Wednesday, February 29, 2012

March Madness is Almost Here!

Have you heard about March Madness yet? The amazing #wipmadness peeps--LS Taylor, Denise Jaden, Angelina Hansen, Anne Hale, Deb Marshall, Jaye Robin Brown and Shari Green--are hosting this incredible blogfest where you set writing goals, cheer each other on and even enter for chances to win prizes during the month of March.

Here's the description from Denise Jaden's blog:

If you’ve been looking for a challenge to get your writing in gear, you’ve come to the right place! Through the month of March we will be cheering each other on to meet challenging goals with our writing. Also, this year we've decided to open up the challenge to Readers, Bloggers, and Illustrators. Anyone who wants to challenge themselves regarding books and win prizes for it!

March Madness officially begins tomorrow, and this is how it will work.

1. You set a goal on Denise's blog (anything writing, reading, blogging, or otherwise book related). It can be as small and simple of a goal as turning off your Internet while you write during the month of March. Or it can be as large as writing or revising an entire book.

2. You check in daily through the month of March at designated check-in points. Let us know how you're doing with your goal. Share your victories and struggles. Encourage others. The key is support and camaraderie.

3. We give you prizes just for stopping by and letting us know how you're doing, and for encouraging others!

Sounds easy and fun, right?! The following will be the check-in points for the month of March. We plan to have check-in posts up and running by 9AM PST (noon EST) each day.

Mondays – LS Taylor will host at
Tuesdays – Denise Jaden will host at
Wednesdays – Angelina Hansen will host at
Thursdays – Anne Hale will host at
Fridays – Deb Marshall will host at
Saturdays – Jaye Robin Brown will host at
Sundays – Shari Green will host at

There are tons of prizes, and there are plenty of interesting writers participating, so this is also a great opportunity for anyone looking to network and meet like-minded bloggers. (Writers can also check in any time on Twitter using the hashtag #wipmadness.) Learn more information on Denise's blog, and I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In Which I Come Home...

Photo Courtesy of Jose Moraes
It's been a crazy couple of months. Lots of developments, lots of changes, lots of exciting stuff happening all over the place. I will give you guys a proper update very soon, but in the meantime, I've decided I'm officially back to the world of blogging. In a real-life way.

I have absolutely loved compiling my Wildlife Wednesday posts and "Ask a Zookeeper" questions, but I have officially decided I'm going to give the series a break for awhile. The rest of my life has been so ridiculous and busy that they've kind of become a band-aid for me--a way to put up a post without really having to do anything, you know?

As a result, my real blog posts--you know, the ones where I say, "This is Lisa, and I actually have something to tell you"--have kinda fallen by the wayside. And I certainly haven't been visiting your blogs nearly as often as I should. I'm having serious withdrawals!

So, that's that. I may not post quite as often, but I will certainly do a better job when I'm actually posting! And I'm excited to get back the reason I started blogging in the first place: to interact with all of you!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday: Promiscuous Birds

Happy Wildlife Wednesday! Today's article comes from, and it piggybacks on my romantic animal post from last week. Kind of a funny concept, but very telling as well. I've posted the first few sentences here; click through to read the rest of the article on Discovery's website!

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
By Emily Sohn
Thu Feb 16, 2012 05:00 PM ET

When climate is shifty and unpredictable, birds are more likely to sleep around.

The findings, which suggest that birds may seek out diverse genes for their offspring when they are unsure what the future will hold, might help predict what will happen as climate changes in the coming decades. If weather conditions become more variable in certain places, as some models predict, birds might adapt by becoming more unfaithful. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“The overall message of the paper is that there is a lot of hope because females can still employ all of these mechanisms they use to find the best partner available,” said Carlos Botero, an evolutionary ecologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

The research could also offer insight into why people sometimes stray from their mates....

(Want to read more? Here's the full article: In Shifty Climates, Birds Sleep Around)

Thanks for tuning in, and please join me next week for Wildlife Wednesday. (I promise I will get back to my "Ask a Zookeeper" questions soon; life has been a little wacky lately!) Have a wonderful week!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday: Animal Romance

In honor of Valentine's Day, today's Wildlife Wednesday post is great article by Roger Di Silvestro and Ernest Thompson Seton entitled Valentines Day: A Holiday for Real Animals. Check out a sample here, and then make sure to click through to the National Wildlife Federation's full article for more fun!

Elk, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
from Wildlife Promise

Dressing Up

Going out on a Valentine’s Day date? Chances are you’ll dress up to look top-notch for the one you’re courting. Similarly, nature gussies up many of her species for courtship purposes.

Consider the antlers of buck deer or bull elk or the mating plumage of male songbirds, ducks and peafowl. All of these points are important to attracting a mate, plus they can scare off competitors. Like a pricey power suit, bright plumage, antlers, bright spots on a bird’s bill or a lizard’s throat, say to potential mates, “Look at me and be awed. I’m strong and healthy enough to put energy into growing these doodads. I’m powerful and skilled.”

More generally, species-specific colors and appendages—a robin’s red breast, or a male mountain gorilla’s silver back—say, “Make no mistake about it, I’m a member of such and such gender, and I’m a dazzling example of our species, so what’s not to like?”

Gorilla, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Individual members of many animal species learn from infancy that appearance is important. In fact, through a process called imprinting, individuals come to identify with the look of the creatures that raise them, which usually means their parents and ensures that they seek mates and companions from their own species. But you can take a newborn animal and mess with its head: Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz once raised a rook (a European member of the crow family) so that it became imprinted on him; as an adult the rook, interested in mating, tried to stuff worms into Lorenz’s ears as part of a (misdirected) courtship feeding ritual.

Rook, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Bearing Gifts

Valentine’s Day is a prime gift-giving holiday, part merchandizing ploy and part courtship. But giving gifts to prospective or actual mates is not uniquely human.

Bonobo (a.k.a. pygmy chimpanzee) males sometimes offer fruit to females with which they want to mate. Many male spiders present dead insects to prospective mates, in part to keep the indiscriminately predatory females from eating the suitors. In some spider species, males wrap an insect gift in silk webbing so the female will be preoccupied with unwrapping it, further enhancing the males’ odds of escaping the mating process alive. (The males of at least one spider species give females just a wad of empty silk—ladies beware).

Bonobo, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Some male birds are champion gift givers, offering complete nests to females. The bowerbird of Australia and New Guinea is a famed example, the male building elaborate nests decorated with small, often shiny objects that attract female attention. As with gaudy plumage, the nest tells females, “Hey, I’m a male in excellent physical condition, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to gather all these bits of bone, shell, fruit et cetera so I can offer you this delightful house with a rain-forest view.”

Bowerbird, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Among red-winged blackbirds, the males that lay claim to the best nesting sites get females first. In European storks, the legendary bearers of babies, the nest is a really potent gift. The birds mate for life, but their fidelity is to the nest, not the mate. Male and female return yearly to the same nest—not to each other—which has the effect of making them mates for life.

Red-Winged Blackbird, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
May I Have This Dance?

Birds, like this peacock, commonly use their feathers for challenging rivals and attracting mates... Dancing occurs in most human cultures. In some cases, men and women even perform separate, gender-specific dances they watch one another do, the perfect chance to get a measure of one another’s physical fitness. Birds are riding that bandwagon, too...

Peacock, Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
(Wanna keep reading? Visit the National Wildlife Federation's website for the conclusion of this article: Valentine's Day: A Holiday for Real Animals)

Thanks so much for tuning in to my weekly Wildlife Wednesday series, and make sure to tune in next week for my answer to a nature-related "Ask a Zookeeper" question!

Hope you had a wonderful Valentine's Day, everyone!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

On a Mission (Yet Exhausted!)

Photo Courtesy of bredgur
It's been a crazy week. My day job (as the Director of Education at a nature center in Denver) has kicked back into high gear, with spring field trips, spring break camps, Fireside Chats and summer camps just on the horizon, not to mention a huge new Earth Day event--which I am leading almost single-handedly. 

But I've also been crazy inspired this week, and that has translated into these mad, late-night writing sessions, where I've routinely hit 2,300 words in just a few hours. It's difficult to balance, but it has left me dizzy and electrified--kinda like that Gwen Stefani quote: “Sometimes it’s so hard to find what it is I’m trying to say. People might think you can turn creativity on and off, but it’s not like that. It just kinda comes out: a mash-up of all these things you collect in your mind. You never know when it’s gonna happen, but when it does, it’s like magic.”

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
It has been like magic this week, and I intend to write this thing out, even if it means I have to sacrifice sleep for awhile.

Has anyone else been feeling inspired this week? Maybe it's something in the air...

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday: Mankind's Love Affair with Horses

It's Wildlife Wednesday time! (I post nature-related articles the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, and I answer "Ask a Zookeeper" questions the first and third Wednesdays of the month.)

Today's article comes from Discovery News, and it tracks the unique evolution of the domestic horse--an incredible process that has shaped human history. Enjoy!

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Mon Jan 30, 2012 03:00 PM ET

The domestication of wild horses had a profound effect on human history -- offering nutrition, transportation and a leg up in warfare, among other advantages. But there are still many unanswered questions about when and where our species began its long love affair with horses.

A new genetic study offers some clues. Through the first complete analysis of equestrian mitochondrial DNA -- a kind of genetic material that is passed directly from mother to offspring -- an international group of scientists was able to trace all modern horses to an ancestor that lived about 140,000 years ago.

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
After horse domestication began about 10,000 years ago, the study also discovered, horses diverged into at least 18 distinct genetic lines. Those findings suggest that, unlike cows and other animals, horses may have been tamed independently in many different places around Europe and Asia.

The new research could help scientists decode the genetic secrets of modern horse breeds and top racehorses.

“Horse domestication had major cultural, socioeconomic, and even genetic implications for the numerous prehistoric and historic human populations that at different times adopted horse breeding,” said Alessandro Achilli, a geneticist at the University of Perugia in Italy. “Thus, our results will have a major impact in many areas of biological science, ranging from the field of animal and conservation genetics to zoology, veterinary science, paleontology, human genetics and anthropology.”

Cows, sheep, and goats had simple beginnings as livestock, with evidence suggesting that a small number of animals of each species were domesticated in just a few places between about 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. Today, genetic diversity among these creatures remains low.

Horse DNA tells a different story, according to a new paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. After analyzing mitochondrial DNA from a wide range of horse breeds across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas, and then using the known mutation rate of this kind of DNA as a sort of clock, Achilli and colleagues were able to connect all modern horses to a common ancestor that lived between 130,000 and 160,000 years ago. By comparison, modern humans first evolved about 200,000 years ago.

Previous research focused only on limited regions of mitochondrial DNA in horses. But by looking at the entire mitochondrial genome, the new study was able to categorize horses into at least 18 different groups that evolved independently.

One possible explanation for those findings is that many different groups of people independently discovered the dramatic benefits of taming wild horses thousands of years ago.

“The very fact that many wild mares have been independently domesticated in different places testifies to how significant horses have been to humankind,” Achilli said. “It means that the ability of taming these animals was badly needed by different groups of people in different regions of Eurasia, from the Asian steppes to Western Europe, since they could generate the food surplus necessary to support the growth of human populations and the capability to expand and adapt into new environments or facilitate transportation.”

Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Results also showed that horses managed to survive in modern-day Spain and Portugal during a glacial period more than 13,000 years ago, when horses, humans and other mammals disappeared north of the Pyrenees. The area has shown to be an important refuge during that time for people, who later went on to repopulate Europe when conditions improved. The new study suggests that horses may have followed a similar pattern.

The new findings offer another potential explanation for the origins of domesticated horses, said Alan Outram, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Horses may have been originally domesticated in one area, he said, such as the central Asian steppe. Then, people could have transported tamed stallions to other cultures in other places, where they were bred with local, wild mares. That scenario would also create multiple distinct female genetic lines.

Either way, the new study adds important context to the puzzle of how horses infused themselves into people’s lives.

“One thing that is clear is that the domestic horse revolutionized human life, making us much more mobile, changing our trade patterns and modes of warfare,” Outram said. “Such changes affected the whole way in which societies were organized and interacted with each other.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Wildlife Wednesday: Lisa's Dream Animals

Thank you for tuning in to my weekly Wildlife Wednesday series! I post nature-related articles the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month, and I answer "Ask a Zookeeper" questions the first and third Wednesdays of the month.

Today's question comes from the amazing (and amazingly busy) Alex J. Cavanaugh, who somehow manages to balance writing (two published novels to date!), blogging and regularly commenting on what must be hundreds of lucky blogger's websites. 

Somehow I ended up becoming one of those lucky bloggers, and Alex's question today is:

"What are your favorite and least favorite animals to deal with?"

The funny thing about this question is the fact that if you asked 100 different zookeepers and animal professionals, you'd likely get 100 different answers. Part of the fun of becoming a zookeeper or animal trainer is getting to figure out which animals are your most and least favorite to work with, and your answers are often surprising. (For example, you may turn out to hate working with an animal you've long considered your "favorite.)

When I first started working as a zookeeper at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, I was itching to find out which animals were my favorites to work with. Because, you see, among zookeepers, there's this crazy unspoken hierarchy. You have your marine mammal people, and you have your primate people. You have your big cat people, your elephant people, your bear people, your canine people, your hoofstock people, your bird people, your reptile people... The list goes on and on. 

There are funny (and usually inaccurate!) stereotypes associated with each type of keeper. Certain types of keepers are considered extremely vain, certain types are considered rather bizarre, and certain types are considered adrenaline junkies. 

I had no idea which type of keeper I'd be, but I was certain I'd fall in love with some really cool type of animal, like a polar bear or a snow leopard. Imagine my surprise, then, when I quickly realized my favorite animal in the world was this guy:

Photo Courtesy of Me
That's right. I fell in love with a camel. A Bactrian camel, to be exact, a young bull named Knobby who changed my life in so many ways that I can't even begin to explain it.

Knobby was... dorky. And awkward. He often farted when he sat down, and he slipped a lot when he ran. His double humps wiggled when he jumped, he was terrified of wind, and his favorite pastime was smelling his own pee and then staring proudly at the sky like, "Yes. I did that."

When my husband and I left Alaska in 2010, I truly felt like I was leaving my child behind. And to this day, I still tear up when I think about the afternoon I finally had to say goodbye to him. I love that big klutz more than words can describe.

Knobby taught me lots of things, one of which was the fact that I'm not a huge fan of working with big, scary carnivores. Don't get me wrong, camels can be extremely dangerous--a little known fact--and I had to treat Knobby with an incredible amount of respect. He weighed close to 1,500 pounds when I left, and I always had to keep that in mind. I often had to cut training sessions short when I felt like he was getting a little too excited, because he could have crushed and trampled me in a second.

But the point is, Knobby didn't want to EAT me, and I was a big fan of that. I was also a big fan of the fact that Bactrian camels are domesticated, which means the thought of hanging around with a human all day isn't the strangest idea in the world to them.

Knobby also taught me that I like awkward animals. (Maybe I see a little bit of myself in them? ;)) This led me to enjoy working with many other awkward animals, and now my list of dream animals I'd LOVE to work with (but haven't) includes:

(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
(Photo Courtesy of Animal Kingdom Pet Hospital)
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
What can I say? Perhaps I am a little dorky. (Ya think??) And I'm definitely a bit of a chicken, because on the other end of the spectrum, you couldn't pay me enough to work with any of the following animals: 

(Disclaimer: Many, many, many zookeepers would argue that these are the very best animals to work with. Those zookeepers just happen to be tougher than me.)
MANDRILS... Way too smart, and way too strong
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
ALLIGATORS... Left-over dinosaurs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
SALTWATER CROCODILES... Even scarier left-over dinosaurs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
RETICULATED PYTHONS... Left-over dinosaurs with no legs
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
KOMODO DRAGONS... Left-over dinosaurs with crazy mouths
(Photo Courtesy of Wiki Commons)
So, there you have it! Lesson learned: Lisa LOVES dorky, approachable animals. ;)  Thanks so much for tuning in, and make sure to join me next Wednesday for an awesome, nature-related article. Have a wonderful week!