Posts Tagged 'wildlife'

The live fauna of Dinosaur Provincial Park

In addition to the actual fossils, I do have a decent record of seeing live animals while out in the field, and the DPP and environs of the Tyrrell were no exception. The dinosaurs are of course, awesome, but it’s nice to see some wildlife too. Mark Graham had mentioned in his guest post that I’d been snapping some of the fauna, so now seemed a good time to bring them out

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First off is the easy one, these ground squirrels infest the area around the Tyrrell and this guy was literally sat on the front steps begging for food. While I didn’t give him any, the pot belly on this one and those that were hanging around make it quite obvious that plenty of people do, though just a few yards away other locals were much more shy and sveldt.

Just traces here, but quite cool that you have coyote and deer (presumably mule deer given their abundance) going in opposite directions, though of course who knows how far apart in time. The canid also has some nice overprinting going on such that the two feet have left what appears to be one large, but rather odd, footprint.

And here’s a pronghorn. A male rather obviously, and something I’d long wanted to see. I didn’t realise their range was this far north, so were a complete surprise to me when we came across a small group and I’ve got some nice photos of them mooching around.


And here are some of those mule deer. This was part of a herd of a dozen or so, though there were plenty of odd ones or pairs seen from time to time in various places both around the museum and out into the wilds. I did see white-tailed deer too, but didn’t get any great photos.


A real prize for me, a nice big bunny. I assume this is a jackrabbit, but I don’t actually know. I really like rabbits in general and have seen desert hares a couple of times in the wilds of China, but they tend to explode out of cover and vanish over the horizon before I realise I’ve spooked one, whereas this one was kind enough to move not too fast and stop a couple of times allowing me to get decent snaps (though out of tons that are out of focus or suffering from motion blur).

IMG_2807And finally a chipmunk, one of many hanging around in the woods near Don Henderson’s house, though I was also surprised to see them out in boulder fields too. I saw traces of activity from beavers and porcupines on several trees (and a couple of roadkill of the latter) but sadly no live ones were around. I think pretty much all of these bar the chipmunk were new to me, not just in the wild, but in zoos too. Perhaps as they are considered too ‘boring’ or ‘normal’ for most collections, and if the US doesn’t bother, then they’re not too likely to end up in Europe or Asia either, so this was really a pretty good haul by my standards.


Digging for dinosaurs

I had a nice weekend in ‘the field’ one way and another. Saturday was spent with a team from Portsmouth doing a little prospecting and mapping of a quarry in Oxfordshire. It’s an SSSI and a place that has been subject to illegal digging in the past so I won’t be saying exactly where we were, but it’s Middle Jurassic in age and known to have produced dinosaur material. Indeed it continues to produce dinosaur material as I found the above element within about 5 minutes of arriving, though sadly that was it. We did find some isolated (non-dinosaurian) teeth as well and some samples have gone back to the lab for processing and to look for microfossils, so more interesting bits may yet turn up.

Sunday was spent down on Thursley heath in the south of the UK, with a friend. It’s a great place to spot various dragon and damselflies and they were out in droves. We saw probably a dozen or more species in just a couple of hours including mating pairs, those hunting and one that while emerged and flying, still had the emargo case still stuck onto it. The combination of sandy heat and acidic bogs means you get a odd mix of wildlife – there’s not too many birds and no amphibians, but tons of insects and a good number of reptiles. Last time out here there were an absolute ton of lizards and a very large grass snake, this time I was lucky enough to see my first adder – the U.K.’s only poisonous snake and an animal that’s far from common.

Why zoos are good

Many years ago I ended up doing a radio debate on national radio over zoos. I’m still not sure if it was a mistake. I had a couple of opportunities to kill my opponent dead but my inexperience and nerves got the better of me. By all accounts (both neutral and partisan) I did rather well, and my failing was that I had rather expected my opponent to respond to reason, logic and data. It was not to be.

Still, the core issues have stayed with me and given my general love of good zoos (note the adjective) I’ve long thought of writing something more formal about why zoos are good. Here is that attempt.

Now first off I am perfectly willing to recognise that there are bad zoos and bad zoo exhibits. Not all animals are kept perfectly, much as I wish it were otherwise and even in the best, there might still be room for improvement. However, that some politicians and police are corrupt does not mean we should have government officials or that a group to enforce the law is a bad idea. It merely means we need to pay more attention to the bad and improve them or close them. In either case, zoos are generally a poor target – they have to keep the public onside or go bust. They have to stand up to rigorous inspections or be closed down. While a bad collection should not be ignored, if you are worried the care and treatment of animals I can point to a great many farms, breeders, dealers and private owners who are in far greater need or inspection, improvement or both.

If you are against animals in captivity full stop then there is perhaps little scope for disagreement. But even so I’d maintain that some of the below arguments (not least the threat of extinction) can outweigh any argument against captivity. Moreover, I don’t think anyone would consider putting down a 10000 km long fence around the Masai Mara to really be captivity, even if it restricts the movement of animals across that barrier. But at what point does that become captivity? A 10000 m fence? 1000 m fence? What if veterinary care is provided? Or extra food? Or the animal is left alone, but has a tracking collar attached? I’m not pretending that an animal in a zoo is not in captivity, but clearly there is a continuum from zoos and wildlife parks, to game reserves, national parks and protected areas. Degree of care and degree of enclosure make the idea of ‘captivity’ fluid and not absolute.

What I would state with absolute confidence is that for many (but no, not all) species, it is perfectly possible to keep them in a zoo or wildlife park and for them to have a quality of life as high or higher than in the wild. Their movement might be restricted (but not necessarily by that much) but they will not suffer from the threat or stress of predators (and nor will they be killed in a grisly manner or eaten alive) or the irritation and pain of parasites, injuries and illnesses will be treated, they won’t suffer or die of drought or starvation and indeed will get a varied and high-quality diet with all the supplements required. They can be spared bullying or social ostracism or even infanticide by others of their kind, or a lack of a suitable home or environment in which to live. A lot of very nasty things happen to truly ‘wild’ animals that simply don’t happen in good zoos.

So a good zoo will provide great care and protection to animals in captivity. These are good things for the individuals concerned. But what do zoos actually bring to the table for the visitors and the wider world? This is, naturally, what I want to focus on, but it is I hope worth having dealt with the more obvious objections and misapprehensions.

Education. Many children and adults, especially those in cities will never see a wild animal beyond a fox or pigeon, let alone a lion or giraffe. Sure documentaries get ever more detailed and impressive, and lots of things are on display in museums, but that really does pale next to seeing a living creature in the flesh, hearing it, smelling it, watching what it does and having the time to absorb details. That will bring a greater understanding and perspective to many and hopefully give them a greater appreciation for wildlife, conservation efforts and how they can contribute. That’s before the actual direct education that can take place through signs, talks and the like that can directly communicate information about the animals they are seeing and their place in the world.

Conservation – reservoir and return. It’s not an exaggeration that colossal numbers of species are going extinct across the world, and many more are threatened. Moreover, some of these collapses have been sudden, dramatic and unexpected or were simply discovered very late in the day. Zoos protect against a species going extinct. A species protected in captivity provides a reservoir population against a crash or extinction. Here they are relatively safe and can be bred up to provide foundation populations. A good number of species only exist in captivity and still more only exist in the wild because they have been reintroduced from zoos, or the wild populations have been boosted by captive bred animals. Quite simply without these efforts there would be fewer species alive today and ecosystems and the world as a whole would be poorer for it.

Research. If we are to save many wild species and restore and repair ecosystems we need to know about how key species live, act and react. Being able to study animals in zoos where there is less risk and less variables means real changes can be effected on wild populations with far fewer problems. Knowing say the oestreus cycle of an animal or their breeding rate, or that they don’t seem to like a crop that’s about to be planted can make a real difference to conservation efforts and to reduce human-animal conflicts.

All in all with the ongoing global threats to the environment it’s hard for me to see zoos as anything other than being essential to the long-term survival of numerous species. Not just in terms of protecting them and breeding them for reintroduction, but to learn about them to aid those still in the wild, as well as to educate and inform the public about these animals and to pique their interest so that they can assist or at least accept the need to be more environmentally conscious. Sure there is always scope for improvement, but these benefits are critical to many species and potentially at least, the world as a whole, and the animals so well kept and content, that I think there can be few serious objections to the concept of zoos as a whole and what they can do. Without them, the world would be and would increasingly be, a poorer place.

Xinjiang desert life

A quick post with some nice pictures of the wildlife of Xinjiang. Much is similar to that of the dinosaur sites at Bayan Mandahu though while the environment is similar and the vegetation comparable in density and type, there were far fewer animals of all kinds. Insects and other inverts were generally rarer and dominated by just a few species.  Birds and especially lizards and snakes were also much less common. However there were some real gems and here are a few of them. (Above, female [huge] and male [tiny] nephila).

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Bayan wildlife

IMG_4608I mentioned before that this summer in the field was great for wildlife compared to the paucity at the same site last year (most likely because of the time difference – June as opposed to August before). While the small agamids were again ubiquitous, there were other lizards, geckos, snakes, and various birds aplenty, hedgehogs, jerboas, hamsters, several camel herds (semi-tame admittedly), desert rabbits and even a fox (though sadly I missed that one) and a crowning moment – two eagle owl chicks. Enjoy.

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Continue reading ‘Bayan wildlife’

Animal camoflage

A rather un-camoflaged ptarmigan. To be fair it was winter in Tokyo with snow on the ground, just not in this bit of the zoo.

A rather un-camoflaged ptarmigan. To be fair it was winter in Tokyo with snow on the ground, just not in this bit of the zoo.

I have mused on here about colour patterns in dinosaurs and there are a few posts on here about palaeoart in places if you look, but today I want to drop in a quick bit about camoflage. That is becuase I came across this nice link on the BBC with a short video talking about animal camoflage.

I’m particularly taken by it for two reasons. The first is rather selfish in a sense as the narration is by Professor Innes Cuthill at the University of Bristol who was one of my tutors as an undergaduate and he and I are in the precess of finishing up a paper on dinosaurs with Darren Naish. Secondly though, it is a great example of the media using the expertise available to them. Innes is an expert is sexual selection, signalling and camoflage and assocaited behaviours so a great choice to get in on this. It’s a nice short clear video explaining the very basics of colour patterns and camoflage and (obviously thanks to the BBC) comes across with some excellent photos to provide the examples to match the commentary. As such it provides a great tutorial that will interest and inform and the information is being provided by an authority on the subject so is accurate, succinct and up to date. We could do with a lot more of these kinds of things with the media providing the coverage and facilities and the experts providing, well, the expertise.

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