Elephant sanctuary in Brazil reviews toxic plant risks


The Global Sanctuary for Elephants is developing a new refuge for elephants in Brazil, involving everything from installing steel pipe fences to assessing whether the local flora pose any health risks to elephants.

GSE reports that five countries in South America have banned elephant performances in circuses and shows.  This has resulted in elephants literally being sent to pasture, sometimes with inadequate care.  The goal of GSE is to complete a 2,800 acre natural refuge for a small herd of elephants.  Elephant Sanctuary Brazil is said to be the first and only elephant sanctuary in South America.

On their blog, GSE recently reported on an interesting consideration, which is that toxic plants could pose a risk to elephants who grew up without being exposed to that vegetation.  But GSE looked into it and found that elephants seem to have an instinctive understanding of which plants are dangerous even though their mothers never taught them to avoid them.  Check out what they learned from an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee:


The sanctuary will offer the opportunity to researchers to learn more about this behavior.

Tourist climbs 20 feet to elude tiger for 2 hours

Shah and Vaan Laan

Krishna Shah (middle) and Gerard Van Laar (right). Photo from The Katmandu Post.

Tour guide Krishna Shah was injured while attempting to distract a Bengal tiger in Bardia National Park in Nepal.  His client, a tourist from the Netherlands, climbed a tree for safety.  The tour guide returned a couple hours later with backup to save Gerard Van Laar.  Kudos to Mr. Shah for returning to the site despite his own injuries to save the Dutchman!

The Metro has the story:

A Dutch tourist managed to escape from a prowling Bengal tiger by hiding up a tree for more than two hours.

Gerard Van Laar was walking in a Nepalese national park with his guide when they suddenly heard a growling roar and saw the animal ‘heading towards us at full speed’.

His guide Krishna selflessly saved the tourist’s life by running into the jungle to draw the tiger’s attention, and telling Gerard to climb the tree.

Tigers are capable of climbing sturdy trees but it is relatively rare for them to do so.

Freelance engineer Gerard, 33, said he was lucky to be alive after the attack on Saturday.

He had been trekking in Bardia National Park, around 250 miles southwest of the capital, Kathmandu.

‘I would have been dead if it had not been for Krishna,’ he told The Associated Press.

Krisha was attacked and slightly injured after he saved the other man, but escaped to raise the alarm.

As Gerard waited in the tree, the tiger returned and started circling while the man in the branches tried to stay as still and quiet as possible around 20 feet above the ground.

Around two hours later the guide came back with help, shouting and using sticks to drive the tiger away…

Review of Caught in a Past Reflection


Young couple Asa and Rebecca step through a portal in time into 19th Century America.  The novel Caught in a Past Reflection tells their story.

Rebecca works as a seamstress in modern day Colonial Williamsburg.  Her alcoholic mother makes home life unbearable.  Rebecca gets away from it with picnics in the woods with her new boyfriend, an apprentice silversmith from the other side of town.  She and Asa stumble upon a time portal in the woods.  Rebecca comes back later, alone, to start her new life in the past.

Although he enjoys a good life in modern times, Asa chases after her.  They reunite and begin their relationship anew in yesteryear.  Given the boom and bust cycle of American cities in those days, Asa and Rebecca must soon leave Williamsburg for Dumfries, Virginia.  There they live as a married couple and become better adjusted to the old days.  Asa is homesick but Rebecca flourishes.  Eventually they have to leave Dumfries to go west to Kentucky.  With each of their travels come unexpected dangers.

The strongest aspect of Caught in a Past Reflection is the two main characters and their relationship.  Rebecca and Asa are very well developed and the reader gets a sense of each of them as genuine people.  Their affection for each other is warm, intense, and believable.  Sometimes their love seems to be poured on a bit too thick, but that is balanced out somewhat by strains that crop up periodically in their relationship over the years.

Movies like “Forest Gump” and books like Winds of War use an everyman character to highlight big historical moments.  There is some of that in Caught in a Past Reflection, but Cochran mostly uses Asa and Rebecca to highlight smaller, ordinary aspects of early American daily life including work habits, food, social norms, gender roles, church life, and politics.  Although there is quite a lot of historical detail in the book, it is appropriate given the storyline and it does not suffocate the story.

The novel would best be categorized as historical fiction with a generous dose of science fiction and a dash of romance.  There is some suspense too finding out what happens to the couple in the long-run.  I recommend this book for readers interested in early American life.  Caught in a Past Reflection is available on Kindle for $5 or $18 in paperback.

Zoo makes Kevlar caps for elephant’s tusks


Oh Billy.jpg

The Denver Zoo called an aerospace engineer for help with dental problem.  Bill the elephant kept wearing down his tusks which could lead to infection.  Zoo staff needed a solution other than metal caps that would distract the playful Billy.  The result was a lightweight, ivory-colored cap made of fiberglass and Kevlar.  Kudos to the team in Denver for their innovative solution to maintain Billy’s health!  From the Denver Post:

Denver Zoo develops advanced technology to repair elephant tusks

Now, the zoo is being contacted by zoos across the country, asking for tips of the tusk trade.

By Elizabeth Hernandez The Denver Post

Posted:   02/12/2016

Billy had the elephant equivalent of a cracked tooth that needed a crown.

The solution — part dentistry, part engineering — patched up Billy and could help zoo animals around the world.

Billy, a 7-year-old Asian elephant who came to the Denver Zoo in 2013, is considered a kid at heart who loves digging in the dirt with his tusks, eating melons, tossing logs around and swimming. The pachyderm’s playful spirit started taking a toll on his tusks — modified teeth that continuously grow throughout elephants’ lives.

When zoo staff members Rachael Chappell and Dennis Donovan and zoo veterinarian Betsy Stringer noticed wear and tear on Billy’s tusks last April, they wanted to take action before the inner tusk became exposed and infection set in.

The team knew they would have to cap Billy’s tusks to protect them, but pre-existing caps were a cumbersome eyesore, often made of an eye-catching metal that would distract a young, inquisitive elephant like Billy.

“We decided it’s 2016, and we’re the Denver Zoo,” Donovan said. “Rachael mentioned they make carbon fiber wedding rings that are durable, and it just went from there.”

They contacted a local aerospace engineer who designed a lightweight, nonintrusive cap in about two weeks that would be fitted to Billy’s left tusk and would take the brunt of his horseplay.

The cap — made of fiberglass layers — matches Billy’s ivory and looks like the head of a cotton swab stuck on the end of his tusk.

“Billy’s very ‘Ooh, shiny object,’ ” Chappell said. “With this cap, he’s less likely to mess with it.”

Other benefits of the innovation include the ability to X-ray Billy to check on his tusk growth, which is not possible with the typical metal cap…

After the Crash partly succeeds


A plane crashes in France.  All passengers are killed except an unidentifiable baby girl.  The premise of After the Crash, a newly translated thriller by Michel Bussi, sounds unbelievable and silly.  But the more you read, the more plausible it becomes.

A custody battle ensues between possible grandparents from the rich de Carville family and possible grandparents from the poor Vitral family, each with plausible claims that the baby is theirs. Custody of Lylie, as she comes to be called, is awarded to the Vitrals, who are also taking care of their grandson, Marc. After 18 years, Marc has developed an attraction for Lylie, who does not look or act like the rest of the Vitral family.

After the custody battle, the de Carvilles hire a private eye, Credule Grand-Duc, to keep investigating the case. He uncovers many clues but mostly dead ends in a maddening 18-year search.  Throughout the novel, Marc is reading passages from Grand-Duc’s journal about the case.  That is primarily how we learn about validity of the competing families’ claims.

The story is mysterious and suspenseful. Bussi intentionally frustrates the reader by withholding crucial information.  For example, after Grand-Duc writes that he arranged for a secret DNA test, he doesn’t record in his journal what the results were.  Instead he simply writes about how shocked and dismayed he was by the results.  Much of the book is like that—one tease after another.  The teasing starts out fun but becomes tedious and annoying.

Bussi wants the readers to root for Marc and Lylie’s relationship. Several of the main characters hope that Marc and Lylie aren’t actually brother and sister so that they’re love affair will be acceptable.  However, the whole concept grossed me out.  Even if they are not biological siblings, they still grew up together.  Their romance didn’t work for me.

Some of the prose is stilted and the word choice is uneven, which I assume is because of the translation.

If you want to read a clever mystery that doesn’t start with a murder, this book will fit the bill.  There’s enough intrigue, clues, and red herrings to motivate you to keep reading.  But overall, the purposeful withholding of information got old. I wanted the book to end.  For that and the incest/yuck factor I’d give this book a two-star rating.

Big data highlights big delays in veteran care


The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) are capitalizing on the power of social media, analytics tools, and data visualization technology.  They’re using these capabilities not just to recruit and serve members, but to monitor and report on the quality of veteran care across the country.  These projects help public officials shift resources to underserved veterans.  The website 1to1 Media recently interviewed IAVA’s CEO about these initiatives:

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Gives Data a Seat at the Table

The nonprofit organization uses data visualization and social media tools to uncover insights about female veterans and more.

By Judith Aquino | Published 01/20/2016 in 1to1 Media

For-profit businesses aren’t the only organizations that are leveraging data analytics and online tools—nonprofit organizations like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) are also investing in better member experiences.

As the largest organization for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, IAVA helps veterans successfully transition back to civilian life. 1to1 Media spoke with IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff about the organization’s use of data collection tools and social media.

1to1 Media: In what ways did your organization need help to better reach and engage veterans?

Paul Rieckhoff: Our veterans’ population is young—the average age is in the late 20’s. They’re also digital natives, but extremely geographically and ethnically diverse. One of our biggest challenges is trying to connect 3 million people who are spread out across the world. Technology provides their connection to home.

We began working with Salesforce six years ago and they’ve empowered us to do a lot from a shoestring budget, from getting the veterans connected to their families, building an online community, and collecting information to better understand a veteran’s needs. On Veterans Day, for example, we organized 144 events around the country in one week. Salesforce allowed us to do everything from marketing to check-ins to social media integration to getting people in touch with a therapist.

Do you have an example of an insight about your members that you discovered and were able to implement to improve your service?

Our generation of veterans is different in a lot of ways but one aspect in particular is that 20 percent of our members are women. And they’ve had unique challenges accessing healthcare and getting child care support. We were able to drill down and find out what their experiences were like in the Veteran Affairs system.

What we found out was a female veteran’s experience was much worse than their male counterparts in getting support. We were also able to share that data with Congress. We testified before Congress at least 18 times [in 2015]. Every time we go before Congress, we use this data to share what’s happening on the ground for women veterans.

In some ways we have better data than the Secretary of Veteran Affairs. We’re able to explain to him where the gaps are and what women veterans are looking for from the VA. Many of our women members are also frustrated in getting recognition as veterans. So it’s a cultural transformation that has led all the way to women registering as rangers and the military allowing women into combat roles. We’re part of that movement in making the case that women can do anything that men can.

How do you gather data?

We have systems in place that allow us to connect with the veterans on their cellphones or via social media. For instance, if a woman is having challenges getting healthcare, and she reaches out to us on Twitter, one of our case managers can get in touch by phone, email, or social media within 24 hours. That gets entered into a case that goes into our systems.

We get other data on a regular basis from web traffic, phone calls, and donations. A lot of it is user generated…