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Do you still think you are superior?

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Read this and thank God that you are still the boss of the planet. The day ants grow in size, the dominance of the human race is gone:

* Do ants stand for election? Yes, and the months long process is almost as brutal as the Indian elections, according to research published in the ‘The American Naturalist’.

When an Indian Jumping Ant colony’s queen dies, the workers, alerted by the absence of her familiar scent, gather at the centre of the colony and form a circle around the larvae and pupae.

One ant starts beating another ant’s head with its antennae and immediately most of the ants in the colony are in fencing duels, which escalate to slaps and then head biting, and “police” ultimately intervene and restore order.

The ants beat each other to see who gets to lay eggs and who doesn’t. Every Indian jumping ant worker can lay eggs, but only if they win. After weeks of conflict – no one dies but lots of minor injuries - 10 to 15 top candidates emerge and they transform into Gamergates. Their heads shrink, their abdomens fill with ovaries and their life spans grow from six months to five years. The group shares egg-laying power and shared dominance.

Each ant goes from tournament to tournament establishing its power. During a tournament whoever locks their jaws around the head of another ant wins. The winner gets a boost of a hormone, called dopamine, and this helps it in its next tournament. Dopamine starts activating their reproductive system, while the losers’ reproductive capabilities shut down.

As more ants lose and drop out of the race, gangs of five ants, not taking part but rooting for a particular candidate, will start policing ants that refuse to give up. They will corral the ants for two days and refuse to let them move/take part till the hormone subsides . In effect these “goondas” are choosing the leaders by forcing ants out of the race.

Three political results emerge: when ants fought evenly with each other and fair tournaments were held, the result was more democratic : a  bureaucratic structure with a CEO at the top and power filtering by rank down to the last ant. When the duelling and head biting took place then a multi leader shared dominant structure came out. But when the goondas or gangs stepped in a despotic hierarchy emerged — a single ant on top, with all other ants sharing the same rank.

* According to the Institute of Science and Technology, Austria’s paper published in Current Biology, when ants move into a new nest they spend the first days cleaning it thoroughly, like humans moving into a new home. Lasius neglectus ants  spray their nests with formic acid  ensuring that the nest is clean for first-time occupancy. The adult ants  are protected from the poison by a thick skin and eggs by a protective "shell", the  pupae are first covered in a silk cocoon so that they are protected as well till the acid settles down after killing pathogns, just as humans use gloves when they use harmful cleaning products.

*  According to a study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science when fire ants are flooded, or need to find land, they band together to form a  bell shaped structure, similar to that of the Eiffel tower.

An individual ant is capable of supporting as many as three other ants, to which it connects using sticky pads on its feet. By continuously scrambling over each other, the ants are able to eventually build a solid base, building on each other from the bottom up. Making tall structures allows them to hunt for empty spaces in which they can create new homes.

In water, fire ants form a dough-like ball by grabbing onto each other with their sticky legs. By staying perpendicular to each other the ants distribute their weight evenly, creating a raft that floats even when fully submerged in water.

* Researchers from the University of Freiburg have discovered how desert ants find their way in a featureless environment. They count precisely. When they set out in search of food in the flat, bare, environment, they are always able to find their way back to their nest on the shortest route possible. The ants measure the distance they have gone by recording how many steps they have taken -- and they use the sun for directional orientation, taking time into account via their own internal clock.

1.   Summary:

* The ant's acute sense of smell has allowed them to create the most complicated social organization on earth, next to humans. The waxy layer, that covers their bodies, is the source of the complex aromas that ants use to communicate. These smells act like uniforms, identifying individual ants by caste, colony and species, regulating their behaviour to make sophisticated and disciplined social systems. Ants see their world through their nose, their antennae. "Ants are unique in the insect world because they have more than 400 odorant receptors compared to 60 to 80 in other insects like fruit flies and mosquitoes. Ground-based communication is very important for them. For instance, ants emit alarm smells from a gland in their mouth if something disturbs their nest. It is a cue for ants to grab their larvae and run to safety. Defenders of the nest start running around with their mandibles open ready to bite. Bright orange citronella ants make a strong citrus smell when alarmed, and Pheidole ants stink of faeces.

* According to the journal Current Biology, carpenter ants who feed from  plants  construct defensive shelters around the base of these plants, to guard against other insects and protect their food supply. Ants that live in hot, dry habitats survive long periods of drought by storing food. Their specialized seed-harvesters collect huge stockpiles underground. Honey pot ants use their own bodies as storage containers.

*  A colony of ants employs queens, gardeners, cleaners, foragers, nurses and soldiers, and each have developed specialized tools and skills to get their respective jobs done. Within each species, division of labour varies, depending on an individual's age and sex. Ants looking after the brood, and working inside the nest, tend to be younger, while those defending the nest and foraging outside are older.

* Ants also teach in formal schools, with teachers and pupils, according to a study in the journal Nature. Older ants teach younger ants how to find food, using a poking and prodding technique called tandem running. When female worker ants of the species Temnothoraxalbipennis set out for food, they take another ant to make the journey with. If the second ant doesn't know where to find food, the leader teaches her through tandem running. The process is slow. The follower pauses every once in a while—creating a gap between it and the leader—to search for landmarks. When she is ready to continue, the follower catches up and taps the leader on the hind legs. If the gap between them gets too large, the leader slows down and the follower speeds up. The opposite occurs if the gap becomes too small. This is the first non-human example of bi-directional feedback teaching—where both the teacher and pupil modify their behaviour to provide guidance at a rate suitable for the pupil's abilities. In time, the followers learn the path  and become teachers .

* Fungus-gardening Attine ants cultivate fields of fungus to feed the colony. But have the same problems as human farmers—crop-eating pests in the form of parasitic microfungi. A study in the journal Science shows that these ants use antibiotic-producing bacteria to keep their harvests from reducing.

The undersides of these ants is covered with fuzzy white clumps, and there are tiny cavities inside, which contain bacteria producing antibiotics that are deadly to garden pests. To keep the fields clean, the ants rub the bacteria all over. The ants use special glands inside the cavities to produce food for the bacteria.

Do you still think you are superior? 

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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Cow Dung Logs: A Lucrative Solution

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Lakhs of people die in India every day. The Muslims bury their dead. The Hindus burn theirs. Conventionally, firewood, electricity or LG gas is used to burn human bodies all over the world. But there is no more ‘waste” wood left to burn. In Delhi they have found a unique solution. The government gardeners pretend they are going to “trim” the existing trees. They lop off most of the large branches (often killing the tree) and sell them to Nigambodh ghat. The profit is given to the whole department – much like the traffic police share their bribes with the entire thana.  In rural India, a death in the village means a tree is cut down, and the most common victims are mango trees. So, wild mangoes are disappearing and with them goes the entire pickle industry. It takes about 600 kilos of wood to burn one body. The cost to the survivor is above Rs 15,000 or more. The act itself of cutting a tree is illegal, but who cares when a parent needs to be cremated.

A separate problem is the cow that has stopped giving milk. The farmer does not want to sell her to the butchers, but he does. Or leaves her on the road to fend for herself. She wanders into the fields and is beaten to death with lathis. Or her legs are cut viciously by the barbed wire that most farmers use illegally. Hundreds of terribly wounded cows come to my hospital in Bareilly every day, their skin stripped off their thighs and their bones exposed.

Gaushalas are few and far between. And most of them are prison cells for this gentle animal, who often starves to death in the gaushala itself. There is no proper management of any gaushala, no doctors, and often the owners show the same disdain towards the milkless cow that her previous owners did.

Here is a business solution to both problems. We need to change our attitude towards the cow. Milk is NOT the most important part of the cow, it is her dung. This dung should be used in the cremation grounds. For Hindus, the cow is sacred and so using cow dung, instead of wood, should not pose a problem.

There is a machine for making cow dung logs. My gaushala in Delhi has bought one two years ago and we sell the logs to Nigambodh Ghat. Even though we are not regular, because we are far too busy with actually saving cows, we earn Rs 60,000 a month. It is a fraction of what Nigambodh needs: they could absorb a hundred times that amount.

Cow dung logs cost less. There was an optical problem till recently, since people did not want to burn their relatives with round Kandas/Uapalas. But now they are being made into long logs by this machine that makes them with minimum manual intervention. While putting fresh cowdung into the machine we also put a little fragrant “havan samagri”.

The cowdung log making machine is very reasonably priced: between Rs 25,000 – Rs 35,000.

A combination of dung and straw ( or any aggro waste – harvested crop residues) is fed into the hopper of the machine. A screw mechanism is provided in the machine which helps in mixing the raw materials thoroughly , compressing them and extruding them out. There are different moulds to make different log sizes. The logs are then put in the sunlight to dry out the moisture, making them hard and sturdy. The machine can be operated on electricity, one horse power motor, or even manually. It is easy to operate, requires little maintenance and no hard labour. Even women can operate it efficiently.

A cylindrical hole in the centre is provided to facilitate easy drying and efficient combustion. The machines available are capable of making one log per minute of 3 in. by 3 in. and 3 feet long. Logs can also be cut into small pieces for use in choolas and havans. The slurry from biogas units can also be used for making logs, by mixing it with straw of any harvest residues.

Almost every village in India has a cremation ground. Every town certainly has two. If someone were to take a contract to supply the logs to them, they could earn lakhs for the gaushala and for themselves. Cows would stop dying of starvation and be treated with more respect.

Cowdung can also solve another very important problem. The trees of India are supposed to be planted by the forest department. They get crores of rupees every year to grow trees and then to plant them. Their success rate – according to their own figures – is 2% !!

One of the reasons (apart from the fact that they never grow plants in their nurseries, and pinch the money!) is because they grow the seedlings in  thick black plastic bags which they buy for Rs 4 each. This is expensive, but, even worse, these plants are usually planted along with the plastic by careless forest labour, resulting in 100% mortality. Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh supposedly planted 1 crore trees each last year. Less than a few hundred have survived. Think of the waste of your tax money.

Another machine by the same maker exists, to make cow dung flowerpots of different sizes. These can be offered commercially and sold to the forest department for their nurseries, and to private nurseries. The pots give nutrition to the plants, withstand the rain and watering and can be planted in the soil along with their plants. We would, have a dramatic increase in trees and reverse climate change. Every state government should change their policy, so, if you are reading this, please cut it out and send it to the CMs and Forest secretaries. (To tell you the truth , I tried with one state. The CM agreed. I sent the machine. The local forest officers said it didn’t work. It turned out that the plastic sellers pay them a rupee per bag )

The logs and pot making machines can be purchased from:

Dip Technologies, 10-11 Umiya Estate, Near Bharat Party Plot, Rabari Colony, Amrai Wadi, Ahmedabad, Gujarat 380026

Ph: 8048018796. 

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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Cocktail of Drugs in Your Meat

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

When cooking chicken, or meat, for one’s family, most people are very careful to wash and cook the flesh properly. Unfortunately, there are some things which any amount of washing, boiling or roasting cannot clean out – and those are drugs.

There is a cocktail of drugs in your meat and all of them are going to go into your body.

These drugs are a mainstay of meat production in many parts of the world, and Indian producers have adopted western practices of food production that keep profit far ahead of animal or human health. In 2018 India produced 4.3 million tonnes of buffalo (carabeef) and cattle (beef) – 1.5% higher than 2017.

Chicken meat increased from 1.9 million tonnes in 2013-14 to 3.46 million tonnes in 2016-17. Goat meat increased from 0.97 million tonnes in  2013-14 to 1.4 million tonnes in 2016-17. Sheep increased to 0.5 million tonnes. This means an estimated 238 crore chickens and 1.2 crore pigs were slaughtered for their meat in 2016-17. A grand total of over 10 million tonnes of meat.

How does a meat producer get so many crore animals to kill, and how does he get them to put on weight in the quickest possible time so that he can get more meat? How does he do this without spending money on feed? The answer is that he pumps drugs into these animals. One of the main drugs is Ractopamine. Ractopamine was approved by the FDA Sixteen years ago (2003).

Ractopamine is a beta agonist drug. Beta-agonists bind themselves to fat and muscle cells in the animals' body, reducing the metabolism of fat while increasing the size of muscle fibres. Consequently, less fat is produced and less fat is stored in the carcass. Muscle fibre size replaces some of the weight normally found from fat, and the total carcass contains a higher percentage of lean muscle. This makes the animal more muscular, reduces fat content and increases the profit per animal, because the same amount of food produces a much bigger animal with more meat on its bones. 

However, as much as 20% of Ractopamine can remain in the meat by the time it reaches our plates.

In fact, the residue in humans can be so high that it could even be detected in a dope test! Internationally acclaimed cyclist Alberto Contador failed a Tour de France anti-doping test in 2010 for levels of Clenbuterol (a drug of the family of Ractopamine) which he had gotten from eating meat.

Ractopamine is used in the USA but has been banned in the EU, China, Russia and 160 other countries for being dangerous to both animals and human consumers. Taiwan has in fact banned American beef imports because of Ractopamine usage. However, the drug is commonly given to animals in India.

In animals Ractopamine is known to cause reproductive dysfunction, hyperactivity, broken limbs, birth defects such as short limbs, missing or fused digits, open eyelids, enlarged hearts, stress, lameness and premature death. How could an animal, that is itself so sick, possibly give good quality meat?

In human medicine, beta-agonists are inhaled directly into lungs of asthma patients to relax muscles that constrict airways; they are routinely used on smooth muscle tissue through direct entry into the cardiopulmonary system, and pregnant women who are in premature labour have beta-agonists injected into their blood to relax the muscle tissue of the uterus, preventing premature births.

But if eaten through food, Ractopamine (Optaflexx) has been linked to increased heart rates, high arterial blood pressure, chromosomal abnormalities, anxiety, intoxication, tremors, headaches, muscle spasms and many more serious effects. This poses a particular risk to children, or people with cardiovascular disease.

Considered even worse than Ractopamine is another alarming beta-agonist drug used in animal production to increase weight – Zilmax or Zilpaterol. Zilpaterol was approved by the FDA in 2006. Cattle and pig feeders use feed additives like Zilmax to increase the rate of weight gain without any additional feed. It can add many pounds of meat to a bull or buffalo. The Encyclopedia of Meat Science (Dikeman and Devine; 2004) reported Optaflexx© increased average daily gain by 15-25% with no additional feed intake. Slightly higher results are shown for Zilmax. An estimated 700 million pigs receive beta-agonist drugs, each producing six additional pounds of pork.

However, this comes with a trade off. Zilmax has been known to cause severe reactions in animals leading to painful hoof loss and, very commonly, death. Since the drug was introduced in 2007 in the US, several hundred cattle have unexpectedly died after being fed Zilmax. In fact, in just two years after Zilmax’s introduction, the number of cattle euthanized at meat production farms rose by 175% from previous years. The makers of Zilmax, Merck and Co., recruited animal welfare specialist, Dr. Temple Grandin, to help review the product in 2013. In an interview with Reuters, Dr. Grandin indicated there have been incidents of stiffness, soreness, and heat stress since the use of beta-agonists began.

Zilmax is considered to be about 125 times more potent and dangerous than Ractopamine, and this is likely the reason why side effects in Ractopamine studies are often overlooked when compared with the destructive power of Zilmax. 60% to 80% of feedlot cattle in the US are fed beta-agonists. America refuses to remove beta agonists from cattle feed : The reason? Stopping their use will result in each animal carcass being about 10-15 pounds less – a total of 0.5 billion pounds of beef, or about 1% to 1.5% of production. More corn will be needed to feed cattle to reach the same weight. This will raise the prices of the rest of the beef.

Another contaminant hiding in meat is Glyphosate. It is the active ingredient in Roundup (made by Monsanto) – one of the most widely used weed killers in India. In India the consumption of glyphosate was 148 million tonnes in 2014-15, the highest for any herbicide.

These crops are fed to animals and you eat the animal’s meat, along with it comes Glyphosate. Studies around the world have shown Glyphosate to cause cancer, genetic mutations and disrupt endocrine functions in human consumers. It is toxic to our DNA even when diluted to concentrations 450-times lower than what is allowed in agricultural use. This is not a drug to be taken lightly. The direct deaths of humans from pesticides have been estimated at 7000 in 2015 and increasing every year. Yet, no one has related the deaths from cancer from eating the same pesticides in meat. Glyphosate use is permitted only for one crop: tea. But it is sold by dealers all over India where no tea is grown. It is used also for cotton which is sold for cattle feed. And the more BT cotton is grown, the more glyphosate is used. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that exposure to glyphosate in the US, where GM crops were introduced in the early 1990s, increased almost five times in a 23-year time span.

Animal meat producers use over 450 animal drugs, drug combinations and feed additives, to promote growth of animals and suppress the negative effects of confined and unhygienic conditions in animal factories. Apart from the ones above, synthetic hormones, such as zeranol, trenbolone acetate and melengestrol acetate, are commonly used. These have been shown to increase the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer. In India it is also common to feed chickens with arsenic to help them get fatter faster and develop a better colour. This arsenic reaches your plate through chicken meat.

Are you eating meat or a dead body that, during its lifetime, bore little resemblance to the animal it was supposed to be? Do you eat food to be healthy or to get sick?

You need to want safer food for your family. The industry is demand-driven, so if people are unwilling to eat dirty chemical treated meat, producers will be forced to stop these practices. 

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
  • Hits: 283