Birds have begun to return to the marsh.
What I'm suggesting to Iraq is that they should buy electricity from Turkey. If they buy electricity from Turkey then water is going to have to be released from these dams to generate electricity and we get electricity at a reasonable price with water as a by-product. That is quite possible actually. This is not dream talk. Turkey wants to join the European Union and one of the conditions of the accession to the Union is that they have to resolve the water disputes between Turkey, Syria and Iraq.
(Photo courtesy of Eden Again/New Eden Project.)
CURWOOD: Now, you've said that the restoration of the marshes is really a symbol that life after Saddam Hussein can be better. To what extent has that been realized?
ALWASH: I can take you on a tour of Karmashia area and Jubaea area and show you the returning refugees who have come back from Iran.
CURWOOD: These people were marsh Arabs who what some of them were systematically exterminated by Saddam Hussein and those who stayed alive are what, in jail, tortured, fled over the border to Iran. Is that who you're talking about?
ALWASH: All of the above. Seventy thousand people have gone to Iran in '92, '93, '94; about 50,000 came to the United States as refugees. A lot of them were displaced and, of course, the mass graves stand as solemn reminders to us of the fate of many of those who did not listen to the central government and wanted freedom.
CURWOOD: So, what are the odds of getting a meaningful restoration of the marshes of southern Iraq or as you folks would say, the original Eden?
A temporary hut for fishermen in the inner portions of the marsh.
(Photo courtesy of Eden Again/New Eden Project.)
ALWASH: The restoration has already started. We have 30 to 40 percent of the marshes that existed in 1990 alive and well today so it's a reality. Our goal now, obviously, our final goal is to restore the marshes or return as much as possible. Getting it all back is rather not possible. Realistically speaking, I would say if we were to return to 1990 conditions we are 100 percent successful and I'm about 90 percent sure that we can get back to 1990.
CURWOOD: Azzam Alwash started the project "Eden Again." Thanks so much for taking this time with me today.
ALWASH: Thank you for having me.
[MUSIC: Tillman & Ambient Groove Artists "7 Sarisa Lingo (Musica Helvetica) 1997]
- Eden Again Project
- From the LOE archives: "Restoring Iraq's Garden of Eden"
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CURWOOD: Coming up: should the EPA regulate carbon dioxide on the grounds global warming is a health hazard? A federal court is to decide. Keep listening to Living on Earth.
[MUSIC: Tillman & Ambient Groove Artists "Blue September" Lingo (Musica Helvetica) 1997]
CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. A lawsuit pending before the D.C. Court of Appeals could determine whether the U.S. will regulate greenhouse gases—the emissions tied to global warming. The Environmental Protection Agency says it has no authority to do that. Attorneys general for a dozen states and most of the country's major environmental groups disagree. They sued the EPA to allow the regulation of greenhouse gases from automobiles. Massachusetts' Assistant Attorney General Jim Milkey argued the case in federal court in Washington.
MILKEY: Our argument can be simplified that if EPA wants to find authority in the statute it doesn't have to look very far. It's right there in the plain language of the Clean Air Act.
CURWOOD: Now, if Assistant Attorney General Milkey is right it could bring big changes to the auto industry and beyond. Joining me now to talk about that is our Washington corespondent Jeff Young. Jeff, hello.
YOUNG: Hi, Steve.
CURWOOD: Now, why is Mr. Milkey so confident that EPA does have this power to regulate greenhouse gases?
YOUNG: Well, he points to sections of the Clean Air Act that define air pollutants and include things that pose a risk to "public health or welfare" and the act's definition of that includes effects on weather and climate.
CURWOOD: And then, what might happen if EPA were to regulate these emissions from cars and trucks?
YOUNG: Well, probably carmakers would have to boost fuel efficiency. That would be the easiest way to put out fewer greenhouse gases per mile. Or maybe they'd make cars that used alternative fuels. No one really had a good guess as to what the regulation would look like exactly. But, one thing is pretty clear—and this is where all the parties involved agree—this would be a very big deal. The environmental groups see this issue of authority to regulate these emissions as the key legal hurdle that they must overcome if they're going to get the world's biggest emitter, the U.S., to do something about climate change. U.S. autos account for about five percent of the world's manmade greenhouse gases so this could lead to some major reductions.
CURWOOD: And I imagine industry takes this pretty seriously, as well?
YOUNG: Oh, yes. EPA gets support here from nearly every major industry lobby. You've got the oil industry, the automakers, the electric utilities, the mining association and more, all of them joining this suit.
CURWOOD: I can understand why the automakers are concerned but the utilities and the mining companies?
YOUNG: Well, they want to stop this regulation before it gets to them. Marlo Lewis at the conservative think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute has written a lot about this and he told me that this case could set precedent for much broader action.
LEWIS: If the EPA were ever to begin regulating carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles that would trigger a flood of litigation to regulate every sector of the U.S. economy. And I think that all of the energy intensive industries in the country know that if the attorneys general succeed here that their neck is next on the chopping block.
CURWOOD: Now, we heard the state's attorney say this is an open and shut case, Jeff. So, what's EPA's argument here?
YOUNG: EPA's main point goes back to the idea that this would be such a major change. Jeffrey Holmstead is an assistant administrator at EPA and he says if the lawmakers who wrote the clean air act really wanted that kind of big change they would have made it more clear.
HOLMSTEAD: It's a very big deal. Most of our transportation depends on fossil fuel; most of our power generation depends on fossil fuel. If Congress intended us to sort of change our society they would have said that and there's nothing to indicate that anybody in Congress ever thought that the Clean Air Act was designed to do that.
YOUNG: Now, one interesting thing about this is that's not what EPA used to think.
CURWOOD: Oh, how's that?
YOUNG: Well, under the Clinton administration, EPA issued a legal opinion and told a Congressional committee that the Clean Air Act did, indeed, give them authority to consider greenhouse gases pollutants and to regulate them. Now, the environmental groups complained that the Clintonites weren't especially eager to act on that authority. But under the Bush administration, EPA reversed it altogether.
CURWOOD: And then, President Bush also reversed his position on regulating greenhouse gases about that time, didn't he?
YOUNG: Yes. As candidate in 2000 he had pledged to cap carbon dioxide from power plants, and then as president he changed his mind on that. Of course, the environmental groups look at this and they say both of these reversals are because the administration has such a close tie to the energy industry. A Sierra Club lawyer, David Bookbinder, points out some of the obvious connections there.
BOOKBINDER: You don't have to go further than to look at the fact that the current White House Chief of Staff, Andy Card, is the former chief of the American Automobile Manufacturers Alliance and that the president and vice president are proud to represent themselves as oil men.
YOUNG: And, the lawyer who argued this case for EPA, Jeffrey Clark, used to argue cases for the auto makers back when he was in private practice.
CURWOOD: Jeff, when will we know what the judges will decide?
YOUNG: We'll probably have a decision by August. It's assumed that no matter who wins there will be an appeal and probably this is going to the Supreme Court.
CURWOOD: Jeff Young is Living on Earth's Washington correspondent. Thanks, Jeff.
YOUNG: You're welcome.
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CURWOOD: From the courtroom, we turn to the boardroom, where greenhouse gas emissions now figure into the business plans of some of the nation's largest energy companies. Paul Anderson, CEO of Duke Energy, recently sent ripples through the industry with a pledge to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, even if they drove up the price of Duke's electricity. Mr. Anderson even invoked the "t"word, calling for a national tax on carbon dioxide emissions to curb global climate change.
Joining me is John Holdren, Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard University and co-chair of the National Commission on Energy Policy. Professor Holdren, some people say Paul Anderson is out of his mind. Investor's Business Daily calls his statements, I quote, "a total capitulation to environmental extremists." Duke generates nearly 30 percent of its energy through coal-fired, C02 emitting power plants. Is the company biting the hand that feeds it with a proposal to tax carbon dioxide emissions?
HOLDREN: I don't think so. I think there are a variety of good reasons that the Duke CEO has called now for a carbon tax. He indicated, first of all, that good business in the world today requires attention, not just to the economic bottom-line but to a company's responsibility for the environment and for the improvement of society. He talks about a triple bottom-line. He says that very clearly the climate change issue is a pressing issue in the United States and in the world today and that we're going to have to do something about it. And, he says if we're going to have to do something about it, it makes sense to do it in a way that affects sources of carbon dioxide emissions across the energy sector. So that you don't just catch the power plants, you catch the automobiles, you catch the home furnaces, you catch the industrial processes. The carbon tax approach, which he is recommending, would do that. So, in a way, you could regard this proposal as a sort of a pre-emptive strike. Let's propose something sensible before somebody else imposes an approach to this problem, which would be much more onerous and much less effective.
CURWOOD: So, why would a tax be better at reducing greenhouse gas emissions than other regulatory approaches such as a cap-and-trade scheme?
HOLDREN: Well, first of all, in the case of a tax, the government specifies the price and the market works out the quantity, in the sense that people figure out what's the optimum level of emissions given how much you have to pay for each ton of carbon you emit into the atmosphere. In the case of the cap-and-trade scheme, you set the quantity and the market works out the price. The tax and the cap-and-trade approaches are identical in their impact on the problem and on the economy. Many people in the United States have preferred the cap-and-trade approach largely because the "t" word, the tax word, has been anathema in the U.S. political system for quite some time. Nobody dares utter the tax word in Washington, D.C. So, the fear is any tax proposal would be dead on arrival in the U.S. Congress.
CURWOOD: How hard of a sell do you think Paul Anderson's idea is going to be to Wall Street and to the shareholders of Duke Energy?
HOLDREN: Well, I think the quote you mentioned at the beginning of the broadcast saying that he had succumbed to environmental extremism is, in fact, an example of extremism of different kind. I don't think that the position that Mr. Anderson has espoused is regarded as extreme any longer in the mainstream of American industry. I talked to lots of folks from the electric utility industry, from the automobile industry, from the oil industry and, in fact, the idea that we have to do something, specific something, mandatory something across the board with respect to carbon dioxide emissions is now very widely understood. In industry, the extremists are really the ones who continue to insist that there's nothing to this problem and that we don't have to do anything about it.
CURWOOD: John Holdren is the Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard University and the co-chair of the National Commission on Energy Policy. Thanks for taking this time with me, today, John.
HOLDREN: Thank you very much, Steve.
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CURWOOD: Scientists, including Professor Holdren, say the term "climate change" underplays the impact humans are having on the planet. "Climate disruption" would be a better term, he says, for the ways things are changing. And, perhaps nowhere is that more on people's minds than in California. The wide mood swings of the weather pattern known as El Niño delighted skiers this past winter as it brought 25 feet of snow to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. But the snowy fees can easily swing to drought. And, some scientists predict overall rising temperatures could cut the state's snowfall in half over the next 50 years. This uncertainty and volatility has California's ski industry taking on the issue of global warming. From KQED in San Francisco, Andrea Kissack has our story.
[SKI SOUNDS OF SHARP BLADE TURN]
KISSACK: On a sunny Saturday at Heavenly Ski Resort in South Lake Tahoe, skiers and snowboarders have enjoyed one of the best seasons in decades.
[SKIERS SHOUTING "WHOO HOO, WHOO!"]
KISSACK: With a thick snowpack and every lift open, its hard to believe this mountain could ever look like the dry Nevada desert spread out to the East in the valley below.
STRAIN: There's a place that doesn't have the water or the snow pack that we do.
KISSACK: Andrew Strain is vice president of planning for Heavenly--the biggest ski resort in Tahoe. Wearing a silver and red striped jacket and goggles, Strain looks down 9,000 feet from the top of the Tamarack chair lift.
STRAIN: What a dry, scrubby landscape that is with low juniper, pinion pine and cheat grass. That's not the forest that we want here in Lake Tahoe. But that's what I think you are going to find if the snowpack is dramatically reduced because of global warming.
KISSACK: Snow dots the south shore of Lake Tahoe below and blankets the Sierra Nevada beyond. If scientists are right, in many places where Strain now sees snow, in a couple of decades, there would be rain.
GLEICK: We're changing the climate because of things we are doing, particularly, burning oil and gas and coal.
KISSACK: Peter Gleick is president of the Pacific Institute, a non-partisan think tank based in Oakland. He's an international expert on fresh water supply. Gleick says as industrial emissions warm the earth, it changes weather patterns.
GLEICK: This is something that I think skiers understand viscerally. On a warm day, we know that we better be skiing higher up on the mountain or we're going to run into the slush at the bottom of the mountain. That's what global warming is going to produce--more and more slush at the bottom of the mountains and the good snow is going to retreat toward the top.
KISSACK: Last year, UC Berkeley, Stanford and UC San Diego released a report on how climate change is affecting California. The study found if auto, industrial and agricultural emissions continue unchecked, California could lose more than 70 percent of its snowpack by the end of the century. In the next several decades, snow that generally falls at five or 6,000 feet could climb to more than 7,000 feet. This kind of worse case scenario worries Heavenly's Andrew Strain.
STRAIN: The length of the runs would be shortened; the length of the seasons would be shortened. You'd find more crowding as the same amount of skiers would crowd into a smaller area. You wouldn't be able to ski all the way down to 6,000 feet like we can today.
KISSACK: Less snow also means the plants and animals that live at higher elevations may be squeezed right off the top of the mountain as they're forced upward to follow the receding snow line. In the spring, according to The Pacific Institute, early snowmelt could cause flooding and leave less water for the months that are more vulnerable to drought. More than 30 nations have agreed to cut their industrial emissions under the International Kyoto Protocol. But the U.S. was one of just two industrial nations not to accept the treaty. Environmentalists have worked hard in the U.S. to get climate change taken seriously. They're hopeful about their new alliance with big development ski resorts.
COIFMAN: I think that there are people out there who would look at this as a partnership of strange bedfellows.
KISSACK: Jon Coifman, with the Natural Resources Defense Council.
COIFMAN: We looked at this as an opportunity--to focus on solutions to one set of environmental challenges where we know we have a crystal clear agenda in common was a real no-brainer.
KISSACK: The joint campaign, called "Keep Winter Cool," recruited top athletes to record public service announcements urging skiers to do their part, like carpooling to the slopes.
STREET (PSA): Hi, I'm Picabo Street. While it's a beautiful winter right now, scientists say that global warming means shorter seasons with less snow. That is definitely not cool. But, we can help solve global warming…[FADE UNDER]
KISSACK: California ski resorts are rolling out alternative energy solutions. Mammoth Mountain has added solar to power some of the chair lifts. Northstar at Tahoe is purchasing wind energy credits. Heavenly is adding cleaner mass transit to South Lake Tahoe and built a gondola from the center of town up the mountain to encourage skiers to leave their cars below. Seventy-one U.S. ski resorts are supporting the McCain- Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act. The bill would cut carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. industry. It was defeated last year after heavy lobbying by auto, oil and coal. Andrew Strain says ski resorts need to stand up to those interests.
STRAIN: The ski industry has to lead and not follow, in the efforts to bring global warming to the forefront of public policy debate and discussion. We can't sit by and watch the discussion go by. We have to be involved and we have to be involved in a leadership role.
KISSACK: That role hasn't helped federal legislation to reduce global warming. But in California, ski resorts were influential in pushing lawmakers to adopt the toughest state auto emissions standards in the country, scheduled to go into effect in 2009. For Living on Earth, I'm Andrea Kissack.
[MUSIC: Fontanelle "Reflex vs. Parallax" Fontanelle (Kranky)]
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CURWOOD: During a recent late night drive on a desolate country road, commentator Tom Montgomery-Fate encountered a gory, haunting scene. The efficiency of nature, he found, doesn't always come with a pretty picture.
MONTGOMERY-FATE: Late tonight, just before arriving at our farm in southwest Michigan, my headlights caught a furry animal with large triangular ears and a long tail crawling on top of some other animal. I hit the brakes and whirred backward until I could train my beams on the bloody pointed mouth of a possum feeding on fresh road kill, a large raccoon.
A cold snap had ended abruptly. In the past 24 hours the temperature climbed from 25 to 56 degrees. Possums and raccoons don't hibernate; they are "winter sleepers," meaning that after holing up in some tree trunk during the recent cold weather, these animals were lured from lethargy by the heat wave and by their stomachs. I parked six feet away from the possum with my lights still on and my window down. Ravenously hungry, he ignored me.
He peeled three long strips of fur back over the raccoon's rib cage like he was shucking an ear of corn, then plunged his face into the opening, under the roof of bones and into the steaming organs. The immense sparkling bowl of the night sky seemed to magnify rather than absorb the sound of the possum's munching and eerie breathing.
At that moment, I felt as if I was watching an appalling act of violence, rather than the cycle of creation. Which was it?
The best definition I've ever found for the word violence is in an essay by the philosopher John Modschiedler. "Violence is a ripping apart," he writes, "it is the end product of not thinking of things in relationship. It is a scattering. Scattering is the opposite of community. Violence is an assault on community, on belongingness, on relationship."
Given this definition, the possum's disposing of the raccoon by using it to sustain itself no longer seemed gruesome or violent. Rather it was an act of restoration, of restoring the balance of the natural community.
How odd that the creatures most adept at tipping the balance of nature live not by instinct, but reason. Given their unparalleled intellect, only humans can conceive of their "role" in nature, a role increasingly viewed as material opportunity rather than moral responsibility. How strange that our greatest challenge in the 21st century may be to act less like humans and more like animals, to become less violent, to consider the quiet wisdom of a possum.
CURWOOD: Tom Montgomery-Fate teaches writing at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, and is the author of his memoir "Steady and Trembling," to be published this fall.
Just ahead: From heartbreak to heartwarming—how one woman found the secret to saving orphaned, baby elephants. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.
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[MUSIC: Fontanelle "29th & Going" Fontanelle (Kranky)]
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CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood and coming up: an avian festival for the ears. First, this Note on Emerging Science from Katie Zemtseff.
ZEMTSEFF: There may be yet another use for the ever versatile soybean. And, it could prove a sticky solution for the wood industry.
Researcher Kaichang Li at Oregon State University discovered the legume could make super-strong glue. And, he credits his discovery to the humble sea muscle. These coastal mollusks have an uncanny ability to stick to rocks and cliffs, despite the ocean's crashing waves. Lee found the key to this clinginess in a single, muscle protein. He was able to synthetically recreate this protein but it was too costly to make in large quantities. So, while having a lunch of tofu one day, Lee wondered if the high-protein soybean could mimic the muscle protein. Turns out, that by mixing soy with amino acids that have had adhesive properties, he was able to make a sticky, soy by-product very similar to the muscle's protein. This soy glue can seep into wood crevices and pores where it solidifies, creating a virtually indestructible, waterproof glue. Today's wood glues are based in formaldehyde, which when heated, give off fumes that could pose a health hazard.
The soy-based glue is already in use at three mills and can be used in everything from home paneling to office desks. Along with milk, tofu, vegetable oil and bio diesel, this newest market is good news for soybean farmers. That's this week's Note on Emerging Science. I'm Katie Zemtseff.
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CURWOOD: In many parts of Africa, elephants are vanishing. In the 1980s alone, half the population was killed by poachers and that prompted a worldwide ban on the sale of ivory tusks. Today, only 600,000 or so wild African elephants remain, out of, perhaps, ten million, two generations ago. But the killing hasn't stopped, as there are still plenty of commerce in illegal ivory as well as elephant meat.
Slaughtered elephant herds often leave behind orphaned, baby elephants, which have little chance of survival. That is, unless they wind up in a baby elephant nursery, like the one visited by Living on Earth's Susan Shepherd in Nairobi National Park, Kenya.
SHEPHERD: Keeping an orphaned elephant under two years of age alive is a tricky proposition under even the best of circumstances. Thirty years ago, it was a near impossible task.
[ELEPHANT PURRING, ROARING, MUNCHING]
SHEPHERD: Nothing keepers like Daphne Sheldrick fed infant elephants kept them from suffering the same fate--starvation.
(Photo: Barry P. Payne)
SHEDRICK: When they first come in, they all just want to die. They've lost their elephant family; they are very, very fragile in infancy. And they can be fine one day and dead the next. It took me 28 years to succeed in raising an infant African elephant.
SHEPHERD: The role of animal protector is one 70-year-old Daphne Sheldrick prepared for all her life. Born in Kenya, she grew up on a farm in the highlands and cared for her first orphaned animal, an antelope, when she was three years old. In her early 20s, she moved to Tsavo National Park in Southeast Kenya, where her husband was game warden and she spent 30 years there learning about the psychology and sociology of elephants.
SHELDRICK: You know, when you take on an elephant it really is a lifetime and I've been working with elephants for 50 years.
SHEPHERD: The key to keeping baby elephants alive, says Sheldrick, was finding the right formula to feed them. They couldn't digest the fat content in most milk formulas, though no one knew that was the problem until Sheldrick stumbled on something that worked through sheer luck and trial and error. The secret elixir was a mixture of coconut oil added to a fat-free milk base.
SHELDRICK: I found that they could live longer on skim milk, so I knew the problem was the fat.
SHEPHERD: This eureka moment was the start of the Elephant Orphan Project in Nairobi National Park, where Sheldrick convinced the government to allow her to set up this orphanage nearly 30 years ago.
[ELEPHANT ROARING, STOMPING]
SHEPHERD: On a bright, warm day in Kenya, young elephants romp in a dusty clearing. They are the current crop from the more than 60 young elephants that have been brought here over the years.
SHEPHERD: Edwin Lusichi, their 27-year-old keeper, says they are thriving.
[ELEPHANT EATING, WALKING, PURRING. KEEPER SAYING, "BACHUMA, BACHUMA"]
SHEPHERD: This is a boy?
Showing affection to Edwin, an elephant keeper.
(Photo: Barry P. Payne)
LUSICHI: Yeah, he's a boy, nine months old now.
SHEPHERD: The baby elephants spend their days chasing each other, rolling in the red clay soil, butting their heads up against anything they can find, especially against their keepers who are more like nannies.
LUSICHI: I've been here for the past five years and it's just because I like animals in general. That's why I landed, getting this job.
SHEPHERD: And, that's the other key to keeping orphaned elephants alive. Elephants are such social creatures that they need constant company. Their keepers stay with them 24 hours a day, which means curling up right next to them to sleep at night.
LUSICHI: This elephant is called Lualeni. He's about five months now, was rescued from Tsavo East. Just found lying alone in the park.
SHEPHERD: As Lusichi talks, one of the smallest elephants in the group puts the end of her trunk against his round, good-natured face and touches his nose, his cheek and then covers up his eye with her nimble snout. Lusichi, removes her trunk gently from his face, laughing. Then she comes after my microphone.
[CHEWING, SUCKING SOUNDS]
An elephant tries to grab reporter Susan Shepherd's microphone.
SHEPHERD: What is he doing now?
(Photo: Barry P. Payne)
LUSICHI: Just suckling for my fingers.
SHEPHERD: Sort of like when a kid sucks his thumb?
LUSICHI: Yeah. They are just like human babies, actually.
SHEPHERD: Not every baby elephant brought to the nursery survives. And, it's nearly impossible to tell which ones will make it. As Lusichi explains, all of them are traumatized from being separated from their mothers, or witnessing the massacre of all of the older elephants in their herd.
LUSICHI: There is always difficult to handle when they are new because they have been in the wild and they only know the wild life. And, they saw the human poaching the mothers so they won't be friendly to you. It takes some time. So, it's quite a difficult job to handle a newcomer in the nursery.
SHEPHERD: Lusichi tells the story of the two-day old elephant he helped rescue last summer. They named her Wendy, which means hope because she seemed much too young to possibly survive.
LUSICHI: She was just found lying alone in a swamp. She was still fresh from the mother's womb. All the body was very soft; the ears were still very pink. In fact, she had part of the ear folded to one side. And, just getting hold of her you, you could feel she was very slippery. She would want to fall down and very, very tiny, the tiniest I've ever seen.
SHEPHERD: And so, could you pick her up?
SHEPHERD: It takes about $750 a month to care for a baby elephant here. The money comes mostly from donations--people around the world foster these elephants. Daphne Sheldrick says most of that money pays for the 40 pints of formula a day it takes to feed one of these infants.
SHELDRICK: A lot of people say, 'well, that's a lot of money to spend on a few little orphaned elephants.' But what they don't understand is that these elephants are tremendously valuable for extending the knowledge about elephants because when you raise an animal like an elephant, you learn how it feels and thinks. You know it as well as your own human children.
SHEPHERD: When the elephants turn two, they are trucked to Tsavo National Park and are gradually re-introduced into the wild. Elephants are housed and fed at a holding site and keepers take them on long walks to introduce them to roaming wild herds. Generally quite gregarious animals, the wild elephants almost always welcome the orphans. Their keepers think life in the wild is more stimulating than living with humans, so eventually, almost all of the young take up with a herd. Still, Sheldrick says, many of the orphans return to the holding area on a regular basis.
SHELDRICK: Another one of our females brought back a calf that had a snare around its leg, this is a wild-born calf. Of course, it was wild. Our keepers couldn't actually handle it and it was tearing around. And, Lisa, the mother, just walked into the stockades and started feeding. The calf was screaming its head off and any mother elephant normally hearing that sound would have gone bizerk, but she trusted the keepers so much that she just went on quietly feeding. And then, the other orphans surrounded this calf and held it, sort of held it in the middle, so it couldn't escape so that our keepers could crawl underneath their bellies and remove the snare from that leg. And, that just shows how intelligent elephants are that they can reason and think.
SHEPHERD: Yet, Sheldrick is the first to say that her orphanage doesn't replace elephant families. Elephants are so smart and so complex that most people who study them say we don't know the true trauma they face when they've known the violent death of a family member and lose their communities. And, because we can't know, Sheldrick does what she can to give back to these creatures, what they've given to us.
SHELDRICK: Recent stories about the Tsunami in Indonesia, where the elephants knew the moment the earthquake happened under the ocean and they started fleeing up hill. And, as they were going, they were picking up people and putting them on their backs and saved a lot of human lives, as well. So, they are incredible animals and that raises a lot of questions of how they should be treated.
SHEPHERD: Surrounded by the elephants living in her orphanage now and the memories of elephants she's saved over a lifetime, Sheldrick basks in the knowledge that she's done everything she can for these elephant children who fill Africa, as Kipling wrote, with their insatiable curiosities. For Living on Earth, I'm Susan Shepherd in Nairobi, Kenya.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
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[BIRDS CHIRPING IN WETLAND - FADES UNDER]
CURWOOD: It's daybreak in a cattail marsh near Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in central North Dakota. This prairie region is teeming with wetlands and bird life on this spring morning and joining me now to get up close and personal with the birds here is nature recordist and photographer Lang Elliott. Lang, sounds like a bird symphony here!
The marsh wren is a common bird of the cattail marsh. (Photo: copyright Lang Elliott/NatureSound Studio)
ELLIOTT: Holy smoke, it is. It's just an amazing chorus you get there at dawn in the prairie marshes. There's nothing else like it.
CURWOOD: What's this area look like?
ELLIOTT: Well, it's a hilly upland region, awash with all these depressions or pothole ponds that were formed during the Wisconsian glaciation. And, all these wetland marshes of cattails and rushes--just chock full of wildlife.
CURWOOD: I hear a noise that kind of sounds like a sump pump noise. Who makes that sound?
ELLIOTT: Yeah. That's the sound of the American bittern. It's a heron-like marsh bird that's brown with a streaked breast and very camouflaged; lives among the cattails. The male inflates his throat before he calls to create a resonant chamber and makes that sound, sort of a pumper lunk, pumper lunk, pumper lunk.
[PUMPER LUNK, GULPING SOUND OF BITTERN]
CURWOOD: How did you get so close to record this bittern?
ELLIOTT: Well, my first morning at the marsh I could hear them out there. There was more than one and I wanted to get a really nice recording, but if you try to approach one in the daylight they see you and, of course, they hunker down in the cattails and they grow quiet or they slink away or fly away.
So, what I did is come evening, I could hear one way out in the marsh and I thought, 'well I'm going to canoe out there and set up a microphone and then come back at dawn and record.' But he was so far out I was afraid I'd get lost in the dark, so I put a little blinking red light on my van which was parked next to the lake and I canoed out in the marsh. It took me about 30 minutes or 40 minutes to hone in on this bittern that was calling occasionally. And I set the microphone on a tripod in shallow water next to this patch of cattails where the bittern took up residence for the night. And I strung a bunch of cable back to a platform they had built for goose nesting, a goose nest platform, tied the cable off and put a blinking red light there. And, then I looked back over the marsh and I could see where my van was so I canoed back to my van and slept for maybe four or five hours, got up four in the morning. I could see that blinking light way out in the marsh, so I canoed way back out to that spot and when it started getting light, he really started pumping and I got this fabulous recording. I don't think I could do any better.
[PUMPING SOUND OF BITTERN]
CURWOOD: Now, what other birds are common out there among the cattails there?
ELLIOTT: Oh, there's quite a variety and a lot of them make really interesting sounds. There are little chicken-like birds called "rails." The Virginia rail is out there in the marshes and even more common is a small rail called the Sora, which has a fabulous whinny-like outburst, sort of a laugh-like outburst.
[WHINNY, OUTBURST CHIRPS FROM A SORA]
ELLIOTT: Other species, of course, you have the redwing blackbird and there can be quite a lot of sound coming out of both males and the females. Yellow-headed blackbirds have sort of other worldly sounds and they're quite common in some cattail marshes.
[YELLOW-HEADED BLACKBIRDS CACKLE]
ELLIOTT: And, there's a number of shorebirds in the marsh. There's killdeer, a type of plover; there's lesser yellow legs, they are quite noisy. Semi-palmated sandpipers; American avocets, which are really elegant and beautiful and make a lot of sound. Common snipe which flies overhead and makes a really peculiar sound with its wings. And then there's the willet who's quite a noisy creature and willets are fairly large shorebirds and they fly overhead, flying over the marsh going "peewee willet, peewee willet, peewee willet."
[SOUNDS OF WILLET CALL]
CURWOOD: Peewee willet, peewee willet. What will it do? What is the question it's asking here?
ELLIOTT: Well, I don't know. I mean, the question is, will it or won't it? And, exactly what it might do, I'm not too sure. But, I hope that it does do whatever it will do.
CURWOOD: I hear that this area has long been the largest nesting colony of white pelicans on the continent and that there's some 30,000 white pelicans that usually call the Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge home. Is that right?
ELLIOTT: Yes, actually….well, the recordings that we've been playing come from just north of Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge in a waterfowl production area. The refuge itself is fenced in and there's a large lake with an island out in the middle that has the largest colony in North America, breeding white pelicans. And, the numbers have risen to nearly 30,000, but last year, for some unexplained reason, in late May, they began abandoning their nests and over a period of just a few days the majority of these birds just flew away, up and flew away.
CURWOOD: Leaving their eggs or their chicks behind?
ELLIOTT: Leaving the eggs, leaving young that had already hatched, all of which perished. Nobody knows why this happened in the history of the refuge, which was established in 1908 by President Teddy Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt. They've never abandoned their nests so it's a real mystery and got a lot of people concerned. I'm told that the pelicans are now arriving again this year. There's 500 to a thousand that have appeared and everyone hopes that they will nest successfully this year and it will not be a repeat performance.
CURWOOD: Lang, thanks for taking this time with me, today.
ELLIOTT: Thank you, Steve.
CURWOOD: Lang Elliott travels far and wide to record the natural world. His most recent book, which includes photos and a CD, is "Music of the Birds," published by Houghton Mifflin. To hear more sounds of birds of the North Dakota prairie region, go to our web site, living on earth dot org.
[BIRDS CHIRPING AND CALLING]
- NatureSound Studio
- Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge
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CURWOOD: Next week, on Living on Earth, Earth day turns 35. And, Hollywood celebrates by blowing the planet up, in the first nine minutes of a blockbuster movie. But don't worry. There's a happy ending.
MAN: What we have at the end of the movie is we have a back-up earth. Then, we get another shot at it. And, I think there's something really quite powerful and redemptive about that.
CURWOOD: The environmental vision of the late Douglas Adams, creator of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," on next week's Earth Day edition of Living on Earth.
CURWOOD: We leave you this week with one more bird, common to the wetlands.
[CHIRPING SOUNDS OF MARSH WREN]
CURWOOD: Lang Elliott recorded this marsh wren sitting atop a cattail in a North Dakota wetland.
[WREN CHIRPING CONTINUES]
CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced by the World Media Foundation. Our crew includes Eileen Bolinsky, Jennifer Chu, Steve Gregory and Ingrid Lobet—with help from Christopher Bolick and Kelley Cronin. Our interns are Katie Oliveri and Katie Zemtseff. Our technical director is Paul Wabrek. Alison Dean composed our themes. You can find us at Living on Earth dot org. I'm Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.
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