Archive for February, 2010

I’ve been a widlife rehabilitator for a while but somehow managed to avoid the standard but scary procedure in treating squirrels known as teeth clipping. Squirrel teeth continually grow and get worn down against each other–unless something happens so they don’t line up right.  Then someone has to clip them.

Named Mickey by her friends at the Sunnyside Park Community Garden, this sweet, adult, black, female squirrel had bottom teeth growing into her top gums. Peter Richter, who caught her and carried her in, said she had a bad fall a couple months ago. Until then she had been friendly to people and a ferocious defender of her territory from other squirrels.

In what seemed like medieval dentistry, I got some electronics clippers from Ace. I held the extraordinarily cooperative patient in a fleece. I don’t think I’m as compliant when I get my teeth cleaned. I could be brave because with her teeth in this condition, she couldn’t bite me anyway. Or bite anything. She could only lick food and water out of the side of her mouth.

Then, snap, just like that, it was done. It really was just as easy as the YouTube videos claimed. She enthusiastically started eating an apple. Before I clipped her teeth she could only lick food out of the side of her mouth, so it was a success.

She still has a long way to go–a hole in her chin, no top teeth for now–but I think she is well on her way to being sent back to her friends. I think Peter brought her in just in time.

Where to Go to See Special Squirrels

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The coyote that’s been living discreetly in Central Park for the last month is now on wildlife officialshitlist. Fearing rabies, the Department of Environmental Conservation is trying to trap the coyote and euthanize it, wildlife rehabilitators familiar with the case say. That’s too bad because local rehabbers have offered an alternative: They’re willing to put the coyote in the standard 10-day quarantine, then find a suitable release site outside the city.

In the past, the DEC has trapped coyotes and at least made an effort to release them. (Hal, the 2006 coyote, died from stress, rat poison and heartworm, according to the necropsy.) What’s different this time is there is widespread rabies in the raccoon population in upper Manhattan, especially the north woods of Central Park, where the coyote trots after spending the day sleeping in the isolated Hallett Nature Preserve near 57th Street and 6th Avenue.

These animals aren’t exactly making a reappearance in Manhattan after being vanquished for centuries. They are a slightly different species than ever lived here before; they aren’t really coyotes, which live out west, but coywolves–a hybrid of versatile, small western coyotes and the gray wolves that were hunted out of the east. Jon Way, a biologist at Eastern Coyote Research, is pushing for them to be classified as a native species since they weren’t introduced by humans and are the natural product of canines evolving to survive in the habitat altered by humans.

Coywolves are now established across the eastern U.S., where they are enjoyed by some and hunted as invasive pests without limit by others. Way believes they could be the answer to the deer overpopulation problem in a way larger, warier wolves could never be. But even though coyotes have been showing up in New York City since at least 2004, there’s no plan to manage them. Packs live freely in Van Cortlandt and Pelham Bay Park. The DEC is trying to catch one that shows up regularly in a Jamaica, Queens, housing project. (Long Island, of which Queens is a part, is so far the only place in the eastern U.S. not colonized by coywolves.)

This coywolf is in a complicated situation even if he’s captured, safely handled, and cleared of rabies. He can’t be released in the city. The DEC doesn’t want him released into a park or a distant one of their districts (because he could spread disease). If he’s released upstate, someone will likely just shoot him. One coyote was successfully released onto private land upstate and this is the coyote’s best shot. DEC is not dead set–yet–on euthanizing the coyote. They’re only working to catch him weekdays. If he gets put in an appropriate rehabber’s care, he may be let be. Meanwhile, public support for the coyote may grow now that New York magazine has covered him. New Yorkers may not want a coyote hanging around Sheep Meadow, but they don’t want him shot for nothing, either.

Where to See Wild Animals Around New York City

Read more about coywolves
Read about the coywolf from its original tracker, Urban Hawks

Check out the Eastern Coyote Research center

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Coywolf Hill
Coywolf Hill,
This is the kind of distant, lousy glimpse of the Central Park Coywolf you’ll get after much effort.

In other words, he’s not bothering anyone. To see much better pictures, check out Urban Hawks.

Last night I got to see a coywolf in Central Park. I went at dusk to see the coyote Bruce Yolton has been tracking at urbanhawks. After an hour of walking in the slush around the pond near 57th Street, I got to see him or her for a few minutes. So, it’s not as if he’s marauding joggers or stealing hot dogs from vendors. But the big question is whether somebody’s going to panic and demand his capture. Or really,  knowing New York, when.

As Yolton has pointed out on Urban Hawks, his excellent photoblog of NYC wildlife, the coyote seems to be sleeping during the day in the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, the only part of the park off limits to people and dogs, which is surrounded by water and fence. Once again, I didn’t have to be a good enough spotter to see the coyote in the dark, just good enough to see Yolton with his massive lens and tripod. The coyote lurked by the pond edge, then headed back up the sanctuary’s hill, where he could have been seen by anybody on 57th Street. Then he gave us the slip. He’s been spotted in the north end of the park, too.

This coywolf, or perhaps others, have been spotted in Manhattan all month. No one is sure how many there are and if they’re still just passing through or whether they have decided to give Manhattan a go. Coywolf biologist Jon Way has documented this new predator of the east, a hybrid of extripated wolves and western coyotes, heading into downtown Boston. They’re far smaller, more adaptable and accepting of humans than wolves and could be the answer to all kinds of other animal issues, like rats or deer.

Far more pass through than establish a territory, but Way thinks this one could be trying to settle here.
“Remember any habitat that doesn’t have other coyotes/coywolves is available habitat and Central Park would make a fine place for a pair to establish a territory and raise pups,” Way says. “I hope it happens and it’s great news that people are leaving it alone.”

Well, for now, they are.

Where to See Wild Animals Around New York City

Read more about coywolves
Follow Urban Hawks 

Check out the Eastern Coyote Research center

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Shamu Rocks
Shamu Rocks, at Orlando SeaWorld
courtesy of Miss Quarel.

The horrific killing trainer Dawn Brancheau at Sea World by the orca Tilikum, or Tilly, prompted Sea World to indefinitely close its killer whale shows. But the Tilly problem is a long-term one. He fathered 10 of the current 42 other captive orcas around the world–nearly one-quarter of the stock.

Many blame the attack on the whole practice of holding these huge, sociable whales captive to entertain us. Jennifer Viegas at Discovery reports that Tilly, a stud whale, may have had high testosterone levels or swings. That’s what made him the most successful male killer whale captive breeder, siring a record 17 calves, 10 of which are still alive, Viegas says. His offspring include Unna, Sumar, Tuar, Tekoa, Nakai,, Kohana, Ikaika , SkylaMalia and Ky, who attacked a trainer in San Antonio in 2004. Plus, he has at least one grandchild.

That means nearly one-quarter of the killer whales held in captivity around the world and nearly half the 22 held by SeaWorld are related to a killer whale with high testosterone and high aggression. Even if he weren’t a flawed individual, that’s a terribly inbred population. But now that he’s been very publicly involved in three attacks on people, it highlights how misguided these breeding programs might be. Would you keep breeding the dog that attacks and kills people? 

But breeders probably had little choice but to rely on Tilly. No other male was anywhere near that productive. Killer whales are the biggest animal bred in captivity and one of the most difficult. Yet public uproar and conservation laws have all but prevented the capture of more orcas since 1989 (with the exception of 10 captured in Taiji, Japan, the notorious home of The Cove of dolphin slaughter and capture, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society says). A live, captive orca would fetch about $600,000, they say in their report Captive Orcas: Dying to Entertain You.

Tilly was born in about 1981 and captured two years later off Iceland. By then SeaWorld had worn out its welcome capturing killer whales in the Pacific Northwest. If he were wild, he would still be living in his mother’s pod, but he’s mainly been kept in isolation. Like many captive orcas, his dorsal fin flops to the side from too much swimming in circles.

Tilly is going to be hugely influential in the killer whale captive population. He may just be the one that convinced people to set them free.

Where to See Whales in the Wild

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Wildlife photographer Bruce Yolton, who runs the Urban Hawks blog, shot a video Monday night of a coyote (well, really a coywolf) playing hockey with an empty bottle on the pond near the southeast corner of Central Park. That’s right, the coyote coyote who was up at Columbia University earlier this month maybe went further south in the park, right on the edge of midtown and the Plaza Hotel. You can see the coyote lick the bottle, as if hoping for a last drop of food. And he’s close enough to the street that you can see emergency lights flashing on the ice.

Yolton is known for stalking the park at all hours and getting incredible wildlife shots–often keeping them secret for months so he doesn’t attract crowds that disturb wildlife. He’d reported in early February that a coyote was in the park. He thinks this coyote may have discovered the peninsula that sticks out into the pond and is a preserve.

Often when a species is off wandering on its own, it’s a young male looking for new territory. In March 2006 another young male coyote made a media spectacle of himself in Central Park; one year old Hal was finally caught, then died in captivity from a combination of stress, heartworm and rat poison. Let’s hope this one quietly makes it back to the Bronx.

How You Can See Wild Animals Even in New York City

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In the U.S. starlings are slaughtered by the millions, but in their native England they are enjoyed as one of the most mysterious spectacles.

Nature groups give tours of the starlings, but you can just show up yourself at dusk at the Brighton Pier, where 50,000 some starlings murmur–that is, swarm in a hypnotizingly coordinated dance in an effort to evade the hawks that are trying to eat them.

The starlings have always hung around Brighton, Sussex, but moved to the pier after a big storm knocked over their favorite trees in 1987. Their supporters think that’s just as well: the setting is gorgeous; the birds are safe from people; and the city is safe from guano. “You could not really have them in a more ideal spot. It is a great spectacle to have 50,000 birds in a big town wheeling about,” Steve Berry from English Nature told Regency Brighton. Starlings are legally protected in the UK; their numbers have fallen 66% since the 1970s, the RSPB reports.

Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris), clever mimics with shimmering, multi-colored feathers, are treated far differently in the U.S. The 200 million that live here are treated an invasive species and pest here, topping the biological services hit list. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, improbably still in the business of mass culls of animals, especially predators, kills 1,117,000 starlings a year.

A homesick Brit, Eugene Scheiffelin, introduced 100 starlings into Central Park in 1891, hoping to enjoy every bird here that was mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare, David Ian Withers writes. Mozart had a pet starling and some people still do, the fan site Starling Talk says. Just shows you can have fun even with a common bird.

Visit Brighton suggests Brighton Pier, the Brighton Marina or West Marina for a starling show.

Where to See Animals Around Europe

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Conan O’Brien finds a new way to fill time: kissing dolphins.

I didn’t steal any pigs, a Chinese farmer claims. Then he opens the gate and the eight stolen pigs trudge out and home 1 km. He confessed.

A decade-long survey of ocean wildlife is almost done and boy do we have some freaky fish.

You thought making a shadow puppet of a rabbit was hard? Tens of thousands of starlings do you one better.

This is not the first time this Australian weatherman has been pinched on the bum by a bird, says the anchorman.

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The Australian Government collects photos for a potential court case.

When the Japanese whaling ship Shonan Maru 2 mowed down Sea Shepherd’s Ady Gil they ticked off an already anti-whaling Australia. The incident seems to have pushed Australia to threaten Japan with legal action this week, but Australia has been grinding its teeth and preparing for battle for years after watching Japan flout international whaling rules off its shores. The outcome will turn on Australia’s claim over its nearby waters and which international body has jurisdiction.

This week prime minister Kevin Rudd gave Japan a November deadline to cut its whaling quota to nothing. New Zealand may join the fight, too, it announced Feb. 22. Australia is holding some undoubtedly awkward talks with Japanese diplomats this weekend. Some Australians fear a court case could solidify a lack of Australian control over nearby waters.

Australians says they can head to the International Court of Justice at The Hague or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Germany to get an injunction against whaling. Japan, meanwhile, plays down the fight as “unfortunate” and threatens to appeal to the International Commission on Whaling. They banned whaling in 1986 but let Japan continue under the fig leaf of “research,” even in an area Australia considers a whale sanctuary.

The first signs Australia had reached its limit were just after the Sea Shepherd’s skirmishes when Bob Brown, head of the Green Party, started pushing for international court action. He called Rudd’s government slumbering and wanted to haul the whalers to Australian court and give them a $3 million bill for the sunken batmobile-like craft. “Mr. Okada does not want to be confronted by the ugly reality of Japanese whaling which is opposed by 94% of Australians,” Senator Brown said. “He is squibbing on whaling.” (Meanwhile, Japan is holding a protester who boarded a whaling ship to present them with a bill.)

But Australia has been gearing up for this fight for years. Donald R Rothwell, a professor at Australia National University, who specializes in maritime law, did a report laying out the government’s legal options. According to an Australian 7:30 news report, the four main areas of law Japan could be sued for breaking are pollution standards for the southern Ocean; safety standards; failure to tell Australia and New Zealand rescue authorities where they are in case of emergency; and refueling without an environmental impact assessment.

A couple years ago Australia sent out boats to get photographs for a potential international court case. Legitimate scientists have surveyed the area, demonstrating how real research doesn’t demand slaughter. The whole world knows these research trips are really whaling ventures. More than New Zealand should be joining in; the United States should, too.

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Raccoon spectacleManhattan raccoons, faced with an epidemic of rabies, are going to get trapped, vaccinated and tagged (so they don’t have to go through the ordeal a second time.) There was a mild panic this winter in the city as rabies started showing up in the raccoons of Central Park and upper Manhattan.

People may have panicked more if they realized how many raccoons really live in this densely packed city. The New York City Health Department has found 49 rabid raccoons in Manhattan, mostly in the top 13 blocks of Central Park. (Oddly, the state isn’t keeping  up.) As a wildlife rehabber I get calls from people who just spot raccoons in the city. The raccoons are fine, but people assume something is terribly wrong if a raccoon is living here.

That’s a relief to animal lovers who feared they’d just be rounded up and euthanized–an animal control strategy that usually doesn’t work because new animals just move into the undefended territory.

If you go on an owl walk at dusk in summer in the North Woods of Central Park, you’ll be amazed at how many raccoons you’ll see. They’ll be sleepily climbing out of tree cavities and holes between boulders to start their day.

Racoon wakes up around dusk

American pets don’t get rabies much anymore because they get vaccines. The northeast has a huge population of  rabid raccoons thanks to hunters who imported them from dealers, John Hadidian, head of the Humane Society of the United State‘s Urban Wildlife program. The American Journal of Public Health  traced the outbreak to hunters who in the late 70s illegally imported raccoons from Florida animal dealers to shoot. At the time the southeast accounted for 98% of raccoon rabies diagnoses. One quarter of shipments later studied had rabid animals. Begging racoons

Where to See Wild Animals Around New York City

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By next month two major camera makers plan to sell point and shoot digital cameras under $500 with 30x optical zoom.  These cameras by Olympus and Fujifilm mean that the average animal watcher can have the power of about an 800mm lens. To get that kind of power in an SLR lens, you’d pay around $7.000 – $10,000, and have to schlep around a 10-pound, 18-inch piece of delicate equipment.

These new products mean Moore’s Law, which said computing power doubles every two years, may now apply to optical zoom. 30x is nearly double the then-groundbreaking 18x Panasonic Lumix I got a couple years ago to take wildlife photos. A few years ago the New York Times applied the law to mega-pixels. If it works with optical zoom, we may be looking forward to a 100x zoom by 2012.

I haven’t tried either of the cameras yet, but here’s what we know:

The Olympus SP-800UZ offers 14 mega-pixels and the 35 mm equivalent of 28 – 840mm for $350.

The Fujifilm HS10 has 10 mega-pixels and the 35mm equivalent of a 24-720mm zoom range for $500.

How do two cameras both with 30x zoom have a difference in 15% difference in zoom?  The Fujifilm is a 24mm lens, which is smaller and can pull back further so you can get a much wider angle. So if you want the versatility, go for the Fujifilm. If you’re a zoom junkie, the Olympus is for you. (Also in the mix is Kodak’s Easyshare Z981, 26x (26-676mm), 14 MP, $330 due out in April and the Nikon Coolpix P100, 26x (26-678mm), 10 MP, $400 coming in March).

Olympus has done away with the tiny viewfinder window, which will be a real blow for my mom. I haven’t used one in years, however, and wondered why they still bothered to include them. Olympus also has a pet auto-focus tracking mode that should work well with any kind of animal, too. CNET says Fujifilm has a similar feature but not on the HS10. After years of enduring lots of irrelevant come-ons about digital zoom and megapixels, it’s fun to see camera makers going after the animal watching market.

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