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Book Review: I am Not a Plastic Bag by Rachel Hope Allison

By Lavanya Sunkara
April 29, 2012
File under: Book Review, Conservation, Healthy Habitat

Have you ever thought twice about tossing that plastic bottle in the garbage? Or that handbag you threw in the trash because you got bored with it? Well, they don’t disappear into thin air. They appear in the middle of the ocean, taking on a new life of their own and hurting marine life.

Upon discovering the Great Pacific Garbage Patch a few years ago, artist and illustrator Rachel Hope Allison was shocked. The patch is a giant destructive vortex of floating debris of human consumer waste that has been accumulating over the years. It lies in the calm seas between Hawaii and the California Coastline and is destructing to the marine environment.

Published by Archaia in association with Jeff Corwin Connect (co-founded by conservationist and Emmy winning TV host of Ocean Mysteries Jeff Corwin), Allison’s debut graphic novel I am Not a Plastic Bag is about this very real threat of the giant trash island. The novel is told entirely without words.

Explaining why she chose this topic for her debut novel, Allison said, “I remember being freaked out when I was a little kid when I heard about big problems like global warming and ozone layer. I didn’t know what to do with it. So I decided to write a story that is not all doom and gloom. This book has some whimsical moments too.”

Allison beautifully weaves the tale through colorful illustrations of objects— a supermarket plastic bag, a broken umbrella, a rubber ducky, a car tire—that make their way to the patch in the ocean and form a destructive island of trash. As someone who is passionate about science and wanted to be a marine biologist, Allison artfully portrays the interactions the trash items have with one another and their effect on marine life.

In the book, giant sea birds hovering over the debris get entangled in the remains of plastic bags, a giant squid barely escapes getting caught in the mess. Realty is worse. There have been numerous accounts of beached sperm whales discovered with stomachs full of plastic debris and fishing nets. Albatrosses, mistaking plastic pieces (also known as nurdles) for food that cause a sensation of being full starve to death.

In the foreword of the book, Jeff Corwin wrote, “The journey of discarded waste is wide-ranging and far-reaching. A flyaway sheet of plastic tarp may end up smothering a living boulder of coral reef, while a produce bag from a distant supermarket, masquerading as a jellyfish, could find its way into the belly of an endangered sea turtle.”

While the subject may seem hard to stomach, there are parts in the book that are beautiful and hopeful. And the message is clear- we can all do something to curb the damage. Allison hopes that “the book will get people excited about learning more about nature instead of being scared,” she added.

Even though US citizens take up only 5% of the world population, we generate 40% of our planet’s trash. “Your average American produces nearly 5 pounds of non-biodegradable material each day, which nationally adds up to about 200 million tons of long-lived garbage,” said Jeff Corwin in the forward.

He added, “The good news is that each one of us, no matter where you are from, or how old you are, has the power and the responsibility to keep our Earth clean.”

We can all make simple changes to reduce garbage. We can minimize use of plastic bottles, bags, cans and recycle whenever possible.

I Am Not a Plastic Bag is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and stores selling graphic novels. For each tree that is cut down for the printing of book, two trees will be planted.

Top Ten Items Found in Ocean Debris (information from Ocean Conservancy)

1) Cigarettes
2) Food wrappers/containers
3) Caps, lids
4) Cups, plates, forks, knives, spoons
5) Plastic beverage bottles
6) Plastic bags
7) Glass beverage bottles
8) Beverage cans
9) Straws/stirrers
10) Rope


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Saving Horses for 20 Years: Melanie Sue Bowles, Founder of the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary

By Lavanya Sunkara
March 18, 2012
File under: Conservation, Interviews, Wildlife

(Melanie Sue Bowles, Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary, Arkansas)

HBO’s new racing drama Luck ceased production after the third horse died on the set. The young thoroughbred was euthanized after it hurt its head during a fall. Sadly, the industry that thrives on the backs of these hardworking horses is failing them. The horses are raced at too young of an age before their bones develop, and they sustain injuries as a result. Not all retired race horses get to live out their lives in peace.

Last year I came upon the book, The Horses of Proud Spirit by Melanie Sue Bowles and it opened my eyes to the plight of horses in America. Melanie is the founder of the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary located in Mena, Arkansas and she has the same philosophy as I do. Riding horses used to be one of my favorite activities until one day I heard about the abuse that goes on in stables and the horse racing industry, and decided to give it up. I consider horses my friends, not merely a means of enjoyment. …read more of Saving Horses for 20 Years: Melanie Sue Bowles, Founder of the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary here

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Leap Day the Frog Way

By Meghan Bartels
February 28, 2012
File under: Amphibians, Fun Facts

The real purpose of leap day may be to keep the calendar aligned with the seasons, but here at the rescue project, we’d like to believe the day is designed to honor our favorite leapers. To celebrate, we’ve put together some fun facts about frog leaping.

  • Not all frogs can leap, or even hop. The desert rain frog (Breviceps macrops) has legs that are too short to hop. Instead, it walks.
  • Male frogs of the genus Pipa are known to defend their territory by jumping at and then wrestling other males.
  • The New Guinea bush frog (Asterophrys turpicola) takes jump attacks one step further: before it jumps at a strange frog, it inflates itself and shows off its blue tongue.
  • Stumpffia tridactyla are normally slow-moving critters, but when they’re startled they can abruptly jump up to 8 inches. That doesn’t sound very far, but these little guys are less than half an inch long!
  • The Fuji tree frog (Platymantis vitiensis) may be the leaping stuntman of the frog world. Each time it leaps, it twists in the air—sometimes even 180 degrees—to throw predators off its trail.
  • The Larut torrent frog (Amolops larutensis) gets its name from a nifty leaping trick: it can jump into a fast-moving stream and back to its usual perch, the underside of a rock, without being affected by the current.
  • Similarly, the parachuting red-eyed leaf frog (Agalychnis saltator) gets its name because it speeds to mating opportunities by jumping from trees with finger-and toe-webbing spread wide.
  • The record for longest jump by an American bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) recorded in a scientific paper is a little over 4 feet. But scientists who went to the Calaveras County Fair, which Mark Twain’s short story made famous for frog jumping, found that more than half the competitors bested that record—and one jumped more than 7 feet in one leap!
  • The Guinness Book of World Records doesn’t include any frogs for their leaping ability. But it does track human performance in frog jumping (jumping while holding one’s toes). There are records listed for the longest frog jump and the fastest frog jumping over 10 and 100 meters.

In honor of leap day celebrations being coordinated globally by Amphibian Ark, the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project made this video for a frog song written by Alex Culbreth.


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Give the Gift of Hope to Wildlife this Valentine’s Day

By Lavanya Sunkara
February 8, 2012
File under: Conservation, Education, Nature, Wildlife

“The animal kingdom is in critical condition. The affliction isn’t a disease, but rather a crisis of endangerment that threatens to wipe out many of the world’s animal species forever. Ironically, the only species capable of saving these animals is the same one that’s responsible for putting them in danger.”
~ Jeff Corwin 100 Heartbeats: The Race to Save Earth’s Most Endangered Species

It may be hard to admit, but every one of us has played a part in putting the precious animals we share this planet with in peril. The paper we write on, the furniture we use, the homes we live in comes from wood from clear-cut forests, leaving countless animals homeless. The cruises we take leave the oceans polluted and hurt marine life. Circuses perpetuate animal abuse. Tourism industries in many countries rely on …read more of Give the Gift of Hope to Wildlife this Valentine’s Day here

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The Endangered Unknown – The Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant

By Peter Kleinhenz
December 22, 2011
File under: Environmental Concerns, Environmental Protection, Healthy Habitat, Poaching, Wildlife

High on a mountaintop in northern South Carolina, a buzzing fly meets a sweet smell. Flying towards the scent, the fly soon finds that the source is on the edge of a strange-looking plant. The fly stops and finds itself in a cesspool of delicious nectar. While following the trail of this nectar, the fly slips on a waxy surface and falls down into the plant. The fly tries to fly out but super-slick surfaces directly underneath downward-pointing hairs prevent any movement.

For several minutes the fly struggles in the water before exhaustion sets in and it drowns. This tale seems like something out of a poorly-written monster movie but, in reality, it’s a common occurrence due to the incredible adaptations of one of the most interesting and threatened plants on Earth: the Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant.

The Mountain-Sweet Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia rubra ssp. jonesii, lives mainly in habitats that are known as cataract bogs. These consist of exposed slabs of granite with cool mountain water trickling over parts of their surfaces, inundating accumulated detritus and moss with water. It is here that carnivorous plants such as pitcher plants grow. …read more of The Endangered Unknown – The Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant here

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Happy Reunion

By Corinne Kendall
December 20, 2011
File under: Birds, Conservation, Research, Wildlife

For the past three years, I have been adamant that it would be impossible to re-trap a tagged vulture. The birds simply go too far – spending much of the year outside of the Mara in areas where I can’t trap – too quickly and are thus difficult to locate even when a backpack is sending you their location. Today I proved myself wrong.

Lillian is a young Lappet-faced vulture that I trapped in April of 2010. She currently has the longest working GSM-GPS unit and has been reliably sending her location four times a day for the last 16 months, giving me an incredible amount of data. Lillian has become something of a favorite as I have also resighted her more times than nearly any other bird.

After the initial trapping, we relocated her on a nest and were able to see her several times during those first few months when she was returning to her little home atop a small Gardenia tree each evening. Then in June I respotted her during some surveys in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania and starting a few weeks ago I had been seeing her every few days in the Mara. …read more of Happy Reunion here

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The Hidden Jewels of Appalachia

By Brian Gratwicke
December 16, 2011
File under: Amphibians, Conservation, Wildlife

See The Hidden Jewels of Appalachia Video Here

If you want to hit paydirt the Appalachian region is the world’s salamander El Dorado—home to over 70 salamander species.  Australia and Sub-Saharan Africa have no salamanders, Asia has 27 species the whole of Europe has 36 species. Central and South America have a bunch of salamander species, but they are mostly from just a few genera of lungless salamanders.

I lived in England for a while and saw what a big deal people make out of the few newt species there. People love ‘em. As a result, I was expecting to find a hardcore citizen-naturalist contingent of salamander fans in the USA.  What I found instead, was a hardcore biologist fanbase of salamanders who were acutely aware of these hidden jewels.  However, the more I spoke to non-biologists living in the Eastern USA, I learned that many people take these critters for granted, or have never noticed them. …read more of The Hidden Jewels of Appalachia here

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The Endangered Unknown – Chinese Desert Cat

By Peter Kleinhenz
December 14, 2011
File under: Animal Stories, Conservation, Species Profiles, Wildlife

This series routinely discusses species of animals and plants that are poorly known in the international community. Perhaps no species mentioned so far fits as well into the category of “endangered unknown” as the Chinese Desert Cat, Felis bieti. There are various reasons for its anonymity, including its secretive nature, lack of presence in captivity, and the areas it inhabits.

The species is very discernible from other small cat species, however, due to its large size (twice the size of a domestic cat) and physical appearance. This cat’s yellow-gray fur allows it to blend in perfectly with its surroundings while its broad skull and enlarged ears serve to enhance its prey detection. Finally, the cat has a y-shaped mark on its face and a black-tipped tail that distinguishes it from other cats that share its habitat, such as the Asian Wildcat and Eurasian Lynx.

Native to China and Mongolia, the Chinese Desert Cat lives in mountainous habitats ranging from semidesert and steppe to bamboo forest and alpine meadows. …read more of The Endangered Unknown – Chinese Desert Cat here

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Wild Tsavo

By Corinne Kendall
December 12, 2011
File under: Animal Protection, Conservation, Healthy Habitat, Natural Resources, Wildlife

Based on our movement work, we know that vultures from the Mara spend about five percent of their time in the two Tsavo National Parks. For this reason, I decided that it might be worth exploring the area one more time to get a feel for this unique ecosystem during the dry season as well.

If the Mara is the land of plenty, then Tsavo is the world of giants. Huge red-dusted elephants walk silently upon the dry earth and dig incredible holes in their constant search for water. Beautiful baobabs are scattered around, their fuzzy fruits littering the ground as their impressive trunks and finger-like branches cover the landscape.

Hyraxes can be seen in the many rocky outcroppings and we were lucky to find one climbing a small branch reaching hopefully for some tiny green berries. Pale chanting goshawks were the bird of plenty here though we saw only a handful of vultures.

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Kids Connect! Going Batty!

By Christine DePetrillo
December 9, 2011
File under: Education, Wildlife


I happen to love bats. I think they’re adorable. You?

Fruit Bat

Just look at him, all wrapped up in his wings. So cute. It’s okay if you don’t agree, but here are some bat facts that may make you appreciate our leathery winged friends even if you don’t find them cuddly.

  • Some bats are the size of a jellybean, while others have a wingspan as long as an average human.
  • Bats have perfectly good eyes for daylight, so the expression “blind as a bat” isn’t really accurate. What bats don’t have is night vision, which hinders their nighttime hunting. …read more of Kids Connect! Going Batty! here
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Whether you’re a scientist working in the field or a young person in your backyard, this is where you get to share your stories through pictures, videos and articles with the rest of the world. Without your voice, these stories go unshared, and our planet’s ecology, wildlife and natural resources go unexplored. Connect with each other and us and let’s enjoy this process of learning from one another.

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