Archive for October, 2019

Many more Cryodrakon images

Scavening on a dead Cryodrakon by Mark Witton

Chatting to Mark Witton the other day it transpired that artwork of Cryodrakon has already existed for some year. Large azhdarchids would have been a decent meal for small scavengers and we know of at least two incidences of dromaeosaurs eating them, one of which being the holotype of Cryodrakon (the other was Velociraptor I described with a pterosaur bone in it). The above piece was done in reference to this but Mark told me his point was to specifically reference the Canadian specimen which only now has a name.

I’m sure there’s other artworks out there that similarly were based on this northern ‘Quetzalcoatlus’ and would now refer to Cryodrakon, but almost inevitably once the paper came out there was a rush on to produce new images that rapidly appeared online alongside the ‘official’ artwork of David Maas. Here are a few of those.

Cryodrakon attacks a dromaeosaur by Gabriel Uguerto

First off is that by Gabriel Uguerto and this one is a bit of a cheat perhaps because he drew it for me as a commission but I’m delighted to have the original and it’s nice to see an azhdarchid giving something back to the theropods and not just being eaten by them or only following what is now a meme and eating baby sauropods.

Cryodrakon skeletal (full sized) by Dean Schnabel

There are already skeletal outlines appearing for Cryodrakon too. Dean Schnabel (who goes under the pseudonym of Sassy Palaeo Nerd on Deviant Art and Twitter) has produced two. One of all the known material scaled to the incomplete giant cervical (above) and a second that is just the holotype material at the correct size for that specimen (below).

Cryodrakon skeletal (holotype only) by Dean Schnabel

Finally, Joschua Knüppe put out this black one on an especially snowy background. While on the subject of snow, it’s popping up a lot I artworks already. The name Cryodrakon was intended to invoke Alberta as it is now rather than when the animal was alive when it was semi-tropical. That doesn’t though mean that snow is wrong (indeed David Maas sneaked a bit into one of his images) as even the warmest places will get snowfall on occasion and azhdarchids generally could fly long distance and the newly forming Rocky Mountains were not far away. I’m sure on occasion Cryodrakon ended up striding through snow and flying over white landscapes even if it wasn’t the norm.

Cryodrakon in the snow by Joschua Knüppe

These are not the only ones out there, a quick google will reveal a wealth of alternate takes on Instagram, Deviant Art and elsewhere (alongside a load of older rebadged art that various media organisations stumbled to produce and plenty of versions of David’s work, often inappropriately rebadged with someone else’s watermark). More I’m sure are coming but it’s nice to see your own scientific work reach out into people’s imaginations and artistic efforts.

 

Coda: I spoke to all the artists about linking to their work before putting them up here.

Pairi Daiza Zoo

Sleeping Tasmanian devil

My most recent zoo outing was the Pairi Daiza collection in Belgium. I’d not actually heard of this place until finding a flyer for it in a hotel in France but was drawn to its claim of having won two ‘best zoo in Europe’ awards (from who I don’t know) clearly being very large and the fact that it has somehow passed me by. I managed to have a chance to go recently however so made the trek out to it and found what must rank as one of the strangest collections I’ve ever been so, so strap in for a pretty long and detailed review.

First off the basics, the animals were numerous, generally well cared for (though a couple of terrariums in the reptile house were poor and one alligator was rather badly overweight) and in good set-ups. There was lots of space and with well managed environments and the animals appeared to be doing well.

Young gharials

As usual, it’s worth touching on some of the more interesting and rare animals since these days going to a zoo and seeing a lion on Celebes macaque doesn’t really do much for me (or I suspect, many of the readers). So, I got to see blesbok, rufus hornbill, Tasmanian devils, and potoroos (all wonderful), a displaying Bulwer’s pheasant (amazing), Spix’s macaws (well, sort of, they were in nest boxes but I could see a bit of one) and best of all, gharials! Only a pair of very young juveniles, but still an utter delight to see and something I’ve been after for many, many years.

There were lots of other cool things too (especially on the bird front), giant pandas, lots of pheasants, parrots and touracos, shoebill, bird of paradise, spotted hyena, cock of the rock, hummingbirds, couscous, and a really wide selection of classic big things (giraffe, rhino, hippo, apes) as well as less-often seen ones like moose, bushbuck and various vultures. There was a lake with lots of wild waterfowl and then sections were partitioned off for the seals and penguins which was nice, and then a good reptile house and aquarium, and several walk-through sections, but here is where things start to get odd.

Potoroo

The zoo is fundamentally constructed in a very odd manner. It is absolutely huge and built mostly up the side of a huge hill, and it is signposted badly when meant for a very long day (more than a few shades of LA Zoo). There’s lots of bizarrely wasted space such as a walk through tropical house with a massive waterfall and lake and a rope-bridge over it, but no fish or other animals in the water or on the little islands in the middle. It looks nice, but there’s no animals to see in that part, they’re all at the other end. There’s big laws which clearly are in part there for corporate events (there were a couple on, even at the weekend) but it only adds to the spacing out between exhibits. Much more than that though, huge chunks are given over some kind of tribute to the homelands of various animals. There is, for example, an absolutely huge and basically full-sized Thailand temple on top of the hill. It’s utterly huge and very detailed, but, and this is quite crucial, it’s not part of the exhibits. It’s not a huge façade to the elephant house, or is the small mammal house, it’s literally just a huge replica of a temple. There’s a Chinese one next to the pandas as well, and a fake warehouse with a real seaplane in it and canoes next to the bears and moose. It’s basically a huge amount of land taken up with a very expensive (and really quite faithful) replica of major buildings.

Similarly, the aquarium is themed around captain Nemo’s Nautilus with steam-punk type copper piping everywhere and gas lanterns etc. and even a control room with a very poor mannequin propped up again a steering wheel. The reptile house is built inside a mock Victorian steam ship that’s sinking (the whole thing is built on a slant) with the theme of the animals escaping from their containers. There’s even a fake lighthouse over the seal pond (which at least houses an icecream stand but otherwise seems to be functionless).

Blesbok

It’s all just set dressing, and while it mostly looks nice, I really can’t see the point. It must have added a colossal amount to the cost of the zoo and takes up a monstrous amount of space and it really adds not that much. These reviews as a whole are coming from a place where I’m both a huge animal enthusiast and someone who has been to a lot of zoos. I absolutely recognise that things that appeal to me as a visitor may not appeal at all to the average zoo goer but I’d hope I have enough empathy to know why they love seeing elephants and ring tailed lemurs even when I’m more interested in elephant shrews and ring tailed cats. But here’s the thing, the visitors (and there were many) didn’t seem that bothered by it either. They were mostly looking at the animals and the small sections of pseudo-museum exhibits there were plugged into a couple of these were completely empty. I really can’t fathom why they would do this, and it only adds to long walks to get from section to section and confusing detours when trying to get past them.

Bulwer’s pheasant displaying

The zoo was also rather expensive to get into (more than London Zoo by a margin which obviously suffers in part from being in London) and then the carpark was a lot on top of that. Given that it’s absolutely in the middle of nowhere in the country where land is cheap, and there’s no other real mechanism of getting there (I didn’t see any bus stops or any public transport coming or going) this seems an utterly unnecessary and mercenary addition.

So, how to sum up? It’s an amazing collection with lots of great exhibits and a mix of the ‘traditional’ animals and lots of real rarities and things that would appeal to even rather jaded zoo goers. But it’s a huge amount of ground to cover and the huge and badly signposted gaps between exhibits is frustrating and coupled with the price and inaccessibility means it’s not a trip for the casual visitor (unless you already live in rural Belgium).

 

Linton Zoo

Eastern quoll

I’m really very behind on blogging generally and my zoo reviews in particular (if you haven’t seen it, you’ll want to read this thread on Twitter as to why). In addition to a couple of small outfits and revisits, I’ve made it to four notable collections in recent months and not written a word about any of them. I’ll start with one of the more recent and certainly the smallest of them, Linton Zoo in the Cambridgeshire countryside.

Linton is small by any zoo standards and even really taking your time, it’ll fill only half a day but it is not like some of the smaller provincial collections that dot the UK countryside. Too many of these are underfunded and rely on some pretty basic ‘stock’ animals which while probably interesting for the average visitor are a list of species I’ve seen too many of and are not especially exotic (you know the score, squirrel monkeys, llamas, African grey parrots, a reptile house of leopard geckos and royal pythons, and so on). However, while inevitably there’s a few very common species here, the collection has some ‘proper’ exotic animals – kangaroos, some big cats, ground hornbills, giant tortoises, Brazilian tapirs etc. and some excellent rarities.

Lesser hedgehog tenrec

I went primarily because, listed on their website, were quolls. I wasn’t aware of any in Europe, let alone in a small zoo and yet there they were a lovely set of Eastern quolls that were active and about and were a delight to see. Also on the odd mammal front, there were a pair of lesser hedgehog tenrecs so two huge ticks right there. One last thing was the binturongs, real favourites of mine but with a tendency to sleep quietly in a box and be as near to invisible as it’s possible but here mum and two mid-sized offspring were all out and enjoying the autumn sun which was a real joy.

Juvenile binturong

Their bird collection was also good, with two more new species for me, red-tailed black cockatoos, and a blue throated macaw as well as several of the rarer Amazon parrots. Plus, an ever favourite of mine, several touracos including one that sat very conveniently on a branch near the wire so I could take some good snaps of it. Finally, to round it out there were a few life-sized dinosaur models scattered around the grounds. These were a bit out of place to be honest, but they were mostly pretty good and at least had some accompanying labels.

Red-tailed black cockatoo

Overall this was a great little set-up, obviously I’d have preferred something larger and the tiny reptile and small mammal houses were in the process of refurbishment meaning there was almost nothing to see there (tenrecs aside) which was a bit of a shame. But the enclosures had that nice balance of cover and security for the animals with real space for them, and also good viewing points. It is probably a bit out of the way for a lot of people and the size might reduce its draw but to visit such a small collection and see half a dozen species new to me takes some doing and I’ll certainly be going again sooner or later.

 


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