Happy go lucky

July 18, 2008

This week at FONZ was full of assignments, but since none of them had particularly pressing deadlines, it felt like a nice, laid-back schedule.

Photo by JESSIE COHEN/National Zoo Photographer
Eyelash palm pitviper

I finished up my animal profiles for the Reptile Discovery Center section of the Web site. As I mentioned before, snakes and lizards are not exactly my favorite animals (that title belongs to the giant pandas, and the tigers, and the giant anteaters, and the meerkats….), but I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about them through this writing assignment. Did you know that king cobras have enough neurotoxin in one bite to kill 20 people? Or that male Grand Cayman iguanas turn electric blue during mating season? Or that the emperor newt’s orange bumps contain a poison to deter predators? Or that there is a snake that looks like it has eyelashes because of special scales on its face? I could go on and on…

I’ve sent all of my profiles to a keeper at the Reptile Discovery Center to look at and make sure all of the information is correct. Mostly I need her to make sure I didn’t write that a snake was “born” where it should say “hatched” and things of that nature. Maybe I’ll get to go down and meet my subjects in person – yikes!

I’m glad that this opportunity presented itself because if I was given the chance to pick animals to write about, I certainly wouldn’t have picked reptiles and I never would have come to appreciate our scaly friends or learn all these interesting facts.

This week my supervisor and I had another opportunity to visit the photography department. We had been going back and forth through email with the photographers about which pictures to use for the upcoming calendar and we decided it would be easier to talk to them in person. We wanted to make sure that our choices meshed with their picture preferences and that we were accurately representing the Zoo. Once we had narrowed down our selection, I began gathering information on each of the species for the photo captions in the calendar.

We also got to meet with the exhibits department to talk to them about the different projects going on at the Zoo this year and coming up in the near future. We hope to be able to coordinate particular articles with the happenings at the Zoo and this meeting helped bring us up to speed on what we could expect in the next few years.

Nile hippopotamus, Happy

My animal visit this week was the Nile hippopotamus, Happy. Happy generally spends his time submerged in his pool where it is impossible to see and fully appreciate his size. He can hold his breath for about six minutes and even when he comes up for air, he only sticks his eyes and nostrils above the water line.

Nile hippopotamus, Happy

But, I was lucky enough to stop by when his pool was being cleaned, forcing Happy into his inside enclosure. He is absolutely huge! His mouth and snout alone are particularly impressive in size and his teeth are immense. They look like logs in his mouth, especially since they aren’t sharp or tooth-like. Instead, they are spherical and flat on top, which suits his diet of vegetation just fine. I also learned that he weighs almost 7,000 pounds! Despite his size, Happy is still really cute – even if he barely bothers to acknowledge his adoring public. Sadly, Happy is going to be leaving the Zoo soon. Because of the construction for Elephant Trails, the Zoo is looking for a new home for him.


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