We Are Still Here, And We Are Still Saving Animals

Hello good people of WordPress! Yes, the ICARUS Team really does still exist, and we really are still here! As the main staff writer, our absence from the blog is my failing. I’ve had some health issues, and ended up having to have surgery in October (minor, they just poked holes in me and sent me home with happy pills) and while that surgery was successful (yay for cysts that are no more!) I had recovery, and then right on the heels of surgery travel for my novel writing side of things. Plus, there’s novel writing going on, and it’s a struggle to manage time for everything. Then there was our election… and, yeah, being offline is much healthier for one’s brain right now.

Some of what we’ve been up to while I was failing to get blog posts written and published:

  1. Working on articles which will be posted in the near future.
  2. Traveling (some of us) to places like Chile!
  3. “Blind horse proofing” fields and barns (which includes acclimating the current residents to wearing bells) in preparation for the arrival (really, the homecoming) of a horse recently blinded by disease (uveitis for those interested)
  4. Caring for multiple terminally ill domestic cats.
  5. Helping formulate rehab and release protocols
  6. Helping to organize research bases to perform studies on rehab and release subjects
  7. Moving houses
  8. Oh, yeah, Thanksgiving…
  9. And Christmas shopping…
  10. Holding down full time jobs, some of which are mainstream, some of which are the job of conservation, the travel and such that go with it.

 

I’m going to do my very best to set aside time to get blog posts written and up, so there’s never a wide vacancy again as there has been, so start checking back, and you might find some interesting things to read! Thank you everyone for sticking with us on this journey!

Advertisements

Reflections of Change

Part of the I.C.A.R.U.S. crew has been MIA the last few days. That’s because they have family and friends in Rainelle, West Virginia, in one of the areas directly hit by the “1000 year flood” that struck between Thursday June 23, and Saturday June 25 of 2016. At this time, we still don’t know that all of our friends and family are safe.

What we do know, is that it’s going to be one hell of a clean up, all across the state.

You might not have even heard of the flooding if you’re not in America (many news stations persisted in focusing on Brexit, and did not cover the flooding events as they took place, and are only now beginning to offer stories about them) but I can assure you that it’s been indescribably devastating. I know, you’re thinking “Okay, yeah, but why is I.C.A.R.U.S. writing about it when it’s a humanitarian issue, not a conservation one?”

Here’s the thing, this “1000 year flood” has also devastated, and will continue to devastate, local wildlife populations, and will have an impact on the environment that will be felt for decades into the future. Several indiscriminate assholes have already posted on Facebook pages dedicated to providing information to flood victims, and families of flood victims, about how “West Virginia brought this flooding on themselves with mountaintop mining”.

  1. West Virginians did nothing to “bring this on themselves”. Most of them have no control over what massive mining companies choose to do.
  2. Many West Virginians have fought for decades to stop strip mining, and mountaintop removal mining, or MTR.
  3. Despite that West Virginia is known for coal mining, the towns most affected by this flooding don’t necessarily have anything to do with it. They could be located miles–and counties–away from actual mining sites.
  4. Anyone commenting with rhetoric on how victims caused their own tragedies, on public forums where people are looking for lost loved ones (human and animal) who were swallowed by floods in the middle of the night, is an asshole.

All of that said, these blame-posters aren’t wrong about the fact that MTR can make flooding worse. Who these commenters need to be blaming, however, are not the victims of the floods, but rather the government entities and agencies who create, and maintain, environmental laws, and regulations in regard to mining.

This has been a struggle that stretches back decades, and one in which success for the people and the environment, has remained elusive.

West Virginia has long been the butt of jokes (in America, anyway) for being filled with inbred hillbillies, who don’t possess enough intelligence to come in out of the rain. The truth, is that the state is filled with, and has produced, some of the most intelligent, self-reliant, and capable humans anywhere in the world. These are not folks who want to be in the middle of an environmental war. In fact, most of the folks in the hollers and vales of West Virginia just want to be left alone by mainstream America, just as the folks of Appalachia have wanted to be left alone since the rest of the world discovered them. There is a long and sordid history of the people of Appalachia being forced from their homes (starting with the tribes of indigenous peoples living there when Europeans arrived and continuing into the 20th century with the forced removal of people from what had been declared National Park lands) and that history includes wars over the plundering of environmental coffers like coal and timber.

Mountain Top Removal Mining, or MTR has been an issue against which most West Virginia, and Appalachian residents have fought. The industry has done little aside from destroying their way of life, and leaving them with a damaged and looted environment.

Through force, or bribe, coal mining companies often skirt what piddly environmental standards or regulations are in place. Never mind their history of killing their own employees for profit. In most recent years, the term “reclamation” has been added to coal mining endeavors, often with the spin that the companies are somehow “reclaiming the environment” after they extract the coal. It’s a lie so thin you could make a window out of it, but it’s one they continue to peddle, and use in order to gain access to land they otherwise would be banned from reaching.

The point is, West Virginians did not cause the 2016 flooding that has destroyed entire communities.

A history of environment abuse–often allowed by government institutions for the benefit of massive conglomerate companies–has systematically damaged the ecology of West Virginia, while impoverishing the communities therein. The misnomer is that West Virginians somehow “want” coal mining, when all they want is a way to make a living. In contrast to public concepts of the issue, West Virginians, and others in Appalachia, are actually the most damaged by the coal mining industry.

But back to the current flooding crisis.

The death toll continues to rise, and people are just now beginning to assess the damage, and begin the recovery process. Something that might be derailed almost before it starts by more incoming storms and rain. In places like the tiny town of Rainelle, population 1500–a place where survivors have reported hearing desperate cries for help from elderly neighbors which eventually stopped one by one as those people drowned in their own homes–as many as 15 people have died, and others remain missing.

So far, news reports have focused on the human impact of the floods, but humans aren’t the only ones suffering. Animals, both domestic and wild, have been ravaged by the floods as well. Animal Friends is one of the groups moving to address the issue of displaced and needful domestic animals. Other private groups, some of them having been born in Rainelle, one of the towns hardest hit by flooding, are raising funds to purchase items for both humans and animals in need.

13521874_10208799384955696_7386126355267065425_n

The environmental impact, has yet to be estimated, or formally reported on by news media. With the state still counting its dead, it would feel caustic to the public for cries of “but what about the environment” to be made. However, images like the ones that follow, are a testament to the very evident and catastrophic damage done on an environmental level.

13512105_294535010886440_3597808523797720188_n

Trout and other fish swept from the rivers and left to die in yards. Trout fishing is an important, and sustainable industry in West Virginia. But it faces an unknown success this year.

13439104_1295442073802621_4142444650190228117_n

13450742_1295443347135827_6938390850087125397_n

13516164_1295423843804444_3770234598029886067_n

13507144_1295443547135807_3055836940212389840_n

IMG_3534

Millions of tons of trash and waste, including chemical and industrial solvents have now been introduced into the watershed by the floods. Safe removal of the garbage could take months, and the damage will last for years. Plastics have long had damaging effects on the environment and been a focus of groups such as The Plastic Pollution Coalition, Plastic Oceans and Plastic Debris Rivers to Sea. Add to the plastic itself, the fact that many of these containers and pieces of garbage will not only remain for hundreds of years, if not removed, but will also leak chemicals, pesticides, poisons and other contaminants into the environment and watershed. Clean water in West Virginia is something that the West Virginia  Highlands Conservancy has fought for vehemently. Along with the West Virginia Rivers Coalition they have taken coal mines to task for their pollution of the rivers and waterways. Now both institutions are facing the nearly insurmountable task of cleaning up both millions of tons of debris which includes huge amounts of plastic, and leaking contaminants from both plastic containers, and other storage vessels. The recovery of the watershed, something that has already suffered due to mining pollution, despite the effort of local groups like the Sierra Club, will take years, with lasting effects that will be seen in generations of wildlife in the future.

IMG_3545

In places like Rainelle where the above photo was taken, virtually no part of the town was left unscathed. With many residents being elderly, and/or on fixed incomes, and unable to physically help, cleanup will take even longer to accomplish.

While the mainstream media focuses on the horrendous human loss, and devastation, it’s up to groups like I.C.A.R.U.S. to insure that the environmental damage, while no more important than the loss of human life, is also conveyed. Not only have entire communities been demolished but the very face of the mountains and waterways has also been irrevocably changed.

13509054_1295453797134782_1260460952971769422_n

13521988_1295453857134776_8418204446672191015_n

13528839_1295453940468101_6255231420667668933_n

13494796_1296166097063552_155937357439649223_n

13466127_1295646087115553_2041012288068895228_n

IMG_3539

AR-150419704

With new storms scheduled to hit the same areas, and places like the Summersville Dam dealing with historic high water, the changes to the environment will undoubtedly continue. At the time of the flooding, water was entering Summersville lake at over 100,000 cubic feet per second, seven times higher than the highest speed possible through the release valves at the bottom of the dam. Should the dam be breeched during future rains, the loss of life for both humans and animals would be inconceivable.  All we can do is raise awareness, offer links to information, and pray that Mother Nature gives West Virginia a pass on rain for the next few weeks.

But these tragedies have offered a mirror reflecting the measurable changes caused by human impact through mining, and other industrial endeavors. Endeavors which often profit the few, and malign the many, as is the case in West Virginia right now. This flooding is a wake up call, in some ways, for making positive changes in environmental law which may, in the future, help to assuage flooding that occurs due to natural rain fall.

Resources For West Virginia Flood Information For What’s Going On And How To Help:

http://www.smokingmusket.com/2016/6/25/12028884/west-virginia-flood-disaster-relief-information-greenbrier-kanawa

http://wvutoday.wvu.edu/n/2016/06/24/wvu-mobilizes-efforts-to-help-wv-communities-devastated-by-storms-and-flash-flooding

http://www.herald-dispatch.com/_recent_news/relief-efforts-underway-around-the-region-to-help-wv-flood/article_562b76da-3add-11e6-aa98-87044a1cb4db.html

http://abcnews.go.com/US/flood-stricken-west-virginia-counties-federal-disaster-designation/story?id=40125270

http://www.wsaz.com/content/news/Groups-helping-animals-displaced-in-West-Virginia-flooding-384381221.html

Private Relief Effort by Former Citizens devoted to supplying needs for animals and humans alike.

 

In A World Full Of Darlas, Be A Jane Goodall.

Thanks to Finding Nemo, the clown fish has become a ubiquitous entity. It is easily now the most recognizable fish on the planet. Tragically, the one place you may not see it, is in wild ocean reefs where it once lived. That’s because up to 1 million clownfish are captured in the wild each year and sold to citizens to feed the “Nemo craze” of young children who want to own a fish just like Nemo and Marlin.

The irony of clownfish populations being entirely wiped out in some areas by those who want to own a pet clownfish after watching a movie about a clownfish trying to rescue his son who was taken from the wild to be sold as a pet fish, is not lost on conservationists. It is, however, completely overlooked by the public who are buying the clownfish that are being taken from their natural habitat by the millions.

Now, on the eve of the release of Finding Dory, we conservationists are even more concerned about the fate of the blue tang, which is the species Dory belongs to. She is specifically a regal blue tang. Clownfish populations have now been completely eradicated in certain areas due to over harvesting, and that’s on top of the captive breeding population that is already well established. Blue tang, however, are literally incapable of being bred in captivity, due to the mechanisms of their own reproductive processes.

This means that 100% of the blue tang in captivity were born wild, and subsequently captured.

Though blue tangs have a broad range, spanning the Indo-Pacific, and in the reefs of East Africa, Japan, Samoa, New Caledonia, and the Great Barrier Reef, they are not considered “common” in any specific region. There has already been an influx in blue tangs sold as pets since the release of Finding Nemo, and conservationists worry that that influx will become a bank-run after the release of Finding Dory, despite the hefty price tags of $40.00 (for a fish 1/2”-3/4”) to $100.00 (for a fish 5”-7”). Few people realize that regal blue tangs will grow up to a foot long, and are best off in an aquarium that is a minimum of 6-8 feet long and 180-200 gallons. Additionally, they are a rather fragile fish, prone to disease and issues associated with captivity and thus they are considered an “expert only” fish. These facts often go unnoticed, smoothed over, or ignored altogether.

To make matters worse, blue tangs are often captured via a highly damaging process called “cyanide fishing” wherein divers release cyanide into the waters of a reef, stunning the fish. They then move through th reef collecting the helpless animals. Numerous fish die immediately from this process.

cyanide-fish-collection

Victims-of-cyanide-fishing

And about 60% of the regal blue tang collected through cyanide fishing will die without warning within several months of capture, often leaving their new owners out a fish, money, and any idea as to how they ended up that way. Many times, this means purchasing another regal blue tang to replace the dead one, which continues the cycle indefinitely. The practice of cyanide fishing also has grossly damaging effects on the coral, and other fish populations, including the accidental poisoning of humans who eat fish that are killed in this manner and then sold without being completely decontaminated. Even without the use of cyanide in the process of capturing blue tangs, and average of 25% will die simply from the stress of being captured and transported.

The entire message behind Finding Nemo was that wild fish should be left in the oceans, free and unbothered by humans. That mantra was literally the basis for the movie. However, the public seemed to identify more with Darla, the film’s terrifyingly callous and uncaring antagonist. Though she had only moments of screen time, Darla remains one of the most memorable “bad guys” of all time. With an estimated 40% increase in sales of clownfish, post-Finding Nemo, though, it seems that the majority of the public was channeling Darla after they left the movie theaters.

Now, we wait with bated breath to see if Dory’s relatives in the real world will suffer the same fate. Clownfish disappeared entirely from some areas, and their population decreased by as much as 75% in other areas. And, again, that is in addition to the steady source of clownfish provided by captive breeding programs already in existence. If the same uptake in the demand for blue tangs occurs, the species might well be facing extinction. We will have “found Dory” in our own homes at the cost of losing her forever in the wild.

Darla wouldn’t care about this post, or the fate of the regal blue tangs, so long as she got her “fishy fishy”.

Don’t be a Darla.

Be a Jane Goodall, instead, and spread the word about how no wild animal should ever be kept as a pet. If you truly love Dory, then leave her in the wild where she belongs. Leave her in the reefs, so that your children, and their children can watch Finding Nemo, and Finding Dory, and then go and find them in the wild, just like they’re presented in those movies.

“I don’t care two hoots about civilization. I want to wander in the wild.” – Jane Goodall.

All of the Dorys currently swimming amongst coral mazes want to wander in the wild, too. So please, let them do so.

The Problem With Humans Thinking That They Know Best

Recently,  a number of videos have popped up on the radars of several I.C.A.R.U.S. members. Some of us have been tagged by friends suggesting that we share the videos and explain why they’re examples of all the things that are wrong with humans thinking that they know better than nature.

The most recent and glaring case of “humans knowing better than nature” is the case of the “abandoned” bison calf in Yellowstone National Park. Earlier this month, a visitor to the park–with his young son in tow–took it upon himself to capture a young bison calf, and put it inside his vehicle:

13164473_10207299021212992_8736358767459553017_n

The tourist then proceeded to drive to the nearest ranger station where he demanded to speak to a ranger so that the calf could be properly cared for “because it was cold”. Despite that he was blatantly violating Yellowstone’s “leave no trace” and bystanders warned him that he was breaking the law and could get in trouble and be fined, the tourist refused to be dissuaded. Witnesses say that neither the father nor son cared, because they genuinely believed that they were  doing the right thing by “saving” the calf from freezing to death. Problem is, the calf was just fine.

Law Enforcement Rangers were called, ticketed the man and subsequently forced the tourist to return the calf to where he picked it up.

Unfortunately, after repeated attempts to reunite the calf with its herd, and repeated rejections, the calf was euthanized by park rangers because in its desperation it began approaching cars and other visitors. The National Park Service subsequently put out a plea for visitors to leave wildlife alone.

Unknown

This tragedy happened because a human interfered with  wildlife.

Bison have been successfully surviving for millions of years without the help of humans. Even newborn bison calves possess the capabilities needed to survive given to them by millions of years of evolution. They do not need a human to warm them up, or else wise “save” them. Neither do they deserve a life behind walls and bars simply because a human destroyed the bond they had shared with their dam from birth.

It is yet another facet of the “human knows best” mindset to believe that a wild animal is better off captive and cared for by humans.

Every year, thousands of white tail, moose, elk, and mule deer fawns and calves are “rescued” by well-meaning–and completely ignorant–people who believe that they’re helping the babies. The reality is that most of them–those who manage to live–will wind up in a life of captivity in roadside zoos, or preserves. And even more tragically, the public often believes that a life in captivity is somehow “better” than allowing nature to take its course, or than the animal being humanely euthanized. This fixation with applying human emotions and perceptions to animalsanthropomorphizing them–is what continues to allow pseudo-sanctuaries to operate. The idea that a wild animal needs human companionship–when they would never have contact with humans in their natural habitat–is the whole basis of their position.

But the only thing a wild animal needs is to be left wild.

The same sort of false “humans know best” issue can be applied to videos like this one, which make light of owning wild animals as pets. Nothing is said of how difficult it is to properly maintain a fox. Of what it takes to provide a proper diet for them, or stimulation, or the complications of having a female who goes into heat regularly, and will subsequently attract wild male foxes.

Still think you want a pet fox? Well, unless you illegally capture a wild one as a pup, the fox kit you purchase will have come from a fur farm like this one:

33D0928700000578-0-image-a-46_1462882565415

33D0943D00000578-0-image-a-71_1462884642662

Think you’ll be “saving” at least one fox from this fate? Think again. For every fox sold, ten more are born. These farms don’t care where they make a profit. If the public decides that owning foxes as pets is the new thing to do, the farms will just breed more to sell as live animals. If that area of business drops off–as people realize how difficult it is to properly house a fox–the farms will just have a bumper crop to harvest for fur.

Then there’s the ecological impact of farm-bred foxes who have been released into wild locations. Not only can they bring foreign diseases with them, but crossbreeding with wild populations can cause genetic abnormalities, as well as behavioral inconsistencies.

Nature is not kind, or gentle, or forgiving. Nature is wild. And wild animals are designed to live in wild nature. It is natural for most humans to be emotionally distressed by the perceived suffering wild animals in wild situations.

But this is a human issue, not a wild animal issue.

If you think a wild animal might be suffering, contact local fish and game authorities, or established wildlife treatment centers before you take any action. You cannot undo what has been done once you remove a wild animal from nature, and often times, it’s the animal which will pay the price for being “saved.”

 

 

 

An ICARUS Undercover Investigation: Egotourism – Are we the true poachers?

____6731155_orig

It could be any sleepy Caribbean town, swaying palms over sandy beaches and a strong Jamaican influence, and it is. But is there a dark side to this tranquility? Living off the land/the ocean is something that has been in existence for hundreds of years in Costa Rica, a simple way of life. Unfortunately though it is still a culture that is poaching turtles, iguanas and other outlawed animals. Now we at ICARUS can agree with culture to a certain extent and it certainly isn’t the locals catching the occasional turtle who are the real issue. The real problem lies with the mass industry of fishing trawlers, with poachers who are doing it to more than one turtle in their droves to make an easy buck and also, as it turns out, tourists visiting this country and exploiting its cultures.

image

Now we are not here to name names or get people in trouble, firstly getting someone thrown in jail for a few weeks for poaching hardly solves the problem, secondly it’s not exactly safe to do that either. Conservationists have often been murdered for standing up for the wildlife here (and the government doing jack all to help their countries animals). One of the most important things we want to do here on our return is education. That is the only way that you can help to change a practice that is only harming rather than doing any good for the community. One of the things we are fundraising for is to start a community outreach program, one that isn’t patronizing as they often are, but helps the community, teaches the children about their wildlife and why it’s so important, and most importantly, helps find solutions.

????????????????????????????????????

Recently two ICARUS members went undercover at an illegal food market that happens every Saturday in a town in Costa Rica. We were told that every week there is turtle meat, eggs, iguana meat and others, all highly illegal. This is the story of that day and what we discovered, all names have been changed.

489606_orig

We met Henry outside the house where the meat was cooked every week, we did not have the opportunity to go inside with him but he went for us and purchased us a meal of turtle stew, for $10. We waited in the car while he did this and then drove to a nearby beach to meet with a friend of his, Abigail. Abigail is Dutch and is ironically doing a thesis on ‘ethical tourism’, it is clear she is not doing the same as us and getting information but does this every weekend with Henry, an American. We all sat in a boat and ate our relevant meals, all turtle, except for Henry who, after being berated by ICARUS member Jess about eating turtle, feels guilty now. Wonder how long that will last. Turtle for the record, tastes EXACTLY like beef, we were told Iguana tastes like chicken. The mass farming industry is a travesty but when you are eating endangered animals that have no difference in taste to easily accessible animals, and legally, it does make you wonder. We were eventually joined by ANOTHER American, in her 60’s who came to Costa Rica to do yoga, called Diane. We recorded the entire event and I have scripted below the more pertinent parts of the conversation:

Henry: (opens a box) this is turtle, this is for you.

(passes the box to us)

Henry: I’m sad there are no eggs, that’s like the best part to try

ICARUS 1: This does taste exactly like beef, it’s kind of like a beef stew

Henry: I’m just upset there’s no eggs, I really wanted you to try the egg

ICARUS 1: Well thanks for arranging this Henry

Henry: No worries, it’s a good experience for you to try

ICARUS 2: Have you eaten Iguana before?

Henry: Oh yeah

ICARUS 1: It tastes like chicken right?

Henry: Similar

Henry: I went hunting with some friends for them, we knocked it out the tree. You just shoot them and they fall out

Abigail: (points to something in her turtle meal) what’s that?

Henry: I think it’s like the tripe, from the turtle’s stomach

Henry: I feel bad I can’t get hold of my friend

ICARUS 1: What did you get her?

Henry: I got her turtle also

ICARUS 2: Do you know what kind of turtle it is?

ICARUS 1: I was going to say that, there are so many different species

Henry: Green turtle

(Diane arrives)

ICARUS 1: (to Diane) have you tried it before, the turtle?

Diane: Yes I have, in Florida. (to Henry) Is this a river turtle?

Henry: No, ocean

Diane: What kind?

Henry: Green

Diane: Wow that is good (the food)

ICARUS 1: What was the name of that gerbil thing you said they cooked too?

Henry: Agouti

Diane: They do this every week?

ICARUS 1: I think every Saturday

Henry: But it’s a secret ya know (sic)

Henry: It’s illegal

Henry: I didn’t eat turtle today because I kind of felt bad, I already ate it twice. I’ll let you all do the bad part

(after some more general conversation we all went our separate ways)

All in all we were together with the group for forty minutes, the food is cooked by a local’s mother and although I’m sure that the locals go to get food for lunch etc it was incredible that all of the people we ate with and who go regularly are foreign. As I mentioned previously these recipes have been in Costa Rican culture for a long time, it is not surprising that they still exist. The shocking thing though is the tourists and ‘gringo’s’ who are exploiting those cultures to have a ‘fun experience’ in Costa Rica and they can go home and tell all their friends they ate turtle. Frankly that is pathetic. I am all for experiencing culture. I LOVE immersing myself in the culture of another country. These kind of egotourists though, who are only in it to have a cool activity, and not actually contribute anything to the society that they want to experience are incredibly selfish and ignorant. Not only that but they are causing actual harm, they are funding illegal activities that hurt not just the turtles they are eating but also the country and it’s people. It’s because of these horrendous individuals that our planet is entering the sixth mass extinction, all thanks to the human species. One day we can look back and blame people like the ones we ate with for the reasons the green sea turtle no longer exists. And personally I find that completely unacceptable.

What would you rather out of the two below images?

costa-rica-turtle-egg-poaching1

The green sea turtle, poached into extinction

or…

Baby-Green-Turtle-Sandro-Abderhalden-(Read-Only)

The green sea turtle, thriving and free

We know what we would prefer, To Be Continued…

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

DSC_0093

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”.

IMG_5267

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.

379311_10152411956065632_848104194_n

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.

SP_Oct11_1-3-680x452

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.

269070_1919775483186_392084_n

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.

DSC_0096

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!

IMG_5262

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.

DSC_0110

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.

=