Posts Tagged ‘national zoo’

Costa Rica: Q&A with Dr. Suzann Murray

Wednesday, November 18th, 2009

Dr. Suzann Murray is the Chief Veterinarian at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C. She oversees the health care of the zoo’s entire animal collection, as well as conservation, research, and training programs. Here, she takes a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk about the biodiversity of Costa Rica, where she leads our Costa Rica Discovery  tours.

Oak Tiger Butterfly. Photo: Phil Parsons


Smithsonian Journeys: As Chief Veterinarian at the National Zoo, how do you integrate your diverse knowledge of animals to create a memorable learning experience on Smithsonian Journeys tours?

Suzann Murray: I have the opportunity to work with a diverse range of species, from fish to mammals and birds to reptiles. Each species, and in some cases, each animal, has its own adaptations to its natural environment. I enjoy using my medical knowledge of animals as a way to provide some “inside” knowledge to tour members. To me, the diversity of animal life is just fascinating. Having the opportunity to share my knowledge of animal adaptations is a great joy.

Q. Costa Rica is nestled between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America and borders both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. How does this geographic location contribute to the rich biodiversity found in Costa Rica?

A. Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, largely due to its two coasts and mountainous ranges that provide a wide range of topography and microclimates for a huge variety of species. From flatlands close to sea level up to the cloud forests of the volcanoes, the varying habitats are suitable for incredible animal diversity. The abundance of rivers and the access to the ocean and the Caribbean Sea also make it possible for endangered species such as dolphins and sea turtles to call Costa Rica home. Finally, by being so close to the equator, the temperature is in an ideal range to support almost any kind of plant or animal life.

Q. Our trip will visit the Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica’s most well-known volcano, which is considered one of the most active volcanoes in the world. How has the Arenal’s presence impacted the surrounding environment?

A. Arenal produces frequent and moderate eruptions. The course of the lava flow has also changed over the years. In areas of previous eruptions, we will be able to observe the re-growth of secondary forest and compare that terrain to the more lava-covered areas of recent eruptions. The south side of the Volcano is known for its unique cloud forest, and it is also known as a region in which world-class coffee is grown.

Q. What types of animals can Smithsonian travelers look forward to seeing in the rainforest: mammals, birds, reptiles, insects? Are there any endemic species that participants may encounter on this trip?

A. If you are a bird enthusiast, Costa Rica is the place to go. If you are not yet interested in birds, be prepared to join the growing ranks of birders! The sheer numbers and types of birds we will see are truly astounding–from colorful smaller birds such as hummingbirds, flycatchers, and toucans, to larger birds of prey and storks. Some of these birds are found only in Costa Rica. For those who are truly wild about mammals or reptiles, we will look for the impressive howler and spider monkeys, unique sloths, sea turtles, caiman crocodiles, and possibly even the rare dolphin. Whether we are searching in the land, sea, or air–we will be seeing an abundance of wildlife.

What’s your favorite tropical animal? Share below.

Click here for educational travel opportunities in Costa Rica for you and your family.

Photo: Pretty Frog, But Don’t Touch!

Thursday, November 5th, 2009
Jessie Cohen, NZP photographer

Jessie Cohen, NZP photographer

The poison dart frog, above, is found in the Amazon rain forests of Central and South America.

Sure, it’s pretty, but this little frog who measures between less than an inch and two inches can actually take down a small animal with its powerful toxin. That’s why it is a bright shade of blue, as to say to predators, “Don’t mess with me.” These frogs are also known as poison arrow frogs because some indigenous tribes in the Amazon have used their secretions to poison their darts for hunting for generations. It’s easy to confuse these frogs with the over 44 different species of harlequin frogs, which are actually toads, and have the same bright colors and poisonous secretions that are found in the region.

These frogs are a tiny group of amphibians who are part of a vast animal community that live in the Amazon rain forest, a region that spans 2,722,000 miles in South and Central America. Other residents of the region include Golden Lion Tamarins, the Dusty Titi Monkey, and our favorite, the Giant Anteaters . Check out little Baby Cyrano, who was born at the National Zoo on March 12, 2009.

What’s your favorite Amazonian animal?

Click for our The Mighty Amazon tour.

Video: The Bottom of the World

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

For many of us, Antarctica is pinnacle of world travel. We hope we’ll get to Antarctica one day, and we hope that it will look as it has for centuries. As we all try to be more aware of living a more environmentally-friendly life focused on saving the Arctic region, it’s easy to forget the continent way down south at the bottom of the world.

But imagine actually living there. For the scientists at the McMurdo Station, Antarctica is their backyard. Established in 1956, it began as an outpost of only a few buildings but has now grown to a large research facility. The Crary Laboratory supports biological, earth science, atmospheric sciences, and a new aquarium, all under one roof. The facility was named for the geophysicist and geologist Albert P. Crary (1911-1987), the first person to set foot on both the North and South Poles.

McMurdo Station is now the largest community in Antarctica with 1200 residents in the summer and 200 in the winter. This video shows both the day to day life and stunning beauty of living on the loneliest continent. For them, this is business as usual. You can read more about our National Zoo’s expedition to Antarctica here, where you can learn about the research team and what their home base is like from those who know it best.

Would you live in Antarctica? Share below.
Book Your Trip to Antarctica with guest speaker Buzz Aldrin!

Video: Caring for baby animals at the National Zoo

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

We’ve had a veritable baby boom at the Smithsonian National Zoo this summer! In a 24-hour-period between July 9 and 10, 2009 a clouded leopard cub, a Przewalski’s horse, and a red panda cub were all born at Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, VA. All three species are endagered, so we were overjoyed to be welcoming new animals.

Here, check out video of past Smithsonian Journeys Study Leader and National Zoo Veterinarian Luis Padilla talking about all the excitement.

Can’t get enough animals? Join us on one of these wildlife tours.

If you could be any animal, what one would you be? Share below.