The yellow-naped parrots we are trying to save, and who save us with their beauty

South Coast, Guatemala  

 I just finished the first week of traveling through the South Coast of Guatemala to  visit fincas (ranches/farms) that have yellow-naped amazons, and where there is a possibility to protect them. One Earth Conservation has been  doing this for a couple of years, adding more "hot spots" each year.  We have a little bit more money for the coming year, and I also believe that we have got to get serious about helping others protect this bird.  On my last "gira" (trip) one of my colleagues who lives here said if it meant giving his life, that would be fine (not that we plan on it).  But this is the level of intensity that fuels the commitment to grow this project. It also reveals that if you choose your strategy to disrupt the system, there can be backlash, especially in Latin America

   One could choose methods that mean going to "war" with the poachers and hunters that are draining the land of the wildlife here.  The poaching of the yellow-naped was nearly 100% in our study area in the 1990s, and I'm guessing it's the same now, if not worse over much of Guatemala.  However I don't believe meeting violence with more violence and judgment is the way to go. Yes we need the governmental agencies to enforce the laws, and probably arrest and fine a number of poachers to get them to back off. The long term effort though comes through relationships, education, awareness, study, and local community involvement and expectations. In short, you have to love the heck out of the world and model a story of interdependence, beauty, and worth.  We have to lose the loops in our minds that say otherwise.  

   Still I find it hard to do so when it feels like getting kicked in the gut when one hears of, or witnesses, the suffering of people and parrots here, especially the typically high poaching rates. This is what we heard from the first two fincas we visited last week. One cowboy knew where all the nests were on his large finca which was about 120. He told us they were all poached. The parrots lay their eggs "para gusto" (for nothing) as the poachers come and take the eggs and very young chicks every year.

Christina, Miguel the cowboy, and Andrea

  The last finca we visited had a different story. We have been working with El Patrocinio, a private reserve, for a couple of years, and one of the workers (and sometime guide) took it upon himself to listen to us and decided to monitor the nests on the finca. This is the only place in Guatemala that I know of where some one is monitoring yellow-naped nests at this point. Our goal is to have more places do this, and for that aim, we are hiring a project manager (biology student) to coordinate getting that done during the breeding season of January - May.  She and another student accompanied me on this trip.

Andrea, Christina, and Paulino, our guide

   This finca that is monitoring nests may also be one of the few places that can actually protect their nests from poaching.  The guide personally saw 4 nests fledge this year.  Three of these nests are part of a group of 3 nests very close together in towering Volador trees. There aren't many trees of that size, as they were cut down for crops. These Volador trees themselves are in among row after row of coffee plants, which we wove through to examine the nests.  

Towering volador tree that is also a nest
 for yellow-naped amazons and laughing falcons

  While we were there, the volcano Santaguito erupted, and shortly there after 3 pairs of yellow napes came into the Volador trees, possibly the parents of the successful nests last year.  The booming volcano set the rhythm behind the yellow-nape calls, telling us of beauty and power, the possibility in us, and in this land.

Santaguito erupting

   This finca's owner believes that it is possible to save the parrot, and that things are changing in Guatemala. They did after all just elect a comic as a President - Jimmy Morales.  I'm with him, that it can be done.  It will take commitment, clarity, organization, and specific requests of others to live in the story of beauty and worth.

    Shall we do so?

Nurturing Nature Through Wonder: Part 4


Wonder is in "wow" moments in nature, is in the ordinary, and is also in the human species. If we could tap into wonder of the miracle of our own existence, not just in babies and the geniuses, what might our lives look like to see beauty in all the faces around us all the time?  When considering other humans we ask:

            How are we here at all?
            What are we thinking and feeling? 
            How can we build bridges and go into 
            Why is it that we can be kind given all the 
            challenges of life?

            From my experience as a minister and conservationist, one of the biggest spiritual challenges I see for us is to see wonder in our own kind. We need to leave behind the sense of being bored, or blaming others, which is often summed with a dismissive and eye rolling expression of, Dude!

            Instead we move to a softer and more grateful expression of  Dude! 
            Say it with me please and then look at those around you.  DUDE! 

            Those around you are also you,-their wonder and beauty is yours, as is the whole worlds.  We need to own how awesome is our thinking, feeling, actions, and presence in the world.  If we do not wonder at ourselves, we shut down the possibility to marvel and connect with all of life. This takes practice. So let us practice now with me. Repeat after me, I'm good!  I'M GOOD!

            Now, let's put it all together what we learned in this four part series on nurturing nature through wonder.  Please repeat after me.

            WOW. REALLY? DUDE I'M GOOD!

            It's in our nature to wonder, and to nurture nature, ours, theirs, the earth's.   Let us do it for ourselves and for all life.

Nurturing Nature Through Wonder: Part 3

There are hundreds of ways to nurture nature, and let me suggest the first two of four.
            The first area is to wonder out in nature.  These are wow experiences.  I was leading a
(photo by Brocken Inaglory)
multigenerational bird tour once in New Mexico with one of our congregations there, and the children were out of their daily routine, and were perhaps a bit hesitant, especially Billie. His mother had a cocaine habit, and he was born addicted to cocaine and had issues with connecting and resonating with others.. We had come across a field full or snow geese, bright white in the sun. Suddenly they all took to the air, their wings vibrating in the very depths of our body and ancestral knowing. The children transformed, they came alive, were pure joy and connection, especially Billie who jumped, danced, cried out, and ran to his grandparents to be close to them, to be held, to connect, and to share in that wonder together.
            Nature is full of unexpected and surprising events that we cannot foresee, and this is good for us.  James Austin, a neurologist, encourages us to have nature experiences because they help integrate our neurological processing and contribute to mindfulness and living in the present moment with attention and gratitude. He particularly suggests looking up, and gives many examples of how this can wire us for presence, including an event that happened to me years ago.
        I was out walking in Guatemala studying parrot nests, and my guide was a local Guatemalan. We weren't seeing many birds and so we began to talk.  He wanted to tell me of his love of Jesus and Mary, and I put up my guard a little bit, unsure if he was proselytizing me or expecting something from me I could not give.  I was disconnecting and distancing myself from him mentally, when we came up to the forest's edge where the sun was just rising over the tree tops in a shroud of misty fog. Suddenly a loud flock of parrots burst forth from the tree canopy. Before I knew what happened, I was on my knees in the grass, weeping. I had been so startled with awe and beauty, I just fell. Afterwards I was a little embarrassed, but more than anything I had a sudden clarity and connection to humanity and the world. I knew that when people said words like Mary and Jesus, it was like when I said birds and trees. That experience was part of moving towards things spiritual, towards beauty, towards service, and towards an ease around religious differences, for I saw the wonder moving beneath it all.
(photo by Eric Kilby)
            Dr. Austin says my experiences were not usual.  Indeed in another study the researchers asked students to gaze up at trees, a task known to evoke awe.  The other half turned their back to the trees.  Afterwards they approached each group of students with a questionnaire and pretended to trip and drop  pens on the ground. The awe group picked up 10% more pens, and felt less entitlement to payment for their participation in the study.
            So looking up is good for us, whether it is trees, birds, planets, of which you can now see four  just before sunrise, or stars, with the summer triangle still present which encompasses the double star o Episolon Lyrae.  Let's take a moment to look up at trees, shall we?  Wonder in nature  are wow experiences. Like other emotions, having facial expressions of it and even acting it out, helps evoke it.  Would you say it with me now?  WOW!
            Nature isn't just out there, it's everywhere, and it's in us. How do we wonder at the ordinary, and move towards the banal and boring? The uncomfortable even?  It's one thing to wonder at the rainbow of colors in our trees this time of year, but how do we do it when the leaves are brown and gone?  Where is the wonder on the train ride into the city or in the subway while reading headlines of disaster and death?  Can't there has to be something more to wonder at than the last audacious thing that crazy politician said. Really? It takes practice to cultivate wonder in the daily things, so our wonder isn't a really response, but a more gentle really response. Say it with me, would you?  REALLY?!
            To grow wonder, slow down and ask this of ordinary, or routine objects in your day. How did that get to be here?  Why is it here? If it is alive, what is it doing and thinking?  How is it connected to me and the web of life? Really!?
     Pick something in this room that is boring. I hope you are not looking at me. Maybe pick the wood in your house.  How did it get to be here? Woody trees only evolved in the late Devonian period about 360 million years ago. The appearance of trees and forests were one of the triggers for the two major extinction events in the Devonian when over 50% of the world's genera went extinct.  Today there are 3 trillion trees, 400 for every human. There are more of them than us, and they caused terrible drastic climate change and extinction.  We're not so bad, really?!

            This leads us to the 3rd of nurturing nature - seeing wonder in our own kind, which we will take up in the last segment of this series on nurturing wonder. 

Nurturing Nature Through Wonder: Part 2

        We may never know for sure the origin and need for wonder in the human species, but we do know that it comes from a long way back.  Jane Goodall was observing her chimpanzees in Gombe when she noticed a male chimp gesturing excitedly at a beautiful waterfall. He perched on a nearby rock and gaped at the flowing torrents of water for a good 10 minutes.  Goodall and her team saw such responses on several occasions. She concluded that chimps have a sense of wonder, even speculating about a nascent form of spirituality in our simian cousins.

            Wonder helps us connect 
with that which is good.  Wonder, like other emotions, evolved as a motivator to help us move towards satisfaction or benefit, and away from discomfort or harm.      It balances with the other emotions.  The classic example is of a bear, at least classic for those of us who lived in Alaska where all life can be distilled down to bear stories or metaphors.   Wonder draws us to the woods in hopes of seeing a bear, and fear keeps our distance. Too much fear and we never go out, too much wonder and we are lunch. Wonder tempered with all our other emotional tools asks us to take a middle way - to get out and take some risks, but not overly so.

            With wonder open, we connect, and life's possibilities open before us.  Wonder helps us engage with the world to live in ways that integrate the reality that beauty is ever present. It also helps us face the also true, but harsher reality of harm, illness, death, disappointment, and massive suffering. Without wonder, we risk closing off to life, living more shallow lives, less intimacy and vibrancy. 

            One study showed how wonder opens us up.  In the study, they took teenagers rafting. A
week later they report being more engaged and curious about the world.      Wonder also  lifts depression, and in one study showed people to have less inflammation as measured in saliva.  It helps our prosocial behaviors - we become more empathetic, humble, and generous.  When we have more empathy, others resonate with us better and we have improved relationships.  Our self identity moves from a separate self to being part of a whole, or the whole itself.  By merely writing about awe, we become kinder, more compassionate, and this can extend to other species and the biotic community as a whole.

            I lead Nurture Nature workshops and retreats where we look out how we have choice in moving towards that which is good for us and others.  How can we nurture human nature so that we can nurture all of nature, I believe an important question in this time of climate change, loss of biodiversity, extinction, and factory farming.  Two primary aspects of human nature we nurture is wonder and its partner, empathy.  There are many ways to nurture wonder, as Rumi wrote:  "Let the beauty we are be what we do, there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground."

            In Part 3 I will describe the first of four ways to  nurture our wonder.

Nurturing Nature Through Wonder: Part 1

            What is wondrous in your life and life around you? To answer this, you might wonder what is wonder?  Wonder is a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. This happened to me one day when I was  visiting Kaieteur Falls in Guyana, a country in South America.  The falls are the world's widest single drop waterfall, located on the Potaro River in the Amazon Forest.  The falls were spectacular: the roar, the mist, the grandeur.

     Then I heard a large parrot call, and a pair of Red and Green Macaws flew out of the mist, as if the water had conjured them, and they flew right by us. After a short time, the birds returned, flying towards the fall, like they were going to enter the cascade, but instead, turned into the cliff face where they had a nest.  I stood mesmerized, knowing I had seen one of the greatest wonders in the world, the colors of the parrots merging with the colors of the rainbows in the cascade thundering behind us.  


     Wonders also happen all around us, hundreds of them available to us in one week. People report having three awe experiences a week.  How many do you have on average?  Think back on this week.  How many times did you drop your jaw or open your eyes in amazement?

            Do you wish you had more wonder?  Whatever you answer, there are reasons to cultivate more wonder.  It's good for us!  To understand why we would want more wonder, and how to experience it, check back next week as I continue on the theme of wonder.


Multispecies Empathy: Practice with a Gopher Tortoise

This week's practice is multispecies empathy to grow our multispecies intelligence.  Here is a video highlighting that practice with a gopher tortoise in Florida, USA.

Multispecies Empathy: Journal Practice

Last week I spoke of the importance and theory behind multispecies empathy. This week I offer a practice that can develop your general sense of empathy, and especially that towards other species.

You can do this as a longer journal exercise that incorporates introspection and science, or by simply going to the imagination step #5. You can do this as an individual or with others.

The Practice

1.  Think of an individual with whom you have a relationship. Write here what you know of the being. What is the species? Individual name? Gender? Age? Life stage (growing, juvenile, parent, etc). Health status? If you can't think of an individual, choose a species you would like to get to know better or understand.

2. Observe them over a period of time and write what you see them do. Explain what you see as if you were a reporter with as little judgment or human projection as possible. In other words, don’t try to interpret the behavior at this point. It may be easier to choose just a short period of time or one behavior for this exercise, although you might find it useful for your relationship to journal at some point about all behaviors you encounter.

3.  Now guess what you imagine they are thinking and feeling. List your guesses here.

4.  To help you understand what you observed, do some research on the species regarding behavior, communication, feelings, and thoughts. You may find it difficult to find information about emotions and thinking in nonhuman species. Did you discover any new feelings or thoughts that occurred in the individual?

What is this plush-crested jay thinking and feeling?

 5.  Now imagine that you are the animal. Get into their paws, scales, fur, or feathers for about 15 minutes. Pick an animal that is in your yard or along a walk or a hike. You can also watch a video or nature documentary. You become them and now are doing what you have observed them doing. As this animal, what are you thinking and feeling? For these 15 minutes, just be them without analyzing too much why they do what they do. After you are done, ask yourself if you discovered anything new by pretending to be the animal? Share what you learned with another person and also invite them into this journal or imagination exercise. 

6.  Now looking over the list of feelings and thoughts, make a list of this individual’s needs. Try to be as complete as possible as you go through the behaviors observed or if you have the time, a normal day as this individual. How might these needs be different from another individual of the same species, or from the average needs of this species?

7.  What feelings and needs arise in you when you consider the feelings and needs of this individual?

8.  What have you discovered about this individual, this species, yourself, or life through this exercise? If you have discovered anything, what needs of yours or the individual does what you have learned meet, or not meet?

9.  Go back and spend time connecting to the energy of the other being by reviewing their feelings and needs, and then do the same with yourself. Allow this to be a time of being and connecting to life, without thought of requests or demands. 

10. Then consider possible actions or steps you might do, or ask of others, based on this multispecies empathy exercise.

11. Share what you have learned or experienced with others and invite them into the exercise.

Please let me know how this exercise was for you, and if you have any suggestions or creative idea on how to use it.

In hope for all beings,

LoraKim Joyner

Multispecies Empathy: Introduction

It's not all bad news out there for all the multiple species here on earth. For instance, there is decreasing violence in the world, so says Steven Pinker in the book, The Better Angels of Our Nature. One of the main reasons he cites is empathy. Empathy functions to help humans see each other's inherent worth and dignity, and then to enact society practices, expectations, and laws that curb our biological propensities. Just because we can, doesn't mean we do.

Is it possible that we can grow empathy for other species? Yes!  Steven Pinker cites multiple examples of how violence towards other animals has decreased in the last 100-200 years, including laws and policies reducing animal cruelty, dog and rooster fighting, animal experimentation, and whale hunting along with the rise of vegetarianism. We still have much further go in regards to the loss of biodiversity, extinction, the wildlife trade, and the suffering of animals held in CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). Earth and her beings call out to us to increase our empathy for others, which we can do intentionally and encourage others to do so as well.

 A study a few years suggests how we might go about this.* In the study, one group of students were asked to imagine what a bird was feeling for 15 minutes. The control group was given no directions. Those who pretended they were the bird showed increased levels of empathy and a stronger perceived obligation to help nature.

What is this bird feeling?

Putting yourself into the shoes, fins, wings, hoofs, paws, claws, or talons of another is a powerful exercise which doesn't take a lot of time. You can also do it anywhere as life is all around us. Such a practice is good for others, but also for ourselves as it is also a mindfulness practice. By being open to the other, we still our inner chatter and come to the present moment. Thus we improve our own health and relationships while also growing our sense of the inherent worth and dignity of others. In turn this grows our individual and collective compassionate action in the world.

Coming next: journal and videos to guide you through multispecies empathy exercises and experiences.

*Berenguer, J. 2007. The effect of empathy in proenvironmental attitudes and behaviors. Environment and Behavior 39,269-283.

Highlighting the Valiant Efforts of One People

Parenting the parrots of our shared world - thank you Tomás Manzanares!
Tomás, now recovered from his wounds, takes care of his people and parrots.

In 2010, a leader of indigenous people, Tomás, nearly died for his dedication to the land and animals of La Moskitia,  Honduras.  Tired of the ongoing loss his people experienced, he reported the names of the robbers who had come to his land for illegal logging, ranching, and parrot poaching. The authorities stood idle, but not the nefarious elements that had been threatening his people. They waited for him one day down at the river and shot him 4 times.  While he was fighting for his life, the villagers fled for their lives, for some had their homes burned and others received death threats.   Just 5 months later, Tomás, returned to his ancestral lands with me and others to see about helping the Miskito people with their desire to protect their endangered scarlet macaw.  Armed soldiers had to accompany us to the nearly deserted village, for the danger was still present for Tomás and for us as well.

Tomas showing me the scars of his 4 bullet wounds
Tomas showing me the scars of his 4 bullet wounds down at the river

Down at the river with parrots flying over, Tomás showed me his scars and recovering wounds. I asked him why he was willing to risk his life to return to help his parrots and he said, “Doctora, everything is at risk, and I’m willing to risk everything. If the birds don’t make it, neither do my people.”  Ever since that day, he and his people have been taking a stand, taking risks to keep their sustainable way of life intact and these rainbow birds flying free.

Parrot Patrols to Protect Macaws
Parrot Patrols to protect macaws

They now have “parrot patrols” to protect the nests, and take in confiscated parrots from the military and forestry department. They have volunteered this since 2010 with very little help in terms of resources or training. They have had to decide when to feed the birds, and when to feed themselves.  Yet they continue to care for the birds, isolated to face the challenges on their own.

Oneida caring for liberated flock (May 2014)
Oneida caring for liberated flock (May 2014)

No longer!

Joyful signing of the  Act to commission the Rescue and Liberation Center of Mabita, Honduras (Wesley, Santiago, Oneida, Hector, and me)
Joyful signing of the Act to commission the Rescue and Liberation Center of Mabita, Honduras (Wesley, Santiago, Oneida, Hector, and me)

This year in May of 2015 I signed an Act to form the Rescue and Liberation center of Mabita with Oneida and Santiago. We did this because the situation is desperate and the government and villagers must have a place to take care of confiscated birds so that they can be liberated in the future.  They agreed to take care of all birds that came to them, and One Earth Conservation would in turn pay them a salary and cover all costs for food and supplies. We also need to build a release cage.  One Earth did this even though it was not in our budget to do so, and we do not have any guarantee that income will be forth coming. But we could wait no longer – it had to be done.  And in fact, 9 chicks have come to the village in the last month for them to care for.  I know they can do it, because they have never lost a fledgling.  They even saved Rosa, who came to them as a chick with two broken wings and legs, likely damaged when forcibly removed from the nest. She nearly died, but is alive today, wobbly for sure but able to take short flights.  She has a chance to live longer and well thanks to Oneida and Santiago.

Villagers coming together to care for recent influx of rescued parrots from poachers (Mabita, Honduras)
Villagers coming together to care for recent influx of rescued parrots from poachers (Mabita, Honduras)

Won’t you please help them help the parrots? Our goal is seek donations for one year until we can build a sustainable model to support the center.  For this to happen we only need $3000 for salary and food, and then another $1500 to build a release cage.  Every $100 will pay for food for one month, or for one month’s salary to compensate Santiago and Oneida.  Please contribute today so we can reach our goal, and begin plans to spread the influence of this rescue center throughout the region. We do this so that in the only remaining place in Honduras where the National Bird survives, La Moskitia, the people and parrots can flourish.  With your support and solidarity, we help the Miskitos save themselves, and save the parrots.

Joyful liberated scarlet macaws (Mabita, Honduras)
Joyful liberated scarlet macaws (Mabita, Honduras)

To find out more about the project and to watch a short documentary, go here.
To donate, please go here to contribute to our crowdfunding campaign.

Thanks for belonging to this community of solidarity, courage, and hope, so that the days of these people and parrots may be long upon this earth.


Liberated scarlet macaws in Mabita Honduras
The rescue and liberation center is taking off!

Parrot Pilgrimage 2015

Great green macaw in Nicaragua

Quite often people ask if they can come with me on my parrot conservation trips. Questioners include veterinary and biology students from all over the world, parrot conservationists and enthusiasts, and those seeking a meaningful or spiritual experience. I long to share this world of beauty and wonder with others, but it is rare that anyone journeys with me because most of the places are difficult and uncomfortable, and the schedules are nearly always tentative and last minute. Such is the way of conservation in Latin America, especially Central America.  It is all at once awesome, boring, life changing, and challenging, rocking one's core with the intimate reality of the lives of parrots and people in these lands.
Research station where we will stay in the Solentiname Archipelago
Research station where we will stay in the Solentiname Archipelago

Does this sound alluring to you?  If so, then consider joining me on a conservation trip to Nicaragua, April 11-19.  Thanks to the hosts, Fundación de Rio in Nicaragua, I finally have a chance to have others journey with me.  Together we will visit their macaw conservation communities, observe wild macaw nests, conduct yellow-naped amazon parrot counts, learn about the local culture and history, and reflect daily upon what we have experienced and learned.  Every day not only will we learn about and contribute to conservation; we will delve into the human dimensions of conservation.  We will emphasize how conservationists understand human nature so that they and others can nourish themselves, in order that that they can nurture nature around them.  Though we are highlighting avian conservation, the principles and experiences we will share have merit for activists from many disciplines.
El Castillo where we will be staying in Rio San Juan, Nicaragua
El Castillo where we will be staying in Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

A recent article in the New York Times, The New Allure of Sacred Pilgrimages, reported:
At its core, (a pilgrimage is) a gesture of action. In a world in which more and more things are artificial and ephemeral, a sacred journey gives the pilgrim the chance to experience something both physical and real. And it provides seekers with an opportunity they may never have had: to confront their doubts and decide for themselves what they really believe, (and who they are and what meaning life has for them). As appealing as that destination may be, there’s only one way to achieve it. Get up off your sofa and go.

If you would like more information, or are interested in attending, contact me soon so that we a can see if this trip is a good fit for you, and so that arrangements can be made. A brochure here describes the journey in more detail.  You can contact me here.

If you physically cannot attend this trip, or any other trip, but would like to go on a "virtual" journey using webinar and video technology, let me know so that I can let you know when these opportunities arise.

Whatever you decide, by participating you support the people and the parrots directly by witnessing, standing in solidarity, sharing their stories, and offering your financial resources as you participate in avitourism.

It's a great thing to do!

Shall we make a go of it by going together?
Sunset on the San Juan Rio as we arrive at El Castillo
Sunset on the San Juan Rio as we arrive at El Castillo