Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kingston hosts wild animals on Saturday

This Saturday afternoon at 2 pm, a free program in Kingston will introduce four “animal ambassadors” from the Mercer County Wildlife Center. All are permanent residents there because for one reason or another, they can’t be released back into the wild.

Shown here from the last such visit, the turkey vulture can’t fly. But s/he provided a fascinating close up look at an animal we usually see in fields or by the side of the road, making a meal of dead animals. (photo by Tari Pantaleo)

A barred owl and two more (alive!) Center residents kept the vulture company. This Saturday, the focus will be on hawk family members.

The event, sponsored by the Kingston Greenways Assn., is open to all and appropriate to all ages. It promises to tell those who attend “more about these species, their interface with our world, and what to do and NOT do should you come upon wildlife in need of help.”

The one-hour presentation will take place at the Mapleton Preserve/D&R Canal State Park, 145 Mapleton Road. For more information, phone 609-750-1821 or see

Information about the county’s Wildlife Center appeared earlier in this blog. A state and federally licensed facility that cares for injured, ill and displaced native wildlife, it is located on Rt. 29 in Hopewell. More information about the Center can be found at this website:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

. . . come out, wherever you are!

Snake on the loose! Well, make that "baby snake," and not so much on the loose as playing hide and seek right now; not answering to "Come!"

The Bronx Zoo is short one young Egyptian cobra that went missing last Friday. It's around 20 inches long now -- a far cry from the 5-8 foot length cobras can reach. Till the snake is found, the zoo’s reptile house is closed.

Dark-colored with a narrow hood and fangs in front of its mouth, the cobra must bite and hang on – rather than hit and run (or hit and slither) -- its venom is extra deadly to compensate for this inefficiency.

One theory has it that the pipes, conduits and ducts behind the reptile house have become a playground for the snake. He or she (reports vary on the snake’s sex) should be easier to catch once hunger sets in.

Although it’s true that snake charmers and cobras go together, the idea that Cleopatra used a cobra as her suicide tool is debunked in Stacy Schiff’s best selling biography of the queen.

A NYTimes editorial about the A.W.O.L. reptile invited readers interested in seeing a 3-D CT scan of a revolving cobra (both skeletal and with skin) to go to the following link:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Helping little young amphibians

The classic good deed used to be helping little old ladies cross the street. But these days you read more about helping romantic young salamanders get to the other side of the road.

Yes, salamanders and frogs are the amphibians in need – and in jeopardy -- on today’s highways, already too often filled with road kill.

Reminiscent of the seashore turtles who each summer must also cross congested roads to lay their eggs, frogs and salamanders emerge from hibernation about now. Then, crossing roads in the dark to reach vernal pools where they can lay their eggs – females carry 200-2,000 – they’re easily and often killed by motorists.

They don't travel on just any night, but only when temperatures reach a certain point and it’s rainy.

On such spring nights, volunteers in North Jersey go out to help them, picking up the creatures in their hands and carrying them across the road to safety. In so doing, they’re helping “preserve future generations of spotted and Jefferson salamanders, wood frogs and spring peepers” (see March 9 post) a story in yesterday's Trenton Times reports.

“Amphibians are an important part of a healthy ecosystem and its food chain,” one participant says. “Like everything in nature, they eat and are eaten. As adults, they feed on all kinds of insects and help to keep pests in check. It’s definitely worth it.”

The Amphibian Crossing Project is jointly sponsored by the Conserve Wildlife Foundation, the NJ Audubon Society and the state’s Endangered and Nongame Species Program.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Animals & people: 'bound together'

(This post consists of excerpts from “Animals,” a special Science Times issue in the NYTimes, March 15, 2011.)

Animals. And people. We have always been bound together. Humans are animals, after all. . . . We share behaviors. We share homes and habitats. We consume each other. Mostly we eat them, a moral quandary for many people . . .

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Members of the Family: About 37 percent of American households have pet dogs (78 million dogs), and about 32 percent have cats (94 million).

Keeping Pets Fed: Americans spent almost $18 billion on food for their pets in 2009, an amount similar to what they spend on coffee each year.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

The road to certification as man’s best friend has been long and pitted. . . . dogs have often been a menu item. . . . street markets in South Korea sell dogs meant for meat right next to dogs meant for pets, with the latter distinguished by the cheery pink color of the cages.

As a rule, however, the elevation of an animal to pet status removes it entirely from the human food chain. Other tell-tale signs of petdom include bestowing a name on the animal and allowing it into the house. . . .

In this country, pet keeping didn’t get serious until after World War II. . . . today about two-thirds of American households include at least one pet. . . . (shown above, Cali Lagomarsino, Andy's girl.)

People may even be willing to die for their pets. “In studies done on why people refused to evacuate New Orleans during Katrina, a surprising number said they could not leave their pets behind,” according to Dr. Harold Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat.#

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Come back as a pet, not a farm animal

“Some animals are more equal than others,” wrote Mark Bittman in his March 15 NYTimes column. How tragically true.

He talked about the line – and what a line! – between “pet” and “animal”: “. . . we protect ‘companion animals’ like hamsters while largely ignoring what amounts to the torture of chickens and cows and pigs. In short, if I keep a pig as a pet, I can’t kick it. If I keep a pig I intend to sell for food, I can pretty much torture it.”

Bittman continued, “ . . . we ‘process’ (that means kill) nearly 10 billion animals annually in this country, approximately one-sixth of the world’s total” – for food.

He reported on how the ASPCA had gone after a 19-year old woman who violently killed a pet hamster – but not, of course, the city reps who poison rats left and right. “Might we more usefully police those who keep egg-laying hens in cages so small the birds can’t open their wings,” he asked.

“But,” Bittman wrote, “thanks to Common Farming Exemptions, as long as I ‘raise’ animals for food and it’s done by my fellow ‘farmers’ (in this case, manufacturers might be a better word), I can put around 200 million male chicks a year through grinders . . . castrate — mostly without anesthetic — 65 million calves and piglets a year, breed sick animals (don’t forget: more than half a billion eggs were recalled last summer, from just two Iowa farms) who in turn breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, allow those sick animals to die without individual veterinary care, imprison animals in cages so small they cannot turn around, skin live animals, or kill animals en masse to stem disease outbreaks.

“All of this is legal, because we will eat them.”

Saturday, March 19, 2011

From Japan: 'a tale of two dogs'

Scott Simon, NPR commentator, tells this dog story best. Here’s his column, complete.

A news crew from Fuji TV saw a couple of dogs this week, lying in the wreckage of Mito, Japan.

A dog with brown and white splotches seemed to hover over one with gray, black and white splotches. Both dogs looked grimy. The second dog didn't seem to move.

When the dog with brown and white splotches came toward the crew, they thought it was warning them to stay away. But it returned to the other dog, and put a paw on its head.

Then they understood: the dog was sticking by his friend, and asking for help.

Japan is a nation of pet lovers. Most families have a dog or cat, birds, a rabbit, or other pets in their apartments.

When I covered Hurricane Katrina in Mississippi, it seemed that the commonest reason people who stayed through the storm gave for refusing to evacuate was, "I couldn't leave my pet."

But earthquakes strike suddenly. People can get stuck at work, school, or in panicked transit, leaving pets to fend for themselves.

Among the thousands of volunteers who have been mining the rubble of the earthquake are Japanese Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support, who look and listen for dogs and cats among the ruins.

To those who might find such relief work frivolous when so many people are hungry and homeless, Animal Rescue and Support says, ". . . helping the pets in Japan is to help people. All of us who are animal lovers can relate to what it would feel like to be reunited with a pet after a disaster."

The dog with brown and white splotches and his friend with gray, black and white splotches were rescued, and are in a veterinary clinic in the Ibaraki Prefecture.

Kenn Sakurai, the president of a dog food company, who has been among the volunteers, says on Facebook: ". . . The one which came close to the camera is in the better condition. The other . . was weak. . . But please know that those two are just the tip of the iceberg. There are more and we need help."

I noticed another, smaller story this week. An 11-month old Tibetan mastiff puppy named Hong Dong, or Big Splash, went for 1.5 million U.S. dollars in China.

Tibetan mastiffs are massive, fluffy status symbols there. Hong Dong has been raised on beef, chicken, abalone, and sea cucumber. His breeder told Britain's Telegraph, "He is a perfect specimen."

The million-dollar puppy that's been fattened with abalone, or the grimy dog with brown and white splotches who stood over his friend until he found help: which do you think of as a perfect specimen?

-- NPR’s “Simon Says” column for March 19, 2011: “A Tale of Two Dogs Is Testament to Japan’s Humanity”

Friday, March 18, 2011

A dog day

Three thoughts about dogs kept going through my mind today. Here are two; the third and best will have to wait till tomorrow.

First comes the subject of fat dogs. There’s no other way to say it. These dogs have been overfed – and probably also under-exercised. Unlike fat people, who theoretically have control over what and how much they eat, dogs are dependent on their people. That’s often too bad.

Surely fat dogs’ owners, and hopefully fat dogs’ vets too, see that they’re fat and therefore living with more health risks than necessary. But the fat dogs continue to be fat. Here's the big question: can someone who’s not a fat dog’s owner or vet step in and say something about the dog's condition? If Y, what and how?

Second, there’s the dog as management trainer – or at least as the inspirer of important management principles. That’s the claim in All I Know About Management I Learned from my Dog: The Real Life Story of Angel, A Rescued Golden Retriever, Who Inspired the New Four Golden Rules of Management, by Martin P. Levin.

After a long, successful career in publishing and then as a lawyer, Levin adopted an aging shelter dog. He came to recognize surprising parallels between owning a dog and effective leadership. These include (1) You sometimes have to earn trust, and (2) Clear communication is essential.

The press release doesn’t say whether these examples are two of the four golden rules. You’ll have to buy the book next month ( Skyhorse Publishing) and see.

N.B. Yes, the image here shows a fat CAT. But s/he's so cute. Which must be what owners of fat dogs say too.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Open house, open hearts for horses

Save the date -- and help save horses! On Sunday, April 17, Horse Rescue United -- an organization dedicated to saving and placing horses who would otherwise probably suffer and die -- will hold an open house. The public is invited to the event in New Egypt, NJ.

Marking its first year in existence, Horse Rescue United (HRU) is a registered not-for-profit NJ business that has applied for 501[c](3) non-profit status. Since last March, HRU has helped save and place/adopt out more than 30 horses. Most were saved from slaughter from auctions or feedlots, although many were owner surrenders.

In all cases, these horses need massive doses of TLC, coming in a variety of forms from medical care to pasturing. Their stories before HRU came along are chilling and tear-inducing, ranging from a mare with a grievous head wound (she was treated and later adopted but will be back for the open house) to a gelding whose eye cancer has spread, but who will live out his short life pain-free.

There are also three horses ready (or nearly so) for adoption: a Standardbred gelding (Cooper) and a mare (Jessica), as well as a Standardbred pregnant mare (Justice). HRU reps hope Justice and her foal (due later this spring) can be adopted or fostered together.

The open house will give visitors a chance to meet the rescued horses (carrots are welcome!). There will also be a silent auction, a bake sale, arts and crafts for kids, snacks, jewelry and HRU merchandise for sale.

Details and images at

Monday, March 14, 2011

Equally catastrophic for animals

One newspaper photo showed a few people with a dog wandering through the wreckage after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan. That was the first reference of any kind to animals that I’ve seen since news of the event last weekend.

It’s hard to imagine how animals would have reacted to the killer quake and the giant waves that followed, utterly changing the world they knew. In all cases, they were unable to ask, “What happened?” or figure out what to do on their own. Imagine the terror they must have felt: first, the earth rumbled and moved; buildings collapsed and people panicked; then the "walls of water" swept away and destroyed all they encountered.

Also unknown: whether people took care of their animals while fleeing for their own lives. That Japan has strict building codes to minimize damage after quakes is well known. What’s not known: whether people had emergency/evacuation plans for the animals in their lives.

There are some reminders of Hurricane Katrina here. After it, we learned the Red Cross would not let people take their pets with them when they evacuated their homes. Still later, we heard about some pets who were sent elsewhere in the US after not being claimed by their people in New Orleans.

Is Humane Society International (HIS) doing anything to help the animals trapped by this horrific event? How about other animal welfare organizations? When will we hear from them about how animals fared in Japan and what these organizations are doing to help?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Mobbin’ robins & 'the nose knows'

It was a lucky left turn on a walk in the park. Suddenly the greensward to the right of the curving path was filled with robins. Not just a few or even a convention of them. This looked like the robins of Mercer County had called a meeting – and everyone came.

A couple days after heavy rains. A bit of sunshine now and then and pleasantly gusty pre-spring air. And there they were.

If they were out for worms, these ground-feeders kept it a secret. They simply seemed to be out taking the air, as if to say what everyone else, robin or person, is saying: “It finally looks like spring!”


Can a cat who’s crazy about “cat grass” sniff out two blades of it? in one room? of the entire house?

A couple weeks after Harry’s last pursuit of cat grass, then thriving in a little planter on a sunny windowsill, he got that look of “there’s cat grass here and I’m going to get it” again.

His last adventure ended disastrously for that crop of cat grass after he reached it and knocked it on the floor. These two new blades rose up in another pot, probably the result of a couple seeds landing there during the windowsill caper. They must have been highly aromatic.

Seeing Harry scan the plant stand and wiggle his nose was enough warning that the next event would be an avalanche. The two blades of grass quickly became history. The plant stand still stands. And the next grass Harry gets will be grown outside on the deck.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In the spring, a young peeper’s fancy . . .

Among the myriad signs of spring, the sound of spring peepers is one of the most welcome. Maybe because these tiny “chorus frogs” start so early in March, or maybe because they too have made it through the long, hard winter. (They can allow most of their bodies to freeze during winter hibernation and still survive, according to National

Like their southern brethren (northern Florida and southern Georgia), northern peepers (widespread through the eastern US and Canada) are nocturnal carnivores with a body length from 1–1 ½ inches; they weigh up to 0.18 ounces. They’re tan, brown, olive or gray, and the slightly larger females are lighter in color.

Though peepers have large toe pads for climbing, Wikipedia reports, they're more at home amid loose debris of the forest floor. “They live primarily in forests and regenerating woodlands near ephemeral or semi-permanent wetlands.”

Male peepers make all the noise during evening and early morning hours. Vocal sacs near their throats expand and deflate like balloons to create a short, distinct, high-pitched peeping sound, or call, intended to attract mates. Depending on the number of peepers in a chorus, their calls can be heard up to 2 ½ miles away, and to some ears, the sound resembles sleigh bells.

Don’t bother trying to see spring peepers – just enjoy their sound and its symbolism.

Monday, March 7, 2011

How about some vegetable broth?

You are swimming in the ocean, minding your own business, when you’re caught by a person-fisher who cuts off your arms and throws you back into the water. Unable to propel yourself anymore, you sink, drowning, to the bottom.

Your arms? Oh, they’re used to feed zoo carnivores. It’s an old tradition.

“Scientists say that as many as 90 percent of sharks in the world’s open oceans have disappeared. ‘They’re among the ocean’s most vulnerable animals,’ Dr. [John E.] McCosker said. ‘The whole food web becomes bollixed when you take out the top level predator.’”

Shark’s fin soup, once a Chinese ceremonial dish, has become popular among China’s expanding middle class. The international demand for the soup is linked to the estimated 73 million sharks killed each year.

That’s 73 million sharks. For their fins. For soup.

Besides the recent law against “finning” in all US waters (mentioned in “Soup’s On!” the January 12 post here), a bill recently introduced in the California legislature – similar to one passed in Hawaii -- would ban the sale and possession of shark’s fins, including the serving of shark’s fin soup.

. . . You can eat, if you are in the mood,
Shark-fin soup, bean cake fish
. . .

(-- “Grant Avenue,” from Flower Drum Song)
As the March 6 Times story (“Soup Without Fins? Some Californians Simmer”) describes it, the bill has infuriated the Chinese community, especially traditionalists who “see the proposed law as a cultural assault.” Surprisingly, though, many in the eco-conscious younger generation and even a few chefs back the ban.


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Diminished world, then and now

A search for more information about the now-extinct eastern cougar yielded a variety of cites (and sites), including this one, which speaks to the problem of vanishing species 155 years ago -- from Henry David Thoreau's March 23, 1856 journal entry:

I spend a considerable portion of my time observing the habits of the wild animals . . . By their various movements and migrations they fetch the year about to me . . . But when I consider that the nobler animals have been exterminated here, the cougar, panther, lynx, wolverene, wolf, bear, moose, deer, beaver, turkey, etc., etc., I cannot but feel as if I lived in a tamed and, as it were, emasculated country . . . Would not the motions of those larger and wilder animals have been more significant still? Is it not a maimed and imperfect nature that I am conversant with? . . . When I think what were the various sounds and notes, the migrations and works, and changes of fur and plumage which ushered in the spring, and marked the other seasons of the year, I am reminded that this my life in nature, this particular round of natural phenomena which I call a year, is lamentably incomplete. I listen to a concert in which so many parts are wanting . . . Many of those animal migrations and other phenomena by which the Indians marked the season are no longer to be observed . . . I should not like to think that some demigod had come before me and picked out some of the best of the stars. I wish to know an entire heaven and an entire earth. All the great trees and beasts, fishes and fowl are gone; the streams perchance are somewhat shrunk.


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Another animal gone extinct

Yesterday, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, after years of reviewing claims to the contrary, declared that the eastern cougar is extinct -- and most likely has been so since 1938.

Here's an excerpt from a story on this subject, published today in

Eight feet long . . . tawny coat and lengthy tail… weighing 100 pounds . . . majestic solitary hunter… once lived from southern Canada to tip of South America.

Now officially extinct.

The eastern cougar – also known as the catamount, ghost cat, mountain cat or lion, panther and puma – was America’s largest cat and once the most widely distributed land mammal in the Western Hemisphere.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

What killed off the eastern cougar? All the usual suspects: overpopulation, loss of habitat, global warming, species exploitation. A Los Angeles Times writer says the black market for rare animal parts is the third largest illegal trade in the world, outranked only by weapons and drugs.

A subspecies of the puma or mountain lion, the eastern cougar leaves one puma family survivor from the eastern US barely hanging on: the Florida panther. Last month, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to save the panthers’ current range and reintroduce them to their historic range in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

That appeal followed the 2008 Florida panther recovery plan, also calling for reintroduction. So far, however, the Center reports that FWS seems to be stalling.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Coupling the eastern cougar extinction with the ongoing die-off of countless other animals, along with the ever-lengthening endangered species list, some commentators have called this period “the sixth extinction.” The “fifth extinction,” wrote Jeff Corwin in the LA Times, occurred 65 million years ago, when a meteor smashed into Earth, killing off dinosaurs and other species, and allowing the rise of mammals.

This time around, it looks like mammal on mammal.


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

It happened last night

No one spoke against an animal shelter and only a few people raised road block-questions or proposed far-out alternatives. The only real problem, and it's a biggie: after about two hours of discussion, the Hopewell Township committee reached no decision about an animal shelter.

Now what?

The presentation made by Easel's ED Mark Phillips about a regional no-kill animal shelter in Hopewell was meant to strengthen possible wobblers on the committee. At some points, though, it seemed as if everyone was wobbling and everything was in flux.

Unfortunately, time limits didn't seem to exist, and committee members who wandered off the track were not called back by the mayor, who (nominally) ran the meeting. So it went on and on.

Toward the end, one committee member said the group should first decide whether they want a regional shelter and only after that, decide how to do it. Unfortunately, she wasn't running the meeting.

Now what?