Topsail’s Turtles

9fc7ae_d9c507061d5647d0b866be3c658cfb88 (1)Topsail’s Turtles, Episode 2 of Wild Life! Wild Places!, on Pet Life Radio, is now available for listening. In this program, I take you to North Carolina where I am helping monitor sea turtle activity on Topsail, one of the state’s barrier islands. Topsail is a northern rookery for the threatened species that is the Loggerhead; Green Sea Turtles are found here as well, but in smaller numbers. Because of all the threats–from predation to plastics, marine debris to mechanized fishing—it is estimated that only one in a thousand sea turtle hatchlings will survive a year; only one in 5,000 to 10,000 will survive to maturity.img_1925-2
In this episode, I introduce you to the seven species of sea turtles and explain what happens during incubation and hatching. I also discuss where sea turtles tend to hang out, and I catalogue what threats they face in the wild. Shared in this program as well is the history of the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center through which I received training for service as a beach monitor. By the end of the show, you’ll know about turtle tracks, false crawls, boils, nest sitters and rampers. You’ll also know why the northern rookeries are so crucial to the continuation of sea turtles and you’ll have a list of simple things you can do to help ensure that sea turtles will have a future.
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Featured photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All others by DFG Hailson (http:www.dfghailsonphotography.com.
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Of Ants, Anticipation, Appreciation and Acceptance

It promised to be a great place to visit: a spectacular series of multi-colored cliffs rising 90 feet above the water; springs reputed to offer mineral water cures; a river coursing through that provides a gateway to the Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean; a river that even had an ironclad named for it, the CSS Neuse, a vessel that played a role in Civil War history. Flora and fauna in abundance: more than 420 species of plants; a cypress swamp and Spanish moss; river otter and muskrat swimming along the waterways; white-tailed deer to be seen along the hiking trails.

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We were in the area, up for doing something impromptu, and had an afternoon made for a hike in the woods. From the map before us, a state park called to us: Cliffs of the Neuse.

There were very few moments when one could stop to take a photo without being covered with ants. This was one of those moments.
There were very few moments when one could stop to take a photo without being covered with ants. This was one of those moments.

BUT, BUT, BUT–as I read in blog posts after we returned home–the trails in this park are delights to traverse in the fall, winter and spring but should be avoided in the summer months. Why? Because of the MULTITUDE OF ANTS that hikers encounter along the trails!!

My companions (Jean, Alan, Gene, and an Old English Sheepdog named Molly) and I had never seen swarms like these!! There appeared to be millions of them! It wasn’t too bad initially, as the first few photos in this entry suggest but the further inland we went, the worse it got. You couldn’t stop for even a moment. We used our ball caps to swat ants off of our pant legs and feet. I was in my nearly-always-worn Columbia sandals while my companions were more sensibly shod (remember, this was a spur of the moment turn of the wheel), so I got the worst of it and was bitten several times.

Once we knew what we were facing, we raced along and, when we–at last–reached the parking area, which was relatively insect-free, I picked ants out of our Molly’s pads and swept her body to make sure she was okay. A fellow hiker, who had traversed the trails with a little dog, came upon us and suggested we go to the on-site campground to hose our Molly down. She planned to do the same with her tiny, low-to-the-ground canine as she had ants all over her body.

All that said, I must admit that I am grateful for the day’s experience. The park has a well appointed, inviting visitors’ center that was staffed at the time of our look-see by a warm and friendly woman. The park’s overseers respect the ants and THEIR habitat and do not spray to eliminate their colonies (though I was told by a fellow hiker the parking areas are treated). I can also appreciate why the ants would respond to our presence as they did: they were trying to protect each other and their communities as we stomped through them.IMG_2012

I have but two complaints.

On not a single page of the park brochure and nowhere on the park’s online site did we find any mention of the ants. At no time, during our conversation with the attendant at the visitors’ center, was a warning issued about the ants. This wasn’t fair to the humans and canines visiting the park and it wasn’t fair to the ants.

Our encounter with the tiny park denizens provided a very vivid reminder of our need to respect these fascinating socially-oriented creatures that share this world with us. The ants and we would have benefitted from a heads-up. We would also have benefitted from better-marked trails (the target of my second complaint) that could have led us more directly out of their habitat.

Two of the biggest challenges facing creatures in the wild today are habitat loss and conflicts with humans resulting from that loss. There may well have been other visitors or there may yet be visitors to the park, spending an afternoon as we were, who would complain because the ants hadn’t been eradicated so bipeds and quadrupeds could better enjoy the trails. What’s important to keep in mind here is that, for the six-legged ants, the park is home. It would be disastrous for the trails to treated with pesticides as some folks might demand. Better to tell people when to stay away.

Humans are, regularly, moving into and taking over the habitats of other species and, when the natural denizens are deemed by the interlopers to be nuisances, demands are made for the original inhabitants to be removed post haste. This is ethically and environmentally absurd. It’s long past time we reevaluated the ways in which we view the myriad of species that share this world with us.

“People often ask which animals are ‘good,’ as if it were the most natural thing in the world to judge them by what benefits they provide to humans. Even animal advocates can lapse into this faulty way of thinking. Bats are important, many say, because they perform mosquito control; snakes are valued because they eat rodents. These are indirect services that can help humans, no doubt, but they do not so much justify why people should tolerate and accept these species . . . Tolerance comes through understanding and raised awareness and acceptance of the diversity of life, not from a benefit calculation that reduces animals to the services they provide.” [Wild Neighbors: The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife, p. 148]

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I hope I will have the opportunity to make a return visit to the Cliffs of Neuse State Park but I will only attempt to do so when I can hope to be less of a detriment to the ants.

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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.”

Rajaji
Rajaji

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.

Jellybean
Jellybean

Eugenics and Extropic Transhumanism: “Perfection” at What Cost?

Logo of the Second International Congress of Eugenics, 1921.
Logo of the Second International Congress of Eugenics, 1921.

Today, when we think of eugenics, our thoughts most likely turn to mid-twentieth century Germany and Nazi efforts to create a “pure race” by eliminating those considered unworthy of contributing to the chain of heredity.

What many may not know, however, is that the eugenics movement was well established in the United States before it spread to Germany. In fact, the Rockefeller and Carnegie families helped develop and fund the German eugenics programs including the one in which the notorious Josef Mengele was employed before being assigned to Auschwitz.

While the Nazis force-sterilized some 400,000 individuals deemed to be feeble-minded, degenerate, dissident or, in some other way, unfit to continue the line, beginning in the early 1900s and continuing for decades past World War II, more than 60,000 Americans were sterilized, against their will, as part of a eugenics movement aimed at “improving” the human race by eliminating “defectives” from the gene pool.

The world has never had a problem producing plenty of people who consider themselves more valuable than others based on education, social status, age, race, country of origin, physical and mental abilities, and other factors. “Eugenics,” the term that informs some our discussion of this kind of thinking today, was coined in 1869 by British scientist Sir Francis Galton. The movement, sparked by the concept, was fueled by Social Darwinism, and popularized by publications such as 1910’s Eugenics: The Science of Human Improvement by Better Breeding by C.B. Davenport. As eugenics originated in a time when decency and morality as well as promiscuity and criminality were considered hereditary, two tracks were laid: “positive eugenics,” that encourages the “genetically superior” to breed, and “negative eugenics” that works to prevent the “genetically inferior” from reproducing.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. at his desk, 1921.
Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. at his desk, 1924.

I’ve never recovered from the horror I felt when I read Buck v. Bell (1927) in a Civil Liberties class in college. In the U.S. Supreme Court’s Buck decision, written by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the court ruled that a state statute permitting compulsory sterilization of the “feeble-minded” and “socially inadequate” for the protection and health of the state did not violate the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Etched deeply in my mind is the line that concluded Holmes’ argument: “three generations of imbeciles is enough.” The Buck decision, which tested the validity of a Virginia law allowing eugenical sterilization, was largely seen as an endorsement of the practice and it paved the road for the tens of thousands of operations that were subsequently performed. In my estimation, this SCOTUS decision ranks with Roe v. Wade (1973) and Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) as among the most heinous ever handed down by the court.

In 1924 Carrie Buck—involuntarily institutionalized by the State of Virginia after she was raped and impregnated—challenged the state’s plan to sterilize her. Having already judged her mentally deficient, Virginia wanted to make Buck the first person sterilized under a new law designed to prevent hereditarily “defective” people from reproducing.

In Paul Lombardo’s book, Three Generations, No Imbeciles: Eugenics, the Supreme Court and Buck v. Bell, the author demonstrates that neither Buck nor her mother and daughter were the “imbeciles” condemned in the Holmes opinion. Lombardo insists the cards were stacked against Buck before she even stepped into the courtroom and the state of Virginia had her sterilized shortly after the 1927 decision.

The Buck decision was cited at the Nuremberg trials in defense of Nazi sterilization experiments; it has never been overturned.

Indiana was the first of 32 states that passed laws allowing authorities to order sterilization. Some states limited sterilization to inmates and institutionalized patients but others, including North Carolina, went further, allowing individuals within a community – often social workers – to petition the state to have a person sterilized.

On July 24, North Carolina adopted a budget that includes $10 million to compensate victims who were forced to undergo this procedure. It’s believed that 1,110 men and 6,418 women were sterilized in the state from 1929 to 1974. The amount paid out will depend on how many individuals step forward; it’s estimated the number surviving today is about 2,900. A state task force has been charged with making a recommendation on compensation: $20,000 per person has been suggested.

Elaine Riddick, one of the state’s most vocal victims of forced sterilization, said (in a report published by the BBC), that in 1968 she was raped by a neighbor who had threatened to kill her if she revealed what he had done. “She was 13,” the BBC reports, and “the daughter of violent and abusive parents in the desperately poor country town of Winfall [North Carolina] . . . While she was in the hospital giving birth, the state violated her a second time, she says. A social worker who had deemed her ‘feeble-minded,’ petitioned the state Eugenics Board to have her sterilised. Officials coerced her illiterate grandmother into signing an ‘x’ on an authorisation form. After performing a Caesarean section, doctors sterilised her ‘just like cutting a hog,’ she says. ‘They killed my kids . . . They killed mine before they got to me.’”

Official eugenics programs in the United States ended in 1979 but now The Sacramento Bee is reporting that, from 2006 to 2010, nearly 150 female inmates in California may have been sterilized and without required state approvals.

According to the Bee: “At least 148 women received tubal ligations in violation of prison rules during those five years—and there are perhaps 100 more dating back to the late 1990s . . . Former inmates and prisoner advocates maintain that prison medical staff coerced the women, targeting those deemed likely to return to prison in the future . . . The allegations echo those made nearly a half-century ago, when forced sterilizations of prisoners, the mentally ill and the poor were commonplace in California. [California was a leader in the eugenics movement, responsible for a third of all sterilizations nationwide.] State lawmakers officially banned such practices in 1979.”

The Sacramento Bee reports that the OB-GYN who worked at one of the correctional facilities has denied pressuring anyone. Instead, he insists he: “offered tubal ligations only to pregnant inmates with a history of at least three C-sections” for whom additional pregnancies could pose a danger.

Transhumanism H+ symbol, 2010, by Antonu.
Transhumanism H+ symbol, 2010, by Antonu.

More and more commentators are raising the alarm about the continuing force of eugenics but no discussion of this practice can really be broached today without touching upon the international, interdisciplinary transhumanism movement (H+) that has as its goal the fundamental transformation of human beings beyond their current physical and mental limitations. It is the next step in the drive towards engineering perfection.

In an article by Kevin Roeten that posted today on the Capitol Hill Outsider (http://capitolhilloutsider.com/re-emergence-of-eugenics/), the writer argues that, under Obama’s administration, eugenic methods that breach moral ethics are on the rise. Roeten also cites the number killed because of the Roe v. Wade decision and, in that context quotes Justice Ruth Ginsberg who, in recently stating her belief about abortions, said: “Frankly I had thought that, at the time Roe was decided, there was concern about population growth and particularly growth in populations that we don’t want to have too many of.” And, yes, Roeten asserts, she was directly referring to eugenics.

Geoffrey Miller, on the Edge.org (http://edge.org/responses/q2013), says, “China has been running the world’s largest and most successful eugenics program for more than thirty years, driving China’s ever-faster rise as the global superpower. With the 1995 Maternal and Infant Health Law (known as the Eugenic Law until Western opposition forced a name change), China forbade people carrying heritable mental or physical disorders from marrying, and promoted mass prenatal ultrasound testing for birth defects. Deng [Xiaoping] also encouraged assortative mating through promoting urbanization and higher education, so bright, hard-working young people could meet each other more easily, increasing the proportion of children who would be at the upper extremes of intelligence and conscientiousness.

“Chinese biopower has ancient roots in the concept of ‘yousheng’ (‘good birth’—which has the same literal meaning as ‘eugenics’). For a thousand years, China has been ruled by a cognitive meritocracy selected through the highly competitive imperial exams. The brightest young men became the scholar-officials who ruled the masses, amassed wealth, attracted multiple wives, and had more children. Chinese eugenics will quickly become even more effective, given its massive investment in genomic research on human mental and physical traits. BGI-Shenzhen employs more than 4,000 researchers. It has far more ‘next-generation’ DNA sequencers that anywhere else in the world, and is sequencing more than 50,000 genomes per year.”

Sex-selective abortion is worsening sex ratios in countries such as India and China (where males are preferred to females) and one wonders how many females are not being brought to term in the U.S. because parents in this country, as well, would prefer to have males. In May of this year, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it would be filing suit against Arizona’s law (passed in 2011) that bans abortions based on gender preference or race. The Arizona law is the only state law in the nation that bans race-based abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks U.S. abortion laws. Three other states, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, ban sex-based abortions. North Dakota and Kansas enacted sex-based abortion bans this year, but they’re not yet in force. The North Dakota law also bans abortions because the fetus has a birth defect. Today, it is estimated that 91-93 percent of pregnancies in Europe with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome are terminated; in the U.S., termination rates have been estimated at between 87 to 95 percent.

USA Today’s editorial board voiced their objection to Texas’ new anti-abortion law arguing that it will make it difficult for people to abort babies with Down Syndrome. “While some genetic conditions, such as Down syndrome, can be detected with amniocentesis at 16 to 22 weeks, even then it can take two weeks to get results,” they write. 
”Add specialists, research and time to reflect, and a 20-week ban forces women and couples to make heart-rending decisions against a ticking clock.” Never mind that the child in the womb can feel pain at this age and, as Roeten notes, are killed with the most barbaric of methods: “instruments/substances for dismemberment, disembowelment, decapitation, and poisoning and/or burning a developing baby to death.”

This, in my opinion, is institutionalized murder and it brings to my mind the quote from George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal that others.” The privileged, the powerful, the elite “some” have used the tools of sterilization and abortion to eliminate those they deem unworthy of life. Now the privileged, the powerful, the elite “some” have the tools to engineer what they believe will be a perfect human race. Science fiction often presages science fact and movies like Gattaca and Elysium may be providing us with previews of the dystopian worlds the powerful may impose upon the not so powerful underclasses.

A vision of the Posthuman. The Zodiac Attack, handmade scissor and glue collage, 2009, by Joana Coccarelli.
A vision of the Posthuman. The Zodiac Attack, handmade scissor and glue collage, 2009, by Joana Coccarelli.

What is perfection? What would constitute a perfect life? A perfect person? A perfect society? A perfect world?

Would we be better off with recalibrated pleasure centers designed to ensure lifelong emotional “well-being”? Would personality pills instill in our spirits love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Would uploading our minds into machines—a process that is predicated on the belief that there is no immaterial soul (we are only our biological wiring)—make us happy?

It’s hard to argue against gene therapy that could eliminate disease, replacing “bad genes” with “good genes,” and I imagine there are loads of folks who would love to have their inner RNA codes reset for slimness and longevity. People are already benefiting from cybernetics with cyborg upgrades enhancing hearing and vision. And, I have to admit, it might be quite a hoot to have retractable wings. But what will it take to reach the transhumanist ideal of perfection? What will it cost us?

Religion is viewed by some transhumanist philosophers as entropic, dangerous, irrational, and a barrier to progress. Max More, for example, specifically speaks of the “Christian notion of salvation by the act of Jesus, rather than through our own restitution for wrongs and our own self-transformation” as resulting in “moral hazard.” He sees an “urgency” in replacing religions with other types of “meaning-fostering” systems. His choice: the “dynamic optimism” of “extropic transhumanism.”

“God,” he concludes, “was a primitive notion invented by primitive people, people only just beginning to step out of ignorance and unconsciousness. God was an oppressive concept, a more powerful being than we, but made in the image of our crude self-conceptions. Our own process of endless expansion into higher forms should and will replace this religious idea. As extropians pursuing and promoting transcendent expansion we are the vanguard of evolution. Humanity is a temporary stage along the evolutionary pathway. We are not the zenith of nature’s development. It is time for us to consciously take charge of ourselves and to accelerate our progress. No more gods, no more faith, no more timid holding back. Let us blast out of our old forms, our ignorance, our weakness, and our mortality. The future is ours.”

Again, I must say I do wonder how extropians might pursue their ideal. How might they be working, even now, to remove that which they deem impediments  to their ideal? Will they, in the pursuit of “perfection”—in the pursuit of racial purity, in the drive to drive out religion—attempt to exterminate those whose genetic stock or whose faith in the Other does not fit their ne plus ultra? Your thoughts?

READ MORE:

Philanthropy Roundtable – Philanthropy’s Shame: http://www.philanthropyroundtable.org/site/print/philanthropys_shame

BBC News – Sterilisation: North Carolina grapples with legacy: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13700490

The Sacramento Bee – Female inmates sterilized in California prison without approval: http://www.sacbee.com/2013/07/07/5549696/female-inmates-sterilized-in-california.html

Transhumanism: Towards a Futurist Philosophy: http://www.maxmore.com/transhum.htm

Womble and Luna at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher

The juvenile green sea turtle to be released to the wild this week. Photo by the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
The juvenile green sea turtle released to the wild

On May 7, Park Ranger Katharine Womble found a stranded and unresponsive juvenile sea turtle on a beach near the Fort Fisher Recreation Area. After an initial assessment by the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission Sea Turtle Program Assistant, the animal was delivered to the North Carolina Aquarium for rehabilitation.

Its condition upon arrival was so grave, it couldn’t be kept in water as it couldn’t lift its head; caregivers worried that it might drown. Aquarium staff decided to bring the animal to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Surf City but discovered the facility was too jam-packed at the time to take even one more turtle.

So…the aquarium staff and a veterinary team from North Carolina State University began administering treatments for dehydration, vitamin deficiencies and infection. As the turtle started to evidence improvement, the staff turned its attention to healing the animal’s shell that had been compromised by ulcers and erosion.

After more than two months of continual care, veterinarians declared the 16 pound, 15 inch turtle healthy enough for release.

“This animal surprised us,” said Aquarium Curator Hap Fatzinger. “Its prognosis was very poor for several weeks. Our staff delivered the best care possible and we are thrilled to be returning a healthy animal back to its natural habitat.”

The sea turtle was given the name “Womble” and was assisted in its return to the ocean on July 18 by staff members who cared for the animal.

The aquarium’s Public Relations Coordinator, Robin Nalepa, said the facility has released other animals back into their natural habitats and such events are always a cause for great celebration.

Luna is one of only 50 albino alligators known to exist in the world.
Luna is one of only 50 albino alligators known to exist in the world.

One animal, in the aquarium’s care, that will not be released to her natural habitat is Luna, a seven-year-old albino alligator. Only 50 of these creatures are known to exist anywhere in the world. The Georgia Aquarium, which is home to two of these animals, reports that: “These ‘ghosts of the swamp’ have an estimated survival rate of only 24 hours in the wild due to their sensitivity to direct UV radiation and blatant inability to blend in because of their lack of camouflage coloration . . . The species American alligator [Alligator mississippiensis is estimated to be] more than 150 million years old and is the largest reptile in North America, growing up to 15 feet in length and weighing 1,000 pounds. It was first listed as an endangered species in 1967 due to loss of habitat and market hunting. A combined effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies in the South, and the creation of large, commercial alligator farms saved these unique animals. In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service pronounced the American alligator fully recovered and consequently removed the animal from the list of endangered species.”

Luna
Luna

Luna, whose name was chosen by staff after a naming contest that generated nearly 1,500 responses, came from a nest in Louisiana. From there, she was sent to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida. In February of 2009, she made the trip up to the North Carolina Aquarium. Next fall, Nalepa noted, the staff expect to move her from the enclosure she now occupies in the Cape Fear Conservatory to an exhibit with other of the facility’s American alligators. Her current home will be developed into a new exhibit featuring bald eagles.

Little ones clustered around the tank containing these clown fish excitedly pointed out "Nemo" and "Marlin."
Little ones, clustered around the tank containing these clown fish, excitedly pointed and shouted: “It’s Nemo and his Dad!”

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher in Kure Beach is one of three such facilities in the state (the others are at Roanoke Island and Pine Knoll Shores). All were started in the 1980s as marine resource centers and all were renovated and reopened as aquariums in the 2000s. The Fort Fisher site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week (save for some holidays). For more information, visit http://www.ncaquariums.com/fort-fisher.

Image of the juvenile green sea turtle by the North Carolina Aquarium. All other photographs by Donna Hailson.

Saving Aria: Finding Sanctuary at the Carolina Tiger Rescue

Aria
Aria

The call came in on a Monday.

Animal Control folks in Orangeburg, South Carolina had been alerted  – via an anonymous tip – that a female tiger was in distress. They were requesting assistance in the confiscation of the big cat from a private owner in their community.

Kathryn Bertok, Curator of Animals at the Carolina Tiger Rescue in Pittsboro, North Carolina, told the caller a team could be on site for pick-up as early as Wednesday. In the interim, a local veterinarian was summoned to the home. The animal was found to be emaciated and dehydrated. She was listless, underweight and vomiting.

A seizure warrant was issued and Kathryn, along with Staff Veterinarian Dr. Angela Lassiter and two others from the Carolina Tiger Rescue, made the four and a half hour trip down to the tiny town of Orangeburg.

The man who owned the tiger and his family were initially very upset and angry about the confiscation but, Kathryn said, they ended up being fairly reasonable when made to understand extraordinary measures would have to be taken to save the tiger.

The animal was darted and loaded into a crate in the rescue unit’s box truck.

Kathryn recalled: “She weighed only 200 pounds (a healthy female should weigh closer to 360), was suffering from diarrhea, had no muscle mass and no fat coverage on her ribs. You could feel every rib – it was like running your fingers over fingers – and we had difficulty getting a heart rate. I have no doubt the man loved this cat and had tried to care for her . . . [Nevertheless] in my fourteen years [with the Carolina Tiger Rescue] this is by far the worst condition in which I’ve ever seen a rescued animal arrive.”

Four and a half hours later, the tiger was in Pittsboro where she was placed in thirty-day quarantine 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.”

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.

The Carolina Tiger Rescue staff renamed the big cat Aria as the facility already had another animal with the tiger’s prior name. Aria is now doing very well; she’s gained weight and she’s regained muscle mass. She also chuffling (speaking “Tiger”). The family will be coming to visit her this week.

Kathryn reiterated, “I have no doubt they love this tiger; they had her for ten years. But, one of the many issues in private ownership of the big cats is that you have responsibility for providing adequate veterinary care. They said they hadn’t been able to get a vet out to look at her and the tiger was starving to death no matter how much food she was getting.”

I was astonished to learn that seven states –  Alabama, Idaho, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, and South Carolina – have no license or permit requirements regulating ownership of exotic animals beyond entry permits or veterinary certificates. Two states – West Virginia and Wisconsin – have no state laws at all governing exotic animal ownership.

Only twenty states have a ban on the private ownership of large cats, wolves, bears, reptiles, and most non-human primates: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wyoming. Other states have either partial bans of certain species or require a license and permit. It should be noted, however, that some counties and municipalities within all of these may have established their own local laws regarding exotic animals.

That said, in the majority of states in the US, you could have a big cat or bear living – legally – next door to you and be completely unaware of the fact until the animal got loose and/or injured someone.

While it is estimated that little more than 3,000 tigers remain in the wild, upwards of 12,000 are kept in captivity in the US with 5,000 of these in the state of Texas. Most of these are hybrids, the result of mating between different subspecies or even with lions.

According to an article in Southwest magazine, white tiger cubs go for $5,000 and many of these are sold to small businesses that travel around the country displaying them as props and charging tourists to take pictures with them. Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, told Southwest: “Traveling petting zoos that feature baby lions and tigers are a huge source of exotic animals. Since the animals are only suitable for petting between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks, the operators of these attractions must keep breeding them to stay in business. When they can’t use them anymore, they become this $10,000 a year liability. They will give them away, sell them, no paperwork. Then (the buyers) call us and say, ‘I can’t deal with this carnivore.’”

The 55-acre Carolina Tiger Rescue has more than 70 animals in its care. 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.”

In working toward these goals, “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; 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.”

My interview with Kathryn Bertok about the Carolina Tiger Rescue and the exotic pet trade will soon air on my program, On the Road with Mac and Molly, on Pet Life Radio (http://www.petliferadio.com/ontheroad.html. A chapter in my book, Rubber Hobos, will also be centered on the Carolina Tiger Rescue facility, habitat concerns, the exotic pet trade, conservation education, and rescue efforts.

Regular updates on Aria’s condition will be posted on Carolina Tiger’s Facebook page. While the sanctuary had some funds remaining from prior rescues, it is expected that Aria’s medical care will exceed the balance. If Aria survives, all funds raised in excess of her medical care will cover the cost of outfitting her new habitat with a water tub, tiger toys, and enriching items. Any funds raised above the cost of this rescue will be put toward future rescues.

Donations toward Aria’s care may be made online athttp://www.CarolinaTigerRescue.org. Checks may also be mailed to Carolina Tiger Rescue, 1940 Hanks Chapel Road, Pittsboro, N.C. 27312. Designate your gift to “Bring Them Home” for this rescue, or leave the gift undesignated for the care of all of the animals at Carolina Tiger Rescue. For more information, call 919-542-4684 or visithttp://www.CarolinaTigerRescue.org.

You can tour the facility with a guide who will take you on a half-mile walk to meet some of the world’s most endangered species. You’ll hear the rescue stories that brought the animals to the Carolina Tiger Rescue and the issues that their kind face in the wild. The tour will last about 1 1/2 to 2 hours depending on the group’s involvement. Twilight tours are also offered seasonally (April-October) on Saturday and Sunday evenings at sunset. These special walks are during the most active part of the predators’ days. All tours are rain or shine.

The featured image and the two photographs accompanying the article by the Carolina Tiger Rescue. All photos in the following gallery by Donna Hailson.