Tag Archives: San Diego Zoo

Killer Legs (of Secretary Birds)

Along with getting to see the La Brea Tar Pits, seeing these gorgeous birds at the San Diego Zoo became one of the highlights of my visit to California. I’d never seen one in real life before.

If pressed on what one looked like, my mental image would actually be the secretary bird that officiates in the Disney Movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Not the most flattering portrayal to have stuck in one’s head!

So I wasn’t expecting something so elegant or graceful. (Or with a whimsical looking crown of feathers that reminded me of Fawkes the phoenix in the Harry Potter movies!)

I didn’t stop to think that it clearly had the beak of a bird of prey. It’s a terrestrial predator. Those elegant long legs are weapons for stalking through the grasses and for killing prey. They can’t hold their prey with those deadly toes though, so they have to eat it there or carry it in their beak.

None of my photos really turned out so I wasn’t sure I was going to mention them on here, but then Jelka, a doll maker on deviantart, posted a gorgeous posable soft sculpture Secretary bird the other day, and I had to share it. She makes the dolls by hand and her sister does the painting, it’s a great collaboration! If you want a better look you can get the full 360 view on youtube.


Filed under Crafts, Natural Science

Fast and Fuzzy

Lively, hooded eyes,

sharp noses and sharper claws

they’re up to no good!

Meerkats listening to the planes flying overhead.

Dun diggers posing-

tauntingly photogenic…

well, when they sit still!

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Filed under Poetry

Extinction and Engraving

We saw a northern white rhino (well, the rear of one) at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The guide told us that they’re extinct in the wild, that the last ones left in zoos are too few (and too old) to breed. Conservationists tried to quasi-release some under guard in the wild again some years ago, hoping maybe that would encourage some last minute breeding…

It wasn’t even subtle human messing about with environment or land encroaching so much as poaching. One more species humans hunted out of existence.


For horns.


How do you react to that? I mean, really?


The guide was saying that they’re as happy as animals can be, they’ve food, a lot of land to wander in, and they’re safe. They don’t know that they’re the last of their kind.


My first thought was how surreal it is, to see something alive and *know* it’s extinct. That it’s past the point of no return and will be gone in my lifetime. Fossils are one thing, they’re long gone. I admit that I don’t get pangs working with ammonite fossils. I feel rather more disgusted with our species looking at the bones of megafauna that humans killed off in prehistoric times, though with that at least you can plead ignorance.


It was hot and sticky out and I still had that wet blanket feeling dropped on me feeling. Sometimes it’s really embarrassing to be human. Like you need to apologize to every other species on the planet. (Okay, except perhaps for rats, pigeons and mosquitoes, they’ve done well off of us!)


That was thought one on seeing the rhinos.

Thought two? Durer!







Powerful first impressions,

whispers down the lane…

exotic gift from afar-

mythical beast lost at sea.


When I saw the Greater One-Horned Rhinoceros at the San Diego Zoo I decided that for never having seen one and being really inaccurate, Durer did an excellent job capturing the general power and texture and feel of a rhinoceros. You can’t entirely fault him for adding rivets and plates to the cobblestone hide.

They’re not attractive (okay, so maybe they’re a little cute in an odd way when nibbling at leaves) but boy are they impressive. The ground was dry enough that they were making little dust storms on every exhale.


Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) was a German artist with a workshop in Nuremburg. (Though he work was greatly influenced by his travels through Italy.) He worked in a broad range of media-drawing, painting and printing. (Two of my favorite pieces are his young hare and owl, both of which are watercolors.) The delicacy of his lines across styles always astounds me.


Durer’s Rhinoceros is actually a woodcut, not an engraving. It recorded the first arrival of a rhinoceros in Europe in 1000 years. That particular rhinoceros was a gift from an Indian ruler to governor of Portuguese India who then gave it to the King of Portugal. It arrived in Lisbon in May 1515. The king then sent it as a gift to the Pope, but it died in a shipwreck. (Poor thing, talk about regifting!)


A description of it reached Durer in Nuremburg, probably with some sketches.

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Filed under Art, Natural Science