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  • WELCOME

This nonprofit honors compassionate risk-takers, people who are largely unknown, people who have the courage to stick their necks out for the common good, in the US and around the world.

We offer you here a free database of those real heroes ~ A way to nominate a hero you've spotted ~ Materials for classrooms from kindergarten through high school ~ Speakers for events ~ Coaching tips to help you move into action yourself on problems that concern you ~ News of Giraffe Heroes around the world ~ Stories of courageous compassion that little kids can listen to ~ Annnd some cool "giraffenalia"—T shirts, mugs, and such.

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If you need to know more, check out Giraffe info.

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It's taken 10 years and a Supreme Court decision, but today Giraffe Robert MacLean went back to work at TSA HQ in DC. You can thank him that there's an Air Marshall on your next long flight, and that the Air Marshall is NOT wearing a suit and tie as ordered by the TSA so potential highjackers could be sure which passenger he is.

WATCH-DOGGING US TAX DOLLARS #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes For most of her adult life, Dina Rasor has been fighting waste and working for transparency and accountability in the US government. In 1981, Rasor founded the Project on Military Procurement (now called the Project on Government Oversight, or POGO) to serve as a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog over government spending. As head of POGO, Rasor researched and publicized military budget abuses and chronicled firsthand accounts of the devastating consequences of privatized war support for troops. Her research focused on the kind of gritty information about waste that can break through the government's public relations and awaken taxpayers. Through a network of sources inside the Pentagon, POGO exposed many of the defense scandals that made the news, including failures in such major weapon systems as the M-1 tank, the B-1 bomber, and the cruise missile. POGO also exposed overpricing and fraud in procurement systems, such as the infamous $7,600 coffee brewer and the $670 armrest in the C-5 cargo plane. While whistle blowers sometimes go public in Washington, Rasor advises them to remain covert. Her operation takes their tips anonymously and follows up, in the open, without revealing the sources. And it's not about risking national security. "The Project obtains more than enough raw information about mundane waste without having to deal in classified secrets," And if they did reveal actual secrets? "The Pentagon," Rasor said, "would try to use that to discredit us inside the building. They can't, and it's worked pretty well for us." Update: Rasor founded the Bauman & Rasor Group to help whistle blowers file lawsuits. The Group has been involved in cases that have returned over $100 million to the US Treasury. She later became chief investigator of the Follow the Money Project, which seeks to ensure that money allocated for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is used properly, to assist U.S. troops rather than to line contractors' pockets. Like this profile? LIKE this page. Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes and Followers!

LEAVING THE DARK SIDE ~ FIGHTING AGAINST IT #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes T.J. Leyden was not a nice young man. As a teen in Redlands, California, he joined a group of skinheads and soon was leading his own group. At 21, he enlisted in the Marines and continued recruiting, organizing, and propagandizing for the white supremacist movement within the Corps. That was is life for 15 years, in and out of the Marines—preaching white supremacy, beating up and stabbing people, eluding the law, and involving susceptible teenagers in hate-fueled action. It all started to change while he was watching a television show featuring some Caribbean performers. His three-year-old son switched off the show and uttered a racial epithet. At first, he thought, Good for you! Then he began to worry: What was he modeling for his son? What kind of person would his son turn out to be? He began to rethink his attitudes as well as his behaviors. Not long after the TV incident, he was attending an Aryan Nations Congress and asked the guy sitting next to him, “If we wake up tomorrow and the race war is over and we’ve won, what are we going to do next?” The man jokingly replied, “We’re going to start on hair color.” Leyden realized that, joke or not, it wasn’t too far off the mark: “Next it’ll be you have black hair so you can’t be white, or you have brown eyes so somebody in your past must have been black, or you wear glasses so you have a genetic defect.” He realized he had to leave the movement. His first move was to tell his mother he was leaving the Aryans and to apologize to her for all he had put her through—she’d been horrified by what her son had been doing. She urged him to see, of all people, a rabbi at the Museum of Tolerance, and the rabbi asked Leyden if he’d consider talking to others about the hate spewed by the white supremacists and skinheads. That was clearly dangerous, but Leyden agreed—in a small way, at first. Here’s how Leyden remembers it: “I hit my very first junior high and I did my very first talk. Twenty-four hours later, the white supremacy movement had six websites about me. One website actually said, ‘Terminate on sight.’ There’s two cassettes that are literally 90 minutes of ‘We know where you live,’ ‘We’re going to come kill you,’ ‘We’ve got your number, man,’ ‘You better watch your back.’” But threats notwithstanding, Leyden stayed with his turnaround. He was used to living dangerously: “When I was in the movement, I could have been killed because of a rival gang, could have been killed by guys inside my own group. It’s no different now. Now I’m just doing something right.” Leyden started naming names and speaking out more forcefully against his former peers. In the '90s he began working with the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Task Force against Hate. He spoke at the Clinton White House Conference on Hate. He was a major contributor to California Governor Gray Davis’s advisory panel on hate groups. He’s trained employees of the Department of Justice, the Pentagon, the FBI, the military, and law enforcement. He’s spoken to hundreds of educators and over a million students. And in 2001, he and his wife, Julie, founded StrHATE Talk Consulting which “combats hate, bigotry, intolerance and discrimination through education.” Leyden has helped a lot of people in his new life, especially teenagers considering joining gangs and adopting the white supremacy attitudes he himself once professed. As far as his past life goes, Leyden is clear and honest: “I look at myself as two people: who I am now and who I was then. I see the destruction I did to people by bringing them into the movement, the families I hurt. I ruined a lot of lives. That’s the biggest thing I have to pay back. I don’t forgive myself. Only my victims can forgive me.” Keep up with Leyden’s work at http://formerskinhead.blogspot.com/ Update: T.J. Leyden was stricken with brain cancer in 2013 and underwent major surgery, plus renewed attacks from white supremacists who called his opposition to them delusional, caused by damage to his brain. Leyden's sons are not in the skinhead movement. Like these stories? LIKE this page! Share with Friends who could use some inspiration in their day.

A WORTHWHILE LIFE #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Jemera Rone had a job that thousands of Americans probably aspire to: She was a partner in a Wall Street law firm specializing in corporate-takeover litigation. But after seven and a half years in that job, she decided to do something more worthwhile. So in 1984 she visited war-torn El Salvador with the Lawyers' Committee for Human Rights, and there she indeed found something to do that was more worthwhile. She moved to war-torn El Salvador as the on-site representative and director of the local office of Human Rights Watch, a New York-based nonprofit organization. Her duties in El Salvador were quite different from the ones she'd performed in New York. She continually monitored the war, was a voice for its victims and--perhaps most importantly from a political perspective--speaks out against the perpetrators of the war and their allies, the latter including the US government of that time. Rone's standard operating procedure is to get to a killing scene as soon as possible. She interviews survivors and witnesses, attempting to figure out what took place, how, and why. On one occasion she hiked seven hours in stifling heat to interview witnesses to a massacre by a death squad. It was not a safe journey. Rone is no friend of the U.S. State Department, and of course the feeling is mutual. She is also no friend of the El Salvadoran government. She believes, and has an ever-accumulating stack of evidence, that the US administration covered up the real situation in El Salvador and as a result people there have suffered and died. "The number that matters," she says, "is the number of officers tried and convicted for human rights abuses against civilians." To date that number is zero. . . . The enforcers of the law remain above the law. Jemera Rone gave up a comfortable life style to risk her life for people who had no voice in the world. Update: Rone continued to work for Human Rights Watch, retiring in 2006. She’s written numerous books and reports on the 24 different countries she's monitored and investigated, including El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Sudan. Her reports include Famine in Sudan, The Human Rights Causes, Behind the Red Line: Political Repression in Sudan, Children in Sudan: Slaves, Street Children, and Child Soldiers, and The Struggle for Land in Brazil: Rural Violence Continues.

SAVING SEA TURTLES~SAVING THE EARTH #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Christian Miller became a dedicated environmentalist when he was all of seven years old. That’s when he began the beach patrols that have saved thousands of the endangered sea turtles that hatch on the Florida barrier island where Christian lives. Newly transplanted from a Maryland farm with lots of animals, seven-year-old Christian walked the shore outside his home looking for animals to play with. All he found were the bodies of baby turtles that had not survived the treacherous trek from the nest to the water. Christian decided then and there that he would help save sea turtles, and went through a year’s training to be permitted to work with the endangered loggerhead and leatherback species. Christian patrols a three-mile stretch of beach twice a day from the first of April to the end of October. Early in the season he watches for the tracks the big mother turtles make when they come ashore to lay their eggs. When he locates a nest, he marks it with an “M” for Miller and a number he assigns to the nest. He protects each nest from dogs, raccoons and from human predators, who sell the eggs and the turtles’ shells. At the peak of the hatching season, in high summer, Christian is out in the heat of the beach for hours to check on the turtles. He scans the sand, looking for the tracks made by the babies as they head for the surf. He checks each newly hatched nest, tallying the hatched and unhatched eggs, the dead turtles and the live ones struggling to dig their way out of the sand. He extricates the trapped turtles and releases the healthy ones to the sea; the others he nurses along until they too are strong enough to hit the surf. He records all the data in a notebook, and enters it into his computer at home for his end-of-season report to the Florida Department of Natural Resources. In the years that Christian has been the turtle guardian on his stretch of shore, he’s guarded hundreds of thousands of eggs. The immediate payback for his stewardship is the thrill he gets from rescuing any trapped babies. He’s patient about the long-term results--sea turtles take 15 years to reach maturity. The first turtles Christian rescued won’t make it back to the beach to nest until he’s a grown man. “But every day,” he says, “when I look at the ocean, I know there are over 12,000 sea turtles out there that would have died if I hadn’t helped them.” Christian addressed young environmental activists from 76 countries at the UN Environmental Programme’s Global Youth Forum. He told more than 2,000 youth delegates, “We must be ever so careful about how we deal with nature and her living things if we want this earth to continued to function. Like the human body, if you take away enough of its parts, it can die.” The part of nature that Christian Miller takes care of is alive and well. When he started his patrols, there were 175 nests on his beach; seven years into Christian’s care, there were 700. Watching it all, his father said, “It’s almost as if the giant turtles know he’s there to protect their babies, because every year more and more sea turtles come to Christian’s beach.” Update: Christian Miller is now an associate professor of philosophy at Wake Forest University and Director of the University's "Character Project." Why are we not surprised?

Peggy Schlagetter, an accomplished woman from a comfortable middle-class background, used to work as an executive secretary. Now she works with men many people would be afraid to even speak to, all of them inmates and ex-inmates of Ohio’s prisons. A survivor of a violent assault herself, Schlagetter has more reason than most to fear such men. But she says that her own assailant might be in prison somewhere, and “If he’s treated like dirt, he’ll end up committing another crime.” Schlagetter wants to break the cycle. She was working as a volunteer in a prison when she realized that inmates feared getting out: They worried about finding jobs, finding places to live, and finding their way without constant rules and supervision. No one in the prison was helping them make the transition to useful, law-abiding lives on the “outside.” Schlagetter adapted a mentoring program she’d been using as a high school counselor and took it into maximum-security prisons. Prison officials gave her their incorrigibles, sure that she’d never crack “that joint mind set.” But crack it she did. Graduates of her program, Careers in Progress (CIP), include a former thief who went on to earn his MBA, and a murderer who’s been law-abiding and productive for years after prison officials swore he’d be back in a week. Schlagetter can reel off success story after success story. CIP deals with responsibility, values, job readiness, communication skills, and stress management. After inmates are released, “Miss Peggy” walks them through life on the outside. She has four telephones, a hotline, and a toll-free number because she and her volunteers may be all that stands between an ex-con and the next crime. “We’ve talked five bank robbers out of it so far,” she says.

PUTTING A RED NOSE ON SERVICE #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Albert Einstein. Lenny Bruce. Marlene Dietrich. Ram Dass. Tiny Tim. Ken Kesey. At one time or another, they were all friends of Hugh Romney, better known as Wavy Gravy, activist clown extraordinaire. His roommate was Bob Dylan. Wavy and his actress wife, Jahanara, have used their connections with the famous not to make their own way in the world but to serve the poor in every way possible. Wavy hosted the Woodstock festival in 1969, the high-water mark of that hippie/anti-Vietnam/rock & roll/protest-the- Establishment period. He had actually become a clown when he realized that he was less likely to be arrested at peace demonstrations if he was in a clown suit. Plus, clowning came naturally: He's always enjoyed telling jokes, performing magic tricks, and entertaining children. But Wavy and Jahanara (who was introduced to him by Bob Dylan) are much, much more than entertainers. They've taken activism to heart, devoting their time and money to others. Way back in 1965, they founded The Hog Farm, a collective that became an entertainment organization featuring artists such as the Grateful Dead, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix. The collective actually traveled to Nepal, where they distributed medical supplies to Pakistani flood victims. And then they worked with the World Health Organization to form Seva, a program that creates sustainable health projects all around the world and focuses on restoring people's sight in Nepal, India, Tibet, Guatemala, and on U.S. Indian reservations. ("Seva" is a Sanskrit word meaning "service.") In 1973, Wavy and Jahanara founded Camp Winnarainbow, in Laytonville, California, near the Hog Farm. The camp hosts poor or homeless children for two-week stays, four sessions a summer. The campers learn meditation, circus arts, and a variety of other skills. Jahanara is the administrative director of the camp. She says, "At Camp Winnarainbow, rituals are creative and healing, not dogmatic. We ceremonialize cooperating humanity." Many of the children who have attended the camp return as adults to teach and counsel others. The list of ways that Wavy and Jahanara serve others seems limitless. There's Home Aid (for the homeless), Cowboys for Indians (for Native Americans), Blues against Blindness (for Seva), numerous visits to children's hospital wards, and many, many more projects. Seva's Suzanne Gilbert says, "Wavy Gravy has a compelling need to be of service. . . . He goes around sensing what is needed. He makes a commitment and then figures out what needs to be done." And how does Wavy do that "sensing"? "The phone rings," he says. "Someone tells me what the situation is, what they're doing about it, and what they want from me, and I look down at my arm to see if the hairs have leaped to attention. That's one of my little clues that I'm traveling the right path at the right time." Wavy was once asked why he does project after project. His reply probably goes for Jahanara as well: "It gets me high. Service is a drug I can't find in the pharmaceutical closet." Update: Wavy and Jahanara continue to epitomize the idealism of the 60's, constantly in service to others. Ben & Jerry's created a flavor called "Wavy Gravy," donating profits from sales of the ice cream, which was wildly popular, to Camp Winnarainbow. Alas, the flavor was discontinued after the company was sold.

BUSTING STEREOTYPES #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes “Lights! Cameras! Activism!” could be the motto of Giraffe Bruce Saunders, of Victoria, B.C. A mental health patient, Saunders’ love of movies and his battle against the stigma of his illness led him to start a ground-breaking program that challenges stereotypes and raises public understanding about mental illness. A gardener by trade, Saunders has had bouts of manic depression (bipolar disorder) for many years. A second suicide attempt landed him in a hospital psychiatric unit, where he discovered that the facility had an under-utilized 100-seat theater. “The idea of showing films there for patients and ex-patients captured my imagination,” he says. Saunders started “Movie Monday,” as “a guerilla psycho-social rehab project.” It’s a free weekly movie that’s not only for current and former mental health patients, but also for the public-at-large, defusing anxieties and misconceptions people may have about mental illness. Saunders intentionally selects an eclectic mix of features, showing general-interest films as well as movies dealing specifically with mental health. Facilitated discussions often accompany the films. Guest speakers and audience talk about how movies like Sybil and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest portray mental illness. Movie Monday also showcases art by mental health patients—sculptures, graphic arts, music, photographs, and paintings. “A film night is a good draw,” says Saunders, “but we can show what else people who sometimes struggle with mental illness can do. We can help them define themselves as something besides sufferers.” Saunders took huge risks to start Movie Monday back in 1993. A psychiatrist advised him not to “reveal” his mental illness. “What if you want to get a real job?” he warned. The challenge of a regular schedule can be enormous for a person still experiencing some of the characteristics of manic depression; mood swings sometimes make even the simplest tasks monumental. “We did expect him to fail,” said one observer. But Saunders not only persevered in his mission, he expanded it. Saunders used his own money to launch the program and soon raised thousands of dollars to introduce the “Reel Madness Film Festival,” five days of film and discussions on mental illness and recovery. Saunders aims for discussions that “break down myths about conventional treatment…and show that people need more than just medication.” Asked whether he’d seen the stigma of mental illness decrease by getting people together around movies, he says, “That’s what Movie Monday’s about. I see it personally every time… One of the best results of this experiment has been to shed all the baggage that comes with the usual secrecy about mental illness.” Every Monday for almost nine years, Saunders has passed his own “screen test.” He says, “People think that if you have a mental illness you’re unreliable.” Steady and consistent, he’s come through for hundreds of events. Saunders says, “I think just because I’m showing up I’m changing people’s attitudes.” UPDATE: Bruce Saunder’s Movie Monday is still going strong in 2014, still putting up great films and encouraging discussion on all kinds of topics, but mostly about mental health. Saunders has created a 10-part course called Insights, to encourage the use of appropriate films in mental health systems. And he's running a page here on Facebook: My Movie Hero.

A GIRAFFE ON THE WAY TO SAINTHOOD #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes Irma Dulce Lopes Pontes' father was a prosperous businessman in Salvador, Brazil, and she was educated in a convent. During those formative years, she made two headstrong decisions, both of which ran counter to her father's wishes at the time: One was to become a nun, and the other was to help the poor. Thus began the odyssey of one of the most giving people the modern world has ever seen: Sister Dulce. It started small. Sister Dulce remembers a child of 12 or 13 approaching her in Salvador's rats island district and pleading, "Don't let me die in the street". The nun brought the child to a small, abandoned house nearby and got a passer-by to break a window. Gaining access, she sheltered the child and went around asking local residents for food and clothes. More children came, more abandoned houses were broken into, and Sister Dulce soon found herself taking care of more than 70 people. She tried housing them in an old fish market, but couldn't get permission from the City. Then she consulted her Mother Superior and asked to use the convent's chicken yard as an improvised hostel. The Mother Superior acceded to her request, and Sister Dulce's work began in earnest. In time, the chicken yard became a building, the building became a hostel, the hostel became a hospital and then an orphanage. Sister Dulce talked to everyone she could in order to secure funds and other support for the poor people who were her patients. At one point, she stopped a presidential motorcade by blocking the street--holding hands with a line of children--until the president agreed to meet with her; he did and became a strong supporter. She secured support from not only her own country but also from countries around the world, particularly the United States. She did this despite severe handicaps, both physical (a bout of tuberculosis left her with only one lung) and emotional (she was painfully shy). Sister Dulce manages five projects. One is a hospital, which never turns anyone away, no matter how crowded, and never charges a fee. It has over 1,000 beds and receives more than 3,000 patients a day. Second is an orphanage, where children are fed, taught to read and write, and learn skills. Third is a center for homeless itinerants. Fourth is two medical centers with weekly clinics, food lines, and milk stations; it serves about 2,500 children a week. And fifth is CESA, a school for the poor in one of the most impoverished cities in the state. It provides free educational, physical, and professional development programs for about 800 young people. Many of these projects are assimilated under the charity called The Charitable Works Foundation of Sister Dulce. Sister Dulce has spent her life in service: She has done everything she could to improve the lives of the people around her. Along the way, she established what is probably the most familiar and the most respected charitable organization on the continent. Despite his initial misgivings, her father--one has to believe--would be proud. Update: Commended as a Giraffe in 1989, Sister Dulce's respiratory problems worsened in 1990, and she was hospitalized. She died two years later, at the age of 77. In 2011, she was beatified.

CHOOSING A MEANINGFUL LIFE #GiraffeHeroes #StickYourNeckOut Millard and Linda Fuller walked away from their wealthy lifestyle to devote themselves to building affordable housing for and with the poor. The founders of Habitat for Humanity, the Fullers gave away their fortune and moved to a Christian community outside of Americus, Georgia. They were inspired to start a housing ministry when they saw the appalling living conditions of the poor in Americus and Sumter County. Habitat operated by “kingdom economics”—they made no profit and offer no-interest loans. $28,000 was the average price of a Habitat house in the States; $2,000 overseas. To qualify, potential buyers needed an income level too low to afford adequate housing; had to be known locally as reliable, debt-paying people; had to have the funds for a small down payment and low monthly payments; and had to contribute 250-1,000 hours sweat equity to the building of their house or a neighbor’s house. Each buyer’s money went into a revolving “Fund for Humanity” and was used to build more houses. Almost all labor was donated by Habitat volunteers, the most notable being former President Jimmy Carter. Habitat grew big fast, building thousands of houses in the US and abroad. Linda started a new department of Habitat called Women Build, which enlisted women to use their skills to build affordable houses. A lawyer and author as well as a former millionaire, Fuller made $14,900 a year as Habitat’s Executive Director. Linda voluntarily chooses to make half of that as one of his assistants. Winner of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award and the highest award given by the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, plus numerous other awards and honorary degrees, Millard Fuller has written three books about Habitat for Humanity. Update: The Fullers went on to start the Fuller Center for Housing, after a split with the governing board of Habitat. Millard died in 2009.

3 American friends tackle and hogtie gunman aboard European train

www.washingtonpost.com

A gunman opened fire on a train from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, wounding two people before two Americans subdued him, officials said. One of the Americans was hospitalized.

Joseph Campbell told the founder of Giraffe Heroes that the instantaneous, unthinking instinct to save strangers from harm is at the core of our being. These guys just showed the world that core being--and saved a lot of lives.

Recent Giraffe Heroes

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This is Sister Megan Rice, a nun for most of her 80+ years and a peace activist since the 1980s. She had been arrested more than three dozen times and had done time twice when she and two other peace activists performed what was called the most serious security breach in the history of US...

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Andy Hall, a Brit, works for Finnwatch, a world-wide nonprofit that spots human abuses around the world and works to stop them. When Hall called out Thailand's National Fruit Company for the way it treats its workers, he asked to work...

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This is Catherine Hamlin MD, who left her home in Australia in 1959 to provide gynecological care to poor women in Ethiopia. At 90, she's still doing that, focusing on one of the most distressing medical/social issues imaginable: obstetric fistulas.

This is an injury that women can...

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This is Hanna Hopko. She braved snipers' bullets in Kiev during a citizens' uprising that brought down a corrupt government there. Now she's leading a rapidly growing citizens' movement that's doing more than rising up and demanding...

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Imagine you're 11 years old and your body is twisting from scoliosis, causing you constant physical pain and making you look very different from other kids. You're scheduled for surgery to straighten your spine and your mom takes a "before" picture so you'll have a history of how you once...

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Bob Bajek, a reporter on a small-town newspaper in Illinois, came up with a Big Story: the town's recreational lake, where residents fished, swam, and boated, was highly toxic--a now defunct military base had dumped Agent Orange in the water....

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There were no protections for whistle-blowers in South Africa when businesswoman Wendy Addison reported her own corporate bosses for breaking the law. She was fired, got death threats, and was blacklisted, even in England, where she took her...

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This is veteran environmental activist, Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez. He's 12. And he's been working to save his beloved Colorado for half of his life. It started when he saw that the forest near his home was changing. Trees were dying, plants...

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Allan Adam is Chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan nation, whose lands lie within Alberta, Canada. These First Nation people have formal treaty rights that protect their lands from being taken or used by outsiders, but that treaty has been...

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Sangduen Chailert, known as "Lek," puts in 18-hour days caring for sick and injured elephants in a protected reserve she co-founded, the Elephant Nature Park in northern Thailand.

The dwindling elephant population is a world-wide...

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