From WAMU 88.5 and American University in Washington, it's "The Animal House," connecting you with everything that concerns the animal world. I'm Sam Litzinger. Later on in the program, Dr. Gary Weitzman will check in to address your animal comments and concerns. We'll find out how one researcher is using owls to predict climate change, and a best-selling author shares his thoughts about the loss of a pet.
First though, "Equitrekking" is a relatively new word in the globetrotter's lexicon. It's also the name of the PBS program hosted by our next guest, Darley Newman. Darley is a television producer and equestrian travel expert who's turned her love of horses into an award-winning adventure for viewers and horses in 65 countries. Glad to have you with us in "The Animal House."
Thank you, Sam.
You know, I'm thinking for a huge part of human history, traveling with horses was essential. That's the way you got from one place to another.
It was essential, and it's – surprisingly, it's still essential in many countries. And a lot of places that we go with our show, we actually have to ride to get around. Going up into the, you know, Canadian Rockies, you can hike, but I'd rather be on horseback.
Were you always a horse person?
Yeah. I grew up, I started riding when I was seven, took lessons, which was -- it's always good to start to learn things at a young age, and, you know, have been on a horse ever since.
For those who haven't seen the program, tell us about it and how it's structured and you're all over the place.
So Equitrekking, the concept is that, you know, I go around the world and I horseback ride with different people of different cultures all over, and we really get to off-the-beaten-path destinations, and you see, you know, nature, you get up close to wildlife because you're on this horse that's unobtrusive, so it's nice and quiet and peaceful. But in that, we are with locals who actually talk to us, and we understand more about their culture and places that really aren't profiled by traditional media.
And for example, tell us where you've been -- just a few of the places you've been.
Okay. For example, we just filmed our 35th episode, so we just were in Botswana this summer, Botswana, Africa, and Botswana was really interesting because we were on safari. So I'm riding horses with big game, and I actually got charged by an elephant on horseback, and that's when you really value your four-legged friend that you're riding, especially if it's a good horse. (laugh)
Is it the case that horses from particular cultures can teach you something about that culture? My wife, for example, spent some time in Mongolia with Mongolian horses, and she said you're out there with the people and you're learning about the culture and their relation to the animals. Did you find that as well?
I find that all over, everywhere we go, and that's one question people ask me a lot. They say, do you bring your horse with you when you travel. Well, first of all, you know, horses have adapted to the environment in all these different places, so that wouldn't necessarily be possible. Plus getting a horse on a plane is kind of a big deal. So wherever I go, I do look at the horses, and that's what we do in our show. We look at their reflection of the land and the people.
For instance, in Iceland, they ride Icelandic horses which are pony-sized, but you better not call them ponies because it's very disrespectful. (laugh) But these horses are stout, they're strong. They can do something called a, like it looks like a running walk. They move in a very different way. They're going fast, but they glide along so you don't bounce in the saddle. Well, they do this because they've been there for 1,000 years running over these lava fields, and whereas in America if I were to run over something like that on a horse I would be a little bit worried for my horse's safety.
I don't want to break a leg or anything. In Iceland, these horses just run along, they're used to it. That was their mode of transportation for a long time. So you can look at the horses and kind of see what's happened to that society and that culture. So horses are kind of are a reflection of the land and the people, which is a really interesting part of the show.
Okay. Do you know where you're going next? Have you checked the calendar to see where you're headed?
Well, you'll find this interesting. We really mix it up with "Equitrekking," so next, we're probably heading to Nicaragua and then going on to Michigan. So (laugh) ….
In the end, have you figured out what the mystery is for horses, why we're so attracted to them and why they have such appeal over the centuries?
You know, horses really get along with us, I really get along with horses. I don't know what it is. I can't pinpoint one thing, to tell you the truth, but just if you've ever been around horses and it's the smell, it's the feeling, it's just even giving them a nice little pat. You just feel better. That's the way I feel. I feel that way around a lot of animals, and I just think it's something that makes you feel good.
I feel less stress, and I just love being outside and outdoors, and especially if I can get into a good canter, if I'm doing some galloping, that's just a great rush. So it's just something so natural.
You have a good job. (laugh) We've been speaking with Darley Newman, host and producer of "Equitrekking," the PBS program that takes viewers and horses on global travel excursions around the world. Thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
The Snowy Owl has a multifaceted reputation. In some places it's known as the Arctic Owl, in others it's the White Owl. To the Lakota Indians, it symbolizes bravery. In Canada, it's the official bird of Quebec. Fans of "Harry Potter" recognize the Snowy Owl as Harry's pet Hedwig. Our next guest, naturalist and researcher, Denver Holt, this black-billed, yellow-eyed bird is a bellwether of climate change. Mr. Holt is the founder and president of the Owl Research Institute. He joins us from Helena, Montana to discuss the use of Snowy Owls in his work and what he's learned as a result. Denver, glad to have you with us in "The Animal House." Welcome.
Thanks, Sam. I appreciate it.
What are you finding out in terms of how the owls relate to our changing world?
We we first started the study, we had no idea that we were gonna be looking at climate change in relation to Snowy Owls. It was just a study to look at the predator-prey relationship between the Lemmings, which is what they primarily eat in our region, and the owls, you know, reproductive success over a breeding season. And now, in retrospect, because of all the interest in both the Arctic and Antarctic and the changing climates that are happening so quickly, we can look at, you know, climate change in relation to these owls.
And one of the things that I've been proposing is that if we look at Snowy Owls, at least in the Barrow region, will that tell us a little bit if habitat changes due to climate change, and if that occurs, does that it affect lemmings, which in turn would affect owls,. And then between that, there's a whole lot going on with the presence of lemmings and owls and many other species of birds and mammals in that region.
Now, monitoring lemmings is kind of difficult. They're small little small rodents that weigh a couple ounces, and tend to live close to the ground, underground, and stay in their tunnels, and except in years when they're all over the place, they can be difficult to see and monitor. But Snowy Owls on the other hand are, you know, large birds, two feet tall, females a little larger than males, and they nest on the ground, on the treeless tundra in 24-hours of light, and they're easy to observe.
So the idea was, if we can monitor Snowy Owl populations and see if they're breeding and have a successful season, then there's a high probability that the lemming populations are high, given that almost everything they eat during the breeding season is lemmings, in particular brown lemmings, even though they're capable of killing a lot of other things. So when the Snowy Owl is having a good year, the lemmings are having a good year, and again, we started seeing that there were more shore birds, more eider ducks, you know, more cranes, more geese, and they also had a good year when Snowy Owls and lemmings are having a good year.
Now, you could use other species, but the Snowy Owl is just such an iconic species, it's a good one to use as an indication of what may be going on. So the idea is if if climate change does affect vegetation in the Arctic, which we know that is occurring, and that vegetative change affects something like the lemmings, which is a primary prey of Snowy Owls, then we should be able to detect it in the Snowy Owl numbers, the breeding numbers is what I'm talking about.
And if the Snowy Owls discontinue to breed in some of these areas, it may be that something is affecting the lemmings, and we're seeing in the numbers of Snowy Owls.
Are you actually to put monitoring devices on the owls?
Well, we did, which is another part of the story here. In early 2000 I think it was, we put some satellite transmitters on these Snowy Owls in Barrow and what we found is they went and they wintered some of them over in the Bering, and the next season they were over in Russia, the next winter they were in the Bering in the dark and the cold and the ice, so they were making these large scale movements, okay.
If the Snowy Owls aren't breeding in Barrow, and next year they're in Canada or they're in Russia, then we need to go there and see what the lemming populations are doing, but also monitor in the area that they just vacated. Then in the third year, if they go to Russia, then we need to go to Russia and then back to Canada and back to Barrow, monitor the lemming populations, see what's going on with all the other species there, and see if this holds true outside of Barrow. You know, in theory, this would be a good idea. We can monitor Snowy Owls and have an idea of what's going on in the tundra, if it's an active and productive year here or there by monitoring all these areas.
You sound like you love field work.
Ah, you know, that's the one thing I have to say is that, yeah, I've been able to maintain being in the field for 30 plus years, and I don't think there's anywhere else I'd rather be is doing field work.
A man who loves his work. Denver Holt is a naturalist, researcher, and president of the Owl Research Institute. Thank you very much for being with us in "The Animal House."
Oh, I appreciate it.
In a few moments, Dr. Gary Weitzman will join us with answers to your questions about pets, and a best-selling author who shares his thoughts about the loss of a pet. First, though, here's today's Critter Quiz. Earlier we heard researcher Denver Holt speak about his work with the Snowy Owl. Do you know how many species of owls there are in the world today? We'll have the answer just before the close of today's program.
Next week in "The Animal House."
I don't have a gun license, is that OK?
You don't need one.
You don’t need one.
What they've done with this enterprise of captive hunts where they have exotic animals in a fenced enclosure and a guaranteed kill arrangement is eliminate hunting and reduce it to killing. It's an open-air slaughterhouse.
The controversial subject of captive hunting next week in "The Animal House."
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