Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Cheetahs and other cats of the Toronto Zoo

October 21, 2013

On Saturday, The Little Guy and I went to the Toronto Zoo.  We were there in part to meet an old roommate from  university but we also had a set of animals we had to see.  Those animals were Pandas, cheetahs, Komodo Dragons, and Orangutans.  The other animals were expected to be interesting but not nearly as important to The Little Guy.  In fact, it was only with difficulty that I convinced him to see the pandas.  My tiny knowledge of Hanja allowed me to read one character in each of the pandas names.  Er Shun was ‘2’ Shun and Da Mao was ‘great’ Mao.  My friend and I chuckled that ‘Great Mao’ might have been a dangerous name to have not too long ago.

I gotta say, this is a great time to visit the Zoo.  We were among perhaps fifteen people who entered at the nine AM opening and we didn’t feel crowded at all during the day.


The animal that most caught my attention was this feral cat carrying its lunch into a ravine.DSC09822 b The Little Guy and a lion.DSC09785 bTLG and a orangutan statue- the plaque is in honour of a friend of mine.DSC09816 b Three chameleons.*DSC09815 b A resting cheetah.DSC09795 b

The single best part of the trip of TLG’s interactions with one of the cheetahs.  It saw him running along the path and ran to meet him.  Then the two had a few running races.  I wish my camera had a better focus as I think it focused on the fence and not the animal inside but here it is clearly interacting with TLG.




* I think there is only one chameleon in the picture.  As with Ninjas, one can never be sure.

Spawning season for snappers at Wye Marsh

June 14, 2013



Let me start with a painted turtle.  I found this one on the playing field at Wye Marsh Conservation Area and moved it so the school students playing a game modelling relations between historic trading blocs wouldn’t step on it.  Those claws are pretty sharp!lotsa turtles (1)

On June second, I found a snapper laying eggs and also saw holes dug by others.  It seemed like a lot of activity but the numbers kept picking up until yesterday, June 13, when I saw five turtles laying, including this location where three were laying at once. Should anyone care, this photo was taken on the berm at the far end of the big boardwalk.lotsa turtles (9 b)

One snapper had a hitchhiker.lotsa turtles (7 c) Not the same leech, but one a student had caught a few days earlier.DSC08756

This photo is from the twelfth and shows a snapper’s claws and dragged tail.  We were lucky to have a brief shower the previous night.snapper -loza (7) bAnd here is a raccoon print, from the same morning.snapper -loza (4) b

It is tough to explain to the visiting students that the turtles lay so many eggs but raccoons eat most of them.  (The ROM tells me that skunks also prey on turtle eggs although I have not yet seen any at the Marsh.  I have seen an otter and wonder if they could dig up the eggs.) I have resorted to acting the part of a hungry baby raccoon (“Chirrrrrrrp.  Feed me, mommy.”) to emphasize that the raccoons are not actually bad guys. Sometimes I believe it myself.


But not so much when I see a cutie like this.
snapper -loza (10) b

Both snapping turtles and Midland painted turtles are abundant at the Wye Marsh so I guess enough are getting through the gauntlet, even though snappers are rated as under ‘special concern’.  Painted turtles have no threat categorization at this time.

More on snappers at Ontario Nature and on turtles at The Toronto Zoo.

National wildlife Area Pics of the Month: Wye Marsh

May 31, 2013

I’ve been employed by the Marsh for a month now and love it. Well, I am not so thrilled by the pay, but the location is everything I wanted to experience when I planned to return to Ontario.
The area is full of attractions. Sainte Marie Among the Hurons is a reconstruction of the earliest European settlement in Ontario with the original site dating back to 1639. The conservation area is next to the reconstructed village and extends for around 100 hectares. The Wye River, of which the Marsh and the village sit nearly at the mouth, empties into Georgian Bay and the Tay-Midland Trail offers excellent paved cycling/rollerblading/… paths from Midland to Waubaushene, a remarkable distance.

Back to the Marsh. My work involves leading school groups on trails along the marsh and across it on long, floating boardwalks. We dipnet and look for dragonfly larva, watching swans, geese and many more birds and discuss ecological concepts. Oh, I also show the students turtles and snakes, which means I get to handle them: the dream job for ten-year-old Surprises!

From Wikipedia:

The Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre runs a breeding programme for Trumpeter Swans.[7] The centre, and its volunteers, monitor approximately one-third of all trumpeter swans in Ontario.[8] The swans had been absent from the marsh until a reintroduction programme by Harry Lumsden in the 1980s, as an employee of the Ontario Department of Natural Resources.[3] Archeological evidence collected by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century suggests that the area previously had significant concentrations of Trumpeter Swans, and historical references indicate the same.[3] While hunters armed only with bows and arrows would have had a difficult time hunting the swan, the introduction of firearms by European explorers would have made the swan a tempting target for hunters.[3] By 1850, only small numbers of the swan remained in Eastern Canada, and the last sighting of a Trumpeter Swan in Ontario before reintroduction occurred in 1884.[3] Among Ontarians, the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre has is known as the Home of the Trumpeter Swan.[3]
The marsh is also an important breeding site for Black Terns and Least Bitterns.[9] At least 1% of the breeding pairs of Least Bitterns in Canada nest in the Wye Marsh.[3][10]

I am not at all involved in the research that goes on at the marsh, but I make a small attempt to keep up with it. A quick Google Scholar search reveals a variety of studies in the area but most appear to be behind paywalls. The Conservation Action Plan of 2001 and Origin of Wye Marsh PDFs are available, though. If any reader has JSTOR access, I would like to read about silver-haired bats and the overview of the trumpeter swan reintroduction program.

Okay, I know you are really here for the pics(more can be found here):

This crayfish was walking on the road, pretty far from any water.crayfish on road (1) Found on the quiet Muskrat Trail.may 28 (5)

This trumpeter swan has orange feathers, most likely due to eating in iron-rich water.may 30 (2) This snapping turtle and frog can be found in the Welcome pond, near the parking lot at the Marsh.may 30 (3)Canada geese and goslings are everywhere these days.  Still haven’t seen any cygnets.
may 30 (5) Very happily surprised to see this deer. near the blind on the ID trail.may 30 (9 b ) may 30 (9)

Domesticated, feral, and wild animals

March 21, 2013

2 updates at the end of the post



Why do we have pets? I grew up constantly having an animal companion. We almost continuously had a dog and cat, but also for short periods, a turtle, a salamander, newts, a hamster, a guinea pig, and/or goldfish. The ideal home for me would be one like Farley Mowat’s.   I don’t know if I could properly or with-scientific-references defend the idea that pets are good for their owners. I definitely believe this is the case, though.
Is it good for the pets themselves? This time my affirmation is less confident. Michael Pollan offers the great success of chicken and other fowl as part of his support for eating meat. If we didn’t eat meat, chicken would likely be extinct.
Ted Kerasote might offer an opposing view in his book Merle’s Door, an account of his attempts to offer his dog as much freedom as possible and how pets thrive when they aren’t treated as modern-day pets. The life of a modern pet is long periods of boredom mixed with attempts to be stimulated by their owners.
As part of this long introduction, let me ask a different and more specific question, one that I cannot answer. Should we have pet cats?
I love cats; there is one sitting at ease just outside my doorway, and my son would need therapy if I got rid of it. The negative points are more important to my post today so let me focus on the positives first. They entertain and comfort us. Some kill pests. They are little burden and bring great joy.
This post is not about the sadness that comes with the inevitable death of a beloved pet. This is a serious concern and my son is already asking questions about lifespans and death.
No, this post is principly about feral cats and secondarily about wildlife mortality caused by pet and feral cats.

According to National Geographic News, last week,

” Ted Williams, then editor-at-large for Audubon Magazine, advocated for trapping and euthanizing feral cats due to their rampant hunting of birds and their reputation for carrying diseases like toxoplasmosis.”
More from the article:
Over 80 million pet cats reside in U.S. homes and as many as 80 million more free-roaming cats survive outside.

To David Ringer, director of media relations for the Audubon Society, the dust-up shows “that we all need to work together on effective strategies that will address the very serious harm cats inflict on birds and other wildlife and that are also truly humane toward cats,” he told National Geographic by email.

“Cats do a great deal of damage to birds and other wildlife, and it needs to be addressed, but Audubon absolutely rejects the idea of individuals harming or poisoning cats.”

From the comments, I find myself agreeing most with Pete McLean who argues against protection all cats at all costs. “The entire argument is a stupid juvenile argument from lovers of stuffed toys.”
The article discusses some methods of feral cat population control. Apparently, Tylenol is unusually toxic to cats and could be used as a relatively specific poison that wouldn’t do much harm to other animals. Another proposed method is neutering or spaying.
Before going into my opinions, let me quote articles from South Korea that I discussed three years ago.  There I quoted from a touchingly sensitive article in Yonhap News.

 “Controversy over treatment of cats often makes headlines. In 2006, residents of a Seoul apartment culled scores of stray cats by driving them into the basement of their building and cementing over all exit holes.

Last year, the local government of Geomun Island off the southwestern coast moved to cull hundreds of feral cats overpopulating the fishing region, a controversial decision that was changed at the last minute to neutering them.”

Alright, first, the problem is not merely feral cats; happily domesticated cats are mixed in too. Tylenol might specifically kill cats but it will not further specify only feral cats. Feral cats are not the only predators of urban wildlife either. In all the time we had a cat, it typically wanted out in the evening and in again in the morning, often trying to bring the night’s kill in with it. And these were well-fed cats who needed to kill only as much as most North American human hunters.
I guess neutering or spaying would work in the long term even though new feral cats and fully potent domesticated cats are often entering the equation. I wonder if proponents of spaying would insist on a human-sort of tubal ligation so that the cats could continue to enjoy the attempts to procreate? In this case, clearly neutering males would be seen as equally evil: vasectomies all round!
I gotta say, I am for a humane cull. I would prefer it if humans could adopt every last feral cat -which are unlikely to make good pets -but an entirely reasonable, though distant, second best option involves poison, live traps leading to identification and killing (feral cats) or releasing (actual wildlife) or return and fines (loose domestic cats). I would even go so far as to train the killers (I don’t want use the euphemism of harvester or collector) to kill onsite with cheap, scalable techniques. There is no more reason to have an expensively trained trained vet use (expensive?) injected poisons with cats than there is with chickens, pigs or cattle.
At the same time, cat owners, be responsible and care for and give away your pets properly. That last paragraph was hard to write and I don’t want my little friend to ever suffer like that.



Ted Williams lost his job for posting concern over the number of feral cats and how to reduce that number.  Well, he lost his job briefly.  I don’t know if this is an apology (or that he needed to apologize) or simply a better explanation than he included in his article.  Here is an excerpt:

 “In my recent op-ed I reported that a common over-the-counter drug, an effective and selective poison for feral cats, had not been registered for this use because of pressure from feral-cat advocacy groups.”

“While the statement was not inaccurate, it was unwise because readers might construe it as a suggestion to go out and start poisoning feral cats. What’s more, the statement could be, indeed was, manipulated by feral-cat advocates into something I didn’t write or intend.”

Update 2:

Scientific American has an article that relates more to my commentary than Mr Williams’ predicament.  3,000 feral cats have been culled to protect an endangered species of bilby.

Unfortunately, the sanctuary is located in a relatively remote region of Currawinya National Park. Flooding in the park not only makes the sanctuary occasionally unreachable by humans, it also apparently damaged the fence last June, allowing several cats to make their way into the enclosure, with devastating results. “We estimated we could have had around 150 newborn bilbies inside that fence, and [the cats have] cleared the lot out,” Frank Manthey, co-founder of the Save the Bilby Fund, told the Australian network news show 7.30.

The fence has since been repaired, but Manthey says the surrounding countryside is still besieged by feral cats and has appealed to the government for help in reducing their numbers. Feral cat populations have actually risen in the past two years, an unintended side effect of government efforts to control dingo populations. Dingoes, which compete with cats and other predators for food, have been poisoned to protect agricultural sheep, but Griffith University researcher Jean-Marc Hero told The Australian last September that this approach gave cats and foxes a chance to fill the ecological gap the dingoes left behind.

Eagles and magpies

August 10, 2010

There is a large sea eagle that lives, or at least hunts, near our apartment.  Like all such birds, it is beautiful and majestic and a symbol of power.  Still, it’s relations with other birds is a strong parable for ‘bigger isn’t always better’.  In the following photos, you can see a magpie torment and chase away the much larger eagle.

Oh, click to embiggen any of these photos.  The quality isn’t fantastic; sorry ’bout that.

First, we see two eagles sitting on a light-tower and a nest at the bottom left of the tower cage.  In Canada, osprey make similar nests and they are known as ‘sea-eagles’ so it must be the eagle’s nest.  Okay, that’s terrible logic and I don’t know what kind of nest magpie make, either. August is late in the season so I suspect it is an empty nest, whoever the original inhabitants were. Oh, apparently falcon nests look like this.

Anyway, along come the magpies.

And soon, the eagles are off.

It’s a little amusing seeing crows do this, then seeing sparrows chase away the crows in the exact same fashion.


Finally, a just barely pre-typhoon picture.