Houston Zoo Staff Saving Wildlife in the Mariana Islands!

This blog was written by Steve Howard, a member of the Zoo’s Bird Department. Steve Howard received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Steve documents his work overseas. 

Blog entry. 5:30 AM Thursday 4/21

Hello from the Mariana Islands!

I’m returning to the Marianas to continue working with Pacific Bird Conservation on the MAC Plan (Mariana Avifauna Conservation). Once again we’ll be trapping birds of two different species – the Tinian Monarch and the Bridled White-eye to translocate to another island and release. These birds are moved from one island to another due to the threat of predation by an introduced species, the brown tree snake. The islands where these birds are being moved do not currently have brown tree snakes, and this translocation will help ensure the birds’ survival.

Tinian Monarch, photo courtesy of the Memphis Zoo
Tinian Monarch, photo courtesy of the Memphis Zoo
Bridled White-Eye, photo courtesy of Pacific Bird Conservation
Bridled White-Eye, photo courtesy of Pacific Bird Conservation
Loading supplies on the island of Saipan
Loading supplies on the island of Saipan

So, 20 hours of flights later, I’m here on Tinian! We started out on Saipan, getting all the equipment out of storage. The pictures show us in the process of removing all the crates and boxes from the storage unit and loading it in the truck to take it to the port. It’s then stacked on pallets and put on the barge for Tinian. Yesterday we unloaded the bird boxes that we’ll need to keep the collected birds, and supplies maintain the bird room. Setting up the bird room is a lot of work. There are 85 bird boxes to assemble and a load of stuff to unpack and organize, so it took 9 of us about 6 hours to get it done. So glad we have a team!

Storing supplies needed for the bird translocation process
Storing supplies needed for the bird translocation process

Today we’ll take all the field supplies to the field and set up out there! This part is a little tedious, but it’s still conservation work! Every little thing we do these first days will lay the groundwork for what comes next – the fun part.

Still to come – why do we do this?

To find out more about our Houston Zoo staff saving wildlife, click here.

Wild Sea Turtles Receive Care at Houston Zoo Vet Clinic

On February 26th Houston Zoo wildlife partners at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) brought in several wild sea turtles for medical care.

A wild Kemp’s ridley sea turtle gets an x-ray.
A green sea turtle getting medical care at the Houston Zoo
A green sea turtle getting medical care at the Houston Zoo.

These sea turtles were looked over by the Houston Zoo’s vet team and will be rehabilitated at NOAA’s sea turtle barn in Galveston until they are ready to be released into the wild.

On March 23rd, an additional green sea turtle visited the Zoo’s vet clinic. This turtle had obvious boat wounds and will need plenty of care before it can return to the wild. As the turtle was receiving care, the Zoo’s vet staff noticed that not only did it have a boat wound, but the turtle also had parts of a fishing hook in the front left flipper. Dr. Joe at the Zoo’s clinic removed the hook and provided care to the carapace (shell) before the turtle returned to Galveston for rehabilitation by NOAA staff.

A green sea turtle is checked by Houston Zoo Vet staff
A green sea turtle is checked by Houston Zoo Vet staff
Don’t worry, we don’t use band aids! This one is just Phototshopped in for the photo.

We are just beginning the sea turtle nesting season in Texas. If you happen to see sea turtle tracks, a nesting sea turtle, or an injured/sick/stranded turtle on the beach, please report it to 1-866-TURTLE-5. In addition, if you are fishing and accidentally catch a sea turtle, please also report it to this number! SeaTurtleSticker_outline

Conservation Education Staff Travel to Belize – Day 1

1The Houston Zoo has partnered with Wildtracks in Belize since 2010.  The Wildtracks wildlife rehabilitation center is located in the north east corner of Belize outside Sarteneja on the shore of the Corozal Bay. Originally a Manatee rescue/ rehabilitation and release center in Belize, Wildtracks added the endangered Yucatan Black Howler Monkey in 2010 to their wildlife rehabilitation program and have a successful release program.  Primate keepers from the Houston Zoo began the relationship with Wildtracks by going down to the facility in Belize and sharing their expertise in howler monkey husbandry and aiding Wildtracks staff in releasing rehabilitated animals into the wild.  With the Wildtracks’ animal husbandry techniques excelling, the decision was made to focus our efforts on enhancing the public outreach component of the Wildtracks mission.

2Through the Houston Zoo’s Staff Conservation Fund, which consists of donations from Houston Zoo staff designated for Houston Zoo staff conservation efforts, we were granted the opportunity to travel down to Belize and aid our partners in their community outreach, public education, and national conservation messaging endeavors.

After many months (almost three years!) of planning and preparing, the time for our trip finally arrived.  On January 26th, we left from the fancy, new international terminal at Houston Hobby Airport. The flight from Houston to Belize City, Belize was a bit over two hours in length.   We were both surprised by how easy it was to travel from Houston to Belize.  Honestly, it is more of a challenge to get to other cities in the U.S. than it is to travel internationally to Belize.


DeAndra Ramsey and Elizabeth Fries – Ready for take-off!

Flying over Belize
Welcome to Belize

After our very easy flight, Paul and Zoe Walker picked us up from the Belize International Airport.  Paul and Zoe Walker run the Wildtracks facility.  We had roughly a 5 hour journey via their SUV to get from Belize City to the Wildtracks facility.  Along the way, we stopped at various shops for supplies as well as our first meal in Belize.

Our first meal in Belize: a fabulous dinner in the town of Orange Walk at Nahil Mayab Restaurant

We finally reached the Wildtracks facility around 9:00 pm on January 26th.  We helped unload the vehicle, set up our sleeping quarters in the produce room, and called it a day.  We had a very interesting night of being woken up every two to three hours by various creatures being very loud in the jungle.  Since the room we were sleeping in was a screened in porch, we could hear every little sound that was being made.  It definitely made for a memorable first night in Belize.

Be sure to catch our next installment where we will cover our exciting Day 2 at the Wildtracks facility.

Our sleeping quarters
Our sleeping quarters





Year of the Goat- Featuring Levi

This post was written by Amber Zelmer

In the Chinese Zodiac calendar, the ‘Year of the Goat’ is also known as the ‘Year of the Ram.’  A male sheep is also called a ram, so July’s “goat” of the month is actually a sheep!  Levi is our only resident sheep here in the Children’s Zoo, so we get a lot of guest questions about him.

Levi is a Jacob sheep, and he has not just two, but FOUR horns.  In fact, this breed of sheep can have up to SIX horns!  Jacob sheep are a piebald breed of sheep.  They are a popular breed in England, although their country of origin is thought to be Syria.  In the Book of Genesis, Jacob took every spotted or speckled sheep from his father-in-law’s flock and bred them.  Thus the Jacob sheep may be the earliest documented case of selective breeding, and their name is in honor of their original shepherd.


Like all sheep, Levi has wool instead of fur and does not shed his coat in the summer.  The keepers here shear Levi every summer to make him more comfortable in the warm Houston weather.  This year Levi lost nearly 4 lbs. of wool at his shearing!  Though many clothes can be made from wool, the keepers here use the wool as enrichment for the other animals around the zoo.  Our mongoose, kookaburra and skunk all enjoyed tossing the wool around or rolling in it.  Sometimes the Carnivore keepers will come over and get some of the wool to give to their animals to enjoy as well!


Not only is Levi a provider of entertainment for guests and other animals, he is also a part of our internship program at the Houston Zoo!  Levi knows several different behaviors such as turning in a circle, walking around a trainer, and even walking through weave poles!  Interns have the opportunity to learn his behaviors from the zookeepers so that they can work with Levi in their spare time.  In fact, Levi’s weave pole behavior was taught to him by a former intern!  Come visit Levi in the Children’s Zoo, and you may be able to see him working with one of our interns or part-time staff members to keep his skills sharp.

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