Monday, September 26, 2011

Is the Circus in town?

I've had a busy couple of weeks and have a million things I'd love to update, but few of them can be written on a public forum. One thing I can write about is my visit to the circus.

Zoo people pretend to be vastly superior to circus people. We are exploiting our animals in the name of conservation and education rather than just entertainment. We don't force our animals to perform silly tricks, we train (some of) them in the name of good husbandry and enrichment. Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) zoos are involved in breeding programs to maximize genetic diversity. Staff is college educated. The circus, on the other hand, is an evil animal exploitation machine. The end.

Well, thanks to my dad's generosity, we went to the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus this weekend. I would not have gone on my own even though I sort of wanted to, because it would have been morally reprehensible to spend my hard earned zoo money on such an evil pleasure. Note that I am ONLY referring to the animal acts and not the human ones. Other than the clowns, I don't think showcasing unique talents in the circus arena is evil. But I have to admit, for ME, the only draw to the circus is the animal acts. I think it's Cirque du Soleil that has no animal acts and I have no interest in their shows.

Anyway, I went to the circus and was pleasantly surprised (and secretly slightly disappointed) at the changes in their animal acts. I can remember circuses in years past with adult giraffes being led around the arena, tigers jumping through flaming hoops and the tamer putting his head in the tigers' mouths. Humans stood on horseback and leaped from horse to horse as the brilliantly dressed horses galloped around the rings. Elephants were "stacked" in long lines or made to show their strength. Who could forget King Tusk being paraded around the arena over and over? Every clown act had a dog or an elephant or a monkey. All of the non-tiger animals were paraded around the arena at least three times and many animals (like the giraffe) were only in the parades. Not anymore.

This was a kinder, gentler circus. The tiger act was so lame and boring I could only think that "I" could train the big cats at work to do everything they did. There were no hoops or fire. No human heads in tiger mouths. The most exciting thing the tigers did was hop on hind legs while begging for a piece of meat. Mostly they sat and laid down and rolled over. Basic doggy obedience class. Yawn. The horse act was all ponies with no human riders. They were mostly cute little Shetlands and the focus was on humor rather than stunts. One ring had two cute donkeys and one longhorn (castrated) bull, the center ring had one elephant, one llama and one border collie and the other ring was all Shetland ponies. The acts were all cute and relatively harmless. It was by far my favorite animal act of the night.

The elephants, of course, are by far the most controversial. PETA is extremely against housing elephants in ANY zoo to the point that many large, reputable zoos no longer house elephants. Ok, if a large zoo area with lots of space and training and enrichment is unacceptable, carting a large group of elephants in small train cars and then keeping them in small holding areas for no reason other than exploitation is unfathomable. Hmmm. I honestly don't know where I stand on this. PETA has taken their elephant stance FAR beyond common sense and reason. They are completely blind to the fact that African elephant populations in some of the refuge areas are exploding so much that they either need to be culled or shipped elsewhere (zoos) and that the circus is a major leader in Asian elephant conservation and has come around to responsible breeding for genetic diversity.

There were 8 adult female and 2 young (~2-3 year old) elephants at the circus. All of the elephants were paraded around the arena once at the beginning of the circus and the adults performed their act. (One elephant was also involved in the pony act.) Otherwise, they were not used. I believe only one elephant had a human rider and she did one or two minor tricks with the elephant. I remember she was carried on the elephant's trunk, I can't think of anything else. The elephants sat and laid down. Some of them stepped up onto the round podium things. They mostly just all turned in a circle at once. At one point three of them laid on their sides while three others used them as pillows. That was about it.

There were those three animal acts and one parade involving animals. Otherwise, animals were not used. Oh crud, I forgot the Python Sisters. There were three women who were dancing with large snakes. Get 'em, PETA! But seriously, there were no monkeys or birds, no large animals included only for the sake of parades. There was very little human/animal interaction other than the trainers working their animals. The only time animals were used completely as props was the snake dance. I wonder how much longer animals will be used at all? I mean, the tiger act was boring enough that most people probably won't remember it and the elephant act was so toned down from years past I can't imagine it will continue to be worth the expense. The human acts, on the other hand, seemed much improved over previous years. Maybe the circus can sustain itself without elephants and tigers. I guess I hope...

Friday, September 16, 2011

Stupid Dog

My dog is ridiculously cute. He's tough and scrappy. He's confident and independent. Duncan wouldn't waste one second of his life whining for my attention. He'll cuddle with me, but only when HE feels like it. I love my little doggie, but he is a nincompoop.

Friday I agreed to spend the day at Sand Ridge State Forest looking for skinks (lizards) for a friend's research project while she's on vacation. I had to check three areas at 7am, 11am and 3pm. I planned to spend the hours between checks birding and decided to take Duncan for company and exercise.

As usual, I was up well before dawn and gathered everything I needed as well as food and water for Duncan. I hauled everything out to the car and was ready to leave when I realized Duncan was missing. I checked all his usual sleeping spots, but he was gone. I went outside and called but got no response. I woke Gene who groggily thought he might be under the house. What? Apparently there is a place in the garage that he can squeeze into the crawl space but then can't get back out. Gene opened the trap door in the living room closet and sure enough, Duncan was down there, bouncing happily to get out. Stupid dog.

I loaded him into the car and set off for Sand Ridge. He loved tearing around at Sand Ridge. I had been a little nervous about all the cacti, but he either avoided them or they didn't bother him. After our first check, we drove ~15 minutes to Lake Chautauqua and walked several miles around the north lake. He had a blast tearing around, up and down the levees. I was busy watching a pair of bald eagles on a huge nest and wasn't paying much attention to Crazy Dog chasing killdeer. After a couple of hours I was FREEZING and decided to drive to Havana for some hot chocolate and food. We jumped back into the car and the smell was so overwhelming "I" thought I was going to puke!

I am rarely bothered by bad smells. I work around so many animals and their waste I don't even notice. The dead fish smell at Chautauqua didn't bother me a bit. However, there was a steady breeze. The dead fish smell on Duncan in the confined space of the car nearly killed me. I can't imagine how bad he must have stunk to make ME gag! I had to drive with the windows open. Back at Sand Ridge I was so desperate I was rubbing sand on him trying to get the stink a little more manageable. Nothing helped. I had some hand sanitizer and considered using it on him, but his skin's so sensitive I figured I'd end up spending $$$ at the vet's office for meds for the rash it would cause. We spent some time at Spring Lake between the next skink checks, but there was just nothing I could think of that helped the smell. We passed two roadkill skunks and their stink was a welcome diversion! I finally finished my last check and set off for the longest hour I've ever spent in my car. I seriously had my sweatshirt pulled up over my mouth and nose most of the ride. I considered "freeing" Duncan on the side of the road more than once!

When we FINALLY made it home, I immediately bathed the dog with a medicated sulfur shampoo. It is for itchy skin and normally I hate the scent, but was extremely grateful the sulfur and coal tar mostly removed the fish stink. I'll have to see if Walmart carries a sulfur air freshener for my car. Seriously, that drive was like sharing the car with a dead 15 pound Asian carp that has been rotting in the sun for weeks. Duncan will be excluded from my next adventure! And I didn't even find any skinks!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Long Weekend

My 3 day weekend flew by. I had lofty goals that mostly went unmet. I had planned to clean the house thoroughly, but only managed to tackle the kitchen table (which turned out to be a huge project thanks to my messy daughter) and went through my clothes. I always claim to have so few clothes I was completely shocked to fill two large trash bags with stuff for Goodwill. I had stuff in drawers I never open and Rubbermaid boxes in the closet that are out of sight and out of mind. I emptied two drawers and one box completely and got some other stuff moved around so that I may actually wear it this winter.

I had to laugh that pretty much the three hottest days of the entire summer were my three days off. I guess I'm happy for the rest of you who get two gorgeous days as part of your long weekend. I guess it will be nicer to work in the perfect weather and get some fresh air in the buildings and get to watch the animals enjoying the cooler temperatures.

Logan and I went on a toad hunt yesterday morning and found two. I thought we'd keep them for the morning and then release them, but he has big plans to keep them forever. He spent a good part of the early afternoon hunting insects for the toads to eat. I was pretty impressed that he took it upon himself to go online and research what toads eat. He was full of toad facts. I still plan to free the toads when I get home from work tonight, but he can enjoy them another day. I'm sort of glad we didn't free them in a strange place to endure last night's storm, though I guess being amphibians, they might not be opposed to getting wet? I don't know.

Kaylin and I talked all summer about going to the riverfront farmer's market, but never made it until yesterday. It's only on Saturday mornings and is over by noon, so between her ceramics class and Logan's baseball, we just didn't have time. I had great plans for the pie and casserole family, but of course they weren't there. The produce selection at this time of year isn't spectacular, so we wandered around looking mostly at the craft tables. One lady had all kinds of knit hats and scarves. We were attracted to a pumpkin and a candy corn hat, and walked over to find the most amazing, cutest fish hat ever! The gaping mouth goes over your head while the long body and tail of the fish make up the rest of the hat. It has eyes and little fins sticking out on the sides. It seemed insane to buy something like this on a day that was 90F at 11am, but it was too good to pass up. I wonder if she could make me a red river hog hat with tassel ears? Maybe I'll email her...

Ugh. I should probably go reconcile my checkbook and pay some bills before I have to go to work. It was too hard to fit that into my weekend :)

Thursday, September 1, 2011


Since I worked last Saturday, I got a 3 day "weekend" this week, with Thursday, Friday and Saturday off. My big plan was to explore Emiquon nature preserve and hopefully see a lot of birds. That, of course, was before I saw the weather forecast for near-100F temperatures. I waffled about whether to go or not, but decided I might as well give it a shot.

I took Kaylin to school and headed to Emiquon. I stopped briefly at Banner Marsh on my way, but there wasn't much bird activity on the lake. Today was the opening day of dove season and there appeared to be many hunters so I didn't get out of my car. I pulled into Emiquon and everything appeared still. I got out and started hiking the walking trail and saw all kinds of shorebirds. Sandpipers were everywhere. Killdeer were so plentiful they seemed to outnumber insects. Great blue herons and great egrets mingled with mallards, wood ducks and mergansers. Terns circled and swooped. Flocks of swallows skimmed the water and migrating blackbirds and starlings filled the trees. It was hot, but there was a nice breeze and the trip was totally worthwhile.

I moved on to Chautauqua and was disappointed that my hundreds (or thousands) of white pelicans were replaced by gulls. There were plenty of killdeer with occasional unidentified sandpipers mixed in. The dead fish from a few weeks ago were now piles of much less smelly bones. I wished I had a video camera with a great zoom because the killdeer running around on the fish skeletons were morbidly funny. There was no shade and despite downright windy conditions, the sun was harsh and the temperature was well above 90F. I didn't stay too long, but just as I was starting to walk back to my car a flock of ~20 pelicans flew right over my head. That definitely made the trip worthwhile. Oh, I also saw a group of turkey vultures on the ground and got excited thinking one of them was a black vulture because it had an all black head. When it took off flying it had the signature turkey vulture white band along the wings so I'll have to look up if juveniles have black heads? Interesting...

I drove through Sand Ridge State Forest on my way home, but it was noon and nearly 100F and nothing was out and about. I decided to skip Spring Lake this trip and instead went to the new Big R store in Pekin. It was sort of a cross between Farm and Fleet and Gander Mountain, with prices closer to Gander Mountain. It was an ok store, but Farm and Fleet is better.

I've got a meet the teacher open house at Logan's school tonight, an amphibian conservation talk at the zoo and then a cookout tomorrow night and otherwise plan to spend the rest of my time off cleaning the house. We'll see if that actually happens. :)