Monday, February 27, 2012

Orangutans and iPads. Technology as Enrichment.

Stories about iPads as the latest enrichment tool for orangutans at the Milwaukee Zoo have gone viral. This is not surprising. The project is amazing and certainly sparks the imagination as people see these apes enjoying their apps as much as we do. Many of the articles covering the story have chosen to offer digitally enhanced photos of the orangs with iPads. Some even make interesting leaps about what might be next for other animals. I thought you all might like to see what is really going on at the Milwaukee Zoo on this project straight from the source. It's a pretty amazing little video. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Iowa Eagles are Back! Watch them live!

Yes, I mean the ones with the white heads and the eight foot wing spans. No, I don't mean the Iowa Eagles Minor League Football Team. The now famous Decorah Eagles recently returned to their nest and are already incubating two eggs. The second egg was laid yesterday.

Thanks to the folks over at the Raptor Resource Project (RRP), you can watch the whole thing from the live webcam below. And if you are so motivated, head on over to the Decorah Eagles project page and donate to help fund the continuation of this important research on American Bald Eagle and raptor nesting.

Broadcasting live with Ustream
Decorah is a small town in northern Iowa directly north of Iowa City, not too far from Wildwood and
The Ravens Crossing. Please take a minute to make the jump. It's a new project I've been working on that is hugely important to me, because it was started by a group of friends who wanted to promote diversity, literacy, and environmentalism in a way we think is entertaining to people of all ages. We are a small group of volunteers who wanted desperately to work for positive change in our society. So, instead of continuing to talk about it, we got motivated and we are creating something big together. So drop by for a few minutes, and if you like what you see, tell a friend. It's absolutely free.

As always, thanks to all of you for continuing to support me by stopping by to read The Keeper of the Zoo. You are awesome sauce!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ravens Playing in the Snow

Yes, I've said it before and I will say it again. Ravens Rock! Since it recently snowed here, I thought I'd share this fantastic video from PBS.

And don't miss the flash fiction stories in my new project over at The Ravens Crossing. It's free, it's fun, it's a sci/fi fantasy adventure for all ages!

Tonight Morgan & Holly are live. Tomorrow, Kazuki & Quinn return by West Thornhill, and Thursday it's Darci & Elliot by Andi Lea, and so on.

You can learn how to navigate the site and find all the archives at The First Time Here Page. So take a minute on your break, grab a quick escape during your lunch. You're always welcome in Wildwood!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Lovely Loops of Solar Tornadoes

Photo: Blossoming Promise, Courtesy of SDO and NASA
If you haven't been keeping up with NASA lately, you really should check out the Goddard Space Flight Center's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). It's an amazing ongoing research project designed to measure the properties of the Sun and solar activity and record its affects upon Earth. Their findings are all published and easily readable online, but what excites me most are the fantastic images they post daily of the Sun's surface. There are even action videos posted through YouTube as well. Check out The Lovely Loops Video:

I was also very excited to learn that this project is headed by a woman, Elizabeth Citrin. You can read all about her and the rest of the SDO team here.

The scientific goals of the SDO Project, taken directly from the NASA SDO site, are to improve understanding of the following seven questions:

  1. What mechanisms drive the quasi-periodic 11-year cycle of solar activity?
  2. How is active region magnetic flux synthesized, concentrated, and dispersed across the solar surface?
  3. How does magnetic reconnection on small scales reorganize the large-scale field topology and current systems and how significant is it in heating the corona and accelerating the solar wind?
  4. Where do the observed variations in the Sun's EUV spectral irradiance arise, and how do they relate to the magnetic activity cycles?
  5. What magnetic field configurations lead to the CMEs, filament eruptions, and flares that produce energetic particles and radiation?
  6. Can the structure and dynamics of the solar wind near Earth be determined from the magnetic field configuration and atmospheric structure near the solar surface?
  7. When will activity occur, and is it possible to make accurate and reliable forecasts of space weather and climate?
Though I'm glad they are trying to understand all of this, I'm most thrilled that they are willing to share all of their fantastic images online! 

In other exciting news, a new free online YA Sci/fi Fantasy fiction project I'm working on, The Ravens Crossing, is now partnering with the YA LGBT Books Group on Goodreads. I am very proud to be a part of promoting safe spaces and good reading for young adults! 

Friday, February 17, 2012

The World's Smallest Chameleon Makes it Big!

If you make the rounds of nature blogs like I do, you will have a hard time missing the world's smallest chameleon today. Ever since Valentine's Day, when the latest research on Malagasy Leaf Chameleons, Brookesia Minima, published, these little guys have been causing a big sensation.

Why all the hype? Well, they are pretty cool itty bitty things. They do all the cool things other chameleons do, rapidly changing skin for chamoflage, long projectile tongues and rotating eyes for hunting. You know the drill. They can use their prehensile tail to grasp, but unlike other chameleons, this species often uses it as a fifth leg for stability due to their size. Still, this doesn't that big of a deal. So I went exploring, and I think  I've figured it out, though the cause of the sensation is not really what most of the blogs are talking about. Perhaps they didn't want to sound too nerdy? I don't mind. I'm a proud science nerd. Here is the scuttlebutt on these four species of tiny chameleons discovered in extreme northern regions of Madagascar.

According to research by Frank GlawJörn KöhlerTed M. TownsendMiguel Vences :

"Molecular phylogenetic analyses based on one mitochondrial and two nuclear genes of all nominal species in the B. minima group congruently support that the four new species, together with B. tuberculata from Montagne d'Ambre in northern Madagascar, form a strongly supported clade. This suggests that these species have diversified in geographical proximity in this small area."

These species, despite being superficially like other chameleons, have been given separate evolutionary status based on differences in their external morphology, mostly based on differences to the hemipenis structure. The new research is now suggesting they have evolved differently within their range for a reason. The new conclusions suggest that they represent "extreme cases of island dwarfism." 

Yep, this is cool stuff! And speaking of cool stuff, my second story posted today over at The Ravens Crossing. Go meet Sharon & Alex today. You have two more days to enter to WIN a FREE KINDLE Wifi Touch. Don't miss out!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The World's Largest Eagle

Philippine Eagle by David Tomb
The Philippine Eagle has been inspirational to many as the national symbol of the Phillipines and the largest eagle in the world. So inspirational, in fact, that several artists who traveled to see these eagles last year have started a project to help save them through art. I love the way The Jeepney Project thinks. This project, headed by artist David Tomb, is educating people through exhibitions and outreach, while creating and selling works of art to help fund conservation for them. They are partnered with The Philippine Eagle Foundation.

These amazing eagles are vanishing at an alarming rate, like so many other species, due to human encroachment and habitat destruction. Find out what you can do to help by going here!

Then make sure you head over to The Ravens Crossing to read the stories. Darci & Elliot by Andi Lea went live today, and yesterday was West Thornhill's first story, Kazuki & Quinn. The stories are all Young Adult (YA) Fantasy, Sci Fi Adventures. Each segment is written in flash fiction style and all of the stories work separately or together, because they all take place in the same world. Plus, the site is interactive and free. This week you have SIX CHANCES TO WIN A KINDLE TOUCH by commenting on each day's story. Don't miss out!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Sealed With a Kiss.

Photo by Bill Farne 
Today, my first story at The Ravens Crossing posts. I am so proud to see my girls, Morgan & Holly in print. Happy Valentines Day to me and to all of you! If you make the jump to read it, you can win a Kindle Wi fi Touch. In other exciting news, one of my favorite authors, Jordan Castillo Price, actually blogged about me and this project yesterday. I was stunned. Thanks Jordan for the shout out! It feels kind of surreal and very, very cool!

Since it's big day for me, and I really love kisses, I'm sealing my Valentine's Day with a kiss. A puffin kiss to be exact. What could be better? In fact, I'm officially naming them the World's Best Valentine's Day Bird, since they mate for life, and they are notoriously big on kissing. (Actually, those in the know call what they are doing "billing," and it's a typical pair bonding behavior, but so what!)

Photo Courtesy of Project Noah
These amazing birds spend most of their time at sea only coming to land once a year to nest and raise their young. They usually return to the same location each year, where they find their same mate and greet each other with a kiss. There's some rubbing, and preening, and waddling around, and cuddling involved, too. Then they use those bills and the incredibly sharp claws on the ends of their webbed feet to dig out a nest, usually in the face of a sheer, rock cliff. The whole thing is simply amazing. So, in honor of the puffin, may your Valentine's Day be filled with kisses. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Puffin Dog

The Westminster Kennel Club is debuting six new breeds this week at their 2012 show. Among them, the Norwegian Lundehund, better known at The Puffin Dog. Having cared for them at the zoo, I have a soft spot for Puffins. For some strange reason, even though the breed is known for helping to hunt the birds, I have a soft spot for this little Puffin Dog, too.

The Puffin Dog's coolest features: They have six toes so they can walk and grip the rocky shorelines of their homes and they are double jointed, which helps them wiggle out of crevices and get into tight spots in the rocks. They also have a double coat for protection against the cold, so I won't be getting one, since I live in the Southern United States. These dogs are built for cold.

Check out the fantastic video I found over at The Huffington Post. "The Dog of the Gods," another Mexican breed I won't even try to pronounce or type, cracks me up!

Don't forget to stop by The Ravens Crossing for a chance to win a free Kindle.

Thanks to West Thornhill for sharing this information with me.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Ravens Are the Coolest!

So what is the difference between a raven and a crow? Since there are so many similarities, people often confuse these two amazing birds. Both are members of the Corvid family. Both are extremely intelligent, large, black birds. Both have a long and varied history among humans, making frequent appearances in myths and legends, and as totems and mascots. Over at The Ravens Crossing, Team TRC chose The Raven as our mascot. Make the jump to find out why. Personally, I was excited that we chose ravens over crows.

I think ravens are one of the coolest birds. They differ from crows in a number of ways. There are three easy ways to spot the difference. First, they are at least twice the size of the common crow. Second, their calls are distinctly different from a crow's. They make a variety of cool sounds where the crows commonly just make a more obnoxious and repetitive "caw" call. Third, ravens are also usually seen singly or in pairs, where crows can often be found hanging with a group, which incidentally is called a murder. Maybe this is thanks to all that obnoxious calling they do?

Anyway, both birds are personable and curious, often interacting with humans. In fact, Ravens are notorious for it. Check out this video of some young men learning to speak raven. It cracks me up!

Head on over to TRC to learn all kinds of cool facts about ravens! Find out how to enter for the chance to win a free Kindle.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Zookeepers Faking it? All in a Day's Work.

Today, Mark Percy reported a Fake Rhino Escape on BBC News. A Tokyo zoo was filmed running an animal escape drill complete with a cool papier mache life-size rhino costume. I had myself a chuckle at the video. I do have to correct Mr. Percy, though. Faking animals for escape drills is an expected part of most zookeeper's job descriptions. It was included in all of mine for all of the zoos I worked at. This has become a common and accepted way to ensure that zoos have a workable plan in place for actual animal escapes, and that all the employees fully understand and are comfortable with their assigned rolls.

I can tell you from experience that having an organized plan in place, and running simulation drills has helped to capture escaped animals quickly and without injury to the animal or the zoo visitors. Once, we had a chimp scale her exhibit wall during a fight with her troupe. She escaped during visitor hours. The zoo staff had visitors safely locked in buildings throughout the park and had the chimp contained safely in less than thirty minutes. Pretty amazing. Chimps might look cute, but they are one of the most dangerous animals. Not only are they smart, but they are strong enough to rip your limbs off, they have huge teeth, and they can be highly aggressive when they are scared or angry. I ended up clearing visitors from the area where the chimp was running around loose, aggressive posturing and challenging people. I was pretty freaked out to be one of the unlucky ones in the wrong place at the right time. Not much freaks a zookeeper out. Not if they are any good at their job.

Anyway, each zoo's escape plan is usually written and tailor made for that facility. It often breaks the animals and escape protocols down into categories according to the danger factor. So there are changes to the rules for those species housed at a facility that are listed as dangerous and those listed as intermediate or non-dangerous. For example, you would not see keepers approaching a polar bear to poke it with sticks like you did the "rhino" in this video. In fact, I'm not sure all zoos would use this method for their rhinos, and it would probably vary according to the animal's individual personalities. I've known rhinos I could pat like a dog and others that might leave me with a stub if I tried it. 

Anyway, at my last zoo we would get tapped by the director or one of the curators to become part of a secret plan to run an escape drill for the rest of the staff. Whoever was tapped would be given the species they would play and some basic parameters of the drill.  You might be told, tomorrow you will be a gorilla who escapes at 8:35 in the morning. You will attack Jim who will play the injured keeper to drill the EMT staff at the same time. The rest then becomes up to those playing the role. The animal roll players are expected to behave as they think the real animal might.

At the start of a drill, the rest of the staff would hear an outgoing radio call (we all carried hand-held radios on our belts) that sounded something like this, "This is an escape drill. This is Keeper Wallace. There is an escaped female gorilla. I repeat, we have a gorilla escape drill in progress. She was last seen in the vacinity of the gorilla visitor overlook running west. I no longer have a visual on her. Again this is an escape drill. Zoocom did you copy?"

And from there, the main communications people would take over and responses would begin to roll in from the different teams like the vets, the safety team, and the weapons team. The keepers in each area would begin to follow a complicated instruction list for their particular section of the zoo that we were expected to memorize. Every area had their list of duties, and we were expected to follow all of them to the letter as if an actual animal had escaped. 

Sometimes, having humans playing the animals proved challenging. We knew to look for someone wearing an orange vest with the name of the animal taped to it during drills. No elaborate animal costumes were used.  During one drill, a good friend of mine played the roll of a gorilla. Being a  smart a** of grand proportions, he climbed way up in a tree, which isn't usual for a gorilla, but also could happen if one were scared. It took us a long time to discover his hiding place and most of us had walked right below him several times looking. Boy did we feel stupid. 

Human error is always a factor. Once, our animal actor, pretending to be an escaped Hamadrayas baboon, took himself off in the woods to hide, but he forgot to turn his hand-held radio on. The zoo was in a rural area with large tracts of forest surrounding it. In the meantime, an actual baboon escaped inside the holding building while they were drilling the staff on the shift procedures. So, the fake escape had to be called off because it became a real escape. Yes, truth is stranger than fiction. Our fake animal couldn't be located because he couldn't hear his radio and nobody had time to go find him. The real animal was contained by giving it food incentive, so it eventually ran back into an empty cage. No harm, no foul. But, we were left wondering what to do about the long lost human. Eventually, groups of us went out into the woods to yell for him and bring him home. Lots of lessons were learned that day and some major changes were made to the animal escape policy, too. 

So, if you want to work at as a zookeeper, know that animal acting might be required of you, and the ability to go with the flow is always a plus. Be prepared for the unexpected!

Many thanks to Andi Lea, my friend and collaborator over at The Ravens Crossing, who sent me the link to the BBC report.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mama Kilya the Famous Corgi and Ebi the Baby Chimp

My mailbox was full of fantastically fun photos this morning, including a newly famous Welsh corgi and an adorably sleepy baby chimp. So, I decided to share the love. I'm sure Mama Kilya has not allowed her recent fame to go to her ego - yet. Cross your fingers she won't be too offended to be upstaged by the latest photo of Ebi, the baby chimp at the NC Zoo. Doesn't she just make you want to squee? It appears Mom is still taking great care of her.

Drum roll please! Meet my friend Mama Kilya, the Welsh Corgi. She was just featured on The Daily Corgi blog yesterday. So, I thought I would share a couple of my favorite photos with the link so you can go see more and read all about her. Kilya's mom is the leader of my djembe drum ensemble, Nataraja. Every week, Killya (and her older brother Dylan) jump right into the drum circle to help us practice.

Her dad happens to be my undergrad adviser and one of the best creative writing professors I studied under. Here he is asleep with Kilya. Aww. Congratulations Mama Kilya and family on stardom. Cinco will be glad to give pointers on how to work it as a Diva Dog. There are lots more Awwwsome pictures over at The Daily Corgi.

Speaking of creative writing, today at The Ravens Crossing meet all
the main characters. I am very excited about this project because it's something new and innovative. It's a free, interactive, online, Young Adult, Fantasy Adventure series. I am proud to be working with a
whole team of my college alums. I hope you'll go check out the new website, and return to frequently. The
stories begin next Monday, February 13th, 2012. A new flash fiction
story will post six days a week. And eventually, the site will become interactive with reader participation and all kinds of fun ways to get involved. Again, all of the content on the site will be free. Stop by
when you have a few minute.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Art to Build Coral Reefs

Silent Evolution by Jason deCaires Taylor
Nothing excites me more than environmental art. Art that is about the environment but also a positive part of the environment awes me. So, I'm thrilled by the discovery of a fantastic project by Jason deCaires Taylor to build an artistic artificial reef off the coast of Cancun, Mexico. He is using specially engineered, marine-grade cement designed to attract coral and building hundreds of hauntingly beautiful sculptures. Cancun's reefs are dying due to a number of human pressures like pollution, fishing, global warming, and tourism.
Silent Evolution: Jason deCaires Taylor
Jason deCaires Taylor

By providing an artificial reef, Taylor alleviates some of the stress. He provides new places for the fish and corals to live, and a fantastic artificial structure that attracts the tourists away from the natural reefs. The best part for me is seeing the way the fish and corals are already interacting with the art.

Take a few minutes to watch this fantastic Nat. Geo. video. You won't be disappointed. And don't forget to check out The Ravens Crossing for our ongoing tour. Today meet the authors. Tomorrow meet the characters. Next week the YA fantasy stories begin.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Ravens Crossing: A Free Interactive Online Fantasy

This is something entirely new, something you have not experienced before! Yes, if you click the link above you will find yourself in a brand new world of a young adult, internet-based interactive fantasy, one that sprang from the minds of three authors during morning coffee meetings. It's been a thrill to work on this with my fellow authors and college alums Andi Lea and West Thornhill. (You can find my author blog at Amanda Corlies.) We brought on board two other alumnae from our small women's college, Jess as our Managing Editor extraordinaire, and Poet Rae as our supremely talented Website Designer. From there, it grew to a whole team of advisors of all ages, and voila, a project of amazing scope, energy, and creative originality is born. This is something entirely new. Additional features will be added to the website as our story unfolds. So head on over to This week, we will be giving you a tour of our new world. Next week, the stories begin. Last, but most certainly not least, many thanks go out to all the fantastic people who continue to work on this project. It's a pleasure to be working with you all!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ocelot Cub Update

While we are on the subject of the NC Zoo, I thought I would field some of the questions concerning the ocelot cub link I shared some time ago on Facebook. The twin cubs were born last April. So, I checked in with some of my friends over at the zoo to find out how the little tikes are doing.

Laura Valadez, supervisor for the Sonora Desert Exhibit, where the ocelots live, says both juveniles are doing great. And, they aren't so little any more. In fact, their mother is on the small side for adult ocelots, and it wasn't long before the cubs were too big for her to pick up. So, she had to make do by dragging them around the exhibit to move them.

Many have been curious to know what will happen to the cubs now that they are almost grown. Each endangered species housed in accredited captive facilities like the NC Zoo is part of what is called a A Species Survival Plan (SSP). Each plan has usually several coordinators and a Taxon Advisory Group (TAG). Careful records are kept on the genetics, health, and history of each animal in captivity so that recommendations can be made by the SSP for where each animal would best be placed. The animals are then relocated to other facilities to assure continued breeding success and genetic viability of that captive species.

Valadez reports that the NC Zoo is still awaiting these recommendations. The meetings are scheduled to take place next month. The NC Zoo will then discuss these with the other recommended facilities listed and make plans for the juveniles to be shipped to their new homes accordingly. In the meantime, the juveniles have already grown until they are difficult to tell apart from their parents. Here's a current image.

Thanks to Tom Gillespie and Brigitte Thompson for providing the photos.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Baby Baboon Born at the NC Zoo

Courtesy of Jody Wiley
The birds, the bees, and the baboons are doing that thing they do over at the North Carolina Zoo. On January 21st, 2012, a new Hamadryas baboon was born at the zoo. This little girl has quite a family as the newest member of one of the largest troops in the United States. She now lives among the eighteen other baboons housed at the zoo's African Pavilion. According to the reports the new baby is being cared for by the mother.

Special thanks to my friend and former coworker Tom Gillespie who provided me with this fantastic photo taken by Jody Wiley.

Check out this Zoo Files video about the baby born last August. It shows the mother, Rhea, protecting her baby from an overzealous would be mother, plus you get to see the zoo staff giving an ultrasound.

Congratulations to the baboons and their keepers at the NC Zoo on their latest addition.