ocean wildlife



By Kirk Robinson,

Executive Director of Western Wildlife Conservancy, and

Advisor to the Coalition for All Wildlife


Wildlife advocacy and political activism require us to make a moral commitment to the goals of conservation. Unfortunately, the choices are not always easy ones because moral ideals often conflict and we must choose between them or settle for doing nothing. But that’s often how it is with moral issues. If choices were always obvious and easy, they wouldn’t demand much of us, and we would be much the less for it.

The reason I bring this up is because the wild animals that I (we) care about and are trying to protect and conserve are frequently killed by people who hate them or value them only as trophies, which raises the question whether we should even try to recover or protect them. This is particularly the case with the Mexican wolf because it is a subspecies of wolf that is languishing under the feckless stewardship of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Nothing significant has yet been done to further the recovery of the Mexican wolf without a law suit brought by conservation organizations. And of course a big part of the reason for this is the pushback from the states that don’t want wolves, period, never mind the Endangered Species Act. This is because the western states are dominated politically by the mindless traditional view that all native predators have to be either eliminated or strictly controlled by lethal means.

So what are we to do about this? When Western Wildlife Conservancy first started 20 years ago (then called the Utah Cougar Coalition), my charge from the board (which I inherited) was to end cougar hunting in Utah within one year. Well, of course that didn’t happen. Nor was it even politically possible. Fortunately, while members of the board conspired to try to remove me, the bylaws that they themselves adopted made that difficult, and instead they resigned one by one, allowing me to choose a new board that understood the political realities of carnivore conservation. The original members of the board had good hearts, but were clueless about what it would actually take to get the job done and weren’t up to the task of developing a long term strategy and sticking with it. Furthermore, they had no understanding of ecology and the way in which species, as members of communities of organisms, depend upon each other: their mutual thriving is a matter of mutual dependence; the good of each is dependent upon the good of all (considered as members of species). They loved animals, but they lacked this critical perspective.

What about the Mexican wolf? Human beings drove it nearly to extinction, leaving only seven of them to become founders of a recovery effort. Canis lupus baileyi was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act way back in 1976 and recovery efforts began 18 years ago with reintroductions into the wild.

After many years of slow growth, then population stagnation, there was a short run of years in which the population in the wild grew – reaching 110 at the end of 2014. But this only happened because of law suits. As of now the count is down to 97 – a 12% decline. There were eleven known deaths, plus two more that were apparently due to trauma from capture by FWS (wolves are periodically captured for various reasons, such as to fit them with radio collars), and probably a few others that we don’t know about, as there were several “missing” wolves. The point is that a lot of these wolves are being illegally killed (and a few unintentionally killed), which is in turn causing some deaths of pups (pup survival was greatly reduced this last year). Thus, one might well ask – and I think we really should ask – whether it is ethically proper for us to continue the Mexican wolf recovery effort. (I want to emphasize that these killings are not properly called poachings. That’s what you call killing a deer out of season or without a license. We’re talking here about malicious killings by people who would be happy to wipe out all wolves if they could.)

Individual wolves count. Their lives count. They are conscious, intelligent, emotional beings in their own right. So why should we continue to release captive individuals into the wild if they stand a serious chance of being killed by an ignorant yahoo? It is a fair question to ask – never mind that recovery is mandated by the ESA.

I understand and appreciate the dilemma – both horns of it: either we continue the effort to recover the Mexican wolf or it will go extinct. Neither of these options is attractive and there is no third option. Thus, each of us must choose for ourselves where we stand. Obviously, I am for continuing the effort with determination and passion. I believe we have a duty to do so. But that is my judgment. You might disagree.

This doesn’t mean that I am content to allow the recovery effort to plod along or to just accept the illegal killings. Far from it. What we want is not just conservation, but compassionate conservation. Indeed, this is a whole new field that has opened up in the last five years or so. And in the case of the Mexican wolf, what it means is that we have to pressure the Fish and Wildlife Service to do more to prevent the illegal killings of Mexican wolves, and not only to release more captive wolves into the wild. What we want in the end is a genetically viable, self-sustaining, and ecologically functional population of wolves that human beings simply leave alone.

Among other things, I believe this means that they must retrieve radio receivers that FWS handed out to ranchers living in the vicinity of Mexican wolves, which they can use to learn the whereabouts of wolves. The FWS originally gave several ranchers receivers because they thought it would make them less hostile to the recovery effort if they could avoid moving their livestock into areas where wolves are present. While we don’t know for certain that this has enabled illegal wolf killings, it clearly places wolves at greater risk. Thus, many of us believe that it would be prudent to take the receivers away.

Another thing the federal government could do is invest more in finding and capturing and prosecuting the law breakers. Of course, resources are limited, making this difficult. And resources are limited because the livestock lobby is so very powerful – never mind that only about 2% of national beef production comes from the arid western states. The Republicans in Congress – Utah’s Congressman Bishop being a prime example – are passionately committed to doing all they can to make the Endangered Species Act ineffective. That’s just the truth and is not meant to be partisan.

We live in a democracy – supposedly. What this means is that we citizens have the ultimate responsibility to make it work properly and to change the status quo when it needs changing. Otherwise we might as well live under a monarchy or theocracy or dictatorship of some sort, where we only have to obey. My view, therefore, is that it is up to us citizens to bring about improvements in wildlife conservation and management, and in other areas of civil life. We can’t just leave it to the government or to the good will of people who lack good will. If we are unwilling to rise to this challenge, then probably the best thing would be for us to just admit it to ourselves and give up. I am not willing to do this, so the alternative for me is to keep going no matter what obstacles are thrown up by the obstructionists.

I am not willing to give up, not just because I am stubborn – though maybe I am that too – but because, wildlife conservation aside, I want democracy to succeed and believe it is partly my responsibility to make it succeed. And to be perfectly frank about it, though this admission might strike some as a display of the utmost arrogance, I hold myself in high esteem and regard it as beneath my dignity as a human being to allow myself such an easy out. I won’t settle for a life of ignorance and complacency. And you shouldn’t either.

A great extinction is underway – the sixth major one in Earth history, the last one having occurred approximately 65 million years ago. The difference is that that one was mainly due to an asteroid colliding with Earth, while this one is entirely due to us – a very young species on Earth as far as that goes. For all our noontime brilliance (and, as a species we have demonstrated great brilliance), we are in the process of destroying all that is good. The world we are rapidly creating is one that by the end of the 21st Century, if nothing changes, will be devoid of most large-bodies species living in the wild, both on land and in the sea, and absent any truly wild places.

I recently finished a new book, published just this year, titled “The Society of Genes.” The first chapter of this book explains in very clear terms how cancers develop. The development always goes through eight stages serially. Maybe the same is true of life on Earth, with the great extinctions marking the stages. When human beings are through with the Earth, the way things are going, it not only will be devoid of all the glorious species that have evolved over the eons, but it won’t afford a life worth living for human beings either. That will essentially be the death of the planet. Maybe new biodiversity will evolve in the subsequent 50-100 million years (it will take about that long), but one can only hope that the big evolutionary dead-end of primates with big brains that they don’t know how to use won’t be repeated.

Okay, granted, the scenario I just described doesn’t have to play out. But it is a virtual certainty unless we make sure it doesn’t. And doing this will require three things of us besides our big brains: thoughtful moral vision, self-determination, and courage.


Photo: Jim Clark, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons / “This image or recording is the work of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.”/ A captive Mexican wolf at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.





Carmen Smith spent her childhood running through a creek, climbing trees, and walking in the woods. Her family did a lot of boating, often going to Horseshoe Island near their home in Greenbay, Wisconsin. Her job was to jump off the boat while it was still moving and tie it to the dock, so she learned to tie good knots, which still comes in handy.


When her grandmother bought her mother the Audobon Field Guide to the Eastern U.S., Carmen quickly “borrowed” it. She i.d.’d all the birds she saw and logged them in the book. For a long time she looked for a Cedar Waxwing and finally saw one after several years.


She could even birdwatch from inside her house, which was built on a hill. From her room, looking out the window, she could see the tree canopy.




Her family often went scuba diving and snorkeling, and from a raft, they watched herons. In the sixth grade, she, with her older sister and their parents, went to Florida to see the manatees. “They were huge,” she remembers. This was before a lot of people went to see manatees – before they were being hit by boat propellers and before they had to chain off parts of the water to keep boats out. At a place called Crystal River, they were able to see the manatees up close. They looked like “huge rocks floating out of the water. They ate seaweed, and it was hanging out of their mouths.” There was a spot in the Crystal River, 60 or 70 feet down where there was a freshwater spring entering the river.


Most of their scuba diving was done in the Great Lakes though, where they saw birds, fish, and salamanders.


At home, they had a dog and cats; many of the neighborhood cats came in as well, and sometimes brought with them little animals or birds they had caught. Carmen bandaged them up and cared for them as best she could.


Loving the outdoors was a major part of her childhood.


Carmen’s dad was a chemical engineer, and her mother started and ran a temporary employment agency.


She describes herself as a lazy student who got by doing well on tests, without putting in a lot of hard work studying. Fond of math and science, especially algebra, biology, and chemistry, she liked the arts as well.


In high school, one day when she was working in a hotel on an after-school job, she looked out a second-floor window just in time to spot someone trying to sweep an injured bat off the sidewalk. She shouted out the window for them to stop, and raced down the stairs to save the bat. She found wildlife rehabilitators at the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary and took the bat there to be cared for. That was her first bat rescue.


At the University of Wisconsin, she studied philosophy and religious studies, with a minor in anthropology. She had been drawn to the idea of ethical forestry, but then found herself planning to go to graduate school to study archaeology instead.


Archaeology inspired her curiosity about why people do what they do. In Wisconsin, where there are a lot of Native American archaeological sites, she worked on one that dug up ancient trash piles, carefully avoiding digging up burial sites out of respect for the ancient people. A lot could be discovered by sifting through trash. There were the remains of ancient buildings, constructed of timber, and sometimes they had built in stone. The site lay along a major river where there had been a lot of trade up and down the waterway. The tributaries led to the Mississippi further south, and they suspected possible connections to the Missouri mound builders.


Spending a semester abroad in Latvia, she traveled a lot during her school years, and in the years after graduation – to Greece, Romania, Estonia, Lithuania, England, France, Italy, Scotland, and Iceland. A natural history trip took her to see a glacier in New Zealand, and she went to the rainforests and the deserts in Australia.


In Iceland, the northern lights were amazing. The waterfalls were frozen, and the hot springs were really hot despite the snow all around. One day, shaggy ponies rocked their car, and they barely managed to drive off safely with no damage to themselves or the ponies. There she also experienced her first earthquake.




She traveled quite a bit around the U.S. too, but had never been west. On a trip to California, she traveled through the redrock canyonlands of Utah. Captivated, she returned a year or so later to southern Utah, where she’s lived since 2001, to begin a career as a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.


About 10% of Carmen’s 200-300 orphaned and injured wild patients each year are reptiles and amphibians.


Of the others, about half are birds and around half are mammals. There always seem to be a number of bats and squirrels.


Fifty to seventy different species arrive every year. This past year, there were many birds; especially doves, robins, hummingbirds, and goldfinches. One year there were 36 cottontail babies. The kinds of species that arrive vary greatly from year to year.


Finding opportunities to teach people how to help wild creatures is an important aspect too. For example, when someone brings her a bird that has flown into a window, clearly, the person cared enough to bring the bird. Providing education on how to avoid window collisions is a great help to the people, as well as to the birds.


Carmen views spending her life working with wildlife as “an effort to mitigate how hard it is for wild birds and animals to exist peacefully in a world dominated by humans,” she says, “It is a way of ‘giving back’. It is damage control.”


Top photo: Royalbroil / Wikimedia Commons / Horseshoe Island, Wisconsin.


Second photo: “This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code. See Copyright.” / Three West Indian manatees.


Third photo: Sharon St Joan / Zion National Park













By Suzanne Cordrey


What is it about the jungle that is so mesmerizing, so breathtaking that it overpowers the senses and reduces me into a giddy, childlike state of joy? Every time.


After a long travel day and an Indiana Jones ride in the dark looking for a house we’ve never been to, fording streams and potholes big enough to snorkel in, we fell asleep in hammocks, air mattresses and beds with the warm tropical rain pattering on the roof, competing noisily with the din of night creatures whistling, croaking and outdoing each other. At some point in the night, we all awoke to a violent shaking and realized it was an earthquake. All the noise stopped for a few minutes and the rhythmic lapping of the waves down at the beach assured us it was over. Not sure of the cosmic significance of that.


The open air house replete with fruit trees in the yard was the perfect venue for some scrumptious bird watching. The Indian almond trees brought in the scarlet macaws, so brilliant in their red, yellow and blue feathers, their long tails tipping up into the sky as they pulled off the almonds and nibbled at the nut inside. It brought about a curiosity that led us to try to cut open one of the nuts. No one had the strength to undo it with any of the kitchen instruments we had. The macaws flew in pairs (they mate for life) and often they were seen in threes, a juvenile in tow as they taught him the laws of the jungle.




Every night we listened to the howler monkeys croaking their conversations to each other; sometimes near the house, other times they were down the beach a ways. An early morning walk led us to find them washing fruits in a stream that drained into the gulf (Golfo Dulce). We were anxious to get a closer look, mamas and their babes, the big males coming over to meet us and issue forth a warning about the boundaries of their territory. Point taken. We retreated to watch the royal terns dive into the shallow ocean water to fish, pelicans cruising by, an occasional frigate bird high in the sky, looking like a child’s kite twittering in the lofty breeze.


Every day brought a new adventure as we kayaked through the mangrove swamps, which proved to be full of no-see-ums and drove us out into the ocean, where dolphins bobbed along at a distance. We had a local guide take us into the Corcovado National Park, which proved to be quite remote and required a great deal of effort to get to – a two-hour drive on a narrow pitted road, and a 45 minute walk down a black sand beach, fording streams that flowed from the mountains. One very special moment came when a member of our group spotted a tiny, newly hatched Olive Ridley turtle padding its way over the footprints on the beach as it ran towards the ocean water, where it would spend the rest of his life. We were witness to his first experience of salt and wondered just what it must have felt like to him. If he were a she, it would be years before she would return to that very spot to lay her eggs. What an intimate moment in which to participate. We all felt it.




Howler monkeys were one of four species we were lucky to see. Spider monkeys, red-backed squirrel monkeys and white-faced capuchins lived there too. While in the Corcovado jungle, we came upon a family of capuchins, and the baby became interested in us. He climbed down to where the guide, Philipe, was standing with his spotting scope. The baby reached out and touched the scope, consequently looking into the end of it with his innocent curiosity, We all watched in amusement, and backed away when an older sibling came to assert his dominance in protection of the young one. The Corcovado jungle path led us to another exciting discovery as we came upon a collared anteater loping down a tree trunk, his tongue slurping up bunches of ants as he tore open slivers of bark on the tree trunks. He did not break stride as he came near us so we got a good look at his lovely blond fur coat with its black collar and black back. A beautiful animal who stepped into our limelight on that day. We had been following the tracks of a tapir, who had rather big feet. But he disappeared into the deep jungle to sleep, so we did not pursue him further.


The area on the Oso Peninsula, which is on the southern Pacific coast only 40 miles from Panama, holds a large number of bird species and we all got used to going everywhere with our binoculars as an added appendage of our bodies. Parrots, trogons, raptors, seabirds, songbirds, egrets and ibis, ducks, kingfishers, and some very flashy butterflies including the awesome blue morpho, danced in and out of our lives. There was a wildlife rescue and several parrot rescues doing the good work there. We were like a sponge, absorbing everything, taking it all in. The local people we met were kind and gentle. They helped us out with changing a flat tire, giving directions, arranging a birthday cake, recommending the appropriate guides.




On our last day, horse back riding took two women in one direction, and the rest of us boarded a small boat for a ride into the Golfo Dulce where we located a pod of over 100 dolphins, spotted dolphins. They come into the gulf, as do the Humpback whales in August, to breed and raise their young in a safe place as there are no natural predators there. They bear live young like we do, feed their babies milk like we do, and teach their young to survive, living in family groups, staying together for several years. Mamas and their babies, larger males who swam around and alongside the boat, playing in the boat’s wake, spinning out of the water, tail slapping and just having fun. At one point the guide turned off the motor and we listened to them breathe. Dolphins are mammals who are obligate air breathers. They have to consciously exhale, then inhale as they reach the surface. And they sleep with only half their brain, while the other half conducts their breathing functions. They are smart, brains as big as ours, and think about it, they don’t pollute their environment, or overpopulate, or overfish the ocean. And they have lived on the planet for millions of years. I have such admiration for them. I was elated, absolutely over the moon to be able to be amongst them that day. It was the highlight for me.




Did I not mention the weasel, frogs, boa constrictor, lizards, iguana, the poisonous sea snake and other magical creatures that walk the earth at this magical moment in time that we do? What a wonderful confirmation it is to witness all these sights at a time when so much emphasis is put on the destruction of the planet. Please understand, I do know that such devastation exists. Of that I am keenly aware, unfortunately aware of its immensity. And Costa Rica suffers as well. But that is a different story. This trip was a gift from Spirit to acknowledge that there is Light as well.


Top photo: Travis Isaacs from Grapevine, TX, USA / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / A scarlet macaw.


Second photo: Paulo B. Chaves / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.” / A howler monkey.


Third photo: Petruss / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.” / A spider monkey.


Fourth photo: Laura Gooch/ Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.” / This trogon is native to Cuba.        


Fifth photo: “This image is in the public domain because it contains materials that originally came from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, taken or made as part of an employee’s official duties.” / Wikimedia Commons / An Atlantic spotted dolphin.


© 2014, Coalition for American Wildbirds





In a time when songbirds were plentiful in the deciduous forests around Cincinnati, Ohio, Suzanne Cordrey grew up watching colorful birds come to the feeder outside the window and became enamored with the cardinals, eastern bluebirds and hummingbirds, among others.


She followed a normal pathway through school and after receiving a Masters degree in dental hygiene administration, found her way to Colorado. Golden eagles, red tailed hawks, magpies all called to her from the forests while she had to bridge that world with her career in dental hygiene. Then, during a bout of illness, a nagging voice in her head began to ask why she couldn’t just live her passion. So she left her career and began seeking a way to become an advocate for the animal kingdom in some way.


While attending a goals day workshop in San Diego, she found herself in tears, for no apparent reason. One of the conference speakers sat outside with her on the back steps, overlooking the sea. He asked her where she would really rather be. She replied, “Swimming with the dolphins and whales, my brothers and sisters of the sea.”


She recalls the moment of this sudden realization as becoming “like a snake shedding its skin.” Her life forever changed after that day.


Within six months she found herself on a ship operated by “Interspecies Communication,” in the Johnson Straits of British Columbia – as an intern, studying orca whales.


Shortly afterwards, she was off on a second trip, this time to the Amazon and armed with a hydrophone, to record the communications of river dolphins.




She and the others in her group traveled into the depths of the Amazon and camped along the riverbank. She saw scarlet macaws flying in pairs over the river and heard a cacophony of bird calls high in the tall jungle canopy where it was impossible to see who was singing to whom.   There was a sad incident with a monkey who was attacked by an ocelot, and who did not survive. As Suzanne was trying to help the frightened monkey, he gave her a severe bite on her hand. Soon her whole arm was red, swollen, and dangerously infected.


Not being well enough to go out with the rest of the team, she stayed in camp by the river bank. There was no medical help anywhere nearby, and they had determined that if there was no improvement by that evening, they’d have to send her by a three-day boat trip back to the nearest river town. Surviving such a boat trip out in the equatorial sun, when she was already seriously ill, was by no means a certainty.


As she sat alone by the river, she heard the sounds of a dolphin breathing as he surfaced rhythmically over and over as he swam towards their camp. She clearly heard the inhalations and the exhalations, and she found she was breathing in sync with the dolphin. The dolphin did not go on down the river, but stayed right there, circling in the water near where she was. She recalls that he spoke to her in her head, staying with her for a couple of hours.


Within an hour or so, she found she was able to begin to move her swollen fingers again.


By evening, when her friends returned, the dolphin had gone on down the river; she was feeling surprisingly well, and by the next morning, with no trace of swelling left, she was able to go out for the day with the rest of the team – a remarkable healing.


After their trip was over and they were all back in Lima, Suzanne made a brave decision to fly off to Cusco and visit Machu Picchu, a mysterious ruins that she had long ago been drawn to.There she stayed in a nearby motel for several weeks. Late one night, after the park had closed, a local worker at the park stole her into the darkened stone buildings and tombs and gave her a tour of Machu Picchu. The event felt like a dream and she recalled deja vu scenes from very long ago.   Early in the mornings, she spent time there alone before the crowds arrived and she felt very much at home.




It was a magical time. 8,000 feet high, at the Portal of the Sun, the gateway to the Inca Trail, among the tall cliffs were bromiliads and orchids. Looking up in the sky, she saw an Andean condor.


On her next adventure, as part of the staff for a touch healing group touring Australia, she cooked and took care of logistics. They rode horses in the eucalyptus forests, camels in the Outback, and swam with dolphins at Monkey Mia. At Ayers Rock, now called Uluru, they watched an eclipse of the full moon. Huddled together on the top of the rock, it was bitterly cold and windy. As the moon slipped behind the earth’s shadow, piercing stars came out in a sky that was far more black than any sky in the U.S. It was “outrageously intense.”


Back in Sydney the group prepared to return to the US, but Suzanne decided to stay on for the next six months. There were more dolphins and many more birds like sulfur-crested cockatoos in large flocks, flying freely over the land, living like all wild birds are born to do.


With Machu Picchu calling her, she went back for three months, also spending time at Lake Titicaca, one of the deepest lakes in the world. The Andes framed the cold water lake with an otherworldly beauty and the llamas, alpacas, and guanacos added to the mystery that the high altiplano maintains.


Continued in part two.


Top photo: Robert Pittman / public domain / NOAA / Two orca whales, Aleutian Islands, Alaska.


Second photo: chuck624 from Upstate NY, USA / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.” / Wikimedia Commons / A Scarlet Macaw in Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica.


Third photo: Christophe Meneboeuf – XtoF / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. “ / Wikimedia / Residential section of the Machu Picchu, Peru.


© Coalition for American Wildbirds, 2014