Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tigress Danai

My son the budding photographer had to show off last week with this amazing picture of Danai. The crowds were surrounding the glass, but he just scooted his way through the people, right up next to the glass, and took this beautiful portrait. Just one of the advantages to being a child at the zoo. (Yes, I am envious of my son.)

Read more about Danai and how we met her in the post Our tiger encounter at the San Diego Zoo.

Photo credit: Dylan Fryer - taken at the San Diego Zoo during Discovery Days Cool Cats. 2013

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunset Sunday - Beautiful Beginnings

I have always loved sunsets, but I think I appreciate them more when I see a sunset through the lens of my camera. Deciding to take a picture of the sunset every month for a year as part of our family bucket list has turned out to be a great learning experience as well as a fun project. I've learned to watch each stage of the sunset - appreciating the changes in light and color of each one - from the very beginning to the very end when the sun is completely below the horizon.

The bright orange sky was my favorite part of a sunset for a long time, but now I've come to love the beginning of a sunset. That moment when the sun is just starting to set and the sky is a mix of blue and orange. That moment when you know it is going to be an amazing sunset - the beautiful beginning of what's to come.

Have a fantastic week and don't forget to take time to watch the sunsets.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The day we helped save the Northern White Rhinos

It is no big secret that we love wildlife and want to do everything we can to help save all endangered species. While choosing just one is not an easy task, we do have favorites - animals that have touched our hearts and will forever have a special place within them. For Dylan and I these animals are the tigers and rhinos because we have connected with them on a personal level.

One of the ways we love helping save endangered animals and creating awareness about the animal is to symbolically adopt them. We have adopted many animals from the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, as well as some from World Wildlife Fund. We consider the adopted animals part of our family and carefully select who will be adopted next. One animal in particular that we want desperately to help is the Northern White Rhino. Every time we visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and see Nola, I can't help but feel a sadness that one day she won't be there anymore - yet at the same time I feel blessed to have known her since many people will never have the opportunity to see a Northern White Rhino in person.

Imagine my surprise and my joy when I saw a post on Facebook telling me that I could adopt a Northern White Rhino from the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Africa.

Not just any rhino, but I could choose which rhino I wanted to symbolically adopt and help care for. As much as I wanted to adopt a rhino in my name, I knew that this would mean so much to Dylan - and it would make the perfect Valentine's Day present.

I chose to adopt Fatu who is a 12 year old female living at the conservancy with her mother Najin. Fatu is one of the four Northern White Rhinos who was translocated from the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic on December 20, 2009 to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

Fatu has been observed mating, which gives us all hope for the future of Northern White Rhinos.

I gave Dylan the adoption certificate before school on Valentine's Day and I don't think I have ever seen him so excited. Knowing that there are only 7 Northern White Rhinos left in the world today, we are now directly helping to care for one of them. We are making a difference.

Helping Rhinos is based in the United Kingdom and is proud to say that 100% of every donation received ends up where it is needed most - in the field protecting the rhinos! Along with the adoption certificate we received this picture of Fatu and several fact sheets about the rhinos.

Fatu's horns were cut down to ensure she remained safe during the translocation and to hopefully deter poachers. Her horns will grow back because they are made from keratin - just like our fingernails. They have no medicinal value.

Today is the day to make a difference because tomorrow may be too late. 

If you would like to help care for these beautiful animals, you can adopt a Northern White Rhino from HelpingRhinos.org just like we did. I can't tell you how important it is to keep hope alive and continue to spread awareness about the plight of the rhinos. 2012 was a very bad year for the rhinos and I'm praying that 2013 will be better. This chart from Helping Rhinos shows the most current numbers.

Want to learn more about the Ol Pejeta Conservancy? Did you know they are famous for their conservation work with endangered species and are the largest Black Rhino sanctuary in East Africa? For more information about Ol Pejeta, including how you can visit the conservancy, please visit www.olpejetaconservancy.org

Monday, February 18, 2013

Getting lost behind the lens of a camera

Sometimes it's nice to get away from the daily routines of life for a few days. We all need time to relax and refresh our minds. 

Take a walk in nature. Spend time with family. Follow your passions.
I've spent the past two days getting lost behind the lens of my camera and I'm loving every moment of it.

What do you do get away from life for a few days?


Friday, February 15, 2013

Dylan's essay on Conservation

Dylan came home the other day with an essay that he wrote in class. The assignment was to write an essay on any topic and turn in the final draft on Friday. I was so proud when I read it and asked Dylan if I could post it on the blog. He asked if this meant he was published again - I said yes it does. I think that sealed the deal. This is Dylan's essay.


Conservation is very important. If nobody helped with conservation, then the world would end because people would hunt animals to extinction. The California condor went extinct in the wild in the 1900’s, but zoos worldwide bred all the California condors and released their babies into the wild. So now they’re back in the wild. That’s the power of conservation.

Greater One-Horned Rhino - Photo by Dylan Fryer

The tragedy in poaching history is poachers killing hundreds of rhinos for their horns. When they lose their horn, they bleed to death. That’s why conservationists cut part of the horn off so poachers won’t hunt them. For some rhinos it’s too late; like the Northern White rhino. There’s only 7 left in the world and they are too old to breed so they will go extinct, but for some rhinos it’s not too late. The most endangered rhino, except for the Northern White, is the Javan rhino. There are only 50 left in the wild. There are no Javan rhinos in captivity because they are so rare.

Tigers are also very endangered. Poachers kill them for their fur bones, and teeth. Some people take tiger cubs from their mother to keep as pets. When people do that the tiger is traumatized. Usually the person goes in with the tiger and gets killed by the tiger. The only reason the person gets killed is because of the tiger’s instinct of hunting. They are wild animals. Many zoos have tigers and they breed them to keep the species going.

So many people poach animals. From small rabbits to giant elephants, but the worst part about poaching is that if something tries to protect the animal, then it dies too. Sometimes people take the baby and keep as a pet. Orangutans and other apes are kept as pets. Sadly, poachers will never stop. That’s why conservationists protect them.

Cinta our favorite Orangutan - Photo by Dylan Fryer

Everyone, no matter how old or young you are you, can always be a conservationists. So please help conservation. You can give money to help. Help stop poaching.

-Dylan Fryer

These are all Dylan's words. He wrote the essay at school, brought it home for proof reading, and then typed it on the computer for his final draft. I may be biased, in fact I know I am, but this is a pretty darn good essay. Especially for a 4th grader.

Knowing that he could write about anything he wanted and chose to write about conservation shows just how much he cares about saving these animals and the habitats they live in. When Dylan reads his essay in class he will be creating awareness and spreading the word about conservation to all of his classmates.

That's called Making A Difference!

You can read Dylan's other published work over on our friend Rebecca's blog - Remember Wildlife - where he wrote about the Giant Pandas.

Cactus Skies at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

I love the simple beauty that Mother Nature provides us with.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Our tiger encounter at the San Diego Zoo

I have accepted that my son has a special connection to the animals at the San Diego Zoo, as have most close friends and family. The names Diego, Issa, Soman, Surat, Blackie, Penelope, Victor, Tikal, Maderas, Mek, Connor, Christopher, and many others are names you would hear on a daily basis in our home. These aren't just animals, they are part of our family. Dylan and I have become friends with a handful of zoo employees that understand his connection and deep love for these animals, but last Saturday we met a new friend.

Julian is a zookeeper who cares for the tigers and other animals along Tiger Trail. Dylan and I have seen him many times, but today was the first day we met him - a day that neither of us will soon forget.

After overhearing Dylan and I talking about the tigers, and the fact that they weren't in photo range, Julian told us he would be switching out the tigers in about 10 minutes if we wanted to wait.

Knowing that Connor and Christopher were in the exhibit, I assumed that he would be bringing Mek out. His response came as a surprise and really caught Dylan off guard.

"Mek was moved to the Fresno Zoo."

I watched as the tears welled up in Dylan's eyes and quietly comforted him while thanking Julian for the information. I told him that Dylan really liked the tigers and had even raised money for Tiger Trail over the summer. Julian told Dylan that Mek was with Paca again so she could have more cubs - he smiled and went on with his work.

Seeing that this was going to take some time, I walked Dylan to an area away from the main path and reminded him of how important it is to keep breeding the tigers. He already knew everything I was telling him, but I was grasping at straws trying to console him. After all the work he did with his birthday wish for the tigers, I knew this was especially hard on him. Mek had become part of our family.

Julian saw us standing off to the side and asked us to wait there a minute. He went behind the big gates and came back a few minutes later. He told us that he just got approval from his lead to take Dylan and I behind the gate - behind the tiger exhibit.

I wish I had a snapshot of Dylan's face when he heard these words. As we walked through the gate Dylan squeezed my hand and whispered, "Mom, this is so awesome!"

Julian gave us a tour of the tiger bedrooms and explained how tigers are cared for at the zoo. We also learned about the many safety precautions zookeepers take when working with the tigers. Connor and Christopher paced back and forth at the gate and said hello to us in their own special way.

While Dylan asked tons of questions, I just stood there taking it all in. Especially Danai, a 19 year old Malayan tiger who I instantly fell in love with. I almost forgot to take pictures.

Now aside from the obvious reasons why this was such a special encounter, it also confirmed my thoughts that zookeepers do in fact sense animal connections in others. Almost like kindred spirits.

Julian didn't know who Dylan was, but he did know that they both shared a special connection with the tigers. He went above and beyond his regular job duties as a San Diego Zoo Zookeeper to help my son through a difficult situation. He repeatedly thanked Dylan for everything he has done to help the tigers, told him to keep up the good work, and encouraged him to keep working toward his goal of being a zookeeper.

Although Dylan met Julian with tears in his eyes, he said goodbye with a smile on his face and a tiger encounter that left an imprint on his heart.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Photographing the little details in nature

Nature has so much to offer - so much beauty. Sometimes I am in too big of a hurry to notice the little things, but when I do I am always amazed. Last week I took some time to test out the macro setting on my camera and this is what I discovered.

Flowers live within flowers ...

Ants live very busy lives ...

What looks prickly can still be beautiful ...

One of the things I realized during my ah-ha moment was that I want to spend more time taking pictures. More time learning about photography. Ultimately sharing my pictures with people as another way to create awareness about the world around us.

You can see more pictures from this day by visiting my Flickr account.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sunset Sunday - Bittersweet Goodbyes

My parents house has been on the market for about a year now and last week they accepted an offer. My childhood home will belong to someone else in a mere 60 days. The home where I grew up and where my son spent the first year of his life - the home where I planted a tree so many years ago - the home where I have watched so many beautiful sunsets.

The skies always look great from my parents kitchen window, but as soon as I see even the tiniest hint of orange or red or pink, I run up the stairs to the balcony. This is where I like to watch the sunsets best. Here on the balcony is where I can see Catalina - not so long ago, those two big trees weren't so big and the view was even better.

I took this picture last week with my iPhone. The colors were so much more intense in real life, but I still love this picture. The sky was painted with warmth and Catalina was clear as could be. The house is too big for my parents now that all the kids have gone, and I understand why they chose to sell, but views like this make me wish they could keep the house. I don't know if I will be at my parents house again for a sunset like this. It may have been my last from the balcony and that makes it a bittersweet goodbye for me.

Have a fantastic week and don't forget to take time to watch the sunsets.

Monday, February 4, 2013

My ah-ha moment was almost too simple to see

What started as one of our regular visits to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park - see some wildlife, take some pictures, and get my rhino fix - turned into something so much more than I had planned. I guess I shouldn't really be surprised because every time we visit the park I leave feeling a little different, a little better, a little more at peace with the world than I did when we arrived.

We didn't follow the normal route this day. Instead, we decided to take the back way up to Condor Ridge before the sun got too hot. The smell of the trees as you walk up to Condor Ridge is so refreshing. Add to this the sounds of babbling brooks and small woodland creatures rustling in the bushes. Before you know it, you are transported to a land of pure beauty where nothing bad can happen.

Surrounded by majestic trees and rolling hillsides ... the view literally takes my breath away.

I could sit up here for hours just soaking in the beauty. I realize that I am in the midst of what some call an ah-ha moment - I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Just then my son sits down next to me on the bench and says, "Mom, isn't it nice to just sit and watch nature?" My heart fluttered a bit and I felt a tear roll down my cheek. How could he know what I was thinking?

Yes, it was a wonderful moment. One that I believe we both needed. In our own ways, we both came to a place of peace. Surrounded by the beauty of Mother Nature, watching rhinos and giraffes roam the hills in the distance with my son, everything seemed to become clear to me.

My ah-ha moment was almost too simple for me to see.

When I stopped running in circles and took the time to breathe, I realized that the important things in life are not on Facebook, or Google Plus, or Twitter.

The important things in life are right in front of me ...