Field Trip III Travelogue

by the members of CPSP118G Group V.

Coordinator:
Kristen Stewart

Editors:
Matthew Cogar
Amit Vij

Cheetah Conservation
Elephants
The Small Mammal House
The Australia House
The Bird House
Endangered Birds of the Pacific
The Reptile House


Cheetah Conservation

By: Richard Jones
Images obtained by Jefferson Chrisler
November 30, 1999

The cheetah is very unusual animal. They are very fast moving carnivores that have been endangered since long before their first contact with humans. The National Zoo in Washington DC has established a habitat for these cheetahs to live in and reproduce. There is only one species of cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus. Acinonyx jubatus is found in Africa, on open grassy plains. They were also at one time found in India, but they disappeared there in the 1950s.

At the zoo we learned that they are the fastest land animals. They can attain speeds of 70 miles per hour. The zoo also has an exhibit demonstrating how the cheetah is able to overtake a human and even a car during a short sprint. We also learned that the weight for a male can be 140 pounds, and a length of 5 feet plus a 2.5- foot long tail.

The zoo also has a very informative exhibit that shows how similar the DNA in an individual cheetah is to that of any other cheetahs. This is peculiar, as DNA is highly variable in humans and other species. This is due to inbreeding. During the last ice age, it is thought that cheetahs almost became extinct. Today's population may be descended from as few as twenty cheetahs that survived this crisis. As a result, cheetahs draw from a small gene pool, so they all have similar genes.

This inbreeding has unfortunate consequences. Male cheetahs often produce deformed sperm cells, limiting their reproductive success. Three quarters of the cheetahs that are born do not live past three months. If they make it past this 3-month period they will usually live to be about 13 years old. In the wild, humans and other large cats are their main predators. Their primary diet consists of gazelles and other small hoofed mammals. They are different from other cats in that instead of waiting for the prey to come up to them and then surprising it, they chase it down with their incredible speed. They jump on their prey and kill it with suffocating bites, then feast on their prey.

An interesting fact that you will not find at the zoo is that cheetahs can be tamed. They have been used for hunting since the time of the ancient Egyptians by aristocratic hunters such as William, the Conqueror.


Elephants

by Justin Mason
Images obtained by Jefferson Chrisler
November 30, 1999

A major stop on our tour of the zoo was the Elephant House. Elephants are one of the most extreme land mammals in existence today. Both the African elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) have trunks in which to manipulate objects. At the end of the trunk of an African elephant, there are two "fingers." These fingers can be used to grasp food, sticks, and other small objects. The Asian elephants however, only have a single "finger" on the end of their trunk. The trunk of an elephant is also useful because elephants have incredibly short necks and are unable to reach places for food. The trunk comes into play by picking up food objects and putting them in the elephant's mouth. For more information on these distinctions, visit the Elephant House's African and Asian Elephants: How do they Differ? web page.
.

In addition to being one of the most unique mammals on the face of the earth, elephants are by far the largest land mammals. Due to their enormous size, the African elephant has huge ears which when fanned, help to cool the elephant. The Asian elephant on the other hand has considerably smaller ears because their size is not as large as the African elephant and the climate is often less harsh than that of Africa. The ears are used for temperature regulation in elephants because they have a very large surface to body volume ratio and therefore have a problem keeping themselves cool

The woolly mammoth, (Mammuthus primigenius) an extinct relative of the Asian elephant once roamed the northern regions of Siberia and North America. These elephants, like the Asian elephant, had small ears since keeping themselves cool was not a problem in the arctic. Instead the woolly mammoth had a thick layer of fur in which to keep warm. The end of the trunk of a woolly mammoth was very different than that of today's elephants. Instead of having one or two "fingers," the woolly mammoth developed a shovel like appendage. This most likely was used to dig in the snow and hard ground for food during the winter months when vegetation was sparse, or to obtain snow as a source of water.

Manageability while in captivity is also another problem due to the sheer size of an elephant. Elephants must be trained to obey simple commands from a trainer in order to clean, inspect, and move an elephant from place to place. Without being trained, elephants would be nearly impossible to be held in captivity. One of the more interesting activities at the National Zoo is to watch the constant training that these huge animals undergo.


The Small Mammal House

by Amanda Pomicter
Images obtained by Jefferson Chrisler

November 30, 1999

Although the animals of the Small Mammal House are not the "fowlest", most ferocious, or fastest creatures of the park, they do exhibit unique behaviors and vary in appearances. The Small Mammal House, conveniently located at The National Zoo, can be visited online. It is home to many interesting animals including the dwarf mongoose, the elephant shrew, the leopard cat, the pygmy marmoset and especially the golden lion tamarins and the naked mole rats.

The golden lion tamarins (GLT), located at the entrance of the house, are an active group of squirrel-sized primates. Two baby tamarins occupy the enclosure along with several adult tamarinds. Unfortunately, these beautiful and humorous creatures have experienced a decline in population due to deforestation of their habitat for agriculture, the effects of fire, and the removal of individual tamarins for the pet trade. Current efforts to restore the GLT population include raising the primates in captivity for release into their native environments. For further information on the tamarins and the conservation project visit http://www.wcmc.org.uk/species/data/species_sheets/liontama.htm.

Possibly considered, "the weirdest animals at the zoo," the naked mole rats live a eusocial life style. The social structure of the mole rats, similar to that of ants and bees, depends upon the breeding capacities of one queen and one to three males along with the aid of helping mole rats. The helping mole rats either defend the colony against predators or scavenge for food.


The Australian Animal House

By: Jason Graf
Images obtained by Jefferson Chrisler
November 29, 1999


The Australian animals at The National Zoo are some of the most exciting critters around. We saw everything from the typical kangaroos to the rarer tree kangaroos and the echidna. We learned about the cane toad, Bufo Marinus, and its effect on the Australian fauna. What was brought to the wildlife to help kill pests, actually became a pest itself. These fascinating animals are nothing like we see in North America. However all are related to the North American opossum.

While the tree kangaroo is related to the land kangaroo found in Australia, it has shorter, wider hind feet and a longer, narrower tail than its cousin. The tree kangaroo's heavy, curved claws help it climb and stay in position while it sleeps. Like the land kangaroo, the tree kangaroo has a pouch to carry its young. Once the animal is born, it climbs into its mother's pouch and grows there for several months before coming out for food.

One of the largest species, the giant, or cane, toads of tropical America measures about 20 cm in length. It has been widely introduced in areas, such as Hawaii and Australia, where formerly no toads existed. Originally, it was thought that the toad would help control the can beetle and other pests in these areas; however, the giant toad has itself become a pest because it devours native wildlife.

The Echidna is a spiny anteater or a common name for a type of egg laying mammal. The short-nosed echidna found in Australia is about 35 to 53 cm long, and has a broad body mounted upon short, strong legs. The legs have powerful claws, adapting the animal for rapid digging into hard ground. The back is covered with stiff spines mixed with long, coarse hairs. The head is small, and the nose is prolonged into a slender snout. The toothless mouth has an extensible, glutinous tongue suitable for catching ants, termites, and other small insects. Mating occurs once a year. The female lays one egg, or rarely two eggs, after a gestation period of 9 to 27 days. The female then places the egg in a pouchlike area of abdominal skin, where it hatches after about 10 to 11 days. The offspring is carried in the pouch until it is about 55 days old, when it becomes able to walk.

All of these animals and more can be seen at The National Zoo. The Australian animals are by far the most interesting to learn about because they live on the other side of the world. Most of us can only see animals like this in the zoo and The National Zoo does a great job of not only presenting these animals to us, but also accurate information about each species.


The Bird House

by Arthur Brown
Images obtained by Justin Caruana
December 3, 1999

On November 6, 1999 I embarked, or more correctly stated hauled myself out of bed and over to the National Zoo along with almost every other ELT (Earth, Life and Time) student at the University of Maryland College Park.

One of the last exhibits that I visited that day was the birdhouse, a building often passed up, and rarely given credit for its beauty and the insight it offers. Upon first approach one cannot help but gaze on a beautiful little pond. It is a home, not only to zoo animals, but to wild fowl and other winged friends such as black-crowned night herons. One must ask ones self, why do these birds stay? They are wild birds, their wings are not clipped, so why would they stay in such a noisy place? The most obvious answer is that people feed them here. The second is that the engineers that designed this place created it so that it would be a wonderful place for these birds to live raise a family and survive for years to come. These two in combination have created a paradise for these water fowl.

Once inside your eyes and ears are teased by the beautiful melody of the birds living in the house. Their colors and their songs are a joy to the senses that many of us have almost forgotten. This experience is one that should be enjoyed by itself and more then sufficient reason to go to this house, for we have all seen the elephants, the tigers and the monkeys, but how many of us have really just let ourselves experience one of natures simplest and most beautiful joys? But wait, this is not the end of what lies inside, though it is important, there is a world of information about these wonderful creatures. It gives us better insight on how they live, and how they came to be the way they are today. For example, we see the flamingo and we think that its knee bends backwards, for that is the image that comes to us as we see this creature, but it is not the knee that bends backwards, instead what we see as the knee is actually the ankle. The flamingo's, like that of all birds, is farther up, hidden beneath its feathers.

A link to the past still lives today. For about fifteen years, science has long maintained that birds are a type of dinosaur. This connection is reinforced by the appearance of birds such as the cassowary. The cassowary is flightless, but this is no shame. It is joined by the ostrich and the penguin, good company for any evolved dinosaur to been seen in. Its feathers, unlike those of most birds, are shaggy and filamentous, so that it looks more like a ball of fluff, instead of a bird with feathers. This hair feather structure is very close to the feather-like structures that have recently been discovered in the remains of non-avian dinosaurs in China. In this sense, the rhea is a link to a world that we have not seen in over 65 million years, even though it is a fully modern bird in other respects. Now lets see some old primate manage the same.

As we look at birds and how they evolved nothing stands out more than the beak. We all know the beak that a crow has; it has the shape that most of us are familiar with. But many birds have specialized as the years went on. The warbler has a beak designed with catching insects, where as the flamingo has an ideal mud shifter perfect for getting shrimp out of the swamps (I donıt know about you but Iım envious of this bird, I love shrimp). The duck, a bird as familiar to us as the face of our pet cat or dog, with a bill designed expressly for straining the excess water out of its diet. The list goes on and on, birds with beaks that are designed for a particular ecosystem and diet. These birds, modern representatives of the dinosaur are an important part to our world. Unfortunately we do too much damage to their world. The songs they sing might soon be silenced. It is up to you to protect the environment, to educate yourself and your loved ones. Please visit the National Zoo, or any other zoo, and when you do don't forget the birdhouse. Take in the sounds and colors and maybe it will change your mind forever, I know that it did mine.


Endangered Birds of the Pacific

by John Yingling
Images obtained by Justin Caruana
November 30, 1999

On our trip to the Bird House of the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. our group observed many different types of birds. These birds varied greatly in appearance, size, habits, eating style, and location of origination. We focused on the difference of anatomies of the birds and what purpose these differences serve. This report, however, concerns the impact that human activity has had on the decline of some species.

The Hawaiian bird diversity has been in great decline over the past hundred years. From causes such as pollution and habitat destruction, many of the wide variety of species that once inhabited the islands of Hawaii have gone extinct. If the current trend continues, all native Hawaiian birds will be extinct sometime around the twenty-fourth century. When birds go extinct, they cause a breakdown of biological relationships. When one Hawaiian bird became extinct, it caused the plant Cyanea Arborea to go extinct because the bird was the main pollinator of the plant. Without its pollinator, the plant couldn't reproduce. People need to take action to preserve the habitats and welfare of these birds if there is to be hope for survival and expansion of their species.

Similarly to the Hawaiian birds, human activity has had a major effect on the population of Guam rail and Micronesian kingfisher, both native to Guam. Although not effected directly by destruction of habitat, these birds have been effected indirectly by the introduction of the brown tree snake Boiga irregularis. The tree snake feeds upon the bird's eggs, which reduces the number of offspring, which can possibly become adults. This has played a large role in the decline of endemic birds.

Avian paleontologists have discovered most of the remains of ancient Hawaiian birds in caves formed by lava tubes. By studying these remains paleontologists can compare ancient birds to today's birds and find out how they have evolved. This can tell how the ecology and climate of the Hawaiian islands evolved over time. Owls are a tremendous help to paleontologists. They eat small animals, digest the flesh, and regurgitate pellets, which contain the bone remains and other remains that couldn't be digested. Paleontologists use these remains to identify what forms of life were alive during different time periods.

Its important to preserve the habitats of birds, as well as all animals. They play an important roll in preserving plant life and providing food for other animals. They are one of the most diverse groups of animals, and can be the most aesthetically pleasing. The Washington Zoo not only contains an incredibly large diversity of birds from all over the world, but is actively working to preserve their diversity. Go check it out.


Reptile Discovery Center

by Joseph M. Yahr
Images obtained by Justin Caruana
November 30, 1999

The Reptile Discovery Center, one of the more popular attractions at the National Zoo houses some of the most exciting, interesting, and occasionally dangerous reptiles and amphibians of the world. The Reptile Discovery Center has a very ominous and appealing title. The facility presents an impressive diversity of life, and seeks to illuminate them with a variety of educational displays. In many cases, these displays were as notable for arousing students' curiosity about the bigger issues of reptile and amphibian biology as for providing direct answers.


Inside the Reptile Discovery Center , ELT students viewed many varieties of reptiles and amphibians including lizards, snakes, frogs, crocodiles, and turtles.

  • Some of the most spectacular included the Komodo dragon, one of the most storied reptiles of the world. With the help of institutions like the National Zoo, this creature is resisting forces of habit destruction that threaten it with extinction.
  • Another spectacular creature was the Gila monster of the American Southwest, one of only two species of poisonous lizards in the world.
  • Crocodylians were represented by Cuban crocodiles, powerful aggressive predators that must be handled carefully in captivity.
  • Additionally, their were some fine specimens of menacing snakes and colorful frogs. In one exhibit, the tree boa Corallus enydris> peacefully shared its quarters with colorful dendrobatid frogs. In this case, the frogs were protected by powerful toxins in their skins rather than by any forbearance on the part of the snake.
    .

  • Some of the animals exhibited fascinating adaptations such as the ability to blend in with the surrounding environment. The most obvious of these adaptations appeared in the turtles, which exhibited functional variations in size, shape, and flexibility of the their limbs, necks, and shells. The aquatic Australian snake-necked turtle (pictured at right) contrasts strongly with terrestrial Aldabara tortoise (below). One aquatic species, the mata-mata was heavily camouflaged and had a snout-like nose to facilitate inconspicuous breathing.
    .

    Clearly, the inhabitants of the Reptile Discovery Center are some of the most interesting animals the Zoo has to offer. In a way, the facility's potential is more impressive than its current status. Several displays were unoccupied, a couple of educational displays had been damaged by heavy use, and the reptile discovery lab was closed, due to a shortage of volunteers. With a full staff of volunteers and full compliment of animals, this would truly be a superb facility. For these reasons, the Reptile Discovery Center is an obvious candidate as a location for an Earth, Life, And Time internship or service project.