As my husband and I were driving at night through a rural area in North Florida, he remarked, “It’s a different kind of dark out here.” I’ve often thought the same when we were in this area.


It’s a wonderful feeling to experience almost total darkness at night, but it is becoming increasingly hard to do. Our neighborhood is relatively dark and woodsy, but it is not the same kind of dark we experienced on this trip and others. I’d often heard the term light pollution and certainly complain of it — one neighbor’s light across the woods from us beams into our bedroom in the winter when the trees are bare, and my understanding husband kindly listens to my complaints.

Light pollution is a very real and very concerning problem for our earth and affects every inhabitant and our environment. Defined as inappropriate or excessive use of artificial light, light pollution can have serious environmental consequences for humans, wildlife and our climate. Light pollution can take many forms, including glare, or excessive brightness; sky glow, which drowns out the night sky over urban areas; light trespass, or stray light falling where it is not needed; and clutter, or confusing groups of bright light sources.


According to darksky.org, a leading authority on light pollution, most outdoor lighting used at night is inefficient, overly bright, poorly targeted, improperly shielded and in many cases, completely unnecessary. This light, and the electricity used to create it, is being wasted by spilling it into the sky, rather than focusing it onto the actual objects and areas that people want illuminated. Light pollution is a side effect of industrial civilization. Its sources include building exterior and interior lighting, advertising, commercial properties, offices, factories, streetlights, and illuminated sporting venues. 


For billions of years, life on Earth existed in a rhythm of light and dark that was created solely by the illumination of the sun, moon and stars. Now artificial lights overpower darkness, and our cities glow at night, disrupting the natural day-night pattern and altering the delicate balance of our environment. The negative effects created by the loss of this natural resource might seem unrelatable, but a growing body of evidence links the brightening night sky directly to measurable negative impacts, including: increasing energy consumption; disrupting the ecosystem and wildlife; harming human health; affecting crime and safety.


The light bulb is arguably the most significant invention in our world, but as National Geographic explains, “If light bulbs have a dark side, it’s that they have stolen the night. The excess light we dump into our environments is endangering ecosystems by harming animals whose life cycles depend on dark. We’re endangering ourselves by altering the biochemical rhythms that normally ebb and flow with natural light levels. And in a primal sense, we’ve lost our connection to nighttime skies, the tapestries into which our ancestors wove their star-studded stories, timed the planning and harvesting of cro[s. And deduced the physical laws governing the cosmos.”


Certainly, the need to illuminate everything all the time is a product of our fast-paced and bulging lifestyles. As we all know, we should slow down and, in this case, enjoy the darkness of the sky above our heads and the stillness and restorative effect it provides each day. Farmers did it best — wake to the sun and slow down and rest when it gets dark. 

Near bright cities like Las Vegas, traces of artificial light pollution in the sky directly overhead persist from the city center out to over 40 miles away!streetlights are intended to illuminate the street below, but their light is poorly directed, causing undesirable brightness and increasing light pollution.


According to National Geographic, in 2016, scientists estimated that 99 percent of the continental United States and Europe experience some amount of light pollution. Based on observations from the Suomi NPP satellite, a third of humankind cannot see the Milky Way, including nearly 80 percent of North Americans. A team of researchers conducted a study over four years and determined the Earth’s artificially illuminated area had grown by 2.2 percent per year, a rate that does not appear to be slowing. 


The adverse effects of light pollution extends well beyond astronomy, according to darkskiesawareness.org, the new research suggests that light at night may interfere with normal circadian rhythms — the 24-hour cycle of day and night that humans have used to maintain health and regulate their activities for thousands of years. Light trespass, occurring when streetlights or a neighbor’s security light directs unwanted lighting onto our property or into our homes, contributes to a loss of natural darkness. 


Wildlife, too, is harmed by the unnecessary brightening of the night. From newly-hatched sea turtles to migrating birds, fish, frogs, salamanders, and lightning bugs, artificial night lighting disrupts the cycles of nocturnal creatures in potentially devastating ways. While research is still ongoing, it is becoming apparent that both bright days and dark nights are necessary to maintain healthy hormone productions, cell function, and brain activity, as well as normal feeding, mating, and migratory behavior for many species, including humans. 


Time.org states, “Nature is paying a price. One 2017 study found that artificial lighting near waterways draws insects up from the water surface and toward the lighting source, disrupting food chains and weakening the local ecosystem. Another study this year found and equally direct cause and effect between increased lighting over beach areas and a dramatic decline in sea turtle populations, as the hatchlings are lured away from the water and toward the light, where they are snapped up by predators. Migrating birds, which navigate partly by light from the moon and the stars, can be thrown off course when light pollution washes out of the sky. Vegetation is affected, too. A 2016 study showed that trees are increasingly blooming out of season, as lighting coaxes their buds to burst too soon, leaving them vulnerable to damage by cold temperatures before the true onset of spring. That could affect fruit orchards and crops, as well. Not to mention, the disruption to insects’ cycles can affect pollination.


Finally, of course, there is the effect on us. The American Medical Association warns that nighttime lighting, especially the blue-white LED variety, ’is associated with reduced sleep times, dissatisfaction with sleep quality, excessive sleepiness, impaired daytime functioning and obesity.’ Alarmingly, a Harvard study showed that artificial lighting may actually be linked to increased breast cancer rates, probably a result of decreased levels of the hormone melatonin, which affects circadian rhythms.” 


Light pollution wastes money and energy. Billions of dollars are spent on unnecessary lighting every year in the United States alone, with an estimated $1.7 billion going directly into the nighttime sky via unshielded outdoor lights. Wasted lighting in the U.S. releases 38 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually; unshielded outdoor lights are directly responsible for 1.2 million tons of carbon dioxide waste. Simply reducing and removing unnecessary lighting saves money and energy, often at minimal expense. Over-lighting the night neither improves visibility nor increases nighttime safety, utility, security, or ambiance.


Light pollution affects every citizen. Fortunately, concern about light pollution is rising dramatically. A growing number of scientists, homeowners, environmental groups and civic leaders are taking action to restore natural light. The good news is that light pollution is reversible and each one of us can make a difference locally, nationally and internationally.


Just being aware that light pollution is a problem is not enough — you need to take steps to do your part. You can start by minimizing the light from your own home at night. Follow these simple steps: only use lighting when and where it’s needed. If safety is a concern, install motion detector lights and timers. Properly shield all outdoor lights (directing light where it is needed and eliminating light trespass and glare) and educate yourself through research. Mention light pollution to your neighbors, coworkers and even your town government. It’s likely you’ll educate people and possibly encourage your town to pass laws reducing light pollution.


For most of Earth’s history, our spectacular universe of stars and galaxies has been visible in the darkness of the night sky. From our earliest beginnings, the dark sky has inspired questions about our universe and our relation to it. The history of scientific discovery, art, literature, astronomy, navigation, exploration, philosophy and curiosity would be dramatically diminished without our view of the stars and dark sky. Let’s work to restore it. You can only see the stars when it’s dark.

Photo by Nicolas Michot on Unsplash

Posted by Tish Gailmard

The word coyote can invoke a variety of descriptions — frightening, nuisance, beautiful, clever, intelligent, adaptable. And there’s one description in particular that needs to be acknowledged: resident. Many of us have stories of sightings and interactions. I am contacted frequently regarding this neighbor of ours. In order to effectively and peacefully coexist with coyotes, let’s learn some natural history.


In the early 19th century, the coyote was not found east of the Great Plains, and was exclusively a western animal. As a result, Lewis and Clark had never seen one until they got to the middle Missouri River. They wrote they were seeing some new kind of fox, but once they shot one and looked at it up close, they realized this had to be some kind of wolf. They named it a prairie wolf, and for most of the 19th century that’s what the animal was known as in American natural history. Fast-forward to modern day, the reduced number of apex predators including mountain lion, red wolves and gray wolves, permitted the coyote to migrate into all eastern states — making it a resident of the entire US. Distinctively an American species, coyotes are excellent opportunistic predators with a generalist appetite and habitat selection. 


Though they once roamed only the western prairies and deserts, the coyotes we know now live in forests and mountains and adapt to the changing landscape. They have even colonized metropolitan centers like Atlanta, Chicago, and New York City. The coyote evolved with an adaptive, evolutionarily derived strategy for surviving under persecution. 


Coyotes quickly learned to adapt. They evolved alongside larger canids like wolves, who often targeted them and killed their pups. As a result, coyotes developed  fission-fusion adaptation. This means groups can merge (fusion) or split (fission) as they move through the environment, making group composition a dynamic property, and enables them to function as pack predators or as singles and pairs. When they’re persecuted, coyotes tend to abandon the pack strategy and scatter across the landscape in singles and pairs. Early and mid-century poison campaigns thought to be eliminating the coyote actually kept them scattering across North America, increasing fecundity and health. 


Another fascinating and — often unknown — adaptation coyotes have developed is that when their populations are pressured, litter size increases. The normal litter size is five to six pups. It’s possible to reduce the numbers of coyotes in a given area at a given time, but the next summer, after birthing season, the population will return to the original number. This is the main reason lethal control methods are not a viable long-term option. 


Roland Kays, a research associate professor at North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences states, “Unlike mountain lions, wolves and bears that were hunted to near-extinction in state-sponsored predator-control programs, coyotes do not give in easily. Coyotes are the ultimate American survivor. They have endured persecution all over the place. They are sneaky enough. They eat whatever they can find — insects, smaller mammals, garbage. When they move into urban areas, their primary source of mortality in rural areas is now removed and that was people. You might wonder, how can that be removed? That’s because you don’t have hunting and trapping occurring in the cities. The cities actually act as a kind of refuge for coyotes once they get established.”


Kays continues, “Coyotes do not breed like rats, but they could hold their own in a contest. It is an animal that, when threatened, reacts by making more coyotes, becoming stealthier, nearly impossible to find even as their numbers grow. The attitude of game officials in the 1930s was to get rid of the wolves and then deal with coyotes. But you can’t get rid of coyotes, it doesn’t work. The one thing that will reduce coyote numbers is wolves.” 

The red wolf, native to the southeast and currently surviving in very small numbers in one wild release site in northeastern North Carolina, is the perfect enforcer for coyotes. More red wolves on the landscape means competition for coyotes. Red wolves also do not prosper around humans like coyotes do, making them less of a conflict where humans are considered.


Coyote Q&A with Wildlife Director Tish Gailmard

Now that you are more versed about our neighbor, what’s the best way to deal with them?

The Atlanta Coyote Project, is a group of scientists devoted to learning more about metro Atlanta coyotes and striving to be a relevant and credible source of information providing strategies for avoiding human coyote conflict. According to their research, passive management is the key to coexisting peacefully with coyotes. The group lists these measures:

  • Never feed coyotes and always prevent their access to food around your home.

  • Do not leave pet food outside.

  • Make trash cans inaccessible and secure them with tight lids.

  • Control small mammals from feeding in and around bird feeders, which can attract coyotes.

  • Clean and store grills when not in use.

  • Properly dispose of dead animals, including any nearby roadkill.

  • Do not allow pets to roam freely and bring them indoors at night.

  • If pets must be kept outside, consider installing fencing and motion-activated lights to discourage predators.

  • Keep small livestock and poultry in enclosed or sheltered areas.

  • If you see coyotes near your home and feel uneasy about their presence, make loud noises, spray them with a hose, and generally make them feel unwelcome.

  • Never run from a coyote.

What makes a coyote happy?

Like most animals — food, shelter, water and a safe place to reproduce and raise a family!

These adaptable and opportunistic animals will eat almost anything, hunting rabbits, rodents, fish, frogs, and even young deer. They also happily dine on garbage, insects, snakes, fruit, vegetables, and carrion. They have good vision and a strong sense of smell. 


Breeding season is January through March, with pups born 60-63 days later — sometimes daytime activity is increased during breeding season, though coyotes are nocturnal. They increase feeding activity and begin searching for suitable denning sites after breeding season. Coyotes may dig their own den or enlarge another animal’s den. Natural holes, blown down trees or rocky ledges may also be utilized as den locations. After pups are born, both parents and non-breeding adults feed and protect the young and their territory, forming strong family bonds. The young are weaned after 5 to 7 weeks and are able to hunt on their own by the following fall. Young coyotes begin dispersal in October. 

Coyotes communicate through a series of yips, barks and howls. A common call of the coyote is two short barks and a long wavering yodel known as the howl. They use stumps, posts, bushes, or rocks as scent posts on which they urinate and defecate to mark their territory.

“I have coyotes, will you come get them?” 

The Atlanta Coyote Project stresses coyote relocation is not an option.The territorial behavior of coyotes helps explain why trapping and killing is not a good management option. If coyotes are regularly occupying an area (i.e. have established a territory), it means they’ve found a good place to live where their needs are being met. Removal of these resident coyotes creates a vacancy that can eventually be filled by a transient who is in search of its own territory.

Additionally, removal of resident coyotes decreases competition with any remaining coyotes in the area, which means more food is now available. More food enables more pups to survive and the local population grows. A vicious cycle of trapping followed by repopulation sets in motion.

Simply stated: if you don’t want coyotes in your area, remove the things that make them happy.

In the south, we have no apex predators like wolves — with the exception of the small population of red wolves in northeastern North Carolina — to help maintain ecological balance and the coyote has stepped into that role. Without apex predators, trophic cascade can set in motion, which means that dramatic chances in food chain and ecosystem structures alters landscapes, animal populations and the relationships between them. We must remember that every animal serves a purpose, and it’s our job to recognize the purpose and be responsible stewards. Coyotes are an essential part of keeping the balance.

Our relationship with coyotes is directly affected by our behavior — coyotes react to us, and we can foster mutual respect (or lack of respect) through cues we send them. Coyotes are watching and learning from us, and we influence their behavior. It will be our actions that determine what the future holds for our wildlife neighbors.



Posted by Tish Gailmard

In memory of Kane the red wolf

January 28th, 2020

80 lbs of handsome, dominance, confidence and brawn. That was male red wolf 1390, better known as Kane. 


A good looking red wolf with a handsome smile and a notorious history, Kane was known around the red wolf cooperators as one who didn’t play nice with his female companions. In fact, he could be considered a bully. He kept his female companions from eating, while he ate all the food. Most of his companions had to be removed from the habitat and Kane was subsequently transferred to another facility to play his games again. 


Several facilities where he lived had some fond stories to share about his dominant, yet endearing personality. Kim Wheeler, president of the Red Wolf Coalition affectionately remembers Kane’s bold attitude. She recalls a time he stole a camera bag from a biologist who was photographing him and a game of tug o’ war ensued. Kim gave Kane his name. She recalls thinking it just seemed fitting to his strong, confident personality. 


Kane was known to approach his caregivers and one facility recalls him mock charging them. In his younger years, he was fond of female caregivers and was known to run the fence line with them as they walked by. By the time Kane came to Reflection, he had developed a bad boy reputation, but was definitely revered, admired and loved.


I’ll never forget the phone call I got from Red Wolf Species Survival Plan captive coordinator Will Waddell. After hellos and how are yous were exchanged, his somewhat hesitating words were, “so, I’ve got this wolf….” Knowing Will, I knew there was something more to his statement and its content. Will went on to tell me that Kane had been aggressive toward the females he was housed with and came way too close to caregivers. Will knew I had a lone female and I knew she could handle herself, even though she was small. The proper paperwork was completed and we awaited transfer. 


When Kane arrived, we were awed by his size, handsomeness and his laid back attitude toward us. When a red wolf arrives at a new facility, the animal is usually timid, unsure and spends time hiding, but not Kane. We loaded him into our isolation habitat for an acclimation period and he was out investigating, curious and definitely interested in us, even taking a rat from us. He held his head high and was so sure of himself. The defining moment would arrive when he would go into the habitat that his new companion, Mom, lived in. He would be arriving on her turf. Keep in mind, Mom is a small female with a dominant, matriarchal personality. During Kane’s time in isolation, he could smell and see Mom, so he knew quite a bit about her. 


The day came for us to allow Kane into the enclosure with Mom. As Kane left isolation and walked into Mom’s enclosure, we were hopeful and nervous. They both approached a pile of deer meat we had left for them and I remember thinking, this is it, the moment of truth. As Kane went in to take what he wanted, Mom approached him from the backside and promptly bit him in the rear haunch! At that moment, Kane had met his match and we knew this pairing was going to work. Mom continued to keep Kane in check, barking at him, biting him and making him play fairly. As the years went by, there were times Kane would challenge her, but it was never more than a snarl or small charge.


Kane became a wonderful companion to Mom and an excellent exhibit animal. He was readily visible for guests, he howled often and loudly and was a magnificently beautiful animal.


Mom reminded Kane how to be respectful and kind and their relationship was fair and amicable.


Kane lived out his life with us at Reflection and we all had very warm feelings for him. His illness was thankfully brief. He left us with so many memories and was a wolf no one will ever forget.


What tracks will you leave behind? Kane leaves us as beauty, not beast. Vital, not vicious. Fierce, fabulous and a favorite.


Eulogy by Tish Gailmard, Director of Wildlife

Below is the obituary for Kane the red wolf.


Kane, Canis rufus, died on January 4, 2020  at the age of 14y 9m after a brief battle with gallbladder cancer. 


Kane was born into a litter of 5 (3.2)  in Asheboro, NC at the North Carolina Zoo on April 22, 2005 and was assigned studbook number 1390 . As a member of the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan, he was transferred to different facilities based on the needs of the population. He later moved to Durham Museum of Life and Science in Durham, NC. He was then transferred to Sandy Ridge, NC which is the small, private location for the wild release site at Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. He then transferred to Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Jacksonville, FL where he stayed for approximately 2 years before going to Jackson Zoo, Jackson, MS for about 1 year. 


Kane then came to Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center on December 9, 2012 at 7y 8m. He lived peacefully as a companion with female red wolf 1275 in a large habitat.


He is preceded in death by his sire, red wolf 1125 and dam, red wolf 1197 and 2 male siblings, red wolf 1389 and 1391 and 1 female sibling red wolf 1393. He is survived by one female sibling red wolf 1392 of North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro, NC and numerous cousins.


Kane participated in many scientific studies including several on irritable bowel disease with the Smithsonian Conservation Research Center, a study with North Carolina State University on progressive retinal atrophy and many college level studies on the relationships between enclosure mates and breeding pairs. Additionally, his sperm is cryogenically stored in a sperm bank for future in vitro fertilization use. Kane could be easily seen by his public and was often heard howling with his peers.


He will be fondly remembered as a dominant, very handsome male who represented the red wolf species with confidence, grace and confirmation.


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Posted by Tish Gailmard

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