Andaman Chronicle

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Just as I Needed Mine

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

When we were young, we spent two months every year with my mother’s parents on a huge farm in a village near Bhopal. We slept in mosquito netted beds in the garden, we shelled peas and roasted green channas, we played pittoo and all sorts of indoor games with shells and seeds. We were fed relentlessly. Did I ever sit down and ask my grandmother things about herself ? Not that I remember. I called her Dujama and learnt her name twenty years later ! I was far too much in awe of my grandfather to even talk to him.

My granddaughter is shy. Once she loosens up she tells me all about her world. But she, like me as a child, has expressed no interest in who I am or what I am interested in. I am her Dadi and that is enough for her. Will my granddaughter remember me when I am gone ? She is small now but I shall to try to pass on as much as I know to her – about my family and the world around us and perhaps how to survive it.

Are we the only grandparents / Do any animals know their grandparents the way humans do ? For most species the answer is no. Insects spread out immediately and the ones that are in community housing – like ants and bees - are brought up communally in nurseries by feeders and caretakers. In 2010, researchers reported, in Current Biology, that in gall-forming aphid colonies, older females defend their relatives after they've ceased to reproduce.  

Most birds do not recognize their family members after their first year. There are exceptions to this, especially among social birds such as cranes, crows, and jays. A 2007 study, in the journal Evolution, found that older female Seychelles warblers help their offspring raise chicks. Canada Geese also remember their parents, and may even rejoin their parents and siblings during winter and on migration. There is cooperative breeding and care in about 200 species of birds. But that doesn’t necessarily include grandmothers.

In some cases, the life of the wild mammal is so short that the grandparents are dead before the grandchild is of an age to know them. In some cases, the children spread out so that they don’t compete for resources – male tigers for instance – so the chances of running into a grandparent are slim. In many species, the mother and grandmother fight each other for resources, if they're in the same area.

But there are so many that live in sociable close knit groups. Humans, whales and dolphins have evolved to live well beyond child-bearing age, because this helps raise the survival chances of their descendants, argues a new theory of ageing in social animals. Dr Ronald Lee of the University of California, in the journal Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences, says "In some species, post-reproductive females make substantial contributions to their descendants, either through direct parental care or through grandparental care. Post-reproductive bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales babysit, guard, and even breastfeed their grandchildren" .

Many whale species travel in family pods that include both grandmothers and grandcalves. Orcas and short-finned pilot whales, belugas and narwhals, go through menopause. Once they stop reproducing, grandmothers stop competing with their daughters for mating opportunities. That enables them to live in and play an important role in social pods where all the male and female offspring stay together. Studies show that adult orca sons are more likely to survive with their mothers around. Orca grandmothers often lead their pods and can live for decades after they stop reproducing. Scientists, writing in Current Biology, say that the elders are important because they help the pod survive by remembering the best places to find food and share fish with their grand-calves. In groups of sperm whales old females help babysit the group's young while their mothers dive for food.

Great apes appear to be aware of their grandchildren, and have even been known to foster grandchildren if the parent is dead or ineffective (just like humans).

Rhesuses and Langurs live with their daughters and grandchildren in loving relationships and the grandmother is the boss. The grandmothers are in charge of defending the group's children against assaults from humans, dogs and other monkeys. Within the group, grandmothers give their own grandchildren special treatment, grooming them and disciplining them if they step out of line.

Elephants often live in large families made up of babies, juveniles, and mothers. Elephant herds are usually led by the grandmothers who collaborate with their daughters to raise the young. In a study, in Scientific Reports, scientists found that the calves of young mothers were eight times more likely to survive if their grandmothers lived near them than if they didn't. The experienced matriarch was more likely to offer solutions in life threatening situations than the inexperienced mother. Grandmothers led the family to the right places to forage or drink, or when interacting with other elephant families. According to a study done of 834 individual elephants in Kenya's Amboseli National Park over a period of 40 years, researchers say "The new and exciting part of our study is the strong effect females have on the reproduction of daughters and granddaughters in their family. Daughters of long-lived mothers lived longer themselves and had higher reproductive rates." 

Feral cat colonies, according to cat behaviour experts at the University of Bristol, are "based around multigenerational cooperation between females—grandmother, her daughters, and their kittens." Male cats are not involved in raising young.

Do dog grandparents acknowledge their granddaughters/sons, or do they just treat them as random dogs? It depends on the "bonding" period they have when they are born. If they get a few months together they will recognize each other. If the grandparents of the pups are around, when they are puppies, they might possible be able to recognize them if given this same bonding opportunity. Although adult dogs can recognize close relatives, that ability depends on what happened to the dog as a puppy.

Their genetic ancestors, the wolves, still move in family packs in which the parents hold the highest status and are the pack leaders. A family of wolves can be large and extended, including aunts and uncles, siblings, grandparents, and even adoptees. The basic form of a wolf pack consists of a bonded pair, known as the breeding pair or alphas. These are the leaders of the family and their bond can last a lifetime. The alpha pair are nearly always the parents or grandparents of the other pack members, until they become too old to continue as leaders, in which case, if they have been benign leaders, their descendants will look after them. If they were bullies as alphas they will be driven out.

According to Lee’s theory of ageing, If a species makes no post-birth investment in raising its offspring, then the species depends entirely on  fertility, not on a long life. Eg. butterflies lay many eggs, then die. But in species where parents have few offspring and invest time and energy into promoting their children's survival, natural selection would logically favour a longer lifespan. So, if grandparents help their children succeed as parents this will favour living even longer. Anthropologists have found clear evidence that older women have a beneficial effect on grandchildren in traditional societies.

My granddaughter needs me and her Nani. Just as I needed mine. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Nurture is More Important Than Nature

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Most people who choose dogs seem to have some physical similarity with them. High heeled coiffured ladies with long legged, high stepping dogs, overweight people with plumper dogs, shaggy haired master and dog. Sadahiko Nakajima is a psychologist at Japan's Kwansei Gakuin University who has researched not just the notion that humans and their pet dogs look alike, but also why that is so.

In 2009 Nakajima showed how people were able to match dogs and their owners simply by looking at photographs of their faces. This is one of the many experiments done that reinforce the popular belief that dog and owner have a physical resemblance to each other.

The next step was to understand why. Nakajima conducted another experiment, the results of which were published in the journal Anthrozoos.

He found that the reason lay in the eyes.

500 people were shown two sets of photographs. One set showed pictures of real dog-owner pairs, while the other set had random pairings of people and dogs. The participants were shown 5 sets of pictures where different organs were masked : no-mask (in which the human's and the dog's faces were unobstructed), eye-mask (the human's eyes were blacked out), mouth-mask (the human's mouth was blacked out), dog-eye-mask (the dog's eyes were blacked out), and eye-only (where just the eyes of the human and the dog could be seen).

The participants were then asked to select the dog-owner pairs that physically resembled each other. As in Nakajima's 2009 experiment,  80 % participants who were shown the unobstructed photos correctly identified the dog-owner pairs . When the owners' mouths were concealed, participants were correct 73 % of the time. But when the eyes of either humans or the dogs were blacked out, there was no accuracy at all – simply random guesses.  When participants were shown only the eyes of the dog and the human, their accuracy rose to 74 percent.

The conclusion reached was that people choose to get dogs that look similar to themselves – but mainly in the eye region.

The psychological mechanism, that explains why a person might choose a dog who looks similar to themselves, is”familiarity”, known in technical terms as the “ mere exposure effect”. That is why we like the same authors, the same “oldie” songs. That is why we vote for actors, and the wives/children of well known people, without caring about their competence. It is also the reason why fake news has so much strength - repeated every few weeks , it takes on a life in our imagination simply because we are familiar with it.

We are familiar with our own faces. So, anything that looks like us  arouses a warm response. In a test done by Dr Stanley Coren, 104 women were asked to look at the heads of four dog breeds: an English Springer Spaniel, a Beagle, a Siberian Husky and a Basenji. The women rated them on looks, friendliness, loyalty and intelligence. The women were divided into those with longer hair styles that covered the ears and those with shorter or pulled back hair that exposed the ears. 

The results ? Women with longer ear covered hair preferred beagles and spaniels with longer ears that framed the face. Women with shorter hair and visible ears chose the Siberian Husky and the Basenji with pricked ears.

Now a new study done by social psychologists at Michigan State University says that dog and owner  personalities also tend to be similar.

The study had 1681 owners of dogs evaluate their own personalities and the personalities of their dogs. Researchers found that most of them shared personality traits. An agreeable person was twice as likely to have a dog that is happy and less aggressive than one who was moodier. Loving responsible owners rated their dogs as amenable to training. Neurotic owners rated their dogs as fearful.

Obviously the study could not rely on just the observation of the owner, as it might be biased. But acquaintances rated the dog in the same way as the owner did.

This is the standard personality guidelines for personality comparison:

Neuroticism or emotional stability – is a person oversensitive and nervous, or secure and confident.

Extraversion – is the person outgoing, sociable and energetic, or solitary and reserved.

Agreeableness –is a person friendly and compassionate, or cold and unkind.

Conscientiousness – is the person hard-working, efficient and organized, or easy-going, lazy or careless.

Openness – Intelligence levels – is the person inventive and curious, or consistent and cautious

When the owners rate the personality of their dogs, using a test developed by the University of Texas to measure a dog's personality, the owners rated their dogs as similar to themselves in all five of the personality traits. Family members rated the dog as well and the results showed, that in four out of the five personality characteristics, these family members saw the same traits in the dog as in the dog's owner. However, both these studies apply to one dog households. If there are more than one, the similarities become less consistent.

A study by the University of Vienna, published in the journal PLOS, recruited 132 dogs and their owners, monitoring the stress of each member of the pair using both behavioural tests (how they reacted to perceived threats in the lab) and physical markers (heart rate and saliva samples to detect the stress hormone cortisol). The scientists found that the more anxious the owner, the more neurotic the dog. If the owner was relaxed, so was the dog.

Why do these similarities exist. Maybe because the owners tend to pick dogs who are similar to themselves. But even more, through our daily interactions with them we shape their personality. Of course  this is a complicated issue. Do friendly people choose friendly dogs. Or do friendly people take their dogs out more so that the dog becomes better socialized? Dr Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, researched 6000 people’s personalities in 1996 to bring out a chart that predicted the breed of dog that they were likely to choose. The data from that study, which resulted in the book Why We Love the Dogs We Do, was not a comparison of the personality traits of the dog and its owner, but on how the personality of the human affected his attitude toward certain types of dogs. For instance, the study found that individuals who owned aggressive breed dogs had life histories associated with aggression.

When Lambu came to me he had been thrown out of three homes for bad behaviour. Alpha male, he needed attention and would not tolerate any other dogs. For the first few months he drove away all the other 24 that live with me, and took the entire front of the house for himself. As time went on, he has become far less aggressive, gets on with the dogs and is a mature well balanced personality whom one can talk to. All my dogs are throwaways, or crippled in some fashion. When they settle down, none of them are competitive, all of them are curious and they tolerate people while wandering through the world with their own personal agendas. We share many traits. They came in having suffered through contact with the world. In my no-demand house they relax, as do the insects, birds, monkeys and the occasional snake

Dog personalities aren’t set in stone. They change as they grow and are influenced by their lifestyles and experiences. The dog you take home from the shelter isn’t the same dog you’ll have a year from now. You have the power to change it. Nurture is more important than nature. 

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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Need to Stop the Baloons as Well

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

My mind and body have instinctively always had the right feelings towards things that are harmful for the planet – it is almost as if my relationship with Nature is so profound that we think as one. I have always hated kites and plastic straws, for instance, long before I knew how many millions of lives they took. Another phobia of mine is balloons. My family knows that I will not touch one and will not enter a space that has them. People who release pigeons and balloons at rallies have my undying hatred because the pigeons will die and the balloons will kill. Fortunately, because we have been so vociferous about bird releases at ceremonies, it is no longer done. Now we need to stop the balloons as well.

The deadliest ocean garbage for seabirds is balloons. In a small survey done on one coast, 1,700 dead seabirds were picked up. 500+ of these had swallowed plastic. Four in 10 of those deaths were caused by balloons.

Seabirds frequently snap up floating litter because it looks like food. When pieces of latex, or Mylar, are mistaken for food and ingested, they lodge in the digestive tract, inhibiting the animal's ability to eat, and causing a slow and painful death by starvation. Birds, turtles and other animals commonly mistake balloons for food. In addition, many animals can become entangled in balloon strings, which can strangle them or cut their limbs.

A balloon floats to a high altitude where it bursts. The burst pattern makes it look like a jellyfish, that now comes down, is washed into the ocean, and is swallowed by predators like dolphins, whales and sea turtles.

If a seabird swallows a balloon, it's 32 times more likely to die than if it had gulped down a piece of hard plastic, researchers reported in a new study done by the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania in Australia printed in Scientific Reports. "Among the birds we studied, the leading cause of death was blockage of the gastrointestinal tract, followed by infections, or other complications, caused by gastrointestinal obstructions. Birds are especially likely to swallow balloons because they closely resemble squid. Sea turtles, among other wildlife, eat shrivelled, or exploded, rubber balloons because they look like jellyfish. Sea turtles are hit hard, as they surface to breathe and eat and commonly eat balloons. Scientists, doing necropsies on  turtles that washed ashore dead, have often found the necks of latex balloons blocking the entrance to the small intestine from the stomach, and four feet of attached ribbon in the intestine. In July 2018 a handful of boats held a competition on picking up balloons in the ocean. In one day over 600 balloons were collected.

The Sea Turtle Foundation estimates that 100,000 marine mammals and turtles and 2 million sea birds die every year from ingesting or becoming entangled in marine debris, including indigestible plastic that blocks stomachs. In 2016, the CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation) named balloon litter as one of the three most harmful items to marine wildlife.

Balloons are made of latex/mylar or foil and fall to the ground as litter. They are as harmful as cigarette butts and plastic bags. The ones that are pumped with helium travel thousands of miles and their pieces are found in the most remote places, like wildlife refuges, where they pollute the earth. For example, more than a hundred balloons were recently collected at the Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey at a single cleanup on one beach. Petrels swallow shrivelled up balloons and die. On any beach in the world, you can pick up at least 10-15 balloons every day.

To use helium in balloons should be made a crime punishable by life imprisonment. Helium is a finite gas and should not be wasted on fripperies. Helium is used as a shield gas for non-ferrous welding and for cooling the superconducting magnets in MRI scanners . There is no substitute for it, due to Helium's low boiling point? It is also used in breathing ventilators for infants and the patients. In 1996, Nobel Prize winner Robert Richardson issued a warning that supplies of Helium are being used at an unimaginable rate and could be gone within twenty years. Because of balloons ?

According to the US-based Consumer Product Safety Commission, balloons are linked to more infant fatalities than any other child product, and death by helium inhalation consistently takes lives each year.

Balloon companies say that latex, or rubber balloons, degrade. They give different names to the balloon – Qualatex for instance. This is not true. There are no safe balloons. They degrade in decades and are eaten long before that.  While conservationists all over the world are asking for an end to balloons, the companies in America have predictably got together and have created the Balloon Council to fight any laws that restrict the buying and release of balloons. They are reinventing their selling techniques by calling themselves biodegradable. This nonsense, that they use “Natural” latex so it is biodegradable, does not hold, because the latex has had chemicals, plasticizers and artificial dyes added to it. It may degrade eventually, as even rocks do, but it is certainly not biodegradable. People who live in the desert have found thousands of them, some over 20 years old. 

The ribbons, or string that is sometimes tied to balloons, whether it is “biodegradable” or “ naturally dyed”, will last years and entangles animals that comes into contact with it. The balloon industry claims that when a balloon pops, it bursts into many little pieces, and that the pieces land far away from each other. How does that matter? Each piece is a time bomb.

People see balloons as an uplifting thing. Going to the skies and the heavens. They don’t reach heaven – but this flying trash makes thousands of animals and birds reach it before their time. Look at the site 'Balloons Blow' so that you can see pictures of the lakhs of creatures killed by balloons.

Birthday parties, weddings, graduations, sport events , political party jamborees – all these are now mass balloon littering events. It is time to make them illegal : they are pointless, useless, and an anachronism that nobody will miss if they were gone. I am surprised that the Environment and Forest Ministry has not moved to stop this industry. But then, they are equally useless at banning fireworks.

Are you, as a parent, not concerned about the state of the world. Start by changing the birthday party balloon use. Have fun, celebrate with environmentally-friendly alternatives. You want to have things that make your parties memorable and happy ? Flowers are the best way. Coloured lights, colourful streamers, flags and banners save money and time. Pinwheels, with flashy colours fluttering in the wind, attract attention. Tissue Paper Pompoms in different colours are pretty. Blowing bubbles is always fun; watching them bounce around towards the sky and twist with the wind like rainbow butterflies . There are companies that create giant bubbles which are a sight to behold. Chinese paper lanterns are not an environmentally-friendly alternative. Sky lanterns have started huge fires.

Here is a film that you should show in every school - Rubber Jellyfish by Carly Wilson is a documentary about the effects of released helium balloons on ocean wildlife - in particular, Australia’s population of critically endangered sea turtles.

Carly Wilson discovers that helium balloons, that are often released ceremoniously, usually land in the ocean. She examines the phenomenon that causes balloons to mimic the appearance of jellyfish, a prey that all sea turtles eat, when they rupture high in the earth’s atmosphere. She meets several turtles suffering from the excruciatingly painful and often fatal ‘float syndrome’, which is caused by the ingestion of balloons and other ocean rubbish.

Through the film Carly seeks to understand why and how the multi billion dollar balloon industry has led the public to believe that latex balloons are biodegradable and environmentally friendly, despite massive evidence to the contrary. She meets marine biologists, turtle activists, reps of the balloon industry and policy makers, to question why Australia has not taken action against mass balloon releases, when it's waters host all six sea turtles on the CITES endangered species list.

Listen to the reports scientists, wildlife rehabilitators and conservationists are filing about the impacts balloons have on animals and the environment Stop using them. Or invent edible, organic, biodegradable balloons made of unwaxed paper, or straw or even soya, that disintegrate when they are wet.  

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , www.peopleforanimalsindia.org

  • Written by Denis Giles
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