Friday, February 29, 2008

Tired Linking Experiment

I confess, I am very tired from getting up every two hours to take Annie (the adorable foster puppy!) out. Annie is really smart and has already learned to sit. She's working on "come" and learning her name. She's doing great on crate training. She's self-directed with her toys, and she's learning not to bite ankles (slooooowly). Overall, she is doing great, and I'm wiped out. So a short blog post today.

I thought I would try linking a photo from LOL cats and see if it works. I thought this one was awesome.

Humorous Pictures
Enter the ICHC

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Have you seen the full video?

As you may have noticed, I tend not to blog about subjects that are already getting a plethora of media attention. However, I did want to post something related to the latest beef recall, which is the largest in U.S. History. I find it very interesting that this recall was prompted by a video done by the Humane Society were someone went undercover and simply filmed what was happening. The cows, to pass USDA inspections (which occur at scheduled and predictable times) have to be able to stand. If they can't, due to sickness, weakness or injury, they are supposed to be humanely euthanized. This video shows the brutal attempts to make extremely sick or weak animals stand, by beating them, shocking them, pulling on them with chains and heavy equipment, even maneuvering them with a pallet loader ramming into them or rolling them.

I found many excerpts of the video on Youtube but I couldn't locate the full one except on the NY Times link. I waited awhile to see the video because I knew it was going to be bad. It is bad - but you should see it.

It's great that this got out, and made a lot of people think about eating beef. However, there are equally horrifying videos documenting totally inhumane treatment of pigs, chickens and other animals. Here is one that deals with turkey processing. This one covers conditions for several types of animals going to slaughter. These videos and others like them didn't get the same kind of coverage. Is it the link to school lunches that made the beef video so compelling that action was taken?

Although they can be hard to watch, it's better than living in denial that these things are going on. If they are to stop, Americans in mass have to demand better conditions for animals, or stop eating meat. I believe the videos are a powerful educational tool about how things are.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Annie, and Other Pet News

Another foster puppy has moved in. Little Annie is quite a handful! She is a high energy border collie mix, six weeks old. She SHOULD still be with her mom and any litter mates until eight weeks, but whoever bred her mom or didn't bother to spay her obviously didn't care. So she'll be keeping me up nights for the next few weeks.

She looks like snoopy when she's sleeping. She has two modes - full tilt and fast asleep. She is totally innocent and it's fun to watch her chase her tail, pounce on a toy, or try to play with the big dogs. Less cute is the getting up every two hours to put her out all night, the house training, and the constant supervising to make sure she doesn't get into anything that could hurt her. But, it's for a short time, and I think it's worth it. As I write she is rumbling around the room sounding like a tiny horse galloping. She sounds MUCH bigger than she is. All the cats, even Nadia, the smallest, are bigger than Annie.

Callie is trying to teach her the rules for playing with adult dogs: do not jump on their faces, do not bite their ears, do not try to nurse off them, do not hang on to their hair with your teeth and get dragged, etc. So far Callie and Simon have both been very patient with her, as have the cats.

She is really, really cute. The above photo gives you an idea, but she's even cuter in person. I'm sure at least a few photos of her will make it to the blog over the next couple of weeks.

In other pet news, Elsie the foster cat has left the building and gone to Petsmart in hopes of getting her own permanent home. I'm told she's marketing herself well, coming to the front of the cage and saying hello to people. I hate leaving her there, but not one person has called about her, and being all black she'll rely on her personality and exposure to get adopted. I'm checking in on her daily to see how it goes. If she isn't adopted in a week or two we'll see about taking her back indefinitely.

Oscar the cat has an unexplained tummy rash. We are, to his dismay, treating it and we'll see how it goes. Love those vet bills.

We are also expanding the family a bit, and more on that in the posts to come over the next week.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New Idaho Dogfighting Law

I am pleased to report that Governor Otter has signed a bill (and of course, the Idaho House and Senate have passed a bill) which makes dog fighting a felony in Idaho. The bill was carried by Brad Little, a more conservative Legislator and a rancher.

Idaho has long lagged behind the times in terms of animal protection laws. The Animal Legal Defense Fund has consistently rated Idaho as one of the five worst states in terms of animal protection laws. With a strong rancher mentality and strong lobbyists from the cattleman's association and the sheepherders association, it's safe to say the Idaho Legislature (and Governor) are not animal conservation or animal rights motivated. But, they do cave to political pressure - so while they are anxious to hunt and kill off wolves, they succumbed to public pressure in light of the Michael Vick case and made tougher penalties for dog fighting. Too bad they ignored the huge cock (rooster) fighting problem that exists in Idaho, particularly in some areas with large Hispanic populations.

Another minor bill involving penalties for animal cruelty is in the works. This one, sponsored by Democrat Kate Kelly (much less influential than Brad Little) appears to be doing very well also. It clarifies that you can be guilty of animal cruelty to animals you don't own. Another small step in the right direction.

Idaho still has huge problems with spay and neuter (lack thereof), inadequate shelters, only one no-kill shelter for cats with another in the works for hopefully cats and dogs, and no requirement for rabies vaccine outside the Boise are. Cock fighting is a major problem as well. Also, breed prejudice exists and Payette and Fruitland have, idiotically, banned pit bulls. (There is not a good way to challenge these particular breed bans in these jurisdictions, despite their failed logic and bad public policy and increase to taxpayers). There are also huge dairies, CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), etc. The State is not very progressive on animal issues in general, suffice it to say.

The photo above is one of the pit mix puppies for adoption at the Idaho Humane Society currently. I fostered a pit bull two summers ago and he was one of the sweetest puppies ever. There are many every week available for adoption. At least there's a bit more protection, as of July, for dogs trapped in dogfighting if their exploiters can be caught. Now we have to hope law enforcement takes it seriously.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Congrats to Shivani Bhalla!!


Congratulations to lion researcher Shivani Bhalla for being named a Charlotte Fellow by the African Wildlife Foundation. I was lucky enough to get to spend a few days with Shivani when I was last in Samburu, looking for Albert, the baby elephant I had seen born in 2005. Shivani is a native of Kenya and is obtaining her Ph.D from Oxford. She is studying lions in my favorite park in Kenya, and as part of her work looking at lion predation on the endangered grevy's zebra - my favorite type of zebra. She's appeared on this blog before because she has been to Gabon and was kind enough to share some of her photos of the trip - which were amazing!

In honor of Shivani I post today two photos of her favorite lioness, Pixie. I saw Pixie and her mate on a hunt my last day in Samburu, but they were chased off by some elephants before they could go in for the kill. Shivani's blog, Ewaso Lions, is featured on the links on the left and if you want to read about her recent work, including her last sighting of Pixie, click on her field diary section. I contacted Shivani when the political problems began in Kenya and was pleased to hear that she is fine. Samburu is such an amazing place I can't imagine how hard it must be for her to leave and go to the UK to study now and then. I am very happy for her and wish her well.

AWF is my favorite charity, in part because they help train and support AFRICAN researchers rather than sending in researchers from the west. It is critical that the local people support conservation efforts or they are doomed to fail, and having scientists from African countries invested in conservation is a huge step in the right direction.

This year AWF honored four African women researchers with a Charlotte Fellowship. While I don't personally know any of the other three, I'm thrilled to see the programs they are working on. Galebotswe Pelotshweu will study reintroduced rhinos in Moremi National Park in Botswana. (I was just in that park a few weeks ago and I loved it, but saw no rhinos). Gladys Ng'umbi is working on natural resource management around Arusha National Park in Tanzania. Ifura Ukio is researching human-lion conflict with the Maasai around Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. Congrats to all of these women!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Incredible Horse Video!

My friend recently shared this with me and I have to say, it's really amazing. If I could do this with my Esmae (my horse, who happens to look a lot like this) that would be more than enough to ask of life.

Watching this reminded me of the feeling I had watching a trainer work with an orca at SeaWorld. There is something incredibly, but unexplainably, moving about watching a human and an animal communicate so well and work together so smoothly. I can't think of any greater display of inter-species communication.

With the video my friend sent this additional background info:

"At the National Congress for Quarter Horses, competing horses must perform pre-set patterns in the show ring. Walk to side-left, walk to side-right, spin-left, spin-right, figure eight pattern-wide, figure eight pattern-tight, walk, trot, gallup, and then must finish by tucking rump under and doing stop/slides, then backing up. Riders work with saddle, bit and bridle. They are given three tries in the arena, and the score from their best ride is used.

This young woman, Stacy Westfall, had already decided to use the score from a prior run. She used her third time in the arena as an 'exhibition ride'. She dedicated it to her father who had passed away less than a month before. She completes the entire pattern without saddle or bridle. Enjoy."

Watching the horse's tongue is cool too! The only downside is the bit of showmanship at the end, which detracts a bit from the experience for me. But, see for yourself...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

McCain Bad for the Environment;Obama My Pick

Though this isn't a very political blog, since it does focus on animal and environmental issues, at least a word about the very interesting Presidential race is warranted I think.

According to the Sierra Club: "Two weeks ago John McCain was the only Senator to duck a crucial vote on the future of clean energy in America -- dooming to failure the measure that would have helped make renewable energy more affordable and accessible. Now it turns out this missed vote is part of a pattern.

Last week, the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) released the 2007 National Environmental Scorecard giving Senator McCain a score of ZERO. According to the scorecard, McCain was the only member of Congress to skip all 15 crucial environmental votes scored by LCV.

McCain's LCV score exposes the real record behind the rhetoric -- a lifetime LCV score of 24, a history of siding with the polluters and special interests, and a consistent pattern of ducking important environmental votes."

In addition to the environment, this year I'll be considering foreign policy heavily in my vote. Even if I could look past Ex-President Clinton's inaction during the Rwandan genocide (which I can't), I'd have severe doubts about Hilary for a number of reasons. In the next few years, our policies in the middle east will be crucial. The fact is that most leaders of middle eastern countries are a lot more likely to cooperate with Barak Obama than Hilary Clinton, as they simply will not be able to get past the fact that she's a woman, or the baggage of her husband's policies. With Kenyan roots, I'm also hopeful that Obama will improve our policies in Africa. I certainly hope we choose to do something about the Darfur crisis, and that we consider how U.S. policy can effect the poorest countries.

For example, farm subsidies. More than one African has said to me "How can your country subsidize farmers? It makes it so we cannot sell our crops." Certainly, farm subsidies have a plethora of problems, most of which have been commented on extensively by others, so I'll just mention them in passing.

Yes, no secret, I'm supporting Obama. At least he is something new. With Hilary we get experience, but much of that experience is in manipulating, fundraising, covering up, spinning, and corruption. I have no respect for her or her husband, and if you do, I'll respect that, so you don't need to send flaming comments. Personally, I'm thrilled to see Obama doing so well against one of America's most powerful couples, in results and in fundraising. Just when I was thinking things would never change in Washington, they just might.

As a side note, Obama sat on the committee that heard testimony on the Animal Terrorism Act which made actions by animal rights groups classified as "terrorist activities." When I was researching that bill I was pleased with his intelligent comments on the issue. While we can't know what all he'll do for the environment, animals, or foreign policy if elected, at least his votes so far indicate he's headed in all the right directions.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Wolves Are Delisted

Gray wolves are officially off the endangered species list, as announced by the Dept. of the Interior yesterday. While environmental groups will try to sue to reverse the decision, if the delisting goes into effect and state "management plans" are allowed to control, the fate of the wolves will be a very sad one. There is still a great deal of hatred and misinformation surrounding wolves, and when the federal penalties for killing them are removed, I fear poaching, as well as legal hunting, will have a dramatic impact.

Hunting predators and pack animals is quite different from hunting herd animals. With wolves, you can't easily tell whether they are male or female. Nor can you tell which male and female are the alpha without prolonged observation of the pack. Pack structure is important, and killing any pack member, let alone several, dramatically disrupts breeding patterns and the life of all the wolves in the pack. More than likely, packs will shatter and break up.

In addition, at least one wolf pack is helping to keep chronic wasting disease out of Yellowstone National Park. If that pack, in Wyoming, is not protected, the disease may advance quickly.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Weird Sea Creatures Discovered

In the deep waters near Antarctica scientists have been finding some really cool and never before seen sea creatures. Check out these very bizarre sea worms that look like glass tulips. You can read about the two month study here. This is a great video of a giant sea spider swimming and watch towards the end to check out how many there are and how they pop out from the coral. (Eeew). Read about and see photos of new species of fish discovered. Sadly, the first thing we do when we find a species is kill it so we can study it's DNA and dissect it, which really sucks, but so it goes. Hopefully once discovered it can be studied alive and, even more hopefully, left alone or protected. At least creatures 2,000 meters under the sea have the advantage of not being bothered much by man, unless you count pollution and global warming.

Some deep sea corals were discovered on this expedition, and another expedition to study deep sea corals is getting off the ground too.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pregnant Tiger Rescued

Recently, a tiger was tranquilized and rescued by wildlife authorities in India after the tiger was chased up a tree by villagers. The villagers chased the tiger and threw stones and burning sticks at her. (What is WRONG with these people!?!) The disgusting part is obviously the way the tiger was treated, pursued, and feared by the local people - clearly they are NOT conservation minded. But the upside is that they had a system in place whereby the right people were contacted, and wildlife authorities were able to take control of the situation (sort of...) and eventually get the tiger to safety in a reserve. Stones and burning sticks did make contact with the tiger, causing "minor wounds." Hopefully, the stress of the ordeal won't cause her to lose the baby. Every tiger is precious in a world with so few remaining.

To see the rather sad footage, click here. At least this story has an upside, and hopefully the tiger is recovering - and will avoid mankind forever, and teach her cub (if it makes it) to do the same.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Animal Legal Defense Fund

ALDF, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, is a charitable organization dedicated to fighting for animals within the legal system. They offer briefs and legal assistance to prosecutors and law enforcement agencies which might otherwise be too overwhelmed to take cases on. They file lawsuits against puppy mills, abusive breeders, and animal hoarders to try to rescue animals in deplorable conditions. And, they assist individual lawyers pursuing cases about animals in the legal system. They even have a small grant program for individual cases to assist in defraying legal costs.

The ALDF website contains useful news and information about cases around the country involving animals, both criminal and civil. I have found ALDF to be a very useful and informative organization and they are efficient with their donations, so I continue to support them year after year.

They don't seem to get nearly as much press as Best Friends or the Humane Society, yet they are doing a great deal on behalf of animals. So, if you aren't already familiar with them, I encourage you to check out their website and learn more.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

More Ways to Support Wildlife Charities

I recently discovered a site, www.igive.com, where you link to online shopping sites and a portion of your purchase goes to the charity of your choice. There's a wide variety of merchants and a good selection of charities, and it's easy to use. There's also a mini-app you can download to let you know if a site you're shopping on is an igive sponsor so you can link through igive. Ue of the site is free with registration, and you can track money you've given through purchases. The only downside so far is that it appears you have to pick one and only one charity to support, so you can't give a percentage to a few different ones. They even give you the tax information necessary to take a deduction for the portion of your purchases going to charity.

My personal favorite charity is the African Wildlife Federation, so I use the African Wildlife Federation credit card so a percentage of all purchases goes to the charity. Then when I can use igive, another percentage goes their way. Of course, there is also a standard monthly donation going to them as well.

Although I've not used it yet, I also noticed the other day that Ebay let's you donate a portion of your sales income to a charity of your choice these days.

Last year's Valentine's Day post discussed other animal charities and habitat preservation charities, and ways to research charities you support.

No matter what your beliefs, hopefully you support at least one charity that is working to improve something you thing worthy of attention. It's always hard to go to Africa and see all that needs to be done, and come back here where people have so much, all the time.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Situation in Kenya

I really love Kenya, and even though I've only been there twice, I'll never forget it's gorgeous scenery, astounding animal life, and wonderful people. Although I spent the most time with Maasai and Samburu, I met people from several other tribes as well, and I really enjoyed my time with all the Kenyans I had a chance to speak to. I have friends there I correspond with regularly, in both north and south Kenya. When I was last there in May of 2007, the Presidential campaign was well underway, with Raila Odinga challenging the incumbent, Kibaki.

It was interesting to note that all Kenyans seemed to know about Barak Obama and be hoping for him for a Presidential candidate in the U.S.

The campaign for Kenya's President was shocking in some ways. There was a newspaper article arguing that Odinga should not be President because he is from the Luo tribe, which does not circumcise men. An uncircumcised President was apparently an appalling thought to some. I tried to imagine the President's penis being a subject of debate in America (well, there was that Monica Lewinsky episode....) Anyway, it was interesting to see a race underway, and everyone seemed to be paying attention.

In 2005 when I was there, they were about to vote on a new Constitution (voted down). I read a copy and discussed it with several Kenyans and it was REALLY interesting. For one thing, they thought ALL Americans voted (I wish!). They prized freedom of speech because they had only recently had it. Many had felt that after electing Kibaki to replace Moi, initial reforms in education and other areas had been positive, but then when it came to a new Constitution the President was trying to give himself too much power.

It was clear that another major problem with the draft Constitution was that it attempts to be not just a guiding document but the entire codification of all laws of Kenya - divorce law, property law, civil rights laws, etc. A big mistake. A Constitution needs to be a simple framework of government operation and the balance of power between the branches of government, defining the rights of the people against their government and the power granted.

When election violence broke out late last year, I knew it would have a tremendous impact of Kenya's economy, and it has. People in the tourism industry are being laid off, and people are afraid to travel there even though the violence is largely Kikuyus vs. Luos and in areas not near National Parks and tourist stops. I have been relieved to hear that my friends are fine, whether in Nairobi or a National Park. They tell me that things are calming down, and I hope they are.

I recently read "Unbowed," the memoir of Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan woman who won the nobel prize. She founded a grassroots environmental tree-planting movement and mushroomed into being an advocate for democracy. Educated in Kenya and the U.S., and later, Europe, she is a Professor and a well-educated woman. While there are those who have issues with her, I thought the book offered interesting insights into Kenya's recent political past. Luos and Kikuyus have been pitted against one another before in other political conflicts.

If I had a trip to Kenya planned, based on what I know from people on the ground, I wouldn't cancel it. I hope that things calm enough for mass tourism to remain, as it is so vital to so many people there. Kenya was such a hopeful, progressive country it's sad to see this setback...yet it's understandable. If an election is rigged, people have to fight back. Kenyans have fought hard for the freedoms they have and they do not want to backslide or have more corruption. Many, many want change and found that hope landing in Odinga's camp.

I have great hope for Kenya, and a great love for the struggling nation as well. Things will calm down, and hopefully before it is too late.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Interesting Animal Photos

Here's an interesting page where you can see photos of some of the world's most endangered species.

Several new species (24!) were discovered in Suriname in a study sponsored by a mining company which wanted to mine the area. Whether the mining plans went forward or not isn't reported. You can see photos of several of the "new" animals here.

This page has a slide show (on the right) of animal photos which are very interesting, and great examples of animal photography as well.

There's just always something new and interesting in the world of wildlife.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

New Study Shows Lobsters Can Feel Pain

There's been a long raging debate in some circles over whether lobster (and other crustaceans) can feel pain. I suspect this arose in part because those who like lobster justified the lobsters thrashing around when thrown into boiling water by saying "They don't feel pain." In any event, there have been several studies in recent years to try and determine whether or not lobsters do feel pain, and the science is determining that YES, they can and do feel pain.

One of the authors of the study points out that most people who argue that lobsters don't feel pain use only arguments, not science. Logically, it would seem that all creatures have an avoid pain/seek pleasure type of hard wiring, but it's been a serious research problem.

While you can find the story and a summary of the study many places, I like the NPR report best, as there's a nice interview with one of the researchers. He points out that he's not advocating that everyone stop eating these animals, but that people recognize it is not appropriate to toss lobsters in boiling water, to stab living prawns onto skewers, or to eat live, raw flesh of crustaceans. He advocates humanely killing the animals before consumption, a middle ground position most people ought to be able to live with.

Personally, I could never eat lobster after watching them be cooked when I lived in Maine. While I am glad science has been able to demonstrate the suffering objectively, for me it was enough to see the lobsters desperately trying to get out of the pot; if it wasn't genuine suffering, it certainly gave the appearance of it, and that was enough for me.

I found another interesting lobster related article, this one on a Scottish blog (See the 10-9-07 entry). The author discusses a technique he learned from an old man of the sea - hypnotizing lobsters. It's worth a read.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Elephant Mimics Truck Noise to Communicate

Two elephants have caught the attention of scientists by making sounds that are not made by elephants in the wild. It is thought that the elephants are trying to communicate - in one case an African elephant with an Asian elephant (they are genetically different and make different sounds), and in the other case an elephant imitates truck noises. Scientists are researching whether elephants in the wild also imitate other sounds they hear.

To read about these elephants, see here or here or here. You can listen to a recording of the truck imitation here or recordings of both unusual elephant calls here.

Monday, February 11, 2008

New Species of Giant Elephant Shrew Discovered

Scientists in Tanzania have discovered a new species, the world's largest elephant shrew. These guys are genetically related to elephants, aardvarks and seahorses. The area in which they were discovered has also yielded several other new species, including bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian. I have no doubt that Africa contains a plethora of other species which, I hope, can be discovered before they're gone. To read more about this discovery, click here.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A New Foster Cat

The Idaho Humane Society is full of cats...so full that they have to put some of them to sleep or into foster homes. So, we took in this very sweet foster girl. She's about a year old, all black, outgoing and not timid, and she gets along well with other cats, and dogs too. I haven't come up with a name for her yet, but the IHS calls her Login No. 713627. I figure that since she's black (and they get adopted last) and she's full grown (kittens go faster) she will probably be here a long time....and maybe even become cat number five. But, we'll see. If you know anyone who might be interested in adopting please comment or get the contact info off the www.idahohumanesociety.com website.

If you haven't yet considered being a foster family, I hope you will. By temporarily providing a home for cats, dogs or other animals you can save their lives. They don't deserve to die just because someone was too careless to spay and neuter their parents.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sounds of Africa

One of the coolest things about a trip to Africa is hearing the night sounds. Nothing prepares you for the soundtrack that is nearly constant. So many birds, insects and animals are around, day and night, that there are only a few hours in the early morning, around 3 or 4 am until 5 or 6 am, when things get quiet. The frogs have worn themselves out by then and even the night birds have gone to bed. I highly recommend camping for the best chance to hear animals, as lodges have music, drunk tourists, and other distractions.

Among the sounds are crickets, cicada, frogs, birds and, if you're lucky, mammals. Lions, hyena, leopard, zebra, elephant.....there are all sorts of noises you might hear.

If you want a taste of these sounds, here are some neat links to check out:

What I call "tinkle frogs": http://amphibiaweb.org/sounds/Amnirana_galamensis.mp3

What I call "bubble frogs": http://amphibiaweb.org/sounds/Hyperolius_nasutus.mp3

Mammal sounds: http://www.africantrophy.com/sounds.html

More mammals: http://www.partnersinrhyme.com/soundfx/animals/Safari.shtml

Elephant sounds: http://www.elephantcountryweb.com/Elephantsounds.html

Monday, February 4, 2008

Back!

I am back and will try and catch up on blogging as soon as I can. Despite lost luggage and a variety of mishaps it was a fun trip, and I can't recommend Africa highly enough. Now having been to eight African countries I can say I am still eager to see more. I would love to go spend more time in Zambia and in Namibia, and to see the countries I've seen in other seasons. Plus, Tanzania and Gabon remain goals for some day, and Eqypt, though that hardly seems to fit in with the rest of Africa. If you haven't gone yet, you're missing out!