Finals are over! Finally!
My brain is mushy. And I went to San Diego for the weekend. So now I will proceed to make your brains mushy too, by posting pictures of adorable animals that I took at the San Diego Zoo. Think of it as zombie protection. Zombies hate mushy brains. You’re welcome.
(lots o’ pictures below the fold)
First, RED PANDA.
Possibly the most adorable mammal on earth, the red panda is native to the Himalayan region and southwestern China. It is slightly larger than a cat. (In fact, it is about the size of my cat, who is monstrous. Okay, maybe the red panda is a bit larger…but only a tiny bit.) Red pandas are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, largely due to habitat loss and hunting.
Second, GIANT PANDA.
This little bear isn’t giant yet; he’s still pretty young. But when he reaches full growth, he’ll probably be about 6 feet tall and weigh somewhere around 250 lbs. Here’s something I didn’t know before: the giant panda has the second longest tail in the bear family. (The longest belongs to the sloth bear, which we also saw but which I did not photograph.) Giant pandas are endangered, largely due to habitat loss and poaching. They also have a fairly low reproductive rate. Historically, captive breeding programs have had low success rates; captive pandas don’t tend to mate. However–good news!–in the past several years, captive breeding efforts have become more successful. And last year the BBC reported that the Chengdu Panda Breeding Research Centre plans to begin releasing pandas back into the wild in 15 years.
Third, POLAR BEAR.
Polar bears are large. In fact, they are the largest bears (tied with Kodiak bears) and the largest land carnivores. They live in the Arctic and, although they spend much of their time in the water, depend heavily on sea ice. This + global climate change = a bad situation for the polar bears. They are listed as vulnerable due to decreases in amount of sea ice habitat, increases in pollutants (e.g., PCBs), and oil and gas development.
And finally, KOALA BEAR.
Koalas are not actually bears. They are tree-dwelling marsupials from Australia. Marsupials give birth before the baby is fully developed and then house the baby (called a joey) in a pouch until it is able to endure the outside world. Here’s a bit of koala trivia: koalas have fingerprints that are very similar to human fingerprints. The conservation status of koalas is somewhat uncertain: IUCN lists them as least threatened, but the U.S. considers them threatened. Australia does not consider koalas threatened, but they do identify them as a priority for population status assessment. In the early 1900s, koalas were hunted for fur, and the population has not yet fully recovered. There are also increasing concerns about habitat loss and disease, particularly chlamydia, which has affected some koala colonies.
You’re probably beginning to see a pattern here. Vulnerable, threatened, endangered are labels that apply to many species these days. This is why I like zoos. I get the chance to see animals that I would probably never otherwise see. In fact, there’s a not-insignificant possibility that one or more of these species will go extinct in my lifetime (assuming that I live as long as I’d like to). And in good zoos, the animals are treated well. They are fed, they are cared for physically (veterinarians), and they are cared for mentally (enrichment items, aka toys & games). Many of them are rescue animals or animals that have been bred in captivity, neither of which have good chances of surviving in the wild. For many species, habitat loss has been so extensive that there isn’t much “wild” left for them anyway. And good zoos not only give us the opportunity to see these animals, they also provide educational material designed to pique your curiosity, to make you say, “Wow! I didn’t know that!”, and to encourage you to care about the animal for reasons other than its cute&cuddly factor.
(I’m talking about charismatic megafauna here, but many many other species that are not so charismatic nor so mega are also vulnerable/threatened/endangered.)
*ETA: small versions of pictures!