Posted by: timlewthwaite | April 15, 2010

Harpy Eagle Education Efforts

Teachers in Guatemala participate in story telling activities to educate people about the Harpy eagle.

Today I am editing a number of short features that will be going into the June issue of CONNECT magazine – and one story jumped out at me.  You’ll notice the Harpy eagle in the header for this blog site – that photo was taken by Ron Magill at Miami Metro Zoo. It is  a really stunning shot and brings me to the point of this entry.  The story I am currently editing is about Harpy eagle education efforts by The Peregrine Fund in Guatemala that has been funded by AZA’s Conservation Endowment Fund

It really brings home the idea that conservation by itself is not always enough – that to be really successful, some of those efforts need to tie into education efforts that can enlighten local communities about different animals. Once they have gained a better understanding of the conservation project in question, they will be far more likely to protect the wildlife and wild habitats involved and have a greater understanding of the value of their own natural heritage.

Posted by: timlewthwaite | April 14, 2010

Math and the Elkhorn Coral

Elkhorn Coral © Mote Marine Aquarium

Mote Marine Labratory in Sarasota, Fla., recently collaborated with Cornell University to build a mathematical model that describes how beneficial bacteria give way to harmful bacteria when elkhorn coral is stressed by high temperatures.

The study – How Microbial Community Composition Regulates Coral Disease Development – has been published in the scientific journal Public Library of Science – Biology.

The new model may help marine resource managers contend with current declines in corals worldwide. The model could even help scientists predict how climate change and other factors might tip the delicate balance between coral health and disease.

To read more about this fascinating study, visit Mote Marine Labratory’s  News Room.

Posted by: timlewthwaite | April 13, 2010

Polar Bear Odyssey at the Como Zoo

I was just reading the Como Zoo’s Web site announcement about their upcoming exhibit that will open in early June – Polar Bear Odyssey.  I’d recommend visiting their site for an interesting time lapse video of the construction of the exhibit. 

Polar bears have been in the news a great deal lately, and most people will be aware that they are facing severe challenges as a result of global warming and human encroachment on their habitat.  It’s through exhibits like this that AZA accredited zoos play an important role in educating the public about the threats that are facing species like the polar bear – and many others.  So, if you are in the St. Paul area in early June, visiting this exhibit might prove to be a highlight of your stay in the area. 

Polar Bear Odyssey is being modeled on the Hudson Bay ecosystem. The list of features (from Como Zoo’s Web site) include:  

  • A 13,140 square foot outdoor habitat that is four times larger than the current polar bear space.
  • Three pools of various depths to provide the bears with options that mirror their native Tundra habitat. One pool will contain live fish for the bears to hunt.
  • A 260 square foot digging pit filled with bark chips, gravel and sand.
  • A 1,270 square foot “Outpost” building to provide visitors with year-round climate-controlled experiences of the polar bears. From the Outpost, visitors will be able to observe bears swimming, hunting and playing through large floor to ceiling glass windows.
  • A 650 square foot Lodge to provide a great get-away for business meetings, education classes and private receptions. The Lodge will have floor to ceiling windows looking out into Polar Bear Odyssey. Attached to the Lodge will be new restroom facilities.
  • Two separate habitat areas that can either be separated or joined by a corridor. This structure allows Como Zoo to separate the two habitats when housing a family group as the male bear must be isolated from the female and cubs.
  • All land space in the habitat will be covered with soil and gravel so the bears have a soft, natural surface to walk on.
  • Two designated stations for the public to watch operant animal training sessions between zookeepers and polar bears. During training sessions, zookeepers teach bears specific behaviors that help the staff to monitor their health and safety. For example, bears are taught to present their paws for inspection or to open their mouths to check on dental health.
  • A 3,260 square foot state-of-the-art holding building to provide large indoor bedrooms, daylight, pools and a cub den.

Polar Bear Odyssey meets or exceeds the most recent versions of the USDA Marine Mammals Act, Association of Zoos and Aquariums Polar Bear Standards and the Canadian Polar Bear Protection Act.

Posted by: timlewthwaite | April 8, 2010

Shooting Wildlife – With Your Digital Camera!

I’ve always enjoyed taking photographs of animals – and have traveled to Africa several times to shoot the wildlife there. I don’t consider myself a great photographer, but I have managed to get some good shots over time.

Elephant in Etosha National Park, Namibia. ©Tim Lewthwaite

Combining my interest in photography and my career with zoos and aquariums has added an interesting dimension to my job. Your local AZA accredited zoo or aquarium is a great place to get some shots that may not be possible in the wild, but also a good venue to practice your photography skills.

There are three basic rules I’ve always followed to getting a good wildlife photo:

(1) Buy a good camera – this is perhaps the most important rule. Today’s digital cameras really take a lot of the work out of getting good pictures – but if you insist on using the camera in your Droid phone, chances are you aren’t going to get very good photos. I use a Nikon D80, but there is a wide range of great digital cameras to choose from.
(2) Find an interesting subject in great location – this may seem obvious, but a lot of times people get it wrong. Animals can be beautiful subjects, but make sure that you take a photo in a way that hightlights the beauty of the animals and the exhibit that it is in – and unless you are doing it for artistic purposes, make sure the sun is behind you and not in front of you when you take the shot- this will ensure the subject is not obscured by shadows.
(3) Get close ups – Animals’ eyes and faces make compelling images. Don’t be afraid to zoom in and get on eye level with your subject. If the animal’s head is down low – sit down if possible and then take the shot. In general, it will look better than standing and shooting down at your subject.

It’s always satisfying to get that great shot. And the great thing about digital photography is that if you don’t like the photos, you can just delete them on the spot and try again.

Posted by: timlewthwaite | April 8, 2010

Puffins in Maryland

The National Aquarium in Baltimore recently renovated its North Atlantic Sea Cliffs exhibit. The exhibit is is home to three species of alcids: Atlantic puffins, black guillemots and razorbills. The three-year old puffin in the photos was hatched on 24 June 2006, the first since the exhibit opened in 1981. She continues to live alongside her parents in the Aquarium’s alcid colony.

The North Atlantic coast exhibit was recreated with fabricated mussels, barnacles, kelp and rockweed, many molded from actual specimens obtained from coastal Maine. Additional functional improvements were made to the haul-out areas, nesting ledges and nest boxes.

Where else, short of going to Maine or Iceland, could the average Baltimorean hope to see these amazing animals and learn about the threats they face from climate change? AZA accredited institutions have reached over 400,000 students with their educational programs – quite a stunning number. Imagine the impact exhibits like the North Atlantic Sea Cliffs have of kids who otherwise would stand little chance of seeing such a beautiful bird.