Monday, October 13, 2008

But wait, there is more!

Prague Zoo surprised me not only by its size (it's very large), but also how well kept and clean it was, how beautiful the grounds were and how progressive it was in general. This is rare for post-socialist countries climbing out of economic difficulties, but for Prague it's even more praiseworthy, because not too long ago, in 2002 , the city and the Zoo were damaged by a flood. There were photos of the flooded Zoo, of the extend of the damage done, reports of heroic rescues of animals by the zookeepers and of the losses... Since then, the Zoo was rebuilt and expanded, and is now among the top 10 best zoos in the world. Some call it the best zoo in Europe.

The Zoo starts with a Walk of Fame - only instead of movie starts there are the footprints of the zoo stars and primadonnas - monkeys, tigers, zebras...

I did take a lot of videos at the Zoo, which I can't post here. I will only show some of the animals I haven't seen in any other zoo, or those we particularly liked. Like this bat-eared dog, which was, I think, Roxy's favorite.

These two birds of prey were among my favorites. I like how they looked me, as if considering whether or not I am worth catching. The snow owl was actually hissing at me, trying to scare me at first.

These monkeys are looking for fleas in each other's fur (and not finding any, by the way) at the Indonesian Jungle pavilion, one of the most unique exhibits at the Zoo. There was a binturong at the exhibit, too - something I haven't seen anywhere else - but he was hiding in the tree.

Part of the Indonesian pavilion is a dark tunnel , where nocturnal animals can be seen roaming around, and the bats fly around free.


I liked the giraffe habitat, because we didn't have to look up - the observation desk was at the level of their heads, so we could actually look them in the eye :)

Polar bears rarely feel and look good in captivity. This one was so shining white, healthy looking and energetic, it was a pleasure to behold!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What's that on your nose?

This magnificent creature is a rhinoceros beetle – one of the largest and most fascinating beetles in Armenia. When I was a kid, first collecting bugs, then photographing them, I really wanted to find one, but never did. So, this here monster represents my childhood dream come true!

Some interesting facts about rhino beetles, gleaned from books and Internet: they are mostly useful creatures, their larva feeds on rotting wood, recycling it back into the ecosystem, only males have the horn and use it for territorial/food fights with other males. Females are larger, but with no horn.

What I find fascinating about these beetles, is that they are considered among the strongest creatures in the world. A rhino beetle is said to be able to carry 850 times its own weight!

The close relatives of this guy are the huge African rhinos, some of them as big as the palm of your hand! This European cousin is only about 5-6 cm (2-2.5 in) long. But he does have an imposing appearance, doesn’t he?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Even a brief look at Armenian folklore will reveal the following fact: a donkey was by far the most popular animal with our ancestors, featured in more folk tales, sayings, proverbs, idioms and jokes than any other character (okay, maybe dogs are mentioned quite as frequently). This is easily accounted for, if you remember that Armenia is a mountainous country where, before the heavy machinery even existed to dig roads and tunnels, most traveling and cargo transportation was done via narrow mountain paths. A donkey was indispensable for this sort of thing, better even than a horse, especially because not everyone could afford a horse. So there you have it – please welcome the hero of Armenian national folklore!

Though it is a thankless task to translate idioms and proverbs, I will site some donkey-related ones, still widely used:

You will often hear a stupid and obstinate person being called a donkey, donkey head or, if the stupidity is particularly irritating – a donkey foal. (These expressions are particularly popular with drivers and politicians these days.) Similarly, to speak like a donkey means to say something stupid. And if someone is especially obstinate and insists on getting his own way no matter what, he will certainly be described as spurring his donkey on.

Someone who is sluggish or tuned out will be dubbed slumbering in a donkey ear. For instance, if you are the last one to hear that your boss is marrying his secretary after 7 years of relationship, you were definitely taking a nap in one of those furry ears.

The condition of mountain roads and the rocking gait of an average donkey must have been the reason why a person who is feeling tired and beaten will describe himself as having just dismounted from a donkey. Somewhere along those lines goes the following saying: mounting a donkey is shame, getting off is twice the shame. I think it means: if you took something upon you - do it, no matter how unpleasant the task is.

Don’t die, donkey – spring will come, grass will grow describes empty promises. Others might be donkeys, we are just a donkey saddle is to say - life/progress is passing us by. Looking for a dead donkey to take the shoes off usually describes an opportunist, or someone taking advantage of others. Pull the donkey out of the mud means to survive a challenge (if you didn’t study for the test and got an A just using your wit, this would be a very appropriate thing to say)

Ate the donkey, turned away from the tail – my mom would say when I run out to play leaving the last sentence of my homework unfinished (didn’t happen too often). And if I didn’t appreciate something yummy she made, her comment was: what does donkey know about almonds? Loaded donkey runs faster – she would sigh taking yet another task upon herself.

A donkey, even if it makes 40 trips to Jerusalem, will still be a donkey – doesn’t need much explanation, I think.

All this aside, however, donkeys are rather smart animals, if somewhat obstinate and loud. They are tough, hard working and cheap, and to this day are still popular throughout the countryside. What with the rising gas prices, I am thinking about getting one myself!

To conclude, a fable by a 13th century Armenia writerVardan Aygekci.

Messengers came to a donkey: “Rejoice and be glad and prepare gifts, you had a grandson.”
“Woe to me, friends”, - the donkey answered. “Even with hundred grandsons, my load will remain just as heavy.”

Friday, May 23, 2008


If you look at the map of Armenia, you will notice in addition to Sevan Lake in the middle and several smaller water reservoirs in various areas, a group of strange, geometrically shaped lakes in the southern corner of the country. These are artificial fisheries of Armash, bordering with the "no man’s land" between Armenia and Turkey, and there we went last Sunday with a small group and the President of the Center of Bird Lovers of Armenia as a guide.

What makes the fisheries special is the amount and diversity of water birds there. After some other lakes in Armenia were drained or the habitat around them destroyed as a result of human activity, the birds started making their nests at the fisheries, which are surrounded by reeds and are rich with food. Beside the ducks, herons and egrets, terns and cormorants of all shapes and sizes, that are fairly common (even though some of those are threatened too,) there are some spectacular birds that live here – spoonbill, glossy ibis and black stork, for example. Pelicans and flamingos, that are not native to Armenia, stop over at the lakes during their migration.

Seeing as the lakes are practically the last resort for these birds in Armenia, you would think this a wonderful opportunity to dedicate at least part of the vast territory of the fisheries to a bird sanctuary, close it to hunting and fishing and open to kids, families and birdwatchers. Not so fast! The government does not seem in the least bit interested in stepping in, and the owner of the land, it seems, couldn't care less about endangered species (let me put it this way - he is yet to prove that he does). All that matters is that these birds eat fish. He grows fish for profit, and they eat it! So, without further ado, he sets to destroy them every which way he can. Besides regularly burning the reeds with nests, eggs and babies, he also allows an Italian-Armenian joint venture tour company to bring over groups of hunters to shoot the birds and has his own people shooting them as well, as they proudly boasted to us while we were walking around the lake. “They eat fish” said the young man with a gun showing us a shot black crowned night heron, a squacco heron and a duck.

The zoologists approached the owner of the fisheries more than once, asking him to stop allowing hunters to the lakes, but the answer still stands as negative. By the most optimistic predictions, it won't take long until the birds stop returning to these ponds, and will move to our southern neighbors for permanent residence. If they don't disappear altogether.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Where do stork babies come from?

The photo is clickable-enlargeable. Did you notice how many sparrows make their nests on the outskirts of a stork nest?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Two brothers

These two gorgeous creatures are, in a way, brothers, belonging to the same family of swallowtail butterflies. The first one is called Machaon, the second - Podalirius. Interestingly, in Greek mythology those two characters were brothers, too!

Here is a quote from Wikipedia, if you are interested.
In Greek mythology, Machaon was a son of Asclepius. With Podalirius, his brother, he led an army from Thessaly (or possibly Messenia) in the Trojan War on the side of the Greeks during the Trojan War. He, along with his brother, were highly valued surgeons and medics. In the Iliad he was wounded and put out of action by Paris. Machaon (or his brother) healed Philoctetes and Telephus during the war. He was killed by Eurypylus in the tenth year of the war. He was buried in Gerenia in Messenia, where he was worshiped by the people. The Papilio machaon (Old World Swallowtail) is named after Machaon.

Monday, March 10, 2008

How do you know it's spring?

Because the storks are here!!!