Yo-Yo Tokyo Pachinko

Pachinko parlors certainly offer the laser lights, upbeat music, and other multimedia spectacle popularly expected by its clientele, but that’s not what makes these dens of chance so attractive. Rather, it’s the spectacle of thousands and thousands of cascading metallic balls. Many revel in the noise of metallic impacts alone. Some imagine rain. Others think of money –of success and profit. On the surface, everybody seems to hit jackpot at the Pachinko parlors.

However the metallic balls sound to you, Pachinko is undoubtedly one of the most lucrative games across the world. Originally Japanese, pachinko hasn’t quite picked up across the world but that hasn’t its popularity within its home country and influenced areas. In Japan alone, the game pulls in over $300 billion per annum.

That’s a whole lot of money. To pachinko players, that’s a whole lot of balls.

Houses of Ill Repute, Mainstream, and Everywhere Between –Pachinko’s History

Pachinko JapanUnlike most western games of chance, pachinko started rather modestly –as a child’s game in the 1920s. These early pachinko machines were meant for home ownership.

Not until the 1930s did Japanese adults start recreationally playing pachinko in the parlors and dens of today. At the onset of WW2 all of these parlors and dens closed. Much like golf in late medieval Scotland, the game remained immensely popular after being made illegal and Pachinko parlors flourished in speakeasy type establishments. At the close of WWII pachinko came back to into the limelight with fury and thunder. The first recognized commercial parlor opened in 1948.

Though hugely popular in Japan, pachinko is widely known to be dominated by Japanese Koreans, who moved into the industry after rapid fire machines were banned in the 1950s to curb gambling. While Japanese manufacturers and proprietors backed out, Japanese organized crime increased their presence. That mentioned, near all gambling itself is legal. Pachinko is profitable enough as is.

While Pachinko is known for having an illegal presence, many parlors operate on a purely legitimate level. Visitors and regulars should worry more about a maniacal pachinko player skimming balls rather than upsetting shark-suited thugs.

The Game Mechanics

Pachinko operates like a combination of slot machines and pinball. Balls continue dropping through a vertical maze of pins. Where these metallic balls land is completely random. Some are sucked back into the machine. Others set off alarms or triggers that lead to more balls or send digital slots through a whirl, which can lead to a jackpot of more balls. Sometimes the glinting spheres are caught only to be recycled and set back to the top. Many land into the canister.

Players only control when balls are released and the balls general force of the release. This sense of autonomy keeps players engaged, though the physics themselves are almost completely random. That mentioned, skill does exist among pachinko players and those looking to profit from an automated game of chance are better off with pachinko rather than traditional slot games.

While these are universal aspects of the game, there three reining styles of play:

Hanemono –Popular throughout most pachinko parlors since the 1950s, these machines offer the player the highest chance to use their skills to succeed, based off how and when balls are fired into the machine. While each parlor is different, this type of machine is generally the most affordable and has the smallest payout.

Diji-Pachi –These machines have flourished since the 90s and integrates slots . While winning is further randomized, skill is still important as the game’s objectives are clearer. More importantly, player’s gratification is increased due to the chance of greater payouts and bonus rounds.

Kenrimono –The most difficult but most rewarding pachinko machine, skilled pachinko players gravitate to this type. Initial odds of winning is one in several hundred, but if rounds are successful this continues to halve, thus keeping skilled players in a loop of winning.

Pachinko’s overall objective is to, of course, collect more balls. These can be exchanged for a number of different prizes –at least in Japan. The country’s laws strictly prohibit monetary payout, but there’s usually a conveniently located pawnshop a stone throw’s away from any pachinko parlor. Elsewhere, different payoff rules apply or don’t exist. Illegal parlors operate just about everywhere, including New York and London. That mentioned, many don’t bother to keep things shady are listed as legit games of chance.

Current Pachinko Parlors: The Ladies, You, and the Recession

Given the game’s immense popularity, there’s a whole range of different parlors that cater to different types of players. Some require a cover, offer luxurious surroundings, have dress codes, offer sequestered play areas and the rest. Much like any other casino, pachinko parlors cater to just about anybody with money and sometimes has huge ground floors that attracts people of every walk of life.

Pachinko parlors oftentimes have an internalized economy. Food, smokes, and other goods can be exchanged for balls. Anything can be exchanged for balls, save one object –cash. Perhaps this is what keeps players coming back. Money is at the background and balls themselves are of a uniform value, unlike the colored chips found in casinos.

Pachinko parlors certainly aren’t for everybody. While the spectacle can certainly be breathtaking, those sensitive to smoke or epileptic will want to stay far away.

That mentioned, parlors historically have had better business during times of recession, and plenty of people typically unassociated with the parlors are beginning to frequent these places of chance. Most specifically, women are beginning to frequent parlors more often. Those little balls are beginning to count for more and more.

Poison Dart Frogs Facts

Poison Dart Frogs Information

Poison Dart Frogs are some of Mother Nature’s most vibrantly colored protégés. These tiny frogs range in size from less than an inch long to two and a half inches long and finally prove that size does not matter.

Their bright colors serve to tell predators that they are poisonous. The most toxic of all, the Golden Poison Frog, carries enough toxins to kill 10 – 20 men. Tiny but dangerous are these little fellas. This tactic of preservation is known as “Aposematic Coloration”  and works much the same way as a Monarch Butterfly’s colors.

The scientific family name for Poison Dart Frogs is Dendrobatidae and they are native to Central and South America. They are dinural, which means they are active all day and sleep at night. Many species are threatened.

Blue poison dart frog
By Brian Gatwicke

Their bright colors are astonishing and serve to warn predators of their toxicity. It is their skin that carries the poison. The level of toxicity varies between species and even between populations. The name Poison Dart Frog comes from the fact that many early humans would use their poisonous secretions to coat their darts.

The tropical rainforests and humid areas of Central and South America is where these frogs originated. Brazil, Columbia, Costa Rica, Peru, these are places you’ll likely find native poison dart frogs. The live near flowing streams and wetlands that stays humid. It helps to keep their skin moist and to find insects to survive. Dendrobatidae may live on the ground in leafy areas overgrown with flora and fauna but may also climb and live in trees of the rainforest.

Their coloring and poisonous natures are the most famous attributes of these tiny frogs but they have other remarkable traits as well. Their socialism, parenting skills, courting habits and territoriality are also unusual for amphibian species.

Many species of Dendrobatidae are highly devoted parents.  Poison dart frogs in poison dart frogs in the Oophaga and Ranitomeya classes actually carry their freshly hatched tadpoles on their backs. Predators are well aware of the effects of eating a poison dart frog. Their bright colors serve them well. Their tadpoles, on the other hand, do not have that advantage.

Mom and dad poison dart frogs will guard their eggs and once hatched carry their offspring to treetop aquatic nursery. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? It quite certainly is. High in the treetops of the rainforest, leaves and tree fronds curl and twist to form towering, watery nurseries.

These types of frogs lay up to 40 eggs at a time. This is unusual in the frog world. Most species will lay hundreds of eggs at a time. They are covered in a clear, gelatinous substance that helps to protect them. The adult frogs will carry their tadpoles on their backs to place one single tadpole in each curled leaf cup hanging from the trees.

Strawberry Dart Frog Picture
By Pasha Kirillov

Should a predator find it, the rest of the tadpoles are safe in their own private leaf cup of water. Once safely deposited in their sky-high nurseries, the mother Strawberry poison-dart frogs, Dendrobates pumilio, will go back to the water and lay unfertilized eggs which serves as nourishment to the un-hatched tadpoles.

Their courtship process begins in the rainy season (mid-July through mid-September) with the males of the species fighting amongst each other for territories which remain the victors throughout the mating season.

Once territory is established the various males will begin emitting a courtship call to attract eligible females. The female will follow the male into a marshy area to lay the eggs and the male will then fertilize them. Both parents will share the responsibility of guarding the eggs. Each parent takes turns sitting on the eggs which protects them and keeps them moist. In roughly 12 days, the eggs hatch into tadpoles. The adult frogs carry individual tadpoles to secure nurseries to further develop. In six to twelve weeks, they will develop into fully grown frogs.

The feeding habits of these mighty miniatures are not as delectable as they are useful. They eat the regular fare of any frog, mites, ants, spiders and the lot. The interesting part comes in the after effects. No indigestion or heartburn here. No, the food these little frogs eat is what makes them poisonous. Scientists suggest skin poisons of these frogs are derivative from predecessor molecules found in their prey.

The frogs prey is lured close to them by their colorful skin. They resemble flowers and other flora insects eat. By the time they realize their folly it is way too late. They die almost instantly and are orally ingested by the poison dart frogs.

Poisonous Dart Frogs in the Caribbean

Poison dart frogs are an interesting little bunch of fellows. Their characteristics and habits are unusual for others in their species. So interesting are they, people have developed an interest in keeping them as pets and breeding them.

One thing is for certain, in the wild or in an aquarium, these fascinating creatures are one of the world’s tiniest wonders.

Everything Under the Midnight Sun

The Yukon Kuskokwim Delta

Article by Caitlyn Bishop

Within the vast realm of wild Alaska lies a place few human beings have set foot, a rich landscape where wildlife from around the world comes to rear their young in eternal daylight. Located 400 miles west of Anchorage, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta encompasses the southernmost mass of mainland Alaska that protrudes into the southern Bering Sea, covering an area over 75,000 square miles. Known simply as the ‘YK Delta’ by its few inhabitants, this unspoiled land spans an area roughly the size of Oregon and has become recognized as critically important habitat for some of Alaska’s most prided and treasured species of bird, fish and mammal.

Void of trees, buildings or roads leading in or out, the YK Delta boasts thousands of acres of tidal mudflats, wide swaths of flat grassy land and a circulatory system of rivers and sloughs, all of which are birthed from the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and make a convoluted journey across the tundra before terminating at the Bering Sea. Upon first glance, it is a barren and monochromatic landscape, seemingly incapable of sustaining life of any kind. Yet, upon closer inspection, during those rare occasions when humans are granted permission to enter this land, a world of life unnoticed shines through with persistence and in great abundance.

Emperor Geese

It’s a race against the clock for the hundreds of species of wildlife that come to breed in the Delta during the summer months, as the notorious Alaskan midnight sun makes its appearance in May, hanging on the horizon and threatening to dip down as every day passes. As short as it is, this ration of sunlight from May to late July will be more than enough needed to thaw the icy grip of spring and allow for the growth of nutrient-rich grasses, lichens and other plants across the entirety of the Delta. As though they had been informed of ice break-up on the rivers and thawing of the tundra, birds from every continent of the world begin to appear overnight.

Masses of waterfowl, shorebirds, seabirds and raptors up to half a million individuals thick begin to trickle in and commence the search for the best breeding spot. Considering its size, the Delta has more than enough room for all who arrive.

As June arrives and the rivers and ice continue to thaw and break, fish and marine mammals find their way from the tumult of the Bering Sea to seek shelter in the warmer and more protected waters of the Delta to breed and raise their young. Soon, the Delta is filled with the chatter of garrulous birds defending territory and attracting mates, the splashes of salmon leaping from the rivers and the unrelenting wind pushing its way warily across the infinitely expansive land.

Emperor Goose yukon

However remarkably lively and productive in nature, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta is currently under the siege of global climate change. As global temperatures continue to rise, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta and other parts of Alaska are faced with irreversible problems such as coastal erosion, seasonal flooding, the intensification of seasonal storms, retreating sea ice and an increase in permafrost melting. As a result of these problems and others associated with global climate change, the paradigm between the land and its inhabitants have begun a dramatic shift.

Permafrost, the frozen layer of ground found year-round beneath the rootless tundra, plays a crucial role in the preservation of the Delta’s innumerable miles of river coastline. During the summer months, the permafrost layer slowly melts away as a result of sunlight intensification on the tundra. Following this cycle of melting is the natural release of small sections of tundra into rivers and streams.

However, as this process accelerates over time and the permafrost begins melting at a faster rate, greater portions of land are released into rivers and streams and carried out to the Bering Sea, leaving substantially less room for terrestrial wildlife, widening rivers and dumping many tons of sediment into fragile spawning habitat. Storms and inclement weather are commonplace on the YK Delta and occur with great variability throughout the year. However, as ocean temperatures continually rise in the Bering Sea, warmer seawater magnifies the most mild of storms, transforming them into disastrous acts that pack a deadly punch upon reaching land.

Manokinak YKD

Climate change has become a fearsomely inconvenient fate for all those who depend so heavily on the Delta for survival and wellbeing, including humans. Native Cup’ik (pronounced chew-pick) and Yu’pik (pronounced yew-pick) tribes living in villages scattered throughout the Delta, who have subsisted on the many species of wildlife that occupy the land and water throughout the year for centuries, are faced with the threat of not only coastal erosion, but the decrease in abundance of wildlife that comes with it.

As subsistence hunters and gatherers, many native villages exist along or in close proximity to rivers and bays where fish, marine mammals and birds are commonly collected. The native village of Chevak, located less than 10 miles inland from the Bering Sea in the exact middle of the Delta, has historically been faced with the recurring problem of seasonal coastal erosion.

The original site of the village, Old Chevak, located just 15 miles east of the current village site, was evacuated in 1960 when coastal erosion became too great of an issue for its inhabitants to manage for and deal with effectively. Now, with even greater swaths of the Delta disappearing into the Bering Sea on an annual basis, the people of Chevak are once again faced with the threat of relocation. Thousands of sandbags and rusty lengths of rebar litter the shores of the Niglintgak River, which flows through the village, in a desperate attempt to preserve the village as it stands and to hopefully avoid the same fate as their ancestors. Moving the village once again even farther inland away from the rivers could bring with it potentially negative and harmful effects to the people of Chevak.

Niglinkgtak Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta

In a village where the price of a gallon of gasoline exceeds the national minimum wage, the cost of taking a boat to a hunting or fishing site will become more than many people in Chevak can currently afford. As sworn stewards and protectors of the land and its wild inhabitants for the past millennia, the people of Chevak and the many other villages of the Delta are slowly loosing touch with the traditions of their native peoples as a result of these environmental changes, a fate certainly more consequential than what meets the eye.

The issues of coastal erosion, sea level rise, widespread loss of critically important habitat for wildlife and storm intensification are not unique to the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta. The Arctic coast, consisting of Northern Alaska, Eastern Siberia, Northern Scandinavia and Northwest Territories of Canada, represent 34% of the Earth’s coastline. Currently, an alarming 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) of this coastline is eroded into the ocean every year, resulting in widespread habitat loss and an increase in ocean sedimentation.

Unfortunately, current legislation striving to decelerate this process does not move as quickly as the process itself, and these widespread issues are not currently being dealt with at the level they require. Furthermore, the voice of native Alaskans suffering the immediate consequences of these issues does not reach so far as Washington D.C. and their present ethno-biological issues often fall on the ears of those who are unfamiliar with this particular environment and its ecological significance. Indeed, these statistical snapshots of a slowly deteriorating ecosystem offer nothing more than feelings of helplessness and doubt of any improvement.

Yet, it is our awareness of this current issue that makes it visible to the world and the most important step in the direction of activism. The more aware of this issue we become, the more we can do to facilitate the current dialogue between native Alaskans and those interested in protecting it.

Old Chevak Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta

Inevitably, August arrives and autumn flows across the Delta, creeping its way slowly over the tundra and between the countless lakes that pepper the landscape, freezing everything in its wake. Soon, large groups of birds can be seen migrating south, their summer’s work accomplished once more and their newly feathered young flying beside them. Salmon, now tired in their attempts of courtship and spawning, die off in masses and are carried out by the rivers to a burial at sea.

What now remains on the tundra, mosses, grass or forgotten eggs are left to freeze and will remain part of the frozen landscape until the winter lightens its grip and allows once again for life to exist. Next year, the Delta will appear slightly different to those who come to take up residence. From a bird’s eye perspective the rivers will be a little bit wider, the tundra a little less expansive, but still productive enough to rear a successful brood.

To a salmon, the water will be cloudier and maybe more difficult to navigate, but instinct will persist where sight fails and these gentle creatures will endure for another season. To a human, the changes are minute, but carry with them a great significance. Like the birds and fish, their thoughts are focused on the continuation of themselves and those who will survive them. Winter will come and go, and once again, in the light of the midnight sun, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta will see another summer.


Literature Cited

Center for Ocean Solutions (2013). Retrieved from        http://centerforoceansolutions.org/climate/impacts/cumulative-impacts/coastal                erosion/

Parry, W. (2011). Arctic’s Icy Coastlines Retreat as Planet Warms. Retrieved from   http://www.livescience.com/13746-arctic-coast-erosion-climate-change-ice.html

Peltola, G. (2011). Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved from    http://yukondelta.fws.gov/.

Shibley, L. (2009). Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved from   http://www.whsrn.org/about-whsrn

Zhang, K., B. C. Douglas & S. P. Leatherman. 2004. Global Warming and Coastal       Erosion. Climactic Change, 64: pg. 41-58.

(2006). Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta Service Area. Retrieved from    http://www.ihs.gov/alaska/documents/hf/yk.pdf


Four TRUE Hideaways In America

Travellers tend to fall into two general categories: city seekers and hideaway seekers. Increasingly, though, the line between these two gets blurred as great retreats become over-publicized and overrun with people all looking to get away. But hope is not lost, there are still some great spots to withdraw from your work life and fully embrace your blissful side. Here are four spots in America for the escape-seeking traveller that mainstream wanderlusts have not yet discovered:

Hocking Hills State Park, Ohio

Hocking Hills State Park
By Southerntabitha


Many of the marquee state parks such as Yellowstone or Yosemite are without a doubt able to be seen with little to no interruptions from other visitors but for some escapists it’s a sense of uniqueness they want just as much solitude during their stay; they’ve seen the pictures a thousand times and are ready to be exposed to something they’ve never really seen before.

For you, rugged individualist, I present Hocking Hills in central Ohio. The hills themselves are dissected areas of the Alleghany Plateau and feature cliffs, caves, and gorges—many of which featuring breathtaking waterfalls. The natural beauty is not to be missed but the name of this game is seclusion and Hocking Hills is chock full of open space.

I’ve stayed in two cabins in different areas of the 2,356-acre park and both times I was wowed by the region’s untouched feel. Both cabins, no matter how big the complex, was staffed at the most by two or three people, enough to welcome you and tell you which dirt road your cabin is located down before sending you on your way. For some this brings up questions like “what am I paying for??” but for others this is true hospitality: inviting, helpful, and out of the way.

There are, of course, some better known gorges and caves than others where you may be forced to see a lone soul or two but the large size and non-contiguous status of the park (there are several smaller sections disconnected from each other rather than one large park) means more likely than not you’ll find yourself master of your own adventure with no real must-see’s unless they are a must-see to you. With unbelievable sights like Ash Cave and Conkle’s Hollow and no one to shame you into seeing any of it if you so choose, Hocking Hills is a great (and cheaper) alternative to the decked-out lodges of more widely visited state parks.

What’s So Hidden?

. Non-contiguous park makes for a lack of central destination where all travellers go

. Distance from major metropolitan area decreases gentrification

. Hands-off hospitality at many lodges and cabins

The Hudson Valley, New York

The Hudson Valley
By Dsovercash

The next two hideaways require a little more explaining, as they are both increasingly well-known hotspots. The first of these two is the Hudson Valley region of New York. Recent mentions like in the National Geographic list of the “Best Trips of 2013” may make this area stretching from about an hour north of Manhattan to the lower tip of the Adirondacks seem like a fools errand for a quiet retreat. But there is a very narrow section taking up most of the travel media’s attention these days and it’s still easy to consider this a top spot for rural vacationers.

Most of what’s garnered the Hudson Valley national attention lately is its attractiveness to hustle and bustling Manhattanites buying weekend and summer homes in places like Beacon, Hudson, and Woodstock (full disclosure: Woodstock is my hometown, but I like to this this only increases my authority on the subject). As both a one-time resident and current outsider I can say with certainty these towns may be touted for their natural beauty and peaceful living but they are attractive to urban dwellers primarily because they are very reminiscent of city life.

Chic trendy restaurants and art galleries line the streets of Beacon and a lot of city-based companies like Etsy have opened offices in Hudson because they can take the Amtrak right from Penn Station to the heart of town, creating a commuter atmosphere not unlike that found in the immediate suburbs of the New York City. But for every Woodstock there is a slew of surrounding areas (Mount Tremper, Phoenicia, Ashokan, Hunter to name just a small few) where the bankers and doctors would never be caught dead in.

This is the real Hudson Valley and it’s in these towns that feature plenty of B&B’s, hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and rock climbing opportunities that you can get the real experience of finding a true hideaway. The lush green and orange of the Catskill Mountains is beautiful particularly because of, not in spite of, their small rounded tops. Unlike the Rockies or Adirondacks that take all the limelight, the Catskills are great canvases on which foliage, sunrises and sunsets, and long sweeping landscapes are painted.

Additionally it’s only once you’ve found yourself feeling really cut off from urban life that you can appreciate the close proximity to major spots like NYC, which make getting to and from the Hudson Valley very easy.

What’s So Hidden?

. Tourism-driven economies in surrounding areas keep low-profile townships off the radar

. Thousands of miles of untouched land that’s not state-landmarked, making it hard for guidebooks and travel sites to pinpoint where to go

. Catskill Mountain ranges offer didn’t aesthetic appeal than more well known Rockies or Cascades and so don’t attract many mountain-seeking travellers

Santa Fe, NM

Santa Fe, NM basilica
By Sfroehlich1121

I know what you’re thinking; EVERYBODY knows about Santa Fe, it’s featured all the time as one of the best and biggest travel destinations in America. This is true, but it’s given this distinction for its artsy downtown and crisp ski mountains in the distance. The hideaway part of Santa Fe is, as it should be, hidden. What puts Santa Fe on my top hideaway list, and what distinguishes it from the others, is that it’s not secluded in the way a state park or mountain range is secluded, it’s hidden in plain sight.

In between the great cuisine and architecture downtown steep ski and snowboard trails are miles and miles of trails and camping spots that come up seemingly out of nowhere.

During my time in Santa Fe I was staying very near downtown when one evening my travel companion suggested we get in the car and see if we can find a nice spot to watch the sun go down. After five minutes and no more than two or three turns we found ourselves high up in the hills at the foot of a long winding trail on which the sounds of the rooftops cantinas below us were no more than a memory. Further investigation proved that we’d stumbled on just one of many spots like this all surrounding downtown.

Real lodging accommodations in these parts can be a bit pricy but for those not afraid of camping (make sure you read up on avoiding snakes and scorpions) the peace and solitude will be hard to beat as so many of those coming to this area will be only a few miles below you but worlds away.

What’s So Hidden?

. Major hotspots down in the city and way up in the mountains, keeping a peaceful no man’s land in between

. Trails and campgrounds are so close to downtown that travellers seeking the city don’t tend to stray beyond and those seeking “hideaways” tend to look farther away.

. Low-rise architecture and older demographic of the population make proximity to downtown easy to forget

Elk Lake, Michigan

Finally, we’ve come to what may be my favorite “true” American hideaway. Elk Lake, and surrounding town Elk Rapids is blessed with some of the same attributes that make the others on our list so well hidden—it’s proximity to very well known spots. Traverse City is a quick drive from Elk Rapids and a popular spot for summer travellers looking for dry cool air and the world famous Traverse City Cherries and the lake is sandwiched between the famous Torch Lake and Lake Michigan.

Elk Lake, Michigan
By OnTheWeb

Because of this when you find yourself in a secluded spot along Elk Lake, of which there are many along it’s nine-mile stretch, you can take full advantage of the clear-as-glass water as if it’s your own private spring of rejuvenation. Similar to Santa Fe this is not a hideaway where you are miles from the nearest human, it’s a hideaway where you are closest to the kind of peace and revitalizing rest a retreating trip should offer. Java Jones in Elk Rapids has all the fixings of a contemporary, hip coffeehouse stripped away of any of the pretention in city centers and trendy vacation spots.

The Sleeping Bear Dunes a short drive from the lake is the kind of outdoor adventure a real escape-seeker wants, no equipment, no line, no payment, just you climbing the most challenging and rewarding pile of sand you’ve ever seen. Fall asleep to the cool dry Michigan breeze and wake up with a swim that will stay with you the rest of the day. Elk Lake is why we started travelling in the first place.

What’s So Hidden?

. Sandwiched in between major destinations; Torch Lake, Lake Michigan, Traverse City that attract more visitors

. Large area of lake (nine miles long) makes secluded spots abundant

The great joy of travelling is to go to places you’ve never been. Isn’t it that much more rewarding going where no one has ever been either?


3 Mysteries About Killer Whales

Blackfish, the documentary film on the tragic killing of Orca whale trainer Dawn Brancheau by the Seaworld favorite Tilikum opened late last month. As is true of many well-done documentaries the topic of whale husbandry as it’s known—the capturing and raising of whales in captivity for the purpose of entertaining audiences—has become a hot button issue in many wildlife and conservation circles.

What has captured my interest these past few weeks is the unique mystery that surrounds Orca whales and how little we still know about a whale like Tilikum that doesn’t seem to pertain to any land animals. Stories of lions or bears attacking park rangers and zookeepers are not unheard but while tragic, they don’t tend to arouse as much suspicion or intrigue. We think of lions as killers and either accept an outpouring of rage as matter of fact or are quick to blame the handlers for keeping such animals in captivity. Orcas are a bit harder to understand and that mystery can shed some light on where our positions, fears, and doubts about captive whales come from no matter the stance we take on the Tilikum case.

Killer Whale Intelligence

Many types of whales are noted for their intelligence but none more so than the Orca—the kind responsible for the death of Dawn Brancheau—which breeds as many new questions as it helps us to understand what went wrong that day. Researchers recently released findings of Orca whales’ remarkable ability not just to understand human behavior but imitate it, a trait they associate directly with advanced intelligence.

tilikum Killer whale at Seaworld
by SMSea

Dogs, as a reference point, can be trained to respond to specific behaviors but this is due to a simplified process of assigning a sound or imagine to a basic action—“sit”—without actually understanding the connection between the word and the action. Orca whales like the ones in the scientists’ study were found to have a far more complex understanding of behaviors, including watching birds hunt for fish in their pools and learning how to hide fish near their mouths in order to bait the birds themselves. This is not call and response, it’s an advanced understanding not just of what the birds are doing, but of why and how they were doing it.

While research is always shedding light on the intellectual prowess of whales, identifying where it comes from has proved much harder. Many have cited the complex socioecological systems whales inhabit in the wild that has caused whales, like humans, to have to interact with and understand a large variety of life forms in order to have all their survival needs met. But the Orcas in the imitation study were all Seaworld Orcas, some even born into captivity.

The mystery of how an animal so foreign looking can have a better understanding of our actions and behaviors than the dogs and cats we bring into our homes is scary to some, endlessly fascinating to others, but undoubtedly brings up questions for all that are harder to answer than for other animals: not simply what happened or how it happened, but why?

Out of Sight, Always in Mind

Another key part of the Orca mystery is the world they inhabit in the wild. It may seem a pretty boring, obvious statement to say that whales live in the ocean but the implications of that are actually quite intriguing. The debate over Orcas in captivity stretches far beyond the scientific community but for many who are not marine biologists or part of well-funded advocacy groups, captivity has been the only way we’ve been able to have personal interactions with these mythic creatures. Because of this, on the whole humans have nearly no interaction with these animals outside of films and photographs.

Because we’re given only a glimpse of Orca life, we’re unfamiliar with what’s it’s like to just be around them, what they do when no one is watching, how they interact with each other in intimate, private moments. So when something unexpected like Tilikum’s attack takes place, we have no knowledge to base our understandings on.

We are certain something “wrong” has happened but we can’t really be sure. Do Orca’s frequently attack perceived predators? Do they lash out when on the hunt or are they more likely to attack from a defensive place? Of course there is extensive research that tells us how Orcas behave and what motivates them but this is still a very removed sense of understanding compared to, say, our almost instinctive understanding that a dog with its ears and tail lowered is acting out of fear.

Having experience with Orcas in only one, rather contrived, environment can breed a false understanding for many about what motivates them and why they behave the way they do. Our relative inability to witness and interact with Orca whales is another key aspect to what makes them such an unknown creature in our minds.

Can You Hear Me?

Nothing breeds a sense of exclusion more than being in the presence of inclusion. While their distinctive intellect and relative unknown lifestyles in the wild make Orca whales difficult to understand, their style of communication—complex and dense in a way similar to human communication though as of yet still undecipherable to people—is fascinating to study and can be a bit frightening to witness. Orcas have no sense of smell and while they’re equipped with great eyesight, vision gets you only so far in the dark depths of the ocean.

Orcas primary sense and form of communication is through sound. Various calls and songs have been recorded throughout Orca families or pods as they are known and they utilize a complicated form of clicks and echolocation similar to that of SONAR technology to map their routes and find prey. While we fear sharks for their primitive and instinct-driven approach to hunting, Orcas are in many ways far more frightening to some because of their ability to communicate at such an advanced level.

Knowing this, it becomes hard to see Tilkum’s attack as an unconscious rage outburst, and raises questions about not only about what he may have been thinking, but what the other Orcas that he lived with knew about his emotional state and intentions that day. Was he even acting out of his own fear/anger or was Tilikum directed by one of the other Orcas who may have misunderstood what was taking place with his trainer?

Orca whales in the ocean
By Miles Ritter

Still more interesting is that despite our inability to crack the Orca code, many studies have shown that these whales both in the wild and in captivity are remarkably able to understand human languages, including indications that they are able to differentiate based on the tone of the voice whether they are being praised or chided. Is it possible that even if a misunderstanding had taken place that Dawn Brancheau could have tried to convince Tilikum he was making a mistake and he could have ignored her? The more we learn that we share with Orcas, the more mysterious they seem to become in our minds.

 A remarkable gift of intellectual prowess, almost totally hidden existence from the average person, and a complex form of communication within pods as well as with other species like humans keeps the Orca whale at the forefront of our intrigue and yet keeps us far removed from our ability to comprehend the actions and emotions of the so-called Killer Whales.

The Official Blackfish Movie Trailer

Whatever side of the controversy over whale captivity you fall on, favoring an end to what may only be described as maltreatment of Orcas or advocating the incredible contribution to our understanding and ability to help protect them that human custody has given us, the Orca whale has and will for some time yet hold a distinct place in our collective imagination as a beautiful and brilliant, terrifying and tortured creature.

The Everyman Guide to Coffee

A Guide to Coffee

I’m pretty confident in calling myself a coffee connoisseur, though not is a coffee snob and the distinction between these two is crucial to my personal journey through coffee trails and errors that follows. Coffee snobs will drink only one type of coffee, one region of beans, one style of roasting, or even order from only one coffeehouse: the right coffeehouse.

I am both a full-blown caffeine addict and a man on a budget. When offered the perfect, slow filtered Ethiopian Arabica cup, I will accept with exceeding joy. When I need something in a large enough quantity to fill my pot every morning at home, I don’t hesitate to pick up the grocery store brand, $2.99-a-can dirt. The taste and nutrition value of my dark sludge are no match for my wallet. No matter what you drink, don’t sell yourself or your cup short. Here are some notes to keep in mind for sampling, judging, and understanding the murky waters of the dark cup:

Drink YOUR Coffee

A common adage among the upper-echelon of coffee drinkers is that the only way to truly taste and understand coffee is to drink it black. Coffee is not to be diluted with milk or sweetened with sugar. I wish these people luck on first dates.

I personally do in fact drink my coffee black and for me it is the best way to really taste the brew. But I do not believe it is the universal best way to drink coffee. When trying to decipher even the finest points of a particular blend’s aroma, strength, and flavor you have take your headspace and comfort level into account as much as the preparation and presentation of the cup.

coffee beans roasting
by Bloodthirsty Vegetarians

If black coffee is too bitter for your personal taste, you won’t be able to taste anything but the bitterness and that will become your one and only criteria for a good cup. Bitterness is important but if it’s all you can focus on you’ll be missing all the other factors that separate types of coffee, the sweetness of Arabica beans versus the earthiness of Robusta’s for example. Make your cup the way that will allow you the best chance of enjoying it and let the coffee prove itself to you, don’t try and prove yourself to the coffee.
Smell is Half the Battle

You can learn an enormous amount about what kind of coffee you’re drinking, where it comes from, and even how it was grown just from the smell alone. Most coffee sniffers divide coffee aromas into three important categories:

“Enzymatic” smells are the smells left over from the growing process and the fruit that the coffee bean is extracted from. Beans from Latin America are known for a fruitier scent while Ethiopian blends are commonly associated with a tangy, lemongrass aroma. Picking up a hint of tomato or tartness? Good bet Kenya was the birthplace of your bean

– “Sugar browning” smells are the chemical byproducts of roasting. The strange term borrowed from the chemical reaction that turns your white bread into dark toast or clean sugarcane into dark caramel. These smells will be the level and nature of the sweetness in your coffee; toasted nuts, barley, even cocoa hints are produced by sugar browning.

“Dry distillation” smells are also byproducts of the roasting process, but these are the physical or environmental smells that creep in. These smells will be those most commonly associated with coffee, the burnt or bitterness it seems to give off.
There’s no correct balance or level of any of these smells but knowing what it is you’re smelling and why can help you differentiate between those cups that you just can’t quite put your finger on what it is you like or hate about it and stop you from making the same mistake twice.

Coffee Addiction vs. Enjoyment

The official term for the moment a novice coffee drinker becomes baptized into the church of specialty coffee—yes there is an official term—is the “God-Shot Moment.” Euphoria, mystery, and thirst for knowledge about the drink as strong as your need for an actual sip are all common symptoms that you’re having a God-Shot Moment. But this is a one-time deal though many think the best coffee for them is the one that gives them this feeling over and over.

Coffee Addiction
By Arthur Clark

If you find yourself feeling euphoric and relieved by your first sip day in and day out, you may or may not have found a great coffee, but you’ve definitely found a caffeine addiction. Too often, people get hooked on a particular blend before they’ve even had a chance to question what, if anything, they like about it. If you find yourself on vacation or even just in a rush one morning with no time to make your own brew, you may find yourself with nowhere to turn to know what’s going to do the trick for you and what’s going to leave a bitter or burnt taste in your mouth. Make sure you are caffeinated enough before trying a new kind of coffee (though not so much so that you get the shakes after a few sips) to be able to go for the taste, not the fix.

Bearing these three points in mind will help you begin your journey to research and learn about the kinds of coffee you can encounter at all ends of the price spectrum and what each of them says about your tastes as a fine connoisseur of common gold.

The Symbolic North American Grey Wolf

The North American Grey Wolf is the largest type of wolf and is native to the wilderness of North America. It is a fascinating animal, well proven by the fact that it is the most researched on any species Canid. There are possibly more books, movies, articles and documentaries about the North American Grey Wolf than any other type of wildlife.

The grey coat of this canine gives it its name but they are more often a mixture of grey, brown and white. The tails are long and bushy, sometimes tipped with black. Their faces are marked with white and white fur can trail their undersides from chin to chest. Some are even pure white. They resemble the German Shepherd breed of dog with a few variances like head and paw size and length of legs.

Grey wolves are carnivores that eat large, hoofed animals, or ungulates, like deer, moose, caribou and antelope. They also eat rabbits, rodents, raccoons and other smaller mammals. They are foragers, which means they wander from place to place in search of food and will eat dead animals as well as garbage and other unconventional food sources. A single grey wolf can eat 20 – 25 lbs in a sitting.

Grey wolves are found in North America, Asia and Europe. They are adaptive and as long as an area has ample space and provides prey for them to hunt, they can adapt to life there. The wolf has been dangerously close to extinction for years. Indian tribesman hunted them for fur and teeth and bones and by the mid 1930’s they were almost wiped out.

The grey wolf
By Sakarri

In 1995 a reintroduction of wolves began in the United States in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico and North Carolina. Efforts have been successful and Yellowstone Park in Idaho is one of the most populated areas. Ranchers in the area had concerns and fought the idea originally.

The huge elk population forced the hands of some. So many extra elk caused a decline in vegetation and the ecosystem became unstable. Overgrazing was causing a serious spiral in deciduous plants like the upland aspen and riparian cottonwood causing damage to other species as well.

Grey wolves live in packs for the most part. However, solitary wolves do exist. Packs are comprised of the mated couple plus their pups and yearlings. Packs may also contain more than one family and large packs of 30-40 wolves have been documented.

Eventually, males will most often leave their pack with the onset of sexual maturity or if competition for food becomes too strong. In some cases wolf packs have adopted stray wolves into their pack. They are almost always adolescent wolves with no chance of competing for food or mates. In the rare instance a full grown male is adopted into the pack it is to replace a deceased breeder of the pack.

The mother and father of the pack are called the alphas and are the leaders. They are the hunters; they decide the territory of the pack as well as the site of the den.

Wolves do communicate with each other and other animals through barking, growling, body language and scent marking. They communicate warnings, subservience, social hierarchy and their location to each other. Wolves have a more developed sense of communication than coyote or other land mammals.

The posture and facial expressions of a wolf say as much as vocal emersions. Wolves show their aggression by making slow and deliberate movements. They will often raise their hackles and raised body posture. A wolf being submissive will have slicked back fur and a tucked tail. It will also lower its head and eyes. Submissives may also lick the other wolf’s mouths.

A wolf howl can be chilling to human ears but to each other it is a calling card. Wolves howl to gather before and after a hunt. They also howl as a type of beacon to find each other in unfamiliar territory or during storms. Howls are also used as warning signals near a den site and to pups.

North American Grey Wolf
by US Fish & Wildlife Service

Male and female wolves howl in distinctly different ways from each other. Males have a deeper growl and focus on the O sound while females are more nasal and focus on the U sound. Pups do not howl at all but yearlings will emit a weak howl that ends in a series of yips and yaps.

Howls are the most well known sounds made by the North American grey wolf but they also growl, bark and whine. These other sounds are used to tell each other and other animals how they are feeling and what is happening. They express anxiety, curiosity, excitement and surprise depending on the situation.

All about the North American Grey Wolf

Basic Grey Wolf Facts

The North American grey wolf is shrouded in symbolism and takes on meaning according to the various cultures. Native Americans in particular have North American grey wolves intertwined throughout its traditions and folklore.

Tibet: Not Just Any Ol’ Plateau

There’s more than just simple altitude separating Tibet from the rest of the world –there’s also everything from Chinese domestic policy to the tight lips of native Tibetans.

Without a doubt, Tibet has been on the must-visit list of every would-be lama from Annapolis to Zurich. Outdoors enthusiasts, spiritual devotees, historians, and curiosity seekers all consider traveling to the famed plateau of tibet.

That’s perfectly understandable, given Tibet’s media attention. The recent history of Tibet’s takeover by Chinese forces and displacement of the Dalai Lama has inspired a whole range of books, movies, and magazine articles. Martin Scorsese’s Kundun is excellent and plenty of people dig Brad Pit in Seven Years in Tibet.

tibets china
By Desmond Kavanagh

Tibet is probably the most well known barren plateau in the world. While such media is certainly educative, much of this fascination is thanks to media coverage of China and the Dalai Lama’s very vocal advocacy –not Tibet’s significance. Make no mistake –the recognized Tibetan Buddhist leader certainly has insight and levelheadedness to spare, even if he galvanizes support and awareness by making celebrity rounds. His lobbying is just. Tibet was a victim of Chinese aggression and current Chinese authorities aren’t exactly known for their fair treatment of native Tibetans.

That mention, what’s mostly stunning about Tibet is that people ever bothered to settle there. That’s not Han Chinese political acid. That’s just the plain ‘ol truth. Visiting is to witness human durability –along with tightwad bureaucracy and the ramifications of structural terror.

So…is it really worth the visit? Maybe, but explorative travelers and religious pilgrims have best know a few things before going.

Tibet & China, Forever Intertwined Together

China has an ambivalent relationship with Tibet. On one hand, it has an occupational policy that fiercely roots out vocal dissidence –arguably a grudge that goes back to the Tang dynasty, when Tibetan soldiers occupied the Tang capital of Chang’an for two weeks in 763. On the other hand, China likes trade even more than it likes territory and bad PR over Tibet certainly can jeopardize it.  There’s also how Tibet self governed before China’s aggression.

Thanks to this concern with PR, visitors to China have had a relative free hand traveling throughout Tibet from the 1980s onward. Until 2008, that is. The combination of Beijing Olympics and activity from Tibetan nationalists spurred China to once again clamp down on tourism in Tibet.

tibet china aggression

Those looking to enjoy the country are bound to have a harder time than most, including:

  • Tibet Traveling Permit – Travelers looking to visit Tibet absolutely require a special travel Visa to enter the region. While just about anybody can receive these, expect to fork over an extra $50. If your stated profession is decidedly political or journalistic, even creative, then Chinese officials may simply refuse passage or extradite you from the province at the first whiff of trouble.


  • Tibet Time limitations –Speaking of trouble, Chinese officials often close the region to tourism during predicted patterns of protest and turmoil. This can happen at any time, but is usually around March each year, as this is the anniversary of the Tibetan uprising. Last thing Chinese officials want are tourists to witness self immolation or brutally repressed protests. Plan accordingly.
  •  Chinese guides – Though China might not consistently encourage tourism, the nation certainly recognizes what a cash cow it can be. Since 2008 independent touring has been tightly controlled, so all tour guides are sanctified by the Chinese government and all tourists must stick with an organized group run by such guides.
  •  More permits –Specific permits are required to visit certain areas throughout Tibet. First and foremost, Aliens’ Travel Permit is required to enter certain areas, but these requirements oscillate and different regions require the permit at different times. Those looking to checkout isolated reaches of Tibet may need the military permit. Make sure to have a solid reason to request such permits, as Chinese officials are quite picky over who are granted these passes.

Not Recreational, Just Rough

Tibet is far from a recreational spot. Don’t expect restaurants to offer much variety, for inns or hotels to have ritzy amenities, or for many playpens such as spas or night clubs. In fact, the only locations that even feature such possibilities are large settlements like Lhasa, and even then such attractions are quite limited. That mentioned, if you’re considering Tibet then that probably doesn’t bother you.

Tourism in Tibet is mostly spurred by pure curiosity. The inner anthropologist and historian tingle over visiting such remote lands. Places to visit mostly consist of ancient relics, Buddhist shrines, and naturalist sites. For many, the inner Spartan also tingles –the region is known for also lacking many basic amenities tourists are used to.

Atop of all this, there’s the people themselves. Make no mistake –Tibet has whole heaps of very helpful and amiable locals who collaborate with tourists just as they would anybody else. That mentioned, helpful, amiable, or collaborative doesn’t mean hygienic or progressive. Tibetans are likely to smell riper and be shyer outside of urban centers. However, these situations do allow more fulfilling interactions. While polite, many urban Tibetans will likely not volunteer information due to scrutiny from Chinese officialdom.

Tibet With Traveling to…The Plateau of Tibet

Tourists don’t actually need to see Tibet to get an understanding of Tibetan culture. Tibetan communities can be found in neighboring provinces without the hassle or roughness of actually visiting Tibet. Such communities result both from forced relocation and the Tibetan diaspora, both spurred by brutal 20th century Chinese policies.  Of course, there’re also migratory Tibetans merely looking to leave what’s essentially a backwater province. Large Tibetans communities are known primarily settling in Dharamshala, India –where Tibetan expatriates and refuges have traditionally entered India. Atop of this there’s a whole slew autonomous regions in the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan.

Visiting areas similar to Tibet and full of Tibetans, yet not actually Tibet? Probably sounds like a cop-out. Depending on the motives for visiting the region, that very well might be the case. After all, Tibet has the Himalayas and Samye Monastery, the first Buddhist monastery created in Tibet. Just remember that a fuller understanding of modern Tibetan culture calls for exposure to the aftermath of Chinese conquest. Tibet is not just a place, but a people.

Alternative Christmas Dinners from Around the World

Alternative Christmas Dinners

It seems like our choice of Christmas dinner can say so many things about us. Each year, January through November, my grandmother mentioned our English and Welsh heritage once, maybe twice. Living in the Southern US and descended from West Virginian coal miners, we knew that having a British Isles background wasn’t exactly a rarity. When the time came around for her annual Christmas Dinner, however, she was suddenly quite boastful of her heritage, and was adamant that we will not have a stereotypical American Christmas. It was time for a traditional Christmas dinner of standing rib roast of beef, Yorkshire pudding, and potatoes, finished off with a trifle.

Christmas dinner preparations 1931
By Mears, E.H.; Contributor(s): The Queenslander [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Whether you’re an ancestral-opportunist like my grandmother, or just someone who is tired of the same old Christmas dinner they’ve had for years, these Christmas dinners from around the world will be sure to change up your meal-time. These foods vary drastically from country to country, and can be closely linked to the particular rituals and traditions that are carried out during the holiday. You’ll be saying “Hyvää Joulua!”, or “Nadolig Llawen!” and eating Pavlova or drinking glögi in no time!

It’s almost impossible to talk about Christmas without mentioning Finland—according to Finns, Santa Claus lives in Lapland! A theme park called “Christmas Land” is situated near where they say he lives, delighting Finns and tourists alike. Needless to say, the Christmas holiday is very important to Finns. On Christmas Eve, rice pudding and plum juice are consumed in the morning, followed by tree decorating. That night, a large display of food called a Joulupöytä, or “Yule Table,” is set up for the traditional Christmas dinner. The Joulupöytä consists of foods such as Christmas ham and mustard, salted salmon and whitefish, various types of pickled herring, and an assortment of casseroles. Liver, potato, rutabaga, carrot, and turkey are just a few of the ingredients you might find in the number of casseroles on this table. For dessert, Finns might have gingerbread, rice pudding or porridge topped with cinnamon, sugar, and milk. Glögi, or glogg, is a mulled wine and quite popular in Scandinavia; it is drunk along with Christmas beer, red wine, or even sour milk!

If you’ve ever wished for more desserts at Christmas, then I would suggest moving to Provence! This region in France practices a tradition called the “Thirteen Desserts,” in which Christmas dinner ends with not one, not two, but thirteen dessert items. Representing the twelve apostles and Jesus Christ, these desserts are set out on Christmas Eve and will remain on the table for three days. As different regions of France have different types of terrain and harvest yield, Christmas dinner varies as well. These meals can include anything from oysters, smoked salmon, and foie gras, to goose, crëpes, and chestnut-stuffed turkey.

Other desserts from France include le pain calendeau, a Christmas bread from the south of France, part of which traditionally goes to a poor person, and the bûche de Nõel, a log-shaped cake made of chocolate and chestnuts. But nothing says going overboard for Christmas like thirteen desserts!

Some countries historically affiliated with colonial English rule still maintain a great deal of English tradition in their Christmas dinners, but at the same time, some dishes are created that are fully unique to their country. For example, in New Zealand, a lighter-than-air, meringue-based dessert called Pavlova is served. Have you ever heard of the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova? It is believed that the dessert was created after she toured Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s. Pavlova is made from beaten egg whites and corn flour, which gives the dessert a crisp outer shell and a soft, marshmallow-like inside.

Additionally, Pavlova is often topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit such as kiwi, passionfruit, or strawberries. Although Pavlova is eaten throughout the year, especially during the summertime, a Christmastime Pavlova can be topped with Chantilly cream and pomegranate seeds to display a holiday festiveness.

Photo By Gui Seiz (Flickr Creative Commons)

Fish soup is a common Christmas Eve or Christmas Day meal in many Eastern European countries. In the Czech Republic, for example, Christmas Fish Soup is Vánocní Rybí Polévka, is made with carp, onion, and other vegetables, and is eaten on Christmas Eve. In Hungary, hot and spicy “Fisherman’s Soup,” or halászlé, served with lots and lots of paprika. In Poland, fish soup is served in addition to zupa grzybowa, a forest mushroom soup, and żurek, a soup made of soured rye flour and meat (usually boiled pork sausage). Carp plays a big role in Christmas dinners across Poland, as well as other Eastern European countries.

Here it can be served as a fillet with potato salad, in aspic, or in soups. Pierogi are also served at this meal as well, filled with white cheese, potatoes, sauerkraut and forest mushrooms. A Polish Christmas can’t be complete without poppy seed cakes called makowiec, or a jam-filled pastry called mazurek.

Moving West, the common Christmas fish moves from Carp to Codfish—more specifically, to bacalhau in Portuguese. Technically, the word “bacalhau” simply means “codfish,”  although it is more often than not dried and salted. Along with cabrito assado and borrego assado (roasted goat and lamb) and polvo cozido (boiled octopus), a number of variant “King” or “Queen” cakes are baked. Bolo Rei is the original “King Cake,” and is a gorgeous, colorfully decorated fruitcake. Bolo-Rei Escangalhado, or “Broken King Cake” is a traditional Bolo Rei with cinnamon and doce de gila (chilacayote jam). Bolo-Rei de Chocolate is the chocolate version of the King Cake, and Bolo-Rainha is a “Queen Cake” that has only nuts, raisins and almonds. Finish these cakes off with vinho quente, or eggnog made from boiled wine, egg yolk, sugar, and cinnamon, and you’ve got one tasty Christmas!

Although we’ve only just scratched the surface of Christmas dinners from around the world, these dishes should give you some ideas of the variety of traditions that exist in other countries. Whether you celebrate on Christmas Eve or Day, whether you have fish as a soup, or salted and dried, or whether you name your dish after a famous Russian ballerina, you are sure to create wonderful memories with your family as you try out new Christmas traditions!

Protecting India’s Heritage – The Conservation of Wildlife

The uniqueness of any region depends upon its vegetation, animals and culture, and it is paramount that these regions are conserved to protect against any dangerous and lasting damage. Although progressing times have called for a modern “face-lift” to our societies the world over, one should remember how distinctive their country’s habitat and inhabitants remain. Over the years, there have been many wildlife species that have been hunted or killed, either within the law or unlawfully, and this has pushed many species to the cusp of extinction. India is the proud home of rare animal species – such as the Bengal Tiger – and other animals which are scattered throughout its land, that need to be protected so that their kind does not become extinct and the future citizens of India can also  appreciate these rare species that make it one of the most prestigious places for wildlife spotting.

Why the Need for Conservation of Wildlife in India:

Illegal poaching is one of the paramount reasons why wildlife conservation has gained prominence over the past few years. The Indian elephant was hunted for its ivory tusks, as was the Bengal Tiger for its skin – which was used in making luxurious fur coats. These, and other species, have been hunted for their meat as well. As these activities have been carried out on such a large scale and in multiple states, there has been widespread killing of these species, and their numbers have drastically been reduced in a short time. This has prompted many official and unofficial organizations to spring up and actively voice concerns for the protection of various wildlife species and to curb these poaching activities, which has resulted in the formulation of many animal protection programs and establishment of wildlife conservation parks and sanctuaries.

Wildlife Sanctuaries and National Parks:

Wildlife sanctuaries have an area that is demarcated by the government, where killing of animals is strictly prohibited unless the official authority controlling the sanctuary gives permission otherwise. On the other hand, national parks conserve flora and fauna; and conserve the natural habitat of places to create a thriving environment for various species as well.

Currently, there are 398 sanctuaries in India and 69 national parks, which cover around 4 percent of the total geographic area of the country. There are further plans in the pipeline to increase the number of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, and to increase the area covered by these to around 4.6 percent.

There exist wildlife sanctuaries in India which house multiple animal species within their borders, such as the Kaziranga Wildlife Sanctuary which is located in Sibassa in Assam. It is home to elephants, wild boars, rhinoceros, pelicans, leopards, storks and eagles. On the other hand, some wildlife sanctuaries such as the Manas Wildlife Sanctuary and Tiger Reserve, which is located in the Kamrup region of Assam, are specifically dedicated to protect specific species.

Projects Aimed to Protect Specific Species:

There are many ongoing projects in various states which have been targeted to protect the rarest animal species in order to increase their numbers and provide them with adequate protection as they are really threatened to be extinct. On the positive side, there are a lot of successful projects – such as Project Tiger, which was initiated in 1973 and was used to collect data about various tiger species; it aimed to protect their habitat and increase their numbers over a sustained period of time.

Indias Project Tiger Wildlife conservation

In 1992, the Ministry of Environment initiated Project Elephant to protect the Asian Elephant; it covers the elephant population throughout India. Elephant habitats and elephant corridors have been specifically targeted and significant amount of financial assistance has been provided to ensure the safety of these animals and to protect their sustained growth.

Apart from land animals, there are many aquatic species which are also in danger of becoming extinct. These include many species of inland and marine fish. This has prompted setting up of many fisheries in both inland and marine areas in order to protect the number of fish available and control unrestrained fishing. These fisheries have also been recognized to generate many local jobs and to develop rural areas. As a result, state and centre governments have been active proponents for their development and sustainability. Institutes such as the Central Institute of Freshwater Agriculture have been developed to provide carp fishing training and aid in the development of aquaculture.

Overall, there have been many successful wildlife conservation projects initiated throughout India over the years; however, still more needs to be done. Illegal poaching needs to be curbed and there needs to be more awareness among people to start protecting their environment and the various species that make India so unique on the global stage. These animal species are a part of the identity India has forged abroad over the years and thus should be protected so they can thrive in their natural habitat. This is a plan for the future and must be protected at all costs.