Friday, November 11

Of Rhinos and UpROARs

Apologies from the previous post being completely off topic, I didn't know where else to put it. But in short, Lirael meant a lot to me and I was able to win a bell charm ( for reviewing from one of my favorite authors, Garth Nix.

Anyway, back to animals (in that not all news concerning rhinos are terrible):

And my favorite darlings, Beverly and Dereck Joubert at 0:21 seconds in:

You can find out more about the UpROAR project here.

Good news, The Last Lions will be airing on National Geographic this Sunday, at 8pm Eastern time!!!!

Friday, October 14

Book Review for Garth Nix's Lirael

I have often been asked, “What is your favorite novel?”, as I was the top reader from elementary to high school. I struggled for an appropriate answer for many, many years, but now as a twenty-something, I can confidently supply an answer, with the story behind it. When I was twelve, I visited the annual book fair at my middle school with unprecedented glee, spending what little I saved on this one special occasion.

There were only half the usual number of shelves this time, and many targeted a much, much younger audience. A rather disappointing selection. I picked up Taggerung by Brian Jacques, and as I made my way to hand my bag filled with an assortment of coins and small bills, I paused. There it was, a most unusual, enchanting cover that separated itself from its peers with a thickness that looked to be a tale told more in words than pictures. Lirael, the cover read.

The little excerpt in the back sounded completely enticing, and in a manner completely unlike me, I impulsively bought the book. I spent all my savings on these two books, and I hoped that it was truly worth my year’s savings.

I devoured it. I did not let Lirael drop from my hands until I finished it, and hence comes my initial hesitation to discuss this book, and its siblings. I went home and asked to buy Sabriel immediately, knowing full well we did not have the financial resources to spend at leisure on fictional books (Abhorsen would not be out for another few years). I was denied, so I borrowed a copy from the local library and photocopied the entire novel (I still possess this copy, shown below, and eventually bought the entire series for my 18th birthday).

Now, how does a reader write on a novel that has changed her life? How can she describe, in coherent words, the complete refreshment of the fantasy genre? Lirael distanced herself from her peers by introducing a character who has very human, very real doubts; is she Clayr, with her strange physique and inability to utilize the Sight? Instead, she focuses on what she loves the most- her love of books and her position as a librarian. More triumphantly, when Lirael discovers a hidden, dangerous room full of secrets she accidentally unleashes the Stilken, a frightful creature. Rather than hiding and letting time runs its discourse with the Stilken’s gradual descent to power, Lirael takes the responsibility fully upon herself. Her path to the dangerous summoning of the Disreputable Dog and the eventual demise of the Stilken’s shook me to the core; in order to fix her err, she put herself in grave danger not because of some hero complex or deep need to please, but with the understanding that she had the power to undo the great mistake. This builds furthermore as her trials as an Abhorsen-in-Waiting grows, from facing Dead Hands to Chlorr of the Mask.

The triumph in this is that Lirael comes to terms with her lack of Sight, lack of blending in Clayr, culminated in full character growth when she understands and remembers her past. In retrospection, I find this theme especially appropriate for the targeted audience for its illumination of differences and eventual coming of terms that comes with individual growth.

At the Abhorsen’s house, Lirael accepts the position as Abhorsen-in-Waiting, knowing full well the horrors and trials she will face once she leaves its safety. Much of this is analogous to the trials teens have to face as adults, and it is understandable that many times choices are not offered or are difficult in path to choose. Braving and shutting her fears, Lirael blossomed into an admirable individual at the end of the book who never looked back at the insecurities accompanied by her former ostracized position at Clayr.

Lirael unraveled me completely, and shocks me with how deeply, and how quickly her fears echoed mine. The missing sense of belonging, the eventual acceptance of one’s self, and the difficult battles and pressures associated with a position of enormous responsibility and power. These were my battles too, and Lirael’s magic lay not only in its prose, but its messages along dark themes to not be afraid, to seize the day, and ultimately, that my future is my own and that I will succeed if I have the will and the preserverance. Despite Lirael’s insecurity she triumphed against all odds and utilizes every resource cleverly from beginning to the end in the conclusion of Abhorsen.

The answer I always give to the eternal question of a favorite novel is Lirael. I may have progressed to more advanced texts and analysis of such texts, but the book closest to me has remained the same through these years, shaking me to the core for many years to follow. Lirael is a timeless piece, poignant and haunting in themes and written in carefully-chosen prose, detailing the growth on one woman and her quest to find herself amidst strife and disaster.

Monday, August 1

Picking Fights

AK-47. Long range hunting rifles. Grenades and night vision goggles. Khaki uniforms and covert missions. You think of the army, right?

We've all heard of blue and white collar crimes, but how many have heard about "khaki collar" crime?

If I showed you this, would it make more sense?

Four years ago, 33 rhinos were poached in South Africa in an entire year. Fast forward three years later, 333 rhinos were poached in 2010 alone.

One of the biggest problems is that animal parts, in particular those of rare or endangered animals, fetch for extremely high prices on the black market, especially Asian ones. Over the course of many centuries, the Chinese have long cultivated the practice of traditional medicine, a broad range of practices that include 4 disciplines for one end goal, healing: herbs, massage, acupuncture, and diet. These practices spread to neighboring countries, and now much of the trade for animal parts go towards Asia, in particular China.

I personally don't understand why anyone would believe crushed rhino horn tea or tiger penis soup would have any healing effects when it is now widely disproven, but coming from a traditional Chinese background and having lived there for several years, I can see how it is still in practice in China- for other Asian countries, I don't claim knowledge. But when I grew up in Chengdu about 15 years ago, hospitals were dirty, crowded places with doctors that were harangued with an endless number of patients by day and by night, hounded by others with pity stories in hopes of getting an appointment for their loved ones earlier than the usual time of three months or more.

The country was poor. The people were desperate. And so they turned to the power of the lore that graced the scrolls of ancient kingdoms, the legends that coursed through streams of powerful rivers, and the beliefs, like their culture, that ran through their blood.

I remember a friend of a relative that was dying of cancer; the doctors didn't want anything to do with her. But on her bedside was a gorgeously lacquered box. As a child, I curiously unlatched the tortoiseshell cover and examined the contents. Greeted by a strange and strong smell, I remember my grandmother explaining to me the bevy of items in each compartment- one had delicate, almost hollowed out dried worms, purportedly able to soothe the nerves. Another compartment held a few very thinly shaved circles. I was told that those belonged to the antlers of a deer that came from a mountain where Buddha had graced its ground, long ago. Right beside it were large-capped dried mushrooms, unlike anything I had ever seen. Those were to extend life. After we left, my grandmother explained that those healed differently. When I asked how so, she merely replied with one word. Hope.

Later that year, I was able to accompany my grandparents to the traditional medicine store- there were all sorts of items, but what really caught my attention was the wall with items placed on red silk, in glass casing. Many of the items were rare; various grades of legendary ginseng, tree barks, and fungi were on one side, but on the other side were hairs, furs, horns, teeth, and dried bits with price tags that would double or triple the annual salary of the average factory worker. Attached were instructions on how to use and what their miracle-healing properties were. I think a bit of my faith in man died a little bit that day; this store was about half the size of a warehouse and the animal parts ran from one end to the other. Some tables had dried heads and claws; some of the faces were contorted or open.

Since then, China had gone through an amazing bit of westernization. Ivory became illegal to export out of the country, as were some ingredients of traditional medicine. This kind of store doesn't exist anymore; at least, not of that size. Last time I went there in 2006, the store had been reduced to half its size. Many of the items became illegal to sell.

This isn't the store I was talking about, but the looks are very similar.

It's nice to know that China now has some regulation and takes it very seriously (many times though, money and corruption takes precedence). The healthcare system hasn't changed a bit, though the doctors are now harassed by pharmaceutical companies to use their products for monetary profit, while the legends of traditional medicine are still echoed by an older generation, and bought by those who can afford it.

The means to obtaining them is through the black market these days, and the suppliers that drive these markets are often poachers who report directly from African or Southeast Asian countries. These poachers don't joke; they don't hesitate to shoot anyone that gets in their way. The sad, vicious cycle is that many of them are from villages desperate to feed itself. Using the natural resources around them, they can comfortably feed their village for an entire year and in turn, provide a better future for their children. In some African communities, it has become such a way of life that neighboring villages emulate their practices- the money is incredibly easy- a kilo of rhino horn usually fetches the same price as its weight in gold. However, the news that the South Africans are using a new initiative- that of deploying its army to control poachers- is worrying me. It has the potential of guerrilla warfare, and it practically is at this point. In South Africa alone, some 15 individuals have been outright killed so far this year and 64 wounded, with even more arrested. It proves to be a danger to both poachers, their families, and soldiers- each side have not hesitated in firing at the other.

The government has no choice- the rhino has always been endangered, and the fastest way of solving the problem is to aggressively fight back. Some of the villages have sole revenues from poaching, and have become nearly dependent on these practices, thereby fiercely protecting their practices.

The sustainable alternative is to educate these villages to become part of a workforce, and to understand that by killing these natives of the land, they are also killing a part of themselves- their pride and their land. They must understand that when no rhinoceros stand on their land, what will they have to turn to? The lions, the wildebeests? All of the Big Five? If they are gone too, what else would they have?

I can't say this is the best solution, but for now, it has been effective in controlling poaching. The best sustainable practices should be implementing long-term education and training of the adults and children, providing government subsidies, stationing biologist and/or conservationist representatives in each village to monitor the progress and oversee the education of each village. Perhaps even reward for turning in those who were poaching.

The practice of poaching is so cruel and unnecessary- it brings out the worst in man. It turns offspring into orphans. I think it kills the land and something of the people, too, to be able to shoot a magnificent creature that graces the land and legends of the people.

This is an orphaned rhino that was taken in by a village after another had killed its mother.

I think that perhaps, the symbol of hope shouldn't rest on eating or drinking crushed horns or body parts. Hope should be placed in these they are perhaps the individuals that need it the most, as they fight for their own survival from man, encroached territory, dwindling numbers, predators, and environmental conditions. It is a battle they must fight, but it is not a battle they should have to fight alone.

Wednesday, July 27

The World We Live In

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. ~Kahlil Gibran

The video that was too beautiful to not share.

The world is where we live from WWF on Vimeo.

Do you understand now?

Thursday, June 2

Sustainable seafood?

I'm on it.

Unless you have read The Ethics of What We Eat, I would say not many people know much about the seafood industry, or at least the implications. There is little to no regulation in the seafood industry. Wild-caught fish is rare nowadays (in an independent scientific association, about 1 in 100 salmon is actually wild), and many of the signs at supermarkets are unreliable because again, there is no regulation save the "trust" of the suppliers, which gets real shady when profits and competitors are concerned.

Fish farming is one of the fastest and most environmentally degrading practices; cages of thousands of fish with hardly any room are fed a cheap diet of minimal nutrients and a combination of antibiotics that changes the bacteria and microscopic ecology of the surrounding area. The waste from the thousands of fish build up like toxic sludge, eventually creating both an uninhabitable and unsustainable environment in surrounding areas.

Favorites like shrimp are particularly ecologically damning; a very large percentage of shrimp comes from South America and Asia nowadays in third world areas, with some from the Gulf. Mangrove trees, responsible for harboring stunning ecological diversity and stabilizing surrounding lands, are often cleared for larger shrimp farms, and was directly related to a 10% decrease in total mangrove estuaries in the world in several years, though some biologists (Lewis et al) state that indirectly shrimp farming accounts for almost 35% of the world's decrease in mangrove estuaries.

However, the scallops industry is arguably the worst; scallops and other related bivalves have evolved to hold a certain ecological niche: essentially filtering of the water, cleansing the ocean of detrimental particles. The most common commercial method of catching scallops involves dredging a net that scrapes the surface of the ocean, disturbing the surrounding wildlife and damaging the ocean floor. A better alternative is to go for Diver's Scallops; these are not nearly as destructive and the scallops are usually larger in size and don't possess the grit commonly found in commercially fished scallops.

In general, the fish industry is not 100% efficient; what I mean by that is that whenever you go out to catch something, chances are, by-catch can be a significant portion of your catch. With tuna, dolphins became at big risk and often by the time the fishermen get to the dolphin it's already half dead, crushed by tons of tuna anyway (that's why the tuna industry boasts being dolphin free now). It's not like harvesting vegetables or something like corn- there's no way you're picking corn and the next you get some spinach and peanuts with it.

So there, now you know a little more. Now imagine my happiness when I found out I could support a business that practices sustainable seafood in a place like Atlanta?
(Pst, it's Goin' Coastal, if you haven't heard about it.)

Though, speaking of local, I always run at the Chattahoochee River and almost always see someone knee deep fishing for trout. I wouldn't suggest that; have you seen some parts of the river where it's covered in a thin film of iridescent substance, trash, plastic, toys, even shoes? When I ate at Ray's on the River for some moments, I didn't know if the restaurant was more appropriately named "Ray's on the Dump" or not!

For freshman biology, I performed a Winogradsky column; basically, loosely pack dirt and then add water on top, capping it off with that opaque stretchy material (I'm killing myself, what was the name of that?! Made with paraffin?). Anyway, we let it grow for weeks and took samples from just about anywhere of interest. We had the usual flora, but there was one violet purple that caught our eye; interesting little guy. We never really identified it because our correlation score was like 0.004, but that's ok, haha. Good to know the Hoochee doesn't house virulent bacteria out the whazoo.

Speaking of rivers....

Thumbs up if you get the reference! :3
(Rumors are, Miyazaki is making another film, this time of Princess Kaguya. I wonder if there will be any nature themes in it..?)

Friday, May 13

The Trailblazers: Beverly and Dereck Joubert

Remember the couple I was alluding to in the previous posts?
Here they are, in all their glory.

They are filmmakers, photographers, writers and conservationists replete with numerous awards and recognition for their outstanding work. Currently working for National Geographic, the Jouberts specialize in the animals in Africa and operate out of Botswana, working the most with big cats. In turn, the two have founded The Big Cats Initiative:
which works through creating fences for livestock, educating the locals, and monitoring the predator management of the locals. They support local schools and parks as well!

I HIGHLY recommend watching their TedTalk video:

Learn more at:

The talent doesn't stop there; Beverly is known for her unique and spectacular photography:

Here is Legadema, their baby.

Recently, they launched their film The Last Lions and if you simply view the trailer online, National Geographic will donate 10 cents to The Big Cats Initiative.

"...Against all odds, she will rise once more..."

Among the most haunting of lines...I somehow feel that it doesn't just pertain to Ma Di Tau, the lioness of the film.

The Cove

Being a newbie to blogging, I unceremoniously deleted this post from a few weeks ago, so here it is again:

A few weeks ago I had the chance to see this lovely thriller/documentary (real interesting mix of genres here) called The Cove.


Remember Flipper? The mastermind behind the series is Ric O'Barry, world famous dolphin trainer of the five that starred in the series Flipper in 1964. O'
Barry made easy money, drove a Porsche, and did not care much for the animals he was working with at the time. Little did he know he would rethink his actions...and later commented on his previous ignorance:

"Humans breathe without even trying. It takes effort for dolphins have to breathe, to take every single breath. I saw Kathy...she was really depressed... You have to understand dolphins and whales are not [involuntary] air breathers like we are. Every breath they take is a conscious effort. They can end their life whenever. She swam into my arms and looked me right in the eye, took a breath and didn't take another one. I let her go and she sank straight down on her belly to the bottom of the tank."

Kathy was one of the five dolphins working in Flipper and died; O'Barry claims that she committed suicide, a fact heavily disputed by scientists, psychologists, and animal conservationists. Ric O'Barry worked with these animals everyday for years; he
personally trained the five on Flipper, and worked most intensively with Kathy.

It wasn't until then that O'Barry saw the consequences of his actions; he had single-handedly and unwittingly created an industry that had dire consequences for dolphins, and the ecosystems of the sea.

After setting free dolphins (even getting arrested by taking two dolphins from Sugarloaf Dolphin Sanctuary and freeing them), and becoming permanently banned from The International Whaling Commission, O'Barry teamed up with The Oceanic Preservation Society, National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos, special effects designers from Industrial Light and Magic (George Lucas's own special effects company!), and world champion free-diver and record-holder Mandy-Rae Cruickshank, and several adventure-seeking guys, they set off to Taiji, Japan to crack open a twisted way of life where 23,000 dolphins and whales are killed by means of primitive weapons- spears and knives.

Using night vision goggles, infrared recorders, and special cameras from National Geographic, Mandy was able to place cameras underwater and several others placed cameras in areas the Japanese did NOT want them to see (covertly done by asking the Japanese which places to avoid, and asking to keep the map "just to make sure where to stay out" WELL DONE).

After harvesting the tapes, the crew were completely unprepared for this:

Trainers pick the dolphins they want and the rest that get scared into the cove are brutally slaughtered by spears. The waters in the cove haunt in red- it really is a dolphin's worst nightmare. How long do you think this can last?

I don't want to spoil everything, but even if you are not much for animals this is definitely one of the most exciting and triumphant films I have ever seen. It has a satisfying feel but at the same time sends out an admirable message that the battle is not over.

Dolphins have unrivaled intelligence and are one of the few species that possess self-awareness. To think that people can treat them in such a manner really sets a new low point in humanity for me.

I highly recommend watching this movie; I don't think I have been moved this much since watching Million Dollar Baby.

Monday, May 2

Just Myself....

I desperately failed my Earth Week vow to blog once a day.

I blame it on hell week, the week most notoriously known for triple and quadruple tests that you study for and still miserably fail well, because it's Tech...and because of some serious April storms and showers.

Now, while my mind was wondering around studying for real, I toyed around with the idea of Botswana and partaking in the conservation movement, if only for 3-4 weeks during December and possibly going to a reserve to take care of them. Now if I could only become contacts with Beverly and Dereck Joubert, whose work and personalities I have come to adore and cherish! I will get to them in a later post, I can't possibly do them the justice they deserve in this one.

Roundtrip tickets to Botswana: $3000.
Hotel + food: $500 for the duration of my stay.
Miscellaneous costs: $100, and I'm trying to be really sparse.

...I guess you could call this a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true, although medical school may or may not be tied, if not the first place. I'll have to struggle with that myself over the next year or so and choose where my career goes; I adore animals, animal conservation, biology, medicine, philanthropy, environmental engineering, food, and the green movement. Where to go from there? Doctorate in medicine, Ph.D. in biology (Cornell is the ideal school, and I saw Ph.D. in biology and environmental engineering...definitely a contender!), maybe a melange of them all?

A little side story: A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of going up to the Smokey Mountains with a few friends to enjoy the scenery and what little wildlife I saw (the neon blue lichen was indeed fascinating) in a mere 3 hours. We went to a BBQ place, no escaping it as everyone planned it as part of the trip, and everyone ordered the ribs and catfish.

GROAN. "Animals were made for eating!"
A long grimace later and trying not to burst out in consternation, I was so proud of myself for keeping quiet. Even though the ribs/catfish were all you can eat, I held back and stuffed myself silly with the sides first. I wouldn't call this triumphant at all in any fashion, but I'm slowly getting there. Slowly trying to become more vegetarian. Slowly eliminating meat everyday to just once a week, and imbibing on vegetables. They actually taste great! (I'm not kidding you, they have flavors that burst if you pick, cook, and season them right!)

I think I've come a long way, from eating meat 2-3 times a day to once a day, to 2-3 a 7-day week. But there's a longer way to go- 100% vegetarian. Somehow I don't believe I'll be able to fully become a vegetarian because so much of my culture revolves around an insane amount of meat/fat, my relatives would take direct insult...and the fact that the majority of the only vegetarians around are Buddhist monks. One step at a time! Slowly convincing everyone that it's ok to be veg-o.

Now listening to:
Aruarian Dance - Nujabes

Wednesday, March 9

It has been about a month since I have finished the landmark book of animal rights- Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer. All of the chapters in Animal Liberation deal with hard facts, up until the very last chapter that Singer emotionally appeals to readers while stressing that just an emotional appeal is not enough

The most important thing I got from the book was the term "speciesism", which was first used by Dr. Richard Ryder, but popularized by Singer. So what is "speciesism"? You're correct, it's placing rights to a group on the basis of their species.

In the words of Dr. Ryder, "I use the word 'speciesism' describe the widespread discrimination that is practised by man against other species ... Speciesism is discrimination, and like all discrimination it overlooks or underestimates the similarities between the discriminator and those discriminated against."

In an everyday example that everyone has run across, people would get offended if they were said to be "equal" with animals; they even went as far as to say that "animals are inferior, there is no doubt about it." Right, because that is the same rationality people used to crusade laws suppressing civil rights for African Americans, and currently, the gay rights movement. If you have found yourself agreeing with that statement, I implore you to re-think your stance.

People have all had prejudices against each other, through race, age, sex, sexual orientation, cultural groups, and religious affiliation. Speciesism refers to not human-to-human prejudices, but human to non-human prejudices. Many times these prejudices are made unconsciously due to factors all around us. Why do marketers say "pork" and not "pig", "beef" and not "cow"? How about my favorite, "veal" instead of "muscular-atrophied baby cows"?