Happy Things

It’s Spring Break! Well, it was. I had a whole week off. That’s a lie. I had quite a to-do list, so there was very little time for the nothingness I had hoped for, but it was still pretty darned good. I thought I would share a little of the awesome with you.

Most folks know I’m a zoo girl. One day a week, it is my privilege to get to work with critically endangered turtles and tortoises. One of them is the Radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata), a species native to Madagascar whose numbers have dropped by half in the last ten years. We have a breeding pair of them, and this year I was asked to teach them to drink out of a water  bowl. Sounds weird. An animal encounters water, they should know how to drink, right? But some animals do not. If the surface of the water is not moving, many desert animals are not stimulated to drink. They can see the water, and they can smell it, but they don’t quite know what to do with it. The chances of them encountering standing water in the wild are almost non-existent.

Armed with a spray mister and no small amount of determination, I set out to teach our pair what a water bowl is for. When Radiated tortoises feel a spray of rain, they instinctively stand. They have even been known to dance. The idea behind the spray mister is to get them to their feet and then place the water bowl right next to them so that when they lay down, they are practically in it. Then the surface of the water is sprayed to agitate it an hopefully inspire the animal to take a drink.

The animals are naturally shy. At first, I had to stand behind them while I sprayed so that they would come out of their shell at all. Tortoises can see colors, and the bright blue volunteer shirt was a little off-putting and reminded them I was there.  I had no luck at first. They were too intimidated by my presence to drink. After a few weeks, we began to see some progress. They would stand for up to 20 minutes while I sprayed them, but they still wouldn’t drink. A couple of times, one or the other would land clumsily in the water bowl. I could see twin dimples in the water from their nostrils as they took the scent of the water. They tasted it briefly, and then got startled and pulled back in their shells.

Long story short (too late?), after three months of work, my work is done. Just in time to send them outside for the summer where they will forget everything I taught them. But I did it. There is nothing more satisfying than watching the female turn toward the bowl and dip her head, the muscles in her neck moving rhythmically as she takes a long drink.

There are things you don’t expect to see on my blog. Mammals are one of those things. But my friend called a couple of days ago and shared the exciting news that her English cocker spaniel had delivered a litter of eight puppies. Eight. Six girls, two boys, all doing very well.

Over the next couple of weeks, the pigment in their noses will begin to appear, their ears will open, and their fur will fill in. Right now they look like they haven’t quite cooked all the way. Give them time!

And here is my favorite happy thing to share today. People ask what I get out of blogging. Besides the endless piles of cash, of course. Sometimes the benefits of blogging are intangible. There’s the satisfaction of a job well done. There is also the joy of meeting a fellow blogger in person and learning they are exactly as you imagined them to be, except even better. And then there’s this:

Yes. It's a barf bag. The most wonderful barf bag in the history of such things.

Yes. It’s a barf bag. The most wonderful barf bag in the history of such things.

 

I came home the other day, and I found this beauty in the mail. After reading my Pinterest craft post, a wonderful blogger sent me the most fabulous Hello Kitty motion discomfort bag. I feel like the luckiest girl in the world! I can now honestly say I am not in blogging for the money. I’m in it for the barf bags. Thank you, Susan! I treasure it! And if you have never read Susan’s work, go visit her at Lost In China. She has been Freshly Pressed a few times, and for good reason. Go read about her online dating life and life with her very traditional parents. I’ve linked you to one of my favorite posts. Go! Read! Laugh!

I have other good things to share. There is just too much awesome in my life for one post. Stay tuned! What’s awesome in your world?

Weekend Good News!

becomingcliche:

I am so, so proud of my zoo and my readers.This post left you with the good news that we had successfully raised enough money to buy furniture for the school in Madagascar. Thank you to everyone who donated and shared links. Together, we helped a village.

Originally posted on Knoxville Zoo Blog!:

Michael Ogle, our assistant curator of herpetology here at Knoxville Zoo, is kind of a big deal in the world of tortoise conservation, although he is far too modest to ever admit it.  He’s been a key part of our success breeding some of the rarest tortoises in the world, often making us the first zoo to do so.  He is particularly knowledgeable when it comes to species found in the country of Madagascar, which led to the invitation from the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to travel to southern Madagascar last month to work with some of his Malagasy counterparts to help locals care for confiscated tortoises.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest factors in the demise of the critically endangered spider and radiated tortoises is the illegal pet trade (these tortoises are highly sought after by collectors in Asia) and the fact that they…

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Playing Favorites

I admit it. I know I’m not supposed to, but of all the little ones, I have a favorite. Don’t tell the others, please.

Astrochelys radiata, the radiated tortoise

I know that all the babies are adorable, but this one has a special place in my heart. The population of the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) has dropped by half in the last ten years. They have been wiped out of most of their range, so captive breeding programs are of critical importance. She’s the second one my zoo has hatched.

I call this one “she” because she was incubated as a female. Many reptiles have what is called temperature dependent sex determination. When the egg is first laid, the embryo within has no gender at all. The temperature at which it is incubated has an impact on whether they develop into boys or girls. Keepers can often produce the gender they need by altering the temperature at which they incubate the eggs. With this species of tortoise, higher temperatures usually yield more females. Lower temperatures tend to create males.

A perfectly proportioned tortoise in a tiny package

Here she is with her older sibling who was hatched in July. I have no idea whether the older one is male or female. Its egg incubated outdoors for a bit, so it was subject to unknown temperatures. Radiographs in a few years can tell if we’ve got a boy or a girl.

Pesky little sister

One thing I really enjoy about this baby is her personality. She is all go. I have no good recent pictures of her because she won’t sit still. From a biological standpoint, her curiosity isn’t a good thing because she might get eaten, but in captivity, it’s positively delightful.

I’ll be back on Monday full of my tales of adventure. And hopefully with some new pictures. Have a great weekend!

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Good News Edition

If you recall, this post left you with a cliffhanger, and I’m not one to leave you hanging forever.

Knock knock! Who’s there?Introducing Astrochelys radiata- the second one ever hatched by our zoo

One of the most endangered tortoises in the world

Here’s a picture of one of the parents.

This is mom. She’s taller than a basketball, and much, much heavier.

The new baby is a bit smaller than its folks.

Yeah, that small.

And now the update you’ve all been waiting for! Can I get a drumroll, please? If you read this post, you know my supervisor at the zoo has been working to raise $2000 to buy desks and chairs for a school in Madagascar. Thanks to readers who forwarded the post all over the internet, we met our goal. In five days. Our total stands at $2443, and all of the money goes to the school. Give yourselves a hand! Thanks to everyone who donated or shared links. Your help will have a direct impact on the lives of 100 children in Madagascar. The baby tortoise featured in this blog is the same tortoise species that the children’s parents are helping to save, which bookends this story beautifully.

And I leave you with one more tortoise belly button.

Notice how this one is an oval instead.