Animals in nature have to work for a living – to find food, to make nests, and to find shelter. Play is another natural activity. Life for the animals at the Houston Zoo is more predictable than in the wild. That’s why our keepers use enrichment to create variety through work and play.
At the Houston Zoo, we choose items and activities that are safe and encourage natural behaviors, such as:
If you built a snowman for otters, why wouldn’t you use shrimp for eyes? Our Asian small-clawed otters in Natural Encounters were very curious about their frosty friend their keepers made for them.
We made dozens of paper-mache eggs for many animals at the zoo, with their favorite treats inside. The clouded leopards got fresh meat in their eggs! Other animals had eggs filled with fresh fruit or nuts.
Introducing a small animal like an armadillo to a larger enrichment item, like this soccer ball, presents a delightful challenge. A warm sunny day and green grass to run in is added fun to explore!
Enrichment is truly effective when it elicits natural behaviors. This Coquerel’s sifaka is hanging from a rope to get food out of a coconut. He has to hold on with his feet and use his hands to grip and reach in.
What’s it like to be a veterinarian at a zoo? Every single day is a different but exciting challenge! The vets and support staff at the Houston Zoo work hard every day to ensure the health of our more than 6,000 animals. This includes:
Creatures great and small, from our large elephant herd down to the tiniest tree frog, receive expert medical care. Animals are examined routinely and given vaccinations to prevent disease.
Veterinary staff perform routine physicals on Zoo animals, including analyzing blood for various health levels, dental exams and teeth cleaning, testing for illnesses, and banking blood serum or plasma for future needs.
When an animal is ill, vet staff are there to help by providing diagnostic testing, xrays and surgery. We partner with outside specialists who visit from regional veterinary practices whenever needed.
We have a partnership with the Baylor College of Medicine, where they are researching ways to improve diagnosis and treatment of EEHV, a virus that affects elephants in the wild and in zoos.
The Denton A. Cooley Animal Hospital, built in 1985, is open 365 days a year to serve the animals of the Houston Zoo. Here you’ll find radiology, ultrasound, surgery, laboratory, treatment, examination areas, a diet preparation kitchen, and housing for species ranging from tiny amphibians to antelope!
Dr. Joe is one of 4 vets at the Zoo and has tended to the health care needs of Houston Zoo animals since 1982. His reptile and amphibian expertise has taken him to the Galapagos Islands, home of the Charles Darwin Scientific Station and Galapagos National Park, where he provided assistance in the health assessment of birds and tortoises. He also donates his time along with the other vet staff (in partnership with the NMFS Galveston Lab Sea Turtle Facility) to help injured sea turtles, removing hooks, rehabilitating them, and releasing them into the Gulf!
American Association of Zoo Keepers
This nonprofit, volunteer organization is made up of professional zoo keepers and other people dedicated to professional animal care and conservation. They are a resource for professional development, enrichment, training, and conservation for zoo keepers and animal care professionals.