Wednesday, 25 July 2012

An Animal Protectionist’s source of joy, Disgusts Me

This bird is NOT mourning its lost love!

By Barry Kent MacKay

This is going to sound very disgusting, but please stay with me.  Suppose I offered to send you a photo of an adult male trying to have sex with the dead body of a youngster?   Would you thank me or call the image “sad but tender”?   Would you feel better about it if I told you that the photo was of a familiar species of animal, a dog, say, or maybe a cat, canary or horse?

Of course not, and yet that is exactly what many people, including animal rights activists, have done, and continue to do, to me.  Each time I carefully explain why I am not “touched” by these photos, although I realize that they don’t mean to cause my more negative reaction.   So in the forlorn hope that I can stop from seeing this image again, let me explain in this blog.

You may have seen this series of photos and captions yourself.  It does not really disgust me because I don’t believe that the adult male in question was capable of making a choice that would accommodate our own sense of morality.   I don’t blame him!   I just wish people who care about animals knew more about them.  It is essential in the work we do that we know, exactly, what we’re talking about.

The photo in question is one of a series that shows a type of bird, called the barn swallow.  It is widely distributed throughout much of the world, including North America.  In the latest version sent to me the birds are called “bluebirds”, which is incorrect.  There are no bluebirds that look like swallows, or vice versa. 
The first image shows an injured bird on pavement.  Swallows swoop low to the ground in pursuit of insects and, sadly, are often struck by cars.  He or she (sexes are alike) clearly has at least a damaged wing.  Whether this is an immature bird or an adult is impossible to tell (the main difference would be tail feather length, impossible to judge in the first two photos).
In the second photo an adult Barn Swallow (you can see the long outer-tail streamers that characterize an adult) is hovering over a hurt bird, possibly the same one as in the first photo.  Its mouth is open and seems to show the yellow mouth corners (flanges) that characterize a young bird, and since there is no indication of long tail streamers, it could be an immature, mouth open for food. 
In the third photo a bird, presumably the same one, is dead on the ground and looks like an immature, showing yellow mouth corners, and no sign of long tail streamers.   The angle has changed, or the bird turned right angles before dying if it is, indeed, the same bird (I suspect not).
It is the fourth the adult male is clearly and obviously copulating with the dead young bird.  The live birds is the classic pose whereby the male presses his vent tight against that of the female for the transference of sperm.  This is as obviously a copulating pose to anyone who knows anything about birds’ reproduction, as is a male dog humping a female, if I may be so crude.  The caption says, “He tried to move her - a rarely seen effort.”   That’s nonsense.
To me there is nothing “wrong” with the fact that much behaviour by birds and other animals, including human, is instinctive.  The male swallow is fornicating on a dead baby of his own kind, which would be awful if he were a human, but he isn’t.  Is that okay?  Or must our concern for animals be predicated on their being like us when we are at our best?
Just wondering.
Blogging off,

A female bluebird was hit by a car as she swooped low across the road, and the condition was soon fatal.


Her male mate brought her food and attended her with love and compassion.


He brought her food again, but was shocked to find her dead.


He tried to move her - a rarely seen effort.


Aware his mate was dead and would never come back to him
Again, he cried out with adoring love
 . . . And stood beside her with sadness and sorrow.


Millions of people were touched after seeing these photos in America, Europe, Australia, and even India.
The photographer sold these pictures for a nominal fee to the most famous newspaper in France.
All copies of that edition sold out on the day these pictures were published.

And many people think animals and birds don't have brains or feelings.
You have just witnessed love and sorrow felt by God's creatures.

Live simply, love generously, care deeply, give fully

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Elephants - Magnificent Mammals

By Lynda Nanders
AAC volunteer

How did the elephants of the Thula Thula game reserve in Zululand  know that their savior and protector had died?  Lawrence Anthony, who had risked taking into his reservation  an elephant herd scheduled for slaughter, died in 2012.  Immediately afterwards, two herds walked twelve miles to visit his home and stayed quietly there, stayed for two days, showing their respect and mourning their human friend. 

Anthony risked taking the first of his elephants because they were about to be killed.  They had been identified as rogue and highly dangerous.  Why?  Because they were suffering post traumatic shock.  The fact that mammals (and perhaps other non-human creatures) experience post traumatic shock is well studied and documented in Bradshaw’s Elephants on the Edge.  This ties in with Jane Goodall’s observations.  Non-humans do have less intellectual power than humans, but they do think, and their emotions are very, very close to ours. Jeffrey Moussieff Masson, explores the emotional lives of many mammals and birds, as well as of elephants, in his When Elephants Weep.

Lawrence Anthony wrote of his experiences with elephants in The Elephant Whisperer. Revealing their ability to plan and to act together, the elephants Nana and Frankie toppled a tree to break through their enclosure. Once they were safely on the reservation  (5,000 acres) again, they learned from Anthony, in ways that we do not understand, that they were safe and should stay.

Nana revealed both her ability to plan and her wish to help other animals when she opened the gate enclosing 30 nyala who were to be moved.  She did not take their food, but desired to help them by setting them free. Elephants follow their matriarch. They live in a mutually supportive social structure.  They celebrate every birth and help raise the young.  When Nandi’s baby was born with deformed feet, the other elephants tried repeatedly to help her stand.  Anthony and the rangers were able at last to take the baby, whom they named Thula, away from her protective mom.  They worked with a vet and their own ingenuity to get that baby to walk.  However, later, the herd came to Anthony’s house.  Wisely, he rubbed Thula’s scent into his shirt and showed this to the elephants.  They understood that the baby was safe, that the humans were helping, and then they left.  The baby died  later, and the elephants mourned her body as it decomposed on the veldt.

Elephants, like primates, enjoy painting!  We are learning to respect animals’ emotions, and, now, we should look into their aesthetic awareness, also.  Bears have been observed standing up gazing at sunsets. Katya Arnold teaches art to children and to elephants. She has written a children’s book, Elephants Can Paint .  There is more information about the elephant art and samples for sale on

Another delightful children’s book, full of information that many adults do not have, is Face to Face With Elephants by Joubert.

I have mentioned only a few books about elephants.  Our library system has thousands!  One suggestion for choosing books on this topic is to check the publishing date.  The more recently such a book has been written, the more useful and accurate it is likely to be.  Unfortunately, we are just now beginning to understand and appreciate the abilities and feelings of other animals on our planet.  We do not understand, for example, why the elephants understood Anthony’s conversations,; however, he was able to persuade them to trust him at difficult times.  We do not know how they communicate with one another through their “tummy rumbles” as well as their trumpeting.  We do know the threats against their survival – habitat destruction, hunting (usually sanctioned by governments under the euphemism “culling”) and poaching.  We should, if we, like them, are moral beings, start protecting them. We know that the wild is the place for them.  Anthony had to relate to his elephants in order to rescue them and care for them.  He hoped that this situation would be temporary, and he discouraged his workers from any personal contact.  He finishes his book with, “To me, the only good cage is an empty cage.