Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Elephant Contacts and Baby Lemurs

There has been some fantastic zoo news to hit my inbox, today. First, I'm sending out three cheers for C'Sar, the bull African Elephant at the NC Zoo. He came through his second cataract surgery successfully today. His vision has been declining rapidly for some time, now. The first surgical procedure to attempt a replacement lens was not fully successful, because his cornea was too damaged to support the specially designed lenses, according to the surgeon, Dr. Richard McMullen. The cataract removal did, however, improve C'sar's vision. Now, the second surgery is complete and the old man should be returning to his exhibit again soon. It appears there are possible contact lenses in the works for C'sar, as well. These specially-made lenses, if they are needed once the staff assesses C'sar's post-surgery vision, and they work, will help the elephant improve his lost near-sighted vision. Either way, I'm thrilled to hear that the old boy is on the mend. Congrats to C'sar and to my friends on the NC Zoo staff!

This image of C'sar was taken recently. He's being fed a peanut butter sandwich by Angus Mercer, the man who donated the money to purchase him from the Toledo Zoo back when C'sar was just 4 feet tall at the shoulder. He's grown quite a bit since then, wouldn't you say? Mr. Mercer paid a visit to C'sar for the first time in 35 years.

In bonus news, at another zoo I've known and loved, the red-ruffed lemurs at the Sante Fe Community College Teaching Zoo (where I got my zoology degree) have a baby. Woot! As my friend's daugher "Chibi-tan" would say, "Isn't she cute?"

Monday, May 28, 2012

Remembering Those We've Lost

Here I am feeding Moja treats.
Here I am with Isabeau
Memorial Day is about honoring those who have and still do serve
our country. It's an important day in my family and always has been, since so many of my family have served in the armed forces. In fact, I blogged about my grandfather over at But, I also find myself thinking about some of the many animals I've loved and lost today. So, I thought I'd share some images I found of them. I hope you enjoy a lovely holiday with friends and family, today. Thanks so much to all those who have and still do serve our country!

Nita and Teela

I have a tattoo of Grady the leopard on my ankle

Tonto letting me hand feed him browse.

Forest Gump the Puffin who didn't like to swim.
My angel of Mercy, pictured here with Cinco
Sting the Blue-Crowned Hanging Parrot. His partner was Roxanne.
Bambesa, my favorite Okapi and her calf.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Plastic Updates and an NC Zoo Video.

My inbox gets filled with all manner of fantastic things some days. It pays to have friends all over the world who think of me and send me cool stuff. Thanks to all of you who have done so. It's always appreciated, even if I don't end up blogging about it.

One of the tidbits that just came across my computer is an update to the last story posted about banning plastic in the state of Hawaii.  Los Angeles has now joined San Francisco in banning the use of plastic bags city-wide, making them the largest city so far to institute the ban. This makes me deliriously happy. Keep it up people! Let's make non-biodegradable plastic a thing of our past. Well, that will be hard, since it's shelf like is something like 10,000 years, but still, stopping the demand for its production is a serious step in the right direction.

The other bit of news I received is a little news segment for Roanoke Virginia's Daytime Blue Ridge program on channel 10 about the NC Zoo. A good portion of the short video is filmed in the RJ Reynold's Forest Aviary, where I spent ten years taking care of the birds. I really miss working there sometimes, so it was lovely to see some of my old friends, feathered and otherwise, doing what they do. I enjoyed a good chuckle at the narrator who says he loves seeing the "animals and birds" as if they are two separate things. Still, I thought you might enjoy it. If you live "in a day's drive" of Asheboro, North Carolina, or even if you don't, the NC Zoo is worth making time for. It really is one of the best zoos in the world, and the largest zoo in the world in land mass. Don't miss it if you have the chance to visit. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Banning Plastic: Mahalo, Hawaii!

Green Sea Turtle with Plastic Bags
I'd like to say Mahalo (thank you) to Hawaii's chapter of the Sierra Club and all the people who helped in the fight to ban the use of plastic bags at all check outs in the state of Hawaii. This fight has been ongoing for some time. The initial movement tried to ban non-biodegradable plastic bags at a state-wide level. But, when that measure didn't pass, the organizers of the fight didn't give up. Instead, they took on banning plastics at the local level, county by county. Honolulu county's city council announced passing the ban a few days ago, making Hawaii the first state to claim a state-wide ban on plastic bags.

Albatross Carcass, Cause of Death: Eating Plastic
According to Robert Harris, director of the Hawaii chapter of Sierra Club, it was a two-year struggle to make this happen. He calls plastic bags "the modern-day tumbleweed" and says he feels Hawaii's residents finally accepted the need for change because the majority of them spend so much time at the beaches, seeing their local environments being ravaged by the effects of plastic litter. Anyway, it's good to know that persistence at the local level can bring about change. It gives me hope that other states might be able to take on this fight locally and begin working towards a ban on plastics on a national level.

North Pacific Gyre Trash
In case you haven't heard of The North Pacific Gyre and the enormous islands of floating plastic trash gathering in the circling currents there, you really need to read about it. It's being called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Reports have said these islands of debris are at times larger than the continental United States. The currents of the oceans have been carrying the drifting plastic there from all around the world. And it's killing our oceans, which are home to a huge portion of our world-wide food source. It's not just big plastic things like nets and bags and toys that are polluting the waters and killing marine life, but the tiny microscopic pieces, the raw materials of plastics, which incidentally are filled with carcinogens, that the fish and other marine life consume. Then, we catch and eat those fish, if they don't die first. Imagine what these toxins and contaminated foods might be doing to us. This cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. We need change, and change needs to begin locally!

So, what can you do about it? Well, the best thing you can do is stop consuming so much plastic. If you don't demand it, there won't be so much call to supply it. This means making some choices that might not be comfortable at first, but once you get used to the changes, this too will become second nature. You can do things like buying reusable grocery bags for your shopping trips, using non-plastic reusable drinking cups for your drinks. Refraining from purchasing so many bottled beverages in plastics. Buying green products made from recycled materials as much as possible. And recycling is so important. Please be sure you are working toward being part of the solution rather than continuing to be part of the problem. Because change happens at the local level, one person at a time. Your personal choices really do make all the difference!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Cinco Dingo Joins the Fire Department

Okay, not really. Though, she will definitely volunteer to be the Forest Fire Company's new mascot. My little dog is really cute, and seriously smart, and she loves having her picture taken. I fear she's far too much of a diva to rush into anything burning for anyone else, however. Well, except maybe for me. I can see her trying to save me. Cinco's loyal that way. She's probably also a little bit too timid for the job. However, she certainly didn't mind visiting the brand new fire house next door to help me flirt with all the hot fire fighters. The view from our back yard these days is divine. All those sweaty people out washing their fire trucks and carrying big hoses and rushing off to save people. Woot! I digress. The Forest Fire Company is a volunteer fire department. They are in need of contributions to complete their new fire station so they can best serve the people of my community. Visit their website for more information.

Check out Cinco's day as a fire fighter:

Where do I sign up?


I'd make a really good mascot!

Gramma and Grampa are so proud!

Off to fight fires! Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

When Animals Get Even: Theory of Mind

Nurture by Amanda Corlies Sandos
Santino, the male chimp from Furuvik Zoo in Sweden made news recently for plotting to attack the zoo visitors. Apparently, he likes to wait until the overlooks are free of visitors, then he gathers rocks and projectiles, and hides them near the overlooks under hay that he carries out from his indoor area. Next, he bides his time, pretending to be nonchalant, until someone gets on his last nerve. Then, he lets something fly in their direction with, I'm sure, very accurate aim and relishes their reactions. Of course, researchers and journalists want to talk about this behavior as if it's surprising news. Perhaps, because it demonstrates "Theory of Mind" or the ability to attribute mental states, beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge,  to oneself and others, and to understand that others beliefs may be different from your own. Something we humans like to consider our exclusive ability. But, if you think so, you'd be wrong. By displaying behaviors which take forethought, planning, and deception, animals often prove theory of mind pertains to them, as well.

This often surprises people, particularly those who have not made their living taking care of animals. It doesn't surprise me. I've seen chimps show not only planning and deception, but also empathy and caring, and not just for their troupe but also for me. I have a short story called "Bonding with Hondo," scheduled to publish soon in The Canary about this very experience, in fact. I posted it here several months ago when Hondo passed away. But, it's not only chimps who we can apply this theory to.

Charlie, the lowland gorilla, once gave me the best gift ever. When I worked at the zoo aviary, we often had to cut the bamboo that was growing all around the outside of the building. It was a veritable jungle that threatened to grow over everything in its path. Charlie and his brother Curtis happened to live right next door with their family, and they loved bamboo browse. So, on a day I had cuttings, I called my friend Cori, one of the gorilla keepers, and told her I was bringing over treats for the boys. Cori met me at the back gate and let me into the area behind the gorilla exhibit, where the animals and I were only separated by mesh grates. This was the area where the keepers often came throughout the day to perform training sessions with the gorillas.

 When I arrived, Cori and I fell into a conversation about something I don't remember. Curtis and Charlie sat beside us patiently waiting for their yummy snack. After a while, Charlie got up and moved away. Cori and I were so busy yacking we didn't pay attention, until the male gorilla, who was already starting to get a bit of silver on his back, returned with a whole bouquet of tiny wildflowers he had picked and gathered from around his exhibit. He offered me the flowers in trade for the bamboo. I cried and was so obviously thrilled by the gesture that Charlie learned this was the way to my heart. From that day forward, if there was anything blooming, even a weed, he would offer me those flowers in hopes I would trade it for food.

And, lest you think these behaviors apply only to Great Apes, you would be mistaken. Read about Wilma Lou Teal, the duck who once saved her mate from certain death, or the elephant I was visiting at the Brookfield Zoo when I was a kid who picked up the rock a boy threw at him and chucked it back hitting the boy right between the eyes. I had a hard time feeling bad for the boy who bled all over the place from the cut, but was otherwise fine. Or, the dolphin from Sea World who got fed up one day and started putting her trainers in time out when the fish wasn't cut to suit her. Perhaps soon, I'll write up that story here for your enjoyment. The point is, it happens all the time. Animals are way smarter than we like to give them credit for.  So perhaps offering them a bit more respect would be a good plan. Because if you don't treat them well, you never know what they might plot to get even.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Moms and Their Cute Kids

For all you moms out there who rush around 24/7 looking after your cute kids, I salute you. Thanks for all you do. Here are some other moms and their cute kids just for you. Happy Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Shanthi the Elephant Plays Harmonica

Over at The National Zoo, the keepers recently noticed a possibly musically inclined female Asian elephant. So they decided to give her some instruments and see what happens. Check out this awesome video. As it turns out, Shanthi is a composer, who enjoys performing for her keepers of her own volition without being prompted or rewarded with food. Shanthi even performs one of her original songs in the video. Awesome. Thanks to Susana Polo of The Mary Sue for turning me on to this.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Pierre, Lions, and Maurice Sendak

While reflecting on the stories of Maurice Sendak today, in light of the news of his passing, I realized just how much his stories have affected my life. It was Pierre: A Cautionary Tale which first started me asking my family if we could go see the lions at the zoo. I bugged them relentlessly until they took me to The National Zoo, most likely in hopes that it would shut me up. But, the lion in this story is also literally the very first thing I can remember trying to draw. So, thanks you Mr. Sendak for the inspiration and for turning me on to all the wild things of the world. Here, in all it's glory is my very favorite childhood story:

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Doggy Birthday Reprise

Cinco and Mercy
Yesterday was my doggy's eleventh birthday. Her name is Cinco in honor of the fateful holiday that I found her. Over at my other blog, Creative Antics, I wrote a little story about the day we met with some photos of Cinco and her late bosom buddy, Mercy, the Rottweiler who helped me rescue her. They were fast friends for many years until Mercy passed away from Cushing's Disease two years ago. I found more of the old pictures of these two together. So, I'm posting a few more images, and if you make the jump, you can find out how Mercy helped me rescue Cinco one fine Cinco de Mayo morning. I hope you enjoyed your holiday yesterday as much as we did.

She still sleeps like this
And like this, too.
They were the best of friends!

Happy Birthday Cinco! I love you!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Red Wolves and a Good Howling

Sometimes I am riding along on my typical day, and random things that I miss about the zoo will pop into my head. Mind you, there is a whole lot I don't miss, so I'm not sorry I moved forward with my life. But, occasionally, these things hit me and make me momentarily nostalgic for my old life. Today, it was the memory of the red wolves that lived in the exhibit next door to the aviary. Often times, in the early morning, when I was just stepping from my car at dawn to begin my day, the pack would greet me with a howl. Of course, they weren't actually greeting me, but that's how it felt. It always made all the hair on my body stand on end for a moment, and then I would smile and feel this kind of elation that I'm not sure I can put into words. Today, I found myself wishing for a good red wolf howl. They sound a bit different from a timber wolf. It's kind of like a cross between a timber and coyote. Anyway, here is a little video I found from the World Conservation Center in South Salem, New York, so you can hear what I mean. Hope you have a fantastic Friday!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Iceberg the White Orca Whale

The first recorded white adult male orca whale (Orcinus orca), also known as the killer whale, has been recorded off the coast of Russia. Given the name Iceberg by the group who discovered him, the Russian researchers left last week on another expedition to learn more about the elusive male. Though they are calling the whale an albino in the press, it does not appear certain if the whale has been determined as such yet. It could suffer from leucism as opposed to albinism. The two are similar and often one is mistaken for the other. Where leucism causes defective pigment cells so that patches of the skin, or sometimes all of it, are unable to make pigment. Albanism is a reduction in melanin only. I've been searching for more information and have yet to find any scientific discussion of this whale as an albino. Regardless, he is most definitely white, and he appears to be more than healthy. Making it to adulthood as a male orca takes some serious hootspa, as you might imagine. Anyway, there's more about this over at the Huffington Post, and be sure to check out this fist footage taken of Iceburg.