Tag Archive: mammals

Follow Me To Baby Animal Cuteness

Baby Lynx

A tagged baby lynx. Image by the USFWS.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has a beautiful baby animal post on their blog right now. Click here to check it out.


What’s going on?

Dear Backyard Zoologist readers,

You’ve probably noticed a huge drop off in posts recently and I wanted to let you know what’s going on. In all honesty, I began this blog over a year ago because I enjoy sharing information and pictures of awesome wildlife. I still do, but at the moment I have a lot of cool but time consuming things going on and creating these posts on a regular schedule is starting to become more of a chore than something I do for fun. So, I’ve decided to only write new posts when the spirit moves me instead of on a regular schedule, to eliminate the dreaded deadline of Monday and Friday. Still, I hope you’ll check in periodically to see what’s new or better yet, sign up for e-mail notifications to let you know when I do post something new.

I still have lots to share…for example, did you know that this animal:


A giant green Anemone. Image taken at Fitzgerald Marine Reserve tidepools in California.

is used as a vertebrate heart stimulant? Or that this animal:


A 9 banded armadillo. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

always gives birth to identical quadruplets? And naturally grows the bacteria responsible for leprosy on its feet? Scientists couldn’t cultivate this bacteria in a lab, so they brought in live armadillos to collect the bacteria to work with.

Or that this animal:

tree shrew

A tree shrew. Image taken at the Oregon Zoo.

Is very smart and has a larger brain size to body mass than humans do?

Or that this animal:


California kingsnake, Kali, my personal companion.

Is called a kingsnake because it eats other snakes, including rattlesnakes and is immune to rattlesnake venom?

Or that these animals:

rock doves

Rock doves, a.k.a. pigeons. Image taken in San Francisco.

are one of the few birds that feed their young a type of milk?

Or that this animal:

marine toad

A marine toad. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

is one of the only toads that will sometimes eat vegetation and dead things? While other frogs and toads want to eat only moving things, this toad is even attracted by dog and cat food left in yards.

Or that this animal:


A lionfish. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

is covered in highly venomous barbs and that dolphins will sometimes grab these fish by their tummies and use them as weapons to catch fish hiding in crevices?

Unanana and the Elephant


An elephant at the Oakland Zoo.

Many, many years ago there was a woman called Unanana who had two beautiful children. They lived in a hut near the roadside and people passing by would often stop when they saw the children, exclaiming at the roundness of their limbs, the smoothness of their skin and the brightness of their eyes.

Early one morning, Unanana went into the bush to collect firewood and left her two children playing with a little cousin who was living with them. The children shouted happily, seeing who could jump the furthest, and when they were tired they sat on the dusty ground outside the hut, playing a game with pebbles.

Suddenly they heard a rustle in the nearby grasses, and seated on a rock they saw a puzzled-looking baboon.


A baboon being groomed. Image taken at the Oakland Zoo.

‘Whose children are those?’ he asked the little cousin.

‘They belong to Unanana,’ she replied.

‘Well, well, well!’ exclaimed the baboon in his deep voice. ‘Never have I seen such beautiful children before.’

Then he disappeared and the children went on with their game.

A little later they heard the faint crack of a twig and looking up they saw the big, brown eyes of a gazelle staring at them from beside a bush.

addra gazelle

An addra gazelle sunning. Image taken at the Oakland Zoo.

‘Whose children are those?’ she asked the cousin.

‘They belong to Unanana,’ she replied.

‘Well, well, well!’ exclaimed the gazelle in her soft smooth voice. ‘Never have I seen such beautiful children before,’ and with a graceful bound she disappeared into the bush.

The children grew tired of their game, and taking a small gourd they dipped it in turn into the big pot full of water which stood at the door of their hut, and drank their fill.

A sharp bark made the cousin drop her gourd in fear when she looked up and saw the spotted body and treacherous eyes of a leopard, who had crept silently out of the bush.


Leopard stares at us. Image taken in Bandon, Oregon.

‘Whose children are those?’ he demanded.

‘They belong to Unanana,’ she replied in a shaky voice, slowly backing towards the door of the hut in case the leopard should spring at her. But he was not interested in a meal just then.

‘Never have I seen such beautiful children before,’ he exclaimed, and with a flick of his tail he melted away into the bush.

The children were afraid of all these animals who kept asking questions and called loudly to Unanana to return, but instead of their mother, a huge elephant with only one tusk lumbered out of the bush and stood staring at the three children, who were too frightened to move.

‘Whose children are those?’ he bellowed at the little cousin, waving his trunk in the direction of the two beautiful children who were trying to hide behind a large stone.

‘They…they belong to Una…Unanana,’ faltered the little girl.

The elephant took a step forward.

‘Never have I seen such beautiful children before,’ he boomed. ‘I will take them away with me,’ and opening wide his mouth he swallowed both children at a gulp.

The little cousin screamed in terror and dashed into the hut, and from the gloom and safety inside it she heard the elephant’s heavy footsteps growing fainter and fainter as he went back into the bush.

It was not until much later that Unanana returned, carrying a large bundle of wood on her head. The little girl rushed out of the house in a dreadful state and it was some time before Unanana could get the whole story from her.

‘Alas! Alas!’ said the mother. ‘Did he swallow them whole? Do you think they might still be alive inside the elephant’s stomach?’

‘I cannot tell,’ said the child, and she began to cry even louder than before.

‘Well,’ said unanana sensibly, ‘there’s only one thing to do. I must go into the bush and ask all the animals whether they have seen an elephant with only one tusk. But first of all I must make preparations.’

She took a pot and cooked a lot of beans in it until they were soft and ready to eat. Then seizing her large knife and putting the pot of the food on her head, she told her little niece to look after the hut until she returned, and set off into the bush to search for the elephant.

Unanana soon found the tracks of the huge beast and followed them for some distance, but the elephant himself was nowhere to be seen. Presently, as she passed through some tall, shady trees, she met the baboon.

‘O baboon! Do help me!’ she begged. ‘Have you seen an elephant with only one tusk? He has eaten both my children and I must find him.’

‘Go straight along this track until you come to a place where there are high trees and white stones. There you will find the elephant,’ said the baboon.

So the woman went on along the dusty track for a very long time but she saw no sign of the elephant.

Suddenly she noticed a gazelle leaping across her path.

‘O gazelle! Do help me! Have you seen an elephant with only one tusk?’ she asked. ‘He has eaten both my children and I must find him.’

‘Go straight along this track until you come to a place where there are high trees and white stones. There you will find the elephant,’ said the gazelle, as she bounded away.

‘O dear!’ sighed Unanana. ‘It seems a very long way and I am so tired and hungry.’

But she did not eat the food she carried, since that was for her children when she found them.

On and on she went, until rounding a bend in the track she saw a leopard sitting outside of his cave-home, washing himself with his tongue.

‘O leopard!’ she exclaimed in a tired void. ‘Do help me! Have you seen an elephant with only one tusk? He has eaten both my children and I must find him.’

‘Go straight along this track until you come to a place where there are high trees and white stones. There you will find the elephant,’ replied the leopard, as he bent his head and continued his toilet.

‘Alas!’ gasped Unanana to herself. ‘If I do not find this place soon, my legs will carry me no further.’

She staggered on a little further until suddenly, ahead of her, she saw some high trees with large white stones spread about on the ground below them.

‘At last!’ she exclaimed, and hurrying forward she found a huge elephant lying contentedly in the shade of the trees. One glance was enough to show her that he had only one tusk, so going up as close as she dared, she shouted angrily:

‘Elephant! Elephant! Are you the one that has eaten my children?’

‘oh no!’ he replied lazily. ‘Go straight along this track until you come to a place where there are high trees and white stones. There you will find the elephant.’

But the woman was sure this was the elephant she sought and stamping her foot, she screamed at him again:

‘Elephant! Elephant! Are you the one that has eaten my children?’

‘O no! Go straight along this track—-‘ began the elephant again, but he was cut short by Unanana who rushed up to him waving her knife and yelling:

‘Where are my children? Where are they?’

The elephant opened his mouth and without even troubling to stand up, he swallowed Unanana with the cooking-pot and her knife in one gulp. And this was just what Unanana had hoped for.

Down, down, down she went in the darkness, until she reached the elephant’s stomach. What a sight met her eyes! The walls of the elephant’s stomach were like a range of hills and camped among these hills were little groups of people, many dogs and goats and cows, and her two beautiful children.


Bosco the dog, finally tired out-for two minutes. Image taken at Golden Gate Park, San Francisco.


A goat at the Oregon Zoo.


A grazing cow. Image taken in Peru, near Cuzco.

‘Mother! Mother!’ they cried when they saw her. ‘How did you get here? Oh, we are so hungry.’

Unanana took the cooking-pot off her head and began to feed her children with the beans, which they ate ravenously. All of the other people crowded round, begging for just a small portion of the food, so Unanana said to them scornfully: ‘Why do you not roast meat for yourselves, seeing that you are surrounded by it?’

She took her knife and cut large pieces of flesh from the elephant and roasted them over the fire she built in the middle of the elephant’s stomach, and soon everyone, including the dogs and goats and cattle, was feasting on elephant-meat very happily.

But the groans of the poor elephant could be heard all over the bush, and he said to those animals who came along to find out the cause of his unhappiness:

‘I don’t know why it is, but ever since I swallowed that woman called Unanana, I have felt most uncomfortable and unsettled inside.’

The pain got worse and worse, until with a final grunt the elephant dropped dead. Then Unanana seized her knife again and hacked a doorway between the elephant’s rips through which soon streamed a ling of dogs, goats, cows, men, women and children, all blinking their eyes in the strong sunlight and shouting for joy at being free once more.

The animals barked, bleated or mooed their thanks, while the human beings gave Unanana all kinds of presents in gratitude to her for setting them free, so that when Unanana and her two children reached home, they were no longer poor.

The little cousin was delighted to see them, for she had thought they were all dead, and that night they had a feast. Can you guess what they ate? Yes, roasted elephant-meat.

This is a South African story taken from the book “African Myths and Legends,” retold by Kathleen Arnott. If you liked it, check out the book, because there’s plenty more where that came from!

The challenges of motherhood are many.

It requires a ton of patience.

humming bird

A mama humming bird on her nest. Image taken at the San Franicsco Zoo.

humming bird

A mama humming bird on her nest. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

You have to carry a lot of extra weight.


Baby Hasani and his adopted mom. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

You have absolutely NO privacy.


A flamingo chick, hiding in the safety of his mom's feathers. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

And let’s face it; your young won’t stop until they’ve sucked you dry.


A young elk, getting a drink from mom. Image taken in northern California.

And the worst part is, one day you have your brood all together…


A peahen and her chicks. Image taken at the West Coast Game Safari Park in Bandon, Oregon.

But then you look up and they’ve all gone their separate directions!


A peahen and her chicks. Image taken at the West Coast Game Safari Park in Bandon, Oregon.

But wherever they go, they’re following in your footsteps.


A peahen and her chicks. Image taken at the West Coast Game Safari Park in Bandon, Oregon.

And they’ll always look up to you.


A seagull and her well camouflaged chick. Image taken at Sea Lion Cave, Oregon.

And need you and love you.


A baby rhino with mama Elly. Image given to me by the San Francisco Zoo.

Thanks, mom, for handling all of these challenges LIKE A BOSS!!! Happy Mother’s Day!!!

Binturongs: Known Unknowns


A binturong posted on a platform. Image taken at West Coast Game Park Safari in Bandon, Oregon.

Nocturnal and arboreal, binturongs are difficult to study or observe so there is not much known about this adorable, old-man of an animal. As far as we know, they are the largest member of the civet family. They have a long prehensile tail that they use for steadying themselves as they climb through the trees. They can walk upside down on a tree, hanging from the branches but have never been observed making leaps. Much like opossums, it is doubtful that adults can support their whole weight with their prehensile tail, but the young can.


A binturong staring at the sky. Image taken at West Coast Game Park Safari in Bandon, Oregon.

They are carnivores, consuming birds and small mammals and catching them with surprising speed. They are also capable swimmers and able to dive and hunt for fish. Still, they will also sometimes eat ripe fruit, especially figs and will invade plantations or steal fruit from houses. They eat bananas like they do in cartoons, by squeezing the end and popping the fruit out of its peel.


A binturong licking its nose. Image taken at the West Coast Game Park Safari in Bandon, Oregon.

These animals are usually solitary, although sometimes one or two adults can be seen with young. They defend themselves by biting, with a bite strong enough to sever fingers. They will also growl loudly and spit, with violent movements, scaring off many potential predators.

They are listed as vulnerable due to hunting, trapping for the pet trade and loss of habitat. They have been bred in captivity and the captive animals make a wide variety of calls. You can hear some of these calls here.

Some cute

Hi Backyard Zoologist readers,

Sorry about the missing posts last week, as I’ve been super busy with family visiting and work. I will be starting up back on schedule again on Friday. Until then, have some cute:

chubby chipmunk

A chubby chipmunk. Image taken at Lake Tahoe, California.


Vanessa, the most beautiful chicken that ever lived. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.


This cuttlefish is like "Please love me. I'm cute." Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.


A disobedient goat. Image stolen from somewhere a long time ago.

More Camera Traps


A jaguar approaching a camera trap. Image from Smithsonian Wild.

This wonderful website, Smithsonian Wild has fantastic camera trap photos from around the world!

A Virtual Tour of Rhinos

Black Rhino

This black rhino, Elly, has been part of a breeding program at the San Francisco Zoo.

It’s probably no surprise to regular readers that I have a soft spot for rhinos. This particular rhino, Elly, single hooved-ly pointed my life in the conservation direction. They are amazing animals. This post is going to primarily focus on black rhinos like Elly here, unless I specify otherwise, although much of the information will be true for most of the rhino species.

For example, all rhinos had enormous ancestors, including the largest land mammal that ever lived, the Indricotherium, which went extinct 10 million years ago.



A life size model of an Indricotherium, an extinct mammal. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

One of the things that animals in this group have in common is their hooves, which have three toes and make a print like the ace of clubs. Notice how this rhino has very similar feet to the Indricotherium model:



A black rhino. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

This group also has a really tough, very thick skin. Their skin is so thick that they are protected from thorns and can travel through dense thorn bush where other animals find it hard to travel. Other animals can then take advantage of the paths created by the rhinos.


Greater one horned rhino

A close up of the thick skin of a Greater one-horned rhino, Gauhati, at the San Francisco Zoo.

This is the skin of a Greater one-horned rhino, which has a scientific name that always makes me smile- Rhinoceros unicornis. On this particular rhino, if veterinarians have to give him an injection, they must do so behind his ear, where the skin is thinnest, or else their needles won’t penetrate the very, very thick skin.

Caring for their skin is a very involved process for black rhinos. First of all, they can be infested with over 20 species of skin parasite, including ticks and worms, which bite their skin and suck their blood. They can also get sunburns and since they don’t sweat, they overheat easily.  Rhinos deal with these problems in a number of ways. The first is wallowing. Rhinos will roll around in mud to cool off and when it dries, it protects their skin from sunburn and parasites. However, baby rhinos won’t go into the mud wallows until they are big enough to climb out and nursing moms won’t go in everyday, probably to keep close to her baby and to keep her teats clean. This is just one of the many sacrifices a mother rhino makes for her young. However, they will roll around in dust.


Apparently, mom's sacrifices don't go unappreciated. Image given to me by the San Francisco Zoo.

Another thing black rhinos will do for skin care is rubbing, which also helps get rid of parasites. They will often use the same rubbing sites for generations and favorite rubbing posts can become practically polished over time. But, all the rubbing and wallowing won’t help them in one particular spot. They can’t quite reach behind the “elbows” of their front legs and rhinos frequently have sores there that can sometimes get infected.

Rhinos also have helpers in their skin care. The most well known is probably the ox-pecker-a neat little parasite eating bird.


An ox-pecker perched on a branch. Image taken at the Oregon Zoo.

These birds will climb all over a rhino and pick at its skin, ears and nostrils and of course, the rhino doesn’t bother them. When ox-peckers feed on antelope, they will take little bits of fur to line their nests, but when they feed on rhinos, all they get is the chance to eat parasites. Still, that’s sometimes enough for them. These ox-peckers will also fly and squawk loudly when danger is near, so they are also a good alert system for the rhinos as well. (While most full grown rhinos have nothing to worry about, lions will sometimes catch older or sick rhinos and calves are always at risk-1 in 6 rhino calves die in their first two years of life. Hyenas are often the cause because they can team up to get around mother rhinos who will aggressively defend their calves.) Unfortunately, ox-pecker numbers have seriously declined in southern Africa because farmers have been using pesticides on farm animals and the birds die from eating poisoned ticks on domestic cattle. The good news is that the birds are now being reintroduced in areas where pesticide use has been reduced.

Perhaps a more surprising rhino helper is a terrapin, a shelled animal closely related to turtles and tortoises. The terrapins live in waterholes where the rhinos wallow and then pull ticks from the rhinos’ skin underwater. Dung beetles also help rhinos, in an indirect way. Remember those sores behind the rhinos’ front legs? A particular parasitic worm loves to dwell is that little safe zone and this worm reproduces in the rhino’s dung. When a dung beetle carries the dung away, it takes the worms away with it. So rhinos have a few helpers to maintain their beautiful skin.

Another feature some rhinos have is a prehensile or partially prehensile upper lip.

A greater one-horned rhino, Gauhati, extending his prehensile lip to receive a carrot. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

This is what Gauhati, the San Francisco Zoo’s greater one-horned rhinoceros looks like with his prehensile lip extended. Here’s what he looks like once he’s pulled his lip back in:


Gauhati after receving a carrot from my husband, Trey. Image taken at the San Francisco Zoo.

Rhinos will pull down branches with their horns and use their prehensile lip to grab twigs and leaves and twist branches until they break. Pretty much any form of bush or shrub within reach is food for a rhinoceros, right up to the thorniest acacia. After a fire on the open plains, rhinos have even been observed eating wildebeest dung, possibly because they were short of the minerals they needed or maybe because they couldn’t find any other food and wildebeest don’t digest grass well.

black rhino

A black rhino at the San Francisco Zoo.

The last rhino feature I’m going to mention is the cause of death for many, many black rhinos. I’m speaking of course of their horn. Rhino horns are made out of compressed hair, but are still incredibly strong. Charging rhinos can poke a hole through a car door. Various cultures have different uses for rhino horn, including for use in traditional medicines or as dagger handles (thanks to education programs, this practice is becoming increasingly rare in Yemen) and since rhino horn is a real status symbol, people pay a small fortune for them. You might recall in a previous post about poaching I mentioned that poachers have high end technology, including helicopters and night vision. If we’re to prevent this animal from going extinct, we have to arm their guardians with advanced technology as well and continue education programs in countries where rhino horn is used. The poaching won’t stop as long as it is such a lucrative industry.

If you would like to help rhinos, there are a number of organizations that you can donate to that provide for rhino rangers, anti-poaching units, equipment for monitoring rhino populations and for breed and release programs. The International Rhino Foundation is a great one. One of the easiest things we can do and my personal favorite is an annual fundraiser put on by the American Association of Zookeepers. It’s called Bowling for Rhinos, and 100% of the profits gets dispersed among various reputable rhino conservation organizations. Follow that link and you can learn where Bowling for Rhinos is taking place near you; enjoy bowling, pizza and friends while saving rhinos. It’s a lot of fun.

Green mantella

The green mantella. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

Once again, this is a post that is highlighting animals that are listed as endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN red list. You can find part one of this group here. In the first part, I wrote about the purpose of these posts and I’d like to reiterate that:

“This post was not meant to be so sad, but to be a chance to learn more about animal species that aren’t doing so well and to see and appreciate them while we still can. There have been many species that were endangered, but thanks to strong conservation efforts, are surviving or even thriving again (buffalo, bald eagles, brown pelicans, American alligators, peregrine falcons, Canada geese, gray wolves, gray whales-to name a few). In fact, these species are the face of conservation and can really bring about the best in people. We just have to continue to fight.”

Now to begin with the first endangered animal, pictured above. The green mantella is a small frog found mostly in northern Madagascar. Although they are very similar to poison dart frogs, in that they have toxic skin and are brightly colored, they are not closely related. Like much of the wildlife on this island, this frog is IUCN red listed as endangered mostly due to habitat loss, but also because of international trade from before the 90s, when they became protected. Although there are many problems facing wildlife in Madagascar, amphibians in general are facing major declines across the globe, not just on this one isolated island. To find out more about how and why we can and should stop amphibian decline, please check out save the frogs. If you’ve been following this blog for a while now, you have seen this name many times already. Save the Frogs has been working to tackle the amphibian decline problem from many fronts-by education, research, legislation and market pressure. They have accomplished a lot with relatively little. Their site has tons of helpful information on what you can do to save the frogs.

Visayan warty pigs

Visayan warty pigs, a critically endangered species. Image taken at the Oregon Zoo.

These sweet pigs are found only on a few islands in the Philippines. They are listed as critically endangered because their numbers are dropping rapidly due to habitat loss, hunting and interbreeding with domestic pigs. The few zoos that are housing these pigs are participating in an emergency breeding program to save these pigs from extinction. The Oregon Zoo’s website has some wonderful pictures of these pigs, including a male that has its breeding mane, which is a giant spiky poof of hair and quite an amusing sight, and it has a video of 3 unbearably adorable piglets born at the zoo as well as more information on the tragically named warty pigs.


A coelacanth specimen. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

The coelacanth is an interesting fish. It’s thought to have existed over 400 million years ago and was believed to have gone extinct 70 million years ago, since all we’d ever found was fossils. But, in 1938, a fisherman hooked one. Now more have been discovered. We still have a lot to learn about this critically endangered fish and scientists are eager to find out the secrets to its survival.

Sea otter

This sea otter is one of many from the Monterey Bay Aquarium's sea otter research and conservation program.

Sea otters have been facing all sorts of problems, both natural and human caused. Natural problems include predation and disease (although human pollution may also be partly responsible if it hinders their immune systems.) Of the current human caused problems, the worst is oil spills, which is particularly bad for them because unlike most marine mammals, otters don’t have a thick layer of blubber for insulation, but incredibly dense fur, which doesn’t work when it’s covered in oil. Being captured in nets and being hit by boats also pose problems. Still, there have been many protection efforts in place, including international agreements. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s sea otter and conservation program is just one example of these efforts. They raise and release stranded pups, treat and release injured otters, take care of otters that can’t return to the wild and conduct scientific research. (You can support this program here.) Otters are major predators of marine invertebrates and one of the problems we’ve seen because of their decline is an increase in sea urchins. Since sea urchins eat the holdfasts of kelp (the part that keeps them anchored down), they are tearing through kelp forests, which is also a hiding place and food source for a lot of other wildlife.

radiated tortoise

A young boy watches a critically endangered radiated tortoise. Image taken at the California Academy of Sciences.

Radiated tortoises are critically endangered tortoises from Madagascar. This picture, with the little boy watching the tortoise moving about its exhibit, stood out to me when I read about the projections for this species. Without additional protection, these tortoises will become extinct in the little boy’s lifetime. In fact, at the current rate of decline, they’ll probably be extinct by the time he has grandchildren. Destruction of habitat is one of the problems facing this tortoise. So is collection, both for the pet trade and for their livers (why livers? I don’t know). But one of the biggest problems is from local people using the tortoises, mostly for food. This hasn’t been a problem in the past, because the Mahafaly and the Antandroy have a taboo against touching or eating the tortoises and their land covers the range of the radiated tortoises. But more people have moved to this region that will eat the tortoises, as well as Malagasy people who are just passing through. As far as future protection goes, Madagascar has been expanding its protected areas. Providing education and alternatives for local people is considered essential and so is careful monitoring of markets, traders, restaurants and the international pet trade. Perhaps with a lot of work, we can stop this species from going extinct.