Sunsets, khakis and 4×4’s…and other glamorous myths of field biology

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Field work is not glamorous. Nothing about being in the jungle, surrounded by bugs, submerged in rain and pooping out your intestines, and possibly half your body weight, is glamorous. The national geographic photos of a biologist in the field, studying an exotic something or other, while the sun sets beautifully in the background is a load of crap. What the photos don’t show you is your body’s complete inability to acclimate to foreign anything and everything. You don’t see the sleepless nights, wether it’s from stress, heat, disorientation or (if you are an inaugural ICARUS member) moving into what can only be described as the ground zero house aka the love shack.
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In the nearly two weeks I have been in Costa Rica, I have cried twice, gone mental on my amazing research assistants more than a dozen times, stared at my bank account disbelievingly 467 times, cursed the world 845 times and questioned my sanity 5,678,243 times. I have contemplated giving up…….Not once. Not one damn time, did I ever say “I quit” Have I ever wondered if I would fail? If I would let down not only countless people, but the wildlife I love so fiercely? You bet your ass, I have. I might lose my sanity…and possibly any chance at a date in the next decade, but I stand to lose so much more if I pack it all in.

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So, what is at stake? I spent yesterday morning with Becky Cliffe, who functions not only as my fundraising campaign manager, but who is my release advisor (and a PhD student herself) at the Jaguar Rescue Center. We spent the early hours getting briefed by the center’s big cat caretaker, Nerea. In addition to joining the rescue center, whose mission is to rehabilitate and release as many animals as possible, in their fight wildlife crimes, we are also working to assist them in what could be the first successful ocelot release in Costa Rica.

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Namu came to JRC just a year ago as an orphaned cub, he was found abandoned and hiding inside of a tree trunk. His mother, who no one ever found, was probably a casualty of the mass construction happening in the area. That’s just one of the many threats the native wildlife faces here in Central America. Poaching, trafficking, and deforestation are just the tip of the iceberg. Namu is not the only victim. There are a myriad of animals who have been orphaned, injured or some who have sadly lost their lives that are in need of help, I have often been asked “What is ICARUS? What exactly are you doing out in the field?” Simply put, the function of ICARUS is to create a network that individuals and organizations across the globe can access to offer insight into wildlife welfare solutions. Think of it as a database filled with the knowledge of the planet’s most ingenious forward thinkers.

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Costa Rican powerlines that cause incredible injury and death

to many species

Why are we here? In Costa Rica specifically? Well, you have to start somewhere. Namu is an excellent way to learn about the root cause of crimes against wildlife and reach out to other organizations for assistance. We are proving how ICARUS works on a small scale and then taking the expertise and success global.

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So back to our current situation in Costa Rica in our effort to make ICARUS a living entity, this morning when Becky told me she quite possibly has a tapeworm, which for the record is not her first parasite in the six years she has resided in the jungle. You really just have to shake your head and laugh. Our lives are in no way spectacular by the standards Hollywood has created for the modern field biologist. No one really wants to shave off their hair because it’s turned moldy, take toxic anti parasitic drugs that turn your urine pink, or find a giant cockroach in their retainer case (Our sympathies to our field coordinator Sarah Kennedy), but they are all bizarre badges of honor. War wounds, so to speak. Perhaps your war wound is the scar you received the very first time you rode a bicycle, the scar from a life saving surgery or your first C-section. Whatever it is, it is unique and it makes you proud. We all wear our hearts on the outside, in various forms. We share our passions and our pride in our stories, in our wounds and it’s what we leave behind when we are gone. It is our legacy…and it all matters. All that I hope is that ICARUS matters. I hope it incites change. The truth is, ICARUS is not mine. It isn’t just my legacy, my badge of honor. It belongs to all of us. It belongs to our children. And most importantly it belongs to the animals we are striving to save and protect.

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to be continued…

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The Price of Conservation

Conservation can be many things, and it can occur in many ways. The one constant, however, is that conservation is not free. Maybe you donate time to helping spread public awareness, donate effort in organizing local rallies, or offer both time and effort into joining local protests or pushes for legislation which will protect animals or provide care for animals themselves. Or maybe you choose to donate money to organizations that do all of the above.

ICARUS is a group run by people donating their time, their own money, and all the effort they can muster to help animals all over the world, but we can’t be successful without the help of folks like you. There has been speculation within the comments of some of our posts that we’re somehow affiliated, or funded by Big Cat Rescue. This is not true. We do agree with BCR’s policies of hands-off conservation. However, we have no formal affiliation with them, nor do we receive any funding from them, or any other established conservation organization.

To assert that we’re funded by a group simply because we agree with them and what they do would be to assert that we’re also affiliated with, and funded by, the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio, Ian Somerhalder, Ricky Gervais, Betty White, and countless other celebrities whose conservation efforts we support and agree with. Trust me, if we had funding from such people, you’d know about it because we’d be shouting about it from the rooftops.

The truth is that right now, we’re funding ourselves (much to the agony of our bank accounts) and working by donating time and effort to ICARUS on top of the time and effort devoted to full time jobs elsewhere. Some of us are also balancing other carriers along with full time jobs, and ICARUS work, and the daily care of our own domestic animals. The result is a hectic shell game of time, energy and money that only other animal advocates and owners can understand firsthand. It is worth every moment of struggle, though, to be able to say that what we’re doing is helping animals all over the world. Every movement must start somewhere, with a few steps into the unknown future. Sometimes, you can’t know how things will turn out, but you do know that moving forward is the only way you’ll ever find out the answer.

Such a leap of faith is often the driving force behind conservation projects. It just can’t be the only force behind them. If conservation and animal rescue could be carried out on faith and love alone, then there would never be cases of hoarders or failed rescue centers.

The hard truth is that while conservation efforts can be started with ideals and determination, they must, at some point, also start bringing in monetary support. To this end, the ICARUS project has added a donate button to our blog, and we hope you’ll consider donating to our efforts. Be assured we are seeking funding from many sources, not merely the public but every dollar matters, even if it doesn’t seem like much. Donating just five bucks might mean there’s enough gas to get our field researchers to an undercover animal swap where they can expose illegal activity, or it might mean that they can afford to buy milk replacer for an orphaned baby sloth, bandages for a burned sloth, or it might provide the last money needed to purchase a tracking collar for a to-be-released big cat, the study of which can help with the conservation of that species. No matter how small an amount, any donation will help us continue our research and help animals everywhere.

Rescuing animals is expensive and hard. Often the animals have suffered abuse and neglect. They are difficult, or impossible to handle for bandage changes or medication. You worry about them constantly, and are forced to watch them suffer further during treatment, knowing all the while that they still might die, many times from simple things which were left untreated, things that an animal should never die from. If they do survive, then rehabilitation looms large on the horizon, creating further trials that must be overcome in order to reach true recovery. And I’m just talking about domestic animals. Add the factor of the animal being wild, and completely unaccustomed to human interaction – or accustomed only to abusive interactions – and it takes rescue and rehabilitation to a whole new level of struggle.

These are the kinds of things that the ICARUS field team are dealing with on a daily basis. Watching the suffering of animals, documenting it, and doing what they can to stop it. It wears them down emotionally, physically and mentally, yet the team continues because it’s what they must do in the name of protecting animals all over the world. And along with all of the animal-associated stress they endure, there’s the monetary stress as well, the not knowing if they’ll be supported by others, or if they’ll end up penniless and stranded in a foreign country in the middle of their research. So while twenty-five bucks, or ten bucks might seem pointless to donate, it isn’t. It’s twenty-five dollars that can be used to help save an animal, to help educate those who are exploiting animals, or to help set up communities with options that protect animals, instead of harming them.

Rather than load this post with terrible pictures of suffering animals like those commercials on TV that give us nightmares, I’m using photos from two of my own rescues stories, that of Francesca the miniature Sicilian donkey, and Muffet, the cat. Fran came to us free because the rest of her herd had been sold off and no one wanted her. When she arrived, her condition was a complete shock, and we were forced to choose in a split second whether to turn her away, or take her and pray we could treat her and keep her alive. Muffet was a slightly different story, but both cases involved simple neglect which led to complex medical conditions.

IMG_2074.JPGFran hopped off the trailer about 150 pounds overweight (she stands only about three feet tall at the shoulder) suffering from chronic founder, with feet that had gone untrimmed for years.

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IMG_2566.JPGOnce her feet had been properly trimmed (all of that growth was ‘dead’ tissue) we had to keep her feet wrapped with dressings. Because the tissue had be grossly stretched, any piece of dirt could travel up into the the depths of her foot, causing an abscess which would then rupture at the juncture of hoof and leg (the coronary band) Each ruptured abscess came with the possibility that the abscess would spread along the coronary band and create an ‘unzipping’ effect that would cause her foot to detach entirely from her leg, a fatal complication. It took over a year of constant dressings on all four feet in order for her feet to grow out and the tissue to resume proper form.

226378_4385109427412_2120300939_nBecause Fran had been neglected, and then put through painful procedures, it took time for her to trust adults again. Children, however, she was instantly drawn to, and protective of. Here she is with my niece, who calls Fran her ‘Donkey-Sister’. The two are inseparable. Fran’s ears are abnormally shaped due to untreated frostbite, and her tail is only a stump as a result of an untreated wire wound, which became infected and caused her tail to fall off. Her ears and tail stump still require maintenance, as she’s susceptible to both sun burn, and frostbite. The black object on Fran’s nose in the header photo is a grazing muzzle which restricts how much grass she can consume. Donkeys are incredibly efficient processors of food, therefore in lush areas like Virginia, artificial restrictions must be used in order to prevent them from overeating, and foundering. This can mean keeping them in a dirt lot, or utilizing a grazing muzzle which only allows her to consume small quantities at a time.

IMG_8733Muffet was another case of simply not caring. She at some point received a minor injury, possibly just a scratch, which became infected.

IMG_7354.JPGWithout treatment, this infection created an abscess which then became infested with maggots. Over a thousand were removed from the wound.

IMG_7498.JPGHere’s the site several days after the initial debridement and suturing. The skin required careful monitoring as it healed.

IMG_7443.JPGThough suffering, Muffet was much easier to treat than Fran, as she was at least accustomed to human interactions, whereas Fran had been abandoned in a large field and left to fend for herself for several years.

Both of these cases of neglect cost thousands of dollars to treat and months/years of attention, and the cost would have been higher if I didn’t have the skills to perform tasks like dressing changes and suture removal. Now, imagine relatively simple situations like this with wild animals who cannot even be touched without sedation. Imagine the time, and effort and skill required to treat wild animals.

Yes, conservation carries a high price, both literally, and figuratively. We hope that you will help the ICARUS group by donating to our research and conservation efforts, no matter the size of the donation, and then share our page, and help spread the word. It is our hope that in the future, there will be no need for anyone to donate to conservation, because we hope that conservation itself will become obsolete, and that care for the natural world will become the norm. Until then, we need your help so that we can help animals in need all over the world.

Author: Artemis Grey

The Hollywood Walk of Shame/Fame – The Oscars for the Best Animal Celebrities & The Worst

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But first….lemme take a selfie! 

Let’s face it, whether we like it or not, the world is obsessed with celebrities. They therefore have the power to do amazing good with the attention they receive or cause a great deal of damage. A good example of this is that tons of celebrities have recently taken pictures with baby tigers, lions etc and the response has been HUGE. Unfortunately that response has been “OMG. WHERE CAN I SNUGGLE A BABY TIGER??!!”, “This is so cool! Jealous!”… etc. This is an incredible example of the bad things celebrities can do for conservation and animal welfare. We have covered why cub petting is so abhorrent and the unfortunate truth is celebrities are just furthering this abusive practice and worse, making it look cool to millions of people.

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Yep, that’s me with a baby tiger

Now, we are not here to vilify these ‘bad’ celebrities, every single person of the ICARUS team has done something they were not proud of in regards to animal welfare. I personally have, swam with dolphins in a tiny pool, spent hours at SeaWorld feeding dolphins and been to the infamous Tiger Temple in Thailand and played with baby tigers. I doubt there is a person on this planet that hasn’t done something like that. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and instead of enabling these practices you should speak out against them. So without further ado here is our version of the Razzie awards for celebrities causing animal crimes and also the Oscars for celebrities doing amazing things for our fluffy friends.

THE RAZZIE’S

Worst ensemble: The Kardashians

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Where should we start with the Kardashians? Well Kim loves her fur and wouldn’t even give it up even after Khloe became a PETA advocate. Kylie and Kendall have had numerous pictures cub petting at Black Jaguar White Tiger and Khloe, the most disappointing one, is also a huge fan of selfies with baby big cats and a fully grown Jaguar. Not cool ladies.

Worst Dressed: Beyonce

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Oh Beyonce, we do love and admire you, but man do you do some silly things sometimes. Getting your tiny daughter to play with baby tigers whilst also wearing the most insane headdress?! As we all know, Beyonce has an incredible following and has taught millions of people that this kind of activity is not only cool but also a good thing. And this is someone who has a vegan line people.

Worst use of props: Justin Bieber

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Justin Bieber certainly has quite the record for doing upsetting things with animals; cub petting, handing over live hamsters to screaming fans and also abandoning his adopted pet monkey at a German border when he couldn’t take it with him. This is like Adam Sandlers career in comedy – getting worse & worse. However recently Justin has been doing some work with PETA so maybe he’ll turn it around. We sure hope so!

Worst Styling for a Movie: The Trump Family

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Where do we start with the Trump Family, let’s face it, they are probably irredeemable. The sons are massive trophy hunters and Donald literally said, they like to hunt. Personally I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse, this man is running for president and he clearly has no issue with crimes against animals, as well as, lets face it, crimes against humanity (and toupes).

Worst Performance: Bindi Irwin

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I am not the biggest Steve Irwin fan, I think he did a lot for conservation but he also had a career of basically pestering animals. His daughter decided to help the animals by becoming an ambassador for SeaWorld, basically one of the worst places on the planet. Biggest disappointment ever. I really hope she can turn this around, she’s young, beautiful and clearly cares for animals. She certainly has the tools and compassion to do it.

The Oscars:

Thankfully there are so many wonderful celebrities trying to do good for the animals, we had a hard time choosing who to list!

Best On-Screen Couple: Ian Somerhalder & Nikki Reed

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Along with being, let’s face it, one of the most attractive couples ever, Nikki & Ian are doing TONS for animals. Ian even has his own foundation – The Ian Somerhalder Foundation to educate the public. They’re pretty damn cool. He even called out his ex & co-star, Nina Dobrev, on Twitter after she posted pictures feeding baby tigers. That had to be awkward at work the next day…

Best Dressed – Glenn Close

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No I’m not talking about the time she played Cruella de Vil! Along with being a general badass, Glenn Close has advocated against ivory poaching, getting service dogs for American Veterans of War and recently helped to support and promote the #IFAKEIT campaign for organisation Panthera. You go, Glenn Coco.

Best Breakout: Maisie Williams

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I actually love Maisie Williams. She’s spunky, has protested with tons of people in London against dolphins in captivity/the dolphin hunts in Japan and also did a skydive to bring the spotlight on to this cause. Legend.

Best Action Sequence: Steve-O

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Steve-O has been bringing great attention against SeaWorld recently and has definitely suffered the consequences! He has been arrested twice for performing “inconvenient” stunts that have resulted in fire rescue services and the police having to be called out. They call it time wasting, I call it genius. Steve-O we salute you and your services.

Best Comedic Performance: Ricky Gervais

Rebecca Francis Extreme Huntress Rebecca Francis targeted online for hunting pictures Francis, who grew up in Utah and in 2010 won a US-based reality television show competition called Extreme Huntress, says she learned to hunt from an early age and wants to

Among other animal causes, Ricky’s fights against trophy hunters have been down right hilarious as well as it resulting in a HUGE awareness for this cause. He’s witty, sarcastic and gets these hunters all riled up and defensive. It’s sheer brilliance. ­­

Lifetime Achievement Awards:

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Bob Barker, Harrison Ford & Pamela Anderson

There were so many people we wanted to put in for this, which is why we ended up with 3!

Pamela has been a huge supporter of PETA for a long time as well as advocating politicians for animal rights and campaigning in the field for Sea Shepherd. Boobs and Brains! (and she’s gorgeous!)

Bob Barker, where do we start! He has given millions of dollars to various universities with animal welfare programs and is one of the key people to stop animals in the circus and probably the most well-known. His work has been influential.

Have you heard the quote: When the buying stops then the killing can too? Well that was the wonderful Harrison Ford who first said that. He has done so much in terms of trying to stop the illegal sales of tiger parts as well as many other causes.

In Memorium: Sam Simon

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I was actually really sad when Sam Simon died. Not only was he a huge part of creating laughter for millions of people with, The Simpsons, but when he was diagnosed with colon cancer he spent his last months on Earth saving tons of animals. He also bequthead his millions to various animal charities when he died. So instead of spending his last few months of life on a last jolly round the planet he spent his time and money on saving animals. An honest to God wonderful man.

Reformed Performers: Proof that you can turn it around

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Ric O’Barry: Ric started his career as a dolphin trainer for TV show Flipper. But when one of his trained dolphins died in his arms he did a complete 180 and is now probably the top advocate for ending the dolphin hunts in Japan and dolphins in captivity. He is a brilliant man.

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Prince Harry: Last year Prince Harry was outed for hunting big game, today he is out in Africa, in the field, stopping poachers. That’s pretty special.

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Tippi Hedren: Once an owner of a male lion, Neil, letting it completely into their family and even letting him sleep in her daughters bed, Tippi is now a HUGE advocate against owning big cats as pets. She has a big cat sanctuary and is lobbying congress to stop them being bred for pets. That’s definitely a big turnaround.

Honorable Mentions – too many to list in entirety but here are some favourites: Ellen, John Stewart, Jared Leto, Johnny Depp, Maggie Q, Jason Biggs, Hayden Panettiere, Leonardo DiCaprio, Betty White, Lupita Nyong’o and many many more! Thanks guys for everything you do!

Dishonorable Mentions: Kristin Davis, Kellan Lutz, Paris Hilton, Kanye West, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Katy Perry, Sarah Jessica Parker, Shaquille O’Neal, Mike Tyson, Nina Dobrev and so on!

Sarah

What do airplane bathrooms, Donald Trump and Wildlife Conservation have in Common?

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I never imagined that the start of our first ICARUS Project journey would find me trapped in an airplane bathroom at a cruising altitude of 35,000 ft. To be fair, I don’t think anyone imagines that in any scenario, but there I was clinging to the sink and praying for the travel gods to take mercy on my weak stomach. In that moment I said to myself, “And so it begins”.

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It’s a common problem, creating a viable thesis, students all over the world spend late nights crying over their laptops and wishing for the end of days. Me personally, I just ignored it for as long as possible. No really, I spent the last two years in the field trying to avoid the subject. Luckily, that’s how it found me. I knew, in theory, the difficulty in tackling something as broad as wildlife crime. To expose individuals and organizations that traffic, possess, breed and abuse the wildlife that is imperative to keeping our ecosystem balanced. Not only do they keep our planet in check, but keep its human inhabitants grounded and humble. Our animal cohabitants remind us that we do not in fact own everything around us. When it comes to marking territory, it’s humans that feel the need to piss on every tree.

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So how did I get here, in this cramped, putrid plane toilet? How does a grown woman of 36 find herself with a one way ticket out of America, all her belongings packed in her tired old chevy and headed to Costa Rica, and hoping to save some animals.

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In a nutshell, I’ve got nothing to lose. At the age of thirty I found myself bankrupt and jobless (after losing a job as the manager of a posh horse farm due to a horrific bout of meningitis). I spent two long years shelving videos at Blockbuster (yes, it was THAT long ago) and wondering when my bright future had snuffed out. At some point you put up or shut up, so I emptied my bank account, a whole whopping 500 bucks, rented a Uhaul and headed to NYC to sort it all out.

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Long story short, the concrete jungle was not my mecca, but it did lead me to an opportunity through my school to travel abroad to Africa, Namibia to be specific. An opportunity to work with wildlife, specifically big cats, for the first time. Perhaps, Namibia was my mecca and the cheetahs my saviors. There was no turning back after that. I left NY and gave impoverished internship living a shot. From the diversity of the rescues at The Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, to the majesty of the North American wildlife at The Wildlife Center of Virginia and then the ferocity of the Big Cat Rescue residents in balmy Tampa, Florida. I finally found my purpose. Not only did I learn to understand the biology and behavior of the animals that inspired me to live off of peanut butter and toast, but I was exposed to the suffering and neglect that these sentient creatures fell victim to, not only in the countries spotlighted by the media, but also in the pseudo sanctuaries, roadside zoos, canned hunt farms and backyards of America. That’s when I found my purpose. That’s how ICARUS came to be. No matter how idealistic, I believe this project can effectuate great positive change and my ICARUS cohorts share my crazy mission.

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Flash forward to the misery of my airplane bathroom captivity. In the fetal position and my head between my knees, I had no idea this was only the beginning of my nearly 24 hour journey into the jungle. When fellow ICARUS member Sarah and friend Becky picked me up at a bustling and slightly overwhelming San Jose airport we couldn’t forsee that we were climbing into a car that would drop its clutch just before the mountain pass, resulting in a 500 dollar garage bill. We would then find ourselves throwing Sarah’s credit card into the pot and doing a hail Mary, in the hopes that we would have just enough to rent a car and get us over the pass on a dark and rainy night. Somehow we managed to get back on the road and three women, a ton of luggage and a failed scat dog named Cody, barreled over what is perhaps the shiftiest mountain road my poor stomach has ever encountered. Despite any emotional, mechanical or financial obstacles we arrived at our destination alive and well, thankfully!

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So, here we are, in Puerto Viejo. We are currently living in a house (The Love Shack) with a leaking gas cooker, fans that probably started the Ebola epidemic and floors that are slowly becoming holes beneath our feet. This is apparently what happens when you embark on an epic journey with absolutely nothing in your bank account! Within my first 72 hours in Puerto Viejo I found myself advocating against turtle poaching, the sale of endangered animal meat and … wait, cock fighting…really? All of which is apparently occurring right here now. Sadly, this was just with the American residents. I even found myself trapped in a supermarket queue while a preening, peacock of a man preached to a local woman that she needed to look past Donald Trump’s inane racist comments to find the true value he has as a presidential candidate. I momentarily questioned if I was indeed in Costa Rica or perhaps trapped in the Twilight Zone. This was right before I evaluated how much time I would spend in a Central American prison if I stapled this man’s mouth shut. I decided not to risk it.

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So, here it begins. We hope that you will join us as ICARUS embarks on a journey to pool together the greatest minds in animal welfare, to create resources that we can all draw from no matter our race, religion or creed. To gather the good and expose and bring an end to the corrupt. To use global unity to begin to repair global wildlife issues. Human Beings are the root cause of wildlife devastation, but we are also capable of its salvation.

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Poison Bananas: peeling back the truth on the wildlife crimes in your fruit bowl

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Don’t get me wrong I LOVE Costa Rica and it is one of the most beautiful places in the world, but something dodgy is going on. Costa Rica is portrayed as being a green, safe haven for wildlife. But what most people don’t seem to realise is that alongside this protect the world image they are also the number one user of pesticides in the world. It’s not a small number either. Costa Rica use over 50kg of pesticides per ha in comparison to number two on the list, Colombia, who only use 16.7kg per ha. That’s a BIG difference.

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The big fruit companies in Costa Rica; Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita do not have a good reputation here. They may provide jobs but they also provide poor working conditions, work around toxic pesticides that has made most of the male workers infertile, and the occasional murder. And that’s just the workers they’re effecting. They also cause mass deforestation, deadly Fer de Lance snakes are thriving as a knock on effect and all of these pesticides run off in to the water killing fish and poisoning the water supply.

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Out of all of the producers here in Costa Rica, Chiquita International are probably the worst. Supposedly they are environmentally friendly on 100% of their farms according to The Rainforest Alliance. It seems The Rainforest Alliance must have been high on the fumes from the pesticides they use (or the smell of thousands of dollars) to have given them this status. A dark history has plagued Chiquita International and for good reason. One of their most famous evils was genuinely funding terrorism in Colombia, no I’m being serious, this actually happened. They were even fined $25 million by the US government for doing this and sued by 4000 Colombians whose relatives had been straight up murdered. How is this company even around still let alone one of the main producers in Costa Rica?!

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The three producers; Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita have been sued over and over again. Remember me mentioning about the pesticides making their workers infertile? Dole was one such company famously sued for this and ended up paying some of the workers in compensation. Chiquita have been constantly accused of violating it’s workers basic rights and endangering them (also don’t forget the actual mass murder) and just last month a lawsuit has been filed against them for polluting local water sources and then COVERING IT UP.

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It’s not just the human populace that this is effecting, the animal population is also suffering. Fish are constantly seen floating upside down in droves when it rains and the pesticides flow from the plantations into Costa Rica’s natural water sources. Crocodiles in the local areas have also been noted as being in poor health compared to other areas. To utilise all of that land for banana’s and other fruits also means chopping down a lot of pristine rainforest – not good for the planet or the animals that live there. That brings me round to Sloths (of course), I have seen multiple sloth babies with varying degrees of deformities. Although full research has not been completed on this it’s not a big jump from crop dusting banana plantations and the surrounding area to sloths eating the leaves with pesticides on to babies being born with genetic deformities. It doesn’t take a scientist to work out the correlation. In fact a study last year showed that wild sloths in the area had pesticide residue embedded on their hair, nails, teeth and skin. How does a country that perpetuates itself as being green and a haven for wildlife allow this to happen? Unfortunately a different kind of green $$$ is always more important.

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All of this makes me rather sad, Costa Rica is such a wonderful country. It seems that just because all of this isn’t happening in a Western Country no one really seems to give a crap. Out of mind out of sight eh? Well let’s put it another way; the banana’s that YOU are eating from these companies are not only destroying natural habitats, violating people’s basic human rights, polluting water sources and making animals ill are also pumping tons of poison into those yummy banana’s that you eat everyday. Those banana’s are covered in pesticides before they start growing and are then effectively fumigated in the heaviest toxins while they grow for weeks in pesticide bags. How are you feeling about that banana now? To put this into even better perspective for you – Costa Rica isn’t the richest nation in the world, sometimes a truck breaks down full of bananas and they are left by the roadside while it gets fixed. Despite the offer of free food, even the poorest Costa Rican’s will not eat banana’s grown by Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita. They would rather starve than put that poison in their stomachs. And that’s food for thought.

Sarah Kennedy

Other/Further Sources:

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2005/mar/13/foodanddrink.globalisation

http://www.crsurf.com/news/environment/agri-pollution.html

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_in_Costa_Rica

http://thinkprogress.org/world/2014/08/02/3466915/chiquita-colombia-ruling/

http://news.co.cr/is-costa-rica-really-drowning-in-agricultural-pesticides/30663/

http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1616991,00.html

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/dec/19/chiquita-lawsuit-green-marketing-bananas-water-pollution

http://time.com/3534631/history-bananas/

http://www.mediaite.com/online/chiquita-bananas-blocking-911-victims-bill-to-avoid-punishment-for-funding-terrorism/

http://www.care2.com/greenliving/chiquita-bananas-accused-of-contaminating-drinking-water.html?onswipe_redirect=no&oswrr=1

http://www.makefruitfair.org.uk/get-involved/appeals/end-violation-women-s-rights-chiquita-dole-and-del-monte-plantations

Conservation Is Not a Passive Word

There is a lot going on with the ICARUS group right now. Some of us are in the field working on both ICARUS stuff, and other conservation projects, others are working on contacts and financial backers, while others are getting ready to head into the field for research…. and one of us is getting ready to go camping on vacation… *crosses fingers nothing goes amiss between now an then*

But the one thing that all of us share, no matter how far apart we are, or what we happen to be doing, is that we all live our lives as conservationists. You don’t need to stand on street corners with picket signs in order to live as a conservationist – though, honestly, sometimes standing on street corners with picket signs is completely warranted and a good way (if done calmly and concisely) to help spread awareness.

However, you don’t need to do that, in order to spread conservation awareness. All you need to do is to act and think like a conservationist. Signing and sharing petitions can help, but the truth is that many petitions have little impact on matters of conservation. Hug conglomerates have entire divisions devoted to getting around those petitions, and unless there is proof of violations of law, simply petitioning them to do something differently, will not actually force them to change. However, if you see an individual harming the environment, you can politely and concisely say something to them about it, and discuss what they could do differently.

This could be in regard to anything at all that effects the world around us or the animals in it. If a friend has found a baby animal and decided to try and raise it as a pet, let them know how damaging that is to the animal if they aren’t a professionally trained rehabilitator. The fact that they’re your friend should make it easier to talk to them, rather than harder. If you see someone throwing trash down, don’t simply shake your head and pick it up. Call their attention to the fact that you saw them do it. Yes, they might respond sarcastically, or tell you to mind your own business, but what you have to remember is that anything which hurts your environment, and the world you live in is your business. The person throwing trash out and walking away isn’t thinking in terms of the fact that that trash is going to be someone else’s problem for anywhere from a few months to a few thousand years, because it’s not going to just vaporize the moment it hits the ground.

Conservation is a mindset and way of life. It means speaking out – respectfully, but passionately – whenever you’re given the opportunity to spread awareness about something. It means seeing yourself as the voice of the animals and planet, even though it might be difficult. The little actions are every bit as important as the larger ones. If you confront someone about throwing out garbage, and then pick it up, and a child witness this, you are influencing that child – anyone, really – who watches the interaction. It is easy to say you are a conservationist, but it is much more difficult to live as one, because it means you must be conscientious of the world around you.

That said, acting conservatively does not mean you can’t go out and have fun, it just means you need to think about the things most people never spare a thought for. Heading to a local high school football game? If they happen to be one of the shockingly many teams with a live big cat (or other exotic animal) on the sidelines as a mascot, reconsider going to the game. Or attend, but also write a letter to the school board, or local representatives explaining why having a live mascot like that is animal cruelty, and animal exploitation. While you’re at the game, if people around you are exclaiming how awesome it is for the kids to have a live mascot, speak up, and explain that it’s not awesome for the animal at all. You will likely meet with argument, but you don’t have to agree with it. The very fact that you speak out will influence people, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time. Children, in particular, are sponges for information. Even the child of someone who believes that the live mascot is a great thing, might hear your opposition to it, and in our world of technology, go home and research conservation.

Remember, you cannot know something until you learn it, and you cannot learn until someone teaches you. It’s up to all of us to spread our knowledge to others. The information might lay fallow within the minds of some, but in others, it will grow into a vast forest of understanding, and continue to influence them, and subsequently whoever they spread that understanding to, for the rest of their lives.

So as we go about our lives, researching subjects in the field, making contacts, or enjoying nature, remember that conservation is not a passive word. It is an active, growing and evolving one, and we all are responsible for feeding it, and promoting that growth and evolution.

Featured photo is from my last trip west, which included Yellowstone, and Hebgen Lake. Yellowstone was a unique conglomeration of avid conservationists, and completely opposite and grossly ignorant tourists, who often had to be stopped from doing things like wondering off trail, or trying to touch the bison or shoo them off the road. Lots of information was offered during that trip…

I had other photos but WordPress wouldn’t show them for some reason.

Author: Artemis Grey

Sloths & The Pet Trade in America

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In the Middle East there are plenty of instagram accounts where the Middle Eastern rich have a crazy array of pets. But they are not alone in this, it’s certainly easy over there but in the US it is just as simple (state dependent). In fact you can also get pretty much any pet that you wish for in the good ole Westernised USA too.

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Last year I visited Big Cat Rescue in Florida with my good friend and now co-worker Jessica James of ICARUS. If you get a chance to go you should, they are really doing conservation and animal care the right way. One thing I was shocked to learn on my visit there that there are more tigers living in people’s backyards in Florida than in the wild. How is that even a thing?? If your tiger escapes you don’t even have to notify your neighbours!! People have literally woken up with a stray tiger in their back yards. This is just an example of the craziness of the pet trade in America. A tiger…as a pet…

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So clearly you can have anything from a tiger to a kangeroo to a sloth as a pet. Nearly all of these will have been stolen from the wild for the pet trade (or for Zoo’s – this still happens!) or they come from dubious ‘breeding programs’. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that this is not ok. Either these animals are taken directly from the wild for immediate sale or they are implemented in a breeding program straight off the ship. These places are akin to puppy mills where their young will be taken and sold off at the youngest age possible and then bred again. With Sloth babies you can earn a cool $2000-$5000 per Sloth. Looking at you Oregon “sloth sanctuary” by the way. This delightful place has been researching Sloths for 20 years and yet doesn’t have a single scientific paper to it’s name. Suspicious already. Not only that but they have over FOUR HUNDRED Sloths in their care and allow their guests to have Sloth SLEEPOVERS. Sloths are classed as dangerous mammals in zoos and having worked with both wild and captive Sloths for years I can categorically say that this is not a good idea, not just for the animals but also the people who are paying to do it. The ‘sanctuary’ owner is well known for selling Sloths on forums and considering Sloths are not native to Oregon, guess where they get their Sloths from. Yep, the wild. Most of the animals won’t survive the journey and some will die once they reach the shores of the USA. It amazes me that this country was once seen as a land of freedom, but for these animals it will be a new prison from their old jungle homes. This kind of makes my blood boil, especially as this place is perpetuating itself to be a conservation center.

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I also find it confusing that people calling themselves “conservationists” can have a sloth as a pet as well (or other exotic animals). Last year I saw some articles and a Buzzfeed list on these guys. First I was annoyed that my friends baby, Daisy, would not be the first baby to meet a Sloth, but then I thought about it and realised that they have a Sloth… as a pet. They are apparently Sloth conservationists by the way but, again, have a pet Sloth. They also seem to like dressing it up in human clothes and making it wear flower hair clips, super natural right? This one makes me sad more than angry, as lovers of Sloths in the wild they should know better. Unless conservation is actually now about taking animals from their natural habitat? As much as I would love to have a Sloth as a snuggle buddy they would a) hate it b) be miserable and c) THEY’RE WILD ANIMALS NOT A TOY! Most of the people who seem to be writing about having a Sloth as a pet and giving people advice, even more worrying, also seem to have no idea about Sloths in the slightest. I came across this beauty earlier who suggests that Sloths love to play peek-a-boo and have parasites. I just…can’t.

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Like Slow Loris’s who have their teeth removed for the pet trade often causing infection and death, Sloths also suffer a similar fate. Usually their claws are removed so they don’t hurt their new owners. SLOTH FACT: Sloth claws are actually BONE. They are basically having their fingers removed so they will make cuddly pets. Remember I mentioned that most of the animals will die when transported from the wild so it’s best to ship more? That death rate is around a 80-90% chance of not making it, all so you can have a cool pet.

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Please remember that even if you are buying an exotic animal from a breeder that the original ones will ALWAYS have come from the wild. You are literally supporting animals being stolen from their natural habitat just so you can have a status symbol. Spend your dollars on visiting them where they live and seeing them in the wild and not taking them for your own selfish enjoyment and pride. They may be very cute but that doesn’t give you the right to make them an effective prisoner.

Sarah

The Cove & Dolphin Killing – The Sadness Behind The Smile

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I’m sure a lot of you have now seen the movie ‘Blackfish’. A film which documented the life of whales in captivity at SeaWorld and other marine parks. This film really has done a lot to publicize and educate the general public about how wrong, inhumane and cruel it is to keep these animals in such awful conditions. Before that however there was a little film called ‘The Cove’ (it even won an Oscar). However this film has not received the publicity nor the views that it deserves because people cannot bring themselves to watch it. I myself had to force myself to sit down and watch it, not because I necessarily wanted to, I knew that it would be awful to watch, but because I knew I needed to know the truth. I have always loved dolphins, I think there is a huge global love for them. However being that person that cries the most when an animal dies in a film (30 whole minutes when the dog dies in ‘I am Legend’) I knew it would be awful, and it was, but this is not just a story – this is real life.

I can understand why people cannot bring themselves to watch it, it’s an honestly heartbreaking documentary, but underneath the horror there is a smart, educational and yes, even funny sometimes, film. Today marks the day when the dolphin murdering, and it can be called nothing else but murder, begins in Japan for yet another unnecessary year. So to honor those poor unfortunate animals that will be killed in their thousands again I wanted to write this for them and for all of you who want to know the facts.

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Dolphin killing in The Faroe Islands

Where does it happen:

I would like to start by saying that this dolphin hunt does not just start and end in Japan. This is still happening all over the world; in the Faroe Islands, Norway, Greenland and in Taiwan to name a few. And I’m not here to bash the Japanese, there is a large portion of the population who do not agree with the hunts in anyway, in fact by the end of ‘The Cove’ you discover that most people don’t even know this is going on in their own country and they are just as appalled. But still an estimated 20,000+ dolphins and whales are killed every year in Japan alone, around 1,500 of these are killed in Taiji where ‘The Cove’ is set.

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Why do they kill so many dolphins and why does the hunt happen?

There are multiple reasons given for why they do this. Of course they start off with the age old ‘It’s our heritage and customs’, but then why the need to kill SO many? Not only is the custom excuse completely fabricated, the hunts only originally started around 40 years ago, but custom is NEVER an excuse for the inhumane treatment of animals. As per usual the actual reason for these drives is MONEY, not too shocking really. This is because, although the large majority are killed, quite a few of these wild dolphins are actually sold to marine parks. They can fetch up to $200,000 or more per dolphin, and once the pretty ones are selected and bought, then the rest are murdered. Sometimes they have been tortured for days on end before they are killed like this instance in 2014.

Dolphin meat is also sold in Japan but it is actually highly dangerous for human consumption. Dolphin meat can cause mercury poisoning as it contains not just mercury but other toxic chemicals such as PCB’s. This meat in Japan is not even labelled to say it could be dangerous despite mercury having known health risks especially to pregnant women and children. In fact dolphin meat has been found packaged as whale meat (which is fairly healthy for you to eat) but it is actually the cheaper dolphin meat inside. So not only are they killing thousands of dolphins a year but they are also endangering peoples health at the same time! Good work guys.

Looking at all of this there really can only be one reason for the continuous killing of these animals – money, money, money. Heritage doesn’t even come in to it.

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Supply & Demand:

This, as you may have read in my previous post on Sea World, is why I now refuse to go to any type of marine park with whales or dolphins. Not only are the marine parks keeping these animals in tiny spaces and forcing them to perform tricks, but they are funding this horrendous annual dolphin drive and are the main reason why it continues. Again, these dolphins can get up to $200,000 or more for just one dolphin, it’s therefore a lucrative business for the people of Taiji.

Employees from dolphin parks have also been seen to be taking part in the killings and these are the people who are supposed to be looking after these animals?! If there is no one to come and buy the dolphins then there isn’t the need to keep doing the drive hunts.

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Dolphin trainers have tormented the dolphins for hours. Some are in shock. Others are seriously injured, and they can’t breathe. Now, they are going to be killed and slaughtered. Not even pregnant females or young calves will be spared. But the dolphin trainers, who claim to “love” dolphins, don’t try to save any of them. It is the cruelest scene we have ever witnessed.”

What happens every year in Taiji?

So I’m not going to go into an entire films worth of information for you but this is what happens every year in the cove. Pods of dolphins are ‘herded’ into Taiji’s cove by confusing them with sound, a steel pipe is struck with mallets to herd them towards land. Once they are in the cove they are shut in and the buyers from marine parks arrive to select their favorites. Mothers are ripped from their young and families are broken apart. The ones that aren’t picked are herded again into a naturally blocked cove that is not visible at any point to the public (I wonder why). If you try and get anywhere near this cove then you will be arrested. The dolphins then spend a night locked in this cove hyperventilating and constantly searching for a way out for hours on end. The panic and stress that is caused to these intelligent animals during this time can be be described as nothing less than torture.

The humans involved have a good reason for leaving them in this state though. Firstly they have been there all day and are probably exhausted, poor things. The actual killing of the dolphins can take up to 8-9 hours and they want to go home at the end of the day. They also know that it takes a long time for the blood to wash away and they are trying to keep this hidden from the general public. By doing it early the next day there is no one there to witness it.

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Come sunrise the boats arrive and the killing begins. They still maintain that the way they kill them is humane. Read this and see if you agree:

“Just before sunrise, the fishermen herd the trapped dolphins into shallow water, close to the rocky beach. Here, they kill the dolphins with long, sharp spears. Often times, they stab the dolphins with sharp fishermen’s hooks and haul the still living dolphins onto their boats. The cruelty is enormous. The dolphins thrash about in their own blood, and the air fills with their screams. The fishermen push a sharp metal spike into the dolphins’ necks just behind the blowholes, which is supposed to sever the spinal cord and produce an instant “humane” death. In fact, we have film footage from hidden cameras that show the dolphins thrashing for minutes on end in agony. The fishermen even push wooden corks into the wounds to prevent spilling blood into the Cove, again to prevent us from filming blood-red waters.”

After watching ‘The Cove’ I have to admit I was hyperventilating crying, it is to this day one of the worst things I have ever witnessed. Yet I am strangely glad that I watched it. It certainly changed my views on a lot of things,  I was the girl who loved SeaWorld, had done a swim with dolphins and spent HOURS at the cramped dolphin pool at SeaWorld. I hope that this article alone has changed yours or at least had some kind of impact on you. If it hasn’t then please, PLEASE watch ‘The Cove’ (I’d love you all to anyway), it really will open your eyes. Dolphins are potentially as intelligent and emotive as humans and the mass murder of these wonderful animals is nothing short of barbaric, cruel and unnecessary. Please help be the change, they deserve to be free.

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What can YOU do to help?

Firstly, for the love of dolphins, PLEASE stop visiting marine parks and funding them. You are helping to pay for this kind of practice to continue. It is again supply and demand, as long as they are making tons of money with dolphin shows then they are going to keep buying dolphins from places like Taiji, it is a vicious, brutal circle

Secondly: SPREAD THE WORD! Get people to read this, get people to watch ‘The Cove’, tell people what you have learned. The only way we can make a change is by trying to affect as many people as possible. If the facts and the pictures in this article have made you horrified and sad then I have done my job.

Donate! Here: http://www.savejapandolphins.org/take-action/support-us-on-the-frontlines-in-japan

and here:

https://opsociety.worldsecuresystems.com/securedonation.htm

Signing petitions doesn’t hurt and takes 5 seconds of your time

For more info in general please follow these sites on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/ricobarrysdolphinproject

https://www.facebook.com/SeaShepherdCoveGuardiansOfficialPage?ref=ts&fref=ts

For any other ideas please go here http://opsociety.org/what-you-can-do/after-seeing-the-cove and if you really want to go all out then jump on a plane to Japan (I cannot guarantee that you won’t get arrested by Japanese authorities though)!

If you have any other questions or comments then fire away I am happy to answer any other queries you might have – Sarah

*original article posted in 2013 here: https://richcoast.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/the-cove-dolphin-killing-the-sadness-behind-the-smile/

 

 

Author: Sarah Kennedy