Category Archives: primates

Earth Day & March for Science

I’m heading to the lovely Santa Cruz March for Scienceonlinesquare and Earth Day celebration, and wanted to share a song to celebrate that:

(You can also see the lyrics to IFLS hereHank Green has lots of other nerdy science songs, plus SciShow and Crash Course, and I guess I’m a fangirl.)

Happy Earth Day!

Aside

Elwyn L. Simons was one of the leading figures of paleoprimatology, and founder of the Duke University Primate Center. His fossil discoveries included Aegyptopithecus.  He worked on primate conservation, focusing on the lemurs of Madagascar.  He helped to establish Park Ivoloina … Continue reading

World Wildlife Day: It’s about their lives

In this beautiful essay, naturalist Paul Rosolie reminds us that it’s not just about ecosystem accounting.  It’s about individual, intelligent animals.  It’s about tapping into our compassion and empathy.  It’s about the suffering in the world, and how we could choose to reduce it.

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Whenever I come face to face with wildlife, especially in when it is something like a family of elephants, it strikes me how we depend on euphemistic terms to soften the truth. When we learn that since 1970 half the wildlife on earth has been ‘lost’ or that species are ‘vanishing’ so rapidly that A Great Silence is Spreading Over the World, the language used in communicating these abstract ideas neglect what Dr. Jane Goodall wisely notes: “It’s not just a species facing extinction, it’s massive individual suffering”.”

~Paul Rosolie, “World Wildlife Day 2016: Why Wildlife Needs You

These are amazing beings with whom we share the beauty and Propithecus tatersalii, Duke Lemur Center, photo by E.S.Petersonwonder of this world.  They have complex and fascinating lives. They are different from us, but that does not mean that they are incapable of thinking and feeling. We have the choice to use our unique human gifts of elaborate foresight, language, imagination and abstract reason to find ways to help them thrive. Doesn’t that behoove us to use our gifts on their behalf?

Happy World Wildlife Day!

[…dismounts soapbox]

 

The Smoke of Centuries: Indonesia’s Fires

The fires in Indonesia  burn rainforest trees that have grown and fed and housed orangutans for decades or centuries, and peat that has stored carbon for centuries or millennia.  George Monbiot sums up the recent conflagrationary disaster in Indonesia that Southeast Asia has been breathing:

A great tract of Earth is on fire and threatened species are being driven out of their habitats. This is a crime against humanity and nature.


It is hard to convey the scale of this inferno, but here’s a comparison that might help: it is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy. And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual emissions of Germany.

Helicoptering water on to Indonesia's forest fires

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It’s not just the trees that are burning. It is the land itself. Much of the forest sits on great domes of peat. When the fires penetrate the earth, they smoulder for weeks, sometimes months, releasing clouds of methane, carbon monoxide, ozone and exotic gases such as ammonium cyanide. The plumes extend for hundreds of miles, causing diplomatic conflicts with neighbouring countries.

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Though Joko Widodo seems to want to stop the burning, his reach is limited. His government’s policies are contradictory: among them are new subsidies for palm oil production that make further burning almost inevitable. Some plantation companies, prompted by their customers, have promised to stop destroying the rainforest. Government officials have responded angrily, arguing that such restraint impedes the country’s development. That smoke blotting out the nation, which has already cost it some $30bn? That, apparently, is development.

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Saving What Matters: Taking Sustainability Personally

I was asked to deliver a talk to the School of Arts, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University last week.  As I was preparing, I recorded a rehearsal version of the talk and posted that on YouTube:

This version cut off the bottoms of the slides, which included some important source links and some other information.  That information is visible in this PDF: MM talk to ADM Sept 2015 v4

Summary

SAVING WHAT MATTERS: TAKING SUSTAINABILITY PERSONALLY
Dr. Merrill will discuss her research on rainforest apes, how these experiences moulded her views on sustainability, and how everyone’s choices shape the future. She will share her adventures watching bonobos (Pan paniscus) in central Congo, and orangutans (Pongo abelii) in northern Sumatra. She will talk about some of the threats to these endangered primates, and how they connect to the decisions people in Singapore and all over the world make about what to buy and do. She will show why these actions and choices have repercussions that are relevant to the well-being of current and future generations of people everywhere. She will provide examples of how we can make better choices, and explain how these choices can have greater effects because of the way humans have evolved to learn.

Leuser Under Threat Again

And yet another sad but important recent article related to my upcoming talk, this time on the Leuser Ecosystem (where I studied orangutans at Suaq Balimbing and Ketambe research sites in 1999-2000) and the palm oil producer (PT. Aloer Timur) who is encroaching on its lowland forests.

A report produced by Greenomics Indonesia presents evidence from spatial monitoring and field observations that documents the clearing of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests in a PT. Aloer Timur concession located inside the Leuser Ecosystem. RAN confirmed this destruction in June 2015. At the end of June, Greenomics released another report with photographic evidence showing PT. Aloer Timur had still been bulldozing HCS forests as of June 24, 2015.

From Rainforest Action Network
http://www.ran.org/conflict_palm_oil_culprits_who_is_destroying_the_lowland_rainforests

The Curse of Coltan

Planning another of those difficult talks about primate conservation, and came across this summary of the link to coltan mining in the DRC.

Passionist JPIC Australia

Columbite-tantalite — Coltan for short — is a dull metallic ore found in major quantities in the eastern areas of Congo. When refined, Coltan becomes metallic tantalum, a heat-resistant powder that can hold a high electrical charge. These properties make it a vital element in creating capacitors, the electronic elements that control current flow inside miniature circuit boards. Tantalum capacitors are used in almost all cell phones, laptops, computers, iPads, flat screen TV’s, pagers and many other electronics. The recent technology boom caused the price of Coltan to skyrocket to as much as $400 a kilogram at one point, as companies such as Nokia, Compaq, Dell, HP, Ericson, and Sony struggled to meet demand.

Coltan is mined through a fairly primitive process similar to how gold was mined in California during the 1800s. Dozens of men work together digging large craters in streambeds, scraping away dirt from the surface in…

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