Via Matthew Cobb’s fantastic z-letter mailing list, I came across this video of an epic showdown between sloth and jaguar. No spoilers, but it’s well worth watching the clip. If you don’t believe me, here’s a tantalizing screenshot (sloth above, jaguar below):

sloth versus jaguar

Sloths are one of my favorite animals. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of feeding apple slices to a baby two-toed sloth. On my recent trip to Peru, I searched in vain for a sloth among the canopy, but they’re excellent at hiding and are seldom seen by tourists. That’s why, when I saw this BBC slideshow of 12 images from sloth researcher Bryson Voirin, I was completely smitten.

Sloths can swim much better than they can walk, and apparently, they also like to ride on boats. For more amazing swimming-sloth photos, visit the slideshow.

Voirin and other researchers recently were startled to discover that one of their research subjects had been killed by a spectacled owl. Spectacled owls are quite small in relation to a sloth, so this was a surprising discovery, emphasizing how vulnerable sloths are to predation when they venture down to the forest floor. The full analysis [PDF]was published in Edentata, the journal and newsletter of the IUCN/SSC Anteater, Sloth and Armadillo Specialist Group.

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The Center for Biological Diversity is distributing free “endangered species” condoms, to raise awareness of the effects of human overpopulation on endangered species. Six different package designs are available, highlighting endangered species such as the polar bear, spotted owl, and jaguar. If you’d like to help distribute condoms (and probably keep some for yourself), they’re still looking for volunteers. You can even enter to win a lifetime supply of free condoms!

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Have you heard of the Kihansi spray toad? I’ve got a trip to New York planned this summer, and seeing these cute little guys is now at the top of my list of things to do.

…And New York is pretty much the only place in the world you can see them now, sadly. They’re extinct in the wild, which is unsurprising considering their native habitat is made up of just two hectares along the Kihansi Gorge in Tanzania. When a dam blocked 90% of the water flow to their waterfall habitat, the Kihansi toad population crashed. An outbreak of the amphibian dread-disease chytrid fungus cut the remaining population down to critical numbers, prompting the Wildlife Conservation Society to swoop in and rescue 499 of the tiny toads and whisk them back to the Bronx.

Although some of the toads were sent to five different zoos in the US, only the Bronx Zoo and the Toledo Zoo managed to keep them alive. As it turns out, evolving in such a specific area left the toads with very specialized needs, and the zoo has set up pure mist sprayers from filtered water, halogen lamps, and disease-free specially-bred insects for food. Now that they’re able to keep the toads alive and breed them successfully in captivity, WCS is working towards a re-introduction plan that involves an artificial mist system and the eradication of invasive plant species.

For now though, you can see them at the new World of Reptiles exhibit at the Bronx Zoo. Kihansi spray toads are unusual, charismatic amphibians — mustard yellow in color, and tiny enough to sit on the face of a dime. Unlike most amphibians, they also give birth to tiny, purple-ish live young, small enough to sit on the head of a pin.

If that’s not a poster child of cuteness for conservation, I don’t know what is.

Late last month, the Telegraph reported that 2009’s Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year was under investigation, after allegations that he violated the rules of the contest. Specifically, contest co-organizer The Natural History Museum (NHM) received a complaint that winning photographer Jose Luis Rodriguez had used an animal model in his remarkable photo of a wolf in mid-air.

Rodriguez vehemently denies the claim, but in a press release issued by the NHM today, Louise Emerson stated:

It saddens us to confirm that after a careful and thorough investigation into the image, the storybook wolf, the co-owners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, the Natural History Museum and BBC Worldwide Magazine have disqualified the winning entry of the photographer José Luis Rodríguez. The judging panel was reconvened and concluded that it was likely that the wolf featured in the image was an animal model that can be hired for photographic purposes and, as a result, that the image had been entered in breach of Rule 10 of the Competition. The judging panel looked at a range of evidence and took specialist advice from panel judges who have extensive experience of photographing wildlife including wolves. They also considered the responses to specific questions put to the photographer José Luis Rodriguez.

The competition rules clearly state that photographs of animal models may not be entered into the competition and that images will be disqualified if they are entered in breach of Rule 10. Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition rules are available to all entrants including versions translated into several languages.

Wildlife Photographer of the Year is the world’s most prestigious photography competition of its kind. Any transgression of the competition rules is taken very seriously and if entries are suspected of breaching the rules they are disqualified. José Luis Rodríguez’s image will be removed from the exhibition and tour.

Mr Rodriguez strongly denies that the wolf in the image is a model wolf.

The £10,000, first place prize will not be re-awarded, and Rodriguez will his £500 category winner’s check in lieu of royalty payments.

2009 was a very busy year for me. As the Assistant Librarian for the zoo, I kept the library running smoothly (no easy task), by handling all of the collection maintenance, supervising volunteers, obtaining inter-library loans and answering any questions people threw at me. But that’s not really enough, is it?

  • I cataloged 342 items for the library, sending out monthly emails to alert our staff when new items came in.
  • I added 205 articles published in 2009 by our staff to our publications list, reformatted that list, and added password protection to the directory of PDFs to be in compliance with copyright law.
  • I created an online archival database for the Zoological Society archives, based on Archon open-source software (the records are still being propagated with data, however).
  • I created a sitemap for our library website and set-up a Google custom search engine, so our staff can more easily find whatever they’re looking for on the site.
  • In honor of Darwin’s 200th anniversary, all three of our library staff members teamed up to create a video for the zoo’s Darwin Day celebration. It’s not available online, but it was pretty neat and worth mentioning.
  • I updated the library’s Technical Processing manual, last updated in 2003, to reflect the myriad technological developments and revised processes we’ve had since then.
  • I bottle-fed and hosed down a baby rhino.

…But, as an hourly employee, my workweek is only 40 hours long. What on earth have I been doing with the other 100+ hours I have each week?

And, most importantly, I spent a lot of time with my two favorite guys in the world. Like I said, a very busy year indeed.

sunset photos

Four of the world’s remaining eight Northern white rhinos (Ceratotherium simum cottoni) are settling in to their new home in the Ol Pejeta reserve in Kenya. They were shipped to the reserve from Dvůr Králové zoo in the Czech Republic, where they’ve been for the past 30 years. The two remaining Czech Northern white rhinos and two Northern white rhinos at the Wild Animal Park, in San Diego, aren’t reproductively viable, so the four now in Kenya are the last hope of continuing the genetic line.

The Northern white rhino has a sad history. From the 1970s to the 1980s, their population was reduced to 15 due to poaching. Earlier in this decade, that population had doubled and seemed to be on the slow road to recovery. Since 2003, though, the last remaining Northern whites were killed and the species has been extinct in the wild until this week’s transfer. At this point, the goal is merely to pass on as much of the subspecies’ lineage as possible. Rob Brett, director of Flora and Fauna International, acknowledges that inter-breeding with Southern white rhinos in Kenya is “inevitable”.

Northern white rhino

Whether or not they will even be able to breed is still up for debate. San Diego Wild Animal Park mammal curator Randy Rieches contends that there is no chance of breeding in the herd, due to reproductive pathologies that set in after a period of reproductive dormancy. On the other hand, Dana Holeckova, director of the Dvůr Králové zoo, said at the time of the transfer, “I feel so happy. It’s my birthday today and this is like a gift to Africa. There is a 90 percent chance they will reproduce and I hope that we will start a new group of Northern White rhinos in Africa.” Clearly, the jury is still out on the rhinos’ fate, and only time will tell.

Northern white rhino

The money for the transfer was supplied by Alastair Lucas, vice chairman of Goldman Sachs in Australia, explicitly for the purpose of relocating these rhinos.

*Cue sigh of relief*

The Special Library Association name change has been all over the librarian blogosphere. Over the past few months, my email inbox has been inundated with listserv messages about the name change (mostly expressing disgust over the suggested name, “Association for Strategic Knowledge Professionals”, or “ASKPro”). The final vote happened this week, and I’m relieved to report that the proposed name change was roundly voted down.

Direct consequences of this are that I will most likely renew my membership this year. I’m also volunteering with the programming committee of the San Diego SLA chapter, so I can proceed with that process without feeling the huge identity disconnect that belong to ASKPro would have registered with me. Some of the program possibilities include workshops about open source in libraries, which I’m very excited about, and probably something about new developments in mobile access. If you have any other suggestions for me to bring to the committee, please feel free to comment!