Thursday, June 19, 2014

Barn Owl as Rodent Control

Barn Owl [M.Raeder-Photography]

Barn Owl as Rodent Control

In one of my recent Nature TidBits on April 24, 2014, I focused on the Monarch, a migratory butterfly, and how the extensive use of pesticides, specifically neonicotinoids [e.g. Roundup] has destroyed the monarch’s Milkweed habitat adjacent to mono-culture farms in the Midwest by 60%.  As a consequence, these beautiful butterflies have declined in numbers by 80%.  Butterflies and well as bees and other insects are pollinators and their decline directly effects the production of vegetable, fruits and nuts.  You might have heard of the devastating honey bee Colony Collapsing Disease that was identified in ~2004 and after much research and detective work, here too the neonicotinoids are the culprit.  Farmers say they need to use the pesticides to increase the yield of their crops, specifically those grown in monoculture.  Yet, 30% of our food needs to be pollinated by bees and insects to produce it.  So are we destroying the very mechanism that is necessary for food production?  There is an excellent documentary “Vanishing Bees” that tells the story of this honey bee crisis. 

Sometimes it feels there is no good news out there. 

But today I want to share two hopeful stories that show that there are ways to combat pests in a natural way:

One comes from Israel where the introduction of barn owls and kestrels has lead to the natural elimination of rodents that can destroy the harvest if unchecked.  The heavy use or rodendicites previously had almost eradicated the natural predators.  About 10 years ago, the barn owl was introduced again in Israel.  The excellent documentary “The Use of Barn Owls and Kestrels as Biological Control Agents” tells the remarkable journey to environmental-friendly farming and is very informative and worth watching.  These 2 voracious rodent predators work 24 hours a day:  the owls hunt at night and the kestrel by day and together they are eradicating thousands of crop destroying rodents!

The second story comes from the UK where 2014 turns out to be a highly successful year for the barn owls.  The British Trust for Ornithology estimates there are about 4,000 breeding pairs of barn owls in the UK helping to naturally reduce rodents in the farming areas.

The use of Barn Owls and Kestrels as Biological Control Agent

This film won first prize in the expert and instructive films category at the Agrofilm Festival held in 2011 at Nitra, Slovakia.
This award-winning film was produced by Yuval Dax.


Barn owl bumper brood in Cambridgeshire celebrated - UK

Conservationists are celebrating after barn owls nesting at a Cambridgeshire farm hatched twice as many chicks as this time last spring. Three pairs of birds at Lark Rise farm have produced 17 chicks in total and may have a second brood this summer. The UK barn owl population was hit badly last year after a late spring.
[left image: Photo Credit Amir Ezer]

Vince Lea, from The Countryside Restoration Trust which runs the farm, said the brood was “the biggest ever” in the 12 years since the owls arrived.
“We had no owls in this area for a long time, then eventually they started to nest and generally we’d have about three chicks per pair each year,” he said.
“These record-breaking numbers of barn owl chicks are a direct result of the trust’s wildlife-friendly farming methods.  "The increase was “astonishing evidence of a comeback”, he added.
Meadows, grass margins and hedgerows had “helped create an ideal barn owl habitat”, Mr Lea said, as well as encouraging other wildlife including water voles – “their favorite snack” to the area.
Dead voles had been found stored in one of the three nesting boxes on the 450-acre (182 hectares) arable farm near Cambridge, which Mr Lea said was proof of an abundance of that species on the farm.
Double the number of chicks have been born at the farm compared to 2013.  But Colin Shawyer, from the Barn Owl Conservation Network, which monitors the species, said 2013 had been “an exceptionally poor breeding year”.    "Lark Rise’s brood is most definitely a sign that 2014 is going to be a good one for barn owls.   Two of the females have not gone into molt yet, which is a good sign they will attempt a second brood,” he said.
The British Trust for Ornithology estimates there are about 4,000 breeding pairs of barn owls in the UK, and lists their conservation status as “amber” indicating the species is, or has recently been, in decline.
This article was first published by BBC News Cambridgeshire.

Til next time,

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Elephants-Keystone Species for Survival

I came across the below article by Lauren Shuttleworth of the Project Elephant and it is an excellent summary why we need to fight for the survival of the elephant, a keystone species.  Please read below how important the elephants are as ecosystems engineers:

 " In the African savannah, elephants push over and strip trees, making way for a plethora of grass species. The grass feeds the grazing herbivores such as zebra, antelope and buffalo, which in turn feed the carnivores, such as lions and leopards. Asian elephants and African Forest elephants are hugely important for seed dispersal, as they eat the fruit of various pant species and ‘deposit’ it across vast distances."

However the threats to their survival are numerous from habitat loss to poaching for ivory.

The excellent article below shows that the consequences of extinction of the elephants are wide ranging and impact our own survival.

Thank you to all of my readers for your interest and for helping making the planet a better world for all.

Til next time, 


Why Saving the Elephants Could Save the World

 by Lauren Shuttleworth;  Project Elephant

If the current rates of population decline continue, 
elephants will be lost from the wild within 12 years. 
A world without elephants is not one we want to live on!

I should probably begin this post by confessing that I am a huge animal lover (surprise!).
I care deeply about the welfare and conservation of all species, and believe that we should be invested in their protection simply because it is the right and just thing to do. Considering that human activity has contributed almost exclusively to endangerment, I think we have a moral responsibility to step up and take action. But outside of that, there are some key reasons as to why the preservation of particular species is seriously important. And in my somewhat biased opinion, one of the most significant of these animals is the elephant. The impact they have on the environment, national economies, international security and even the human spirit is so large that it has to be said; if we can save the elephants, we might just save the world. Here’s how:

Elephants are a Keystone Species, playing the role of Ecosystem Engineers.
To borrow the trusty Wikipedia definition, ‘a keystone species is a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance’. Basically, they play a critical role in the creation and survival of their ecosystem. And considering that elephants span across the African and Asian continents, we’re talking about a pretty large ecosystem indeed.

In the hierarchy of keystone species, elephants score the pretty cool job title of ‘Ecosystem Engineers’. In the African savannah, elephants push over and strip trees, making way for a plethora of grass species. The grass feeds the grazing herbivores such as zebra, antelope and buffalo, which in turn feed the carnivores, such as lions and leopards. Asian elephants and African Forest elephants are hugely important for seed dispersal, as they eat the fruit of various pant species and ‘deposit’ it across vast distances. In one study, it was found that elephants dispersed seeds over 57km, whereas most animals will just spread seeds a few hundred meters away from the source. This ensures the diversity and health of many of the world’s largest rainforests, which in turn are responsible for stabilising the climate of the ENTIRE WORLD. So elephants can pretty much add ‘Climate Change Superheros’ to their resume.

Eco-Tourism is a really, really big industry.
As outlined above, elephants are pretty essential to the health of their ecosystems. Without them, many other flora and fauna species would suffer – if not altogether perish. It’s easy to see the effect this would have on the eco-tourism industry, considering that millions of tourists travel to places in Africa and Asia each year, entirely for the purpose of viewing animals in the wild and experiencing the wonders of nature. In Africa, the eco-tourism industry is said to be worth some 50 billion dollars – hugely significant for many national economies and local communities. The Kenyan government has been particularly vocal about the economic impact of ivory poaching, claiming it threatens over 300,000 jobs alone.

Ivory poaching is funding terrorist organisations and international crime networks.
I’ve spoken before about the ties between ivory poaching and terrorist organizations and international criminal syndicates. The Somalia-based wing of Al-Qaeda raises $600,000 a month from poaching to fund its activities, as does Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army – the Ugandan rebel group notorious for abducting and enslaving children. Boko Haram – the group responsible for the recent kidnapping of 234 school girls in Nigeria – has also been explicitly identified as receiving funding from the ivory trade. A kilogram of ivory will sell for as much as $2,200 on the black market, and with a pair of bull tusks weighing around 120kg on average, that’s a hell of a lot of money. Chinese mafia organizations mostly do the buying and distributing of ivory once it has been obtained. If we can focus on putting an end to the demand of ivory through increased education and awareness in the Chinese market, as well as heighted protection in Africa, we would in turn dry up a significant portion of the funding for some of the world’s most notorious criminals.

Elephants hold a pretty special and powerful place in our hearts.
As our largest and perhaps most iconic land animal, elephants are revered across the world. Elephants are one of a handful of animals considered a flagship species, meaning they play an important role in promoting universal conservation awareness and engagement. By focusing on the protection of flagship species, organizations such as WWF are able conserve many other ‘umbrella’ species which share the same habitat or are vulnerable to similar threats. Additionally, it is the intelligence and human-like emotion of elephants that builds an important bridge of understanding for many people. Being able to relate to the social bonds and interactions of elephant brings an awareness that ALL animals are of importance, and that there right to live on this earth is as deserving and necessary as our own.

Published by Project Elephant

Sunday, June 8, 2014

World Ocean Day 2014

Celebrate World Oceans Day on June 8, 2014

World Oceans Day is June 8 — it’s a time to celebrate the oceans and take steps to protect ocean health. Why celebrate the oceans? Whether you live on the coast or inland, we are all intimately connected to the oceans. The organizers of this year’s event are asking people to help spread awareness by taking a Selfie for the Sea. If you live near a beach, take a photograph of yourself cleaning it. Even if you don’t, try a selfie with a written promise to engage in an ocean-friendly activity. Post your photo to social media with the hashtag #WorldOceansDay.

Not into selfies? Just wear blue to celebrate the day!

A sticky-note stop animation made by one of our young World Oceans Day fans! 
Please share this World Oceans Day 2012 Sticky Note Stop Motion video.

Why celebrate Earth’s oceans at all? Whether you live near a coast, or not, we are all intimately connected with the oceans. Here are some of the ways:
  • Oceans cover 71% of Earth’s surface, and they hold 97% of our planet’s water.
  • The oceans help feed us and provide most of the oxygen that we breathe.
  • Oceans also play a key role in regulating the weather and climate. Water evaporating from the oceans falls inland as rain, which we then use to drink and grow crops.
  • A variety of life saving medicinal compounds including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer drugs have been discovered in the oceans.
  • The oceans provide us with abundant opportunities for recreation and inspiration.

The theme for this year’s World Oceans Day is:
Together we have the power to protect the ocean.
Threats to the oceans include pollution, overfishing, invasive species, and rising ocean acidity due to the extensive use of fossil fuels. While these are indeed daunting problems, there are simple steps that you can to take to help protect the ocean.
For example, always recycle and use reusable water bottles and grocery bags to help reduce plastic pollution. You can reduce your carbon footprint by turning off lights and appliances when they are not in use and purchasing energy efficient products in the future. Making sustainable seafood choices is one of the most important things you can to do protect marine life, and there are now sustainable seafood guides available for many countries around the world.

Canada first proposed the concept for World Oceans Day in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. In December 2008, a United Nations resolution designated June 8 of each year as World Oceans Day.

Visit: to learn more about this global day of celebration for our ocean!

[Ref: Also Published by EarthSky on Ocean Day, June 8, 2014 -]

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Astro-Landscape Images - 2014

Yosemite National Park under Moonlight

Astro-Landscape [Night] Photography

Clouds Rising into the Dark Night Sky

As many of you know astro-landscape photography has become my latest passion in my photography.  Finding an interesting landscape composition and capturing the night sky over it - either at new moon or with some moon illumination - can feel like a treasure hunt.  There are many variables that have to come together to ultimately yield a successful image.

In my last blog I described the ‘vanishing’ dark sky areas in the United States, particularly in the Eastern parts of the country and showed the difference in how many stars we can see when we are under a dark sky.  In my latest experience when rafting the Grand Canyon in early May, it was so gratifying seeing the millions of stars overhead despite the moon illuminating the canyon walls.  The capture of a strong meteor – looking like a fireball – was an extra bonus.

Night at the bottom of the Grand Canyon at the Colorado River with a meteor streaking over the sky (composite of 4 images) May 8, 2014

As city dwellers or suburbanites, light pollution only let’s us see the brightest stars.  Even in rural areas the sparse light will have and effect on how many stars we can observe.  The image depicts the number of stars that can be seen in the Inner City (panel on left side) vis-a-vis Subarban Sky (middle) and Excllent Dark Sky (Right).

We are loosing more and more dark sky in our environment and as described in my last blog, this can have a detrimental effect on wildlife - besides loosing the beauty overhead.

In my pursuit of beautiful night images, I have used an app to find ‘dark sky’ areas (Search in iTunes for "Dark Sky" App) and have traveled quite a bit to find them.  Today, I want to share some of newer images with you in my Nature TidBits.

So scroll down and enjoy:

Yosemite National Park under full Moon (panorama towards Yosemite Falls)

Reflection of the stars with a faint milky way, Mt Bachelor,  Bend, Oregon

Milky Way over Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, Southern CA
with Venus rising at around 4 am in March 2014

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur Coast, CA

Later that night as the fog rolled in around 2am, the light became diffuse softening the car lights coming around the corner from the south.

Moonlight on the ocean near Pigeon Point, CA [May 2014]

Pigeon Point under a half moon, CA

Moonbow over Yosemite Falls - this resembles a rainbow only created by the moon!

'Reaching Out' to Polaris, the North Star at the Patriarch Grove, Bristlecone Forest, CA

Milky Way over the San Gabriel Mountains, CA [May 2014]

Capturing the Aurora under the northern sky outside Fairbanks, Alaska - 
playing to create 'imploding stars' [March 2014]

Although I mostly eliminate man-made structures from my images,  they can add interesting elements:

Loop-di-doo over San Francisco, CA

While photographing star-trails over the Golden Gate Bridge one winter night, I turned around and pointed my camera towards the city to see what a time-lapse would capture.  The resulting composite shows the air traffic over the city with a helicopter showing up as the red-dotted line.

Heavy air traffic leaving San Francisco International airport on a winter night is shown in the next image:

Airplanes leaving San Francisco International [with a southern star trail arch in the sky].

... and of course the ever present cell towers on mountain tops - new beacons of red lights dotting the landscape.

Beacons of red light under the northern star trails.

I want to close with a beautiful image captured in Arches National Park, Utah:  

Star trails in the Northern Sky over the Double Arch Bridge

Utah and the red rock country has captured my heart and I know I will travel there again.  There are so many wonderful places, and a lot of Utah is still enjoying beautiful dark sky.  Many more opportunities of capturing astro-landscape images await.  Soon I will put on my traveling shoes and one of my next road trips will lead me back there.

In the meantime,  I hope you enjoyed the journey under the dark sky.

Until next time,

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Dark Sky-Effect of Light Pollution on Wildlife

In Search of Dark Sky  -  
The Effect of Light Pollution on Nature and Wildlife

I am drawn to the night!

Yes, it can be tiring, it can be scary to be out alone in darkness and
my vigilance is heightened as I listen to the sounds of the night.

But the silence also lets me reflect on many issues as I wait for my camera
to capture the night landscape under a brilliant sky and moon.

There is beauty in the night.

Unfortunately, as city dwellers and suburbanites we mostly don’t see the millions of stars overhead since light pollution blocks out what the Universe has to offer. 

Tracking light pollution over the last ~60 years, the below image shows how much light has been added to the landscape by cities and even rural areas.  And check out the projections for 2025 – dark sky will almost vanish in most of the US sky. 

When we zoom into the Silicon Valley and the greater Bay Area, it’s hard to find areas of ‘dark sky’ where we may observe the movement of the stars and gaze at the milky way.

The next image shows how much we are missing in light polluted areas (left side) and how many stars and planet are visible without light pollution (right side).

Light Pollution and its Effect on Nature and Wildlife

But light pollution does not only hinder us to see the stars, it also has a profound effect on nature and wildlife.  

We all have seen how moth and insects are drawn to light even to their death by an open flame.  

It confuses baby turtles that are programmed to run towards the light, but that light often comes from hotels and parking lots, rather than reach the ocean to start their long life.  Below is a graph that depicts the confused wondering of loggerhead hatchlings.  They may never reach the water or their prolonged path may result in more hatchlings loosing their lives to predators prior to reaching the ocean. 

Tracks of disoriented loggerhead (Caretta caretta) hatchlings, Melbourne Beach, Florida. 
Photograph by Blair E. Witherington.

It has been found that frogs that mate at night will seize to mate in areas of light pollution. 

It is known that big cities with their bright high-rises and reflecting glass will draw migrating birds from their ancient migration routes and they perish.

Here is a quote from Bart Kempenaers of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany:  
"In comparison to chemical and noise pollution, light pollution is more subtle, and its effects have perhaps not received the attention they deserve," said Bart Kempenaers. "Our findings show clearly that light pollution influences the timing of breeding behavior, with unknown consequences for bird populations." It is these unknown consequences over the long term that needs to be understood.

And unfortunately the list goes on and on with lots of information available with a quick search on the web. 
But what can be done?  We all have responsibilities to take care of the planet Earth and we all can become more cognizant of how our actions influence our environment.  Just as example: Turning off outside lights when we go to bed at night, installing lights that are directed downwards and that are on automatic shut-off when not necessary, supporting city street lights that are minimizing light pollution; these are all small but important contributions to the bigger issue.  

I would like to conclude with a very informative video:  ‘Our Vanishing Night’ by AstroGirlWest 

“Light pollution: its real, destructive consequences are seldom recognized, but it is a problem with easy solutions that make economic sense. All living creatures rely on the Earth's regular rhythm of day and night to regulate internal cycles. Many use the protection of darkness to safely forage and mate. We exist in a balance with our environment, a delicate balance that we are shifting. In the process we are also losing our connection to the night sky and the universe beyond.”

Til next time,

Friday, May 16, 2014

PAWS Elephant Sanctuary

"After the Cameras Went Away"
Thika, African Elephant at PAWS

As you know, I have been an avid supporter of PAWS, the Performing Animals Welfare Society, and I have blogged about the sanctuary under the leadership of Pat Derby and Ed Stewart.

After a long struggle, last year in October PAWS welcomed 3 aging African Elephants into the herd at PAWS ARK 2000, a 250,000 acre  sanctuary in the rolling hills of the Sierra Foothills.  These 3 elephants made their way via transport vehicles 4000 km across the continent from Toronto, Canada, to San Andreas, California, and have since settled in nicely.  A recent video captures Thika enjoying a mud bath, and compared to their small enclosures at the Zoo, you can see how happy she is in her new home.  I think anyone who loves animals will enjoy the story of the cross country move of these 4 ton giants and their new life at PAWS ARK 2000.

I will be back at PAWS end of March and again in October, and look forward to seeing these new arrivals and say Hello again to the other elephants that are so dear to my heart.  You can join me for those visits in my Photo Tour [see below].

Please watch the linked video "When the Cameras Went Away" and listen to Ed Stewart talk about PAWS and the happy ending for Thika, Iringa and Toka, the Toronto elephants who now can live out their lives walking freely on the green hills of the Sierra Foothills.

Til next time,

The Fifth Estate Returns to PAWS

Canada's premier investigative news magazine program, The Fifth Estate, returned to PAWS' ARK 2000 captive wildlife sanctuary this month to shoot an episode for its special season finale, "After the Cameras Went Away."

The Fifth Estate's investigative team had accompanied elephants Iringa, Toka and Thika on their trip from the Toronto Zoo to PAWS last October, documenting every step of their journey. In this special follow-up segment - which features an interview with PAWS president Ed Stewart - The Fifth Estate journalist Bob McKeown reports on how the elephants have adapted since arriving in sunny California.

Click here to watch "After the Cameras Went Away." (Video may not be available in all areas.)


Special Photo Tour

Although the sanctuary is not open for public, there are special fundraising days with educational tours that allow us to get a glimpse of the life of these magnificant animals.  Please click here for my October Photo Tour "Seeing the Elephants" at PAWS and join to learn more about the plight of all captive and performng animals.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Monarch Butterflies in Crisis

The Monarch Butterfly needs your help!


Monarchs need your help NOW! This year AGAIN marks the lowest number of over wintering Monarchs in the Mexican mountains in the last 20 years...and we have only known about their over wintering sites for a little more than 20 years!. There are 97% fewer than at their recorded height and 50% less than there were last year. This is a back to back 50% decline in their overwintering numbers. Researchers are worried we may lose a large part of their migration this year if immediate action is not taken and severely threaten all Monarchs if the pattern continues.
This is a crisis situation! In 1991, over 75% of the wintering Monarchs from North America froze to death in Mexico as a result of three days of rain and sub-freezing conditions. Their numbers showed some recovery but now there is a nationwide shortage of milkweed. Freak weather patterns destroy habitat and kill millions of helpless Monarchs. But these natural events are not the only challenges that face the Monarch. Pesticide application and genetically modified crops cover important parts of the Monarch's migratory path and serve as killing fields for any Monarch that pass through these millions of acres of toxins and biological agents that kill them and their young. They are unintended casualties in a war to protect crops. Are our Monarchs worth our efforts to protect? Do we even know the total effects on our environment from the use of these agents? The Monarch habitat must be protected now to ensure their survival, before we see the day when this miracle of nature is only a memory. The Monarchs need your help NOW. Please plant seeds and ensure their survival. A Milkweed in every yard!

What is killing the Monarch Butterflies?

This slide was from my recent presentation “Wildlife Around the World – Wildlife in Peril” where I summarized so many dangers facing today’s wildlife.
The causes for the decline of monarchs can be summarized briefly in below’s slide.  The role of the nicotinoid pesticides in the decline of butterflies has been scientifically established, and its effecting not only the monarchs but also bees and other pollinators in an alarming rate. 

So how does the lowly milkweed help the Monarch Butterflies?

When an adult Monarch is ready to lay her eggs, she only selects milkweed to deposits one egg on each plant.  This insures that the evolving larvae will have enough leaves to feed on and to thrive before the metamorphosis from larvae to a beautiful butterfly.

How can you help?

Plant a milkweed today and change your backyard into a monarch friendly environment.
Plant native plants that attract not only butterflies but also bees and other pollinators, e.g. lavender.

If you can’t find milkweed in your nursery, please ask for an order of milkweed or contact and order your milkweeds online.

In California and the West coast, the following milkweed species will thrive:

Asclepias curassavica

Asclepias-curassavica - This is hands down the favorite egg laying and food plant of Monarchs. This is the only type we offer as pregrown plants. fast growing produces as much as 1,000 seeds per plant to save and share. Use as a backup resource

Asclepias-speciosa - A beautiful plant up to 4' tall with large thick leaves that feed many Monarchs. Will survive winters and a prolific seed producer. The seed we supply are ready to plant no special "stratification" necessary. <14 day="" germination.="" span="">

I wish you many beautiful monarch butterflies in your lovely garden,
And thank you for helping nature!

Til next time,

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Water-Precious Commodity

Here is some food for thought:

Meat Is the Huge Water Waster

How much water it takes to create a cheeseburger. 
By Mike Sage

Poster by Michelle Theis, Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club

The drought hits.  We are advised to save water by obeying the standard water-saving tips:  reduce lawn watering, install low-flow showerheads, take shorter showers, turn the faucet off while brushing teeth or shaving, etc.
But the one thing a person can do that is far more water-saving than all other methods combined -- going vegan (eating a plant-based diet) -- is seldom if ever mentioned by the media as a way to save water.
Meditate on this stunning statement from National Geographic: "On average, a vegan, a person who doesn't eat meat or dairy, indirectly consumes nearly 600 gallons of water per day less than a person who eats the average American diet."
The average indoor water use per person is about 70 gallons per day.  Thus, even if you totally eliminated your indoor water use (never take a shower, never brush your teeth, never flush the toilet, never wash clothes or dishes, etc.) and thereby save 70 gallons per day, that would be only 12% of the amount of water you would save each day by being vegan.
Plant-based foods have a much smaller water footprint than animal products.  Their production requires far fewer gallons of water per pound of food. 
Water required to produce one pound (1 lb.) of:
  • Beef = 2000 gallons of water
  • Pork = 576 gallons of water
  • Chicken = 468 gallons of water
  • Soybeans = 206 gallons of water
  • Wheat = 138 gallons of water
  • Corn = 108 gallons of water
Click here for source

Why does production of meat require so much more water than the production of plant foods?  There are several reasons:
  • The water that an animal drinks constitutes only 1% of the water footprint of the meat that will come from that animal.  
  • A farm animal eats plants for most of its life; an enormous amount of water is required to grow all of the food that the animal eats.  for source, click here.
  • Most of the food that animals eat is not used to build body mass; rather, it is used to fuel bodily activity and to maintain bodily functions (heartbeat, breathing, eating, digestion, the functioning of all organs, and the support of chemical reactions that occur in the body).
  • Animal digestion is nutritionally inefficient, resulting in partially-digested food being excreted that still contains nutrients.  Click here for more info.
  • Although much of an animal’s body is inedible (bone, cartilage, teeth, horns, hooves, hair, hide), water-fed plants were required to build and support all of those body parts.
Growing plants to be fed to billions of animals for humans to eat is vastly more wasteful and environmentally destructive than growing plants for people to eat directly.  Plants contain all the protein that humans need and no cholesterol.  Forests are being destroyed to grow crops to be fed to meat animals and to provide pasture for livestock.

Reduce your water footprint, be merciful to animals, improve your health, and fight habitat destruction by shifting your diet from unhealthful meat to delicious grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits.  A useful guide for making an easy transition can be found here

Author Bio:  Mike Sage is a Bay Area native, a Mathematics graduate of UC Berkeley, a husband, father, grandfather, and software engineer.  Mike lives with his wife in Santa Clara and is active in his church; he is a Life Member (1983) of Sierra Club, Loma Prieta Chapter.  Mike would welcome your comments, which you may e-mail to him at

Til next time,

Saturday, April 19, 2014

PAWS - Gypsy's Story

Come to PAWS and Meet Gypsy! 

Gypsy at PAWS

Gypsy was born in 1967.

Nicholas (PAWS'Asian Bull Elephant) and his surrogate mother, GYPSY, arrived in Galt on April 2, 2007. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Hawthorn Corporation negotiated a consent agreement which permitted the transfer of the two Asian elephants to PAWS. The two elephants were closely bonded and their devotion to each other was indescribably touching. They shared food, rumbled, chirped and remained in close proximity to each other at all times.

When we accepted the responsibility of caring for Nicholas & Gypsy, we knew that dealing with the relationship between the young male and his older female companion would be challenging. When Nicholas matured and his hormones became an issue, separation would be inevitable.

When it came time to separate the two, on January 13, 2009, we knew it was the end of an era, a time when the young, captive born male no longer needed a surrogate mother. Gypsy had provided security, safety and wisdom to him as long as she could. In the wild, he would be sent out to follow older bulls and learn the ritual that all elephants understand.

Wanda at PAWS

We moved Gypsy down the hill to join the other Asian elephants where she's been given a much deserved rest and retirement after the daunting task of raising a young bull. When Gypsy moved to the Asian barn, she gravitated to Wanda immediately. When she made her first trips out to the habitat, she stayed close to Wanda, and since that time the two have remained almost inseparable.

Several weeks after Gypsy's move we were reviewing 20 year old circus videos, searching for footage of Ruby when she performed in the circus. What we found was astonishing — no footage of Ruby, but we did find Nicholas’ father Tunga, Gypsy, Gypsy’s calf (Brat, now deceased), and Wanda!

Sadly, circus elephants have little solace in their lives except for the comfort of other elephants, and they never forget old friends, even after more than 20 years. Gypsy and Wanda — best friends forever.

Gypsy was born in 1967 and after many years performing in circuses, she now enjoys the freedom to roam with her friend Gyspy on the large acreage of the PAWS sanctuary where they both will live out her live in peace.


You can come and meet Gyspy, Wanda and all the 11 African and Asian elephants at PAWS during an unforgettable day at PAWS.  Learn about the plight of captive elephants and see for yourself how PAWS has created a true sanctuary for these animals.

Please see all details here.

Til next time, 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Elephant Sanctuary-Hohenwald-Tennessee

If Shirley Could Talk...

If Shirley could talk, what a story would she tell?  Would she remember her family in Sumatra?  Would she tell of hardship and about the fire on a ship that she escaped from?  Would she carry anger at the humans that ripped her from her family, that made her perform most of her life that deprived her of the company of other elephants?  Shirley has had a whirlwind of a life.  From being caught in the wilds of Sumatra to ending at her forever home here at TES, her life has been a true inspiration of perseverance.

Shirley, now ~66 years of age, now lives in Hohenwald, Tennessee, at a The Elephant Sanctuary (TES) with large acreage of land where she has green grass under her feet and a warm barn to sleep in at night.  Several years ago she was reunited with Jenny, another performing elephant after 22 years apart.  Shirley and Jenny were together at a circus when Jenny was just a calf and Shirley in her 20ties, her surrogate mother for a short time.  When they were reunited in Hohenwald, the remarkable reunion was documented – you can see the video here – and now they inseparable while they live out their life at the sanctuary.

Below is the biography of Shirley with all its twist and turns.  But only recently, her remarkable rescue from a burning ship in Nova Scotia surfaced with the pictures taken in 1963 - more than 50 year ago.  A truly remarkable story of her life of perseverance at the hand of humans.

As I contemplate how we humans treat these highly intelligent and sensitive elephants in captivity under often the most unnatural conditions, we need to ask ourselves what rights do we have to impose such a life?  With excellent documentaries – films – videos available, with increased travel to the lands and forests that elephants call their home, it is time to stop keeping elephants and large wildlife species captive and abuse them just for the entertainment of our human species.

I invite you to read the below biography of Shirley and to watch the remarkable video of Shirley’s and Jenny’s reunion here.

Jenny, at TES



Born: 1948
Birthplace: Sumatra
Birth status: wild born

• Captured from the wild: 1953
• Life before the Sanctuary: performed for twenty-four years with the Carson and Barnes Circus, then lived at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo for another twenty-two years
• Reason for coming to the Sanctuary: crippled and living alone
• Shirley moved to the Elephant Sanctuary July 6, 1999

Height: Nearly 9 feet
Favorite Food: Apples

Shirley is our oldest elephant, wild caught in Sumatra over fifty years ago.
Her back right leg was broken thirty years ago when she was attacked by a fellow circus elephant. She is missing a large section of her right ear as result of a fire which not only injured her ear but also left several scars on her back, side and feet.

Hohenwald, Tennessee (June 9, 1999) - Shirley, a rare Asian elephant who has spent most of her life entertaining audiences all over the world, will retire July 6 to the Elephant Sanctuary, the nationally renowned, natural-habitat pachyderm refuge located in Hohenwald, TN.

"We're overjoyed that after such a storied career Shirley will be joining our other elephants," said Carol Buckley, founder and executive director of The Elephant Sanctuary. "Yet, making way for her arrival will be both emotionally and financially demanding."

"The transport and care of an elephant like Shirley doesn't come cheap" she adds. "We'll need the help of our supporters and volunteers, as well as new sources, to provide a seamless transition to this new chapter of Shirley's life."

Shirley was fifty-one when she was retired to The Elephant Sanctuary. She has quite a colorful past. At age five, she was captured from the wilds of Asia and was purchased by the Kelly–Miller Circus. In 1958, while the circus was traveling through Cuba, Fidel Castro seized power. Shirley and the entire circus were held captive by Castro's forces for several weeks before being set free. Unfortunately that was not the end of Shirley's saga. A few years later, her circus ship was docked in Nova Scotia, when a fire broke out in the engine room. This incident caused the ship to sink, killing two animals. Luckily, Shirley was rescued without harm.

Story and photos about the ship fire in Nova Scotia.  -- Pl scroll below!

In 1975, at age twenty-eight, while performing for the Lewis Brothers Circus, Shirley was attacked by another elephant. Her right hind leg was seriously broken. It was not set and healed poorly, causing everyday life to be somewhat difficult. Regardless of her injury Shirley was forced to perform in the circus for nearly two more years before being sold to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe, LA.

Usually female elephants live in-groups, but for safety concerns related to her injury, Shirley was kept apart and lived alone at the zoo for twenty-two years. According to the Sanctuary Founding Director Carol Buckley, the Zoo was generous to Shirley by providing her with a loving environment, but the time came when the Zoo felt Shirley could lead a healthier life in a natural habitat. That is when the Zoo contacted The Elephant Sanctuary.

"We knew we could trust The Elephant Sanctuary to offer Shirley the kind of life she deserves," explained The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo Director, Jake Yelverton. "It was in Shirley's best interest to retire her to a place that was more suitable."

"It goes to show after everything Shirley has been through, what survivors these animals really are," said Buckley.

Shirley moved to the Sanctuary July 6, 1999 joining Tarra, Jenny and Barbara, the three residents.

September 9, 2003
This dear note was sent by a three year old after he met Shirley on our site.
Dear Shirley:
I will give you ice cream on a plate.
I will give you one motorcycle. ONLY ONE!
I will kiss you on your ear.

Love Cyrus

Shirley at TES

[ Ref:]

Story and photos about the ship fire in Nova Scotia.

Story and photos about the ship fire in Nova Scotia.

Shirley — A Place in History
Shirley was one of dozens of circus animals rescued from a vessel destroyed by fire in Yarmouth harbour.
We are grateful to Bob Brooks/Yarmouth County Museum Archives, 
Nova Scotia, Canada for these photographs.

Shirley, on the left, shares a bucket of water

Residents never forgot elephants

One of three pachyderms that are part of Yarmouth folklore has been located: Shirley, last survivor
September 19, 2001 - Richard Foot, National Post

HALIFAX - For thirty-eight years the people of Yarmouth, N.S., have been talking about elephants—pecifically three Asian elephants who came to town on board a circus ship in 1963, and were rescued from the vessel when it was destroyed by fire in Yarmouth harbour.

The animals were marched from the ship through groups of gawking fishermen and awestruck onlookers. Firemen rescued tigers, llamas and leopards, too, but it's the fate of the elephants that has long intrigued the locals.  After the fire, dozens of the exotic animals were loaded on to trucks and driven back toward Florida, home of the Kelly and Miller Bros. Circus.  En-route, the trailer carrying the elephants crashed, and news reached Yarmouth that the pachyderms who survived the fire had perished on the highway.

"That's the last we heard," says Laura Bradley, archivist at the Yarmouth County Museum, who says the tale of the three elephants has remained a popular part of Yarmouth folklore.

Today, however, the tale has changed. Ms. Bradley has learned that one of the beasts from the 1963 fire is alive at an elephant refuge in the deep, verdant woods of western Tennessee.  Her name is Shirley—she is an old and haggard creature—but her existence and whereabouts have electrified the staff at the Yarmouth museum.

"I was surprised and thrilled to know she had survived," says Ms. Bradley. "I had written those elephants off when I read they'd been in a road accident. I felt it was the end of their story. But now the story lives on." 

Shirley (on the left) on board the ship

Yarmouth historians and staff at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Ten., are eager to swap notes. The museum has archival photographs of Shirley's dramatic rescue from the circus ship; the sanctuary has the remaining details of Shirley's extraordinary life.  Says Carol Buckley, director of the sanctuary: "The museum has a booklet on the fire and photographs -- I'm very anxious to get any of that, it's part of Shirley's history."

News of Shirley reached Yarmouth through the Internet when a museum volunteer received a message from someone who had stumbled across the Web site of The Elephant Sanctuary.
The sanctuary claimed it had an old elephant that once survived a ship fire in Nova Scotia.
"I went to the Web site," says Ms. Bradley, "and when I read Shirley's story, I sobbed."
The elephant's biography, pieced together by the sanctuary from a succession of zoo and circus owners, says Shirley was taken from the wild as a calf and sold to the Kelly-Miller circus. For the next 25 years she trained and travelled across North America, often in wretched conditions, entertaining crowds under the big top. She was in Havana in 1958 when Fidel Castro seized power.

In June, 1963, the circus loaded Shirley and a menagerie of other animals on a cramped and ramshackle steamship, the Fleurus, for a summer tour up the East Coast of Canada. After three harrowing weeks at sea, the Fleurus reached Yarmouth, first stop on the tour.

The ship sinks

Bob Brooks, a celebrated Canadian photographer who started his career in Yarmouth, recorded the visit with photographs and a diary that remain in the care of Ms. Bradley.  "He went on board when the ship arrived," she says. "It was listing badly to starboard, there were rotting chickens being fed to the carnivores, the place was full of flies and dung. The elephants were chained and struggling to stand straight on the tilting ship. Bob said they looked poorly."

The next day a parade of animals -- elephants, bears, llamas, zebras, lions, and cheetahs -- performed for the curious in a nearby field. After the show they were caged back up on the Fleurus, where a fire broke out in the engine room. There was a desperate effort by firefighters to release the live cargo from the ship, while local hunters stood guard with rifles in case an unruly animal bolted into the town.
"The sight of elephants, zebras and the leopard being walked along the wharf, with the chaos of the fire in the background, is something that Yarmouthians have never forgotten," says Ms. Bradley.
Brooks' photographs of the event made a two-page spread in the Toronto Star's weekend magazine.
The circus tour was abandoned and the stranded animals were eventually trucked back to the United States.  Although the elephant trailer did crash in a traffic accident, at least one of the elephants obviously survived.

Ms. Buckley says Shirley toiled in circuses until 1977, when another elephant attacked her and broke her hind leg.  Now a cripple, she was transferred to a Louisiana zoo, where she lived the next 22 years alone in a small, solitary compound, allowed not a breath of contact with her fellow kind.

In 1999, the zookeepers sent her to The Elephant Sanctuary, a private, 300-hectare haven established especially for sick or unwanted, female elephants.  When Shirley arrived there, she was 52, on the brink of old-age. Today she wanders freely and keeps the company of six other cow elephants, including Jenny, a younger animal Shirley first met in a circus barn.

Last year National Geographic featured Shirley in The Urban Elephant, a TV documentary on captive pachyderms.  Ms. Buckley says producers may want to do a follow-up program, after learning about the rich new details of the Yarmouth fire.

As for Ms. Bradley, she says she now has a complete and happy ending to add to the strange story of the circus ship that caught fire in Yarmouth harbor.  "Shirley is a symbol of hope," she says. "Every time I see an animal in a circus, I think maybe they, too, will have a happy ending and find their sanctuary."

The Fleurus was the last circus ship ever to reach Yarmouth. In 1997, the town became the first in Nova Scotia to ban all circuses, traveling by land or sea, with exotic animals in tow. Although at least four circuses still tour Canada each year with elephant acts, twenty-five other municipalities across the country—in British Columbia, Quebec and Newfoundland—no longer welcome them to town.

[Ref:  Bob Brooks/Yarmouth County Museum Archives]

 What a remarkable story!  

Til next time,