April 12th, 2011

The Houston Zoo: Providing for Animals Both Wild and Civilized

After mild, sunny weekend numero quatro, I figured I better not push my luck—it’s Houston and the climate is fickle. Something out doors would suit me. The Houston Zoo? I’d been meaning to make it to the Houston Zoo since some friends of mine had begun volunteering. Every instance we’d get together, I was regaled with nature facts, each cluster of information more alluring then the previous. Like the cues from the weather, my friend’s enthusiasm for the animals and more specifically the new African Forest Exhibit urged me towards a Saturday commitment. The zoo it is.


[Above: Blue Tang and a species of other fish that have escaped me. Loopsters?]

Our first stop as we entered through the zoo’s gates was the Kipp Aquarium. When I was much younger, the dark building in contrast with its bright vibrant fish was my favorite. The cold building served as a refuge on those hot summer days. I think the idea of being a fish in that cool water must have been the most appealing. In some ways, it still is.


[Above: Jelly Fish | Fact: They don't have brains.]


[Above: Morey Eel | Fact: They possess a second set of jaws, known as pharyngeal jaws. This second set is activated when the eel engages prey, gripping it, then pulling it back into its mouth for digestion.]

After having left the dark caves of the Kipp Aquarium, we ventured to the Allen H. Carruth Natural Encounters Building. This addition to the zoo is completely foreign to me. Yeah, it’d been that long. Just beyond that, in the forgiving shade of the large oaks, we found some of the zoo volunteers handling smaller animals for all to experience up close. I still can’t quite wrap my head around a snake scaled lizard. Weird.


[Above: Blue Tongue Skink | Fact: The Skink can lose its tail as a defense mechanism, much like the smaller lizards found around residential areas.]

Walking on, we ducked into the Reptile & Amphibian Building. This used to be second on my list after the aquarium. Not because the thought of being a snake or lizard was appealing, but because when you’re a kid, it’s the dangerous animals that pique the most interest. Correction, when you’re an adolescent boy.


[Above: The White Alligator (aka Blanco) | Fact: Blanco is one of fourteen white alligators in existence. It is however, not a true albino, it has green spots on it's nose.]


[Above: Rhinoceros Iguana | Fact: Seeds that pass through the digestive tract of this formidable lizard have a better chance of germinating than those that do not.]

After getting our fix of the cold blooded creatures with their scales and forked tongues, we exited the building for warmer air and a look at the mammals.


[Above: Yellow Backed Duiker | Fact: The Yellow Backed Duiker dwells in the rain-forests of Central and East Africa.]


[Above: Baird's Tapir | Fact: On hot days, the Tapir might be found nearly submerged in water, keeping only its head out to breathe, in order to keep cool.]


[Above: Asian Elephants | Fact: The baby seen underneath the adult is the young Tupelo, born October 3rd of this past year.]


[Above: Ankole Cattle | Fact: In certain rare cases the horns of the Ankole can measure 12 feet from tip to tip.]

As we wound our way through the impressive showcase of mammals from all over the globe, we came upon the newest exhibit to the Houston ZooThe African Forest.


[Above: The youngest Masai Giraffe, Asali (Honey in Swahili) and one of two female Ostriches, Blanche  | Facts: Giraffes have a blue coloring on their tongues that acts as sun screen. Ostriches can run up to 45 mph on shorter stretches.]


[Above: The Chimpanzee Exhibit | Fact: Chimpanzees are known to use found objects as tools, such as rocks to open nuts.]


As we neared the end of the African Forest, we had to stop and admire how incredible it was to be amongst all of these diverse animals while remaining within eye sight of the Medical Center and its tall buildings.


[Above: The African Rhinoceros and the African Kudu  | Facts: The number of Rhinoceros' is only around 17,000 world-wide. The Kudu have the largest horns of any antelope, sometimes reaching four feet in length.]

We depart the African Forest for the land of the birds. Slowly looking about the Fischer Bird Gardens, Tropical Bird House, and the Birds of the World Bird Run, the striking colors and strange calls are a nice change up from the larger mammals previously observed.


[Above: The Shoebill (Whalehead) | Fact: The Shoebill has been known to eat baby crocodiles on top of its diet of frogs and small fish.]

We emerged from the last segment of bird cages right back where this adventure had started—the Kipp Aquarium. We passed back through the main gate on our way to Hermann Park. It was a Saturday morning well spent. As the temperature never topped 72 degrees, walking outside while surrounded by so many fascinating animals, I was thankful to live in Houston where such an attraction is possible.

— Richard


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