Wild Kingdom: the drama of an otter family in Monterey Bay

The contemporary Wild Kingdom a mother sea otter that gives birth to a pup on a dock in Monterey Bay.

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USDA Kills Another 4 million animals, including 477 dogs and 1,991 feral cats


You know how Americans are appalled every time there’s a story out of China or Iraq about the government thugs primitively rounding up dogs and shooting them? Well, we do that, too. On purpose. Federal agents are out there killing dogs, more than one a day. They shot 157 dogs to death. And it’s not just in the yahoo states out west, either. (Although Texas and Arizona are the top states of dog-killing.) The USDA somehow insinuated itself into dog situations in 32 states. They went out and shot two dogs in Ohio and 30 in California. And it wasn’t because they feared they were rabid, either. They only tested 14 dogs for rabies.

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Otters in Yellowstone and Grand Teton

Otter Boys Play

River otters are one of those animals that you can do all the right things–stake out the lakes they’re known to visit, drag yourself out of bed at 5 am–and still not get to see. You have to get lucky.

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Yellowstone: Bears, Otters and Wolves

otters loll  on land

Yellowstone Otters Loll on Land

Grizzly Bears Walk through Yellowstone

I just got back from about a week in and around Yellowstone and I’m overwhelmed. Like many wildlife watchers, for years I’ve listened to people talk up the park and its animals as a kind of Galapogos of the west. It always seemed too far, too expensive, too crowded and corny when so much wildlife is so much closer. Man, was I wrong.

Staying just four days in the park, I saw 22 species I’d never met before–and that’s not including all the weird birds I still have to look up. Without a guide, my husband David and I  got to see the big ones everyone wants to see, grizzly bears and wolves. I didn’t realize that everyone is going to see so many bison and elk that it’ll soon seem like you’ve been seeing them every day for years. If those were the main courses, we also got plenty of amuse-buche, animals I never expected to be able to spot: otters, mountain goats, pushy ground squirrels, plenty of pelicans and some freaky kind of grouse that boomed in front of us.  And not just fast, distant glimpses of a dark spot on a far off ridge (well, except for the wolves). We got to see them eating, playing, fighting up close.

So, no, you don’t have to have the skills of a backwoods tracker to see bears and wolves in Yellowstone. You just have to be

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Valdez: A Comparison for Wildlife

How does the Deepwater Horizon oil spill compare to the historical monster of Exxon Valdez, by which we judge all oil disasters? How long will this go on?

We went back to the records of Valdez to look at its size and what we might lay ahead.

In the Valdez spill Scientific American reports that 2,000 sea otters, 302 harbor seals and about 250,000 seabirds died in the first few days. So far we have only 2 birds in care that I know of. Rescuers retrieved a total of 36,471 carcasses and captured 1,630 live birds, the IBRRC reports. The Valdez spill was March 24, 1989. The last wildlife rehab center closed September 6 of that year. The Deepwater Horizon spill was on April 22, 2009. By that measure, rehabbers will be on the scene until early October. By the 10th day of the Valdez oil spill, rescuers were finding 180 oiled birds per square mile, the Coast Guard reported. The oil spread so far in Prince William Sound that rescuers had to set up four wildlife care centers. They’ve already set up three down south. There are Oiled Bird Rescue Centers in Fort Jackson, Louisiana, Theodore, Alabama and Pensacola, Florida. How long will it take the wildlife to recover? Here’s the really scary part. They’re still digging up oil in Valdez and some species are still recovering. Where to Go to See Wildlife Where to Go See Wildlife Down South RESCUE GROUPS International Bird Rescue Research Center, based in

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Can We Call Animals Gay? How About This Otter Couple?

Daz and Chip, gay otters

Two male New Zealand otters who spent 15 affectionate years together at the Natureland Zoo died within an hour of each other this week. The treatment of their story is exactly what The New York Times Magazine story “Can Animals Be Gay?” out tomorrow is about. Biologists are realizing that many animal pairings are same-sex but the debate over whether to consider the animals gay has become more political than scientific.

The Times writer Jon Mooallen whimsically describes it this way:  “It may seem surprising that scientists sometimes don’t know the true sexes of the animals they spend their careers studying — that they can be tripped up in some ‘Tootsie’ -like farce for so long.”

With Asian otters Daz and Chip, everyone knew they were male and bonded. The circumstances of their death just solidified their coupledom. When an animal pair dies so closely–like my dog Jolly did after he lost his girlfriend Shadow–how can you not acknowledge their complex emotional life? “The bottom line is that when one of them had a heart attack, it just set the other one off and he followed through,” a zoo spokesman told the New Zealand Herald.

The Times story mainly follows albatrosses, who have a lot of two-mommy households, but the phenomena spans the animal kingdom. A two-mommy, one-daddy family of another albatross species in New Zealand’s Taiaroa Head got lots of attention because of the gay-friendly tourist board, Mooallen says.

So back to

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