Monday, December 5, 2011

The birds and bees at the Toronto Zoo

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Toronto Zoo with the theriogenology club at school - one of the many perks of being a vet student! Although, considering I spend an hour every other Monday with my arm up the wrong end of a cow (is there a right end?) I think we deserve these small bonuses. :)

We started off with a chat about camel insemination, with baby Kumar being the product of such a procedure:

Here's one of the daddy camels, who unfortunately has not 'taken' to any of the female camels... possibly because he finds his food bowl overwhelmingly attractive instead (honestly, that's how they collect his, uh, gametes).

This was a massive, massive animal - Bactrian camels weigh up to 1000 pounds. For some reason, I kind of expected them to be llama-sized. Sadly, they are critically endangered, with only 800 animals remaining in the wild.

We then got to tour the reproductive physiology unit, where veterinarians and researchers are learning more about how these exciting animals breed! This is not just neat because you get to help make cute baby animals, but the Toronto Zoo is also involved in a number of conservation programs, breeding endangered species to help preserve their genetic diversity and raise enough animals to return them to the wild. This is something that I've always wanted to be involved in, and I'm so excited to get a chance to meet some of the leaders in this field. I think the amount that we still don't know about these animals is amazing - it was fascinating to hear the staff talk about how difficult it is to get these animals to breed. Reproduction cycles of species like the cow have been so thoroughly mapped out that it's relatively easy to follow a protocol to get your cow pregnant - in some of these exotic species, we have no idea how often they come into heat, when they ovulate, what their hormone levels are, how to maintain the pregnancy, what the animal needs for a successful birth... there's so much to be learned, and I can only imagine how rewarding it must be to put that knowledge to use and one by one help build up the populations of some critically rare species.

After that, we got to visit one more animal - the Indian rhinoceros! We met a young male rhino who was about 2000 kg in weight, but who calmly lay down on his side when asked by his handler. This isn't just for tricks - these animals are taught how to respond to simple commands like this in order to facilitate their handling and treatment by veterinarians. With the rhino on his side, we were able to touch and examine his feet - to my surprise, they were warm and soft... softer than mine! We then got to feel his tough, boulder-like skin and feed him apples, which he scooped up with his extremely mobile, triangular lips. Sadly I don't have any pictures of him!

We were then free to tour the zoo on our own, and the first animals we visited were the lowland gorillas. This species is also critically endangered due to bushmeat hunting, the pet trade, and habitat loss.

We saw some slender tailed meerkats:

A pygmy hippopotamus!


Some Barbary apes:

Have I ever mentioned I'm a little afraid of monkeys? These apes aren't so bad because they don't have those creepy, clingy tails, but macaques and stuff just give me the heebie-jeebies. I think it's because of the movie Outbreak.

And finally, the breathtakingly beautiful and heartbreakingly endangered snow leopard.

Friday, October 28, 2011

That's a negatory

I have an exam on Monday - I should probably sit down and start reviewing my notes.

Well, I guess I have been working a lot lately. It would be nice to get creative and do some crafting.

Jeez. Maybe I can just sit down and -

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Eye see you

Marsh wren (Cistothorus palustris), Iona Beach Regional Park, Richmond BC

Monday, August 22, 2011

Saving Shelter Pets fundraiser!

Just a quick blog post to let everyone know that from August 22 to 31, I'll be participating in my third annual Saving Shelter Pets fundraiser, where 20% of the proceeds from my nature-inspired jewelry shop during this time period will be donated to help fund low-cost spay and neuter clinics. As a veterinary student, this is a cause that is pretty close to my heart, for many reasons. An intact female cat, for example, can produce over 100 kittens over her lifetime - and that's not counting her kittens' kittens, or the number of kittens that a male can produce with multiple females. Most of these kittens or puppies won't find homes, and will end up on the streets or euthanized in a shelter. We adopted our cats from the SPCA, and sometimes I think about what might have happened to them if nobody had wanted them, and it makes me pretty bummed.

Spaying and neutering is also in the best interests of both you and your pet - it can help eliminate unwanted behaviours such as urine marking by toms, howling during heats, and blood spotting by female dogs. Additionally, health benefits for your pet include reducing mammary tumors and reproductive tract infections - some of which I've seen first-hand, and are really painful for the animal and just gross for us.

So, if you're interested in supporting this cause, please check out some of the great shops that are participating in this fundraiser over the next two weeks:

And to find out more information about Saving Shelter Pets, check out their site.

Thanks guys!

Oh, one more thing: how do you know I'm actually going to donate this money? Last year I had some questions from buyers about how to know that I was donating the money as promised. I assured them I would send them a copy of my donation receipt at the end of the fundraiser, but forgot, which is terrible. So, here is a screen shot of my Paypal receipt:

And a newsletter after the fundraiser, acknowledging my participation (my name is Victoria, by the way).

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I can now die happy a.k.a. peregrine falcon

Alaksen National Wildlife Area, Delta BC, August 2

Peregrine falcons are among my favourite birds - I can't say they're always at the top, but they do spend a good deal of time there. I'm not sure why I love them so much - it might have started when I learned to fly a falcon to a lure while I was working at a raptor rehabilitation centre. Her name was Bertha, and we taught her how to chase a bird-shaped piece of leather with some meat on it in order to test her flight and hunting skills. Afterwards, she would sit on my glove and snack on chicken bits. Even though she was recovering from injuries, her eyes were still fierce and she was happy to take a chunk out of your finger if you got any crazy ideas like stroking the top of her head.

Afterwards, I read a book on the peregrine falcon recovery project by Jim Enderson and wrote a lit review on adaptations of the peregrine falcon for a natural history class. When the peregrine hunts small birds, it ascends high into the sky and comes plummeting down at speeds conservatively estimated at 252 km/h but could be as fast as 560 km/h. The impact of the falcon on its prey is usually enough to kill it instantly.

This is the first peregrine I've seen in the wild.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Light painting

Things you will need:

* digital camera capable of long exposures or, preferably, a bulb setting
* tripod
* light source (i.e. flashlight)
* dark area (a room, a park far from the city)
* remote shutter release for your camera (not strictly necessary, but makes life easier)
* friend

Set up your camera on its tripod, and make sure it's on bulb and set to your remote. Get your friend to stand approximately where they will be painting, and make sure you're properly focused.

Right before you start painting, open the shutter using your remote (you can do this without a remote by just pressing the shutter release, but there might be some blurriness due to the camera shaking). If there is any ambient light at all (like there was in our pictures) you'll need to paint fairly quickly, or have a smaller aperture (these photos were all f2.8). When you're done painting, close the shutter.


Here are our efforts, done at Iona Beach after an aborted attempt at photographing stars. It's still a work in progress.

Now here it is, done right:

credit: rafoto

credit: minamac88

credit: The Areographers

credit: Atton Conrad

Monday, August 1, 2011

Powell Street Festival

This Saturday, Davis and I went to the Powell Street Festival, a celebration of the Japanese community in Vancouver.

On our way, we passed this beautiful mural in Chinatown:

with a very thought-provoking quote

The festival is held in Oppenheimer Park in the somewhat infamous downtown east-side. But families and locals were mingling and enjoying the sunshine, music, and food.

I just noticed the colourful and interesting houses behind the tents in this photo - I wish I'd had a closer look!

Davis of course was mainly interested in the martial arts demos, but a fairly large crowd had already assembled by the time we got there, and it was hard to get a good look.

So, we headed over to the food area! These are called manju, and they're a variation of a Chinese pastry that contains red bean paste.

A similar item is the fresh imagawayaki, which is also filled with red bean paste.


As, uh, fascinating as it seemed, we did not visit this tent.

But we did try some tofu yaki with Asian slaw, and matcha smoothies.

As we left, we were serenaded by Nish Rawks, a Toronto-based rapper of Japanese descent.

I was pretty impressed.

Friday, July 29, 2011


Friday, July 22, 2011

Alaksen National Wildlife Area

Thankfully, my poor quads got a break from the mud slogging this week - instead, we split our time between invasive plant removal (broom, loosestrife, and thistle) and bird surveying. Sorry, I just have to say that again - they are paying me to walk around and look at birds. I'm not gloating or anything... I just have to remind myself from time to time because it seems so unreal. :) Of course it's not all fun - the plant removal is pretty hard work, especially in the hot afternoon sun. So I enjoy the birds all the more when I get a chance to see them.

Here are some of the birds I saw last Monday:

Black-headed grosbeak. This was a first for me! We saw two males chasing each other around the trees.

American goldfinch. These guys were everywhere - mostly flying overhead calling "potato chip! potato chip! potato chip!"and chowing down on thistle seeds. I sometimes get these mixed up with yellow warblers (next) because they're about the only bright yellow birds that tiny. Apart from the black marking on the goldfinch that set it apart, I also find the posture to be different - the goldfinches stand more upright, whereas the warblers are more tilted forward.

Yellow warbler!

Spotted towhee. These striking birds are everywhere in this area, and aren't shy about hopping out onto branches and getting their picture taken. They have really strange and varied calls (what I thought for years to be squirrel chatter actually turned out to be a towhee), and you often hear them scratching around in the brush.

We weren't able to identify this guy for sure - I think it might be a Western wood pewee, but I'm not very familiar with flycatchers. If anyone has any ideas, I would be grateful for the insight!

Downy woodpecker. Downies look a lot like their slightly larger cousins, the hairy woodpeckers. Apparently the best way to tell them apart is the length of the beak relative to their head - if the beak is about the same length as the head, it's the bigger Hairy, but if the beak is shorter than the head, it's the diminutive Downy. The bright red patch on this guy also indicates he is a male. :)

Cedar waxwing. These birds are also super common in the area, especially around berry bushes! I often hear them before I see them - they make a high pitched, almost digital insect sound. I think these birds are so pretty - they look so much better put-together than other birds, like they're made of painted ceramic.

Juvenile bald eagle. Young eagles take up to 5 years to attain sexual maturity and get the famous white head and tail.

More pictures (including a groovy orange slug) to come!