23 June 2010

The way the cookies crumble

There's nothing sweet these days about Duchy Originals, an allegedly tasty confection that's popular in the UK.

The acorn-embossed biscuits are leaving a bad taste in animal lovers' mouths, and so is a violent plan against grey squirrels by a high-profile British royal, Prince Charles. As a staunch proponent of saving Britain's beloved red squirrels, and reintroducing them to Cornwall, Charles is once again suggesting a specific plan of genocide against greys, who are seen as the native species' enemy.

Kill them, says the unprincely royal.
Boycott them, say more than just a few animal-loving British, who believe their own culinary cull of the "nature-friendly" Duchy Originals brand will stand as a strong symbol of protest.

"We must speak out against such arrogant meddling with nature. Prince Charles may be King someday, but he is not God," said Kate Fowler, Head of Campaigns at Animal Aid, as quoted in Great Britain's Telegraph newspaper.

Added British zoologist Juliet Gellatley: "I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that there is a minority of 'well-bred' people who may seem normal but who are bent on killing. Sadly, Prince Charles seems to be one of them, following in the footsteps of his tiger-slaughtering father."

This is serious slaughter being talked about here, and its solution cannot easily be hammed out across a kitchen table. Cookies - or rather, going cookie-less in protest - seems a somewhat weak economic sanction against such an egregious and heinous act.

British animal lovers, there's got to be a better way to put one's anger where one's mouth is.

18 June 2010

For whom the bridge tolls

The bridges are down. They collapsed, even before they were ever built.

The Mt. Graham squirrel safety bridge system slated for construction in Arizona with $1.25 million in federal funds has become a casualty of community protest. People evidently believed it was a waste of money to create of a system of rope bridges, enabling the squirrels to bypass the highways below - the roads on which many of the endangered animals lose their lives each year.

So transportation officials dropped the project.

The bridges are thus the first casualties of this unfortunate decision.

And that means unless an alternative effort is devised by local wildlife officials, the rare, endangered squirrels will continue to be casualties for some time to come.

Bridge over troubled squirrels

Simon and Garfunkel would have a hard time retooling their original lyrics for the saga now taking place in Arizona: A $1.25 million federal grant is expected to help save lives of the area's endangered Mount Graham red squirrels through installation of 41 rope bridges that let the tiny critters traverse the highway below by safely going over it.

Unlike human motorists who cross over bridges all the time, driving like they might become endangered species at any moment, these little squirrels are indeed imperiled. The federal government declared them endangered back in 1987 and their fragile population has been carefully watched since then.

It seems the U.S. isn't the only place building bridges for troubled squirrels. Scotland's 300-foot-long Kingcausie Wildlife Overbridge, at the Aberdeen Bypass has the same goal, and in Longview, in the state of Washington, the "Nutty Narrows Bridge" has spanned 40 years - and all kinds of dangerous traffic on Olympic Way - to keep four-pawed pedestrians safe.

In each case, with each bridge, investments were made without any thought of gaining that money back by putting in itty-bitty toll plazas. No squirrels will be asked to toss any acorn-shaped tokens, or use anything like E-ZPass, before crossing to the other side.

No doubt this will cause bumper-to-bumper traffic and a whole new definition of rush-hour. These are great solutions, creative responses to a troubling problem, but there remains one still-unaddressed dilemma: What to do about all those bushytail-gaiters.

15 June 2010


This is not how I will remember them: Confined to an outdoor pen, reliant on being hand fed, their wild movements limited to the parameters of the enclosure that held them. No, these are not the memories that do them justice:

But they were beautiful. And they remain so, even now. Out of my field of vision forever, they are what they had been at birth: Wild and spirited and now finally - as of this morning - free. Everything they need to have a successful life they carry in their bones, their blood, their genes.

These five siblings entered my life in early spring, their infant eyes still closed to the storm that had ravaged their nest and sent their mother fleeing. She returned briefly, and took a sixth sibling with her, but these five remained.

The photos I have of them now - the most recent ones, taken only a week ago - are merely shadows of the squirrels they are going to become. Two brothers, three sisters, they came into the world together but they go forward into it now separately, as individuals.

We sent them off with prayers and our love. The trees embrace them now.

06 June 2010

Speaking of squirrels

Chattering up in the treetops, squirrels always seem to have something to say.
But do we bother to listen?
We'd better! Increasing numbers of Corporate and Professional SpokesSquirrels are making their way into our lives.

The newest arrival is Pearl the Squirrel, official spokesrodent for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation. Pearl came swinging onto the scene just this past spring, in grand style, and was welcomed in Manhattan's Thomas Jefferson Park as the city mascot.

Squirrel-as-mascot for NYC sure beats rat-as-mascot, as any city restaurateur will attest.

Then there's Filbert, the Freescore.com credit-minded squirrel who, teamed in this video with Ben Stein, advises folks to know the score - their credit score, in this case. Squirrels are legendary as financial whizzes so, really, it pays to heed Filbert's words.

And let's not forget Tufty the Traffic Safety Squirrel who, for more than 40 years, has been serving as an example to British children on matters of safe street crossing. Since 1961, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents has relied on him to teach street safety lessons - a rather ironic point, given the hazards squirrels themselves face on busy pavement. There's even a Tufty Club on Facebook.

So look to the squirrels for answers on everything from safe street crossings to protecting your credit rating. Squirrels can be convincing spokescritters because they never lie, they get to the point quickly and, of course, if there's a tough nut to crack, you're going to want them - and their teeth - in your corner.

04 June 2010


To love animals means you will sometimes grieve even for the ones you may never know, the ones you have never held or raised but nonetheless care deeply about.You will turn your head away from the roadkill on the highway; you will avert your eyes at the images of marine life and wildlife languishing near the torrent of oil bleeding its way into the Gulf of Mexico. The pain of acknowledgement is too great.

So it is with our grief over Yoda.

This tiny squirrel was rescued in the Czech Republic, and her caretakers quickly sized up her many infirmities: mental dullness, poor swallowing reflex and no dental growth which, at her age of more than 6 weeks, should have been fully developed. Yoda had serious physical and mental disabilities but was not handicapped by any lack of love for her. The rehabilitators at the rescue station where she had been taken were committed to giving her a good life for as long as she remained on this Earth.

A Facebook posting announced Yoda's passing earlier today, and included photos of the tiny, innocent little one. People from around the Czech Republic, and even here in the U.S., from New York to Florida and beyond, had followed her saga, which opened the eyes of the rehabilitators there to the fact that even wild animals, such as squirrels, can be born with such conditions as Down syndrome.

Yoda's story nested in our hearts, and concern for her made friends out of strangers.

She was a brief wisp of life on this planet. It was not her fate to ever leave footprints in the trees. No doubt, then, her greater imprint remains within each of us who cared for her - either by ministering to her needs in person, or wishing her well from afar.

Nothing can take that away.