It was 6:45 a.m. on a chilly Friday morning in April. Standing around by the vet clinic in a spacious, grassy yard were 42 flamingos, and they knew something was up. Probably because there were 20 zookeepers looking suspiciously in their direction. There was a good reason, though: it was time to move them into their sparkling, newly-renovated habitat – and moving that many large birds with long necks and legs is no small feat!
As the flamingos curiously peered over at the zookeepers filing into their yard with arms spread wide to direct the flamingos where they needed to go, the group of birds moved in tandem, almost like a cascading wave. As the keepers got closer, one by one they set their sights on a single flamingo, and each bird was carefully swept up into the arms of a skilled handler.
The hardest part was next, though. How do you get a flamingo from one end of the Zoo to the other, as quickly as possible, to make sure it doesn’t get stressed? You use a golf cart. Luckily, a fleet of solar-powered carts was at the disposal of the bird department that morning, and each keeper, with a flamingo in tow, piled into one of the carts. We were ready to roll.
As we cruised through the back of the Zoo, through a big wooden gate, and past the hoofed animals, we were met with the confused looks and excited waves of several staff members getting the Zoo ready to open – it’s not often you see a cart full of flamingos fly by on a Friday morning! We rounded the corner and finally made it to drop the birds off in their lush new surroundings.
As the keepers entered the exhibit, they took great care to set the flamingos down slowly and gently so they could unfold their spindly, long legs and get proper footing before dancing straight toward their new pool. Several golf cart trips later, all 42 birds were safe and comfortable in their new surroundings, swimming in the “deep end” of their pool and exploring the new nesting island.
What’s next for the flamingos? We’re hoping for some chicks this summer, so stay tuned.
On Wednesday April 3, at 3:55 pm, our 4 ½ year old Nyala antelope named Ginger went into labor at the Houston Zoo. By 4:02, the healthy baby boy had already kicked his way out of his mom and onto the ground, making this one of the fastest deliveries seen in this area. The baby was very quick to get on his feet and to begin nursing and even to start exploring his new world.
This is the second birth for mom Ginger and for dad Niles. Their first offspring was born July 14th 2012, a boy named Cashew. Cashew is also a very healthy boy.
The new baby has yet to be named, but he is now spending afternoons in the newly constructed west hoof run exhibit at the Houston Zoo with the entire Nyala antelope family. Please stop by the new west hoof run exhibit to see our newest addition to the family.
A word of caution though, Nyala antelope like to “stash” their babies so that predators in the wild would not find them. So if you don’t see him running around chasing his bigger brother, then you may have to look deep into some of the foliage we have in the exhibit for a glimpse of him.
Orangutans have been described as “semi-solitary” animals for a long time now, ever since scientists started following them around in the forests of Borneo and Sumatra some 40 years ago. It was evident then and now that most wild orangutans choose to be alone for much of their time, with the exception of mothers and infants, who have the lengthiest bond in the primate world. However, the longer we study the red apes, we discover that they have the potential and the ability to be very social – when and where they want to, strictly on their own terms. The biggest reason for sociality is food. If a fruiting tree is discovered, it will be set upon by more than one orangutan, and possibly up to six or seven at a time. They will eat peacefully together – until the fruit runs out. And, we have also seen youngsters playing in the forest, when old enough to get off mom and do so. The mothers will pass each other like ships in the night, but the kids will get off and play with each other. And, in zoos and in nature, babies will stay with their mothers for up to 7- 9 years before venturing off on their own.
Here in the zoo, we honor our orangutans semi-solitary nature by not forcing them into big groups. Rather, we manage them by using flexible social housing: that is, by keeping them in more natural social pairings of mother and infant, while allowing them some choice in whom they can visit. We can periodically test the social waters by putting up an introduction door between two rooms – a door with 2”x 2” mesh whereby two animals on either side of the door can see, smell and even touch one another. If they show no interest in visiting, we simply close the solid door between them. If they act aggressive, we close it more quickly! But, if they play or groom or share food, it tells us that a full introduction might be a good thing to attempt.
We have done introductions of various configurations throughout the years, but the ones that can be the most interesting and engaging are those between young orangutans. We are working on introducing two young females currently: Indah and Aurora. Indah is a 9 year old Sumatran orangutan who was surrogate-reared by Cheyenne, our 40 year old hybrid female. When Aurora was born and then sadly rejected by Kelly, we immediately began introducing Aurora to Cheyenne so that she would have the maternal guidance that she needed. During that time, Indah was also involved in the process and was very interested in Aurora. We hoped that they would become a happy trio, at least for a while, but once Aurora was actually given to Cheyenne, it wasn’t long before she decided that Indah needed to leave. This happens with regularity in the wild: mothers will push their older kids out once they give birth to their newest baby. At the age of 7, 8 or 9, it is time to leave the nest, both figuratively and literally. So, we were not too surprised when Indah found herself pushed out.
In an effort to allow Indah the experience with infants that she needs to become a good mother herself, we have begun re-introductions between her and Aurora, without Cheyenne fully in the mix. This is easily accomplished by using what we call a “creep” door. That is a door that we open only widely enough for the infant to pass through it. Cheyenne’s face will barely fit through, so she can watch what goes on, and she can also stick her arms through the open space, but she cannot pass all the way through. This has been highly enriching for both kids but a bit of a conundrum for Cheyenne, who is naturally protective of her newest charge. She frequently decides that Aurora should not pass all the way through the creep door, and holds her firmly but gently by an ankle so that Aurora is tethered to her as she plays with Indah. Enjoy the video clip here to see a bout of play in which Cheyenne controls the situation!
Come to the zoo to see Cheyenne and Aurora together, or see Indah and Solaris together outside some days. You also might see Solaris and his mother Kelly outdoors together, and on these days, we are introducing Indah to Aurora inside the nighthouse. Got all that?
Orangutans are complex creatures and so are their social interactions, as you can see!
Visit the Reptile & Amphibian Building to meet our Malay, or False gharial (Tomistoma schlegelii). It is a highly endangered crocodilian that once ranged throughout much of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Borneo, West Java and possibly Vietnam; preferred habitat appears to be tropical swamp forests. Their most distinctive feature is their long, narrow snout which makes them similar in appearance to another crocodilian species, the Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) native to India.
As adults, Malay gharials can get quite large with males reaching over 5 meters in length while females are smaller. The females build large mound nests and can lay up to 60 large eggs at a time.
Hunting , habitat destruction, and other human pressures have resulted in the extirpation of Malay gharials in Vietnam and Thailand. Malay gharials now occur in only ten river drainage systems in their former historic range. The wild population is estimated to be no more than 2500 or fewer individuals. Malayan gharials are considered to be Critically Endangered by the IUCN and are listed as an endangered species by the United States and are also listed as Appendix I by CITES. The captive population in North America numbers around 40 animals in 14 institutions. Due to their large size and specific habitat requirements, this species has proven to be difficult to maintain and reproduce; there have only been four successful captive breedings in AZA institutions. Because of the small captive population, the AZA has designated the Malay gharial as an SSP red species.
The Houston Zoo has owned a female Malay gharial since 1974. However, due to its large size and our lack of proper facilities for large crocodilians, it has been out on loan since 1981 and currently resides at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans where it is in a breeding situation. Fortunately, though, last October we were able to acquire a three year old animal which had hatched at the San Antonio Zoo. Since it is a juvenile, we will be able to adequately house this animal for the next several years in the Herpetology building, where it is currently on display.
The Malay gharial is located in the Reptile and Amphibian building in a large display along the back wall, directly behind the White alligator exhibit. While you’re in the building, take some extra time to view all the other interesting and colorful species we have on exhibit!
Our newest and tallest addition, a male Masai giraffe will make his public debut this Saturday, March 2, with his mother at The African Forest giraffe exhibit. Mom Neema delivered the healthy male calf at approximately 7:10 a.m. on Monday February 25 at the McGovern Giraffe Exhibit following a 14 month pregnancy.
“The calf weighs 62 kilos, about 139 pounds and stands 74 inches tall,” said Houston Zoo Hoofed Stock Supervisor John Register. Neema is five and a half years old. The proud father, Mtembei is 6 years old.
The Houston Zoo’s giraffe keepers who cared for Neema through her pregnancy have named the calf Yao in honor of former Houston Rockets player Yao Ming. Working with the conservation organization WildAid, Yao Ming has led the world’s largest conservation awareness program spotlighting illegal elephant and rhino poaching in Africa and the shark fin trade in Asia. Yao toured the Zoo’s giraffe, rhino and elephant exhibits on February 14 with a group of Pasadena ISD middle school students prior to the NBA All Star game at Toyota Center.
“The calf was standing on his own a little over an hour after he was born and was nursing about 4 hours later,” said Register. With the new arrival the Houston Zoo’s herd of Masai giraffe has grown to 9, including 6 males and 3 females. This is Neema’s first successful birth. Her first calf was stillborn.
While Masai giraffes are not threatened or endangered in their native habitat, there are only about 100 of the species living in 24 North American zoos. Giraffes are the tallest living terrestrial animal. Males average 17 feet in height and can weigh up to 2,500 pounds. Female Masai giraffes typically reach a height of 14 feet. At birth, Masai giraffes weigh between 125 and 150 pounds and stand approximately 6 feet tall.
The Three-toed Box Turtle in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop has a new name! With over 100 submissions, the Children’s Zoo staff had to take longer than expected to go through all the names. A vote was held by the staff and the overwhelming winner was……………..Lunchbox! You can follow this link to the original blog post on the contest http://www.houstonzooblogs.org/zoo/2012/12/help-give-rex-a-new-name/
Lunchbox the Three-toed Box Turtle
The name Lunchbox was submitted by Brea Madden and she has been given 50 points to spend in the Swap Shop as a reward for submitting the winning name.
Lunchbox, formally named Rex, lives in the Swap Shop with her mom, Mindy. While Mindy has been here at the zoo since the 90′s, Lunchbox is very young. She was hatched right here in the Children’s Zoo on August 11, 2010. Mindy and Lunchbox are both part of the Zoo’s education collection and often go out for presentations or go on Zoomobiles to classrooms.
Congratulations to Brea on winning the naming rights! We hope we will see you soon in the Swap Shop to visit Lunchbox and spend those points!
Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.
The maze of small tunnels and chambers built into the wall near the rear of the Natural Encounters building has been home to two species, Damara and naked mole-rats. Lately these burrows have been empty, as the mole-rats tunnel behind the scenes while their exhibit is being renovated. If you’ve missed seeing them, you don’t have to wait until they’re back; they come out regularly for Meet the Keeper Talks. Check our Daily Schedule on the morning of your visit to see if they might be featured that day.
Kamryn Suttinger, the keeper who has worked with the mole-rats the longest, treated me with a few cool facts about them while she introduced me to them behind the scenes. Both Damara and naked mole-rats hail from the southern regions of Africa in the wild, though our colonies were born and raised in zoos. Mole-rats are rodents, and those two enormous front teeth grow constantly. Thus the need to constantly be chewing to wear the teeth down, a trait that’s most helpful in the wild. Here at the zoo keepers provide them with plenty of enrichment items to chew on, and sometimes block their tunnels with a sweet potato to give them a sweet reward for their digging efforts.
It is nearly impossible to tell male and female Damara mole-rats apart, says Suttinger, and not long ago we were met with a big surprise as a result. One of the “males” was quarreling with the queen of the colony, and to keep the peace keepers separated “him” out with a few other males into a bachelor colony. To their surprise this colony produced a litter of pups!
After renovations are complete, the naked mole-rats will have an exhibit area near the bat cave in Natural Encounters, and the Damara mole-rats will return to a new and improved exhibit in their current area. One problem with the old exhibit was that only the chambers were visible; the tunnels were behind the scenes where much of the great digging, tunneling and social interactions were happening. The new exhibits will have the tunnels and chambers visible to the public.
We will make an announcement when the renovations are complete and the mole-rats are back out on exhibit. Subscribe to our e-newsletter and get the news in your inbox!
Meet Rex. Rex is a Box Turtle who was born right here in the McGovern’s Children’s Zoo and lives in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. There is only one problem……Rex is a girl. When we named her she had just hatched and we didn’t discover that she was a girl until later on.
Rex, the Three-toed Box Turtle
We want to give our guests 18 years of age and younger in the Swap Shop an opportunity to help re-name Rex. So, until January 15, 2013 you can stop by the Swap Shop and submit your suggestion for a new name.
Here is some additional information to help you come up with name ideas. Rex was hatched on August 11, 2010 so she is just over 2 years old. She is a Three-toed Box Turtle and lives with her mom, Mindy, in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. Mindy and Rex are both part of the Zoo’s education collection and go out to classrooms and other presentations.
On January 16, the Children’s Zoo staff will review the names and choose one for Rex’s new name! The lucky young person that submitted the name will win 50 points to spend in the Swap Shop.
Dont know about the Swap Shop? Click here for more information.