When “Earth becomes Mars” — a global warning from inaugural Wildlife Photographer of the Year lifetime achievement recipient Frans Lanting.

“I think a photograph, of whatever it might be — a landscape, a person — requires personal involvement. That means knowing your subject, not just snapping what’s in front of you.”

That’s Frans Lanting, recipient of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards’ first Lifetime Achievement Award, earlier this week at London’s Natural History Museum. The ceremony just celebrated  its 54th year of existence, so while “lifetime achievement awards” are a dime a dozen these days — there’s even one for shoe salesmen — being the first in an organization that has existed for more than half a century is saying something.

Lanting, 67, a Dutch nature photographer based in Santa Cruz, Calif., has been at this game almost as long — so much so that, in addition to numerous published books, including several by the Cologne-based German art-house publisher Taschen and his personal website (lanting.com)

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he rates his very own page at BrainyQuote.com

. “I want to interpret the natural world and our links to it,” he says. “It’s driven by the belief of many world-class scientists that we’re in the midst of an extinction crisis. . . This time (of our own making.)”

Life is both wonderful and mysterious, he says.

“Life is a force in its own right. It is a new element. And it has altered the Earth. It covers Earth like a skin.”

And this, “Life needs a membrane to contain itself, so it can replicate and mutate.”

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“I became interested in photography during my first visit to the United States. I was a student at a university in Holland. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the American West. That was when I learned about the tradition of nature in American photography.”

“Tourism is important,” Lanting adds, “because it can create sustainable local economies. I’d much rather have 1,000 tourists going up the Tambopata than 1,000 gold miners.”

 ©Frans Lanting

©Frans Lanting

And then there’s this:

“Water is the key to life, but in frozen form, it is a latent force. And when it vanishes, Earth becomes Mars.”

His wife, he says, “says that I become different once I start to work with animals. My movements become different, my mood is different. It involves letting everything fall behind you, becoming intuitive in your dealings with wild creatures in a way that bypasses reason. Sometimes it’s more like a dance than anything else.”

As with many nature photographers of his generation, Lanting’s work over the years has evolved from portrait and landscape photography to activism and conservation. He was appointed special ambassador for the World Wide Fund for Nature in 2012, and counts a World Press Photo award, the Ansel Adams Award for Conservation Photography, an Honorary Fellowship of the Royal Photographic Society, the Lennart Nilsson Award and the Royal Geographical Society’s Cherry Kearton Medal among his list of honours.

“Nature is my muse,” Lanting has said, “and it’s been my passion.”

Some truths were meant to be self-evident.

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“Nice” is in, controversy is out at Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2018 awards.

The first thing to know about this year’s winners of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards is that this time, the jury shied away from controversy with its picks. “Nice” is the operative word in the 2018 edition, unlike last year, when South African photojournalist Brent Stirton’s image of a slaughtered rhino forced people to confront serious issues facing wildlife conservation today.

The inevitable result is that, as likeable as many of the 2018 winners are, collectively they’re unlikely to stir the kind of difficult debate about species extinction and the wanton slaughter of rare animals for their body parts many conservationists — and wildlife photographers — say is even more imperative today, in a Trump world of climate denial and environmental deregulation.

That means fewer angry emails to contest organizers from parents upset that their younger, more  impressionable children might be dissuaded from a career in conservation, because the winning image didn’t reflect the beauty and wonder of nature.

This year’s overall winning image — “The Golden Couple,” Dutch photographer Marsel van Oosten’s tender portrait of a pair of rare golden snub-nosed monkeys (Rhinopithecus roxellana) taken in central China’s Qinling Mountains, certainly evokes wonder. The image was chosen over 45,000 entries, from 95 countries. It will be one of 100 other images to go on display at London’s Natural History Museum, the 54th such exhibition in the world’s most prestigious, high-profile wildlife photography contest. The exhibition opens this weekend, Oct. 19th, and closes July 1st, next year.

In her statement to the world’s media this week, long-serving jury chair Roz Kidman Cox admitted the winning image is traditional — it’s a portrait, pure and simple — but then added, “But what a striking one, and what magical animals. It is a symbolic reminder of the beauty of nature and how impoverished we are becoming as nature is diminished. It is an artwork worthy of hanging in any gallery in the world.”

 ©Marsel van Oosten

©Marsel van Oosten

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On one level, this is true. It’s hard to imagine Stirton’s dead rhino, blood still congealing from the stump where poachers hacked off its horn with a chain saw, being unveiled at the Louvre or the National Portrait Gallery.

For all Cox’s brave words, though, “The Golden Couple” is unlikely to make people stop and ask themselves, what happened here, who did this, why did they do it, and what can we do to prevent it from happening again.

Admittedly, it’s also hard to imagine Cox’s email in-box filling up with angry comments along the lines of last year’s, “How dare you? I’ll never follow your rotten contest again” viral outrage. As many upset patrons were only too happy to remind Cox then, nature photography is supposed to be about awe and  appreciation, about inspiration and inculcating our collective sense of wonder, and not something that’s shocking and awful.

 ©Natural History Museum

©Natural History Museum

I also know at least one prominent wildlife photographer and former WPOTY winner, a high-profile veteran who gives frequent lectures as part of National Geographic’s National Geographic Live! speaker series, who argues that the time for debate has passed, that it’s more important to shake people out of their complacency than to show them another pretty picture of a wonderful animal doing something wonderful. (Interesting fact: The award committee’s decision to opt for such a violent, off-putting image in last year’s edition sparked some of the most intense debate the jury committee can remember in awards history, but in the end the choice was unanimous. Yes, unanimous. Not only that, but that was reportedly the first time in the awards’ 54-year history that, in the end, the entire jury agreed on the final choice, without a single dissenting vote.)

Here, then, without further ado, is a selection of this year’s picks, along with a link to the Natural History Museum’s awards page, and a link to an investigative article about the precarious situation facing China’s dwindling population of golden snub nosed monkeys.

In a few days, I’ll be posting a profile of renowned wildlife photographer Frans Lanting, winner of this year’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, but first this.



 ©Skye Maeker

©Skye Maeker

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“Whoso pulleth out this sword of that yonder lake is the rightwise queen born of all Sweden.”

And now for something completely different — the oddball news stories you didn’t see this past week. News flashes that somehow escaped the media glare — and these all happened — included such ‘say what’ headings as, ‘Florida store owner: Don’t warm urine in my microwave;’ ‘Ohio man says rescued cow is a regular backseat passenger;’ ‘Iguana on power line knocks out nursing home’s electricity;’ ‘Rhode Island man wins first prize for 1-ton pumpkin;’ and, for the purposes of this item, ‘Swedish girl Saga pulls our pre-Viking era sword from lake.’

That last one missed perhaps the most pertinent item in what otherwise might have been a mild distraction for a slow news day: The “Swedish girl” in question was just  eight-years-old.

Forget The Sword in the Stone; this sounds like a Disney animated classic in the making.

The facts were these:

An eight-year-old girl, Saga Vanacek, pulled a 1,500-year-old sword out of a lake in southern Sweden this past July.

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Her find was announced only this past week for fear it would trigger a summer tourist stampede to the sleepy hamlet of Tånnö on the shore of Lake Vidöstern. Forgive all the umlauts, but this is Sweden we’re talking about here.

According to local news in Sweden — the local news site local.se, followed by the regional Värnamo Nyheter newspaper, followed by national radio  — and picked up virtually overnight by media across Europe and the U.S. and Canada, experts from the nearby Jönköping county museum estimated the sword, found still in the remains of its original wood and leather scabbard, dates back to the 5th or 6th century AD, give or take a couple of pre-Viking generations.

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Saga’s father, Andrew, admitted in a Facebook post that he was annoyed at first: He had been waiting impatiently for his daughter to come in from the water because, godammit, the World Cup final was about to start and Croatia was about to face France, and it was Croatia who had knocked out England, who in turn had knocked out Sweden, and so therefore deserved to pay  the price.

His daughter was skipping stones, however, when she suddenly held up a rusted artifact she found in the water.

He wasn’t thrilled at the prospect of hauling the find home — who knows where it might’ve been? — but neighbours convinced him it looked “kinda old,” and so he called an archaeologist the following morning.

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Ensue pandemonium.

Readers of The Local’s news site started a campaign to have Saga declared the rightwise Queen born of all Sweden. The post of prime minister is currently held by Stefan Löfven in an acting capacity only, but one has to be at least 18 to be PM, rulling Saga out. 

Sweden, officially known as the Kingdom of Sweden, already has a monarch — King Carl XVI Gustav — but why spoil the beauty of a thing with mere detail?

Besides, it was an eight-year-old Lady in Waiting who found the sword in the lake, not the 72-year-old ruling monarch born at Haga Palace, Solna, in April, 1946. (For the record, the official, rightful heir to the throne is King Gustav’s eldest child, Victoria, Crown Princess of Sweden, Duchess of Östergötland.)

There is a serious side to a fun story. A team of forensic pathologists and archaeologists is poring over the sword, trying to pin down its provenance.

The question of whether Saga will be rewarded or involved in future projects has been referred to the National Archives of Sweden — a body not exactly noted for its  romanticized view of historical events.

Then again, as Saga told local media, she doesn’t really want to be queen, nor does she want to pursue a career in archaeology. She’d rather be a doctor, or a vet, “or an actress in Paris.”

See? There must be a movie in there somewhere.


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Bones of contention: How a 70-million-year-old dinosaur, bone smugglers and a US court case rewrote palaeontology history

Imagine, if you will, a story that links dinosaur bones, bone smuggling, international intrigue, a so-called “commercial palaeontologist,” the Gobi Desert, a diplomatic spat pitting the government of Mongolia against a prestigious auction house in New York, the Hollywood actors Nicolas Cage and Leonardo DiCaprio, and a staff writer for The New Yorker who’s written a book about it

Add to the mix the prehistoric beast Tarbosaurus bataar, a Cretaceous critter reputedly so irritable and given to mood swings that it’s believed even the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex gave it a wide berth.

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The story, under the delightful heading ‘Bones of Contention,’ first came to public attention — that is to say, when The New Yorker picked it up — in 2012, though to be fair, not to mention accurate, the story probably begins more than 70 million years ago, when the Tarbosaurus was an actual thing.

The Tarbosaurus came by its bad temper naturally: It weighed up to five tons, and boasted more than 60 teeth.

But wait, there’s more. It had a locking mechanism in its lower jaw, similar to the space alien in the horror movie Alien, and small, gimpy forelimbs that predate opposable thumbs by more than a few White House presidential administrations.

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Tarbosaurus was no bottom feeder, either. It ate other dinosaurs, the larger the better. The hadrosaur Saurolophus and sauropod Nemegtosaurus were favoured items on the buffet menu, and they were not small. In present-day natural history terms, think of a lion that’s only interested in hippos and elephants, with buffalo having to serve as a light snack between meals on an otherwise slow day on the hunting plain.

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The largest known Tarbosaurus skull is 1.3 metres (4.3 ft) long, which makes sense when you consider we’re talking about a critter that ranged between 10 and 12 metres (33to 39 ft.) from snout to tail, and weighed some four to five metric tons.

The weird gets truly going when, on May 20, 2012 Heritage Auctions in New York City published a catalogue announcing that a fully restored Tarbosaurus skeleton was about to go on the auction block.

This was a problem — though hardly anyone guessed at the time it would be a problem that would involve a million-dollar bone smuggling scam — because Mongolian law stipulates that any dinosaur remains found in the Gobi Desert must be laid to rest at an appropriate Mongolian institution. Since Tarbosaurus are only found in Mongolia and not, say, Iowa, or New York City, this Tarbosaurus, if real, could only have been stolen.

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Enter “commercial palaeontologist” and real-life “Florida man” Eric Prokopi, a present-day Indiana Jones — except that he isn’t — who was willing to part with the dinosaur bones for no small amount in US cash — until, that is, the then-president of Mongolia, and more than a few actual palaeontologists, gave it the old ‘WTF?’ and filed a complaint in the US courts.

On the morning of Oct. 17, 2012, as Paige Williams wrote at the time in The New Yorker, federal agents and sheriff’s deputies raided Prokopi’s home in Gainesville, Florida and arrested him.

The would-be Indiana Jones, dubbed a “one-man black market,” was charged with several counts of felonious smuggling. 

And so an actual court case, United States v. One Tyrannosaurus Bataar Skeleton — the case has its own Wikipedia page! — came to light.

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Prokopi, caught dead-to-rights and facing 17 years in prison, pleaded guilty to illegal smuggling. Facing hard time, he sang like a bird. “There is probably not an active fossil investigation at this point that doesn’t owe, on some level, to information that Mr., Prokopi has furnished law enforcement,” assistant US attorney Martin Bell told US District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein during Prokopi’s sentencing hearing in lower Manhattan.

Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage, meanwhile, agreed to return the bones a dinosaur skull he bought in 2007 for some USD $276,000, handing it over to US authorities, who in turn returned it to Mongolia.

Cage originally bought the skull in an auction held by the I.M. Chait gallery — outbidding Leonardo DiCaprio in the process. Cage didn’t realize the skull might be stolen until the Prokipi affair — movie title! — and voluntarily gave it up when he learned of the circumstances. 

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Sure, he was out nearly $300,000, but now he had one hell of a story to tell. Might not a movie be made out of this — starring, say, Nicolas Cage and Leo DiCaprio?

The Prokipi court case, as reported at the time by Paige Williams in The New Yorker, featured this priceless exchange between US attorney Bell and judge Hellerstein:

Bell noted out that some 18 separate “largely complete” dinosaur skeletons seized included “a dinosaur called an oviraptor, which is an egg-eating thing. I think a number of them stampeded in the 1996 movie Jurassic Park. It might have been 1992. I was young and awestruck in any event, Your Honour.”

“I missed the movie,” the judge replied. “Maybe I should go back to see it.”

“Every now and then it airs on TNT,” Bell replied, presumably with a straight face.

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The Tarbosaurus skeleton was returned to Mongolia the following year, bruised but not battered, where the remains were put on public display in Sukhbataar Square, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital (pop. 1.3 million).

For one brief moment, this Tarbosaurus became the most famous dinosaur in the history of the planet, a strangely fitting end for a critter that died of unknown causes in the Gobi Desert, its skeleton more-or-less intact, some 70 million years ago. Perhaps it died of natural causes? If it had been taken on by a Tyrannosaurus, or another Tarbosaurus, it’s hard to imagine the bones would have survived without being scattered across the Mongolian Steppe.

Why is this suddenly in the news again, now, in October, 2018?

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Because Williams, whose side job — in addition to her staffing duties with The New Yorker — is Laventhol/Newsday Visiting Professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, has just published her novel account of the strange case,  who has just published a new book, The Dinosaur Artist: Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy (Hachette).

The Dinosaur Artist is unlikely to survive 70 million years, but Williams’ fellow authors have jumped onboard, for the most part.

“A fascinating story of adventure and obsession, and a captivating journey into the world of fossils and fossil peddlers, scientists, museums, international politics, the history of life, and the nature of human nature,” Jennifer Ackerman, New York Times Bestselling author of The Genius of Birds, enthused. “If you love dinosaurs, palaeontology, or just a rollicking good tale, you will love this book. I couldn't put it down.”

The Dinosaur Artist is a tale that has everything,” Elizabeth Kolbert, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of The Sixth Extinction added in a jacket blurb: “Passion, science, politics, intrigue, and, of course, dinosaurs. Paige Williams is a wonderful storyteller.”

With a wonderful story to tell, it would appear.


Magical circus beasts, and where to find them — a digitized ‘Carnivale’ of the Animals.

No animals were harmed during the making of this motion picture.

That Humane Society disclaimer is familiar to anyone who’s stayed to watch the end credits of any movie featuring animals, or bothered to watch the end titles of a TV show featuring the same, whether it’s a family-friendly classic like Lassie or a post-modern Netflix western like Godless.

Hardly anyone expected to see that of the circus, however. The treatment of animals in circuses — everything from locking tigers in tiny box cages for days and weeks at a time to forcing elephants to perform balancing acts before as giggling crowd  — has been a cause célèbre of animal-rights activists for decades now, and rightly so. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, aka “the Greatest Show on Earth,” took down its tentpoles for good several years ago because the travelling carnival act was no longer welcome in many towns and cities across the Americas, largely because of mistreatment of animals and the appalling conditions they were kept in.

 ©Circus Roncalli

©Circus Roncalli

For career performance artist, one-time circus clown and academically accredited circus historian Bernhard Paul, the circus — not just his Circus Roncalli, founded in Germany, but the circus as an institution — needed a complete makeover, if it was to survive.

He came up with a novel idea — holograms, not real animals. This is David Attenborough-type stuff, writ large, in 3D. His elephants are remarkable, and beautiful, and they pull off amazing stunts. They’re not real, though; they’re digitized images, CGI at its most stylish, images so realistic they’re almost real. And no animals are harmed in the performance of his circus act. Even domesticated animals like ponies trotting in circles or dogs jumping through hoops of fire — all holograms.

Where have all the animals gone? Aren’t the kiddies disappointed?

“Pah,” Paul replied, when asked that very question by a trade publication earlier this month. (Yes, the circus industry — such as it is — has its own trade publication.)

“Every child knows what an elephant looks like today, but you do not have to show it anymore.”

The David Attenborough effect, again.

 ©Circus Roncalli

©Circus Roncalli

Circus Roncalli’s philosophy in a nutshell: They decided against having the animals for the benefit of the animals.

Apart from the societal and ethical considerations, there’s a practical reason, too: Circus Roncalli prefers to play in city centres and town-hall squares — places “where there are not many appropriate accommodations for animals, since suitable pastures for the horses (for example) are often found only outside the cities.”

There’s no room at the Ritz for Mr. Ed, in other words.

Paul, 71, has been around the block a few times. It’s been a while since he last played Zeppo the clown in front of a live audience, but he’s filling seats in the big tent just the same. The artist-previously-known-as-Zeppo has put some serious time — and money — into his digital productions: two years and €300,000, to be exact, to design a proprietary computer program that uses holography, 11 high-performance beam projectors and a transparent screen — a net, actually — that rises in front of the audience. Technology, not animals.

Circus Roncalli’s main tent is 16 metres high — just seven metres shy of Salisbury’s now infamous cathedral,

Roncalli’s travelling carnival act, titled Storyteller: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow, is moving to the Rathausplatz in Vienna, after its dry run in Innsbruck.

Not every circus mogul is a fan.

“What I’ve done there,” Paul told his interviewer, “almost all the other circuses lynched me.”

“Pah,” was his response. The only response, to his mind.

“You have to have visions. Certain visionary abilities.”

 ©Circus Roncalli

©Circus Roncalli

But, wait, there’s more. Paul didn’t spend all those years in the circus to be the shrinking violet when somebody asked him what he’s about.

“I’m a big radar. I know exactly what people like.”

Animals, for one. But that doesn’t mean they have to be real.

It helps, too, he added — no false modesty here — “that I come from another world.”

Well, not exactly, but not a world everyone is familiar with. Paul hails from the town of Wilhelmsburg (pop. 6,500) in Lower Austria, a town some describe as having been seized by circus fever. 

Paul didn’t start out as a clown, though — his original trade was electrician. He had no idea how his electrical background would one day inspire his dream of a circus in which no actual animals are hurt, injured or mistreated in any way.

Paul took on a civil engineering apprenticeship straight out of school, but soon grew tired of it. Wanting a new challenge, he studied graphic design at an arts school in Vienna. Electrician, graphic arts, the circus — the idea for Circus Roncalli was born.

 ©Bernhard Paul (centre), Circus Roncalli

©Bernhard Paul (centre), Circus Roncalli

Yes, old-school circus traditionalists want to lynch him, but he’s not going anywhere soon. And neither is Circus Roncalli, if a write-up in this month’s TIME is any indication.

“Once upon a time, a little girl saw the circus parade past the end of her street,” one-time circus performer and “elephant girl” Dea Birkett wrote, years ago, in a Long Read essay for the Guardian newspaper.

“Within hours, the park where she played was transformed into a world of wondrous, exotic people and beasts. She saw men walking on stilts and wobbling on a high wire, clowns squelching, white horses teetering on their hind legs, and an elephant strolling around a sawdust ring. She longed to run her hand over the deep ridges of its trunk, to feel the rhythm of its stride, to be transformed into the shimmering lady who smiled down from its back. Then, the next day, the magical world was gone. There was nothing but swings and slides in the park. 

“I was that little girl, and as I grew older fewer and fewer elephants paraded past the end of my road. Soon, there was no magical kingdom springing up overnight in our park. The rhythm of suburban life was no longer interrupted by fantastical eruptions. The circus had left our town forever. . . .

 ©COO/Creative Commons

©COO/Creative Commons

“. . . In less than 20 years, an extraordinary two-century-old art form has been near-obliterated. Animal-rights groups have waged a war against circus(es) . . . Now, the most common image of the circus is not the magic, but the misery. Instead of fabulous feats by human and animal, we imagine elephants chained to pallets, incarcerated big cats and horses trapped in tiny stalls.”

Not anymore. Not if Bernhard Paul, Circus Roncalli and his amazing cavalcade of wondrous, magical — and computer-generated — beasts have anything to do with it.


"Ig Nobel" feelings of not-so-intense jealousy.

Ignoble. ig-no-ble. /ig’ nōbel/. Adjective.

1. not honourable in character or purpose. 

“ignoble feelings of intense jealousy”

synonyms: dishonourable, unworthy, base, shameful, contemptible, despicable, dastardly, vile, degenerate, shabby, sordid, mean.

2. of humble origin or social status.

“ignoble savages”

Ig Nobel. An elegant, grand and most noble prize, a take on the Nobel Prize, but a lot more fun. And with more laughs.

It’s a science award — after a fashion — designed to make you laugh and then afterwards, and only afterwards, think. Laughter is not only the best medicine: Nine out of 10 leading scientists say it also makes you think harder.

Or maybe not.

The science, truth be told, isn’t in on that part yet. Sounds reasonable, though.

©Associated Press

The 28th First Annual Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony (2018)  was held over the weekend at Harvard University, and the winners were in good form. Humble origin, check. Low social status, check — at least, when compared to that annual soirée in Oslo, Norway. Or is it Stockholm?

And if the losers — excuse me, “non-recipients” (it’s an honour just to be nominated!) — harboured any “ignoble feelings of intense jealousy,” they were dignified enough not to show it. The ignoble savages behaved themselves, for the most part, right up to the part where Wilfrid Laurier assistant professor Lindie Hanyu Liang — a teacher of “organizational behaviour and resource management” at Laurier’s Lazaridis School of Business and Economics in WEaterloo, Ont. — won the grand prize for her groundbreaking research on how angry employees can use voodoo dolls to get even with abusive bosses.

“We were really excited to hear we had won,” Liang said, with characteristic humility and understatement — so much so that onlookers were willing to overlook her use of the royal ‘we.’ Unless, by that, she meant her team of underlings and staffers. Assistants to the assistant professor, if you will.

And to be recognized in such a competitive field of finalists, too!

“Our work manipulating the psychological state of retaliation is really novel and can pave the way for future researchers,” Liang added.

There you have it, then. The next time you confront your abusive boss, feel free to poke away with a sharp needle, and then cite research as your excuse. Hey, it works for the Japanese whaling fleet.

“We’re trying to understand why people retaliate against abusive bosses,” Liang continued. “We found that, with voodoo dolls, people feel they’ve restored their sense of justice.”


According to their study, Righting a Wrong: Retaliation on a Voodoo Doll Symbolizing an Abusive Supervisor Restores Justice (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S104898431730276X), published in the February issue of Leadership Quarterly, Liang and fellow researchers asked participants to recall an abusive workplace interaction. Some participants were asked to harm an online voodoo doll using the materials provided (pins, pliers, etc.), while others weren’t given that option. “Those who hurt the voodoo doll felt a greater sense of justice than those who did not,” the release found.

Even so,, Liang is hesitant to recommend that people use voodoo dolls. 

“Employees retaliate because there’s mistreatment going on in the workplace,” she said in a statement. “Instead of punishing people who retaliate against their bosses, the focus should be on the leader’s behaviour.”

Oh, like, that’ll work.

But enough about bad bosses and voodoo dolls.

©Daily Express

Other leaps of the imagination jumped to the fore at this year’s ceremony, all in the name of weird science.

The Ig Nobel Prize ceremony was organized by the magazine Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) as a way to recognize real, actual science, just not the kind you’d expect to learn about in Oslo or Stockholm. The presentation itself may be silly at times, but the science of the prizewinning research is legit.

Adding to the occasion, the prizes are awarded in person by a group of “genuine, genuinely bemused Nobel laureates” — this, according to the Ig Nobel’s official website (https://www.improbable.com/ig/2018/)

BBC News thought enough of the event that it assigned its senior science correspondent, Pallab Ghosh, to the ceremony.

The Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine went to researchers from Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, who found that riding a really, really dangerous roller-coaster is an effective — if ill-advised— way to pass kidney stones. (Don’t laugh: This actually happened when Michigan State professor Dr. David Wartinger, a urologist, assessed a patient who returned from a vacation to Walt Disney World in Florida, complaining that a spin on the theme park’s Big Thunder Mountain ride gave him a lot more than he bargained for.

Prof. Wartinger was intrigued. He pursued the research further, going so far as to build a silicone model of his patient’s renal system, complete with artfiical kidney stones and scale-sized models of theme park rides.

Prof. Wartinger discovered through his research that Big Thunder Mountain is more effective than similar yet scarier rides (because of their prolonged drops) such as Space Mountain and Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster. Prof. Wartinger found that Big Mountain boasts more side-to-side and up-and-down movements that “rattle” the rider, rather than long, steep drops that simply scare the living bejesus out of one.

But wait, there’s more.

©Ars Technica

Other awards went to British researcher James Cole, who won the Ig Nobel Prize in Nutrition for a study that found that good old-fashioned cannibalism is not as nutritious as you might think, copmpared weith other kinds of meat — one imagines the researcher intoning, much like a self-important network-TV news anchor, “We looked into it, and what we found might surprise you.”

(Don’t be alarmed: This wasn’t part of some industry study to come up with a cost-effective alternative source of protein, but rather a look at the dietary habits of early humankind, which branches of early humans survived or died, and why._

Prize winners will have their research published in the Annals of Improbable Research, which is a little like the journal Nature, only not really.

The evening went quickly by all acounts — more quickly than those tedious Hollywood ceremonies like the Oscars and the Emmys.

That’s in part because the award winners were told they had 60 seconds, and no longer, to deliver an acceptance speech.

The time limit was strictly enforced by an eight-year-old girl who was instructed to say, “Please stop — I’m bored,” over and over again, until the speaker stopped.

Perhaps Hollywood could take the cue.

After all, you know what they say: Imitation is the sincerest form of television.


There are no good years or bad years anymore at Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards.

There are no longer good years or bad years at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards. The prestigious contest — half a century in the making — sponsored by London’s Natural History Museum, has never seemed more important.

This past weekend, some 14 commended images in this year’s edition — the 54th overall — were announced to the public. 

One of those images, South African nature photographer Isak Pretorius’ stirring image of a lion drinking from a reed-covered riverbank, has already been selected as the cover shot for Wildlife Photographer of the Year Portfolio 28. The overall competition winners will be announced on Oct. 16, and a full exhibition of winners and finalists will go on display at the Natural History Museum three days later, on Oct. 19.




Submissions for next year’s 2019 WPOTY Awards open Oct. 22 and close on Dec. 13. The window is short, in other words — just eight weeks.

The past year has seen its fair share of controversy, from photojournalist Brent Stirton’s competition-winning 2017 image of a slaughtered rhino, its horn hacked off with a chainsaw by poachers — many viewers found the image to be disturbing and inappropriate for a competition supposedly designed to celebrate nature in all its beauty — to the disqualification of Brazilian photographer Marcio Cabral’s award-winning night image of an anteater moving towards termite mound that was later found to be staged. (The anteater turned out to be stuffed, arguably making it the most famous stuffed animal in the history of taxidermy.)

It will be instructive to see what image wins this year’s competition, because by focusing on a hard-hitting “message” picture last year, award judges were signalling that the most urgent issue facing wildlife today is environmental ruin, everything from habitat destruction to poaching and looming species extinction. It’s no longer enough, in other words, to celebrate natural beauty just for nature and beauty’s sake.

With no further ado, then, here’s a look at a few of this year’s commended images.

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Small steps: how even the simple act of awareness can point the way to a better future.

The educated, the enlightened, the self-aware and the well informed — those who care about the planet, in other words — are often sad, to paraphrase Nancy Mitford, because they care so much about their causes, and their causes “are always going so badly.”

That sadness has seemed relentless lately, director of the NGO Women for Refugee Women Natasha Walter wrote this past weekend in The Guardian newspaper.

There’s no need to parse the reasons why, she added. It’s enough to simply remind ourselves — not that anyone needs reminding —  that the headlines are relentlessly grim, “and the unreported detail often worse.”

Well-intended campaigns tend to start with energy but are soon bogged down by the sheer scale of the problem at hand, before splintering into separate factions with their attendant taunts and mud-slinging. Keeping hope alive is as daunting a challenge as any existential crisis facing humanity today.

We can’t give up, though. 

“I spend my life working alongside refugee women,” Walter writes. “And being with marginalized women teaches me that stepping (away) would be a terrifically privileged step to take.”

 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

None of us can walk away, in other words. We don’t have the right. “Stepping away from activism completely doesn’t feel OK, not when so many people are teetering on the brink of disaster. I don’t want to lose touch with the possibility of a better future, even if the change each of us can make is very limited right now.”

She suggests three small things anyone can do, “three things I’ve learned that help me to stay in touch with hope.”

1. Get out of the online swamp. “Instead of being active online, be active in everyday life,” Walter writes. “Sitting with people rather than their online avatars helps you to see what you can do together, despite your differences. You learn to shift your point of view rather than entrench it.” 

2. Think locally. That can be something as simple as forming a coffee group where people can share ideas, support each other and provide a different narrative from the political talking points of the day. “While we mustn’t mistake sticking-plaster solutions for real change,” Walter writes, “it’s heartening to see how people are getting together to show that another world is possible.”

3. Recognize small steps. Even a small victory, whether borne from a simple, individual act of kindness or a tiny cog in the wheel of a much larger campaign, is something from which to take heart.

 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

When Oregon-based conservation biologist Laurie Marker founded the Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia in 1990, she vowed that saving one cheetah at a time is every bit as important as spreading the wider message of cheetah conservation to the world at large. Just 7,000 cheetahs remain in the wild, judging from the most recent estimates. According to a joint study by the Zoological Society of London, Panthera and the Wildlife Conservation Society in 2016, the species could decline by an additional 50 per cent in the next 15 years. Given those numbers, one cheetah at a time might not sound like much, but every individual counts, especially when extinction is facing them squarely in the face.

 ©AfriCat Foundation/Namibia

©AfriCat Foundation/Namibia

Progress is progress, in other words, no matter how small. We must never lose sight of that. We need to celebrate the wins, however small they may seem. Positive stories in and of themselves won’t counterbalance the sheer onslaught of despairing  headlines, but they’re worth knowing about.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” 

Martin Luther King said that. And it’s as true now as it was then.


 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

Strange but true: giant panda Yang Yang a rising star in Vienna’s vibrant art scene.

The real Yang Yang must be angry. Really angry. The Chinese-born American contemporary artist whose paintings sell for as much as USD $35,000 has had his thunder stolen in recent days by another Yang Yang, a female giant panda at a zoo in Austria who has taken up the paint brush as a pastime. 

And yes, while it’s true that the four-legged Yang Yang’s abstract paintings can best be described as “basic” — black splotches on white paper, reminiscent of the early scrawling of a young child — her artworks are being sold online for the not-inconsiderable sum of €490 apiece ($560 USD, give or take).

 ©Schoenbrunn Zoo

©Schoenbrunn Zoo

Art critics are likening Schoenbrunn Zoo’s artist-in-residence as a minimalist in the vein of American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, proving once again that abstract painting, if done well enough, can cross virtualluy any cultural — or species — boundary.

And while Yang Yang’s work is not a group effort exactly, it is collaborative to some extent: a zookeeper serves as her easel.

 ©Schoenbrunn Zoo

©Schoenbrunn Zoo

Yang Yang, 18, is a multitasker, too.

In her day job, Yang Yang has painted roughly 100 still-lifes, most of which will be posted online for sale.

She’s also a mother, having given birth to five baby pandas in all, including a set of twins two years ago.

Funds raised from the online sale of her paintings will go towards producing a picture book. Photographer Daniel Zupanc (http://www.zupanc.at) is behind the proposed picture book, which is tentatively scheduled to be published in December, just in time for Christmas.

 ©Daniel Zupanc

©Daniel Zupanc

While it’s true that sentient beings like pandas ought to be running wild and not locked in a pen — least of all in central Europe, let alone their native home in China — Yang Yang’s efforts are designed in part to raise awareness of the plight of wild pandas. Just 2,000 remain, according to conservative estimates.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the world of fine art, Yang Yang has already made a name for herself as the latest member of Vienna’s vibrant arts community.

You can’t buy publicity like this: News stories about Yang Yang’s exploits have appeared everywhere from The Economic Times in India to The Standard newspaper in Nairobi, Kenya, from BBC World in the UK to ABC News in the U.S.

 ©Scheonbrunn Zoo

©Scheonbrunn Zoo

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the original Yang Yang is making waves of his own with his “figurative paintings and sculptures of unconventional forms.” No less an expert than Lui Qi Wei, curator of the Museum of Fine Art in Shaanxi, China has described the two-legged Yang Yang’s work as combining the quality of “the Oriental mystics” with “tragic magnificence” — “tragical magnificence” being as good a description of giant panda bears as anything.

 ©Yang Yang/Museum of Fine Art

©Yang Yang/Museum of Fine Art

And while art snobs might take offence by comparisons of Paul Jackson Pollock (b.1912, d.1956) with a four-legged critter fond of bamboo stalks, who’s to say Yang Yang does not also qualify as “a major figure in the abstract expressionist movement . . .  well known for (their) unique style of drip painting.”

According to that vast fount of human knowledge and reliable sourcing, Wikipedia, Pollock was introduced to the use of liquid paint in 1936 at an experimental workshop in New York City by the Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. Yang Yang, on the other hand, was introduced to pen-and-ink by a zookeeper in Vienna, Austria. Is that so very different?

 ©Schoenbrunn Zoo

©Schoenbrunn Zoo


Pollock’s influences included Thomas Hart Benton, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Yang Yang’s influences may be less rarified, but that doesn’t make them any less valid. After all, if Yang Yang could communicate in English, she might also say, as Pollock did in My Painting in 1956, “My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall on the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides, and literally be in the painting.”

Alrighty then, as pet detective Ace Ventura used to say.

2018 Bird Photographer of the Year winners: More than just pretty pictures of our feathered friends.

Not all flamingos were created pink. Nature photographer Pedro Jarque Krebs, from Peru, won the 2018 Bird Photographer of the Year award — the ornithological equivalent of Best-in-Show — this past weekend for his colourful image of American flamingos preening in a lake mist. Yes, there were splashes of pink, but the predominant colour was a rich, vibrant red. Pink flamingos may still be a thing, but in Krebs’ image,  flamingos were allowed to show off their richer, more vibrant shades of vermillion.

Admittedly, Krebs’ work has relied heavily on digital manipulation and Photoshop in the past, but it’s the final image that counts. At least, in this case, the contest judges thought so.

Also, Krebs has had a reputation in the past for using captive animals in his portraits, often under less-than-ideal conditions. (Not all nature-photography award contests are so forgiving; judging committees at many of the top, prestigious awards value authenticity — wild is wild — over the final image, any day of the week.)

All this aside, Krebs’ winning image is certainly arresting.

 ©Pedro Jarque Krebs/Peru

©Pedro Jarque Krebs/Peru


The Czech Republic’s Petr Bambousek was cited for Outstanding Portfolio, based in large part on his capture of a roseate spoonbill — genuinely wild —  preening its feathers in a pool of standing water.

Young Bird Photographer of the Year — an award of increasing significance, given the precarious state of the environment in these present, turbulent times — was awarded to Johan Carlberg of Sweden, for his stylistically fetching composition of a great crested grebe — also preening! — during golden hour.

 ©Johan Carlberg/Sweden

©Johan Carlberg/Sweden

Best Portrait awards went to nature photographers from Italy (Saverio Gatti, with the gold medal), the Netherlands (Roelof Molenaar, silver) and Sweden again (Ivan Sjogren, bronze).

Other category winners hailed from France, Greece, Spain, Kuwait and Singapore — proving, if nothing else, that bird photography is a global pastime, and not just the private hobby of a handful of well-to-do bird enthusiasts and world travellers from North America and the UK.

The Bird Photographer of the Year awards are managed by the UK-based peer group Nature Photographers Ltd. and the British Trust for Ornithology, a spiritual cousin of the US’s National Audubon Society.

More and more, as Canadian polar explorer, trained biologist and 2012 Wildlife Photographer of the Year winner Paul Nicklen told The Sunday Observer this past weekend, nature photography — or conservation photography, as some prefer to call it — is on the front line in the social-media battle for hearts and minds.

It will be hard if not impossible for humanity to survive, let alone thrive, on a desolate, despoiled planet — that seems obvious — but the present-day toxic mix of greed, denial, militant ignorance and an almost wilful disregard of basic facts means the argument has to be made over and over again.

 ©Petr Bambousek/Czech Republic

©Petr Bambousek/Czech Republic

David Attenborough can’t get the message out on his own — not at his age, and not with so many deep-pocketed, big-money interests arrayed against him. Big Oil, the Koch brothers, Fox News and others still perpetuate the belief that climate change is a Chinese hoax, intended to bring western economies to their knees, even as he evidence suggests otherwise and entire ecosystems collapse around us.

That’s why my favourite category in every nature/conservation photography contest award I can think of is that which celebrates wild animals in their natural  environment.

And so it is with this year’s Bird Photographer of the Year awards.

Salvador Colvée, from Spain, won the Birds in the Environment category for his striking image of an ostrich wandering the crest of a sand dune in Namibia’s Namib Desert — the world’s oldest, in geological terms — not far from the aptly named Skeleton Coast. The cold-water Benguela Current from Antarctica follows the Atlantic coast from from South Africa to Angola, creating early-morning sea mists that stretch as far as 500 kms. inland across an arid, deceptively barren desert landscape, nurturing mosses and lichens that in turn feed a surprisingly complex ecosystem that includes, yes, ostriches, as well as large mammals like oryx, desert-adapted elephants and even the increasingly rare, hard-to-spot desert lion.

 ©Salvador Colvée/Spain

©Salvador Colvée/Spain

This is what the award-winning images in the  Bird Photographer of the Year contest are all about: showing nature in all its beauty, but also showing its hardiness and resilience in the face of existential threats. After all, threats don’t get much more existential than climate change and species extinction.

Another wildlife-in-its-natural-habitat image: Nature photographer Richard Shucksmith, from the UK, won a pair of awards, including the popular People’s Choice award, for his over- and underwater image of a northern gannet, the same kind of image that propelled Nicklen’s early career as a photographer, while at the same boosting his profile and spreading the wider message about the need to preserve what remains of  the world’s embattled polar regions.

 ©Richard Shucksmith/UK

©Richard Shucksmith/UK

Nicklen’s above- and below-water split-screen images from Antarctica remain the gold standard against which all similar images are judged today.

Despite some 22 assignments for National Geographic and a new book (Born to Ice, published by the high-end, German-based specialty publisher teNeues, https://books-teneues.com), Nicklen would prefer to be known for his on-the-ground conservation efforts and his co-founding of the ocean conservation group SeaLegacy with his partner, conservation photographer, environmentalist and frequent National Geographic speaker Cristina Mittermeier, than as an accomplished photographer. One is a calling; the other, a life’s mission. SeaLegacy is dedicated to the idea that future generations won’t have to know the world’s wild wonders solely through photographic images from a distant, fading past.

That’s why these contests — and the positive image they present — are critical to our understanding of Planet Earth and what’s at stake.

These aren’t just pretty pictures of birds. They’re a reflection of life itself.





‘The Lion’s Share’ and advertising: “A simple, brilliant idea.”

A number of years ago, a far-reaching, all-powerful telecommunications company, one of the big players in an ever-dwindling market of consumer options,  launched a highly effective ad campaign featuring computer-generated images of anthropomorphized animals being playful, friendly and full of energy.

You know the game. If it looks soft and cuddly, had big eyes, and was familiar to children and adults alike — lion cubs, panda bears, giraffes, baby hippos, you name it — it’s good enough for the phone company.

Cheetahs, the fastest of fast cats, are especially prized for a tech company looking for ways to brag about its high-speed Internet connections, regardless of whether that service is any faster than its competitors or not.

There were a handful of complaints at the time, from a handful of environmental groups and animal-rights campaigners, that ad agencies and tech companies were making money off the images of endangered animals, without paying any of the profits back into the conservation community. (It’s a sign of the modern times we live, and how much more savvy and technically sophisticated audiences are today, that accusations of animal cruelty are virtually non-existent: Today’s audiences assume that if you see a cute animal on the TV doing something cute, it’s a digital manipulation, not actually real.)



Naturally, the argument that ad agencies should give something — anything — for the conservation of animals they depict in their ads fell on deaf ears.

Fell on deaf ears, that is, until earlier this year, BBC legend David Attenborough, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Australian advertising production company Finch, Finch founder Rob Galluzzo and composer-filmmaker Christopher Nelius.

Signatories to the fund already include the advertising company BBDO, marketing research and TV-ratings measurement firm Nielsen and Mars Inc., makers of the Mars chocolate bar and Wrigley’s chewing gum, among other products.

UNDP goodwill ambassador and Game of Thrones actor Nikolaj Coster-Waldau announced the new initiative at June’s Cannes International Festival of Creativity called The Lion’s Share, based on the idea that advertisers pay into a fund when they use animals in advertisements. They would contribute a token percentage of their media budget, “spend” in ad-agency parlance,  to conservation and animal welfare projects.

 ©NHM/Natural History Museum, BBC Earth

©NHM/Natural History Museum, BBC Earth

The suggested amount is picayune — 0.5% of the budget of any ad featuring an animal. The amount may sound picayune, but as anyone who’s managed a family budget knows, pennies add up.

“The Lion’s Share shows that by making a small difference today, we have an opportunity to make an unprecedented difference tomorrow,” Attenborough told the UNDP get-together in Cannes this past June. “Animals are in 20% of all advertisements we see, yet they do not always get the support they deserve.

“Until now.”

The Lion’s Share aims to raise $100m a year within three years. The money will be invested in a range of conservation and animal welfare programs implemented and supervised under the auspices of the UN and a handful of selected NGOs.

Cynics will immediately cite the c-word — corruption — as misuse of funds from charitable donations is practically a spectator sport these days, but UNDP officials and assorted NGOs will be actively involved in seeing that the funds go where they’re supposed to. 

Finch founder Galluzzo, who originated the idea with Nelius, noted that nine out of the 10 most popular animals we see in commercial ads are endangered or threatened. Just as one example, there are 400,000 wild elephants left in the world — but just 7,000 cheetahs. If that.



The Lion’s Share — and, for the record, lions aren’t exactly thriving either — is big-time stuff, in no small part because of the active involvement of the UN. The Lion’s Share is designed to work hand-in-hand with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals programme, the global organization’s universal call to end poverty and re-nourish the planet. Helping to preserve animal habitat — thereby helping the animals themselves — is key to achieving the UN’s stated Goal No. 14, Life Underwater, and Goal No. 15, Life on Land.

The announcement in Cannes featured some star power, but not the kind onlookers may have expected. Coster-Waldau, familiar to fans of Game of Thrones as Jaime Lannister, was there to introduce not himself but Collette Ngobeni, a commando in South Africa’s first all-female anti-poaching unit, the Black Mambas.

Ngobeni told festivalgoers and UNDP delegates that the Lion’s Share is a worthy, worthwhile initiative  because it’s designed to help grassroots programmes like the Mambas anti-poaching unit, and not the big NGO’s with their multiple layers of bureaucracy.

“We’re working hard every day to prevent poaching,” she said simply.

 ©Alliance Earth

©Alliance Earth

Later in the day, Coster-Waldau did a series of interviews with the US TV networks on the Cannes waterfront.

They wanted to talk about Game of Thrones; he wanted to talk about wildlife conservation and The Lion’s Share.

“It’s our responsibility to safeguard all life on our planet,” he explained. “We can’t achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, as launched by the UN and world leaders to protect the future and ensure prosperity for all people, without preserving natural habitats for all living beings, from wildlife to marine life.”



Facing a US TV news crew from CNBC, his message was more succinct.

“It’s a simple, brilliant idea,” he said.

Simple. Brilliant. Reason for hope.





World Elephant Day: a day of remembrance for the animal that never forgets.

“The concept of conservation is a far truer sign of civilization than that spoilation of a continent which we once confused with progress,” the late naturalist Peter Matthiessen once wrote. “We have outsmarted ourselves, like greedy monkeys, and now we are full of dread.”

Matthiessen, as might be expected, was an admirer of elephants.

That’s worth remembering on this World Elephant Day — today, more than most days.

“Of all African animals, the elephant is the most difficult for man to live with, yet its passing — if this must come — seems the most tragic of all,” Matthiessen wrote in his 1972 classic of Africa, The Tree Where Man Was Born.

“I can watch elephants, and elephants alone, for hours at a time, for sooner or later the elephant will do something very strange such as mow grass with its toenails or draw the tusks from the rotted carcass of another elephant and carry them off into the bush. There is mystery behind that masked grey visage, and ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.”

It is one of my favourite quotes, of which there are many, and others of which Matthiessen can claim pride of place.

 ©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

“This world is painted on a wild dark metal,” he wrote in Shadow Country.

And this, from The Snow Leopard, but which can just as easily apply to elephants and their facility for memory:

“Only the enlightened can recall their former lives; for the rest of us, the memories of past existences are but glints of light, twinges of longing, passing shadows, disturbingly familiar, that are gone before they can be grasped:

“Figures dark beneath their loads pass down the far bank of the river, rendered immortal by the streak of sunset upon their shoulders.”

“The equatorial monsoons which brought a rainy season to the coasts had small effect here in the highlands, from moon to moon, the rainfall varied little,” Matthiessen wrote in Under the Mountain Wall. “Winter, summer, autumn, spring were involuted, turning in upon themselves, a slow circling of time.”

Only time will tell how many more years elephants will live in the wild to see World Elephant Day.

 ©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

Elephant numbers are estimated to have dropped by 62% during the past decade. Roughly 400,000 remain — a very rough figure — and 100 a day killed each day, today and every day, by illegal hunters to feed the insatiable ivory trade. 

“Days and months are the travellers of eternity,” Matthiessen once said. “So. . . .”


Images courtesy of Pixabay/COO Creative Commons.

Reasons to revisit Jane Goodall’s ‘Reason for Hope’ on International Book Lovers Day.

The Jane Goodall Institute shared a tweet early this morning, on Book Lovers Day, asking followers to name their favourite Goodall book.

The colouring book Me . . . Jane, an early primer for her students’ Roots and Shoots program, was always going to prove popular with children. 

In the troubled times in which we find ourselves, though, it was always likely to be her 1999 memoir Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey that was going to jump to the fore. Not so much a straight biography as an account of a spiritual epiphany, Reason for Hope is both an appeal to our better natures and shared words of advice about how anyone and everyone can find a reason to hope.

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The ground-breaking — if controversial — primatologist whose pioneering work with the chimpanzees of Gombe Stream, Tanzania in the early 1960s changed the way we look at our closest biological relatives has always been one to swim against the tide of mainstream thinking. Where many choose to see only darkness and destruction, Goodall has always preferred to find that glimmer of light at the end of a long, seemingly dark tunnel, however faint that light may be.

In Reason for Hope — a good book to revisit on International Book Lovers Day — and through her Institute (janegoodall.org), and throughout her periodic lecture tours around the world, she hits the same grace  notes, over and over again.

Perhaps, one day, we’ll figure them out on our own.

Goodall’s words:

The Human Brain.

“We have at last begun to understand and face up to the problems that threaten us and the survival of life on Earth as we know it. Surely we can use our problem-solving abilities, our brains, to find ways to live in harmony with nature. Many companies have begun ‘greening’ their operations, and millions of people worldwide are beginning to realize that each of us has a responsibility to the environment and our descendants. Everywhere I go, I see people making wiser choices, and more responsible ones." 



The Indomitable Human Spirit.

"My second reason for hope lies in the indomitable nature of the human spirit. There are so many people who have dreamed seemingly unattainable dreams and, because they never gave up, achieved their goals against all the odds, or blazed a path along which others could follow. The [2016] presidential election in the U.S. (was) one example. As I travel around the world I meet so many incredible and amazing human beings. They inspire me. They inspire those around them." 


The Resilience of Nature.

"My third reason for hope is the incredible resilience of nature. I have visited Nagasaki, site of the second atomic bomb that ended World War II. Scientists had predicted that nothing could grow there for at least 30 years. But, amazingly, greenery grew very quickly. One sapling actually managed to survive the bombing, and today it is a large tree, with great cracks and fissures, all black inside; but that tree still produces leaves. I carry one of those leaves with me as a powerful symbol of hope. I have seen such renewals time and again, including animal species brought back from the brink of extinction." 


The Determination of Today’s Young People.

"My final reason for hope lies in the tremendous energy, enthusiasm and commitment of young people around the world. As they find out about the environmental and social problems that are now part of their heritage, they want to right the wrongs. Of course they do -- they have a vested interest in this, for it will be their world tomorrow. They will be moving into leadership positions, into the workforce, becoming parents themselves. Young people, when informed and empowered, when they realize that what they do truly makes a difference, can indeed change the world. We should never underestimate the power of determined young people.

"I meet many young people with shining eyes who want to tell Dr. Jane what they've been doing, how they are making a difference in their communities. Whether it's something simple like recycling or collecting trash, something that requires a lot of effort, like restoring a wetland or a prairie, or whether it's raising money for the local dog shelter, they are a continual source of inspiration. 

“My greatest reason for hope is the spirit and determination of young people, once they know what the problems are and have the tools to take action. 

"So let’s move forward in this new millennium with hope, for without it all we can do is eat and drink the last of our resources as we watch our planet slowly die. Let’s have faith in ourselves, in our intellect, in our staunch spirit and in our young people. And let’s do the work that needs to be done, with love and compassion." 

 ©Jane Goodall Institute

©Jane Goodall Institute

Goodall’s published works span six decades, from My Friends the Wild Chimpanzees (1969) through In the Shadow of Man (1971) to, more recently, Hope for Animals and Their World: How Endangered Species Are Being Rescued from the Brink (2009) and Seeds of Hope: Wisdom and Wonder from the World of Plants (2013).

Her books have been published in 48 languages,.

It’s Reason for Hope, though, which is most pertinent today, on Book Lovers Day, in the second year of Our Lord, Trumplandia.

“Each one of us matters,” Goodall wrote in Reason for Hope. “(Each one of us) has a role to play, and makes a difference. Each one of us must take responsibility for our own lives, and above all, show respect and love for living things around us. . . . 

“It is these undeniable qualities of human love and compassion and self-sacrifice that give me hope for the future. We are, indeed, often cruel and evil. Nobody can deny this. We gang up on each one another, we torture each other, with words as well as deeds, we fight, we kill. But we are also capable of the most noble, generous, and heroic behaviour.

“We have a responsibility toward the other life-forms of our planet whose continued existence is threatened by the thoughtless behaviour of our own human species. . . . Environmental responsibility – for if there is no God, then, obviously, it is up to us to put things right.” 

And now for something completely different — a feel-good story for the birds.

They’re all connected. Spiritually, if not exactly literally. A 1996 family film based on the real-life experiences of a Pickering, Ont. naturalist who taught Canada geese to follow his ultralight aircraft through the sky; a 2012 publicity stunt by Vladimir Putin to guide a flock of young Siberian cranes with his microlight aircraft on their migration route; and a bid late last year to repatriate critically endangered, captive-raised northern bald ibises back to the wild by guiding them on a three-week migration across the Alps to their wintering grounds in Tuscany using — you guessed it — an ultralight aircraft, prove one thing: Not all good ideas are created equal, and not all environmental news is bad.

Fly Away Home, directed by Never Cry Wolf and The Black Stallion’s Carroll Ballard — a card-carrying member of Francis Ford Coppola’s late 1970s’ film-making company American Zoetrope — was warmly received by critics and moviegoing audiences alike when it was released in theatres, and not just because actor-playwright Jeff Daniels and young Anna Paquin made an enchanting onscreen father-daughter couple. Reviewers at the time described Fly Away Home as an evocative, uplifting — no pun intended — film that, as one animal-rights noted, “celebration of the creative ways human beings and animals can help, assist, and love one another.” The New York Times’ Janet Maslin wrote that “Mr. Ballard (turned) a potentially treacly children’s film into an exhilarating 1990s’ fable.”

 ©Columbia Pictures/Sony

©Columbia Pictures/Sony


Bill Lishman, the real-life, dyslexic, colour-blind  sculptor and naturalist whose experiences provided fodder for his autobiography Father Goose — later adapted by Hollywood as the fictionalized feature film Fly Away Home — died this past December, just two weeks after he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

He is said to have been the first person to have guided geese on their migration routes using an ultralight aircraft, which he first did in 1988, just three years after he told his wife and daughters that he was going to teach birds to fly with him.

Lishman’s small-scale, homespun efforts were studied and copied by other grassroots, family-run conservancies around the world, and an environmental program showed early success with the endangered Siberian crane. In 2012, looking to raise his public profile and boost his reputation as a rugged, eco-sensitive outdoorsman, Russian president Putin famously donned an all-over white suit and pair of goggles and temporarily became surrogate parent to a flock of juvenile cranes.

 ©Bill Lishman

©Bill Lishman

This isn’t “junk science,” by the way: The phenomenon, officially known as imprinting, describes the way certain species of birds attach themselves to the first living being they see after birth.

For the record, Putin did have a copilot on his famous flight in a motorized hang glider; presumably the copilot was the brains of the operation, at least where the actual flying was concerned.

Putin took the stunt seriously; when a Russian conservationist with the crane program complained to western media that it was a glorified photo op that did little to further the cranes’ cause, Putin is said to have phoned her out-of-the-blue to complain about her attitude. (Interestingly, Guardian science writer Flora Malein wrote in a Sept. 2012 opinion piece that the self-styled man-of-action can be considered to have done a good deed by bringing worldwide attention to a critically endangered species. Siberian cranes at the time were in rapid decline, their numbers estimated at no more than 2,900-3,000.)

Migration isn’t a natural instinct, according to  behavioural scientists: It’s taught behaviour. Parents teach them to migrate. Because young birds imprint on the first living being they see, they’ll accept a basic disguise, even a disguise as weird as a white flight-suit and a microlight with rigid wings and a sputtering engine.

Imprinting is not common to all birds, of course. It has been observed in a surprising number of geese, cranes, ducks, and now ibises.

The northern bald ibis had been extinct in the wild in central Europe for more than 300 years, surviving only in a handful of zoos.

Thanks to the efforts of a multi-year project in Austria and Germany, a project that involves both imprinting and the judicious use of ultralights, some 100 ibises now live wild in southern Germany and Austria.

This past year’s migration flight involved (human) foster parents and some 30 (bird) subjects hand-raised at a Vienna zoo from the time they were just a few days old. The migration flight was the fifth successful flight of its kind. Granted, program founder Johannes Fritz says, the northern bald ibis is not a particularly sexy or beautiful bird — a Siberian crane it ain’t — but as program founder Johannes Fritz recently told the Guardian newspaper, they have certain charisma all their own.



Hollywood movies aren’t just about entertainment, it runs out. Fritz told the Guardian he drew inspiration for his wacky program from Fly Away Home, which he saw while studying for his PhD at a behavioural science research institute — a research institute that had just started working with captive-born bald ibis chicks at a nearby zoo.

What goes around, comes around.



Aug. 1, 2018: This year’s ‘Earth Overshoot Day’ earliest date on record.

As of Wednesday, we good people of Planet Earth will have burned through our annual budget of natural resources earlier than in any of the 48 years the environmental research group Global Footprint Network has kept records.

“Earth Overshoot Day” is the day on which human beings’ yearly demand on natural resources exceeds that which the planet environment can renew on its own.

To put that date — Aug. 1 — in perspective, Earth Overshoot Day fell on Dec. 29th in 1970, the first year researchers began keeping track.

 ©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

Earth’s growing — and increasingly unsustainable — population is part of the problem. But not the only problem. Growing birthrates in the developing world, where the population of people under 30 exceeds 65% in many sub-Saharan countries across Africa, for example, are not the key factor some might think.

The real culprit is consumption, in particular consumption in the developed world. Especially the Northern Hemisphere. Researchers determined that if the entire world’s population consumed resources at the rate as people who live in the U.K. do, Earth Overshoot Day would actually fall on May 8, three months earlier.

Consumption is only part of the story. The Earth’s ability to renew natural resources is affected not just by how quickly we use the resources we have, but by the Earth’s ability to replace those resources.

 ©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

The global equation also has to take into consideration such factors as soil erosion, water shortages and that oft-mentioned bugaboo climate change, which some prominent thinkers — if “think” is the right word here— and national leaders continue to insist is a Chinese hoax.

(Ironically, China has been one of the leaders of late in battling climate change and renewing the environment, in part because China’s environmental record of the 1990s’ period of economic growth has proven to be catastrophic, as well as unsustainable, from the air people breath to the soil they use to grow food, to the rivers and waterways that irrigate those agricultural fields.)

China today is doing its level best to prove that no problem is insurmountable, not even  environmental destruction.

 ©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

Of course, having an obstreperous, obstructionist, militantly ignorant political administration in charge of the U.S., by far the world’s most voracious consumer of natural resources, isn’t going to help the big picture, but it’s interesting that China is among the players looking to lead rather than follow on climate change. It can’t all be left to Denmark, Sweden and the E.U.

Our carbon footprint is inextricably tied to energy efficiency. Clean energy is not the solution, the experts say, but it’s a start. (Tearing up the Paris Agreement and doubling down on fossil fuel is just nuts, of course, but there you have it: We live in the world, and Trump’s world is thus.)

One of the problems in getting climate deniers to see the big picture is our political leaders’ seeming inability to think in terms of the long-range future. Perhaps it’s something hard-wired into our DNA since the time of the caver, or perhaps it’s a manifestation of the post-industrial age of computers and artificial intelligence, but as human beings we seem to have a fundamental inability to recognize incremental changes. Last year, Earth Overshoot Day fell on Aug. 2nd; this year it is just one day earlier. What difference, a doubter might well ask, does a single day make in the grand scheme of things?

 ©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

It’s the same argument — used by many, including people who should know better — that asks how a worldwide temperature change of just one or two degrees Celsius could possibly make a difference to the world’s climate — but that’s not how science, or compound interest for that matter, works.

Hundreds of people may have died in wildfires this summer all the way from Greece to Northern California, and countless more may have perished in catastrophic floods in Japan and Laos, or died of heat exhaustion in southern Quebec, but as long as we still have food in the refrigerator, how can there possibly be a looming food crisis?

The Global Footprint Network equates the situation to planning the family budget. We’re leveraging the Earth’s future resources — putting it on the credit card, in other words — to live well in the present, all the while digging a deeper hole of ecological debt.

 ©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

Planet Earth isn’t the World Bank, though. Resources are finite. Tapping into an imaginary overdraft, based on human ingenuity and creative ideas — “scientists will get us out of it somehow; they always do” — is a hell of a gamble to take when the very future of humanity is at stake.

We’re gobbling up our natural resources at a faster rate than the Earth can replenish them, and that is a problem not even one of David Attenborough’s soul-stirring nature programs will be able to fix.

There are things we can do on a micro, small-picture level. Eat less beef. Reduce what we throw away. Find alternatives for plastic. Go all in on recycling, no matter what the complainers and detractors say. Use less energy. Cycle, don’t drive. Consume less, think more.

Don’t just think local — think global as well.






Less than 15% of world’s oceans untouched by human imprint: Antarctica the last, best hope for future of our blue Planet.

Good news, bad news.

First the bad. The first systematic analysis of the world’s oceans shows that less than 15% of planet Earth’s sea reservoirs remain untouched by human hands. The study, by the University of Queensland, Australia in cooperation with the Wildlife Conservation Society, is an eye-opener, in part because even the researchers themselves were surprised by how little marine wilderness remains.

The ocean, after all, covers more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface. So if just 15% of that remains untouched, it shows just how far-reaching — and  damaging — humanity’s effect on planet Earth really has been.

The good news is that some efforts are being made to protect what’s left.

Much of that 15% lies in Antarctica, where even some prominent, high-profile fishing companies have agreed to back a UN proposal to establish the world’s largest marine sanctuary.

 ©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

The survey’s findings were published in the journal Current Biology. Ward Appeltans of the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, run by UNESCO, noted the research focused on the ocean floor, and did not include effects on the water column above that.

Not surprisingly, the oceanographic commission is backing calls for a global ocean conservation treaty. Just 5% of the world’s remaining oceans lie within existing protected areas, a disparity former U.S. President Barack Obama tried to address before leaving office in January, 2017.

 ©Ward Appeltans/Twitter

©Ward Appeltans/Twitter

There are other bright spots, but they are tiny — and not without their own controversy.

Remote coral gardens around the equatorial atoll of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean are still healthy, though researchers note that in part this is because more than 500 islanders were forcibly removed from their island homes in 1971, as part of an international arrangement between the UK, US, Mauritius and Seychelles, to facilitate the building of an air base.

Pragmatists may also be forgiven for wondering about the potential environmental impact of a military airbase on pristine coral reefs and the surrounding sea, given the penchant for secrecy around anything to do with national, international and hemispheric security.

Antarctica is the key to any future decisions, though.

 ©©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

©©Pixabay/COO Creative Commons

Antarctica lies within an area loosely defined in marine terms as “the high seas,” those areas beyond protected areas that individual nations can establish as part of their territorial waters.

That is why an all-nations international agreement, such as that which can only be negotiated by the UN or a similar worldwide body, is so important.

Climate change and ocean acidification, coupled with more obvious manmade activities such as industrial fishing, global shipping, pollution in coastal areas and resource extraction, are having a profound effect, not just on marine ecosystems but on the world’s weather patterns.

As David Attenborough warned in his epic BBC series Blue Planet II last December, the world’s oceans are under threat as never before.

In January, marine scientists warned that the oceans are suffocating. So-called “dead zones” have multiplied four-fold since 1950.

In February, new surveys showed that more than half the world’s oceans are now industrially fished.

Is it too late?

Perhaps not, if more nations — and individuals — accept the old proviso, Not on my watch., whether that means scaling back some $4 billion in government fishing subsidies toward fishing on the high seas or deciding against Chilean sea bass the next time you go to a fancy seafood restaurant.



“Thirty years of climate hysterics proved wrong time and time again” — What price willful blindness?

Media tycoons can be just as dimwitted, disingenuous — or downright dishonest — as the next person.

I have posted already about the frightfully stupid column by a media tycoon weeks back in a national newspaper in Canada, and its audience-grabbing headers, Thirty years of climate hysterics being proven wrong over and over again, and, There is no justification for the self-punitive nonsense of the Paris climate accord, and — yes! there’s more! — Most of our political and academic leaders are so far over-invested in defending against something that is not happening, they continue to call for the sacrifice of others.

You see, because if media tycoons are known for anything, it’s their selflessness and finely tuned sense of sacrifice, honed over many decades, centuries even, of looking out for their fellow human being.

Economic suicide — i.e. shutting down oil fields and getting off fossil fuels once and for all — is only tempting to those who have forgotten what pre-industrial life was like, it ended.

 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

Why stop at the pre-industrial age, though? If we’re dealing with the semantics of history, why not rewind all the way back to the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction period, the so-called K-T event, some 65.5 million years ago. For many years, palaeontologists believed this event was caused by climate change that disrupted the dinosaurs’ food chain.

Scientific discoveries in the mid-1980s, based on geological findings of the rare element of iridium in rock samples taken from that time, suggest the most likely culprit was a meteor or asteroid that kicked up so much dust it effectively triggered a global blackout, ushering a new ice age. The theories are many; the proof in short supply. What evidence there is shows that the planet did slowly became cooler during that time, the late Mesozoic Era, during which the dinosaurs died out, after surviving some 160 million years in a hot, humid, tropical climate. Dinosaurs, like today’s reptiles, you see, were cold-blooded; they obtained body heat from the sun, and so would not have been able to survive a considerably colder climate.

 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

Mammals are warm-blooded, and while it’s a stretch to say all mammals are ill-suited to adapt to a suddenly hotter climate, “economic suicide” is clearly a matter of degree. As environmental activist and marine wildlife conservationist Paul Watson once told me — though you don’t need an activist to tell you this — there’s not much point in worrying about what you do for a living if the entire planet is unliveable.

In the time between my last post and this post, this has happened:

More than 50 forest fires have broken out in Sweden, a nation more known for its cold and snow than fires which — and this is true — are now breaking out inside the Arctic Circle.

 @World Health Organization/Twitter

@World Health Organization/Twitter

But wait, there’s more. Following catastrophic floods across Japan, temperatures there have now reached north of 40°C, and thousands have been hospitalized for heat-related reasons.

Toronto, a city known more for its obsession with ice-hockey than anything else, has recorded temperatures that exceeded 30°C on 18 days so far this year, well ahead of the 10 such days all last last summer.

Oh, and scorching weather across the UK has melted panels on the roof of the Science Centre in Glasgow, Scotland, as well blistering agricultural fields throughout a verdant land more known for its craggy highlands and rolling sea mists than once-in-a-generation heatwaves.

As an article in the Sunday Observer this past weekend by science editor Robin McKie noted, climate scientists point to a number of factors, not just climate change and global warming but also the jet stream, which is uncommonly weak right now. A weak jet stream causes weather patterns like high-pressure ridges in the northern hemisphere to stall, which in turn leads to substantial increases in sea-surface temperature across the North Atlantic, which in turn cause more drought on dry land. One factor feeds on the other. The more heat there is, the hotter it gets. Everything is connected, as David Attenborough keeps reminding us in his nature programs.

 ©Reanalyzer/Climate Change Institute/University of Maine

©Reanalyzer/Climate Change Institute/University of Maine

Again, you don’t need a science degree to understand this, but constantly rising global carbon emissions — man-made or not, regardless of whether you think they’re the whole cause or only part of the cause — DO. NOT. HELP.

As events of the past week and the summer so far  suggest, heatwaves are becoming more frequent and more intense, and, as one marine scientist (with the Scottish Marine Institute, Oban) told the Observer: “That is something . . . we should be very worried about.”

You know, on second thought, any economic fallout from the Paris Agreement may be a small price to pay.



 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

“Thirty years of climate hysterics being proved wrong time and time again.” Oh, balls. Seriously, now — balls.

The headline was one of the most stupid declaratives I have seen in quite some time, but it’s worth mentioning because it shows, better than anything I can think of, the scale of the problem facing climatologists, environmentalists and anyone concerned about the future health of Planet Earth. Thirty years of climate hysterics being proven wrong over and over again.

That heading appeared in a national newspaper I shall not dignify by naming. It was accompanied by a column written by a bellicose newspaper magnate and unapologetic climate denier, who I shall also not dignify by naming.

Every sane person is opposed to the pollution of the environment, it continued — an exercise in distraction if ever there was one, considering the words to follow — but there is no justification for the self-punitive nonsense of the Paris climate accord.

Said national newspaper is a tireless advocate of fossil fuels, Big Oil and, specifically, the Alberta tar sands, the filthiest, dirtiest, most ruinous-to-the-environment form of extracting fossil fuel there is. Jobs — or, more importantly, the quarterly profit statements of mining companies and Big Oil matter more than the future health of the planet, to cut to the chase.

Never mind that, though. Take another look at that comment: Thirty years of climate hysterics being proven wrong over and over again.

 Pixabay/Creative Commons

Pixabay/Creative Commons

Never mind the past 30 years. Let’s look at the last 30 days.

The past month has seen power shortages across California as record temperatures — 47.2°C one recent weekend in Los Angeles — drove a surge in the use of air conditioners. A prolonged heatwave across the UK melted the roof of a science centre in Glasgow, Scotland, a nation state more renowned for its damp and drizzle damp than blistering heat. Ouargla, a remote desert town in Algeria’s Sahara,  experienced the hottest temperature ever recorded on the entire continent of Africa: 51.3°C on July 5th.

Night-time provides little relief — in itself an anomaly — in some hot spots around the globe: Quriyat, on the gulf coast of Oman, recorded minimum overnight temperatures of 42.6°, set a new mark for the highest “low” temperatures ever recorded on Planet Earth.



A “heat dome” over much of Eurasia culminated in dramatic higher-than-average heat-wave temperatures throughout Russia during the World Cup; the post-match ceremony at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow was interrupted by a sudden deluge of near Biblical proportions. French president Emmanuel Macron was forced to wring the rainwater out of his suit jacket after the World Cup trophy was presented to Les Bleus; Russian president Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, was allowed to retain his dignity after a minder present a black umbrella to shield him from the torrential downpour of a Moscow monsoon. (Note to climate deniers: Moscow is not particularly renowned for its monsoon rains, not even in July.)

 ©FIFA World Cup 2018

©FIFA World Cup 2018

But wait, there’s more. Torrential flooding across Japan, four times the monthly average, led to more than 150 deaths in one of the most technologically advanced, climate-aware nations on the planet. A lethal heat wave across southern Quebec, prompting dozens more deaths (54 to be exact , as of July 14th). Montreal set a new record high temperature of 36.6°C on July 2nd.

Western Siberia, which noted climate denier Sarah Palin can see from her living room, recorded five straight days of temperatures rising to more than 30°C this past month. 

That’s a big deal because climate scientists, environmentalists and field biologists worry this will accelerate the melting of permafrost, which — science again — will release vast amounts of methane, a more problematic and potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.

heat3 wave usa heat graph.jpg

The issue is not just wild fluctuations in hot and cold but rather that weather fronts — both hot and cold — are stalling or being blocked by shifts in the jet-stream. That causes droughts and storms to linger longer in one place, which exacerbates the damage. Recent high temperatures, intense rains and slow-moving fronts are becoming the rule, not the exception. And scientists — those wieners — warn these weather changes are in line with their predictions of how increased, and constantly rising, gas emissions are likely to affect the climate.

Weather is not the same as climate, of course, but the two are related. One is short-term, the other is long-term. The expression “global warming,” now out of favour with most climate scientists, is misleading because it implies that heat is the primary indicator of Planet Earth’s deteriorating health, when it’s climate extremes — wild, unpredictable swings between extreme heat and extreme cold — that is the more serious and hard-to-isolate problem.

 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

Every issue, especially one as complex and (unnecessarily) controversial as climate change, needs a snappy picture or viral video to bring the message to the public. Just such a video emerged this past week from western Greenland, where a huge iceberg that drifted close to the coastal town of Innaarsuit, prompted a mass evacuation, in case the iceberg calved in such a way that the resulting wave, likened to a tsunami, would swamp people’s homes.

This is not a joke: Last summer, four people died after waves swamped houses in northwestern Greenland, following a seaquake.

 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

Climate scientists have coined a new term, “extreme iceberg risks,” which they say are becoming more frequent, because of climate change.

Back to that screed in a right-wing national newspaper in Canada.

Alongside that declaration about how Thirty years of climate hysterics (are) being proven wrong over and over again came this what newspaper people call “nut graph:” “No ice has been lost by Greenland, other than what melts every summer and then forms again, and water levels have not moved appreciably.”

Yes, indeed! And here’s the video to prove it.

Not all right-leaning media outlets believe climate change is simply the fevered dream of hand-wringing hysterics and unrepentant lefties.

The UK’s Daily Mail, not exactly a bastion of Guardian or Independent-style progressive thinking, warned in no uncertain terms on July 4th that global warming — climate change by any other name — is to blame for all-time heat record being set worldwide, even as the experts — those wieners — warn that these already stifling temperatures will continue to soar.

I don’t know about you, but I’m with the climate hysterics.

Hunting the hunters — when animals bite back.


The philosophy of action, no less an authority than the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi famously said, is that no one else is the giver of peace or happiness. One’s own actions are responsible to come to bring either happiness or success or whatever.

The answer in this case, as it turned out, was “whatever.”

Suspected rhino poachers broke into a South African game reserve late at night this past week — hoping,  no doubt, to bag themselves a couple of rhinos. Rhino horn fetches more than its weight in gold or cocaine on today’s black market, and that has led to a thriving illegal trade in the horn.

The poachers no doubt expected to make an easy killing — rhinos, after all, are near-sighted, none too bright and make a tempting target. The poachers were looking to make a quick buck — but lions got them instead.


It sounds like one of those apocryphal tales the African wilds are famous for, but anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of bushcraft knows that truth is often stranger than fiction where lions are concerned.

 ©Sibuya Game Reserve

©Sibuya Game Reserve

The story was first reported by local news outlets near Sibuya Game Reserve in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province, but anyone assuming it was just another case of fake news was quickly disabused of the notion. The reserve’s on-duty veterinarian darted the offending lions so that police forensic investigators could isolate the evidence — this, after human remains were found last Tuesday, alongside discarded wire cutters, a high-powered rifle, three pairs of boots and three pairs of gloves.

A pride of half a dozen lions was found to be resting nearby — one likes to think well fed and sunning themselves under the winter sun.

Sibuya is a private reserve; owner Nick Fox told local media that one of his security staff heard a loud commotion coming from the lions sometime late last Sunday night or in the early hours of Monday morning.

 ©Sibuya Game Reserve

©Sibuya Game Reserve

Fox concluded the poachers must have stumbled onto the lions in the dark, never to be seen or heard from again. Lions, unlike humans,  can see well in the dark — their night vision is six times sharper than that of humans — and do most of their hunting under cover of darkness. Daylight is for sleeping, where lions are concerned.

Once police confirmed the evidence and entered the incident into the official record, the story was quickly picked up by the international news agencies Associated Press and Agence France-Presse, and from there to BBC, CNN International and al-Jazeera, among other cable-news outlets. ( 

https://www.cnn.com/2018/07/05/world/south-africa-poachers-killed-trnd/index.html )

This isn’t the first time hunted animals have had their Day of the Triffids moment, of course, nor will it be the last.

In May of this year, South African big game hunter and prototypical fat man Theunis Botha, 51, died after being crushed by an elephant that had been shot on a private reserve in Zimbabwe. Botha cashed in his chips — and I am not making this up — at the aptly named Good Luck Farm, near Zimbabwe’s world-famous — and now infamous — Hwange National Park.

 Theunis Botha

Theunis Botha

Hwange was where Cecil the lion met his end at the hands of a fat American dentist, Walter Palmer, in July, 2015.

In February of this past year, a poacher hunting big cats was mauled to death by lions at a private gamed reserve in South Africa. The unidentified poacher was killed at the 3,000-hectare Ingwelala Nature Reserve, an hour’s drive outside Hoedspruit, in South Africa’s Limpopo province.

The incident happened just months after a poacher in Namibia, identified as Luteni Muhararakua, was charged and killed by a rhino he was hunting for its horn.

 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

This past January, a Russian man was shot dead by his own dog during a winter hunting trip on the banks of the Volga River in southwestern Russia. Sergei Terekhov, 64, died after letting his two hunting hounds out of his car. As the dogs began to frolic, one of the dog’s paws caught the trigger of Terekhov’s hunting rifle, which was on the ground at the time, with the barrel pointed toward his chest.

According to a story in the UK newspaper The Independent at the time, investigators told the Russian Vzglyad-Info news agency, and I quote, “An experienced hunter was killed. He was sober. There was a permit for weapons. Everything was OK. There was an accident.”

Also in January, a Croatian hunter, Pero Jelenic, 75, was killed by a stray bullet while hunting lions during a so-called canned hunt at South Africa’s Leeubosch Lodge, a four-hour drive from Johannesburg about 50 kms. from the Botswana border. A friend of Jelenic’s told Croatia’s Jutarnji List newspaper that Jelenic, “died doing what he loved — his office, a hunting hall, was full of trophies, deer and bear specimens and everything that could be hunted in Croatia and Europe.”

Clearly, Africa proved too big for him.



Then there was the young bull elephant that crushed professional hunter and Ian Gibson to death after Gibson, 55, tried to shoot it in Zimbabwe’s Zambezi Valley little more than a year ago, in June, 2017.

 ©Zimbabwe Today

©Zimbabwe Today

Would it surprise you to learn Gibson was a little on the heavy side?

Think of it as a recurring theme.

As late-night comedian Bill Maher said at the time, “You know the elephant is the nobler of the two because, when the hunter wins, it’s the greatest moment of his life, and when the elephant wins, it’s, ‘Eww, what did I step in?”

These karmic moments are few and far between, of course, given the scale of the destruction being wreaked against the natural world today.

Still, every little moment counts. There’s always room for hope.



Sand mining — the global environmental crisis you’ve never heard of.

As incredible as it might seem, the world is running out of sand.

Depending on who you talk to, whether in academia or in the conservation community — or with anyone who keeps up on the news and reads between the lines —sand is the new gold, the new coltan, the new diamonds.

The New Yorker, The Guardian, al-Jazeera English, The Economist, Business Insider, the journal Science and countless others have weighed in on the looming sand crisis.

As headlines go, though, this one is decidedly unsexy. Sand doesn’t have its own lobby group. Sand isn’t an icon animal on the brink of extinction, nor does it seem as immediate and far-reaching in our day-to-day lives as the precarious state of the world’s oceans. Not even David Attenborough, probably,  could pull off a cautionary documentary series about sand, and get people to watch.

 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

I’ve enclosed a couple of links below to the more authoritative, recent — and reliable — media accounts of what for all intensive purposes looks like a looming existential crisis.

Here at a glance, though, are the big-picture issues, facts, questions and arguments, whittled down to a few brief, basic pointers.

• The problem, as always, is overpopulation — too many people, with more arriving all the time — coupled with overheated economies competing for a finite and ever-dwindling supply of natural resources.

• Sand is vital for use in construction. It is one of the  primary ingredients of concrete.

• The world’s largest, ever-expanding deserts contain huge deposits of sand, it is true, but it’s the wrong kind.

• Desert sand is composed mostly of tiny, finely rounded grains, sculpted and smoothed by wind erosion. The sand used in concrete is of a more jagged, rough-edged kind — the kind found, ideally, at the bottom of riverbeds.

• Riverbed sand is prized because it has the right texture and purity, and is constantly washed clean by running water. Freshwater, not salt.

• As the sand needed for construction becomes more sought after, there’s a growing black market in sand that’s illegally obtained.

• Demand drives the market, as always. Sadly for the environment, a hollowed-out riverbed in a protected, environmentally sensitive area can take decades, generations — centuries, even — to recover.

• In the meantime, illegally dredged sand leaves  environmental ruin in its wake. Sand barriers and coral reefs that protect coast communities can collapse; drinking water is polluted; and habitat that sustains fish, turtles and other riverine life is destroyed.

• Illegal sand-dredging is conducted on an industrial scale, with hundreds of trucks filled, often late at night, in a matter of hours. 

 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

Strange but true: The world’s tallest skyscraper, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, is surrounded by sand, part of the Arabian Desert, a vast desert wilderness that stretches from Yemen in the Persian Gulf to Jordan and Iraq in the heart of the Middle East. And yet, the Burj Khalifa was constructed with concrete incorporating “the right kind of sand” — imported from Australia. Everything comes at a cost.

Sand may not be a headline grabber, but the numbers are truly vast. 

Consider this: In 2014, the most recent year for which hard figures are available, sand accounted for 85 percent of the total weight of minded material on Planet Earth that year. That’s an issue because, according to published reports, sand is replenished by rock erosion over thousands years.

 ©Pixabay/Creative Commons

©Pixabay/Creative Commons

High demand inevitably leads to scarcity, which in turn means money — and money means trouble. The world sand extraction market is estimated to be worth some USD $70 billion a year; a cubic metre of sand can fetch as much as USD $100 in areas of high demand and short supply.

Sand mining is unsustainable over the long term. More and more, scientists insist this is a hidden ecological disaster in the making. We’ll be hearing a lot more about sand in the coming years, they say.

Life’s a beach, it seems, in more ways than one. To paraphrase the late great Jimi Hendrix, even castles made of sand, fall into the sea, eventually.