Ni Hao from China: Houston Zoo Interacting with Animals Around the World (Update #3)

Two members of the Houston Zoo team, Tarah Jacobs and Kevin Hodge, are currently in China. Tarah and Kevin are working with Chinese Zoos and blogging about their experience abroad.

This post was written by Kevin Hodge.

Our week in Hangzhou has ended. Over the course of the workshop we discussed training, enrichment and exhibit design. The Hangzhou Zoo is planning new exhibits and we were happy to lend our advice.  If there was an answer we didn’t know, the animal care staff back at Houston Zoo was happy to help us out.  Many Houston Zoo staff supplied us with information, pictures and answers to questions the keepers and managers at the participating zoos had. Even though it is just two of us, physically here, the whole staff back at the zoo is lending a hand to help out these zoos.

Raccoon dogs receiving enrichment for the first time ever

We assisted the participants with creating and implanting new training and enrichment ideas. The zoo keepers were excited to take this knowledge back to their zoos. They couldn’t wait to get back and make enrichment for their animals and email us the pictures!

The last day we had each group work on a project of designing a new exhibit and presenting the exhibit to the group. A few groups took advantage of the opportunity to get input from everyone on an exhibit they wanted to redesign in their zoo.

IMG_8468Overall the workshop was a great success. There were many new friendships formed and a new communication network was established. Most importantly everyone’s passion for providing the best animal care was reinvigorated and we plan on keeping in touch with everyone to continue to provide advice and support. We would like to thank the Hangzhou zoo for their amazing hospitality!  We have never eaten so much food in our lives!

Next stop Chengdu Zoo in South West China!

Ni Hao from China: Houston Zoo Interacting with Animals Around the World (Continued)

Two members of the Houston Zoo team, Tarah Jacobs and Kevin Hodge, are currently in China. Tarah and Kevin are working with Chinese Zoos and blogging about their experience abroad.

This post was written by Kevin Hodge.

Today with the class we decided to pick a section of the Zoo that was most in need of enrichment.  The four groups, Tarah, and I picked different animals to enrich and we talked with the group about what behaviors we would try and encourage.   The group picked animals from the section that were in smaller, less complex exhibits. These animals either showed stereotypical behaviors or were difficult to see because they were always hiding.

exhibitWe gathered PVC pipes, boxes, wood wool, paper bags, newspaper, perfume, and spices along with food items from each of the animal’s diets.  We gave a workshop on how to make puzzle feeders out of PVC and had each group construct their own PVC feeders.  The students were very excited and impressed us with their creativity and how much effort they put in to making new toys and perching for the animals.  After we finished making our enrichment, each group gave it to the animal that they selected. As we watched the animals interact with their new enrichment items, the group that created the enrichment gave a presentation on what they had created and what behaviors they hoped to encourage or discourage.  After all of the animals received their enrichment we evaluated its success and talked about what could have been done differently the next time they gave enrichment.

groupTarah and I fell in love with the raccoon dogs and the wild boars that we decided to enrich for our project. We presented to the group on we gave as well. All of the animals including the red foxes, Arctic foxes, raccoons, raccoon dogs and wild boars really seemed to enjoy the enrichment.  There is still a little bit of a struggle in China to get all the keepers on board with providing enrichment.  One of the keepers in the section was upset because we were creating a big mess for him to clean up the next day.  After speaking with the Director he agreed that since we told him it is important to meet the animal’s, guest’s and keeper’s needs  he allowed the keeper to pick up a little each day instead of having to pick it all up at once.  Hopefully, the keeper will begin to see the benefits of providing enrichment and will soon start to give out enrichment on his own.

Ni Hao from China: Houston Zoo Interacting with Animals Around the World

Two members of the Houston Zoo team, Tarah Jacobs and Kevin Hodge, are currently in China. Tarah and Kevin are working with Chinese Zoos and blogging about their experience abroad.

This post was written by Kevin Hodge.

We traveled over 7,000 miles and 22 hours to get to Hangzhou and Chengdu, China to perform workshops with Chinese keepers on training, exhibit design and enrichment.  We started the workshop at Hangzhou Zoo with 24 delegates from 4 different Zoos from around the area.  The first day of class we started with visiting several of their exhibits including chimpanzee, mandrill, red fox, and leopard.  The keeper at each area gave a presentation on what they are doing with training, enrichment and what problems they are facing.  At each of these visits we tasked the students with writing 3 positive things about each exhibit and 3 things that could be improved. Then we went back to the classroom to discuss and to come up with possible solutions.  We also did a presentation today on the Houston Zoo’s training, enrichment and exhibit design including showing them videos of our new gorilla exhibit, which they were all very impressed with,teaching and proved helpful since they are in the designing stages of their new chimpanzee exhibit.  The keepers and managers from Hangzhou have been extremely hospitable and we have never eaten so much amazing food in our lives.  We feel this workshop will not only be beneficial for the keepers in China but we will also discover a lot of new ideas to bring back to Houston.


foodIn addition to the work at the Zoo, we have been able to experience Chinese culture. We have been well fed! Dinner is “family style” here and we have gotten a lot of practice using chopsticks. We have also had the pleasure of learning about the tea culture of the Hangzhou area. We even tried the art of Chinese calligraphy.   The people and culture of China have been great and we looked forward to more adventures in China as we continue teaching this workshop over the next few weeks.

Houston Zoo Guests are Helping to Save Sharks in the Wild

Whitespotted Bamboo Shark Baby-0002-8227 (1)
Baby bamboo shark hatched at the Houston Zoo last year

When visiting the Zoo, you may see our sharks, rays and sea turtles. The ocean is close to Houston’s heart with the Gulf of Mexico just down the road. Keeping the ocean healthy is a high priority to the Houston Zoo and sharks do just that.  This misunderstood species works hard to keep a healthy balance in our oceans. The Houston Zoos and all of our guests support marine wildlife organization, Mar Alliance, based in Central America. Mar Alliance is doing great work for big fish like sharks and other wildlife in the sea. We know that local involvement and employment is critical for the
success of any long-term conservation effort. We require all of our conservation partners to be working towards local ownership and management of all the conservation and research programs.

Mar Alliance staff tagging shark

Mar Alliance hires local people to carry out monitoring and awareness efforts in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Houston Zoo staff recently visited the Mar Alliance in Belize and assisted with their marine wildlife protection efforts. We worked along side their local fisherman staff. The fishers have a vast understanding of the ocean and it greatly enhances the research and conservation efforts. All of the local fisherman have grown up by the sea and began free diving for conch and lobster to support their families at a very young age. They can free dive up to 100 feet!


In the past, local fishermen have been taught by previous generations to have a great fear and dislike of sharks. They spoke to us about seeing hammerheads and other species while free diving when they were young, and being very afraid. The fishermen that have joined the Mar Alliance team have had their perception of sharks transformed. The conservation and research activities have guided them to develop a great understanding of the sharks behavior and a deep respect their role in the health of the ocean. Mar Alliance protection efforts include swimming with sharks to monitor, capture and tag them. These fishermen have become the best advocates for sharks and are influencing a lot of change in their communities to protect them.

Local Mar Alliance staff with sharks

You can protect sharks in your everyday life by eating seafood that is responsibly caught. Even though they are not the target, countless sharks are killed when fishing is not done properly. Download Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch consumer guide to learn which seafood options are best choices or good alternatives. The app is available from the Apple Store or Google Play to help you identify shark and ocean-safe seafood.

Your visit to the Zoo helps save sharks in the wild. The Zoo supports over 25 wildlife conservation projects in 10 countries around the world and your admission ticket strengthens that support.

Traveling to See Animals in the Wild With the Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation Program’s goal is to protect animals by connecting people to nature.  Our travel program encourages experiences in nature that foster care for the natural world and empower individuals to take action to save wildlife. Our Wildlife Conservation Program offers various opportunities to experience the wild with wildlife professionals.  Our Houston Zoo staff lead trips to exciting destinations, visiting biologists and scientists working to save animals all over the world.

Photo credit: Renee Bumpus
Photo credit: Renee Bumpus

Many people have had the amazing opportunity to explore exotic locations like the savannahs of Africa or the rainforests of South America without ever having experienced the splendor of North America’s Serengeti, Yellowstone National Park. It is arguably one of the most famous national parks in the world, and the best place to view wildlife in North America.  This historic park has been the host of many monumental wildlife catastrophes and victories.  Both bison and wolves have been eliminated and re-established in the park over the years.  The most studied wolf packs in the world have been in Yellowstone and much of what we know about wolf behavior today has been gained from observation and research performed there.

Photo credit: Dale Martin
Photo credit: Dale Martin

The Houston Zoo’s travel program began tours to Yellowstone in 2008 when a partnership with the Teton Science School, Wildlife Expeditions was established. Teton Science School offers some of the best conservation and educational programs in the country in the Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. We are proud to support their programing through this unique partnership.  Wildlife Expeditions has a staff of some of the best Yellowstone wildlife biologist guides.  These guides previously worked as park researchers, so they provide a special wildlife documentary style adventure on every trip.

Photo credit: Renee Bumpus
Photo credit: Renee Bumpus

The Houston Zoo Wildlife Conservation Program leads trips overseen by Wildlife Expedition staff, who take us directly to the animal action in Yellowstone three times a year.  Each season offers unforgettable wildlife experiences.   In the winter, we travel by snow coach and sleigh to watch bison and elk face the harsh icy landscape.  We spy on wolves as they battle the snow and cold to find their next meal.  In the spring, we watch bears emerge from hibernation with cubs in tow.  We see owls in nests with owlets and shaky newborn bison calves discovering their legs.  We watch wolf packs play and hunt. We often see over 40 different species in the spring as the snow and ice melt away and new flora begins to emerge.  Last spring we watched a wolf and two grizzly bears eat a carcass.  In the fall, we watch impressive wildlife courtship displays and enjoy the haunting sound of bugling elk.  We observe bears foraging for food.  One fall evening we followed a radio collared grizzly bear named Scarface along the side of the road as he foraged right outside our vehicle.

Photo credit: Dale Martin
Photo credit: Dale Martin

No matter the season, a Houston Zoo traveler is bound to see amazing wildlife while learning about the importance of saving these animals and the places they call home. These trips are all inclusive and utilize a safari style adventure, in a vehicle that allows for ultimate viewing. The safari-like vans have a roof that opens enabling a safe up-close and personal experience with bears and bison.  Throughout the trip, we meet with rangers and researchers in the park that provide updates and current wildlife monitoring news.

If you have questions or are interested in signing up for these or other wildlife tours, please visit our travel page on our Houston Zoo website at:

Remember, every time you visit the Houston Zoo a portion of your admission goes to saving animals in the wild.

Come with us to see wolves in Yellowstone!

Edit-2The Houston Zoo travels to the Tetons and Yellowstone national Park several times a year and you can join us!  We have biologists from the area guide us on wildlife focused adventures that provide thrilling encounters with bison, wolves and many other animals.

All of our food and accommodations once we are in the park are taken care of on these amazing expeditions.  This is always a unique and memorable trip, so click here for more details!


For most of our exciting wildlife spotting our biologists provide high powered spotting scopes and binoculars to observe the animal’s natural behavior.


Last Spring we had several astonishing wolf encounters.  We saw wolves on four separate  occasions!    This male was chilling in the afternoon after a bit of a feast on a carcass.


This female wolf  gave us a very memorable experience.


She came up right along side our vehicle.  She had a tracking collar on and was well known to our biologists.


Her identification number was 889 and she was a part of a pack called the Junction Bute pack.  It was such an honor to be in her presence!



We watched this beautiful fephoto3male wolf from the safety and comfort of our vehicle.  Our biologists in Yellowstone provide us with this specially designed wildlife viewing vehicle that we can pop up through the top for any close encounters that may happen.

Our Yellowstone biologists are from Teton Science School’s Wildlife Expeditions and they create unforgettable experiences by guiding us to the best animal viewing opportunities.   Join us on these exciting wildlife adventures in one of the most outstanding National Parks in the world, Yellowstone!  Click here to see dates and sign up!

The Houston Zoo loves our bobcat, black bear, river otters and other north american animals and we are constantly committed to protecting them in the wild.  We know saving these and all species will take armies of people that care.  We can achieve this by bringing people eye to eye with animals in the Zoo and in the wild.

Every time you visit or travel with the Zoo you save animals in the wild.  A portion of your admission and travel cost goes to efforts to protect wildlife from extinction.










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!

A Winter Wonderland of Wildlife in Yellowstone…come with us!

Travel with the Zoo during February 1-6, 2014 and find yourself among some pretty amazing animals and journeying through a fantastic adventure!



The Winter Wonderland of Wildlife Yellowstone trip will take you on a private tour through Grand Teton National Park, the National Elk Refuge, and Yellowstone. You’ll have plenty of wildlife viewing, but some special viewing encounters including a sleighing adventure to get a closer look at some of the animals among an almost crystalline landscape!


The tour travels through multiple parks, and you’ll find yourself sleeping in the cozy Old Faithful Snow Lodge in Yellowstone getting ready for a day full of geothermal features and geological inspirations among the beautiful wildlife…quite a nice setting for a photo or two, no?


Search for the elusive gray wolves in private safari-style vehicles and breathe in the crispness of this brisk winter wonderland of wildlife. At the end of it all, you can relax in Chico Hot Springs and share stories of how you finally got that perfect shot, or how you practically tasted the geyser…or how you’ve forgotten how tasty hot chocolate is at the end of a day of adventurin’ !


Learn more at our Travel with the Zoo page !

Reserve Your Space Today:

Contact Renee Bumpus or 713-533-6881


The Houston Zoo is Seeking Ways to Save Animals in Madagascar

The Houston Zoo’s conservation purpose is to further the Houston Zoo’s mission of “fostering appreciation, knowledge, and care for the natural world” by connecting the public to our efforts to save species in the wild.  Through our wildlife conservation projects and partnerships, which work to conserve the wild counterparts of our ambassador animals at the Zoo, we will inspire all people to respect value and conserve wildlife and wild places.

We have many animals from the weird and wonderful island of Madagascar in Africa.  If you have visited the Zoo in the past few months you may have had the pleasure of watching our baby sifaka and ring-tailed lemurs grow and mature.  And, guests always enjoy the antics of our fascinating fossa and are dazzled by our beautiful Madagascar love birds.  You may have also heard that the Houston Zoo was the first zoo in history to have Madagascar big-headed turtle babies two years ago.     The Houston Zoo has a deep appreciation and admiration for Madagascar and we want to do everything we can to save the species that live there.

Jonah Ratsimbazafy at the Houston Zoo

Last year, The Houston Zoo invited lemur biologist/conservationist, Jonah Ratsimbazafy to be a part of our Wildlife Speaker Series.  Jonah was born and raised in Madagascar and has dedicated his life to wildlife conservation.  Our Zoo community got to see his commitment to saving all Madagascar wildlife from extinction.  This June, Houston Zoo conservation  staff will be visiting Jonah in Madagascar to seek ways we can most effectively assist his conservation efforts.  We will do our best to bring you along on this expedition by attempting to keep you informed and updated as frequently as Africa’s internet connection allows.

Did you know that every time you purchase a ticket to come to the Zoo you help animals in the wild?  A portion of your admission ticket goes to efforts to save animals from extinction.  The Houston Zoo deeply cares for the animals we house on Zoo grounds and seeks to support and participate in the best conservation efforts to save them in the wild. We currently support over 20 conservation projects in over 10 different countries.  Our Zoo’s conservation department serves the Zoo by selecting, monitoring and evaluating each program to guarantee the effectiveness and long-term success. To learn more about and help us with our conservation efforts, please visit our website. To keep up-to-date on wildlife conservation in the field, make sure to follow our Houston Zoo blogs and Facebook pages!

Backstage Passes to Yellowstone Wildlife on the Houston Zoo Yellowstone Trip

Did you know you can come with the Houston Zoo into the wild?  Last week the Houston Zoo Spring Yellowstone travelers had the adventure of a lifetime in Yellowstone!  The Houston Zoo partners with Wildlife Expeditions Teton Science School to provide the best possible wildlife focused experience in Yellowstone.

Wildlife Expeditions biologists escort us to wildlife veiwing opportunities that feel so special it is like we are priviledged backstage pass holders for the rock star wildlife of Yellowstone.

All of the beautiful photos in this post were taken by Keith Kilson, a traveler who captured these beautiful shots on last week’s Houston Zoo Yellowstone trip.  And, here are a few highlights from another Houston Zoo traveler about last week’s trip:

  • Seeing the two large grizzly bears helping themselves to the carcass of an animal with the wolf standing in between them, waiting for his turn to eat!
  • Climbing up the van’s hatch roof to watch Grizzly Bear “Scarface” cross the road in front of our vans completely indifferent to our presence, yet majestic in his movements
  • Seeing the bears (grizzly and black) with the cubs
  • Seeing the mother bison wandering around in search for her calf (probably killed by a wolf or a bear)
  • Seeing Grand Teton (the highest peak of the Tetons) with the Snake River running in front of it (on our final trip back to Jackson Hole)
  • Listening to Wolf Biologist, Rick McIntyre talk about the wolves of Yellowstone

If you love wildlife and have an adventurous heart join the Houston Zoo for our next Yellowstone adventure September 7-11.  Click here for more information on traveling with the Zoo and how to reserve your spot.

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Today, we took snakes (and our snake expert!) over to the Houston Chronicle to talk about why these amazing animals are awesome. Check it out! from the Houston Chronicle
Today our friends from the Houston Zoo are at the Houston Chronicle to show us a few of the snakes from their collection and to answer some of your snake-related questions. As the weather warms up many Texans will be seeing more snakes in the wild and they have some tips on safety around them.

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