Saturday, May 10, 2008


Jenny, the world's oldest gorilla, celebrates her 55th birthday

The world's oldest gorilla celebrated her 55th birthday today with a four-layer frozen fruit cake and banana leaf-wrapped treats.

Jenny's caretakers at the Dallas Zoo say she's having a few joint issues and her eyesight isn't what it used to be but she still looks good for an old ape.

"It's a special milestone for us," said Todd Bowsher, curator of the zoo's Wilds of Africa exhibit. "It signifies that we've made great strides in veterinary care, nutrition and animal husbandry."

Tea-time: Jenny has a reputation for being bossy with her keepers at Dallas zoo

The International Species Information System, which maintains records on animals at 700 institutions around the world, said Jenny is the oldest gorilla in its database.

"I think it's amazing," said Kristen Lukas, curator of conservation and science at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Ohio and the gorilla species survival plan coordinator for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. "I think it's a testament to the good care that she's received at the Dallas Zoo and also the resilience of gorillas in general."

Lukas said gorillas in the wild normally would live to age 30 or 35. Health care and protection from predators has extended the lifespan in zoos.

Jenny gave birth in 1965 to a female named Vicki, who was sent to Alberta, Canada, at age 5. Zoo officials aren't sure why Jenny hasn't conceived again.

Jenny's keepers describe her as very sweet though a little bossy.

Tasty treat: Jenny the gorilla carts off her birthday cake this morning as she turned 55
"If she doesn't want to go out on a certain day, she doesn't," Bowsher said. "But she really likes people."

There were plenty of them at the Jake L. Hamon Gorilla Conservation Research Center Thursday, chowing down on giant sheets of chocolate and vanilla birthday cake as they peered at Jenny through the glass.

Born in the wild of western central Africa in 1953, the exact date of her birth is unknown but the zoo marks it on May 8. Jenny lived with a family on the Cape Verde islands before the Dallas Zoo acquired her in 1957.

"I remember the day she arrived," said Nancy Hamon, 89, of Dallas, whose family bought the gorilla for the zoo and continues to be among its strongest supporters.

Jenny, a 213-pound (97-kilogram) Western lowland gorilla, is one of four gorillas at the zoo.

"It's a good time for the zoo," said Sean Greene, director of Community Relations for the Dallas Zoological Society.

He said the upbeat birthday party was a welcome contrast to the tragedy that occurred in 2004 when another gorilla, 13-year-old Jabari, broke out of his enclosure. He went on a 40-minute rampage in which he snatched up a toddler with his teeth and attacked three other people before officers shot him.

So to what does Jenny attribute her longevity? She's not saying. But her vegetarian diet couldn't hurt: seeds, cereal and one of her favorites, banana peels.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Eat Bugs

Want to Help the Environment? Eat Insects.

A group of experts endorse bugs as a nutritious and sustainable food source.
by Josie Glausiusz

David Gracer lifts a giant water bug, places his thumbs in a pre-sliced slit in its underside, and flips off its head. “Smell the meat,” he says, sniffing the decapitated creature, and the people gathered around the table willingly oblige. Members of the New York Gastronauts, a club for adventurous eaters, they murmur appreciatively as they scoop out and swallow the grayish, slightly greasy insect flesh.

“Perfumey, tastes like salty apples,” one says. “Like a scented candle blended with an artichoke,” another adds.

The giant water bug, or Lethocerus indicus, a three-inch-long South Asian insect that looks uncannily like a local cockroach, is just one of the items on the menu of this bug-eating bacchanal. The Gastronauts’ meal may seem more like a reality TV stunt than a radical environmental strategy, but Gracer is on a serious mission to shake up how we all think about our food supply. Gracer, a self-described “geeky poet/nature boy” who teaches composition at a community college in Providence, Rhode Island, has made it his duty to persuade ordinary Americans to eat insects.

Gracer wants people to move away from getting their protein from traditional livestock such as cows, pigs, and chickens because raising livestock has a huge negative impact on the environment, regardless of whether the animals belong to subsistence farmers in developing countries or a Western industrial conglomerate (see “Warning: Contains Pork By-Products,” page 40). A United Nations report released in 2006 calls the livestock sector “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” The report notes that, among other adverse impacts, livestock production is responsible for 18 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. (That’s more than what is produced by transportation worldwide.) And the problem is only going to grow, with global production of meat reaching 465 million tons by 2050, double the amount produced in 2000.

“Americans have no idea how wasteful these large mammals are,” Gracer says. “If you want to feed a lot of people, insects are the best choice in terms of getting the biggest bang for your buck.” Insects, he claims, are nutritious. Although they typically contain less protein by weight than beef or chicken—100 grams of giant water bugs or small grasshoppers, for example, have about 20 grams of protein, compared with 27 grams in the same amount of lean ground beef—they do have other benefits. For instance, grasshoppers contain just one-third of the fat found in beef, and water bugs offer almost four times as much iron. A 100-gram portion of the cooked caterpillar Usata terpsichore has about 28 grams of protein. In their dried form, as they are commonly sold in Africa, insects such as grasshoppers may contain up to 60 percent protein.

Raising insects has a low impact on the environment. They require little water, perhaps because they obtain much of their moisture from their food. It takes 869 gallons of water to produce a third of a pound of beef, about enough for a large hamburger. By contrast, to supply water to a quarter pound of crickets, Gracer simply places­ a moist paper towel at the bottom of their tank and refreshes it weekly. Insects, he says, also need less food and space than vertebrate sources of protein and therefore could replace or supplement food resources that may become scarce in the future, such as fish stocks, which a recent study indicates may collapse by 2048.

Founded in 2005, Gracer’s company, a one-man operation called Sunrise Land Shrimp, educates people about insect eating, or entomophagy. On a roughly monthly basis, Gracer will visit a high school or give a public lecture, and he recently appeared on The Colbert Report (video). Not long ago he traveled to Thailand to attend a United Nations workshop on entomophagy. “I would love to counteract the portrayal of entomophagy that we see on Fear Factor and Survivor,” he says. “It’s my interest to bring it out of the zone of freakdom.” But even Sunrise Land Shrimp doesn’t sell insects—yet. In the United States insects are generally available only as novelty foods, such as the salt-and-vinegar-flavored crickets sold by Hotlix, a California company that specializes in insect-based candies.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Goodwill Industries International (Rockville, Maryland) is calling on the federal government to enact legislation targeting the collection and recycling of unwanted consumer electronic products.
Specifically, the organization is urging the federal government to:

Assist in the development of a sustainable recycling/reuse infrastructure
Support incentives to manufacturers for product design changes
Use incentives such as tax credits for manufacturers who partner with social agencies, as well as recycling grants and other initiatives that could spur viable solutions and help stakeholders handle this problem.
Goodwill Industries routinely collects large volumes of e-scrap — bringing in 23 million pounds in 2004 alone.
"There are costs, responsibilities, and liabilities associated with serving as a collector," says Jim Gibbons, president and chief executive officer of Goodwill Industries International. "As much as 30 percent of electronics donated to Goodwill are unusable, and disposing of these products in an environmentally responsible way diverts significant resources from Goodwill’s job training programs."
Dell (Round Rock, Texas) and participating Goodwill Industries locations are expanding their e-scrap connection RECONNECT program to include 50 percent of Goodwill locations nationwide by 2008 and 50 percent of U.S. households by 2009.
There are 170 Goodwill organizations in the U.S. and each is an independent entity with its own management and supervisorial board.

Monday, May 5, 2008


Air Pollution Impedes Bees' Ability to Find Flowers

When the spread of flowers' scents are impeded, bees may be less likely to find and pollinate the flowers. A drop in pollination is reducing crops worldwide.

By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 5, 2008; Page A03

Air pollution interferes with the ability of bees and other insects to follow the scent of flowers to their source, undermining the essential process of pollination, a study by three University of Virginia researchers suggests.

This Story
POLLINATION CRISIS: Air Pollution Impedes Bees' Ability to Find Flowers
Vulnerable Plants
Their findings may help unlock part of the mystery surrounding the current pollination crisis that is affecting a wide variety of crops. Scientists are seeking to determine why honeybees and bumblebees are dying off in the United States and in other countries, and the new study indicates that emissions from power plants and automobiles may play a part in the insects' demise.

Scientists already knew that scent-bearing hydrocarbon molecules released by flowers can be destroyed when they come into contact with ozone and other pollutants. Environmental sciences professor Jose D. Fuentes at the University of Virginia -- working with graduate students Quinn S. McFrederick and James C. Kathilankal -- used a mathematical model to determine how flowers' scents travel with the wind and how quickly they come into contact with pollutants that can destroy them. They described their results in the March issue of the journal Atmospheric Environment.

In the prevailing conditions before the 1800s, the researchers calculated that a flower's scent could travel between 3,280 feet and 4,000 feet, Fuentes said in an interview, but today, that scent might travel 650 feet to 1,000 feet in highly polluted areas such as the District of Columbia, Los Angeles or Houston.

"That's where we basically have all the problems," Fuentes said, adding that ozone levels are particularly high during summer. "The impacts of pollution on pollinator activity are pronounced during the summer months."

This phenomenon triggers a cycle, the authors noted, in which the pollinators have trouble finding sufficient food, and as a result their populations decline. That, in turn, translates into decreased pollination and keeps flowering plants, including many fruits and vegetables, from proliferating.

Fuentes said scientists now have a more sophisticated understanding of the signals for which insects are searching, and that air pollution rapidly eliminates as much as 90 percent of flowers' aroma.

"We now know what the pollinators are looking for when they're actually looking for the flowers," he said.

Most bees have poor eyesight, which makes scent particularly important, the researchers wrote.

Since 2006, honeybee colonies in the United States have been suffering from a widespread phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), in which adult worker bees abandon an otherwise-healthy hive.

John P. Burand, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who is studying bee colony collapses, said the effects of air pollution described in the new study are probably not directly related to that phenomenon. But, he added in an e-mail: "There is no doubt that air pollution and air quality is having an effect on bees and other pollinators. It appears there is more than one factor that is contributing to the CCD phenomenon we are seeing with bees, and certainly air pollution in some fashion may be playing a role."

Burand, working with two other University of Massachusetts researchers and an insect ecologist at the University of Maine at Orono, just received a $150,000, three-year grant from the Agriculture Department to analyze microbes carried by bees that pollinate apples, squash and pumpkins. They are working with colleagues to compare the bacteria, viruses and fungi in healthy bee colonies with those in dysfunctional hives.

Richard Poirot, an air-quality planner at Vermont's Department of Environmental Conservation who helps advise the federal government on its national ozone standards, said it makes sense that the chemical reaction of floral hydrocarbons and pollutants such as ozone would reduce the power of a flower's scent and affect the insects that depend on those aromas.

"It does make sense that it certainly would be another stress factor" on pollinators, Poirot said, though he added that pollinators are declining for an array of reasons not related to pollution. "The question is, how significant is it?"

Timothy H. Tear, a senior scientist at the advocacy group the Nature Conservancy who studies the impact of air pollution on ecosystems, said the recent study confirms the extent of ozone's effects on habitats up and down the East Coast.

"We know that ozone levels continue to be high and go well beyond EPA standards for public health," Tear said. "What's been pretty consistent is the more we look at air pollution's impacts on natural resources, the more we find those impacts to be."

Tear and his colleagues have recently completed a survey of how atmospheric pollution is affecting biodiversity in the Eastern United States and concluded that high levels of ozone can decrease forest growth by as much as 30 percent.
According to numbers from Waste Electronic and Electrical Equipment Ireland (Dublin), the citizens of the Emerald Isle more than doubled its 2007 goal for per-capita WEEE collection from 8.8 pounds to 19.8 pounds per person … According to the Consumer Electronics Association (Arlington, Virginia), the average U.S. consumer spent $1,405 on consumer electronics in the last 12 months, $120 more than the previous year … Kyocera Wireless Corp. (San Diego) has been awarded its eighth consecutive recycling honor by San Diego city officials for its green efforts. The company recycled 75 percent of its waste in 2007, conserving more than 3.3 million kilowatts of electricity … The Environmental Protection Agency's Region 7 office in Kansas City collected 10 tons of unwanted electronics on Earth Day … Electronics retail giant Circuit City (Richmond, Virginia) has launched a green Web site, offering consumers various ways to purchase, use and recycle electronics in an environmentally responsible manner … A broad coalition of environmental organizations came out strongly against Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman's veto of Legislative Bill 986, which would have established a producer responsibility e-scrap recovery program. "The governor has chosen to defy the wishes of a wide range of Nebraskans," said Ken Winston, a paid lobbyist for the Nebraska Sierra Club (Lincoln). "His veto only supports out-of-state special interest groups."

HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles