Mob burns elephants

Sanctuary Wildlife Photography judged five thousand entries this year, and the top prize went to Biplab Hazra’s heartbreaking image of elephants being hurt by an angry mob in India.  Entitled “Hell is Here”, one can see a mother and calf trying to flee as firecrackers and fires surround them and even light their feet and tails.  Their pain and fear is obvious, and the wicked delight of the human mob is frightening to witness.

The photographer described his image in his official contest entry:

[The] calf screams in confusion and fear as the fire licks at her feet. Flaming tar balls and crackers fly through the air to a soundtrack of human laughter and shouts. In the Bankura district of West Bengal this sort of humiliation of pachyderms is routine, as it is in the other elephant-range states of Assam, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and more.

According to the Washington Post, India has sixty percent of the world’s Asian elephant population.  Yet, we know India is also the second most populous country on Earth and very well may overtake China this century.  This means that land and resources are scarce, and elephant-human conflict continues to increase.   Add in the problem of climate change, and available resources become even more valuable.  There is no easy solution to the problem, but Hazra believes the government is not trying very hard to think of solutions.

From the Washington Post:

“The ignorance and bloodlust of mobs that attack herds for fun, is compounded by the plight of those that actually suffer damage to land, life and property by wandering elephants and the utter indifference of the central and state government to recognize the crisis that is at hand,” Hazra wrote.



President Trump removes ban on hunting trophy imports

In yet another sign that President Trump wants to undo everything the Obama administration accomplished, he is removing protections for elephants.  His son Donald Jr. was also infamously photographed hunting elephants, so this may also be yet another desire to benefit his own family.  From the Washington Post:

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that the remains of elephants legally hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia can now be imported to the United States as trophies, reversing a ban under former president Barack Obama.

African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that large sums paid for permits to hunt the animals could actually help them “by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” according to an agency statement.

This claim that the money goes back to conservation is wrong.  The US has allowed other African countries like South Africa to send hunting trophies to the States because they have been able to prove that the money earned is spent wisely and not used to line corrupt officials’ pockets.  Zimbabwe and Zambia have not provided the necessary proof.  In fact, you only need to read about Zimbabwe’s current political crisis to know that corruption is a major and long standing problem there.  The idea that such a government would put the revenue from hunting trophies into conservation is laughable.  Not surpringly, Zimbabwe and Zambia have seen some of the greatest declines in elephant populations in Africa due to poaching, over-hunting, and environmental destruction.  In addition, Zimbabwe has sold elephants to places like China, hoping to raise quick cash without thinking about the long term ramifications of selling its natural wildlife and resources.  From Al-Jazeera:

Maternity leave for elephants?

Laos’ elephant population has decreased fifty percent in thirty years.  A newly published study by the French Beauval Nature Association for Conservation and Research says the elephant population is dependent on the socio-economic practices of Laos.  If current trends continue, there will be no elephants in Laos by the end of the century.

Currently, most elephants in Laos are used for labor in the timber industry and the tourist industry.  Since elephants have a long gestation period and wean their young for two years, owners have not planned well for reproduction, citing short term economic concerns of lost work time.  Therefore, elephant owners either do not devote time to reproduction or they send a mother back to work too soon, jeapordizing both her and the baby’s health.

This has greatly contributed to loss of population.  In addition, since most of Laos’ elephants are now in captivity, the gene pool is getting smaller.  Certain males and females are chosen for breeding, disrupting natural selection.

The study shows the long term economic benefits of allowing elephants extended maternity leave from work.  It also encourages breeders to allow wild elephants to mate with captive ones, thus expanding the gene pool.

A suggestion by some researchers is for the government or corporations to compensate owners for elephant maternity leave.  This would allow the owners to treat elephants better without fearing loss of vital income for their family.   Along with conservation (halting the destruction of habitat), smart breeding practices and elephant maternity leave will help stabilize (or even increase) the elephant population in Laos.








Autumn in NY

The mid-Atlantic and Northeast are rightfully famous for their autumn colors.  Tour busses regularly go along our highways in October bringing “leaf peepers” with their cameras.  They visit the state parks, but miss out on the quiet local parks.

At the start of the month, before you go leaf peeping, get a pumpkin!


IMG_6385Even the tiny park by my house begins to lay out a welcome carpet of royal gold and red in mid-October.


The Erie Canal becomes a quiet place after the busy summer, but if you bring a warm hat and gloves, you can still enjoy taking to the water.


Hiking paths can be empty in the local parks, as people rush to the more famous sites to see the colors.

IMG_6386By the end of October, the bright reds hint the brief season is quickly coming to an end.


Until next year!


(photos are my own)



Fashion and human rights

In the last post, I used H&M as an example of a company that promotes itself as ethical but upon careful research, one finds that is not the case.  Working conditions are dangerous and children work long, tedious hours, missing out on an education.

So, what can you do?

Yes, you can raise awareness and you can write to the companies.  That certainly will not make matters worse, and may even help.

But, you can also get creative and find fashionable finds at consignment stores.  You can buy new items at ethical operations, such as,where you “meet” the artisan who makes your dress, sweater, skirt, shirt, jewelry,etc.  Novica is part of National Geographic, and has some really fascinating pieces.

You can go online to esty, and find unique jewelry and support the artisan.

You can check out yooxygen, a sustainable/ethical fashion project of designer seller Yoox.

You can invest in the mutual funds that are socially responsible (SRIs).  Wikipedia explains “Socially responsible investing (SRI), or social investment, also known as sustainable, socially conscious, ‘green’ or ethical investing, is any investment strategy which seeks to consider both financial return and social good to bring about a social change.”

You can trade clothes with friends.

You can learn to sew if you’re really ambitious and creative.

You can support women’s rights and education through sponsoring a child, donating money to groups like Camfed, or raising awareness.

You can donate your old but useable clothes to local community organizations like Volunteers of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, Goodwill, etc.

You can donate your old and unusable clothes to places like animal shelters which often use it for bedding.

After all, waste is a huge problem in fashion.  According to The Fashion Law, a Danish news program discovered:

According to TV2, which began investigating H&M in June, KARA/NOVEREN a waste disposal company in Denmark has incinerated over 60 tons of new, unworn apparel from H&M since 2013. These hundreds of thousands of garments consist of reusable/recyclable materials.

So, let us try to play a small but important part in combatting the wasteful, exploitative, and cruel aspects of fashion.





The Price of Affordable Fashion

H&M is rolling out a new designer collaboration, this time with Erdem.  Like previous ones, there will likely be a line out the door for affordable high fashion.

High fashion is sometimes more about name than quality.

But, affordable fashion has its own share of problems.  In this post, I will lay out some of the problems.  In the next post, I will offer some alternative choices for fashion.

I will focus on H&M here, but many mall stores could be accused of the same abuses.

H&M advertises itself as ethical, and they have received positive press.  For example, after the tragic and preventable factory fire in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of textile workers, H&M signed a pledge to follow fire safety codes.

Yet, a follow up study by The Clean Clothes Campaign found the company was failing to protect workers.  Marc Bain from writes:

What’s more worrisome, the report only looked at H&M’s “Platinum” and “Gold” suppliers—the factories that supposedly boast the highest standards in labor and environmental protections. They account for 56 of the 229 factories H&M uses in Bangladesh.
About 61% didn’t have fire exits that met the accord’s standards, which demand that fire exits have enclosed stairwells and fire-rated doors. Without those measures, exits can quickly fill with smoke in a fire, effectively trapping workers on a factory’s upper floors.

Another issue is H&M promotes itself as paying a fair wage.  But, its fair wage standards do not apply to subcontractors.  In India, young girls often are victim to sumangali schemes, which promise money for a dowry, taking children away from their homes and schools if they work.

A report by Mother Jones:

H&M’s fair-wage promise does not extend to all of its subcontractors, which include the factories that spin the cotton into thread (also known as spinning mills). In India, most sumangali schemes take place in spinning mills. That the plan doesn’t include subcontractors could be a big problem: If some factories in the supply chain are not required to pay a fair wage, garment factories can simply outsource more of their labor to those cheaper operations. When I asked H&M how the company plans to address the challenge of factories outsourcing labor to subcontractors with potentially exploitive conditions, spokesman Håcan Andersson said, “We are not able to assist you further in this matter.”

A report by Reuters found that undocumented Syria refugees were working without any human rights protections in Turkish factories, making clothes for H&M and other mass market chains.

Human Rights Watch also issued a report on H&M subcontractors in Cambodia:

Workers said they were fearful of forming a union and that eligible workers did not receive maternity leave or pay. From employee accounts, some workers were children younger than 15, the legally permissible age in Cambodia. One woman estimated that 20 of the 60 workers in her group were children. Children worked as hard as the adults, they said, including on Sundays, nights for overtime work, and public holidays when there were rush orders.

Drought in Kenya

We see big natural disasters in the news that wreck widespread havoc within minutes and hours: hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires.  But, there are also huge natural disasters occurring that take time to do their terrible damage.

Periods of drought have been extending and intensifying all over the world this century. In countries such as Kenya, drought causes food production to fall significantly, plunging more families into poverty.  Obviously, the lack of resources also adversely affects the elephant population.  The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust updated their supporters this week:

It has been an especially trying month this September with too many orphaned babies pouring through our doors, victims of the ongoing drought in large parts of the country, meaning that mothers cannot produce the milk required for their young babies and are even collapsing and dying from exhaustion themselves. It is heartbreaking to watch another factor contributing to the decline of this species when they already have so much to contend with; aside from poaching and clashes with communities they now have to face shortages of food. We work hard on the ground in Tsavo, home to Kenya’s largest population of elephants, contrasting and maintaining our wind-powered boreholes, to alleviate the pressure of water shortages but we know the main contributing factor this year is the scarcity of vegetation. Our DSWT funded Kenya Wildlife Service Mobile Veterinary teams have been kept very busy on the ground too, attending to multiple cases and assisting in rescues as well.img_1566

(photo: DSWT)