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Eager Beavers Meet Peace Keeper

By Lauren Heine

Can deception save a relationship? When it comes to humans and beavers, it’s certainly helping to keep the peace.

Beavers have been driven out of their homes and hunted to near extinction in many places. But once they were gone, it became clear that we needed them ... and the amazing dams they build. So the humble beaver is making a comeback – being re-introduced to natural habits across Europe and all the way to California. Read more

Are Humans the Only Animals that Keep Pets?

In this monthly blog, psychologist and author Hal Herzog, Ph.D., discusses some of the quirks and anomalies of our relationships to our fellow animals.

Why don’t animals keep pets?

Oh, I can already hear the howls of objections. What about Koko’s Kitten, you ask, referring to the well-known case of the American Sign Language-trained gorilla who fell in love with a kitty cat? What about Owen, the 600 pound baby hippo who became fast friends with Mzee, a 160 year old giant tortoise in a Kenyan game preserve? How about Tarra, the Asian elephant, at the Elephant Sanctuary in the hills of Tennessee, whose BFF was a dog named Bella? Read more

The Avatar Paradox

The intimate glimpse into the pulsing center of the natural world that modern technology delivers to us is threatening the natural world as never before.

By Ptolemy Tompkins

For a number of years, I went daily to a well-appointed but singularly ugly gym in New York City. Like most such gyms, it was equipped with several banks of TV screens, set over the jogging and elliptical machines to alleviate the boredom that using such equipment always involves. Jogging along, my eye would drift from one screen to another, drawn solely by whatever was going on visually as I didn’t know how to operate the headphone system that would allow me to hear what was happening on the different stations. Read more

What A Wonderful World

Max and Angie: a 40-year love affair

By Gay Bradshaw Ph.D, Ph.D

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They're really saying. . . I love you.

A few years ago, I met two wonderful people. Seeking a few minutes of solitude away from the deafening noise of good cheer at a dinner party, I waded through a sea of shoulders and precarious drinks poised in hands held high, to a quiet corner of the room. There, seated on a secluded sofa, were Max and Angie. We exchanged covert smiles of camaraderie and before long settled into a fascinating discussion. It began with them telling their story. Read more

Part 3: Last Try

May 17, 2010

I wanted to explore a possible volunteer opportunity at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport, MS. I was greeted at the door by Mimi Nanney, who explained that they were hosting a bunch of students there this morning and things might be a little hectic.

Mimi told me all the same things about restrictions imposed by BP and the Institute's ongoing efforts to mobilize volunteers online at www.imms.org. She told me their experts were standing by in case of any stranding incidents that may occur. They are always on call for when fishermen report hooked turtles, and they often treat them quickly on site and release them. If a turtle requires rehab, they are transported back to the Institute for treatment. Mimi wanted me to know that most local fishermen are diligent about calling IMMS when they discover hooked turtles, and her group is always prepared to assist whenever it happens.

Mimi also told me that several of their employees are ex-dolphin trainers from Marine Life, and many are the same people who rescued the Marine Life dolphins when they were washed out into the Gulf by Katrina.

IMMS is charged with surveying the coasts on Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson Counties, as well as the Mississippi Gulf Coast Barrier Islands, and if you ever do come across a stranded animal on shore, please call 1.888.SOS.DOLPHIN. Once again, she stressed that the general public should NEVER attempt to rescue a stranded animal. There is a reason it beached itself in the first place, and it might need medical attention.

After the next set of students began to trickle in, I thanked Mimi for her time and headed up the road to see the folks over at Hands on Mississippi. Lauri Cochran told me that most of the volunteer opportunities at HoM do not concern the current oil crisis in the Gulf, and that Hands on Mississippi is still very involved in Katrina relief, alleviating homelessness on the Gulf Coast, and several other community building programs. One thing is certain: there is a great deal of work that still needs to be done, no matter which problem you choose to focus on.

This would be the last day of my visit to the Gulf Coast. Tomorrow I was heading home to Atlanta.

Bug-Eyed Over Lemurs!

Travel Far, Think Big: Wild Madagascar

Kasey-Dee Gardner

Madagascar's Bamboo LemurTwo years ago, on our first date, Dan told me the one place he couldn't wait to visit was Madagascar. I didn't know much about Madagascar and honestly doubt I could even point to it on a map. But now, unbelievably, we're about to head off on a two-week adventure to this island.

Very few people will ever have the chance to discover Madagascar. It's the world's fourth largest island that lies just east of Mozambique; it's an Indian Ocean island that separated from the rest of Africa some 160 million years ago. So, because of its isolation, it’s home to some of the world's remarkable primates, reptiles, and bizarre planet life that are only naturally found here . It's hard to get to, yes, but well worth it - especially for nature lovers. Read more

Survival of the Most Cooperative

Jonathan Balcombe talks about his new book: Second Nature – The Inner Lives of Animals.

A humpback whale is tangled up in the ropes of crab traps off the coast of San Francisco. A group of divers go to her rescue and manage to cut away the ropes that are wrapped round and round her tail, body and flippers. There’s even a line in her mouth. She’s tied in knots.

The divers set to work cutting the ropes one by one. They know that if the whale panics, or just can’t breathe – or anything – one flap of her tail could land them all in big trouble. But she doesn’t move. Rather than thrashing around, she stays entirely calm. One of the divers later notes that when he was cutting the line going through her mouth, “her eye was there winking at me, watching me.”

And when she’s finally free, the whale doesn’t just swim away; instead, she goes to each of the divers in turn and nuzzles them as a way of saying thank you. One of the divers calls it “an epic moment in my life.” He says he could see that the whale understood that he was there to help.

Gratitude, says Jonathan Balcombe in his new book, Second Nature, is one of the emotions we recognize as being supremely human. Except it isn’t. It’s not remotely limited to us humans.

Intelligence ... emotions ... morality ... sensitivity and empathy – in different ways these are common to all animals. All of them. Read more

Part 2: The Wildlife Refuges

May 14, 2010
I woke up to the sound of a crow cawing outside my bedroom window. Today, I am heading for the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point, MS, but I wanted to take some pictures of Lake Ponchartrain first, before I left. What a mess around the marina. Not just all the road construction, but litter everywhere!

I headed to the coffee shop next door to Roberts on the corner of Robert E. Lee and West End Blvd. (I'd give them a better plug than that, but I threw out the cup with their name on it. They had killer Almond/Beignetalike pastries, great coffee, and free wi-fi. If you're ever in NOLA, I highly recommend it.) I got all the info I needed online, and I was off!

Nearly two hours later, at I-10E exit 68, I headed toward Pascagoula down a two-lane road that twisted and turned for a mile or so until it entered a stretch of lovely homes. This is where the Audubon Center is located. It’s a quiet little cottage in the Mississippi countryside. There were awesome bird houses and feeders everywhere.

I was greeted by the center's director Mark LaSalle and a gentleman named Mozart, and I explained that I was there to get oiled wildlife cleansing training. Mark told me that he had been inundated with requests, and people could not understand why they were not being called upon to help out with the massive cleanup efforts. He said simply that BP was in charge of all oil cleanup on the coast, and they were only hiring contractors. Allowing the public to get involved would open them up to a great deal more liability than they already have. He added that people trained in handling wildlife were best equipped to handle any rescue efforts, and if you don't know how to capture birds properly, you would be placing both yourself and the animal in harm's way if you attempted it.

Mark suggested I talk to his colleague at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge down the road. When I got there, Doug Hunt of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service showed me around and told me that there were only about 120 Mississippi Sandhill Cranes in existence today. There are plenty of Greater Sandhill Cranes in the world, but the ones living at this refuge are a unique subspecies that does not migrate like others do. Born and raised in beautiful South Mississippi, these birds choose to live out their entire lives here.

Doug told me the same things about volunteer opportunities that Mark had explained at the Audubon Center: Gulf Coast cleanup was all being handled by BP and its contractors, and there were no current openings for volunteer participation. Private industry was running this job, and it was completely out of the government's hands.

He also told me that the refuge had been getting hundreds of calls from people like me who wanted to help out, but all he could do was send them to register with Audubon. I thanked Doug for his time and all of the info, and headed back toward the Bay.

Big Apple’s No-Kill Goal

New York on schedule with homeless pets

“There’s never been a better time to be a dog in New York City,” said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg proudly.

The mayor was announcing the latest good news about homeless pets in the Big Apple. In a nutshell: the percentage of dogs and cats killed at city shelters hit an all-time low last year – 33 percent. That’s down from 74 percent in 2002. And the adoption rate for shelter pets increased to 66 percent, up from 26 percent.

Eight years ago, Bloomberg announced the formation of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC's Animals, a coalition of more than 160 animal rescue groups and shelters that work with Animal Care and Control, which runs the official city shelters. Read more

The Giving Tree

Few people need convincing that trees are good. Their emotional and psychological value, though hard to define, is powerful and indisputable. Trees clean the air, provide protection from noise and wind, and impart a calming and peaceful aspect to the surrounding streetscape. Trees are not like mailboxes or benches or other site amenities; they are biological touchstones and quite literally living community participants. So if the street trees in your neighborhood or downtown aren’t looking so good, what to do?

Read more

Why Me?

By Jill Schensul

The fish flew out the car window. The car never slowed down. The fish hit the road with a thwump, 10 yards ahead of me.

What, again? I thought, as I sprinted toward the fish.

Not that fish flying out of cars into my pathway are a common occurrence. In fact, this was a first.

But whenever I travel, I seem to have one of these “why-me?” episodes. Read more

Protecting the Loch Ness Monster

It's Mother's Day. So here's a special shout-out to Nessie, a.k.a. the Loch Ness Monster. May people continue to believe that you don't exist! After all, what would happen if it were proven that Nessie is alive and well and really living in Loch Ness? Read more

My Trip to the Gulf Coast


By Tracy Bishop


Tracy Bishop was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, and grew up there and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Today he lives in Clarkston, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta.

Two weeks after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, Tracy drove down to the coast to help in whatever way he could. He arrived on Sunday May 9th, and stayed just over a week. He visited several bodies of water, the beaches, and several wildlife organizations and refuges. He also spent many hours in training sessions for the cleanup effort. But time after time, he was told that no volunteer opportunities were available.

Still, he says, he’s glad he went and saw the last of the beaches he remembers before the oil came ashore. Things won’t be the same for a long time to come.

This is his travel blog.

Part 1: Back to the Beach

May 9, 2010

I’ve driven back to the Gulf Coast from my home in Georgia.

I grew up along the coast and was unsure what I was going to find here now. These are the bayous and rivers I had explored as a teen. This is the same stretch of beach I used to bike along on sunny spring days when my classmates were all still stuck in school.

South Mississippi has changed a lot over the years: Camille, casinos, and Katrina all left their marks, but the impacts of those events will pale in comparison to the environmental disaster looming off the coast now. The Deepwater Horizon oil gusher has the potential to wipe out life as we know it in the Gulf, along with the livelihoods of millions of people who depend on its seasonal bounty to survive.

I started my tour at the train bridge near Main Street in Bay St. Louis. The boom system was already in place – an inflatable fence stretching across the entire inlet to the bay. There was no evidence of oil yet, nor were there any fish kills to report, and the beaches were all clean.

At Long Beach Harbor, there was no oil to be seen, either. But another kind of pollution was evident everywhere: mounds of everyday litter washing up on the shore. I bagged a bunch of plastic debris and aluminum cans.

On the Gulfport side of the harbor, the gulls were enjoying themselves on the beach. Once again, there was no evidence of oil contamination ... yet. I was glad to see, smell and taste that the same water we all grew up with and learned to love out there.

Tallest Horse … Gentle Giant

Big Jake just took over the top spot as world's tallest living horse, and made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

At 6 feet, 11 inches and 2,600 pounds, the Belgian gelding is almost three inches taller than the previous record-holder, a Clydesdale from Texas named Remington. Read more

‘20,000 Bees on My Pants!’

Her laundry was hanging on the line in her backyard in Victoria, Australia. But it was going to be a little difficult to bring it in . . .

Beekeeper Brian Gardiner got the terrified emergency call, and arrived in the backyard later in the day. By then, there were roughly 20,000 bees clustered across three pairs of pants.

"She had gone out to bring the washing in and got the fright of her life," he said.

"When she rang me and described where the swarm was, I had to grab my camera."

The clean laundry waving in the breeze made an attractive stopover spot for the bees.

When their hives become overcrowded, a group of the bees will customarily evacuate, gather in a swarm with a new queen, and head off to create a new hive. They were not planning to turn the laundry into their new abode; just stopping over during their house hunt while scouts search for new digs.

World’s Biggest Dam

 

World's largest dam ... built by beavers

World's biggest dam -- made by beavers in Northern Canada.

It's not the Hoover Dam or the Aswan Dam or even the huge Three Gorges Dam in China.

It's the Giant Beaver Dam in Canada.

Measuring more than half a mile across -- or more than eight football fields set end to end -- it was discovered in Wood Buffalo National Park in Northern Alberta, Canada, by environmental scientist Jean Thie using satellite technology.

The beavers probably started the dam in the 1970s, and generations of them have been working on it ever since. They're still working on it ... and on two smaller dams nearby. It's quite likely that these will all connect up sooner or later, which will make the complete dam nearly a mile wide. Read more

The Slaves Fight Back

British columnist Alexander Cockburn compares Tilikum the orca to Spartacus, and calls him “the slave whale who chose to fight back.”

Tilikum attacked his trainer Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando and killed her.

This magnificent animal was captured and torn from his family in 1982 and carried off to a theme park on Vancouver Island in Canada.

“There he met his fellow slaves, Nootka and Haida,” says Cockburn. “Day after day in slave school they learned their tricks. Day after day, they did their act for the paying customers.”

And then, on February 20, 1991, the three orcas struck back at their captors. After Keltie Byrne, a 20-year-old part-time trainer, slipped while riding on the head of one of the orcas, Tilikum, Nootka and Haida took turns in dragging her around the pool while other trainers tried to catch her on a pole with a hook. But the orcas would not let the trainers get near her. Even after they’d drowned her, they wouldn’t let anyone near her for another two hours.

This was Tilikum’s first act of revolt.

Soon after, Tilikum and Nootka were shipped off to Orlando, Florida, where Nootka died two years later at the age of 13. Orcas in the wild normally live into their 50s and 60s. Haida and her calf Ky were sent off to SeaWorld, San Antonio, where Haida died in 2001. Three years later, Ky, who had clearly learned the spirit of rebellion, almost killed his trainer.

Back in Orlando, Tilikum killed a second human – apparently a hapless man who had climbed into SeaWorld during the night and jumped in Tilikum’s pool.

And now, again, in his late twenties, Tilikum has struck again – this time against trainer Dawn Brancheau.

How long will it be before the slave masters give up on their murky business, and, like the Coliseum of Ancient Rome, their gladiatorial rings lie in ruins?

Read Cockburn’s article here.

And read this excerpt from the upcoming new book by Jason Hribal, about how animals try to fight back against their trainers at zoos and marine parks. Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance will be published this fall (2010).

What Was Tilikum Thinking? “Let’s see what kind of answers might emerge when we view Tilikum’s psyche through the lens of psychology and neuroscience,” says Gay Bradshaw of The Kerulos Center.

The Great Researcher

This post is part of a series – Dolphins & Us, Part One – about our relationship to these remarkable marine mammals.

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Whazzup with WAZA?

This post is in Part Two of our series on Dolphins and Us – their intelligence, culture and society, and why it’s time to bring an end to keeping them in captivity.

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A Whale of a Business

This post is in Part Two of our series on Dolphins and Us – their intelligence, culture and society, and why it’s time to bring an end to keeping them in captivity.

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