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See my article, posted today in the Globe and Mail, on efforts to preserve the endangered Ridley Bronze turkey. Margaret Thomson of Wind Rush Farm on Salt Spring Island recently completed her third national census to see how many of the birds survived the Christmas dinner table. The results are not encouraging but she insists that the gnarly meat bird is worth keeping alive since it one of the few ways to get back to Eden if our overly-focused commercial livestock DNA strands start to break.   Click on the photo of Margaret to read the piece on the Globe...

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Last week I finished editing a short video of some friends paddling in Whiteshell Provincial Park. During two trips (spring and fall) to a secret lake (name is withheld because the fishing is so good) we got some cool visuals. This year I’m hoping to do a bit more shooting so that we can produce a longer film with a more substantive storyline....

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A caribou herd’s nomadic battle to prosper in a punishing land. They have known boom and they have known bust, but most of all, George River caribou – a massive and magical herd – have known the rigours of an endless, epic march. His body half covered with ice, Serge Couturier shivers like a stuttering motion-picture frame. When he moves his arm, the tinkle of falling icicles rings and flutters away in the wind. For six hours, the biologist for the northern region of Quebec’s Ministere de l’Environement et de la Faune has cruised and bathed in the two-kilometre-wide Koksoak River in northern Quebec. It is October, and in a few months, the rippling, stony land of Ungava Bay, dotted with bog and tiny, twisted trees, will be robbed of most vital signs, smothered by snow and ice. At that point, the thousands of George River caribou – the largest caribou herd in the world – will be hundreds, maybe thousands, of kilometres beyond Couturier’s reach. Earlier today, Couturier, a firmly built, quiet man with a restlessness ill-suited to desk work, stopped for lunch on the south shore of the Koksoak. Dressed in expensive down-filled clothing, robed in an orange life jacket, Couturier, along with his fellow researchers, had seen few caribou and now dismay was setting in. After gathering dry shrubs and twigs from the dying greenery to light a fire, the men gazed across the water, munching on fiery-hot chicken wings and bannock-like bread and sipping tea. Waiting for caribou is routine for Couturier. Several times each year since 1984, he had traveled north in all seasons to track, count, photograph and capture George River caribou. The allure is simple: the animals represent the last great land-based migration on the continent. Treading an area equal to the combined size of Alberta and Nova Scotia, the caribou can travel up to 9,000 kilometres a year in search of food. Although there are 800,000 caribou in the George River herd, only four scientists are immersed in the movements of the animals. Of the two still involved in research, Couturier has more experience. His life as a wildlife biologist entails much more than data poured into charts; it requires the stamina to go fishing for caribou in water so cold that it burns. It is easy and cheap to catch caribou in water. On land, a capture means shooting a net from a low-flying helicopter or firing a dart loaded with tranquillizing drugs. In rivers and lakes, the animals float like corks, thanks to the air sacs inside the caribous’ hide. So no matter how deep the water, they are...

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Transplant

Transplant


Posted in Blog, Print

In the world of organ donation, there are those who grieve and those who rejoice. “Karen, the hospital in Winnipeg wants you there now!” Unlike most kidney transplant candidates, 30-year-old Karen Genaille didn’t get a dramatic phone call from the hospital saying that an organ was available. Genaille, who lives in Pelican Rapids, a native reserve community 300 kilometres north of Brandon in western Manitoba, doesn’t have a phone. Notification came in the form of her brother, Frank, hollering through Genaille’s bedroom window in the early hours of a sleepy Sunday morning in late July. Genaille jumped out of bed, threw some clothes in a bag and sped off by car with her older sister, Grace, to the nearest airport in The Pas – almost 75 minutes away – then hopped into a flying ambulance for the 90-minute flight to Manitoba’s capital. Less than 20 minutes after landing, slightly out of breath, Genaille rushed into a laboratory on the fourth floor of the Health Sciences Centre (HSC). She’d left her sons, Wallace, 10, and Billy-Joe, 8, at home with their father, Pearly. She’d temporarily abandoned her job as a social worker with the Cree Nation Child and Family Caring Agency. Waiting in the lab, she’s frightened; there’s a lot of uncertainty ahead. “I hope it works this time,” she says. “The last time it was a false alarm.” (The kidney available was not a match.) Two years ago, both Genaille’s kidneys were destroyed by lupus, a disease that provokes the body’s immune system to attack healthy tissue. The function of the kidneys is to make urine, removing liquids from the body that could be harmful if allowed to accumulate. To ensure that her body didn’t poison itself, Genaille had to administer self- dialysis four times a day, hooking a tube inserted in her abdomen to a fluid supply that moved through her body, draining off impurities. Self-dialysis is a slow and cumbersome process. When Genaille was away from the house, it was always difficult to find a quiet, private place to do it. The day before rushing to the hospital, Genaille had been on a family outing to the Swan River rodeo, and had lugged along the usual paraphernalia: 18 kilograms of tubes, swabs, bottles and bags of fluid. The prospect of never having to go through that again seems to strengthen her resolve: she rolls up her sleeves and the lab technician withdraws some blood from her arm. These samples will ensure that there is compatibility between the donated kidney and Genaille’s body. Once the blood is drawn, it will take several hours for the final tests to...

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For 20 years Jenny Ryon has entered a secret enclosure in the Nova Scotia wilderness, the only place in the world to observe the full life cycle of wild wolves. Her patience is paying off. At the fading of the light Jenny Ryon meets wolves. She first unlocks thick chains cinched around two three-and-a-half-metre-high chain links gates. The slim, blond 51-year-old passes through and fastens them shut behind her. They clank and rattle like the slamming of a penitentiary door. She crosses the forest clearing inside the fence, her rubber boots trampling grass and tufts of stiff deer fur. One side of her body is tilted toward the heavy white plastic bucket of dog food she’s lugging to the waiting wolves. The long shadows swallow her dark clothing as she enters the forest. The wolves melt through the trees, watching every step. A little way into the bush, Ryon empties the bucket on the ground, spreads its contents with her foot and retreats. They grey-brown coats of the wild animals blend in ghostly harmony with the trees, but in the exhausted rays of a setting sun, the glint of their golden eyes shimmers between the trunks. “Only a mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of a wolf,” says a promotional video from the Canadian Centre for Wolf Research in Nova Scotia. After 20 years of watching wolves at the centre, and listening to their midnight howls, Ryon understands the sleek animals more than most of us but hasn’t yet unraveled the whole mystery. She stumbled upon her life’s work in the early 1970s as a fine-arts student at the University of Oregon. Between classes she read a book called The Wolf: The Ecology and Behaviour of an Endangered Species by L. David Mech (Natural History Press, 1970) and heard the call of the wild. Ryon was entranced by the quintessential symbol of the wilderness, the beast of fairy tales that is the pure distillate of the word wild; an animal that so closely resembles Rover asleep on the living room couch but at the same time is so utterly different. When Ryon discovered that Dr. John Fentress, a professor on campus, kept several wolves for study purposes, she pestered him until she got a job. Eventually she began caring for the wolves, dropping her art studies to devote all her time to the pack. Three years later when Fentress accepted a job as the head of the psychology department at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Ryon flew northeast with the animals. Fentress made it a condition of his employment that the university build him a...

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I want to be an American. I want to believe that killing foreigners by dropping bombs on them from remote-controlled drones is legal, because my president says it is. As an American I don’t care what their president or prime minister or tribal chief says… we want ’em dead and that’s what will be. I want to be an American so that I can destroy the world’s financial system and evaporate the savings of millions in my country and other countries because we decided that lending money to poor people to buy houses they couldn’t afford was a good idea. And then we decided that the bankers who screwed everyone should get a free pass and have everyone else pay to clean up their mess. I want to be an American so that my NSA can listen, look at and capture what everyone else in the world says, writes or thinks. It’s my right to snoop, prod and examine private conversations and communication anywhere in the world. Anything to protect us from… well… anything. If we can do it and our secret court rules it legal then that’s all I need. Bug ’em Dan-o. I want to be an American so that I can hate the poor Hispanics who sneak into my country to work for slave wages to grow or produce stuff that I want to buy cheap at my grocery store or at Walmart. I want to be an American so that I can cheer when my country sanctions and bludgeons into submission companies and countries to conform with US-centric laws. If we say it’s right then it must be right – nuance, evidence and local differences be damned. We rule and you drool. I want to be an American so that I can change the phrase manifest destiny into pride; rework exceptionalism into certainty and turn hubris into worship of the flag Americans don’t call all this xenophobia, myopia and utter self-centredness; we don’t think of it as parochial or stunningly arrogant. It’s just the way we are and we expect you to accept us, warts and all or we’ll bomb you and call it justified. I want to be an American so that I can lecture the world on freedom, pursuit of happiness and rule of law. I will believe in these – and our flag – so much that I’ll want to export these bedrock values everywhere in the world… except...

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