Building Noah’s Ark

Reka and Zeya, CT’s Beardsley Zoo’s two rare Amur tiger cubs

There are many things in life that demand my attention, but some of them leap to the front of the line. Zoos had not been on my radar screen, but that changed with the news that Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo was hand-rearing two critically endangered Amur tiger cubs.


Zeya, shortly after birth

Having my little grandsons visiting with me when the tiger cubs were born was good timing, as we learned about endangered tigers and the Zoo’s work to save endangered animals together. I found out that without the help of accredited zoos, my grandchildren’s grandchildren may never see a live tiger, or any number of other species on earth today.


The Amur leopard is the rarest big cat on earth, with fewer than 60 individuals surviving in the wild.

The world around us is changing. According to the World Wildlife Fund, earth has lost half of its wildlife in the last 40 years. We are confronting the loss of wildlife on a massive scale, largely due to human interaction. One estimate says that there are currently 16,938 animal and plant species threatened with extinction. One in three on the list are amphibians, one in four are mammals, and one in eight are birds.


Northern white rhinos are functionally extinct, with only a handful of rapidly aging individuals left in captivity.

Lists of the most endangered animals in the world today include the Amur leopard, gorillas, sea turtles, orangutans, Sumatran elephants, the Saola, the Vaquita porpoise, the tiger (all subspecies), rhinos, and pangolins. There are many, many more.



The single largest cause of threats to animals? Habitat loss, due to deforestation, the expansion of farms across fragile areas, and logging. In addition, many of these animals are poached for their horns, tusks, or bones, have organs that are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, or are persecuted and hunted. Other factors include climate change, resource depletion, and territory fragmentation, which keeps healthy, genetically different animals from successful breeding.


Tigers at CT’s Beardsley Zoo.

There are many organizations fighting to help animals in the wild, with varying levels of success. The “wild,” as it used to exist, is rapidly disappearing. While some well-intended activists call for animals to be released from captivity, their perspective does not address the fact that wild habitats today are facing environmental degradation and animals are being hunted to extinction. Many animals in the wild are theoretically protected, but that does not mean they are safe.


Deforestation is causing a decline in the Red panda population as their nesting trees and their primary diet, bamboo, are being destroyed. This is Meri, CT’s Beardsley Zoo’s four year old female, who may help sustain her species. 

Today’s accredited zoos and aquariums have had to become Noah’s Arks, sustaining populations through carefully monitored captive breeding programs, and providing a home, nutrition, medical care, and survival to some of the world’s most endangered species.


Most of the areas the Golden Lion tamarin call home have been poorly protected. A sustained Zoo breeding program beginning in the 1970s allowed Brazil’s GLT population to rebound somewhat due to reintroduction. Continued loss of forest habitat, however, keeps the GLT on the endangered list. 

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), of 2,800 USDA licensed animal exhibitors in the U.S., only 230 are accredited members of the AZA. Why does that matter? Because the AZA requires that its member zoos meet rigorous standards for animal welfare, conservation, education, and science. One of its primary rules for membership is respecting the dignity of animals in a zoo’s care, and acting with the animal’s best interests in mind. (Here’s a list of accredited organizations.)


An endangered wolf cub born at CT’s Beardsley Zoo

No baby animal is ever born at an accredited zoo without a specific breeding recommendation from experts at the AZA, who keep careful track of genetics. Zoos also contribute to animal conservation efforts worldwide. Extinction rates for many species, though, continue to rise. Accredited zoos are many species’ last hope to survive total elimination.


 Endangered South American maned wolf cubs born at CT’s Beardsley Zoo

On November 25th, the Zoo’s female Amur tiger, Changbai, gave birth to four Amur tiger cubs, although only two survived.  The two surviving cubs, both females, were removed from Changbai when she showed no interest in taking care of them.


Handfeeding an Amur tiger cub in CT’s Beardsley Zoo’s animal Health Care Center

Both cubs were taken to the Zoo’s animal Health Care Center, where staff handfed the babies and housed them in a 90 degree ambient temperature nursery, to maintain their body temperature.


Amur tiger cubs only a few days old 

At first, the cubs were given only a 25% chance of survival. A feline replacement formula, supplemented with vitamins, was prepared for them five times a day, around the clock. Today, the cubs are four months old, healthy and active. Their survival is an important step forward in maintaining the genetic diversity of Amur tigers worldwide.


Reka, at two months old

Over the last century, tiger numbers have fallen by about 95%, and tigers now survive in 40% less space than they occupied just a decade ago. The Connecticut tigers are Amurs, and sadly, there are only about 500 Amur tigers left in wild places–specifically, the Amur River Valley region where Russia, China and North Korea meet.


Wild Amur tiger in the Amur River Basin, Russia

Michael Hutchins, director of conservation and science for the AZA said, “Millions of dollars go to house artwork in museums, but there are more Rembrandts in the world than there are Siberian (Amur) tigers.”


Amur tiger cub at CT’s Beardsley Zoo. The cubs’ survival is important to sustaining the critically endangered tiger species.

The AZA says: “We believe in a better future for all living things. We envision a world where all people respect, value and conserve wildlife and wild places.”

Want to watch the tiger cubs on a live web cam? Click here.

To contribute to Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo, or to help fundraise for a new tiger habitat, click here.


Our Brother’s Keeper


It’s impossible to honor Earth Day without reflecting on the animals that share the planet with us. Although great strides have been made in animal protection and endangered animal conservation, we still have a long way to go. In our rapidly overpopulating world, where habitat is disappearing and animal species are declining, we have no choice but to see the animals as our brothers, and to do what is in our power to protect them.


One of the more disturbing news items was reported by The Huffington Post on April 14th, with a story about Sudan, the world’s last male Northern White Rhino.The Northern White Rhino has been on earth for 50 million years, but poachers in search of their horns have reduced this once plentiful animal, a subspecies of rhino, to only five left on earth. The last male and two female rhinos of his subspecies are cared for under 24 hour armed guard at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Two other females live in captivity.


To make Sudan less of a target for poachers, his horn has been removed, and he has been fitted with radio transmitters. It is hoped that the forty year old Rhino will one day be able to produce progeny, and save his species from extinction. Ground rhino horn is considered a health aid in Chinese medicine, and is particularly popular in Vietnam. There are just 1,037 rhinos of all subspecies still roaming wildlife parks and national conservancies.


There are many ways to help animals this Earth Day, from contributing to Save the Rhino, the World Wildlife Fund, or The Humane Society. Or you can do something closer to home, perhaps even in your own backyard.


If you’re using pesticides and herbicides on your lawn and garden, you’re using them on your pets, too. Whatever chemicals collect on your dog’s or cat’s paws and fur stay there until the next time you give them a bath, although unless you bathe them immediately, they have more than likely been absorbed into their bloodstream. Those chemicals also get tracked inside, where they don’t break down, due to the absence of water and sunlight. If you love the look of a vibrant, weed-free lawn, but you also love your companion animals, consider the following:

  • According to a study conducted over a six-year period at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tuft University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, a dog’s exposure to lawn pesticides–specifically those applied by professional lawn care companies–raised the risk of canine malignant lymphoma (CML) by as much as 70%.


  • Dogs at highest risk for acquiring CML were over 50 pounds, living in homes where pesticides and herbicides were professionally applied, and where owners used lawn care products containing insect growth regulators (killing agents).


  • A 2004 study from Purdue University showed that dogs exposed to chemically treated lawns had a dramatically increased risk of Transitional Cell Carcinoma (bladder cancer). Breeds at highest risk include Scottish Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, West Highland Terriers and Beagles.


Many of our ideas about having a perfect, green lawn are leftovers from an era when pesticides were considered safe, and water was plentiful. The ideal of having a lawn like a green carpet began in the mid-1950s, but we’ve learned a lot about the dangers since then. If you don’t have pets yourself, consider that pesticide poisoning kills 60-70 million birds each year in the U.S. alone. Those chemicals also end up in our groundwater, through rainwater runoff, or by leaching through the soil.


I love animals, especially my three Bichons, G.G., Tuffy and Ellie, and want to give them the best possible life that I can. Lawn chemicals aren’t the only way we can unintentionally harm our pets. There are dangers from flea and tick products, and the marketplace is full of low quality commercial food that is not only unhealthy, but can even be contaminated with toxic chemicals, or melamine.

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Here are my Ten Tips for keeping your furry friends healthy:

  • Instead of using commercial pesticides and herbicides on your lawn, hire an organic lawn and garden company that can feed your grass without endangering your pets or family. I use Growing Solutions, an organic lawn and plant care company that is dedicated to maintaining safe, healthy environments for their clients. The owner, Chris Baliko, is knowledgeable, helpful, and very responsive to his customer’s needs.


  •  If you choose to do it yourself, begin by establishing a base of healthy soil. Healthy soil has a high organic content that discourages weeds and disease. You may have a few weeds, but some are actually beneficial, such as clover, which adds valuable nutrients. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection offers helpful information.


  • Before you apply commercial flea and tick products, be aware that at least 1,600 pet deaths related to spot on treatments were reported to the EPA over the last five years. The EPA assigns risk levels to all pesticides, and has said that  some flea and tick preparations contain ingredients that are likely carcinogens to humans. Serious medical reactions for your pet can include heart attacks, seizures, and brain damage.

get well

  • Alternatives exist! The best pest repellent is a radiantly healthy dog or cat. Fleas are less attracted to healthy animals.


  • In the house, sprinkle floors with a borate powder (such as 20 Mule Team Borax), then sweep or vacuum it up. It kills flea larvae very effectively without risk of toxicity.
  • A bath with any kind of shampoo will drown fleas.  Just leave the lather on for 3-5 minutes, and you don’t need to use a flea preparation.


  • Comb your pet regularly with a flea comb to remove fleas from his fur, and dunk the comb in a glass of soapy water to drown any fleas you find.


  • One of my favorite stores in Westport, Connecticut is Earth Animal. Founded by Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein to offer products for pets that are pure and natural, they offer a complete holistic flea and tick prevention program. By simply adding powder and drops to your pet’s daily diet, a combination of vitamins, minerals and herbs will change the odor of your pet’s blood chemistry to repel pests. At the same time, it builds their immune system. And it’s available online.


  • The Goldsteins are also advocates of a home-cooked diet for your dog, and so am I. I like Dr. Harvey’s Canine Health Organic Pre-Mix. You simply add hot water, a protein source such as chicken, beef, turkey or even fish, and a small amount of quality oil. Add a daily vitamin supplement, and your pet will thank you for making her healthier than she’s ever been.


  • Animals can be easily sickened by toxic household cleaning products, too. You can clean with ingredients from your kitchen, such as lemons, vinegar, and baking soda, or use organic cleaning supplies, such as those made by Seventh Generation.

itchy dogs

I have many more tips for keeping your pets safe, including using Bucks Mountain Parasite Dust, among other methods. You can find my previous blog posts here and here. “The greatness of a nation can be judged by how its animals are treated,” said Mahatma Ghandi.  We can do a great deal of good by giving all animals the respect they deserve.



It’s Time for Plan Bee

Flying honeybee

The humming that you hear when you step into the garden in summer is the song of hundreds of bees, honey and bumble, moving pollen from one flower to another as they feed.  Not only a charming aspect of the garden, bees are responsible for the successful pollination of fruits, nuts and many vegetables, including many of the plants you grow in your backyard.  Honeybees are critical to agriculture.  Best-selling food author Michael Pollan has estimated that they pollinate thirty to forty percent of the food we consume.


With so much at stake, the health of our honeybees has to be a primary environmental concern.  For the past few years, though, bees have been dying off from what was, at first, an unknown cause.  Labeled “Colony Collapse Disorder,” the die off began to get the attention it deserved from scientists worldwide.  Several theories were proposed, including mites, viruses or other pathogens, or a decline in natural habitat.  Increasingly, however, scientists began to identify two main sources of concern:  farming monoculture, where bees suffer a dietary imbalance from feeding on only one kind of pollen, and a new class of neurotoxin pesticides, called neonicotinoids.

(I first wrote about the danger to bees in April 2013; you can read that post here. )


Although nicotine has been used as an insecticide since colonial times, today’s nicotinoids are different.  Based on nicotine, they also include clothianidin, thiametoxam and imadacloprid, among other chemicals.  They’re used to coat plant seeds, and are released as a lymph inside the plant as a permanent insecticide.  Bees who have sucked dew from maize leaves that absorbed neonicotinoids becojme disoriented, get lost on their way back to the hive, and die.

Nantucket beekeeper David Berry, owner of the Nantucket HoneyBee Company, says, “(The nicotinoids) are literally part of the tissue of the plant itself. It seems to be collectively lethal to bees. The wax in a beehive is like a sponge. Over time these chemicals collect in the wax and seem to become much more damaging to the bees.”

There is some good news, though!  Greenpeace reports that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is introducing new labels for neonicotinoid pesticides that will prohibit the use of those pesticides when bees are present.  The labels will include information to reduce spray drift, and in red letters, they will read “this product can kill bees and other insect pollinators.”

Europe has already gone one step further, and has banned the use of neonicotinoids entirely, due to their fatal impact on European bee colonies.  A bill was just introduced in Congress to impose a ban on neonics until a scientific study can prove no harm will come to bee colonies from its use.  Greenpeace has a three step plan that includes:

  1. Banning the seven most dangerous pesticides
  2. Preserving wild habitat
  3. Restoring ecological agriculture

Ultimately, there must be a ban similar to Europe’s in order to protect our vital bee population.  Labeling is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough.

Here’s How You Can Help

You can sign the petition asking Congress and the EPA for the ban on neonicotinoids, support local, organic farms in your region, and plant a bee-friendly garden of your own.


Your choices do make a difference in keeping the earth around you a healthy home for bees and other wildlife.  Here’s a step by step plan to help you create a bee-haven, with some added tips from beekeeper David Berry:

Step One:  Do not use fungicides, herbicides or pesticides in your garden, relying instead on natural controls for insects and other gardening problems.  Read my tips on organic gardening here.

toddler gardening

Step Two:  Plan your garden to include pollen and nectar sources as close to all year round as possible.  On a warm winter day, honeybees may be out foraging for food for their young.


Step Three:  Start with the earliest bloomers, including witchhazels, willows and Acer maples. David Berry adds that letting part of your property go back to its wild state helps to feed bees and other beneficial insects. He stresses that urban areas can be wonderful places for bees to collect nectar, too, where people plant gardens and water them. The next most important time is the middle of the summer, when the heat builds and not much is in bloom. That’s when plants such as Russian Sage and Lavender can be helpful. Clethera, sometimes called Sweet Pepper Bush, blooms on Nantucket in mid-summer, produces a beautiful fragrance and makes great honey. Luckily for Nantucket beekeepers, much of Nantucket’s open space has clethera growing on it, says Berry.

milky white witch hazel blooming after rain in the spring

Step Four:  Plant masses of flowers, as single plants may not attract bees. Another tip from David Berry: look for older cultivars. The older variety of plants are better for bees, including clover as part of the lawn. It wasn’t until the fertilizer companies convinced people that clover was a weed that it began to disappear. Clover makes some of the best bee nectar!


Step Five:  Plant with the bees’ favorite colors:  purple and blue, followed by yellow and orange.

honey bee

I would add my own petition, that if we are to protect the earth and all the living things in it, that we must first remember to see beauty in the smallest forms of life, and then share that beauty with a child.  Here are wise words from one of my favorite naturalists and authors, Rachel Carson, from her book The Sense of Wonder:

“And then there is the world of little things, seen all too seldom.  Many children, perhaps because they themselves are small and closer to the ground than we, notice and delight in the small and inconspicuous.  With this beginning, it is easy to share with them the beauties we usually miss because we look too hastily, seeing the whole and not its parts.  Some of nature’s most exquisite handiwork is on a miniature scale, as anyone knows who has applied a magnifying glass to a snowflake.”

Beautiful child with sunflower

Learn more about Rachel Carson and her work here.

For a humorous look at the life of bees, watch Bee Movie, written by Jerry Seinfeld!  The cartoon does point out that without bees pollinating our flowers and crops, plant life and our food chain would be in serious danger.  Watch a short clip here.


For more information on bees, visit 



Save the Nautilus!

One of the most beautiful shells in the world, belonging to the nautilus stenomphalus, is facing a stunning decline in recent years.  Sold as a cheaper alternative to pearls due to its lustrous shell, there are no regulatory protections in place for this vulnerable species.  This softball-sized mollusk is a slow growing animal that takes fifteen years to reach sexual maturity, so a perilous situation has been created through overfishing.

“A horrendous slaughter is going on out here,” said Peter D. Ward, a biologist from the University of Washington, during a recent census of the marine creature in the Philippines. “They’re nearly wiped out.”

“In certain areas, it’s threatened with extermination,” said Neil H. Landman, a biologist and paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History and the co-editor of “Nautilus:  The Biology and Paleobiology of a Living Fossil.”  Scientists began a formal census in 2011 in at least six regions to find out just how endangered the Nautilus is.

The nautilus has been around for about 550 million years, and hasn’t changed much in the last 200 million.  But it has a new protector:  Josiah Utsch, a 12 year old boy from Cape Elizabeth, Maine, was forwarded an article about the animal’s peril from his grandmother, and decided to take action.  He contacted Dr. Ward, and when he found that there was no organization devoted to saving the nautilus, he and his friend Ridgely Kelly, age 11, launched Save the Nautilus.   

Today, news of Save the Nautilus has spread from the United States to Canada, Greece, Spain and the Netherlands.  The boys are using social media, including Facebook, to continue their efforts. The majority of donations have come from other children, but recently, the boys were able to take a flight out of Portland to personally hand Dr. Ward a check for $9000 in his office at the University of Washington.

Years ago, I chose the chambered nautilus as the logo for Dujardin Design Associates, and I have always had a deep love for this sea creature, along with artists who have for years immortalized it in poetry and paintings. I wrote about it in a post in August, 2012, sharing examples of how its spiral has influenced the world of art and design.

Its name means “boat” in Greek, and it first fascinated collectors in renaissance Europe who saw the logarithmic spirals as reflecting the larger order of the universe, as well as the curved arms of hurricanes and distant galaxies.


Thanks to children around the country who have responded to Josiah and Ridgely’s pleas, more attention is being focused on the animals’ plight.  In February, Dr. Ward will conduct research in the American Samoa to determine how fast the nautilus can swim and how long it takes for the creature to reach its natural habitat, 2,000 feet below the surface.  Josiah and Ridgely will join him.

“These boys, out of the blue, show up in my life and they’re doing what I hope all their generation does,” Ward said.  “Start thinking scientifically.

Marine biologists are lobbying for protection of the nautilus.  You can help by spreading the word, and sharing your concern with others.  And of course, donate to Save the Nautilus; Josiah and Ridgely will appreciate your support.

This issue first came to my attention through E Magazine.  You can read more here.



The Chambered Nautilus, by Oliver Wendell Holmes 

THIS is the ship of pearl, which, poets feign,
Sails the unshadowed main, —
The venturous bark that flings
On the sweet summer wind its purpled wings
In gulfs enchanted, where the Siren sings,
And coral reefs lie bare,
Where the cold sea-maids rise to sun their streaming hair.
Its webs of living gauze no more unfurl;
Wrecked is the ship of pearl!
And every chambered cell,
Where its dim dreaming life was wont to dwell,
As the frail tenant shaped his growing shell,
Before thee lies revealed, —
Its irised ceiling rent, its sunless crypt unsealed!
Year after year beheld the silent toil
That spread his lustrous coil;
Still, as the spiral grew,
He left the past year’s dwelling for the new,
Stole with soft step its shining archway through,
Built up its idle door,
Stretched in his last-found home, and knew the old no more.
Thanks for the heavenly message brought by thee,
Child of the wandering sea,
Cast from her lap, forlorn!
From thy dead lips a clearer note is born
Than ever Triton blew from wreathèd horn!
While on mine ear it rings,
Through the deep caves of thought I hear a voice that sings: —
Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!