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Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

The Top Wildlife Pictures of 2015 From the Wildlife Conservation Society

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Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

The WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) is celebrating the end of the year with a look at some of the most adorable and amazing animal pictures taken in 2015. And there were plenty to choose from. As an organization that works with nearly 60 countries, the group has had access to a variety of impressive places and animals. Here are the brand's top 10 favorite images taken at the Bronx Zoo, as well as 10 photos taken by WCS scientists around the world.

BRONX ZOO

Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

"A pair of lesser adjutant storks served as surrogate parents to a chick hatched from an abandoned egg. This pair raised the chick along with one of their own."

Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

"This North American porcupine pup was born at Bronx Zoo’s Children’s Zoo shortly after it reopened after undergoing extensive renovations."

Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

"An Asian small-clawed otter alongside a pup born at JungleWorld in the summer of 2015."

Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

"A scarlet macaw flies over Astor Court in front of historic Zoo Center during a free-flight bird show in May."

Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

"An adult female gelada baboon carries her baby on her back in the zoo’s Baboon Reserve. This was the first gelada born at the Bronx Zoo in 13 years. The Bronx Zoo is the only zoo in the U.S. to exhibit the species."

Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

"The zoo’s Aquatic Bird House is home to a colony of little blue penguins. This was a new species for the Bronx Zoo in 2015."

Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

"The Bronx Zoo welcomed two baby western lowland gorillas in 2015. This youngster is content to hitch a ride on his mom’s back."

Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

"An adult female western lowland gorilla holds her baby in Congo Gorilla Forest."

Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

"Squirrel monkeys at the newly renovated Children’s Zoo."

Julie Larsen Maher, WCS

"This giant anteater is one of the new species added to the Children’s Zoo in 2015."

WCS GLOBAL CONSERVATION PROGRAMS

Felx Ratelolahy, WCS

"A Fito leaf chameleon, one of many species found exclusively on the island of Madagascar."

Dept. of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation and WCS Thailand Program.

"A shy-looking Asian elephant caught by a camera trap in Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary of Thailand."

WCS-India, HimachalPradesh Forest Department

"In Shimla District, Himachal Pradesh, India, this leopard is a regular backyard visitor."

WCS Afghanistan

"A snow Leopard rubs up for a great camera trap pic in the Hindu Kush Mountains in the Wakhan Corridor of Badakhshan Province."

WCS Ecuador Program

"A lowland tapir camera trapped by WCS Ecuador’s camera traps located at Arajuno and Villano, in the Amazon."

WCS Ecuador Program

"A puma relaxing on the ground in the Ecuadorian Amazon."

WCS Ecuador Program.

"A giant armadillo (Priodontes maximus) captured by a camera trap in the Ecuadorian Amazon."

CarlosDurican, WCS Brazil

"A jaguar rests in a treetop in the flooded forest of Brazil’s Mamiraua Sustainable Reserve."

Emily Darling, WCS

"A WCS scientist surveys coral reefs in Madagascar's first community-led Marine Protected Areas near Nosy Be."

Mileniusz Spanowicz, WCS

"Not just any old frog, but a new species discovered this year during WCS’s Identidad Madidi expedition."

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Animals
25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog
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iStock

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month; here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b

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