Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The ICCN Rangers Return

I am hereby certifying myself as totally nuts for trying to write a post for this blog when I am in the midst of finals, but what can I say. I am a procrastinator at heart and I am desperate for a break from Piagetian cognitive developmental theory.

It has been a while since I have written anything to post on here, but I have in no way been letting myself become distanced from conservation. I have been pitting a great deal of energy towards the kids I’ve been teaching this semester, which has turned into a two month-long unit on the rainforest and environmental care. The students have each been studying a rainforest animal and plant of their choosing, and have created riddles, poems, art, reports, and a play based on their research. I have also been reading Jane Goodall’s My Life with the Chimpanzees to the kids, and her tales of her youth in Gombe has kept them riveted! These are 2nd and 3rd graders I’m talking about…this is where hope is found! They have come quite a ways, and they will only continue to learn, progress, and grow into agents of change.

Another uplifting story: The ICCN Gorilla Rangers in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who were recently separated completely from the gorilla sector due to a huge surge in the conflict between between government and rebel armies (which uprooted hundreds of thousands civilians in the process), have in the last month been able to return to their work! Since resuming their posts, they have been working extremely hard on a brand new, updated gorilla census to find out if any animals are missing in the wake of the recent horrible violence that tore through their territories.

These men and their families are a constant source of inspiration to me. Through unrelenting plight they remain dedicated to protecting their mountain gorilla cousins in a war-torn and devastated country. It is not something they have to convince themselves to do; it is in their blood and bones, and regardless of the insurmountable challenges they are faced with, they live every breath for the gorillas. True heroes. You can join me in keeping up with them by reading their blog here.

While good news has come to one of the most turbulent areas of the world, economic turbulence is looming for some of the most proactive and progressive wildlife conservation organizations here in the states. The Wildlife Conservation Society, the organization that is behind the five zoos and aquariums in New York (Bronx Zoo, New York Aquarium, Central Park Zoo, Queens Zoo and Prospect Park Zoo) and has pioneered many ground-breaking conservation programs over the last 113 years (including one very close to my heart, the Crocodile Conservation Program), has just been hit with the possibility of having to face 55% cuts to their overall budget. This, needless to say, would be absolutely devastating to the important work they do.

We cannot forgot through this hard economic crisis that while our wallets are hurting, there are still animals around the world suffering in more ways than we will ever know or experience in our lives. No matter how hard times get, there is always something we can do, there is always a little bit more energy we can muster and pit towards making a positive change for the creatures of this world that are in need of help. The ICCN Rangers remind me of this constantly.

Alright, back to the books. Love to you all,

A beautiful picture from the ICCN Rangers' website of a mountain gorilla in Virunga National Park in the DRC.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Danger: Elephant Crossing

Grad school has indeed turned out to be a killer, and I unfortunately haven't been able to sit down and do any writing. I have managed to keep up on wildlife conservation news, however, and I came across this important article last night on the Wildlife Conservation Society's website. Please read!

Why didn’t the forest elephant cross the road? It feared for its life, according to results of a new study by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Save the Elephants.

The threat of encounters with poachers rises as new roadways are carved into wildlife habitat in Central Africa’s Congo Basin. Because these highly intelligent animals now associate roads with danger, they are avoiding them at all costs.

The authors of the study tracked 28 forest elephants with GPS collars and found that they have adopted a “siege mentality.” Only one of the elephants crossed a road outside of a protected area. As it crossed, it traveled at 14 times its normal pace.

Forest elephants showed adverse reactions to roads even in the largest remaining wilderness areas in Central Africa. This is bad news for these endangered animals, since a boom in road building is underway.

“Forest elephants are basically living in fear…in prisons created by roads. They are roaming around the woods like frightened mice rather than tranquil, formidable giants of their forest realm,” said Dr. Stephen Blake, the study’s lead author. He added that starvation, disease, stress, infighting, and social disruption are likely to result.

Losing access to food and important mineral deposits may elicit aggressive and other negative behaviors among different social groups, which in turn can affect reproductive success. Other negative impacts include overgrazing of local vegetation and reduced seed dispersal by elephants, which is vital to helping regenerate forests.

Since the data were collected, even more roads have been constructed in half of the six study sites in wilderness areas of Republic of Congo and Gabon. Other multi-billion dollar development projects loom. However, the study’s authors say there is still time to stem the crisis.

“A small yet very feasible shift in development planning, one that is actually good for poor local forest people and for wildlife and wilderness, would be a tremendous help to protect forest elephants and their home,” said Blake. “Planning roads to give forest elephants breathing space so that at least those in the deep forest can relax, as well as…reducing poaching would be trivial in terms of cost but massively important for conservation.”

WCS elephant conservation efforts have been supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s African Elephant Conservation Fund, Save the Elephants, USAID CARPE, Global Environmental Facility of the World Bank (GEF Congo), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) Monitoring of Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) Program, University of Maryland, Society for Conservation and Development, the European Union’s Espèces Phares Project and the Central African Network of Protected Areas and Columbus Zoo.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Easy Way to Help and Stay Informed!

Join a conservation organization!
Here's a tiny list of conservation groups that are worthy of your attention. Check them out, explore, investigate, join!

The Nature Conservancy, 1815 N. Lynn St., Arlington, VA 22209
The World Wildlife Fund, 1250 24th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20037
The National Wildlife Federation, 11100 Wildlife Center Dr., Reston, VA 20190-5362
The National Audubon Society, 950 Third Ave., New York, NY 10020
The Sierra Club, 730 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109

And find out what kind of conservation programs exist at your local zoo or aquarium!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

The feeling in the air today is electric. It is election day, and millions of Americans are casting their ballots, many for the very first time ever, to choose the direction in which our country will go. Never before have I felt such a sense of living through history in the making. This election has been an emotional roller coaster that has not ceased since it began. Instead it has increased and culminated into the adrenaline rush that is today.

I would like to take this moment to send out a pledge. If this election has done anything for me, it has invigorated my sense of belonging to this world and to my community here at home. It has reignited a sense of emotional attachment to the planet I stand on, and to the people whose footsteps reverberate in the soil we share. It has reminded me that we are all part of the same whole, and it has shown me that there is nothing greater than the power of people coming together and uniting in a common purpose.

Last night I had the extraordinary pleasure of meeting one of the most influential wildlife conservation heroes to have emerged in our time, Jane Goodall. Visitng the bay area for an annual event celebrating chimpanzees and conservation, I was granted the incredible opportunity to drive her and Mary Lewis (Vice President of the Jane Goodall Institute and assistant to Jane Goodall) around San Francisco and the East Bay, and finally to the event at which she was scheduled to speak. For the last fifty years Jane Goodall has been fighting for animal rights, for wildlife conservation, for better standards in zoos around the world, for primate awareness, for education and youth empowerment, for sustainable relationships between humans and the animals they share the world with, and at 74 years old she is still touring, filling every minute of her day to get the word out in an unceasing and tireless fight.

Me and Jane Goodall

I have never seen anyone put so much into something they believe in. As I lay in bed last night, I reflected on the intensity and focus humans are capable of, and what kind of results can be produced from that unparalleled kind of energy. Before my thoughts blended into dreams I remember breathing tremendously deep, hoping to inhale some of that energy from the air that surrounded me.

My fight is for the animals on this planet. My fight is to help them survive the tumultuous conditions we have created for them. My fight is to teach young people about animals, about the fragility of the earth and its ecosystems, to instill in them a sense of the beauty and splendor of its complexity and diversity. My fight is to inspire them to use the power they hold in their spirits to act in every way they can.

This is my pledge. I pledge to work harder than I ever have before for wildlife conservation. I pledge to do what’s necessary to get the message out. I pledge to not back down. This pledge is for all animals. I dedicate to them my blood and my breath, my sweat and my tears, my energy and my work.

Will you join me? I ask not for your money, but for you to understand the world needs you to care about it. It needs your time, it needs your attention, and it needs your heart. Please visit any of the links posted to the right to explore what is happening around the world, and to find out what animals are in dire need of assistance. There are people of all walks of life working in almost every corner of the globe to ensure that our footprint doesn’t crush the rare, vulnerable, and delicate life that make our planet as unique and beautiful as it is. Find out about what you can do to help. Find out what you shouldn’t buy. Find out what you should buy. Find out whom to support. Find out what the causes of species population declines are. Find out why insects are important. Find out why we should care about bees.

Find out what natural places surround your home and visit them. Find beauty, find life, and you will be surprised to find new parts of your soul you never knew existed.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Jane Goodall Discusses Our Relationship With Apes

An excellent talk with Jane Goodall, primatologist, conservationist, wildlife hero.

Participate in Your Democracy


NO on Prop 8!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mountain Gorillas and the Forgotten War

For some time I have wanted to write about the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where, amidst the chaos of civil war, approximately 200 of the world last remaining mountain gorillas live. These gorillas live in a small portion of the Virunga National Park, and are protected by the ICCN Rangers, but recent escalations in fighting have forced the rangers to flee their station in the forest. I received an email from them yesterday:

“The Gorilla Park Headquarters in DR Congo is still held by the rebels. They spent the night there and vandalized the buildings by busting down doors and stealing.
The 50+ Rangers who fled yesterday from the fighting spent the night in the forest with no food, or shelter, or water. The situation is now desperate. The area controlled by the rebels has grown, and we fear our Rangers are now sitting in an isolated pocket of forest, totally vulnerable to all the militia groups in the area.”

Most people in the states are totally unaware of what is going on in the DRC, but the conflict there is directly related to us in more ways than one. A huge amount of the minerals we use here in the states, including copper, gold, silver, zinc, tin, cadmium, uranium, and diamonds are all being mined with unregulated abandon, displacing millions of people in the process. The mining of coltan (the shortened African colloquial term for columbite-tantalite), the metallic ore used in almost every electronic device currently in production, from cell phone and iPod batteries to ink jet cartridges, has also helped create a huge upset in the region.

As these minerals and resources are being stripped from the environment, the people of the DRC, including a vast number of starving refugees (the aftermath of the Congo Wars), are being left to fend for themselves in dire poverty. With no gas to boil water or to cook with, the people are forced to venture into the parks in order to make their own charcoal by slashing down protected old growth virgin rainforest, the same forest that the mountain gorillas call home.

The illegal charcoal trade has become a dangerous yet profitable one, which both the Army and the rebels have been accused of having a hand in. The rangers have also had to fight charcoal trade corruption in their own ranks over the years, a situation that boiled over and was exposed in a court case in 2007, brought to the attention of the world by the brutal execution-style killings of 8 mountain gorillas in 2007 by rebels as a way to intimidate the incorruptible rangers that worked in the forest.

This situation has hit mainstream news lately as the rebels have advanced their front, yet most of the information above is, most of the time, left out. By knowing how much we as Westerners are involved and just how much is at stake, we can begin to raise our awareness and call for international attention to the region.

If you would like to follow the developments from the point of view of the rangers themselves, visit their blog, which they update regularly, at www.gorilla.cd/blog. Bookmark it, visit often, talk about it with your friends and family, pass the word along.

Since I started writing this piece, I received another update from the rangers. It reads:

“Twelve of the 53 missing Rangers who fled the Gorilla Park Headquarters in DR Congo on Sunday morning as a result of the fighting have been located in the forest, about 20km north of Goma. These men have walked over 35km through Virunga during the last 48 hours with no food, water, or shelter. A rescue operation is now underway to get them to safety. Will they make it?”


Here is the latest video posted by the rangers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Guest Writer: Vernon Reynolds

This week I have the distinct honor of posting an article written by a man I admire very much, primate conservationist Vernon Reynolds! Please read!

Snare removal by a chimpanzee
by Vernon Reynolds


In the Budongo Forest, in Africa, local hunters put out snares to catch duikers (small antelopes) and pigs. The snares are in the form of a noose, made of wire or nylon. The hunters are poor village people and unable to buy meat, and this is how they manage to get some protein for the cooking pot. Unfortunately, chimpanzees which live in the forest do sometimes get caught in these snares

It’s very rare for one chimpanzee to help another to remove a snare. Normally if a chimp gets caught in a snare, it has to try and remove it itself. Sometimes they succeed, other times the snare just stays on the wrist or ankle for a long long time. Sometimes the wound gets infected and the individual may die as a result. Other times the hand or foot becomes useless and hangs limply while the poor chimp has to walk and climb with three limbs only. In really bad cases a chimp can get caught more than once. Amazingly, chimps can survive with two injured limbs but life is very hard for them.

All this we know because of our studies at the Budongo Forest in Western Uganda. I first went there with my wife Frankie in 1962 and we spent the best part of a year there studying chimps. We returned to Europe and Idi Amin came to power in Uganda. We kept clear of the country during its two devastating civil wars, from 1971 - 1986. In 1990 I started the Budongo Forest Project again . Today we are a Ugandan NGO with the name Budongo Conservation Field Station. We have a Ugandan director and a Ugandan staff. Our Scientific Director and Assistant Director are Europeans, but we are very much a Ugandan project.

Chimpanzee removes a snare

On January 18, 2008 one of our Field Assistants, Stephen Amati, was with a party of 27 chimps in the forest. At 16:53 one of our senior and respected adult female chimps, Kwera, started to scream, and other chimps joined in. Kwera’s right hand had become caught in a nylon snare attached to a tree sapling. Here is how Stephen tells the story:

“A couple of minutes after she got caught, the alpha male Nick arrived and displayed at Kwera, who was immobilised. After hitting Kwera a couple of times, Nick stopped and sat next to her. Nick broke off the small sapling so that Kwera was able to move again. However the snare was still around her hand, which was still attached to a stick of about 30 cm.

“The party continued travelling towards the south. At 17:18 the party started to move through an area of thick undergrowth, quite common in Budongo Forest. The stick attached to Kwera’s snare got stuck between the little trees. Again she started to scream while pulling on the snare. Nick came back and displayed again towards her. He pulled on the stick which made Kwera scream more. Kwera presented to him and Nick started grooming her. While being groomed, Kwera manipulated the snare with her teeth trying to bite through the nylon string. After 5 minutes, Nick took Kwera’s right arm, held it up and investigated the snare. He started to manipulate the nylon with his teeth while holding Kwera’s arm and the stick firmly in position. After a few minutes the snare fell off and the party continued moving.”

This is the first time we’ve seen a snare removed from one chimpanzee by another chimpanzee at Budongo and there are very few reports from elsewhere. This is perhaps surprising given the high intelligence of chimpanzees, but it is a fact nonetheless. Most chimps who get a snare are left to fend for themselves and suffer accordingly. But as this case shows, it is possible for chimps to cooperate and get a snare off. We hope this habit may spread within our community of chimps! Well done Nick, and also well done Kwera for allowing him to do this, it must have been a very painful experience.

The full account of this event was published in Pan Africa News, the Newsletter of the Committee for the Care and Conservation of Chimpanzees and the Mahale Wildlife Conservation Society, June 2008. I wish to express grateful thanks to the Editors of Pan Africa News for permission to publish this story, which was initially written by Stephen Amati, Fred Babweteera, and Roman Wittig.

Budongo Conservation Field Station (BCFS)
PO Box 362, Masindi, Uganda
Email: bcfs@utlonline.co.ug

Pan Africa News
Japan Monkey Centre
26 Kanrin
Inuyama, Aaichi 484-0081
Email: pan.editor@gmail.com

This article was written by Vernon Reynolds (Associate Editor, PAN and Advisor, BCFS)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Primate Conservation with Felicia Walker of the Oakland Zoo

Power to the primates! This past weekend I took my video camera on a little trip to my second home, the Oakland Zoo, to talk to Felicia Walker, Outreach Coordinator for the Education & Conservation Department, about primate conservation. Check out the video! (If you go to YouTube to watch it there you can view it in high quality).

The things discussed in this video is of course just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to primate conservation, and the snares mentioned by Felicia in the video affect many more animals than chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, and other apes and monkeys. Painted Dog Conservation, located in Zimbabwe, has had to battle the same threats that the wire traps pose to the 4000 or so African wild dogs they struggle to protect. For almost every animal species that live in areas where the traps are set, from duikers to warthogs to hyenas to elephants, snares pose an enormous dilemma.

A spotted hyena with a snare around its neck.

Death by a snare is a harsh one for animals. Often times the poaches and hunters who set the traps don’t come back to check them for a day or more, sometimes out of fear of being discovered by park authorities, leaving the animals to a long, drawn out, and painful death (injuries often include maiming and dismemberment). If the snares catch more than a hunter can carry, he will then take what he can and leave the rest to die and rot. A huge amount of precious wildlife is killed annually in parks, forests, and nature reserves across the African continent and the rest of the world due to snare traps.

A three-legged tiger photographed in Indonesia. Its right forepaw was caught in and severed by a wire snare.

But the reason behind why this problem exists is one that cannot be ignored. As Felicia stated in the video, people need to eat. In countries where people live far from big cities and are loosing access to water sources to support agriculture and farming, more and more villagers are forced to head into protected reserves to catch their meat. This poses extreme threats to not only the animal populations in the forests and parks, but also to the people themselves. Humans can acquire deadly diseases, such as the Ebola virus, when they consume infected primates.

The issue of bushmeat (meat that is acquired from animals not traditionally consumed as game) is a serious one. Many animals are facing extreme declines in their populations due to the threat of poaching for bushmeat, such as Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus monkey, considered extinct in 2000 (although recent evidence suggests there may be a small population left along the Ivory Coast) due to hunting for consumption.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. However, there is an ever-increasing number of people learning about the bushmeat crisis and taking action to turn it around. Many of the conservation groups I so admire are grassroots organizations that attempt to find alternative solutions for the people living near the forests they catch food from, and through community education programs, teach them the importance of preserving the biodiversity of the protected areas. This usually takes a lot of cooperative effort, but it is achievable. Some of these groups are even able to employ ex-poachers to assist them in snare removal.

To find out more about how to support these endeavors, visit any of the websites listed at the end of the video above, and look into the groups Felicia suggests investigating (those and other links are also listed to the right of this posting). Despite what your abilities may be, there’s always something you can do, and it all starts with education!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Jessica's Animals Asia Adventure Blog

Here's the link to Jessica's blog, Animals Asia Adventure, detailing the events of her trip to China and her work with the rescued moon bears at China Bear Rescue facility.


You go, Jess!! And for anyone else that is interested in volunteering or contributing to http://www.animalsasia.org/, visit their website here. Asia's animals need your help!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Moon Bear Rescue with Animals Asia

I am extraordinarily proud to announce that one of my friends, a coworker from the Oakland Zoo, is spending three months in China right now volunteering with Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), helping to rescue and care for abused Asiatic black bears farmed for their bile. Here's a short video showing the work they do.

AAF is doing hard, noble work to rescue the Asiatic black bear, aka "moon bear," listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN. It joins the ranks of the Asian elephant, the tiger, orang utan, and giant panda as one of Asia's Big 5, the most iconic animals in Asia (according to Asian Geo), all of which are endangered.

AAF's work is commendable and difficult, and they are, like most other organizations doing this type of work, a non-profit in need of supporters and donations to assist them in their uphill battles against a vast array of frighteningly archaic animal practices. Funds donated to AAF go directly to maintaining the enclosures, food supply, veterinary needs, and enrichment for the bears they rescue, which, my friend working there right now has explained for me in wonderful detail, are getting a second chance at life. Please visit Animals Asia's website, and make a donation to help them in their efforts!

Here's another video I found. It has some graphic images, but the end is inspiring and uplifting. Please watch.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mammals of the World Face Crisis

The results are in. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently published findings that one out of every four mammals is in danger of going extinct. While not all of the mammals are, say, critically endangered, being anywhere on the Red List is not a good thing for any species. Be they threatened, endangered, conservation-dependant, or vulnerable, the fact remains that 1,141 of the 5,487 mammalian species alive on the planet today are facing dire straits.

Earth’s mammals are in crisis, a situation that has largely been brought about by human activity. Since 1950, three subspecies of tiger, the Balinese, the Javan, and the Caspian, have been hunted to extinction. And now, with only 5 subspecies and less than 3,000 tigers left in the wild, we are forced to reflect upon the cowardly, selfish, and hateful acts that have brought one of the most celebrated animals in the world to the brink of extinction, carried out by the very hands of the species that reveres it.

The Balinese tiger

The Javan tiger

The Caspian tiger

This is just one story of many. The charismatic megafauna that captures most of the media’s attention is not the only type of animal suffering the effects of our irrationality and our history of wanton disregard for the planet’s ecosystems. From the Tasmanian devil to the fossa, from the smallest mammal in the world, the bumblebee bat, to the largest, the blue whale, mammals are facing serious challenges due to the Big Five: Habitat destruction, invasive species, pollution, overpopulation, and the overconsumption of our natural resources.


We need to act now. It is a choice you must make within your heart—when you become a witness of injustice, do you stand by and watch, doing nothing? When you know someone or something is in pain, do you do nothing to try to alleviate it? When you see a fellow human harming a living creature, does the vision meet your gaze with an apathetic stare?

I believe that all humans are born good, that all humans are born with the intrinsic desire to do good things, to care for others, and to be cared about. But I believe that the expert mastery of society’s influence can direct us instead, with a bombardment of images, advertisements, and propaganda, to steer our attention and desires towards a sugar-coated happiness rooted in the loose soil of materialism. But is it really easier to not care than to care? Is it easier to face your emotions or turn your back on them?

I believe that the right thing to do is often the hardest, and the situation at hand calls for everyone to turn to face the mountain that as humans we must climb towards fixing the problematic ways in which we coexist with animals. Be it through choosing locally produced, organic food, avoiding purchasing items in heavy packaging, purchasing a hybrid car, selling the car and riding a bike, recycling everything from paper to iPods, choosing to major in conservation ecology or environmental management, insulating your home with blue jeans, powering your appliances with solar technology, teaching the younger ones you may know about animals and plants, donating to conservation groups, writing letters to your government to call for responsible energy alternatives, the extra effort is little to ask for helping a quarter of all mammals to recover and get the chance at survival that it deserves.

In your hearts, I believe you all know what to do. Search within and find the strength to become a defender of wildlife and make the changes necessary to help protect the precious life that remains on this incredible planet. Despite what your abilities may be, there’s always something that you can do!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Paragliders Teach Eagle How To Fly

This is awesome.

A 14 year-old bald eagle, raised in captivity, has been getting flying lessons from its caretaker on Mont Blanc in France. By making the decent together (the trainer by way of paraglider), the trainer has been able to offer support for the magnificent bird of prey during the entire 40 minute decent from the 15,781 ft peak.

This flight was a year and a half in the making, and has been an integral element in trying to determine whether or not injured or captive-born birds can be taught to fly with the aim of releasing them into the wild as functional predators with a good chance of survival.

Big giant props to both the eagle and the trainers. This makes my heart soar!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Global Economic Crisis Threatens Conservation Efforts

Hello all, Arun here. Five chapters of reading and two papers on childhood development and language learning are keeping me from doing any of my own writing for today, but I'm copy-and-pasting an excerpt from a National Geographic article below. Important information to keep in mind.

Global Financial Crisis Endangers Conservation Gains
Christine Dell'Amore in Barcelona
National Geographic News
October 8, 2008

The global financial crisis could put recent measures toward protecting the planet at significant risk, experts said today during a meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) being held in Barcelona.

A profound U.S. recession will likely resonate worldwide and push conservation to the bottom of governments' priority lists for years to come, said Alejandro Nadal, who chairs an IUCN working group on macroeconomics and the environment.

The slump may also exacerbate economic pressures that can damage the environment, he added.

For example, governments may lean on private industries—such as mining, oil, and gas—to extract more resources and fill in revenue gaps.

Likewise, countries may divert funds from environmental and social programs to bail out the economy—a "typical example of a macroeconomic policy that has huge environmental repercussions," he said.

"The magnitude of [this] crisis should have the environmental community really worried."

The crisis does have a positive aspect, Nadal said, in that it "may raise awareness of the perils of continuing in this trajectory of consumption, social inequality, and concentration of wealth.

"If humankind doesn't heed this message, we should be the number one species on the Red List of IUCN," he said, referring to nonprofit's ranking of the world's most threatened species.

For a link to the rest of this article, click here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Teen Wild Guides' Trip to the 2008 WCN Expo

Hey all, Arun here! This is a little video I made of the trip I took last weekend to the 2008 Wildlife Conservation Network Expo with the Oakland Zoo Teen Wild Guides. It was awesome! Hey TWGs, you guys rock!

Good News for the Irrawaddy Dolphin

After a five-year study, started in 2003 by the Wildlife Conservation Society (based in the Bronx Zoo in New York) and the Bangladesh Cetacean Diversity Project, a new Irrawaddy Dolphin research program has found a population of 5,832 of the light-grey dolphins living in the waters along the coast of Bangladesh. This is an incredibly uplifting discovery, considering that in most other places where Irrawaddy dolphins are found, their populations are all estimated to be under 100.

In recent years the Irrawaddy dolphin has been fighting an extremely hard, uphill battle to survive as a species. They're listed on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered animals, but whether or not this new discovery will change the dolphin's conservation status will depend on several factors, as numbers alone do not necessarily mean that a species is out of the woods. In a region of the world wrought with major pollution problems, the Irrawaddy dolphin still faces heavy challenges. Hopefully this discovery will spark Bangladesh's coastal communities' interest and help motivate people to take advantage of the chance to save these beautiful and unique aquatic mammals.

While the Irrawaddy dolphin is legally protected from being hunted, their coastal range includes many areas too remote to enforce, and they are still killed for both their oil and their meat. Gillnets, a fishing net used by many people in the area, also pose a threat, as entanglement often results in death. And when nets are spread across river channels, populations become fragmented, resulting in a further decline of their numbers. It is mainly human interference that poses the greatest threat to the Irrawaddy dolphin's chance of survival, but it is human intervention that can also turn the tide.

The decline of the Irrawaddy dolphin reflects a relationship between society and wildlife that can be seen all over the world. The old ways of socioeconomic and political priorities shelving wildlife and the environment for quick profits based on outdated production methods are in dire need of being replaced by sustainable practices. While people still need to eat and find ways to support their families, with enough prodding and cooperation we should be able to motivate our governments to work in collaboration to adopt safe practices that look towards the future health of our ecosystems and the living creatures they provide homes for.

The recent findings of the 5,832 Irrawaddy dolphins in the coastal waters and estuaries of Bangladesh should be viewed as an invigorating and inspiring new opportunity to correct mistakes. They're not as close to extinction by our hands as we thought. Let us never allow them to get to that point in the future.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

2008 Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco

Hello all, Arun here. This past weekend was a blast. I, along with a few other Oakland Zoo staff members, chaperoned the Teen Wild Guides on a group trip to the 2008 Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco. I had been looking forward to this event all year, after having met dozens of wildlife conservation heroes, including Jane Goodall, at the Expo I attended with the TWGs in 2007.

While Jane wasn’t there this time around, there was no shortage of incredible people who have dedicated their lives to protecting animals and educating people about the need for conservation. There were many groups present, all with tables set up in the lobby of the Mission Bay Conference Center, selling stickers, T-shirts, patches, and other arts and crafts from around the world for people to buy in order to help support their cause.

This event is a wonderful chance for those who care about wildlife and conservation to get together, to share stories, and to discuss solutions. It’s a chance to be inspired by others who are dedicated to the same cause: to protect the creatures that share our world from the detriments of humanity’s irresponsibility. We heard lectures from Greg Rasmussen and Peter Blintston of Painted Dog Conservation about their struggles to save the African wild dog in Zimbabwe. We learned about the eco mochila community projects started by Rosamira Guillen and the folks at Proyecto Tití, who work tirelessly in the beautiful yet threatened forests of Colombia to protect the cotton-topped tamarin. These were just two of the many organizations in attendance, which included such dedicated groups as the Andean Cat Alliance, the Cheetah Conservation Fund, the Saiga Conservation Alliance, along with many others.

Painted Dog Conservation about to present.

Dr. Mauro Lucherini of the Andean Cat Alliance presenting his group's education initiatives.

The event was a success, and left me with recharged batteries, ready to attend to the problems that our planet faces with a renewed sense of purpose and determination. You can’t help but to be inspired and encouraged to do your part, whatever that may be, after learning about the beauty that exists on our planet and the threats that animals and ecosystems are currently facing. To find out more about the Wildlife Conservation Network and to support the conservation groups they support around the globe, click here.

Hope to see you at the 2009 WCN Expo!

A Short Message Regarding Conservation

Amy Gotliffe, conservation program manager at the Oakland Zoo takes a minute before a lecture on the status of mountain gorillas at the 2008 Wildlife Conservation Network Expo to tell us about the importance of conservation. Speak it!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Green Tips to Help Save Our Planet's Resources

From Co-op America's website, here's a good ten things you should never buy again.

1. Styrofoam cups
Styrofoam is forever. It's not biodegradable.
Alternative: Buy recyclable and compostable paper cups.
Best option: Invest in some reusable mugs that you can take with you.

2. Paper towels
Paper towels waste forest resources, landfill space, and your money.
Alternative: When you do buy paper towels, look for recycled, non-bleached products. Search the National Green Pages™ for recycled paper products.
Best option: Buy dishtowels or rags to wash and reuse.

3. Bleached coffee filters
Dioxins, chemicals formed during the chlorine bleaching process, contaminate groundwater and air and are linked to cancer in humans and animals.
Alternative: Look for unbleached paper filters.
Best Option: Use reusable filters such as washable cloth filters.

4. Overpackaged foods and other products
Excess packaging wastes resources and costs you much more. Around thirty three percent of trash in the average American household comes from packaging.
Alternative: Buy products with minimal or reusable packaging, such as at farmer's markets rather than Safeway.
Best Option: Buy in bulk and use your own containers and reusable bags when shopping.

5. Teak and mahogany
Every year, 27 million acres of tropical rainforest (an area the size of Ohio) are destroyed. Rainforests cover 6% of Earth’s surface and are home to over half of the world’s wild plant, animal, and insect species. The Amazon rainforest produces 40 percent of the world’s oxygen.
Alternative: Look for Forest Stewardship Council certified wood.
Best Option: Reuse wood, and buy furniture and other products made from used or salvaged wood.

6.Chemical pesticides and herbicides
American households use 80 million pounds of pesticides each year. The EPA found at least one pesticide in almost every water and fish sample from streams and in more than one-half of shallow wells sampled in agricultural and urban areas. These chemicals pose threats to animals and people, especially children.
Alternatives: Buy organic pest controllers such as diatomaceous earth.
Best Option: Plant native plants and practice integrated pest management. Plant flowers and herbs that act as natural pesticides.

7. Conventional household cleaners
Household products can contain hazardous ingredients such as organic solvents and petroleum-based chemicals that can release volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into your indoor environment, positing a particular danger for children. The average American household has three to ten of hazardous matter in the home.
Alternative: Look for nontoxic, vegetable-based, biodegradeable cleaners.
Best Option: Try making your own green cleaner using vinegar, water, and castile soap.

8. Higher octane gas than you need
Only one car in ten manufactured since 1982 requires high-octane gasoline. High-octane gas releases more hazardous pollutants into the air, and may be bad for your car.
Alternative: Buy the lowest-octane gas your car requires as listed in your owner's manual
Best option: Make your next car purchase a hybrid. Or ditch the car and take public transportation, ride a bike, or walk.

9. Toys made with PVC plastic
70% of PVC is used in construction, but it is also found in everyday plastics, including some children’s toys. Vinyl chloride, the chemical used to make PVC, is a known human carcinogen. Also, additives, such as lead and cadmium, are sometimes added to PVC to keep it from breaking down; these additives can be particularly dangerous in children’s toys. PVC is also the least recycled plastic.
Alternative: Avoid plastics that are labeled as “PVC” or “#3.” Look for #1 and #2 plastics, which are easier to recycle and don’t produce as many toxins. Use sustainable construction materials.
Best option: Take action to tell manufacturers to stop using PVC plastics, especially in children’s toys.

10. Plastic forks and spoons
Disposable plastic utensils are not biodegradeable and not recyclable in most areas.
Alternative: Use compostable food service items. Companies such as Biocorp make cutlery from plant materials such as corn starch and cellulose.
Best option: Carry your own utensils and food containers.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Power to the Primates! Shirley McGreal Speaks at the Oakalnd Zoo

Hello all, Arun here. Last night I had the great honor of attending the Primate Lecture and Silent Auction at the Oakland Zoo. Shirley McGreal, the founder and director of the International Primate Protection League (IPPL), spoke about her organization’s inspirational success in helping to bring down some of the worst wildlife criminals involved in the illegal trade of live primates. She overseas the IPPL primate sanctuary in South Carolina, home to 31 gibbon apes rescued from the trade, and spends a great deal of time raising awareness about the hideous practices that have greatly contributed to the world-wide trafficking of apes and monkeys, including biomedical research, and the unconscionable animal acquisition techniques that many less-than-reputable zoos in Asia have and still employ to this day. She is a true wildlife hero!

For this event, I donated two of my paintings to the silent auction. I was so excited, for being a broke college student, this was all that I could afford to contribute. By the end of the evening they had fetched a handsome $150 and were purchased by the Oakland Zoo’s Conservation Program Manager and host of the evening’s event, Amy Gotliffe.

There were dozens and dozens of awesome items on the auction list, including get-aways to Safari West, whale-watching trips, framed wildlife photos, dinners at bay area restaurants, and much, much more. I'm sure that my paintings were only a small part of what must have been an excellent haul! I was also extremely proud to have raised $30 from some of my cohorts from school earlier that day. Every bit helps!

All of the funds raised are going to the Budongo Snare Removal Project, an associated primate conservation organization, supported in part by the Oakland Zoo, working to protect a population of chimpanzees, known as the Sonso Group, in the Budongo forest of Uganda. Some of the Teen Wild Guides, the Oakland Zoo’s teen volunteer force, visited the program on a recent Zoo-sponsored trip to East Africa. Three of the TWGs spoke last night before Shirley began her lecture, and spoke of the animals and the people that they had encountered in Uganda, as well as of the Budongo forest itself. While their shares were brief, they eloquently conveyed the impact that their travels had on them in a way that beautifully illustrated a journey with an open heart to a land unknown by most. The impression of their experiences brought back for me the magical ties I still feel to this day to the time I spent with crocodiles in India with the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust.

This wonderful evening was just one of the many fantastic events that the Oakland Zoo hosts to help raise funds and awareness for wildlife conservation. If interested in attending future events where you can meet real wildlife heroes, hear their stories, be inspired, and truly make a difference in helping all the living beings that share our planet with us survive and thrive as they deserve, check out the Oakland Zoo’s website. Their lecture series always does an excellent job of giving bay area residents a chance to do their part for animals around the world that need our help.

Until next time!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Welcome to the Neighborhoods Wildlife Conservation Blog!

Hey all, Arun here. Welcome to the beginning. This blog is hopefully a precursor to something larger, but for now will serve as one of my tools for getting the word out on what's going on in the wide, wide world of wildlife conservation.

The word is finally beginning to spread: the planet we live on is in dire need of some serious healing. With this blog I hope to do my part in helping people learn more about what issues we need to pay attention to, what actions we can take, and what organizations we can support.

Taking care of our planet is something we need to band together to do cooperatively. The old notions of each city, each state, each country containing its pollutants and problems within its borders has been replaced by the truth--that everything is connected. Harmful, airborn particulates released in China are blown across the Pacific ocean to the San Francisco Bay Area. Toxic waste dumped in such remote areas as Yucca Mountain is seeping into ground soil and is entering water supply. Deforestation in Brazil effects the rest of the world. Our actions not only affect the animals we share our space with, but are affecting us, as well.

But this movement can never take off without realizing that it's not just about us. Saving animals to save ourselves is not enough motivation to truly enact the change needed to turn the ill effects of humanity's irresponsibility around. Preserving fish populations to ensure our next indulgence of maguro nigiri at our next craving for sushi is not enough. In order to truly make this movement work and save our planet, we must understand that the Earth is a system, one that is made up of smaller systems. These smaller systems can be further broken down into even smaller systems. When one of these systems breaks down, it affects the rest. This can lead to minor changes, or can lead to devastating, irreversible chain reactions.

While major damage has been done through human overpopulation, the spreading of invasive species, pollution, habitat destruction, and overconsupmtion of the world's resources, I truly believe that we can make the necessary changes to turn things around. As an educator, I have seen the spark in the eyes of a child during that moment in which beauty is recognized in learning something new. People's have immense capacities to care, and the potential of that spirit is monumental. Everyone of us needs to tap into it, direct it, and exercise it!

You don't need to be a child to find beauty in an hummingbird, in a flower, in the relationship between the two. Anyone can find this beauty. It is right there, in your own backyard. If you didn't know it was there, go take a look. You don't need to venture to the jungles of India or the grasslands of South Africa to find beautiful plants and animals, you all have wildlife in your own neighborhoods! Start there!

This is the mission of the Neighborhoods Wildlife Conservation Alliance: To inspire love for the planet’s many ecosystems while getting to know your own.

Now, while I am an educator by day and graduate student by night, my attempts to update this blog regularly might be in vein. I will try to make a post a week at least, so please check back to find out news pieces, videos, pictures, links, and commentary on the subject of wildlife conservation. And don't forget, the only person that can make change in this world is you!