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Environment and Conservation

Environment and Conservation (25)

Articles from The Volunteer Bay users about Environment and Conservation. 

When Animal Lovers Become Animal Exploiters

Last night, 60 Minutes aired a piece on the “Lion Whisperer.” Most people are already a bit familiar with Kevin Richardson.

He's the guy who's half-lion, half-man- not in the Pegasus sense, but in the sense that he is one of the pride. He has a lion sanctuary in South Africa, that he started with 26 lions he bought from the place he used to work- The Lion Park. The Lion Park was, well still is, a place tourists come to to pet little fluffy lion cubs.

This sounds great in practice, holding this yellow cuddly ball, you know will one day be a killer. But that's the problem; the lions would one day will be killers. Soon enough, they won't behave while tourist pay top dollars to hold them like babies to pose for a photo. Those growing lions would also need to eat, and as Richardson explains, “Meat is expensive.” It was time for the lions to be sold.

Many of the lions' fates would soon come to an end. They'll be hunted in enclosures. Clarissa Ward, 60 Minutes news corespondent, and Chris Mercer, an activist trying to ban this practice, discuss:

Chris Mercer: You put the lion into the enclosure. And then the hunter comes and shoots it and takes it out.

Clarissa Ward: So essentially, it's like shooting fish in a barrel.

Chris Mercer: Oh, there's no skill involved at all. It's not hunting at all. Your canned lion hunter is actually a collector. He's not a hunter.

Clarissa Ward: A collector of trophies?

Chris Mercer: He's a collector of trophies. Most of the tourists who pay to play with cubs believe that they're helping the animals.

Chris Mercer: Whenever you pet a lion cub, you are directly enriching the canned lion hunting industry. And I hope that anybody watching this program takes this to heart.

Clarissa Ward: What percentage of cubs in these facilities do you think end up in hunting operations?

Chris Mercer: Virtually all the cubs that are petted in this country are going to be shot sooner or later.

Owner of The Lion Park, Rodney Fuhr, disputes that his lions end up at these places, but when Ward presented him with evidence against the latter, he stuttered his words, claiming ignorance of selling lions to the “canned hunting industry.” He even mentioned that his employees would never do such a thing:

“Well they won't do it while I'm here. This whole thing about canned hunting. What is canned hunting, you know? And I think it's grossly exaggerated. What are the jobs that we're providing and the hunting industry? Thousands of jobs. This has got to be weighed up against the odd lion that may be sold when he's eight years old, you know. In the wild, he wouldn't probably even live to eight.”

After Richardson realized what was to become of the cubs he nurtured, he took it upon himself, with the help of his partner, to buy up all those cubs, and start his own sanctuary.

For as noble as his cause was, buying up lions, tigers, or elephants, will not diminish this practice. At an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand, this could not be any apparent. The elephants on the project don't belong to the project, unless they have been donated, but are actually rented from from local people. Buying elephants for the project, inadvertently encourages the further poaching of baby wild elephants.

Adult wild elephants won't work. Their strong personalities and fierce family loyalties make them impossible to tame. Poachers have to kill all the adults to get to the babies. Buying elephants, even with papers (which are often forged by higher level officials), continues this practice.

When local elephant owners rent their elephants to the sanctuary, they still receive a compensation. The elephants help bring in economical support the local families, while at the same time, the elephant is no longer being exploited to the tourist, who only cares to have a hands on interaction with the elephant, unaware of the potential abuse, malnutrition, and exploitation it lives with.

The Tiger Temple in Thailand, a place where you can take pictures with your hand on an adult tiger and hand-feed cubs milk all day long, is just another example. The novelty of the experience shoves aside the strange fact that you know petting an adult tiger isn't a good idea. The Buddhist monks that run the place will tell you otherwise, that these hand-raised cubs have been domesticated, but talk of drugging, dehydrating, and malnourishing these tigers still runs rampant. Even at the Lion Park, they don't use adult lions.

For every ten of these places exploiting animals, there is a place focused on the conservation and protection of wild animals. People like Richardson and Mercer work toward ensuring the quality of life for the animals, while educating the public on how to make responsible decisions while traveling for a sustainable future for the animals, employees, local communities, tourists, and everyone involved. Watch the interview with The Lion Whisperer here.

7 Photos of Monkeys Monkeying Around

Volunteering at an Amazon Animal Rescue Center is bananas. (I am so not sorry for that line.)


But really- it is. You get to help take care and rehabilitate rescued Amazonian species. They've been rescued from the pet trade, from being spectacles at the local hotel entertaining tourists, from the homeowner who thought that having a wild animal in the house was a novelty, instead of a danger.


The monkeys are brought here by the state or surrendered by their owners. With the help of volunteers and staff, these animals are given a second chance at a higher quality of life. Unfortunately for them, many will never be released into the back into the wild. Their history with people has depleted their natural fear of humans, thus making them an easy target for further poaching and hunting.



These guys are the lucky few.


Disclaimer: This guy reminds me of how my mouth looks when I'm asleep. When I'm really tired, I might drool too.



1. Suit-Up. Do not ever attempt to work with bees without proper protective clothing. The best part about having boobs is that the head piece fits snuggly, and when tied down it will never ride up your breasts (a problem my man-partner had). Also important to remember- bees hate black. Wear light color clothing.


2. Smoke the bees. Bee keepers smoke their bees with wood to calm the bees- because when you try to take the honey from the hive the bees will attack you. Surprise. During our experience our head bee-keeper noticed how relaxed our bees were that day. He mentioned when they're really agitated, you can hardly see anything because they're covering the mesh that's protecting your face. Which surprised me, because apparently the five guys in front of my face trying to sting me through the tiny mesh-holes were categorized as calm. This was the moment I saw myself benefiting from the meditation course I took. Keeping calm was never so important.


3. Retrieve the honey. Take the honey out of the hive. For this step a lever is often useful since honey works like glue, and bees do everything in their power to seal up any cracks (especially between the combs and the box).


4. Shake the bees off. Our boss-man, having years of experience, did this with ease. He used one quick motion to drop the bees back into the box onto freshly replaced honey-less honeycombs. With what looked like a paint brush, he swept the other bees of with delicate strokes.


5. Load the honey. Shamefully I must admit, I was too weak to lift up any of those boxes containing honey. Honey is deceptively heavy. Its so much heavier than water (and if you've ever carried a 5-gallon jug of water- you know its heavy).


6. Work. I honestly was not expecting to work so much at this point. This was a good-ten hour work day for 4+ people.


7. Scrape that wax of the honey. We used metal combs to take the protective layer of wax off to expose the honey. This was a learning process, because you didn't want to take off too much honey with the wax, because then you're loosing that honey. But if you didn't take enough off the wax off, then the honey would be trapped when you put it in the centrifuge (that cylinder thing in step 7). The different colors of honey came from bees who had collected pollen from different species of flowers. The two photos below show different colors of pollen collected by bees (look at their back legs where they carry their pollen).




8. Messy business. Making honey is a messy business. You'll find your shoes peeling off the floor with every step. For the hours of work required to gather the honey, way too much time was required afterward to clean up.


9. Filter. Filtering honey is crucial. No one wants to find a bee larva, wax, or other stuff in their mason-jar full of honey. This is also a great time to stick a piece of cucumber or grape under that delicious flow to savor in the product you helped unleash into the world.


10. Utilize the scrap pieces. If a colony of bees has filled all their combs up, they will start to produce honey in any open space in the hive. Bee keepers throw these pieces in a bucket rather than discarding them. I found myself shoving my fingers into this piece to gleefully pick out all the deliciousness. The discarded wax will be used for bee's wax products and a million other things. Even pharmaceutical engineers utilize bee products.


Bee-keeping is only a small part of keeping bees. Ensuring that the bees have quality flowers and space to gather pollen to produce quality honey is essential. Volunteering at the bee farm in Ecuador will prove just that.

How Wolves Reshaped Rivers

In half a century, since the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park, where the last of the wolves had been previously killed in 1926, changes abounded. Not only did the food chain change, with multiple species numbers increasing, but the landscape changed as well. Trees grew higher, birds came back in record numbers, soil was stabilized, changing the scape of rivers. Watch this quick film to learn about the grand impact wolves had on stabilizing Yellowstone National Park.

The WWF released the 2014 Living Planet Report citing a 52% decline of wildlife between 1970 and 2010, “a much bigger decrease than has been reported previously.”

Latin America's 83% decline of animal loss is found in many of its low-income countries. Marine species, especially in the tropics and in the oceans surrounding Antarctica, have suffered a 39% loss.

The half of the world's wildlife phrase isn't applicable to all the countries in the world. In fact, in countries whose incomes are high have seen a 10% increase of biodiversity was shown.

Collecting data and comparing worldwide statistics is no easy task. One thing researchers noticed is that loss was higher than earlier predicted, making all present and future conservation efforts more vital. Why not see how you can help out here?

Coolest Discovery of the Day- Transparent-Head Fish


There's an elusive fish that exists with a transparent head. Its eyes rest in the dome, protected, while those two dots that look like eyes above the Pacific barreleye fish's mouth are actually nostrils.

This is the first time the fish has been captured on video whole and in the wild. All other times, since the barreleye has been seen in the wild, it has been mangled in fishing nets, its head no longer inflated. Click here to watch the video.


Source: National Geographic

The Best Map of the Century

The Guardian just realized an interactive map here that highlights global divisions and changes. Click on the play video and watch the world's countries get resized based on how they effect climate change. I promise you, you'll be fascinated and surprised by how each region is effecting climate change or being effected by it.

Can You Guess What These Images Are Of?

National Geographic highlighted yet another amazing photographer, Aaron Ansarov, on his quest to photograph the Portuguese-man-of-war for nearly two years. Ansarov would catch washed up man-of-wars on his local Florida beach, photograph them, then later release them. Watch the video to see some of his work in action, and enjoy the beauty of the untouchable at a comfortable distance.






Birding Isn't Just For Nerds

I had my first official 'birding' experience this past month in the Amazon. I've always been a fan of birds, but watching the bird feeder from my kitchen window at breakfast time didn't officially count as birding, and neither did casually coming across a multi-colored bird during a hike.

My first birding experience involved waking up at a way too early hour just like waking up to catch the first flight out in the morning. You feel groggy slipping on your pants and throwing your bag over your shoulder, thinking why did I choose today to do this. I was going to see green parrots get drunk off eating clay. The group before us had no luck. We were suppose go the morning prior, but got rained out as well. But when we woke up in the morning, there was no rain, only the loud screeches of bugs.

We met our guide, slipped on our rubber boots, and head down to the boat to go up the Rio Arajuno. I had my macro lens out, experimenting with settings to see which one would catch the best morning light. My partner had binoculars around his neck. I was expecting the boat to come to a rest soon, turn of its engine, so we could start watching, but it pulled off to the shore, and our guide mentioned for us to get off. I definitely wasn't expecting a hike up a massive muddy hill. He machetes through vines to clear our path, until we made it to a small clearing. “Now, we wait.”

And wait we did. To the right of where we sat was a wall of vines, with a few holes to look through. After the vines, the hill dropped. There was another massive hill with a small clear gray spot. “That's where the parrots come to eat the clay,” our guide said.

Technically, the clay area is called a clay lick. Wild parrots eat clay in the early mornings as a digestivo. The clay helps the parrots digest wild nuts and berries. In addition, it also causes intoxication.

We waited for an hour. My partner took a seat on an exposed tree root, and I silently cursed my guide as he macheted vines around us, thinking that it'll scare the birds away. Of course, I happened to be wrong. One by one we heard the chatter of the parrots. They were gathering in a huge tree 50 meters away. “When they're all there, they'll come down in a big group all at once. They won't go alone. There's snakes.”

And suddenly it happened. They all flew down to the clay lick. I tried taking photos, I tried taking videos, and then I realized I made the biggest amateur birding mistake. I had forgotten a tripod. There still wasn't enough light to get a good photo. So I watched. And watched.

That's what birding is all about- watching and listening. The best part came after the birds finished feasting. They flew back into the tall tree and started clacking. Each one chirping his own story, wanting everyone to hear, but refusing to listen. They were drunk.

Starving, we made our way back to the eco-lodge, knee high in mud, my sock wet, quite possibly from a hole in my rubber boot. We sat down at breakfast, and I was still in awe. That dim morning, we had seem something incredibly wild. We crouched in the jungle of the Amazon, the only humans around, and watched something epic go down. It was a privilege. It opened up an entirely new side to travel, on how to view the world. It made birding glamourous, because it was in fact truly glamourous. Need more proof, check out this article on Why Birding is Cooler than You Think.

There's a Tree That Bleeds in the Amazon

That blood on that leaf is called “Sangre de Drago,” or blood of the dragon.

It drips from a fast-growing tree in the Amazon when it is nicked. The only way it stops bleeding is if you patch it up with a band-aid. Our guide picked up a clump full of dirt, and rubbed it on her to stop the bleeding.

His knife held perfect drops of the blood on her base. “Put it on your cuts and bites,” he said.

I've already grown accustomed to taking his orders. When he told me to lick the tiny ants he sprinkled from a tree into my palm, I did it. It tasted like lemons. When he told me to close my eyes and take something from his hand, I questioned it, freaked out and realized it was only a nut. Now, I rubbed the blood of the dragon onto a week old 2nd degree burn, and it instantly turned into a white cream.

“We use it for bad teeth, bad stomachs, cuts that don't heal,” he said.

But that's what the Amazon does. For as many things there are that can maim you in the Amazon, there are just as many things that can cure you. Research scientist flock to biological stations centered in one of the 9 countries part of the Amazon to test these folk medicines used by indigenous people passed down from generation to generation. They'll bring their research back to their labs to help aid in medical advancements and other developments.

Sangre de drago contains the chemical SP-303 used to treat symptoms in AIDS and other diseases. Its been highly effective for traveler’s diarrhea without any side effects, not to mention other countless afflictions.

Its just one of the plants our guide shared with us. To learn about the Amazon would take months of lessons. However, destruction and deforestation of the Amazon is rampant. In Ecuador, Yasuni National Park, one of the most unique places of the Amazon due to its geographical placement, has been handed over to Repsol, a Spanish oil company, for drilling. Just to enter the national park, you must first provide Repsol all necessary documentation they ask for in advance to enter. If you happen to be an activist, writer, or anyone who has an opposing voice, you too could be denied access. When I entered Myanmar, I put 'teacher' under my occupation rather than writer. In Yasuni, I'd think twice about that question as well.