Wednesday, February 28, 2007
People can't seem to imagine what is involved in making such a lifestyle change, which I understand, as a few months ago I felt much the same. So I thought I would spend a post on the mechanics of change, the nitty gritty as opposed to the philosophical, and share a few thoughts I've had over two months of trying to make this radical lifestyle change.
1. I approached it by first trying to locate vegetarian recipes online and in cookbooks and try things that looked appealing but had little or no meat in them - tons of soups, some pasta dishes, and bean burritos all worked well. After a few weeks of eating little to no meat it begins to seem possible to get along without it.
2. I then began to "veganize" the vegetarian recipes by substituting olive oil for butter, vegetable broth for chicken broth, soy milk and soy yogurt for their dairy alternatives, and finding egg substitutes (like commercial egg replacer, ground flax seed, etc. - you can find several options searching online for substitutes). I also began to try a few vegan recipes I found online.
3. Each week I made several new recipes we hadn't tried before, and began learning how to use new ingredients, like new kinds of beans, different vegetables, etc. I also began trying vegan recipes off the web, to see if they were edible (they were). We are now at the stage of trying meat substitutes, like textured vegetable protein, boca burgers, & vegan cheese alternatives.
4. After awhile of eating hardly any meat, I was shocked to find that I could no longer stand the smell of cooking meat - even though I still loved the taste. I had planned to phase out meat by using up what we had in the freezer over a period of months, and by buying only organic, humanely raised and humanely slaughtered meat from verifiable sources. Instead, I ended up giving away most of the meat in the freezer, and/or cooking it for the dogs. We have very, very little left to use and I am not planning to replace it when it's gone.
5. I was tempted to cheat a few times, but only did twice, in that twice I did cave and eat meat when I was craving it. I found, however, that I only cheated when I did not have a meal plan made ahead of time and I was very stressed and very hungry. There have been several other times when I found myself without a plan and I went vegetarian, but not vegan. It's still very hard to think of what you can eat when in a hurry at a restaurant or when you have 10 minutes to throw together something in your kitchen before being late to work. Pre-planning meals is definitely a key as you know exactly what you are having and you don't get tempted to cheat.
6. Dairy is not any less appealing to me yet - I still love butter and vegan margarine isn't a satisfying substitute. I love bleu cheese and there is no "vegan version" going to come close. But, I am trying the vegan alternatives and finding they are okay - not as good, but perfectly okay - and then it comes down to thinking about the big picture. Yes, I COULD have butter instead of soybean margarine, but what about the baby dairy cows that get tossed aside, and the poor cow whose life is miserable? Literally thinking about it makes the butter sacrifice seem insignificant. (Cheese is harder - so far I am not buying it as if I don't have it around, I can't cheat and eat it).
I have come to look at food differently. Instead of what do I want to eat (a steak, mashed potatoes with butter & sour cream, and cake with buttercream frosting for dessert) I think in terms of what do I want the money I spend on groceries this week to support? Instead of focusing on my habits and desires and cravings I try to focus on making a tiny difference with each choice and look at the big picture. Sure, I WANT steak on some level, but on another level I want to learn tofu recipes I like and enjoy eating so nothing dies for my selfish pleasure. And the potatoes with margarine and vegan sour cream substitute are going to be almost as good and actually healthier for me. Vegan cake is do-able - frosting I am still working on.
Everyone makes changes differently, and what works for me may not work for anyone else. But I am tired of hearing the excuses about why change is too hard and comments like "I could never do that." The simple truth is we can all make changes, and telling yourself you can't is just making an excuse for why you won't. If you don't want to change, that is certainly your choice - but I do. I like being more aware of daily choices and their impacts. The biggest surprise has been that it is not as hard as I feared it would be.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
If you missed the documentary "The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill," you ought to consider adding it to your Netflix queue. The film follows the parrots, which are not native to San Francisco, but have made a life for themselves there. At some point parrots were caught in the wild and they either were "released" or "escaped" into the City. They banded into a small flock of parrots and began mating and giving birth to new parrots on U.S. soil. While it's true they are not endemic, the film did not report any ill effects on endemic species caused by the parrots.
After the film and a book by the same name, the parrots have become a tourist attraction. Kudos to the City of San Francisco for making an effort to protect the trees the parrots call home. While I wish that no parrots had ever been captured and sold as pets, it's nice that these escapees have made new, happy lives for themselves and are enjoying their freedom - even though they would probably prefer a lush rainforest to San Francisco.
Monday, February 26, 2007
Female hyenas are slightly larger than males and are dominant. Females stay in the natal group they were born into and have very strict pecking orders. Males generally leave the pack when mature and hope to join another pack and earn breeding rights. Packs are composed of both males and females, and defend territories. Cubs are very competitive, and cubs are often cannibalized by other members of the pack. Unlike many species, the mother foes not bring back food and regurgitate it for the pups, and the other clan members do not help raise the pups. Perhaps because of this, pups nurse a lot longer than the young of other similar species.
Hyenas scavenge kills of cheetahs, lions, and other predators when they can, but they are also awesome hunters in their own right, and in fact most of their diet comes from live kills. Hyenas have tremendous jaw strength and can crush and chew bones. They eat so much bone that hyena scat is almost a pure, chalky white and looks like hardened, bleached dog poop.
Hyenas compete with lions. If a pack is large enough, they can actually drive lions off a kill. If they don't outnumber lions though, the lions win. Most hyena kills are actually lone kills, but when larger prey is at stake, they hunt in packs. While they look most like dogs, they are actually more closely related to meerkats than to African Wild Dogs. In captivity they are easily tamed.
I was lucky enough to find this hyena in the photo lazing around near a mud patch in the Serengeti. All the hyenas I came across were wallowing in mud or shallow pools to keep cool, and saving their energy. Usually we were able to get within 3-4 feet of them before they took off, but they did flee much before most of the other animals we found, suggesting an abundance of caution. Although they are a much-maligned animal, I found them to be among the most interesting to watch, and you have to admire the niche they have carved for themselves in a very competitive environment.
For information on research and conservation programs, as well as photos and general information about hyenas, visit this page of the African Wildlife Foundation.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
I won't rant about animal testing here, I'll just point out that we as a society value informed consent and freedom immensely. For every medical procedure there are requirements that the patient be informed of the risks, and for every drug, and we have developed all sorts of warning labels. If you go on a raft trip, you sign a release that you know it's dangerous, and you want to do it anyway. Animals don't consent to experiments - and most we can't communicate with well enough to ask them. Yet with chimps and gorillas, we can - if we bother to teach them sign language. We actually have the ability to ask them questions, and who knows, maybe they would volunteer to be stuck with a needle if it might help. I have no doubt that Koko, the compassionate and articulate gorilla, might be ok with getting stuck with a needle if she saw someone with Alzheimer's and was told the testing might help that person. She's prove time and again her compassion for mankind, so you never know. But if we aren't going to obtain consent, or even try, let's leave the animals alone, let's be ethically consistent, not assume they are not worthy of respect.
At Sweetwaters Nature Preserve in Kenya, there is a Jane Goodall Chimp Preserve, which I was looking forward to visiting. It turned out to be one of the most depressing stops of the trip. Each chimp has been rescued from the "pet trade" or a bush meat market, or some other horrific and traumatic past. Like abused children, the chimps obviously carry this trauma with them, and you can see it in their eyes. It's so horrible what people do to animals (and one another for that matter), it's hard to think about. In the preserve, the chimps are divided into two family groups separated by a river (they don't like to cross water).
A new fence had been recently completed, and it was extensive - very high, sloping inward at the top, with electric wires...it was prison-like. The guards explained that they had to construct it because the chimps kept breaking out. Like us, they value freedom, and they kept trying for prison breaks, climbing trees, trying to use sticks to construct bridges to go over the fence, climbing the fence, and basically doing everything they could to get out. But they had become resigned to their prison, and depressed - it showed.
Despite the past trauma and the current confinement, there was another problem: all the chimps were on birth control. The females had an implant that was changed every few years, preventing pregnancy. The chimps of course don't know why they are not reproducing, and in chimp culture babies are a huge group bonding resource and a source of joy. Chimps compete to hold or be near the baby (I saw baboons do this too with a newborn, and their complete joy and desire to be the one touching or holding the baby was extremely blatant). These chimps keep trying and never have a baby. For all they know it's like the recent movie Children of Men where the world has gone infertile and there are no more children. (Everyone gets depressed, society degenerates, and a childless world is a bleak and hopeless one). The movie could just as well have been inspired by looking at these childless chimps, living in a world with no babies, wondering what the heck is going on.
I was startled to the core when I first heard a chimp scream. It was this chimp in the photo, screaming as he climbed a tree to look around - and it was a warning cry of some kind that meant "Danger!" I know that, though I don't know how - but it was like a language you have heard before and don't remember all the words to, but you do know one here and there. It strikes something deep inside you and you know instantly, the same way that when you look into the eyes of a lion in the wild you know you are not really on top of the food chain without your weapons - the lion is. Your brain is well aware of this. It remembers somehow that lions are to be feared and that the chimp's danger call is to be heeded (it could mean warning: lion!, after all).
There is no doubt in my mind that Jane Goodall is a wonderful scientist and a compassionate woman and that she is doing a great thing in saving chimps and giving them sanctuaries and in educating the world about their plight and their humanity, as best she can. But I also don't doubt that if she saw how depressed the Sweetwaters chimps are, maybe she would re-think the birth control, or otherwise try to come up with something to make their eyes sparkle again - some toys, or teaching them and their captors ASL so they could talk to each other, or something.
I am hoping to see chimps in the wild, in their natural habitat, in the next few months. I hope it will be a stark contrast to the captives. Chimps are fascinating, but also share mankind's bad traits: anger, jealousy, envy, violence, greed. Chimps have been known to lead war parties to take rival territory and to kill and even eat rival chimps from other groups. They can also be terrible to one another, picking on each other and bullying like on the worst school playground. You don't have to learn much about them to see just how much like us they really are. We are supposed to be more evolved than they are...but sadly, we don't always act that way.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Apparently the legislation is an update to the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992, updated in 2002. CNN reports: "'The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement,' said John Lewis, an FBI deputy assistant director and top official in charge of domestic terrorism." Yes, it's not the anti-abortion activists or the extreme right-wing militia groups or the homophobic hate groups, or any other groups that commit violence in the name of their "cause," it's the "eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement."
There are no doubt some extreme animal rights and environmental groups who engage in illegal activities, and no doubt there are instances of breaking into labs, destroying equipment, stealing animals, etc. Those actions are of course illegal, and have been illegal, even before the 1992 Act specific to animal enterprises. When the government labels environmentalists or animal rights activists as "terrorists," or while under investigation, "potential terrorists" then the Patriot Act kicks in. Thanks to the Patriot Act, the government can do almost anything in the name of "fighting terrorism," in some cases without warrants or court oversight. Fear of terrorism after 9/11 resulted in a Patriot Act which gives broad power to government, undermines civil liberties, and takes a giant step backward legally in all kinds of ways.
So, by branding animal activists and environmentalists as "terrorists," arguably government has vastly expanded its tools to investigate and conduct surveillance on groups and people associated with them.
While I certainly do not and will not condone violence or illegal activities by environmentalist, animal rights activists, or anyone else, all groups who promote change take unpopular positions, most conduct demonstrations, many conduct undercover or whistleblower type activities, and generally speaking, all seek to expose and change practices they disagree with. If there was a Domestic Anti-Terrorism Act that dealt with all extremist groups even-handedly, you can bet there would be a lively public debate about it, a lot of media coverage, and some strong opposition. But how much did you hear about the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act before it was passed?
If you review the testimony considered by Congress, it appears that the main proponents of this legislation are animal testing companies and labs, those who support factory farming, and generally those who are targeted by animal rights groups because they are abusing animals. They don't want to be interfered with, or to have their profits interfered with. Past legislation did not deter illegal activity so they want more legislation. Naturally the underlying issue of the treatment of animals is not addressed, just how to handle the extremists who try, inappropriately, to address the problem through illegal means. Unfortunately, the bill is not specific to violence, it's much broader.
Want to know if your Representative voted for the Act? Too bad. There was a voice vote in the House so you'll never know who voted how. You can be assured your Senator voted for it though, as it was unanimous.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Topi are interesting looking antelope found in Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, South Africa and Chad. They are taller at the shoulder than at the hip, with dark faces, dark shoulders and a dark patch on their hips. The babies are all tan.
Male topi like to climb to the top of termite hills to look around and keep watch on the surrounding plains. You can sometimes see a row of topi stretching far into the horizon, each a few feet apart on a termite mound, some facing each way. The photo to the left shows three topi on mounds, with a few in the surrounding field, and was taken in the Masai Mara in southern Kenya.
The photo to the right is a small herd of females with youngsters. Males generally hold territories and females are usually found in small groups with babies. However, thousands may migrate together during annual migrations.
Topi are known for speed, but their distinctive mound-sentry position is also notable. Their eyes are like goat eyes. Females have developed the ability to delay labor if they sense danger is present. Topi rub their horns on the ground and will use their hooves to spread mud on themselves. They eat only grass, and if the grass is dry, they need daily access to water, though if the grass is green they can go without drinking water for some time.
Monday, February 19, 2007
These 13 parks are described on Gabon's National Parks website. National Geographic sent a team to travel the new parks, and they reported that the wildlife was amazing, but harder to spot than on more traditional savanna safaris like those in Kenya and Tanzania. You can see some of their photos and read their comments here. Gabon has thick, lush forests and is reportedly some of the most pristine wildlife habitat left in the world.
Although Gabon is well positioned to become one of the world's top eco-tourism destinations, at the present time it is still relatively undeveloped and not packed with tourists. In many ways it remains off the radar, undoubtedly to be discovered by the masses soon. It is difficult to think of another place you could go in Africa where there is political stability, and a chance to see forest elephants, mandrills (pictured above), and lowland gorillas.
Gabon is mostly lush tropical forests, with few cities and even few wildlife trails. There are a number of companies offering custom safaris with local guides in Gabon, and undoubtedly the tourist industry will grow. Gabon's President made a conscious choice to move from logging and oil drilling to wildlife protection and eco-tourism. As National Geographic reported in the article linked above:
The Gabonese parks reflect a visionary decision grounded in economic pragmatism. After decades of heavy reliance on petroleum and timber industries, Mr. Bongo said, "we are left with little oil in the ground, a fragmented forest, dwindling income, and a burden of debt." The next growth sector of his nation's economy, he vowed, would be "one based on enjoying, not extracting, natural resources.In part, Gabon's President Bongo made his decision based on information gathered during a 2,000 mile walk across Gabon made by biologist and conservationist J. Michael Fay. (As hard-core as it gets). Fay was gored by an elephant a few months later, in early 2003, but he survived (see account here). It will be very interesting to see what happens in Gabon in the years to come - and hopefully to get there someday before the rush of tourists.
Friday, February 16, 2007
He eventually climbed me and took a nap under my chin. I was talked into adopting him, because his "cat people" owners told me he had a ton of personality and he was going to be a lot of fun and very low-maintenance. They were actually right about this. Compared to dogs, a cat was pure simplicity. Having no idea how to raise one, however, he was basically treated like a dog. He came to work with me. He rode everywhere in the car. He learned to come, sit, fetch, and walk on a leash. He went camping with us, and liked to curl up inside the foot of the sleeping bag. He loved to hunt field mice, birds and bugs. It wasn't long before he outgrew the leash because I couldn't stand it when he took off up a tree and ended up getting brought down when he hit the leash's end abruptly. He didn't need a leash or harness because he always comes when called, no matter what.
He is allowed outside during the day, and we have three acres that he patrols and treats as his personal hunting grounds. I was surprised to see him riding my quarter horse, Buster, on more than one occasion, as he doesn't like to get his feet wet. He sits on the horse's rump where it's warm, lies there for a nap, and even rolls on his back - I keep trying to get a picture of this and never have a camera out at the right moment.
I was also surprised to learn that all delivery people, including Fed Ex, UPS, U.S. Mail, know him by name, as do the neighbors. Apparently he loves to climb in delivery trucks and get a ride around the block from time to time. He also likes to sit on the roof of the carport and jump down and surprise certain visitors who are not expecting it. He goes visiting and is friendly enough to show his name tag to everyone he gets close to.
Oscar is completely self-assured. Once we had five strange dogs in the house and he sat in a circle with them on the floor, aiming for his share of treats. He goes right up to strangers to check them out, never one to hide, even from the vacuum. We often raise foster kittens, and Oscar teaches them how to stalk and hunt. I have noticed that when playing with a flicker toy, I flick it three times and Oscar lets the kitten play with it, then he takes three turns for himself. Why three, I don't know, but he can clearly count to three.
I could not ask for a cat with a better nature or personality. Neat, independent, affectionate, smart, and a great hunter, he is a wonderful ambassador to the species. He was so convincing that three other cats eventually came to live with us permanently as well, and for the last three years, we take between 12 and 50 foster kittens each season and raise them until they get adopted. If I had started with some of the other cats I've come to know, I would have stopped at one, but Oscar was such a joy, he made it hard to imagine having a cat as anything but pleasant. When possible, I save the birds and mice he catches. When not possible, I am glad that he doesn't seem to ever eat them, he leaves them looking peaceful, but lifeless, on the back step. I have to accept that owning carnivores means they will sometimes hunt. (When hunting is slow, he leaves a play mouse on the doorsill, clearly an offering).
Oscar will be four years old in a few months, and weighs 13 pounds. He is the King of Cats at our house, and has a very happy life. Hopefully we will have many more years together. Today, a Friday cat blog day, marks his first appearance on the blog - so consider yourself formally introduced. He will probably be back.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Don't sit by because you think it won't matter - you have nothing to lose by trying but a little time. Plus, remember that no meaningful change ever came about easily, in this country or anywhere else. If you are depressed about how things are going, kick yourself into action now, because time is of the essence. Idaho is now wanting to sell hunting tags for a mere $9.75 each. (If they could, they'd probably vote to go back to the old days of paying hunters to kill wolves).
That said, what can you do? First, if you want to, you can start by reading the official proposal to de-list the wolves as printed in the Federal Register, click here. You can also read the Idaho Fish and Game Departments commentary on Idaho wolf management here. For more information on
1. There is a 90 day comment period to comment on the federal plan to de-list wolves. You can write, appear at a hearing, email or fax to comment. Let the federal government know where you stand, and why. Don't just say you love wolves. Talk about why you think the plan to de-list them, knowing there are plans to hunt them in both Idaho and Wyoming, is wrong. Whether you talk about the progress made that will be undone, the money spent that will be wasted, the prejudice of the locals now unchecked by the feds, other ways to balance the population, limits to be placed on numbers to be hunted, or other ideas, try to be specific. Comments that appear too passionate tend to get ignored more than those that are carefully and rationally presented and argued. Comments from the public are encouraged on this proposal to delist the northern
2. Donate what you can to Defenders of Wildlife, or another charity of your choice which is actively working to protect the wolves in a meaningful way. (See yesterday's post on researching charities).
3. Write a letter to the editor or call your local radio talk show and express your views, encouraging others to participate...or send emails, letters, tell your friends, put it on your blog, etc. Just do what you can to get the word out about the problem and ask for others to help participate too. There need to be lots of public comments on the de-listing program before the deadline or the "pro-wolf folks" will be considered a tiny minority. Help people learn how to comment and about the comment deadline.
4. Attend a public meeting on the proposal and comment. The Boise meeting will be held March 6, at the Boise Convention Center on the Grove, 850 W. Front St., Boise. Public meetings will run from 3 to 5 p.m., including brief presentations on the proposal at 3 and 4 p.m. Fish and Wildlife officials will take formal public comments during public hearings from 6 to 8 p.m. in each location.Other meeting times and locations are listed here.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I was in the store the other day, marveling at how it wasn't even Valentine's Day yet and they are already putting out Easter stuff. As I strolled the aisles I was struck by all the junk laid out for people to buy. Lots of stuffed animals in pink, red and white which will probably not be enjoyed much past V-Day. Tons of candy and chocolate, just what an obese nation needs. Tons of cheap plastic toys and other items destined to become clutter and garbage within days of receipt. The Easter stuff was just as bad. I wondered how much money Americans will be spending on junk this holiday, and what it would take (if it's even possible) to get them to make other choices, maybe even giving to charity what they would spend on some not-needed item.
It didn't used to bother me, I guess because I grew up in America, used to constant materialism and a land of plenty. Although I was raised in a poor family, we had the basics we needed. I considered myself pretty thrifty and not materialistic. I don't really like shopping, I keep cars and clothes alike at least 10 years, and I am not really impressed by physical items. (I never want to own a diamond, in any form, or a fancy car...none of that holds any appeal). So, in my own mind anyway, I was not particularly materialistic or particularly wealthy. I gave to charities here and there, but not on a monthly basis or as a way of life - more like impulse donations in response to mailings or issues. Then I saw Kenya, and that changed all my perceptions.
It's stunning to see people who have literally NOTHING - no homes, no clothes, no jobs, no prospects, no food, no electricity, no roads, no power, no running water. Just nothing, period. And yet, they are out there, in droves. And many of them find ways to survive. Some get clothes or build huts of paper and sticks or trek 50 miles with a donkey to bring back water. Some just die. The problems seem to come about when traditional tribal villages are abandoned and people head to the cities in hope of a job or a better life, only to find that they are far worse off without the protections and traditions of the village they knew.
All of the tribal villages I saw were very happy, with dung huts, traditional loincloths, some goats and some cattle, some spears and primitive tools. They had next to nothing, in many cases lacking education as well as possessions, yet they had very decent living conditions and a thriving culture and frankly, a very admirable society. It was like a trip back in time; they were living the way they did hundreds of years ago, and still doing well following their traditions.
Seeing these things I suddenly felt my life was way too cluttered. I'm not tossing out the dining room table, but I came back with a desire to go through and get rid of a lot of things. And I have a new perspective on charity altogether; now it's a regular, planned part of my life. But, I wanted to make sure every dollar I gave was well used. I definitely won't give to any religiously affiliated group, as I saw egregious abuses of church "charities" throughout Kenya. So, I did some research on each charity and put together a portfolio of charities that protect and conserve wildlife and habitat, and help the most oppressed people in the world.
To research charities, there are at least three websites where you can obtain ratings and look at how your dollars are used: Charity Navigator, Guidestar.org, and Give.org. I personally like Charity Navigator best, as they assemble the information into an easy to use star rating system and I like their formatting and searching capabilities best. All will give you the raw data you need to see how money is being used.
Personally, I settled on the charities listed below to support to further my goals. I cancelled caller ID and satellite TV and some magazine subscriptions and so forth and re-allocated the money to charities in order to give throughout the year, not once in awhile.
African Wildlife Foundation - a four star charity focusing on both habitat and species conservation
Animal Legal Defense Fund - three star charity, focused on using the legal system to protect abused animals and improve their conditions
Best Friends Animal Society - three star charity and a leading no-kill animal sanctuary
Cheetah Conservation Fund - specific to cheetah preservation
Defenders of Wildlife - three star charity dedicated to wildlife protection
Environmental Defense Fund - three star charity dedicated to environmental protection
International Rescue Committee - three star charity helping the world's most oppressed people
Nature Conservancy - four star charity preserving habitat
Rainforest Alliance - three star charity, focus on preserving rainforests and the species within
Sierra Club - not a non-profit, as they do lobbying on behalf of animals and habitat preservation
World Wildlife Fund - three star charity dedicated to helping wildlife
It would be nice if, on Valentine's Day, instead of buying tacky garbage, people gave gifts of love to others by donating to charities they care about. After all, there are plenty of ways to show love for those around you without buying them more stuff.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
On my first night drive at Lewa, we encountered three cheetahs sleeping in a row (two are in this frame). They were seven when I saw them, and that's remarkable, as their mother died when they were four months old. Unlike other bi cats, cheetahs rely heavily on learning hunting skills from their mothers for about two years before going off alone. Generally they are solitary. These three cheetah brothers of Lewa were orphaned, yet they managed to survive, on their own, and they stuck together. They are able to compete with lions and leopards and get enough food, and stay out of harm's way. They are also very striking, beautiful animals, and since their story is unusual, they appear in many Lewa photographs and marketing materials.
About a year after I saw them, I was watching a program on Animal Planet and saw these cheetahs featured, referred to as the three cheetah brothers of Lewa Downs. I noticed on the nature shows that many of the animals I have met and the places I have been are featured. There are so few amazing and wild places left in the world that you can see African big game. In a way it's cool that I can recognize the actual cheetahs I saw in person on TV, and in a way it's sad - I wish there were thousands more of them and I was seeing others on TV. Cheetahs have a tough time, and at one time were almost extinct. They have very little genetic variation, and a high rate of abnormal sperm, likely due to past inbreeding. Some suggest that at one time the cheetah breeding population was down to about 50 animals, so all the cheetahs alive today have DNA from those 50. While that number is debatable, there is no question that there was a bottleneck in the species in the past and that all cheetahs alive today have very little genetic variation.
Cheetahs are endangered, with less than 12,000 in the wild. They do not breed well in captivity. Cheetahs do not threaten humans and they are easily tamed. I had the chance to pet a few of them at the Nairobi orphanage. They were about two years old, and I was surprised at how rough their coats were - sort of wire haired. They have a great purr that is very loud and sounds almost like a growl at first. They are like dog sized cats - they love belly rubs, attention and petting, and I was completely in love with them and wishing desperately that I lived in Africa and could take in an orphan in need and raise it so I could be close to such a majestic and incredible animal for years and years. (I recommend the movie Duma if you like cheetahs).
If you are wondering why all the African animals lately, well I'm looking forward to going back to Kenya in a few months, and sort of fearing Uganda a bit safety-wise. Thinking about how amazing Africa and its animals are helps me to conquer any fears for my own safety, and also to stay motivated to exercise and try to shape up for the long journey. (I hate exercise, as a general rule, but I can force myself if I have a greater goal). I have a hard time putting into words how amazing the last trip was, but I am enjoying sharing little pieces here and there.
The Cheetah Conservation Fund, based in Namibia, has a great program for cheetah conservation. In addition to working directly with cheetahs, they work with farmers and train guard dogs to protect livestock and scare cheetahs off so farmers don't kill them. For more information, or to donate to a worthy cause, visit their website.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Only the males have horns. This photo, taken in Samburu National Park, Kenya, is of a lovely female. Gerenuk have small heads and large ears, and very narrow, long necks, but otherwise have antelope looking bodies. They are not currently endangered but they do suffer a loss of habitat, like almost all animals today.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Although this can be tough to watch, not watching it means living in denial about where pre-packaged meat at the grocery store comes from. Though I love meat, learning about what REALLY happens to animals has helped me not want to eat them anymore...and watching videos like this one prevents me from being tempted to pick up a burger or fried chicken when hungry.
Although you may want to turn away, instead of turning a blind eye to what's happening, why not spend 12 minutes watching this video and then really think about whether these are practices that you want to support next time you go shopping. Seriously. I dare you to watch until the end.
Friday, February 9, 2007
As I mentioned in my first post, in 2007 I decided to try and pay more attention - A LOT more attention - to my food choices. I had some specific goals (detailed later herein). Overall I feel like it's going well, but it has been a major shift, and many people have commented "How could you try to be vegetarian or vegan when you hate vegetables?" Yep, it's hard...but not as hard as I expected , all things considered. So I wanted to review what brought me to this decision and bring you up to speed on how it's going.
In all honesty, I've never been one to pay that much attention to what I eat. I like food, and I like to cook and bake, but nothing all that fancy. I was raised in a house where salt was the ONLY acceptable spice (not even pepper was allowed), and where tacos and spaghetti were considered "foreign food." My mother never met a vegetable she didn't overcook. (And It wasn't until I was 32 that I learned you weren't supposed to eat the middles of squash...she forced me to for years and I thought everyone ate them.) I spent most of my childhood trying to hide dinner in a plant, a napkin, or slip it to the dog. My most hated meal was ground beefheart sandwiches on wheat bread and dandelion salad. Eeeewww. Once a week my mom took everything leftover in the fridge and either ran it through the blender or made it into "soup." As a result I hate soup, and I hate my food to touch - I like ONE flavor at a time - the combination of things NEVER meant to go together was just soooo revolting (imagine puree of chicken, O.J., eggplant, mashed potatoes and meatloaf). I ended up sort of an anti-vegetarian - I despised vegetables, loved meat, and as soon as I left home I ate what was, in retrospect, a terribly unhealthy diet.
About five years ago I started eating veggies - starting with the classic iceberg lettuce salad. Gradually I tried new things until I developed a small list (ever expanding) of veggies I can tolerate. I don't really LOVE any of them, but some have grown on me to the point I can honestly say I actually like them. I was aiming for better balance and starting to pay attention to what I ate, but still it wasn't a big deal. I did start to try to do a few days a week of vegetarian meals to wean off meat dependency, but I admit, it was hard. I couldn’t envision a meatless entrée unless it was pasta (and even then, meat sauce was best). It bothers me that I know if I had to kill an animal, I couldn't do it - I would be a vegetarian. Yet because I can go to the grocery store and buy pre-killed, pre-packaged meat and not think about the whole killing process, I can still eat meat and live in denial. Yet even knowing this to be true, I feel incapable of going vegetarian, let alone the ultimate ideal of vegan (ultimate in that it is kindest to animals, and great for your health).
Enter the book, "The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter," by Peter Singer and Jim Mason. As a philosophy major I loved the discussion - the authors are intelligent and the book is quite informative. After learning the details behind the pre-packaged food though, I can't ethically, in good conscience, eat them any more. (The details of factory farming will knock your socks off). I don't feel up to going vegan, or even total vegetarian yet, but I will commit to the following:
1. I won't eat meat or dairy products unless I can verify the animal lived a good life, cruelty-free, with access to the outdoors, space to roam around, decent food and water, and appropriate socialization with other animals. Further, there has to be humane slaughter only.
2. I'll eat only organic produce and aim for locally grown when reasonably possible.
3. I will pay attention to fair trade and labor issues when selecting products like coffee, chocolate, etc.
4. I'll eat only sustainable seafood approved by Seafood Watch.
5. I'll follow these guidelines eating in or out, locally or on the road, with only rare exceptions (gotta allow a few free days a year to satisfy any irresistible cravings).
I have experimented with a lot of recipes and I've found that making soup 2-3 times a week works well; with some biscuits. It makes easy lunches the next day too, and I am getting used to soup, though I have always really hated it. We've experimented with some vegan biscuits, and they work well - though the thick irony is that we sometimes put butter on them. (Hey, can't transition overnight!) I have made my peace with the bean (another life-long hatred) and I am taming it into some dishes I can tolerate. I discovered a little squash called Little Dumpling that is actually sweet enough to not need butter, and isn't too squashy to gag down. I have been able to make myself eat oatmeal as long as it's laced with raisins. I have resisted temptation many times - caving only once so far. I have basically convinced myself that this can be done, that eventually I can get to the vegan world - but it will require a layover in vegetarian world, for sure. And if a vegetable hater can do it, surely anyone can.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
While thumbing through a binder in the lobby, waiting for my guide, I saw that Lewa Downs had a baby rhino, and that "arrangements can be made through your guide for you to visit." When I asked about this, I was shocked to find out that there were two babies, a black and a white rhino, and that I was going to be allowed to feed them. Throughout my trip I tried to interact with animals as much as possible without harming their well-being or mine, and I was thrilled at this prospect, and shocked at my good luck.
The black rhino, a male (Maxx), was six months old and the white rhino, a girl (Tula), was 18 months, though they were almost equal in size. A game warden brought them to a shady spot under a tree and I got to spend an hour alone with them, with my guide and a warden, of course. The bottles were several gallon water jugs with rubber nipples, and it took under five minutes for each rhino to suck down its portion.
The most surprising thing was the sound they made. The babies had a high pitched, very tiny sound to be coming out of such a big animal. They stood just over knee high on a human and were bulky in shape, but the sound could have come from a squeaky little mouse. It was a distinctive cry I've never heard captured on a nature show or anywhere else. The rhino skin was very rough, like a callous. Tiny round ticks were on their chests and legs here and there. The rhinos rolled in some mud and dust and were able to rid themselves of ticks most places, but not where the skin wrinkled. There were some small abrasions on the rhinos from rolling around, and flies were in the wounds. I wondered about that, but the warden said it was quite normal for rhinos to have such wounds and they healed fine on their own. (When I later was very close to adult rhinos, I saw this was true).
The rhinos were affectionate, and jealous, and if I was paying attention to one and rubbing and tickling, the other would cry and but its head against me or the log or the warden seeking attention. They seemed to like their underbelly rubbed, like dogs do. The female was old enough to be interested in some nearby vegetation. The handler got a hose and made a mud puddle for them to play in. They have very poor eyesight, and I was warned repeatedly that they could hit me turning their heads (but they didn't, thanks to a few jumps here and there).
These were the first rhinos I encountered on my trip, though not the last. I got to see close up the main differences between the species. Black rhinos have a triangle shaped upper lip which they use to grab leaves and vegetation off bushes. They are considered territorial and aggressive, and charge to ward off danger. They are highly endangered, poached for their large horns (there is a very long one and a shorter one) which are made of the same material as human fingernails. Apparently there is still an illegal trade, with the horn being sold as a sword sheath to wealthy Arabs or to be ground into a powder in Asia and sold as an aphrodisiac.
In contrast, white rhinos have a large, flat lip and primarily graze on grass as opposed to noshing bushes. They have two slight humps on their backs as opposed to one, and are not considered as aggressive. They are also poached, for their one large horn. They are not endangered - yet. Black and white rhinos are actually both grey in color. "White" comes from "wide," for wide lips, being interpreted and pronounced a bit wrong.
Rubbing the babies made my hands tender, as it was like rubbing against sandpaper for an extended period. Their lips were soft, though, and their ears were flexible. Each rhino had found itself alone and would have died without human intervention. Maxx had mistaken a land rover for its mother and had followed it, crying out for food and protection with his itty bitty cry. Tula was the fourth offspring of a blind rhino who had difficulty caring for her young, and she was found alone and taken in while very young. Every day the Lewa wardens took them for walks in the park and over time they would be acclimated to survival without human assistance and then released into a game park, whether at Lewa or elsewhere in Kenya. The wardens were completely dedicated to the well being of the babies, and someone was with them all the time.
When the babies both began a constant cry, I asked what was wrong, and the warden told me it was past their naptime and they were tired. I was happy to make a donation towards their continued care and be on my way, once again marveling that I could stumble across baby rhinos and get a chance to spend time with them. It was definitely one of my most memorable mornings in Kenya.
Maxx has since been relocated to another park in Kenya, Ol Pejeta, to protect him from being killed by a territorial male at Lewa. Tula is still there.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
CNN is reporting that a NY pet store is selling tattooed fish, imported from Singapore. They look like the ones in this clip, tattooed with polka dots, hearts, or in some cases, injected with dye. According to CNN and the SPCA this is not illegal and therefore can't be stopped. It's bad enough to breed fish in captivity to live a life in captivity, but to tattoo them? How cruel. No doubt someone will think this is "cool" and the latest "designer pet." But I wonder how long the fish has to be out of water to endure the tattoo. Research strongly suggests fish can feel pain. These fish have no way to know what's happening to them - senseless cruelty. It's revolting what people think of to do to animals.
The Grevy's zebra is endangered, with an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 left in the world, only in Northern Kenya and Ethiopia. I was lucky enough to see several Grevy's while I was in Samburu, Northern Kenya, in October of 2005. To the left is a photo of a male - while you can't see the detail at this size, this male has escaped a recent lion attack. He bears lion claw marks on both hips and his shoulder. Luckily, he got away. Male Gervy's zebra are solitary and have territories, into which they hope herds of females will roam. The females travel in small herds. The photo on the left is a herd stopping for a drink. Every once in awhile they would whirl back due to a crocodile in the river.
The Grevy's zebra is the largest and wildest of Africa's three types of zebra. If you look at a Grevy's vs. a common zebra, you can see that the stripes are much closer together on the Grevy's, and it is also bigger and has larger ears. There are some social differences as well, with common zebra not having solitary males, but rather dominant males in herds with females. I found Grevy's to be gorgeous and mesmerizing animals. When they move, it's easy to get dizzy watching them.
The African Wildlife Foundation has a researcher who studies Grevy's in Samburu. Just two months after I was there, an outbreak of anthrax killed several Gervy's zebras. The AWF acted quickly to try to quarantine animals, minimize the threat, and administer vaccines. It appeared to work, but a few months ago, in September of 2006, there was another anthrax outbreak, and a few more zebra deaths.
Grevy's are hunted by lions and the young fall prey to leopards and cheetahs as well. However, the main threat to the zebras at this time is loss of habitat and loss of migration corridors due to increasing agricultural land use. Only about 10% of the zebra have been found in protected areas.
In the 1970's, there were estimated to be 15,000 Grevy's. The population decline has been dramatic, and if action isn't taken to better understand the Grevy's migration patterns and to act to preserve their habitat, it's doubtful they will last another 30 years.
Samburu was my favorite place in Kenya, not just because of the Grevy's, but partly. Samburu National Park is also a wonderful place to see elephants, which are very friendly there and allow close contact (I saw an elephant born in the wild there, about four feet away!). The park also has plentiful gerenuk, impala, waterbuck, guinea fowl, leopards, cheetah, and oryx (gemsbok), buffalo, gazelles, dik-dik, blue legged ostrich and many more species. If you're going to Kenya, try and plan a stay in Samburu - you will see things there you can't find elsewhere in Kenya.
Monday, February 5, 2007
1. By Mail: Direct mail to Supervisor, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Marine Mammals Management Office, 1011 East Tudor Road, Anchorage, AK 99503
2. By Email: Put "Attn:Polar Bear Finding" in the subject, use ASCII format, and no special characters, and address to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Polar bears are in trouble due to hunting and environmental change. Polar bears have been found drowned in the last year. Despite being exceptional swimmers, the distance between the ice has grown so far that polar bears can't make it - it spans hundreds of miles - and the bears die trying to reach the sea ice. Survival rates for cubs are also declining. There are currently an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 polar bears on the planet. If you want to read very specific details on current polar bear research being done, check out this polar bear status report, or visit Polar Bears International for all kinds of polar bear data.
If you want to see polar bears in the wild, there are many commercial tours available. You can also go with the Sierra Club or the National Wildlife Federation for a conservation oriented tour. I certainly hope to be able to plan a trip to see bears in the wild before it's too late, but sadly, not in 2007. If you go, send pictures!
I am pleased that Idaho's former Governor, now Secretary of the Interior, is recommending that the species be listed as threatened. However, we can expect opposition, as with all things involving the Endangered Species Act. If you support efforts to protect the polar bears, please take a moment to weigh in with a quick comment.
Saturday, February 3, 2007
Friday, February 2, 2007
Maybe we need a new act - a Recovering Species Act which protects animals which are no longer endangered, but are still recovering. The Act could place limits on hunting and impose penalties for any unlicensed destruction of the animals.
Generally I oppose government controls, and federal controls in particular. I consider myself Libertarian on most issues. But, the environment and species protection are two areas where I believe federal action is appropriate. People simply do not act responsibly, with a long term view towards preservation, when it comes to animals and the earth. We have centuries of "rape an pillage" mentality that most people just can't overcome. Why protect a forest when you can make money clear cutting it? Screw the species that depend on that forest - they don't have dollars to contribute. For centuries man has basically plundered and taken anything and everything from the natural world, not hesitating to kill animals or to destroy habitats. If we think this is all going to be overcome without federal intervention we are kidding ourselves.
Let's look at racism. Racism was so deeply entrenched in the South that fighting a war to free the slaves wasn't enough. It was a heck of a step in the right direction, but it took the Civil Rights Act, at the federal level, to place penalties on discrimination and to start enforcing equality as a legal right, not a philosophical ideal. It took Brown vs. Board of Education, a federal decision, to eliminate the "separate but equal" garbage that was still going on by racists. Would any Southern Governor or Legislature have acted to eliminate racist practices and policies? Of course not. It took federal action to drag some states, kicking and screaming, towards progress.
In all probability, as an aside, we'll have to go through a similar process with homosexuals to ensure their equal protection in society. We already have some important Supreme Court decisions on gay rights, yet we also have a push by some of the more backwards-thinking states to pass State Constitutional marriage amendments. Pockets of prejudice as big as states are still all over the map, and it will likely take federal action, with legal consequences, to help put all people, regardless of their sexual preference, on equal footing.
Well, wolves need federal help too. Obviously the gun-toting, animal-hunting, wolf-hating politicians in Idaho and Wyoming cannot be counted on to do the right thing. They have in the past failed to protect wolves, they still hate wolves, and guess what? They are excited about the prospect of a wolf killing spree. When prejudicial behavior, whether towards a skin color, a species, or a sexual preference, raises its ugly head we have to fight back. I believe the legal system is one of the most effective weapons we have for doing so and that we need to keep some sort of legal protections in place for wolves. The only reason they got this far is federal protection. If you care about wolves, please act now to help protect them.