Tails From The Zoo

Geocaching at the Zoo III June 6, 2010

Come and spend the day at the Zoo and learn about geocaching.

Date: Saturday June 12, 2010
Time: noon – approximately 4:30 p.m.

Enter the Zoo though the South Gate and then meet us at the Zoo Education Centre located at N49° 52.122 W097° 14.515. (To your left as you go through the gate)

Noon – 12:30 p.m. Introduction to geocaching presented by the Manitoba Geocaching Association.
12:30 – 4:00 p.m. Search for the new geocaches that will be placed around the Zoo.
4:00 Prize Draw

This year’s theme for our caches is biodiversity so expect a very diverse set of caches! The MBGA will have a couple of extra GPS units available for those that are interested in participating but do not own a GPS. They will also be on hand to answer any questions you may have about geocaching or the use of your GPS.

Click here for more information: http://www.mbgeocaching.ca/node/717

 

Biodiversity – Our Life May 21, 2010

The Assiniboine Park Zoo and Canada’s other 24 accredited zoos and aquariums are launching a national awareness campaign to engage Canadians in supporting the preservation of biodiversity — the animals, plants, and countless other life forms that make up the world’s ecosystems.  May 22nd is the International Day of Biodiversity and many zoos and aquariums are holding special events to mark the occasion.  The Assiniboine Park Zoo is hosting a Biodiversity Display and Turtle Talk on May 22, 11 am to 3 pm, in the Tropical House, and is highlighting biodiversity conservation in many of its annual programs, such as school presentations, Spring and Summer Zoo Camps, and interpretive talks around the zoo.  Biodiversity promotional materials will also be available to zoo visitors.

2010 Biodiversity Logo

2010 is also the International Year of Biodiversity, and the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums and  its partners have identified the Arctic region as a priority concern for addressing challenges to Arctic species and their habitats. They are reaching out to Canadians everywhere to enlist their support in ensuring a sustainable future for this vital part of our country.  In connecting with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, CAZA will be working closely with its partners – Parks Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Polar Bears International.”

Throughout International Biodiversity Year 2010 and into the future, CAZA member zoos and aquariums will present a broad range of information and education about wildlife and environmental issues in Canada’s Arctic. Thousands of organisms – including bacteria, insects, plants, birds and mammals — live above, on and under a single square metre of the earth’s surface. All of these species are connected like the strands of silk in a spider’s web. If a species is lost or habitat disappears, the web starts to fall apart. When we lose this biodiversity, we lose life itself.

“It’s easy to forget that people are an integral part of Nature and that our lives are tied intimately to the living things around us.” said CAZA President Rachel Leger. “Biodiversity provides us with the oxygen, food, water, fuel, fibre, and medicine we need to survive. And our actions can either preserve or destroy these resources.”

 

Arctic Biodiversity Initiative May 20, 2010


Ottawa, May 20 – Canada’s accredited zoos and aquariums are launching a national awareness campaign to engage Canadians in supporting the preservation of biodiversity in our Arctic. May 22nd is the International Day of Biodiversity and many zoos and aquariums are holding special events to mark the occasion.

“2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity” declared Rachel Leger, President of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “CAZA and its partners have identified our Arctic regions as a priority concern for addressing challenges to Arctic species and their habitats. We are reaching out to Canadians everywhere to enlist their support in ensuring a sustainable future for this vital part of our country. In connecting with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, we will be working closely with our partners – Parks Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Polar Bears International”.

Throughout International Biodiversity Year 2010 and into the future, CAZA member zoos and aquariums will present a broad range of information and education about environmental issues in Canada’s Arctic. The variety of life on earth – the plants and animals that make up ecosystems – is called biodiversity. Thousands of organisms – bacteria, insects, plants, birds and mammals – live and thrive above, on and under a single square foot of earth. All of these species are connected like the strands of silk in a spider’s web. If a species is lost or habitat disappears, the web starts to fall apart. When we lose this biodiversity we lose life itself.

At first glance its vast, icy surface might seem empty, but Canada’s Arctic is filled with extremely rich and active ecosystems. From tiny plankton to huge whales, entire communities of animals and plants make their homes on, under or at the edge of the ice.

The unique polar species that live in the Arctic are specially adapted to its extreme conditions – freezing temperatures, strong winds, deep snow, thick ice and permafrost. Even slight changes to the Arctic’s fragile habitats can have a huge impact on these species, and human activities are taking their toll. Pollution, climate change and development all affect Arctic temperature, habitat and available food sources. As their Arctic home continues to change, polar bears, belugas, caribou and the smaller northern animals and plants that support them face an uncertain future.

Protecting species and habitats with national parks, working jointly with Inuit communities to manage these parks, conducting scientific research and spreading the message to Canadians across the country are all part of the cooperative approach inspired by the International Year of Biodiversity and being implemented by CAZA and its three partners. Education programs, lectures, special events, community presentations and other activities will be carried out at each of the participating accredited zoos and aquariums across the country. CAZA members will also help out with Arctic field work and the research that supports it – and will invite Canadians to contribute to this worthwhile endeavour. This special effort is intended to build on the extensive work carried out by Canada’s accredited zoos and aquariums in captive breeding and population management programs.

A wealth of information about the Arctic, its biodiversity challenges and what is being done to address them can be found on a new, specially-designed website at www.ourarctic.ca

On behalf of the people of Canada, Parks Canada protects and presents nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage, and fosters public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure their ecological and commemorative integrity for present and future generations.

Polar Bears International (PBI) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the worldwide conservation of polar bears and their habitat through research, stewardship, and education. PBI provides scientific resources and information on polar bears and their habitat to institutions and the general public worldwide.

The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a not for profit national organization that represents Canada’s 25 accredited zoos and aquariums. It sets standards through its accreditation program, leads and coordinates work in the fields of research, conservation and education, and represents its members’ interests with governments at all levels.

For further information:

Bill Peters

Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums

 

Fun Friday Zoo Facts April 30, 2010

Filed under: Biodiversity,Birds,Carbon Footprints,Eco-Dates,World News — Scott Gray @ 3:30 pm
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Saving the Earth is a lot easier than you think!

  • A gas-powered lawn mower for one hour can emit as much pollution as driving a car more than 320 kilometres.  Trade in your gas-guzzler for an electric or solar powered lawn mower!

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Following up on the recent zoo baby announcements:

  • The Assiniboine Park Zoo now has baby stones sheep, European bison, and reindeer.

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Upcoming National and International Days
International Composting Awareness Week – May 3 to 9 –
Visit: The Composting Council of Canada
International Migratory Bird Day – May 9 – Visit: http://www.birdday.org/
International Day for Biological Diversity – May 22 – Visit Biodiversity Canada
World Turtle Day – May 23 – Visit: Turtle Day Celebrations

 

Mural of the Cave Lions April 15, 2010

Filed under: Biodiversity,CAZA,New Animals/Births,Wild Cats — Scott Gray @ 9:23 am
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By Dr. Robert E. Wrigley, Curator, Assiniboine Park Zoo

While the Assiniboine Park Zoo has displayed a number of lions over its 106-year history, a decision was made in 1981 to eliminate this species from the collection due to inadequate winter quarters for a large animal that could not handle the cold periods of a Winnipeg winter. And yet the public continued to ask about this popular and majestic species, one so traditional at other zoos. In response, the Zoo brought in a pair of lions in 2005 on loan from Import/Export Inc., one of CAZA’s commercial members. The opportunity to observe a lion family (two cubs were born soon after arrival) attracted remarkable public and media attention, and attendance rose by an extra 34,000 – an increase that year of 9 percent.
With the assistance of the Zoological Society of Manitoba, a plan was developed in 2008 to renovate the old Giant Panda building to host a permanent display of the “King of Beasts,” and also to construct a new space for a variety of uses and programs (displays, classes, meetings, and dining and sleep-overs with the Lions). The entire project is set to open in the spring of 2010.

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The interpretive displays focus on:

  • the modern lion’s ancestors and races, morphology (including a lion skeleton), distribution, natural history, and conservation issues,
  • the history of big cats (with fossil-skull replicas and figure drawings) and other cat-like carnivores (e.g., marsupial lions) that filled this top-predator niche around the world over the last 30 million years,
  • a 13 by 0.7-metre LED light box with 53 representative images of paintings and sculptures of lions, interpreted by artists from many cultures, from 35,000 years ago to the present day.
  • portraits of the 38 species of living cats, most of which are now at risk, and
  • a 27 by 4.6-metre mural which serves as the background for the spacious indoor quarters of the lions, and which is accessible for public viewing from the interpretive room. This current article describes this latter component of the project.

The objective here was to display the lion in its natural habitat, but one completely different from the typical African savanna scene to which people are so accustomed. The mural depicts a scene 12,000 years ago in France or Spain, just after the last Ice Age, but prior to the introduction of agriculture to Stone Age (Upper Paleolithic) people living in the valley. A pair of European cave lions is seen stalking a herd of red deer — a species also important in the diet of a hunter/gatherer family camped nearby. This race of lion weighed around 250 kg (recent lion averages 190 kg), likely had a thick fur coat to withstand cold winter temperatures, and is believed to have sought refuge inside caves during extreme weather and to feed in seclusion.
The left wall of the exhibit is devoted to a cut-away view of a limestone cave, which has protected a wonderful treasury of prehistoric art. Over the last 1.7 million years, possibly four successive, overlapping species of humans (Homo erectus, H. heidelbergensis, H. neanderthalensis, and our species H. sapiens) occupied the region now known as Europe. Although pre-historic populations are thought to have been remarkably small (in the mere thousands), individuals of all these species likely visited and lived in numerous caves over countless generations, and from 35,000-12,000 years ago (late Paleolithic period), members of our species painted and engraved wonderful images on the walls and ceilings of the animals they hunted for food and used in ceremonies. These elegant paintings were done in charcoal and manganese dioxide (both black pigments) and iron oxide (red), mixed with a liquid binder. The paintings often incorporated colors and contours of the cave wall to create a 3-dimentional effect, and used bold contrast between light and dark (using mixed pigments and existing cave stains) to produce great drama – an art technique known as “chiaroscuro.” On occasion, certain animals were carved into or molded onto the walls and ceilings.

Anthropologists believe these cave bestiaries had a magical purpose, with shamans overseeing sacred rituals and visions. The presence of arrows and spears stuck into bleeding and disemboweled big-game animals, red dots on the animals’ necks and flanks, and imprints of the human hand all strongly suggest that these people believed their hunting success would be enhanced by these icons. The fact that so many paintings survived to this day in numerous caves around Europe is evidence that generations of people held them in high regard.
When the first caves were discovered in the early 1900s, these paintings were thought by some art historians to be modern fakes; how could primitive people create such beautiful works of art? However, it was soon realized they were authentic, and represented some of the most-remarkable examples of impressionistic art ever produced. Several caves (e.g., Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain) have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Chauvet Cave in France, dated at 35,000 years ago and only discovered in 1994, represents a veritable zoo display of native animals so beautifully executed that it has been described as the “birthplace of art.”

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I asked Winnipeg mural artists Mandy van Leeuwen and Michel St. Hilaire to work with me to capture within the mural 15 species typically represented in these remarkable caves. Images of cave lions appear in a number of sites, such as the “Chamber of Felines” at Lascaux, which depicts several speared lions, one bleeding from the mouth. A search on the topic of cave paintings on Google (e.g., Wikipedia article on “Cultural Depictions of Lions”) will reveal an astonishing variety of fantastic Paleolithic animal art. With the huge mural in full view, visitors will be asked if they can identify the following animals:

  • Cave Lion (Panthera leo spelaeus), Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus), Woolly Mammoth (Mammothus primigenius),
  • Woolly Rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis), Modern Horse (Equus caballus), Steppe Bison (Bison priscus)
  • Aurochs (Bos primigenius), Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex), Giant Deer (Megaloceros giganteus), Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)
  • Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus), Owl and butterfly (species unknown)

Sadly, most of these species were driven into extinction by 10,000 years ago due to rapid climate/ecosystem changes and hunting by people, but a few have survived to this day, and are found both in the wild and in zoos.

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Although the Lion had evolved in Africa (as evidenced by Tanzanian fossils) by 3.5 million years ago, it diversified into various races as it spread over temporary land bridges into Eurasia, North America and northwestern South America. In fact, this species had the largest-known distribution of any large mammal and was common throughout the western and southern halves of our continent until only 10,000 years ago. The American Lion (Pantera leo atrox) was the largest cat that ever walked the earth – at least a third larger (up to 380 kg; 838 lbs) than the African and Asiatic races of recent times. As I write this, I am looking at a beautiful skull replica of this massive species, and it is measures 46 x 27 cm. Few zoo visitors are familiar with this fascinating story.
Going back farther in time, the lion and other big cats have played significant roles in the lives of our species and in about 20 other extinct members of the human family. For six million years, big cats have been both fearsome predators of humans, and major competitors for available game. People have demonstrated a love-hate relationship with the majestic lion, ranging from treating it as a pet to destroying every individual possible and neglecting its conservation. Originally numbering in the millions over its vast world-wide range, this species continues in a precipitous decline, directly related to human over-population (persecution, habitat competition, and disease). Fewer than 18,000 survive in Africa and 300 in India, and some biologists fear the species will be exterminated from the wild well before the end of the century — all the more reason for zoos to press onward with public education and with spearheading conservation measures.
A zoo/aquarium setting is a wonderful space to explore traditional and new interpretive techniques, adapted from museums, art galleries, and nature and science centers. Combining live animals in naturalistic backgrounds, themed trails, fossil and human artifacts (real or images), inter-active games, videos, computer stations, and other concepts add so much more to a facility visit. They intrigue various age groups and help attract repeat visitation because there is always something new to see and do. As a former curator and director of a major provincial museum and a national nature center, I have seen how successful an exhibit can be when augmented by exciting supportive materials and techniques.
Zoos and aquariums also have an enviable interpretive advantage in that they can show living, active species (not just images and objects) – the next best thing to being in the wildest places on earth. Visitors to the new exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo will not only marvel at a lion family, but will learn so much more about these amazing cats. After all, lions were formerly and still are found outside Africa, and in recent prehistoric times (until 11,500 to 10,000 years ago) they were part of Canada’s native fauna, competing for big-game prey with the Sabretooth cat (Smilodon fatalis), the American cheetah (Miracinonyx trumani) and its close relative the puma (Puma concolor), and with the growing population of recent human immigrants from Asia.

This article appears in the April Newsletter of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

 

Not-so-stupid Animal Tricks April 6, 2010

Filed under: Biodiversity,Uncategorized,World News — Scott Gray @ 12:58 pm
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I couldn’t pass up posting this article from Mental Floss!

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Not-so-stupid animal tricks

By David Goldenberg, Mental Floss

April 2, 2010 10:05 a.m. EDT

Mental Floss

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Some animals use tools to get their dinner or drinks
  • Some dolphins use sea sponges as masks when they fish
  • Crows shape sticks into hooks and spears to probe for insects
  • Green-backed herons drop insects or feathers into waters they “fish” for fish

(Mental Floss) — For centuries, philosophers claimed that the ability to make tools separated man from beast.

But in 1960, a young wildlife researcher named Jane Goodall told her boss,anthropologist Louis Leakey, that she’d witnessed chimpanzees stripping leaves from twigs and using them to “fish” for termites.

A stunned Leakey responded,”Now we must redefine tool, redefine Man, or accept chimpanzees as humans.” Of course, we now know that chimps were only the beginning.

1. Elephants drink bottled water

Not only do elephants use branches to swat flies and scratch their backs, but they also use tools to plan for the future. In South Africa, biologist Hezy Shoshani observed a pachyderm chewing bark into a large ball and then using the ball to plug up a nearby watering hole. The result was an elephant-size water bottle! Later, the animal came back to the spot, removed the ball, and quenched his thirst again.

2. Dolphins cover their mouths

In addition to bouncing balls on their noses, dolphins are also handy with sponges. Georgetown University researcher Janet Mann reported that bottlenose dolphins in Australia’s Shark Bay have been seen carrying sea sponges in their mouths while fishing along the ocean floor.

When they dig into the sand to stir up hidden fish, the sponges apparently act as a kind of mask. But, of the thousands of bottlenose dolphins identified in Shark Bay, only 41 have been observed doing this. Almost all of them were female, and the behavior seems to be something mothers teach their daughters.

3. Owls make the most out of cow poop

Some burrowing owls have a strange habit of scattering cow manure around the entrances to their homes in the ground. Until recently, scientists thought this behavior evolved as a way to mask the owls’ scent from potential predators.

But researchers recently determined that the cow manure actually functions as bait to lure dung beetles, one of the owls’ favorite foods.

Mental Floss: 7 creative uses for poop

4. Vultures cast stones

Egyptian vultures love the taste of ostrich eggs, but they can’t break the thick shells by just pecking at them. So hungry vultures go in search of rocks for the job, sometimes venturing up to 50 yards away. When they return, they dip their heads violently and hurl their rock at the egg, smashing open the shell.

Surprisingly, this technique appears to be an innate behavior. When presented with tasty eggs, even vultures raised alone in captivity will go hunting for stones.

5. Crows have a lot to crow about

New Caledonian crows are widely renowned as the tool-using champs of the bird kingdom. To hunt for insects, they shape sticks into hooks and spears that allow them to probe tree crevices. They also modify those sticks into the correct size and shape by whittling them with a complex process of snips and tears.

What’s more, New Caledonian crows can make new tools out of old ones and pass along their new inventions to others.

Mental Floss: 10 technologies we stole from animals

6. Chimps build nutcrackers

Chimpanzees of the Ivory Coast’s Tai Forest are the Bob Villas of their species. In order to crack open the hard oil-palm nuts they adore, the chimps use two tools at once. First, they place a nut on a flat stone for traction, then they smash it with a pointed hammer-like stone.

The skill takes young chimps several years to master, but once they get the hang of it, they’ll store their favorite tool sets in certain places and bring their nuts there for cracking. A recent archaeological dig found that Tai Forest chimps have been making nutcrackers like these for 4,000 years.

7. Herons go fishing

Like Jane Goodall’s chimpanzees, wild green-backed herons “fish” for their food. Using insects, feathers, or even flowers, they drop their clever bait into the water and then gobble up the curious fish that come to the surface for a meal.

Herons can be remarkably persistent fishermen, too. Reportedly, one researcher in Africa watched a heron drop the same bait into the water 28 times in a row before a fish finally bit.

Mental Floss: Is a dog’s mouth cleaner than a human’s?

For more mental_floss articles, visit mentalfloss.com

Entire contents of this article copyright, Mental Floss LLC. All rights reserved.

Original article link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/wayoflife/04/02/mf.animals.using.tools/index.html?hpt=Sbin

 

Wild Weeks in March March 10, 2010

Filed under: Biodiversity,Carbon Footprints,Eco-Dates,Uncategorized — Scott Gray @ 11:21 am
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We are in the middle of National Tree Week, which runs from March 7 to 13, and I’m wondering what you are doing to celebrate. Have you hugged a tree yet? Okay that’s maybe a little simplistic but what child doesn’t like hugging a tree?

The aim of National Tree Week is to raise awareness about trees and to encourage local communities to participate in forest walks and tree plantings. Planting a tree you can help to reduce carbon emissions. Trees take in carbon dioxide from the air and convert much of it into wood. The by-product of doing so is the production of oxygen. Trees also provide habitats for birds, insects, small mammals and even a few frogs!

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Next week, March 15 – 21, is National Wildlife Week in the US. You can celebrate the week by getting outside and enjoying nature. “Climb trees, chase butterflies, dig in the dirt and celebrate nature. You’ll become healthier, happier and more connected to the world around you.” Keep your momentum going and send your child to our Spring Day Camp at the Assiniboine Park Zoo – where our policy is no child is left inside!

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If you’re more of a bird person, keep a note on the calendar for March 14th, International Migratory Bird Day. I’ll be posting a separate blog for this day later in the week.