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Friday, December 17, 2010

Holiday Shopping Made Easy at the Tiger's Paw Gift Shop

Written by Ashley Stalvig

From African fair-trade to locally handmade, the Tiger’s Paw Gift Shop in the Lake Superior Zoo seems to stock it all! The shelves are full of stuffed animals, racks are filled with books, and the walls are a collection of clothing, games, and unique items rarely found in Duluth stores.
Many of the items in the Tiger’s Paw Gift Shop not only look great, but carry a great message or story. Here are just a few examples:

The Snow Leopard Trust items are made by communities in Central Asia. By making and selling camel and sheep wool items (hats, coasters, napkins, toys) these communities have improved quality of life and increased income which leads to less snow leopard hunting and poaching.

ef*Ivory (elephant friendly ivory) carvings make wonderful gifts and protect not only elephants but rainforests as well. The nuts from tagua palm trees of South America are gently hand-harvested, then carved by people in the community and sold in place of ivory trinkets. The harvest brings value to the forests to help eliminate slash and burn tactics used by farmers, the sales increase community income, and the exchange of renewable nuts for ivory tusks keeps elephants safe from ivory hunters’ slaughter.

Two companies, Accents for Today and The Leakey Collection, offer fair-trade jewelry that is handmade from renewable resources. Beautifully carved stones from Zimbabwe’s Shona people make graceful necklaces that bring prosperity to an impoverished land. The fallen African hardwood and Zulu grasses used to make beads are beautifully crafted into unique jewelry that helps to employ women across Africa.

Every day in Ghana 270 tons of plastic waste is created. Most of this is from non-biodegradable bags containing purified water. Global Mamas is a fair trade organization that assists women-owned businesses in helping to relieve some of that waste from the trash. The plastic bags are reused to create goods (purses, wallets, bags). Proceeds go to the producers and programs that help them with their business development.

Looking for something more local? Check out the beautiful ceramic candles made by local artist Paula Maki. Paula has battled much adversity in her life and channeled her difficulties into her artistic abilities. Her soy candles, in hand-crafted holders, feature hand-carved animal images and can be reused time and time again.

Our animals create the most unique items in our store. If you’ve ever wondered how big a grizzly’s paw is, come and check out our “Critter Creations”- animal paw prints on canvas, or in the case of some of our more “slithery” residents- skin on canvas! Each comes with a photo of the animals whose personal print is on the canvas.

Green Science makes several at-home science projects for kids, all of which carry a green message. From using recycled materials to creating reusable energy, every child is faced with real science questions and earth friendly ways to solve them.

Don’t forget to check out the wish tree as well. Choose an animal tag off the tree that specifies a gift one of the animals at the zoo wants for the holidays (rawhides for lions, Kong toys for the fox, salmon for Berlin…), purchase the item(s), and bring them back to put under the tree. It’s a great family activity that can easily become a new tradition.

So, for your last minute holiday shopping, make sure you stop by the Tiger’s Paw Gift Shop whether you’re buying gifts for family and friends, unique stocking stuffers, sweet somethings for yourself or you’re treating a fuzzy critter!

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posted by Keely Johnson at

Friday, December 10, 2010

Happy 21st Birthday Berlin!
(Now what the heck is up with this climate change thing?)

Written by: Peter Pruett, Curator

There is a great and acrimonious debate presently being fought by two opposing sides of climate change thought camps. The sticking point is whether or not our climate is changing and if it is a result of human actions, specifically greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases make it very difficult for energy originating from the sun to reflect off the earth back into space, it is trapped resulting in warmer temperatures. Another point of contention is if climate change is true or false. True or false should never be part of any discussion on climate change. Science by its nature is skeptical and is all about data supporting or not supporting and finding trends.

Polar bears are entwined with climate change because their life history is directly tied to ice sheets and ice sheets are affected by climate change. There are 19 subpopulations of polar bears worldwide. Of those 19, three subpopulations are either stable or increasing, eight are declining and for seven there is insufficient data. Data supports the trend that polar bear populations are declining. The seven populations with insufficient data at this point must be ignored. To understand why polar bears are declining let’s look at over 20 years of data for the western Hudson Bay population collected by the tireless research of biologists Ian Stirling, Andrew Derocher and others.

Evidence suggests that the warming of the arctic is well underway. Ice sheets on Hudson Bay are forming later in the year, are smaller, thinner, break apart and melt earlier in spring. Polar bears rely on ringed and bearded seals, found only on ice sheets, as their primary diet and energy source. For the last three decades polar bears are spending an extra week per decade on the shore. That means polar bears are now off the ice for at least three extra weeks per year.

Trends show that polar bear body condition has been steadily declining in the last few decades. The bears have been losing approximately 20 pounds a decade; females have lost 10% of their body length and their percent of body fat has decreased. Females come off the ice to den and give birth. Due to low body condition and not enough fat reserves, females either give birth to smaller cubs or abort their attempt at birthing. The loss of sea ice also affects sub-adult bears. They are still actively growing and any interruption or loss of vital food sources result in poor health and potential death. As a result populations are declining. These same trends are now being seen in the Southern Beaufort Sea in northern Canada and Alaska.

Barring any unusually drastic or prolonged warming event, if trends continue the western Hudson Bay population will die out in 25-30 years. The population could die out in less than 10 years if temperatures rise 1-2 degrees with an additional loss of 2 weeks of ice. Once the polar bear is removed from the western Hudson Bay area drastic ecological changes could occur. Polar bears are apex predators, top of the food chain, and their loss means smaller predators fill in the gap.

Biologists are beginning to see the importance of apex predators. Wolves suppress coyote populations which results in decreased fawn mortality for pronghorn antelope. The loss of sharks in the Atlantic Ocean resulted in the rapid growth of cownose ray populations which then crashed the bay scallop populations. Removing raccoons along the Gulf shore line caused an increase in ghost crabs resulting in over predation of sea turtle eggs.

The unknown is how the loss of polar bears will affect the Hudson Bay region. Will seals fill the role of apex predator and how will they affect fish within the bay? If fish populations decrease, will that mean rapid growth of vegetation that could result in a change of water quality? What happens if seals face similar problems and eventually die out? What will take their place? If a predator doesn’t fill the role how will that change the ecosystem? As you can see, there are many questions without answers.

The only question we need to answer is this: are we willing to find out?

Authors note: There’s an abundance of information available as to whether data supports or does not support climate change. Please take the time to research information that is clearly cited, documented and labeled. Being well informed with the best data is the only way that any change can take place.

There are also many views of humankind’s role with the living environment; one such view is that we are stewards of our world. Stewards by definition are managers of property or the affairs of others. Our world is not property and we are not managers. We are members of the living community and as with all communities we should be good neighbors.

Educate yourself, be a good neighbor and watch life bloom. Happy Birthday Berlin!

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posted by Keely Johnson at

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