conservation, national parking, probably a tree hugger thing, thinking deeper

Yellowstone bison calf put down after human interference, or let’s not touch the animals, okay?

Everything expressed below is my opinion only and doesn’t represent any position on behalf of the National Park Service or any other entity, cited or otherwise.

Let’s talk about that bison calf.

Don’t know what I’m talking about? From a press release out of Yellowstone National Park today:

In recent weeks, visitors in the park have been engaging in inappropriate, dangerous, and illegal behavior with wildlife. These actions endanger people and have now resulted in the death of a newborn bison calf.
Last week in Yellowstone National Park, visitors were cited for placing a newborn bison calf in their vehicle and transporting it to a park facility because of their misplaced concern for the animal’s welfare. In terms of human safety, this was a dangerous activity because adult animals are very protective of their young and will act aggressively to defend them. In addition, interference by people can cause mothers to reject their offspring. In this case, park rangers tried repeatedly to reunite the newborn bison calf with the herd. These efforts failed. The bison calf was later euthanized because it was abandoned and causing a dangerous situation by continually approaching people and cars along the roadway.

You can read the entire release here, and they cite other instances just in the last few weeks of humans getting way too close to these animals. From viral videos of people trying to touch bison to concern over an “abandoned and cold” calf, humans have gone way beyond crossing a proverbial line.

So what’s going on exactly?

Personally I think a combination of the desire for viral phenomena as well as a pure lack of real education about wildlife and our environment have created a hotbed for bad behavior. The strange thing about wanting to be a viral phenomenon is that almost nobody is going to remember your name afterward. Think about the last viral video or meme you saw: can you say the username of the person who made it? How about their actual name? No? That’s because it’s a flash in the pan situation. You’ll remember the blue and black dress (or is it white and gold??) but not the woman who wore it. That’s not a Thing that really needs to be Fixed so much as that people need to take a step back and ask why they’re really filming/photographing/recording something that may cost them (or an animal) their life.

And now we come to the bison calf.

One of the biggest reactions I saw when I started looking into this article is that people don’t understand why the calf had to be put down instead of being hand reared or even taken to a zoo. While I don’t know enough detail in this specific case, I can give you what my general impressions are from the press release and offer my best explanation based on my previous experience with zoos, wildlife sanctuaries, etc.

  • The bison calf wasn’t going back to its mother. This is a problem for many reasons. The main reason is that it is a young herd animal that needs its mother and the rest of the herd to feed it, protect it, and generally teach it how to be a bison. Without being part of the group, the calf was at risk for starvation, predation, injury or death simply from being alone. That’s the thing about herd animals– they need the herd to survive. That’s how they function.
  • The bison calf was approaching humans. This is very dangerous for the calf and for the humans. The calf was at risk of being hit by a car (and hitting a large animal with a car can be deadly for the humans involved, too!) as well as not getting the food and protection and other things provided by the herd. Humans just can’t do that. Not only that, but having a young bison near humans might A) attract other bison, including the mother, to be near humans (and bison are dangerous) and B) might contribute to disease being spread. Many many many of the weird strains of flu and other viruses come from humans being too close to wild animals. This calf was probably A-Okay, but it’s still not a good idea.
  • The bison calf was born in the wild to a specific wild herd. This is probably the number one reason the calf couldn’t go to a zoo or other sanctuary. As I said before, bison are herd animals and the calf needed a herd, but it wasn’t going back to its own. The calf would be hard pressed at best to join another herd in a zoo or sanctuary, and at worst would be outright rejected, leaving it in a yet more vulnerable situation.
  • The bison calf might pose a health risk to other bison. In addition, if the calf were carrying any diseases or pathogens, even ones that are normal and healthy in a wild herd, it could decimate a different population that has been bred and raised in a zoo. With bison considered “stable, but near threatened” according to the IUCN, populations in captivity shouldn’t be put at risk for a single individual.

So let’s get some wildlife watching education.

There are a few general guidelines to follow that will help keep wildlife watching safe for you and the animals. Here are some tips!

  • Do not approach wildlife for any reason. Think an animal is injured? Call a professional, be it a park ranger, a wildlife help hotline (really, those exist! I have a bird person and a small mammal person in my contact list), or even your local SPCA. They will ask you some questions to understand the situation and, if needed, come assess things. You aren’t an expert, even if you’ve seen a lot of Discovery Channel. Especially don’t approach large animals. Many parks have posted signs or regulations as well. In this case, there is a 25 yard minimum distance you must keep between yourself and the bison. Anything closer is breaking federal law and you could go to jail. Surely an instagram photo isn’t worth that. Oh, and bison? They have horns. That can gore you. That’s right, gore. Don’t believe me? Google “bison gore risk” and see what you find.
  • Do not feed wildlife. This means ducks and seagulls, too. I know it’s tempting to feed birds and other wildlife. I know how much it makes your kids happy. It is not healthy for the animals, no matter how “hungry” they seem. I could write a whole other post about this, but the biggest take away is that birds and other animals are not adapted to survive on human food. Bread and bread products are particularly bad for them, causing obesity and diabetes in animals that shouldn’t ever encounter it. Think about how unhealthy our modern diets are, and you want to give that stuff to a bird? Not to mention you’re changing natural behavior and disrupting a food chain, and possibly an entire ecosystem. Don’t be that disruption.
  • Do not move baby animals. Even if they look abandoned. Even if you think they might be injured. (See above.) Animal parents will often leave their young in a tucked away, camouflaged area while they go to look for food, or to try and lure larger potential predators away from the young. This doesn’t mean humans won’t occasionally stumble across this type of scenario. In every case, do not move the baby animal. Do not touch the baby animal. The parent is probably nearby, but moving the youngster may make it impossible for the parent to find it again, even if you’ve only moved it a few feet. Remember that the parent chose this location for its offspring and doesn’t think like a human would. Even touching the animal can cause harm, and not because the “scent of humans* scares away the parents.” This comes down to injury and disease again. You don’t know what germs you both might be carrying, or how to handle baby wildlife if you are not an expert. And here’s the thing– experts will only touch a baby animal as a last resort.**
  • Do take photos from a safe distance. Photos are a great way to remember what you saw, where you saw it, and share with others! They can also help you identify specific species you might not know. I photograph birds and reptiles all the time so I can take the pictures home and look them up online or in my wildlife guides. I can’t tell you the number of cool species I’ve seen, and only realized it because I had the foresight to photograph them for identification! Photos are also fun to share with rangers, who are usually interested in what animals are where in the park. It can even help build conservation knowledge about the animals to know where they are at certain times. The key is to stay at a safe distance. Don’t know what that is? Google is your friend, and park staff can give you good guidelines!
  • Do keep food in safe containers or locations when camping. And no your car is not a “safe” location– bears can break into cars like you bust into a can of baked beans. By keeping food where animals can’t get to it, you are not motivating them to come hang out where humans are. Not only does this preserve everyone’s safety, but it could save the animals’ lives: human food can make them sick and nuisance animals (i.e. animals that come too close, posing a health and safety risk to people) often have to be relocated or euthanized.
  • Do your research. This is huge, and relatively easy– if you’re going to be in an area with wildlife, just read up on what you might encounter. Look for official park websites, talk to park staff or rangers, even chat with someone at a zoo or aquarium who can tell you about animals in specific places. There is a huge amount of information out there, just waiting for you!
  • Do share this information with your friends! One of the biggest problems we face is that people lack education about wildlife, so become an animal advocate! Explain to your friends and family why it’s not a good idea to feed bread to ducks at the local park or why you aren’t going to move that baby deer at the edge of the woods. It will take time and a lot of effort, but the more we can spread the word about how to interact with wildlife, the more animal (and human!) lives can be saved. Don’t let this bison calf die in vain.

So there you have it. I hope this has been helpful for folks searching for answers about what happened to the little bison and why it “couldn’t just be put in a zoo.” It can be hard to see the bigger picture sometimes, but often taking a step back makes a big difference.

Got any other animals in the news you want to ask me about? I’ll give you my take!

[UPDATE: 5/16/16 1:20pm]

From Yellowstone National Park’s Facebook page:
Thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to read this post and share our safety messages. We’re reading through your comments and noticed many people asking why the calf had to be euthanized.

In order to ship the calf out of the park, it would have had to go through months of quarantine to be monitored for brucellosis. No approved quarantine facilities exist at this time, and we don’t have the capacity to care for a calf that’s too young to forage on its own. Nor is it the mission of the National Park Service to rescue animals: our goal is to maintain the ecological processes of Yellowstone. Even though humans were involved in this case, it is not uncommon for bison, especially young mothers, to lose or abandon their calves. Those animals typically die of starvation or predation.

*It’s a myth that birds won’t take care of their young if a human touches it, but use this knowledge with caution! If you know what nest the baby bird fell from, use a washcloth to touch it as little and as gently as possible, and put it back. If you do not know, there’s a better than good chance that baby is learning to fly and its parents are nearby watching. If the baby is still there a day later, call a local bird rescue and ask for advice.

**I think it’s important to note that sometimes experts do touch baby wildlife, or even adult animals, for scientific research and conservation purposes. This is usually a tagging situation, where they need to track an individual or population to help keep it healthy or to study its range in order to better understand and protect it. Think of California condors– many of them were tagged as chicks to help keep track– but the experts know the proper way to do this with the least stress and risk to the animals involved. You and I are not those experts.

musings, thinking deeper

Thoughts on Boston, Editorial Choices, and why I’m choosing not to look.

This has been stewing in my mind for a couple of days, so you’ll have to bear with me.

The whole world is aware of the bombings that took place two days ago at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Thanks to this age of social media, in which everyone has a phone and every phone has a camera, we knew within minutes what happened. It was like a flood: the first few confusing mentions, then more and more until everyone from national TV to Twitter to the street corner were talking about it, and mostly nothing else, on Monday.

And with it came the photos. Raw, in-the-moment photos. Images normally reserved for movies and special effects were real and vivid and so bright and clear.

And I decided not to look.

As humans, we can’t help but watch sometimes. Horrific things unfold and we can’t tear our eyes away, we can’t seem to stop the “rubberneck” effect. In a time when we have unlimited access to images like those coming from Boston, it’s hard to not look. It’s also hard to know when you’re going to see something that will burn itself into your mind for the rest of your life.

One of the strange things about our instantaneous news is how we have shifted from wanting to know to actually feeling that we need to know what’s happening. We are almost like a hive-mind, reaching out, making sure that every single person knows something bad is happening somewhere. And then we sit and obsess over it, either by planting ourselves in front of the television, or the computer, or the Twitter feed on a phone, and we watch for every update, for every theory, for every new shocking tidbit.

Don’t get me wrong on this. It is important to know what happened. It is vital that we find out who or what is responsible for this terrible act, that we bring justice to them, and that we make every effort to stop this from happening again.

But we seem to have developed an idea that it is somehow our civic, or even our moral duty to watch these things as they unfold. Minute by minute, we stare at the continued lack of information, the increased flood of sickening images, as if somehow by letting our lives stop it will change things.

The people running toward the explosions to help, those carrying away the strangers to get aid, those running toward hospitals to give blood, they are all heroes, all showing the capacity of humanity for good in the face of evil.

But in the midst of all of that, for those of us hundreds or thousands of miles away, those of us who are removed, there wasn’t anything we could do. I think that feeling of helplessness is what draws us to stop and do nothing but watch, to put ourselves into the situation as if somehow by participating in the communal watching we can help.

And in the midst of it, hundreds of individuals (and then news agencies) have to make editorial decisions about what we as a community will watch.

The images coming out of Boston were horrific. They were sickening and shocking and most of all real. They were unedited snapshots (and videos) of real time disaster and, especially at first, none of them were posted or shared with any warning.

No matter how much we feel it is important to know in the moment, it is important to remember that we are not obligated to look. We just aren’t. There are things that can’t be unseen, and there are people who do not need to see the blood to understand the horror of it.

And while there were amazing, helpful things that came from social media that day (such as helplines getting passed quickly and Google’s person finder spreadsheet), there was also potential for people to see their loved one, lying on the street, and to find out that way what happened, or for a child to suddenly find themselves facing something that will induce nightmares for years to come.

Why does this matter?

I read an op-ed that pointed out that these bombs were meant to be seen. They were left at a place conspicuously crowded and exceedingly photographed. The finish line itself is covered with cameras to record winners, record runs, you name it. The person or group responsible wanted us to see and wanted us to be horrified.

And so I chose not to look.

I am angry, yes, and I am horrified that this happened and by the idea that such a thing could happen anywhere at any time. But I also know that seeing those images would do me more harm than good. It was hard to break the mental cycle, that need to read every article, to know moment by moment the reactions on the ground, but I had to pull myself away, to give myself that sense of separation, the wait-and-see to find out what really happened instead of the rumor and fear-mongering and hearsay.

I am still avoiding the pictures and videos. I will continue to do so. They don’t deserve the power we give them. Instead I will continue to pray for the victims, and remember Romans 12:21.

Do not be overcome by evilbut overcome evil with good.

holidays, thinking deeper

Easter Monday

I missed my post yesterday because of the holiday. And today’s will be brief.

Easter was nice. There was extra music at church and I went to a pot luck with an egg hunt, which was fun. The Easter bunny doesn’t seem to be a big thing here, though, which is a little weird for me, but I did read myself The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes as is my Easter tradition. That link takes you to an article in the New Yorker where the author says she has only met one person who read the book as a child. I’m one of those people. It’s interesting because the book has (especially in recent years, it would seem) gained a lot of popularity for its message that despite racial, class and gender bias, a little country girl bunny with brown skin can realize her dream and be the most celebrated of all the (five) Easter bunnies. I’ve loved the book as long as I can remember, though I didn’t know until recently just how old it was.

So there you go. Find a copy of Country Bunny and enjoy it, even if you were too old for one of the Easter bunnies to come to your house this year.

musings, thinking deeper

Almost done fasting and this is what I’ve learned.

So, I’ve been on a mostly-vegan* fast the last three weeks that I get to break on Sunday morning (Easter) with a friend who has promised me cinnamon rolls. This is (briefly) what I have learned:

  • Americans eat entirely too much meat. I don’t eat out much but the two times I’ve tried in the last three weeks made me realize that there is meat in EVERYTHING, including so-called “vegetarian” things.
  • There is sugar in really strange foods. Basically, if you don’t make it yourself, there is probably sugar in it. I’m not even kidding.
  • Even though I don’t eat large portions, I go for comfort food more often than I realized.
  • I could probably be a vegetarian pretty easily. Giving up meat (except for the dining out part) was easy because I don’t buy meat (except for J) at home anyway. But giving up dairy? HARD. I miss cheese. A lot. And yogurt. But mostly cheese.
  • Mediterranean food is surprisingly simple to make.
  • Cayenne fixes a lot of boring things, especially when you need protein and beans are available.
  • Speaking of protein, there’s protein in a LOT of places. It took me a few days to figure out how to get enough, but once you find it, protein is simple!
  • Triscuits are my favorite.
  • Have I told you I really miss cheese?


*It’s called the Daniel Fast and is based on the fasting of the prophet Daniel from the Old Testament. It’s mostly vegan because we’re allowed honey. Some versions don’t, but I’m not going to complain because peanut butter honey sandwiches are perfect to pack in a lunch. 😀

the funny stuff, thinking deeper, this and that

Alrighty Then: pop culture references that… don’t.

Recently I’ve started paying attention to various ways our everyday language is strange (being in a place where people commonly don’t quite understand one another even though we can all speak “English” does that to you). Our use of expressions and idioms, for instance, must confuse some people not from the US to no end. I give you: “That joke kills me!” as an example. It’s extreme sounding if you don’t know that it’s meant as a metaphor.

I’m not talking about accents, either, though I will say it took me a minute to tell the nice Australian gentleman at the zoo yesterday where to find the “taoy-gahrs” that were enjoying the rain as large, stripey cats who like getting wet do. Once I realized he wasn’t talking about a type of turtle, it helped a lot.

Back to my point, though. One of the things I’ve noticed lately is how many pop culture references we make every day and it got me wondering: How many things do we say all the time without even thinking about its original reference point?

Example: today I used the phrase “Alrighty then!” and then had to stop and think because it struck me that I was quoting something but couldn’t think what. It didn’t matter because it’s become a common expression and no one finds it strange, nor do they find it funny because unless you ask someone to really think about it, they won’t come to the realization that I’ve just quoted Ace Ventura any faster than I did. I mean, that movie is old by pop culture’s standards. A lot of people haven’t seen it. And there are people like me who haven’t seen it (or haven’t seen the whole thing) and know it best because of its being referenced in pop culture.

There are a lot of phrases we use that are from movies, TV shows, music, and what have you for which I’m sure the vast majority of people don’t even know the original things being referenced. There are also things where I’m guessing the reference is better known than the original thing itself.

Other examples:

  • “Wink wink, nudge nudge” is used to humorously make someone aware that you’re hinting at something. It comes from Monty Python (as a huge number of our pop cultural references do) and an innuendo-laden sketch from Flying Circus.
  • “Beam me up, Scotty” is maybe one of the more famous examples of this; though most people know it’s a Star Trek reference, most people don’t know it wasn’t actually said in the original series. Although for knowing that, I might be one of the people being targeted by this (often making-fun-of-geeky-people) phrase.
  • The Ninja Turtles are, of course, Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, and Rafael. They are all famous Renaissance artists, but my guess is that most (I’m being optimistic and giving people credit for knowing Michelangelo and possibly da Vinci, if they realize that it’s that Leonardo) folks think of the Ninja Turtles first.
  • “Drinking the Koolaid” is another one that gets used, usually to mean that you’ve bought into an idea. I doubt many people in my generation or younger know it’s referring to the cult leader who got his followers to drink a flavored something and commit mass suicide, which was essentially mass murder. Not a good reference, though it has now become so commonplace that the dark edge has been removed from the expression itself. Reading about what happened is, of course, still horrifying.
  • Just the other day I said, “What we’ve got is a failure to communicate,” and received a blank look from someone. I think people still use and get this one, but it’s definitely not a younger-generation expression.

There are, of course, others, but you get my point. Some are even better known than the things they themselves were referencing.

How many things do we say every day that make no sense out of our cultural context, and how many more don’t mean the same thing any more? Expressions and slang are always evolving our language, and have been since the roots of English began over a thousand years ago. It’s interesting to see it happening in the here and now, though, and not just in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (which starts the shift from Old to Middle English).

Yeah, I’m a nerd.

thinking deeper

London Riots and Big Brother

I wanted to write about all of my thoughts on the London riots, but find my thoughts too jumbled for a really coherent post, so here is what you get. If it turns out coherent at the end, I’ll be as surprised as you!

It’s interesting what comes into your head when you read the news, and when discussion is about current events, and the connections that people make between the two. This morning I saw a really interesting post someone made about the connection between the “rules” of society (which we all feel compelled, as rule-followers, to obey) and the “new rules” in London (which center around violence and looting). If I can find the post I’ll link it, but trust me when I say it was interesting, and I apologize if I retread it a little as I think my way through it.

At any rate, I started thinking about 1984 and how brilliant George Orwell was and how many things happen in connection with the concepts in that book. In 1984, Big Brother is always watching. “He” can see through the TV screens, he can see you through all of the security cameras, he can see you through the eyes of his police force, and because Big Brother is always watching, people are always following the rules. As people, we have a need to find some sort of order, and will live by rules (even arbitrary ones we make ourselves) in an effort to “fit” with our society, real or perceived. In the book it was dangerous to be a misfit, and to most of us it is a little scary and possibly dangerous to be a misfit in the real world as well; if we don’t “fit” then we can’t get jobs, make friends, even function in many basic ways. We set up governments and rules and then we abide by them, while at the same time complaining about the very thing we put in place from the start. Human nature? Probably. But it is this idea that we are being watched that makes all the difference: most people wouldn’t break the rules because they might be seen, and therefore judged and possibly punished (by the justice system or just by society).

From the time we’re little and our parents have “eyes in the back of their heads” we feel that we are being watched. People of faith would point out that we are always watched by God, but I would guess that a great many people don’t think about that a whole lot. No, they are more concerned with society watching. What will people think of me? How will they punish me? Which brings us back to Big Brother. The thing about Big Brother is that Big Brother’s eyes were everywhere, because Big Brother was everyone. All of society around you, watching you constantly and waiting to catch you falling out of step by just a hair. People stay in step because it is safe and they are afraid to break rank.

So what happens when people realize Big Brother is just a poster on the wall and can’t really see them? Chaos. People in London turned to violence over the weekend and the violence has snowballed and spread and over the last four days, people have just been… out of step. Society doesn’t approve of arson, looting, shootings, etc.

But remember that people have a need for structure. A need for rules. What if this new behavior is a temporary society these people have created with its own set of rules and its own language and currency? Sure, it might not last, but there are a whole lot of people following the rules of rioting right now instead of the rules of England. Big Brother has changed hats.

So when they realize they are being watched still, will it stop? Having 16,000 police on the ground in London tonight seems to have helped. Big Brother is still watching. People fall back into rank. London will dust herself off and move forward.


On a tangentially related note, I was talking with some people today and we were discussing if riots like that could happen here. I hope not. But then again, the disgruntled attitude in England is seemingly caused by things like a bad economy, high unemployment, and frustration with the folks in positions of political power. Hmm.

thinking deeper, zoo stuff

Being Appreciated

Tonight was the volunteer appreciation dinner at the zoo and honestly, I really did feel appreciated. This is the third such event I’ve attended at this zoo and it was the first time that I knew a large enough group of people there to really feel comfortable and like I was spending time with friends and not just making small talk. I also won a lanyard for my name tag because I knew all of the animals on the “who’s who” game board. So yay for me.

It also made me think about the idea of being appreciated and recognized for what I do and I realized something that I’m not quite sure how to take; I will probably not ever be at one place long enough to be “Volunteer of the Year” or any other such thing. That seems like a weird thing to think about, but not only at this zoo but at other places where I have worked the “Award of the Year” has always gone to someone who has been there a long time. I’m not disagreeing with that at all; long term commitment like that should definitely be honored and rewarded. It’s just that I feel a tiny bit sad that no matter how much I do I’m not likely to ever get to that point.

And then the tiny bit of sad went away (mostly) and was replaced by this interesting thought: I may not ever be volunteer of the year, or recognized beyond my immediate impact, but I have a chance to be a pollinator. I get to jump into a new place every couple of years and bring with me all of the experiences and information I’ve collected at my previous places and maybe make each new place just a little bit better. And I’m okay with that.

And you know what? The people I’m with on a daily basis appreciate me for what I do. And really, isn’t that the important thing?

thinking deeper

Losing the “Memorial” in this weekend

I’m going to tell you about the visit I had with my sister. I’m going to tell you about J’s birthday, too. I promise.

But I also want to tell you that I’m a little disturbed at the number of people wishing me (and everyone else) a “Happy Memorial Day.”

Let’s think about this for just a moment. A “memorial” is something to remember a person or thing no longer with us; this means that “Memorial Day” is meant to honor people who are not with us, and specifically the 650,000 Americans who have died in defense of the country since the Revolutionary War.

People also seem to think this is a day to thank service members. Veteran’s Day is to thank those who serve; Memorial Day is a day to remember those who sacrificed. There is a difference, though I’m sure some will say I’m nitpicking.

My point is, that while I feel humbled and appreciative, “happy” is not the way I’d choose to describe Memorial Day. No one says “Happy Funeral Day” to someone who’s lost a loved one, but each and every one of the service members who died for this country was someone’s loved one. In the middle of our barbeques and trips to the beach, I think we should take a minute and remember what a memorial really is, and be thankful for the amazing freedoms we enjoy thanks to those who defend them and us.