CALIFORNIA SCIENCE CENTER WILDLIFE ADVENTURE
CALIFORNIA SCIENCE CENTER WILDLIFE ADVENTURE
A journal from HWF Co-founder, Marilyn Fordney who attended a lecture at CSC and animal facts from HWF Media Specialist, Lola west.
Located in the middle of the city of Los Angeles near USC and Exposition Park sits a wonderful educational site — the California Science Center. This past week, HWF attended an interactive lecture that allowed us to explore the wildlife exhibit and get to know a few of its animal residents. Today, we’re giving you a peek behind the kelp curtain and talking about CSC’s living collection of wildlife. During the presentation, Misha Body, the Director of Husbandry, introduced two of her staff, Cora Webber (Senior Aquarist) and Louise Leborgne (Senior Keeper) and together, the team introduced us to some AMAZING animals.
Cora Webber (Senior Aquarist) and Louise Leborgne (Senior Keeper) pose with HWF co-founder, Marilyn Fordney.
Straight away, it was apparent that CSC’s specialists are dedicated and passionate about all animals. When asked what inspired her work with animals, Ms. Body said that from a young age, she knew she wanted to become a veterinarian. Her childhood afforded her the ability to learn about animals, such as an osprey she spotted in her neighborhood, which started her on a journey toward animal husbandry. In college, she majored in zoology and studied abroad for a semester, getting a chance to meet and work with some Kenyans and gain a greater perspective for how working collaboratively with people makes or breaks a conservation effort. When she got hired at the Science Center, she helped develop a team to work with animals. In 2008, the department started by building holding tanks and 4 reservoirs to start growing the population of animals to eventually move to the new exhibits.
Misha Body, the Director of Husbandry at CSC and Marilyn Fordney
On July 29, 2008, a crane was used to place one of the large tanks onto the second story gallery floor. At the time, an earthquake hit and they thought it was a reaction of the tank placement and didn’t know it was a quake. In 2010, the first Kelp forest exhibit opened to the public. The exhibit was a success and the Science Center applied for accreditation from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). This lengthy process includes a 3-day site visit and inspection by AZA so it is uncommon to receive accreditation on the first try. Lucky for CSC, the application and inspection were so well received that in March 2011 AZA accreditation was awarded.
Today, there are a total of 42 staff members in the Living Collections department! A future project is the development of a Southeast Asian rainforest section. Presently, 213 species of animals are provided healthy, enriching habitats by the husbandry and life support teams and medical care by the veterinary team. For water quality, the staff maintains filters, an alarm system, and twice a week tests the quality of the water.
There is a dive team plus 53 volunteer divers and each diver must have rescue level certification. In addition, there is are veterinary staff. Surgical procedures are carried out when necessary and they have x-ray equipment for diagnostic purposes. In x-ray films shown, one could see a fatty tumor in a moray eel and a perch (fish) pregnant with 33 babies. Another x-ray showed a roadrunner bird carrying an egg not yet hatched.
Strides have been made with considerable success in scorpion reproduction. In fact, so much progress has happened that the Science Center sends scorpions to other zoos and institutions. The two-spotted octopus hatch rate improved and this was documented to be shared with their colleagues. The giant sea bass fish are prone to eye parasites so divers administer medication underwater. When the sea bass sees the signal given by the diver, it knows to automatically head over for its meds. One of the amazing experiences is that these tanks have giant kelp and it is the only tank in the world known to reproduce giant kelp in a closed system tank!
The Living Collections team was able to work with National Geographic photographer, Joel Sartore on a photoshoot with some of their animals. These images are now part of the Photo Ark, available to help raise awareness about these species.
Now, the fun part begins when one gets to actually see and touch a chuckwalla lizard, a large reptile from the iguana family. These lizards thrive in hot landscapes and inhabit deserts, hillsides, and lava flows in the southwestern parts of North America and in the northern parts of Mexico. Like several other lizards, the chuckwalla can change the color of its body to mimic the colors of its environment. Natural enemies of chuckwalla include large mammals, snakes, raptors, and humans. When threatened, these lizards do push-ups or hide in the crevices of large rocks which can extend their lifespan to 15 years in the wild.
Lousie poses with the chuckwalla lizard
Moving right along in our CSC presentation, the staff also showed us a red abalone that looked a lot like a pile of rocks. Abalone exists in oceans all over the world and while many other colors of abalone (white, black, flat, and pink) are protected by law, it is perfectly legal to hunt red abalone off the shores of California. Known for its iridescent shell and meaty texture, red abalone is considered prized shellfish and is hunted frequently for human consumption. As abalone farm processes become more efficient, the Science center hopes that it will soon be able to acquire a white abalone to share with audiences.
Red abalone that could easily be confused with a rock.
cockroaches crawling on the hand of CSC staff.
If you’re afraid of bugs, these massive cockroaches might give you the creeps. Sized at nearly the same length of an adult human’s finger, the Madagascar cockroach is not a bug for the faint of heart. These hissing cockroaches are native only to the island of Madagascar, so if you see them anywhere else on earth its because someone brought them there! The hissing sound (similar to a snake’s hiss) produced by these African cockroaches is the result of air being forced out of tiny breathing holes called ‘spiracles’ which are located on the sides of their bodies. These roaches hiss to communicate with other Madagascar cockroaches, during mating, while fighting, or whenever they feel threatened. Sometimes referred to as “living fossils,” these roaches are thought to be the most prehistoric-like insects of the species in the cockroach family.
Boas are New World snakes, native to habitats from northern Mexico through Central and South America. The boa on display at CSC comes from Columbia and like other boas, after a large meal, this snake might not need to eat again for weeks. In the wild, boas provide valuable ecosystem services by helping control rodents and disease. In the American tropics, disease-carrying opossums are =often eaten by boas which help protect vulnerable human populations.
Lousie and the boa constrictor
The last creature to see is the California spiny lobster, a cold-water species. These nocturnal lobsters are nighttime hunters who emerge from their hiding spots at night to forage for clams, crabs, and other invertebrates. If you’ve ever tried cooking lobster at home, then you know that these creatures emit a high pitch squeaky sound when disturbed. When not fighting humans, spiny lobsters use their large antennae as fight and defense tools and their two smaller antennules, as sensory organs that can detect chemicals and movement in the water.
CSC staff has presented on research projects and other topics at conferences around the world. Their dedication to wildlife protection is self-evident and their commitment to education has inspired HWF to learn from them and share their stories. For the public, CSC offers an interactive touch tank that allows visitors to get up-close-and-personal with dozens of species of aquatic animals. Presently, one million wild animals face extinction on Earth and with climate change and population growth, this situation is accelerating.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area, we strongly encourage a visit to CSC— make it a point to visit the touch tank. Also, don’t forget to fit in viewing a film at the IMAX 3D theater connected with the California Science Center.