I’ve been busy the last few weeks, and sadly, this has greatly impacted the amount of time I have for blogging. I have a very long list of bookmarks to share on this blog, but by now you might have seen them elsewhere already! I’ve been alone in the library for the greater part of the past month, taking on my supervisor’s job responsibilities in addition to my own. Last week, this included putting together the Latest Zoo & Conservation News.

The News is an abstract service the library puts together for zoo staff. Linda emails it out to a long list of email recipients, most of whom work for the zoo in some capacity. After she sends it out, I proofread and edit it a bit, then post it on our website. She estimates that she spends 60% of her working hours putting it together, reading articles online and in print and creating original abstracts of the information. At the SLA-SD Fall Seminar on “Conveying Your Value” this Friday, she’ll be giving a talk focused on the news service, entitled “The Weekly Roar from the San Diego Zoo Library: A value-added news service”.

In the course of doing the news, we come across articles that may not have general interest, but provide information important to one or more specific people who work for the zoo. Both Linda and I frequently send articles to grateful employees, everything from journal articles to blog posts. So, when I came across Rohit Bhargava’s concept of a “Content Curator” [via David Lee King], I raised an eyebrow. Both Rohit and David ostentatiously claim that no one is filling this role.

“In the near future, experts predict that content on the web will double every 72 hours. The detached analysis of an algorithm will no longer be enough to find what we are looking for. To satisfy the people’s hunger for great content on any topic imaginable, there will need to be a new category of individual working online. Someone whose job it is not to create more content, but to make sense of all the content that others are creating. To find the best and most relevant content and bring it forward. The people who choose to take on this role will be known as Content Curators. The future of the social web will be driven by these Content Curators, who take it upon themselves to collect and share the best content online for others to consume and take on the role of citizen editors, publishing highly valuable compilations of content created by others.” [emphasis is mine]

Questionable statistics aside, this is exactly what our news service is, and is something I believe a lot of special and corporate librarians are doing. David seems to disagree though:

“What do you think? Are librarians doing this now? Yes, we are for print stuff – we have that down pretty well. But how about for online & social media content? I don’t think so. I don’t think ANYONE has this nailed yet!”

Well, as an example (and to give you some actual, I dunno, science), here are some of the news abstracts I created last week:

Komodo Dragons Originally Evolved in Australia
October 1, 2009   www.plosone.org

The Komodo dragon (Varanus komodoensis) is the largest living species of lizard, averaging 7-10 feet in length and weighing around 150 pounds. Found only on a few small islands of Indonesia, they’re vulnerable to extinction as humans encroach on their tiny habitat. Originally, it was thought that komodo dragons evolved their enormous size because they live on a small island with no large natural predators – an example of “island gigantism”. The new study, published in the open-access journal PloS One this week, reorients V. komodoensis within a long paleobiogeographical history of giant varanids, which evolved in the Australasian region during the Pliocene and Pleistocene eras. According to the authors, fossil evidence and phylogenetic studies indicate Australia was the source of V. komodoensis, and komodo dragons are now the last relics of the giant reptiles that were once ubiquitous across Australasia.

After 75 Years, Brookfield Zoo’s Cookie the Cockatoo Gets a Break
October 1, 2009  www.chicagotribune.com By William Mullen

Chicago, IL – Cookie the cockatoo has been delighting visitors to the Brookfield Zoo since it opened 75 years ago. He came to the zoo as a one-year old from Australia, and is now 76 years old and suffering from osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. The pink cockatoo has his own fan club, receives fan mail on a regular basis, and celebrates his birthday at the zoo every year. Tim Snyder, the zoo’s bird curator, said the retirement will be good for the elderly Cookie. He’ll now spend his days in the birdkeepers’ office, and Synder says, “He seems to want that.” Zoo fans will still get their “Cookie fix”, as the zoo says they will put up photos and videos on its website for his fans and occasionally bring him out for public events like his birthday parties.

Parakeet Shooting Without a License Gets the Green Light in UK
October 1, 2009  www.telegraph.co.uk By Louise Gray

In an effort to control the spread of invasive ring-necked parakeets across the UK, wildlife watchdog Natural England has officially designated the birds as a pest, under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. The designation allows landowners or other “authorized persons” to shoot any parakeets without a permit and to destroy nests or take eggs if they’re causing a nuisance. There are an estimated 20,000+ parakeets in the UK, mostly in London and the South East. Helen Phillips, Chief Executive of Natural England, says, “Non-native species are a major threat to global biodiversity and it is important that licenses can operate as an effective tool in helping to tackle the problem.” The parakeets have been causing problems for fruit growers and could potentially threaten native English species, like woodpeckers and kingfishers. Natural England is “an independent public body whose purpose is to protect and improve England’s natural environment”.

Study Finds Link Between Brain Size and Monkey Grooming Practices
October 1, 2009  www.physorg.com

Primates are very social and are known to participate in complex grooming rituals. A new study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences compares the relationship between primate group size, brain size, neocortex size, and other social network factors. The authors found a link between the size of the brain, in particular the size of the neocortex, to the size and number of grooming clusters monkeys belong to. The neocortex is thought to be involved in “higher functions” of the brain, such as sensory perception, memory, and spatial reasoning. In the 11 species of Old World monkeys included in the study, those monkeys with a greater ratio of neocortex to overall brain volume belonged to fewer and smaller grooming clans, and were central parts of their more complicated social structures. Monkey species with larger neocortices typically live in groups of 25-50, while those species with smaller neocortices live in groups of 10-20. This association of larger neocortex ratio with overall enhanced social skills may be important in studies of human interaction as well, according to Professor Robin Dunbar, of Oxford University. She said, “These findings give us glimpses into how humans manage the complex business of maintaining coherence in social groups that are much larger than those found in any other primate species. Our neocortex is three times larger than that of other monkeys and apes, and this allows us to manage larger, more dispersed social groups as a result.” (doi:10.1098/rspb.2009.1409)

‘Ardi’ Sheds Light on Human Evolution
October 1, 2009  sciencemag.org By Ann Gibbons

1.2 million years before Lucy, there was ‘Ardi’. 15 years after the discovery of Ardipithecus ramidus in Ethiopia, researchers have finally revealed a detailed description and analysis of the fossilized remains. “We thought Lucy was the find of the century,” says paleoanthropologist Andrew Hill of Yale University, referring to the famous 3.2-million-year-old skeleton that revolutionized thinking about human origins. “But in retrospect, it was not.” Though A. ramidus isn’t the oldest hominid fossil ever discovered, the skeleton is rare and valuable because it is nearly complete, including hands, feet, and pelvic bones. The fossils reveal that Ardi walked upright, but had an opposable big toe. Therefore, she must have spent a lot of time in trees. Scientists have long speculated about chimp-like characteristics in early humans, but until now there were no fossil records to prove the theory. The find has generated an enormous amount of scientific interest, and Science magazine has open up their coverage to the general public free of charge. More information is at www.sciencemag.org/ardipithecus.

CA Delta Pumping Cutbacks for Endangered Species To Be Reviewed
October 1, 2009  www.hanfordsentinel.com By Seth Nidever

Two biological opinions pertaining to the preservation of habitat for endangered delta smelt, Chinook salmon, steelhead, and other threatened aquatic species native to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Valley are now set to be reviewed by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), at the behest of the Obama administration and other concerned California stakeholders. The opinions ordered pumping cutbacks in the delta to protect the animals, but severe drought and water crises in California have complicated the situation for farmers and others who rely on delta water. State officials, water district officials, and others met in Washington D.C. this week for a hearing to consider ways to protect the species while still allowing irrigation to flow. Previous reviews by the NAS have taken over a year, so Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has requested to expedite the review, asking the Obama administration to ensure that it is completed within six months.

Nature Conservancy & US Army Partner to Protect Endangered Birds
October 1, 2009  www.mysanantonio.com By Joni Simon

San Antonio, TX — The Nature Conservancy has entered into a five-year agreement with the U.S. Army to help protect the endangered golden-cheeked warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia) in Texas. The birds are found only in central Texas, though they migrate to Central America in the winter, and are endangered primarily due to habitat destruction as a result of human development. As the U.S. Army plans to expand Camp Bullis in the San Antonio area, they are legally obligated to set aside land for endangered species found on the property. The Nature Conservancy will help the Army enter into conservation easements with local landholders. Landholders with suitable undeveloped habitat for the warblers will be compensated in exchange for a permanent agreement to keep their land in pristine condition. This agreement follows a similar agreement between the Conservancy and the military at Fort Hood, also protecting the golden-cheeked warbler in Texas.

Uganda Uses Web 2.0 Technology for Gorilla Conservation
October 1, 2009  www.nydailynews.com

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has just launched an amazing new website, FriendAGorilla.org, allowing users to connect with the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest population of mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla berengei) from the comfort of their own homes. Ecotourism in Uganda is a major source of conservation revenue, but not everyone can afford the hefty price to visit the gorillas in person. On the new site, you can connect with the gorillas on Facebook and Twitter, linking your accounts to allow UWA to post gorilla updates on your behalf to all of your online contacts. For only $1, you can sponsor (“friend”) individual gorillas, selecting your favorites based on extensive biographies and photos. Using GoogleMaps mashups and satellite data, you can track the exact location of gorilla families in the park. The site has gorilla desktop photos available for free download, and PDFs of gorilla facts and articles. UAW organizers say they hope the site will generate $100,000 for gorilla conservation in the first three months. Mountain gorillas are critically endangered, and the Bwindi Forest’s ~370 gorillas represent roughly half of the global population.

Loss of top predators causing surge in smaller predators, ecosystem collapse
October 1, 2009  www.eurekalert.org

Primary, or “apex”, predators such as wolves, cougars, lions, and sharks, have declined catastrophically over the past 200 years, due to deliberate or inadvertent human intervention. Delicate ecosystems are now feeling the effects of this shift, as numbers of 60% of “mesopredators”, such as coyotes, rays, and baboons have exploded. Researchers say this problem is global, growing, and severe, and not easily solved. For example, hunters and ranchers who feared livestock attacks by wolves deliberately reduced wolf populations in some areas to the level of endangering the species. Coyote populations were previously kept in check by wolves, but now they run rampant and attack domestic sheep, antelope, and even pets. Attempts to control coyotes have been hugely expensive and ineffective. Similar problems are occurring in Africa, where packs of baboons are harassing people and destroying gardens without the large populations of lions and leopards to keep their numbers down. William Ripple, professor of forest ecosystems and society at Oregon State University (OSU), points out, “This issue is very complex, and a lot of the consequences are not known. […] But there’s evidence that the explosion of mesopredator populations is very severe and has both ecological and economic repercussions. The OSU findings are published in the October issue of Bioscience. The researchers find that “the economic impacts of mesopredators should be expected to exceed those of apex predators in any scenario in which mesopredators contribute to the same or to new conflict with humans.” Among the other findings:

  • Cascading negative effects of surging mesopredator populations have been documented for birds, sea turtles, lizards, rodents, marsupials, rabbits, fish, scallops, insects and ungulates.
  • Human intervention cannot easily replace the role of apex predators, in part because the constant fear of predation alters not only populations but behavior of mesopredators.
  • Large predators are usually carnivores, but mesopredators are often omnivores and can cause significant plant and crop damage.

An illustration showing the effects of mesopredator explosion is on OSU’s Flickr photostream.

Re-examining Darwin’s thoughts on species
October 1, 2009  www.physorg.com

James Mallet is a professor of biology at University College London who is writing a book on speciation. He’s set out to “rehabilitate” Darwin’s reputation on species, after it was tarnished by Ernst Mayr (in Mallet’s view). Ernst Mayr was the director of Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology through most of the 1960s, and he frequently used quotes from Darwin to support his view of speciation – that is, that species are clearly distinct entities, evolutionarily separated by accumulated differences that marked them as such. Mallet argues that Darwin’s thinking was actually much different, and more in line with current thoughts on speciation. Darwin saw more of a continuum of lesser distinctions, like varieties, races, hybrids, and others. Mallet cites examples of single species, such as the pea aphid, with differenct “races”, living on different host plants, that are considered the same species and hybridize despite different lifestyles. Recently discovered viable hybrids of wolves and coyotes, or of blue whales and fin whales, lend credence to this more muddied view of speciation, and Mallet wants to be sure Darwin is given due credit.

Baby Pudu Born at the Detroit Zoo
October 1, 2009  www.clickondetroit.com

Detroit, MI — Detroit Zoo’s new baby pudu is out on display now, in the pudu habitat across from the anteaters and tapirs. Born on August 24, the little male is one of only 28 pudus in U.S. zoos right now. Pudus are native to South America, and can reach heights of 15 inches and weights of up to 30 pounds, making them the world’s smallest dear species.

Cincinatti Zoo Monitors Gorilla Facial Tumor
October 1, 2009  www.wlwt.com

Cincinatti, OH — 28-year-old Western lowland gorilla Muke is being closely monitored by zookeepers, who are concerned about a large tumor on her face. The zoo’s medical team operated on her last year, and they plan to bring that same medical team back in a few months to take another look at the tumor. Primate team leader Ron Evans says, “Even if it were cancer, it’s not operable,” but the zoo wants to be sure she stays healthy as long as possible. Muke is still raising her three-year-old son, Bakari, and Evans notes, “It’s very important that (Bakari) have his mother available to him as long as possible. It takes gorillas quite a few years – probably 10, and with silverbacks 15 years – to reach full size and there’s a lot of lessons they have to learn like humans.”

Oakland Zoo Baboons Move Into New Panda Exhibit
October 1, 2009  www.insidebayarea.com By Angela Hill

Oakland, CA — Five hamadryas baboons (Papio hamadryas) at the Oakland Zoo have moved into a new $1 million, 8,100 square foot exhibit that opens to the public on Saturday. The new exhibit is temporarily called Baboon Cliffs, and it features a nursery, air-conditioned holding areas, office space for zoo staff, and a large public viewing deck. If that seems like a lot for the small troop, it is. The space was originally designed as a panda habitat, part of the zoo’s decade-plus negotiation process with China to obtain a pair of the coveted bears. One of China’s prerequisites was a panda-ready facility. Former Oakland Councilmember Henry Chang was one of the driving forces behind the panda deal, and he traveled to China several times for negotiations, arranged funding for the new exhibit, and visited the San Diego Zoo’s panda facilities for design ideas. Chang retired from the council earlier this year and now plans to focus more of his time on the panda procurement. He said, “We’re working very hard on it. And now that I’m retired, I have more time to work on it. The next time you see those gates open, a few pandas will crawl out of the hole.” Once the pandas arrive (in at least another year, if not longer), the baboons will get their own new baboon-specific habitat.

Video of Przewalski’s Horse Born at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo
October 2, 2009  www.zooborns.com

Nuruu, a male Przewalski’s horse was born on September 15 at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. He was named after the Khustain Nuruu National Park in Mongolia, where the critically endangered Przewalski’s horses are being reintroduced into the wild. A sister, Ula, was born to Nuruu’s parents last year. The video shows Nuruu closely following his mother, Tuuli, and gives viewers background information about the plight of Przewalski’s horses.

Orangutan Birth at Philadelphia Zoo
October 2, 2009  www.myfoxphilly.com

After months of anticipation, the Philadelphia Zoo is celebrating the birth this morning of a critically endangered Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii). Veterinary and animal care staff are monitoring mom and baby closely, and all appears to be going well. 16-year-old mom Tua has been in constant contact with the baby, carrying and grooming it. This is the first baby for Tua and her 13-year-old mate Sugriwa. The Philadelphia Zoo supports orangutan conservation through its Footprints Program, partnering with the Kinabatangan Forest Restoration Project to plant new habitat for orangutans in Borneo.

Wildlife Disease Photo Galleries
October 2, 2009  wdin.blogspot.com

The Wildlife Disease New Digest Blog has collected a number of image and video galleries that may be helpful to those interested in wildlife diseases. The site says, “A number of these resources provide a broad selection of natural resource images, but on some of the sites, visitors can find specific wildlife disease or wildlife species images using the provided filters and categories.” Galleries include photos of white nose syndrome in bats and avian influenza.

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s Asian Elephant Calf Video
October 2, 2009  www.zooborns.com

ZSL elephant keeper Andy Durham provides a colorful video monologue about the recent birth of a female Asian elephant calf at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. In addition to elephant birth details, he discusses the calf’s first day or two of life and adjustment, while video of the calf and mom plays. Watch to the midpoint of the video for adorable baby-elephant-falling-asleep-while-standing footage. Asian elephants are an endangered species, native to South and Southeast Asia, where they are suffering from loss of habitat and conflicts with the humans who share their environment.

26 Countries Formally Condemn Icelandic Whale Hunt
October 2, 2009  www.telegraph.co.uk By Louise Gray

The US, UK, and 24 other countries have issued a “demarche”, a formal diplomatic position, against Iceland’s recent decision to maintain their quota of up to 200 fin and 200 minke whales for the 2009/2010 season. Iceland recently killed 79 minke whales and 125 fin whales, both of which are endangered species. Since the ban on commercial whaling was enacted more than two decades ago, fin whales haven’t been killed in such high numbers. UK wildlife minister Huw Irranca-Davies points out that Iceland could make more money from whale watching than from killing the animals. Most of the whale meat will be exported to Japan, which already supports its own controversially heavy whaling industry.

Livestock Grazing Helps Native Plant Recovery from Fires
October 2, 2009  www.sciencedaily.com

Rangeland in the western U.S. is susceptible to invasion by non-native annual grasses such as cheatgrass and medusahead. A 14-year study compared rangelands grazed by livestock and rangelands where livestock had been excluded since 1936. In the grazed rangelands, cattle generally consumed about 40 percent of the available forage, while plant litter had piled up in the ungrazed lands. In 1993, scientists conducted a controlled burn on all the sites, which all had similar vegetation profiles and were nearly free of cheatgrass. Measurements conducted in 2005, 2006, and 2007 revealed that cheatgrass had infested many of the ungrazed sites, but not the grazed ones. Native bunchgrass cover was almost twice as thick on those sites. Hence, the conclusion that the buildup of plant material on the ungrazed land had fueled hotter fires, killing off the native perennial grasses and allowing the quick-growing cheatgrass and other invasives to move in opportunistically. Before human development, the rangelands were historically burned on a regular basis once or twice each century, which naturally kept the plant litter in check. Results from this study are in the journal Ecological Applications. (doi: 10.1890/09-0111.1)

Teton Trek Exhibit With 3 Grizzlies Opens at Memphis Zoo
October 2, 2009  www.wreg.com By Melissa Moon

Memphis, TN – The new $16 million Teton Trek exhibit at the Memphis Zoo will have its grand opening October 10th, but zoo members got a preview today. The exhibit spreads over four acres, and includes three grizzly bears that were orphaned in Montana, as well as its own geyser. The opening comes just after the opening of a five-geyser exhibit last month at the North Carolina zoo. Teton Trek is intended to introduce Memphis area residents to the ecosystem of Yellowstone National Park, where the grizzlies were found. The exhibit also includes four young wolves, sandhill cranes, and trumpeter swans, as well as a water habitat where the grizzlies can fish for bass in front of visitors.