Monday, January 27, 2014

Species Survival Plans

Today I spent the afternoon interviewing chimpanzee keepers at the Los Angeles Zoo about the newest generation of chimps born at the Mahale Mountains exhibit there. A lot of what we talked about centered around the fact that these chimps are part a Species Survival Plan, or SSP, that regulates the captive breeding of animals at accredited American zoos and aquariums.
I think it's safe to say that most people don't consider how important the individual animals they're seeing at zoos can be to their species as a whole. Once upon a time zoos were little more than freak shows, exhibiting the strange and exotic to a fascinated public. That is long past, however, and good zoos are now very concerned about the conservation of their charges, both in the wild and in captivity. That's why it's so important to have a plan for the breeding of animals, especially among endangered populations
That's where SSPs come in. They make sure that certain individuals don't become over-represented in the gene pool. It wouldn't do, for instance, to have every Komodo dragon in America be the offspring of just one pair. This is imperative since most animals aren't (nor should they be) taken from the wild any more. These days, it's much more likely that animals will have lived in captivity for generations, like the 4th generation LAZ chimpanzees I visited today. Obviously someone had better keep track of who's breeding with whom.
So what is an SSP? Basically, it's a cooperative plan for managing individuals to make certain that the species as a whole can thrive. There are currently more than 500 species with plans, each managed by a Taxon Advisory Group. Each has its own studbook, breeding schedule, and transfer plan. In addition, the SSPs identify goals for managing the species, keeping them genetically diverse, and ensuring their continued survival in captivity and the wild. Problems and challenges are identified too. For chimps these range from the bushmeat crisis and deforestation in their native habitat to the keeping of apes as pets and as performers in captivity. Sometimes SSPs even coordinate veterinary care and disease abatement in wild populations.
So keep an eye out for symbols like the one at the top of this post if you happen to visit a zoo or aquarium. You'll know that you're in the company of some very important individuals.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Florida Gators

After spending a few days in Florida last week I realized what I miss most about living there. The beaches are nice, the sky is pretty amazing compared to California's, but nothing beats the huge reptiles that are capable of eating you whole.

When I was a kid we actually had drills teaching you what to do if you happened to get chased by one. I remember learning that you should run in a zigzag pattern and not trust in your climbing abilities. We told each other that gators could outrun humans on level ground (not true - the big ones can only achieve about 11 miles an hour, tops) and that they could scale chain link fences and park benches (that part is true, they really can climb if motivated, they're just not motivated very often).

Darn gator refused to cross the creek to say hi.

In truth, gators don't really eat people. I never knew anyone who got even a nip, and I knew an awful lot of foolhardy people. Every once in a while a small dog would get consumed, but even that was rare enough that it made the papers. Mostly you heard about tourists feeding them marshmallows and living to tell the tale. I never did figure out why marshmallows were considered gator treats, but it seems to be an idea that pervades the South. The last time I was in Louisiana I heard about people there doing the same thing.

So if they don't eat people, and marshmallows aren't allowed any more, what do they eat? Mostly small fish. Well, small compared to them, anyway. And the occasional bird, small mammal, or frog. Sometimes they even eat invasive fish that shouldn't be anywhere near Florida, as captured in the image below. In my book that's more than enough reason to hug the next gator you see.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Kitten of the Week - Bow Wow

Bow Wow has a ton of attitude as well as a love of toys, toys, toys, and shoes. He's at Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats in Los Angeles along with his siblings and lots of friends. Give them a call if you're looking for a black kitten with an independent streak.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

More Beautiful Cataclysm Apes!

Wow! Look what Planet of the Apes aficionado Michael Kostka made this time... Vitus and Valentina's infant child! I have to say that's one cute orangutan kid. And you can believe me, because I've seen quite a few in real life. You can tell just by their expressions that Vitus is a loving dad, despite the tragic loss of his wife Valentina during the first arc of Planet of the Apes: Cataclysm. Anyway, don't take my word for it, see for yourself!

Here's what Vitus looked liked while holding his new child in the comic (beautifully drawn by Damian Couceiro).

And here he is as rendered by Michael in the same pose.

Wow, look at the group together!

Here's a couple more of Vitus...

Dosen't he look noble and a little long-suffering?

And here's a slightly disturbing process shot. I just love seeing what goes into these custom figures. They're not easy to do well but Michael nails them!

Many thanks to Michael for sending me these images and giving me permission to share them here. They remind me of how much affection I have for all of the characters we wrote for during our Planet of the Apes run. I'm happy to see them live on beyond the comics!

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