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Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Paris Disagreements

climate change
What planet are we leaving for them?

Nicaragua is self-described for decades as the country "where lead floats and cork sinks". The country has steadfastly defied the conventional wisdom generated, promoted and supported by the rest of the world. Whether on the national, political level, or in the barrio, Nicaraguan thought has tended to take turns that did not always come from the playbook provided.

Recent world events have once again brought the country into the forefront of the news. Nicaragua shares the dubious honor of accompanying two other nations that are not united in the recent Paris accords regarding climate change. The accords were uncharacteristically broad and bland that virtually every nation signed on, even the stubborn government of North Korea. Syria, distracted by a bloodbath within its borders, did not sign, nor did it protest. The nation which aspires and daily claims to be the greatest nation on the planet, the United States of America, signed, but its new leader, Donald Trump, declared the agreement to be inequitable toward the USA. His opposition to the agreement and intention to depart from it was declared recently.

It has been said that politics makes strange bedfellows. With the dismaying declarations of the President of the United States, Nicaragua is strangely united into a unique club of those outside the Paris accord, this space with a failed nation and a tragically misguided empire.

All this is important to note, because of the gravity of climate change on human life and wild nature globally. Paleontologists have declared the current times a new geological epoch, in which the human influence on the climate becomes indelible. The effect of modern society, in these terms, on temperatures, atmospheric composition, and weather processes, has become paramount. Among the few decision-makers who dare to question that humans are provoking long-term impacts on the climate which threaten even the survivability of our own species on this planet, are only those who are in position to benefit directly from its negation, such as the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

An anthropological analysis of the government of the USA and the sides of the debate regarding climate change belies the self-interest of individuals who gain from pretending that the obvious is happening. In contrast, the government of Nicaragua has taken a posture which can be criticized and discussed, but its relevance to history is indisputable. Climate change is real, it affects the quality of life of humans, and the distribution of impacts among humans is unequal. Poor people, worldwide, bear the brunt of the negative effects of climate change. Unlike the USA, the government of Nicaragua has not sought to negate the relation between human activities and the environment, but rather to accentuate that poor nations are victims of a kind of climate-imperialism imposed by the richer nations, especially those set in the temperate zones of the northern hemisphere.

As Gaia director Jeffrey McCrary, states in a recent essay published in El Nuevo Diario, the posture of Nicaragua regarding the accords sets the country far apart from that of the USA. The government of Nicaragua has made deep commitments toward the environment, particularly regarding greenhouse gas emissions, whereas the government of the USA is backpedaling. We need urgently to establish what climate change will mean to Nicaragua, in terms of shorelines, ecosystems, habitats for fauna in both the land and in the waters of the country, the impacts on populations regarding agriculture, vulnerability to storms and drought, livability regarding temperatures.... so many things!

Monkey die-offs, water wells going dry, lake levels dropping, crop failures, floods, hurricanes that flatten areas. The rapid advance of the agricultural frontier. Median temperature rise. What more evidence do we need?

climate change
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Monday, May 22, 2017

Learning Spanish in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve

There are several aspects to learning Spanish that are all important. The first, and most vital, is to learn as much as possible, to become as fluent as one can be, to make understanding the magical world of Nicaragua more open and understandable. So many people, especially tourists, come to Nicaragua without understanding much of the language, bumbling their way through the country, dependent upon the translation skills of someone else.

Once a person can manage the most basic of the Spanish language skills necessary to survive as a backpacker, tourist, or worker without the aid of others, doors begin to open. Suddenly, Nicaragua consists of more than Granada, Leon, and a few beach towns. There are places to go, things to do, and increasingly, as one learns to speak the language, people with whom to share. As those who live in Nicaragua for long periods can attest, the best that Nicaragua has to offer is off the beaten path. It is at once the geography, the landscapes, and the people. The key to the most intimate levels of sharing culture is language.

Nicaragua Spanish Schools
Spanish classes at Apoyo Spanish School are held in the natural setting of Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Languages have many dimensions and interconnections. Thankfully for those who speak very little Spanish, Nicaragua is very open and friendly to visitors with little language capacity, but the "real Nicaragua" is awaiting the people who can communicate effectively. Furthermore, work requirements also demand excellent language skills. Basically, every level of accomplishment in a language opens the door to higher, richer and more complex levels.

Apoyo Spanish School is the oldest of the intensive Spanish schools in Nicaragua. It is the best place to learn, for the person who is serious about learning, regardless of the level. We have special courses for beginners, as well as tailor-made courses for the more advanced students. Advanced students can go deep into literature and technical discourse with teachers who are prepared for the most subtle issues of the language. We even teach the teachers-most of the long-lasting Spanish schools in Nicaragua have benefited from training given to their teachers by us.

Apoyo Spanish school
The lake is just steps away from us at Apoyo Spanish School, permitting students to combine rigorous courses with relaxing swims, kayaking and scuba diving. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

Often, people think they will go from "hola!" to giving public speeches and participating in debates in Spanish in merely a couple of weeks. First of all, learning rates differ among people dramatically. Young adults learn language more rapidly than older adults, although our experience has proven that even into the eighth decade of life, people can improve their Spanish school measurably in just a week of study. Secondly, the rates at which students learn may be limited by what the students do outside the class period. Those who insist on staying in Spanish all day, taking only brief breaks to converse or communicate in their native language during the day, learn much more than those who spend their evenings chatting with other non-Spanish speakers.

learning Spanish
After classes, time at the lake, in the forest, visiting the nearby towns, or helping out with tasks at Estacion Biologica are all awaiting. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

Sometimes, Spanish students in an intensive language program such as at Apoyo Spanish School may feel daunted by the concentration on verb conjugations in their Spanish class. It may be difficult for a beginner to appreciate that verbs in Spanish are much more loaded with meaning than in English. Our classes go beyond just pointing and grunting, to provide a solid foundation in the Spanish language so the student can make further progress effectively, after going on beyond a single round of Spanish classes.

Spanish classes
Spanish classes with individual instruction may be exhausting, but a huge learning experience, which benefits the student greatly. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
The objectives for learning a language may vary considerably among people, as well as their learning rates and their levels of management of the Spanish language when entering in classes at Apoyo Spanish School. We offer group classes for absolute beginners, in an economical program that also includes lots of volunteering, which we call the "backpackers' Spanish program". This course, at a considerable discount from the one-on-one classes, incorporates dorm stay and lots of volunteering to make the program more economical for the traveler on a budget.

Spanish course
Why study Spanish in a stuffy room when you can have fresh air and nature around? Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
In contrast, one-on-one classes can be had for Spanish students at any level. Teachers make a study plan with the student after an initial evaluation and consideration of the ability and level of the student. Additionally, homework is assigned to give the student direction in after-hours practice. Furthermore, the activities and informal conversations with the staff and friends reinforce the language skills learned in the day.

Among the greatest attractions in Nicaragua is Laguna de Apoyo. Come, study, and enjoy! Photo Andras Dorgai.

Nicaragua Spanish Schools
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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Animal Rescue XXII: (Yet another) Pacific Screech-Owl

When we receive a wild animal to rescue at Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo, we can not always predict what will happen. Sometimes, the animals are injured so badly that little can be done, beyond securing a peaceful hospice for its last hours of life. But, sometimes, animals with injuries may recover, even when their injuries may have appeared gruesome or grave, initially. The owl brought to us last week is another surprise of this sort, with an unexpectedly happy ending.

Perhaps the most common of the owls in the inhabited portion of the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is the Pacific Screech-Owl (Megascops cooperi). Its range is limited to the dry tropical forest habitats, farmlands and even residential areas, near the Pacific coast from the Isthmus of Tihuantepec to northwestern Costa Rica.

This species is called corococa locally, in homage to its lively call, which is often answered in kind among the members of a social group. It consumes mostly arthropods, although it is thought to take small rodents, as well. A biological control over some potential nuisances may be managed by its presence, making it a beneficial species to have nearby. Nonetheless, local people often kill any wildlife within view, especially when associated with negative myths, as are owls in the Nicaraguan culture.

Although the Pacific Screech-Owl is not active during the daytime, it often roosts in plain view, on low branches of trees, where its camouflage may keep it unnoticed by humans and other fauna. Nonetheless, if seen, it is likely that Nicaraguans, full of myths about owls and generally hostile to any wild animals within view, will attack an owl with intent to harm. In fact, the Pacific Screech-Owl is among the more commonly received bird species by us at GAIA. The subject of this report, brought to us just a couple of weeks ago in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, was an injured fledgling.

Megascops cooperi
Juvenile Pacific Screech-Owl, rescued in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo Jeffrey McCrary. 
This young owl, surely having been flying only days of its life, was found by neighbors, Claudio Arnaudo and Jimmy, who work at a nearby hotel in Laguna de Apoyo. The poor bird was plagued with lesions of different kinds. One eye had swollen shut from trauma. Another lesion, possibly caused in a fall, was evident beneath the beak. A wing was bruised and missing about ten of its flight feathers. As owls tend to be, the little animal was hostile to all who approached. Its injuries impeded flying, however, so there was little it could do, beyond menacing looks and tight grips with the sharp talons, against those who bothered it.

Pacific Screech-Owl
The Pacific Screech-Owl perched on a wall at Estacion Biologica, Laguna de Apoyo, Photo Pablo Somarriba.
After several days, during which it refused all food offered, we thought that the poor owl would soon be dead. Yet, it maintained strength. Then, one evening, we noticed that the owl was communicating with the local, wild owls. Small peeps were emanating from the cage, in evident response to the characteristic calls from the trees.

The wing, still missing half its flight feathers, had nonetheless recovered mobility and some of its strength. We left the owl out of its cage to see what would happen. After a few false starts, the owl was gone.

The following dawn, however, the owl appeared once again, at the same place where it was left free. Its adventure over, it had returned to familiar, if confined, surroundings. This time, the owl was placed back into the cage, but with the cage door maintained open, in case it developed an urge to go back to the wild.

The next evening, owls were heard and spotted nearby. The fledgling owl was once again taken out and placed outside the cage, and this time, we watched as the other owls flew in. The injured owl had friends, this was clear, and this time, it took flight and left with them, not to return. One more wild bird in the forests of Nicaragua, mission accomplished.

In the following video, the fledgling owl is approached by another owl. Whether the owl was fed or simply visited, what is clear is that a firm association was developed.

The story of this fledgling owl, adopted by the local owl-family, was unexpected. Furthermore, we are left to wonder if, indeed, the owl had been getting fed by the local owls through the bars of the cage, all along. That possibility would explain why the health of the owl improved, even though it seemingly was not eating. Regardless, we are glad that the owl could enjoy another day as a free animal, to live and die in the forest instead of in a cage. One more animal that was a victim to the aggression of senseless people was saved and returned to the wild. This owl, given another chance at life in the wild, is free in its natural environment, thanks to the attentiveness and kindness of Claudio and Jimmy. Wild animal rescue, sometimes, can be very gratifying.

We at GAIA are working to make Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, and other places in Nicaragua, friendly habitats for wild nature. You can help us to reduce human-wildlife conflicts, provide environmental education, and conduct scientific research on topics of importance to the environment in Nicaragua. Please join us by sending a contribution or volunteering.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

Laguna de Apoyo at dawn

Laguna de Apoyo is called a "laguna", but this term is neither the generally used term in English, nor in Spanish. It is a water-filled volcanic crater, resulting from a huge, volcanic explosion about 23,000 years ago. The lake that occupies the bottom of the crater has no open-water connection to any other body of water, although the water table flows into and out of the lake, and basically defines the lake level.

The lake and the terrestrial interior of the volcanic crater are designated a protected area by the Nicaraguan government, called Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. There are several natural resource-related issues which justify and focus the conservation issues.

Among the issues that make the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve a special place, are the views. The lake provides recreation for lots of people who benefit from seeing and interacting with the natural features, especially the lake itself. Being on the shore or in the lake gives one a view of water, forest and sky, a perfect combination.

Laguna de Apoyo
Laguna de Apoyo at dawn, from the shore in front of Estacion Biologica. Photo Andras Dorgai.
Especially around holiday periods, the lakeshore becomes a festive gathering spot for locals. The beachfront before Estacion Biologica has always been managed as public-access beach for the benefit of all, in accordance with Nicaraguan law. Many hotels and private properties try to deny locals access to the lakeshore before their properties, in order to provide their clients, usually foreigners and sometimes wealthy Nicaraguans, an exclusive experience, even though laws clearly make all lakeshore public property.

During periods that are less touristic, the beach areas of Laguna de Apoyo may be visited by fewer people. On almost any day, the beach is very quiet at dawn. It's a great moment to see the lake, as light emerges over the edge of the crater, when there is little human activity to distract.

Laguna de Apoyo
Dawn on Lake Apoyo, from a kayak. Photo Andras Dorgai.

There is something special to enjoy personally, alone, and quietly, at dawn on Laguna de Apoyo. The sounds of people, music, cars and the like, are much lower. The wind is usually much lower, too. Birds can be heard from long distances, even monkeys. The shapes of ripples in the water, and the clouds in the sky, help to make a peaceful start to the day.

Lagua de Apoyo
The lake is often calm at dawn. Photo Wendy Van Kooten.

Laguna de Apoyo
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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Donations to Gaia

We at GAIA feel honored when people want to donate their time, money or materials to help us in our objectives to protect the wild natural resources of Nicaragua. Some people help with our activities as Eco-Warrior Environmental Volunteers, conducting lots of tasks that are important to nature such as reforestation, maintenance, and assistance with wild animal rescue. We love to share our time and efforts with people who share our opinions about the importance of protecting wild nature.

Not everyone can give a block of time to a project such as reforestation. Some people prefer to help by making a small financial donation, or provide some of the materials that are required for our operations, such as foods for animals and containers for planting trees. We want to express our gratitude to the many people who have given small, or sometimes, not so small, material or financial donations to help us do what we do. A few such donations received during the most recent days are mentioned below.

Seeds were donated by the owners of Apoyo Lodge-thank you!
The great folks at Apoyo Lodge dropped by to share with us and they shared their wealth by donating sunflower seeds. It is worth noting that Apoyo Lodge has changed hands, and the new proprietors are particularly kind and conscientious, as is evidenced by their donation of sunflower seeds for the benefit important nutrients.  Our rescue macaw has a flexible diet but, like all parrots, requires certain components, among them, seeds which carry certain small-scale nutrients that this bird may not obtain from the other foods in its daily diet in captivity.

The kinds veterinarians at WorldVets donated a surgery for Juju the kinkajou, and some juicy fruits which were readily devoured. 
Steve and the team from WorldVets donated a costly treatment of surgeries to Juju, a wild kinkajou that was found badly beaten in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. The animal was given a chance to live by these operations, which included the removal of a foot and an eye, and closure of an open wound on one cheek. The team dropped in a couple of times to see Juju, and they brought the animal some fruit. From all appearances, watermelon ranks highly in the list of preferred foods for a kinkajou. We often receive severely injured wildlife, and sometimes the success of seeing them heal is worth it all!

Juju the kinkajou likes watermelon. Photo Andras Dorgai. 

There are lots of options for a visit to Laguna de Apoyo these days. The people who visit us often want to be involved in some way in doing something good for the environment. Part of keeping the environment safe for wild nature is patrolling to reduce vandalism, hunting, other bad things that harm the public good. We at Gaia support the local institutions in the ways we can. We had noticed the local patrol motorcycle for the police department was using a completely treadless tire, worn dangerously bald from overuse. Mark Connell, a student of Apoyo Spanish School, took note of our concern and provided a cash donation which covered most of the cost of the tire.

animal rescue
Mark Connell was a student of Apoyo Spanish School who donated funds to help us purchase a motorcycle tire for the local police motorcycle. Thank you, Mark! Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
We compared prices and models and acquired the best fit for the job, and made an official delivery to the police representative. Now he can participate in hot pursuit safely!

animal rescue
Our local police representative in Laguna de Apoyo desperately needed a new front tire for his patrol motorcycle, which was donated by Mark Connell and funds from Gaia. Here, Juan Carlos presents the new tire along with Pablo and Mileidy from Gaia. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
The next time we saw him pass by on the motorcycle, we stopped to ask about the tire, and sure enough, he had already had it mounted on the bike.

Our local police motorcycle now sports a fully new front tire! Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
We don't have any large bank accounts to fund projects without some sort of financing, which is a cruel reality for most not-for-profits that are really doing things of benefit to our society. We depend on contributions from our allies and friends. Sometimes, the contributions are small, but really, no contribution is ever to small. Every penny can be put to use in the protection of wild nature in Nicaragua. Missie and Stephen Lavergne recently gave us two (yes, two!) animal transporters-not exactly a small contribution. The transporters are in nearly-new condition and capable of handling animals of different sizes. Who said Christmas doesn't come in April? It will now be more feasible to transport animals-both wildlife and pets such as Lassie.

Lassie tries our our new large-animal transporter, donated by Missy and Stephen Lavergne. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
The smaller animal transporter donated generously by Stephen and Missy Lavergne is just right for small and medium-sized animals. Thank you! Photo Andras Dorgai.

Lassie, our newest pet addition, was rescued from the street in Managua. For the next long trip, she now has some very comfortable conditions for traveling. Photo Andras Dorgai.
Andras Dorgai has been learning Spanish and helping as an Eco-Warrior Environmental Volunteer. Not only has he provided lots of great help, he also donated a bag of walnuts to the animals. Anyone who has been in Nicaragua knows that they can be very expensive and the cost can seem even more prohibitive when contrasting to the incomes found in Nicaragua. It is not easy for us to keep the animals fed with high-quality foods that meet their special, nutritional needs without donations. Midorna, our rescue Scarlet Macaw, needs nuts as part of her diet, so she is getting a small quantity daily.

animal rescue
Dorgai is passing a walnut to Midorna, part of their daily ritual. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
Lots of others have donated items and cash recently, particularly in support of our studies of the wild natural resources in the area. The examples mentioned here are presented to demonstrate the diversity of ways to help available. We want to thank everyone who has made a donation. If you would like to donate to Gaia, please click on the "escudo" below or just come by Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo any time!

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Sunday, April 2, 2017

Animal Rescue XXI: Jamaican Fruit Bat

Bats give most people a creepy feeling when they intrude into a certain safe-space that people have just for animals that could cause irreparable harm. Seeing bats up in the sky is generally acceptable, because most people have come to terms with bats being "up there" and doing the things bats do, for as long as anyone can remember. But bats in the house, for instance, provoke a concern that comes from the subconscious, that is not easily controlled. Not even great admiration for Batman can dissolve the uneasiness they provoke.

Seeing a bat up close in a safe, controlled situation, however, usually works to endear people to them. Bats, after all, have faces, and they are small, and most of them, we know consciously, don't drink the blood of unfortunate humans. Most bats fall into one or another of three categories of diet: fruit, insects, and nectar. All of those bats provide tremendous environmental services that make our natural world work better. They keep down pesky insects, disperse seeds, and fertilize flowers.

We were recently blessed with a project - a juvenile Jamaican Fruit Bat (Artibeus jamaicensis), not fully grown, that was found on the ground and would not fly. It would, however, drink and chew fruits. We at Gaia decided we would take on the project to rescue and try to bring the bat back to a healthy animal, if there was something we could do.

Artibeus jamaicensis
This little guy did not want to fly, but readily drank milk. Photo Jeffrey McCrary

The bat was still not nearly fully grown. As a mammal, it thoroughly enjoyed drinking milk, and it would suck on watermelon and other juicy fruits. We gave it plenty of food, at intervals of less than two hours over a ten-day period.

Artibeus jamaicensis
Eco-Warrior Volunteers diligently cared for the baby bat, feeding and cleaning the animal at frequent intervals. Photo Jeffrey McCrary. 

Our Eco-Warrior Enviromental Volunteers were enthusiastic about the animal. The baby bat had all the expected basic, biological functions, but did not grow or get stronger, and eventually succumbed. Meanwhile, we learned a few things.

animal rescue
The bat readily sucked milk out of a cloth, but paper was more easily extracted from his mouth after a feeding. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.

The first thing we learned, is that a bat is capable of responding positively to human attention and comfort. This little animal evidently enjoyed the attention and drank surprisingly large quantities at times. This all made us feel that the effort was not in vain. The bat did not live long, but it was not suffering and it even seemed to enjoy its life at moments.

Eco-Warrior Enviromental Volunteers
Another feeding session with the baby bat. Photo Jeffrey McCrary.
We also learned that we can try to do things that may not always succeed. Success is to often defined by the absence of failure. Even though we did not see the bat grow to an independent creature and fly away to live in the wild, we learned and gave, and this one bat also gained a benefit, by living comfortably a few more days. So, we are happy.

The attempted rescue of this little animal also gave us the opportunity to share with others the story of bats as beneficial creatures. Not all animals we rescue survive to return to the wild, but we try to give them all a chance to live and, if it happens, to die with dignity, especially those animals affected by humans. Some, but not all the stories of wild animal rescue are positive, and some are downright tragic. All of us know, sadly, that the antagonistic relationship that humans sustain with wildlife requires new ways to engage people. We hope that this story reaches people who have not considered what happens to wildlife in the vicinity of humans. This little bat has gone on, but here, the story of this animal continues to reach people who may begin to consider that much of the harsh treatment toward wildlife is unnecessary and even counterproductive. Our staff, visitors, local neighbors and volunteers, and now, our readers can consider that even animals such as this little bat deserve both life and death with dignity.

A bat adorns the wall in Laguna de Apoyo. Photo Pablo Somarriba.

We are engaged in different types of activities at Gaia, not only wild animal rescue. Please read through our blog and visit us, to discuss with us the ways we can protect wild natural resources in Nicaragua. We hope you are engaged, too. If you would like to help us with cages, food, time, or money, to provide care for wild animals in distress, we would be grateful. Please contact us or drop by at Estación Biológica in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, any time.

Artibeus jamaicensis
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