I spent the last Monday and Tuesday at the Houston Zoo. They are one of my newer clients and we needed to get some footage for a couple projects we’re working on for them. One of our videographers, Matt, came and did all the camera work. I like to think I played assistant and had a really good time! It could be a long time before I have footage to share, so we’ll see…
My contacts at the Zoo, Alex and Lona, were really fun and planned a great schedule. The keepers were ready when we arrived at each enclosure and did their best to get the animals to come out and get a little active. Each keeper was so passionate about the animals and worked so hard to help us get the shots we wanted. They really understood that getting good footage could translate into a neat video that could then help bring in the hearts of viewers who could become more interested in conservation and education and bring in the monetary support the Zoo needs to expand and continue to provide those experiences and benefits of the Zoo. (Whew, quite a long thought)
Cheetahs – two males, raised by hand, leash trained, absolutely beautiful. Learned that as brothers, they would stick together in the wild kind of like a pack. They live with two large shepherding dogs that add to the pack and keep one cheetah company while the other is fulfilling his ‘ambassador duties’ (educational visits and such). Even though they are carnivores, the keeper was able to be in the enclosure with them and rubbed them down. She threw balls to help us get action shots, but it was a little hot for them and they didn’t feel much like playing. It was fun to watch the stalking behavior, much like a house cat would crouch and get ready to pounce on a mouse. Found a video on YouTube where you can see them purr!
Okapi – looks like zebra legs, giraffe head shape, horse size body. We got to go in this exhibit to film an interview with the Zoo Director. There was one okapi in the enclosure at the time along with his duiker buddies, some tortoises, and a crane with the awesome crown of feathers that looks like a firework. The okapi are very rare. This guy came right over to see what was up; wanted to make friends. Very sweet. I noticed him stick his long tongue up his nose and decided there would be no kisses. Very lovely creature.
Giraffes – my favorite! We got to go in the enclosure and stand on the ‘pad’ where we hoped to capture some interviews with keepers. There were still cables between the giraffes and us, but that was it. The largest, Kiva, is a 17 foot tall, 2600 lb male. You could very easily walk clear under his legs, no problem. He was very curious and wanted to sniff out the newbies. I was standing there so Matt could set up the shot for the interview and I got that feeling that there was giraffe right behind me (very Jurassic Park). Kiva’s head was basically on mine and we nuzzled a little. I did get pushed around a bit. You don’t quite realize how large their heads are ’cause they are normally so high up there. Kiva’s nostrils are huge (like large potato huge) and he would exhale and little sand-sized bits of kibble would come down (hence my ‘I smell like giraffe’ twitter).
We had a golf cart to get around and every time we passed the giraffes, Kiva watched. He loves his visitors.
Also, they have a five month old baby, Miles. Check out the Zoo’s first video of Miles.
Elephants – we had another interview over at the elephants. We first got to watch the four year old, Tucker, get his morning bath in the amazing barn. They took his temperature in his ear and blood pressure by putting the cuff around the base of his tail. Then his momma, Tess, led him back to the yard while he held her tail. Elephants are really smart and it not kept mentally challenged they would tear apart their enclosure, so they performed some tricks for us. Tess and Tucker both stood on their heads for us. I learned that elephants can lift about 1/4 of their weight with their trunk. Tucker helped clean the zoo after Hurricane Ike by moving tree limbs. I did get to pet Tucker and their hair is very bristly. Something I found really interesting: the elephants respond to instruction from the keepers they know (come here, back up, lift your foot). They know their names. Soo smart!
As we exited, we went back in the barn and saw the big bull, Thai. He’s massively larger than Tess and Tucker; 10 feet to the top of his head, 13,000 lbs.
Meerkats – precious little guys. The keepers gave them hay with live crickets to entice them over to the camera. It was pretty funny to watch them chase the crickets.
Wild dogs – we got to see these three guys before they were fed. They entered the yard and took a dip in their pool. Then the keeper through one cattle bone into the yard and they wrestled for it. They were playing, but it could have been quite scary. They made chortling noises and forgot about the one bone. The keeper threw in two more and everyone was happy.
Mandrills – carnivorous, sort of baboon looking monkey. We got to their enclosure before they got out for the morning. When they appeared they went to the wood shavings to find their treats. Watching them push the shavings was very much like watching a human push toys around.
Lions and tiger – Jonathan is the beautiful male lion, Celesto the lady. Again the keepers helped get their attention by throwing meat and cattle bones to them. Absolutely stunning creatures. Hana the tiger (in a different enclosure) also got meat and a cattle bone.
Zebras – we got to go in their exhibit while they got breakfast; it’s how we enticed them over. The keeper was surprised they came over as they are prey animal and always on guard. I found them surprisingly short; not nearly as tall as a horse. After Ike, a fence was knocked down between the zebras and an antelope enclosure. They became buddies and still live together today.
Sea lions – the Zoo had so many great keeper chats that really got the visitors involved. There is a sea lion show actually and two of the females, Cali and Kamia, were the stars that day. They did the waving, barking, and jumping to touch the ball. Matt and I got to go down to the dock though so we were practically in the exhibit. The sea lions definitely spotted us and wanted to know what was up. The Zoo has a baby who’s still in quarantine, but he should be out soon.
Duck Lake and flamingos – yeah, so they have ducks and flamingos. The cool thing is that there were some migratory ducks hanging out as well. You could distinguish them in that they did not have tags and could fly.
Sifaka – pronounced ‘shif-awk’. Beautiful type of lemur. They had a new baby as well that clung to mama. They are awesome leapers/jumpers.
So yeah, I think everyone should have the opportunity to experience the animals that close. The Houston Zoo is wonderfully set up in that visitors can walk around some of the exhibits almost completely. If the giraffe is over there, go over there to get a better look. The elephant barn has large windows that the keepers will open so you can see bath time and talk with them. It was really nice. I’m ready to go back. Loved it, loved it, loved it.
– It was so hot. I had sweat rolling into my eyes at 9am while I held the reflector thing for the camera. My clothes were soaked. But I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
– Of course, I picked up a baby giraffe as my souvenir. He’s on my desk at work now. Also got a giraffe magnet ’cause I get John magnets when I travel.