They are all around us, even in cities, although most people don’t notice them, let alone appreciate them. Yet raptors or diurnal birds of prey — eagles, ospreys, harriers, hawks, falcons and vultures — are among the most charismatic, dramatic and ecologically important members of wildlife communities.
Let’s look at these majestic birds, and where and when we can see them as we go about our lives. It’s a fascinating story worth exploring.
The most common type of hawk-watching is autumn raptor-watching, done from hundreds of raptor migration watch sites scattered throughout the United States — Cape May Point in New Jersey, Bake Oven Knob, Hawk Mountain and Waggoner’s Gap along the famous Kittatinny Ridge in Pennsylvania; Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve in Duluth, Minnesota; and the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory overlooking the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco, California. Collectively, tens of thousands of people annually visit these watch sites to enjoy the experience of watching and recording, often at close range, birds of some 16 raptor species flying on their migratory journeys.
But there are also other enjoyable types of hawk-watching. One is by the roadside, especially during winter when deciduous trees shed their leaves and exposed branches provide perches for Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrels and other raptors. Just drive slowly along a lightly used rural road to see raptors aloft or perched on tree limbs, utility poles or wires, or other elevated objects adjacent to old fields and roadsides. Roadside raptor watchers also scan fields for Northern Harriers beating over fields looking for rodents.
Black Vultures or Turkey Vultures are also sometimes seen circling low over dead animals on roads and highways, serving as nature’s sanitation corps. In some southern states, such as Florida, dozens of vultures gather along interstates and other busy highways, feasting on carrion.
Sometimes it’s also possible to observe Red-tailed Hawks and American Kestrels while driving. Red-tails typically perch on trees along the sides of highways or on light standards at exit ramps, patiently searching for rodents. American Kestrels sometimes are also seen perched on highways signs. Highway departments sometimes install kestrel nest boxes on the backs of larger signs, and the little falcons readily adopt them as nest sites.
Opportunities for observing gatherings of Bald Eagles, America’s national bird, during winter also occur at some locations, such as along the upper Mississippi River, where dozens or even hundreds of eagles gather to feed in warm pools of water at power plants. Where roads pass close to these sites, excellent views can be had from the comfort of one’s vehicle without disturbing the eagles.
Along some coastal and bay areas during spring and early summer, ospreys nest on dead cedar or other trees and poles in salt marshes. Sometimes it’s possible to watch from a vehicle for majestic ospreys at nests or returning with a fish clutched in its talons.
It’s also possible to observe raptors in some large cities. Peregrine Falcons — among the fastest birds in the world — use tall buildings or large bridges as nest sites from which they venture over city skies to feed on feral pigeons. Thus urban residents have surprising opportunities to see falcons, among the most perfectly evolved and adapted birds in the world. Increasing numbers of Red-tailed Hawks are also becoming urban raptors and live in parks where they feed on rodents, squirrels, and rabbits.
The most famous of urban Red-tails is a hawk named Pale Male who lives in and adjacent to Central Park in New York City — and who is now more than 20 years old (extremely old for a wild hawk). Over the years, with a succession of mates, he nested successfully on the ledges of apartment buildings across from the park, and developed a devoted following of amateur bird watchers who continue to spy on the famous hawk’s every move and report on his activities. Pale Male has produced numerous offspring, although this senior citizen of the hawk world likely won’t live too many more years.
Several other Red-tailed Hawk pairs also nest in and around Central Park. Indeed, hawk watchers know of at least 32 Red-tailed Hawk nests scattered throughout various parts of the city, a virtual population explosion of urban raptors. In addition, other species of migratory raptors, including Sharp-shinned Hawks and Cooper’s Hawks, stop over in parks and college campuses within New York City, notably Riverside Park and Columbia University’s main campus.
So whether you live in a rural, suburban or urban location, you can expect opportunities to watch and enjoy one or more species of raptors at various seasons of the year. Indeed, during spring and autumn migration seasons, it’s sometimes possible to spot some of the less frequently seen raptors even in Duluth, Minnesota and San Francisco, California — cities with important raptor migration watch sites.
In a very real sense, we are surrounded by raptors. So remain alert, and venture out and look for them. Seeing majestic raptors is enjoyable, and adds zest to birding and life.
Sidebar 1 – Basic Equipment
For successful raptor-watching in the United States, you need binoculars, a notebook and pen or pencil for writing down your observations, and a field guide to bird identification such as Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America (or its western North American companion) or David Allen Sibley’s The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America (or its western North American companion).
To learn more about raptors and hawk-watching, read William S. Clark’s and Brian K. Wheeler’s A Field Guide to the Hawks of North America, and Donald S. Heintzelman’s Guide to Hawk Watching in North America and Hawks and Owls of Eastern North Americas. For detailed information about raptor migrations read Donald S. Heintzelman’s Autumn Hawk Flights: The Migrations in Eastern North America and The Migrations of Hawks, and Maurice Broun’s Hawks Aloft: The Story of Hawk Mountain.
About the author
Donald S. Heintzelman is the author of 22 published books and booklets about birds and other wildlife and is an authority on hawk migrations and hawk-watching. He lives in the rural southeastern Pennsylvania countryside where he occupies an eyrie in an old farmhouse.
Cheers to Twilight actor Kristen Stewart for refusing to wear fur in a fashion spread for W magazine. On Jay Leno’s show, Stewart explained: “I would never wear fur.”
Please send thanks (meanwhile, we’ll be sending Stewart a copy of one of our new Vegan Starter Guide, which is chock full of information about why the fur industry — and all industries that exploit animals — stink):
c/o The Gersh Agency
232 North Canon Dr .
Beverly Hills , CA 90210
Cheers to Denver-based artist and animal advocate Karen Wallo. Wallo, who is donating a portion of the proceeds from originals and giclées to Friends of Animals, won her first gold medal at the age of 10, for a drawing of a dog. Prints of Wallo’s acclaimed piece “Save the Wolves” appear at KarenWallo.com
Cheers to Book Lover’s Café — one of Gainesville, Florida’s oldest meat-free eateries — for becoming completely vegan. Open since 1979, the café sells new and used books and a full menu of delicious vegan food and desserts — even custom wedding cakes! If you live in or visit the area, find Book Lover’s Café at:
Books Inc. and Book Lover’s Cafe
505 NW 13 th St .
Gainesville , FL 32601
Cheers to Chiara Bagatta, aged 11, who organized Friends of Animals’ first Howl-In for wolves in August 2011. Chiara, along with her mother and a friend, made t-shirts and posters, and set up a table in Manhattan and asked all who stopped to contact the governors of Idaho, Wyoming and Montana to demand an end to current wolf slaughters. Chiara also promoted our boycott of those three states — which lasts until they stop killing wolves.
Jeers to actor Chris Pratt of the show “Parks and Recreation” for rejecting his elderly, incontinent cat. The callous actor even asked Twitter followers if anyone would take the cat. Pratt wrote on his blog that “my wife and I want to start a family and we ABSOLUTELY CANNOT have an animal that [defecates] all over the house.”
Pets are a lifetime commitment; people in the spotlight have a special responsibility to be good examples in this regard. You can contact Chris Pratt at:
“Parks and Recreation”
CBS Studio Center
4024 Radford Ave.
Norvet Bldg., 3 rd Floor
Studio City , CA 91604
Jeers to Ohio Gov. Jon Kasich for not upholding outgoing Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland’s temporary ban on owning undomesticated animals — a ban which could have prevented the tragedy that resulted in the deaths of 49 animals including big cats whose photos were seen widely in the media after the horrific shooting in Zanesville. Please urge Gov. Kasich to introduce legislation immediately that would ban anyone from possessing or purchasing undomesticated animals — save for the sanctuaries that must exist to care for the ones who’ve been bought, sold, bred and exploited in entertainment, research, and the pet trade.
Governor John Kasich
Riffe Center , 30 th Floor
77 South High St .
Columbus , OH 43215-6117
Vegetarianism has been synonymous with Indian gastronomy for more than 3500 years — in a country that has been around for more than 6000 years. Veganism, a relatively more modern occurrence, has emerged in the Western world, not in contemporary India. Why? Maybe the answer lies in how cows are revered in Hinduism. Dairy and dairy products, celebrated as offerings from cows for centuries, were never considered exploiting tools that put the animal in harm’s way. They were, in fact, manna that flowed into culinary and religious rituals in Hinduism. If Krishna, the cowherd and a reincarnation of Vishnu, had a penchant for cream, why not the common devotee?
Yet Indian foods, especially the vegetarian offerings, are easy to “veganize” with no effort, making the end result flavorful, assertive, and vibrant. India is, after all, the land of spices! A sprinkle of cumin, a dash of cayenne, a whisper of cinnamon, and a peppering of roasted mustard seeds will enliven vegetables, legumes, grains, and fruits. What makes a cuisine like this exciting for vegans is the plethora of legumes (over sixty varieties of lentils, beans, and peas) that can paint a cornucopia of textures, colors, and flavors to deliver memorable fare. You wouldn’t have to fake the inclusion of meat analogues and soy-based proteins to dispense succulence because legumes have their own way of providing mouth-feel and lusciousness. Even though ghee (clarified butter) is an intrinsic part of specialty fare and desserts, oils like mustard, unrefined sesame, and coconut can step in and swathe savory creations with panache. To infuse creaminess in curries, think about nut purees from almonds, cashews, and pinenuts instead of heavy cream, buttermilk, or yogurt. As for those particular dishes that traditionally include paneer, a cheese from northern India, you can get the same firmness and texture from extra-firm tofu.
In addition, I find India cuisine one of the most accommodating for anyone who is diabetic, lactose-intolerant, or even suffering from celiac disease. With spices now being recognized, even in the western world, for their curative properties (think turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, etc.), they can very well be your panacea for anything that ails you. Here are two recipes from my upcoming book Mastering IndianCooking The Easy Way (Workman; 2012) that proves vegan food is anything but boring, tasteless, and unappealing. And did I mention it was easy?
Bean Sprouts Salad With Potato Croutons
Perfect when it’s hot or cold outside, this nutritional powerhouse combines everything we in the food business look for when we are creating unforgettable flavors. A balance of hot (from the chiles), sweet (from the cinnamon), sour (from the lime), and salty (from the salt of course) for the taste elements, aromas from the cumin, texture from the potato croutons, and chill (temperature) from the sprouts, this sublime salad does a mean tango in your mouth.
2 medium potatoes ( Yukon gold or russet)
2 to 4 dried red cayenne chiles (like chile de arbol), stems removed
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
½ -inch piece of cinnamon stick, broken into smaller pieces (see tips)
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon coarse kosher or sea salt
1 bag (8 ounces) bean sprouts (do not use alfalfa sprouts)
¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems
Juice from 1 small lime
Peel the potatoes and cut them into ¼ -inch cubes. Dump them into a small bowl and cover them with water to prevent the tubers from browning.
Preheat a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Once the pan feels hot (usually this will take 2 to 4 minutes; a palm held close to the bottom will feel the heat), sprinkle the chiles, coriander, cumin, and cinnamon into it. Toast the spices 1 to 2 minutes, shaking the pan very frequently, until the chiles blacken and smell smoky-hot, the seeds turn reddish brown and aromatic (nutty with citrus undertones), and the cinnamon exudes a heady sweetness. Transfer this spice blend to a small bowl to cool, about 5 minutes.
While the spices cool, drain the potatoes and pat them dry between paper towels. Heat the oil in that same large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer, add the potatoes and ½ teaspoon of the salt and stir-fry them 10 to 12 minutes until reddish-brown, crispy (crouton-like), and cooked through. Transfer these to a medium-size bowl.
While the potatoes brown, dump the toasted spices into a spice grinder (like a coffee grinder) and pulverize them until the blend has the texture of finely ground black pepper and an aroma that is incredibly complex and layered, nothing like the whole toasted spices you smelled a few minutes back. Add this to the medium-size bowl that the potatoes will end up in.
Tear open the bag of sprouts into the bowl with the potatoes and spice blend. Sprinkle in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the cilantro. Add the cilantro and stir the salad well to incorporate all those incredible flavors and textures. Serve at room temperature.
- The most common form of sprouts available in your supermarket are those from a green legume called mung (or moong) beans. Two to three inches in length, off-white in color, these watery-crisp nutritional worker bees are bursting with vitamins A, B, and C. Even though these are legume-based, sprouts are much easier to digest than their unsprouted counterparts because during the sprouting the complex starches convert to simple sugars, making it easy for you to process them without the fear of indigestion or flatulence (this is one instance where the more you eat the less you toot). Even seeds that are used as spices, namely fenugreek, shoot sprouts that are also pleasantly bitter. For a more complex-tasting experience, purchase a mixture of various bean sprouts should you see them at the market or if you happen to visit a health food store. Refrain from using the spindly alfalfa sprouts as they are much too grassy for this particular combination of ingredients.
- Cinnamon sticks usually come tightly furled about three-inches long. To get a small piece of it, I place it on a firm cutting board and with the sharp blade wedged in-between the crack, I give the knife a good whack. It usually breaks up the cinnamon into a few shards and I grab what I need for this recipe and save the rest for later use.
Popeye Dream Soup
If you crave spinach the way Popeye or I do, this creamy soup (without any cream) satisfies the hankering without adding to your waist line. Nutritious and chock full of flavor with only two spices (a combination that is common to the western parts of India), every mouthful is akin to the proverbial potato chip – you can’t stop at one. I often make a batch, sip a few cups as if it’s tea, and then freeze the rest for up to two months. It’s always on hand when the next wave of yearning flows through you. Serve it with some crusty baguette for a winter dinner by the roaring fireplace.
Makes a brimming 6 cups
½ cup red lentils (also called Egyptian lentils)
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 medium onion, diced
2 to 3 fresh green Serrano chiles, stems discarded, coarsely chopped (do not remove the seeds)
1 ½ teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
1 medium tomato
1 pound pre-washed, fresh baby spinach leaves
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
Measure the lentils into a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover the lentils. Give
them a good rinse with your fingertips, making the water cloudy. Drain the water (I tilt the pan into the sink to drain it.) Repeat this once or twice. Then pour in 4 cups water and plunk in the potato, onion, chiles, salt, and the whole tomato.
Bring the water to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Fish the whole tomato out of the pot, now looking shriveled with the skin loose (I may very well be describing me). Transfer it to a bowl. Lower the heat to medium and cover the pan. Simmer its contents, stirring occasionally, until the potato is fork-tender and the lentils are now yellow, about 15 minutes. Even though the lentils start with a beautiful salmon color, cooking them yields a yellow color. It’s the nature of these lentils and does not signify any wrongdoing on your part. As the bobble-head Indian said, “eh, it is the will of Rama.”
While the pot of soup simmers, core the tomato and shed the loose skin. As soon as the lentils are cooked, add the tomato, including any juices to the pot. Pile in the spinach and cover the pan. Continue simmering the soup, no need to stir, until the spinach wilts, about 5 minutes.
While the spinach sags, heat the oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer, add the mustard seeds, cover the pan, and cook about 30 seconds until the seeds have stopped popping (not unlike popcorn). Turn off the heat and sprinkle in the cumin seeds, which will instantly sizzle, turn reddish brown, and smell incredibly nutty.
Once the spinach wilts, ladle a third of the contents of the pot into a blender jar. Hold the lid down and puree its contents by pulsing it to a bright green puree. Pour this into a bowl. Repeat twice until all the soup is pureed, adding the contents each time to the soup in the bowl. Alternatively, if you have an immersion (stick) blender, puree the soup in the pot in one smooth batch.
Stir in the spiced oil including all the seeds into the soup. Ladle into individual bowls and serve warm.
- The potato in the soup provides a silky texture, thanks to the starch that it harbors. For a sweeter presence and an impressive dose of antioxidants, switch it with a medium-size sweet potato.
- The process of seasoning oil with whole spices to flavor a pot of dal or curry is the hallmark of Indian cooking, a technique known as tadka. This key infusion, usually after the ingredients are cooked, asserts a layering of flavors that provide a sharp burst to that first mouthful. The sweetly popped mustard seeds and the aromatically nutty cumin seeds do just that in this soup.
About the author:Raghavan Iyer, CCP is an award-winning cookbook author, teacher, consultant, spokesperson, and product developer. Chef Iyer’s work has won accolades from the New York Times, National Public Radio, the Boston Globe, and Food and Wine. He is a two-time James Beard Award winner and Julia Child Winner for Cooking Teacher of the Year. In addition to his upcoming book Mastering Indian Cooking The Easy Way, his recent books, 660 Curries, TheTurmeric Trial and Betty Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking include some vegan recipes.
Legal Struggle for Wolves Continues
Friends of Animals President Priscilla Feral went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as an amicus curiae – friend of the court – to support an argument for an injunction by attorney Jay Tutchton of WildEarth Guardians on behalf of an alliance of non-profits litigating for the wolves of the northern Rocky Mountains. The case asserts that Congress acted unconstitutionally (slipping a rider onto a must-pass budget bill in April 2011) to remove Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in Idaho, Montana, and parts of Oregon, Washington and Utah.
Idaho and Montana have, since August, issued more than 36,000 wolf-hunting permits. Hundreds of wolves are now being killed. The states insist this bloody business won’t endanger the wolf population. Yet wildlife biologist Jay Mallonee recently reviewed Montana's wolf population data and found figures derived through faulty mathematics. Consequently, any management decisions based on the data are also flawed.
Wolf supporters continue to boycott Idaho and Montana, where wolves are intensively targeted. This boycott has international ramifications as it includes Yellowstone National Park travel.
PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons
In October 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published its 12-month finding on a petition to list red-crowned parrots under the Endangered Species Act. The government determined that listing the parrots as threatened is warranted, and added the birds to the candidate species list. The government will “develop a proposed rule to list the red-crowned parrot as our priorities allow.”1 By law, this requires a subsequent finding to be made within twelve months.
This finding responds to a January 2008 petition by Friends of Animals, as represented by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver, requesting listings for 14 parrot species. In March 2010, Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians sued the Fish and Wildlife Service for failure to make timely 12-month findings on the petition to list the 14 species.2 In July 2010, pursuant to a court-approved settlement agreement, the government agreed to publish determinations for at least four of the species by the end of September 2011.3
Red-crowned parrots – birds who love pine seeds and acorns, fruits, berries, buds and flowers – once numbered more than 100,000. But where hundreds of parrots once flocked, the birds now only appear in scattered pairs or small groups. The global population of red-crowned parrots is now under 5,000 and plummeting.
Over the past decade, Mexico’s forestland, where more than half of the parrots live, has rapidly declined. Up to 60 percent of mature forests are expected to disappear while agribusiness doubles in Mexico by 2030. Trees in which red-crowned parrots nest, roost and eat are constantly displaced by cattle ranchers. (Buying the products of cows thus threatens the existence of parrots.)
Cleared forestland means easy access for bird traders too. Thousands upon thousands of parrots were captured to be sent to the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s, with more than half the birds dead after capture and never sent. Even after 1997, when red-crowned parrots received international treaty protection, smugglers continued to funnel parrots from Mexico to U.S. buyers.4 And no evidence shows that the illegal trade in red-crowned parrots has slowed since Mexico’s ban on commerce in native parrots was implemented in 2008.
In the two Texas counties where red-crowned parrots live, the human population increased by 36 percent ( Hidalgo County) and 21 percent ( Cameron County) between 2000 and 2010, and each county’s population is projected to increase 50 percent by 2040. This translates into deforestation for agriculture, timber and development. And it raises an urgent issue for animal law and advocacy: How can free-living animals ever have a chance to keep their autonomy (and indeed their very lives) if we may create property rights in their territories, and their stake in that same space goes unrecognized?
This presses us to conceptualize nonhumans' property — a recognition of other animals’ stake in their habitat, their water, their interest in reproducing and interacting — coupled with some way of resolving to control ourselves, our expansion across Earth’s finite space, and our urge to take the resources from or launch assaults on other members of the bio-community; and certainly it presses us to question the assumption that we, as benevolent keepers, ought to have and hold other animals. Environmental law offers a framework with potential for presenting animal-rights ideas as acceptable, sane, and necessary.
“Teaching ‘animal law’ differs substantially from advocating ‘animal rights,’ and the presentations I make as an ‘animal law’ professor reflect that difference,” notes Verne Smith, who teaches the course at Widener University in Delaware.
“What if,” posits Smith, “all 100-plus professors teaching Animal Law around the country decided at once to change their course to Animal Rights Law? The semantic shift and the signal it sends could be significant.”5
Perhaps animal law is more than just a course by the same name. The Environmental Law Clinic at Denver is working in animal law as its faculty and student attorneys collaborate with Friends of Animals to defend parrots from a stream of commerce flowing into the United States. Could animal rights and environmental law deliberately form a nexus? Combined, they’d chart a course that could genuinely be called Animal Rights Law. We’ll do all we can to hasten it along.
Yellow-Billed Parrots Get Attention Too
In October, the Fish and Wildlife Service issued a proposed rule to list yellow-billed parrots as threatened. This too responds to last year’s lawsuit filed by Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians, with pro bono work contributed by the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver — specifically, the second deadline in the court-ordered settlement agreement.
Yellow-billed parrots live in Jamaica, often in large, communal roosts. But trapping as well as habitat loss and degradation, mainly due to bauxite mining and road construction are constant threats, as is farming for the well-known brand Blue Mountain Coffee.
Frugivores who eat nuts and berries, blossoms and figs, the yellow-billed parrots disperse seeds and contribute to forest regeneration. In contrast, human farmers remove natural forests to plant crops and graze cattle and goats. Yam plants require support stakes, and farmers take saplings by the millions annually to use for stakes. Native forests are also ruined for plantations that grow pine, blue mahoe, Honduran mahogany, and cedar wood. These activities have left the central spinal forest severely fragmented. Mining roads cut into forests and ravage the land of yellow-billed parrots. Boas prey on parrot nests easily in cleared (edge) habitats.
On top of it all, climate change is increasing the force of storms. Hurricanes wreck trees and nests and blow parrots out to sea, drowning them. And then there are the farmers who shoot parrots to protect their crops (particularly after harsh weather events), and opportunistic pet traders. Though buying or selling Jamaican parrots is outlawed, parrots are sought as pets in Jamaica because of their bright feathers and ability to mimic human sounds.6 Poachers for the pet trade, who cut trees to get to nests or use trapping sticks baited with fruit and covered in glue, are the main cause of failures of adult parrots to fledge young birds. The Fish & Wildlife Service states, “Stringent gun control has been instituted by the Jamaican government, but a stricter policy on poaching of nests is needed.”
Strengthening gun control, or challenging deforestation, ranching and construction in Jamaica would be difficult for U.S. animal advocates. But 1970s-era environmental policy legislation, including the Endangered Species Act, has broad ramifications for free-living animals; by applying it thoughtfully, we can defend communities of animals who’d otherwise lose everything — their very existence on Earth. Our readers can support this work by challenging parrot sales in pet supply chain stores and local pet shops. A store manager will likely answer that the parrots sold at the shop are not members of endangered species, or that they are captive-bred. We can reply that this is all part of the same wrong. Selling any parrot perpetuates the socially acceptability of the cage-bird trade. This must end.
“Cheap” Takes Its Toll
With the headline “Vegan Food at Target,” a popular animal-advocacy group’s blog recently exclaimed, “Being vegan just got even easier (and cheaper!): Target just revamped its grocery sections to include tons of vegan products. Check it out…”
One of the biggest U.S. retail chains, with more than 1,600 branches that invariably require massive parking areas, Target contributes to environmental and community degradation and sprawl; as a result of this company’s quest for growth, nonhuman animals are constantly pushed aside. Maybe it’s time for some vegans to get outside and experience nature, and learn why it’s worth defending.
Philadelphia Council Ignores State Law to Slam Raccoons
A public hearing took place in October in Philadelphia after Council member Darrell Clarke introduced a bill t o wrest responsibility of raccoon abatement from the state game commission. The provision effectively declares war on raccoons by stating that any raccoon “ engaged in any nuisance activity”— and that includes “disturbing the peaceful enjoyment of the property by anyone inhabiting or visiting the property”—may be reported to the municipal animal-control department, whereupon the raccoon “shall be abated.”
Despite false media reports and Clarke's assertions, removal of a raccoon from a city structure is a death sentence. Pennsylvania law makes it so.7 The city’s provision passed, but is legally meaningless because, in fact, state law controls the response to raccoons.
Testifying for the bill was a highly frustrated Philadelphia resident who lives next to an empty house whose inhabitant went to jail. Sightings of animals in or around vacant buildings highlight the need for upkeep of empty city structures; but this matter won’t be solved by a raccoon-killing campaign. The Council members, though, played up the outrage over the presence of raccoons. Darrell Clarke showed a television segment with a raccoon climbing a building. Was this supposed to represent some terrible, imminent danger? If so, no one said how. The Council ignored the testimony of a wildlife biologist who explained that the problem is not raccoons, but a city that needs to pick up after itself. Multiple times, the council members were told state law controls the handling of raccoons – native wildlife. The members showed no interest in that legal reality.8
This bizarre provision and the way it passed continues to be discussed in Philadelphia, which is part of the native range of raccoons. As I testified in the hearing on behalf of our members:
These omnivorous animals are recyclers: they take leftovers in municipal waste and use it; they also control insects in private or community gardens. They are beings to be respected; legislation against them would cause undue alarm and yet another needless concept of animals as nuisances when in reality they are born on and belong to the Earth — including Greater Philadelphia — as we do.
Local parties testifying against the bill included Christina Kobland for East33.org, Lisa Levinson for the Toad Detour Committee, and wildlife biologist Rick Schubert.
Single-Issue Campaigns: What They Are and How They Work
Increasingly, activists use the buzzword single-issue to describe interventions for specific animals or communities of animals in particular locales. I’ve given this some thought recently. And it’s dawned on me that single-issue is a misleading term. Each individual, and each community of animals, is connected with others. No raccoon, no deer, no coyote, no fox is a lone raccoon, deer, coyote or fox. Each is an individual whose life matters, yet deer or foxes or coyotes interact with each other (which is how they are defined as a species); and they are, in turn, members of a larger community of life on Earth.
In any case, should anyone’s plight be dismissed for being particular, and thus somehow undeserving of current attention?
It’s appropriate to defend serious anti-fur campaigns; to stop a local, state or federal deer kill; or to support other specific interventions. Let us celebrate and support campaigners and caregivers who present a local case in connection broad changes in culture.
Friends of Animals’ work, as readers know, includes the recognition of good reasons to stop fur sales. Now, if a group is going to argue to the U.S. agriculture department that a Michigan farm ought to kill its chinchillas with one method instead of another, then we would explain (and we have explained!) the trouble with that kind of non-committal campaign.
In contrast, say a state, province or country banishes fur farms. We could count that as a welcome advancement. If we can end the use of pelts, wherever such ending might be possible, animals who could have lived free (minks, lynx, rabbits, seals, beavers, Arctic foxes…), can live free. Any time we successfully defend a free-living animal’s (or community’s) interest in living free of human domination, any time our actions free entire communities to actually experience what would be theirs if animal rights were a reality, this is a good thing and it is a step ahead.
Indeed, even though bulls cannot enjoy animal rights in the sense of living free, what animal advocate wouldn’t welcome an outright end to bullfighting in México? An adios to a sector that breeds bulls to torment and kill them for sport would be worthy of at least an audible sigh of collective relief. Although the best ban is the one we enact by controlling ourselves when we stop exploiting other animals, various bans are, in the meantime, ethically important where they can be obtained.
Some ask whether targeting fur and not leather in a given campaign is inconsistent. Leather is largely a commodity related to and encompassed by a bigger sector: animal agribusiness. Thus, we can’t ban it, so much as work on the vital issue of urging the people of our society to stop buying animal products. In the new edition of Friends of Animals’ Vegan Starter Guide, we talk about why avoidance of leather is important in animal advocacy. Check it out and share!
Striving for a consistent message, we challenge exploitation everywhere we can. Sometimes this means working on a project to stop the extermination of raccoons, sometimes to challenge language labs, sometimes to challenge the use of animal skins for fashion, and sometimes to encourage people to buy organic cotton socks instead of wool. There are many facets. If a fur ban is possible, let’s seize the day. Some will say it would not bring about a vegan culture. But it would bring our society nearer to a full shift in consciousness; so it is one of those things we need to achieve a vegan culture.
- 1. The proposed rule discussed here is published in Vol. 76, No. 194 of the Federal Register (6 Oct. 2011) . A copy of the finding is displayed online at http://www.fws.gov/policy/library/2011/2011-25808.pdf and at regulations.gov at Docket Number FWS–R9–ES–2011–0082. The text explains that the Fish and Wildlife Service finds the overall threats to red-crowned parrots “imminent” yet has deferred the actual listing, stating that Congress has appropriated $20,902,000 in the past fiscal year for listing and calling “our workload so much bigger than the amount of funds we have to accomplish it.”
- 2. Friends of Animals, et al. v. Salazar, Case No. 10 CV 00357 D.D.C.).
- 3. See Settlement Announcement: Friends of Animals and WildEarth Guardians Shield Birds From International Cage Trade (press release dated 28 Jul. 2010); available:http://www.friendsofanimals.org/actionline/autumn-2010/CageTrade.php.
- 4. They were then listed on CITES Appendix I. Under CITES, member countries work to ensure that international trade in animal and plant species is not detrimental to the survival of wild populations by regulating the import, export, and re-export of listed animal and plant species.
- 5. E-mail correspondence with author (16 Nov. 2011).
- 6. In 1981, the yellow-billed parrots were listed in Appendix II of CITES. The government found that most yellow-billed parrot nestlings are poached for the local market.
- 7. See Pa. Code § 147.726 (prohibiting the release of animals defined as rabies vector species: raccoons, skunks, foxes, bats, coyotes, groundhogs and other species so designated by the Game Commission).
- 8. Brian Abernathy, chief of staff for the City Managing Director's Office, stated in an e-mail after the hearing, “Yes, I expect the legislation to pass this week and, yes, the Administration does not intend to alter its policies on raccoons.” Two Council members who did not attend the hearing, Jack Kelly and Bill Green, voted against the bill.
I sat at the edge of a marshy meadow, a few miles out of Homer, Alaska. A cow and yearling calf moose grazed peacefully, caught in warm evening light. Behind me, on the road, I heard a squeal of brakes, and a big Winnebago-type rig pulled over. Out popped an enthusiastic older couple, camcorder at the ready. Talking and pointing excitedly, they headed straight for the moose, stopping now and then to shoot some footage — some of which featured the woman and the animals in the same frame, waving to the grandkids back home. The moose, used to a certain amount of human commotion, ignored the ruckus at first. But as the couple bored in, the cow broke off her grazing. Standing stiff-legged, she scanned her surroundings and the calf picked up her cue. Off they trotted, into the brush. The couple — friendly, nice folks from somewhere in the Midwest — waved and said hello as they bustled back to their camper. They went on their way, thrilled at their wildlife encounter. The moose were nowhere to be seen.
I’ve seen the same scenario replay itself uncounted times over the years. Wildlife sighted. People gather. Out come the binoculars, cameras, and so on, and the crowd presses in, motivated by the apparently irresistible desire to get close. Animals leave. Most of the million or so annual visitors to the state have come thousands of miles hoping for face time with charismatic megafauna (science-speak for large, sexy critters), and they’re not about to pass up a chance. I don’t blame them. I’ve been part of a few mob scenes myself. Grizzlies are nice, but on a slow day, a porcupine or fox will do. Whether you’re driving down the Seward Highway, boating the fiords of Southeast, or walking the sedge flats of the Katmai coast, it’s easy to find the wildlife. Just look for the traffic jam, and the groups of eager homo sapiens gathered about hoping to carve out a personal slice of Alaska.
No doubt wildlife viewing boosts the economy, and provides magnetic excitement for residents and visitors alike. But imagine looking outward from the perspective of a creature at the focal point of one of these tourist pileups. Any animal—including each of us — lives inside an invisible envelope of personal space. We’re not talking about territory, which refers to a given area that a creature may use or live in, and even leave. Our envelope surrounds us wherever we go, and it expands and contracts, depending on the situation. For example, you’ll tolerate strangers inches away, even leaning against you, if you’re crowded into a subway. But if you’re gathering berries with your two young children in a vacant field, and some comic-book mobster in a trench coat and fedora makes a beeline straight for you and stops 20 feet off, you feel crowded and nervous. If he stares at you incessantly and continues to inch closer, the threat level spikes through the roof.
You’ve now reached the threshold for the two classic biological responses to a threat: fight or flee. If you’re scared enough by the stranger, you retreat — perhaps take a few steps back, walk away, or launch into an all-out, panic-stricken run, dragging your squalling kids along. In biological terms, you’ve been displaced. It’s going to cost you time and energy, and so much for the pie you hoped to eat. Your kids are going to be shaken up, maybe hurt. Option two: you decide you can’t outrun this guy, or think you could kick his heinie, so you make threatening comments and gestures, and maybe come out swinging. Or simply stand your ground, gather your kids close, pretend to ignore the weirdo as you continue to pick, and see what happens next.
That same basic scenario applies to most living creatures in Alaska. Each individual needs to find food and water, safe areas for resting and shelter, and suitable mates, as well as places to raise young. All wildlife is engaged in a dynamic, life-or-death dance to fill these basic needs. At the same time, each creature monitors the envelope between itself and other life forms, dangerous or otherwise. These animals may be of the same or different species; they may be direct competitors or threats to safety; they may be potential meals; or creatures that can be ignored. Of course, prey animals like caribou, deer, or ptarmigan possess hair-trigger flee responses, but the exact size of an individual’s envelope can vary hugely. A half-mile may be too close to a wolf in one situation, and 50 feet may feel safe in another. Apex predators like big male brown bears or orcas, on the other hand, aren’t likely to flee from much, because they don’t have to.
The exact reaction all depends on time of year, individual personalities, age, social status of the animals involved, and so on. A brown bear feeding along a salmon stream may tolerate other bears just feet away. Two months later, when the bruins have spread out and lost their generalized tolerance, any bear within a hundred yards of that same animal may be too close for comfort. Whatever the case, every wild creature, from bark beetle to bull walrus, possesses that elastic sense of personal space, and will respond somehow to its invasion. Most bear maulings or moose stompings, widely interpreted as unprovoked aggression and proof of how dangerous wild animals can be, are in fact defensive responses to an intrusion into the creature’s envelope. The animal saw not Uncle Bill, but that mobster with a bulge in his coat, and acted accordingly. (Predatory attacks, extremely rare, are an obvious exception).
In between the extremes of fight or flee lie varying degrees of tolerance, aggression, and submission, all of which are signaled through a variety of species-specific behaviors. Intense staring, jaw-popping, pawing and stamping, hackle-raising, head-lowering, snorting or huffing, and antler-swinging are obvious signs of agitation. Musk oxen may butt heads or thrash willows when crowded by human viewers or approached by predators, in a display of displaced aggression. Yawning, especially among foxes, bears, and wolves, signals low-to-medium levels of stress. Ignoring an intruder or turning sideways to it, to display size (common responses among bears to each other, and often towards people) signals a desire to avoid conflict. A bear that sits down when approached and avoids prolonged eye contact is signaling his lower social status to a more dominant animal.
And without doubt, the most dominant animal out there is us. Even the charismatic megafauna we crave–humpback whales, grizzlies, wolves, polar bears, moose, you name it–will nearly always retreat from advancing people, even when they clearly have the upper hand. Sometimes the movement’s sudden, sometimes gradual. But almost any animal, if crowded enough by humans, will leave. Those that don’t run are usually neutrally habituated; that is, they have a learned tolerance for non-threatening human proximity. Wildlife in well-managed viewing areas, such as McNeil River, Pack Creek, or Denali National Park, tends to exemplify this unique condition. Animals that have never encountered people in a negative context before may also exhibit fearless, usually neutral behavior. So will exceptional individuals, who apparently have the personalities of WalMart greeters.
One thing to remember about any wildlife hotspot: there are reasons so many animals are there. These are usually places vital to survival, and displacing wildlife costs them that valuable energy and feeding time. The salmon run or the ripe berries may only last a week or two, and winter’s coming. A single person, a bit too intent ongetting close, can disrupt and displace dozens, or even hundreds, of creatures (I was thinking of caribou or birds in that last case). Consider the effect of daily, uncontrolled human use in such a place, overlapping precisely with the periods of peak animal use. There’s a reason for those regulations after all.
We can’t always prevent displacement. Think of the songbirds, squirrels, and so on we send packing on even a casual hike. The trick is to minimize our impact when we can. When viewing or photographing wildlife, imagine yourself through their eyes, noses, and ears, and act accordingly. Moving slowly and quietly, keeping a low profile, and avoiding a head-on approach will help send the right message. Long, frequent pauses, without intense staring, allow animals to settle in and accept human presence. Let the wildlife come to you–or not, as luck may have it. Be attuned to signs of animal stress. Be prepared to back off and to let animals do the same. Even if you’re experienced, a recommended, local guide who knows the lay of the land, and often the individual animals, is worth the cost. Remember, it’s all about the envelope, and what’s inside it — including us.
Writer Nick Jans is a longtime contributing editor for Alaska Magazine and author of nine books. His most recent essay collection, The Glacier Wolf, features a number of Alaska animal-rescue stories and thoughtful essays on wildlife. It's available from nickjans.com