Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

While we all know that crows are very bright, few people know about the abilities and intelligence of the pigeon.

Pigeons can multitask – do more jobs at the same time – than humans. In an experiment by scientists at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum, test groups of humans and pigeons were trained to do jobs like pressing a keyboard once a light bulb came on. They were also put in situations wherein they'd need to stop working on one job and switch over to another. Humans and pigeons switched between jobs at the same speed. In the tests, where the subjects had to wait one second before switching jobs, pigeons were much quicker.

A 2015 study revealed that pigeons can identify cancer and distinguish between malignant and benign growths. Researchers at University of California, Davis Medical Center, put pigeons in a room with magnified biopsies of potential breast cancers. If the pigeons correctly identified them as either benign or malignant, they got a treat. According to Scientific American, "Once trained, the pigeons' average diagnostic accuracy reached an impressive 85 percent. But when a "flock sourcing" approach was taken, in which the most common answer among all subjects was used, group accuracy climbed to a staggering 99 percent, or what would be expected from a pathologist. The pigeons were also able to apply their knowledge to novel images, showing that the findings weren't simply a result of rote memorization."

They ride the metro to get to their feeding stations, getting off at the same place every day. Which means they can count, remember fellow passengers and where they get off and landmarks.

They recognize people who are nice to them and avoid people who are mean, according to an experiment done in Paris in 2011.  Researchers of a similar age, build and colour either scared pigeons away or gave them food.  They repeated this for several days. The pigeons knew the feeder from the chaser—even when they swapped outfits—and would flock or run away accordingly. The study team led by Dr Dalila concluded: "The fact, that the pigeons appeared to know that clothing colour was not a good way of telling humans apart, suggests that the birds have developed abilities to discriminate between humans in particular.

Pigeons have extraordinary vision and can distinguish between nearly identical shades of colour.

They can also read the alphabet, if taught. In a 2016 study, scientists showed that pigeons can differentiate between strings of letters and actual words. Four of the birds built up a vocabulary of between 26 and 58 written English words. The birds could even identify words they hadn't seen before.

They understand abstract mathematical concepts, differentiate between number-like objects, order pairs, and accurately judge amounts – an ability that they share with only rhesus monkeys.

In the 1950s, psychologist B.F Skinner taught his pigeons to play ping pong – a game that requires a great deal of spatial understanding and dexterity. In 2017 a research published in Current Biology showed that pigeons understood the concepts of space and time.

Japanese psychologist Shigeru Watanabe and two colleagues trained pigeons in 1995 to recognize the paintings of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso and distinguish between the painters. The pigeons were even able to use their knowledge of impressionism and cubism to identify paintings of other artists in those movements and watercolor paintings from pastels. In a 2009 experiment, pigeons were shown almost two dozen paintings made by students at a Tokyo elementary school, and were taught which ones were considered "good" and which ones were considered "bad." He then presented them with 10 new paintings and the avian critics managed to correctly guess which ones had earned bad grades from the school's teacher and a panel of adults. Like humans, pigeons categorise on the basis of colour, texture and general appearance. Pigeons can differentiate between photographs and even two different human beings in a single photograph.

Pigeons have been found to pass the ‘mirror test’, the ability to recognise their own reflection in a mirror. The pigeon is one of only 6 species, and the only non-mammal, to have this ability.

They are very good parents. They share equally in the nesting duty, dividing the responsibility of incubating their eggs to give the other a chance to eat and rest. You will never see a baby pigeon, because  pigeon parents keep their children in their well-hidden nests until their young reach near-maturity. The pigeon parents only reveal their babies to the world once they practically look like adults. They mate for life and it’s a love that endures. If one is sick, the other will wait by her in public, no matter what the danger to its life.

These swift and smart birds are blessed with navigational expertise, have an exceptional memory for topographical details and excellent hearing and vision. When they come down to eat at places where people leave food they don’t push and shove each other. You never see them fight. They eat in harmony and everyone gets something. Apart from impressive acrobatics to avoid being eaten, pigeons also do backflips in the air just for fun !

Charles Darwin was fascinated by their intelligence. He kept them as pets, joined pigeon clubs and wrote about them extensively.

Today they survive in tough cities, endure being starved and killed by ignorant and vicious municipal corporations, persecuted and crippled by passersby and traffic. They carry on wanting to live with humans with a grim persistence. They eat the rubbish we throw and the chasing of our children, the kicks and the blows. And still they come forth to make friends. They could find their way in the countryside – like most birds who have abandoned our urban areas – but they choose to stay.

Left to me I would make them the mascots of the city. Feed them. They represent your soul; bewildered and yet resilient.

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

We select one disease to be mortally afraid of – and ignore all the diseases that we should be scared of.

One of these is bovine tuberculosis.

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is a disease of cattle that is a major public health threat. It is transmitted within herds by inhalation of infected aerosol droplets from infected cattle.

Despite the considerable economic costs, and zoonotic risk, India still does not have any accurate estimates. No surveillance, no checking systems and absolutely no national disease control programmes. Not even the education of farmers.  In fact, India has the poorest veterinary system in the world. It is one of the few countries left where the disease is considered endemic.

A metastudy, which included 44 different research articles, called Prevalence of Bovine Tuberculosis in India: A systematic review and meta‐analysis, done by Srinivasan, Easterling, Rimal, Maggie, Niu, Conlan, Dudas, Kapur, published in June 2018,  reveals that there are about 21.8 million infected cows and buffaloes in India, more than the total number of dairy cows in the USA.

Bovine tuberculosis (bTB) is caused by a bacterium called Mycobacterium bovis. While it mainly affects cattle, the bacteria affects a large number of species, and it has been estimated that M. bovis causes 10%  or more of the total human TB cases in India and poses a significant threat to global health (Olea‐Popelka et al., 2014). Bovine tuberculosis is strongly zoonotic (spreading from animals to humans) and causes tuberculosis in humans.

To remove tuberculosis from humans will require removing bTB from cattle simultaneously.

A government survey done in 2018 showed 2.690 million cases of tuberculosis, 199 people per lakh in India. Mortality is 32 people per lakh - a million times more than the “pandemic” corona virus. India has the highest number of sufferers in the world, with 2.8 million cases annually, more than a quarter of the tuberculosis patients all over the world. Much, much, worse is the fact that India has the largest burden of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis among all countries, with almost 150,000 cases every year.

Much of this is from drinking milk, eating milk products and eating beef. The bacterium, Mycobacterium bovis, survives 1-8 weeks in cattle faeces, so anyone handling gobar is at risk.

Pasteurization kills the bacteria but is your milk pasteurized ? Forget the consumer, when the dairy owner is physically taking out the milk from the animal, he stands a strong risk of getting bTB . When we surveyed the Idgah slaughterhouse, which I shut down 30 years ago, most of the butchers had bTB, getting it from the infected meat. It is as prevalent today among dairy workers and butchers. Their spit and perspiration on the meat, gives it to you.

Do you know where your milk came from? If you were to get bTB today would the government know where to trace the milk back to ? Are there any records of dairies kept by the local district Chief Veterinary Officer ?  We are told that pasteurization kills the bTB bacteria. But most people in small towns (70% of India according to FAO/OIE/WHO, 1993) get their milk unpasteurized  from the dairy next door – the man who keeps a few cows in a makeshift shed and allows them to roam around and eat garbage the whole day so he doesn’t have to feed them. He has no licence, no parameters, no government controls. The milk that is bought from him is simply boiled by you – killing no tuberculous bacteria. No mithai seller uses pasteurized milk (if he uses real milk at all). He gets his milk from a small unregistered dairy.

Before pasteurization was made compulsory in western countries a century ago, M. bovis accounted for 25% of all TB cases in children (Roswurm & Ranney, 1973). But it is not compulsory in India. So, how many lakh Indian children have it ? All studies say that the disease is going to increase in the coming years due to the growing intensification of dairy and cattle grown for export. For instance, cattle herds in Puri, Odisha have increased in bTB from 9.1% to 84.7% (Dhanda and Lall).

We have 300 million cows and buffaloes, the largest population of cattle in the world (Basic Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Statistics, Government of India, 2017). We have the largest beef export. Therefore, we have the potential to infect the whole world with  bTB.

The Metastudy looked at 1941 to 2016. Gaushalas, organized and unorganized dairies, semen stations and slaughterhouses. Indigenous, crossbred and exotic breeds. Crossbred cows had marginally the highest prevalence, and cows had marginally more than buffaloes. Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Gujarat and Bihar have the highest number of diseased cattle. Maharashtra marginally less. But it exists all over India.

Animals are more likely to be infected by M. bovis when they are poorly nourished or under stress. There is evidence that intensive dairy farms have a higher risk of infection. The bacteria is spread by infectious animals - in their breath, milk, open lesions, saliva, urine or droppings. In cattle, excretion of M. bovis begins around 87 days after infection occurs. It spreads from cows to calves via the milk.

What are the symptoms in cattle ? In the early stages of TB, clinical signs are not visible. In the later stages, clinical signs may include: sluggishness, emaciation, lethargy, weakness, anorexia, low-grade fever, and pneumonia with a soft chronic, moist cough and a chest wheeze. The lymph nodes may be enlarged. If the animal is killed for its meat in an early stage of TB, the microscopic lesions will be missed – that is, if someone is looking. No slaughterhouses in India have even the most basic TB skin test.

Cattle need to be isolated and treated with a combination of antibiotics for 6-12 months. But who will do this ? In the unlikely event that the cattle are tested for bTB, which dairyman will spend money on their treatment. It is too expensive and too long. He is more likely to keep taking the milk and then, as they grow sicker and the milk dries up, he will sell them for meat. The meat is sold with no warning to processors or consumers that it comes from TB infected cattle.

In India meat is sold from unregistered filthy shops. Here is a report from England : “Tens of thousands of diseased cattle, slaughtered after testing positive for bovine tuberculosis (bTB), are being sold for human consumption by Defra, the food and farming ministry,” reported The Sunday Times in 2013.Following an investigation, the paper says, it found that the meat is being sold to caterers and food processors by the government’s Food and Agriculture Department, despite being banned by most supermarkets and burger chains.

Tuberculosis is often fatal. It is a long-lasting disease that cripples through emaciation, coughing, abdominal infections, enlarged lymph nodes and general bad health. The name, Tuberculosis, comes from the nodules, called ‘tubercles’, which form in the lymph nodes of affected animals and people. M. Bovis causes the same problems as M. Tuberculosis – except that it is even more resistant to drugs. Not everyone exposed to the Mycobacterium bovis bacterium will develop symptoms. If symptoms of bovine TB occur, they can include: fever, night sweats, persistent cough, diarrhoea, weight loss and abdominal pain. According to WHO, about 143,000 people die of M. Bovis annually. Corona virus with 10,000 deaths has frightened us. This is so much bigger.

The BCg vaccine, invented in the 1920s by Calmette and Guerin, had proved to be ineffective. It reduces the severity of the disease but does not prevent infection. Cattle that are vaccinated with the BCG vaccine, which contains a harmless strain of the bovine TB pathogen Mycobacterium bovis, make it impossible to distinguish, with the skin test, if the animal has TB or has simply been vaccinated. The vaccine is banned in most countries.

This is what the study says :

“bTB has a high and widespread prevalence in India as no national control strategies have been implemented in the country. These data suggest that India, as the world's largest producer of milk accounting for 18.5% of the world's total milk production and the world's largest red meat exporter, has an urgent and as yet unmet need for control of bTB for both economic and public health reasons.”

The study recommends :  a national surveillance programme using a single, well‐standardized skin test performed by independent, well trained operators using approved protocols and well‐standardized tuberculin antigen.( Even the diagnostic tests we have are rubbish. Experts who have tested the quality, origin and source of tuberculin say they vary in performance, are often inaccurate and are not standardized at all(Bakker et al., 2005)) ; a much better vaccine than the current Bcg.

Is the government going to do this ? No. So human tuberculosis in India will not slow down, inspite of our signing the World Health Assembly protocol in May 2014 to end the global TB epidemic by 2035. Any attempt to eradicate the disease from humans without eradicating it from cattle is futile. 

You need to protect yourself. Don’t drink milk or any dairy based product and don’t eat meat.

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

By now you must be fed up with reading or listening to things about the Corona Virus. It has taken everyone’s attention away from what they do, to whether they want to live or not. Economy, foreign affairs, shops closed, a potential food rationing coming up , unseasonal rains, global warming, a rise in cancer cases – every worry has become irrelevant in the face of a threat from someone who sneezes or coughs.

Some good things have happened in this time of Corona. The weather is better, the large weddings and parties have disappeared so there is less noise and certainly no polluting fire crackers, there is much less traffic and I can hear the birds again.  Families spend more time with each other and, suddenly, we discover that we can find happiness within a much smaller circle doing gentler things.

The government too has a breather as everyone’s attention is diverted.  The social media is less political and less vicious. Politicians become irrelevant and their coming and going out of parties is seen as something that has no bearing on your life.

There is much to cry as well. Everyone already struggling, in a failing economy, is faced with the almost fatal blow of no one coming to shop any more. Luxury goods are hit the worst. At the lower end – street food vendors, whole markets of cloth and shoe sellers, small shops in malls … all of them are out of business. Prices of food are up.

For me, and the animal world, it is a terrible time. A large number of government and private agencies, who have nothing to do with the virus, have become experts at spreading fake news. The Western Railways in Mumbai tell you to avoid touching your pets, the Thane Municipal Corporation has spread flyers saying the same. The Star Insurance company sent out mailers, the NTPC electricity company …..  each one withdrew their nonsensical information when they received a rocket from the Health Ministry but, by then, people who were looking for an excuse to do harm have taken their dogs and dumped hundreds of them on highways where many have been run over, or in shelters like mine. All these animals will suffer and die – for no fault of their own.

The Corona virus cannot be spread to animals and no human can get it from animals. The Corona virus is a more severe form of the seasonal flu – which mutates every season. Every creature on the planet wants to live, and viruses have a life as well. In order to live and multiply they have to constantly change, as the human body’s defences will not succumb to the same virus again. Every time you get flu, it is a different virus. But never have you ever given a cough and cold to your dog or cat or cow and goat, or got it from them. And this time is no different.  If you are mean to your animals now, think of what it does to your karma and beware of the virus !!

The second tragedy has been the complete drying up of donations, both in the form of money and in food. Hundreds of people come to my shelters every day and they bring food for the cows, monkeys and dogs. Now, because of the virus they have stopped coming, because everyone wants to stay at home and we have had to buy much more food for the first time – and that frightens me. The donations have stopped coming as well. The shopkeepers are uncertain about how long this spell of bad luck will last and the normal salaried person and consumer is uncertain about what the future will bring in terms of food shortages and supply systems. So, the first thing down the drain is charity . Every NGO looking after animals is frightened.  Companies giving their CSRs to animals (very, very few to begin with) are not doing so any more, because their profits  have crashed, or they have been asked by the government to put it into the Corona Virus basket (for what, I have no idea so far). So we are broke. It seems that God only exists in good times, and the human being forgets his duty towards the world in bad ones and turns completely selfish.

Many people have asked me whether they are more likely to get the virus if they eat meat. This is what you  need to know :  Animal meat is bad for the human body. The virus will attack everyone – whether you wear those foolish masks or gloves is irrelevant. But whether the virus can affect your body, to the point that it kills you, depends on your immunity system. Meat attacks the immunity system. Most meat and chicken carry a huge overload of viruses, bacteria and antibiotics. If you eat it – especially chicken and eggs – you will get all the germs and all the antibiotics and hormones that these animals have been given to keep them alive. 70% of India’s antibiotics are fed to animals and once these enter your body, and you get the Corona virus , the antibiotics the doctors give you will have little or no effect in curing you. Then you need to go back to charity and god.

Buffaloes and cows have leukaemia and tuberculosis, chickens have diabetes and many, many other diseases, pigs have every kind of rapacious worm. Are you sure you want to put these diseases into your body right now ?

I am bringing out a book in two months called Poison on Your Plate. It lists all the antibiotics and chemicals that meat, eggs and milk, carry and its effect so far has been that my editors and publishers have turned vegetarian.  If you want to be fit enough to tackle the virus when it hits you – which it will – then stop eating meat. 

Regarding the eating of wild animals, that China  and many countries in South east Asia eat - snakes, bats bears, tigers, pangolins, to name a few - most of these animals carry a very high viral load and this mutates in the human body. Now the Chinese have been officially asked not to eat every species on the planet, but what about India ? In just Manipur alone there is a terrible market in a district called Tamenglong, where dogs, pangolins, snakes, bats, monkeys, and everything you can imagine, are sold daily. Smugglers come from Myanmar daily to buy this meat. These markets should be stopped immediately.

Lastly : there is a belief that the virus will disappear when the weather warms, that there is a bandwidth of temperature within which the virus operates. But the weather has always been hot in Kerala – and the most cases are there. It has spread all over Africa. The virus will never disappear. Yes, this virus will go away after a few months, maybe, when it runs out of weakened bodies and you develop an immunity to it. But it will return in another form a few months later and we will name it differently, as we have the previous ones – chikengunya, swine flu, bird flu, corona. Will you be ready for it then ?  Keep your body healthy. 

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