A Special Anniversary in the Children’s Zoo

In August of this year, a member of the Children’s Zoo staff celebrated a special anniversary. Wendy Morrison celebrated 35 years with the zoo – all of those years dedicated to the Children’s Zoo!

Wendy started as a volunteer and continued in that position for 2 years. During her volunteer time, she befriended a young llama named Acura (unlike the car, it is pronounced Ah-CURE -ah).  When Acura became ill, she wouldn’t eat for anyone except Wendy hand feeding her.  Because of this close relationship, she was hooked and joined the staff in August of 1982 She was a young zookeeper ready to take on the world!  She has cared for many different animals during her time here.  Some of her favorites have been….Red Pandas, Llamas (including hand raising one special llama named Pib) and Jessie the Longhorn.

She saw several Mayors come and go. Kathy Whitmire, Bob Lanier, Lee Brown, Bill White, Annise Parker and now of course Sylvester Turner.  The Houston Zoo was a part of the City for many years but, privatized in 2002 under Mayor Lee Brown.  Wendy says “A lot changed.  Who would remain with the city and who would stay with the zoo?”  The privatization brought many good things to the zoo.  More funding, improved exhibits and conservation involvement around the world.  She also saw 5 different Children’s Zoo Curators come and go and is now under the 6th Curator of her tenure.  With each new leader, comes new ideas and change.  That can be exciting and challenging all at the same time.

Another big change in her time here? In 2000, the entire Children’s Zoo moved location!  Think about any time you have been involved in new construction and what that means.  Yikes! Then, think about not only moving people and things but the animals too!  It was quite an undertaking.  During the move, one of the animals, Zypher the Zebu, attempted to return to her old enclosure.  She was of course steered (no pun intended) back to her new enclosure and decided she liked it after all.

Over the years, she has seen and experienced so much. She has seen animals and staff come and go and worked through all types of weather. She has seen lots of crazy storms come through.  Some of the more notable ones were: Alicia in August 1983, Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001, Rita in September 2005, Ike in September 2008 and of course Harvey this year.  She says “When hard times hit, you find out what you are made of.  We are resilient here.”

On a personal note – She was born in Wisconsin and lived for a while in Minnesota. She came to Texas as fast as she could, moving here with her family in 1969 when she was 10 years old.   Now a longtime resident, she is a Naturalized Texan.  Wendy and her Partner of 22 years, Debbie Pillow continue to love Texas and animals.

What would Wendy like people to know about Zookeeping? “Zookeeping is always changing.  Always something new to learn.  Sometimes things repeat themselves but you have to be open to learn from your mistakes.”  Sounds like good advice not only in zookeeping but in life, doesn’t it?

Children’s Zoo Supervisor Angie Pyle had this to say: “Wendy embodies the qualities of a life time Zookeeper. She is dedicated to animal care, and has changed with every new chapter of the Houston Zoo.  Wendy is strong, determined, trust worthy and dependable.  Her knowledge of the Zoo’s history and its inhabitants is irreplaceable.”

If you see Wendy around the Children’s Zoo on your next visit, stop and say hi. She has a wealth of memories and knowledge and loves to share her experiences with guests.

Thank you, Wendy, for all your years of dedication and all you do to care for the animals.

 

Augmented Reality Sandbox comes to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

What is Augmented Reality Sand? To describe it in one word – Awesome. In fact, if you come into the Swap Shop and we aren’t at the desk, check to see if we are playing in the sandbox.

It was developed by University of California Davis’ W.M. Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences and was supported by the National Science Foundation.  It combines 3D visualization applications with a hands-on sandbox exhibit to teach about earth science concepts.   It uses a computer projector and a motion sensing input device (Xbox 360 Kinect 3D camera).  By changing the levels of the sand, the Kinect detects the distance to the sand below and elevation is projected on the sand, complete with color and contour lines.  Already sounds amazing doesn’t it?  Ever wish you could create your own lake on a hot day?  Or build a mountain to climb?    You can even hold your hand out about 2 feet above the sand surface and the program will simulate rain.  The rain will drain into the lowest lying areas in the sand.  Watersheds, mountains, lakes, rivers.  You can make them all!

If we are in a drought, freshwater is not being added to the watershed. A watershed is an area of land which drains to a specific point.  (such as the Clear Lake watershed or the Armand Bayou watershed) That lack of rain causes lots of problems.  Let’s start with our drinking water.  We need it for survival – I mean how would we even make coffee in the mornings??  Then, think about our lawns and all the plants around us.  They all need water to survive too. So, do our pets and wild animals – birds, rabbits, squirrels, etc.  The issues don’t stop there.  If there isn’t freshwater from rainfall coming into the watersheds it can even have an impact on the bay.  If enough freshwater isn’t coming into the bay from the watersheds, the salt (or salinity) goes up.  That change in salinity can have an adverse effect on plants and animals both.  One example is that oysters cannot thrive in a salt level that is too high.  And, oysters are big business on the gulf coast.  Water is critical to all forms of life – both plant and animal.  Understanding water cycles and how a water shed works is fundamental to protecting that valuable resource.

And the other side of that same coin – floods. We are well versed in flooding in our area, aren’t we?  What have we seen when hurricanes bring a storm surge?  Or when a tropical storm stalls out in our area?  Sometimes the drainage can’t keep up and the watershed has more water than it can handle.  The rising water can not only cause damage to property but, sometimes even lives are lost.  Flooding invades areas that animals would normally be living in causing them to lose their habitat and can cause problems with all the plants around us and leave us stranded.

The goal of the Augmented Reality Sandbox is for our guests to learn about topography, the meaning of contour lines, watersheds, catchment areas, levees and more. We want to raise public awareness and increase understanding and stewardship of freshwater ecosystems.  We hope you will come by and check out the new sandbox.

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

Click here to learn more about Augmented Reality Sand and even find out how to build your own.

iNaturalist at the Houston Zoo

Ever see some interesting wildlife at the zoo? That sounds like a funny question but, I’m not talking about the Zoo’s animal collection.  What native wildlife have you seen as you go through the zoo?  Birds, butterflies, bees and other visiting animals just passing through?  What about interesting plants growing on Zoo grounds?

There is now an iNaturalist project called Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo. Photographs were first uploaded by our Collegiate Conservation Program to start the  guide to native wildlife as you enjoy the zoo.

The Collegiate Conservation Program at the Houston Zoo is a 10 week intern program generously sponsored by ExxonMobil. The program focuses on two important aspects of conservation – saving animals in the wild and sharing the conservation message.  The program participants must be currently enrolled undergrad students and commit to 30-35 hours weekly for the 10 weeks of the program.  The interns work with various regional conservation partners around the city learning from the experts about what they do to help save wildlife.  They also spend time on zoo grounds handling animals and sharing our Take Action messages with guests.  Want to learn more about our Collegiate Conservation Program?  Click here.

Now that the interns have added photos to the project, you can now not only learn from the observations already in there, you can add your own observations too!

iNaturalist is a wonderful program to engage people with nature. You can build your own life list or even a project for your area.  Not sure what something is?  Not to worry!  iNaturalist allows other members to comment on your post to help with the ID.  The iNaturalist program will choose the taxon with at least 2/3 agreement to automatically ID the post.  It is easy to navigate – your Dashboard is like your Facebook feed.  You can follow other members and see what they post.  You can access iNaturalist online or in a handy app you can download to your phone.  You can see what other things have been posted in the area by looking at observations or places, and can even search by taxon if you are looking for something specific.  The Help section of the program has an awesome FAQ guide and Getting Started guide to help you learn the ins and outs of iNaturalist too. You will find the Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo by going to projects in the app or on line and searching on that project title.

Another added bonus to using the Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo project is it can earn you points in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop! If you add a photo to the project, stop by the Swap Shop and show the Naturalist what you have added.  You will earn points for your posts!  Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here to learn more.

Campers Championing Conservation!

Every summer, the Houston Zoo welcomes over 2,000 campers into our summer camp program: Camp Zoofari.  These children spend a week learning about the Houston Zoo, its amazing animals, and all the ways we are working to save animals in the wild.  We wanted to increase our emphasis on conservation actions and engage our campers to feel empowered that THEY can truly make a difference, no matter how old they are! Thus the Water Bottle Pledge and the Trash Audit Program came into being.

It is no secret that summers in Houston can be brutally hot.  Staying hydrated is a must, especially for our campers.   Starting on Monday, the first day of the camp week, we start highlighting the importance of reducing plastic use.  One of the easiest ways we can do this is by using a reusable water bottle.  This helps marine life, like sea turtles.  On Wednesday, the middle of the camp week, we give the campers the opportunity to make a personal pledge:   to use a reusable water bottle through the rest of the summer to help save sea turtles in the wild.  If they chose to take the pledge, they are able to decorate a water droplet and then place it on the pledge banner.  This has been a huge hit with our campers so far this summer!  Each week, we get well over 100 pledges.  Campers point out the pledge banners to their parents and even ask to have their picture taken next to their pledge sign.

Another way campers are helping to save animals is through our lunch Trash Audit Program. Campers are quick to point out that recycling is important in helping to save wildlife and natural spaces. Toward this end, our campers are challenged each day to bring reusable lunch items when able, and to properly recycle when they cannot. Each day after lunch, the camper waste is weighed versus the weight of recyclable materials brought. So far, each camp week has increased their percentage of recyclable materials and on average are recycling 16% of what they bring for lunch. To assist in this effort, signs have been posted on the trash bins and recycle bins at lunch showing pictures of items that can and cannot be recycled. Campers enjoy matching their items to the pictures each week as they explore what can and cannot be tossed into the recycle bins!

Through these two programs, campers are making a difference for wildlife and demonstrating how everyone can make a difference! We encourage you to take on these challenges within your own home!

 

Houston Zoo Hires Two New Executives

The Houston Zoo has announced that two new executives will join the organization this summer. In July, non-profit industry leaders Sheryl Kolasinski and Rauli Garcia will step into their roles on the zoo’s senior leadership team and focus on bringing the organization’s mission to life through a new strategic plan and accompanying master plan.

“I am pleased to welcome two seasoned non-profit executives to the leadership team of the Houston Zoo. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Kolasinski and Chief Administrative Officer Rauli Garcia will spearhead efforts to advance our recently adopted strategic plan and ambitious master plan, adding to the zoo’s already strong core programmatic leadership and staff,” said Lee Ehmke, president and CEO of the Houston Zoo. “Both executives bring extensive experience in the Houston and national cultural institution communities, together with impressive track records of successfully managing change and growth. They join the zoo at a very exciting time in our development, as we approach our 100th anniversary in 2022 with a redoubled commitment to saving wildlife and serving the community.”

Rauli Garcia

Rauli Garcia will start his role in the newly created position of chief administrative officer on July 5 and will be responsible for finance, purchasing, communications, marketing, and technology. Garcia will also oversee the implementation of the zoo’s new multi-year strategic plan. Rauli was recently the senior vice president of administration and chief financial officer of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Prior to joining Curtis, Rauli was the CFO of the Houston Symphony (2013-2015) and the Houston Grand Opera (2008-2013).

Rauli earned his MBA from the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University, and his Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Houston. Rauli continues to be actively involved with Rice University where he served as a member of the board for the Jones Partners at the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business.  He has held a Certified Financial Planner certificate and is a Certified Nonprofit Professional with the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.

Sheryl Kolasinski

Sheryl Kolasinski will become the zoo’s new chief operating officer leading the zoo’s business operations, which includes admissions, membership, sales and events, and oversight of the zoo’s facilities maintenance and capital projects. Kolasinski will begin her role at the Houston Zoo in mid-July. Kolasinski is joining the Houston Zoo from the Menil Collection where she served as the deputy director and chief operating officer and worked closely with the museum’s director on strategic planning as well as the implementation of the museum’s master site plan (2012-2017).  Prior to Menil, Kolasinski served as the deputy director of the Smithsonian Institution’s Office of Facilities Engineering and Operations where she managed the capital design and construction program, oversaw planning and preservation, operations and maintenance, and safety and security for 19 museums and galleries, nine research centers around the world, and the National Zoo (1995-2012).

Kolasinski received her bachelor’s degree in art history from Brown University and a master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University. She is a fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a LEED accredited professional.

Reflection Pool Gets an Update

This is part one of a three-part series on the history and current updates of the Houston Zoo Reflection Pool.

If you’ve visited the Houston Zoo recently, you’ve noticed the Reflection Pool is closed to the public. That’s because the Reflection Pool is undergoing routine maintenance for cleaning and water quality control.

So what does it take to clean it up?

Zoo staff clear the pool of dirt and leaves

First things first: Take out the koi. Aquarium staff removes all the fish and transports them to quarantine pools located behind the scenes. Once the fish have been safely relocated, zoo maintenance staff completely drains the pool, clears all leaves, and pressure washes the emptied pool. Leaves aren’t the only items found when cleaning out the pool – zoo staff collected toys, sunglasses, conservation bracelets, and more! (Psst, let’s try to keep those things out of the pool when it reopens.)

Anyone missing a lizard stuffed animal, sunglasses or a toy car?

Then, they inspect the area for any repairs needed, remove all the current sculptures and prepare the pool for a brand-new sculpture which will be installed in May. Lastly, zoo horticulture staff will update plants along the pool, water gets poured back in, and fish are returned to their pool.

Ideally this routine maintenance takes place once every year; though, if water chemistry and conditions are A-Okay, the process takes place every other year.

Be sure to check back on more updates of the Reflection Pool construction. And don’t miss the unveiling of the newly-donated sculpture next month!

Large base built to hold the new statue

Sea Lion Keeper Reflects on Her Inspiration

By: Heather Crane

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. – Jacques Yves Cousteau

It was August and I was approaching my 13th birthday. I had never seen or experienced the ocean before. As I sat in the back of my mother’s blue Toyota Camry sedan, I wondered what it might feel like to see, smell, and hear— to experience the ocean for my first time. As we drove from Oklahoma on a two-week road trip, I passed the time looking at a National Geographic map. As we neared the Oregon coast, I followed the routes of the highway with my finger. This activity didn’t seem significant at the time, but a pinpoint on the map was about to change my life forever. I remember the text being so small I could barely read it. As I looked a little closer I read aloud “Sea Lion Caves.” I hardly knew what a sea lion was, hardly knew what to expect, but I knew I had to go. My mom and my stepfather, Lee, told me that if I could help navigate using the map, we could take the detour to visit. So, I figured it out and we were on our way!

I remember walking down the long sidewalk, hoping I might catch sight of a whale like the signs indicated. I didn’t see one, but the anticipation as I walked to the elevator entrance was exciting enough. I took the ride down the elevator, and as I meandered through the cave, I felt my excitement building. There, at the end of the path, I could see sunlight shining through and could hear the sound of waves crashing into a rocky wall. And then I heard it: the sound of a colony of sea lions. All that separated me from these giant and curious creatures was some old chain link to protect them from us and us from falling. As I watched, it felt like time stopped. All that mattered to me was taking in every precious moment. Even as a kid, I knew this experience was special. I found treasure in the Sea Lion Caves that day. I watched the sea lions exhibit their natural behavior and as I did, I was overcome with true and pure joy. I could think of nothing that made me any happier in all of my 13 years. Eventually, I had to leave, but that experience made its way deep into my heart and forever changed who I was and who I would become. It cast an eternal spell of wonder. At the time, I already wanted to be a veterinarian. But after seeing sea lions, I knew they were important to me so I thought I might grow up to be a sea lion veterinarian.

When it came time for college I studied pre-veterinary medicine. Just 20 days before I graduated, I realized maybe that wasn’t for me after all. I had lunch with E.O. Wilson, a prominent biologist, a hero that further inspired my interest in conservation. After listening to my story he suggested that perhaps veterinary medicine was not my destiny. He told me the world needed me to help conserve, and I believed him. Lucky for me, paths are not set in stone and when I applied I was not accepted into vet school. Unsure of where my life would lead me next, the one thing I knew for sure was my passion for sea lions was unwavering. But where does one find sea lions in Oklahoma? I looked to my community zoo, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Gardens, for volunteer opportunities. Not long after, I was hired to work with the training department. I had proximity to sea lions, but I was still missing the conservation piece. Within the year, I got married and moved to Houston, where I was hired as a full time sea lion keeper at the Houston Zoo.

A primary goal of the Houston Zoo is to connect communities to inspire action to save animals in the wild. Experiencing the Sea Lion Caves inspired me to work with sea lions in human care so that I could further spread the importance of conserving wild animals. I continued to graduate school to receive my master’s degree in wildlife science so that I could further contribute to wildlife conservation. As I have watched my career develop over the years, I am always brought back to my memory of the day I experienced the Sea Lion Caves and how I felt so moved from awareness to action from that single experience. My hope is to share this passion that was inspired all those years ago for this magnificent species. I find the most rewarding part of working for the Houston Zoo (outside of working directly with the sea lions) is inspiring others to take simple actions that contribute to saving animals in the wild. People find connections in their experiences at the zoo and I am humbled to know that my work can play even a small part in changing someone’s life, as the Sea Lion Caves visit did for me. Working with and caring for California sea lions brings me much joy. This year, the Houston Zoo welcomed a female pup. TJ was born to Jonah and Kamia and is a pleasure to watch as she masters new milestones. TJ is the first sea lion pup born at the Houston Zoo in 22 years and it is my great fortune to watch her grow and contribute to the education and awareness of many to come. I am thankful to our sea lions: Cali, Kamia, Jonah, Rockie, and TJ for making my dream possible.

I credit my single experience at the Oregon Sea Lion Caves for inspiring me to actively participate in conservation actions. It shaped my life and career. Our California sea lions at the zoo are ambassadors for the Houston Zoo’s plastic pollution and ocean-friendly seafood Take Action initiatives. As a sea lion keeper, I am able to live this mission of saving animals in the wild and use the zoo’s platform to influence and inspire others. I feel forever grateful that fate would have it for me to discover the Sea Lion Caves as a tiny spec on the map that day. Many thanks go to all involved in operating the Caves and sharing its beauty so others may have experiences similar to my own.

Originally written for Oregon Sea Lion Caves.

Tasty New Food Options at the Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo is thrilled to announce a new food service partnership with Service System Associates (SSA). These fine people will be serving up new and improved, tasty food options all around the Zoo – starting now! From hand-battered chicken tenders to hand-stretched pizza, and from Dole Whip to cold-pressed juices, quality is key in the new food options at the Houston Zoo.
The new menu items will feature some stand-outs including:

  • Crispy, hand-battered chicken tenders
  • Fresh and juicy 1/3-pound black Angus burgers on a locally baked, artisan bun
  • Hand-tossed fresh pizza dough, topped with house-made pizza sauce. The pizza is then fired in a 650-degree stone pizza oven at Twiga Cafe
  • Hand-carved deli sandwiches with freshly baked bread
  • Brand-new BBQ restaurant with great smoked meats and awesome sides like creamed jalapeno corn

Look for the new food items the next time you visit the Houston Zoo at Macaw Café, Twiga Café, or Cypress Circle.

Nature Journals Made Easy

Have you ever been out in nature and found something you thought was amazing?  Ever wish you had a way to get your kids more engaged with nature?  The Houston Zoo has a way to help!

Nature journals are a great way to explore and learn about nature.  Kids (and adults too!) can write about, sketch, or paint things seen in nature.  It is a great way to document what you have seen and you can even go back later to research if you want to learn more about a particular item.

Journal pages from Scratchmadejournal.com
Journal pages from Scratchmadejournal.com.

There is a wonderful website and blog at scratchmadejournal.com  with a lot of great information on nature journaling.  The author  even has some printable pages to get you started!  Click here to check out her awesome blog and get some amazing ideas about nature journals.  She includes examples, recommendations on supplies, and a list of places to find more help and examples.  Included on her blog are posts geared towards nature journaling specifically for kids.  You don’t have to be a award winning artist or write like a novelist – just record what you see and add sketches as you see fit.  And the more you journal, the better they get!

Even a simple drawing can enhance your Nature Journal
Even a simple drawing can enhance your Nature Journal

Do you know the best benefit to nature journals?  Kids 18 and younger can bring their nature journals to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop to earn points!  The points can be used in the shop to get some amazing things like bones, shells, minerals or even a re-usable bag that kids can take home and enjoy.  Need more information on the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here to learn more.

Texas Pollinator BioBlitz

The first ever Texas Pollinator BioBlitz will be taking place from October 7th to October 16th.  This is a statewide effort to observe and identify as many pollinators, and pollinator habitats as possible and the Houston Zoo will be participating!

How can you participate at the zoo?

Monarch Butterfly
Monarch Butterfly

First, take pictures of any pollinators you see and the plants you see them on around the zoo. Some of the pollinators you might see are butterflies, honey bees, and bumblebees.  Then, take those pictures to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop and you will be registered as a Pollinator Pal and will receive 50 points to spend in the shop.  Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop?  Click here for more information.

Second, you can share your photos or videos of the pollinators on Instagam or iNaturalist. On Instagram, posts should include #SaveThePollinators.

Why are pollinators so important to us? They make our daily lives better in so many ways!  Without pollinators we would lose much of the fruit and vegtables we eat every day.  We would also lose chocolate,

Cotton
Cotton

coffee, tequila even cotton.  Our meat would be effected too because we would lose the plants that the cattle and other animals eat.

 

Come out to explorer your Houston Zoo and help us save pollinators.

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There's still time to explore the Houston Zoo’s special exhibit – Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks Presented by Coca-Cola!
Now through October 1, see some of your favorite animals unlike ever before, built with tens of thousands of LEGO bricks.

www.houstonzoo.org/natureconnects/
... See MoreSee Less

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Theres still time to explore the Houston Zoo’s special exhibit – Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® Bricks Presented by Coca-Cola! 
Now through October 1, see some of your favorite animals unlike ever before, built with tens of thousands of LEGO bricks.
 
https://www.houstonzoo.org/natureconnects/

 

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My kids dragged me to this and it was totally worth it - I think I liked it more than they did. Amazing sculptures!

Wow..! Reminds me the iguanas in Puerto Vallarta..!

We have to go!! Erik Baza

Awe you should take Arian! Ariana Chavez

How did they do that

Technicolor Chameleon...that's pretty cool!

Gaby Torres mira tu niño seria feliz ahi

JP Harvey!

Michael Enstein

Jonathan Drake

Becky Turner, Ashley Martin, Susan Rives Horridge

José Julian Coronado Zury Coronado

Natasha Wallace

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Our latest Ten Second Science video goes deep to explore how interesting nature can be. Enjoy! #SequentialHermaphroditism ... See MoreSee Less

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Monday... It's okay to start thinking about happy hour already, right? Right?!

Join us at Saint Arnold Brewing Company on Friday to support howler monkey conservation efforts in the wild. From 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., $1 from every pint sold will go directly to Wildtracks, a rescue and rehabilitation center for howler monkeys in Belize.
... See MoreSee Less

1

Monday... Its okay to start thinking about happy hour already, right? Right?!

Join us at Saint Arnold Brewing Company on Friday to support howler monkey conservation efforts in the wild. From 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., $1 from every pint sold will go directly to Wildtracks, a rescue and rehabilitation center for howler monkeys in Belize.

 

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Michael Buffington

Animals In Action

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