ENV Sting Rescues Otter Family

December 3, 2020, (Education For Nature Vietnam Press Release) an ENV sting operation has resulted in the confiscation of six Asian small-clawed otter pups and the arrest of the wildlife trafficker!
Congratulations again ENV! The police kindly filmed the young otters.

ENV thanks everyone who has donated for enabling rescues like this! And offers special thanks to those who have shared or contributed to their newest campaign to End Wildlife Trafficking in Vietnam. If you haven’t already, please share the link below about the important work to protect wildlife with at least one other person today, perhaps a friend, a family member, or even a colleague. Thank you.

Connect with ENV via Facebook https://www.facebook.com/EducationforNatureVietnam/

Six Asian small clawed otters confiscated in HCMC (Dec 3, 2020)

Six Asian small clawed otters confiscated in HCMC ENV photo and copyright (Dec 3, 2020)




Ecotourism Aids Biodiversity Conservation

Tourism normally employs 1 in 10 people on Earth and is the top export earner for sixty countries around the world. The happiest times of our lives are often those spent when on holiday vacationing somewhere else. The “knock-on” and “trickle-down” benefits of tourism are massive and complex, but it’s safe to say that they are not simply material. To quote Mark Twain “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the Earth all one’s lifetime.” Bon mots indeed!

“Tourism is the largest market-based contributor to preservation funding.”

Yesterday I watched a webinar held by WWF and Natural Habitat Adventures titled “How Travel Can Protect the Planet” that provided interesting insights into how nature tourism aids conservation worldwide. Historically, ecotourism has been transformational of both societies and the environment.

The romantic poets in England put walking holidays in Cumbria’s The Lake District firmly on the map and it was appreciation of clear landscape views and some of the creatures living there that maintained those views going forward. The love of the land felt by author Beatrix Potter, she transmitted to millions of others through her delightful children’s books. She used income from those books to preserve some of the places she loved and to open them to the public, which meant that the places in between were protected as well, along with the wildlife in those habitats! Visitors are happy to stay and eat locally and buy local things to take away with them. The mental and physical health benefits are hard to quantify but are undoubtedly substantial.

I learned that Key milestones in the American history of ecotourism were President Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 Yosemite Act, precursor of the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872 and the Sierra Club in 1901 with their Outings Club that proved essential in enlisting the help of government officials in protecting the many and varied outstanding wild spaces in the USA. Those places are enormously popular today, and with good reason because they are spectacular exemplars of America’s natural spaces.

Natural Habitat Adventures are keen to be green. Since 2007 they have been carbon off-setting. That means tallying up their carbon emissions and then finding ways to negate that carbon, either through tree planting or the substitution of carbon saving technology in place of carbon emitting technology. It is now possible to offset the carbon emitted during your flights. They say some of their tours will off-set the carbon emitted by the tour member for a whole year prior to their travel as well!  Last year they held their first “zero waste adventure”.

To cut a long, but important story short, it’s fair to say the following things:

Many people will travel far and wide to experience natural habitats and the species and human cultures that live there. These tourists want to see healthy animals, plants and indigenous people when they get there and the money they spend on preparing for their trip, on location and getting there and back validates sustainable conservation in these places. Short term profits made from destroying nature simply don’t compare with long term, repeatable benefits of non-consumptive wildlife use. You can shoot an elephant dead once and that’s your lot. Each live elephant in Kenya is thought to be worth over a million dollars in ecotourism revenue.

Natural Habitat Adventures say that the benefits begin with the tours. Natural Habitat Ecotourists contribute $4.5 million to the countries they visit, but afterwards they contribute $14 million through continued donation support of the organizations that ‘moved’ them while they were there. Thus positively proving the adage that “you can’t protect something you don’t love, you can’t love what you don’t know and you can’t know something you haven’t seen”.

The panel detailed success stories in the USA and other countries. In the USA, they cited Churchill Manitoba, now famous for Polar Bear ecotourism. Back in the ’50’s if a bear wandered into town it was shot dead. Now those bears are important partners in the local economy along with Beluga whales and the Aurora Borealis. People are returning to Churchill for different attractions in different seasons. In October the draw is the magnificent Polar bears, in Summer it’s the Belugas and in Winter it is the glorious shimmering curtains of “Northern Lights”. They say “to know Churchill is to love Churchill.”

Another good example they cited was Mountain Gorilla tourism. Natural Habitat offer visits to experience gorillas in their habitats in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Volcanoes National Park. When Diane Fossey was working there the population was about only 220, but now, thanks to incentives to conserve the gorillas, there were 1063, this is despite threats from poaching, Ebola and even the fatal common cold virus! Now the habituated groups of gorillas have a better survival rate than the ones that have no contact with visitors. In the ’60’s and ’70’s plans to convert the area to agriculture promised between $60,000 and $70,000 annually but ecotourism has yielded $34,000,000 in its place!

The panel talked of ecotourism’s gestalt where the saving of iconic ‘umbrella’ species also necessitates and enables the preservation of the ecosystem and the myriad species that are not famous, but valid in their own right. They talked of the thrill of seeing bison, bears and wolves in the wild and how wolves have been reintroduced to Colorado’s Rockies on the east slopes after the very positive effects noted in the Yellowstone eco-system where wolves protected the landscape by inducing fear into the browsing elk. Wolves cost a couple of million dollars in stock losses per year but they bring in $35 million in wolf watching tourism.

I’ve participated in a lot of nature tourism myself, so I’m hooked already, but in case you haven’t tried it I’ll tell you that you can begin very locally indeed, by participating in nature walks and talks and then spreading your feelers and trying further afield!

Unfortunately many areas that have come to rely upon ecotourism revenue have suffered from the lock-down in response  to the COVID-19 pandemic. To help sustain communities, Natural Habitat Adventures offer visitors a chance to pay $250 down on their future ecotour now so that rangers can receive some income during the hard times of the pandemic. Less people are traveling these days but the Natural Habitat Adventures are doing their best to offer safe tours this year to see Monarchs in Chiapas, Mexico and in the USA ( View Trips).

For walking holidays in the Lake District consider hiring a trained mountain guide like Malcolm Wade of Lakeland Mountain Experience. I designed his website a few years ago.

For safari experiences in Kenya’s Maasai Mara that help to support the wildlife and local community, consider going with Shavicol Safaris of Narok, Kenya.

Shavicol Safaris offer a variety of excursions and day-trips and they are conservation partners of Chake Conservancy. I built Chake a website recently to show case their important work in reducing human wildlife conflict.

Global Leaders Pledge Efforts To Reverse Our Damage To The Natural World.

The golden dawn of greener development promised at Biofin 3. Andy Luck image and copyright.
Global leaders pledge for nature in a major breakthrough for conservation. Andy Luck image and copyright.

Yesterday, Sept. 28, 2020, leaders from no less than seventy nations pledged to help reverse the damage to our natural world by the year 2030!

Many of them spoke out passionately in a video about their pledge to help. For more info on this visit https://www.leaderspledgefornature.org/


A recent report, LIVING PLANET REPORT 2020 by The Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF) has highlighted how biodiversity worldwide is under threat.

Living Planet 2020 Report shows massive declines in biodiversity worldwide between 1970 and 2016 as measured by an index of monitored species termed the Living Planet Index. This is a measure of the world’s biodiversity “based on population trends in vertebrate species from terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats”.

In descending order of magnitude we have the largest decline in Latin America and the Caribbean region of 94%, followed by Africa 65%, Asia Pacific 45%, North America 33% and Europe and Central Asia 24%. The primary drivers are changes in land and sea use – habitat loss and degradation, species over-exploitation, invasive species and disease, pollution and climate change. In combination, these human impacts are threatening the extinction of over one million species.

This is now recognized as a major emergency and leaders of nations, companies and organizations including youth groups are now speaking out as champions for change and pledging to help where they can. American retail giant Walmart has promised to make their whole operation carbon neutral by 2040 and to preserve, manage and protect 50,000,000 acres of land and 1,000,000 square miles of ocean by 2030.

This week on the Nature For Life Hub we’re witnessing a momentous and very encouraging response to the dire state to which we have reduced our Natural world, the planet Earth that we all call home. We hear the buzz words Nature Based Solutions a great deal, and this is all to the good because nature has the power to regenerate and heal the man-made damage to some degree. Once creatures have reached the point of extinction, the battle is lost for them. Hence the urgency of appeals and pledges for action.

The videos and documents will remain available from that link for ongoing perusal.

This Thursday there will be a one day UN summit on biodiversity paving the way for next year’s much grander affair in Glasgow then a huge one in China.

Explore Nature’s Role in Climate Mitigation and Adaptation. Nature For Life Hub Starts Tomorrow, Sept. 24 2020

Nature For Life Hub Starts now, Sept. 24th, 2020 at 09.00 in New York, hosted by UNDP’s Learning For Nature website. Click this link to join the free The Nature for Life Hub – a virtual venue for a four-day program of multiple events “delving deep into specialist topics, practical solutions and ambitious actions” highlighting the role of Nature in climate mitigation and adaptation. It will be held in English, French and Spanish languages.

Watch Climate Mitigation Hub here on Facebook

Hub organizers will work with champions, mobilizers, leaders and speakers who inspire and engage global audiences! These events will provide new content that will be broadcast live on social media and through the official virtual platform, as well as available online after the Hub.

The virtual Hub will be an opportunity to hear from political and corporate leaders, the world’s youth, indigenous and community leaders, local authorities and cutting-edge thinkers, leaders and practitioners. Each day will culminate in key messages to be fed into UN biodiversity-related discussions.

Raised for release! Young Freshwater Turtles in Close-up.

Razor-backed Musk Turtle Neonate

Happy birthday to this Razor-backed Musk Turtle neonate (Sternotherus carinatus) at ULM’s Herpetology Dept. where it was raised with siblings and turtles of many other varieties in incubators by Professor John Carr and his team! C. Paxton image and copyright.

Kimmie and I had a very fun and highly privileged view of North American freshwater turtle hatchlings recently at University of Louisiana Monroe (ULM) courtesy of the head of the Herpetology Department and Louisiana Master Naturalist, Professor John Carr. We had enjoyed John’s lectures on herps previously with the Louisiana Master Naturalists at ULM and Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge, and also on turtles at LMNA Rendezvous at Fontainebleau State Park. Recently we have been systematically studying local species from his excellent guidebook “Amphibians & Reptiles of Louisiana” co-authored with Jeff Boundy and raised questions about the Map Turtles ( Graptemys Sp.) he kindly agreed to show us some young Ouachita Map Turtles that he has raised in his lab!

On this occasion we all resembled masked bank robbers due to the COVID-19 precautions.

Among his other research and teaching work (now conducted with COVID-19 safety protocols), John hatches freshwater turtle eggs from various local sources to release back into those sources, thus sparing those clutches from predation by raccoons (Procyon lotor). Raccoons are adept nest raiders and have lost a lot of their natural predators in recent times and so represent a considerable threat to the nesting success of the native turtles. Professor Carr’s incubation work helps to acquaint his students with close study of live turtles and evens the odds for the turtles’ survival by returning them to the wild.

When we arrived, one of the faculty staff was there with a boxed mature Common Snapping Turtle (Chelydra serpentina) that she’d rescued from crossing a busy road in the hope of saving it. Sadly Prof. Carr’s inspection revealed non-survivable damage.

Our spirits were raised when we were introduced to the lab’s latest cohort of hatchlings. We saw our first Razor-backed Musk Turtles, absolutely delightful, perfect little replicas of the adults and were thrilled to see one emerging, still in its shell.

We were thrilled to see the many dragonish forms of young Alligator Snapping Turtles from several nests! These were our first sightings of them too and we had never seen the amazing fringe-like texture of their shells as youngsters in photographs before.

It was exciting to see young Ouachita Map Turtles, with the wonderful ‘topographical’ markings that give them their name. We have seen these turtles basking on a log at the Bawcomville Recreation Area .

Another first for me was to see the Smooth Softshells (Apalone mutica) and rather handily, their tanks were side by side with the larger Spiny Softshells (Apalone spinifera) enabling a very clear comparison!

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Some Good News For Greatly Endangered Pacific Leatherback Turtles

Still grab showing extent of Leatherback Sea turtle travels across the Pacific Ocean from the public presentation made by Annalisa Batanides Tuel at the CFG ZOOM meeting

Still grab showing extent of Leatherback Sea turtle travels across the Pacific Ocean from the public presentation made by Annalisa Batanides Tuel of Turtle Island Restoration Network at the CFG ZOOM meeting today.

Great news for critically endangered Pacific Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea)! The California Fish and Game Commission have amongst their other good works today, voted unanimously to advance them for listing as endangered species under CESA, the California Engangered Species Act in response to a petition made by the Center for Biodiversity in cooperation with Turtle Island Restoration Network.


Proposed future management petition from Turtle Island Restoration

Proposed future management petition for DERMOCHELYS CORIACEA from California Fish and Wildlife Department presentation August 19th, 2020. The Wildlife and Fisheries Service and NOAA have joint jurisdiction over sea turtles.

Good for them! This grants the turtles some valuable additional protections within their important feeding grounds off the coast of California. They have also been proposed as the State Reptile for California.

They’re the world’s largest sea turtles and their population visiting nesting beaches has reduced by a whopping 95%! There are thought to be under 700 left. They’re the fourth largest living reptiles, the most widely traveled (10,000 km per year) and the only living endothermic reptiles. They can be found as far north as the Bering Sea and as far south as Chile and New Zealand! Off the coast of California, Oregon and Washington State the rich upwellings that feed jellyfish attract Leatherbacks from thousands of miles away. According to the petition document they spend 75 % of their time within the top 5 meters of the water column, and this makes them vulnerable to collisions, oil spills & surfactant responses, floating plastic and long-line and other fishing hazards.

The threats they face are mostly man-made and include: ingestion of plastics and oil-tar blobs, other pollution, collisions, entanglement in fishing gear, ghost fishing (entanglement in abandoned nets lines and traps, climate change affecting crucial phenological events, loss of habitat (nesting beaches).

This following still grab is from the presentation made by Turtle Island Restoration Network who cosponsored the petition along with the Center for Biodiversity shows marked positions of 40 satellite tracked Leatherbacks showing how well-used this are of coastline is by these critically endangered sea turtles.

A map showing telemetry of Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtles off the coast of California

A map showing telemetry of Pacific Leatherback Sea Turtles off the coast of California, shown in the public presentation of the Petition to list Pacific Leatherback turtles under CESA

Thank you very much to all involved!

For more information please visit:

Turtle Island Restoration Network

The Center For Biodiversity

California Fish and Game Commission

The Road Less Traveled: An Orb-Weaver’s Obstacle Course

The water’s edge was tantalizingly close. Only the oaks, festooned with resurrection ferns and polypore fungi, appeared to stand between us and our destination.

Each tree stood, in full leaf, several feet apart from the next, allowing what would seem to be an easy access to the swampy waters. The flat forest floor had been washed clear of the brambles and greenbrier ground-cover from the annual floods.

Just ahead, a photographer’s treasure trove of semi-aquatic species awaited. The anticipation was palpable. As sweat beaded on our brows, and our eyes eagerly searched for reptiles and invertebrates that might be trodden upon (or photographed), we strode confidently towards the nearest trees. Then there was a sudden halt to the merry expedition as our necks reared back like cobras and expletives were announced.

Before us, the expansive web of the Golden Silk Orb-Weaver (Trichonephila clavipes) stretched widely from tree to tree, and the spider, at first unseen, loomed immediately into sight. Her striking, yellow and elongated abdomen and her graceful yet menacing symmetrical legs quickly brought up old fears, taught or instinctive, associated with the shape of the arachnid.

A few steps back to take the situation in: I’m ok, the spider is ok, I didn’t make contact with the web, so no need to start flapping my arms and filling the bayou with panicked squeals and the iterations of “get it off me, get it off me”. The spider ceased its own panicked movement and we breathed, initial assessments of each other complete now.

After we collected ourselves, we took a couple of pictures of her, and noticed that her “knees” were actually covered in tiny, dense black hairs. She had a male in her web too, although he was much smaller and was a subtler maroon color. Her construction was several feet across and a couple of feet tall, and built vertically, as is characteristic of the Golden Silk Orb-Weaver. It was positioned so that only a limbo champion could go under successfully.

Through her web, we could see our destination. But another route was required. The opposite side of the tree to the right looked potentially promising and appeared clear. After a few steps, the sun’s rays shone through the leafy canopy and illuminated a web. Another Golden Silk Orb-Weaver sat boldly in the center of her web, guarding our passageway. What she knew and we didn’t was that she adjusts the golden color of her web depending on light levels. The darker it is, the brighter the web.

At every turn, the webs stretched across potential ways to the water, where we might see some interesting wildlife. The shoreline of Black Bayou Lake, Monroe, Louisiana offers myriad cricket frogs, horned passalus beetles, cottonmouth vipers, dragonflies, fungi, protists, and more besides. With less certainty that we would make it to the water, we went back the way we came, past the webs, which showed that nothing tall enough had come that way recently. Not deer, man or Sasquatch.

The Golden Silk Orb-Weaver’s scientific name is Trichonephila clavipes’s. Nephila, means “fond of spinning”, and we were witness to that as we walked further along and parallel to the water’s edge. Her thickly-woven zig-zag pattern, called a stabilimentum, stood out against the background of the cypress knees and dimly-lit water. The purpose of this structure is still being hotly debated by arachnologists and I’m keen to see which idea comes out on top, though it may serve multiple functions. It could be for stabilizing the whole web as its name suggests, it might also serve as a visible element to deter birds, and naturalists, from colliding with the structure and thus preventing expensive repairs and ‘down-time’.

Everybody is agreed that the strength of her silk is greater than that of steel for its size. We were reminded of that when the anchor line of another web, not immediately visible, but tangible, stretched across my forehead. It was like walking into fishing line. This clear, flexible and strong monofiliment pressed into my skin, remained intact and allowed me to step back, un-stuck, the web remains undamaged.

Beyond this current web was another. And another. And two more. The forest, which looked like an easy access to something interesting, turned out to be a well-planned Golden Silk Orb-Weaver community, which turned out to be interesting itself. By communally gathering like this, they are able to detect predators more easily, which increases their chance of survival. It may decrease our chances of seeing what was near the water, but the opportunity to learn more about nature was literally an in-your-face experience.

Spice of Life: Who’s Been Eating My Stereaceae?

Who’s been eating my what?

Charles and I went on a fungi-hunt, or foray, and we saw a ton of this kind of orange stuff on logs. In appearance it’s not unlike breakfast cornflakes. We took a million pictures or so, then submitted our “finds” to iNaturalist. If we don’t know what something is, there’s a chance that either the app’s artificial intelligence or a fellow-naturalist can ID it for us. We learned that this is a kind of Stereaceae fungi. It’s very common, it lives on rotting wood and it also likes to create rotting wood, says FungusFactFriday.com. This branch in our yard is soon to be a log.

Crowded parchment, Stereaceae complicatum

Like I was saying, fellow-naturalists can give you suggestions about what you see. Well, we didn’t see in person what he saw in my original picture. I’m learning that when you go outside, there is a lot more than meets the eye! He thinks that what is eating my Stereaceae are thrips! What the heck is that?!

See the little red critters? Especially at the bottom of the picture.

Google’s first response to “what are thrips” was to basically say, “they’re pests”. The concensus: they will damage crops and plants and reek general havoc to a gardener’s ideal situation. Wikipedia has it that the little varmints will get in your house too, and go after your chairs, tables and computers. Gosh! Nature-and-garden.com says that the majority of the more that 6,000 species-strong thrips family are garden-friendly. The nearly-microscopic insects enjoy dining on various mites, other thrips, plants, and fungi.

Look at ’em go! They’re really chowing down on that fungus!

NCSU’s General Entomology page tells us that thrips are thrips if they are singular or plural, i.e. there’s a thrips and there are some more thrips, (not thripses, my precious) and some thrips only eat fungi. BugGuide.net tells us: that some thrips have wings and some don’t, and even though they are very, very small, they can still bite. The naturalist who introduced thrips to me, said that their ancestors were fungi-eaters from the Mesozoic. Well, that makes sense that some are fungi-fans!

They even have nicknames, says Wikipedia. Something that didn’t seem to exist not too long ago even has other names. Nature is an endless wonder! My favorite of those listed: thunderbugs. Such a tiny creature?! Nature-and-garden.com explains: “A common name for thrips is thunderfly. This is because they drop to the ground in large numbers shortly before thunderstorms! The build-up in static electricity interferes with their flying and they simply drop from the sky.

The next time I go on a fungi foray I will take a closer look…and maybe bring an umbrella!

Spice of Life: Bug Bites

Just a little random fact or two about bugs.

The spiky things growing out of the back of this aphid are called cornicles. All aphids have them. Their all-carb diet of plant sap produces a waxy substance made of lipids called cornicle wax.

Spice of Life: Slugs and Snails

Raise your eye-stalks if you’re a snail.

If you’re a mollusc, you’re a part of a very large phylum of creatures, including squids, clams and octopuses. And if you’re a slug or a snail, and you cruise around on your belly and leave a trail, then you’re a gastropod too–gastropod is Greek for “stomach foot”. And since you’re cruising around on your belly, you’ll benefit from some slime. Slugs and snails produce mucin (slime) from glands to help them get around, recognize each other, stick to stuff, reproduce and other necessary gastropody tasks.

Snails, which can be recognized by the shell on their backs, can be found up mountains, under rocks, in the desert, and under water (aquatic snails) says Snail-World. If you go outside and look under a log, you’ll probably find one there (hangin’ out with roly-polies). Slugs, don’t usually have shells. If they do, they are very small ones, or have only small internal shells.

Slugs and snails do eat our plants and that’s not so nice, but they are doing some important work otherwise. They breakdown organic matter in our yards and gardens, which, in the end, becomes organic matter, which makes good fertilizer. See below for our gastropods (and their poop).

Slugs and snails placing their organic matter on this cardboard.

They feed a whole host of critters from birds to reptiles to rodents. Scientists have replicated the slug’s sticky yet flexible slime into a surgical glue to help repair soft tissues without damaging them, says NPR. Cosmetics companies “milk” garden snails for their mucin. The methods by which they do this are unclear, says Racked. In Japan, they just stick the slimy critters on your face and they glide around, transferring that rejuvenating sliminess right onto your skin. Wikipedia has more examples of their usefulness going back to Ancient Greece. Need a good cough syrup, go no further than your local snail.

A snail’s eye view.

A parting video: mating leopard slugs. I would say this is X-rated.

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