Friday, September 25, 2009

You're Invited....To an Evening with Joan Embery

The Friends of Sylvan Heights would like to extend a special invitation to all of our Park’s members to join us on Sunday afternoon, October 18th, for a fundraising event. Famed wildlife conservationist, Joan Embery, will be here to share her experiences and passion for animals with personal accounts and anecdotes.

Ms. Embery’s presentation will begin at 4 p.m., after which wine and cheese will be served and guests may meet Ms. Embery in person. Tickets are available for $100 per person, but space is limited, so please purchase your tickets promptly. Proceeds from this fundraiser will benefit the new Interactive Exhibit at Sylvan Heights. Tickets may be purchased by calling 252.826.3186 or by emailing

Joan Embery has served as a champion of environmental and conservation issues around the world, most notably as spokeswoman for the Zoological Society of San Diego. She has had the opportunity to express her passion for animals with a multitude of audiences from youth to veterinary students to corporate executives. Her work includes hundreds of television shows as diverse as "The Tonight Show," "CBS This Morning," PBS programs, "Hollywood Squares," "Mr. Rogers," "Entertainment Tonight" and her own syndicated series "Animal Express" and "Animals of Africa."

In addition to her many public appearances, Joan has led wildlife expeditions to such exotic locales as Africa, China, Nepal, India, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Thailand and the Amazon. She has also authored several books. As a dedicated animal and environmental advocate, Joan spends her time working with wildlife organizations and educating the public. She serves on many boards focusing on conservation and wildlife issues.

A San Diego native, Joan studied zoology and telecommunications and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication. While Joan is most well known for her work with exotic animals, she is also an accomplished horsewoman, having won trophies in almost every discipline from dressage to cutting and driving to jumping. She lives on a 50-acre ranch in Lakeside, California with her husband Duane Pillsbury where she has raised and trained Quarter horses, Miniature horses, Lipizzans, Warmbloods, Mules, Clydesdales, Percherons, and her California State Grand Champion Brahman Bull, Bruiser. She also manages a community equestrian facility.

In 2004 Joan created her own non-profit foundation, The Embery Institute for Wildlife Conservation, with the mission of connecting people to wildlife and conservation issues and the role each individual plays in insuring healthy environments.

To learn more about Ms Embery, please visit her site at

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Species Highlight: Poison Dart Frogs

If you haven’t had a chance to stop by the park and see our new tree house, now is an excellent time. The mad heat of summer has ended, only to be replaced by gorgeous weather that makes wandering through the park a heavenly treat. And visitors are not the only ones enjoying the cooler temperatures. Everywhere you look, the park’s residents seem to have awakened from their summer slumber and have begun their social dances; birds are splashing in the water, flying around the aviaries, and vocalizing to one another.

The new tree house is a special place, allowing anyone who enters a bird’s eye view of the wetlands below. Songbirds flit among the trees at eye-level, as well as ruby-throated hummingbirds, some of who take an occasional interest in the tree house visitors.

But along the path to the tree house, visitors are in for a surprise when they pass the new building housing restrooms. What’s that you say? A surprise in the restroom? Well…sort of. As you enter the building, you’ll find a small foyer displaying three exhibits: carnivorous plants, a live beehive, and poison dart frogs!

All three are fascinating (seriously, who doesn’t love a good Venus Flytrap?) and worth the stop. The most popular exhibit may be, though, the one housing the Blue Poison Dart Frogs (Dendrobates azureus). These active little frogs are quickly becoming a park favorite. Unlike most amphibians, these frogs are diurnal, or active during the day, and their bright blue color is stunning.

Despite their name, these frogs are, in fact, NOT poisonous. Not in captivity anyway. According to scientists, their toxicity is apparently derived from their diet in the wild. It’s possible that the ants, termites and beetles that they consume are, in turn, carrying plant poisons from their own diets. Here at the park, the frogs are fed a diet of fruit flies and pinhead crickets for the most part.

Found on only a few small islands of Southern Surinam, the azureus prefer to live near small streams with heavy vegetation – including moss, lichens and such. Their vivid coloration serves as a warning by signaling their toxicity to potential predators. (However, the only natural predator of most of the poison dart frog family is a snake called Leimadophis epinephelus, which has developed a resistance to the frogs' poison.)

They are proficient climbers, so when you are looking at the exhibit, be sure you look up towards the top as well as the crevices under the rocks and logs. These frogs are fascinating to watch, because they are usually very active. In addition, the often seem to “walk” on all fours, instead of the typical hopping behavior that most fogs use. Surprisingly, they are not great swimmers, so the water level of their pool is deliberately kept shallow.

The frogs have an elaborate courtship that begins with the male vocalizing to attract a female. If she is receptive, the female will then stroke the male’s back with her front legs and follow him around until they find a suitable nesting area. After laying her eggs, the male will guard the nest and even add water to the clutch to hydrate them. About two weeks later when the eggs hatch, the male will crouch down, allowing a few tadpoles to wriggle upon his back and then carry them to a water-filled cavity to continue their development.

For more fascinating information about poison dart frogs, check out