Tuesday, December 26, 2023

TetZooCon 2023

TetZooCon keeps growing and growing, and it's fair to say that this year's was the biggest yet in terms of both the number of events and attendees. I would be lying if I said that I didn't have some prior apprehension about how smoothly the convention would go given this dramatic expansion, but I found it to be brilliantly run, and the organizers adapted admirably to some unexpected (though memorable) technical difficulties beyond their control. 

Extinct marine reptiles featured heavily at TetZooCon this year to accompany the publication of Darren Naish's new book Ancient Sea Reptiles, and one of the stars of the show was Flip the robotic plesiosaur, designed for Luke Muscutt's research on plesiosaur swimming biomechanics. Although I was able to view (and briefly operate) Flip while it was being displayed in the exhibition hall at the convention, I had to miss Muscutt's talk (which has fortunately since been posted online), because it was held in parallel with the two presentations on birds at this year's TetZooCon.

The two bird talks—one by Jennifer Campbell-Smith on studying corvid cognition and the other by Todd Green about his research on cassowaries—did not disappoint, being both informative and entertaining in equal measure. These were followed by a panel discussion among Todd, Darren, and their colleagues Kerrie and AJ Dodd about their involvement with an upcoming documentary about cassowaries, which is currently seeking crowdfunding support.

Also a highlight of this year's TetZooCon for me was Darren leading an event centered around Prehistoric Planet. Those of us in attendance were requested not to publicly divulge the details of what was discussed there, but it was very insightful regarding the creative process and production behind the series. Another eagerly anticipated presentation related to natural history filmmaking was the talk by Nigel Marven, who is probably best known in the paleontology community for hosting the mockumentary series Chased by Dinosaurs, Sea Monsters, and Prehistoric Park. He shared numerous humorous anecdotes about his experiences working with wildlife (both live and CGI) as well as with people.

A model of the tyrannosauroid Juratyrant by Dougal Dixon, on display at TetZooCon.

Artwork of fossil birds (and Dr. Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb holding a stem-platypus) gifted to me at TetZooCon by my friend Ilari Pätilä.

With each successive TetZooCon, I assume that my chances of placing top three in the challenging TetZooCon quiz will diminish, but I managed to score well again this year, coming in second place (tied with Kelvin Britton). I ended up selecting a Palaeoplushies rendition of the ankylosaur Polacanthus as my prize.

The day after the main events concluded, I joined the TetZooCon field trip to the London Zoo. I didn't wind up taking many photos (partly because I'd already been to this zoo more than once, and partly because I couldn't be bothered to fish my camera out of my packed bag), but it was an excellent visit. We witnessed some very interesting species and behaviors, including gorillas mating, a juvenile scarlet ibis investigating Darren's shoes with its tactile bill, and a two-toed sloth passing just above our heads to drink from a sprinkler. TetZooCon remains a unique experience that I'd wholeheartedly recommend to all lovers of natural history should they get an opportunity to attend.

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