Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Mimicry, by changing form, shape and colour, is unique to animals. Imagine if you went into a Chinese or African neighbourhood and had to blend in. Or become shorter, fatter, change the shape of your nose, increase the number of arms, the odour your body emits. We can't do any of these things even if our lives depend on it.

But animals and insects do it easily. They change their forms to look like species that predators avoid. Their scents change, their colours blend in with the background or with their prey. Their ways of surviving are nothing less than magical.

The Mock Viper of  Asia is a harmless snake. It looks like a dangerous viper with a triangular head. The difference is that the mock viper has round pupils. True vipers’ pupils are vertical slits.

The Mock Viper is so clever that, when threatened, it squeezes the shape of its pupils to look like the slits of a true pit viper and then, in the panic this causes, it flees.

It's not just while protecting themselves, animals that hunt need to be clever too. Some fool their prey into believing they are harmless, while they get close to them.

The Green Lacewing larva feeds on Woolly Alder Aphids who are herded by ants. So, it plucks the white waxy wool from an aphid’s back, attaches it to its own and fools the ant shepherds into believing it is part of their flock. Once inside the circle, it eats the aphids.

The Zone Tail Hawk feeds on live animals, but it mimics the flight of a vulture who is a carrion eater. Small animals, who would have normally rushed for cover on seeing a hawk, are deceived by the gliding flight and vulture-like outline and are snatched up.

The Cleaner Fish is harmless and its function is to eat the parasites on larger fish who stand in line to be attended to. The predatory Sabre Tooth Blennny  has black and blue markings like the Cleaner and it imitates its swimming pattern and loiters at cleaning stations to dupe clients waiting to be cleaned. It comes close to large fish and bites a chunk out of them before darting away.

The Dusky Dottyback is a small 3 inch harmless looking fish which lives in our Indo Pacific coral reefs . Its normal colour varies from pink to grey,  but  it can change into any colour – green, yellow brown – to match its prey. It tricks baby fish of larger species into thinking it is one of them. Then it eats them. Its favourite prey are baby Damselfish. This unique talent allows the Dottyback to easily approach juvenile Damselfish without detection and, by the time the group is alerted, it has eaten several babies and moved to new groups of fish with new colours.

The Slender Trumpet Fish swims vertically among the soft coral branches and changes its colour to match them. It is almost invisible to the small animals that it hunts.

The Marine Flatworm increases its size to look like a Sea Slug, which is avoided by aquatic predators because it emits a poisonous and malodorous substance.

The Milk Snake is harmless, but changes itself gradually to develop bands like the venomous coral snake. Is this mimicry or a coincidence ? Definitely deliberate mimicry, because it happens only in those regions where Milk snake and Coral snake are found together. In other regions the Milk snake doesn’t look anything like the Coral snake.

Young Bushveld Lizards in Southern Africa mimic the noxious Oogpister’ beetles. As adults the lizards will camouflage themselves with the red-tan colours of the Kalahari semi-desert, but as juveniles the lizards become black and white and move with stiff, jerky movements, with backs strongly arched, to look like the Oogpister beetles who are avoided by all as they spray a pungent, acidic fluid on anyone who threatens them.

The harmless Hognosed snake, when threatened, pretends to be a rattlesnake. It raises its head as it is about to strike and makes a rattling sound from its throat. If that doesn’t work it pretends to be dead and gives off a rotting smell.

Many moths, of the families Arctiidae and Ctenuchidae, are foul-tasting and are avoided by bats who hunt by sound and  recognize their high pitched clicks. Other moths, who are edible, protect themselves as soon as they hear the bats coming by emitting the same clicks. Scientists experimented by putting out mealworms that are a favourite food of bats.  These were accompanied by recorded moth clicks. The captive bats ignored the mealworms, choosing to go hungry.

Male Photinus fireflies of North American emit pulses of light in very specific patterns when they go to find mates. The females remain on the ground and  responds to the flash pattern of  the male with her own light pattern. The flying male responds to her signal by approaching, landing, and mating.

The Photuris female firefly is a predator and eats Photinus fireflies. What she does is to copy the light signals of the Photinus female. The hapless male, after landing, is seized and eaten by the Photuris. In response to males of her own species, whom she does not eat, the female Photuris gives a flash response quite different from that of Photinus.

This one is my favourite :  The female  African mouth-breeding Cichlid fish  lays eggs and takes the eggs into her mouth immediately after they are laid, even before the male can fertilize them with his sperm. The male develops yellow, or orange, spots near the base of his anal fin, which closely resemble the eggs. He comes near the female and displays these spots.  The female thinks that she has missed out some loose eggs and attempts  pick them up in her mouth. As she opens her mouth the male release his sperm and she takes in the sperm that fertilize the eggs in her mouth.

Death’s Head Hawkmoths need honey, so they mimic the smell of bees, allowing themselves to get into hives without being stung. There, they ignore the bees, choosing to feed on the sugary honey stored inside. As soon as they leave, they resume their own odours.

The Alligator Snapping Turtle has a large set of jaws, but how does it get fish to enter its mouth ? These freshwater turtles disguise themselves among the dead wood and mud at the bottom of rivers and lakes, open their mouths and wiggle the small growth on their tongues. This growth looks and behaves like a worm. As soon as the fish takes the bait, and enters the still mouth, the jaws snap shut and the fish is dinner.

The Spider-tailed Horned Viper of Iran uses the appendage at the end of its tail in the same way. The end is a bulbous structure with thin growths jutting out of it. The structure looks like a spider. The snake moves behind rocks and raises the tip of its tail onto a rock so that birds can see it. When a bird  swoops down to capture the spider, the snake attacks.

I just read today that the Chinese Paddlefish of the Yangtze river, a 200 million year old species that survived the dinosaurs, has finally gone extinct due to overfishing and the construction of dams. It was a unique and extraordinary animal who could grow to 23 feet. It used its special sword-like snout to sense electrical activity to find its crustacean and fish prey. Again, magic. Most humans have no idea of the magical world that they destroy day after dreary, blood filled, violent day. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

If there are two prominent genes wired into the human body, it is their love for betting and an indifference to the suffering of others.

Both these genes combine when it comes to forcibly racing animals. The rich go to horse races. Horses are bred to run faster. Many of them have drugs and hormones injected into them. Many have their windpipes surgically altered to bring more air so that they can run longer. They are whipped mercilessly by their jockeys. And, if they fall and break a leg, they are shot. The ones that start losing races are sold to laboratories to be used as living vaccine producers (they are injected with poison and the blood is extracted after the poison has matured). Some of them are taken by their millionaire owners to the hills, where they are sold to people who rent them to tourists and make them go up and down the hills till they die of bad feeding and exhaustion. Or, they are sold to slaughterhouses where they are turned into dog food and glue. Their flesh is exported to France and Japan, where it is considered a delicacy. One study on injuries at racetracks concluded that one horse in every 22 races suffered an injury that prevented him from finishing a race, while another estimated that 3 thoroughbreds die every day. Strained tendons, or hairline fractures, are often not diagnosed and the damage goes from minor to irreversible at the next race. On an average 24 horses die per week on the racetrack due to drug overdose or injuries. And I am not counting the horses that were killed by trainers and stud farm owners as part of “ selective breeding”. For the spectators at the races, the horse is the least relevant part : what is more important is the clothes they wear, the alcohol they drink and the money they make or lose.

The poor have cattle races. These are mainly in Karnataka on the day of Makara Sankranti (when bullocks are raced through water), Maharashtra and Punjab. Slow moving cows are tied together and have steel rods and balls poked into their anuses to make them run. They are whipped to increase their speed. I have photographs of the small spiked iron balls that are tied to the whips. Some races use a horse and bullock tied together. Both die. The drunken spectators are usually landless, but this is done in the name of farmers’ celebrations. These are illegal, so the races usually happen early in the morning.

Pigeon racing is a big business. The biggest is the Mac Arthur race where pigeons, whose legs have been tagged with numbers, have to cross three seas in a brutal 600-kilometre race in the Philippines, during which competitors face water, predators and kidnappers who set up fishing nets to catch them. The pigeons fly low over water to avoid wind, and many die when hit by waves, or succumb to exhaustion. Many are shot or eaten by larger birds. The casualty rate is 90%. Those that survive fly to their coups in Manila. Their owners retrieve the tag and call it in to race organisers, which is how victory is determined. The Philippines have 300 clubs, but Belgium (which started this terrible “sport”), India, Taiwan and China are not far behind. On an average 60 percent of the birds get lost, or die as a result of extreme weather, predators, electrical lines, hunters, or exhaustion. Races that are particularly fatal—where only a minuscule percentage of birds makes it home—are referred to as “smash races.” Birds who aren’t considered fast enough, and aren’t wanted for breeding, are killed by suffocation, drowning, neck-breaking, gassing, or decapitation. Most racers kill hundreds of pigeons before they find a suitable racer. Another racer told investigators that when starting out in pigeon racing, “The first thing you have to learn is how to kill pigeons.”

Greyhound racing is the main industry in Macau, where tourists go to gamble, drink and watch these poor animals, who have been beaten, starved and locked up, run for their lives. Those that lose a few races are killed. Lakhs of dogs have been killed over the years. This terrible torture is replicated in America where greyhound racing started in the early 20th century, and generates millions of dollars in gambling revenue in the states that still allow it. Dogs live in cages and are kept muzzled by their trainers at all times. Many exhibit crate and muzzle sores and suffer from infestations of internal and external parasites. Although their thin coats and lack of body fat make them extremely sensitive to temperature, greyhounds are forced to race in extreme weather conditions - from subzero temperatures to sweltering heat. Owners regularly kill greyhounds who become injured, grow old, or are deemed too slow. Others die on the track. Some dogs die during transport from one racetrack to another. The cruelty of the industry is finally being exposed, and the number of spectators is declining, but that means that the conditions the greyhounds are being kept in have worsened. Official raids done on greyhound retirement homes, which are mandatory by law, have found the bodies of thousands of dogs that have been “ retired” by their caretakers with a shotgun.

The Buon Don elephant races in Vietnam are held in March every year. Elephants have to run for a mile through land and water. Two mahouts sit on each elephant, to poke iron sticks into the soft part of its head and whip it hard with large sticks to make it run faster. Thousands of people watch and cheer as the animals are hit. The elephants race at a speed of 25 mph. Animal activists are calling for a ban. India has stopped There is one race in Nepal which should be stopped, but the disease has now spread to Afghanistan which, whenever it takes a respite from its favourite “sport” of killing human, invents one that uses animals.

The Middle East has too much money and too little to do for it. So,  they have horse and camel races. So do Pakistan, Mongolia and Australia, and the events are used as tourist attractions and for legalized betting.

Camels are whipped severely to run at speeds upto 65 kms an hour. Children have been abducted and trafficked from poor countries like Bangladesh to be jockeys. They are kept in slavelike conditions and given small amounts of food, so that they are as light as possible. They are strapped to the animals and whips placed in their hands. Many children have died during the races. While most countries have bowed to international pressure and banned child jockeys, the organisers have invented a new torture for the animals. Children have been replaced by robotic whips. The owners can whip the racing camels via remote control. The whipping has increased almost three times, because the owner doesn’t have to use strength to lift his hand, he can simply push a button. Camel deaths have gone up exponentially. The biggest camel race in Australia is in Queensland. People come to watch the camels run, but mainly for the betting, market stalls and other entertainment . Now, Australia has shot 10,000 camels in one day and lost one billion others (yes, one billion, not counting insects) in forest fires, so whether these races will continue remains to be seen. The Australians will probably find another species to race and gamble upon. After all, the world may come to an end, but we will be cruel and greedy to the last.

In some sports the rider is pulled by animals. Harness racing, dogsled racing and the ancient sport of chariot racing are all equally vicious.

There's nothing sporting about forcing animals to risk -- and often lose -- their lives so that someone can win a prize, a title or money. Only the most vicious and degraded human beings are happy with the suffering of a helpless being. These are probably the same people who watch child porn. 

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Blessed are the Merciful, For They Will be Shown Mercy

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

My granddaughter, Anasuyaa 5,  is a vegetarian and a very healthy eater. She loves vegetables, specially broccoli. She doesn’t like maida in any form, including cakes. She likes the idea of icecream, but will rarely go beyond a few licks. My son went through a phase of offering her lollipops, which she took to please him but never ate. Her idea of a great meal is lots of salad, two rotis, a little rice, dal, mushrooms and vegetables

A few weeks ago she was given an egg by a friend’s mother, which she ate. She told me and I was very angry. When I took the matter up, the only defence that the person came up with was “Anasuyaa is very thin and she needs protein” and then she followed it up with a standard accusation, “How can you force your child to be vegetarian. She should be allowed to eat what she wants .What you are doing is not democratic and its bad for the child. ”

This is the most annoying argument of all, and is pushed by the feebleminded. So, vegetarians and vegans should be ASHAMED for making their children eat so, while the others, no doubt, offer their infants an a la carte menu at each meal time ?

Parents force their choices on you the day you come to the world, starting with the name and religion. Every parent forces their children to eat in a particular direction. But the parents, who force their child to eat meat at a young age, are doing much more damage, because they start early in ruining the child’s health and laying the foundation for obesity and organ breakdowns. They also take away the natural sensitivity the child is born with towards the rest of creation.

A family stays together with food. All culture, all respect, starts with food choices. I know that if my son were to eat meat it would strain our family ties.  He has been brought up a vegetarian, and it has made him into a fine person. Anasuyaa is the gentlest soul I have ever met: she picks up snails from the pathways and carries them to one side to see that they are not run over. We have not taught her that. We have simply let her be the way the universe meant humans to be, pure, gentle, with curiosity and compassion towards all. Even her teachers say that she is unique in her respect for everyone. And I owe that to the fact that we have left her vegetarian, mostly vegan, and explained food to her since she was two. How many parents explain food to their children ? How many understand nutrition themselves ?

Your children are not born feral. Every activity is forced on a child – make sure your choices are good and mindful, and then make the child do them. My son’s IQ is over 150, Anasuyaa has come first in several chess championships, and is often first in her class- if you want to be a tiger mother and expect wonderful things from your child, start with giving them the food that their body and soul really needs.

I have parents who say to me very proudly “My child hates vegetables” . That is an example of really bad parenting. If the three year old rejects a vegetable the first time they simply remove it from the diet. But it takes 3-4 times to get a child to accept food, any food (I am not talking about sugar, at all). These are parents who probably don't like vegetables themselves, and force the child into their own food tastes.

Sometimes the media is so strange. I have read nonsensical news stories about “Vegan couple force their diet on child , kill toddler”.  If your child is obese, or diabetic, because you give them pizzas, pastry, or hamburgers, twice a week, or if you warm up food in a microwave … that’s fine. What about the parents that force kids to eat McDonald's, junk food and sweets, a bucket of chicken, or luncheon meat sandwiches. These are the 'forcings' that should be shamed. In this case, the parents did not keep their child vegan – they simply fed her just fruit, which is criminal idiocy – as much idiocy as feeding chicken soup to a child that is ill (chicken soup is used in labs to grow bacteria). So many of our children in India are vegan naturally, and look how well they do. Childhood obesity is talked about all the time, but it doesn’t get shamed. Try getting a newspaper article on parents whose child died of organ failure through bad eating. Not happening.

When I was younger I used to speak to children in schools. When I finished, almost 90% would turn vegetarian. Then, they would go home and tell their parents. And one parent would turn this into power play and become aggressive in their need to dominate, “You want to be vegetarian. Go and live with Maneka Gandhi. ”, or “Why should I cook separately for you. This is not a restaurant”.

If an elder child insists that her younger sibling be vegetarian, then she is the radical and fanatic : not the parents who force chicken nuggets on the four year old because they know best, and the child should have what she wants. The same parents do not allow her to have sweets, or any cereal that contains too much sugar, no matter how much she cries.

Another oddity I see in people is that if a child is vegetarian because of religious reasons, its fine. But if you keep a child vegetarian because you care about their health, the environment, climate change and suffering to animals, that’s considered radical.  How weird that society values religious decisions over moral ones.

A friend of mine is very rich, and an art collector. His grandson, aged 4, loves, really loves, cows. So they have statues of cows in their vast garden, and he talks to them. And then sits down to dinner and eats their meat. If I try and tell him, their whole family warns me off because it might upset him and put him off meat. But, if a simple identification of what he is eating puts him off meat, then surely it’s a sign he shouldn’t be eating it ?

A lot of children don’t realize that the meat they are eating are dead animals. They don’t talk about it  at school, because teachers see it as the parent’s job.  But we need better food education, and now it is important that that  we don’t hide where food is actually sourced and what it’s actually made of. You owe it to your child to "force" them to recognize animals as sentient beings, instead of forcing them to eat them. When the child is old enough, and wants to eat meat when he is older, that choice can be left to him. But, until then, a healthy and ethical food should be the norm.

Many years ago, I asked a leader of my party why his children ate meat when he and his wife were vegetarians. This leader is a Ram Mandir Hindu who shot to fame through Ayodhya. His reply was, “In our house we have democracy”. My next question was “So, if your daughter and son smoked, drank, and had multiple partners, or walked about scantily dressed, is that ok as well ?” At which point he said “Tauba tauba”, and foolishly added “Ram was a hunter”.  “In the jungle”, I replied, “are your children archers ? Do they kill their own food ? ” He was by then sick of me as a fanatic, but I pursued it, “ So, you are ok with having dead bodies on your table in order to establish the sacred foundations of democracy ?  And you are so noble that when your children were toddlers you fed them meat with your own hands in order to make them true democrats ? And your children, when grown up, guided by the sacred light of democracy, could not respect the family traditions of vegetarianism and their parents ? ” And he answered, “Aaj kal modern zamanaa hai”. I stopped arguing: anyone who accepts the killing of other species as a “ modern” thing cannot be argued with. Both his children are divorced and he is unhappy : divorce is not “very modern”.

The world is changing. It was very fashionable to think of a vegan as a crazy flat-earther. Now, veganism shows a superior class of person, more committed to the planet, more interested in health for themselves and their children. It is the carnivores that are on the back foot : destroying health and other species is no longer fashionable. Remember the Christian beatitude always, when you feed your children, “blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”. Compassion is an economic imperative: it keeps you and the planet healthy, and what could be better than that . 

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