About this blog...

Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about zoos, the natural world, and writing. Welcome to the erratic thoughts of a zoo mystery author! See ZooMysteries.com for more photos and information about my books. Click here for cool sites about elephants and conservation organizations.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Why my blogging is bogged down



Photo by my friend Cynthia Cheney.

Did you EVER see a cuter puppy? Me neither. Murphy is about nine months old, a Corgi mix. I'd love to know where he got the black ear fringes and muzzle. Something small, hairy, and really busy. Any guesses? He's about 24 pounds, so I think German Shepherd is out.

We agreed to be a foster home after Thanksgiving, and of course one thing led to another, and now we would probably throw ourselves in front of a train rather than give him up. That said, let us not forget how much of your day a puppy wants to occupy. Two walks a day totaling over an hour, random episodes of sitting on the floor and petting him, endless inspections of what he is chewing on NOW. And so on.

I should have some pithy observations about dog behavior and our relationship with canine companions or perhaps the carbon footprint of pet ownership or my efforts at clicker training. But no. Just a cute picture. Maybe later... Right now, I've got to go make liver treats.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Wildlife on The Las Vegas Strip: Part 3

I'll wrap up my New Year's wildlife tour of The Strip with a just a few more observations. We visited maybe six of the major casinos, maybe a few more. They fall into a pattern: glitzy exterior with some feature to draw attention (the Bellagio's dancing fountain is wonderful), reception, restaurants, shopping, and gaming on the ground floor and hotel rooms above. The gaming areas seemed identical and interchangeable. The shopping surprised me, lots of high-end brands such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, etc. Our native guide explained that the stores inside the resorts pay rock-bottom rent. The idea is that they class up the joint. One of them had a different affect on me.



Yup. Apparently-genuine carved elephant tusks, a big pair. Nothing like picturing a huge rotting bull elephant with his face hacked off to brighten up your vacation. And that carved ship behind them looked like ivory also. I found the store clerk, an elegantly dressed young woman with a European accent, and indicated how uncool this was. She started in with the "but if we didn't kill animals, we wouldn't have meat or leather" argument. I did her no bodily harm, but did indicate that this was horse puckey and that the company she worked for was promoting an anti-conservation message. The phrase "will rot in hell" did not cross my lips, but I think she understood. She said they were legal and I'd bet that she was correct. So what? The point is glamorizing a wildlife product that has contributed to the enormous declines in elephant populations. Bah.

Somehow my companions hustled me off to the Bellagio's Christmas display. I noted that it included natural antlers on Santa's reindeer. No problemo--deer drop those annually and grow a new pair (but you knew that...).



Our time in Las Vegas was up and I didn't make it to the MGM Grand to see lions and the shark reef. If you go, drop me a note. On the flight home, the airline magazine had an ad for a guy named Rick Thomas, a magic-and-white-tiger show at the Sahara. That one blew right by me, never saw an ad for it. (He's recommended by Millionaire Magazine, so there.) And--who knew?--Las Vegas has a zoo! Here's the website of the Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park.

My spouse and I now joke about keeping each other in line: "Behave yourself or our next vacation will be back in Las Vegas." It's not our kind of place, but I got some mileage out of the visit, as well as a great visit with some fine friends.

Adios, Sin City! From the Bellagio's Christmas display:


Visit my website for more animal pictures, etc.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wildlife on the Las Vegas Strip Part 2: Feathers

One of the themes of this blog is the way people and animals interact. Las Vegas has a reputation for extreme human behavior, but over New Years I mostly saw bundled up people (it was cold) who were desperately seeking fun, entertainment, and glamor. They mostly found beer. I found flamingos.

Bugsy Siegel founded The Flamingo at the end of World War II. It opened, half finished, on December 26, 1946. The finances went poorly and the resort's backers vented their frustration by ventilating Bugsy on June 20, 1947. The resort maintains a shrine to its founder, or maybe just a historical plaque. You be the judge.



The Flamingo offers a bird collection that you might expect on an English manor--pheasants and guinea fowl loose on the grounds, waterfowl and koi. It's lovely and well kept, with good signs. I didn't see birds on the lawn or in the bushes, but did see a neat flamingo exhibit with wonderful waterfalls. I saw one sacred ibis in with the flamingos. They also had black and black-necked swans and a pair of hybrid whistling ducks with a good sign--they seemed a little embarrassed by the cross. There's a few other waterfowl as well and gi-hugeic fish in the "lake."





The waterways and grounds are free, extensive, and well worth a visit. One of the restaurants offers seating with a view of the "lake".


The last birds I saw were not in professional setting. Outside Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, a man offered the opportunity to have your picture taken with four macaws. The birds were very quiet and docile. (I'd love to know how you get macaws to do that.) I don't know macaws well enough to identify species or hybrids and I didn't see how they are housed when not "working". I suspect wire cages given the beat-up tail feathers. This life didn't seem like fun for the birds.





I'll finish this strange wildlife tour of The Strip with a posting of a few odds and ends and the opportunities I missed.

For other takes on human/wildlife interaction, see my website.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wildlife on the Las Vegas Strip: Part 1



If you arrived here looking for sex and cocaine, use the back arrow because you've got the wrong blog. This one's about fur, feathers, and flippers.

How, you might ask, did a certified eco-nut, tree-hugging, conservation extremist end up in Sin City on New Year's Eve? It has to do with Death Valley and sign painters, and we will skip that story. Instead, picture me stunned by neon after a week in the desert, gasping from cigarette smoke, and failing at both slot machines and electronic blackjack, without the courage or inclination to delve deeper into gambling, without the bucks or inclination for the high-ticket shows. (Well, we did see Blue Man Group at the Venetian, and it was great, but that's two hours and then there you are again sitting on a huge bed staring at the TV.)

Thus was born the wildlife tour of resorts on the strip. I started, logically, at Circus Circus. On the second floor, a classy high-wire act provided free entertainment. At the cheesy midway surrounding the ring, I asked about circus animals. The people manning the booths where guests throw balls to win stuffed animals, etc. gave me answers indicating that the staff was not drawn from the native English speaking population. When I finally made myself clear to a woman in a sari (dart game), the response was "No, no animals." OK fine. On to The Mirage.

The Mirage houses Siegfried & Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. $15 to get in to a pleasant little zoo. The dolphin pools are first and they are large and clean. No scheduled shows, the trainers work the animals frequently but without much hoopla. Two bottlenose dolphins in the first pool did the spectacular leaps we all love, then the trainer worked closely with one. He tugged the animal out of the water by its tail until it was completely on the shore. Then he signed it to swim around the pool "waving". The whistle and hand signals were subtle, the fish rewards not so much.






I am always amazed by the skill of marine mammal trainers. Give them a bucket of fish and a whistle and they can accomplish anything with a dolphin. They also make a fun show out of "husbandry behaviors." Being able to touch the animal and get it out of the water has got to be a great help in treating any medical problems, and of course it doesn't require force and drama if the animal is used to doing it every day as part of the feeding routine. One of the staff said that most of the dolphins were born there.

For some reason, the facility included a lot of alpacas. Beats me.




Next came the cats, Siegfried & Roy's famous white tigers. One was pacing and squirting in a large, grassy enclosure with a waterfall. Two white cubs (getting some size on them) were being babysat by a young woman. A "white" lion lay regally. (The body was tan, the mane was bright white. Looked peroxided.) All the enclosures looked good and the animals' weights looked OK to me, although I am hardly an expert.

Now, your ordinary zoo lion or tiger is rarely an example of vigorous intellectual ferment, but they tend to have a glint of cunning about them, as though they are keeping one eye open for their big opportunity to show what a predator can do. Not so these white animals. The male lion, especially, looked as if you'd have to point out where the food was each and every day or he might starve. OK, that's not fair. I'm judging based on vague eyes and a bit of tongue hanging out. Forget I said it.




Since no one is likely to see a Siegfried & Roy show ever again, I stood in the gift shop and watched the full video. My feet hurt, but I'm cheap. The show looked stunning, I have to say. Vivid and dramatic. Then the video showed an interview with one of them (Roy?) and he went on about conservation and saving endangered white tigers and lions and reintroducing them into the wild, and I came to my senses. What a load of equine scat. Those inbred mutants wouldn't stand a (sorry, can't resist) snowballs chance in the wild. They're dangerous pets, people think they're pretty, and Siegfried & Roy made a lot of money off them. That's all. And, in case you were wondering, they do plan to keep on breeding them. That's what the cubs are for.



Roy & Siegfried do mention Save The Tiger on their website, the only evidence I found of real conservation. Heaven knows lions and tigers could use the help. Check these links out and donate what you can. Tigers. Lions.

Next up: Part 2: Feathered Headdresses... on Birds

For other takes on human/wildlife interaction, see my website.

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