So I’m finally getting around to getting some of my photos from our trip to Australia up and realizing I have a lot of them…. Over 3,000 actually, but as it was a three week trip, I guess that’s not too bad really. At any rate, I’m going to begin with our first stop on the journey: a three night excursion in Sydney.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ^_^
This photo thoroughly entertains me. The condor is totally people watching. He (or she, I’m not really sure) kept pacing back and forth, following certain people as they walked past the glass. Sometimes he would pick up a stick and parade back and forth with it. Finally, after a very long time, he grabbed one of the sticks and ran (yes, RAN) to the back of the exhibit.
Enrichment is important for captive animals; it keeps their minds healthy and active, staves off boredom and helps prevent obesity. (Yes, animals have all the same health concerns we do, too.) But sometimes the people are a type of enrichment, too.
Also… GIANT BIRD FEET!
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.
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. ^_^
As I mentioned in my post from Saturday, I went to the Safari Park with friends that day, and I’ve got a few random photos to share. Mostly I noticed that they moved the zebra herd into a new (much easier to see) exhibit, and that the baby animals I saw last time I visited have all grown a lot.
I visited the gorilla exhibit for maybe the third time ever, and saw one of the young ones having a wonderful time with some grass pieces. There was much rolling and grass pulling and happiness.
Though this isn’t the most wonderful photo (as I didn’t have my good camera with me), this is a mom-bat and her kit. Right after this, she flipped up to hold the food dish above her with her front claw to create a little cradle for the kit, and proceeded to groom it all over. Pretty much adorable. Bats are so interesting, and make up about 25% of all known mammal species. It’s really amazing to think about the sheer number of them out there.
I really liked this view of the lion exhibit. Usually the lions are much too close to the glass for good photos. Weird complaint, I know, but it’s much easier to photograph them at a distance. I like how the mountains are in the background.
This is a pretty good photo of one of the zoo’s two northern white rhinos. There are only a handful left in the world, and the species is on the brink of extinction. It’s strange to think these animals won’t exist except as preserved specimens in another generation.
And last but not least, I leave you with a photo of one of the Park’s baby elephants. Just too cute, and growing all the time. ^_^
Well, today got away from me but it’s still before midnight so this counts!
Today I went to the SD Safari Park with some friends from Orange County who came down for the day. The thing about the Safari Park is that I go on a fairly regular basis, so I notice when things change. I also know when and where to see various animals. And I know what times of day are better than others for seeing certain things. Like tigers.
I’ve heard several people say that the tiger exhibit is the Park’s joke on its guests, because there are no tigers. This is completely untrue! There are FOUR tigers at the Safari Park. I know because I asked. But people hardly ever see them and assume they are not on exhibit.
Well, there are some Things to know about tigers. The first Thing is that they are basically solitary. Sometimes in captivity they are in pairs, but usually they like to be alone.
The next Thing you need to know about tigers is that they sleep about SIXTEEN to TWENTY HOURS a day. I am not exaggerating. Only about four to eight hours are spent actively doing stuff, from hunting to walking territory to breeding.
The last Thing you need to know is that tigers are ambush hunters. In other words, they are VERY GOOD at hiding. They have excellent camouflage and feel safer when tucked away a little out of sight.
Put all of these Things together, along with an old fashioned exhibit design, and you get magically invisible tigers!
What’s actually happening is that the tigers are only put out in the big yard one at a time, except for a pair that go out together. They romp and explore for the first, oh, half an hour in the morning (so around 9am) and then they retreat to a particular spot in the back of the exhibit. It’s got a cement stoop and looks back into the night quarters and is in the shade. SO they have a cool cement slab to lie on and watch their keepers, and then sleep away the day, almost completely hidden from view.
If you know where to look, you can almost always spot them from the viewing platform. But the best view? It’s further down, before you ever reach the platform. Stop when you’re even with the rocks and look down and just past said rocks and I can almost guarantee you’ll see TIGER.
This weekend J and I went to the zoo with some friends from out of town. Since you’ve been inundated with enough animal and nature photos lately, here are some just fun (or funny) ones. Maybe I’m the only one entertained by them, but hey, that’s all that matters!
OH NO, there’s a GIANT HAND coming out of that kid’s FACE! Maybe J should’ve looked at the front of this photo-op thing first…
Chillin’ in the sun…
Dear Monkey: That thing you’re sitting on that you’re treating like a rock is not a rock. That thing is a HIPPO and they can be very BITEY.
(Mixed exhibit with monkeys and pygmy hippos made for some entertainment.)
The whole group of us!
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).
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).
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.
Anyway, it was a fun trip and a beautiful location, perched above the La Jolla coastline.
So here’s the thing.
I’ve been trying to go to as many national parks (or historic sites, as the case may be) this year as possible. I’m excited about my passport stampbook (as I’ve previously posted) and especially since we now live in the half of the country with all of the huge natural areas, I want to see them!
One of the exhibits I’ve always loved at the North Carolina Zoo is their Sonora Desert dome, so when I noticed on my newly-acquired roadmap of Arizona that the interstate went THROUGH it, I couldn’t resist! On the way home from the Casa Grande ruins, we looked it up on our GPS and found a place labeled “Sonoran Desert National Monument.” That sounded promising, so we programmed it to take us there.
And we started driving.
See that? PROOF we were in the RIGHT AREA.
We took a couple of smaller roads, then wound up on a two lane highway going straight across the Sonoran Desert, generally back in the direction of I-8, which we would pick up on the other side after stopping at the monument. The desert was fascinating, with far more plant-life that I expected in a desert, and we drove between two long mountain reaches, watching for wildlife (though we never saw any) and grateful for the full tank of gas and water bottles.
It was interesting, too, that there weren’t many cars. Most of the “scenic” stops were closed for the season, but that didn’t bother us because we planned to stop at the monument.
At this point I want to note that there are not that many photos from this drive. That’s because I kept expecting to, y’know, GET to something. These photos of cacti?? Actually from BEFORE we got into the national monument area.
After a while, we reached the point where the GPS told us to turn and drive 11 miles to the monument. We slowed down to make the turn…
…and then stopped. We were facing a sandy track that crossed some railroad tracks that ran parallel to the two lane highway. On the near side of them was a VERY large sign that said: “DO NOT ENTER.” Oh, and some WILD COTTON BUSHES.
I looked again at the GPS. We’d followed the directions correctly. But then I noticed that the 11 mile “drive” was supposed to take over an hour… across sand… And we realized then that the “Monument” was probably the DESERT ITSELF.
THANKS, GPS. We were now in the MIDDLE of the Sonoran Desert. Well, about 11 miles from the middle, as far as I can tell.
To be fair, I DID say I wanted to properly SEE the desert, and not just drive past it on the interstate. And boy howdy, I SAW that desert.
We checked our map and discovered we were closer to I-8 if we kept going forward rather than backtracking, so that’s what we did.
I guess some monuments are bigger than others. I’m still bummed I didn’t get a stamp for it, though.