Roberta Staley is a Vancouver-based author, magazine editor and writer and filmmaker.

Of mice and men: Could COVID spell the end of animal testing?  

The vaccine race is accelerating the emergence of a new frontier in science looking at alternatives to animal modelling

A menagerie of genetically engineered mice, rats, macaque monkeys, rats, ferrets, hamsters, dogs and even horses have been enlisted in the race to find drugs and vaccines to thwart severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the infectious agent responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Grim statistics lend urgency to this marathon, with the World Health Organization reporting more than one million global deaths and well over 30 million confirmed cases at deadline. Governments, trying to calm a frustrated and frightened populace, speak optimistically about pending new treatments as well as the ultimate goal, a vaccine.

Continue Reading...

Tourism collapse in Kenya raises fears of poaching uptick

Massive floods and COVID gutted the tourism industry in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, now poaching may be on the rise

This past spring, massive rainfall caused the Mara River, the lifeblood of the Maasai Mara in southern Kenya, to overflow, flooding ecotourism safari camps located along its high banks. The flooding was so severe that people reported seeing chairs and even refrigerators being swept along the river’s brown, turgid waters.

The widespread floods exacerbated the already dire economic state of the Maasai Mara caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has gutted the tourism industry, says Brian Kearney-Grieve, executive director of the Sidekick Foundation, the primary funder of the Mara Elephant Project. MEP, as it is known, protects the region’s 2,400 pachyderms by mitigating poaching and human-elephant conflict and preserving habitat. As a keystone species, elephants are invaluable to the Maasai Mara, eating brush and trees and spreading seeds via their dung, keeping the Serengeti plains fertile and open for herds of grazing animals.

Continue Reading...

Banking on the wildlife trade

The finance sector could hold the key to stopping the trade that puts the health of millions of animals and humans at risk

COVID-19 has brought into glaring focus the link between animal-borne diseases and the health of humans. While questions remain over precisely how our relationship with animals may have triggered a global pandemic, answers are being sought in the shadowy trade of wild animals, some of it lawful, some not. Scientists suspect that wildlife trading has allowed COVID-19 to leap from bats to intermediate species to people. And with legal wildlife markets temporarily shut down in countries like China and Vietnam, the wildlife trade is being increasingly pushed underground.

Continue Reading...

The economics of saving Kenya’s elephants

As Africa’s grey giants clash with a growing population in southern Kenya, the Mara Elephant Project goes high-tech

It’s closing in on the end of a long day of elephant collaring in the Nyakweri Forest in southern Kenya’s Maasai Mara region. But for Dr. Jake Wall, back in his office at Mara Elephant Project (MEP) headquarters, work concerns are far from over. He peers closely at 21 tiny elephant icons on an enormous, 65-inch wall-mounted Sony television screen displaying colourful forest-green and savannah-brown topography. The icons bear slightly whimsical names: Ivy, Fred, Hugo, Kegol and, now, Fitz — the young bull elephant collared a few hours ago by two teams of MEP rangers, Wall and a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) veterinarian, who darted the pachyderm with a tranquilizer and later administered the antidote to rouse him.

Continue Reading...

Ex-Purolator CEO steers car-sharing towards low-carbon future

Patrick Nangle walked away from CO2-heavy parcel delivery sector to get more Canadians test-driving car-sharing model

Tucked in the corner of Patrick Nangle’s spartan Modo car-sharing office, with its pale walls and light-brown wooden desk, is a black commuter bicycle and a matching helmet dangling from the handlebar. A black-and-red backpack is tossed nonchalantly nearby on the hardwood floor.

Atypical as well—for most CEOs—is Nangle’s office attire: runners, jeans and a dark blue cotton shirt. That casual approach is present throughout Modo’s 300 square-metre Vancouver office, with its floor-to-ceiling photos of happy customers (called members), airy workspaces and cornucopia of fresh fruit in the coffee room. But the equanimity belies a serious mandate that is energized by Vancouver’s unique socially progressive spirit. This, says Nangle, is the Modo ethos of “transforming communities.”

Continue Reading...

Papua New Guinea on the chopping block

Although Papua New Guinea seems a world away and lost in time, the West is implicated in the destruction of its forests

Eight members of the Kimadi tribe stand, crouch or sit on the hard ground, knotty with exposed tree roots, enjoying the relative cool offered by a verdant canopy of leaves overhead. Just a few metres away, the quiet clear waters of a Bismarck Sea lagoon, filled with small schools of striped tropical fish, lap against the grassy bank. The setting is tranquil and bucolic – but not for the Kimadi, who have travelled from their traditional territory in Madang province in Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific to consult with an NGO, the Bismarck Ramu Group (BRG). Founded in 1996 and headquartered just outside the town of Madang, BRG provides consulting services and advice to Indigenous groups like the Kimadi who are fighting ever-growing threats from logging and palm oil development on their lands.

Continue Reading...

Trees and the laws of supply and demand

Illegal import bans and ecotourism protect tropical forests

Worldwide, Interpol and the United Nations Environment Programme estimate the value of the yearly trade in illegal harvested timber at between US$30 billion and $100 billion, or 10-30% of global wood trade.

About 7.3 million hectares of forest – an area the size of Panama – is lost every year to deforestation, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. At the current pace, the Earth’s tropical rainforests will be gone within the next century.

The demand side

Continue Reading...

Breastfeeding for the apocalypse

The need for more effective policies for infant feeding during emergencies

To say that Lourdes Santaballa of Puerto Rico was lucky is an understatement. When Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean archipelago on September 20, Santaballa, single mom to an 11-year-old daughter and nine-year-old son, was hunkered down at home with stores of food and water in her concrete house, west of the capital of San Juan. Santaballa’s former mother-in-law was also sheltering with the family. Together, they waited for the hammer to fall.

And fall it did. For 30 hours, Hurricane Maria, nearly a Category 5 storm, severely damaged or destroyed roadways, bridges and residences and left citizens without power or clean running water. At Santaballa’s home, a huge mahogany tree, which stood in a park directly opposite, was uprooted and catapulted by the tempest almost to the front door. It was a blessing in disguise. The tree’s vast green crown blocked the 250 km/h winds. “There was water and mud in my foyer but the glass windows weren’t broken,” Santaballa says.

Continue Reading...

The cola kids of El Salvador

Youth in El Salvador are addicted to soft drinks, resulting in an epidemic of childhood tooth rot and gum disease.

SAN SALVADOR — What could be duller than waiting to see the dentist? “Muy aburridos” — so bored! — four boys say as they roll their eyes. It’s just after noon, and Oscar, Josué and Eduardo, all 10, as well as Vladimir, 11, are in line with hundreds of others at a government building in Santo Tomás, El Salvador. They’re waiting to see one of the Canadian doctors or dentists who are here on a Canadian medical mission organized by Speroway, a faith-based charity started 13 years ago to help the needy. Like the boys, many of those in the queue have been here since 7 a.m. to ensure they snag a place with one of the health professionals.

Continue Reading...

Telehealth gives access to all

Doctors are using technology in creative ways to treat those isolated from modern health care conveniences.

Dr. Raghu Venugopal – along with other staff at Am Timan Hospital in Chad – was stumped. The two-year-old patient he was attending to was feverish, his legs and back covered in an ulcerating rash.

“I had never seen it before,” says Venugopal, who was medical team leader for a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) mission last year in Chad, a north-central African nation roiled by decades of civil strife, war, famine and drought.

Continue Reading...