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Lee Houts Memorial Fund

Lee Houts inspired so many animal caretakers with her dedication to providing an excellent quality of life for zoo animals everywhere. 

Lee was a zoo keeper at the Folsom Zoo in California who dedicated her life to animals and animal welfare. She was well known in the American Association of Zoo Keepers community, and she was famous for her unrelenting support of enrichment efforts, from encouraging the staff of small zoos to be creative and try new enrichment ideas, to participating in intensive working groups tasked with determining enrichment standards for national zoo organizations.

To honor Lee Houts' devotion to spreading enrichment knowledge and enthusiasm around the world, when she passed away from cancer, The Shape of Enrichment, Inc. began a donation fund in her memory, dedicated specifically to helping keepers.

Funds donated to the Lee Houts Memorial Fund are dedicated to furthering enrichment efforts in developing countries, by providing educational and training opportunities to keepers who otherwise would not be able to participate because of financial limitations. For example, a keeper from a developing country might be funded to attend an enrichment workshop or conference. See below for letters we have received from some of the recipients of this fund. 

The Shape of Enrichment board of trustees reviews and approves all uses of these funds, and even small donations can go a long, long way in many of these countries. Anything will help! Thank you for your generosity in helping keepers around the world expand their skills and experience for the animals they care for.

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Lee Houts Memorial Fund Recipients

Paul Nyenje

$100 USD

Attended 2009 AKAA Symposium and Shape-Africa Workshop, Entebbe, Uganda

Letter from Paul:

1st June 2009

The Director, The Shape Of Enrichment

Re: Appreciation

Dear Madam,

I am very grateful that you made it possible for me to attend the Animal Keepers Association of Africa Symposium and Enrichment Workshop and do appreciate so much your encouragement and the interest you showed in promoting enrichment and animal welfare.

In the three days, I learnt a lot about enrichment and animal husbandry and I am certain that I gained more knowledge in animal care by using the different enrichment tools. I am ready and willing to learn more and put into practice all I learnt for the betterment of the chimpanzees at Ngamba Island and general wildlife conservation. Achievements and skills I gained:

  • Environmental enrichment skills and appreciated it as the best kind of enrichment
  • Provision of social and food enrichment to primates, especially chimpanzees that are social animals
  • Problem-solving of abnormal patterns of behaviour in animals under human care
  • Enrichment and Neo-phobia, that is, avoiding enrichment that frightens if it is too much
  • The five freedoms of animal welfare
  • Hygiene and pest control which have effect on nutrition and health of the animals
  • Caution and considerations during enrichment, because some enrichment materials can be harmful or dangerous to the animals
  • Safety and health of the keepers
  • Integration and introduction

We modified our feeding patterns by introducing new methods like cutting the food in small pieces so as to increase chances of even food distribution. 

Following the presentation of the Boomer Ball to the baby chimpanzees from Ngamba, the two, Afrika and Baron, got an added enrichment tool. They have adapted quite well to it. Baron tosses and kicks it with the hands. Africa stands on it and gains balance. Since it also has water in it, they like shaking it. However, Baron being the dominant over Africa, he doesn t allow Afrika to use it most of the time.

Lastly, I take this opportunity to thank you for all the new techniques of enrichment, the sponsorship to the AKAA symposium 2009, the Boomer Ball given to the sanctuary chimpanzees and the commitment to cause of enrichment husbandry.

With warm regards and pant hoots,                             

Paul Nyenje

Chimpanzee Sanctuary And Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWET), Entebbe, Uganda

Julius Abigaba

$100 USD

Attended 2009 AKAA Symposium and Shape-Africa Workshop, Entebbe, Uganda

Letter from Julius:

23 May, 2009

Madam Valerie

Workshop Coordinator, The Shape of Enrichment

Dear Madam,

Allow me from the bottom of my heart extend my sincere thanks to the Lee Houts Fund for the sponsorship to attend, and also to present, in my first workshop of this nature. I have been a keeper for more than eight years but have never had this chance.

I learnt a lot from this workshop, most especially on enrichment and I also got contacts with other keepers.

I can assure you that I am never going to be the same again. It's just a matter of time before I start participating in sending in pictures and articles about enrichment for my animals. I would like to conclude by saying thanks very much.

I remain yours faithfully,

Abigaba Julius

Animal Keeper

Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Entebbe, Uganda

Le Xuan Lam

$350 USD

Attended the 2011 Shape-Southeast Asia Animal Enrichment and Training Workshop, Subic, Philippines

Letter from Le Xuan:

24 March, 2011

Dear Valerie,

I would like to thank you for the Lee Houts Scholarship and the excellent education I received in the Animal and Training Workshop in the Philippines. During this workshop I found out that all the lessons I received are valuable not only for me but for the wildlife in my country.

All the lessons I received were amazing, such as how to solve animal behaviour problems and how to make enrichment to enrich them.

The way you and your colleagues gave the lesson to us was also very clear and understandable. I was really impressed with the demonstration of dolphins who were trained to let you draw their blood without using any anesthetic.

With the experience I had at this workshop, i think I can solve many problems and questions in my job much faster and easier.

In conclusion, your gifts has been appreciated and will continue to be most helpful in the future.

Thank you again,

Le Xuan Lam

Project Manager

Cu Chi Wildlife Rescue Station

Wildlife at Risk, Viet Nam

Nguyen Thi Thu Hien

$350 USD

Attended 2011 Shape-Southeast Asia Animal Enrichment and Training Workshop, Subic, Philippines

Letter from Nguyen:

Dear Valerie,

First of all I would like to thank you for the Lee Houts Scholarship for the Enrichment & Training Workshop in Philippines from 20-24 March, 2011. During this workshop, the lessons I received were very valuable not only for me but also for my facility and the wildlife in Viet Nam.

The lessons were amazing. I learnt how to solve out the problem with animal behaviour, as well as how to make enrichment and assess and evaluate them. The way you and your colleague gave the lesson to us was also very clear and understandable. I was really impressed by the lesson you gave on how to collect simple data to reach the goals for enrichment and how to train different animals to draw the animal's blood and treated their injury without using any anesthetic.

With what I have gained in this workshop, I hope to be able to solve many problems and questions in my job much better.

Your continuous support is much appreciated and we hope that we would have the opportunity to attend other learning workshops which will improve the welfare of the primates at the Endangered Primate Rescue Center in Cuc Phuong, Viet Nam.

Once again, thank you!


Nguyen Thi Thu Hien

Project Co-Manager

Endangered Primate Rescue Center, Cuc Phuong National Park, Ninh Binh, Viet Nam

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