Sunday, September 9, 2018

Draper Natural History Museum, Cody, Wyoming

The Draper Natural History Museum highlights the extinction of animals and the possibility of extinction of species still around. The causes of Ice Age extinctions remain a mystery, however, some scientists hypothesize that hunting by humans may have caused the late-Pleistocene extinction of large North American Animals. Other scientists disagree with this hypothesis on the grounds that the human population was too small and technologically primitive to cause such extensive extinction. Of the many kinds of animals that became extinct, only two ~ the mammoth and mastodon ~ have been directly associated with large-scale hunting by humans. Other explanations for late-Pleistocene extinctions include disease and ecological changes related to a warming climate. The extinctions may have been caused by a combination of many factors. There is limited hard evidence, so the mystery remains unsolved - for now.

Extinction means the end of a species - forever - and is a normal event in the evolutionary process. Of all species that have ever existed, 99.9% are now extinct. During the last 500 million years, the normal extinction rate has been punctuated by five massive, worldwide extinction events. These events were associated with large scale changes in Earth's environment caused by natural catastrophes, such as the impact of asteroids or comets. 

Today, many scientists believe the extinction rate is at least 40 times the normal rate. Much of this increase is blamed on environmental changes caused by a growing human population. Since 1950, Earth's population has doubled to 6.1 billion people.


Coyote, Black-billed Magpie, Deer

My hand in comparison to a grizzly bear front paw (right) and a grizzly bear back paw (left). Grizzlies are rare in the lower 48 states, but black bears live in most of the forested areas of North America. Black bears and grizzlies can live in the same area and can be very close in size and color, so there is often some confusion between the two bears. Black bears are not always black, and grizzly bears are not always brown. Both bears vary in color from blond to black. To best distinguish the two types of bear, look for the prominent shoulder hump and long claws on the grizzly bear, or the tall, pointy ears, short claws on the black bear. 

Two hundred years ago, more than 50,000 grizzly bears roamed the lower 48 states. Expanding human settlement and uncontrolled hunting and trapping caused grizzly populations to decline. By 1975, with fewer than 1,000 grizzlies south of Canada, and fewer than 200 in the Greater Yellowstone region, the grizzly was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. During the next four decades, federal and state agencies, private landowners, and conservation groups rallied to protect bears and their habitat, and to educate people about living with bears. As of 2017, more than 700 grizzly bears inhabited the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem and the recovery criteria were met to remove grizzlies from the Endangered Species List.

Jade suffered a fracture in his right wing when he was less than two years old. Although he was well cared for, the wing did not heal properly and Jade cannot fly well enough to survive in the wild. He came to the Draper Museum Raptor Experience in 2016 when he was three years old. In the wild, Bald Eagles can live 30 years or more.

Eagle Nest
Bald Eagles build massive nests in trees and are used for multiple years. They primarily eat fish, but also eat waterfowl, reptiles, small mammals such as rabbits and squirrels, and large amounts of carrion. The Bald Eagle is the only eagle unique to North America. Loss of habitat and the widespread use of certain pesticides drastically reduced bald eagle populations in many areas. The bald eagle was listed as endangered for nearly three decades but was downlisted to threatened after significant population gains were made under careful management.

Although the pronghorn is commonly called an antelope, it is not a member of the true antelope family of Africa and Eurasia. The pronghorn is the last living member of a family that evolved exclusively in North America. It is one of many species of large herbivores that co-evolved in the dry grasslands and shrub-lands of the American West long before Euro-American settlers arrived. 

Great Horned Owl


A wolf pack centers around a family group consisting of an adult pair and their offspring of various ages. All members of a pack care for the young. After they are weaned, pups are fed with meat regurgitated by their parents. 

People hold strong and varied emotions about wolves. Facts, fears, and folklore become intertwined to shape people's perceptions. The Christian church in Europe has used the wolf to symbolize evil. In contrast, Native Americans have generally revered wolves as powerful, sometimes sacred animal spirits. The many visions of the wolf are reflected in art and artifacts from different cultures.

Another wolf ruled the Ice Age. The dire wolf was more common than the gray wolf in Pleistocene North America. It most likely preyed upon ancient relatives of modern horses and bison. Both the dire wolf and its prey became extinct about 10,000 years ago. Wolves ranged widely through North America in pre-Columbian times. 

The wolves' habitat and natural prey decreased with the westward expansion of Euro-American culture. These settlers viewed wolves and other predators as nuisances. By 1950, people had exterminated nearly all wolves from the lower 48 United States. Attitudes toward predators gradually changed. People began to view the wolf as an important piece of nature's puzzle. Wolves returned naturally to parts of their former range, but good habitat was scarce. The Greater Yellowstone region was identified as one of the few places wolves could be restored and survived.

Since wolf introduction in Greater Yellowstone, many people rejoice that the wolves have reduced elk populations and protected open valleys from overgrazing. But the number of elk killed has been more than expected in some areas. Many local outfitters and hunters worry that the wolves will end up killing all of the elk. Today the debate is still strong between people who view wolf restoration as a great ecological success and those who view wolf restoration as a terrible problem. Wolves are protected in the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, but are managed according to different rules in each of the three bordering states (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho) outside the parks.

Wolves were returned to Greater Yellowstone in 1995. They have thrived since their return and have restored Yellowstone to a more primitive state similar to pre-Columbian times. Wolf restoration has created challenges and concerns for some people, especially local hunting outfitters, ranchers, and other commercial interests. It has also created a thriving new economy built around wolf-watching. 

An avalanche begins when snow on a sloping surface breaks loose and moves rapidly down the mountainside. Avalanches alter the landscape by sweeping away everything in their paths. They create new habitats and increase habitat diversity. Scientists study avalanches to better predict when they will occur. Varying temperatures, high winds, rates of snowfall, and smooth, steep slopes are factors that can trigger an avalanche. Sometimes small avalanches are started on purpose to eliminate snow buildup and lessen threats of a larger, more dangerous avalanche. An avalanche can strike with the force of 200 pounds of TNT.

Camp Monaco Tree
This tree slice is from the Monaco Tree, a 300 year-old Engelmann spruce killed by the 1988 Yellowstone fires. The tree's lifetime spanned many events including Prince Albert I of Monaco's Wyoming hunting trip. The tree also survived ecological events -- wood rot, insect infestation, frost cracks caused by harsh winter, and a potentially deadly blue fungus stain. The tree's location in a moist stream valley probably protected it from fires that regularly sweep the . region.

Grizzly Bear & Wolverine
Mountain Goat
Bighorn Sheep
Red Fox
The large, gray form of the red fox haunts high altitudes in the Rockies, Cascades, and Sierra Nevadas. It should not be confused with the gray fox, which is a different species found elsewhere in North America. Most scientists consider the gray-colored red fox of the western mountains to be a different race than lowland red fox populations. This rare "gray ghost" might be the descendant of a cold-loving strain of foxes that immigrated to North America across the Bering land bridge from Siberia during the Pleistocene epoch.

Snakes of Dirt
Snakes of dirt mean gophers. In the spring, after snow has melted, the winter work of northern pocket gophers is evident. Gopher cores, the long coils of earth left behind as a gopher burrows under the snow, remain.

Yellowstone Caldera
About 630,000 years ago, the shape of Yellowstone was dramatically altered in an event that dominates its recent geologic history. A volcanic explosion ejected 1,000 times more material than the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980 and produced an immense crater, or caldera. The caldera is approximately 47 miles long and 23 miles wide. This was the third major eruption during the past 2.1 million years, and the same processes that caused these eruptions are at work beneath Yellowstone today.

The crest of a long series of mountain ranges that extend from Mexico through the western United States into Canada is called the Continental Divide. Depending on which side of the Divide rain and snow falls, small streams gather the runoff and guide it toward either the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean.

The Teton Range
The Teton Range, rising more than 7,000 feet above the floor of Jackson Hole, was uplifted along the Teton Fault beginning about 9 million years ago. The Teton Range is among the youngest in the Rocky Mountains.

Snowy Owl
The snowy owl is a rare winter visitor to the Greater Yellowstone region. It hunts lemmings and ptarmigan in its breeding grounds north of the Arctic Circle. This specimen was struck by a vehicle in 2013. Susan Ahalt, of Ironside Bird Rescue in Cody, could not save this bird but made sure it would have an enduring presence here at the Draper Museum.

Mountain Lion
From northern Canada to southern South America, the mountain lion's range is larger than any other land-based mammal in the Western Hemisphere. Mountain Lions in the Greater Yellowstone region prey on many animals, including elk and mule deer. 

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