Category Archives: Natural Resources

The Village of the Elephants Violated by Rebels

Dzanga-Ndoki National Park located in the Central African Republic is a United Nations backed World Heritage Site.  The park is known for both forest elephants and low-land gorillas.  A large clearing with a mineral water lake called Dzanga Bai, or Village of Elephants, drew between 50 and 200 elephants per day.

Dzanga Bai has been a particularly wonderful place to study these elephants since they come there regularly to drink and play in the water.  Andrea Turkalo, a member of the Elephant Listening Program, has studied the elephant that come to Dzanga Bai for 18 years.  She has identified 3,000 individuals and many family groups.

Photo by Coke Smith

Photo by Coke Smith

Photo Courtesy of Coke Smith

Photo Courtesy of Coke Smith

It is not certain whether or not the forest elephant is a subspecies of the African elephant or a separate species.  There are some significant differences.  For instance, the forest elephant has a longer, narrower jaw, straight tusks, and more toes on its front (5 vs. 4) and back (4 vs. 3) feet.  Forest elephants come in different colors.  Yes, not just grey, but also red, brown, calico, and most impressive a magnificent shade of bright gold.  Unfortunately for forest elephants, their straight, pink tinged tusks are harder than that of other elephants; and so are in greater demand by poachers.

The Central African Republic has been in turmoil since December 2012.  In March of this year, the Seleka Rebel Coalition overthrew the government and took control, but has made no effort to do any sort of peacekeeping.  More than 37,000 people have fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, others to Chad and Cameroon.

The offices of the World Wildlife Fund have been looted so often since March of this that they have removed their personnel from the park.  South Africa has withdrawn 200 of the 600 soldiers it had supplied for protecting the park.  The defense minister indicated that the troops were not prepared to face poachers armed with mortars and state of the art Kalashnikov assault rifles.  There is grave concern for the 3,400 forest elephants that live in the park, since poaching has become rampant.  The number of elephants found in the park has declined 62% in the last ten years.

Heavily armed gunmen, who claimed to be members of the Seleka Rebel Coalition, entered the park and on May 9, 2013, and used scientific observation platforms to kill at least 26 elephants including four calves.  They then hacked off the tusks and left the park.  People from nearby villages salvaged the meat from the carcasses and it is being sold openly in local markets.  No elephants have returned to the site since the massacre.

The demand for ivory in Thailand and China, where trading of ivory is legal, is thought to be among the reasons for the increased poaching that has occurred since March, but the lack of security in the park also provides the poachers with unique opportunities to slaughter the animals.  The Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, has promised to change the laws concerning the trade of ivory within her country; China has also committed to banning the sale of ivory.  Neither country has yet done so.

Today there are no elephants in the Elephant Village.  No elephants come for water.  There are no elephants to study.  Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, World Heritage Site, has been desecrated.



Filed under Elephants, endangered species, Environment, Massacre, Natural Resources

Fish as Tsunami Debris

Have you forgotten all about the tsunami that devastated Japan in 2011?  Then you don’t live on the coast of Oregon or Washington!  Amazing things continue to show up on the beaches.

(Courtesy of Allen Pleus, WDFW)

(Courtesy of Allen Pleus, WDFW)

(Courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

(Courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

At the end of March 2013, an 18-foot (5.5 meter) skiff washed ashore.  Nothing unusual aboutthat, lots of boats have landed on the beaches of the west coast. This particular boat however, contained the equivalent of a 30 gallon fish tank (a bait box) with a  flourishing ecosystem.  The box contained seaweed, a sea cucumber, algae, sea worms, barnacles, blue mussels, crabs, scallops, and most amazing of all 5 Beakfish. 

This is the first time a vertebrate has been found it the debris, and they sent scientists scurrying to once again revise their estimates of what might wash ashore. Immediately after the tsunami scientists speculated that no species could survive the trip across the ocean.  When the two large docks landed, one each in Oregon and Washington, it was obvious that many could and did survive.  However scientist thought that only thinks that were at least partially submerged before the tsunami would have life attached to them.  The debris that has washed in shows that larva found in the water will attach to anything.                                                                

More debris than ever seems to be washing up.  Since early February at least one boat per week has been found. Most of the species that have been attached to things have been benign. However some have the potential to disrupt our coastal environment.  Ship worms if they became established would  harm wooden docks and possibly even the coastal forest.  Wakame, an aggressively invasive of seaweed, has turned up on several occasions, and the beautiful purple and cream



North Pacific Sea Star has also been found.  The North Pacific Sea Star is on the 100 of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species list. The diet of this star includes nearly anything it finds.  It is especially problematic to mariculture (farming of ocean life) such as the oyster beds in Oregon and Washington.

Personal and culturally important items are included in the debris as well.  Balls of various types, some of which have actually been returned to their owners, bicycles, household items, toiletries, and other everyday items appear in the debris.  One item that was returned to its owner was a buoy that was part of a restaurant sign.  The restaurant and its owner’s home were both destroyed.  She was delighted to have the buoy and hopes to give it a prominent place in her new restaurant when it is built.
(Courtesy Oregon State Parks and Recreation)

(Courtesy Oregon State Parks and Recreation)

Recently pieces of what appear to be torii, the gate found at the entrance of Shinto Shrines and some Buddhist  temples in Japan, have been found.  The Consular Office of Japan in Portland has been consulted about the disposition of these pieces, since they are part of religious objects.of ocean life) such as the oyster beds in Oregon and Washington.

It remains to be seen how long the various types of debris will continue to drift ashore.  If any invasive species manage to take hold along the Pacific Coast of the U.S. and Canada, we won’t know until sometime in the future.  For now all that can be done is to keep watch and wait.



Filed under Beakfish, Environment, Natural Resources, Tsunami

A Cuddly Rhinoceros

When people think of rhinoceroses the word cuddly rarely comes to mind.  With only five remaining types of rhinoceroses remaining and most of them are endangered, we need to rethink our image of them.

Rhinoceroses can be dangerous.  Chantal Beyer from Johannesburg, South Africa, was gored recently after having her picture taken with a wild rhino.  The rhinoceros’ horn punctured her lung and broke several ribs.  These huge creatures are neither slow nor harmless and should be treated with respect.

There are two types of rhinoceroses in Africa: the Black and the White Rhinoceroses.  In Asia there are three types the Indian, the Javan, and the Sumatran Rhinoceroses.  All five types of rhinoceroses are gigantic in comparison to humans.  The smallest type of rhinoceros is the Sumatran, weighing 1,500 pounds and about 4 feet tall to the top of its shoulder.  There were 275 Sumatran rhinoceroses remaining as of the December 2012.

The largest type of rhinoceros is the White rhinoceros (below at the Wilds in Cumberland, OH), which isn’t white, and in fact, can be darker that the so-called Black rhinoceros.  The White Rhinoceros is approximately 6 feet at the shoulder White rhinoand weighs about 7,700 pounds.  Until recently there were two groups of White rhinoceroses in Africa, one in the north, and one in the south.  The one in the south is the most numerous with approximately 16,000 individuals.  The group in the north may be extinct.  No individuals have been wild since 2008.

The Black Rhinoceros is much smaller than their White cousins, weighing only 3,500 pounds and just over five feet tall at the top of the shoulder.  Once four subspecies of Black Rhinoceroses roamed Africa: the South-central group, South-western group, East African, and the West African.  The West African group was proclaimed to be extinct in 2011.

The Javan Rhinoceros is the most reclusive.  It prefers forests and swamps as its home.  There was a time when this rhinoceros roamed throughout India, Burma, the Malaysia Peninsula, and Sumatra.  Most recently it was found in Java and Vietnam, but the last one in Vietnam was killed in 2010.  There are approximately 60 left on a preserve in Java.

The Indian Rhinoceros (pictured at right at the Warsaw Zoo in Poland) once wandered throughout Asia, now it is confined to the base of the Himalayas, in Nepal and North Eastern India.  This rhinoceros is nearly as large as theIndian Rhino African White Rhinoceros, weighing 7,100 pounds and nearly 6 and one half feet tall at the top of its shoulder.

The different types of rhinoceroses differ from each in the shape of their heads, the number of horns they have, their skin appearance and the amount of hair they have.  Both of the African rhinoceroses have two horns, the larger of which is in front.  They both have smooth skin and very little hair.  Their heads however differ greatly with the White Rhinoceros having a broad head while the Black Rhinoceros has a smaller head with lips reminiscent of the tip of an elephant’s trunk.

Of the Asian rhinoceroses only the Sumatran Rhinoceros has two horns.  The other two have a single horn.  The Javan and Indian Rhinoceroses have huge folds of skin that give them an armored appearance and very little hair.  The Sumatran also has skin folds, but they are much less distinctive.  The Sumatran has the most hair of all rhinoceroses.

Rhinoceroses have few natural predators.  Large cats and crocodiles are sometimes able to take a young rhinoceros, but the females are vicious when protecting their young so there is a great deal of risk in trying to take one.

Man is the cause of the decline of the rhinoceros.  Poachers hunt them for the horns on their heads, which are different from other animal horns as they have no bone but are solid keratin (below is a photo of a Tibetan monk holding a rhino horn taken in 1938.).  Poachers kill the animal, cut off the horn, and leave the rest of the animal behind to decay. Monk with Horn The horns are in great demand as an ingredient in some traditional Asian medicines to reduce of fevers not as an aphrodisiac as is widely believed.  In Vietnam the price of rhino horn is reportedly up to $40,000 per kilogram.  In the Middle East, the horns are carved to make beautiful decorative dagger handles.  These daggers are given to 12 year-old boys in Yemen and other countries as a symbol of manhood.

The Chinese government removed rhinoceros horn from the Chinese medicine pharmacopoeia in 1993.  The British Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine denounced the use of rhinoceros horn as a medicine in 2011.  A growing number of traditional Chinese scholars support giving up the use of rhinoceros horn.  Governments are working to reduce the amount of poaching, but the number of rhinoceros killed each year is on the increase.  In South African preserves 333 rhinoceroses were found dead in 2010, 448 were found in 2011, and as of December 21, 2012, 633 rhinoceroses had been killed.  The fate of the rhinoceroses in the wild is headed toward extinction.  It is difficult to protect them from poachers even in parks.

Zoos around the world have joined to develop a Global Captive Action Plan (GCAP) for the long-term survival of rhinoceroses.  Meticulous records are being kept of the lineage of the rhinos born in captivity in an effort to maintain genetic diversity.  A group of at least 20 individuals is considered to be the minimum required for a viable population.  In order for a group to be considered wild they must have enough space in a natural rhino habitat to survive without human intervention.

With continued effort, it is possible that some species of rhinoceroses will survive.  With modern medicines being far more effective than rhino horn at reducing fevers, perhaps demand will drop and poaching won’t be as profitable.  Until that happens, rhinoceroses are in danger of disappearing forever.



February 18, 2013 · 3:11 pm

Asian Elephant Conservation

Asian elephants are an endangered species.  In the past elephants ranged from Iran to China.  Now they are only found is pockets in 13 Asian countries.  Their numbers have dwindled substantially in the past 30 years due to loss

elephantof habitat, poaching, and conflicts with humans.

Dozens of organizations have been established to find a solution to the issues that contribute to the decline of the wonderful animals.  Loss of their ability to move freely over their traditional territory is part of the problem.  Human populations have grown and people have modernized.  Fences, villages, and farmland block their way.  Elephants ranged through a large variety of habitats – grasslands, forests, and scrublands.  They lived in areas from sea level to over 9,000 feet.  In the eastern Himalaya elephants still make their ways to these heights in summer.

Being herbivores, an elephant’s diet includes leaves, stems, and bark of trees, fruits, and grasses.  They are quite willing to eat a farmer’s crop or the flowers in a garden.  This causes conflicts between humans and elephants.  These conflicts are often deadly.  Roughly 400 people are killed each year by elephants in India alone.  An unknown number of elephants are killed and maimed.

Frustrated farmers are increasingly willing to cooperate with poachers to cut down the elephant population and preserve their crops. Although selling or importing Asian elephant ivory has been banned since 1976, demand is still high.  In July 2011, an antique dealer in Philadelphia was arrested for importing nearly 2,000 pounds of Asian elephant ivory between 2003 and 2009.

Conservation efforts exist not only in Asia, but here in North America as well.  In 1985, a plan was developed to foster the growth of a genetically diverse population of elephants in zoos, making it unnecessary to obtain them from wild groups.  The zoo in Portland, Oregon has been a leader in this effort.  Twenty-seven elephants have been born at the Oregon Zoo since 1962.  All but one of the current herd was born in Portland.

Chendra was involved in a conflict between humans and elephants on a palm oil plantation in Borneo when she was very young.  One of her front legs was injured and her left eye was blinded.  Her blindness and her age meant that she could not be relocated into the wild.  She came to the Oregon Zoo in 1999.

There has been a lot of excitement in the Portland area recently, ever since Rose-Tu’s hormone levels dropped and we knew she was about to deliver her calf.  A healthy active female elephant was added to the family on November 30, 2012.  She weighed in at 300 ponds, whereas a calf born in the wild weighs about 220 pounds at birth.  She will live a long full life and will never encounter irate farmers, poachers, or lack of food.  Hopefully someday she will become a mother herself.

It is estimated that there are less than 44,000 Asia elephants in the Asian countries where they still exist, including wild and domesticated.  There are approximately 20,000 Asian elephants in zoos around the world.  Conservation efforts are slowing the decline in their numbers, but Asian elephants remain in danger of extinction.

Photo courtesy of



Filed under Conservation, Elephants, Natural Resources

Japanese Tsunami 18 Months Later

Many people around the world have forgotten about the tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan in March of 2011.  The people of Japan and the people who live along the coast of North America are not among them.

The people of Japan remain overwhelmed by the enormity of their loss.  Whole villages were washed away.  Nearly 20,000 people are believed to have died during the tsunami.  Hundreds of families lost everything they owned.  Many of them are still living in one room temporary housing provided by the Japanese government.  Electricity is scarce.  Government buildings turned up their thermostats during the sweltering Japanese summer to 85 degrees, and asked business and homes to do the same.  Of the 50 nuclear reactors functioning at the time of what the Japanese refer to as Tohoku Earthquake; only two are still in operation.  The people demanded that they be closed after it turned out that reactor owners and the government had played down the severity of the disaster.  There is speculation that when the last two are shut down for maintenance in the spring of 2013, they may not go back online.

So far, most of what has arrived on Oregon’s shore is debris, unrecognizable.  However to the Japanese who are grieving, each object is precious.  It might have belonged to a lost loved one.  Anything that can be identified is a treasure.  KIRO 7 Eyewitness News reporter Gary Horcher, spoke to some people he met at a shrine for the 74 children lost at an elementary school in Ishinomaki City.  They urged him to tell the American people that the things washing up on the beach are not garbage; they were someone’s personal belonging and should be treated with respect.

The Japanese people feel a responsibility for the debris that is floating toward the Pacific Coast of North America.  The Japanese Government has promised $6 million to the U.S. and Canada to help cover the cost of the cleanup.  In October 2012, a film crew from Japan visited the Oregon Coast and filmed portions of a documentary about how the tsunami debris is affecting the lives of people on the West Coast.  The documentary will discuss how the cleanup is being done, show volunteers cleaning a beach, talk about ship safety in regard to large pieces of debris, and explain the dangers to the environment of the coast from invasive species.  The documentary will be shown on Japanese television in November.  The Japanese people are very concerned that their problem has become the problem of others.

The people on the West Coast of North America hold no animosity toward the Japanese.  Natural disasters are not the responsibility of the country where they occur.  S.O.L.V. (Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism) is coordinating volunteer efforts to keep the beaches clean of debris.  S.O.L.V. along with Surfrider Foundation and other volunteer groups have worked 21 weekends.  One weekend in September, volunteers from youths to senior citizens and coastal residents and inlanders removed a total of 51,600 pounds of debris.

Most of the debris is barely recognizable, but a few items have reached the beach in pristine condition.  Items such as a football, a volleyball, (the owners were identified by the names on the balls) a Harley Davidson motorcycle (tracked down by its license plate number), and a few other things have arrived in good condition and been returned to their owners.  A fishing vessel, that arrived at an island off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, has not been claimed although it appears to be in good condition.

Volunteers are asked to call 211 if they find an item that can be identified or has monetary value.  They are also cautioned to stay away from hazardous items such as oil, gas and chemical containers, and call the same number so authorities can remove them safely.

It will be years before all the debris reaches the shores of western North America.  The Japanese are trying to rebuild their lives.  The Americans and Canadians who live along the coast are working to minimize the damage to the ecosystems along the shore.  We may never forget.



Filed under Environment, Natural Resources, Tsunami, Volunteer

Oregon Wineries Go Green – Part II

The first part of this article explained most of the certifications and criteria that make Oregon wines green.  This article is about what wineries do to earn these certifications.

As the types of certifications grew in number, what they stood for became increasingly confusing to consumers.  The Oregon Wine Board, in an effort to make it easier for consumers who wanted to buy green wines to do so, developed Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine so consumers only need to look for only one symbol.

This symbol means that both the vineyard where the grapes were grown and the winery where the wine was made have been certified sustainable.

Currently the following wineries/vineyards have been certified:

A to Z Wineworks / REX HILL Vineyards

Adelsheim Vineyard

Amity Vineyards

Anam Cara Cellars

Anne Amie Vineyards

Argyle Winery

Bethel Heights Vineyard

Carabella Vineyard


Cristom Vineyards

Dobbes Family Estate

Domaine Drouhin Oregon

Faith, Hope and Charity Vineyard

King Estate Winery

Montinore Estate

Panther Creek Cellars

Patton Valley Vineyard

Penner-Ash Wine Cellars

Ponzi Vineyards

Sokol Blosser Winery

Soter Vineyards

Stoller Vineyards

Three Angels Wine Cellar, LLC

Torii Mor Winery

WillaKenzie Estate

Willamette Valley Vineyards

Wooldridge Creek Winery

Youngberg Hill Vineyards & Inn

Zenith Vineyard

In addition to these there are many others that have one or more of the individual certifications.  Seventeen wineries have completed the Carbon Neutral Challenge process to reduce their carbon footprint to zero.

As of 2010, there were 848 vineyard and 418 wineries in Oregon.  The National Agricultural Statistics Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, indicated in its 2011 Report that 17,500 acres of grapes from 72 grape varieties were harvested in Oregon.  This is an enormous amount of land, all efforts made to reduce the impact winemaking has on the environment on this scale can’t help having an impact.

Sokol Blosser, one of Oregon’s oldest vineyards/wineries founded in 1971, was the first in the U.S. to receive Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification for its gravity-flow winemaking techniques, energy-efficient heating and cooling, and waste-water reclamation to reduce negative environmental impact.  Sokol Blosser is also certified organic by Oregon Tilth.

Stoller Vineyards is the first LEED Gold Certified vineyard with its amazing gravity-flow winemaking techniques; energy-efficient heating and cooling, and waste-water reclamation to reduce negative environmental impact.

King Estate winery has more solar panels than any other winery with 4,000 panels on just four acres.  They produce enough energy to run the winery and produce enough extra to power 100 homes.

Soter Vineyards, one of the wineries to complete the Carbon Neutral Challenge, has increased recycling and composting; installed solar panels and a more efficient cooling system for fermentation tanks; reduced weight of the wine bottles by 50%; and retrofitted pumping systems with energy-efficient motor as a result of its participation in that program.

Willamette Valley Vineyards was the first winery in the world to use cork certified through the Rainforest Alliance to Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standard.  From its beginning Willamette Valley Vineyards has managed the vineyard to control runoff and erosion.  One of its more unique features it that it gives its employees a gallonage stipend of biofuel to use in the cars they use to commute.

The few individual wineries mentioned here are far from the only ones making meaningful contribution to the environment and their communities.  Some on the interesting things being done include:

Using recycled glass and recycled paper products for their packaging materials

Cleaning and drying grape seeds, stems, and skins to use as feed for cattle or as compost

Providing an organic garden for employees and other employee benefits.

Using native flowers as cover crops to attract pollinators

Offering a 10 cent refund for bottles returned for the winery

Oregon’s wineries have become green and are passionate about it.  They encourage each other to try new things and adopt new practices.  With its 15 approved winegrowing regions, Oregon is likely to be a favored place for growing grapes with an eye toward being kind to our Mother Earth for years to come.


1 Comment

Filed under Agriculture, Environment, Natural Resources

Care of the World’s Resources

Whether or not you are a religious person, I hope that we can all agree that we need to take care of the of the world’s resources.  We should use them in a sustainable way so they will be available for future generations.

Human history is strewn with examples of what happens when we forget that.  From passenger pigeons to dodo birds and American ginseng to New Zealand mistletoe, humans continue to overuse plants and animals until they are gone.  The knowledge that some of wild plants should always we left to ensure further plants is disregarded.  The short-term economic value of plants and animals seems to override common sense.

In the Pacific Northwest currently there is a situation that illustrates how our priorities get confused.  For over one hundred years people have been aware that salmon numbers were in decline.  Fish ladders were built to help them go upstream to spawn, and many other measures have been undertaken to ensure their survival.  That is great up to a point.

The next step was to begin taking action against the creatures that are the natural predators of salmon.  Sea lions that go to the Columbia River to eat salmon are harassed or captured and taken elsewhere.  If one becomes a repeat offender the Federal government has given the states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho permission to kill up to 92 sea lions a year through 2016.  Beginning in 2002, the Federal government has been keeping track at Bonneville; fishermen take approximately 37,000 salmon per year, sea lions about 3,200.

This summer (2012) the Army Corps of Engineers initiated a program to control the numbers of Double-crested cormorants.  This is a little tricky since they are a protected species.  Flashing green lights were used to try to keep the birds away from the salmon smolts; however the birds became accustomed to them and returned to eating salmon.  Next an eight foot high fence was built cutting off more than half the birds’ nesting area. It is estimated that the cormorants eat about 22.6 million juvenile salmon per year.

Power companies in the Pacific Northwest spend about 30% of wholesale rates they charge lessoning the impact of their operations on salmon and wildlife.  It is estimated that $1 billion is spent each year to protect salmon.  People have begun demanding that the Federal government take action to control the birds.  Remembering that cormorants are a protected species, the state of Oregon has requested that we be able to destroy cormorant eggs and kill adult birds.

Officials are also looking at ways to control protected Caspian terns.  Even though the terns did not manage to fledge a single nestling this year, plans are being developed to reduce the population of terns to one-third of the current population.  It is estimated that terns eat 4.8 million smolts per year.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to be made to protect the endangered birds.  Fireworks for the city of Depoe Bay were canceled this year to protect several species of birds such as Brandt’s cormorants after two years of research showed that fireworks disrupted the birds that nest near the fireworks site.

The largest consumers of salmon, next to humans,  are orca.  Roughly 96% of an orca’s diet is made up of Chinook and Chum salmon.  Each adult orca eats about 500 pounds of salmon each day.  They also eat cod, herring, and occasionally even other mammals.  In 2010, it was estimated that 90 orcas lived off the Pacific Coast.  That means that orca eat about 16,425,000 pounds of salmon each year.  Commercial fishermen off the Pacific Coast of North America harvest an estimated 750 million pounds of salmon each year.

It seems to me, that a more rational way of dealing with the decreasing salmon population, is to suspend the harvest of salmon by humans for three to five years.  The money saved could be used to reimburse established commercial fishermen and Native Americans for the losses during the recovery period.  After that, with limits on the annual harvests, hopefully, salmon would be able to survive on their own.  Humans should be responsible and repair the damage we cause whenever possible.


Leave a comment

Filed under Natural Resources