On one of our animal department blog sites there was recently a post about Okapi enrichment at the Houston Zoo. But what is an Okapi?
Okapi are the only living relative to the Giraffe yet has stripes on its legs like a Zebra. Scientists did not know about the Okapi until around 1900. Okapi are only found in one place, the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa.
The Okapi Conservation Project is located within the Ituri Forest, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Ituri Forest covers 175,000 square kilometers of lowland tropical forest and contains some of the most important closed canopy rainforest and species diversity in the world. This program was initiated by Gilman International Conservation with the objective of eliciting support for the conservation of the wild okapi from zoological institutions managing okapi in zoos around the world. Okapi ambassadors in zoos help instill awareness of the rapid destruction of rainforests and generate financial support for the preservation of okapi habitat in the Ituri Forest of the Congo River basin.
The Houston Zoo is a supporter of the Okapi Conservation Project and you can visit our resident Okapi across from the Elephant exhibit. For more information on the zoo’s wildlife conservation program you can link here.
The Houston Zoo, with assistance from several other zoos and institutions, has built an amphibian oasis, called the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC), in Panama. At EVACC, we rescue and treat wild amphibians affected by a fungal disease known as chytrid. We are ensuring the survival of their species by safely breeding them in captivity with the ultimate goal to release their offspring back to the cloud forests and streams of Panama once scientists can figure out how to protect them from the fungus.
At EVACC, we have also constructed an exhibit area where the people of Panama can observe the unique amphibians of their country. Sadly, many of these amphibians have already gone extinct in the wild and are the last of their kind in the country.
Last week the Houston Zoo won Top Honors in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums International Conservation Award category for our amphibian conservation efforts in Panama.
For more information, or to support our efforts in Panama, go to http://www.houstonzoo.org/amphibians/
Are you Bear Aware? If not, then come out to the zoo and attend Bear Awareness Day on Saturday September 25th from 10am-3pm. The goal of the event is to make people more aware of bear behavior, biology, and ecology. Although few Houstonians will ever encounter a bear in the Greater Houston region, the Louisiana Black Bear is slowly making a comeback in the east part of the state after being hunted out in the 1950′s.
Regardless of a potential bear encounter here in Texas or vacationing in bear country, a fun-filled day of bear related activities will help you learn more about Bear species.
Something is killing whole wintering populations of bats in North America as they hibernate in caves and mines. Bats are losing their fat reserves long before the winter is over and are dying of starvation.
This affliction has been given the name white–nose syndrome (WNS) because of the telltale white fungus growing on the noses of some infected bats. Only recently described as a new species, White-nose syndrome may appear on the wings, ears, and/or tail membranes of afflicted bats, but may also be absent
White–nose syndrome is not well understood and scientists are investigating all potential aspects of this mysterious disease. One popular hypothesis focuses on the fungus itself, a cold–habitat obligate that thrives from 5 to15ºC—the same range of temperatures typical of bat hibernacula. White–nose syndrome infects hibernating bats as their bodies are cold and amenable to its growth. Infected bats may arouse from hibernation to attempt to deal with the fungal infection and in doing so prematurely burn up their fat stores and starve to death in midwinter.
Bats are an essential and beneficial part of the ecosystem. Bats play critical roles in insect control, plant pollination, seed dissemination, cave ecosystems, and provide food for other animals.
In the eastern United States, mortality typically exceeds 90% in hibernating colonies affected by WNS. While WNS has not been reported in the western United States, the general consensus is that it will eventually spread to many regions of North America.
To view bats locally, try the Waugh Drive Bridge Bat Colony near downtown Houston http://www.buffalobayou.org/WaughBatColony.htm
For more information on White-nose Syndrome you may go to http://www.fws.gov/WhiteNoseSyndrome/
In the state of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, the Houston Zoo has partnered with the French non-governmental organization Hutan, the Sabah Wildlife Department, and several other zoological parks here in the United States – all of which support conservation programs in and around the 27,000-hectare Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary. This protected area was officially established in 2006, thanks in large part to the presence of Hutan’s Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project (KOCP). This project is run entirely by trained staff from the nearby village of Sukau and has been the source of significant data regarding the ecology and behavior of wild orangutans in secondary forest habitats. Selective logging has taken place in the Lower Kinabatangan floodplain at least twice in the last few decades and primate specialists initially believed that the remaining forests were no longer suitable for orangutans. Data gathered by the field research team indicate that orangutans can not only survive in previously logged forests, but this habitat can sustain significant populations.
The Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Program includes significant priorities and goals for this region:
- Enhanced knowledge of orangutan ecology and conservation status including the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, Ulu Segama/Malua Forest Reserve, Timimbang Forest Reserve and Eastern Sabah landscapes
- Assessment and monitoring of orangutan population health and genetic status
- Orangutan ecological adaptation to degraded and fragmented habitat
- Development of policies for population management within and outside protected areas
- Reduced level of conflicts between human activity and orangutans including improved land use and reforestation
- Community engagement and education in the conservation of orangutans and habitat
- Environmental education programs for Malaysian school children
Borneo Orangutan photo courtesy www.paulswen.com
The Barton Springs Salamander (Euycea sosorum) is an endangered salamander from the Hill Country of Texas and is found entirely within the Austin City limits. Central Texas salamanders are not well understood and are threatened by the potential of diminishing water quantity and water quality degradation. This species is known only from three hydrologically connected sets of springs in and adjacent to Austin’s Barton Springs swimming pool.
Monitoring of these populations can provide useful information to help understand and protect this species as it is found at several hydrologically connected spring sites. Biologists from the city monitor each site once per month and are able to make estimates on population sizes based on these numbers. Houston Zoo staff assist in these efforts at one of the four sites used for monitoring.
The Edwards Plateau of the Central Texas Hill Country is home to a number of endemic salamanders. Some of these salamanders are troglodytic and others are surface dwellers. Initially most individuals were assigned to one or two species and these species were thought to be widespread, occurring in different aquifers and cave systems. After the application of molecular techniques and fine scale morphological and behavioral studies, a number of new species were described, brining the total number to thirteen. Three species of Hill Country Salamander are listed as threatened or endangered by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, Texas Parks and Wildlife lists six species as threatened or endangered. The threats to the Hill Country salamanders are varied and encompass many factors that face biodiversity in general. However, the biology of these species and their small geographic ranges elevate the risk of the population’s extirpations as a result of any single catastrophic event. This species is listed as endangered by the USFWS. This species is also listed a high priority in the Texas Wildlife Action Plan (2005-2010). A single catastrophic event, such as a petroleum spill within the watershed or a drought, could cause extinction of this species very rapidly.
Produced by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, this eye opening documentary on the state of Texas water is not one to be missed!
- Explore the vital importance of water for people and for the diverse bounty of Texas fish and wildlife that depend on it for survival.
- Examine the threats facing Texas’ water and what can be done to protect our most precious natural resource.
- Learn how simple steps people take collectively can do a lot to diminish future water shortages.
Dought wears a few hats at PDC, he is the head bush camp guide and the head of the construction/maintenance team. He loves his work and is a model employee. This is the latest news he sent us from PDC in Zimbabwe.
“Well the new term has begun and we have a school in the camp today.The kids seem to be happy with their extended holiday because today was the first day of school.The school we have is called Dingani and that is the village where i live.
The bush camp break saw me busy with the construction team while Dr Greg was busy with students.I was in charge of supervising the constuction of our massive underground water tank which is now almost complete. I also had the walkway maintenance done as per service schedule.
There are several schools showing interest of coming to the bush camp and this is going to keep me busy -what a year !”
The walkway Dought is referring to is a 1.5 mile elevated walkway that extends through the 80 acre Painted dog rehabilitation enclosure and connects the bush camp to the visitor center. The bush camp kids get to quietly observe the rehab dogs from above, by standing on the walkway. Most of these kids have never even climbed steps before, never mind walking on elevated walkways -it is a real thrill for them!
Women's Galapagos Tortoise shirt
A company called Lonesome George & Co created a clothing line to raise awareness about Galapagos Island tortoises. This company was named after the famous, Lonesome George, he is the last known surviving Galapagos Pinta Island Tortoise. He sits in a large captive facility on Santa Crus island; scientists hope they will find a female survivor for him in the near future. Lonesome George & Co. was created to guarantee that his legacy would live on.
Men's Galapagos tortoise shirt
These t-shirts spotlight other Galapagos tortoises with the name of the individual on the front and a comical personal description on the back. The shirts are bright blue and slate gray. They are available in all sizes in both men’s and women’s styles. A percentage of all the proceeds go to Galapagos tortoise conservation. Come and visit the conservation area of the Houston zoo gift shop and purchase your t-shirt soon!
Many American households own an aquarium. They are beautiful, fun to watch and exotic in that most aquarium fish are originally from other countries. Unfortunately, sometimes a person’s circumstances change and he or she can no longer keep an aquarium. Sometimes a particular fish, that has grown too large or becomes too aggressive, must be given up. These can be difficult decisions and people want the best for their pets. How they define what is best varies. For some people, it means giving the fish to friends. For other people, it means releasing it to the wild. Researchers are interested in understanding how people make this difficult decision and what impact it might have on fish conservation in Texas and elsewhere. You can help by taking this survey and giving us your views about fish and aquarium keeping. Check back in a couple of months to find out the results of the study.