Archive for August, 2009

The Cove is a movie about dolphin slaughter in Japan, but the filmmakers have the sense to know that an hour of dolphins being harpooned, flailing and bleeding to death would be unwatchable. Instead they tell the fascinating, adventure story of trying to get footage of a slaughter of dolphins that Taiji, Japan tries desperately to keep secret.

Spoiler alert: they get the footage. And here’s where the audience feels like they’re participating. The point of the effort is to get the word (and video) out on how horrific and unnecessary the process of killing 23,000 dolphins a year is. It’s an act of faith by the filmmakers that once the world knows this will have to stop. And just by witnessing The Cove, you fee like you’re part of their journey.

They also list things you can do to help. You can write President Obama and the Japanese. You can donate. You can carefully choose your seafood–for your own health and for the fish’s sake.

One of the actions they suggest is that you pledge not to go see dolphins in captivity. (The sale of show dolphins supports dolphin slaughter.)

Here are some places you can go see dolphins in the wild instead.

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Wednesday we lost our great friend and incredible dog, Jolly. He was pushing 16 (by some calculations, 105 in human years) and in the last few weeks, after his longtime girlfriend Shadow died, all of his systems seemed to fall apart.

Even though it’s been a long time since he was able to hear us and run to the door—or just awkwardly block the door by napping in front of it—our home and life is unimaginably empty and quiet without him. But that’s the price you pay for having a sweet, devoted, goofy, clever, complicated dog like Jolly.

Jolly came to me 13 years ago as a foster dog after spending a couple years in a shelter, Mighty Mutts. He was a huge scaredy cat, but eventually he came to believe me when I told him, as I always did, that he was the best dog in the world. He was the king of the dog run and East Village and knew that he was handsome, smart and well-loved. After spending years in isolation, he especially loved friends. “Friend” was just one of the many words he knew. He loved his mommy, daddy and longtime girlfriend Shadow most of all. Shadow was at first the only dog he would play with; she remained the only dog he would roughhouse with, kiss or let enjoy his treats, toys or Jollymobile. But he loved being part of an extended family and community, his aunts, friends of the dog run, street and neighborhood. Everyone loved Jolly and Jolly loved everyone—except puppies, skateboarders, drunks, squirrels. Etc.

David and I hope we gave him a good life. He taught David to be a dog person and was so happy to have a dad. He travelled by plane, train, car, ferry and Jollymobile to 20 states and 4 Canadian provinces. He went nose-to-nose with horses, cows, elk and innumerable squirrels (and one chipmunk that he actually caught, then released when it bit him on the nose). He swam at lots of beaches, dug many holes and dens, stalked animals, stole and scammed treats, acquired girlfriends and charmed people with his smile everywhere.

But mainly he was a loving friend, snuggling, sticking close, throwing toys at us when we were down and getting us to get out to enjoy him and the world. If he were here now, young and healthy, he’d be nudging my hand away from the mouse to get me to play.

Here are just some of the pictures from all our adventures.

And a tribute from Jolly’s dad, David

Wednesday we said goodbye to our beloved dog Jolly. He was 15 1/2. Like so many big dogs, his back half gave out. His heart never failed, which was fitting for such a big-hearted, sweet-natured, smart, funny, charming, life-changing dog. He certainly changed my life. He changed Carol’s life, and he of course played a major role in fusing Carol and I together.

I’m not sure I can really capture what was so special about Jolly in words, at least not from this close remove. I will share the story of the first time I met Jolly because I think it gets to what made him so special. I was picking Carol up for our first real date, and I had been in the office earlier that day. Because I lived in Queens, I traveled with a gym bag filled with magazines or books to get through my long subway rides. What I didn’t know was that Jolly had a sideline career as a bag inspector, and he expected–no, demanded–that any bag that came into his house include a treat or toy for him. He would rifle through your bag like a customs officer in a third-world country looking for that treat.

So I committed a significant faux pas the first time Jolly and I met. I walked into what’s now my home too with a bag but empty-handed. Jolly let me know that was unacceptable. I’m sure he was thinking, “How does this guy not travel with beef jerky or liver treats? Everyone else I meet does.” Somehow, thankfully, Jolly gave me another chance. I was not terribly comfortable around dogs at that time, but Jolly was still welcoming and let me pet him. He was smiling and wagging his tail as Carol and I got acquainted. Finally, he couldn’t stand it anymore and he flopped over on his back to show me his belly. Again, clueless Dave had no idea what this meant and said as much to Carol. “What do I do now?” Carol let me know that this was a sign that he liked me and wanted me to scratch his belly. She showed me how to do it, and forever after, I never took for granted when Jolly needed a belly scratch. Even after my big screw-up, he gave me another chance and I did okay. It wasn’t the last lesson Jolly would teach me about dogs, and in particular, him.

I’m going to miss Jolly so much, as is Carol. We know we’ve been somewhat cloistered with him the last few years, and 2009 in particular, as we’ve tried to make every day special for this bright light in our life. We hope you understand and we’ll certainly attempt to make amends with y’all in the near future.

If you want one last look at what a special dog Jolly Vinzant was, check out ta couple of his YouTube videos that I cherish.

Bold Squirrel Inside Jolly’s Office

Jolly and David Play with a Pighead Toy

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Even though the recession has strained animal welfare groups of all kinds, I find a growing number of farm sanctuaries. With 9 billion animals killed on farms in the U.S. each year, the people who run these sanctuaries aren’t kidding themselves. They know they’re saving only a a token number of horses, pigs, goats, sheep, ducks, donkeys or chickens. But they think it’s worth it–both for the animals they save and for the hope these animal might teach visitors that even cows or pigs have personalities and deserve some dignity.

Many of the 34 farm sanctuaries I found take in whatever animals turn up at their door. The Ironwood Pig Sanctuary in Arizona specializes in pigs, as you might expect. Chocowinity Chicken Sanctuary will actually take in turkeys and other poultry. Connecticut’s massive Majestic Waterfowl Sanctuary is home to a huge array of ducks and geese. Dreamcatcher PMU Horse Rescue and Rehabilitation specializes in mares that have spent half their lives hooked up to urine collection machines to make premarin.

View AnimalTourism.com FARM ANIMALS in a larger map

Can you find a farm animal sanctuary near you?

Got another one to add to the map? Please leave it in the comments below.

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We’ve just had a couple big foot chefs–Alice Waters and Scott Boswell– shun shark fin soup, but a quick check around shows it’s still common in most American cities. Shame works when a celebrity chef gets linked with shark finning, the hideous way fins are hacked off a live shark, which is then thrown back to die, decimating shark populations worldwide. But what about the 56 restaurants in New York City that still serve shark fin? Or San Francisco’s 69 shark fin restaurants?

A search on New York Magazine‘s Menu Pages reveals how easy it is to find shark fin soup around the country. New York City has 56 restaurants serving shark fin. 35 restaurants serve shark fin soup. Three are vegetarian–meaning it’s mock shark fin soup.

Not surprisingly, the biggest hunk–20–are in Chinatown.But they’re all over the city, not just in restaurants only frequented by Chinese diners. Shanghai, near Macy’s, serves five versions ranging from $33-$41. The Upper East Side’s Our Place has a bowl for $12. A place near China Town sells it by the quart for take-out. >In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, East Harbor Seafood Palace features a whole shark-fin soup category on its menu, with options from $55-$75.

  • San Francisco: 69 restaurants serving shark fin, 4 vegetarian
  • Los Angeles: 31 shark fin-serving restaurants. (The swanky Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills has imitation shark. Pacific Coast Highway Chinese Restaurant has a whole menu division of the real thing.)
  • Philadelphia: 11 shark fin purveyors, 4 vegetarian
  • Boston: 9 shark fin restaurants
  • Chicago: 10 shark fin restaurants, including Young’s Restaurant in Wrigleyville
  • Washington, D.C.: 10 shark fin restaurants, including downtown’s expensive Tony Cheng’s and Wu’s Garden in Vienna, which bills it as “a soup for special occasions.”
  • South Florida: 6, including 2 in South Beach

Photos courtesy of the Shark Alliance. Fins on deck © Enric Sala
Here’s how the vow to eschew shark fin soup usually comes about. A famous chef or restaurant gets tied to shark fin soup.
Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters mentioned she’d want it as her last meal. A story about Stella! in New Orleans cites the dish. Disgust ensues. Suddenly the chef reads up on finning–the way fins are chopped off from live shark, wasting 95% of its body and contributing to the slaughter of about 100 million sharks a year. Some Atlantic populations are down 80% in the last 15 years, according to Shark Trust. (How did Waters not hear of this? Didn’t she ever watch Shark Week?) Then Scott Boswell pulls the soup and Waters swears it off.)

There are movements to ban shark finning internationally–making fishermen bring the whole shark to shore. The House passed a bill tightening U.S. restrictions, but it’s waiting for the Senate. But that makes shark fishing more difficult and soup more expensive. But what will lower the demand?

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Dr. Robert “Birding BobDeCandido brings us updates on birding in New York City.

EMPIRE STATE BUILDING – mark you calenders now. Our first (of two) visits to the Observation Deck (25 Aug. to 15 Sept.) to see night migrants will be on an evening with northwest winds either the week of 25-30 August; or the following week.
We need a night with northwest winds otherwise very few migrants will pass by – so that is why you must be flexible and ready to go with about 24-48 hrs notice via email. I will send out a notice – so send me yours if you want more info! If you were on our ESB list last year, no need to update – you have been carried over to 2009.

Bob is returning to Thailand to do more ground-breaking research on raptors and other birds in migration there with the Malaysian Nature Society. Meanwhile, two short films were made about Bob and his migration studies in the Far East. Now remember, this is primitive stuff, and bob had to dress in costume (in the first film he appears somewhat Chinese…):
After a long day at the office, one does develop neck problems looking up at raptor migrants:

Good! Here are the bird walks for this week ($5):

1. Friday, Aug. 21, 9am: $5. Central Park – Meet at Conservatory Garden (105th St. & 5th Ave.)

2. Sunday, Aug. 23,: 9:00 amCentral Park – Meet at the Dock on Turtle Pond

4. Monday evening, August 24th: FREEEEEE. Owls and Bats of Pelham Bay Park (Bartow Pell mansion) – meet at 7:00pm. (If you are coming up from Manhattan by train or Express Bus ($5.50), we might be able to pick you up at the last stop of the #6 Lexington Avenue line = the Pelham Bay stop.) For those who are driving, through the kindness and generosity of Ellen Bruzelius (Director of BartowPell) and Valerie Albanese (Education Director at BartowPell), we have arranged for the Mansion parking lot to remain open for a few hours – so we can do another night census of owls. Last time out (early August) we called in a pair of Great Horned Owlsdo let me or Jack Rothman (JacRoth1@gmail.com) know if you will be attending and driving – or might need a lift.

Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights)

Owl and Bat Walks (three walks) Summary – all Central Park – the good news is that we found Eastern Screech-owls on all three walks at the north end beginning at dusk. The even better news is that just before dusk (light still good) on Sunday evening, 16 August, eleven of us watched a screech-owl with downy ear tufts and juvenile plumage on its upper breast being swooped at and harassed by many Robins. So we now know that at least one (and likely all five) of the owls released in July by Bobby and Cathy Horvath are still alive. On the three forays into the north woods (on the paved path along the Loch), we saw the pair of ESOs on each occasion for about 10 minutes each time – before they became bored with us and flew off to look for dinner. On two of the walks, we tracked the owls to the area of the Wildflower Meadow and listened to them calling to each other and the iPod recording of their calls. As an added bonus, every walk featured large Red Bats swooping in and around our heads (some of us had to duck) – this was much fun. We’ll likely do one more owl walk before 15 September, and then certainly in December-January. If you have never seen screech-owls night in Central Park, it really is a magical experience.

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Photo of man hugging gray whale in San Ignacio Bay courtesy of Marc Uhlig of Jupiter Labs.
Biologist Toni Frohoff has a new way see whales and other wildlife: collaborative watching. That’s right: she wants us to work with whales so we all get something out of the experience. Instead of just being stalkers, we’d interact on mutually agreeable terms. What Frohoff, research director at TerraMar Research and the Trans-Species Institute of Learning, is proposing is an overhaul of eco-tourism standards. She wants the whales (and other animals) to be in on it, to collaborate with the humans that want to watch them.
Sound impossible? Well, she does it all the time with gray whales in Baja California. As a behavioral biologist she made an appearance in the much-discussed New York Times Magazine story Watching Whales Watching Us. The gray whales migrate up and down the west coast, seemingly indifferent to humans, but once they reach their nursery harbors off Baja, they suddenly become curious about people. That’s even more remarkable since people once slaughtered whales here–so much so the species was almost wiped out. But now they’ve realized people–or at least the people in these harbors–aren’t throwing harpoons, they are offering hugs.

Photo of whale near row boat courtesy of FarFlungPhotos and Tarnya Hall.
What do the whales get out of it? For reasons no one can explain, they seem really into it, coming up to boats curiously and seeking out interaction, not just tolerating it.

What the whales can see is this: The whale watching boats have a code of conduct. They have a whales-only area where the whales can go for some down time. And if there are too many whale tourists in the water, they’ll get called back. That’s important to keep from loving the whales to death, says Frohoff, author of Dolphin Mysteries: Unlocking the Secrets of Communication and Between Species: Celebrating the Dolphin-Human Bond. Though if you’re having a meaningful interaction with a whale, you’ll find it difficult to leave. “It’s harder than not eating ice cream,” she says, “but it’s necessary for us not be greedy to respect and cultivate this special inter-species bond.”

What the whales can’t see is the more important big picture of what the whale watchers are bringing them: peace, security and respect. The whale-watching industry is now a $2.1 billion industry worldwide. No one is sure exactly how big the rogue whale-hunting industry is, but we do know whale meat prices have sagged and the governments of Norway, Japan and Iceland have to effectively put their on welfare. The World Wildlife Foundation estimates that Japan spends $12 million a year propping up whaling; while Norway spends $500,000 to support an anemic $2 million industry.

I think eco tourists would love the idea of collaborative whale watching. Of course we want the fascination to be mutual and fair; that’s human nature. I think people naturally want to give something in return if someone offers them something nice. People leave out food for birds and animals mainly for practical reasons of drawing them in close. But part of us also wants to be nice–or at least appear nice–to them. We are, in effect, paying the cardinals to show up at our feeder by putting out sunflower seeds.

Will other animals start to collaborate with us? Sure would be nice. I’ve had a sunfish focus his big, ghastly eye on me; squirrels look at me and bark until I figured out they were standing above a cat they wanted me to chase away; deer stare into a window at me staring at them. Of course, for every one of these delights, I’ve had 100 or 1,000 experiences of an animal fleeing, fearing that I’m hunting them. That is wildlife watching in the early 21st Century. It wasn’t always this way. And, once we start offering animals something in return–ideally something more abstract than food–maybe we’ll see it again.

Want to see some whales yourself? Here’s where you can do it.

View AnimalTourism.com WHALES in a larger map

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Notes from Robert DeCandido (PhD), who gives tours in Central Park as Birding Bob.

We have again added two Eastern Screech-owl walks in Central Park this week. Both walks will meet at the North End, since we had very good luck there with owls and bats. In fact, in one unbelievable moment, the most amazing thing, ever (ever) happened on a Bob owl walk:

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was playing the owl tape via the Ipod for a few people when an owl swooped in and landed on Tom Walsh’s hand. His son Jack was finally impressed – and I am finally absolved of running the most boring bird (and owl) walks of all time!

Further details about the owls we saw last week (including Great Horned Owls) are provided below. We also include a New York Times article from June 1934 about a “savage” screech-owl that was attacking people in Douglaston, Queens – and an excerpt from Sam Yeaton about screech-owls in Queens covering the 1919-1945 time frame.

Bird Walk Info
Bird walks for this week ($5):

1. Thursday 7:30, Aug. 13: Owls and Bats of Central Park (The North Woods) – meet at 5th Ave and 106th street
2. Friday, Aug. 14: Conservatory Garden (105th street and 5th Ave.) at 9am.
3. Sunday, Aug. 16: 9:00 amTurtle Pond Dock.
4. Sunday 7:30 pm, Aug. 16 $5. Owls and Bats of Central Park (The North Woods)

In the last week of August, we will add some trips to the Empire State Building at night. Why? We just received this report from Sandra Critelli: (night of August 11th) – Hi Bob! I wanted to tell you that last night I went to the Empire SB to take my friend from Italy and it was a good night for birds, at least the little time I was there. I counted 29 birds flying mostly low, a little higher than the deck, small to medium (robin) sized birds. All between 8.30pm and 9.25pm when I had to leave unfortunately (I was enjoying the birds). And at 8.50 I saw a flock of approximately 25 little birds flying south and at eye level. And numerous moths low and high. And too many Italian tourists out there!!! Goodnight Sandra

Here is what we saw last week (selected highlights) with some anecdotal notes and observations. Not all species we saw are reported here – we list the best:

Owl and Bat Walks (three walks) Summary – the burning question of the week was, “Where is David Mills?” David, who is back in England with his lovely wife Geraldine, took control of the bat portion of our walks last year with the aplomb of a general. In a recent email, he wrote, “Education, education! Far more people die of bee stings or dog rabies (or get struck by lightening) in the US every year then get bat rabies, so people should not worry too much. More people get dog rabies in a year than they do in 10 years with bats but do people go “all protective” and scared when seeing dogs in Central Park?
In comparison with most people’s views about bats, they should!! Bats do not make nests, or enlarge holes, or chew wires etc in houses as they just hang up etc in caves, trees, bridges & houses. Do let me know if you have any questions on bats or pass my email (see above) to anyone with a question to answer that you can’t. And tell them to raise a glass to bats when they enjoy a margarita as “no bats – no tequila” (only bats pollinate the Blue Agave plant).”
OK we had great luck with Red Bats on both walks in Central Park – the north woods were filled with them hunting along the paved path and making us duck as they swooped in and about our heads. As for owls – in the north woods we brought in two Eastern Screech-owls (email me if you want info about their history in Central Park and NYC), but had no luck with owls on the Ramble night walk. (So this week we are only doing North End owl/bat walks.) And in the Bronx (Pelham Bay Park) at the Bartow-Pell Mansion after a NYC owl slide talk, we went outside and called in not one, but two! Great Horned Owls. Bob was even impressed.


Queens Vigilantes Hunt Savage Bird(New York Times 18 June 1934; Page 19)

Patrol Douglaston with Rakes and Clubs for Creature that Attacked Passerby

Woman’s Face is Gashed

Five Other Victims Reported – Dr. Blair Suspects Screech-owl is ‘Protecting’ Nest

A vigilante committee formed to hunt down a savage night bird that had attacked at least five persons along 241st Street Douglaston [Queens], within the last five nights [June 1934], patrolled the vicinity for at least five hours last night without catching a glimpse of the marauder.

Just before the vigilantes turned out, the mysterious bird – which is believed to be a screech-owl – chalked up his sixth victim. He was Charles Taylor, a student at New York University. Taylor reported that the bird struck him while he was crossing the lawn to his home. He ducked and the bird skimmed past his head.

The bird’s other victims, all neighbors on 241st street in the Douglaston Park sector, were Arthur L. Stemler of Bancamerica Blair; Russell cardigan, a stock broker; Mrs. Earl R. Evans, 23 year-old housewife; Peggy Noone, 13 year-old daughter of John B. Noone, assistant treasurer of Standard Brands; and William MacDonald.

The Vigilantes Set Out
The vigilantes, about twenty strong, assembled at Mr. Cardigan’s home before nightfall. They were armed with lawn rakes, rug beaters, tennis racquets, an assortment of clubs, and even one bayonet and one rusty machete, souvenir of the Cuban insurrection. Henry M. Ferguson, a bank engineer, wore a Prussian helmet. Earl Trangmar, director of marketing research for Metropolitan Life, had another steel hat and carried the machete.

Up and down the street they marched, using unarmed decoys to lead the way, while the rake or strong-armed men carried up the rear. Joseph Spiro, owner of Douglaston’s taxi fleet, hooted at intervals. Once, his imitation was so realistic that a vigilante swatted him with a tennis racquet.

Mosquitos came and went, leaving their mark on the vigilantes. A group of youngsters strolled by chanting, “Who’s afraid of the big bad bird?” Wives hooted from suburban doorways. Patrolman George Ludwig was summoned by a grouchy neighbor to drive the rowdies away. And there wasn’t a chip out of the man-eating bird, not a single hoot, even of derision.

Finally the vigilantes broke up. Their wives and unsympathetic friends saw that they got their bird – but not the one they were seeking. Their initial defeat did not, however, change their stories of the savagery of the feathered attacker.

All six attacks were on Snell Boulevard and Rushmore Avenue. The heavy foliage of the Maple trees on both sides of the street hides the marauder by day, and at night serves as a leafy ambuscade, whence at any moment, a winged fury with blazing eyes and nerve-shattering screech may drop upon an unprotected head.

Mr. Stemler was the first to have an encounter with the “Douglaston Devil.” The next victim was Mr. Cardigan. When he told his story the next day to commuters, they joked about it so mercilessly that he determined to capture the bird. He is the organizer of the vigilantes.

Mrs. Evans was attacked shortly before midnight, Saturday. She and her brother, Mr. Tyrell, had gone for a walk. Hardly had they left their home at 46-54 241st Street, when the bird flew down. They beat it of but it returned to the attack. It flew at them five times and then disappeared.

What the Bird is Like
“I could not see the bird clearly at all,” Mrs. Evans said. “It seemed dark and had a wingspan of about sixteen inches. It kept flapping its wings in my face and shrieking and trying to get at my eyes.”

Other persons in the neighborhood could add little to that description except that the bird seemed soft and furry.

Dr. W. Reid Blair, curator of the Bronx Zoo, said he believed the nightbird would prove to be a screech-owl with a nest in the vicinity.
============================“The common nester in our streets and backyards was the [eastern] screech-owl. In 1919, people in Flushing [Queens] were familiar with owls (Barn, Long-eared, and Screech), and no one disturbed the screech-owls. For example, there was one in a hole in a maple about twelve feet above the ground on the corner of Sanford Avenue and Kissena Boulevard in front of St. Joseph’s Home, and a sign nailed to the tree called it to the attention of all passersby and said, “Please do not disturb this owl.” Squirrels on the other hand were rare. A friend of mine, seeing a squirrel in his neighborhood, made a house and nailed it to a tree in his backyard. Immediately, he got a screech-owl that lived there for many years. A screech-owl also lays four eggs in a well-protected hollow tree and usually fledges all four, much less subject to predation than baby Robins…. However in 1919, screech-owls, while perhaps not abundant, were actually plentiful. And this was for many years. I remember one Christmas Count after World War II when Frank and Norton Smithe counted 13 screech-owls in Douglaston alone. There were many more red-morph than gray-morph owls, but both were present. I have a photo I took in 1924 of Harrison Skeuse holding a gray-morph screech-owl, but both were present. These were taken out of two holes in two adjacent apple trees at the south end of the gully at Oakland Lake.” Sam Yeaton (1988). Early Northeastern Queens. Reprinted from the Queens County Bird Club publication “News & Notes” for the years 1990–91.

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photo courtesy of Cats 2007
Australians this week were outraged when they realized the Taronga Zoo in Dubbo, NSW, is selling off blackbuck antelopes, which are endangered in their native India, to canned hunting ranches. Meanwhile, these kind of black buck hunts go on non-stop in Texas and nobody cares.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Bob McComb, owner of the Dongadale Deer Park and Stud, bought 24 blackbuck antelope from the zoo for between AU$160 and $300 (US$130 – $250). (Later the zoo admitted selling 84 animals to a bunch of these hunt clubs. Sure seems like the zoo was letting them breed to get cute babies to attract visitors.) The deal is he can only breed the ones he got from the zoo, but he’ll “hunt” their offspring. He’s confident he’ll be able to get approval to do it, then charge thousands of dollars per kill.
Australians were suitably taken aback. They called for the zoo’s animal welfare chief to quit. And New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees said No, he wasn’t going to suddenly allow these widely-ridiculed hunting ranches–even though it’ll make it hard to corral conservatives on other issues.
India sent Bollywood star Salman Khan to jail for shooting one of these lanky animals. The eight year court case may now be a movie. Wildlife preserves like the ABOHAR in Punjab are carefully coaxing their numbers up. Nature worshipping Bishnois protect them.

Meanwhile, back on the ranch in Texas, canned hunting is a big business. Even though real hunters looked down on the kind of weasels who shoot caged animals, then boastfully hang their heads on a wall, Texas is fine with it.
The Texas Hunt Lodge–one of many in the state–lets these brave men choose whether to stalk these antelope or hunt them from a blind, then use a bow, rifle, handgun or old fashioned black powder weapon. They’ll even let them play safari. The price: $1,750 or $3,000, depending on whether the horns qualify as a mere trophy (about 18 inches) or a “record”–20 inches or more.
How did we end up with such different attitudes toward these antelopes? For starters there are now nearly as many blackbucks on ranches in Texas and Argentina as there are living in the wild in India (50,000.) India declares them endangered (but even some there contemplate hunting schemes because they eat a lot of sorghum crops.) Officially, IUCN calls these Antilope cervicapra “near threatened.” That is, not officially endangered.

The black buck on the Edwards Plateau in Texas are considered exotic. Under wildlife laws here, that means they don’t even count as wildlife.

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Photo of a shark on a South African tour courtesy of David Salvatori on Flickr.
Are sharks suddenly evolving into man-eaters?!
60 Minutes worries they are. Last night they updated a story on shark tourism, which they blame for sharks “becoming more dangerous.”

Their proof? When they did the story in 2005, there had been six attacks off South Africa in the previous two years, three fatal. Before that Bob Simon declares shark attacks “virtually unheard of here.” Really?

Look, I know the game. Reporters always have to justify a story with a news peg. But shark attacks deaths aren’t one of those nebulous trends like people wearing straw hats; we know exactly how many shark attacks and deaths there are because the Global Shark Attack File keeps track.

The file doesn’t show any big increase in South Africa or the world. The file shows that there was about one fatal shark attack per year in South Africa since the early 1980s. Since 60 Minutes reported on this supposed surge in shark attacks in 2005? There have been three confirmed deaths off South Africa (and two deaths where sharks might have been involved). In other words, shark deaths have been following the same pattern for three decades: about one death a year off South Africa. And worldwide it’s about five a year.

You know what would’ve been a smart update? How about the study out just last month that tours off Hawaii aren’t really effecting shark behavior?

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The Chinese government now blames outbreak of pneumonic plague that killed 3 people in central Qinghai province on a dog. If I were a Chinese dog, I’d be going into hiding about now.

Beijing has a habit of mass dog culls to fix (or at least assuage anger over) health problems. In 2006, government workers beat 50,000 dogs to death in the streets after they were blamed for causing three deaths from rabies. Despite world outrage and nausea, the practice continues. In May another 20,000 dogs were brutally dispatched, some on film.

Professor Wang Hu director of the Qinghai disease control bureau told Xinhua that the first to die, a 32-year-old herdsman, had just buried his dog, who might have gotten plague from a marmot he ate.

That may all be true, but I’d bet that Beijing’s desire to cast blame and their hostility to dogs may play a role. There are a couple problems with the theory. Dogs can get plague, but they usually don’t get that sick from it. Pneumonic plague doesn’t need to be spread by fleas and blood like bubonic plague; pneumonic plague is airborne.

Unless there are already undercover cameras in that isolated town like there were at the May dog slaughter, we probably won’t find out how many dogs they kill over this.

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