June 6 was International Ungulate Day, and numerous preoccupations have made me very late to finishing what was supposed to be timely recognition of a notable zoological holiday (many zoos and conservation foundations commemorate this day, so no I’m not just making it up). Since then, it has remained in the static position of a draft which has been somewhat nagging to me. I also began to expand this post in an unexpected direction, to the extent that I feel it necessary to split into two articles, with the forthcoming one being a musing on conservation at a time of dietary shift. This first article acts as a sort of homage to hoofed mammal lineages across the globe, in which I share some personal photographs and lesser known information that I’ve come across.
Spanning from a childhood obsession with cattle to the many hours my family and I have spent observing elk, ungulates have played an integral role in my life and have often been the primary source from which I gained an appreciation for biodiversity. While many belittle ungulates as boring, placid animals that do little more than graze and provide meals for carnivores, those who work and live with these animals can attest to their charismatic nature and profound ecological importance. I suspect that the aforementioned perspective is one founded in an anthropocentric lack of concern for these animals, as they provided more fuel than competition or danger to our species’ expansion. The diversity of the ungulates is tremendous: from tiny duikers slinking cryptically through deep African bush, to massive and culturally distinct orcas coursing through the water as they strategically hunt their prey. I must note that the term ‘ungulate’ seems to have largely fallen out of use in the scientific literature, with some specialists now considering it to merely function as a form taxon or folk taxon rather than a technical grouping. Referring to cetartiodactyls, perissodactyls, and paenungulates is more proper but, for the sake of International *Ungulate* Day, we can let it slide for now.Read More »
For the past two months, I have had the wonderful opportunity of attending Canisius College as a freshman majoring in the Animal Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation program, and have met plenty of like-minded individuals as a result. The major has established a strong, tightly-knit network of zoologically-inclined students and is truly shaping a bright future for our planet’s biodiversity. The ABEC program distinguishes Canisius as one of the first institutions to include ethical considerations in its animal behavior curriculum, and it has led discussion on prominent topics in the zoological community through the affiliated Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relationships. One area of particular focus has been ecotourism, the topic of a 2015 symposium able to be viewed here. We live at a time of growing environmental consciousness where people are anxious to experience and conserve the remaining areas of truly wild habitat for fear of the heavy hand of widespread global climate change and deforestation. Ecotourism, defined by The International Ecotourism Society (2015) as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education”, may be seen as fulfilling this desire. Two brilliant and trendy concepts characterize what I feel is the drive behind this movement: George Monbiot’s (2015) notion of ‘ecological boredom’ and Marc Bekoff’s (2014) idea of ‘rewilding our hearts’. Both center around humankind’s distancing from the natural world in which it evolved, and the likelihood that reestablishing this connection through greater immersion into nature would be beneficial both to our well-being and that of the biosphere on which we depend. I wish I could devote more time to these notions now, but that is not the focus of this particular article. Recently, I learned of the latest contribution to ecotourism coming out of Canisius: an innovative travel appraisal site called Eco-Advisor.
Phylogeny, which can defined as the study of the evolutionary history and relationships amongst the animal kingdom, is one of the branches of zoological research which most captivates me with its complex and often unexpected nature. In the earliest article published on the Blogger-based Bizarre Zoology blog, I made brief reference to an obscure phylogenetic hypothesis which I first caught word of in paleozoologist Dr. Darren Naish’s Tetrapod Zoology Book One. This was done with the intention of introducing the sorts of topics which would form the focal point of my writing, yet I did so quite poorly in that I neglected to elaborate beyond a few sentences. To kick things off after this blog’s relocation, I have chosen to return to this topic which has been given scant attention in scientific literature but just enough to grab hold of my taste for all that is bizarre and zoological. This is the fascinating albeit tenuous link proposed between Dinocerata and Lagomorpha, something which may not sound so interesting unless you are familiar with the animals grouped within these taxonomic orders.Read More »