Category: wildlife

perception: part one

per·cep·tion
pərˈsepSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: perception; plural noun: perceptions
  • the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
    • the state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses.
    • a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
    • intuitive understanding and insight.
    • PSYCHOLOGY/ZOOLOGY
      the neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.

 

(For the purposes of this blog post, I am concentrating on the second part of this definition, the mental impressions we have of ourselves and the world around us.)

I have been pondering this term perception for quite some time. It crept into my brain during the elections, most specifically to explain the outcome. I began to realize that it didn’t matter what Hillary Clinton did or did not do, the perception that she did something wrong (or even illegal) was strong enough to stop people from voting for her.

Perception is much different than reality or truth. Perception is based on all sorts of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with our backgrounds, our experiences, our morals, our wishes and our desires. It is not quantifiable, nor is it something that can be predicted on an individual level.

There are many ways that perception has been wandering around my thoughts lately. I had actually planned several other posts about it, but I think they will have to wait. This morning there was an image on facebook that hit me squarely in the gut.

The image was of a lion lying dead among the rocks.

Considering how many images flash before my eyes as I scroll through facebook, it is fair to ask, why did this one catch my eye? I don’t have a pet lion, I don’t go to the zoo often enough to get to know the lions personally. I can’t say I have even seen this lion.

Here’s the thing. Tullamore was a part of a (now) rare group of lions. Most of the time we see lions living in the savannah, moving through the grass, showing up around waterholes and hunting the plentiful game. The lions of the west coast of Namibia are desert lions. They live in some of the harshest conditions, little water, little vegetation and little game. They have lived in this area for a very long time and once were pretty plentiful. Then came man. And cows. And other livestock.

In an area that is short on game, it makes sense that a herd of cows would be seen as a gift to a predator. It would also make sense that the owners of the cows would take great offense at having their livelihood eaten by a big cat. Here is where the perception thing comes in.

I am a rich American. I take a trip to Africa, stay in a lodge in the middle of a dessert for three days. I hear about these animals and I see the beauty of them. That is, after all, why I am there. I am a woman from the east coast of the US where there are no predators and I get to stand in front of a cheetah, or a rhinoceros, or to get close enough to practically touch an elephant and it seems like a dream. In the safety of my vehicle or standing beside the tracker with his gun, I am allowed the luxury of “being with” the animals, seeing them walk, run, play and hunt. I come home to watch countless videos of animals in the wild or Planet Earth or read books about how many species are going extinct. I view, from afar, the devastation of man around the world. And I judge. And I grieve. My perception of the death of a lion is based on my need to pet the fox when I was three (my mother nixed that idea quickly). My heartache comes from knowing that “Tullamore” was the last of a group of five male lions in the area (they were called the Five Musketeers). His four compadres were shot or poisoned over the last few years by farmers. I grieve because I met the guy who has has been studying these proud animals, a man who spends much of his life in isolation, and loves it. Unless someone kills an animal.

So what would be my perception if I were a Namibian farmer who does not see any monetary gain and many deficits with the lion population? What if I wanted to send my children to a good school, or build new fences, or dig a new well and a lion started to eat my profits? What if I am of a generation that grew up killing predators without judgement, in fact was rewarded with a pat on the back from my fellow farmers? How would I perceive lions then?

I don’t know. That is the thing about perception. You can’t always tell how you would react if you were in someone else’s shoes. I can only hope to feel compassion for this person. It is tough, it is a stretch for me, at least until I stop feeling so very angry and sad. Until I stop feeling. But right now, my perception of the person who poisoned this lion is that they are not a good person. I don’t know them, I will never meet them, but at this moment I hate them.

I will end by showing three photos. The first two are of cubs in the sand dunes. The last is of Dr. “Flip” Stander monitoring the lions. Despite the setbacks of the last couple of years, he continues to work with the growing population of lions, as well as finding ways of connecting with the surrounding human population. Looking at these pictures makes me smile. Life includes death, even if it doesn’t feel good. But for now, I want to concentrate on the living…

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Namibia

I returned from Namibia less than a month ago and I can honestly say I’ve never had a better trip. The country is trying to grow environmental tourism in such a way that everyone benefits. Their goal is to create a win/win for people AND animals, especially predators. It is a long term goal, one that will take a generation to really grow strong, but already there have been some positive stories. Not to mention the fact that the infrastructure construction is booming.

The good news (for me) is that the experience was amazing. There are still large swathes of the country that are uninhabited, mostly because they are uninhabitable. The sand sea of Namib is an immense section of land that has been evolving (and dying) for millions of years.Water is more than scarce, it is practically nonexistent. And yet some lifeforms do exist. The recent drought (how can you have a drought in such a dry country?) have made it even harder for them to survive.

Because of this, my experience in Namibia was much different than many visitors to Africa. There were no plains, there were no huge herds of anything. There was an enormous amount of sand. Each time I encountered an animal it was magical and exciting. (Except for Oryx, there are lots of them. No wonder they are the national animal.)

Here are some things I learned on the trip.

  1. Elephants do actually listen to humans. I found this out when an adolescent elephant began leaning on our vehicle while we were standing looking out the top of it. Instead of turning the truck on and scaring it away, the driver just said calmly “No, don’t do it”. The elephant stopped leaning, thought about it one more time, then walked away.
  2. Watching seals is not fun when there are newborns around. The newborns are not protected and often die by being squashed, especially if the seals get spooked and exit quickly to the water.
  3. I know exactly how big and heavy the horns are forester kudu. I also know how tall kudus are compared to me.
  4. I am a better photographer than I give myself credit for. That being said, there is still room for improvement. (Auto focus does not always know what it is you are trying to focus on. I will not show you the thousand blurry pictures that I took.) I thought I would be out of my league on a photography tour but it was actually extremely helpful and I learned a lot.
  5. There are few actual “wild” places in Africa. Even in the bush, animals are often collared in order to monitor them. Sometimes I felt like I was in what I call a “natural zoo”. In other words, the predators and other animals run free…until they get to the fence. The fact that there are miles in between fences does not take away from the fact that they can’t go wherever they want. The good news is that they are protected from local farmers who have a desire to kill any predator that might take away their livelihood. The bad news is that it creates an unnatural ecosystem that constantly has to be monitored. One place had so many lions that they were regularly catching giraffes. However, if it weren’t for these places, I would never have had the amazing experiences that I had.
  6. Even seasoned trackers get excited when they actually find the animal they are tracking. I will never forget when I heard our tracker say “I got them!” in an excited tone when he found the rhinos.
  7. White rhinos are less persnickety and mean than black rhinos.
  8. Rhino horns are made from the same materials as our fingernails. If you know of anyone taking Chinese herbs that contain rhino horns, shoot them. No, wait, I mean explain to them that by taking those herbs, they are killing off an entire species.

Of course there is tons more stuff I learned but I see your eyes glazing over. So I will move on to the visual part of today’s lecture. Enjoy looking through this group of photos! (If you are viewing this on the WordPress Reader, visit the actual blog site in order to see the slide show. It’s definitely worth it.)

a walk through the zoo

I was on vacation last week. That feels a little funny to say because my daily life would be considered a vacation by many people. So I will revise it. I spent a week in a totally different location, spending my days with friends by the pool, drinking those kinds of drinks that taste better with umbrellas, going to the zoo, the botanical cactus garden and hiking into the Living Oases that were up in the hills. Then I spent more time at the best zoo in the world, walked along the beach at sunset and had some awesome sushi with my nephew. If you guessed Palm Springs and San Diego, you would be right. I thought I would share some of my pix with you.

I’m pretty sure when you read that you thought that I would be posting beautiful pictures of animals like this:

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But here’s the thing. While I enjoy taking fabulous pictures, I was actually on a mission. I was doing research for future sculptures and as such, I need more information than a pretty picture could give me.

For instance, I needed to know what the butt, the foot, the skin and the side of an Indian rhino looks like. Look at how much the spine is ridged. Believe it or not, the skin is not armor-like, it is soft…rhinos can feel when a fly lands.

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And while I didn’t see the skull of the Indian Rhino, I did see one of a black rhino. Isn’t it fascinating? It doesn’t even really look like a skull. No wonder they are sort of funny looking! ( I picked the brain of this docent for a while, he was very informative.) The opening under the horn is not the mouth, this skull is actually missing its jaw so you can see the top teeth at the bottom of the skull. It makes sense though, the rhino smells and hears way better than it sees. That is some huge sinus cavity.

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For the Greater Kudu, it was great to see what the feet, the back of the neck, the back of the head and the underbelly looks like.There is a hump on top of the animal, but there is also one under its chest.

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But of course the horns are what intrigue me the most so I was thrilled to see them in person.

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It was a special treat to see cheetahs in both locations, for I am going to the cheetah preserve in Namibia next month and will see them close up and personal. They are fascinating creatures, very thin, very muscular. And, as you can see in these pictures, they have very small ears and beautiful feet.

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The orangutans will have to wait for another post, I did not get many good pictures of them for various reasons, the most important one being that I foolishly only took one memory card and filled it up before I got to the exhibit. Quite honestly it was a surprise to see them, and since I have some down in DC that I can go see, I didn’t mind too much.

You can be sure that there will many more animal pictures coming. I will be spending 10 days in Namibia on the Skeleton Coast and at Etosha National Park observing the wildlife and trying not to die of the heat. I am super excited about it (and yes, super nervous as well). It has been on my list of things to do for a long time and I can’t wait!

 

thine enemy

Lately I have been thinking a lot about how and why we define someone as an enemy. It seems that these days enemies are everywhere and we are being told who they are and what we can do to defend against them. To me the answers seem ludicrous and childish. But there are a lot of people drinking the enemy Kool Aid.

While I was pondering (and rewriting) this blog this afternoon, I took a break and went out to take some pictures. I found honey bees on my Cranesbill, siphoning off the nectar.

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All of a sudden, the whole issue clarified for me. And here is what I began to think:

Have you ever gotten stung by a bee? The fact that they sting is a defense mechanism developed a very long time ago. They do not sting because they don’t like you. They sting because they perceive you as a threat. They would perceive any large being encroaching on their nest as a threat. But they have no feelings towards you specifically. Humans also attack those whom we perceive as a threat. The difference is that we aren’t always good at knowing exactly who the enemy is. It’s not always as simple as defending against a big destructive giant. There are subtleties and nuances and group dynamics to be taken into consideration.

And yet it seems easier for most people to see the world in black and white. If you are not my friend, you must be my enemy. There are also many people who seem to be waiting for a reason to hate, to condemn, to attack. And given the right amount of tinder, they will. For no other reason than because they feel threatened. They are afraid that the person who is not like them, the “other”, is somehow going to make their lives worse. They will have fewer jobs, they will be poorer, their kids will have fewer resources, they will have to pay more taxes…the list of potential grievances goes on. It is easy to fault the government, illegal immigrants, Muslims, rich, poor, African Americans, mentally ill people, homeless people, guns, corporations, Wall Street, Jews, women, men, white people, stupid people, smart people, LBGT, Democrats, Republicans, the news media and any other groups of humans that can be described as “different than me”. And I think that the politicians make it even easier by defining who we should hate and then claiming that they can defend us. They feed into our general fears and focus us so that we know who and what we should be fearing.

This issue of defining who our enemy is becomes even murkier with the element of time. I recently watched an episode of a British crime drama that takes place a few years after WWII. One of the characters talks about how difficult it was to switch the concept of enemy in her mind. She spent years during the war working to mathematically solve the encryption codes of the Germans. She firmly placed the German people in the enemy camp in her mind. Years later, she was having problems letting that go and not seeing every German as an enemy, someone who turned her country and her life into chaos and fear.

I can understand this mindset in this case. This was a clear story of one man in one country causing destruction, death and suffering in many countries. He aggressively chose to destroy and conquer, and many of his countrymen followed orders. The Germans, as a whole, were threatening the very existence of many countries. I think I would also find it tough to change my opinion of people from that country. How confusing and destructive it must be when friends and even relatives become enemies and vice versa.

To go back to the bee thing, in my thirties I became allergic to certain bee stings. Specifically yellow jackets. I swell up, I get groggy and I hurt for a couple of days. It is not so bad, yet, where I need an Epi-pen or I will die. But that may come if I get stung too many more times. The first time I had the bad reaction I made a decision. I was not going to be afraid of all bees. Yes, I can be afraid, wary and respectful of yellow jackets. But bees in general are not something to afraid of, simply because I am allergic to one of the species. It takes a conscious and strong decision on my part not to judge, fear and despise all bees and wasps but it helps knowing that even though they sting, they are also here on earth for a reason. They can do something I can’t. They can pollinate flowers. They are also part of the food chain for birds, spiders and other animals.

After Pearl Harbor was bombed during WWII, there were thousands of Japanese people who were interned. This included people who were first, second or even third generation Americans. But because they had a Japanese name or because they had family in Japan, they were labelled the enemy. Our enemy. Even though they were us, they were our enemy. How confusing is that? (I am reminded of Pogo’s famous statement, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”) German Americans avoided this fate but still were ostracized. For some reason, this feels truly reprehensible to me. We judged, juried and found the need to hate and protect ourselves against a very large number of people that were not a threat. It’s a fine line, but it is an important one.

So here is my promise. I will try not to define my enemies based on hearsay and conjecture. I will try not to hate someone just because my neighbor does. I want to judge someone based on my experiences and values as well as theirs. I want to look at the bigger picture, not to excuse, but to understand and to clarify what I don’t understand. It is really hard. I won’t always succeed. But I will try. And, lastly, I won’t let a politician (or any wannabe politician) tell me who my enemy is. I refuse to follow the herd, drink the KoolAid and join the bandwagon.

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And I will continue to love honeybees. Buh bye!

 

 

 

 

oh deer

As you know, I have definitely reaped the benefits of Fozziemum’s pictures of kangaroos lately. So I thought I would reciprocate and post a picture of our own version of the kangaroo…the common white-tailed deer. This young one seems to be less than intimidated by Ginger. In fact it even took a step or two closer to her during their conversation. The deer know exactly where the invisible fence ends and are no longer afraid to test the boundaries. I guess the apple trees are too much of a treat to avoid, despite the inhospitable canine neighbor.

It was getting on in the evening and I was trying to capture the photos quickly, hence the lack of clarity. I have a funny suspicion this won’t be my last chance to take photos of them.

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plump and fluffy

I have been waiting for a while to get pictures of our resident mockingbird. He likes to hang out on the Japanese Maple bush which is outside our kitchen door. He is not usually concerned with dogs, cats or me, I’ve seen him sitting in the viburnum bush while all of us are sitting on the patio. Today he seemed a little shyer than normal, but he still sat in the maple tree while I took pictures, only flying off when my husband came out of the garage. I would stand around waiting to take better pix, but it is really really cold out there, the thermometer said 2 degrees (F) this morning (that is -17 C) and I don’t feel like freezing my buns off to get a picture of a bird…there will be other, warmer days.

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At one point he must have seen something that he didn’t like in the distance because he stretched himself up and looked down the hill.

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In addition, we are home to a male downy woodpecker and a flicker. Haven’t captured the flicker yet, but hopefully I will soon.

*NOTE* My naturalist friend Melinda says that this is actually a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker. I don’t want to spread misinformation around the web so I am changing my identification…evidently the red on a down woodpecker is on the back of the head. The Sapsucker has red on the front. Thanks for the info Melinda. I think maybe I should send all my pix to you first!!!

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I love this time of year when the birds are so fluffy and round. It means they are getting enough food and they have nice winter down…and they need it. We are scheduled for another snow storm tonight, perhaps 4 to 8 inches of snow. We are definitely going to deserve spring…