Click some links and take some names

Take actions for causes you care about right from your computer.

These petitions and letters are so easy to take part in. Just click and sign. Of course, you can also read more information at each website before signing so you make sure you don’t give away your soul or something on accident. Always read that fine print!

Save Koalas. We all love koalas, right? They’re so cute and admit it, you’ve wanted one for a pet since you were a kid? No… Well, you’re the only one who didn’t, then. Anyway, koalas are facing a horrible epidemic of Chlamydia right now, rendering almost half their female population infertile. I never would have thought something like this could happen, but it’s real—and it’s something we can help stop if we give koalas endangered animal status right away. Click here to ask Australia’s Federal Environment Minister to do just that and help save koalas from extinction.

Ask the Missouri House to Expand Medicaid. Since SCOTUS ruled that Obama’s healthcare plan was constitutional, but then said requiring states to expand Medicare—a key component—was not, we are all left scrambling for insurance that would be much easier to obtain if the expansion did occur. You can click here to ask legislators in Missouri to approve of this expansion, and be sure to ask the lawmakers of your own state if necessary as well.

Support Aaron’s Law: The death of Aaron Swartz last week was a sobering moment for us all. Demand Progress is asking for an inquiry to be made into Swartz’s inquisition—I mean prosecution—and to start a law in his name known as Aaron’s Law that would make authorities have to back off of their ruthless dogging of people facing jail time for victimless crimes. Read about it and add your voice if you want to support Aaron’s Law.

Yell at Rush. Admit it—you want to. We all want to. Emily’s List is giving you a platform to give Limbaugh a piece of your mind. After all, he has no problem getting paid to give us a piece of his day after day, spreading the hatred of women (and any non-white cisgender male, for that matter) with his vile garbage. Visit Emily’s List to send Rush your message.

Stand Up for Sasquatch. Okay, this one is just funny. I had to show it to you. Even though I love cryptozoology in all its fun, I had to laugh over this petition to get the White House to confirm the identity of Big Foot—and ensure its protection. Enjoy.

One last serious note here—I wanted to link to this guide on how to handle and prevent cyber stalking. These tips are great; pass them on to friends, especially teens and youth who use the internet.

Help put an end to poaching

You’d think it would be over by now…

Ever since I was a little girl, I have been outraged by poaching. Blame it on Rescuers Down Under or my vocal mother, who was especially appalled at the poaching of animals. The killing and selling of another life, human or not, for coats and ash trays and novelty items just sickens me to the core, and I know I am not alone in this feeling.

Right now, there is an act known as The Global Conservation Act of 2012 being considered. This act would help us crack down on illegal poaching—but it would also do what so many other programs fail to do, which is provide communities with other forms of wildlife tourism so they don’t have to resort to poaching for a living.

I have read that most poachers are pretty wealthy and that the whole poaching to feed one’s family story is a joke; I’m not sure I believe that, though. I’ve also read that the government gets a hefty cut from poachers, and that I do believe. Human trafficking, drug markets, and other illegal activities would not exist without government aid; why not poaching?

At any rate, I am supporting these anti-poaching measures and I hope that you will too. Click here to find out more and to support this bill.

We Bought a Zoo

This family film is, not surprisingly, a real tear-jerker.

When we saw previews for We Bought a Zoo last year, I knew it was going to be one of those films my daughter would love. It’s about kids who live at a zoo; what kid wouldn’t love it? But what I didn’t expect was that I would also love it myself.

The storyline is about a risk-taking journalist who frequently goes on adventures, not worrying about the cost. His life turns upside down when his wife dies of a long-term illness, and he’s suddenly finding himself with a morbid teen son who keeps getting in trouble at school and a cute seven-year-old daughter who seems to have it more together than he does himself. So what’s an adventuresome dad to do? Buy a zoo, of course.I know, it’s a weird premise, but it’s based on a true story, and it’s just strange enough to be realistic. The family drama—and Matt Damon as a father—are truly believable for me here. The teen/parent relationship is portrayed so well that I did find myself tearing up (which was, of course, the filmmakers’ intention, I am sure), and the little girl added the sweetness factor needed against the storm of that relationship. The animals, of course, were also fun, as were the ragtag group of animal handlers.

There’s even a homeschooled girl in the movie, which was nice since it’s not like my daughter has a bunch of girls in the media to look up to, let alone homeschooled ones! This character was adorably played by Elle Fanning, and I would say her verve and personality were just spectacular; her slight awkwardness, however, was misplaced, since, you know, homeschoolers aren’t awkward in a general sense (though teenagers are, also generally speaking!). So it still worked out. Love interests in the movie were so lightly handled that they didn’t overpower it (or ruin the memory of the mother, which was also handled beautifully), something that I was also pleasantly surprised by.

From moving scenes with an aging tiger to the family story itself, the movie really did not disappoint. I was expecting to pop in this rental and yawn, fighting closing eyes as my daughter watched it; on the contrary, I was left smiling, and yes, openly weeping a couple of times. It was also pretty darn funny, which my husband enjoyed. There are a couple of swear words, though, so keep that in mind if you don’t like that kind of language in your entertainment.

Old Men of the Forest - Orangutans in Danger

Great Apes of Asia are Dwindling in Rapid Numbers

Orangutans are fascinating and beautiful creatures and they’re facing extinction in as little as a decade. As great apes, they’re amazingly intelligent and can display human-like behaviors such as using tools. Native to Asia, their populations were once widespread. Today, orangutans are found on only two islands: Borneo and Sumatra.

The name actually means into “man of the forest.” Orang translates into “man,” and “tan” means forest. Older adult males develop a flange of fleshy skin around their faces, giving them a grumpy appearance. Their docile behavior is a far cry from that of chimpanzees. In zoos, they frequently observe human visitors, seemingly with equal interest. They also like looking at each other as well as video with bright colors or activity. An attempt in 2009 to introduce iPads continues to draw attention, as the apes appear to like playing games with some keeper assistance. Wi-fi and Skype may be next so that orangs can “communicate” with their kind in other zoos.

Two orangutan species exist: Sumatran and Bornean. Their features are almost similar with a few minor differences. Both are in trouble, due to the habitat destruction, but also because of poaching. In remote areas, villages are hunting the animals for their meat, but it is difficult to track exact numbers.

Sanctuaries in Asia, as well as zoos around the world, continue to be safe harbors for these reddish, hairy and endearing animals. Some preserves offer tours into the wilds for an up-close visit. Agencies are also in place with teams to rescue oranges as logging operations leave them stranded in trees. Agencies are also working toward stricter laws against illegal trading.

Photo public domain

Lions are not Kings of the Jungle

They could be - if they lived there

Calling a lion King of the Jungle is just wrong. These big cats don’t live in the jungle, they inhabit the open savannahs. That’s why their fur is a wheaty-yellow - to blend in with the tall waving grasses. They are regal without a doubt as they roam, play, hunt and gather in prides. As a “Leo,” they take their place in horoscopes while their Swahili name - Simba - explains why they are popular characters in movies.

While other big cats rarely travel in groups, lions tend to congregate in prides. They do inhabit other areas such as woodlands, but you won’t find them near a jungle. Top males are brutal as leaders. Once they take charge, they kill off all the male cubs that are not theirs, then mate with the females to add their own progeny to the family. They’re the only cats with thick furry manes, which protect their necks during fights with other males.

We can still call them the “King of Beasts,” but they are also dwindling in rapid numbers. In 1955, researchers believed there were about 400,000 in existence. Today, there may be as few as 20,000. A smaller, almost insignificant population exists in India. Habitat encroachment is the standard reason for diminishing numbers, but they are also considered trophies.

The road to conservation is tedious. First, locals must create lion-proof “bomas” for their livestock. Second, they must realize that this great feline is a tourist attraction rather than a nuisance. On the IUCN Red List, lions have reached “vulnerable” status while Cites lists them as “protected.”

Photo by William H. Majoros, courtesy Wikipedia CC license

Koalas Crawling Slowly Toward Endangered Status

The Australian Government is Dragging on Making a Declaration

Koalas are about the cutest animal alive and they’re now heading into troubled territory. Conservations are at odds with the Australian government over its reluctance to declare koalas endangered. With wildfires the main cause of habitat destruction, drought is a secondary issue. This foot-dragging seems to be because populations are thriving in some areas. In Southern Australia, the marsupials are listed as “rare,” while they have made it to the “vulnerable” list in New South Wales and Queensland.

Their picky feeding habits are part of the reason they’re in trouble. They prefer a particular type of eucalyptus species out of several hundred. Sleeping a total of about 20 hours each day gives their slow metabolism time to digest the fibrous leaves of choice.

Seeing a koala up-close is a real treat. On an extended stay in Australia, we had a chance to visit the Australian Reptile Park near Sydney. Keepers bring koalas out among the visitors, perching them carefully on fence posts. Touching the soft fur and watching their little hands reach out is unforgettable. One interesting fact: their rib cages are almost paper-thin and can break easily. They must be handled with extreme caution as the lightest squeeze can cause damage.

Unfortunately, wild koalas arrive at Taronga’s animal hospital on a regular basis. As they migrate into populated areas to escape the destruction, they are hit by vehicles or are attacked by dogs and other animals. The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) is working diligently to change the koala’s status. Fortunately, the U.S. agrees, and is already noting koalas as endangered. In other parts of the world, however, they are listed as “of no consequence.”

Photo public domain

Snow Leopards Bounding Back on Population Lists

These Elusive Cats are Gaining Ground

Not too many years ago, not much was known about snow leopards. That was mainly due to their location and their solitary habits. Sightings were rare due to the dangerous heights and mountainous regions of their native Tibetan habitat. With recent sightings in Afghanistan, population estimates range up to 7,500, although these are guesses that include a widespread area of Central Asia. That’s not much considering those numbers appear to be going down.

Many think they’re the most beautiful of the big cats with their black rosette patterns and whitish fur. They certainly receive their share of attention in zoos. Amazingly, they cannot roar, but purr instead due to a lack of bone structure in their throats. They’re built for extreme temperatures and can leap with secure footing from one snow ledge to another - as far as 50 feet away. At night, their extra-long thick tails are used as a body wrap for added warmth. Their rosette markings, by the way, act as perfect camouflage in rocky areas, creating a pattern that mimics shady and bright spots.

Since 1972, these animals have been on the endangered species list. Body parts, including internal organs and bones, are valued for medicinal purposes while their pelts are a great commodity in many regions. Additionally, they’re considered nuisances in some areas and are shot on sight for preying on domestic stock.

Zoos are actively participating in breeding programs and births are an exciting event for staff and the public. At my own zoo, it was a thrill to photograph triplets up close. Without bars as a divider, the cubs were even more amazing. It’s easy to understand why they need to be protected.

Photo courtesy Ltshears, Wikipedia CC license

Rhinos Remain at Risk

But Conservation Efforts Helping White Rhinos

Rhinos in the wild have been under the population gun for several decades. Prized for their horns, most species remain in decline, some are on the verge of extinction, and others no longer exist. There’s good news, however for the Southern White Rhino. Numbers continue to increase and estimates place their numbers at about 20,000

Five rhino species exist today; three (Sumatran, Javan, Indian) are found in Asia and the remaining two (black, white) are native to Africa. Within each of these groups, subspecies exist and it is those that are facing dire risks of disappearing completely. While zoos work to increase captive populations, it is the wild groups, living in reserves that stand the best chance to thrive in large numbers.

In the wild, without protective borders, these large animals rarely stand a chance. It’s not so much from dwindling habitat, but due to poaching. In some regions, it’s believed that dagger handles made from rhino horn holds special powers. In other areas, ground rhino horn is thought to contain amazing medicinal properties.

Just a few decades ago, it was thought that the southern white rhino was gone. (Most recently, researchers believe the Northern White rhino is indeed extinct.) The creation and expansion of sanctuaries seems to have created a turning point. Some zoos around the world have also been transporting their own animals to these heavily protected areas.

The expansion of habitats and private ranches, along with widespread conservation efforts are responsible for giving southern white rhinos a second chance. They’re now the only species in this collective group that are no longer on the endangered or threatened list.

Photo public domain

Snowy Owls Venturing South

Beautiful Birds are Getting Themselves in Trouble

Snowy owls are taking some time off from the Arctic this winter. While some migration is typical, this 2011-2012 season they’re heading even further south. A few more hundred miles and they’ll hit sunny beaches. One did, in fact, make it to Hawaii, but it made a wrong turn at the airport and was shot.

Wherever they’re sighted (with the exception of Hawaii’s airport, apparently), they’re drawing the attention of bird watchers and the general public. They’re really causing a stir in Kansas and Missouri, as these beautiful white birds might typically forage across northern states, but have been seen soaring over the middle-of-the-U.S. regions.

In their native habitat, they hunt during the day, usually staking out a vantage point that’s low to the ground. From there, they’ll go after lemmings which make up a major portion of their diets. Other small creatures are up for grabs as well. When lemming populations take a dive - as they do every few years - then snowy owls go on the prowl.

A large snowy owl migration is also known as an ‘irruption” in technical terms. Like other creatures out of their element, some have not been so lucky. Reports include death tolls from cars along with power lines. Near Boston’s Logan airport, an effort is under way to relocate the arriving flock. Like other birds, they can cause life-endangering air traffic accidents if sucked into engines. That, of course, explains the single death in Hawaii, as an official took aim to prevent the errant bird from causing larger problems.

If you see a bundle of white feathers and glowing yellow eyes bearing down, just duck and enjoy the sighting.

Photo courtesy Bert de Tilly, Wikipedia CC license

Seals and Sea Lions

Lookalikes with Differences

From sea lion crowd control to baby seals waddling into homes, these creatures are regularly in the news. Recently, a rogue California population moved northward to consume salmon, followed by some strong tactics that included euthanasia. In another happier incident, a baby seal waddled into a New Zealander's home and promptly headed to the sofa for a snooze.

We've all enjoyed watching these creatures in the wild, on TV, and in zoos. Most of us probably don't think too much about differences between the two. Although they're similar in appearance, they sport some unique characteristics.

Seals and sea lions, along with walruses are in a group known as "pinnipeds." That translates into "fin foot."  Sea lions have larger front flippers and move about with greater agility on land by using all four limbs. Seals, on the other hand are swifter in water, but tend to drag themselves along on land using just their front flippers.

Sea lions are more social and are also more vocal. That's why you'll see these creatures performing in zoos and aquatic exhibits. They're trainable to commands (paired with food) and are quite comical in their behaviors. In the wild, seals tend to be loners while sea lions will congregate in herds that can become quite large.

Both seals and sea lions have inner flaps that close off their ears and throats when they're under water. However, sea lions have visible exterior flaps while seals are considered to be "earless," with only holes at the sides of their heads.

While it's common to use the term "seals" interchangeably, it will always be sea lions you're watching when it comes to performing.

Photo copyright Karen Kennedy