There is something about the ostrich that is just fascinating. Maybe it’s the “head in the sand” myth. Or maybe the enormous eggs.
But did you know that ostriches played a leading role in the creation of Houston’s first zoo and helped fund Houston’s first Natural History Museum?
By one account, it was a pair of ostrich purchased with pennies collected by Houston school children in 1914 that moved the Houston City Council to declare the fenced ostrich enclosure in City Park downtown (what we now know as Sam Houston Park) as Houston’s first Zoo.
By 1922, the Zoo had moved from City Park to Hermann Park and by 1925 the Zoo was home to not only ostrich but bison, geese, swans, snakes, turtles, deer, Asian elephants Hans and Nellie and Houston’s first Natural History Museum.
The museum proved to be a popular attraction. At the end of World War Two plans were being made to modernize the Zoo and expand the museum.
By the late 1940s and early 1950s fund raising campaigns were being employed to improve the museum’s collection. For one fund raiser, museum director Robert Vines came up with a unique idea – what Houston Press writer James Wagner described as”ostrich burgers as a delicacy for Sunday zoo-goers” employing ostrich eggs as the main ingredient.
At one dollar per ‘ostrich burger’ we haven’t found newspaper accounts that tell us if the effort was successful.
But thanks to the Houston Press clipping at right from the collection of the late Zoo Manager Tom Baylor, we do know that Bonnie Balko of 911 Walling Street was the first brave soul to sample the ostrich-egg burgers prepared by Louise Pelham of the Hermann Park Coffee Shop.
Bonnie’s verdict after two bites? The burgers needed a little ketchup and a dash of salt and pepper. And, offered Bonnie, she’d suggest “a Coke or something to wash it down.”
Today, the eggs that are produced by our ostriches Henrietta and Blanche primarily find their purpose as enrichment items for our animals. Our African wild dogs (a.k.a. painted dogs) found an ostrich egg in their ‘chicken pinata’ during Enrichment Day on September 22 .
But on occasion Houston Zoo ostrich eggs are still employed in a fund raising role. The difference today is that Zoo guests aren’t snacking on ostrich egg burgers but rather bidding on ostrich eggs painted by one of our orangutans at Pongos Helping Pongos and other conservation events.
Still, would you find an ostrich egg burger an appealing snack on a Sunday afternoon? Even if it needed a little salt and pepper and a splash of ketchup?
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