Monthly Archives: January 2013

Beautiful glimpses of biodiversity in the Indian Republic

[youtube LQVP1trIg0Q]

Lovely tribute, this, on the occasion of India’s Republic Day celebrated a few days ago. I particularly like the fact that it is not just about tigers and elephants, but shows a broader array of the astonishing species still inhabiting this land, overcrowded as it is with our own teeming population.


Welcome to Pinnacles: California’s Newest National Park

Male Western Bluebird on the groundYellowbilled MagpieMale Western Bluebird inquisitiveYellowbilled Magpie portraitGolden-crowned sparrow with a full beakBrewer's Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird 2Female Western BluebirdTwo-stepping RobinYellowbilled Magpie's profileYellowbilled Magpie pointing upProfile of a Yellowbilled Magpie
Yellowbilled Magpie verticalYellowbilled Magpie full length profileWhite-breasted NuthatchWhite-breasted Nuthatch exploring barkWhite-breasted NuthatchMale Western Bluebird on picnic table
Female Western Bluebird with foodWestern Bluebird leaping off a fencePortrait of a male Western Bluebird on the groundWhite-crowned sparrow on a fenceClass of birdwatchers taking notesCoyote on the ridge!

Pinnacles and Condors, a set on Flickr.

In a bright start to the new year, California has a new National Park! Pinnacles National Monument had its status upgraded recently when President Obama signed legislation to declare it a National Park. It is one of my favorite places near the Central Valley, an easy drive from Fresno for field trips with my Birds and Reptiles class, as you can see from the above photo set on Flickr.

I uploaded the above images on International Day for Biological Diversity 2010. Here are a several posts I have written about this park, and its Condors:

A chance to relive David Attenborough’s life stories

When did you first see a David Attenborough documentary?

I remember well my first mind-blowing exposure to his extraordinary way of documenting, and sharing with us on screen, the stories of life on earth. Indeed it was “Life on Earth” that gave me my first taste of the Attenborough magic, in college one day, before my family even had a television at home. That day in 1984, I walked into a darkened classroom at the Institute of Science in Bombay, and sat back mesmerized, watching the first episode of “Life on Earth” on a big screen, punctuated by the faint ticking of the projector in the back of the room! Yes, we were watching it on 16mm film, borrowed from the British Council Library nearby. I spent many a happy hour in that dark room over the next few days as we watched the whole series, and made some new friends with whom to share our own explorations of the universe.

Over the nearly 3 decades since that day, I’ve spent many many more hours watching, and being shaped by, nature documentaries by the master of the genre. I’ve seen him on a variety of screens, and have showed his films in various classes. What an astonishing exploration of nature and the diversity of life on this planet! What an astonishing life the man has led, so much of it on camera for our benefit! And now, we have a chance to relive some of that astonishing life, in our living rooms, once again: PBS will broadcast a new series “Attenborough’s Life Stories” in the US starting on 23 Jan 2013. Here’s a preview of part 1:

Watch Attenborough’s Life Stories: Part 1 Preview on PBS. See more from Nature.

Human rights should begin at home

Ever since I first considered becoming a parent, I wanted a daughter. My partner concurred, vehemently. We have two now, lovely beings both, growing up all too fast for us to prepare them for the world that lies ahead. We wanted daughters because there aren’t enough in India. Our country loses, gets rid of, far too many daughters, in utero, in infancy, in youth… and we felt it our responsibility to do a little to redress the skewed sex ratio. We won the chromosomal lottery, twice, on that count.

We have two daughters to offer to this world. How do we offer them a safer world to explore?

Amid the seemingly endless orgy of violence that appears to be endemic to our cultures, from India to the US, violence directed against women in particular, Eduardo Galeano’s words have been haunting me. Growing up in the traditional family culture he describes, I was quite stunned when I first read him, decades ago. I keep returning to them now, as a parent myself to two daughter, trying to change this culture, starting at home:


the dark room,
the icy shower,
enforced fasting,
forced feeding,
the ban on leaving the house,
the ban on saying what you think,
the ban on doing what you feel,
and public humiliation
are some of the methods of punishment and torture traditional to family life. To punish disobedience and discipline liberty, family tradition perpetuates a culture of terror that humiliates women, teaches children to lie, and spreads the plague of fear.

“Human rights should begin at home,” Andrés Dominguez told me in Chile.

From “The Book of Embraces” by Eduardo Galeano.

Whether it is guns or men’s penises, in India or the US, the talk these days is all about tougher laws, bans, hangings, castration, capital punishment, stemming from an angry desire for vengeance in the wake of heinous crimes. Maybe these will bring some change for the better. I sure hope so. But the violence, like the misogyny, is too deeply embedded in our cultures for these to be sufficient deterrents. It lies too deep, and too close to the surface of our daily domestic lives for us to see, acknowledge, and attempt to stop it.

The violence is within us, reinforced by these traditions which “humiliate women, teach children to lie, and spread the plague of fear.” Therefore, any lasting change to the culture of violence must also start within us, when we challenge these traditions, change them, teach new ones to our sons and daughters: based on respect and kindness, rather than power and obedience.

I sense the implacable anger of women in India right now, and hang my head in shame for my gender, for what we men have wrought against our better halves.

Bringing more daughters into this world is only half the answer. We need to raise our sons better too, in better families rebuilt without the traditional violence shadowing our daily lives. We need to change the culture so that it doesn’t continue to warp them in the ways it has already warped us into accepting so much violence as routine.

Human rights must begin at home.

Man’s (in)glorious dominion on Earth as a prequel to our Wall•E future

Earth Stewardship is a popular term among my fellow conservation biologists and ecologists lately, what with the Ecological Society of America embracing the term as one of its primary guiding themes for the coming decades. While some of us scratch our heads about what it might mean, precisely, in scientific terms, the ESA has chosen the theme no doubt in order to communicate with a broader public. Stewardship… the word has a strong spiritual / religious resonance… and what ecologist would argue with the call to use our science to transform humanity into better stewards of this planet? Gives us some hope of turning things around even as we teeter on the brink of ecological disasters manifold…

Stewardship also has a better ring to it than that other religiously charged word: Dominion. Some of the world’s dominant religions tell us that their reigning deity gave us dominion over the earth and all its creatures, which were presumably created for our sole benefit. Of course, evolutionary biology tells a different story, but even then we are tempted to place ourselves at some apex of evolution, borne on the branches of, but somehow apart from, the magnificent tree of life. The first creatures (maybe) to comprehend our own story and control our destiny…

Whichever version of this tale of our being you choose to believe, surely our actual history on this earth must give you pause… for we haven’t done a very good job of it, have we? It has been closer to sadistic domination lately than any meaningful stewardship. Or don’t you remember? In that case, you’ll want to watch this three-and-a-half minute animated history of Man’s dominion over Earth. It also makes for a great prequel to the film Wall•E, whose silent first half is some of the loveliest bit of filmmaking magic seen this century. Let’s hope we can steer away from that fate sooner rather than later…

[youtube WfGMYdalClU]
via Jess Zimmerman on Grist.

This film also reminds me of an animated short I had seen long ago as part of a midnight special show screened in a film festival, sometime when I was in graduate school. I think it was at the Old Globe Theater in La Jolla which played a significant part in my cinematic education. As part of this midnight screening, reserved for more risqué, ‘grown-up’ animated fare, I remember seeing a powerful little film which showed a similar history of ‘man’—except in that film, in every instance, whatever the man did turned into a big arse farting out noxious fumes, with the closing shot showing the entire earth as one giant arse spewing dark smoke as the screen faded into credits! Hard to forget that visual, even though I completely forgot the name of the movie!

Anyone else seen that film? This was during the early days of the internet—I think I had Mosaic on the mac in my lab then—well before YouTube was even a glint in its creator’s eyes! I’ve forgotten the name of the film, and so haven’t been able to find it since, even though the imagery of our collective arseholery lingers in my mind. If you’ve seen it, remember the title, and/or know if/where it is online, please do drop me a line! I would love to include it in my next Reconciliation Ecology class along with the above film.

Now what can we do to become better stewards of this spaceship Earth as we start another revolution around our Sun?