Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
If you’ve been around our staff for even a minute, then you know we’ve got talent! Olympic-level racers, canine rescue trainers, singers and musicians, romance novelists…we’ve got it all! Impressive? Absolutely. But what’s even more impressive is how these individuals use their gifts to better local, state and even global communities. Take Coral, for example.
McCallister began working as a custodian at the museum in March of 2014. As lifelong artist, her eyes are always open for inspiration. Before long she found Bom Bom, a live-mounted Western lowland gorilla acquired from the Oklahoma City Zoo.
“I saw Bom Bom many times in various enclosures at the zoo, and like most of us, I was in awe of him and the wildness he represented to me,” McCallister recalled.
She began sketching after her shifts while mammalogy collections manager Brandi Coyner gathered donations for one of the Oklahoma City Zoo’s annual philanthropic events. As soon as Brandi saw Coral’s work, she saw a perfect fit.
“Teresa Randall is a friend of mine and asked if the museum could donate a family membership to one of their philanthropic events,” Coyner said. “When I saw Coral’s sketch, I called her back immediately and told her I had something even better.”
McCallister’s portrait of Bom Bom
McCallister’s 19-inch by 24-inch pastel creation took nearly 15 hours to complete. Still, she had no reservations about donating her work to Zoobilation, a ZooFriends annual gala and fundraiser for the Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital.
Conceptualized Joan Kirkpatrick Animal Hospital, OKC Zoo
Coral made sure that her portrait really captured the essence of Bom Bom, down to the reddish tuft of hair on his head. Perhaps no one appreciates these fine details more than current owner, OKC Zoo head veterinarian Jennifer D’Agostino. D’Agostino was determined to win the piece at the Zoobilation silent auction.
“There were several other people bidding on it but none that knew Bom Bom,” D’Agostino said. “Once, at the end of a medical procedure, he crashed and almost died. I did CPR on him, and he didn’t wake up for about 13 hours. I stayed with him trying to keep him alive. Because of that, I really had a strong connection with him.”
Bom Bom—OKC Zoo, Photo by Gillian Lang
D’Agostino plans to hang the picture inside her new office at the hospital, as a reminder of Bom Bom’s role as a conservation ambassador for others of this critically endangered species in the wild.
“We’re here to get people to see and care about these animals,” D’Agostino said. “Conservation is a global effort, but everything we do has an impact on conservation. We can all make a difference, even in Oklahoma.”
Of course, Coral is as humble as can be about all of her philanthropic efforts, including those with the Norman Chocolate Festival and Nature Conservancy. For her, art is a connection—both human and animalistic. In this way, McCallister hopes to continue using her art to engage with others.
“I like feeling tied into everyone else,” McCallister said. “Art has gotten me through some of the hardest times of my life, and it makes life worthwhile. Giving back creates a kind of oneness, and it’s really a beautiful thing.”
1914: The first stone of the Lincoln Memorial is placed in Washington D.C. Charlie Chaplain stars in his second film, “The Tramp”. Doctors complete the first successful blood transfusion in Brussels, and World War I begins. When looking back on this most historic year, one critical event is often overlooked– the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon.
The Passenger Pigeon in 1898
With a population between 3 and 5 billion birds, the Passenger Pigeon was once the most abundant bird in North America, and possibly even the world. Written accounts describe how flocks would darken the sky for hours and days, and how the beating wings sent a chilling draft down from the sky. However, in just a few decades, the species became extinct.
Passenger Pigeon shooting illustration
Human exploitation, namely hunting and commerce, destroyed nearly every major nesting area over the course of 40 years. No one documented a successful mass nesting during this time, which had in the past contributed greatly to the survival of the species. This bird occurred only in North America and was no stranger to the Sooner State.
Prior to the twentieth century, the Passenger Pigeon often frequented eastern Oklahoma during winter. It is even possible that a handful of lesser-known Oklahoma landmarks were named after this species: Pigeon School (Cherokee County), Pigeon Roost Church (Choctaw and Seminole counties), Pigeon Creek (Latimer and Le Flore counties) and Pigeon Mountain (Le Flore County).
Le Flore County has two sites named for the Passenger Pigeon
Unfortunately, the story of the Passenger Pigeon is not the only tale of exploitation and extinction. Now, The Chicago Academy of Sciences and its Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum are using this tragedy as a cautionary tale through a notable conservation initiative, Project Passenger Pigeon.
According to the project website, the international campaign seeks to promote awareness about the Passenger Pigeon and other endangered species while encouraging people to take action against human-caused extinction. Ultimately, the project is about fostering biodiversity by prompting people to question their role in the larger ecological community.
As a strong advocate of wildlife conversation, The Sam Noble Museum commends the work being done by Project Passenger Pigeon and other similar efforts. From Sept. 13 to Jan. 18, the Sam Noble Museum will showcase portraits of engendered and extinct species, including the Passenger Pigeon, as part of the exhibit Rare.
Red Wolf (Canis rufus), photographed at Great Plains Zoo, Sioux Falls, S.D.
If Project Passenger Pigeon has inspired you to get involved, there are several environmental advocacy groups to join: The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Sierra Club, Conservation International and Wildlife Conservation Society, to name a few. Of course, joining an organization isn’t the only way to support conservation efforts.
"You could become informed about conservation issues, volunteer in community environmental projects or become a citizen scientist,” suggests Janet Braun, staff curator. “You could also join or donate to a museum or conservation organization while living and promoting a conservation lifestyle.”
Scientists estimate that there are over 8.7 million species of living organisms on Earth at this time. Biodiversity is a precious thing that must be protected, as the tale of the Passenger Pigeon reminds us. They say that history always repeats itself - but by promoting the conservation of species and habitat, perhaps we can build a better tomorrow from yesterday’s mistakes.
A few weeks ago, the Sam Noble Museum welcomed back annual visitors to the museum grounds. A batch of wild Penstemon oklahomensis, an endemic species of flower occurring exclusively in Oklahoma, began to flourish in a vast field located just behind the museum.
Although the P. oklahomensis is not a federally recognized endangered species, it is state rare. The plant consists of a tall stalk that branches into several white, tubular flowers, with the pollen nestled cozily inside. The blossoms at the end of this knee-high plant typically bend downwards, toward the ground.
“The population in the field south of the Sam Noble Museum is healthy and robust,” said Dr. Wayne Elisens, a professor and curator of the Robert Bebb Herbarium at the University of Oklahoma. “Because the species flowers in April into May and fruits into June, one strategy to promote its persistence is to mow after fruit set, probably by mid-June at the earliest.”
In an effort to preserve the flowers, the Sam Noble Museum has requested to refrain from mowing until the plant has finished blooming and dropping seeds for next year. Dr. Bruce Hoagland, a plant ecologist and coordinator of the Oklahoma Natural Heritage Inventory, said that he supports the decision to let the field grow naturally.
In honor of the May 19 and 20 tornados, the Sam Noble Museum will be offering complimentary admission to all throughout the month June. Since Dr. Hoagland and Dr. Elisens predict the flowers will be with us until mid-June, why not stop in and say “hello” to our yearly guests?