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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

April 14, 2000

Air Date: April 14, 2000


Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

Host Steve Curwood speaks with Reuters correspondent Kieran Murray about this week's meeting of the International Convention on Trade in Endangered Species. Conservationists and representatives from 150 nations are converging in Nairobi, Kenya, to debate regulations on buying and selling products everything from elephant tusks to medicinal plants. (04:50)

Health Scares on the Internet / Deidre Kennedy

Deirdre Kennedy reports from San Francisco on the growing number of bogus health scares circulating in cyberspace. The messages prey on people's often legitimate fears of environmental toxins. Hoaxes you're likely to receive in an e-mail include warnings about Costa Rican bananas that carry flesh-eating bacteria or for women tampons made with asbestos. (05:45)

Listener Letters

This week's letters include responses to our coverage of conservative environmentalist Peter Huber; George W. Bush's environmental agenda; the new, low-emission cars and journalist Jamie Kitman's expose of the history of leaded gasoline. (02:40)

Pink Dolphins

Steve Curwood talks with author Sy Montgomery about her search for the elusive pink dolphins of the Amazon River. Ms. Montgomery relates some of the local legends about the dolphins and tells tales of her own discoveries in her new book, Journey of the Pink Dolphins. (06:55)

The Living on Earth Almanac

This week, facts about flowering cherry trees. They've been cultivated in Japan for more than 1000 years. (01:40)

Growing Food in a Bio-Shelter / Miriam Landman

Reporter Miriam Landman visits John Reid, who runs a thriving business raising fish and vegetables together in an artificial eco-system in Amherst, Massachusetts. (07:15)

Ok Gardening

Steve Curwood visits with Brenda Sanders, host of the public television series Oklahoma Gardening, to learn about growing vegetables and flowers in raised beds. (05:55)

New Home for Gorillas in the Bronx Zoo / Neal Rauch

Neal Rauch (as in OUCH) visits the Bronx Zoo's new Congo Gorilla Forest. The exhibit features some very realistic aspects of life in the wild for the jungle animals, and delivers a hefty conservation punch. (09:20)

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve Curwood
REPORTERS: Deirdre Kennedy, Miriam Landman, Neal Rauch
GUESTS: Kieran Murray, Sy Montgomery, Brenda Sanders

(Theme music intro)

CURWOOD: From National Public Radio, this is Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: I'm Steve Curwood.
The Internet is a great new source of information, but you can't believe everything it tells you about threats to health and safety.

EMORY: The way this rumor began, it was about dioxin in tampons. And arguably, there was at one time enough residual dioxin in tampons from the bleaching process that it might pose a health hazard. But someone took that valid warning and added to it the wholly bogus information that tampons contain asbestos.

CURWOOD: Also, the pink dolphins of the Amazon.

MONTGOMERY: If the night is moonless, you will know only their breath. But if the moon is full, you may see a form rising from the water, gathering into the shape of a dolphin.

CURWOOD: This week on Living on Earth, but first this news.

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(NPR News follows)

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Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

CURWOOD: This is Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Elephant tusks, whale meat, and turtle shells. These are some of the forbidden products from endangered animals. This week Nairobi, Kenya, hosts diplomats from 150 countries to decide if these and other plant and animal products should be bought and sold. It's the latest round of the biennial convention on international trade in endangered species. Kieran Murray is covering the meeting for Reuters News Service. He says this year's session continues the debates from two years ago.

MURRAY: The big three issues are almost always, and again this time, the elephants, whales, and marine turtles.

CURWOOD: What's the debate over the elephants all about?

MURRAY: There are four southern African states which would like to sell some of their ivory stocks. They say that the revenues from those sales would allow for greater investment in conservation programs. But on the other side of the debate, you have Kenya and India, who rely on healthy elephant stocks for their tourism industry. And they say that by opening up a legal trade in ivory, you automatically allow the creation of an illegal trade. And that already we are seeing more and more poachers, and more and more elephants being killed.

CURWOOD: For years there has been a ban on whaling that CITES has enforced. What's the debate about whaling this time?

MURRAY: The debate this time is pretty much the same as every year. Japan and Norway have resisted that worldwide ban. And again, this time they're asking for a relaxation of the ban, to allow commercial whaling of some whale stocks in the North Atlantic and other oceans.

CURWOOD: Turtles are on the list this year, you mentioned, as a hot item. What's the issue with them?

MURRAY: Cuba is requesting permission to sell some of its stock of Hawksbill turtle shells, and also it's asking for the right to sell another 500 individual Hawksbills, to harvest them every year from now on. They say that such sales would not endanger the population of Hawksbills in and around Cuba, but conservationists say that, again, that would open up an illegal market in turtle shells, one that already exists, but that it would fuel demand. And that Hawksbills everywhere around the world, and other turtle species, would again be considered fair game for the poachers.

CURWOOD: Is this meeting all just about animals? What else is being discussed?

MURRAY: It's not, no. There are many resolutions aimed at protecting plant species. And an interesting element this year is that many of those resolutions refer to medicinal plants, ones that have become more and more popular in the West in recent years. Things like ginseng, happy trees from China, the devil's claw from southern Africa. These products are used. Ginseng tablets are used everywhere, and these other products are used in drugs and in homeopathy and in pharmaceutical products. But now, they are also endangered species, and at this convention they are considering proposals to regulate the level of trade in those medicinal plants.

CURWOOD: Every time we do a story about the convention on international trade in endangered species, I have to wonder about the name. I mean, does it make sense to be trading in endangered species at all?

MURRAY: The idea is that those species that are very close to extinction, there is a total ban on their trade. Other endangered species are considered such, but they can withstand some trade as long as it's regulated -- sustainable use of these animals and their products. Some in some states would say that unless you do this, unless you have limited exploitation of, say, elephants or whales, then local communities who live with these animals, in the case of these elephants, see no benefit from them, and are therefore even more prone to shoot them or to poison them because they can be seen as a nuisance. And again, in the example of whaling, the Japanese and the Norwegians would say that many jobs are at stake. That many people rely on whaling, or have relied on whaling for centuries and for generations, as a key part of their livelihood.

CURWOOD: What do you think will be the outcome of this conference?

MURRAY: I think on the elephants there may well be some middle ground that can be found. The African states on either side of the debate are in intense negotiations, trying to find some middle ground where they would allow the southern African states to maybe sell in three or four years' time, rather than now, in order to allow time to see the effect of those sales, whether poaching numbers are increasing, whether elephants are being killed again. On some of the other issues, there really are only going to be winners or losers.

CURWOOD: Well, I want to thank you. Kieran Murray reports for Reuters in Nairobi, Kenya. Thanks for taking this time with us today.

MURRAY: Thank you very much.

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Health Scares on the Internet

CURWOOD: Go onto the Internet and you can find advice on just about anything. Health and medicine are some of the most popular topics. It's easy to see why. Internet info feels private, exhaustive, and instant, but it's not always accurate. Telling the world-class experts from the quacks can be a real challenge. It's especially tricky when trusted friends forward e-mails with dire health warnings. Your natural response is to believe them, but that could be a mistake. From San Francisco, reporter Deirdre Kennedy tells us why.

KENNEDY: Anyone with e-mail has probably received a number of warnings like the one about public telephones having poison on the keypads, or that HIV-infected needles are being embedded in subway seats. Messages warn of carcinogens in hair shampoo, and pet-killing spot removers. One message that's been making the rounds for more than a year now claims that tampons contain asbestos, to make women bleed more so they'll buy more tampons.

(Ambient office sounds)

KENNEDY: The e-mail has been circulating like wildfire through women's groups. Even among skeptical professionals here at the Womanhood.com offices in New York City. Editors Denise Dove and Akkida Mcdowell say they've received the e-mail more than once.

DOVE: I recently received it from my mother, and she sent it to several people before it reached me. And I sent it to a few women that I work with.

MCDOWELL: It looks credible. It has a lot of -- I didn't think at first it had any sort of sources but it does. There's a listing that was a quote from someone that worked at Ms. Magazine that's in there. There's a study that some PhD professor did at the University of Colorado.

KENNEDY: References to real or imaginary authorities are a common element in Internet hoaxes, says About.com's Urban Legend columnist David Emory. Emory says another reason that such scares often seem plausible is because they prey on consumers' legitimate concerns.

EMORY: The way this rumor began, it was about dioxin in tampons. And arguably, there was at one time enough residual dioxin in tampons from the bleaching process that it might pose a health hazard. That's controversial. It remains controversial, because scientists disagree on it. But someone took that valid warning that people were sending around, and added to it the wholly bogus information that tampons contain asbestos.

KENNEDY: While the e-mail hasn't exactly caused a nationwide slump in tampon sales, it has prompted enough worried phone calls from consumers that both Procter & Gamble and the Food and Drug Administration have issued statements assuring the public that asbestos has never been used in tampons. The scare that has sparked epic alarm is the so-called flesh-eating banana warning. The e-mail says that bananas from Costa Rica carry necrotizing fasciitis on their skins, a real disease which can cause rapid gangrene and even death. Worst of all, the message urges people who think they may have the disease to burn the healthy flesh around the infection to prevent it from spreading. Cynthia Adams, a mother of three who lives in Atlanta, says she unwittingly spread the hoax after she got the e-mail from a friend and sent it on to 38 of her closest friends and family members.

ADAMS: Within a month, I was receiving 500 phone calls daily. And then they started expanding outside of the country, especially Canada, U.K., Germany. I particularly have received a lot of e-mails from people from Costa Rica that really are blasting me.

KENNEDY: Adams has been trying to counteract the hoax by contacting the major banana importers, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation, all of whom have issued statements assuring the public that flesh-eating bacteria cannot be transported on bananas. Even so, Adams says, the e-mail has still done its damage.

ADAMS: There were new mothers that had children for the first time that absolutely fell for the e-mail, and would contact me and ask me about the burning procedure. And said that their baby had diaper rash, but they were thinking that perhaps it is this flesh-eating disease at this point.

KENNEDY: Urban Legend debunker David Emory says it's brand new users that tend to be victimized by such hoaxes. And he says even for people who look to the Internet as an alternative source of information outside of the corporate-controlled media, it's important to remember that anyone with a modem can put information up on the Web -- whether for good or nefarious motives.

EMORY: There are reliable places, for example, where you can find health information. But it's still a free-for-all at the same time. And people can share information cheaply and quickly that could be very important. And as you say, it could be subversive information. It could be information that maybe authorities and big companies don't want you to have. Unfortunately, it's simply not trustworthy.

KENNEDY: One way to avoid being duped by the Internet scare, says Emory: Beware of forwarded e-mails with emphatic language, exclamation marks, and upper-case letters, particularly ones that say this is not a hoax. And he says don't pass it along to others.

EMORY: We must take personal responsibility for this stuff, because there's really no other way to protect ourselves or our loved ones who we may send false information to if we're not careful.

KENNEDY: Annoying as they may be, Internet hoaxes do appear to have one positive side effect. They do draw attention to health issues they refer to, and they also encourage consumers to pay closer attention to what's inside the products they use in their everyday lives. For Living on Earth, I'm Deirdre Kennedy in San Francisco.

CURWOOD: Coming up: A trip up the Amazon River in search of the pink dolphins. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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Listener Letters

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

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CURWOOD: "Perhaps your guest has not seen the widely-circulated figure that the United States, with only five percent of the world's population, consumes 25 to 30 percent of the world's natural resources." So writes Robin Salzburg, a listener to KQED in San Francisco, in an e-mail this week. She's responding to our conversation with author Peter Huber, a conservative who calls himself a hard green. Mr. Huber asserts that it's the developing world that's causing some of the biggest environmental problems these days, not the United States.

But Ms. Salzburg writes, "It's insulting and flat-out wrong to blame the massive environmental destruction of the Earth's ecosystem, caused by our consumer culture, on the Third World. Allowing Mr. Huber to share his ideas without thoughtful critique on your part was a great disservice to your listeners."

John Kohler, another KQED listener, criticized our coverage of George W. Bush's new environmental agenda. "Your broadcast," he writes, "implied that Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush are the only candidates in the election. They may be the principal candidates, but Ralph Nader is the one who considers environmental issues as central to our life on earth."

We got lots of response to our piece on new low-emission cars. Mike Larson, who hears us on KUSU in Logan, Utah, spoke for many listeners in saying that hybrid and fuel cell cars shouldn't be considered the Holy Grail. Mr. Larson writes that, "These new vehicles eliminate only the most immediate and obvious threat, but fail to consider that the roots of the poisons are much deeper. Sprawl and roads will continue to grow, and our roadways will continue to squeeze out bicycles and pedestrians. The same will always be said for automobiles, no matter what energy source they use."

Finally, Patrick, a listener to WBUR in Boston, who didn't want us to use his last name, called about our interview with journalist Jamie Kitman, and Mr. Kitman's research into the secret history of leaded gasoline.

PATRICK: I thought that was the most interesting segment you've ever run. I thought it was a better expose, actually, than the whole thing with nicotine and the cigarette companies, because this one has been so nefarious. And I just hope you follow up, and that you keep on this story. I've noticed that no other media seems to have picked it up, and except for "The Nation" magazine, that you guys have the scoop.

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CURWOOD: You can give us an earful or a pat on the back by calling our listener line at 800-218-9988. That's 800-218-9988. You can reach us by mail at 8 Story Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138. And our e-mail address is letters@loe.org. You can also hear this program any time at www.loe.org.

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Pink Dolphins

CURWOOD: Deep inside the waters of the Amazon rainforest lives a large pink creature that local residents call the boto. Legend has it that botos can turn into people, seduce them, and carry them away to another world beneath the water. In English, botos are known as pink dolphins. If pink dolphins don't actually capture people, they certainly can capture people's imaginations. One person who fell under the spell of these unique freshwater dolphins is writer and Living on Earth commentator Sy Montgomery. After four trips to the Amazon, Sy penned her latest book, Journey of the Pink Dolphins. It weaves together legend, science, and her own experience. The book begins with the story of a first encounter.

MONTGOMERY: The river is the looking glass into another world. The river people speak of the Encant, an enchanted city beneath the water, ruled by beings they call Encantados. Those who visit never want to leave because everything is more beautiful there. If you stop and wait in your canoe, that's when the Encantados will come. At first you may feel a sizzle of bubbles rising beneath the craft, and a fusion of pearls cast up from below like a net of enchantment. If the night is moonless, you will know only their breath. But if the moon is full, you may see a form rising from the water, gathering into the shape of a dolphin. Inches from your canoe a face may break the surface. The forehead is clearly defined like a person's. The long beak sticks out like a nose. The skin is delicate like ours. Sometimes it's grayish or white. And sometimes dazzlingly, impossibly pink. And the creature turns its neck and looks at you, and opening the top of its head, gasps, "Cha!"

CURWOOD: Over the years I've known you, Sy, you haven't been shy about going to kind of dangerous and risky and offbeat places.

MONTGOMERY: (Laughs) Well, neither are you, Steve.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) I recall you went out looking for people-eating tigers at one point.

MONTGOMERY: Yes. (Laughs)

CURWOOD: Why did you go looking for pink dolphins? What's the attraction?

MONTGOMERY: Well, I'd always wanted to go to the Amazon. It's this huge, oceanic world that stands for so much in our imagination. But it was so huge and so unfathomable that to go there without a guide, I thought, would be futile. And when I learned that there are dolphins in the Amazon, I knew that dolphins have guided people for millennia. It's said that legends older than the Minoans tell us that dolphins led the ancients to the center of the Earth. So when I heard about these dolphins, I thought now I have found my guide. And they alone can fathom the unfathomable depths of the flooded forest and the Amazon.

CURWOOD: Now, dolphins, we think of them mostly being in the sea. So this is an adaptation for them to come up this massive river.

MONTGOMERY: Right. Most people think of dolphins as the 36 species of marine dolphins, like Flipper was. But these guys, these pink dolphins in the Amazon, are from an entirely different whale lineage than are the modern group of marine dolphins. These dolphins are thought to have entered the Amazon 15 million years ago, and not from the Atlantic but from the Pacific, before the Andes raised.

CURWOOD: Why do biologists tell us that we have pink dolphins?

MONTGOMERY: Well, no one's exactly sure why they're pink, and this is one of the many mysteries about this animal. People do agree that they tend to glow pinker with exertion, so this makes it particularly difficult to watch them, because they're changing color like chameleons right before your eyes.

CURWOOD: How are the pink dolphins doing?

MONTGOMERY: Well, the Amazon's a vast place, as you know. The river itself is 4,000 miles long and its jungle covers 2.5 million square miles, an area the size of the face of the full moon. It's a big, big place, and the dolphins are common in this very big place. They're not endangered, but they are locally endangered, because wherever the Amazon is being logged, wherever the Amazon is being polluted by oil exploration or by mercury from gold mining, wherever the forest is on fire to make room for cattle who don't belong there, the dolphins are endangered. So, the threats to the dolphin's world are very, very real.

CURWOOD: How do the people there express their relationship with the pink dolphins?

MONTGOMERY: Mostly it's through these stories. The fourth expedition I went on, where I finally was able to swim with them, I met a Boari Indian woman named Nekka, who was so afraid of her people losing their connection with the land, and she was gathering the old stories and putting them into dance. One of the most amazing things that happened to me was my very last day of my fourth expedition. Nekka had a surprise for me, and she and her daughter and her daughter's friends organized a dance for me. And all these beautiful young men and women brought their costumes, brought their props. And we all sat on the shore, and at sunset they danced for me, and sang for me the story of the beautiful woman who goes to bathe in the river, and a dolphin sees her there and falls in love with her. But of course, in the morning, he's gone. He's gone back into the water, and the woman is so distressed. So she asks the moon to call to the dolphin. So the moon calls the dolphin, and he appears at the next full moon night when there is a dance, and he makes her the promise that although he is a dolphin and can only appear in human form during these special times, that he will always come to her. And the two lovers, the story says, ever after did honor their promise and met at every dance. And it's Nekka's hope, this Boari Indian woman's hope, that her people will remember to honor the promises that they have between themselves and the dolphins, and the other creatures in the rivers, and the forest as well. Because it's her contention that their strength and their own beauty comes from the magic of the Amazon that they keep alive in their legends.

CURWOOD: Sy Montgomery's new book is called Journey of the Pink Dolphins: An Amazon Quest. Thanks so much for taking this time, Sy.

MONTGOMERY: Thank you, Steve.

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CURWOOD: You're listening to NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the National Science Foundation for coverage of science in the environment; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation for reporting on marine issues; and the Pew Charitable Trusts for reporting on threats to the world's marine environment: www.pewtrusts.com.

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NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

CURWOOD: Coming up in the second half of Living on Earth: wildlife poaching at the Bronx Zoo. It's the zoo's new super-realistic gorilla exhibit. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

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ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include Barrett Communications, delivering strategic marketing communications and design for business worldwide: www.barrett.com.

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood

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The Living on Earth Almanac

CURWOOD: Every spring thousands of Americans travel to Washington's Tidal Basin to view the cherry blossoms. It's a tradition that dates back to 1912, when the city of Tokyo presented First Lady Helen Taft with 3,000 flowering cherries. For the Japanese themselves, cherry blossom traditions go back a bit further. They've been cultivating what they call the sakura or flowering cherry for at least a thousand years. And cherry blossom parties are an essential social event in the Japanese spring calendar. In much of Japan, the event has become a metaphor for other parts of modern life. For instance, university applicants used to receive a telegram bearing the news of their acceptance or rejection. Some read "sakura saku," meaning the cherry trees have bloomed. Others bore the bad news, "sakura cheru," the cherry blossoms have fallen. In nature, they do fall easily. The cherry blossom lasts only four to ten days. By the way, many of Japan's cherry trees were destroyed in World War II. To replace them and help rebuild our friendship with the Japanese after the war, cuttings from the sakura given to Mrs. Taft were given back to Japan. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth Almanac.

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Growing Food in a Bio-Shelter

CURWOOD: A few years ago, Living on Earth reported on what we called a quiet revolution in food production. With just a small greenhouse and some large fish tanks, John Reid pioneered a method to raise fish and vegetables together. It's an almost waste-free artificial ecosystem that he called a bio-shelter. Today, John Reid's fish and vegetable business is thriving. His modest greenhouse has given way to a much larger high-tech facility. He's also learned some humbling lessons about turning a bold idea into a real-life business that's also ecologically sustainable. Miriam Landman reports from Amherst, Massachusetts.

(Bird song)

LANDMAN: You can see it clearly from the road. Up the dirt drive, beyond a parking lot of old trucks and tractors, stands a bubblish white structure that looks like something from another planet.

REID: On a winter night, when the snow is slightly melting, it's foggy, and we have our grow lights on, it can look like a spaceship landed. The traffic slows down slightly as it goes by on the road and picks up again as people go by.

LANDMAN: John Reid owns and runs this 60,000-square-foot facility he calls a bio-shelter. It stands out not only for its great size, but also because of what goes on inside.

(Clanking, humming)

REID: The real uniqueness of what we do, is that we grow fish in the lower level, and the waste from the fish becomes fertilizer for the plants, and the plants clean the water for the fish. A linked, recirculating system.

(Water sprays)

LANDMAN: The process is organic, but the bio-shelter has an industrial feel. There are concrete floors, metal pipes and grates, and a computer that alerts workers to equipment problems.

(Voice on loudspeaker)

LANDMAN: The bottom floor houses several fish tanks that look like huge above-ground swimming pools. Each holds 200,000 gallons of water and tens of thousands of pinkish gray fish called tilapia. Tilapia are a commonly farmed fish. They're hardy and they're cheap dates, since they eat a grain-based feed rather than meat or fish meal.

(Splashing water; footfalls)

LANDMAN: On the bio-shelter's sunny upper floor, a sea of basil, arugula, and watercress plants grow in rows on long tables. The nutrient-rich water from the fish tanks below flows through gutters under the plants. Their roots soak up some of it, and what's left over drains back down to the fish. The shared water supply means no chemicals.

REID: We grow insects to eat the insects that we don't want, because we can't use any pesticides on the plants because it would kill the fish immediately.

LANDMAN: The essence of this pest control approach is captured on a bumper sticker on an employee's car out front. It reads, "Good Bugs Rule." The good bugs live in a botanical garden around the perimeter of this upper floor. John Reid's business is blossoming along with his plants. He sells his herbs year-round to farmers’ markets and most major supermarkets in New England. But he sells most of his fish to only one store, the Mei Tung Supermarket in Boston's Chinatown.

(Voices speak in Chinese)

LANDMAN: A couple times a week, John Reid brings a truckload of live tilapia to the market's owner, Richard Kong. Mr. Kong says the bio-shelter fish taste much better than frozen and imported tilapia.

KONG: So I think John should make as much as he could, and grow faster.

REID: We're growing them as fast as we can. Some more are coming in about two weeks.

(Store sounds fade to quietude)

LANDMAN: Back home, John Reid sits on a porch attached to his house, just up the drive from the busy bio-shelter. Finches fly around the screened-in room. This is one of his few moments of calm. These days he's getting more orders than he can fill, but he's not complaining.

REID: The revenue that we set out to have, the percent margin, the profitability, that has all showed up, being very close to what we projected.

LANDMAN: The bio-shelter covers almost all of its expenses, and John Reid expects his company will start showing a profit as soon as he gets two more tanks stocked with fish. But the road to success has not been easy.

REID: You know, at times you have to go swimming to the bottom of a fish tank, and you've got to wear regulated gear and go down. And I've spent sometimes five, six hours underwater, futzing with a pair of pliers and a screen to keep the fish from getting out the drain. Or being up on top of an inflated roof, you know, in a windstorm, patching a hole. I never would have thought that rock climbing skills would some day help me save my business.

LANDMAN: And with 40 employees and hefty winter heating bills, the bio-shelter is expensive to run. But its productivity helps cut costs. John Reid says that the bio-shelter can produce up to 80 times the volume of crops and as much as 200 times the number of fish that could be grown in the same amount of space outdoors. This level of efficiency came after years of tinkering with the system in a smaller greenhouse. And as his facilities have changed, so has John Reid.

REID: I started in a sense to have this be a metaphor, and example, and I was very much into the whole philosophy of it when I first started out. And didn't really focus as much on what we had grabbed by the tail. And then, like, the last probably ten years, I focused just really on a very micro level, in terms of how to make it work as a little mini ecosystem.

LANDMAN: Originally, John Reid hoped to see lots of community-based bio-shelters built in urban areas. But he realized that fish manure can't be treated and disposed of easily in cities. John Reid's concerns about water pollution also led to his decision not to expand his current structure.

REID: If we made the site too big, we couldn't affordably spread the manure responsibly.

LANDMAN: Instead, he plans to build a network of bio-shelters across the northern United States.

REID: And that keeps the manure level where it becomes a resource and an asset, rather than a liability.

LANDMAN: It also keeps shipping costs down, and it means John Reid can continue to deliver live fish and herbs to stores within 24 hours from when they were harvested.

REID: Having to make it be ecologically viable has really steered us into some strategic advantages that I think are much more powerful than had we followed a more traditional sort of agribusiness model of building one huge farm in the middle of the country and shipping things everywhere.

LANDMAN: As the aquaculture industry takes off, more and more businesspeople are showing an interest in what's going on here at the bio-shelter. John Reid is happy others want to learn about his unique system of food production, but he also wants to make sure they see the big picture.

REID: They want to just buy the nuts, the bolts, the pipes, and the blueprints, and then run it themselves. And we've talked them out of that, that you really can't. The physical piping is maybe 20 percent of the business. It's how you manage the fish, how you nurture the system, how you balance it. . . the intuition that you have to build to learn how to run it well, stably, day in, day out, consistently. That's something I've yet to see anyone be able to sell as a package.

LANDMAN: So rather than handing over his blueprints, John Reid is about to set up joint ventures with people in China and Eastern Europe. These start-ups will benefit from the knowledge he has gained about balancing, under one roof, the delicate interactions between fish, plants, and insects, while also having to work within the human world of commerce, outside the bubble. For Living on Earth, I'm Miriam Landman.

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CURWOOD: Coming up, our gardening segment hits the road to learn about planting in raised beds. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

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Ok Gardening

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. And with me now is Brenda Sanders. She's host of Oklahoma Gardening. And we're in the middle of your garden here, on the campus of Oklahoma State University. Hi, Brenda.

SANDERS: Hi, Steve.

CURWOOD: Well, we're here because we do our gardening segments very often out of the Boston area, where Living on Earth is based. And seasons are different in different parts of the country. And soils are different. In fact, there's a lot different. And we thought that by coming by and talking to you, we'd get some insights for folks who live a little further south and with different kinds of soils. So let's first talk about soil. Now of course, in New England, we mostly have rocks. But in between the rocks we have (laughs) actually some pretty nice humus. But here, I see what you have is, well, a lot of clay is what you've got here.

SANDERS: Yes. In Oklahoma, even in Oklahoma the soil will differ, but large parts of Oklahoma have a nice, thick, red clay, or sometimes it's more of a brown clay. But it is a very thick soil. And we have a lot of problems with drainage, and also in the summer it can get very dry and then our soil just dries out. It's hard to grow things in that type of a soil.

CURWOOD: And it blows away. Those of us from out East will think that when things get dry in Oklahoma, things are really tough.

SANDERS: Well, if there's not vegetation on top of that soil, then it starts to blow. But as long as you've got some vegetation there, which is why we like to keep something on top of the soil, then it won't blow.

CURWOOD: So, Brenda, what's the secret? How do you cope with all this clay in the soil?

SANDERS: Well, there are several things that you can do. One of the things that we like to recommend is to use raised beds. And this is good for two reasons. It allows you to add more soil amendments to the soil. You have it perched up there. And the other thing is, it helps in seasons when we get a lot of rain, because we can have times when we have a lot of rain, and then we have no rain. And so, if the water table is perched because you've got a raised bed, then you don't have to worry about your drainage so much.

CURWOOD: So we're here in your garden, and I see there are four pretty good-sized raised beds here. Say, how tall are these? It looks like, oh, maybe seven, eight, nine inches tall. And they're probably, oh, maybe 20 feet, 30 feet long, almost, and about two feet across. What do you like to put in these?

SANDERS: We like to grow a lot of vegetables in these. Also, some of our vining crops, vining vegetables, are very good in here. Pretty much anything, whatever we need space for, we've grown it in here. We like to rotate our crops around, so that we're not always growing the same thing in these beds. We might have our tomatoes here one year, and then we'll have our cantaloupe or something like that here.

CURWOOD: Let's take a step over here, where you've already started a few things. What do we have coming up?

SANDERS: Oh, this is our garlic bed. I love growing garlic. And the garlic works very well in a raised bed, because it's real important to have some good drainage here. And so, we planted this last fall, and have it mulched here, and it's doing very well.

CURWOOD: And I'll taste one if you taste it. (Both laugh)

SANDERS: Well, it's not quite time to harvest it yet.

CURWOOD: Not quite ready, huh? (Laughs) We'll have to wait a little bit longer. I just know that one of us can't do anything.

SANDERS: That's right.

CURWOOD: So what else will you put in these beds, in the other parts, this year?

SANDERS: We're getting ready to plant a lot of our warm season vegetables. And we'll be putting in some tomatoes and some peppers, and we're also going to be growing a lot of heirloom vegetables this year. We have. . . one of our theme gardens this year is an heirloom vegetable garden that we're going to be working with and seeing how the vegetables do in Oklahoma.

CURWOOD: So, which heirlooms do you have in mind? Some tomatoes, I bet.

SANDERS: We're going to have quite a few tomatoes. We're also going to be growing some heirloom peppers, and I've got some sweet corn picked out, and a lot of bush beans and things like that.

CURWOOD: So, what do you put in the bed? Topsoil? And then how about some energy, some nutrients for it? What do you put in for that?

SANDERS: We use a lot of compost in our beds here, and one thing that we recommend with the extension service is taking a soil test before you add anything, so that you're not adding nutrients that you don't need. We find a lot of times, with the compost that we put in, that we don't have to add any extra nutrients. It just depends on what plant we're growing.

CURWOOD: Now, people think raised beds, they think a lot of work. Is this true?

SANDERS: No. The work comes when you're actually putting the bed in. But once you've got the raised bed built, it actually makes gardening easier. It's easier to reach, it's easier to weed, and, you know, you've got a defined space that you're working with.

CURWOOD: If the bed is eight or nine inches high, do you have to dig down into the soil underneath that? Or is that enough soil to grow what you need to grow?

SANDERS: Well, usually, what we'll do is we'll loosen that soil underneath, but we don't necessarily have to, like, take it out and put other soil in. We'll just loosen that up good, and then we'll come in with topsoil or compost and fill the rest of the bed.

CURWOOD: Some places I've seen, particularly at some nursing homes, I've seen the beds just right up at three, four feet. This is so people in wheelchairs can get at them.

SANDERS: Yes. We actually built some beds that were accessible that way. And it really is nice -- people in wheelchairs and older people, you don't have to bend so much. And even for us, you know, it's nice to be able to just sit on the edge of the bed and garden, and then get up, instead of having to be bent over on your hands and knees.

CURWOOD: So the advantages of raised beds are, it may be more work to get started, but it helps you if you have to make a lot of soil amendments, because you have a lot of clay here. It hangs onto the water if you're going to go through really long, dry spells. And it's easier to get at the plants.

SANDERS: Yes, it's very good. We highly recommend them.

CURWOOD: (Laughs) Well, I want to thank you for taking this time with us today. Brenda Sanders hosts Oklahoma Gardening on Oklahoma Educational Television. For how many years now?

SANDERS: Well, this is the 25th year on the air for Oklahoma Gardening, and my fourth year as host.

CURWOOD: Well, congratulations.

SANDERS: Thank you.

Back to top

(Music up and under: "It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under...")

New Home for Gorillas in the Bronx Zoo

CURWOOD: New York City has changed a lot in the 20 years or so since Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five sang this early hip-hop classic. Parts of the city are now less like a jungle. But then again, at least one part has become a lot more like a jungle.

(Jungle birds)

CURWOOD: Six and a half acres of the city have been transformed into an African forest. This is the Congo Gorilla Forest at the Bronx Zoo, now home to 22 gorillas and hundreds of other animals. The $43 million exhibit takes zoos into a whole new terrain, as it tries to reproduce the wild as closely as possible, including the reality of death and destruction. From the Bronx, Neal Rauch has our report.

RAUCH: The goal of the Bronx Zoo's Congo Gorilla Forest is to take visitors out of an urban environment and transport them into an African rainforest. And at first glance it seems to work, at least for this six-year-old.

(To child) What does it feel like you're near, David?

DAVID: A forest.

RAUCH: An actual jungle?

DAVID: Yeah. And it looks like they're very wild monkeys. I see three of them. One over there, one there, and one there.

RAUCH: We're at the entranceway to the exhibit, and we'll have to walk more than halfway through an elaborately recreated rainforest before seeing any gorillas. Some of it, like the black and white colobus monkeys that little David saw, is real. Some of it, like the piped-in jungle sounds, is not. But all of it is designed to evoke the feeling of passing through an entire ecosystem. Bronx Zoo project manager Lee Ehmke says this is not your typical stare-at-the-animals exhibit.

EHMKE: We want this to feel like you're exploring on a forest trail and occasionally getting glimpses of animals through the foliage. What we're looking at right now are a pair of okapi, which are a very rare, secretive, forest-dwelling relative of the giraffe, found only in the Eturi Forest region of Congo.

RAUCH: The okapi are creatures Dr. Seuss might have created. Their necks are unusually long, and they have tongues that are long enough to lick their own eyes. But little Benjamin is more interested in a snake.

BENJAMIN: I see it. A baby snake.

RAUCH: Actually, the snake is a fake. It's hard to mix different species together without some of them eating others. So some animals are just models, says Lee Ehmke, and others only appear to share the same space.

EHMKE: We've designed it so it looks like it's one continuous forest and the animals are simply moving through it. But in fact, they're separated by hidden moats and some of the stainless steel mesh and other things that we've seen.

(Flowing water)

RAUCH: The exhibit, from its flora to its fauna, has been painstakingly constructed, including several 50-foot-tall trees, some of which were first planted here as far back as ten years ago. Curator of horticulture Rob Halperin says much of the landscape only mimics the African jungle.

HALPERIN: The challenge for us is to create a believable African tropical forest that could survive New York. So the 400 species of plants we used were selected to, in some cases, just give the right feel and ambiance of a tropical forest in Africa.

RAUCH: To help give the true feel of a modern tropical rainforest, the centerpiece of the next stop along the exhibit is a giant tree that's been nearly cut in half by a chainsaw.

EHMKE: The African rainforest, up until about ten or 15 years ago, was relatively untouched compared to the Amazon or Asian rainforest.

RAUCH: Again, Bronx Zoo project manager Lee Ehmke.

EHMKE: But as commercial pressures are increasing, primarily for logging, these forests are increasingly under threat. And the logging itself may not be the most destructive aspect of it. It's the process of getting in to do the logging. The roads that are created to bring logging vehicles in become highways that encourage commercial bush meat trade. Animals that were traditionally eaten by local cultures are now sold in marketplaces and are part of an export economy. The roads also encourage migration of people into the forest.

RAUCH: The exhibit's most disturbing display is a color photograph of a severed gorilla head sitting in a bloody bowl. Lee Ehmke says after much debate, zoo officials decided this graphic image was appropriate.

EHMKE: It's very representative of what's going on. It's estimated that last year in Cameroon alone, over 800 gorillas were killed and sold in markets for food.

RAUCH: But standing next to the nearly severed tree, Ehmke says the message is not all gloom and doom.

EHMKE: Surrounding us are exhibits that are sort of the good news, looking at what Wildlife Conservation Society is doing in Africa, working with local governments and local peoples to combat the threats that this tree represents.

(Documentary music up and under)

RAUCH: With the conservation message delivered, it's time to meet the stars. We're ushered into a darkened auditorium, and after a brief film a curtain swings open. Behind a thin glass plate, Orphan-eeda, an adult female, stares us down, her arms crossed. She appears to be feeling superior to her fellow primates on the other side of the barrier. And why not? The people inside the building are surrounded on three sides by 22 lowland gorillas in their naturalized habitat. It's almost like we're the ones on display. The crowd oohs and aahs as five-year-old twin males wrestle under the watchful eyes of another adult female, the gorilla equivalent of their nanny. Then there's Dan, a silverback gorilla snoozing right against the glass. This 30-something male was sent here to mate, but so far there has been no monkeying around.

McCANN: He had not been in a group to learn how to be a silverback male and a breeding male, and these things take time. And when you're 30, it takes even longer. (Laughs)

RAUCH: Associate curator of primates Colleen McCann says in all other respects the gorillas seem to be adjusting to their newly-created home.

McCANN: They are socializing. They are exploring the environment. They are climbing, foraging for their food.

RAUCH: All but two of the Bronx Zoo gorillas were born in captivity and lived in a traditional zoo environment of metal bars and cold porcelain floors. So their new naturalistic setting probably seems somewhat unnatural. To ease the transition, Colleen McCann says it was important to keep the gorilla groups intact.

McCANN: If we disrupted your family, that would be very stressful to you.

RAUCH: More than 40 gorillas have been born here during the last three decades. That, says Lee Ehmke, is a far cry from when the Bronx Zoo first opened 100 years ago.

EHMKE: There's a very interesting quote from the first Bronx Zoo director, William Hornaday, who imported a baby gorilla and put out a newspaper article saying, please come see the gorilla because we don't think he's going to last very long. And they didn't, because at that time very little was known about what gorillas needed for a healthy life.

(Children's voices in the background)

RAUCH: Ehmke says that zoos are very different places today, their mission changing from solely entertainment to education and conservation. And the conservation link is a key component of this exhibit. In the final room, visitors can choose to send their three dollar admission fee to various conservation projects.

EHMKE: That direct link is really the thing that sets this zoo exhibit apart from any that's ever been done before. By coming to this exhibit, Bronx Zoo visitors will become conservationists. And we're hoping it also inspires interest in local conservation issues as well.

COROLI: Three different choices you can make, Katie.

RAUCH: Dawn Coroli and Linda Filaberty came from upstate New York to visit the exhibit with their children.

FILABERTY: So remember those gorillas that you saw in the movie that they were poaching?

COROLI: Okay, and we know now --

FILABERTY: You're going to help save them.

CHILD: I did it, too!

(A ding sounds)

FILABERTY: [See how your money flies over there to Africa.

(Flowing water)

FERNANDEZ: What I think is really remarkable about this exhibit is, just over that hill is the Bronx, and you have no idea how close you are to a city. You really feel like you're in a tropical forest.

RAUCH: Living on Earth's resident animal expert Donna Fernandez worked with gorillas for six years at Zoo New England. She says the sheer number of gorillas here, 22 in all, along with the well-planned design, is what separates this exhibit from others.

FERNANDEZ: You are bound to see a number of social interactions. You're going to see play, you're going to see occasionally mating behavior. But I think having such well-established groups with such a diversity of ages in the animals guarantees a success.

RAUCH: Donna Fernandez has one caveat. The glass barrier, which allows almost nose-to-nose contact with the animals, also prevents visitors from hearing the gorillas vocalize or catching a whiff of their distinct, musky odor. When it opened last summer, the Bronx Zoo's Congo Gorilla Forest attracted large crowds, and many braved long lines to get in. But Dawn Coroli and Linda Filaberty, the mothers from upstate New York, say it's worth the wait.

COROLI: We're talking about the humanity in the gorillas' eyes. And it was just incredible. You could see almost into their soul type of thing.


COROLI: It was just -- human. They're human. It really brings it to life.

RAUCH: For Living on Earth, I'm Neal Rauch in New York.

Back to top

(Bird songs up and under)

CURWOOD: Next week, life up a tree in California's redwoods.

BUTTERFLY: I didn't realize I was climbing up into the tree in the worst winter in the recorded history of California, in the famous El Nino of '97, from which all of the world's problems were blamed.

CURWOOD: And you didn't realize that, instead of a month, it would be two years, a little more than two years before your feet would touch the ground again.

BUTTERFLY: Seven hundred and thirty-eight days.

CURWOOD: The story of Julia Butterfly, who put herself between the chainsaw and California's redwoods, next week on Living on Earth.

(Music up and under)

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is a production of the World Media Foundation in cooperation with Harvard University. Our staff includes Cynthia Graber, Stephanie Pindyck, Anna Solomon-Greenbaum, Maggie Villiger, and Dennis Foley. We had help this week from Hanna Day Woodruff, Stephen Belter, and Emily Sadigh, and our administrative staff includes Peter Shaw, Leah Brown, Susan Shepherd, Bree Horwitz, and Barbara Cone. Michael Aharon composed the theme. Eileen Bolinsky is our technical director. Liz Lempert heads up our Western Bureau. And our science editor is Diane Toomey. This week's program was produced by Peter Thomson. The senior producer is Chris Ballman. I'm Steve Curwood, executive producer. Thanks for listening.

(Music up an under)

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes from the World Media Foundation Environmental Information Fund. Major contributors include the W.Alton Jones Foundation, supporting efforts to eliminate environmental threats to children's health; www.wajones.org; the Ford Foundation; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation for reporting on western issues; the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund; and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.

NPR ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


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