Thursday, December 12, 2013

Save a Shelter Dog... maybe save a little more than you expected :) Nic

Save shelter dogs.  I promise, the joy of knowing you saved their life adds to the experience of being the human of a Dog.

...whomever said "diamonds are a girls' best friend" never met me and my dogs.  ~Nic.

Bandit McKaye - Anatolian Shepherd c/o a mutual effort from Tennessee's Big Fluffy Dog Rescue and National Anatolian Shepherd Rescue Network... Saved from death in February 2011.   Support shelter dogs and those who offer amnesty to the ones on death row.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A New Appreciation of Veteran's Day

I have always been a Patriot. When I was a little girl, I chose the New England Patriots as my favorite team simply because I like anything that symbolizes patriotism. My great grandfather was a veteran of WWI. My grandfather a veteran of WWII. My uncle a veteran of Vietnam. My dad is retired Air National Guard. My uncle is retired US Navy. My cousin is active Navy. I come from a long line of patriots and my love of my country and the foundations that we were built on (regardless of how skewed they have become) runs very deeply, indeed. Its why I volunteered to try to bring smiles to Wounded Warriors at the recent event I blogged about. You know, I was supposed to go in the Army... was enlisted but became pregnant a couple months prior to basic training with my son, Dakota.

Now, 21 years later, I have a new appreciation for Veteran's Day... while I missed my opportunity to serve my country because I got pregnant with my son, this year I include my son in those thanks. Where I stumbled, he has stood tall. My pride in my son's commitment and accomplishment greatly outweigh my fears and longing to see him. My son... the submariner.

Nicotye and her Son, Kota
When I post my "thank you" to vets and current military staff on social media, I have a deeper appreciation for the words I say. Too often we regurgitate sentiments from habit, no longer feeling the depth and appreciation for what the words mean. How often do you hang up a phone and, just prior to, say "I love you" as more of a closing statement than a deep and emotional sentiment? How often have I said "Happy Thanksgiving - I am thankful for my family and friends" without taking the time to really feel that appreciation? I admit that I have, in the past, often said (on Veteran's Day or anytime I see military personnel walking through an airport or something) "Thank you for your service" without really taking a moment to feel the depth of their commitment and the sacrifice that they have undertaken to benefit America.

So today, being my first Veteran's Day where I honor all of my relatives who have served, the military persons I may not ever know, and my son... today I feel the appropriate amount of gratitude and sacrifice and commitment and pride that I should always feel when I thank someone for their service. If the only sacrifice I can give to my country is through the geographic distance and frequent lapses in communication that I now have by supporting my son's decision to serve is the hardest sacrifice I have to make, I will take that sacrifice willingly over and over again...

...being a Patriot doesn't mean sitting on my laurels and taking solace in the fact that I know my Pledge and my Anthem and respect my colors... being a Patriot means you have the bravery to give what others may not be willing to give. If I could be there with my son, I would be. If I am ever needed, I will go (regardless that I'm "too old")... and no matter how I feel about whatever political environment that may be around, I will ALWAYS be a Patriot.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Azure World

Roatan Islands, Honduras.  Everything about the name of this destination screams “NOT FOR ME”… not for the girl who loves mountains instead of seas, who loves crisp cold over oppressive heat.  Regardless of where I travel during my wanderlust, this has always (and will always) be my personal truth.  But that doesn’t mean that, on a very rare occasion, I can’t find myself enthralled by the antithesis of my heart’s desires, right? 
One of the photos I took at Lam'anai ruins.

I visited Roatan after having already made stops in Cozumel and Belize.  Belize will always have a soft spot for the anthropological archaeologist in me… but aside from their spectacular Mayan ruins, I think they are just like every other third world country.  I’ve heard my brother and dad rave about the scuba in Belize, but I don’t scuba (nor will I take my limited time there for snorkeling when I have so many ruins to explore!).  So, the morning I walked out on the deck and my eyes experienced Roatan, I have to admit I was shocked immediately by the splendor of the rugged and lush hills.  The water between myself and the island was that specific shade of blue that only the Caribe waters seems to create.  If you haven’t seen the Caribbean, I always use the word “azure” to describe it. While “azure” may simply mean "blue" in Spanish… it’s beyond that.  The sultry yet somehow lazy feel of the word on my tongue (Ahz-zhuer) somehow express the devastating yet comfortable shade that I only seem to find here.  Roatan was surrounded by azure waters accented by the crisper, lighter shades indicative of reefs.  Considering I usually went into ports with a sense of “ugh, how ugly” and “welp, at least it’s just a few hours here then back on the boat!”, this was a dramatic change… I was anxious to get off the boat, don snorkeling gear and get in that water.

We (a group of 20 or so) hopped on the deluxe catamaran known as the Jolly Roger and motored a few miles up the coast to a specific stretch of reef.  Experienced snorkelers (or those who were either great swimmers or arrogantly confident that they had no need of a life vest) were allowed to don our gear and hop into the water with a guide to show us to some pretty cool areas of the reef.  I bet you’ve already guessed, but I’m one of those cocky, arrogantly confident types that didn’t want to feel hindered by a life vest.  I have been snorkeling once or twice and I admit that, while I have a wretched fear of the ocean (ok,… of sharks)… I’m also one natural helluva swimmer…. so screw the PFD! (Err… that’s ‘personal floatation device’… a way cooler way of saying life vest.) 

Stoplight Parrotfish c/o
I hopped in the water and adjusted the bikini, meandering out of the way as I waited on M to jump in.  After he did, he pretty much told me to go on ahead as he adjusted and did his thing.  After a quick 10 yard swim, the reef life below me burst into view flaunting vivid colors of reefs and fishes in varied shapes and sizes.  I made sure I stayed in front of my group (never fun to take a fin to the head!) but kept an eye on where our guide went.  Purple giant ‘leaves’ waved lazily  from the sea floor, rainbows of fishes danced in and out of the reef.  I’d take a deep breath and dive down, going 10… 15… 20 feet down to swim between isles of reef.  I held a starfish who managed to both slither and clamber at the same time as it moved over my hands.  I chased a stoplight parrotfish as we played hide-and-seek from reef to reef.  I gawked in awe at the depth and darkness of the bluff that plunged down at the end of the reef.  I didn’t know it until I got back to the Jolly Roger, but at some point I dove so deep that I managed to give myself a bloody nose and quite painful ear pop which didn’t subside even after I equalized.  When the trip was over,  and no sooner had I been out of the water (blood washed off my face) than I wanted to go back in.  The places I’ve snorkeled were never so wild and free as this… and never in 5’ swells, either (which added to my fun!). 

I fell in love with the island, with the people I met from the island, and with the splendor of snorkeling on their amazing reefs.  While Belize may have equally impressive reefs, I won’t ever find that out (cuz they have SO MANY amazing RUINS!).

Monday, June 3, 2013

Where does the onus belong...?

Personal responsibility and accountability…. terms used in so many contexts and catch phrases today.  I suppose you can Google the definitions of those just as well as I; because I won’t provide them for you this time.  I gripe often about our lack of personal accountability (“our” meaning people in general including myself).  Usually, I'm on a total rant-fest about the whole topic... but I’m thinking of aspects of my responsibility and accountability in a different context this time. 
...specifically, surrounding the (my) average blog. 
I have never relied on anyone for validation of what I may or may not post
because my blogging is merely my perception of my world and written more for a sense of “me” than as 100% rock solid fact.  So when someone proposes that I have misrepresented a specific populace by using too general a term… my immediate first thought is “it’s not my job to teach Joe and Jane Q. Public on the specific nuance of said population.”  The comment didn’t make me angry… but it did spur me to think seriously on if it is or is “not my job to teach or specify…”
I think if I’m going to talk about a population that does have "a few shades" within a general term, maybe it is my responsibility to provide a higher level of specificity rather than simply stating "this generalized population". 
I’m arguing with myself.  Is it my responsibility?  I don’t know.  I mean, I can see where it could be… but on the same side of the token, isn’t the onus to understand the context of something broad up to the reader? 
Regardless,… it is well-meaning and good advice… so if I give it logical consideration (which I take pride in doing before conceding to a decision)… I admit a need to keep it in mind for future posts.  So, on that note, I will make an effort to improve and am sorry if I have misrepresented facts based on generalizations.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Global Warming, Carbon Emissions, Fossil Fuel Use, and Ingenuity?

I had a very windy (i.e. relatively heated) debate with Funkdubie over things learned in my Global Change and Climatology Earth Sciences/Geology course when when we were asked to compile everything we had learned, filtering it into answering the simple question of "should we limit carbon emissions?”  

The majority of the debate with Funkdubie was over the science involved, the lack of long-term (think geologic timescales) data, and (to paraphrase myself) the 'grandiose thinking of humans that we know everything, can fix everything, and are the cause of everything'.  I admit, I may actually have something there.  Maybe we are grandiose?  Regardless, that's a different blog!  

When I look at all of the data that I've discovered during this class (800k years of ice core data analysis, the literal climatic history of Earth, etc) and we look at the options for "global warming" and the underlying questions surrounding global warming... being asked if we should force carbon emission and fossil fuel use limitations now is really quite a loaded question.  All of the data doesn’t give some epiphany of an answer; rather, it just prompts me to sit back and ponder even more questions.  In the end, and I’d never admit this to Funkdubie, he had a valid point that we must consider a more socioeconomic motive – no matter what the science says – which always seems to outweigh other things.  His words that actual ring true are: 

“An artificial regulation of resources doesn’t spur ingenuity like an actual shortage of those same resources.” 

While we are working towards a start to fix the carbon footprint of humanity, the pressure to do so is neither readily economically feasible nor are the means that we have “tinkered with” an end-all resolution/solution.  While I commend that we are beginning the eventual proverbial race for alternatives, our current efforts are likely more of a ‘stretching the muscles’ in preparation for the race that is forthcoming.  While we should continue to encourage carbon-emission-fossil-fuel-use-limits, the sad truth is that until we have no options (due to limited resources making fossil fuel use economically arduous), the true meaning behind “necessity is the mother of invention” will likely not transpire. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Where did all the giant animals go?

So, the last post we looked at a few incredible giant animals we used to have - giant animals we call "megafauna".  I promised that in my next post we would look a bit more at the theories behind the mass extinction.  (On an unrelated noted, did you know there were like 5 mass extinctions before the origin of man (or at least from the fossil record of the origin of man?!).)  So, let's stop and think about it.

This isn't a new question; it's been posed by all types of persons ranging from virtually no education through topmost scholars.  Theories are as varied as the people asking, ranging from ostensibly far-fetched hypotheses to seemingly "commonsensical" ones.  Some of the proposed theories from scholars include:

  • Hyperdisease impacting only certain species
  • Comet impact
  • Solar radiation
  • Overkill
  • Blitzkrieg (rapid overkill)
  • Sitzkrieg (fire, habitat fragmentation, and introduction of invasive species and diseases)
  • “Simple” climate and environmental change

Instead of reallly boring you with full studies on theories, how about I summarize various hypotheses and provide an opinion based on general plausibility from questions or challenges left unanswered by each author.  Trust me, you like this option better because it means I do the hard work and you get the snapshot!  Win-win, eh?!

Extraterrestrial Impact Event

The extraterrestrial impact event theorizes that the onset of the 1,000+ years of Younger Dryas cooling event coincided and the Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions (as well as extinctions of the Clovis people) because of an extraterrestrial (comet) impact (Firestone, 2009).  The author cites a carbon-rich black material (referred to as “black mat”) which can be found immediately covering Clovis kill sites.  Furthermore, the author states that no megafaunal fossil or Clovis artifacts are discovered above (stratified) the black mat.  The composition of the black mat appears to coincide with extraterrestrial components as well as carbon components which allude to a superheated shockwave and high temperature fires.  He points to the Carolina and Great Lakes “craters” as substantiation for impact areas.    You caught that, right?  The Great Lakes are craters.  That right there is going to cause me a lot of research sometime in the near future.

Anyhow, the back mat referenced by the author is seen in various articles and, as such, does seem to play some role in the overall extinction.  In regard to the proposed impact craters: the author argues proof of impact based on shallow "crater pools" in the 15 Carolina Bays as well as elliptical shallow lakes in Georgia, Virginia, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico and Texas; the inexplicable depth of the Great Lakes is why he states they were also formed due to some interstellar cause.  He provides ample imagery and ‘impact-related mineral data’ to explain the extraterrestrial-caused formation of the numerous shallow areas and Great Lakes.  In specific regard to the Great Lakes, he agrees that a large comet strike would have left craters but believes these craters were diminished in standard identifiable features.  He believes the comet struck the Laurentide Ice Sheet, which greatly absorbed some of the impact energy.  The impact caused the ice sheet to fail and, upon failure, provide a sudden release of both rushing water and ice ejecta.  Therefore, with circumstances being as they may, there would be no ‘tell tale’ crater but, instead, “a great scar in an otherwise featureless landscape.”  The author further links the formation of the Great Lakes to coincide with the formation of Charity Shoal, a 1km crater in Lake Ontario known to have formed near the time of the theorized Younger Dryas impact.   The author uses an image with an overlaid line to express that 3 of the 4 deepest areas of the Lakes are in a line similar to crater ‘chains’ previously observed on the Earth, moon, and Jupiter after the Shoemaker-Levy comet impact.   

While many of the data appear solid, my questions on this theory are many.  If the Pleistocene extinction - which included both highly adaptable people and animal species - was caused by an extraterrestrial impact, why were only select species eradicated?  Furthermore, the explanation may somehow work into the North American extinction event, but how does this tie into extinctions on other continents like Australia? Unfortunately for the author, other scholars also questioned the theory.  Firestone’s original journal entry apparently appeared in a National Academy of Science journal wherein his collection methods and theory garnered a rebuttal by Haynes, Jr. et al.   While the authors of the refutation do not negate the potential of an impact, the evidence was found to be lacking (and I'm pretty much in agreement).  The future article by Firestone in the Journal of Cosmology is, for all intents, the author’s second effort to provide substantiation for his impact-caused allegation for extinction.

The Super-Sized Solar Proton Event

The "super-sized solar proton event" is essentially a period of heavy, immense solar flare activity which caused enough radiation to impact large or unprotected species.  The author, LaViolette, provides proof through the Greenland ice records, carbon-14 and atmospheric carbon indicators in conjunction with 2 successive temperature maxima spaced by 1 solar cycle (one solar cycle is approximately 11 years so this event spans 22 years).  This raises his questions surrounding warming due to increased solar output which would substantially impact global climate.   It is evidence postulated by Firestone - that comet impact guy from the above study - that seemingly spurs LaViolette’s argument towards increased solar activity (as this active period would account for data reported by Firestone but also accounts for the lack of data to validate the impact theory). With LaViolette’s theory, only larger animals or unprotected (for example, humans as they were unaware of radiation concerns) would be impacted. 

LaViolette’s theory is relatively sound but, in and of itself and considering the span of time and the unequal disposition of the extinction but it still leaves a few questions.  Some are species specific... such as why wooly mammoth and not African elephants - was it just the external heating features?  Why the Smilodons (saber-toothed cats) and atrox (American lion) and not the African lion or many species of tigers or other large cats?  Simply put, it's likely this theory could not - even on the most forgiving judgement-lapsed day - be the sole cause of the Rancholabrean extinction. 

Blitzkrieg, Sitzkrieg, and Overkill

In the recent past a theory began to take ‘center stage’ surrounding the introduction of humans into previously unoccupied areas of the world as the primary cause for the Pleistocene extinctions (specifically the Rancholabrean extinction).  The basis of the theory surrounds an introduction of an exotic and invasive new, highly efficient predator (Clovis people, the original North American Homo sapien sapien) upsetting the balance for the large megafauna which exhibit slow maturation with protracted reproductive rates.   Proof for this theory is found at what is known as Clovis kills sites; areas where these people would clean meat and hides from kills.  Clovis kill sites often contain megafaunal remains such as mastodon and mammoth.  The efficiency of the Clovis people upset the balance as the mega-predators primarily fed upon the mega-herbivores.  The difference between “overkill” and “Blitzkrieg” is merely in the speed of the event. 
To coincide with this theory is the Sitzkrieg theory, which states that fires and exotic species (such as the Clovis people, for example) allowed for habitat fragmentation and introduction of diseases hereto unseen by the Rancholebrean megafauna.

Limited Scope and Tunnel Vision

But you know what? Regardless of how many articles I read, there seems to be evidence and granules of truth littered through each.  Trying to pinpoint the first ripple that started a chain of events in recent history is hard enough - but finding that first drip from 16 thousand years ago?!   C'mon, really? 

So, let's think for a moment.  There are things that are incontestable:

  1. A large portion of Pleistocene epoch megafauna went extinct in, geologically speaking, a short amount of time.
  2. Humans were present prior to the extinctions in other areas that still have megafauna.
  3. There are mineral/cosmic remnants found in relation to the same general period of time.
  4. There was a period of warming and massive reduction in glaciation.
When we simply look at the 4 points listed immediately above, therein may lay an answer.  Often we, as a society, look to find the root cause of an anomaly.  Yet if we take a snapshot of the past 100 years, it’s easy to see that one unnoticed event causes a trophic cascade (that's the drip/ripple effect I mentioned above) with people later attempting to decipher what happened first that caused the entire event.  It is very similar to the age-old riddle “what came first: the chicken or the egg?”.   In all likelihood, all of the rationale we know to be true contributed to the Rancholabrean and Pliestocene extinctions.  Solar activity leads to global temperature increases.  Those increases in temperature reduce glaciers and cause environmental change.  The introduction of new diseases and invasive species – especially highly efficient ones – impacts population rates.  Together, it seems highly logical to provide the insurmountable odds against survival for the largest mammals the world has seen.  So... sometimes we spend all our energy and effort looking for one reason when it was possibly the 'perfect storm' of climate change and species introduction.  Does it suck?  *&^% yes, it does.  I'd give my right hand to see some of the animals I blogged about before.

My love of my Smilodon knows no bounds - and I spend days on end dreaming of him. 

Ok. Enough of that.  if you're dying to see where I got my info, here's the wonderful world of science: 

Works Cited

Brook, Barry W. and David M. J. S. Bowman. (2002) Explaining the Pleistocene megafaunal extinctions: Models, chronologies, and assumptions. Proc National Academy of Science USA 99:14624-14627.
Campos, Paul F. et al (2010) Ancient DNA analyses exclude humans as the driving force behind late Pleistocene musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) population dynamics. Proc National Academy of Science USA 107:5675-5680.
Haynes, C. Vance Jr. et al. (2009) The Murray Springs Clovis site, Pleistocene extinction, and the question of extraterrestrial impact. Proc National Academy of Science USA 107:4010-4015
Firestone, Richard B. et al. (2007) Evidence for an extraterrestrial impact 12,900 years ago that contributed to the megafaunal extinctions and the Younger Dryas cooling. Proc National Academy of Science USA 104:16016-16021
Firestone, Richard B. (2009) The Case for the Younger Dryas Extraterrestrial Impact Event: Mammoth, Megafauna, and Clovis Extinction, 12,900 years ago.  Journal of Cosmology 2:256-285.
LaViolette, Paul A. (2011) Evidence for a Solar Flare Cause of the Pleistocene Mass Extinction. Radiocarbon 53:303-323

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Dreaming of Days Gone By

Pleistocene Epoch.  Rancho LaBrean Era... 

These are things that spur people to do the "70-degree head tilt" - i.e. ask a question like a canine - and
Yah... Usual Fodder so we know
who you're talking to.
wonder what you just said.  Not exactly normal words for conversation.  Unless you're a paleontologist... or me and a few of my buds?  I don't really understand how this brief period in the world's history can't absolutely astonish everyone.  The wonders of the world - far more comprehendable than the virtually alien world of the dinosaurs - were epic.  The big animals of that time - called megafauna - were seemingly created from dream-like visions of children.  

North American megafauna were nothing short of awe-inspiring.  People may see what we have now - the great grizzly, the popular polars, the  charismatic cougars - and think "those are pretty big".  Beyond our continental borders they see the elephants and the lions and the tigers and... well, surely those are seriously "mega" megafauna, right?  Hmmm... lets dream together, shall we?  Let me show you what we've lost through my eyes.

American Lions

American lions were the longest/tallest felids that have ever graced our planet.  Panthera Atrox.  Osteologic affinity to current lions and tigers... with heavy Eurasian cave lion resemblance.  We're talking about the biggest cat to roam the Americas.  Likely tawny and very similar to extant lions of today... only bigger!  We're talking seriously "mega".

Machairodontine Smilodon... 

...better known as saber-toothed felids or cats.  These were, quite simply, the most amazing cats that have ever graced our planet.  If we take a census of current (i.e. extant or still here) felids, a lot of people think that tawny-coated king of the jungle is the biggest.  Those people would actually be wrong.  The largest extant felid is the inappropriately named Siberian Tiger.  Dazzle your friends by calling this cat by their correct name: the Ussuri or Amur tiger.

I want you to picture the Amur in your mind.  We're talking about a splendidly-colored, 800-pound cat with the stealth and grace to vanish mere feet from your eyes in the forest.  Simply... vanish.  That's hard to comprehend that something so hulkingly large and vibrantly colored can simply vanish and only leave tracks.  Want an idea of how big? The average refrigerator is about the right size... granted it only weighs an average of of what... 250-350 lbs?  Here's a thought - here's a photo of Vladimir Putin with a female (smaller as they are dimorphic and the males grow larger).  The reason I need you to so accurately picture the size of this cat in your mind is to help you contrast the world's largest extant felid to the Smilodons of ages past.  This cat - even the small female here - could break bones with a swipe of a paw or, in the grasp of it's teeth, shake me like a doll and simply carry me off as a meal.
Putin with a 5-year old Amur female c/o Wonderful Russia

There were actually 3 species of Smilodon.  Smilodon gracilis, Smilodon fatalis, and Smilodon populator.  The gracilis was the smallest of the three, weighing in around 55-100 kg (or 120-220ish pounds).  This cat was tiny in that era, only the size of the current cougars, jaguars or leopards.  Then we have my "baby"... the Smilodon fatalis which is my most favorite felid in history.  The fatalis was the North American icon, really.  There's hundreds of relics left from this cat.  The fatalis weighed in between 160-280 kg (or 350-620 lbs). Now we're talking... this is a big kitty.  While some Amurs tip the scales at 800 pounds or more, the average Amur falls right in the size range of fatalis.  Maybe that correlation is why the Amur is my favorite extant species?  *shrugs*  Lastly, I need you to expand your mind and picture South America's populator - the last of our three saber-toothed felid species.  Populator was... epic.  Titanic.  Enormous. Gigantic.  How big, you ask?  Try up to 470kg (over 1,000 lbs).  The 'average version' of this cat tips the scales at what a rare Amur weighs; you know, the huge males that are flawless examples of Amur tigers.
Populator size - Deviant art - copyright attached
Moreover, you noticed (hopefully) that the Atrox was the longest while the Populator is the heaviest.  So... which is actually BIGGER?  Depends on if you look at size or mass. The differences?  These cats did differ from the leggy, fluid grace of the Atrox and extant cats we've mentioned.  While I'm sure Smilodons relied on stealth and ambush like today's felids, I want you to imagine a more compact, robust, stocky, muscular cat.  The difference I mention can be seen when you contrast a jaguar with a tiger.... the mass of the jaguar - the sheer ripple of muscle tightly packed under the skin, the slightly shorter legs, the size that belies the robust strength inherently possessed - is much like our Smilodon.  These cats were grapplers.  They would catch their massive prey and simply pull it down, overpowered by inconceivable strength. When grounded, the drastically large, curved, serrated sabers would then - with surgical precision - sever the tender flesh of the prey's neck and bring a hopefully quick and clean death.*  What a sight lingering throughout the ages.   

(*This is my interpretation of the hunting and killing methods of this cat; while there is scholarly debate, anyone saying these teeth were used to disembowel giant ungulates of the time really need to consider jaw structure and... if they need a visual... use a 'jawed staple-remover' to puncture a basketball.)

Finally, lets look at...

Arctotherium Angustidens and Arctodos Simus 

Angustidens and Simus are more commonly known as the short-faced bears (South and North American respectively) even though they aren't completely snub-nosed as the name would imply.  While ursids - bears - aren't my forte, there's no discussing the most mega without including these two.  Angustidens was the largest mammalian predator to walk our planet. Ever.  There's no adjectives that can really portray how amazingly huge these bears are.  Sometimes words simply fall short.  While there's debate on the hunting styles and dietary preference of these bears (omnivorous? carnivorous? active hunter or scavenger or cleptoparasitic?) they are still epic. Regardless, let's take a gander... I've nabbed some pics - mostly deviant art like the size comparison above, but one from  Let's look: 


Grizzly, Polar, and Simus

Where did they go? 

So... now that we've had a moment to marvel at the greatest apex predators that vanished from our planet in our so-very-recent geologic past... why are they gone? I mean, it's not like all the megafauna went the way of the dodo.  Africa still has plenty.  So... why did Australia and the Americas fare so poorly?  Tons of theories.  Tons.  Some are so far fetched that I find myself rolling my eyes.  Others are plausible but, on the same token, likely not capable as stand-alone logic.  Maybe soon I'll have some more for you... we'll look at the theories together and postulate plausibility?  It'll be fun, really.  I mean, there's comet impacts and solar flares and some very "German-esque war machine sounding words" we can look at.  In the end, however, I think you'll agree with me that the likelihood of a single event causing anything isn't nearly as attractive a theory as a combination of events.

Enough of being indoors.... it's gorgeous outside... time to go out and PLAY!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Ma'am,... Please put the cub down and slowly back away"

I talk animals a lot.  Seriously.  I'm told to "shut it" more often than not (thankfully with a glare and seldom with the actual words).  So, one day I'm talking animals with a bud when somehow the conversation turn to a topic called "habituation". If you're not familiar with the word, no worries, I'll help.

Habituation - in the wildlife world - simply means the animal is exposed to a certain stimulus (like, humans, for example) and therefore stop responding in the natural manner.  You've probably experienced a form of habituation if you've ever been to a zoo.... specifically the primate buildings. They're not known for being a harmonious blend of odoriferous bouquets.  You walk in and your nose balks, begging you to cover and leave; but ironically, after a few mere minutes, you don't even realize there's a stench.  The same principle is in use: if animals are exposed to humans, they lose their natural tendency to react in a specific manner.  
Let's consider that...

Jane Goodall... you've heard of her, right?  Everything she did surrounded habituating chimpanzees to her presence.  In her study, she was relying on habituation to provide a rare glimpse to see chimpanzees interacting in their normal fashion in the wild. So... this is where the ethics of the habituation come in.  See, I'm a fence rider to some degree on this one.  I wouldn't walk up to Ms. Goodall and berate her for habituating chimpanzees to humans because I'd likely be doing what most people do: simply be enamored by tales from the jungle. I'm also pretty fond of my bud Dave who is pretty accomplished at interacting with wildlife in the wild (albeit I'll defend him since he also worked to teach captive tiger cubs how to be wild again).  Then there's me... we "inherited" a deer named Filene.  But even with Filene, I try not to break the rules (I don't have a bowl outside for her filled with treats...).  Just for the record, if you feed birds, different story.  ...even though that goes awry (like when the 50+ flock devastates my feeders).

But again: Fence Rider.  And the fence that I'm perched precariously on isn't a very wide one.  For the most part, and in most circumstances, I completely disagree with habituation of animals.  There'd better be some solid science on the line and not simply a photo op or a ratings ploy.  There's a pretty solid logical reason for my generally stubborn stance on this one:

If you take away an animals natural fear of people you've taken away the very best protection that animal has against people.  For lots of reasons.  Let's look at a few examples.  For these, I'm a bear (yes... I am... don't question it).  I'm naturally afraid of people.  They have funny smells and my instinct says that even if they are virtually hairless, clawless, and toothless predators, they are still the most efficient and deadly predators ever.  That's my instinct jumping all through me. BUT:
ABR Cub in Tree
Photo from App Bear Rescue

  • "This one human keeps hanging out by me.  First I started to hurry away, but... geez, it won't bugger OFF!  ...and it's berry season and its right there at my berries.  After awhile, I give up and ignore it, because I'm hungry and its not bugging me... it's just... there!"

    So in that example, what happens the next time the human isn't the harmless person but someone hunting.

    ...or worse, its a soccer mom taking a nature walk with her kids and here's this bear with no fear of humans.  
  • "This other human keeps putting out things that I swear its doing for me. It smells so good!  I can't help myself... I mean, I'm a bear... and that's a flawlessly made NummyBear Stew if I ever smelled one!  I'm trying to resist cuz it's right there by its porch but wow.  Did I mention it's the best I've smelled?  Who am I kidding.  I can't resist that.  Besides, it set that out for me cuz that's way to good'a NummyBear Stew for it to not be for me, so I'm going to go sample the goods!"

    So in that example, the bear learns that nomnom goodness can be attained from humans.  This porch, that porch, campgrounds, garbage cans, tents, cars.... after the lesson is learned, it's a slipper slope because even if it's in a nontraditional sense, the human just became the food source. Like the saying goes: "Fed bear is a dead bear."  The human's fault.  
Regardless how cheezy my examples are, people really need to understand this lesson not only for the wild creatures in our world, but also for those wild animals that we are responsible for (for whatever reason) with the intent to release them back into the wild.  Wild animals have to retain that natural instinct and that fear of people.  It's what helps keep them safe.  It's what helps keep us safe as well.  We can't turn wildlife rehab animals into mascots.  If we hug and cuddle and kiss the cute little guys that we're rehab'ing... what happens after we release them?  Do you think they're going to see humans as a cruel conflict-fueled potentials?  Well, likely not since they got "kissy face" and bottle feeding from them for so long.  

I'd love to take credit for this rant... but honestly I can't.  I mean, do I agree? Sure.  Is it something important?  Yup.  But I am afraid that I suffer from a double-X chromosomal disorder that prompts me to start cooing and making unintelligible words every time I'm near certain species.  I'd like to say it's not my fault, but personal accountability kicks in and I realize that the best thing I can do to help that "ootsie-wootsie wittle beh-bay" is to keep it safe by not making it think humans are friends.  Face it folks, some of us are advocates but that doesn't mean humans all are... you know it and I do... so act, think, feed, and coo responsibly.  It's for their safety.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Global Warming is Simple... what's the deal?

I hear debates about global warming quite often.  It's one of those things that just spawns a good debate... like evolution. What I really don't get, though, is why we're always arguing it.  I mean, I realize I'm a tree-hugging, fern-cuddling, bunny lover... but really? If everyone would stop standing so stubbornly on their side of the fence ranting till they're blue in the face (at the same time the person on the other side is ranting) and took just five freaking minutes to hear each other out, maybe we could actually learn something.  Far too often people are so busy thinking about what they are going to say as a response that they miss half the conversation.  Even if it's not your thought/belief, show respect and listen to other folks instead of continuing your side of the rant in your head... and maybe you'll be shown some respect in return and both parties may glean a thought they didn't have before.  Anyhow, before I digress into a diatribe about our general lack of communication skills, let's think this out together:

  1. There were climate shifts (some massive) before and around the time humans discovered that newfangled gadget called fire.  We lovingly refer to these periods in time as "ice ages".  Nope, it's not just a movie anymore, folks.  Ice covers, ice recedes... rinse and repeat.  There's other factors to look at here as well.  Examples are solar cycles (generally 11 year shifts if memory serves, but please don't quote me on that one) and volcanic activity.  Granted, I'm sure there's a slough of natural things that contribute to and help the ozone and climate and yaddah yaddah.  
  2. Anyone who says we don't contribute to global warming: please raise your hand.  Ok... you, you, and you there in the back; go ahead and take a seat over in a different yard.  Of course we contribute to global warming.  For a period in time during the industrial age, I'm sure we were pumping out junk that contributed to a lot of things and very few healthy for you or your planet.  To say we don't contribute is like saying we don't inhale mostly nitrogen.  

So - does that mean that climate change (ya'll should have known this would get back to animals soon) is the sole culprit behind potential for some species to go extinct - we'll use the climate change poster child: Polar Bears.  Yes and no.  Let me explain.

  • Yes, because we can look through the fossil records and witness that when we have massive climate shifts some things go extinct because of a strong contribution from climate change (especially if they are in a geologically fast manner... to learn more on ice ages, find a local glaciologist or glacial geologist).    Seriously... it messes with lots of things.  Really. If you don't believe me and don't know a really cool glaciologist, just what that movie "The Day After Tomorrow" and then de-Hollywoodize it, throw away 99.5% of the content and you'll have a tickle of the truth in the back of your mind.  
  • No, because there's often contributing factors... the polar bears currently are likely not "going to go extinct" simply from the climate change.  Why?  Well, cuz they suffer massive habitat disruption/ habitat fragmentation, and exploitation from that one species that developed a frontal lobe: US.  

Long story short, folks, is that we've been shaping our world for eons... but it wasn't until we really started to take strides with "technological advances" (you know, like the wheel) that we started really impacting the world.  I've said it a million times, developing/inventing/discovering (pick your fave) agriculture was what initially led to the where we are today.  And where we are today is a society with some pretty cool science and oodles of great gadgets.  But even with all our tools, we're seeing a mere blink on the geologic timeline.  We can't hope to pretend to have answers to all the problems when we're making new discoveries all the time where we FIND new problems.  The real headache comes when we realize that some problems we discovered today are related to the "fixes" we did in the past.  Lots of other issues come from ignorance fueled exploitation.  So easy to see what idiots we were when we have the luxury of hindsight! We, as a species, suffer from hubris, entitlement, and greed at a un-measurable level.  
So in the long run: did we cause global warming? Nope... but when you look at our contributions to it in light of all the other things our species has done in the almighty name of Advancement... what does that answer really say?  

I simply hope we are learning from our mistakes and that, one day, people will honestly feel that they are part of the natural world and act as stewards (rather than the exploitative) parts of a giant puzzle. 

Never let people tell you that one person can't make a difference... granted, he's a wretched example, but Hitler was just one man and we all know the impact he had on the entire world.  I'll end my rant with this quote from Ghandi: "Be the change you want to see in the world."  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Humble Pie? I'll have a double serving, please!

Some people don't like when they do something and they're corrected later.  Me? Heck, I'll take a second serving!  The best way to learn is if you really listen to advice from experts - from people who know more about something than you.  And I mean experts here.  Not the average guy who thinks he knows more than me simply because he came with a Y chromosome.  Those types can just kiss my tush. The key is listening - with an open mind and a decision to learn rather than defend your actions or knowledge.  It's really one of the best ways to learn.  In my case, I was served a great portion of humble pie surrounding my bear charge.  You remember that one, right?  The momma black bear who went from 3 cubs to 2 and then bolted 50 yards downhill at me and my daughter stopping a few mere feet from us? Yah, good times, eh? HAHA.

So I'm talking to a bear expert - I don't want to use his name because I didn't ask permission, but I promise you he's worked "hand-in-paw" with eastern black bears for many years and is very versed on their behavior and how to work with bear.  I trust his input and don't question it.  He has the knowledge and the experience to prove that I'm merely a toddler in the scope of bear.  That being said, here's the humble pie that is an eye opener for me (and a bit scary in retrospect):

My and Jess's actions were perfect for a solitary bear - usually a male - that is too close for comfort.  On the flip side, for a momma in protection mode (as witnessed initially from the cubs being sent up the tree), my reaction wasn't recommended because momma is thinking one thing: keep the cubs safe.  We posed a threat and his recommended action would have been to speak softly, lower my head, and slowly back off.  I did the opposite of that for the most part, which he noted he was glad ended well instead of the alternative (um, me, too!).  I looked bigger and imposing and made a lot of noise.  Perhaps the fact that we did slowly back off was what kept us safe?  In retrospect - again - I see where this makes sense.  I see where my education on bear behavior wasn't precise - I used generic info and I should have learned more.  ESPECIALLY because I knew the mom and cubs were local to my trail.  I knew it.  And I dropped the educate-myself ball.  Granted, bears aren't my forte but, my motto is always to know what's out there that you COULD encounter and be prepared for any situation.  I slacked, I have been corrected, I have assimilated the info and won't make the same mistake again.  Humble pie is not only delicious, but nutritious.  

So, take this knowledge of how I didn't react in the way I should have and add this to the mix: bluff charges aren't usually 50+ yards.  Apparently they're normally pretty short.  So... wow.  Just keeping that fact in perspective with the other info is really eye-opening.  The only thing that apparently made mine a bluff was that she stopped before barreling into me/us. I did get a compliment though - he said that, under the same circumstances, it was really good that I was able to assess the situation and react... apparently acting in the face of an "oh Sh**!" situation is hard.  It's like muscle memory though... you go over and over it in your head and when it happens it's an instant reaction rather than a conscious digging for information in your head.  Now I'll revamp that info so it's more appropriate and situation-based.

In the end, I'll take the info I was taught and beat it into my head so that - if that situation ever comes up again - I'm better prepared.  Which is likely... after all, hundreds of miles away I encountered a momma and her cub.  Some people may say "yah, but you were in a car that time"... hello... it was a convertible camaro.  ...Geez, I miss that car.  I think I may need to buy one.  I'm digressing, aren't I?

But... let's not forget that I'll REALLY glow in the compliment about reaction time!  See, sometimes humble pie has whipped topping! :)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

I Feel a Good Rant Coming On

It's no secret that I want to work with some pretty big creatures with some pretty ferocious teeth and claws.  Everyone knows that.  Meet me once and you'll know that (and that I'm a die-hard Preds fan) within 3 minutes of knowing me.  These are the things that make me tick.  There are a few of us weirdos out there who love things that most people fear.  We want to work with, protect, and be a voice for things that others are afraid will gnaw on their neck.  Or, as Funkdubie eloquently says (and I shall do part of this phonetically):

"People fear being eht."

I get that.  I do.  But here's the thing: most of the people who fear being eaten (or "eht" if you will) don't go anywhere to even warrant that fear.  I get freaking reports all the time of someone terrified a black panther will steal and eat their kid... Sadly, my NORMAL response to that person is, "Wow... you let your 5-year-old go hiking alone, then?"  I realize my sarcasm doesn't often help, but ignorance fueled hysteria isn't helpful in any realm.  I mean, how much BS rolls around the internet about (recent example) the president ordering drone killing of American citizens for stockpiling.  The logical person should automatically raise an eyebrow, shake their head sadly, and just walk away.  Or maybe we should look for an example about news channels who ALWAYS find the extremist views to argue and broadcast.  We fuel that crap! Know why?  Ratings.  We force stations to obtain funding, the more viewers the better the funding (advertisement/commercial spots), so the more sensational and amazing the news, the better the profit margins.  

It's the same easy-access news and blatant ignorance that hurts apex predators.  Only in this case we've got another couple issues to face.

On top of the ignorance fuel, we have 
  • genetic fear (fight or flight, anyone?) for being 'eht', 
  • eons of being told about the "big bad wolf" and other 'monsters' out to steal our children and our lives, and 
  • (once again) the immediacy combined with a 'lack of legit info with more focus on the hysterics to spur the general public' "news".
If you thought that was my rant, I'm afraid to admit you're mistaken, cuz the rant is coming now.  Ready? 

I want to work with these animals in their environment to learn more about how they interact with and impact the world that we live in (and for anyone shallow enough to think they don't - please don't waste your breath or keystrokes until you've educated yourself on the issues of trophic cascading).  Ok... so that being said, there's a better than average chance that I - being an avid outdoorsman and wanting to work in the wild to boot - could actually die from an interaction with an apex predator.  Let me be very clear in my next sentence: 


It's quite simple.  Animals are going to act like animals.  I go into their realm.  I have a benefit a lot don't wherein I actually go educated on various things AND prepared with - example - bear spray. I also take precautions.  I don't hike alone near dawn or dusk or at night... I ensure my backpack covers my back and the back of my neck.  I (again) carry a can of bear spray that sorta looks like a fire extinguisher.  I learn when to do certain things and when not to.  I use a bear can and put it far enough away for it to be effective.  I don't keep food in my tent or hammock.  At times, I'm armed (though the bear spray is likely going to be a lot better defense).  If I'm not in a national park, I have my very large dog.  I don't hike in absolute silence.  These are VERY simple things that I do to keep both myself and the wildlife safe.

Here's the heart of the rant: 

WHERE IS THE SENSE OF PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY IF YOU'RE NOT DOING EVERYTHING YOU CAN TO KEEP YOURSELF SAFE AND YOU BECOME A 'VICTIM'?  This is the biggest rub I have these days.  "mountain biker attacked by cougar" or "hiker mauled  by grizzly".   It's all over the news within moments.  Please don't misunderstand my frustration as a lack of empathy for the person's family - but if you aren't educated on HOW TO BE IN THE OUTDOORS then DON'T BE IN THE FREAKING OUTDOORS.  Not only could YOU get yourself killed, you could get an animal killed for being - ironically - an animal! Is that too much to ask?  I mean, you're not going to go jump out of a plane without a parachute and blame the pilot, are you?  You're not going to go eat a bowl full of hemlock, and then blame the plant for getting violently ill, right?  IGNORANCE IS NOT A DEFENSE.  If you're going into the wild and you're doing everything RIGHT then you knew what you were getting into and - while it may suck - you knew there was a chance of exactly that happening.  

To allude to a recent headline... if I go into a cage with a tiger and I get killed... who is to blame?  I mean, the tiger lacks thumbs - it couldn't work the key or the gate latch... so if I did that and I died, I really hope you all would sit around and tell your friends how I had it coming because I did something I knew better than to do.  Oh - and I wish they wouldn't shoot said tiger to get my body from it - it could be tranq'd...  ((by the way - I know facts come out AFTER things happen... but my rant surrounds the initial "truth" they "report"...which always garners more time than corrections.)) 

These are WILD animals, people.  In a cage or not - they are all inherently still wild.  They are prone to doing what wild animals do.  They don't have eons of domestication bred into them.  They are NOT fuzzy little kitties and puppies and teddy bears. They are predatory mammals that can and will kill you if they feel they need to.  That doesn't mean the average guy or gal is in danger.  That doesn't mean stay out of the woods (unless you're just wanting to leave them to me - which I'm way cool with)... 

...what it means is be smart about the decisions you make, do what you can to protect yourself and the nature you're trying to be a "part of", and realize the very real consequences.  

But - just for the record - you're far more likely to break a leg on a trail than be 'eht'.  Oh wait - that's why you wear boots or good shoes, right?  To keep yourself safe from a potential.  Now take that mentality and increase it.

So, consider that the end of my sermon and I'll STFU the rest of the day.  :)

I need just ONE worthwhile study

Ok. That subject line is a little harsh.  But I get really frustrated when I'm reading through science journals and can't find what I'm looking for because it's flooded with things that I don't care about because it's just another 'take' on an already quantified theory.  That's horrible of me, I know.  But seriously... where are the epic multi-landscape studies?  I mean... is it too much to ask for a study on how herbivory differentiates between predated ungulates of the west and non-predated ungulates of the east?

...Sorry.  Let me try that again in human.

- Is it too much to ask for a study showing how hoofed wildlife out west - used to having predators constantly looking to munch on them - differ in their eating and habitat-use patterns from ones in the east who act more like livestock now than wildlife cuz they have nothing looking to chew on their leg.  The only things they have to fear are humans and traffic... and they don't fear either of those enough to STOP and look both directions before crossing 6-lane interstates or quit hanging out in the neighbors yard during deer season.

I've said it till I'm blue in the face, but we'll never get the deer populations (much less the other issues with feral swine) in check till we get a few natural predators back on the landscape.  Less hunters.  More Deer.  More Pigs.  Easy math.  We need studies to show that predated (places where there are apex predators who make it a habit to eat deer/elk/swine) ungulates (hoofed animals) have decreased populations and cause less damage.  If there's no study's for that cuz it's expensive then get out and start knocking on doors to obtain funding.  Everyone barks that we're hoping for extensive and uniform protective laws for the big animals (namely predators who require very large amounts of space because they are at the top of the trophic level - or food chain) but yet no one is taking on the study to show why we need them uniformly placed?  Geez, I can't do everything.

I'm being a little brutal and for that I apologize... but where there's a will there's a way to fund it - so fund it and get studies we need rather than redoing or micro-analyzing old stuff!

((Just so we're clear: in no way am I slamming our TWRA state agency, by the way.  I have nothing but respect for the one(s) running that team.))

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hy-Brasil, Binary, and a lot of rabid speculation on a 'snow day'

TOTALLY off the Wanderlust topic, but......

So I’m sitting here on a ‘snow day’ (took the day off work due to weather) and was watching History Channel.  After something interesting went off, a show came on that I was only half paying attention to as I was falling in and out of a nap.  But I was awake enough for one part to get the story of an American Sgt. Jim Penniston in 1980 stationed in England who was sent to ‘investigate’ some strange UFO that popped on radar.  He and 2 others went.  He touched said object (which was in fact unidentifiable and could fly… so I guess a ‘real’ UFO) and a series of binary numbers came to him.  Later, he states he wrote them down and has retained the six pages of binary for decades without having them analyzed.  Of course, leave it to H2’s Ancient Alien people to do that for him. So in 2010, Ancient Aliens had programmer Nick Ciske transcribe and decipher the binary which supposedly read: 
  • “Exploration of Humanity [the coordinates] Continuous for planetary advance”.
  • +52° 09’ 42.532” (N)
  • -13° 13’ 12.69” (W)

Well.  I paused the television.  I nabbed a pen and paper and jotted down the coordinates.  I popped them in the computer and wah-lah: Coastal Ireland.  Granted, they did as well, but where’s the fun in just watching someone else put in the coordinates? 
So here is where the fun and rampantly vivid speculation come in.  The coordinates from the supposed message from the supposed binary recitation from the even more supposed UFO knowledge transfer is, as the show was kind enough to point out, near a mythical island off the coast of Ireland.  They don’t go into too much after this.  I mean, Hi-Brasil (that’s the mythical island) doesn’t really have the ‘almost supernatural humans’ appeal of Atlantis.  Oh, not to mention Hi-Brasil didn’t have some dramatic and apocalyptic end, just simply vanished.  More like Bermuda Triangle stuff, really.  Or maybe  global warming just raised sea level enough to cover it up?  (For the record, I don’t think global warming is a mythical tale, I’m just having fun with this.)

1632 Mercator map
Ok.  So here’s a map which is, granted, showing Hi-Brasil a little farther north than the supposed extra-terrestrial knowledge transfer location.   Well, the map is from 1632.  Earlier maps aren’t much better but they didn’t exactly have satellite mapping capability.  If aliens want to be helpful, the sure could have provided better maps for us to look back upon.  Anyhow, there is some credence to the location. 

But what’s with Hi-Brasil?  What’s with the people who supposedly lived there?  I mean, the message said something about exploration of humanity and planetary advance right?  Well, Hi-Brasil doesn’t have Atlantean intellect and technology stories pervading legend, now does it?  I mean, the best pop culture reference we have is from Tim Robbin’s Erik the Viking.  Well, some websites (I’ve skimmed many) say it was a home for Celtic gods.  Now, Ufologers (is that a REAL word?) think it was an outpost of sorts.

In reality, what do we have?  Well, more validity than Atlantis but completely lacking the luster. 

Hi-Brasil comes from Ui Breasail which translates to “descendants (clan) of Breasal”.  Which begs the question: what/where is Breasal?  Well, popular theory seems to suggest it refers to the landing party that discovered Brasil.  Others venture a guess that monks settled the island.  I did even see a reference that Brasil is also the Irish island of legend: St. Brendan’s Island. 

The last reported sighting of Hi-Brasil was by Arthur T.J. Westropp and companions in 1872.  Westropp had seen the island before but wanted to bring others to bear witness as well.  They saw the island… and then supposedly saw it disappear. 

Regardless, one almost finds Hi-Brasil more fun than Atlantis.  I mean, it’s on maps all the time and was seen as recently, in theory, as the late 1800’s. Atlantis?  I mean, wasn’t it Plato’s grandpa that passed the legend of Atlantis to him?  I can’t even remember (yes, I’ll look it up later). 

Maybe they are wrong… maybe it was actually an island full of druids with amazing powers who actually formed Stonehenge?!  Regardless, some say that Hi-Brasil and Atlantis are one in the same.  To these I say BAH!  Who wants ONE mysterious disappearing island of seeming superhumans when we can have two?! 

Regardless... me researching random craziness I see on TV is a sure sign that I need to get back into school pretty soon, eh?!