Conservation Work

San Antonio Zoological Society participates in a wide variety of field conservation efforts locally and around the world!

On average, San Antonio Zoo contributes over $175,000.00 through direct funds and research grants dedicated to programs geared towards species population status, habitat preservation, and potential causes for declines. San Antonio Zoo is also involved in local community training and stewardship projects as well as participating in species reintroductions into wild habitats!

Below are several projects in which the zoo is currently involved.

Project Selva

San Antonio Zoo is working with indigenous communities in the upper Amazon Basin of Peru (Bora, Yagua). The idea is to provide remote indigenous people with a revenue stream that does not involve timber harvest or oil extraction. The zoo has developed a cooperative in the Peruvian city of Iquitos where indigenous families can sell their handicrafts. These items are exported to the zoo and sold in the gift shops. By providing a stable and reliable location for indigenous families to sell their crafts, we hope to provide an alternative revenue stream to Amazonian indigenous communities, allowing them to avoid the sale of their traditional lands (all covered by Amazon rainforest) to mineral and timber companies. The forests that these indigenous groups live in are home to the greatest assemblage of biodiversity of life on Earth. Science continually describes new species from these forests and the diversity of life is staggering. For example, in a square hectare of Amazonian rainforest (2.47 acres), there can be as many as 750 species of trees. Developing pathways through which local support for the conservation of rainforest can be bolstered is the aim of this program. This project began in 2003.

Project Partners: San Antonio Zoo and indigenous groups in the Peruvian Amazon

Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project

The Texas horned lizard is the most iconic Texas reptile. Horned lizards were once abundant throughout a large range. Today, horned lizard populations have declined or disappeared in many places in Texas. There is no single smoking gun to explain the decline of horned lizards but habitat loss and invasive species (pesticide use, exotic grasses, and red imported fire ants) are frequently implicated. However, sufficient areas of suitable habitat exist where horned lizards may be reintroduced and many landowners are engaged in landscape management practices that are conducive to horned lizards. In addition, there is growing interest among landowners to return this species to the landscape for the enjoyment of present and future generations. San Antonio Zoo's Texas Horned Lizard Reintroduction Project will use GIS data, genetics, and current knowledge about horned lizard ecology and distribution to release large numbers of captive-born individuals in suitable habitat. This project began in 2016.

This project will require both field (habitat survey, monitoring, and maintenance) and laboratory components (rearing of red harvester ants, husbandry and care of breeder lizards and offspring). Essential to this effort will be the establishment of a “lizard factory”: a climate-controlled, biosecure facility with the potential for expansion as the project grows. At this time, funding is needed to complete preparation of a lizard room capable of housing several dozen breeder lizards in addition to ant culture facilities, lights, tanks, shelving, and other equipment necessary for maintaining a robust population of Texas horned lizards. As this project moves forward, additional funding will be required for habitat surveys, monitoring, management, and release of lizards. This project recently received funding from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Reptile and Amphibian Research and Conservation Fund.

Project Partners: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Christian University, and private landowners

Mexican Blindcat Program

The Mexican blindcat (Prietella phreatophila) is a rare subterranean catfish known from twelve sites in Coahuila, Mexico. Members of our team recently documented a population in Val Verde County, Texas, marking the first US occurrence of this species. This project seeks to determine the distribution, ecology, and conservation status of this species by conducting fieldwork in the US and Mexico. San Antonio Zoo maintains the only captive colony of this species and efforts are underway to establish husbandry protocols and establish a breeding population in captivity. Surveys for suitable habitat are underway at Amistad National Recreation Area and at sites along the Devil’s River. Fieldwork in Mexico includes revisiting known sites and documenting new sites via cave and spring surveys as well as eDNA. This project recently received a small grant from the National Park Service and a USFWS Section 6 grant to conduct surveys in Texas and Coahuila. Although project partners have been investigating this species for 20 years, this project formally began in 2016.

Project Partners: National Park Service, University of Texas at Austin Biodiversity Collections, and Zara Environmental LLC.

Rough-Footed Mud Turtle Project

The rough-footed mud turtle (Kinosternon hirtipes murrayi) is the rarest turtle in Texas. It is known from a handful of sites in southern Presidio County and is state-listed as threatened. Threats to this species include habitat loss and low genetic diversity among relatively small populations. San Antonio Zoo received seven adult turtles that were recovered from a pond where most individual suffered from external protozoan infections brought on by poor water quality. We are currently treating these animals. They may be returned to the wild (pending habitat restoration efforts) or may form the basis of a captive breeding population including individuals from other, genetically-diverse wild populations. This project received a small grant from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to cover equipment and care costs for one year. This project began in 2017.

Project Partners: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and New Mexico State University Alamogordo

Subterranean Bioinventory in Ozarks & Appalachia

This project seeks to confirm historic localities, formulate conservation strategies, and clarify systematics of critically endangered species and species new to science. We survey known as well as unsurveyed cave systems and conduct bioinventories on behalf of state and federal wildlife agencies. This project also performs annual surveys of several federally endangered cave species. This project was started in 2001.

Project Partners: San Antonio Zoo, Roger’s State University, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Illinois Natural History Survey, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy

Goundwater Surveys of Southern Georgia

We are conducting biological surveys of communities living in the Floridan Aquifer in the southern portion of Georgia. The use of special traps that fit down well pipes has enabled survey of additional sites, providing improved sampling of the entire aquifer. Results of this survey will help inform the United States Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the status of animals living in the Floridan Aquifer. This project was started in 2009.

Project Partners: San Antonio Zoo, Illinois Natural History Survey, United States Geological Survey, Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Migratory Bird Survey

The San Antonio Zoo's Education Department and volunteer staff support the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University by conducting monthly surveys of migratory bird populations.  All data obtained is submitted to Cornell University using the web platform


Bolson Tortoise Recovery Program 

The Department of Herpetology conducted fieldwork in conjunction with the Turner Endangered Species Fund in New Mexico for the critical Bolson Tortoise.  Field population monitoring and health assessments of the tortoises took place in the Spring and Fall of 2015.  At this time, the zoo also offered assistance with constrcution and financial support for the new head start facility that will further reintroduction efforts.


Cave Fauna Biodiversity Program 

A comprehensive examination of cave fauna biodiversity in North America is underway with partners at San Antonio Zoo's Department of Conservation and Research, Illinois Natural History Museum, The Nature Conservancy, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Rogers State University, United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.  Several weeks were spent monitoring federally listed Endangered species and state listed species in three cave systems where no previous inventories had been completed.  

Chilean Amphibian Conservation Initiative

San Antonio Zoo assisted with the construction of a conservation lab in Chile to maintain critically endangered populations of Chilean amphibians, including Darwin’s frogs (Rhinoderma darwinii). These populations are part of a long term captive reproduction study, with one of our focal species listed among the top five most critically endangered frogs in the world. These efforts also include an important field component; testing for emerging wildlife pathogens, including amphibian chytrid fungus, throughout southern Chile. The program was started in 2007.

Project Partners: San Antonio Zoo, Metropolitan Zoo of Santiago, Austral University of Chile, University of Texas at Tyler

Chinese Cavefish Working Group

The goals of this effort are to survey historic and new localities, formulate conservation strategies, and clarify the systematics and taxonomy of critically endangered Chinese cavefish and cave species new to science.  One reason for the decline of Chinese cave fauna overuse and abuse of aquifers throughout southern China, a problem we can relate to here in San Antonio.  We are also working to develop the first captive breeding program in the United States for the critically endangered Chinese Giant Salamander. This project was started in 2011.

Project Partners: San Antonio Zoo, Chinese Academy of Sciences, University of Alabama - Huntsville, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and Louisiana State University

Conservation of the Georgia Blind Salamander and the Dougherty Plain Cave Crayfish

A colony of the Georgia Blind Salamander (Eurycea walleci) and the Dougherty Plain Cave Crayfish (Cambarus cryptodytes) is now in place within the Department of Conservation and Research collection at San Antonio Zoo.  Goals of this project include development of captive husbandry and breeding protocols before they are critically necessary.  The quality of the groundwter where these species exist is declining and wildlife authorities anticipate the decline of the salamander owing to anthropogenic influences.  Our collaborators are Illinois Natural History Museum and United States Geological Survey (USGS).  

Conservation of the Micronesian Kingfisher

The San Antonio Zoo's Department of Aviculture is directly involved in the captive reproduction and release of the Micronesian Kingfisher (Todiramphus cinnamominus). A component to this program is determination of genetic diversity in the remaining population of the Kingfisher in Guam.  In contribution to the captive program, San Antonio Zoo hatched five chicks this past season and successfully reared three chicks to adult age.

Conservation of the Reticulated Flatwoods Salamander 

San Antonio Zoo currently holds a population of critically endangered reticulated flatwoods salamanders, endemic to the southeastern United States in a mere handful of isolated localities. Husbandry protocols are being developed to share with resource agencies and project partners. Efforts are in place to establish captive breeding strategies and to potentially supplement declining wild populations. This program was started in 2004.

Project Partners: San Antonio Zoo, Virginia Tech, US fish and Wildlife Service Eglin Air Force Base

DEEPEND (Deep Pelagic Nekton Dynamics)

In response to the Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill (DWHOS) and the highlighted absence of baseline data for the deep Gulf of Mexico (200-1500m) water column, the DEEPEND consortium is conducting a three year sampling, sensing, modeling, and laboratory analysis program to assess ecosystem dynamics, identify drivers of variability, and investigate possible consequences of the spill on ecosystem attributes. Data obtained during the 2010-2011 and 2015-2017 periods will establish a time-series with which ecosystem shifts or responses can be detected. San Antonio Zoo has created and maintained several education and outreach web-based platforms to convey the science of DEEPEND, as well as the mystique and mystery, of the Gulf of Mexico to the general public. These platforms include a Facebook page, an Instagram account, a Twitter account, a YouTube channel and the Kid’s blog.

The zoo’s department of Conservation and Research has made the commitment to the DEEPEND project and will continue to support it for the project’s duration. This project began in 2014.

Project Partners: Nova Southeastern University, University of South Florida, Florida International University, Texas A&M Galveston, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, Florida Atlantic University, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the National Systematics Laboratory, San Antonio Zoo, and Whale Times Inc.

Edwards Aquifer Conservation

San Antonio Zoo's Department of Conservation and Research (DoCR) is developing husbandry guidelines and captive reproduction protocols for endangered species that inhabit the Edwards Aquifer. Labs have been built on grounds of the zoo from repurposed shipping containers. These are used to keep and breed federally-listed species including the Texas blind salamander (Eurycea rathbuni), Salado salamander (E chisholmensis), groundwater amphipods, and spring-inhabiting riffle beetles. This project was initiated in 2014 under contract with the Edwards Aquifer Authority.  Pending efforts include eDNA surveys for listed groundwater salamanders and catfish and a population genetic study of the Texas blind salamander.

FrogWatch USA

San Antonio Zoo and volunteer staff collect data on amphibain presence on zoo grounds by evening monitoring of frog calls.  All data collected is submitted to FrogWatch USA and iNaturalist.  As of 2015, San Antonio Zoo's Frog Watch chapter was listed as the second largest chapter in the state of Texas. 


Habitat Restoration - Bracken Bat Cave

San Antonio Zoo volunteers and staff assited Bat Conservation International in the restoration of habitat around Bracken Cave, the largest known bat colony in the world.


Conservation of the Monarch Butterfly 

Monarch Butterfly Tagging Project- San Antonio Zoo Education staff and volunteers tag the wings of Monarch Butterflies as they pass through the San Antonio area on their migration

Monarch Larval Monitoring Survey- San Antonio Zoo volunteers and education staff support the University of Minnesota by monitoring our milkweed patch outside the butterfly house. We report population, health, and milkweed species preference of monarch/queen/solidier/and non-milkweed feeding species butterflies in all life stages, populations and life stages of other invertebrates and their interactions with monarch butterflies, number and species of milkweed plants, and rain fall average. From May to November, we try to provide weekly to monthly data. We report all of our data via

Monarch Way Station and Monarch Watch- San Antonio Zoo supports Monarch Watch’s Monarch Way Station program by up keeping native milkweed and beneficial nectar plants to serve as an oasis for migrating monarchs and other native pollinators. San Antonio Zoo's education and horticulture staff have up kept the garden surrounding the butterfly house as a way station since April 2012. 


Population Assessment, Disease Surveys and Genetic Determination for the Black Spotted Newt in Texas and in Tamaulipas

San Antonio Zoo's Department of Conservation and Research is collaborating with project partners at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Gladys Porter Zoo, and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to investigate the current population status of a local Texas amphibian.

This program incorporates a multi-faceted approach to conservation efforts of the Black Spotted Newt (Notophthalmus meridionalis). Efforts are in place to:
1. Determine population status for both the localities found in Texas and in Tamaulipas. This includes a potentially new locality recently discovered on the property of the Altamira Technological Institute (ITA) in Altamira, Tamaulipas, Mexico.
2. Determine presence/absence of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), Amphibian Chytrid Fungus, in all identified populations.
3. Collect genetic samples to determine population structure and compare mitochondrial DNA between the two subspecies N. m. meridionalis and N.m. kallerti.
4. Provide management agencies with conservation recommendations for the Black Spotted Newt based on our genetic results, disease surveys, and population assessments.


Population Ecology of the Grotto Salamander

San Antonio Zoo is conducting long-term population ecology studies of the grotto salamander (Eurycea spelaea) in the Ozarks of Oklahoma. We mark individuals with acrylic elastomer and conduct stable isotope analysis to decipher the food webs in the cave streams where larval salamanders live. Populations are being monitored for change in abundance relative to the decrease in bat numbers as a result of infection with White Nose Syndrome. The species is listed as a species concern in all states where it occurs. The project was initiated in 2001.

Project Partners: San Antonio Zoo, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Illinois Natural History Survey, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, The Nature Conservancy


Conservation of the Japanese Giant Salamander

The Japanese Giant Salamander (Andrias japonicas) is one of the two largest salamanders on Earth. The species can exceed 5 feet in length. Habitat loss, dams, and introduced species threaten these amphibians. San Antonio Zoo is working with Japanese biologists to support conservation of wild populations. For example, dams prevent salamanders from passing the structures. Dams restrict movement and gene flow, isolating populations above and below them. Small, genetically-isolated populations have a low likelihood of survival. We are supporting efforts that will implement “salamander ladders”, similar to fish ladders, that allow salamanders to bypass dams, reconnecting populations isolated by dam construction. San Antonio Zoo is committed to the conservation of this ancient and giant species. This project began in 2003.

Project Partners: San Antonio Zoo and Asa Zoo in Japan

Wild Cats of Tamaulipas (WCT)

With support from San Antonio Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and Gladys Porter Zoo, the Wild Cats of Tamaulipas Binational Conservation Program (WCT) uses motion-sensitive cameras to determine the population status of five wild cat species in Tamaulipas: jaguars, pumas, ocelots, jaguarundis, and bobcats.  In 2015, the project expanded to include an environmental education and outreach component.
The goals of the WCT Environmental Education and Outreach Program are to:

      • Increase the awareness of local communities that they share their landscape with a diversity of wild cat species that need protection.
      • Inspire local communities to take pride in their rich wildlife heritage and want to protect it.
      • Mobilize local communities to spread the message that cat conservation can be beneficial to both the cat species and the ranches where they may be found.

With the assistance of the Livestock Associations, utilize educational brochures to raise awareness in the local ranchers. The brochure will focus on information about the wild cat species, why their conservation is important to the health of an ecosystem, and the government programs already in place such as SAGARPA's Insurance Fund for the Protection of the Cattle Ranchers of Mexico. If livestock is attacked by a wild cat species, this fund is in place to give the ranchers back the value of the animal. 

We are proud of the conservation successes at San Antonio Zoo and around the world. We would like to thank our members and donors for making this possible.