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Here you will find information, musings, and pictures about life, the natural world and writing.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Big Cat is Not Your Buddy

Thursday night, October 30, a volunteer at a place called Safari's Wildlife Sanctuary in Oklahoma entered the enclosure of a liger while it was feeding. The liger (a cross between a lion and a tiger) attacked, and the man died the following day. This was an experienced volunteer who had also interned at Tulsa Zoo, so it is very hard to understand why he went into the cage. The behavior of the cat, sadly, is not so difficult to comprehend. Predation is what cats do. My heart goes out to the family and friends of Peter Getz and to the staff of the sanctuary.

There is no doubt that the people involved in this sanctuary want the very best for the animals, but that is not the same as providing safe and professional care. If this sounds harsh, visit the sanctuary's website: http://www.safarissanctuary.org/ The home page shows the president with a tiger on a leash. Look at the slide show of animal pictures for another example.

I've seen this at an animal sanctuary in southern Oregon, the trust people place in animals they can't really ever know. Is it because we think humans are outside the ordinary rules of animal behavior? Indeed we are, to a certain extent. But ask yourself why a powerful cat should treat a smaller primate (that would be us) with any particular respect? Why on earth should we assume they love us? Other species have their own agendas! They have their reasons,their bad days, their peeves. Nothing about a human obligates them to treat us tenderly any more than they would one of their own kind.

I understand the powerful impulse to touch, pet, and otherwise interact with beautiful, dangerous creatures. There's nothing like it. It's wonderful. But putting yourself at risk for this thrill is also putting the animal at risk. Even the people who blithely say there are worse ways to die (and some animal people do) surely understand that killing a person puts the animal in terrible peril.

I don't know exactly what happened with Peter Getz, and I am so sorry he died. The sanctuary he supported, though, deserves the scrutiny it will surely receive.

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

Get out of my crops! um, pots...

Fall has come and the squirrels have lost their tiny minds. Heedless of their own safety, they rummage all the live-long day in my yard, obsessed with burying peanuts, walnuts, acorns, whatever they think will get them through the winter. Hello? This is Portland, Oregon. If we get frost two nights running, we think we’re going to die. My neighbors put out corn cobs all year around. Hear me, squirrels, this is totally unnecessary. Get your little paws the hell out of my pots!

I love wildlife. Dealing with wildlife has been my profession, my hobby, my delight. I was a zookeeper for a dozen years! I write zoo mysteries! I donate to most of world’s conservation organizations! But those little bastards… No, steady there… Deep releasing breath…

The problem is I love plants, too. I grow many of them in pots because my soil is terrible. Pots have loose, luscious, eminently diggable soil. Perfect for marauding rodents to rummage through, killing trillium seedlings and delicate ferns and, horrors, my expensive, sensitive, any-excuse-to-die lady slipper orchids.

It seems that here in the middle of a big city in the United States, I share a problem with maize growers in Botswana and palm nut plantations in Borneo and foresters in Scotland. Wild animals trash the plants I have other plans for. My pain is far less than their pain because I’m not trying to feed a family or run a business based on my pots. I’m a hobbyist. But the conflict is not all that different.

What to do? The traditional solution is to kill the wildlife. But the elephants of Botswana and the orangutans of Borneo are in big trouble. (The red deer of Scotland are doing fine with careful management.) Those of us who love wildlife would like these distant people to use other solutions. Please, we ask, leave enough natural landscape for elephants and find non-lethal ways to deter them from trampling crops. Stop clearing rainforest so orangutans aren’t driven by starvation to the oil palms. Find ways to live with wildlife, cut back on transforming habitats for human purposes, “live lightly so that others may live.”

Easier said than done. Take those squirrels (please!). Mulching with flat stones helps (not practical for seedlings). Pepper flakes work until it rains—Portland, remember? I’ve barricaded my bird feeders. I’ll admit, when they uprooted the Goodyera oblongifolia for the third time, lethal control started to look good.

I sucked it up. Now my yard is adorned with chicken wire cages, caging out the varmints. Not pretty, but it works.

I don’t think it would work for Africa or Indonesia.

My hat is off to those conservationists who are out in the fields and plantations negotiating for wildlife, seeking ways that will feed the children without creating a world fit only for our kind (a sad and dangerous concept). This isn’t just an issue for distant lands. Here in Oregon, robins eat blueberries, coyotes eat lambs, and deer eat grape vines. I honor those farmers, orchardists, and foresters who sacrifice profits to maintain wild populations because they want to keep the rich biota we started with. I salute their efforts and do what I can to support them. Take a look around your community and see who deserves your support for holding the line against a humans-only landscape.

And send me any tips you have about curing obsessive squirrels.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Surviving Bouchercon

Here I am after my Bouchercon panel, hurling zoo animal cookies to the audience in my best herring-to-seals feeding style. Tom Schreck (TKO) moderated "I could have lied--Real life experiences". Julie Kramer (Stalking Susan) is on the left, Kit Ehrman (Triple Cross) is standing beside me. Andy Harp (Northern Thunder) is down in the audience out of sight. We put our heads together beforehand and agreed we wanted a fun, high-energy panel. Not hard with a a social worker/boxing judge (Tom), a TV journalist (Julie), a race horse expert (Kit), a Marine colonel (Andy), and a zookeeper (that would be me). The result was many truly terrible jokes, some interruptions, ancecdotes, and a lot of laughter. And then flying animal cookies. Oh, and I got back home to Portland to find that Night Kill made the September best-seller list from Independent Mystery Booksellers!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sign! Read! Par-TAY!

Night Kill has been released to the wild and I'm doing my best to see that it survives. Here I am at Seattle Mystery Bookstore on Saturday, September 27, 2008, with Twigga the giraffe, signing books. Lots of local relatives and friends dropped by, the staff are wonderful, and it was really fun. Take a look at the bookstore's blog: http://tinyurl.com/3r2tl7

Here's Murder by the Book in Portland the next day, Sunday September 28. This was a reading and I was nervous, but the store was packed with friends old and new and even a few strangers. I saw old friends from my zoo days, friends from many connections in Portland, and we sold all the books!

Then we went home and partied. Monday was a very slow day for this particular author.

Next up: Kate's Mystery Bookstore in Cambridge, Mass. on Saturday, October 4, 4 PM.

Yee haw!