White Plains, OCT 18 (AP/UNB) — Twelve women say in a lawsuit that they were sexually abused as children while attending a prestigious school for the hearing impaired.
The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday against the New York School for the Deaf, alleges that a now-deceased dormitory housemaster, Joseph Casucci, molested multiple girls on a daily basis in a bunkhouse style dorm 1964 and 1975. The suit says the victims were as young as 4 years old.
"It was a nightly routine and we were just little girls," one of the plaintiffs, Damita Jo Damiano, said through a sign interpreter. "It was the routine we would come to expect: We would do homework, take showers and the abuse would begin. It was normalized."
The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they decide to tell their stories publicly. Damiano and another plaintiff spoke at a press conference with their lawyers.
Steve Straus, a lawyer representing the school in White Plains, also known as Fanwood, said the institution "exists to educate deaf and hearing-impaired children and provide the tools needed for lifelong success. As this matter is in suit, I am unable to comment other than to say that the claims allege conduct occurring about 50 years ago."
The lawsuit was filed under the state's Child Victims Act , which extended the statute of limitations for lawsuits regarding child sexual abuse.
New York, OCT 18 (AP/UNB) — One model sashayed down the runway with a leather jacket and a guitar, basking in applause from the crowd. Another danced and strutted in a multicolored bomber coat.
A toddler had a little help with her modeling turn, holding on to an adult as she wore a peach outfit with a tutu. And another young woman wore a leopard coat over a T-Shirt with the message: "Go Love Yourself."
Though New York's Fashion Week wrapped more than a month ago, there was plenty of fierce fashion at the second annual "Gigi's Playhouse Fashion Show" on Wednesday, an event that allows young people with Down syndrome to share their talent.
Gigi's Playhouse is a national education and achievement center that prepares young people with Down syndrome, from infants to teens, to engage more fully in their homes, schools and communities. Eileen McClary, an associate for the New York chapter and director of the fashion show, said the event was an effort to let its members be advocates for the center.
"I think it's clear from all of the models that it was a wild success, and it kind of blends the two intersections of my life, which are philanthropy and fashion," she said.
Laura Lyle, 16, one of the models, was beaming after the show.
"It was really fun. I loved walking down, showing everybody the outfits, and I feel like we're making a difference," she said.
Malik Jabbar, 15, who modeled last year, said some of the participants may have found their next calling. "We walked down the aisle, we see beautiful faces, and the smiles on (all of) us," he said. "In the future, we'll all become the next top 10 models."
An after-party helped raise money for the chapter. While there were lots of hands needed to put on the event, including Gigi's Playhouse staff, Bloomingdale's and volunteers, McClary said seeing all the happy faces on the catwalk and in the audience made it all worth it.
"It just shows the power and just involvement of this (Down syndrome) community, and I can't wait to do more things with them," she said. "To me, it's one of the most inspiring things that you could ever be a part of. ... All of these models are some of the happiest people I've ever come in contact with. And if you ever want to feel joy like I think this entire store felt tonight, you can be a part of this."
Anchorage, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — The new head of Alaska's Iditarod plans to meet with a leader of an animal welfare group that's devoted to ending the world's most famous sled dog race, which it sees as a cruel, deadly event for its canine participants.
Organizers of the 1,000-mile wilderness trek have for decades ignored or taken a defensive stance against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach, who took the helm of the organization in July.
The old response hasn't worked, Urbach said. He has started talking to PETA about dog care and will meet Thursday with the group's executive vice president Tracy Reiman in Los Angeles.
"I'm coming in with open ears and eyes, to have an objective conversation about animal welfare," Urbach said Tuesday. "If there's something we can learn from their organization, I'm willing to listen."
Reiman plans to talk about the differences between "the needs and behavior of dogs and those of humans," she said in an email to The Associated Press.
She said it will be the third time she has talked with Urbach. The Thursday meeting will be the first in person, after Urbach asked to meet.
Reiman noted that as a former CEO of USA Triathlon, Urbach knows endurance sports but not when applied to dogs.
"You can't extrapolate from human experiences in endurance racing and apply the result to dogs who are driven past their limits," she said.
The Thursday summit, as Urbach calls it, comes after a difficult time for the Iditarod that was marked in recent years by escalating pressure from animal activists over multiple dog deaths, a 2017 dog-doping scandal and the loss of big-name sponsors.
Urbach said the Iditarod and PETA both care about animal welfare, and he hopes the two can find common ground through education about the race and treatment of the dogs.
However, he said PETA has long spread "grossly inaccurate and inflammatory" information about the Iditarod, saying it ruins dogs that don't die on the trail; dogs are kept outdoors in freezing temperatures; and ones that can't make the grade are killed.
Plenty of dogs have run the race multiple times with no harm, Urbach said, noting that Iditarod dogs are outdoor animals that train daily and are at their prime in sub-zero weather.
"There might have been some culling years ago, but that's not part of the Iditarod's culture going forward," Urbach said.
Reiman said human athletes aren't chained outside in freezing weather and they get proper nutrition and hydration. Her group has documented that Iditarod dogs are "fed rotten slop" and frozen water, she said.
"We're not opposed to a thousand-mile race, but the true test of endurance is when humans do it under their own power — as some have — and leave dogs out of it," she wrote.
By PETA's count, more than 150 dogs have died in the race, including one this year. Five dogs connected with the 2017 race also died.
Race officials dispute the total number of deaths and say no records on the subject were kept in the Iditarod's early years.
Corvallis, OCT 15 (AP/UNB) — As he stood amid the thick old-growth forests in the coastal range of Oregon, Dave Wiens was nervous. Before he trained to shoot his first barred owl, he had never fired a gun.
He eyed the big female owl, her feathers streaked brown and white, perched on a branch at just the right distance. Then he squeezed the trigger and the owl fell to the forest floor, its carcass adding to a running tally of more than 2,400 barred owls killed so far in a controversial experiment by the U.S. government to test whether the northern spotted owl's rapid decline in the Pacific Northwest can be stopped by killing its aggressive East Coast cousin.
Wiens is the son of a well-known ornithologist and grew up fascinated by birds, and his graduate research in owl interactions helped lay the groundwork for this tense moment.
"It's a little distasteful, I think, to go out killing owls to save another owl species," said Wiens, a biologist who still views each shooting as "gut-wrenching" as the first. "Nonetheless, I also feel like from a conservation standpoint, our back was up against the wall. We knew that barred owls were outcompeting spotted owls and their populations were going haywire."
The federal government has been trying for decades to save the northern spotted owl, a native bird that sparked an intense battle over logging across Washington, Oregon and California decades ago.
After the owl was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1990, earning it a cover on Time Magazine, federal officials halted logging on millions of acres of old-growth forests on federal lands to protect the bird's habitat. But the birds' population continued to decline.
Meanwhile, researchers, including Wiens, began documenting another threat — larger, more aggressive barred owls competing with spotted owls for food and space and displacing them in some areas.
In almost all ways, the barred owl is the spotted owl's worst enemy: They reproduce more often, have more babies per year and eat the same prey, like squirrels and wood rats. And they now outnumber spotted owls in many areas of the native bird's historic range.
So in a last-ditch effort to see whether they can save spotted owls, federal officials are resorting to killing hundreds of federally protected barred owls.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service experiment, which began in 2015, has raised thorny questions: To what extent can we reverse declines that have unfolded over decades, often due partially to actions by humans? And as climate change continues to shake up the landscape, displacing species and altering how and where plants and animals live and thrive, how should we intervene?
The experimental killing of barred owls raised such moral dilemmas when it first was proposed in 2012 that the Fish and Wildlife Service took the unusual step of hiring an ethicist to help work through whether it was acceptable and could be done humanely.
Just as with other conservation measures that involve killing one creature to save another, the program also prompted litigation and debate.
Federal and state officials, for example, have broken the necks of thousands of cowbirds to save the warbler, a songbird once on the brink of extinction. To preserve salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest and perch and other fish in the Midwest, federal and state agencies kill thousands of large seabirds called double-crested cormorants. And last year, Congress passed a law making it easier for Oregon, Washington, Idaho and American Indian tribes to kill sea lions that gobble imperiled salmon runs in the Columbia River.
The owl experiment is unusual because it involves killing one species of owl to save another owl species — and it may well be the largest killing program involving raptors.
In four small study areas in Washington, Oregon and Northern California, Wiens and his trained team have been picking off invasive barred owls with 12-gauge shotguns to see whether the native birds return to their nesting habitat once their competitors are gone. Small efforts to remove barred owls in British Columbia and northern California already showed promising results.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has a permit to kill up to 3,600 owls and, if the $5 million program works, could decide to expand its efforts.
Wiens, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey, now views his gun as "a research tool" in humankind's attempts to maintain biodiversity and rebalance the forest ecosystem. Because the barred owl has few predators in Northwest forests, he sees his team's role as apex predator, acting as a cap on a population that doesn't have one.
"Humans, by stepping in and taking that role in nature, we may be able to achieve more biodiversity in the environment, rather than just having barred owls take over and wipe out all the prey species," he said.
Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, finds the practice abhorrent and said humans should find another way to help owls.
"There's no way to couch it as a good thing if you're killing one species to save another," Bekoff said.
And Michael Harris, who directs the wildlife law program for Friends of Animals, thinks the government should focus on what humans are doing to the environment and protect habitats rather than scapegoating barred owls.
"Things were put into motion a century ago. We really have to let these things work themselves out," said Harris, whose group unsuccessfully sued to stop the killing and is now contesting an Endangered Species Act provision called an "incidental take" permit that exempts landowners who kill spotted owls during activities considered lawful, such as logging.
"It's going to be very common with climate change," Harris said. "What are we going to do — pick and choose the winners?"
Some see a responsibility to intervene, however, noting that humans are partly to blame for the underlying conditions with activities like logging, which helped lead to the spotted owl's decline. And others just see a no-win situation.
"A decision not to kill the barred owl is a decision to let the spotted owl go extinct," said Bob Sallinger, conservation director with the Audubon Society of Portland. "That's what we have to wrestle with."
Barred owls are native to eastern North America but began moving West at the turn of the 20th century. Scientists believe they migrated to western Canada across the Great Plains in the early 1900s, using forests that popped up as people learned to manage wildfires and planted trees around farms. They arrived in Washington in 1973 and then moved south into Oregon and California.
If the experimental removal of barred owls improves the spotted owl populations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife may consider killing more owls as part of a larger, long-term management strategy. Enough success has been noted that the experiment already has been extended to August 2021.
"What we're trying to do is find a way to manage barred owls — not to get rid of them completely — ... so that spotted owls can still survive on the landscape while we look for opportunities to help the spotted owl recover," said Robin Bown, who leads the agency's owl experiment.
At the study site, Washington's Central Cascades, only a few pairs of spotted owls remain and Wiens questions whether they can be saved there. But in Oregon and Northern California, they're at least more robust, while still dwindling.
"We're seeing a pattern with removals that the spotted owls that were there when we began are still there, yet the area where we're not doing removals, they're vanishing very quickly," Wiens said. "But we're not seeing new spotted owls move into these areas. New owls moving in is really the key sign of success."
"I certainly don't see northern spotted owls going extinct completely," he said, adding that "extinction in this case will be much longer process and from what we've seen from doing these removal experiments, we may be able to slow some of those declines."
Wiens has established a routine: It is pitch black when he parks his truck on an isolated road west of the central Oregon town of Corvallis, the town where he grew up. The forest reverberates as rain pelts towering stands of Douglas firs and cedars.
Wiens is 6 feet, 6 inches tall, but the trees dwarfs him as he approaches a clearing, the ground squeezing like a sponge at his every step. He sets a digital bird caller on the ground, steps back and waits as the first of several vocalizations penetrates the night, sounding a lot like: "Who? Who? Who cooks for you?"
Barred owls can't stand intruders in their territory so they will swoop in to chase another owl out. Sometimes, they attack.
Wiens ramps up the pre-recorded calls until he hits one that sounds a lot like screeching monkeys. Somewhere in the darkness comes the muffled call of a male owl. "You hear that?" he says, his headlamp scanning high branches. "He's way up there." He plays a few more calls, but the male bird never shows.
That same night, at another remote location, Wiens' colleague Jordan Hazan has better luck.
Just after midnight, after spending several hours in the woods, Hazan carries a dead male owl in a white plastic bag into the lab in Corvallis. Inside the tight space, he weighs it, lays it on the counter and spreads the wings to measure its wingspan, revealing streaks of white and dark brown feathers on the bird's chest.
The owl appears intact, an effort taken so specimens can be shipped out for research at museums and universities across the country. Several dozen had been shipped earlier that day to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.
"They're beautiful birds. It's a little sad to have to kill them," said Hazan, a wildlife technician who took the job in 2015 after spending two years surveying for increasingly scarce spotted owls.
His hands still shake every time he pulls the trigger.
"You're taught all of your life that owls and raptors are to be protected," he said. "People ask me how it is killing the owls. As a hunter, it's fun going out and bagging your ducks and geese. With the owls, you don't get any kind of pleasure out of it. It's just something you have to do."
Bangkok, Oct 11 (AP/UNB) — Time is running out for Thailand's dwindling population of helmeted hornbills thanks to poaching of the exotic birds for the ivory-like casques atop their big red and yellow beaks.
The species, known by the scientific name Rhinoplax vigil, is listed as "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
"Currently, there are fewer than 100 of the birds in Thailand's forests," says Dr. Kaset Sutacha, chairman of the Bird Conservation Society of Thailand and head of the Exotic Pet and Wildlife Clinic at Kasetsart University's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bangkok.
"Critically endangered" is just a step away from "extinct in the wild" and two steps from becoming considered "extinct."
Demand from China is helping drive demand for their distinctive casques, "helmets" in French, which males deploy in battle. The material is used to make rings, pendants and other decorative items.
Worries over the species' survival intensified after the wildlife trade monitoring group TRAFFIC recently posted photos online of dozens of skulls of the endangered avian for sale.
A campaign on the change.org online petition site is pressuring the government to add the bird to Thailand's Wildlife Preservation List as soon as possible. It now lists 19 other species.
The bird is already on Thailand's official list of protected animals, but would get much better protection if it's included in the Wildlife Preservation List, Kaset said.
That "means we can get money, officers and tools from the government, including a national conservation plan designed just for this species," he said.
The population of the bird, found in Indonesia, Malaysia and parts of Myanmar and southern Thailand, is dwindling, the IUCN says.
Most types of hornbills have hollow casques. The helmeted hornbills' are a hard, solid block that in the illegal wildlife market is called "red ivory."
The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency says black market prices are up to five times higher than for elephant tusks.
China appears to be the main market for helmeted hornbill parts and products, though there is also demand in Laos and Thailand, says Elizabeth John, TRAFFIC Southeast Asia's senior communications officer.
TRAFFIC has spotted at least 546 hornbill parts, mostly casques of helmeted hornbills, for sale on Thai Facebook groups in the past five years.
The Bird Conservation Society of Thailand has seen the number of helmeted hornbills depleted over the past 40 years by deforestation and climate change.
"If we let the poaching goes on, it will wipe out the entire species in Thailand in no time," Kaset said.
Preeda Tiansongrasamee, a researcher who has lived in Budo-Sungai Padi National Park in the Budo range in Narathiwat province for 20 years, said hunters traditionally sought helmeted hornbills' casques and heads because they were thought to bring good luck.
"In the past, we could see heads of the bird in homes and people wore amulets made from casques," he said by phone. "That belief has faded away, but a new group of poachers has emerged who hunt the bird to cater to demand from outside Thailand."
Traders will pay villagers 5,000-6,000 baht ($165-$200) for a hornbill head, Preeda said he was told. Prices are double or triple that in cities and increase exponentially when sold overseas.
Preeda walks through the forest every day to check on the hornbills.
"Right now, there are two nests that have baby birds inside. We have to pray that the male will be safe and bring back food every day," he says. "Otherwise, the mother and its babies will die."
Local loggers tend to heed appeals not to cut down trees with hornbill nests, but poachers from elsewhere tend not to listen and sometimes threaten people who try to stop them, Preeda said.
A longstanding Muslim insurgency has complicated efforts to save the birds, since the rebels sometimes target forest rangers they consider to be on the side of the government, their enemy.
The bird is so imperiled it's likely to be added to the Wildlife Preservation List, said Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a respected government consultant on conservation and development.
Last year, Thon got four species added to the list.
But implementing a conservation plan doesn't guarantee the species will survive, he said.
"It's not only the animals that we have to take care of. The people who live in the area should be looked after as well," says Thon.
"They have to survive and have a better life if they are to refrain from cutting trees, and poaching. Without cooperation from people, no conservation plan will last long."