Friday, February 26, 2010
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Nature nurtures, even in the depths of winter. One hundred and fifty years ago, psychologist Herbert Spencer asserted in his book Principals of Psychology, that children play simply to discharge excess energy. Spencer's claim became common wisdom, leading schools and communities all over the world to build playgrounds that allowed little space for imaginative play. Since Spencer's time, we've discovered that children play because developmentally they must, that it is in large part through play that children learn. And more and more studies are now showing that playing outdoors, in nature, is one of the best, most healthy, most nurturing ways to learn and grow.
Schools and communities wise enough to heed this new understanding are now looking at the paved and sterile play areas provided to children, and realizing that because they stifle anything remotely resembling nature, these playgrounds stifle children. Small wonder that kids in growing numbers have retreated from the ersatz nature grown-ups supply in the form of modern playgrounds, to the great indoors, with its myriad outlets and screens. There, their imaginations can soar! Or can they?
According to a November '09 article in The New York Times, a school in Saratoga Springs, New York has broken free of cement and rubber and monkey bars, instituting a "forest kindergarten" for ages 3 1/2 to 6. The kids spend three hours each day outside in a 325-acre state parkland and forest, regardless of the weather!
More and more schools are planting gardens and instituting unstructured time outdoors for their young students. Many teachers, administrators and parents have been inspired by Richard Louv's important book, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder. Louv has been a driving force behind the burgeoning environmental education movement, creating the vibrant Children & Nature Network (C&NN) to assist parents, teachers and communities in the effort to reconnect children with nature.
Let's hear it for worms! Stay tuned for more on kids and dirt...
Photos: Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times
Posted by Jennifer Scarlott at 2/25/2010
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
The inner freedom from the practical desire,
The release from action and suffering, release from the inner
And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded
By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,
Erhebung without motion, concentration
Without elimination, both a new world
And the old made explicit, understood
In the completion of its partial ecstasy,
The resolution of its partial horror.
Yet the enchainment of past and future
Woven in the weakness of the changing body,
Protects mankind from heaven and damnation
Which flesh cannot endure.
Time past and time future
Allow but a little consciousness.
To be conscious is not to be in time
But only in time can the moment in the rose-garden,
The moment in the arbour where the rain beat,
The moment in the draughty church at smokefall
Be remembered; involved with past and future.
Only through time time is conquered.
~ T.S. Eliot, from No. 1 of Four Quartets, 1936
This is my November, 2009 letter to kids in the Indian bimonthly magazine, Cub.
Dear Cub kids,
I'm thinking about tigers a lot these days.
September 27 was the 'International Day of the Tiger,' a tradition that began in 2000 when dozens of school children and their parents in Vladivostock dressed up as tigers and paraded in the streets. They were hoping to alert their neighbors in the Russian Far East to the dangers facing tigers and other wildlife from poaching and habitat destruction. News of the children's celebration of tigers spread far beyond their own region. For the past eight years, on the last Saturday in each September, many communities in the world have joined the children of Vladivostock to celebrate the tiger and demand its protection.
Next year (2010!) is another 'Year of the Tiger' on the Chinese calendar. According to Chinese folklore, the motto of people who are born in the year of the tiger, wihch comes along every twelve years, is "I win." If you wander through the Chinese countryside today, you will still find many babies wearing tiny tiger shoes. Tigers hold a central place in Chinese folklore - they are considered brave and strong. Having or wearing tiger symbols is believed to impart good luck.
But... in the middle of the 20th century, the Chinese government decided that the traditional myths and folklore about the benign and powerful tiger were childish. Leaders and bureaucrats from Mao Zedong down, decreed that China must eradicate its tigers in order to become a modern nation. This was very effectively done by spreading the word that the government considered the tiger a pest, and would pay a bounty to anyone who killed one.
(Of course, many countries have declared war on their own wildlife. In my country, even under the administration of President Obama, defenders of wolves are working very hard to convince the government that the wolf must not be hunted - that wolves hold a pivotal place in American ecosystems, and are beautiful animals with a long history in the cultures of our continent.)
Things became so bad for Chinese tigers and tigers throughout Asia in the 20th century that many tiger experts believed that when the first day of the new millennium finally dawned, wild tigers would be gone. They were wrong. I proved to myself that tigers had survived that terrible deadline when I traveled to the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve in mid-January 2000, and saw my first wild tiger. She was a beauty, at home in her world, indifferent to the human tourists plying the sandy tracks of her forest.
Occasionally, I allow myself to consider a world in which tigers have become extinct. A world where the only tiger a child will ever see is the stuffed toy at the foot of her bed, a moldering specimen with staring, glassy eyes and snarling fangs in a natural history museum, or a pacing misery in a zoo. A child in America will wonder if the world was a different place when tigers roamed free. A child in India will go into the forest, and will feel the palpable absence, the void that used to be occupied by an animating spirit.
I remember that first visit to Ranthambhore not only because I saw a wild tiger for the first time, but because I experienced nature in a completely new way. In a tiger forest, every rock, every blade of grass, every dancing leaf, is somehow imbued with tigerness, with the sheer fact of the presence of the animal. Everything becomes more SIGNIFICANT, as if nature were vibrating to some unheard music. The forest is pregnant with an unspoken secret.
Occasionally, I allow myself to consider a world in which human beings have set aside great tracts of wild lands because their wildness and the life they hold are viewed as sacred. Not sacred in an 'apart' sense, rather, sacred in the sense that we humans cannot live a good life without wildness beside us.
Imagine: a world that protects vast, Eden-like lands where the tiger lives unmolested, unafraid, side-by-side with all the other creatures in its kingdom. People are different in this world. They are slower, more thoughtful, more reflective - peaceful, full of peace. In such a world, the ancient Chinese myth that the wind is the breath of the tiger will be fulfilled. Chinese babies, and babies all over the world, will wear their tiny tiger shoes and grow up whole - of a piece with nature, rather than saluting it in word and thought, and killing it in deed.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
“I was observing a strange interaction between a pair of bottlenose dolphins and a humpback whale, when it became apparent that the two species were collaborating in some way. The dolphin was lying on a humpback whale’s head while it was slowly swimming along. Looking through my camera lens the stunt appeared to be orchestrated by mutual “agreement.” The whale very slowly—and vertically—lifted the dolphin into the air. I expected the dolphin to wriggle atop the humpback’s head to get off, but it just lay still and arched, trying to stay on top of the whale’s snout. In this frame the dolphin was beginning its slippery return to the sea. Once back in the ocean, the dolphin swiftly swam away with the other dolphin, both leaping joyfully as if they had just scored a coup!”
Photo: Lori Mazzuca, Kauai, Hawaii
First Place - Mammals Category - Professional, National Wildlife Photography Awards
Posted by Jennifer Scarlott at 2/23/2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
To be a giant and keep quiet about it,
To stay in one’s own place;
To stand for the constant presence of process
And always to seem the same;
To be steady as a rock and always trembling,
Having the hard appearance of death
With the soft, fluent nature of growth,
One’s Being deceptively armored,
One’s Becoming deceptively vulnerable;
To be so tough, and take the light so well,
Freely providing forbidden knowledge
Of so many things about heaven and earth
For which we should otherwise have no word—
Poems or people are rarely so lovely,
And even when they have great qualities
They tend to tell you rather than exemplify
What they believe themselves to be about,
While from the moving silence of trees,
Whether in storm or calm, in leaf and naked,
Night or day, we draw conclusions of our own,
Sustaining and unnoticed as our breath,
And perilous also—though there has never been
A critical tree—about the nature of things.
~ Howard Nemerov, 1958
Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet
Release date: April 2010
"With clarity, eloquence, deep knowledge and even deeper compassion for both planet and people, Bill McKibben guides us to the brink of a new, uncharted era. This monumental book, probably his greatest, may restore your faith in the future, with us in it."
~ Alan Weisman, author of The World Without Us
Bill McKibben, environmentalist, writer, global climate warrior extraordinaire. Both brilliant and passionate, McKibben is the founder of 350.org, the international climate change organization that organized the 350 International Day of Climate Action on October 24, 2009, with thousands upon thousands of actions on behalf of climate sanity and planet Earth at iconic (and non-iconic!) locations around the world.
In 1989, Bill wrote what is considered the first work on climate change for a general audience, The End of Nature. It is a seminal work, and continues to be an essential and topical read, on far more than climate change.
My daughter Julia and I were with Bill and his wonderful daughter Sophie in Delhi in the summer of 2009 while Bill sweated through an appropriately non-air-conditioned conference of save-the-tiger/climate activists organized by another Earth Hero, Bittu Sahgal of Sanctuary Asia. Bill was expert at rallying the Indian troops, as he did in small and large countries across the world throughout 2008-2009.
Stay tuned to www.350.org for updates about Bill's post-Copenhagen plans... Calling all humans, participation in the global climate campaign is mandatory, not for extra credit!
"This is the moral challenge of our generation. We cannot rob our children of their future... Our atmosphere can't tell the difference between emissions from an Asian factory, the exhaust from a North American SUV, or deforestation in South America or Africa."
~ UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Bali climate talks, December 2007
For ideas on plotting your course of action on climate change:
Alliance for Climate Education
Many more to come, watch this space...
Saturday, February 20, 2010
"On the Hudson there was always the opportunity to be educated deeply in the heart. The beauty of the landscape did the rest, along with the magic of the moon, the river's hot and reedy bays, the glittering silver ice, days of summer or days of snow submerged in an ocean of clear blue air, fields never-ending, the wind from Canada, and the great city to the south."
~ Mark Helprin, Winter's Tale (1983)
~ editorial, The New York Times, 1/25/09
" In America, there are foragers among us, out searching for morels in the spring, and there are hunters too. Yet most of our food, except for fish caught from the sea, is farmed. We do not trap songbirds for savory pies. (We destroy too many of them through other means.)
Once you look beyond the parochial culinary habits of most Americans you discover that wildness, and the tastes associated with it, have a talismanic power that is very hard to eradicate. It is what keeps the Japanese whaling (and, apparently planning to flout a U.N. ban on trade in bluefin tuna) and keeps some Africans eating bush meat. And it is one of the things that help explain the voracious and utterly destructive Chinese appetite for turtles.
As global wealth rises, so does global consumption of meat, which includes wild meat. Turtle meat used to be a rare delicacy in the Asian diet, but no longer. China, along with Hong Kong and Taiwan, has vacuumed the wild turtles out of most of Southeast Asia. Now, according to a recent report in The Los Angeles Times, they are consuming common soft-shell turtles from the American Southeast, especially Florida, at an alarming rate.
Some scientists estimate that two-thirds of the tortoise and freshwater turtle species on the planet are seriously threatened. Some of that is secondhand damage -- loss of habitat, water pollution, climate change. But far too many turtles are being lost to the fork and the spoon.
In the United States, the solution is relatively straightforward. States should impose much tighter restrictions on the harvesting and export of wild turtles. Internationally, the problem is more complicated. There have been efforts to monitor the species of wild turtles found in Chinese markets, but as long as the appetite for turtles -- and traditional medicines derived from them -- persists, we fear it will be hard to curtail such a profitable and disastrous trade."
Photo: William McCord. A room in the Guangzhou market piled knee-deep with Malaysian giant turtles, Orlitia borneensis.
Friday, February 19, 2010
"The strains of the aeolian harp and of the wood thrush are the truest and loftiest preachers that I know now left on this earth. I know of no missionaries to us heathen comparable to them. They, as it were, lift us up in spite of ourselves. They intoxicate, they charm us. Where was that strain mixed into which this world was dropped but as a lump of sugar to sweeten the draught? I would be drunk, drunk, drunk, dead drunk to this world with it forever. He that hath ears, let him hear. The contact of sound with a human ear whose hearing is pure and unimpaired is coincident with ecstasy."
~ Henry David Thoreau, The Journal of Henry David Thoreau
Thanks to Bryan Christy and photographer Mark Leong of National Geographic magazine for an unblinking look at "Asia's Wildlife Trade" in the January 2010 issue. The caption for the above photo reads: "At a farm in Vietnam, bile is pumped from a sedated Asiatic black bear, violating national law. Thousands of wild bears have been captured to supply this traditional medicine."
The U.S. Humane Society provides extensive background on the specific issue of bears, animal trafficking (bears in the U.S. are being hunted to supply body parts to China and other countries in Asia), and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
The article in National Geographic, however, looks at animal trafficking with a wide-angle lens, as promised in its subtitle: "Insatiable demand for traditional medicines, exotic pets, and culinary delicacies drives a multibillion dollar business--legal and illegal--that is emptying forests, fields, and seas."
For more information, and to support organizations hard at work in this area:
TRAFFIC-The Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network
The U.S. Humane Society (HSUS) and Humane Society International (HSI)
Photo: Mark Leong
The Hudson River School of Art refers to a group of American romantic landscape painters of the mid-nineteenth century. Many of the School's artists were influenced by Archibald Alison's book, Essay on the Nature and Principles of Taste, which took the position that the beauty and grandeur of unspoiled nature can inspire good moral qualities. They were also heavily influenced by the writings of Emerson and Thoreau.
Artists of the Hudson River School painted the Hudson River Valley, as well as scenes from the Catskills, Berkshires, and White Mountains, the pre-settlement American West, Mexico and other places. In the earlier years of the School's existence, the artists' favorite haunts were largely unspoiled, and highly valued for their aesthetic beauty. The American parks system was established in part in response to the enthusiasm for America's wilderness inspired by the works of the Hudson River School.
As the years passed, however, industry changed the landscape, and the canvases of Hudson River School painters reflected these changes. The American environmental movement began in part in the drawing rooms of wealthy art patrons dismayed to see the changing nature of the landscapes on their walls.
Paintings from top down:
~ The Lackawanna Valley, George Inness, (c. 1855)
~ View of the Hudson River from West Point, Thomas Doughty, (1793-1856)
~ Kindred Spirits, Asher Brown Durand, (1853)
The night-blooming orchid cactus Epiphyllum oxypetallum, a large, fragrant flower that opens and closes in a single night. The species is epiphytic, meaning it can root in the mould or moss in branch angles and among rocks, rather than needing substantial soil.
This is a photograph of a single bloom taken throughout one night in Hawaii.
Photo(s): Donald Brown
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Another species just discovered in 2009, the O'Shaughnessy's Dwarf Iguana (Enyalioides oshaughnessyi), lives in a micro-habitat in western Ecuador, a tiny cloud forest in the Andes mountains called Cerro Pata de Pajaro that is shrinking rapidly because of a double onslaught: climate change and logging to create more space for cattle. An expedition into rainforests on Ecuador's coast by Reptile & Amphibian Ecology International (RAEI) revealed this tiny iguana and severeal other new species, including up to 30 new "rain" frogs. A 15-year-old volunteer on the expedition discovered a snail-eating snake never before known to science.
Dr. Paul S. Hamilton, the expedition's leader, said, "There is obviously a great concern that these species will disappear as soon as, or even before, they are formally described by science. There are countless gaps in our knowledge about the status and distribution of tropical animals; this study just scratches the surface of what we know about this region alone, much less what is happening to global patterns of extinction. To stem the pattern of current extinction rates, we all need to do our part, whether that be driving less, eating less meat, or simply educating ourselves and spreading the word."
Photo: Dr. Paul S. Hamilton
Posted by Jennifer Scarlott at 2/18/2010
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
One of the things I love to do most is write a letter to Indian schoolkids for the bimonthly Indian (but English language!) eco-kids magazine called Cub, published by dear friends in Bombay. My letter is called "Talkin' Tigers with Jen" but although I frequently write about tigers, I often wander off to other nature topics. Here is a recent "Talkin' Tigers"...
Dear Cub kids,
Are you ready for a conservation success story? Here’s one about some really big birds, the Whooping crane, Grus americana, one of only two crane species found in North America (the other is the Sandhill crane).
Whooping cranes, named for their loud, penetrating unison calls, are the tallest bird in North America at nearly five feet. They have a wingspan of 7.5 feet! These birds, like all cranes, are magnificent. Adults are white with a red crest, black wingtips, and a long, dark pointed bill. Juveniles have golden-brown plumage that gradually disappears during their first year. In flight, Whooping cranes’ long necks stretch straight before them, and their long, dark legs trail behind. The adults’ black wing tips are visible during flight.
Whooping cranes live and breed in wetland areas, and feed while wading in shallow water. They are omnivores, finding crabs, clams, frogs, and aquatic plants tasty. While young, Whooping cranes are vulnerable to many different potential predators, including the American Black bear, the wolverine, the gray wolf, the red fox, the lynx, the bald eagle, and the common raven. But the adult Whooping cranes are so enormous, very few animals will attempt to take them down. The occasional exception is the bobcat, the only natural predator powerful and stealthy enough to prey on adult Whooping cranes.
Do you have any idea why these charismatic birds dwindled in numbers until, with just 15 left in the 1940s, they were at the very brink of extinction? You guessed it -- Homo sapiens, insatiable hunter and destroyer of habitat. In the nick of time, the American government enacted the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Since that year, the only remaining naturally occurring population of migrating Whooping cranes has grown to just over 200 birds. This group migrates between Wood Buffalo National Park, up in Canada, and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge on the coast of Texas.
But though crane numbers rose, the problem was that this solitary population of cranes was extremely vulnerable to being wiped out by a single calamity: severe weather, avian disease, an oil or chemical spill. Scientists and conservationists became anxious to try to establish additional populations of the crane. The problem was that for many bird species, the ability to migrate is a learned process, handed down from one generation to the next. When the last bird vanishes from an area, a traditional route is lost forever.
If new Whooping crane populations were to be successfully reintroduced, they would have to be taught how and where to migrate! How could people teach cranes how to migrate??... by getting the birds to follow them in the air! Scientists teamed up with aviators and for years they researched and developed methods for a bird migration led by aircraft! Operation Migration was born. In 1999, the Canadian/U.S. Whooping Crane Recovery Team asked Operation Migration to try to reintroduce Whooping cranes into central Wisconsin by teaching a captive-born population to migrate by leading them with ultralight aircraft to their wintering ground on the west coast of Florida.
For about ten years now, concerned humans have taken over for mother nature. Whooping crane chicks are hatched at captive propagation centers throughout North America. While still inside their eggs, chicks are exposed to and imprinted on the sounds of ultralight aircraft. Once the chicks hatch, they are reared in total isolation from humans, with project biologists and pilots going to great lengths to ensure that the impressionable young cranes remain wild. The growing cranes never hear the sound of a human voice, and biologists wear big, baggy white costumes designed to obscure the human form. The handlers wear a crane puppet on one arm that can dispense food and show young chicks how to forage, as their mother would. (see photo above!)
Over months, as the young cranes grow and fledge, they are brought from around the country to Wisconsin to establish dominance patterns, and become familiar with the aircraft and pilots that become their surrogate parents. In early October, the big day comes: using four ultralights, which are tiny planes no larger than a motorcycle with a white sail overhead like the wings of an adult crane, the pilots take off. Using a ground crew of bird handlers and other staff, the planes and young cranes cover 0 to 200 miles per day depending on weather conditions.
The migration passes through seven states, covers 1,250 miles, and takes anywhere from 60 to 90 days to complete. Each stop-over location is chosen for its isolation from human activity, and the birds stay overnight in portable pens that protect them from predators. Once successfully in Florida, the cranes stay at two different refuges, and are carefully watched over by biologists, the International Crane Foundation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Finally, in early spring, the cranes begin their unassisted! return migration to central Wisconsin for the summer. Scientists on the ground keep track of each bird via a radio-tracking device attached to one leg. Each year, nearly one million schoolchildren, and over 7 million people have followed the cranes' daily progress online. You can too, by going to: www.operationmigration.org
There are now about 450 captive and wild Whooping cranes in the United States, and their numbers are growing each year, thanks to the dedication of thousands of people. Each year since 2001, more wild Whooping cranes have joined existing flocks, with the exception of early 2007, when a disastrous storm killed all of the 2006 yearlings after their arrival in Florida.
Here is what ornithologist and conservationist Robert Porter Allen said about Whooping cranes and belated human efforts on their behalf:
For the Whooping crane there is no freedom but that of unbounded wilderness, no life except its own. Without meekness, without a sign of humility, it has refused to accept our idea of what the world should be like. If we succeed in preserving the wild remnant that still survives, it will be no credit to us; the glory will rest on this bird whose stubborn vigor has kept it alive in the face of increasing and seemingly hopeless odds.
Posted by Jennifer Scarlott at 2/17/2010
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Existence is beyond the power of words
Terms may be used
But are none of them absolute.
In the beginning of heaven and earth there were
Words came out of the womb of matter;
And whether a man dispassionately
Sees to the core of life
Sees the surface,
The core and the surface
Are essentially the same,
Words making them seem different
Only to express appearance.
If name be needed, wonder names them both:
From wonder into wonder
~ Lao Tzu, The Way of Life
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The North American passenger pigeon, Ectopistes migratorius. From one of the most abundant birds in the world in the nineteenth century, to extinction due to hunting and habitat loss in the twentieth. The migrations of passenger pigeons were a natural wonder. In 1605, Samuel de Champlain reported "countless numbers," Gabriel Sagard-Theodat wrote of "infinite multitudes," and Cotton Mather described a flock a mile in width and taking several hours to pass overhead. The last known passenger pigeon died in captivity in 1914 at the Cincinnati Zoo.
"The air was literally filled with pigeons, the light of noon-day was obscured as if by an eclipse." John James Audubon, of his experience seeing passenger pigeons in Kentucky in 1813.
John James Audubon, Passenger pigeons, Pittsburgh, 1824
Posted by Jennifer Scarlott at 2/10/2010
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Bittu Sahgal with Julia Worcester, Maa Farm, March 2008.
"Bittu Sahgal’s innate affinity for nature, borne of frequent treks and camping trips to the Indian wilderness, has propelled his career in both publishing and on-the-ground activism for nature conservation. He publishes Cub Magazine, and The Ecologist Asia, plus an environmental features syndication service. He is founder and editor of Sanctuary Magazine and has produced over thirty conservation-oriented documentary films seen by millions of Indians over the national television Network, Doordarshan, in the 1980s. Bittu’s eloquent outspokenness against destructive development projects, the use of toxic chemicals, government usurpation of natural resources belonging to communities at large, and much more, has put him in high profile struggles too numerous to record. His ability to influence government policy through his enlightened activism is well known. Bittu has held several honorary positions on government and non-government committees including the Indian Board for Wildlife, Project Tiger, Environment Expert Committee, Animal Welfare Board, and the Maharashtra Advisory Board. In 2004, Bittu received the Society for Conservation Biology, Distinguished Service Award (Education and Journalism). He also founded the highly successful Kids for Tigers, an all-India initiative in which kids lobby to save the Bengal tiger." ~ The Wild Foundation
The above brief bio of Bittu does not succeed in capturing his genius for leadership in environmental politics in his beloved India, the thousands of adults and children whom he has motivated, cajoled, supported, prodded, helped, bullied, and inspired into action on behalf of India's environment, nor his deep spiritual passion for planet Earth. The tiger has no more stalwart friend.
photo: J. Scarlott
Recently discovered: Smith's litter frog (Leptobrachium smithi), identified in 1999, is one of five new frogs discovered in the Mayeng Hill Reserve Forest and Garbhanga Reserve Forest, Kamru District, in the Indian state of Assam.
Photo by: © Milivoje Krvavac/WWF Nepal
"He was still close, so close I imagined I could feel the heat of his body in back of me. I spun around. Nothing was there but dense, silent jungle."
~ Alan Rabinowitz, Jaguar, One Man's Struggle to Establish the World's First Jaguar Preserve, 1986
"Wildlife conservation will succeed when local people are convinced that their lives are tangibly improved as a result of having wild animals around them. The more difficult task of sustaining conservation success will be achieved only with the realization that the well-being of both animals and people are inextricably intertwined in the manner in which nature intended."
~ Alan Rabinowitz, April, 2009
Saturday, February 6, 2010
when my nephew Roger was about twenty months old, I wrapped him in a blanket and carried him down to the beach in the rainy darkness. Out there, just at the edge of where-we-couldn't-see, big waves were thundering in, dimly seen white shapes that boomed and shouted and threw great handfuls of froth at us. Together we laughed for pure joy--he a baby meeting for the first time the wild tumult of Oceanus, I with the salt of half a lifetime of sea love in me. But I think we felt the same spine-tingling response to the vast, roaring ocean and the wild night around us.
~ Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder, 1956
Posted by Jennifer Scarlott at 2/06/2010
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Known to scientists as Wolf 253 of the Yellowstone Druid pack. Also called Limpy. Shot and killed in March, 2008, on the day the Bush Administration withdrew Endangered Species Act protection for the gray wolf.
A little background: The Obama Administration, under Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has sided with Bush & Co., refusing to return the gray wolf to full protection under the ESA, despite the fact that wolf numbers and genetic health have not rebounded since the near extirpation of wolves by the 1970s. Washington has turned the management of gray wolf populations in the U.S. over to the states. State wolf management plans, meanwhile, reflect the negative attitudes of ranchers with livestock, and big-game hunters who view wolves as competition for elk. States such as Idaho have launched wolf hunts, with immediate, devastating results for wolves and highly sociable wolf packs, including the killing of individual wolves that had been the focus of long-term scientific study.
Many conservation and animal protection organizations have long advocated the use of non-lethal methods to prevent wild predators from attacking livestock. These methods have proven effective in protecting livestock and fostering peaceful coexistence between wolves and humans. Although more and more progressive ranchers are successfully turning to non-lethal methods of protecting sheep and cows, the vast majority still favor traditional lethal methods, including hunting, poisoning, and trapping.
The (now-threatened) re-introduction of the gray wolf to Yellowstone National Park has made possible long-term studies showing conclusively that the presence of wolves has beneficial effects for entire ecosystems, from prey animal populations down to the flora they feed upon. As the U.S. Humane Society points out, "certain traits—such as swiftness, vigilance, or perceptual acuity—of many prey species evolved because of wolf predation as a selection pressure, and smaller carnivores such as foxes and coyotes evolved in the face of competition from wolves. Without competition from wolves, these smaller carnivores can reproduce more and survive longer; competition from (and occasional predation by) wolves was an important factor keeping smaller carnivores in check... Restoring wolves to much of their historic range will depend heavily upon the protection of vast expanses of public land to meet the wolf's habitat requirements and to allow for movement of wolves among separate populations."
Again, from HSUS: "The removal or reduction of federal protections for the gray wolf now appears to be premature, for three reasons. First, gray wolf populations are insufficiently recovered. Second, a vocal minority of the U.S. public continues to express irrational negative attitudes toward the wolf, demonstrating their unwillingness to tolerate this native carnivore. And third, the state plans include provisions for liberal sport hunting and trapping of wolves, and fail to mandate protections adequate to ensure the survival of wolves."
In Sweden, meanwhile, despite the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation's objection that wolf populations there have not recovered adequately since wolf hunting was banned 45 years ago, the Swedish government has concluded that there are too many wolves on its territory. During the month of January, an estimated 10,000 hunters combed the country in search of the 27 wolves mandated to be killed.
That works out to more than 370 hunters per wolf, perhaps suggesting an answer to the question: have humans learned to live with wildlife yet?
"Mr. Chamberlin initiated me into the mysteries of tree and wild-flower, until with the little ear of love I heard the flow of sap in the oak, and saw the sun glint from leaf to leaf. It seems to me that there is in each of us a capacity to comprehend the impressions and emotions which have been experienced by mankind from the beginning. Each individual has a subconscious memory of the green earth and murmuring waters, and blindness and deafness cannot rob him of this gift from past generations. This inherited capacity is a sort of sixth sense--a soul-sense which sees, hears, feels, all in one."
~ Helen Keller, The Story of My Life, 1902
"We need pray for no higher heaven than the pure senses can furnish, a purely sensuous life. Our present senses are but the rudiments of what they are destined to become. We are comparatively deaf and dumb and blind, and without smell or taste or feeling. Every generation makes the discovery, that its divine vigor has been dissipated, and each sense and faculty misapplied and debauched. The ears were made, not for such trivial uses as men are wont to suppose, but to hear celestial sounds. The eyes were not made for such grovelling uses as they are now put to and worn out by, but to behold beauty now invisible. May we not see God? Are we to be put off and amused in this life, as it were with a mere allegory? Is not Nature, rightly read, that of which she is commonly taken to be the symbol merely?"
~ Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, 1849
"As long as the finding of new ways in which to live was left to natural selection, there was always a tenuous peaceful coexistence of the living things on earth. But eventually one kind of animal found it possible to keep occupying new niches at will, always adding the niche-spaces of others to its own, escaping the ancient constraint of a fixed niche that is imposed on all others by natural selection. This animal yet continued to obey the other dictum of natural selection, which is to raise the largest possible number of offspring. The activities of this new form of animal are inevitably hostile to the interest of almost all the other kinds, for it engages in aggressive competition, instead of peaceful coexistence, in its drive for more and more young. It has been carrying on this new way of life for only nine thousand years."
~ Paul Colinvaux, Why Big Fierce Animals are Rare, An Ecologist's Perspective
"... This young woman knew that she would die in the next few days. But when I talked to her she was cheerful in spite of this knowledge. 'I am grateful that fate has hit me hard,' she told me. 'In my former life I was spoiled and did not take spiritual accomplishments seriously.' Pointing through the window of the hut, she said, 'This tree here is the only friend I have in my loneliness.' Through that window she could see just one branch of a chestnut tree, and on the branch were two blossoms. 'I often talk to this tree,' she said to me. I was startled and didn't quite know how to take her words. Was she delirious? Did she have occasional hallucinations? Anxiously I asked her if the tree replied. 'Yes.' What did it say to her? She answered, 'It said to me, 'I am here--I am here--I am life, eternal life.'"
~ Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
Vincent Van Gogh, Chestnut Tree in Bloom, 1887
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
The Bank's notion of Development vs. the Kihansi Spray Toad, Nectophrynoides asperginis. The toad is now extinct, save for a few thousand specimens clinging to life in mist-filled tanks at the Wildlife Conservation Society's Bronx Zoo, and at the Toledo Zoo. The New York Times details scientists' struggle on behalf of this minute, mustard-colored species, as well as the plight of amphibia around the world.
All rolled into one, a brilliant comic strip (Mutts), and one of the world's most wonderful earth heroes, Patrick McDonnell... since 1994, Patrick's strip has combined art and heart with a deep sensibility for animals and the earth... this world is a far better place for Patrick, his wife Karen, the Mutts team, and Mooch, Earl, Shtinky, Guard Dog, Frank and Millie, Crabby, Mussels Marinara...
See for yourself: Mutts!
MUTTS © 2010 Patrick McDonnell
Monday, February 1, 2010
"It's the little things in this world -- literally at our feet, or buzzing around our heads -- that keep us alive. In many environments, take away the ants and there would be partial collapses in many of the land ecosystems. Take away humans, and everything would come back and flourish. But I don’t wanna go down that road for a broad audience."
~ E.O. Wilson, author, myrmecologist
Posted by Jennifer Scarlott at 2/01/2010