Penny checks out the building

Penny looks around the Animal Ambassador Building

Well.  This looks pretty nice in here.  I wonder who will be living in this room?  I have heard it is called the Ambassador Animal Building.

Look! Some of  the animals have started moving in!  Ernie the North American Porcupine is here.  So is Fiona the  Flemish Giant rabbit.  These guys are getting some really nice spaces to live in.  The building has room for all the Ambassador mammals and a whole separate room for the Ambassador reptiles.  There are going to be some amazing birds in here too.  A Kookaburra, some parrots and even a roadrunner.  Staff and volunteers can take these animals to classrooms, presentations and special events.

pennyaab2
Checking out the corner room

Just look at this corner room.  No one has moved in yet.  I could totally live here.  I could turn that space into a kitty paradise.  Oh, I am envisioning cat trees, toys, my own furniture.  Yes, I can see it now.

And look outside!  Is that our own exercise yard?  With a pool?  This building is amazing!

The Exercise Yard
The Exercise Yard

That settles it!  I am finding a way to move in.

Spotlight on Species – Otters!

On July 16th, from 10AM – 3PM, the Houston Zoo will be celebrating a Spotlight on Species (SOS) all about otters!

Did you know that there are 13 different species of otters and that several of the species are endangered?

Did you know we have otters right here in Texas?

Come and learn about Texas otters and otters around the world.  Meet our North American River Otter and

Asian Small-clawed Otter
Asian Small-clawed Otter

Asian Small Clawed Otters that call the Houston Zoo home.

The SOS will take place in both the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo and the Natural Encounters building.  There will be lots to learn along with activities and fun for the whole family.    There will be tables with information and education materials along with special Meet

the Keeper chats at both locations.  It is also going to be Snow Day at the Zoo, and our North American River Otter, Belle, will be

North American River Otter

getting snow to play in!

The Naturally Wild Swap Shop will be participating too!  Any nature reports or nature journals on otters brought in on the day of the SOS will receive DOUBLE points!  Also, if you take the electronic pledge that day to go plastic bag free and come tell us in the Swap Shop, you will earn you 25 points.  If you take the pledge you will also be entered in to a drawing for one of two special otter experiences.

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here to learn more.

Penny Cat sees something new

Hi everyone.  Penny the cat here.

Something big is happening behind the scenes in the George P. McGovern Children’s Zoo!  I can hear a lot of noise and see a little movement behind the fence, but I can’t quite figure it out.

I really wanted to go check it out, so I got one of my handlers to take me over to see what is going on.

Look at that new building!
Look at that new building!

You won’t believe it!  The building that houses the animals that go to events, presentations and classrooms is being re-done!  So much construction!  The building is being expanded and there will be lots of room for the ambassador animals to live.

I am a little jealous.  Those guys are going to have so much space and such a nice new building.  Being the Princess Kitten that I am, I think I deserve a new spot too, don’t you?  A cat like me should be living in luxury.

 

I am going to have to start working on a plan…….

They are Toadally Texan!

Some of the most amazing things about Texas are all of the fabulous native wildlife species.  Texas has a long and rich natural history – from the Horned Lizard, to the Nine Banded Armadillo, to the state flying mammal, the Mexican Free-tailed Bat.  But, some of our native species are in jeopardy.

Meet Tina Toad.  She is one of the Houston Zoo’s ambassador animals and is a retired Houston Toad that was a part of the Zoo’s breeding program.  After laying over 10,000 eggs (yes, Moms, I said 10,000), she was retired and came to live in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.  Recently, we were able to get a picture of her with another kind of Texan.  Kurtis Drummond, safety with the Houston Texans, came by along with Bethany and Brianna from the Houston Texans Cheerleaders.

The Houston Toad is one of Texas’ most imperiled species.  Its range was formerly known to include 12 counties in Texas, but it is now only in a few counties in east-central Texas.  The largest remaining populations are found in the Lost Pines region of Bastrop County.  Habitat loss, fragmentation and degradation are the most serious threats facing the Houston Toad.  Red fire ants can also have a devastating impact by killing young toads and altering local insect and arthropod populations which the toads feed on.

From Left to Right: Sr. Naturalist Suzanne, Houston Texans Cheerleaders Bethany and Brianna, Texans Safety Kurtis Drummond and Sr. Keeper David.
From Left to Right: Sr. Naturalist Suzanne, Houston Texans Cheerleaders Bethany and Brianna, Texans Safety Kurtis Drummond and Sr. Keeper David.

Their habitat is associated with deep sandy soils within the Post Oak Savannah of east central Texas.  The toads burrow into the sand for protection from cold weather in winter and hot dry conditions in the summer.

Breeding season peaks in March and April.  Large numbers of eggs are produced; however, each egg has less than one percent probability of survival.  Eggs hatch within seven days and tadpoles turn into tiny toads in as little as fifteen days.

The Houston Zoo has a 1200 square foot Houston Toad quarantine facility, managed by two full-time Houston Toad specialists, that serves as a location for the captive breeding and head-starting of wild Houston toad egg strands for release.  Approximately 1,950 Houston toad tadpoles were transferred from the Houston Zoo to Texas State University for release into native habitat as of January 2015.  The zoo also has established a collaborative, conservation-based Houston Toad research project with local universities including Rice University and the University of Saint Thomas.

To meet Tina the Houston Toad, come by the Naturally Wild Swap Shop between 9AM and 5PM any day the Zoo is open.

 

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here to find out more.

 

Earn Swap Shop Points with our New Reusable Bag Program!

We’re excited to announce a new way to earn points in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop! Traders in the Swap Shop now have the option to spend 25 points in exchange for a small reusable bag to transport treasures they have found in nature. Here’s the best part: Each time the bag is used to bring items into the Swap Shop for a trade, traders earn 5 points! This new program shows the importance of reusable bags in protecting wildlife and rewards the kiddos that want to make a difference.

swap shop bag

There is roughly 3.15 billion pounds of plastic in our oceans right now and the average American will add to this epidemic by throwing away approximately 185 pounds of plastic per year.

Sea_turtle_2Wildlife like endangered sea turtles and other marine creatures often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, one of their favorite foods. Recently, we made plastic bags extinct in our gift shops, encouraging adults to also opt for reusable bags to protect marine life.

The Houston Zoo also has an expanding collection of canvas bags artistically designed with images depicting the animals that benefit from a reduction of plastic bags in the ocean. The series includes sea lions, sea turtles, pelicans and more on the way!

Canvas bag

Penny Always Has Something to Say

Hi everyone.  It’s Penny the Swap Shop cat.

Penny
Penny

I have been enjoying seeing so many guests lately!  There were lots of people here for Zoo Boo.  That was so much fun.  Now, it’s time for Zoo Lights and everyone likes that! We have had some rainy days, but the dry days were amazing.  Lots of people came out on the good weather days.  I like that weather too.   I especially like sitting in the windows in the sun.

There was a different kind of guest in the Shop recently.  I didn’t get to stay out and see him, but I knew he was out there.   I heard all about it (and smelled him too!).  It was a goat!  His name is Alvin, and he

Visitors meet Alvin in the Swap Shop
Visitors meet Alvin in the Swap Shop

is a Nubian goat.  I heard that he is really tall – much taller than me.  He came in with his trainer, Amber.  I already knew Amber; she is one of the Zookeepers in the Children’s Zoo.  I found out that Nubian goats are dairy goats and originally came from Africa.  They like really hot climates – so they must really love Houston.  They also have some really awesome long ears.    You can meet Alvin and lots of other goats in the Contact Area of the Children’s Zoo.

Of course, if you want to meet me, you will have to come to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.

Alvin and his trainer Amber
Alvin and his trainer Amber

As an Ambassador for the zoo, I sometimes go out to classrooms or presentations. But, when I am not working, I live in the Swap Shop.  The Naturalists that work there seem to understand that I am the one really in charge.

Don’t know ab0ut the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

The Houston Zoo Launches our First-Ever Comic Book!

At the Houston Zoo we are passionate about the animals in our care, the animals they represent in the wild, and the challenges they face in their native homes. One of the biggest responsibilities we have at the Zoo is to tell the stories of wildlife around the globe, connect them to our animals at the Zoo, and encourage our community to take action to help!

comic book coverLocally, the Houston Zoo is very proud of our partnership with numerous organizations to save sea turtles. To celebrate the achievements of our local community in saving sea turtles, the Houston Zoo designed a comic book to tell this important conservation story in a fun and interesting way! The comic book, “Saving Wildlife: Sea Turtle Edition” focuses on a family visiting Galveston who happens to find an injured sea turtle that needs help. You’ll have to pick up your very own copy of the comic book in the Zoo’s Naturally Wild Swap Shop to find out the rest of the story, but you will not be disappointed! Simply visit the Zoo’s Swap Shop (in the Children’s Zoo) and say this secret code (tortuga power!to receive your copy of this limited edition comic book!

Make sure to check out the back inside cover page where you can learn how to take action to help save sea turtles locally. By filling out this page and bringing it back to the Zoo’s Naturally Wild Swap Shop (open daily 9:00 – 11:45 a.m. and 1:00 – 3:45 p.m.) you can earn points to be used to swap for cool items like rocks, fossils and bones!

emma comic book shot

What’s happening again?

What: Limited edition “Saving Wildlife: Sea Turtle Edition” comic book

Where: Houston Zoo’s Naturally Wild Swap Shop

Why: Learn about our local sea turtles, the challenges they face in the wild, what the Zoo and other partners are doing to help, and how you can help! Plus, you can earn points to use in the Swap Shop just by reading and learning from a comic book!

How: Visit the Swap Shop and say the secret code (tortuga power!to Houston Zoo staff to receive your comic book.

When: Comic books available starting today! The Swap Shop is open daily 9:00am-11:45 am and 1:00pm-3:45pm.

Pollination Station Arrives

Check out the new amazing Pollination Station in the Children’s Zoo!  What is a Pollination Station?  Just think of it as an insect hotel.

Before
Before

 

You will notice that many different materials were used in our Pollination Station’s making.  This allows many different insects to use the different shape openings to lay their eggs.

30% of all North American bees use some kind of tunnel in which to lay their eggs.  Providing a food source and houses for these bees is very important in the efforts to help our pollinators.

A huge percentage of our food crops rely on pollinators.  Without our pollinators, we could lose nuts, spices, many fruits and vegetables, cotton, alfalfa and even chocolate.  75% of flowering plants and over

Pollination Station in progress
Pollination Station in progress

30% of our food crops rely on pollinators.

What kinds of insects will be making this palace their home?  Wasps, dragonflies, bees, moths, and spiders.

The next time you are in the Children’s Zoo, check out the Pollination Station next to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.  And, if you have planted pollinator plants in your own gardens, bring a report or pictures to the Swap Shop for points and you can be registered as a Pollinator Pal.

The finished Pollination Station
The finished Pollination Station

 

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information on how it works.

Big News in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

 

Our staff is growing! Meet Sara Riger, our newest Naturalist. Sara has been a part of the Houston Zoo for 11 years and has a vast range of experience and knowledge. She has worked with animals in Natural Encounters, Primates and Carnivores during her time with the zoo.

Sara Riger Naturalist
Sara Riger Naturalist

But her experience goes even further back than that! During her career, she has also worked at the Bronx Zoo in New York City, Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York, and the Nashville Zoo. She is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, The Clouded Leopard Management Committee, and is Co-chair for the Houston Zoo’s Enrichment Committee.

Originally from New York State, Sara and her husband, Peter, (who she met at the Bronx Zoo and who now also works for the Houston Zoo) have made a happy home in the Houston area along with their four legged kids – Peanut, Shaemus, Fluffy, Sebastian and Mateo.

Sara is a wonderful addition to the Swap Shop with her knowledge, experience and enthusiasm for working with people of all ages. The next time you are at the Houston Zoo, come by and say hi to Sara and welcome her to the team. (It might even earn you 5 points in the shop!)

Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

 

 

Penny the cat discovers Gorillas

Hello all. Penny the Swap Shop cat here. There is something new going on at the zoo.

I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I kept hearing about these new animals at the

Penny contemplating gorillas
Penny contemplating gorillas

zoo…..gorillas. So, I did some research.

It seems the Houston Zoo has added 7 new gorillas. A bachelor group and a family group. I didn’t think they would be so impressive until I saw pictures of them.   They are actually amazing!

There are three males in the bachelor group – Ajari (14 yrs. old), Chaka (30 yrs. old) and Mike (23 yrs. old). The family group consists of one male, Zuri (31 yrs. old), with Holli (25 yrs. old), Sufi (13 yrs. old) and Benti (40 yrs. old).   Their exhibit is beautiful and took a long time

The gorilla family in their new exhibit

to build.   They have a much bigger house than I have in the Swap Shop.   But then, they are a lot bigger than me so I suppose that is fair – even if they aren’t cats.  I guess that also explains why they get to be outside without a leash when I don’t.

I learned that gorillas are disappearing in the wild. It is due to habitat loss and illegal hunting. That made me pretty sad. But, the Houston Zoo is working with organizations in the field to help save the gorillas. They work with the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) and the Gorilla Rehabilitation and Conservation Education Center (GRACE) to help the wild gorillas. Every time you come to the zoo to see our gorillas, you are helping wild gorillas.

Come and see me at the Naturally Wild Swap Shop.  I will be here carefully contemplating gorillas.

Don’t know about the Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

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