Doors opening a new window onto the world of fine art photography.

Doors open a window onto the world. From the back alleys of Zanzibar — subject of a new book I’m working on — to the blue-tinted ancestral homes of Chefchaouen in Morocco’s Rif Mountains, and in all the inhabited places in-between, doors are both a personal expression of one’s own home and a historical record of local ancestry and culture writ large.

©Chefchaouen-Hamam/Tom Keene, Wiki Commons

©Chefchaouen-Hamam/Tom Keene, Wiki Commons

They’re also creative inspiration for a new wave of portrait painters and fine-art photographers, as represented by the emerging South Asian artist K.R. Santhana Krishnan.

Krishnan, from the town of Kumbakonam in India’s Tamil Nadu state, has painted more than 800 doors in just the past 18 years. He takes inspiration from the ancestral homes right outside his doorstep: His grandparents’ house boasted some 82 doors.

As with many fine-art photographers with an eye for detail in the seemingly mundane rituals of day-to-day life, Krishnan sees his painted doors as a way of bringing back memories from a simpler, more earthbound past, when brass, copper and wood were preferred over glass, steel and concrete as building materials.

In a recent profile for The Atlantic’s online magazine Quartz, Krishnan said that even something as simple as a bicycle can catch the artist’s eye, if the artist is willing to look beyond the obvious. Even a selfie with an antique bicycle can be art to the keen eye.

Krishnan’s work, and that of other South Asian artists, is enjoying a new life, thanks to advances in online technology that make it possible to display local artworks to the global village at the click of a button. 

After all, Krishnan has said, what says more about who we are as a people than our ancestral homes. And what reflects our ancestral homes more than the door we first have to walk through to see what’s inside. “Only when the everything is in place does the door open.”

http://www.asianartgallery.org/artists/k-r-santhana-krishnan/



©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

©K.R. Santhana Krishnan

A bolshie speaks! Save the planet first, then save the elephants.

Yes, yes, environment writer Lucy Siegle wrote this past weekend in the Sunday Observer: It’s all very chic to save the elephant — or the rhino or cheetah, for that matter — but what about the world?

In a heartfelt essay, Siegle singled out the likes of UK environment minister Michael Gove and Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge — the créme de la créme of the chattering classes — as being little more than dilettantes, figurehead conservationists drawn to high-profile campaigns to save icon species like so many moths to the flame. 

©Adnan Abidi/AP

©Adnan Abidi/AP

Siegle admitted her stance will get her disinvited to any number of black-tie environmental soirées — no canapés at the Natural History Museum for you! — but the real world of conservation, she argued, is gritty, grimy and decidedly unglamourous.

It didn’t help the optics that last week’s announcement that Britain’s Conservative government is widening its ivory ban to include ivory carvings made prior to 1947 — dropped from the Tories’ recent election manifesto — kicked off a weekend of elephant celebrations that included “a copcktail and canapé send-off for a fleet of 50 Gujarati Chagda bikes under the Travels to My Elephant initiative, attended by the Duchess of Cambridge, and the Warrior Games promising (retired) Maasai spears and Maasai photographs taken by Jack Brockway (Richard Branson’s nephew) in the company of HRH Eugenie.”

Bolshie! Satisfying as it may be, though, to see the upper classes brought down a peg or two, there’s a sober point here. Framing the ecological debate through a single species can seem myopic when the future of the entire planet is at stake. Scientists warnthat we have already triggered the sixth great mass extinction. This one is different, too, because it’s the first mass extinction of our own making. There’s not much point in saving the elephant if there are no savannahs left in Africa or Asia for them to roam.

©Biplab Hazra-Nature InFocus

©Biplab Hazra-Nature InFocus

There’s more to saving the orangutan, in other words, than throwing a black-tie soirée or sponsoring a 10K run through the smog-choked streets of London. Environmental activism is messy, grubby and often nasty. 

“If your gateway to environmentalism is saving a big beast, great,” Siegle argued in the Sunday Observer. “But (your) next move needs to be switching your bank account so that your money is no longer funding the destroyers of Sumatran forests for palm oil.”

Whenever a nob, a royal or another standing member of posh society lectures the unwashed on the merits of saving elephants, or whatever the icon species-of-the-moment happens to be, Siegle says that, to her, the great unspoken question — the elephant in the room, if you will — is: “When did your family stop hunting big game and decide to save it?’

Bolshie! Sometimes, though, even bolshies have a point.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/07/it-is-chic-to-save-the-elephant-but-what-about-the-world

©Hilary O'Leary/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year

©Hilary O'Leary/Veolia Environment Wildlife Photographer of the Year


Ivory ban: World’s largest exporter of legal ivory is shutting down the trade.

Finally. The UK government has bowed to pressure from wildlife campaigners and will ban the sale of ivory, regardless of its age.

At least, that was the word this past Friday, after acting UK environment secretary Michael Gove — of all people — put forward a ban on the sales of all items carved from ivory, including those carved before 1947.

That’s key because, while the international trade in ivory had been illegal since 1990, a loophole in UK law permitted trade in ivory “antiques,” loosely defined as an ivory item carved before 1947. A further loophole — a loophole inside the loophole, if you will — permitted ivory “worked before 1990,” provided those items were accompanied by government certificates.

©Jim Panou/Panimages

©Jim Panou/Panimages

Given that government corruption is a driving force behind the illegal wildlife trade in many of the developing countries where elephants are trafficked for their tusks by international crime syndicates, the UK loophole was the very definition of hypocrisy. Why should UK government officials be allowed to sign off on supposedly “antique” ivory, but not government officials in, say, Tanzania or Namibia?

The UK is, or rather was, the world’s largest exporter of legal ivory —  I did not know that until this past week — and cutting off the trade will in theory help slow down the illegal trade in ivory by international crime syndicates.

©NBC News

©NBC News

Despite recent wins by wildlife campaigners — China and the U.S. have both resolved to scale back trade in ivory, if not eliminate it entirely — poaching continues to be a serious problem. More than 50 elephants are killed by poachers every day. A 2016 elephant census across Africa, funded in part by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, showed that the continent lost a third of its remaining wild elephant in just the 10 years prior to 2016.

If anything, poaching has only increased over the past year, exacerbated by a sudden, unwelcome surge in the poaching of rhinos for their horns. Considering the gestation period for an elephant is two years, and elephants only give birth to one baby at a time, it doesn’t take an advanced degree in mathematics to see how see where an already dwindling population of wild elephants could be heading.

The ruling Conservative government was believed to be disinterested in widening the UK ban; the Tories removed a pledge on ivory from their 2017 election manifesto in June, even though it had been included in the party’s 2015 election manifesto.

©BBC News

©BBC News

Celebrity campaigners from Prince William to Jane Goodall, Stephen Hawking and Ricky Gervais mounted a vocal protest that found favour with ordinary, everyday voters fed up with what they perceive to be wanton greed — the rich getting richer — with utter disregard for the wellbeing of the planet.

Of course, bans are one thing; discouraging demand and eliminating the market entirely is another.

“The unprecedented crisis we face – with Africa’s natural heritage being destroyed and communities put at risk due to poaching by illegal armed gangs – will only stop when people stop buying ivory,” Stop Ivory’s John Stephenson told the media Friday.

Even so, Stephenson said he was gratified by the government’s “important step,” and looks forward to seeing the ban implemented and enforced “without delay.”

©Jakarta Post

©Jakarta Post

Other NGOs caution that the road ahead is not entirely clear, either for elephants or any other endangered animals trafficked for profit.

World Wildlife Fund CEO Tanya Steele warned that the scale of the problem is vast, and promises need to be back up with action.

“The illegal trade involving organized criminals is a global problem requiring global solutions,” Steele told reporters. “To end it anywhere means ending it everywhere. This is about more than banning ivory sales in one country. It means working with leaders and communities around the world, particularly in China and Southeast Asia.”

While China has appeared to have turned a corner, for example, and to a lesser extent Vietnam, Laos has suddenly become the new frontier in the wild west of illegal wildlife trafficking.

©Reuters/Al Jazeera

©Reuters/Al Jazeera

In the meantime, carefully staged photo ops in developing countries like Kenya — twice in four years, now — have seen governments burn stockpiles of elephant tusks, to show the world that they value their remaining living elephants, and the tourist revenue they bring, over selling ivory on the black market and getting rich at the expense of future generations.

The ivory burns, dismissed by some as a cheap publicity gimmick — even though, given the value of the ivory involved, they can hardly be said to have been inexpensive — clearly had an effect on public opinion in the media-savvy West. 

©Africa Geographic

©Africa Geographic

The UK Tory government didn’t widen the ivory ban because they wanted to, but because ordinary, everyday people shamed them into doing it, and not just because of the Duke of Cambridge and Stephen Hawking.

Yes, the UK is just one country, but wins in wildlife conservation have to be taken as they come, day by day, and at a time.


©African Parks/AFP

©African Parks/AFP


First Hubble, and now James Webb: Boldly looking where no telescope has looked before.

The earliest science-fiction writers talked about “sense of wonder” as the creative instinct driving fictional exploration of the stars, in short stories, novels and, eventually, TV scripts and screenplays.

In later years, science-fiction writers turned to acronyms like “GAFIA” — getting away from it all — as one of the reasons readers of all kinds are drawn to science fiction in troubled times, science fiction in the Utopian sense of space exploration, and not necessarily the dystopian novels of George Orwell and Aldous Huxley, and their philosophical successors J.G. Ballard and Philip K. Dick.

This is all very instructive now because, in a year that in many respects marks a low point for humanity, remarkable things have been happening in the worlds of outer space, living reminders that planet Earth is just one tiny speck in a very large universe.

It wasn’t just last month’s 50th anniversary of the Voyager spacecraft or NASA’s Cassini mission to explore Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons, but recent revelations — just in the past few weeks — of the Hubble Space Telescope.

©NASA-Hubble

©NASA-Hubble

Hubble was launched into low Earth orbit in 1990, and remains in operation, despite a — literally — shaky early start. Hubble is the only telescope to be examined and repaired by astronauts in space, five times so far, in shuttle missions. That’s one reason it has managed to continue boldly looking where no telescope has looked before.

As it is, the past weeks’ discoveries are only a prelude of sorts for science’s next space mission, the James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in the spring of 2019. (The “Next Generation Space Telescope,” as the James Webb telescope is sometimes called, is a joint mission of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Baltimore, Maryland based Space Telescope Science Institute (STSi), and will be launched into space by a European Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana in South America.)

©ESA-James Webb Space Telescope

©ESA-James Webb Space Telescope

That is then, though; this is now.

After 27 years in space, the Hubble Space Telescope is still sending back some of the most beautiful and revealing images from across the universe.

When we look up at the night sky, we’re getting a mere glimpse of what’s out there. There are countless — almost literally countless — galaxies humankind never knew existed, except in the imagination of science-fiction writers. Until Hubble, that is.

“I believe Hubble has been the single most transformative scientific instrument that we’ve ever built,” NASA astrophysicist Amber Straughn told 60 Minutes’ Bill Whitaker this past Sunday.

Transformative, she said, because Hubble keeps improving our understanding of the universe. 

©CBS News-60 Minutes

©CBS News-60 Minutes

We look at the night sky, and in patches we see nothing but darkness.

“And then, when we look at it with Hubble,” Straughn said, “what we see is thousands of galaxies.”

Not stars. Galaxies.

That was 22 years ago. Since then, Hubble has stared deeper and longer into space with enhanced technology. One recent image revealed more than 10,000 galaxies, in which every single point of light represents an individual galaxy, in Straughn’s words, “its own little island universe.”

©NASA-Hubble

©NASA-Hubble

What Hubble has taught us is that the universe is filled with hundreds of billions of other galaxies. The most recent results tell us there could be more than two trillion in all, 10 times more than previously thought. Typical galaxies, like our own Milky Way, are home to 100 billion stars.

In more earthbound terms, according to the Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Adam Riess, there are more stars in the visible universe than there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth taken together. Hubble has changed what we know about the universe, its structure, its age (3.8 billion years, give or take) and its evolution, from early origins to black holes and supernova explosions — quite literally, death stars.

©NASA-Hubble

©NASA-Hubble

In more earthbound terms, according to the Nobel Prize winning astrophysicist Adam Riess, there are more stars in the visible universe than there are grains of sand on every beach on Earth taken together. Hubble has changed what we know about the universe, its structure, its age (3.8 billion years, give or take) and its evolution, from early origins to black holes and supernova explosions — quite literally, death stars.

“Yes,” Straughn told 60 Minutes. “Space is big.”

One of the many remarkable things about Hubble’s findings is that it shows how colourful the universe is.

“Big stars, when they die, they explode and send their contents into the surrounding universe,” Straughn said. “And these contents are what seed future stars and future planets and help to seed life, ultimately. The iron in your blood and the calcium in your bones was literally forged inside of a star that ended its life like this. We literally are stardust. We are viscerally made of the stars.”

That’s a striking image. And its images like that which make today’s news events pale in comparison.


How ‘One Little Elephant’ will change your life, if only for an hour.

“Naledi” is the Setswana word for ‘star,’ but it doesn’t end there. Naledi is also the name of a 90-minute documentary about efforts to revive a sickly, wild elephant that was found orphaned and near death in a private wilderness reserve in Botswana, Africa’s most forward-thinking wildlife country and home to one of the last bastions of wild elephants on the planet. 

Naledi: An Elephant’s Tale, made in 2016, followed a European documentary film crew as they tagged along with wildlife rangers who made a timely intervention, to see if they could nurture the starving, emaciated month-old baby back to health. The subsequent film caused a stir on Netflix, which has pursued an active program of award-winning documentaries of late. Naledi: A Baby Elephant’s Tale proved to be a crossover hit for Netflix, popular with both an adult audience jazzed by timely, topical, hard-hitting documentaries and the family audience that typically gravitates toward warm-hearted programs about cute animals.

©Netflix

©Netflix

Now, PBS’s venerable film showcase Nature has chosen a trimmed-down, 55-minute version of Naledi to open its new season (PBS, Wednesday at 8ET/PT; check local listings).

Please don’t think the edited version is a simple retread, though. Retitled Naledi: One Little Elephant, the shorter version is a tight, lean, skillfully made film in its own right. Much of the back story is hinted at, but not explained. There is no narration. Game rangers, conservationists and surrogate elephant parents tell a chronological story in their own, often revealing words; no narration is needed. 

The cinematography is clean and crisp, and at times breathtakingly beautiful. Naledi doesn’t look or sound like your typical TV program made on the cheap and on the fly. There are moments when the photography takes on an almost Game of Thrones-like feel. The music, composed specifically for the film by the feature-film composer Nick Urata, is gorgeous. 

That’s a tell right there, because there’s a trend in TV documentaries of late to hire online music charnel houses that stitch together pre-recorded music cues, selected by computer programs and mashed together to form some kind of fetid, ghastly pastiche of aural wallpaper — white noise.

©Abu Camp Botswana/Dr. Mike Chase

©Abu Camp Botswana/Dr. Mike Chase

Naledi is not that program.

The music was composed by a living, breathing human being, not an AI program.

Urata founded the Denver-based underground band DeVotchKa in 2007 and was Grammy-nominated for the film score of the Oscar-winning Little Miss Sunshine. More recently, Urata composed the title music for Netflix’s Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, with Neil Patrick Harris.

Naledi: One Little Elephant is not your typical TV fare, in other words. It comes in at the high end of the nature program scale, and it’s easy to see why veteran Nature executive produce Fred Kaufman chose it to open the program’s 36th season.

This is just background, of course. The important thing to know — both from a conservation point of view and for an evening’s relief from the day’s news headlines — is that this is a moving, true-life story that will entertain the kids while at the same time engaging the adults in the family.

©Kate Bradbury

©Kate Bradbury

Raising orphaned baby elephants in captivity and then reintegrating them into the wild is never easy.

Thanks to the remarkable work being done on a daily basis now by the Nairobi-based David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, home of the famous — thanks to a classic 60 Minutes segment that went viral — elephant orphanage run by Sheldrick’s widow, Dame Daphne Sheldrick. Raising a baby elephant is not like raising a calf or steer; Sheldrick toiled for years before finally hitting on a baby-milk formula that orphan elephants would both accept and draw sustenance from.

©Daphne Shedrick

©Daphne Shedrick

What makes Naledi so compelling is that an elephant never forgets. Or, more accurately — and more importantly for an audience-friendly TV program — an elephant never forgets a person’s face. Sheldrick herself has been recognized by elephants released back into the wild after 20 years or more.

It helps that Naledi’s story is compelling, of course. It helps, too, that there’s a message — implied, but not shoved in your face — about the crisis facing today’s fast-disappearing population of elephants. The last large-scale elephant census, taken in 2016, found that Africa had lost a third of its remaining elephant population in just the 10 years prior.

As of this moment in time, China and the U.S. have closed their ivory markets — officially, anyway — but poaching is still a problem. Illegal ivory is still readily available throughout China, the Far East and Southeast Asia. 

©Wilderness Safaris

©Wilderness Safaris

Naledi was backed by Paul Allen — the other guy behind Microsoft — and his conservation foundation. Allen, now a full-time philanthropist living in Seattle, was oneof the backers of the 2016 elephant census.

Naledi was made by veteran BBC and National Geographic filmmaker Ben Bowie, alongside Amsterdam-based filmmaker Geoff Luck, also an alumnus of National Geographic and PBS.

The program’s resident wildlife expert is Dr. Mike Chase, founder of Elephants Without Borders. Chasehas been working out of a research station in Botswana’s Okavango Delta for the past 15 years.

©Dr. Mike Chase

©Dr. Mike Chase

Naledi is not a cheapo wildlife doc, in other words. It’s a proper film, in both its shortened Nature version and in the Netflix original.

More importantly, perhaps, for these troubled times, it will lift your spirits, if only temporarily. PBS Nature is back, and not a moment too soon.


Rhino horn auction is pointless, animal rights groups say.

If there were a one-off sale of illegal drugs, would it kill the drug trade?

It’s not an entirely pointless question.

That exact reasoning — take something that’s illegal and make it temporarily legal, to satisfy demand and discourage black marketeers — was the excuse/aim/purpose/rationalization/justification, whatever you care to call it, behind a one-off auction of rhino horn last month in South Africa.

This was not a government auction, though the South African government sanctioned it, albeit begrudgingly. At first.

The auction was organized by a private rhino rancher in South Africa, John Hume. He took the government to court — at the time, South Africa was insisting that wildlife laws and international trade agreements be honoured — and won the right to sell 265 rhino horns, weighing about 500 kg. Hume owns and has bred more than 1,100 rhinos, according to published reports.

©Mario Moreno/Africa Foundation

©Mario Moreno/Africa Foundation

The absurd price of rhino horn — USD $100,000 per kilogram on the black market, more than the price of platinum — is driven by demand in, guess where, Asia. Ten years ago, rhino poaching had been virtually eliminated. Since 2013, an average of 1,000 rhinos have been poached each and every year, with a dramatic spike in the past 24 months, especially in South Africa, home to the world’s largest surviving population of rhinos, both captive and wild.

With World Rhino Day having passed a week ago and World Animal Day just around the corner (Oct. 4), the issue of rhino poaching is once again part of the public conversation.

It’s too early to judge what effect, if any, the auction had. Rhino poaching was already out of control — it has been for the past two years — and if the sudden accessibility of “legitimate” rhino horn on the market is going to stem the illegal trade, it will take weeks if not months to register.

Conservationists meanwhile argue the sudden availability of rhino horn will only boost the market, not discourage it, as the auction’s promoters insist.

©Heidi Venter/Africa Geographic

©Heidi Venter/Africa Geographic

It’s not an isolated, one-off debate. Many governments in southern Africa — Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and South Africa itself — are sitting on stores ofvaluable ivory in the form of elephant tusks. Southern African governments — with the notable exception of Botswana — have called for one-off legal sales of ivory, to fund conservation programs.

In East Africa the issue has divided Kenya, the mosthigh-profile and successful tourist destination of Africa’s wildlife countries, where trophy hunting has been banned across the board, and Tanzania, home to East Africa’s largest population of wild elephants — by far — and a vocal supporter of trophy hunting.

The international trade in both ivory and rhino horn has been banned, thanks to an agreement by the member states of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a kind of United Nations of countries with indigenous wildlife — virtually every country on the planet.

©Federico Veronesi/Remembering Rhinos

©Federico Veronesi/Remembering Rhinos

To get technical about it — and while no one likes to be snarled in legal verbiage and technical jargon, it’s good to know — rhinos are listed on Appendix 1 of the CITES index, which means horns cannot be legally taken out of South Africa into any signatory CITES state. The auction, in other words, was only applicable to buyers in South Africa, as the South African court’s jurisdiction only applies to its home country. (Yes, that might seem to be obvious, but the obvious has a way of being obscured whenever large sums of money are involved.

The international ban in trade of ivory and rhino horn has led to a flourishing black market. Until the issue of demand is addressed — do the Chinese really need ivory trinkets and powdered rhino horn? — the black market will always thrive. Law enforcement can only do so much.

And when crazy ideas enter into the equation — the widespread belief, for example, that powdered rhino horn cures cancer and enhances one’s sex life — solving the problem becomes that much more difficult. “I think, therefore I am” becomes “I believe, therefore I’m right.”

©Hilary O’Leary/Natural History Museum

©Hilary O’Leary/Natural History Museum

Conservationists argue, however, that legal auctions have the opposite effect: The result of one-off legal sales creates an explosion in demand, as what was once forbidden is now legally available. Those involved in the enforcement of wildlife laws also argue — plausibly, it would seem to me — that it becomes almost impossible to tell the difference between “legal” ivory (or rhino horn) and that which has been illegally poached. Tanzania, which has lobbied hard for the legal sale of its stored elephant tusks — to fund conservation efforts, they say, though detractors argue that cash earmarked for conservation has a funny way of disappearing before it’s used for its stated, intended purposes — etches serial numbers into its elephant tusks, serial numbers that can be modified or scratched off entirely.

Interestingly, in an effort to save a critically endangered species, hundreds of rhinos have been imported to Australia, with its similar climate, though that will not dissuade the international crime syndicates if they’re motivated enough and the population in Africa crashes.

©Paula Kahumbu/Wildlife Direct

©Paula Kahumbu/Wildlife Direct

Rhino ranchers argue that, instead of killing wild rhinos, as poachers do, they can harvest the horn from living rhinos, as with livestock. Each rhino’s horn is trimmed, like wool sheared from a sheep, and the pieces are stored, in expectation of a future sale.

The real irony, of course, is that the market for rhino horn in South Africa itself — and other countries — is negligible, if not nonexistent.  As a general rule, Africans do not believe that rhino horn, ground up and sprinkled in a glass of water, cures headaches, hangovers and high blood pressure, let alone cancer.

As Paula Kahumbu, CEO and director of the animal-rights advocacy and conservation group Wildlife Direct wrote last month in an op-ed piece for theGuardian newspaper, you can kill all the rhinos you want, but people will still die from cancer.


Monkey see, monkey sue — and settles out of court.

Remember that selfie of the grinning monkey that sparked a three-year court fight?

Well, it’s over — pending appeal, that is. 

PETA took wildlife photographer David Slater to court in 2014, on behalf of an Indonesian crested macaque named Naruto. A selfie photo of a grimacing Naruto went viral in 2011 and became a talking point from Indiana to Indonesia.

PETA argued before San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal that Naruto is the legal copyright holder — since he took the photo — and as such is entitled to any proceeds Slater made from future transactions.

©David Slater. Or Naruto the monkey. Not sure which.

©David Slater. Or Naruto the monkey. Not sure which.

 

Given Slater’s court costs — he’s a self-employed nature photographer, after all, not a Wall Street banker — that was never going to amount to much.

As it is, Slater told everyone from the BBC to the Daily Telegraph that the case has driven him to the brink of bankruptcy, even though, to most eyes, the case is bafffling, not to mention bananas.

PETA has argued that, under US copyright law, the person who takes a picture is the copyright owner, even if, as happened in this case, Slater who flew to Indonesia, provided the camera and set up the shot. Slater later included the resulting image in a book of his wildlife pictures, published by Blurb Inc.

02 monkeygenderfeat-800x420.jpg

 

Not wanting to leave anyone out of the frame, PETA also named Blurb as a defendant in its suit.

Now, word comes that the two parties have agreed to a settlement, one they both profess to be being happy about but will likely please no one, least of all the monkey.

Ironically — though not surprisingly — the photo in question is appearing all over again, all over the world, from Indiana to Indonesia, even though neither PETA nor Slater stand to get rich from the notoriety. One online publication has credited the infamous photo as, “Copyright David Slater. Or Naruto the monkey. Not sure which.”

Slater, 52, is from South Wales. And if you’re wondering why a San Francisco court got involved in a case involving a macaque from Indonesia and a photographer from the UK, well, you’re not alone. US copyright law extends the world over, evidently.

“It is absurd that a monkey can sue for copyright infringement in court,” Angela Dunning, Slater’s co-counsel and in-house attorney for Blurb, told the appeals court in July.

“Naruto can’t benefit financially from his work,” Dunning added. “He is a monkey.”

 

Court judge Carlos Bea asked at the outset why the case shouldn’t be tossed, on principle. He asked if anyone, inside or outside the courtroom, can point to any case law which specifically states thatman and monkey are equal in the eyes of the law.

Bea also wondered aloud whether PETA had “sufficient relationship” with Naruto to represent themselves in the legal capacity of “next friend.”

With friends like this, who needs enemies, the dispassionate observer might well ask.

The monkey business came to an end Friday when PETA gave up its appeal, as dutifully reported by the insider website law.com.

Details of the settlement were announced Monday, though not in full.

There was no mention of court costs, for example, or attorney fees, which the near-bankrupt Slater hoped to recover.

Instead, the two parties issued a joint statement, in which PETA and Slater agreed that the case raises “important, cutting-edge issues about expanding legal rights for non-human animals.”

Slater insisted from the beginning that he wants his wildlife photos to highlight the plight of endangered species around the world. 

As part of the settlement, then Slater agreed to pay 25 percent of future gross revenues from the monkey selfies to a range of non-governmental organizations dedicated to preserving the macaque’s natural habitat in Indonesia.

It’s hard to judge whether any legal precedent was set by a court case that captured the imagination of headline writers the world over.

In the end, the two parties couldn’t even agree on what gender the monkey was. Or is.

PETA claimed Naruto is a female well-known to park custodians in that region of Indonesia; Slater argued it’s a different monkey altogether, and a male at that.

For the record, court documents referred to Naruto throughout the trial as a male.

Meanwhile, the all-important question — what would the monkey have done with the money if he were human? — will have to go unanswered. For now.

 

http://www.law.com/sites/almstaff/2017/09/11/monkey-authors-will-have-to-wait-another-day-for-copyrights/

http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/legal-arguments-monkey-selfie-case-are-bananas-at-hearing-1020376


Africa’s unsung wildlife heroes: Wayne Lotter did not die in vain.

Here’s the thing. Every day, thousands of park rangers and conservationists like the late Wayne Lotter, shot to death late last month by as-yet unidentified gunmen in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, risk their lives to fight against global wildlife trafficking. Too often, their lives end in tragedy. More than 1,000 rangers have been killed in the line of duty in just the past 10 years.

The killings are not meant to be taken in isolation. They’re designed to send a chilling message to anyone who vows to expose crime syndicates that traffic in animal skins, illegal trophies and body parts, from Chilean sea bass and shark fin soup to rhino horn and, in Lotter’s case, elephant ivory.

©CNN

©CNN


Violence rarely — if ever — deters committed crusaders for the environment from pursuing their goal, though it can have a chilling effect on potential whistleblowers, those people on the inside who can point law enforcement in the right direction, on those occasions law enforcement isn’t compromised by corruption in high places.

Neighbouring countries often take a different approach to the same problem, though. Despite Tanzania’s gift of a natural bounty unmatched in neighbouring countries — a thriving tourist industry based on the annual Serengeti wildebeest migration, the justifiably famous “Cradle of Humankind” in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and one of Africa’s largest surviving remnant populations of wild elephants — Tanzania is also home to endemic corruption on an almost epic scale. Here’s a harsh reality: Where there is corruption on an institutional, national level of governance, China is rarely far behind.

©WWF-UK

©WWF-UK

Kenya, Tanzania’s neighbour, has traditionally taken a radically different approach to wildlife conservation, though, just as Botswana routinely and consistently annoys its neighbours Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia with its own, forward-thinking conservation practices. Trophy hunting, for example, is part of the natural order of things in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia; Botswana has banned it outright, despite the loss in potential income and revenue. Big game hunting is de rigueur in Tanzania; Kenya has banned it outright, despite the loss to its economy.

Thanks to its natural bounty, Tanzania has managed to generate income from both hunting and tourism; Kenya, despite being more prone to droughts — much of northern Kenya is semi-arid desert as it is — and despite endemic street crime, a serious terrorist threat and its own share of government corruption, has gone all-in on wildlife tourism, even as it has mounted some of the toughest, most aggressive anti-poaching military campaigns on the entire continent.

©WWF-UK

©WWF-UK

Whistleblowers are key. Without ordinary, everyday citizens finding the courage to report trafficking activity, it’s hard for law enforcement to bringwildlife criminals to justice, let alone put a dent in the Asian crime syndicates.

Lotter, interestingly enough, was closely involved in equipping and training Tanzanian park rangers in how to defend themselves in a firefight and mete out justice of their own — based on the Kenyan model, in other words, instead of looking the other way and pretending nothing happened.

©iAP/Ben Curtis

©iAP/Ben Curtis

This is not simply a case of the great white man telling the black man what to do and how to do it. In Kenya, in Botswana and in the gorilla parks of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), it’s local — black — citizens who are donning automatic rifles and camouflage gear and putting their lives on the line, often for little more than what developed nations would regard as the minimum wage. Once again, as is so often the case in Africa, it is the most impoverished people who are the most incorruptible, and the monied class, often at minister level, who are most inclined to take kickbacks from crime syndicates.

©Ol Pejeta Conservancy

©Ol Pejeta Conservancy

If anything, Kenya is ramping up its anti-trafficking campaign, not scaling it back, despite recent setbacks in Tanzania. Kenya has announced it is about to “significantly” increase the number of specialist prosecutors who prosecute wildlife crime. The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) currently has two full-time prosecutors on call; that number will soon jump to 14. The conservation organization Space for Giants — Space for Giants’ patron is Evgeny Lebedev, owner of the UK Independent newspaper — is underwriting the training and mentoring of the new prosecutors.

©Ol Pejeta Conservancy

©Ol Pejeta Conservancy

KWS acting director general Julius Kimani told The Independent that while Kenya has experienced success in both intelligence and criminal investigations, they recognized there was a gap in the courts.

Lotter understood this. There is an argument to be made — as yet unproven — that this is why he was murdered.

Murdered, yes, but not silenced. It might not look like it now, but Lotter may well have been on the right side of history. As the heavily armed elephant and rhino rangers and a newly invigorated court system in Kenya show, and as the heavily armed gorilla rangers in Rwanda and Congo prove, ordinary, everyday people can and will stare down the international crime syndicates, given the chance, given the moral authority and the knowledge that doing the right thing almost invariably wins out in the end, despite the potential terrible personal cost.

No, Wayne Lotter did not die in vain. Kenya is showing the way. 

http://spaceforgiants.org


A year of living dangerously for nature’s defenders

Even before last month’s murder by unknown gunmen of leading elephant conservationist Wayne Lotter in Dar es Salaam. Tanzania — which ironically enough translates from the Swahili as “Place of Peace” — the world has become a more dangerous place for nature and the people trying to protect it.

In just the past year, according to the non-governmental organization Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers, or ALERT, more than 200 conservations and wildlife workers from some 24 countries were killed while confronting environmentally destructive development projects. Mining, logging, illegal farming and wildlife poaching are mainly to blame, though old-fashioned human greed is never too far away.

©PAMS Foundation

©PAMS Foundation

In Lotter’s case, his lifelong campaign to protect wild elephants and expose the illegal ivory trade, made him a target. Unlike some of the more prominent wildlife campaigners, he preferred to stay in the shadows, away from the media spotlight — a silent hero. He earned a hard-won reputation as a pragmatist eager to work with local communities in alleviating poverty and show through example the wisdom of conservation over making a fast buck from ivory poaching. He was never going to become a household name. Until now, that is.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Wayne’s anti-poaching efforts made a big difference in the fight to save Tanzania’s elephants from the illegal ivory trade,” Jane Goodall said, in a public tribute. “His courage in the face of personal threats and his determination to keep on fighting has inspired many, and encouraged them to keep on fighting for wildlife. If this cowardly act was an effort to bring his work to an end, it will fail.”

©PAMS Foundation/Krissie Clark

©PAMS Foundation/Krissie Clark

Famed elephant researcher Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who played a prominent role in writer Peter Matthiessen’s 1960’s classic The Tree Where Man Was Born, credited Lotter with exposing corruption in the highest levels of power in Tanzania.

Lotter made enemies in high places, wealthy people who benefitted for decades from the poaching of illegal ivory in Tanzania. The East African country is home along with Botswana to Africa’s largest surviving population of wild elephants.

“He pursued justice for wildlife with little apparent concern for his own life,” Douglas-Hamilton said. “His loss is a grave blow to the defence of the living planet.”

©Nuria Oretga/African Parks

©Nuria Oretga/African Parks

Lotter, the South African-born co-founder and director of the Tanzania-based, somewhat prosaically named Protected Area Management Solutions (PAMS) Foundation, was one of the subjects of the just-released Netflix documentary The Ivory Game, produced by Leonardo DiCaprio. He was 51. He leaves behind a wife and two young daughters.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/aug/17/leading-elephant-conservationist-ivory-shot-dead-in-tanzania#img-1

East Africa is not the only region in the world beset by violence against conservationists and wildlife workers, despite ongoing armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home of one of the last remaining strongholds of the critically endangered mountain gorilla.

©Andrew Bruckman/African Parks

©Andrew Bruckman/African Parks

 

Brazil’s Amazon rainforest is the most dangerous place to be a conservationist, with 49 deaths in 2016 alone, according to ALERT. Land theft by wealthy cattle ranchers and speculators is driving the violence there, as evidenced by the 2005 murder of Dorothy Stang, an American-born Catholic nun and active campaigner for indigenous rights. The Amazon is currently under siege from government efforts in Brazil to weaken environmental laws and reduce the size of protected areas, while at the same time looking away from illegal land-grabs.

Despite the murder of Lotter and other, less well-known wildlife campaigners, all is not lost. 

In an impassioned call to action, ALERT director William Laurance urged followers not to lose hope, and cites several “win-wins” that suggest the battle to save the planet is far from over.

©Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers (ALERT)

©Alliance of Leading Environmental Researchers & Thinkers (ALERT)

 

Campaigns to slow down and in some cases stop altogether the building of dams, roads and highways through ecologically sensitive hot spots in Sumatra, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and even Tanzania’s own Serengeti National Park have proven surprisingly effective.

The fight is hard, but the battle is not over yet.

 

http://alert-conservation.org/issues-research-highlights/2016/6/28/is-nature-conservation-hopeless?rq=good%20news

http://alert-conservation.org/



©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Babi Prokas/African Parks

©Babi Prokas/African Parks

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Japan Times

©Japan Times

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

©Charlie Hamilton James/National Geographic

Just how much is 17 trillion gallons of water, anyway?

Can you visualize 26 million Olympic swimming pools? Actually, you can.

That’s the amount of rain dumped on Houston and southern Texas these past few days by Hurricane Harvey, the “weather event” that triggered catastrophic flooding and continues to wreak havoc on one the U.S.’s fourth-largest city in terms of population (6.5 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's July 1, 2010 estimate).

The existential media question — what’s the difference between a meteorologist and a climatologist? — is mirrored in big-picture terms with Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.

It’s no longer a question of weather vs. climate, or even nature vs. engineering, but rather the status quo vs. the future of the planet.

©U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

©U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

The political winds are shifting in Washington, DC and other national capitals, as it becomes more apparent — to those who follow science and pay attention to the news — that rising man-made emissions are pushing the global climate deeper into uncharted territory.

As widespread as the flooding in the Gulf of Mexico is, it pales in comparison to what is going on in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, where overnight accounts from BBC World estimate that nearly half of Bangladesh — the entire country,  not just regional pockets — is underwater, due to unseasonably heavy monsoon rains.

©Google Images

©Google Images

Coupled with deadly mudslides in Sierra Leone last week and last month’s overflow of a key tributary to China’s Yangtze River, climate scientists warn that weather extremes are likely to be the norm in the near future, not the exception. As The Guardian global environment editor Jonathan Watts noted in an article earlier this week, we are now living in an era of unwelcome records.

The science is in. Since the advent of climate records, each of the past three years have registered steadily rising records for high temperatures. The amount of carbon dioxide in the air is the highest it’s been in four million years. We know this from geological carbon readings. This isn’t fake science, in other words, just as Hurricane Harvey and its devastating after-effects aren’t fake news.

©ABC News

©ABC News

Climatologists note that high amounts of carbon dioxide do not cause storms, per se, but they do make storms more volatile and violent — and more destructive.

Again, science is the key. As seas warm, sea water evaporates faster. Warming air holds more water vapour than cold air. For every increase in air temperature of just half-a-degree Celsius, atmospheric water content increases by three percent, give or take. The skies fill more quickly, and hold more water. Scientists call the Clausius-Clapeyron effect. The plain truth is that the surface temperature of the Gulf of Mexico is more than a degree higher than it was just 30 years ago.

Climatologists estimate that sea levels have risen more than 20 centimetres in 100 years of man-made global warming. Melting glaciers and the calving of massive ice shelves off Antarctica expand the volume of seawater.

©Guardian/Reuters

©Guardian/Reuters

The result is not worldwide floods or worldwide droughts so much as it is climatic extremes in regions already prone to flood and drought.

Friederike Otto, deputy director of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, told The Guardian that the world can expect to see extreme rainfall amounts and record-setting temperatures “for the foreseeable future.”

Effects will vary from country to country. Bangladesh, for example, is particularly susceptible to ocean flooding, as are large swaths of the southern coastal U.S., because the topography is essentially flat and only slightly above sea level.

Recent storms have shown a tendency to stall, rather than blow through. One reason why Hurricane Harveyhas taken so long to clear Texas and Louisiana’s Gulf coast is that a massive high-pressure ridge over the northwest U.S. and southeastern Canada has blocked the storm from moving on its traditionally north-northeasterly track, if only temporarily. The longer Harvey lingers over flat lowland areas of coastal Texas and Louisiana, the more rain it will dump — and the worse the flooding will get.

©CNET

©CNET

Climate researchers have cited dramatic warming in the Arctic as one reason why high-pressure ridges keep building over British Columbia and Washington State in the summer months, and why it takes weeks rather than days for those pressure ridges to break down and allow the jet-stream to resume its normal track along the U.S.-Canadian border.

Hurricane Harvey is not a local story, in other words, or even regional, but rather international. That’s why climate change is a global concern, and not just a one-time local news hit on the nightly news.

One thing is becoming abundantly clear — and not just because of Harvey. This is no time to play politics with climate change. It’s basic science.


Sir David Attenborough on the reason for hope.

He’s been a voice in the wilderness — literally — for six decades.

So it should have been a surprise to no one, detractors and supporters alike, that when David Attenborough faced the room at last weekend’s Edinburgh International Television Festival, he would strike a discordant note.

There is reason for hope, Attenborough told a room more used to hearing how humankind has already passed the the turning point of global destruction.

Planet Earth has never faced so many crises, everything from pollution and overpopulation to wholesale global climate change and the imminent threat of a new mass extinction — which will be planet’s sixth, if the scientists are to be believed.

So it was a shock for many environmentalists to hear the man who has chronicled the lives of Earth’s most remarkable creatures for the better part of a century to sound a note of optimism.

Nearly 20 years ago, primatologist Jane Goodall wrote the book Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey, an autobiographical odyssey that covered much of the same emotional terrain. Goodall argued in Reason for Hope that young people are more attuned to the natural world than their forebears, and will fight hard to preserve what remains of the natural world.

©Middlesborough Gazette

©Middlesborough Gazette

Attenborough’s argument is much the same — the future of planet Earth lies with its young people, who have the most to lose from a ruined environment — but given how much the planet’s ecosystems have suffered in just the past two decades, it’s hard to escape the feeling that Attenborough is knowingly putting a positive spin on an otherwise hopeless situation. No one wants top fight a battle that’s already lost, after all, and environmental news in 2017is a seemingly relentless parade of horror stories.

Attenborough, 91, told the Edinburgh Festival that he’s detected a “worldwide shift” — his words — in attitudes toward conservation, with voters and leaders in previously skeptical nations seeing the light of day.

The current state of politics in the U.S. is a temporary aberration, he insisted, and flies in the face of what’s happening across Europe, Asia, and Latin and South America. Attenborough likened the emerging consensus in favour of protecting what’s left of the natural world, to the awakening of anti-communist sentiment in eastern Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

©Huffington Post UK

©Huffington Post UK

That consensus, he argued, was reflected in last year’s Paris deal on greenhouse gases. As of now, 195 countries have signed the Paris accord; 160 of those countries have taken the extra step of ratifying the agreement.

The U.S. has signalled its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, but anything the U.S. does or does not do is outweighed by signatories like China, India, Brazil, Russia, Canada, Germany and other members of the G20, as well as countless emerging nations around the world.

Attenborough returns to TV screens this fall with Blue Planet II, which those who’ve seen it say will do forBlue Planet, the acclaimed program Attenborough made in 2001, what Planet Earth II did for the originalPlanet Earth.

Programs such as Planet Earth, The Blue Planet, Frozen Planet and Life on Earth have played a crucial role in raising public awareness, Attenborough told the room, without a hint of self-aggrandizement.

Optimism doesn’t mean the world’s environmental problems are solved, Attenborough noted. Changing attitudes is a good start, though.

@BBC Earth

@BBC Earth

Attenborough’s detractors note that words come easily, and that the world’s largest polluters — the U.S., China, India and Russia — have done little in terms of concrete action to reduce greenhouse gases and our over-reliance on fossil fuel, not to mention the growing stress on the world’s remaining rivers, forests, lakes and oceans. Some ecologists argue that by 2050 — within 35 years — the amount of plastic in the world’s oceans will outweigh the weight of fish. Human beings produce some 500 billion plastic bags and half a trillion plastic bottles each year, some argue, most of which will end up in a landfill and take 400 years to biodegrade.

Coupled with steadily rising population growth — which Attenborough himself has campaigned against — the future looks bleak.

That’s why this may be as good a place as any to end with Attenborough’s own words. (A video link to the full interview follows below.)

©BBC Earth

©BBC Earth

There are indeed signs of hope, Attenborough insisted, much as Jane Goodall argued 20 years ago.

As for whether the turning point has already been crossed, that is something only time itself can judge.

“I spend a lot of time wringing my hands and saying how dreadful it is, that this forest has been obliterated and that sea has been polluted, and whatever,” Attenborough told his audience in Edinburgh. “But there are signs of hope. It’s almost like the way suddenly — to me at any rate — the knocking-over of the Berlin Wall was a surprise. I had no idea that there was this (political) build-up and that suddenly it was going to be the end of an era, politically.

“I have a sense that worldwide — certainly in Europe and certainly China, which we would never have thought before — people are concerned about this. And perhaps, if I may say this, there are people in America, parté Mr. Trump, who don’t accept that human beings can do no wrong and you can simply exterminate the wilderness. There are people who care about the wilderness, in the United States.

©BBC Earth

©BBC Earth

“There has been a worldwide shift, I think, amongst people in general about the concern that there should be for the natural world. I am encouraged more than I have been for quite some time.”

Attenborough has no doubt about the effect natural-history programming such as Planet Earth and Blue Planet have had on popular opinion — not just on BBC in the UK, but globally, around the entire world.

“We have to be careful that not every program that we put out is grinding an axe. We have to also remember that there is joy and delight and beauty and pleasure and excitement in the natural world. This is our bread-and-butter. That’s what it’s about.

“If there was no need to talk about conservation, the happier I would be. We could just relish (the natural world) and enjoy it. But that isn’t the case. If we are responsible, we have to take on this responsibility.”



Welcome to the Cat Museum. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

All together now, to the strains of Hotel California:

“Welcome to the Katten Kabinet. Such a lovely place for cats (such a lovely place).

“They livin’ it up at the Katten Kabinet. What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise), bring your alibis.

“Mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice. And the Cheshire said, ‘We are all just prisoners here, of our own device.’

“Last thing I remember, I was running for the door, I had to find the passage back to the place where I was before.

“ Relax,’ said the night man. ‘You can check out any time you like. But you can never leave.’”

Yes, welcome to the cat museum. If you’re a cat lover, you may never want to leave.

KattenKabinet_-_0369.jpg

First, the broad strokes. Amsterdam is rightly renowned throughout the world for its museums, whether it’s the Rijksmuseum or the Hermitage, the Van Gogh Museum or Anne Frank House.
Anyone looking for the quirky, offbeat and downright weird is unlikely to bedisappointed, either, whether it’s a side trip to the House of Bols (Bols liqueurs, EST 1575 — check out the rainbow-hued “Hall of Taste”)  — or a detour to the increasingly famous, if hard-to-find cat-themed museum, the Katten Kabinet.

The museum — a remodeled heritage home off the Herengracht canal — is full of posters, handbills, oil paintings, sculptures, tapestries, wall hangings and other forms of art depicting nothing but . . . cats.

Certified 20th-century eccentric and financier philanthropist Bob Meijer founded the museum in 1990, in commemoration of the legendary ginger cat John Pierpont Morgan (1966-1983), aka J.P. Morgan, often described as Meijer’s “stubborn, headstrong companion.” Wherever Meijer went, it is said, J.P. Morgan was there to tell him he was going the wrong way.

kattenkabinet-bronze-cat-1024x639.jpg

When J.P. Morgan passed in 1983 — the forensic examiner at the time attributed it to old age, but rumours persist that J.P. Morgan simply became fed up with his owner and opted for the easy out — Meijer sought to immortalize him with an art gallery dedicated to cats and nothing but cats. Art snobs can have their Van Gogh’s and Rembrandt’s; Meijer was determined to pay homage to the likes of Stubbs, the cat mayor of Talkeetna, Alaska (pop. 900, as of the 2012 census), and Simon, the cat appointed a war hero after serving aboard HMS Amethyst during the Yangtze Incident, a 101-day siege that trapped the navy frigate on the Yangtze River during the Chinese civil war in 1949.

Then there’s Sockamillion, the cat with 1.4 million followers on Twitter (@sockington), and Créme Puff, the oldest cat known to humanity, who reportedly passed away on Aug. 6, 2005, at the age of 38, according to his owner, Jake Perry, of Austin, Texas.

An advertising poster from 1911 for Chettalín shoe polish is just one of Katten Kabinet’s guaranteed conversation starters, partly because of its historical significance and partly because it’s, well, weird, like much of what else can be found in the Kabinet.

So wirkt Schuhputz. Kitt-eh! Kitt-eh! Kitt-eh!

katten chettalín.jpg

“The tree of revenge does not carry fruit,” goes an old Dutch proverb, but then cats don’t care much for fruit. They’re meat eaters, all the way.

Affectionate carnivores, though, when they want to be.

Among Katten Kabinet’s numerous charms is a wall devoted to Dick Whittington’s Cat, named after the folklore surrounding real-life 14th-century English merchant Richard Whittington, who would later go on to serve as Lord Mayor of London.

Legend has it — and, really, how can these things ever be proved to historians’ complete satisfaction? — that Whittington supposedly escaped a poverty-stricken childhood by living off the avails of his rat-catching cat. A cat with a reputation for murdering rats at will would have been a prized commodity in 14th-century London.

katten dick posters.jpg

Regardless of whether the story holds water or not —  and who would begrudge humanity a lively tale on a dark and rainy night? — Dick Whittington’s cat certainly fits in at the Katten Kabinet.

Besides, no other cat immortalized at the Kabinet can lay claim to being the subject of their very own puppet show, as first performed at Covent Garden in 1711, as recorded at the time in the Spectator:

"At Punch's Theatre in the Little Piazza, Covent-Garden, this present Evening will be performed an Entertainment, called, The History of Sir Richard Whittington, shewing his Rise from a Scullion to be Lord-Mayor of London, with the Comical Humours of Old Madge, the jolly Chamber-maid, and the Representation of the Sea, and the Court of Great Britain, concluding with the Court of Aldermen, and Whittington Lord-Mayor, honoured with the Presence of K. Hen. VIII. and his Queen Anna Bullen, with other diverting Decorations proper to the Play, beginning at 6 o' clock." 

katten dick w. 4445387900_dfa68bc3ca.jpg

Like cats themselves, the Katten Kabinet is small and not that easy to find. It’s tucked away in a canal house on Amsterdam’s Groudon Bocht — Golden Bend — a section of the Herengracht canal that features some of the city’s grandest and oldest houses. The official address is no. 497, 1017 BT Amsterdam, but even frequent visitors say they could easily miss it if they didn’t know where to look. Only the smallest of signs provides a clue.

KattenkabinetEdwin van Eis.jpg

This part of Amsterdam may have been established in the early 1700s, but the Katten Kabinet comes with a very 21st-century signature: its very own website, complete with gallery images, a set of directions on how to find it, and that mainstay of 21st-century commerce, an online shop.

http://www.kattenkabinet.nl/en

TripAdvisor reviews are mixed, ranging from “Terrible” (one star out of five), “Not worth the time or money,” (also one star) and, “Should be called the Krappen Kabinet,” to, at the other end of thespectrum, “Our favourite museum in Amsterdam!” (five stars out of five), “Purrfectly enjoyable,” (also five for five), “This place is the cat’s pyjamas!” and, perhaps most honest of all: “If cats and art are your thing, this is great. If not, I imagine this could be your own personal nightmare.”

There you have it, then. As one final customer review on TripAdvisor warns, “Only go if you love cats.”

Some truths are still self-evident, you see, even in 2017. 


Rob Cerneus gaat voor Uit de Kunst ter gelegenheid van Dierendag naar het Kattenkabinet in Amsterdam. Yes, it’s true!


Dick Whittington, ladies and gentlemen!


And finally, a visitor POV video tour.


 

 

 

 

 

Joel Sartore’s Photo Ark — one by one, for posterity.

It’s not easy to photograph 12,000 animals, one at a time.

Then again, when you’re a career National Geographic photographer looking to spend more time with your children — and you’re tired of flirting with malaria and being menaced in conflict zones by drug-addled 16-year-olds with AK-47s — then a life-changing passion project seems like both a decent option and a worthwhile out.

Furthermore, when you realize that many of the wild animals you grew to love as a child are in critical danger of disappearing entirely, taking the time to make a photographic studio archive of those species that remain is an easy call to make.

For some, a passion project is all about personal satisfaction.

For Joel Sartore, a 54-year-old wildlife photographer and 20-year National Geographic veteran from Ralston, Nebraska, the Photo Ark — his multi-year project to take studio portraits of every single species on the planet, or as many as he can feasibly fit into his remaining years — has become a defining moment in humankind’s cataloguing of life on earth.

Generations from now, the world may well look back on Sartore’s Photo Ark as the sole remaining evidence that these animals ever existed.

Veiled chameleon. ©2017 Joel Sartore

Veiled chameleon. ©2017 Joel Sartore

Sartore, a lifelong conservationist, hopes it never comes to that — obviously. Too many animal species have vanished in just our lifetimes for it not to be a viable reality, though.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but Sartore’s Photo Ark pictures may be worth many more than that. (An early version of the quote, by the way, was, “One picture (is) worth ten thousand words,” as stated by Fred R. Barnard in the advertising trade journal Printer’s Ink on March 10, 1927 — but you get the picture.)

Heavy lies the burden of responsibility, especially when an unofficial record of life on earth looks like it may become part of the official record.

Sartore appeared alongside PBS-WGBH Boston programming president and one-time National Geographic filmmaker John Bredar and art director,  National Geographic fellow and Rare: Creatures of the Photo Ark program maker Chun-Wei Yi at this year’s winter meeting of the Television Critics Association in Pasadena, Calif.

Bornean orangutan. ©2017 Joel Sartore

Bornean orangutan. ©2017 Joel Sartore

In an hour-long press session with reporters that was by turns sad, reflective, passionate and life-affirming, Sartore touched on everything from his lifelong interest in photography and wildlife to the future of the planet and his hopes and dreams for the Photo Ark.

What he said was worth repeating verbatim, in parts anyway. The rest, his photos — a handful appear here, with many of the rest at his gallery on www.joelsartore.com — explain so much better, and in considerably less than the 2,500 words or so that appear here.

(l-r) John Bredar, Joel Sartore, Chun-Wei Yi. ©Rahoul Ghose/PBS

(l-r) John Bredar, Joel Sartore, Chun-Wei Yi. ©Rahoul Ghose/PBS

ON HOW SARTORE FIRST BECAME INTERESTED IN PHOTOGRAPHY

”My parents were really interested in nature. My dad took me hunting and fishing growing up. My mother loved backyard birds and flowers and wildlife. They both cared about nature. As for photography, actually I got into photography in my senior year in high school, trying to impress a cheerleader I was in love with at Ralston High School in Nebraska. I took some pictures of her,  and she found it creepy. So that was that.

“The hobby stuck, though, and it turned into a profession. I went into photojournalism in college because it didn’t require math or chemistry, to be honest with you.” 

Coyote pups. ©2017 Joel Sartore

Coyote pups. ©2017 Joel Sartore

THE PHOTO ARK’S ORIGINS

“I’d been a contract photographer for the Geographic for a long time. Eleven, twelve years ago, my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.  And I had never really been home with my three kids. I’d never changed a diaper on the youngest one, sad to say. I was always gone. My wife was a very tolerant person; she let me go out and shoot these stories. My stories were mostly conservation related, trying to make the world a better place.  But now I was home for a year, and I had a lot of time to think. I thought about the work of John James Audubon, who devoted his entire life to painting and describing the behaviours of the birds and mammals of North America. I thought of Edward Curtis, who could see that European settlement was going to change the life of Native Americans. He devoted his entire adult life to documenting tribal customs and dress before that was eroded by European society.

Sumatran ornagutan ©2017 Joel Sartore

Sumatran ornagutan ©2017 Joel Sartore

“I was 42 at the time. And while my life and career was half over, I thought if Kathy survived and we didn’t lose our house, because I wasn’t able to go work anymore, if she made it, I thought I really should do something that sticks. I’d had a couple of stories that got some results, shooting in the field. But my early Photo Ark pictures really seemed to hit a nerve. I don’t know, they just resonated with people. So I thought, well, I’ll just do a giant catalog. The strength of it will be when you see that there are thousands of species of rodents, not just the house mouse you may see running across your garage once in a while. There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of beetle species.  here are so many different species out there that nobody knows about. So that’s how the Photo Ark was born.

“My wife’s fine now, but it was a close call. The Photo Ark was born out of wanting to do something that stuck.

Diademed sifaka. ©2017 Joel Sartore

Diademed sifaka. ©2017 Joel Sartore

“A magazine story comes and goes in a month. Hopefully this will be around for a while, maybe for future generations. Because, really, people don’t seem to care much about extinction, if at all, right now. There wasn’t a single question asked during any of the presidential debates about the environment — not even about climate change, really. So whatever it takes to get people to have a new conversation is worthwhile. I realize true change is generational, but we don’t really have many more generations to go before things start getting really uncomfortable for all of us — extreme weather events, pollution, more division in society, that kind of thing.”

Curl-crested aracari. ©2017 Joel Sartore

Curl-crested aracari. ©2017 Joel Sartore

ON CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS EFFECTS

“Amphibians need plenty of moisture to lay their legs, and to breed. And if the moisture quits coming at the right time of the year, you can lose an entire amphibian species virtually overnight, in a year or two, because they're not long-lived, some of them. So climate change is a really big deal. It affects the foraging plants that butterflies need, and so many other things. It can’t be overstated how complicated it is and how we don’t even know what’s going to happen with climate change fully yet. We just know it’s going to have severe impacts for all of us, not just wildlife.”

Florida panther. ©2017 Joel Sartore

Florida panther. ©2017 Joel Sartore

ON WHICH ANIMALS PROVED TO BE MOST CAMERA SHY

“(The big) cats don’t care for it; you're right. But cats are also predators, and they feel pretty confident. So they're not stressed by much. When we photograph big cats, we always prep a space ahead of time, an off-exhibit space. Then the zoo will shift the animal into that space. So we’re able to do our portraits that way. It goes pretty easily and well, as a general rule.

Geoffroy's stuffedear marmoset. G2017 Joel Sartore

Geoffroy's stuffedear marmoset. G2017 Joel Sartore

THE SCARIEST ANIMAL TO PHOTOGRAPH

“Oh, scariest! Scariest. You know, big cats are frightening, if they’re a little irritated. They like to charge and roar.

“Maybe the most frustrating, though, are chimps, believe it or not, because I'm not really working with trained animals, like you’d think of here in the L.A. area. I’m working with animals that are quite rare, or just unusual, and they’re not handled by people that often. They’re just not worked with. I’m not working with movie chimps. The chimps I do work with, I’ll put seamless paper up. I’ll spend an hour taping it down. And they ship the chimps in, and half the time the chimp doesn’t even come in. Then he’ll take his hand and rip the entire seamless roll into the next stall, just rips it away.  We see that all the time.

“But I’ve been around animals my whole life, so I don't necessarily think of them as scary, most of them. I don’t like cockroaches much, but I’ve photographed 40 different types of species of cockroaches now. Nothing is too terribly scary. I feel like I’m their voice, and I really want to tell their story.  Again, I’d say for 75 percent of the animals we photograph, this is the only time anybody is ever going to pay attention to them, so it’s an honour.”

Indian rhinoceros. ©2017 Joel Sartore

Indian rhinoceros. ©2017 Joel Sartore

ON THE USE OF PLAIN WHITE AND BLACK BACKDROPS

“We start off with the animal on a black-and-white background, because it’s the great equalizer. A mouse is every bit as important as an elephant.  They’re both the same size. You can look animals directly in the eye that way, and really get a sense that they’re intelligent and worth saving, right. Beyond that, we can get our lights closer to the animals if we have them in a confined space, and that's why these pictures look so vivid. We alwaysthe black-and-white backgrounds; we start out that way. 

“There is going to be some Photoshop in some of them. Like, with that rhino, she was really an elderly female rhino; we did not want not anything underfoot to trip her up, freak her out. So we put in the floor in Photoshop. With grazing animals, many times we’ll put the floor in in Photoshop, but we start them off our usual way. They’re lit correctly, and they’re in front of backdrops. Most of them are standing actually on a backdrop. But with black, most of the time we’ll put the floor in afterwards.” 

Koalas ©2017 Joel Sartore

Koalas ©2017 Joel Sartore

ANIMALS THAT HAVE BECOME EXTINCT SINCE THE PROJECT BEGAN

“There's an animal called a Rabbs' tree frog that was the very last one. It was at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens, and it has passed away. So they're extinct now. Another one called the Columbian basin pigmy rabbit that lives in eastern Washington State; it's more-or-less gone now. And frogs, insects.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/rabbs-tree-frog-extinct/

http://www.columbiabasinherald.com/article/20170726/ARTICLE/170729933

“When I was a kid growing up, my mother bought a picture book on birds, one the Time Life series. In the back was a section on extinction. It showed the passenger pigeon, and some other birds that had gone extinct. I was always amazed by that. I didn’t think I would live long enough to see another animal go extinct.  Well, in the 11 years I’ve been doing the Photo Ark project, I’ve probably seen ten go extinct. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

“If people don't stop and think about how we’re deforesting the planet and straining the oceans, it’s worrying to see what might happen. We really do need a sea change in how the public views its relationship with nature and habitats. We truly do. And that’s kind of the point of the project. At its worst, the Photo Ark is just a big archive of what we threw away. At its best, I like to think it can motivate people to care and take action, while there’s still time.

“It's really late in the game for many of those animals.”

Malayan tiger ©2017 Joel Sartore

Malayan tiger ©2017 Joel Sartore

ON WORKING WITH AND ON ZOO GROUNDS

“Most of the time, 99.9 percent of the time, I'm working at captive institutions, because as likeable as I am, it’s really hard to convince a wild tiger to come up and lie on your black backdrop in India. So we work primarily at zoos, aquariums, private breeders and wildlife rehab centres. And to be perfectly honest with you, those are the keepers of the kingdom. A lot of these animals don’t exist in the wild anymore. They’re only found in zoos or at private breeders. The wild is gone. The habitat has been cut. So they really are the ark, the true ark, a lot of these institutions.

Mandrill ©2017 Joel Sartore

Mandrill ©2017 Joel Sartore

“I do try to work at places that have abundant attention and care. The few times where I have shot the wild, it was a little tricky. There are a couple of species of lemur that aren't really found in captivity anywhere. They can’t be kept in captivity because of their diet. One is the world’s largest lemur, called an indri. (Chun-Wei) thought it would be great to go and get one in the wild, and I was, like, ‘They live up in the trees and they move like rocket ships.’ But he found one that was trained to come down for tourists and eat out of one guide’s hands. We had this black backdrop and we lit it. It’s shocking that we were able to get that, but we did. But, make no mistake, it’s difficult to do in the wild. We can do small animals in the wild, but mainly we work in captive institutions.

“And that does put a cap on the project, on what we can do. The world’s zoos, aquariums, that kind of thing, they have between 12- and 14,000 species. And in the wild, in nature, there are millions. I could probably do another 10, 15 years on this, and get to most of what the world had captive. But to do that in the wild, it’s virtually impossible.”

Brown-throated sloth. ©2017 Joel Sartore

Brown-throated sloth. ©2017 Joel Sartore

ON SHARING IMAGES WITH OTHER INSTITUTIONS

”I did want to make one more comment about that; I want to follow up. We share the pictures with every zoo or aquarium. We share these pictures for free, and then we promote the place where they were taken on social media. Geographic’s Instagram account has more than 65 million followers now. So that is really a powerful way to get the message out about these animals. It’s a also a good deal for most of these places, and they realize that. They've seen the pictures. They know about the projects. Access is a lot easier now. When I started, the first couple of years I remember I was allowed to photograph snakes and turtles, and that was about it, because what can you do to a snake or turtle, right? So that was it.

Pangolin ©2017 Joel Sartore

Pangolin ©2017 Joel Sartore

“But now we have a lot of access, to different animals. And we make sure the world sees these animals. The shoot with a zoo or an aquarium is usually the start of our relationship, because we'll be posting these pictures for years to come and let the public know about these creatures.

“I mean, you realize it would be absolutely catastrophic if we lose biodiversity. It is catastrophic. It’s hard to picture in L.A. You’re in your car. The radio’s turned up. You go to a nice place to eat. You hang out there. You go back, file a story.  But it will be absolutely catastrophic if we collapse the ecosystems on the planet. We have to have rainforests to provide us with oxygen and regulate precipitation. We have to have bees to pollinate fruits and vegetables that we eat. It's not something anybody’s talking about right now, and I’m hoping that people will wake up eventually and start to do so.”

South Georgia king penguins. ©2017 Joel Sartore

South Georgia king penguins. ©2017 Joel Sartore

ON PHOTOGRAPHY AND THE ISSUE OF FILM v. DIGITAL

“Digital is a racehorse compared to film, a racehorse. It’s so much more flexible when it comes to press standards, reproduction standards. And it’s made the shoots go a lot quicker. We can photograph animals very, very quickly. That’s key to reducing stress. We can see what we’re getting on the back of the camera, and stop right then. With film, you were always guessing.  I did not start the Photo Ark on anything but digital.”

Panther chameleon. ©2017 Joel Sartore

Panther chameleon. ©2017 Joel Sartore

ON 4K AND THE PRESSURE TO KEEP UP WITH ADVANCING CAMERA TECHNOLOGY

“It’s tough, it really is. I do some video in 4K, but most of what I do is stills that are 41-meg files now,  with the latest Nikon gear. But still, it’s only archival for as long as you maintain the equipment that can read those files. So there is this constant dilemma going forward in time.

“We're talking about animals that won't be here in 50 years, 100 years. How will we make sure people are able to see it? We make sure that we print out the best ones to archival film or paper. We do books, exhibitions.

“It’s a big question. Nobody really knows how we're going to archive things 100 years from now that need to be archived. We really don’t know, so it’s a dilemma. Going back and looking at the first photographs, the technology has changed so much that some of them already look crude. But we do what we can. These animals are here now, gone tomorrow. We document them as best we can now and just hope. Hope for the best.”

Snow leopard. ©2017 Joel Sartore

Snow leopard. ©2017 Joel Sartore

HOW TO IMPROVE ONE’S OWN PHOTOGRAPHY, WHETHER YOU;RE A HOBBYIST OR PRO

”Use your brain. I’m not being facetious. You can shoot great pictures with a smartphone. In fact, Geographic has ’The Great Courses’ course now that has Geographic photographers teaching just that. It is not the gear. It is how you see. It is whether or not you think about how a subject would look from above, from ground level, in nice light, something interesting. Those are the keys. Nice light, something interesting, perspective — and a clean background that doesn’t fight you. You're trying to tell a story. Everybody’s trying to tell a story. It’s that simple, but it's not that easy, because life’s pretty chaotic. Great stuff doesn’t always happen in nice light. It’s certainly true when we were filming this show — if an animal is out in the brush, it’s very hard to see. That’s why the Photo Ark pictures are effective — it’s because we can actually see the animal. A lot of these animals live under the leaf litter or in muddy water. So having a clean, nice background, a great moment in time and a nice light, those are keys. But don’t worry about the gear.  Do not worry about the gear.”

West Usumbara two-horned chameleon. ©2017 Joel Sartore

West Usumbara two-horned chameleon. ©2017 Joel Sartore

THE LAST WORD — AND REASON FOR HOPE

“We try to leave people with a sense of hope, because there is hope. Most of what I've photographed so far — and we're halfway done with the Photo Ark now —  we're trying to get every captive species in the world. We’re at more than 6,000 now. Most of these animals can be saved, but it takes people knowing that they exist. We're not going to save anything we've never met.

“Most of them can be saved, but we've got to save big tracts of intact habitat. We cannot log every tropical rainforest and expect that things are going to be okay. It’s going to screw up global precipitation patterns like crazy, and millions of people will starve when the rains don’t come to the areas where they need rain to grow crops. It’s much bigger than just saving a rhino or a frog. It really is.

“But, sure, absolutely, there’s hope, or I wouldn't be doing it.”

National Geographic  Photo Ark covers. ©2017 Joel Sartore

National Geographic  Photo Ark covers. ©2017 Joel Sartore



Making Lucy, in her own image.

“Came for the comments war,” one commentator posted. “Wasn’t disappointed!”

“These (so-called) paleo-artists are nothing more than science-fiction artists,” another noted. “The most important skill they have is imagination, which has nothing to do with reality. As (the artist) says, ‘This is what they may have looked like.’ They keep trying to make monkeys out of us.”

“That’s why they call it ‘art,’” another countered. “It’s an interpretation. No one is trying to tell you what to believe. Too bad the same can’t be said about you!”

Whoa, there.

“Go to any museum,” the skeptic replied, “and see if they state that what you are looking at may be a bald-faced lie. I believe in science, but this whole field isbunk.”

Even if it is bunk, though — and there are plenty of experts who insist it isn’t — it’s compelling stuff.

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

What’s the point of being human if we’re not allowed to dream? Besides, recreating three-dimensional faces and even entire bodies from skeletal remains is a time-honoured, time-tested technique of forensic science, used in everything from cold-case murderinvestigations to ongoing missing-persons cases.

And there’s no question that leaders in the field —  University of Kansas paleoartist John Gurche among them — are both respected in the scientific community and routinely have their work displayed at scientific institutions like the Field Museum in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

Gurche is no dilettante. He frequently creates illustrations for National Geographic, created a set of four dinosaur-themed stamps for the US Post Service in the late 1980s and was one of the lead consultants on the original Steven Spielberg film Jurassic Park. More notably, perhaps, he published the 2013 book Shaping Humanity: How Science, Art and Imagination Help Us Understand Our Origins, in which he detailed his work on no fewer than 15 paleoanthropology displays he designed for the National Museum of Natural History’s Hall of Human Origins.

Gurche is currently Artist in Residence at Ithaca, NY’s Museum of the Earth.

He was most recently in the news for a Discovery Magazine article ‘Making Lucy: A Paleoartist Reconstructs Long-Lost Human Ancestors,’ which he both wrote and illustrated. 

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

“I have an interesting job,” he deadpanned, then went on to explain how he created a lifelike, life-sized three-dimensional recreation of the most famous human ancestor ever unearthed.

“When I first learned of Lucy’s discovery, I wanted to make her (in her own image),” Gurche explained. “It is a wonderful endeavour to seek answers to questions about how she lived. Seeing her as she may have appeared in life can make a connection for us that nothing else can.”

‘Lucy’ is the name given to a 3.2-million-year-old partial skeleton found by Cleveland Museum of Natural History paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson on Nov. 24, 1974, near the village of Hadar, in Ethiopia’s Awash Valley. Lucy was believed to be the earliest known representative of Australopithecus afarensis.

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

Despite those who would dismiss Gurche and others’ work as so much junk science, paleoartists’ supporters in the scientific community note that paleoart is not the fantasy of an artist’s imagination but rather the result of cooperative discussions among scientists and artists alike. When trying to recreate an extinct animal — or person — the artist must employ both scientific knowledge and the mind’s eye.

Through exhibits at institutions like the Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian’s Hall of Human Origins, paleoart shapes how the public perceives long extinct animals and early humans.

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

©John Gurche/Yale University Press

The Society of Vertebrate Paleontology has awarded the John J. Lanzendorf Prize in Paleoart since 1999. Gurche won the award in its second year, in 2000.

The society describes paleoart as “one of the most important vehicles for communicating discoveries and data among paleontologists, and is critical to promulgating vertebrate paleontology across disciplines and to lay audiences.”

That’s a dry way of saying paleoart is not only cool to look at; it also serves a useful scientific purpose.

©Pedro Saura/Science/NPR

©Pedro Saura/Science/NPR

In Gurche’s paper, he outlined how, in 1996, the Denver Museum of Nature and Science commissioned him to produce “a life-sized, three-dimensional reconstruction” of Lucy, as lifelike as methods at the time would allow.

Gurche explained how first he had to settle on a pose.

“Was there a way to represent both climbing and upright walking in the same pose?” he wrote. “It would be tricky, but perhaps I could depict a moment of transition, where it’s obvious that Lucy is climbing down from a tree, and equally obvious that she’s dropping into an upright position, as opposed to dropping to all fours.”

©National Museum of Natural HIstory, Hall of Human Origins

©National Museum of Natural HIstory, Hall of Human Origins

Gurche went on to explain how he constructed a 3-D version of Lucy’s feet — “one foot in front of the other” —  then based his reconstruction of Lucy’s face on a composite female skull, with more dainty features than a male.

“Lucy’s skeleton displays many clues about the position and development of her musculature,” Gurche noted. “These can be ‘read’ using the anatomy of modern apes and humans as guides.”

There’s room for creative licence, in other words.“Bunk,” thnough, is a harsh word, especially when one realizes the lengths to which Gurche went to ensure at least a modicum of scientific accuracy.

©Smithsonian Institution/Altamira cave paintings

©Smithsonian Institution/Altamira cave paintings

“The amount of body hair in australopiths is unknown,” Gurche explained. “We assume that the common ancestor of chimps and humans, like all the non-human apes, had a full coat. We can guess that this coat was lost by the time of Homo erectus, as (the) skeleton’s proportions show that it was adapting to heat stress, much as modern humans do. Part of our adaptation involves an enhanced sweat gland cooling system, which would not function well with a full coat of body hair.”

Got that? Good.

“About a million individual hairs were punched into Lucy’s silicone skin over a period of three months in each of her incarnations,” Gurche added, “for the Denver museum and later for the Smithsonian *as well).”

That’s a lot of work to go through if the end result is, as paleoart’s detractors insist, little more than junk science.

And the effect is truly remarkable. It’s difficult — impossible, even — to look at Gurche’s work and not feel at least a pang of human curiosity and recognition.

The Smithsonian, National Geographic and the Natural History Museum can’t all be wrong.

 

http://discovermagazine.com/galleries/2013/dec/paleoartist-reconstructs-human-ancestors



 

 

 

 

 

 

Most detailed look yet at how early humans left Africa.

“The more we understand about this particular event in human history, the more it provides a complete picture of our past,” University of Washington evolutionary biologist Joshua Akey told New Scientist recently.

“This particular event in human history” is the early migration of humankind from the so-called Dark Continent to Mesopotamia, the Middle East and beyond, into Europe and, eventually, North America and the equatorial Pacific.

As much as is known about these early migrations — and we know a lot — much remains a mystery. This has been an active and unpredictable period for new discoveries about early humankind, from fossil evidence in regions as far-flung as the Rif mountains of Morocco to the Australian Outback. Incredibly, new cave art is still being discovered in areas of Europe that have been settled for millennia. Carbon dating continues to prove the old adage that the more we learn, the more we learn that we don’t know.

@Harvard University.

@Harvard University.

Modern humans emerged out of Africa — that much is reasonably certain — but exactly when, and how, remains the subject of fierce debate.

Two theories have jumped to the fore, emphasis on the word “theory.” One posits that our earliest ancestors left Africa in a single wave, around 40,000 to 60,000 years ago. Many of these groups died out, though, even as a handful passed their DNA to their descendants as they settled the break basket of the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys.

A new theory, which has gained traction of late, is that early humans migrated in several waves, not just one, and that the waves originated thousands of years earlier than was previously believed.

The answer, many scientists now believe, lies buried in our human genome. The authors of no fewer than three recent studies have analyzed the genomes of roughly 800 individuals from 250 populations scattered throughout the globe. In one study, Harvard geneticist David Reich argues that the clear genetic similarities between remote communities far removed from one another suggests that modern humans did indeed emerge in a single wave from Africa, even though DNA evidence shows that our earliest African ancestors were already dividing into separate groups more than 200,000 years ago — a full 120,000 years before that early migration, if the genetic findings are to be believed.

@David Reich/Harvard University.

@David Reich/Harvard University.

Early human development shows that rapid advances in technology, culture, art, language, religious rites and the use of tools occurred during a relatively short span of time, between 50,000 and 80,000 years ago — in other words, around the same time as those early migrations out of Africa.

In an early sign of how climate change affected human migrations, scientists now believe that fluctuating temperatures and an increasingly unpredictable life cycle of plant growth hastened the urge to move, even as the natural barrier ofmountains and deserts kept groups of people separate, leading to genetic differences in human populations around the world.

@Luca Pagani/University of Cambridge

@Luca Pagani/University of Cambridge

Separate genetics studies from Harvard, the University of Washington and the Estonian Biocentre in Tartu, Estonia suggest that while most modern non-Africans are indeed descended from a single, out-of-Africa exodus roughly 80,000 years ago, genome studies in Papua, New Guinea suggest there may have been an earlier exodus, according to Cambridge-educated molecular biologist Luca Pagani, senior researcher with the Estonian Biocentre in Tartu, Estonia.

Another recent study, this one supervised by evolutionary geneticist Eske Willerslev at Denmark’s University of Copenhagen, has found that indigenous groups in Australia are strikingly distinct, genetically speaking, from other groups in Australia, despite sharing the common gene that suggests they were all descended from a single, founding wave of early human migrations from Africa.

©Eske Willerslev/University of Copenhagen

©Eske Willerslev/University of Copenhagen

Why do we care? Why do we continue to care?

“People are just inherently interested in their past,” Akey told New Scientist, whether they’re from Seattle or South Yunderup township in Western Australia.

Answers inevitably lead to new questions, even as missing pieces in the puzzle are found. The mystery of early humankind — who we are, where we came from — continues to be one of the most fascinating riddles facing humankind today.



@BBC

@BBC

When seeing is not always believing.

Fake news is all the rage today, even though what’s fake to some isn’t fake to all.

Fake photos, though, also have their place in the conversation, even if they’re not mentioned nearly as often.

A recent study by the psychology department at the UK’s University of Warwick made the news headlines this past week after published results showed four in 10 of 707 test subjects couldn’t spot a doctored photo even when told ahead of time than an image had been faked.

The bottom line: Many people aren’t very good at telling real images from fake ones.

More interestingly, in an age when nearly everyone thinks they know everything about, well, everything, people think they’re much better at spotting doctored images than they really are.  

If there’s a silver lining to the study results, it’s that the six in 10 who guessed right is slightly higher than the five in 10 that would be expected to guess right if the results were decided entirely by chance. Heads or tails.

Test subjects were shown a number of real and fake images, and told to choose. Researchers created a photo bank of 30 fake photos and 10 real ones, all sourced from Google Images.

The flaws ranged from changing the direction of a shadow to distorting the angle of buildings. In a handful of cases, the researchers applied more subtle flaws, such as airbrushing a person’s appearance.

Tellingly, when subjects were asked to pinpoint what they thought was wrong with an image they thought to be fake, they spotted the actual flaw just 45% of the time.

The study was originally published in the July issue of the trade journal Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications. It was quickly picked up by media, ranging from online sites like Live Science to traditional media outlets like the Daily Mail and Washington Post.

Sophie Nightingale, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Warwick University and the study’s lead author, suggested the results show that, if nothing else, people aren’t perfect.

While that’s hardly news, it is troubling when it comes to telling fake from real — right from wrong, in other words.

“This has serious implications [for society] because of the high level of images, including possibly fake images, that people are exposed to on a daily basis through social networking sites, the internet and the media.”

Study co-author Derrick Watson, noted that even when people know something is wrong with a photo, they can’t reliably identify exactly what.

“Images have a powerful influence on our memories,” Watson told reporters. “So if people can’t differentiate between real and fake details in photos, manipulations could frequently alter what we believe and remember.”

In other words, anyone seeing the faked black-and-white photo of Lee Harvey Oswald holding a rifle in the Oliver Stone movie JFK might well believe Oswald was framed for theKennedy assassination. Perhaps it was Ted Cruz’s father who did the deed, after all.

faked lee harvey oswald.jpg


The challenge now, according to Nightingale, is to help people improve their ability to spot fake images and hopefully tell the difference between false and real.

The implications for society are more serious than simply being able to tell whether a Sasquatch is real or fake.

According to study co-author Kimberley Wade, a doctor of psychology at Warwick, there are worrying legal ramifications for court cases.

“People’s poor ability to identify manipulated photos raises problems in the context of legal proceedings where photos may be used as evidence,” she told the Daily Mail. “Jurors and members of the court assume these images to be real, though a manipulated image could go undetected with devastating consequences.

“We need to work to find better ways to protect people from the negative effects of photo manipulation. We’re now exploring a number of ways that might help people to better detect fakes.”

Fake news is an even more serious matter: A 2016 study in thew U.S. suggested that nearly 80% of college-age students can’t tell the difference between an actual news story and “sponsored content.”

The content in this blog item is not sponsored, nor has it been altered in any way. The names and identifying details have not been changed to protect the privacy of individuals named.

Now you know.


 

 

Monkey see, monkey sue.

Monkey sues man! How is this a thing?

Of all the court cases in all the world, this is perhaps the oddest, the weirdest, the most bizarre.

An Indonesian macaque monkey is suing a British freelance photographer over the copyright of a “selfie” picture the monkey snapped, using a camera placed by Monmouthshire, UK photographer David Slater. The image, naturally, went viral.

©AP

©AP

Slater, who like most freelance photographers, struggles to make ends meet, was counting on royalties from the image to pay for at least part of his trip to Indonesia.

Animal-rights activists, fed up with what they see as the constant and relentless exploitation of animals in their natural habitat, filed suit in a California state court, insisting that all financial and monetary gains from the image should go to the ‘person’ who clicked the shutter and thereby took the picture — i.e. the monkey — and not the freelancer, who they say merely provided the means by which the photo was taken.

A lower court ruled that copyright protection cannot be applied to a monkey. The animal-rights group PETA disagreed, and filed an appeal with the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco, Calif.

And there the case stands.

Testimony in the case was read in court this past week, and details were duly reported by mainstream media outlets, including — but not limited to — the Daily Telegraph, BBC World, de Volkskrant, ABC News, USA Today, Sky News Australia, the Guardian and, well, Maxim magazine. 

Slater estimates he has already lost out on tens of thousands of dollars in rights fees for an image that has gone viral, both on the internet, where hardly anyone pays for anything, and in respected, high-profile periodicals that, in theory anyway, pay copyright holders for the use of widely sought-after images.

The whole thing sounds silly — and, in a way, it is — but there’s method behind PETA’s legal madness. 

If the appeal court finds for the monkey, a legal precedent will be set. There may be a time in the not-too-distant future when wildlife conservancies, nature reserves and national parks will be legally entitled to a percentage of the proceeds from wildlife images taken within their boundaries, in the same way most zoos now control what for-profit photos may or may not be taken on their premises.

It’s easy to make light of the case — the image itself is on the wacky side, and so difficult to take seriously — and mainstream media outlets have hada good time watching claimants in the case go, well, bananas.

©Chris Slater/Caters News Agency

©Chris Slater/Caters News Agency

Slater himself, however, feels hurt. As a freelance photographer, he struggles to make ends meet at the best of times. And he has a point when he says — as he did this past week to the BBC — that PETA must have better things on which to spend the money it receives from well-meaning donors than taking on a penniless photographer with a family to support.

Slater is so strapped for cash he couldn’t fly to California to testify in person this past week. (One might reasonably ask how a California court has jurisdiction over a case involving a UK photographer over a photo that was taken in Indonesia, by a resident, if you will, of Indonesia, but that’s a whole other matter.)

©David Slater/Caters News Agency

©David Slater/Caters News Agency

Slater argued in absentia that there was more to taking the image than simply handing a troupe of monkeys a camera and seeing what might come of it.  He insisted that it took time and perseverance over a period of several days to get the selfie in question, along with other photos. If nothing else, it took days, weeks even, to earn the monkeys’ trust. The time he put in was, by itself, enough to earn him the claim of copyright ownership, he argues.

Weirdly — everything about this, um, tale is weird —  PETA needed a name for the purposes of their lawsuit, so they named the macaque ‘Naruto,’ for the purposes of court documents. (The case is officially filed as ‘Naruto v David Slater.’) Naruto is a female name, however; Slater insists the monkey in the selfie is a male. In other words, he says, he isn’t even being sued by the right monkey.

Slater sees himself as a conservationist first, andwildlife photographer second. Interest in the image has already helped highlight the plight of Indonesia’s dwindling rainforests — and the animals that live within — around the world.

©David Slater/Caters News Agency

©David Slater/Caters News Agency

He’s upset because he will be in serious financial trouble if he loses the case, and yet PETA insists any proceeds it will get from the case will go towards protecting monkeys and their natural habitat. BBC News reported that PETA would not say how much money it has spent on the case so far, but did say the group is acting on the macaque’s behalf.

PETA is arguing that, given the circumstances under which the picture was taken, the monkey is the sole copyright holder, “and PETA is proud to be his voice in court.”

PETA’s legal argument rests on the fact that, in the organization’s eyes, it was the monkey, not Slater, who “made the cause-and-effect connection between pressing the shutter and the change to his reflection in the camera lens, resulting in (the) now-famous selfie photographs.”

‘Now-famous’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.

The case won’t be settled any time soon, by the way. 

The appeal court’s decision isn’t expected for months.

And, yes, this is really happening.

 

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/12/monkey-selfie-macaque-copyright-court-david-slater


New photos: more evidence that Amur tigers still burn bright in the forests of the night.

I saw the pictures just 17 minutes after they were posted on BBC Earth’s official website, under the heading “Rare Siberian tiger ‘selfie’ pictures are released.” A camera trap recorded the images of big cats at play in Russia’s remote Far East, in Russia’s somewhat prosaically named Land of the Leopard National Park.

The park, 262,000 hectares (650,000 acres) of untrammelled wilderness in one of the most remote corners of the world’s largest country, was established in 2012, thanks to the merger of Russia’s Kedrovaya Pad Reserve, Barsovy Federal Wildlife Refuge and Borisovkoya Plateau Regional Wildlife Refuge. The newly created park was named for the Amur leopard, officially labelled the “world’s rarest cat” by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

The Amur tiger, also known as the Siberian tiger, is doing little better, though recent surveys suggest their numbers have increased slightly in recent years, thanks in no small part to Russia’s renewed focus on big-cat conservation and habitat preservation in the remote Primorsky Krai region of Russia, which borders China in the southeast.

Population surveys are one thing. Actual photographic evidence is quite another. Seeing is believing, after all.

No more than two dozen tigers are said to be roaming in the park, but two dozen is better than none, especially when the species itself is facing extinction.

The new images are particularly striking because they show a young family at play — a sight rarely seen by human eyes, let alone photographed. The Amur tiger may be nature’s largest big cat by size, but they’re reclusive and rarely seen.

The advent of camera traps, which can be set up well in advance and eliminate the need for any human-animal interaction, have had a profound influence on both wildlife photography and conservation studies in recent years.

Russian scientists are taking a strictly objective approach in their tiger studies. There’s no room for sentiment here, no Bambi-style anthropomorphization with cuddly, human-sounding names.

The mother tiger featured in the photos is known as T7F. She was first photographed in 2014. She had three cubs at the time two of which have grown and are now believed to be across the border in China.

 

China has also taken a more protective attitude toward its remaining wild tiger population, which had been heavily poached for its fur and so-called medicinal properties.

If nothing else, the pictures prove one thing: Where there’s life, there’s still light at the end of the tunnel.

 

http://blogs.wwf.org.uk/blog/wildlife/tigers/tigers-and-camera-traps/

https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/amur-tiger


 

 

Rewilding: replacing the silent spring with a raucous summer.

There are some wonderful things to be said for rewilding, cautionary Michael Crichton blockbusters and Nimby protests aside.

Nature’s ability to recover from ruin and destruction constantly takes the experts by surprise — and yet, seeming no-brainers like bringing back hummingbirds and green fields where now there are weed whackers and parking lots face a constant struggle for public opinion.

Even the word itself, “rewilding,” is discouraged by some government agencies, for fear of the controversy it might cause. Dense thickets of sallow, eight metre-wide blackthorn hedges and grassy meadows might not seem like an existential threat to anyone with even a remote connection to nature, but the R-word has a way of galvanizing opposition, from sheep herders in the UK angry about wilderness replacing food production to scientists who warn that wild boar illegally reintroduced to Scotland carry the CC398 strain of MRSA superbug that is resistant to antibiotics.

Wolves reintroduced to Yellowstone are a source of constant controversy with ranchers in the park’s border areas, and even a plan to reintroduce the rare wild lynx to parts of the northeastern UK are being met by the kind of opposition usually reserved for registered sex offenders moving into the neighbourhood.

As more wild animals adapt to living in urban environs — from raccoons in Toronto to leopards in Mumbai — it’s as if the very notion of allowing nature to reclaim areas that were once wild is both unneeded and unwanted.

And yet, as surveys have shown, rewilding has unexpected side benefits — everything from alleviating the threat of flooding in urban flood pans and alongside riverbanks to the simple calming effect nature has in an otherwise frantic, frenzied urban environment.

Rewilding as a way to combat flooding isn’t pie-in-the-sky, airy-fairy thinking, either. Just this past weekend, the Sunday Observer’s Patrick Barkham reported that a plan to restore 30,000 hectares of upland bogs in Yorkshire is designed in large part to pre-empt flooding, as bogs act as giant sponges for floodwater.

Rewilding alleviates soil erosion, too. Noted biologist John Lawton, author of Making Space for Nature, has argued the case for “more, bigger, better and joined” wild areas.

In a 2013 manifesto for rewilding the world, Oxford environmentalist George Monbiot argued that a mass restoration of ecosystems, “offers us hope where there was little hope before.”

For some, returning the Americas to a time when four-tusked mammoths and two-ton bison walked alongside beavers the size of black bears — two-and-a-half metres from nose to tail — sounds worryingly like something out of Jurassic Park, but the reality is more prosaic. About the worst thing that can be said about replacing a parking lot with a grassy meadow is that there’s less money to be madefrom a patch of green than there is yet another place to park cars in an already traffic-congested city.

Inevitable controversies aside — your wolves just murdered my sheep! — Monbiot argues that rewilding puts a positive face on conservation, as opposed to the usual cries of alarm — Henny-penny, the sky is falling! — that, after a while, begin to lose their effect.

“Environmentalists have long known what they are against,” Monbiot wrote in 2103. “Now we can explain what we are for. It introduces hope where hope seemed absent. It offers us a chance to replace our silent spring with a raucous summer.”

More bird song, in other words. Bring on the raucous summer. And never mind the Nimbys.


Tiger, tiger, still burning bright in the forests of the night.

Good news is increasingly rare these days — as rare, one might say, as the Amur tiger.

The Amur tiger — commonly known by its more familiar though less geographically specific label, the Siberian tiger — is of particular interest right now because recent surveys suggest the fabled cat’s numbers are actually rising.

Make no mistake: the Siberian tiger is still critically endangered. Just 500 to 1,000 remain.

Understand, though, that those numbers, while low,  have climbed from an estimated 20 to 30 cats just a few decades ago. (Estimates range as high as 1,000, but I always prefer to guess low. Environmental studies teach us that, where numbers are concerned, especially apex predators like tigers, it’s always a good idea to focus on the low end of the guessing scale.)

Buffalo Zoo ©Wikimedia Commons

Buffalo Zoo ©Wikimedia Commons

A World Wildlife Fund appeal designed to highlight the threat of habitat destruction and climate change, as opposed to illegal hunting and poaching, appears to be having a more pronounced effect, at least in eastern Russia where tiger numbers are believed to have increased in recent years.

Pittsburgh Zoo ©Wikimedia Commons

Pittsburgh Zoo ©Wikimedia Commons

It’s easy to blame illegal hunting, especially as it comes with a seemingly obvious and relatively simple solution: Catch poachers in the act, prosecute them to the full extent of the law, and jail them for as long as it takes to send a stern message.

Habitat destruction and climate change are harder to fight. They’re more costly than a simple policing operation, and take more time. The hard truth is that without large enough habitats to hunt in and procreate, apex predators cannot survive in any appreciable number, regardless of whether they’re being hunted illegally or not.

The World Wildlife Fund, in conjunction with efforts like the National Geographic Society’s “Big Cats Initiative,” has unveiled a campaign to increase the world’s wild tiger population to 6,000 over the next five years. Not entirely by coincidence, the year 2022 is the next official Chinese year of the tiger.

The world has lost 97 per cent of its tigers in little more than a century, according to World Wildlife Fund estimates. The tide has turned, however, albeit slightly. Last year, the World Wildlife Fund reported that the global tiger population — all tiger species — is just shy of 4,000, an increase of 700 since 2010, when the WWF estimated just 3,200 tigers remained.

The population gain has been attributed to more aggressive anti-poaching patrols and a concerted effort to preserve what remains of wild tiger habitats in countries like Russia, China, India and Nepal.

“The increase in tiger numbers is encouraging,” World Wildlife Fund tiger specialist Rebecca May told the UK Guardian newspaper this past weekend, “but the species’ future in its natural environment still hangs in the balance and numbers remain perilously low.”

©Andrew Lichtenstein,  Corbis via Getty Images for The Guardian (UK)

©Andrew Lichtenstein,  Corbis via Getty Images for The Guardian (UK)

May hopes the WWF campaign and similar programs like National Geographic’s Big Cat Initiativewill push recent progress even further. That means not only engaging animal lovers the world over to help fund and finance conservation efforts but, just as importantly — even more importantly, perhaps — encourage the commitment of and urgent action from tiger-range countries, at all levels of government.

For all the negative news reporting surrounding Russia, for example, Russian President Vladimir Putin is an ardent supporter of tiger conservation,  and the poaching of Siberian tigers is considered a serious crime — and dealt with accordingly.

amur @RIA Novisti/Reuters

amur @RIA Novisti/Reuters

China’s forestry authority, meanwhile, has claimed that the country’s population of Amur tigers has virtually doubled in the past 15 years, thanks largely to the country’s recently implemented National Forest Protection Program.

The numbers are still tiny by wildlife estimates — today’s population is 27 tigers, up from 14 in 1999, but officials in Northeast China, where the Amur tiger is endemic, insist the curve is headed in the right direction. Recent figures were providedby the Feline Research Centre of China’s State Forestry Administration (CSFA-FRC) and published in the Global Times, an English-language Chinese newspaper affiliated with China’s People’s Daily.

Small-scale fund-raising on a large scale may be the key to future success. The World Wildlife Fund initiative is asking members of the general public to become so-called “tiger protectors,” by agreeing to donate £5 UK pounds a month — or roughly $7 USD — to its conservation programs.

The money is destined for the black hole of “administration costs,” either; the Fund says much of the money will be used to expand existing tiger reserves, so existing wild tiger populations can mix and breed in greater numbers.

Bastak Nature Reserve, Russia ©Wikimedia Commons

Bastak Nature Reserve, Russia ©Wikimedia Commons

The tigers’ range across Asia has shrunk by 95% over the past 150 years — roughly the same amount of time during which the world has lost 97% of its wild tigers. The similarity between the two percentages is no coincidence.

In the meantime, captive breeding programs in zoos around the world continue to try and find the answer.  Later this summer, Moscow Zoo will send a three-year-old male Amur tiger to the Denver Zoo, where zoo officials hope it will breed with one of the Denver zoo’s three existing Siberian tigers. It’s becoming increasingly evident, though, that captive breeding programs alone will not suffice where saving the species is concerned.

Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano ©Wikimedia Commons

Museo Civico di Storia Naturale di Milano ©Wikimedia Commons

The Amur tiger is officially listed as “endangered” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but tiger experts say the word ‘endangered’ isn’t strong enough. Even by tigers’ standards, the Amur tiger is special. It is by far the world’s largest surviving big cat; males can grow to be as large as 450 pounds, or 180 kilograms.

A long and potentially treacherous road lies ahead for the world’s remaining Amur tigers, with many hidden forks and potentially treacherous turns.

Still, in a world with so much bad news, it’s heartening — encouraging, even — to be able to grab onto a flicker of light on occasion.