Thoughts on Natural Bridge Zoo, Book Review of “1493”

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Preorder on Amazon

Thoughts about reopening of Natural Bridge Zoo.

Last month I wrote about my 2013 undercover visit to the Natural Bridge Zoo in Natural Bridge, Virginia and my horror at the reopening of the zoo.  But one thing I failed to mention is that when I visited the Zoo in September 2013 – which is prime tourist season in Virginia – almost no other visitors were there.  So how does the Natural Bridge Zoo stay financially afloat?  How does the owners Karl and Debbie Mogensen pay for the update.  Sadly, the answer is embedded in the USDA report:

The USDA has also confirmed it has opened a formal investigation and The HSUS has petitioned the agency to revoke the zoo’s federal license. A follow-up inspection in March by the USDA detailed a lack of veterinary care for numerous animals, filthy, foul-smelling, and rusty cages, and muddy enclosures.

The report confirms that zoo owners Karl and Debbie Mogensen, who are professional members of the discredited “Zoological Association of America” (ZAA), continue to pull newborn capuchin monkeys from their fiercely-protective mothers for sale, presumably to the pet trade. The ZAA accredits poorly run roadside zoos, traveling zoos, and private menageries, and promotes the private ownership of exotic pets. ZAA facilities, members, and activities include individuals convicted of felonies, wildlife trafficking, and cruelty to animals. The deceptively-named organization has no affiliation with the highly respected Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

They pay for this den of horrors by ripping babies from mothers and selling them on the exotic pet trade market.  DON’T BUY EXOTIC ANIMALS

Book Recommendation

When my son was seven years old he wished for a time machine.   He’d had a fun filled day at a neighbor’s pool and as we walked home, he said, “I wish I had a time machine.”

“Why?” I asked

“Then I could live that day all over again!”

That was adorable! He didn’t want to go back in time to see the dinosaurs or meet George Washington.  He didn’t want to go forward to see what happens in the future.   He just wanted his fun day at the pool again.

I think if I had a time machine, one thing I’d like to see Virginia before and during the settlement o Jamestown.  What were the native peoples like and what was the Chesapeake Bay like before the establishment of European settlements.

Such a time machine exists in Charles C. Mann’s extensive and fascinating nonfiction epic, 1493: The World Columbus Created.

My favorite section was entitled “The Tobacco Coast” and begins with John Rolfe bringing earthworms to Virginia along with Caribbean tobacco.

In worm-free woodlands, leaves pile up in drifts on the forest floor.  When earthworms are introduced, they can do away with the leaf litter in a few months, packing the nutrients in the soil in the form of castings….Everything changes.  Trees and shrubs in wormless places depend on litter for food.  If worms tuck nutrients into the soil, the plants can’t find them.   Many special die off.  The forest becomes more open and dry…  Meanwhile, earthworms’ compete for food with small insects, driving down then numbers. . .  Jamestown was a brushfire in a planetary ecological conflagration. 

This attention to detail is one of the many golden nuggets in 1493.    You’ll read about how South American gold changed the balance of power in Asia.   You’ll read about the slave trade in Africa versus that in Spanish ruled South America, and later, in English ruled North America.   Each section gives the wide, grand, overview and the minute details of how Columbus’ discovery changed the entire planet.  Some places for better but many for worse. 

A Letter from Charles C. Mann

It looked an ice cream cone. But when I came closer, I realized that the boy was eating a raw sweet potato. His father had whittled at the top to expose the orange flesh, which the boy was licking; the unpeeled bottom of the sweet potato served as a handle.

This was at a farm about 300 miles northwest of Shanghai. Sweet potatoes are often eaten raw in rural China–a curiosity to Westerners like me. I didn’t realize that I had been staring until the boy ran to seek the protection of his father, who was hoeing a row of sweet potatoes. The father glared at me as I waved an apology. Because I don’t speak Chinese, I couldn’t tell him that I had been staring not at his son, but at the sweet potato in his hand. Nor could I say that I was staring because the sweet potato was an emblem of four hundred years of convulsive global change.

Sweet potatoes are native to Central America. Spanish ships carried them to Manila in the 1570s, and then a Chinese ship captain smuggled the vines past Spanish customs by wrapping them around ropes and coiling the ropes in a basket. He took the contraband plants to Fujian, in southeast China, across from Taiwan. It was a time of famine in China. The captain’s son took the sweet potatoes to the governor of Fujian, who in turn ordered farmers to plant the fanshu (foreign tubers). The famine ended. Other regions took up sweet potatoes to solve their food problems. Millions of lives were saved. For three centuries the food of the Chinese poor was not rice but sweet potato.

How did that Chinese kid get his sweet potato? Christopher Columbus. Scientists view Columbus as the man who inadvertently began an explosive global biological swap. After he established contact between the eastern and western hemisphere, thousands of plant and animal species ricocheted around the continents. It was the biggest event in the history of life since the death of the dinosaurs. The Columbian Exchange, as historians call it, is why there are tomatoes in Italy, oranges in the United States, potatoes in Ireland, chili peppers in Thailand–and sweet potatoes in China.

It also is a big part of the reason why the British lost the Revolutionary War, why Mexico City became the world’s first truly international city, and why millions of African slaves were transported unwillingly across the Atlantic. Indeed, these are among the subjects of my book, which is largely about the Columbian Exchange.

The sweet potato–along with another American import, corn–did help save China from the calamity of famine. But they also caused another calamity. Traditional Chinese agriculture focused on rice, which had to be grown in wet river valleys. Sweet potatoes and corn could be grown in China’s dry highlands. Armies of farmers went out and cleared the forests on these highlands. The result was catastrophic erosion. Silt filled the Yangzi and Huang He (Yellow) rivers, setting off huge floods that killed millions of people. It was like one Katrina after another, a Chinese scientist told me. Beset by disaster, China fell behind in the race for global supremacy.

All of this history was encapsulated in the boy and his sweet potato, though he didn’t know it. To him, it was just a snack. When I took out my camera, the boy’s father rolled his eyes in disbelief. But I was taking a picture of centuries of global turbulence. The boy pouted; I clicked the shutter.

All About Birds Blog

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