Harambe – Rest in Peace

The story of the shooting of Harambe, the lowland gorilla, in Cincinnati commanded the air waves and TV time for several days. Harambe’s story, like that of Cecil the Lion, had the emotional power unique to human/animal interest news.


Kwitonda, a silver-backed male mountain gorilla enjoys a snack of bamboo shoots.

It reminded me of the great dilemma for management decision-making. When you manage a property visited by people, sometimes you are caught between a rock and a hard place. Cincinnati Zoo managers had to choose between two undesirable options. They chose the almost sure thing in terms of safety for the child, but an option fraught with reasonable criticism. Jack Hanna, famed zoo director and TV spokesman, said they made the right choice. He knows a zoo director who would choose protecting the animal over the safety of a child would likely be fired quickly, even with a good outcome in terms of injuries. Institutional managers and boards are reasonably risk-aversive.

For those of us who have seen gorillas up close in the wild, this was especially painful. People visit habituated gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda each day with highly trained guides and the 400-pound males allow strangers to mingle in their family space without conflict. The silverbacks and the guides keep a watchful eye on all concerned to ensure that everyone gets along and as long as individuals of both species keep a respectful distance from each other. It works. These close cousins of ours are herbivores. They continue to carry on their daily activities and eat bamboo shoots and other plant material with apparent unconcern while being photographed and watched up close. Harambe was habituated from birth at a zoo in Texas. He was not “wild” and never had been. Keepers had observed his behavior and responses to various situations all his life. Would he have harmed the child beyond what the fall did? We will never know.

Harambe’s behavior seemed more protective than threatening from the clips of the event that have aired. Perhaps something more threatening occurred that we didn’t see. Could they have fired a tranquilizer dart first and followed with a gunshot if Harambe reacted badly? Perhaps. But a decision was made and he is dead and no amount of conjecture will bring him back. And the child is safe, an outcome we would all applaud.

How did a child get into this exhibit? That’s under examination and the accident suggests that the fence was inadequate. They have already installed a taller one just days after the event. This kind of sad situation will send zoos all over the world into a reexamination of their emergency procedures and their physical structures that protect both the animals and the public. Did a parent have a lapse in watching the child? Perhaps, but all of us who have raised children have had lapses in attention. The result of this one was unfortunate for all involved. Blaming the mother seems counter-productive. She will live with this close call for her child the rest of her life.

Harambe was never going back to the wild. He was a captive ambassador for relatives in the wild he would never meet. And perhaps the saddest part of the story is the continued threats in Africa to the wild populations of lowland and mountain gorillas. Mountain gorillas have moved from a low of 230 animals two decades ago to more than 880 today due to the ability of the nations of Rwanda and Uganda to protect family groups through gorilla tourism, a powerful financial engine that also builds empathy by bringing people up close to these amazing relatives of humans.

The western lowland gorilla, Harambe’s species, is believed to be more numerous than mountain gorillas, but endangered nonetheless. Estimates are that their populations are in sharp decline due to habitat loss and civil wars in their home ranges in several equatorial African nations. And their remote habitats in war zones in tropical rainforest make accurate population surveys impossible.

The future of gorillas in the wild is uncertain and Harambe’s early death did not change that. It did renew the discussion of how zoos handle and protect large animals of all kinds, while simultaneously protecting their visitors. This event hopefully also reminds us of the importance of protecting wild populations. Gorillas deserve protected places in the world, safe from human conflicts and destruction of habitat. We create virtually all of the threats they face. Will we care enough to help these large primates, our distant relatives, have a future? It’s a big question not easily answered. Rest in Peace, Harambe.

Branding a Region – Kona Coffee Cultural Festival

KCCF_2014ButtonThe coffee tree (Coffea arabica) was brought to Kona in 1828, now flourishing on more than 800 farms on the rich volcanic soils of Mauna Loa and Hualalai on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is one of the most expensive coffees in the world due to its rich flavor, very limited growing area and demand for the brand. The people who grow it are from diverse cultures and the coffee is celebrated in varied foods from coffee butter to spicy tapas.


This past weekend, we enjoyed several events as part of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. This 44th annual event takes place throughout North and South Kona with more than 45 separate events that celebrate Kona Coffee, Hawaiian culture, local food, and the diverse people of North and South Kona communities. A $3 commemorative pin is sold at every event and provides entrance to all events spanning 11 days from Nov. 7 to 17, 2014.


We started on Saturday morning at Holualoa, a beautiful community of more than 6,000 people nestled among the coffee farms that blanket the western slope of Hualalai volcano. Hundreds of people streamed up and down the main street stopping at dozens of coffee stands to try samples of hot Kona coffee, iced coffee or coffee husk tea. Tasters can vote on their favorite coffee by booth number. It was all tasty and the food varied from BBQ to delicious confections like the haupia purple sweet potato pie with a macadamia crust. It was obvious that there were as many or more local folks as tourists at the event.


kumuLast year we enjoyed the festival by attending the Kona Coffee Recipe Contest and this year we ended our stay in Kona at the Aloha Makahiki Concert with wonderful music by renowned Hawaiian musicians Bobby Moderow, Jr., Aaron Mahi, George Kuo and Stephen Akana. Kumu Mika Keale-Goto performed a makahiki oli (harvest blessing), joined by dancers from both local and Tokyo halau (hula schools).


Most community festivals happen in one community and over a short period of time. This festival takes you from coffee estate tours to music venues, food competitions, art shows, street markets, living history farms and much more. It helps shape the Kona Coffee brand against the backdrop of the entire region and the diverse cultures of people who live there and enjoy Kona lifestyles from mauka (up the mountain) to makai (down the mountain to the seashore).


halauCommunities too often compete for attractions when they might do more with collaboration. This festival demonstrates the power of working together regionally to bring tourists in to learn and local people to celebrate their communities and cultures. It is this rich mix of culture and community, nature and history, tradition and trade, ancient and recent, that has drawn us to purchase a small coffee farm on Kona where we will soon make our year-round home. It may take a few years to visit all 45 plus venues of the festival, but we will enjoy working on it. If you get to the Big Island the second week of November, try to find time to attend whatever events are happening near you.


– Tim Merriman




70th Anniversary of D-Day – A Time to Remember

Seventy years ago today Allied forces hit the beaches of Normandy, France, at Utah and Omaha Beaches after an early assault by Army Rangers at Pointe du Hoc. The date was June 6, 1944. More than one million people annually visit Normandy Cemetery where 9,387 of the U.S. military are buried, mostly casualties of D-Day. The American Battle Monuments Commission manage the site and interpret the invasion, what has been interpreted in film as, The Longest Day. RIP

U.S. soldiers, recently back from Afghanistan, stopped at Normandy to pay respects - March 2012.

U.S. soldiers, recently back from Afghanistan, stopped at Normandy to pay respects – March 2012.





Omaha Beach

Omaha Beach

Normandy 9





Words of Wisdom That Endure On Earth Day

John Muir, who came to America from Scotland as a boy changed the world in his own special ways. He wrote,

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life.


President Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir (right)

President Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir (right)

Muir was born on April 21, 1838, so his birthday is the day before Earth Day, April 22. As a young man, he attended University of Wisconsin and worked in a bicycle shop in Indianapolis. He was a skilled inventor and craftsman with wood and metal, but one day an awl pierced his eye and he was temporarily blinded. The experience led him to abandon technology for nature. After recovering from the accident, he took a 1000 mile trek to Cedar Key in Florida.


Later Muir moved to California and lived three years in Yosemite Valley, often traveling only with a tin cup, a loaf of bread and a book by his favorite author. Muir admired Ralph Waldo Emerson and carried his writings with him in Yosemite Valley for inspiration in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I can imagine him sitting on a rock or log, reading Emerson’s words, Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience.


Muir is best known for being the founder of the Sierra Club and most regard him as the Father of our American parks. He inspired Theodore Roosevelt to create the first national monuments by Presidential decree and to protect Yosemite National Park by Congressional action.


Just as Emerson inspired Muir, Muir inspired others in his time. Enos Mills was a young man of 21 when he met John Muir on a California beach in 1889. Muir took Mills to Yosemite and encouraged him to inspire others through books, lectures and journeys into the wilderness. Mills would become a key figure in founding Rocky Mountain National Park and his books are still valued by naturalists and interpreters. He led 300 groups up Long’s Peak and operated what may have been the first nature guide school.


Enos Mills


Lisa Brochu and I were sitting with Enda Mills Kiley, daughter of Enos Mills, in Estes Park, Colorado, a few years ago and she mentioned that her father’s birthday is Earth Day, April 22nd. She also spoke of his life-long bond with Muir and his inspirational words of encouragement. Enda has since passed away, but her daughter and granddaughter continue to keep the cabin he built at age 15 operating as a museum and historic site. When he wrote Adventures of a Nature Guide, he identified many of the ideas that have endured as important approaches to heritage interpretation today.


Enos Mills was a lover of trees and his Story of a Thousand Year Pine remains one of my favorite books. He tells of a ponderosa pine cut by sawyers only to be abandoned for being shattered when it fell and therefore unsuitable for lumber. Saddened that the tree had been felled, he studied the pine and carefully told the story of this millennial giant giving evidence of the past measured by fires, hackings by a Spanish knife and arrowheads embedded in its annual rings. His reverence for trees and belief in their symbolic importance shines through the quote you will find in one of his finest essays;


Enos Mills

Enos Mills

The forests are the flags of nature. They appeal to all and awaken inspiring universal feelings. Enter the forest and the boundaries of nations are forgotten. It may be that some time an immortal pine will be the flag of a united peaceful world.


Earth Day is a great time to pause and remember great nature writers like Emerson, Muir and Mills – and every day is really Earth Day for many of us. We carry the inspirational words of these good people in our hearts and let them guide us in finding ways to live more peacefully on and with the planet.

– Tim Merriman



Bridging the Digital Divide in Rwanda

Can you imagine losing family and friends in a brutal genocide, attending school without the financial and moral support of your family, continuing to support your younger brothers and sisters in school while you work as a park guide two or three hours distant from your home? Over the last two years, we’ve been working with Rwandan national park guides who really want to continue their education and to improve professionally in spite of the challenges they face in doing so. They are given few tools to do their jobs other than their uniforms. That makes it challenging to continue professional development and growth that helps them provide the kind of quality effort that they desire.


Our Certified Interpretive Guide class in Nyungwe National Park trained 25 guides and reception hosts.

Their modest pay and family obligations often make computer technology inaccessible. An annual salary of about $3,000 leaves little or no disposable income, and yet, these guides have great hope for the future. I recently asked our park guides if and why a laptop would make a big difference in their lives.

They said,

“Since the world is becoming a small dot, it is of utmost importance to have a computer in order to access to Internet which helps us to improve our knowledge by doing research as well exchanging experience with other people.” Gilbert

“I want to start a masters’ program . . . if possible you can help me to achieve my dreams.” Cesar

“Seeking a personal computer to help . . . advertising of our National Park and connect people . . . by the inspiration and appreciation of all travelers.” Eric

“. . . I would say that as a guide who is always serving others in a very sensitive and fragile field; we should be supported and equipped with knowledge, skills, and equipments; if not we will keep on serving without those, but just with our heart.   Musafiri B. Christian

cigclassWe want to help 25 Rwandan guides and reception staff at Nyungwe National Park to realize their dreams by acquiring a laptop for each of them. We hope to help them bridge the digital divide. It will require $400 per machine to pay for the computer, add necessary software and pay for secure delivery to Rwanda. These young men and women help protect primates, endemic birds, and parklands in this most densely populated nation on Earth. At the same time, they are helping to rebuild their country’s economy and lessen dependence on foreign aid through providing quality tourism experiences. They work with local communities to minimize depreciative behavior and exploitation of forest resources by providing opportunities for more appropriate activities.

Tobias Merriman, our son and a computer network professional at Southern Illinois University, has volunteered to load each machine with licensed software that gives them full “office” and Internet browser capabilities. We will use DHL or UPS to deliver the machines securely to the guides and they will provide photos and thank you letters to us that we will share with donors.

This is the PC we plan to purchase.

This is the PC we plan to purchase.

This effort is not tax-deductible for we do not have a charity in the middle. We have spent our lives working for nonprofits, but now work as consultants with organizations that make a difference in conservation and helping communities around the world. We take no administrative funds from this and will not spend any of the money on anything other than the computers, software and shipping to the guides. Our website http://heartfeltassociates.com will report on progress and share photos of the guides. We will personally donate two or more computers as our income this spring allows. And we will carefully manage delivery of the machines so they end up in the hands of guides, not postal handlers or bureaucrats along the way. We want to help individuals. And we want to share their stories with you.

If you wish to make a contribution to this effort, go to indiegogo.com and give a contribution of any amount comfortable for you. The website takes 4% of the total campaign for their services. We have 45 days to raise $10,000 (25 times $400 = computer cost, software, and DHL or UPS) under the agreement with Indiegogo. If we do not realize our objective of $10,000, they still provide the amount raised and we will use that to assist the most deserving individuals based upon their applications for a laptop.

Many foundations and government programs provide assistance to African governments and agencies in protecting wildlife and supporting communities struggling with hunger, AIDS and malaria. We think that’s great, but we want to help some of the individuals we know personally who will put this technology to work improving their lives and their efforts to conserve and promote the national parks in Rwanda. Won’t you help us with a gift of some size reasonable for you?

Thanks for helping make a difference! We have been blessed with great support in our lives – paying it forward feels right. Visit our donor campaign page – Help Bridge the Digital Divide In Rwanda – HERE!

Tim Merriman and Lisa Brochu

Five Good Reasons to Quit Lecturing and Start Learning

Scott Mair of Canada had a totally engaged audience as he portrayed Elvis the Elk as we shared interpretive training methods in Korea in 2006.

Scott Mair of Canada had a totally engaged audience as he portrayed Elvis the Elk as we shared interpretive training methods in Korea in 2006.

Many of us went to schools and colleges where lectures prevailed. The expert spoke from behind a lecturn while we tried to listen. I say try, because I, for one, often slept. I remember being in Dr. “Gabby” Galbreath’s Evolution classroom and awakening suddenly to laughter. I had dozed off and awakened to everyone watching me. He had a great sense of humor and a gruff voice. “Can I get you a pillow, Merriman? You look uncomfortable.” He laughed and went on. I never fell asleep in his class again, but I often wasn’t paying attention. It was not a requirement and even if it had been, I might not have been able to fulfill it.

Training others these past 18 years in the interpretive approach to communication and current brain research has driven me back to some very old principles and what I think are five good reasons to quit lecturing whether you are a classroom teacher or a non-formal interpreter.

1. You learn nothing if you lecture. Every audience or classroom has people who may share a thought or idea with you that improves your understanding of what you do. Sometimes it’s from the mouths of babes and sometimes from other professionals, but learning is good. Get it where you can.

2. A lecture does not encourage a conversation. People do not change their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors unless they think more deeply about what they believe. Conversations and thoughtful questions invite us to pay attention and start us thinking. Not everyone will join the conversation but in a lecture, few will engage.

3. Every audience or classroom is different. You do not adapt your lesson to the audience if you operate on assumptions. When you start the conversation, you find out what they believe. You can adapt.

4. Lecturing is boring for you and your audience. You repeat the presentation or lecture you’ve used before in the same old way. The passion in your voice will eventually sound like elevator music to the listener, something to ignore.

5. Addressing learning styles is not an academic exercise, but critical to success. Our knowledge of multiple learning styles or multiple intelligences suggest that auditory learning or even a combination of auditory and visual learning (Powerpoint) are rarely as engaging as interactive conversations with questions, demonstrations and activities whenever possible.

More than 2,000 years ago Socrates encouraged questioning in learning. His belief was intuitive, but it has proven to be a great approach. Social science research supports the power of bringing people to a greater understanding and voluntary behavior change through careful questioning, thematic presentations and multi-sensory approaches.

And yet I still see lectures in both formal settings such as classrooms and conferences and in nonformal interpretive settings. We can do better. Let’s lay down our crutches of Powerpoint and lecterns and be more creative, for ourselves and for our audiences.

-Tim Merriman

A Place to Play


Last weekend we visited Vandalia, Illinois, where I was raised. My old house is no longer there, but the memories remain. As we drove down eighth street, my mind drifted to summer evenings playing Kick the Can in the street. Some of my neighborhood friends from the 50s were at the all-class reunion, another reminder of childhood games in our yards and along the stream by the Scout house nearby.

I saw a very small child of five or six operating a lemonade stand in the front yard with a patient father sitting next to her, knowing she might be young for this business. But he didn’t tell her she was too young. He sat with her and did business. I remember the railroaders that would stop at my lemonade stand to buy a glass of lemonade or Koolaid for a nickel, more to encourage than for the quality of the beverage I would guess.

My dad sold lawn mowers, so we had dozens of big boxes to throw out each week. My lemonade stand was a modified 36” riding mower box. We built mazes and forts out of the large cardboard boxes before they met their fate in the ash pit (long before box recycling was considered). Richard Louv chronicles the power of building forts and hideouts for children in his book, Last Child in the Woods. Creativity is alive and well when kids have a chance to invent, fantasize and collaborate in the outdoors.

Some nature centers and parks are creating playscapes that engage a child’s imagination and they vary in size, theme and objectives. Cleveland Metroparks has a great playground with mastodon bones protruding from the sand and playspace. It’s a chance for kids to play paleonotologist. Austin Nature Center in Texas has a similar play area that allows kids to sweep the sand away to discover fossils that stay permanently embedded. These are interesting thematic play structures that I think would appeal to most kids.

A playground in Canada along the St. Lawrence River has a boat for imaginary trips on the water in the safety of a playground.

A Canadian park along the St. Lawrence Seaway opposite New York State has a playground with a rowboat kids can sit in and play out there own adventure on the water on a padded pond with adult supervision. They also have a cabin with several levels and most of the walls missing, allowing some imaginary adventures.

But my favorites are not in my photos. They are the ones that kids pull from their imaginations. They are made of leaves, compacted snow, and discarded boxes. I am not around kids much these days. Do they still build these. I hope so. They are special because they are limited only by the child’s imagination.

Some very innovative programs are just setting aside areas in the woods and along streams where kids can still play. Wading, flipping rocks, floating stick boats and crawdad watching will always be an adventure for a child out in nature. Our electronic devices imagine games, worlds and intrigue of varied kinds. I can understand a kid being interested in these high voltage games. But the planet is still an organic place where kids can discover themselves as they imagine the fort they are building.

As we drove by the Town Branch in Vandalia, I told Lisa about the wide spot in the stream that used to freeze and we played hockey with sticks we found and any sort of puck we could create from natural debris. She reminded me she has heard this story a dozen times before. These memories carry with us through life and the creative choices we make in our work started in the woods, out in the yard and playing in a stream. We need to keep facilitating these opportunities before everything fun in nature has a sign restricting the imagination of youngsters.

-Tim Merriman