Friday, January 21, 2011

Urban Wildlife Watch: Mountain Lion in the City

I'm not just pulling your leg here.  A Mountain Lion really was spotted in the St. Louis, Missouri Metro area on January 12, 2011.  Local news agencies have reported the sightings taken from a hiking trail camera in the suburb of Chesterfield, Missouri.

Links to the news story. KMOV (CBS Affiliate) and the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

Mountain Lions, also called Pumas and Cougars (I prefer Cougar) - scientific name Puma concolor, are the ecological equivalent of their cousins in Africa - the Lion. Like their cousins, they are the big cats of North America. With the exception of the very young, only humans are a major threat to these top predators.  However, in natural settings they do compete with Gray Wolves and Grizzly Bears (other top predators).

Mountain lions are solitary animals.  Males and females mate and then go their separate ways.  The female raises her 1-3 cubs alone for about a year and half.  In the meantime, they ambush prey like deer, moose, or anything smaller than they are for food.

Before European colonization and expansion into the Americas, this great cat call all of North, Central, and South America home - from Canada to Chile. They are beautiful and majestic creatures. Though sightings in Missouri are still rare (only 13 confirmed sightings since 1994), this does signal a positive turn for the big cat. In fact, sighting of almost any predator in an urban area means that species' numbers are growing and individuals are spreading out looking for a territory of their own. Assuming this isn't someone's pet* or rehab animal, that's exactly what the Missouri Department of Conservation thinks this cat was doing - searching for mates and a home range.

As much as I am excited about this wildlife sighting in a urban area, I am also worried. Some wildlife are just not very well-suited to live along side people. Large animals and predatory mammals are such examples. Until we as people, learn to appreciate large wildlife and are willing to share space and resources with them, these animal just don't do well. All it takes is for someone to be frightened or startled and this beautiful animal will become a mount or trophy on someone's hunting wall.
A better picture of a Cougar from It's Nature!
For the most part, then animals avoid people.  So encountering one shouldn't happen.  They are most active in the dawn or dusk (crepuscular activity).  If you do travel places where cougars are known to live or happen to come across one, understanding this animal's behavior can help you avoid an ugly ending.

1. Do not advance on the cat or kittens (defending young is one sure way to irritate Mama cat and bring out the nasty.  Walk away from the kittens - resist the cuteness and novelty.  If Mama catches you there, then you're in  big trouble).  Cats hate to be cornered.  Stay far away, but keep your eyes on them.
2. Do not make eye contact.  Stare downs are threatening.
3. Do not run.  Cats like to chase things. It's part of their predator behavior.  Plus, they are rather fast.
4. Do not play dead.  Cats are also very curious. Lying dead and still might cause the cat to approach and sniff you.  You do not want to be in close contact to those claws or teeth.
5. Keep your distance if you can and stand wide and tall.  Make calm loud noises.  Large size and sounding powerful usually deters predators. You want it to think that you're just too much to fool with.
6.  If the fat does advance and your life is threatened, then defend your self fully.  Fight the cat, hit it, or put something between you and the beast. Make it your mission to come out alive.

And God forbide any of these things happen, but if it does and you live, report your incident immediately to park, wildlife, or conservation official.  But use common sense.  If you've been warned of sightings of cougars in a particular area, then don't go looking for them.  It saddens me when I hear of wildlife being killed or put down for attacking a person who was doing or getting into something s/he knew fully well to avoid.  Don't be that person.

* Owning wildlife as pets is illegal and is a practice that I certainly frown upon. I understand how exciting it can be to be next to exotic wildlife. no matter how adorable, cute, cuddly or drawn you are to them, remember they are wild. They have no domesiticated senses of loyalty to, affection for or willingness to obey humans. If you feel that drawn to being near wildlife, become a zoologist. That way you will learn the proper ways to handle and interact with wild creatures and can do so often.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Discussing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Without a doubt, Henrietta Lacks was the most significant contributor to medical science and microbiology.  She wasn't a scientist or a doctor.  She was a mother and wife and grand-daughter of a tobacco farmer of Clover, Virginia. In February1951, she went to see doctors for what turned out to be cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.  In the course of her treatment, doctors biopsied her cells to study them...and they never stopped growing.  Though she died months later (October 1951), her cells lived on as a result she has cured polio, developed in-vitro fertilization technology, visited outer-space, and helped unlock the mystery of the HIV virus.

Rebecca Skloots top-selling nonfiction book about Henrietta Lacks and her immortal cell line, Hela cells, is coming out in paperback form.  If you have yet to read it, then hesitate no more.

Moreover, I'll be leading a three part book discussion about this book at the Missouri History Museum (St. Louis, Missouri).
Confronting Science: African American Perceptions of Science and Medical Research
Tuesdays, February 8, 22, and March 8, 2011

African-Americans, as well as other minority and socio-economic marginalized groups, have had tumultuous relationships with the science research community. The period post American slavery was a time of racial definition and some scientists were set to demonstrate superiority of some groups over others. Combine this with secretive research missions, such as the Tuskegee Experiment which took place between 1932 and 1972, and it is very easy to understand why African-Americans are wary of experimental research. Compare these historical feelings of fear and distrust and it may also explain many inequities within the African-American community, including health disparities, participation in research studies, and pursing science-related careers. Ethics, Accessibility, and Faith were three of the major themes presented in the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot; and these themes are also major filters through which many African-Americans view science today. I will lead a three-part book discussion that confronts science and the research community via these filters and help the audience explore opportunities to see science and research in a wider and more inclusive way.

Part 1 - Ethics: Before any fruitful discussion about improving health care, access to resources, or increasing diversity in the sciences can occur, the painful accounts of science research must be fully addressed. The ethical issues presented in The Immortal Life provide an introduction to exploring the history of ethics in science research in the US, as well as thoroughly exploring people’s prejudices and perceptions of science, scientists, and the research community at-large.

Part 2 - Accessibility: The children and neighbors of Henrietta Lacks lacked access to quality long-term health care. This was not only due to their economic situations, it was exacerbated by their poor comprehension of science and medical terminology. Such barriers to understanding, as well as to care and career options, still exist for many today. I will lead a discussion on accessibility to science and health care – then and now – as well as share programs that aim to address these disparities.

Part 3 - Faith: Both Henrietta Lacks and her daughter, Deborah, were women of faith. Faith and religion have often been pitted as contrary to science. Moreover, faith plays a powerful role in health and healing within the African-American community. We will explore the role of faith for the subjects in the book, including the author who describes herself as agnostic, and how one’s personal faith is a filter to accepting or rejecting science and research.
Tuesdays, February 8, 22, and March 8, 2011

5:30 pm-7:30 pm

Schnucks Learning Center
Missouri History Museum

Participation is free, but registration is required; call (314) 361-9017.
If you live in the St. Louis Metro area, then please come on down. 

Saturday, January 08, 2011

ScienceOnline Bound, Baby!

Happy New Year!

Good day good people. I am SOOOOOOOO geeked and excited about the upcoming science blogging conference MLK weekend in Research Triangle, North Carolina. It's one of my favorite meetings: it's science, it's social media and it is definitely ALL fun. I live for this stuff! (LOL)

I'm also quite proud of the fact that I'll be attending this meeting as the NESCent Blog Travel Award Winner. (My Kanye West blog entry about the evolutionary significance of gold digging was the winning entry: How some females respond to nuptial gifts.)
I'll be lending a hand here and there and you can chime in and follow along at home.

Here's how.

1. Offer some really great input to my session. I'll be co-moderating a super-cool session on the how social media can be used for science outreach in ecology, marine biology, conservation, and other 'outdoorsy' science disciplines.
Technology and the Wilderness – co-moderated by Miriam Goldstein, Jason Robertshaw, Danielle Lee and Karen James
Technology offers unparalleled opportunity for outdoor education – yet it is viewed as a cause of “Nature Deficit Disorder.” But little glowy screens can be amazing educational tools. Potential directions include tools (for example: a citizen science iPhone app from Mote Marine Laboratory), networking (e.g., Outdoor Afro bringing people of color outdoors together), and exploration (e.g., following up on the Blogging From the Field/Trash Gyre sessions from past years, citizen science, teenagers blogging their discoveries).
Please feel free to add your input for this session in my comments, below.

2. Check out the full conference lineup and weigh in on other sessions, too. Afterall the goal of the conference is to make connections and improve how science is communicated to everyone, everywhere. Link to the full program.

You can also follow the conference online via: Ustream chatroom, Twitter, and FriendFeed. If appropriate, volunteers will convey good questions/comments from the virtual audience into the room.
Here are the links to follow along online at home:
On the blog:
on Twitter: @scio11 and hashtag #scio11 and Follow me, too @DNLee5 (I'll be tweeting all weekend)
You can also offer comments and follow my session at the hashtag #TechWild
on FriendFeed: scienceonline2011 and Follow me, too DNLee
on Facebook: Scienceonline2011 and I'll be posting on my Facebook Fan page, too
Live stream (and recorded): Scienceonline2011 Ustream  (Thanks to sponsorship by AAAS, Science, & Eureka Alert and National Association of Science Writers)
Science Online app for iPhone, it's free:
3. I'm also part of the band of misfits putting on the Open Mike Night. There'll be all kinds of carousing and nerdy-shenanigans for this event.

I hope you're able to participate in some way. It really is an open access feel. Sharing science with general audiences, like all of you is my passion and the passion of the most participants. Our goal is make science accessible and engaging for everyone. Please, help us do so by sharing your honest feedback with us.
Until later,
Stay warm and safe


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