Nature Is In Our Hands

Niagara

NiagaraPostcard.jpgBefore moving to Costa Rica in the mid-1990s I was working for a few years at a desk with images like the one above taped to the walls around me, and postcards from the previous century, like the one to the right, scattered about for inspiration.

Inman1.jpegOn the desk were drafts of a dissertation whose summary, on page 131, states: “…the results of the first hypothesis suggest that lodging firms in a tourism destination, such as Niagara Falls, should be directly involved with the strengthening and support of the institutional environment in which they operate.”

In other words, if you benefit from nature for your livelihood one of your best investments will be in building and strengthening institutions that protect nature. It may now sound like stating the obvious, but Nobel laureate economists made claims to the contrary that were treated as gospel truth twenty five years ago.

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So I spent 132 pages, not including bibliography, to make my point. I have wondered ever since whether it could be summed up more simply. I realized yesterday after all these years, when Amie and I were meeting with graphic designers to discuss how to communicate more effectively about Organikos, that maybe the answer is yes.

Hand+TreeWhen I saw this hand and tree side by side in that meeting, I had a reaction that was related to what the graphic designer intended, but not exactly.

Hand+ OrganikosWhatever his precise intent was, my mouth opened and blurted out: Yes! Nature is in our hands. And so we have come upon a way to say a little more simply what Organikos means in addition to what Organikos does.

Charismatic Doesn’t Always Have to Be Cute

We applaud Pennsylvania lawmakers for choosing to highlight a creature whose presence in waterways indicates healthy ecosystems. Thanks to NPR for the story.

Snot Otter Emerges Victorious In Vote For Pennsylvania’s Official Amphibian

Pennsylvania’s soon-to-be official amphibian has more than its fair share of nicknames: snot otter, mud devil, Allegheny alligator, devil dog, lasagna lizard.

In short, it’s not exactly a looker.

But the Eastern hellbender salamander was the overwhelming choice of lawmakers for amphibian representation in the state. On Tuesday, the state’s House of Representatives voted 191-6 on a bill that would name the aquatic creature its state amphibian. The Senate passed the bill in February.

The hellbender is a nocturnal salamander that can grow more than 2 feet long. The mud-colored creature, covered in a layer of mucus, breathes primarily through loose flaps of thick, wrinkled skin that look a little bit like lasagna noodles.

The hellbender is also a canary for environmental degradation. Continue reading

Organikos & Escazú Coffee Restoration

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I just received the image above, which shows where coffee can be planted on land that currently has grass cover. For most of the last century that land had high grade arabica coffee growing on it, but two decades ago the coffee was removed. The residential value of the land was seen to be greater than the agricultural value, and a large plantation was subdivided into parcels between 3 and 10 acres.

Org100That was then, this is now. Coffee is more valuable than grass. The trees that will be planted to shade the coffee will be of greater value–to birds as well as to the coffee–than the view of undulating hillside. The image above is a first step in the planning process of this restoration initiative. Organikos will start selling coffee in mid-2019, and the proceeds of those sales will pay for the restoration and ongoing improvements of this lot. That is an example of what we mean by 100% Forward.

Horses Reversing Domestication

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The group of 23 wild Konik horses which arrived in the Ukrainian village of Orlovka on March 26 represents the first translocation of such animals into the Danube Delta. SOLVIN ZANKL / REWILDING EUROPE

Thanks, as always, to our friends at Rewilding Europe for another story about an animal we always think of as one of the oldest examples of domestication, and its role in rewilding:

Natural grazing in the Ukrainian Danube Delta boosted by arrival of Konik horses

Representing the first ever translocation of Konik horses into the Danube Delta, the shipment of 23 animals travelled by road from Latvia to the Ukrainian village of Orlovka. By helping to create and maintain mosaic landscapes, their grazing will help to boost biodiversity in the Danube Delta rewilding area.

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The sturdy Koniks, which lived over 20 years in the wild in Latvia, are well-suited to life in the Danube Delta. SOLVIN ZANKL / REWILDING EUROPE

Two herds of wild Konik horses will soon be roaming the landscapes of the Ukrainian Danube Delta, boosting the area’s biodiversity through their natural grazing. A shipment of 23 horses (made up of two family groups) arrived in the small delta village of Orlovka on March 26, having made the long road journey from Latvia. Despite the lengthy trip of around 1800 kilometres, which took nearly two days and two nights, all of the animals were pronounced fit and well on arrival by a veterinarian. Continue reading

South-South Cooperation In The Fight Against Invasive Species

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We missed the story last year about two men in the photo above, from southern India, who were brought to the Florida habitat where invasive pythons are doing enough damage that we started paying attention eight years ago. We are thinking about it again, thanks to the Guardian:

Snake hunters have captured what they say is the largest python ever found in the swamps of the Florida Everglades: a pregnant female more than 17ft (5.2 metres) long and weighing 140lb, or 63.5kg.

The team from the Big Cypress National Preserve posted news of their record-setting catch in a Facebook post that also noted the giant reptile was carrying 73 eggs.

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Big Cypress National Preserve group captures 17ft female python on 4 April. Photograph: Big Cypress National Preserve/Facebook

Environmentalists have been struggling to find ways to eradicate Burmese pythons, a non-native species, from the 1.5m-acre wilderness since the 1980s, when some were released into the wild as overgrown pets. Others escaped from a breeding facility wrecked by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Continue reading

Seeds Are Our Future

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Lotus flower seed heads and raw, un-puffed lotus seeds.

Lotus flower first appeared in these pages years ago, but its seeds were never mentioned. Time to correct that. We missed the opportunity to mention this book when it was first published–we missed the enthusiastic review–but better late than never. Thanks to the folks at Gastropod for the shoutout in a recent episode that gives Thor Hanson and his book their due:

Seeds

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When seeds first evolved, hundreds of millions of years ago, they not only revolutionized the plant world, but they also eventually sowed the path for human civilization. Today, it’s nearly impossible to eat a meal without consuming a plant embryo—or many. But how did seeds come to play such a critical role in human history? Why might one seed in particular, the lotus seed, hold the secret to immortality? And, perhaps just as importantly, how does this magical seed taste?

Fortunate Encounters With Birds

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Jeffrey and Jason WardIllustration by João Fazenda

Thanks to Anna Russell for this short wonder:

Birding Brothers of the Bronx

A chance sighting of a hungry peregrine falcon gave a homeless teen a lifelong passion; now Jason Ward and his brother Jeffrey star in “Birds of North America,” on topic.com.

When Jason Ward was fourteen, he spotted a peregrine falcon devouring a pigeon on the windowsill of the South Bronx homeless shelter where his family was living. “I was literally witnessing a nature documentary unfold,” he recalled, adding, “That was definitely my spark bird.” Ward, now thirty-two, has five siblings, but only he and his younger brother Jeffrey are birders. (Jeffrey’s spark bird was a barn owl, which he saw in Central Park.) “These peregrines are really powerful fliers,” Jason said. “They have the ability to just change their immediate surroundings. Growing up in the Bronx, that was something that I admired, and wanted to be able to do myself.” Continue reading

Watching Birds From Home, Online

Thanks to Lewis Page and the folks at Sierra for this selection of bird-viewing options:

6 Exciting Birdwatching Webcams

Vicariously join in on the springtime migration from your couch

Birding is a sport for the intrepid—its participants rise at ungodly hours, bundle in layers, and sit silently for hours, all in hopes of seeing a winged animal that may never arrive. But for those who aren’t quite ready to trek outdoors into wintry-remnant weather, or who might be stuck in front of a computer when they wish they weren’t, there’s another, tamer option. Indeed, the miracles of modern webcam and streaming technology have afforded even the lowliest of couch potatoes ample portals into a variety of avian worlds. And the advent of spring means that flocks of migratory birds are en route north from their winter haunts—which means it’s about to be primetime for bird cams. Here are a few to watch in the coming months.

The Mississippi River’s Migratory Birds

On a small island in the middle of the Mississippi River’s Lake Onalaska, near the Wisconsin-Minnesota border, stands a slowly rotating camera on a pole. Continue reading

A Warm Welcome To Birding’s Newer Adherents

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Caleb Hunt (left) and Tony Croasdale at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum in Philadelphia. In a city known for its punk underground and avian history, the friends have found an overlap that celebrates both niches. Photo: Mark Makela

I do not have a tattoo. If I did, it may be that a bird would adorn my arm. Our efforts to promote the joys of birdwatching combined with the conservation benefits that come from increased concern for bird habitat all suggest that I would be susceptible. I came of age during the emergence of punk rock, so the possibilities are there:

Welcome to Birdpunk: A Subculture of a Subculture

Punk has always been about embracing different forms of expression. Meet the people who are putting birding on that spectrum.

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A trio of vultures serve as badges of Croasdale’s birding obsession. Photos: Mark Makela

It’s the evening golden hour at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum. A whirlwind of swallows swims through the soft light, chasing midges into a frenzy. Nearby on a platform a handful of birders scans the dimming sky, exposed to the marsh and its blood-thirsty elements.

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A trio of vultures. Photo: Mark Makela

In plain T-shirts and khakis, the group blends into the woods-y backdrop—with two exceptions. Caleb Hunt, a bookkeeper for an adult-entertainment boutique, rocks a Philly Punx tank top with a fanged, horned Benjamin Franklin splashed across the front. Next to her, Tony Croasdale, the leader of today’s walk, sports an aviary of skin art. A Swallow-tailed Kite, Belted Kingfisher, Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, Greater Racket-tailed Drongo, Scarlet Tanager, and three types of vultures bedeck his legs, collarbone, and arms.

Croasdale’s tattoos pay homage to two of his biggest life passions: birding and punk rocking. He plunged into the first as a kid when his father took him to Philadelphia’s Pennypack Park to learn about kingfishers. Continue reading

Look Away, But At Least Listen

9780525576709.jpegWe have already linked to stories about life after warming enough that it borders on repetitive. No choice, as the book to the right makes very clear. This recent short video by the author will make you wince. There is something about visual cues on this topic that make it tougher to listen without being distracted. One of the better conversations with him is this one hour+, so if you only have that much time for him, make the best of it:

After years of hovering on the periphery of American politics, never quite the star of the show, it seems that climate change is having a moment. Continue reading

Citizen Science Goes Far Afield

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LUISA RIVERA / YALE E360

We have been on watch for citizen science stories since the early days of this platform. Seth had just accepted an offer to work at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and typical of him, did his homework on what he had committed to. Since then, dozens of first person and linked-to citizen science stories from other members of our community have appeared in these pages. Thanks to Yale e360 and Jessica Leber for this story about how far and wide the practice has spread, and a few of its more amazing discoveries:

Species Sleuths: Amateur Naturalists Spark a New Wave of Discovery

Scientists have not kept pace with the work of discovering new species. Now, a growing number of committed hobbyists – ranging from a Belgian bus driver to a California cybersecurity expert – are out in the field, igniting a boom in documenting the world’s biodiversity.

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COURTESY OF TERRI CLEMENTS

When mushroom hunter Terri Clements found a unique specimen near her home in Arizona, she couldn’t be certain by its appearance that she’d stumbled across a new species. She tracked down a commercial lab that would process DNA from samples she collected and studied the resulting sequences. Only later did she cold email a mycological scientist, who confirmed her work. As a result, this December, she became part of a team publishing a scientific paper describing her new mushroom species, Morchella kaibabensis, along with three others.

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Mushroom hunter Terri Clements used DNA sequencing to confirm a new species of black morel, Morchella kaibabensis, she found near her home in Arizona.

A former restauranteur and real estate executive who retired in 2012, Clements has no formal scientific training beyond her college microbiology minor. But using a combination of traditional taxonomy — the science of describing, naming, and classifying life on earth — and increasingly accessible DNA classification tools, she’s now hooked on documenting fungi either previously unknown in her region, or, just as often, new to science. “I spend hours and hours on it,” she says. “It’s like a full-time job for which I don’t get paid.”

Her work puts her in the ranks of an increasingly vibrant group of hobbyists busy documenting unexplored species on the planet, ranging from a chemical engineer in France, to a cybersecurity specialist in California, to retirees like Clements. Many study organisms from specific groups of fungi, insects, and other invertebrates that are less charismatic and surveyed than the orchids, birds, and butterflies that have long attracted the public’s interest. Continue reading

Organikos 2019 & Beyond

Organikos2019Logo.jpgThe first reference was in 2017, with a brief reverie on tastes associated with places. Organikos next appeared in early 2019, most recently here. And today just a quick further note to clarify that while chocolate and other taste of place items are in testing to be offered by Organikos, specialty coffee from various regions in Costa Rica is the first product. The simple reason is that coffee is in so many ways the most important product of this country, and set the stage for the country’s many remarkable achievements, including those yet to come. Organikos will focus on specialty coffee because it has a following as strong now as any time in history.

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In the new wave of coffee fanaticism, attention to tasting notes and pairings rivals that of the world of wine.

In this short video posted this morning Rachel Lipstein helps define the current intense wave of interest:

Coffee, ambrosia of the capitalist and the creative alike, is many things: a fixture of social ritual, the product of a vast agricultural production steeped in colonialist history, and the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world. Entire economies rest upon its cultivation and its caffeine content…

That is an intense opening statement, and sets the stage for the video’s goal of helping a lay person understand the obsession a bit better:

CoffeeObsess…Its modern permutations go far beyond cream and sugar: fair-trade designations, additions of alternative milks such as soy or pea-protein, a preparation with butter and oil (for optimized biohacking), or simply with a piece of shortbread dunked in. It has inspired legal and moral crusades and “love is brewing” theme weddings. The latest installment in The New Yorker’s Annals of Obsession video series features a group of specialty-coffee experts and explores the fringes of the fascination…

Coffee is the taste of many places other than Costa Rica, but this is home, so here we go. We have already roasted, packaged and labeled coffee in trial markets, and have made some important adjustments as we prepare to launch formally in a few months. In earlier posts you could see the font we thought was best with which to write the name Organikos. We have decided otherwise for the time being, in part because with the newer design, as the logotype for Organikos evolves, we hope to have a smaller footprint with a message that fits on one side (versus front and back of package labeling).

Butterflies From Another Perspective

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Forest mother-of-pearl
‘It was a painstaking process, holding my breath and sitting perfectly still every time I pressed the shutter release. It seemed to take forever’

Time for a break from the regular news. Here are some visual reminders of why we care for nature, and why we protect it. Thanks to the Guardian for bringing this photographer’s unique technique to our attention in the photo feature titled The butterfly effect: wings in extreme close-up – in pictures:

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Detail of a Malay lacewing butterfly. Photograph: Jake Mosher

Thanks to that feature, I wandered into this commercial project, valorizing the beauty of butterflies, that I can recommend as worth a look:

METAMORPHOSIS

*** Featured in the Royal Photographic Society’s Journal, and also in The Guardian. Please take a look at their photo gallery display here.***

Limited edition, 1 of 1 pieces. When one sells, it will not be reprinted in any size, ever. This is your chance to own collectible, one-of-a-kind pieces of art the likes of which the world has never seen before.

These images are the composition of hundreds – and sometimes thousands – of 4:1 macro photographs of butterfly and moth wings. There is no artificial color, imported designs, or any “drawn” artifacts. This is art and photography intertwined, and these images are only available here. This work has been recognized as entirely unique to me. Continue reading

Fighting Climate Change With Ecosystem Restoration

Photo by Pexels

Throughout the history of this site we’ve focussed on accentuating positive steps in conservation, while also pointing out the negative forces with the intention that knowledge is power that leads to action.

We applaud the UN Environment Assembly for pressing further into the remaining window of opportunity to restore ecosystem health.

New UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to inspire bold UN Environment Assembly decisions

The UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi, Kenya, is the world’s leading decision-making forum. From 11 to 15 March 2019, it will be considering how best to improve outcomes for people and planet. Ecosystems will be high up on the agenda.

The timing looks good. The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, declared on 1 March 2019 by the UN General Assembly, aims to massively scale up the restoration of degraded and destroyed ecosystems as a proven measure to fight climate change, and enhance food security, water supply and biodiversity.

The degradation of land and marine ecosystems undermines the well-being of 3.2 billion people and costs about 10 per cent of the annual global gross domestic product in loss of species and ecosystems services. Key ecosystems that deliver numerous services essential to food and agriculture, including supply of freshwater, protection against hazards and provision of habitat for species such as fish and pollinators, are declining rapidly.

Restoration of 350 million hectares of degraded land between now and 2030 could generate US$9 trillion in ecosystem services and take an additional 13 to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.

UN Environment and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations will lead implementation of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. Continue reading

Nature’s Gender-bending

Top left, a male blue morpho butterfly; top middle, a female. The remainder are gynandromorphic, with both male and female characteristics. Credit Nipam H. Patel

With the frequency of gender fluidity in the news (often disparagingly), it’s helpful to read that it’s something that exists in many areas of the natural world.

“Nature’s dealing with conformity all the time in brutal ways and loving ways and all the rest of it,” Dr. Dreger said. “It doesn’t follow the human fantasy of everybody having to be normal. And humans don’t follow that ridiculous idea either.”

Well said.

Split-Sex Animals Are Unusual, Yes, but Not as Rare as You’d Think

All serious butterfly collectors remember their first gynandromorph: a butterfly with a color and pattern that are distinctly male on one wing and female on the other.

Seeing one sparks wonder and curiosity. For the biologist Nipam H. Patel, the sighting offered a possible answer to a question he had been pondering for years: During embryonic and larval development, how do cells know where to stop and where to go?

He was sure that the delicate black outlines between male and female regions appearing on one wing — but not the other — identified a key facet of animal development.

“It immediately struck me that this was telling me something interesting about how the wing was being made,” said Dr. Patel, a biologist who now heads the Marine Biological Laboratory, a research institute in Woods Hole, Mass., affiliated with the University of Chicago.

The patterning on the gynandromorph’s wing shows that the body uses signaling centers to control where cells go during development and what tissues they become in creatures as diverse as butterflies and people, Dr. Patel said.

Gynandromorph butterflies and other half-male, half-female creatures, particularly birds, have fascinated both scientists and amateurs for centuries. The latest sensation was a half-red, half-taupe cardinal that became a regular visitor in the backyard of Shirley and Jeffrey Caldwell in Erie, Pa. Although the bird would have to be tested to confirm that it is a gynandromorph, its color division strongly suggests that it is, scientists say.

Split-sex creatures are not as unusual as they may seem when one discovery goes viral, as the cardinal’s did. It extends beyond birds and butterflies to other insects and crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs.

Continue reading

Marine Biologists & Earth’s Future

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Hirondellea gigas, an amphipod collected from the Mariana Trench (ALAN JAMIESON / NEWCASTLE UNIVERSITY)

Ed Yong’s story will not make you happy. But it is a plastics must-read. Marine biologists are akin to climate scientists whose job requires sharing specific unsettling findings. To put it mildly. The scientist in this case says he does not like doing this work. But he continues in the interest of science and in the interest of the planet’s future. Thanks to him and people like him:

A Troubling Discovery in the Deepest Ocean Trenches

In the Mariana Trench, the lowest point in any ocean, every tiny animal tested had plastic pollution hiding in its gut.

Alan Jamieson remembers seeing it for the first time: a small, black fiber floating in a tube of liquid. It resembled a hair, but when Jamieson examined it under a microscope, he realized that the fiber was clearly synthetic—a piece of plastic. And worryingly, his student Lauren Brooks had pulled it from the gut of a small crustacean living in one of the deepest parts of the ocean. Continue reading

Adaptation & South-South Cooperation

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Ethiopian farmers examine the results of a trial of wheat varieties. BIOVERSITY INTERNATIONAL

The bread we eat in the not so distant future may depend on the type of cooperation described below. Thanks to Yale e360 and Virginia Gewin for this story:

How Crowdsourcing Seeds Can Help Farmers Adapt to Climate Change

In Ethiopia and other developing nations, scientists are working with small-scale farmers on trials to see which seed varieties perform best in changing conditions. These initiatives are enabling farmers to make smarter crop choices in the face of rising temperatures, drought, and more extreme weather.

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Durum wheat varieties grow in trial plots in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Thousands of farmers participated in the project, testing how various wheat strands performed under changing climatic conditions. BIOVERSITY INTERNATIONAL

In Ethiopia’s undulating, high-elevation grasslands, farmers — most of them working parcels of only two to three acres — produce more wheat than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa. They accomplish this feat in the face of chronically short supplies of high-quality seed. Still, Ethiopia’s record harvest of 4.6 million metric tons in 2017 didn’t satisfy the country’s needs, forcing it to import an additional 1.5 million tons of wheat. Continue reading

Addictions Abound, Solutions Hiding In Plain Sight

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Orangutans rescued near a palm oil plantation in Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photograph: Vier Pfoten/Four Paws/Rex

Thanks to the Guardian for presenting this story by Paul Tullis:

How the world got hooked on palm oil

It’s the miracle ingredient in everything from biscuits to shampoo. But our dependence on palm oil has devastating environmental consequences. Is it too late to break the habit?

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A fire at an oil palm plantation in Pekanbaru, Sumatra, due to intensive farming methods and the dry season. Photograph: AFP/Getty

Once upon a time in a land far, far away, there grew a magical fruit. This fruit could be squeezed to produce a very special kind of oil that made cookies more healthy, soap more bubbly and crisps more crispy. The oil could even make lipstick smoother and keep ice-cream from melting. Because of these wondrous qualities, people came from around the world to buy the fruit and its oil.

In the places where the fruit came from, people burned down the forest so they could plant more trees that grew the fruit – making lots of nasty smoke and sending all of the creatures of the forest scurrying away. When the trees were burned, they emitted a gas that heated up the air. Then everybody was upset, because they loved the forest’s creatures and thought the temperature was warm enough already. A few people decided they shouldn’t use the oil any more, but mostly things went on as before, and the forest kept burning.

This is a true story. Except that it is not magic. The fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis), which grows in tropical climates, contains the world’s most versatile vegetable oil. It can handle frying without spoiling, and blends well with other oils. Its combination of different types of fats and its consistency after refining make it a popular ingredient in packaged baked goods. Its low production costs make it cheaper than frying oils such as cottonseed or sunflower. It provides the foaming agent in virtually every shampoo, liquid soap or detergent. Cosmetics manufacturers prefer it to animal tallow for its ease of application and low price. It is increasingly used as a cheap raw material for biofuels, especially in the European Union. It functions as a natural preservative in processed foods, and actually does raise the melting point of ice-cream. Palm oil can be used as an adhesive that binds together the particles in fibreboard. Oil palm trunks and fronds can be made into everything from plywood to the composite body of Malaysia’s national automobile.

Read the whole story here.

Elephants By The Sea

100 life-size lantana replicas of wild elephants will travel across three continents spreading the message of peaceful coexistence with nature.

The beautiful herd of Asian Elephants calmly drinking from this watering hole poses no threat to any onlooker. They’re actually sculptures made from the invasive lantana, introduced to the Indian subcontinent as an ornamental shrub by the British. The harmless looking plant is a scourge to native flora, animals and people of the regions where it’s taken over, as it literally poisons its surroundings so nothing else can survive there, destroying the natural biodiversity of the area.

100 of these extraordinary, life-sized works of art have been on display in Kerala, at Kochi’s South Beach, coinciding with the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The outdoor exhibit, entitled Co-Exist: Matriarchs for a Whole Earth, is on display for only until the end of February, after which it will travel to Bangalore and New Delhi. In 2020, the elephant models will be taken to England where they will be displayed at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Parks, both in London. In 2021, they will travel by truck across the USA, where they will finally be auctioned, the proceeds of which will go to preservation of wild animals.

The project is a collaboration between multiple organizations, designers and indigenous community artisans. Members of the Ashoka Trust Trust for Research in Ecology & the Environment (ATREE) devised a way to safely craft with lantana as a raw material and support for the making and display of lantana elephants is through the NGOs Elephant Family, The Real Elephant Collective (TREC), and The Shola Trust.

Fort Kochi To Have 100 ‘Lantana’ Elephants. And Here’s Why You Need To See Them

Highlighting the cause of nature and wildlife conservation at a global scale, the Lantana elephants are part of a greater initiative to raise funds for conservation and help people and elephants live together more harmoniously.

On February 7, if you are wandering around the popular South Beach in Fort Kochi, you are sure to come across a magnificent herd of 100 Asian elephants.

If you are wondering about the possibility of such a huge congregation of these beings at one place, let us break the news.

These are beautifully sculpted life-size elephants that have been made by tribal artisans from Thorapalli in Gudalur using Lantana camara or Lantana, a toxic invasive weed.

Lantana elephants are part of a greater initiative to raise funds for conservation and help people and elephants live together more harmoniously.

“Our vision is to bring Asia’s elephants and the issues they face out of India and the shadow cast by the African ivory crisis. With Asian elephants numbering only a tenth of their African counterparts, the importance of this unique migration cannot be underplayed. The survival of a species is at stake,” says Ruth Ganesh, principal trustee and the creative force of Elephant Family.

She had conceptualised the Lantana herd along with Shubhra Nayar of TREC. Modelled on real elephants from the Gudalur-Pandalur region, in its bid to raise awareness and funds for the conservation of Asian elephants, this unique project is also clearing the harmful Lantana from the Nilgiri forests while providing livelihoods to about 70 artisans from the Paniya, Bettakurumba and Soliga communities.

With their inherent knowledge of wild elephants and their exceptional crafting skills with Lantana, these artisans are bringing life to the elephant forms, while earning a dignified income. The elephants are designed by Shubhra Nayar and Tariq T of TREC, with Subhash Gautam overseeing the process. Continue reading

Anything But Sweet

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Trees felled for a cocoa plantation inside the Scio Forest Reserve in western Ivory Coast. MIGHTY EARTH

Fred Pearce provides puzzling yet somehow understandable examinations of environmental challenges, that make it impossible to look away with a clear conscience. Since reading this (note the photo above and in that story) I have been paying more attention to chocolate and its origins. I appreciate Mr. Pearce’s deep dive into the dark reality documented in this story:

The Real Price of a Chocolate Bar: West Africa’s Rainforests

Ivory Coast has lost more than 80 percent of its forests in the last 50 years, mainly to cocoa production. The government has a plan to turn over management of former forest to international chocolate manufacturers: Is it a conservation strategy or a land grab?

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Workers cut cocoa in the Ivory Coast village of Godilehiri. Most of the country’s cocoa is grown by small farmers, on plots of 7 to 10 acres. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

How can you save the last rainforests from rampant deforestation in one of Africa’s most biodiverse countries? A crackdown on those responsible — in this case, chocolate growers and traders? In the Ivory Coast, the government thinks differently. It is unveiling a plan instead to remove protection from most of its remaining forests and hand them over to the world’s chocolate traders. Is this madness, a brutal land grab, or the only way out?

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A park ranger stands over illegally harvested cocoa, found during a routine patrol of the Cavally Classified Forest in Ivory Coast. MIGHTY EARTH

In the past half-century, few countries have lost rainforests as fast as the Ivory Coast. More than 80 percent of its forests are gone, most following an illegal invasion by as many as a million landless people into national parks and other supposedly protected forests. The Marahoue National Park alone has 30,000 illegal inhabitants. The invaders are growing cocoa to supply the global chocolate business.

The Ivory Coast, a West African country the size of New Mexico, produces more than a third of the world’s cocoa. The crop contributes around a tenth of the nation’s GDP. But around 40 percent of the country’s cocoa crop — more than a tenth of the world’s chocolate bars — is grown illegally in the country’s national parks and 230 supposedly protected government-owned forests, known as forêts classée, says Etelle Higonnet of Mighty Earth, a United States-based environmental group active in cataloging the footprint of key global commodities.

Most cocoa is grown in monocultures of what is known as the full-sun system, requiring the removal of all surrounding trees. Meeting the world’s insatiable demand for the beans that make chocolate has resulted in many protected areas being “completely converted to farms,” according to Eloi Anderson Bitty of the University Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan. Continue reading