MOODY GARDENS CURATOR RECEIVES AWARD FOR WILDLIFE RESCUE EFFORTS

By Leah Boyd
Moody Gardens News

Diane Olsen with Chilly Willy King Penguin
Diane Olsen with Chilly Willy King Penguin. (Photo by Nancy Thompson)

A Moody Gardens animal curator, who led a national effort to find homes for birds displaced by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, was recently honored for her work by the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Diane Olsen, assistant curator at Moody Gardens’ Aquarium Pyramid, received the AZA’s “Outstanding Service Award” Sept. 15 in recognition of her leadership in coordinating an AZA bird rescue initiative in response to the oil spill this summer as well as working to place non-releasable birds in zoos and aquariums across the country. Olsen received the award during the organization’s 2010 national conference, which was held in Houston.

 “AZA facilities have experts in the field, and we are the perfect group to be assisting with these efforts,” said Olsen, a Galveston resident.  “It was important for us to coordinate it. To be recognized for that is just a bonus.”

Olsen’s efforts included rallying more than 150 volunteers from more than 75 AZA-accredited institutions to help with oil spill disaster relief along the coasts of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Although access was limited in some areas, Olsen said, the organization was able to rescue and find homes for nearly 30 birds.

 “We are extremely proud of Diane’s conservation drive and commitment to doing the right thing,” said John Zendt, president and CEO of Moody Gardens. “She is very deserving of this award.”

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in conservation, education, science and recreation. Moody Gardens is an AZA accredited institution.

Moody Gardens event Sept. 11 provides day of freedom on the water for people with disabilities

 
By Leah Boyd
Moody Gardens News

There are many things 8-year-old Reaghan Velasquez is unable to do being paralyzed from the calves down. This weekend, she found out water skiing isn’t one of them.

The Manvel third-grader was all smiles Saturday afternoon in Galveston as she traded her walker for water-skis for the first time. With excitement, she took off on Offatts Bayou, experiencing a moment of freedom she’ll likely never forget.

“It’s nice to see her happy and able to do things independently,” said Renae Velasquez, Reaghan’s mother. “She’s limited in so many activities, but not today.”

Reaghan Velasquez (right) of Manvel enjoys waterskiing for the first time Sept. 11 alongside volunteer Tim Thelen of Houston at the 20th annual Moody Gardens Adaptive Sports Festival. Reaghan, 8, is paralyzed from the calves down.
Reaghan Velasquez (right) of Manvel enjoys waterskiing for the first time Sept. 11 alongside volunteer Tim Thelen of Houston at the 20th annual Moody Gardens Adaptive Sports Festival. Reaghan, 8, is paralyzed from the calves down.

Reaghan was one of about 100 participants in the 20th annual Moody Gardens Adaptive Sports Festival. The event provides people with disabilities free water sports opportunities through the use of adaptive equipment.

Along with water skiing, participants were able to kayak, sail, hand paddle and ride pontoon boats along the Moody Gardens property. The event was sponsored by Moody Gardens and staffed almost entirely by volunteers.

“People with traumatic brain disorders or whatever disability they are here for don’t always get an opportunity to do something like this,” said volunteer Shelby Dill of Bayou Vista. “I’m really glad Moody Gardens does this.”

Sail and pontoon boats were provided by private donors in the Kemah area. The adaptive water-skis were provided by Texas Adaptive Aquatics in Huffman.

Roger Randall, president of Texas Adaptive Aquatics, said his equipment comes with different parts, such as seats, beginner boards and safety rails, which allow him to adapt water-skis to each person’s abilities.

Felipe Ortez of Galveston (right) was one of about 100 participants in the 2010 Moody Gardens Adaptive Sports Festival.
Felipe Ortez of Galveston (right) was one of about 100 participants in the 2010 Moody Gardens Adaptive Sports Festival.

“I’ve been doing this since 1985,” Randall said. “It’s the excitement of seeing the smiles on their faces. I took out a guy today who has severe mental retardation – water skiing was something he never thought he’d be able to do.”

Changing the perception of what people with disabilities can do is exactly what Moody Gardens had in mind when starting Adaptive Sports Festival 20 years ago. Moody Gardens Marketing Director Jerri Hamachek said the event originated as part of the Moody Gardens Hope Therapy program, which for many years offered rehabilitative horseback-riding to mentally and physically disable individuals.

Today’s Hope Therapy is centered on horticultural therapy – although the program has not been active since Hurricane Ike – and offering special events, such as Adaptive Sports Festival.

Hamachek said the festival Saturday was just one way Moody Gardens works to give back to the community.

“This event is truly meaningful for us,” Hamachek said. “I think it’s just as important to us as it is to the participants.”

For more information on Moody Gardens, visit www.moodygardens.org. To learn more about Texas Adaptive Aquatics, visit www.taasports.org.

Very Rare Pygmy Loris Twins Born at Moody Gardens

Moody Gardens is proud to introduce pygmy slow loris twins born on March 22. Breeding of this species is often challenging and largely rare in captivity. In fact, this is only one of five pygmy slow loris births in captivity in North America over the past year.

“This is such an exciting event,” said Paula Kolvig, assistant curator at Moody Gardens. “We have been keeping a very close eye on these babies, and we are very pleased to see steady growth so far.”

The addition of the twins is a valuable boost to the population of this primitive primate species called prosimians that are found in tropical forests of Vietnam, China and Cambodia.  Currently, there are only about 75 pygmy slow lorises in North American zoos and aquariums and fewer than 200 in captivity worldwide. Due to numerous environmental threats, the wild population is dwindling, and the species is listed as a threatened species by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services.

To bring this mammal back from the brink of extinction, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, of which Moody Gardens is an accredited member, created a Species Survival Plan program for the pygmy slow loris. The birth was a great success of this cooperative breeding and conservation program, which helps ensure the survival of the species in both wild and captivity.

The baby boy and girl were born between mother Luyen and father Icarus. The parents are ten and 14 years of age and have been members of the Moody Gardens animal collection since 2004.

“Luyen has been a very attentive and good mother to the twins,” said Kolvig. “The babies stay attached to their mom for the majority of the day, taking plenty of opportunities to nurse.”

Visitors will be able to see both the parents and the twins in the Rainforest Pyramid once the $25 million enhancement project is completed in May 2011. The mother normally nurses her young until they reach approximately nine-months-old. Until then, the attentive mother will continue to pamper her kids behind the scenes. For information, visit moodygardens.org or call 800-582-4673.

Moody Gardens® is a public, non-profit, educational destination utilizing nature in the advancement of rehabilitation, conservation, recreation, and research.

Swedish Descendants Share Galveston Immigration Stories Through Story Time And Folk Crafts

Galveston – Local Swedish descendants will bring their craft skills and their ancestors’ original immigrant trunk full of family history to Moody Gardens on Saturday, April 3. Jan Faubion and her son Rob of VASA Carl Widen Lodge will share stories of their family who came to the U.S. from Sweden, host children’s story time and demonstrate folk craft making during the free Cultural Speaker Series from 1 p.m. through 5 p.m.

Speaker Jan Faubion’s great-grandparents came from Sweden to Texas through Galveston in the late 1880s. Her ancestors settled the Palm Valley community in Texas and were vital participants in the construction and settlement of Texas. Today, she and her son, Rob, continue their Swedish heritage by demonstrating Swedish straw crafts at cultural events throughout the state, including the Texas Folklife Festival and Bob Bullock History Museum.

The Cultural Speaker Series is in conjunction with the traveling exhibit, Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America through Galveston Island. The exhibit chronicles the Port of Galveston’s largely forgotten history as a major gateway to American immigration from 1845 to 1924. The exhibit is the first of its kind to explore, on a national scale, Galveston’s legacy as a port of entry and its importance in shaping the Texas and U.S. history.

Moody Gardens continues to encourage Galveston immigrants and their descendants to share their stories and artifacts by contacting 409-683-4215. Forgotten Gateway will be on exhibit through Sept. 11, 2010, and admission to the exhibit is $8.95 for adults and $6.95 for children and seniors. For more information about the Cultural Speaker Series and the Forgotten Gateway exhibit, please visit moodygardens.org or call 800-582-4673.

AT A GLANCE

Event: Forgotten Gateway Cultural Speaker Series: Stories of Swedish Immigrants

Activities: Cultural Presentation, Kids’ Crafts and Story Time

Featured Group: Carl Widen VASA Club

Date/ Time: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m., Saturday, April 3

Location: Moody Gardens Discovery Pyramid, One Hope Blvd., Galveston

Admission: Free, open to the public

Information: 1-800-582-4673, moodygardens.org

Exhibit: Forgotten Gateway: Coming to America through Galveston Island

Admission: Adults $8.95, children (4-12) & seniors (65+) $6.95

About the Exhibit:

Galveston was a Southern equivalent of Ellis Island. With over 200 original artifacts, Forgotten Gateway chronicles the largely forgotten history of Galveston as a major immigration port between 1845 and 1924.

Moody Gardens Holiday Golf Tournament Collects Many Toys

Kids'smas Toy Drive at Moody Gardens Golf Course
Kids'smas Toy Drive at Moody Gardens Golf Course

Golfers enjoyed the sport while helping make the holiday season bright for children in Galveston County Sunday, Dec. 20, during the Merry Kids’smas Scramble, a holiday golf tournament combined with a toy drive. This event was brought back to life as a tradition from the Galveston Municipal Golf Course. We collected over 75 new toys including bicycles, games, dolls and trucks for the children of the Resource and Crisis Center of Galveston County.

Players and community members generously donated new toys throughout the month of December, and the toy drive ended with the Merry Kids’smas Scramble Golf Tournament on Sunday. We thank all of you who made generous contributions to benefit the kids in our area.

Moody Gardens Golf Course