30 April 2007

"lonesome george"

The sole remaining giant tortoise may not have to live alone in his Galapagos Islands paradise, researchers say.

How nice that humans have, perhaps, found a way to save this species from extinction, after killing all but one of the giant tortoises for food. Stories like this serve to reinforce the notion that it's OK to destroy the environment when we need to do that, because humans are so clever we can repair the damage, no problemo.

tracking the bird flu threat…to humans

Public release date: 30-Apr-2007
University of Colorado at Boulder
An interactive "supermap" that portrays the mutations and spread of the avian flu around the globe over time should help researchers and policy makers better understand the virus and anticipate further outbreaks, according to a new study involving University of Colorado at Boulder and Ohio State University researchers.

The research team used data from the known evolution and spread of the avian flu, known as H5N1, to create a roadmap of viral spread in time and space, said CU-Boulder ecology and evolutionary biology Assistant Professor Robert Guralnick, a study co-author. The team projected genetic and geographic information onto an interactive globe using Google Earth technology, allowing users to fly virtually around the planet and analyze movements and changes in the genomes, or genetic blueprints, of known avian flu sub-strains that have been sequenced since the virus was first detected in Guangdong, China, in 1996.

The researchers used the novel technology to chart the spread of H5N1 through Asia, Indonesia, the Middle East and Europe by various hosts, including its transport by specific orders of birds and mammals, said CU-Boulder graduate student Andrew Hill, a study co-author. They also used the supermap to track key genetic traits prevalent in some avian flu genomes that appear to confer the ability of H5N1 to more readily infect mammals, including humans, he said.


The team also used the supermap to visualize the spread of H5N1 in various parts of the world by specific orders of birds and mammals, including waterfowl, domestic fowl, shorebirds, raptors, songbirds, hoofed mammals and carnivores, said Guralnick.

In one instance the supermap shows a direct line spreading from Thailand to Europe in a single rapid event, illustrating a 2004 incident when several infected eagles were smuggled into Belgium, said Hill. While the birds were immediately seized and confined, preventing further spread, the supermap portrayal of the event illuminated how illicit wildlife trading can trigger huge leaps in virus transport.

The avian flu epidemic was first detected in wild aquatic birds in Guangdong in 1996 and spread to chickens and a few humans in Hong Kong by 1997. From 1997 to 2005, the virus emerged in several Southeast Asian countries and spread through multiple hosts to Japan, Korea, Russia the Middle East and India. In the past two years the virus has spread to Western Europe and reemerged in Korea.

While H5N1 is not highly communicable to humans or between humans, experts are concerned that future mutations have the potential to make the bird flu significantly more contagious. According to the World Health Organization, there have been 269 cases of the disease in humans since the initial outbreak in 1996, including 164 deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, an avian flu pandemic could infect 15 percent to 35 percent of the United States population and cost well over $100 billion.

Video about the Google Earth avian flu project: http://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/flumap.mov.

Research Study:

[photo: Turkish turkey bird flu victim. Time magazine]

23 April 2007

they call him ned

…from flickr.com, click photo for bigger mantis.

Is it our imagination, or is Ned waving Hello?
No, looks more like he's waving us away.

"turning the facts of owls' existence to suit their own needs, fears and desires"

And last we come to that charming old idea about the great wisdom possessed by owls. Charming it is, true it is not. Owls are the highly efficient predators they are not because their intelligence is particularly well developed, but because their senses are so keen. Indeed, their remarkable senses of vision and hearing may have prevented owls from developing a high degree of intelligence; they can hunt quite successfully without it. Birds that do seem to exhibit a high degree of intelligence, birds such as crows and parrots, are social, and they need to be reasonably bright to function well in a group. Owls almost never associate with other owls outside of the family group, so they don't need complex social skills. Then where did the idea that owls are the epitome of wisdom come from? Much of this idea can be attributed to owls' appearance and behavior. We have said that owls look like little people; aren't people wise? Owls must be short and stubby philosophers, clothed in a scholar's robe of feathers. Owls also seem to be dignified birds who tend to sit quietly, and they do give the impression of being deep in thought. What they are actually doing, impressions aside, is sitting still so they'll blend in with their surroundings and escape detection. Owls have marvelous, tree-colored feathers that camouflage them perfectly - as long as they don't move. People, of course, have put their own interpretation on this behavior, as in this anonymous poem:

A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke,
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why can't we all be like that wise old bird.

In Navaho Indian legend Nayenezgani, the creator, made the first owl, telling it: "...in days to come men will listen to your voice to know what will be their future." In tales from a wide variety of cultures, owls are judges, sages, gurus and prophets. So firmly entrenched is the association of owls with wisdom that the birds are used in modern-day advertising to project this image. And yet it's still an image, albeit an appealing one. In fact, very little about owls' unnatural, people-created history squares with their natural history. For millennia people have been twisting and turning the facts of owls' existence to suit their own needs, fears and desires. None of this has touched the real ones, the masters of darkness, who continue their ancient quest for prey and leave the philosophizing to us.

The Most Fantastical of Fowls: The Myth and Reality of Owls

19 April 2007

failure to communicate

…an oldie but goodie, from the golden grooveyard:

"I shot the big cat"


9 October 2005

A VICTORIAN hunter believes he may finally have solved the state's big cat mystery.

Kurt Engel shot dead what is believed to be a leopard or a puma in Gippsland.

Mr Engel photographed the dead cat and cut off its tail after shooting it while hunting deer in rugged terrain near Sale in June.

A sample of the cat's DNA, taken from the tail, has been sent to an international laboratory for analysis.

The results, expected in about three weeks, will determine the feline's exact species.

The breakthrough follows decades of sightings of mysterious wild big cats throughout Australia -- but no physical proof of their existence.

Big cat researchers have hailed Mr Engel's kill as the best evidence ever uncovered to confirm the predators roam in the Australian wilderness.

Mr Engel, of Noble Park, said he was hunting in scrub when he noticed large paw prints in a dry creek bed.

Shortly afterwards, he saw a dark creature move, then caught sight of a crouching big cat.

"I could see the eyes of the cat, I kept very quiet," he said.

The predator charged in his direction.

"He came very low to the ground. His chest was nearly on the ground (as the cat moved) and he came straight towards me. I saw his teeth and white eyes -- I was only about 80 yards away," he said.

"I pulled up the rifle and at that moment it turned to the left.

"He was making long jumps. On about the third jump I shot him."

The bullet entered behind the cat's shoulder and blew its head off, he said.

Mr Engel said he found the remains of a freshly killed wombat nearby, which had had its skull crushed.

The 67-year-old said he had not believed big cats existed.

"I think it was a million to one chance -- I have been hunting in forests for 50 years and never seen a big cat," he said.

The retired engineer said he lugged the cat back to his camp, but put the carcass into the river after removing the tail and photographing it.

Mike Williams, a representative of the Centre for Fortean Zoology, a body that researches mysterious or out-of-place animals, said he believed it was concrete evidence that big cats are on the loose in Australia.

Hundreds of sightings have been reported over the years and a leaked government document revealed 59 sightings had been reported in Gippsland between 1998 and 2001.

The cats are said to be descendants of animals that either escaped from zoos or circuses or were released by US airmen who kept them as mascots while stationed in Australia in World War II.

"Kurt has killed an urban legend," Mr Williams said.

"He has proved all the hundreds of farmers have been telling the truth.

"There is a breeding population of big cats."

"The tail is 100 per cent -- it is a concrete case."

Mr Engel, who has also told his story to the Australian Shooter magazine, said he did not seek publicity for the find, and only agreed to speak after a fellow hunter put Mr Williams in touch with him.

Scientist Bernie Mace, who has been researching big cats in Australia for 30 years, said the animal was far too big to be a feral domestic cat, and predicted it would be identified as a puma.

"I feel this is a very important breakthrough," he said.

Richard Roswell, Melbourne Zoo's keeper in charge of carnivores, examined a photograph of the dead cat this week, but said it was inconclusive.

"We don't dispute that there is a possibility they (big cats) are out there, but we are yet to see a photograph that proves it categorically," he said.

Mr Roswell said the DNA would ultimately determine the breed of the cat.


"to become centaurs ... to commune with their horses"

[drawing by Srayla Tip]

review of:
Horses and the Mystical Path: The Celtic Way of Expanding the Human Soul.
Adele von Rust McCormick, Marlena Deborah McCormick, and Thomas E. McCormick. Novato: New World Library, 2004. 167 pp. Notes, bibliography, index. $21.95 (cloth), ISBN 1-57731-450-6.

Reviewed by: Marion W. Copeland, Center for Animals and Public Policy, Tufts University.
Published by: H-NILAS (January, 2005)

"Far Back, Far Back in Our Dark Soul the Horse Prances"--D. H. Lawrence, Apocalypse (1931)

Because I had until recently lived in the company of horses, and have a particular curiosity about Celtic ways, I was intrigued by the McCormicks' new book. (They are also the authors of Horse Sense and the Human Heart.) I knew from the earlier volume that they were psychotherapists as well as horse lovers and had discovered that their horses had gifts that made them unique professional as well as performance partners. Since horses have served as therapeutic presences in so many lives, my own included, their discovery seemed sensible enough. What troubled me about the new book was the suggestion that horses might enhance human souls as well as human bodies and minds. Frankly, I had always considered my equine friends above the petty concerns that absorb the institutional religions I am familiar with.

After reading Horses and the Mystical Path and doing some additional research on the pre-Christian Celtic way, I have come to see that what the McCormicks, deeply influenced by Jungian theory, understand as "mystical" resonates with me as "interspecies communication." For me the authors' use of language proved to be a translation problem that would undoubtedly not have existed for our horses or dogs or cats who, despite domestication and association with humans, have never created or believed in any boundary between themselves and the rest of the natural world. They are, simply by existing in the world, a reminder of how newly evolved humans understood their relationship to themselves, other species, and all of nature.

Among the peoples who came to comprise Western culture, the Celts, partially because of their special affinity for nonhumans, especially horses, retained more of that original wisdom than other Western societies. I think sensing that (and perhaps some genes and memes) explains my love both for horses and things Celtic. Without question, horses have been my teachers as well as my friends, companions, and responsibilities as a caregiver. Reading Horses and the Mystical Way made me appreciate even more why my equine companions have been such a deep emotional part of, as well as a powerful intellectual influence on, my life.

But enough of me and my expanding comprehension. The McCormicks' story is more to the point here, although their journey, too, began with finding their roots. On the Isle of Mull in the Scottish Hebrides, searching for the thirteenth-century McCormick castle, their ancestral seat, they found themselves on what they thought was a detour. As we all would be, they were annoyed when their progress was halted in the heather-rich highlands by a herd of shaggy-coated sheep who, when they opened the car doors, not only surrounded them but climbed in beside them. Finally, annoyance overcome by the creatures' attractive looks and friendly ways, the McCormicks "accepted the fact that there was nothing ... to do but succumb ... and make friends with them." Perhaps never before, although they had long owned and valued horses and other domestic animals, had nonhuman will and skill so overwhelmed their own, a fact that was driven home when the herd's shepherd appeared, jovially commenting to the flock: "You found them!" Later, the authors would realize how prescient his words were, but at the time they had no idea they were lost, not only geographically but intellectually and spiritually, and by what seemed serendipity had "come to the right place" to be reabsorbed into the flock (p. 2).

Later that night, in the shepherd's hut, they heard stories about the Celts, their ancestors, in the Hebrides, opening them to a "way of life" they had "never imagined," a way that years later led to the rediscovery of cultural roots they had indeed been unconsciously seeking when they set out to find their genetic heritage. Thanks to "the shamanic influence of the ... old shepherd," they came to understand why horses had to be central to whatever they did. Horses were the messengers or animal guides of their Celtic forebearers: "Celtic shamans call [such a guide] an anam cara, or 'soulfriend,' in Gaelic" (p. 6). Much of Horses and the Mystical Way shares the stories of the healing and/or enlightenment that the McCormicks and their clients experience once they bend their wills to those of their equine anam cara. These experiences are glossed by their growing knowledge of the role played by horses "[t]hroughout the millennia" in human "religion, spiritual development, and ... search for inner wisdom" (pp. 15-16). Their research focuses on the Iberian Peninsula of Spain, the original home of the ancestors of the Peruvian Paso horses they breed and love.

The Celtic influence can be traced through most of Europe, the Near East, as well as the British Isles and Ireland, all of which retain the myth of the lost island of Atlantis which we inherit through Southern European classical roots via the likes of Plato. All these myths describe Atlantis as having "reached a spiritual apex" marked by a special relationship, a "highly developed state of compassion and respect" to all nonhumans. They particularly revered the golden-maned, bronze-hoofed horses given to the Atalantans by their patron god Neptune/Poseidon. In Atalantan mythology these horses represented "the cosmic forces of primordial chaos," serving as well as the conduits to those forces. The forces themselves, the source of all beings, were also recognized as the source of all wisdom:

"Indo-European history and traditions make clear that the relationship between humans and horses once honored in ways have become clouded by contemporary life. These traditions demonstrate that working and living with horses, within a spiritual framework, puts one in touch with inner truths and balance that contribute to the evolution of the human psyche. Still today, the special spiritual and emotional bonds between horses and humans are cultivated in Iberian horse communities, which contain wisdom traditions tens of thousands of years old" (p. 33).

"As one becomes more deeply involved with horses, one begins to have the vague sense that there's another level of communication, another reality just beyond our reach.... This is where the journey into the mystical realm with horses begins" (p. 109).

The wisdom gained comes from working in partnership with a larger mammal whose contribution to the work is not equal to, but in fact greater than, the rider's or driver's. In this context the human passenger finds herself in a situation where only respect, balance, and cooperation succeed. As the McCormicks write, to work with horses modern Westerners are required "to radically shift ... perceptions and attitudes--to stop thinking things must go our way or as planned" (p. 40) and to acknowledge that "in a natural setting, animals take the lead and humans follow" (p. 46). The goal here is not to become passive passenger but "to become centaurs (part human, part horse) ... to commune with their horses" (p. 48). Certainly this communion has what might be called mystic implications with resonances to the shamanic traditions suggested by their encounter with the shepherd at the beginning of the book. The Celtic cross "had its roots in communion," a tradition more ancient than Christianity that provides heightened communication with others based on love. According to English mystic Evelyn Underhill, "We know a thing by uniting with it, by assimilating it, by interpenetration of it and ourselves. It gives itself to us in so far as we give ourselves to it" (quoted p. 163).

To become a centaur is to shapeshift, to become more-than-human, to become one, flesh and blood, with the horse and thus to perceive the world through its senses and mind and, beyond that, to share the world that lies beyond the fortified boundaries human cultures have constructed around themselves. "Even in modern times," the McCormicks explain, "the Celtic people ... practice shapeshifting ... the ancient shamanic art in which a person sheds his or her human identity to become an animal, thus melding with creation. In that respect, this practice is a form of communion. It is the exercise of the imagination, often marking the beginning stages of the mystical quest" (p. 81). It follows that "The Celts' idiosyncratic love of travel developed into their passion for making pilgrimages to 'thin places' ... places of discovery ... where humans might catch glimpses of the invisible dimension. Traveling on horseback was particularly important ... for animals were physical and spiritual guides" (pp. 68-69).

The horse, also recognized as the source of human creativity and imagination, was also perceived as the fountainhead of the rich tradition of poetry, "drama and storytelling" that the Celts used to connect or reinforce the connection to the natural world. In the introduction, the McCormicks write: "Imagination, according to famous psychiatrist D. W. Winnicott, is entering the experience and situation of another being without seeking selfish gratification, pleasure, or notoriety. The imagination is the key to a vibrant life" (p. xii). The imagination is yet another conduit through which the horse reminds us "that we, too, are a part of nature, equal to other animals and other living things, and equal to one another ... in a universal community whose truths supercede sociopolitical hierarchies" (p. 90).

The lives of Celtic Christian saints provide the McCormicks with examples of how significant animals remained in the Celtic way. A Christian version of the myth that survives on the walls of the stable of an order of Carthusian monks who bred Andalusian horses is "an inscription [that] reads, 'Leap into Heaven.'" It is important to note that this is not, like "rapture," a leap out of either human nature or the natural world, abandoning Earth for some "better" place. According to the McCormicks, the recorded goal of these Celtic monks is "achieving harmony with all Creation." Such harmony is, in fact, what they see as the soul of the Celtic Way. "The intimate connection between animals" and these early holy men and women "taught the saints about ... the reality of being a creature," making them appreciative of rather than appalled by their creatureliness and defining the natural world as a 'spiritual ecosystem'" (p. 87).

I was convinced of the importance of the horse to the human long ago, but I had a question in mind as I read Horses and the Celtic Way: What was in it for the horse? Was our seeking its company for therapeutic as well as other reasons purely selfish on our part and perhaps even abusive, depriving them of a life with their own kind? Was their patience with our need simply equine magnanimity? Perhaps they saw domestication as an easy bargain to assure themselves of hay and grain, apples and carrots, and that consciousness explained their willingness to work with what must often seem the world's dullest students. Then again, perhaps horses, too, gain imaginative reach as well from their role as anam cara, from their communion with humankind, from becoming centaur. The McCormicks conclude: "By following where the horse leads us emotionally and spiritually, we begin to expand our view of life. Horses give humans a broader perspective ... a keener appreciation of how intelligent and sensitive other creatures are, and this helps develop our own humility ['prune back our Egos'] and compassion" (p. 98). Perhaps, where I had felt both gain and loss whenever I have returned from the company of horses to my human self and human company, the horse too returns to stable or pasture and the company of horses renewed by something more than relief at shedding human physical and spiritual nearsightedness. I hope so.

Library of Congress Call Number: BV443.H6M3 2004

[source: H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online]

18 April 2007

"more evolved" means what, exactly?

"It is time to stop thinking we are the pinnacle of evolutionary success – chimpanzees are the more highly evolved species, according to new research," New Scientist reports today, in an article headlined
Chimps 'more evolved' than humans.

In this chip-on-the-shoulder perspective, the research offers yet another good reason for humans to rationalize the countless cruelties – casual, benign, and otherwise – that we inflict on these beautiful and intelligent, Earthlings of the
nonhuman persuasion.

17 April 2007

maybe the youngster has a message for the RTCES

Little B swimming in the Bay.

Reports the San Francisco Chronicle today:
A young gray whale, above, that may have gotten lost on its migration to Alaskan waters has been spotted near the Romberg Tiburon Center for Environmental Studies recently. Marine biologists say the whale should be with its mother but appears to be alone. Biologists at the center, which is San Francisco State's marine and estuarine research lab, have nicknamed the whale "Little B" after the facility's Boyer Lab. S.F. State graduate student Brittany Huntington, left, watches for Little B.

12 April 2007

peregrine falcons once worshipped as gods...

Ancient Egyptians saw them as messengers from heaven.
Who listens for their messages now?

[pencil sketch by Doug Millison]

11 April 2007

somebody's counting, for a change

Public release date: 11-Apr-2007
Wildlife Conservation Society

Massive coral death attributed to earthquake

NEW YORK (APRIL 11, 2007) -- Scientists have reported what is thought to be one of the world’s greatest mass death of corals ever recorded as a result of the earthquake in Aceh, Indonesia on 28 March 2005.

The recent survey by scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society - Indonesia Program and the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (ARCCoERS) investigated the condition of coral reefs in Pulau Simeulue and Pulau Banyak off Aceh, Indonesia, in March 2007.

The surveys covered 35 sites along 600 kms (372 miles) of coastline, have documented, for the first time, the effects of earthquake uplift on coral reefs. The entire island of Simeulue, with a perimeter of approximately 300 km (186 miles), was raised up to 1.2 m (3.9 feet) following the 28 March 2005 earthquake, exposing most of the coral reefs which ringed the island.

Dr Stuart Campbell coordinator of the Wildlife Conservation Society –Indonesia Marine Program reports: "This is a story of mass mortality on a scale rarely observed. In contrast to other threats like coral bleaching, none of the corals uplifted by the earthquake have survived".

Dr Andrew Baird of ARCCoERS says: "Amazingly, the uplifted corals are so well preserved we could still identify each species, despite these colonies having been exposed for two years. Some species suffered up to 100 percent loss at some sites, and different species now dominate the shallow reef." "This is a unique opportunity to document a process that occurs maybe once a century and promises to provide new insights into coral recovery processes that until now we could only explore on fossil reefs" says Dr Baird.

Dr Campbell adds "The news from Simeulue is not all bad. At many sites, the worst affected species are beginning to re-colonize the shallow reef areas. The reefs appear to be returning to what they looked like before the earthquake, although the process may take many years.

"The challenge now is to work with local communities and government agencies to protect these reefs to ensure the recovery process continues," he says. The team found coral reefs ranging from highly diverse assemblages of branching corals in sheltered waters to vast areas of table corals inhabiting surf zones. The team also documented, for the first time in Indonesia, extensive damage to reefs caused by the crown-of-thorn starfish, a coral predator that has devastated reefs in Australia and other parts of the world.

"Finding the starfish damage is particularly important" says Dr Baird. "Most observers would attribute damage on this scale to more common reef threats in Indonesia such as cyanide fishing or bleaching. People monitoring Indonesian corals reefs now have another threat to watch out for, and not all reef damage should be immediately attributed to human influences."

Many other reefs, particularly in the Pulau Banyak, continue to be damaged by destructive fishing including bombing and the use of cyanide. These practices are now illegal in Indonesia, and need immediate attention.

Dr Campbell concludes "While reef condition in south-western Aceh is generally poor, we have found some reefs in excellent condition as well as and evidence of recovery at damaged sites. This gives some hope that coral reefs in this remote region can return to their previous condition and provide local communities with the resources they need to prosper. The recovery process will be enhanced by management that encourages sustainable uses of these ecosystems and the protection of critical habitats and species to help this process."

10 April 2007

"he was inside the animal"

That’s why our inside animals are not like those on TV, where they are put into human stories. You don’t see a leopard just as leopard. It is put into a story of predators, of extinction, or ‘the wonders of mating.’ Or you are taught a lesson about motherhood, about how risky animal life is and how everything has to hide in camouflage; or it’s about big bucks competing for females. All humans imagine them. Get into them as imaginal beings, into them as images. That’s what Adam did: he looked at these images parading by and read their names out of their natures. He was inside the animal. He knew the animals of his imagination. He and they were all in the same dream.”
-James Hillman, Dream Animals

[drawing by Doug Millison]