Looking Back with JoAnne Driscoll

Very few people can say that they were a member of three important zoo organizations. Born in Pittsburgh, 79-year-old JoAnne Driscoll, a resident at Treemont Retirement Community, was an active member on the docent council, raised funds as a Zoo Friend, and served on the Zoological Society of Houston. It is easy to say that Driscoll holds a special place in her heart for the Houston Zoo.

“My kids grew up at the zoo,” Driscoll said. “I had grown up with the zoo in Pennsylvania, and been out of a zoo for several years now. It was great to be in a city to take my daughter to the zoo, and it was always a favorite place of mine. I’ve got a long history with the zoo, and it’s always been one of my favorite things.”

Driscoll recalled that as a member of the docent council for 11 years, one of her favorite activities was to visit the contact yard located in the Children’s Zoo. She was a Zoo Friend for 15 years and a member of the Zoological Society for 11 years.

“I really do think that the time and days I spent associated with the zoo was really some of the happiest times I’ve had in Houston,” Driscoll said.

JoAnne Driscoll. Photo courtesy of Treemont Retirement Community.

From the small fence to the now size of 55-acres, from city-operated to privatization, and from small collections of a few species to 6,000 animals of 900 different species, it is easy to say that the Houston Zoo has come a long way since that first bison. Over the years these changes are what Houston residents recall the most, which is one of many things the zoo has to celebrate for its 100th year anniversary in 2022.

“The zoo was very different from when I was taking my kids there,” Driscoll said. “I was there when the zoo went from a city zoo to a private zoo, and the best change is that there are more animals because I love that we’re getting a group of gorillas, but there is also more money to feed and take care of all these animals.”

In July 2002, the Houston Zoo became a private non-profit organization with a 50-year lease and operating agreement from the City of Houston. This public/private partnership has proven to be mutually beneficial for everyone and allowed the zoo to undertake the most ambitious scope of improvements in its entire history.

“One of the biggest changes from the transition was when the zoo was focusing primarily on education and conservation, and Rick Barongi from Disney was brought in as the director and reintroduced the element of entertainment,” Driscoll said. “I think in this world we live in, it’s important to educate people but to also make it entertaining to stick with them, so that they can come back and remember everything. I think that it’s been a good thing.”

Click here to check out what other residents wanted to share.

Looking Back with Charlotte Taylor

St. Dominic Village resident Charlotte Taylor, who is 88 years old, may not be Houston-born, but she and her husband shared a love for the zoo just like any native Houstonian would. Born in Beaumont, TX, she recalled some of the fond memories she has of the zoo, and spoke about how her husband was involved with then-director John Werler.

Charlotte Taylor. Photo courtesy of St. Dominic Village.
Charlotte Taylor. Photo courtesy of St. Dominic Village.

Coinciding with all the zoo improvements and renovations in the 1960s and ‘70s was the arrival of the zoo’s third and longest tenured director, John Werler. A well-known celebrity in town and appearing in weekly TV shows with all his favorite reptiles and other critters, Werler and his Swedish-born wife, Ingrid, ran the zoo as a family and were loved and respected by all. He was one of the longest serving zoo directors, retiring in 1993 after 30 years.

Werler was a talented individual who published his definitive book on Texas snakes just before he died in 2003. Taylor recalled a time when her husband and Werler were close colleagues.

“My best friend Ingrid was married to John, the then-director at the time,” Taylor said. “I think it was the snake house that brought us to the zoo because my husband loved snakes and he and John Werler had been in charge of the snakes at the Bronx Zoo in New York. Once, my husband found a snake and brought it to John. Before you know it, my husband’s name was on a plaque for contributing.”

The 1950s saw a boom in construction as the zoo added a primate house, bear moats, feline house, hippo pool, giraffe house, waterfowl pond, sea lion pool and concession area. The first major indoor exhibit building was the reptile house in 1960.

“I really liked walking down the reflection pool, it was beautiful,” Taylor said. “But my kids really liked to go look at the snakes with their dad. My husband was going to night law school at the University of Houston, and on the weekends it was zoo-time.”

Taylor’s daughters plant a “chocolate” tree at the Houston Zoo. Photo courtesy of St. Dominic Village.

While Taylor has not had the ability to visit the zoo in recent years, the same passion her and her husband had for the zoo is passed down to other generations within the family.

“My youngest grandchild is eight, and for the last four years I know his father has taken him to the zoo every Sunday,” Taylor said. “Just the two of them.”

Click here to check out what other residents wanted to share.

A Look Back into the Past with Houston Residents

To think that it all started with a bison named Earl that was donated by a traveling circus in 1922. A fence was then erected in Hermann Park to house various assortments of snakes, birds, and alligators purchased by the City of Houston.

The Houston Zoo will turn 100 years old in 2022, and while we still have several years to go, you can only imagine all the stories and memories that go with that kind of a milestone. With all these vast changes, improvements, and new exhibits such as the Gorillas of the African Forest (opening Memorial Day weekend) over the years, it is pretty easy to say that the zoo has come a long way since that first bison.

I had the chance to speak with several Houstonian residents, both native and from other cities, and they all had special things to say about our wonderful zoo.

“I would look to my husband and say ‘We got to do this again soon,’”81-year-old, Boston-born, St. Dominic Village resident Ann Palmeira said. “You always looked forward to a ‘next time’ every time you visited the Houston Zoo.”

Ann Palmeira. Photo courtesy of St. Dominic Village.
Ann Palmeira. Photo courtesy of St. Dominic Village.

Click on the blogs below to read about some residents’ fond memories from visiting the Houston Zoo.






Painted Dog Conservation in Zimbabwe

The African painted dog is one the most distant relatives of the domestic dog and one of the most endangered carnivores in Africa.  With only around 3000 animals left in the wild they are a critically endangered species.  The Houston Zoo houses two beautiful African Painted dogs and is committed to saving their wild counterparts from extinction.  We partner with a conservation organization called Painted Dog Conservation (PDC) in Zimbabwe.  In our five year partnership with PDC we have enhanced their efforts by providing funding, resources and training for their staff and local communities.

Protecting existing populations of Painted dogs is a priority for PDC.  They monitor African painted dog packs all over Zimbabwe and are proactive in addressing threats to this species.  Local people are hired to carry out anti-poaching efforts to reduce the amount of human carnage on the dogs.   Their anti-poaching teams have been extremely successful in reducing mortality of the Painted dog by retrieving deadly snares (wire traps) from the park and apprehending poachers.   Painted dogs that are sick, injured or abandoned are cared for in PDC’s spacious rehabilitation facility until they are fit to be re-introduced again.  This holding area also serves as a valuable teaching environment for visiting tourists, community members and children that get the opportunity to meet the dogs eye to eye.

All the services PDC provides to the local communities are free of charge thanks to international support from donors like the Houston Zoo. The children education program, the Bush Camp, invites children from the local communities to experience local wildlife and nature first hand. In this specially designed program they learn about their role in the ecosystem and the importance of protecting endangered species.  They have seen many positive results from this valuable program including children reporting on poaching issues and illegal activities. Recently PDC opened an interpretive environmental visitor center for the community.  The Center improves PDC’s educational outreach to not only school children in the Bush Camp, but also to adults in the community, who can now come and learn about the ecosystem and use the computers.

How you can help:

PDC has developed a very successful Arts and Crafts center (Iganyana Arts center) in a local town where the artisans create intricate artwork made with the deadly snare wire traps collected by the anti-poaching teams. The artisans are paid for each piece and the town itself receives the proceeds upon sale overseas.  The Houston Zoo gift shop sells these pieces of art and you can protect the Painted dogs from extinction by purchasing a wire sculpture.  By bringing home this wire used by poachers you will ensure it will never kill again.

Come and learn all about PDC and painted dogs from PDC’s manager, Peter Blinston at a special event at the Houston Zoo in April.  Join us for an evening of wine and stories of protecting the endangered African Painted Dogs in Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe. Click here to get your tickets!

Fish of the Week – Post #1

You may have heard about sustainable seafood and know which choices to make, but if you haven’t, no worries – we will break it down for you!

Sustainable seafood is defined as seafood that is either wild-caught or farm-raised that not only sustains current populations, but thrives over the long term. The methods by which the seafood is harvested or raised must not cause undue harm to their natural ecosystems. The Houston Zoo strongly believes that embracing the use of sustainable seafood is one of the best ways we can all contribute to our oceans’ health.

How can you help, you ask? Here are a few ways:

  • Make smart choices about what you eat and where you buy it. This can make a huge impact on our oceans and the animals living there! Some of the top grocery stores in North America have public sustainable seafood sourcing policies – this list includes (but not limited to) Walmart, H-E-B, Fiesta, Kroger, Costco, Target, and Whole Foods. These stores provide sustainably-sourced seafood options for you to purchase and be confident you are making fish-friendly choices.
  • If you are out enjoying a meal at your favorite restaurant, you can ask them if the seafood they serve is sustainable.
  • You can also refer to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch consumer guide to learn which seafood options are best choices or good alternatives. Click here to download the app from the Apple Store or Google Play.

Over the next seven weeks, we will feature a new “Fish of the Week” recipe here on our blog site. Each week will feature a sustainably-sourced seafood option along with a recipe provided by our very own Chef Larry. Not only will get you get to hear from one of the Zoo’s top chefs, but you can also prepare meals at home that help protect marine wildlife and their ecosystems!

This week’s recipe is for Baja Fish Tacos.

These fish tacos are simple and easy. Add lime rice and cumin black beans for a complete dish. If you can’t find gulf grouper, other great sustainable seafood options are cobia or red drum (also known as redfish or channel fish). It all depends on the season. If you don’t like corn tortillas, flour are a great substitute.

Ingredients:fish tacos

Fish & Marinate:
1.5 lbs Gulf Grouper
⅓ cup Vegetable Oil
1 tbls Chili Powder
1 tsp Onion Powder
2 tsp Minced Garlic
½ cup Chopped Fresh Cilantro
2 ea Green Onion, Chopped
½ ea Jalapeno Pepper, Chopped with Seeds
1 tbls Lime Juice

Chipotle Slaw:
½ ea Small Head Shredded Red Cabbage
½ cup Shredded Carrots
3 ea Green Onions, Bias Cut
2 tsp Chipotle Peppers in Adobo, Chopped
⅓ cup Mayonnaise
3 tbls White Vinegar
1 tbls Lime Juice

10 slices Sliced Tomatoes, cut in to ½
10 ea Corn Tortillas
12 ea Lime Wedges

Marinating the Fish:

1. Combine all of your ingredient except the fish and place in a baking dish.
2. Add fish and rub all sides to completely coat fish, wrap and put in refrigerator for 40 min to 60 min.

Prepping the Slaw:

1. In a large bowl put your mayonnaise, white vinegar, chipotle peppers and salt & pepper mix well.
2. Add shredded red cabbage, shredded carrots and green onions.
3. Mix well and hold for service
4. Slice tomatoes and cut in to ½ moons.

Cooking the Fish:

1. Heat a cast iron skillet to med high.
2. Pull your fish out of the oil and carefully place it in the cast iron skillet.
3. Cook 3 to 4 min on each side. Don’t worry if the fish breaks because you are going to crumble it into large flakes.
4. Flake all the fish and hold to the side.
5. Heat your corn (or flour) tortilla in a nonstick pan with a little cooking spray. 1 min or so on each side. As the tortillas are heated place in a kitchen towel and hold.
6. To build your tacos: place tortilla on cutting board, add fish then top with chipotle slaw and 2 slices of tomatoes.
7. Place on a platter for service and serve with lime wedges.

Servings: 5
Degree of Difficulty: Easy

Cooking Times
Preparation Time: 40 minutes
Cooking Time: 10 minutes

We would love to get your feedback on the recipe above; share your thoughts and/or suggestions in the comment section below. And be sure to check back next week for a new, tasty recipe to try!

Thanks for doing your part to save wildlife. And remember, every time you visit the Houston Zoo, you help save animals in wild!

Record Attendance in 2014!

baby-okapiAttendance at the Houston Zoo exceeded the previous year’s attendance mark by nearly 10 percent in 2014 with 2.38 million guests. In 2013, the destination welcomed 2.16 million guests.

Additionally, in its third year, the growingly popular TXU Energy presents Zoo Lights ushered in a record-breaking 298,554 visitors. That broke the previous record of 213,703 visitors in 2013.

“As we continue to delight and educate millions of guests, we are able to share our passion for animals with both Houstonians and visitors from around the world,” said Deborah Cannon, Houston Zoo’s CEO. “Our mission is simple, we aim to provide a fun, unique, and inspirational experience fostering appreciation, knowledge, and care for the natural world.”

Zoo officials expect 2015 to be another banner year with the opening of Gorillas of the African Forest Memorial Day weekend. The intricately designed space will hold two groups of western lowland gorillas who will spend their days alternating between an outdoor habitat filled with lush landscape that mimics an African forestand a multi-tiered night house that includes private bedrooms, an artistic 23-foot-tall climbing tree, and a behind-the-scenes outdoor yard.

“The tremendous support from our Houston community not only provides us with the funds to continue to improve the zoo, but allows us to truly make a difference in our goal of helping to save animals in the wild here in Texas and around the world,” stated Cannon.

The zoo’s continued evolution is part of a long-term plan for the nearly 100-year-old establishment. Also part of the organizations plan is an ever-increasing focus on wildlife conservation. With programs spanning the globe, the group is intently focused on solving word-wide issues pertaining to wildlife in need. While donations to the zoo’s conservation efforts are still being calculated for 2014, early results show that facet of the organization will also exceed previous years.

Guest Blogger Carolyn Jess Talks About Houston Zoo Crew

Carolyn-Jess-2014-ResizeWe have invited Carolyn Jess back to help us out as guest blogger in 2015 with a focus on native wildlife. Jess is a 13 year old student who has agreed to be our special guest blogger about wildlife conservation. Carolyn was awarded the Alban Heiser Conservation Award in 2014, presented to her by Jack Hanna. If you would like to contact Carolyn or have comments, you may send them to conservation@houstonzoo.org.


If you are between the ages of 13 to 17 and have a passion for animals, then the Houston  Zoo’s teen volunteer program, Zoo Crew, might be the perfect  opportunity for you!  Zoo Crew is a volunteer program where you get a chance to learn more about animals, how to protect them, and the day-to-day operation of the Houston Zoo.  You first have to apply for a position and go through an interview process.  It is great experience and helps to guide you in the right direction for your future career.

When you apply, there are three different areas you can choose from, which are:  theater, education and Camp Zoofari.  After you turn in your paperwork by the due date and go through the interview process, you will get emailed whether you were accepted and which position you got.  You then choose the three weeks you can work.  Zoo Crew starts June 1st and ends August 7th.  It is very important to show up for your assigned weeks because lots of people, and animals, are depending on you.


When you work Zoo Crew, everyday is always different!  Whether you are working with the younger campers, teaching the public about animal facts, or performing skits for Zoo guests to teach about conservation, every day is something new.  I worked in Theatrical Interpretation and had a lot of fun.  No matter the job, there is so much information to learn and to pass on to everyone you come in contact with.  I would love to tell you a typical day at Zoo Crew, but there really is no typical day.

I will be honest, the first day I was very nervous.  I applied for Theatrical Interpretation because I have experience in theater.  Despite my experience, I was still was not quite sure what to expect.  But, the group leaders were there to help with the daily schedule and expectations.  My three weeks that I worked were lots of fun and went by way too fast for me.  I was able to learn lots about the animals and I also made some really good friends those weeks.  Most importantly, my group was able to teach a lot of people about animal conservation.

Zoo Crew is an experience that any teen wanting to help animals should try.  It helps you to learn not only about animals and what it takes to operate a zoo, but you learn more about yourself too.  You get more confidence in your abilities, make new  friends, and Zoo Crew helps you learn more about a zoological career.

Applications for Zoo Crew are online now! You can find the Zoo Crew Application here.  Good luck and I hope to see you at Zoo Crew.

A Million Thanks to TXU Energy

What makes the Houston Zoo such a cherished place to learn and play? The devotion of staff and volunteers and a family of 6,000 animal ambassadors are critical to a quality experience for our guests. But as a non-profit, our success begins with the exceptional philanthropic support of the Houston community, including corporate partners like TXU Energy. This generous friend of the Zoo has embraced our mission through giving that recently surpassed the $1 million milestone.

TXU Energy Presents Chill Out
Our animals enjoy cool treats all summer long, thanks to TXU Energy!

As the presenting sponsor of Chill Out since 2011 and Zoo Lights since its inception, TXU Energy makes summer sublime while adding a bit of wonder to winter. With their sponsorship of Pollinator Palooza, TXU Energy helps highlight the importance of birds, butterflies, and bees in our daily lives. Further still, this company leads by example during our annual Gift of Grub campaign by matching every donation up to $50,000, boosting individual giving by an average of more than 20% over the past two years. TXU Energy’s contributions enhance our ability to care for our animals, provide enlightening educational programming, and save endangered species in the wild.

TXU Energy Presents Zoo Lights
TXU Energy has been a sponsor of Zoo Lights since its inception!

TXU Energy’s dedication to the Houston Zoo is ingrained in their culture. “For over 130 years, the family of companies that TXU Energy stems from has made social responsibility a priority. Our commitment to being a company of people who support the communities where we live, work and serve unites and strengthens us as an organization,” says Sydney Seiger, TXU Energy Chief Marketing Officer. The Zoo’s partnership with TXU Energy is reinforced by our mutual enthusiasm for conservation education: “We share a philosophy of educating individuals to make positive impacts wherever they can. For example, whether you’re making decisions for your home or your business, the benefits of managing your energy usage can really make a difference for the environment and your budget,” says Ms. Seiger. “The Houston Zoo is a top-notch destination for family fun and wonderful educational programs. Our partnership with the Zoo gives us a unique opportunity to interact with our customers in a tremendous environment.”

TXU Energy matches every donation up to $50,000 in the yearly Gift of Grub campaign
TXU Energy matches every donation up to $50,000 in the yearly Gift of Grub campaign

We proudly recognize TXU Energy for their active role in growing the greater Houston community and extend our sincere thanks for everything TXU Energy does to brighten the lives of the Houston Zoo’s animals and guests!


TXU Energy Logo



Come with the Zoo to Yellowstone in the winter


Have you ever seen the air sparkle?  Well, that happens in Yellowstone during the winter. During February 2014, 6 Houstonians ventured to Yellowstone for a special winter adventure with the Houston Zoo. All of our Yellowstone adventures are made possible by our partners at Teton Science School’s Wildlife Expeditions. The Teton Science School is an incredible educational non-profit organization that provides us with leading Yellowstone wildlife biologists to guide our trips.

DSC_1666Our trips are always full of unforgettable wildlife sightings, and this winter trip was no exception.  We found ourselves eye-to-eye with several herds of bighorn sheep foraging for food on the side of the road.



DSCN0684We spotted several moose and witnessed an exciting, aggressive display between two adults.   We had some great photo opportunities as the large mammals reared up and kicked each other with their sharp front hooves.





We joined thousands of elk in a horse drawn cart in the National Elk Refuge. The herds remained calm with the horses allowing us to be in very close proximity of huge bull elk.




Bobcat photoWe saw many bison trudging through deep snow, foraging for food with snow balls on their beards.  Birds of prey like the ruffed-legged hawk sat on high vantage points to wait for rodent movement in the snow.  One of our guides even spotted some tracks that lead us to a very rare, exciting site, a bob cat!  He was quietly sitting beside a river waiting for unsuspecting ducks to pass by.







Old Faithful and the thermal features were outstanding!  They spewed liquid that evaporated in midair.  We stayed the night at a lodge near old faithful and had an early morning walk that allowed us to see some Old Faithful eruptions without anyone else around.




One of the highlights of this winter Yellowstone experience was rides in a special vehicle called a snow coach.  The heavy snow is not conducive to regular traffic at the high elevations of the park so snow coaches (cars with ski thingies on the bottom) and snow mobiles become a necessary mode of transportation.  We got to spend two days riding around in these cool vehicles.

We enjoyed some thrilling wolf watching.  The wolves love the cold weather and were very active.  We spied on a pack of five bounding through the snow for a half hour one day.

DSC_2290Yellowstone is magical in the winter.  This was a fun filled adventure and it was the first time we have been in Yellowstone in the winter.  We lead wildlife focused Yellowstone tours regularly in the Spring and Fall, so you can join us to see baby animals in the Spring or hear the impressive elk bugle in the Fall.  Visit HERE  for more on how to join us on these exciting adventures.

The Houston Zoo houses several North American animals that are found in Yellowstone, like our newest bear cubs and bobcat kitten, and we are very proud to do what we can to support that beautiful National Park.   We provide funding to the Teton Science School for their wildlife research and educational programming to ensure long-term protection for wildlife in North America’s first National Park.

Remember, every time you visit the Zoo or come on a trip into the wild with us, you help us protect animals in the wild.  A portion of your admission, membership or trip price goes directly to saving animals in the wild.

All of the photos in this post are courtesy of Winter Yellowstone traveler, Bill Fisher.  Thank you, Bill!

Marathon Oil: Going the Distance for the Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo has been a vibrant center for learning about the wonders of wildlife for over 90 years. By providing free admission to more than 88,000 public school students annually, the Zoo gives students and teachers the opportunity to become immersed in an engaging environment that inspires care for the natural world. However, some schools in the Houston area are unable to afford the transportation costs of a field trip to the Zoo. Thanks to the generous support of Marathon Oil, we are able to bring the Zoo fun to students throughout Houston and beyond with our Online Interactive Distance Learning program.


Marathon Oil kick-started the Zoo’s Distance Learning program in 2010 with a $50,000 gift, and their continued support has ensured its growth. Since the program’s inception, thousands of students have participated in classes that are grade-appropriate and aligned with Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills standards. “In the first year, we taught one class to a little over 9,000 students, and in the second year, we reached well over 10,000 students with a message about protecting wildlife and wild places in your own backyard,” says Dr. Chance Sanford, Vice President of Education at the Zoo. These distance learning classes are live and interactive, allowing students to view real-time animal behavior, feeding, training, enrichment activities, and conservation messaging.

We are grateful for Marathon Oil’s commitment to providing so many students with the knowledge to create a brighter future for wildlife.

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