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Saturday, 6 June 2015

Extinction Wildlife Sanctuary: First Dinosaurs

Seth stood with Fretwell in the new aviary. Of course the great birds that would soon inhabit this aviary had yet to be brought back from extinction; if they had it would be quite likely that sharp talons would be deeply embedded in their backs. Judy Wright the architect had listened to his advise well on the exhibit design. Large temperate trees found across South Island of New Zealand encompassed the aviary to almost perfectly replicate a thick forest. Fretwell was looking carefully at the meshing of the aviary. He had overseen the design and manufacturing of the meshing so it was on his head if the meshing turned out not to hold a giant eagle. The meshing stretched high up over the green tops of the trees giving the few introduced song birds that had wormed their way into the aviary ample room to stretch their tiny wings.

"Don't worry Fretwell the song birds won't get eaten by the ones going to be bred," Seth told him reassuringly "They would not bother with small birds when their diet consisted of giant moas."

The Harpagornis, or Haast's Eagle, was a large eagle from New Zealand that hunted the giant moa birds (one species now residing in Senshijidaino). With no mammalian competition they monopolized the top predatory niches. A couple of song birds smaller than your palm would serve no interest to the ruler of the skies. Tayatami Sato was adamant that the habitat of the song birds was not to be disturbed so it was up to Fretwell to see that the meshing was large enough to let song birds in and out as well as stopping macaws from getting in and the Harpagornis from getting out. As Fretwell was still observing his handiwork Seth noticed a brown plaster firmly attached to his index finger.

"Had a run in with Maurice?" he asked.

"Yeah," Fretwell replied with a sheepish smile. Maurice was a particularly large male dodo who would get overexcited when being hand fed. Dodos having hooked beaks that were painfully sharp to open the shells of crabs meant that a few scrapes ensued. Kioni had to ban people from actually hand feeding the dodos now.

"I think the eagles will be arriving now," Fretwell commented looking once more at the meshing. He could perfectly understand Fretwell's trepidation; when the Haast's Eagles come out from the 'hatchery' the world's largest birds of prey would be flying around that exhibit and if they got out... The Senshijidaino Research Lab and Hatcheries was not too far away from the aviary so they could easily walk to the giant building in under ten minutes. With it being a bright day in accompaniment with the shade offered by a variety of sub-tropical trees it was a pleasant walk. 

"Seth you know that we're bringing back extinct animals here?" Fretwell asked.

"Yes," he replied. He had a hunch where this was going.

"Do you think Sato will have dinosaurs brought back?"

"I think that's an inevitability. He said that he used that supercomputer/3-D Printer thing first with an ammonite which lived at the same time as the dinosaurs so I would think it's likely that a dinosaur would be just as easy to scan the genome of. Don't worry I think that'll be a while though before we get a dinosaur."

As he pushed open the door to the labs he started to get worried. Although he knew dinosaurs were often different from how Hollywood movies portrayed the thought of a living dinosaur was still foreboding. One thing that Jurassic Park got right was if a Tyrannosaurus broke free it would be unstoppable. Fretwell typed the password to enter the hatchery/genome lab with very loud beeps and the door fizzed open. Quite a few people were already inside including Ross and Tom typing away quickly on the computers, Dan, Wagstaff and Vadim huddled around the genome synthesizer containing a very large talon and Sato and Nobuko who was looking very angry at her father.

"Alright guys?" Ross asked sleepily as they arrived. It took a while to notice but there was now some metal bars in front of the computers. Before there was a small railing before the drop to the walkway where the animals would come out of the hatchery. 

"What about Game o' Thrones?" Vadim asked loudly in his thick accent. This made Fretwell pull a face indicating it was another in joke at his expense. Before Fretwell could retort there was a loud klaxon. The Haast's Eagles were ready. Faintly he could here some rustling behind the trees of the hatchery before one came out. A loud metallic clang reverberated around the lab as its talon scrapped the floor. 
Even with her wings folded the eagle was giant. She walked slowly with her head bobbing backwards and forwards as her large omnipotent eyes staring eagerly at the humans. Three more eagles (two male and another female) followed the first and stared through the fencing at them. Everybody held their breath as she jumped and flapped her almost three meter long wings sending her neatly towards one of four boxes. Seth recognized them as what you would transport a bird of prey in but much larger. A wooden door was open revealing chunks of meat which the bird eagerly jumped open. There was a beep and a mechanism attached to the door of the container slid shut safely for the bird to be transported. The other three followed the first in seizing the meat allowing the doors to slide shut. He heard Dan and Wagstaff get congratulated by Vadim; they had been in charge of creating the mechanism to slide the doors shut remotely. Kioni and a group of keepers went to pick up the containers and he had to suppress a laugh as their faces contorted with effort to lift the birds.

"Seth how much do they way?" Kioni asked in peril.

"The females about 14 kg, the males a bit less."

Other than being currently the largest bird of prey they were also the heaviest. Although they had to thank themselves that Sato hadn't chosen some even large birds of prey such as the Argentavis, a condor with a 7 meter wingspan. The whir of an engine indicated that the keepers had opted to put the eagles on the back of a jeep to transport them. Eagerly everyone followed them to the aviary. As they arrived the keepers had already placed them in the aviary and had remotely opened the containers. With a flurry of brown feathers he saw an eagle take flight, scattering fearful song birds in the process, to perch like a victorious monarch on a rocky outcrop. The exhibit was easily large enough so that the eagles had enough room to not come into territory scuffles before they had established pairs for mating.

"They are wonderful," Kioni said in amazement.

"I think it's time to feed them," Sato said which caused Kioni to talk into her walkie-talkie. The sanctuary's engineers had fitted a small track which Seth could faintly see through the soil where a large carcass was sent across to make it somewhat resemble a moving prey item. There were four separate tracks in the aviary, one for each eagle. The nearest eagle spotted the carcass and flew off among the trees.

"I thought eagles hunted by flying from above or something like that?" Fretwell asked.

"Other eagles yes but not these guys," Seth replied "No they had evolved tail feathers to perfectly angle and direct them through the trees to attack unexpectedly hitting them in the pelvis."

Through the trees they could see the eagle effortlessly sweep among the thick trees like it was just flying through the open air. With front talons almost half a meter long the eagle smashed full pelt into the carcass making a loud crunch of shattered bone ricochet around the aviary forest. A sharp beak smashed into the pelvis of the carcass making it fall of the track. If it was a moa it would have been paralyzed or if not killed by the impact.

"Amazing," Sato said in awe.

The rest of the week went by as normal. Quite often people went to observe the majestic eagles, especially after a ban was put in place on hand feeding dodos when Maurice almost took off someone's little finger in a time of overzealous feeding. Nobuko though seemed to be very frustrated at something and it seemed to escalate when she was near her father. Finally they found out when everyone congregated at the labs when Sato announced what was to be brought back next.

"Angel please calm down!" he begged.

"No father as manager I have to put responsibility before family. What you are planning is reckless and dangerous!" she cried "Everyone look what he plans to have us breed next!"

She ushered them through a side door full of a series of crates jammed full of protective sawdust. On the table was a large brown skull...
The effect was lost on most people but Seth started to go very hot under the collar. Everyone else did when he told them the owner of the skull: Tyrannosaurus Rex. What followed was a series of cries of protest that made revolutions look peaceful. Kioni raised her voice and started berating Sato about how dangerous having lions were never mind Tyrannosaurus, Jon Fresnow yelled that with the natural barrier design of the sanctuary if one thing went wrong what would be the largest carnivore in the world with no natural predators would be roaming the island and even Ross, Tom, Dan, Fretwell and Wagstaff aired their hostility to the idea with how ill prepared they were for a Tyrannosaurus.

"Dad as manager we are very, very, very not ready to look after T Rex or any dinosaurs," Nobuko said firmly. Realizing that he wouldn't win any battles against his daughter Sato turned to Seth pleadingly.

"Seth as a paleontologist just think how much you will learn from a real dinosaur! Wouldn't a T Rex prove so many things: whether they were hypercarnivores, whether they were feathered..."

"T Rex was feathered?" Dan asked curiously.

"Many groups of dinosaurs have been found with feathers including a tyrannosaurid called Yutyrannus," Sato explained before turning back to Seth "Just think my boy."

"Sato I just can't say yes to a T Rex," he replied with actual disappointment in his voice. A real Tyrannosaurus would offer all that but there were many other issues at hand. "Kioni's right with how dangerous having one would be. If we start with a small dinosaur and work up I would then consider saying yes but we can't do that. Dinosaurs lived in a time where there was different oxygen levels so they would struggle to live properly in our atmosphere."

Sato looked devastated. His dream to have a thriving wildlife sanctuary with dinosaurs had been crushed instantly. It must be a devastating blow. Jon however then spoke up which made Sato's face burst out into a smile.

"I've read in either Denmark or the Netherlands I can't remember where that they are planning to build like a large house for elephants," he explained "With those countries being cold it would offer warmer temperatures for the elephants so they can live more comfortably. We could easily do something similar but have the correct oxygen levels for a dinosaur. Though with the layout of the sanctuary a great big house wouldn't suit the environment..."

"Wait the Eden Project!" Fretwell said suddenly "It's in southern England and consists of these big biodomes where it fits the surroundings and they can grow tropical plants in England. We could do the same without harming the environment here and I looked on the map only small sections of the islands have been converted to have animal life so they would harm even less habitats!"

Sato walked up to both of them and kissed them earning laughs from multiple people. He eagerly looked at Nobuko whose face was still red from laughter. 

"Yes dad we can have dinosaurs but Seth will chose them," she added the latter part in a stern voice. He felt like a child in a sweet shop. As a paleontologist he was in the perfect position to chose the first dinosaurs to walk the earth since their extinction 65 million years ago. His first thought was to go for the first dinosaurs to be discovered by science but remembered that the herbivore Iguanodon was elephant sized and the two meter tall Megalosaurus would be too big to handle. Some of the more famous dinosaurs like Triceratops, Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus were also too big and although Velociraptors were nowhere near as smart, viscous or large as they were in Jurassic Park he thought that regardless Nobuko would veto his proposal for its infamy. In one box he found the perfect dinosaurs for Senshijidaino.

"I've got a herbivore and a carnivore from the Triassic period which should be safe," he said "One would evolve into the giant sauropods like Brachiosaurus while the other until recently was the oldest known dinosaur."

Nobuko nodded approvingly and everyone seemed excited. The world's first dinosaurs for 65 million years. 

"Triassic period?" Wagstaff asked "Wasn't that the first time dinosaurs appeared?"

"Yeah. The Mesozoic era was the age of the dinosaurs and 235 million years ago in the Triassic the first dinosaurs evolved. Before grass, flowering plants, birds and the current oceans. The entire planet consisted of one giant continent called Pangea and only three oceans."

Ross and Tom went off to calculate how long it would take to scan the genome and recreate the dinosaurs. With the age of the fossils it would take much longer to scan the genome compared to that of the moa, dodo or eagle. In the meantime as construction started on the biodomes in a more sparse section of the largest island Seth took to advising Jon, Fretwell and Judy on the exhibits. The Triassic saw a mean O2 content that was 80% lower than today and temperatures 3 degrees warmer which Fretwell and Jon had to see that the biodome kept this constant while Vadim, Dan and Wagstaff had to make sure generators kept this at the correct condition. Another thing that they had to factor in was the extremely hot summers, occasional weeks of heavy rain and bitterly cold winters which racked the Triassic. Judy meanwhile had the job in making sure that the exhibits would perfectly resembled the Triassic. Both dinosaurs being bred came from Argentina which 235 million years ago was very humid and was covered by seed ferns and cycads. 

"Seth wait!" Ross came up to him panting and heavily sweating a short time after the genomes had been scanned. They were in the Triassic biodome which was near completion and Jon had already wired up the atmosphere so it could have lower oxygen, more carbon dioxide and could be warmer than the present day atmosphere, causing Ross to be in his condition. "Wait let me...catch my breath. Vadim says... the genome's been traced for both dinosaurs. They should be done by next week."

"Good..." Seth said panting himself. He hated being in here. "If Shincoku corp hadn't got the best the world I doubt we would...have been ready. We ready by then."

To be honest the herbivore exhibit was already done and the carnivore exhibit just had a few touches to finish off. They were in the same dome (with ample room to spare for future Triassic monsters) and a large moat separated the carnivore from the rest of the dome except for a bridge which had a slight bit of fencing. The herbivore largely had full roam of the biodome bar where inclines, moats and hidden viewing areas stopped them from going.

A week later they stood in the lab waiting tentatively. The herbivore would be coming out first and only now had everyone found out what it was. He looked over at the chamber containing the fossil which was still inside. It could easily fit in the palm of your hand when a hatchling but could grow to the size of a goat.
There was the klaxon again. It was time. The first dinosaur that they were bringing back was Mussaurus patagonicus, a small sauropodomorph whose relatives would evolve into the giants such as Apatosaurus and Brachiosaurus. They planned to breed six of them. One quickly darted from the trees and gave a feeble bleat like a low pitched sheep. It had a bald pointed green head and short bristles going down from the neck covering the body which were green with white stripes. Unlike sauropods the Mussaurus was bipedal with shortish arms tucked into the bare chest at the elbow. It was about three meters long with a meter long tail stretched parallel to the metallic floor and was a meter tall at the shoulder with its half a meter long neck stretching up. They looked at each other with cow like eyes.

"Come here," Kioni said softly to usher them to the transport lorry. The Mussaurus gave a feeble bleat and tried to dart away from her. Being the preferred prey of many different carnivores no wonder they were skittish of these new giants twice their height. Kioni was forced to leave cycad leaves taken from the Triassic dome in the lorry before they could remotely by persuaded to go into the dark lorry. Agilely they ran into the darkness before being sent to the dome.

"Bring the other lorry in!" Kioni yelled.

Another klaxon flared indicating that the carnivores were ready. Until the discovery of the Nyasasaurus in Tanzania they were considered to be the oldest dinosaur. He had been referring to it as a carnivore but fossils of its teeth had shown it to be an omnivore indicating it to be related to all dinosaurs; not just theropods (the bipedal carnivores like T Rex and Velociraptor). The Eoraptor lunensis.

"Was the Eoraptor like Velociraptor?" Nobuko asked timidly. She must have been regretting the yes decision for breeding something with 'raptor' in the title.

"Oh no nothing like Velociraptor. In fact its not related (well closely related) to the raptors at all. They might actually be nocturnal with their large eye cavities and the fact that they would be prey for larger dinosaurs and other big carnivores."

The first one darted from the trees like a lightning bolt making tink, tink, tink sounds on the metallic surface. Any connections to the monsters of Jurassic Park were instantly disproved. A meter in length and only just reaching a human's knee in height as well as being covered in black dagger shaped protofeathers with white spots on the stomach Eoraptor looked positively cute. 

"Hi there little guy," Kioni said to the little dinosaur. It looked up at her with big green eyes and from its kinked jaw released a flurry of chirps like an excitable bird. It jumped up at her trying to look formidable with its small leaf shaped teeth perfectly adapted to tackle bugs, leaves and meat but instead decided to jump on the other Eoraptor in what could either be play or aggression. They ran around the hatchery walkway with surprising speed. It helped being fast to catch dragonflies and avoid dinosaurs wanting to eat you that were twice your height.

"I feel stupid now for being scared of those two," Tom laughed.

It took a while to round up the two Eoraptor but eventually they found their new home in the Triassic dome. A thin black line parted in the ferns where the dinosaurs were running. A large emerald dragonfly darted above the ferns but vanished quickly as an Eoraptor jumped up and caught it between its teeth. The other went under a heavily disguised rock face to sleep; possibly a good resting place when large carnivores were around in the wild.

"You guys I can't see the Mussaurus!" Dan cried as he looked down into the area where the Mussaurus had claimed for their own. A few keepers had said that they hadn't strayed far since they had arrived.

"Wait look!" Nobuko said pointing at some ferns. Pointed green heads could faintly be seen among the ferns. Camouflage is a tactic often used by animals to evade carnivores so it is only natural for the Mussaurus to adopt the same thing. "Dad I'm assuming you want another dinosaur."

"No actually," Sato said smugly "When I started Senshijidaino I assumed a certain group couldn't be housed here because of their habitat when they went extinct. Well this Triassic dome has shown me that we can house them. If we can make things hot we can also make things cold. Perfect for Ice Age animals..."

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