Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Lake Kivu in Africa in Danger of Exploding

Lava hitting Lake Kivu in January 2002 from the nearby erupting Nyiragongo volcano. Photo courtesy: bbcnews

The Rwandan government has a plan to reduce the risk of a lake erupting while at the same time producing energy.

Deep below the surface of Lake Kivu lies a major threat to the two million people who live around the perimeter.

At the bottom of the lake are dissolved gases including 256 cubic kilometres of carbon dioxide and 65 cubic kilometres of methane, meaning the lake could explode if provoked, reports BBC.

Lake Kivu, which is a shared resource between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is in a volcanic area and the CO2 enters the lake from the volcanic rock. The methane is created when bacteria in the lake mixes with CO2. The dangerous gases are kept at bay because they are deep below the surface and at high pressure, but if the lake is shaken, such as by an earthquake, the water would shoot upwards.

Photo courtesy: bbcnews

"Think of it like a bottle of fizzy drink," said Professor Brian Moss of the University of Liverpool to BBC. "The carbon dioxide has been dissolved in the drink. As long as it's under pressure, it doesn't bubble. But when you take the top off the bottle, the drink fizzes because you've reduced the pressure, and the gas is able to come out."

The presence of methane is even more of a concern than the build-up of CO2, because methane could ignite when exposed to air.

"The methane would not spontaneously cause an explosion on the surface." said Professor Robert Hecky from the Large Lakes Observatory at the University of Minnesota to BBC. "(But,) there are numerous possible ignition sources above and around the lake."

What people around Lake Kivu fear happened to two Cameroonian lakes in the 1980s. More than 1,000 people died in 1986 when one of the lakes released a cloud of CO2 that suffocated entire villages.

To decrease the impact if the lake does erupt, the Rwandan government has a plan to extract the dissolved gases from the lower levels of the lake.

ContourGlobal, the New York-based firm developing the project, will use what are basically four big straws to suck up water from the saturated zone. The methane will be separated and pumped ashore to a power plant and the water and CO2 will go back into the lake. The methane will be burned to generate energy.

Not only will this make the lake much safer, but Rwanda will be able to rely less on foreign fuel. Right now almost half of the country's electricity is generated from diesel fuel, which is imported.

However, the plan can be quite dangerous. Environmental consultants Sinclair Knight Merz told BBC if it is not done carefully, it could cause an explosion. They also fear the water may become more acidic and that would be bad news for the fish and the people who depend on it.

A pilot project is expected to start producing energy later this year.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Did You Know That...

In 1940, "Bugs" Hardaway, an illustrator at Warner Bros., submitted a drawing for a rabbit character to his bosses and labeled it "Bugs" Bunny. His drawing wasn't chosen; but, the name was chose for the beloved cartoon character.

People in trouble use the word "mayday", derived from the French word "m'aidez" which means "help me". The signal was in french because the French had more planes in the air in the early 1900s than other countries. Eventually, as the French lost aerial dominance, the word was Anglicized and everyone started using it.

Wearing black during mourning began out of a belief that the spirit of the person who died, fearful of the hereafter, might inhabit the body of a living person. Mourners wore black and hid in the shadows to avoid the departed spirit.

If you get one square meal a day, you're like an 18th century sailor. Mouldy bread and water usually constituted breakfast and lunch; but, if the sailors were lucky, the third meal of the day included meat, served on a square tin plate.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Global Warming Killing Yellow Cedars in Alaska and Canada

A stand of dying Yellow Cedars. Photo courtesy: © Paul Hennon

For the past hundred years, the only name for the plague killing off economically valuable yellow-cedars has been "yellow-cedar decline." The die-off has affected about 60 to 70 percent of the yellow cedars in forests covering 600,000 acres (240,000 hectares) of the North Pacific Coastal Rainforest in Alaska and neighboring British Columbia.

Yellow cedars grow slowly, many reaching ages between 700 and 1200 years old. The wood of the yellow cedar serves Native Alaskans for crafting goods such as paddles, masks, and dishes. With a straight grain, durability and insect-resistance, yellow cedar wood also sells into the home and boat building markets.

Scientists and foresters of the Alaska Region of the Forest Service needed to understand the cause of the die-off in order to plan a conservation strategy. A paper published in the current issue of BioScience sheds light on the mystery, crediting long-term, multidisciplinary research for the findings. Co-publisher Paul Hennon of the Pacific Northwest Research Station explains in the press release on Yellow cedar dying in Alaska:
The cause of tree death, called yellow cedar decline, is now known to be a form of root freezing that occurs during cold weather in late winter and early spring, but only when snow is not present on the ground. When present, snow protects the fine, shallow roots from extreme soil temperatures. The shallow rooting of yellow cedar, early spring growth, and its unique vulnerability to freezing injury also contribute to this problem.
Current predictions foresee less snow overall, but continuing periods of freezing weather in the area, expected to worsen the threat to yellow cedars. The paper concludes that "conservation and management activities need to follow the shifting snow patterns on the landscape." This suggests foresters should deliberately grow yellow cedar forests into favorable directions, nudging the forests towards areas with deeper snowfall.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Amir's Garden

Unfortunately, the man who single-handedly created a secret garden in the middle of Los Angeles has left us for a better place; but, his creation lives on to inspire countless others.

Amir Dialameh saw a need and he filled it working 7 days a week, 50 weeks a year for 30+ years without payment of any kind. The result is nothing short of a miracle.

Benches at entrance to park. Photo courtesy: © Bonnie Hulkower

Amir’s Garden is a quiet place for a picnic or as a place to meditate because it has managed to remain a secret garden in the middle of Los Angeles.

Amir Dialameh is a corner of the garden. Photo courtesy: Farrokh A. Ashtiani/via

According to the LA Times, Dialameh was inspired to build the garden after a brush fire in the early 70s burned a solid portion of the hills in Griffith Park. Dialameh often hiked in the hills along the Mineral Wells trail by the Los Angeles Zoo. After the fire, he thought the hills looked bare and that someone should build a garden on them. Then he realized, as most self-motivated people do, that if you think someone should do something, that someone often ends up being you. So Dialameh built the garden plant by plant with a pick and a shovel that he carried uphill for a mile.

For many years he worked alone. He cleared tree stumps and built a retaining wall with discarded fencing. He worked seven days a week, often for 8 hours a day. He terraced slopes, built stairs to a created a picnic area with benches. After working in the garden all day, he worked nights as a wine salesman.

Amir's "caution" sign warning trail users of wild animals. He also installed a watering hole for the horses people loved to ride in his garden. Photo courtesy: © Bonnie Hulkower

When Dialameh discussed his vision for the garden with city officials, at first they didn’t take him seriously. At first, they only granted him a permit, no water, tools, plants or assistance. After a few years, the city did provide a pipeline to bring some irrigation water from the bottom of the hill to the garden.

Over thirty years Dialameh planted drought-tolerant plants that provided shade, such as pine and jacaranda trees. He also planted plants that provided vibrant color such as roses, geraniums, and yucca. Many of these were non-natives, which lent to the contrast between the colorful foliage in the garden and the chaparral that one normally sees in Griffith Park. Through determination and hard work, Dialameh transformed a dry dusty mountaintop trail into a lush shady oasis. Today some of the trees that Dialameh hauled over his shoulder thirty years ago are now sixty feet tall. What dedication and love for nature and America this man must have had.

One of the shade gardens. Photo courtesy: © Bonnie Hulkower

Dialameh was born in Tehran in 1932 and was one of seven kids. The outdoors were as essential to him as food and water are to most people. Dialameh had brothers and nieces but never married himself, the garden was his family. He visited a brother in Pittsburg in 1952 and then decided to move to the U.S. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1963 and settled in Hollywood.

The U.S. inspired him. He thought of America as a country built by volunteers and wanted to give back to his new home and community. It was his patriotism combined with his love of nature, that inspired him to build a public garden in his free time. He was known to say, “In the land of the free, plant a tree." Before he passed away in 2003, you could tell which days Dialameh was working in the garden, by the sight of an American flag that he raised whenever he was working.

The hand points to the view available from the garden. Photo courtesy: © Bonnie Hulkower

What still surprises about this story, is that Amir’s Garden lies within one of North America's largest urban, municipally-owned parks. Dialameh was only away from the garden for a two-week vacation he took every year and one year he hiked for three-months from California to Pennsylvania.

Dedication like this wasn’t easy. One Sunday in the early 90s, Dialameh was robbed and beaten. (No good deed goes unpunished.) But he didn’t let this experience deter him from tending the garden, he only modified his schedule to not work on Sundays. When the garden was damaged by later brush fires, he was quick to rebuild. The garden was truly a labor of love.

A beautiful section of the garden. Photo courtesy: © Bonnie Hulkower

Since the late 70s, other hikers have helped him maintain the garden. Several nurseries donated saplings and park services and private benefactors contributed a sprinkler system. Dialameh never accepted monetary donations. On two occasions when people sent him money, he returned the money with a thank you note. Amir’s garden remains an all-volunteer garden and rest stop for Griffith Park hikers and equestrians.

Photo courtesy: © Bonnie Hulkower

If you are in the LA area, Amir's Garden is a lovely garden that feels very secluded, even when you are in the middle of LA and overlooking freeways in the distance. It retains its secluded feel even after you realize you are not the only one who has discovered this secret place.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Refugees Use a Garden to Cultivate More Than Just Food

My daughter and I have started preparing my balcony for our spring planting. We have already started some colder-weather seeds outside. I may be a bit optomistic; but, the weather is so mild I couldn't resist.

There are few things in life I am more passionate about than gardening and nature. Faith and I try to grow crops that are bee- and butterfly-friendly in an effort to help naturally maintain the winged pollinators in our area; and, we have a mason bee hive out there. Granted, we only have a balcony to work with; but, it's amazing what can be grown out on "the back 40" if you plan well and get creative.

Obviously, the people at The Perennial Plate are as passionate about growing and harvesting your own food as I am. This group is exciting, forward-thinking, creative and flourishing. Read on for a small ray sunshine in environmental news.

Photo courtesy: The Perennial Plate/video screen capture

It is almost a cliche that community gardens bring people together and help bridge cultural divides. But it's true. There is something about the act of gardening that emphasizes our shared heritage as human beings, even as it expresses our differences in terms of what we grow and how we eat. From the awesome urban farmers of New Orleans to a youth program bringing young farmers together across cultures, The Perennial Plate has explored the cultural benefits of community gardening many times before. Here, the visit with a Bhutanese family in Atlanta and learn how refugees from around the world are coming together to grow food from their homeland.

Photo courtesy: The Perennial Plate/video screen capture

Providing a growing space for refugees from Burma, Nepal, Iraq and elsewhere, the Jolly Avenue Community Garden is a program of Friends of Refugees in Atlanta. The idea, according to the group's website, is not just to build community, but to help alleviate past trauma too:
While we entertain some dreams of sustainable agriculture and small-scale agri-business production, we take great satisfaction in our primary garden product: Community. Nothing says “friendship” like working alongside each other, learning from one another’s techniques, and sharing space together in a collaborative and creative way. And nothing says “dignity” like having access to a piece of land and being free to do with it what you like. Many have observed that gardening can be powerful therapy for those who have experienced trauma and psychological pain. We have such hopes for our friends who are gardening with us.
Photo courtesy: The Perennial Plate/video screen capture

As with their videos of cave dwelling farmers in Utah, Vietnamese fishermen in the Gulf and conservative Christian dairy farmers in Ohio, this is another valuable reminder from The Perennial Plate that the local and sustainable food movement stretches way beyond the somewhat homogeneous demographics of many of our farmers markets and food coops.

If we're going to build a movement, we have to make it broad. Luckily, that movement appears to be growing itself.

The Perennial Plate Episode 90: Refugee Garden from Daniel Klein on Vimeo.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Raccoons Becoming Smarter Thanks to People

Raccoons easily adapt to challenges of life in the city. Photo courtesy: © Laurie Peterson

Able to squeeze into locked garages, open secured garbage cans, unzip tents, and pry up lids on Tupperware, urban raccoons love a challenge. Extremely adaptable and smart, they're expert problem solvers, evolving faster than we can devise raccoon-proof gadgetry. When cornered these masked invaders can put up a ferocious fight. Many a pet dog or cat has fallen victim to their claws and teeth. Fortunately, raccoons tend to be on the timid side and would rather run than fight.

The film documents a recent study in which scientists GPS-tracked raccoons’ nocturnal habits with night-time cameras, exposing insights into their previously unknown bandit-like behavior, such as how they’ve learned to avoid their only urban predator — the automobile, where they sleep and the surprising limits of their territory near your backyard.

Night cameras track raccoons foraging for dinner by opening locked garbage bins. Photo courtesy: © Laurie Peterson

Raccoon Nation (which can be viewed online) explores the issues involving these animals, from the devastation of 1000-year-old temples with a couple decades in Japan to Chicago’s parasite infestation, and how some clever German engineering is addressing how to prevent them from climbing downspouts. The documentary also addresses how humans have exacerbated the overpopulation through importing the non-indigenous species in a misguided attempt to turn them into pets.

Watch Raccoon Nation - Preview on PBS. See more from Nature.

Curiously, these masked critters prefer the big city. In Toronto, there are 50 times more raccoons in the city than the countryside. As omnivores, they adapt well and learn more quickly. In fact, the complex obstacles the urban environments present raccoons are accelerating their development. With hand-like front feet they can open doors and their collapsible spines allow them to climb through crevasses. What’s next -- opposable thumbs?

When the cartoon Rascal the Raccoon grew popular in Japan during the 1970s, the baby animals were imported as pets. As they outgrew their homes, they were dumped in the woods and have since decimated 80% of the ancient temples. With no natural predator in the country, there is zero tolerance for the 10,000 trapped each year.

Kassel, Germany, the raccoon capital of Europe, there are 100 raccoons per square kilometer. “It’s a power struggle,” said an engineer who came up with protective device for downspouts the clever animals climb up. Are they encroaching on our territory? Will they outnumber us? And how do we co-exist with invasive wildlife?

As master dumpster divers, raccoons have grown 20 times larger over the last 70 years, snacking on our food waste and improving their brains.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"Smart" Paint Could Detect Damage Before it Occurs

Photo courtesy: Manish Prabhune/CC BY 3.0

How do you know when structures are about to snap, collapse, and otherwise bust apart? Unless there are intensive inspections happening at regular intervals, usually you find out when it happens and the damage is already done. But a new paint developed by researchers at Glasgow's University of Strathclyde could help alert people to the problem before it's too late.

Fast Co. Exist's Ariel Schwartz reports, "The paint, which is made out of carbon nanotubes and fly ash, is sprayed onto surfaces much like any other kind of paint. But this paint is special--it communicates wirelessly with battery-powered electrodes that are attached to the structure to detect structural micro-cracks... [A]ny changes in the paint’s electrical current--a sign of damage--are communicated to the electrodes, which in turn signal a problem to humans, who can then go check out the microfractures that before would have gone entirely unnoticed."

The researchers state that the pain is "environmentally-friendly" though we know that we don't know enough about how nanoparticles affect the environment. Still, the paint uses fly ash, which is normally considered a waste product. When mixed with the carbon nanotubes, the paint is cement-like and will stick to whatever you put it on even in tough environments. We'd like to know more, though, about what impact the paint might have on the environment as it is sprayed on and wears off of structures.

Even so, paint such as this could save a lot of time, energy, and yes, carbon emissions, with not having to get people out patrolling structures as much, especially in more removed areas like wind farms or distant bridges -- even mines.

Dr Mohamed Saafi, of the University’s Department of Civil Engineering, said: “The development of this smart paint technology could have far-reaching implications for the way we monitor the safety of large structures all over the world. There are no limitations as to where it could be used and the low-cost nature gives it a significant advantage over the current options available in the industry. The process of producing and applying the paint also gives it an advantage as no expertise is required and monitoring itself is straightforward.”

So far, only a prototype has been developed, but we may see the product tested and used perhaps in the near future.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Is This the Most Beautiful Street in the World?

A huge thanks to Stephen Messenger for the use of these photos. They are a breath of fresh air. What's more - As soon as I'm finished this blog, I'm packing my suitcase and moving!

Photo courtesy: Stephen Messenger

There are an estimated 11 million miles of paved road on Earth, forming a sprawling network which some might say represents humanity's conquest of the otherwise inaccessibly wild landscape. But, ironically it seems, the most beautiful streets in world just might be the ones that more closely resemble the untamed.

With so many scenic streets in cities across the globe, some cutting straight through modern metropolises bordered by towering skyscrapers, others following ancient winding paths in the shadow of great monuments, determining which of all is prettiest might seem an impossible task. But hard as it may be, there is one street in Brazil which has earned that distinction among an international audience -- namely for its impressive natural beauty.

Photo courtesy: Stephen Messenger

Rua Gonçalo de Carvalho, in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, may not pass by any notable historical sites along its 500 meter stretch, but it does have a forest. In all more than one hundred towering tipuana trees line the road like a living colonnade, forming what some have called a 'green tunnel' over three city blocks. The quiet, shady street has long been a favorite among locals, but recently it garnered some broader acclaim.

Photo courtesy: Stephen Messenger

For residents, some of whom have lived in the shade of that 'green tunnel' for most of the over 70 years since it was first planted, the trees haven't been merely ornamental -- they've been something to protect. In 2005, commercial interests planning to build a parking garage received permission from the city to cut down some of the trees to make room, so those living along Gonçalo de Carvalho formed a group to stop it. With local support, and to the surprise of many, the tree-loving community organization was able to halt the juggernaut of construction.

Photo courtesy: Stephen Messenger

Just a few years ago, Gonçalo de Carvalho and its history caught the attention of several European writers and tree advocates, including a Portuguese named Pedro Nuno Teixeira Santos who dubbed it 'the most beautiful street it in the world' on his blog The Green Shade:
Goncalo de Carvalho in Porto Alegre, Brazil, is not only the most beautiful street in the world because of the stunning visual effect of its immense Tipuana green tunnel. It is the most beautiful street in the world for this, but mainly because these trees were planted cherished by its residents, over several decades, that is, the green tunnel is the result of love, the love of the trees! It was from this love and this struggle of the residents of Goncalo de Carvalho, that the political power of the city found itself forced to recognize the importance of cultural heritage, landscape and environment, classifying and protecting it with the force of law.

Photo courtesy: Stephen Messenger

Photo courtesy: Stephen Messenger

Nowadays, Rua Goncalo de Carvalho's internationally recognized beauty is a special point of pride; it was recently named a site of Ecological, Cultural, and Environmental Heritage.

What's more, perhaps, beyond the distinction that some consider it to be the prettiest street in the world, is the fact that it represents what is possible when city-dwellers work together to cherish and protect something beautiful.

Photo courtesy: Stephen Messenger

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Great Glacier Caper

Photo courtesy: dbeck03/CC BY 2.0

As a result of climate change, Chile's Jorge Montt Glacier receded nearly a half-mile just last year alone -- but, as it turns out, global warming isn't the only thing robbing the region of its ice cover. Recently, Chilean police arrested members of a crime ring as they drove a refrigerated truck filled with over 5 tons of ice stolen from the already dwindling glacier. Authorities say they've never seen a case quite like this before -- of 'hot' ice, that is.

According to a report from EFE, police were first tipped that a great glacier heist was underway last week along Chile's rapidly melting Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Yesterday, police arrested one man as he was transporting the cold loot; six others involved in the ice thieving ring were later identified as well and charged with 'simple theft'. The going price for all that ice, 5.7 tons in total, is reported to be upwards of $6,200.

Authorities suspect that thieves were planning on selling the ice to bars and restaurants.

Never before, say police, has stealing glacial ice ever landed anyone in hot water like this, so the charges may in fact be escalated to include crimes against Chile's national heritage.

"It's the first time denouncing a situation of this nature," says José Moris, regional prosecutor behind the investigation.

While this may be the first occasion that police have caught glacier thieves cold-handed, its certainly not the only time human activities have resulted in missing ice. In recent years, due to rising temperatures associated with climate change, the Jorge Montt Glacier has been in dramatic retreat, losing as much as 7 miles of ice coverage in as many years.

In other words, lest the global community makes genuine strides to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gas emissions, we are all responsible for committing a similar injustice -- even if we never had to put on our mittens to do it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Hundreds of New Species Found in Peru

Photo courtesy: cspruit/CC BY 2.0

Just when it started to seem like we had mapped out pretty much all lifeforms on Earth, biologists say they have now found yet another ark-full -- and all in just one small region of South America. A group of field researchers working in Peru's Bahuaja Sonene National Park recently uncovered not one, not two, but 365 new species previously unknown to science.

According to PhysOrg, the fifteen-member crew shed light on creatures big and small that otherwise had been undiscovered, proving that the world of biodiversity is still one whose border have yet been traced.
The discovery included: thirty undocumented bird species, including the black-and-white hawk eagle, Wilson's phalarope, and ash colored cuckoo; two undocumented mammals – Niceforo's big-eared bat and the Tricolored Bat; as well as 233 undocumented species of butterflies and moths.
"The discovery of even more species in this park underscores the importance of ongoing conservation work in this region," says Dr. Julie Kunen of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "This park is truly one of the crown jewels of Latin America's impressive network of protected areas."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Did You Know...

In ballet, dancers learn how to do a "plie", which is from the French word "plier", meaning "to bend". A "demi-plie" is a half knee bend while a "grand plie", is a full knee bend.

Humans use their ears to hear; but, snakes hear with their tongues through vibrations. Organs in their knees help crickets hear while fish have ridges on their bodies that act as ears.

If a ram (male sheep) and a dam (female sheep at lambing time) have lots of lambs, they've created a group of sheep called a flock, drove, hirsel, trip or pack.

Mark Twain was the first writer to submit a typed manuscript to a publisher. He submitted The Adventures of Tom Sayer to Chatto and Windus in England in 1876. It was typed on a Remington typewriter.

The steps that dancers learn in ballet have French names. This is because ballet first became popular in France over three centuries ago.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Champis, The Sheep-Herding Rabbit

Video clip of Champis showing off his herding skills. The video is a bit overlong; but, cute.

Champis the bunny doesn't only hop — he also knows how to herd his masters' flock of sheep, possibly having picked up the skill after watching trained dogs do the job.

The 5-year-old pet rabbit from the small village of Kal in northern Sweden shot to online fame last week, having garnered more than 700,000 YouTube hits so far, after a clip of his sheep herding skills surfaced on a blog.

The June video shows a persistent Champis running back and forth on the farm, trying to keep Nils-Erik and Greta Vigren's sheep together.

Greta Vigren said she first noted his talent last spring when they let out the sheep to graze for the first time after the long Swedish winter.

"He just started to behave like a sheepdog," she recalled, adding that while he likes to round up the sheep, he is consistent about leaving the farm's hens alone, treating them more gently.

"He's like a king for the whole group. He thinks he rules over both the sheep and the hens. He has a very big ego."

Dan Westman, a sheepdog breeder who shot and posted the video of his friends' bunny, said he was in awe when he first witnessed the phenomenon, noting Champis does the job even better than most dogs would.

"It's really incredible, it's a herding rabbit," he said. "He rounds them up, and if they get close to escaping through the gate he sometimes stops them," he said.

"I mean I work with sheepdogs and know how hard this is. There are very few dogs that could do what this rabbit does."

Westman, who's known both Champis and its owners for years, said the beige little mix-breed bunny had never been trained for the job but seemed to have learned the ropes all on his own.

"He's probably picked some of it up from watching the dogs," he said.

Despite his tiny size, Westman said the sheep seem to pay their minder a world of respect, letting him herd them around when he feels they need some moving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Drought Affecting World's Only Self-Sustaining Whooping Crane Colony

Photo courtesy: szatmarr666/CC BY 2.0

An article was written lately about the FAA Allowing Whooping Cranes To Resume Migration Flight to Florida. This was a feel-good story in which the FAA, charged with overseeing entrenched interests of airlines, decided they would let a flock of endangered Whoopers be escorted to Florida by people flying ultralight gliders.

Continuing extreme drought in Texas and a Federal court case regarding Texas water rights has conservationists worried about the future of the Western Whooper flock, which is the only one that is self-sustaining. No ultralight escorts needed.

Photo courtesy: USDA and NOAA/Public Domain

As reported in the Island Breeze,
The 5-foot tall cranes that migrate in the eastern United States, largely between Wisconsin and Florida, are a separate flock from those migrating between Texas and northern Alberta, Canada. But the Wisconsin-based International Crane Foundation is now taking a more active role in Texas water policy and outreach efforts because of the threat to the species there, including testimony in a case in federal court involving water rights and cranes.

Lack of rain leads to other problems which affect the western flock.
Over the past year, rainfall at the Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas has totaled 15 inches. That's down 59 percent from normal, government figures show. Some coastal marshes are now saltier than the ocean, and toxic algae blooms known as red tide are washing along the coast.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sumatran Elephants Could Be Extinct in as Little as 30 Years

Photo courtesy: xlibber

Over the next three decades, the human population is projected to reach 9 billion people. In that same time, Sumatran elephants, currently numbering around 2,500 members, are expected to reach zero. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the same harmful deforestation practices which have already halved the elephants' population since the mid-1980s continues on through to today virtually unabated -- putting the majestic and endangered species on a collision course with extinction.

In the last 35 years, the once heavily-foliaged Indonesian island of Sumatra has nearly half of its forest coverage from deforestation, resulting in the fragmentation of habitats for much of the region's unique wildlife. Among the island's hardest-hit species have been large land mammals, like Sumatran elephants, which are highly dependent on large swaths of uninterrupted forest. As such habitats have dwindled, so too has their chances of long-term survival.

In light of the ongoing threats, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently reclassified the Sumatran elephant's already troubled conservation status from 'endangered' to 'critically endangered' -- joining Sumatran rhinos, Sumatran orangutans, and Sumatran tigers on that grim list of species nearing extinction.

Conservationists have renewed their warnings to curb deforestation on Sumatra, asserting that, if nothing is done, the elephants will likely be wiped out entirely very soon -- though there is a still time to stop it:

"An immediate moratorium on habitat conversion is needed to secure a future for Sumatran elephants," says the WWF in a statement, as reported by The Telegraph. "Scientists say that if current trends continue, Sumatran elephants could be extinct in the wild in less than 30 years."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gorgeous Cape Made Entirely From Spider Silk

Photo courtesy: Bonnie Alter

It's eccentric and completely outrageous but it is gorgeous. This cape, on display in the exhibition "Golden Spider Silk" at London's Victoria & Albert Museum through June 5, is made out of the threads that a spider uses to make its web. The colour is completely natural: exactly what comes out of the spider.

Some statistics: It took four years and one million spiders to make the cape, completed in 2011. Each morning 80 people in Madagascar go out and collect the female Golden Orb (Nephilo madagascariensis) spiders which are common to the highlands. The spiders are 2" in size and fit in the palm of your hand.

They are brought to the silking facility, and the "silk" which is emitted from the underside of the spider's abdomen is collected. You can get 40 yards of it from one spider. Then they take the spiders back out into nature in the afternoon and set them free. They are not hurt during the process.

Photo courtesy: Bonnie Alter

The silk strands are collected and put onto the bobbins. It takes 24 strands to make a single thread. However this may be too fine so usually they use 96 strand thread. The spider silk thread is then woven on a loom. Whew!

So how did this happen. Two men, Simon Peers, a textile designer and researcher and Nicholas Godley, an entrepreneur, initiated the project. Simon Peers spoke to a rapt audience at the Museum about the work. He has lived in Madagascar for over twenty years and was fascinated by the weaving and textiles of the land. Peers wanted to revive the local traditions of weaving and whilst doing research stumbled upon the story of this extracted silk. It was an irresistible draw; he was hooked.

Photo courtesy: Bonnie Alter

He explained that the idea is at least three hundred years old. The Solomon Islanders grabbed the webs with bamboo poles from the trees; they made masks from it as ritualistic objects.

It has been written about in text books, and Rube-Goldberg-like contraptions have been created by a French colonial administrator to do it (see above). At the end of the nineteenth century there was even a college to train spider silk weavers and then because of the many difficulties and expense the industry died out.

Photo courtesy: Bonnie Alter

The two men worked for eight years to develop this project. In 2004 they started "silking" spiders and by 2008 it became a reality.

The first thing that they made out of the silk was this magnificent shawl. It took four years to complete and is woven from threads twisted from 96 individual spider strands. The heavier brocaded part is made from 960 twisted strands.

Photo courtesy: Bonnie Alter

Then they moved onto the cape. Why a cape format? It was conceived by the designer as a homage to the spider using both embroidery and brocade. It is decorated with lovely spider images, flowers and a clasp that looks like a web.

The cape is superman and it is liturgical as well. It summarizes our conflicted views of spiders: on the one hand they are the stuff of nightmares and horror films, and on the other there is the poetry and beauty of the spider's web.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Unemployed Artist Creates House From Decommissioned Euros

Very interesting story about how the house came to be.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade; and, that's exactly what Frank Buckley did. When life gives you a global economic crisis, a gloomy real estate market, and an uncertain currency future, make a house out of shredded-up money. And, why not? That's what unemployed Irish artist Frank Buckley did; and, it's working out well for him.

Over the last couple of months, Buckley has amassed a former fortune: a whopping 1.4 billion euros (US$2.3 billion) in decommissioned paper currency and used it to build himself a home -- proving that even if you're not made of money, your dwelling could be.

Considering the hardships being felt by Europeans in light of their ongoing monetary crisis, as well as Ireland's housing slump, the artist's creative construction is particularly timely.

"It's a reflection of the whole madness that gripped us," Buckley says of his project. "People were pouring billions into buildings now worth nothing. I wanted to create something from nothing."

"Whatever you say about the euro, it's a great insulator," he added.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Proposed Airport Would Affect Thames River Estuary

Avocets are just one of the many species that rely on the Thames estuary to survive. Photo courtesy: Omar Torres/AFP/Getty

The reflections of redshank that shimmer in the wet silt of the Thames river estuary are an illusion: the birds appear still, but they are in a race against time to eat enough before the tide comes in and they retreat on land to wait for their next meal. To ingest enough energy to survive, they need to eat two insects a second.

Scenes like this capture why environment groups and nature lovers across Europe are so deeply opposed to building a new airport on the Thames estuary, an internationally important area for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds, for reptiles like the slow worm, for newts and water voles, and for rare insects that thrive on old industrial land.

Altogether, the airport land and surrounding areas and waters include five separate Special Protection Areas for passing or over-wintering avocet, hen harriers, ringed and golden plovers, marsh harriers, little tern, dunlin and pintail, as well as hosting one of a new breed of marine sites, this one designated for its population of 6,000-8,000 red-throated divers. There is a Special Area of Conservation preserved for its species-rich estuaries, mudflats and salt meadows. Much of the area is also covered by the Ramsar international convention on wetlands, recognising how crucial the estuary is for birds travelling as far afield as Siberia, Canada and north Africa.

A consultation on a proposal for a possible airport, as expected to be announced by the prime minister in March, is a long way from a blueprint for any new airport. But plans drawn up and published independently last year by the architect Sir Norman Foster and the consultants Halcrow give a good idea of the scale of such a development. It would involve building over a huge area of mudflats and far out into the river, taking up to a quarter of the existing channel, according to the RSPB; the charity's famous logo features the avocet, which lives nearby.

Such a massive pouring of concrete and tarmac would itself cover a giant swathe of the plant- and animal-rich tidal zone, as well as the land where wading birds retreat at high tide. Further sites, up and down the estuary and river, would be affected by tides forced to flow around the runways and buildings. Add to that expectations that much more of the region would have to be sterilised of birds to reduce the potentially catastrophic risk of them striking the engines of aeroplanes, and the RSPB conservation director, Martin Harper, has described the proposal as an "act of vandalism".

In addition to the physical stress would be the noise, vibrations and the impact of industrial activity the airport would attract to the area. These, too, affect birds like the redshank, which live on the edge of survival as they struggle to build up the energy to survive between feeds in often bitter temperatures and winds. "If they have got to fly further [to find food], or they are disturbed, you are affecting the edge they are living on," said Nik Shelton, an RSPB spokesman.

All this is not to mention the additional problem of aircraft pollution, in particular emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, nitrous oxides and water vapour contrails.

With no concrete plans yet articulated, it is hard to assess the potential climate-forcing effect of a new hub airport. But Foster's draft envisages four 4km runways, built to carry up to 150 million passengers a year. By contrast, the UK's independent Committee on Climate Change report on aviation emissions in 2009 estimated that, in order to meet the government's target for the middle of the century of limiting greenhouse gases to 2005 levels or below, ministers needed to limit demand increases to 60% – or 138 million more passengers. By itself, then, without any growth at other (often underutilised) UK airports, a new Thames Hub would increase capacity beyond what is recommended.

The coalition government has the option to drop that Labour cap on aviation emissions, but it would have to argue the case with industry, agriculture and other sectors for increasing aviation's already generous projected quarter-share of emissions in 2050.

On both fronts, wildlife and climate change, the proposals alone – even without approval – will be another blow to the Conservatives' already fragile environmental credentials, which helped rehabilitate the party in opposition. "David Cameron's pledge to lead the greenest government ever will ring hollow if he gives the green light to a huge expansion in air travel," said Andy Atkins, Friends of the Earth's executive director.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Britain's Birds are Remaining in Countryside This Year

The greenfinch is among common garden birds that have taken their leave of suburbia this winter. Photo courtesy: David Tipling/Alamy

It has been a hard winter for English suburban bird spotters. The nation's house birds have disappeared from towns and cities, leaving gardens devoid of their most familiar feathered visitors.

Their absence has triggered a flurry of letters and emails to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds from anxious householders disconcerted by the absence of blue tits, greenfinches, chaffinches and house sparrows from suburban Britain.

"We have been inundated with letters over the past few weeks from homeowners who have got used to seeing house birds in their gardens over our recent harsh winters but who are perplexed by their absence this year," said Nik Shelton, an RSPB official.

The reason for the birds' disappearance is straightforward, he added. "House birds like the blue tit or the chaffinch eat seeds or insects, which are easy to find in the countryside when the weather is mild, as it has been for this winter so far. When the conditions get tough, when the ground becomes hard and frosty, it is difficult to get at insects or pick up seeds. Food become scarce, so the birds head into towns and cities in search of sustenance. That is what happened last year and the year before when we had very hard winters. But not this year. Our blue tits and chaffinches are perfectly happy in the countryside at the moment."

The unexpectedly mild conditions have had other disconcerting effects on Britain's birds. For example, woodpeckers can be heard making their distinctive drumming noise in woods, a territorial display that is usually a prelude to nesting and which is not normally heard until later in the year. Jackdaws appear to be equally confused. "The warm weather has convinced them that spring is at hand. It will take a severe cold snap before they can reset their internal clocks and resume normal behaviour for the time of year," added Shelton.

It remains to be seen if that cold snap will occur, however. The Met Office said on Saturday that the weather would remain fairly mild for most of the coming week with temperatures hovering around the average for the time of year. For the longer term forecast, weather patterns are confused, with two very different but equally possible scenarios vying.

"The first scenario consists of changeable weather with rain at times and with temperatures noticeably above average for early February, with only occasional frosts," said a Met Office forecaster. "The alternative scenario is that much colder weather with winds mainly from an easterly or northeasterly quarter, will prevail well into February, bringing widespread frosts and snow to some areas. At present we cannot determine which will happen."

In other words, it is a 50-50 shot if the nation's house birds return to suburbia to avoid the cold of the countryside next month and our woodpeckers stop their drumming.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fantasy Worlds Found in English Potholes

Photo courtesy: © Stephanie Wolff/the pothole gardener

When TreeHugger profiled Pete Dungey, an artist making miniature gardens in the cracks in Oxford's roads, they wrote that he "works alone, but hopes that others will follow his lead." Turns out a fellow Brit has been treading the same ground all along, adding an extra dose of whimsy to the already adorable little patches of green.

Dungey's counterpart, Londoner Steve Wheen, "fills potholes in roads and sidewalks with soil and living plants, decorating the spaces with miniature props to create tiny worlds," according to the European design site designboom.

Photo courtesy: © Steve Wheen/the pothole gardener

Like many other guerrilla gardeners who have come before him, this pothole gardener says he was inspired by the lack of green space in his neighborhood and a frustrated desire to garden.

With their teeny-tiny chairs, tennis courts, laundry lines, and picnic blankets, these are "green spaces" only a small doll could actually utilize, but Wheen, an avid cyclist, hopes they will put a smile on the faces of passers-by and "highlight how crap our roads and footpaths are."

A pothole designed like a road with a small sign warning of potholes. Photo courtesy: © Steve Wheen/the pothole gardener

Wheen cheerfully documents his guerrilla gardening exploits on his blog, where he also gives shouts-out to like-minded urban interventionists. Commenting on his work, a pedestrian advocacy group writes: "To us, the pothole gardener represents the kind of thing Living Streets wants to see more of -- small and beautiful things that make people take a moment out of their busy day to smile and appreciate their community."

Friday, November 11, 2011

Urban Depavers Reclaim Abandoned Lots

Photo courtesy: Depave/Video screen capture

Oh boy, do I like this group! They have everything: environmental convictions, volunteers, principles, energy...and I could go on and on. Perhaps the thing I like most about this group and their projects is they have the courage to back up words with action. Too few of us put our backs or our spare time into causes we say we support. They wanted to make a difference; and, they found a way to make that happen.

I hope the "depaving movement" goes global.

Urban areas are great for increasing density and reducing collective resource use, but they're not quite perfect. The asphalt that covers so much of cities retains heat and is impermeable; it leads to storm water pollution and is bad for air quality. Not to mention that every block of pavement is a block where plants can't grow.

Yet all over American cities, there are abandoned parking lots and public spaces that could be a lot more pleasant, and healthier, if it weren't for the layer of asphalt covering them. But one group is slowly taking back the land in an effort to create more green space and improve the local environment, by ripping up unwanted asphalt.

Depave is a Portland-based non-profit that organizes volunteer "depaving" sessions, wherein a group descends on an empty or underutilized lot and transforms it into a public green space, whether a community garden, playground or soccer field.

Since 2007, Depave has returned more than 94,000 square feet of Portland back to nature; it takes on more projects and draws more volunteers each year. In addition to the depaving, the non-profit also advocates to minimize the amount of impervious pavement installed in the city, and to recycle the asphalt and concrete it removes.

The idea is simple but very effective. Less pavement means less air pollution. It means more plants and more pleasant common areas where neighbors can gather and get away from the sometimes overwhelming density that comes with living in a big city. It means more community gardens, so more city dwellers can get involved in the local food movement.

If you're in Portland, you can check out Depave's upcoming projects and get involved. If not, you can start a movement wherever you call home; Depave offers resources and tips for getting started.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

White-Nose Syndrome Sending Some Bat Species Close to Extinction

A bat infected with white nose sydrome. Photo courtesy: USFWS Headquarters / CC BY 2.0

As many as 1 million bats, it was believed, had been killed by white nose syndrome — a mysterious fungus that attacks hibernating bats. However, this estimate, based on data collected in 2009, has proven to be dramatically lower than reality. According to a new study, as many as 6.7 million bats in North America have died due to the white nose outbreak.

"Bats are dying in frighteningly huge numbers and several species are hurtling toward the black hole of extinction," Mollie Matteson, a researcher with the Center for Biological Diversity, commented, and they are dying at a rate that makes this syndrome the worst wildlife disease epidemic in North American history.

Some species have experienced reductions of as much as 70 percent in the last few years. Such dramatic reductions makes these populations more vulnerable to other threats, too — things like pollution, habitat loss, and pressure from invasive species.

Moreover, the spread of the syndrome represents a serious economic threat. Bats are valued at between $3.7 billion and $53 billion per year, based on the amount of pesticides they save farmers. Currently, the epidemic has been confined to the East Coast, where agricultural development is relatively low. As it spreads west — and it is spreading farther west each season — researchers expect farmers to be met with a more noticeable impact.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Three Hamburger Giants Ban the Use of "Pink Slime"

Photo courtesy: theimpulsivebuy/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I have done several blogs on the evils of fast food. McDonald's has long been a favourite target of mine. From using eggs from battery hens (cruelty) to serving ordinance changes in Santa Clara, CA these food giants have a lot to answer for.

And who can forget the blog about a McHappy meal left on an office shelf for one year that didn't look much different one year later than the day it was shelved. Let's move on to the artist who bought 10 hamburgers and proceed to "paint" a giant picture of the Mona Lisa using only the grease from the patties. You'd think that would be enough; but, we have pink slime.

Bolivia has caused McDonald's to close all its restaurants in their country. Bolivians believe that food shows how much you love and respect your family and friends. Food is never cooked "fast" - it's a sign of disrespect to the community. What an enlightened attitude. Good on Bolivia!

Now I have discovered yet another way these corporations destroy our health while picking our pockets. Read on to find out about "pink slime" an integral ingredient in those burger patties the world wolfs down at an alarming rate. There are a few other gross ingredients that will also be outed here. If this doesn't swear you off fast food burgers for life then the pink slime has already affected your brain cells; and, there may be no help.

It’s been a rough year for ammoniated beef. It’s a fancy name for a scary practice cooked up by Beef Products Inc, a company that saw sales plummet by 25 percent this year due to the general public responding to questionable meat processing practices. And most recently, the decision by Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Burger King to stop use of the industry named "pink slime." Pink Slime? This can't be good.

Food Safety News reported on the process:
Beef Products Inc. uses an innovative process to turn fatty beef trimmings, which used to go mainly into pet food and other byproducts, into hamburger filler. Because the trimmings are at risk for E. coli or Salmonella contamination, the company adds a mixture of ammonia and water (ammonium hydroxide) to kill bacteria.

It’s been called “pink slime" by none other than the USDA. It behooves me to ask at this point: If the USDA (who are supposed to be watching out for the public health) called it pink slime, why in the world did they ever approve it?

The New York Times reports that a "[USDA] microbiologist, Gerald Zirnstein, called the processed beef "pink slime" in a 2002 e-mail message to colleagues and said, “I do not consider the stuff to be ground beef, and I consider allowing it in ground beef to be a form of fraudulent labeling.”

More and more people learned about the process from the popular movie Food, Inc. And then there was its appearance on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. “[Oliver] called the "clever scientific process" shocking and a breach of consumer trust.” Especially considering that according to The New York Times, the federal school lunch program used 5.5 million pounds of ammoniated beef in 2008. These are our children, our future. Why are we not providing them with nurishing, body-building fuel so they can develop to their fullest potential? After all, these are people who will grow up to rule the world; and, my pension.

Apparently all the bad press eventually took its toll and at the end of 2011 three mega-chains: Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Burger King all announced that they would be discontinuing use of the product.

Both McDonald's and Burger King claim that the move isn't in reaction to all the bad publicity (of course, not)and Taco Bell gave no comment (at least, they didn't lie) on the matter. But whatever the reason, it comes not a moment too soon.

Ammoniated meat became the dirty little secret of the meat industry because it was excluded from recalls and random testing because the ammonia treatment was supposed to make contamination much less likely. The only problem was it didn't work.

The New York Times reports of specific problems with the beef in lunchrooms:

[G]overnment and industry records obtained by The New York Times show that in testing for the school lunch program, E. coli and salmonella pathogens have been found dozens of times in Beef Products meat, challenging claims by the company and the U.S.D.A. about the effectiveness of the treatment. Since 2005, E. coli has been found 3 times and salmonella 48 times, including back-to-back incidents in August in which two 27,000-pound batches were found to be contaminated. The meat was caught before reaching lunch-rooms trays.

Even worse, ammonia isn't listed on any ingredient labels because it's considered a "processing agent" even though it's completely misleading to think that it doesn't end up in the final product. How fraudulent is this?

This is proof positive that the public does care about what they're putting into their bodies especially when the facts come to light. And it goes to show that truth in labeling could mean the end to other questionable practices like genetically modified ingredients and meat glue, for example.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

First Ever Photos of Panda Eating Meat

Photo courtesy: The Nature Conservancy

Never say never. Pandas eat bamboo shoots and leaves. And sometimes a little meat, scientists say. But a picture of a panda eating meat is rare. So check it out: A panda eating a meal of takin, aka Himalayan goat-antelope.

The picture, shared by The Nature Conservancy, was captured by motion-sensor cameras in northern Sichuan, China.

Photo courtesy: The Nature Conservancy

Thankfully, the Giant panda here didn't hunt and kill the takin. That wouldn't be very vegetarian of him, or her. The meat is the carcass of a takin that died several days before due to natural causes, Conservancy reps say. Takins, like pandas, are endangered. Here's a live one.

Photo courtesy: The Nature Conservancy

The panda seen in the meat photos is living in what will be the Motianling County Land Trust Reserve, a project of the Conservancy, Peking University and local government partners. It's the country's first Land Trust Reserve, and "one of the most important remaining pieces of giant panda habitat left in the world," Conservancy scientists say.

It goes to show there's still a lot we don't know about pandas and their behavior, says Zhao Peng, who's leading the Motianling project for the Conservancy. Apparently, they used to be carnivores, but evolved into herbivores.

We probably should protect them in places like this. This reserve is one of the last places on Earth you'll find these endangered pandas living in the wild. Here, there are about 20. In China, about 2,000.

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Lantzville Decides Not to Jail Local Man

Photo courtesy: © Living-On-Purpose-Lynn

This past summer I told you about BC farmer Dirk Becker's fight with the local elected government that could have ended with a six-month jail sentence. His crime? Becker and his partner Nicole Shaw were growing food for sale on their 2.5 acre residentially-zoned semi-rural lot in the town of Lantzville on Vancouver Island. What seems to be a dispute started by one disgruntled neighbour that was then taken up by the town mayor and some members of city council was ended on election day.

Photo courtesy: Dirk Becker via TreeHugger

Once he had transformed the land and planted a few crops, he decided he could sell some of his extra produce to his neighbours. It would put a few dollars "walkabout money" in his jean's pocket. Becker and Shaw received one complaint from one neighbour who felt their manure and/or compost was offensive; as if the previous garbage, etc. wasn't. Give me organic produce any day over barren junk yards. It seems that although there are horses and cattle being kept in the same vicinity, the organic farm (1 entire acre) was too rural for the town's by-laws. It quickly became an issue that divided the town; however....

This past November citizens in Lantzville voted out the incumbent mayor Colin Haime, in part because of the issue surrounding Becker and Shaw. In his closing written address as mayor Haime had the following to say about the farmers' supporters:
You supported an individual who thumbed his nose up at the bylaws of the community and its residents including his neighbour. You have set the precedent whereby laws are now set by conflict. The loudest one wins. At the same time you abandoned and ridiculed law abiding citizens who were only interested in the piece (sic) and enjoyment of their own property. You want the right to do as you please but you deny the rights of others the same thing.

The urban farming issue wasn't the only contentious issue during the election but newly elected mayor Jack de Jong did use it as leverage to convince people to vote for him. De Jong said his biggest priority is to secure a reliable source of water for the community and that the urban farming issue was distracting city council from achieving that goal.

Becker is happy that the pressure is now off of him and says:
Our new mayor shows all the hallmarks of being warm, friendly, reasonable, collaborative and big picture oriented.
My sense is that he wants to move on and not waste any more of our citizens money and time in the form of legal proceedings and also staff time.

There is no guarantee that Becker and Shaw won't run into trouble with local bylaws since none have been changed thus far, but until then:
Nicole and I will continue farming for a living as we have for over 6 of the 12 years we have worked this land and selling at the farmers market we started. If the district of Lantzville offers us 'spot zoning' or anything that would be a positive contribution to our community and reduce the degree our one neighbor can make council's lives difficult we are totally open to that.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

First Picture of New Species of Snub-Nosed Monkey

Photo courtesy: FFI/BANCA/PRCF/via

When a new species of 'snub-nosed' monkey was discovered in 2010, the world's only glimpse came in the form of one researcher's photo-reconstruction since the elusive animal hadn't yet been photographed in the wild. But now, thanks to remote camera traps set in the forests of northern Myanmar, the very first photo of the distinctive-looking monkey, alive and free, have been captured -- offering important insights about a species still largely shrouded in mystery.

Although previously undiscovered by western scientists, for Myanmarese locals this 'snub-nosed' species was already fairly well known as "monkey with an upturned face" on account of its striking vissage. Also, they said because of its upward-aiming nose, the monkeys could be heard sneezing in the forests whenever it happened to rain. When researchers came to confirm its existence as a new species, all they had to go on was a dead specimen that had been poached by a hunter -- prompting them to release a photoshopped image of the animal along with their news release to the public.

Recently, however, camera traps installed in the species' rugged forest habitat yielded the first images of a living snub-nosed monkey.

Photo courtesy: FFI/BANCA/PRCF/via

"These images are the first record of the animal in its natural habitat," Ngwe Lwin, the first person to identify the monkey as a new species, tells Mongabay. "It is great to finally have photographs because they show us something about how and where it actually lives."

Among the images captured by the camera traps set out by researcher Jeremy Holden and his team was evidence of family groups -- an important discovery in an of itself regarding a species thought to number around 200 members.

"The images are poor quality compared to what we are now used to seeing from wildlife photographers, but this somehow exemplifies the fact that these monkeys are rare, mysterious, and on the brink," says Holden.

Few details may be known about snub-nosed monkeys in Myanmar given their recent discovery, but there is no doubt that they are imperiled due to a number of human threats, from hunting to habitat loss related to deforestation. The team involved in capturing photographs of the animal alive and in the wild hope it will help spur programs towards their protection -- lest such images are all that are to remain of them.