Archive for December, 2009

Other marine mammals have etiquette standards. The Whale Sense or Dolphin Smart programs give tourists list of operators that play nice. But who’s smart about the 3,000 manatees left in the U.S.?

As an endangered species and marine mammal, manatees area already supposed to be protected, but go on YouTube and search “manatee harassment.” You’ll find videos of tourists coralling and chasing manatees, separating the mom and calf and even trying to ride or kick them. It’s like Crystal River, FL, tour operators live in a 1950s world where they feel entitled to sell the experience of touching, petting and scratching manatees. Do they then drive home without seatbelts into a house lined with asbestos and eat canned soup casserole for dinner? Haven’t they heard that’s not how you treat wild animals?

“It’s this culture of everybody that come to Crystal River,” says manatee advocate Tracy Colson. “It’s well-advertised that this is the only place where you can touch a manatee. It’s the only place in the world where you can interact with an endangered species.”

Tracy, a local, started volunteering with the Crystal River Wildlife Refuge by going out to guide manatee tourists to be respectful and was so upset with what she saw she started her own company, Nature Coast Kayak Tours.  In 2007 Save the Manatee named Tracy and Steve Kingery manatee heroes for documenting manatee harassment, which kicked off a controversy and push the Fish and Wildlife Service to crack down. (Manatee advocates don’t want to stop all manatee tours, just ones that annoy manatees and drive them out of the warm waters they need in the winter.)

“There’s something to the swim with- programs that would be a great help to the mantee,” says Colson. “If you have that magical experience, it’s going to make you a strong advocate.” I get as excited as anyone seeing a wild animal, so it’s easy to see how some one could become over eager to make a manatee connection. But, like most animal tourists I know, I don’t want to do anything that hurts the animal. So I asked Tracy to give out-of-towners some tips so we don’t unwittingly help the bad guys. It can be hard to pick out a good tour because many go through the motions.

The programs that reign in whale and dolphin tours amount to this: don’t bother the animals or make it look like you do in your ads. You stand still and if the animal wants to come close, it will.

* Ask them if you’re allowed to touch or approach a manatee.
* Is their website all about party and adventure?
* Do they show pictures of people petting, kissing, tickling, riding or otherwise molesting manatees?
* Look for a small operation and small boat. While it’s better for whales if everyone is on one big boat, it’s better for manatees if there are small boats and small groups, where the mob mentality hasn’t taken over.


Manatees in Paradise
Husband and wife, Captain Mike and Stacy Dunn, help with manatee rescue and bay clean up. Their pontoon boat only holds up to six. $25 per person, plus wet suit rental. 1223 North Crystal Drive, Crystal River, FL
352-563-0865 cell 352-601-5520

Nature’s Connection
Capt. Hank rides with up to 12 on 3 1/2 hour tours.
$50 including wet suit.
267 N.W. 3Rd. St. Crystal River, Fl. 34429
capthankstours@yahoo.com 352-697-0220

Aardvark’s Florida Kayak Company

Save the Manatees works with wildlife biologist 707 N Citrus Avenue, Crystal River, FL
(352) 795-5650 info@FloridaKayakCompany.com

Native Vacations comes highly recommended by Passport Magazine and manatee fans. Dedicated manatee lover Traci Wood offers private 6-hour snorkel tours ($400 for up to 4 people) or $35 (plus equipment fees) 3-hour tour.

Nature Coast Kayak Tours
Tracy Colson volunteers to clean out the waterway, rescue manatees and document manatee harassment. Her 3 1/2 hour tours are $40, including all equipment.
(352) 795-9877 or 888-795-9877 toll free
Adventure Outpost
Lars Andersen, who writes guides on paddling and the area, leads kayak tours of many waterways. $39

Wild Florida Adventures
Brack Barker used to be a parks ranger and enforcement officer.

Williston, FL (352) 528-3984 Tours@wild-florida.com


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Just a couple hours west of Chicago a herd of bison is taking the winter off from delighting kids. Wildlife Prairie State Park–a unique combination of wildlife center, praire re-enactment and park–closes for the winter.

The animals in big herds, the elk and bison, are taken off public display to give their summer pastures a rest, says park spokesperson Kelly Stickelmaier. The enclosures (80 acres for the elk) are big enough to approximate a natural setting, but not so huge you can’t see them. (Just check the park’s very active flickr group and you can see how much of the animals visitors can see.)

The park’s 18 bison are especially cooperative, coming up to the viewing stand, where they’re fed at 1 o’clock.  “The elk are a little more persnickety, especially the boys,” Stickelmaier says. Because the bison herd reproduces, the park sells off however many are born each year to keep the total at 18.

Badger at WPSP
Badger at WPSP,
originally uploaded by Mark Koonce.

I don’t think I’ve seen another wildlife park that has badgers–and, believe me, I’ve looked. They’ve also have otters, eagles that came in through wildlife rehabilitation, skunks, bobcats and cougars.

Philantrhopist Will Rutherford started the park in 1978 mainly as a kind of rehab area for animals from the Brookfield Zoo. The park eventually shifted to native animals, then Rutherford gave the park to the state in 2000.

 Rutherford’s family’s Forest Park Foundation still supports the park, the Peoria Journal-Star says, but it can’t make up for all the money now disgraced governor Rod Blagojevich cut from their budget. In one of his last acts, Blago used a line item veto to chop $828,000 from the Peoria park’s $1.2 million budget, prompting worries it would close, according to Prairie State Outdoors. The park has come up with some creative ways to raise and save money to support their animals. You can still visit while the park is closed in winter if you become a member or rent a cottage. You can rent out a room for a business meeting or party–maybe even the one that looks out on the wolf pen. And they’ve even loaned out a couple bears. Certainly it’s worth a visit and maybe a membership.

Join Wildlife Prairie State Park
Find other places to see wildlife in the Midwest with this AnimalTourism.com map
Where can I find the nearest buffalo herd?

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The Bahamas are down to only six wild horses. Genetic tests show they’re Spanish Barbs who improbably survived for generations in pine forest and scrub.

Then logging companies came–clearing forests, bringing hunting dogs and flushing the horses into view, according to Equiworld.net. The road put in by the logging company opened the area up to local hunters. When a child died due to her own misbehavior with a horse, locals tried to slaughter all the horses.  Three were rescued and placed on the [Bahamas Star Farms] and as their numbers grew they were released back into the regenerating forest,” say Milanne Rehor who founded  Wild Horses of Abaco
Rehor desrcribes herself as a once “horse crazy child,” set out to find them after reading of them in a sailing guide. She eventually found that they were real, but about to disappear. 
In 1982 there were 35 Abaco horses. In 2005, the Bahaman government claims it shut down Bahamas Star Farms because of a citrus canker; Rehor says the area was clear cut. Now a mysterious illness is killing off the horses. “It has been invaded by Brazilian pepper and Lantana Sage, the latter deadly to animals. The horses know to not eat it, but it became so thick in one forage area that two ingested it by accident and died,” Rehor says. “The area has been closed off and there have been no more loses.”

Here’s the group’s emergency plan.

If this rare population is going to survive, they need help.
If you go to the Bahamas, Wild Horses of Abaco will be happy to take you out to see the survivors for a donation of $35 per person.

See how you can help out the Wild Horses of Abaco

Wild horse herds are all over the world. Here’s an animaltourism.com map of where you can find them

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Today a federal judge in Washington will hear wild horse advocates argue that 2,700 wild horses in Nevada shouldn’t be rounded up and held indefinitely in holding pens. Seems like an obvious choice, but under the antiquated U.S. wild horse protections, it’s not.

Ocracoke PonyWild horses in America are like a beleagured employee who has somehow gotten stuck with a totally inappropriate manager who doesn’t understand their charm or why he can’t just get rid of them. Horses somehow fall under the The Bureau of Land Management, despite its mission to provide land for energy producers, cattle ranchers and miners. Since 2000 the BLM has gone on a spree of rounding up wild horses, creating what has become a vast, money-sucking collection of 11,000 in corrals and 22,000 in Midwestern pastures–the same number that run wild. In 2008 the BLM started openly talking about mass euthanasia for mustangs. (To save them, Madeleine Pickens proposed a private sanctuary.)

The BLM announced its final decision Monday to remove 2,700 horses near Reno in what it calls the Calico Complex Round-up, which includes five herd management areas: Black Rock Range East and West, Calico Mountains, Granite Range, and Warm Springs Canyon. The BLM decided the right amount of horses for the area is 600-900 and it counts about 3,000 out there.

If they don’t round up the horses, some might die, the BLM threatens. Well, yeah, they’re wild animals. That’s what they do. It’s not as if this is a magical species that would continue to multiply until there were 42 million horses in Nevada, trampling the state into dust. Populations go through cycles; predators like coyotes and coywolves step up–unless you mess with the cycle. The anti-horse, pro-cattle contingent the BLM supports seems to have taken matters into its own hands, shooting six mustangs, whose carcasses were found this month.

Horse advocates don’t trust their target number, their count, their management of public lands (they’ve been steadily eroding the horses’ range) or their intentions. Wild horse ecologist Craig Downer and In Defense of Animals are suing to stop the round-up and stop the BLM’s perpetual short-changing of horses in the way it manages land. A bill that passed the house this spring would fix some of these very problems with the BLM’s management of wild horses (though still leave them to the BLM). Pickens and other horse lovers are trying to get it passed in the Senate right now.

See In Defense of Animals’ action center for wild horses
Help Madeleine Pickens pass horse management reform in the Senate
See Wild Horses out in the wild

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Everyone’s been talking about this video of octopi picking up coconut shells off the ocean floor, cleaning them out, then using them as an armored hiding place.

It’s an impressive feat, but it’s not the first. There’s a small genre of videos of octopi evasive manuevers. They hide in other things we’ve thrown out on the ocean floor, like decaying shampoo bottles or beer bottles. They even got through this octopus obstacle course set up by National Geographic. They have been taped escaping fish markets in Tokyo and South Korea.

Many researchers have reported that octopi left in the lab at night will escape their tank, go eat another fish, then go back home to cover their tracks. Apparently they’re not smart enough to catch onto security cameras. Yet.

The Independent report that Portobello Aquarium in New Zealand had many such incidents and in one case just decided to release an escape artist octopus named Sid. Matthew Crane, Portobello’s senior aquarist,  explained that people are just starting to realize how clever octopi are. “Some people compare them with dogs, because you can train them to open a jar, for instance, particularly if it’s got a crab in it.”

So, remember, the octopus isn’t dumb. That’s just what they want you to think.

Want to see some smart dolphins? Check out this animaltourism.com map and guide.

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You’ve got one day to swoop in and buy lunch with a celebrity, or at least Dennis Kucinich, to support cows, pigs, chickens and other farm animals. his time it’s at and for Farm Sanctuary, which fights for animals stuck in agribusiness. Right now you can get a Kim Bassinger-signed shirt for $125 and there are still some good deals for the chance to meet Joan Jett or the B-52s before a concert.

Animal lovers have already bid up the price on a prop crest from the Twilight series to $3,250.  Lunch or dinner with vegan Congressman Dennis Kucinich is already getting pricey at $750. That’s the same current price as a tour of Ed Begley’s famous eco house–including lunch.

Ellen Degeneres is running the auction with her wife Porti de Rossi. T Earlier this year she cleared out her closet and sold her personal junk on eBay, which earned $70,000 for the Humane Society of the United States, according to auction company Kompolt. 

Ellen isn’t selling her personal stuff–just two VIP tickets to Ellen. But it is a personal cause. Ellen is vegan and explains on her website why: “I personally chose to go vegan because I educated myself on factory farming and cruelty to animals, and I suddenly realized that what was on my plate were living things, with feelings. And I just couldn’t disconnect myself from it any longer.”

If you can’t afford the glamorous items, check out Farm Sanctuary’s store 
Visit the Farm Sanctuary and other shelters for farm animals in the US and Europe

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Australian biologist Michael Archer is hellbent to stop or reverse human-caused extinctions one way another. First he tried resurrecting the Thylacine, the mascot of tragically extinct animals, using DNA from museum specimens. Now, according to Time, he’s close to getting permission to let regular people keep endangered species as pets so they won’t go extinct in the wild.

Archer, a professor at the School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of New South Wales, has been pushing this idea to the public for a while, as this 2000 article from the Telegraph shows. He told both publications something like: “No animal that human beings have turned into a domestic pet has ever died out. It’s the ones we don’t value that become extinct.”

In particular Archer wants to try to save the quoll, a small marsupial with the spotted coat of a fawn. Quolls eat bugs, grubs and mice, but they’ve been wiped out by fox and cats. Cats often carry toxoplasmosis, which makes female quolls infertile, according the Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary, which that has been arduously them since 1986.

Predictably, as when anybody wants to try some last-chance idea to help an animal, another animal lover pops up to criticize and impede them. In this case, animal rights activists worry it will play into the hands of the pet industry. More seriously scientists worry whether people will be able to provide appropriate homes.

Captive breeding has already saved or helped many species, including the California condors, European bison and bald eagle.  The Przewalski’s horse, among other animals, only survives in captivity. The Bali starling, red wolf and black-footed ferret are making their way back. (Others have experimented with the more radical back-breeding, which uses remnant animals and those in other species that look like them.) The big shift here is moving the animals from pristine, scientific, objective settings to messy, emotional homes. (Though there is talk of licensing.)

“Quails make better pets than domestic cats!” says an information sheet from Warrawong. Archer has raised quolls and gushes over the experience. Meanwhile, the several quoll species have various alarming designations from the IUCN, but there are thousands left, not just a handful, so there’s still some time–and a little room to experiment with a radical idea of keeping them as pets. North America might still have a native, wild parrot if somebody had just taken on the now extinct Carolina Parakeet as a companion.

As for the Thylacine, it’s been a bumpy road. The project was called off because the DNA was too ragged, but it’s restarted and has made some progress with genetic mapping. Certainly saving quolls as pets would be easier than Archer’s other project of resurrecting the Thylacine through DNA.

Want to see animals in the wild or in rehabilitation centers? See AnimalTourism.com

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Just when news is breaking that Chinese poachers are wiping out 10-16% of the critically endangered Siberian tiger population each year, Vladmir Putin’s tiger went missing. Russians had grown to love (or at least geographically track) this female tiger through Putin’s tiger website. But her collar hadn’t pinged in three months, exciting worries of poachers, who are wiping out tigers worldwide. The Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is in special trouble from  poachers who use tiger parts for traditional medicine.

But, Putin’s spokesman announced, the only thing that died were the batteries in her collar. She’s fine and so is a cub she had recently. 

Which of Putin’s tigers is this? It’s hard to keep track since Putin has a special relationship with (at least) two tigers. This is the 5-year-old female one he shot with a tranquilizer dart last summer while touring the Usuri Reserve. The other one was a two-month old tiger he got as birthday present.

The first incident with this tiger — it apparently escaped from trap just as Putin approached, was hit by another dart, but not felled till Putin shot her again — prompted speculation that it was a dramatic stunt to show off Putin’s toughness. But no one questions his fondness for tigers, which he sees as a symbol of Russia. While this tiger slept he talked gently with her, shook her paw and then said good-bye by kissing her on the forehead.

It’s certainly good news for the tigers to have Putin as a friend. The Russian Academy of Sciences  (near Vladivostock) is tracking the Siberian or Amur tiger, the world’s largest subspecies of tiger. Once considered a big environmental success story because the population recovered to about 500 from only 50. But now scientists fear the number has dropped down to 300 because of Chinese poachers, who leave explosives smeared with fat for the rare cats to swallow. (As usual, no one is sure about the numbers.)

Putin is going to host a worldwide tiger summit in Vladivostock next year as part of a $1 billion drive with the World Wildlife Foundation to double the world’s tiger population to 6,500 by 2022. The tigers (and even more endangered Amur leopards) live in a tiny area near the Sea of Japan.

Wanna visit? Russian travel agencies do offer a few options–but not the type of ecotourism Americans may be used to with spas and massages. If you don’t get a tip from a park ranger on where a tiger is, this tour guide warns you may have to wait for days in an isolated “hide-out tent” for the tiger to show. Well, at least there’s room for ecotourism to grow to support the Amur Tiger.

Want to see big cats? Here’s an AnimalTourism.com map and guide to places to see lions, tigers and cougars around the globe

Map of Russian Tiger Hotspots

The jaguar photo was contributed by the Russian Academy of Sciences’ permanent exhibition

View AnimalTourism.com Big Cats in a larger map

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Skip about 40 seconds into this video from Wildlife Education and Resource Center and you’ll get to see some grown women dressing up as a giant (though somewhat disheveled) bobcat and playing with a bobcat kitten. The women rub themselves in bark and sticks to get a nice earthy, non-human scent. Then the lucky ladies step into this homemade costume, which has been pre-scented with bobcat urine.

The WERC center in Morgan Hill, CA (near San Jose), pioneered the technique in 1994. It’s all in an effort to prevent the kittens from getting used to the idea of hanging around humans. These lynx turn out fine–as long as they don’t stumble upon a mascot convention.

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When I was in Germany a few weeks ago I got to visit Saarbrücken Wildpark, which confused me. In the middle of a forest were huge pens for native animals. No addmission charge, just come on in, enjoy the animals or the woods. I wondered how this place could survive if the animals weren’t producing food.

“By the way, the animals are not supposed to be eaten!” says Michael Wagner, head of Saarbrucken’s forestry department. All the Germans I mentioned this to were equally appalled at my assumption.

The animals are there neither to be rescued nor eaten, but just for people to enjoy. “The Wildpark is intended as a greenbelt recreation area for the citizens of Saarbrücken, especially for families with children,” he says. They also have a geology-themed trail. Even though the center isn’t set up specifically for animal welfare, they do sometimes take in a few orphans, Wagner says. And they are part of the important project to recover the wisent. Only one herd of the European bison was left in the Polish woods after World War II, but there are now several thousand because of an elaborately managed breeding exchange program across Europe.

View Animaltourism.com Europe in a larger map

It’s fantastic that Germans and other Europeans have recognized that native animals in their natural environment (or a close enough approximation) are just fun to see. I wish we had wildparks here. The wildparks are all over the place. ZooInfos lists 144 native wildlife parks in Germany; 29 in Austria and 16 in Switzerland.

The wildparks each have their own quirky history shaped by historical events and people who either wanted to hunt or preserve a species (or both). Many started as private hunting preserves of the wealthy, then after a war, revolution or gift, they fell to public hands.

France has parc animaler (animal parks), but it doesn’t seem like there are as many (ZoosInfo lists only 15). This Safari Train one lets people see bison and ostrich on the range, then buy their meat.
I’m still a little confused by the new categories. There are zoos, tierparks (translation: zoo), wildparks and native wildlife parks. They have deer parks and vogelpark (birds). And then all kinds of specialty wildparks:
The Neanderthal Wildpark features wisent and two other animals that people have tried to breed back from extinction, the auloch (a primitive cattle breed) and the tarpan (a horse ancestor).

Wildparks like these show that people would love to go see native animals if given the chance.

See more animals in Europe

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