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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Sporcle Quiz: Sporcle at the Zoo - Flamingos

There are four species of flamingos - the American and Chilean, the greater and the lesser - that can be encountered fairly often in zoo and aquarium collections.  Test your knowledge about these beautiful, fascinating birds!

Monday, May 21, 2018

Species Fact Profile: Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus)

Northern Bobwhite
Colinus virginianus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Range: Eastern North America, Central America
Habitat: Grassland, Open Woodland, Forest Edge
Diet: Seeds, Berries, Insects
Social Grouping: Solitary, Pairs, Small Family Groups.  May congregate in larger flocks in winter, up to two dozen birds
Reproduction: Polygynous/polyandrous.  Either parent may incubate clutch of eggs for 23 days.  Nesting tends to have poor success, so they clutch often - may lay four nests in a season in order to get one to hatch.  Nests of dead grasses.  Average clutch 12 eggs.  Fledge at 14 days old.  Sexually mature at 1 year old
Lifespan: 6 Years (Wild)
Conservation Status: IUCN Near Threatened, CITES Appendix I

  • Body length 20-25 centimeters, wingspan 30-33 centimeters.  Weight 140-170 grams.  Birds at the northern extreme of the species range tend to be larger than those at the southern
  • Plumage is red-brown with grey mottling and white striping on the flanks.  Males have a white throat with a black stripe on the brow.  Males are more brightly colored then females
  • Common name comes from its characteristic, whistling call, "bob-WHITE"
  • Parents will protect their nests by feigning broken wings to lure predators away.  Predators include hawks, raccoons, skunks, and foxes
  • Spend most of their time on the ground, average flight lasts only 5 seconds, and usually only a sudden burst to escape danger
  • There are several subspecies found across the range of the species.  One, the masked bobwhite (C. v. ridgwayi) of northern Mexico, is considered endangered
  • Popular bird for sport hunting  Have been introduced to Europe (France, Spain, United Kingdom, Ireland), New Zealand, and the western United States for sport
  • Populations are in decline, largely due to habitat loss due to agriculture
  • One of the most widely studied wild bird species on the planet, both as a laboratory specimen and for game management

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Rain, Rain, Go Away

"He had read somewhere that the Eskimos had over two hundred different words for snow, without which their conversation would probably have got very monotonous... Rob McKenna had two hundred and thirty-one different types of rain entered in his little book, and he didn't like any of them."

- Douglas Adams, So Long, And Thanks for All the Fish

A former boss of mine once told me that, apart from farmers, no one watches the weather more closely that zookeepers.   There's certainly a element of truth in it.  For one thing, we have to pay constant attention to the temperature and weather conditions for the well-being of the animals under our care - is it too hot, too cold?  For another, there's the annoying fact that, whatever the weather, we have to be out in it.

There's snow and thunderstorms and droughts and many other things we have to cope with.  Some pose an actual danger to our safety as we work with our animals.  And some are merely annoying.

Like rain, for example.

The Rainforest exhibit at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo provides occasional rainstorms on some of its habitats, which presumably allows the animals to spend the rest of their day reminding themselves of how lucky they are that they don't actually live in a rainforest.

It's my greatest source of frustration that my zoo just doesn't work in the rain.  Anything more than a gentle drizzle turns our paths in streams, our exhibits into ponds.  Just the other day, I put a food bowl down in one of the keeper areas.  It actually floated away.

It's important that the animals be provided with shelter, although to be frank, I've never noticed many of them actually using it.  There are few things more exasperating that looking at a torrential downpour, and seeing all of your animals sulking in the rain when they have perfectly adequate shelter right next to them.  It's also not adequate to have a dry head - you must provide for dry feet as well.  It's no good giving the animals a roof over their heads if under that roof is a flooded mess.  Also, the animals must be provided with a place for their food to go where they will not be soaked in the rain and turned to mush.  There are few smells that I have encountered that are fouler than a bowl of Nebraska Bird of Prey meat that's been sitting out in a downpour.

Whether they use the shelters or not, the animals at least have the option of staying dry.  Keepers don't.  We have to be out in the rain, if only to get from exhibit to exhibit (unless you're one of those smug reptile house keepers).  To my intense dismay, no one has ever invented rain gear which actually keeps its wearer dry.  Just yesterday, I was wearing three raincoats, one under the other.  I still ended up soaked.  So do my socks - even if the boots are waterproof (and it's only a matter of time before holes and tears develop), some rain inevitably comes in over the tops.  The neck develops a painful crick from being held down in an attempt to keep the rain out of the face.  And that's not nearly as annoying as the welts that I wind up with on my legs from the constant smack, smack of the sides of the rain boots on my calves.

A little rain can be fun when you're visiting a zoo.  It thins out the crowds, cools the air, and often makes the animals more active.  A little of anything, of course, can be fine.  It's a lot that gets to be problematic.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Memorial Day Weekend - The Pool is Open!

I had a hard time appreciating the fact from where I was working today, but we are only a week away from Memorial Day Weekend, which is the unofficial start of summer.  That means it's the busy season for us - as well as for amusement parks, beaches, and public swimming pools.  

Enjoy this YouTube clip from the Cincinnati Zoo, who would like to remind everyone that Fiona isn't their only bathing beauty.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

From the News: Caged Tiger at Prom

Caged Tiger at Prom

I'm a huge fan of zoos and aquariums.  I've written before about how having animals on a college campus or other venue isn't necessarily a bad idea. I often wish that there were more ways that we could incorporate animals into our lives. 

This was not a good idea.  Not only that, it's one of those things that I don't see how any animal care professional could have imagined for a moment would work out well.  Hold a prom at a zoo where teenagers dance among the animals, which are in their own enclosures made for their comfort?  Sounds fine to me.  Bring a tiger to a prom and plop it in the middle of the dance hall?  Not so much.

It's stunts like this that give all of us who work with wild animals a bad rap, and allows groups with PETA the chance to paint all of us with the same brush.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Documentary Review: 60 Minutes - Matchmaking for zoo animals

This weekend, 60 Minutes aired a special on population management in zoos and aquariums.  When I first heard about it, it was with a sense of dread.  I'd heard that it was going to feature, among other things, an emphasis on the culling practices in European facilities, such as the infamous episode of Marius the giraffe.  With that in mind, I was bracing myself for something tawdry and sensationalist.

I was pleasantly surprised.

Yes, the topic of population management culling was addressed, but in a thoughtful manner that provoked conversation, not shrill screaming.

Correspondent Lesley Stahl with Ron Kagan of the Detroit Zoo, CBS

For the most part, however, it was an excellent introduction to the concept of Species Survival Plans, conservation breeding programs, and population management.  It shows that there is so much more to the breeding programs than producing cute babies for visitors to ooh and aah over.  The show's producers to a fair job of explaining everything that goes into sustainable population planning - demographics, genetics, and plain old attraction between the animals involved.

Population management is a complicated subject.  The best storytellers have a knack for taking a complicated subject and reshaping it in such a manner that an audience finds it easy to understand, compelling to follow.  Genetics and demographics can be hard to relate to - after all, it's not how we pick our mates - but everyone understands  I plan on using this program to help educate new staff members about SSPs and cooperative breeding programs.  I would recommend that zoos share it to their websites to help better explain the issue to their visitors.

Watch the entire program by clicking the link at the heading of this page.  I hope you enjoy!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

From the News: Cheetahs chase family at safari park

Happy Mother's Day!  Today, many zoos and aquariums offer discounts or free entry, either to mothers or to fathers (with the understanding that fathers will take the kids to the zoo and give the mothers a day off).  If that's how you're spending the day, I hope you have an enjoyable, memorable day.   Just not as memorable as the visit these morons had...