June 11, 2010
World Cup fever is taking Washington by storm today—even the animals at the National Zoo.
The animals and their keepers decided to take their own spin on the sport in anticipation of the 2010 FIFA World Cup by incorporating cones, cleats and soccer balls into their daily “animal-enrichment” activities. Keepers use the activities to stimulate the animals mentally and physically and also give them a chance to show off their natural behaviors, and in some cases, talents.
Still, we’d like to offer a few pointers to our animal friends. First, to the golden lion tamarin and slender-tailed meerkat: We appreciate the enthusiasm you’re showing with your hands, but unless you’re going for your best Thierry Henry impression, this is a feet-only game.
Second, we think that the porcupine might want to consider being a striker instead of a defenseman (what better tool than spikes for warding off defenders?)
And lastly, we know the sport can be daunting and at times frightening, Mr. Hedgehog, but we really think you’d have better luck with the cleat on your foot instead of sitting in it.
Regardless of who you’re rooting for this weekend, we’re betting you can’t root against any of these guys.
In between matches, head over to the National Zoo to see the animals in the Small Mammal House daily from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m.
View a photo gallery of the small mammals playing soccer!
June 9, 2010
Conservation in Action: As Smithsonian staff embark on their journey to Haiti to help restore and recover cultural sites and artifacts affected by the earthquake, objects conservator Hugh Shockey is keeping a travel diary of the group’s adventures on Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) and the Renwick Gallery’s Facebook page. He’ll also be loading photos of the group at work on this photo stream. (And at the S. Dillon Ripley Center, starting June 17, view some of the art created in the earthquake’s aftermath in the exhibit The Healing Power of Art:Works of Art by Haitian Children After the Earthquake.)
In the mind of Yves Klein: With the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s new iPhone app for its latest exhibition Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, visitors can get quotes and information from the writings of the deceased artist himself. There is also video, audio and a time line of Klein’s life, which is especially helpful if you can’t make the exhibit in person. Since Yves Klein was such a groundbreaking artist, as the Washington Post wrote, it’s fitting that the app is the first for a Smithsonian art museum. Visitors can purchase the app from iTunes . For the next two weeks, the app is 99 cents. After that, it will be available for $1.99
Live, from the National Mall: Watch as construction gets underway on the new memorial honoring Martin Luther King Jr. Buildthedream.org’s Construction Cam shows daily progress of the future site of the memorial, located on the Tidal Basin between the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials. The website also archives the efforts underway, dating back to April and includes some pretty cool night shots. Organizers hope the memorial will be completed in 2011.
No, this is not the start of a bad joke: A Chinese man, a French man, an Italian and three Russians climbed into a space simulator . . . for 520 days. Yesterday, the group of six volunteers piled into a chamber as part of Mars 500, a project that “aims to be the highest-fidelity simulation of a Mars mission ever conducted,” The Daily Planet tells us. It’s also the first simulated journey that will last as long as an actual trip to the planet. On this Russian site created with Google (which our Daily Planet friends warned has “sometimes sketchy English translation”), you can follow the astronauts in the simulator as they do just what they’d do in space: talk to Earth (there’s a 20 minute delay), grow plants, explore the Martian surface through a simulator, and run experiments and tests. Though personally, I’m more interested to see how long they last without driving each other crazy. (Does anyone else think this might be the future of reality television?)
June 8, 2010
People around the world have unofficially celebrated World Oceans Day since June 8, 1992, when it was proposed by Canada at that year’s Earth Summit in Brazil.
But it wasn’t until a year ago today that the United Nations officially declared June 8 as World Ocean Day—a chance to celebrate the ocean, its wildlife and the things it provides us (food, business and international trade, to name a few).
Today marks the second official World Oceans Day, and given the recent oil spill that continues to affect the ocean, its wildlife and the people in the Gulf, discussions about protecting the ocean and what people can do to help are more important than ever.
Tonight, the Museum of Natural History is kicking off a free lecture series called Changing Tides, which will feature ocean scientists and their current research in ocean science and conservation. Jeremy Jackson, director of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and a professor of oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, will give his talk “Brave New Ocean,” tonight at 6 p.m. in Natural History’s Baird Auditorium. If you can’t make it, it will also be webcast live.
Here are some other ways to get you started Around The Mall:
- Explore the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History’s Ocean Portal, a new interactive website that lets visitors anywhere explore the ocean. Today, it has several features to celebrate World Oceans Day, including a discussion about the recent oil spill , and ways to find your own connection with the ocean (including “5 simple ways” to help).
- Read our interview with Jane Lubchenco, a marine ecologist and administrator of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, as she talks about “restoring the oceans’ bounty.”
- Visit the Sant Ocean Hall at the Museum of Natural History
No matter where you are, there’s bound to be an event for you—check out these listings of World Oceans Day events around the world.
Earlier this month, the National Zoo’s red-billed hornbill gave birth in the Zoo’s bird house—the first red-billed hornbill birth there in 16 years.
And though keepers have confirmed at least one chick, they say they still don’t know exactly how many little white and gray chicks they have (just yet).
Because the native African birds, recognized for their long tail and bright, curved bill, have an unusual nesting process, keepers haven’t been able to get a closer look. Which means there could be two or more chicks in the nest.
Typically, before a mother red-billed hornbill lays her eggs, she decides on a location for her chicks—in this case, a nest in the bird house—and seals herself into it with food, droppings and mud with the help of her male mate, leaving just a tiny, narrow opening. Over the next eight weeks, while she lays and incubates her eggs, the mother will molt her flight feathers so that she can’t fly, which means she relies on her mate to bring her food through the opening, keepers say.
Dan Borrit, one of the bird’s keepers, says the mother has spent the last day or two working on the next step in the process: breaking out of the nest, which typically happens when the chicks are about a third to halfway grown. When the mother breaks free of the nest (sporting new flying feathers) she leaves her babies on their own. And the chick(s), like their mother before them, seal the nest again, save a small slit, which the parents both use to feed their young.
Once the chicks decide they’re ready to leave the nest, they finally break out themselves—something they likely won’t do for several more weeks, Borrit says. Only then will keepers know for sure how many chicks they have, though keepers (and visitors to the zoo) may be able to sneak a peek of the parents feeding one or more bills through the nests’ opening before that.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed for two chicks or more—you can never have too many baby hornbills around (especially when they’re as cute as their mother).
June 3, 2010
Last Friday, the National Zoo said goodbye to their oldest Sumatran tiger, Rokan—who was one of the longest-lived tigers in captivity.
“We knew he would get to the point when his quality of life was no longer medically manageable or acceptable,” wrote Dr. Katharine Hope, associate veterinarian at the zoo. “Input from the veterinary team, animal keepers and curators informs the careful decisions we must make about an elderly animal’s quality of life.”
Rokan, who was 20, lived five years longer than the average lifespan of a tiger in the wild. Sumatran tigers are considered critically endangered: Only about 4,000 of the animals remain in Asia’s wilderness.
The tiger, who shared a name with the Rokan River in Sumatra, arrived at the Zoo in 1997 from the San Antonio Zoo, where he was born seven years earlier.
Aside from being very calm and unusually muscular for a Sumatran tiger (a species known for being rather sleek), he was an excellent breeder. He was the father of 10 surviving cubs (seven male and three females) born in four litters and managed by the Sumatran tiger Species Survival Plan, a program in which scientists select captive animals to breed based on their personality, health and genetic makeup.
Three of those litters paired Rokan with the Zoo’s oldest female tiger, Soyono. Tigers are typically solitary in the wild, keepers said, but the pair had a close connection.
Rokan’s health had begun to decline just less than two years ago, zoo officials say, when he began showing signs of lameness in one of his back legs. Though medication helped with pain, the lameness got worse, and officials found that the cause was actually a neuromuscular disorder, a product of a spinal cord disease. With medication, Rokan was able to retain his comfort and coordination until December 2009, when veterinarians decided he would be in too much pain to live much longer.
Though Rokan is gone, his legacy lives on through each of the 10 surviving cubs he produced—including four-year-old Guntur, who still calls the Zoo home.