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Black Bear Orphans and the Man who Reads Their Minds

Note: This story was broadcast by the WGBH affiliate WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station. It is also featured on NHPR.org.

You’re about to hear a story about the bear whisperer of Lyme New Hampshire, Ben Kilham, and the abandoned black bear cubs he has rescued, rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Some of these cubs have formed such strong bonds with Ben, that even when they’re fully grown, they still treat him as a member of the family, so to speak, and allow him special access to their bear secrets and behavior. And on occasion, if I promise to be quiet, and obey the rules, I get to tag along –

This video of Squirty and Ben in the clearing is a rather noisy appetizer.
Click here: (17 minutes) for the story.

Ben Kilham is one of the foremost black bear researchers and rehabilitators in the country, and here he is, with one of his star bears, Squirty, now 17 years old. He took care of her and her siblings after they were separated from their mother during a logging operation that had disturbed her den. She, along with many other orphaned or abandoned cubs, has taught Ben the characteristics of black bear behavior, which share some surprising similarities to our own species. For one thing, once thought to be solitary, Ben has discovered that they are often quite social!

Photo by Ben Kilham
Ben’s featured in several nature documentaries, and he is also the author of two books — Among the Bears: Raising Orphaned Cubs in the Wild, and Out on a Limb: What Black Bears Have Taught Me About Intelligence and Intuition, with a foreward by Temple Grandin, which was just released this fall. ThoughtCast has also interviewed Ben’s sister and colleague, Phoebe, and the interview, accompanied by a slide show of their bear cubs, was posted on New Hampshire Public Radio’s website this spring, and can be seen here.

Posted on September 17, 2013 in Environment, Science
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20 Rescued Bear Cubs Nursed Back to Health

Note: This interview and slideshow with Phoebe Kilham is featured on New Hampshire Public Radio Online.

Phoebe Kilham is the soft-spoken younger sister of Ben Kilham, the renowned black bear behavioralist and bear cub rehabilitator, based in Lyme New Hampshire. But he couldn’t do this work without her, or the support of his wife, Debbie.
Phoebe’s dogged determination, every day, to care for and feed these motherless cubs is the essential act that creates for these sad orphans a safe new world they can explore, and come to trust.

Last spring, the Kilhams were inundated by 20 bear cubs, far more than the usual handful, and it became their job to nurse them back to health, while still keeping them wild enough to be released once they reach the age of 18 months. (This number was then increased to 27 during the harsh winter that followed.)
Well, that’s a lot of mouths to feed, as Phoebe found out.  She spoke with ThoughtCast on Ben and Debbie’s deck, within shouting distance of the bear cub enclosure.

Note: all of the photos in this slideshow were taken by Ben or Phoebe Kilham.

To hear a longer audio version of this ThoughtCast interview with Phoebe Kilham, click here: to listen! (13 minutes).

Posted on May 20, 2013 in Environment
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The history and future of the New England Forest

Note: an audio version of this interview was broadcast by the WGBH affiliate WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station.

The forests of New England are, remarkably, a success story. They’ve recovered from attack after attack. The early settlers hacked them down, by hand, for houses, fences and firewood. Later on, the insatiable sawmills of a more industrial age ate up the lumber needed for our expansion.
Today, the forests contend with acid rain, invasive plants and exotic beetle infestations — evidence of our ever more global economy. And the future of these forests? Going forward, that’s a story that’s largely ours to shape, and narrate.

If only these trees could talk … Well, we have the next best thing – Donald Pfister, the Dean of Harvard Summer School, curator of the Farlow Library and Herbarium, a fungologist (the more erudite word is mycologist), and the Asa Gray Professor of Systematic Botany at Harvard University.
In this Faculty Insight interview, produced in partnership with ThoughtCast and Harvard Extension School, he tells the tale of the New England forest from as far back as the glacial Pleistocene era.
To help illustrate this tale, we’ve made grateful use of high resolution images of some dramatic landscape dioramas, which are on display at Harvard’s Fisher Museum, in Petersham, Massachusetts.

Posted on September 3, 2012 in Economics, Environment, Faculty Insight, Harvard Luminaries, History, Science
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How to minimize disasters and manage crises – if possible!

This Faculty Insight interview with Arnold Howitt, the executive director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, an adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and an instructor at Harvard Extension School, highlights the challenges of disaster management and emergency response.

Howitt teaches Crisis Management and Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Relief and Recovery at the Extension School, and is also an author and editor of several books, including Managing Crises: Responses to Large-Scale Emergencies. He speaks with Jenny Attiyeh of ThoughtCast about what we’ve learned from large-scale disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and how we can do  better next time!

Posted on July 15, 2012 in Economics, Environment, Faculty Insight, Politics
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An Afternoon at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic

Note: The interview with Maureen Murray that follows aired on WGBH, while an audio version of the slideshow, below, was broadcast on WCAI, the Cape and Islands NPR station!

Meet the patient, stoic Blanding’s Turtle, who arrived with a huge hole in her shell, yet managed to lay her eggs! And the red-tailed hawk who’s given a sonogram of its eyeball! Watch the satisfying release of another hawk, after it’s fully healed. And observe the staff of the Tufts University Wildlife Clinic, in Grafton Massachusetts, as they respectfully care for these wild animals.

In addition to the slideshow above, ThoughtCast speaks with staff veterinarian Maureen Murray, who has a special interest in turtle medicine.
Click here (11:30 minutes) to listen.

Posted on June 26, 2011 in Environment
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The North Atlantic Right Whale: Our Urban Leviathan

Note: This interview was broadcast on WGBH radio, Boston’s NPR station for news and culture, on April 17, 2011!

Breaching North Atlantic Right Whale

Photo: courtesy US Marine Mammal Commission

The endangered North Atlantic Right Whale is probably our closest cetacean neighbor. There are only about 350 of them in total, and they live precariously near to shore, along the Eastern seaboard, in a horrendously busy commercial shipping corridor that stretches from Nova Scotia to Florida.  Scott Kraus, the vice president for research at Boston’s New England Aquarium, and the head of its right whale research project, has studied these whales for decades, and the aquarium’s efforts on their behalf have led to dramatic improvements in right whale habitat.

Fargo Meets Right Whale Calf

Courtesy Rosalind Rolland/New England Aquarium

But they remain nonetheless threatened — primarily by us humans.  ThoughtCast’s Jenny Attiyeh met with Kraus at the New England Aquarium recently, to discuss his latest book, which he co-edited with his colleague Rosalind Rolland, called The Urban Whale.

Click here (20 minutes) to listen!

And click here (4 minutes) to hear Scott Kraus read a poignant passage he wrote (about a baby whale) from The Urban Whale.

Posted on April 1, 2011 in Environment, Science
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Coral reefs, hermit crabs and tube worms with Randi Rotjan

Note: This interview was broadcast on WGBH radio, Boston’s NPR station for news and culture, on April 17, 2011!

The Cambridge Science Festival returns this week with Inspiring Minds: Meet Women in Science, a program at the Museum of Science that includes a talk by Randi Rotjan, a coral ecologist at the New England Aquarium in Boston. Randi has been stung by jellyfish, coral, you name it. It’s all part of the job, studying coral reefs on location in exotic locales like the Red Sea or the Phoenix Islands, the world’s largest marine protected area. She goes face to face with hermit crabs as they line up, after the usual jostling, to form vacancy chains, waiting to trade in their old shells for newer, larger ones. It’s the classic upgrade, and it follows rules – perhaps ones we humans might care to copy.

Rules abound undersea – as does death. If the water temperature is too warm, corals bleach, starve and die. And if the tube worms that thrive near deep sea hydrothermal vents venture too far from the fissure, they’ll freeze. But most of the time, they’re doing just fine, thank you, feasting on the poisonous spewing gases they’re so fond of.
Watch this brief video on corallivory (the eating of live coral by fish!) to get you started.
And then click here (12 minutes) to listen to the audio interview, for the details.

Posted on April 26, 2010 in Environment, Science
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Lydia Ratcliff: Vermont Farmer, Stubborn Survivor

Note: this audio program and slideshow have been picked up by New Hampshire Public Radio. The audio program was also broadcast on WAMC and WGBH radio in Boston.

Milking Time
Milking Time at Lovejoy Brook Farm
About 40 years ago, farms were thick on the ground in Andover, a rural town in southern Vermont. Today, 75-year-old Lydia Ratcliff’s Lovejoy Brook Farm is the last working farm still in operation. But can it survive much longer? ThoughtCast’s Jenny Attiyeh grew up visiting Lydia each summer, listening to her tales, eating fresh corn and carrots from her garden, and watching the animals give birth, and grow old. On a recent visit to see Lydia, Jenny brought along her microphone …

Note: this slideshow was commissioned by the BBC program Americana.

Lydia Ratcliff is a survivor. She’s farmed her 90 acre plot of land in Andover Vermont for 43 years, and though she’s now come down with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, she still climbs on top of that tractor in hay season.
Does she offer a lesson for the rest of us? Does she represent the future of farming in Vermont, or is she one of the last of a dying breed?
Click here to listen (9 minutes.)

Posted on July 1, 2009 in Economics, Environment
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