Meet Dash and Dinari!

These two-and-a-half-month-old cheetah cubs joined the Houston Zoo as animal ambassadors for their species from two different Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoos and have spent the last month behind the scenes getting to know their keepers while the veterinarian team makes sure they are healthy enough to enter our zoo family.

Dash was born at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, on June 4. His mother did not show interest in him or his littermates so the decision was made to hand-rear the cubs. Dash was soon paired with a male cub, Dinari, from another litter that was also being hand-reared for the same reasons. Dinari was born at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, TX on June 11.

The Houston Zoo protects cheetahs in the wild by providing support for trained African anti-poaching scouts to walk around the areas where cheetahs live in Africa, to remove wire traps and arrest illegal hunters.

Dash and Dinari will soon make their public debut, and we will let you know when they do. Stay tuned!

Zoo Staff Take the Plastic-Free Challenge

Written by: Stephanie Krail

There is always something going on at the Houston Zoo and this past month was no different. Employees from all parts of the zoo accepted to partake in a month-long challenge to reduce their plastic-footprint thereby protecting animals in the wild.

The challenge is called Plastic Free July and the goal is to “choose to refuse” single-use plastic to save wildlife. Plastics do not break down; they can be consumed by wildlife or break up into smaller pieces and never truly go away. Items such as single-use plastic coffee cups, straws, grocery bags and doggie waste bags are only used for a few minutes until they serve their purpose and then get tossed in the trash to end up in a landfill or waterways. The Houston Zoo decided several years ago to help spread awareness of the problems plastics can hold by encouraging staff to participate in this challenge.

Several departments around the zoo joined together to discuss how they could reduce their plastic use not only as individuals at home but also as staff members here at work.

The Admissions, Membership and Call Center teams came together and signed their commitment to accept the challenge on a white board in their office. Some of the things they have strived to do includes using reusable grocery bags, reusable food containers instead of plastic sandwich baggies, and reusable drinking bottles, and the main thing, saying “NO” to plastic drinking straws. These teams received reusable tote bags to help jump start their participation. Reusable tote bags are great alternatives to using plastic grocery bags! You aren’t limited to using them just at grocery stores; bring a couple with you the next time you’re at the mall or out running errands.

The Children’s Zoo team has eliminated all plastic bags from the animals’ diet delivery and switched to reusable containers. This has saved over 7,000 plastic bags from entering landfills each year! They also switched to using trash buckets that they wash daily instead of using bags which has not only resulted in over 2,000 bags saved, but has also saved them money on having to purchase new trash bags.

Michelle Witek, Children’s Zoo Supervisor, has encouraged and shared countless tips with zoo staff by sharing her trips to the grocery store on Facebook. Some things that Michelle does while at the store are:

  • Purchase meats that are wrapped in butcher paper
  • Bring reusable sandwich style bags to fill with items from the bulk isle
  • Place all produce in reusable mesh bags
  • Look for glass jars or cardboard as an alternative to buying things in plastic containers (even deodorant)
  • When at the deli counter, ask to use own reusable sandwich style bags

Michelle certainly has inspired several of zoo staff to be more conscious of what we are purchasing at the store, but some items may not have a glass or cardboard alternative. This is where you can get creative and repurpose those items into new things, such as repurposing large dog food bags into storage bags for the recycling or garage.

The elephant team started to eliminate plastic anywhere they could two years ago for Plastic Free July and they have continued to do this year-round ever since. They no longer carry blood samples to the clinic each week in single-use plastic bags but now use reusable bags. The elephants at the zoo go through several loaves of bread which come in plastic bags. The team didn’t want to stop giving the elephants bread just because it came in plastic so they now collect these bags throughout the week and bring them home to use as doggie waste bags. This is a great example of not giving up on a product you need just because it doesn’t have a reusable alternative. Simply find a way to use it again, and you have doubled its purpose!

Some of the most difficult things the staff have run into is plastic straws! When eating out it can be hard to remember to say no to them, especially in drive-thru lines. Another challenge in going plastic-free is that it can be less convenient and, at times, seem a bit overwhelming. But know that any effort, big or small, is making a difference for wildlife. Something as simple as bringing a reusable water bottle every day to work instead of a plastic bottle helps to save animals in the wild.

In 2015, the Houston Zoo removed plastic bags in the gift shops to protect animals in the wild, by eliminating an estimated 80,000 plastic bags from entering landfills and the environment each year. Now, two years later, the zoo-based conservation organization has gone one step further and eliminated single-use plastic water bottles from all concession stands. This elimination of single-use plastic water bottles will reduce the amount of plastic waste by nearly 300,000 single-use plastic bottles in just one year.

When visiting the zoo, you can purchase an aluminum reusable water bottle (pre-filled with water) or a JUST Water recyclable, paper-based water bottle at any of the restaurants or kiosks. Or if you bring your own reusable water bottle, you can refill your water bottle at the water refilling stations located throughout the zoo. You can also purchase a reusable tote bag in its gift shops to eliminate use of single-use plastic bags. The zoo has a collection of canvas bags artistically designed with images depicting the animals that benefit from a reduction of plastic bags in the ocean.

Challenges like Plastic Free July are great ways to help save wildlife, and we encourage you to join our team and continue the challenge year-round!

Houston Zookeeper Crowned Golden Keeper

Our very own Sara Riger, Naturally Wild Swap Shop naturalist, has won the Golden Keeper award by the American Association of Zoo Keepers (AAZK). Sara was crowned champion after receiving the most “likes” from peers, family, and several supporters on the AAZK Facebook page contest.

Zoos and aquariums across the country celebrated National Zoo Keeper Week July 16 – 22, highlighting the diversity of zookeepers and their contributions to global conservation efforts. AAZK, celebrating their 50year anniversary, received nominations from several zookeepers around the country for the first-ever Golden Keeper award. Nominated by her close colleague, Katie Buckley-Jones, Sara was one of just 10 zookeepers chosen as a finalist.

Sara’s career working at zoos began more than two decades ago. She began working at the Bronx Zoo in New York 25 years ago working with birds and mammals. She then moved to an upstate New York zoo to work with primates and lions. From New York, Sara moved to Tennessee to work for the Nashville Zoo, where she helped open their Critter Encounters exhibit and later became a supervisor of mammals. For the past 13 years, Sara has worked at the Houston Zoo, caring for carnivores, primates, and now working in the Swap Shop. As a naturalist in the Swap Shop, she inspires guests to explore the outdoors and save animals in the wild.

You can meet and visit Sara, and learn all about the natural world, at the Naturally Wild Swap Shop, located in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo. She’ll be there to greet you with a warm smile, and sometimes with an animal in-hand!

We are so proud to have someone as passionate, dedicated, and kind as Sara on our team. Please join us in congratulating Sara on this wonderful achievement!

Take Action for Our Oceans

It’s a well-known fact that the ocean makes up a very large part of the planet we live on. In fact, the ocean covers more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface! Though it may seem a daunting task to keep ALL that ocean healthy, we can all take small actions that have a big impact in protecting the ocean and the animals living there.

First things first. Why should you want to protect the ocean? Our ocean actually make oxygen, and that’s pretty neat (and also life-saving)! Phytoplankton living near the surface of the water absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis just like plants do on land. They cover a lot more surface area of the planet and, therefore, produce half of the Earth’s oxygen supply. We can thank the ocean for helping us be able to breathe!

In addition to oxygen, the ocean also provides food! The diversity of life in the ocean makes for some interesting meals, but some species are being overfished and upsetting the delicate balance of life in the big blue. The good news is we can protect these overfished species! When you’re eating seafood at a restaurant or purchasing it at the grocery store, make sure to choose ocean-friendly, sustainable seafood. Ocean-friendly seafood is seafood that has been caught or farmed in a way that protects animals like sharks and rays and ensures fish populations thrive over time.

Being ocean-friendly can be simple, too! Download the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch app to learn which seafood options are best choices or good alternatives. Use the app when making your ocean-friendly seafood purchases at grocery stores or ordering at restaurants.

The Houston Zoo is also ocean-friendly! All the animals at the zoo that eat seafood eat only sustainable seafood. In fact, the sea lions ate 23,850 pounds of ocean-friendly, sustainably-caught fish last year. The zoo also ensures seafood served at any on-site restaurant or special event is always sustainably-sourced.

You can learn this and so much more at World Oceans Day Presented by Whole Foods Market this Saturday, June 10 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Visit booths and enjoy activities as you learn how you can keep our oceans healthy and protect the animals living there, sign up for our annual beach clean-up, and enjoy themed Meet the Keeper Talks presented by Phillips 66. This event is included in your zoo admission and is free for Zoo Members. Click here to learn more about World Oceans Day Presented by Whole Foods Market and how to protect the ocean.

World Oceans Day Presented by Whole Foods Market is generously sponsored by Whole Foods Market and JUST Water.

Bronze Sculpture Soars at the Houston Zoo

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

On Wednesday, May 24, the Houston Zoo held a dedication ceremony to honor the generous gift from the Marvy Finger Family Foundation, honoring Jerry and Ronny Finger. About 60 guests were in attendance, including close family members, zoo board members, and friends, including John and Jessie Killian, the couple who introduced the artist, Bob Guelich, to Marvy Finger.

The sculpture was commissioned in 1979 for a building Finger owned at the time. About three years later, the artwork, which features a flock of 10 Canada geese flying through the air, was complete.

“I envisioned these birds landing after a long migration southward from who-knows-where, honking and announcing their arrival,” said Guelich.

 

More than 30 years later, the sculpture was reconditioned and plans were set to bring it to the zoo. Standing at an impressive 18 feet long and 13 feet tall, this bronze sculpture weighs 8,500 pounds! It’s so massive that the zoo maintenance team had to use a large crane to get the sculpture to its current location in the Reflection Pool.

In an extraordinary act of generosity, Finger donated this sculpture for all to enjoy—now, and for generations to come. “It’s just overwhelming to me,” said Finger of his excitement that the sculpture would live at the zoo.

Left to right: Artist Bob Guelich, Marvy Finger, and Lee Ehmke, Houston Zoo CEO and president

During your next visit to the zoo, head over to the Reflection Pool to see this magnificent work of art. It’ll make for a great photo!

Looking Back: A Brief History of the Zoo’s Reflection Pool

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

The Reflection Pool at the Houston Zoo was first conceptualized shortly after the zoo’s opening in 1922. Designed by Hare & Hare in 1924 and constructed in 1926, the Reflection Pool was a collection of three smaller pools flanked by live oak trees along both sides. This design was intended to replicate, on a much smaller scale, the Mary Gibbs and Jesse H. Jones Reflection Pool located at the entrance of Hermann Park.

The Reflection Pool, in 1944, divided into three small pools.

Then, in the 1950s, the zoo’s Reflection Pool underwent construction when the “Monkey Mansion” (now the Wortham World of Primates) was built. This transformed the pool from the three mini pools into the one long pool that you can currently see at the zoo.

A 1971 aerial view of the Zoo shows the Reflection Pool as one long pool.

Though it has undergone changes in the last century, the Houston Zoo Reflection Pool maintains the lush landscaping and majestic oak trees that was originally planned and constructed by Hare & Hare in the early 1920s, a true historic landmark on zoo grounds.

Check back next week as we show you some of the recent changes we’ve made and unveil its newest sculpture!

Houston-Area Schools Are Saving Wildlife!

What an incredible time we had at Party for the Planet Presented by CenterPoint Energy on Saturday, April 22nd!

At the Houston Texans Enrichment Zone, students from KIPP Academy Middle School put on a “Trashion” show with fashion they made from recycled products.  The students turned trash into art and had an amazing wildlife-saving message behind each beautiful creation.  Below is a picture of Susannah modeling her dashiki made from plastic bags, straws and cardboard.

We also had a grand performance of songs from The Lion King, sung by 2nd through 5th grade students from Lyons Elementary.  Lyons made all of their costumes and backdrop from recycled materials.  Their backdrop, a beautiful African sunset, was made from over 400 milk cartons that the students collected!

The Houston Zoo started working with Lyons Elementary through our Mascot Program.  The students raise money through their “Love Your Lions” initiative and all the funds go directly to Niassa Lion Project.  DeAndra Ramsey, School Program Coordinator in the  Houston Zoo’s Conservation Education Department, was able to attend the opening night of The Lion King at Lyons Elementary that was held at their school on April 20, 2017.  She opened the show by speaking on how the Houston Zoo works to save wildlife, the importance of practicing sustainable behaviors like recycling, and highlighting how the students at Lyons Elementary were becoming wildlife warriors! She was blown away by the wonderful efforts of the entire school! 

Both schools did an amazing job inspiring our guests to help save wildlife during Party for the Planet Presented by CenterPoint Energy by simply getting creative and reusing everyday items instead of throwing away.

Little Tikes: Gigi the Spunky Giraffe

Have you ever wondered what our baby animals are up to after they’re born? How much have they grown? How do the keepers maintain the animal’s healthy diet? We want you to learn about our adorable babies as they grow up, so we’ve decided to give you a small peek into the lives of our little superstars.


gigi updateI sat down with Memory Mays, one of our giraffe keepers, to learn more about how our baby giraffe Gigi has been adapting to her new home:

It’s been two months since Gigi joined the Houston Zoo family and every minute has been spent in the excellent care provided by our keepers. In just a short time with us, Gigi has sprung from 6 feet 3 inches and 130 pounds at birth to a current 7 feet 4 inches and 310 pounds. To most of us that sounds like a surprising amount of growth for a newborn, however Memory said that Gigi is growing at a normal rate and that most Masai giraffes are at this height by the time they are Gigi’s age. Due to this rapid growth rate from giraffes, the keepers monitor Gigi’s weight on a consistent basis to make sure that she is growing up healthy.  Right now Gigi’s weight is being monitored once every other day to insure she is getting the proper nutrients from her mother’s milk. Memory said once Gigi gets a little bit older she will only receive weight checkups once a week like the rest of her herd.

gigi update 2Most of you probably want to know what Gigi does on a daily basis. Is she active? Is she enjoying her new home? Well you will be happy to know that Gigi is not only energetic but has become one of a kind! Memory said that giraffes usually have the same type of personality but out of the herd, Gigi is definitely the spunkier and more independent one. Gigi is known to be very reliable and does what she is asked to do. Gigi just comes right up to Memory and the other keepers and when they are done doing a training session, Gigi will go right back to playing in the yard with ease. According to Memory, Gigi and her three siblings typically stick together in their own mini heard, running around and kicking up dust.

gigi update 3Since giraffe feeding is one of the coolest things to do here at the Houston Zoo, most of you may be looking to feed Gigi on your next visit. However, you may have to wait a little longer. Although Gigi is adapting well to her environment, she still is very much trying to figure everything out around her. Gigi is still nursing from her mother, Asali, and is in the beginning stages of trying to consume solid foods. When Gigi reaches about six months old, she will be able to fully join the herd in eating all the solid food she needs: grain, carrots, and sweet potatoes are just a few of the goodies given to our giraffes. Until then you can catch Gigi running around the yard with her siblings and enjoying the wonderful life we provide our animals here at the Houston Zoo.

National Zoo Keeper Week – Wren’s Story

From July 19-25, zoos all over the U.S. are celebrating National Zoo Keeper Week. Here at the Houston Zoo, we are honored and privileged to have such amazing professionals on our team. We got a chance to sit down with a few of our keepers and hear their stories. Check back each day to see new keeper profiles during this great week celebrating zoo keepers!


Wren Schroeder – Hoofstock Keeper

hoof stockI always knew I wanted to work with animals, but I wasn’t always 100% sure how I wanted to do that. So I did an internship working with birds of prey and hoofstock animals at another AZA zoo, just to see if I for sure liked it. I realized that if I could be an unpaid intern and be excited to get out of bed every day to go to a job like that, then that was what I wanted to do as a career.

The most enjoyable part about my job is finding people in the public that appreciate a unique species as much as I do. Seeing the excitement, enthusiasm, and compassion of guests is what I love the most. What makes this job worthwhile and the most rewarding are the amazing guests that will sit through a Meet the Keeper chat and express their curiosity about the animals and ask questions to learn more about the individual animals here at the Houston Zoo and the conservation efforts being done internationally and locally to help different species.

I would advise volunteering/interning as much as possible. You can sit and learn about animals and their behaviors in books. Then just simply applying what you have learned in those books by working around them, seeing how they react to things, and getting hands on experience is what truly will help you in zoo keeping career. Also, work with some different species while you volunteer, other than just the obvious ones you already like. You would be surprised by animals that never really interested you, but then after working with them you have a new found respect for them.

I would want people to know that this job is not just about feeding the animals and cleaning up after them. After enduring the weather Houston throws at us, doing workload that comes with working with any animal, and the highs and lows of the job. It is then also about taking the time during the day to go out and educate the public about each of the animals that we get the opportunity to work with. Every animal we work with is different and unique in their own way. Getting to see the guests’ faces light up when we share our own stories about each of these animals is what really makes the hard work worth it.

A Day in the Life of a Houston Zoo Intern

This post was written by Annie Murchison.


rhinoHow many people can say they have shoveled giraffe AND rhino poop?  I, Annie Murchison, Public Relations intern at the Houston Zoo can now proudly cross that one off my bucket list. In order to better understand the inner workings of the zoo, I ventured outside of my usual office routine to shadow the hoofed stock team last Thursday.  Hoofed stock keepers care for mammals with hooves and include everything from rhinos to okapis to giraffes.

I grew up coming to the Houston Zoo for camp, field trips, and family fun.  My six-year-old self desperately wanted to be a zoo keeper, all the way up until the point where I realized that biology was not my strong suit. (However, I learned Thursday that one can work their way up to become a keeper with a psychology major and good amount of experience.) Thursday was essentially a childhood dream come true.

giraffeMy day started bright and early at 7 a.m. in the hoofed stock trailer for a team meeting before heading off to begin work. The team meets up every morning before the zoo opens to get their assignments and discuss goals for the day. I was assigned to team of keepers and their interns that looked after giraffes and rhinos for the morning. Our first stop was the rhino exhibit—we began with clearing yesterday’s hay from the exhibit, along with any poop. Once this was done, we spread out new bales of hay and scattered lettuce and carrots around the habitat for the rhinos to find. Heading back to the barn, I was able to get up close and personal with the zoo’s three white rhinos, watching keepers perform training exercises and weigh all three before moving them to their outside yard. The zoo’s rhinos weigh about 3,000 pounds each and still have a bit of growing to do. Adult male white rhinoceroses can weigh up to 5,000 pounds! Next we moved to giraffes. Like rhinos, our first duty was clearing the space of any poop from the outdoor yard and placing food around the habitat. Once that was done, we moved the giraffes outside and began to clean the poop that accumulated in the barn over the night—no easy task. To fully clean the barn we shoveled it out, hosed the barn down, and eventually power washed the floor, all of which took about three hours.

Unfortunately my day as a zookeeper at the zoo ended at noon, when I returned to my office for an entirely different kind of work. Thursday provided me with a behind-the-scenes look at, not only the animals that call the Houston Zoo home, but the keepers who go above and beyond to care for them. They do more than just clean the exhibit, feed, and care for the animals; they have a special bond with each animal and can recognize their individual personalities and daily moods.  Life as an animal (and intern) at the Houston Zoo is pretty awesome.

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Houston Zoo added a new photo — in Sukau, Sabah, Malaysia.
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Thursday's update from SMG's trip to Borneo is up now! www.houstonzoo.org/saving-wildlife/journey-to-borneo/ ... See MoreSee Less

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Thursdays update from SMGs trip to Borneo is up now! https://www.houstonzoo.org/saving-wildlife/journey-to-borneo/
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Jack the ocelot and his tiny snowman friend (and some tasty meatballs!)

 

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Jack is so cute I wish I could take him home and cuddle with him.

Look, Steve Hawkins! Ethan’s favorite animal there!

Bret!! :DDD

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