Losing a species


photo of Sudan taken by Jana Hajduchova

by Karen Topakian

In case you haven’t heard we lost the last white rhino male, Sudan. And I mean we. The human race. The species that thinks it’s in charge.

Now only two females roam the planet. Two.

In the 1960s, there were approximately 2,000.

According to the New York Times, “War, habitat loss and poaching for rhino horn have decimated populations, and by 2008 researchers could no longer locate northern white rhinos in the wild. But a number of the animals — including Sudan, who was captured in 1975 — remained at zoos around the world.”

We, humans, bear the responsibility for their decline. We start wars. We encroach on their habitat and we kill these majestic creatures to grind up their horns as a mythical cure for cancer.

And we show no signs of stopping. Since we don’t assign a dollar amount to our natural world, we don’t value what nature does and provides. In a capitalist world, no financial value truly means no value at all. Therefore, we don’t know how to assess the “cost” to the planet when we lose a species.

Because white rhinos eat grass, they have changed the ecology and structure of the grasslands. According to Business Insider, “Although seemingly counterintuitive, grazers, like rhinos, increase biodiversity by selecting certain plants over others, giving other species more ability to grow.”

The loss of this one species can alter this ecosystem in profound ways.

If we lost these five species, humans could not survive on this planet – ants, termites, bats, frogs and birds. These creatures decompose plant material, stir up soil, aid in seed dispersal, pollinate plants, serve as bio-indicators of our ecosystem, recycle nutrients and provide pest control. Try getting along without these free services!

Until we value these creatures’ lives, defend their right to live and protect their homes and habitats, we will reduce biodiversity. Disrupt the intricate web of life and place our food sources and clean drinking water at risk.

Now back to Sudan.

My friend and colleague, Jana Hajduchova, knew Sudan since she volunteered for the Czech zoo in Dvur Kralove before he was transported to Kenya in 2009. “I met him several times, last time about three weeks ago. He was still doing well, although I could see that it is already painful for him to walk. He was such a darling… Well, all rhinos are, but he was very kind and a nice animal.”






Lone Wolves Anonymous Hires Public Relations Firm



Date:                         June 14, 2016

Contact:            Canis Lupus, Leader of the Pack, 1-800–HOWLING, clupus@lwa.org

Lone Wolves Anonymous Hires Public Relations Firm

Jackson Hole/WY – Lone Wolves Anonymous (LWA) lashed out against the press and the public for besmirching its good name and inferring guilt by association.

For more than 40 years, lone wolves have received blame for committing random acts of violence starting with Sirhan Sirhan’s 1968 assassination of presidential candidate Robert Kennedy.

“We need to dispel the myth once and for all that lone wolves are to blame for so much carnage. We’ve had it up to here,” said Mr. Lupus pointing to his snowy white chest. “Not all lone and solitary folks are killers in sheep’s clothing.”

In response to these repeated false claims about its very nature, LWA hired the world famous public relations firm, Tooth & Nail, to burnish its falsely tarnished public image.

“We hired Tooth & Nail because they came highly recommended by the sharks who went from much feared to having their own hockey team and TV programs,” explained the pack leader excitedly.

Tooth & Nail immediately advised LWA to show the public their more fun loving and playful side. “They advocated we adapt a mantra of complete transparency. Therefore, we’ve opened up all of our activities to the general public,” announced Mr. Lupus “We’re anxious to show how everyone how we care for our young, scent mark and howl at the moon.”

Prior to hiring the PR firm, LWA tried a few less than successful image changing activities: hunting in pairs, which ended in acrimony; becoming gatherers which created packs of hangry wolves; and shifting the blame to other solitary animals, such as the Tasmanian devil, the grizzly bear and the Giant California sea cucumber.

“The bears refused to take the blame lying down,” said Mr. Lupus. “A Tasmanian devil delivered a lethal bite to a reporter seeking an interview. And the sea cucumbers let the fault wash right over their leathery skin.”

Lupus reminded the public that, “Lone wolves don’t kill people. People with guns kill people.”


NY Times Goes to the Dogs

by Karen Topakian

It all started with Vladimir Putin’s dog. A big black lab named Koni. Staring down Angela Merkel. At a meeting in Moscow. The New York Times captured the moment in this 2007 photo.

Peg and I loved the image so much of the all-powerful Koni that we cut it out for posterity. Then we started to cut out all animal pics in the NYT for a month. After assembling the motley crew we discovered that dogs won as the number one animal gracing the pages of the Old Gray Lady.

I decided to conduct the experiment again in February and report the findings here.

And the winner is…dogs. Again.  With 21 photos. Lucky for the canines, the Westminster Dog Show held in February contributed to their victory.  But that wasn’t the only reason why.

Included in the pages of the Times was a photo of: Jeff King, a past master winner of the Iditarod embracing his winning dogs; a dog who survived the earthquake in Chile; the dog whisperer Cesar Millan hugging his pit bull named Daddy in an article about his endorsement of vacuum’s that can clean up pet hair. A cancer survivor taking an experimental drug appears with her dog. Showing her laughing and looking happy despite the fact that she suffers from melanoma.

The photo “Avalanche” by William Wegman featuring one of his unnamed Weimaraner’s standing under a shower of white powder. Another showed a dog Nestle who was debarked because of noise problems in a NY co-op apartment.  A half page article in a Thursday Style section titled, “Pooch ‘N’ Boots” featured six photos of dogs wearing boots. Only one showed the whole dog. The other five, just the feet.  And finally two dogs walking far into the distance in the midst of a winter wonderland graced the front page of the Thursday Feb 11 paper.

Ocean creatures, fish and marine mammals alike, took second place. Endangered Blue fin tuna, tilapia, eels, a pile of medium sized unnamed fish lying on a dock waiting to be filleted, and an underwater photo of dolphins from the Academy Award winning documentary film The Cove.

Horses came in third with four photos, all shown racing or jumping.

Snakes came in forth with three images. An eastern Indigo, a Burmese python and an unnamed snake jointly held by Sam D. Hamilton, the 15th Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar in Mr. Hamilton’s obituary. The Times chose this obituary photo wisely. A happy smiling man holding the tail end of a snake. How better to depict a fish and wildlife enthusiast?

The two photos of cats won fifth place. One in a photo of a Johannesburg, South African home where a 67 year old black housekeeper, Susan Hanong, feeds a white cat in the spotless kitchen of her employer. The second, in a photo of Baldwin’s Book Barn in West Chester, PA where two cats perch on top of a large wooden desk.

Tied for fifth place were rabbits. Not just any rabbits, but the ones overrunning Robben Island. Nelson Mandela’s incarcerated home for 18 years. With remarkable speed and efficiency these bunnies have done what they do best. Reproduce. Wreaking havoc and destruction in their search for food in this revered World Heritage site.

And now for the random photos of the odd critters.

Tigers. Two in one photo pawing at a chain linked fence where they are held in small cages in China’s tiger farms. Hands down the saddest photo of any animal in the whole month. See for yourself below.

Two chickens in a scene from a Denny’s Super Bowl commercial. Three whiptail lizards that reproduce asexually. Spray toads threatened by a dam in Tanzania. The American pika, denied protection under the Endangered Species Act by the Fish and Wildlife Services despite its struggle against climate change.

The only bird. A red cockaded woodpecker whose habitat is being protected on a military base at Fort Stewart Georgia. A goat nuzzling a man in Yemen chewing quat, a mild narcotic. A herd of cattle in New Mexico that will no longer be required to participate in a National Animal Identification System in the event of an animal disease outbreak.

For the record, in 28 days the Times published photos of 45 animals.

One thing we noticed immediately about these photos is that all pets are not treated equally. If a pet is the focus of the article then he/she is named. Otherwise his/her presence goes unnoticed and unnamed, unfairly.

Sometimes the animal dominates the photo. Sometimes the presence of an animal tells you something about the person or activity in question. Many times the animal appears for environmental reasons – to highlight their plight. Or for biological reasons because a scientist has discovered something new about them.

Regardless of why they appear, we’re happy to see our fellow planet inhabitants share the page with world leaders. Often they are more interesting and better looking.