The Ape That Denied Its Nature

A picture is indeed worth a thousand words, so what does this photograph of the author and a spotted hyena individual at the Toronto zoo indicate about the modern state of the human-nonhuman animal relationship? This blog serves to explore questions of such manner. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Michael Noonan.

Many people put an unconscious distinction between the world as experienced by our daily lives and society’s activities, and what we perceive as the ‘natural world’ or domain of the animals. At the basis of this dichotomy, there is ‘Nature’ and then there is humanity, with a clear divide being drawn due to humankind’s alleged special traits that have largely been demonstrated to be of trivial novelty by modern animal cognition research. With the natural environment being outside of our immediate concerns and instead acting as the backdrop to our species’ progress, countless short term concerns take precedence over the imperative of fostering a healthy biosphere. Nonhuman animals are often placed in the distant categories of pests to drive out of our properties, food to consume on our plates, or curiosities to gawk at in the local zoo. When it comes to our nonhuman kin and the environment, humankind certainly acts in a peculiar and often contradictory fashion. We launch exhaustive searches for extraterrestrial intelligence in the far reaches of our galaxy while ignoring the complex minds of the nonhuman species with whom we share our planet (de Waal 2016). Stretches of forest just like those that our hominid ancestors inhabited are cleared for lumber or farming, despite their vital role in providing the very oxygen that we breath. Yet we decorate our cities with green spaces, paint animals on the walls of our newborn children’s rooms, and share a considerable amount of resources with the small carnivores that we welcome into our homes as pets. In a beautiful testament to humankind’s moral reach, ecotourism agencies characterizing wildlife as natural heritage worthy of living space and protection are beginning to outpace industries capitalizing on the death and commoditization of such species. The sphere of human compassion is gaining in its inclusion of our planet’s nonhuman life with recognition of both their inherent value and our reliance on the ecosystem services they provide, but there is still plenty to consider about the past, present, and future of our coexistence.Read More »

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Eco-Advisor: A Guide to Rewilding Your Heart and Curing Ecological Boredom

Originally posted at Bizarre Zoology on October 28, 2016

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My family has been on multiple wildlife-related excursions, with one of the most unforgettable being whale-watching at Booth Bay Harbor in 2006. The experience of observing this massive humpback whale spyhop so near to the vessel we were on made an indelible mark on my memory. My own ecotourism experiences like these certainly shaped my passion for wildlife and conservation education from a young age.

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Redating Homo floresiensis and Reconsidering the Genocide Hypothesis

Originally published at Bizarre Zoology on April 2, 2016

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The Liang Bua cave (LB1) Homo floresiensis individual and the cover of Dr. Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee (Source; Source)

I have no intention for this blog to act as a regular news source, but I will occasionally cover current zoological issues or findings if I feel that I can offer any sort of valuable commentary. This is an example of a brief news-oriented article. A paper published last Wednesday in Nature titled Revised stratigraphy and chronology for Homo floresiensis at Liang Bua in Indonesia proposes a new date for the diminutive-bodied and small-brained hominins uncovered in 2003. Rather than attempt to summarize the paper, here is the abstract:

Homo floresiensis, a primitive hominin species discovered in Late Pleistocene sediments at Liang Bua (Flores, Indonesia)1, 2, 3, has generated wide interest and scientific debate. A major reason this taxon is controversial is because the H. floresiensis-bearing deposits, which include associated stone artefacts2, 3, 4 and remains of other extinct endemic fauna5, 6, were dated to between about 95 and 12 thousand calendar years (kyr) ago2, 3, 7. These ages suggested that H. floresiensissurvived until long after modern humans reached Australia by ~50 kyr ago8, 9, 10. Here we report new stratigraphic and chronological evidence from Liang Bua that does not support the ages inferred previously for the H. floresiensis holotype (LB1), ~18 thousand calibrated radiocarbon years before present (kyr cal. bp), or the time of last appearance of this species (about 17 or 13–11 kyr cal. bp)1, 2, 3, 7, 11. Instead, the skeletal remains of H. floresiensis and the deposits containing them are dated to between about 100 and 60 kyr ago, whereas stone artefacts attributable to this species range from about 190 to 50 kyr in age. Whether H. floresiensis survived after 50 kyr ago—potentially encountering modern humans on Flores or other hominins dispersing through southeast Asia, such as Denisovans12, 13—is an open question.

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Of ‘Giant Horned Bunnies’ and Perplexing Phylogeny

Originally posted at Bizarre Zoology on March 27, 2016

This is probably the article from my prior work of which I am most proud.

The large uintathere Eobasileus as illustrated by Tim Morris. Read on for why this impressive mammal has significance to this particular article.
The large Eocene uintathere Eobasileus as illustrated by Tim Morris. Read on for why this spectacular mammal has significance to this particular article.

Phylogeny, which can defined as the study of the evolutionary history and relationships amongst the animal kingdom, is one of the branches of zoological research which most captivates me with its complex and often unexpected nature. In the earliest article published on the Blogger-based Bizarre Zoology blog, I made brief reference to an obscure phylogenetic hypothesis which I first caught word of in paleozoologist Dr. Darren Naish’s Tetrapod Zoology Book One. This was done with the intention of introducing the sorts of topics which would form the focal point of my writing, yet I did so quite poorly in that I neglected to elaborate beyond a few sentences. To kick things off after this blog’s relocation, I have chosen to return to this topic which has been given scant attention in scientific literature but just enough to grab hold of my taste for all that is bizarre and zoological. This is the fascinating albeit tenuous link proposed between Dinocerata and Lagomorpha, something which may not sound so interesting unless you are familiar with the animals grouped within these taxonomic orders.

The cover of Tetrapod Zoology Book One, and what a lavishly beautiful cover it is!
Tetrapod Zoology Book One as lavishly illustrated by Memo Koseman. This book and the corresponding blog served as strong inspirations for my personal interests and the creation of this very blog. I can only aspire to contribute to the zoological blogosphere to the degree that brilliant researchers like Darren Naish have. (Source)

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Ungulates: Celebrating Them, Conserving Them, And Eating Them..? (Part 1)

Originally published at Bizarre Zoology on December 20, 2016

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An infographic celebrating ungulates of the world  from Peppermint Narwhal Creative, a fantastic graphic design company which used their superb work to advocate for environmental conservation.

June 6 was International Ungulate Day, and numerous preoccupations have made me very late to finishing what was supposed to be timely recognition of a notable zoological holiday (many zoos and conservation foundations commemorate this day, so no I’m not just making it up). Since then, it has remained in the static position of a draft which has been somewhat nagging to me. I also began to expand this post in an unexpected direction, to the extent that I feel it necessary to split into two articles, with the forthcoming one being a musing on conservation at a time of dietary shift. This first article acts as a sort of homage to hoofed mammal lineages across the globe, in which I share some personal photographs and lesser known information that I’ve come across.

Spanning from a childhood obsession with cattle to the many hours my family and I have spent observing elk, ungulates have played an integral role in my life and have often been the primary source from which I gained an appreciation for biodiversity. While many belittle ungulates as boring, placid animals that do little more than graze and provide meals for carnivores, those who work and live with these animals can attest to their charismatic nature and profound ecological importance. I suspect that the aforementioned perspective is one founded in an anthropocentric lack of concern for these animals, as they provided more fuel than competition or danger to our species’ expansion. The diversity of the ungulates is tremendous: from tiny duikers slinking cryptically through deep African bush, to massive and culturally distinct orcas coursing through the water as they strategically hunt their prey. I must note that the term ‘ungulate’ seems to have largely fallen out of use in the scientific literature, with some specialists now considering it to merely function as a form taxon or folk taxon rather than a technical grouping. Referring to cetartiodactyls, perissodactyls, and paenungulates is more proper but, for the sake of International *Ungulate* Day, we can let it slide for now.Read More »