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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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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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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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Extinction of Vietnamese Javan Rhino Confirmed

By Rhishja Larson
November 23, 2011
File under: Black Market, Conservation, Education, Poaching, Wildlife

Photo © WWF-Greater Mekong

A tragic loss for the wildlife community, our planet, and future generations: The extinction of the Javan rhino subspecies, Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus, has been confirmed by WWF and the International Rhino Foundation (IRF).

DNA match

The horrible story began last year, on April 29th, when the body of a female Javan rhino was found in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam – the last location of Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus.

She had been shot and her horn was removed.

Dung samples collected during a 2009/2010 WWF survey were subsequently analyzed at Queen’s University, Canada, and it was determined that they belonged to just one rhino.

Unfortunately, the samples …read more of Extinction of Vietnamese Javan Rhino Confirmed here

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­Kids Connect! Scientific Greatness: Dr. Jane Goodall

By Christine DePetrillo
November 22, 2011
File under: Animal Protection, Conservation, Education, Research, Wildlife

There are many people who have changed our world with their discoveries. Dr. Jane Goodall is one of those people. Here’s why.

Even at an early age Jane Goodall loved nature. In 1957 she went to Africa for the first time. There she met Louis S. B. Leakey, famous archaeologist and paleontologist. Impressed with her interest and knowledge, he hired her as an assistant then asked her to study a group of chimpanzees in Tanzania with the hope of learning more about our own evolutionary past.

Her first weeks at Gombe were frustrating. The chimpanzees shied away from her, so she had to study them from a peak where she could observe what they did with her binoculars. Her notes revealed many things formerly unknown about chimps. For example, it was thought that chimps were vegetarians. Goodall saw them hunting and eating small mammals. …read more of ­Kids Connect! Scientific Greatness: Dr. Jane Goodall here

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Proud Spirit Dogs: A Photo Essay

By Lavanya Sunkara
November 15, 2011
File under: Animal Stories, Conservation, Education, Nature, Wildlife

There are plenty of people who tirelessly work to save unwanted and abused animals. I recently got an opportunity to spend time with two of them. Melanie Sue Bowles and Jim Bowles, founders of the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary, are retired professional fire firefighters who have been saving abandoned and neglected horses for the past 20 years, They have intervened on behalf of nearly 400 horses, and continue to do so.

Over the years, they’ve also opened their hearts and home to plenty of dogs that have found their way into their lives. All of them either abandoned, or locked up in shelters or sent to the vet as puppies because they didn’t meet breed standards. Today, all 13 of their dogs live harmoniously in the house and share the affection of their owners with 58 horses and donkeys in Mena, Arkansas. The horses and donkeys run freely on 320 acres of their property near the Ouachita Mountains. The dogs, however, never leave Melanie and Jim.

As a dog lover, I can never understand how someone can abuse or carelessly abandon their dogs. These innocent animals, some of them very young, diseased or elderly cannot fend for themselves. While most of them suffer due to no fault of their own, some fortunate ones who get rescued by organizations or good-natured people like Melanie and Jim get a second chance and find loving homes.

My time at the Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary will always remain one of my favorites. Never have I seen so much love, and experienced the joy of being around so many happy animals. That’s the beauty of animals- no matter what they’ve been through- they respond in kind and are loyal to those who care for them. “All they want is some food and love,” says Jim Bowles, petting a dog that Melanie had rescued the first morning I was there. In addition to providing home to so many dogs, the husband and wife team have also helped place dozens of rescued dogs with forever homes.

One of the recent additions to the Bowles’ household is the beautiful dog pictured here with me. His name is Winston, a pitbull mix named after Winston Churchill. He was the size of a rabbit when Melanie and Jim found him and his littermates on the side of the road near their ranch, scared, starving, and covered in fleas and ticks. Melanie was able to find homes for Winston’s siblings, but he became a part of their family and quickly adjusted to the lifestyle with the rest of the dogs. During my stay, Winston followed me everywhere, and was super sweet (as you can tell from the picture). He was full of energy, and never tired of playing with his furry friends.

While I loved all the dogs at the Sanctuary, one in particular stole my heart. Her name is Trudi, a small beagle mix that resembled my own puppy. There was never a moment I could sit on the couch or the porch without Trudi running up and sitting on my lap and showering me with kisses. Melanie and Jim found Trudi, and her sisters Daisy and Trixie as puppies in a ditch with a box of adult dog food next to them that they could barely eat. Today, all three sisters, although the smallest of the bunch, know how to assert themselves. In the picture below, you’ll see little Trudi having a “conversation” with one of the donkeys of Proud Spirit.

Then, there are the fluffball corgis, who with their little legs would climb up to my knees and plead for attention with their curious wide eyes. Most of them are rescued from shelters, and animal hospitals where they were sent to be euthanized because they weren’t “perfect” purebred puppies. One has a blue right eye, another a left blue eye, and another has a floppy ear. Luckily, their imperfections don’t come in the way of how much love they give.

The most captivating story of all of them is that of big Louis. Jim and Melanie’s friends found Louis near death in Florida. He was emaciated, with gun pellets in his body, and suffering from heartworm disease. The Bowles’ friends cared for him, and tried to get him adopted. When no one came forward, Melanie drove all the way to bring him home to Arkansas.

Louis, named after Louis Zamperini, World War II hero written about in Unbroken, has definitely been through his share of suffering for most of his life. Today, he is a much loved member of the Proud Spirit family. He has fully recovered from his ailments, and bounced back to health. Towering over the rest of the dogs, Louie is very possessive of Jim and makes sure no other dogs come near him, but there is plenty of love to go around for all of them.

In the endearing picture below, you’ll see Louis nuzzling his best friend’s ear. “Every dog must be loved this much,” says Melanie, with tears in her eyes and a smile on her face.

How to Help

  • Purchase The Dogs of Proud Spirit book by Melanie Sue Bowles for more true stories about the Proud Spirit dogs. All proceeds go towards the Sanctuary and rescue work.
  • Visit to learn more and make a donation.
  • Before you buy from a breeder, consider rescuing instead. Visit or your local shelter to find your next best friend.
  • Hug a dog or two, it’ll do you some good.


Connect with other species on Jeff Corwin Connect


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About this blog

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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