Rewilding: The Last Truly Wild Horses Return Home

The Przewalski’s horse has rebounded from near extinction. There were once only 12 of these pony-sized wild horses remaining in the entire world. Even just a few years ago, all the existing Przewalski’s horses lived in captivity, and the species was listed by the IUCN as “extinct in the wild.”

42-22097706.jpg__800x600_q85_cropNow, thanks to a captive breeding program, there are over 2,000 of them worldwide, with about 350 living in the wild in Mongolia. These little horses are the last truly wild horse species in the world. The American mustang and other well-known “wild horses” are actually feral rather than wild — they descended from domesticated horses that got free and chose to live in the wild rather than go back to captivity.

The Przewalski’s horses are not out of the woods. There are concerns about their survival in the age of climate change should Mongolia begin to experience unusually harsh winters. And it is possible that they may interbreed with feral horses, diluting their bloodline so that they would no longer be a distinct species. But the Przewalski’s horse seems to have avoided the biggest threat to species recovering from near-extinction — a lack of genetic diversity leading to inbreeding and health problems.

Read more at Smithsonian here.

Read more at Newsweek here.

All images taken from the sites linked above.

A Good Day for Chimps

It has been a season of good news for wild animals in captivity. I recently posted an article about SeaWorld’s announcement that it will be ending (some of) its killer whale shows. While this big announcement amounted to no more than media spin to deflect the public outcry raised by the film Blackfish, it does look like SeaWorld is eventually going to have to bow to pressure and end its captive orca programs entirely.

Now, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which has long been the government body tasked with approving research projects using chimpanzee test subjects, has announced that it will no longer be keeping a supply of captive chimps for this purpose. It will also continue to phase out all the chimp research funding it has, in the past, provided to outside facilities.

Since 2013, the NIH has been in the process of reducing researcher reliance on chimps. Most of its 360 captive chimps were to be retired, with a group of 50 to be kept in case they were needed for future research. Now, in a document leaked by an NIH employee, the head of the agency has stated that these last 50 chimps would be retired, as well.

Last June, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service listed captive chimps under the Endangered Species Act, making it that much harder for the NIH to approve them for research uses. In addition, any researcher wanting to use chimps would have had to show that the planned research would in some way benefit wild chimps. These strict conditions were apparently enough to deter new chimp-based research, because no new applications for chimpanzee projects were received after the status change went into effect.

Some who would like to have access to captive chimps for use in studies to benefit wild chimps and other primates may be disappointed by this news. Chimp research has already been outlawed in many places. So, overseas researchers who, for example, wish to test ebola vaccines meant for wild chimps on their captive cousins may have trouble finding test subjects. The NIH’s director, however, believes that other species of primates still available to researchers can serve as suitable test subjects for these types of vaccine trials.

The NIH is in the process of preparing a retirement plan for its captive chimps as well as those in other facilities it has been funding.

View the Science magazine article here.

A Beautiful Photo: Little Pika

These little guys, which have been described as a cross between a bunny and a mouse, are undeniably adorable. They are also very picky about where they live. Their physiology requires them to always stay cool, so they can only live at very high altitudes. They can actually die when exposed to temperatures over about 78 degrees Fahrenheit for more than a few hours. They are primarily found in the high Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains.

Photo credit to Jon LeVasseur (www.sharetheexperience.org).

View the original UDSI post here.

Wilderness Therapy and Healing the Wounds of War

Watch this beautiful video, and try not to cry. I dare you.

There’s something about the power of wilderness to heal the wounded soul. From PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder, a debilitating condition that plagues many veterans) to physical ailments like traumatic brain injury, spending time in the great outdoors can provide a great healing force.

The Sierra Club’s Military Outdoors program aims to connect active military and veterans through backcountry adventures. It may seem intuitive that time in the outdoors can heal, but the Sierra Club is taking this work one step further. In partnership with the University of California Berkeley, they are collecting data on their veteran adventurers so that they can quantify how vets get better. The ultimate goal is to use this data to persuade the Veterans’ Administration to provide funding for nature-based therapy for wounded warriors.

2015-5-Feature-Cedar-Mesa-veterans-tattoo-WB-3

I really enjoyed this story of a group of vets undergoing a sweat lodge ceremony to release past traumas and visions of horror. From my own experience with the sweat, I know this can be a very powerful tool — one among many.

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 1.04.28 PM

Here’s another great video, this one from Outward Bound for Veterans. This program works with the reality that adjusting back to “normal” life after the intensely bonding teamwork of deployment can be a process of grieving. These adventures for veterans and active duty servicepeople are one way to bring back some of that missing sense of belonging.

Here’s something that’s not okay in any way, shape, or form: “More soldiers have died from self-inflicted wounds than service members died in combat between 2002 and 2013.” That horrifying fact comes from this recent High Country News feature on wilderness therapy for vets which also notes that in 2010, 6,000 vets committed suicide … 20 percent of all U.S. suicides.The V.A. mental health system is overwhelmed, and may not have access to the best tools for healing soldiers. According to a recent survey, one-third of veterans with PTSD or traumatic brain injury stop going to treatment, and another one-third never go to be treated in the first place. Clearly, our veterans need access to more meaningful healing opportunities than that which the federal government can currently provide.

That’s why it’s so important for civilian society to step up. As with Sierra Club Outdoors and Outward Bound for Veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project’s Project Odyssey provides a series of nature-based odysseys to help vets in “overcoming adversity and finding the way home.” Project Odyssey’s goal is to help veterans struggling with combat stress move beyond it to reconnect with society and family.

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 2.01.12 PM

Veterans Expeditions, or VetEx, brings veterans into the mountains for training in mountaineering skills and camaraderie with fellow vets. Although they are a small organization, they are able to bring several hundred vets a year on their expeditions, according to this National Geographic article about them.

79550.ngsversion.1422286243589.adapt.1190.1

These and other programs are a great start. They are doing incredible work, and their reach will expand to more and more veterans who need their help. There is a large population in need, and so more programs are needed … who else wants to start a wilderness therapy program for vets?

[Featured photo and all videos and photo credit goes to the above linked articles and websites.]

Beautiful Video: A Love Letter to America’s Wilderness

So, this video is pretty inspirational:

http://www.theatlantic.com/video/iframe/380841/

What a lot of people don’t know is that much of the funding for the US to conserve these incredible places comes from a pool of money called the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It was established over 50 years ago. It takes money that the government charges oil and gas companies for the right to operate offshore drilling platforms, and turns it into a fund to create national parks, forest, wildlife refuges, and so forth, and to protect them from development along their borders.

Each year, the fund provides about $900 million dollars, but Congress has habitually siphoned off most of the money for other uses, leaving only $100 million or so for land protection.

And now, the Fund has expired. Congress is working to renew it, but some in the House are trying to gut the law and make it even less potent than it was before. You can contact your senators and representative and ask them to fully reauthorize the LWCF.

There’s a lot more information about the LWCF here.