Part of the Pride: How You and the Houston Zoo are Saving Lions like Hasani in Africa

As 2017 came to a close, we eagerly welcomed Hasani, a 3 year old male lion, to our pride at the Houston Zoo. He has received a very warm welcome as thousands of Houstonians have made their way to the zoo to catch a glimpse of our new feline friend, but did you know that each time you visit the Houston Zoo to see Hasani and our pride of lions, a portion of your admission ticket goes to support work to save lions in the wild? Houston Zoo conservation partner, The Pride Lion Conservation Alliance was created on the idea that we can do more to save lions in the wild by working together. Founded by six women with over 100 years of collective experience, PRIDE is a new model of collaboration that works across different African countries to save more lions and to inspire and improve future conservation. Collectively, Pride Alliance members lead carnivore conservation efforts in 4 key lion range countries, researching and protecting 20% of Africa’s existing wild lion population. Combining science with community conservation efforts, these projects collectively employ hundreds of local people and engage thousands in efforts each year to address the biggest threats to lions and improve the lives of local people.

Located in Kenya, Ewaso Lions is a member of the Pride Lion Conservation Alliance that works to improve relationships between humans and carnivores through raising awareness of ecological problems and solutions, developing strategies for reducing conflict with carnivores, and educational initiatives that illustrate the benefit of wildlife for local livelihoods. The team at Ewaso Lions has had quite the year, and they couldn’t wait to tell their extended family here at the Houston Zoo all about it!

This year came with its challenges, as parts of Kenya, including the area where Ewaso Lions is based, were hit hard by a very severe drought. The Ewaso Nyiro River dried up in early January and wildlife and livestock converged around small waterholes, increasing the conflict between lions and humans. The river flowed again temporarily in February/March, but it had dried up by June 2017. Fortunately, the rains arrived towards the end of October and carried to November, bringing much needed relief to the region.

While the drought put a great deal of stress on both lions and humans in the area, it did not stop the Ewaso Lion project from seeing a number of incredible successes! Two of the lionesses tracked by the project gave birth to cubs – Nabulu gave birth in late 2016, and Naramat gave birth to 4 cubs in April of 2017. A number of new male lions also arrived in the region, and 6 lions were collared to help identify key routes the lions use to move around within the community landscape.

Ewaso Lions Scouts have been conducting transect surveys to record lion (and other carnivores) sightings and tracks, wild prey and livestock, and incidents of conflict with livestock. They patrol, almost on a daily basis, a total of 24 fixed transects (each almost 2 miles long) distributed across the lion range. Up until the end of October, a team of 25 conducted a total of 665 patrols, covering a distance of 3,477 miles on foot with over 2,000 patrol hours. In addition, the project has trained 20 tour guides and rangers in lion identification, ecology, conservation issues, and data collection using a custom smartphone app. These participants are now certified Lion Watch Guides who help Ewaso Lions gather data on lions by recording sightings during the course of their work.

Through their Mama Simba program, Ewaso Lions has engaged more than 300 Samburu women in conservation. This year the Mama Simba ladies went on 5 wildlife safaris in to Samburu National Reserve, piloted new ideas to help them better dispose of waste, particularly plastic waste which poses a serious threat to livestock and wildlife, and organized 3 events with women from local villages. The ladies brought together women, elders and children from their communities and played a specially designed conservation game.

In addition, a total of eight Lion Kids Camps have been held and 213 Kenyan children have been exposed to conservation education through the Camps. This program is helping to foster the next generation of wildlife heroes in Kenya. Following a special Reunion Camp in August 2015, 66% of children wanted to pursue a career related to wildlife (e.g. conservationist, wildlife vet, tour guide, or ranger), with a further 5% openly supporting conservation while in pursuit of an alternate career.

Talk about a busy year! We are beyond proud of all of the hard work and dedication our family at Ewaso Lions has put in this year to save lions in the wild, and we can’t wait to see all of the amazing things they are able to accomplish in the new year. We’d like to thank all of our guests for supporting projects like this one through the purchase of your admission ticket here at the Houston Zoo. Make sure to stay tuned for updates!

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.

 

 

Searching for Reptiles and Amphibians in India: Day 6

This blog was written by Chris Bednarski, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department. Chris received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for reptiles and amphibians in the Western Ghats region of India. We will be posting a series of blogs as Chris documents his work overseas.  

Chris’s goal is to survey within a section of land purchased by the Tillari Biodiversity Research Trust and document what species are present, as well as discover new species and note their home ranges. These findings will help to strengthen the need to protect this land, and by protecting this land, we save species in the wild!

Day 6:

This was the last night of surveys for this trip and what a night it was!!!  We decided to visit a stream we have passed a few times on this trip just to see what it looked like.  We all kept pointing this stream out every time we drove by it, but for some reason or another never stopped to check it out.  We parked our car on the side of the road and jumped down into the stream.  From the first second I got down into the stream until the second I left the stream it was “frog-o-mania”!  We saw so many frogs we were having a seriously hard time counting.  We estimate we saw well over 1,000 frogs of at least 6 different species but probably more like 8-12 species.  We found tadpoles and eggs of the Night frogs for the first time in our surveys.  This stream had checkered keelback snakes, wolf snakes, Brook’s geckos and one Indian black turtle!!!  I am a huge turtle nerd and finding a turtle on a night like this just puts the icing on the cake.  If we were not having such a productive night I may have been far more nervous than I was – my nemesis was everywhere… the giant fishing spiders!  With a leg span the size of a dinner plate and the ability to run across water, they make me a bit uneasy when walking forest streams at night.  Thankfully I was too preoccupied with all the amazing amphibians.

I will be hopping onto my first flight around 4AM to come back home to Houston.  I haven’t even left and I already miss being here.  Good thing the team and I will probably be meeting back up in early March to continue our surveys!!!  Until then, cheers.

 

Sea Turtle Rescues in Christmas Bay

The following post was written by Justin, a local community member. 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. On one of  his latest outings, Justin and his son Trenton came to the aid of almost a dozen sea turtles that had been cold-stunned. 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 tiny bodies shut down and need help. Read about Justin’s adventure below: 

On December 5, 2017 a significant cold front hit our coast dropping water temperatures in Christmas Bay by more than 20 degrees in less than 72 hours. By mid-day of the 8th, the water had dipped below 50 degrees. As someone passionate about sea turtle conservation, I knew that we would likely have turtles cold-stunning so I pulled up to the south shore of the bay at 7:20AM on Saturday, 12/9. Before I even entered the water I could see a hypothermic turtle floating about 50 yards from shore. I approached the turtle and upon picking it up from the water was able to see it was alive. I loaded it into a decoy sled I had recently purchased for the purpose of rescuing turtles, and immediately called the sea turtle hotline at 1-866-TURTLE-5. I spoke to NOAA biologist, Lyndsey Howell, and notified her of the turtle and it’s condition. Since I had found one so quickly, we agreed that I would continue searching for turtles and keep her updated as I went. Immediately upon getting off of the phone, I could see another turtle floating to my east. By the time I arrived at turtle #2, I could see a 3rd…

By 8:00AM I had 3 live, hypothermic sea turtles in my sled. At 8:30, I was up to 6. By 9:00AM I had a 7th and #8 was within sight in a pocket of Drum Bay. Through this time I had continued to communicate with Lyndsey, and as my sled was quickly filling with turtles, she was heading my way. After a 30 minute ‘trek’ through 18 inches of water and thigh-deep mud, I was able to secure turtle #8. After the mud and pulling a sled full of turtles across the marsh to get back into Christmas Bay proper, I took a much needed break on the bank and let Lyndsey know I would be headed back toward my truck.

As she pulled up, I picked up my 9th turtle of the morning in nearly the same spot I had gotten the first.

After the turtles were safely at the Sea Turtle Facility in Galveston, I had other commitments for the afternoon but was back in the bay the following morning with my son, Trenton. After an hour and a half of looking we found another turtle, this one quite large at nearly 50 pounds, and it was alive. We again called the hotline and spoke to Lyndsey letting her know. After spending another hour looking and having not found any more, our turtle was transported to the facility in Galveston for recovery.

Every experience I have with sea turtles leaves its mark on me, but being able to rescue 10 in two days and share part of that experience with my son, was amazing. When the water temps drop again, I plan on being back out there in my waders and with my sled in hopes of getting to more in time to save them. 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.

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.

 

Searching for Reptiles and Amphibians in India: Day 3

This blog was written by Chris Bednarski, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Herpetology Department. Chris received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from his coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for reptiles and amphibians in the Western Ghats region of India. We will be posting a series of blogs as Chris documents his work overseas.  

Chris’s goal is to survey within a section of land purchased by the Tillari Biodiversity Research Trust and document what species are present, as well as discover new species and note their home ranges. These findings will help to strengthen the need to protect this land, and by protecting this land, we save species in the wild!

Day 3:

Tonight we headed into one of our sites that we have surveyed pretty heavily over the last couple years.  During the monsoon season, we find many species of frogs along this path – there is a large stone wall covered in geckos and usually a few lizard eating species of snake as well. But the monsoon has passed now and it hasn’t rained here in some time.  This is an important time for us to survey because now we get to document what species are active in the drier part of the year.  We can see that a lot of the grasses and smaller shrubby plants have started to dry out and turn brown.   We noted quite a few leaf eating insects getting their last meals in for the year.  One of my favorites is a katydid that looks like it flew 100 mph into a brick wall and wound up with a flat face.  During the earlier part of the dry season, we have seen that the bush frogs (Pseudophilautus) are still around in decent numbers but they are not calling for mates – we assume they are fattening up for the cooler weather coming.  We encountered several forest lizards (Calotes sp.), both males and females, sleeping soundly on the thin ends of branches.  They choose these seemingly uncomfortable limbs for a good reason!  If any snake or bird land on the tree they are on, the branch will move and wake them up in enough time that they can hopefully escape.  On the large stone wall we found a massive species called a Bombay leaf toed gecko (Hemidactylus prashadi).  Over all we had a slower night than usual, but still noted some cool stuff!

Tackling Plastics Pollution on the Texas City Dike

If you live in the Houston/Galveston area, chances are you have either made a trip to the coast to go fishing, or have friends and family that do. Here at the zoo, many of our own staff enjoy fishing too, and want to make sure that we keep our oceans and beaches clean so we can all enjoy this pastime for years to come! The Houston/Galveston region has several plastic pollution groups that make up the P3 Partnership. Through this partnership, the idea came about to get a number of organizations to team up and identify some of the major threats that plastics pollution poses to our local coastal birds and marine wildlife. This group, made up of members from the Audubon Texas Coastal Program, Galveston Bay Area Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, Houston Zoo, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality -Galveston Bay Estuary Program identified discarded fishing line as one of the biggest threats to wildlife like pelicans and sea turtles.

As a group, we felt confident that discarded fishing line was a problem along the Texas coast, but how could we know for sure? You certainly don’t want to work on finding solutions to a problem without knowing if that problem actually exists…so what do you do next? You identify an area to explore and search for evidence! 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 along the dike to see just how much line was present. This collection of line took place on December 4th, and Sophie, one of our sea lion staff members, gave this account of her experience:

Over the last three years, the sea lion team has been focusing on the monofilament reduction efforts and cleanups at the Surfside Jetty, and I am so excited to now be a part of our first campaign to reduce the presence of fishing line at the Texas City Dike. Over the three hours that we spent at the Texas City Dike, I noticed a few things different at the dike than what I typically see at the Surfside jetty. The first thing was the lower presence of general litter. When walking the jetty, I typically find lots of beer cans, plastic bags, bait bags, cigarette butts, etc.. It may be the fact that I focused only on a few hundred square feet at TCD, but the presence of these larger waste items was lower. However, we could sit ourselves down in one spot and stay occupied within arm’s reach as we collected all the pieces of line; short, long, monofilament plastic, string, entangled in plant life… the list goes on. It seemed that the nature of the TCD (more natural ground, dirt and grass vs. the cement of the jetty) lends itself to accumulating more line itself, and offers more possibilities of the pieces of line to get tangled instead of just blowing into the surrounding waters. We ended up collecting close to as much line in a hundred square feet as we do on the entire surfside jetty, and in less time.

As we move forward with this project, the next step is to talk to the anglers and find out what the barriers are that stand in the way of containing their fishing line, and ultimately recycling it. I find myself wondering if the anglers at the TCD will say the same thing as the anglers at Surfside, or is there a difference that adds to this seemingly higher presence of line at the TCD? The line at the TCD was also far less encumbered by the man made debris that we normally find it weighed down by at Surfside; weights, hooks, litter… the most common entanglement we found during our TCD survey was line wrapped up in some plant life, possibly some with a few small weights and hooks. Why this difference? As we move through this campaign, and hopefully replicate it at the Surfside jetty, I hope to find these answers and continue to get closer to the successful prevention of monofilament entering our marine environments.

Thanks to an amazing team of volunteers, we were able to collect a total of 21.9 pounds of fishing line at the Texas City Dike on December 4th. Stay tuned for more updates coming in 2018!

Blue Topaz is the Birthstone for December

December has a beautiful stone as its birthstone – blue topaz. It is also the stone for the 4th and 19th wedding anniversaries. It has become the second most popular stone, second only to sapphire. It is also the state gemstone of Texas!

Topaz comes in a wide range of colors, from the colorless white topaz to pinks and blues among others. Blue topaz in nature is rare and when it is found it tends to be a light blue. The vivid blues on the market today are usually created by treating white topaz with irradiation and heat. It is a durable stone with a hardness rating of 8 on the Mohs scale. They can be found worldwide including in South America, Australia and Africa.

Another stone that is often confused for topaz is citrine. Citrine is in the quartz family and is a completely different stone. Citrine is a yellow form of quartz. In the days before modern gemology, it was often mistaken for topaz. Finding a natural citrine is rare. Most of the citrine on the market today is heat treated amethyst. Who knew if you heated amethyst it turned yellow? Citrine has a hardness of 7 on the Mohs scale and the color varies from lemon yellow to reddish brown.

Topaz is a silicate like the quartz family but has a hardness of 8. Topaz also has a wider variety of color. They can come in yellow, pink, green, purple, orange, blue and white which is clear.

Like many gemstones, there is a lot of history and lore around blue topaz.

Blue topaz has long been considered a symbol of love and affection and has been said to aid in one’s sweetness and disposition. In ancient Egypt, it was a symbol of Ra, the sun god. In Europe it was linked to Apollo, another solar being.

Ancient Greeks believed that topaz gave them strength. Other ancient civilizations believed blue topaz to have cooling powers and was used to help relieve burns and cool boiling water. Many believed that wearing a topaz ring would keep death from coming prematurely and would control insomnia and greed.

In Africa, healing rituals with topaz were practiced establishing communication with the spirit realm.

Some notable blue topaz includes -The El Dorado Topaz is the largest faceted gemstone in the world at 31,000 (yes, that’s 31 thousand) carats. The American Golden Topaz is a whopping 22,892.5 carats and is on display at the Smithsonian Institute.

There is often blue topaz for trade in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. Don’t know about the shop? Click here for more information.

SMG’s Borneo Travel Log, Thursday

Thursday: We are finishing up our time here in Borneo. This afternoon, we went for a boat ride to visit a tree planting project run by Hutan. It’s an all female run project and these women are doing great work to reforest a large tract of land that was previously clear-cut but a palm oil plantation. In the evening we toured a small tributary to survey wildlife and we came across a family of long-tailed macaques that were eating on a branch overhanging the water. We stopped to enjoy the view for a bit and then headed back around sunset.

Houston Zoo’s SMG (Social Media Guy) is on the trip of a lifetime to Borneo!

From Dec. 1–11, 2017 the Houston Zoo and Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 are traveling to southeast Asia and the island of Borneo to document the work you are supporting to protect the counterparts of the wildlife that you see when you visit the Zoo. Houston Zoo conservation associates who have dedicated their careers to protecting elephants, orangutans, pangolins and a whole host of other amazing species on the world’s third largest island will give us an in-depth look at what it means to save species from extinction.

We’ve created a special webpage to follow their exciting journey around the world, go behind the scenes, and learn more about how we can all save animals in the wild. Follow along with SMG!

Christmas Shopping in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop

Ah, November. Cooler weather coming in, pumpkin spice everything and dreams of turkey and dressing.

Of course, you know what that means………CHRISTMAS IS COMING!!   It’s time to start thinking about travel plans, gift lists, family outings and more.

Not only are the adults among us thinking in terms of gift buying, but the kids are too. That might cause an issue.  Unless your kiddo has saved allowance and birthday money since he or she was born, they may not have a lot of resources.

We have an alternative. They can shop in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop and they won’t need cash!

How? The Naturally Wild Swap Shop is designed for people of all ages to bring in things they find in nature.  They can bring rocks, minerals, fossils and shells among other things. (click the link below for more information)  As many as three things per person can be brought in a day.  These items will earn points based on how unusual they are and what condition they are in.  Knowledge points can also be earned if they can tell us about their item.  When you trade, you can also earn extra points for having items from our Take Action list.  That includes reusable bottles and bags, pictures of recycling, sustainable seafood and more.  Then, those points can be spent in the shop!

What kinds of things can you get with your points? There is a lot to choose from!  Rocks, minerals, shells, even cut gemstones.  The shop has items ranging from 5 points to 50,000 points so there is something for the spender and the saver alike.

In the rock and mineral section, you might like the geodes or the rose quartz. If mom or dad is a fossil fan, the kids might want to get them an ammonite or a fossil sea biscuit.  There are shells in a multitude of colors, shapes and sizes for them to pick out someone’s favorite color shell as a gift.  For those who have saved up some points, we even have cut gemstones in amethyst, aquamarine, citrine and more.

While trading is now open to all ages, the younger of our traders may be more likely to want to shop with points to make their holidays merry. We hope to see you in the shop soon.

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

The Great Orange Ape. Orangutan: People of the Forest

Orangutan means “man of the forest” in Malay and Indonesian languages where it written as Orang-utan. Orangutans are the only one of the four great apes (orangutan, gorilla, chimpanzee, and bonobo) not native to Africa; they live in the southeast asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Photo credit: Paul Swen

The Houston Zoo has been working closely in Malaysia with a conservation organization called Hutan (Bahasa Malay for the word forest) and their Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Program (KOCP). The team is based out of the village of Sukau in northeast Borneo and made up local Malaysians, many of whom have grown up in and around Sukau.

Their primary focus is to study orangutans in their native habitat, some of the last remaining habitats for wild orangutans. Their work includes assessment and monitoring of orangutan population health and genetic status, studies of orangutan ecological adaptation to degraded and fragmented habitat, development of policies for population management within and outside protected areas, and community engagement and education in the conservation of orangutans and habitat including environmental education programs for Malaysian school children.

You will hear quite a bit about palm oil plantations on some of our blogs about elephants and orangutans and that loss of habitat due to deforestation and the change in agriculture practices to these massive plantations are affecting wildlife, especially orangutans. This is true and the nest way forward will be to find corridors of habitat that can be replanted while working with plantations to find solutions for orangutans living within them, and moving through them much like the elephants. Hutans’s KOCP is at the forefront of reducing these conflicts and working to protect habitat and orangutans, while working with the Sabah Wildlife Department on a strategy to protect wildlife far into the future.

Learn more!

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