Tag Archives: wildlife protection

Reading With Fakename: Lawrence Anthony

Lawrence Anthony wrote three books.  In order they are “Babylon’s Ark”,  “The Elephant Whisperer”, and “The Last Rhinos”.

Anthony was a South African conservationist who started his career in the insurance business, moved on to real estate, then more or less in mid-life, he purchased a 5,000 acre nature preserve called Thula Thula.  Thula Thula sat on one side of numerous other nature preserves owned by the Zulu, and he made it his life’s work to be able to “drop the fences”, creating one gigantic nature preserve that would come close to creating the kind of space in Africa that wildlife used to enjoy.

The politics of negotiating with the Zulu, as well as with the various competing conservation agencies were mind-boggling.  It’s a miracle any animals are left alive in Africa.  In between these efforts, he is hands-on taking care of a number of wild species and fighting poachers.

His books are a bit out of order.  The Elephant Whisperer should have been first.  This was his life’s work, at Thula Thula, and  the other two are excursions he made from there.  Babylon’s Ark is about saving the Baghdad Zoo, shortly after the U.S. invasion.  Once the largest zoo in the Mideast, by the time he got there, there were only 35 animals left.  The others had either been blown up, or captured by the locals for food.  Some of them had eaten the others.

The Last Rhinos is similar.  He learns that the last wild population of Northern White Rhinos is in an abandoned park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has been in a civil war for 20 years.  There are only 15 animals left, but he knows of 4 captive Northern Whites in a zoo in the Czech Republic.  He hopes this will be enough to keep the sub-species viable, though it is highly unlikely.  His attitude is, “We have to try”.

I read The Elephant Whisperer last.  This is where it all began for Anthony.  One of the first things he does is take in a semi-rogue herd of elephants, nine individuals in all.  If he doesn’t take them, they will all be shot.  He wants them to be wild, but it doesn’t work out.  Contrary to popular opinion, he grasps that he must make “friends” with the matriarch, Nana.

As the matriarch goes, so goes the herd.  In fits and starts, he does it.  He makes friends with Nana’s Deputy Matriarch, Frankie.  At night, Frankie is in charge because Nana has developed a cataract in one eye.  He makes friends with Mnumzane, the aspiring alpha bull who is really too young for the role at 14.

At last he begins to disengage.  More babies are born and the herd is becoming wilder.  Yet they seem to have an uncanny sense of when he will return from traveling and gather at the fence to his home compound.

On a lighter note, Anthony introduced me to the word “tokoloshe”.  I’m thinking of adopting a little feral kitten, assuming the owner will give him up.  That remains to be seen.  She was very keen on the idea when he was first born, but now he’s three weeks old and has his eyes open.  His mother has moved him to the back porch where he can be picked up and cuddled regularly.  My cat (and my dog) are getting old.  I’d like to have this little guy.  My cat is the most maternal being on the planet, and would make him feel at home.  Stormy the current cat would cuddle and groom a mouse if it would stand still long enough.

So if I do get him, I’m naming him Toko, short for Tokoloshe.  Tokoloshe is a Zulu word for little demon spirits that come out at night to do mischief.  The example Anthony gave is that the Zulu keep their beds up on bricks.  If you don’t, the Tokoloshe crawl under your bed at night and jump up and down, just to wake you up.  There has never been a better name for a kitten.

But back to Anthony.

In March of 2012, Anthony died of a heart attack at home.  That night, and for the next week, the elephant herd silently gathered at the fence before his compound.  They knew.  You can see this vigil on YouTube.

It doesn’t matter what you ascribe this to–they knew.  It’s a phenomenal sense of smell and hearing, but it’s more than that.  Somehow there is emotion there.  When you see elephants handling the bones of their dead, you know there is something more going on there than we understand.

Fakename’s Animal Planet: Wild Cats

First we will start with a quiz.  Everybody loves quizzes, right?  You have one minute to name all the wild cats you can think of.  As Ted Allen, host of the Food Network series “Chopped” says, Time starts now!  Fakename will wait.

Okay, Time’s up!  How did you do?  You may be tempted to whine that Fakename did not give you enough time, but a minute is a long time, depending on whether you’re having fun or not.  If you’re on the Space Mountain ride at Disney World, a minute passes by blazingly fast.  If you’re in the dentist’s chair, a minute is half a lifetime.  Time is relative.  I think someone else said that once.

If you’re lucky, you got in lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars.  Or you might have gotten only to lions and tigers before you said…damn you Fakename!  I could have thought of five more if you hadn’t asked me!  That would have been me.  I’d be saying, I’ve only got one minute, and I would be fretting more about the time than about the subject.  See, that thing I said about everybody loving quizzes is not really true.

My sister, who has already taken the quiz verbally, came up with ocelots and civets too.  I think she did very well.   So I’m going to guess that the average number would be around six.  But it could be much higher.

But if you only got as far as lions and tigers, or if you got as far as naming six, don’t feel bad.  There are actually thirty-six distinct species of wild cats.  Who knew?  No matter how many you did name, here’s one I bet you didn’t:  the Margay.   I learned about them last night watching the NatGeo Wild TV channel.

This remarkable animal  is a New World cat, which lives from southern Mexico to northern Argentina.  In other words, it’s a rainforest cat.  Maybe most incredibly, it usually lives its whole life in the trees.  It eats things in trees–birds, monkeys, tree frogs.  It’s small, a little less than six to almost nine pounds.  (Contrast that with my own personal domestic cat, who weighs fifteem.)  It has paws that can rotate 180 degrees.  It can climb down trees headfirst (the only other cat that can do this is the clouded leopard).  It can hang from a branch by one paw.  It can run along the underside of branches upside down.  It can jump 12 feet in one pounce.  I sure would hate to be a tree frog near a Margay.  Of course, I probably wouldn’t want to be a tree frog under any circumstances, but you get my point.

The IUCN (the International Union for Conservation of Nature) lists margays as “Near Threatened”.  But I have to tell you–I don’t like them very much.  It takes an Act of God for them to declare a species endangered.  There have to be like, two of the animals in question left on the planet.  You get compromises from the IUCN that are laughable.  Because it’s an international organization, you get powerful members like Japan arguing that whales are not really endangered, for example.  Plus, it has no enforcement arm.  That’s how you get Greenpeace.

Even the UN, which arguably suffers from some of the same ineffectual and impotent “compromise”, at least has enforcement.  But this is not a post about the UN.

Margays are endangered.  Who would argue that rainforests are endangered?  And that’s where Margays live.  They are also hunted for their fur, and for the pet trade.  Who wouldn’t want a cute little seven-pound wild cat?  Well, me for instance. (Except I wasn’t always this smart.)

When I was a kid, growing up in the mountains of North Carolina, we would often go to various locations in the Smoky Mountains, and wherever you go, there are signs that say “Don’t Pick The Flowers!”  And there are some fascinating ones:  Lady’s Slipper, Trillium, Indian Ghost Pipe.  I think of margays like I think of the flowers–don’t pick them.

On Jane Goodall’s Book

I have at long last finished Jane Goodall’s book Hope for Animals and Their World.  To start, I’ll quote the dedication in its entirety:

“This book is dedicated to the memory of Martha, the last passsenger pigeon–and to the last Miss Waldron’s colobus and the last Yangtze River dolphin.  As we think of their lonely end, may we be inspired to work harder to prevent others suffering a similar fate.”

The  book is subtitled “How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued From the Brink”.  It tells the stories of many different animal species, and the remarkable people who have devoted their lives to saving them.  In some cases, the animals became extinct in the wild when scientists captured the last known living examples of the species in order to create a captive breeding program.  The goal, ideally, being to repopulate the species in the wild, or at the very least, to preserve the species even if it has to be in a zoo or a small nature preserve. 

Dr. Goodall’s take on it is always overwhelmingly positive, but the stories are heartbreaking nonetheless.  Time and again, the primary reason for the loss or near loss of a species is loss of habitat.  And loss of habitat is due to human overpopulation.  There are more immediate causes of animal extinction such as the accidental (or sometimes deliberate) introduction of non-native species which either outeat or outright prey on the native animals.  Dogs, cats, and rats are most common.  There are introduced poisons, such as lead and various pesticides.  But these too go back to the issue of human overpopulation.    I have no solution to that.  I’m just stating the fact. 

At the moment, I’ll confine myself to why Jane has hope.  I personally don’t see much.  I fear that one day all the magnificent animals on our planet will be confined in zoos.  But not Jane.  The last section of the book is called “The Nature of Hope”.  She says she has four reasons for hope: our extraordinary intellect, the resilience of nature, the energy and commitment of young people, and the indomitable human spirit.  In that section she also addresses the issue of why we should save endangered species anyway.  And she says, we do it for love. 

In that regard, I heard an oddly related snippet of an interview yesterday on NPR with Jeremy Rifkin, who has a new book called The Empathic Civilization.  Rifkin is an economist and senior lecturer at the Wharton School of Business.  His point is that our ability to connect with one another globally is broadening our identification with others beyond family, tribe, religion, and nation, making us the empathic civilization.  And we increasingly embrace not only each other but the other species on our planet.  I truly hope he is right.

Wolfgate: Sarah Palin and the Wolves, Part 2

As anyone who has ever read a single word I’ve written knows, I love to read fiction, but fiction that teaches me something.  Recently I finished a novel called “Winter Study” by a writer named Nevada Barr.  Ms. Barr was a park ranger at one time, and her continuing character Anna Pigeon is a park ranger for the National Park Service.  I’ve only read two of the Anna Pigeon books:  the first took place in Natchez Trace National Park in Mississippi.  “Winter Study” takes place in Isle Royale National Park, a place I’d never even heard of, so I learned something in the first paragraph. 

Isle Royale is in Lake Superior.  It officially “belongs” to the State of Michigan, even though it’s a long way from there.  It’s in the very north of the lake, about 18 miles from the Canadian border.  Its significance is that in the park, the longest running study of predator/prey interaction has been going continuously since 1958.  The predators are gray wolves; the prey, moose.  The island is a living laboratory, where only about 20 mammal species reside, so you don’t have all the variability you might have in a place like Wyoming or Alaska.  At any one given time, you have between 15-25 wolves, and 700 to 750 moose.  So it’s a bit of a microcosm. 

I’ve been charged by a reader with providing real data as to why wolf eradication, supported by Sarah Palin in Alaska, is a bad idea.  As opposed to “environmental Nazism”–using “scare tactics” and emotional arguments to make the case.  This reader, ptfan1 (who is a big Sarah Palin fan, I might add–perhaps he might want to think of changing his name to spfan1) says that while he himself could never pull the trigger, there may be a need for wolf management somewhere like Alaska.   I think that’s a fair request.  So I spent way too many hours yesterday reviewing wolf management practices.  I read the entire policy on the state of Wyoming’s plan for wolf management.  I read extensively from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s policy for bear and wolf control.  See that here:  http://www.wc.adfg.state.ak.us/regulations/pdfs/predator_control.pdf

Please note that they specifically refer to it as “control”, not management.  Management typically refers to efforts to preserve wolf populations.  Control means elimination.  This is only one of two links I’ll provide, because this is a blog, not a term paper.  If you want to check the veracity of what I have to say, you’ll have to do your own research.  As my mother and my teachers used to say when I asked the meaning of a word, Look it up. 

In Alaska, caribou and moose are a major source of food.  Wolves eat caribou and moose too.  During severer than normal winters…Interruption:  I live in Florida.  I consider a severe winter to be one in which the temperature drops to 50 degrees F. before December first.  But in severe winters in Alaska, the herds start to starve.  Moose eat everything off the trees to a height of about 8 feet.  The younger and shorter moose starve faster.  As they get weaker, this makes it easier for wolves to catch them.  But during these severe winters, wolves aren’t faring that well either.  In the end, more moose are killed by starvation, human hunting, and cars than are ever killed by wolves.  Here’s your second link:  http://www.nationalreview.com/swan/swan090403.asp

I read a lot about the re-introduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone Park as well.  That happened because of what the scientists call an “ecological cascade”.  The elimination of the top predator caused a domino effect, which had disastrous consequences to everything from plant life to songbirds. 

There is abolutely no scientific evidence that wolves do significant harm to moose or caribou populations in Alaska.  It’s more of a mindset.  When it gets harder to find a moose, blame the wolves.  The mindset is that the only good wolf is a dead wolf.  I coulda had that moose if you hadn’t killed it, you evil Wolf thing. 

If Alaska continues this practice, it will find itself in the same situation as Wyoming, wondering what the hell happened.  Bounties on wolves were what destroyed the wolf population in Wyoming; Sarah Palin wants to institute the same practice–$150 for the left foreleg of a wolf.   Guess her degree in journalism didn’t require any courses in biology…or American history.