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Seeing the World Through a New Lens

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Are we the only ones who vote, drink, sleep around, eavesdrop on conversations? Every animal does the same thing. So, why not see the world through a new lens and realise that all of us are the same. It will make it easier for you not to make them suffer, or tolerate people and decisions that make them suffer. The latest decision by the new President of Brazil, that the Amazon forests should be cut and housing/mining instituted there, will destroy not just thousands of species of animals, insects and native people, but bring the world much closer to the terrible end  it deserves. One man can change the world for the worse. Why don’t you be the one person who changes it for the better – even if it is just in your own area.

* Chickens value social status and each group has a very strict power hierarchy. When roosters mate with females, according to a study done by Oxford University and printed in The American Naturalist, the hens selectively eject sperm, from their reproductive tracts, from roosters who are low in rank, making sure that they only bear chicks from superior ranking fathers rather than from low status ones.

Both sexes mate with multiple partners. Hens sometimes don't have a choice in mates. They prefer important males, but other roosters with lower status will force them — the females are half their size — to mate. Rather than attempt to fight off undesirable mates, hens have developed a more subtle way to reject them.

* Alcohol/ethanol consumption occurs in every human society that has access to fermentable raw materials. Chimpanzees drink alcohol too. The Royal Science Open Society scientists discovered that the chimps in Guinea frequently drink  fermented palm sap, a naturally-occurring alcohol, that human locals are also partial to. The chimps also use utensils to gather and drink this liquor, namely, crushed leaves they used as “sponges” to sop it up and move it to their mouths—often in such copious quantities that some of them actually get drunk.

The slow loris  ingests fermented nectar (3.8% ethanol content) from the Bertam palm. Green monkeys on St Kitts target tourist cocktails. However, like humans primates, are not attracted to, and rarely eat, over-ripe fruit (which contain higher levels of ethanol).

* People watch other people and this allows us to figure out who's nice and who's mean. Do dogs do the same? Scientists, Chijiiwaa, Kuroshimaa et al, tested 54 dogs that each watched their owners struggle to retrieve something from a container. The dogs were divided into three groups: helper, non-helper, and control.

In the helper group, in the presence of the dogs, the owner requested help from another person, who then held the container for him. In the non-helper group, the owner asked for help from a person, who then turned their back without helping. In the control group, the person helped without being asked for help.

After the interaction each offered a piece of food to the dog. Dogs chose food either from the helper, or the control person, but refused to take something from the nonhelper. The dogs' avoidance of someone who behaved negatively to the owner suggests that social eavesdropping is common to all species.

*According to raisingyourpaws.com, when humans are shocked, or extremely frightened, the hair on their arms and sometimes their neck literally stands on end. The same applies to felines. Adrenaline rush causes the phenomenon. Raised hackles in humans as well as in cats signify fear, imminent aggression or shock. The same applies to dilated pupils. The human eye tends to expand involuntarily in extreme situations, just as it does in cats. Humans express self-satisfaction, pride or cockiness, by walking very erect and throwing their head back and thrusting the chin forward. The equivalent behaviour, typical to cats, is stalking or prancing around, head up and tail in the air.

* When a human male proposes, he offers a precious stone to his beloved. So does a penguin. According to Edinburgh zoo studies, pebbles are the most prized possession of Adelie penguins, equivalent to diamonds for humans. Adelie penguins use pebbles to make their nests and help keep their eggs afloat in the freezing water. Because they live on the frozen, barren Antartica coast, these are scarce. Penguins are notorious for stealing each other pebbles and fighting over them. During courtship, the male will present the female with a pebble as a gift. If the female accepts the generous gift, they mate for life.

But, like humans, female penguins, whether they are single or attached, will provide sex for stones, as the BBC recorded in Deep into the Wild series. The prostitution starts with the female penguin flirting with the male penguin. She will initiate a courtship ritual by joining him at his site and “head-bowing” to him. This is soon followed by copulation. After that, the female penguin will take a stone from his nesting site and return to her nest. Sometimes, she will come back for even more stones which the male will allow her to take.

* A study by psychologists in McGill University and the University of British Columbia, Canada, published in Nature Methods, shows that mice, like humans, express pain through facial expressions in the same way humans do.

Scientists do their pain research on mice, which means subjecting them to terrible cruelty. Scientists have developed a Mouse Grimace Scale which shows that as the pain increases the mouse shows the same contortions of the face that  humans show. Five facial features are scored: orbital tightening (eye closing), nose and cheek bulges and ear and whisker positions, according to the severity of the stimulus.

* Are humans the only ones that vote?  Red deer of Eurasia live in large herds, either grazing or sitting down. Some deer are ready to move on before others are, but, research by biologists Conradt and Roper have noted that herds only move when 60 percent of the adults stand up — essentially voting with their feet. Even if a dominant individual is more experienced, and makes fewer mistakes than its underlings, herds typically favour democratic decisions over autocratic ones.

African buffalo also make group decisions about when and where to move. Researchers realized that what looked like random stretching is actually voting behaviour in which females indicate their travel preferences by standing up, staring in one direction and then lying back down.

"Only adult females vote, regardless of their social status within the herd," biologist David Sloan Wilson writes. The herd moves always in the direction of the majority gaze. “On days in which cows differ sharply in their direction of gaze, the herd tends to split and graze in separate patches for the night." 

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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‘Thou Shalt Not Cause Pain’

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

There are many things we do without thinking and, in the process, we cause great pain.

In my universe, the Ten Commandments have no meaning at all: Thou shalt not lie, Thou shalt honour thy parents, etc. My universe just has one commandment that takes in all: thou shalt not cause pain. In short: live mindfully. Check what you eat, where you walk, what you use, what you say and what you aspire for. If you can do that, you will live the most wonderful, exciting life and the universe will lay itself at your feet.

Leather, meat, eggs, milk: these are absolute 'No Nos. But there are some of the thoughtless things you do which you could do without:

1. Do not buy, keep, or accept, bonsai trees. These are huge trees that are weakened and stunted constantly by cutting their roots, and not allowing them to grow. Imagine a pipal tree in a three inch deep container, and put yourself there. The Chinese used to bind women’s feet as soon as they were born, and a grown woman would have feet that were less than two inches long. She was in pain her whole life. That is how trees feel. The process is  brutal, cruel and unethical. Torn, brutalized, twisted into caricatures with wire and suffering prolonged torture for years, and sold to rich people who need to have something “unusual” in their houses to prove what great collectors they are. People who make them are vicious and hungry for power over nature –  “huge trees on a tray” – not a connect to it. Their excuse : we give them free food and water, we protect them against insects, we apply medicines to their wounds, we control their weather, they have an easy life”. So do people in jail, or animals in experimental laboratories.

2. Do not use horses for marriages. These are female horses, specially bred white, and they get sunburnt so easily. Horses have very sensitive ears and mouths. Here they are walked miles every night to get to the venue, stood for hours till the baraat gets ready, and then exposed to unbearably high sound levels with bands, firecrackers exploding and people screaming around them for hours. So that they don’t bite and remain in control, spiked bits are rammed into their mouths, causing lesions, bleeding, and pain and causing permanent injuries to their teeth. They are beaten regularly by their handlers during “training” sessions prior to making them submissive. Is this the level of suffering you want during a happy time? Does it make you happier to torture this animal, for no value addition to the marriage? 

3. A cage for the bird, a tank for the fish and a leash for the dog? A dog is a creature that needs to run, smell explore. Yet, there are so many “beloved” pets that have never been let off the leash when they emerge into the open with their owners. They walk at the speed of their owner’s will, do their business in a controlled line and then go back to their flats. Is it not possible for you to choose a time to walk the dog in a park when there are fewer people around and, even though it may be inconvenient to you, it means the world of happiness for the dog. Don’t forget to pick up the faeces, otherwise people might object after a while.

4. Feed the birds, but don’t give them bread. Bread has no nutrition. It is white flour with sugar, and it is filling. It removes their appetite, and prevents them from eating their natural diet such as insects, fruit and seeds, which keeps them healthy and allows them to grow. Eating improper food can rapidly cause incorrect bone development, as well as malformations. When bread gets wet, it becomes sticky and can get lodged in the bird’s digestive system causing impaction and fermentation, resulting in death. This happens even when the bread is small, dry or stale. ANGEL WING is a malformation caused by improper nutrition, such as from eating bread or bird seeds during growth. This condition is irreversible and the bird will never be able to fly. It is NOT treatable. So give them peanuts and sunflower and pumpkin, lauki seeds, some uncooked rice and whatever fruit is in season- except for citrus, which they do not eat.

5. Fish tanks, or aquariums at home or in office, are vulgar and unnecessary. They simply scream that the owner is as cruel as the person who keeps a row of caged birds for his amusement. A fish tank is simply a coop for fish that have been taken out of their natural habitat where they travel miles in groups. Now, they have been confined to a  small, crowded area with fish of other species, fighting and hiding for their survival, being fed the dried dead bodies of other fish as “ fish meal” till they die in a few weeks. What is the sense of this? Most of our waters, especially coral reefs, are being denuded of these fish which are caught by throwing cyanide into the water. Not a single person knows anything about the fish they keep, they are fed by servants irregularly - especially the ones in offices, their lights are on while the office is open and then shut off for hours. There is a vested interest in putting up these tanks : each time a fish dies, the supplier earns more money. and the staff of the office take their cut. And, for this wretched tawdry trade, we are losing all the magnificence of the seas. You need to protest whenever you see one.

6. Do not take cute pictures with wild animals. It does not make you look powerful, or attractive, to be seen with a cheetah at the end of the leash, or having an elephant bow before you at a temple, or holding a snake. The animal has been beaten, drugged, and often dies (especially the snake, because their skin is very sensitive), after your photo op. Do not touch fish in an aquaria just because the caretaker allows you to. They can be killed by the bacteria on your hands. Petting zoos are no fun for animals and they certainly show that you are no animal lover – just a vicious exploiter of the weak.

7. Do not throw out your leftover food, fruit peels etc., in plastic bags. It may seem very hygienic for you to do that but, in reality, the plastic bags go into open garbage areas on the street corners . The food smell comes through the plastic. While dogs may be able  to tear the plastic (not the black one ), the cows are so hungry that they eat the food with the plastic. Over a lakh cows die monthly, their intestines choked with kilos of plastic that come from your houses. Better to segregate the food and throw it where it can be eaten by street animals and birds.

There is a beautiful poem, called 'Thoughtless Cruelty' by Charles Lamb, which should be in every school book. 

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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Save Them Now

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Back to one of my favourite subjects: crows. They are slowly disappearing so please save them now.

Give them shelled peanuts, rice, fruit. Don’t put it on the ground. They prefer trays, open feeders, tables. Don’t stare at them because they will not pick up the food. Just leave it and retreat, and slowly, as they begin to trust you, you can start hanging around at a distance of about 8 feet and then close in.

Sometimes they leave gifts if you feed them. So if you like shiny objects and strange sticks keep feeding them. A young crow feeder called Gabi Mann has shown what the crows brought her on You Tube The BitterSweet Life : earrings , paper clips, nuts and bolts and a small light bulb.

They play the funniest games. Not just tag, tug of war with sticks and hide and seek. For instance they will sit on a wire and suddenly one will flip upside down until he drops off and lands on the ground. Then he will go up and do the same thing. Just showing off ! Young crows push each other off ledges , they throw snow at each other, sneak up behind another and unbalance them. They hang joyfully from branches , do elaborate aerial maneuvers.

 Scientists have documented 7 kinds of play -

Object play (manipulating things for no reason).

Play caching (hiding inedible objects).

Flight play (random aerial acrobatics).

Bath play (more activity in water than necessary to get clean).

Sliding down inclines (snowboarding, sledding, body sliding).

Hanging (hanging off branches but not to obtain food).

Vocal play (you know how kids go through that phase when they talk to themselves a lot? The crow version of that.)

Here are crow watchers writing in with their experiences :

“I watched one play with a leaf for 10 minutes, he’d sit on a power line moving it between his feet, then let it drop to the ground, fly down, pick it up, and repeat. I’ve also watched them thwack each other with pine boughs (pull back with beak or foot, wait until sibling isn’t looking and let go).”

“I observed some young crows at play in the restaurant parking lot beside our house. One day, there was a rolled up ball of paper or rags. And to my amazement these fun loving crows started to bat it back and forth across the parking lot to each other – as if playing football.”

“Ravens were discreetly approaching quokkas from behind to bite their tail, scare them and make them jump. It really looked like a game”

“I have seen them ‘steal’ bags of chips from inside a store, escape, open the bag and eat them like professionals!”

There are 40 species of crow all over the world. Most stay in groups . Others are solitary but will forage in groups. When one crow dies, the group will surround the deceased. This funeral isn’t just to mourn the dead, but also to see what killed their member. They band together and chase predators in a behavior called mobbing. They live close to where they are born, and help raise and defend chicks.

Ravens send out calls to alert other individuals to sources of food. Researchers Boeckle, Szipl, and Bugnyar published in Frontiers in Zoology, have shown that ravens encode their age and sex in these calls, so that individuals can decide whether to join the feeding event. This decision is particularly important because aggression at feeding events can cause injury, so grouping with a bad crowd can come at a high price.

Crows have trust issues with human beings, but once they trust you they adopt patterns of behaviour. For instance they will wait for a husband’s car to leave before they come to be fed by the wife ! A crow watcher from Ireland has observed that when he started, his wife would bring him food and he threw some of it to the crows. After a few days they would come just before his wife turned up, and squawk to let him know she was coming.

Like humans, crows plan for the future. They store tools for later use, cache food, and only hide those pieces of food that they know will be running low in the future. In all these studies, the birds had to consider what to do, where to do it, and when to prepare for certain specific future events.

In a study published in the journal Science, researchers tested whether the birds could store and retrieve a tool to get at their food after a gap of 17 hours. The ravens were able to instantly select the tool from a number of unnecessary items.

In another experiment researchers taught ravens to select a token that they could exchange for food. The ravens showed that they were able to select it, store it and then retrieve and use it, many days later, in exchange for food. This does not happen in nature, but the birds understood the concept immediately.

This proves that they don’t just use abilities that have evolved naturally, but can flexibly and intelligently apply new solutions. Crows not only plan for future events but consider the thinking of other crows. When a crow caches food, it looks around to see if it's being observed. If it sees another animal is watching, the crow will pretend to hide its treasure, but will really stash it in its feathers. The crow then flies away to find a new secret spot. If a crow sees another crow hiding its prize, it knows about this little game and won't be fooled. Instead, it will follow the first crow to discover its new hoard. Ravens pretend to hide things simply to see who is following them, so that they know who is most likely to steal their cache once they’re actually hiding food.

Another case of crow memory comes from Chatham, Ontario. Around half a million crows would stop in Chatham on their migration route. The mayor of the town declared war on crows because of their droppings, and people started shooting them. Since then the crows have bypassed Chatham, flying high enough to avoid being shot. This had not, however, stopped them from leaving droppings all over the municipality.

If you think two crows watching you and cawing at each other are talking about you, you're probably right. In Marzluff's study, even crows that were never captured attacked scientists who had captured other crows previously. How did the crows describe their attackers to other crows? The intensity, rhythm, and duration of caws forms the basis of a possible language. Ravens have a language with 33 categories of recorded vocalizations.

They watch what we do and learn from us. Crows have been seen to drop nuts in traffic lanes, so cars will crack them open. They watch traffic lights, only retrieving the nut when the crosswalk sign is lit. Crows have been known to memorize restaurant schedules and garbage days, to take advantage of prime scavenging times.

They are one of the few animals to recognize themselves in the mirror.

Please start feeding them today. 

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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