Wednesday, May 24, 2017

When NIMBY applies to bears & coyotes

While New Jersey can seem crowded with cities, highways and industries, our state doesn’t lack for wild animals -- some of whom we receive occasional alerts about.

Bears and coyotes are the most recent subjects of alerts. We’re often reminded that NJ’s black bears are shy, preferring to avoid humans when possible, although human food is a different matter.  Some uninvited bears may have started out simply following their noses and foraging. (Think: bird feeders, open air pet food, loose trash lids, even some gardens. . . .)

Coyotes – does anyone outside of Western movies refer to them as “KI’-oats”? – are all around us, having staged a comeback in the East despite human density and deterrence efforts.  Their adaptability has made them quite cosmopolitan. And they howl – oh, do they howl.

Unsure what coyotes can sound like, I googled their howls, breezing past a warning about pets’ possible reactions. The YouTube rendition of a pack of communicating coyotes caused Harry and Billy Summers to hastily “vamoose” (keeping it Western). That canid family concert cost me numerous cat treats.

Interestingly, with both bears and coyotes, NJ residents are urged to look big and make a lot of noise. Jump up and down, wave your arms around and shout.  Right. With a bear bearing down on you.  Or a coyote, whether howling or not. This reaction strikes me as easier said (in the animal’s absence) than done. 

One other thing: when dealing with injured coyotes (or foxes, their fellow canids), don’t try to help them. Leave that to someone who knows how to interact with the animal and emerge unscathed. Contact area police, who in turn can reach out to an animal control officer or wildlife re-habber.

The link that follows came with the recent coyote alert we received. Use it for more coyote and fox info.    

Help assure a veto override! 
                              Dodo pic
To most everyone’s chagrin and not many people’s surprise, Gov. Christie conditionally vetoed the puppy mill sales bill, S3041, which would have stopped the sale of dogs from the worst puppy mills in the nation. His “misguided decision demonstrates a disregard not only for the thousands of breeding dogs languishing in puppy mills across the nation but also for New Jersey consumers,” as HSUS put it in urging state legislators to override the veto. 
 This very good bill can still become law IF legislators act, but we need to urge them to do so.  Please phone your senator right now because the Senate override vote is scheduled for tomorrow, May 25.
 Talk about poetic justice  

What would you call it: sad?  fitting?  ironic?  deserved?  A South African big game hunter was killed by an elephant last week in Zimbabwe.
He was guiding paying tourist-hunters when some elephants charged, and he shot toward them. One elephant picked him up with his trunk, then another hunter fatally shot the elephant, who crushed the guide as he fell. 

Reactions ranged from satisfaction (by those who regard big game hunting as immoral) to sympathy (from other hunters). The man killed left a wife and children. The elephant killed – on his home ground -- left an extended family. 
                     PAWS pic

 Commenting made easier

Hearing from a few readers that it was tough to post comments here, we changed blog settings to eliminate the need to register. Now that “anyone” can comment, please do!       

Thursday, May 18, 2017

New policies threaten even the hardiest animals

As they did after the shock and terror of 9/11, hosts on “our” radio station stuck to the business of playing great music. No ranting, no hand-wringing.  It was a relief to tune in and think of something else for a change.

Since last year's presidential election, and the unbelievable daily fallout since then, it’s been pretty much the same pattern. Occasionally, connected with surprising or worrisome news of the day, a host may simply point out that the music may soothe listeners in “these troubled times.” That’s as far as it goes: Professionalism at work.

 But this blog is about and for animals – creatures who can’t speak for themselves, can’t go to a legislator’s office or email and complain about their treatment, can’t change the circumstances that affect them.
Which is why I’m here to say: "horseshoe crabs" and call your attention to a NYTimes headline from April 23: “The World We Could Lose” (“Tax cuts and executive orders can be reversed. The effects of President Trump’s environmental policy cannot.”) 

Related more to spiders, ticks and scorpions than to crabs, horseshoe crabs have been around since prehistoric times. Now, thanks to humans, their continuation is threatened.  These days, humans use Limulus polyphemus for medical tests, bait and fertilizer – so much so that the number that can be “harvested” is limited in some states.  HC eggs are desperately needed food for migrating birds traveling from South America to their nesting places in the Arctic.
As oceanographer Sylvia Earle writes in that NYTimes piece, loss of critical habitat is the top threat to Atlantic horseshoe crabs, but the runner up is “human predation” like that just cited. Our habits of “consuming wild places and wild life” could mean the end of this long-lived (till now) species.

One other captivating reason to be aware of horseshoe crabs: their technical name, Limulus polyphemus, reflects the early mistaken belief that, like “Polyphemus,” the cyclops in Homer’s Odyssey, horseshoe crabs have just one eye. 
“Protect Horseshoe Crabs!”    

P.S. on African elephants

Sometimes it pays to leave late for a doctor appointment and forget to take anything to read. So once there, I grabbed a copy of Smithsonian magazine (January 2017), in which I found an article about a favorite topic – elephants – by an admired writer – Elizabeth Kolbert (Pulitzer Prize winner for The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History). 

Kolbert writes about a scientist whose studies of DNA-laden African elephant dung and analysis of trafficked tusks helps him pinpoint "hotspots" for elephant poaching so law enforcement efforts can be focused there.   

In the last post, I forgot to include the website for Save the Elephants, the organization founded by elephant expert and protector Iain Douglas-Hamilton. It’s
Sheldrick caretaker with orphaned baby elephant

Finally (for now!) on the subject of elephants, you might want to know about an African elephant sanctuary, one that’s sadly over-populated with orphaned baby elephants (and rhinos). Hoping that if and when the unconscionable poaching of elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns is ended, the numbers of orphaned wild baby animals will also drop.

Iguana at the vet

For some delightful reading, follow this link to a fascinating story about exotic animals and their veterinarian – in New York City! 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Yes, please: ‘Save the Elephants’!

Let’s ignore the troubling times in the US for now and think instead about African elephants – and something encouraging that may be happening for those iconic but desperately endangered animals.
After years of predictions about African elephants nearing extinction, as thousands upon thousands of them have been savagely slaughtered for their ivory, a tiny ray of hope recently became visible.

But first, a little background. From an estimated 1.3 million African elephants in 1979, that number dropped to fewer than half 10 years later. Why? Because around 70,000 elephant tusks were leaving Africa each year, most of them destined for China. Once Cites (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) banned the ivory trade in 1989, elephants were relatively safe, and their numbers began picking up.  

Countless babies have become orphans
Then about a decade ago, China’s booming economy fostered a demand for ivory that sparked a  renewal of the killing, or genocide, as it has also been called. Soon, China was reported to be the end destination for 70% of illegal ivory, while its price kept climbing as more people wanted it and more people got involved in obtaining it.

The last decade has been a horrific time for African elephants, as their protections ran out and ivory-lust and greed continued unchecked. Elephant families have been decimated; babies have seen their parents butchered before them; family structure, leadership roles and basic behaviors have been altered.  One extraordinary example of fear-based adaptation: an elephant (wearing a tracking collar) who moved from Kenya to Somalia, usually traveling by night and resting in thick bush during the day, and who lived.   

That “is extreme behavior adapted to survive the worst-known predator on Earth: man,” says Iain Douglas-Hamilton, elephant expert and advocate.
Douglas-Hamilton @ NYC march

Ivory trafficking involves poachers who brutally murder elephants and sell their tusks; smugglers seeking their cut; entrepreneurs running ivory-carving factories, merchants who sell the trinkets made from elephant tusks; and consumers, who place more value on an ivory bracelet or statuette than on the life of a sentient being – all with an overlay of organized crime.
The largest land mammals on earth, elephants are majestic, intelligent and social. They live in matriarchal family groups, protect their young and mourn their dead.  Herbivores with 70-year life spans, they’re crucial to their ecosystem; they travel huge distances in the wild, remembering both their routes and safe places. And yet, they have been hunted and killed in a variety of creatively cruel ways.  For ivory trinkets.

However -- and here is where possible good news comes in -- elephants may have been granted a stay of execution, or better, by China, the very country whose demand for elephant ivory has caused cataclysmic drops in elephant population numbers. With its decision to end its domestic ivory trade this year, China may make the crucial difference. That decision, plus a drop in ivory prices and a sustained global advocacy campaign, may mean life instead of death for irreplaceable African elephants. 
Both male and female African elephants have tusks.
My sources for information, and now for guarded optimism too, have been the NYTimes, which for years has covered the plight of African elephants, and various organizations that have worked against unbelievable odds to protect them – the chief one for me being “Save the Elephants.” It was founded by Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who has dedicated his life to elephants and founded STE in 1993 after documenting the scale of poaching.
"I don’t think anybody in any civilized country would want to cause the extermination of a species of animal," he says.

We shall see.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The 'beat' goes on

 Welcome, new friends and readers. And welcome back, friends and readers from my earlier blogs – most recently, the one appearing on the website of the Animal Protection League of NJ (

Last year, after long and proud affiliation with APLNJ, I proposed writing a blog about animals that would be accessible via the organization’s website. 

A dozen posts later, it seemed desirable to streamline the system, which has involved two of us besides the web developer. I had produced my first blog (AnimalBeat, 2009-2012) by myself, so why not do the same now, I thought – and save taking up the time of another very busy APL person to publish it. 

And so, here’s AnimalBeat II, with a title still suggesting my total focus: animals! It comes to you via APLNJ, as a kind of extra, complementing the animal advocacy that APL is all about.  It’s the best of both worlds, as I see it. Now, Angi Metler, the organization's co-founder and executive director, can attend to the myriad other things she handles, without having to work in time to work on publishing my blog!

Here goes  . . .     

Domesticated and wild animals have experienced numerous changes for the better since I began writing about Kingdom Animalia. A post eight years ago railed against the circus, with its captive involuntary animal performers, coming to Trenton. And today, Ringling Bros. is almost out of business!  But there’s still plenty to do on behalf of animals.

Humans still kill elephants for their tusks and rhinos for their horns; regard feral, or community, cats (a human-caused phenomenon) as deserving of death; think some animals exist to test human drugs on; trophy-hunt wild animals in sanctuaries and black bears in NJ; breed and raise animals only to slaughter and eat them. In short, they still subscribe to an archaic and self-serving belief that humans have dominion over all the animals on earth.
As just the latest infuriating example of that attitude, some people still say, “What can be more fun than to spend an afternoon shooting the little rodents?” That’s what a Montana office seeker said recently of his plan to take Donald Trump Jr. hunting prairie dogs when he visited.
. . . as the black bears emerge

Hibernation: For winter-weary humans, it’s an appealing idea. Even for those who’d love to sleep in every morning when they must get up, hibernation sounds like nirvana. Bears are among the animals (including raccoons, woodchucks, chipmunks and hedgehogs) who actually get to hibernate.

Here in New Jersey, we’re forced to focus most on our black bears during the abhorrent “bear-hunt season” that our current governor has made a routine fall-winter trophy event. (Here’s to imminent political change!)  Right now, though, we’re in the middle of a happier season for bears: spring, when they come out of hibernation and slowly build back up.

Conserving energy while their food supply was limited, bears have slept for months without eating, drinking, urinating, defecating or exercising. They emerge from their dens in April, in what’s been called “walking hibernation” – lethargic, not traveling far or eating much. Their metabolism gradually returns to normal as habitats start greening up and new grass, herbs and leaves promote slow weight gains.
June’s the month when bears seriously start fattening up for winter, even as they seek out females without cubs because it’s also mating season. And so the cycle begins again.

Till next time. . . !