baby animals

Posted by Ellen

This time of year, alas, our thoughts turn to Siberia, or to the Ice Ages, or even to Siberia during the Ice Ages, when woolly mammoths were walking tall and cave lions commanded the countryside.

Last summer, two men digging for mammoth tusks along a riverbank in Yakutia, eastern Siberia, came across a couple of brown and furry-looking chunks of ice about the size of household cats. Not sure what they were but hoping they might be worth something to somebody, the men kept the things from thawing out by reburying them deep in the permafrost. In September, they returned with scientists from the institute in Yakutsk and learned that they'd found the corpses of two baby cave lions.

Cave lions are an extinct subspecies of lion that ranged across all of Eurasia, from Spain to Siberia, and crossed the land bridge to North America during the Ice Ages. They've been extinct for 12,000 years or more, but they are well known to us through the work of numerous prehistoric artists who featured them in paintings on the walls of caves.

Cave lions did not themselves live in caves, but of course their babies stayed in dens when they were small, and these particular cubs were still very young when, it is theorized, their den caved in on them, perhaps in connection with a landslide. Buried deep in rubble, the cubs probably died from lack of oxygen, which also helped preserve their corpses so well for thousands of years.

The top photo is an artist's rendering of a snowy landscape with mammoths, cave lions, a woolly rhinoceros, and other Ice Age critters; the scene is said to be set in northern Spain. 

Below that is one of the Siberian cave lion cubs, resting on a block of ice.

In the photo at the bottom of this post, a scientist takes off one of his gloves and sticks his finger in the cub's mouth. His actions may strike us as a bit casual and unscientific, though there is some research happening here: by feeling for the nubs of baby teeth in the cub's gums, he was able to estimate its age as approximately two weeks. These same scientists have announced their intention to clone these cubs, in hopes of bringing back the extinct species. We'll keep you posted.

Posted by Ellen

According to the good people at Life magazine in 1937, no animals were harmed in the production of this and the many hundreds of similar pictures that comprised the life's work of photographer Harry Whittier Frees, "the most famed U.S. photographer of dressed-up animals."

"No animal protective socities have ever accused him of cruelty to animals," said the Life article. "Some have praised and admired his work." Frees, for one, insisted that gentleness with his models was the secret of his success.

Still and all, in the twenty-first century, we kinda wonder.

It all started one evening in 1906 at the Frees dinner table in Audubon, Pennsylvania. Somebody had brought a silly paper hat to the table, and it was passed around from head to head with plenty of giggles and wisecracks. And then somebody put the hat on the head of the family's pet kitten, Boots, which led to even more giggles but also to an epiphany for Harry Frees: he would take a picture of the cat in the hat and see if he could sell it.

A postcard printer bought it and begged for more; a career was born. Frees spent the next forty years dressing up baby animals that he rented from the neighbors and posing them in human sorts of activities. The postcards and children's books now sell for about $20 each on ebay.

Most of the costumes were sewn by Frees's housekeeper, Mrs. Annie Edelman, who contrived stiffeners to keep the animals posed somewhat upright. In his studio, Frees worked hard to keep his models' attention; bunnies were the easiest to work with, he said, because they were so timid they didn't move much. Piglets were the most difficult to handle; when unhappy, they tended to close their eyes tight and squeal.

But Frees's bread and butter were kittens and puppies doing everyday sorts of things that people do. And for what it's worth, note that the clothespins here are made from a single piece of wood, not the spring-loaded pincer kind of clothespin, which would have been difficult to manipulate without opposable thumbs.

Posted by Ellen

From friends and neighbors in Turkey comes this Istanbul street scene.

Posted by Ellen

I don't know how the story began, but this young robin wound up on a neighbor's doorstep the other day. People put out a bowl of birdseed, which didn't seem to interest the bird; it just sat there all huddled on the steoop, occasionally squawking for its mother.

Mama robin was in fact close by, keeping a watch from a nearby tree. Baby and mother chattered frequently, and occasionally mom flew down with some food for the baby.

A second young robin about the same size as this one was also in the area, hopping about and flying at least a little. Perhaps this bird on the stoop had lost its mobility after a flying lesson gone awry or some other accident.

Even though mama bird had not abandoned her stricken young, the situation was dire. Alone on a city stoop, the baby was at the mercy of neighborhood dogs, cats, chilly night winds, and thunderstorms. And if it couldn't fly, it would never be able to take proper care of itself.

I don't know how the story ended, but the next day the stoop was empty.

Posted by Ellen

These ducklings are in Nepal, but they don't know that.

Posted by Ellen

Baby Goat, by Avram Dumitrescu, our very own Romanian Irish Texan painter.  Click through for Avram's story and some more of his paintings.

Posted by Ellen

At the Buffalo Zoo, in the new rainforest exhibit, the Wiggin kids find the baby chicks.