Friday, August 31, 2012

San Diego Zoo Safari Park Tiger Trail Challenge Update

Many of you have been following Dylan's birthday wish for the tigers at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and have asked for updates. Well, this update has me beaming with pride for more reasons than one.

I received an email yesterday from one of my contacts at the Zoological Society of San Diego about Dylan's fundraising and couldn't believe what I was reading. I found out that Douglas Myers, CEO of the Zoological Society of San Diego, referenced Dylan as an inspiration for others to donate to Tiger Trail during a luncheon earlier this month. Really? My child was named as an inspiration by the CEO? Not only is this super cool, but it makes me proud and humbles me as a mom.

Since my last post about his fundraising, Dylan has received more donations and has now raised over $1,300 for the tigers. With the match from the anonymous donor, this money will mean so much for the tigers. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is so close to making the goal, but they still need our help.

Here is a current screen shot showing how close they are. More than half way with a little over 120 days to go. It's truly amazing and so inspiring to know people are helping the species survive.

With fewer than 350 Sumatran tigers left in the wild, watching this bar graph move closer to the $2 million goal gives me hope. Thanks to the help of my son's birthday wish, friends and family who donated, and people all over the world who have helped make this happen, the Safari Park has announced that they look forward to groundbreaking in 2013.

If you wish to help Dylan raise more money for the tigers please read Dylan's Birthday Wish for the Tigers

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The simple beauty of a flower petal

Photography allows me to see the simple beauty in things that I never noticed before.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Spend an extra hour at the San Diego Zoo this holiday weekend

I can't think of a better way to spend the last weekend of summer than at the San Diego Zoo. Nighttime Zoo allows guests to stay until 9 p.m. and see the animals after dark; but during the upcoming holiday weekend, the San Diego Zoo will open one hour earlier - at 8 a.m. on September 1, 2, and 3

This will be the first time the San Diego Zoo has opened early specifically for a holiday weekend.

Guests who arrive early will be able to take bus tours starting at 8:15 a.m. and the popular Skyfari aerial tram will be open to take guests to the far side of the Zoo starting at 9 a.m.

The Skyfari is more than just a fast way to get from one side of the zoo to another. It is a relaxing ride that gives guests the opportunity to view the zoo grounds from high above. Not to mention the breathtaking views of the surrounding areas.
Best of all, the Skyfari lets you off right by the Polar Bears!

Opening an hour early will allow guests the opportunity to spend more time with the zoo’s animals and take part in the special Nighttime Zoo activities. I love Nighttime Zoo for many reasons and the family friendly atmosphere is one of them.

The Monkey Stilt Walkers are my favorite!
I can't choose just one favorite animal, but if there is one thing I can recommend that you don't miss while visiting the San Diego Zoo, it would be Tikal and Maderas - the baby jaguar cubs.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A little Meerkat cuteness - Hakuna and Matata

Meerkats are one of the cutest and most animated animals that I encounter when visiting the zoo. They seem to always be busy doing something and watching out for each other. Most of the time I see them digging for food or perched up on their hind legs looking for predators. On Saturday Dylan and I went to the San Diego Zoo for our last Nighttime Zoo of the summer, which means we get to see the animals at night. A favorite of ours since this means seeing animal behaviors that we don't normally see.

These two meerkats live in the Children's Zoo section of the San Diego Zoo and are named Hakuna and Matata. It is rare to see meerkats sleeping outside of their burrow during the day - although these photos were taken at dusk. Either way, the cuteness factor was just too much.

Hakuna and Matata have no worries all snuggled up with their tails wrapped around each other.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The power of one

A few of the feelings that go through my head on a daily basis ... Encouraged. Motivated. Empowered. Helpless. Disappointed. Sad. On top of the world. The world on my shoulders. Strong. Wise. Teaching. Learning. Making a difference.

It's a lot I know, especially for me -  A simple girl just trying to save the world. 

Some days I feel like nobody is listening and feel like banging my head against the wall. Some days I sit crying wondering if I could have done more. Then there are the days when I get that one email, that one comment on the blog, that one retweet - Behold the power of one. Those are the days that keep me going. Keep me fighting the good fight.

I have always loved animals and wanted to help endangered species, but the day I knew it was more than just a love of animals, the day I I knew I was a conservationist was the day I saw a Blue Whale swimming freely in the ocean. Blue Whales are the largest animals to ever live on the earth.

They are beyond majestic and their size is incomprehensible even when you see them in the ocean. One Blue Whale can weigh as much as 30 African elephants - that's huge! Despite their size, Blue Whales are still critically endangered.

From that day forward, I knew that my purpose in life was to be an advocate for the animals. To save the animals. To save their habitats.

I have been told by many that one person can make a difference and I have seen the positive results of what one person can do. However, the power of one can be a very lonely place.

I was discussing this with a friend the other night and they had some very encouraging words. Yes, the power of one can be a lonely place. Yes, it can be depressing and overwhelming. But for some reason we keep on doing what we do. It's deeper than we understand sometimes. Those last few words resonated deep within my soul and reminded me that not everything is fully understood.

I do not understand why someone would want to kill a rhino for its horn, or kill an elephant for its tusk, or kill a tiger for its fur and bones, or eat shark fin soup and frog legs. These are living creatures that are massacred and left to die a sometimes slow and painful death. Some people may not understand why I am fighting for a cause that seems so unattainable. A cause that is of global reach - well, that is OK. Sometimes not understanding is how we learn.

So I will continue to be an advocate for the animals that have no voice. I will continue to fight for their habitats. I will continue to spread awareness - and when I reach that one person, the one person who says Aha, I get it now...

That is when I will smile and remind myself how great the power of one is.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Our first family bucket list

After what seems like months of talking about it, we have finally created our family bucket list. Not just what we want to do for the summer or this year even - we went bigger than that. Our bucket list is a big one with far off places and dreams bigger than big for a 9-year-old. Some have been on my unwritten bucket list for years.

Rather than confine our family bucket list to a single post, I decided to give it a page all of its own. A bucket list page that will remind us of our dreams and places we want to go. A page that we can track and cross thing off the list as we go.

Take a look at our Family Bucket List page ...
and come back often to see if we have crossed anything off the list.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Happy World Photography Day!

Yes, today is World Photography Day.

A day to celebrate photography and all that is captured looking through the lens. My love for photography grows with each passing day and I now find myself stopping alongside the road to take a picture.

I see things differently now - is this what they call a photographer's eye? Whether I have my iPhone or my camera with me, I see the world in a whole new way.

I see the light and how it reflects. I see the shadows and how they add depth. I see the beauty of the little things around me and want to capture them all.

My favorite things to photograph are flowers, animals, and basically anything that involves nature.

In honor of World Photography Day I would like to share some of my favorite shots.

A gharials eye reflecting on the water at the San Diego Zoo

Diego the ocelot from the San Diego Zoo

Yun Zi the giant panda from the San Diego Zoo

California Sea Lions resting on a buoy in Newport Harbor

Just before sunset at Upper Newport Bay

Do you enjoy photography? What is your favorite subject to photograph?

Simple SEO helped me create more awareness

People blog for various reasons and we all want to share what we write with others. I blog to share my passion about the environment, wildlife, and conservation. As I have said before, conservation begins with awareness. The more people who are aware, the more people who will make a difference. I don't get paid to blog, but that doesn't mean that I don't want hundreds of people to see my blog.

Social media - I love it.
Facebook - an old friend.
Twitter - it's fun.
SEO - a foreign language.

I will be honest with you, SEO scared the heck out of me for a long time. Why? Because I didn't understand it. Then my friend told me about a great e-book from Stef Calvert at Hearts and Laserbeams. An easy to download e-book that could help me increase the traffic on my blog.

Again, I'm not getting paid anything for my blog. Increasing traffic and page views on my blog serves one purpose - creating more awareness.

If I can make one person aware about an endangered animal or one person aware about the impacts of recycling on the environment, then I have done what I set out to do. That one person may share a post on Facebook or Twitter, which makes one more person aware.

Some of the things in Easy S.E.O. for Bloggers I was already doing and some I was only doing part of. As I read through it I thought, ah-ha I knew there was something I was missing. Sometimes it's as simple as using a hyphen instead of a comma. Other times it's utilizing an option of my settings that I just skipped over - simply because I didn't know what the option did.

Sure, adding SEO to a blog post takes me a little more time, but isn't it worth it? Since using the tools and tips from Easy S.E.O. for Bloggers, I have increased the pages views and overall traffic to my blog. What does this mean? It means that more people are reading my blog - more people are learning about conservation - more people are aware.

So whatever your cause may be, I am sure you want more people to be aware of what your cause is. If you are not already using SEO, or even if you are and want to learn some simple ways to make it better, I recommend buying this e-book from Hearts and Laserbeams. You won't be sorry.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Utan's legacy lives on at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

It is no secret that I love animals and that I will do whatever I can to bring awareness to the plight of endangered species. I learn as much as I can about the animals who live at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park - and when my son and I visit them, we call them by name. These are not pets, they are wild animals. However, for those of us who love them as if they were our family pets, losing one is not easy. Especially when the one lost is a critically endangered species.

We cry and we mourn the loss - and if we are lucky, we celebrate the legacy that was left behind.

Last month, the Safari Park lost a very special friend named Utan. He was a beautiful Sumatran tiger who fathered 4 liters, totaling 10 cubs, together with Delta.

Two of Utan's cubs - Majel pouncing on Joanne when they were only 3 months old.
Photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo Safari Park - Jan. 28, 2011

Utan was born on July 12, 1990 (Dylan loved the fact that Utan's birthday was one day before his). Wild tigers will live about 10 to 15 years, while tigers living in zoos live about 15 to 20 years. Utan lived for 22 years. Tigers in zoos live longer because they have excellent veterinary care, no predators, and no humans trying to hunt them illegally. The San Diego Zoo Safari Park does amazing work with the breeding of endangered species and educating people about the importance of conservation. Utan and his cubs are proof of that.

According to the staff at  the Safari Park, "Utan suffered from renal disease. He was treated by veterinarians and keepers to extend his life, but ultimately renal disease severely affected his quality of life. Renal disease is common in many species of cats and is a disease that generally affects older animals. Until his death, Utan did have the opportunity to explore the tiger exhibit on a rotation schedule. Some days it was him, others it was Majel and Joanne, and other days it was Delta."

Delta with Conrad (on top of her) and Thomas by her feet.
Photo courtesy of San Diego Zoo Safari Park - June 26, 2012

As difficult as it is to write this, I can only hope that Utan's passing will encourage more people to spread the news about how much these tigers need our help.

A recent news release from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park stated that there are fewer than 350 Sumatran tigers in the wild, and that number continues to drop. Scientists estimate that this species could be extinct in its native Sumatra by 2020 unless drastic measures are taken to protect and preserve it. Tigers face many challenges in the wild, from loss of habitat to human-tiger conflict, but the biggest threat continues to be poaching. Tigers are killed by poachers, who illegally sell tiger body parts, mostly for folk remedies. People can help protect wild tigers by making smart consumer decisions to avoid products that harm tiger habitat and refusing to purchase items made from endangered wildlife.

To learn more about what the tigers are facing, read my post I have a new found love for tigers. You can also help Utan's legacy by supporting San Diego Zoo Global at We may have lost one, but that doesn't mean we have to lose any more.

Remember, Extinction is forever ... Endangered means we still have time.

So as the tears roll down my face, I will say my last good-bye.

Utan, you will be missed. I will continue to fight for your family and create awareness in others. Even if I can only reach one person, that is ok, because one person can make a difference. Just look how much of a difference you made - 10 beautiful cubs that will carry on your legacy.
Good-bye Utan.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sometimes I forget that he is still a child

One of the best things about being a single parent is the close relationship that I have with my son. We are best friends and talk about everything. He doesn't feel the need to hide anything from me and I have always told him that we are a team. We plan vacations together rather than me telling him where we are going. The last time we moved it was an open discussion. We have lengthy talks about conservation and how together we can save the world.

One of the worst things about being a single parent is the financial struggle that seems to never go away. I still remember how happy I was when he was potty trained. Woo-hoo, no more expensive diapers and daycare rates went down. I had conquered what I thought was a major mountain at the time, only to find out a year later that it was one of many small hills. His feet kept growing, which meant new shoes and his appetite continues to grow, which means higher grocery bills. Lord help me when he becomes a teenager!

He knows that when we go to Target it doesn't mean he gets a new video game every time. He knows that when we go to the grocery store he can't have his favorite tortellini unless it is on sale. He knows that when we go to the zoo he doesn't get to buy a new book every time.

When he says, "Mom, I can't wait until we have enough money to  ..."
I stop in my tracks and gasp. My heart sinks. I think why are these words even coming out of his mouth? He should not be worried about this. He should be worried about how long he can stay outside playing or how late I will let him stay up on the weekend.

I don't believe in holding things back from him - I never have. Many people disagree with me about this, but I think he is a better person for knowing the value of a dollar. He knows buying food and paying rent comes before buying a new video game. He gave up his birthday to raise money for the tigers. He is years ahead of his age at times - but sometimes I forget that he is still a child.

Teaching to live within our means is one thing. Sharing too much information and having a child worry is another.

I may be able to have adult conversations with my son about a million things, but starting today money is no longer one of them. As parents we often forget that children pick up on our stress and it becomes their stress. They have a lifetime ahead of them to deal with stress - let them be kids for as long as they can.

Have you ever noticed your child picking up on your stress?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Daydreaming of a world without habitat destruction

Gorillas have no natural predators. They are endangered because of humans hunting them for food and destroying the rain forests that the gorillas call home.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Taking sunset pictures is a favorite summer tradition of mine

One thing that has made this somewhat unbearable heat wave tolerable is looking forward to taking sunset pictures. I love how the sky takes on the warm colors of the sun. Pink, orange, red, and even purple sometimes.

From a sky too bright to look at, to a large fireball sinking into the horizon - Seemingly falling off the edge of the world.

I am still amazed and watch in awe as the sky transforms in a matter of  minutes.

The other night it was just too hot to stay indoors. Yes, this sounds strange, but the air was so still that I couldn't bear to sit at home. (I have air conditioning, but I am trying my best not to use it.) The Upper Newport Bay, known to locals as the Back Bay, is only a five minute walk from my home - so we headed out. Cameras and iPhone in hand, we were ready to see some magic happen in the sky.

I love how the sun reflects on the waters surface
and how the heat of the sun gives way to a rainbow of colored clouds.

As I am writing this post, I am wondering why taking sunset pictures has always been a summertime tradition.

Is it because we associated sunsets with the beach and we spend more time at the beach in the summer?

Or maybe it is because the sunsets are so much more vivid in the summer - I might have to think about this one. Either way, sunsets are one of Mother Natures best creations.

Watching the sun set over the water is one of my favorite ways to end the day. Once the sun is gone, the light reflects up on the water and everything is covered with pink.

I know the sun sets 365 days a year and I have seen some beautiful sunsets in the fall, so why not make taking sunset pictures a year-round tradition? The October skies can be quite amazing too!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Today is World Elephant Day!

Today we celebrate the majestic beauty of elephants. Let's keep ivory where it belongs.

Ivory belongs to the elephants. 

Birthday fun with Yun Zi at the San Diego Zoo

Last week Yun Zi turned 3 years old and we spent the day celebrating with the pandas at the San Diego Zoo. Arriving just as the zoo opened, we headed straight to the panda exhibit to watch Yun Zi get his ice cake.

The zoo was still buzzing about the birth of the new panda, but today was all about Yun Zi. Dylan has become quite fond of Yun Zi and even wrote his birthday on the calendar so we wouldn't forget.

Yun Zi's exhibit was decorated with several boxes full of treats and bamboo - and of course he had an ice cake with a big #3 on top. The cake was almost as big as him, and in true kid fashion he went right for the top. The decorations didn't last too long and this was the only picture I got before Yun Zi began to demolish the cake.

After breaking the #3, Yun Zi moved on to the sweet and sour bamboo box that was perched high atop a tree branch. Being the inquisitive three-year-old that he is, Yun Zi wasn't thinking about the box falling.

Well, that was fun. Now there is more bamboo on the ground for him to eat. He liked it so much that he decided to eat double-fisted, er should I say double-pawed.

For more pictures of Yun Zi and the pandas at the San Diego Zoo visit my flickr album.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Always more to learn about helping endangered species

One of my favorite places to learn more about helping endangered species is the public library. I started taking Dylan to the library when he was just a toddler and he always went right to the animal books. As he has grown, his love for animals continued to grow too and now the library is a place we visit on a regular basis.

Sure, there is plenty of information at my fingertips on the internet, but I love the way a library smells. The books that line the shelves for as far as the eye can see and the quiet atmosphere.

The more I read about helping endangered species, the more I want to learn. A friend once told my son, never stop learning. Keep learning more and you will be one step ahead of the others. This advice was given in a conversation about going to college and becoming a zookeeper, but it can be applied to almost anything.

Whether you want to learn more about your job, your hobby, or just go sit someplace quiet - the public library is the perfect spot. Sometimes just sitting there I can feel the knowledge calling to me. Sounds weird I know, but it's true. Sometimes just walking up and down the rows of books and looking at the subjects will spark a new interest.

Our last visit to the library was right after a visit to the San Diego Zoo. On this visit, Dylan had spent almost an hour talking with one of the volunteers at the orangutan exhibit. He wanted to learn more about the New World and Old World monkeys, so that is what he did. He pulled books on chimps, orangutans, and gorillas. Learning all he can about the animals and soaking up the data like a sponge soaks up water.

He has also recently taken an interest in photography, so he checked out a book on photography.

I may be too old to start a new career as a zookeeper, but I can always learn more about helping endangered species. The more I learn, the more I can help and the more I can share with my readers. These are the books that I chose to take home.

As Rick Schwartz says, "Always explore, Always learn more"

What do you want to learn more about?

When was the last time you visited the public library?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

In less than 5 minutes you can help save a rhino

Do you want to help save a rhino? What would you say if I told you that just by voting on some pictures, taking only a few minutes of your time, you could help save a rhino? 

The 2013 IRKA/IRF Rhino Photo Contest had 104 contestants this year - and I was one of them! The 12 photos with most votes will be featured in the 2013 Rhino Conservation Calendar. 

Beautiful pictures are what makes a calendar special and I would be honored to have my photograph included in this calendar. The more calendars sold means more awareness for the endangered rhinos and more money to help keep them alive. 

The funds raised from the sale of the calendar will go to the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary (Yayasan Badak Indonesia or YABI).

Because so many rhinos are being killed by poachers, we need sanctuaries like YABI to protect and breed the rhinos before more species become extinct. YABI is where Ratu, one of the three adult female rhinos at Indonesia’s Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary, gave birth to a 60-lb male calf, named Andatu. Not only was this Ratu’s first baby, but it was the first Sumatran rhino ever born in captivity in Indonesia and only the fifth ever born in captivity worldwide. For more information on the rhino conservation program at YABI, visit the International Rhino Foundation website.

I am not asking for anything but your time, so if you can spare 5 minutes to help save a rhino I would really appreciate it. Here are the details you need to know.
  1. Voting will be from Aug.6th-20th 
  2. ANYONE can vote, so please pass this along to your friends and family. 
  3. You can only vote once and the photos are "anonymous" to prevent any bias. 
  4. You may only choose a photo once and you must choose 9 photos in total for your vote to count.
  5. The 12 photos that receive the highest amount of votes will be featured in the 2013 Rhino Conservation Calendar and the photographer will receive credit.
  6. Photo winners will be announced September 1st! 
Please click the Survey Monkey link below and vote for your favorite 9 rhino photos! 

Oh, and I happen to really like photo #18 (wink ,wink)

If you would like to learn more about the endangered rhino and what is being done to save the rhinos around the world, check out IRKA, International Rhino Foundation, and World Rhino Day.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The day I gave my child photography tips

I have taught my child many things over the years, but giving my child photography tips was not one of them. At least not until now. Ever since I started taking photography more seriously, Dylan has been begging asking for a camera of his own. He sees the images I take on the computer when we come home and we talk about them - what makes them good, what makes them bad, what I could do differently next time.

Before I run out and buy him a camera of his own, I decided to see if he was serious about taking pictures. So on his birthday I gave him my old camera to use on our trip to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and the San Diego Zoo. He did not care that the camera was old or that the flash didn't work. He was just happy to have a camera of his own and wanted some photography tips. He said he wanted to learn how to take pictures like me so people would like them and share them.

Considering I still have a lot to learn about photography, I started with the basics - what I like to call my 4 most important child photography tips.

1. Keep the wrist strap on at all times so you don't drop the camera.

2. Take as many pictures as you want.

3. Take your time and hold the camera steady.

4. Have fun!

Once we got that at of the way he was on his own. Well, not really. I explained a few of the settings on the camera and told him he could experiment with them, but I did help him choose what would be the best settings to use on the animals.

Finding a focal point. He was focusing on the flamingos egg and then obviously he liked the goose feet.

I was trying to explain how to get a reflection in the water, but he did get a nice shot of the duck.

Practicing getting a picture centered and then the rule of thirds with the meerkats.

Look around and take a picture of nature. He chose the waterfall. 

The art of zooming in and then the opposite - showing some background to give perspective.
Day one was complete and I was pretty impressed with his photography skills. Especially since he is only 9 years old and this was his first time really taking pictures. Had I given enough simple child photography tips? Could I expand and get more detailed the next day at the zoo?

Apparently the answer was yes. Just look at this picture of Penelope the Galapagos tortoise.

He got so excited with trying out various settings and took almost 200 pictures. Granted these are the best out of those 200 pictures, he has a real interest in photography. Now when we go to the zoo he doesn't rush from one exhibit to the next. He takes his time, waits for the perfect shot, and walks away smiling.

He told me the best photography tip that I gave him was not to waste his time if the subject was too far away. I love that we have yet another thing in common that we can enjoy together.

Dylan, the photographer

With the exception of the photos I took of him, all photos are courtesy of Dylan Fryer.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Summer Safari is still going strong at San Diego Zoo Safari Park

You don't need to travel far to enjoy a Summer Safari with the animals at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Enjoy the sights and sounds of Africa as you are greeted by African Chief Kahle and the beating of an African drum circle. The children can make an African bead bracelet and get their very own safari hat for free at Safari Base Camp.

The Summer Safari entertainment is awesome. You can plan your day ahead of time when you view the show schedule on the San Diego Zoo Safari Park website - and make sure to save some time to see the Animal Encounters at Safari Base Camp.

Your Summer Safari won't be complete without taking part in the African Extravaganza that occurs on the Summer Safari Stage. It is filled with music, dancing, drums, and more. Check the map for exact show times.

Even though we visit the Safari Park on a regular basis, Summer Safari is always something we look forward to. There are so many great photo opportunities and you really feel like you are on safari with the authentic Summer Safari entertainment.

Along with the sights and sounds of Summer Safari, you can enjoy what the park has to offer year-round. Take a ride on the Africa Tram to see rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, and wildebeest or maybe you want to book one of the many Behind the Scenes Safaris to get a closer look at the park wildlife. Walking the park is a favorite of mine - Gorilla Forest, African Outpost, Lion Camp, Elephant Valley, Condor Ridge, and of course Tiger Territory.

This annual event is still going strong, so get there before it ends on August 19.

Summer Safari hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. so there is lots of time to see everything and enjoy a day with your family at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. You can also follow the San Diego Zoo Safari Park on twitter and Facebook to get details of new events and my favorite, new animals births at the park.