On Respecting Our World’s Creatures

Look at that, two rants in a week.  Lucky you!

This rant comes a little late in the game, as this issue reared its ugly head earlier this summer. But I wanted to address it nonetheless. I read all about this when it first happened, and I’ve had it in the back of my mind ever since. It’s a prime example of why I hate people (as a general rule).

In Alabama (sorry to call ya’ll out, bless your hearts!), beachgoers descended on the shores and, without so much as a care in the world, not only destroyed a colony of protected birds by invading their nesting areas, they used the birds’ eggs to “decorate the beach,” ensuring their path of death and destruction was complete. Are you freakin’ kidding me?

These birds are not placed on this beach for entertainment.  They are going about their daily lives, just trying to survive, and in this case, you know, trying not to become all extinct and what-not.

Which brings me to another aspect of this rant that I want to address. I’d like to go on the record as saying that I have an amazing capacity to be outraged by any number of things at once.  Yes, I’m concerned for the African girls who need to be educated, yes, I’m also concerned for America’s vast population of homeless that include veterans who fought for this country, and yes, I am concerned about immigration reform and all the pictures I see where kids are allegedly being kept in cages.  Don’t try to tell me there are bigger problems in the world than colonies of endangered little birds; believe me, I am well-aware there are other issues. Sadly, we don’t have to pit one atrocity against another as there are more than enough to go around.

The difference is, the people who donate time, money and effort into charities that help people do not share the stigma that animal advocates do; if you defend the welfare of animals and fight for the humane treatment they deserve, you are a nut case (unless of course you’re talking about dogs and cats … then you’re right in line with other mainstream advocates).  How did we become this divided in our view of world priorities?

Why does it have to be your concerns versus my concerns?  In my mind, they are all our concerns. Not only that, we can care about more than one thing at a time.

Animals are a gift to us.  We need to take responsibility for their welfare as we are most often the cause of their demise.  In some cases, like this one, it is senseless stupidity.  In others, it is deliberate; safari hunts, eating endangered animals for the thrill of it, wiping them out so we can expand our own flawed human needs… these are ongoing issues that need to be addressed.  Sometimes, animals suffer because of our thoughtlessness and complete lack of awareness of the “bigger picture,” like the humble honey bee.

Will my own personal day-to-day world be impacted by the extinction of this tiny feathered critter?  No, not one bit.  But sadly, their world will be, and ours as whole will be.  Unlike Jurassic Park, these animals and many others like them will not be cloned back into existence. It seems a simple request:  can’t we respect all breathing beings and accept that they have a place on this planet, too?

The ego of humanity is simply astounding.  We mistakenly believe that we are the ultimate culmination of evolution; realistically, you know, we’re not.  A thousand years from now humans will be only another link in the chain.  No doubt, we will do something to cause a mass extinction event to ourselves.

I want to believe that we will wake up from our selfish ways and start to care for all living creatures.  Guess what?  Respect for life, whether human or animal, starts at home.  If our offspring is raised to have so little value for life, we need to look in the mirror and place blame where it belongs.  It’s really not that big of a stretch to think that people who can destroy a colony of protected birds (or any birds) without so much as blinking an eye, in general think so little of life that destroying fellow humans will, within a few generations, become a familiar way of life.

Doom and gloom for a Friday night perhaps, but that’s just the way I see it.  Come on, people; we need to do better.  We MUST do better.

A Radical Idea

Now I’m not about to pontificate like some hippy guru coming down from her cabin in the Vermont mountains, but please, take a look at the picture below. That’s our universe. It’s where we live. See how small we are?  See how absolutely minuscule our existence is in the grand scheme of things? We’re pretty much a drop in the bucket and that’s being generous.

I don’t mean to say this to be depressing. Quite the opposite, truth be told. It’s supposed to be a reminder that before we get livid over political differences, religious beliefs, or even just the people who cut in front of us in traffic, we should remember that we’re really sort of insignificant in this vast web of gases and atoms.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be involved in what’s going on in our world today, especially politically speaking (goodness knows, we have to be now, more than ever), or that we should give up on our faith to placate someone else… what I am saying however, is that when it comes to arguing with strangers online or with Uncle John at the next family dinner — neither of whom will be listening anyway, because they’re so entrenched in their own mindset — maybe rethink your participation in an argument that will only serve to create stress and anxiety for you and will likely end up being more of a name-calling contest than a civil debate anyway.

Instead of getting enraged, how about we just focus on being nice to each other? That’s it — just be nice. Pretty simple, right?  I just think that as we rotate around our gargantuan sun that in itself is part of an unimaginably vast galaxy within an inconceivable array of other galaxies (with the potential of other dimensions that could be just as large), let’s just try to make the ride a little more pleasant for each other.

And let’s not include just humans in that concept – include animals, too.  Be nice to other living creatures.  I mean, really, how hard is that?  When you sit down and think about it, it just seems like the most logical thing to do.

However, I know it will never happen on a large scale because we’re human after all, and something as simple as “being nice” would just never work for our species as a whole. It’s beyond us, which is sad, really. But imagine what we could accomplish if we could pull off this amazing yet simplistic feat!  The issues that could be settled and the problems that could be resolved are boundless.

So maybe we start small.  Maybe smile at that neighbor who is always grumpy or hold the elevator for that person who is obviously late.  Perhaps throw some food to the stray you usually shoo away.  Or give some change to the homeless person you always try to ignore as you make your way to work.  Maybe realize that your kids can have a bad day too so you ignore the half-made bed that would normally spawn a lecture, and instead pull out a family board game.  It should all be so easy, really.

And the craziest part of this hare-brained idea is that the world, which is already so overwhelmed with stress and worry, would actually become a better place, allowing for less and less stuff to be stressed and worried about.  I know….ironic, right?

Surfin’ Safari

I’m in love with Africam! And no, this is not a promo for a service. I’m just overly excited because I’m a nerd.

I watch webcams on a site called Africam.com.  These webcams are set up at different South African game preserves (the kind that actually protect the animals from poaching and hunting — or so they say). These preserves are Tembe, Naledi, Idube, the Olifants River, and the Nkorho Pan; each protecting different kinds of the “big animals.”

I have to admit I’m hooked on these web-cams, and they’ve ignited a desire in me to go on a photo safari to these game preserves and see the magnificent animals there for myself, up close and personal.

I’ve been to zoos, of course, and even a couple of conservation sanctuaries. Most zoos today are a far cry from the tiny, dingy zoos of old where the poor animals, regardless of how big they were, had to exist in a cage that gave them just enough room to pace and that was it. Nowadays, zoos strive to give the animals substantial living space and protect their health as much as possible. However, they’re still not perfect and many if not most still have a long way to go before the whole concept of captive conservation can be considered truly successful and beneficial for the animals being held captive.

There’s simply no denying that actually seeing majestic lions, elegant leopards, lumbering elephants, and graceful giraffes – not to mention all the other wild animals – roaming about wild and free is a different kind of experience entirely. Even if it’s just on my computer screen.

I have to admit that I’ve yet to see “nature red in tooth and claw” during my voyeuristic endeavors. I haven’t seen a lion or leopard track down a beautiful antelope or giraffe and… well…eat it. For which I am eternally grateful, I must say. I live with that dread each time I log in, but so far, that part of nature has eluded me and I’m not sorry.  I did come on to a scene right after two lions, who apparently travel together, had done just that. I could see the blood on their mouths, manes, and feet as they lazed about, but at least I missed the action!

africam allows the user to take “snapshots” of the action – like this one of the two lions I mentioned

 

nap time after eating

 

getting a drink while his friend naps

 

there’s just no privacy anywhere anymore

What I really like to watch are the elephants. They are so huge, so magnificent, and so gentle with each other…although having said that there’s a baboon troupe that comes to this one watering hole all of the time (early morning Africa time) and the little ones are simply adorable to watch, so comical in their antics.

family trip to the watering hole

 

my favorite

 

I just love elephants

One thing that has me shaking my head most often is the sheer volume of noise. The birds – I’m assuming they are birds though sometimes it may be monkeys – are so incredibly loud!  When I have the volume up it drives my dogs crazy as they try figure out what could possibly be making those sounds.

The calls, from these birds, monkeys or whatever, can be so eerie sometimes, something out of a creepy movie. And then sometimes they’re quite funny because they sound like human laughter (which I guess really should be sort of creepy). Whatever is making the sounds, and why they are making them, I have no idea – whether they are having conversations with each other, warning of predators, warning other birds to stay away…all I know is that it’s always very, very loud. And they have a lot to say apparently as they’re constantly chattering.

One of the webcams is situated close to where people stay when on vacation, so when the camera pans around, you can see the lodges. They are pretty cool – and I like to imagine myself sometimes being in one of them myself.

But while I like this particular webcam for that reason, I also kind of dislike it for that reason because I want to see animals, not jeeps full of people leaving for their photo safaris.  (I know they are going off on a photo safari because I can see that they are all carrying cameras, not rifles!) The webcam can’t distinguish between animals and people – it’s activated by motion sensors and records everything, so you see it all whether you want to or not.

There’s a bit of techno-love here, I admit. Okay, more than a bit. I just find it amazing that I’m watching something on my computer that is actually happening a world away, while I’m relaxing cozily in bed. AND it involves animals. A win-win.

Killing…in the name of what!?

I have a question for you, so I’ll just toss it out there: Is the act of killing ever justified?  I’m not just talking about killing people, but killing anything. Is trapping something, using it for your own needs, and explicitly erasing its existence after it has served its purpose, a justifiable act? Is that ever okay? I’m sure that most of you, and hopefully ALL of you, are shaking your heads. Perhaps you are even thinking: No, killing is never, an acceptable resolution.

Apparently, not everyone thinks this way. Meet Christopher Filardi. He does not agree with you. In fact, not only does he believe that killing is a-okay and completely justifiable in the right circumstances, he’ll go one even further and kill an endangered species if the poor creature should be unfortunate enough to cross his path.

I know what you’re thinking: Damned hunters. However, Filardi’s not a hunter with an unquenchable bloodlust. Instead, he’s actually the Director to Pacific Programs at the American Museum of Natural History. Yes, now here is the part where you scratch your head and wonder how a man, who should be protecting scientific breakthroughs, is instead killing them. Filardi is a scientist, and his most recent contribution to the planet was capturing an amazingly rare bird, taking samples of it, and then euthanizing it!

If you’re getting a bit hot under the collar, or you’re starting to curl your hands into fists, and your teeth are starting to grind as you think of his callous dispatching of a bird that had never even been photographed before this moment, then maybe his side of the story will soothe you (spoiler alert: it probably won’t).  I’m not the only one that has been upset about this turn of events, and I don’t mean just the public either. Filardi’s actions have apparently divided the scientific community as well.

According to Mr. Malarkey—I mean, Mr. Filardi—there are somewhere around 4,000 of these birds on the island they’re confined to. This rock solid number must be based on actual evidence, like sightings, droppings, shed feathers, individual song counts, and stuff like that, right? Nope. He’s pulling that number right out of his you know what, based on how many of these birds he thinks the habitat can sustain.

That’s like looking at an apartment building and guessing how many people are inside, assuming that every unit is occupied. But as we know in the real world, there are some buildings that are nearly empty. There are some buildings that are well past capacity. The point is, what an area can hold is by no means an indication of what is actually inside.

Not to mention, after spending 20 some years looking for one of these birds, you’d think if there were 4,000 of these little buggers flying around on an isolated island, he’d have run across a few long before now, right?

Well, to be clear, from his own follow-up article (which reeks of “methinks thou doth protest too much”) where he tries to explain why he killed the rare bird, here’s how he came up with that lofty figure…apparently during his expedition on the island, he “estimate[ed] three pairs and possible offspring” in the research area by how many calls the team heard. At one point, they “detected” three of these birds in a glen…presumably by their calls, since he would have said “observed” or “caught sight of” or something similar if they had been seen.

So. After searching the whole island, he didn’t manage to actually see any birds, but instead heard maybe a total of six.  And this is of course assuming his team could differentiate the varying calls (I bring this up, not to question their credentials, but rather because the bird’s calls are not well-known, so mistakes could easily be made I would think).  In fact, with the captured bird, Filardi made the first ever recording of a male Guadalcanal Moustached Kingfisher’s call.

Okay, so…from the 6 birds (detected from calls, not sight), Filardi then calculated a population of 4,000 birds based on his own assumptions regarding the total suitable habitat. I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, this is not especially strong evidence on which to justify the killing of one of perhaps only six birds actually observed to exist.

He also takes the word of the locals on the island and attempts to use it as scientific evidence. The locals have told him that they’re “unremarkably common” to see. However, these people are not expert ornithologists. There have been plenty of times when I thought I saw a fox sparrow and it turned out to be a lark sparrow, or thought I saw a yellow-bellied sapsucker and instead it was a red-bellied woodpecker. All I’m saying is that sometimes our eyes deceive us. Passing along an execution sentence based on unreliable eyewitness accounts does not fly inside the court of law, so why should it fly outside? And…AND…we run into the same problem as before…if the birds are so “unremarkably common,” why has it taken 20 some odd years for Filardi or any scientist to capture one?

Official records (you know, using actual data and such) state that there are only 250–1,000 of these birds in existence. I guess that should be adjusted to 249–999.

Well, Mr. Filardi, congratulations! Go you! You got your “unicorn” (the word he himself used to describe the bird he killed). Let’s just hope you don’t run into an actual unicorn or I’m sure its enchanted horn will be sawed off and sitting in a drawer in your museum’s basement not long after the two of you meet.

 

Illustration: J G Keulemans (1842 - 1912), Novitates Zoologicae

Illustration by:   J G Keulemans  (1842 – 1912);  Novitates Zoologicae

 

 

Idiot Hunter (No, Not That One)

I know I rant a lot about trophy hunters, but the subject fires me up, so bear (pun!) with me because my blood is boiling yet again from the actions of another bloodthirsty member of the human race.

By now I think we’ve all heard about the killing of Cecil the lion by the fearsome loathsome Minnesota dentist who lured the lion out of his protected area so he could be slaughtered. I’m not going into that. I have someone else I want to talk about.

If you haven’t heard of Sabrina Corgatelli, well, she’s a piece of work. Her hunting philosophy is so riddled with holes you’d think that she hunted it herself.  She’s been jumped on by quite a few people due to her outrageous activities, so she felt the need to defend herself. The article about her “defense” can be found here and, wow, is she delusional. So delusional in fact I don’t even know if she is of sound enough mind to even own a firearm.

Let’s go through my top three complaints with her hunting philosophy:

1) As she says, “…giraffes are very dangerous animals. They could hurt you seriously very quickly.” Yup, that’s always been something that’s kept me up at night. How many kids in Africa are killed each year on their way to school because a horde of maniacal giraffes decided to go on yet another one of their notorious murderous rampages? Sharks, velociraptors, king cobras. They’re child’s play compared to what we all know about giraffes. I guess that’s why they have such thick glass at the zoos we all visit. These homicidal beasts that attack without provocation must be eliminated before they can cause more harm to the human race! Please, Sabrina, end their tyranny over the African savannah once and for all. What a load of BS. I’m sure they could hurt you. Hell, most anything could hurt you. But outside of leaves on tall trees, I’ve never heard of anything being terrified of a giraffe.

2) Quoting the Bible was one of her go-tos. Now, I’m not anti-religion at all. Please don’t think I’m speaking down at the Bible. I’m just not so sure that a passage from Genesis should be taken so literally. Besides, even if it is taken literally, it doesn’t even say that we should be hunting for fun. In fact, it very clearly states that hunting should only be used for survival purposes. “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.” “…go out to the field and hunt game for me.” I have a tough time believing that it was hunger that drove Sabrina to kill a giraffe, an impala, and a wildebeest. She’s never heard of Safeway? Until I see photographs of her eating every last morsel of meat off that giraffe I’m calling B.S. on her Bible excuse.

3) Last but not least, check out the caption for her one photo: “My Impala I got today!! What a beautiful animal!” So beautiful that it’s gotta be removed from the planet!? How does this make sense? Does her brain seriously work in a way where when she sees something “beautiful” the first thought that follows is how great it would be to erase it from existence? That’s like finding a never before seen Monet painting and immediately burning it. Why? Because it’s beautiful! Was the impala butt ugly when it was alive and only death released its beauty? I simply don’t understand how beauty and death go hand in hand. Or more importantly, how beauty and life DON’T go hand in hand for her.

She also claims that she respects the animals she kills. What the hell? I respect a great deal of people. I don’t think I’ll be killing any of them. In my mind killing is the ultimate form of disrespect you can perpetrate on another living being, animals included. How exactly is killing something showing respect? Exactly how does that make sense? Go into work tomorrow and tell your boss, “Why yes, I have the utmost respect for you sir, so I’ll be shooting you with a high-powered rifle while you enjoy your lunch today. Because I respect you so much. Oh, and you’re beautiful. You’re just so beautiful and I respect you. So you must die.”  Why not just be honest with yourself and say you enjoy killing for killing’s sake? Which is what it all boils down to…

Long story short, Sabrina is an idiot. Why? Besides what I already wrote above, this quote from Sir Roger Moore (a man whom I respect, but will not attempt to kill) says it best:

“In a world with boundless opportunities for amusement, it’s detestable that anyone would choose to get thrills from killing others who ask for nothing from life but the chance to remain alive.”

If only everyone shared this view.

Here There Be Sharks

It’s been shark month on Syfy and I love it because I really enjoy inane Syfy movies. Usually the goofier they are, the more I enjoy them and I seek out the ones with the crazy titles figuring they have the best hope of being the cheesiest movies (with bad acting and computer graphics even I might be capable of pulling off).  Of course they had Sharknado 3 – Oh Hell No!, which was disappointingly stupid (and I went into it knowing it would be idiotic, but it was just too much and I couldn’t even finish it), but they also had classics like Zombie Shark (which lived up to its name, trust me), Robot Shark (UFO meets shark, it was great), Sharktopus vs Pteracuda, and the follow-up Sharktopus, both equally dimwitted movies.  Needless to say, I’ve been having a ball with my guilty pleasure t.v. watching.

Of course sharks are a popular “villain” in movies because pretty much everyone is afraid of sharks. And Syfy plays that up by making them even worse – they add tentacles and alien powers and have scientists turn them into mutant monsters that can take huge bites out of the Golden Gate Bridge. It makes for fun movies since Syfy is so completely over the top with it, but sharks themselves are amazing creatures.

I love sharks and I hate sharks. I saw Jaws in a drive-in theater when I was young (I still harbor a grudge against my parents for taking me) and the scene where the head popped out of the sunken boat scared me to death. And of course (with no shark in sight during the scene) it made me afraid of sharks. I still am wary about the ocean but I’m not sure if that’s because of sharks or because I just don’t like the idea of swimming in a huge fish tank. At any rate, as I got older I grew to love sharks. I love the way they look, their history, the whole bit. They are fascinating animals. The only thing I don’t like is when I get suckered into a Discovery Channel t.v. show and see one eating a seal.  But otherwise, I’m good.

If you’ve got a smart phone…or even if you don’t, you can track sharks. Pretty cool, right? My daughter turned me on to this app.  Now I have her giving me updates like Big Ben chiming the time throughout the day.  Where’s Perth today?  Or Ningaloo?  What about Ningaloo!?  For the love of God tell me he has pinged!

The OCEARCH team (OCEARCH.org) has tagged a lot of sharks to track their movements.  When one of the sharks surfaces, the tracker tag “pings,” letting people with this app (Global SharkTracker) know their location.  The app consists of a map of the entire world, with little dots identifying where the tagged sharks are. They offer the same thing on their website.

You can track the sharks by name (from Adelaide, Al and Albert all the way to Wyatt, Yolanda and Zac), by their gender or their stage of life (immature, mature or “undetermined”).

You can see photos of them and see details – their species, length, weight, the day they were tagged and the location where they were tagged…and even more cool, just how many miles they have traveled since they were tagged.  Let me tell you, some of these sharks get around!

Click on the “Where have I been?” button and you’ll be able to see the migratory pattern of each of these sharks.

Sharks be crazy,” to paraphrase Sheldon of the Big Bang Theory.  And they seem to be!  Some are ‘sharks on a mission’ – they go in an absolute straight line to get from point A to B…because they’re all business and no fun. No time for side trips.

Then there are others that meander about in a very small area – they like it close to home and don’t want to venture out into the wild blue.

And then…then there are the nutty ones.  These are my favorites (of course, right!?).  These sharks look like they’re on some kind of a major caffeine trip because they’re just all over the place.  It looks like you gave a pen to a toddler and told them to draw some majorly complicated picture and you come away with this chaotic scribbly mess.

I’ve chosen a few of my favorites to show you the different sharks and different patterns.  So anyway, if you like sharks, like me, or are just interested in sharks, you should check out the app or go to their website (you can see the map and “pings” there too).  I warn you though; it can be quite addictive to see where your faves are spending their time and waiting to see where they’re going to surface next.

Madeline 9 Ft Tiger Shark

Madeline 9 Ft Tiger Shark

 

Mary Lee 16.5 Ft Great White Shark

Mary Lee 16.5 Ft Great White Shark

 

Ningaloo_12Ft Tiger Shark

Ningaloo 12 Ft Tiger Shark

 

Trinity 10 Ft Tiger Shark

Trinity 10 Ft Tiger Shark

Once Upon a Time There Were Rhinos

Hang your heads in shame, patriots. The hunt is on. Remember my previous post about Corey Knowlton, America’s poster boy for wildlife conservation? Well, he’s finally gotten approval from the US Fish and Wildlife Service to bring back—as a trophy—the critically endangered black rhino he paid the Namibian government $350,000 to wipe off the face of the earth. It’s basically the US government giving him the thumbs up for helping to annihilate a species.

Of course Mr. Knowlton (so tough to type out his name, my fingers start to ball up into fists when I get halfway through) isn’t going to prance around in a black mask and black cape and tell you he’s a horrible, rotten, no-good villain. He’s still trying to desperately spin his bloodlust into some positive PR routine so that people will believe he’s actually helping the conservation efforts of the rhino. Uh huh. Killing to save lives, you say? Who would fall for such a ridiculously hypocritical stance? Oh, our government. I kid, I kid. Truth is our government wasn’t fooled by Knowlton at all, they were simply bought. Apparently hundreds of thousands of dollars can buy just about anything these days.  As if we didn’t know that already.

I know Knowlton says that the money he paid for the hunt is for aiding the anti-poaching and conservation efforts, but my original question still stands:  Why not just donate the money? I wish someone would slap him up side the head tap him on the shoulder and tell him his money is still good, even if he doesn’t kill something critically endangered just for the chance to hang its head on his wall.

click photo for info

click photo for some actual facts on the whole mess