Learning Condor Monitoring

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

I came to the Grand Canyon to learn, to experience and to become better equipped to serve as an advocate for wild places and wildlife. Now that things have settled a bit and I’ve been able to establish a workable studio and writing schedule, I’m ready to dig in. Next week, I’ll start learning how to do condor monitoring (telemetry and more) and will likely devote a late morning every week or every other week looking for activity. As I write this, most of the condors are at the canyon’s river or in Utah (where it’s warmer) but a chick did fledge a few months ago and, yesterday, a ranger told me he thought he’d seen a condor floating just below Kolb. California Condors are the largest land bird in the U.S. (nine-foot wingspan!) and their numbers had gotten down to just two dozen. They’ve been brought back from the brink of extinction and now number in the hundreds. I am SO delighted to have been offered this opportunity to work with the park service and am eagerly awaiting my first glimpse of a condor!!!

Juvenile California Condors. Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Juvenile California Condors. Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Of Mice and Ringtails

Deer Mouse. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Deer Mouse. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about having been visited by a deer mouse. The little one  had taken up residence under our refrigerator and had demonstrated extraordinary boldness, approaching me  one morning again and again. Until…

Mac and Molly, our two Old English Sheepdogs emerged from the bedroom, raced toward me and tussled to capture the “prize” that had positioned itself under a stool on which I was seated. The mouse escaped and I am delighted to report it hasn’t been seen since. There’s no evidence of its presence anywhere in the RV and it hasn’t peeked out at me from any possible ports. Mac and Molly, it would seem, scared the daylights out of the mouse. I am relieved this is so but we do remain on guard. Deer mice are found throughout this region and have been identified as carriers of the hantavirus which is conveyed to humans through contact with the animals’ feces and urine. The first sign of infection is a fever that appears within 7-10 days of contact. I’ve learned that two persons had been infected with the virus here at the canyon. One died.

Around the same time of my deer mouse encounter, I discovered that a ringtail (the state mammal of Arizona) had shown up at Kolb Studio. A woman first alerted me to having seen it peering out of a dormer window. A humane trap was set out for it in the attic and, one morning, the young ringtail (which seemed quite docile and curious) was taken out and released at Desert View.

Held Hostage and then. . .

I’m still struggling to overcome the Internet connectivity issues here at Grand Canyon that have prevented me from posting on this blog in recent weeks. I have hundreds of photographs to share and have been working on stories about the geological features, wildlife, hiking trails, and human history of this Natural Wonder of the World. This has been just one of the “hostage” situations in which I’ve been involved in recent days.

The bull elk that held us hostage while he had a snack outside our RV door.
The bull elk that held us hostage while he had a snack outside our RV door.

On Halloween, an 800-pound 12-point bull elk kept us captive in our truck for a half hour while he munched on the vegetation just outside our RV door. It’s wise to give these guys a wide berth (150 feet or better) at any time of year but especially during rutting season (which is now) when they’re more aggressive and protecting their cows and calves.

After this bull had his fill of the fare he found on offer in our lot, he sauntered off into the woods and we were finally able to bring our own groceries into our living quarters. Each night, as we walk Mac and Molly (our two Old English Sheepdogs), we look up to see a splendid display of the Milky Way and, as we go, we listen for the bugling of the elk.

Deer Mouse. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Deer Mouse. Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This morning, a deer mouse, that’s taken up residence under our refrigerator, startled me with its boldness. He?/she? peeked out from its hiding place, ducked back, but then emerged into plain view and inched towards me. I warned: “uh-uh, too close,” and it returned to its hiding place. Only moments later, however, it RAN towards me until I, again and more forcefully this time, told it to back off. We played this game for a few minutes until Mac and Molly entered the picture. They came racing toward me from the bedroom and started tussling under me, competing for “the prize” that had, apparently, snuck under my seat. The mouse escaped and hasn’t been seen since. Mac has positioned himself at the base of the refrigerator and Molly hasn’t left my side. Knowing my M&M are on guard  freed me the rest of the day to focus on writing.

In the Battle Against the Culture of Death, Let’s Not Attack Those Who Are Working to Preserve Life

Giant Panda. Photo by Dan Rotem.
Giant Panda. Photo by Dan Rotem.

I came across an article on Life News yesterday that was entitled, “Press Laments Loss of Baby Panda, Ignores Loss of 1.2 Million Human Babies.”* In the piece, the author—Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee—lamented that the death of a panda at the National Zoo was receiving more attention from the major U.S. news outlets than the death of 1.2 million human babies.

Tobias wrote: “Scientists, zoo officials and panda fans everywhere sat on the edges of their seats last week to watch the drama of a panda birth unfold at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The panda mother, named Mei Ziang, gave birth to one panda cub excitedly described as ‘vibrant, healthy, and active’ by CBS News. A second cub was stillborn, an event described by observers quoted in the Baltimore Sun with words such as “sadness,” “pure sorrow,” and “terror.” Other news outlets alternatively heaped praise on the zoo for the successful birth, or sad condolences for the loss of the second cub.”

Tobias allowed: “I don’t want to take anything away from the sadness people experienced at the loss of the cub, nor for the wonder of the birth of one of these endangered animals. Whenever that occurs, it’s an amazing event. But where are the news outlets when these daily joys and tragedies occur with human babies? Right here in Washington, D.C., for example, within blocks of the White House itself, unborn babies – human babies – are killed in a facility through 24 weeks of age, well beyond the age unborn babies can first feel pain. Yet we hear no outcry . . . I don’t see CBS News or the Baltimore Sun decrying this scandal and the irreplaceable loss of these children the way they lament the loss of a panda cub, as sad as that is . . . It seems nobody in the mainstream media is willing to speak for the unborn. At least, not if they’re human unborn.”

I think Tobias was spot on in calling the press to account for its neglectful lack of coverage of issues involving the pre-born and I dropped this comment into the line of debate: “As you note in this opinion piece, it doesn’t have to be and it shouldn’t be either/or. We should keep fighting against abortion and pressing the press to draw attention to the holocaust until it ends but we should also be working to save the many species of animals in the world that are vanishing because of the devastation wrought by human beings.”

I might note here that there are only about 1,000 giant pandas left in the wild and perhaps only 100 live in zoos so, in the effort to preserve the species, there was very good reason for celebration on the occasion of the birth and very good reason for sadness in the loss of the other cub.

A response to my comment from another reader stunned me and that comment led me to post this reflection. The woman wrote (the following is unedited): “you do realize that animals are dispensable and they procreate more than humans and they don’t have souls….GOD spoke them into existiance and created humans by his own hand and breathe the breathe of life into them….so I don’t think that is of the most importance right now…people are killing off GOD’s creation.”

I asked in response: “And who do you suppose created the animals? And who entrusted them to our care? Animals are not “dispensable”! What a horrible, short-sighted, unbiblical thing to say! Your comment dishonors the Creator and I would advise you to go back and read Genesis 1. Much of humankind has failed in its stewardship of the earth and we are all suffering because of it. Those who are seeking to preserve life should not be attacking those who are seeking to preserve life. I have–for many, many years–been engaged in the fight against abortion (working to give a voice to those who cannot speak for themselves). I also advocate for the animals that cannot speak for themselves. We have a culture of death in this country. Don’t contribute to it by fighting against those who value all of God’s creation. Again, it doesn’t have to be either/or.”

The same woman went on to say: “but it (the cub of an endangered species dying) is not the end of the world because of it! they have no real meaning. They help with the eco system and what not but it is not a crying shame that another animal kills them or a human in that matter in fact you animal lovers are to blame too…you say ‘OMG an animal is dying by humans’ yet it is your cell phones, waste, and even your fancy houses that are creating the problem….yes save the animals but enjoy the house you live in that was taken from the trees that the animals lived in….very hypocritical. I for one care more about the babies that are being aborted by woman that are being lied to and advised by pro-borts…I counsel most of them and they all say that the decision is not all their own it was advised by someone else.”

Your thoughts?


Featured image of Giant Panda by Gary M. Stolz, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service._

Carolina Tiger Rescue: Saving Wild Cats and Calling for Laws “With Teeth” in the Regulation of the Exotic Pet Trade

Carolina Tiger logoIn the next episode of On the Road with Mac and Molly, I chat with Kathryn Bertok, Curator of Animals at the Carolina Tiger Rescue. The organization, formerly known as the Carnivore Preservation Trust, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit wildlife sanctuary whose mission is saving and protecting wild cats in captivity and in the wild.

LISTEN NOW AT http://www.petliferadio.com/ontheroadep28.html.

Kathryn with Raj
Kathryn with Raj

In this program, Kathryn and I touch on all things tiger, discussing everything from chuffling (tiger speak) to mother-cub interactions to the tiger’s affinity for water (not only for drinking but for bathing). We review how tigers are faring in the wild and what happens to an ecosystem when a top-of-the-food-chain predator is diminished or removed.

We discuss the $15 billion exotic pet trade (only drugs and weapons are bigger moneymakers on the black market) and we expose the use and abuse of exotic animals for the entertainment of human beings. Most heartbreaking of the stories shared by Kathryn is one involving tiger cubs that are used for photo opportunities in petting zoos; once these animals grow out of the cute and cuddly stage (after they’re only about three months of age), they may be euthanized, end up in canned hunts, or be sold as “pets.”

Kathryn and I lament how little there is in the way of laws in the U.S. regulating the sale and purchase of exotic animals. The health and safety of not only the animals but human beings as well are put at increased risk through this lack of oversight.

Just recently, Noah Barthe, 4, and his six-year-old brother Connor were killed (strangled to death) by a 100-pound African rock python after it escaped from an enclosure inside a friend’s apartment in Campbellton, New Brunswick, Canada. Authorities believe the snake escaped from its tank, slithered through a ventilation system and fell through the ceiling into the room where the two boys were sleeping. The snake has been euthanized and the Canadian government is now considering what it should be doing to help ensure something like this never happens again.

The CBC reports that the coroner who presided over a snake death inquest in Ontario two decades ago bewails that nothing was learned from that earlier tragedy. “Dr. David Evans says the inquest called for changes to municipal, provincial and federal rules regarding exotic pets, but none of the jury’s five recommendations was implemented, including the suggestion for an exotic pet registry.” Perhaps now, following these most recent deaths, greater protections will be put into place in Canada. And, perhaps, the United States will follow suit.

In the U.S., you could have a lion or tiger–or a 100-pound python–living next door to you and there may well be no laws in your area requiring your neighbor to make you aware of that fact. (For more information on the U.S. laws regarding exotic pets, see “Saving Aria: Finding Sanctuary at Carolina Tiger Rescue” on this site.)

Aria, shortly after her arrival at the sanctuary
Aria, shortly after her arrival at the sanctuary

Kathryn and I conclude our time together with the story of Aria, a tiger who was confiscated from her “owner” after she was determined to be desperately ill. Carolina Tiger staff traveled down to South Carolina to collect her. She weighed only 200 pounds (a healthy female should weigh closer to 360), was suffering from diarrhea, and had no muscle mass and no fat coverage on her ribs. The staff had difficulty getting a heart rate. Kathryn said, “I have no doubt the man [who’d kept her as a pet] loved this cat and had tried to care for her . . . [Nevertheless] in my fourteen years [with Carolina Tiger] this is by far the worst condition in which I’ve ever seen a rescued animal arrive.”

Aria was placed in thirty-day quarantine at the sanctuary and run through a battery of medical checks. She was started on anti-diarrheal medications, Pepcid, and antibiotics and, as she wasn’t eating, an appetite stimulant. “You can’t force-feed a tiger,” Kathryn noted. “The first day, we weren’t sure she’d survive. Then she started to eat a little and became more active.”

Aria after treatments
Aria on the road to recovery

Bloodwork revealed a pancreatic insufficiency so the staff started feeding her beef pancreas, the enzymes from which worked to break down the food she was eating so it could be digested. The enzymes were powerful enough to eat through the latex gloves of the individual handling the beef pancreas but they were exactly what the tiger needed to jump start her system. Following other medical treatments, Aria is now making a wonderful recovery.

In addition to Aria, the 55-acre Carolina Tiger Rescue has more than 70 animals in its care at the Pittsboro, North Carolina facility. Along with tigers, binturongs, lions, cougars, bobcats, caracals, kinkajous, ocelots and servals have found sanctuary there.

The organization is working toward the day when “wildcats are not owned by individuals as pets; wildcats are not used for entertainment purposes; no trade exists for wildcats or their parts; and all wildcats prosper in sustainable, native habitats.”


To achieve that mission, Carolina Tiger Rescue:

  • rescues wildcats;
  • provides lifelong sanctuary for wildcats;
  • educates the public about the plight of wildcats in captivity and in the wild;
  • conducts non-invasive research to further understand and aid wildcats; and
  • advocates for action to maintain wildcats in sustainable native habitats, or–when that is not a viable option–for the respectful, humane treatment of them in captivity.

I hope you’ll listen to this program and I hope you’ll care enough about the plight of tigers to act on their behalf. There are only 3,200 tigers left in the wild but perhaps as many as 10,000 are kept in captivity in the United States; five thousand of these animals are in Texas. These magnificent cats and other wild animals deserve our respect. Please care. Educate, advocate, volunteer, donate.

Photographs by Carolina Tiger Rescue.


“There is a phoenix inside a midwinter’s bear, creating new self from the ashes of the old.”

Grizzly in Yellowstone
“If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Grizzly in Yellowstone
Photo by Gene Hailson


Mary Ellen Hannibal, in The Spine of the Continent writes: “While other hibernating animals wake up every couple of days to eat, drink, and eliminate, grizzlies don’t. In a process tracked but incompletely understood by science, hibernating grizzlies live off the breakdown of fat, muscle, and organ tissue as a starving animal would, but then in a reversal from the trajectory that would eventually kill that animal, the bear utilizes urea to actually build new protein. As Tom McNamee puts it in The Grizzly Bear, “There is a phoenix inside a midwinter’s bear, creating new self from the ashes of the old.” Living off their own fat, hibernating bears create a unique form of bile that prevents hardening of the arteries or cholesterol gallstones . . .

“My favorite animal in the park is the grizzly, iconic, graceful, and with eyes that seem to know, and what they know is sad.” – Danielle Rohr, Denali Skies Female grizzly eating grass.
“My favorite animal in the park is the grizzly, iconic, graceful, and with eyes that seem to know, and what they know is sad.” – Danielle Rohr, Denali Skies
Female grizzly eating grass.
Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Though predominantly solitary creatures, “the famous maternal solicitude shown by the female for her cubs begins before they are even implanted; a mama grizzly can carry a fertilized egg in her womb for many months, ready at any moment to attach to the uterine wall and begin becoming a bear, which it does not do until the conditions are right. How the bear knows that she has enough body fat to support a pregnancy through hibernation, or how she knows whether there is enough forage available to support her progeny, is a mystery to us. If conditions are right for pregnancy, a bear will wake up in January long enough to deliver her cubs. She’ll go back to sleep, periodically waking to minister to the cubs. For approximately three months, these little ones will not hibernate but live in a half-waking world with their slumbering dam.  Talk about attachment theory. It’s no wonder the mother-offspring bond in bears is so ferocious; they are more or less unified in darkness until the group emerges in spring.”

“Most animals show themselves sparingly. The grizzly bear is six to eight hundred pounds of smugness. It has no need to hide. If it were to be a person, it would laugh loudly in quiet restaurants, boastfully wear the wrong clothes for special occasions, and probably play hockey.” – Craig Childs, The Animals Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild Grizzly Bears. Photo by Servheen Chris, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“If [the grizzly bear] were to be a person, it would laugh loudly in quiet restaurants, boastfully wear the wrong clothes for special occasions, and probably play hockey.” – Craig Childs, The Animals Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild
Photo by Servheen Chris, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
These miracles of nature are at risk. There are many conservation groups trying to better understand grizzlies so to better protect them. Folks are also working to protect and maintain grizzly bear habitats, prey animals and the vegetation needed to supply bears with the extra calories they require to survive hibernation. Still, Defenders of Wildlife reports that: “Once common throughout much of western North America, the grizzly bear (also known as the brown bear) has been reduced to 2% of its historic range in the lower 48 states. A total of roughly 1,600 individuals still survive in five populations. The greatest threat to grizzlies today is conflict with people. Bears are often killed by wildlife officials once they start to frequent residential areas for easy meals of garbage, livestock, pet food and birdseed, or by hunters or hikers who encounter them in the field and shoot out of concern for personal safety rather than use bear spray. Much of the grizzly’s habitat has been lost or degraded as a result of development, road building and energy and mineral exploration. And climate change also poses new challenges to the bears; they are denning later, putting them on the landscape longer in the fall when unintended shootings by hunters are most common.”

A report in the July 22 issue of the Calgary Herald also lamented that: “There are only about 60 grizzlies in Banff National Park, where their biggest threat is getting hit on the transportation corridor. Since 2000, 13 grizzlies were killed on the tracks in the mountain park and another two just outside its boundary. Another eight have died on the Trans-Canada Highway in the same period. Survival in the protected area is considered critical because there are only about 700 grizzly bears throughout Alberta, leading the province to declare the species threatened.”

Listen to Wally Rose’s rendition of The Grizzly Bear Rag at Smithsonian Folkways: http://www.folkways.si.edu/TrackDetails.aspx?itemid=7337

Featured image: Stereoscopic view of a grizzly bear at home in the  wilderness of Yellowstone Park. Published by Underwood and Underwood. Available from the New York Public Library’s Digital Library.

I’ve Finally Started Tweeting

This image by an Ethiopian artist of the biblical figure Ruth is in my collection.
This image by an Ethiopian artist of the biblical figure Ruth is in my collection.

I’ve finally opened a Twitter account. I’ve begun posting there on Christian spirituality, wildlife, wild places, art, travel, photography, companion animals, poetry, literature, soundscapes, habitats, books, writing, politics, social issues and…

You’ll find me under D.F.G. Hailson. I hope you’ll look for me and will connect with me there. Of course, I’ll still be blogging at this address.

Photos by Donna Hailson.