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News

Hello & Goodbye

Stay Wild

Meet Some of the Animals We have Killed Forever and Some of the Ones We have a Chance to Save

Story by Jesse Klein // jesseerynklein.com

Photos by Joel Sartore // joelsartore.com // ©JoelSartore // National Geographic Photo Ark

Giant Panda  // Only 1,000 mature pandas alive in the wild

Giant Panda // Only 1,000 mature pandas alive in the wild

The word “endangered” has allowed humans to feel detached from effects we’re having on other animals. A particular species is endangered. It’s something that has happened to another animal, not something humans have done to them.

But the reality is that humanity has killed 60 percent of the animal population in the past 50 years. Even as just 1 percent of all living things, there’s barely a species or a habitat that hasn’t been affected by our activity. Ninety-nine percent of the threatened species became that way because of humans. Pollution, climate change, habitat loss, large-scale commercial hunting, and overfishing are killing our fellow animals forever.

Central and South America have been hit the hardest. Massive deforestation and climate change have wreaked havoc on the fragile ecosystems near the equator, where 10 percent of all species on Earth reside. Estimates suggest that by 2030, more than a quarter of the Amazon will be without trees if the current rates continue. The loss of habitat has resulted in an 89-percent loss of vertebrate populations. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) keeps the Red List: a running tally of every endangered and extinct species. Scientists also realized that thousands of species with decreasing populations aren’t even considered endangered, and therefore have little to no protection from human interference.

Even worse, currently the U.S. government is removing some existing protections. In July 2018, the Trump administration introduced a proposal that would roll back several key points of the Endangered Species Act, which allows the Interior and Commerce departments to decide on a case-by-case basis if they should protect a species, rather than protect all species, threatened or not, by default. Federal agencies would no longer be required to consult scientists and wildlife experts before approving oil and gas drilling projects.  

The future of Earth’s biodiversity is not a pretty picture. Nature isn’t something to just marvel at during a hike: It’s vital for our health, our economy, and our food and water sources. But we shouldn’t need a selfish reason to protect the other inhabitants of Earth. These animals have endured for hundreds of years; in a short amount of time, we have put their futures in peril while eliminating others entirely.  

Malayan Tapir  // Only 2,499 alive in the wild

Malayan Tapir // Only 2,499 alive in the wild

Stories Behind 5 Recently-Extinct Species 

We are in the middle of the sixth mass extinction on Earth, almost entirely caused by humans. The extinction rate is 100 times faster than previously. One-hundred-eighty-seven species2 have already become extinct since records began, and each story is unique, tragic, and fascinating. Here are just a few. (Sources: “The misunderstood sixth mass extinction” by Gerardo Ceballos and Paul R. Ehrlich, science.sciencemag.org, “These 8 Bird Species Have Disappeared This Decade” by Sarah Gibbens, National Geographic, nationalgeographic.com)

Western Black Rhinoceros

Rhinos are one of the most threatened animals on the planet. Large mammals disappear quickly and, since bigger and more complicated bodies develop more slowly than smaller ones, take more time to recover.  At the beginning of the 20th century, almost one million rhinos of all types roamed Africa. But between 1960 and 1995,  98 percent of black rhinos were poached because of the demand for a popular Chinese medicine that included rhino horn powder. In 2011, the western black rhino was declared extinct, and the white rhino is currently down to its last two females. (Sources: “How the Western Black Rhino Went Extinct” By John R. Platt, scientificamerican.com, “Human-caused extinctions have set mammals back millions of years” by Christie Wilcox, nationalgeographic.com)

Pyrenean Ibex

This Iberian wild goat used to roam the French and Spanish mountains, but became extinct in 2000. In 2009, the Pyrenean ibex became the first extinct animal ever to be cloned. Using frozen skin samples from a decade earlier, scientists were able to implant an embryo into a similar species of ibex and bring the Pyrenean to full term. But even though the clone died shortly after birth, scientists are still excited about the prospect of bringing it back through genetic engineering. (Source: “First Extinct-Animal Clone Created” by Charles Q. Choi, nationalgeographic.com

Passenger Pigeon

In 1914, the world’s last passenger pigeon died at Ohio’s Cincinnati Zoo. A species that used to cover the United States’ eastern and midwestern states had been reduced to one lone bird named Martha, after George Washington’s wife. Passenger pigeons made up 40 percent of North America’s bird population, some estimating as many as five billion at one time. But, as the bird’s traditional forest habitats were cleared for farmland, they had trouble adapting or were aggressively hunted, and their population declined rapidly. (Source:“100 Years After Her Death, Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon, Still Resonates” by William Souder, Smithsonian Magazine, smithsonianmag.com)

Utah Lake Sculpin

Unique to Utah Lake, this fish has not been seen since 1928. One theory suggests a drought caused Utah Lake to dry up, its waters becoming so shallow that most of the lake froze one winter. With water quality worsening due to agriculture, the sculpin in unfrozen areas may have died after being pushed into overcrowded conditions. (Source: State of Utah Natural Resources, dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov)

Spix’s Macaw

While the IUCN has classified the Spix’s macaw as critically endangered, how many currently survive is unknown. Birds often occupy very specific niches in our environment, making them vulnerable: They eat specific insects and nest in particular trees and are unlikely to adapt. Unfortunately, the habitat of the Spix’s macaw is the Brazilian Amazon, where deforestation cleared 3,050 square miles rainforest between August 2017 and July 2018

White-Rumped Vulture  // Only around 5,000 alive in the wild

White-Rumped Vulture // Only around 5,000 alive in the wild

8 of the Species Humans Are Endangering 

The IUCN has accessed 93,577 species, concluding that over 26,000 are endangered. Of those assessed, 40 percent of amphibians, 25 percent of mammals, 14 percent of birds, and 33 percent of coral reefs are threatened with extinction. Below are just a few of the species being killed. (Source: iucnredlist.org)

Malayan Tapir // Endangered

Only 2,499 Malayan tapirs are left to roam the forests of Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Thailand. Their long nose, called a proboscis, grabs roots and food underwater. Adult tapirs are black and white, but babies are born beige and speckled, similar to watermelons. The stripes and spots help the tapir blend into the forest floor’s dappled sunlight. Threats to the tapir include hunting and habitat destruction, as their homes are cleared to make space for palm oil plantations. (Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, iucnredlist.org)

Giant Panda // Vulnerable

Giant Pandas are one of the few animal conservation success stories. While they were originally classified as endangered, they have been bumped down to vulnerable after intervention. Their population is increasing even as only 1,000 mature pandas are left in the wild. They live in bamboo forests of China, with 99 percent of their diet dependent on the plant. Bamboo is such a poor source of energy and nutrients that pandas spend half their day eating. They depend so entirely on it that any threat to the plant by climate change and human industry is a risk to panda survival. (Source: National Geographic, Giant Pandas nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals)

White-Rumped Vulture // Critically endangered

The white-rumped vulture scavenges cattle across its native homeland of India, Afghanistan, and Cambodia. But its population severely declined in the 1990s due to widespread poisoning. A veterinary anti-inflammatory vaccine, diclofenac, was used to treat domestic livestock. As birds fed on cattle carcasses, they indirectly consumed the drug, which vultures are unable to process, leading renal failure and death. To save the dwindling population of 2,500-10,000 vultures, alternative, non-toxic veterinary drugs like meloxicam should be implemented. (Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, iucnredlist.org)

Indri Lemur // Critically endangered

The indri lemur is the largest lemur in the world and the only lemur with a short, stubbed tail. Yet, even without a tail, they spend most of their lives balancing on branches in Madagascar. IUCN has classified them critically endangered, and their population is decreasing due to deforestation. Indri lemurs mate for life and don’t reproduce annually, which has been a difficult challenge for conservation efforts. (Source: Primate Info Net, University of Wisconsin, pin.primate.wisc.edu/factsheets)

Vaquita // Critically endangered

Vaquitas are one of the most mysterious sea creatures. Extremely rare and shy, vaquitas have only been known to exist since 1958. Found off the coast of Baja California, there are only 18 of these porpoises left. Pesticides and runoff from the Colorado River threaten the species, but illegal fishing of another critically-endangered sea dweller, the totoaba, is the more pressing issue. Vaquitas get caught in the nets and drown, or get killed by propellers on boats. Since 2016, the world’s population of Vaquitas has dropped 40 percent.(Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, iucnredlist.org)


Humphead Wrasse // Endangered

This 400-pound, six-foot-long fish is named for the prominent bulge on its forehead. It’s native to the coral reefs in the Indo-pacific waters of Australia and Japan, and can live as old as 30 years. Overfishing for the live food trade and the decline of coral reef habitats has caused their population to continually decline for the past century. (Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, iucnredlist.org)

Mountain Gorilla // Endangered

The IUCN estimates that 50 percent of primates, our closest ancestors, are endangered. Mountain gorillas are no exception. There are only 600 left in the Congo forest, but their population is slowly increasing. Major threats to the mountain gorilla include habitat loss and poaching. Tourist attractions, like gorilla viewings, have increased the human disturbance issues and human-to-primate disease transmission. (Source: Center for Biological Diversity, The Extinction Crisis, biologicaldiversity.org)

Cuban Crocodile // Critically endangered

The Cuban crocodile is juggling a unique and multi-layered threat to its survival. The American crocodile has moved into the Cuban crocodile’s territory as the Cuban habitat became increasingly salty due to agriculture activities. As a result, the two croc species are mating, creating a hybrid that’s causing the Cuban lineage to die out.  There are currently about 3,000 to 4,000 mature Cuban crocodiles left. (Source: International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List, Crocodile Specialist Group, iucnredlist.org)

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From Hurting to Helping 


The first step to solving any problem is acknowledging one exists. It’s cliche, but educating yourself by reading this article was an important first step to helping these animals survive. Next, and most critically, you should work to reduce your environmental footprint. Take shorter showers, bike rather than drive, and decrease your food waste. By conserving energy, food, and water, the commercial industries lessen their expansion into the habitats of endangered species. 

Protest with your wallet. Don’t buy from companies that are known polluters and avoid supporting the wildlife black market. Popular travel souvenirs like ivory, coral, and tortoiseshell are illegally poached, and many tourists buy them without understanding the harm they inflict. Try decreasing consumption of products containing ingredients that harm wildlife habitats. Lipstick, chocolate, soap, detergent, and many other everyday products contain palm oil from tropical rainforests, which are being torn down, killing the Malayan Tapir. Logging for wood products like fuelwood and paper is causing problems for the indri lemur, who spend most of their life in trees.   

Finally, call your local representative to push for policy change and donate to or volunteer for an endangered wildlife protection group. Five of the best conservation nonprofits are listed below:     

The International Union for Conservation of Nature // iucn.org

The World Wildlife Fund // worldwildlife.org

Project Aware // projectaware.org

The Jane Goodall Institute // janegoodall.org

Defenders of Wildlife // defenders.org 



Quiet Colonization

Stay Wild

How to Not Travel like a Know-It-All

Story & Photo by Sera Lindsey

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Just before my last semester of college, I experienced my first true heartbreak. My boyfriend didn’t exactly break up with me, but he stopped participating in our relationship entirely. There was no chance of growth, unless we simply let what was “us” die as things sometimes must, and begin our own new realities as individuals apart. 

Once the reality set in that I was alone, I felt numb. Abandonment issues hit like a warm wave, and my world shrunk to the size of each step I took. So often when we experience any kind of trauma, it becomes impossible to perceive life past ourselves. Or at least it’s really fucking hard to.  

I remembered watching Road Rules: Semester at Sea when I was an MTV-obsessed teenager, and how I had told myself that I was someday going to do it. So I did, thanks to student loans which I’m still paying off. In the wake of a broken heart, I made a rash decision to Get Away. 

I was a young know-it-all, ready to see the world like a “real” traveler. It’s not an overstatement to say that I’ve been traveling since I was born, and had seen a lot of things that most people my age openly feared exposure to. I was adopted from Morocco into an American family. I had seen more than the tourists I shared this floating university with, and was convinced that I knew better. 

I spent the next four months working on class assignments, and admired the view of endless sea from the deck while floating above an ocean—struggling to withstand the carbon emissions I innocently benefitted from. I was vegan because I didn’t want to cause harm. But there I was, gliding above the sea to get a good view of the world. It’s said that one single day of cruise ship travel is comparable to 1 million cars, making it a beautiful and very terrible way to travel. 

Know-it-all Sera grimaced at the students on the ship comparing their gifts to the children they’d hand out in Ghana, mainly plastic toys and bouncy balls. I recall stating that rubber was one of Ghana’s top exports, and it seemed insane and insulting to return it in this manufactured form, angry at the shameless voyeurism that travel so often promotes. Meanwhile, my mind was on chocolate. Cacao is roughly a 2.5-billion-dollar industry in Ghana and I was ready to get the freshest, most sustainable, locally harvested chocolate in the country. I likened it in my mind to bananas in Hawai’i or pasta in Italy. 

I looked at first casually, then desperately. I didn’t find any chocolate anywhere. It seemed so strange that in a country full of the raw material, the final product simply didn’t seem to exist. I finally came across a tin of Milo, a cheap powdered chocolate-flavoring product by Nestle with a photograph depicting smiling black children playing soccer. I then found a German Ritter chocolate bar, standing out from a sparsely-stocked market. It was 50 cedis which is about 9 U.S. dollars. I didn’t understand—where was the local chocolate?  I spoke to a girl I had been walking with that day. “There should be chocolate everywhere,” I said. Then a Ghanaian woman behind me spoke. “If you are looking for chocolate from Ghana, you can go back to the U.S. and find it there.” 

I’m 32 now, and can look back at many moments and phases that I now see as ignorant. There’s a normalized selfishness that comes with living in America. The commercialized culture of self-care is a catchy jingle promoting rampant consumption, and successfully removing us from a whole that is there all along—whether we see it or not. Overhearing people talk about their spirit animals while drinking coffee after yoga is a kind of appropriative amalgam that can only be found in wealthy countries. Here, we are culturally dissuaded to respect or understand the origin of things, or how new questionable ownerships effect those they rightfully belong to. 

My friend Rodi Bragg, who is Chumash, spoke to this topic while discussing the rights to white sage, a plant that is now threatened due to over-harvesting: what you often see described as “wild harvested” on those little plastic-wrapped bundles you buy at Whole Foods. 

“To think of an herb as separate from its cultural heritage denies the power of the herb. Many people argue that all herbs belong to all people. Is this really true? When natives are still denied access to clean water, the right to vote, or rights to their own land on this continent, is it really fair to say that all people can have access to their traditional medicines that other people are profiting from?”

I make a point to question myself, because it’s important to ask: Where did this come from? Why do I do this? Is this even necessary? It grows increasingly imperative while quiet colonization is still very much alive and well. I’m North African, but that does not mean that I do not participate in the misinformation that goes unchecked and encouraged by the majority. We must all help each other escape the warm glow of ignorance.

Experience leads to learning, yet much of that experience is damaging even if we don’t intend it to be. So what can we do? First, I suggest starting with self, then apply that self to place, as well as origin. I’ll use myself as an example. How does my presence in America matter? I’m a first generation Moroccan American. I was adopted into a family from the Deep South. I now live in Oregon. I am a person of color occupying space in America, privileged by association with a traditionally white family. Like most people, there are no straight lines in life. There are tangled ropes to loosen and unknot. I can do this responsibly by educating myself on my ancestral heritage, as well as my current environment. The second I grasp awareness of myself as part of something greater, empathy begins to bloom. 

I do not feel good when I see aspects of my cultural heritage used in profane ways. I do not enjoy hearing my heritage spoken about with ignorance. In learning about my own heritage, I suddenly begin existing in a new way—which, also, is who I was born to be. I have an opportunity to educate others as I educate myself, while learning from others who are doing the same for themselves, too. As the many-layered curtain is pushed aside, that opportunity becomes an honored obligation. This is what it means to engage in community.

To be part of a whole means your actions are lasting and consciously impactful. This story began with a young woman who felt alone in the world, and now is about a woman who is learning to be a more responsible component of a whole. This story has not ended, and in fact never will. 

Changing Landscapes 

Stay Wild

A Fireside Interview with Painter Claire Giordano

Interview by Charlotte Austin // @charlotteaustin

Paints by Claire Giordano // @claireswanderings

Photos by Patrick Mauro

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Deep in the snow-covered Methow Valley, a group of friends has skied miles into a tiny cabin in the mountains. There’s a wood-burning stove, a scarlet sunset, and ski boots scattered across the floor. At the table sits Claire Giordano, a Seattle-based field painter, laying out her supplies: paper, paints, a cup of water. She looks out the window, her eyes moving across the landscape. She notes the fire-scorched trees, the changing light, the low snow cover. Claire specializes in painting endangered environments, and this place is unspeakably fragile. Slowly, she lifts her brush from the water and begins to paint.

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What led you to create this kind of art?

I can trace my path as an outdoor artist back to a specific moment almost nine years ago when I participated in an Inspiring Girls Expedition in July 2010. It’s a 12-day program on Mount Baker in Washington State, and it aims to empower young women through scientific field studies, mountaineering lessons, and art. I joined the expedition the summer before I started college, and it was my first time traveling in an alpine environment and practicing science outside. We learned about glacial recession and climate change by walking the moraine of the glacier, measuring snow, and conducting our own experiments. I was entranced.

In the middle of the trip, we met Maria Coryell-Martin, a watercolor artist who specializes in expedition art. She visited our team to teach an outdoor watercolor lesson, and I’ll never forget that day: The glacier above us was obscured in clouds and cold wind blasted off the mountain. We huddled beneath a barely-adequate tarp and tried sketching the land around us, using our paintbrushes as a bridge between the science lessons and what we saw.

I sat with a palette and paper gingerly tucked on my knees, clumsily painting a pile of rocks that marked the previous location of the glacier terminus before it began receding up the mountain. While I had learned about the impact of climate change, it wasn’t until I began painting that my perception shifted. I really saw the changes around me for the first time: Climate change was impacting a landscape I cared about, and it was suddenly impossible to ignore.

I held my soggy painting carefully in my gloved hands and realized two things: first, that art could be a profound way to communicate science, and second, that painting beside the glacier was one of the happiest moments of my life.

This experience colored my path in subtle ways for many years, influencing my majors in college that focused on environmental education and ethics and my choices of jobs in the outdoor industry. In the last year, it gave me the role models and courage to become a full-time artist.

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Why do you paint outdoors?

I paint outside to see, to be present, and to learn. When I sit down with a blank page, all the normal mental distractions are erased by the focus required to translate what I am seeing and experiencing into marks on a page. I see these marks as a scientific record, both of my personal connection to a landscape and of the environment around me. I hope other people connect to my images on an emotional level, too.

What are the biggest challenges to field painting?

Balance! Time isn’t infinite when you’re in the backcountry, so I’m constantly juggling the time it takes to paint with weather, changing light, self-care, and the needs of my hiking partners.

I also find myself totally engrossed in what I’m painting, which can lead to some funny mishaps. I get so focused that I’ve had food stolen by chipmunks and even a dog while painting! I also have to deal with the elements, from cold to rain to bright sunlight. After sunburning my thumbs on a summit, I now paint almost completely covered in gloves, a hood, and long pants.

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How do you choose what to paint?

As soon as I take my first step on a trail, I start noticing details of the landscape. Throughout the day I collect what I’m seeing in what I think of as a “visual language” of that place: the shapes, the colors, the patterns, the shadows, and the light.

After spending so much time looking around and processing what I see while I’m hiking or skiing, when I actually sit down to paint something, I find that my mind has often already mixed my paints to create the palette of colors. When I can, I try to paint a subject or a scene that captures my experience of the place. Sometimes this is an entire mountain; other times it’s a single branch of salal.

My subject is also heavily influenced by the practicalities of working outdoors: I have to choose something I can fully paint in a very limited timeframe. When I’m hiking, I mark the passage of time with numbers of miles, cookies eaten, and the soreness of my feet. When I stop to paint, time is delineated by a cobalt shadow creeping across a snowfield, an illuminated spire of rock I couldn’t paint fast enough, and the sun drying one side of my painting faster than the other.

What’s in your backpack?

Snacks! I’m the person in your hiking group who always has enough snacks, with extra to share. Peanut butter pretzels are my jam.

In terms of art supplies, I always have two lightweight Art Toolkit watercolor palettes, which are made by the same Maria I met on the glacier all those years ago. I also carry paper, and the size is dictated by how long I get to paint. I carry a few brushes—one small and one large—and an old aluminum tin for water. My favorite backcountry painting hack, however, is those reusable blue shop towels. They’re durable, lightweight, and really minimize my paper waste.

Lastly, I always have the 10 essentials and more layers than I think I will need. Sitting still to paint gets cold quickly, especially in the fall and winter. I routinely wear two puffies and usually sport three hoods.  

What role do you think artists play in protecting endangered things?

I believe that art—in whichever form you choose—has the unique ability to create emotional connections to natural places.

When I sit at the base of a glacier and sketch the terminus to map its recession, climate change is no longer an abstract concept. It’s very, very real. And with the work I make, I strive to inspire others to feel this personal connection, too. That’s how environmental stewardship arises—when people feel something deeply enough to spur them into action.

We often think of endangered species as owls and newts and the charismatic megafauna of the jungle or the Arctic. But when I paint, I see a landscape that is slipping away just as rapidly. It’s taken me years to learn how to put words to what I do, but now when I paint a place I see myself as documentarian, witness, participant, and advocate. The few remaining wild spaces and open landscapes do not have a voice or a seat at the negotiation table. I aim to be that voice, because when we lose these landscapes, I believe we also lose a little part of ourselves. We need these wild places to visit, to explore, to remember our place in the world. The light on this landscape is changing, and I’m here to tell that story. 

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Learn More // claireswanderings.com