Every Work of Art has a Story.

Every Story is an Inspiration.

Entries in Animals (5)


Animanity in Art

Come explore the state of being animal, what I call Animanity, at the latest showing of my art work. This Tuesday night, June 16th, at the Common Grounds Cafe, on Boonsboro Road in Lynchburg, Virginia, there will be an artist's reception and a viewing of my latest collection of Animanity paintings. Each painting is displayed along with the stories that have inspired and informed my work, stories that I hope will help others consider the world from a different perspective. As an example, I'm posting the story behind the painting that first brought this series together in my mind.

The A'la la.

Hawaiian Crows are extinct in the wild. This particular young male, named Nalu, lives at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center on the Big Island of Hawaii, where I worked as an intern. He is part of a partially successful captive breed and release program that has, so far, saved the species from total extinction. Though the program has successfully bred and raised captive A'lalas, they have been unable to reduce enough of the introduced diseases, and species on the islands, and have yet to clean up enough environmental toxins for the released birds to survive. 100% of those released either died quickly of illness, or predation, or were recaptured and placed back into captivity.

Of the twenty six intelligent, gregarious and amazing A'lalas I met at Keauhou, Nalu was my favorite, largely because this painting captures exactly what he did the moment we met. He came right over and stuck his face in mine, giving me a thorough inspection. And once he decided he liked the look of me, he proceeded to follow me everywhere attempting to "help" me do my job. Nalu deserves a home free from a cage, where he can hunt and explore the O'hia forests as he would have before the human species was introduced to his home.

















Cougar Kittens Brave a New World

Spring at the NC Zoo is always a busy time. But, this year I miss the busy quite a bit. That's probably because  I keep getting all these amazing baby videos and photos. Who can resist Cougar cubs? Check out the videos below. The first is their most recent, their first exploration of their new exhibit, and the second is an earlier group of clips of them playing in their quarantine housing, where all arrivals at the zoo stay when they first enter the animal collection until they have been deemed healthy and disease free. Since they are now on exhibit, we can assume the kittens are all in good health. Yay! They will be making brief outings into their exhibit over the next few weeks until their keepers feel they are ready to brave the public and their new home on a regular basis. Happy housewarming and best of luck, kitties! 




The Elephant Keeper

Earlier, I mentioned that my latest WIP includes elephants. I also promised I would tell you more. So, tonight, I thought I'd keep that promise. I've been knee deep in imaginary elephant dung all day, and I need a break from the story telling.

Incidentally, this photo is of me feeding apple bites to Moja. She and her sister, Jenny, were the first elephants I ever got to know. It was an experience I won't soon forget. They both used to like to explore my person with the ends of their trunks, searching for any treats and nibbles they might find. Moja was particularly good at retrieving these items from my pockets when given half a chance.

Writing this novel has been exhilarating, because I can turn my affection for these huge, beautiful animals into a vibrant story on the page. I get to show my love for elephants  through my character's eyes. The current working title is The Elephant Keeper. Writing this novel has also been much more difficult than I imagined. The memories of my days with the real elephants return, and all my feelings for these animals, many of whom are no longer living, come rushing back.

Because I wanted to honor some of my elephant friends, I've chosen to use a few of their names for my fictional elephant characters. Nita and Teela, two of the friends whose names I've borrowed, both died of a fast-acting and incurable disease that baffled our zoo's veterinarians for some time. I used to love watching these girls interact with each other on exhibit. They shared a powerful family bond and so much obvious affection. Each time I type their names into my story, it's as if, for a moment, I can bring them back to life and enjoy their company again. Nita and Teela, this novel will definitely be dedicated to you!



For Buddy and Pedro and the Other Gay Animals

 There has been much celebrating in the LGBTQ community this week over the news that Buddy and Pedro, Toronto Zoo's gay penguin couple will be reunited soon. They were split up this year in order to attempt forcing them into hetero unions. From personal experience, I'll be shocked if this works. It's like praying away the gay, an exercise in futility. Buddy and Pedro are a fully bonded pair, according to the story over at The Mary Sue, and penguins take this bond seriously. So, after a few months of giving it the old college try, they will be returned to each other, perhaps feeling a little used and confused, but none the worse for wear. The Toronto Zoo has even said that they fully support Buddy and Pedro's union. The curator says they are just hoping to ensure procreation of these African Penguins because they are an endangered species.

Why don't I think the attempts to get Buddy and Pedro to breed will work? Well, I could just state the obvious. They appear to be gay. But, I will add that I also took care of several gay flamingo couples at one of the zoos I worked for, and even when we tried to bring in new females for those boys, they continued to pair up with each other every year.  They even went through the entire mating ritual together, including building a nest mound and guarding it, taking turns sitting on it without an egg to incubate. They were determined to live normal flamingo lives together. 

In case you are wondering, Buddy and Pedro are not the only penguins I know who have entered and remained in fully bonded homosexual relationships. Roy and Silo, of the New York Central Park Zoo, were together for many years, and may still be together now, although I can't say for sure. They made world headlines in National Geographic back in 2004 when they adopted an unhatched egg and raised a chick together.

Homosexuality, though often carefully not called that when discussing animals scientifically, is not unnatural. It happens in nature all the time, and has been scientifically observed in over 1500 species, everything from worms and crustaceons, to dolphins and whales, to Japanese Macaques and Bonobo Chimps. And, it is not just seen between males of a species. One Ultimate Explorer episode entitled "Girl Power" actually filmed female Japanese Macaques engaged in intimate sex acts with each other. 

Perhaps the most famous study, which is usually brought up among scientists when this same-sex discussion arises centers around Francis de Waal and his famous research outlined in the book, Bonobo: The Forgotten Chimp. In it, this primatologist says Bonobos are 75% bisexual. He describes them as a "make love, not war" species, and has proven that over 90% of their sexual contact  has nothing to do with procreation. Instead, they are described as a "female-centered, egalitarian" Great Ape species, where "sexual behavior (in virtually every partner combination) replaces aggression and serves many social functions, [when] unrelated groups mingle instead of fighting." Yep, these are my kind of chimps, and they are very different from the male-centered, highly aggressive groups I got to know personally in zoos. 

So, bond on Buddy and Pedro and all you gay animal friends. Show the world just how natural gay really is, and don't let anyone stop you. Because, you are beautiful!

Here is the video from which the now famous image above of Buddy and Pedro came, so you can see them in action. Enjoy! Also, many thanks to Andi Lea, who brought this story to my attention.


Zookeepers, Dive Masters, and Free Reads

Since I spent twenty years as a professional zookeeper, conversations with me generally wind around to animals. Yes, zookeeping was a fun job in many ways. But, like every job there were some aspects that were not so fun. Let's not get into those just now, though.

People are often curious about my zoo career, so I thought I'd share some glimpses of it here. After all, one of my goals when I left the zoo was to write about my experiences. I've always created visual art to raise respect for and awareness about our animal kingdom, ourselves included. And, during my zoo days, I wrote many scientific research papers with the same goals. So, when I thought about changing careers, I realized I wanted to write creatively, as well. First, I published environmental journalism, then creative non-fiction, and poetry. So, it stands to reason that I would try my hand at fiction, too.

You might be wondering what animals I worked with at the zoo. Well, over the years, I took care of everything from the largest land mammal, the African Elephant, all the way down to the smallest rainforest bird, the Golden-Headed Manakin, an Asian species that is about half the size of our Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. Those little buggers were hard to hold on to when they needed medical attention, I'll tell you.

Some of my experiences are so amazing, even I have a hard time believing them. I've held a polar bear's head in my lap on the way to emergency surgery, and I didn't even take care of him. I was only in the area as one of the zoo's registered PADI divers. I was supposed to be diving in the neighboring puffin pool for a scheduled exhibit cleaning that day. Nobody mentioned I might end up in the back of an enclosed refrigeration truck with a sleeping polar bear in my lap. I was not real happy about it, let me assure you! My friend and coworker kept saying, "But, we're bird keepers!"  I'm still not sure how we got roped into that one, except we were in the wrong place at the right time.

Anyway, I've got a million animal stories. Though my written tales are largely fiction these days, I often rely on real experience where the animals are concerned. I've been working for some time on an M/M novel about a zookeeper. That will be coming to a publisher near you in the future. But, I felt it was necessary to work on completing some shorter stories, as well. I learned from creative writing classes that crafting a good short story or novella is an important skill to have before attempting to complete an entire novel.

I'm proud to say that I recently completed my first novella. My beta readers and editors have offered their valuable feedback, and I have been cleaning it up one chapter at a time. This particular story draws on my experience as a diver, as well as my travels in the Caribbean and Central America. I won't tell you much, because I don't want to spoil anything, but I hope you will love my dive masters, Shane and Andrew, as much as I do. Their adventure begins here tomorrow morning. The best part is it's absolutely FREE! So, I hope you'll stop back by tomorrow for a free read.