Tiger King as a TV show, docu-series drama and live-reality glimpse into business insanity took the cable and streaming world by storm. It was a classic Greek tragedy of a pumped-up king of his own world destroyed by his own acts and turned on by his closest people and partners. By the end of the series, the show’s main character was behind bars, his partners and closest workers scattered, and his business partners turning out to be less-than-stellar compadres in a crazy, real-life drama. As it turns out, yet one more chapter in the story has now just been written.
One of the big backstories of Tiger King was the treatment of the big cats that made the owner, Joe Exotic, famous in the first place. After a huge federal investigation into the original owner participating in a murder-for-hire contract, the remaining partners finally had to agree to turn over the remaining animals to the Department of Justice recently. This was the closing act in the secondary federal charges the government brought against the business, in particular regarding violations of the Endangered Species Act as well as the Animal Welfare Act. Viewers will remember investigators found multiple pieces of evidence confirming many of the sick cats had been euthanized and buried on the grounds without any proper protocols being followed.
The primary charge against the company is centered on the inhumane treatment of the big cats that were raised, trained and used by the business for its entertainment product to consumers. The conclusion was very much a paper one; the 68 big cats that were involved had long before been transferred to zoo environments.
The Lowes, the infamous couple partners who ended up with the park after the main Tiger King character, Joseph Maldonado-Passage or Joe Exotic, was arrested and jailed, ended up with full rights to run the park through their business deal with Joseph (a deal he made at the end as a desperate reach for last-minute financing to keep the business alive). However, the Lowes themselves were put out of commission when their own business license was shut down in 2020 based on the investigator’s condition reports.
Squalid kennel conditions, dangerous breeding, poor health conditions and similar that amounted to determined animal torture convinced the federal district judge on the case to shut the operations, turn over all juvenile animals, and no longer run the park as an entertainment business. Essentially, it killed any chance of the business returning to being an animal show moneymaker that Joe Exotic had originally created. Then, in a followup up concerted move, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service seized the remaining adult animals as well.
Jeff Lowe, originally cast in the documentary as a bit of a carpetbagger taking advantage of Joe Exotic’s desperation, ended himself being charged for violating the Endangered Species Act, adding additional pressure for him and Lauren Lowe to give up any title to the adult animals altogether. That also included other species such as ferrets, foxes, a camel, lemurs and more.
In short, no one came out on top of the disaster of the Tiger King show, not even those left behind after the original criminal actions and arrests as well as trials.
Zimbabwean Ranger’s Heroic Effort to Save Unloved Painted Dogs
In the vast wilderness of Zimbabwe, where the African sun paints the landscape with its golden hues, a dedicated ranger named Jealous Mpofu has taken up the noble cause of rescuing and reviving the unloved African painted dogs. These striking and highly social animals, also known as African wild dogs, have faced numerous challenges, causing their population to plummet over the years.
African painted dogs are distinctive creatures, adorned with unique coat patterns that resemble a colorful mosaic. Unfortunately, they have been unjustly overlooked by both conservationists and tourists, contributing to a decline in interest and support for their preservation. Jealous Mpofu, however, has emerged as their champion, defying the misconceptions that have surrounded these animals.
Mpofu recalls the biased opinions of his father’s bosses, who dismissed painted dogs as rough and undesirable creatures. “They said they didn’t kill an animal; they grabbed the flesh. They said they were rough animals,” Mpofu shared, shedding light on the unfounded prejudices that have plagued these beautiful canines.
Conservationists and tourists have shown little interest in painted dogs, leaving them vulnerable to various threats. Poachers, initially targeting antelopes, inadvertently ensnare these dogs in their traps. Cars pose another danger as they unwittingly run over these creatures, contributing to the challenges faced by the painted dog population.
Jealous Mpofu’s journey with painted dogs began in 1997 when he first laid eyes on these fascinating animals. Growing up trekking barefoot to school and working as a casual laborer in Zimbabwe’s national park system, Mpofu left his job when he witnessed the country’s decline. His life took a positive turn when he crossed paths with Peter Blinston, a Briton who founded Painted Dog Conservation after being inspired by a Jane Goodall documentary at the age of eight.
Tragedy struck in 2006 when the alpha male in Hwange’s last painted dog pack was killed, leading to the group’s dispersal. Mpofu and his team played a pivotal role in rescuing the alpha female, bringing her into a rehabilitation enclosure. For six months, Hwange had no painted dogs in the wild, but the team persevered. They released the female and selected an alpha male from the enclosure. Over the years, the female raised as many as 30 puppies, a testament to Mpofu and his team’s dedication.
Peter Blinston credits Mpofu with saving dozens of painted dogs’ lives, recounting instances where he found and rescued dogs ensnared in traps. Last year alone, Mpofu rescued four dogs from one pack entangled together in snares.
In recognition of his extraordinary efforts, Jealous Mpofu has been named Tusk’s Ranger of the Year, an honor bestowed upon him for his quarter-century-long commitment to bringing these unique animals back from the brink of extinction. He will receive the award, along with a grant of £30,000, in London, most likely from Prince William, who played a role in establishing the awards in 2013.
Mpofu, humble and surprised by the news of his award, plans to use the grant to support his family and community. “I share that with painted dogs,” Mpofu emphasized, highlighting his commitment to not only these remarkable animals but also the well-being of those around him.
Painted dogs, known for their cooperative and sharing nature, have found an ally in Jealous Mpofu. Through his unwavering dedication, these once-unloved creatures are getting a second chance at life, and Mpofu’s story serves as an inspiring testament to the impact one individual can have on the survival of a species.
Pūteketek: New Zealand’s Beloved Bird of the Century
In a historic win, Pūteketek, a remarkable bird native to New Zealand, has clinched the prestigious title of Bird of the Century. This victory was not just a triumph for Pūteketek but also a testament to the collective efforts of more than 350,000 people from 195 countries who participated in the annual competition organized by the conservation charity Forest and Bird.
Pūteketek, also known as the New Zealand Falcon, soared to fame with an extraordinary record number of votes in the hotly contested competition. The bird secured a staggering 290,374 votes, capturing about 83% of the total votes. This victory highlights the bird’s popularity and the global appreciation for New Zealand’s unique avian species.
Adding a touch of humor to the competition, American-British comedian John Oliver played a surprising role in boosting Pūteketek’s popularity. Oliver, known for his wit and humor, launched what he jokingly called an “alarmingly aggressive” campaign for the bird. In one of his shows, he expressed his desire for the “biggest landslide in the history of this magnificent competition.” Oliver’s endorsement certainly contributed to the overwhelming support for Pūteketek.
While Pūteketek claimed the top spot, it faced stiff competition from other notable birds. The North Island Brown Kiwi secured the second position with 12,904 votes, and the kea, a unique parrot native to New Zealand, secured the third position with 12,060 votes. The competition showcased the diverse and fascinating birdlife found in New Zealand.
Petrina Duncan, Forest and Bird’s grebe coordinator for its Central Otago Lakes Branch, expressed her enthusiasm about Pūteketek’s win. She mentioned, “It’s great to have a successful bird as an ambassador for all New Zealand birds to show that even threatened species can bounce back if we give them a hand.” This sentiment reflects the importance of recognizing and celebrating the efforts put into conservation and protecting New Zealand’s unique bird species.
Australian Army Vets Find New Purpose in Farming
A remarkable group of former Australian soldiers has embarked on a mission to help their fellow veterans discover a fresh sense of purpose after their military service. The path to civilian life can often be challenging for those who’ve served, as they need to reinvent themselves and find a new identity. A group of ex-army veterans, however, is finding solace and meaning in farming, offering a nurturing environment for healing and growth.
“When you leave the army, you have to leave your image at the same time and develop a new image,” expressed army veteran Angelo Leonardi. “Some of us joined when we were really young, so you can be a young adult, 25 to 30 years old, and lose that image that you built. You have to reintroduce yourself to the world, which can be really hard.”
For Angelo Leonardi, the transition to civilian life has been made easier by following his true calling in farming. “My family had a deep farming history in south-east Queensland and also in north Queensland, in horticulture,” he shared. “Post-army, there are not a lot of options for us in the career space.”
Angelo Leonardi, along with two others, pooled their resources to purchase their first farm, Cherry Creek Estates near Blackbutt. This farm boasts 300 hectares of meticulously managed avocado orchards, a packing shed, and an oil processing plant. Angelo’s vision and passion have been instrumental in making this venture a reality.
His fellow veterans, Sam Salvatore and Mr. Dennis, bring their unique strengths to the farm. Mr. Dennis is the practical and detail-oriented member, while Sam Salvatore, the workhorse, is known for getting things done. Together, they embarked on their farming journey, starting with approximately 2,000 avocado trees in their first year.
In their early days, the trio managed everything themselves, balancing farming with other commitments. Their military background proved valuable as they could call on their fellow soldiers for assistance when needed.
“We can send the SOS out to all the guys, and they come running just like when we were in the army,” Salvatore said. “So it’s awesome to have the support in those critical times.”
The farm’s tranquil and serene environment serves as a sanctuary for many, benefiting their mental well-being. It offers them a peaceful space to relax and work, providing an ideal balance for their lives. “Everyone likes to come out to the farm – it’s peaceful, it’s quiet, and it helps most people with their mental state as well,” Salvatore said.
The team has big plans for Cherry Creek Estate, with aspirations to have 60,000 avocado trees planted by 2030. Beyond the crop yield, the farm embodies the values of mateship, camaraderie, and teamwork that veterans cherish. According to Angelo Leonardi, “You don’t have to put the uniform on to still display the values.”
For Salvatore Leonardi, the civilian member of the team, the farm represents an opportunity to create something valuable to pass on to future generations. “I would like to have something to give to my kids,” he said. In essence, this endeavor reflects the enduring Australian dream – a legacy built on hard work and shared values.
Rewilding in the United Kingdom: Boosting Wildlife and Community Engagement
In the United Kingdom, a remarkable conservation effort is underway, known as rewilding. Rewilding involves restoring natural habitats and ecosystems to support wildlife and enrich the environment. This approach has not only helped endangered species like the dormice but also created a positive impact on humans and their communities.
This success story extends to various other creatures such as birds, dormice, and butterflies, all of which are experiencing population improvements.
The UK is home to many endangered species, with one in six facing the threat of extinction. Fortunately, the country is witnessing a surge in local wildlife restoration projects. Last year, 3.22% of UK land was well protected and managed to preserve its rich biodiversity.
One noteworthy project, “Back on the Map,” located in the picturesque Lake District, has played a significant role in restoring natural habitats. This project has led to the breeding of 69 rodents, including many juvenile dormice. Dormice, small and endearing rodents, are crucial for maintaining the ecological balance.
A heartwarming success story has unfolded along the coast, where the population of small blue butterflies has increased. What makes this project unique is the involvement of local primary school students who released these delicate creatures back into their natural habitat, inspiring the next generation of wildlife enthusiasts.
Rewilding projects are continually gaining momentum throughout the UK. These projects typically involve activities like tree planting, sowing wildflowers, and releasing animals into their natural habitats. The results are a testament to the effectiveness of rewilding efforts, with wildlife populations thriving and ecosystems on the path to recovery.
As we face the pressing issue of one in six species being at risk of extinction, rewilding projects offer a glimmer of hope. By restoring natural habitats and actively engaging communities, they contribute to the protection of endangered species and the overall enhancement of the environment.
Across the United Kingdom, rewilding is becoming an increasingly vibrant trend, offering hope for a more diverse and sustainable natural landscape in the years to come.
California’s New Program Offers In-State Tuition to Mexican Residents Near the Border
In a move to strengthen ties and promote educational opportunities, California has introduced a groundbreaking pilot program allowing low-income Mexican residents living close to the border to benefit from in-state community college tuition rates. Governor Newsom signed a law, opening doors for eligible individuals residing within 45 miles of the border, sparking hope for increased diversity and a more skilled workforce.
Starting next year and extending until 2029, this pilot initiative aims to tap into an untapped resource by providing affordable education to a population often faced with barriers. Assembly member David Alvarez, the mind behind the proposal, highlighted the program’s potential to unlock significant opportunities for a more diverse workforce. “This pilot program can unlock a significant untapped resource to prepare a more diverse population among our workforce,” Alvarez stated.
At a Senate Education Committee hearing in June, Alvarez further emphasized the necessity of reaching out to this specific demographic. The proposed program acknowledges the challenges faced by low-income Mexican residents residing near the California-Mexico border, providing them with access to affordable higher education.
Mark Sanchez, the president of Southwestern College in Chula Vista, a city situated just 7 miles from the border, underscored the importance of the pilot program. Many students in the region currently navigate their education between the United States and Mexico, facing hurdles that the new initiative aims to address.
“Without this pilot, we risk everything in terms of loss of talent,” Sanchez warned during the hearing, highlighting the potential consequences of not implementing measures to support students in this unique position. The program stands as a bridge, connecting educational opportunities on both sides of the border, fostering a more inclusive and skilled workforce.
By making in-state tuition rates accessible to low-income Mexican residents in the specified border region, California is taking a step towards breaking down barriers and promoting equal educational opportunities. As the pilot program unfolds, it has the potential not only to enhance the lives of those directly impacted but also to contribute to the overall diversity and strength of California’s workforce in the years to come.
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