Thank you to everyone who submitted a tapir-mask photo in celebration of World Tapir Day! Each and every image made. my. day. There can be only one winner of my book givaway, however, and the hands down champion is shown above - I can't even begin to explain how thrilling it was to receive this image in my inbox. From the Twycross Zoo in Warwichshire, UK, this enthusiastic crew of tapir-keepers not only made 3 tapir masks (colored to differentiate between species!), they got their beautiful ungulate charges to pose with them for a photo!! It simply took my breath away - thank you to Sarah and her co-workers for the phenomenal submission, and for all of your dedication and hard work as caretakers and conservationists for such amazing critters.
Below, a few more of my favorite paper tapirs - BIG thank you to little Amaya, who patiently modeled the below series of photos on a rather unpleasant day to be outside... and I don't know about anyone else, but I'm already looking forward to World Tapir Day 2013!
Hello, FRIDAY! And for those not already in the know, there's another, much more novel reason to delight in this fine 27th of April, 2012... it's World Tapir Day!! Oh yes. You heard that right - today is World Tapir Day - a most fitting occassion (if one needs an excuse) to celebrate, raise awareness, and otherwise spread the good word about one of the coolest odd-toed ungulates to saunter the underbrush of equatorial rainforests: the TAPIR. *Don't be fooled by the 4 toes on each front foot - they only have three on the back! Taxonomically speaking, they are odd-toes, and all 4 species are simply amazing...
I've posted on tapirs previously, having been aquainted a few summers ago with the brilliant family of 3 living at the Franklin Park Zoo - Milton, Annie, and Tupelo are Baird's tapirs, and Tupelo, like all baby tapirs, was a heart-breakingly cute wee thing covered head to toe in spots and stripes when she was born (few things rival newborn tapirs on the squee scale...). Baird's tapirs are one of the 3 tapir species native to Central and South America, where they are the largest land mammal (Baird's are smaller than the Malayan, but larger than the Brazilian and Mountain species). The fourth species, the Malayan, or Asian tapir, calls Malaysia, Thailand, and Sumatra it's home. There is some size range between tapir species, though all fall somewhere between 300 and 750lbs in adult weight. Crepuscular or nocturnal forest dwellers, they spend most of their time forraging for vegetation with their great ungainly snout, and contrary to their somewhat dumpy appearance (and I use that term only in the most affectionate way), they are marvelous swimmers. Favorite food (in captivity, at least)? Bananas.
Below, a visual summary of Tapirdom:
In honor of this wonderous day - and the magical fantastical tapir! - I've designed a template to make your very own tapir mask out of paper! It's super simple - you just need paper to print on, scissors, glue (tape will work in a pinch, but it won't look nearly as dashing), and some string. Click the SINGLE mask graphic below for a SMALL template (will print on one 8.5 x 11 sheet and fit only a very small child's head... To make a mask of more adult-noggin proportions, click on the DOUBLE mask graphic for a LARGE template - this will print on 2 letter-sized sheet which can be cut, afixed together, then traced onto a larger, single sheet of paper before assembling). *You can print on any color paper (brown craft looks surprisingly "tapir-y") or print on white and then color to match your favorite tapir species... seriously fun stuff here - go to it!
And in the spirit of craft and contest - I'm going to add a twist - anyone who sends me a photo of themselves - or their little ones - wearing the above tapir mask, will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of my illustrated zoo book, Tropical Forest! Milton, Annie, and Tupelo are featured on page 5... so get crafting! Customization to resemble any of the 4 tapir species is encouraged... This contest will be open for 5 days 7 DAYS - I'll pick the winner at 12 noon EST next Tuesday THURSDAY! Please email your photo submission to: natalya (at) natalya (dot) com - OR tweet it to @natalya_zahn
...And for further reading/viewing: discover the tapir's propensity for "tantrums"; check out a (not too rosey... and I would 100% agree) review of the taxidermied tapirs at my beloved HMNH; and explore research and conservation efforts, because all 4 tapir species are highly endangered due to habitat loss and hunting. Most of all, have fun - tapirs are awesome!
*For more paper tapirs, check out this Japanese paper-craft website (downloadable pattern), and this origami animal site. And oh how I wish I were better at knitting... HAPPY TAPIR DAY!
I'm a big fan of mail art - nothing says happy day like coming home to find a personalized envelope waiting in the mailbox. Call me crazy, but I also love the concept of creating something that will be "enhanced" by the environment I send it off into. The USPS may not be often credited with enhancing anything it gets it's grubby paws on, but all the nicks and scrapes, stickers and stamps, water damage and bootprints that befall those utility bills and boxes of cookies from grandma are a wonder to me when they become part of a randomly generated composition. I'm lucky if I get to see the final product (since I've never sent anything to myself!) but when I do, I'm rarely dissapointed - so it was with giddy surprise this week when I got a lovely update on one very special delivery...
The extraordinary Jean Aw - powerhouse behind the NOTCOT empire - just became the proud recipient of a member of the mail art menagerie. She was also kind enough to give me an exceedingly generous post on the subject, which you can check out here. Many thanks, NOTCOT - for the Tropical Forest love, and the reveal on how my Takin fared on her epic cross-country journey in a mailbag!
A simple, silent little treat... by Mabona Origami of Switzerland. "Stills" from previous Mabona projects below. *I'm so in love with the character of that pink rhino - wish it were life-sized and made out of fabric... just look at the focus in those perky little ears!
That's right - it's probably not on your calendar, but as of 2004, there is an official "National Day of the Horse", and that day is today, December 13th. Having grown up utterly horse-crazy (like 90% of adolescent girls) I find such a day of remembrance and appreciation very much well-deserved, and no doubt centuries overdue - human-kind simply wouldn't be where it is without the strength, speed, willingness, and impeccable grace of the horse.
The illustrations above I created in 2003 for a website devoted to the history of Frank T. Hopkins: fabled cowboy, endurance rider, and champion of the Spanish Mustang breed. While history rightly credits Spanish explorers with introducing the horse to the New World (and simultaneously forever changing Native American culture), a more accurate term for this action would be re-introduction. The evolution of the horse actually happened largely throughout the North American continent, just after the massive extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period (the one credited with wiping out our dear dinosaurian friends).
Roughly 54 million years ago, mere dog-sized Mesohippus slowly emerged from the forest and began sizing-up it's petit frame, lengthening it's limbs, eliminating most of it's toes (from 5 down to 1 per foot), and remodeling the structure of it's teeth, to handle the tough, fibrous new grasses of the expanding Great Plains. Eventually, the little woods-browser became what we know as Equus (a genus that would continue to evolve for many more millions of years) and the first horses made their way to Asia (along with various other American megafauna) via long-since-dissolved land bridges. Then, about 12,000 years ago (the end of the Pleistocene), for reasons still debated, Equus disappeared from North and South America, leaving it's Asian transplants to continue their development, and eventually intersect with the ancestors of modern humans. It would take those Spanish Conquistadores back in the late 1400s, crossing the oceans with domesticated animals in their ship's holds, to finally reintroduce the horse to it's indiginous continent of the New World.
The chart above is a visual comparison of today's Spanish Mustang next to two classic breed types: the Arabian Horse and the Quarter Horse. Compact, a touch coarse, and exhibiting a proportionately larger, more primitive head than his cousins, the Spanish Mustang reflects the same balanced but rugged anatomy that carried his ancestors through ice ages, extinctions, and much of human civilization - with strength, speed, and impeccable grace.
Here's to the one and only: the Horse.
From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dress'd in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer's story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew,
Nor did I wonder at the Lily's white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the Rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
Yet seem'd it Winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.
~William Shakespeare, Sonnet XIII
Holmedown Arizona, aka "Rhea", is a Highland pony - hers being one of a handful of hardy breeds native to the British Isles (she happens to live in England). Highlands come in a variety of colors, including a broad range of shades comprising my favorite equine coat color affect - dun (Rhea is a beautiful example of a yellow dun). Since dun genes dilute solid colors, they can create all kinds of lovely, soft variation and gradients in the coat; dun is also considered a very primitive equine coat trait, as evidenced by the retention of "dun factors" like dorsal stripes, zebra striping/barring on the legs, shadowing on the neck and shoulders, and an unusual effect on the forehead known as cobwebbing (I'm a wicked sucker for stripes).
The Highland pony was originally developed in the late 1800s as a compact, all purpose workhorse for the challenging landscape and somewhat severe environment of the Scottish Highlands. In addition to farm work, one of it's trusted tasks was also to serve the unique role of deer pony on red deer "stalks". Stalking deer over the rugged Scottish hillside was much more pleasant with a vehicle for traipsing the carcass out on, and the Highland, at roughly between 13 and 14.2 sure-footed, quiet, and steady hands high, made a perfect companion for a hunter - special saddles were even developed that could both comfortably seat a hunter on the trek out, but securely strap down and distribute the weight of a full grown Cervid elaphus (Red deer are one of the largest deer species) for the march home.
Red deer culls continue to this day, for the maintenance of herd populations on many Scottish estates, and the tradition of deer ponies is still strong; technology has improved firearms, technical gear and clothing, and navigation tools, but good old fashioned ponies are still more reliable, less obtrusive and destructive (delicate pony hooves vs. ATV tires), and actually better equipped for the terrain than motorized forms of transport - they also make much better trekking companions than anything with an engine. I love to see working domesticated animals doing what they were bred for (within the realm of humane purpose or duty), and while I'm not a hunter by any stretch, there's something wildly romantic in the image of a tweed-decked man leading a stout, wooly pony through the treeless hillsides with a single stag arched over the saddle... swoon...
Below: two photos of modern deer stalks, assisted by Highland ponies, from the website of accomplished hunter and pony fancier, Heather Mitchell, aka The Frilly Ghillie (more great images can be found on her blog); and a painting titled Return from the Hill, by Richard Ansdell, 1868.