Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My First Video Shoot

I am working on my last project for my integrated media and storytelling class, which is going to be an iMovie, with some added pictures and audio. Today I went and shot the video and pictures, and I just wanted to share a few of the things I learned along the way. I'll be posting the finished project once I get it all edited (I promised my subjects I'd put it up here) so stay tuned, but in the meantime:

  • It is harder than you'd think to make sure you aren't cutting off a subject's head in your shot
  • I drink too much coffee to hold a camera steady
  • Sometimes the B Roll contains the real gems
  • People are comfortable in a group, but get them alone and they can freeze up
  • Fluorescent lighting is no one's friend
  • A rolling desk chair can be a fun, and useful prop
  • I still hate how my voice sounds when it is being recorded
  • The smaller the camera, the less people realize you are shooting them
  • Sometimes getting the shot means getting down on the floor, or up on a table
  • I'm really tall, I'm really nice, I give good hugs, and I'm like totally old enough to have a husband by now. (My subjects might have been more interested in me than the science, but the interviews were great!)
Now here's a little hint about what shooting my last project entailed, and what my topic will be:

I love my blogging buddies!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Captive Breeding and Mummification?

As I've mentioned before I am taking a class this semester about the extinction of species. One of the topics we recently covered (and I recently got a crash course in for the midterm) is captive breeding. Captive breeding is a conservation strategy in which animals are captured and held in a protected area, where they are then bred to another specific animal of their species to optimize the production and survival of their offspring. I just assumed that this was a more recent (meaning within the last century) trend in conservation efforts, but then I saw this BBC article about the effects of sacrifice and mummification on Egyptian species, and realized how wrong I was.

Mummified monkey in Cairo. Source:
Wikimedia Commons.
The ancient Egyptians would often mummify animals to be included in a person's tomb as a sacrifice to follow the dead into the afterlife to provide company and serve as an offering to the gods. However, according to the article by Jane O'Brien, the Egyptians had favorite species that they chose to mummify. They sacrificed these animals so much that they put these species in danger of extinction. Thus, to keep up with demand captive breeding was needed to keep the number of available animals high.

Experts, like Selima Ikram a professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo who was quoted in the BBC article, believe that at least one bird species (the Sacred Ibis) was so popular for mummification that it was driven close to extinction. Other animals that were popular for mummification were dogs, cats, hawks, falcons, and baboons, although Ikram was quoted saying:
"Its easier to say which animals the Egyptians didn't mummify. There are no mummified pigs as far as we know, no mummified hippos, and I think thats about it - because almost every other creature at some time or another has been mummified." 
According to the article, when the animals most sought after for mummification started to become rare in the wild, breeding programs were launched by temples (the animals were often seen as sacred or representations of the gods) and the nearby villages. Evidence of these programs shows them in place as early as 3,000BC with the height of captive breeding at 650BC-200AD.

I liked this article because it provided a little bit of context about why animals would have been slaughtered for sacrifice in such great numbers. If you just look at the fact that so many animals were killed, it seems like the Egyptians were being selfish, putting human desires (not even needs) above all these animals. However, you have to look at their religion, and how they viewed the animals. Ikram says that the Egyptians would have viewed sacrificing the animals as a great honor for the animals, because they were so revered. The focus was on life, and continuing the animals' existence in the afterlife, not on death or killing them. I think this bit of context is a really important part of the story and I'm glad it was included in the BBC article. Captive breeding by the Ancient Egyptians... who knew?
Just want to note that the BBC piece was a plug for the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History's new exhibit of mummified animals. Haven't seen it and can't endorse it, but it looks like it might be pretty cool to check out if you are in the DC area. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Zoos and the Protection of Rare Animals

This semester as an elective I am taking another course in the zoology department (the first being Patricia McConnell's Human and Animal Relationships last semester). In Zack Peery's Extinction of Species we have been discussing the role that institutions like zoos play in helping to preserve and ensure the survival of rare species. Often we think of zoos in terms of their enjoyment factor for humans or conversely the lack of enjoyment (we think) that animals have being caged. I've visited the zoo here in Madison and had a nice time being there with my family, but I was definitely thinking about the care and condition of the animals. Now, I thought all of the animals in the zoo I visited looked healthy and happy, but it did get me thinking overall about how important zoos are for the care and conservation of animals, particularly those that are rare or in need of special healthcare.

Zoos play an important role in conservation efforts, because the good ones provide animals with a safe place to live that is protected from outside threats (predators, pollution, loss of habitat, etc.), in addition to access to veterinarians. I was reminded of this fact when I saw the story of Manukura, a rare white kiwi being covered by the BBC. Not that we really needed further proof that a good cute animal story is going to make it into the news, but I wanted to mention the kiwi story because I think it is a good example of the public rallying behind a very charismatic animal, and a zoos effort to save and protect it.

Manukura. Source: Zooborns
A kiwi is a flightless bird that lives only in New Zealand, and is similar in size to a chicken. There are five species of kiwi, which are all endangered. Kiwis are typically brown or tan in color, but as a result of a naturally occurring genetic mutation Manukura was born white (note that this isn't the same as being an albino). Manukura was living in Pukaha Mount Bruce National Wildlife Center when rangers noticed that the six-month-old bird wasn't eating. Veterinarians at New Zealand's Wellington Zoo were called in to examine the bird and found that two large stones were obstructing its intestines.

Manukura was able to pass one of the stones naturally, but the other had to be taken out by a urology specialist from Wellington Hospital who broke the stone up with a laser and then removed the pieces with an endoscope. According to the Wildlife Center, the procedure was comparable to the removal of kidney or gall stones in a human. The bird is doing well following her procedure, much to the joy of her Facebook followers who were able to follow her progress throughout the ordeal.

I think that this story is a great case study for a lot of the topics that we've been discussing in my zoology class. It shows a viable option (the creation of wildlife refuges) for the conservation of a species, how a the public can rally behind a species that is particularly like able and important (the kiwi is a national symbol of New Zealand), how zoos can provide access to resources necessary to save an animal, and how communication with the public (particularly through social media) is an important part of conservation and animal protection efforts.