Become a Sea Turtle Superhero in 4 Easy Steps

Spring has finally sprung here in Texas, and Texans much like the rest of the animal kingdom are emerging from their winter hideouts to embrace the sunshine. For many, clear skies and warm weather are an invitation to leave the city and make a break for the coast  – after all, who doesn’t want to spend a gorgeous day at the beach playing in the water or trying to land that perfect catch? What you may not know is that it isn’t just humans flocking to Texas beaches this spring, it is sea turtles too! April marks the beginning of nesting season, which means a heightened presence of Kemp’s ridley and green sea turtles is likely as summer approaches. A trip to the beach for our endangered friends is not always as pleasant as our trips as they are faced with many threats including plastic left in the water and on land, but luckily we have some simple ways to help make their journey safer so they continue to call Texas home for many years to come!

We want to do everything we can to help save sea turtles, but we need your help! Here are four easy ways you can become a sea turtle superhero:

  1. If you accidentally catch or spot a sea turtle on the beach, call 1-866-TURTLE-5
  2. Going fishing? Place any broken or unusable line in a monofilament recycling bin – line is recycled and made into products like tackle boxes!
  3. Taking a stroll on the beach? Bring a bag with you and pick up trash as you walkalong the shore
  4. Visit the zoo! Just by purchasing a ticket to the zoo you are helping to save sea turtles in the wild by supporting efforts like those mentioned below:
    Look for a fishing line recycling bin like this one next time you need to dispose of line!

Here at the Houston Zoo, we work to save sea turtles in a number of ways. Every Monday, a member of our staff assists our partners at NOAA Fisheries with their weekly sea turtle surveys. Additionally, some sea turtles NOAA picks up when they receive a call are in need of medical care.  These turtles are brought here to our vet clinic where Dr. Joe Flanagan and his team will take xrays, administer medications, perform hook extractions, and anything else the turtle may need. The sea lion team has been organizing and running monthly clean-ups at Surfside Jetty since 2014. Houston Zoo staff and volunteers spend an entire day down at the mile-long jetty picking up trash, recycling, and fishing line to help ensure that this debris is properly disposed of so it doesn’t end up in the ocean where it becomes a threat to animals like sea turtles.

The newest project we are involved in is in partnership with members from the Audubon Texas Coastal ProgramGalveston Bay Area Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality -Galveston Bay Estuary Program. This team identified discarded fishing line as one of the biggest threats to wildlife like sea turtles and pelicans, and devised a plan to help solve this problem by working directly with members of the community! The Texas City Dike (TCD) was selected as the area the group wanted to work in because of its reputation as a prime, year-round fishing spot. Once this study area was chosen, the group decided that the next step would be to take a trip to the dike, and collect discarded fishing line from specific locations to see just how much line was present. This collection of line took place on December 4th of last year and thanks to an amazing team of volunteers, we were able to collect a total of 21.9 pounds of fishing line from TCD. Since then, the team has made trips to some of our region’s most popular fishing locations and have conducted surveys with over 200 anglers in order to learn more about their current fishing line containment and disposal practices. From this data, we will come up with several potential messages to test with a focus group of anglers to see what resonates best with them to encourage the recycling of fishing line.

 

 

 

 

Texans are Protecting Federally Endangered Ocelots

Come meet our resident ocelot on your next visit to the zoo

Here in Houston we are all very familiar with the presence of Cougars – if the mention of this species doesn’t bring a certain university to mind, the name Shasta just might! While Shasta is quite the local celebrity, there is another Texas cat making the news a few hours south of us – the ocelot. The city of Brownsville is leading the charge to save the federally endangered ocelot, and thanks to your visit to the zoo, we’ve been able to lend a hand by providing 10 refurbished tracking collars that will help local programs keep tabs on their ocelot population.

Ocelots are endangered within the United States with less than 100 individuals in one region-south Texas. Their main threats include habitat loss (more people means more land used for agriculture, oil/gas, homes, etc.) and collisions with vehicles on roads.

Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge is where many endangered ocelots go in search of a safe place to live

One method to save ocelots in south Texas is to create roads that are safe for both animals and humans Several years ago, in an attempt to make roads safer for Brownsville locals and visitors headed to vacation on South Padre Island, concrete barriers were put in place to separate cars traveling in opposite directions. This measure helps protect drivers on the road, but unfortunately made it difficult for ocelots to cross to the other side of the road to get to remaining patches of habitat (their small size makes it difficult to see cars on the other side of the barrier, so they aren’t sure when it’s safe to attempt to cross). When it became clear that the barriers were a hazard for the ocelots, the people of Brownsville came together and asked the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to come up with a way to keep both humans and local wildlife safe.

In response to the public’s concern for the ocelots, TxDOT has joined forces with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to build 12 tunnels beneath two roads that cut through or border the Laguna Atascosa Wildlife Refuge, where many of the endangered cats go in search of a safe place to live. On these tunnels, chain link fencing extends from above the underpass and along the sides to help funnel the cats to the under-the-road crossings, which are large enough for the cats to see what’s on the other side. This is a huge undertaking for TxDOT, who is both building the tunnels and helping to monitor their use, in order to determine what species in the area actually choose to travel via the underpasses. While it is too soon to tell which species are using the tunnels most frequently, TxDOT did spot an ocelot on one of their motion sensor cameras by a tunnel opening just last month, which has sparked excitement and hope for what is to come.

Guests attend a talk at the 2018 Ocelot Conservation Festival

There is a lot of love for ocelots in south Texas, which is evident through the community’s effort to make these wildlife underpasses a reality. The ocelot is even celebrated annually at the Ocelot Conservation Festival and Ocelot run – events that are organized by the Friends of Laguna Atascosa and hosted by Gladys Porter Zoo. Many landowners are also actively involved in saving ocelots by setting aside land that serves as preserved natural habitat for the cats. We may be a 6 hour drive from Brownsville, but despite the distance you’re saving ocelots too each time you visit the zoo! On your next trip make sure to say hello to Jack, our resident ocelot.

Whooping Crane Festival Brings Hope to Storm Ravaged Town

On the last Saturday in February, Houston Zoo staff rose before the sun and piled into a zoo van to make the 4-hour journey south to Port Aransas. While most would be sleeping, the van was full of excited chatter as the team neared its destination – the 22nd annual Whooping Crane Festival! The festival celebrates the yearly return of the whooping cranes to their wintering habitat. Due to Hurricane Harvey, the International Crane Foundation wasn’t sure if the festival would take place this year, but knowing how important this festival is for both the birds and the community, several local partners including the Houston Zoo were able to lend a helping hand to make sure it happened!

Weighing around 15 pounds, the whooping crane has a wingspan of more than 7 feet and is as tall as many humans, reaching a height of around 5 feet, making it the tallest bird in North America! Whooping cranes are best known for their courtship dance, finding mating partners through an elaborate display of kicking, head-pumping, and wing-sweeping. Adult whooping cranes can be spotted fairly easily thanks to their bright white feathers and accents of crimson red on the top of their head. This section of the Texas coast is the only place where you can see the world’s last naturally-occurring population of Whooping Cranes.

At the festival, zoo staff got to spend the day with Corinna Holfus, the new Whooping Crane Outreach Coordinator whose position is being funded by the Houston Zoo. Corinna, a Houston native, was well aware of the post-Harvey struggles Port Aransas was facing when she joined the team in October of 2017. She didn’t always plan on working with Texas species, but when the opportunity arose she recalled how excited she was at the prospect of becoming a “craniac” – a designation shared among crane lovers within the birding community. Since landing the job, Holfus has been working with hunters, landowners, and other members of the community to develop awareness and caring for whooping cranes with the hope of fostering their commitment to safe guard these unique birds. You might think that saving wildlife is the last thing people want to add to their plates when recovering from a natural disaster, but Holfus has found the community’s response to be nothing short of inspiring. “With everything that has been happening here, the whooping cranes have actually become a symbol of hope for the community. So many things feel out of your control, but people realize that they can do something to help these birds, and they have started to rally around them which has been really special to watch.”

While the storm negatively impacted human communities, it actually did a lot to help clean debris and pollution out of whooping crane habitat, which in turn led to an increase in the amount of available food sources. This has ultimately led to some pretty impressive numbers of cranes spending the winter in Port Aransas, with the number reaching a record high of around 431 birds last year. On our day out on the water we saw over 50 whooping cranes – this may not seem like much, but for people like Houston Zoo veterinarian Dr. Joe Flanagan who has been traveling to view the whooping cranes for many years it is quite an exciting turn out. “Back in the 80s to see 50 birds would have meant you had seen the entire remaining population”, he told us while looking eagerly through his binoculars.  One of the rarest birds in North America, the whooping crane saw its numbers drop to just 15 in the early 1940s, but with the help of land protection and public education, their numbers have continued to steadily increase, with an estimated population of 757 world-wide.

We are so proud to be involved in this work to help save a very unique community of Texans, and thanks to the continued support of Zoo goers like you, this native species has an even better chance for a bright future. Stay tuned for updates on Corinna’s work with the International Crane Foundation’s Texas office!

Local Community Removes Crab Traps from Galveston Bay, Saving Texas Wildlife!

On Saturday February 17th, Houston Zoo staff, including Rwandan conservation partner, Gorilla Doctor Noel, Zoo Crew, and Zoo volunteers worked alongside the Dallas Zoo and Galveston Bay Foundation to clean up abandoned crab traps from Galveston Bay.

This effort is part of a state-wide program that came into effect in 2001 in response to increased pressure on blue crab populations. Abandoned traps can also pose a threat to other wildlife like otters and diamondback terrapins, causing them harm. Fishing gear that is lost, dumped, or abandoned is sometimes referred to as “ghost fishing” because this gear can continue to catch aquatic species even though it has been left unattended.  While these accidental catches have a clearly negative impact on the health of wildlife, they can also cause problems for the commercial fishing industry. Each animal that is caught in an abandoned trap is one less that can be caught in a sustainable and ocean-friendly manner. This means that more individuals must be caught to meet the demands of the seafood market, and as a result there are less animals in the ocean working to keep it and species populations healthy.  How do we help to solve this problem? The answer is quite simple – every February, the community is invited to participate in removing these old traps from the water to protect wildlife!

While some volunteers go out on boats to collect traps, others stay behind to collect trash along the shore. All kinds of trash and recycling are collected – everything from bottles and cans to plastic straws and fishing line; sometimes even things like car tires! Removing debris from the shore is equally important, as it protects species like sea turtles and pelicans from ingesting trash or becoming entangled in line. Once boaters return with traps, they are unloaded and inspected for trapped wildlife. Any animals present in the traps are removed and released back into the water and then the traps are crushed by volunteers and disposed of at designated trap drop locations.

In total, 221 crab traps were removed from the water and over 1,000 pounds of trash, recyclable material, and fishing line were picked up from land. These efforts saved a potential 5,300 blue crabs and prevented many other animals from getting caught in abandoned traps! Looking for an easy way to help? Download the Seafood Watch App and use it when grocery shopping or dining out to make sure that the seafood you eat has been sourced in a way that does not harm wildlife. This easy action will help to ensure that marine life will continue to thrive for future generations!

School Partner – Ridgecrest Elementary

The Houston Zoo is working toward creating the next generation of saving wildlife heroes. One way we are achieving that goal is by forming lasting partnerships with school groups in and around the Houston area.  These partnerships all look a bit different from one another, but they all have one thing in common: they are inspiring students, teachers and communities to take action to save wildlife!  Ridgecrest Elementary is an example of one school that is partnering with the Houston Zoo to save pollinators through our Pollinator Partnerships.

The partnership between Ridgecrest Elementary and the Houston Zoo started when Ms. Lindsey Duke came to one of our Educator Events. “It all started when I attend my first Educator’s Night Out at the Houston Zoo.  I was so intrigued at what I experienced there and I knew that I wanted my students to experience the same” stated Ms. Duke.  During the event, she learned more about the importance of pollinators, the threats they are facing, and how her students can help.  She decided to reach out to DeAndra Ramsey from the Houston Zoo and start the process of forming a partnership centered around helping pollinators.

“Teaching kindergarten at a new campus I was a little nervous at how the initial pitch of the partnership and garden project would go but it was received with full support from administration and staff. We selected a spot on our campus that had once been a garden but had a lot of potential to be transformed into a pollinator garden”, says Ms. Duke.   In addition to picking the place for the garden and choosing the native plants that will be planted, the students have been learning about how a healthy pollinator population is vital to a healthy ecosystem.  Ambassador animals that are native to this area of Texas have been brought to the campus so that the students can see first-hand the animals they are helping with their work in the garden.

Families came together to work in the pollinator garden during the first Ridgecrest Elementary Garden Day

But it doesn’t stop in the classroom! “My goal was to make this not only a school wide project but also a community/family project.  So we had our first Ridgecrest Elementary Garden Day.  We invited families and community members out to our campus one Saturday and together we weeded and prepared our garden area.  I was blown away but the participation this event received.  To see so many families working together was amazing”, says Ms. Duke.  The Houston Zoo was able to attend the family gardening day and work side-by-side with the students and their families to transform this space into a wonderful pollinator habitat.  Starting a pollinator garden has multiple benefits, including connecting children to nature.  Preparing the space allowed families to get up close and person with a variety of Texas native wildlife such as frogs, snakes, and lizards.

Students were able to get up close and personal with some native Texas wildlife while working in the garden. A small snake quickly became the center of attention once the children learned there was nothing to fear.

As anyone who has started a garden knows, it does not happen overnight. “[We] have continued to work step by step slowly but surely transforming the garden into a space not only for pollinators to come and feast but also a learning spot for all ages.  The students along with their families have designed garden stones which we will use to trim the garden areas.  We painted reading stumps so that classes can go out and observe, write and learn in the garden.  Currently we are holding a coin drive to purchase pollinator plants for the garden and plan to have another Garden Day this spring”, Ms. Duke reported in January.

Students painted reading stumps in the garden. This will allow the entire school to enjoy the garden along with the pollinators.

Through the partnership between Ridgecrest Elementary and the Houston Zoo, the students are making connections with the natural world around them. They are taking action to save wildlife in their very own back yards and becoming wildlife heroes.  “None of this would be possible without our Partnership with DeAndra and the Houston Zoo.  Our students have had so many opportunities already in the first year of this partnership.  They have had ambassador animals come to the school and they have begun to learn about conservation of resources and species.  To hear them randomly throughout the day talking about things connected to our project is so encouraging”, says Ms. Duke.

A few of the families that took action to save pollinators during the Ridgecrest Elementary Gardening Day.

Ridgecrest Elementary has been a shining example of a school that is taking action to save wildlife. Ms Duke’s passion and dedication has inspired the students through out the school to work together to save pollinators and empowered them all to make a difference in their communities.

Rwandan Vet, Dr. Noel from Gorilla Doctors Helps Save Texas Wildlife While Training at the Houston Zoo

Many of our guests have already had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Jean Bosco Noheri (Dr. Noel) during his SOS Member Morning chat with the primate team at gorillas. Dr. Noel is here from our partners at Gorilla Doctors after being chosen by the Houston Zoo admissions team as a 2017 Wildlife Warrior Award recipient.  This award is funded through the sale of saving wildlife bracelets sold by the admissions team, and recognizes exceptional individuals from our wildlife conservation partner programs. The award provides wildlife warriors with an experience that will increase their abilities/knowledge – Dr. Noel chose to use this as an opportunity to train with our veterinary staff here at the zoo. As part of his training, Dr. Noel has been assisting with efforts to save some of our amazing local species, the Houston toad and green sea turtles – experiences he was very excited to share with all of you!

Friday, February 9th was the beginning of the Houston toad captive populations breeding season. This colony lives at the zoo and is cared for by members of our herpetology and veterinary teams. The goal is to help healthy toads breed and lay eggs, with the hope that surviving offspring will boost Houston toad numbers in the wild, and add genetic diversity to the existing population, which is essential for any species’ survival. Before the first round of breeding for each season, Houston Zoo Vet Dr. Maryanne examines each toad and provides Stan Mays, our herpetology curator, with a list of healthy females who are at the right age to lay viable eggs. Based on genetic analysis, Stan then provides a list of ideal male-female pairings and the toads are coupled for breeding purposes. Before the females are introduced to their partners, they receive a series of hormone injections to help their bodies prepare for mating, and if all goes well, egg laying! Just last year, the Houston Toad team was able to release 900,000 eggs back into the wild, which is an incredible success for a species that would otherwise be on the brink of extinction. This year, our partner Dr. Noel arrived just in time for breeding season, and got to help administer the first round of injections to 20 lucky females! Reflecting on his experience, Dr. Noel said “working with the Houston toad was really very special – to see something so small and to see how much people care for it because it carries hope for this species, was very powerful.”

Dr. Noel has also had the opportunity practice his wildlife saving skills on another Texas species – the green sea turtle! Accompanied by Dr. Joe Flanagan, Houston Zoo Sr. Veterinarian and long-time sea turtle protector, Dr. Noel made the short journey down to Galveston where he visited our partners at NOAA Fisheries. While at the sea turtle barn, Dr. Noel helped to weigh and x-ray a number of sea turtles that had been rescued along the coastline to make sure they were in good health. He and Dr. Joe also checked up on a recent surgical patient to make sure the sea turtle’s incision was healing properly. Dr. Noel recalled that the “sea turtle was doing very well and it was neat to work with this species because most people would not think you could do medical procedures on reptiles.” After their veterinary work was done, Dr. Noel was able to tour the NOAA facility, and learn about the turtle excluder devices (TEDs) they develop to ensure that shrimp boats do not catch sea turtles when they go out to sea. To cap off the day, Dr. Noel had his very first experience on the beach after only having seen the ocean from planes!

While both of these species are very different than most of Dr. Noel’s typical mountain gorilla patients, veterinary training and the ability to practice his skills on a variety of species is vital, as he is often called upon to care for wildlife other than gorillas back in Rwanda, like elephants, golden monkeys, and jackals. All of the new and additional skills and lessons Dr. Noel gains through training with the veterinary team here will help him and his team back home on their quest to save Rwanda’s wildlife! To learn more about Gorilla Doctors and see Dr. Noel in action, watch the KPRC special “Saving Gorillas: From Houston to Rwanda” here! 

Sea Turtle Rescues in Christmas Bay, Part 2

Many of you may remember a post from a few weeks back about Justin, a local community member, and sea turtle superhero. Justin has a passion for sea turtles, and while he works full-time in the city, you can find him during his down time saving sea turtles all along the Texas Coast. The last time we caught up with Justin, he and his son Trenton had come to the aid of almost a dozen sea turtles that had been cold-stunned in early December. Since sea turtles are cold-blooded reptiles, they have to use the environment and sun to regulate their body temperature. If the water temperature drops too quickly and the turtles can’t get to warmer waters, their bodies shut down and need help. With the recent cold front, Justin and his three children Cheyenne, Trenton, and Emma, headed back out to Christmas Bay in search of turtles in need of rescue.

Justin was able to make it out to Christmas Bay four days during the first week of January, braving the worst of the cold weather. Over the course of the week, Justin and his kids picked up a total of 20 sea turtles! Unfortunately, 3 of these turtles had already passed away, but the 17 remaining turtles are receiving care from our partners at NOAA Fisheries in Galveston. The NOAA Fisheries Galveston Laboratory operates a sea turtle research and wild sea turtle rehabilitation center. This facility is the only one of its kind in the world, raising hundreds of turtles each year for fisheries and biological research while also serving as a sea turtle hospital for the upper Texas Gulf coast. The Houston Zoo assists NOAA with weekly sea turtle surveys along the Texas coast, and the veterinary team provides care for any sick or injured sea turtles that NOAA brings in. When speaking of NOAA, Justin said: “I will never be able to thank Lyndsey and the team in Galveston at NOAA enough for the work they do on a daily basis to rescue, rehabilitate, and ultimately release these beautiful animals back into the wild.” As for Justin, he’ll be out there for as long as the turtles need his help – after rescuing his first turtle entangled in line 6 or 7 years ago, he was hooked on what he refers to as both his passion, and obsession. While his wife dedicates her time to pet rescue efforts, Justin says there’s nothing he would rather do with his time than rescue sea turtles and make sure they are able to return safely back into the wild.

If temperatures drop quickly in our area, please be on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles in the bay. If you find one, please report it immediately by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.

Whooping Cranes Weather the Storm with the Help of You and the Zoo

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, we were reminded of the importance, and the sheer strength of community. For many months now, Texans all along the Gulf Coast region have been working to rebuild and re-establish a sense of safety and security – a place to once again call home. In the aftermath of any storm, it is not just the people that have to rebuild; and you may not know it, but through a portion of your admission fee to the Houston Zoo, you have been lending a helping hand to a very special community of Texans – the whooping cranes.

Weighing around 15 pounds, the whooping crane has a wingspan of more than 7 feet and is as tall as many humans, reaching a height of around 5 feet, making it the tallest bird in North America! Whooping cranes are best known for their courtship dance, finding mating partners through an elaborate display of kicking, head-pumping, and wing-sweeping. Adult whooping cranes can be spotted fairly easily thanks to their bright white feathers and accents of crimson red on the top of their head. The only remaining self-sustaining population of whooping cranes is the naturally occurring flock that breeds in Canada and winters right here in Texas!

If you were able to attend Nature Connects – Art with LEGO Bricks at the Houston Zoo this past summer, you may recall seeing a striking figure of this beautiful bird. At its feet were a cluster of tiny white dots – a visual representation of the number of whooping cranes that remain in the wild here in the US. One of the rarest birds in North America with an estimated population of 612 world-wide, the whooping crane saw its numbers drop to just 15 in the early 1940s, but with the help of land protection and public education, their numbers have continued to steadily increase. But what happens when natural disaster strikes?

When the cranes arrived in Texas this past fall after their 2,400 mile journey from their nesting grounds in Canada, they returned to vegetative damage from the storm surge, and increased salt content in the inland freshwater ponds that the birds rely on for drinking. Our partners at the International Crane Foundation (ICF) went to work immediately, replacing damaged ground water pumps to replenish the freshwater these birds need to survive. Notified of the situation, the Houston Zoo donated to ICF’s Hurricane Harvey rebuild in Rockport campaign.  The Houston Zoo also teamed up with the International Crane Foundation’s Texas office and established a Whooping Crane Outreach Coordinator position that will be funded by the Zoo. Filling this role is Corinna Holfus of Houston, Texas, who will work with partners like the Houston Zoo, groups, and individuals to develop awareness and caring for whooping cranes and foster their commitment to safeguard whooping cranes in their areas. Holfus will form partnerships that include involving hunters, landowners and other members of the community in monitoring and keeping watch over the whooping cranes in their areas.

With the establishment of this position, the International Crane Foundation’s North American Program Director stated “The uniqueness of having the world’s only naturally producing flock of whooping cranes choosing to winter on the Texas coast is something to cherish, take pride in and celebrate. Thanks to the incredible generosity of the Houston Zoo allowing the hiring of Holfus we’ll now be able to greatly accelerate and expand our efforts to increase the appreciation, awareness, and protection of this still fragile, slowly expanding flock.” It would seem as though birds of feather truly do flock together, and thanks to the continued support of Zoo goers like you, this native species has an even better chance for a bright future.

Community Comes Together to Rescue Sea Turtles During Record Breaking Cold-Stunning Event

As we rang in the new year, 2018 treated a large portion of the US to a dose of chilly weather. While we Texans in the southern part of the state normally escape the winter months untouched, last week surprised us with a rapid decrease in temperature, with some areas dropping below freezing. Most of us are able to turn on our heaters and survive the cooler temperatures with relative ease, but our friends in the wild are not always as lucky. This is especially true of sea turtles that rely on the environment and warmth of the sun to regulate their body temperature.

Known for their resiliency, with species dating back to the time of dinosaurs, sea turtles have managed to survive despite the many obstacles thrown in front of them throughout history. As a cold-blooded species living in the ocean, these turtles have adapted to live in tropical or semi-tropical waters which helps to keep their bodies warm. Typically, sea turtles can do just fine during cold spells as long as they are far enough away from shore where water temperatures are at or above 55 degrees, but if temperatures drop very quickly, there is not always time to move away from land. This causes what we call “cold-stunning”, which is very similar to hypothermia in people. Sea turtles experiencing the side-effects of cold-stunning have a slowed heart rate, which decreases circulation and makes it very difficult for them to swim or find food. Cold-stunning is seen most often in our area with green sea turtles that like to hang out in shallow waters in the bays where they can easily feed off of vegetation on the ocean floor. With the onslaught of cold temperatures last week,  305 green sea turtles were rescued on the Upper Texas Coast, with over 2,000 total rescued along the Texas Coast. This was the highest number seen in our area to date, and getting these turtles to safety required the quick-action, hard-work, and dedication of organizations and community members from nearby cities.

Groups worked tirelessly to collect, examine, and care for turtles as they arrived at sea turtle facilities, with our own team of veterinarians joining our partners at NOAA fisheries in Galveston over the weekend to assess the health of the rescued turtles. With warmer water in South Texas, the decision was made to drive the healthy turtles to South Padre for release. How exactly do you transport almost 250 sea turtles to a destination over 400 miles away? On a truck!

Over the past two days, teams from Moody Gardens, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Texas Master Naturalists, Turtle Island Restoration Network, NOAA Fisheries, Texas A&M and the Houston Zoo met down in Galveston before sunrise to transport turtles from their holding tanks into containers which were then loaded into the back of a truck that the NOAA team would drive to South Padre. Yesterday 72 sea turtles made their trip south, where they and the NOAA team were greeted by staff and volunteers that helped to get the turtles off of the truck and into the ocean for release. Once the NOAA team returned the turtles to the wild, they hopped back in their truck and made the trek back to Galveston in order to repeat the process all over again the next day. By 8am this morning, our collective group had another 82 turtles loaded up and ready to go. A second truck carrying 93 sea turtles being held at Moody Gardens was also prepped for the drive down south. The turtles should be close to reaching their destination by now, and will be released back into the wild later this afternoon. It is truly amazing what we can accomplish when we come together as a team to reach a common goal. We wish our sea turtle friends the best of luck as they head back out to sea, and we are grateful for the opportunity to be part of a community that comes together to protect wildlife.

If temperatures drop quickly in our area, please be on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles in the bay. If you find one, please report it immediately by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.

With Your Support, the Houston Zoo is Providing Shelter for Cold-Stunned Butterflies

 

Monarch butterflies are perhaps one of the most well known butterfly species thanks to the legendary monarch butterfly migration that takes place each year. These tiny insects can travel up to 3,000 miles annually in search of a warm and cozy place to call home for the winter. Their destination? Mexico! Here in Texas we are lucky enough to be in the middle of one of the monarch migration pathways, so each summer and fall we witness these beautiful butterflies all around town. But what happens when our flying friends get caught in an unexpected cold spell?

Generally, butterflies won’t fly if it is below 55 degrees, and if the temperature falls below 40, they lose their ability to crawl. There have been documented occasions where a rare snowfall has taken place in their winter roosting areas in Mexico, but most are able to survive this because they are sheltered by forest cover. Those that do not receive this shelter can survive in the snow for a while due to the natural insulation snow provides, but extremely low temperatures can be life threatening, especially if the butterflies are wet and ice crystals form on their wings.  That being said, when the latest cold front hit Houston, everyone on Zoo grounds was on high alert looking for monarchs in need of help. Staff in the Children’s Zoo set up a butterfly tent in the Swap Shop as a refuge, and sure enough, reports of cold-stunned butterflies started coming in. So far, butterflies have been brought to the Swap Shop for shelter and warmth by members of the Horticulture and Children’s Zoo staff, as well as Zoo guests. When the butterflies were first brought to our team of caretakers, they weren’t moving, and one was even thought to be dead. Fortunately, after a little bit of time in the warmth, they began to warm up their bodies by shivering and fluttering their wings.  The team will continue to care for these butterflies until warmer weather returns and it is safe for them to be released back into the wild. 

For the past two years, Houston Zoo staff and volunteers have been taking part in field work here on Zoo grounds by tagging monarch butterflies. If you have visited recently, you may have seen small groups walking through the Zoo with nets, in search of butterflies. Tagging is an extremely useful tool, as it can provide information about how and where the animal travels. Because all the migrating monarchs are concentrated in just a few locations during the winter, they are especially vulnerable to harsh weather and to human activities that disrupt or destroy their habitat. This can reduce the number of monarchs that leave the overwintering sites in the spring, and a reduction in milkweed and nectar sources can cause a decline in the number of monarchs that make it to Mexico for the winter. By tagging the monarchs and tracking their movements, protection plans can be set up in key areas that will help to ensure their survival. 93 monarch butterflies have been tagged on zoo grounds since 2016 as part of a project run by Monarch Watch.

While we all do our best to stay warm this winter, don’t forget to keep an eye out for monarchs that may need your help! Each time you visit the zoo, a portion of your admission ticket goes towards saving wildlife, which makes it possible for us to help local species like the monarch butterfly! If you are on Zoo grounds and see a cold-stunned butterfly, notify a staff member and they will help you get it safely to the Swap Shop. You can help pollinators like the monarch butterfly in your own backyard by planting native plants. Not sure what to plant? On your next visit to the Houston Zoo stop by the Conservation Stage, located to the right as soon as you enter. The Conservation Stage is lined with native plants and signs letting you know what each plant is! Simply take a picture of the sign and bring it with you when you go to the nursery to buy your plants! For more information on how to raise and protect monarchs and other butterflies, click here.

 

 

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Over the past few days, our veterinary team has helped three sea turtles in need of special care. We are happy to partner with our friends at NOAA to help the sea turtles and give them a second chance in the wild. ... See MoreSee Less

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Over the past few days, our veterinary team has helped three sea turtles in need of special care. We are happy to partner with our friends at NOAA to help the sea turtles and give them a second chance in the wild.

 

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Thank you for always being there to help these amazing creatures!

Thank you for helping these amazing, wonderful animals!

This makes my heart smile.. <3

Sarah maybe they will have some to see again!!

You do great work, thank you!

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