Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wilds Winter Extravaganza: Part II

To the delight of most, and no doubt to the consternation of others, Ohio Ornithological Society forays often incorporate elements of natural history other than birds. Birds always take precedence, but we believe the feathered crowd is but part of a larger and more complex ecological web, and when the opportunity arises to share bigger pictures we like to take advantage.

In the photos below, you'll see a living, breathing, snorting much bigger picture in the flesh. WARNING: A cuteness overload advisory bulletin must be issued at this point. Should you be put off by chubby little 300 lb. infants with horns, go away now.

Your narrator flirts with death. Posing by one of the world's most dangerous beasts, a Southern White Rhinoceros. Those thick steel bars are no match for such a brute; had I made one misstep the animal would have been all over me.

Yeah, whatever.

This is the newest addition to the Wilds' family, three month old Anan, weighing in at a svelte 300 pounds. She tipped the scales at 70 lbs. when mommy dropped her. Think about that, any human child-bearers that may be reading, and be grateful you are not a rhino. Her darkened forenose is the result of rooting about in the mud, something rhinos greatly enjoy. As a boy, I was scolded for returning home caked in mud; in the rhino world such behavior is encouraged.

The mother, in the background, lending scale to the youthful Anan. Infant rhinos behave much like kittens or puppies, frisking about and investigating all. She was quite curious about all of the birders that came to visit, and would approach closely to have a look at us. The mother, who weighs more than your car, is a formidable guardian. It'll take Anan several years to reach that size, but she's working at it, munching lots of hay and packing on about 5 lbs a day.

It's interesting to watch people's reactions to the pubescent rhino. Scarcely anyone would term one of the adults as "cute"; virtually everyone calls the little one that. And it is. For a critter with skin as tough as rawhide, full of wrinkles, and the texture of tanned leather, fronted with a misshapen horn between two little piglike eyes, and capped with a pair of battered-looking dumbo ears, Anan is cute as the proverbial button.

Sliding up the scale a bit, we visited this one year old white rhino. They fill out considerably by this point; it is several times larger than Anan. Growing rhinos need their rest, and when they tire, they just sort of fall over. Note how it curls its foreleg under and splays the rear legs out to the side, just like a cat at leisure.

I wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of that protuberance. Mrs. Rhino horns in, checking us out. While fearsome in appearance, they seem surprisingly docile, although we all still appreciated those massive steel bars that separated us. In addition to rhinos, the Wilds works with some 30 other species of large animals, many of which are imperiled in the wild.

In breaking news, word is out that the Wilds has, for the first time ever, successfully crossed a rhino and an elephant. The big question is what to name the thing. When big game authority Dr. Baba Horn was asked what the new hybrid should be called, he replied: "HellifIknow!"

The foray ended with a Short-eared Owl vigil, from the big overlook deck built just for birders. The Ohio Division of Wildlife footed the bill for the deck - it wasn't cheap! - and we had the official ribbon-cutting back in December 2006, as part of another Ohio Ornithological Society event. Some 150 people jammed the platform for the ceremony, on a windy day with temperatures in the 20's.

It was much balmier - in the 40's - this time, but alas, those odd barking owls with the mothlike flight failed to put in an appearance. Oh well, their primary prey, meadow voles, are way down this winter and there aren't many short-eareds to be had. Next year, it'll probably be different.

Thanks once again to everyone who made this event possible: chief architect Marc Nolls, all of the fabulous trip leaders, and each and every birder who made the trip. And, of course, the staff of the Wilds, who go out of their way to work with the birding community, even to the point of showing us treats like Anan. Please visit the Wilds if you get the chance, and let them know that you appreciate their support of the birding community.


dAwN said...

hee are funny! Those are certainly..well..cute..yeah i guess cute critters..
Looks like you all had a nice outing..

Nicole said...

I love your blog! :-)