Just four years ago this month, a small baby steer arrived at the Houston Zoo. His name was Sam – Sam Houston to be exact. At about the same time, a wide-eyed new zookeeper named Emma started in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo.
Emma was sitting in a meeting one day when one of her supervisors asked, “Does anyone want to train Sam?” Emma, not having any training experience, was eager to take on her first challenge, so she raised her hand. From then on, Emma and Sam were learning from each other.
When Sam first got to the Zoo, he, like all the other animals, spent 30 days in what we call “quarantine” – it’s an area separate from the other animals where residents get their vet checkups and we make sure they are healthy enough to enter the Zoo.
Sam was pretty skittish at first, but Emma and the other keepers worked tirelessly with him during those first 30 days to get him comfortable with a halter and lead using food, toys, love, and affection. At the end of his quarantine, Sam was proudly walked over to his new home in the Children’s Zoo on that halter and lead, with no issues at all. From then on, Sam was what you would call a “people” steer.
While Sam enjoyed Zoo guests and especially loved his frequent walks with Emma and the other keepers behind-the-scenes, he also had another friend at the Zoo: Zamir the zebu.
“Zamir and Sam were best buds. When we went on a walk with Sam and returned back to the yard, Zamir would moo at Sam, and then Sam would moo back at Zamir,” said Emma. They would also play and give each other baths.
Over the past year or so, it became apparent that Sam was getting a little too big to stay at the Zoo. He grew and he grew and he grew until he was over 1,250 pounds! While Sam still enjoyed his frequent mud baths (his favorite) and walks behind-the-scenes, it was time to find a new home for him that gave him more space to stretch out.
At about the same time we were trying to find a new home for Sam, an incredible place in the hill country called Camp For All was looking for a steer.
Started in 1993 just outside of Brenham, Camp For All hosts campers with cancer, autism, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, severe burns, sickle cell, cerebral palsy, veterans with post-war challenges, and so much more. Most of the campers come from the greater Houston area and southeast Texas.
The camp is barrier-free, which means that campers can participate in things like archery, aquatics, ropes courses, horseback riding, and dozens of other fun activities, and those activities are specially designed to make sure each camper can reach their individual potential and have lots of fun in the process. There is also a Small Animal Farm where campers can learn about and enjoy their favorite barnyard animals, and it had been a while since Camp For All had a steer there.
Because Camp For All is such a special place for all kinds of campers, they couldn’t just bring in any steer. This steer had to be a “people” steer.
Kelly, the Equestrian Supervisor at Camp For All, came to the Zoo to put Sam to the test and make sure he’d be good with the campers. Sure enough, Sam passed with flying colors. It was time for Sam to head to his new home.
There were plenty of tears shed as Sam’s trailer headed out of the Zoo, particularly by his trainer Emma, but Sam didn’t seem to mind – he had more alfalfa than he’d ever seen in his life to keep him company until he got to his destination!
Now that Sam is at Camp For All, he’s stepping into his new role seamlessly.
“With Sam Houston’s big personality, he is going to fit right in with our very hands-on barnyard program where our campers will brush, pet and adore the big guy. He has made friends with all the barnyard pals, and he enjoys the pasture life as well as his people time,” says Kelly. “We love him.”