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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Last week, the Houston Zoo vet clinic and NOAA checked out 9 sea turtles: 4 Kemp’s ridleys, 4 greens, and 1 hawksbill. The Kemp’s ridleys have been recovering from injuries at the NOAA Galveston facility, and will be released over the next few months. Threats to sea turtles are primarily people. People in the form of boats, plastic pollution/littering, fishing hooks, etc. The Kemp’s ridleys looked strong and we hope they’ll go on to live happy sea turtle lives.
The 4 green sea turtles are what is called “cold stunned” turtles. Because turtles are reptiles, they cannot regulate body heat. When the temperature drops quickly, if the turtles are stuck in small inlets of water (shallow water cools much faster than the ocean)and cannot get to larger and warmer water, their tiny bodies begin to shut down. Since green sea turtles enjoy sea grasses and algae, their species is more likely to be in the small bays and marshes that experience the quick drops in temperature. Based on their progress and recovery timeline, the 4 greens visiting us might be released in the future, or allowed a longer recovery to make sure they are as strong as possible.
And finally, the hawksbill. This particular hawksbill sea turtle is undergoing treatment for some issues with the carapace (shell). He’ll need some extra time to recover so that NOAA and the Houston Zoo can monitor his progress.
That’s it for this week’s sea turtle update. Stay tuned for more news as we break into nesting season!
The Houston toad team at the Houston Zoo has been working up a storm this spring – a storm of Houston toad eggs! As of this writing, the team has bred 23 groups of adult Houston toads (the groups consist of either one female and one male or one female and two male) since the middle of February using assisted breeding methodologies. In total, we have produced ~80,000 Houston toad eggs!! This is more than twice as many as we produced last year and is a tremendous success for our program!! However, I’m sure you are all wondering just what in the world are we doing with all of those eggs??
Each and every one of the Houston toad egg strands produced at the Zoo going back to the wild to help augment the wild population. Researchers from Texas State University (TSU) are strategically placing the egg strands in two counties, Austin County and Bastrop County, which are in the historic range of the Houston toad. Both of these counties still harbor small, wild populations of Houston toads that are being monitored by TSU and USFWS.
Researchers from TSU and Houston toad staff and interns are placing the eggs inside protective, wire cages as the strands are placed into the release ponds. Cages? What are those for? One of the biggest complications for the Houston toad recovery effort is that everything LOVES to eat Houston toads – especially their eggs! Birds, fish, aquatic invertebrates, raccoons, you name it; they all love to snack on tasty toad eggs. The cages prevent these hungry critters from feasting on these precious, endangered egg strands, helping to ensure that many of these eggs will survive to make tiny toadlets!
TSU researchers are monitoring each of the release sites and are on the lookout for Houston toad tadpoles and metamorphs. Are the cages working? Are the eggs going to hatch? Stay tuned to find out!
While many of us are enjoying these cool, winter evenings indoors in front of the TV with our favorite snack, Houston toad researchers are bundling up, grabbing a thermos of coffee and hitting the road to find the elusive Houston toad! After the first heavy rain of the year, often near the end of January, Houston toads are hitting the ponds to look for mates. The Houston toad spends the majority of the year in shallow burrows to escape the extreme Texas temperatures (a process called estivation); therefore the best opportunity to find and count toads is during their breeding season when they are out and about.
Though some toad biologists slip on a pair of rubber boots and put on a headlamp to look for Houston toads using sight, most researchers search for toads using sound. Sound? How does that work? The Houston toad males have a very distinctive advertisement call, which is the call that they use to tell female toads “Hey, lady! Check me out! I’m over here!” In fact, all species of frogs and toads have a distinctive call that they use to get the attention of the opposite sex. Interestingly, it is not just the males that do the calling. In some species, including another local frog species called the gray tree frog (Hyla versicolor), the females will both call and counter-call (which means to call back) to the males. To hear a Houston toad call, check out the following link: http://www.californiaherps.com/noncal/misc/miscfrogs/pages/a.houstonensis.sounds.html
To find calling toads, researchers set out in their cars after dark to literally “listen” for Houston toads. The areas that are visited have been previously identified as suitable habitat for the Houston toad, or are locations where Houston toads were either found or heard in the past. The surveys follow a very systematic pattern with dozens of stops, and they often take hours to complete. This year, for the first time in several years, five Houston toad counties are being surveyed at once lead by research teams from Texas State University and USFWS. Fingers crossed that we’re going to find some wild toads!
Another way that researchers find wild Houston toads is through the use of a recording device called a SongMeter. A SongMeter is specifically designed to detect the auditory calls of wild animals. To detect Houston toads, SongMeters are placed in trees near ponds and are programmed to record sounds during the course of the night. These devices can record two weeks’ worth of sound data! A software program is then used to find the particular waveform that correlates to the Houston toad call. Of course, every Houston toad “hit” found by the software program has to be verified by human ears, which requires hours of listening time.
So over the next couple of months while you’re enjoying your favorite evening TV show, take a moment to think about the field researchers braving the chilly, wet Texas nights on the hunt for the Houston toad. Each toad found (or heard) tells us more about the health of the wild population and gives us another critical piece of information concerning the natural history of this rare species. Good luck toad folks and Godspeed!
Wonderful news! The critically endangered Blue-billed curassow, which is native to South America, has been successfully born under controlled conditions! This bird has been losing habitat and is a victim of poaching, leading to still declining numbers in the low hundreds. The Houston Zoo in partnership with Colombian Zoos and wildlife organizations held an incubation workshop last year, and will be doing so again this Febuary 2014, to help teach methodology to successfully produce hatchlings to eventually introduce to and increase wild populations.
Official Press Release:
The National Aviary Foundation of Colombia together with ACOPAZOA Colombia and the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, formed the Captive Breeding Program Blue-Billed Curassow ( Crax alberti ), that includes the monitoring of wild birds , captive breeding and the development of educational campaigns. After two years of signing this agreement as a group, born in the facilities of the National Aviary Foundation of Colombia is the first Colombian Blue-billed curassow ( Crax alberti ) under controlled conditions, this chick is a step towards the conservation of this bird that is endemic to Colombia and according to the IUCN it is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild, mainly due to habitat destruction and hunting.
The chick was born on January 16 , with an approximate size of 13.6 cm. and a weight of 121 gr. , based on the beak we can tell it is a female, and she is in perfect condition-she has been observed very active and healthy.
The team at The National Aviary Foundation of Colombia coordinated by zoo staff member Guillermo Gálviz , has worked for 4 years in the reproduction of different species in the family Cracidae, specializing 2 years in the reproduction of the blue-billed curassow ( Crax alberti ), during this time they have achieved many things in the reproduction of these birds including successful fertility and now the birth of this baby , which we hope is not the only chick of this species to be born during this year.
The species in addition to the risks it faces in nature, presents difficulties in captive breeding due to their biological behavior, in which the male usually shows aggression toward the generally nervous female, the demand and preference in building material nest, having no more than two eggs per breeding season and the complexity for establishing a partner (each individual chooses his partner) , for these reasons the National Aviary staff has worked hard to achieve these positive results.
The birth of this bird is considered a great achievement for the conservation of the species. We thank ACOPAZOA member institutions , the Houston Zoo and Cracid & Crane Breeding and Conservation Center CBCC Belgium, for their contributions to the conservation of Colombian Cracids .
2 sea turtles visited the Houston Zoo today for a check-up by our Veterinary Staff. Both were green sea turtles that came in from the wild with injuries.
The first green turtle is one that was found late summer completely entangled in fishing line (in fact, the turtle was still attached to a fishing pole when someone found him/her). The turtle suffered terrible injuries to both front flippers, and unfortunately lost one flipper. The remaining front flipper is still recovering-Houston Zoo Vet Staff took a look to make sure it is healing properly. Hopefully with a few months longer in rehab, this turtle will be healthy enough to be released back into the wild. Sea turtles are able to survive in the wild with only 3 functioning flippers, and we have high hopes this turtle will be no different.
The 2nd green turtle that Vet staff checked on also suffered from a front flipper injury. Staff from the NOAA-Galveston Lab are unsure as to how this sea turtle became injured, but it was found floating in the ship channel in Galveston. It has wounds near the front left flipper and looks to have suffered a dislocated flipper-this type of injury is very uncommon among sea turtles!
Our Vet Team at the Houston Zoo took x-rays to monitor the flipper injury and hope to see it back in a few weeks for further treatment. A twist to this sea turtle’s story is that this exact turtle was released with the help of the Houston Zoo in May of 2013. The turtle had lost a back flipper several months ago, was rehabilitated in Galveston, and then released into Galveston Bay with Houston Zoo staff help earlier this year. We know the history of this sea turtle because before it was released it was given a flipper tag with an ID number on it. We had hoped this turtle would not have returned with yet another injury, but we are optimistic that the turtle will be returned one more time to the wild and stay there unharmed, thriving in its’ natural habitat.
Both turtles will remain at NOAA’s sea turtle facility in Galveston as they rehabilitate. Thanks to the work of the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), these turtles will have another chance to return to the wild!
This time of year is especially tough for sea turtles. When the temperature drops drastically, sea turtles become stunned or shocked from the sudden temperature drop. They often rise to the top and float into the shore. If you visit Texas beaches this holiday season and happen to see a sea turtle on the beach please call 1-866-TURTLE-5.You can also help sea turtles daily by reducing your use of plastics-products like plastic water bottles, soda pack rings, and plastic bags end up in our oceans and animals like sea turtles and dolphins can become entangled in these items or eat them, mistaking them for food. By using reusable grocery bags and reusable water bottles, you can help save sea turtles each day!
You can also help sea turtles by visiting the Houston Zoo this holiday season-each time you purchase a ticket or a Zoo membership, a portion of the proceeds go towards saving animals in the wild.
On Dec. 3rd eight sea turtles were brought to the Houston Zoo’s vet clinic after being stranded on the upper Texas coast. There were 4 Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles that recieved medical treatment and check ups after swallowing fishing hooks and 4 green sea turtles were treated after feeling the affects of the sudden cold snap. After the turtles had physical examinations and received treatments they were transported to the NOAA Sea Turtle Barn in Galvaston to recover. They will be released as soon as we are sure they are stable and the weather is a bit warmer.
Fact: Our veterinary staff have assisted in saving over 75 injured or stranded wild sea turtles in this year alone.
More ways the Zoo saves sea turtles:
Our staff participates in reducing threats to sea turtles by performing patrols to find stranded and sick turtles and creating signs that give direction to public and fisherman that encounter sea turtles. For more on our sea turtles saving efforts visit here .
Come to the Zoo to see the sea turtle in our aquarium. He was also found stranded and weak on the upper Texas coast and is visiting us until he is strong enough to be released into the wild again.
How you can help save sea turtles in the wild:
Remember to say no to plastic and use reusable shopping bags and drink cups whenever you can!
Every time you purchase a ticket to visit the Zoo or a membership a portion goes to saving animals in the wild.
In Belize it is illegal to own a pet howler monkey, and the forestry department confiscates monkeys from people to eventually be brought back into the wild. In June I had the opportunity to travel to Belize and help release two troops of howler monkeys back into a safe spot deep within the Amazon rainforest called Fireburn. (Wondering why they are not allowed as pets? Read all about why having a monkey as a pet is bad for the monkey and for you.)
In Belize is ‘Wildtracks’, a non-profit organization that shelters the howler monkeys and rehabilitates them. This can involve medical needs, special feedings and/or socialization with other howler monkeys. Wildtracks receives animals aged from a few months old to adulthood. Each animal is eventually put into a group with other monkeys and once they become a cohesive group, they are ready to move on to the next step. This next step is the pre-release area, which is an area of forest fenced off by electrical fencing.
At Wildtracks, they have two pre-release areas, and they had two troops of monkeys to release this year. Nicky, Sultan, Livvy, Willow and Hazel had been living with Wildtracks for a year. The other troop, Charlie, Paz, Mia, Fern and Ritchie, had been at Wildtracks for about half a year. I was able to help them with this year’s release at Fireburn, an area of protected forest that traditionally had howler monkeys in it; therefore a great place to do a release! So…picture it; a bumpy ride on the back of a truck on a dirt road, then a beautiful boat ride across a lagoon, then a tractor ride deep into the jungle, then an hour trek even deeper into the jungle – this is how you travel to Fireburn Reserve!
When we went to the reserve, there were several steps to accomplish in order to free a monkey:
1. Go to Fireburn and build release caging – this involved bringing a generator, drill, ladder and several panels of caging deep into the jungle! This will be the monkeys’ home for a couple of days and also a home base once they are released.
2. Next we bring the monkeys to the jungle and put them in their release cages.
3. Allow the monkeys to get used to their surroundings, while feeding them fruit and freshly cut leaves from the forest, called browse.
4. Release the monkeys!
5. Monitor the monkeys to make sure they are doing well and eating well. They will be provisioned with food for about 3 months until they start to eat on their own.
This was my second trip to Belize. I was there three years ago to meet some monkeys that were being rehabilitated and assist with the project. When we released the first troop of monkeys this year, that first group that I met three years ago came to see what was happening! It was so rewarding to be able to see the monkeys I met before being wild and free in the jungle again. One of those monkeys’ names was Eden. She had been confiscated as a baby, so small she could fit in your hands. When I first met her she was still being bottle-fed and was very wary of newcomers. It broke my heart to think that she had been taken away from her mom in the forest and was someone’s pet. When I saw her this year she was huge! As a fully grown adult at this point, she was swinging in the trees, howling and fully a part of her new troop. This gives me a good feeling that the 2 troops we released this year have a very good chance of thriving in the jungle of Belize!
Rehabilitation and release of any animal is a difficult and time consuming process. Although everything went extremely well overall, there were three monkeys that will need to wait until next year to be released. Livvy unfortunately broke her arm a day before the release and has had extensive medical care that is ongoing. Paz lost the rest of his troop and could not find them and so had to be returned to Wildtracks to try again next year, and Sultan, who was showing great movement and independence in the trees at Wildtracks, was simply not ready to be out in the wild and will also be tried again next year. Although these are setbacks, looking at the big picture, seven howler monkeys were successfully released this year!
My trip was made possible through the support of the Houston Zoo Staff Conservation Fund. The Fund is the donations of many Zoo employees, pooled together to support a select few of our staff’s proposals. It allows us to actively participate in conservation at many different levels and in places from Texas to far-flung areas like Belize. In the primate department, for the past 4 years we have raised awareness and provided funding for howler monkey conservation each October during our event called ‘Howlerween’. In addition to contributing funds, we travel to Belize and help them with whatever they need, from carpentry to assisting with medical procedures.
Thanks to this Fund and Wildtracks, I was able to contribute to conservation and have an amazing learning experience this past June!
The howler monkeys we have here at the Houston Zoo are ambassadors for the monkeys in the wild, and I hope to see all of you come to the Houston Zoo to see our amazing howler monkeys in action!
Yesterday, Houston Zoo staff assisted in NOAA’s weekly beach survey to find injured, sick or stranded sea turtles along the upper Texas coast. After the summer ends and before the sea turtle nesting season begins in April, things sea-turtle related are relatively quiet. Luckily we did not find any sick, injured or stranded turtles yesterday, and we were able to clean up a lot of fishing line from the Surfside Jetty.
Fishing line that is left on rocks or on the beach is extremely dangerous to sea turtles as well as other marine life because these animals can become entangled in this line when it floats in the ocean. This can either damage their body parts, or cause them to drown. By collecting and recycling old fishing line and other plastics, we can make a huge impact on protecting our local Texas species.
The highlight of our survey yesterday was being able to assist in the release of a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle who was injured in mid-September. The sea turtle was caught accidentally by a recreational fishermen off the Texas coast. Unfortunately, the hook was caught in the turtles’ eye, but the NOAA staff who responded to the 1-866-TURTLE-5 call were able to remove the hook. After the hook was removed, Houston Zoo veterinarian staff gave the turtle a check-up to make sure it was okay. After a few weeks of rehabilitation at NOAA’s facility in Galveston, the turtle was ready to be released back into the wild!
Two thumbs (or flippers?) up for protecting animals! The Houston Zoo is so fortunate to partner with organizations in order to save our local wildlife.
And, a special thanks to YOU, our guests & readers, for doing your part to save wildlife. Remember, every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you help save animals in the wild!
It all started on March 19, when the very first egg of the season was laid by an Attwater’s prairie chicken at the Houston Zoo, 2 weeks earlier than expected. We knew it was going to be a wild ride this season, and the Birds Department began gearing up for what would end up being one of the most successful breeding seasons ever for this critically endangered grouse.
This bird, native to the Texas Gulf Coast, was once thriving on the coastal prairies, but now there are less than 100 birds left in the wild. We work with US Fish & Wildlife, Texas Parks & Wildlife, and NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and 3 other Texas zoos in an effort to bring this bird back from the brink of extinction.
One of the ways we do this is to incubate eggs at the Zoo, keep the chicks healthy as they hatch, and gradually introduce them into the outdoors so they can eventually be released at Attwater’s Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge near Sealy, Texas.
This season, we achieved some major goals that will help the program continue to grow. With generous assistance from the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation, we built 8 new pens near the Houston Zoo Vet Hospital to get the birds used to an outside environment after hatching and growing up a bit.
The first 10 days of a chick’s life are the most important for determining whether it will be healthy and able to survive in the wild. We worked with the University of North Texas on genetic pairings of adults to make sure the chicks would be as healthy as possible, and it paid off. Our survival rate was the highest we’ve ever had.
The annual Name a Chick campaign is another way that guests can get involved in prairie chicken conservation. This year, 85 chicks were named, resulting in $4,200 in donations for the Attwater’s prairie chicken program.
Education is a huge part of helping an endangered species survive. We want to educate the public on how important it is to protect these animals by knowing they are there and to keep the prairie pristine for these animals and others that live in their habitat. We also want to keep learning about these animals (our work is never done) so we can continue to have success in breeding them and releasing them into the wild.
And to continue our education and the education of others that work with prairie chickens, we just completed an animal care manual for the Attwater’s prairie chickens that can be used for other prairie grouse in the US that are facing increased threats and habitat loss (yep, this prairie chicken is technically a grouse). We also recently hosted an egg incubation workshop for professionals in the field so they can gain the skills needed to help out.
The Attwater’s prairie chickens that were born at our Zoo this year are literally being released out into the Refuge as we speak. This morning, we visited some of the lucky birds to watch them stroll out into their new home, equipped with bands and tracking collars so we can monitor their success.
For more on the Attwater’s prairie chicken and our efforts to send them back to the wild, visit the Houston Zoo website.
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This morning, we humanely euthanized our male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam. Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and our veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.
The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.
Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur; happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr purr purr #RIP #bigbangtheory
I know he lived a lot longer due to the excellent care he got at the Zoo.
This was my daughters favorite critter at the Zoo. We always went to say hello to him before anyone else whenever we went. When she was 7 years old we sent a post out to out neighborhood on Halloween saying Paisley was asking for pocket change donations in lieu of candy for Halloween and all amounts would be donated to Kan thru the zoo. She raised over $40 in coins! I still have the letter from the zoo thanking her for her donation. He was a sweet boy and will be missed. 😔
I saw him limping about 2 weekends ago. The first time we walked by he was fine. When we walked by on the way out he was limping and moaning pretty loudly. I wondered what happened but I figured his keeper already knew or would find out shortly. Super Sad. He was always a lively one.
Dunno if the Zoo staff considered him a pet but he was certainly a family member, and because of that i offer this:
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.
When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.
All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor. Those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.
They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent. His eager body quivers. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.
You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.
Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together....
Thank you Houston Zoo for taking such good care of him and all the animals! I've been going to this zoo since I was little bitty. I always enjoy it.
Is this the one that had the limp?
Jaguars are one of my favorite and he seems like a sweet boy. I'm so sad but I'm happy he can be painless and be free now. RIP❤️
Aww. When interning in the carnivore dept he was one of my faves. So smart! Ashley remember when Angie was teaching him to do the moonwalk after Michael Jackson passed?
Beautiful jaguar ....so grateful for the Houston Zoo keepers and veterinary team that gave their time and efforts to share this awesome jaguar with us for so many years.
Thank you for doing what was right and kind for Kan Balam even though it was hard and painful for you. That’s true love for an animal. ❤️
Run free in the heavens, your limp is no more. Prayers for all his caretakers at the Houston Zoo
What a great long life he lived because of his excellent care at the zoo Thoughts go out to his keepers and the entire Houston Zoo staff
Sending love to the keepers that are broken hearted right now. And thank you for all the care you’ve given.
Thinking of you all. What an amazing life he had thanks to the dedication of the zoo staff! ❤️
RIP Kan Balam. You have given the visitors so much pleasure just watching you over these years. You were taken care of by top notch professional handlers, etc.
Thank you to you and your staff for the years of quality care given this magnificant creature.
I'm so sorry for your loss. Thanks for taking such great care of him so he was able to live a long life. My thoughts are with his keepers and all who adored him. <3
I am soo sorry for the loss of this handsome fella Kan Balam. May he rest in peace and run free or any pain over the rainbow bridge.. My heart and prayers go out to each and every one of the staff at the Zoo.
Aww, so very sorry for your loss, Houston. Condolences to his keepers and all who loved him. ((((Lorie Fortner)))) He surely lived a long life with the great care he received at Houston.
Katie Rose Buckley-Jones I won’t ever forget the time you asked him to bring something and he ripped off a piece of cardboard and tried to hand it to you ❤️ thank you for introducing me to him. Sending you guys many hugs
He was well-cared for and most of all well-loved. My heartfelt condolences to those missing Kan B as well as me. What an amazing ambassador for his kind. What a beautiful old gentleman. Thank you for loving him into old age and giving him peace.
So sorry to the keeping staff for your loss i cant imagine how youre feeling :( his old age is a testimony to the amazing care he received
I will miss him. The last time I saw him he looked tired, and it appeared his foot was bothering him.
Sad to hear of this. Thanks for taking such good and compassionate care for him and the other animals.