Thursday, January 26, 2012

Audubon's Birds of America: A High Dollar Book

If you were wondering why one might pay $8 million for a book, well, Cornell University Lab of Ornithology offers some clues. Their library owns one of the twelve remaining original copies of Audubon's Birds of America. A different original just sold at Christie's fetching the third largest sum ever for a book. The Cornell copy was brought out for examination by one of the university's art professors, specifically to view some of the best remaining images of  America's extinct species. The viewing was filmed in this fascinating short documentary below. You can read more about the book and the artist's project at the Round Robin.

Check out the Condor Cam

Photo by USGS photographer Sue Haig
The San Diego Zoo Safari Park has just announced a new California Condor cam. You will be able to check in with Sisquoc and Shahtash while they incubate their egg, and barring complications, watch them hatch and rear their chick.

The largest bird in North America, with a wingspan nearing ten feet, these condors are also one of our most endangered species. But, thanks to programs like San Diego Zoo Global's Condor Conservation, the wild population is once more on the rise, though there are still fewer than 400 known birds in existence.

For this reason, the San Diego Zoo practices careful monitoring and controlled breeding of captive pairs who's offspring might be released back into the wild. The program has successfully released around 80 birds using these methods. It remains one of the most successful captive breed and release programs of endangered species in existence.

Michael Mace, bird curator for the park, reports that Sisquoc and Shahtash are sitting on an artificial egg while their actual egg is incubated by the staff. Although this is complicated business, much more so than you might imagine, it is also a common practice with a very high success rate. Obviously, few organizations in the world do it better than these people.

I'm sure I've mentioned that for twelve years I was a bird keeper who did some of my own incubating and hand-rearing of endangered birds. About ten years ago, I was fortunate enough to land an internship under one of the San Diego Zoo's outreach programs, the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center in Hawaii. I learned from the best about the San Diego Zoo's hugely successful incubation rate and their hand-rearing techniques with the endangered A'lala or Hawaii Crow. The program uses many of the same techniques as the Condor Conservation Program, though, unfortunately their release rate has not been nearly as successful.

The image is of a condor chick being hand-fed with a puppet to avoid it imprinting with it's keepers. A'lalas are also fed using similar Hawaii Crow puppets. This feeding technique is often employed when the parent birds or other surrogate birds cannot be found to raise the chicks.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is you need not fret too much for the egg. It will be in very good hands and safe from many of the things that might prevent it from hatching should it remain in the nest. Early in March, the egg will be returned to the Condors who will be none the wiser, and judging by the established success rate, the birds should accept it back into the fold without incident. They will most likely continue to hatch and care for the chick as if it never left the nest. So for now, expect only to see the occasional swapping of adult birds incubating, and some gentle turning and manipulation of their artificial egg. Mostly, they have a boring job of sitting still and keeping their egg at just the right temperature. The real excitement won't begin for those of us watching until March, when the egg hatches. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed for the condors and their keepers in hopes of another successful release to the wild.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Give 'em Chocolate Roaches

Oh, the Bronx Zoo cracks me up with this - If you are wondering what to get your significant other this year for Valentines, look no further.

Yes, for a nominal fee of $10.00, you can honor someone by naming one of the Bronx Zoo's 58,000 Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches.

AND you can give your sweetheart (or the one who broke your heart) a large, hand-painted chocolate roach.

Why? The zoo says, "Because your love is everlasting, like our roach problem."


Those Funky Monkeys

Photo by Eric Fell
The monkeys are coming out of the woodwork. Okay, well, maybe they are just coming out of the woods. The big animals news of this week over at National Geographic is the rediscovery of the Miller's grizzled languor. This species, thought to be extinct, was rediscovered in the Wehea Forest of Borneo. And, scientists discovered what appears to be not one, but two separate populations of them.

Stephenie Speher reports eleven individuals sighted in one group including thriving youngsters. There is no mention of how many were sighted with the second group. They are temporarily protected by an indigenous group and the local government, but they are surrounded on all sides by logging. 

Photo by Jeremy Holden
And, in Burma, an image of the newly discovered Myanmar Snub Nosed Monkey was captured by Jeremy Holden and his camera trap team. The team, led by Holden and working for Flora and Fauna International, traveled 3000m up into the mountainous rhododendron forests of Myanmar to set their camera traps. They waited months, and made several trips to check traps. They trekked through the jungle in the rain, slept in tilted leaking tents to keep the run off away from their heads. They slept with portions of their bodies submerged in water all night to collect this first image. How did they celebrate? With coffee packets and local cheroots around the camp fire, of course. You can read about the whole adventure here.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Congratulations Tammy Chimp

Tammy chimp, a 41 year old female at the North Carolina Zoo, gave birth to a daughter named Ebi last Monday. Both are doing well, and so far, Tammy is caring for the baby without intervention from her keepers. Congratulations to Tammy, and to all my friends, chimp and otherwise, at the NC Zoo.

Ebi and Tammy will remain off exhibit for the next few months at least. But, don't worry, they have a fantastic, state of the art, off-exhibit holding area, complete with private outdoor access, should the weather get warm enough to allow it.

You might, however, catch a glimpse of Nori, the zoo's seventeen month old chimp, on exhibit when the weather permits. She is adorably cute, just like a baby chimp should be. Also, if you have not already read "Bonding with Hondo," my short story about helping to raise a baby chimp, you can find it here.

I wish all the best to Tammy and Ebi and their keepers! Here's hoping for continued health for Ebi and maternal success for Tammy. My fingers and toes will be crossed!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Striking to Protest SOPA and PIPA!

On January 24th, if the American public does not stand up and say no, the internet may drastically change, and not for the better.
While both SOPA and PIPA acts have been masqueraded to the public as acts to stop piracy, something that is already covered by existing laws, I might add, large media conglomerates are poised to begin censorship of the internet. Should this act pass, you will be handing our freedom of speech over to those who, I assure you, have only their own interests at heart. You will allow them to decide who and what gets shut down on the internet. The entertainment industry will be gaining control of the internet.
And, isn't it interesting how your local news, heck even the national news has had little to nothing to say about this? Could this be because they are owned by the same corporations who would like to take control of the internet via the passing of said bills? You may think this won't affect you. I assure you it will.
How will you feel when Yahoo!, Facebook, Google, Reddit, Youtube, Mozilla, Wikipedia, in essence, all the places you go to find your information daily at the touch of a finger, or to share your photos, or to gossip with your friends or email your coworkers are suddenly gone? When your blog, your web business, your shop on Etsy gets closed, don't be shocked. 
Please consider joining the fight to protect our freedoms. Call your congressmen and senators, join the strike, take five minutes out of your day. Go to  to join the strike. Go to to help stop this bill! But, for all of our sakes, please don't sit at home doing nothing! PIPA is NOT a compromise!
If I were internet savvy, this sight would be blacked out. But, because I am not, I am doing the next best thing. I will not be posting any further blogs for this week on either of my web sites. Consider this my official strike in protest because,

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tiny Frogs, Beyonce Horse Flies, and Black-Capped Petrals

Photo courtesy of Christopher Austin, Louisiana State U.
The world's smallest frog, Paedophryne amouensis, was just discovered in Papua New Guinea, measuring 7.7 mm, about the size of a house fly. These tiny little guys live in the leaf litter of the rainforest floor, and, apparently, they are very difficult to capture, as you might imagine. You have to follow your ears to locate them by call, but here's the catch. The calls are so high pitched it's difficult for human ears to hear them.

This little guy beats the world's previous record by just 0.2 mm. The last record holder, Paedocypris progenetica, hails from Southeast Asia. Anyway, all of the tiny Paedophryne species discovered thus far are from Southern Papua New Guinea. The fist species was discovered back in 2010, but was just announced to the public a few days ago.

My first thought was, "What do these little things eat?"  The answer is supremely tiny things like mites, and probably some of the same stuff flies would eat. Yum! You can find more about them over at Nat. Geo.

Photo courtesy of CSIRO Australia
And speaking of flies, I'm betting Beyonce is beyond thrilled to hear a species of Horse Fly has been named in her honor. This species, first discovered in 1981, the year Beyonce was born, has gone nameless for years. That is until Bryan Lessard decided to show "the fun side of taxonomy." He describes the fly as having a gorgeous golden abdomen that he claims "makes it the all time diva of flies." Hence the name, Scapia beyonceae. 

This particular species was discovered in Queensland, Australia, where it is not simply a pest, but also an important pollinator of plants. Anyway, my congratulations to both the diva and the fly. More at Science Daily.

Photo by J. Volques of Grupo Jaragua
And down in the Caribbean, the world's first photos of an endangered Black-capped Petral chick have been recorded by J. Volquez, Grupo Jaragua of the Dominican Republic. I can't seem to stop myself from saying, "Isn't it cute?" This species was once thought extinct back in the late 1800s until reported sightings of the birds at sea began to come in. Finally, in 1963, the first nesting grounds were discovered in the Caribbean. For many years, ornithologists have tried to find out more about this rare and illusive species.

The discovery of new nesting grounds with viable chicks has rekindled excitement. Hopes were not high for the species' survival. Few discoveries about their life cycle have been made since the 60's. You can read more from the source, if you read Spanish, at Grupo Jaragua, or you can visit The Cornell Lab of Ornithology for English.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Zookeeper in the Making

Sophia was captured encountering the male lion at the Wellington Zoo in New Zealand. Check it out.

My first reaction is Sophia will make an excellent zookeeper. We were always taught to have no reaction to these kinds of displays of dominance that the big cats, in particular, are famous for. Mostly, this was because if the animals get the expected reaction, they are encouraged to repeat the behavior. In captivity, this presents a huge risk of injury - to the animal. If this male lion, for example, learns to jump at the cage glass, or even worse, the metal cage bars of his off exhibit holding area on a regular basis, he might end up with injured paws, or the worst of the worst, broken teeth. Broken teeth can be deadly to a lion, presenting risk of all kinds of infection and the need for surgeries that are always risky business, even to an otherwise healthy lion.

So, when the animals attack the cage bars, keepers need the guts Sophia seems born with, so they don't give the reaction the animals are aiming for. Then, perhaps the animal won't be as likely to do it again. I'd wager a guess that the only reason this particular male jumped at Sophia the second time is because he got reactions from the parents and other people off camera behind her. He appears to be assessing them just before his second attack, and as he probably hoped, Mom led Sophia away. Mission accomplished with the added bonus of making the humans scream. Woot!

Anyway, if Sophia decides she wants to become a zookeeper, she will learn that, regardless of all the people who think it's possible, there is no real taming of a lion - ever. She will want to keep him from harm's way in his captive environment by any means possible, because if he breaks a claw or a tooth on those cage bars because she encouraged his bad behavior, she will be the one who has to stand beside the vet and tick her lion off royally with that dart. She will have to hope that the lion really is anesthetized by said dart and is not faking, and she will most likely be the first person to bravely walk into the lion's cage and put her hands near his mouth to secure a gas mask over his face. And she will stand beside him while he sleeps, and assist the vets and vet techs with whatever surgical procedures he needs. And the whole time, if she is anything like me, she will be silently praying to anyone who might listen that he doesn't wake up until he's supposed to. She will pray for this almost as hard as she will pray that he recovers and returns to his surly ways.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Friday, January 6, 2012

Hedwig's Peeps are Here! No really!

Snowy Owls are making a practically magical visit to the United States this winter. According to Dirk Lammars of the Associated Press, this year  there have been sightings reported across our continent, with thirty birds spotted at Lake Andes in South Dakota alone. I have to agree with ornithologist Mark Robbins, this is "mind numbing" indeed. They typically make rare appearances in our northern states,  but this is like coast to coast, all over the place, lots of them.

When I lived in northern Indiana, very near the Michigan border, we would catch sight of one snowy
owl on my step-father's rural property every few years. He would sit atop a fence post on the back of
our property and hunt, but only when the snow was deepest and most everyone, except those of us crazy enough to snow shoe out and bird watch, were huddled snug  beside their wood stoves staying dry. He didn't care for interruption, and he would fly off and disappear the moment he realized he'd been spotted. Still, on these rare occasions, we always felt like we had been visited by some magical spirit, and I'm talking years before Harry Potter and Hedwig ever entered my imaginings. I never wondered why Rowling chose this species for Harry, because I felt as if I already knew. Nothing says otherworldly quite like the beauty of the Snowy Owl.

So, happy magic to those of you spying Hedwig's peeps. I hope it fills you with wonder for our world.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Bat Brains, New Snakes, and Stupid Humans

The new year brings some fantastic animal news. And, not surprisingly, it also brings some extremely stupid human behavior. But, let's look to the good news first, shall we?

Georgetown University Medical Center just released the article "Bat Brains Parse Sounds for Multitasking," on a study by Georgetown professor and renowned bat researcher Jagmeet Kanwal, PhD. His research, recently published in the European Journal of Neuroscience, reports on bat brain multitasking, showing that, apparently, they process both incoming signals which allow them to navigate via echolocation, while at the same time, they also process a variety of social communication sounds from the other bats. Furthermore, Dr. Kanwal has been able to track this parsing of duties to a single neuron level for the first time.

After having been told off personally by a bat I rescued last year, I am not surprised to hear scientists describing bat communication as similar to humans. The article describes a bit of bat lingo as follows: "Bats make angry sounds such as "back off," warning sounds like "watch out!" and other sounds for communicating messages such as "please don't hurt me," of even "I love you!" " The one I rescued sounded more to me like he was saying, "Up yours!" Anyway, what I was most excited by were some of the similarities found in bat and human brain functions, like a similar lopsided split in the cerebral cortex's wiring to deal with the phenomenon of combination-sensitivity. That's right, I get excited about this kind of stuff.

Photo by Michele Menegon Courtesy of The Science Museum of Trenton/WCS
I'm both excited and dismayed to learn of a new species of snake, Matilda's Horned Viper, discovered in the Tanzanian forest. I'm thrilled to see this new, beautiful species first described in the December Zootaxa journal. I'm dismayed to read Tim Davenport of The Wildlife Conservation Society report that this beautiful new species may be listed as critically endangered in short order. It's forest habitat is already decreased to less than 40 square miles due to deforestation and human encroachment for development. Tanzanian forests are some of the most bio diverse in the world, home to numerous newly discovered species, including the Kimpunji monkey first described in 2005, another species already critically endangered, because their forest home continues to disappear at an alarming rate. 

Last, but not least, the new year brings along more stupid humans doing incredibly stupid things. A woman was filmed at the LA Zoo letting herself into and out of the elephant exhibit last week. She was taken into custody where she admitting to having skipped medication for a number of mental disorders. Let's just hope the elephants won't have to suffer being kept off exhibit due to the questions raised over public safety. I say if someone is stupid enough to cross multiple barriers to get into the elephant exhibit, nobody should complain if they don't make it back out. This particular woman was extremely lucky the elephants didn't take offense to her presence. And furthermore, the question I think people should be asking the LA Zoo is if their elephants are safe from all those crazy humans.