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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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Switching Sex

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Anthias are coral reef fish. Small with elongated bodies, they range from orange, pink, purple, yellow, and they live in large schools with mainly females and a few males. Anthias have an unusual adaptation. They are sequential hermaphrodites. This means they are born one sex, but can change to another.

Anthias are all born female. When a male dies, one of the larger female anthias changes into a male. The change from female to male takes about two weeks. It includes a new reproductive system and a change in size, shape, and colour. However, if a school of anthias forms, with too many males, the male anthias change their sex again—and return to being female.

With the removal of the dominant male from the harem, the next most aggressive female in line will change her sex. In a domestic aquarium, however, the change in anthias is sometimes not complete. In the wild the dominant male has a harem and mates with numerous females under his control. In an aquarium this is not easy to replicate, and females turning into males often get stuck in a male-female transition zone.

Have you never wanted to be a member of the other sex? As society becomes more elastic in thought, so many people say that they feel they are in the wrong bodies. Thousands of plastic surgeons are in business to change human sexual organs. It takes dozens of painful operations.

It is much easier for animals and plants.

Sequential hermaphroditism occurs when the individual changes sex at some point in its life, and produces eggs or sperm at different stages in life. Either the change is influenced by its society, or when it reaches a certain age or size.

In animals, the different types of change are male to female (protandry), female to male (protogyny), female to hermaphrodite, and male to hermaphrodite.

Protandry occurs in many fish, mollusks, and crustaceans. Clownfish live in a society, where one breeding pair lives in a sea anemone. The female is the largest and the male is the second largest. The rest of the group is made up of smaller non-breeders with no sexual organs. If the female dies, the male gains weight and becomes the female for that group. The largest non-breeding fish then sexually matures and becomes the male of the group.  Protandrous hermpahrodites start out life as males, and, where social pressures dictate, are capable of sex changing into fully functional females. If the Disney film Finding Nemo were accurate, instead of trying to find a wife for his son, after his wife was eaten by a barracuda, Marlin would have partnered up with another male and then proceeded to change his sex.

Other examples of protandrous animals include: comb jellies, flatworms, the Mormon Fritillary butterfly - small orange, black and silver. Laevapex fuscus is a small, freshwater, air-breathing limpet. First the males emerge and produces sperm in late winter, then a certain number turn into females and copulate with the males after which the eggs mature.

Marine sea star species, like the Common Cushion Star, change gender from male to female like clockwork. The first three years as a male and the next three as a female.

One of the reasons for this change could be the size advantage. Eggs are larger than sperm, so larger individuals are able to make more eggs. The group can enlarge faster by increasing their reproductive potential, by beginning life as male and then turning female upon achieving a certain size.

Protogynous animals are born female and, at some point in their lifespan, become male. All female protogynous species possess germ cells for both sex organs and, when the social situation calls for a change in sex, are capable of suppressing the female gonads and developing male ones. As the female ages and grows bigger she will turn into a male. In these systems, large males use aggressive territorial defence to dominate female mating. Which is why it makes sense for a large female to become male. Parrot fish are mostly born female, but can become male at any point in their lives. After their transformation, some will become super-males — larger than the typical male parrot fish and exhibiting extra-vibrant colouring.

Wrasses are one of the largest families of coral reef fish. Large males hold territories. In the  California Sheephead Wrasse, sex change is age-dependent. All Sheepheads are born female, and stay female for four to six years, before changing sex. Other fish in which this happens are Groupers, Porgies, Angelfish, Gobies, Emperors and Swamp Eels. Wrasses are born as males and females and then change sexes. This is unlike angelfish where the males are exclusively derived from females, i.e., there is no such thing as a male born angelfish.

It sometimes occurs in the frog Rana temporaria, where older females will sometimes switch to being males

Perhaps one of the reasons that beings can change sex is that, if they don’t move very far out as adults, the risk of inbreeding exists – which Nature abhors. Some groups change their sex at the same time. If siblings are of similar ages, and if they all begin life as one sex and then transition to the other sex at about the same age, then siblings are likely to be the same sex at any given time. This reduces the likelihood of inbreeding, and they have to go out to look for mates. The change in sex also allows for organisms to reproduce, if no individuals of the opposite sex are already present.

Giant Limpets commonly change from male to female when they live together in small patchy habitats of water. In fact, female limpets, like Patella ferrugina, can turn back into males, depending on the group size and the number of each sex.  Which means that limpets can count better than humans !

Bearded dragons are reptiles that can change their sex from male to female while still in the egg. Researchers at the University of Canberra have found that these reptiles (which are still genetically male but take on the role and reproductive capabilities of the female) are fertile and even lay more eggs than their originally-female counterparts. This phenomenon is triggered by changes in climate : the hotter it is, the more likely that the male will change to a female.

Some male cuttlefish have devised an ingenious way to “get the girl”: become female. To avoid confrontation with other males, while trying to woo a partner, a male cuttlefish can change one side of its body to look female, researchers at Macquarie University found. When positioned between a rival male and a female potential mate, the male cuttlefish can appear female on the side seen by the male, all the while appearing in its true male form to lure in the female. The male rival simply sees two females, and has no idea what’s happening right in front of him.

Blackfin Goby change their sex, dependent on need. Though the transformation is from female to male (when the resident male dies), the tiny fish can transform back when they want. As with other sex changing animals, when gobies physically change their sex, their behaviour changes as well. Females that become males are no longer submissive, adopting the jerky movements of natural males. Predation pressure on reefs makes movement for mate selection very dangerous, especially for small and sparsely distributed species like gobies. It would be advantageous therefore, for them to simply stay at home and switch genders as the need arises, such as when a mate dies, or when the sex ratio is skewed strongly toward a specific gender.

The herbicide, Atrazine, has been shown to cause sex change in frogs. It affects the amphibian’s hormone levels and ten percent changes them into females. However, while the females can mate, their children will all be males.

Hydras are small, fresh-water organisms who never die. They have a tubular body with one foot at one end and a mouth opening, surrounded by one to twelve thin, mobile tentacles, which fire at prey. They move by somersaulting just a few inches a day. When a Hydra is cut in half, each half regenerates and form into a small  Hydra. If the Hydra is sliced into many segments then the middle slices will form both a "head" and a "foot". Hydras living together change their sexes regularly, sometimes all together.

In the marine worm species Ophyrotrocha puerilis, a pair of individuals will spawn multiple times, with the larger individual as the female. When the faster-growing male becomes larger than the female, both members of the pair change sex, spawning in their new roles, until again the male becomes larger, at which point they both change sex again. 

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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