The picture¹ above is, for German documentary photographer Nikita Teryoshin,
“A symbol of human control over cows – how we can look into the cow and see everything.
“I wanted to update the old-fashioned image of a cow in a green meadow that weknow from ads and milk packages. To show the dystopian side of milk production.”
The images in Teryoshin’s book Hornless Heritageexpress the shock he felt visiting the EuroTier agricultural fair in Hanover, a shock which prompted his 4-year scrutiny of this industry in his home country, and was the impetus for his book.
At the centre of the dairy industry is, of course, the cow. A cow falls into the zoological class of Mammalia. And the dictionary definition of the word “Mammal” is:
“That nourish their young with milk secreted by mammary glands” – the way Nature intended. But nothing about the German dairy industry bears much relation to Nature. Indeed, today’s dairy production practically all over in the world is so far from the storybook idyll of contented cows grazing in flower-filled meadows with the sun on their backs – the image the industry wants us to believe – that there surely must be a case for referring dairy product ads everywhere to their countries’ equivalents of our Advertising Standards Authority on the grounds of “false or deceptive messages”.²
What does the image below look like to you? What it doesn’t look like to me is a farm. But then, it doesn’t actually lay claim to that name. It calls itself an ‘automated dairy facility’, and is certainly closer to a factory than how most people imagine a farm.
This is journalist Laura Mallone describing Teryoshin’s experience of the EuroTier fair, “The crowds gawked at the latest in animal husbandry, including a Matrix-like robot that suckled a fake cow. But what struck Teryoshin most was an ad that read,
‘Don’t let cows waste your money’
“‘It seemed impossible that you could think that a cow is wasting your money when you’re already taking everything away from it,” he says.”
That prompted him to begin Hornless Heritage. Teryoshin visited farms, insemination stations, laboratories, auctions and even a Best in Show, where owners primped their Holsteins and paraded them before a crowd. He got an up-close glimpse of seemingly happy cows like Lady Gaga—a black-and-white Holstein that’s won bovine beauty pageants—as well as clearly unhappy ones, such as those with bloodied legs he saw on a factory farm. He documented everything with a Nikon D800 and hand-held flash, illuminating the mundane horror of an industry where animals are reduced to commodities.
‘German’ : ‘Efficiency’. Two words forever joined at the hip. Teryoshin witnessed the essence of ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ (progress through technology) applied to cows exactly as to cars. Maximising profit by reducing living animals to nothing more than milk-producing machines, their natural needs only being met as far as they further that end.
Teryoshin writes, “Also known as ‘turbo cows’, German dairy breeds, like German cars, are very popular all over the world because of their performance and reliability. Thanks to computer technologies in the last decades German scientists got millions of breeding values together and a knowledge about the genomic code, which allows them to design the ‘Übercow’ with up to four times higher milk output, and even the horns disappearing,”
In evolution, “horns mean for a cow protection and autonomy. They are even important for the milk performance and overall condition of the animal. For life in huge fully automated farms with hundreds of cows, horns are too dangerous. After decades of painful dehorning of cattle with a branding iron, German breeders and scientists in the future will produce cows hornless by birth yet with the same milk performance.”
Germany’s dairy facts
Germany is the EU’s biggest milk producer
The country has 4.2 million cows
Today, farmers use genomic selection to design ever-more-profitable ‘turbo’ cows that can produce more than 88,000 pounds of milk in their lifetimes
Cows used to live about 20 years. Now they end up canned and packaged in the pet food aisle of supermarkets before the age of 5, sent to slaughter because of lameness, infertility or mastitis
Such are the miracles of technology, in a life lasting only a quarter of the time of her great-great-great grandmother’s, a German cow can now be made to produce at least double and up to 4 times as much milk
In 2018, Germany produced from its ‘turbo cows’ 8.6 billion gallons – enough for 104 gallons/473 litres per person – in one year. About 1.3 litres per person per day – milk Nature intended for the nurture of these mothers’ babies, which have been taken from them.
“’I stopped drinking milk and eating dairy for a while,’ Teryoshin says. His photographs might make you lose your appetite for the stuff, too.”
Only for a while, Nikita? What a shame. How desperately sad that you should so readily forget the shock you experienced peeling away the dairy industry’s green pastures fantasy to uncover the technologised nightmare beneath – the pitiful existence of a mammal mother, intended only by Nature to suckle her own, that is today’s Übercow.
Yes, we can indeed “look into her and see everthing”. Everything that is except the one thing that matters – her soul.
It’s not too late to join the Veganuary movement and discover simple and tasty ways to eat dairy-free
And everything you ever need to know (well, almost!) about going vegan here
Victories won for animals by just a few of the many voices raised for the voiceless in 2018
In the UK,
Since the graphic above was prepared, “more developments have taken place. For example, more than 30 organisations have now taken the decision to cancel live reindeer events. While it has been an excellent year, there is still so much work to be done.
“With your help, we can achieve even more for animals in 2019. Why not get involved straight away by visiting our Take Action page?”
PETA UK 2018 highlights
The International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Awards for inspiring animal advocates
This year’s full list of winners:
Christine (Chris) and George Rockingham, from Norfolk, for a lifetime’s dedication to rescuing and rehabilitating animals at their PACT sanctuary for nearly 25 years.
Michel Birkenwald, from London, for drilling more than 100 ‘hedgehog highways’ in South West London to help hedgehogs navigate to new areas to forage.
Ralph the Golden Retriever, from Hertfordshire, for changing the life of his companion Paul who was left paralysed after a car crash six years ago.
Debbie Bailey, from Derbyshire, for her work to protect badgers from culling through vaccinations.
Michelle Clark, from London, for starting her voluntary run, not-for-profit organisation Dogs on the Streets (DOTS) that cares for and helps homeless people and their dogs.
Nigel and Sara Hicks, from Cornwall, for their dedication to treating injured and orphaned orangutans in Borneo for six months every year, for nearly 10 years.
Chloe Hennegan, from the West Midlands, for running her rabbit rescue and rehabilitation centre Fat Fluffs since 2008.
Trisha Shaw, from Warwickshire, for her many years volunteering and raising thousands of pounds for her local dog charity Pawprints.
Natalia Doran, from London, for setting up Urban Squirrels, a licensed squirrel rescue in her own home.
World Animal Protection 2018 proudest moments
Too much to mention – these are just a few of our proudest moments:
29 travel companies committed to stop promoting elephant entertainment venues, making a total of 226
10 bears used for baiting and dancing were given new lives in our partner sanctuary in Pakistan
We reached more than 500,000 KFC petition signatures, and are in talks with the fast food chain to improve their animal welfare standards
83,000 dogs in Sierra Leone and Kenya were vaccinated against rabies
We helped 454,774 animals recover from 12 disasters around the world
The disaster preparedness work we did with governments and NGOs this year will help protect 52,000,000 animals in future
Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Lidl and Tesco have all joined the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI) which we helped set up in 2015 to tackle the problem of Ghost Gear (marine pollution from abandoned or lost fishing nets and lines)
Animal Australia Year in Review 2018
In the US,
Click on the link below to see a wide range and a long list of achievements won for wildlife by the Humane Society of the US:-
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is winning victories for animals in the US courts of law
“As 2019 approaches, we’re looking back at our biggest legal victories for animals over the last 12 months. These are just a few highlights – watch the video from Executive Director Stephen Wells to learn about all the legal advances we made for animals.”
Previous posts related to voices for animals in the legal system:-
“The government’s wish for the UK to become a global leader in free trade is not necessarily compatible with its desire to maintain high animal welfare standards,”The House of Lords subcommittee on EU Energy and Environment
“A coalition of leading environmental groups says there is a ‘significant risk’ that British environmental protections will be reduced after Brexit, despite the government’s positive rhetoric.”
Well, somehow she (and by ‘she’ I mean the woman who wrote into the 2017 Tory manifesto her intention to repeal the ban on fox hunting. Yes, that ‘she’) She somehow got her Brexit through the Cabinet, and the 27 EU states have ceremonially signed it off. The next step is a Parliamentary vote. Who knows what will happen there? And as for after the vote, it’s anyone’s guess.
As the Brexit juggernaut rolls inexorably towards the edge of the cliff, what will it mean for our UK animals and nature?
Here are some disturbing reasons why all animal – and nature-lovers will want to do their damnedest to stop the juggernaut in its tracks, because Brexit is bad news for UK nature and its animals, wherever they are: in labs, in the wild or on farms.
What the EU meant for animal welfare before Brexit
The EU is renowned in the world for its pro-animal stance and high standards of animal welfare. Article 13 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty recognises nonhuman animals as ‘sentient beings’ for whom suffering and distress should be diminished as much as possible. Last year the UK Tory government rejected Article 13 – a foretaste of things to come?
Of our current legislation regulating animal welfare and the environment, 80% comes from our membership of the EU.
Under the Repeal Bill, “All existing EU legislation will be copied across into domestic UK law to ensure a smooth transition on the day after Brexit.The UK Parliament can then ‘amend, repeal and improve’ individual laws as necessary.”
It’s increasingly unlikely that all these laws can be adequately translated into UK law without the access we previously had to EU organisations, and against the ticking Brexit clock. “Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Andrea Leadsom admitted that about a third of environmental laws … could not initially be brought into UK legislation.”
And “MPs fear ministers may use the process of adapting those laws to chip away environmental protections.” This is a government that favours deregulation to give greater freedom to business. In this respect Theresa May and Donald Trump do indeed hold hands. Nature and animals will be the losers.
Additionally, the Commons Environmental Audit Committee fears EU legislation that does get adopted into UK law could become ‘zombie legislation’, no longer subject to EU updates and with no regulatory bodies to see it enforced.
The Birds and Habitats Directives which protect wild birds and Britain’s most important wildlife and plant habitats will not be adopted into UK law, even if the UK remains in the Single Market. A report on the directives “warns that this could have potentially far-reaching negative consequences for the UK’s biodiversity.”
Bowing under pressure from farmers, the Tories have already expressed opposition to the EU’s strict regulation of GM crops, chemicals and neonicotinoid pesticides – all of which can devastate insect life and the animals that feed on them. At present the European courts and the European Commission enforce these laws. After Brexit there will be nothing to stop deregulation.
The Common Agricultural Policy
No-one denies the CAP needs reforming. Farmers hate it and its complex regulations. But, the CAP provides 60% of farmers’ income. And under the 2013 EU “Greening” initiative, farmers are financially incentivised to use their land sustainably, and care for natural resources.
“Under the new [2013 Greening] rules, farmers receiving payments help conserve the environment and contribute to addressing greenhouse emissions by:
making soil & ecosystems more resilient by growing a greater variety of crops
conserving soil carbon & grassland habitats associated with permanent grassland
protecting water & habitats by establishing ecological focus areas.”
MPs are calling for a new UK Environmental Protection Act as part of Brexit. The Tory manifesto last year promised to make the UK environment greener after Brexit than EU regulations left it. But it’s hard to see that happening. In view of this government’s continual capitulation to pressure from the farming community, most notably by rolling out again this year (the 6th) an horrendous cull of a much-loved and protected species, the badger, in 32 areas across 10 counties, ignoring the science, the data, much expert advice, and public opinion … Well, I can’t even finish the sentence.
“When a government dares to call its concrete-grey Autumn Budget environmentally “green” because of its initiative to plant a few trees alongside its billion pounds worth of road infrastructures, and when that government can barely agree on whether the cruel practice of fox hunting should be allowed, all hope is lost for the safety and welfare of animals.”
Our new trading partners
Failing a decent trade agreement with Brussels, the UK is looking to the USA as a major trading partner. The US his already dictated its terms – no trade unless we eliminate our “unjustified sanitary restrictions”.
Not wanting to jeopardise our chances of a deal with America, a possible future lifeline in the event of a bad Brexit, the Home Office “have failed to write-up any legally bindingcommitments that uphold food hygiene and humane animal treatment post-Brexit. Horror stories of chlorine washed chicken, ractopamine riddled pigs and hormone enhanced beef hitting British shores may be closer than we think.”
The infographic below reveals some of the barbarity of the treatment of animals on American factory farms
If you’re not already acquainted with US farming methods, let me tell you I doubt you can imagine a worse hell. Check for yourself here.
From the Brexit referendum’s results day, the pound declined in value. If we get as far as actual Brexit Day, March 29th 2019, we will see the pound plummet, sucking into the country a flood of products from unethically, inhumanely-reared animals . (Not that I will ever concede there is such a thing as humane farming of animals. Apart from anything that happens to them in the short time they are allowed to live, those lives all end in the bloody horror of the slaughterhouse. There are though, degrees of suffering.)
UK farmers will be unable to compete without a significant lowering of their own animal welfare standards, the standards at present required of them by the EU.
Farms in Norfolk and Cambridgeshire – PETA
If this is what it’s like now, how much lower can they go?
In addition, in the face of ever-decreasing profit margins farmers will strongly resist legislative attempts to protect the welfare of farmed animals post-Brexit. The animals will be “collateral damage”.
Levels of poverty in the UK are already “staggering” according to UN rapporteur Philip Alston. He found 1.5 million of our citizens destitute and 14 million living in poverty. Food bank use reached its highest rate on record this year. Our own Treasury has predicted that under all possible Brexit scenarios we will be worse off in 15 years time. All of which means that people will be looking for the cheapest possible food, however dodgily produced. Concerns for animal welfare will be a luxury many can no longer afford.
On many farms between 40 – 58% of the workforce are EU nationals. The labour shortage created by their disappearance will push agricultural workers’ wages up, putting further financial pressure on farmers. They will look for any way possible to cut costs, and may well resort to cutting welfare corners to the detriment of the animals.
A staggering 90% of vets working in the UK are EU nationals. The British Veterinary Association warns of a severe shortage of qualified vets post-Brexit. That is not good news for any UK animal.
After Brexit, because of the change in regulations for trading with Europe, more not fewer Official Vets will be needed to supervise imports and exports and sign health certificates for live animals. Doesn’t this acute shortage of properly qualified personnel mean that whatever animal protections there are supposedly in place, are going to pass by unchecked and unenforced?
“Deregulating trade while curbing immigration would lead to a sharp decline in animal welfare. When immigration is curbed and access to dedicated workers is stifled, the situation for the UK’s voiceless and defenceless creatures is bleak.”
Last year Michael Gove claimed that the EU was holding us back from banning live exports.
Would a Tory government fly in the face of its supporters in the farming community to enforce such a ban? Even if they did, which seems highly unlikely, now ‘free’ of EU regulations the UK would be subject to World Trade Organisation rules instead. And they do not allow for such a ban. If you voted for Brexit hoping to see an end to this cruel trade, I’m sorry to disappoint.
Cruelty Free International are worried that “a no-deal Brexit could mean that the UK would need to carry out the same animal tests for chemical registration as the EU. This would mean twice as many animals would suffer. If existing EU animal-test data is not shared with the UK, then the same animal tests would have to be carried out again by the UK for the same information.”
At a time when without Brexit the number of laboratory procedures continues to rise, that just does not bear thinking about. NatureWatch echoes CFI’s concerns and urges the government “to ensure that re-testing does not take place and that existing testing data can be used in the UK.”
The present EU pet passport system is being extensively abused by criminal gangs smuggling puppies with fake passports into the UK and other countries. The government has pledged to stamp out this cruel trade. Perhaps the only good news to come out of Brexit. Although…
In all the years we have been an EU member state, the government could have eliminated this problem anyway with better UK border checks. Plus, it’s hard to imagine this will be a high priority for the Tories in a post-Brexit Britain.
One final reason to reject May’s Brexit on behalf of our animals
Many animal advocacy organisations are either already working on a Europe-wide basis, or are starting to join forces with their european counterparts.
‘How come the most intellectual creature to ever walk Earth is destroying its only home?”
Who better to open the Guardian’s new series The Age of Extinction, than the renowned primatologist Jane Goodall? Her lifespan of 84 years has seen a horrifying loss of wild animals of all kinds, along with their habitats.
And yet she believes if we come together and play our part in our own lives, we can “heal some of the harm we have inflicted.” This is her message to us all:
During my years studying chimpanzees in Gombe national park in Tanzania I experienced the magic of the rainforest. I learned how all life is interconnected, how each species, no matter how insignificant it may seem, has a role to play in the rich tapestry of life – known today as biodiversity. Even the loss of one thread can have a ripple effect and result in major damage to the whole.
I left Gombe in 1986 when I realised how fast chimpanzee habitat was being destroyed and how their numbers were declining. I visited six chimpanzee range states and learned a great deal about the rate of deforestation as a result of foreign corporations (timber, oil and mining)and population growth in communities in and around chimpanzee habitat, so that more land was needed for expanding villages, agriculture and grazing livestock.
Chimpanzees were affected by the bushmeat trade – the commercial hunting of wild animals for food. I saw traumatised infants, whose mothers had been killed – either for the same bushmeat or the illegal animal trade, for sale in the markets, or in inappropriate zoos where they had been placed after confiscation by local authorities.
But I also learned about the problems faced by so many African communities in and around chimpanzee habitat. When I arrived in Gombe in 1960 it was part of what was called the equatorial forest belt, stretching from East Africa through the Congo Basin to the West African coast. By 1980 it was a tiny island of forest surrounded by bare hills, with more people living there than the land could support, over-farmed soil, trees cut down on all but the steepest slopes by people desperate to grow food for their families or make money from charcoal. I realised that unless we could improve their lives we could not even try to protect chimpanzees.
But chimpanzees, and many other species are still highly endangered. Over the last 100 years chimpanzee numbers have dropped from perhaps two million to a maximum of 340,000, many living in fragmented patches of forest. Several thousand apes are killed or taken captive for the illegal wildlife trade. Orangutans and gibbons are losing their habitats due to the proliferation of non-sustainable oil palm plantations. We are experiencing the sixth great extinction. The most recent report from WWF describes the situation as critical – in the last 49 years, we have lost 60% of all animal and plant species on Earth.
We are poisoning the soil through large-scale industrial agriculture. Invasive species are choking out native animal and plant life in many places. Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere by our reliance on fossil fuels, destruction of the rain forests and pollution of the ocean. Increase of demand for meat not only involves horrible cruelty to billions of animals in factory farms, but huge areas of wild habitats destroyed to grow crops for animal feed.
So much fossil fuel is required to take grain to animals, animals to slaughter, meat to table – and during digestion these animals are producing methane – an even more virulent gas than carbon dioxide. And their waste along with other industrial agriculture runoff is polluting soil and rivers sometimes causing toxic algae blooms over large areas of ocean.
Climate change is a very real threat as spelled out in the latest UN report*, as these greenhouse gases, trapping the heat of the sun, are causing the melting of polar ice, rising sea levels, more frequent and more intense storms. In some places agricultural yields are decreasing, fuelling human displacement and conflict. How come the most intellectual creature to ever walk the Earth is destroying its only home?
Because many policymakers and corporations – and we as individuals – tend to make decisions based on “How will this affect me now, affect the shareholders’ meeting, the next political campaign?” rather than “How will this affect future generations?” Mother Nature is being destroyed at an ever faster rate for the sake of short term gain. This, along with our horrifying population growth, poverty – causing people to destroy the environment simply to try to make a living – and the unsustainable lifestyles of the rest of us who have way more than we need, is the root cause of all the planet’s woes.
It is depressing to realise how much change I have witnessed during my 84 years. I have seen the ice melting in Greenland, the glaciers vanishing on Mount Kilimanjaro and around the world. When I arrived in Gombe the chimpanzee population stretched for miles along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Buffalo, common then, are locally extinct and only a few leopards remain.
The water of the Lake was crystal clear, fish and water cobras were abundant, and there were crocodiles. But with soil washed into the lake and over-fishing, that changed. When I spent time in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro in the 60s and early 70s, rhino and elephants were plentiful. I grew up in the south of England. The dawn chorus of the birds was magical – so many of them have gone, along with the hedgehogs that used to rustle through the vegetation at night. In May and June we had to draw the curtains at night to keep out the hundreds of cockchafers – May bugs, attracted to the light – today it is rare to see even one, and the clouds of mosquitos and midges are almost gone.
Yet I believe we have a small window of opportunity when, if we get together, we can start to heal some of the harm we have inflicted. Everywhere, where young people understand the problems and are empowered to take action – when we listen to their voices, they are making a difference. With our superior intellect we are coming up with technological solutions to help us live in greater harmony with nature and reduce our own ecological footprints. We have a choice each day as to what we buy, eat and wear. And nature is amazingly resilient – there are no more bare hills around Gombe, as an example. Species on the brink of extinction have been given a second chance. We can reach out to the world through social media in a way never before possible. And there is the indomitable human spirit, the people who tackle the impossible and won’t give up. My job is to give people hope, for without it we fall into apathy and do nothing.
How we fight back against biodiversity loss
In 1994, the Jane Goodall Institute launched the Tacare program, working in collaboration with the villagers themselves. A holistic program including restoring fertility to the farm land (no chemicals used), improved health and education facilities, water management programs, microcredit opportunities (particularly for women), family planning information, and scholarships to keep girls in school. Today this operates in 72 villages throughout the range of Tanzania’s remaining chimpanzees, most of whom live in unprotected village forest reserves. Village volunteers learn to use smart phones, patrol their forests, and note any illegal activities as well as signs or sightings of animals. This information is uploaded onto a platform in the cloud, including Global Forest Watch.
Tacare now operates similar programs in six other African countries. “The villagers have become our partners in conservation,” says Goodall. “They know that protecting the environment benefits them as well as wildlife.”
*Jane’s call to action is urgent. According to the UN report she mentions, we have only 12 years left to get control of climate change. “It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now. This is the largest clarion bell from the science community and I hope it mobilises people and dents the mood of complacency.” – Debra Roberts for UN IPCC
“I’m Matteo and I’m a professional photographer. I’ve always been fascinated by the beauty of birds. In 2013 I decided to go in search of a Concincina as a pet for my studio garden in Milan.
“That very same day, hen Jessicah stole my heart.
“My friend and work partner Moreno joined me in this passion/madness and we started to take pictures of literally hundreds of chickens and roosters.
“Just look at them. They are beautiful. And they know it.” Matteo Tranchellini, photographer
Don’t they just! Enjoy more of their gorgeousness as depicted by Matteo below, interspersed with (hopefully) interesting insights into the person that is the hen
If these stunning photos were not a good enough reason in themselves to throw the spotlight on to hens and roosters, one more could be that these sweet and fascinating birds, especially those of less exotic breeds than those captured by Matteo’s lens, are sadly overlooked and underrated. So that’s two. Another reason I’ll come to shortly.
Each of my own feathery girls, Rosa, Juliet and Tiddlo, had a definite and distinct personality – which would come as no surprise to anyone who has had the pleasure of sharing companionship with hens. Tiddlo was ring leader and bold as brass. She led the charge of the troops into the house whenever the back door was open. Back in the garden, collie dog Jim would put his jaws around her neck and shake her gently from side to side. She was quite unfazed. Back on terra firma and with barely a ruffled feather she’d carry on where she left off, scratching at the grass for tasty bugs and worms. All three have long since moved on to contented clucking in hen heaven.
You’ll notice I’m choosing not to call hens ‘chickens.’ This is how the dictionary defines ‘chicken’:
See that? They define this living, breathing, thinking, feeling creature only in terms of a commodity. But we know better.
So what doesn’t the dictionary know about hens?
1 As I mentioned, hens have personalities
Some are a little nervy and jumpy like Rosa, others curious and bold like Tiddlo. We may find one hen gregarious, and another aggressive. Some love human company, some are more standoffish. Like dogs or cats and (unlike children!) many will answer to their names and come when they’re called.
2 Hens are brainy
Far from being birdbrained or featherbrained (where did that notion come from?) hens can outperform dogs, cats and 4 year old kids in some intelligence tests. As Dr Christine Nicol says, “Studies over the past 20 years have… revealed their finely-honed sensory capacities, their ability to think, draw inferences, apply logic and plan ahead.” (Delighted to see that Christine, author of review paper ‘The Intelligent Hen’, agrees with me on the preferred name for the animal!)
In one test, hens were taught that if they refuse a food reward in the present, they will receive more food later on. Remarkably, or maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at their good sense and patience, ninety-three percent of the birds chose to hold out for the later but better option.
In this sweet short video, watch Little Miss Sunshine show off her talents
Hens are curious and like to investigate new things. Hens learn from observing the successes and failures of each other, and pass cultural knowledge down through the generations. They ‘get’ cause and effect. They realise that objects still exist even when hidden from sight.
3. Hens talk
Don’t you just love that clucking! It’s the most soothing sound. But it’s a lot more than just a comforting, homely noise in the background. Researchers have identified at least 30 different kinds of vocalisations hens make. Amazingly hens have one cluck for a threat coming their way over land and a different cluck for danger approaching by water. A mother hen even talks to the developing chick inside her egg, and the unhatched chick talks right back to mum. Wouldn’t it be lovely to know what they are saying to each other.
4. They have their own complex society
– that is if humans allow them the kind of life that Nature intended – the well-known pecking order in which each hen knows its own rung on the social ladder. Hens can know the faces of more than a hundred other hens and remember where each one’s place is on that ladder.
“The social and emotional lives of chickens are no less impressive than their plumage”
5. Just like us, they have deep feelings
They love their families. Nigh on 2000 years ago Plutarch remarked,“What of the hens whom we observe each day at home, with what care and assiduity they govern and guard their chicks? Some let down their wings for the chicks to come under; others arch their backs for them to climb upon; there is no part of their bodies with which they do not wish to cherish their chicks if they can, nor do they do this without a joy and alacrity which they seem to exhibit by the sound of their voices.”Mother Hens par excellence!
They sometimes find true love. While it’s more usual for a rooster to mate with several hens, it has been known for a rooster and a hen to form a profound and unshakeable bond of love. Read the deeply moving story of Libby and Louie, one such pair for whom existence without the other would have been but as the dust they scratched in .
As well as caring for their families, they also look out for the other hens in their group. They can forge lasting friendships, and like to hang out with their best buddies. And sometimes the buddies are not other hens! Thousands have already seen this beautiful 14 second video, but a second, third or fourth viewing still melts the heart.
6Hens’ calming influence has not gone unnoticed.
Now we have ‘therapy hens’.Inmates of Scotland’s Saughton and England’s Holloway Prisons enjoy their soothing presence. “[The birds] have got such a therapeutical effect on you so it’s brilliant,”said one of the inmates working on the Saughton project. “It puts more light into every day.” The Holloway hens are rescues, restored to good health by the prisoners.
These wonderful animals are also working their magic among children, the elderly and the mentally ill. We hope the interaction is mutually beneficial.
7 Sleeping with a hen next to your bed helps prevent malaria, dengue fever and zika
Yes, truly. A study was conducted in Ethiopian villages and found that Anopheles arabiensis, one of the main mosquito species spreading malaria in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organization, was repelled by chicken odour. Although it’s early days, the research could pave the way for a chicken-scent repellent being introduced on the market – Take Part
Now we come to number 8 – and this tragic fact is my other reason for putting hens in the spotlight today – though this is less about them and more about we humans:
Many billions of farmed animals are killed for food each year, virtually all having been bred for that sole purpose. Chickens account for the largest number of these animals, with an estimated 20 billion slaughtered annually.There are almost triple the number of chickens as there are humans in the world – Faunalytics
The photo below is a far cry from Matteo’s wonderful portraits, but this is the terrible fate of billions of these wonderful animals across the globe each and every year.
Notice no roosters. This article in the Independent explains why.
What Professor of Veterinary Science John Webster has to say about modern chicken production can scarcely be denied:
“In magnitude and severity [it is] the single most severe systematic example of man’s inhumanity to another sentient being.”
Remember Little Miss Sunshine? She was one of the lucky few saved from just such a place as that, and went from spent battery hen to TV star. How awesome it would have been to see Matteo’s pictorial take on this little lady, but she’s moved on now to sprinkle her sunshine in the green fields of hen heaven.
For everyone who would like to see the world a kinder, friendlier place – if you haven’t already, take the first step and leave these incredible underrated animals, and their eggs, off your plate.
Desperate times call for drastic measures – so believes a certain 87 year old Harvard professor. And these surely are desperate times for much of the planet’s wildlife – flora and fauna. The octogenarian’s plan to save them is nothing if not radical. In fact, at first glance pretty off-the-wall. It is simply,
Half-Earth – giving over half of planet Earth to Nature
His critics dismiss his idea as not just radical, but “truly bizarre, disturbing and dangerous.”
But is it? Why should we give over half the Earth? Why should we not? Why this way? Wouldn’t it be bad news for people? Is it even possible?
We will come back to these questions.
Earlier this week during the run-up to World Wildlife Day 2018, conservationists met up in London to mull over matters that could scarcely have greater significance for the future of wildlife, the future of the human race, and the future of Planet Earth itself.
By 2020 they purpose to have 17% of Earth’s land protected for Nature, and 10% of Earth’s oceans. So far we’ve reached 15% and 7% respectively.
“But many conservationists argue that even if these [unduly modest] goals could be achieved, they will still not halt extinctions. The current focus on protecting what humans are willing to spare for conservation is unscientific, they say. Instead, conservation targets should be determined by what is necessary to protect nature.”
The Aichi targets are, it has to be said, a long way off the audacious proposal ‘half for us and half for the animals’ spelled out by Edward Osborne Wilson in his visionary book, Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. Dr Wilson, the aforementioned octogenarian professor, is sociobiologist, biogeographist, naturalist, environmentalist, author, twice winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and generally considered the world’s foremost authority on biodiversity and conservation. So I guess his ideas and opinions are not to be dismissed lightly.
And indeed, only 2 years on since Dr Wilson’s book was published, his bold half-earth proposal is seeming less and less out there, less controversial, much more mainstream and worthy of serious consideration.
In actual fact, the good Prof jumped on to a bandwagon that was already rolling. Conservationist Harvey Locke brought the Nature Needs Half movement into existence in 2009: 50%, he says, “may seem a lot – if you think the world is a just a place for humans to exploit. But if you recognise the world as one that we share with wildlife, letting it have half of the Earth does not seem that much.”
But now, going back to those questions: why, how, should we, and can we? World Wildlife Day seems the perfect time to take a good hard look at them and try to find some answers.
Why should we do this?
Well, that’s an easy one. It’s no news to any of us that right now plants and animals are being snuffed out to extinction at a rate unknown since the asteroid Chickxulub wiped out the dinosaurs. Scientists call this the Anthropocene Age, because never before have human beings had such a profound effect on the planet, one that will end badly for us as well as the rest of life on Earth. A truly earthshakingly terrible prospect, especially when we stop to think that right now our precious planet harbours the only known life in the universe. We need a drastic solution to a cataclysmic problem if we are to save this planet and the life on it.
Why this way?
There are two reasons why we should put our energies into a bold plan such as this, Dr Wilson argues. Firstly, he maintains that people like to see a big goal achieved rather than piecemeal, barely noticeable small incremental steps, which is what we have now in conservation efforts: “They need a victory, not just news that progress is being made. It is human nature to yearn for finality, something achieved by which their anxieties and fears are put to rest.” He reads us well. Oh how we long for some major reversal of the destructive path down which humankind is at present rushing headlong.
Secondly and more importantly, as delegates at the London conference were forced to acknowledge, current conservation efforts are doing little to halt the alarming decline in biodiversity. Protecting just 15% of the planet’s land – the course we are on at present – we still look to lose half of all species. It’s much too little and soon will be far too late. Whereas protecting 50% of the planet would mean 80% of species saved – more if we focused on the most biodiverse areas.
It’s all about the species-area curve, conservationists will tell you. The species-area curve is the mathematical relationship between the area of land and the number of species that can be successfully maintained in it. “The principal cause of extinction is habitat loss. With a decrease of habitat, the sustainable number of species in it drops by (roughly) the fourth root of the habitable area.”
Put simply, the larger the area the better Nature’s chances. The species-area curve also means that setting aside a few sizeable chunks of land is very much better in terms of numbers of species saved, than trying to protect lots of small separate habitats.
And the chunks need to join up: “I see a chain of uninterrupted corridors forming, with twists and turns, some of them opening up to become wide enough to accommodate national biodiversity parks, a new kind of park that won’t let species vanish,” Dr Wilson told the journal of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. His vision is for a series of “Long Landscapes”, wildlife corridors running vertically down and horizontally across continents, that will allow species free movement as they adapt to the effects of climate change.
The Yellowstone-to-Yukon conservation initiative running 2,000 miles without break from Wyoming in the mid-west of the US to the Yukon territories in the north west of Canada is a model for the protection he would like to see rolled out worldwide. It’s an entire eco-system in 502,000 square miles of continuous protected land where animals can freely roam.
(Sadly America itself is hardly a model nation when it comes to protecting biodiversity. In spite of being a wealthy country, and one with vast areas only sparsely populated, the US can boast just a pitiful 4% of its landmass protected for biodiversity, less than half the average worldwide. If the present ‘leadership’, remains unchallenged, that percentage can only fall further. Donald Trump is pre-eminent among those who “think the world is a just a place for humans to exploit.”)
So is Half-Earth a “bizarre” and “dangerous” idea?
Well if we are looking at the biodiversity statistics – and affirm with Dr Wilson that “each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius” – his idea makes total sense. We have so much to lose. Wildlife he says, is facing “a biological holocaust.”It could barely get more apocalyptic than that. For him, as for many of us, safeguarding the wonder that is life on Earth in all its diversity is a moral issue.
“In several interviews, he references the need for humanity to develop an ethic that cares about planetary life, and does not place the wants and needs of a single species (Homo sapiens sapiens) above the well-being of all other species.” Truth Out
What kind of a species are we that we treat the rest of life so cheaply? There are those who think that’s the destiny of Earth: we arrived, we’re humanizing the Earth, and it will be the destiny of Earth for us to wipe humans out and most of the rest of biodiversity. But I think the great majority of thoughtful people consider that a morally wrong position to take, and a very dangerous one.
What would be bizarre is an insistence that we continue as we are doing now, or just nudge the goalposts a bit. The Aichi Biodiversity Targets are Dr Wilson says, “nowhere close to enough,”to prevent the 6th Extinction. Many others agree. It is after all, self-evident.
But his critics, social scientists in the Netherlands Bram Buscher and Robert Fletcher, clearly coming from the very same anthropocentric, the-Earth-exists-for-us standpoint that has brought us to this sorry pass in the first place, judge his Half-Earth vision “disturbing and dangerous.” They are united in their condemnation:“It would entail forcibly herding a drastically reduced human population into increasingly crowded urban areas to be managed in oppressively technocratic ways.” They could justifiably claim history backs them up, since indigenous peoples have indeed been moved out of areas newly designated as protected in the past. So, wouldn’t Half-Earth be bad for people then, especially the indigenous and poor?
Dr Wilson wants to keep indigenous people in their own territories. “Theyare often the best protectors” of their own land, he says.When local populations find new livelihoods from eco-tourism for example, they become passionate about protecting their natural heritage. Protected areas would not mean banning people – simply keeping the land undeveloped. He envisages something along the lines of national parks, where development is not permitted, but there is still regulated access. (Even hunting and fishing may be permitted in a defined portion of the conservation area.)
He points to Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique as a model of how well-managed protected areas actually benefit local people.
“The maintenance and expansion of this magnificent reserve has been enhanced by the improvement of agriculture, health, and education – and new jobs – in buffer zones. The same effect is demonstrable even within industrialised nations.”
And recent research elsewhere backs him up. Protecting areas in Uganda, Thailand and Costa Rica have indeed improved the lives of locals.
Is setting aside the Half-Earth for Nature even possible?
Yes we can, by reducing our ecological footprint. And the best way to achieve that reduction is by moving towards a plant-based diet. Then yes indeed, Half-Earth is an achievable goal. Scientists in the fields of conservation, ecology, environment, climate change, sustainability and indeed human health all agree: if people cut back, or better still, stop eating meat & dairy products altogether, many of the deeply disquieting and serious threats to the future of life on Earth would disappear. It’s not just the animals being eaten that we are killing. By destroying wildlife habitats for livestock farming we are killing the wild animals too. Currently 40% of the world’s land is used for farming. (Urban development takes up only 3%) A whole three quarters ofthat farm land is used to grow cropsto feed livestock. Freed from this absurdly wasteful use of land, it would not be too great a challenge for humans to find a Half-Earth for Nature.
What is stopping us?
According to Dr Wilson, it’s simple – greed, shortsightedness and above all, ignorance. Formidable obstacles to overcome. Ignorance at least can be remedied. We can start by sharing this, why Planet Earth needs Dr Wilson’s bold idea, and what we can do about it, with as many people as we can reach, especially those who haven’t yet found their way to plant-based eating and living.
But to overcome greed and shortsightedness, it’s hearts that need to change.
“When people are encouraged to take a close look at the remnants of Nature, in its complexity, beauty, and majesty, and when they understand that the natural environment is the home of their deep history, many become [Half-Earth for Nature’s] most ardent supporters.”
I’m most definitely one.
Want to make a real difference for planet Earth and the life on it? Four important actions we can take:-
4 Send your political representatives the Grow Green report, or if in the UK contact your MP here about the Grow Green campaign to transition unsustainable livestock farming to plant protein farming. And
If you never had the Japanese down as a nation of animal-lovers, get this – on the Japanese rail network Animals Rule.
Monkeys, dogs, goats, lobsters (lobsters?!) and a tortoise proudly hold the official title of stationmaster at rail depots around the country. The most famous to occupy the post in recent years was a cat called Tama, who died in 2015 at the good old age of 16. Her funeral ‘was attended by thousands of local commuters and admirers hailing from near and far. Following a period of mourning, the newly minted Honorable Eternal Stationmaster was replaced by Nitama, a former apprentice of Tama who beat out other candidates for the job partially based on her “willingness to wear a hat.”‘
The only thing vaguely similar of which we can boast here in the UK, is the day last April when a large herd of cows took it upon themselves to congregate on Hever station platform in Kent. Strangely, in spite of having a wealth of applicants to choose from, Network Rail declined to appoint any of them to their staff.
But Network Rail does have one heartening animal trick up its sleeve. Paradoxical, startling, but nonetheless true – the rail network and surrounding land managed by NR is possibly the most biodiverse wildlife haven in the UK. An unseen Shangri-la for rare and endangered species such as the large blue butterfly, the dormouse, the osprey, the natterjack toad and the great crested newt. If we were permitted access, which of course we are not, we might also find an abundance of lizards, grass snakes, slow worms, water voles, deer, foxes, badgers, and bats.
But – and it’s a very big but – the network is both haven and hazard. Between 2003/4 and 2013/14 the number of animals struck by trains tripled, and the unfortunate animals logging up the highest death count are deer.
“Deer have excellent peripheral vision, but most deer incidents take place while the beasts are traversing the railway as part of their natural movement pattern between habitats at dawn/dusk – a time when more trains are running as part of the morning and evening peaks.”¹
What is Network Rail doing to prevent animals getting on the tracks?
Not an awful lot it seems. They “educate land owners about the dangers and disruption caused by animal incursions, emphasising the need to keep gates securely closed and encouraging them to use additional measures such as electric fencing.”
And that’s it. Good as far as it goes, and fine for domestic animals: horses, sheep and cattle – but if we look for NR’s ideas on keeping deer and other wildlife off the tracks, we draw a blank. This in spite of their desire to minimise collisions and costly disruptions to the rail timetable.
Over in Japan, they do things differently
Yes, certainly there is the same imperative not to let collisions with animals mess up the schedule. (Magnify that sixty-fold. The Japanese don’t have a name for super-efficiency for nothing, and Japanese trains are precise to the second. Last November a rail company felt compelled to issue a public apology for one of its trains departing 20 seconds early, at 9.44.20, instead of 9.44.40 – can you imagine it!)
And yes, as in the UK, the most frequent victims of death by train are deer. The deer are “reportedly attracted to the lines due to a need for iron in their diets, licking up small iron filings left behind by the grinding of train wheels on the tracks.”
But in Japan it’s not just about the timetable. As their unlikely choice of stationmasters/mistresses attest, in the world of the locomotive the Japanese have a care for animals. And that extends to the wild kind, whose interaction with trains is too often fatal.
Creatures as small as turtles can come a cropper, as well as cause delays, so one rail company has worked with wildlife experts to create safe crossings in the form of special turtle trenches running underneath the tracks. Rail workers even carry out regular inspections to see if the little guys need an extra helping hand.
For the bigger animals the usual ropes, fences, and flashing lights have all been tried – without success. Now, displaying a creativity sadly lacking in Network Rail, the Japanese are coming up with all kinds of imaginative ways to prevent costly timetable disruptions and animal deaths.
One of the most out there was someone’s brainwave of mixing water with lion dung garnered from a safari park, and spraying the solution along the track. Hey presto, it worked! Not one deer was run over. Even though Japanese deer have never seen a lion, it seems they recognise the smell of an apex predator when they come across it.
The dung spray though 100% effective, did have several drawbacks:
The spraying was very labour-intensive, impractical on a larger scale
It got washed away in the rain
And finally, it REEKED! Railway staff, passengers, and folk living near the line alike, all complained
Based on the observation that the deer are drawn to the iron from the lines, one company developed another effective method to divert the deer – definitely less off-the-wall and decidedly less offensive than the lion poop – ‘yukuru’, simple salt-lick blocks containing the vital ingredient iron.
When it really hit home
One night in 2015 a family of deer were crossing the tracks when a young fawn at the rear of the group was struck by a train and killed. Yuji Hikita, an employee of Kintetsu Railway Co. saw it happening. And continued to watch while a parent deer stood motionless, staring down at the fallen fawn for a full 40 minutes. After witnessing the whole heart-wrenching scene, he determined to find a way to stop such a sorrowful event happening again.
Hikita’s focus was on finding a way to help the deer cross the tracks in safety, rather than simply blocking them out.
He made an on-the-ground study of the deers’ movements. Finding hoof prints and dung (deer droppings, not lion!) helped him establish which spots the animals used as crossing points. The line was enclosed with 2 metre-high netting, but crossing places were left open. In the crossing gaps, ultrasonic waves formed temporary barriers at the riskiest times, dawn and dusk, but were switched off overnight when the trains stopped running.
The ultrasonic waves, inaudible to us, have the advantage of not being a terribleassault on human senses like the lion poop.
Hikita’s ingenious plan won him a 2017 Good Design Award.“This is an excellent example of how railway companies can tackle the deer-train collision problem from the deer’s perspective,” a judge for the Good Design Award said in 2017, “and it owes to the countless number sacrificed in the accidents.”
Meanwhile researchers at the RTRI (Railway Technical Research Institute) have been testing trains that snort like a deer and bark like a dog. With the usual Japanese precision and attention to detail, the formula is thus: a three-second burst of deer-snort noises, followed by 20 seconds of dog-barking.
The deer-snorting noises replicate deer’s alarm warnings to each other, which would alert any real deer getting too close to the tracks. The dogs’ barking finishes the job by scaring them away. And the snort-bark formula works. In fact, it’s proving so successful the Institute is considering setting up stationary snort-bark devices along the tracks near crossing places favoured by the deer.
“There’s an island in the middle of a Polish lake, where, for a few strange weeks, one cow ruled supreme. And woe to anyone who tried to set foot on that island.”
(Cover pic from politician and former singer Paweł Kukiz’s Facebook page)
A week or two ago we heard about Swoboda (Freedom), the runaway cow wild wintering with bison near the Bialowieza Forest in Poland. We have yet to discover how her fortune will unfold.
Closely following on her hoofs is Hermien, the Dutch cow who broke free when she was being loaded on to a truck headed for the slaughterhouse. She has spent weeks hiding out in the woods and has become a media sensation. A crowdfunding campaign is raising money to guarantee her right to live out her natural lifespan in a the peace and safety of a sanctuary – if they are able to coax her out of the woods she has made home.
Here is Hermien, roaming free
Now back once more to Poland for the story of this other remarkable, until now unnamed bovine. A story that ends in undeserved tragedy.
I choose to call her Duch, Polish for ‘Spirit’
“When workers opened her pen to transport her to the slaughterhouse, the animal made a daring and spectacular break for it.
“The cow made it to the edge of nearby Lake Nysa, where she was at last cornered by the farmers. But not so fast. The animal managed to break the arm of one of her handlers before plunging into the icy waters.
“I saw her diving underwater,” one of the farmers told Wiadomosci.
“A short time later, the cow appeared on the shores of one of the lake’s islands. And the farmer, hoping to keep her alive, left food for her there every day.
“But plans were afoot to draw this surreal saga to a close. After the local fire department failed in its bid to bring the cow back by boat — she refused to let anyone get near — the farmer mulled shooting the animal.
“Fortunately, by this time, the cow had found an unlikely, yet equally fierce ally. After hearing of her exploits, Polish politician and former singer Paweł Kukiz offered to buy the determined cow and let her live out her years in peace.
“A few days later Kukiz announced that media attention — radio and television outlets had joined the chorus to save the cow — had convinced the farmer to spare the cow.”
“Kukiz received assurances, he noted, that the cow would enjoy a ‘peaceful pension without the prospect of butcher knife.'”
“But an island is no place for a cow. Not even this fiery bovine empress. On Thursday, a team that included a veterinarian visited the island in an effort to bring her to a farm, where she could get proper care.
“The bovine bucked. She was tranquilized. Officials say she died on the truck. From stress.”
You may draw your own conclusions from these true life stories. These are mine:-
We are wowed and fascinated by these three, and others who made a break for it before them, precisely because they stand out from the herd. They have made themselves know to us as individuals. We see they have real personalities – that they are persons.
We identify with their fear and desire to escape a violent death.
We identify with their desire to live, and to be free from tyranny, free from having their fate determined for them by others – a life in subjection, and a life then taken from them prematurely.
These three bold and brave personalities make for great stories. But the truth is, while we are applauding their exploits, we forget all the others in the herds from which they come. And each and every cow in every herd everywhere also has its own personality – maybe not all as determined and spirited as our three heroines, but smart, gentle, loving, shy, patient, loyal… Each and everyone different, a person in her own right.
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
This photo of a bull shot by police in Germany after he’d escaped from a slaughter truck gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “the meat aisle”
If we see in Swoboda, Hermien and Duch what we can see in ourselves, do they and all the rest not merit at leastthose 3 rights, which surely every living being on the planet deserves?
I mourn for Duch who deserved so much better, and fervently hope that Swoboda and Hermien will be taken safely to a place where they can relish the sun on their backs and the grass under their feet with no more fear for their lives.
Most of all, I hope that their stories will challenge us to see the nameless, numberless creatures we force into our service as the individuals they truly are, and give them the respect and the right to a life free from harm they surely deserve.
If you think so too, or even if you don’t, please take a look at some animals already happy, contented, safe in sanctuary – and others who know they are destined to die.
And what better way to honour the memory of poor Duch, whose amazing spirit for life and freedom in the end, and through no fault of her own, failed to save her, than by checking out simple steps to transitioning your diet.
Then hercourageous life and saddeath will not have been in vain.
That title I shamelessly borrowed¹. The story itself is so insane, I could not come up with a better. But crazy as it sounds, it is for real. Maybe we don’t know too much about King Abdulaziz Camel Festival taking place right now in Saudi Arabia. It is after all only in its second year. But it is BIG. There are 30,000 camels at the festival and one third of a million visitors.
The festival comprises 2 main events:- the King Abdulaziz Award for Camel Racing, and the King Abdulaziz Award for Camel Beauty.
The Camel Beautiful
If you are going to take part in something as nuts as a camel beauty pageant, you need your camel to shape up to the ideal of camel beauty. What the judges are looking for –
the perfect height, shape and placement of the hump
full, droopy lips
a big head
But going back to that screwball title, it contains one significant inaccuracy – the camels are the innocent, injured parties here. It’s not the camels who were caught out “using Botox”. As if. The needle was being wielded by a corrupt Saudi vet at the request of corrupt camel owners. Days before the festival the man was caught red-handed performing plastic surgery on the animals. Ear-reduction surgery to be precise. Yes, we are still talking about camels. Remember what makes for the camel beautiful? ‘Delicate ears’. The same clinic was also found to have treated the 12 unfortunates with the Botox that got them expelled from the beauty pageant. As far as is known, neither the vet nor the camels’ owners were sanctioned. Just the camels.
“They use Botox for the lips, the nose, the upper lips, the lower lips and even the jaw,” says Ali Al Mazrouei, 31, son of a top Emirati breeder. Collagen fillers too. “It makes the head more inflated so when the camel comes it’s like, ‘Oh look at how big is that head is. It has big lips, a big nose’.”
Besides using Botox and collagen, some owners physically pull on the camel’s lips everyday in an attempt to lengthen them. What patient and long-suffering creatures these dromedaries must be.
Other competitors darken their camels’ coats with oil, and fluff them up with a fine comb and lots of hairspray. But as the glamorised contenders are held in a special holding pen the night before the pageant to prevent last minute tampering, the morning mists of the Saudi desert soon put paid to any fancy styling. The idea is that “by the time of the judging, prospective champions will only have their God-given beauty.” Hmm.
But why? Why go to such extreme lengths as even Botox and plastic surgery to enhance the camel body beautiful? The answer is not far to seek. As with most human interactions with other animals, so with the camel beauty pageant. The driving force behind every human activity using other animals for human ends is…. Money. In this case lots and lots of it – a pot of gold worth a staggering US$57 million, with the added incentive of raising the sale price of the winning camels by millions more.
With such riches at stake, the temptation to cheat is no surprise. Dirty tricks, as the organisers see it. For the animals, it’s abuse.
At first glance, the idea of a camel beauty pageant seems to us absurd. But if you think about it, it’s no more off the wall than the dog shows held in the West. While with dog shows, the prize money and increased value of breeding stock may be in the thousands rather than the millions, it’s still clearly enough to tempt participants into cheating.
We have dog-doping. We have dogs’ fur dyed, and chalk used to whiten fur that’s not-quite-white-enough. We even have prosthetics to alter the tilt of the ears, and muscles clipped to get the perfect set of the tail. Every dirty trick right down to murder – poor Jagger, a prize-winning red setter fatally poisoned at our own Crufts in 2015.
Dogs here, camels there. When humans sniff money, other animals get abused.
Camels in Demand
In the Gulf States camels are not wildlife. They are our equivalent of race horses and cows rolled into one. Bloodstock (if they’re racing camels/beauty pageant camels) or livestock, traditionally used for their milk, and increasingly for their meat. The Economist describes the poor creatures as being “speedy and tasty”. Unfortunate attributes to have.
The explosion in demand for camels is creating a huge boom in camel breeding on the other side of the Gulf, in East Africa. In the Sudan, the Rashaidi tribe that migrated from Saudi Arabia in the mid 19th century, are enjoying a new-found affluence raising camels for the Gulf States. Around 200 baby camels are sold each month to Saudi Arabia, and many more to the United Arab Emirates.
Egypt is already a big market for camel sales from East Africa. ‘“Thousands of camels come to Birqesh [in Egypt] each week… trucked in from as far as Sudan and Somalia,” said camel-seller Mohamed Fawzi Fahmi. Most of the camels that survive the sometimes arduous journey to Birqesh will end up meeting the food demands of Cairo’s nine million residents, while the rest can be used for farm work or tourism. Upon their arrival, the animals are sometimes emaciated or have open wounds from being packed into trucks in a long journey that does not necessarily have the best interests of the animals at heart – camels here are a commodity.’
Camels for Racing
The Rashaidi are renowned for breeding some of the world’s fastest racing camels. The camels are trained at dawn and dusk each day, racing around a track in the desert while wealthy visiting Emiratis look on. They are on the lookout for potential champions to enter in the multimillion-dollar races in Dubai, and no doubt in Saudi’s King Abdulaziz Festival Race also.
Where there is animal-racing, be it greyhounds, camels or horses, the animals suffer. They are raced too young, there is selective breeding detrimental to the animal’s health, doping and illegal betting. Criminal activity surrounds these so-called sports.
Those camels, greyhounds and horses that fail to make the grade as racers, and those ‘retired’ from racing are sent to slaughter.
Children and Robots
Just to add another touch of the surreal, since (under pressure from UNICEF) the UAE banned the use of child jockeys in 1993, the camels in training are “whipped along by miniature robots dressed in jockey silks and given orders remotely from white Toyota pickup trucks.” You could not make it up.
There is a deadly side to this though, because the ban is widely ignored. This is a passage from Death in Dubai by Ron Gluckman
ONE OF THE WORLD’S TOP JOCKEYS poses for a photo by the track. His smile says it all. Two front teeth are missing. Raji Shubir [at 6 years old] ranks with the youngest champions of the race course.
The races Raji runs are dangerous brushes with death in the camel pits of Dubai. No riches await young riders like Raji, who are stolen or bought from beggar parents in the slave markets of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. And fame is a foolish notion. Fans will never see Raji’s name in magazines, not even if he is trampled to death during a race or murdered afterwards by jealous child jockeys.
But die they do, kicked to death by camels or killed by rival baby riders. Such is the sad, short life in the fast lane for untold slave children shipped to the camel pits of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Raji, whose name was changed for this article, arrived in Dubai like hundreds of other children from the Asian subcontinent. He was sold by his pauper family to a servant of an Arab lord. Raji slipped through immigration, posing as the child of the Indian servant.
This is typical, according to authorities in India, who smashed several child-selling gangs during the early 1990s. The kids are sold for as little as US$3. Hundreds more are kidnapped, often toddlers as young as two.
UAE immigration and police turn a blind eye to the baby trade that serves the sordid sports of sheiks and sultans of the oil-rich emirates. Even tales of vicious brutality are brushed aside.
A five-year-old rider was beaten to death by other child jockeys last year. But neither he, nor his six-year-old assailants, were mentioned in media or police reports. “This happens often, too often,” says a local reporter, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Seven Asian and African countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Mauritania, Eritrea, Somalia and India were named as the main culprits exporting child camel jockeys to the UAE. Shocking child abuse as well as animal abuse. And underlying it all – money.
Gulf States Sucking up Camels from Across the World
Meanwhile several thousand miles away in South Australia, the future of 300,000 feral camels is starting to look very shaky. The camels which originally arrived in Australia with Afghan and Arab immigrants in the late 1800s, are now being “cultivated” for a local abattoir. 25,000 so far have met their ends this way, chopped up and sent to the Middle East to satisfy the growing demand for camel meat. But the Australian Ngaanyatjarra Camel Company has not been slow to recognise the potential for supplying not only camel meat, but live animals to the Gulf States for the much more lucrative racing and beauty pageant camel breeding industry.
The Botox and Beauty Pageant is No Joke
The “sexy” camels kicked out for using Botox makes for an amusing title, but there is nothing funny about the exploitation of these innocent creatures. If there is a way to exploit them, you can be sure humans have left no stone unturned to find it.
The well-known verse from the Bible is often wrongly quoted as, “Money is the root of all evil.”
The actual quote is, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” The love of money is at the root of all the evils perpetrated on the defenceless, children and nonhuman animals the world over, camels no exception.
Scientists said, “It chose freedom”. I say, “She chose freedom.”The story of the cow who prized freedom above the safety of home.
The story is set in Poland. So, as the heroine of this tale remains nameless as yet, I shall call her Swoboda, Polish for ‘Freedom’.
Ornithologist Adam Zbyryt was the first to spot her near the wild primeval forest of Bialowieza.“It’s not unusual to see bison near the Bialowieza Forest, but one animal caught my eye. It was a completely different shade from the rest of the herd, light-brown”he told a Polish news channel.
On closer inspection Swoboda turned out to be a Limousin cow, a French breed common in Poland. In spite of living on the hoof, so to speak, and exposed to the Polish winter, she was looking good – apparently healthy and unfazed by the snow and the giant bovines with horns of her adopted herd.
Another sighting of Swoboda took place this week, this time by biologist Rafal Kowalczyk. She is still keeping up with the bison, and happily still in fine fettle. At night wolves patrol the edges of the Bialowiez wilderness. A lone cow would be no match against such fearsome predators. For Swoboda to be surviving there, the bison must be protecting her.
All the same, Swoboda remains a bit of an outsider, not fully integrated in the herd. And while that is a cause for concern, if she can survive the winter, not getting too close to her shaggy friends could be a blessing in disguise. What if a big male bison were to take a fancy to her? End result – a hybrid calf. Diluting the bison genes would threaten the survival of the bison population, as of now standing at a precarious 520. What the herd needs is healthy bison babies with 100% bison genes.
And worse for Swoboda, a half-bison calf would likely be too big for her to carry and safely deliver. It could endanger her life.
All in all, come Spring someone may have to guide Swoboda back to the safety of confinement with her own kind. (Temporary safety. Safe that is, until humans are done with her.)
Meanwhile, stay close to your woolly friends Swoboda, and keep on relishing that sweet taste of freedom!