Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Kudos for NC Zoo Kudus

The North Carolina Zoo recently announced the birth of a new kudu calf in their African Plains exhibit. Here's the little girl getting one of her first vet checks. A little known fact about me: I am a huge fan of kudus. I worked with them for many years both at the Dallas Zoo and the African Plains exhibit at the NC Zoo where this gal was born. She's quite an armload for a baby. This photo reminded me of what fantastic little hiders they are and how many hours we would spend searching the exhibit to find them for exams. Being excellent at hiding is how they stay safe from predators in the wild. Mom helps them locate a spot to lie down, and they immediately curl up and blend right into their surroundings, often staying still and silent as the trees for hours on end.   

The NC Zoo plains exhibit is spectacular, if you haven't seen it, I highly recommend a visit. You will think you've stepped right out onto the African Plains, for real. They house a number of African antelope and rhinos on about a hundred acres of rolling hills and grasslands right next door to their African elephant exhibits. The exhibit has several thickets of trees, a pond and a lake. 

It isn't easy to find babies in all that tall grass. We would sit hidden for hours with our binoculars trained on the mother antelope until she would magically call the baby out of hiding. In actuality, their calls are infrasonic, too low frequency to be heard by most predatory species, including humans. But it seems as if they make some magical silent agreement and then mother and baby move in tandem to meet for nursing. That's when we'd follow them to get a better idea of where to locate the calf for its exam. Of course, we didn't dare touch the calf until the herd moved away from it again. They don't take kindly to babies being messed with. One oryx mother beat the crap out of the truck because we had her baby in the back for a medical check up.

Soon, this little kudu girl will grow. And grow. And grow, into one of the largest and most lovely of all the African antelope species. Though they can be fairly docile most of the time, they will take you out if they feel cornered or threatened. A little known fact about kudus: they will do pretty much anything for a grape. I helped train the NC Zoo's kudu herd to voluntarily come into smaller, enclosed holding areas from the exhibit using nothing more than a clicker and a bunch of grapes. 

Anyway, kudos for Mr. Kudu, his baby mama, and his keepers on their latest kudu calf. 
All photos appear courtesy of the NC Zoo.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Help Us Bark for Lynchburg's Dog Park!

For the second year running, we are in second place to win the Pet Safe Bark for the Park competition. If we can muster enough votes before August 1st, we will win a much needed $100,000. Last year we came so close. If we can pull off a win this year, we will make the off-leash dog park our community has been struggling to build a reality at last. This project has been ongoing for years, and speaking as a dog owner and pet sitter in this community, it's is sorely needed. You can help our doggy dreams become a reality! It's really simple. All you have to do is go this page and vote. You can vote once each day for the remainder of the contest.

Yesterday, a whole bunch of our community members showed up to create a video for the contest, and to ask others to join in to vote and vote for Lynchburg. My friend Rebecca and her dog Eli made it onto the news broadcast about yesterday's event. Check it out.

Oh, and don't forget, if you like science fiction, to head over and read Sharon & Alex's story today at The Ravens Crossing. Two more weeks until the season finale. Things are heating up in Wildwood!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Taking a Dive with an Eastern Pewee

The Eastern Wood-Pewee is described by Cornell Lab of Ornithology as a "dull  brown bird." I beg to differ. I happen to have fallen for these forest flycatchers. Why? Because, every summer, they come from our nearby woods to perch on our back fence and catch bugs around our pool. They don't mind if we're lounging on the deck or weeding the garden. They don't even care if our dogs are out. They simply ignore us all and come and go as they please.

This year, one female has chosen to be extra bold. She's  using our diving board to practice her diving skills. Last weekend, she spent several hours alternating between using the board as a perch to scope unsuspecting insects, and taking occasional dives into the deep end of the pool for a bath. She could care less if I got in the pool with her, nor if I used the diving board while she was on one of her numerous trips to her nest in a nearby oak tree. She even agreed to pose for a whole series of photos. I imagine she might take offense at being called dull. So, I decided to speak out on her behalf.

Also, a friendly reminder that today is Morgan & Holly's story day over at The Ravens Crossing. Head over to read the Young Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy Adventure Series written by myself and two other fantastic authors. Season 1 finale is right around the corner and the sparks, they will fly. In other good news, my Bonding with Hondo story about my relationship with two chimps I met during my zoo years will be officially published in the Canary tomorrow morning. I'll provide you with a link as soon as I have it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Single Beaver Dad Gig

Photo courtesy of the Jackson Zoo.
The story about a single beaver dad over on Discovery News yesterday caught my attention. I know plenty of single parents, and it's always a struggle, but I have to say, being a single beaver dad has got to be particularly rough. I don't know how many beavers you've known, but that "Busy as a..." saying is seriously based on truth. There's a reason these animals bond for life, because it takes a team for them to effectively raise a family.

Sadly, Mr. Single Beaver Dad of a wild colony in Martinez, California, lost his mate to an infection.  After many years as a pair, having raised twelve kits together, he was left alone with three babies. But, he doesn't just have to find them food and keep them safe. He literally has to build their home and tend it every single day to keep his lodge neat and tidy and free of leaks, not to mention do his job on the rest of the dam construction to help the colony keep the water level high enough and the fish plentiful where they live. All this, plus raising and teaching his three young how to be the best beavers they can be. And, apparently he's doing a fantastic job. All three kits have survived thus far. You can see the whole story along with interviews from those in the field observing, and even view a video of him over at Discovery News.

For me, the story immediately brought to mind the family of wild beavers at the NC Zoo who moved in next to our North American Swamp exhibit one year and built their lodge directly underneath the visitor boardwalk. They, too, raised three young as we watched every day, fascinated by all the work the pair of beavers had to do to care for and teach them. There was this knot in the wood of the walkway that formed a hole, so we could actually see down inside their lodge and catch glimpses of the kits indoors while the parents were out taking care of business. I'll never forget the first day I got to see the family out swimming around the lake together. It was very cool. As the kits grew, the lodge would get seriously noisy at times. They're very vocal babies. I couldn't help but imagine this single beaver dad coming home after a long day of construction work, having literally done the work of two, to listen to all that racket all night. Poor guy probably never got any sleep.

Anyway, I found this cool video from the rehabers at Claws, who rescued two baby beavers from an immanent death sentence, and found a safe home in a zoo for them. The footage is a combination of stills and live video, where you get to see some of the work involved in raising beavers. Wait until you hear how noisy one hungry beaver is. Then, multiply that by three. I propose we offer our single beaver dad some sort of father's day award this year! But, I guess he'll probably be too busy to care much about that. So I'll just say all the best to you and your family, Mr. Beaver.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Cinco and the Great Blue Heron

Cinco Makes New Friends at Peaks of Otter Lodge
Never let it be said that my dog isn't good at making new friends. Okay, well, she isn't great at it. She really wants to, she's just timid about it. She wants to sniff and generally suss out new people, and she's more than willing to accept treats from them, but there will be no touching, thank you very much, until much much later in the getting-to-know-you process.

Here's the thing, though. Isn't she cute? Everyone says so. Look at those eyes. They draw you in, and you just want to cuddle her. Trust me on this. Not cool. This is the surest way to send her running for the hills where she will hide, preferably under a  bed or a desk to growl until you cease and desist trying to pet her immediately. How did she get to be such a worry wart? I mean, I've owned her since she was six weeks old, and yes, she had it rough in those first six weeks, but she's been living the high life ever since.

Photo by Amanda Corlies Sandos
Anyway, I mentioned a great blue heron, didn't I? Yes, well, apparently great blue herons are not subject to exactly the same distrust as humans. Cinco is more than happy to bound right up to one, regardless of its killer bill that can skewer her, and it's incredibly long neck and deadly accuracy. These things? Not a big deal. Humans wanting to finger her? Terrifying.Luckily, the heron she chose to approach is probably old hat at these sorts of encounters, since she lives on the lake at the Peaks of Otter Lodge, where I'm sure tourists, their dogs, and even more frightening, their children have done all manner of strange things to the poor bird. She is immune. She just flies a short distance away, and promptly goes back to ignoring any intruders as if they are so much dirt under her feathers.

Photo by Amanda Corlies Sandos

What she does not tolerate well, however, are those pesky red-winged black birds landing anywhere near her person. She let my dog and I sit very nearby for almost an hour taking multiple photos of her. But, should a blackbird land anywhere near, she goes into a rage, attacking it, flapping her wings at it, and poking away until she's chased it off again. One of them climbing high into the bush above her to get away from her tanterums. This, apparently, was not
far enough.

Photo by Amanda Corlies Sandos
I had to laugh when the heron took hold of the branches to shake the whole tree vehemently until the offensive bird left. Cinco and I stayed for some time while I tried without success to capture this behavior in a decent photo. After a while, though, I started to wonder if the heron was exhibiting misplaced aggression. I mean, really, what could the blackbirds do to offend her? However, they are certainly easier to take on than some pesky tourist and her even more annoying overly-friendly dog. After giving this some thought, I decided it might be best for everyone if Cinco and I moved on.  It was a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Heron. Sorry for the intrusion.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Ocean Connection: Saving Ourselves

An entire dock from Japan's Tsunami washed ashore on the coast of Oregon today. If this isn't proof that we are all connected by our oceans, I don't know what is. BBC News reports that the 160 ton dock traveled some 5000 miles across the Pacific over the past fifteen months to wash ashore today. It is part of an estimated 20 million tons of debris that was washed out to sea during Japan's Tsunami, much of which is still likely to be floating to points around the globe if this enormous dock made of concrete and steel is any indication.

I have to say what I find most disturbing from the BBC report was the news that "authorities" who are trying to decide what to do with the dock, now that they know it's radiation free, are thinking of towing it back out to sea. Like the ocean is every one's free dumping zone. Isn't it about time we stopped thinking this way? Perhaps I'd be okay if they were thinking of sinking it someplace that needs coral reef growth, if corals will even grow on it. But, I don't think this is the case off the coast of Oregon. What would be mag, though I'm not sure it's possible, would be if they could somehow recycle some of it's steel and concrete. There may be reasons that isn't feasible. I'll admit I'm no expert on concrete and steel waste. But, thinking along the lines of "we'll simply tow it back out to sea and dump it," cannot possibly be the best plan of action. When will we stop purposely trashing our oceans?

Maybe you live inland like me, where it's easy to think this isn't your problem. After all, you aren't the one putting junk into our oceans, right?And see, that's where you'd be wrong. Lots of the trash and debris that ends up in our oceans is washed there from all the inland waterways, carried via our creeks, rivers, streams, and canals. So, the trashing of the ocean is every one's problem. We are all culpable, and we are all affected in more ways than you might at first suppose.

The Nature Conservancy gives some good examples of how we are all connected to the oceans. First and foremost, oceans absorb nearly one-third of the human caused carbon-dioxide emissions on earth. Plus, oceans provide us with kelp which is used to make a ton of stuff from dairy products to shampoo to frozen foods to pharmaceuticals. In fact, the ocean provides us with $21 trillion dollars in goods and services, 70% more than what we get from land. And here's a good one. Compounds from coral reef plants and animals are used to help treat cancer, Alzheimer's, arthritis, heart disease, viruses, and more. So, it's not just the turtles, the dolphins and whales you'd be saving if you work to clean our waterways, our beaches, and help to stop pollution. The fact is, you may very well be helping to save yourself. What better reason is there to get involved than that?

Head on over to The Nature Conservancy to find out what you can do to help clean up our oceans. There are all kinds of ways to get involved.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Birthing a Six Foot Baby

A friend just called today with the fantastic news that one of her giraffes is in labor. Well, it's actually the zoo's giraffe, but when you take care of the animals every day, they begin to feel like yours. I have no doubt she's as proud as any soon-to-be gramma could be.

The news immediately took me back to watching my first giraffe birth many years ago at the Dallas Zoo. The poor female walked around with hooves protruding from her for hours. We were all really worried the baby would suffocate after so long in the birth canal. But some six hours after it all began, the baby's head and neck began to emerge. It didn't take much longer for the baby to come falling out. I covered my eyes, thinking surely the fall would injure the not so little guy. But, the vet on call that day assured me that hitting the ground actually helps clear their air passages and get them breathing.

What was really astounding was how huge the baby was. When she stood, she was six feet tall and weighed something like 150 lbs. That's quite a baby. She was up and walking around like she'd been born to it within the hour, too. The whole thing was truly amazing. Here's hoping my friend's giraffe birth goes off without a hitch. May momma giraffe and her fairly ginormous baby be happy and healthy. In honor of the impending birth, I thought I'd share some photos I took of a couple of my young giraffe friends.

All photos by Amanda Corlies Sandos.