Didik’s Journey To Orangutan Baby School

Shot and stolen from the wild, one orphaned orangutan, an emblem of conservation efforts, gets a second chance.

By Vicki Croke

He’s proved to be a fighter, more resilient than anyone could have imagined when he was rescued from a shop in West Borneo on June 14.

On that very first day, what the experienced team from International Animal Rescue (IAR) saw was a baby orangutan near death. Most likely he had been stolen from the wild, and kept as someone’s pet before being abandoned among shelves of groceries and hardware items. He was in pain, malnourished, and suffering from skin and eye infections.


When he arrived, little Didik was depressed, in pain, and unable to eat. (Caretakers at the IAR facility wear face masks because all the orangutans are vulnerable to human disease.) Photo: IAR.

Back at the IAR facility on Borneo, which cares for 109 other rescued orangutans— mostly adolescents and babies— caretakers named their latest arrival Didik. A thorough exam revealed how dire the orangutan’s situation was: X-rays showed a bullet was lodged in his right shoulder. And he weighed in at only six pounds. That’s closer to the size of an infant than the 18-month-old that the development of his teeth revealed he was.

Didik’s story is emblematic of the plight of many orangutans. Both Bornean and Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered, losing their forest homes to fire, logging, and oil palm plantations.

“The situation for orangutan populations has reached a critical point. The Bornean orangutan population has declined by 50 percent in the past 60 years and that rapid decline is showing no sign of slowing down. The main threats to the species are habitat loss and illegal hunting. Deforestation to convert land to palm oil plantations and other agro-industries is rapidly destroying the orangutans’ forest home.”  — Lis Key, International Animal Rescue

Last year, fires started by land clearance efforts and fanned by El niño weather conditions “turned a really desperate situation for the orangutans into a crisis of massive proportions,” Key says in an email. IAR reports that five million acres of forest were likely lost.


Jaguars Interrupted: Counting Big Cats After A Hurricane

Two months after Earl hit Belize, researchers at the world’s first jaguar reserve are still taking stock.

By Vicki Croke

This past summer, within days of gathering spectacular camera-trap footage of a female jaguar and her two tiny cubs sauntering through the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize, field scientists with Panthera, the global wild cat conservation organization, got the news that a tropical storm was forming and might just come their way.

As the predictions quickly grew dire, Dr. Bart Harmsen, Dr. Rebecca Foster, and their team, did what they could to prepare: In the sanctuary, they relocated their cat cameras out of areas that were likely to flood, and outside the park, where the researchers live, they set about securing houses.


Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary–in some ways a paradise for jaguars, who often live into “old age” here. Courtesy: Rebecca Foster/Panthera.

Earl, a massive category 1 hurricane, made landfall in Belize on Thursday, August 4—battering Belize City and causing destruction elsewhere—including the 190-square-mile jaguar reserve. The next day, when the storm had passed, the anxious jaguar researchers were told they wouldn’t be allowed back into the park until debris had been cleared from the entrance.

This left plenty of time to worry about several animals. There was that female and her vulnerable cubs—the tiniest the scientists had ever seen in their footage; a beautiful bruiser named Ben (officially M11-8); and many other jaguars—and pumas too— whose life stories had been written in camera trap footage, in the tracks left on the trails, and in some very rare face-to-face encounters with researchers.

READ MORE ON WBUR’S THE WILD LIFE: http://wbur.fm/2dInlr0


Individual jaguars can be identified by their distinguishing spot patterns. Courtesy: Panthera/UB ERI/Belize Audubon Society.

Book review — ‘I Want To Know What It Is Like To Be A Wild Thing’

The New York Times Book Review

Charles Foster’s ‘Being A Beast’
By Vicki Constantine Croke

NYTimes-Olivier Schrauwen

Olivier Schrauwen

It’s not easy being a theriomorph. The gods of myth never seem to break a sweat when they sprout an elephant head, goat hooves or swan’s wings. But few of us mere mortals can take on an animal’s nature so effortlessly.

My own early experiments in this transformation involved a strange quadrupedal scuttle meant to mimic the stride of my childhood dog, a collie mix named Penny. The gait slowed me down, gave me a head rush and produced grass stains on my culottes that infuriated my mother. Beyond the suburbs, traditional shamanic uses of hallucinogens, such as ayahuasca, are said to facilitate such metamorphoses. But here again, a novice’s pants might require more than spot cleaning, this time from the explosive biological side effects.

The messiness of morphing is a pungent theme of “Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide,” a meditative romp that leaves you laughing out loud (and occasionally cursing in anger) even as you soak up the spray of science… READ MORE

Courage Of A Tiny Orphaned Rhino

In an Indian park, where every rhino life counts toward keeping the species going, a baby is saved in a monsoon. 

By Vicki Croke

Nearly 2-3 days old male rhino calf found alone in the wilderness of Agoratoli range is rescued by the Kaziranga forest staff and handed over to Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation and Conservation (CWRC) the IFAW-WTI wildlife care facility for care on Monday,6th July 2015.Photo:Subhamoy Bhattacharjee/IFAW-WTI

The tiny orphaned male rhino, just days old, was discovered holding his own in a rushing stream. He was then handed over to the rescue unit of a rehabilitation center run by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Wildlife Trust of India. Photo: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee/IFAW-WTI.

A newborn baby Indian rhino, orphaned just days ago in Kaziranga National Park in Assam, is safe now and being bottle-fed round the clock by teams of experienced caregivers.

In this place, which contains the highest concentration of Indian rhinos in the world, each rhino life counts toward keeping the species going.

The tiny, days-old “neonate” Indian rhinoceros was alone and frightened when he was saved from a rushing stream Monday in the eastern part of Kaziranga National Park in India.

Male rhino calf rescue 06 copy

The baby rhino is so young that even his thick, segmented skin looks baggy on him. Photo: Subhamoy Bhattacharjee/IFAW-WTI.

So young that his body-armor skin is still baggy, and his ears too big for his head, he was separated from his mother, and barely holding his own against the current. That’s when one of the park’s anti-poaching teams discovered him. The group was able to pull the calf from the torrent, but once on dry land, his troubles continued. A thorough effort to find his mother turned up nothing…


Selfie Seekers Putting Animals (And Selves) At Risk

Surfing on whale sharks, riding a moose, and mugging with bears, smart phone users do some not-so-smart, dangerous, even cruel things.

By Vicki Croke

moose rider

According to Canada’s National Post: “Wildlife authorities in British Columbia said they were on the hunt for the man, who was captured on video leaping out of a boat and onto the moose while his companions laugh from a nearby boat. The video, shot at an unknown time and location, was posted to YouTube.” Video still: Wolftracker TV.

Swimmers using a whale shark as a living surfboard. A boater leaping onto the back of a moose who is trying to swim across a lake. A 22-year-old with a friend who lures a mother manatee and her baby toward the dock so he can cannonball the gentle mammals.

These are among the latest examples of what appears to be a new trend, one in which selfie- and video-seeking humans play a dumb and dangerous game, harassing wild animals in order to gain glory on social media. (Though they sometimes gain a day in court with their own videos working as evidence against them.)

In footage believed to have been shot in Venezuela, two men use a huge whale shark as a living surfboard, as they are pulled along by a speedboat full of people. The scene takes place over a few minutes, and appeared on Facebook in a post that has since been taken down. Whale sharks are the largest fish species and their status is considered “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Video: vdoobv MY.

Manatees, whale sharks, bisonmoose, tigers—it seems no species is safe.

In fact, taking selfies with wild bears became enough of a trend that the U.S. Forest Service’s Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit had to issue a warning against it last year. “We’ve had mobs of people that are actually rushing toward the bears trying to get a ‘selfie’ photo,” Lisa Herron, spokesperson for the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

This week, Canada’s National Post reports that a man whose companions recorded and posted video of him leaping off their boat onto the back of a moose who was trying to swim across a lake may face animal-harassment charges in British Columbia.

In a video posted to YouTube just this past weekend, several people in a boat chase down a moose swimming in a lake in British Columbia. When they draw close enough, one of the men jumps onto the moose. Authorities are trying to identify and locate the man–wildlife harassment is illegal in the province. Though someone on the boat says what he is doing is “awesome,” wildlife officials disagree, telling Canada’s Global News that you can see “fear in the animal’s eyes.” Video: Wolftracker TV.

Depending on where it takes place, and what kind of animal is involved, this kind of activity isn’t just mean, it’s illegal. And though getting that shot may be the motive for tormenting animals to begin with, those videos and pictures themselves, posted on YouTube and other social media, can alert the authorities (as well as motivated animal lovers) and provide clear photographic evidence of the crime…


Take The Bat Man, Dracula, And Tequila. Mix Well.

How a famous biologist spent his career saving ‘the tequila bat’ and rectifying the image drawn in Bram Stoker’s classic story.

By Vicki Croke

Rodrigo nose to nose

“I am the Bat Man”: so says Rodrigo Medellin in a new documentary. Photo: Rodrigo Medellin.

On the nights that the teenage Rodrigo Medellin didn’t have enough cow’s blood stored in the freezer’s ice-cube trays to feed the 10 pet vampire bats he kept in the bathroom, his sister would help him draw some of the life-giving fluid from his own veins. Then, from behind the bathroom door, the winged mammals would stir with anticipation, recognizing his approach. When he walked in the room, he remembers, the bats “were ready.”

No wonder he grew up loving Bram Stoker’s classic horror story “Dracula.” And, no wonder he would become known as “The Bat Man of Mexico,” the high-achieving, much–honored conservationist who has saved bats, and, in so doing, has also ended up helping Mexico’s most famous export—tequila, which depends on those pollinating mammals.

rodrigo poses with sign

One of the biggest tasks for Medellin and his students: making bats known to the people who live near them. Photo: Rodrigo Medellin.

We caught up with the 57-year-old biologist at the New England Aquarium, which was screening the wonderful David Attenborough/BBC film about Medellin and his work: “Natural World: The Bat Man of Mexico.”

Medellin, dressed in a black sweater and black slacks, is as irresistible and hypnotic as that gothic Transylvanian Count, though minus the suave creepiness.

Medellin was already a mammal-obsessed 11-year-old kid who, in the late 1960s, landed a stint on a Mexican TV quiz show called “The 64,000 Peso Challenge.” The first young student to do so. He didn’t win the top prize, but over several appearances, his astounding knowledge about animals drew the attention of a dean at the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City, where he now teaches.

1970 Cañon Zopilote

Medellin was bat obsessed starting in his teens. His parents–a Wagnerian opera singing mother and an accountant dad who owned an ice cream factory, always supported his passions. Photo: Rodrigo Medellin.

The dean invited him on field expeditions, and members of the department put the first bat into his hands when he was 12. He was hooked. “That blew my mind away,” he says.