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Poachers Are Gunning Down Giraffes Just To Cut Off Their Tails

In Africa’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, poachers are slaughtering an extremely rare subspecies of Kordofan giraffe not for their meat or hide, but for a tiny section of their tails, National Geographic reports.

Killing a majestic creature that can grow to 18 feet tall and weigh some 3,000 pounds for a single body part is depressing, and the main reason it’s happening is for cultural pre-wedding practices.

Congolese men “use that tail as a dowry to the bride’s father if they want to ask for the hand of a bride,” Leon Lamprecht, joint operations director for African Parks, told NatGeo documentary filmmaker David Hamlin

Additionally, the long black hairs at the end of the tail are desired for good-luck bracelets, fly whisks and thread, according to the American Wildlife Foundation. 

As he explains in the NatGeo video below, Hamlin was flying over Garamba National Park in June when he spotted three of the park’s critically endangered giraffes in a clearing. At the time, Garamba was home to just 40 Kordofan giraffes ― the only remaining population in the Congo. 

Shortly after Hamlin’s sighting, a park ranger reportedly heard a series of gunshots. The following morning, rangers found three dead, bullet-riddled giraffes, missing nothing but the ends of their tails. 

“It was awful,” Hamlin said of the experience. “Because of their size and exquisite form, they take a particularly grotesque appearance when they are lying down, contorted on the ground.” 

As the national park notes on its website, Garamba is “on the front lines of the poaching crisis,” with populations of elephants and giraffes plummeting as a result. The northern white rhino, which once roamed the park, is already believed to be extinct in the wild. The last few survivors of the subspecies are being kept in captivity at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya.

In the video below, Hamlin shows the aftermath of the recent poaching and how conservationists and law enforcement officials are fighting to protect Garamba’s endangered species. 

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Hundreds Of Wild Ponies Make A Splash During Annual Swim Fundraiser

 
 

Hundreds of wild ponies splashed into a saltwater channel along Virginia’s coast Wednesday morning while participating in the 91st annual Chincoteague Pony Swim.

 
 

A team of volunteers known as the “Saltwater Cowboys” rounded up ponies of every shape and size from their home on Assateague Island and herded them across the Assateague Channel to Chincoteague Island.

 
 

Once on dry land, the animals will be paraded to the local carnival grounds, and the foals will be auctioned off on Thursday to benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which owns and maintains the herd.

 
 

The annual event dates back to 1925 and takes place during “slack tide,” when there is no current. Veterinarians monitor the ponies as an added precaution, CBS affiliate WBOC-TV reports.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Last year, 61 ponies were sold for a record average price of $2,780, bringing in a total of $169,519 for the fire company. The auction also set a record for the highest bid on an individual horse at $25,000, according to the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce’s website.

 
 

In addition to purchasing a pony, auction participants have the option of buying a pony’s permanent freedom. In 2015, there were 12 of these so-called “buybacks.” The buyers receive certificates from the fire company and are allowed to name the pony before it returns to Assateague Island to live out its life.

 
 
 
 

“All proceeds from one of the buybacks this year will benefit Special Olympics of Virginia Eastern Shore Area 19,” Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company Spokesperson Roe Terry told CBS affiliate WTKR.

 
 

“Buyback ponies have actually become some of the highest priced foals sold at the auction,” the chamber’s website boasts.

 
 

On Friday, unsold ponies will return to the island the way they came, where they’ll live for another year until the next auction.

 
 
 
 

Before Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1943, the firefighters purchased the horses living on the Virginia side of Assateague Island ― which also lies partly in Maryland ― and obtained a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to graze up to 150 ponies there, according to the refuge’s website.

 
 

Each spring, an average of 70 new foals are born on the Virginia side of the island, according to the chamber’s website. The annual auction therefore serves a double purpose: to raise money for the firefighters and to thin the herd.

 
 
 
 

Approximately 75 percent of the island’s mature mares have foals each year. Because mares and can become pregnant once their foals stop nursing and have an 11-month gestation cycle, many of them are pregnant almost year around.

 
 

This year’s event is expected to attract tens of thousands of people by both land and sea, according to WTKR.

 
 
 
 
 
 

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The event was made famous by Marguerite Henry’s 1947 children’s novel, Misty of Chincoteague, which turned into a book series and later a movie. 

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California’s Agriculture Chief: Why Can’t We All Get Along?

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Irrigated crops in California’s Salinas Valley.
 
 
 

Among Nebraska’s best farm exports may be one of the country’s most important agriculture officials, California’s Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross. Raised on a Nebraska farm, Ross knows her way around fields and barns, but has spent much of her adult life focused on farm policy, including stints working for a US Senator and the current US Secretary of Agriculture before accepting her current post.

 
 
 
 

With water such an essential part of every farmer’s life and well-being, and with water wars being waged in drought-ravaged California, calm, even-handed Ross is in a perfect place to ensure that farmers get what they need today while water resources are marshalled and preserved for the future.

 
 
 
 

I first met Ross at an all-day seminar earlier this year hosted by former Secretary of State George Shultz at the Hoover Institution on Stanford University’s campus. The seminar was focused on Israeli solutions to the California water crisis. Ross and I were both presenters.

 
 
 
 

More recently, I invited her to be a guest on my Let There Be Water Podcast. She was a delightful interview, with our conversation ranging over California’s agriculture, her philosophy on water, the challenged state of her adoptive state’s aquifers, and the unfortunate demonization of farmers, in general, and almond growers, in particular.

 
 
 
 

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California Secretary of Food and Agriculture Karen Ross

 
 
 
 

Now in the fourth year of a drought, California faces the problem that water is not where it is needed most. The north of the state has two-thirds of the state’s water resources, while the southern part of the state is where two-thirds of the water is needed for cities and, even more so, for agriculture.

 
 
 
 

California not only produces $54 billion in agricultural products, but those products also include specialty crops of the kind best grown in California, like wine and table grapes, tree nuts, leafy greens – and even about 90% of the tomatoes processed in the US for the tomato sauce found on pizzas.

 
 
 
 

With water supplies pinched, environmentalists, city dwellers and farmers have gotten into a pushing match. But Ross points out that “it takes a lot of water to grow everything that we eat” and notes that nearly 80% of the water used in California is used for agriculture.

 
 
 
 

“Farmers grow food for people,” Ross says in the podcast. “The ultimate user of all of that water is the person who eats the food grown by the farmer. We are all in this together.”

 
 
 
 

One of the stakeholders of interest to Ross is generations not yet born. Ross looks at the over-taxing of aquifers and notes that the status quo can’t endure for long. Because of the drought and because of restrictions on surface water preserved for the environment, farmers have been pushed to pump ever deeper into aquifers, with 60% of the water that farmers now using coming from groundwater supplies.

 
 
 
 

Clearly, such over-use of aquifers isn’t sustainable. “If we don’t do something today,” Ross says, “every year we continue to pump so much, we are putting ourselves into an ever greater deficit [of groundwater], and that isn’t a wise thing to do for the generations that will follow us.”

 
 
 
 

Ross and state officials have some hard decisions to make. If the preservation of the delta smelt, an endangered species, continues to keep large amounts of river water off limits to farmers, if over-pumping of aquifers isn’t sustainable, and if we want California agriculture to continue to grow, the only solution is in lots of new technology. This includes more drip irrigation to more use of treated wastewater to the development of desalination plants dotting the state. Is there the appetite for an investment in all of that?

 
 
 
 

To hear Karen Ross discuss all of this, listen to her on the Let There Be Water Podcast. Click here to listen.

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Give Zoos A Break And Pay Tribute To Harambe The Gorilla On The One Month Anniversary Of His Death

In my opinion, in regard to the death of Harambe a month after his untimely death, the Cincinnati Zoo made the best decision possible under horrible circumstances.

 
 
 
 

In the wake of the unfortunate and terribly tragic event at the Zoo, I was invited to participate in a radio interview with The Takeaway, a radio program affiliated with WNYC and Public Radio International.

 
 
 
 

Jack D’Isidoro, an award-winning freelance multimedia journalist and producer who contributes regularly to the New York Times, reached out to me on May 31st. Unfortunately, I was unable to share my thoughts with his intended audience. I was busy training dogs at my new boarding and enrichment facility in Los Angeles and had missed his email and phone call.

 
 
 
 

Yesterday, almost a month after Harambe’s death, I discovered that I also missed an email alert regarding a post I published in Nat Geo’s online editorial news publication on the future of zoos. The piece was cited in a Washington Post article concerning Harambe’s fate, which reminded me that nearly a month has passed since we lost this great ape.

 
 
 
 

Although I did post an article about the tragedy on my public Facebook page hours after it was reported, I never got a chance to share my sentiment publicly. When I heard the news, I was immediately struck by the thought of a zoo having to make such a terrible sacrifice and was grieving for Harambe who I have never even met or knew of. I wanted to let colleagues and FB followers, zoo professionals and activists alike, know of this unfortunate news.

 
 
 
 

The Washington Post article (http://gmailnews.com/what-harambes-death-means-for-a-critically-endangered-species-of-gorilla-washington-post/) included commentary from a notable zoo historian who I once participated in a radio interview with and Dr. Michael Hutchins, my esteemed colleague and friend, and a prominent zoo and wildlife biologist.

 
 
 
 

These zoo experts addressed the big picture—the conservation relevance of losing a valuable zoo gorilla. They discussed the impact of the loss of this one animal’s potential contribution to the reserve gene pool, which is essentially what a captive population of this critically endangered species represents.

 
 
 
 

Frankly, the fact that the gorilla is an endangered species still hasn’t crossed my mind in regard to this loss of life. This was a beautiful and sentient creature who died at his prime, whether he was in a zoo or free-ranging or contributing to the captive gene pool or not.

 
 
 
 

I will never have a chance to read and process all the rumor and rhetoric surrounding Harambe that has been generated by the public and the responses from professional experts. However, I keep thinking about him and what a loss this must be for the zoo keepers and staff who cared for him. The staff had to make a horrible life and death decision on his behalf in less than a second. You can’t wait for a tranquilizer to take effect when you have to respond in a moment’s notice.

 
 
 
 

To put it in perspective, I once darted an orphaned, 300lb. subadult grizzly bear that I raised from a 9-month-old cub with a syringe pole (similar to a jab stick) while I was standing a few feet away from her at a wildlife sanctuary in Alaska. There was no barrier between us. As she looked the other way, I quickly injected her. I had time on my hands to prepare, no public distraction or interference, and my colleagues from Alaska Department of Fish & Game were on hand to monitor and assist if needed. An unusual and unique circumstance dictated that the animal be tranquilized on exhibit.

 
 
 
 

However, in a zoo setting far more resources and preparation would go in to such a scheduled chemical immobilization planned for a potentially injurious large animal and any chemical restraint would be conducted behind-the-scenes or before or after visiting hours. Nonetheless, I remember that it felt like a long time had passed before this bear was adequately sedated. In reality, it was at least several minutes.

 
 
 
 

In Harambe’s case, this was an unscheduled and obvious emergency and darting the animal was really not a viable option. Waiting for a tranquilizer to take effect would add substantially more time to an already precarious situation for the boy even if Harambe was indeed protecting him. When an animal receives a remote dart injection, it is typically a surprise to them and they usually don’t like it at all. They react as you might react if you were darted with a flying syringe from a great distance. What if he was holding the child and then collapsed on top of him due to the effects of a potent sedative? Anything could have happened. Regardless, I was touched by the public outcry and very much understand the emotions elicited and the public response.

 
 
 
 

Again, the Zoo made a very difficult choice, but I believe it was the right one. I very much like the Cincinnati Zoo, but I am in no way obligated to defend their actions. I do sit on a board of a zoo advocacy organization, but I’m not financially compensated by the non-profit organization. I just believe in the mission of zoos and I love charismatic creatures that receive exemplary human care in these conservation centers. I have been very fortunate to have interacted with many wonderful zoo animals over the years and the experiences have been tremendously gratifying and rewarding for me. I can only hope I enriched the lives of these animals in return.

 
 
 
 

I was moved after watching some of the footage as Harambe seemed to embrace the boy as he reached out to hold him. I can only speculate that he was not acting aggressively toward the child and had no such intention to do so. The scene is imprinted in my brain and it is unforgettable. I have a lot of thoughts on the tragedy as a former zookeeper and curator and as a conservationist. But first and foremost, I’m an animal lover like so many of my friends and zoo colleagues and the readership communities who follow Huffington Post. So this decision was hard to process even for someone like me who appreciates the challenges this precarious human-captive animal interaction created for the Zoo.

 
 
 
 

There are clearly mixed reviews on how the Cincinnati Zoo handled the situation even among some of my colleagues. Some just hope the story dies down. But I’m haunted by what transpired and I felt compelled to offer my perspective as a zoo patron and former zoo employee.

 
 
 
 

I think zoos do their very best to contain zoo animals and in recent years they have spent extra resources on making sure people can’t breach perimeter barriers and get into zoo enclosures, but it is the public’s responsibility to keep our children safe and that responsibility falls largely on parents.

 
 
 
 

In fact, I think that some exhibits should have age limitation restrictions for access. Children who are too young often can’t even appreciate the magic of an intimate encounter with a majestic animal icon in a zoo setting like a silverback gorilla. More often than not they seem to incite animals unintentionally by pounding on glass or by running around screaming and crying.

 
 
 
 

Those are not ways of respecting or dignifying a zoo animal ambassador and their parents should know better. Hopefully teachers and other attendants will also learn from this.

 
 
 
 

Rather than enriching the experience for the animal, I’m pretty confident some of the behavior of young children leaves sentient zoo animals frustrated, if not demoralized. Anyone can see it is occasionally stimulating for the animals and from a gorilla’s perspective, for example, it can be perceived as play when they get to interact with rambunctious kids through glass barriers. However, we should expect some etiquette from zoo visitors. They are guests at a public venue and these animal ambassadors deserve some respect from patrons.

 
 
 
 

In my opinion, the zoo was left with no choice but to dispatch a beautiful, healthy and robust adult male gorilla. And again, what a terrible predicament for the animal care team to find themselves in.

 
 
 
 

I recall an incident where a male gorilla broke his neck from a shallow fall in a freak accident in an indoor enclosure at another Ohio zoo. This was twenty years ago. I was in the building doing relief work as a zoo keeper in another animal unit. Unfortunately, no primate care staff member witnessed the incident and there were few helpful reports from patrons. Like the event with Harambe, the other gorilla death was quite unprecedented and has not happened before or since to my knowledge.

 
 
 
 

In the case of the fallen gorilla, one of our veterinary clinicians responded immediately and tried to resuscitate the animal after the public was ushered out of the building. His three other adult male companions were quickly lured off exhibit into their bedrooms with issued recall commands by a trained and responsive keeper staff. Relocating the other apes was necessary so the vet could access the unconscious animal. The veterinarian, who is board certified in zoo and wildlife medicine, was on the scene just minutes after the emergency was announced through our radio communication system, but sadly he was not able to revive the gorilla after several attempts to administer CPR.

 
 
 
 

In Harambe’s case (based on what I saw in video footage), there was no time to recall him or perhaps other apes in close proximity because the child was already in the exhibit, having breached barriers.

 
 
 
 

Although Harambe may indeed have been protecting this little boy, the surface features of that gorilla enclosure are to some degree slightly unforgiving to even a much sturdier and more agile young gorilla of comparable age and size to the child. The boy is really lucky to have left the situation relatively unscathed. These enclosures are definitely designed for great apes and not little boys.

 
 
 
 

The child could have easily broken his neck or otherwise been seriously or fatally injured in all the commotion and all by mere accident. These are big, fast moving primates. Hence, the name “great ape” is an appropriate label for these, the largest of the non-human primates.

 
 
 
 

By just working around wild animals in captivity, including three species of great apes, provides me with enough insight into the potential hazards in a zoo enclosure. Even the exhibit void of animals can be dangerous for humans to navigate. Keepers are careful when they clean enclosures. It is easy to slip or fall or trip on enrichment items or artificial rock work.

 
 
 
 

Oddly enough, the barriers in high-rise shopping centers and other public attractions from Niagara Falls to walkway and automobile bypass structures around the country remain in conditions where barriers can be easily breached by unsupervised children. And we hear about tragedies when young children fall to their death or are left severely injured. Who can forget the devastating loss Eric Clapton faced when his young son fell to his death from a high-rise apartment building? And his son was at home with his mom and a maid.

 
 
 
 

I may be an exceptionally over-educated “retired” zookeeper and curator, but those are the thoughts that I would have shared had I not been training animals during the scheduled radio interview that I was invited to participate in. Rest in peace Harambe. You are missed.

 
 
 
 
 
 

We invite you to join Dr. Schaul’s verified public facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/jordan.schaul

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Perdue Wants To Give Its Chickens Better Lives

 
 

Some chickens at Perdue will soon be living a better life on the farm.

 
 

Perdue, the fourth-largest poultry producer in the country, announced this week that it would overhaul a portion of its chicken houses to give the animals more space and sunlight.

 
 

The company plans to install windows in sheds, increase the space in which chickens can roam and add perches and hay bales to boost their physical activity.

 
 

It’s a move that signifies a shift in consumer demand — the expectation that the food they buy is produced humanely — is creating tangible results at the producer level. Chickens are typically stuffed by the thousands in sheds that don’t get sunlight, and they are raised to grow rapidly and to large sizes, due to the controversial use of growth hormones and other methods.

 
 

For now, the company is adding windows to just 200 chicken sheds by the end of the year. Five hundred of Perdue’s total of 4,500 houses already have windows. The company will determine later whether to retrofit all its chicken houses and some are cautioning against heaping praise on Perdue prematurely.

 
 

“This is an indication that the status quo is no longer defensible, and that the industry is starting to make moves, but it’s doing so carefully and slowly,” said Gene Bauer, president and co-founder of the farm animal advocacy nonprofit Farm Sanctuary. “Sunlight is better than no sunlight, and hopefully there will be cleaner housing, but it likely will still be overcrowded. It will allow birds to suffer less, but they’re still suffering.”

 
 

As a major player in the poultry industry, Perdue must also hold itself accountable for its commitments, animal activist groups say. Concrete deadlines about when goals are achieved, in addition to third-party audits of farm conditions, would significantly help improve consumers’ trust in the company.

 
 

“This policy is not perfect, and there’s a long way to go,” said Josh Balk, senior food policy director at the Humane Society of the United States, which is working with Perdue to establish progress timelines. “In the coming months, Perdue should demonstrate that they’re serious about this policy. Consumers should know how long this is going to take.”

 
 

Growing public pressure around animal welfare pushed Perdue to review the way it’s been doing business. The company says it will release yearly reports on the changes and work with its farmers to ensure that better practices are put in place.

 
 

“It’s important to be transparent as we move through this,” said Bruce Stewart-Brown, who oversees food safety and quality at Perdue. “People are more interested in the aspect of raising animals, and we want to be open and talk about it. We’re anxious to move in this direction.”

 
 

In an effort to be more humane, Perdue will also begin stunning the chickens so that the animals are unconscious before slaughter. The company spoke with various organizations that have been critical of its animal welfare policies as it prepared this week’s announcement, and some groups were optimistic that the move could trigger other poultry producers to adopt similar practices.

 
 

While this marks a significant pivot in the poultry supply chain, the past year has already seen numerous retailers commit to promoting better conditions for chickens. Major fast-food chains including McDonald’s, Starbucks and Panera, as well as supermarkets like Trader Joe’s and Costco, are transitioning to selling only cage-free eggs in response to consumer demand.

 
 

“Consumers now care more than ever before about the treatment of farm animals,” Balk said. “It’s going to be difficult for competitors to say they can’t do this.

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This Father’s Day, We Want a Safer Climate for Our Kids

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With Father’s Day approaching, I’m thinking about the world that my kids, and their kids, will inherit — and I can’t help but worry about the dramatic changes in the climate they will experience.

 
 
 
 

Already, Michaela and Rory are growing up in a world that’s made less safe because of global warming. Rising heat is increasing the risk of bad-air days, and for both of my children, who suffer from asthma but love sports and the outdoors, high smog levels are a double whammy.

 
 
 
 

At the same time, here in New England, flooding and storms are starting to become the new normal. Our research shows that since I was about my kids’ age, extreme rain and snow storms have increased by more than 30 percent. In fact, everyone in Massachusetts lives in a county recently hit by at least one federally-declared weather disaster – like the snow storms from last year that dumped more than 100 inches, shattering previous records.

 
 
 
 

We were relatively lucky during last year’s storms. We made it through with a few leaks from ice dams and some sore backs from shoveling. But not everyone was so fortunate, with lives lost, tens of thousands without power, and more than $1 billion in lost profits and wages in one month alone.

 
 
 
 

I know that without action to stop the build-up of climate-altering pollution, even worse is in store. So, as a father, I worry. I worry that my kids will live in a very different world. I worry how another storm like Hurricane Sandy on our East Coast could flood homes, uproot families, cripple our infrastructure, and set communities back years. I worry about how the threat of insect-borne illnesses like the Zika virus could impact my kids’ decision to have children of their own. If they do, I worry heat waves and the resulting air pollution will make summer outdoor fun challenging for our grandchildren.

 
 
 
 

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Three years ago, in honor of Father’s Day, Environment America put together a little video of dads asking President Obama, dad-to-dad, to do all he could to act on climate for the sake of our children. The project was part of broad, sustained effort across environmental and justice communities to urge bold action on climate.

 
 
 
 

On a hot June day that same year at Georgetown University, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan to a packed crowd of youth, saying, “Someday our children and our children’s children will look at us in the eye and they’ll ask us did we do all that we could when we had the chance to deal with this problem and leave them a cleaner, safer, more stable world. I want to be able to say, ‘Yes, we did.’ “

 
 
 
 

Time and again the president has repeated this vow. And time and again, backed by fathers just like me across the country, the president has delivered on it. And so this Father’s Day, father-to-father, we’ve put together a new video to give the president thanks.

 
 
 
 

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The list of the president’s accomplishments in the fight against climate change is long. He doubled the fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks. He set the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from both heavy-duty vehicles and power plants. His leadership was crucial to the Paris climate agreement, in which nearly 200 nations set a goal of keeping global warming beneath dangerous levels.

 
 
 
 

The progress we’ve seen since the president took office is real. We have 30 times more solar power and three times more wind. In 2008, there was one model of electric car available; now there are 20. All the while, the costs of climate-friendly technologies keep falling.

 
 
 
 

Of course while these steps are huge, they won’t, in and of themselves, solve the problem. It will be up to the nation’s and the world’s future fathers – and others — to follow through on the progress President Obama has begun. For now, I’m wishing President Obama a happy Father’s Day, and thanking him for all he’s done to make the world safer for all our children.

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