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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

August 26, 2005

Air Date: August 26, 2005



Setting Standards for Organic Seafood / Rachel Gotbaum

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The demand for organic food is growing, and U.S. sellers of fish and seafood want to jump on the bandwagon and certify their products organic. Currently, there are no organic standards for seafood but that's about to change. As Rachel Gotbaum reports, setting regulations for healthy fish is no easy process. (Photo: OceanBoy Farms) (10:30)

Emerging Science Note/Regional Quacks / Jennifer Chu

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Living on Earth’s Jennifer Chu reports on the regional differences in duck dialects. (01:20)

Lightning Strikes

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For the past 40 years, according to the National Weather Service, lightning has been the second largest storm killer in the U.S. Nearly 70 people are killed each year by lightning, and those who survive bear symptoms that can last for years. Russ Francis is one who survived and he talks with host Steve Curwood about the storm that changed his life. (05:30)

Spray-on Mud

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Host Steve Curwood talks with Colin Dowes, owner of Sprayonmud, a new product used to give the impression that your 4X4 has been off-road. (02:25)

Elephant Nursery

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An elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya has perfected the art of raising baby elephants and releasing them back into the wild. Living on Earth’s Susan Shepherd reports. (08:00)

A Sense of Wonder

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Friends of Rachel Carson described her as "a solemn-looking woman with the steady forthright gaze common in thoughtful children who prefer to listen rather than to talk." Actress Kaiulani Lee has worked to perfect the writer's mien in her one-woman play about Carson's writings, including "Silent Spring" and "Under the Seawind." Lee performs excerpts from her play, "A Sense of Wonder." (05:30)

Coral Talk

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An audio postcard from producer Allan Coukell of the sounds of a reef and the way fish use sound to find their way around. (02:15)

This week's EarthEar selection
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Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
GUESTS: Russ Francis, Colin Dowes,
REPORTERS: Rachel Gotbaum, Susan Shepherd, Allan Coukell
ACTRESS: Kaiulani Lee
NOTE: Jennifer Chu


CURWOOD: From NPR - this is Living on Earth.



CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. Rachel Carson’s book "Silent Spring" caused a huge controversy in 1962 when it was first published in the New Yorker Magazine. A one-woman show explores her writing and how Rachel Carson felt about her book being the impetus for legislation banning DDT.

LEE: The robins returned to Lansing, Michigan, and they ate the worms. Eleven large earthworms can transfer a lethal dose of DDT to a robin. A robin can eat eleven worms in as many minutes.

CURWOOD: Also, a new twist on extreme weather.

WOMAN: There's a tornado right out my back door! Oh my God, ahh!

CURWOOD: Why it's better not to kvetch about the weather, and how to raise an orphan, elephant-style. That and more week, on Living on Earth. Stick around.


[Boards of Canada “Zoetrope” from ‘In A Beautiful Place Out in the Country’ (Warp Records – 2000)]

ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.

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Setting Standards for Organic Seafood

OceanBoy Farms in Florida grows shrimp and is the only U.S. seafood company to receive USDA organic certification. They received the certification under the livestock rules. (Photo: OceanBoy Farms)

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, welcome to Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. The organic food industry is the fastest growing segment for food sales in the U.S., rising by 20 percent a year. Produce, poultry, dairy and meat can be certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And now, purveyors of seafood are trying to cash in and get their products certified organic, as well. But, as Rachel Gotbaum reports, creating organic standards for fish is a complicated matter.

GOTBAUM: Though it looks like an ordinary farm with sprawling acres of greenhouses, OceanBoy Farms in Clewiston, Florida is different. For one thing, it’s the only farm in the country where shrimp are grown inland. There’s also no polluting run-off; the water in the 24 manmade ponds where the shrimp are raised is treated and recycled.


GOTBAUM: On a spring afternoon, vice president of production Michael Mogollon drives his black truck around for a tour of the 900-acre property.

MOGOLLON: These paddle wheels are important because it moves the water in a circular motion and concentrates whatever waste are generated in the pond toward the center drain.

GOTBAUM: All visitors must wear protective white lab suits to keep from contaminating the shrimp stocks. That’s because these shrimp are not treated with antibiotics or other additives. If they get sick, the whole batch must be destroyed. And they’re fed what Mogollon calls 100 percent organic feed made from tilapia cultivated on the farm.


GOTBAUM: Inside the greenhouse, millions of tiny translucent shrimp are growing in large tanks that look like bathtubs—the water is algae green.

MOGOLLON: These little lines that you see—this is the vein of the shrimp, what most people like in an adult shrimp to take out. That’s the intestine and you’ll see that all these animals have full guts, which means they’re fully fed. Part of that food is the organic formula that we give them.

GOTBAUM: OceanBoy Farms is the only seafood company in the United States to receive USDA organic certification. The owners hope that their 50 million-dollar business investment will pay off because they’re banking on consumer demand for organic products continuing to grow.


GOTBAUM: Nowhere was that demand more obvious than at the International Seafood Show held recently in Boston. This is the largest trade show for seafood in the U.S. For the first time in its history, among the hundreds of fishmongers from around the globe, a handful were selling organic products. The largest seller is Emerald Organics, a two-year-old company which markets fish certified organic in Europe and South America. Michael McNichols runs the company and was showing off his products to a buyer from China.

MCNICHOLS: The one in the back is crocker; that’s farmed in the Mediterranean. In front of the cod is salmon, which is farmed in Ireland. In front of that is sea bass and seabreem. We have number of other products, organic sturgeon and caviar, which are farmed in Spain.

GOTBAUM: At the other end of the hall, a buyer from one of America’s largest food companies gave his pitch to the salespeople at the OceanBoy Farms Organic Shrimp booth. Bill Bush is a purchasing manager for Nestle USA.

BUSH: Our consumer is, especially in the Lean Cuisine side, they are health conscious. And Nestle’s moving toward a wellness company. We don’t even want to be called a food company anymore; we’re a wellness company, health and wellness.

GOTBAUM: It seems almost every company is interested in getting in on the wellness craze. The buzz about organics doesn’t surprise Howard Johnson. He runs his own seafood marketing and research firm called HM Johnson and Associates.

JOHNSON: More and more you’re gonna see in these trade booths words like wild, natural, organic, sustainable. People are starting to get the message that there’s a market for this. And I’ve been in this business for 30 years and that’s sort of a sea change. It’s exciting for the industry because the organic food market in this country is growing by 19, 20 percent a year--has been for the last five years. So the seafood people see that and they would like to become a part of that and the retailers and consumers would also like to see that.

GOTBAUM: There are still no organic standards for seafood in the U.S. OceanBoy Farms received its certification under the livestock rules and the USDA is currently challenging that decision made by one of its contracted certifiers. Currently, U.S. consumers can buy fish that has been certified organic from Europe and other countries. But that worries some people.

GOLDBURG: The upshot is that when consumers in this country buy seafood that is labeled organic in a grocery store, they really don’t know what they are getting,

GOTBAUM: Becky Goldburg is senior scientist for Environmental Defense in New York.

GOLDBURG: The organically certified fish that’s imported may be fed diets that are relatively high in contaminants like PCBs and dioxins. So there isn’t even a guarantee that you are getting a healthy product when you buy so-called “organic seafood” at a store in the United States.

GOTBAUM: Goldburg helped the government develop its current national organic standards. She says certifying farm-raised or even wild fish is much more complicated and expensive than organic livestock or crops.

GOLDBURG: If you have a farm, you own that piece of land, you can control what goes on in that piece of land. For the most part, you can create an organic system that most people would be comfortable with. But it’s different in the ocean which is held in the public trust. It’s everybody’s and so no individual who is farming a fish in the ocean has nearly as much control over what goes on.

GOTBAUM: Goldburg worries that politics and market pressures to certify certain species of fish will end up watering down organic standards. For example, organically raised livestock must be fed an organic diet. But salmon are carnivores and are fed on other ocean fish that may be contaminated. Would salmon farmers be willing to overhaul production methods and invest in new technology needed to create organic fish feeds? Current organic standards also call for strict waste and reuse protocols. Most farm-raised fish is grown in nets out in the ocean. How would fish farmers recycle waste and keep pollutants from entering the ocean’s ecosystem? Those are questions that remain unanswered.


GOTBAUM: On a recent afternoon, the Whole Foods market in Swampscott, Massachusetts is quiet. There are a few people at the fish counter where farmed and wild fish from waters near and far are displayed.

WOMAN: Hi. Can I get a pound of the haddock? Can you take the skin off?

GOTBAUM: Whole Foods is the largest retailer of organic food in the U.S. The market chain’s fish sales grew by 15 percent last year—but none of the seafood was labeled organic. Dave Pilat is the northeast regional seafood director for Whole Foods. He says until USDA standards are developed for seafood, placing an organic label on fish is confusing to consumers.

PILAT: When organic seafood started coming out into the marketplace we took a look at the different certifying bodies and it was easy to notice that the certifying bodies in Europe all had different standards. So we said for now it would be fairest not to use the word “organic.”

GOTBAUM: In 2003, at the urging of Alaska lawmakers, Congress gave the USDA authority to develop organic standards for wild fish. Alaska sells 95 percent of all wild salmon in the U.S. Recent reports that farm-raised salmon can be contaminated with PCBs and other toxins gave the Alaska fishing industry a boost and sales of wild salmon reached 235 million dollars last year. Alaska fishermen don’t want to lose that market edge and are pushing to get their products certified organic, too.

WOLF: Wild salmon is exactly what consumers are thinking of when they think of the word “organic.”

GOTBAUM: Bill Wolf is a legislative assistant for Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska.

WOLF: A wild salmon that is spawned in absolutely pristine fresh waters swims out to sea in the cold waters of the north Pacific. It is not picking up any contaminants and swims back into the same pristine stream to spawn and is caught at the absolute peak of condition. That’s the most natural product that I can imagine from anywhere in the world and yet the organic food industry says, ‘oh no, you can’t use our label.’

OceanBoy Farms in Florida grows shrimp and is the only U.S. seafood company to receive USDA organic certification. They received the certification under the livestock rules. (Photo: OceanBoy Farms)

GOTBAUM: Wolf says in order to give wild fish and some types of farm-raised seafood an organic label, new standards may have to be adopted. And that’s exactly what environmentalists and those in the organic community worry about. Whole Foods fish buyer Dave Pilat.

PILAT: If it’s decides that wild fish can also be determined organic, I think that would set a dangerous precedent. I think folks, when they buy organic, it’s all about the source. They want to know where it came from, what feed, what’s in the feed, how it was raised and with wild fish I think it’s almost impossible to know. Fish can swim for thousands of miles. Fish are migratory so to label any seafood organic could be, I think at the least a tricky situation.

GOTBAUM: That’s one of the tricky situations the USDA is just now beginning to grapple with. The agency is currently assembling a task force to begin work developing organic standards for aquatic animals. Consumers can expect to find fish certified with the USDA organic label in markets sometime next year. For Living on Earth, I’m Rachel Gotbaum.

[Susumu Yokato “Flying Cat” from ‘Grinning Cat’ (The Leaf Label – 2001)]

CURWOOD: You can hear our program anytime on our website, or get a download for your iPod or other personal listening device. The address is livingonearth dot org. That’s livingonearth dot o-r-g. You can reach us at comments@loe.org. Once again, comments@loe.org. Our postal address is 20 Holland St., Somerville, MA, 02144. And you can call our listener line at 1-800-218-9988. That’s 1-800-218-9988. CDs, tapes and transcripts are $15.

Related links:
- OceanBoy Farms
- Environmental Defense
- USDA on Organic Fish

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Emerging Science Note/Regional Quacks

CURWOOD: And now, this Note on Emerging Science from Jennifer Chu.


CHU: New research from England suggests that ducks, like their human counterparts, have regional accents. According to Dr. Victoria de Rijke of Middlesex University, a duck’s environment is a big factor when it comes to fine-tuning its dialect. De Rijke recorded the various sounds of Cockney ducks in the heart of London and their Cornish cousins at a farm in Cornwall. The mallards were all born and bred in their respective locales. And after some careful listening, de Rijke noticed some audible differences.


CHU: These Cornish ducks communicate in long, relaxed quacks. De Rijke attributes this to the slow pace of country living.


CHU: These city ducks prefer louder, brassier quacks. De Rijke believes that the fast pace of London breeds louder, more stressed ducks. These quackcents are much like the accents of human inhabitants of the same regions. Cornish speakers are known for their more open and drawn out sounds, whereas the Cockney brogue uses shorter and more guttural vowels. In the future, Dr. De Rijke hopes to take this duck research abroad, and explore the quacks of Scottish, Welsh and Irish fowl throughout the British Isles.

That’s this week’s Note on Emerging Science, I’m Jennifer Chu.

CURWOOD: Coming up, a look at the weather, and why we should stop complaining so much. Well, unless you get hit by lightning, that is. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

Related link:
The Quack-Project

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[Bela Fleck “Rocky Road” from ‘The Best Of World Music: Instrumentals’ (Putumayo – 1993)]

Lightning Strikes

[CHORUS SINGING: Paul S. Bishop Morton “Let It Rain” from ‘Let It Rain’ (Tehilla Music Group – 2003)]

CURWOOD: We can’t forget though, that for some, weather can be a matter of life or death. Between 200 and 1,000 people in the U.S. are struck by lightning each year. About 70 of them are killed. One person who lived to tell his tale is Russ Francis, a communications worker in Lyndon, Illinois. And we caught him on his cell phone as he was driving home from work. Russ, I hear it's optimal conditions for a conversation like this!

FRANCIS: Yeah, at the present time, I’m just ahead of a huge thunderstorm. I get kind of antsy I guess when I see it’s storming like this.

CURWOOD: I hope this won’t spook you too much, but could you tell me the story of when you did get struck by lightning?

FRANCIS: Yes, at the time I worked for a communication company and I was repairing a line and it was raining out that day and it had not been storming at all. And I just had finished up the case of trouble that I was working on and shut the closure up and I was on the ground and just had stood up and I remember seeing the flash. It came out my right hand and the noise was something, I can’t even explain how loud the noise was. It’s the loudest thing I’ve ever experienced or heard or whatever. And I remember getting half thrown back and the next thing I remember was trying to get back into my truck and, at the time, it blew out the two-way radios that I had in our truck. I had no feeling at all on my right side. It just about like I’d had a stroke.

CURWOOD: So, this thing hits you, you see this flash come out of your hand and then, did it knock you out? Did you have to wake up?

FRANCIS: I don’t think I was ever completely knocked out. I know I was stupor- stunned and sat there, and then got in my van and I had a headset there where I could have went back and connected on and tried to call for help. (Laughs) I’m not getting back out in this. So I ended up driving myself back into the office which was about two and a half miles away. There, I remember my boss took me into the emergency room then.

CURWOOD: Now, you had some symptoms, like your whole right side was weak and you lost your hearing. How long do those symptoms last?

FRANCIS: Well, I was off work for about three and a half years. Probably the first two years I slept between 20 and 22 hours a day. It just zapped every bit of energy there was out of me. I still have terrible headaches. I had a lot of trouble with dizziness and at the University of Illinois Chicago Hospital they did a functional MRI and they found out that one side of my brain had pretty much got sizzled by it.

CURWOOD: So, literally fried the brain, huh?


CURWOOD: But you’re doing okay, you sound okay.

FRANCIS: I’m back to work. They told me I’d never be back to work, and I’m back to work. And the other side, I guess, is taking care of the side that’s been damaged so we’re living life as well as we can.

CURWOOD: Now, what kind of reaction did you get from family and friends? I understand that a lot of times people have a hard time believing people who say they’ve been hit by lightning.

FRANCIS: Well, the biggest things is, that 95 percent of the people have no burns or no marks on them and I was one of those. You have no physical things and they look at you and say, “you look okay, you look healthy.” And, at the time, I couldn’t walk across the room without being exhausted. It would get kind of aggravating that way when people look at you in that regard. I mean, you don’t have an arm blown off, you’re not sizzled like an overdone hotdog so they say you should be okay. Well, you’re not. I guess my kids have had to deal with me in your mood swings and not being able to remember things because your memory, short-term memory gets pretty much hosed up and the strengths you used to have are now weaknesses.

CURWOOD: How has it affected your extra-curricular activities? I’m wondering in particular if you’re a golfer.

FRANCIS: Well, I wasn’t a golfer prior to that. I was an average skydiver prior to that and after that happened I had trouble blacking out, things like that. I had to pretty much stop doing that sport. That was hard, I mean your physical, things that you used to be able to do you can’t do. You learn to compensate for that, I guess other ways.

CURWOOD: Now, do you have any advice for me? It’s the summer season and it seems to me that the thunder and lightning storms come this time of year. The hazy, hot and humid weather. What would you advise me to do?

FRANCIS: I guess that one thing that kind of bothers me is if I see a coach trying to get that one more inning in or one more batter up or something like that or one more play-off or get one more hole in. It can change your life and it’s not worth it.

CURWOOD: And so, what if I’m all of a sudden caught out in the middle of it and it seems like, oh wow, this is definitely lightning time. Anything I can do?

FRANCIS: Go under a closed structure like a building with sides on it and preferably something that’s got wiring in it or whatever, like a park shelter or a tent is not a good place to be. Under a tree is one of the terrible places to be. A car is okay. It’s not the best place to be, but it’s better than being out in the open.

CURWOOD: So, right now are you still outrunning the storm?

FRANCIS: No I pulled over right now so we could have a decent cell phone conversation, but the storm is catching up to me.

CURWOOD: Well, I guess you better get a move on then.

FRANCIS: Tell your people though, if you hear it, fear it. If you see it, flee it.

CURWOOD: Russ Francis works in the communications business in Lyndon, Illinois. Russ, thanks for taking this time with me and hey, get home out of the storm, would you?

FRANCIS: Yes, I will.

[Lou Christie “Lightning Strikes” from ‘Lightning Strikes’ (MGM – 1966)]

Related links:
- National Weather Service Lightning Safety Page
- Lightning Strike & Electric Shock Survivors International, Inc.

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Spray-on Mud

CURWOOD: Yeah, let’s face it, there are many things in life that used to be free seem to cost money these days. There’s a brisk business in bottled water, oxygen bars are springing up in cities, and now you can buy a can of mud to spray on your vehicle. That’s right, Colin Dowse is the owner of Sprayonmud in Shrewsbury, England and he joins us now. Hello, sir!

DOWSE: Hi there.

CURWOOD: Now, why would folks want to buy mud to spray on their vehicles? I mean, they already have to pay at the car wash to get them clean?

DOWSE: Yeah, but we were down in the pub late on a Friday night with a few of the guys and we started thinking about ideas and someone said, “Well, what about all these people that drive four wheel drives and never go in the country? We ought to develop something for them." And so we came up with the idea of Sprayonmud.

CURWOOD: Well now, why develop Sprayonmud for these... you think they’re embarrassed to be driving these giant gas hogs?

DOWSE: They are and they only use them to go and collect the kids from school or go down to the shopping mall. Their neighbors think, well, they’ve got that gas guzzler and they don’t go off-road. Now they can fool them.

CURWOOD: Now, Colin, exactly what are the ingredients in Spraymud?

DOWSE: It’s pure Shropshire mud.


DOWSE: It’s refined, of course. We take out all the stones and twigs, but it’s real Shropshire mud.

CURWOOD: And what color is it?

DOWSE: Well, it’s a reddish, sort of brownish color.

CURWOOD: So, how well is it selling?

DOWSE: It’s flying off the shelves.


DOWSE: I’m just shipping a load to Japan, we’re opening up distributorships in Canada and in the U.S. I’m talking to people in Germany and Holland. The interest is phenomenal. We’ve had a hundred thousand hits on our web site.

CURWOOD: What’s the art to this? How should I be painting my vehicle with this?

DOWSE: Well, art…I’ve never, I’ve not thought about that. It just, it feels good to spray mud all over a car, I tell ya.

CURWOOD: Colin, I’ve got to ask you, is your next business venture--a chain of carwashes?

DOWSE: (laughter) That’s a good idea. No, it’ll be something else that we think up on a Friday night, in the pub.

CURWOOD: Colin Dowse is the owner of Sprayonmud. He’s talking to me from his office in Shrewsbury, England. Thanks for taking the time, Colin.

DOWSE: Okay, thanks. Bye.

CURWOOD: Cheerio.

[The Beta Band “Dry The Rain” from ‘3 E.P.’s’ (Astralwerks – 1999)]

CURWOOD: Just ahead: In Nairobi, Kenya, motherless elephants are being kept alive and set free back into the wild, thanks to the round the clock care they get at an elephant orphanage.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and the Charles Stuart Mott Foundation, online at mott.org, supporting efforts to promote a just, equitable and sustainable society; the Kresge Foundation, building the capacity of non-profit organizations through challenge grants since 1924, on the web at kresge.org; the Annenberg Fund for Excellence in Communications and Education; and at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, from vision to innovative impact, 75 years of philanthropy. This is NPR, National Public Radio.

[Tony Allen “Ariya (Jeff Sharel Mix)” from ‘AfroTech’ (Quango - 2002)]

Related link:

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Elephant Nursery

(Photo: Barry P. Payne)

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth, I’m Steve 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 is 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 happen to 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.


SHEPHERD: Nothing keepers like Daphne Sheldrick fed infant elephants kept them from suffering the same fate--starvation.

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 now 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.


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.


Showing affection to Edwin, an elephant keeper. (Photo: Barry P. Payne)

SHEPHERD: Edwin Lusichi, their 27-year-old keeper, says they are thriving.


SHEPHERD: This is a boy?

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.

An elephant tries to grab reporter Susan Shepherd’s microphone. (Photo: Barry P. Payne)


SHEPHERD: What is he doing now?

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. 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.

(Photo: Barry P. Payne)

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. And 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 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 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.

Related link:
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

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A Sense of Wonder


CURWOOD: This is the violin concerto of Ludwig von Beethoven, a favorite piece of music of a woman without whose work and dedication there might be no Earth Day.

LEE: I didn't know what to do. All that was clear to me was that the information had to get out. People had no understanding of the risks they were being asked to take. We had all been made so well aware of the benefits of these pest controls. But why had no one alerted us to their potential dangers? I decided to write the book.

(Adapted from "Silent Spring"
Copyright © 1962 by Rachel L. Carson
Copyright © renewed 1990 by Roger Christie
Used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee)

CURWOOD: Rachel Carson called her book Silent Spring. "Silent" spring because Ms. Carson wanted us to consider what our world would be like without the sounds of nature. Published in 1962, Silent Spring was a wake up call for an increasingly technological society and a bible for a fledgling environmental movement. We asked writer and actress Kaiulani Lee to read a few passages from a play she has written about the life of Rachel Carson, called "A Sense of Wonder."

LEE: In Lansing, Michigan, there was a study linking the death of the robin population to the spraying of the elm trees. The elms, which were being treated for Dutch Elm disease, were sprayed in the spring and again in July with two to five pounds of DDT per tree. In the autumn, the leaves fell, and as they decomposed, the earthworms fed on them, accumulating and concentrating the DDT in their bodies. Some of the earthworms died, but those that survived became biological magnifiers of the poison.

In the spring, the robins returned to Lansing, Michigan, and they ate the worms. Eleven large earthworms can transfer a lethal dose of DDT to a robin. A robin can eat eleven worms in as many minutes.
Not all of the robins ate a lethal dose, but the few that survived were unable to produce a single living offspring. How did we get to this?

(From "Silent Spring"
Copyright © 1962 by Rachel L. Carson
Copyright © renewed 1990 by Roger Christie
Used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee)

[Violin concerto fades up]

LEE: I knew that by writing honestly about chemical contamination I was plunging myself into a sort of war with the chemical industry. But I never imagined the full force of the industry's fury. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent attempting to discredit not only the book, but the hysterical woman who wrote it. Fortunately the attack seemed to have backfired, creating more publicity than my publishers ever could have afforded. But the controversy has been exhausting. Is it any wonder I don't want to leave the state of Maine?

(From "A Sense of Wonder," the play based on the life and works of Rachel Carson by Kaiulani Lee, and used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee.)

[Violin concerto]

LEE: To stand here at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of the mist over the great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shorebirds that have swept up and down these continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.

(From "Under the Sea Wind"
Copyright © Rachel L. Carson 1941
Copyright © renewed Roger Christie 1969
Used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee u-w-o Rachel Carson)

[Violin concerto]

LEE: I'll never forget the night Mr. Shawn telephoned me. William Shawn is the editor of the New Yorker magazine. He had just read my manuscript and he telephoned saying everything I could have asked or hoped for. That night, after Roger was asleep, I came back in here, and I put on the Beethoven Violin Concerto -- it's one of my favorites -- and suddenly, the tension of the four years was broken, and I let the tears come. And that night, the thought of all the birds and the other creatures, all the loveliness that is in nature, came to me with such a surge of deep happiness. I had done what I could. I had been able to complete it. And now it has its own life.

("From "A Sense of Wonder," the play based on the life and works of Rachel Carson by Kaiulani Lee, used by permission of Frances Collin, Trustee.)

CURWOOD: Kaiulani Lee reading from her play "A Sense of Wonder," based on Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" and "Under the Seawind," as well as material from the Carson biography "The House of Life," by Paul Brooks.


Related links:
- Rachel Carson website
- Kaiulani Lee website

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Coral Talk

CURWOOD: We’ve all seen pictures of an underwater coral reef, but do we know what it sounds like? Fish do and as producer Allan Coukell discovered, some baby fish use the sound to find their way home.

COUKELL: Nick Tolimieri is a biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. Standing by the bay where he did his post-doc research, he explains how he recorded and played back the sounds of an underwater reef.

TOLIMIERI: So, what we did was to go out at night and put a hydrophone in the water by a reef and record the noise that comes off a reef. And a reef can be incredibly noisy.


TOLIMIERI: This is just sound recorded off of a reef, about an hour or two after sunset, and the noise is mostly sea urchins and snapping shrimp–a lot of the pops are probably the snapping shrimp. And both of these things tend to come out at night and it’s actually been called the evening chorus.

COUKELL: A lot of marine organisms, especially fish, spend their adult lives on a reef, but disperse to the open ocean as babies. Later these larval fish somehow find their way back to the reef.

TOLIMIERI: These little fish larvae that are only a centimeter or two centimeters long – they can actually locate a reef from as far away as a kilometer or two. They seem to know where they are and they’ll avoid reefs during the day, probably because they don’t want to be eaten by the bigger fish.

COUKELL: To find out how the fish find their way back, Tolimieri went fishing at night, playing tapes of underwater reef sound and catching the fish larvae in an illuminated underwater net, called a light trap.

TOLIMIERI: And we put some light traps out with sound equipment and some light traps out without sound equipment and see how many are coming to the ones with sound and the ones without sound. And for the species we’ve done so far, we’ve gotten about five times as many reef fish in the ones with sound as we have in the ones without sound.


COUKELL: Not only can fish larvae hear extremely well, but they are also good swimmers. Scientists have found that some species, following the siren call of the reef, can swim up 300 miles without eating or stopping. For Living on Earth, I’m Allan Coukell.


CURWOOD: And for this week, that's Living on Earth. And between now and then you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to livingonearth.org. That's Livingonearth.org.

Before we go, one more stop in Kenya, at a watering hole where hippopotami cool off on a hot summer day. Susan Shepherd recorded this water symphony at the Lalaroque River in the Masai Mara.


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CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced for the World Media Foundation by Chris Ballman, Eileen Bolinsky, Susan Shepherd, Jennifer Chu, Steve Gregory, Ingrid Lobet, and Jeff Young. You can find us at Living on Earth dot org. Dennis Foley mixes the program. Alison Dean composed our themes. Environmental sound art courtesy of EarthEar. I'm Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science, and Stonyfield Farm, organic yogurt, smoothies and milk. Ten percent of profits are donated to efforts that help protect and restore the Earth. Details at stonyfield.com. Support also comes from NPR member stations, and the Ford Foundation for reporting on US environment and development issues; and the Oak Foundation for coverage of marine issues.

ANNOUNCER2: This is NPR – National Public Radio.


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