

Zoe the Zookeeper’s Howlerween Adventure has been part of Zoo Boo for many years now, calling attention to how howler monkeys are doing in the wild and highlighting how our Primate Staff have helped secure a future for these primates in their natural habitat. This year, this interactive section of Zoo Boo has been expanded to include activities, games and information about all of the rehabilitation and release programs the Houston Zoo is involved in. This means you can learn about how we rehabilitate and release sea turtles and howler monkeys, as well as breed and release Attwater’s prairie chickens and Houston toads!

On this fun adventure (located next to Duck Lake) you’ll learn how to keep a sea turtle’s home clean, what food a howler monkey should eat, where the Attwater’s prairie chicken lives in the wild, and how Houston toads communicate! You may even be lucky enough to get a special surprise if you complete all 4 activities! Not only is this fun, it is another way for you, our guests and members, to learn how you are helping us to make a difference for animals in the wild. Without your continued support we would not be able to do what we do for howler monkeys, sea turtles, Houston toads, Attwater’s prairie chickens and many other species. So, thank you! We hope to see you at the last weekend of Zoo Boo!

Kids enjoying the Zoe the Zookeeper's Howlerween Adventure activities at Zoo Boo!
Kids enjoying Zoe the Zookeeper’s Howlerween Adventure activities at Zoo Boo!

Zoo Boo will be open October 25 & 26 from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Texas Sea Turtles Getting Checkups and Returning to the Wild!

This week was a busy one for sea turtles on our coast-and it’s been this way for pretty much the entire summer! On Monday, Houston Zoo staff assisted NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) with their weekly beach survey. It was a fairly quiet day in the way of turtles on the beach, but we did happen to see the enormous amounts of sargassum on the beaches which you may have already heard about.

Sargassum buildup on the Galveston beaches. Unfortunately, trash often washes in during sargassum events as well as wildlife!
Sargassum buildup on the Galveston beaches. Unfortunately, trash often washes in during sargassum events as well as wildlife!

Here is a report from a local news station about the sargassum in our area. While the sargassum may make the beaches less than desirable to visit, they are can be important to sea turtles, especially green sea turtles and plenty of other wildlife! If you venture out onto the beach despite the somewhat smelly conditions, you may be delighted to see some amazing wildlife in the seaweed.

Sargassum is basically huge football fields of brown algae floating in the ocean. When it washes up on the beach, it can help build up the dunes which are great storm protection for us and our homes! Animals like shrimp, fish and green sea turtles love to hang out in these football fields of algae in the ocean-it’s a great way to float around in the busy ocean, and your food is right next to you all the time!

This summer, NOAA has responded to several green sea turtles who have stranded on the beach, in the sargassum. Because green sea turtles are pretty much the exact color of the sargassum, it’s really important to keep your eye out for them if you are driving or traveling on the beach! You can call 1-866-TURTLE-5 if you happen to see a turtle on the beach or in the sargassum. We are still technically in sea turtle nesting season, so if you are so lucky as to see a turtle nesting on the beach (or their tracks) make sure to call the turtle hotline to report it!

A green sea turtle blends in perfectly with sargassum on the beach! Keep an eye out for them this holiday weekend and call 1-866-TURTLE-5 if you see one!
A green sea turtle blends in perfectly with sargassum on the beach! Keep an eye out for them this holiday weekend and call 1-866-TURTLE-5 if you see one!

After traveling through the huge patches of sargassum to complete our sea turtle survey, we were fortunate enough to be able to release one of the Kemp’s Ridley turtles that NOAA has been rehabilitating. This turtle was caught on a recreational hook and line, and thankfully was reported to NOAA who took it to their facilities to give it a full medical checkup and provide care until it was healthy enough to go back to the wild.

A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle that was rehabilitated and released by NOAA staff this week!
A Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle that was rehabilitated and released by NOAA staff this week!

And our turtle work did not stop after Monday’s survey! Yesterday, 11 sea turtles visited the Houston Zoo clinic and our awesome vet team to get checkups. Some of these turtles had suspected hooks and needed x-rays and others were turtles that had stranded and needed to get a routine checkup by our vet staff.

Kemp's ridley sea turtle who got a checkup by Houston Zoo vet staff yesterday.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle who got a checkup by Houston Zoo vet staff yesterday.

All of the 11 turtles were successfully looked at and suggestions were given by the Houston Zoo vet team for each individual’s care. We look forward to seeing these turtles go through successful rehabilitation and then return to the wild!

If you’d like to learn more about the zoo’s efforts to save sea turtles in the wild, check out more info here

If you want to help save sea turtles, take these few simple steps (especially during this busy beach holiday weekend!):

-Leave only footprints when you go to the beach. Make sure to put all of your trash in a can and recycle items when possible. Do not leave tents, fireworks, or other trash on the beach-it is harmful for wildlife and dangerous for the health of our beaches!

-Use canvas bags instead of plastic bags whenever you buy groceries or take items to the beach! The Houston Zoo’s gift shops sells awesome durable sea turtle canvas bags, with all proceeds going back to saving turtles in the wild! Reducing our use of plastic in general helps save sea turtles and other ocean animals.

Sea turtle canvas bags available in our gift shop. All proceeds go towards sea turtles in the wild.
Sea turtle canvas bags available in our gift shop. All proceeds go towards sea turtles in the wild.

Attwater's prairie chicks are here!

The Houston Zoo has already hatched 209 Attwater’s prairie chicks this Spring!

APC Eggs 2014-0001-2318

All of these guys have made it through to the next stage of their lives and will stay with us here at the Zoo until they are ready for release as strong juveniles into the wild!

apc april

Attwater’s prairie chickens are vanishing from the coastal prairies of Texas. It is estimated that less than 100 of these birds are left in the wild, so the Houston Zoo has breeding facilities both behind the scenes at the Zoo and at NASA’s Johnson Space Center to help revive the wild populations.  When the birds hatch and grow large enough, they are slowly introduced and then released into the wild, where they will support the already existing populations.

If you are inspired to give these chicks a stronger chance for survival, help them out by learning more, or even donating!

Let the Season Begin: It's Attwater's Prairie Chicken Time!

It’s our biggest and best year yet for breeding a very special local species, the critically endangered Attwater’s Prairie Chicken! We’re very lucky to have gotten a record number of eggs from our flock so far, with more to come.

The very first Attwater's prairie chicken egg of the breeding season!
The very first Attwater’s prairie chicken egg of the breeding season! We do something called candling the eggs, which means looking inside of them, to be sure the future chicks are healthy and progressing properly.

Last year’s breeding season was an incredible success, so we can’t wait to see what this year has in store for us. These eggs will begin to hatch in late April, so get ready to see tons of adorable baby chicks in the very near future!

Attwater's Prairie Chicken chick photo by Mollie Coym
Attwater’s Prairie Chicken chick photo by Mollie Coym

Considering there are less than 100 Attwater’s prairie chickens left in the wild, a successful breeding season at the Houston Zoo is essential for the survival of the species. We partner with a number of other organizations to ensure this humble grouse doesn’t go extinct.

Male Attwater's Prairie Chicken
Male Attwater’s Prairie Chicken

The Houston Zoo is involved in a number of ways, the most important of which is breeding animals in a protected environment that helps bring out their natural behaviors at our Johnson Space Center facility (thanks, NASA!), hatching the eggs at the Zoo, caring for the chicks, and then releasing those young birds into the wild at protected sites once they get old enough.

jsc_chicken
Male Attwater’s prairie chicken at Johnson Space Center – thank you, NASA, for helping us protect this critically endangered species!

Letting people know that the Attwater’s prairie chicken exists is also one of our most important jobs – and if you’re reading this, you are already contributing toward this animal’s survival. If people don’t know what the issues are, they can’t care. And if people care, the species won’t stand a chance! If you’d like to learn more and share with your friends, check out Houston Zoo Bird Keeper Danny Keel’s talk about the Attwater’s Prairie Chicken and our efforts to save it!

Attwater Talk – Danny Keel – Houston Zoo from Coastal Prairie Partnership on Vimeo

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Jack the ocelot and his tiny snowman friend (and some tasty meatballs!)

 

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Jack is so cute I wish I could take him home and cuddle with him.

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