Monday, July 30, 2012

Wikimania 2012!

Two missions collide: Free, Open, and Global! Wikipedia we love you.

Since 2009, we have been looking at Wikipedia as a way to drive new user traffic to the Biodiversity Heritage Library while improving the content and accuracy of Wikipedia’s articles. This symbiotic relationship has had a few bumps along the way but, our recent attendance at the  8th Annual Wikimania Conference held in Washington, DC, reaffirmed our commitment to increase our Wikipedia efforts which include adding our Flickr images to the Wikimedia commons file repository as well as inserting species citations, and external links to auto-generated BHL taxon name bibliographies. During this week-long conference, we were inspired by the sense of mission, ingenuity and passion that our fellow Wikipedians demonstrated.

Photographed by Adam Novak

Early on, we ran into some obstacles with our Wikipedia edits. It seems we lacked the user “clout” necessary to add BHL links en masse. As newcomers who had not been "validated" by the Wikipedia community, we found that many of our citations were subsequently deleted which proved a tad bit frustrating since we had no idea why this was happening! At this year’s conference, we learned that Wikipedia is subject to rampant vandalism and many links from unverified or new users will be deleted. You must earn authority over time in Wikipedia. Top users are awarded virtual honors dubbed “barnstars.” Yes, anyone may edit but, in Wikipedia only the unbiased vetted truth sticks.

Wikipedia's Article Quality Rubric
Contrary to popular derision, Wikipedia’s standards for trusted citations, fact checking and article quality are intensely rigorous. They have developed rubrics for quality, tutorials for writing articles, and lists of articles that need user help. Wikipedia is built upon the hard-work of a global network of altruistically motivated (as opposed to financially), passionate and tech savvy people who have developed a highly complex information ecosystem. Frankly, we were in awe at the spirit Wikipedians had for Open Knowledge not to mention the amount of free work they seemed willing to do. Beyond traditional editing efforts, Team BHL has also been exploring potential tech developments for two out of the ten official Wikimedia foundation projects; those being, Wikisource and Wikimedia Commons.

Wikisource is a project that gives users the opportunity to augment open content texts with corrections, hyperlinks and notes. This really piqued our interest because free-text searching in the BHL has been one of the most requested improvements for functionality by our users and remains on our tech development to-do list. The main obstacle that we face is that optical character recognition software (OCR) is marginally accurate at best and the errors present in uncorrected OCR texts remain one of the insurmountable hindrances to free-text searching of the BHL corpus. After sitting-in on the Wikisource presentation given by Andrea Zanni, a Wikisource sysop, advocate, and volunteer, we were extremely impressed by this project and its potential future application for BHL text files. Finally: a platform that opens up the possibility of crowd-sourcing BHL user-generated corrections for OCR text! Moreover, the multi-layered djvu file format that Wikisource accepts allows users to add their own links into the text's OCR, further augmenting the usefulness of the original resource.  Lastly, perhaps the most exciting application of Wikisource is its potential use with manuscripts. For instance, handwritten scientific field notes or Linnaeus’ personal letters are not accompanied by a text file; these invaluable scholarly resources could be transcribed by Wikisource users and thus exposed to user search and discovery. 
Users can correct OCR using Wikisource's dual-pane interface. Also, they have linked the term "cattle-plague" to the Wikipedia article "Rinderpest." Linked data or Wikisourcery?!
Currently, there are still few options for extracting the corrections and re-integrating them into the BHL. Nevertheless, the Wikisource developers were among the most enthusiastic and driven folks at the conference; we will be watching them closely for future improvements to Wikisource that might help make the "Full-text Search Dream" a reality. As users, how likely would it be for you to help make corrections to BHL texts using the Wikisource interface?  (Screenshot above)

Wikimedia Commons 
Another project already in the works as part of our recent NEH grant is to batch upload our 37,595 Flickr images into the Wikimedia Commons. The Commons provides Wikipedians with a central repository that stores photographs, diagrams, maps, videos, animations, music, sounds, spoken texts, and other free media, all of which can be re-purposed and reused for Wikipedia articles and projects. For our purposes here at BHL, we just see this as another avenue to expose the fabulous illustrations that we already have in our Flickr account and have them used  for article creation and species description in the future. We are particularly interested in providing images to species that have been identified in Wikipedia that are lacking illustrations. Stay tuned for more information in the future about the progress of our Wikimedia Commons work. 
Current State of Team BHL's Efforts
As of yesterday, there were 3,181 BHL links in Wikipedia. We can only hope that this number continues to grow as word about BHL spreads. Our continued efforts are only a small piece of the pie. We count on our users to help us vet Wikipedia's biodiversity articles, all of which benefit from citations pulled from the BHL. Please help us spread knowledge about life on Earth to new user communities by becoming a Wikimanian yourself. We may hold an "edit-a-thon" in the future for interested users -- if the idea takes hold. In the meantime, feel free to sail solo by adding BHL links and citations to Wikipedia. For helpful tips on how to do this, our Technical Director, Chris Freeland put together a presentation that offers a quick primer on Wikipedia editing for BHL. We depend on user feedback to drive our technical development efforts, so please let us know what you think about our involvement with Wikipedia and the two aforementioned projects.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Book of the Week: Celebrating Nature's Natural Nightlights

The bioluminescent mushrooms.
It’s a damp summer evening. You’re walking through the forest, the canopy overhead blocking any remaining sunlight from trickling to the forest floor. Nearly blind, you stumble over bulging roots and floral debris, groping from tree trunk to tree trunk trying to find your way to a clearing and a glimpse of the North Star. Suddenly, ahead, you spy an eerie, faintly glowing blue aura. You pause, uncertain, but the mysterious light is the only beacon you have, so, with slight trepidation, you flounder towards it. As you approach, the light grows more intense, reminding you, incredibly, of a blue neon sign beckoning from the center of a pitch dark woods. You falter to your knees, timidly reaching out to touch the curious apparition. To your surprise, as by this point you’ve begun to believe you’ve lost your mind and are grasping at hallucinations in the dark, your fingers touch solid mass. You run them gently over the fa├žade of the object, only to realize that the form is something familiar to you – a mushroom. Lost in a sea of darkness, you smile as you realize that even the forest has its nightlights – in this case, the bioluminescent mushroom, Omphalotus olearius, the Jack-o-Lantern Mushroom.

What is Bioluminescence?

Bioluminescence is the production of light by a living organism. It is caused by a chemical reaction, involving the chemicals luciferins, which react with oxygen and release energy in the form of light. The enzyme luciferase is a catalyst used to speed up the reaction.

A wide variety of organisms exhibit bioluminescence, including fireflies, glow worms, millipedes,  anglerfish, eels, sea pens, squid, and, of course, mushrooms. Bioluminescence has a variety of functions in the animal kingdom. The iconic anglerfish uses luminescence in a lure to attract unsuspecting prey. The bioluminescence displayed by fireflies is a mating ritual used to attract potential mates. Certain species of squid emit a cloud of luminescent material to distract predators and give the organism a chance to escape. Specific species of bacteria use bioluminescence for communication. And some species, such as the Black Dragonfish, produce a red hue that allows them to detect red-pigmented prey deep under the ocean's surface.

Bioluminescence has wide application in the human world as well, particularly in the realm of technology. Many biomedical research applications tap into luciferase potential for bioluminescence imaging. Scientists are also exploring the potential for using bioluminescence for detecting bacterial food contamination and infections in suspicious corpses. And consider this idea: Some propose applying bioluminescence to trees to illuminate highlights, thus eliminating the need for street lights.

Living Lights

According to Charles Holder, author of Living Lights, there are a variety of less scientifically-oriented applications for animal bioluminescence in the human world.  The most obvious, of course, is using it as a light by which to see, and for this application, Holder quotes a variety of instances:

I have read by the light of a luminous beetle, and have determined the time of night while holding my watch in the glare of ocean animals. Von Bibra wrote his description of the Pyrosoma by its own light; the shark of Bennett illuminated his cabin like a chandelier; photographs have been taken by the light of luminous beetles and by phosphorescent plates; and probably the day is not distant when more important uses will be found for this wonderful light...

Living Lights portrays 27 instances of bioluminescence, illustrated via black and white drawings which are surprisingly effective at conjuring the illusion of light amidst the darkness. For example, Holder's illustration of an illuminated sea pen, which, when touched, emits a bright greenish light to scare off predators, highlights the minute details of this fascinating creature encapsulated within a pool of blackness interrupted only by other fellows illuminators. Or take the illustration of a diver and Pyrosomes. Pyrosomes are colonial tunicates made up of hundreds of thousands of zooids. These bioluminescent colonies emit an intense blue-green light visible for tens of meters. And, of course, a book on bioluminescence would not be complete without a depiction of the infamous anglerfish.

Bioluminescent Sea Pen

A bioluminescent Pyrosome

Bioluminescent lure of the anglerfish

The wealth of bioluminescence depicted by our book of the week extends beyond the few instances we've mentioned here. Explore Living Lights in BHL to learn more about this incredible phenomenon and the amazing creatures that claim it. View all of this book's enchanting illustrations on Flickr. If you're on Pinterest, don't forget to visit our Book of the Week collection, in which we share a few of our favorite illustrations from each book. Be sure to Pin your favorites as well!

And the Mushroom Story?

So, how does our forest story end? It’s a tale with a mushroom of a hero. Following the organic path created by your pseudo-electric fungal friends, you find your way to the clearing with your campsite and all your adventurous camping companions. With a sigh of relief, you plump down in a seat by the fire, only to find your eyes cruelly accosted by the blazing flames. Sighing, this time in irritation, you wish you were back among the calming glow of phosphorescent mushrooms.

- Grace Costantino, Biodiversity Heritage Library Program Manager

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

BHL and Our Users: Margaret Koopman

This past June, BHL-Staff visited Cape Town, South Africa for a series of meetings aimed at developing a BHL for sub-Saharan Africa. The meeting brought together 20 African participants from six countries with a variety of backgrounds including Librarians, Researchers, and Information Technologists. One such individual was Margaret Koopman, a librarian at an ornithological institute in South Africa. Margaret uses BHL regularly to help her fulfill the needs of her patrons, and she graciously agreed to be interviewed about that usage for our blog.

What is your title, institutional affiliation (or alternative place of employment), and area of interest?

I am a librarian at the Niven Library of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology.  My areas of interest include ornithology, biodiversity conservation and environmental history.

How long have you been in your field of study?

I have been a qualified librarian since 1983, working almost entirely in Life Sciences libraries.  My particular field of study is environmental history in which I have an MSc.

When did you first discover BHL?

In April 2009 I linked BHL to my online catalogue.  In June 2009 I was trying to track down a copy of A Monograph of the Hirundinidae by R.B. Sharpe & C.W. Wyatt for information on population crashes of swallows in southern Africa because of extreme weather events.  I found the book in BHL and went on to write up a small piece from this publication about a population crash which took place in 1891 in Maputo, Mozambique for the Cape Bird Club Newsletter, Promerops.  The URL for BHL was included to enable readers of the article to find the BHL treasures for themselves.

What is your opinion of BHL and how has it impacted your research?

Although the Niven Library has an exceptional collection of material on African ornithology, it is not comprehensive.  BHL has been a great help in linking African ornithological research to early material published in European and British publications.  I am now able to point other researchers to what is available at BHL instead of providing pdfs myself.

How often do you use BHL?

This depends on the demand of my library users, probably on average once a week.

How do you usually use BHL (read the titles online/download whole PDFs/Select Pages to Download for a custom PDF/Download High Resolution Images/Generate Taxonomic Bibliographies/etc.)

I generally download whole PDFs, select pages to download, or identify a PDF and forward the URL to a user.

What are your favorite features/services on BHL?

I find the BHL web presence attractive and inviting.  As my use is focused I appreciate the ease with which I can establish whether a publication is available or not and the speed with which I can download material.

If you could change one thing about BHL, what would it be, or what developmental aspect would you like the BHL team to focus on next?

I know that my user community would appreciate single article access.

If you had to choose one title/item in BHL that has most impacted your research, or one item that you prefer above any other in BHL, what would it be and why?

Anything to do with African ornithology!  Providing information in this field is my mission and BHL has enabled me to do this much more easily and comprehensively.

Monday, July 23, 2012

BHL-Australia Celebrates 1st Year

Australia’s biodiversity is unlike any other in the world and in the two centuries since European contact with the continent, the documented observation of the flora and fauna has formed an understanding of the uniqueness of the environment. Last week, the Australian branch of the BHL celebrated one year of contributing to the global BHL project.   Beginning with the launch of our distinctly Australian flavoured website (, the Antipodean operation has been contributing digitised publications and technical skills since July 2011.

Based at Museum Victoria in Melbourne,  BHL-Au was set up as a project of the Atlas of Living Australia and has been concentrating on completing holdings of local science journals and digitising publications produced by Australia’s major collecting institutions. The project is overseen by Dr. Elycia Wallis, manager of Online Collections; Simon Sherrin, technical manager; and Joe Coleman, digitisation manager.

Left to Right: Ely Wallis, Simone Downey, Michael Mason, Simon Sherrin, Cerise Howard

To date, we have uploaded over 30,000 pages, comprising publications from two major natural history museums, naturalist societies and scientific research organisations. Much of our digitisation has been occurring at Museum Victoria and has been conducted by a team of six volunteers who have graciously given their time to capture and post process the images and enter metadata for each item we upload. Since we started, we have had very positive feedback from our users and contributors  which in turn has sparked interest from several other museums and herbaria who are keen to get their publications online.

Through a close relationship with our contribution partners, we have been able to tap into large amounts of material from around the country that has previously been digitised, saving a whole lot of time and double handling.

In addition to the digitisation effort, we have been developing our website to best suit our users, ensuring that our local database is closely synchronised with the global BHL catalogue. We have built a prioritised scanning list which lets our users nominate titles they would like to see included in the BHL and to cast a vote for the prioritisation of items in the scanning schedule.  

One year on, we have made a small but significant step in bringing the wealth of Australian biodiversity literature to the fingertips of the science community. There is still a long way to go but we have put a lot of effort in to building the systems to help make this happen.

So thank you to our contributors, volunteers and staff and we look forward to a continuing contribution of biodiversity literature from Down Under. 

- Joe Coleman, BHL-Australia Digitisation Project Manager

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book of the Week: The Human Side of Birds

 Approach Nature anew, as a child might.


Royal Dixon, the author of this week's book of the week, The Human Side of Birds (1917), had an eclectic background. His formal credentials included botanist at the Chicago Field Museum, ornithologist, lecturer for the NY Board of Education, science journalist and author of several books-- all of which sought to put a human face on nature. He was also a dancer, thespian, political writer and founder of the First Animal Church in America. One might ask why was this man was so intent on humanizing plants, animals, trees and birds? Dixon, it seems, was concerned with modern society and its growing inability to relate to nature. To appreciate it. To see it. And most importantly to preserve it. He saw the good in the formal sciences yet, believed in some ways that taxonomy, in particular, barred non-experts from participating in the deeply human act of naming and organizing Nature's Kingdom. His mission was simple: bring Nature to the people. Show them how similar every creature on this planet is to us and how we are all connected to each other on the most basic and profound levels.

Besides authoring several books, Dixon's chosen platform from which to disseminate his message was guffawed at by most in his time. He became founder and leader of the First Church for Animal Rights, which met weekly and promoted the idea that "every creature had the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Although the church is now defunct, or at least seems to be since there isn't a digital whisper of such an organization to be found out in cyberspace, we here at BHL are entirely sympathetic to Dixon's cause!  He was a man who had a formal science background yet, his efforts were wholly aimed at the general public. He realized that in order to reach people and get them to care about Nature we need to change the hearts and minds of those who believe in the stereotype that taxonomy is just a dry, stodgy, and inaccessible science concerned with mindless minutiae and doomed to endless arguments between warring factions of men who seemed partial to fabric combinations consisting only of houndstooth, tweed, or corduroy.

In his forward Dixon states his purpose simply: "to reject the limitations of unsympathetic research, and to endeavor to see beyond formal classifications, and to understand the spirit, emotions and impulses in the lives of our feathered friends of the air." Is this not the true reason behind all this binomial naming business? Author Carol Kaesuk Yoon seems to think so in her prize winning book on taxonomy: Naming Nature. Moreover she makes the case that those of our ancestors who were not taxonomists, or folk taxonomists more precisely, did not survive. Therefore, we are all descendents of taxonomists because those who could not name, order and understand nature were unable to discern a poisonous plant from a one that was edible, or which herbal remedy could cure their sick child's fever. They knew to avoid eating the sacred bird of the neighboring tribe lest they'd like to find their head on a stake in the morning! Our non-taxonomist ancestors were "naturally deselected." Taxonomy is an ancient science deeply embedded into the human experience, past and present. It was and still is vital to human existence and it belongs to everyone.

So let us humor Dixon: How can he show us that birds are just like US? 
Dixon's theater background helped him understand storytelling and the human archetypes that we identify with. Therefore, his book is divided into 14 chapters; each assigned a human archetype such as the “Athlete”, the “Artist”, the “Dancer,” and it is under these human classifications that Dixon seeks to place birds: 

The urbane Penguin's apartment houses are nestled in cliff cities.
The Wise Mother: 'Gather 'round young ones, let mother impart her wisdom with a story
The aesthetic sense of the artistic hummingbird whose nests are wonders of delicacy and beauty
The thieving Osprey rarely fishes for himself preferring to rob others of their work. Human-like?

So today, let's look at Nature through Dixon's eyes: awake, appreciative, anew, as a child might. We leave you with a quote to contemplate:

"If I name every bird in my walk, describe its colour and ways, . . . give a lot of facts and details about the bird, it is doubtful if my reader is interested. But if I relate the bird in some way to human life, to my own life; show what it is to me and what it is in the landscape and season, then do I give my reader a live bird and not a labeled specimen."

We would like to thank America Museum of Natural History, NY (AMNH) for digitizing this work. Incidentally, the 34 photos in Dixon's book also come from AMNH. Bravo to the staff there for assisting in the creation and rebirth of this work. We know Dixon would be doubly pleased. 

Other work's by Dixon available on the Biodiversity Heritage Library
The Human Side of Plants (1914)
The Human Side of Trees (1917) 
The Human Side of Animals (1918)
A Few Notes

-Jacqueline Ford, Biodiversity Heritage Librarian

Monday, July 16, 2012

Building a BHL Africa

Participants at the BHL-Africa Meeting, June 14-15, 2012, Cape Town, South Africa.
The mission of the Biodiversity Heritage Library is to build an open access digital library of biodiversity literature for the world. For the past several years, the BHL has been building upon its global network of partners, and on June 14-15, 2012, over 25 librarians, scientists and information technology managers came together at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden to discuss the possibilities for developing a BHL node in Africa. This organization and planning meeting was generously funded by the JRS Biodiversity Foundation and was a direct follow up to the initial JRS funded meetings hosted by the Biodiversity Synthesis Center/Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago in November, 2011.

Six representatives from the BHL U.S./U.K. node were present to provide an introduction to the BHL, report on the current global environment and  lead important breakout discussions regarding various administrative and technical aspects of the BHL. As always, BHL staff actively promoted the project and generated the enthusiasm required to engage the participants. BHL Technical Director Chris Freeland (who unfortunately could not attend the meetings) created this excellent video to rally the meeting participants.

A working day at the BHL-Africa meeting.
The objectives for the two days of discussion included: the identification of the scope and magnitude of African biodiversity literature collections, the creation of a project plan for coordinated digitization, as well as identifying the local digitization capacity among the attendees' institutions. The first day of discussion was focused upon learning more about the attendees' backgrounds, the current digitization activities in their institutions and how the creation of a BHL Africa would impact their work or the work of others in their institutions. Grace Costantino, BHL Program Manager, Smithsonian Institution Libraries, and Christine Giannoni, Museum Librarian from the Field Museum, conducted several video interviews that you can view here.

Nancy Gwinn leading the Governance Breakout Group.
The second day of discussion was divided into the following four breakout groups: Governance, led by Nancy Gwinn, Director, Smithsonian Institution Libraries; Infrastructure, led by William Ulate, Global BHL Project Manager, Missouri Botanical Garden; Scanning, led by Martin Kalfatovic, BHL Program Director, Smithsonian Institution Libraries; and Collaboration, led by Anne-Lise Fourie, Assistant Director, SANBI Libraries. These sessions really got down to "brass tacks" and identified the needs, strengths and opportunities among the various institutions. While the need for stable technological infrastructure was a common concern, it was noted that this was on a positive trajectory in several countries. Participants felt that their institutions hold a tremendous amount of materials that have not been digitized, including: gray literature, materials published in Africa with low distribution, as well as unpublished literature.

Several key themes emerged from the two days of discussion:
  • the desire for open access to scientific literature.
  • with people across the continent embracing mobile technology, these digitized resources must be adapted for mobile technology.
  • the "BHL in a Box" concept was highly desired. This would entail creating interactive CDs of BHL content for distribution in areas where internet access is unreliable or unavailable.

The meetings concluded with a high level of excitement and several tasks for moving BHL Africa forward. The ultimate long-term goal is to provide open access biodiversity literature to African researchers as well as to establish a BHL Africa project organized by Africans and operated in Africa. A "Concept Document" created by the Governance breakout group is being used as a basis for a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Participants hope to regroup at Stellenbosch University (in conjunction with Berlin 10) in fall 2012 to finalize an MOU and officially launch BHL-Africa.

- Christine Giannoni, Field Museum Library 
- Pictures courtesy Martin Kalfatovic

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book of the Week: BHL on Safari

The safari car at Inverdoorn Game Reserve
Over the past few weeks, you’ve heard a lot about our recent meetings and world travels in Berlin, Germany and Cape Town, South Africa. The BHL-Europe, BHL-Global, and BHL-Africa meetings were incredibly productive, paving the way for the future development of both the existing global BHL network as well as the inception of a new BHL node in sub-Saharan Africa. As you can imagine, such meetings, though undeniably rewarding, also require quite a bit of work, so the final weekend of our escapades, we decided it was time to “play” and, in true BHL spirit, explore the country’s wildlife in person, through a safari at Inverdoorn Game Reserve and Safari Lodge.

As BHL employees, we naturally saw our experience through the lens of the biodiversity literature held in our digital collection and recognized many species immediately from illustrations we’d seen in BHL. On returning to our “regular” lives, we found that one book in particular served as a vivid reminder of our great adventure: Johnson's Household Book of Nature (1880), edited by Hugh Craig. 

Johnson's Book of Nature is intended for the general public, presenting information not in technical scientific language but in everyday terms. It is the illustrations, however, that truly distinguish this work. The editor, Hugh Craig, eloquently wrote,

To the attractiveness of this work the numerous beautifully-colored plates with which it is illustrated contribute in no ordinary degree. The designs are original and have been prepared at unusual expense. They represent in a more vivid and striking way than mere words can depict, the shape, the habits and the habitations of the animals, as well as the colors with which Nature has adorned them and the attitudes which most distinctly characterize them.

There are innumerable ways to explore nature, from books and illustrations to photographs and, best of all, personal interaction. Our BHL group was lucky to experience Africa on a multitude of levels, and we're thrilled to share that opportunity with you!

BHL Staff on Safari! Back Row, Left to Right: Martin Kalfatovic, Doug Holland, William Ulate. Front Row, Left to Right: Grace Costantino, Christine Giannoni

The Ungulates


Wildebeest and Common Eland


Wildebeest (Top) and Common Eland (Bottom)

Also known as a Gnu, the Wildebeest is a bizarre-looking creature, with the tail of a horse, the head of a Cape Buffalo, and the stripes of a zebra. Our tour guide, Alex, told us that in Africa, they say that when the creator was finished creating life, he had leftover pieces and combined them into one animal to create the wildebeest.  

Wildebeest at Inverdoorn

The Common Eland is the second largest antelope species in the world (the largest is the Giant Eland). They display what is known as the Flehmen Response, during which a male will stick his head near fresh female urine in order to facilitate the transmission of pheromones to their Jacobson's Organ, which helps them determine whether the female is in heat. We experienced this display with the male Cape Buffalo we encountered. 

Common Eland at Inverdoorn





Zebra (Top)
There are three recognized species of zebra, with many subspecies. We saw Plains Zebras on our safari. Though closely related to the horse, Alex told us that, as zebras lack significant stamina and have weak backs, they have never been truly domesticated.

Plains Zebra at Inverdoorn




The word impala comes from the Zulu language, meaning "gazelle." Their populations are estimated to be near 2 million in Africa. It was the only ungulate we saw on our safari that is not pictured in Johnson's Book of Nature, but it was so lovely that we couldn't resist including its picture here.

Impala at Inverdoorn





Springbok (Top Right)
The springbok is a skittish creature, literally "springing" away from anything it deems remotely threatening, including, apparently, safari groups. Hence, we only captured shots of these graceful animals sprinting away from us. Alex informed us that this species has an incredible jumping capability; when threatened, they will lock their legs and channel their momentum earthbound, creating incredible thrust that allows them to leap over enemies.  



Cape Buffalo 

Cape Buffalo (Top)

Cape Buffalo can reach lengths of 5-11 ft and weights of up to 2,000 lbs. Unpredictable, they can be dangerous to humans, but the group we saw on safari were clearly used to being observed and all but ignored us.

Cape Buffalo at Inverdoorn





The most surprising characteristic of the giraffes we encountered was the grace with which they run, despite their absurdly-long necks. The male giraffe pictured in this photograph was particularly dark due to high levels of testosterone.

Giraffe at Inverdoorn





White Rhinoceros (Top)
White Rhinoceros, also known as square-lipped rhinoceros, are endangered, being hunted maliciously for their horns, which are sold on the black market for use in Chinese medicine. The horns of the rhinoceros at Inverdoorn were all tagged and poisoned, making them unattractive to potential poachers. Inverdoorn has three rhinos: a male, female, and their calf. The female rhinoceros' horn has been preemptively removed to save her from poaching, but the act has made her somewhat ill-tempered. Alex told us she has a history of charging vehicles. Fortunately for us, she seemed to be in a good mood during our visit.

Male White Rhinoceros at Inverdoorn





The name hippopotamus comes from the ancient Greek for "river horse." It is the third-largest land mammal and is terribly aggressive, being considered one of the most dangerous animals in Africa. Near water sources with hippo populations, there are signs reading "No Boats: Hippos Present."

Hippos at Inverdoorn



The Predators



African Lion (Top)
Lions are one of the most iconic predators on the planet, but sadly, they often find themselves prey to what is known as Cage Hunting. The illegal practice of Cage Hunting occurs when lions are bred to be sold to "hunters" that shoot them while they are imprisoned in cages. Though outlawed, the activity still occurs, and the lions at Inverdoorn were purchased by the park from just such an operation in order to save their lives. They are thus larger than the average lion, but will unfortunately never be allowed to breed, since neither the mother or the father would be able to teach the cubs how to survive in the wild. 

Female Lion at Inverdoorn

Male Lion at Inverdoorn





Cheetah (Bottom Left)
The cheetah is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds of up to 70-75 mph. Inverdoorn runs a cheetah conservation program, and as part of our visit, the keepers demonstrated just how fast these cats really are. After luring a group of three young cheetahs to one end of a "runway," they then attached meat to a lure and reeled it in, sending the cheetahs chasing after it at top speeds. It was truly incredible.

Cheetahs at Inverdoorn

Finally, since no BHL-Africa activity is complete without a movie, BHL Program Director Martin Kalfatovic created a short video about our epic adventure. Enjoy, and be sure to check out all of the images from Johnson's Book of Nature in Flickr.

- Text by Grace Costantino. Pictures by Grace Costantino and Martin Kalfatovic