Tuesday, February 26, 2013
(CNN) -- Richard Turere, 13, doesn't like lions. In fact, he hates them. Yet this bright Maasai boy has devised an innovative solution that's helping the survival of these magnificent beasts -- by keeping them away from humans.
Living on the edge of Nairobi National Park, in Kenya, Turere first became responsible for herding and safeguarding his family's cattle when he was just nine. But often, his valuable livestock would be raided by the lions roaming the park's sweet savannah grasses, leaving him to count the losses. "I grew up hating lions very much," says Turere, who is from Kitengela, just south of the capital Nairobi. "They used to come at night and feed on our cattle when we were sleeping." So, at the age of 11, Turere decided it was time to find a way of protecting his family's cows, goats and sheep from falling prey to hungry lions. "I had to look after my dad's cows and make sure that they were safe." His light bulb moment came with one small observation. "One day, when I was walking around," he says, "I discovered that the lions were scared of the moving light." Turere realized that lions were afraid of venturing near the farm's stockade when someone was walking around with a flashlight. He put his young mind to work and a few weeks later he'd come up with an innovative, simple and low-cost system to scare the predators away.
He fitted a series of flashing LED bulbs onto poles around the livestock enclosure, facing outward. The lights were wired to a box with switches and to an old car battery powered by a solar panel. They were designed to flicker on and off intermittently, thus tricking the lions into believing that someone was moving around carrying a flashlight. And it worked. Since Turere rigged up his "Lion Lights," his family has not lost any livestock to the wild beasts, to the great delight of his father and astonishment of his neighbors. What's even more impressive is that Turere devised and installed the whole system by himself, without ever receiving any training in electronics or engineering.
The 13-year-old's remarkable ingenuity has been recognized with an invitation to the TED 2013 conference, being held this week in California, where he'll share the stage with some of the world's greatest thinkers, innovators and scientists. "I did it myself, no one taught me, I just came up with it," says Turere. "I had to look after my dad's cows and make sure that they were safe." Human-wildlife conflict Nairobi is the world's only capital with a national park, where wild lions, rhinos and other beasts roam free against the urban backdrop of skyscrapers rising from the nearby bustling city center.
Each year, thousands of camera-toting tourists visit the park -- which is fenced along its northern boundary but open in the south -- hoping to catch a glimpse of the lions inhabiting its rolling plains and valleys. But for the pastoralists and Maasai tribes around the park, a lion sighting is usually bad news; valuable livestock are often lost to lions looking for easy prey, prompting rural communities to take matters into their own hands. If you give him a problem, he'll keep working at it until he can fix it. In some cases they've killed whole prides that they perceived as threat, or as retaliation for lost livestock. The use of pesticides such as Furadan -- a tablespoon of which costs less than a dollar and is enough to kill a lion -- has become a particularly ruthless way of doing so. The rising human-wildlife conflict, coupled with a fast-growing urban encroachment, means that less than 2,000 lions, a massive drop compared to the 15,000 that lived there just a decade ago. Large sums have been spent in recent years by officials in a bid to protect the lions and strengthen Kenya's tourism industry. Yet conservationists say that many of these top-down initiatives fail to gain traction with local populations. And this is why inventions like Turere's -- home grown, simple, affordable and effective -- can make a big difference. Indeed, several neighbors of the Turere family in Kitengela have sought Turere's help, asking him to install the system in their enclosures. In total, around 75 "Lion Light" systems have so far been rigged up around Kenya. "This is a solution that was invented by somebody in the community," explains Paula Kahumbu, executive director of the Kenya Land Conservation Trust and chairman of the Friends of Nairobi National Park. "Therefore the support for it is very high."
Bright ideas, bright future
Kahumbu and her colleagues first came across Turere's innovation some two years ago in the course of their fieldwork. Stunned by the boy's achievements, they helped him get a scholarship at Brookhouse International School, one of Kenya's top educational institutions, where he started last April. "Richard is quite an extraordinary boy," says Kahumbu. She describes him as a "very smart, curious and surprisingly confident [boy] for his age and background," who's integrated smoothly among his new classmates, most of whom are from wealthy families. "One thing that's unique about Richard is that if you give him a problem, he'll keep working at it until he can fix it," she adds. "He doesn't give up; he doesn't find things too difficult; he's not afraid of being unable to do something and I think this is why he is such a good innovator -- because he's not worried that it might not work, he's going to try and do it anyway." Turere says his dream is to work in aviation when he grows up. "Three years ago when I was in the savannah herding my father's cattle I used to see the planes flying over and landing at the airport and I was like, one day I'll be a pilot and an aircraft engineer," he says. For this remarkable boy, it's clear that the sky is the limit.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion. He heads the section's Change the List
project, which focuses on human rights and social justice. E-mail him at CTL@CNN.com or follow him on Twitter (@jdsutter), Facebook or Google+.
(CNN) -- Here's a seriously depressing question: If a polar bear no longer has ice to stand on and must have his "bear kibble" (that's a real term; more on it soon) airlifted to the Arctic by helicopter, is he still a polar bear? Or is he some sort of zoo-like experiment -- a sad but perhaps unavoidable consequence of an era of melting ice and warming climates?
I posed a less-wordy version of that question to Andrew Derocher, a biologist and polar bear expert at the University of Alberta. He recently published a paper outlining several emergency actions that likely will have to be taken soon to save the Arctic bears.
Among Derocher's scenarios is using helicopters to airdrop food on polar bears as their icy habitat continues to melt -- at a cost of $32,000 per day for the "most accessible" bears. (The hope is that such interventions would last days per year, not months). "It's a lot better to have some animals in the wild even if they are being supplemented in their food. If we were basically the sole food source for these animals, then we're going to have some very serious issues. Then it won't really be a polar bear anymore," Derocher said on the phone. "It will be a semi-wild, semi-captive, free-ranging carnivore. And it probably wouldn't do that well even if the ice started to come back" since the bear would become so dependent on the airlifted food that he may forget how to hunt. (Sigh). It's really come to this.
Derocher's paper, which appeared in the journal Conservation Letters, has been getting lots of attention because it outlines several last-ditch ideas for saving the polar bears, including feeding them bear chow, which, as one commercial website describes it, contains "ground corn, porcine meat meal, fish meal (menhaden), dehulled soybean meal, corn gluten meal, ground soybean hulls, porcine animal fat preserved with BHA, dried beet pulp, soybean oil, taurine, salt" and a bunch of stuff I can't pronounce. It's packaged sort of like cat food. None of those options is easy to stomach -- and not just because of the "porcine meat meal." Derocher knows that. He doesn't want to have to feed the polar bears, much less euthanize them.
After 30 years of researching the Arctic bears, he's just being realistic. As the planet warms, thanks to our gas-guzzling cars and power-producing factories, the polar bear's frozen habitat is disappearing. Arctic sea ice has been declining at a rate of 13% per decade since 1979, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Many scientists expect summer sea ice to disappear in a matter of decades. Polar bears live and hunt from sea ice. If it's gone, they can't catch seals, which tend to stay far from land. And if the bears can't catch seals, they can't survive. There's no other way around it. Unless, maybe, you airdrop some food on them. But even then, something of the bear's essence is lost. "It's ridiculous, human beings feeding polar bears. Polar bears are wild animals," James Eetoolook, vice president of an Inuit group in Canada's Nunavut told The Canadian Press. "They're predators. They're hunters. Let them be." "I wouldn't say I'm 'against' it, just skeptical about how much good it will do to them," one commenter wrote on my Google+ page when I asked about the subject. "I'm afraid that in our haste to do good we might do more harm in the long run."
It's easy to have a whiplash reaction: Don't feed the polar bears. It's very Yogi, as Derocher put it. But such plans, while tragic, may be unavoidable at this point. The fact that such an idea is even up for consideration should be a major wake-up call -- a reminder that climate change is real and happening now. While some of its effects are inevitable (some polar bear habitat absolutely will be lost, Derocher said), there are longer-term solutions that could help save some of the polar-bear-ness of the polar bear. Or at the very least, Derocher said, they're ideas that could save them from extinction.
The solutions are all things you've heard before: cut carbon dioxide emissions, use less power, walk don't drive, live more efficiently. It's not rocket science (or, as one Twitter user recently suggested as a replacement for that phrase, "it's not corporate income-tax law"), but it will take a huge amount of political will in the United States and elsewhere to make substantive changes. That seems to exist. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama called for action on climate change "for the sake of our children and our future."
Some 35,000 people gathered in Washington last weekend to make similar points. Organizers said it was the largest demonstration of its kind in the United States. Meanwhile, none of the five countries with polar bears -- the United States, Norway, Russia, Canada or Greenland -- has a plan for responding to polar bear emergencies "caused by nutritional stress," the scientists write in the recent paper, which is titled "Rapid ecosystem change and polar bear conservation." When we act and how, may determine how quickly the species disappears.
Current projections don't look good. Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey have estimated that two-thirds of polar bears will be gone by 2050. For the Arctic ice melt to make sense, all you have to do is watch this YouTube video, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which shows the puny extent of sea ice in 2012 compared with the historical average. With all that as the backdrop, feeding polar bears doesn't sound so crazy, however sad and potentially irreversible it may be. And such programs do exist for other species, Derocher said, including California condors, black bears in Washington state and brown bears in Eastern Europe. "We're at the point where we're going to be implementing some of these scenarios in some parts of the Arctic," he said, "without doubt. "Bears just aren't as fat as they used to be," he said, which makes them less able to live through low-sea-ice years. "It's very clear when you look at the data and when you just look at the animals. A lot of them just don't have that much gas left in their tank."
I asked Derocher what drives him. He said he's not a sentimental person -- he doesn't get attached to an individual polar bear the way he does to his golden retriever. But when you're in the Arctic and you see how much the bears are struggling, it's hard not to care about them as a group -- to want to do something to preserve their wild power. "I'm still optimistic that humans will decide to deal with greenhouse gases in a realistic fashion," he said. To illustrate why that's important, he pointed me to an online video that shows the death of a young polar bear cub. It's linked here but, as a Mother Jones writer put it, "Be forewarned: this is graphic and ghastly." I wouldn't watch it unless you absolutely feel the need to do so. What's more important is Derocher's reaction. For him, the video echoed his experiences in the Arctic, surveying bears that are struggling because of sea ice melt. "When you watch that," he said, "you have to, I think, be pretty hardhearted to think that maybe humans aren't treading a little too heavily on this planet."
Sunday, February 17, 2013
Edward Irving "Ed" Koch was an American lawyer, politician, political commentator, movie critic and reality television arbitrator.
He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1969 to 1977 and three terms as mayor of New York City, which he led from fiscal insolvency to economic boom from 1978 to 1989.
Koch was a lifelong Democrat who described himself as a "liberal with sanity." The author of an ambitious public housing renewal program in his later years as mayor, he began by cutting spending and taxes and cutting 7,000 from the city payroll after the expansive Lindsay and Beame administrations. As a congressman and after his terms as mayor he was a hawkish supporter of Israel.
A popular figure, he rode the New York City Subways and stood at street corners greeting passersby with the slogan "How'm I doin'?"
Koch won re-election in 1981 with 75 percent, the first New York mayor to win endorsement on both the Democratic and Republican party tickets. He won his second re-election with 78 percent of the vote. His third term was fraught with scandal regarding political associates, although it never touched him personally. In his fourth primary, he lost in a close race to New York City's first black mayor, David Dinkins.
In political retirement he was a radio show host, author, and political gadfly. He was also an arbitrator ("judge") on the television court show The People's Court for two seasons, from 1997 to 1999.
He died on February 1, 2013 of congestive heart failure.
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
Friday, February 8, 2013
While most chefs work hard to make sure no dirt winds up in their food, at French restaurant Ne Quittez Pas in Tokyo, Japan, dirt is actually used as a key ingredient.
Mind you, this isn’t just any kind of dirt. It’s a special black soil from Kanuma, Tochigi Prefecture, that’s actually been tested for safety, but it’s still the thing most people use to grow plants in. So how did dirt wind up on the menu of this respectable venue? Apparently, Chef Toshio Tanabe once won a cooking competition with his signature dirt sauce, and from that point on he put together an entire menu based on the unusual ingredient. Now the restaurant is offering dishes priced as high as $110 with Kanuma dirt in them.
The guys at RocketNews24 heard about the unique restaurant and decided to sample some of the dirt-based foods on their menu. They started with a dirt soup, moved on to a salad with dirt dressing, an aspic made with oriental clams and topped with a layer of sediment, and finished off with dirt ice-cream and dirt gratin. Believe it or not, the reporter swears they all tasted divine, and had only a hint of earthiness to them. I guess Ne Quittez Pas’ Chef won that TV cooking show for a reason. Still, ¥10,000 ($110) for a dirt meal seems a bit steep.
Although not considered a gourmet meal until now, dirt has been used as food before. Pregnant women suffering from a condition known as PICA sometimes eat dirt to soothe their stomachs, and in the Indonesian village of Tuban, people eat ampo – baked dirt.
Note: Earth is the soul of our planet and all things grow from it. Is this creative austerity proof we can survive anything? Perhaps so... Or is it man's ability to manipulate anything for money?
Thursday, February 7, 2013
You're so right...
When I first wrote in 1982, I burst forth with my 18-year old soul
which fell in love in 1969.
Explaining the affairs of the heart, even the greatest poets cannot.
Had computers existed then, I may have discovered what
I learned so late. Would it have changed anything? I don't know.
Forgive me for disturbing the balance. And, yet...such beautiful songs
were inspired and heard.
The flower in my hair has not nor e'er wilt, so long as your soul