Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Oliver the Otter

Hello everyone,

There is a wetlands marsh relatively near my house that I've been to since I was little. I mention this because I went there a few weekends ago with my dad and as we were walking along, looking at the frogs, tadpoles, snapping turtles and birds, I realized something. For the amount I love all those creatures, I don't know that much about them. I possibly did at one time, but other than the basics and the inferred guesses I make, my knowledge is limited. So, I'm going to change that. Though it's none of the animals I mentioned previously, otters (specifically Sea otters) are the focus of today's conversation. 

Doesn't that make you smile? He's just so happy (or he's yawning...)

Sea otters are keystone species--which are species that have great influence in an ecosystem though they aren't necessarily high in number (or, put differently, they only make up a small percentage of the total animal population.) What does this mean? They are important, really important. Why they are important relates to how impressibly interconnected ecosystem are, and things called "feedback loops". So, otters eat sea urchin (among other things). Sea urchins eat kelp. So, if there are enough otters (or too many) sea urchin numbers will be maintained and all is, relatively, good. However, if there aren't enough otters, this leads to an increase in sea urchin populations. More sea urchins means they are eating more kelp. What's bad with that? Kelp (and kelp forests) are extremely productive, provide a home for many creatures (including the fish we eat, crabs, otters themselves and more) and ecosystem services (like filtration of water). Less kelp has large, negative impacts on entire ecosystems. In short, we should love otters because they are cute but also because they, along with others, keeps entire ecosystems in balance. 

Fun fact, otters often wrap themselves up in kelp when they are resting so they don't drift away. In addition, they do 'hold hands' or rather 'hold paws'. 

Status: Threatened 

Sea otters inhabit the coasts of the Pacific Ocean

They eat meat (sea urchins, clams, mussels, fish, and many other different types of animals)
In order to crack open the shells, they place a rock on their stomachs and smash the shells against it until the shells break/open. (Pretty ingenious if you ask me). 

Also, I believe that they eat about 30% of their body weight each day to meet their caloric needs because their metabolism is so fast. 
They average 65 pounds, but some can get up to 90, and are around 3 to 4 feet long. 

They can walk on land but mostly they stay in the water

In the early 1900s, otters populations were decimated for their fur. Their numbers went down to around 1000. However, now that their are protected under law and their numbers have greatly increased.

Oil spills and human habitat destruction (by direct contact and by pollution, over harvesting of fish and other animal species, and kelp forest destruction) are threatening these species. In addition, getting caught in fishing lines or just simply killed (on purpose) by fisherman also threatened them. Fisherman kill otters (though it is illegal) because otters eat fish sometimes, and thus the fisherman believe that if you get rid of the otters, then there will be plenty of fish. However, the reality of it is that if you got rid of the otters, there would be no kelp and thus less habitat for fish to live and to breed (leading to less fish). Another killer of Sea otters are parasites. And, big surprise here, humans are causing this. Tons of waste gets washed into the pacific ocean. In this waste is cat litter (because some people flush their cat litter down the toilet... I'm being serious though, it happens) and in this cat litter is Toxoplasma gondii. And lastly (though there is more, I just don't want to think abut dying otters anymore) fertilizers (which contain products that cause toxic algal blooms. 

Unfortunately, while numbers are not down to where they were in the early 1900s, the future doesn't look to great for this species. (I think the saddest thing is that, the latter part of that statement holds true for most of the animals in the world). 

But as always, there are things to do. Other than just being more environmentally friendly in your lifestyle, you can:
  1. Tell people about the problem. (and I'm sure some people think that is silly, but it's the basic step to address the problem. If no one knows about the problem, no one is going to care. And if no one cares, no legislation, no government action will be taken to solve it. 
  2. If you live on the coast of the Pacific Ocean (such as Monterey Bay), see if local initiatives are in place. Hands on work to help the otters (such as cleaning up the beaches) is always great.
  3. Adopt a sea otter. Yeah it costs about 20 dollars, but, in my personal opinion, it's awesome. I am thinking about adopting some creature (this is a whole list of animals you can 'adopt'. Here's a link:
  4. Don't ever (and this should probably be number one) by real fur (whether it be for hats, coats etc). If you really want a fur hat, buy a fake one

For more basic facts I've found that the national geographic animals' pages are awesome. 

I hope you enjoyed this nature chat.
Stay tuned for more,

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cute, Charismatic, Megafauna

Hello Everyone!

I'm hitting the easy topics right now. First cheetahs, now cute animals. So, being in a cons. bio. (conservation biology) lab means I meet/go to lab meetings with conservation biology graduate students and the lab director (let's call him M). It's funny how, years of schooling and being in the research field alters the opinions of people. We read papers every week and discuss them (from the staple conservation biology papers to new, possibly bad, papers) and a sore topic for most of them is "charismatic megafauna". Maybe 'sore' is the wrong word, but there is definitely some small dislike/annoyance toward how much attention the cuddle pandas (a main example of 'charismatic megafauna'), or cute baby tigers, etc etc. Because, they (and most conservation biologists) don't research and attempt to protect the popular creatures. Yes, most of these cute animals are top priority and yes many people (everyday) are fighting to keep them from going extinct, but it is slightly unfair how the big shots outshine the smaller or just less known species. Our lab (since there aren't many, or any, megafauna to research in my state) focuses on turtles and birds and frogs, which are all really awesome and adorable to me but still. Basically, the point of that rambling session was to say, cute endangered animals get a ton of attention while equally as important (if not sometimes more important) species get less attention. For example, certain species of grass are endangered/threatened. Who cares? In reality, few people. But we should care because plants keep our waters clean, provide us with oxygen, provide buffers from storms, store potentially dangerous naturally occurring chemicals and more. So, pay attention to the little guys too! but for right now I'm going to find really adorable endangered species pictures.

Big cats have always been my love

Seals are so cute. I saw the sweetest seal pup in Washington state last summer and will definitely upload some of this pictures on here soon.
Baby otters! So precious. Oh look at them, so much cuteness.
Hehehe. Oh little Grizzly Bears, you are so funny.

Couldn't forget the panda! He's practically the face of conservation

I hope you enjoyed this nature chat.
Stay tuned for more,


Hi Everyone!

Geez, it has been a while since I've been back to this blog. I guess the last time I was writing was mid-applying to college season, which is going on two years ago. But at least it paid off, I got into my dream college and conduct research in the conservation lab on campus. Other than getting older, not much has changed in my life plan. Conservation biology is still my dream field of work. That being said, I'm determined to write more on this blog and I've decided my first topic (a repeat topic I know) is going to be cheetahs. You know why? Because I love them. And I have since I was 4, when I found out they existed. Yes, I love cheetahs (anyone that knows me at all will tell you 'she's going to work with cheetahs some day') but, in my current opinion, that's important because, with my love for cheetahs came my love for conservation. My favorite animal is going extinct,  so naturally I would be drawn to jobs that's sole mission is to save endangered animals.

Just look at that beautiful creature (who is my computer background at work). Just beautiful.

I actually got to meet a cheetah (an ambassador cheetah) and Laurie Marker, the founder of the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF), last may. It was a 'party' for all the really rich donors that give to the CCF, and my mom got us in. I got to pet the cheetah. and stare at the cheetah for a long time. My life was made.

Because I really need a reason to google search cheetahs, here are some of the coolest creatures on the planet.

Look at the fluffy heads. SO FLUFFY. (Yes I did just quote "Despicable Me").

*sighs* who could not love these creatures?

I hope you enjoyed this nature chat.
Stay tuned for more,

Monday, September 5, 2011

Did you know?

Hi Everyone!

Did you know...
We, humans, kill over a 500,000 sharks each year, yet they only kill about 50 to 60 people.
80% of the worlds forest are gone
200,000 people a day are moving to cities from environments that no longer support them
It is estimated that by October the human population will reach 7 billion
The world is already losing an estimated 137 species each day
Humans encroach on animals habitats, pollute their habitats and steal their food, and when they, in desperate need of a home and food, come closer to humans, we kill them.
75% of global fisheries have been fished beyond capacity
The ocean is the largest carbon sink on this planet, however, it has reached it's capacity to take in carbon.
Coral reefs are being bleached and corroding away because of the high acidification in the ocean
More then 60% of the worlds known organisms are at risk of extinction
If there isn't major change in human habits within the next 15 years, we will never be able to save the environment
DDT is a very harmful pesticide. It was banned for agriculture throughout the world, however, in many places it is used for disease control (especially malaria in africa). It is very bad for the environment, thins egg shells, spreads throughout environments and causes many problems. We know all its affects, however, the US still ships it overseas.

Basically, the environment is just one sad fact after another. This means we have to do more to help. There will continue to be more and more sad facts coming from nature unless we do something to fix it.

I know it's hard to get involved sometimes. Life is busy and "helping the environment" doesn't usually pay the bills. But just do the small things. Turn off lights when you don't need them, bring cloth bags to the grocery store so you don't need to use plastic ones. If you forget, simply use the plastic bags again. Ride your bike or carpool with friends when you can.

Hope you enjoyed this nature chat,
Talk to you soon,

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Tickling Slow Loris

Hi Everyone!

I love almost all animals, whether they be the cutest things or they are breathtaking creatures that make me stop and stare. However, like most people, adorable creatures make me smile like a little child. That's why these rotate as my screen savers

It is also the reason why, when I'm bored I look at animal pictures and vidoes. Recently, I have watched "tickling slow loris" ( at least every day for the past month. He is the sweetest thing, but, sadly, he is endangered.

Part of me just wants to grab him up and act like a complete idiot while I talk to him, tickling his belly and patting his head. But the other part of me wants to say, people stop buying these creatures they belong in the wild. They are already in peril they don't need the wildlife trade to hinder them further. It's one of those things where it is tough to think clearly and think of what is right for these creatures. But I know I'd rather have them alive in the wild and not as pets. 

I'm not going to into much detail on wildlife trade right now, but it's a terrible thing, regardless of if it's illegal or not. Yes everyone loves exotic pets, but, we're not meant to have exotic pets. We are not supposed to domestically bread animals in the US that live in Africa. Though it's cool and very popular right now, just think of the animals. It impacts more than just the one you own, it will affect the entire ecosystem. It may bring a disease that you catch or another pet of yours catches and it spread. Or, other people will see it and want one, go out and buy it and thus the trade is fueled. Mostly I just wanted to tell you about the slow loris.

I hope you enjoyed this nature chat.
Stay tuned for more,

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ramblings of Nature

Hi Everyone!

I was thinking about what to write about. I pondered with talking about the Tasmanian Devil (because it's endangered) but I will save that for another time. I haven't read many environmental books lately and projects to help the environment sound really cliche, or at least the ones I come up with. Rather, as the title suggests, I will simply reveal my musing on the subject of the environment.

Some people don't like nature. Or rather, they are not educated enough to know the truth and therefore, claim they don't like the environment. (If only they knew we wouldn't be living like we are today with the environment providing for us day and night). But, most people (at least somewhere in their hearts) like nature. They smile when they see wildlife, at least when they see the cute fuzzy animals and the intense breathtaking creatures like tigers and bears. However, it's how much people care about nature where the lines get hazy. People like it, they like what they get from it, but they aren't willing to do anything in return for mother nature. I simply don't understand it. How, how on earth, can people that claim to love nature, and still go along with the treacherous and evil acts that humans push upon the environment every day. Even if these 'nature lovers' don't support what is occurring to mother nature, they aren't doing anything to help her. It's like watching a bully beat up a kid for his lunch money and then say how awful it is, the bully should be punished. Well, you didn't do anything, so you are just as bad as the bully.

I'm not that great of an example for environmental lovers, but I try. Yes, I'm in high school and I have come to terms that my schedule does not permit me to really make a huge difference. I can make small differences in my community and possibly other communities but nothing major. But you see, I want to become a conservation biologist. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life, and I think that's a good step for me to repay mother nature. Basically what I'm trying to say is if you love nature, do something to help it. If you, for whatever reason can't, simply refrain from saying I love the environment (because, in most cases, if you can't do the simple things to help, like recycling your plastics and newspapers, you do not have much respect of love for nature. Maybe that is harsh, however, it's, put simply, annoying to go throughout my life, especially in school, and be surrounded by people that like hiking, like the earth's creatures, like everything about nature but can't walk ten feet to put their bottles in the recycling.

What brought up this idea in my mind is the recent developments in the tar sands in Canada. They want to to  construct the Keystone XL, a 1,700 mile pipeline from the Canadian tar sands to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. First of all, tar sands are messy. Utilizing and processing tar sands is one of the dirtiest actions in all of the energy realm. It's terrible for the surrounding area, it destroys vast amounts of land and kills ecosystems. The pipeline will disrupt and probably destroy at least 1700 miles of United States land. The environment will be tainted, animals will lose their homes, be killed in the process, plants will be disturbed and trees cut down, water supplies will most likely become polluted from run off and direct pollution from the construction. The list goes on and on about why this is bad. There have been many rallies, protests, etc against this construction. People know it's affects, they know what it will cause yet the question is still up in the air whether it will be built. I was listening to a pro-keystone XL person on TV last night and I just wanted to scream at them and smack some sense into their head. He kept repeating how this will be a cheap way to get oil, how it won't do much harm, and more lies. To my astonishment, the State Department announced that this construction will NOT have a major environmental impact. What? Are you kidding me? It's one thing to want this (stupid) pipeline, it's another to blatantly lie! This, this is what annoys me every single day and it kills me to not be able to do anything.

But alas, I will cease my ramblings here, or else risk going on forever :)
Random picture time:

(baby Sumatran rhino) I think it's one of the cutest things ever
Baby Pygmy hippo

Slow Loris! (I actually got to see one the other day at a sanctuary)

I could just keeping going and going with all the amazing, cute and endangered species pictures. But, my point is, wouldn't you want to save the earth just to see these creatures living peacefully? I sure would.

I hope you enjoyed this nature chat.
Stay tuned for more,

Monday, August 29, 2011

Did you know, African Wild Dog's are ENDANGERED

Hi Everyone!

I have thinking about which species I was going to talk about today and I decided upon the African Wild dog. One reason I chose them was because I recently did a project on these amazing creatures, but I also want to talk about them because not many people know enough about them. I am a cheetah lover (it's always been my favorite animal) and I used to always research everything and anything about them, including where they live. Though the African Wild dog doesn't (usually) live in the same areas as Cheetah's because they both live in similar habitats I would learn small tid bits about them. I thought they were okay, I had the idea that they were aggressive and almost like hyenas (which are both false). But, I didn't know anything past that. Then, a month ago, I was looking through the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species and there the African Wild Dog was. What? That can't be, I thought they were so common. But alas, no. Their numbers have been small for many many years and they continually becoming less abundant. I also learned what truly intelligent and adorable creatures they are. So, here I begin (sorry if it is long, I have so much I want to share with you).

Their latin name means "painted wolf-like animal" and they are also called: Cape hunting dog, painted hunting dog, spotted African dog.

The Basics:
Height 2.5 to 5 feet
Weight: 40 to 75 pounds
Bushy tail with a white tip
Only four toes on the front feet (most canids have five)
Large rounded ears
Each dog has a unique coloration pattern
Yellow, black, white gray coloring
Used for identification because no two wild dogs are marked exactly the same
Great endurance and thin, muscular body,
Long legs
            Improves their speed (able to run 30 mph for over three miles)
Strong jaw and sharp teeth (second strongest biting force in the world)
Very good eyesight
They live about 11 years and in captivity 15
One litter per year (average of 10 pups)

This species used to live in sub-Saharan Africa. But now they are found in fragmented populations throughout southern and eastern Africa (the largest populations exist in Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe)

They hunt in the dawn and dusk of the day and in groups. They are able to take down large prey and have a high success rate (often estimated at 70 to 90%) (impressive huh?) I won't go into detail with this (we would be here all day if I did) but the African Wild Dog has a "ceremony" before each hunt called the meet. Basically it is waking up the whole pack and getting them excited for hunting, then they run off together. They will most often hunt medium sized antelope species.

These dogs are highly sociable and can't exist alone. They live in packs ( average 5 to 15 dogs) and get along with each other very well: searching for a lost member for days, pacifying each other with actions (sometimes like those that domestic dogs do when they want food or a belly rub), and help the wounded members by feeding them and licking the wounds.
          Fun pack facts:
          All members of the same sex are related!
          Only the dominant female and male will breed
          If another female becomes pregnant, the alpha female may steal the pups to raise as her own

Random facts:
Though they are hunters, lions and the spotted hyena are their predators.
Chemical communication through scent marking is the most common way for the dogs to recognize pack boundaries
The hoot of a lost African wild dog can be heard by humans from as far away as 2.5 miles
They are nomads when it's not breeding season and their home ranges can be up to 3000 miles

The sad truth
Maybe I didn't do these amazing creatures justice, because if I were to go into full detail with all my facts, you wouldn't want to read it :) but these animals are important. They keep the populations and ecosystems in balance, they deserve to be here and isn't it impressive how they work together, how they hunt, how they live? If this creature can do that, imagine what else we can learn from them. They are endangered, and have been for years. This is in part due to a various number of diseases like Canine distemper. Habitat loss and human encroachment also hurts their populations, as well as, humans killing them (intentionally and accidentally).

The numbers:
3,000–5,500 free-ranging wild dogs remain in Africa and less than 2,500 are mature individuals
And only about 500 in captivity (zoos, private ownership)

 We need to change these numbers. Sadly, there aren't many ways to help right now, but people are trying more and more to save these creatures. In this project I was involved with, we formulated some ways to help, other than what has been put in place. I'm not going to list them, if you want to know more please just leave a comment and I will give you my email address. I do want to stress that the easiest way to help is simply telling people. Maybe you knew everything I just said or mabye you didn't even know such a canine existed, but now you do. So just pass one fact onto your friends or parents or teachers. The more people that know, the more that
care and the more that will help.

I hope you enjoyed this nature chat. Go search African Wild Dog pups (they are really cute)
Stay tuned for more,