Blind Cave Cockatoos: An Exchange (Real Zoo # 6)

The Real Zoo had a blind Cockatoo named Cookie, who did not live in a cave. In one of our discussions I mentioned The Incident of the Blind Cave Cockatoo.

I should add that in those days I, Paul, and our supervisor Richard were the three people with the responsibility to teach the flock of (often remarkably naive– remember “special bonds” below) volunteers natural history…

Paul responded:

“I don’t recall Blind Cave Cockatoos, but I can easily picture Richard, or maybe even me, telling people that Cookie is one of those fabled birds. I always admired Cookie the cockatoo- especially when he loudly told KM [we do NOT do names of the innocent or guilty here!–SB] to get f***ed, over the PA in front of a zillion cub scouts, at the Topsfield Fair. Hilarious. Will give details later, if you want.”

I answered: “That story is all yours, Paul.

“Blind Cave Cockatoos” was ME, though Richard was there and I think you were. It was Educate The Volunteers time and some little Buffie asked me if ALL Cockatoos were blind. Without blinking I answered “Yes, Buffie. They live in caves. That’s why they are white, like cave fish. They search for their food under stones…”

“I don’t know how long I might have gone on but Richard bellowed “BODIOOOO!!!!”

“He WAS laughing though.

Paul has the last word:

“Ahh. Yes, I can picture you doing that. What’s more, I love your use of the name “Buffie”. I immediately picture the sweet little pig-tailed freckled darling, who signs her name with a cute little heart over the “i” instead of a dot.

“Reminds me of another sweet young thing who was hired at a pet shop I sometimes visit. I went in, box in hand, and gave it to her with my request of “about 50 crickets, please”. She had such a cute little puzzled look when she said…. We…. but we…. only sell them by the dozen”.

Headline of the Week

From Arthur Wilderson: “Swedish flamingoes massacred in frenzied anteater attack”.

It is actually true if a bit breathless…

Prompted by this and perhaps the recent Zoo posts, Arthur added some thoughts on a distant relative, the ground-dwelling late- Pleistocene monster Megatherium:

“I saw a mounted megatherium skeleton in Chicago’s Field Museum. I was pretty impressed, and then thought, “yep, that’s what they invented atlatls for.” Trees, people, bears… I could readily imagine it backhanding any serious problem across the room with little difficulty.

“The notion of gutting and butchering a beast with such enormously robust bones and such a deep, massive torso with just little hand axes was fairly daunting too. Definitely a job for all the men, women and children in the band, well, those that aren’t standing guard to discourage the attention that all that blood and offal would inevitably attract.”

Speaking of which, the new crash- of- the- megafauna book, Once and Future Giants by Sharon Levy, is good– much on the late great Paul Martin, though it goes well beyond his original thoughts and refines them. Apparently his fascination with the late Pleistocene started when a mentor put a ball of giant sloth dung in his hand– as he did to me.

“Une Chienne de Barbarie”

Another non- Arab or at least geographically North African portrait, from the Louvre, courtesy of Daniela. The given title as I got it was “”Un Chien de Barbarie”, but given the obvious I have changed the sex in the title!

Daniela called the portrait “a little ‘Taik”– see below (top, most recent, by GG)…

Queen Victoria’s Hound?

Terence Clark sent a fine Landseer portrait from the 19th century of what appears to be a female saluki– or, better, tazi; actually to my eye the dog seems eastern, Asian, even specifically “Turkmeni”. She is doing the rarely portrayed “propitiating” smile and but for color resembles Ataika I think. Terence said, quoting the Country Life article, that it was a portrait of a dog called “Eos”, a favorite of Victoria’s, and could better be seen at this gallery.

Jess at Desert Windhounds was puzzled– like all of us she is curious about what one might call non- traditional saluki provenance, and this one and the name Eos seemed disconnected:

“Eos was a greyhound belonging to Prince Albert, brought with him from Germany.”

Terence suggested the dog in the painting might be one of two “Indian greyhounds”– salukis– that the younger Prince Albert (King Edward to- be) brought back from India in 1876, but Jess reminded him the dog in that painting couldn’t have been one of the Indian salukis because Edwin Landseer died in 1873.

And why should we care? I do, at least, because with increasing efforts by scientifically illiterate breed fascists to restrict the term, and all legal breeding, to the descendants of forty- odd Arab dogs randomly selected by British colonial administrators in the early 20th century (apologies to Terence, an Arabic- speaking former diplomat who does NOT believe this!), we need all the evidence we can find of the high- quality “metapopulation” that runs from North Africa through Central Asia. Jess is on the track:

“According to The Year-book of Facts in Science and Art, John Timbs, 1839, from 1830 to 1837 eleven Persian Greyhounds [emphasis mine– SB] were bred or kept in the Zoological Society Gardens. Which wouldn’t include dogs in private hands.

“The Book of Sports, British and Foreign, 1843, has an account of Zillah (who was black and tan though I’ve never read that Landseer painted her), and mentions that at that time there was a dog at the Zoological Society Gardens, and one owned by the Duke of Devonshire, who owned several Landseer originals, and had one of his own dogs painted into “Laying Down the Law.”

“I can find a record of a Landseer work called “Persian and Greyhounds” from 1837, but no image online.”

Does anyone have any leads?

Old Bird

Last week, Anne Price of the REF e- mailed to tell me that her Harris tiercel Indiana Jones had died, very much of old age and attendant frailties. Anne:

“This morning I said goodbye Indiana Jones, a.k.a. Indi, my Harris Hawk. I would be lying if I said I weren’t sad, but he was kind enough to give me a few days notice, and at 31 years old, he gave me so many more years than I ever expected.

“Many of you reading this “knew” Indi nearly as long as I did; helping me fly him at Marine World, taking care of him when I was traveling in LA, San Diego, and ultimately Colorado. For those of you who never knew, or have forgotten Indi’s history, he was found sometime in 1980 in a cardboard box outside the Alexander Lindsay Nature Center in the eastern Bay Area, which is now the Lindsay Wildlife Museum and one of the premier nature/wildlife rehabilitation centers in Northern California. He was very heavily imprinted to people, and had an old break in his left wing at the elbow. No one knows where he came from. After getting him back on his feet, the museum placed him at the San Francisco Zoo.

“All I can recall, since I was 12, almost 13…was that he showed up one day from the Zoo, and our department manager at Marine World Africa USA announced that our park had acquired a bunch of animals, traded some, and he was in the lot. It was 1981, and since we were all Harrison Ford fans, and the FIRST Raider’s of the Lost Ark had just come out, we named him Indi. He had been handled at the zoo, but couldn’t fly……or so they thought! We flew Indi all over the place, hundreds of feet, off of buildings, roofs, across a lagoon, everywhere. He was amazing, ignoring the sea gulls, cutting through that San Francisco wind and fog, and always giving his all.

“Fast forward to 1991, and after 18 months of wrangling and permitting paperwork with the State of California, I drove up from LA to Vallejo (half way between San Francisco and Sacramento for you non-California types), and Indi was mine. That was April 1991, 20 years ago this month. Doug and I were living in Air Force family housing in San Pedro, and I even occasionally flew Indi there at Ft. MacArthur, across the quadrangle, sometimes using my upstairs neighbor’s balcony.

“Sometime around 1995 when Doug got out of the Air Force and we moved from Black Forest back up to Denver, Indi decided he no longer liked kids…10 years being petted at a zoo was apparently enough. He simultaneously decided that he was no longer afraid of four-legged creatures, like cats and dogs. He had always looked warily at bobcats, tigers, and various other mammals on leashes, but as long as they kept their distance he was fine. No longer; now he screamed at dogs, and when we got Otto in 1996, Indi actively flew at the end of his leash trying to kill him. Poor Otto got the message and to this day gives all raptors a wide berth.

“Around the same time I started using Indi to teach the new volunteer class at REF. For many folks, he was the first raptor they got to see up close. He was a very tolerant, if not occasionally clownish, assistant teacher.

“Two states, five homes, one dog, two kids, 20 years as part of our family, 30 in my life altogether. How many people get to love an animal for 30 years, unless it’s a macaw, tortoise or elephant?

“Glenna took this photo yesterday; as I said, I could see things were coming to an end. I am very grateful that he waited until we returned from Jamaica one week ago today, and I don’t believe he suffered. Right up to the last 24 hours of his life, he was eating, drinking, could see, hear, and both give and receive affection from those who loved him. We should all be fortunate to die so well.”

When I gave her my condolences I remarked that his longevity was biologically interesting. She agreed and added:

“From a purely biological standpoint, it was interesting to see what happened to his feet. This is what a 31 yr old arthritic raptor food looks like…check out his hallux. His left foot was completely normal, but I’ve seen this in a couple of my birds with wing injuries; as they age, the foot on the opposite side of the injured wing starts displaying twisted talons or swollen joints, almost as if it’s compensating for the injured opposite limb. We have a 23 year old female ferruginous hawk, with a left wing injury just like Indi had; the talons which have twisted on her right foot are the inside/medial or “power” talon, and the middle one. I keep them trimmed a bit shorter than normal, in order not to further twist or deform the way the toe lays….I did the same thing for Indi.”

Dancing for the joy of spring

Had to haul our last load of hay from our friend’s ranch on Sunday. It was very overcast and the ranch is ancient and captivating. These sandhill cranes were in the fields, and I’m sure they were dancing for the sheer joy of spring, rather than simply practicing their mating dances they will soon be performing. I was too far away for any great shots, but I think I captured the mood.

One of the herders from Nepal was finishing up the feeding for the day, putting out hay for the horses and small goat flock used as a meat source for the herders.

The old cottonwood trees on this 100-year old ranch are full of nesting raptors, including two nests occupied by Great Horned Owls.

There are lots of treasures on the ranch, including this row of wagon wheels, next to an old sheep camp that was used to the point of it decomposing into the earth.

This last shot makes me smile every time I see it. It’s our new litter of guardian puppies, firmly latched onto their mother for their dining pleasure. The pups are consuming lots of dog kibble now also, getting a minimum of three feedings a day from us, in addition to their mother’s milk.


…is what Tom Russell calls Montana poet, sometime cowboy, and hard- core writer Paul Zarzyski Recently Tom sent me Zarzyski’s 51–“30 poems, 20 lyrics, 1 Self- Interview”, and it is the best “Western” book and the best “Writing” book I have read in an age.

Paul is often lumped with the Cowboy Poets and has some things to say about that. While he has rodeo’d and written some great “cowboy” poems (and a classic western ballad, recorded by Tom, I’ll quote below), he is also a “serious” (I hate that term) modern poet who studied under the likes of Richard Hugo in Missoula. And he was not born in the saddle– he came from Wisconsin, and like me is half Alpine- Italian. Which means he not only eats better than most cowboys; he can write about it.

His subjects are as varied as his styles. Let me give you a few examples; first, a sample of that rodeo ballad he did with Tom, “All the Way for the Short Ride”:

Well the chute door swings open
Here we go again
The desperate dance
The swing and the spin
Dust rising from a crossbred bull
Fire meets with pride
A man comes a long way
For just the short ride

Second, something true from the Italian side, from “Sadly– Oh-so-Sadly– I have to Explain The Sopranos to Someone Who Just Does Not Capice“:

Which is all to say we work goddam hard
at being sad. It’s simple logic– bah-da- boom,
bah- dah- bing. No sad, no mad. No mad,
no glad, no glad, no mangia! And we
all live to mangia, am I right or am I right?
Good! You finally got it! It looks like
maybe I won’t have to kill you after all

A poem about autumn among other things, that reminds me just a little of Ted Hughes’ October Dawn, but with boxing, a recurrent Zarzyski theme:

Autumn puts its overnight kibosh
on summer, buckles the hot
August knees with a crisp hook
to the liver, a definitive i-dotting
body shot, then drops it
with a sockdolager to the jaw. Rocked,
summer does the sunfish-
tossed- on- the- dock death
rattle flop. I, quivering, bones
chattering with thrill, lust after this
socked- in morning, thick air
pungent with whiffs of the unpicked
edible inky caps– words stirred
so near I can catch the staccato ticking
of my Muse’s red stiletto heels…

I could go on, but buy the book!

The “Interview” is almost a book in itself, a passionate poetical rap on the working writer’s life, with observations both thoughtful and pungent. He tells tales of horses and fishing, of Cowboy Poetry gatherings and late night parties, some with long- gone characters I drank with too. A few opinions I would mildly disagree with; for instance, I am not as hard on the “New Formalists”. Paul is unusual himself in that he writes rhyming pieces– what he calls “songs”– as well as “modern poetry”. Perhaps my mixed “Kiplingite” heritage inclines me to straddle the line, but so does he! No matter– he is still somebody I’d stay up drinking and arguing with and I suspect mostly agreeing with…

Elsewhere, he gives excellent, opinionated advice (especially relevant to today’s generation of ironists). He quotes mentors William Kittredge and Richard Hugo: if you are not risking sentimentality you are not even in the ballpark. He riffs on “wild”: “Did you come to hide? Or did you come to ride? To spur the words wild? Nets, roll bars, seat belts, helmets,bullet- proof vests, panoplies, bear bells, shark repellent, sun screen, safety glasses, rain gear, mosquito dope, ginko biloba not encouraged”. He tells of defending Brokeback Mountain to a crowd of official cowboy poets– I have tried that task one- on- one, and take my hat off to him. He gives near- recipes any real cook can figure out (look at page 172)…

And more, and more– and it left me wanting STILL more; maybe, say, some of his early stuff with wild food and hunting- 51 still has a little bit of fishing. But that doesn’t even rise to the level of a complaint– this is the one to get, even if you have, as I do, all his earlier stuff. Paul, next time you are in NM, stop by Magdalena and I will buy you a drink of your choice (Polish vodka?) at the Spur. And we’ll eat risott’ with wild funghi

Real Zoo #5: Squirrelly

From Other Steve:

Every Spring, children living near the zoo would come in with baby squirrels that they had “found.” Chances are, they had been found after the children had knocked them out of their nests, but, each year, we’d take them in and the girls who made up the diets in the kitchen would raise them. As they grew, they would learn to treat the kitchen as their playground. As the kitchen was the social center of the zoo, every keeper would be in and out of the kitchen each day, so the squirrels used the keepers as trees and we got used to having them scurry up our legs, around our torsos and eventually perch on our shoulders or heads.
When the squirrels got old enough, the girls would open the kitchen door so that they could begin getting used to the big world outside and, by mid-summer, they would spend as much time outside as inside.

One hot July day – a busy Sunday when the zoo was packed – a very large woman was standing outside the glass wall of the kitchen, pointing at the diets being made so that her children could see what the animals eat. I was just leaving the kitchen, when I saw one of the young squirrels dart up her leg, under her voluminous dress. She immediately screamed and started whacking her thighs, where she was undoubtedly feeling tiny claws gripping her flesh as the little guy scurried up her body. I then saw a small squirrel-shaped lump pass her waistline under her dress and start running around her stomach and chest, trying to escape the woman’s blows. I rushed over to help – admittedly more for the squirrel’s benefit than for the woman’s. Her dress had a large scoop neckline and, as the squirrel darted across her chest under the dress, I stuck my hand in her neckline and tried to grab him. By this time the woman was screaming her head off and everything else in the zoo stopped as all the visitors turned to see what the matter was. After several seconds of my groping and the woman frantically whacking both me and her chest at random, the squirrel headed south and down her leg, dashing off to a nearby oak tree.

I then stepped away from the woman who was still upset but beginning to calm down. It was only then that I glanced to the throngs that were staring at me with their mouths agape. Then I realized….they hadn’t seen the squirrel at all. They only saw a crazed zookeeper violating a poor defenseless woman with her small children watching. I wanted to say, “No, wait, you don’t understand… there was this squirrel….” But I knew it was useless. All I could do was slink away in shame. I went to hide in the kitchen, imagining the headline that would surely be on the front page of the Monday’s Boston Globe: “Zookeeper Gropes Defenseless Fat Woman in Broad Daylight.”


I just got word that my friend Hans Windgassen, artist and pigeon man, died in Pennsylvania this week. I knew he had been having heart trouble lately but he passed it off to me as not very serious. Born in Germany, he lived and taught in Pennsylvania for many years. Although we could argue about trivial things like politics our mutual love for pigeons, nature, and art cemented our friendship. He painted two large paintings for us in his unique style (impressionism with just a dash sometimes of expressionism?) and gave them to us as gifts. He also supplied the Barb pigeons whose genes run in my loft.

Here he is with me on a visit a few years back.

A couple of his pigeon portraits– he loved to paint the “color breeds”.

“Les Girls”, our reigning queen and princess.

Me beside his portrait of me and some of my passions. He flattered me by making me skinny; ironically, PD and exercise have since this photo whittled me down to become more like the painting…

He is survived by Barbara Polny, and our thoughts go out to her in this sad time. I think some readers have paintings by him as well, so maybe we can get more later…

Bulgarian artists

Our travels in Bulgaria last fall resulted in Jim and I both falling in love with that country and the people who inhabit it. We were pleased to spend time with brothers Atila and Sider Sedefchev, some of the most interesting and fun people we encountered on the trip. They have a working farm that breeds and conserves native livestock and their native livestock protection dog, the Karakachan. These men live their lives devoted to the notion that native species should be conserved, and that in order to have native livestock in their proper form, they must live in association with native large carnivores, and thus must have the livestock protection dogs that were bred to challenge and protect against attacks by those carnivores. The system is not complete if any component is missing, according to these two.

Sider’s wife is a wolf biologist, and the family founded and operate the “Large Carnivore Education Center” on the grounds of the farm. The center also houses two captive European wolves, and a European brown bear. They teach the public about the need for co-existence. If that weren’t enough, both the brothers are wonderful artists. The pieces directly above and below are oil on canvas pieces created by Atila, while the final piece on this page is “She-Dragon loves a shepherd” by Sider. My photos are taken from brochures, and don’t do their work justice.

If any readers are tempted to travel to Bulgaria, a visit to the Large Carnivore Education Center is well worth the trip. High on a mountain, amid the habitat of animals wild and domestic, it’s a fabulous place of learning. It would be a natural place to host international conferences about carnivores as well.