Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bighorn Sheep

Recently we did something we've been meaning to do for years - rafted the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.  We saw deer, and big horn sheep.  Most of the time I didn't have my camera as I was in the paddle raft, but I did get these photos of some big horn sheep at the takeout as they came down to the river for a drink.  If you like rafting and camping at all, the Middle Fork is a fabulous trip through a gorgeous wilderness area, which has been kept largely wild and clean.  It's hard to believe it is a trip taken by 10,000 people per year. 

Although we were hoping to see bear and more wildlife in general, you never know what you will find in the wilderness and we were not disappointed by any aspect of the trip.  We did have fresh bear poop at one of our campsites but the bear was nowhere to be seen.  (Though one of the guides told an excellent bear encounter story!)  We went with Canyons River Company and couldn't have been happier with them.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Bat Cave in Panama

Visiting Bocas del Toro, Panama one adventure we undertook was a visit to a bat cave near Bahia Honda.  Apparently there are two local men "approved" for this tour though others try and do it as well.  You take a motor boat to the mouth of the river, then paddle up the river to a dock near a local community.  (Sadly, here you find emaciated, parasite ridden, starving dogs.  I gave them the majority of my lunch and some kind petting but that is not going to save them I am sure). 

There is a 1km hike through an abandoned cacao plantation.  Apparently a cacao fungus destroyed the plantation's crops so they now make money by charging tourists to see the bat cave.  ($4, believe it or not).  So you hike a small distance, seeing sloths and strawberry poison dart frogs on the way, to reach the mouth of the cave. 

A headlamp is a must for this adventure, and swimwear.  You enter the cave and look up to see the bats (see photo one - that is looking up).  I brought a small camera in a ziploc bag so I could take a few photos.  Most of the bats (four species here, including nectar and fruit bats) are in the first few meters of the cave.  You hike along the cave, starting in ankle deep water, and the depth fluctuates, gradually getting deeper, until it is chest deep - and then you come upon a small pool and a waterfall deep inside the cave.  Supposedly you can kike another hour and a half (would love to do that sometime!) but our group was ready to turn around after the pool.

In addition to the bats, we saw a scorpion spider and a few smaller spiders.  We both just LOVED this adventure!  The bats were so cool to see and hear, the hiking was a great adventure as you had to kind of feel your way along the cave walls, and the cool water was actually nice.  At one point we all turned our lights off and it was pitch black.  Luckily one of the guys in our group spoke decent Spanish and translated the guide's communications; he spoke little English.  I understood a portion of what he said but not all. 

FABULOUS excursion I will long remember and would not hesitate to do again!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The elusive sloth! At last!

I finally managed to see sloths in the wild!  On a recent trip to Panama we were able to see several three-toed sloths.  Here is a photo of one of the males.  We spent our trip in Bocas del Toro, Panama, which was gorgeous and offered great snorkeling as well as some nice jungle habitat.  We spent a few nights at La Loma Jungle Lodge, which had gorgeous accommodations in an eco-lodge in the rainforest.  We saw a mom and baby sloth off the main lodge platform upon arrival and several more when we took an excursion to see some bat caves.  

On previous trips to Costa Rica and Ecuador I failed to see the world's slowest animal, so although having been lucky enough to see leopards and cheetahs and other speedy, elusive creatures...the sloth was my great hope for this trip.  Very happy to finally see them!!!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sanctuary Lions Desperate for Funds for Food

There are 16 lions who may not have anything to eat this week, so if you care about lions, please consider sending them $5, $10, or whatever you can afford.  Although there are many worthy charitable causes, this is literally a life or death situation for these lions so I hope you will consider helping, even if it is a small one time donation. SanWild, the sanctuary where the lions reside, finds itself in this dire situation due to forces beyond its control, and the lions lives are in the balance.

SanWild Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in South Africa takes in sick or wounded animals, heals them without habituating them to humans, and releases them back into the wild.  In some cases when animals are already habituated to humans or are too injured to release back to the wild, the animals remain at the sanctuary.  SanWild relies on donations for survival, and at the moment, they have a critical financial need relating to 16 lions which live at the sanctuary. 

In 2003, the government confiscated 16 lions from a canned hunting and breeding operation where their living conditions were not acceptable.  SanWild agreed to take the lions and built an enclosure for them.  These lions cannot be released back to the wild as they are too habituated to humans, and they also do not have enough space on the sanctuary for sufficient territory. 

The funding situation is so critical that SanWIld was trying to get enough donations over the past weekend to buy food for the lions next meal on Tuesday - tomorrow.  The lions only eat every 4 days or so.  Hopefully they have enough to buy the next meal, but then there is the one after can donate on their website or securely via Paypal.  Be aware that if your credit card charges a fee for international transactions (usually 3 percent) you may not want to use it (though that's 30 cents on a $10 donation).  There is no fee if you use your debit card on Paypal or if your credit card does not impose a foreign transaction fee. 

The problem comes about because money that was promised never arrived.  SanWild says: "You can read the full story on how the lions were all saved from South Africa's infamous canned lion hunting and breeding industry. You will find their story on our website at Success Story Archive. The South Africa Nature Conservation department brought them to us with an undertaking to pay for their care, but they never did and did not keep to the agreement. The lions are simply too habituated and imprinted on humans to be released. We also do not have enough land to release 16 lions."  So imagine, you take in 16 lions, you expect some financial support, you don't get any - what do you do?  SanWild has since 2003 found the money and found a way, although at times it has been desperate enough they considered euthanizing the lions.  What does it cost to feed these lions in Sounth Africa?  About 600,000R, or $80,000 USD, annually.  Half of that typically is taken care of by a European foundation that donates at the end of April, typically.  The other half, has to come from donations where they can get it.  Right now they are out of funds and still have a couple months until they expect their large annual donation.  If enough people would send even $5, we could see them through this time.

Here is some information about these lions, which you can find with more information on the SanWild webpage under Funding Appeals:

"At SanWild we have 16 beautiful lions all rescued from South Africa’s infamous captive lion breeding industry. The animals were all confiscated by the authorities and arrived at SanWild in 2003 where they have been living a full and secure life in their respective prides.

Caring for these lions has remain an uphill financial battle and there have been times where we have had to come up with some very ingenious ways to ensure that sufficient funding is available to ensure the lions next meal. There have also been times when our financial situation became so dire that we had to consider putting the lions to sleep if we should fail to come up with the necessary donor funding. However with the support of our friends and the lions; friends out in the public domain, we have managed time and time again to overcome our dire financial crisis and ensure the lions’ continue welfare.

At the beginning of 2012 we once again find ourselves in a dire financial situation in respect to have enough funds to ensure that the lions next meals is secured until grant of sufficient donor funding can be secured for 2012. 

May we please ask you to spare a thought for our lions and consider a donation for our lions to ensure their welfare and next meals ASAP? All donations are appreciated; no matter how large or small. Our animals’ lives depend on securing the funding and we will be most appreciative of your support"

On the SanWild facebook page the comments show that they have resigned themselves to having to beg for money, and that they largely have resigned themselves to the indifference of people who, while talking on their cell phones, watching their televisions, driving their cars, and dining out, can't be bothered to make a small donation.  This recent comment, for example, from SanWild:

"Sadly the situation does not make my blood boil anymore. It just saddens me so much too continuously have to beg and beg. To answer your question on how does one run a protected wildlife reserve on public donations? With great difficulty but over the years it has been the generosity of a small group of dedicated donors that has helped us grow SanWild. However lately donor funding has dropped to an all time low and keeping up with the increasing demand for the need for wildlife rescues and sanctuary is very difficult. What is so demoralising and humiliating is when people that do have access to mobile phones and internet believe they cannot afford to help. $10 a month from each of our FB friends can truly be the difference between life and death for so many animals; if only people would understand or acknowledge this? After all we are only the voices of the animals that cannot speak to the humans out there; we are only here to convey their most basis needs to all! At great personal sacrifice we continue for their sake month after month, year after year while so many people out there cheer us on, “go and save more animals” yeah, yeah yeah. If only they knew how difficult it gets at times; how terrible it is for me on a personal level to keep on asking and asking while pretending that I am okay. If only they could see the love and trust in the animals eyes we have to care for on a daily basis, trust that we will provide for them. I wonder if animals could talk and read if they would trust so much; knowing then that their very survival always hangs on the goodwill of only a small handful of people that actually care to do more than just talk."

Too many people say they care - yet do nothing.  So many people expect "others" to take care of things.  If you believe that lions are wonderful creatures that deserve to be saved, and if you believe that wildlife sanctuaries serve a much needed purpose, I hope you will consider even a small donation to help these lions.  Conditions in Africa are far from what they are here - your money will go farther than you think.  If you can donate the cost of one fast food meal, it will matter.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

An interesting article on the Zanesville massacre

Terry Thompson and the Zanesville Ohio Zoo Massacre: Newsmakers: GQ

This is a very well written article on the Zanesville exotic animal massacre and the man behind it.  It made me think of the great documentary "The Elephant in the Living Room," about people who have exotic animals, and also the series "Fatal Attractions" on Animal Planet, about people who have exotic animals and eventually are killed by them.

I can completely understand the attraction to have a wild animal.  In fact, I'd have several myself, if it were not for my over-riding concern about what is best for the animals.  There is no question in my mind that it would not be best for an exotic animals to be in my home.  I believe they belong in the wild, and that we should do nothing to promote their capture, sale or breeding to private citizens.  I believe zoos serve a valid conservation and education purpose, but generally speaking, it is still sad to visit them and see animals in captivity.  It is especially heartbreaking after seeing them in the wild to see them in a zoo, and beyond heartbreaking to see them in a home or "private zoo" setting.

As a kid, I loved the zoo.  One of my first memories of doing any activity outside the home was visiting the Detroit zoo when my family lived in Detroit.  We moved away when I was three, so I had to be younger than three.  I can still remember vivid scenes of the animals.  The first lion, the first elephant, the first zebra I saw in real life.  Wow, I was impressed.  I was with my mom.  I never had an easy relationship with her, and I don't know how she came to take me to the zoo that day.  I remember it was raining, and I wanted to stay all day anyway.  We shared an umbrella.  We shared a hot pretzel with cheese - my first - another vivid memory of that day.  I remember the male gorilla I saw behind glass, and how I thought he looked sad.  I remember a conversation with my mom about that...not the words, I just remember asking her about it and that she did say something about it.  I remember looking into the gorilla's eyes, and hearing her voice while I did.  I always visit zoos when on business or leisure trips around the world.  There is no question my love of animals and my early exposure to the zoo inspired me later in life to visit animals in the wild and see them in their natural habitats, where they belong.

After seeing elephants in the wild, it was painful to see them in the zoo.  It is no way for an elephant to live.  Yes, maybe it is better than death and it serves an educational purpose, but it is tragic how little most zoos can provide for elephants compared to what they have in the wild - large family groups, a variety of vegetation, lots of various terrain, etc.  Seeing an elephant standing alone in a small concrete space was so heartbreaking I couldn't look.  It is just so very cruel.

Though I would love to be near an elephant every day, there is nothing, I hope, that could make me forget that is not what would be best for the elephant.  I simply can't provide a suitable elephant environment.  Nor could I provide an appropriate lion, tiger, bear, wold, serval, or any other exotic animal environment.  Life in a cage is not fair; life away from your own kind is lonely.  Not being able to act on your instincts is cruel.  It is not appropriate to force animals to live in captivity because they are beautiful, powerful, exotic, or even because one loves them.  Certainly it is wrong to keep animals in captivity because of how they make you feel.

There is no question that being near exotic animals is thrilling.  Outside the U.S., regulations are lax - you can go inside tiger cages, play with lion cubs, ride elephants, pet cheetahs.  I admit that from time to time in my travels I have done some of these things...because the opportunity was there, and because not doing it would not change anything.  For example, there is a zoo in Africa where, for a small tip to the zookeeper, you can go inside the cage and pet the cheetahs.  Those cheetahs are going to live in the zoo whether I do that or not.  They were actually rescued orphans and can't be returned to the wild as they never learned how to hunt; a skill that wild cheetahs have to learn from their mothers over time.  I'm not supporting cheetah capture or altering the lives of the cheetahs for the worse.  And the draw is amazing.  To know what a cheetah feels like (their coat is rough, almost like a bristle brush, not soft), to hear their purr (really deep, closer to a dog growl than a domestic cat purr), to see their expressions (happiness at a belly rub, jealousy at the other cheetah getting a belly rub, etc.) to feel their heart beat in their huge chests and watch their tails flip back and forth in the red dirt.....well it's amazing.  And yes, I think how amazing it would be to have one.....but I never would.

I completely and totally understand the attraction people have to the idea of having their own exotic animals.  I would get in the cage with the lions, the tigers, the wolves, the bears....I am not inherently afraid of animals.  I would also be the kind who doesn't have the animals in cages.  (I'd have my horse in the house if I could.)  When an animal powerful enough to kill you in a second chooses not to kill you, it's an amazing feeling.  It is easy to feel special in that moment.  When an animal that could kill you in a second seems affectionate towards you or happy to see you, you can feel beyond special - you can believe you have a unique bond with that animal.  Something about you is special and the animal knows it and your connection with that animal is like no other....people believe it.  You can't help it.  It has a seductive power that can blind you to reality and to danger.  That is how people who have raised a pet tiger they love more than anything in the world one day find themselves injured because they turned their back and lit up the tiger's prey drive with a sudden movement and "play" to the tiger results in injury to the human.  I never blame the animal in those situations; the blame does not lie with them.

Being attracted to exotic animals is completely understandable, but taking the wrong turn of accumulating them is selfish and irresponsible.  Terry Thompson had animals because of how they made him feel.  And while I am sure they made him feel great, how did they feel?  This is a man who had serious emotional issues.  The animals were innocent victims and whether he meant to hurt them or not doesn't matter.  While I am sure he did love his animals on some level, what he loved about them was likely their beauty and the way they made him feel special, powerful and unique.  Real love is putting the animal's needs above your own, caring more about how the animal feels and whether its emotional, mental and physical needs are met than about yourself....and thus, most of the time, not acquiring or owning animals.  One person can only care for so many animals well...though there is no magic number for all people, there is no question Terry Thompson was way over the limit no matter how you look at it.

It is a tragedy for his animals that he did what he did.  Maybe if it leads to laws that exotic animals cannot be privately owned that will be a benefit that comes of this, though not one worth the cost.  It is horrible that law enforcement was put in the position of putting down these animals and that they could not be captured alive.  Everything about the situation is a tragedy, though no innocent people were harmed by any of the animals, which is good - because there would be those who blamed the animals for being animals.  At least this way it is clear that the only evil or malice was man's.