Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Zebra - Struggling to Survive in East Africa

Grevy's Zebra

The Grevy's zebra is struggling to survive on the dry savanna of East Africa. They subsist on what meager grasses and shrubs are available in the semi-desert. Water is so scarce that the zebras sometimes have to go five days without a drink. In such a forbidding landscape, social structure is non-existent. It's every creature for itself. The one exception is the lasting bond between mare and foal. A newborn zebra will follow anything that moves so it's imperative for the mother to imprint her own striping pattern, scent and vocalization on the baby.

The Grevy's freefall towards eradication began in the 70s as stripes became all the rage in western fashion. Zebras were poached for their striking skins which fetched outrageous prices on the world market. In 1970 there were 15,000 Grevy's zebras in the wild, today there are about 2,000. Rebounding from such a devastating assault has been difficult. The zebras are losing their habitat to increased competition from livestock. Cattle are pushing them away from the best pastures and humans are fencing them out of the precious watering holes.

With Grevy's zebras now seriously endangered, conservationists are working diligently by coordinating with local communities to identify the threats posed to zebras. Spear-headed by sympathetic anti-poaching laws, captive breeding programs and eco-tourism, the population has increased a bit. Hopefully, last-minute efforts such as these will be enough to save the Grevy's zebra from extinction before it's too late.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Yellow-Bellied Marmot - A Gregarious Whistle Pig

Yellow-Bellied Marmot
Yellow-bellied marmots inhabit the high mountains of Colorado. Living in burrows dug underneath rocky outcrops, they seem to prefer to make their homes in the most spectacular of alpine settings. Also known as the rockchuck, they are the most gregarious animals on the tundra. Warm days are spent sunning, feeding, playing and napping. The marmot is sometimes called a whistle pig because at the first sign of danger it will use loud whistles to sound an alarm. They make varying calls, with each one carrying a different meaning, from the degree of threat to specifying if a predator is approaching by land or air. Yellow-bellies spend most of their life in a deep sleep from October until May. As a result, they eat with a purpose during the summer because a well-fattened marmot has the best chance of surviving through the long winter.

When they come in contact with humans, they're not shy at all. In fact, they're begging machines. Some people think giving them handouts will help but it actually jeopardizes their health. If they eat grasses, flowers and bugs like they're supposed to, they accumulate brown fat which burns more slowly, metabolizes efficiently, and creates more energy. If they eat sandwiches, Doritos and other processed foods, they build up lots of yellow fat but it burns too quickly which puts them at greater risk of starving to death during hibernation. If you happen to share your lunch with a marmot just remember, your not helping them, your hurting them.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

X-Ray Tetra - A South American Micro-Predator

X-Ray Tetra

In the brackish, coastal waters of the Amazon river, a micro-predator searches for small invertebrates. The x-ray tetra is a diminutive, colorful fish outfitted with a peculiar form of camouflage. The South American native is transparent so it blends in with the dense vegetation and sparkling water. The backbone and a red body-sack containing the internal organs are perfectly visible through a translucent layer of skin. This living x-ray photograph is an efficient omnivore that skims along the river bed hunting for worms, insects and tiny shrimp.

X-ray tetras are extremely social and like to be active in large schools. They are considered extremely peaceful creatures because they are so tolerant of the other species that share their habitat. Their hardiness and adaptability have made x-ray tetras one of the most popular types of tropical fish kept in household aquariums today. It should be noted, though, most tetras in the pet trade have not been extracted from the wild but instead have been raised on commercial fish farms in the Far East and then exported to the United States.

Friday, April 26, 2013

White Pelican - A Sight to Behold

White Pelican

Most people associate the white pelican with an ocean habitat so it may be surprising to learn that they are quite common in landlocked Colorado during the summer. They spend winter on the coasts but breed only on inland lakes and reservoirs throughout the northern Great Plains and the mountain west.

When some of these large, prehistoric-looking birds stop over for a few weeks each July, they make a startling impression. The summer visitors float about the water searching for small trout and crayfish. White pelicans employ an interesting feeding strategy that offers success for an entire squadron.

Unlike brown pelicans that dive for their food, these intelligent birds, while paddling at the surface, will encircle fish or herd them into the shallows. The seafood becomes concentrated and can be easily scooped up into the pelican's distinctive, fishnet pouch.

The bulky, white pelicans are exceptional swimmers but humorously awkward and clumsy on land. In the air, these master aviators are surprisingly graceful. Watching a white pelican, massive wings outstretched, skimming across Evergreen Lake on a warm summer evening, is truly a sight to behold.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Verreaux's Eagle-Owl - A Proxy for Witches

Verreaux's Eagle-Owl

Another legendary creature, this one lives in the dry savanna and open woodlands of South Africa. The Verreaux's eagle-owl is considered a proxy for witches and sorcerers. The arrival of an eagle-owl at one's homestead is viewed by the superstitious as a bad omen. Many people in the rural communities put spikes on the roofs of their homes to prevent owls from landing on them at night.

In this part of the world, it's a well known fact that if an eagle-owl takes up residence in an urban setting, the local, domestic cat population will become decimated. The Verreaux's is the largest owl in Africa and it's distinguished by noticeable pink eyelids. In a land teeming with formidable predators, this winged giant is absolutely lethal.

Despite it's massive size, the eagle-owl is remarkably agile. It's perfectly capable of taking small birds on the wing and it's been seen wading through water snagging fish. These robust birds of prey don't back down either. A report from East Africa documents a Verreaux's eagle-owl confronting a rhinoceros. The owl apparently puffed up its feathers and threatened the bewildered rhino when it approached too close.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Unicorn - A Magical White Stallion

Unicorn

Their place in the human imagination is similar to that of dragons, griffins and sea-serpents. The present-day unicorn is portrayed as a magical, white stallion with a long, spiraled alicorn that protrudes from its forehead. Drawings of horses with a single straight horn first appear on the cave walls of Lascaux, France. Later, Aristotle retold stories about the horned wild ass of India, chronicled as a large white horse with a red head, blue eyes and a long black horn.

Some believe this mystifying lost species was hunted to extinction during prehistoric times but without a fossil record most scientist suspect the unicorn never existed. During the middle ages scholars were convinced the unicorn was a legitimate, real-life animal. It was thought to be a white beast the size of a donkey with a deer's head, the body of a horse, the tail of a lion, the beard of a goat and cloven hooves.

The one reliable account we do have comes from the famous world explorer, Marco Polo. He wrote about the unicorn that he'd been shown and described it like this:

"Scarcely smaller than elephants. They have the hair of a buffalo and feet like an elephant's. They have a single black horn in the middle of the forehead. they have a head like a wild boar's. They spend their time wallowing in mud and slime. They are very ugly brutes to look at."

Today, historians and naturalists agree. The identity of the mysterious creature described so matter-of-factly by Marco Polo was most definitely an Indian rhinoceros.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tortoise - A Pair of Russian Refugees

Russian Tortoise

Russian tortoises are found in arid, open landscapes with sparse vegetation. They have adapted well to life in Uzbekistan's high, mountain desert but in order to survive in such a harsh place, they're only active from March until June. They hibernate during the winter and aestivate through the hottest part of the summer.

Recently their world has been turned upside down. Russian Tortoises are being captured, heaped into crates without food or water, and shipped to the United States. Brand name stores confine them into small glass tanks and then sell them to pet-loving Americans. We are currently providing a sanctuary for two such refugees that were bestowed upon us as a gift.

We've created a large indoor enclosure but they prefer to be in the outdoor pen foraging for their favorite food, dandelions. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, the tortoises appear to be healthy and happy. Our dry, mountain habitat probably reminds them of home. They're avid diggers and like to spend hot summer days burrowed into the cool earth. I hate to see wild animals like these lose their freedom. I'm sure this isn't the life they would choose but we're doing the best we can.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Snail - Bucking Around in the Rain

Snail
The snail is an ancient mollusk that has been gliding along leisurely for over 600 million years, leaving a trail of glistening slime in its wake. Over such a long period of time, they've adapted to all environments and can be found everywhere on the planet. If a snail dries out it dies, so they secrete mucus to keep their soft bodies moist and to provide a lubricant that enables them to crawl over rough surfaces. Snails are most active at night under the cover of darkness when it's safer and cooler. They have a ferocious appetite and love to consume fruits, vegetables and flowers which frustrates even the most experienced gardeners.

They're content to spend their days buried underground avoiding the sun's harmful rays. If the soil becomes saturated from heavy precipitation, and floods their subterranean chambers, hordes of them will emerge from the depths gasping for air. Land snails have lungs and can easily drown in too much water. They appear to delight in these wet-weather gatherings because the birds are held at bay and the slick concrete provides an ideal surface for bucking around in the rain.

I photographed this snail at Animal Kingdom Park in Florida on just such a day. The remarkable shell is spiral-shaped and grows with mathematical precision as the mollusk gets larger. My seven-year-old son was flabbergasted by their sudden appearance and became consumed with collecting and scrutinizing such unique little creatures. We traveled clear across the country to Disney World and experienced all the rides and shows but I think my kid's favorite part of the trip was capturing snails during a hurricane. I guess some of the best things in life really are free.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Red Fox Kit - They Grow Up So Fast

Red Fox

At Evergreen we always have a few weeks of bad weather during the transition between winter and spring. It's usually cold, very windy and includes a wet rain/snow mix. It can turn the spring sports practices into a miserable experience. That's how it was a couple of years ago when my son played baseball in Idaho Springs, Colorado.

After dropping him off, we'd wander along the banks of Clear Creek and scramble across the smooth boulders strewn throughout the canyon. We met the little fox pictured above during one of our baseball-practice-time-kiling-excursions. The den we discovered was a network of cracks, crevices, holes and tunnels located within a jumble of gray rocks.

There were three kits, each with a different personality. One was cautious and shy, one was serious and aloof and the other was curious and rowdy. We spent many cool, damp hours observing them at rest and at play. After a while, they seemed to accept our presence so I was able to get lots of good photos. Watching them was a learning experience. They made us think and laugh but most of all, they made the time fly by.

I began looking forward to going to practice and the weekly nature moments with our furry friends. Before I knew it, the season was over and I greatly missed our evening hikes down to the fox den. I've never made it back to that spot since but I've always wondered what happened to those little guys. They grow up so fast.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Quarter Horse - An Ideal Cow Pony

Quarter Horse

The American Quarter Horse, sometimes described in more elaborate terms as the famous and celebrated Colonial Quarter Pather, was first bred during the early 1600s in Virginia. The first colonists crossed the imported English Thoroughbred with assorted native horses that descended from Spain and were brought to what is now the Southeastern United States by the Conquistadors. This new breed was small, tough and quick. They were recognized as a versatile work horse during the week and an explosive racehorse on the weekend.

The sports-crazy English settlers raced their horses over quarter-mile stretches run through the brush, plantations and villages. Local entrants often triumphed, with some sprinters being clocked at up to 55mph. For this reason the animal became known as the Quarter Horse. In the 19th century, pioneers heading west began crossbreeding the Colonial Quarter Horse with the wild mustangs of the Great Plains. The resulting new breed had an innate "cow sense", a natural instinct for working with cattle. Its speed, balance and agility made it the ideal cow pony.

The American Quarter Horse is still popular today as a race horse, show horse, reining and cutting horse, rodeo competitor, ranch horse and all-around family horse. When I return to my parents home, I often find myself back in the saddle again. I can assure you that Diamond, one of the quarter horses pictured above, is an excellent trail riding mount. There is nothing prettier than coming down out of the hills and gazing to the west at the dark silhouette of historic Chimney Rock set against a fiery-orange, Nebraska sunset.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Peacock - Sacred to the Gods

Peacock

A long time ago, the peacock was discovered in the remote rain forests of India. The dignified bird with such dazzling colors was declared to be sacred to the gods. For centuries they were allowed to roam undisturbed through the magnificent gardens of Indian royalty.

The Phoenicians later exported them to complement the imposing architecture of the Egyptian pharoahs. The Bible informs us that King Solomon used to order his powerful navy every three years to go out and restock his supplies of gold, silver, ivory and peacocks.

With such an exotic history, the last place one would expect to find peacocks is in the arid sandhills of Western Nebraska. In addition to riding horses and gardening flowers, my mom raises peafowl. Whenever I get back home, I'm awakened each morning by their haunting call. Every spring, I'm lucky to witness their extravagant, courtship display.

The image of these birds sweeping majestically across my parent's green lawn is an abiding memory. It's astonishing to me how the presence of a proud Indian Peacock can transform a humble farmhouse into the magnificent Taj Mahal. It's like paradise.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ostrich - A Massive, Flightless Nomad

Ostrich

Yesterday we learned about a tiny, hyperactive movie star from Colorado. Today features a massive, flightless nomad from Africa. Ostriches are world famous for their "buried-head" hiding strategy. When an ostrich senses imminent danger and can't run away, it flops to the ground and remains frozen with its head and neck pressed against the earth in front of it. Because the head and neck are pale, it appears to blend in with the soil which makes it look like the bird has buried its head in the sand.

This bird isn't quite the brainless coward that it's sometimes made out to be, though. It's fully capable of protecting itself on the open savanna. Ostriches have elongated necks and excellent vision so they can see forever and identify dangerous threats from a great distance. Powerful legs propel them to 40 mph and if confronted, a single forward kick can be fatal to even Africa's most lethal predators, such as the cheetah, lion, hyena or leopard.

Physiologus is an early Christian text that was written around 200 AD. It proposes that the ostrich incubates its eggs by staring at them. At that time it was thought that our vision was the result of special "seeing" rays emanating from a person's eyes. People believed that the heat generated by the intense gaze radiating from an ostrich's enormous eyeballs is what actually hatched its chicks.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Nuthatch - An Energetic Songbird

Pygmy Nuthatch

The pygmy nuthatch is an energetic, little songbird that lives in old, ponderosa pine tree forests. They twitter about the trunks and branches searching beneath the bark and in needle clusters for insects and seeds. Sometimes they even creep along the tree upside down just like the bigger nuthatches.

Pygmy nuthatches are also highly social, they travel in large, noisy groups that often mix with chickadees and juncos. They roost communally in the cavities of dead conifer snags. On cold, winter nights as many as 100 birds have been seen huddled together in a single nest.

In an unexpected pop culture reference, the pygmy nuthatch plays a key role in the ending of the Charlie's Angels movie. Cameron Diaz's character, Natalie, discovers the location of the evil villains' secret fortress by identifying the distinctive call of a pygmy nuthatch.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Mountain Lion - The Ultimate Predator

Mountain Lion

I've never been lucky enough to observe a mountain lion in the wild but they're rarely glimpsed by anyone. Mountain lions are extremely reclusive being most active between dusk and dawn. The big cats live a solitary life, prowling from rocky ridges to deep canyons always fiercely protective of their precious territory.

This ultimate predator will wait patiently in a ponderosa pine tree then leap onto the shoulders of a mule deer and bite deep into the back of its neck near the base of the skull. The carcass is usually cached and the cat comes back to feed later. There are only two animals in our area that I truly fear, a bull elk during the rut and a mountain lion.

Hungry young lions, unable to secure their own territories, have become bolder around people and are taking more risks. Recently near here, a brazen mountain lion actually crept inside a home while its occupants slept and snatched the pet dog. Attacks on humans are extremely rare but small children, solitary hikers and joggers are the most vulnerable. As urban sprawl continues to invade the foothills, I'm afraid encounters with mountains lions will probably become more frequent.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Lorikeet - An Australian Marigold

Marigold Lorikeet

The rainbow lorikeet is one of the most beautiful species of parrot. They're widespread in the coastal bush lands and rain forests of Australia, Indonesia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Lorikeets have specialized, brush-tipped tongues used for feeding on nectar and soft fruits. They're cute but they can be aggressive and are considered pests in some places because of the damage they inflict on the fruit orchards.

The lory pictured above is a marigold lorikeet, a subspecies of the rainbow. Lorikeets are hyperactive and have gregarious personalities. They are delighted to clown around in exchange for treats from an attentive audience and they'll happily pose for the camera. Sadly, lories have become popular pets even though their moodiness, messiness and loudness are not very compatible with confinement.

Friday, April 12, 2013

King Cobra - An Intelligent Icon

King Cobra

King cobras live mainly in the rain forests and plains of India and Southeast Asia. They are comfortable in the trees, on land and in water, feeding mostly on other snakes with the rat snake being their preference. King cobras can reach 18 feet in length, making them the longest of all venomous snakes. Fortunately for us, they are reclusive creatures that will make every attempt to avoid humans.

When confronted, though, a king cobra transforms into a lethal adversary. It can raise a third of its body straight off the ground, looking the average person directly in the eyes, and still advance forward to attack. The intimidating snake will flare out its iconic hood and produce a frightening hiss that sounds a lot like a dog's growl. A single bite contains enough venom to bring down an elephant.

Scientists are just now beginning to understand how intelligent these snakes really are. The king cobra is believed to possess exceptional memory. According to a myth, the picture of the killer of a king cobra stays in the eyes of the dead snake, that frozen image is later memorized by the snake's partner and is used to hunt down that killer for revenge.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Junco - A Woodland Snowbird

Dark-eyed Junco

A dark-eyed junco is perched on an evergreen branch during a spring snowstorm. A year-round resident in Colorado, they are also sometimes called snowbirds because of their sudden, histrionic appearance below winter bird feeders. When it gets really cold, we see them mixed in with other small, seed-eating birds such as chickadees and nuthatches.

Dark-eyed juncos are uncommon sparrows because they spend so much time on the ground. They nest on the forest floor and hop around the bases of trees and shrubs searching for fallen seeds. When flushed, their distinctive, bright-white tail feathers are flashed during takeoff. Juncos also have a unique call that is described by a Mrs. Lawrence in a note to famous ornithologist Arthur Cleveland Bent:

"The lovely tinkling chorus by the juncos in early spring, as if a myriad of woodland sprites were shaking little bells in an intensive competition."

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Ibis - A Symbol for Danger and Optimism

White Ibis

The white ibis is a wading bird that is very common throughout Florida. Their traditional habitat has always been the Everglades but they've recently adapted to a more urban environment. During our visit there this past summer, we frequently saw ibises on freshly mowed lawns rooting for large bugs as well as stalking aquatic prey along the shoreline of ponds, lakes and marshes.

These splendid, white birds have evolved a long, downward-curved bill. This distinctive feature has helped them develop into efficient hunters. Their legs are long enough to wade in shallow water but they are also perfectly at home on dry land where they can use their pink beak to probe for insects.

The white ibis is a symbol for danger and optimism because Native American folklore held that the bird was the last to seek shelter before a hurricane and the first to emerge afterwards.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Horse - Lakota the Appaloosa

Horse

My parents have a small ranch in Western Nebraska where they raise and train horses. This is a picture of an Appaloosa called Lakota. My dad is an authority on Native American Horsemanship and chose the name to honor the extraordinary riders from the Buffalo Nation. By age four Sioux children had mastered riding and how to stand on a horse's bare back. As they grew stronger, the youngsters were taught to shoot arrows and practiced hitting targets from horseback.

Mastering such skills became invaluable to the horsemanship required to survive in later years. The Lakota Sioux were a nomadic tribe of plains Indians who relied almost completely on the bison herds to obtain the necessities of life. In 1823 Prince Frederick of Wurtemberg witnessed the hazardous Indian technique for hunting buffalo and was dully impressed:

"The Indians are extremely bold and daring riders. This is shown especially in their hunting of the buffalo. In this dangerous work it is often hard to say which has the greater skill, the rider or the horse. Since the Indian who manipulates the bow and arrow can not make use of the reins, he must leave the horse entirely to its own discretion. The animal must be carefully trained to approach the bison within a few paces. It must run close to the powerful and often angry bull, and must be ready at all times to evade with great swiftness the charges of the terrible opponent."

Monday, April 8, 2013

Grizzly Bear - Ghosts of Colorado

Grizzly Bear

The grizzly bear is North America's most fearsome predator. Grizzlies once thrived in Western Colorado before white settlers and trappers arrived. By the late 19th century the bears were terrorizing rancher's livestock and threatening to impede civilized progress. A government-funded program was initiated to exterminate the perceived nuisance. After a massive assault, the last grizzly in Colorado was snared and killed by a federal trapper in 1952.

Ursus arctos horribilis was assumed to no longer inhabit the state. Then, in the fall of 1979, a lone grizzly attacked a hunting guide near Pagosa Springs. The controversial account of what happened ends with the bear being killed in self-defense. Some people believe a tiny sleuth of grizzlies still inhabit a remote pocket of the South San Juan Wilderness. David Peterson, area resident and author of "Ghost Grizzlies" laments they are probably gone:

"If there are any grizzly bears left in Colorado, I hope nobody finds them. Just let them live what's left of their lives in peace."

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Fawn - An Endearing Image

Fawn

One of the things I love about living in the mountains is observing the wildlife. We routinely see elk and deer grazing in the townsite. The highlight of every spring is the mule deer doe that comes back to the yard and gives birth to twin fawns. They must feel safe in this locale because they hang out here all summer long.

The fawns are up and moving almost immediately as they follow closely behind their mother. If she leaves the area, the little ones are given strict orders to get down and remain still. I've seen them lay and remain completely frozen for several hours. When mom returns, the curious fawns pop back up and continue to explore their surroundings.

I was lucky to stumble upon this newborn last June. It's an endearing photo. The fawn was curled up underneath a pine tree, ready to bed down for the night. Because at this early age they are so vulnerable to numerous predators, ochre color tones and white spots allow the fawns to blend superbly into the mountainside.

The tiny creatures seem helpless but within days they will be able to move very quickly. Don't let their innocent look fool you, it won't be long before they're stirring up trouble like eating flowers, running out in the street and just causing a general ruckus in the neighborhood. They kind of remind me of my own two kids.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Elk - A Symbol of Evergreen

Elk

The Rocky Mountain Elk is the undisputed symbol of Evergreen, Colorado. I see them almost every day so I've become very familiar with their ways. The elk's predictable, seasonal behavior provides me with some comfort during these uncertain times. There is a rhythm to their life that influences our own.

The elk seem to tolerate our intrusion into their habitat as they go about their routine seemingly oblivious to the human activity happening all around them. From a careful distance, I took this picture of an agitated elk during the annual, fall rut.

Mud-soaked and lathered into a frenzy, this bull is in his prime. He bellows loudly to other rivals and cows as a signal that he is defining his territory and claiming his harem. Evergreeners have learned how to live with the elk by developing creative techniques to protect their trees, gardens and bird feeders, and by driving cautiously, especially after dark.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Duck - The Mallard is a Cordial Neighbor

Duck

It's an iconic image, a glossy-green-headed drake flying above the lake on a summer morning, then skimming across the surface for a splash landing. Next, the quintessential duck call that is the mallard's quack. I snapped this picture of a glistening duck at Evergreen Lake.

The mallard duck is a very common bird around here. The female is a mottled, drab-brown that camouflages the duck while nesting. The most conspicuous feature is the iridescent, blue-violet stripes of color that can be seen on her wing. It's fun to watch them employ two completely different but equally humorous feeding strategies.

Head dipping is when they become completely upended with only their rump sticking out of the water. They don't dive but rather spend their time dabbling for food. If that isn't working, they take full of advantage of their neighborly relationship with humans. They waddle out of the water and cordially ask for food.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Canada Goose - An Unappreciated Beauty

Canada Goose

Every year after the Buchanan Ponds' icy water thaws, the same flock of Canada Geese reappears and trumpets the arrival of spring. They settle in right away and begin nesting immediately. They are comfortable enough to stay here all summer long.

Through the molting season, an eight to ten week flightless period when a goose sheds and then replaces its primary flight feathers, the vulnerable bird must be near water so that it feels safe from predators.

This protective mother had four goslings and she hissed threateningly whenever we approached them. I shot this portrait of her on a warm summer day while she was grazing on the grassy banks of one of the ponds.

A pure white chin strap accents the sleek, black head and neck. The beautiful, brown patterning on the back and wings make it an elegant looking bird. Because these large waterfowl have become so common and are sometimes considered a pest, I think their striking appearance often goes unappreciated.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bison - A Rare and Precious Animal

American Bison

In the year 1800, 35 million buffalo roamed across the Great Plains of America. After nearly a century of senseless slaughter, only 700 of these majestic creatures remained. With the disastrous consequences becoming obvious, the beleaguered survivors were rounded up and placed, mercifully, within the protective confines of the world's first national park, Yellowstone.

At about the same time, Denver was building a series of mountain parks to offer citizens an escape from urban stress. In 1914, the city purchased two bulls and five cows from that extraordinary Wyoming herd and introduced them to the newly created Genesee Park located in the foothills just west of town.

Featured at the mountain park today are about 60 purebred descendants of those original seven. I shot this photograph of one of the Genesee Bison this past winter. It's inspiring to be able to observe, so close to home, such a rare and precious animal.

Monday, April 1, 2013

American Alligator - Reptile in the Rockies

American Alligator

The indestructible alligator has escaped from the brink of extinction twice. A giant asteroid impacted the planet 65 million years ago and devastated the global landscape. The catastrophic event eliminated 75% of the plants and animals from the earth. Mammals, birds, snakes, lizards and alligators were some of the lucky survivors.

By the late 1960s, due to merciless hunting, the alligator was at the verge of extermination once again. Miraculously, intensive conservation efforts have allowed their numbers to increase dramatically. Now alligators are a common sight in the swamps, streams, rivers, ponds and lakes of the Southeastern United States.

I photographed this gator at the most unlikely of places, a high desert valley near Mosca, Colorado. The Colorado Gators Reptile Park began as a fish farm to raise tilapia for human consumption. The first gators introduced were to dispose of the dead fish. The farm has evolved into more of a sanctuary for rescued exotic reptiles.

The park is now home to over 300 alligators with some members of the original congregation measuring 11 feet long and weighing over 500 pounds. From what I observed, despite its uncommon habitat, the resilient American Alligator appears to be surviving just fine in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.