Thursday, March 19, 2015

Searching for Spring

Searching for Spring Wildflowers

The weather has been unusually warm and everywhere the flowers are sprouting.  The roses in front of my home were starting to bloom at least 3 weeks earlier than usual.  Although officially, Spring is only starting March 21, here California it definitely looks and smells like Spring.  The daffodils are long gone even in the higher elevations.  The Daffodil Hills Ranch in the Foothill of the Sierra closed their doors this week but 2 weeks ago it was in full bloom and a delight to see.  It was quite crowded the afternoon I visited and seeing the profusion of yellow and white was for sure delightful.


McLaughlin Ranch, an old working ranch



Closer to my Palo Alto home, Gamble Gardens and Filoli Gardens are a-wash in tulip blooms – a colorful palette of reds, pinks and white and all colors in between.

An inviting place to sit and contemplate.
A visitor on a forget-me-not

With the weather almost like feeling like summer, I continued searching for poppies and wild irises spending a day on the coast around Mount Tamalpais and Point Reyes and was rewarded to find the wild iris in full bloom.  The coastal hills were lush green with the occasional poppy [probably in full bloom in a week or so] but lots of yellow mustard along the road.



Pierce Ranch
Heart's Beach
 I ended up photographing the abandoned boat on Tomales Bay and stayed into the late evening/night capturing the north star above the boat.  There I met Lauren, a young photographer who wanted to try her hand with astro-landscape photography and star trails.  It is always nice to share the night and have the time go by faster than being alone.  Lauren, this image is for you!  I hope you got something good out of your efforts to capture the beautiful scenery!

... and a beautiful night it was!
For those of you who are still living with snow and cold, don't despair - Spring will come to your area soon.
Til next time,

[Technical Note:  all images except for the night image were taken with the Olympus OM-D E-M10, a mirroless micro 4/3 that I am evaluating with pleasing results.]
All images:  Copyright M. Raeder-Photography

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Galapagos Tortoises

Conservation Notes:
Good news!
Young Tortoises spotted on Galapagos Island


Tortoise hatchlings spotted on the tiny island of Pinzón last year are the first to have survived there in more than a century.  Thanks to conservation efforts, tortoises are making a comeback.

In 2014, researchers discovered Galapagos tortoise hatchlings on the Galapagos island of Pinzón.  The young tortoises are the first to have survived there in more than a century. It’s a sign that decades of conservation programs to protect the giant reptile are starting to pay off.

Gigantic tortoises were once common on the Galapagos Islands, but after many years of overhunting, habitat destruction, and disruption by non-native species, the population crashed.  Now, thanks to the hard work of the Galapagos National Park Service and its collaborators, the tortoises are making a comeback.

The Galapagos Islands are located in the equatorial Pacific Ocean off the coast of Ecuador.  The remote islands with their unique flora and fauna are famous for having helped inspire Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.  The Galapagos tortoises are among the islands most iconic species.

Scientists estimate that 250,000 tortoises once inhabited the Galapagos Islands prior to the 16th century. In the 19th century, the tortoises were hunted heavily by whalers that often visited the islands.  Moreover, some of their habitat was converted to agricultural land by early settlers. Humans also introduced non-native species to the islands like goats, which compete with the tortoises for food, and rats, which prey on the tortoise eggs and hatchlings.  All of these factors took a heavy toll on the tortoise population. By the 1970s, only about 3000 tortoises remained.

In attempt to boost the Galapagos tortoise population, several conservation programs were put in place.  For example, large areas of the Galapagos Islands are now protected parkland and park officials collect tortoise eggs and rear the hatchlings in captivity until the young tortoises are large enough to withstand a rat attack.  To date, approximately 6,200 tortoises have been successfully reared and released back onto the Galapagos Islands.

In 2012, rats on the island of Pinzón were eradicated through the use of poisoned bait.  During a follow up survey on the island in 2014, James Gibbs reported seeing several young tortoises.  He said:

During our treks around Pinzón, the team also found many young hatchlings, a truly exciting find as they are the first hatchlings to survive on Pinzón in more than a century.  Once black rats were introduced to Pinzón in the late 1800s, they preyed on 100 percent of tortoise hatchlings.  This new bunch of “little guys” is one of the important results of the rat eradication campaign, tangible proof that with dedication, hard work, support, and heart, conservation efforts can effect positive change.

James Gibbs is a professor with the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Today, the tortoise population size has increased to 20,000 individuals.  Clearly, the conservation programs are starting to pay off.

Bottom line: Galapagos tortoise populations are showing signs of recovery after several decades of conservation efforts to protect the giant reptiles.

This article was first published in EarthSky  []
Til next time,

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Ringling Circus ends elephant program

Performing Animal Welfare Society Credits California Bullhook Bans as Turning Point
in Circus Decision to Eliminate Elephant Acts
Nation's First Elephant Sanctuary
Applauds Historic Announcement

San Andreas, Calif. (March 5, 2015)  - The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which founded and operates the nation's first elephant sanctuary, is applauding the news that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus will end the use of elephants in its traveling shows. PAWS is attributing the decision, in great part, to the Los Angeles City Council's unanimous decision in 2013 to ban the use of bullhooks - a menacing weapon resembling a fireplace poker that is used to control elephants through fear and pain - as circuses had stated they would no longer visit the city.
"The Los Angeles bullhook ban was really the tipping point for elephants in circuses," said PAWS president Ed Stewart, "and PAWS is proud to have played a key role in passing that game-changing ordinance."
 California's Oakland City Council followed Los Angeles in passing its own bullhook ban in December 2014. Other cities across the U.S. were gearing up to consider similar legislation when Ringling announced its decision.
 "We are thrilled at the news that the end is in sight for the use of elephants in the largest U.S. circus," said Stewart. "This is an historic announcement. It signals the beginning of the end of the use of elephants in entertainment."
 "PAWS was the first organization to investigate and expose the horrific lives of elephants and other animals used in entertainment," said Stewart, recalling how he and his partner, the late Pat Derby, began documenting the use of animals used in live entertainment, especially circuses, and started the worldwide effort to end their suffering.
 Derby, a former Hollywood animal trainer, first championed the cause of performing wild animals nearly 40 years ago following the publication of her tell-all book, The Lady and Her Tiger, which exposed the behind-the-scenes abuse of wild animals used in entertainment. Stewart stated, "She was THE voice for lions and tigers in cramped traveling cages and elephants chained by their legs in trucks and railroad cars."
Since its founding 31 years ago, PAWS has continued its investigations, public awareness campaigns and legislative advocacy on behalf of performing animals.
 PAWS cares for nine elephants at its 2300-acre natural habitat ARK 2000 sanctuary in San Andreas, California, along with tigers, lions, bears and a black leopard. Among those are former circus elephants who now spend their days roaming spacious habitats and sunning themselves on grassy hillsides, free from chains and bullhooks.
 Stewart concluded: "This decision should set an example for anyone who uses elephants for entertainment, including in circuses, rides, and in film, advertising, and television. It's all just wrong."

For more information about the Performing Animal Welfare Society, please visit
#  #  #
Founded in 1984, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) operates three sanctuaries in Northern California, including the 2300-acre ARK 2000 natural habitat refuge, that are home to a large variety of species including Asian and African elephants, African lions, tigers, and other exotic animals rescued or retired from circuses, zoos and the exotic pet trade.
PAWS is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and is rated a four-star charity by Charity Navigator and received an "A" rating from CharityWatch.

Friday, March 6, 2015

PAWS News: Wanda

All of you who have visited PAWS Ark 2000 with me over the years, will remember Wanda, one of the Asian elephants, who with her friend Gypsy enjoyed a large enclosure with grass to forage and a pond to swim in.  The 2 elephants were always seen together enjoying each others company.  They had met more than 20 years ago during their years in captive situations and remembered each other once reunited.  After 10 years at PAWS, Wanda died recently and will be remembered fondly by all who knew her.


PAWS Announces the Death of
Beloved Asian Elephant Wanda
Thirty-one years of protection, education, advocacy & sanctuary.
Press Release


San Andreas, Calif. (February 12, 2015) - The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) today announced the death of much-loved Asian elephant Wanda at the ARK 2000 captive wildlife sanctuary in San Andreas, California. She was humanely euthanized on Wednesday, following a long history of arthritis and foot disease, the leading reasons for euthanizing elephants in captivity. At age 57, she was among the oldest Asian elephants in North America.


"Every elephant at PAWS is special, but Wanda stood out for her adventurous spirit. She will be very much missed," said PAWS president Ed Stewart. "I'm proud we were able to give her a more natural and enriched life at the PAWS sanctuary for nearly 10 years."

Wanda was born in the wild in Asia around 1958, and captured at a young age to be put on display in the United States. During her lifetime, she was moved from one location to another at least seven times, including to Disneyland (according to the Asian Elephant North American Regional Studbook), a circus, zoos in Texas, and then the Detroit Zoo in Michigan.

The Detroit Zoo, which is recognized as a leader in animal welfare as well as providing sanctuary for animals in need of rescue, brought about the two greatest changes in Wanda's life. Until her transfer to Detroit, keepers trained her with the bullhook - a menacing weapon resembling a fireplace poker that is used to control elephants through fear and pain - and kept her on chains. The zoo instead utilized a more progressive and humane management system based on positive reinforcement training that greatly improved Wanda's quality of life and freed her from chains and bullhooks.

In 2004 the Detroit Zoo decided to end its elephant program for the good of the elephants, after determining it could not provide the conditions necessary to meet their needs, such as a warmer climate and far more space. The zoo opted to relocate Wanda and fellow Asian elephant Winky to PAWS' ARK 2000 sanctuary in April 2005. (Winky passed away in 2008.)

"Everyone at PAWS felt a special obligation to the people of Detroit who loved Wanda so much," stated Stewart. "We provided her with a life that was closer to what nature intended for elephants, which was the Detroit Zoo's goal in sending Wanda to PAWS. We did our very best for Wanda every minute of every day she was at the sanctuary. She was very special to us too."

Upon arriving at ARK 2000, Wanda wasted no time in getting to know her new elephant companions and joyfully exploring her new home that was unlike any captive facility she had ever experienced before. At PAWS she loved to forage for natural vegetation in the sanctuary's sprawling habitat, nap in soft grass on the hillside or under a tree, and take therapeutic swims in the lake. The moderate California climate allowed her to enjoy these activities year-round.

After another Asian elephant, Gypsy, later arrived at the sanctuary, it was discovered that the two had been in a circus together more than 20 years earlier. The elephants instantly remembered one another and could always be found close together. Even in death their friendship endured. After Wanda passed away, Gypsy approached her friend and stayed at her side for a period of time, gently touching her body and "speaking" to her in soft rumbles, before slowly walking away.

Throughout the years, PAWS developed a close personal relationship with the Detroit Zoo staff. Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan, keepers, curators and veterinarians regularly visited Wanda, with whom they had a deep, loving bond. PAWS staff often sent photos to Detroit of Wanda roaming the habitat, playing in the lake, or simply soaking up the sun.

Stewart concluded: "I want to thank the animal care staff from the Detroit Zoo and past and present staff of PAWS for changing Wanda's life so dramatically and giving her the opportunity to just be an elephant again."

As is customary for all elephants that pass away at PAWS, a necropsy is being performed on Wanda's remains by pathologists from U.C. Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and tissue samples sent to a laboratory.


I will be at PAWS in several weeks and I am sure I will miss seeing her hanging out with her friend Gypsy!  Thank you, PAWS, for giving her 10 good years in your loving care!
In quiet reflection,