What’s important to note here is that this is not a white tiger in the wild. The article emphasizes that “pale tigers, distinct from white tigers, are thought to have a genetic mutation that results in what biologists call colour morphism.’” That’s kind of an academic way of saying that ‘this is another color tigers can be’ but what it emphasizes is that this color is caused by some type of random mutation in the genes that control the coat, leading to a lighter (but still orange-based) pelt - rather than the animal having two copies of the specific mutation that creates the actually white tigers we’re familiar with.
The extremes of red-tailed hawk color morphs. White to very, very dark. Both are the same species, Buteo jamaicensis.
The bird on the left has an extreme lack of melanin production and the bird on the right over-produces melanin. Melanin is produced by cells called melanocytes, which also produce pheomelanin, which results in a reddish-brown color. Note that the bird on the left has a red tint to her tail even though her melanocytes aren’t functioning normally, this could be due to porphyrins and/or carotenoids contributing to the red color in red-tailed hawk tails as well.
Both birds still exhibit the common trait of being total derps (as demonstrated in the third set of photos).
Hey who wants to talk about Eastern screech owl color morphs??
These tiny murder machines are orphaned babies in rehabilitation at the center where I volunteer (WildCare Inc, Bloomington IN). They have another foster sibling too, grey morph like the cutie in the middle except smaller and darker. Anyway, this photo was taken a month or so ago and the owlets have grown up a lot since then, and they’re now in an outdoor aviary learning to fly and hunt!
We get a lot of Eastern screech owls here (southern Indiana). Most are the grey morph, although not as overwhelmingly as in the northern part of their range (eastern Canada). This year’s batch of orphans is fascinating to look at because they all look so different that I don’t need to look at their leg bands to tell them apart!
Starting from the back: little red morph. Even as a tiny baby, this bird has always had reddish tones in its feathers. It’s smaller than the others, which could indicate that it’s male, but red morph owls tend to be smaller in general, so who (whooooo) knows.
In the middle we have “great grey.” Haha, not actually a great grey owl, but she’s a grey morph and she weighs more than her adult foster parent! Without a DNA test I can’t say for sure that she’s female, but it’s a fairly safe guess. This bird barely survived, actually. The tree her nest was in fell during a storm, and she and a sibling (who didn’t survive) were found on the ground, soaking wet and barely responsive. When she came in, I picked her up and she didn’t even move or open her eyes, and I only knew she was alive because I felt her breathing. She was probably about 10-12 days old. We got her in a cozy heated nest box and by the end of the week she was vocalizing and eating pretty well. Until she stopped. Volunteers noted on her chart that she wasn’t taking food, and when I fed her I could get her to eat the tiniest pieces - which she did very enthusiastically - but anything bigger than a mouse heart she’d just hold in her beak and eventually drop. I started to worry because I know that by that age they should be able to swallow surprisingly big pieces of food, and I knew she wasn’t eating overnight because her weight started to drop. She obviously wanted to eat, judging by how ravenously she ate the tiny pieces. I suspected that there might be something wrong with her mouth or throat, and bingo… we examined her and found an ulcer in her throat. Poor baby. Most likely her immune system was still compromised from her rough start and hypothermia. We hydrated her and started a course of medicine, and within a week she was eating again! By then she had a couple foster siblings, which I think helped, and we had our Eastern screech owl foster parent living with the babies too. At the babies’ most recent weight check, “great grey” was the biggest of the bunch and eating very well!
In the front we have a really gorgeous bird, an intermediate brown morph. Eastern screech owls aren’t only red or grey! This little one actually has some really fascinating coloring on the wings, dark brown with some rusty-red coverts. I’ve seen light brown morphs before but this owlet is darker and mottled and really gorgeous.
Their faces all look different too! It’s so cool how different birds of the same species, all approximately the same age, can look so incredibly unique. 😍
All four babies are doing great and on track to be released back into the wild once they learn how to hunt prey!
oh GOSH this is so vague!! there are 37 species of wild cat so “unusual” can be taken so many ways omg like unusual looking/sounding/Cryptid species or like color morphs/mutations like there are So Many options here!!! but i’ll do some of each (under the cut) and lmk if theres anything else u wanna know!!
Hey! I am very pro-AZA facilities, but I am a little bit concerned about your recent comment on sanctuary breeding. Sanctuaries and rescues are NOT receiving genetically valuable animals, usually they come with no genetic history, and are inbred for color morphs or mixed species (i.e. tigers)! This wouldn't be smart breeding for conservation like the SSPs! (1/?)
The animals they receive should essentially be considered like the excess domestic dog/cat populations in the US (only big and dangerous), because there truly are more than there are available suitable homes for. The argument of breeding for conservation in captivity has to be done in line with responsible breeding that’s part of a larger networked plan, because roadside zoos breed all kinds of animals irresponsibly (filling up the sanctuaries) and claim conservation.
Most of what you’re saying is true, and what you’re most concerned about re: the SSP mention is going to be an issue in the future. However, there are a couple things I want to respond to because they’re going to be super important for people who care about big cats to understand in the near future, in regards to conservation and the sanctuary industry and animal rights interactions. I’m gonna break those down below, but it’s not intended as a smackdown - you just gave me a great opening to talk about something I’ve been realizing I need to write about. To give you some context: I’ve spent the last couple months digging into the histories of sanctuaries and rescues as an industry and studying a lot of the exotic animal legislation that has been proposed/passed in the last couple decades. That means I’ve been researching the evolution of legislation and how animals move (both around the US, and between types of placement) in response to it, and what legal actions or public petitions influence those movements. The holistic picture is… interesting.
First, though, I want to talk about a couple of the statements you made - because they’re super common in sanctuary messaging right now and, most importantly, have started showing up in legislation and lobbying regarding big cats recently.
The lack of known lineage for big cats coming into sanctuaries and rescues was really only accurate in the 90s and potentially early 2000s, and from what I can really was at latest an issue up until 2007. The 90s was the period when the big cat population in private ownership in the US was out of control and rescue began to be a big deal - hence the formation of the current major big cat sanctuary organizations. The last large number of big cats of “unknown origin or lineage” left private hands and went into sanctuaries between 2004-2007, as people prepared for the full enforcement of the Captive Wildlife Safety Act (which, among other things, prohibited moving cats across state lines). After that point in time, the need for rescue - by which I mean hoarder situations or animals that truly were not receiving appropriate care, not exotic pet politics framed as abusive - dropped off sharply because anyone who hadn’t given up their big cats prior to 2007 was very aware that the CWSA meant that they were responsible for keeping those animals for life because they could no longer be easily transported to a new owner or another facility. So, a decade after that, animals coming into rescue are generally coming from either pet situations or are confiscations from private facilities. The people who are currently breeding big cats outside of AZA accreditation - regardless of what else you think about them or their practices - are smart enough to understand that inbreeding can occur and that tracking bloodlines is important. All of the exotic pet communities are pretty small and tight-knit in the US, so I can’t believe that there’s no known lineage for the animals currently ending up in sanctuaries. It might not go back more than a couple generations, or might not be something the sanctuaries are given, but it’s got to exist.
I’m also really skeptical about the whole “there are more big cats than there are suitable homes for” messaging that’s omnipresent in the rescue and sanctuary industry right now, for two reasons. One, there’s no agreement on what a “suitable home” for a big cat is: the Animal Welfare Act is the federal set of requirements for appropriate care, but sanctuaries and animal rights groups consistently condemn places that meet that criteria, and only AZA likes the idea of AZA standards being a requirement for a suitable home, since most facilities don’t have the funding and mission to become part of the AZA. This means there’s no other set of standards that sanctuaries and rescues can point to to back up a claim about a situation for a big cat being ‘not good enough’. Since sanctuaries continue exist because they house confiscated animals, in the absence of data or concrete standards used to quantify a bad situation, any statement they make about big cat quality of care is inherently embroiled in politics.
Two, the current numbers for captive big cats in the US just do not make sense. They’re all over the place and appear to be estimations because there aren’t primary source citations in any document - legislative or media - that I’ve found past 2003, and even that’s iffy.
Let’s just look at tigers, for instance. In 2003, a paper Nyhus and Tillson estimated that there were anywhere between 5000-12,000 captive tigers in private hands alone in the US.
The excuse given for such a huge potential range: the authors think most pet tigers would be kept illegally and not reported. It goes on to say the most likely estimates are between 7000-9000, but following up on those sources simply gives me news articles where the one of the authors is quoted about those numbers - there’s literally no data or study cited to support that. Okay, so, hold on, we’re guesstimating in a scientific paper about the existence of multiple thousands of tigers, multiple times more than exist in the wild, because of an utter absence of data and the determination that people lie? That doesn’t seem right. But, then, in 2008 a report on tiger trafficking done by Fish and Wildlife said there are “as many as” 5000 tigers in the US - total, including in zoos and sanctuaries as well as private hands. They were using data from a single 2005 study, which estimated 3349 tigers in “private” hands (2120 in USDA licensed facilities that were not considered zoos or sanctuaries and 1129 in non-exhibition situations). That’s a drastic difference from 2003-2005, and only the 2005 citation shows evidence of actually having data backing it. Now, fast forward to the last couple of years.
In 2014, the World Wildlife Fund states that of the 5000 tigers it thinks are in the US, 4700 of those tigers are in private hands. In 2015, the founder of the sanctuary group Tigers in America stated that he thinks there are actually upwards of 7000 tigers in the US with no mention of location. Neither of these statements have any sort of citation, and those numbers don’t make sense. It’s been a decade since the last mention I can find of an actual study of the locations of big cats in the US, so does that mean the numbers that are now being used in legislation and advocacy efforts are simply estimates based on how many pet tigers these organizations think people aren’t reporting? Not to mention, the numbers don’t make sense - the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, as well as many pieces of state-and local-level legislation restricting big cat ownership have majorly restricted the ownership, transport, and breeding of big cats. How are the numbers going up as legislation gets more restrictive? If anyone can show me actual data on the number of big cats in captivity in the US post-2005, I’ll happily update this post - until then, I remain pretty skeptical about this supposed surplus of big cats because after months of searching I’ve found no primary data anywhere to support it.
Next, let’s chat about roadside zoos for a second. If you’re not aware of why I think that appellation is outdated and meaningless to the general public, please take a second to read this article I wrote about the topic. This is especially pertinent to this discussion, as many facilities outside of AZA (frequently referred to as roadside zoos) directly contribute to the success of SSP programs - see Mill Mountain Zoo’s success with Pallas Cats and Red Wolves, and Tanganyika Wildlife Park’s success with Clouded Leopard breeding. Not all non-AZA places are of the same quality - some do still promote breeding color morphs or talk about white tigers as a separate subspecies - but it’s inaccurate to say that all roadside zoos don’t contribute to conservation or just “fill up sanctuaries” with excess animals.
Okay. Now, on to the SSP and sanctuaries comment. Most of the cats coming into sanctuaries right now are either previous pets or animals confiscated after animals rights investigations, as mentioned above. Right now, AR groups aren’t going after places that participate in SSPs… but that’s not going to last. For years, HSUS has been campaigning to close down every zoo that isn’t AZA. You can see that in their rhetoric, and in the fact that in every single piece of legislation and media they right they directly contrast how AZA does things with the horrors of roadside zoos. As of earlier this month, the CEO of HSUS made a statement indicating that AZA is partnering with them to help police the rest of the zoo industry - and the biggest focus that HSUS wants to see from AZA is help shutting down roadside zoos, according to a representative who spoke on HSUS’ behalf at the 2016 AZA national conference. It’s convenient that there’s no operant definition for “roadside zoo” published anywhere in HSUS literature since 1980, isn’t there? (See the linked article above for that discussion). This leads us to the question of what happens to the big cats in external facilities that participate in SSPs when animal rights organizations start going after facilities they deem “roadside zoos” or those they condemn for simply not being AZA. Somehow I sincerely doubt they’ll deviate from the long-term plan of shutting them all down just because they happen to support a decent big cat conservation program. When HSUS lobbies to have a facility investigated, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF, the legal branch of the AR organizations) get involved with advocating to have animals removed from a facility, there’s always a sanctuary or two ready and willing to take those poor animals - and they’re all ones that are tightly associated with the animal rights organizations and decry the breeding of their residents. So yes, I do think we’re going to see genetically valued animals “rescued” from facilities where they were part of legitimate, planned breeding programs in the near future and put in sanctuaries where they can no longer contribute to the conservation of their species.
I also don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the animal rights organizations will eventually start going after AZA, once all the other zoos have been driven out of business or had their animals confiscated. The head of BCR has said publicly that she wants to see all cats removed from zoos and in sanctuaries by 2025 - and that she plans on doing it by first turning the public against roadside zoos, and then by taking in all the big cats the zoos abandon after she convinces the public that they’re fundamentally immoral for having them. That lines up pretty neatly with the current rhetoric coming out of sanctuaries and animal rights organizations about zoos right now, and hey, BCR and HSUS and ALDF are all sponsors of all the recent big cat welfare petitions to the USDA and heavily involved in lobbying for congressional legislation like the Big Cat Public Safety Act. Still not convinced? In the newest iteration of the BCPSA, AZA-accredited facilities are no longer accorded their historical exemption from the proposed regulations.
Big cat sanctuaries may currently only have cats who aren’t considered valuable to conservation programs, but I don’t think it’ll stay that way. All of the animals who came into the sanctuaries because of the Captive Wildlife Safety Act in 2007 (along with a ton of funding, because pretty faces and sob stories are great for fundraising) are reaching the end of their natural lifespans. If the sanctuaries want to continue to exist, they have to get new animals from somewhere - and you can see them beginning to turn against the zoo industry and demand ownership of their animals. It’s scary, but it’s real, and it looks like it’s starting already - in late 2016, ALDF notified Landry’s Downtown Aquarium (an AZA facility) of their intent to sue for removal of their tigers under the Endangered Species Act if Landry’s did not send the cats to an accredited sanctuary.
Another alt sona?? Technically i’ve had this character for A Long Time and decided i finally needed to make my character named “fish” look more fishy
🐟 some weird combination between an arowana and dunkleosteus? Maybe a coelacanth?? Who knows but all i know is they’re much bigger than any of these fish should be 🐟 can be drawn with any arowana color morph, from gold to red to anything! 🐟 smells like seawater at all times. Fascinated with “lucky” charms/items , treasure, food, and ancient history 🐟 eats bugs off the floor
Hi! I was wondering how you feel about non-AZA accredited zoos. The Pittsburgh Zoo lost their accreditation a few years ago (because of an issue with one of their programs I think) but I still think it's an excellent zoo. Do zoos have to be AZA accredited to be good zoos?
Congratulations, you have pinpointed one of the largest cans of worms in the animal care industry! The response I’m about to give you is absolutely, definitely controversial - because honestly, there’s no one answer that everyone will agree with.
I do not believe that lack of AZA accreditation should automatically condemn a zoo. (They will probably be very unhappy with me for stating this, since they’ve been advocating since at least the 1970′s for the government to recognize them as the only accrediting authority and shut down every facility they don’t accredit). As far as animal care, education, and conservation work goes AZA accreditation is the best reliable indicator of quality for public - but there’s a lot of reasons a zoo might choose not to be accredited in the first place, or might lose accreditation, or might choose not to be re-accredited. So no, not all “good zoos” must be AZA - but the public needs to be much more critical consumers in order to determine which non-AZA facilities are good zoos.
One of the biggest reasons a zoo may not be AZA accredited is functional. AZA accreditation is designed to support and accredit primarily large urban zoos with a lot of funding. It really isn’t a good fit for smaller suburban or rural zoos: those that do decide to go for AZA accreditation spend years and a huge amount of money trying to meet AZA’s standards, and even after all that work not every non-urban zoo decides to stay accredited because the priorities of AZA doesn’t necessarily line up with what the organization needs to do to survive or what the community that supports it wants to see at their local zoo. This could be, for instance, that the type of education and conservation messaging AZA wants to see from its facilities isn’t appropriate for a rural setting or that the internal structure of the organization that AZA requires just isn’t functional at a smaller zoo. Mill Mountain Zoo, in Roanoke, Virginia, recently mutually split from AZA because it just wasn’t a good fit - but their animal care programs are still the same, and AZA thinks highly enough of them that they’re still allowed to participate in highly prestigious SSPs such as snow leopards, pallas cats, and red wolves.
Another reason a zoo may not be accredited is because of differences in agreements over animal care requirements. Lack of accreditation due to these types of issues can’t really be qualified as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ reasons because each case is so individual. Sometimes facilities choose not apply for AZA accreditation in the first place because of a known conflict with their requirements. To pick a controversial example - and this is only a hypothetical - a facility like Myrtle Beach Safari would probably choose not to apply for AZA accreditation because their facility breeds color morph tigers, which AZA standards prohibit. The facility’s entire philosophy around tiger breeding and exhibition would have to shift drastically in order for them to make the changes AZA would require. Other times, facilities choose to leave AZA and/or purposefully lose their accreditation because of a disagreement over new rules. That’s what happened with Pittsburgh. Management at Pittsburgh didn’t agree with the requirement that all AZA zoos transfer over to working their elephants in protected contact, and eventually chose to lose the zoo’s AZA accreditation - and all the grants and federal exemptions that go along with it - in order to continue working with their elephants in the manner they believed was best for their specific animals.
It’s also worth noting that some facilities may choose not to be part of AZA because of political reasons. AZA is notoriously condemnatory to any facility they don’t accredit. I’ve heard a lot of AZA staffers and surrogates, including directors or upper management at AZA facilities, say really nasty things about rural or smaller zoos with incredible frequency. They call them
“roadside zoos” and though there’s no actual definition of the term, the official AZA usage appears to denote “anyone AZA doesn’t accredit.” (I wrote more about that here, if you’re interested in that specific political rabbit hole.) AZA as an organization itself appears to have partnered with HSUS in the fight to shut down all “roadside zoos” - including an officially sanctioned panel addressing it at the 2016 national conference - and the CEO of HSUS has been indicating in his messaging that AZA is now helping them police the rest of the zoo industry. This treatment doesn’t necessarily get better when a zoo starts working towards accreditation - I know someone whose facility was referred to as a “roadside zoo” literally as they were being congratulated for having been accredited. The official AZA messaging is that it has a cordial and professional relationship with other accrediting bodies like the ZAA - but they consistently publish documents that denigrate ZAA’s credibility as a professional organization and urge lawyers and lawmakers to not only ignore their input but even help regulate them out of existence. With that sort of blatant political enmity, it’s understandable that zoos external to AZA might be utterly uninterested in working to join the group that constantly publicly attacks their existence and professionalism and instead go it alone or join a different accrediting group.
I would also hazard a guess that
more organizations may choose not to associate with AZA given their apparent inclination to partner closely with animal rights organizations like HSUS. Smaller zoos get harassed endlessly by the animal rights organizations, regardless of their actual quality, and would absolutely have no interest in working to gain membership in a trade group that appears to be in bed with their long-time antagonists.
Tl;dr: Accreditation and who has what why is really complicated. It’s not as simple as the “good vs bad” messaging AZA has been promoting. It’s very tied into industry politics, animal care philosophies, and the practical realities of running zoos. As discussed above, there are all sorts of reasons a zoo might choose to not get or to forfeit AZA accreditation. Some are reasonable, some are not, and it ends up being something consumers have to study in depth for each non-AZA facility they’re interested in to figure out if they want to support it.