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.

Pollinator Pals in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

Meet the first of the Houston Zoo’s Pollinator Pals!

 Ollie, Drake and Ginger are regular traders in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, and now they are also Pollinator Pals! They each picked out the plant they wanted to grow and what pollinators they wanted to attract. Ollie planted hyacinth bean to attract hummingbirds, Drake planted passion flower vine to attract gulf fritillary butterflies, and Ginger planted milkweed to attract monarch butterflies.

Drake planting passion flower
Drake planting passion flower

Pollinators are extremely important to us, and they are declining. Our lives would be severely impacted by the loss of any of our pollinators. Many of the foods we eat rely on pollinators.  Fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, cotton, alfalfa (for the cattle we rely on), honey, coffee, agave, chocolate and more!

Ginger gives a thumbs up for her milkweed seeds
Ginger gives a thumbs up for her milkweed seeds

How does one become a Pollinator Pal? Plant a pollinator garden! It can be as small as a potted plant or as large as a full scale garden. Once your garden is planted, take some pictures and bring a report about it to the Swap Shop to earn points. Then as

Check out Ollie's hyacinth bean seeds
Check out Ollie’s hyacinth bean seeds

your garden grows and attracts pollinators, bring in reports on what you have seen and how the garden is doing. Your points can then be spent in the Swap Shop for some amazing natural items.

Learn more about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop!

The Importance of Pollinators

Pollinating insects are a crucial part of the health and well-being of our planet. They enable plants to set seed and reproduce,

Pollinators - source USDA Forest Service
Pollinators – source USDA Forest Service

driving the Earth’s terrestrial ecosystems and providing us with fresh fruits, vegetables, greens, spices, coffee and fiber for clothing (to name a few items we can’t live without).   But did you know that pollinator insect populations are steadily declining year after year due to habitat loss, crop monoculture and pesticide use? Even if you are a hardcore carnivore, the animals you eat depend on a variety of insect pollinated plants for food, so their plight affects you, too. In short, if insect populations suffer, the human population will quickly follow suit. The relationships between organisms on our planet is beautifully complex. To illustrate how intertwined these relationships can be, I’d like to tell you the story of a sweet smelling orchid, a love-struck metallic green bee and the Brazil nut tree.

As most people are aware, the deforestation of our planet is rampant, especially in tropical areas. In the Amazon rainforest, areas are sometimes selectively logged and the understory plants are bulldozed or burned, leaving only certain trees standing that might continue to provide income. Since Brazilian nuts are of economical importance, Brazil nut trees are often left alone. Unfortunately, the trees stop producing nuts after the surrounding forest is cleared… but why?

To solve the mystery, we must turn to a very cool group of insects – the orchid bees. Orchid bees (also known as Euglossine

Orchid Bee  - source www.whatsthatbug.com
Orchid Bee – source www.whatsthatbug.com

bees) are the main pollinators of orchids that are familiar to orchid enthusiasts: Gongora, Stanhopea, and their relatives. The orchids in this group have perfumed flowers that smell strongly of vanilla, clove, wintergreen and even root beer! The flowers offer no nectar, so female bees collecting food for their young have no interest in them. It turns out that these flowers are pollinated only by male bees, and each species of bee prefers a single species of orchid. So what are the male bees getting out of this? In order to attract a female bee, the male has to smell nice… so he collects perfumed wax from his preferred orchid flower and transfers it to specialized “pockets” on his hind legs. He then flies to a spot attractive to females (such as a big Brazil nut tree with lots of nectar-bearing flowers) and performs a scented mating display with his orchid perfume. This sparks the female bee’s interest and mating occurs, ensuring future generations of orchid bees. And while they’re around, the female bees pollinate the Brazil nut tree so that it may produce seeds (this is the part we eat).

So why doesn’t pollination occur when we leave a Brazil nut tree standing in an otherwise cleared forest? The orchid perfume that the male orchid bees need to successfully mate is nowhere to be found – the orchid plants only live in the shaded understory. No orchid, no bees, no pollination, no Brazilian nuts. This is but one example of countless stories in nature; most of

Brazil Nut Tree - source www.stdf-safenutproject.com
Brazil nut tree – source www.stdf-safenutproject.com

these intricate relationships are not fully understood and many more have not even been documented.

The same types of relationships occur here in the U.S., and the less plant variety we have, the more our beneficial insect numbers decline. This affects the entire ecosystem (think of how many other animals depend on insects for food; not to mention the plants they pollinate). But never fear – you can do your part to help save this fascinating group of animals! Plant a pollinator friendly garden at home, at school, at the office… no plot of land is too small and every little bit helps. If we spread the word, we can create diverse urban and suburban habitats for all kinds of wildlife. We can reverse the damage we have done and bring the pollinators back! Learn more at: http://www.xerces.org/pollinator-conservation/gardens/.

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Today, we are working with BBVA Compass Stadium to plant a new pollinator garden at the stadium! This beautiful new pollinator garden supports local pollinators like bees, butterflies, and more, and is located at the North entrance to BBVA Compass Stadium. Great partnership for an even greater good. ... See MoreSee Less

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Korey Nuchia

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