Monday, April 27, 2015

The Commoditization of Killing - Canned Lion Hunting


Canned Lion Hunting

Wildlife hunting in Africa is suddenly big news. Thanks to a tweet by Ricky Gervais (albeit almost 5 years late) about Rebecca Francis and her killing of a giraffe in 2010, and followed closely by news stories of the US's approval of a black rhino hunting license won in a Dallas auction last year, there's now a spotlight on the issue of trophy hunting. While this controversial subject and its often misleading claims to helping conservation efforts is getting its day in the sun, there is another more deadly practice hiding and growing in the shadows in Africa - Canned Lion Hunting.

Peter Barkham of the Guardian likens canned lion hunting to "shooting fish in a barrel". Adult lions raised in captivity and often drugged,  are released into an enclosed area, with no room to run. Hunters, on the back of pick up trucks are able to pick them off with almost guaranteed success. I say almost, because even with all the odds stacked in favor of the hunter, amateurs often miss, just wounding the lions and causing a slow and agonizing death.

This inhuman and unfair sport is a rapidly growing business in South Africa, with revenue in 2012 estimated to be as high as $70 million. At last count there were over 160 lion farms or ranches focused on canned lion hunting and associated industries. They start by capturing lion cubs and then breeding them. Not unlike factory farms for food animals across the world, female lions are separated from their cubs within an hour of birth to quickly retrigger their fertility and ability to breed repeatedly. Cubs are raised in crowded pens and are brought out only to interact with humans in the form of tourist attractions like "petting and walking with lion cubs". An additional source of revenue, these attractions are also used as false claims towards conservation efforts, often misleading volunteers into working on the farms for free.

If it isn't enough that the lions are exploited at every stage of their life for profit, ranchers have found ways to monetize them further even in death. Once the lion is killed, hunters mostly take the head and sometimes the skin of the adult as trophies. The bones of the animal left behind are sold to Asian markets, where big cat bones are still considered to have medicinal properties, creating a vicious cycle of demand and supply with no end in sight.

Lion numbers in the wild are declining rapidly; from over 450,000 in Africa in the 40's to an estimated 20,000 today, the species is on a very dangerous path to extinction right now. More critically the practice of canned lion hunting has shifted the proportion of captive vs. wild lions to almost 3:1. In the US, which is the single largest importer of wildlife and animal trophies, the African wild lion is not on the endangered species list. As a result not even the limitated licensing and oversight policies that are part of the endangered species act, apply to lions and the practice continues unabated. Many African countries too are complicit, by legalizing the industry and those involved. While policymakers and citizens in countries like the UK & Australia are taking action through policies again Canned Lion Hunting, it woukd take significantly more widespread international understanding and support to end this despicable practice.

photo credit: photo via photopin (license)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Celebrating Earth this day... almost speechless!


Today is Earth Day (if you didn't already know that). It felt important that I say something. But after thinking about it a while I realized I couldn't possibly say it all in one post. In fact, if anything, this entire blog and all the posts I write are a celebration of Earth Day. Every day is Earth Day on

So I decided instead to dedicate this post to showing you why its so important to celebrate and protect the earth. Every time we travel, my family asks for pictures of my husband and I. Usually that's a tough task, because we almost never take pictures of ourselves. For us, its all about the space we're in and celebrating its uniqueness. Now I can put all those pictures to work, to share the beauty I see everyday, all around me.

Here's the earth in all its glory - sunrise to sunset, seasons changing, creatures big & small. After seeing this, how could you not want to have it live on forever....

Sunrise over the Freedom Tower
Dawn of a new day, sunrise over the Freedom Tower

Birds nest with egs
New Life Begins
Baby birds just hatched
First peek at the world, wheres mommy, I'm hungry...
Iguana in the sun
Iguana Getting some Sun, let's be very clear who's king here.
Malachite butterfly
Malachite spreading its wings, getting ready to feed on the sweetness
South American Parrot
South American parrot flutters its wings to warm them up for the day

Beautiful to beauty... Caterpillar to a butterfly

Cirrocumulus clouds, Manhattan skyline
Cirrocumulus clouds in a fall sky reaching out long fingers towards Manhattan

Altocumuls clouds - Hawaii
So many shades of Blue and white, who would have thought...

Yellow-throated Euphonia
Wait....don't move.... is that....LUNCH!

Howler Monkey
Napping in the afternoon sun

Java Sparrows

Fungi in Cloud Forest
A beautiful symbiotic partnership

Pacific Dolphin
Dolphin in the ocean, still friendly and curious...

Sunset over ocean
Sunset on the Western Shore

Sunset over ocean
The colours!

Storm clouds over Manhattan Skyline
Storm Clouds Brewing

What I could do with so many legs... WOW

Red crested Cardinal
Crowning Glory

Fish in shallows
Shallow water school of fish

Squirrel eating
Too busy eating to run from the two legged monsters

Fall Colors
Fall colors, seasons change

Spider on glass
Sheer Beauty, in the details

Seagulls on Ice
Seagulls on ice shelf

Snow on tree branches
frozen water lacing all visible surfaces

Antarctic penguins
The most beautiful swimming birds, highly endangered by the rising temperatures

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Last Rhino Standing...


If there was ever any question about why saving the Rhinos was so important, the story out on major news channels recently, should eliminate all doubt.

There is only one... count that... just one male northern white rhino left in the entire world. In fact there are only 5 of the species left in total, two females in zoos in the US and Czech Republic and 2 other females who live with Sudan, the single bull at a conservancy in Kenya.

The situation is so dire, that Sudan, the bull, and his two female comoanions are under 24 hour armed guard and wear monitors to prevent poachers from getting to them. Demand for rhino horn, which is believed to have medicinal properties, continues to grow, and is estimated by some experts to be worth more than drugs.

In addition to protecting him for as long as needed, frantic efforts are underway to help the two females breed. With age and urgency be in a factor, alternative options like in vitro fertilization and surrogacy with a different white rhino species are also being concerned.

A few people asked me after my post two weeks ago, why I was focused on rhino poaching and conservation. While I am passionate about the conservation of every species big or small, this news more than ever, makes the emphasis on the rhino necessary. If we all don't wake up and collectively care enough to take action soon, this very visible species will be extinct in the next few decades. If we don't start taking a stand now,  what happens to all the other not so prominent or well known animal species then?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Saving Trees to be trees... and not a landfiller!


Saving Trees by reducing paper consumption

Here's a pop quiz for you -  which of the two scenes below do you think is more likely?

Scenario 1 - I open everything I get in the mail, and suddenly I am a happier person, paying lower interest, owning a better home (after selling the one I'm living in at an unbelievable price), have a home full of great stuff, bought with shiny new plastic, be better educated, and more relaxed.
Or Option 2 - I yank my hair out in frustration at, the hours wasted ripping open bulky envelopes to make sure there's no personally identifiable info, a slew of paper-cuts crisscrossing my tough skin, a new batch of recycling every day, and a sinking feeling at the backlog of other chores. Any guesses?

I know that to many of you, a version of option 2 hits close to the mark, frustration at the volume of junk mail we receive daily is a common complaint, yet, they keep coming, everyday in the mail. Fat, glossy, window envelopes, with sometimes too much knowledge about our lives (it's scary how easy it is to get that data) or names spelled wrong, or worse yet, addressed to Resident or current postal customer. Catalogs, that are probably best used as weights in a home gym, for things we wouldn't know what to do with! And at what cost?

I wanted to know, so I did some digging around and read multiple sources of info online, here's what I found -
  • Each US household receives an average of 16 pieces of junk a week, some as much as that in a day.  Did some quick math and that is the equivalent of one tree worth of junk mail every year
  • Only 50% of junk mail received is recycled, which means that about 50 million trees are effectively cut down and thrown away every year. 
  • In addition, the junk mail industry uses about 28 billion gallons of water every year to produce all that waste (Californians could probably find better use for that, on luxuries like baths, flushing toilets and feeding livestock)
  • Paper production is the 4th largest consumer of energy and the 3rd largest industrial polluter
In addition to junk mail, global consumption of paper has grown by about 400% in the past 40 years.
  • The US with only 5% of the worlds population is the largest consumer, responsible for 30% of paper consumption.
  • 40% of the worlds harvested trees are used for paper production.

And as with so many things, a lack of knowledge seems to be the biggest factor (or so I choose to believe). I had a conversation at work recently, with a couple of young colleagues. They were reviewing a presentation with me and printed out the 30 page document in single page full color, times 3. Despite telling them I disliked printed material, they not only printed out the original, but after my feedback, they ripped up the copies and printed out the corrected version too. So I stopped them and started explaining why it was important that they try and minimize their use of paper, when one of them said - "but don't they grow trees on farms now for paper, so no forests are getting destroyed?"

Here's the problem - while its true that an increasing amount of the worlds paper needs are being sustainably manufactured (approximately 35% comes from recycled material), the majority of it does come from tree farms or plantations. Althought, that may sound like an acceptable solution, here's the downside - tree farms or plantations are created by clearing out vast tracts of native forests. Also, tree farms are most efficient as "monocultures" where only the type of tree required for mass production is grown, this in turn depletes the soil of its nutrient diversity and contributes to habitat loss and risk of extinction for native species of plants and animals

So what can you do about it? Reducing the demand for paper is one first step that everyone can contribute to. While there are a ton of resources online to help you reduce your paper footprint, here are quick tips to start NOW -
  1. To stop getting junk mail you can start by signing up at to have Direct Marketers delete you from their list. You can also in some cases contact companies that mail you directly (like the email unsubscribe option). It may take a bit of time to do this, but in the long run you'll be saving yourself time, energy and TREES.
  2. Change all your bills to paperless, all the energy companies, banks etc, offer that option
  3. Don't print! if you can view something on a screen or projector do so. If you have to, print on both sides and if not, don't throw away the material when done, use the back for notes, to-do lists etc.
  4. Use an app for shopping lists, or if you're old school like me, write it on a dry-erase white board and take a picture.
  5. At home, use rags and cloth napkins instead of paper towels.

Most importantly, as with everything that's possibly bad for us or the environment, stop and think every time you reach for something paper. Do I really need this? Or can I try and save another tree to produce oxygen for me to breathe, beauty to amaze me and a home for all the unique little critters that make this such a beautiful planet?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Countdown to another dead Rhino, 8....7....6....


Did you know that while you're going about your 8 hour work day, somewhere in the wilds of Africa, another Rhino is being killed and viciously mutilated? Or that someone in China is stirring rhino horn powder into a drink, while others look on in admiration and envy?

I didn't...until now!

In my ongoing evolution as a writer and a quest for more experience, I volunteer at a few nonprofits to help with their communication needs. I recently connected with and did a little work for a nonprofit called Nikela, a completely volunteer run public charity that is an incredible example of how people with passion and belief in a cause but limited funds can still make an impact in the world. Started in 2010 by Margrit & Russ Harris, driven by a desire to support the extraordinary people trying to preserve African wildlife, Nikela helps by 
“telling stories, raising some funds and doing what we can to support those who give their all to stop the rhino poaching, curb the escalating wildlife trafficking industry and end canned lion hunting”
My first assignment with this unique organization was to write a blog post about one of the Ebooks that Nikela publishes to raise awareness about wildlife conservation.  I went into it concerned about the technical aspects of how I was going to write this piece - absorbing all the information, summarizing and then highlighting the most compelling parts of it, but one minute into my first reading of it and I was hooked! The new challenge? - how to do justice to an incredible story of heartbreak, hope and commitment to a seemingly unwinnable fight.

The eBook -Wildlife Ranger, Volume 1 is the first in a series that chronicles the dramatic, compelling, and gut wrenching experiences of Peter Milton, a wildlife ranger in Northern Mozambique, on his quest to save the Rhino from poachers and crime syndicates.

The stories in this first volume cover a gamut of experiences of Peter and the team at SPOTS (Strategic Protection of Threatened Species), from using stealth teams and customized high tech UAV's to hunt down poachers (007 would not feel out of place in this scenario, BTW), to losing their base of operations to a mercenary local farmer and bonding with a young rhino bull in their new home base. There are also beautiful moments when the team pauses to appreciate and surround themselves with the natural beauty and indigenous flora and fauna. 

While being absorbed and entertained by the tales of this dedicated group, it's easy to forget the dangers inherent in this work and the heartbreak that comes with failure. The book delivered on its goal however, making me pause to research all the issues surrounding Rhino poaching and conservation efforts.

Here's a summary - Rhino poaching is driven by a market for their horns, south east Asia being the primary destination. While in many cultures the powdered horn is considered to have medicinal properties, in more and more areas, consuming rhino horn powder in drinks is considered a status symbol. To feed this seemingly unstoppable demand, in just the first 2 months of this year, in South Africa alone, 49 rhinos have been poached and a total of 1215 rhinos killed in 2014, that was one every 7.2 hours

To put this in greater context, at the beginning of the 20th century there were 500,000 rhinos across Africa and Asia. This fell to 70,000 by 1970 and further to just 29,000 in the wild today. Large-scale poaching of the now critically endangered black rhino resulted in a incredible 96% decline from 65,000 individuals in 1970 to just 2,300 in 1993. It is in large part due to the dedicated efforts of conservationists like Peter Milton and local programs across Africa that some of these numbers have stabilized and even grown.  However, the ever increasing rate of poaching is winning right now, and makes the threat of Rhino extinction in the very near future dangerously and devastatingly likely. 

You may say, why the Rhino? I say because they are unique, gentle herbivores that have as much  right to this planet as we do. Because too few seem to care about their place in preserving the indigenous ecosystem. That the rhino is one of many other endangered species, whose potential extinction brings us further down the road to our own destruction. And if the rhino doesn't touch your heart, choose another... There are so many species on the endangered species list (way too many if you ask me) and while it can seem overwhelming to try and save them all, its easy to pick one, any one that speaks to you and start there.

Here are some resources if you'd like to help -
  1. Read the ebook that triggered this post - Wildlife Ranger, Volume 1 (opens as a .pdf)
  2. Donate or volunteer with Nikela, or read other ebooks -
  3.  Find other causes that you would like to support -  World Widlife Fund is still the best single source -
  4. If you'd like to volunteer your time to one of these causes (from any part of the world)