Celebrating National Zoo Month

with Conservation Partners

by Faith Humphreys

Houston Zoo

Tag Archive: endangered species

  1. Celebrating National Zoo Month with Conservation Partners

    Leave a Comment

    When people who have never been to Texas think of what it might look like, they probably picture wide open spaces, dusty cowboys, huge herds of cattle, and pitch-black night skies. While some Texans do live Hollywood’s depiction of the Lone Star lifestyle, the reality is that more than two-thirds of Texans live in the four largest metro areas: Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin.

    Most Texans are actually urban or suburban residents who drive on interstates, not gravel roads. This increasing urbanization has led to significant declines in biodiversity due to loss of habitat. Of the 107 statewide species federally listed as threatened or endangered, 56 species are found in the 33 counties that make up the four largest metro areas.

    Enter zoos! Zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums aren’t just fun places to visit. They are also integral to wildlife conservation as they provide safe habitat, facilitate scholarly research, and educate the public on the value of native wildlife in our ecosystems.

    The Fort Worth Zoo, for example, is home to 68 endangered and threatened species on the state and federal levels. Remember that lion’s share of Texans who live in metro areas? They probably don’t see these species very often. The zoo provides them with the opportunity to experience these species up close and learn about them at the same time.

    If that wasn’t enough, many zoos don’t stop at education. Each year, the San Antonio Zoo contributes over $935,000 on average through direct funds and research grants to programs geared toward species population status, habitat preservation, and potential causes for declines. Additionally, the Dallas Zoo galvanizes the public in community engagement projects to monitor and protect local wildlife populations.

    In celebration of National Zoo Month, here are our fantastic zoo Conservation Partners!

    Staff from Dallas zoo holding arms out to hold a black vulture during a program demonstration. Photo: Dallas Zoo

    Black vulture demonstration. Photo: Dallas Zoo

    Dallas Zoo: Located three miles south of downtown Dallas, the 106-acre Dallas Zoo is the oldest and largest zoo in Texas. The Zoo is open 364 days a year and welcomes approximately one million guests yearly. As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums since 1985, the Zoo provides a home for more than 2,000 animals representing over 400 species. Dallas Zoo’s mission is to Engage People & Save Wildlife by offering opportunities to engage, explore and learn through the Zoo’s robust schedule of events, education programs, and conservation initiatives.

    Green sea turtle recovering post-surgery. Photo: Houston Zoo

    Green sea turtle recovering post-surgery. Photo: Houston Zoo

    Houston Zoo: The Houston Zoo houses over 6,000 animal residents representing nearly 1,000 species and supports 49 wildlife conservation projects in 27 countries around the world. Their mission is to connect communities with animals, inspiring action to save wildlife. They strive for this vision by welcoming over two million visitors annually, making the Houston Zoo the second-most visited zoo in the country. The Houston Zoo is committed to exemplary animal care, environmental education, and global wildlife conservation. The Houston Zoo is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, contributing to population management and conservation programs for several endangered species, including Texas natives such as the Houston Toad and Attwater’s prairie chicken.

    Texas horned lizard hatchling. Photo: San Antonio Zoo

    Texas horned lizard hatchling. Photo: San Antonio Zoo

    San Antonio Zoo: San Antonio Zoo is a non-profit organization committed to securing a future for wildlife. Through its passion and expertise in animal care, conservation, and education, the zoo’s mission is to inspire its community to love, engage with, act for, and protect animals and the places they live. The zoo welcomes more than one million visitors each year and is open year-round. Its Center for Conservation and Research seeks to fulfill the zoo’s mission through a variety of approaches, including fieldwork and captive husbandry of rare and threatened species. Currently, one project is focused on restoring populations of the state reptile, the Texas horned lizard, by working with private landowners to introduce zoo-hatched lizards in areas where it has disappeared in recent decades.

    Texan by Nature’s vision is for every business and every Texan to participate in conservation and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world.

    Zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums do incredible work for our native wildlife and beyond. With the growing urban and suburban population of Texas, they are becoming even more important to bridge the gap between people and wildlife. When you visit one of our zoo Conservation Partners, you not only have a great time, but you also provide them with resources for research and conservation efforts.

    Click the links above and plan your visit today!

  2. Conservation in South Texas

    Leave a Comment

    Texas is a popular state. In fact, nearly 1 in 10 Americans lives in Texas. There is a lot to love about the Lone Star State, including its sense of pride, deep history, diverse landscapes, and delicious Tex-Mex cuisine.

    However, popularity can be a burden. As Texans grow in number, the state’s native plants and wildlife take a toll. In the last decade, Texas gained nearly four million people, the highest number of any state in the country. Consequently, from 2012 to 2017 alone, over 1.2 million acres of working lands were converted to non-agricultural uses. That’s a rate of over 650 acres per day! Texas’s exploding population has resulted in increased land development that impacts its native wildlife and plants. As of September 2023, 203 plant and animal species are listed as endangered or threatened in Texas.

    The South Texas Plains is the state’s most biodiverse ecoregion and simultaneously home to 3 of the top 25 fastest-growing counties in the state. Fragmentation of the region’s expansive ranches into smaller parcels has been identified as the most significant threat to its wildlife. However, despite many land changes, it remains a haven for many rare species of plants and animals.

    This haven didn’t happen on its own. Conservation organizations in South Texas have worked tirelessly to protect the region from development’s impacts. From education to boots-on-the-ground conservation to policy transformation, the region’s ecosystems have greatly benefited from their efforts.

    Here are some of our Conservation Partners in South Texas!

    Overlook of the Rio Grande Credit: RGISC

    Overlook of the Rio Grande Credit: RGISC 

    RGISC: Chartered by the State of Texas in 1994, RGISC is Laredo’s leading environmental nonprofit. Our mission is to protect and preserve our only source of drinking water, the Rio Grande, and our local environment through research, outreach and awareness, policy advocacy, binational partnerships, and environmental youth education.

    Over the past three years, RGISC has moved strategically to build new Water Security and Climate Adaptation programs focused on data analysis, coalition building, and cultural organizing to implement innovative solutions that will make our region greener and climate resilient. We’re also leading campaigns and coalitions on complex issues that include ethylene oxide, and visionary plans for a 6.2-mile binational river conservation project.

    Overlook of thornforest Credit: American Forests/ Ruth Hoyt
    Overlook of thornforest Credit: American Forests/ Ruth Hoyt

    American Forests: American Forests is a nationwide organization whose mission is to create healthy and resilient forests, from cities to wilderness, that deliver essential benefits for climate, people, water, and wildlife. In Texas, American Forests is focusing its efforts in the Rio Grande Valley region to restore native thornforest, Texas’s most species-diverse ecosystem. Through funding and seed collection efforts, American Forests has developed the region’s first native community forest, formed the Thornforest Conservation Partnership, and provided support for restoration outplanting at Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR and Laguna Atascosa NWR.

    A heifer and her calf in a meadow of prickly poppy Credit: East Foundation
    A heifer and her calf in a meadow of prickly poppy Credit: East Foundation

    East Foundation: Advancing land stewardship through ranching, science, and education, the East Foundation works on behalf of landowners and managers to discover, develop, and document management outcomes benefitting livestock, wildlife, and rangelands while maximizing the long-term value of a ranching operation. As the first recognized Agricultural Research Organization in the U.S., East Foundation utilizes its diverse South Texas rangelands across six ranches as a living laboratory to advance land stewardship by conducting partnered research, developing conservation-minded leaders, and investing in future professionals through K-12 education programs, internships, graduate student training, and close engagement with university programs.

    Established in 2007 and building on an established reputation for innovative research and education programs, East Foundation is a working cattle operation focused on improving sustainable beef production in order to maintain the ecosystem services provided by intact rangelands. The Foundation’s ranching operations also encompass the conservation of the largest known population of the American ocelot – a small, secretive, and rare wild cat species. East Foundation is an engaged partner in the groundbreaking monitoring and recovery effort with the goal of recovery of the species – primarily on private lands – while also maintaining traditional land use and ownership rights.

    Brown butterfly with several large white spots on a twig Credit: National Butterfly Center
    Brown butterfly with several large white spots on a twig Credit: National Butterfly Center

    National Butterfly Center: Located in Mission, Texas, the National Butterfly Center is a 100-acre wildlife center with the greatest volume and variety of wild, free-flying butterflies in the nation. The Center is dedicated to the conservation and study of wild butterflies in their native habitats. A primary focus of its efforts is educating the public about the value of biodiversity, the beauty of the natural world, the wonder of butterflies, particularly, and the powerful role they play in maintaining healthy ecosystems and sustainable food resources. The Center hosts the Texas Butterfly Festival every fall.

    Focused in the foreground a branch of Yaupon and blurred in the background two people examining a branch of Yaupon Credit: Yaupon AgWorks
    Focused in the foreground a branch of Yaupon and blurred in the background two people examining a branch of Yaupon Credit: Yaupon AgWorks

    Yaupon AgWorks: At the northern edge of South Texas lies a portion of the Post Oak Savannah ecoregion. Yaupon, a native evergreen shrub, has overtaken much of the native grasslands characteristic of the Post Oak Savannah. After sustainably harvesting wild yaupon for tea for the last decade, Yaupon AgWorks realized a need to incorporate grassland restoration in order to move the needle in overall land restoration. Although in its infancy, Yaupon AgWorks envisions a more sustainable and vibrant future with strong partnerships and eager landowners.

    Deep in the Heart Film

    Defenders of Wildlife: Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. Defenders of Wildlife protects and restores vulnerable wildlife populations by transforming policies and institutions and by promoting science-based, innovative solutions. In South Texas, its focus is on the fewer than 60 ocelots left in the United States. Defenders work to raise awareness of ocelots’ presence on the landscape and best practices for coexisting with them. Additionally, Defenders is fighting the construction of industrial infrastructure that would undermine ocelot recovery.

    Texan by Nature’s vision is for every business and every Texan to participate in conservation and for Texas to be a model of collaborative conservation for the world.

    These organizations are doing spectacular work to conserve and protect South Texas’s unique flora and fauna. If you are interested in supporting these organizations and the important work they’re doing in South Texas, consider visiting their website for ways to get involved.

    Texas is popular, and its popularity continues to grow by the minute. Protecting native plants and wildlife is more important than ever! With our Conservation Partners’ dedicated work, Texans will have the opportunity to enjoy them for generations to come.

X