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The Prehistoric Zoo Project, thing

  • 27-07-2012 3:23am
    Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 5,279 Mod ✭✭✭✭

    Hey everyone

    Thought this would be an interesting exercise on imagination. I was thinking, imagine if the largest, fiercest prehistoric creatures could be kept in a zoo- either because they were brought back Jurassic Park-style, or Primeval-style, or just because they never went extinct.

    I have thought of six prehistoric beasts that would pose special challenges for a zoo,what do u think?
    Oh and add any u think would be a handful in modern times :D

    1- T-Rex


    No prehistoric zoo would be complete without a T-Rex but it would be one of the most difficult and dangerous animals to keep.
    What we know about it: Top predator of the latest Cretaceous in North America; 13 to 15(?) meters long, up to 9 tons; largest brain and teeth of any known dinosaur; best sense of smell and eyesight of any known dinosaur; decent sense of hearing, especially sensitive to low frequencies produced by large prey (hadrosaurs, ceratopsians, etc) and very likely, other tyrannosaurs.
    The young started as slender, fast-running predators and were probably able to fend by themselves from a very early age, perhaps even from birth; parental care may have been limited or absent. They grew very fast, reached sexual maturity at about 18 and lived around 30-40 years, if they were lucky. Injuries and bite marks in fossils suggest they led violent lives, and fought and killed each other with some frequency; cannibalistic tendencies.
    Seemingly dominated its habitat to such an extent that other theropods were rare; young T-Rex in different stages of growth may have filled the niches of other species.
    What we don´t know about it: Everything about T-Rex's social and reproductive behavior is unknown. Its external appearance is uncertain; may have had some sort of fur or feather-like covering over its body, or may have been completely naked. There is little evidence of sexual dimorphism. Believed to have been an ambush hunter as an adult. Top speed a matter of controversy; probably not as adept to chasing prey as the young. Believed to have been warm-blooded and active. Eggs and nests unknown.
    Only predator today with a comparable size: Killer Whale.
    Only land animal today with a comparable size:
    African bush elephant.
    Challenges it would pose:
    - Larger than any modern day land predator by a wide margin. This means, for starters, that it would need a lot of space; some scientists have suggested that T-Rex had legs and feet especially adapted for walking very long distances. This may suggest that T-Rex either had huge territories, or it wasn´t territorial but nomadic and followed the herds of large herbivorous dinosaurs during their migrations. Either way, a T-Rex's enclosure would have to be very large so that the animal wouldn´t become stressed.
    - Its huge size would mean an enormous amount of food, especially if it was warm blooded as believed. Some scientists have suggested that a theropod the size of T-Rex would have to eat its own weight in meat every week. If this was correct, that would mean between 6 and 9 tons for an adult T-Rex; let's say 7 tons. Feeder cows would probably be used; assuming a large cow is about 500 kgs, that would mean two cows per day, or 14 cows per week to feed one single T-Rex.
    Back in the Cretaceous, T-Rex would probably only need one large Edmontosaurus or Triceratops to feed for one or two weeks. It is of course likely that it didn´t feed every day, and probably went for long periods without food as with any large predator. Still, it seems obvious that feeding even one individual would be enormously costly.
    - Its huge size would also mean huge power; it would be extremely dangerous for keepers, vets and anyone else to interact with a T-Rex, and an attack would probably be always fatal. One well placed bite from a T-Rex, scientists say, would be enough to cripple or kill even large herbivorous dinosaurs. It has been proven that T-Rex was physically capable of swallowing a man whole.
    - Its huge strenght would also mean that the enclosure would have to be very well designed to prevent escaping. Although we don´t know if T-Rex could leap, it seems unlikely; it is very possible that a deep moat like in elephant enclosures would be an important element in a T-Rex exhibit, although it could also risk injury to the animal if it fell into it. I figure they would have to use concrete for the enclosure barrier, as any metal fence or similar structure would be unlikely to hold the creature at all.

    2- Titanoboa


    Only recently discovered, but already legendary, this is one of the largest snakes known to science and would undoubtely be a popular exhibit in any zoo.
    What we know about it: Top predator of the Eocene rivers and swamps in South America; 13 to 15meters long, up to 2 tons; non-venomous, killed prey by constriction and swallowed it whole. Its body was so thick that according to some scientists, it would have trouble to slither through a normal sized office door.
    Like all other snakes, it would be cold-blooded and feed only ocassionally. Most likely aquatic or at least semi-aquatic; coexisted with giant crocodiles and turtles that may have been an important part of its diet.
    What we don´t know about it: External appearance mostly unknown. Reproductive habits unknown; may have been ovoviviparous like modern day boas (it belonged to the same family). Color and pattern will probably forever be a mystery.
    Largest snakes today: Green anaconda (7 meters long, 100+ kgs), Reticulated Python (8+ meters long, 60+ kgs). That is about half the length and a 20th of the weight of Titanoboa.
    Closest living equivalent: Possibly the Green Anaconda.
    Challenges it would pose:
    - Its huge size means it would require a lot of space; ordinary snake terrarium would be unsufficient for it. If it was to be kept in an open enclosure it would have to be in a warm country as this snake lived in an extremely hot and humid world and would probably be highly sensitive to even the slightest drop in temperature. Neumonia is one of the leading causes of death in captive constrictors today.
    The enclosure would also have to be very well designed to prevent escape- which snakes are skilled at.
    - Despite its enormous size, Titanoboa would be much less expensive to feed than T-Rex due to being cold-blooded; it would need fewer cows and would probably go for weeks or maybe months without eating. Modern day reticulated pythons can go without eating for almost two years in captivity; Titanoboa could potentially last even longer. However, we don´t know anything about its temperament or appetite; it may have been a voracious eater like some snake species are.
    - Humans would be very easy prey for a Titanoboa; keepers, vets and cleaners would be at risk all the time whenever they went close to the giant snake. Even juveniles would probably be every bit as dangerous as modern day retics and anacondas, and more so as they grew larger. Fortunately, it is likely that an adult Titanoboa's huge size would make it slow and clumsy on dry land; it would be deadliest in the water. If it was anything like the anaconda, it may have had bad eyesight as well.

    3- Smilodon


    The ever famous sabertooth tiger, this is one of the largest known sabertooths, and the best known.
    What we know about it: A top predator of its time, specialized in large game; there's strong evidence that it fed even on mammoths and ground sloths at times, although its favorite prey seems to have been bison (in North America).
    There were three species; one was jaguar-sized, another lion-sized, and the third, Smilodon populator, was larger than any living cat, weighing up to 400 or even 500 kgs. Extremely muscular and powerful, particularly in the forequarters. Its canines could grow up to 30 cms and were designed to cause massive injury and bleeding. Smilodon fatalis seems to have lived in prides; it is possible that the same was true of S. populator.
    They were able of roaring like modern day big cats. Short tail and massive body means they were less agile, most likely ambush hunters. Bite marks found in fossilized bones suggest they fought and killed each other occassionally and also targeted other predators like the Dire Wolf.
    What we don´t know about it: External appearance unknown; little evidence of sexual dimorphism. Social structure unknown, although suggested by some to have been more akin to a wolf pack than a lion pride.
    Exact killing technique unknown. Wether it coexisted with humans, unknown although likely.
    Closest living relatives: Felidae
    Land predators of similar size today: Siberian tiger, black bear, brown bear.Challenges it would pose:
    - Its huge size and power and formidable weaponry would make it even more formidable than modern day big cats (which is saying something). Although best suited to hunt larger prey, they would probably see humans as prey anyways, and no doubt attacks wouldn´t be uncommon; if, like scientists have suggested, Smilodon stabbed its prey's abdomen with its huge fangs, chances of surviving such deep, traumatic injury would be extremely slim. Danger would be even greater if they were pack hunters as the fossil record suggests.
    - Being heavier and less agile than pantherines, it is likely that they wouldn´t be as adept at climbing or leaping and escaping their enclosures; however, being so powerful, it is likely they would make short work of the chain link fences that keep some of their smaller relatives at bay today. Deep moats would probably be necessary in a Smilodon enclosure. It must be noted that even bears have been known to climb out of their enclosures when they feel like it; Smilodon was better suited to climb than most bears.
    - These animals would probably need lots of space, and if they were pack hunters, company of other Smilodon to avoid stress and depression. However, keeping several sabertooths would probably be risky as the fossil record suggests their battles (for dominance?) could be deadly. It is possible that most zoos would choose to keep only one male with several females to minimize the risk of losing valuable individuals.
    - A modern day lion may eat up to 50 kgs of meat every day- although they can go for a few days without eating. Smilodon would likely eat more. Some scientists believe Smilodon wouldn´t be as good at stripping the flesh off a carcass' bones as modern day big cats are, meaning they probably would need more fresh carcasses and more frequently than their modern cousins.
    - This is a personal opinion but I think few animals would be more dangerous if they escaped from a zoo than a bunch of sabertooth tigers :D

    4- Entelodont


    One of the most monstrous mammals ever to have existed; sometimes nicknamed "terminator pigs", but they were probably more related to whales!
    What we know about it: The largest entelodonts were about 2 meters tall at the shoulder and weighed up to a ton.
    Probably omnivorous but with carnivorous tendencies as suggested by their bite marks in the bones of other animals; there's even evidence that they cached carcasses in their lairs to feed on them later. May have been aggressive scavengers, using their huge size and monstrous appearance to intimidate other carnivores and stealing their kills. Fossil skulls of entelodonts show strong evidence of aggressive interaction and they were probably also cannibalistic.
    What we don´t know about it: External appearance unknown; often restored with a warthog-like mane on its neck and shoulders but this cannot be confirmed by the fossil record. Exact relationships with other artiodactyls a matter of controversy.
    Challenges it would pose:
    - Nothing is known about the social or territorial behavior of these creatures, but it is likely that they roamed over large territories, following the smell of carcasses and searching for live prey. Large enclosures would be necessary to avoid stress and violence especially if several individuals were kept together.
    - Entelodonts would probably pose a huge risk to humans, as they would be aggressive, voracious and formidably armed. One bite would crush a man's bones easily; they would have no trouble dismembering a hapless keeper in the blink of an eye. Their thick skull and skin mean they would also be very difficult to deter; you can poke a big cat's eyes or punch its nose and there's a small chance of it working, but any fighting would probably be useless against an entelodont.
    Their long legs also suggest they would be much, much faster than any human.
    - If the fossil record is any indication, these animals would probably fight and wound each other frequently, making them a headache for vets.
    - Entelodonts would probably try to cache food as suggested by the fossil record; therefore, their enclosure would be likely to be a constantly stinking mess. I'm pretty sure cleaners would hate these animals more than any other.

    5- Any large pterosaur


    I can imagine smaller pterosaurs being kept in large aviary-like cages, but larger ones would pose many challenges and would probably be quite impractical to keep in captivity.
    What we know about them: Flying cousins of dinosaurs; ruled the skies for millions of years and were seemingly as diverse as birds, although we only know a small fraction of the species that likely existed.
    Quadrupedal on the ground, oviparous, and probably very precocial; the young were capable of either gliding or fully powered flight shortly after being born. Adults probably buried their eggs; parental care may have been limited or absent in some species.
    Almost certainly warm blooded, and covered on fur-like "pterofuzz". Excellent eyesight and balance; they were as skilled in flight as birds are today, and in some ways, even more. The largest ones would be able to travel huge distances in short time and with minimal energy cost. Appearance, behavior and diet were very diverse. Some of them, like Pteranodon, show extreme sexual dimorphism and probably lived in harems dominated by a larger male, as in elephant seals.
    What we don´t know about them: Even such basic things as how exactly they landed and took off are still a matter of debate. Almost nothing is known about their social behavior or reproduction. The diet of many of them- even those of which we have decent fossils- is still a mystery.
    Closest living relatives: Birds, then crocodilians
    Challenges they would pose:
    - The first thing I thought about pterosaurs being kept in a zoo is that it would be cruel. These were animals that could fly enormous distances and some of them- like Pteranodon and Nyctosaurus- probably spent days, even months on the wing, like albatrosses, returning to land only to breed. No enclosure would be big enough for these creatures.
    An open enclosure would be out of the question since they would easily fly away and unlike birds, whose flight feathers can be clipped, pterosaur wings were made of a complex membrane of skin, specialized fibers and muscles.
    I have wondered how would zookeepers manage to make them flightless but even the thought seems sacrilegious.
    - Even the largest and most land-based species such as Quetzalcoatlus and Hatzegopteryx would be able to fly away. Even if they chose not to, they would be dangerous to keep around; these largest of known pterosaurs were large enough to swallow humans alive- and were much more agile than other pterosaurs when on land. I've been told a Quetzalcoatlus would probably be able to run at a speed of 30 kms p/h which is not very fast for modern day quadruped standars, but quite a bit faster than most regular humans.
    - Although we tend to think about them as bird-like, many pterosaurs actually had crocodilian-like jaws with sharp teeth and probably packed a nasty bite. We know very little about their behavior but both birds and crocs can be extremely ill-tempered, so I see no reason why pterosaurs would be different.
    - Overall, I think large pterosaurs would probably be amongst the worst possible animals to keep in captivity, and I personally wouldn´t approve of it at all.

    6- Australopithecines and other hominins


    If our closest extinct relatives were alive, would we keep them in zoos at all?
    What we know about them: Depending on the species, they ranged in size from smaller than your average chimp, to the size of large male modern humans, and perhaps there were species even larger than us.
    Extremely intelligent and resourceful, hominins mastered tool use more than any other creature we know about, learning even to master fire and use projectile weapons.
    Many species are known to have been cannibalistic and some were probably just as aggressive as modern humans. Most were also physically much more powerful. They were abundant during the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene, only to go extinct almost completely at the end of the Pleistocene; today, only one known species remains.
    What we don´t know about them: Which one was our direct ancestor? Or are we descended from many of them? How many of them had a real language? The questions about them are endless.
    Closest living relatives: Humans, then chimps
    Challenges it would pose:
    - I guess I can imagine australopithecines being kept in zoos (didn´t someone describe them as "little chimpanzees"? A scientist, don´t remember the name). But with so much controversy today about keeping great apes in captivity, I think australopithecines, being even closer to us, would be even more controversial and they would be even better protected (or at least I like to think so)- let alone later, advanced hominins like Homo habilis or Homo erectus.
    I wonder if someone would have the balls to make a Neanderthal exhibit- it would probably be seen as horribly racist rather than just animal cruelty. What do you guys think?
    - Either way I don´t think keeping these in a zoo would be practical. Apes are quite skilled at escaping; hominins of any kind would be even better, and I pity whoever is in their way when they rampage across the zoo carrying clubs or spears and throwing projectiles.:rolleyes:


  • Registered Users Posts: 30,746 ✭✭✭✭Galvasean

    Excellent stuff Adam. Allow me to ad one.

    7. Deinonychus


    Due to the notoriety created by the Jurassic Park films anyone attending a prehistoric zoo would be extremely disappointed not to see the deadly 'Raptors' that terrified a generation. While in reality Velociraptor was less than half the size of the ones in the film, a close relative called Deinonychus is, more or less, a perfect match.

    What we know about it:
    A medium sized 'raptor' dinosaur of reasonably high intelligence, albeit nowhere near as high as depicted in films, but very high in terms of dinosaurs and probably rivaling that of some modern mammals. Most likely a pack hunter based on a fossil find where multiple Deinonychus were found along with the much larger dinosaur Tenontosaurus.
    Almost certainly covered in elaborate feathers based on fossil finds of many closely related dinosaurs.
    Primary weapons for hunting include a killer retractable claw on each foot and very sharp serrated teeth. Extremely fast and agile due to a warm blooded metabolism. All senses appear to be more developed than than in humans, particularly eyesight, which rivals modern birds of prey.

    What we don't know about it:
    While it appears Deinonychus hunted in groups we do not know much of their social structure. It has been suggested that they operated in groups similar to a modern wolf pack or a pride of lions, however this has not been conclusively verified beyond doubt as fossil finds indicating pack behaviour may not be as they appear (see 'predator trap' for one alternate hypothesis). Odds of complex group behaviour deemed very likely.
    Reproductive strategies have been reconstructed based on those of related dinosaurs. Egg laying and nesting seems a certainty. Parental care in Deinonychus a hotly contested topic. Deinonychus appears to have grown fast with juveniles reaching maturity within 5 years. If the pack theory is correct it is uncertain whether juveniles remained with the adults that birthed them or left to form packs of their own.

    Modern land animal with a comparable size and predicted level of threat:
    Jaguar or panther (on an individual basis).

    Challenges it would pose:
    As stated above, an individual would pose as much danger to keepers and other staff as a modern jaguar or panther, if not more. However, if the aforementioned pack theory proves to be true the danger level increases many times over. A group of several well armoured (and most likely armed too) keepers would be necessary to enter the containment area at any given time. It is strongly recommended that Deinonychus' numbers be limited to a single individual or one breeding pair at most per zoo. It is also recommended that eggs be 'dealt with' to prevent overcrowding of the enclosure. It is imperative that the exact location of each Deinonychus is made abundantly clear to any and all tending staff in order to minimize the risk of serious injury or worse, death and the inevitable lawsuits associated with such.
    The utmost security measures must be adhered to in this particular case. While many of the larger animals would pose a more immediately destructive threat were they to escape, Deinonychus represents a more unique threat as one could easily 'go missing' in the park and end up in unlikely places very quickly, posing a difficult to respond to/monitor situation.
    Deinonychus' remarkable speed, incredible agility and reasonably high levels of intellect would require a completely contained environment to prevent escapes. Extremely high walls are an absolute necessity and some form of roofing is strongly recommended to prevent such incidents from occuring. All aspects of the enclosure must be inspected meticulously multiple times a day (especially at night as the best available evidence suggests that Deinonychus was at least partially nocturnal) in case of tampering by the residents. The armed guards' station should also be located nearby should the unthinkable happen. Nearby sniper towers coupled with the use of night vision scopes is another recommendation. If previous instructions are carried out to the letter such towers will be largely superfluous, but would be useful to allay the fears of the public and while an expensive investment, would help reduce the overall insurance costs associated with the park as a whole.

  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 5,279 Mod ✭✭✭✭Adam Khor

    Great addition :D Indeed, I would be dissapointed if there were no raptors.

    I may as well mention two little known facts about Deinonychus; studies of its bite force have given amazing results; it had a stronger bite than a modern day hyena, and about equivalent to that of a crocodile or alligator of the same size- the big ones were able to bite through bone.
    (Couple that with very sharp, flesh-slicing teeth and you have a deadly combination of crocodile and shark in the same creature's jaws).

    Also, there's a fossil that seems direct evidence of Deinonychus not only laying eggs but sitting on them to incubate them. :cool:

  • Registered Users Posts: 8,551 ✭✭✭Rubecula

    8. Liopleurodon


    What we Know About it.

    Not as much as you may think. It was pretty much the ruler of the seas at it's height. It had huge jaws and probably ate just about anything it could catch.
    Currently we know of three distinct species of the Liopleurodon. 1) Liopleurodon ferox, 2) Liopleurodon grossouvrei, and 3) Liopleurodon bucklandi.

    What we Don't know about it.

    The power of its jaws, nor do we know how big these things could actually get. There seems to be a lot of controversy over size of a full grown adult.
    ( Liopleurodon was featured in an episode the BBC television series Walking with Dinosaurs, which depicted it as an enormous 25 m (82 ft) long animal. However, this is not considered to be accurate for any species of Liopleurodon)

    Modern animal with comparable size and level of threat.

    Only one I can think of is an Orca with a serious attitude problem.

    Challenges it would pose.

    You would need a pretty big fish tank, and you probably wouldn't want to dangle your tootsies in the water.

  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 5,279 Mod ✭✭✭✭Adam Khor

    Liopleurodon may be closer to an orca in size, but for some reason I think it would be more similar to a saltwater crocodile in many ways. For example, I don´t think it would be as considerate to us as orcas seem to be...

    There's other questions that come to mind... how much would it need to eat? Was it warm blooded (most likely, it appears)? Would you be able to keep more than one in the same tank?
    And it would be very interesting to witness a female giving birth!

  • Registered Users Posts: 8,551 ✭✭✭Rubecula

    Adam Khor wrote: »
    Liopleurodon may be closer to an orca in size, but for some reason I think it would be more similar to a saltwater crocodile in many ways. For example, I don´t think it would be as considerate to us as orcas seem to be...

    There's other questions that come to mind... how much would it need to eat? Was it warm blooded (most likely, it appears)? Would you be able to keep more than one in the same tank?
    And it would be very interesting to witness a female giving birth!

    Yep about Orca size and as you say an Orca is likely to have a much less of an attitude problem. I wanted to post about not knowing if you could have more than one in a tank, but I actually forgot to type it in.

    Also I was thinking of Mosasaurs too, but the problem there would be pretty much the same as Liopleurodon, in regards of what we know and what we don't know and keeping them in captivity. I tossed a coin and posted Lio. But I could just have easily gone the other way.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 30,746 ✭✭✭✭Galvasean

  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 5,279 Mod ✭✭✭✭Adam Khor

    Galvasean wrote: »

    Captive orcas. Wild orcas are surprisingly considerate towards humans... I think I would be murderous too if I was forced to live in a bath tub and perform silly tricks for people I don´t care about. :(

  • Registered Users Posts: 25,560 ✭✭✭✭Kess73

    Adam Khor wrote: »
    Captive orcas. Wild orcas are surprisingly considerate towards humans... I think I would be murderous too if I was forced to live in a bath tub and perform silly tricks for people I don´t care about. :(

    I can say that from first hand (and very unexpected) experience that this is correct. A very curious animal in the wild which at times diguises the fact it is an apex predator.

  • Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators Posts: 5,279 Mod ✭✭✭✭Adam Khor

    9- Terror birds
    Another deadly predator with no real equivalent nowadays.
    What we know about them: Extremely succesful and long lived as a group; although possible phorusrhacids have been found in Antarctica and Africa, they were mostly found in South America from the middle Paleocene to the early Pleistocene, with at least one species also found in North America.
    They varied in size, but the largest and most famous were about three meters long; the very biggest weighed around 400 kgs. Flightless, fast running; their speed has been estimated at 90 kms p/h or more, being among the fastest land predators of all times.
    Strong, robust legs. Large, hooked beak. Toe claws blunt, not adapted to kill/capture prey, although useful for holding it still while delivering the fatal blow.
    What we don´t know about it: Reproductive strategy unknown. Exact killing method unknown. External appearance (feathers, skin color, etc) unknown.
    Closest living relatives: Seriemas
    Largest living bird:
    Ostrich (up to 2.8 meters tall and 145 kgs)
    Challenges it would pose:
    - Modern day cassowaries are considered to be one of the most dangerous animals to keep in a zoo, due to their ability to leap in the air and kick their enemy with their powerful, sharp claws.
    Although phorusrhacids didn´t have very sharp claws, their size and strenght was very superior, and paleontologists believe it could also leap in the air and kick their enemy/prey; a kick from a phorusrhacid would easily shatter a man's bones, causing potentially deadly injury. Also, unlike the cassowary, the phorusrhacid was a predator and humans would be well within the size range of their potential prey, meaning they would probably be much more likely to attack than cassowaries or ostriches.
    - A phorusrhacid's main weapon would be its huge, curved beak, which some paleontologists believe may have been used as a precision weapon, hitting repeatedly a vital spot (the skull or the nape, for example) to quickly and brutally dispatch prey.
    - There is absolutely no way a human could outrun a phorusrhacid.
    - Like most predatory birds, terror birds would have incredible eyesight, but a poor sense of smell.
    - Terror birds came in two "models"; gracile and robust. The robust species would be incredibly powerful, but unable to chase prey for long periods, whereas gracile species would be able to do so. Either would be dangerous, however, as even the gracile species would be much more powerful than a man.
    - Although terror bird eggs, nests or chicks are unknown, it is very likely that, like most birds, adults would be fiercely protective of them, making them particularly dangerous during nesting season. Many modern day birds considered harmless during other times of the year become highly aggressive and potentially dangerous when nesting (owls, king vultures, etc)
    - A vulture can eat a quarter of its weight in a single meal. It is likely that terror birds were also voracious eaters. They would certainly be a great menace if they escaped their enclosure. Their speed would make them very difficult to capture back as well.