Mind over Matter or Miss Out on Life

There is a big difference between using illness as an explanation, and using it as an excuse. I’d like to illustrate this by using my recent diagnoses of Anemia and Exercise-Induced Asthma.

Several people in my life have interpreted the asthma diagnosis as “you shouldn’t exert yourself!” but at no point have I turned down an outing despite anticipating shortness of breath, pain in my lungs, intense coughing/retching, and occasional injury as I stumbled due lacking the red blood cells necessary to transport oxygen even if I could breathe it in. In fact, the judgmental people who assumed I needed to exercise and lay off the cigarettes (I don’t smoke) were often worse than the symptoms themselves.  Although to be fair, I hoped I merely needed to exercise more, too.

Huon Valley, Tasmania, Australia. Licensing available on Shutterstock and Dreamstime.

Instead I’d pack up my gear and rush out the door with as much anticipation for the adventure ahead as I would if I didn’t end up suffering.  I am a nature photographer, and running around outdoors with a heavy backpack is a prerequisite.  Although my pace was affected, and I learned the hard way to turn down hiking-based tours and group outings with strangers, my overall determination was not.

It took 3 hikes to get both usable light AND the falls flowing nicely.  Morialta Conservation Park, South Australia. Licensing available on Shutterstock and Dreamstime.

Many hikes have been unintentional.  A stroll at ground level saw me follow a sign stating “Challenge yourself! Get there faster” up a terrifying trail. Ill-prepared, gasping for breath, and unable to plod more than a few paces at a time, I wondered where I was trying to go in the first place… and nearly turned around.  Doing so would have been a mistake, as the trail led me straight to a bird that had eluded my camera for 2 years. On an easier trail I would have missed it entirely.

A Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoo takes flight off a high cliff in Morialta Conservation Park, South Australia. Licensing available on Shutterstock and Dreamstime.

I am not discounting the constraints that mental and physical illness oftentimes inflict, but at some point mind over matter needs to factor in. A slow climb up that hill is better than no climb at all. It’s a big world, and you won’t experience it sitting on your ass.

Grampians National Park, Victoria, Australia

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Dog Owners: Yes, The Rules Do Apply To You

Just as most people are aware of the damage feral cats wreak on the environment but are silent about the damage feral dogs do, people are far quicker to view the friendly neighbourhood kittycat as the harbinger of death than they are slobbery Fido. But while outdoor pet cats tend to stick to their immediate vicinity, domestic dogs are being actively brought into parks and nature reserves and oftentimes let off-leash…whether permitted or not.

You might not like it, but the rules are there for a reason.

As much fun as your dog may be having, signs stating they’re not allowed to be off-leash (and possibly not in the park at all) are there for a reason.  Although it may seem as though the dog is “just playing”, dogs are still predators, and wildlife perceives them as such.  Many breeds were, after all, created for the purpose of assisting with hunting. They are doing far more damage than their owners often acknowledge, from disrupting ground-nesting birds, or killing juvenile birds and animals who lack the skills necessary to escape, to chasing animals away from their food sources.

Dog attacks are responsible for a significant number of animals being sent to wildlife rescue centres – one Australian study showed that although cars were overwhelmingly #1, dogs – not cats – were #2.  Black Flying Fox Master Jaffar, below, is one such victim: his mother died after an off-leash dog killed her, and he sustained several bites to his head and required a tear along his cheek to be sewn up. Still think your dog is “just playing”?

Master Jaffar after entering human care.  Image credit: Batzilla the Bat

Note the injury on Master Jaffar’s head, along with the stitching across his cheek. Image credit: Batzilla the Bat

Even if the dogs aren’t running amok, their presence is enough to cause damage, which is the reason they are banned in some areas. The following study states that:

“The presence of dogs causes most wildlife to move away from an area, which temporarily or permanently reduces the amount of functionally available habitat to wildlife. The research is clear that people with dogs disturb wildlife more than humans alone,” and that “two hikers disturbed an area of 3.7 hectares walking near wild sheep, whereas two hikers with dogs disturbed 7.5 hectares around the sheep. In Chicago, migratory songbirds were less abundant in yards with dogs. Dog walking in Australian woodlands led to a 35% reduction in bird diversity and a 41% reduction in the overall number of birds. The same study showed some disturbance of birds by humans, but typically less than half that induced by dogs.”

Further, “chronic stress such as repeated disturbances over time may reduce wildlife health, reproduction, growth, impair the immune system and increase vulnerability to parasites and diseases.  Dogs cause wildlife to be more alert, which reduces feeding, sleeping, grooming and breeding activities and wastes vital energy stores that may mean life or death when resources are low, such as during winter or reproduction.

It is often said that you can’t claim to love birds if you allow your cat to go outdoors.  It could thus be argued that you can’t claim to love nature if you allow your dog off-leash or bring your dog into areas you aren’t allowed to.  For the sake of the other species we share this world with, if you must let your dog off-leash, stick to dedicated dog parks and please obey the rules elsewhere.

And to the responsible dog owners who do obey the rules: thank you.

Further reading: You’re Worried About The Wrong Animal Attack

Donate to Batzilla the Bat and help fund the rescue and rehabilitation of more animal like Master Jaffa via Paypal (batzillathebat@gmail.com)


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Anthropomorphism, And How Animal Rights Activists Are Born

While observing the critically endangered Sumatran Tigers at the Toronto Zoo (reviewed here), I heard about a half dozen visitors independently exclaim how “it’s sad that the tigers are by themselves” and how they must feel “lonely”.


This is anthropomorphism, or the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a something non-human. Or, as Josh Clark puts it:Anthropomorphizing is the point at which human curiosity meets human laziness…It’s a lot easier to explain a prancing goat as being ‘happy’ than it is to study the behavior further and determine that the dance is part of a mating ritual.” Basically, the speakers felt that they would be lonely if they lived by themselves, and so the tigers must surely be lonely too.

assume asshole 2

The problem is, this is how zoo-hating animal rights activists are born: the uneducated acting on sudden emotion, and screaming “foul!” or “abuse!” as they assume the animals are not being properly cared for because they, personally, don’t like (or more accurately, don’t understand) what they see.

rage gif
The reality is that tigers are naturally territorial and solitary creatures, generally only coming together during the mating season. And even then, this can still lead to one animal mauling another. It is not uncommon for zoos to keep their tigers apart except for the purposes of mating (often as part of a species protection program), and even that isn’t always foolproof.

Animal behaviour is complex, and what works for one species doesn’t necessarily work for another.  Even individuals within a population may exhibit traits which may seem “abnormal”, but are in fact normal to that individual.  The average zoo visitor averages less than 1 minute at each exhibit, while the animals’ carers dedicate their lives towards the animals’ wellbeing.  The keys are education, observation, and more education (no, reading The Dodo doesn’t count).  If you have questions or concerns, the zookeepers (or other zoo staff or volunteers) will most likely be happy to answer them — after all, they arguably know the individual animals best.  To assume the worst could harm the animals themselves, and even set back conservation efforts.

assume know

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Remembering Qila and Aurora Through Those They Inspired (Vancouver Aquarium)

November 26: 2016 Original blog post from 2 days ago has been amended to reflect updated events.

After the recent loss of Qila, a beluga whale at the Vancouver Aquarium (who in some ways I watched grow up alongside my evolving view of belugas from “boring” to “beautiful”), shortly followed by the news that her mother Aurora passed from the same illness following heroic efforts to save her, I was reminded of a Skytrain ride conversation I overheard in which someone had clearly been inspired by these two animals.


A very young Qila with her mother, Aurora

On this commute a small child was gushing to his grandfather about beluga whales. How cool they are, how their home is melting, how pollution makes them “poisonous” (toxic), how he’s going to write about belugas for school and tell his classmates, and how he wants to raise money to help them. His grandfather smiled and asked if he knew the Vancouver Aquarium had beluga whales. “YEAH!!! Auntie took me! That’s how I know this!” and on and on he went.  If he paused to take a breath, I would be surprised.


Qila breaching. Photo available here, here, and here.

Qila and Aurora played a direct role in inspiring the child above. Although many people do visit zoos and aquariums to be entertained, connecting with these animal ambassadors provides a tactile experience that can touch both mind and heart in ways books and television often can’t.


And for those who aren’t inspired, the money they spend on admission, food, and souvenirs still helps fund conservation and research projects, of which the Vancouver Aquarium has many.


Up close with Aurora

So like Jack the Harbour Porpoise, may Qila and Aurora live on through those they touched and inspired, and the wild belugas whose lives may be saved as a result.  They will without doubt be dearly missed by their dedicated carers, and aquarium visitors as well.


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Rest In Peace Jack, and May Your Legacy Live On. (Vancouver Aquarium)

Saddened by the news out of the Vancouver Aquarium that harbour porpoise Jack has passed away.

RIP Jack

Jack was found washed up on a beach in 2011, when he was about 5 weeks old. He was taken in to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue Centre for intensive care. Later deemed non-releasable by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (not by the aquarium itself, as is commonly believed in these cases), he was introduced to Daisy, another harbour porpoise who was found and saved under similar circumstances.

Together, these two animals became ambassadors for their species and reinforced in my mind the importance of zoos and aquariums. Although I have loved whales and dolphins since I was a child, porpoises never crossed my mind… until “meeting” Daisy for the first time. A new porpoise lover was created. And I’m not alone — I know countless people who came to love these animals only after watching the playful, interactive antics of Jack and Daisy at the aquarium.

Jack Face
Harbour porpoises are BC’s most abundant cetacean, and yet little is known about them (if anything, you are likely to catch only a fleeting glimpse of one’s back-end as it swims away). What the aquarium learned from caring for Jack and Daisy helped in the re-release of another porpoise named Levi, and will also help future animals in need.

RIP Jack. You will be missed by many, but your legacy will live on through people you inspired.

jack and daisy swimby copy

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Vladimir Putin is a Hairless Cat

I recently heard a story about Vladimir Putin visiting the Primorsky Aquarium — a controversial yet once seemingly promising aquarium in the Russian Far East, plagued with delays due to embezzlement and allegedly shoddy construction — and effectively yelling at staff, demanding they finish building it already.  Although this is undoubtedly at least part fabrication, Putin has visited Primorsky, and has demonstrated that he doesn’t mess around when sh*t needs doing.  But with stories of more orcas being caught in Russia and sent… to where exactly? I started thinking about the larger article in there somewhere.

And then I found something *much* more noteworthy: apparently, people think Vladimir Putin looks like a hairless cat.  How did I not know this?  And now you do too.  You’re welcome.

(only the top two comparisons are my own, and I take no credit for any images posted below)

putin cat sweater

putin cat yawning













epa03257832 Two hairless Sphynx purebred cats are pictured at the Dog Show with Purebred Cats Show in Erfurt, Germany, 10 June 2012. About 17000 visitors attended the show featuring about 4000 breeds of dogs and pedigree cats. EPA/MICHAEL REICHEL
Because I started this blog post thinking about Russia’s cetaceans, I figured I ought to finish with something appropriate to that theme, especially since the Russian president may or may not be in command of an army of “spy dolphins”.


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