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And I am Still Heartbroken?

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

When my husband died, I inherited his work table, a long wooden desk with huge drawers. It has travelled with me from house to house and I kept everything of value in it : letters from my husband, wedding albums, unfinished manuscripts, pictures of my childhood and my son’s childhood, letters from my mother and mother in law.

When I moved into 14 Ashoka Road in 2002, The British-built house had been the badly kept and was the office of the Communist Party for 30 years. I should have paid more attention to it, especially when I saw the fungus seeping in and termites eating the doors. But every time I called the government engineers in, they either replaced the doors or painted over the fungus.

I tried lots of old grandmother remedies: planting banana trees in the garden, as this is supposed to keep away termites, putting fresh cow dung patties in different places so that termites would be attracted and then, as they clambered on, we could get rid of all of them.

One day I decided to finish my book on garden plants. But I couldn’t get the drawers to open. When I called the carpenter in, we discovered everything had been eaten by termites – and I mean everything. In one stroke I lost all my treasures.

I cried. I had the house broken down from inside and de-termited room by room. It took 16 months.

So many people ask me questions about why nature invented mosquitoes, cockroaches or termites! Even though termites have robbed me of my most precious belongings, I acknowledge that they are more important to the world than I am.

Pests to homeowners, they are actually beneficial insects. They can digest tough plant fibres, or cellulose, because of the specialized bacteria in their guts. They break down tough fibres, they recycle dead trees back into the soil, contributing towards a rapid recycling and turn-over of minerals. When they tunnel through the soil they aerate and improve it, which helps tropical forests and agricultural lands grow faster as water and nutrients reach the plants and trees. Some species attack living trees, but these are trees that are weakened, or under stress, which release a chemical (kairomone) used by the termites to locate it.

Only a handful of the 3,000 or so known termite species are pests to people. The rest are soil engineers who create the ground under your feet and keep it healthy. Termites thrive by eating what others can’t or won’t: wood, dung, lichen, even dirt.

By poking holes as they dig through the ground, termites allow rain to soak deep into the soil, rather than running off or evaporating. Termites mix inorganic particles of sand, stone and clay with organic bits of leaf litter, discarded exoskeletons and the occasional dead animal, a blending that helps the soil retain nutrients and resist erosion.

The stickiness of a termite’s faeces gives body to the soil and prevents erosion. Bacteria in the termite’s gut are avid nitrogen fixers, able to extract the vital element from the air and convert it into fertilizer.

Termites, and the elaborate habitats they construct, are crucial to the health of deserts and semi-deserts, tropical and subtropical rain forests, warm, temperate woodlands. At least 126 species of termites (including wood feeding ones) feed on 18 species of mammal dung  and can quickly remove large amounts. As termites bring large quantities of dung below the soil surface and enrich soils with nutrients, dung feeding by termites is important in the functioning of tropical ecosystems.

Researchers at Princeton University report, in the journal Science, that termite mounds serve as oases in the desert, allowing the plants that surround them to persist on a fraction of the annual rainfall and to bounce back after a withering drought. Even when desertification starts to happen in the area, the vegetation on or around the mounds does so well that it will keep reseeding the environment. These mounds prevent fragile dry land from slipping into lifeless wasteland.

Termites have been historically widely eaten by people suffering from malnutrition due to protein deficiency, fed to animals, and used as medicine across the continents of Asia, South America and Africa. In fact, these insects are among the most commonly consumed insects on the planet, second only to grasshoppers. In a survey on the consumption of termites, held in Côte d’Ivoire, from 500 people surveyed, 97% consumed termites, demonstrating that such use is part of the reality of rural and urban populations in that country.

A. Vasconcellos, de Figueirêdo, I.S. Policarpo, and R.R. Nóbrega Alves have done a study on edible and medicinal termites. 45 termite species were recorded as being used by human populations in the human diet, or for livestock feeding, and nine species used as a therapeutic resource. As food or feed for animals they are eaten in 29 countries in Africa, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Malaysia, Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela and Columbia. Even Indians eat the Odontotermesfeae species of termite.

Zambia uses termites to combat child malnutrition, Somalia to suture wounds. Brazil uses termites for asthma, flu, bronchitis and as antifungal, India uses them for asthma, ulcers, body pain, rheumatism and the enhancement of lactation. Nigeria uses termites to stop sickness in pregnant women, soothsaying and to ward away ghosts!

Termites of the species Macrotermes have high levels of proteins and lipids and are abundant in Africa. They are known as “big termites”, and are considered one of the favourite foods, not only of humans but also of gorillas and chimpanzees and wild birds.

Their mounds, or termitaria, are also important to humans. For instance, researchers E.Arhin, M.C.Esoah and B.S.Berdie, have studied the Economic Importance of Termitaria in Mineral Exploration. Termites transport deep seated inorganic and organic material into their shelter. In areas where minerals are not immediately apparent, miners analyse the soil of termite mounds before choosing the area. Often gold has been found in the samples.

The mounds are vast, clean, well ventilated with cool circulating air - palaces built of tunnels and galleries of sand, clay and termite excretions. The mounds protect their builders from the sun that would desiccate them, the rain that would drown them, and their many predators. The mounds are refuges for plants, fungi and large herbivores, too. They are cooler in the heat of day and warmer at night. Antelopes often congregate around termite mounds to graze. Cheetahs come to remain cooler during the day. Elephants rub itchy backsides against them.

They are also fascinating insects. The oldest societies on this planet, almost 200 million years old, each colony has three distinct castes : the reproductives (queen and king), the soldiers, and  workers. The colony can consist of more than a million individuals. Their nest is located either underground, on a tree, or in a mound sticking out of the soil.

In almost all species, the workers and soldiers are blind. New reproductive termites are winged, and able to fly. These young kings and queens leave their home colony to find a new place to found their own colony. They break their wings off and settle down in their new home to raise their offspring.

Termites use chemical scents produced by chest glands to talk to one another. Each colony produces a distinct scent. Termites stay clean by grooming each other. Their good hygiene is important to their survival, as it keeps parasites and harmful bacteria under control within the colony.

Termite soldiers guard the nest at all times. When they sense danger they sound the alarm by banging their heads against the gallery walls to send warning vibrations throughout the colony. If workers set out to repair a hole in the mound, they will be surrounded by soldiers who protect them.

Termites are the ultimate model social citizens. They divide their labour and are altruistic and unselfish. In a new study of “panic escape” behaviour among termites as they seek to flee from danger, researchers at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center found that, unlike humans in a crowded theatre, or ants, termites do not panic.

They don’t run about, push and shove, climb over the fallen. They file into a single formation and follow the ones in front in a unidirectional flow at a uniform speed and spacing. If one termite stumbles, or slows down, those behind stop and wait for it to right itself: No trampling allowed.

Unfortunately we build our homes from termite food — wood. And I am still heartbroken. 

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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India Was Not Always This Cruel

By Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

India was not always this cruel. Inspite of the culture of animal sacrifice and ritual hunts by tribals, it was, by and large, a peaceful country where people lived together with animals and respected their lives. All this has changed in the last 50 years. Now animals are either a nuisance, or a commodity, and hurting them is no longer something one thinks about. What can you say about a country whose government says, happily, that 52% of our exports are meat, fish and leather. And close on their heels are eggs.

Till a few decades ago, most villages and communities has a gramadev: a god or goddess who looked after the area, had his/her own little temple and was regularly prayed to. Many of them represented, or looked after, animals and so did the villagers .

Bhramari is the goddess of bees and wasps who cling to her body. An avatar of Durga,  She is mentioned in the Devi Bhagvata Purana. Her main temples are in Trisrota, Jalpaiguri and in Nashik.

Arunasura meditated for thousands of years to Brahma. For the first ten thousand years, he lived by ingesting only dry leaves; for the second, he lived by drinking only drops of water; and, for the third, he lived by inhaling air alone. For the fourth ten thousand years, he did not consume anything. Light emitted from his body and began to burn the whole world. Lord Brahma appeared and granted him his wish : protection from all two- or four-legged creatures. Thinking himself invincible Arunasura assembled  an army of asuras to vanquish the gods. Indra trembled with fear and went with the Gods to Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva.

Arunasura took the moon, the sun and then attacked the abode of the gods, Mount Kailash. Shiva brought his army but was unable to defeat him. He called out to Parvati, and the Shakti grew tall, wielding a mace, trident, long sword and shield, in her four hands.  She closed her three eyes in concentration, summoning forth  six legged creatures - bees, hornets, wasps, termites and spiders from the skies. They emanated from her as Bhramari Devi and  both destroyed the asuras. They attacked Arunasura and ripped open each part of his body.

Scorpions are worshipped from time immemorial: seals with Scorpion images are discovered in Indus Valley, heaven is called ‘scorpion world’ (puth Thel Ulaku) in Tamil. In Urvasi, or Peacock Island, in the Brahmaputra river in Guwahati, the Devi in the Umananda temple is represented by a scorpion.

In Kandakoor village in Yadgir, Karnataka the villagers celebrate Nagapanchami as Chelina Jatre (festival of the scorpion). The villages worship the scorpion goddess Kondammai and play with live scorpions as well. Interestingly, there have been no cases of people being stung by these scorpions. People come  from nearby districts, and the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, to be a part of this religious ceremony. Milk, coconut oil and sarees are offered to the Scorpion goddess.

Chelamma is a Scorpion Goddess of southern Karnataka. Followers believe that by praying at the Chelamma shrine a person will be guarded from scorpion bites. She is the goddess of the Kolaramma temple in Kolar. There is an ancient Hundi which is carved down into the ground and people have been putting coins into it for the last 1,000 years.

Gogaji, also known as Jahar Veer Gogga, Gugga Vir, Gugga Rana, is a folk warrior-hero deity venerated as a 'snake-god' worshipped in the villages of  Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Haryana and Jammu.

According to legend, Goga was born with the blessings of Guru Gorakhnath and was called Goga ji because of his service to cows. It is believed that he lived in the 12th Century and his kingdom was called Bagad Dedga, near Ganganagar. He was a member of the Chauhan clan.

Goga protects his followers from snakes, poisons and other evils. Although a Hindu, he has many Muslim devotees. His shrine is a one-room building with a minaret on each corner and a grave inside, marked by a  bamboo stick with peacock plumes, a coconut, some coloured threads and  a blue flag on the top.

His symbol, a black snake, is painted on a wall. Fairs are held at Gogamedi in Hanumangarh, Rajasthan. It is a common sight to see people with snakes lying around their necks. According to a folklore in and around his birthplace, Dadrewa, it is believed that if someone picks up even a stick from Johra (a barren land which has a sacred pond in Dadrewa), it turns into a snake.

In the Punjab region Guggaji  is worshiped in shrines known as marris. The shrines can range from ant holes to structures that resemble a Sikh Gurdwara, or a Mosque. People bring food offerings and also leave them in places where snakes reside.

Nagnachiya Ma, the snake goddess, is the kuldevi of the Rathore Rajput clan. Her upper half is a woman and her lower half is a snake. Her main temple is in village Nagana near Jodhpur. She was originally established by Rao Dhuhad under a Neem tree, which makes that tree also holy for the Rathores. She is also worshipped in Khakharechi in Gujarat, where the Rathores built a lake. In all villages where Rathores live they have a shrine of Nagnachiya Mata.

Manasa Devi, the folk goddess of snakes, is worshipped, mainly in Bengal and north-eastern India, for the prevention and cure of snakebite, smallpox and chicken pox, and for fertility and prosperity. She is also known as Vishahara (the destroyer of poison), Nityā (eternal) and Padmavati.

Originally a tribal goddess, Manasa was accepted in the Hindu pantheon by the 14th century. Manasa is depicted as a woman covered with snakes, sitting on a lotus or a snake. Her canopy is the hoods of seven cobras. Sometimes, she is depicted with a child on her lap. She is often called "the one-eyed goddess" and, among the Hajong tribe of northeastern India, she is called Kānī Dīyāʊ (Blind Goddess)

The Puranas are the first scriptures to speak about her birth. Once, when serpents and reptiles had created chaos on the Earth, Kashyapa created the goddess Manasa from his mind (mana). Brahma made her the presiding deity of snakes and reptiles. In other myths she is the daughter of sage Kashyapa and Kadru, the mother of all Nāgas. Myths glorified her by describing that she saved Shiva after he drank the poison, and venerated her as the "remover of poison".

Generally, Manasa is worshipped without an image. A branch of a tree, an earthen pot, or an earthen snake image is worshiped as the goddess. In North Bengal her shrine is found in the courtyard of almost every agrarian household.

Manasa is also worshipped in Assam, and a kind of Oja-Pali (musical folk theatre) is dedicated to her. Manasa is ceremonially worshiped on Nag Panchami - a festival of snake worship in the Hindu month of Shravan (July–August). Bengali women observe a fast on this day and offer milk at snake holes. In South India people worship her at the Manasa Devi Temple in Mukkamala, West Godavari, Andhra Pradesh.

Bagalamukhi  is a  crane-headed goddess in Hindu legend, Bagala controls black magic, poisons and disguised forms of death. She rules over the perception which make us feel, at a distance, the death or misery of those we know. She incites men to torture one another. She revels in suffering. She wears yellow and her left hand carries torture instruments, while the right hand holds the tongues of adversaries. Her hair hang freely about her back and shoulders, and her tiara is sealed with a crescent moon, two small golden cranes, while a large white crane with outspread wings rests upon the crown of her head.

Her legend relates how an asura named Madan, ‘The Seducer’, once gained the boon of omniscient speech, whereby everything he said came to pass. Intoxicated with this power Madan began to use it to defeat all his opponents. The gods petitioned Bagalamukhi. Seizing Madan by his tongue she paralysed his power of speech. She is often evoked to win lawsuits, to gain power, to render opponents speechless, to block or paralyse enemies, and to increase eloquence, memory, and knowledge.

The main  temple of Bagalamukhi is located in the Newar city of Patan, in the Kangra Valley, and in Datiya in Madhya Pradesh.

Airy, whose eyes are on his head, is the gramdeva of Kumaon and the protector of animals. His two attendants, Sau and Bhau, ride on dogs. His main temple is Byandhura, Champavat.

Chaumu is worshipped as the protector of animals in the Jhulaghat-Pancheshwar region. Bells and milk are offered. His main temples are in Chaupakhia in Pithoragar, and Chamdeval in Champavat.

There are hundreds more. If you know of any do send the details to me. 

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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Are Goats as Smart as Dogs?

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Someone rescued a goat from the slaughterhouse and gave him to Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre. We allowed him to run free and soon he was the leader of a pack of dogs who followed him everywhere at a respectful distance. When in repose he sat on the highest step – often a large window ledge - and they draped themselves round him.  When people gathered round to talk, while they were waiting for their animals outside the OPD, he would often join the humans. Once I made the mistake of rubbing him on his head as he stood in the group. He turned around, glared at me with his deep yellow eyes and then butted my hip. The staff told me he went looking for “murgas” like me to mistake him for a dog and caress him so that he could butt them.

Are goats as smart as dogs? Until recently, scientists thought that only animals that had been bred as companions or pets - such as dogs, cats, and horses - were intelligent, or able to form bonds with humans. This allows us to eat all the other animals, or kill them for sport. Mutton, goat meat, is a common item on the Indian menu.

Now research proves that goats try to communicate with people in the same way that dogs and horses do.

In a series of experiments published in Biology Letters, researchers found that when goats had a problem that they couldn't solve alone, they would gaze at a person for help. Also that goats changed their actions in accordance with a person's behaviour.

Researchers of Queen Mary, University of London concluded "From our earlier research, we already know that goats are smarter than their reputation suggests, but these results show how they can communicate and interact with their human handlers even though they were not domesticated as pets or working animals."

To test goat communication skills, the researchers trained the animals to remove a lid from a box to receive a reward. The reward was then made inaccessible by making the lid removal harder. The reactions of the goats toward the experimenters — who were either facing the goats, or had their backs turned away — were recorded. The goats would gaze toward the forward-facing person more often in a similar way to dogs asking for a treat, and for longer periods of time, than they would with the people who had turned away, which suggests that the goats were aware of where the human was looking. In some instances, the goats would also approach the forward-facing person before returning to the box.

"Our results provide strong evidence for complex communication directed at humans and show similarities with animals bred to become pets or working animals, such as dogs and horses."

Researchers on goat intelligence – or the lack of it –conclude that goats are amongst the brightest ungulates on Earth. Scientists at the Institute of Agricultural Science in Switzerland, long suspected that goats might be more intelligent than they seem. For example, goats live in complex social groups; they are experts in getting at hard-to-reach foods (goats in Morocco, for example, climb the 30 foot Argan trees in search of tasty sprigs); they remember people, things, and skills, and they are picky eaters who can adeptly pick leaves off of thorn bushes, or seek out just the right sprig of grass.

In another experiment to judge their intelligence they  gave goats the “artificial fruit challenge”—a cognitive game originally developed for apes. Fruit was placed in a box which could only be reached by solving a puzzle. The goats had to use their teeth to pull on a rope to activate a lever, and then lift the lever up with their muzzle. Most of the goats could complete the task in four tries. The ones that failed did so because they tried to take a short cut and used their horns to pry open the box and they were disqualified.

The winning goats were given the same food box puzzle challenge after 10 hours to see how long it took them to solve it. All of them remembered how to solve the problem, and were able to access the fruit in less than a minute – showing an excellent long term memory.

Goat breeders say that goats have a calm and observational manner and can do the following :

Tell individual humans apart, even when they have changed clothes.

Remember at what time of day they are fed and complain if you're late.

Remember where the tastiest plants are, even if they have not been in that pasture for three months.

Follow an eye, or pointed finger, to a treat hidden in long grass

Learn simple tricks (stand on top of this stump, balance on your hind legs) indicated by hand gestures.

Respond individually to their names.

Remember which plant made them sick before, and never eat it again.

Plan routes to a desired destination. For example, if there is a stream between the goats and tasty food. they will go up and downstream looking for a way around the stream.

Bend a loose piece of wire outward from the fence until it is at the correct height to itch between the horns.

Open a clip hook.

Turn a doorknob with the mouth.

Goats are fascinated by mirrors.

Like dogs and horses, goats are comfortable living outside of a flock.

Goats can learn unusual tasks, even choosing abstract symbols to request a drink of water. When they learn that a longer route will get them the food treat, they restrain their natural urge to go through an obviously shorter route to the visible food. 

London researchers found that goats recognized the voices of their close friends, and looked at their mates when they heard the sound of their bleat. If there is a less familiar goat present, when they heard an unknown bleat, they looked at the lesser-known individual, showing that they inferred this goat made the call. They are sensitive to herd-mates’ facial expressions, too. French goats paid more attention when they saw the photographed face of a familiar goat in an unpleasant situation than when they saw that of a relaxed, contented companion.

Goats are naturally curious and independent, often getting upto mischief and always looking for escape. On You tube you can see the oddest unexplainable places that goats have been found. In March 2016, a goat in Greece was found dangling 20 feet in the air from a power line by its horns, with seemingly no jumping-off points in sight. Local officials are still unsure of how it landed in the power line—and had to use a long ladder and rope to pull the goat to the ground. After being rescued, the goat ran off happily.

Security cameras in Colorado, caught goats vandalizing windows. The footage shows a goat walking up to a glass door, butting its head against the pane, and then running away after the glass shatters. It returns and does it to the next glass door. Just having fun.

The Kinder Goat Breeders Association sayx that the goat is as good a companion as a dog .

“They are intelligent and affectionate and are easy to train, whether it’s for milking or something like cart-pulling. They love to be with their owners, so they make great companions for walking, hiking or even camping. They are natural comics and are great entertainment.”

Some pet goats are used as therapy goats. These goats accompany their humans to schools, assisted-living facilities and community centres. The Delta Society, an organization that tests and registers pets for therapy work, includes goats in their list of animals eligible for registration. To become a pet therapist, a goat must pass a test that shows it to be controllable, reliable and predictable. The goat must have good manners in public places, and have the social skills to behave with strangers.

We pick on the Nagas because they eat dogs. I find people who eat goats equally bizarre. 

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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