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Quirky New Zealand Bird Begins Recovery From Brink of Extinction

With bright lime green plumage, striking eyes, and a massive build, the New Zealand Kakapo is considered the largest ground-dwelling parrot on the planet Earth. If that description doesn’t get you at least a little bit excited about the kakapo, nothing will!

Endemic to New Zealand, the Kakapo has been considered endangered and on the brink of extinction since the late 1890s. Beginning with the Kakapo Recovery Programme of 1995, modern conservationists would begin to note more significant strides in their efforts.

Before delving into the rehabilitation of the quirky kakapo, let’s take a moment to learn a little more about these fantastic creatures.

How Quirky IS The Kakapo

A cursory glance at New Zealand’s favorite flightless parrot would reveal an animal made at odds with itself. Massive yet flightless, brightly colored yet nocturnal, the kakapo has enjoyed an almost legendary status within New Zealand’s borders and, more specifically, Maori culture. Revered as a source of meat and for its beautiful plumage, the kakapo has a rich history with the local people.

As the only living species of parrot that can’t fly, the kakapo instead relies on its strong legs to travel miles a day. Excellent as climbers, kakapo will use their forest-themed feathers to remain camouflaged while hunting, hiding, or sleeping.

Andrew Digby has been working closely with the Kakapo population through his work as a conservation biologist for the Department of Conservation. Digby has grown to appreciate the definitive personalities and unique lifestyles that the kakapo lead. Digby says, “They’re more like mammals… maybe like badgers.”

As a conservationist for one of New Zealand’s most revered institutes, Digby has gotten to spend plenty of time with the local kakapo population. He says of his efforts that their personalities become more defined the longer you work with them. Digby says, “Some may shout at you a lot. Some are really friendly and will approach you.”

An Endangered Species

The kakapo began its precipitous descent toward extinction in the fourteenth century, coinciding with the arrival of the Maori people. As we’ve touched upon above, the Maori people see the kakapo as not just culturally important, but also as a form of resource. Their feathers, meat, and even companionship were all revered by the Maori people.

Unfortunately, an affinity for the kakapo would also lead to its decline toward extinction. As the Maori settled into the region, building homes and wiping land for farms, kakapo would begin to experience habitat reduction. This reduction in habitat was further exacerbated by the arrival of rats from the very same ships that the Maori had arrived upon. Rats would quickly become a primary predator to the kakapo, devouring not just eggs but chicks as well.

By the time that Europeans would land ashore of New Zealand in the 19th Century, the Kakapo had already been verging on extinction throughout the islands. This didn’t stop European settlers from trapping, killing, collecting, and selling kakapo to willing buyers. By the time that 1995 rolled around, only 51 birds were left in known existence.

The 1995 Kakapo Recovery Programme has been working steadily since its introduction, collecting and protecting the remaining living kakapo in off-shore environments. Visitors to the Kakapo Recovery Programme must undergo an extensive quarantining process after having all of their food and luggage carefully inspected. Every bird on the island is tagged and named so that the conservationists can closely follow breeding sites throughout the region. New eggs are often moved to artificial environments where they are incubated before being returned to the nest. While the real egg is away, the kakapo mother will be left with a ‘smart egg’ that mimics egg behavior.



Roaming Buffalo and the Proposed Bison Bridge

Kevin Wells



Chad Pregracke is what you would describe as both a conservationist and a pseudo-folk hero. A local to the Quad Cities nestled between Illinois and Iowa, Pregracke has dedicated the better part of his life to working with the river, aiding wildlife, and supporting his community. Recently, Pregracke has centered his focus on a 55-year-old concrete bridge spanning the Mississippi River, a bridge that sees more than 42,000 cars traverse its expanse every single day. Slated to be replaced with a newer bridge, the local conservationist decided that now was the right time to make a wildlife crossing.

Bison and the Mississippi River

Upon hearing that the old bridge was set to be torn down, Pregracke knew that he had to act quickly. Once considered a long-shot concept, his idea of turning the bridge into a valid wildlife crossing has started to acquire real momentum. According to the Illinois and Iowa Departments of Transportation, the concept suggested by Pregracke could end up going live within five years!

The goal of the bridge will be to provide the longest ever human-made wildlife crossing on the planet. The bridge would be converted for use by both American bison and humans alike. One side of the bridge would feature both a bike path and a pedestrian path while the other side would feature a secured and enclosed bison paddock where visitors can get safely get close to the animals. The herds wouldn’t be consigned to the bridge either, they’d have free roam between Illinois and Iowa throughout the grassy feature. The proposed bison bridge crossing the Mississippi River would become the first national park or either state.

Even though this proposal seems out of the norm, it comes at a time when conservationists are working with urban designers to combine their renewal projects. We can look at the High Line of New York City as well as the raised railroad that was turned into a bike trial in Chicago. Los Angeles has already seen several proposals to turn the 101 freeway into a natural park setting.

Advocates continue to rally behind Pregracke and his Bison Bridge. The efforts to repurpose the bridge will go a long way toward saving costs, reducing waste, and even protecting the environment. Along the way, Pregracke believes that the bridge will help to elevate the Quad Cities into a truly world-class destination with the Mississippi River acting as a calling card. Pregracke said, “How could you not stop for bison?”

Bison and Native American History

The American Bison is also commonly referred to as a buffalo. This species of bison was once known to traverse across North America in truly gigantic herds. Stretching from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico, bison would slowly be eradicated due to over-hunting during the 19th century. At the time of this writing, thanks to conservation efforts, the American Bison is hanging on with a Near Threatened status.

More than just an important feature in North American history, bison have been historically important to Native American groups throughout the country — including the Quad Cities. Native American Groups have said that restoring the bison population is a necessary first step toward reconnecting with local land and history while recognizing the various atrocities that have been committed against bison and indigenous people.

In 1800, there were an estimated 60 million bison roaming the Great Plains of North America. By the time the 19th Century came to an end, only 300 would remain.

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NYC Seniors Receive MET Museum Inspired Art Kits, Support From Non-Profits

Renee Yates



To look back over the past year of destruction and loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic would be hard, to say the least. Few cities in the United States have struggled with the virus to the same degree that New York City did and, as a result, problems have been heaped upon its residents, including the elderly and at-risk.

As vaccination rates continue to improve around the world, residents in places like NYC are looking to get back to the life they once knew. Thankfully, there are kind non-profit organizations working with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to help the at-risk, senior, and elderly individuals in the city.

Art Kits and Citymeals on Wheels

Citymeals on Wheels is a non-profit lifeline that has been serving elderly individuals throughout New York for years. Ramping up their efforts alongside the COVID-19 crisis, Citymeals on Wheels would become an integral aspect of survival, delivering more than three million meals since the COVID-19 pandemic began in earnest throughout the United States. As vaccination rates climb and daily cases continue to level off, Citymeals on Wheels is continuing its work all the way to the finish line.

Already providing elderly residents with meals, partnering with the Metropolitan Museum of Art has given Citymeals on Wheels a unique opportunity to bring joy and entertainment alongside a meal. Crafting new art kits titled Your Met Art Box, seniors will receive monthly deliverables of art materials, activities, and cultural resources while they stay at home waiting out the pandemic.

At the time of this writing, the Your Met Art Box has been sent to more than 1,000 Citymeals volunteers and recipients. To maintain interest, the non-profit will release a different theme every single month. For May, the theme was ‘Art of Refreshment”. The Art of Refreshment Kit included curated tea selections from local shops in Chinatown, including Grand Tea & Imports, as well as tea-tasting activities and drawing games. One activity in the kit included instructions on how to craft and design your own Chinese paper fan. With new themes every single month, there are limitless opportunities for education and entertainment.

To make sure that activities are enjoyed by recipients, the Education Department at the Met will lead virtual talks and conversations on the artwork, community building, and socializing. Volunteers are trained to lead these virtual events so that they can help guests recapture the joy of strolling through the galleries.

Vivienne O’Neill is the Senior Director of Volunteer Programs at Citymeals on Wheels. O’Neill said of the program, “Citymeals recipients and volunteers who visit them can enjoy the wonder and inspiration of art.” O’Neill would go on to explain that many of the Citymeals members were longstanding fans of the museum who once were able to stroll the galleries in person before the pandemic came into town.

For members of the public that want to go visit the museum in person, each Met Art Kit comes with two large postcards that also act as free passes for entrance into the museum.

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Newly Discovered Flower Blooms Atop One of the World’s RAREST Trees

Renee Yates



The Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis is known by locals for the intense work performed by the experts inside. When a small purple-and-white flower began to grow within their greenhouse, the team of experts at the Missouri Botanical Garden were confused. From their perspective, they were seeing something brand new – a completely fresh discovery.

Discovery on May 3rd

Justin Lee is a senior horticulturist at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and he was performing regular work on a Karomia Gigas sapling in the greenhouse when he first stumbled upon the rare purple-and-white flower. The Karomia Gigas is a tree from Africa with close relations to the mint plant. An endangered tree species in Africa, Justin was confused by the flower that had grown nearly an inch in length atop the tree.

Lee says of his discovery, “It’s a bit odd for a mint flower. It seems flipped inside out.”

The flower measured an inch in length with a strong halo of purple petals, sloping gently downward toward white stamens bearing pollen. According to Lee, the mint family likes to put out tube-styled flowers in an attempt to attract bees, butterflies, and moths. Lee also suggests that the tree can self-pollinate if necessary.

As the discovery made headlines around the city, the researchers at Missouri’s Botanical Garden are preparing for more blooms in the future. Research has suggested that more Karomia Gigas flowers will grow at the greenhouse and it is then that their scientific research will really begin. Lee and his team are focused on successfully cultivating cross-pollination, thus improving the survivability of the plant in the world. At the time of this writing, only about two dozen of the Karomia Gigas trees can be found in the wilds throughout Tanzania.

The Wilds of Tanzania

At the time of this writing, the Karomia Gigas is considered so rare as to not even have a local Tanzanian nickname, nor is there an English one. What little is broadly known about the Karomia is that it can grow in straight stretches for up to 80 feet, limiting branch exposure until nearly halfway to its final height. As a result of its odd, stick-like growth, finding these unseen flower blooms has been harder than you might anticipate!

Roy Gereau is a program director for Tanzania at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Surprised but not shocked by the flower, Gereau was quick to admit that the bloom was new. Gereau said of the rare flower, “There certainly is no record of the flowers in scientific literature.”

More important than discovering the flower, researchers in Missouri believe that they can maintain the health of the newly bloomed petals to prevent them from disappearing. Andrew Wyatt is the VP of Horticulture at the Missouri Botanical Garden, and he said, “We can make sure the species doesn’t go extinct.”

It has been a challenge to grow the plant in Missouri, as has been repeated by researchers at the facility. Seeds had been collected in 2018 from a series of Tanzanian field expeditions. These seeds were shipped to St. Louis where only around 100 were thought to be viable. To make things even more difficult, it was a task to match Tanzanian growing conditions within greenhouses in Missouri.

Despite the challenges that they had to face, it looks like the Karomia is finding solid footing within St. Louis. With some momentum and optimism on their side, what’s next?

Andrew Wyatt said of the rare blooming flower and of his own future, “We were debating whether it would even flower in our careers.”

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Retired Bike Program Finds New Life in Charlotte as Travel Service For Homeless

Kelly Taylor



As the weather warms up and COVID-19 continues to become a thing of the past, the world will try and shift to normalcy again. For residents of Charlotte, NC, a return to normalcy will have to occur without the help of Charlotte B-Cycles, the rental blue bike-share service that has been providing rides to the city for years. Phased out for an impressive electric-assisted fleet, the city of Charlotte had to decide what to do with the 250+ retired bicycles from its old fleet and this is where our story begins.

Let’s explore how the city of Charlotte decided to recycle old bikes to bring new life to the city for those who need help the most.

Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle: Old Fleets Find New Life

Charlotte’s B-Cycles may have been taken away to be replaced with an electric-focused fleet called Charlotte Joy Rides, but that doesn’t mean that their days of use are over. In fact, the old retired bikes now belong to a pair of volunteer teams from Roof in the Inn and Trips for Kids, two local non-profits dedicated to providing assistance to homeless residents.

Taking the old bikes, the volunteer groups from Room in the Inn and Trips for Kids would acquire the bikes with the intention of repurposing them. Dick Winters, a cycling enthusiast and volunteer at the program, pointed out that transportation is a rather significant barrier to individuals dealing with homelessness. Winters also argues that a lack of available and affordable transportation can fundamentally damage acquiring employment and, fundamentally, independence from poverty. This mindset has been echoed tirelessly by Cedric Mack, supervisor of the Roof Above shelter on Statesville Avenue.

The goal of this joint initiative is to bring transportation to the people who need it the most, giving them the metaphorical keys to their traveling needs. The job has been undertaken by a tireless team of excited volunteers to help those who are most at-risk. Mack says that some of the homeless individuals he works with end up at the bus stop by “4 AM” just to get a ride for errands or to apply for jobs.

Charlotte, Charity, and the Houseless Crisis

So far, volunteers for the program have effectively refurbished 27 bikes. These 27 bikes have already been dispatched to users from the Roof Above program as well as shelters around the area. A pair of bikes would go to a recently homeless family while other bikes have gone to individuals to assist in their independence and traveling efforts. This is a marked difference from the last round of old bikes that ended up sold for scrap, thrown into landfills, or stuck into art installations.

Jonathan Wells has been one of the active pair of hands working on repairing the bikes. Wells was brought to the non-profit after hearing about it through his church. Wells points out that the repair efforts are helping people to attain a “greater degree” of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Wells went on to say that it would be “Mission Accomplished” if his work helps someone to get a job, get back on their feet, and find a place to live.

At the time of this writing, a 2021 study published by WSOCTV revealed that roughly 3,000 homeless individuals live in the Charlotte, NC area.

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Rehabilitation Facility Ushers in ‘Healing Forest’, Planted by Indigenous Inmates

Kelly Taylor



Found in the heart of Washington State is the Yakama Nation Correctional and Rehabilitation Facility, one of the first projects introduced through the DOJ’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. This adult and juvenile facility is designed to do more than meet the needs of the region, it also has a unique way of addressing rehabilitation through outdoor projects — including the healing forest.

At the heart of this restorative project are the inmates who identify with and want to embrace their culture and identity. A member of the Yakama Nation, Marylee Smunitee Jones has also been a vocal leader for the healing forest campaign that has been gaining nationwide attention. Jones has worked alongside Ethan Bryson, forest maker and founder of Sugi, to get their ambitious project off of the ground. Jones said that the identity of Yakama Nation lay with the plants, “They show us that it’s okay to be unique.”

After successfully organizing the healing forest project, Bryson and his team would successfully enter the second phase of the plan. This would lead to more than 5,000 native trees successfully entering the ground, incorporating more than 36 species spanning medicinal and non-medicinal plants alike.

In order to find so much success getting plants in the ground, Sugi has followed the Miyawaki method for planting. This method originally took root in Japan where it focused on the diverse planting of species in a confined space. Elise Van Middelem is the founder of Sugi and also one of the leading voices in the company. Speaking on the Miyawaki method Elise would say that this method was “30 times denser, featured16 times more carbon, and was100 times more biodiverse”

Impact of the Healing Forest

While much of today’s discussion has been focused on the sheer volume of plants and the efficacy of the workflow, the effect that the healing forest has had supersedes even these boundaries. An anonymous inmate spoke about the project saying, “It feels great. It makes my heart feel really good.” Other inmates discussed how they would be able to show their kids the massive garden in the future when they finish their sentence.

Even though the impact of the healing forest has been immeasurable to the inmates, it also highlighted an important prospect to discuss on a global scale. According to a 2019 report published at Global Forest Watch, more than 12 million hectares of tropical forest were destroyed in that year alone. Developments surrounding green projects like the healing forest are going to become increasingly welcomed as environmentalism takes center stage on a global scale.

Another initiative operating out of would get unveiled during the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos. The goal of the platform is to help the world plant an additional 1 trillion trees by the end of 2030.

Marylee Smunitee Jones says of the Healing Forest and its importance, “We all have our own medicines and that the healing forest is needed… it is needed very much.”

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