Conservation Projects | Fort Worth Zoo
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The Fort Worth Zoo's impact on saving species reaches far beyond the Zoo's 64 acres. The Zoo is actively engaged in conservation work in more than 30 countries around the world. This includes dedication of resources, dollars and time. In several of these efforts, Zoo staff are involved on a grassroots level making advancements for many endangered and critically endangered species. Boots-on-the-ground projects are listed below. 

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Anegada Iguana (Est. 1998)

Anegada IguanaUSFWS Endangered, ICUN Critically Endangered

Reintroduction, Captive Headstart, Conservation Education

For more than 20 years, the Fort Worth Zoo has worked to spearhead a recovery program for the critically endangered Anegada iguana with its in-country partner, the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands. Activities have included applied ecological research, public education and awareness, local capacity building, monitoring of feral mammals and the reintroduction of 285 iguanas back to the wild. One of the Fort Worth Zoo’s conservation biologists is on island nearly 4 months every year locating iguana nests, relocating hatchlings, reintroducing and monitoring headstarted iguanas, training students and holding an annual community-wide Iguana Fest.

Significant Highlights

  • Construction and facilitation of the in situ headstart facility and captive breeding program
  • Annual reintroduction of headstarted iguanas resulting in more than 260 animals released to the wild
  • Development of an island-wide camera trapping program to monitor the distribution, abundance and habitat use of repatriated iguanas and invasive mammals
  • Development and implementation of an annual iguana festival to educate local residents and increase public awareness and ownership of the species
  • Local capacity and student training have resulted in more than 150 students from 35 colleges and universities participating in the recovery program and learning field research methods
High Andean Flamingo (Est. 2015)

USFWS Endangered, IUCN Critically Endangered

Captive Breeding, Reintroduction, Conservation Education

Indigenous peoples in Bolivia are given permission to collect flamingo eggs for consumption as part of their native rights. These peoples are only interested in the eggs which have not yet developed, which leaves significant numbers of fertile eggs discarded that could otherwise be collected for artificial incubation in partnership with the Zoo at the Vesty Pakos Zoo. The development of a hand-reared population not only serves as a hedge against extinction, but also to educate Bolivians about their natural fauna. To date, a total of nin James flamingo anf one endangered Andean Flamingo chicks have hatched and hand-reared, the Fort Worth Zoo spnsored flamingo banding at Laguna Colorada in which 450 chicks were banded, and the Zoo supporeted the prgram via personnel to band an additional 70 chicks and provided finacial support to help purchase a new vehicle for field activites in the future. 

Significant Highlights

  • Artificial incubation and hand-rearing program initiated at Vesty Pakos Zoo; ten flamingo chicks reared to date
  • Annual flamingo banding program initiated to monitor population trends and natural history
Jamaican Iguana (Est. 1993)

Jamaican Iguana

USFWS Endangered, ICUN Critically Endangered

Captive Breeding, Reintroduction, Research, Capacity Building

The Jamaican iguana is endemic to the island of Jamaica. Historically, this species likely occurred along most of the island’s southeastern coastal dry forest belt, however, habitat loss and predation by introduced mammals caused the extirpation of the species from most of its range. Interventions such as protecting nest sites, headstarting, and invasive mammal control have led to an increase in the population. The Fort Worth Zoo has been involved with the Jamaican Iguana conservation program since 1993.

Significant Highlights

  • Reintroduction of 489 iguanas into the wild since the beginning of the program, with record breaking numbers in the last years
  • Annual pre-release health screens at the iguana headstart facility at the Hope Zoo, led by Fort Worth Zoo staff
  • Development of educational materials focused on the local Jamaican audience
  • Research studies documenting post-release iguana behavior and survival, behavior of invasive predators, impact of iguanas in the ecosystem, and the impact of gut passage on plant germination rates and percentages
  • Involvement in the potential reintroduction of iguanas and other endemic species to the Goat Islands
  • Trialing of novel feral mammal monitoring techniques
  • Improvement in captive husbandry, cage space and increase in specimen numbers at the Hope Zoo annually
Panamanian Golden Frog (Est. 2012)

Panamanian Golden FrogUSFWS Endangered, IUCN Critically Endangered

Conservation Leadership

Culturally important in Panama since the pre-Colombian era, the Panamanian golden frog is now most likely extinct in the wild due to the amphibian chytrid fungus. The Zoo’s assistant curator of ectotherms oversees the managed population of golden frogs in AZA facilities and related research programs in the United States and Canada, in addition to advising on golden frog husbandry and programs within Panama.

Significant Highlights

  • Facilitated a strategic planning session for the species in Panama with conservation partners at the El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center (EVACC)
  • Facilitated a Health and Husbandry meeting for EVACC with veterinary advisors that outlined areas of focus for research and changes to improve overall health of amphibians within US and Panama collections
  • Continue to support the regional education activities, including the annual Golden Frog Day/Festival outreach events
  • Fort Worth Zoo staff have helped native Panamanians build a new facility to breed and display critically endangered amphibians within panama, with the ultimate goal of reintroduction
Roatan Spiny-tailed Iguana (Est. 2012)

IUCN Endangered

Research, Conservation Education

The Roatan spiny-tailed iguana is endemic to the small island of Roatan, Honduras. Their densities are decreasing due to over-exploitation. The Fort Worth Zoo has been monitoring this species in Roatan for more than four years. In addition, iguana workshops have been developed to train regional biologists from iguana range countries in capture, processing, marking, DNA sample collection, survey techniques, physiological lab work, and data input and analysis through a combination of lectures and hands-on experiences.

Significant Highlights

  • Long-term mark-recapture study to document life history and track population trends
  • Development of a regional iguana workshop to train the next generation of conservation leaders from iguana range countries throughout the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America
  • Training of students and managers from over 15 countries, all of whom have remained or become active in local conservation efforts in their home countries
  • The workshops include an IUCN Redlisting event which has resulted in three published Redlist updates to date
  • Publication of Conservation Action Plan for this species, to guide management efforts 
Turks and Caicos Iguana (Est. 2010)

USFWS Threatened, IUCN Endangered

Translocation, Research

The Turks and Caicos iguana is critically endangered due to introduced mammals and habitat alteration from human development. Inter-island translocations are a key conservation strategy for the species and have been successful to date. Zoo staff conducted a project that documented post intra-island translocation stress and moved 96 animals. The results indicated that homing was perceived as stressful to the iguanas; however, animals demonstrated the ability to mount appropriate stress responses throughout the project. Findings from this project will be utilized to develop translocation methods that promote iguana-friendly development throughout the Caribbean.

Significant Highlights    

  • First systematic test of homing abilities in a Cyclura species   
  • Documentation of post intra-island translocation stress and homing behavior of 96 adult and juvenile iguanas
  • Rapid surveys for iguanas, other reptiles and invasive vertebrates on Little Water Cay, Big Ambergris Cay and at least 10 other surrounding offshore islands

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Chiricahua Leopard Frog (Est. 2005)

Chiricahua Leopard FrogsUSFWS Threatened, IUCN Vulnerable

Captive Breeding, Reintroduction, Research

The Fort Worth Zoo manages an assurance population of Chiricahua leopard frogs from several localities that are utilized for reintroduction efforts in New Mexico in collaboration with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The Fort Worth Zoo is one of only two zoos working with this species in North America.

Significant Highlights

  • More than 1,587 tadpoles from the Zoo have been reintroduced back into the wild over the past five years
  • Zoo staff initiated a research project with Mississippi State University to develop methods for cryopreservation of amphibian semen.
  • Hormone induction protocols to stimulate oogenesis for female CLF were established
  • Captive CLF semen was successfully frozen with post-thaw motility- a first for this species! Semen was then contributed to the National Amphibian Genome Bank for further research
  • Recognized as a 2012 USFWS Wildlife Recovery Champion for efforts on behalf of the species
Louisiana Pine Snake (Est. 2015)

Louisiana Pine SnakeUSFWS Threatened, IUCN Endangered

Captive Breeding, Reintroduction

The Louisiana pine snake (LPS) is one of the rarest snakes in North America. It has recently been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and the last known population of LPS is most likely extirpated in Texas. As part of the recovery program, the Fort Worth Zoo manages a large breeding group of snakes for reintroduction. All Louisiana pine snakes in captivity are being consolidated into four breeding centers and the FWZ was chosen as one of those facilities due to our years of experience and breeding success with the taxa. Zoo staff actively participates in annual stakeholder meetings and constructed a dedicated conservation center for pine snakes aided by the United States Forest Service.

Significant Highlights

  • Constructed a dedicated Texas Native Wildlife Center for the species
  • Build captive breeding colony via successful reproduction
  • Via partners, bred and released 99 snakes into the wild over the past five years
Virgin Islands Tree Boa (Est. 2017)

USFWS Endangered, IUCN Endangered

Captive Breeding, Reintroduction Potential

The Fort Worth Zoo has partnered with the North Carolina Zoo, United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources to survey known populations of the endangered Virgin Islands tree boa. In addition, specimens will be collected from the wild to start a managed breeding population for reintroduction.

Significant Highlights

  • Establishment of a USVI Boa Working Group
  • Collected specimens to start a managed breeding program for reintroduction
  • Survey new areas within USVI and identify suitable habitat to establish new population
  • Assist in sample collection for genetic analysis of VI boa populations through their range
  • Produce offspring to reintroduce at a new location in USVI
Puerto Rican Crested Toad (Est. 1989)

Puerto Rican Crested ToadUSFWS Threatened, IUCN Critically Endangered

Captive Breeding, Reintroduction, Conservation Leadership

As the coordinator for the recovery program, the Fort Worth Zoo has sent Puerto Rican Crested Toad (PRCT) tadpoles to Puerto Rico as part of the continued reintroduction program since 1989. The Zoo manages and breeds Puerto Rican crested toads for recovery efforts in addition to facilitating research in situ and ex situ. The Zoo’s curator of ectotherms manages the cooperative breeding program for the species and facilitates in situ monitoring at all six reintroduction sites and reintroduction efforts with allied conservation partners.

Significant Highlights

  • Reintroduced more than 72,902 tadpoles since 1989
  • FWZ staff constructed a new breeding pond at a reintroduction site in southwestern PR
  • MOU established with major partners to implement recovery goals and efficiently manage all sites
  • Assisted with the design and construction of two new wetlands at the last natural breeding pond to mitigate increased salinity and storm surge events
  • Facilitated salinity and density studies to inform the management of both captive and wild populations for recovery efforts
  • Training and support for PR partners to implement mark and recapture program
  • Continued health assessment of wild populations through Bd screening
  • Monitoring at reintroduction sites
  • Standardize management at all sites through development of Standard Operating Procedures for all partners
Puerto Rican Harlequin Butterfly (Est. 2016)

USFWS Candidate Species

Research, Conservation Education

The Puerto Rican harlequin butterfly (PRHB) is a rare species of butterfly endemic to Puerto Rico and is one of the four species endemic to the Greater Antilles. It is a candidate for federal listing due to its rare occurrence within small, isolated areas on the island. The Zoo is supporting Puerto Rican biologists to evaluate the species throughout its current range and identify factors that are negatively affecting its status.

Significant Highlights

  • Standardized surveys are being implemented throughout the species known range (9 locations)
  • A working group has been established to develop conservation measures for the species and garner support from locals for the recovery of the species
  • A new population of PRHB was documented at Susua Commonwealth Forest
  • Findings from these surveys were used to inform the FWS for Species Status Assessment and potential federal listing
  • DNA was extracted from the species itilizing caterpillar molts to devolp genetic markers for the species
  • Gut content analysis from resident anoles was conducted to determine if they predate upon the PRHB
  • Severe habitat alteration was documented at one site and effects are being monitored
  • A botanist was contracted in 2018 to characterize primary habitat at known sites and identify PRHB host plant and nectar sources
Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project (Est. 2019)

Refuge Population

The Zoo joined a coalition of North American zoos and aquariums to house an assurance colony of Florida Reef Tract corals. The corals in this stretch of the gulf of Mexico are threwtened and disappearing at an alarming rate after an unidentified disease was fist observed in 2014. The Zoo is managing 30 distinct corals until they can be returned to their native range. 

Significant Highlights

  • New species being housed at Fort Worth Zoo as part of global efforts
  • Fort Worth Zoo is helping write the husbandry manual for the care of these unique species of corals

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Houston Toad (Est. 2010)

Houston ToadUSFWS Endangered, IUCN Endangered

Captive Breeding, Reintroduction, Research Summary

The Fort Worth Zoo manages an assurance population of Houston toads that breed yearly, resulting in offspring that are used for reintroduction efforts. The Zoo has repatriated more than 113,702 tadpoles in Bastrop County. The Zoo is one of four facilities breeding this species in human care and it is believed there are less than 200 toads left in the wild.

Significant Achievements

  • Zoo staff attended the first signing of a Safe Harbor agreement executed for this species on private land
  • Constructed the Texas Native Amphibian Center, a dedicated conservation facility which increased the Zoo’s capacity to breed more Houston toads for reintroduction efforts
  • The Zoo is one of four zoos that manages a rescue population of Houston toads for reintroduction
  • The Zoo has released more than 75,370 toads into the wild
  • In collaboration with Mississippi State University, Zoo staff successfully froze Houston toad semen with good post-thaw motility - a first for this species
Monarch Butterfly and Pollinator Habitat (Est. 2015)

Monarch Butterfly USFWS Under Review

Research, Conservation Awareness

Monarch butterflies are declining at an alarming rate. The Fort Worth Zoo continues to monitor and plant host plants to aid monarchs during their migrations through north Texas. Prairie restoration sites in the main parking lot of the Zoo were expanded and two new locations were seeded at the original prairie restoration site on the Trinity River. Permanent education signage is located at both sites.

Significant Highlights

  • Seeded two new sections of restoration areas on the Trinity River and increased size of prairie restoration site in parking lot of Zoo
  • Collaborated with City of Fort Worth Parks and Recreation Department to remove invasive Japanese Privet from prairie restoration area on the Trinity River in 2019
  • Mowed and maintained newly cleared areas of prairie restoration site 
  • Intigrated project objectives and technology (e.g. ArcGIS) into formal educational offerings at the Zoo
  • Ongoing monitoring of milkweed abuncance on the Trinity River
  • Active participation in Fort Worth Pollinator Ambassador Group
  • Monarch monitoring project has resulted in more than 50 tagged monarchs to date
  • Three pollinator gardens are maintained at the Zoo
  • Helped coordinate Partners for Fish & Wildlife outdoor classroom grant award for two schools. 
Pecos Pupfish (Est. 2000)

Pecos PupfishUSFWS Under Review

Captive Breeding

After consecutive years of drought and hybridization, Pecos pupfish have declined in many regions. A assurance population is maintained at the Fort Worth Zoo at the request of TPWD. The Zoo has historically bred this species for many years and once water levels in the wild return to normal and hybrids are removed by state biologists, plans are to repatriate this species using offspring produced at the Zoo.

Significant Highlights

  • Historically, the Fort Worth Zoo is one of the first zoos to maintain and breed this species in captivity
  • Fort Worth Zoo staff assisted in recent emergency rescue efforts during drought events
  • Distributed offspring from Fort Worth Zoo to SeaWorld, San Antonio and Cameron Park Zoo to expand captive breeding efforts
Texas Freshwater Mussel (Est. 2017)

Texas Freshwater MusselUSFWS Under Review

Captive Breeding

The Fort Worth Zoo has developed a mussel holding and host-fish testing facility to assist in investigating the reproductive biology of threatened mussel species and to provide a resource for education and public outreach. The Zoo will aid in establishing husbandry parameters and fish host trials along with partners from Texas A&M AgriLife Dallas Center. A dedicated mussel room has been outfitted to house up to five Texas native species of mussels.

Significant Highlights

  • Acquired 5 species of Texas native mussels in 2020 to acclimate systems and gain husbandry experience prior to receiving threatened species
  • Documenting and comparing growth rates for the same species at TAMU
  • Along with partners from TAMU, received USFWS Sec 6 funding to implement conservation program for threatened Truncilla species of mussels
Texas Horned Lizard (Est. 2011)

Texas Horned LizardIUCN Least Concern

Captive Breeding, Reintroduction, Research, Conservation Leadership

The Fort Worth Zoo is working with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and private landowners to evaluate the feasibility and scientific methods used to reintroduce Texas horned lizards born at the Zoo into formerly occupied habitats of north Texas. Methodology developed from this study is being applied to state-wide recovery efforts for the species and can also be used as a standard for future recovery efforts for the other twelve species of horned lizards that reside in the United States and Mexico. The Zoo reintroduced 693 horned lizards and conducted health assessments for more than 200 horned lizards used for translocation.

Significant Highlights

  • Formed the Texas Horned Lizard Conservation Coalition and host biennial meetings with TPWD, fostering information exchange, research collaboration and new partnerships
  • Fort Worth Zoo was the first zoo to successfully breed Texas horned lizards and is the only institution to maintain a large breeding group, producing large numbers of offspring annually
  • Reintroduced 529 Texas horned lizards into the wild since 2011
  • Conducting a state-wide health evaluation and pathogen screen of free-ranging horned lizards to establish base-line health data, understand prevalent pathogens, and assess health prior to translocation/reintroduction
  • Began using harmonic radar to track horned lizards and incorporated the use of a Texas Christian University (TCU) graduate student in monitoring
  • Started partnering with TCU to look at horned lizard microbiomes in captivity and changes once. released to reintroduction efforts
Texas Kangaroo Rat (Est. 2018)

USFWS Under Review, IUCN Vulnerable

Captive Breeding, Potential Reintroduction

The Zoo is working with partners to develop breeding and husbandry protocols for the species by establishing an assurance colony in the Zoo’s new Texas Native Wildlife Center. The Fort Worth Zoo was the first-ever to breed Texas kangaroo rats. This offers the potential to quickly grow a population for research and reintroduction efforts. Partial building funds were provided through a USFWS Section 6 grant awarded to partners from Texas State University.

Significant Highlights

  • Construction of the Texas Native Wildlife Center to house kangaroo rats
  • Acquisition of six breeding pairs of rats from the wild

Release Data

As a result of our tremendously successful breeding programs, the Zoo is able to release animals from numerous species back into the wild. Each release represents a major achievement in conservation efforts locally and abroad. 

Species Number Released (to date)
Houston toad 113,702 tadpoles/552,111 eggs

Louisiana pine snake

99 juveniles
Puerto Rican crested toad 84,865 tadpoles
Texas horned lizard 693 hatchlings
Jamaican iguana 560
Andean iguana 285
Chiricahua leopard frog 1,587 tadpoles
Monarch butterflies 110 tagged/released during migration