Archive for December, 2010

Warning: If you have a dog who has issues with fireworks, thunder, or gun shots, do not play with the sound on.

The structure to my right is the Neues Rathaus (New City Hall).   Throughout the structure, sculptures depict the various kings and dukes that have led Bavaria through its long history. It was bombed during the Second World War, so the structure has been pockmarked by shrapnel. That tree with with the Christmas lights is a live fir or spruce tree.

It was very cold and very tightly crowded. Grmans and Italians were singing and dancing behind me. Champagne and beer were being consumed all around.

The fireworks were fairly close in to the crowd, and it got very smoky after a while.

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Joachim von Sandrart's depiction of a German hunter wearing a fur hat in the seventeenth century. This painting is on display in Munich.

I have a new ushanka.  It was purchased in Munich as a Christmas present from my uncle (Willie’s dad).

It is made of mink fur.

And I love it.

I guess I am one Democrat who won’t be getting awards from PETA.

(Unlike Bill Clinton).

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At the German Hunting and Fishing Museum in Munich, most of the animals on display are modern animals that can be found in Germany.

However, the remains of two Pleistocene species are also on display.

When I saw the first of these two creatures, my heart started beating really hard. I had seen photos of its massive frame and huge palmated antlers. To see the skeletal remains of one up close was a truly remarkable experience.

Of course, I am talking about the so-called giant Irish elk, giant deer, or shelk/Schelch (Megaloceros giganteus). This big deer was probably more closely related to fallow deer and not the two modern species that we call elk.

The stags’ antlers were likely for display purposes only. Because they were so large and positioned out to the sides, they really couldn’t have fought with them without damaging them. The hinds likely preferred to mate with only those stags with the most impressive antlers, and thus, the trait was maintained within the species, even though those antlers were quite unwieldy–especially when forests returned to Northern Europe at the end of the last Ice Age and the animals were forced to traverse dense forest.

The other Pleistocene species on display at the museum is a cave bear (Ursus spelaeus).

This animal was a close relative of the brown/grizzly bear species and the polar bear. It also lived during the Pleistocene.

Viirtually all of its remains have been found inlimestone caves, which is why the species go its name and may be the reason for its extinction.

One theory goes that these bears never utilized anything but limestone caves for their hibernation dens.  As human populations increased, these caves became occupied, and many bears froze or starved to death during the winters. Because sows give birth to their cubs during hibernation, many cave bears likely perished as tiny cubs that were born out in the elements. Brown bears used a wider array of hibernation sites, and when humans took over caves, they simply went elsewhere. This allowed the brown bear to thrive even with expanding human populations.

One must remember that bears learn from their mothers how to forage and where to hibernate. We can see something similar to this situation today with grizzly bears and polar bears. Grizzly bears are omnivores, and the sows teach their cubs how to forage for a lot of different foods. Polar bear sows teach their cubs how to hunt marine mammals over the frozen arctic sea. When a polar bear is force to live on the land, it cannot utilize the land resources as well as a grizzly bear can. The polar bears did not learn how to properly forage on land as cubs, and when they must do so,  they are at a loss.  It is likely that cave bear sows taught their cubs to hibernate in caves, but when the caves became occupied, they did not have any skills that allowed to find alternate hibernation sites.

Neanderthals may have worshiped cave bears.  Many skulls and bones of cave bears have been in caves that have been associated with Neanderthal remains. Some of these bones and skulls ahve been placed in ways that indicate an arrangement for ceremonial purposes.

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I took this photo of a common hamster or European hamster (Feldhamster in German) at the German Hunting and Fishing Museum in Munich (Deutsches Jagd- und Fischereimuseum).

Other names for this animal are the great hamster or the black-bellied hamster. I prefer to call it the common hamster.

It is from this species that we get the word hamster, which is derived from the German word hamstern, which means to horde.

The species was once relatively common in farm fields in Western Europe, but now it is quite rare. It was once trapped as a pest species and for its fur.

It is significantly larger than the typical domestic Syrian hamster, but this specimen wasn’t particularly large. It was maybe 20 percent larger than a female golden hamster.

I have plenty of photos from this museum, which I will be uploading in the near future.

Lots of interesting animals.

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One of the most notable features in Munich is the Mariensäule. It is located in the Marienplatz not very far from the Neues Rathaus (New City Hall).

The gold statue of Mary (Maria) dates to 1590 and was originally displayed in the Frauenkirche, the main cathedral in Munich.

Munich was occupied by the Lutheran Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War. When Swedish occupation ended in 1638, the golden statue was placed on a column in the city square.  Marian columns are fairly common in Roman Catholic countries, but this was the first one erected north of the Alps.

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Amazing performance. I don’t know if these performers are Tuvan, Mongolian, from the Altai or Khakassia. If someone knows, please enlighten me.

BTW, did you see the golden retriever walk by?

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I am in Germany

I am in Munich.

I went out on the streets around the Marienplatz today. Dogs everywhere.

I saw a lovely dark, moderately (and correctly) built golden today. It was quite dark, but had the neatest light shadings I’ve seen on a golden.

I also saw a long-haired vizsla (one with the faulty setter coat) and a German spaniel (Watchelhund).

German shepherds are here in droves.

And undocked Jack Russell and wire fox terriers.

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I am not in Germany

I hope to be in Munich's Marienplatz within the next 36 hours.

The flight from Philadelphia to Munich got canceled.

Trying again tomorrow from Pittsburgh to Charlotte to München, Bayern.

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From LiveScience:

An elusive Saharan cheetah recently came into the spotlight in Niger, Africa, where a hidden camera snapped photos of the ghostly cat, whose pale coat and emaciated appearance distinguish it from other cheetahs.

In one of the images the sleek, light-colored cat with small spots on its coat and a small head is turning in the direction of the camera, its eyes aglow.

Its appearance, and how the Saharan cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus hecki) is genetically related to other cheetahs is open to question, said John Newby, CEO of the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF), who is part of the team, along with SCF’s Thomas Rabeil and others, who captured the camera-trap snapshots between July ad August. What they know about this species comes from the few photos they’ve managed to capture.

“I think we were more happy than surprised when the images turned up, because we knew cheetahs were in the general area because we had seen their tracks on several occasions,” Newby said. “However, the area is so vast that picking up an animal as rare as this always entails a lot of luck and good judgment on where to place the cameras.”

The animal is so rare and elusive scientists aren’t sure how many even exist, though they estimate from the few observations they’ve made of the animal and tracks that fewer than 10 individuals call the vast desert of Termit and Tin Toumma in Niger home. Fewer than 200 cheetahs probably exist in the entire Sahara.

Losing this cheetah would also mean losing important genetic and biological diversity, as these animals have adaptations for survival in extreme desert conditions.

Their home can reach sizzling temperatures up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius), and is so parched no standing water exists. “They probably satisfy their water requirements through the moisture in their prey, and on having extremely effective physiological and behavioral adaptations,” Newby said.

In an effort to conserve water and stay out of the heat, the Saharan cheetah is even more nocturnal than other cheetahs.

Spotting these cats in the wild has been a challenge. “They are incredibly shy and elusive animals,” Newby said. In addition, they likely have broad home ranges since their prey – gazelles, hares, large birds and smaller rodents – are relatively scarce. Observations that have been made suggest they prefer caves and rock shelters as breeding dens.

Among the threats to the pale cat are scarcity of prey due to poaching and overuse, and conflicts with herders over stock harassment and killing of their animals, according to SCF. Apparently cheetah skins are prized as prayer rugs or used to make slippers.

“They are suspected of taking goats and even baby camels, and as a result are persecuted just like most other large predators,” Newby said. “Work underway with local nomads is putting together the true picture of livestock predation in an attempt to reduce the arbitrary slaughter of carnivores that has massively reduced populations of cheetah and striped hyenas.”

Newby and Rabeil say the camera-trap study will provide tangible evidence for the cheetah’s existence in the Termit area.

“The more we know about the animal the better we can conserve it, including pinpointing key areas for extra protection,” Newby said. “The cheetah’s presence adds weight to arguments for the entire zone’s protection as a nature reserve and strengthens our ability to raise support for conservation activities.”

The Saharan cheetah is listed as critically endangered on the 2009 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

This cheetah is  really interesting.

Not only is the species devoid of genetic diversity, this particular subspecies has real low diversity.

It isn’t as bad off as the Asiatic cheetah, which now exists only in very small numbers in Iran.

But it’s still not that great. With only 200 individuals in the whole Sahara, it is unlikely that most populations of this subspecies are quite isolated.

But because cheetahs have survived a severe genetic bottleneck, they might be able to get away with some inbreeding– at least it appears that way now.

We probably wouldn’t have this photograph without a camera trap.

It’s just a a big Sahara, and with these cheetahs behaving nocturnally, it is unlikely that we’d see one.






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People of the Reindeer


These are all people who live in the remote northern regions of the Russian Federation.

These people are reindeer pastoralists. However, they are not the only ones. Different groups in European Russia, Scandinavia, and Finland herd the antlered stock.

Different cultures in North America have also relied upon the reindeer, but these animals, which we call caribou, are all wild creatures.


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