Face of the Forest: Sumatran Orangutan Giclee Now Available!

Posted in Asian Primates, Giclee Prints, Orangutan, St. Louis Zoo on July 31, 2011 by Charles Alexander

“Face of the Forest: Sumatran Orangutan” is now available as a giclee on both paper and canvas. Prices: 20 x 28″: $225.00 paper/$325.00 canvas/12 x 16″: $95.00 paper/$195.00 canvas. Shipping in the USA is $15.00. To the UK and Australia $20 US.

The print features Junior, a male Sumatran orangutan who was a much-loved resident of the St. Louis Zoo. The original pastel painting is now in the collection of Mrs. M. Murrell.

Cuvier’s gazelle sketch

Posted in African Ungulates, Available Originals, Charles Alexander, Cuvier's gazelle, Drawings, Memphis Zoo on July 30, 2011 by Charles Alexander

The gazelle in this sketch-in-progress is a very rare and endangered one from North Africa: the Cuvier’s, also known as the Edmi. I worked with a herd of them during my keeper years– and came in one morning to discover this little calf exhibiting his hiding behavior. I got down on the ground next to him to take my reference photo. He didn’t move. Some antelope are followers immediately– like wildebeest. Others are hiders for a while, like this little one. The zebra: you can just see the left side of the composition. It is a long design of a zebra wading in a lake in the Serengeti–a long sand bar with blacksmith plovers are also part of the composition. This is the first time that I’ve showed any part of it here on FB. The painting will be quite large– this is just the thumbnail sketch to help work out the composition on paper. From my In The Studio 2011 Album: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=29​6253&id=689647275

A link to tell you more about the Cuvier’s gazelle: http://www.arkive.org/cuviers-gazelle/ga​zella-cuvieri/

Raptor Rehab Program, Memphis Zoo

Posted in Charles Alexander, Memphis Zoo on July 25, 2011 by Charles Alexander

American kestrel chicks, rescued by the Memphis Zoo’s raptor rehab program

I helped out with the raptor program on a regular basis during my zoo career, mainly documenting in photos all of the birds that came in and creating a database of shots showing the development of chicks week by week. Birds brought in had often been hit by cars, wounded by gunshot, blown out of their nest as chicks, or had collided with power lines. Sometimes nests were discovered in industrial or construction sites and the chicks had to be brought in. On one memorable occasion, a clutch of barn owls was rescued from the top of an enormous crane many stories high that had been sitting idle. I am not sure what the story was with these little kestrels, but it was most likely a case of their nest being blown down in a storm.

Day old barn owl chick held by raptor rehab specialist Knox Martin, Memphis Zoo. I documented the growth of this chick and its siblings on a week to week basis for 8 weeks. It was fascinating to observe the astonishingly rapid change in its appearance. This bird and its siblings were released into the wild at the Ames Plantation–superb barn owl habitat–not far from Memphis.

In addition to documenting the growth of chicks and birds-on-the-mend, I also assisted with the release of many of the rehab birds back into the wild. It was always a gratifying moment to see an eagle, hawk, or falcon take wing again after the long, labor-intensive process of rehabilitation. Knox Martin, head of the raptor program, did not receive extra pay from his keeper salary to work with these birds– it was sheerly a voluntary labor of love on his part and required constant diligence, many long hours, and single-minded dedication to succeed. The zoo’s vet staff also volunteered many hours of surgery and monitoring time to help heal these birds and restore them to the wild.
Species that benefitted from the rehab program included bald and golden eagles, peregrine falcons and American kestrels, red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, Cooper’s (pictured above) and sharp-shinned hawks, ospreys, barred/barn/great horned/screech owls, Mississippi kites, and black/turkey vultures. These kestrel chicks–little falcons in miniature that are often seen hovering over fields at the side of the road– were successfully reared and returned to the wild.

It was always funny to hear an announcement over our zoo radios for Knox Martin to go to the main zoo gate, that someone had called to say that they were on their way with a “baby eagle”. Invariably, it turned out to be a kestrel, a red-tail chick, and on one memorable occasion, a pigeon in a shoebox.

Knox Martin with barn owl chicks

About ten years ago, the Memphis Zoo discontinued the raptor program, which was then privatized and moved to a new headquarters at the Shelby Farms Conservancy (where I’ve spent so much time over the past year studying the bison herd). Shelby Farms Conservancy is the nation’s largest urban park– at over 4500 acres it is 5 times larger than Central Park in NYC. Visit the Mid-South Raptor Center website here: http://www.midsouthraptorcenter.com/

Abstract Painting by the famous Kongo, Western Lowland Gorilla

Posted in Bronx Zoo, Lowland Gorilla, Memphis Zoo, Western Lowland Gorilla on July 17, 2011 by Charles Alexander

Many thanks to my friend Karen Johnson for the framing of one of my most memorable moments from my keeper years: a painting created by the venerable silverback western lowland gorilla Kongo. During the early 70s Kongo and his mate Lulu lived in squalid conditions at the Central Park Zoo. When their daughter Patty Cake was born in 1973, the baby gorilla accidentally broke her arm– the resulting press and the famous children’s book The Story of Patty Cake led to greater awareness of the needs of the animals at the Central Park Zoo, which eventually helped to inspire a complete renovation of New York City zoos. Kongo–aka “Michael Jackson’s favorite gorilla”– went on to sire many offspring at the Bronx Zoo. He came to Memphis in the early 90s while I was a keeper, where he painted this abstract piece for me. The artist even included “found objects” in his composition: bits of straw from his night nest are embedded in the paint. Kongo was born in the wild in 1964 (we share the same birth year) and spent his last days with a long-awaited mate at the Gulf Breeze Zoo in Florida, where he passed away in 1998. I’ll never forget Kongo: his serene, majestic presence touched me deeply. I will treasure his painting as long as I live.

Bosak and Me, 1991

Posted in Asian Ungulates, Charles Alexander, Memphis Zoo, Przewalski's horse, San Diego Wild Animal Park on July 2, 2011 by Charles Alexander

Bosak, the Przewalski’s stallion– and Asian hooved-stock keeper (me), summer 1991. A friend sent me this picture years ago. I took many clear shots of Bosak during the time that I cared for him, but this is the only one that I have of the two of us together. Can it really be 20 years ago already?

Bosak was born at the San Diego Wild Animal Park on 3/06/1986 to a Russian sire… and a Topeka mare– and came to Memphis on 5/30/1989. He was shipped out to another zoo after I left.

This fiery-tempered stallion was a big part of my life for many years– and came running every morning, whinnying his high, shrill neigh with his head held high– when he realized that I was there. I found out recently that he passed away several years ago–but he will live in my memory for the rest of my life.

Learn more about the Przewalski’s horse here:



Royal antelope hiding, San Diego Zoo

Posted in African Ungulates, Royal Antelope, San Diego Zoo on May 31, 2011 by Charles Alexander

This tiny, shy creature– just 10-12 inches high– is not only the world’s smallest antelope, but also one of the smallest of living ungulates. This little female was hiding under a log, rodent-like, attempting to escape the pursuit of an ardent male.

Male Jentink’s duiker, Gladys Porter Zoo

Posted in African Ungulates, Gladys Porter Zoo on February 11, 2011 by Charles Alexander

A lone male Jentink’s duiker–one of the world’s most endangered antelope species– explores his outdoor habitat at the Gladys Porter Zoo, Brownsville, Texas. This individual is the last of his species in a zoo in the world. Only 3,500 Jentink’s duikers are estimated to remain in the imperiled forests of southern Liberia, south-western Côte d’Ivoire, and scattered enclaves in Sierra Leone, West Africa. The species was first recognized as a new species in 1884, though it was not officially described until 1892. The species then vanished until a skull was found in Liberia in 1948. Sightings have occurred in its habitat since the 1960s, including recent camera trap photos. In 1971, the species was successfully bred for the first time in captivity at the Gladys Porter Zoo. Jentink’s duiker is threatened with extinction, primarily by habitat destruction and commercial bushmeat hunters.