Tuesday, February 26, 2013

You ain’t a beauty, but hey, you’re alright!

With all due respect to the Boss and the greatest rock song ever written, I must say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  This week’s endangered species, the Japanese giant salamander (Andrias japonicus) (photo from http://nationalzoo.si.edu/scbi/jgs/default.cfm), is listed as near-threatened by the IUCN.  My family and I had the good luck to see these fascinating creatures during a behind-the-scenes tour at the Smithsonian National Zoo – in person, they’ve got a charm all their own! 

This huge salamander, which can reach sizes of 55 lbs and 5 feet, is found in the streambeds of fast-flowing streams in northern Kyushu Island and western Honshu in Japan.  The Japanese giant salamander will eat just about anything it can catch, but they don’t hunt using eyesight – they actually don’t see well.  They rely heavily on specialized sensory organs on their bodies and heads to find prey.  Since the adult salamander doesn’t have any natural predators, the main threats to their survival are currently hunting and habitat loss due to deforestation.  Here are a few more fun facts about the Japanese salamander:

  • their bodies are covered in mucus, which protects them from scratches and parasites
  • they absorb oxygen through their skin
  • when threatened or touched, they secrete a milky substance that smells like Japanese peppers
  • after mating in August, females lay 400 to 500 eggs often fertilized by several males
  • male salamanders guard the nests of eggs until they hatch in early spring

When thinking of appropriate songs for the Japanese giant salamander, I’m going to have to go with Cecil F. Alexander’s hymn, “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” rather than Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road (which I may have mentioned is the greatest rock song ever written..):

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.


Smithsonian National Zoological Park.  ND.  “Japanese Giant Salamander”  Accessed online 2/9/13  http://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/AsiaTrail/GiantSalamanders/default.cfm

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Secret Life of Squirrels!

Like most folks, I’ve had plenty of experience with squirrels – watching them frolic in the yard, steal birdseed from my birdfeeders, avoid cars in street.  The one thing I always wondered was, what’s going on up in those nests in the trees?  Well, this past Saturday, I learned the answer to that question.  I spent Saturday morning at a training class for volunteer interpreters (for nature and history programs) at my favorite state park, Sky Meadows.  One of the other volunteers at the program works with a wildlife rescue group, and she was taking care of three baby squirrels – what a treat toIMG_20130223_110548_095 be able to see these little guys up close!  I learned a few new things about squirrels and the happenings in the nest this time of year:

  • at 1-5 days old, baby squirrels are about the size of a woman’s thumb, from knuckle to tip.  They have no hair and are totally pink.
  • at about 2-3 weeks, they begin to have more visible grayish purple hair
  • at about 3 weeks, the lower front teeth begin to emerge, while the upper front teeth don’t emerge until about 5-6 weeks
  • at about 5 weeks, the squirrels’ eyes open and their tails begin to curl over their backs
  • at about 6-7 weeks, the squirrels are fully furred and a week later, they get their fluffy tails!
  • squirrel mothers actually have to help the baby squirrels urinate by licking the babies’ genitals – the babies are so helpless they can’t do it on their own (makes this greenmomster think the diapers weren’t so bad after all….)
  • the genus name for squirrel is “Sciurius”, which is a combination of the root words “skia” for shadow and “oura” for tail, since they sit in the shadows of their tails wrapped over and around their backs and heads

IMG_20130223_132607_599These cute little guys were picked up by the wildlife rescue league when their nest tree was cut down.  So, other than the fact that these squirrels are so cute and the rescuers have big hearts, why go to all the trouble to save them?  Squirrels are an important part of their ecosystems, providing seed dispersal, food, and predation within the ecosystem.  And in rural areas, like Delaplane VA, squirrels aren’t nearly as numerous as they are in urban and suburban areas (think fewer predators in the latter areas). 

If you need to remove a tree in your area, be sure to consider the squirrels.  In the mid-Atlantic, squirrel babies are born in February and March, and then again in June and July.  Thus, avoiding tree felling within about 3 months of that time will give enough time for the squirrels to mature and leave the nest.  If you need to remove a tree – think November!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

I have asthma

This has been a tough winter for me and my lungs.  It all started slowly back in October; I thought I’d keep things under control thanks to the recommendations of friends for various herbal and homeopathic treatments, with a little albuterol on the side.  Then things took off like wildfire.  snow stripesFor months now, I’ve been struggling to keep the asthma under control.  Despite being otherwise very healthy (training for a half-marathon with doctor’s approval), I still cough until I throw up and daily take a concoction of medicine that leaves my stomach burning and my head spinning.

So why mention this asthma issue on an environmental blog?  Asthma definitely has genetic links – some of us are just more prone to this condition, thanks to our DNA.  But asthma also has a very heavy environmental component.  A while back, I posted about asthma, its environmental sources, and what we can all do to help.  I thought I’d repost this information, since I’m guessing I’m not the only one coughing and wheezing my way through winter.  I hope you find this info helpful!

We are the 10%

It was about 2 am and there I sat, waiting, listening, and hoping that my son’s asthma medication would take effect quickly.  Our family has three of the approximately 34 million Americans with asthma.  That’s roughly 10% of the U.S. population, according to the American Lung Association.  Asthma is an inflammation of the airways, making it difficult to breathe.  Asthma has significant health and economic effects:  

  • the CDC National Center for Health Statistics estimates that asthma is the reason for approximately half a million hospitalizations per year
  • the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that medical expenses associated with asthma increased from $48.6 billion in 2002 to $50.1 billion in 2007.  About 2 in 5 (40%) uninsured people with asthma could not afford their prescription medicines and about 1 in 9 (11%) insured people with asthma could not afford their prescription medicines.
  • the CDC National Center for Health Statistics states that asthma accounts for about 10.1 missed work days per year
  • Females have a 23% higher occurrence of asthma than males (American Lung Association)
  • Between 2001 to 2003, the occurrence of asthma in the U.S. was highest in the Northeast region (CDC)
  • According to the American Lung Association, in 2006, asthma prevalence was 20.1% higher in African Americans than in whites
  • According to the CDC, from 2001-2003, asthma prevalence was higher in individuals living below the federal poverty level (10.3%) compared with those at or above the federal poverty level (6.4% to 7.9%)
And moms, take note:
  • The greatest rise in asthma rates was among black children(almost a 50% increase) from 2001 through 2009 (CDC Vital Signs, 5/11)
  • 185 children died of asthma attacks in 2007 (CDC Vital Signs, 5/11) and nearly 4 million children had asthma attacks last year (Akinbami LJ. The State of childhood asthma, United States, 1980–2005. Advance data from vital and health statistics; no 381, Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2006)
  • For children under 15, asthma is the 3rd leading cause of hospital stays (DeFrances CJ Cullen KA, Kozak LJ. National Hospital Discharge Survey: 2005 Annual Summary with Detailed Diagnosis and Procedure Data. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Statistics 12 (165); 2007)
  • From 2001 to 2003, the CDC reports that the occurrence of asthma in children (8.5%) was higher than in adults (6.7%)

So what triggers asthma and asthma attacks?  First off, asthma is a family affair.  Children with parents who have asthma are more likely to have asthma themselves.  A predisposition for having asthma has been found to be passed down genetically.  Now, just because a person has a predisposition, that doesn’t mean they’ll actually get the disease.  But if they do, what might set off an asthma attack?  Allergies often lead to asthma (dust mites, molds, pollen, etc).  Virus and bacterial infections can lead to asthma symptoms (often, a person with asthma will begin to wheeze or cough if they get a cold).  Some people have exercise-induced asthma.  Others get asthma attacks due to certain foods or drugs.  But asthma can be triggered by something else.  Asthma can be triggered by pollution.  Pollutants such as particulate matter, sulfur dioxide (SO2), and ozone (ground-level ozone, that is) have been shown to increase the occurrence of asthma attacks, particularly in children. 

What types of activities produce these pollutants?  The small particles that might affect the lungs are produced from the chemical reaction of pollutants from power plants, industries, and automobiles.  Sulfur dioxide is most commonly produced from the burning of fossil fuels (coal and oil), as well as cement production.  Ozone isn’t usually emitted directly as a pollutant; it’s formed by the action of sunlight on NOx which comes from car exhausts, fuel combustion, and industrial processes. 

Beginning to see a trend?  The pollutants that cause the most problems for asthmatics come from our cars and our power plants.   Limiting discharge of pollutants will protect children and other people affected by asthma.  Will it raise our fuel costs?  Possibly.  There’s some conflicting information as discussed by the Edison Electric Institute and theCongressional Research Service.  Full disclosure, my husband works for an energy company, so I’ve heard both sides of the argument.  But let’s look at it this way – someone has to pay.  Should we, the users of cars and power from fossil fuels, each pay a little more for a cleaner environment, or should we ask the payment to be made by the most vulnerable – our children, individuals living below the poverty level, the elderly?  My son’s asthma is controlled with medicine and attacks are infrequent, but others are not so lucky.

What can one person do?  Get educated about efforts to limit discharge of these pollutants to the environment.  Contact your legislators/local industries/power producers regarding this issue – let your opinion be known.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Potato Cabbage Soup!

It’s been over a year since I last posted this recipe.  It’s such a hit with the kids it deserves a re-post.  It’s a filling, warm soup – perfect for the middle of winter, using lots of in-season items.DSC_0086

Cabbage and Potato Soup
1 small head of cabbage, coarsely chopped into 1 to 2 inch squares
6 yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped into 2 inch cubes
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 to 4 tablespoons butter
1/2  tablespoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme (about 1 1/2 tablespoons if you’re using dried thyme)
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water


  1. Melt the butter in a large soup pot and saute the onion, potatoes, salt, and pepper for about 5 minutes
  2. Add vegetable broth and water; boil until the potato is just soft enough to mash.
  3. Using a hand potato masher, mash the potatoes in the soup until half the potatoes are mashed and half are still in chunks.  If you really like a smooth soup, instead of hand-mashing, use a blender to puree about half the soup.
  4. Add cabbage and thyme; cook until cabbage is soft.
  5. Makes about 4 servings.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chillin’ (literally) at the Climate Change Rally

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My son and I made our climate change-themed buttons, charged the camera batteries, dressed warmly, and packed a small backpack – we were ready for the big Climate Change Rally on the Mall in Washington DC!  We boarded metro and rode into DC with several other groups,climatechange9 including student groups from George Mason University and Northern Virginia Community College, and the Great Falls Chapter of the Sierra Club.  As we emerged from our underground metro tunnel, the cold wind hit my face and my heart began to sink.  The crowd just didn’t look as big as I thought it should be.  Granted, my son and I arrived early for the rally, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Oh no, not again.  Another lukewarm crowd for this important issue.”  Maybe the naysayers were going to be right.

Forcing a smile, my son and I started walking toward the Washington Monument grounds.  As we walked straight into the very cold wind, I noticed we were being joined by groups coming from all directions, exiting Metro and tour buses, holding signs, and wearing buttons.  By the time we reached the monument grounds, the crowd seemed significantly bigger.  Looks like folks were going to take this rally seriously! 

My son and I circulated through the crowd.  We took pictures of the enthusiastic and sincere participants and were impressed at the distances folks had travelled – New York, Ohio, Santa Cruz, Montana, Canada!  The crowd included citizens of all ages and ethnic groups.  Religious groups were also well-represented – Catholic nuns, Quakers, Jewish congregations.  By the time the speeches began, the head count was roughly 30,000 souls.  My favorite speaker was Bill McKibben, the tireless leader of 350.org.  He’s no newcomer to this cause, and his absolute optimism lifts the spirit of an ol’ greenmomster like me.  I also had the pleasure of meeting some folks I’ve followed through their blogs, including the moms from Moms Clean Air Force.  By the time my son and I were completely frozen and ready to enjoy a little lunch at the National Museum of the American Indian (nothing like fry bread to warm the body and soul of a climate change activist), the crowd was estimated at 35,000!  Truly a wonderful turnout – and hopefully one with a message that President Obama and our national leaders will take seriously.  Let’s keep the pressure on our elected leaders!

Enjoy a few photos from the day:

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Fascinating Pangolin!

This week, in honor of World Pangolin Day, let’s take another look at these wonderful creatures (re-post from September)!

The endangered species of the week is the pangolin, a small (species range from 3 1/2 to 70 lbs), scaly mammal found in southeast Asia and parts of Africa.  Also known as scaly anteaters, pangolins use their thick, strong claws and incredible sense of smell to find their primary food of ants and termites.  They are nocturnal and secretive.   The eight species of pangolins live in many different habitats including forests, thick brush, grasslands, and even cultivated areas.  All eight species of pangolin are protected under national and international law, and two of the species are listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.  It’s unclear how long pangolins live in the wild, but they’ve been known to live up to 20 years in captivity.  The major threats to pangolins are habitat loss and illegal hunting for their meat and scales (used in Asian medicine). 

So pangolins live on the other side of the world and we’ve never even seen one – why should greenmomsters give a flying flit about these animals?  Well, other than the fact that they’re incredibly cute, particularly when the young ride around on their mother’s backs near the base of their tails (photo fromwww.savepangolins.org), these species play a vital role in the balance of nature in their ecosystems.  As stated in Wildlife Heroes (Scardina and Flocken, 2011), “Pangolins play a critical role in natural insect control, especially ants and termites, saving humans millions of dollars to pest damage and reducing the need for harmful chemical pesticides.  Additionally, pangolin burrows provide shelter for many species, such as rodents and reptiles.”

Want to help with pangolin conservation?  Learn more by joining the Pangolin SSC Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/IUCN-SSC-Pangolin-Specialist-Group/279294488845768, or make a donation toward conservation at http://www.pangolinsg.org/.  For more information on pangolins, check out www.savepangolins.org.

Ground pangolin - overview  BBC Natural History UnitBe sure to check out this video from ARKive.org: http://www.arkive.org/ground-pangolin/smutsia-temminckii/video-00.html

Pangolin Conservation Support Initiative. 2012. Save Pangolins website. Accessed 10/7/12.
Pangolin Species Survival Commission. 2012. Pangolin SSC website. Accessed 10/7/12.
Scardina, J. and J. Flocken. 2011. Wildlife Heroes. Running Press Book Publishers, Philadelphia PA. 264 pp.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Meat-Free Friday–Cornbread Soup!

For the start of Lent, we get to enjoy some of my favorite foods!  This week’s meat-free Friday dish was named by my kids.  It’s actually a recipe that I adapted from a Cooking Light recipe (January/February 2013) for Black-Eyed Peas and Cornmeal Dumplings, but we’ve changed it so much that we gave it a new name.  DSC_0007A big hit here at our house – we used it for a recent birthday dinner – and you can leave it with its mellow flavor or jazz it up with a hit of hot sauce.  Variety is the spice of life!

9 or more pieces of Morningstar Farms veggie bacon strips, cooked crispy
1 chopped onion
1 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp minced garlic
2 cups veggie broth
salt and pepper to taste
4 (15 oz.) cans blackeyed peas, undrained
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup chopped spring onions
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 tsp baking soda
4 tblsp chilled butter, cut into small chunks
1 cup buttermilk
hot sauce (optional)

1)  Saute onion in a large pot with olive oil, for 2-3 minutes.  Add garlic and saute another minute.  Add veggie broth, blackeyed peas, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil.  If more liquid is needed to make the blackeyed pea mixture “soupy,” add 1 to 1 1/2 cups water or veggie broth.
2)  In a separate bowl, combine flour, spring onions, cornmeal, baking soda, butter, buttermilk.  Mix well and form into little balls by hand.
3)  Drop the cornmeal balls into the blackeyed pea mixture and allow them to cook thoroughly – at least 10 minutes.
4)  Serve immediately, adding hot sauce if you want a little extra zing!  A great side dish for this meal is kale, sauteed in olive oil with chopped red bell pepper and garlic.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Great News for the California Night Lizard!

This week’s endangered species is on its way out – in a good way!  On February 4, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed delisting the California Night Lizard from the Endangered Species Act.  Thanks to a conservation plan focusing on habitat restoration andIsland night lizard education, the species, which is found only on the Channel Islands off the coast of southern California, has rebounded sufficiently to be delisted!  To learn more, check out the Center for Biological Diversity’s press release. (photo credit to Center for Biological Diversity)

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lincoln, Darwin, and me!

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Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, and I all have something in common (and it’s not our smashing fashion sense) – February 12th is our birthday!  The President who held the U.S. together and freed the enslaved people, the writer of On the Origin of Species, and me!  What do the three of us have in common, other than a birthday?  DSC_0001Although I feel pretty certain I’ll never have the worldwide impact of my two birthday-mates, I can say that we share one trait – passion about the world around us.  We all have the gift of having something (or many things) that make us feel alive and anxious to get our days started. 

Today, I’m going to spend my day teaching an ecology class at the local community college.  OK, it’s not preserving the Union, but I get to spend the morning talking to students about the beauty and wonder of the natural world; I’ll spend the afternoon outside helping them work through a lab on plant distribution.  I’ll be in the company of students who still find nature fascinating and might even want to make environmental science or ecology their career choice.  In the evening, I’ll be going to the church’s shrove Tuesday pancake supper with my family, my other passion.  What a great way to spend a birthday!

So happy birthday to Lincoln, Darwin, and the greenmomster!  Here’s to a life blessed with passion and wonder!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Why I’m Marching on February 17

I’m joining the big climate change march on Washington on February 17.  I’m not marching because I think the weather’s going to be great (it’s not).  I’m not marching because I love the atmosphere created by a crowd of thousands, hopefully hundreds of thousandsDSC_0001 (I don’t).   I’m not marching because I don’t have any other better things to do (I’m kinda busy these days).  Here are my top 5 reasons for joining the march:

  1. In his inaugural speech, President Obama stated ““We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that failure to do so would betray our children and future generations” (NY Times 2013).  I want the President to know that I expect him to fulfill this promise.
  2. On Gerry Connolly’s website (my congressional representative), the congressman states, “In the 111thCongress, Congressman Connolly helped pass the largest investment in clean energy in American history and supported legislation to reduce global warming pollution and reform offshore oil drilling.” (Connolly website ND)  I’m marching to let my representative know that I support his efforts and expect continued action in the same direction.
  3. In my opinion, my senator, Mark Warner, has sent mixed signals regarding his commitment to stopping climate change.  He has supported development of some alternative fuel projects, while also co-sponsoring the Offshore Petroleum Expansion Now Act of 2012 (Warner website ND).  I’m marching to tell my senator that, on the issue of climate change, I expect him to lead definitively – you can’t have it both ways.
  4. Our new senator, Tim Kaine, needs to know that the folks he represents feel strongly about climate change.
  5. The photo shows you my primary reason for marching on February 17.  I’m a mom, and I care about the environment that my children will inherit.

Hope to see you at the march!



Connolly website.  ND.  “Environment”  Accessed 2/9/13 http://connolly.house.gov/environment/

Stevenson, R.W and J.M. Broder.  2013. “Speech Gives Climate Goals Center Stage.”  The New York Times, January 21, 2013.  Accessed online 2/9/13 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/us/politics/climate-change-prominent-in-obamas-inaugural-address.html?_r=0

Warner website.  ND.  “Energy”  Accessed 2/9/13 http://www.warner.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/energy1

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Kale Pad Thai

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This week’s meat-free Friday gives us a taste of Thailand!  I adapted this recipe for a family of 5 from one I found in a Whole Foods brochure (credit was given to Chrissy Bender, Healthy Eating Specialist in the Mason OH Whole Foods Store).  Photo from Nationalgeographic.com.

2 cups roasted, salted or unsalted peanuts
2 cups Nutritional Yeast (check the bulk foods area of your grocery store)
2 garlic cloves
2 tbls lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 tbsp tamari
1 1/2 cup water
pepper to taste
4 eggs, scrambled and cut into small pieces
2 packages Buckwheat Soba Noodles, cooked
Handful of kale, chopped and stems removed
3 cups cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1) Combine peanuts, yeast, garlic, lemon juice, salt, veggie broth, tamari, water and pepper in a blender.
2)  Toss noodles with the kale, eggs, and tomatoes.  Toss with the sauce.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Flight Behavior

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I’ve been a fan of Barbara Kingsolver’s books for quite some time.  From Animal Dreams and The Bean Trees through The Poisonwood Bible, I look forward to Ms. Kingsolver’s next book of fiction and often find myself re-reading sentences just to enjoy her writing Flight Behaviorstyle.  Her non-fiction essays and books, including Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about her family’s attempt to eat only locally produced foods for one year, are honest and entertaining.  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle even included recipes, which this greenmomster always enjoys. 

Flight Behavior is Ms. Kingsolver’s latest book about the fictional overwintering of monarch butterflies in southern Appalachia.  As you know from previous posts, monarch butterflies overwinter In the mountains of Mexico after a 5 generation migration through North America.  In Flight Behavior, Ms. Kingsolver introduces us to Dellarobia, a woman who’s life isn’t turning out quite as she planned.  With the unexpected arrival of the monarchs, she learns many new scientific facts, as well as many things about herself and her family.   Ms. Kingsolver skillfully weaves a story about a family, while teaching us the science behind climate change’s effects on global biodiversity.  Although I found Dellarobia’s scientist friend, Ovid, to be a bit depressing and overbearing about environmental issues, I think that’s because all of us who are concerned about these major environmental issues might see a bit of ourselves in him.  He tries to remain positive and upbeat when dealing with children, but finds he has little time for the disinterest or excuses of adults. 

As usual, Ms. Kingsolver did not disappoint with this novel.  She chose an unusual method for addressing climate change – through a work of fiction.  She’s done her homework on the subjects of climate change and monarch butterflies, and gets her point across beautifully in this fascinating drama about one woman’s life. 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Saving a salmon–$40; saving a right whale–$73; saving a Panamanian frog–priceless?

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Researchers are often interested in finding out our willingness to pay.  They use travel cost models to try to figure out how much a vacation experience is worth to us.  They use surveys to see whether we’re willing to pay to clean the Chesapeake Bay.  But what maned wolfabout endangered species?  Are some species worth more to us than others?  Would we pay the same amount to save the Kauai cave spider as the polar bear? 

A recent study in the journal Conservation Biology found that we value different species differently.  A survey of 8476 households found that respondents were willing to pay for the recovery of threatened and endangered marine species, but they weren’t willing to pay the same amount for each species.  While households were willing to shell out $73 to save the northern right whale, they were only willing to spend $40 to save the Puget Sound Chinook salmon or $43 for the loggerhead sea turtle.  The good news is, as stated by the authors, “…the public derives a positive economic value from recovering and downlisting threatened and endangered marine species.” 

So what are we willing to pay to save endangered species and the ecosystems in which they live?  Be sure to read about the 100 most endangered species and decide for yourself what you’re willing to pay and do to save endangered species.  Remember, you can pay with money (donations to your favorite environmental organizations) and/or with time – letters to your representatives and local newspapers, or volunteering at a local park or wilderness area.

photo:  http://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/amazonia/facts/manedwolffacts.cfm
Wallmo, K. and D. Lew.  2012.  “Public Willingness to Pay for Recovering and Downlisting Threatened and Endangered Species.”  Conservation Biology, Vol 26, No. 5. pp. 830-839.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Revisiting the Chimpanzee!

This week’s endangered species is an old friend about whom I’ve written before – the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes).  The chimpanzee is listed as endangered on the IUCN List of Threatened Species and was in the news this past week because of a report from theThe Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary: A True Story of Resilience and Recovery NIH’s Council of Councils Working Group on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research.  This report recommends that research using chimpanzees follow expanded and strict guidelines regarding housing and treatment of the chimpanzees.  Thanks to these guidelines, many experts foresee an eventual phasing out of most, if not all, NIH-funded research involving chimpanzees.  Want to learn more about why chimpanzees are so special?  Read on!

There are four subspecies of chimpanzee, each with unique appearance, distribution, and behavior:  the western chimpanzee (P. t. verus), the central chimpanzee (P. t. troglodytes), eastern chimpanzee (P. t. schweinfurthii), and the Nigeria-Cameroon chimpanzee (P. t. ellioti).  Chimpanzees are omnivores that live in a complex social structure with much parental care of young.  Although chimpanzees usually reach sexual maturity at 7 years of age, they usually don’t reproduce until they’re 13-14 years old.  Young stay with parents for over 5 years, and sometimes up to 10 years.  According to the World Wildlife Fund, the major threats to chimpanzee populations are habitat loss and degradation, hunting, and disease.

Check out these books and movies, if you’d like to learn more about these fascinating animals and the people who work with them:

  • Disney’s Chimpanzee – Wow!  You knew that the greenmomster would be checking this film out on opening weekend, and it was terrific!  As explained by the filmmakers, Alastair Fothergill and Mark Linfield, on NPR, this film is not a documentary.  It’s a storywith “heroes”, “bad guys”, and a conflict.  The filmmakers very cleverly weave together nature footage to tell an entertaining story, and, as an extra plus, they teach us quite a bit about chimpanzees.  The photography is incredible, but never gets in the way of the story and the chimpanzees.  Additionally, filmmakers managed to document a behavior rarely seen by scientists – a dominant male chimpanzee “adopting” a baby chimpanzee after its mother is killed.  I highly recommend this movie for your entire family!
  • The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary – A sadder tale than the one told in the movie Chimpanzee, is the story of chimpanzees formerly used for medical research.  In The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, Andrew Westoll describes his experiences as a volunteer at Fauna Sanctuary.  The sanctuary was established in 1997 for animals from farming, entertainment, education, and research.   The sanctuary’s primary focus is providing a home for chimpanzees rescued from research.  Andrew Westoll’s fascinating book gives us a glimpse into the intelligence and complex social structure of chimpanzees, and the dedication of the people who are committed to helping them. (If you’re interested in learning about the first 100 chimpanzees used in scientific research in the U.S., see Wesleyan University’s recent research.)
  • Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) – Jane Goodall’s name is synonymous with chimpanzees and wild chimpanzee preservation.  She has devoted her life to studying and protecting chimpanzees and still travels over 300 days per year.  One of the many activities of the JGI is the Roots and Shoots program, founded in 1991 by Goodall and a group of Tanzanian students to organize youth interested in service projects, campaigns, and events that help to conserve and protect the natural world.  Goodall has written many books, but two of the more recent books that I’ve read and enjoyed are Harvest for Hope (A Guide to Mindful Eating) and Reason for Hope (A Spiritual Journey).


Council of Councils Working Group.  2013.  “Council of Councils Working Group Report on the Use of Chimpanzees in NIH-Supported Research.”  Accessed online 1/25/2013.  http://dpcpsi.nih.gov/council/pdf/FNL_Report_WG_Chimpanzees.pdf

National Public Radio.  2012.  “Following the LIves of Chimpanzees on Screen.”  April 19,2012.  Accessed online 1/25/2013.  http://www.npr.org/2012/04/19/150734375/following-the-lives-of-chimpanzees-on-screen

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