Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.


A Mammalogist’s Homecoming


 What comes to mind when you think of summer? Melting popsicles? The smell of freshly cut grass? Lazy days by the pool? For mammalogists across the country, summer means one very important thing – the annual ASM conference.

 What’s ASM, you ask? The American Society of Mammalogists was founded in 1919 to promote interest in the study of mammals. To do so, the organization issues regular publications about upcoming news while maintaining extensive online photographic database that covers a wide variety of animals.


First ASM Conference in 1919

“The ASM fosters the next generation of mammalogists by providing small research grants, fellowships, internships and honoraria to promising students,” said Edward Heske, ASM president. “We offer a welcoming and supportive environment where young scientists can grow and move out into their new professional universe, and what could be greater ‘return on investment’ than that?” 

Every year, the members of this prestigious organization meet face-to-fact to catch up with old friends, exchange research and discuss current events in the field. If nothing else, the conference is an amazing opportunity for scientists to learn from and encourage one another as they pursue their passion.


The 2012 Conference in Reno

“Many of us see each other only once a year at the meetings and, on a personal level, it’s like a big annual homecoming,” said Eileen Lacey, ASM president elect. “Aside from the social component, it’s a very stimulating chance to talk about the science and the organisms that are of greatest interest to me, so a very rewarding professional experience as well.”

Why are we so excited? Because this year’s conference will be held in Oklahoma City from June 6-10!  Meetings are typically held in major cities like Portland, Philadelphia and Reno, so the 2014 selection comes as an honor. Many of our Sam Noble Museum mammalogists are already gearing up for the conference. Get ready! We’re attending this year’s conference and (of course) bringing you all the details! Stay tuned, friends.

Bom Bom’s Story

Chapter 1 – The End of an Era 


Bom Bom - OKC Zoo, Photo by Gillian Lang

On June 25, 2012, the Oklahoma City Zoo announced the death of Bom Bom the gorilla – a local icon, beloved by many and father of three. His passing devastated zoo-lovers and was covered by nearly every major news outlet in the state – The Oklahoma Gazette, KFOR, KWTV and the Oklahoman. Now, his legacy lives on thanks to a partnership between the OKC Zoo and the Sam Noble Museum. 

Chapter 2 – The Backstory 


The Audubon Zoo in New Orleans

Bom Bom was born at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans 38 years ago and joined the OKC Zoo in 2002 as part of national breeding program. According to Robin Newby, supervisor of apes at the OKC Zoo, Bom Bom was a great silverback. He understood his role in the group and fostered peaceful relationships.

In January 2010, Bom Bom was diagnosed with heart disease – a common threat for male gorillas. Two years later he suffered a deadly ruptured aneurism in his heart that ended his life, but not his legacy.

 Chapter 3 – New Beginnings


Bom Bom in the Sam Noble Museum mammalogy collection

Bom Bom’s body was donated to our museum, and we immediately requested the help of artisan taxidermist Paul Rhymer, who has previously worked with the Smithsonian Institution. Because the specimen was so well preserved by the museum, Rhymer was able to sculpt a stunningly realistic live mount for the museum.

“To ensure this mount was identifiable as Bom Bom, I made molds of his face so we could try to capture the facial features that make him different from other gorillas, “ said Rhymer. “From that mold I was able to sculpt a form that was a portrait.”

Bom Bom’s skeleton also left insights for scientists about the way western lowland gorillas age. According to Brandi Coyner, Sam Noble Museum mammalogy curatorial associate, zoo specimens live longer than their wild counterparts and allow scientist to observe the effects of aging. The bones of Bom Bom’s hands and feet have already been studied by a Smithsonian scientists, who is an expert in primate anatomy. 

“We could tell by the way he walked he was getting older. The museum helped us understand why, and did a great job with him,” Newby said.

 Chapter 4 – The Plot Twist


Leom - Photo by Andrea Wright

Bom Bom also left the zoo staff one final surprise – a son. After nearly a decade of breeding failure, female Kelele conceived just one month before Bom Bom’s passing. Baby Leom – named after his parents - was born on Valentine’s Day of 2013.

Candice Rennels, manager of marketing and public relations for the OKC Zoo, stated that Bom Bom and his son Leom serve as “ambassadors for wild relatives” in regards to wildlife conservation as a whole, and the Sam Noble Museum has incorporated this belief into plans for Bom Bom’s future. 

Chapter 5 – Planning a Future


An Ocelot portrait from RARE

The Sam Noble Museum plans to display Bom Bom in the main lobby to help welcome Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species, a temporary photographic exhibit designed to raise awareness about endangered wildlife in America. Signs will help inform visitors of his purpose and relevance in preserving biodiversity. 

"Bom Bom is an extremely rare gorilla who will continue to influence people’s views on conservation as a part of the Sam Noble Museum’s collections and exhibits,” said museum director Michael Mares. “I decided to prepare him as a mount so that he would carry a message of the fragility of life on Earth in the face of the enormous environmental changes that gorillas, and people, face." 

Rare opens on Sept. 13, 2014. We would love to welcome all Oklahomans to discover a remarkable cause while rediscovering an old friend. We hope you will join us in becoming a part of this new and exciting chapter in Bom Bom’s legacy.

Inside the Treasure Box: Week One

Today begins an eleven-week blogging journey, a journey unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Stick with us, and we’ll take you behind the scenes for a first-hand look at the best of the best from each of our eleven collections. Curators and collection managers carefully chose the most significant and/or unique item from their collection, and one by one, we will reveal them to you. We hope you’re ready, because it’s going to be one exciting, international, world-record-breaking journey. Welcome to “Inside the Treasure Box”.

We’ve decided to kick off our new series with one of the rarest mammals in North America, straight from our mammalogy department. The black-footed ferret is an endangered species and was declared extinct in the wild in 1979 and again in 1986. However, the recovery of the species from a few individuals, that were discovered by chance thanks to a Wyoming rancher’s dog, resulted in successful captive breeding populations and reintroductions and recovery in several states.


"Historically, black-footed ferrets were found throughout the Great Plains, including Oklahoma, from Canada to northern Mexico," said Janet Braun, mammalogy staff curator. "Secretive and active only at night, they are extremely dependent on prairie dogs, both for food and burrows. Significant decrease in prairie dog colonies, conversion of grasslands to agriculture and disease contributed to the extinction of this species."


A close-up of the black feet for which the species is named

Today there are more than 1,000 individuals living in the wild in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Arizona. Only 5 specimens are known from Oklahoma, and as it is now extirpated (meaning it has disappeared from the area) in the state, this specimen is one of Oklahoma’s most rare mammal specimens in collections. This specimen was collected July 25, 1928 just one mile east of Norman.


Be sure to stay tuned for week two’s “big” reveal by following our blog and connecting with us on social media. By big, we mean one of the biggest in the world. You won’t want to miss this. What’s that, you say? You’re on the edge of your seat? Well, we’re not usually into making deals, but if blog receives 1,000 visits OR receives 10 new followers by Friday, Sept. 20 at 3 p.m., we may just be inclined to release a teaser. A “big” teaser.

Read Inside the Treasure Box: Week Two

From Identification to Dissertation

In 2005, a mother and two baby rats were discovered in Salt Lake City onboard a truckload of sterile medical supplies shipped from China. The mother was destroyed, but the babies were kept. The rats were sent to Dr. Michael Mares, the Sam Noble Museum’s Director and a noted mammalogist, for identification. However, a rather puzzling DNA analysis was conducted at Oklahoma State University. Although the mother looked like a common ship rat, DNA suggested she was not a pure ship rat. Dr. Mares teamed up with genetics graduate student Dr. Justin Lack of Oklahoma State University in a pursuit that would eventually yield novel discoveries for invasion biology.

“In our efforts to learn more about Rattus in the United States, the project eventually grew into Lack’s dissertation, which is a fine piece of work involving both the ship rat and the Norway rat, two of the most destructive invaders in the world,” recalls Dr. Mares.

 Along with Dr. Ron Van Den Bussche and Dr. Meredith Hamilton of OSU and Dr. Janet Braun of the Sam Noble Museum, they began researching the invasion history of various Rattus species using population genetics, a method of research in which the geographic patterns of genetic diversity are analyzed to understand gene flow and evolutionary history. During the study, the group encountered a third species, Rattus tanezumi, capable of hybridizing with the ship rat (Rattus rattus).  For photographs of these species, click here.


Rattus tanezumi

Although a population of Rattus tanezumi had been described from California, Dr. Lack and his colleagues were the first to report the second and only other known population in Florida. This discovery suggests Rattus tanezumi likely invaded the United States twice, once on each coast. Globalization in means of transport (ships, trucks and planes) enabled the hybridization. Unlike the hybridization of various dog breeds, which are considered to be the same species, Rattus tanezumi contains genomic material from Rattus rattus (a separate species) and may become genetically swamped by the more widespread and aggressive species.

“Genomic swamping like this is very rare in mammals, making this a really cool result,” said Dr. Lack. “However, a major consequence has been the potential loss of the R. tanezumi nuclear genome.”

To better understand the invasion origins of the Norway and ship rat, Dr. Lack and his colleagues conducted a second study that provided insight into dispersal patterns. They found that the Norway rat invaded from at least four sources, most likely two from Asia and two from Europe and/or Africa, whereas the ship rat appears to have entered the United States in a single wave of invasion, with subsequent invasions only occurring in southeastern Florida but never moving inland.


Their work showed that the Norway rat, Rattus norvegicus, continues to move throughout the United States, whereas the ship rat, Rattus rattus, no longer continues to disperse or enter. Analyses suggest that competition with the more aggressive Norway rat may limit the success of the ship rat. Through this study, researchers gained insight into how these species disperse and repopulate outside species lines. They are two of the principal pest species in the United States and can have great adverse effects on human health by acting as reservoirs and dispersers for a variety of diseases, from bubonic plague to typhus and leptospirosis. This work on dispersal patterns can be useful in limiting the spread of the rat-borne pathogens.