Young Writers Society

Home » Forums » Resources » Research

I Answer Animal Questions



User avatar
10 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 0
Reviews: 10
Fri Nov 25, 2016 10:03 pm
View Likes
JoeBookman says...



I'm Joe, a junior in college studying zoo science and field biology. I have two jobs with animals presently, doing animal care in the natural history area at a museum and breeding snakes and amphibians. After my degree, I hope to be a zookeeper. Nothing drives me up a wall faster than animals written inaccurately. Snakes don't blink, deer don't have horns, snapping turtles can't bite through a broomstick (most can't even take a finger), bears don't hibernate... I can go on.

Animals are my deal and I'll happily answer questions about biology, husbandry, behavior, etc, or even just talk about them to anyone with interest.
  





User avatar
24 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 338
Reviews: 24
Sat Nov 26, 2016 2:21 am
Basil says...



Oh I love animals as well!! I have this problem where I correct movies when they show the behaviour of animals incorrectly, and everyone gets mad at me.

I have a question: what do you know of the Okapi?
Dorian, are you the one adding all the spices to our food?
Of course I am.
Why?
Because frankly the food here tastes like poorly cooked sawdust. It genuinely tastes how Solas looks.
  





User avatar
10 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 0
Reviews: 10
Sat Nov 26, 2016 5:04 am
View Likes
JoeBookman says...



I know that they love apple-flavored biscuits and they are one of the softest creatures you'll ever touch. I had the honor to work in a barn with a few of them so I got up close and personal. The best behavioral enrichment for them engages their long tongues. Childrens toys with moving parts hanging from the ceiling or mounted on the wall are great. There's so much to know, really. If you have any specific questions I can get more in-depth.
  





User avatar
24 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 338
Reviews: 24
Sat Nov 26, 2016 5:30 am
Basil says...



Oh my gosh that is amazing!! I love the Okapi. I know a fair amount about them, but I suppose I could ask a couple of questions. Do you know the gestation period of an Okapi? And would it be possible to ride an adult Okapi? I'm not asking because I want to, I just want to know if their bone structure would allow it.
Dorian, are you the one adding all the spices to our food?
Of course I am.
Why?
Because frankly the food here tastes like poorly cooked sawdust. It genuinely tastes how Solas looks.
  





User avatar
41 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 257
Reviews: 41
Sat Nov 26, 2016 10:42 am
Jyva says...



what animals were around London in the 1800s?
:)
  





User avatar
251 Reviews



Gender: None specified
Points: 21970
Reviews: 251




User avatar
10 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 0
Reviews: 10
Sat Nov 26, 2016 9:12 pm
View Likes
JoeBookman says...



Basil, on okapi:
The gestation period is 15 months on average. Our female was actually suspected to be pregnant. The problem is that it is very difficult to tell for several months whether they are pregnant or not, and the gestation period is so extended that you have to prepare for a birth starting with the very earliest time conception could have occurred. That means your staff could be on call every day for several months.

Another interesting bit regarding reproduction is that in the wild, okapi mothers hide their babes away and return to check on them periodically. In captivity, the mother and babe are often kept in close quarters in a barn or something similar, so both can be observed. The issue that arises then is over-attendance of the mother. Too much contact can lead to her licking away fur or stressing the baby out. So what zoos will do is connect two stalls with the upper door shut but lower door open, so the baby can hide and break contact with the mother, returning to nurse.

As for riding an adult okapi, I don't know much about the spinal strength. What I can see, looking comparatively at the skeleton of a horse and the skeleton on an okapi, is that the spinous process (that long bony protrusion at the top of the vertebrae) is longer on an okapi, which would probably cause some serious health repercussions. It's also not helpful when you're trying to gear on a saddle.

What I do know for solid fact is that their fur rubs away fairly easily, so a rider would almost certainly cause problematic rub and irritation. You would have to deal with the challenge of not sliding down the back. They have a wide, portly belly, so I would worry about straps being to tight and causing bruising or even cracking ribs. As it is, there's no record I can find of people successfully riding okapi, even once (though you can find a few examples of people trying it on giraffes, though I wouldn't recommend that, either).

Not related to riding but kind of a fun thing, a male at our zoo suffered a small lesion on his side and started to lick at it. To curb that and give the wound time to heal, they dressed him with a horse blanket.


Jyva, animals in the 1800s:

I don't know if you're referring to what you could find wild, domestic, or in a menagerie (the first "zoo," short for "zoological garden" opened to the public in the 1850s, and before then they were called menageries). If you're looking at what existed in the 1800's that doesn't exist now, this handy list could help you out:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_ ... e_Holocene

You might also want to be careful about what species you mention, as many we accept as normal members of the landscape today are actually invasive (a common one to mistake as native is common carp in the US, which is actually an invasive from Asia which wasn't introduced until the mid-1800s but has integrated into our ecosystems.)

You can find a list of London invasives here:

http://www.lbp.org.uk/LISI.html

If you want to add more detail to your question, I can try to help a little more.
  





User avatar
383 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 910
Reviews: 383
Sat Nov 26, 2016 9:51 pm
Wolfical says...



Fascinating!

What do you think is so special about the bone structure of horses, camels, donkeys, etc. that makes them capable of being ridden? In my novel, I have a sable antelope-esque creature that is ridden like a horse. Are the reasons for the sable antelope not being a good mount about the same as the okapi's?
Romans 12:2:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but
be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Simon & Garfunkel <3
  





User avatar
10 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 0
Reviews: 10
Sun Nov 27, 2016 2:08 am
View Likes
JoeBookman says...



Wolfical, I'll preempt this by saying I'm no expert in osteology. Looking at the skeleton of a horse, the spinous process is shorter and creates a dip in the part of the spine where a saddle sits. However, looking comparatively at other animals used as mounts (camels, elephants, reindeer, yak), clearly there are other forces at work. Muscle, fat, bend of the spine, fixture of the saddle probably all play in. Short answer: it's probably a lot of things. On sable antelope specifically, I'm going to say it likely has more to do with the challenges of domestication.

Animals like sable antelope, bison, bears, moose, rhinos, and other large-bodied animals probably could have been really really useful to humans, if only they fit all five criteria of domestication.

1. Their food must be easily obtainable
2. They must grow and reproduce quickly
3. They must breed readily
4. They must be easily contained or captured when startled
5. They must form family groups and observe some kind of social hierarchy


It's worth it to note there's a distinct difference between domesticating and taming. Taming occurs within an animal's lifetime. You can tame tigers, elephants, apes, etc. Domestication occurs over several generations and makes the animal better for humans.

Big wall of text, so here's a spoiler. Inside, I break down each of those six points with examples.

Spoiler! :
1. Their food must be easily obtainable.
Grazers like cows and sheep are easy. You can let them roam an open tract of land and they'll eat the grass, which humans can't eat anyway. Browsers, like goats, eat shrubbery and leaves. When dealing with carnivores, like dogs, they were useful because they're happy to eat almost anything and could often hunt their own food themselves. Something like most monkeys, on the other hand, eats fruits, which have to be located, are pretty finite, and could be eaten by humans. It's not efficient to keep monkeys and they don't produce anything worth sacrificing all those fruits for, so you wouldn't bother to get them those foods anyway.

2. They must grow and reproduce quickly
This is the big reason elephants were never domesticated. While they fit many of the other criteria here, they are very slow breeders. It takes about 10-15 years before an elephant is sexually mature. You have to wait another 22 months -- nearly two years -- before the calf is born, and females usually wait five years between breeding. Compare that to say, a cow, which produce multiple offspring yearly.
Quick growth and reproduction means you can change the species quickly and you can directly observe those changes. Early humans were terrible at record keeping, so modification of a species over several generations really just didn't work.

3. They must breed readily
This should be pretty easy to understand. Animals which require very specific and demanding circumstances to breed tend to just not breed in captivity. The most well know example of this is the cheetah, which the Egyptians saw as an ultimate prize but required particular pairing and courtship to breed. Compare it to ducks, who you can't really stop from copulating, and whose female can continue to produce fertile eggs for weeks after the loss of a male.
Under this I will also tack on that species you see easy breeding in are species easygoing enough to allow humans to have contact with their young.

4. They must be easily contained or captured when startled
Compare: sheep and deer. Startle sheep, and they'll move together, in a group, into the nearest open space. You can herd them, and you can contain them within a fence. Deer, on the other hand, can hop most fences in a bind, will split, and males can cause serious damage to their handlers. They're also very fast -- much faster than a runaway chicken or goat.
Rhinos are awesome animals, very social, very strong, and grazers -- but when startled, they are nearly impossible to stop, and one mistake can be fatal.

5. They must form family groups and observe some kind of social hierarchy
This is actually why horses were domesticated and zebras never were. In a herd of horses, you have the leading male, then the leading female and her young, then the second leading female and her young, then the third leading female and so on. Early people realized that if they could dominate the leading male, they could direct the entire herd, which would then recognize these strange fleshy creatures as an odd, but bossy horse.
Zebras have herds but no hierarchy. They stay in groups because their distinctive stripes are most effective in a group, but if you manage to catch a male, don't expect any other zebras to stick around their buddy or give you any respect for it.

tl;dr
If it's in a circus, it's tamed.
If it's on a farm, it's domesticated.


According to those rules, okapi fail to meet the criteria of 2, 3, 4 and 5, and sable antelope fail 2, 3, and 4, possibly 5. Those are barriers for domestication, but taming isn't out of the question.

I'll add on sable antelope, their backs slope at a very inconvenient angle, not to mention the horns. I would say that the fur rub probably wouldn't apply the same to the antelope. Okapi have fur like velvet-- very, very short, fuzzy. It helps slick water off so their coats aren't constantly soaked as they move through jungle. As a result, it's very thin and easily rubbed off. I've never had personal contact with a sable antelope, but as an antelope and a desert species, you can assume the fur is going to be more similar to a goat's.
Last edited by JoeBookman on Sun Nov 27, 2016 6:19 am, edited 1 time in total.
  





User avatar
24 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 338
Reviews: 24
Sun Nov 27, 2016 3:29 am
Basil says...



Oh wow, that's much better than I could have hoped for!! Thank you very much! :D

(Just want to add, I'm probably gonna be bugging you with animal questions a lot. Sorry in advance :p)
Dorian, are you the one adding all the spices to our food?
Of course I am.
Why?
Because frankly the food here tastes like poorly cooked sawdust. It genuinely tastes how Solas looks.
  





User avatar
10 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 0
Reviews: 10
Sun Nov 27, 2016 4:42 am
View Likes
JoeBookman says...



Don't apologize! This is my bread and butter.
  





User avatar
383 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 910
Reviews: 383
Sun Nov 27, 2016 4:55 am
View Likes
Wolfical says...



Wow. You've given me so much to think about. Thank you! I'm going to be picking your brain a lot too, because your specialty is not only invaluable, but absolutely fascinating.
Romans 12:2:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but
be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

Simon & Garfunkel <3
  





User avatar
428 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 334
Reviews: 428
Sun Nov 27, 2016 12:08 pm
Lightsong says...



I've always been fascinated by dolphins. Wiki's info about them is absolutely boring by covering aspects that are boring. So. Here I am.

If we are to train a dolphin, on what degree of communication can we achieve with it?
  





User avatar
10 Reviews



Gender: Male
Points: 0
Reviews: 10
Mon Nov 28, 2016 10:30 pm
View Likes
JoeBookman says...



Lightsong, on dolphin communication:

Hooooooo boy. I took a day to think about this because you're actually breaching a young and convoluted area of animal science.

I'm going to take your question and go on kind of a curve here to start, but like a boomerang I promise we'll get back. First can I say that communication in the animal world is a complicated topic, not just to study but to discuss. As it turns out, our own words we use for communication can cause some unintended misunderstandings and biases.

When we talk about animal communication, all we're describing is the transfer of information from one individual or group to another. A peacock fluffing his feathers at a peahen is very clear communication that he's wanting to mate. A rat leaving a trail of urine is communication. A gorilla making eye contact is communication (he's saying more than you know).

Nearly every animal on the planet communicates in some manner, from parrots to dogs to fruitflies and ants. Even plants communicate, and it's not even controversial to say so.

The big word when we're talking about animal communication is language. Asking if an animal has the cognitive ability to engage in language is going to be a much more difficult question to ask. Most birdsong does not qualify as language because it has no syntax. They use one call for a mate, one call for young, one call for distress, which make their calls signals but not language.

Content matters just as much as form. A message like "You're in trouble" is easy to communicate and easy understand, but something like, "You are a dog" requires a high degree of self awareness which few animals have demonstrated (dogs aren't one).

Until relatively recently, two things were widely accepted by basically everyone: animals don't use language, and animals are not self aware. "We humans are special, I tell you!" the world would said fifty years ago, and there'd be very few people who would argue the point.

But within the last few decades, we've started to get creative in how we test cognition of our fellow creatures, and dolphins are some of the few animals that, to date, we have shown to have the ability to understand language and syntax, and to possess some degree of self awareness.

There’s a lot I can say about dolphins and language, mostly because we know dolphins have language, we just don't understand it. I'm going to keep it short but highly recommend you check out this link and other articles related:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/scien ... 37791.html

There's also a lot available on dolphin self awareness, but this lady on NPR sums it up really well:

http://www.npr.org/2011/11/04/142024616 ... self-aware

The reason I’m skipping over those parts is because your question is specifically, “What degree of communication can we achieve with dolphins?” As it turns out, somebody else before you had a question just like that. No one wants to talk much about him these days, but I think what he did would interest you. His name was John Lilly.

John Lilly was kind of a crazy guy. He’s the man who invented sensory deprivation tanks and did experiments on consciousness in obviously the most scientifically objective and verifiable way possible: by taking lots of psychedelic drugs.

Not a lot of people want to talk about him anymore.

But as it turns out, he did some really interesting stuff with dolphins. Lilly believed that "bigger brain = more smarter" and went, Hey! These dolphins have brains the size of a person's or bigger, so therefore they must be as smart or smarter than humans (brain size is actually found to correlate more consistently with body mass than behavioral complexity). So Lilly got his hands on three dolphins, most notably a male named Peter, as well as a passionate volunteer, Margaret Howe Lovatt.

Lilly and Lovatt had a goal: teach dolphins English. For part of their experiment, they had Lovatt and one of the dolphins, Peter, actually living together in a portion of the lab that had been partially flooded. They had more success than you might think. For a quick listen, click here:

https://youtu.be/hnVAv77gEqo

Personally, I'm not as impressed by Peter's mimicry ability as I am by what Peter understood. Peter was able to distinguish the differences between, "Bring the doll to the ball" and "Bring the ball to the doll." Peter was able to understand that different signals had different meaning when in a different order. Many people overlook that part of the experiment, but what he demonstrated was the ability to understand grammar. That's huge.

Scientists have since confirmed dolphins are not only able to understand syntax in human speech, but believe they've observed it in dolphin language... (whatever that language is because we still don't understand it.)

Before you're too impressed with Lilly, though, it's worth it to note that he believed dolphins had telepathic powers, were the key to talking to aliens, wanted to teach them English so they could have sitting representatives at the UN, but ended up halting all dolphin experiments because he wanted to focus more on LSD (after he had tried injecting the dolphins with LSD). There was also some naughty stuff. None of this is a joke.

Make no mistake. Lilly did weird stuff and most people today consider him to be highly unethical. But he was one of the first people to think: maybe dolphins are more like people than we'd like to believe.

So getting back to your question: "What degree of communication could we achieve with dolphins?" the short answer is: we don't know, because we're still working on it. Ask a guy like John Lilly and he'll say that with the right training, you two could argue over where to go for lunch and then have an absolutely delightful conversation over tea. Ask someone like me, though, and I'll have my doubts. What I do believe is that the area of animal linguistics is huuuuuuuuuuge and basically unmapped, and there's a lot more we have to learn. I wouldn't be skeptical of the assertion that we may one day have simple conversations with dolphins, much like signing gorillas (even though a lot of those cases, like Koko, are unscientific and riddled with fraudulent set-ups that make their claims harder and harder to believe every day).

There's always more to say but I've already gone on for quite a while. Keep the questions coming.
  





User avatar
24 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 338
Reviews: 24
Tue Nov 29, 2016 4:30 am
Basil says...



How long would a horse be able to last without proper meals? If the horse is within human care, and was receiving small amounts of food, but walking every day, what sort of effect would that have on the horse?
Dorian, are you the one adding all the spices to our food?
Of course I am.
Why?
Because frankly the food here tastes like poorly cooked sawdust. It genuinely tastes how Solas looks.
  








Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.
— Enid Bagnold