Bengal Tiger Population Rebounds


(Image via

Amazing news to uplift the new year:  the population of wild Bengal tigers has increased 30% from 2001 to 2014; a census found 2,226 tigers in India last year compared with 1,706 in 2010. India is home to 70% of the world tiger population, so their numbers there spell out the future of the species. While this is being praised as a huge success, it’s important to remember that the future of all endangered species hinges on awareness.

In 1957 there were near 40,000 tigers in India, a far cry from the current population of 2,226. While conflicts with local villages and prey loss has not helped the species, their main threat for the past sixty years has been the illegal wildlife trade. From capturing and selling live tigers as status symbols, to the sale of skins and bones for furnishing or medicinal purposes, Bengal Tiger numbers have been dropping due to mankind’s interest in using them for one reason or another. Furthermore, as their numbers drop their body parts become more expensive and, unfortunately, poachers stand to profit more from the scarcity. This cycle must be stopped if we want Bengal Tigers to have a chance to bounce back to healthy numbers.

If you are interested in learning more or contributing to tiger conservation, look into WWF (World Wildlife Fund) and TRAFFIC (wildlife trade monitoring network), where you can find places to donate or lend a helping hand.

Will Lions Go Extinct by 2050?


When you think of endangered animals, particularly big cats, you think tigers. They have become one of the prominent faces of the current struggle of endangered animals, along with Polar Bears, Rhinos, Pandas, and so on. Is there another face we’ll come to associate with possible extinction? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe says yes. The new face? African Lions. The three main threats they face are habitat loss, loss of prey due to the bushmeat trade, and human-lion conflict. The human population boom in sub-saharan Africa will only exacerbate these issues. The African Lion is already listed as “Vulnerable to Extinction” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Hope is not completely lost, though. “We can be successful here,” Ashe said, “We can change the course of events. The U.S. has great experience in wildlife management and hopefully we’ll be able to bring that to bear in working with our African partners.”

So will the Lion go down the same path as the Tiger? With conservation and education, all big cats, including the Lion, could bounce back.

A New Kind of Health Wearable

Smart watches and fitness trackers have permeated the market with heart rate monitors, calorie counters, sleep trackers, and pedometers that are rolled into one device, contained in a small wearable on your wrist or clipped onto your clothes. TZOA is a completely different type of app-connected health wearable that is in development and crowdfunding right now: it is a “wearable enviro-tracker that measures UV and air pollution”.


(Image via TZOA)

TZOA clips to your clothes, much like a FitBit, and measures air quality and UV in real time using advanced sensor technology. By using the wearable, the data you collect will create a crowdsourced map from all users, showing actual environmental data as you collect it. Additionally, the wearable device will recommend ways to alter your environment when it could be harming your health. If the fire in the fireplace or the burnt food on the stove is impacting the air quality around you, TZOA will alert you to open a window or go to a different room.

TZOA is not yet available to consumers, but if you’re interested, check out the device, team, and rewards behind TZOA on Kickstarter:


About Sumatran Orangutans

tang(image via The Guardian)

I am deeply committed to the protection of and education about Sumatran Orangutans, and I wanted to take this time to tell you all a bit about them. “Orangutan” means “person of the forest”, derived from the Malay language. Sumatran orangutans, Pongo abelii, are a critically endangered species with approximately 7,300 individuals worldwide and they are native to the tropical and subtropical forests of Indonesia. While they once inhabited the entire island of Sumatra and parts of Java, Sumatran orangutan populations have been decimated by a number of threats including poaching and the illegal pet trade. They are now confined to the northern portion of Sumatra wherein they continue to play a vital role in the broadleaf forest ecosystem.

Zoos and wildlife refuges around the world are working to protect this amazing species, and Sumatran orangutans’ close relative the Bornean orangutans. You, too, can help protect orangutans! The World Wildlife Foundation has a “sponsor an orangutan” program and there are many companies that partner with conservation organizations (link to Orangutan Coffee post here). The easiest way to protect orangutans is through education: tell your friends and family about their endangered status, look for orangutan-safe products, and use social media to spread the conservation message.

The Precursor to All Art

Until recently, art was thought to have its roots a little over 200,000 years ago. Art defines a large part of human evolution: the sophistication, level of brain function, and the time it takes to create art in any form characterizes the creator of that art. Approximately 540,000 years ago, Homo erectus carved geometric figures on the shell of a freshwater mollusk. Scientists were able to date the ancient art, found in Java, Indonesia, which changed the way we thought about art and Homo erectus as a whole.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 3.20.34 PM(image via Discovery News)

The engravings on the shell were painstakingly made using a shark tooth as a tool, a step likely taken after the shell was opened with the tool to eat the mollusk inside. Researchers attempted to recreate this process to see if the scratching on the shell was accidental, and as it turns out, creating the design pictured above was both a strenuous and meticulous task.

While the shell art has provided scientists with a plethora of exciting, new data, it has also raised many questions. What does the engraving mean? How was life for Homo erectus in modern-day Java? How did this early art shape what we view as art today? While we are unable to answer these questions now, science thrives on understanding the mysteries of Earth, human, plant, and animal systems, and I’m looking forward to learning more about the evolution of people and art together.

Internet for Everybody (Yes, Everybody!)

Last year, Google launched Project Loon as a first step in their endeavor of global internet access for all. Only one-third of the world’s population is online, and the other two-thirds lack access due to remote location, socioeconomic status, or lost network access after a natural disaster or war. Project Loon is a series of balloons that float on the edge of space, in the stratosphere, that enable internet access for computers and LTE-enabled smartphones. Since the first launches in New Zealand, the Central Valley in California, and Northeast Brazil, the technology and procedures have been refined and readied for the next stages of the project.

Google’s new partnerships with telecommunications companies, improved balloon technology, and better understanding of stratospheric conditions are making the balloons a more feasible option for global internet access. In approximately one year, Google has made amazing technological advances like increased airtime for the balloons (now over 100 days), better Wi-Fi coverage for users, and shared cellular spectrum to bring access to phones.

Google’s next test flight will be in Australia in partnership with Australian carrier Telstra, and it will be the biggest test flight so far. Each balloon transmits for over 600 square miles, and if the right weather data is collected, they could be a solution for uneven global internet access in the near future. The 20 balloons that will be launched in Australia this December will tell us more about the future of a connected world, and how soon it will be a real possibility.


Tech Meets Microbrews

Technology and DIY culture have both become increasingly popular in recent years, but seldom have they been popularized together.  A new gadget may change this for hipsters and techies alike: Brewie.

(links via Indiegogo)

Brewie is a smartphone-connected device for homebrewing that will prove an asset for beginners and skilled brewmasters alike. The Wi-Fi connected, self-contained brewhouse is a dream for those who love tech and those who love beer: the device is controlled from an on-board touchscreen or your Wi-Fi connected computer, phone or tablet. Brewie will measure ingredients and water for you, and you can purchase “Pads” which have pre-portioned ingredients for specific recipes. While the device comes pre-programmed with 200 recipes, advanced brewers can input their own ingredients, measurements, and temperature, and wait for notifications on their phone to tell them when their beer is ready to taste.

Homebrewing can be a daunting process, and for those who have wanted to try their hand in DIY brews, Brewie simplifies every step along the way. If you’re interested, check out the Indiegogo video below to see how you can become an at-home brewmaster and impress all of your tech and beer connoisseur friends!


Sustainability – There’s an App for That

Support for sustainability is growing across the world. More and more companies are bringing sustainable practices into their business, implementing sustainable policies for their employees, and offering sustainable options for customers. While businesses may make a variety sustainable changes, it is still up to us as consumers to make informed choices and levy our purchasing power knowledgeably. So how do we do that in this age of technology, especially when knowing your farmer or producer is not always an option? Is there a way to make sure that our choices will lead to a healthier earth?

Well, there’s an app for that.

Actually, there are many apps that can be used to make ethical choices when it comes to picking where we shop. Environmental Working Group created a food ratings database and app, which, while focused on nutrition, also rates products on issues like organic certification, animal welfare standards, and environmental contamination. There is also HowGood, an app that rates food products on 60 indicators of sustainability, and Good Guide, a tool that rates food and other products on safety, health, and ethics.

There are even regional apps, designed just for individuals in certain cities like GreenStar NYC app, which can be used by both New York city consumers and businesses. Using the app, New Yorkers can find geotagged GreenStar Certified businesses, locally made green products, women- and minority-owned businesses, and a citywide green events calendar. The list hardly ends here; there is also Rippl, Joulebug, IRecycle, PaperKarma, and so on. In fact, sustainability apps are being created increasingly more often for reasons ranging from making smart purchases to encouraging good recycling habits.

The impact of these apps is yet to be seen; will they just be a tech fad, or a truly useful tool for consumers? Only use of the apps will answer that.


Jaya’s a big brother!

Earlier this month, Saint Paul’s Como Zoo announced the birth of a healthy female orangutan.  That makes Jaya an elder sibling!  If you don’t recall, Jaya was born at the Zoo in 2007 to a pair of Sumatran Orangutans named Markisa and Jambu.  He’s been counting birthdays ever since (I was lucky enough to help celebrate his sixth).  Now we’ll have the opportunity to watch him mature into the role of big brother.

orangsCredit:  Como Zoo

Looking back, Jaya’s birth was special because, among other reasons, it was only one of a few successful primate C-sections.  –There’s still just a dozen in recorded history.  However, when Markisa was selected to breed a second time, doctors knew that the infant would have to be similarly delivered.  At the time of this writing, mother and her baby have been reunited at Como and are bonding as expected.  Jaya was handed over to his mother’s care in record time, so there’s no doubt that Markisa can be an excellent caretaker.  Also, we can’t forget to recognize the world-class treatment these primates receive from their human counterparts at Como.

Markisa and the newborn will be reintroduced to Jaya, Jambu and friend Amanda after the two have had enough time to adjust.  While this may take some time, the growing family of orangutans is sure to light up smiles for years to come.


Cautious Optimism for Baby Sumatran Orangutan

In November, the only Sumatran orangutan born in the United States was delivered by Tara, a 19-year-old Sumatran orangutan at the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo. The female child, Asmara (which means “love”), is a rare and extremely important addition to a critically endangered population. The baby is Tara’s first child, and zookeepers and staff watched her with “cautious optimism” throughout her pregnancy for a number of reasons. Tara has never seen another orangutan mother a child, so zoo staff prepared a “Birth Management Plan” to teach her how to be a mom. For Tara, though, mothering came naturally: soon after she gave birth, she placed her child in her nest and began breastfeeding her the next day.

zooPhoto via Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo

There are two other Sumatran orangutans in captivity in U.S. zoos that are currently pregnant, and every baby born is integral to saving the sub-species of orangutans. It is difficult to mate captive orangutans, ensure that the mother will accept her child, and that the baby will grow up healthy and able to mate with other healthy Sumatran orangutans. There are only approximately 300 Sumatran orangutans in zoos worldwide, and only about a dozen babies born in captivity. Tara’s successful birth and maternal instincts have made a huge impact in global conservation, and she may have more children in the future, depending on how she raises her baby. I’ll be watching the news in April when the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo introduces Asmara to visitors.