Biologist, Conservationist, & Portlander. My passion lives in Africa.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sometimes we wash our hair in the rain.

4:27 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
Voi is a friendly little town just outside of Tsavo East National Park. It's our little bit of civilization that we escape to and get supplies from while camping in Mwakoma. The people are welcoming and not too pushy. If one store doesn't have what we need, managers kindly offer suggestions for where we can go to get it. A pitch fork, for example, was among these items in which we had to search multiple stores. I was the one who desired it so much; it's such a useful tool when dealing with brush piles filled with thorns! No one knew what I was talking about when I asked, so I drew a picture and they sent me on my way to a different store again and again. When Lucy pulled up with a pitch fork in hand the next day I squealed with joy... It's the little things.

Unfortunately, in all of Voi, there does not seem to be any tarp or tarp-like material that we desperately need for our dream shower. Situated just underneath a beautiful acacia, with views of the old boabab marking the corner of our plot and Sagalla mountain the distance, our shower will make bucket bathing a luxury.

While we have greatly appreciated the hospitality at Kileva Primary School, we are excited to create a space to unwind and get clean in the open air on our plot. Afterall, we can't always rely on a good storm to wash our hair in...

While in Nairobi, we will pick up some tarp and other materials to make this shower a reality. Enjoyable showers => Bathing every evening => Sleeping better => Brain power for further reducing human-elephant conflict => Happy farmers and happy elephants. And really, that's what it's all about.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Pangas and Jembes

8:00 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

"Tara Tromper" is a name that was given to me by a co-conspirator of the field for my high work ethic and intense drive. I have nothing on the men and women of Tsavo. In fact, I've never felt so useless in my entire life.

On Tuesday, December 10, Dr. Lucy King and the team met with the Mwakoma village leaders to discuss plans for the Elephants and Bees Project community, education, and research center. With a Memorandum Of Understanding and smiles all around, I watched two worlds collide and a suitable plan unfold that benefits both parties. 

On Thursday, the entire community gathered for "Ngula" which is a Taito word for coming together and working for a common purpose. In half a day, with pangas (machetes) and jembes (hoes) alone, they cleared enough of our plot to hold our community center, camp sites, kitchen, toilet, storage shed, driveway and parking lot. I tried to jump in wherever I could, swinging my unsharpened panga, hopelessly trying to mimic their movements but recoiled after every pierce of thorns. Mostly, I was just in the way, so I was happy to stand back and document it all instead. It also just happened to be Kenya's 50th anniversary of independence. We celebrated our hard work and Kenya's birthday with rice and beans, and of course, tea.

The next day, building began. Our storage shed was up in a flash; two campsites and a 15ft deep hole for our toilet followed soon after. The Mwakoma ladies hauled in sand on their heads, earning money by the bucket that will soon filter through the village. The other interns and I found where we could be useful and slowly attempted to earn a better reputation for the work ethic of Mzungus. By Thursday the 19th we had 20 men hastily passing kurais full of cement and agrigate (it's called gravel, silly Europeans) to fill in the foundation for our center while we served them tea and snacks out of our new kitchen. Lucy sat and wondered how this all happened so fluidly - her plans predicted a foundation to be set no earlier than three weeks. 

We leave the Tsavo area tomorrow for a Christmas in Nairobi and New Years on the coast. With a break from construction and better access to internet, many more updates will follow. I, for one, am looking forward to a real shower and an oven to bake a cobbler with all these amazingly cheap fruits around me. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

So... I'm in Kenya.

10:51 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

It's been awhile, and for that I do apologize. Let me catch you all up.

On October 12 I went to the WCN Conservation Expo in San Francisco that I was so excited about in my previous post.

I met THE Jane Goodall. 

And Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton

Oh and they're best buds, by the way...

I told Iain that one of my best friends, Carley, was interning at Save The Elephants and that I hoped to follow her some day when I had the funds. It was a fantastically inspiring day.

A couple weeks later, having come down from my high on life from the conference, I went to Hawaii with some friends...

And I get a frantic call, post-luau, from Carley about an exciting project developing within Dr. Lucy King's elephants and bees project and that I quickly needed to apply to be a part of it. I had no time to waste, so as soon as I got home I sent her a letter, had an interview the following evening, and was booking a plane ticket for Nairobi in the next week. 

So, here I am, in Kenya! 

Here's the breakdown: 

Lucy builds beehive fences around farms to protect them from elephant crop raids because elephants are afraid of bees. She's been working outside of Tsavo National Park for awhile, and after gaining support in the community, backing from STE, and wonderful grants and donations, she is launching a new human-elephant conflict research and community center (title still to be decided on). And we (Lucy and her new team of interns) are starting from scratch. Tomorrow, we head out to Tsavo, where we will study our donated acre of land, and get to work clearing a plot and buying supplies. I cannot even begin to express my excitement for being here, and to be a part of this massive project that will lead to such positive impacts for people and elephants!

This morning I got to meet the STE team at their Monday morning meetings. As I sat there, surrounded by all these passionate, brilliant people, I thought of how lucky I am to be achieving my dreams. Unfortunately, Iain could not be at the meeting. I so wanted to say hello again.

Pssst... Internet access will be questionable throughout my stay here, but stay tuned for details about Save The Elephants, Lucy's amazing work, news from Kenya, and my experiences here!!!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The little things.

11:32 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

Okay, okay, all jokes aside. In all seriousness I have to admit that the animals that I read about as a kid, that I fell in love with at the zoos, and formed a relationship with on my first big adventure in Namibia do exist in a complex, beautiful, and often overwhelming part of the world, and lately, I've been feeling pretty discouraged about their future in Africa.

In order to preserve and protect the creatures I care so deeply for, I've been trying to learn everything I can about African nations: their histories, their current status, their needs, their cultures. The more I learn about Africa, the more I discover about the entire world, and I have to say, I don't like what I'm finding. I am not naive enough to think that I could even begin to "fix" the problems that the people of Africa and the world's most powerful politicians have not been able to solve, but how can I even help to facilitate positive change when the magnitude of issues I will come up against are so great and complex?

It's easy to think this way. That's exactly what Paul Loeb discussed in an interview with Idealist
Cynicism is the corrosive acid that says, “Why bother? Nothing that I’m going to do will matter.” Cynicism mocks the idealist. It’s different from saying, “I disagree with you about tax policy.” The cynic is the person who says that this work in its entirety is futile. 
Imagine if Nelson Mandela or Susan B. Anthony thought this way! So how do we avoid cynicism? How do we avoid drowning in the evils of international politics or the challenges of global climate change? 

We take it one day at a time. 

Paul calls on nonprofit organizations to remind their staff that their work is worth something and appreciated, and his advice for individuals? When you've lost a political, social, or environmental battle, simply go back to something that nourishes your spirit and recharge.

I've been volunteering for the Kasese Wildlife Conservation and Awareness Organization for awhile now. I haven't been doing anything major, just updating their Facebook and Twitter accounts, trying to raise awareness about this organization's amazing work in Uganda. In the meantime, learning about the conflicts in the DRC, Uganda, and Rwanda is enough to make my head spin. Well, Asaba called me last week to tell me a little story... 

He told me about a good friend of KWCAO that raises money for them almost every year. The first year he raised $2,600. The third year, he promised friends and family to dye his hair in order to raise money - $4,004 worth. The fourth year he had no campaign, but set out again on his fundraiser. He asked his usual donors and new friends to give whatever they could, whether it's 10 dollars or 100. Here and there he collected, and he handed Asaba a $5,050 check this year. Asaba couldn't believe it. $5,050 can go so far in Uganda! They got to talking, and Mike told him a story of one of his donors that wrote him a check for $100, but then Mike told this donor about a post he had seen on Facebook about KWCAO's office manager. After the donor heard about this young woman, he wrote a new check, changing his donation. So even though I consider my contribution to this group to be small, Asaba excitedly told me that it's because of my efforts that this donation went from 100 to 500 dollars. And it's people like Mike, who go the extra distance, that help this organization make a big difference in Uganda and for its wildlife. 

I'm thankful for the reminder that people like Asaba and Mike provide: that every little bit really does make a difference. It's important to be informed about the world, but don't let that information stop you from acting.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Professionals in African Wildlife Conservation Reception - Lucky Me!

9:43 PM Posted by Tara Easter 4 comments

Last Thursday, the World Affairs Council of Oregon and Oregon Wild hosted 13 wildlife conservation professionals from 9 different countries in Africa who were touring America with the International Visitor Leadership Program. The purpose of their visit was to strengthen ties with organizations and supporters in America to unite against poaching and illegal wildlife trade. 

At first I looked around for Namibia's representative, knowing I would have plenty to discuss with him. Unfortunately, I discovered he was unable to attend this event. I wasn't sure where to begin, not having as much of a connection with the other countries' representatives. I decided to sit down and just observe for a bit, perhaps take notes on how to best introduce myself, when the woman next to me said hello.

We chatted for awhile about which organizations we were here with. She asked if I had volunteered with Oregon Wild, seeing my "Keep Oregon Wild" sticker in hand. I said no, but I'm a big supporter of their work. She replied that she was the Conservation Director's wife and asked if I would like to meet him. 

Perfect! A place to start (not to mention Oregon Wild just happened to open up a position that has my name all over it, fingers crossed). After talking with him about how he got involved with this event, what all Oregon Wild does, and how much respect he has for my boss at the Center for Biological Diversity (boosting my confidence in my upcoming application), it was time to get a bite to eat.

Choosing a random seat next to Mr. Ramalefo of Botswana, we discussed predator-livestock conflict over sweet potatoes and chicken. That's my kind of meal. Finally, it was time to formally introduce everyone and hear brief presentations.

Steve Pedery began with Oregon Wild, pointing out that the problems in conservation we face here are not too different than those in Africa. After bringing back wolves from the brink of extinction, we are still in a constant fight with ranchers and hunters to keep them protected.

Then came the first African speech by a national park official from Zimbabwe. He talked about their parks, their rhino, pangolin, and painted dog populations, and their partnerships between the private and public sectors. Then he mentioned their struggles.
People are looking after the rhino, and not after the people trying to protect them. These men are not military trained, but war-like combat is what they face. They have limited resources, little time with their families, and no incentive to keep at it. They need to feel like they've achieved something."

I, in a super selfish, privileged American kind of way, can relate to that feeling. I wanted to tell him about the Thin Green Line team. There are people who care, people who hear you.

Next up, Zambia. He echoed the plea for the rangers and took it a step further. What many people don't know about these armed poachers is who they are funded by, and who they are funding. Many times, these activities are feeding terrorist organizations. Why else would they risk their own lives for a rhino horn? And of course, there is always the issue of habitat degradation. As resources are used, human wildlife conflict grows.

The third speech was given by my dinner buddy, and while he seemed a little quiet person to person, he provided a powerful ending to the presentation.

"I am not here to tell you the sad story of Africa. I am here to tell you about the successes we've had, not only as Botswana, but as people."

Immediately, I'm on the edge of my seat. He spoke about legislation coming into agreement with science more often, and the Transfrontier Conservation Area which was agreed upon and is managed by five different countries. There are wildlife management courses in college, and an academy in Botswana for law enforcement where they discuss wildlife crime.

Though we have successes, there are still challenges."

We need to figure out a way to actually use the bit of training our wildlife rangers have received in the field.

We need to include our communities in our efforts to preserve wildlife so they are not enticed by money to support poaching.

We need to teach children about wildlife management, (at this point I wanted to stand up and cheer, but I sat there silently scribbling down every word, beaming about my involvement with KWCAO who is doing just that) and take them to our national parks, most of which they have never been to, even though they live so close.

We need to get media on our side and ask them to stop advertising poaching. By repeatedly saying over and over how much a horn is worth, and what poachers get from a single rhino, and how many elephants are killed a day, we do nothing but add fuel to the fire.
Law enforcement cannot do it all."

With a little bit of time left in the evening and my head bustling with questions, I spoke with as many of the men as I could. They were all so friendly, eager to make connections and hoping in general that the people they meet on this trip around America will be inspired to act. While all I can do for now is blog, I sincerely hope they achieved what they came here for: international cooperation to fight illegal wildlife trade.

They all asked when I was going to come visit them in Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana...

"Soon." I said. "Very soon."

Monday, April 29, 2013

Rest in Peace, Rhino Champion.

9:30 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

I am very lucky. With frequent reports of declining numbers of rhinos and elephants across Africa, falling as victims to poaching, I realize just how lucky I am. At Etosha National Park I got to see black and white rhinos and bull elephants and their calves interact together. 

Normally, I would never regard these magnificent giants as "cute", but there is nothing in this world more adorable than seeing an elephant calf playfully sneak up on a rhino calf at the waterhole, only to be spooked and flare his ears when the rhino turns around, and, to the elephants surprise, is not another elephant. 

Having experiences like these, I am all the more saddened to hear that Anna Merz, founder of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy and champion of black rhino conservation, passed away at age 81 earlier this month. Stories like hers, ones where someone saw a problem and had the drive and courage to act on it,  ones where the more difficult path was chosen rather than the easy one, renew my ambitions when I'm feeling discouraged. 

I would write about how incredible this woman was, what she's done for rhinos, and how I look up to her, but I think this article in the NY Times covers it all. Check out her inspiring story here

Rest in peace Mrs. Merz. Thank you for everything you did for rhinos and for people like me, who will never forget the first time they saw one. 

To continue Anna's mission, you can help protect rhino's by donating to the Lewa Conservancy

Friday, March 8, 2013

Invasive fish cause big problems in fresh and saltwater systems.

8:48 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

If you live on the East coast of the U.S. or on islands in the Caribbean Sea, maybe you remember seeing signs such as this one to the left. The lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific region, was introduced to Florida's waters in the early 90's, most likely a result of the aquatic pet trade, and flourished rapidly. Due to their defensive venomous spines, coloration, habitat generality, low parasite load, efficient predation, rapid growth, and high reproductive rates, they pose high threats to reef and other ecosystems and have already been shown to reduce recruitment of native reef fish by up 80 percent*. 

Numerous studies have launched to measure just how badly they will take a toll on the ecosystem. Campaigns were launched to make people aware that they are edible, because who better to wipe out an unwanted species than humans? 

But then again the more people are around the more they wreak havoc. Here's a picture of a gigantic goldfish....

...found in Lake Tahoe. Another introduction from an aquarium. Check out the article

In the case of the giant goldfish, researchers believe they may actually be harming lake clarity by fueling algae growth with their waste. When biologists find warm water fish during surveys, they remove them."

Moral of these stories: Don't dump your aquarium fish into lakes and oceans!



Albins, M., Hixon, M. (2011) Worst case scenario: potential long-term effects of invasive predatory lionfish (Pterios volitans) on Atlantic and Caribbean coral-reef Communities. Environ Biol Fish 1-7-7

Hixon, M., Albins, M., Redinger, T. (2009) Lionfish invasion: Super predator threatens Caribbean coral Reefs. NOAA Research

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My ideal backyard.

7:45 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

Last week I was at a game night with a group of friends. While the others yelled at each other during intense battles of Settlers of Catan, I had gotten distracted by a stack of "question" cards. I love these kinds of games. They're meant to be conversational pieces for a group, but I silently read them to myself and pondered  what my response would be to both the intellectual questions and the silly ones. 

One question in particular caught my attention and reminded me of some news I would like to share here that is perhaps a bit old, but significant nonetheless...

If you could have any one view from your backyard, what would you want it to be?

First, a broad question like this needs to be clarified. When it says "any", it means ANY. That is, even if it's not physically, politically, or geographically possible. 

Many scenes raced through my mind. I immediately eliminated city skylines, or any sort of civilization for that matter; I'm a nature girl. I then started thinking of the world's most iconic natural wonders, places often seen in magazines like National Geographic or featured on Planet Earth. There is so much beauty in this world, so many places to see. But ultimately, my heart will always belong to Africa.

I thought about the valleys of Damaraland where desert elephants, leopards, and baboons frequently roam...

I thought about the water hole at Etosha National Park where I could observe the most spectacular displays of interspecific behaviors...

And I thought about places I haven't been, but have heard so much about. Perhaps a more classic African scene like Tanzania's Mt. Kilimanjaro or the Serengeti would be the ultimate backyard.

The options in Africa are endless and each unique, but what is the most magical place? Is there a place that shows both harshness and tranquility? Where it can be a struggle to survive and then bursting with life, never letting me forget how wonderful nature can be?

Of course!

   The Okavango Delta. 

Situated in the basin of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, this delta goes from wasteland to wonderland every year when the floods wash down from the highlands of Angola, bringing with it the most diverse concentration of wildlife in the world.

"Nowhere on our planet earth is the lifegiving power of water so clearly demonstrated." David Attenborough, BBC's Planet Earth

Yes, witnessing this miracle every year in my backyard would be ideal. Thankfully, the presidents of Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe considered this land just as precious as I. On August 18, 2011, they signed a treaty forming the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) which is a 444,000 km^2 area designated for conservation (and therefore ecotourism), and it's the largest of its kind in the world. This region includes the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls, and numerous national parks, with the goal to:

 “Sustainably manage the Kavango Zambezi ecosystem, its heritage and cultural resources based on best conservation and tourism models for the socio-economic wellbeing of the communities and other stakeholders in and around the eco-region through harmonization of policies, strategies and practices.”

I may not be able to build a house there, but I wouldn't have it any other way. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Nonlethal method of saving cattle from lions.

5:22 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
Female scolds male after an unsuccessful mating in Etosha National Park.
Currently listed as "Vulnerable" by the IUCN, African lion populations have dropped significantly in the past decade. Facing threats such as habitat encroachment, poisoning, prey decline, as well as the diseases that more dramatically plague smaller populations (referred to as the "small population paradigm"), these cats are unfortunately on their way to the endangered species list

Most of these issues are a result of human wildlife conflict in Africa. Urban areas are developing further into previously natural areas. Agricultural pesticides accidentally poison the cats, or, direct poisoning occurs to rid a pastoral neighborhood from the threats to their livestock. Projections of where lions will roam in the future are bleak, but one young man in Kenya created a way to protect his precious cattle from predation using nonlethal methods, giving hope for the king of the jungle:

Boy scares off lions with flashy invention

What I like most about this story is this:
What's even more impressive is that Turere devised and installed the whole system by himself, without ever receiving any training in electronics or engineering."
This is simple innovation that has multiple positive implications at its best, and it's inspiring

As I currently battle to make a career out of solving human-wildlife conflict (similar to this situation), I find myself constantly losing to another resume with a larger list of credentials. But I think conservation NGO's, especially in America, have lost sight of  the ability to solve problems driven by passion, and harnessing the resources at hand. I hope examples like this will set precedence for conservation projects to come. 

He got it right this time ;)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Organization Highlight: Rhino Reality and the ENV

5:49 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
I always try to keep up with the latest news in illegal wildlife trade, and these days rhinos are frequently the stars of the show. But I have to admit, it gets exhausting. Most of the time the stories are tragic, all with the same theme. I suppose the "sexiest" stories are the ones with death and "the war on poaching". But while I  greatly admire and thank the rangers who put their lives at risk to save these charismatic animals, military style, I wish I heard a little more about what's being done to end the trade from the consumer end. 

For one of our Roots and Shoots meetings, Galeo Saintz from Rhino Reality was kind enough to Skype in with us from South Africa at 2:30 a.m. to talk to us about their efforts to launch educational campaigns in Vietnam and China where rhino horns are most often bought for traditional medicine. So after a year of continuing to hear the increase in numbers of rhino deaths, and even more dramatic measures taken to defend them on the ground, I decided to check back in with Galeo to see how their efforts in Southeast Asia were progressing (knowing, of course this is not a quick and easy task).

I absolutely love small, locally based organizations that are receptive to inquiring emails. He responded only two days later with updates. While they work to show documentaries on rhino poaching to Asian tourists in Southern Africa, they have also teamed up with an organization in Vietnam to get the message there. Education for Nature - Vietnam works on the ground in Vietnam to raise awareness about wildlife crime. Their top commitments right now are to end the killing of tigers, rhinos, and sun bears. Under their volunteer opportunities, they list reporting wildlife crime, and checking in on previous offenders. Now that's some hands on volunteering that makes a difference.

So thank you, Rhino Reality and Education for Nature - Vietnam, for all that you do. Your bravery should be recognized, too.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Meet Asaba Mukobi: Founder of the Kasese Wildlife Conservation Awareness Organization.

9:14 AM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
I was given a whole new perspective on American vs. Ugandan childhoods on Thursday. Inspired by his story on the Oregon Zoo's website, I contacted Asaba Mukobi to find out what his Kasese Wildlife Conservation Awareness Organization was all about. Why did he start it? How does it work? What are his goals? He answered all these and so much more as we talked over lunch on a cold Portland day.

Asaba grew up in Uganda about 20 miles away from Queen Elizabeth national park. Like the rest of his village, he never had much of an interest in animals until a job opened up at Queen Elizabeth to work at a chimpanzee sanctuary. He worked with the Jane Goodall Institute as they raised money to reintroduce 50 chimpanzees to the wild, which is where he met his wife, an American who was volunteering with the program in Uganda.

He moved to the U.S. and worked at the Columbus Zoo before moving to the Oregon Zoo, and it was there that he started to truly develop a love for animals, and a desire to conserve them. He thought if he could teach the kids in Uganda about the wildlife they live right next to, and the jobs that the conservation field offers, he could change some of the attitudes Ugandans have about their surrounding environment.

You see, growing up in the United States, there was never a question of why I liked animals and why I wanted so badly to go to Africa. All my life I have been surrounded by National Geographic, zoos, Animal Planet shows on big screen TVs, and stuffed animal toys. I read books about lions in the Serengeti, and was amazed by the speed of a cheetah and the memory of an elephant. I had the time and resources to leisurely investigate the animal kingdom and was never worried about where my next meal was coming from or how the family farm was doing. But this is not the case in Uganda. Asaba said he was surprised when he moved here by the amount of people that volunteered at the Columbus and Oregon Zoos, simply because they liked animals and cared about them. So, he set out on his mission to bring that same kind of awareness and passion back home, thinking that he would have his one little  program in a village school, but here he is 10 years later as a registered non-profit in over 400 schools in Uganda (which is equivalent to about 400,000 kids!).

An example of one of the trading cards
His teaching tools? A TV, a generator, a pack of animal trading cards, stuffed animals, puppets, animal masks, maps and globes. The generator powers the wildlife documentaries shown on TV, and the cards, with a picture of an animal and its facts, are traded, cherished, and passed down to younger siblings among the kids. These simple programs have already done so much to change the attitudes of these communities, and the schools have even started wildlife clubs. Asaba hopes these families start to see the national park not as potential farmland or hunting grounds, but a source of revenue and jobs through ecotourism and conservation, and a home for the animals they've learned about.

Now KWCAO is reaching even further. They are taking field trips into the park where even the teachers are seeing some of Africa's most iconic species for the first time. They are approaching the parents of these communities with informational brochures, and lightly tackling tough topics like family size and agricultural traditions.

Friends and supporters of KWCAO are often telling Asaba that he needs to tour around the U.S. and tell people what he is doing, but he responds, "Why would I tour America when $10,000 would go so much further within the schools of Uganda?" (Not to mention the other resources we have available here such as websites and Facebook that are also used to tell people about his program.) To put this all into perspective a little bit, Asaba told me a story of taking his mom to the Uganda Wildlife Education Center when he visited home. He said first she questioned the price, and she started listing all the food she could get for her children with a $1.50 (the cost of entrance to the Center). Then she said "OK, so I go and see the animals, then what? What good does that do me?" But once she was there, she was intrigued by the similarities between people and other primates.

So I can't help but to agree and appreciate the use of Asaba's awarded grants and donated funds, and instead I am hoping to help him spread the word through social media and of course, Roots and Shoots at NCSU.

If you would like to know more about this organization, please visit their website, "like" their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter @KWCAO. If you would like to help KWCAO, you can contribute to a school visit or student field trip here. Thank you!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Enough is enough."

3:10 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
It's funny how when you start paying attention, history really does repeat itself. At our very first Roots and Shoots meeting, my friend and I (nervously and shaking) presented a history of the ivory trade and sparked a debate over the recent decision of Kenyan officials to burn a pile of ivory to make a statement.

The controversy 

Kenyan officials wanted - and needed to - make a statement: Poaching for ivory is unacceptable. But, others felt this was a waste of resources. Killing elephants for ivory is illegal (hence the term "poaching"), but confiscated tusks that are in the hands of the government could be legally sold under Appendix II of CITES, so why not sell and feed that money back into conservation programs? 

As the struggle to protect the worlds largest land mammal continues in Africa, let's jump to the Western hemisphere, where a giant of a different kind faces the same turmoil.

Last week, Belizeans watched a pile of illegally harvested rosewood burn, estimated to be worth U.S. $400,000. Not all of it went to waste, "The Minister burnt only the export quality beams, while the smaller posts were donated to communities in the district and the burls to carvers at a local foundation."

Destroying the rosewood was, “not an easy decision to make,” said Hon. Senator Alamilla, “but I want to send an unmistakeable message to everybody in Belize: we have to manage our forest sustainably for the benefit of the Belizean people, and this government is going to stamp out the clandestine illegal logging of our natural resources.”

Rosewood and ivory actually have a lot in common. Rosewood is used to make fancy furniture in a high-end market. Ivory is used for figurines for the wealthy consumer and devoted worshippers. Both are in high demand. Both come from organisms with a slow growth rate. And both are being harvested at an unsustainably high rate. Whether the debate is in Africa or Central America, protecting animals or trees, the message of these countries is clear. 

There has to be a way to get that message to the governments of the countries that support these illegal trades the most. Imagine if their officials were to say to their people and to the rest of the world:

"Enough is enough."

Friday, January 18, 2013

WCS announces an increase in tiger numbers.

3:23 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

In light of some recent news posted by the Wildlife Conservation Society, I decided to make my next YouTube video about tigers. With as many people that love them, there are some surprising misconceptions about them, and I am hoping to provide some information on their conservation that may not be as mainstream for people who aren't in the science field. 

When I attended The Wildlife Society's conference back in October, I attended a very interesting lecture on tiger conservation that I had almost forgotten about until WCS made their announcement. The research done by Neil Carter from Michigan State University, and the work being done by WCS in India are very different, but both are positive outlooks for the continued existence of this magnificent big cat. In India, WCS is working to preserve tiger habitat and have as much non-human space for them as possible, and it's actually working! Some villages have voluntarily relocated away from tiger habitats, India has created more reserves and wildlife corridors, and the government is cracking down on poaching. But Carter's research in Nepal shows that humans and tigers may be able to exist together after all, which certainly gives us hope as Asia's population continues to grow. In my video, I'll explain the different efforts going into protecting the tiger, and why Carter's study area supports both a high human density and tiger population.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

San Diego Zoo Doing Their Part.

5:02 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
You would think with all my Africa talk I had always wanted to frolic with the lions and elephants on the plains of the Serengeti, but truthfully, growing up I wanted to be a marine biologist. I'd stay in freezing cold water for hours on end with my goggles and goofy sun-protecting visor discovering everything I could about aquatic life. That's me in the dorky green hat on my very first dolphin watching expedition. But enough about me, I'm writing to admire someone else's passion for our ocean dwellers. 

Zoos and Aquariums around the world face harsh criticisms with their conservation involvement. I even took an entire class on it in college called: Are Zoos and Aquariums Modern Arks? I have to admit, I too sometimes join in on the skepticism, but from what I've found, what visitors see at the zoo itself is not at all the whole package. At the larger zoos especially, the Smithsonian, the San Diego Zoo, Busch Gardens, the Georgia Aquarium, there are whole teams of people working behind the scenes to conduct research on endangered species all over. The mass crowds they pull in to see these magnificent animals up close end up funding reintroduction and community outreach programs just like this one:

I especially appreciated the community based management tactics they are going for with this program. 
Our collaborative group has prioritized the most efficient methods of addressing the human dimension of conservation. We will cultivate a sense of local pride in the vaquita and ultimately transfer ownership of vaquita conservation to the three fishing communities that are our main focus.
To do this, we are engaging the communities in education, outreach, and alternative livelihood opportunities to garner an interest in alternative fishing gear."
I believe a sense of pride and responsibility for a rare species within communities inspires them to examine their own lifestyle choices. Like the SDZG said, it's the most efficient method of conservation. It's worked many times in other places, like in Rwanda with their mountain gorillas. Every year, there is a massive ceremony to name the newborn gorillas, and it gives the locals a personal connection with the animals. They did the same thing with lions in a village in Kenya when poisoning was on the rise, and in SE Asia with red pandas. 

I have high hopes for vaquitas' continued existence. I think these delightful porpoises will be swimming into the imaginations of other little explorers for years to come. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Ecology: systems work better as a WHOLE unit.

6:58 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments

I LOVE Ted Talks. In fact, Ted Talks are what helped get me through some of my more patience required days of field research in California. I watched, or rather listened to, this video while sitting in a tent monitoring cameras set up on stationary rattlesnakes. Some, not even bothering to come out of their burrows. Thanks to Dan Barber, I still learned some important things about ecology that day, and it has stuck with me ever since. 

I love every message he delivers in this video. Feeding the world, better tasting food, reducing pollution, increasing sustainability, these things are not up to the farmer. They are determined by the basic principles of ecology. Every system works better as a whole. This farm lets nature do its thing, and the fish taste amazing. How about that.

Let me a give you some other examples.
  1. In our own bodies:
    I've been watching a lot of health documentaries lately. My family doesn't exactly have the greatest track record with cancer, and what better prevention is there than proper diet and exercise? What I've heard over and over again is that there is nothing better for you than a WHOLE food, plant based diet. For example, what I mean by this, is that we know that beta-carotene is an essential nutrient in carrots and other vegetables, but when we extract it and put it in tablet form, our bodies do not get the same benefits from it as when it is paired with the other organic compounds found in the vegetable.
  2. Predator-Prey Dynamics:
    Wolves were hunted to near extinction because they were considered to a be a threat to our food source. When they were reintroduced, scientists were pleasantly surprised to find that their existence in the food chain not only helps keep ungulate populations down, but in doing so, it improves water quality which of course benefits our local freshwater fish. Because ungulates are now weary of the wolves' presence, they do not feed along the banks of rivers and streams, which allows for young vegetation to grow and thus prevents erosion. There are also fewer direct deposits of feces. 
  3. Agriculture: 
    We took cows off of pastures and gave them corn instead to supposedly feed more people, quicker. But because they are ruminants, the lack of grass produces and extra acidity in their stomachs which hosts a higher amount of E. Coli (the harmful kind) and creates all kinds of other health problems to the cows. So, we solved this by pumping antibiotics into their systems, which in turn goes through our systems, which leads to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and washing beef with ammonia. And let's be real, that's just gross. 
I like to point out examples in ecology that we can all easily relate to, e.i. the things we eat, so that when conservationists talk about our oceans' and forests' biodiversity crashing, or a certain species dying out, maybe we'll pay closer attention. 

This fish "farm" in Southern Spain knows what's up. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Big oil strikes again.

3:18 PM Posted by Tara Easter No comments
To tell the story of why I am personally enraged by this news, we'll need to back up a bit. 

As you may know, my study abroad trip to Namibia was more than a life changing experience; it was a catalyst in forming my lifelong goals to work and explore in Africa. Upon meeting Tom LaRock, owner of Tom LaRock's Safari Professionals, I immediately wanted to help his organization expand in their tourism business so that he could have more money to start up his non-profit branch: Impact On Africa.  So I began an informal internship with Safari Professionals. Through this, I have had the privilege of getting to know many of his previous clients, who have since devoted their lives to making a positive difference in the African communities they visited. 

I was especially excited to write an article for a local magazine (which I will post when it is released). For this article, I interviewed past safari goers who dazzled me with the sights they saw in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda. One in particular recalled his visit to Virunga National Park. I listened to his enchanting stories of going from open grass plains to thick mountain jungles, his guides hacking their way through the forest with machetes, radioing in to the gorilla trackers miles away. After a two hour hike, he was 10 feet away from a group of 18 mountain gorillas. 

I have also heard of the courageous stories of wildlife rangers in the Congo. They often risk their lives to protect the forest and incredible species that inhabit it. 

Then, I see this. Virunga National Park has a new enemy: Oil. It saddens me to think of how so many incredible places could be destroyed because of human and corporation greed. And to think we were just celebrating the increase in the gorilla population. The possibility for oil exploitation in the Congo was also addressed in this article, which has since become increasingly concerning. 

Many people do not realize that the ethical dilemmas that stem from oil extraction focus around people sometimes just as much as it does the environment. This article does an excellent job at pointing out just that, arguing that the local people would never actually see any benefits from the oil extracted. 

On top of lies told by the company saying the communities welcome their presence, I was especially blown away by a comment made by senior SOCO executive Roger Cagle in attempts to justify any environmental degradation:
The environmental destruction already visited on Virunga by decades of deforestation, poaching and war would render “inconsequential by comparison” any adverse affects caused by SOCO’s oil activities."
Two wrongs do not make a right, Mr. Cagle.

And if being protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site doesn't protect a park, what will?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

My Corny Resolution Post.

10:22 AM Posted by Tara Easter 2 comments
On a more personal note than the majority of my posts, I'd like to share with you my thoughts as 2012 comes to a close. 

Last year, just before I brought in 2012 with college buddies, my Facebook status read:

This year, instead of making your routine resolutions of losing weight, getting good grades, or whatever it is you see needs improving in your daily life, decide to make a difference in someone or something else's life. If there's something you're passionate about that needs help, fight for it.

Whether it's the environment, wildlife, or people, there is always something you can do.

As I look back on what has been both the best, and absolute worst, year of my life, I stand by that statement. In the first 5 months of 2012, nothing made me happier than working with my best friends to make Roots and Shoots at NCSU the best possible organization it could be. It was fulfilling, to think that I was truly raising awareness on issues I cared so deeply about. I went on to graduate college, drive across the country with my sister (click here for a fun video montage), and made some new friends in California. I explored the Pacific coastal states, and settled into a brand new life in Portland, OR. 

But in between chasing rattlesnakes and becoming an Oregonian, my world was shattered. My beautiful mother and best friend, after a 6 year fight against stage IV colon cancer, passed away on August 28th. I could go on for pages about my mom, about her struggle, my family's struggle, and how much she meant to us, and what a wonderful person she was, but I will leave those details to my sister who more eloquently explains the situation through Still Easier Than Chemo

On top of the daily reminders of the giant hole in my life, finding a job has proven to be much more difficult than I imagined, even when Portland offers so many excellent organizations. And it should be noted that I am the type of person who NEEDS to work.

But while my life isn't going all that great right now, and I still have many personal improvement goals, I still think there isn't anything better than doing something good for someone/something else. I recently watched a documentary called "Happy" (which I would highly recommend, it's on Netflix!), and it mentioned how most people achieve a great deal of happiness just by helping others, and being part of a caring community. One of Mom's friends tragically lost her baby due to heart complications after birth, so other families were offering to make meals. My mom volunteered to be the deliverer, that way the family didn't have to worry about visiting with different people everyday, or even having to be home when the meals were being brought. Even though Mom was sick and very tired from rigorous chemotherapy, that little task, that small purpose genuinely made her happier. I could hear it in her voice when we spoke on the phone. 

But your cause doesn't have to be a friend, or even a person, or even the result of tragedy. Me, I love animals, and nature. I love getting dirty and working hard. So I fight for my earth, and even when I get discouraged about the job market or start to really miss my mom, making a difference in the world picks me back up.

So, 2013, I'm comin' for ya.