On Saturday May 9, 2009, I went to the National Zoo in DC to explore the exhibits. Here, I visited three different houses to expand my knowledge of different species. I visited the Invertebrates, the Small Mammal House, and the Reptile Discovery Center. I learned about the habitats, diet, and other interesting information of many different species. Further, I learned about the zoo's conservation efforts and educational efforts.
The first place I visited was the Small Mammal House. Here, I saw the Collared Peccary, Pecari tajacu, and the Red Panda, Ailurus fulgens. The Collared Peccary looks like a pig, but the display tells you “don't call me a pig.” The diet of the Collared Peccary consists of roots, bulbs, grasses, fruits, snakes, and other small animals. These animals are highly social, living in groups of up to twenty. They sleep together and help drive off predators together. They live in areas from the Southern U.S. to Northern Argentina. The Collared Peccary have a wide variety of habitats, ranging from deserts to tropical rainforests. A few interesting facts about this species is that it has over 100 local names. Further, one of it defense mechanism is that it has bristles that get excited and stand up in a crest. This makes the animal look bigger, more dangerous, and more impressive to females.
The Red Panda is an endangered species. They have been hunted their soft, rich pelts, and their habitats have drastically decreased due to expanding populations. Their diet consists of bamboo. They mainly live in the mountain in Asia.
The second placed that I visited was the Reptile Discovery Center. I am fascinated most by snakes so this was the house I wanted to visit most at the National Zoo. Here I saw the Egyptian Cobra, Naja haje, and the Burmese Python, Python molurus. The Egyptian cobra is both a blessing and a curse for those in the area. The cobras help the area around them by eating rodents that destroy crops and food supply. They are a curse however because they also attack the humans living in the area. These cobras live in part of Africa and their habitat range from semi-deserts to dry grassland.
The other animal I visited at this house was the Burmese Python. These python feed on pigs, dogs, and chickens. They live in areas in Southeast Asia. This display included some educational material that teaches the readers about the python's jaw, and its constriction ability. The python kills by looping its body around its prey, preventing blood flow from the prey's heart to its brain and other major organs. Further, the species of Burmese Python are growing smaller and smaller. 18-foot long pythons used to be common but today it is rare to see even a 13-foot python. This decrease is due to natural selection; those that are long are easily seen and are hunted for their skin.
I'M NOT A PIG
The last place I visited was the Invertebrate Exhibit. Here I learned about the Great Pacific Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini, and the Goliath bird-eating tarantula, Theraphosa leblondi. The Great Pacific Octopus diet consists of crabs, fish, and clams. It also feeds on crustaceans and other sea creatures. It lives in the northeastern and northwestern part of the Pacific Ocean. Although most people believe those octopuses are crazy killers of the sea, they are rather mild-mannered, and shy. Further, these octopuses are not 10 ft tall in diameter, but actually only about the size of an average dog. Unknown to many others, the Great Pacific Octopus is very intelligence. It can identify patterns and run mazes. It uses this intelligence to open up crabs for dinner or squeeze through narrow crevices.
The Goliath bird-eating tarantula lives in equatorial South America. Its diet consists of roaches, millipedes, crickets, and other inserts. Moreover, it preys primarily on large arthropods and occasionally small mammals or fallen birds.
Left: Egyptian Cobra, Right: Burmese Python
While walking through the zoo, I encountered display of conservation efforts. When I first entered the zoo, we saw the cheetah conservation effort. Although it mainly focused on the cheetahs, there were other animals such as the Oryx, manned wolves, and zebras involved. The main goal of this project was to conduct research to increase global cheetah conservation effort. The first effort of the zoo is care and enrichment by providing a clean and safe environment for the cheetahs. The second effort is veterinary medicine, which treat diseases and keep the cheetahs healthy. The third effort is natural breeding which tries to maintain a healthy self-sustaining captive population. The last effort is assisted reproduction, which increases genetic diversity and solves complicated reproductive challenges if any arises.
Left: Great Pacific Octopus, Right: Goliath bird-eating tarantula
Although there was a lot of conservation work done in the zoo, I had a lot of trouble finding them. I walked around the whole zoo trying to find another huge conservation work display. After walking around for an hour and after visiting the reptiles, small mammals, invertebrates, primates, elephants, and Amazonia house, I found a huge conversation display. This conversation effort was called the Sloth Bear Conservation Plaza. It was not really conversation work concerned with sloth bear but actually a display promoting conservation work in the Terai Arc. It promotes work done in the Terai Arc which is a haven, located in India and Nepal, for wildlife such as elephants, tigers, and sloth bears. There are 86 other mammal species, 550 bird species, 47 reptile species, 126 fish species, and 2100 flowering species that live within the Terai Arc. Other conservation work at the Terai Arc includes replanting and patrolling the forest, relocating rhinos, and connecting patches of natural forests with a series of “wildlife corridors” to protect any species traveling in these areas.
Beside conservation work, there were many educational displays throughout the zoo. I encountered a few live demonstrations. I encountered one near the Small Mammal House, where I saw a man teaching a group of people about an armadillo named “baby.” He held the armadillo and taught the group about the armadillo's lifestyle, diet, and habitat. He then released the armadillo on the ground and it walked around. This excited many kids in the group and aroused interest in many who were passing by. The handler then answered questions the crowd had and told interesting facts about the armadillo. Overall, this was a very effective way to educate the audience due to the animal's cuteness and unique characteristics. However, the audience mainly consisted of kids so it seems that the adults were not as interested.
Some Cheetahs relaxing
Another educational display was in the Reptile Discovery Center. There was a women sitting down with a cart that contained three dried reptile skin. Here, she showed the skin to the audience and introduced how reptiles shed their skin. She explained which reptile the skin was from and then showed the cranium of a small Burmese Python. She allowed the audience to touch the skin of a Burmese Python, the skin of an Iguana, the skin of a 20-foot long Green Anaconda. Overall, I did not think this display was very successful. There were only one or two people watching as she explained the skin. Further, she spoke in a monotonous voice and was not very interesting.
Left: Handler and his "baby", Right: Aww, so cute
If I were the director of the National Zoo, first I would improve the layout of the park. I would make it so that the zoo raps around in a circle so the visitors can visit all the Houses by following the path. I would then improve the Reptile Discovery Center. I would create an area showing the potency of snakes and their venom. I would like to have live demonstrations of how difference types of reptiles attack their pray. I would like to show snakes paralyzes a mouse with their venom or how it constricts the prey, and how their jaw expands and swallows the prey whole. I would then like to show the harmless snakes and educate the visitors on how you can identify whether the snake is harmless or not.
Left: Skin of Green Anaconda, Middle: Skin of Burmese Python, Right: Cranium of a Burmese Python
O' Brien, S.J., D.E. Wildt, M. Bush, T.I. Caro, C. Fitzgibbon, I. Aggundey, and R.E. Leakey. 1987. East African cheetahs: Evidence for two population bottlenecks? Proc. Nati. Acad. Sci. USA 84: 508-511.
After combined population genetic and reproductive analysis of cheetahs from east Africa and genetically impoverished and reproductively impaired South African subspecies, it can be deducted that two bottleneck occurred with cheetah history. An ancient bottleneck reduced the majority of genetic variation and then a more recent bottleneck within the past century occurred in the South African subspecies. However, these two species should not be considered genetic sub-species because their common ancestor is semi recent. This means that improvement may be achieved by introducing east African and south African animals into a composite captive breeding program.
Barry, C. 18 May, 2009. “Komodo Dragons Kill With Venom, Researchers Find.” National Geographic News. Accessed 18 May, 2009.
Researchers have always believed that Komodo Dragons kill using the bacteria in its saliva to poison the blood of the prey. However, Bryan Fry has discovered that the Komodo dragon actually has venom that rapidly decreases blood pressure, expedites blood loss, and sends the prey into shock. Although this finding surprised many, Fry estimates that hundreds of other known lizard species may also use venom.
Last modified: May 19, 2009