I’m a vegetarian who loves hunting 

Confused? You want to read on and figure out what the catch is, because surely being a vegetarian and hunting are mutually exclusive, right? You’re still reading, waiting for the big ‘gotcha’, aren’t you?

Good. I’m trying this thing where I use catchy click-bait titles while at the same time try to remain true to what the article is about, and I think it worked, because the title is the truth. I have been a vegetarian (no poultry or fish, either, mind you) (and I heavily avoid most dairy) for 6 years. I fully expect to never eat meat or drink milk again, and I would eventually like to finally kick cheese and go full vegan. I love animals. I love them far more than I love people. I love all kinds of animals, and if I could, I’d go live on an island where there were no people and only animals. Lots of animals. Because I love animals. Are you an animal? Well then, good news, I love you. A lot.

I also grew up in a family of hunters. My dad taught me to shoot a bow, track a deer, bait a hook load a shotgun when I was a little girl and there was nothing I loved more than spending long days out in the woods with him. We hunted whitetail deer with the bow in the fall and the gun in the winter and we fished, too, on the ocean, in rivers and lakes, and even in the winter (ice fishing – yes, it’s a thing.) Our vacations mostly consisted of camping/hunting trips where we’d catch our own dinner (well, that was the idea, at least. We always had back-up sandwiches). Through my childhood spent picking ticks out of my skin and leaves out of my hair I fell madly in love with nature, especially animals. In fact, my dad knew from the moment he realized how obsessed with animals I was that I’d love hunting and fishing- but isn’t that counterintuitive? Well, for someone who has never accompanied a responsible hunter out into the woods or spoke to a fisherman who loves the ocean, I understand that it may seem that way. I hope you’ll let me explain, because it’ll all make sense by the end.

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There’s me on the right in my dad’s hunting coveralls that I used to attempt to wear around the house at all times. Meanwhile my little brother wanted nothing to do with the outdoors.

Now before I keep going, I am in no way defending the killing of endangered species or trophy hunting where animals are killed for a picture and a decoration on the wall. This should go without saying, but I’m sure there will be those people who bring up Cecil and Jimmy John’s and all that dumb shit. There are a hell of a lot of animals that people should not be killing, period, and I obviously feel like anyone who kills something endangered, takes a picture with it and then hangs its dead body on the wall is a piece of shit.

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These are not hunters. They are douchebags. They paid to kill an endangered animal for fun.
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Oh look, an entire family of douchebags! Elephants are disappearing every day – there is not a single excuse for killing one.

What I’m talking about is the type of hunting and fishing that pulls you into an ecosystem and invites you to become a part of it. I’m talking about hunting carefully regulated species; species that might even be out of control or invasive are even better. Real hunters don’t pay for a kill. If it happens, it happens, and a lot of the time it doesn’t. Hell, 9/10 times my dad and I entered the woods we’d come out after 8 hours empty handed, but our days were never wasted. We’d sit in the same spot on the ground beneath a tree for hours and when a deer would walk past us we’d take a moment to admire it; my dad would make sure it wasn’t too young and then he’d take his aim. He’d only take the shot if he knew with certainty that it would be fatal. I was always taught to cause 0 suffering to the animal; to be thankful for its sacrifice and show it respect. Then we’d gut our kill, leave the insides for the forest to take back and other animals to eat, and take the meat to butcher and cook. Often times we’d donate the antlers to schools or display them, but either way, every last part of that animal was used; our German shepherd appreciated all the meat and bones that we didn’t eat. The same went for fish. Anything too small was thrown back and anything we did catch we ate. Killing animals is 5% of going hunting – the other 95% is admiring nature, seeing all types of wildlife, spending time in a wild place and becoming a part of it.

I haven’t gone hunting in a few years now; you know how life gets in the way of doing everything you want to do, but I have lots of friends that are these kinds of hunters. Some of them even use other animals to hunt, which I think is just incredible. Two good friends of mine, Tyler Sladen and Chris Starr have a team of dogs and raptors that accompany them into the woods to hunt for rabbits and invasive birds like starlings. The love these men have for nature, animals and wildlife is unfounded, and I can think of no better partnership than a man and his beloved dogs teaming up with a mighty bird of prey to accomplish something together, an interspecies pack.

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Tyler Sladen, his minature daschund Zoidberg (yes, daschunds were orginally bred to hunt, not to get fat on your couch) and one of his incredible hawks. They couldn’t be any more different, but the three of them are a team!
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Chris Starr is a 3rd generation falconer; he’s been hunting alongside birds his whole life. Never far from his side is his Decker rat terrier, Goten, another breed bred for a purpose that gets to fully immerse himself in his instinctual drive to work. For all three of these hunters, it’s in their blood.

I am inspired by Tyler and Chris and their daily adventures to the point where someday I would love to get a hunting dog and learn the art of falconry, which in itself is bad ass- an ancient partnership between man and dinosaur. How much more connected to nature could you possibly get!?

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References to falconry come from as early as 680 B.C.

I fully expect to get a lot of shit for defending hunting, even at the capacity I just described. People are often shocked to hear that I support ‘killing animals for fun’, which I hope by now you are starting to see is not the point at all. Surprisingly, I get a lot of shit about it from people who eat meat like it’s no big deal, which is where my mind really becomes tangled. Just because you don’t kill the animals you eat doesn’t make you a better person. In fact, one could argue that it makes you worse. A hypocrite, I’d even dare to say. If you go around blindly buying meat from the grocery store or eating burgers at fast food resturaunts, you’re supporting one of the cruelest and most heinous industries on the planet. Don’t act like you’re surprised.

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The often-forgotten first form of the Big Mac. On a side note, cows are actually friggin’ adorable.

By now, everyone must know how terrible factory farms are to the animals they raise. The massive operations that supply most of the meat people buy at grocery stores, restaurants and fast food joints want to create as much product as possible with as little cost, just like any other factory. This means the animals are treated as objects and thus, suffer extensively. These animals lives from start to finish are miserable. Never do they get to feel the sun on their backs or grass at their feet; hell, they don’t even get the freedom of stretching their legs. They are kept in extremely unsanitary conditions, many of them battling disease in addition to the fear and pain they experience on a daily basis. Many workers abuse animals while moving and manipulating them. They are castrated without painkillers, their teeth, horns, beaks or anything else that can be used to fight with other animals are ripped off without anesthesia and the list goes on, right up until their throats are slit while they hang upside-down on a conveyer belt. This existence is Hell on Earth, and the chances are great that every time you eat a cheeseburger or hotdog or chicken fingers, you’re supporting it. In addition to this cruelty is the main reason I became and stay a vegetarian. The environmental impacts of the meat industry are astronomical; worse than the entire world’s transportation system. Plain and simple, it is destroying our planet.

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Yeah, this ain’t Farmville.

Clearing land for livestock is the leading cause of the deforestation of the world’s rainforests, some of the most precious and important ecosystems in the world. A report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations states that “the livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the planet as a whole. Globally, it is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases and one of the leading causal factors in the loss of biodiversity, while in developed and emerging countries it is perhaps the leading source of water pollution.”

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Have I mentioned how much I hate humans?

Over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions are from the global meat industry, and you know how clean drinking water is a huge problem for millions of people? Well, animal agriculture requires an obscene amount of water. Just 1lb of beef takes an average of 2,400 gallons of water to create, just to put it in perspective. Whenever there is a drought, citizens are expected to restrict their water usage while there are no regulations whatsoever placed on factory farms, and in third world countries where people are literally dying from lack of clean water, factory farms are taking this resource away from people who need it to survive!

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“Screw you, junior! What’s most important is making sure the mone- I mean, the cows, have fresh water.”

Runoff and pollution from these disgusting farms are polluting rivers and lakes and making people who live nearby sick. Studies by the state of California have shown that animal waste from factory farms emit toxic airborne chemicals that can cause inflammatory, immune and other health problems.

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Yo that is LITERALLY A LAKE OF SHIT. *gags*

Commercial fishing and fish farms are just as bad. Our oceans are being overfished at an alarming rate with many of the populations of species most regularly eaten like tuna, cod, flounder and striped bass dwindling down to nothing. Commercial fishing methods such as using traps, bottom-trawling and long-lining destroy habitat and result in the needless deaths of thousands of by-catch organisms that aren’t intended to be caught like turtles, dolphins and sharks. Farmed fish like salmon require insane amounts of other types of fish to feed them, totally defeating the purpose. These fish farms produce lots of waste and pollution, too. I’ll stop myself here before I just keep going; these are all just examples that come to mind; the full extent of this planet’s appetite for meat is something I could write a full length novel on. I hope by now you get the point, though. It’s absolutely awful.

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That’s a weird looking fish. Oh wait, no, it’s a loggerhead sea turtle. You know, the ones that are super endangered and stuff.
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That awkward moment when you breathe air and get tangled in a fishing net and drown to death because humans suck.

Many people push these facts aside when they’re hit with a craving for a Big Mac or a tuna sub. Believe me, I used to eat meat- I remember how good it tastes. It’s easy for many people to just shut off thinking about all of the terrible things that come from your moment of self-indulgence, but the fact of the matter is that your food choices have a huge impact on the environment.

I think you’ll beleive me when I say that this article is not trying to PETA you into becoming a vegetarian. In fact, vegans and vegetarians are NOT off the hook when it comes to cruelty to animals and the planet. The production of plenty of vegan things like soy, products with palm oil, coffee, chocolate, fruits, veggies and nuts can be harmful, from clearing land for fields to the use of pesticides. It all comes down to the choices we make.

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Something like 50% of products contain palm oil. Palm oil is used to make tons of stupid shit like pre-packaged cookies and breads, chocolate, ice cream, instant noodles and margarine, and it’s responsible for the loss of thousands of endangered orangutans every year. They will very soon go extinct if the palm oil industry continues to thrive.

At the end of the day it’s our duty to learn about the impacts our choices have on the world around us and then use our power as consumers to support the companies and individuals that are focused on creating a sustainable, environmentally friendly and less-cruel product, and please believe me, there are so many options available, with more popping up every day because of the demand created by concerned consumers.

The reason I’m a vegetarian is because I feel best when I don’t consume meat in all aspects. I am careful to source the things that I do consume from sustainable sources, and that’s what brings me back to the defense of hunting.

Which life sounds better to you?

1.) A calf is born on a cold, blood-soaked concrete ground and swiftly taken from its mother without a chance to even look at her, let alone feed from her or spend time feeling her comfort. He is castrated without any painkillers and shoved in a stall among other calves, fed and pumped with chemicals to accelerate his growth until he is crammed inside a crowded trailer and sent to his final destination, the slaughter house. He is terrified as workers use an electric prods to shock him into running down a dark hallway that smells like feces and blood. He is then chained up by his back legs, both of them breaking as he is swung around until his throat is slit and he bleeds out slowly, in fear and alone.

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2.) A deer is born upon a soft bed of moss beside his mother, who cleans, feeds and nutures him. He spends his days lying on a bed of wildflowers, hidden from predators while his mother grazes. He spends every night cuddled close by her side. As he grows, he travels and explores his seemingly endless forest. He feels the sun on his back, tastes all the berries and plants nature has to offer and interacts with other deer, sparing with bucks, mating with does and adding to the population. After years of traveling, eating, mating, dodging predators and cars and experiencing a life, a quick and unexpected shot to the heart turns out the lights. He feels no fear when he dies.

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Obvious answer is obvious. Listen, I get it. Death sucks. I mean, sometimes even I feel bad watching a shark kill a seal or a lion kill an antelope, but that’s nature. It’s just nature. It’s something we have to accept. A few years ago I helped head-start a bunch of endangered Blanding’s turtles and when the time came for them to be rereleased into the wild, I was so excited for them. There was a tiny one that never grew much and right after I released him and wished him luck a nearby biologist said, “Bye bye, Bullfrog Food!” God, what a shot to the heart! I totally felt some resentment towards bullfrogs in that moment, but why? Bullfrogs gotta eat! (I should’ve felt resentment instead towards the cheeky biologist who didn’t have to say such a mean thing to someone who’d spent time raising that turtle, as shrimpy as he was.)

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Releasing turtles…or feeding bullfrogs? (Sorry, my coping mechanism is morbid jokes. I hope that little turtle punched every god damn bullfrog in the face and is out there tearing shit up in the wetlands)

Everything dies. In the wild, either the prey dies or the predator does. Although humans don’t need meat to survive, extremist vegans must face the fact that we will never convince everyone to stop eating meat. In fact, I’ve never seen extremist vegans accomplish anything but making the rest of us look like assholes.

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What are you- no. Stop. Get up. God, I swear we’re not all like this.

Do I wish everyone would become a vegan? I mean, to be honest I don’t really think about that, because it just isn’t a thing I see as possible. Being a vegetarian is tough. There are lots of times where I go somewhere and can’t eat anything. Sometimes I get cravings for bacon and turkey sandwiches. The meat industry straight up sucks, but I won’t think you’re an awful person for not quitting cold turkey and only eating super-duper sustainably-sourced everything, believe me, it’s not easy in today’s society. All I can ever ask is that people try. Make an effort. Celebrate Meatless Mondays, or do meat every other day. Matt, my meat-loving boyfriend, tries to only eat meat on the weekends and challanges himself sometimes to go weeks without it. He does his part, and I don’t get onto him for eating at Wendy’s every once in a while. He’s human. My diet is a personal choice and I’d never push that on anyone else. All I strive to do is give people the information and encourage them to keep it in mind.

What I really wish is that people would just be smarter about what they eat. I’m a realist. I’m not gonna waste my time trying to get everyone in the world to stop eating meat. That’s never gonna happen. I instead want to focus on doing what I know is possible; raising awareness of the choices we have and how to support the things that cause the least amount of harm. There are plenty of ways that eating meat can be sustainable, and I strongly feel as though responsible hunting and fishing is the very best way to do it. It’s going out into nature just like a lion or a shark and harvesting your own food just as the Earth provides it. There isn’t anything wrong with a predator being a predator, and I feel as though when done respectfully there is nothing wrong with a human being a predator, either. Hunting and fishing isn’t everyone’s thing; obviously not everyone has the stomach or the desire to kill their own food, even if they can support it, and so the next best thing is supporting small, local family farms, sustainable seafood, and the people who are making an effort to do things the right way. They still exist, and more of them will pop up if the support is there.

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These men are catching just enough fish to feed themselves.
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That guy isn’t going to eat all those fish. Many of them will go bad or be tossed out, and there’s probably a lot of by-catch in that net that will go to waste, too.

Animals face a lot of adversity these days. We’re in the midst of the 6th mass extinction, I’m never gonna stop reminding you of that, but I assure you, the problem is not hunters. We can all do something to make things better; start by laying off the hunters and focusing your efforts towards the true culprits. Stop supporting the industries that are really causing harm and research the ways you as a consumer can make choices that support sustainability – it’s all in our hands! Try to eat less fast food (it’s no good for you, anyway) and support restaurants that value sustainability; local is always a plus! Try new species of fish you’ve never heard of – these species often experience much less pressure from the seafood industry. Ask about the origins of the fish and how/where it was caught, this can tell you a lot about how sustainable it is. See if any of your friends have backyard chickens and get your eggs from them OR get your own backyard chickens if you can – this is something I can’t wait to be able to do one day; fresh eggs are the bomb. Plant a garden and grow some crops – they’re always better when they’re fresh. Go to farmer’s markets – more and more of them are popping up in communities everywhere, and they always have the best food! Support local farms; take a trip to one and buy some products, and again, lay off the hunters. They’re just doing their part. Are you?

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Thanks Tyler and Chris for letting me use your badass lives as an example. Y’all da real MVPs. #Worldstars.

 

Here are some links to get you started on the path to better, more sustainable consumerism.

https://farmforward.com

http://www.seafoodwatch.org

http://www.bonappetit.com/story/most-sustainable-meat

http://www.cuesa.org/learn/10-reasons-support-farmers-markets

https://nutriplexformulas.com/5-ways-to-support-small-farmers/

https://www.ecowatch.com/9-ways-to-support-your-local-food-community-1882045819.html

https://www.takepart.com/photos/7-things-you-use-every-day-contain-palm-oil/

http://www.onegreenplanet.org/news/palm-oil-alternative-that-can-save-orangutans-and-the-rainforests/

The Green Revolution

I’m one of those martyr types; always concerned for the greater good and what not. It sounds like I’m talking myself up, but believe me, I’m not bragging. It’s not fun worrying needlessly about everything and everyone else.

In fact it straight-up sucks. I hate not being able to sleep at night because I’m thinking about the future and the impact my species has had on this planet and the fact that we’re a parasite to a living, breathing Earth – the most beautiful, prosperous, perfect planet in our solar system. Out of all the awesome, super cool planets that revolve around the sun, the Earth is the only one capable of fostering life. And God is it beautiful. Life on earth is truly a beautiful thing; a masterpiece that’s been carefully crafted over billions of years, and I’m sure you’ve heard the notion of us all being interconnected. If you stand back and take notice of the roles each living organism plays to make up the complex web of life it will blow your mind. You probably go days on end without thinking about phytoplankton, even though it’s the real reason you’re alive. The productivity of phytoplankton (tiny plants in the ocean) is responsible for every other breath we take, and the rainforests, even if you’ve never been to one, basically give us all the rest.

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I could go on and on about all the different ways unlikely heroes like sharks, whales, wolves, coral and frogs make our world the balanced place it is today, but I’m sure you’ve heard of the notion of keystone species playing important roles in their ecosystems. Life on Earth relies on healthy ecosystems. Simple as that. We can build as many roads and cities as we like but it’ll always be up to nature to control the surface from which we stand upon. We will never be bigger than that.

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These guys have no idea how important they are. And neither do we, most of the time.

So you can imagine my dismay when folks try to argue that literally anything is more important than protecting the environment. Money isn’t going to be of much use to us if we don’t have a planet to live on. Not sure what’s so difficult to understand about the fact that we must protect our foundation before anything else.

I live in the United States of America, and don’t worry, I’m not under the delusion the we’re the best country on Earth. Perhaps we used to be, but certainly not now. This week, my president brought shame upon our great nation when he joined just two other nations, Syria and Nicaragua, in backing out of the Paris climate change agreement. Firstly, I just want to start by saying that it’s no longer acceptable, nor has it even been acceptable to walk around believing that climate change is a hoax.

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I’ve heard your argument, so save your breath. “The climate has always been changing! The Earth goes through natural cycles! It’s all natural. It’s science!!” — Yep. You’re right! There have been major climate events throughout Earth’s history. That’s science. You know what else is science? The fact that we have MOUNTING, INDISPUTABLE proof that humans have been denaturing the planet since the start of the industrial revolution. When we burn fossil fuels, carbon is sucked up into the atmosphere. Naturally it creates a heat-trapping blanket around our planet. Its purpose there is to keep our planet’s temperature regulated, just like any other blanket. When you’re cold and you use 1 blanket, you’re comfortable and warm, but 500 blankets? That’s way too much! And that’s exactly what the burning of fossil fuels is doing to our planet. This is just science. We’ve measured the impacts since humans began burning these fossil fuels and the proof is in the pudding. So why reject this science, but not the science that you use to defend your argument against it?

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The bottom line is that we KNOW that burning fossil fuels, cutting down trees and raising way too many cattle (among other things causing CO2 build-up) is really, really bad for our planet. It impacts everything. Most of us know about the dangers of sea level rise, but have you ever heard of ocean acidification? Our ocean is full of important organisms that make their shells from the calcium carbonate ions in the oceans. When the ocean absorbs the excess carbon we’re putting off, the presence of free hydrogen ions increases. Ions don’t like being alone, and these hydrogen ions bond really well to the carbonate ions – the same ions that normally bond to the calicum ones that serve as shell-building block. When the introduced hydrogen ions bond with the carbonate ions in place of the calcium it creates a bicarbonate ion instead. This results in the literal dissolving of shellfish (clams, oysters, scallops) which are not only commercially important and enjoyed around the world but also important to the balance of the ecoystem. It also results in coral bleaching and over a quarter of life in the ocean depends of coral reefs. Since we all depend on healthy oceans, we’ll all feel the effects of a more acidic ocean. If we continue to burn carbon dioxide at the rate we’re going, the ocean’s pH will drop another 120% by the end of the century resulting in an ocean more acidic than it’s ever been in over 20 million years. We do NOT want that!

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Before and after, a coral reef bleached by the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. I haven’t even mentioned the countless other impacts we’re already seeing, from shore erosion to warming seas, species extinction and extreme weather. Either way, the world is concerned, and for good reason. People are starting to listen. Even in just the last five years or so I’ve seen the world shift and become more aware and activated towards this cause. It seems now more than ever, people are interested in moving towards a new, green future. Think about how humanity changed at the dawn of the industrial revolution. Well, now we’re moving towards a new revolution. A green revolution!

This is supposed to be exciting. It’s the dawn of a new age. It makes way for new opportunities, new technology, new innovation, new million-dollar-ideas, new entrepreneurs, and all in the name of a cleaner, better world. Trump cites his reasoning for pulling out of the Paris deal as a concern for American jobs, but that’s absolutely absurd. He’s straight-up ignoring the fact that people all across the nation are finding job opportunities within the green industries that are sprouting up in every city in America in our effort towards a cleaner future. The green revolution is exactly where the jobs lie waiting! Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, HP, Intel, some of the most powerful drivers in our economy, and hundreds of other companies and businesses (hint: where the jobs are) strongly opposed Trump’s pulling out of the Paris deal. These companies see the potential growth in green investment. People are throwing their money at it! Elon Musk, creator of PayPal and the Tesla (a zero-emissions car) urged Trump to stay in the deal, and the CEO of Apple, Tim Cooke, personally called the president to do the same. Just this week a majority of Exxon’s shareholders demanded they be assured that the oil giant do what’s best for the planet. This is the way the world is turning, and Trump’s reasoning just isn’t justified.

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The Tesla is not only BADASS, it’s also a zero emissions vehicle that other gas-based car manufacturers have been battling since Musk rolled it out. Why? Because it’s the way of the future! Just ask Elon, whose networth is over 15 BILLION DOLLARS. He has no plan of stopping with green innovation anytime soon.

People are scratching their heads at the decision, which tells us that the real reason is something he didn’t want to admit. My guess? Well, let’s just say I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that the oil companies and Mr. President are good friends. Of course the fossil fuel industry would be against the green revolution – it requires them to phase out. It invites new innovation, leaving no room for old and harmful practices that do nothing but ignite wars and cause pollution. Oil is so terrible for the planet, and we have the chance to phase it out, but oil is power, and it’s not going to go down without a fight. Remember, there was once a time not too long ago where the tobacco industries were fighting a fight against science and the people, too. It took years of fighting corruption to pass laws against cigarette smoking in public places like hospitals and schools and taxing sales even though the evidence of the effects of smoking on public health was present.

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CRINGE

While I am sickened to my core on my president’s stance regarding the utmost importance of addressing climate change and working towards a greener future, I am also overwhelmed with pride in my nation as many cities and leaders from across the nation are taking a stand against Trump’s decision. We’re taking a stand as compassionate, brave and informed citizens and standing with Paris and the rest of the world despite the clear disregard of our president for what WE THE PEOPLE want. Over 70% of US citizens agree with the Paris climate deal. That right there says a lot about who our president stands for. (Spoiler alert: it ain’t us!)

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At the end of the day, this planet has given us too damn much for us to let it go down without a fight. At the end of humanity I want to at least be able to say I did everything I could. This is real, you guys. You know all those movies you’ve seen about the end of the world where a band of heroes assembles and saves it? We have the opportunity to be those heroes. It is both a scary and very important time to be alive.

I’d often wished I was born hundreds of years ago, when the Earth was not as damaged by the hands of man; when the rainforests flourished and bloomed and stretched across countries and the sea didn’t know the bitter taste of plastic and oil. Looking around at the destruction my species has caused our one and only home makes me sick. Living in a country where my President cares more about business and money than our planet makes me sick. Living in the only country other than Syria to pull out of a promise the rest of the world has made to the planet to take better care of it makes me sick, however, with all of this I realize now that I was born at exactly the right time, because it is now more than ever that the planet needs warriors like us. Paris, my President does not speak for all of us. I am still with you. WE are still with you.

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“That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives.”

No matter how hopeless it may seem, focus on what you can control. Put good into the world every single day and never sink to the level of those who put greed before life. I’ll finish this rant with one of my favorite quotes. I hope it’ll make you all think. “When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will man realize that he cannot eat money.”

I was feeling awful about this at first, but seeing the rest of the country stand up against Trump’s decision gives me hope. And remember, rebellions are built on hope.

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Why I Don’t Support the Animal Rights Movement: (And Why if You Love Your Pet, You Shouldn’t Either)

Animals Rights. I’m sure you’ve heard the term. Animal Rights activists fight for the rights of animals – sounds good, right?

Of course it sounds good, so why the hell wouldn’t I support it? Of course I believe that animals should have rights! They should have the right to their life, health, and respect, just like people. I’m sure you agree, and when you hear Animal Rights, this is probably what comes to mind.

I remember when I first became a vegetarian many years ago. I looked to PETA to lead the way for me. I got all these whacky pro-vegetarian stickers sent to my house in a free “vegetarian starter kit, and I passed them out at school and supported the hell out of PETA. I supported their mission, because, who wouldn’t? They’re a group dedicated to saving and helping animals, right?

You might want to sit down.

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Since 1998, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has killed over 36,000 animals. 93% of all animals that fall under PETA’s care never make it out alive.

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PETA has been caught literally kidnapping pets from people’s yards and taking them to be euthanized. PETA and other extremist AR groups like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) have been caught staging things like exotic animal escapes and attacks that lead to stricter animal ownership laws. When the rose-colored glasses come off, the horrible truths go on and on.

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In 2014, surveillance footage showed a PETA employee stealing Maya, a beloved chihuahua, from her porch as she sat outside in her favorite spot. Maya was euthanized immediately upon intake despite laws requiring rescues to hold animals for 5 days. PETA has owned up, calling it “a tragic mistake” (not sure how you accidentally trespass, steal and then euthanize a family pet, but ok). Maya’s heartbroken family is suing PETA for $9 million dollars.

I know, I know, you want proof of all of these outlandish claims. I’m glad you want proof – always ask for proof. That’s a good habit to have. Never change.

For the ultimate truthseeker, I invite you to explore petakillsanimals.com – they did all the work for me, and all of their work is well cited and backed up. Proof galore, just how we like it. For some quick things to get you thinking, though, I’m sure your biggest question is WHY? Why would a group that claims to love animals KILL them? Doesn’t that seem insane?

It’s very insane. PETA and the entire Animal Rights movement is exactly that – very insane. Here is a quote explaining the reason behind killing animals from the president of PETA and “mother” of the Animal Rights movement herself, Ms. Ingrid Newkirk, who is an actual lunatic:

“The animals got the gift of euthanasia, and to them it was the best gift they’ve ever had. How dare you pretend to help animals and turn your back on those who want an exit from an uncaring world!” Ingrid Newkirk, PETA President.

Oh. Well, m-maybe she was just joking! Yeah, that’s it…it’s all just a joke. Just a silly joke. Haha…ha-

Okay, here we are at a press conference in 2005, like…in public. Here’s what she said when asked to elaborate on why PETA employees were arrested after dumping hundreds of dead animals in a dumpster. Surely she had an explanation.

“Euthanasia is the kindest gift to a dog or cat unwanted and unloved.”

Was that too subtle? Here’s another one.

“I would go to work early, before anyone got there, and I would just kill the animals myself. I must have killed a thousand of them, sometimes dozens every day.” – Ingrid Newkirk, PETA President. Also President of Psychopathiopia, a small but powerful country west of Batshitcrazyland.

But enough about Ingrid, here’s a direct quote about euthanasia from PETA’s own website to set us straight:

“Euthanasia literally means “good death,” and euthanasia is painless, quick, and dignified. Because of the high number of unwanted companion animals and the lack of good homes, the most humane thing that a shelter worker can do is give an animal a peaceful release from a world in which dogs and cats are often considered surplus.”

Super helpful, thanks PETA! I knew you guys would clear this up for us.

So by now, I think we’ve begun to gather the basics. Euthanasia gives Animal Rights activists a hard-on.

And you know what? Coming from a vet tech who has had to assist with countless euthanasias, for an old and/or extremely sick animal who is suffering, euthanasia is a very fair choice; a peaceful way to go. But these aren’t old, sick pets without a quality of life that PETA is killing. PETA is actually taking perfectly healthy pets and killing them, and in some cases, they’re straight up stealing beloved pets from their forever homes, like in the case of Maya. Family pets mysteriously vanish every year, never to be found again- who’s to say that they weren’t taken by PETA without a survalliance camera to catch them in the act!

This still doesn’t explain why they do it. Why would they go out of their way to kill animals who already have homes? Or healthy puppies with the ability to quickly get adopted?

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These pups looks to be no older than 4 months. Found in a dumpster outside PETA headquarters.

They do it because they believe that this is what these animals want. Yep. They are that crazy. They believe that animals would rather die than live alongside humans.

Psht, yeah- tell that to Brynn, my dog who is literally trying to lay across my laptop right now to be as close to me as possible. Or explain it to Oliver, my corgi who we threw a birthday party for today because he just turned 7. He got to devour a cheeseburger while we sang to him. But yeah he’s totally miserable and would rather die. Totally.

Friggin’ walnuts.

This is the thought process of ALL Animal Rights, or AR groups (Humane Society of the United States is another huge offender.)

Now getting back to the point, AR activists say that animals want to be euthanized, because did you know that AR activists can read animal minds? This must be why they also know that all zoo animals are depressed, feel imprisoned, and want to be free and/or want to die. And of course, the wild is just like a Disney movie where animals have friends and families and sing songs and go on adventures, and poachers never come up to them and cut their faces off or stick a spear in their head. Fun fact: did you know that poachers force feed turtles rocks to increase their weight so they’ll be paid more for them? Did you know that a gorilla named Michael who was taught sign language described the horror of watching his mother be killed by poachers? Look it up, it’s true. Pretty sure there’s no twisting that.

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Out in the wild where he belongs – he looks so happy! :l

Like I’ve said in blogs before, of course everyone wants to see animals living in their natural habitats. That is undoubtedly the best case scenario, but guess what? Humans are destroying those places. Humans are finding and killing in the most obscene and horrific ways possible every last wild animal, and if the AR groups have it their way, all wild animals will go extinct, which is actually what they think is better than animals being cared for by people. God forbid we help them not go extinct.

AR groups are guilty of anthropomorphizing animals, giving them human thoughts and emotions to control the masses, when these people have no real knowledge of animal behavior. There is no way of knowing that these animals aren’t “sad” or “depressed”… or wait, is there? According to people who actually study animal behavior and biology, if an animal is eating, breeding, and expending energy, they’re feeling comfortable and healthy, and that’s what animals at zoos are doing despite the claims that they’re just so sad.

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Wow, this frolicking baby rhino and his mama look absolutely miserable as they live together in safety with an endless supply of food, ample space, and the best veterinary care possible for the rest of their days, never having to face the horrors of poaching.

What’s that? It’s time for another precious quote from our girl, Ingrid? Woo!

“The bottom line is that people don’t have the right to manipulate or to breed dogs and cats… If people want toys, they should buy inanimate objects. If they want companionship, they should seek it with their own kind.”

Not convincing enough? Say no more,

“Pet ownership is an absolutely abysmal situation brought about by human manipulation.”

And another, because I know you just love ‘em!

“You don’t have to own squirrels and starlings to get enjoyment from them … One day, we would like an end to pet shops and the breeding of animals. Dogs would pursue their natural lives in the wild … they would have full lives, not wasting at home for someone to come home in the evening and pet them and then sit there and watch TV.”

ONE MORE SONG, ONE MORE SONG!

“In the end, I think it would be lovely if we stopped the whole notion of pets altogether.”

Okay, so this lady clearly sucks. She doesn’t think animals should be pets or interact with humans at all, plain and simple. But wait, what’s this, hiding behind your ear? *does a cheesy magic trick* Oh! You guessed it! It’s another Ingrid Newkirk quote!

“I love walking someone else’s dog. I don’t have the luxury of having a dog myself because I travel too much, but I love walking and cuddling somebody else’s dog. I just came back from the shelter today and they let me walk three dogs at lunchtime. It was great.” -Literally Ingrid Newkirk

YO FOR REAL I am not making this shit up. This woman has advocated against pet ownership her entire life, and yet she likes walking someone else’s pet dog on a leash because she doesn’t have the luxury of having a dog herself?? So now dog ownership is a luxury? Ex-fucking-cuse me?!

This is your leader, AR groups. And here’s one for the road, just in case you weren’t 100% convinced that this woman is a grade A psychopath:

“When I die I want the ‘meat’ of my body to be used for a human barbecue, to remind the world that the meat of a corpse is all flesh, regardless of whether it comes from a human being or another animal and that flesh foods are not needed.”

I’m a vegetarian and even I think that shit is crazy. A human barbecue. Yeah no that’s totally normal. Let’s do it.

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See ya at the BBQ, Ingrid!

People in alarming numbers are listening to this woman and her ideas and following out her master plan of abolishing human and animal interactions all together. Is that really what you want?

Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve seen many of the horrible things that we humans do to animals, be they livestock, wild, or our own companions, and here’s what I think – humans. are. literally. shit.

Humans are AWFUL to animals. We torture and kill them in factory farms, all while obliterating rainforests to clear land for more livestock that produce so much pollution it’s poisoning the earth. We build condos and malls on their habitats and then kill them when we find them digging through our trash because we left them with no where else to go. We go into the ocean, a place we clearly don’t even belong, and then when one of us is bitten by a shark we take it personally as if a shark should know better and respond by culling the first shark we find to give everyone peace of mind…all with the mindset that while they shouldn’t be allowed to hurt us, we’re allowed to cut their fins off and throw them back into the ocean to die slowly for a bowl of tasteless soup.

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Say it with me now: humans suck!

There was a recent study done that found that an alarming number of people go out of their way to purposely hit turtles and other animals they see in the roads. Humans cut the faces off of elephants and rhinos while their babies watch. They steal sea turtle eggs from right behind the mother as she lays them to market as aphrodisiacs. They slaughter manta rays, the most gentle, most intelligent species of fish on Earth, cut out the gill rakers they use to filter their food and then market them as medicine with the ability to filter cancer from your system (spoiler alert, traditional Chinese medicine is complete bullshit). God forbid they be venomous – have you ever seen a rattlesnake round-up? We torture thousands of them for fun, drawing on the walls in their blood, skinning them alive, all for what they are, and goodness knows that anytime someone comes upon a snake, even if it’s minding its own business, they chop its head off. We squish every spider we see because we don’t want to look at it. We make dogs and roosters fight to the death for money. We make horses race until their bodies break at the age of 3. We buy puppies and bearded dragons for our children and then act surprised when our child loses interest, and we leave them tied to trees when we’re done playing with them.

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It doesn’t get much sicker than this. Children are taught that mutilating innocent creatures is fun at Rattlesnake Roundups. Those hand prints on the wall behind them? Blood. These people are actually monsters.

If I’m being completely honest here, we don’t fucking deserve animals.

We don’t. Because what do they do in return for us? Sure, there are a few good shark and bear and hippopotamus attacks each year. Venomous snakes don’t like getting stepped on, naturally, so they pick a handful of us off for that. But does it equal the amount of them that we kill? It’s foolish to even entertain the idea of them ever getting even with us. Forget the cobras and the crocodiles and the great whites and the box jellyfish, humans are by a long shot the most deadly species of animal on this planet.

So, should we even be allowed to be around animals? When you look at it that way, no. Probably not.

But wait, I don’t do any of those horrible things. And neither do a large majority of the people I know. I love animals. I’d feed my dogs before I fed myself; hell, I’d take a bullet for them. I’ve trudged across sub-zero beaches during high tide at 3am to save sea turtles. I’ve run in front of moving vehicles to save reptiles from cars. In my line of work I’ve assisted in saving countless dogs and cats, and I gave a forever home to two mangy, sickly little rescue kittens. Do I deserve animals? Not necessarily. But I love them, and I need them, and so I’m picking up the slack for my species, and I know so many other people who are doing the same and more.

Animals make us better. The human race may not deserve animals, but they need animals. We all do.

We need them to remind us how small we are when we’re in the middle of the ocean on a whale watch and get to see an adult humpback breech 12 times in a row. We need them to remind us that this world is a beautiful place when we see a red tail hawk soar across a pink and orange sunset. We need them to fill us with wonder as we pull over on the side of the road to observe a herd of deer. We need them to be there for us, waiting by the door with a wagging tail, to show us the meaning of unconditional love. We need them, because each time we interact with them, we become better. We become reminded of the simplicity of nature and the innocence of every other species aside from our own. We’re inspired to be better because they are.

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Animals are proven by science to be therapeutic to humans; they can literally heal us. They can be taught to lead and care for the handicapped, serve and protect our communities, carry us for miles on their backs, help us hunt and farm and guard our homes and families with their lives. When we are allowed to witness this, to form a bond or a partnership with an animal, we are made better by it every single time. And I’m not sure if you’ve noticed lately, but the human race needs to get better. We desperately need it.

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Partners, best friends.

And so we desperately need animals. The further we are separated from them by AR groups, the less we will care about them, and so maybe it doesn’t seem like it, but they need us, too. The last thing that animals need is more humans that don’t care about them. There are so many humans out there doing good things for animals. I recently watched some amazing videos from a rescue group that worked for hours to pull 9 puppies out of a narrow 12 foot cave, bringing them to safety and finding them all loving homes. Then they caught a fearful dog with raging sarcoptic mange and put time and love into her and transformed her into a different animal who also found a loving home. My cats, Calvin and Amy, were found dying on the streets, caught and cared for and saved – if humans hadn’t found them, they wouldn’t get to cuddle with us every night, because they’d be dead.

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These brave men risk their lives every day against poachers with rocket launchers and helicopters to protect the critically endangered rhinos.

Every day people risk and sometimes even lose their lives to stand up to poachers. I’ve seen people pull all-nighters to stay up and save turtles. I’ve met biologists who would rather live paycheck to paycheck and save animals than work a steady, good paying job as a professor. Species like the bald eagle, Burmese star tortoise, peregrine falcon, crested gecko, and California condor would be extinct today if it weren’t for humans. I work for some amazing organizations that are volunteering their time, money and minds to save species, with nothing but the gratification of helping animals in return. I have countless friends, they aren’t scientists or anything, just regular folks, that are breeding endangered species inside their homes with nothing but their own passion fueling them. I volunteer with a huge community of incredible people who volunteer hours of their time just to educate the public about animals. There are so many amazing people fighting for animals and so many animals that wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for people.

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Conservation efforts in the 1970s-1980s saved America’s symbol, the bald eagle, from extinction. In 2006 they were taken off the endangered species list. Today they are classified as a species of least concern.

But if the AR groups separate us; make it so we cannot live with or see animals anymore, we’ll forget how they made us better. We’ll forget it’s like to watch a rainbow of tropical fish swim by in an aquarium and how it inspires us to want to save the ocean. Children in countries other than Africa will grow up without having ever seen an elephant; they won’t care that they’re going extinct. We’ll grow fearful again of snakes once we forget that we once had them as pets, and we’ll kill every single one we see, forgetting how absolutely beautiful they are.

We’ll forget the feeling of a purring cat on our lap and the love of a good dog – and that is something that I am certain would doom the human species.

We can coexist, and we must coexist. We all are and will always be interconnected. Don’t let AR groups take that away from us.

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For more information about the truth about the Animal Rights movement, please visit:

https://www.humanewatch.org

http://usark.org

https://petakillsanimals.com

And read The Invisible Ark: In Defense of Captivity, by Dave and Tracey Barker.

The Observation of Extinction: Watching Species Disappear and How We Should Feel About it.

This blog post could be monumental. Maybe it’ll end up being that way, maybe not. My aim right now is to keep it somewhat short and sweet, because there isn’t a whole lot of dancing around this. There’s a way it is, and a way it should feel.

The way it is: I’ve said this a lot. We’re in the middle of Earth’s 6th mass extinction event, and species are disappearing at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate of extinction, and guess what? It’s all your fault. Yours and mine and everyone we know. All of us.

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How should we feel about this? In my opinion, it should keep us up at night. We are literally an astroid, colliding with the planet and all other organisms we share it with. We are destroying everything, and it isn’t a side-effect of living on Earth. We could easily coexist. Our rainforests are being destroyed, our oceans are being polluted and fished away, and species are being trafficked and traded for nothing more than money and greed. It’s all about us taking more than we need. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Most people don’t realize that multiple seemingly insignificant species go extinct every single day. Yes, so while you’re at work, taking your kids to soccer practice, fighting with your mother-in-law, doing your homework or getting drunk at the bar, a species goes extinct. Like, dinosaur/dodo bird EXTINCT. Extinction is kind of a big deal. Most people remember Lonesome George, the Pinta Island Tortoise. The media gave this sad example of the last of his kind plenty of exposure, and we all mourned not only the loss of George himself, but also of an entire subspecies when he passed away in 2012.

 

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Lonesome George, the very last Pinta Island giant tortoise. The subspecies is now extinct.

I’d like to tell the story of another endangered species making the news more recently; Rafetus swinhoei, the Yangtze giant softshell turtle. This is a beautiful turtle – at least in my opinion. No one can deny that they are truly unlike any other turtle. Unlike the Pinta Island tortoise (Lonesome George), R. swinhoei is an entire, major species. It would be an absolute tragedy to lose them. Unfortunately, we are in the midst of just that. There are only three of these giants left in the world, and rigorous efforts to breed them are so far proving completely unsuccessful. Womp womp x 1000.

The Yangtze giant softshell, (Let’s call them Rafetus, their scientific name that is surprisingly easier to type) is the largest freshwater species of turtle in the world…they’re pretty significant, to say the least. But even if they weren’t a record holder among turtles, there are countless reasons to save them; they’re a living creature and all life deserves to exist (yes, even spider and snakes), they’re an important part of their ecosystem, they’re a seriously ancient animal that has been on this earth far longer than us, and we honestly owe it to them, because we are the reason they are on the verge of joining the leagues of the dinosaurs.

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The Yangtze giant softshell turtle – one of only 3 left in the world. There’s no other turtle quite like them!

So, how did we get here? Well, when I say that we did this, I’m not talking about all of us. Yeah, we’re all collectively contributing to the decline of the world’s biomass, but the Rafetus in particular was overharvested for food and use in traditional Chinese medicine (a true plague), as well as extreme habitat degradation – to make way for, you guessed it, humans. Turtles are one of the most at risk groups of animals in the world – this is because they are so sought after by the food, medicine and pet trade but also because the animals themselves cannot handle the pressures from these threats. Turtles/tortoises are slow to grow and reproduce, and they simply cannot make up for being collected or wiped out in high numbers. That is why over half of the 300~ species of turtles and tortoises worldwide are threatened by extinction, and that’s why seemingly overnight we were left with only 3 Yangtze giant softshell turtles. This species made headlines in January of 2016 when a large male known and worshipped by the local people as Cu Rua (“great grandfather turtle”) who inhabited Hoan Kiem Lake was found dead. He was only the latest Rafetus to die, with other adult specimens in zoos dropping like flies over the last decade or so. Cu Rua was loved by all, but the Hoan Kiem Lake was horribly polluted, which lead to the large turtle having many health problems over the years. Still, it was a complete shock that devastated the people of that city that loved him. Just as devastating are the efforts to save this species, although I certainly have to hand it to the folks behind this incredible task. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Gerarld Kuchling, the head veterinarian working on the Turtle Survival Alliance’s efforts to save this species, just last month. He has been working tirelessly to breed the two specimens kept in zoos in China. In 2009, the TSA finally got permission from the zoos holding the last male and female specimen to transport the female to mate with the male. They attempted to mate the pair each season for three seasons, all of which proved unsuccessful. This lead Dr. Kuchling and his team to investigate the reproduction systems of the animals, and under closer examination they found out that the male’s reproductive organs were completely dysfunctional. Over the last few years, the attempted fertility treatments have been extensive and completely revolutionary. Dr. Kuchling has had to get very creative and innovative, but so far, they’ve all ended in large clutches of infertile eggs.

When I saw Dr. Kuchling’s talk at the Turtle Survival Alliance Conference in August of 2016, I was absolutely enthralled. I wanted to meet him, but of course, I was terrified and completely starstruck, (I fangirl over scientists, what can I say!). I did end up building up the guts (or it might have been the free beer at the hospitality suite) to strike a compelling and humbling conversation with the world’s most important turtle breeder. He takes his work very seriously; he doesn’t want to see this turtle go extinct, and yet, he knows we are watching it happen. He basically said that above all else, we need a time machine, because the best opportunities for the species’ survival are in the past, and unfortunately they just weren’t taken when they should have been. Both of the turtles in human care are very old, and the one other male in the wild is hard enough to access. There is very little wiggle room at this point, and although all efforts are being made, it would be a miracle to have a shot at saving them. I asked him why he did it (even though I already knew; I could already tell we were very similar in our passion) and his answer didn’t surprise me. He said it was important for him to know that if the species did go extinct that he did everything he could to save them. It was sobering (maybe even literally) to hear it from him, but it made me think about the role of the Rafetus in conservation today, and what this utter failure of humanity might be able to teach us.

The Rafetus is just one example. Another less hopeful example is the Rabb’s Fringe-Limbed Tree frog. There is only one of these frogs, and he lives in Atlanta. Fun fact: I actually work right across the street from him. He lives in a very special “frog pod” – a climate controlled outdoor trailer full of the world’s most endangered species of frogs at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Like I said, he’s the last one. The media has dubbed him “the loneliest frog in the world” and his name is Toughie, a survivor among an entire species wiped out by the amphibian chytrid fungus. I could keep on naming example after example. Rhinos, elephants, pangolins, vaquita dolphins, Indian gharials, oranutangs, tigers…this list just goes on and on. How many times do we have to be reminded before we wake up and start feeling guilty?

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A beautiful portrait by NatGeo’s the PhotoArk of the very last Rabb’s Fringe Limbed tree frog. There’s no hope for this species, and sadly we will see them go extinct in our lifetime.

Well, as a conservationist and a biologist at heart, sometimes I want to get mad and I want everyone to feel guilty. I want to be extremely mad at people for not believing in climate change when our climate is changing right before our very eyes, bleaching coral reefs and changing the sex ratios of temperature-dependent turtles. I want to get angry about the fact that we all know that the Amazon rainforest is being slashed and burned for so many products we use every day, and yet we still use them. Eating meat is one of the biggest causes of deforestation and carbon emissions, and yet the majority of humans refuses to accept this and lay off the Big Macs. We’ve all heard about palm oil and how it’s literally extinction in motion for orangoutangs, and yet we refuse to give up the products we’ve grown accustomed to that use it. I want to get mad about Lonesome Georgie, Toughie and the Rafetus and stomp my feet and ask WHY? Why didn’t we do something sooner?! There are a million reasons for me to hate the entire human race.

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The Amazon Rainforest is often referred to as the “lungs of the planet”, because it provides the Earth with 25% of the oxygen we breath. This is no way to take care of our lungs.

But…I’ve been in the field of conservation just long enough to realize that although humans are pretty terrible, they can also be pretty amazing.  My friend and fellow conservationist Jason Miller once said to me, “We are the problem, but we are also the solution”, and I thought that summed it up so perfectly. Although humans are the root of this horrible epedemic, humans are also the only species on the planet with the brain power necessary to be innovative, to educate one another about these issues and to come up with ways to make the world better. If you look around, things look pretty bleak, but I still find so many reasons to be hopeful. Here we are in 2016, and we’ve done some pretty amazing things. A few decades ago, conservationists and educators had to write books and give in-person lectures. It wasn’t as easy to educate the masses as it is today – the proof is right here in this blog you’re reading. It’s on my Instagram account, where I can reach over 25,000 people every day and educate them about wildlife conservation. If you look around at all of the amazing technology being developed for conservation, you’ll feel that hope, too. I’ve met so many amazing people, like Dr. Kuchling, who are fighting alongside me for wildlife. If you’re reading this, YOU are reason for hope. The fact is that more people than ever before are informed and concerned about wildlife, and that means something – something big!

Consider all the species we almost saw disappear – the burmese star tortoise, for example, is fundamentally extinct in the wild, and yet I have one in my sun room as we speak, chomping away on collard greens (her name is Karma and she’s beautiful.) Thanks to the captive breeding of experts around the world, assurance colonies have been established, and one day we hope to release the species back to the wild. Species like the bald eagle, the golden tamarin, the whooping crane, and everyone’s favorite conservation poster child, the giant panda, were once on the fast track towards extinction. They’d be nothing but a picture in a book today without the help of…[plot twist] humans! Us. So, we do have that going for us.

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Humans can be pretty horrible; it’s true. You know this. Surely by now you’ve been screwed over by a friend, rejected by a crush, had your iPod stolen or been jumped on the subway after midnight. We’ve all suffered at the hands of humans. And yet we still seek human companionship; we still idolize successful humans, celebrate human accomplishments and most of us still care and emphasize when our fellow humans are suffering. We’ve all got someone, or even a handful of someones, who we wouldn’t be able to function without. Each of us are the ultimate symbol of our race – we’ve got the potential to do the right things or the wrong things in our lives.

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People ask me how I do it. How do I watch these species go extinct? How do I work so hard conserving things that no one cares about in the end? I won’t tell you for a second that wildlife conservation in the middle of the 6th mass extinction is easy. It’s the hardest thing someone like me could have chosen to do. I am in a constant state of turmoil and depression, and yet I always find a reason to push on. We all do. I’ve felt my worst in this line of work, but conservation has also given me the most profoundly inspiring moments of my life, and this work continues to surprise and amaze me.

My last words to you on extinction are these: it’s happening. Every single day it’s happening. And it sucks. Extinction is forever. Do not ignore it. Be aware of it; of all the evil in this world. Of the poaching and the burning and the killing. But do not let it drown out all of the amazing things. Seek the success stories. Talk to other conservationists about their successes. Watch your fellow humans create change for animals every single day and figure out ways you can join them, because I promise, it’s happening. Hope starts with you. We should all be feeling hopeful every day.

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New England Aquarium staff preparing to release the world’s most endangered species of sea turtle, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, back into the ocean after saving their lives from the harsh winter strandings.

Case In Point: Jasper & the Sea Turtle Birthday Wish

I first met Jasper many, many months ago, long before the snow had melted on the sidewalks of Boston. I was introduced to him by another educator at the New England Aquarium, who demanded the two of us meet. After all, we were both sea turtle fanatics. Jasper and I have a LOT in common. For starters, we both love sea turtles. Not only do we both love sea turtles – we have the same favorite sea turtle: the leatherback sea turtle! We’re both passionate about sea turtle conservation, we’ve both gotten special tours of the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital and we’ve both done all we can to help sea turtles.

The only big difference between Jasper and I is that I am 23 and he is 6.

Jasper told me about his plans to ask for donations to help sea turtles instead of birthday presents months before his birthday. Needless to say, I was moved and intrigued by Jasper’s understanding of what really mattered at such a young age. I had not met many children who would rather help animals than unwrap the latest toys and gadgets. Not to “toot my own horn”, but I was one of them. (For my 7th birthday the only gift I would accept was the virtual adoption/sponsership of a basking shark that costed over 100$. For my contribution, I recieved a certificate and a photo of the basking shark I “adopted” and it was the best present I ever got. There were many more like this, too.)

Since the day I first met Jasper, I saw him, his little brother and his mom at the aquarium often. They were members, so they came to visit the sea turtles and other marine creatures as much as they could. Every time I saw Jasper he’d have some new way to make me smile and give me hope for the future, and each time we met up we’d talk about his birthday plans. We even made a video together of us chatting about sea turtles!

 

Shortly after that, I moved to Georgia. A month after the move, though, I recieved word that Jasper’s birthday wish had come true. He had managed to raise around $550 to donate to the sea turtle rescue program at the New Engand Aquarium. Not only did all of my collegues send me the news, Jasper’s story was being covered on not only local news, but national, and even international news! It moved me to tears to see that Jasper’s selflessness and passion for sea turtle conservation had reached so many.

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I have no doubt in my mind that Jasper’s love for sea turtles and other animals will remain with him throughout his entire life. I’m certain that he will continue to make myself and other conservationists proud, and it is children like Jasper that truly give me hope in a world where hope is hard to come by. I know that its in good hands with people like Jasper. I only wish that these children were not so rare. It seems as though a large majority of the young people I interact with daily are glued to cell phones, tablets, and other gadets. They’re preocupied with modern luxeries that keep them indoors and most of them show very little interest or curiosity in the natural wonders that surround them. Jasper is an example of a child that truly wishes to invest in his own future, and I wish more kids spent time looking into nature and finding inspiration like this through animals and other worthwhile interests. 2016_EarthDay_jasper-feed

My hope has always been to show people everywhere that you don’t have to be a scientist, conservationist, aquarium/zoo, college-grad, or even a grown-up to make a difference in the world. ANYONE can decide to stand up for the animals they love and do something to make the world better for them, even a 6-year-old boy. Furthermore, $550 isn’t a whole lot of money. It doesn’t hold a candle to the funding recieved through grants or private donors, but it does help. It helps because every little bit helps, but more importantly than anything else, it helps because it has shown so many people the power of passion and what it means to put yourself aside to instead contribute to something even bigger than yourself. If a 6-year-old from a small town in Massachusetts can do it, can’t we all?

Check out Jasper’s website, complete with an original story he wrote about sea turtle conservation here: http://www.jasperjrose.com

And here’s some great news articles about Jasper’s selfless birthday wish:

http://news.neaq.org/2016/04/6-year-old-makes-earth-day-donation-to.html

Watertown Boy Asks For Donations To Sea Turtles Instead Of Birthday Gifts

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/04/22/year-old-watertown-boy-donates-birthday-money-sea-turtles/Wa6Waux6kimSczLBgWMd8K/story.html

http://www.bostonherald.com/news/local_coverage/2016/04/watertown_boy_skips_birthday_gifts_gives_to_sea_turtles

http://morrisbroadband.net/news/read/category/AP%20Top%20News%20-%20US%20Headlines/article/the_associated_press-massachusetts_boy_skips_birthday_gifts_gives_to_se-ap

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What Would 7-year-old-me Do?: Why My Best Life Decisions were Made by a Kindergartener

I was a wild and undomesticated child. My long, curly hair flowed down my back in knotted tendrils, my face was often smudged with mud like war paint, and it was nearly impossible to get me to wear shoes. There are a few things I’ve really always been. I’ve always been barefoot whenever possible, I’ve always been in the woods whenever possible, and I’ve always been obsessed with animals…nonhuman animals, that is. I’ve been obsessed with nonhumans ever since I realized I wasn’t one. How incredible it is that there are so many other souls on Earth so different from us! I was unabashedly “that weird animal girl” in school, and as a result, most of my social interactions were through my interspecies friendships. I never really had a lot of human friends.

I was lucky enough to have a swamp across the street from my house, and to live in a neighborhood where it was okay to play outside without having to be supervised. I’d spend my springs and summers exploring, picking thorns out of my knees and watching tadpoles grow into frogs. The wooded wetlands around me was like my own paradise – a world where I could go and forget about how much I was bullied every day at school. The more time I spent there, the more friends I made, and it wasn’t long before I met one of the most important friends I’d ever find…or maybe they found me.

Being barefoot most of the time, I could always feel the earth under my toes and nothing crept past me. When I first felt the little garter snake scurry across my foot, I scooped her right up like lightning and brought her to my eyes. The minute I realized she wasn’t a caterpillar, I was taken. That moment really ignited a fire in me that hasn’t stopped burning since. I’ve always loved reptiles, and I’ll never get tired of herping or seeing them at zoos or caring for them or breeding them or talking about them.

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Another moment from my childhood that specifically jumps out at me is my very first trip out to the middle of the North Atlantic ocean on a deep sea fishing excursion with my dad. As a young, animal-obsessed girl I was excited, but had no idea what to expect. Out there in the foggy, endless sea of grey we saw whales in the distance and pulled up many small, spiny dogfish sharks that wiggled and thrashed on the lines of the fishermen I rode with. I was amazed with seeing these ocean species for the first time, but nothing could have prepared me for the awakening that was to come.

The captain of the ship rarely used the loud-speaker, so when his voice came over us my ears perked right up. As he began to speak, everything around me blurred as my eyes focused on a figure swimming slowly off the bow. I peered over the edge of the ship at the enormous silhouette in the water…the thick, triangular fin cutting lazily through the surface. It was a shark; an enormous shark, at least 20ft long and right below me. The captain’s voice came back into focus as I leaned in further over the edge of the ship towards the haunting figure that should’ve terrified me. All I wanted was to get closer…something inside me was instantly drawn to the leviathan.

“A basking shark…the 2nd largest shark in the world.” the captain’s voice echoed. My eyes widened as I noticed the basking shark’s wide open mouth and flared gills. “they’re gentle giants…filter feeders. Right now, it’s skimming the water for plankton to eat.”

My heart might as well have leapt out of my chest and onto the back of the basking shark below me. I was in love with everything I was seeing and learning. The massive, powerful animal below me was a “gentle giant”, and I started to realize how absolutely wonderful I thought he was as his round nose jutted out of the water when he adjusted his feeding technique. We stayed with the shark for a long time. Folks started losing interest and going back to their fishing poles until I was the very last one still watching. When the time finally came to leave the peaceful filter feeder to his meal I found myself devastated that the moment was ending and watched the beautiful dorsal fin behind us until it disappeared into the fog.

This moment would ultimately lead me to try my best to create a “Basking Shark Club” at school (it wasn’t a hit), and my first blog/website on shark conservation and shark finning (another flop). In the 6th grade we were instructed to pick one animal and do an extensive project on them, and while my peers chose charismatic animals like horses, dolphins, elephants, and koalas, I was thrilled at the opportunity to introduce the 6th grade to Cetorhinus maximus, the basking shark. I was made fun of to tears for my unconventional choice and at the time I felt hopeless and alone. I felt equally as defeated whenever my peers laughed at my love of snakes and other reptiles, but despite the fact that my obsession with animals made me uncool, I didn’t let their cruelty change me or take my passion away. Those experiences ultimately went on to make me the wildlife warrior I am now, determined to find a way to share these amazing animals’ stories with the public and get them excited about them.

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Childhood-me is an important and ever-present part of who I am today. She is a little flame that flickers in my brain every single day, and whereas many people blow the candle out completely when they become adults, mine will never die. I think that’s possibly one of the most important factors in fulfilling your purpose.

 

What we want to grow up to be as a child is important…it’s an innocent, limitless dream that we connect with, and my dream today remains the same as the one I’ve always had since childhood.

So many people lose sight of themselves, and it starts the minute we decide we’ve “grown up”. I think we greatly underestimate the power of our childhood self. There are things that everyone is born with – an innate personality that we start off with, but which is molded and changed by our experiences. As a child, the world is an endless place full of hope just waiting to be explored.

As children, we never admit we know everything – in fact, we’re quite aware we know very little, and so we’re proud of the things we do know but we’re wildly seeking all the answers to the things we don’t. Usually children fixate on something early on as if it was born waiting in their brains and I believe that many of us know our purpose very early on in life. It’s just very rare that we hold onto it.

I’m an extremely driven and motivated person, and although my list of goals stays lengthy, my central mission has always been to accomplish my childhood dreams- to remain myself. To become the women that my childhood-self imagined she’d become.

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I’ve always been an observant person. Ever since I was a child I’ve watched people’s behavior and listened to people’s words. When adults used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, they’d remind me that I could be anything I wanted to be. Then I’d ask them – “Are you who you wanted to be?” I made many adults stop talking and think. Even though they’d tell me yes, I knew the answer was no. No, my dad never dreamed of becoming a quality control supervisor for a blood gas machine company. No, my mother never dreamed of becoming a nurse’s assistant. My teachers often showed their hidden passions – my math teacher who loved baseball had probably dreamt of playing in the major leagues. My english teacher was always talking about how she loved to write stories – I’ll bet she’d pictured herself as a published author. Very early on I realized that although I was often told I could be whatever I wanted to be when I grew up, I hadn’t actually met anyone who’d taken life up on that offer. I quickly learned that most adults had jobs, and most of them disliked their jobs. As I got older I started noticing more people getting divorced. More people talking about all of their regrets. How they regretted that they never did this, or that. How if they could do it all again they’d do it differently. It reassured me that there was no way I could live like that.

And so that gives you an idea as to why I work as hard as I do to live the life I feel I am meant to live. I am not a religious person, but I believe in the power of our Earth to point us in the direction we need to go. To sum it up and put it in the words of one of my great influences, this is exactly how I feel:

“My job, my mission, the reason I’ve been put onto this planet, is to save wildlife. And I thank you for comin’ with me. Yeah, let’s get ’em!” ― Steve Irwin

We do a good job of fostering children’s interests and dreams, but I think it’s important to show them how possible those dreams really are. While working at the aquarium, I’d talk to children every day who told me they wanted to one day become a marine biologist, and I would always tell them the same thing. “Why not start now? You don’t have to wait until you grow up to become a marine biologist. Learn as much as you can every day about the ocean and pay attention in science and math class. It’s hard work, and not everyone can do it…but if anyone can, it’s you!”

Another one of my favorite conversations to have with children at the aquarium was asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up. Not all of them wanted to be marine biologists, either. Some would say they wanted to be a doctor, a baseball player, a firefighter. After they told me, I would say “Want to know what I wanted to do when I grew up? I wanted to work at the aquarium…” They’d always take a second to look at my shirt and name tag and smile when they realized they had met someone who had actually gone out and done what they wanted to do. It’s a great feeling, being able to tell a child that it truly is possible to grow up to become what you want to become. It’s important that we remind children how incredibly beautiful and realistic their dreams are.

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It was important to constantly remind myself that I was, not too long ago, those children watching the shark presentation in wide-eyed wonder, hoping to one day be in the spot I stood in.

Give a little bit of credit to who you were as a child; they’re still in there somewhere. Look at those pictures, go back to a time where your dreams had no limits. If you could go back in time and visit with your childhood self, would they be proud of you? Can you explain to them why you gave up on that dream, or what changed in us along the way? I often have these types of hypothetical conversations with myself. I remember all the times that I was bullied for being weird and strange, and I remember the moments where I wiped my tears and told myself that one day I’d prove them all wrong; I’d show them all.

I think about the years I spent riding horses but never owning them. I was from a poor family and I chose a hobby that my parents unfortunately couldn’t afford. They did their best. They drove me to the barn where I worked, as a 10 year old girl, hours and hours of mucking stalls and sweeping aisles, for one lesson a week. As a young child it was excruciating to be amongst the kids who owned horses in the shows that I’d go to just to watch other kids living my dreams. I worked hard all through middle and high school and I got good enough at riding that I was training other people’s horses, riding other people’s horses in shows, and falling in love and developing relationships with…other people’s horses. I never let myself forget how that felt, because I knew then and I know now that only I have the power to change that circumstance. Someday, perhaps I will own that horse I’ve always wanted.

I could have decided to let myself be a victim of circumstance. Poor people can’t afford to send their daughter off to college to study animals. I had to get scholarships to go to school, volunteer and work my ass off on the side, and do whatever it took to compete with the fancy degrees, study-abroad programs and expensive experiences of my peers competing for the same jobs as me. When all you have is yourself, you have to be the best, and it is undoubtedly my childhood self who has always been the best, most confident part of me.

I’m a 23-year-old adult now. When I’m paying bills, socializing with other adults, driving a car, grocery shopping, organizing the closet and doing most of the things I do on a daily basis, little-Amanda isn’t there with me. Regardless of how little I may think I need her though, I have found it most helpful to let her take the wheel from time to time.

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Patreon!

Hey everyone! Firstly, I want to thank all of you who read and supported my ideas from my last blog post, Thanks A Lot, Zoos. No Really…Thank You. It gives me hope that there are so many forward thinking wildlife warriors out there. Thank you for joining my team!

A friend of mine suggested I take my mission to Patreon, which I’d never heard of until just a few days ago. It’s a great site that helps support creators – artists, musicians, and educators, who use the internet as a medium to reach out to people with their content. I very recently moved and left my wonderful jobs back in Boston and am between paying jobs right now – I do work now as the social media coordinator for theTurtleRoom, and as a chapter leader for the Georgia Reptile Society, but both are on a volunteer basis, and so I’m hoping to continue creating content and am also beginning to make animal-related YouTube videos!

I just wanted to post a quick blurb about my newest form of outreach through Patreon here in hopes that I can continue to work hard on building a team of wildlife warriors to combat all of the icky stuff going on in the world! Here’s the link! Thanks so much for hearing me out! I’ll be back with another legitimate blog post very soon!

 

 

 

Thanks A Lot, Zoos. No Really…Thank You.

One of this week’s biggest news stories regarding animals is the report of the deteriorating health of Tilikum, an orca housed at Sea World Orlando who was, most notably, the subject of the controversial 2013 psuedo-documentary Blackfish. While browsing the comments on articles covering the story, I was deeply disturbed by the amount of people who were expressing their hatred of all zoos and aquariums. To begin by setting the stage, we’re not going to talk specifically about Sea World or the captivity of certain cetaceans, we’re going to talk about why this way of thinking is not in the best interest of animals like you may think, and why you should be thanking and supporting all AZA zoos and aquariums and why they are, in many cases, the greatest conservation tool we have.

I love animals. I love them more than I love anything else on this Earth. I care more about helping them than I do about my own health, social life, and personal needs. I have on many occasions dedicated my only days off to going out and volunteering hours in the field doing research on animals or educating the public at events about animals. I’ve woken up at 3am, drove 3 hours and spent entire freezing mornings in the middle of winter saving sea turtles on beaches. I’ve spent long, hot days baking on a small boat out in the middle of the endless ocean conducting vital research on whales that we hoped would even show up.

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Walking the beach after the sun rose – many times I made the trip and didn’t find any turtles, but the times that I did find them made it all worth it. Out here, every turtle counts.

I’ve also spent the last almost 2 years working at an aquarium – and I consider this the greatest service I have ever given in my life for animals and the entire planet. It is my life’s greatest work yet.

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Giving a talk about sea turtle conservation to hundreds of visitors; something that I did daily.

People often ask me; if I love animals, how could I work at a place that imprisons and tortures them? How could I support an industry that uses live animals purely for entertainment?

I do neither of those things, because zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) does none of that.

Animals living at these zoos and aquariums are not imprisoned. AZA is strict about which animals are kept and how; if an animal isn’t deemed a good candidate for captivity, they aren’t kept in captivity. The animals that are, are given all that they need and more to thrive. The animals I worked with were cared for impeccably. They received the best healthcare possible and caregivers are expected to go above and beyond to provide the best quality of life for each and every animal.

Animals at zoos and aquariums are not there for entertainment. They’re there to serve as ambassadors for their entire species, they’re there for education and they’re there to live a safe life, because I hate to be the one to break this to you – but in this day in age, in the world we currently live in, in many cases an animal is safer in human care than it is in its own natural habitat. It’s sad, and to be honest I wish we didn’t need zoos and aquariums, because like any animal lover, I prefer to see animals in their natural habitats. But the sad truth is that we need them now more than ever.

The public visits zoos and aquariums for their own entertainment, but what they get is much more. They are able to see animals they might not get to see otherwise and connect with them on a deeper level. Anyone can watch a sea turtle on TV but to see one swim powerfully past you is a very different experience. People fall in love with these animals and want to learn more about their lives, and that’s when zoos and aquariums are given the opportunity to tell their stories and speak about conservation.

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These places can truly make the visitor feel as though they’ve been whisked away to the wild, establishing a deep, intimate connection to nature.

The planet is in the midst of the 6th mass extinction event. Yes, I say this a lot. I’m making sure you haven’t forgotten…it’s kind of a big deal. Saving species needs to be a priority, and it cannot be done by scientists and institutions alone. It must be a global effort and one of the most effective ways to get people to care is to open their minds and connect them to wildlife. I have on countless occasions had conversations with visitors who had no idea about the issues animals were facing in the wild or that they could help them. I’ve had people tell me to my face that their lives were changed by visiting a zoo or aquarium and seeing a certain animal up close. I certainly know that a major factor in my fervent desire to save animals stems from visiting zoos at a young age.

It is frustrating and sad to be faced with scrutiny by people who believe they are environmentalists when all they do is sit behind a computer and sign petitions. These people clearly have an unrealistic view of animals in their natural habitats and the state of them. Many people believe that the wild is a magical place where animals leap into waves, run through fields of flowers into the sunset, play with their friends, and live with their family. This is called anthropomorphism – giving human qualities to nonhumans. It can make us sympathize with animals, yes, but in the end it is often just no good because it separates animals from how they truly behavior and removes science. 

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Sorry guys, but this isn’t reality.

Now, don’t get me wrong – many animals do indeed exhibit complex social behaviors, care for their young and develop relationships with other animals. All of these things, however, are taken into account within accredited institutions. Animals are given companionship, enrichment, and are allowed to care for their young.

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This is reality! A lioness cares for her litter of cubs at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

The most important thing that I want people to know is that the wild isn’t a beautiful, magic place anymore for most animals. Our rainforests are being slashed and burned, animals are being killed for their horns, meat, tusks, and skins, oceans are polluted with trash and plastic, the temperatures are rising and killing off coral reefs, and everything with fins is being fished away to feed the growing hunger and greed of humans worldwide. The 4 whale sharks that currently reside at the Georgia Aquarium? They’d have been made into shark fin soup had GA not purchased them. This is the sad reality that literally all of us hate.

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Of course we’d all rather see a whale shark in the wild – but this animal has ample space, behaves and feeds naturally, AND inspires millions of people each year to do what they can to help whale sharks.
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…And it is a much better alternative to this, which is a frightening reality every day for whale sharks in some countries.

Every single day that I worked at an aquarium with animals like sharks, sea turtles and seals, I felt great about their lives within our walls. They were safe from plastic, fishing, oil spills and we cared for them and met their needs every single day. When there was a brutal snow storm that shut down public transportation and highways citywide, aquarium employees slept under their desks and snowshoed to work. I worked alongside the most passionate, dedicated animal lovers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and I have a plethora of stories to prove it.

I can tell you with 100% certainty that AZA accredited zoos and aquarium are NOT in the business for the money. No one gets rich off a nonprofit aquarium. When you consider how much it costs to feed, house, and care for a large amount of animals every single day, plus the amount of money that is poured into the conservation, education and research departments, zoos and aquariums across the United States would simply cease operation without donations, and a large majority of the work is done by volunteers.

The North Atlantic Right Whale was almost completely hunted to extinction until whaling was finally banned in the U.S, but their population never rebounded. They are susceptible to boat strikes and entanglement in fishing gear, and the aquarium I worked for has an entire department dedicated to the research and conservation of this species. When they began working with them there were less than 200 North Atlantic Right Whales left. The population now exceeds 500. There are absolutely no North Atlantic Right Whales in captivity. They do not profit off of this endeavor. It isn’t for the people; it’s for the whales.

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New England Aquarium researchers gathering data on a group of North Atlantic right whales.

They spend thousands upon thousands of dollars rescuing and rehabilitating sea turtles; sea turtles that are treated 100% offsite, never to be gawked at by the public. There is absolutely zero profit whatsoever from this endeavor.

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Sea turtles being treated at the offsite sea turtle hospital run by the New England Aquarium

They’ve established and manage one of the worlds largest marine protected areas, conduct vital research on coral, sharks and lobsters, and help reduce deforestation in the Amazon. Recently our head veterinarian traveled to the Philippines to address a trafficking crisis involving an entire species of critically endangered turtles; his expenses were paid in full by the aquarium so he could donate his expertise to help save the species. Again, no profit for the aquarium. All out-of-pocket contributions to the conservation of animals that need our help.

Consider the elephant. Complex animals with the ability to form strong, lifelong family units. They mourn their lost loved ones and care for their young for many years. Elephants should absolutely not be used to preform tricks in circuses, however you must think about their roles in zoos. Many people would not know the power of looking into the gentle eyes of such a large and powerful creature if they’d not seen one at a zoo. These creatures can absolutely live fulfilled lives given the proper enclosure and care requirements, and it sure beats getting their faces chopped off in the wild. Elephants are being poached so heavily that we could truly see them become extinct in our lifetimes. Zoos around the United States are working tirelessly to not only educate the public about captive elephants and breed them in human care, but also to solve the poaching crisis where they are originally from.

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These little ones, born at the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, will never know the terror and suffering of poaching in Africa. They’ll spend their lives safe beside their mama, igniting the hearts of visitors to help aid in the fight against the ivory trade so that their wild relatives can live as safely in their natural homes.
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An estimated 30,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks to supply the ivory trade.

The Guatemalan Beaded Lizard is one of the most endangered lizards in the world- there are only around 150 of them left in the wild. They are critically endangered due to habitat loss and killing by the natives because of myths regarding them and how dangerous they are, even though not a single human has ever been killed by one. Zoo Atlanta not only leads an important breeding project for the lizards, it also works closely with conservation groups in Guatemala conducting vital research on the wild lizards and connecting the native people to these lizards in an attempt to promote conservation through education. As you can imagine, no, they do not profit off of this endeavor.

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When there are only around 150 of them left, every baby counts.

I could continue to tell you incredibly inspiring tales from the conservation departments of zoos and aquariums around the country, but by now I hope you get the idea. Zoos and aquariums have the resources and the passion to do what most cannot, and to make huge differences for animals that truly need it.

Next time you decide to go off on a tangent about how horrible and greedy zoos and aquariums are make sure you do your research. Perhaps there are some places that are doing things for the wrong reasons, but I can tell you from personal experience that those institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums are truly one of the most important forces in conservation the world has.

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Working with the New England Aquarium I’m honored to have had a small part in the rehabilitation of the world’s most endangered sea turtle species, the Kemp’s Ridley.

One of the most important things I learned from working for one of these conservation powerhouses though, is that you don’t need to be a zoo/aquarium/scientist to help animals. All of us can, in our everyday lives, do things to protect them. The first step is making that connection and learning more about them, and one of the best places to do just that is at your local AZA accredited institution.

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The thing(s) about Rattlesnake Island

Timber_Rattlesnake_by_Trisha

Lately everyone in the western Massachusetts area has been up-in-arms about the prospect of a cheesy-B-horror-movie-plot-sounding “Rattlesnake Island”. I’ve been very close to this project and the entire conservation of the timber rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) of New England for a very long time, and wanted to take a moment to weigh in on this issue myself with some actual real science and true information-isms.

Please allow me to make a disclaimer beforehand. This article is not a “biased opinion” from a “snake sympathizer” or “greenie one-percenter” or “liberal tree-hugger” or any of the other ridiculous and untrue names my colleagues and I have earned in our defense of these endangered animals. Like all science, it is simply facts. If you are not a scientist, ecologist, or educated person and have no basis of how these animals actually work (no, Snakes on a Plane does NOT count as reference material) you get an opinion, but you don’t get a say. That’s it.

Without further ado, I’m going to address some of the common themes being discussed by people who have an awful lot to say but no actual idea about what they’re really talking about. So please, sit back, relax & allow yourself to be educated.

1.)“Is Massachusetts crazy?! Why would anyone ever want to purposely release hundreds of poisonous snakes on an island?! This must be a joke.”

First of all, I’m big on accuracy. If we’re going to talk about this, we’re going to talk about it accurately. Like educated adults.

Poisonous isn’t the correct term. They are venomous. If you plan on being taken seriously when speaking out about this issue I want to be the first to correct you on that. Poisonous animals are hazardous to eat. Venomous animals are hazardous to be bitten or stung by. They’re venomous snakes.

Now that we’ve got the correct terminology down, let’s talk about this crazy idea to save a species and preserve our natural heritage. They have been here since well before the Pilgrims settled in Massachusetts, and are a part of our history. They are the symbol of resilience; their image being used on the infamous “Don’t Tread on Me” flag.

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They’re just as important to their ecosystems as other animals like bald eagles and peregrine falcons that we work hard to conserve. They’re an endangered species that, at the end of the day, needs our help. We have the chance to help them, so we’re going to. The state of Massachusetts’ Natural Heritage & Endangered Species program is bound by law and obligated to protect every single endangered species here. Rattlesnakes should never be exempt from protection simply because certain folks are afraid of them. We shouldn’t get to pick and choose which animals live and which ones die, or which are worthy of our protection and which aren’t. That is not how it works. If someone who didn’t like turtles raised an argument against protecting the endangered ones here, there would be confusion among many folks, and the question of protecting them would quickly be dismissed. At the end of the day, the reason that the protection of these animals is being questioned is simply do to a lack of understanding and empathy from the public. Those of us who know these snakes best know that they are no more dangerous to us than many other species of native wildlife, and much less dangerous to us than some unlikely species such as moose and deer.

We have found suitable habitat on the island in the Quabbin Reservoir, Mt. Zion. It is restricted to the public and has been well before this project was proposed, and it is a place that many scientists believe used to be home to rattlesnakes before they were abolished their by early settlers.

It isn’t a joke. It’s an effort to save animals, and as we sit at the midst of the 6th mass extinction event the earth has seen with a natural extinction rate 1,000 times higher than the natural rate (all of this human caused) it is a chance to do something positive for a species after having so many negative impacts on the animals we share our world with every day.

2.) “The snakes are going to run out of food. When they do, they’re going to swim to land and show up in my backyard and bite my children. I’m angry and concerned about something that hasn’t ever happened but I know is inevitable.”

Hi, my name is Amanda. I study animals for a living. If your name is Beth and you’re a nurse, or Freddy the construction worker, or Lisa the accountant…why are you telling me things about animals? I promise I’m never going to try to tell you how to do your job if I have no idea how to do it. Don’t tell us how to do ours, and don’t question what we tell you.

This isn’t going to happen.

First of all, the snakes are going to be introduced gradually – they’re hopeful for maybe 35 of them on the island in 10 years. The island is populated by tons of chipmunks, mice, birds and other prey items for the snakes. A very well-known fact about snakes is that they aren’t veracious eaters. Snakes do not eat every day. Most of them don’t eat every week. They feed maybe a few times a month. In fact, a snake can sometimes go throughout an entire year with only one or two good meals. Not to mention, they will have many predators on the island themselves. They aren’t going to run out of food.

However, even if they did run out of food – here’s a concept for you that is science-y and real. It’s called “site fidelity” and it is a common behavioral trait seen in certain species of animals all over the world. Some animals are programmed and designed to make long migrations, while others are programmed and designed to develop a strong connection to its home and stay there its entire life. Timber rattlesnakes are unique in that, like bears or wolves, they hibernate in special dens. The den they hibernate in is their special den. They don’t just hibernate anywhere – it is the one that belongs to them, much like how we don’t just walk into any old house we pass by at the end of the day as long as it is empty to go to sleep. As a result of this, timber rattlesnakes exhibit high site fidelity. It isn’t negotiable. They do not go on adventures. There aren’t certain snakes who personally enjoy traveling and seeing new and exciting places. When a species is programmed a certain way, they behave accordingly. Ecology isn’t a Disney movie. Animals don’t have big city dreams or personal vendettas. These snakes are going to stay connected to their dens for their entire lives, and will not venture far from them because that is just not how they work.

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Timber rattlesnakes are very connected to their rocky dens. As a result, they really don’t move far from them.

3.) “What good is a rattlesnake, or any venomous reptile, to the world, anyway? Why should we save them?”

Well firstly – snakes are important. They play a very vital role in rodent control and protect crops as well as protecting us all from Lyme disease, (which is horrible btw). So the whole saying “the only good snake is a dead snake” is a joke because the places where snake populations have been significantly reduced have been shown to have suffered greatly.

With that being said, people then will say “Well then let’s leave the nonvenomous snakes and take out all of the venomous ones.” …Yeah, great idea except for the fact that these are still living things that deserve to exist.

“But they’re so dangerous to people!” – Yeah, so are cars, water, cigarettes, alcohol, dogs, toasters, cows, and other people. All of those things are here to stay. More people are killed by other people and certainly by cars than by venomous snakes. FURTHERMORE – venomous snakes provide lifesaving venom to the medical industry. Not just in the use of antivenom – many venoms are used in cancer treatment and heart medication, as well as diabetes and alzheimer’s treatments. It’s amazing properties are still being studied, but the medical world would not be the same without it. It’s a miracle and the animals in which it comes from should be respected, not persecuted.

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All animals should have a right to be protected, because they all have a right to exist. It isn’t up to use to chose what lives and what dies.

Why does the world need a bald eagle? Why does the world need a panda? It doesn’t. But we protect them, because we like them and want them to exist. At the end of the day, animals should not have to do something for us and we shouldn’t get to chose which ones get to live and which ones die. We should help all creatures in need, because at the end of the day…what good are humans to the world? We’ve caused a mass extinction event…but this can be our chance to be good to the world.

4.) “I don’t support this and do not want my tax dollars going towards helping snakes”

The program is being funded by private grants and the Roger Williams Park Zoo. End of story.

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The RWPZ is the leading institution in the conservation of the Massachusetts population.

5.) “I’m angry about losing access to certain areas of the Quabbin Reservoir”

Access to the island is already restricted to people. If you’re there, you’re breaking the law. No one will be losing any access to anything.

6.) “If venomous snakes are swimming in/drinking the water, won’t it poison the drinking water?”

An actual adult actually asked this question. The answer is simply no. Read a book.

7.) “Don’t trust scientists. They are stuck-up one-percenters with a hidden agenda who don’t care about the common folk. Even though I am someone who has been afraid of snakes since I was taught to be as a child and know absolutely nothing about their ecology, biology or life history, I am more qualified to be speaking about them than the scientists that study them.”

This is just…what? I’m not lying – there are actually people who feel this way! The other night when I attended the meeting on the Quabbin rattlesnake project, there was an approximately 120 year old man who literally read an essay that he wrote about the political conspiracy of the project and how it was all just a scheme to ruin his life and make it harder for him to enjoy nature. He went on to explain how conservation and wildlife in general had been “nothing but a problem” for him, using an example of how he had been ridiculously forced to stop using lead bait because it killed birds.

People rolled their eyes when actual real scientists told them that the myths and ideas about rattlesnakes that they had were wrong. I don’t understand why people who are not scientists think that they know more about animals than the ones who study them. I don’t understand why people cannot see that these scientists are literally reaching out to educate the public – when they could just as easily mandate the entire program without their involvement whatsoever. They’re not doing it to gain their support because they don’t need it. They’re doing it to ease the fears and worries that they know are in reality not merited. People think that the rattlesnakes are far more dangerous than they are. They have theories that are baseless against the scientific facts about the behavior of the particular species. We are meeting with you to explain all of these facts to you not because we are getting paid to (quite the opposite, actually…most of us traveled 1-2 hours to meet with the people of the community), but because we care about educating the public about a misunderstood creature that needs our help. Enough with your stupid conspiracy theories.

No one ever got rich off of working in conservation. The rattlesnakes are being funded largely in part by grants from private parties, the Roger Williams Park Zoo, and NOT you. And the money isn’t going into the pockets of the biologists. Most of us are broke – we’re not these elite one-percenters by any means. Just because we have rights you don’t have when it comes to working with endangered species doesn’t mean we’re privileged. As a nurse, you have the right to take blood and give vaccines that I don’t have. We’re the professionals, and the animals are carefully managed but it has absolutely nothing to do with any kind of political agenda. That’s just stupid.

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I wish everyone saw them through my eyes. They’re so beautiful.

8.) “People are going to get bit and die.”

There is an old saying that goes: “rattlesnakes are first cowards, than bluffers, and last of all, warriors.”- There have been very few bites from timber rattlesnakes in Massachusetts. They’re known to be extremely shy and very hard to find and come across and most of the bites occur when someone is deliberately harassing or illegally handling them. They do not ambush us. They do not want to use their venom on us (it is specifically designed first to subdue and break down prey.) In fact I can think of no more courteous animal than a rattlesnake, who is designed to alert to its presence if it sees you before you see it – why? Because it is scared of you and does not want you to hurt it, and equally does not want to waste its venom on you. I as well as many of my friends and colleagues have spent much time with these snakes both in the field and in a captive care situation. People who overtly go looking for them or handle them for professional purposes go their entire careers without even coming close to being bitten. It is extremely unlikely that they will bite anyone.

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Why does a rattlesnake have a rattle? It isn’t to ambush you. It’s to warn you. How many predators are that courteous? That rattle is to protect you.

The most dangerous animal in Massachusetts? Its not the timber rattlesnake. Or the 2nd species of native venomous snake, the Northern copperhead. It is the moose, followed closely by the white-tailed deer. You are more likely to hit one of these large animals in your car, and you are certainly more likely to be bitten by a dog, kicked by a horse, trampled by a cow, or hurt by another human being than by one of these shy snakes.

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A handful of fatalities in the state have been linked to cars colliding with moose.

If you are bit by a timber rattlesnake, their venom is mild, and with the proper administration of readily-available antivenin, any bite victims should expect to make a full recovery.

9.) “The snakes are going to breed and become overpopulated and take over the entire state of Massachusetts.”

A female timber rattlesnake isn’t sexually mature until she is 9 years old. She’ll only give birth to a medium-sized litter of baby snakes every 2-3 years. Of the entire litter, if just one manages to evade predators and illness and survives to adulthood they’re lucky. These are extremely slow to reproduce animals, and the threat of them overpopulating is ridiculous. Their numbers are shrinking every day. They have literally dozens of natural predators, and there is no way their populations are ever going to become unmanageable. Again, this is science. The beautiful thing about it is that it is true whether you believe it or not.

10.) At the end of the day, this is our chance to do something positive in a world full of negativity and gloom. After centuries of persecution, humans truly owe it to animals like the timber rattlesnake to learn more about them and develop a healthy respect and appreciation for their lives, and the lives of all living things. 

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“Love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man” – Charles Darwin

The Giant Turtle with Spikes in its Mouth

I’m one of those people who has a lot of “favorites”. I have multiple different favorite foods, songs, and movies, and the same goes for animals. I can’t just pick one. However, there aren’t many animals that fill me with the desire to run out and get a huge portrait of one tattooed on my body forever like the leatherback sea turtle. It’s safe to say that they’re in my top 5.

Those of you who know me know that this will not be the last time I talk about turtles and how obsessed with them I am; those of you wishing to know me – you’ve been warned. I wanted to start you all off by introducing you to the most incredible, dynamic, unique and magical species of chelonian on this planet.

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The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is the world’s largest turtle by a landslide, dwarfing the giant galapagos and aldabra tortoises by a thousand pounds or so and in some cases reaching up to 2,000lbs. They are an absolutely beautiful freak of nature, and to even call them a turtle is tough, seeing as they go against basically everything that defines a turtle. They’re kind of a game-changer.

-Slow and steady? Wrong. The leatherback is the fastest turtle on earth in the water and can swim up to 20mph!

-Hard shell? Who needs it!? Hence their namesake, this turtle’s back is simply covered by an extremely thick layer of blubber.

-Cold-blooded? NOPE. You heard me. Even though the leatherback sea turtle is indeed a reptile, they are so large that they are capable of countercurrent-heat-exchange; trapping the heat they create in their muscles by their thick blubber layer. This basically makes them unstoppable and able to penetrate places no other turtle could, like the cold waters of as far north as Alaska and Nova Scotia in search of cold water jellies.

And what is with the spikes? They’re called papillae, and they’re made up of keratin like our fingernails. They aren’t designed for shredding the flesh of pirates, they’re to help the leatherback keep down their only food source, jellyfish.

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I mean come on, who can resist that spiky smile?

Yes, the leatherback is a specialist and isn’t affected by the sting of the jellies it loves to eat. All of this becomes even more amazing when you consider what else this turtle can do. No, we haven’t even scratched the surface:

-They grow faster than any other turtle, and can reach 600lbs in their first few years.

-They can weigh up to 2,000lbs as an adult. They’re 7ft long and have powerful flippers that are 7ft wide.

-They are capable of traveling 10,000 miles in a year.

-They make dives 4,000ft below the surface of the ocean as one the deepest-diving air breathers.

-They can hold their breath for FIVE HOURS. I can hold my breath for about 34 seconds.

And again, they do this all on a diet of only jellyfish…which by the way are 95% water. By only eating jellies, their digestive system is super simple which actually saves them energy, allowing them to do all the amazing stuff they do.

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Nomming on an absolutely enormous jellyfish like it ain’t no thang. They eat tons of these stingy suckers every single day and keep their populations in check! Too many jellies = bad news for the ocean!

Now that we’re having fun and feeling good, unfortunately I’m going to have to rain on our leatherback parade. It probably comes as no surprise that these incredible ancient leviathans, deserving of an entire religion basically worshipping their existence, are endangered. There are several factors contributing to this sad conservation status, but one thing they all have in common? They are anthropogenic; human caused.

Our fault.

Your fault.

Boo.

Shame on you.

But wait…surely you aren’t trying to destroy these incredible beings, are you? I’m certainly not. Surely if you knew that something you were doing was hurting leatherback sea turtles, you’d stop doing it, right? I do hope so. I’d like to think that humans aren’t so terrible that they’d actually continue doing things that they know are causing an animal to disappear.

We aren’t that bad, are we? Don’t answer that.

Truth be told, the reality is that leatherbacks are disappearing rapidly.

Here are the reasons why humans suck at being friends with leatherbacks:

-Leatherbacks get entangled in fishing gear. They travel thousands of miles to their breeding spots, nesting beaches, and feeding grounds but the most important place they need to go is the surface of the water to breathe. It’s hard to imagine, but we’ve gotta accept the reality that these gentle giants are drowning in nets, afraid, confused and trapped, every day.

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Yeah, pictures like this suck…but it’s reality and I’m not going to let you turn a blind eye to it. This is BS and I hate it and it needs to stop happening…like, yesterday.

-Leatherbacks are hit by boats. They are constantly the victims of boat strikes. Boats traveling in leatherback migration territory are often going over the speeding limits and don’t have time to stop, or just aren’t being careful enough. To make matters worse, many times they do not report the strikes to officials that can help the turtles.

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Another horrifying dose of reality brought to you by: humans.

-Leatherbacks are being killed by plastic bags and balloons. They are silhouette hunters and for millions of years they’ve been seeing the shape of jellyfish and eating it without problem. I see plastic bags and balloons floating around every single time I go out to sea, and sometimes I even think they’re jellyfish at first. Our plastic is ending up in the ocean! Even if you don’t throw it directly into the ocean, the plastic bags in landfills will blow out to sea during storms. When you release balloons, they often float until they end up in the ocean. They lose their color and become the silhouette of a jellyfish – eventually being eaten by a leatherback who can’t digest the bag and will perish.

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This is a photo I took of some cool jellyfish…oh wait. Just kidding. They’re dumb balloons, and they’re going to float around until they kill a leatherback.

This summer, the New England Aquarium investigated the death of a young leatherback that washed up on the shores of Cape Cod and found it to have suffered from all three of these human-caused threats. It was infuriating, to say the least.

I’m not one for extremists and think that they often tend to cause more harm than good…however, I might just be a plastic bag extremist. I’ve done my research – don’t give me that pseudo-science funded by the plastic bag companies about reusable bags causing more harm than good. I know my sh*t.

I haven’t used plastic bags in over a year and not only am I still alive and well, I have stuck true to my beliefs and inspire others to do the same. I’ve performed possibly over 200 necropsies on sea turtles – even species like greens, loggerheads and kemp’s ridleys stomachs are often filled with plastic. Any time I go to the beach to look for sea turtles (or do anything for that matter) I find tons of bags and balloons and all types of stupid trash, and like I said earlier, all the hours I’ve spent out at sea I’ve seen plastic bags and balloons floating around out there just waiting to end the life of sea turtles. My anger is justified.

On a lighter note, I basically collect reusable shopping bags. They’re actually a lot of fun! Some of the coolest reusable bags I have in my collection are:

-A green one because green is awesome

-One with Olaf from Frozen on it

-One with some cool bugs on it

-A STAR WARS one with Lando Calrissian on it

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So that right there is reason enough to want to use them over the dumb ugly plastic ones.

The other day I was at the store, the top part of the cart where you’re supposed to put a toddler overflowing with my sickass reusable bags. The man in front of me in line at the check-out just had a half-gallon of milk. I thought surely he would just carry the milk out…but not only did he request it be bagged…he asked for TWO BAGS. A DOUBLE BAGGER. AGGH. I held my tongue. Should I tell him he is killing sea turtles…maybe he just doesn’t know? I’m still having trouble figuring out when and where is a good time to talk about conservation. I think anytime, anywhere is acceptable, but I don’t think everyone feels that way.

I held my tongue and hurriedly dumped all of my reusables on the conveyer belt so fast that one of them may or may not flew up into the cashier’s face. She didn’t mind. I’m sure she’ll live. She was looking a little bored and probably needed the excitement anyway.

It’s easy to feel discouraged when things like that happen, but no matter how many people continue to use plastic bags and release balloons and do things that hurt sea turtles I don’t understand why so many people claim that the reason they aren’t taking action and making changes in their lives is because no one else is. I often hear:

“I feel like I’m the only one doing something. I can’t possibly make a difference alone. Everyone else is using plastic…what’s the point?”

At the end of the day, maybe…just maybe, the difference I am making as one person doesn’t matter as much. What matters is that I love sea turtles, I know plastic bags hurt them, and my love for them alone is the reason I chose not to use plastic bags. It’s the same concept of not punching your best friend in the face because you don’t want to hurt them. Not eating peppers because you don’t like the way they make your tongue sad. Not running over animals you see in the road on purpose because you’re not evil. Just because this particular issue doesn’t have a direct result on your life doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Apathy is just as bad as cruelty.

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So now that you know more about this big issue from someone who has cut into the stomachs of hundreds of sea turtles and is here to tell you that it is indeed a really big issue – how will you go on to use plastic again? I know for some people it is a big change. It’s a lifestyle revamp, a change of habit, and sometimes it can be as hard as losing weight or quitting smoking. You want to change, but you’re just so used to living the way you do.

Start slowly. Buy your first few reusable bags and use them when you remember. When you buy just a couple of things, opt to put them in your purse or carry them out. When I first started using reusable bags, I’d forget to bring them into the store all the time. If you forget them, buy another one. They’re literally less than a dollar most of the time. It’ll add to your collection and it’ll remind you to bring them with you. After a while, it becomes a new habit, and using a plastic bag becomes foreign and in my case, inconceivable.

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In case you forgot how incredible and worth it they are ^

If you remember anything I say, remember this (and I’ll say it a lot):

You don’t have to be a scientist or a conservationist or a zoo or aquarium or organization or college graduate or anything else other than what you already are to make a difference and help save animals. Anyone can and everyone should. It’s as easy as reducing the amount of plastic you use, and telling other people about it. I’m sure there was a time where one person in Hawaii felt a little discouraged that they were the only person who cared about not using plastic and protecting sea turtles. Single-use plastic bags were banned in Hawaii (like, all of it.) in 2015. They became the first state to issue the ban, and cities all over the United States and communities worldwide are following suit. When you share your ideas and inspire others, it creates a movement. I’m going to keep on rolling on myself – a little snowball that will steadily pick up more and more people until we are an avalanche of change.

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For the leatherback sea turtle – mighty mariner of the high seas and beautiful creature that deserves to exist, I’d do anything. Thank you for literally anything you can do. Sometimes it isn’t about the actual impact your positive actions are making…sometimes what matters most is that you are proof that people who care still exist. And maybe sometimes that’s enough, because when more and more people who still care start doing stuff…well, that my friends is called an impact.

As for me, I’ll keep on doing right by these turtles. Stay tuned for that tattoo I’ve been dreaming of.

Leatherback Sea Turtle returning to sea. Trinidad.