Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Baby elephant in the snow

This video was taken at the Portland, OR zoo. The baby elephant clearly loves the snow - wish I could see this in person! Reminds me of babies in the mud in Africa.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sticks in the Snow

I bought a house a few years ago from a man who had lived there nearly all his life. He built the house, adding on as his family grew. He built the pasture fence, out of heavy boards and wooden poles. He built a chicken coop – a big one, with roosts, nesting boxes, multiple compartments, and a little chicken play yard. And, he built a playhouse for his daughter. I don’t live in the house; I bought it for the pasture, adjacent to mine, and I rent the house out. I knew this man for the final few years of his life, and I knew his wife, for the final few years of her life, which ended a few years before his. I used to visit them, since they were neighbors, and hear stories of the neighborhood and how it has changed over time from an orchard to a quarter horse training facility to homes and cul de sacs.

The site of his house was an old bootlegger cabin. My other rental (also purchased for the pasture) was one of the first houses built, in 1915, and my house wasn’t long after, in 1920. He knew all the people who’d ever owned my house. His wife told me about the willow tree she planted, that still grows in the yard, huge and shady. I sat with them at their kitchen table and looked out the window at my horses grazing in their pasture (by arrangement, of course).

I have always appreciated all the little details; how he organized his garage, built the shelves in the hallway, lived his whole life without a bathtub. He died this year, so it’s the first year since I’ve lived here that I’m not sending him a Christmas card, updating him on the horses, chatting about the flood irrigation problems.

This year, I’m trying to heat the house with a fire and save on energy costs – and it’s working. Bills are down by 2/3rds and I like the fire. I’ve moved the bed into the living room; it’s almost too hot falling asleep, and crispy cold in the morning or mid-afternoon before the fire gets going. It’s not freezing – I have the thermostat on 64, but it’s 78 or so with a fire (in the living room –it stays very cold in the rest of the house). All this fire building takes newspapers (which I collect at the office from co-workers), kindling (which I am short on), and wood (which I have gathered over the years). So, I decided to raid the woodpile at the old man’s former house. He collected and organized the wood by size and stacked it in the chicken coop yard. I doubt he had a fire during the last 10 years he owned the house, but old habits die hard. The renter doesn’t use the fireplace. And, I need kindling…so I decided to start bringing over the smaller wood to my house.

I walked across the frozen pasture with the dogs. When I got to the wood pile, I marveled again at his carefulness. The wood was organized by size, and carefully cut and stacked. Cardboard boxes tied with twine contained twigs he’d collected from the apple tree out back. These little twigs are the type most people rake up with leaves and toss. But, he lived through the depression. Leaves were compost. Sticks were firewood. Everything had a purpose. Everything got recycled.

I thought about the current recession, vs. the great depression, which my parents lived through as well. I admired the old man’s frugalness, his patience, his attention to detail. I imagined him stacking all that wood. Every scrap of wood, from whatever source, was there. I could see remnants of home projects, pallets, shelves, fence boards, tree branches, sticks, twigs and more.

As I picked the sizes I wanted, I thought about how it would be nice to clean out all the wood over the next couple of years and maybe have chickens in the coop again. I love my house – but I also love his. I love that out his window you can see the pasture, whereas out mine I see a big tree. I like his coop better than mine. Not that I need more chickens – but I do love having them. And although I live in the city, with a busy city job, I have always wanted to live in the country and have a ranch and tons of animals. This is a good compromise, but I am always hoping I can live the ritual of life without the ritual of work. I wouldn’t mind gathering twigs, growing food, feeding the animals, and taking care of the property all day. There is a certain peace that comes with that lifestyle vs. the one I have; I can glimpse it now and then but never seem to hold onto it long term – my job doesn’t let me.

Walking home across the pasture again, I missed my dad, who had the same kind of old guy organization and the same kind of depression era saving stuff habit. I was happy to be able to make use of the wood for its intended purpose, right down to appreciating the convenience of being able to carry a twine tied box of twigs to my back porch for use with fire.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Christmas Chick

We weren't really doing anything for Christmas this year. We gave up presents a few years back, and sometimes we take a trip, but money is tight this year and I'd had plans to have a surgery I ended up skipping, so I was supposed to be laid up for the holiday. It seems I never have the energy to decorate anymore - partly because it's a pain to haul all the stuff out by myself and pack it all up by myself, partly because decorations remind me of my dad and missing him gets depressing, and partly because cats and decorations are not particularly compatible. Sometimes I put up the fake tree and let the cats lay in the branches, but even that is a lot of work. Since I'm not into the religious or material/commercial aspects of Christmas, it leaves only the food and cookies. Cookies are a given - an excuse to make them is all I need. As for the food, I'm working on vegan or vegetarian main courses that we can look forward to....but that's hard to develop.

Anyway, I was geared up for basically nothing this year, skipping nearly every aspect of the holiday, when I got a call this morning. It seems that in the dead of winter, in the coldest week of the year, one lone baby chick was born. Someone called me and asked if I might be willing to take it on, along with its mom, as it was in her kitchen and couldn't really stay there. I am known to have a heated chicken coop (it's really just a very well insulated coop that has a heat lamp in it, so "heated" is a stretch, maybe "warmed"). I am also known to be a soft touch so big surprise - someone calls and wants me to take about any baby animal in, and I'm probably going to find a way to say YES.

As I thought about it, I didn't think I could possibly integrate the new hen and chick with my existing flock of four, for four main reasons. One, they need time to get to know each other and work out the pecking order and I don't want mom or baby getting pecked on by the others. That process takes about three weeks based on my limited experience, and I don't want to throw them in there without some get acquainted time and supervision. Two, the new hen could have mites or something that my current flock does not - they are clean and just molted and I'd like to keep them that way. While I have no reason to believe mom isn't healthy, observation and separation is a good idea for any newcomers. Three, the books I have say chicks need it to be about 90 degrees - which can be accomplished with warm temperatures and mom's wing, or a heat bulb. Clearly, teens and twenties would not work well - and if 60's can cause a fatal chick chill, no way I'm sending a chick a few days old out when it has no feathers and it's below freezing - warmed coop or no. Fourth, the chick is so small it can walk right through the chain link fence, so it would not be secure from predators and it could get separated from mom. So, clearly, I had to come up with an indoor setup for a few weeks.

I wanted to be able to reach in the top, and also have confidence the dogs and cats aren't going to have a snack, so I chose a dog crate. I lined it with cardboard, put in some wood shavings, and experimented with food and water bowls. I added a cardboard "nest box" that has some flaps so mom and baby can "hide" from the other pets if they want. I put it in the living room near the fire. And then I waited for the baby to arrive - as excited as any kid on Christmas morning.

And then they arrived. Momma hen turned out to be a bantam or bantam cross I think, she's about 2/3 the size of my hens. She's black and pretty. She lets me pet her and she makes a sound when she's nervous like she's telling herself it's going to be okay. The chick is black and its sex is unknown (I hope it's a girl so I can keep it; roosters aren't allowed in the city and I am not much for fertilized eggs either). Too soon to tell.

The cats lined up IMMEDIATELY, super intrigued. When I let the dogs in the cats had to switch to the crate roof. The dogs were super intrigued as well, especially Callie. She is addicted. She didn't even want to leave the chicken long enough to lick a macaroni and cheese pot, her favorite!!! All the pets love outdoor "chicken tv," but man oh man, they loooooooove indoor chick tv. The mom came from a place that has cats and dogs so she is not overly disturbed by them. The chick just peeps and sleeps, and stands on the feeder and pecks at the chick starter. Mom and baby are cute, warm, and welcome.

In case Callie's devotion bothered mom, I covered the crate with a blanket. The photos show Callie remaining dialed despite blanket, and momma and baby.

We get to have Christmas after the form of a special chick. It brings newness, surprise, and joy to the house. Something to look forward to every day - not unlike foster kittens.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Broccoli Kitten LOVES Broccoli!

Admittedly, the human voices on this are annoying so it's tempting to mute it - but then you would miss the very cute kitten sounds. The paws and the sounds are stunningly adorable. I thought Nadia's arugula habit was funny but this kitten and broccoli trump her in the cute department!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Silk: Simply Amazing!!!

Silk makes some seasonal soymilks that are truly incredible!!!! If you haven't already, you've got to try Nog!!! Also amazing is Pumpkin Spice, another seasonal flavor, and Mocha is good too. In fact, I just can't believe it's soymilk. In addition, Silk makes a soy creamer for coffee that is just to die for. I love the Hazlenut flavor best, but French Vanilla isn't bad either. Vegan, good for you, fewer calories than dairy, and great flavor...what more could you ask for?? Fred Meyer has a decent selection, but the Co-Op has even more options.
If you haven't tried it yet, do yourself a favor and check it out. YUM.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Save Some Sheep

Bighorn sheep lived plentifully in Idaho at one time, and today there are about 2,000 in the State. Researchers attribute the sharp decline in population to contact with domestic sheep and contracting domestic diseases, for which of course wild sheep are not vaccinated. The Payette National Forest is currently accepting public comments on management alternatives for long term solutions. Providing disease free areas for bighorn sheep can be accomplished by closing grazing to domestic sheep where contact between species is likely. You can contact the Payette National Forest and urge them to adopt management alternative 7E, which according to the Sierra Club best reduces the risk of disease transmission from domestic to big horn sheep in the Payette National Forest. Send your comments by December 26th to Payette National Forest, Attn: Bighorn Sheep Comments, 800 W. Lakeside Ave., McCall, ID 83638 or email them to This photo of a Big Horn Sheep (Male), Near Jasper, Alberta was taken in October 2007 by Alan D. Wilson and can be reused when properly attributed.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Dry Dock for the Rainy Season

These are some pictures of a "dry dock" I put in a few years ago at my farrier's suggestion; a place where the horses could get out of the mud in winter. At his recommendation I put in red cinder, which is like red volcanic rock ground up. It works like a nail file on the horses feet and makes them strong (they don't wear shoes). I like it better than gravel, way better than dirt, but it has some downsides: it gets dusty in summer. It also gets tracked out of the dock into the pasture. But it is cheaper than sand, and weeds don't grow in it. The bad news is that it's time to add more red rock - and the mine has closed down as the mine owner passed away. It's in Canyon County. So, if anyone knows where to get some of this is the treasure valley, let me know!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The International Rescue Committee in Boise

I have supported only one charity over the past several years that focuses exclusively on humans vs. animals or the environment, and that is the International Rescue Committee. I have seen some of their work on the ground in Africa, and they have excellent ratings for using donations for programs, not administration and fundraising. They go places other aid organizations won't.

A few months ago I decided to take a break from volunteering with the Idaho Humane Society as a foster parent. After losing two kittens this summer and going through a really bat bout of kitty illnesses, I desperately needed a break. Even though work and life get very busy though, I like to have some amount of volunteer activity going on because, in the big picture, I want to make as many small differences as I can and not use the all too common excuse that "I'm busy" to justify not doing work that needs to be done.

Recently I watched two documentaries on refugees from Sudan trying to settle into the U.S. and the problems they encountered in adjusting to the American way of life. The challenges ranged from learning how to cook and dispose of trash to learning the language, mastering mass transportation, and dealing with racism. The biggest challenge seemed to be accepting the independence of America as opposed to the community style of life in Africa. It got me thinking that volunteering to assist refugees new to Boise might be a good way to lend a hand. I learned that the International Rescue Committee has opened a Boise chapter in the last two years, so I volunteered and was assigned a family from Africa.

So far I have been working with them on language and customs and getting to know them as best I can across the language barriers. I know a few Swahili words and they know some Swahili though it's not their primary language. They know a teeny bit of English and we are working on more. I really like their kids, especially a little girl of nearly two who likes my exotically light and straight hair and likes to fall asleep more or less petting me. I really like going to the store with them and seeing how they make decisions in an environment where they can't understand most of the language. I tried to explain the difference between tomato sauce and whole peeled tomatoes and diced tomatoes, but this was clearly a little of a mystery to them as all the cans had photos of tomatoes on them. So far it's been a little bit of an adventure, but rather fun, and I feel like it's time well spent. The language barrier is great practice for travel in a foreign land, and I am hoping to learn more Swahili and a bit of their native language along the way if I can. It's very clear that coming here, with nothing (not even any education to speak of) is a true challenge and if I can make that a little easier, I'll be glad. I have always felt welcomed on mainland Africa and if I can make some displaced Africans feel welcome in my own country, I'll be glad.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Some Smart Chickens

Last night was very cold, below freezing, and I made a mistake. I forgot to plug in the chicken water bowl, which heats and doesn't freeze. As a result, this morning, there was ice in the bowl and not water. When I went to check on them at noon, I discovered the mistake - and also learned the chickens had derived a very clever solution to it. The four chickens had cooperated to all press down on one side of the ice until it tipped and gave them a little water on one side. Then they took turns taking little drinks from the side they tipped down. I saw them all press with their beaks. This impressed me, I have to say.

Simon, the dog, is very good at getting water when a bowl is full of ice. He knows how to tip the bowl and get the ice out, and how to tip it enough to get the water on the bottom that isn't frozen without tipping it all the way and letting the water drain out. Simon has water in the house, but he plays with the outdoor water that's frozen. I've seen other dogs do similar things, but then, I know dogs are smart.

The chickens - I wasn't expecting this. I will try not to forget the chicken water plug in for the rest of the winter...but I thought it was cool they solved the problem on their own. Athena (light golden one on the right) is looking like a new chicken - post molt with her new feathers there is no longer a bare spot made by a rooster. Gwen is also looking great, though still finishing her molt - all the scars from the fox incident should be gone now. I have also learned that the chickens don't lay in winter - no eggs at all. Which is just as well since it's freezing.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Melty Cats

I've been trying to save some energy by using the fireplace in the evening. The cats love this system and I find them draped all over the living room. Lizzie likes a wooden box near the stove. Oscar takes the Lazy Boy recliner. Nadia lays on top of a mesh dog crate, and Ophelia and Pepper usually drape themselves on the bed. This is Ophelia, completely laid out and completely comfortable. She likes to guard the Tivo remote and sometimes change the channel. The fire is cozy, and our heating bills are down 50%.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Get Your Wolf Comments In Before Nov. 29

There is a 30 day public comment period open until Nov 29th, 2008 for comments on removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list. Mail your comments to:

Public Comments Processing, Attn: RIN 1018-Au53
Division of Policy & Directives Management
US Fish & Wildlife Service
4401 N. Fairfax Dr., Suite 222
Arlington, VA 22203

Or, go to the Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, or NRDC websites to fill out online comment forms.

Friday, November 21, 2008

We Know What's in Mammoth DNA Now!

This is a very cool article from National Geographic about the decoding of the Mammoth genome. This means we can compare their DNA to that of the three species of elephant alive today - Asian, African and forest elephants (also African, but a smaller species). It will be fascinating to see what's been lost and what's been retained. And theoretically you can clone extinct species with their DNA - though you would not be able to get a viable population again from just a few samples. But, it does give us clues.

The genetics section of my biology course has been very interesting and I've been impressed and surprised with all the genetic research and discoveries made in the last 20 years. I know that during my lifetime more and more will happen. Already we are learning how to use animal DNA in criminal cases to help determine what happened (and there is an interesting show ion Animal Planet about that called Animal Witness). It'll be very interesting to see what happens next.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gorillas in the Congo - How Bad Will it Be?

You can visit the site of the park in the Congo in charge of gorilla protection. Mountain gorillas only live in one teeny area of the world, which happens to fall a little into three countries: Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. Fewer than 650 are left in the world and they are all in this area. The Congo portion has historically been problematic, with gorillas getting murdered there, and sometimes the Rangers trying to protect them. The park in Congo, Rwindi, was recently taken over by the rebels fighting now in the Congo, and all the Rangers had to flee.

What's happening to the people in Congo right now is awful. Things have been awful for a long time there actually but now they are seriously heating up. I don't like how little coverage the situation gets on American news channels. Sick. We can drone for hours on possible cabinet picks but not spend more than 2 minutes on the Congo crisis.

In any event, I fear for the gorillas and their habitat. Things are bad for the people - but even if the worst happens the human race won't die out - the gorillas just might. Having seen them up close, including those pictures above, I can't put into words what a tragic loss I think that would be for the universe. I am all for helping both the gorillas and the innocent people caught up int he Congo right now.

I remember a spot near Congo when I came down a mountain in Rwanda that had been destroyed as gorilla habitat during the genocide and turned into a place crops grew and shacks were built. There were two little boys playing with two little goats. We didn't speak the same language and we didn't have good ways of communicating, but I loved the goats and I could tell they were fascinated by that. We played with the goats together, and I took their pictures and showed them to them on the digital camera, which highly delighted them. Though I wish I was there and I could do something - to protect the gorillas, the kids and the goats alike - there is not a lot I can do from here, but donate to those on the ground trying to make sure everyone survives.

Africa has the very best the planet has to offer - and the very worst.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Friends...and Enemies

If you don't already know about Best Friends Animal Society, you should check them out. The nation's biggest no-kill shelter, they have a lot of innovations in education, no kill shelters, animal rescue and rehabilitation. They took some of the Michael Vik dogs, and they take all kinds of animals, including cats with feline leukemia. Anyway, they have a special offer from Chase - they are eligible for $100,000 donation if they can get enough credit card applications. A portion of each charge goes to Best Friends, and that portion increases if they get a lot of applicants. To apply (you don't have to use this no fee card if you don't want to), click here. My favorite credit card uses a similar program to give a portion of charges to my personal favorite charity, African Wildlife Foundation. Many charities offer similar cards and it's an easy way to put a portion of everyday purchases like groceries towards charity, so highly worth considering.

Now, the bad news. That darn Bush is trying to push through rules and regulations bad for species protections before he leaves office. Ah, that change of administration will be soooo nice.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

K-9 Cops

A K-9 dog made the local news today for helping catch a gang member - and the dog actually inflicted bites. I used to have a job that required me to ride along with police officers on duty, which was very educational. I got to see K-9 dogs in action, and it was impressive - suspects who were screaming and swearing at the cops and fighting with them became REALLY cooperative the second the dog stepped out of the car.

My favorite memory of a police dog happened one time I was doing a ride along with a police officer in Nebraska. Every officer in every area is a bit different and this particular officer stands out in my mind because he is the only one who showed me where he had a rifle mounted in the car "in case I go down and there's trouble." I remember thinking "Eeek, this guy thinks there could be the kind of trouble where I have to arm myself and fire a rifle?" But actually, he was just very smart and very prepared - all of them tell you how to use the radio, but he was the only one who told me how to release the spare weapon - not a bad plan. Though more memorable still was his dog.

I forget the name of the dog though it started with a K. The dog had the backseat to himself and as a result that officer never had to have a passenger or transport anyone to jail (which may be why he could mount a weapon in the front seat). The dog only spoke German. The officer told me a few of the commands so I would have a basic understanding of what was going on as the dog worked. He also said to avoid any sudden movements. The ride along was an overnight, about a 6pm to 6am shift. During the night while on patrol we talked. At one point I was telling a story and without realizing it, I made a gesture with my hand that crossed the centerline of the car, my hand crossing over into the driver's side of the car. Instantly, before I could realize what was happening, the dog had leaped from the backseat and was pinning me very firmly against the seat, his body between me and the officer. He wasn't aggressive but he also had me in a position where I could not move.

The officer laughed and explained that no one is allowed to cross into the officer's side of the car and the dog is trained to prevent that. Very impressive! One quick command and the dog retreated into the back seat. After that the conversation didn't get animated, I made sure to keep my hands in my lap.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Submit Wolf Comments by November 28th, 2008

The Bush Administration is, for some reason, still trying to pursue the wolf delisting issue prior to leaving office. It seemed like good news for awhile as a Montana Judge refused to approve the administration's plan this summer and the federal government backed off their request. Now they are trying to resume plans to kill wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.

The Feds are taking public comments until November 28th. You can look up the address or fax for public comment, or an easy way to submit comments is to go to the NRDC website and fill out the web form here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Idaho State University Changes Policy on Dogs

Recently the local news reported that a Pocatello animal shelter was giving dogs that were slated for euthanasia to Idaho State University for use in their medical program. That program fell under criticism and the director of the Idaho Humane Society made it clear that dogs from the Boise shelter were not being used in any such capacity and that he would not permit it to occur because it would result in people not bringing dogs to the shelter, fearing medical experimentation on them.

Today ISU reports that it will switch to high tech models and cease the use of live dogs in response to criticism from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. You can read the article with details here if you're interested.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dog Racing Ban Approved in MA

This election, MA approved a ban on dog racing that was attempted before and failed. You can read about it in the Boston Globe. Greyhound racing will be phased out there by 2010.

This election seemed to bring some small steps for animals in MA and CA, which I am glad to see. But I wonder if I'll live to see a world that comes to recognize the cruelty in factory farming and that makes enough change to make a difference. There is some hope, at least we are taking baby steps in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Battleground Report from CO

Since it was clear Idaho's electoral votes would go to McCain, I volunteered in a battleground state and traveled to Colorado. I wasn't sure what to expect - I don't consider myself a Democrat but I am an Obama supporter, and all my previous political experience has been in the Republican Party. As a lawyer, I volunteered for "Voter Protection," which meant being familiar with Colorado election law and making sure that people had the right to vote, were not turned away from the polls or intimidated, and addressing voter problems and irregularities.

The training I attended was impressive - about 400 lawyers were present, the majority of whom were from out of state and had come, like me, to lend a hand where it might matter. The organization was impressive. There was to be a lawyer inside and outside each polling place, with the CO lawyers inside and the out of state volunteer lawyers outside. Central command stations with CO election lawyer specialists were available all day by phone with roving teams to address issues. In addition, each polling place was to have a volunteer to assist voters in finding their polling place, including a hotline to call, maps and lists of precincts and polling places and locations accepting mail in ballots via dropoff. Plus, there would be a person in each polling place checking off voters as they voted, and runners picking that info up and then getting it back to HQ for the get out to vote effort of callers and door knockers. IN ADDITION (yes, I kid you not) there would be "comfort teams" providing food and water and magazines to voters in long lines so they did not get discouraged and leave. I thought that was a really ambitious plan - at least 6 volunteers per polling place. I doubted the ability of the campaign to actually achieve that, especially with two lawyer volunteers per place.

I looked around at the nearly 400 lawyers at my training - and when they said it was the 8th training like that held, I was duly impressed. I was assigned a polling place in Araphaoe County that served three precincts. I knew the higher priority precincts were in downtown Denver so I assumed if resources would be cut it would be in an area like mine. But wow, was I ever in for a surprise. There were THREE lawyers, five runners, three poll checkers. People brought us food and water all day long. There was not a shortage of volunteers - if anything there was an excess!! It was exciting and impressive. The organization was intense. And, I felt like my efforts did end up mattering - I was able to assist a number of voters with all sorts of issues, and sitting in the cold from 6:30 am to 7:05pm was totally and completely worth it.

The GOTV (Get Out the Vote) effort was incredible. My nephew who lives here was at the polls when they opened at 7:00am. By 8:00 he had a phone call from the campaign and by 8:30 they knocked on his door. Two more phone calls before 10am, when they clearly got the result that he voted from their poll checkers as they stopped contact after that. Clearly a machine working well.

I felt good about voter protection because it means helping all people have access to the ballot regardless of the person they are voting for. Clearly, the Obama campaign expected that more people having trouble voting would support him than McCain but the training was clear: prevent NO ONE from voting, help EVERYONE have access to the ballot box, challenge NO PERSON's right to vote, protect EVERYONE from challenges from others, allow NO voter intimidation. I truly believe if you can't win fighting fair you don't deserve to win - and I was thrilled to see this attitude throughout the Obama campaign. Every single volunteer at my polling place was polite, courteous and helpful to people of both parties - including those who self-identified as Republicans. Never did I see one single sign of disrespect from the Democrats to the other side - instead I saw offers of assistance to the handicapped, help handling issues, etc. Everyone was optimistic about Obama but firmly committed to letting everyone have their say - and I could not have been more pleased. The group at my polling place were all white middle class Obama supporters. I am pleased to say the voters were much more diverse - young, old and minorities of many types. It was really, really cool to see the turnout.

I was exceedingly disappointed in the conduct of the Republican election Judge in charge. She was highly partisan, bitter and mean and totally unfair at every turn, enjoying a power trip not well deserved. Several of the Republican election judges were entirely appropriate, friendly, and non partisan, as were the Democrats. But the one Republican "in charge" was vile. There were no McCain volunteers presents except one who dropped in during the day briefly and one McCain legal team member who stopped by late in the day. The rules were not evenly enforced as the Democrats were not allowed to use cell phones in the building but the Republicans were. Any time the legal team inside observed a challenge or tried to ensure ballot access and not allow voter intimidation (ie the head Judge sitting at a table WHILE a voter is voting, looking over their shouder) they were told they were "impeding" and threatened with being ejected and having the police called on them. I personally saw the abuses of the Judge - and to my great pleasure, the utterly appropriate response of the legal team - not fighting over petty issues, treating her like a crqazy Judge in Court and being deferential but making sure the people got the right to vote.

Even at my "dull" polling place compared to many in the country, there were a lot of issues and I feel like my work and time were worthwhile. I was really pleased to be a part of something I believe in, and though the difference I made was tiny and the volunteering I did small compared to many, it was a great expereince. I was disheartened by the hateful and bitter conduct of some McCain supporters and I think McCain himself wouldn't have approved. He gave a GREAT concession speech - we finally saw the old McCain again, the one who is moderate and reasonable and a public servant, not the petty, negative, crappy campaigner of the last few months.

I loved Obama's acceptance speech as well. I am pleased to report that in addition to "the new regime" there is more good news - the ballot measure in California to require more humane confinement of animals passed. Another step in the right direction!!!

I, like so many other Americans, begin this new day with new hope, new enthusiasm, and a renewed commitment to participating in the process. I am encouraged to see so much participation nationwide and such a great turnout. If Americans can STAY ENGAGED, what can we not accomplish?? It is a happy day. And, CO went for Obama - and he earned it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Great Adventure Reads

A few years ago National Geographic put out a list of the top 100 adventure books of all time. I've read several of their recommendations so far, and they were all good, so if you're looking for some Christmas gifts this year or a book to curl up with in front of the fire, you might consider these for people who like to travel.

One of my favorites so far was "Sufferings in Africa," a true story of a shipwreck of an American trade ship and the Captain and his crew who are taken hostage and marched through the Sahara desert. It was supposedly one of Abraham Lincoln's favorite books, and it's a true page turner. It was so engrossing that as I was reading it on one of my own trips to Africa I was worried I was missing out on real adventure by reading about the Captain' I read it at night, in the heat, under a mosquito net, hearing insects buzz and night animal calls. That may have made it even better.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Horrific, Twisted, Sick, Useless Animal Death

This story about a bear cub murdered and with it's head stuck in an Obama campaign sign is sick in so many ways I haven't the energy to enumerate them.

Cool: A Canine Military Hospital Opens

The military uses dogs for a variety of tasks, and of course, they get hurt. There is a new state of the art vet hospital designed to assist them in Texas. Read the story here.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Great Gabon Documentaries

Someday I'll get to Gabon, a gorgeous country in West Africa that offers stunning wildlife and is developing for ecotourism since 2002. As we go into winter and you may want to curl up with a good book, I have several recommendations, starting with one of my personal favorites, "Travels in West Africa," by Mary Kingsley. Mary was a British woman who was the daughter of a maid who had an affair. She was self-taught with books from her father's library and she had an urge to travel. When she found herself alone at 30, both parents having died, she set off to Africa alone, which was unheard of in her day. She went to Gabon, and established some trade routes there, becoming the first white person some tribes met and the first white woman many, many tribes had ever seen. She wanted to learn about their customs, that interested her more than wildlife, but she also noticed creatures and even collected specimens for the British museum, especially of fish. The book is very good reading if you are interested in travel, adventure, female pioneers, Africa or of course Gabon specifically. carries to book and so do most other book stores these days.

If you want to see the tremendous treasures Gabon offers - a chance to see hippos and elephants frolic in the ocean, for example, check out National Geographic's documentary on Gabon: The lAst Eden, which has stunning photography and is very well done. It tells the story of Michael Fey, who is a researcher who walked across Gabon and other parts of Africa and then convinced the leader of Gabon to make 10% of the country National Parks and choose ecotourism over logging and oil exploration . The photography - of lowland gorillas, mandrills and other wild creatures best seen in Gabon, is really awesome. The DVD is available for rent on Netflix.

Friday, October 17, 2008

California Leading the Way on Cages?

California has a ballot measure involving animal cages. According to an online news article:

"Proposition 2 would require that starting in 2015, calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be provided space to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely. Proponents say it would prevent animal cruelty; opponents say it would unnecessarily harm farmers and consumers by raising domestic prices and exposing consumers to cheaper, ostensibly more dangerous eggs from other countries."

Hard to believe factory farming got to such a horrible point in the first place, but even harder to believe that people oppose giving the animals room to turn around and move enough to stretch or lie down. I hope the measure passes by an astounding margin, and it just might, because I think a lot of people have no idea the true conditions animals are kept under and would not support those conditions if they did. There's huge, huge money pouring in to oppose the ballot measures, from the corporate farms and farm industries. It will be very interesting to see what happens on election day, and hopefully California will once again lead the way on an animal welfare issue and other states will follow.

You can see the pro Prop Two website here. You can read the anti prop Two website here (and note the scare tactics about bird flu, etc. to avoid the real issue).

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Local Horse Abuse Case

Yesterday I noticed a local news story on a horse abuse case that has some powerful footage. While I could not figure out how to post the video clip here, you can check it out at: or click to view. You will see a horse that has feet in such appalling condition it makes you want to vomit. Even if you know little about horses and nothing about how their hooves should be trimmed you can see this is a terrible situation. I am so glad that the horses were finally confiscated from this horrific situation. I'm also glad it got some media attention to document their condition, and I was impressed with the calm cops.

Having been along with police in the field in a variety of situations as a former prosecutor, I never cease to be amazed by how most of them are calm and patient in dealing with the worst of humanity. They risk their lives every day and deal with the absolute crap of society, usually getting yelled at and disrespected all day long. I am always pleased to see police taking animal cruelty seriously because many officers do not - society is still coming around on some levels to the fact that animals deserve protection in some ways.

I can't watch Animal Cops anymore. I got through several episodes but it's just too repulsive to see the condition people let their pets get in, the abandonments, the abuse, the dogfighting rings, etc. I can't understand how anyone can treat innocent creatures so badly. For every case on TV there are cases we don't hear about and cases that don't get discovered. It's good to know that locally in a bad situation, someone took the time to report it, the Humane Society took the time to follow up on it, the cops took it seriously, the media paid attention, and in the end the horses got rescued from hell.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Recommended Reading

If you haven't read "Last Chance to See," by Douglas Adams, I highly recommend that you do. Although he is famous for A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, this book is a true story about a journey he took to see some highly endangered species before they are gone. He went to see mountain gorillas, the aye-aye lemur, the komodo dragon, and the kakapoo. In the process, he meets a variety of interesting people, and his observations about the animals are wonderful to read. I particularly liked his description of the viewing of the komodo dragon, and his description of the African airport lounge (in Tanzania I think). The book is short, funny, and every sentence packs a punch. Well worth your time, especially if you like animals, but even if you don't.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Last Flight

Yesterday my husband came home and said that there was a potential animal rescue situation outside. I went out to find a small bird in the middle of the street. I think it was an adolescent. It was clearly injured but I couldn't tell quite how much or how. I got close, and to my surprise, the bird flew away - but not far. I couldn't tell the sex. The little thing flew as high as the house across the street, and then crashed into it and fell down into the flower bed.

I could see that the bird was scared, and not well, so I gently cupped it in my hands. I could feel the warm, fast heartbeat against my thumb, and once I held it, I could see a very serious neck wound, as well as what appeared to be a wound on a wing, and a protrusion that seemed abnormal from one side of the face. There was dried blood on the beak, and the eye I could see had some discharge. Clearly, the bird was in pain. We went as quickly as possible to Westvet, which has a nice program to help wild birds and get them to rehabilitation when possible.

The journey, as all emergency journeys to Westvet, seemed to take forever. The bird was still except for one attempt to fly again. I thought that based on the severity of the wounds the bird would likely get put down. What I could see of the neck wound was gaping and horrific. I saw the new feathers coming in - either for the first time, or due to a molt, I don't know, but there were many small light brown new feathers. I watched the delicate legs rest in my hand and the tiny talons with tiny fingernails. I was rooting for the little thing, but at the same time, aware that I was probably sharing the last moments of its life, and still hoping that wasn't the case.

I don't want any animal to be in pain, and alone and scared. Although birds are not my favorite animals, the chickens have given me a new appreciation for them. I didn't know what happened to this little thing, I think a cat would have roughed it up worse, and the hole in it's neck was deep, not like a bite wound I've seen before. No one will ever know.

I called after a few hours and learned that the little bird did get put down. I am glad that the suffering ended, and glad I could help so the bird didn't spend a night in the cold, waiting to die. Still, I never cross paths with an animal that doesn't make it without feeling sad. Yesterday morning that little bird was alive with a life ahead of it and this morning it was gone. I can't help but reflect a bit and be glad that I am still here, and that all my animal kids are still here. I wish I could have been of comfort to the bird, but I'm sure it was frightened - it did relax a bit, and I hope the end was peaceful and fast.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Cool Penguin Rescue

I've been busy and have not kept up the blog as well as I would like. Here's a cute story on a penguin rescue on a large scale:

Friday, October 3, 2008

Super Sick Zoo Killing Spree

There's some decent evidence that kids who kill or torture animals move on to killing and torturing humans. Serial killers usually start with animals and work up. So, the world better watch out for the seven year old boy who broke into an Australian zoo and killed several of the animals by bashing them with rocks, and then fed several zoo animals to the resident crocodile. What a way to go - life in captivity and a gruesome death at the hands of a seven year old. Super sick.

Being seven, the kid will not be charged. The crimes were caught on the security cameras, but due to the size of the kid, for whatever reason alarms were not tripped. Certainly it is hard to conceive of how a kid would come up with such a violent idea, let alone carry it out.

To read the story as reported by CNN, click here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Proteins Are Surprisingly Cool!

When you think of proteins, you may think of things like meat and fish and beans...not little tiny molecules of protein. In biology, we've been learning about the little guys (protein molecules), and man, are they COOL. It's almost like science fiction. I have to marvel that man has been able to figure out and document all this stuff. I have to further marvel that something so interesting can be so well tucked away, hidden and obscured by bad writing and needless complexities. It takes me a good long while to unpack the interesting concepts from my incredibly dense textbook, which is clearly, CLEARLY not written by actual writers, but by scientists.

So, in simple language, what is so cool about proteins? Alot of things. For starters, there are 6 things a protein can do on the surface of a cell. So imagine a cell in you, or in your favorite cat, or whatever. You probably already know that cell has a plasma membrane around it. What you may not know is that proteins can embed themselves in that membrane and then serve some very useful functions. The shape of a protein determines its function. Some of the neat tasks it can perform:

The protein can act like a little tube, or channel, letting stuff in and out of the cell - a little passageway through the membrane. Actually, the protein can also "gate" the channel, only allowing certain things through or out of the cell. Even cooler, the protein can open one end, take something in, close itself, and then let it out the other side, so that the boundary between the inside and outside of the cell is always secure, but selected stuff is being securely transported from one side of the cell to the other.

Proteins can also attach to the cytoskeleton of the cell, sort of the framework of the cell, and provide some structure. They can perform like a little pump, taking in Nacl (3 molecules at a time) and pumping out potassium (2 molecules at a time) in a rotation, moving 5 molecules per transaction, and performing up to 60 transactions per second!

Proteins can also act like sentinels, alerting the cell to the presence of substances or signalling from the cell to other cells. Proteins can attach to other cells as well, in a neat little interlocking way like snapping lego together.

Proteins can also act as catalysts, or enzymes, and speed up some chemical processes. A protein can have a special site on it, called the active site, that something else (called a substrate) fits into. The protein tightens around it, stressed it's composition and changes it into something else. (For example, it might remove an electron, break a bond, or otherwise make an alteration to the substrate). There is a tiny on and off switch too, to let the protein known when to stop working. And, proteins can line up in a little chain called a biochemical pathway where the first guy makes what the second guy needs and the second guy makes what the third guy needs and so on until finally whatever the cell needs is manufactured. It's a tiny assembly line! And what's more, you have to have those to get energy and to use the other stuff in your body that you need to live.

It's truly amazing! They have diagrams of it all - but even cooler, they have actual photos of some proteins. Wow. I mean, WOW! Think about it - 75 years ago no one would have thought we could photograph a protein. Technology is so neat; there are benefits beyond Tivo, as good as Tivo is!

Proteins fold into shapes - the simplest being a helix, like a curly phone cord, or like a folded sheet, sort of like a furnace filter. Scientists are working on figuring out how proteins fold. To see some cool images of folding patterns and read an article on that, click here. They have four levels of complexity in folding, and can get pretty complicated looking.

It doesn't take long to conclude that life is not possible without proteins, and that these super amazing tiny machines are just brilliant little things that have oh so cleverly adapted themselves to do what needs to be done. The only thing more amazing to me is that both my textbook authors and my instructor have managed to take STUNNINGLY COOL STUFF like this and make it completely dull, boring, confusing and even downright inaccessible in some cases. In the end, I think the book authors are smart and were trying - and if I try really hard I can eventually understand what they are saying, but then I find myself wanting to rewrite the whole chapter because it could just be explained so much better!

Anyway, if you get bored, google proteins - look at the pictures, read a little bit, and I bet you too will gain a new respect for these itty bitty workers which reside in all of us.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Wolf De-Listing on Hold

You probably already heard - but the government has decided to withdraw de-listing plans for now, thanks to the results of a court decision against the federal government. The plan was too extreme, and withdrawl of it will send the government back to the drawing board. The sad thing is, in the short time the wolves were without protection, some were killed. Idaho's population is 350 wolves lower than expected, even without a hunting season taking place. While shootings will likely not account for the total decline, hopefully the reasons can be explored.

I believe that wolves have a valuable role to play in the ecosystem as top predators and they should be left alone. The fact that man wants to live in wolf habitat areas should mean man lives with wolves, not eliminates them. But, even if we accept hunting as a valid means of population control (which I don't, other than for the sake of argument) allowing hunting poses some real problems. It's hard to tell males from females, so it will be hard to contol which sex is killed. Alpha pairs usually do all the mating, and it can be hard to identify the alpha pair. If one or both alphas end up getting killed, the pack will fragment, actually making wolf/human conflicts works as wolves spread out rather than stick to a given and established territory. Breeding will also be massivly impacted, so the choice to kill one wolf may have ramifications far beyond that one wolf.

In addition, wolves are providing a valuable service in keeping chronic wasting disease out of Yellowstone National Park. One pack is primarily responsible for this, taking down weak and sick animals and patrolling an area just outside the park boundry. Wyoming's plan to kill all wolves outside of Yellowstone would be a disaster for this pack and in turn, for the wildlife of Yellowstone.

It is too bad that man has such a huge prejudice remaining against the wolf. It is a beautiful animal and has a valuable role to play - as do bears and other predators. It's offensive to see how rabid people can be in their hatred of another species.

Hopefully this "time out" will allow the government to re-group and be a little more rational, examine the genetic breeding distribution and options between packs, and consider something less than the Wyoming "kill them all" crap ass managment plan. I will be very interested to see how it all goes, and it's nice to have a little good wolf news for a change.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dog's Eye View of Agility

A cool video gives you a great view of an agility course from the dog's perspective. Wow!

Leopard Eats CROCODILE?

Check out these amazing photos. Wow!!! A leopard taking down a croc is unbelievable!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Even Though I Know They Don't All Make It....

While I love Africa more than anyplace else I've been so far, it's always a place of extremes. The highs are so fabulously high they are incredible - and unbelievable. But the lows can be absolutely heartbreaking. I don't forget either extreme, and one tempers the other.

For some reason I have been thinking about this lioness lately. I saw her in a park in northern Botswana in rainy season in February of this year. While everyone was excited to find a lion, it was pretty clear when we got close that this one wasn't going to make it. I have no idea what happened. She appeared to be a young female, alone rather than with a pride. She was very, very thin - emaciated. Whether this was because she could not hunt alone, or had a sickness, I have no idea. It was rainy season so the animals were more spread out, but there were a variety of them, including young baby herbivores, so it doesn't seem like lack of prey would be the issue.

Her skin hung around her in folds, and her bones jutted out. She looked up at me and her eyes were still bright. She had a lot of life left, her eyes hadn't clouded over and she hadn't given up yet. But, it was clear she was in some distress, and she seemed very tired. She did not move or get up other than to turn her head.

It would have been nice to be able to help her. Of course, there was nothing I could do. I didn't think she would last the week, and by now she's probably long since gone. I wonder how she was separated from her family, and how she came to be alone and so darn thin. Even though I know they don't, and can't, all make it, it is so hard to come across an animal that is on the way out, and not be able to do anything about it at all.

It was bittersweet. A few minutes later I saw one of the most fantastic sunsets in my life. As I watched the blazing reds, the flaming orange, and the pinks and purples over the savannah, I thought about her, still lying there, not far away. I wished that I could comfort her, at the very least. I was only with her for a few minutes, but the memory of her is still fresh, and comes back to me at odd times.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Grizzly Man: A Special Kind of Crazy

If you haven't yet seen the disturbing movie "Grizzly Man" you might want to consider Netflixing it. I've been thinking about it lately because there is a new 8 part series on Animal Planet called "The Grizzly Man Diaries." I've been watching it and I think that it is a good idea to watch the movie first so you have more context. It's been interesting, sick, and sad all at once.

If you aren't familiar with the story, Timothy Treadwell was not a scientist. He was a guy who had a drug problem and then overcame it and found something he loved. That something was bears. He fell madly in love with them and came to see himself as their champion and protector. he spent 13 years in Katmai National Park, Alaska, observing and filming them. He kept a diary, sometimes in video and sometimes written. He took photos. The problem was, he saw himself as some sort of Jeff Corwin, absent the education of course, and also some sort of bear survivor and extra special person. He clearly had a variety of mental problems and these come through much more in the movie than the TV series so far. It can be hard to watch and listen to him as he talks about how great he is and how one with the bears.

Eventually Treadwell acquired a girlfriend and she was camping with him in Katmai in 2003 when tragedy struck and they were killed and consumed, by bears. If you want the details of what happened, they are on this website. There is a "fake" audio of the attack floating around but it is a hoax. The actual audio - and there is one - has not and will not be released and it supposedly pretty darn awful because there is a ton of screaming, as one might imagine. It was not the bear's fault. In fact, the true miracle is just how much Treadwell got away with BEFORE he got killed. Thirteen YEARS of walking up to bears, petting them, etc. and NO PROBLEM. Death was inevitable with the kinds of stupid risks he took - the amazing thing is just how often the bears turned away or tolerated him or expressed kindness and acceptance.

I suppose part of why I find Treadwell hard to watch is that I can so well understand the pull he had towards animals. It's just that he didn't have the inner strength or perspective to step back and see the big picture sometimes. For example, he set his tent next to a fox den and he habituated foxes. He named the first fox Timothy after himself. He loved walking through the park, a fox on his heels. And who wouldn't? I would LOVE to cuddle baby kits as he did, to tame wild foxes and to hang out with them and be their friends. It would be FANTASTIC and I get why he was drawn to do that. The problem is, it's awful for the foxes because not all people can be trusted. To be wild and remain safe, the foxes have to fear people - the reality is that there is a very severe risk that if the foxes were not afraid of people, they could be shot, assumed rabid or otherwise "not acting normal" and the best thing for them is NOT to get socialized. But I do get why he did it.

Another thing I completely understand is his interference. He views the animals as his friends and he cannot stand to see them harmed so he will often interfere. He knows it is wrong. He knows that he is not really studying natural behavior if he interferes and alters that behavior. But he can't help himself - he consistently messes with nature, intervenes, and in the process, takes risks that seem insane - any may well be - but which he sees as necessary. For example, he might charge and try to scare off a bear being aggressive to one of his "friend" bears. Crazy? Yeah, but in a way I have to admit I totally understand.

I would take nearly any risk to help a wild creature in need, and I have come close to doing things just about as dumb. In Africa when I see an animal in a snare or trap or with a thorn or infection, it is usually only the guide that keeps me from trying to help. Once in my own backyard, I was really stupid and never even cared. Callie was at the back yard barking like mad her "ALERT!!! INTRUDER!!!!" bark. Two stray male un-neutered pit bulls were in the back yard. I didn't let Callie and Simon out to chase them off as I would afraid they would get bit. But the cats were out and I had to protect them so I went out back. One of the pits lunged for Lizzie and actually knocked her off a fence. She was literally falling into its jaws and somehow I managed to tackle the pit around the neck and Lizzie managed to vault over the fence again, seeming to defy gravity in the process. I threw myself at the pits until I had them leashed and I took them in to the Humane Society where I was met with sheer shock. "Why didn't you call animal control?" the woman asked. "Why would you ever risk doing this yourself?" Honestly, I never thought one second about it - Lizzie was in trouble and I was not about to let her get hurt. If I myself got horribly harmed in the process I would not have cared. Is it really so different to charge at a grizzly bear to protect one you love? I think not, so I can't really fault Treadwell for this even though I know rationally it makes no sense.

He does develop a complex thinking he is the only one who cares or who can help the bears, and he does get a huge ego and talk on tape about how much BBC or whatever media will pay him. He seems to think he knows what he is talking about even though he has only read things about the animals from books. Not that he didn't learn a lot about them - but not like he was a true authority to anything other than his own observations either. That I can't relate to, but I do understand how he could fall so in love and end up feeling alone, like he was the only one who cared. He was paranoid, and he didn't follow the rules of the park or behave rationally.

Treadwell sees hard things - nature. Animals killing other animals. Natural, but awfully hard when you get attached. He takes sides. Again, he is so NOT a scientist, but a guy who is a bit off his rocker, editorializing and interacting and changing outcomes and not doing what is truly best for the animals sometimes. His heart was in the right place but he failed to think things through.

He saw other people and tourists as intruders and he did not like them. I can relate to that too. I can also see how wildlife tourism promotes wildlife conservation, though, and see that there is still enough space to get away from people if you try, thank goodness. But it's eerie to me that I can understand this aspect of him. Is he just someone like me gone way too far?

After all, wouldn't I love nothing more than to pet a wild grizzly, to have it smell my hand, to sit a few feet from cubs? To camp next to a fox den? Any wildlife interaction I LOVE. But, I am too careful, and too worried about the long term effects on the animals. I never feed wild animals as they can't afford to become dependent on humans. I try NOT to habituate them and to maintain a respectful distance at all times. But, my actions always fight against my desires to get close. I think Treadwell was a special kind of crazy - a lot of which I can actually see or feel shadows of if I try. Some aspects of him - his extreme depression, paranoia, addiction, egotism, I can't relate to at all, but his way of soothing himself - getting lost in nature, I completely get.

I don't know that Animal Planet should show the tapes he made, but the footage IS amazing, and the stories are good. You just have to keep in mind - he was nuts. He paid the ultimate price, and what would have been saddest of all to him was they killed the bear that ate him. He would not have wanted that. He truly would have been okay with the bear continuing to live. And I get that too. When you put yourself out there in nature, if it gets you, it's your own fault.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bob the Euglena, and Back to Biology

Click here for a picture of a Euglena, a greenish single celled organism that moves around via a little flagella. I was looking at these live and up close via microscope this week as part of a Biology class I started taking. I decided to go back to college after all this time and get another degree, in Biology, if I can swing the hard math and science classes that I avoided during my first trip through college for my B.A. degree.

This time is all sorts of different. Since I already have degrees and a job, there are a lot fewer unknowns. I am older so my experience and approach to school is different. It's been 20 years since I had high school bio or chemistry, so I am rusty rather than freshly tuned up on those subjects. The field has changed a lot in the last 20 years too. The school is totally different than where I did my undergrad. Textbooks are different - they have interactive online components. Registration is different - everything is online, even paying tuition. Living off campus and being a married adult also makes for a different social scene than that present at my tiny, on-campus only liberal arts college in the nineties.

The biggest difference I am struggling with is that my study techniques which were tried and true for my undergrad and graduate school are not well suited to science, and I am having to adapt those. I also hate the fact I am not allowed to throttle people in the lab who move the slides, bump into the microscope, bump into me while I am looking in the microscope, and generally create chaos as we are racing around to prepare, view and draw 10 slides in 45 minutes or some equally impossible task. My patience for such things is less than when I was younger. My eyesight is also poorer, so while I am not yet 40, it makes me feel in my '50's. I am struggling to make my study time effective and minimize it so I am not spending sooooooo much time on this one class each week.

So back to Bob....or rather, that is what I named the Euglena I spent the most time looking at. They were all so cute. They all swam really fast under the microscope and passed in and out of view. Then we added some "quieting solution" and the swimming slowed down. Bob was industrious though, and way more beautiful than any image I could locate on the web. The light lit up his little organelles and other contents beautifully. His movements were graceful. I was very distressed that the end result for Bob and his buddies was getting washed down the drain. Truly, life even in that simple form is really neat to watch and I have to admire it - not want to destroy it, particularly because it seems to me we could either destroy one slide per lab instead of 10, or maybe even let them live and reproduce in peace, just wash them back into a jar. Why the needless single cell deaths?? Sigh. That's a bit hard to take, but the subject matter is still really interesting, as I remember it was all those long years ago now.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Palin Supports Aerial Hunting - Yuk

I was aware that Sarah Palin supported aerial hunting of bears and wolves in Alaska, but not fully aware of the extent. The more I read about her, the less I like her. Defenders of Wildlife put out this little video to help let people know where she stands on that issue. I doubt too many people will care since aerial gunning is not a hot button issue for a lot of voters this election, but still. What does it say about someone that even this unfair method of hunting, which can be totally brutal, is okay (I mean really, do we have to find them from the air and run them to exhaustion - how can anyone say that is good sportsmanship). I would hope that even most hunters would be willing to draw the line before condoning aerial gunning. If you can stomach the footage (which is hard to watch) then here is the Defenders piece:

Monday, September 1, 2008

Which Candidate Is Best for the Animals?

The big issues affecting animals: environmental conservation, endangered species protection, climate control/global warming, and factory farming. While I'm sure there are others, those are the biggies right now. While I realize I am in the minority, those issues are more important to me than the economy, or social issues.

The environment is an easy one. Obama is clearly better on environmental issues than McCain, based on their voting records in the Senate, not just their campaign rhetoric. Biden's voting record on these issues is also very good. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups endorse Obama and Biden for this reason, and compile voting records which you can search for to see the "report cards" on the issues, which you can then verify on the Senate website if you so choose. I might note also that Palin is horrible when it comes to environmental issues, to the extent she has a record on them. She is hard core "old school Republican" and believes humans come first at all costs. (If we need oil, drill in the wildlife refuge, no question, etc.)

Obama's ticket also wins on endangered species protection. Palin is a particularly bad pick for McCain when it comes to this issue, as she initiated an action against the federal government to prevent endangered species protection for the polar bear. Despite all the science and hard evidence to the contrary, and even the Bush Administration's agreement to give the polar bear endangered species protection, she believes they are doing just fine. She is adamantly opposed to their protection. Here's just one article highlighting her polar bear stance, but a web search will give you many more, including video clips on YouTube of her TV interviews. At least equally appalling, if not more so, is her support for aerial gunning ("hunting") of wolves in Alaska. She not only supports aerial hunting, but she has worked with the Alaska legislature to try and prevent the citizens from having a direct vote on the issue. (Alaska once voted to ban such hunting, which was overturned by the legislature).

Obama/Biden are also clear choices on energy issues and global warming, recognizing that there is urgency in addressing those issues for the sake of the planet. McCain, not so much. Though he claims to support these ideas, his actions and voting record do not support his rhetoric.

Here's a summary of some of Biden's views on energy and science issues, including climate control, from a group called Scientists and Engineers for America. Here is Obama's from the same group. McCain declined to answer their questions but they compiled information on his science related positions here. I might note that not answering is consistent with McCain's attempt to do only what is good for his campaign...answering questions nails you down and can cost you votes, while leaving things open creates ambiguity and maybe you'll keep some votes because voters make assumptions about you.

Particularly disturbing to me is McCain's taking this attitude all the way in failing to show up and vote on key alternative energy legislation. He was in DC when a key vote was taken but failed to show up, and so the measure failed by one vote. (Obama was present and voted for the bill). McCain had a chance to do what was good for America and support wind power and alternative energy but he took the easy way out and supported the oil industry by failing to appear - he would have made the difference. He did what was good for the campaign - remaining ambiguous - as he can now claim he supports alternative energy despite his abysmal lack of ever doing so on the Senate floor when it actually counted. He has actually missed EVERY energy vote on the Senate floor, more than 11 in all. His talking points are just that - his action is to not show up, not cast votes that matter, and not get serious about energy policy in a meaningful way.

Palin is another example of a choice me made that is good for the campaign and not the country. Seriously, he could hardly have found a less qualified candidate, and for someone 72 to not put the best interests of the country ahead of trying to win the campaign is pretty repugnant. I know he wants to pick up the religious right and since she is exceedingly religious and has positions in line with the hard right she helps him do that - but it undercuts any moderate stance he might have been trying to pull off.

As for factory farming, neither candidate has chosen to make statements about seriously changing this. Obama did at least bother to respond to questions about it, and while I don't particularly like his failure in his response to address humane conditions for animals, at least he responded. As usual, McCain didn't. Had he, the typical Republican platform is to support CAFOs and justify factory farming conditions with responses about the economy and ignore the animal issues. However, he would like to leave this too ambiguous, it appears.

While I have never considered myself a Democrat, I have to say that this election I clearly can't support McCain, even without the hideous addition of Palin. While Obama has not expressed the concern for animals I would like in a candidate, I understand the political reality that he has to address the issues that concern most people, not the fringe issues. Sadly, animal conditions remain a fringe issue at this time. But, at least he bothered to respond to questions, and on the big environmental issues he is definately a strong choice.

It will be an exciting election. I do think it's a great sign that finally both parties had a moderate candidate instead of the extremes that usually come out of primaries. Can you imagine a race of extremes with Hilary Clinton v. Mitt Romney? We'd want to kill ourselves with choices like that. At least this way, we have two relatively moderate choices. Unfortunately, McCain is swinging to the right, and Palin particularly skews things hard right. If more people participate in primaries, we can select less hard core extreme candidates, a step in the right direction.

Now we sit back and wait to see how it all plays out.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Gorgeous Esmae Photo, and Update

This is my favorite photo of Esmae ever taken so far. The photographer is Cindy Sherman, who did our wedding photos. Naturally we didn't have traditional family photos and instead we had her take photos of the "family" of pets, Esmae included. It's super hard to get a good photo of a black animal and so I am thrilled that in this one her eye shows.

Esmae seems to be doing just fine. She doesn't love her new diet, and I think that the new grain is probably not a big hit overall, nor is the metabolic support supplement, but she is eating it. Arthur the goat wanted to get his share so I ended up having to use feed bags for the horses twice a day to make sure they get their share of the dewormer, supplement and grain without sharing or getting some of the other horse's. Rather a pain. But the amusing part is that Esmae (smart horse!) knows she has a bag on her face and waits for it to get off, giving me a muffled whinny when in her opinion I am taking too long. Buster, in contrast, doesn't seem to get it so he sticks the bag in the water and can't figure out why he isn't getting any. Likewise, he puts it in the hay and tries to eat hay with a bag on his face. I think Esmae and I give him the same look of sort of sad amusement.

Esmae's lunging is going ok, though not great as I am not great at giving her the right cues or corrections to keep her on the rail and she wants to cut in on me on one side. Also, she goes instantly to a trot, and will canter when asked, but getting her into a walk again vs a stop is difficult. I contacted a local Pat Parelli trainer who taught a workshop I went to and I'll see if she can come out and give us some pointers. Buster has been lunging too.

The goats are on a diet too since they now have 4 hours of pasture per day instead of 10 to 12. I make sure they have hay accessible in their goat house - which the horses cannot access - and as they are a little plump, it should not hurt them any. They prefer to be with the horses; I offered them pasture on the other side of the fence and they declined.

Lola and Edwin appear to be in love. They take naps cuddled together and hang out away from the other goats at times. Lola is intact and Edwin is neutered - I think he gets protective of her and affectionate despite his inability to perform. It's nice to see how far she has come, from being a bit timid of people to always coming up to me to see if I have a treat. She also stands still for pets most of the time now rather than trying to leave the scene. She hollered the other day and I think she was stepped on by a horse or something - she took all weight off a back leg and laid down. But, within a half hour she was using it again with a limp, and I felt no breaks. The next morning she seemed fine on it. Poor kid, it's hard when you can't really be of any comfort to them.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Very Big Python

Driving along a sandy road, we came across a python who was entering the grass on the left of us. We got out of the car and watched as the python made its way through the grass and climbed a nearby tree, looking down at us from its perch. I was surprised by how close we could stand to the snake, while it just looked down at us. It blended in well, and I was surprised by how effortlessly it seemed to climb the tree. It was the largest and most active African snake I got a chance to see, and as always, I was thrilled to see something in the wild I'd never seen before.

The snake was thick, but there was not an obvious bulge where it had eaten something. The other day on Animal Planet I saw a sort of disturbing episode of Untamed and Uncut where some family on safari came across a phython that had just eaten something HUGE and it was laying there unable to move. The python got nervous as the people approached because they were getting too close. It couldn't move with the big meal, so it regurgitated the baby antelope it had just eaten. This means that it waited for a meal, had a successful hunt, went to the trouble of eating it and making and using a lot of saliva in the process, and then took the time to swallow it - all for nothing. And the baby antelope died in vain too, not getting to be a meal for the predator that took it. (Though in Africa, some other predators no doubt took advantage of the meal). This is really too bad - the guide should have moved the people back and not allowed them to stress the snake, if the people didn't have the sense to move back themselves.

Believe it or not, the python I saw was a beautiful animal. That trip I gained a new respect for snakes.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Cobra in the Grass

Okay, I admit it, I was terribly proud of myself for spotting this cobra. We had been sittong on the edge of a wet grassy savannah area in Botswana and the other people in the car, two tourists and two guides, were looking at a snake eagle in a tree. Since birds are boring to me, I was looking at the grass and all around for anything else. At first I thought it could be a stick but something wasn't quite right - so I looked with binoculars and found a cobra with it's hood spred, hunting in the grass. I had never seen one before and it is REALLY hard to be the first to spot anything since the guides are soooooo good at it. I watched for awhile and then pointed it out, once I was sure it was really a snake - and we all watched it hunt for awhile. Then the cobra folded up and disappeared.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Puff Adder

Usually when I go to Africa, I hope each time NOT to see snakes. But after my last trip I have to amend that to I hope to see them but not get bit by them! I saw three types of snakes on my last journey and really found them fascinating, and not as icky as I'd imagined.

We came across this puff adder on a dry, sandy road in northern Botswana. After the vehicle passed over it (it was between the tires) our guide let us get out and walk back to see it up close. He said that puff adders play dead for a time and so it was safe. I once saw a Zebra in Kenya that had most likely been killed by a puff adder and I know they are supposed to be terribly toxic. Surely in remote Africa if you get bit, you're done for. Yet I still found it very cool to be able to be close to one, to watch it lie there, frozen, possessing the ability to easily kill me yet more fearful of me than I of it.

I was surprised how fat it was and I asked my guide if it has eaten recently. He told me puff adders are naturally a wide, fat snake. Seeing it so clearly on the sand was a great chance to get a close up of the head, and to see the length without camouflage (about 2-3 feet). I may never see another one, so I'm lucky I got to visit this one. I knelt down and took some photos, still maintaining a respectful distance. The snake's eyes were cold like a shark's - there is no connection there that I feel I can make. I have come to respect snakes and regard them as having a valuable place in the ecosystem, but I never have a desire to touch them or get too close!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Baby Crocodiles in Botswana

My last trip to Africa was to Botswana, Namibia and Zambia, in January and February. As things here get stressful with school starting (I'm going to try for a second degree, in biology), Esmae not being well, and work getting really busy, I think about Africa because it is the most peaceful place I know. Whenever things get harried, I think about what's waiting on the other side of the world, when I can get there again. The gorillas will be there, at least for a few more years. Somewhere out there lion prides are lazing in the sun, or hunting. Zebras are making their funny braying noises, and ungulates of all kinds are grazing away. Dramas are playing out and life is going on as it always has - I'm just not there to see it right now, but I will be again, eventually.

I have several photos and experiences from the last trip I didn't blog about yet so I thought this would be a good time, since Africa is on my mind and I'm longing to go there again already.

On a cruise on the Chobe river I saw a mother crocodile and her babies. It took me forever to see the babies, they were so well camoflauged. Look at the top of the branch sticking out of the water and under it and you'll find the babies. There's a close up of one of the babies - hard to imagine how that little one can grow so big. You can see mom in the water, just her eye and the tip of her head showing. I never cease to be amazed at how well crocs can hide - even when you know they are there it can take forever to see them, not unlike leopards though not quite as bad. Although they are creepy in some sense, for some reason I also like them. They are relics of an ancient age, dinosaurs that made it, and there is nothing evil about them, they are just water predators that have been successful. Though they aren't as cool as land predators, I enjoy watching them when I can find them and I was excited to see babies in the wild for the first time. Mom kept guard.