The city was so friggin’ cold I couldn’t believe it but I still loved
my day at the zoo. I ended up going on Sunday so I could hang with the
other docents and also hear a fascinating lunch table lecture on the
role of feces in survival of the species. This clever young woman at
the zoo is busy extracting hormones from zoo poop so she can figure out
things about stress and reproduction in the animals without causing
them- stress. Catching those buggers and poking them for blood samples
is stressful; wandering around after them and putting their poop in
ziploc freezer bags is not.
Puzzler: So, if you have a bunch of African
apes living in a large troop in an expansive indoor/outdoor enclosure
how can you tell whose poop is whose?
Answer: Can you say glitter? And food coloring? And corn? And little colored pop beads? Apparently there are refrigerators all over the zoo filled with colorful poop.
She’s an endocrinologist and she and a team of scientists are doing this work not only at the zoo but also out in the field as they work on species survival. By looking, for example, at animals who live in social groups where some members of the group are forced to live at the "edges" of that particular society they can figure out if there is increased stress, or decreased estrus cycles related to stress or less access to food. Interesting things like that, all because they have figured out how to extract, in the lab and in a mobile field lab, hormones and enzymes from poop.
I think I told you this one before: What’s the difference between a hormone and an enzyme? Answer: You can’t hear an enzyme. (humor. ark,ark.)
I did my observation on the polar bear talk and I’ll take that test next time. (That link will take you to the zoo’s page on Lee and Anana and that’s a zoo photo of Lee, too.) They have a great scientific name because it’s just so apt: Ursus maritimus. While I do the polar bear talk, I get to hold this giant polar bear skull and teeth and tell the public about how polar bears are the largest land carnivores, how they can sprint up to 26 miles per hour on land and that they aren’t really white. They have black skin and all that fur is really transparent and hollow like tiny glass tubes that trap the suns heat and then that black skin holds the heat. The fur is also, of course, waterproof. It’s a good thing when you can give the talk while the two
resident bears cooperate and hang out in the 266,000 gallon pool and on
the rocks, looking massive and handsome but sometimes they choose to be
inside their dens. All animals at the zoo have the option of being out
or in, so it’s sort of a crap shoot. Unless they have one or the other
areas closed for poop collecting.
Another fact, sad but true: you know that myth about global warming? It could mean extinction for polar bears before the end of this century. These bears typically live on and hunt from ice flows. As ice flows melt and artic ice retreats, polar bears either drown or are forced to move to land where their dietary needs can’t be met. This very month, polar bears are being considered for the Endangered Species Act list and if Fish and Wildlife Service puts them on that list, it will be the first mammal declared threatened with extinction by global warming. As you might imagine, the Inuit people, one up on the food chain, would like to see dramatic action, post haste. As you might also imagine, despite massive amounts of solid evidence that sea ice is disappearing, including data collected by government agencies, there has been a lot of foot dragging in Washington.
(Whats-his-face and I have video Skype so we can chat online with video feed. He rang me from his room in Paris, right across from the Arc de Triomphe and the Champes-Elysees. That made him real again but while he looked totally exhausted after a five hour business dinner, I wanted all the details on the six course menu and the wines, so we’re also figuratively in very different spaces right now. If he brings home good hotel soap, I might remember his name.)