Lifestyle & Human Interest

Who Knew That Sea Lions Could Paint? Zoo Sells Special Valentine-Themed Art Work


Valentine’s Day can be a tricky holiday to shop for. Maybe your valentine is picky and wants something rare and valuable.

May they expect you to surprise them with something that suits them perfectly, or would rather you support a noble cause in their name. Maybe they already have everything they need and there’s nothing you can think of that they don’t already have.

In any case, the Houston Zoo has got you covered. Quite a few of their critters are talented artists, and this Valentine’s Day, they’re offering one-of-a-kind pieces.

You can select by art style or artist, and buy ready-made pieces or commission an artist to paint while you watch.

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The zoo’s most prolific painters include red pandas, southern white rhinos, sea lions, Asian elephants, chimpanzees, gorillas, cheetahs, macaws, okapis, goats and (for those with the most discerning taste) naked mole rats.

If you’d like to know what you’re getting, there’s an online gallery that features premade pieces by each artist, but if you fancy a bit more involvement, they also have custom options. Prices range from $50 to $300, according to KPRC-TV.

The Houston Zoo has been hosting live events showing their artists at work as part of their enrichment program. On Jan. 29, it was 23-year-old Jonah, the California sea lion, who created several bespoke pieces.

“What’s sweeter than a sea lion nose print?” the zoo posted. “Jonah and his keepers highlighted an animal painting training activity on this week’s Facebook Live just in time for Valentine’s Day!”⁣

The video shows Jonah using his nose to make prints on a canvas, which creates a heart shape — perfect for the day celebrating love.

There are plenty of animals who are getting in on the enrichment activities, though, and they seem to enjoy the process.

According to KPRC, the paints are non-toxic, plus the activity keeps the animals engaged and helps them bond with their handlers. Not every animal becomes an artist, though — they have to show they enjoy it, and then they have to choose their tools.

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“Every animal is different based on if they are more comfortable holding things with their mouth or have the dexterity to hold with their hands,” Jackie Wallace, who works at the Houston Zoo, said.

“It is a trained behavior that starts with them holding the brush and ends with them being able to move the brush around.”

“Our animals have the choice to participate — or not — in any activity,” Wallace continued.

“While painting is obviously not a behavior animals would do in the wild, grasping objects with their beaks, trunks, mouths or limbs is a natural behavior. Our keepers then work with the individual animal to create the artwork.”

What do you think — would your significant other appreciate such an unusual gift?

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Amanda holds an MA in Rhetoric and TESOL from Cal Poly Pomona. After teaching composition and logic for several years, she's strayed into writing full-time and especially enjoys animal-related topics.
As of January 2019, Amanda has written over 1,000 stories for The Western Journal but doesn't really know how. Graduating from California State Polytechnic University with a MA in Rhetoric/Composition and TESOL, she wrote her thesis about metacognitive development and the skill transfer between reading and writing in freshman students.
She has a slew of interests that keep her busy, including trying out new recipes, enjoying nature, discussing ridiculous topics, reading, drawing, people watching, developing curriculum, and writing bios. Sometimes she has red hair, sometimes she has brown hair, sometimes she's had teal hair.
With a book on productive communication strategies in the works, Amanda is also writing and illustrating some children's books with her husband, Edward.
Austin, Texas
Languages Spoken
English und ein bißchen Deutsch
Topics of Expertise
Faith, Animals, Cooking