Thursday, January 24, 2013

Children & Nature - A Healthy Combination

Guest blogger N. Glen Perrett suggests getting kids out into nature as an alternative to looking at animals in captivity.

You don't need studies to realize that children aren't receiving the same amount of exercise or wilderness experiences that past generations have benefited from. However, studies do confirm this. A Statistics Canada (in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada) survey in 2007 found that in recent decades the health of Canadian children has deteriorated while childhood obesity has risen and physical fitness has declined.

When it comes to nature experiences, many children have replaced outdoor play and exercise with electronics including video games, social networking, and text messages to friends. This disconnect with nature and its consequences is addressed by Richard Louv in his books Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.

There are many health benefits associated with nature that we know of - and surely many others that haven't been discovered yet. Studies indicate that nature can help those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Nature is also attributed to reducing stress and depression as well as improving our ability to concentrate to name only a few mental health benefits. Our family certainly experienced the benefits of regular nature excursions as we spent the last two years hiking wilderness areas for my book Hikes & Outings of South-Central Ontario. No matter what state of mind we were in when we arrived at the natural area we were about to explore-and we were often tired or stressed-we were in a wonderful frame of mind shortly after hitting the scenic trails or exploring a wetland.

Nature also has benefits for our physical health. Studies have shown that patients with a view of nature spend less time in the hospital compared to patients who didn't have a view of nature during their hospital stay. In their recently published book Your Brain on Nature (Wiley) Eva M. Selhub, MD and Alan C. Logan, ND cited a study published in the journal Science. The study pertained to patients in a Pennsylvania hospital from 1972 to 1981 who had surgery to remove their gallbladder. One side of the hospital featured windows with a view of a small forest while the other looked at bricks. According to the authors, "...those who had an outdoor view to trees had significantly shorter hospital stays and fewer postsurgical complaints. They also used less-potent analgesic medications (aspirin instead of narcotics)."

Of course spending time in nature usually involves hiking and other forms of exercise which have many health benefits including preventing heart disease, lowering cholesterol levels, and controlling and preventing diabetes. The benefits of exercising, particularly exercising in nature, even has the medical community considering prescribing exercise as a way for their patients to get healthier. There is even a "Park Prescriptions" program in the United States where the National Park Service works with health care professionals. Working with the park to come up with appropriate activities and trails for the patient, health care providers write prescriptions for their patients to walk, bicycle, paddle, or do some other exercise. One of the places where these nature prescriptions occur is Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore which features 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline along with 15,000 acres of beach, woods, marshes, and prairies in Indiana.

With nature providing valuable environmental lessons and health benefits, school boards could incorporate more field trips to conservation areas and other wilderness spaces to ensure both their students' education and health mandates are attained. In fact I can see a time in the near future when parks, schools and health care providers work together to meet our children's health needs.

N. Glenn Perrett
Author Hikes & Outings of South-Central Ontario
Guest Blogger

This blog was originally published at:

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Challenges of Protecting Animals

During the past six months there’s been a great deal of media coverage about wild animal captivity issues in Ontario. Marineland in Niagara Falls, the Toronto Zoo elephants and Darwin the IKEA monkey have been three of the bigger stories, but a broad assortment of other captivity issues, both large and small, have also been featured in print, radio, television and internet media. There's also been a seemingly endless stream of other kinds of animal stories as well.

The extensive coverage of captivity issues has generated public profile and political interest both municipally and provincially. There are now more politicians than ever who take animal captivity issues (and other animal concerns) seriously or, who, at least, are not dismissive of them. It's a vastly different situation than it was 20 years ago.

That doesn’t mean things are fine today, because they’re not. We still have no comprehensive regulation of Ontario’s wildlife in captivity and our provincial animal protection legislation effectively excludes protection from most animals. However, if we’re smart, we have an opportunity to capitalize on what's happened so that we can move the animal protection agenda forward. But it won't be easy.

At the best of times, there are enormous challenges in making change happen, even when issues have a heightened profile, significant interest and momentum. There is always stiff competition for government attention from a broad spectrum of other issues. And there’s the inevitable, and often substantial, push-back from the individuals and businesses that exploit animals for personal amusement or profit.

One of the lesser known challenges is push-back from government bureaucrats themselves, some who fight tooth and nail to maintain the status quo. I’ve actually heard some bureaucrats say, “my job is to make sure nothing changes.” They employ all kinds of issue management strategies, the most common being to delay. An often used tactic is to initiate consultations so that issue discussions drag on for weeks, months or even years. By the time some consultations finish (and many don’t, they just fizzle out), the Ministers and other politicians that were in place when they started are long gone. Even the governing party may have changed. And the new regime may not be as committed as the previous one, so no action is forthcoming. It’s happened again and again and again.

Having said that, there are some amazingly proactive bureaucrats who really do want to move the animal protection agenda forward. And there’s also an ever increasing number of politicians at every level of government who want to do the same. To help them make change happen, we should understand the systems in which they work and the internal challenges they face.

Making change happen for animals is hard. It requires guts, brains, know how and organization. Eternal vigilance isn’t enough. We need to understand how the system works and do what we can to use it and to assist or complement those who are working in it. The first step to doing that is knowledge, so I’d like to recommend three excellent books that will help every Canadian animal protection activist become better at what they do.

The first is The Art of the Possible (a handbook for political activism) by Amanda Sussman. Every activist should read this book. It provides a good synopsis about how Canada’s federal government works, but much of the material also applies to other levels of government and to other jurisdictions.

The second book is Lesli Bisgould’s Animals and the Law. Her synopsis of Canadian laws affecting animals helps explain why things are the way they are and where they should go in the future. It should be on the bookshelf of every Canadian animal protection activist.

And last, but not least, is George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant, Know Your Values and Frame the Debate. If you’ve ever wondered why the other side is so successful at getting their message heard and why so many people seem to ignore the facts about issues, this book will help you understand why.

Rob Laidlaw
Zoocheck Inc.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

All Trapped Whales Need A Miracle

It was disturbing to hear about the killer whale pod trapped in the Hudson Bay ice with little prospect for escape. Apparently, the frantic whales were taking turns surfacing at a small breathing hole. It was presumably their repeated surfacing that kept the hole open and free of ice preventing them from drowning.

Many people called for the Canadian government to send an icebreaker to create an ice free path that the whales could follow into open water. But there were no icebreakers anywhere in the area and it would have taken far too long for one to arrive. By the time an icebreaker could get there, the whales would be long dead.

Various other options were put forward, such as cutting a pathway of holes or even euthanizing the whales if there was no hope of escape and they were suffering.

A number of years ago, three gray whales were in much the same predicament. Trapped in the Arctic ice off the north shore of Alaska, the whale’s plight attracted global attention. Eventually, with the help of a Russian icebreaker, they were freed. The incident was the subject of a popular book and then a Hollywood movie called Big Miracle.

The latest news is there’s been a miracle in Hudson Bay. The ice has shifted and now it appears the killer whales are free. It was a close call and if things were even a little bit different those whales would probably be dead.

Just like the Alaskan grey whales, the plight of the latest trapped whales became international news. Word of the plight of the killer whales spread like wildfire, primarily due to the internet. It was great to see the level of concern expressed by people from all walks of life and all geographic regions of world. I have no doubt that if they understood what was happening, the whales would have been grateful.

It’s great that the killer whales are free. They can continue to enjoy their lives with their family, friends and acquaintances, traveling far distances and taking in everything the ocean has to offer. But that’s not the case for some whales.

Also in the news during past months has been the plight of whales at Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario. While there is only one lone killer whale left at the facility, there are also several dolphins and approximately 40 belugas. Their lives bear no resemblance to the lives their wild counterparts live. They can do little of what they’ve evolved to do and are really like living museum pieces.

I encourage anyone who was concerned about the trapped wild killer whales to think about the plight of whales trapped in captivity. They deserve a miracle too.

Rob Laidlaw
Zoocheck Inc.