Threadwalkers, updates

March news, links, and a blog tour, OH MY!

Oh HEY. It’s March. Where did February go??

It felt like January took roughly 11.3 years to get through and then I blinked and it was March 1st. WOW.

Because time got away from me, there are a couple of links that you may have missed.

Author Interview

First, I had a fantastic time chatting about Threadwalkers with Jennifer Holmquist, aka Magic Cat Jenny, over on her YouTube channel:

Book Review

Second, Time Travel Nexus published a lovely review of Threadwalkers earlier this week, which you can read here.

Don’t forget you can always find reviews, media, and bonus content on the Media and Bonus Content page of this site. 🙂

(Vitural) Book Tour

Third, I’m going on (virtual) tour! Starting next week, I’ll be hanging out on various book blogs in the form of guest posts and interviews, and there will be many more reviews! If you want to follow along, here’s the planned schedule:

March 5th

March 6th

March 7th

March 8th

March 9th

So I’ll be seeing you a lot next week as I try to stay on top of these. I’ll also link back to these sites each day as the posts go live so they are easy to find.

#BYJoStraw Project

In other, non-Threadwalkers news, I’ve started a new instagram account to document a project I’m doing this term for my master’s program. I was challenged to find something to promote biodiversity, so I decided to give up single-use plastic straws! In the US alone, we go through an estimated 500 million straws A DAY. They can’t be recycled and it takes each one 200 years to decompose. YIKES. I ordered a glass straw from Simply Straws, and honestly, it’s been SO much fun to use! I take it with me everywhere in its cloth sleeve, and it’s got a cleaning brush and everything. Here’s my straw in action:

If you want one of your own, you can use my referral link to Simply Straws for 25% off your first purchase. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will let you know that I also get rewards when you use the link. So basically we both save money and there’s less plastic pollution. It’s a win-win-win.

So there’s the full update! In theory I’ll be back on Monday with links to FUN THINGS! Woot!

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conservation, probably a tree hugger thing

Thoughts on Copenhagen Zoo

copenhagen giraffeSo I’m sure by now you’ve heard about Copenhagen Zoo euthanizing one of its giraffes for “educational purposes” and feeding it to the zoo’s carnivores. If not, here’s the story.

I was struck by a particular response to this today in which someone I respect a lot (a natural history scientist and educator) pointed out that this was simply a business decision and actually very interesting from an educational standpoint. You can read the original post here. (WARNING: images of said giraffe-being-fed-to-lions.) While I can see the value of teaching the so-called “circle of life,” I disagreed with the statement on several points. Here is my response, slightly edited from the open letter form I used to reply. I may be a very small voice with a very small audience, but I come from the perspective of close association (and employment) with zoos and other animal organizations, so I feel that I can provide some further insight into the situation.

——————-

Hi,

I’m really glad you took the time to respond to this situation as it has created so much controversy in the last 24 hours. It brings to light a different perspective than the knee-jerk reaction people are largely having, fueled by the media.

That being said, I think this response over-simplifies zoos in general and makes sweeping generalizations about them. I have worked and volunteered for multiple organizations that house and exhibit animals, so while I can only speak from first-hand experience and from an American zoo perspective (so, AZA and not EAZA), I fear that some of these simplified statements can harm the overall debate surrounding animals in captivity.

“Zoos are not in the business of saving wildlife, they are in the business of business.”
This is one of the statements that misrepresents zoos when made about all institutions. According to a 2012 survey, over half (54%) of zoos accredited by the AZA are non-profit organizations. Money they make goes to the care of the animals, paying staff, research and education. In fact, the AZA is actively working with other educational institutions like the Ocean Project to improve conservation education in zoos and aquariums around the world. Their most recent study results are here.

“Could the Copenhagen Zoo have sent the giraffe to another zoo? Maybe, but then that zoo would also be faced with the business problem of investing resources into sustaining this animal knowing full well it was not suitable for breeding.”
Not all zoos exhibit animals that have the purpose of breeding. In almost any zoo you visit, there are animals that were injured in the wild and rehabilitated (often re-relased into the wild if at all possible), or that are geriatric and will never breed, or are rescued from illegal private breeders. For examples, check the North Carolina Zoo’s Wildlife Rehab Center, Chattanooga Zoo’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, and the Texas State Aquarium’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Program. The San Diego Zoo is also well known for its herd of geriatric elephants, also not used for breeding.

“…but I encourage someone who is truly upset about this issue to take their problem up with the nature of zoo breeding programs worldwide. Marius’ fate was quite possibly determined for him before he was born.”
“The nature of zoo breeding programs worldwide” is a vast and varied thing. Most AZA Zoos participate in the Species Survival Plan Program, or SSP. This program monitors how many of each species are in captivity, and strives for a rate of 95% genetic diversity. Animals are paired for breeding only when they are a healthy genetic match. The purpose of the SSP isn’t just for zoos to have animals without taking them from the wild; the goal of the SSP is to preserve these species in order to repatriate them to their native habitats. A good case study of this is the African Bongo. This antelope is being successfully reintroduced to Kenya, with the herd growing from captive-bred animals. Closer to home, the California condor’s success is directly because of the AZA and SSP. The red wolf has also survived because of the SSP and would be completely extinct if not for the intervention of the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington. Red wolves are now being reintroduced to part of their native range in North Carolina.

“If this has to be the way in which zoos function – the continuous breeding, inbreeding and culling of their stock…”
This—“inbreeding and culling”— isn’t how all zoos function. It isn’t how they should function. This is why the Copenhagen Zoo is under fire, because the overall situation at that individual zoo is a problem. It may be a problem at large with the EAZA, but I am not as familiar with that organization and cannot speak to that. The AZA, however, has a contraception program in place specifically to avoid this type of situation.

Zoos worldwide do have problems. They are not perfect, and it is fair to criticize the way individual zoos are operated, and the way they treat their animals. We should also be critical of standards as they are now in terms of space and enrichment and diets for animals in captivity. It’s fair to question many aspects of zoos. But is it fair to make these generalizations about all zoos being for profit only, and serving no purpose for conservation, research, education? No. Should a young and healthy individual be put down simply for education? I also say no.

All of that being said, your perspective is an interesting one that I had no considered. Zoos lose geriatric animals as the population ages, and it could be highly educational if they allowed such things to be public. If this situation was different, if the giraffe was old or unhealthy (but not sick where he would harm the other animals), would I view this differently? I think I might.

What I am trying to say is that this is a very complex issue with more involved than the immediate knee-jerk reaction.

—————————-

So those are my thoughts. I do think the Copenhagen Zoo’s decision should be questioned. For instance, should this giraffe have been born in the first place if he wasn’t going to be in a healthy population? Why did they breed their giraffes if too-close-genetics was a problem? What can we do to change the situation for a better outcome in the future? What can the EAZA do to make it easier to transfer animals between facilities in these cases?

On a wider scale, how can we better regulate zoos with breeding programs not part of the SSP? To me, that’s a huge issue. There are so many institutions worldwide not part of the carefully monitored SSP, so how do we ensure that animals are genetically viable and healthy individuals, and that populations aren’t too large for the places housing them?

The Executive Director of the EAZA has issued a statement about the reasons behind the giraffe’s culling, which you can read for yourself here. He expresses that neutering the giraffe would create “side effects” and that it takes the place and resources of a more genetically viable individual. I still question how this giraffe was allowed to be bred in the first place if they knew he was going to be surplus for them. And then how did he reach the age of two?

I hope this helps put things into a little perspective. The situation at Copenhagen Zoo definitely shines a light on a broader problem with zoos worldwide, and I hope the zoo community can move toward a better future.

conservation, probably a tree hugger thing, zoo stuff

The lion in my profile picture

Me_Ajani

Because I am asked all the time about my profile picture, I thought I’d take some time today to tell you the story of how that photo came to exist.

This photo was taken in summer of 2009. At the time I worked and volunteered for an AZA-accredited institution, working in the education department and volunteering (through the city) to assist with animal care. I volunteered in the section that included large carnivores, and in 2009, four lion cubs were born; this is one of them. He was the largest of the cubs, which included three males and one female, and it took a whole group of us to get them through their weekly veterinary assessments, especially when they got big enough to run around the room.

These lion cubs are now 4 years old and at other institutions as part of the SSP– Species Survival Program. Many zoo animals are part of the program, which includes extensive genetic documentation and husbandry information, all for the sake of maintaining a genetically healthy and diverse captive population with the intention of one day returning these species to the wild. The goal is to have 95% diversity, which means any given individual can only be related to 5% of the total captive population. This is why big cat births like this are so rare: they are managed so as to not be over-populated in captivity, and to keep diversity high. A more genetically diverse population is better equipped to survive diseases and less likely to have birth defects.

Important things to know about this specific situation: it happened under very strict supervision, and was for an extremely brief period of time. The cubs were separated from their mom for less than 30 minutes while she ate. Once the cubs reached about 3 months old, contact like this ceased, in part because they were getting too big to handle and in part because they were simply done with their “kitten” vaccines. The purpose of handling them was not only to help the veterinary exams go more smoothly, but also to help the cubs feel comfortable around humans, since they will spend their entire lives in captivity. Socialization reduces stress.

And that brings me to another important point. While I do have this photo posted, I do not encourage people to seek out photo opportunities with big cats or other wildlife. Paying for photos with cubs creates a market for breeding and exploiting big cats, and the cubs are the ones who suffer being taken from their mothers far too early (remember at 3 months they were too big to handle, but still not weaned) and often don’t survive. Even lions “raised” by people maintain all of their wild instincts, and should be respected as wild animals. My situation was in the course of work I was doing and not as part of a profit-making scheme.

That being said, I wouldn’t trade the experience I had working with and around the cubs for anything, and it’s one I might never have again. They were adorable and amazing and really a joy to watch as they grew, especially knowing they were doing their part to save their species, not only by simply being alive but by being ambassadors. These cubs allowed people a chance to get a glimpse into the wild, and hopefully to care just a bit more about saving their relatives still out there.

zoo stuff

Tuesday Zoosday: The Africa Tram at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

 

Safari Park, cheetah

It’s been a while since I took my big camera out to the Safari Park, so one day last week I hauled it along with me. I always ride the African Tram (which is included in my membership) and I got some great photos. Here’s a little overview of the ride. One of the first exhibits you pass on the Tram is the cheetah exhibit, and this pretty girl was enjoying some shade on a very hot day. The exhibit cheetahs aren’t the ones who do the cheetah run; those are kept in air conditioning so their bodies don’t get overtaxed in the heat.

Safari Park,

After going past the black rhinos and the river areas with flamingos, you get to the first savanna-style exhibit. These are waterbuck, and they are shaggy and large and I love their faces. They are in one of the huge mixed exhibits that are part of what makes the park famous. This young one is one of many that are born every year; I learned that between the Safari Park and the Zoo, there is an average of at least one animal birth a day, all year, so seeing baby animals isn’t too uncommon.

Safari Park, wildebeest

These are gnus, or wildebeests. I always liked the word “gnu” as a kid, and it was fun to find out that wildebeest and gnus are one and the same. The striking markings on their faces warn predators that they can bite or jab with their horns if they are threatened. In the wild they live in immense herds, and as many as 1.5 million of them migrate together in late spring when the seasons change.

Safari Park, Somali wild ass

As you continue toward the back of the exhibit, you pass several more sections, including vultures and these, Somali wild ass. They look like they have zebra legs and many people mistake them for a zebra hybrid, but they are much smaller, have bigger ears and, of course, bray– wild asses are, after all, precursors to donkeys! I think they’re pretty.

Safari Park, pelican

Next as you start to round the corner at the top of the hill, you get a wide view of the park and the valley, but you also get to see more ponds and I always enjoy spotting the pelicans. There are three species of pelicans at the zoo and Safari Park, and I’m pretty sure this is a dalmatian pelican. The wide view of the park is gorgeous, but I think it’s easy to miss things like this when you’re looking too far afield.

Safari Park, Arabian oryx

Finally as you round the corner to head back to the Tram station, up on the hill they have a herd of Arabian oryx. These are some of my favorites to see, not only because of their beautiful fur and elegant horns, but because they are a conservation success story. While they still aren’t thriving in the wild at their former rate, they were extinct other than a handful in private collections just forty years ago. Two breeding herds were established in the US, and now several hundred have been born, and have started to be reintroduced into the wild. That is the point of conserving species in captivity: to educate the public and to preserve species until they can go back to their native habitat, if possible.

So that’s a little taste of the Safari Park Africa Tram. Hope you enjoyed the tour. More photos from that ride are here. ^_^

conservation, zoo stuff

California Friday: native habitat at the SDZ Safari Park

SD Zoo Safari Park, natural scenery

One of the interesting things to me about California is the sheer size and scope of it. I mean, Texas is huge and all, but California is SO LONG that you’d have to drive from north Florida to just about the New York state line to get a similar trip. It’s about a thirteen or fourteen hour drive  from north to south, and there are so many different types of landscape that it’s hard to picture in some ways.

According to the Nature Conservancy, San Diego County is the most biodiverse county in the continental US. That’s easy for me to believe. Not only is San Diego County extremely large, it covers a wide span of landscapes. You have the coastal salt marshes and the bay marine life, the cliffs, the river valleys more inland, you have chaparral and desert and mountains and pine forests, all in one county. And because of development, many of them are becoming endangered.

The habitat in the photo is of native coastal sage scrub habitat, protected within the property of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. There are species that only live in this type of environment, and the Safari Park has dedicated about half of their property to remain untouched in order to preserve it. The amazing thing is really how little of this habitat exists: only about 10-15% of it is left from what was originally here. It’s hard to imagine a place that looks (at first glance) so brown and empty having so many things living in it, but it actually sits at a sweet spot in relation to the other more extreme local environs. The coastal sage scrub almost never freezes, and yet almost never goes about 90*F (or 32*C) and so is a perfect place for animals and plants to thrive. That’s why the hillside in the photo is so important to this area. (You can read more about what the Safari Park is doing here… it’s a .pdf, so you know.)

Anyway, I thought I’d share a little local knowledge I’ve gained. If you’re ever hiking in the area, take a minute to appreciate being in such an amazing, wildlife filled place, especially because it only exists in such small pockets of the country.

conservation, probably a tree hugger thing, zoo stuff

Wildlife Wednesday: burrowing owls!

Living Coast, burrowing owl

Ever since I read Hoot by Carl Hiaasen, I’ve been kind of fascinated by these little birds of prey. This burrowing owl is from the Living Coast Discovery Center and is part of a colony they have on exhibit there. They eat insects and small mammals, or small reptiles and amphibians they find. One interesting thing I learned about them is that they actually nest in burrows made by other animals, such as ground squirrels, which are very common here. They hunt by running along the ground (which I would SO love to see, with those little legs scooting along) or by swooping and grabbing things (like insects) from the air.

Burrowing owls are locally (in Orange and San Diego Counties) almost extinct, other than a tiny population on a Navy base. The Orange County base recently started bolstering protection for the owls, which are the only nesting owls in this part of the state that anyone has found, and they are very close to another endangered species (least terns) right on the base. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out, as the terns are naturally snack food for burrowing owls.

There are over twenty subspecies of burrowing owls, including the Floridian one made famous by Hoot. They used to be common all over the US but since their territory is also prime land for development (wide open areas with sparse vegetation), they are running out of places to breed in localized areas. You can read more about them at the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network site.

Personally I think they are ridiculously cute, with their fluffy bodies and long, skinny legs and I’d love to see one in the wild. I’ll add it to by California bucket list. ^_^

conservation, zoo stuff

Tuesday Zoosday! This baby okapi is pretty much adorable.

SD Zoo, baby okapi

So there’s a baby okapi at the San Diego Zoo. She’s a couple of months old at this point, but I got to see her last week for the first time and she is pretty cute.

Okapis are a giraffe relative (don’t let those stripey legs fool you into think they might be zebra cousins!) and live in a very small, dense rain forest area of central Africa. There are less than 100 in zoos around the US, and several of those are here in San Diego. They’re fascinating to watch and I always make a point of going by their exhibit.

SD Zoo, baby okapi with mom

I think the most giraffe-like quality an okapi has is the head. If you look at the shape of the face, and at they way the tongue is manipulated to get shoots of grass or leaves, you can definitely see the family resemblance,  I love the huge ears these animals have. I know the photo is super over-exposed, but they were moving quickly in and out of that bright patch of light; usually they hang out in the shadows near the front of the exhibit, but baby girl there wanted to run and explore. She was awfully cute. Have I said that yet? It’s cool though because you can see how their legs blend in with the trees in the foreground, and you can kind of imagine what it’s like when they blend into their native forests.

Okapis are part of the Species Survival Plans Program and are a perfect illustration of how zoos benefit and promote species conservation. These animals are SO elusive in the wild that there is almost no way to study them. By observing them in captivity and learning about their reproduction and husbandry, we can learn to manage their populations and hopefully supplement the wild population. There is also a movement to educate people about so-called “bushmeat” which is often okapi or other endangered hoofstock and the like.

I think these animals a pretty cool, though I’ve only seen them a handful of times. If you’re interested in reading more about them, the San Diego Zoo’s website has some good stuff, as does the Okapi Conservation Project. ^_^

conservation, Travel

Monterey Bay Aquarium

Monterey Bay Aquarium Open Sea

Last weekend, J and I took a roadtrip north to Monterey and San Francisco. You can see all of the photos here. The main destination on Saturday was the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Housed in an old cannery, the Aquarium is now home to a huge collection of California’s native marine species, from fish and turtles to sharks and sea otters, and even shorebirds. They research and resource sustainable seafood and rehabilitate and release injured wildlife from up and down the coast. The exhibit above is their Open Sea exhibit, during their scheduled feeding time. The swarm is a school of sardines, but there are also other large and small fish, sharks and sea turtles in the exhibit, as well as native invertebrates.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Kelp Bed

The Aquarium began as a project to allow non-scuba-divers a chance to see what the Bay looks like beneath the surface. This Kelp Bed exhibit is modeled on the Bay; it contains live kelp and many species of fish, sharks and invertebrates that call the California coast home. We got to see a diver feeding some of the fish in this exhibit, too. One of the cool things about it is that the water in about 95% of the exhibits is actual bay water: they pump it and filter it and then cycle it back into the bay unaltered. This is a window into the ocean.

Monterey Bay Aquarium behind the scenes

J and I did a behind the scenes tour to learn about how the aquarium operates, and to see some of the exhibits a little closer. This is actually the top of the Kelp Bed exhibit. Tides and waves are recreated mechanically so the kelp stays healthy, and the strings keep birds from eating the exhibit fish. The buildings in the background are part of the sea otter rescue program, housing nurseries and surrogate moms for the pups; pups raised by otters do much better in the wild and learn to stay away from people.

Monterey Bay Aquarium wild sea otter

Speaking of otters, we saw a ton of them in the bay itself! They were hanging out in rafts, or drifting on their own, catching crabs and eating on their backs in the water. We even saw a mom and pup a little farther up the coast as we walked to Fisherman’s Wharf.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Cannery Row

We walked down Cannery Row on the way to the Wharf, past all of the old canneries that have been turned into shops and restaurants. It’s interesting to see the old buildings, and to walk inside of them and see the skeletons of the industry. The Wharf had several offering whale watching and stands with samples of clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls. We also saw a pile of sea lions on one of the floating docks.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Fisherman's Wharf

We ended the day with a dinner at the Fishwife restaurant on the recommendation of a friend. It was a really fun day and I learned a lot about local California (coastal) wildlife, plus ate some amazing clam chowder and then fish for dinner. I’d definitely go to Monterey again.

conservation, zoo stuff

An Afternoon at Birch Aquarium

Birch Aquarium reef exhibit

A couple of days ago I visited the Birch Aquarium with a friend. It was a very nice little aquarium with a focus on local (southern Californian) sealife. I learned a lot about local fish and a bit more about the tide pools (that I still need to re-visit).

Birch Aquarium sea dragon

My favorite exhibits were of the octopus (it was huge!) and the seahorses. Birch is connected to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and so is primarily connected with research and conservation. One of their big projects is breeding endangered seahorses and then releasing (or sharing with other zoos and aquariums).

Birch Aquarium red jellyfish

 

They had many many types of seahorses, including some very tiny ones (I didn’t get a good photo of them, sorry) that looked very familiar to me… and when I read the sign I discovered that species, called a dwarf seahorse, is from the Gulf of Mexico and is the type I caught as a kid. We used to find these big, fluffy pieces of seaweed lying on the beach after high tide and when you shook them, tiny seahorses (and other animals like baby fish and hermit crabs) fell out of it. We’d collect it all in buckets of water, play for a while, and then turn them loose.

Birch Aquarium spotted garden eel

Anyway, it was a fun trip and a beautiful location, perched above the La Jolla coastline.