HOUSTON – Learn how your family can save interesting animals across our state in our KPRC2 special, 'Saving Wildlife: Texas.'
Texas may be filled with cows and horses, but there’s also a wilder side and many of those animals need our help to survive.
In “Saving Wildlife: Texas,” anchors Keith Garvin, Sofia Ojeda, and Courtney Zavala and their children team up with the Houston Zoo to learn about the wildlife around our state and what’s being done to make sure those animals don’t disappear forever.
Explore Texas with us discover interesting information about many animals in our state, including:
Did you know the only wild whooping crane population spends winters in Port Aransas? They migrate every year from Wood Buffalo National Park in Canada. That’s a 2,400-mile journey just so they can feast on wolfberries and blue crab down along the Texas coast. At one point, there were believed to be only 15 whooping cranes left. Now thanks to conservation efforts, there are more than 500 of these large birds. Whooping cranes are so tall that some can stand taller than Olympic superstar Simone Biles and their wingspan can be as wide as former Houston Rocket Yao Ming is tall. The Houston Zoo works with the International Crane Foundation to protect whooping cranes as well as the wetlands the birds need to survive. Whooping cranes are one of three species highlighted in the new Katherine G. McGovern Texas Wetlands habitat at the Houston Zoo.
The bald eagle in the Texas Wetlands at the Houston Zoo is named Sally Ride. Even though bald eagles are our national bird, by the 1900s, the population was nearing extinction because of habitat loss, hunting, and a now-banned pesticide. In 1940, the Bald Eagle Protection Act was enacted and became the first step needed toward saving these majestic birds which are now thriving all over Texas and the United States.
It may be hard to believe, but even the American Alligator was at dire risk until conservation efforts began. The three gators now at the Houston Zoo are reminders it’s possible to save a species if enough people take action. Alligators often get confused for crocodiles, but there are of course many differences including only gators are found in Texas. The largest male alligators can grow up to 15 feet long and weigh 1,000 pounds. To put that size in perspective, we discovered that’s even BIGGER than two JJ Watts in height and more than three JJ’s in weight!
The Houston Toad may be named for our city, but the amphibian hasn’t been in our area since the 1950s. They require a very specific habitat that doesn’t exist in Houston anymore because of development. The critically endangered Houston Toad now survives only in a few small areas in our state, including Bastrop State Park. The Houston Zoo breeds the toads behind the scenes at the zoo and then for several weeks in the spring transports the toad eggs to the park where they are placed in ponds before they transform into tadpoles.
ATTWATER’S PRAIRIE CHICKENS
This bird isn’t a chicken, it’s actually another type of bird named a grouse and there’s very few left in the wild population. To try to save this species, the Houston Zoo breeds these birds at a facility out at Johnson Space Center. Eggs are collected and brought back to the zoo where they’re kept in incubators until they hatch. The chicks are given several weeks to grow before they’re released at the Attwater Prairie Chicken National Wildlife Refuge in Eagle Lake, Texas.
All five species of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico are threatened or endangered. That’s why the Houston Zoo’s senior veterinarian is called on to help injured or sick turtles many times a year. In 2018, Dr. Joe Flanagan treated 131 sea turtles. The Houston Zoo also put up signs along the coast that tell families what to do if they find a sea turtle on the beach.
The ocelot can be found in greater numbers south of our border, but in Texas, the population is believed to be close to extinction. Efforts are underway in the Rio Grande Valley to save this wildcat by planting new trees, installing wildlife corridors which provide a safe way to cross under roads, and raising awareness. The annual Ocelot Conservation Festival raises money to support efforts to save the species.
While there are some populations of black bears in West Texas, sightings of black bears in East Texas are extremely rare. A subspecies called the Louisiana Black Bear is making a comeback and that means more bears from our neighboring state may cross into the Lone Star State. That’s good news because bears through their diet help spread seeds which help regrow forests. The Houston Zoo supports the Texas Black Bear Alliance and has created bear sighting signs that are posted across our state.
Texas has more bat species than any other state in the U.S. and that’s very beneficial because bats eat tons of bugs every single night. Houston has a large population of bats at the Waugh Bridge. The largest known bat colony in the world is at the Bracken Cave Preserve in San Antonio, and the largest urban bat colony is located at the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin.
Houston Zoo staff care for monarch butterflies when the weather gets too cold for them to fly. The team gathers any stunned butterflies and keeps them warm until they can continue their annual migration to Mexico. In conjunction with the group Monarch Watch, the Houston Zoo also tags the butterflies. Knowing where the butterflies travel can lead to greater conservation efforts along their route.
From the coast to caves to cities, there are species that were successfully brought back from the brink of extinction and many others that are still at risk of vanishing if we don’t take action.