Pandas, Penguins and Elk, Oh My

Once upon a time I wrote for a living. That is, someone actually paid for me to tippy-tap on a keyboard. In my dotage, however, I’ll find any excuse to give my writing away.

Such is the case with the items below.

For the past decade , I have helped out my dear friend, Jim Koplow, with blurbs to go along with the dice games he creates and sells to gift shops and National Parks.

I found a number of fun facts about the latest batch of games Jim has produced and I thought you’d enjoy  reading about pandas, penguins and elk as well as the history of historic Route 66 and the development and manufacture of cheese in three areas of the U.S.

If you want to get more information on the individual games or the entire line of Jim’s entertaining products, please visit




Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Ursidae

Genus and Species: Ailuropoda melanoleuca


Giant pandas are shy members of the bear family who live alone exclusively in the mountainous regions of central China. The panda population has increased 17 percent in the past decade to more than 1850, but the species remains endangered.

Pandas were meat eaters (carnivores) early in their evolution but adapted to the environment over the centuries and are now exclusively plant eaters (herbivores). They are picky eaters; 99 percent of their diet consists of bamboo found in their habitat at elevations of 5,000-10,000 feet. They eat 20-40 pounds of bamboo a day.

They are similar in size to the black bear – 2-3 feet tall at the shoulder, while on all four legs and 4-6 feet long, and weighing 220-250 pounds. They have distinctive coloring –black on the ears, around the eyes, muzzle (tip of the nose), shoulders and legs. The rest of the body is  white. Their coloring helps panda’s blend into the rocky, snowy mountainsides where they live

Giant pandas, however, have a more gentle, playful nature than other bears and are not generally aggressive. Females give birth to one, and occasionally, two cubs at a time. Cubs stay close to mom for up to three years. Pandas have lived to age 35 in zoos; their lifespan in the wild is assumed to be shorter.


Class: Mammalia

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Cervidae

Genus and Species: Cervus Elaphus

Confused about the difference between an elk and a moose? Here’s why.

European settlers in North America who first encountered this large member of the deer family were familiar only with the smaller red deer of their homeland. As a result they named the animal “elk”, the European name for moose (which. In fact,  is much larger, with a long, wide face and broad, flat antlers). The native Shawnee and Cree name for elk is more accurate — wapiti, (“white rump”), which describes the light patch on the back of some species.

Varieties of this formidable beast are indigenous to North America and Siberia, although Elk have been introduced to Argentina, Australia and New Zealand, where they have flourished. The male Rocky Mountain elk, the largest species, can measure eight feet in length, stand nearly five feet tall at the shoulder, carry antlers spanning four feet and weigh more than 725 pounds. Males (bulls) shed their antlers in the early winter, after mating season, and grow new ones in the spring.

Elk live in single-sex herds for much of the year, which helps them ward of predators such as wolf and coyote packs, brown bears and cougars. Siberian elk can fall prey to tigers and leopards.

During mating season, called the rut, individual bulls will follow groups of as many as 20 females (cows) and set up a harem. To attract cows, the bull will make a bugling sound and roll in urine soaked mud, which serves as a perfume to attract the female. The bull protects the harem from other male elk and predators.  Cows give birth to one and, occasionally, two calves at a time.











Class: Aves

Order: Sphenisciformes

Family: Family

Genus and Species: Aptenodytes forsteri.


Penguins have been around for more than 35 million years, and once were as tall and heavy as human beings. Initially, they lived in warm climates, until the Antarctic broke off from the larger land mass and drifted to its current location at the bottom of the world. Taking penguins along for the ride.  In prehistoric times penguins were capable of flight. before evolution took over and adapted their wings into powerful flippers that allow them to fly underwater at speeds up to 15 mph.

Penguins waddle awkwardly on land but are much more agile at sea where they spend 75 percent of their life. In order to find fish and avoid predators, penguins’ eyes have adapted to change shape underwater to give them sharper vision.

The Emperor penguin – the largest species at nearly four feet tall and up to 88 pounds — can dive as deep as 1,875 feet below the surface and stay submerged for up to 22 minutes!

Of the 17-20 penguin species alive today, two-thirds live north of the Antarctic. All specesies reside in the Southern Hemisphere, although the tiny Galapagos penguin (19-20 inches tall), has been known to wander just north of the equator.

Male penguins incubate the females’ eggs by placing them on the tops of their feet and lowering their down feathers onto the eggs. During the incubation period, females return to the sea to regain the weight lost during laying season, then return as the eggs are hatching. Once the females return, the males head to the sea to restore up to 45 percent of their body fat lost while sitting motionless during the incubation period. Males and females typically stay with the same mate year after year.

Their “tuxedo” coloring serves to camouflage penguins from birds of prey soaring above and sharks, killer whales and leopard seals swimming below.




Route 66

Known as the Main Street of America, Historic US 66 was the first paved road built from the Midwest to the California Coast. The original route, which connected three existing highways, wound its way 2,448 miles from downtown Chicago, to St. Louis and through small towns across of Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona before ending in Los Angeles. It later was rerouted in some of the states to allow for faster travel and was lengthened so that it ended in sight of the Pacific Ocean.

This trailblazing path West took shape in 1857 when the U.S. Department of War ordered the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers to build a government-funded wagon route along the 35th parallel. It took another 81 years before the entire road finally was paved.

(Entrepreneurs Cyrus Avery of Tulsa, OK, and John Woodruff of Springfield, MO, lobbied Congress for this first national highway system to be built. After much wrangling, Avery pushed for the highway to be named U.S. 66, to reflect numerologists’ belief that the number represents optimism, harmony and community spirit.

Avery and Woodruff established the U.S. Highway 66 Association in 1927 to promote tourism along the road and, a year later, sponsored the “Bunion Derby”, a footrace from Los Angeles to New York City that traversed the span of Route 66 as part of the course.)

Because much of the highway was flat, it became a favorite route for truckers, and, as such, spawned many new businesses, including drive-in movies, gas stations, motels and restaurants, including the original McDonald’s in San Bernardino, CA.  The road itself had become a star by the early 1960s, with songs and a TV showed named after it.

Once the Interstate Highway system was constructed, however, the slower U.S. 66, which ambled through ss the Southwest, became increasingly obsolete, leading to many mom-and-pop businesses going bankrupt. The rundown town of Radiator Springs in the Pixar movie, Cars, was based on the plight of life along the mostly forgotten Route 66.

Finally, in 1985, six decades after its numerical designation was assigned, US 66 was decertified by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

In recent years, however, nostalgic interest the early highway and its alternate bypasses has sparked a resurgence in some areas. Currently, 85 percent of the original route is still drivable and a number of states, including New Mexico (in Abuquerque and Tucumcari, for example) and Arizona (in Oatman, Kingman and Flagstaff, among other spots), have reenergized the special attractions along the road.



                                         Wisconsin Cheese

Wisconsin produces three billion pounds of cheese a year, making it the U.S. leader in domestic cheese.  Wisconsin creameries churn out 600 varieties of cheese products, accounting for more than 25 percent of the cheese sold in the states.

When European settlers came to Wisconsin in the early 1800s, they were attracted by the rolling pastures that were the remnants of the receding glaciers which covered the Midwest thousands of years earlier.

These early farmers were interested initially in growing their cash crop, wheat. They also kept a few cows to provide meat and milk. Turning milk into cheese to preserve it from spoiling was a task left to their wives and daughters.

Not surprisingly, it was a woman, Mrs. Anne Pickett who opened the first cheese factory in her kitchen near Lake Mills, WI, in 1841. She used milk from neighbors’ cows to start her cottage industry.

Hard winters and poor wheat crops finally led farmers to take cheese production more seriously. In 1864, Chester Hazen built the first free-standing cheese factory in Ladoga, near Fond du Lac. He would buy milk from neighboring farmers, process it and ship it out of state, as well as sell it locally.

Hazen’s success attracted cheesemakers from New York — the birthplace of manufactured cheese in America – as well Germans, who specialized in limburger, and Swiss, who made their own varieties of cheese. Eventually, cheesemakers from Italy, the Netherlands and other European countries brought their own skills and recipes to Wisconsin and later Wisconsonites invented their own brands, such as Colby and brick cheese.

The booming industry got a boost in 1872 with the formation of the Wisconsin Dairymen’s Association, which showed cheesemakers how to improve their cheese and helped them market the products out of state.

In 1885, one of the association’s founders, William D. Hoard, began publishing Hoard’s Dairyman, a newsletter in Jefferson County that brought legitimacy to cheesemaking as a profession. Today, Hoard’s is the nation’s leading dairy journal, reporting on advances and trends in the industry.

By 1910, Wisconsin had become known as The Dairy State and its cheese has been winning awards all over the world ever since. Currently , more than 10,000 dairy farms dot the Wisconsin landscape and there are more than 135 cheese plants in the state, many of which give tours.

A 2006 New York Times article said of Wisconsin: “Cheese is the state’s history, its pride, it’s self-deprecating, sometimes goofy, cheesehead approach to life.”

Today, Wisconsin residents, particularly Green Bay Packers fans, refer to themselves as Cheeseheads and many wear Cheesehead headgear to games. The nickname started as a derisive term that Germans gave to the Dutch during World War II. Chicago Bears fans adopted the insult in the late 1980s to taunt fans of the then-hapless Packers.

One Green Bay fan, Ralph Bruno, turned the slur on its head. He cut a piece of foam from his couch, decorated it and wore the “cheese wedge” hat to a game. His joke on himself led to him launching Foamation, now a huge company that manufactures a full line of Cheesehead products.



Vermont Cheese

Vermont farmers have been making cheese for nearly two centuries. The practice began as a way for individual dairy farmers to preserve excess milk, since they had no refrigeration methods.

Nearly every village had at least one cheesemaker and some had as many as six in the middle of the 19th century.  Manufacturers then would sell their products locally, as well as ship them by train to other locations.

By the 1880s, large factories began to appear in Vermont and, in 1912, a cooperative of dairy farmers formed Cabot Creameries in Cabot, VT, to manufacture and sell their cheese more efficiently. Today 1,200 dairy farms in throughout New England and New York make up the Cabot cooperative, which sells its brand nationwide and elsewhere in the world.

But many other cheesemakers also thrive in the Green Mountain State. A total of 46 cheesemakers produce 150 varieties of artisan cheese; 43 of them are along the 280-mile Vermont Cheese trail. Twelve of these factories are open for tours and others will schedule visits by appointment.

The Vermont Cheesemakers Festival is held yearly at Shelburne Farms in Shelburne, featuring products to sample and purchase.







Tillamook County, OR, Cheese


The Tillamook Valley in Northwest Oregon offered the perfect climate for the first settlers in the 1850s. The moist climate and abundance of rain along the Pacific Coast made dairy farming a natural fit.  And once residents worked together to build a schooner, the Morning Star, in 1855, they had a way to ship their milk products that was quicker and more efficient than the rutted wagon trails. The Morning Star logo has appeared on every package of Tillamook cheese ever since.

Cheesemaking blossomed into an industry in the valley when, in 1894, residents hired Canadian Peter McIntosh away from a Washington cheese factory. He taught the farmers how to make cheddar and, a decade later, McIntosh’s all natural cheese won its first award. His prize-winning recipe remains the hallmark of the Tillamook brand today.

The next big step came in 1909. when several creameries joined to form the Tillamook County Creamery Association. The Tillamook brand has grown ever since; it has won more than 700 awards and offers a full line of dairy products, including ice cream and yogurt. Today, more than 400 farm families belong to the Association, which proudly notes in its literature that they are: “Tillamook farmers not shareholders.

The factory in Tillamook is open for tours.






The History of Cheese

Evidence of cheesemaking in Switzerland dates back as far as 8,000 years and solid proof of dairy farming can be traced to 6,000 years ago, where native people of the Sahara appeared to have made hard, salted cheese that would survive in the desert sun.

One ancient legend claims cheese was discovered accidentally. According to the story, an Arabian merchant was traveling across the desert carrying milk stored in the pouch made from a sheep stomach. The natural enzyme rennet from the animal’s stomach lining, combined with the extreme heat, caused the milk to separate into solid curd and liquid whey. When the traveler opened his pouch at night, he found that the whey satisfied his thirst and the curd (cheese) had a delicious, nutty flavor to curb his hunger.

Whatever the origins, it is clear that, by 3,000 years ago, cheesemaking was an accepted procedure in Asia, as is recorded in the cuneiform writings of the Sumerians. Their knowledge was brought to Europe and became well established in Ancient Greece as well as in parts of the Roman Empire.

Cheesemaking was practiced by monks throughout Europe, including in a monastery in the Po valley in Italy, where Gorgonzola was first made in 879 AD. Ancient records also show that Roquefort cheese first was made at the monastery in Conques, France, as early as 1070.

The craft flourished, with many new varieties being created, over the next six centuries in Italy, France, Switzerland, Germany and elsewhere. Cheesemaking know-how crossed the Atlantic on the Mayflower with the Pilgrims in 1620.  They adapted the procedure to the climate and available grasslands of the New World over the next two hundred years, making cheese in their homes. The first cheese factory in the United States was opened in 1851 in Oneida County, NY, by  a farmer named Jesse Williams.

With Westward expansion, cheese factories sprang up in throughout the Midwest, especially in Wisconsin, where grazing conditions were ideal. By 1880 there were 3,923 dairy factories nationwide producing 216 million pounds of cheese.

Today, The United States leads the world in cheese production, averaging approximately 11 billion pounds annually!

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3 Responses to Pandas, Penguins and Elk, Oh My

  1. Bill Griffith says:

    Cool stuff…at least about the Penguins.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Leslie Gato says:

    Gil, Rita D. sends her regards and asks that you add her to your blog address list. Her E-mail is ritaforutoo@comcast .net Hope all is well with you both. Holly P. asks for you all the time too! She’s doing well and looks great, working out @ the gym. Nothing has changed around here, same old zoo! And winter has finally arrived, I got 10 inches total on Monday, not so much up here in Quincy. Hope to see you this summer, but I’m not sure if there will be any rooms available!

    Regards to you both, Leslie

    On Sat, Jan 2, 2016 at 6:24 PM, Above the Roar wrote:

    > gilpeters1 posted: “Once upon a time I wrote for a living. That is, > someone actually paid for me to tippy-tap on a keyboard. In my dotage, > however, I’ll find any excuse to give my writing away. Such is the case > with the items below. For the past decade , I have helped out ” >

    • gilpeters1 says:

      Dear Leslie,

      Great to hear from you. Tell Rita and Holly I still pray for them regularly.

      As for my blog, anyone can go onto the site, as you did, and click on “follow” at the bottom

      I don’t know how to add someone to my blog address list. I’d appreciate if you would pass along the information. I don’t think it’s appropriate to give out my e-mail address..

      Hope you are well and weathering both the work and the winter.

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