Unique approach to new earthquake exhibit


When you think earthquake, you might not immediately think ostrich. But these little guys are living examples of how the movement of the earth's surface affects evolution.

"The surface of the earth is made up of a number of pieces that all fit together like a jigsaw puzzle," says Peter Roopnarine of the California Academy of Sciences.

Millions of years ago, ostrich ancestors lived on what's known as a supercontinent. Over time, that giant land mass split apart and eventually became the continents we know now.

Ostrich ancestors ended up in different places and evolved differently. So while the ostrich is from Africa, it's closest relative, the rhea, is from South America. The same thing happened to other animals and plants, but the California Academy of Sciences chose ostriches to make that point in their new earthquake exhibit.

"We're basically hand-raising ostriches in the middle of a museum and I can guarantee that that has never happened before," says biologist Tim Steinmetz.

Ostrich eggs were collected from farms, including one in San Ramon. A nine-foot tall daddy ostrich is named Goliath. When ABC7 News went out to see his nest, he launched into a dramatic display, meant to distract us. Down in the academy basement, the eggs are put in an incubator for six weeks. Steinmetz carefully monitors their progress and with a light. He pointed out where the bird's beak was inside the egg. After 42 days, the chicks begin to hatch.

"We can do this to them to fluff them up and then they'll be able to keep their heat better," says Steinmetz. "If you have ostriches in the wild, by the time they are a day old, they are already running with their parents."

But at the academy, human foster parents place the chicks gently in their new home. The exhibit floor is heated to keep things cozy and they get a variety of tasty treats.

The staff is still racing to finish the whole exhibit so the chicks have a few days to get used to the area before the public arrives.

Ostrich chicks grow fast.

"When they are six weeks old, they will be about this tall [about 2 feet]," says Steinmetz.

That's too big for their pen, so after six weeks, the chicks will go back to the farms where their eggs were laid and a new group of babies will be hatched for the exhibit.

When they are a little older, the chicks will go outside in Golden Gate Park to exercise.

The exhibit opens Saturday, May 26, 2012.
>> LINK: Exhibit details

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney

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