Backcasts archive: Through June 6, 2008

Blog calendar: June 6 | June 4 | June 2

posted June 6, 2008

Polar bear no cold fish in the hot-button issue of Endangered Species

It's the polar bear that's the marquee mammal – the poster beast, if you will – for the ills of global warming.

Environmentalists entertained having a spider and a seabird as the spokesanimals for their cause. But ultimately these critters just weren't going to sell it, even if they did happen to make it onto the list – the Endangered Species list – because their glacial homes are melting.

No, it was the majestic top predator Ursus maritimus that environmental lawyer Kassie Siegel was banking on in February 2005 when she petitioned to list the great, white bruin as endangered, according to the richly enlightening cover story in the current edition of Newsweek.

Her efforts have been rewarded as the big bears now find themselves listed alongside nearly 2,000 species of plants and animals that are either endangered or threatened, as so deemed by the Endangered Species Act.

But as you may have gathered after hearing cover story and Newsweek in the same sentence, there's more, much more.

Alas, the listing of polar bears isn't exactly the panacea enviros need on the road to global cooling. The red tape will see to that.

Likewise, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne already has stated that the polar bear issue won't be the cause célèbre to save the planet, even after habitat preservation and a recovery plan are in place … which almost certainly assures that greenhouse-gas emissions will continue at their current outputs in this country, at least.

But that's all a bunch of hot air that you already know about.

Let's instead stick to the species in this act. Sportsmen – the greatest conservationists in the world, certainly as far as putting their money where their mouths are – need to know about the Endangered Species Act and the nuances behind its bureaucracy. These (plants and) animals are our bread and butter, and the Newsweek article lays it all out for us.

Upon examining the polar bear you'll find they are very much hunters, and sea ice is the stand from which they target seals, their favorite meals, according to Newsweek. But Arctic ice cover is seeing its lowest level on record, and the cold-loving creature is, officially, threatened. (The label endangered is reserved for anything clearly destined for extinction.)

Also of concern, as reported by the magazine:

• White-tailed prairie dog: Its historical range has shrunk by 92 percent, and what's left in four Western states is being eyed by ranchers, developers and energy companies. Not listed.

• Wolverine: Risk of extinction is high, according to biologists, but the weasel family's far-roaming loner was denied Act status in March.

• Bighorn sheep: At 70,000, the population is 3 percent of what it was in 1800. It's been endangered for a decade, due to hunting, livestock grazing and loss of habitat, so let's hope the ba, ba, ba-ers make a comeback as big as their curls.

• Greater sage grouse: Hates drill rigs and gas wells (bummer, because nine-tenths of its habitat in Colorado has been leased for energy development) out of fear attack of from raptors that historically favor high perches. Once a half-million strong, its numbers are down 400,000. A petition to list it was shot down in 2005, but a federal judge wants the decision reviewed.

One species we can't help is the blue pike; it once composed more than half of the commercial catch in the southern Great Lakes region but vanished due to overfishing in 1983.

So get better acquainted with the Endangered Species Act; we're betting it will be an important resource for sportsmen in the long run. One thing you can count on is hearing – in the form of many hearings – much more about it as the legal wranglings become more common and publicized, as evidenced by the very lofty placement it received in Newsweek.

As the periodical so appropriately states, To wind up in federal court is the fate of much of American wildlife now.


posted June 4, 2008

Charging extra for antlers? What will the airlines think of next?

Log these two briefs under Backcasts' Animals and Transportation section, because it's time to discuss goats, buses, antlers and planes.

You know all about the airline surcharge for even a single, checked bag (thanks, American, for initiating

Hey, it won't be so funny when it costs to use the toilet.

But, sportsmen, it's getting closer that day.

Horror of horrors, some airlines are increasing the fee to pack antlers.

Consider the last item in the informative Forbes.com special report on aviation:

Then there's the antler fee. On Frontier Airlines, it costs $25 more than it used to for transporting antlers as baggage (they must have a lot of customers who are hunters). The antler fee is now $100. The regional airline also slapped a $100 fee where there used to be none for hauling scuba equipment and it, like other airlines, has stopped giving child and bereavement discounts.

What is the world coming to? Increasing the fee for a nice rack. Unbelievable.

So a man and a goat hop a bus and the stunned driver asks, "Where'd you get that?"

And the goat says, "I won him at the fair."

Hey, what can we say, it's an old joke.

No, it didn't happen like that, not on a bus, not with a goat.

But Poppy the pygmy goat is becoming the new name around town in Portland, Ore., where the roaming ruminant boarded a TriMet bus late Monday, all by its lonesome.

When the doors were opened again, Poppy was greeted by the Portland's finest, who removed the 35-pound animal with the long, black hair and transported it to an animal shelter, according to KOIN 6 News and the Associated Press.

Poppy popped on board the empty bus when it was on a layover and the driver was standing outside the open doors.

Once she discovered the goat hadn't paid its fare, the operator closed the doors, apparently over concerns the animal could be harmed, what with a freeway nearby and busy street traffic outside, the Web site of the Portland television station reports.

At first the animal shelter was unable to find information about the owner of the goat, which was wearing only a black, nylon collar. But, according to KOIN.com, the Multnomah County Animal Services tracked down the owner through a post on Craigslist, and Wendy Dean was later reunited with Poppy.

There's apparently even surveillance video of the short-legged stowaway, if you have time and interest in viewing such important stuff, silent though it may be.


posted June 2, 2008

Camels are a thing of beauty, as evidenced by popularity of pageants

Gone are the days when the camel was a more viable mode of transportation and trade in Saudi Arabia.

But the value of the humped-back mammal – monetary, aesthetic, sentimental and symbolic value – has not been altogether lost on urbanization and technology.

In fact, camel breeding here is a multimillion industry, the New York Times reports from Riyadh. The beasts are raised for milk, meat, racing, and, wonder of wonders, their looks.

Camel beauty pageants are all the rage around the country, and the animals a judged by appearance and dressage.

So revered are some specimens that they can be worth their weight in, in … well, we're not great at math, the value of precious metals or the pounds of an average camel, but some must certainly be worth their weight in gold.

Consider this from the Times: The death in January of Mashoufan – a male camel who earned celebrity status after winning first prize in a number of pageants and was said to be worth more than $4.5 million – was widely reported, and his owner received condolences from around the country.

Late winter apparently is a popular time for dromedary owners of prominence to gather with their animals for the contests, socializing, tea and sunset prayer.

Saudi Arabia apparently underwent the aforementioned growth by storm, so much so that owning camels is a way to feel connected with the past for older gentlemen, the Times reports. And camel beauty contests are a way to harken back to the good, ol' days of their childhood.

"It's just like judging a beautiful girl," said Fowzan al-Madr, a camel breeder from the Kharj region southeast of Riyadh. "You look for big eyes, long lashes and a long neck – maybe 39 or 40 inches."

Some camel owners are so passionate about their camels it could be perceived as bordering on the bazaar, er, bizarre.

"See this one?" asked Haza al-Shammari, a camel breeder from Ha'il in northern Saudi Arabia, as he pointed to a white female with stunning eyelashes.

"She isn't married, yet, this one. She's still a virgin. Look at the black eyes, the soft fur. The fur is trimmed so it's short and clean, just like a girl going to a party."

Then, according to the Times, he kissed the white camel right on the mouth.

We know and respect best-of-breed competitions for dogs. And felines are recognized for their looks. But not everyone is down with camel beauty pageants, especially in Saudi Arabia. A respected Saudi cleric has issued a decree against the camel contests, saying they encourage pride, according to the Times.

But you'll see animals of all shapes, sizes and colors at Saudi Arabia's largest camel market, or souq al-jamal in Arabic, on the outskirts of Riyadh. Included are enclosures of camels give or take 365 days old that are treated very differently than the beauty contestants: hobbled, forced to kneel and spray-painted to indicate readiness for slaughter.

Wonder if camel meat tastes like chicken?

  • Got a similar take or differing view? Post on our Message Board or our Mailbag. And if you have a news tip, send it our way.

    About the author: Brett Pauly spent nearly six years editing and publishing ESPNOutdoors.com before moving on to produce the ESPN.com Sports Travel site. He is a national award-winning writer and editor with 14 years of experience in the newspaper trade, including stints at the Los Angeles Daily News and Seattle Times. The Evergreen State is where he now makes his home. Click here to email him.

  • Check the Backcasts archives for previous blogs.