Archive for April 28th, 2009

April 28, 2009

Congo River & Leatherbacks On National Geographic

Brian Skerry / National Geographic

A hat tip to Ann Barrett of National Geographic who wrote to me after spying my confessional post on sea turtles and memories of my grandfather. National Geographic’s May issue features leatherback sea turtles with some absolutely dazzling photographs by Brian Skerry included. (Well, naturally they’re dazzling photos, it is NatGeo afterall!) Alongside the visual feast, Tim Appenzeller writes an exploration of the status of the species and the continued efforts to conserve and manage the existing populations in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

The Great Turtle Race, also on NG, follows eleven tagged Atlantic leatherbacks on their way to nesting natal beaches in the Caribbean. The Race ends Thursday, so check in to see who falls in behind Backspacer!

National Geographic has been on my mind a lot lately, especially in the TV form. This weekend I caught the Explorer’s episode, Monster Fish of the Congo, documenting an expedition to learn more about tigerfish and icthyofauna diversity in the Congo River (particularly by comparing the lower and upper populations which are divided and potentially isolated by enormous cataracts). Not only was I appreciative of the deep love of fish displayed by the researchers, I was completely blown away by a staggering fact discovered by the team. The Congo River is probably the deepest in the world with several canyon systems along its path that measure well past 700 feet.

SEVEN HUNDRED FEET! IN A RIVER! I almost fell off the couch! This remarkable find adds a new dimension to the habitat types available in the Congo River. The team already suspects that a new species of cichlid – both eyeless and entirely depigmented – is probably a deepwater denizen. If you havent caught the episode or read the May issue consider it your newly assigned homework!

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April 28, 2009

Don't Leash the Gopher Tortoise

Over the last two years of working with wildlife groups in Florida I’ve seen five – yes, five – juvenile gopher tortoises come in to us in boxes. How’d they get in a box? Well, each were surrendered to local pet shops and then funneled to the nearest zoo or aquarium (where I was at) in an effort to get the protected species back to where it belongs.

Apparently local residents spy the small tortoises, fall in love with their intricately gorgeous shells, and start to think that a gopher tortoise for a pet sounds like a great idea. While I can’t exactly think of a major negative with this beyond their somewhat smelly poo… I also know that the species does far too much good out in their natural scrub and hammock habitat to be cloistered inside a suburban home or penned up in a run in someone’s backyard.

And if I’ve seen five in two years that were actually surrendered that really makes me suspiciously ponder all the times I’ve been told by students that they had pet turtles back at home. How many gophers are out there as pets in Florida?

There’s another gopher tortoise pet problem – their interactions with dogs. I’ve known a handful over the years that were brought in as rescues because of dog bites with lasting leg and foot injuries sometimes preventing them from a future release. For now the juveniles I’ve seen have all gone up near the same spot, a sanctuary near Gainesville and Ocala in a more northernly area of the state.