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This is Harapan. He is a Sumatran rhino and, as of this morning, no longer lives in the Cincinnati Zoo.


Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)_28


The zoo’s 30 year old Sumatran rhino breeding program has ended and Harapan has been sent home to be with the others of his species. All one hundred of them. Let’s ponder that for a minute.



Lots of images follow )
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Halfway up, he pauses, questioning.


His instructions were as specific as they were simple. Climb to the top. Do not speak. Do not look back.


Violating any rule would bring ruination. It would be the end of all he had worked for. Stealing the map from the mammoths of Lyrcea. Choosing a reed from the Minnorie, making from it the flute, and charming the guardian of the gates. The eons of walking across the shards littering the floors of the caves of death. Arrival. The endless days of debate and negotiation. All for the goal he finally achieved, that he knows is almost his. Behind him, unseeable, unhearable, unsmellable, trailing.


At least, he thinks. He hopes. But he how can he know?


Can he really trust the lords of the dead? Stories abound, of tricks and lies, of slippery words and slithering tongues. True, he’d done his best. He’d driven a hard bargain, given up less than he had feared. Yet, was it too little? Should it have hurt more, cost more?


He re-runs the talks in his head. Did he err? He had traded years of his life and half of his soul. Was that enough? What was the value of a year, to those that lived forever? What was the value of a soul, to those that had a multitude? He had wagered his skill against their champion, and won. But had he? For a champion, she had seemed flawed. Surely she could have sustained higher trills and more mournful lows. Why did she give it less than her all? Was he truly more motivated, as he had thought? Had she felt some measure of pity?


Or was it a trick?


It may have been. Perhaps in a century, stories would be told of his folly in the underworld. How he had hazarded it all and been played a fool. He wants to look back, to calm his fear and assuage what remains of his soul. A slight turn of the head, a shift of the eyes, and he can know.


But no. He will climb to the end. Or until, unable to continue, he will fall, damning himself and his love forever to death. No. If he is to fail, it will not be from weakness.


He pauses, tensing his muscles, resting a mere moment, then continues his climb.


Blue Tree Monitor (Varanus macraei)_5

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A year wasn’t enough.


She remembered them, small and mewling. She remembered their loud purrs, echoing in their cave throughout the night as they suckled and slept. Later, she’d bring them meals, carefully parceled out for their tiny teeth. A gerbil a day, perhaps a hare. They grew so quickly. Soon they were hunting on their own.


The grasshoppers were amusing. It took them a while to master the technique, but until they did, their hops, alerting the grasshoppers … a passel of bouncing across the desert.


As they grew, they pursued greater prey. Jerobas, larks, geckos, all eventually fell to their tiny claws.


She’d lost one to a viper. That had hurt, but the others had helped. Her family reduced by one, she became more careful, collecting the threats, one by one. She showed them all the tricks, ensuring they knew how to attack. Snakes, from behind. One massive strike to the head preventing another. Scorpions, flipped, removing the sting with the sand. She’d tried to teach them of drought, but that is a lesson they would need to learn on their own.


She knew it was time when their play took them further afield. Some nights, one wouldn’t return, and her heart would race a bit faster. They’d be there come morning though. All but the one she’d lost — the brave one. She hoped the others would be brave, but not too brave. They gradually moved further, coming home less and less often. Until now, when none returned. Three nights she’d watched, hoping, waiting.


Tonight, she just listened.


She thought she heard one, off in the distance, the soft slide of sand cascading down a dune. She imagined another, far in the East, lazing after a kill, first to see the sunrise. She hoped for the best for them, but knew her time with them was done. She’d done her best. Made them as strong, as quick, as smart as she could. Their lives were their own now. She knew it was right. She knew it was proper.


Still, a year wasn’t enough.


Sand Cat (Felis margarita)_5

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They feast on dreams.


They weren’t always this way. Their dreams were once glorious. Songs were sung in lilting verse of the deeds done by their heroes. Poems recited over an entire day, yet kept their audience in constant rapture. Epics sculpted into entire cities, homes for the future forever telling the stories of the past. A single dream could feed a clan for a week and be crafted into dances, novellas and watercolours.


But they grew jaded. The greater their successes, the more they saw their flaws. Their dreams became reinterpretations. Impressions fed impressions — a single thread of dream stretching into the distance past. But it wasn’t enough. In the pursuit of ever higher art, they hit the limits of dream. They began to experiment with forcing dreams of specificity. Such dreams were less succulent, less filling, but created such art. Vivid colours, stark shapes and contrasts. A song of beauty crafted from nothing but two notes alternating with various patterns. A drama created for audience and of the audience, with no script but the prompts found on props. Such work was talked about far and wide.


But it faded fast.


New and increasingly garish works were required, so they experimented with pain. The pain of life infected the dreams, and painful dreams were ever so delicious. The art became darker. Images of blood and ravens. A single feather resting on a dusty mirror. A thorn pressing, not piercing, the eye’s surface. The slow, steady thumb of bass replacing the heartbeat of the dancer until they lost all sense of self in the inky black.


Such art was beautiful in its despair, but they could not survive on the dreams. They tried to recapture their dreams of old, but the truth and elegance was lost. In the pursuit of ever better art, the very art of dreaming was lost.


So they turned to others.


They tasted the dreams of the bluebirds and wove them into mile-long tapestries of cloud and wind. The dream of a tortoise was small and hard, slow to digest, but had such depth of meaning. Operatic cycles are still being written from the nugget of the first tortoise dream ever harvested. Hummingbird dreams were hard to collect and dissolved quickly, but evoked kinetic sculpture so light and fast that it seemed to move without effort.


They became addicted, seeking wider experiences, forming packs, learning to hunt.


They hunt best alone. They make small … adjustments to lives. The frustration of a misplaced item, joy of an unexpected find, despair from a total loss, any of these with twist a dream. It can take many weeks to craft the perfect dream with the right mix of broken hearts and blush of love, of the rush of success or the crushing pain of loss, of thrilling life and yawning death. Then, when their prey are right on the brink of collapse, they lurk in the dark, waiting for the right moment to strike.


They just need you to fall asleep.


Potto (Perodictus potto)_4_v2

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Black and White Ruffed Lemur (Varecia variegata variegata)_4

Papa Lemur sometimes grows weary of leading the others, but recognizes that without him, Hefty Lemur and Brainy Lemur would fight, Jokey Lemur would upset everyone, and without his organization to bring in the crops, Farmer Lemur wouldn’t be able to feed the village. Every morning, he sighs over his lot in life, and prepares for a day of calming down the others, maintaining their focus, and directing the stupid.

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Bullet Headed Ant_5

Some photos are impressive because you know exactly what you’re seeing. Some, because you don’t.


Most people I’ve showed this to have had to take a minute to figure out what they’re seeing. Go ahead, take the time. Then contemplate whether you want the gift the ant is clearly offering you.

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Black Footed Cat

Black-footed cats are the smallest breed of wild cats, seldom exceeding three pounds in weight. Despite this being extremely clear on the sign, grown adults will coo over it and call it a baby. I must conclude that this is because they’re so cute that their mere presence temporarily overrides a human’s ability to read. Because the alternative, that zoos attract a stunningly large number of babbling idiots on Saturdays, is too horrible to contemplate.

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It started as a thrum, soft, almost unnoticeable. Some felt it as a slight sense of unease. Some, a dull worry. At first it was the sensitive ones, the artists mostly. They spoke of the changing times, wrote music, painted, sculpted. It was an age of widespread creativity. Then it was the protectors, who worked with the artists to create edifices of magnificent beauty and function.


But it wasn’t enough.


The thrum became an itch. A slight tingle in the center of the brain, more insistent year by year. More noticed. Artists became activists. Defenders became fighters. War raged — without regard for country or creed. Those in power needed battle. Those oppressed needed to fight. Only action could scratch the itch, could make it tolerable. If one couldn’t fight in person, one could fight by proxy … watching or controlling avatars on screens.


But it still wasn’t enough.


No longer an itch, it became a steady vibration interspersed with a beat. Everyone noticed it now. They felt driven. They feared. They panicked. They began to accumulate wealth. Those with the most needed the most. Those without defended themselves through community. They drew together, into conclaves of outrage. Lines were drawn, crossed, and drawn again. War raged again, but more personally, more viscously.


But the vibration continued, the beat grew ever stronger.


One day, a city vanished, crumbling into rubble overnight. That’s when they realized it wasn’t all in their minds. Sensitive instruments were developed. Detection and triangulation pointed towards a source. More machines were built. Machines that could see further than before, deeper than before. Five more cities crumbled before they succeeded, when the universe began to become clear.


They saw their world, a mere dot, connected to many many others. They began to understand the vast distances they knew of and the newly discovered, thin tendrils linking them together. They developed new technologies to talk to nearby worlds. Those nearer the source had nothing to offer but broadcasts of immense devastation. Looking further, there was nothing but planets in shards, glistening among the blue. The looked away from the source and detected pristine worlds, though some with evidence of growing war.


Still, cities crumbled, islands sank, volcanoes erupted and then melted into oblivion.


They improved their technologies. And, in seeking at greater and greater distances detected nothing but dead and dying worlds in one direction and oblivious and silent ones in the other. They tried to seek even further and saw nothing but mist in the deep distance and, occasionally, movement.


Then their moon exploded, scattering splinters across the cosmos.


They felt utterly alone.


But they weren’t.


Florida Orb Web Spider (Nephila clavipes)_2

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Galapagos Tortoise_3

Just like children, tortoises like to celebrate the summer with a bit of bubble blowing.


It just takes them a while.

Chimpanzee

Oct. 28th, 2014 06:00 pm
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Chimpanzee_1

You’ve got to crawl before you can walk, no matter your species*.


* Well, unless you’re a bird, I guess.

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Jade Headed Buffalo Beetle (Eudicella smithi)_2_1


Dicrocoelium dendriticum is a parasite that lays eggs to infect snails. Once a snail becomes infected, it protects itself by forming cysts and expelling them. This is good for the snail and for the parasite because these cysts are the yummiest things an ant has ever tasted. Once the ant eats a cyst and gets infected, the parasite gets into the ant’s brain. The ant brain takeover forces the ant to climb tall blades of grass and hang out all night. When day comes, this hold is released, so the parasite doesn’t bake in the sun along with the ant. Eventually, the grass is eaten and the parasite infects a large animal which then expels the parasite’s eggs in its dung … which are eaten by snails.


The Jade Headed Buffalo Beetle, of course, knows nothing about this and just really really likes its blade of grass.

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Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)_18

Most of the hull was breached, but rhinoceroses have air in their heads to keep them afloat in just such dire circumstances.

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Major Michell's Cockatoo (Cacatua leadbeateri)_1

Zoos are generally good at identifying when animals should not be photographed and when flash should not used. Some, however, not physically sensitive to the process, but just emotionally sensitive. For example, as soon as I walked up with the camera, this cockatoo began blushing.

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Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis)_28

Though they have extremely thick skin, rhinoceroses are far from impenetrable. Here, you see one that has just struck an iceberg and is taking on water. Will he make it? Tune in tomorrow to find out!

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She returns to the spot where it happened. It’s not everyday. Sometimes weeks will go by with nary a thought to that day. But eventually, she returns.


She remembers her joy that day, the opportunity. It was glorious. Finally, her day in the light. She was noticed. She was with new friends, building a new life. She was elated when she returned, anxious to share her news with him.


But he was gone. He was gone and she hadn’t been there. Would it have happened if she had said no? If she had kept the date? If it had, could she have saved him? Would they have died together? Would they have lived, returning together to this point to share a different memory entirely?


Maybe. Maybe not. But she would know.


Not knowing is truly the worst.


Buff Cheeked Gibbon (Hylobates gabriellae)_2

Gibbon

Oct. 23rd, 2014 11:01 pm
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Gibbon_3

Though they shut up at night, gibbons draw in the water from the evening rains and fully unfold to welcome the noontime sun.

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Giant Spiny Leaf Insect (Heteropteryx dilatata)_3

Suppose you’re in insect. Your eggs need to be kept under 25 C to hatch, but you don’t want to bother with actually moving them out of the sun or finding a good home for them. What do you?


If you’re a giant spiny lead insect, you’ll coat your eggs in lipids and fling them all over the forest to ants to eat. They’ll find the eggs, carry them to their nest, eat the outer layer and then ditch them in their trash pile … which is kept under 25 C. Then your babies will hatch out, think “WFT? Where am I?”, find their way out and scamper up the nearest tree.


You may not think she’s the greatest mother, but as you can see, she’s punk and doesn’t care about your opinion.

Mantatee

Oct. 21st, 2014 11:01 pm
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Mantatee_8

Some shots just speak for themselves.

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Giant Water Bug (Abedus herberti)_7

This is the giant water bug. It’s range runs across Newfoundland to British Columbia to Utah, Nevada, Mexico and over into Florida.


If you’ve ever gone swimming in a lake or pond in the Summer in North America, you’ve gone swimming with these guys.


Congratulations on your bravery.

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Giant Water Bug (Abedus herberti)_1

They’re not heavy, they’re my others.*


* Well, children, but that doesn’t fit the song pattern.

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