Pigeon Racing – Just Harmless Fun?

Last summer, a story appeared in the New York Times that could have come straight from an episode of “Only Fools and Horses”. Just swap Peckham for Shanghai and cast two Chinese guys in the roles of Del Boy and Rodders.

Before the story begins, and in case we didn’t know, we need to understand that to start a pigeon race, the pigeons are transported hundreds of miles away from their lofts. When they are released, their instinct is to fly back home, and it’s the first to reach its loft again that wins the prize.
Right, the stage is set, and the action begins summer 2018, when these two guys decide to enter four birds into the annual Shanghai Grand Prix Race. They come up with the ingenious idea of giving their birds two home lofts, one in Shanghai, the race’s end, and one in Shangqiu, the race’s starting point.
The plan is, when all the pigeons are released by race officials in Shangqiu, their four birds won’t (and don’t) like the rest of the birds in the race, fly the hundreds of miles back to Shanghai. Instead they head straight back to their second and nearest home loft, the one in Shangqiu. Our two geniuses simply collect their birds, hide them inside milk cartons, and smuggle them on to the bullet train that connects the two cities.
Disembarking from the train in Shanghai, the birds are re-released and flap their way back to the Shanghai loft they call home. Needless to say, the four birds beat all the opposition by a long mile, and are declared outright and extraordinary winners of the prestigious race with its $160,000 prize.
The Trotters would have been in their element. You can just hear Del Boy saying to Rodders, “This time next year we’ll be millionaires!” But in this Chinese version, the jubilant smiles are soon to fade.
Even over a long race such as this, pigeons can fly at a phenomenal 80 mph. At that speed, the average race time between the two cities is about 8 hours. But the fastest of avian flyers can’t come close to the bullet train’s top speed of 200 mph. And the train only takes 3 hours 15 minutes to make the same journey.
Mmm. It’s not going to take a genius to work out pdq that in the birds’ record-shattering win the maths doesn’t quite add up. And the other competitors were no slouches working out the sums. If only our guys had thought to stop off somewhere for a leisurely lunch on the way back to Shanghai!
But this story, amusing as it is on the surface, leaves a bad taste. Because in truth…
There is nothing funny about pigeon-racing

After the Grand Prix race, to hide the evidence of their fraud, the two men destroyed their four innocent birds.

Here’s another “extraordinary story” passed on to a reporter for the BBC by one of his colleagues: “She [the colleague] used to live next door to a pigeon fancier. One day his winged competitors returned from a race, but one refused to re-enter the loft; it perched on the house roof, out of reach of its owner who wanted to register its ID from the tag on its leg.

“A simple solution was at hand, in the shape of an air rifle. He shot the bird and collected its corpse to complete his race record.

“‘You made that up,’ I accused. ‘No I didn’t,’ she replied.”

The reporter was wrong about one thing – the story is not “extraordinary” at all. On the contrary, it is all too familiar.

In Belgium, the historic home of pigeon racing and still the epicentre of the pigeon fancier’s world, competition birds can be worth thousands of euros, especially as certified winners. And over the last decade or so, the hobby’s popularity has spread like a contagion across the Far East, particularly in China, the Philippines and Taiwan. Last month a Chinese buyer “spent a record 1.25 million euros ($1.4 million) at an auction for Belgium’s best long-distance racing pigeon of all time.”

Put those facts together, and this is what you get –

Crime and Cruelty, Cruelty and Crime

Belgium

In one incident, a Belgian national noticed two men who looked ‘Asian’ dumping black bin sacks in some woods. The sacks turned out to be full of pigeon corpses, each with one foot cut off – the foot with the identity tag.

“The Royal Belgian Federation of Pigeon Fanciers has suggested that Chinese criminal gangs are behind a growing number of robberies. Rather than attempting to smuggle their prey abroad, criminals will kill the pigeons and cut off their identifying rings to be used on much less valuable birds bred in Asia.”

“It is really an epidemic, a true plague,” said Pierre De Rijst, president of Fédération Royale de Colombophiles Belges. “All they have to do is fit the stolen identification rings in China onto a bird worth a fraction of the value, which they then pass off as an ace racer.”

The Philippines

When a race is on, people like to shoot the pigeons out of the sky, just for fun. Others string fishing nets across the mountains to catch the birds – then sell them on to would-be pigeon fanciers for a fraction of their monetary worth. (In the world of pigeon racing, a bird with no monetary worth has no worth at all.)

The UK

2 million pigeons are bred and raised by the UK’s 43,000 pigeon fanciers every year. Thousands of the birds are killed as ‘unsuitable’ before they even get to race. PETA filmed pigeon-fanciers weeding out “slow-flying birds and snapping their necks before tossing them into the bin.”

Taiwan

“Money—not just entry fees, but vast illegal wagers—fuels the multibillion-dollar pigeon-racing industry. Wealthy racers pay upwards of $100,000 for imported breeder birds, and top flyers admitted to making millions on a single race. The chance to win staggering sums leads to extortion, drugging of birds, and kidnapping birds for ransom.” 

As if all that weren’t enough, after a race pigeons may be killed by their owners if they fail to make the time needed to qualify for the next race in the series.

And then there are the races themselves – even worse than the deadly Iditarod

The Alaskan Iditarod dogsled race calls itself “The Last Great Race on Earth”. Since it began in 1973, 150 participating dogs have died. Deaths are so routine that officials consider them “unpreventable”. Many others are injured, or end the race with permanent lung damage. Many many more are bred and then killed if they don’t reach racing standard. (Read more here)

But the stats for losses in major pigeon races are off the scale. Take the prestigious MacArthur Race in the Philippines: “It is a brutal 600-kilometre gauntlet during which competitors face searing heat, wild seas, vicious predators, and the threat of kidnapping.” Only 1 in 10 pigeons that start the race makes it back. 

In Taiwan, “the birds, who are released over treacherous open oceans and have to fly hundreds of miles to reach land, are often swept underwater by waves and drown, or fall victim to extreme weather, raptors, electric lines, foul play, disorientation, or exhaustion—or, if they return but finish out of the money, their necks are typically broken.” In Taiwanese pigeon races, only 1 in 50 of the birds survive, 98 out of 100 die.

A Taiwanese fisherman describes the scene of horror he witnessed: “It was raining pigeons – literally. I’ve never seen such a scene. Every one of them crashed. Some crashed on to the boat, some crashed into the ocean… About one hour after the pigeon rain, you could see the whole surface of the ocean filled with dead pigeons.”

Here in the UK it is no better. Pigeons pair for life. They ‘kiss’ affectionately, and both care for their offspring. The fanciers exploit this fidelity by deliberately “widowing” a pair. They use the stronger male, who will fly back fast to his mate, in sprint races. Not in longer races. In longer races, the male is inclined to forget his mate back home and seek new love elsewhere.

The females on the other hand, never stray from their one soulmate, and even over long distance races faithfully fix their sights on home. This steadfast devotion is rewarded by making them the natural choice for the longest, cruellest races, such as the Barcelona International, in which they are forced to fly up to 900 miles to reach home. The final deadly barrier is the English Channel, referred to by those in the pigeon racing world as “the graveyard”, because it swallows up such huge numbers of exhausted birds. Only 1 in 10 make it back. Then, if they’re not going to be of use for future races, their owners drown them or break their necks.

“Millions of dollars fly in this business, but the pigeons are always the losers” – PETA

A pigeon’s worth?

Cock-fighting, badger-baiting and hunting foxes with hounds are rightly banned in the UK as barbaric activities having no place in the modern world. Every life is precious and every animal death for human ‘sport’ an unnecessary tragedy. But it seems we care much more about badgers, foxes and cocks (and the Iditarod dogs) than we do about the racing pigeons, whom “many people consider to be no better than flying rats.”

Who gets to decide what the life of this gentle, intelligent creature is worth?


Take action for UK racing pigeons here

Take action for Taiwan’s racing pigeons here


 

Sources

The deadly odds of pigeon racing in the Philippines

Belgian pigeon fanciers accuse Chinese mafia of killing racing birds to steal ID bands

Is pigeon racing cruel?

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Would YOU enter a nuclear fallout zone to help save forgotten animals?

ICYMI

Fukushima – when the people flee en masse from the apocalyptic scene of devastation, the animals are left behind. Then up steps Naoto Matsumura. What he does and what he is as a human being leaves me awestruck and humbled. This is Network for Animals story of one heroic, compassionate man who puts his own life on the line to save his fellow creatures from abandonment, starvation and death.

 

First came the 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Then a towering tsunami that raged inland for miles, sweeping to their death more than 15,000 people and countless animals.
But then it got worse, much worse.
In what would become a more catastrophic nuclear meltdown than Chernobyl, three nuclear reactors began to leak radiation at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in Japan. People fled. Untold numbers of animals were left behind.
But one man would NOT turn his back…

Naoto Matsumura believed the lives of animals were worth more than his and to this day, every day, he is still there helping some of the most forsaken animals on earth!Naoto in Fukushima

We deeply believe Naoto shouldn’t face the fight to keep his friends alive, alone.

As a friend to Network for Animals, you know you can count on us to help animals in the world’s most desolate places. It took us nearly two years to arrange to enter Fukushima’s no-go radioactive zone…

Finally, we visited Naoto and the animals, less than six miles (10 kilometers) from Ground Zero.

Clad in hazmat suits, with the tick-tick-tick-tick of our ever-present Geiger counters as a constant and unnerving background warning, our team listened as Naoto told the saddest story…

Fukushima

When Fukushima melted down the Japanese government immediately declared an a mandatory, and near instantaneous evacuation of nearly 200,000 people. The tsunami-sodden ground was soaked with radiation.

People were ORDERED by the government to leave their dogs and cats and livestock BEHIND! No one dreamed they wouldn’t be allowed back to fetch them.

And as Naoto told of how he defied government orders to stay and care for the animals on his family’s small rice farm and as we travelled with him deep into the radioactive restricted zone, we saw the eerie apocalyptic aftermath of the disaster.

Cigarette packs, left on café counters. High-end cars, abandoned by the roadside. Vending machines, still fully stocked. Overnight, thriving communities were frozen in time. They became ghost towns.

Fukushima

Naoto laughs when he tells us that he’s been called the “most radioactive man in Japan.” But he turns sombre as he describes how he soon realized his neighbors’ animals needed help too.

He found one dog near death, just skin and bones, locked inside a barn for 18 months after the disaster! The poor thing had survived on the rotting, dead flesh of the cattle trapped inside.

Fukushima

As Naoto nursed the little dog called Kiseki, “miracle,” back to health, the media spotlight moved on.

He went on making his daily missions of mercy alone, traffic lights signaling to empty streets and overgrown train stations.

Many animals like Kiseki are alive today because of Naoto. Only Naoto.

If only you could visit Fukushima, meet Naoto and see the love and dedication in his eyes, we know you’d be as determined as we are to help him!

He still recalls the day he came upon more than 100 cows, starved to death, tethered in their barn…

The saddest site was their skeletons. They waited hopelessly for hay that never came, withering to nothing. Only bones remain in the bottoms of troughs.

Naoto’s distress at the animals he couldn’t save is written all over his face.We just can’t imagine what he’s been through all these years.

Will you help us – help him – to help the animals?They’ve been on their own for so long.

Please. Rush your donation to NFA today and you will ensure that Naoto will receive the first of what we hope will be regular shipments of everything from dog and cat food to radioactive-free hay for these forgotten animals, so they can survive and thrive.

If we do nothing, if we leave him to do this work alone, more animals could suffer the fate of nearly 1,000 abandoned cattle, who died in Naoto’s town of Tomioka alone after the disaster.

NFA Fukushima - Naoto Please, if you possibly can, be generous today so we can ensure Naoto can continue to come to the aid of the forgotten animals of the Fukushima nuclear fallout zone.

We’ll update you again the moment we get shipment through to Naoto, with your kind support. Thank you for reading and responding with whatever help you can send.

For the animals,

Brian, Gloria, Max and Flora

Brian and Gloria Davies (and Max and Flora!)
Founder and CEO

P.S. We want to leave you with one last story about Naoto and Kiseki. After the poor pup had survived locked in a barn for 18 long months eating the rotting flesh of dead cattle, Naoto nurtured him back to health. Thanks to a wonderful friend of animals outside the fallout zone, Kiseki was adopted and has a loving forever family in Tokyo!

THIS is the kind of person Naoto is, that he would let Kiseki go – his little “miracle” – because it meant a better life for the precious dog than he could provide. Please, if you possibly can, help Naoto work more miracles for the animals of Fukushima with your generous donation now. Thank you for reading this message and thank you so very much for whatever you can give.

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The Cat Man of Aleppo Returns

“Children and animals are the big losers in the Syrian war. It’s the adults who so often behave badly.”

The cat man of Aleppo, Mohammad Aljaleel, touched the hearts of millions when his sanctuary featured in a BBC video in 2016. He had to leave the city when it fell to Syrian government forces, but he’s now back – in an area nearby – and helping children as well as animals, reports Diana Darke.

(There is nothing I can possibly add to this amazing story, except to say that if you want to see what true humanity looks like, look no further than Diana’s account below of this exceptional man.) 

Just weeks after the video was filmed, Mohammad Aljaleel (known to everyone as Alaa) watched helplessly as his cat sanctuary was first bombed, then chlorine-gassed, during the intense final stages of the siege of Aleppo.

Most of his 180 cats were lost or killed. Like thousands of other civilians he was trapped in the eastern half of the city under continuous bombardment from Russian and Syrian fighter jets.

As the siege tightened, he was forced from one Aleppo district to another, witnessing unimaginable scenes of devastation. Yet throughout, he continued to look after the few surviving cats and to rescue people injured in the bombing, driving them to underground hospitals.

When the city fell in December 2016, he left in a convoy, his van crammed full of injured people and the last six cats from the sanctuary.

“I’ve always felt it’s my duty and my pleasure to help people and animals whenever they need help,” Alaa says. “I believe that whoever does this will be the happiest person in the world, besides being lucky in his life.”

After a brief recuperation in Turkey, he smuggled himself back into Syria – bringing a Turkish cat with him for company – and established a new cat sanctuary, bigger and better than the first one, in Kafr Naha, a village in opposition-held countryside west of Aleppo.

Alaa and Ernesto
Alaa and a cat called Ernesto

Using the same crowdfunding model employed successfully in east Aleppo, funds were sent in by cat-lovers from all over the world via Facebook and Twitter.

But Alaa has always worked for the benefit of the community, as well as the cats themselves.

In Aleppo, he and his team of helpers bought generators, dug wells and stockpiled food. Even at the height of the bombing, they ran animal welfare courses for children, to develop their empathy. They also set up a playground next to the sanctuary where children could briefly escape from the apocalyptic events taking place all around them.

The new sanctuary has expanded to include an orphanage, a kindergarten and a veterinary clinic. Alaa and his team resemble a small development agency, providing services that government and international charities cannot or will not. He strongly believes that helping children to look after vulnerable animals teaches them the importance of kindness to all living creatures, and helps to heal their own war traumas.

“Children and animals are the big losers in the Syrian war,” he says. “It’s the adults who so often behave badly.”

As a boy growing up in Aleppo, Alaa had always looked after cats, spurring his friends to do likewise, even though keeping cats and dogs as pets is not customary in Syria or the rest of the Arab world.

He started working aged 13, as an electrician, but also turned his hand to many other jobs – painter, decorator, IT expert, satellite-dish installer… he even traded toys between Lebanon and Syria.

He worked hard and he learned how to get things done. “May the dust turn to gold in your hands, Alaa,” his mother used to say.

His dream was to become a fireman like his father and work in search and rescue, but such jobs were handed out only to those with connections, and the connection through his father was not enough. So for years his applications were rejected.

The sanctuary's vet, Dr Youssef
The sanctuary’s vet, Dr Youssef

“Of course I would never have wished for a war in order to make my dream come true. I wish I could have achieved these things without the suffering I have seen,” he says.

“God blessed me by putting me in a position where I could help people by being a rescue man, but in my worst nightmares I never imagined a war like this for my people or for my country, or even for a single animal.”

During the siege in Aleppo he used to visit both Christian and Muslim old people’s homes, distributing food. Extremist groups such as al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra regularly chided him, calling him a kaafir, an unbeliever, but he continued regardless.

“Our Prophet Muhammad was good to everybody. He spoke with all Christians and Jews. I believe in Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, because all of them had a noble aim. I’m a Muslim, but I am not a fanatic. I just take from religion everything that’s good and that I can learn things from,” Alaa says.

Despite the difficulties he has endured, Alaa has always maintained a wicked sense of humour. At the new sanctuary, a tabby called Maxi the Marketing King is chief fundraiser, soliciting “green kisses” in the form of dollar bills via social media accounts.

Maxi, aka King Maxi
Maxi, chief fundraiser

Alaa wears a T-shirt with “Maxi’s Slave” written on it, and gets ticked off for smoking too much or for not cooking gourmet meals. He admits his shortcomings. “We submit to Maxi’s authority as the ruler of his kingdom. But even with Maxi’s leadership it wasn’t easy to launch the new sanctuary,” he says.

Maxi's "slave"

This is an understatement. The rebel-held area where Alaa now lives is semi-lawless and when powerful gangs realised he was receiving funds for the sanctuary, they attempted to kidnap him. He was no longer being bombed, but his life was still at risk.

As well as cats, the new sanctuary has dogs, monkeys, rabbits, a chicken that thinks it’s a cat, and an Arabian thoroughbred horse.

“There are so few thoroughbred horses left inside Syria now that I worry about finding him a mare to breed with. I plan to perform the role of a traditional Syrian mother and try to find him a wife, so that he can have children and start building up the population of thoroughbred horses in Syria again,” Alaa says.

Fox at the sanctuary
Injured fox, rescued by the sanctuary

All the animals have names, generally awarded by Alaa. An aggressive black-and-white cat who came to the sanctuary, stole food and terrified all the other cats was nicknamed al-Baghdadi, after the Iraqi leader of Islamic State (IS).

“Of course, this cat was a million times better than that evil murderer al-Baghdadi, but this name came to mind because his presence in the sanctuary coincided with the arrival of IS gangs in Aleppo,” Alaa says.

Cat and cockerel
A cockerel that behaves like a cat… 

A large ginger tomcat was given a Trump hairstyle and christened The Orange President of the Sanctuary. A pair of speedy acrobatic cats were called Sukhoi 25 and Sukhoi 26, after Russian fighter jets.

“They’re old planes, but effective enough for the job required of them in Syria. We always knew when the Russians were coming to bomb us because of their very loud engine noise. We’d shout: ‘Watch out! A Sukhoi is coming!'”

Alaa’s reputation inside Syria has travelled far and wide, and the government is well aware of his activities.

A hawk
And a resident bird of prey

In 2017 he was called by the Magic World Zoo, south of Aleppo, which asked desperately for his help to feed the neglected lions, tigers and bears – which he did, despite the dangers of the journey which involved passing through Jabhat al-Nusra checkpoints. While there, he discovered he had been recommended by the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture.

“It was funny that the ministry knew about us and was handing over responsibility for the zoo animals to us,” he says. “The Magic World Zoo gave me a lot of headaches.”

Alaa was eventually able to negotiate a solution for the animals with a charity called Four Paws, which arranged for the animals that hadn’t died to be transported out of Syria to new homes in Belgium, the Netherlands and Jordan.

In the new sanctuary he looks after 105 children, of whom 85 are “orphans” (in Syria the word covers children who have lost a breadwinner, as well as those who have lost both parents). Only 11 children actually sleep in the orphanage at present, because it isn’t finished, but all receive education, food and clothes, for which Alaa pays 25 euros per month.

The biggest risk is the instability in the region. Clashes break out periodically, as it’s close to the border with Idlib province, which is controlled by rebel groups who often fight each other. No-one knows what will happen next to that part of Syria and who will end up in charge.

“I blame all fighting parties equally – no matter who they are or why they say they’re fighting – for the killing of civilians,” Alaa says.

“We are rebuilding our communities and my role in that is to rebuild my sanctuary for cats. Friendship between animals is a great thing and we should learn from them. I’ll stay with them no matter what happens.

_105920908_feedingfb2_976.jpg

“It seems the world cannot solve wars and conflicts these days. That’s why there are now so many refugees around the world, but especially here in the Middle East.

“I do not want to be a refugee. I want to stay in my country, in Syria. I want to help people in any way I can.”

Diana Darke is the author, with Alaa Aljaleel, of The Last Sanctuary in Aleppo.

All pics from BBC

A page full of videos about Alaa and his work

Source Return of the cat man of Aleppo – BBC News

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The Four-Legged City Where Street Dogs & Cats Are At Home

A Thousand Happy Faces & Wagging Tails

The ‘Four-Legged City’ Where Street Dogs & Cats Are At Home

When your holiday zest for sightseeing bazaars and palaces begins to flag, and you turn into the nearest cafe for a much-needed sit down and restorative coffee, chances are several street dogs and cats will have got there before you and nabbed the best seats.
As you settle at a vacant table, a furry feline will in all likelihood settle on you. And in this city no-one is going to turn them out. Because you are in Istanbul, the ‘four-legged city’, where the free-roaming dogs and cats get cared for as well as the pampered pets inside the home.
The cafe owner emerges from the kitchen with dishes of food for his four-legged guests. The fishmonger next door is slicing up pieces of fish for the hopeful, patiently waiting outside.

cat-2477903_960_720

Local residents are putting out bowls of water and food next to the little shelters they’ve knocked together for the furries out on their own streets. And of course, there are rich pickings to be had for the enterprising in the bags of rubbish thrown on to the street.

adorable-1228456_960_720

Reinvigorated by your coffee? Then head for Nişantaşı Sanat Parkı, otherwise known as ‘the Cat Park’. There are cats, cats and more cats everywhere you look. Hundreds, yes hundreds, of them. Unlike feral cats in the UK, these are completely habituated to people, and will return your attentions with happy purrs and affectionate nuzzles.

You may be puzzled by strange white boxes dotted about the city. These are ‘smart’ recycling boxes. Recycling with an unusual twist: the box rewards you for recycling your empty water bottle by dispensing cat and dog food to give to the animals.

Canines beyond the city limits where food opportunities are thin on the ground are not forgotten either. A van is sent out daily to Belgrade Forest with 1,000 kg of dry dog food. The driver honks the horn, the signal that breakfast has arrived. The dogs come running out of the trees.

That’s hunger dealt with. What about thirst? The city has installed fresh water stations especially for the 130,000 thirsty dogs and 165,000 thirsty cats free-roaming the city – that’s about as many street-dwelling felines and canines combined as there are human residents of Nottingham or Belfast.

inistanbulas
Pic from Phys.org

If any of these free-spirited furries get sick, no problem –  if they can’t get to one of the 6 health clinics (with a little help from the always willing humans), the VetBus will come to them.

There’s no doubt about it: Istanbul’s four-legged residents are done proud. You could say they own the city.

dog-2411762_960_720
A paradise present and past

What a paradise for these lucky animals, a paradise present and past. Dogs and cats have been documented on the streets of Istanbul for hundreds of years. “The dogs sleep in the streets, all over the city,” Mark Twain wrote after a visit in 1867. “They would not move, though the Sultan himself passed by.”

Why is it that in this city they are not just tolerated, but actively cared for? “They are the neighbourhood’s dogs [and cats]. They protect us and everyone loves them,” says resident Hamit Yilmaz Ozcan.

Sadly the same cannot be said of many other cities in the world. In the last few years alone we have heard of cities like Sochi, Beijing, and Rio de Janeiro’s horrific mass killings of street animals ahead of big sporting events. Other places like Cyprus and Bali also view the street animals as pests, and regularly cull them. ‘Cull’ of course is just officialese for ‘kill’. But killing it is nonetheless. In 2013, Romania’s capital Bucharest ordered euthanasia (another euphemism) of its 50,000 strays.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are 200 million stray dogs worldwide. Countries such as Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Mexico have in the past, taken reduction measures [yet another euphemism to cloak the unpalatable truth] to control their large populations of stray dogs.” 

So what makes Istanbul so different, possibly unique?

The answer is, centuries of Islamic tradition in the Ottoman Empire, of which Istanbul was the capital and seat of power. The Ottomans took to heart the Qu’ran’s teaching that all animals were made by Allah. All animals are loved by Allah. All animals must be treated with kindness and compassion.

birds-form-communities-like-us

“According to Islamic culture, people should avoid being unjust to others, and it places animals’ rights above human rights since it is possible to compensate for the wrongdoing to people by asking for their forgiveness; however, it is not possible with animals as they lack reason.” 

(Personally, I think it’s not that they lack reason, but that we don’t understand their language.)

“Prophet Muhammad told the story of two different women who lived long before his time. As he recounted, an evil women went to heaven because she gave water to a dog, while a good woman went to hell because she starved a cat to death.”

(Define ‘good woman’, I’d say. Starving a cat to death sounds pretty evil to me. But anyway, you get the drift.)

“Fearing this story, people in the past fed their animals before they sat down for meals and did not go to bed before they cleaned the animals in their barns and checked if they had water and feed. Moreover, the government punished those who carried barnyard fowls upside down or overloaded horses or donkeys, and people who harmed animals were alienated from their community in the Ottoman Empire.

“The Ottomans established foundations to feed street dogs, and wolves in the mountains, provide water for birds on hot summer days and treat storks with broken wings or injured horses. They also built birdhouses in the courtyards of buildings such as mosques, madrasahs and palaces and placed water pans on gravestones for birds.”

Even ‘worn out’ donkeys and horses, no longer fit to work, were not shot or abandoned as would have been, and often still is their fate elsewhere, but cared for until the end of their days.

Sad change in the 19th century

The people of Istanbul have always loved having the animals around – and who wouldn’t. The state though is a different matter. In the 19th century, the Ottomans, realising the image they were projecting to European powers was one of backwardness, decided to push beggars, orphans and the unemployed into forced labour or deportation. And at the same time made “systemic efforts to annihilate stray dogs within the wider picture of Ottoman modernizing reforms.”

In 1909, “although old Istanbul’s street dogs were very famous, the municipality collected all of them, ferried them to an island in the Marmara Sea and abandoned them. They were left with no food or clean water, and their cries were heard throughout the city. 

“The people who pitied them threw them food, but when all of these dogs died on the island, the residents of the city were disturbed by the smell of their corpses. The wars that broke out and the defeats of the empire following this incident were seen as a punishment for what was done to those animals.”

That sudden ruthless disregard for the centuries-old traditions of care and respect for the street dogs and cats continued right through the 20th century. Right up to the 1990s, officials were strewing poison around the city, consigning the animals to a cruel death.

In 2004 Turkey passed an Animal Protection Law

Everything changed again. The municipalities were forced to take a more humane approach. Instead of slaughter, an extensive neutering program was implemented by the VetBus and the clinics.

With rabies still endemic in Turkey, the thought of rabid animals roaming the busy streets of this ancient city is not one the municipality was prepared to countenance for a second, so the other important part of the program is vaccination. Under the Capture Neuter Vaccinate & Release program, CNVR, the dogs and cats are also chipped and given an ear tag so they can easily be identified as having been ‘done’ before they are returned to the street or square where they were found.

It’s a secret

The tons of food, the water stations, the recycle boxes, the clinics, the VetBus, the CNVR program – surely none of this can come cheap? The municipality refuses to say how much is being spent on the street dogs and cats of Istanbul. “If people knew how much money was spent on these services, maybe people would be more upset, but these figures are not disclosed,” says Yildirim, coordinator of the collective “Dort Ayakli Sehir” (Four-legged City).

But Turkey’s Agriculture and Forests Minister Bekir Pakdemirli did recently admit that between 2009 and 2018 his ministry expended 31 million Turkish lira (around $6 million) just contributing towards the budgets of local authorities across the country for their care of street animals.

Maybe still not quite such a paradise for the street dogs and cats after all? 

The best efforts of the CNVR program has only succeeded in keeping the stray feline and canine populations at a fairly constant level. Their numbers have not fallen over time as the municipality might have hoped and expected. Of course, there will always be some wily characters that escape the net and keep breeding.

But much sadder than that, according to animal welfare organisations on the ground:

“There is a high incidence of dog abandonment in Turkey. Pets are often bought on impulse, and frequently as gifts. But when cute little puppies grow into large dogs that need space, exercise and long-term care, many families simply abandon their pets to the streets or forests. Many abandoned dogs are pure breeds, like golden retrievers, that are temperamentally unfit to survive on the streets or in the wild.”

The self-same fate awaits cats:

“In Turkey everyday, thousands of puppies and kittens are sold in the pet-shops just like stuffed animals and most of them find themselves abandoned on the streets within a couple of months… Abandoned cats and dogs are everywhere. Sometimes people simply kick them out from their home right on the streets, sometimes they take a dog into a forest and leave him there so he can’t find his way back home, or even abandon him by the side of a motorway so he gets killed quickly.”

This little guy is one such victim. Only 40 days old, found all alone and whimpering in a ditch at the side of the road. Luckily he was rescued and put up for adoption. But there’s still a chance he could end up back on the street further down the line.

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Pic from Phys.org
Love for the street animals/casual, callous abandonment. How to reconcile the two?

Is it that the good people of Istanbul enjoy the pleasure the animals bring into their daily lives, and feel good giving food and some outdoor shelter, but don’t want the full responsibility of caring for them in their own home?

Or could it be that in today’s cosmopolitan city, while some still hold fast to the old traditions, others have discarded them as belonging to the past? That would be sad indeed.

From the centuries-old Ottoman Islamic ethic of respect and compassion, I believe there is much we and the world could learn in our attitudes towards all animals, great and small. Don’t you agree?


Please sign and share:

Petition to stop the poisoning of strays in Turkey’s capital, Ankara

Petition to end this tragedy in Turkey: dog starvation on a colossal scale.

Petition to stop neighbouring Jordan killing every street dog in the country

Petition to stop authorities in Benalmadena, Spain ruthlessly culling homeless cats

Petition to enforce ban on dog culling in Bangladesh

#AdoptDontShop  #PersonsNotProperty


Related posts

You Love Animals, Right? Ever Wondered Why Others Couldn’t Care Less?

You Love Animals, Right? Your Brain is Different from Those Who Don’t

What It’s Like To Be A Dog

A Cat, a Dog, or a Human – Which is Best for Bedtime Cuddles?

3 Genius Ways of Helping Rescue Dogs – & Cats – But Mainly Dogs!

Sources

With thanks – Longhaul Trekkers blog post – warmly recommend for entertaining info and fab pics of the cats of Istanbul

In Istanbul, fat cats are a good thing– check out the picture of Tombili and his statue. Seriously, do it!

Istanbul vets make city’s stray animals feel at home

BBC Religions: Islam

This Vending Machine Takes Bottles and Gives Food to Stray Dogs in Exchange

Managing Street Dogs and Cats in Turkey

Stray dog numbers spur state euthanasia plans

The Ottomans Exemplary Treatment of Street Animals

The state and the stray dogs in late Ottoman Istanbul

 

 

Betsy the Brave Joins the #MooToo Movement

“Betsy the rogue rodeo cow has been hiding in the woods for months. Not even the real-life cowboys can get Betsy out of Anchorage’s 4,000 acre park.”

The stories keep on coming of these spunky cows who’ve had the smarts – and found the courage –  to make their bid for freedom. Betsy took the slimmest of chances to slip away from Anchorage’s annual rodeo last June and is still on the lam.

Last year there was 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. (If anyone has more recent news, I’d love to hear it.)

Closely following on her hoofs was Hermien, the Dutch cow who broke free when she was being loaded on to a truck headed for the slaughterhouse. She spent weeks hiding out in the woods and became a media sensation. A crowdfunding campaign raised money to guarantee her right to live out her natural lifespan in a the peace and safety of a sanctuary.

Here is Hermien, roaming free

Then back in Poland, the story of another remarkable bovine. A story that ended in undeserved tragedy. I chose 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.

According to Polish news station Wiadomosci, she broke free from her handlers and repeatedly rammed a metal fence until it burst open.” Cornered by farmers she plunged into the icy water of Lake Nysa and swam to an island. After there had been several failed attempts to capture her, Polish politician and former singer Paweł Kukiz, impressed by her spirit, offered to buy the determined cow and let her live out her years in peace.

But sad to say, she never made it. She died of stress on the truck bringing her back. This is proud Duch below

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Duch (pic from politician and former singer Paweł Kukiz’s Facebook page)

Read more about her here

Then there is Betsy, enjoying her freedom now for 7 whole months in Far North Bicentennial Park. Her owner Frank Koloski is “just totally exhausted from looking day in and day out.” He has “received dozens of tips from park users who have seen her calmly meandering down the park’s snow-covered trails.” But she still eludes capture. Don’t worry, in spite of the freezing Alaskan winter, Betsy is fine. Alaskan cattle are “tough and accustomed to the area’s harsh winters.” She will be lonely though. Cows, like us, need their friends. 

How good it would be to see the next chapter of Betsy’s life panning out like Brianna’s happy-ever-after.

Earlier this month, Brianna, another of these remarkable clever and courageous cows, was herded on to a cattle truck in New Jersey. Destination slaughterhouse. With less than 10 minutes left of the journey to her death, she leapt from the second storey of the truck down on to the highway, a drop of 8 feet.

Luckily Brianna was rewarded for her pluck. She was taken in by Skylands Animal Sanctuary where the vet checked her over and pronounced her surprisingly unharmed from her ordeal. And only two days later Brianna gave birth to a beautiful calf. Her act of courage had saved the life of her unborn too. Now mother and babe will live out their days together in peace and safety.

Finn the calf is the most recent of the runaways. He spent weeks hiding away in snowy woods to save his life. Like Brianna’s, Finn’s story has a happy-ever-after ending – he is now safe at Farm Sanctuary’s Watkin’s Glen. Read more of his adventure here

You may draw your own conclusions from these true life stories. These are mine:-

These six fascinate us, and the others who made a break for it before them, precisely because they stand out from the herd. They have made themselves known to us as individuals. We see real personalities – that they are persons.

We identify with their fear and desire to escape a violent death, and cheer them on.

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 bold and brave creatures 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 five heroines, but smart, gentle, loving, shy, patient, loyal… Each and everyone different, a person in her own right.

These are three of the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, rights we have claimed for ourselves:-

Article 3.  Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.  No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.   No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

If we see in Swoboda, Hermien and Duch, Brianna and Betsy the same qualities, desires, instincts, emotions we can see in ourselves, do they and all the rest not merit at least those 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 have been, and Betsy will be, taken to a place of safety 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 her courageous life and sad death will not have been in vain.


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”

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Related posts

A Cow Named ‘Spirit’

The Runaway Cow Wild Wintering With Bison

In the Eyes of a Cow

Why Cows Need Their Friends

Favourite Food for Cows?

No Green Meadows for the ‘Ubercow’ of Today

Sources

Betsy the rogue rodeo cow has been hiding in the woods for months

A cow’s incredible bid for freedom ends in tragedy

Heroic cow escapes trip to slaughterhouse, hides in Dutch forest for weeks

Cow who fled Queens slaughterhouse saved by animal activist

Cattle run loose in St. Louis after breaking free from slaughterhouse

These Videos May Prove Animals Know When They’re Next in Line to Die

Pregnant cow escapes truck heading to a slaughterhouse — and becomes a ‘proud mother’

 

Love at Last for Lonesome Romeo

“For 10 long years, a bachelor lived out his days alone, calling out for a mate, but hearing only the clicks of cameras and clacks of human shoes at the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny in Bolivia.”

Credit: Matias Careaga, Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny

But two years ago, the forlorn fellow gave up all hope of finding his perfect match and fell silent. This is Romeo pictured above (sorry, cover photo is not him – it’s a cheat!) He’s a very special guy, a sehuencas water frog, and like George the Hawaiian snail who sadly crossed the rainbow bridge this week, the last of his kind.

That is until now. Last year, with a little help from his friends, Romeo posted his profile on Match.com in search of a mate.  He describes himself’ as “a pretty simple guy. I tend to keep to myself and love spending nights at home. I also love eating. Then again, who doesn’t?” Scientists with the Global Wildlife Conservation and the museum where our hero resides used his alluring profile to generate funds for a new expedition into the Bolivian cloud forest in search of that special someone for this solitary little guy. They scoured an area suggested by locals, searching in the water and under rocks, and very nearly gave up.

Finally, their persistence paid off, and they found Romeo not one, but five new buddies, including two females, and one of those just the right age for our Romeo.

But the lonesome bachelor has yet to be introduced to his date, and must wait a little longer. Juliet and the other sehuencas are in quarantine for a while. His profile claims he’s “not picky”, but who knows, there’s still a chance he may not fall for her.

Just in case there’s no chemistry between the pair, the scientists have contingency plans. One way or another, the hope is to breed enough sehuencas babies to reintroduce them to the wild.

Watch this space for the next episode in the life and times of Romeo, the Bolivian sehuencas water frog.

 

Source Romeo the Water Frog Has Finally Found His Juliet

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If You Had The Money, Would You Clone Your Pet?

“There are always, due to their popularity and short life spans, many beloved dogs dying — and many families grieving.” 

– John Woestendiek, author of ‘Dog Inc, The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend’

The worst thing that can befall a mother or father is losing a child, of whatever age. Even worse is losing a child to suicide. But that is what happened to photographer Monni Must. When Monni’s 28-year-old daughter Miya took her own life, left behind was Billy Bean, Miya’s young and lively black Labrador.
Naturally, Monni took Billy Bean into her care. The connection with Miya and the love of the dog provided comfort for her in her grief. But as the 10th anniversary of Miya’s death approached, and Billy by now 13, was getting increasingly frail –
“I knew that I was falling apart,” said Must. “The thought of Billy dying was just more than I could handle.”
So she took the radical step of having Billy cloned. It cost upwards of $50,000, and her family thought she’d lost her mind. For her money she got Gunni, essentially an identical twin of Billy, but a puppy version. It would be a hard-hearted person indeed who could sit in judgement.

Cloning dogs seems to be flavour of the month. It’s only a week or so since Barbra Streisand was roasted in the media after her public appearance with Miss Violet and Miss Scarlet, two clones from her beloved but now deceased Coton de Tulear Samantha.

The Guardian newspaper for one made no bones about its disapprobation. It even used the ‘t-word’, overused currency in the tabloids, but as a rule carefully avoided by the broadsheets – “A Modern Tragedy” its headline read. It went on, “To own an animal is to learn about the inevitability of dying – not that loved ones can be replicated if we cough up the cash.” 

Streisand’s celebrity status may have turned the spotlight on this relatively new business enterprise, but cloning other animals has been a thing for years – since 1996 in fact when the creation of Dolly the sheep made waves. It took another decade for South Korean scientists to bring to birth Snuppy, the first cloned dog.

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Of course cloning is not the only form of bioengineering current. There is also CRISPR. In the simplest of terms that I can understand, it means cutting out a section of the DNA double helix (see below) with something called Cas9 – biological scissors, in effect – and replacing the removed section with a new piece of DNA- which can be just about anything the scientists want it to be.

Gene-editing CRISPR Cas9 génome DNA double helix

A US company called AgGenetics using gene-editing has produced mice with coats in different colours, and unbelievably, in a variety of patterns: squares, stripes and spots. Next stop – choose your preferred colourway and pattern for your own customised dog?

China, “where genetic engineers benefit from massive facilities and little oversight,” is ‘leading’ the CRISPR field for producing customised animals. Chinese labs “are full of cats, rabbits, monkeys, and other animals engineered with this, that and the other traits.” Already on sale are micropigs, gene-edited to grow only tothe apartment-appropriate size of a corgi”, if you have $1,600 dollars to spare. A bargain compared with the cost of a cloned dog though. Also up for grabs are fluorescent jellyfish and sea anemones, gene-edited to light up your aquarium.

“How much more would owners pay for the ultimate luxury: an animal designed to specification? A zebra-striped hamster, say, or a teacup elephant? ” Anything is possible, but does that make it right?

CRISPR sits along a different branch of bioengineering from cloning. If anything, its potential applications are even more disturbing, but a discussion for another day.

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So back to cloning. What are the rights and wrongs of cloning, cloning our pets in particular? Is this yet another instance of science racing ahead at such speed it’s leaving the ethics trailing in the dust?

Some of the problems, practical and ethical

Number 1

If your beloved Fido or Felix is growing grey around the muzzle and a little stiff in the joints, and you have the spare cash to go down the cloning route, you may end up disappointed with the result. Yes, cloning does produce an identical twin, a newborn one of course, but some things are not infallibly reproduced. The personality for a start, but isn’t that what we most love about our pets? You will not actually be getting, as you had hoped, your fur baby reborn in a new incarnation. Even the coat may be different. Worse, there is also the likelihood of reproducing genetic flaws.

Vicki Katrinak, program manager for animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States has something to say on the matter:

Companies that clone animals are “preying on grieving pet owners, giving them a false promise that they are going to replicate their beloved pet,” she told AFP. “Pet cloning doesn’t replicate a pet’s personality.” Incidentally adding “There is no justification for the practice.”

That you cannot count on getting the exact replica of your pet is actually the least of the concerns around pet cloning.

Number 2

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) president Ingrid Newkirk said she would “love to have talked her [Barbra Streisand] out of cloning,” noting that “millions of wonderful adoptable dogs are languishing in animal shelters every year or dying in terrifying ways when abandoned.”

To visit a dog or cat shelter is a heartbreaking experience. All those fur babies waiting for a loving home, and ready to love a new family right back with unquestioning devotion. Isn’t it cruelty by default to artificially create more, when there are thousands, if not millions of beautiful animals, desperate for our love and care – many of which will be euthanised because no-one came forward for them in time?

All the other problematic aspects of cloning pets become apparent when we take a look at how the process works:-

Step 1

You start by harvesting cells from the dog you want to clone. You can do this before or after the pet’s death, up to 5 days after provided the corpse is kept cool. (If you’re starting to feel a little squeamish already, brace yourself. It gets worse.)

Step 2

Extract egg cells from as many donor dogs as you can get hold of. (To create Snuppy the world’s first cloned dog, Korean scientists surgically removed eggs from 115 female dogs.)

Step 3

Merge your original dog cells and the egg and subject the new merged entity to chemicals and an electric shock to trigger cell division. You will have to do this multiple times to ensure success – hence the requirement for all those ‘donated’ eggs.

Step 4

Implant the resulting embryos into surrogate female dogs. You will need lots of them. For Snuppy, it took 120. The bitches won’t be able to object of course. You will be using all those bodies for the pregnancies and births.

Oh, and I forgot to mention, you will probably have to abort a lot of the 120 foetuses along the way. Still keen to continue?

Other problems

It can still go wrong. An American cloning company’s president cited a clone who was supposed to be black and white being born “greenish-yellow,” dogs born with skeletal malformations and one clone of a male dog who was born with both male and female sex organs. If that should happen while cloning your pet, what should we do with the less than perfect?

Even after eliminating the ‘failures’, there are still a massive number of ‘surplus’ clones from which you have chosen the one or two who truly resemble your original pet. What shall we do with the rest?

The cloning industry is staying mute on what are surely two huge ethical issues.

Maybe even grieving Monni Must may have thought better of cloning Billy Bean if she’d realised what went on behind the scenes. As with every instance without exception where humans make money from exploiting animals (and often other humans at the same time) the profiteers take great pains to keep their activities under wraps. They are fully aware of what would be an absolutely normal reaction to their exploitation/abuse – public outrage. Out of sight is indeed out of mind.

Time I think to take off the wraps!

 

 

Sources

Tiny Pigs, Glowing Bunnies, and Pink and Purple Cats…Oh, My!

The Stripey Dog, CRISPR & the Chimaera

Pet cloning is not just for celebrities anymore

What a dog-cloning expert would have told Barbra Streisand: ‘Nooooooo!’

Related posts

What is it like to Be a Dog (Or a Dolphin)?

The Stripey Dog, CRISPR & the Chimaera

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67 Year Old Mum in a Million – The Chick Is Hatched!

3 months ago Wisdom, the world’s oldest known living wild bird laid an egg, to add to her tally of 36 she has notched up over her nearly 7 decades.

3 months is a lot of sitting on an egg, but Wisdom’s diligence has been rewarded – now the great day has come, and she is proud mum once again to a fluffy little Laysan albatross chick.

What perfect timing – Happy Mother’s Day Wisdom!

Wisdom was believed to be just five-years-old when she was first banded back in 1956 by biologist Chandler Robbins when Midway Atoll was an active U.S. Naval Air Station. In 2002 Robbins encountered her again by chance and her story took off.

Wisdom flies thousands of miles every year to return to Midway Atoll, the breeding site for millions of birds. It is the largest population of albatross on earth: 73 percent of all Laysan albatross, 36 percent of all Black-footed albatross and endangered Short-tailed albatross.

“Midway Atoll’s habitat doesn’t just contain millions of birds, it contains countless generations and families of albatrosses” said Kelly Goodale, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Refuge Biologist. “If you can imagine when Wisdom returns home she is likely surrounded by what were once her chicks and potentially their chicks. What a family reunion!”

39490402815_08bf37a80d_zCredit: B. Peyton/USFWS Pacific Region

The main threats to these birds – on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – are entanglement in fishing tackle, and swallowing plastic.

It will be another 4 months before Wisdom’s newest baby will fledge. Until then she and her mate Mr Goo have their work cut out avoiding those dangers and providing all the food that a growing chick requires.

Long may you flourish Wisdom and Mr Goo, and continue gracing the world with your beautiful offspring.

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Please help Wisdom and all life in the oceans by signing and sharing these petitions – thank you!

Tell McDonalds to replace their one-time use plastic straws with eco-paper straws

Tell Tesco: Stop selling disposable plastic straws!

Bring back bottle deposits to stop plastic pollution in our oceans

Ban disposable plastic in the UK

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The BBC’s comprehensive overview of the plastic pollution problem

Ten tips for living with less plastic

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For more updates on Wisdom, check out the USFWS Pacific Region on Tumblr and Flickr.

Cover pic credit: B. Peyton/USFWS Pacific Region

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Source

Wisdom, the World’s Oldest Known Wild Bird, is a Mother Again

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World’s Oldest Wild Bird is a Mother Again!

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Three Years in Heaven After 60 Years of Hell – RIP Sweet Lakhi

If ever a story was compelling us humans to acknowledge as persons not property the other animals with which we share the planet, this one in yesterday’s email from Wildlife SOS is it

Dear Pam

Several days ago we lost our dear, dear elephant friend, Lakhi. We cannot express the heaviness of our hearts this week. But we want to celebrate and remember Lakhi’s life, and perhaps the best person to do that is our Elephant Campaign Manager, Rhea Lopez. She was one of the many people who knew and loved Lakhi, and was lucky enough to spend time with her regularly. These are her words:

In February 2015 when Lakhi arrived at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, she was more than 60 years old, a blind, former-begging elephant rescued from the streets of the city of Pune. She seemed timid and nervous – blindness is an added burden for captive elephants that can never really tell where the next blow will come from. The touch of human hands caused her to recoil fearfully, too scared even to investigate new smells or people.

Then Lakhi met Asha. “I’ve never seen two elephants get along so spontaneously”, her mahout Babulai recalls. “They were complete strangers, but from the first day itself, they knew – and we knew – this friendship was going to be something unlike we’d ever seen before.”

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With Lakhi under her care, Asha blossomed into the matriarchal role she seemed destined for, standing protectively over Lakhi when she lay down and using an astonishing array of sound cues to call her and comfort her.

We called Lakhi “the Banana Thief” because she made her adoration for the fruit obvious from the day we first met her, sneaking her trunk out toward the smell and gingerly plucking her favourite treats from the bundle and swiftly putting them in her mouth. Her keeper was always happy to oblige, and would call out to her when he approached with a bunch of bananas, breaking them off as he fed her each piece and talked quietly to her. Between her keeper and Asha, Lakhi’s world came alive through conversations, in human voices and elephant rumbles, and through the myriad of new smells and sensations she experienced over her time at the Care Centre.

She discovered the soothing effect of cool water against her skin and the weightlessness of being in the water, the delightful roughness of tree bark against itchy skin, the warm sun on her back, and the coziness of her winter blankets when the temperature dipped. Slowly she learned what kinder hands felt like, allowing her keepers and the vets to run their palms along her trunk as they spoke to her, or guide her gently as they went on long walks. But I think the sensation that gave her the most joy was always that of Asha’s trunk running along her face, touching her lightly our on walks, just to reassure Lakhi that she was there and keeping a watchful eye on her.

When Coco came, Lakhi’s world grew even brighter. Timid and fearful little Coco had been deprived a mother for her entire life., but Lakhi stepped into the role with absolute ease. She never hesitated to seek Coco out when the younger elephant cried, or to stay close by her side out on walks, occasionally enveloping the smaller elephant with her trunk in a safe embrace. As if taking a cue from Asha, Lakhi made sure that Coco always felt safe and loved, and stood protectively over her whenever she lay down for a nap.

Lakhi was an incredible elephant – she was already tall but she held her head up high, which added to the effect. Despite her gaunt frame, she seemed to take over the space she was in with an aura that engulfed you and instantly put you at ease. She was calm, and enjoyed her walks and baths so much that it was incredibly easy to work with her.. New mahouts that joined Wildlife SOS would always start off working with her and the herd, so in a way, she initiated everyone into their lives at the Care Centre. She was the starting point to all of their journeys here, touching and easing us in.

The thing about caring for older elephants is that it is that much harder to treat them: their bodies have been ravaged by cruelty for decades, and they just don’t heal as easily. And somewhere deep inside, you know you don’t have as much time to heal them fully, and need to focus on making sure the few years they have left are the most incredible, peaceful ones they could ever dream of.

Lakhi+1

With time, Lakhi’s age caught up with her, and she showed signs of slowing down; old injuries got inflamed, and she seemed to prefer resting against the mud beds in her enclosure. Late Saturday evening on the 3rd March, she seemed more weary than usual, and even as her knees buckled under her, Asha and Coco rushed to her side to support her. Asha appeared calm and strong, as if she knew in her own way that this was it – Coco panicked initially, rushing about and running circles around her fallen friend. The team rushed in and the crane was called in to lift Lakhi back to her feet, and even the young elephants seemed uncharacteristically calm. Maybe they knew, maybe they realised it was time to let go and had their chance to say their goodbyes, and wanted to let her pass in peace. Lakhi resisted being lifted, as if she too knew her time had come. She let out her final breath and slumped down against the mud bed, eyes shut, looking completely at peace. As the team moved away, heartbroken, Asha rumbled loudly from where she was standing, but none of the elephants moved. Coco let out a small wail, and from every enclosure elephants responded softly with rumbles, trumpets and huffs – all the way from the bulls to the closer-by females like Phoolkali – in what seemed like an orchestra of calm, reassuring solidarity for their fallen friend.

Lakhi’s burial was simple but poignant. Her keepers adorned her with flowers and lit incense and earthen lamps around her, each taking a moment to touch her one last time, paying their respects through silent prayers and whispered words. Her burial stood testament to how many lives she had touched during her three years at the Rescue Centre. So many journeys had started with this wonderful elephant, and now her journey had come to an end, leaving a huge gap in all our lives.

Lakhi’s post-mortem report revealed her cause of death to be organ deterioration and joint degradation due to her advanced age and her 60 years in captivity. These are things we could never have completely undone, and although her passing was sudden, it must have ben time for her gentle soul to leave the tortured body that had housed it all those years.

Lakhi leaves behind broken hearts around the world, starting here. Asha refused to eat the entire day, refused to budge from the spot on which she last lay. She’s been listless and mournful, albeit quiet – running her trunk through the mud and letting out the most heartbreaking guttural rumbling sounds every few minutes. Every so often, Coco, Peanut, or Suzy will respond to her. Once in a while another elephant will rumble back. Asha’s keeper stands beside her, talking to her and trying in his own way to comfort her. He hand-fed her a bucket of greens last night, which she ate slowly and sadly. He talks to her awhile about Lakhi – about ow beautiful and calm she was, how incredible their friendship was, and how much he missed her too. He tried calling her into the shade, but Asha remained rooted to the spot her friend had passed.

In the evening an incredible storm hit the centre with strong gusts of wind and pouring rain- completely uncharacteristic of this time of the year. Someone said that Lakhi sent the rain to us and all the elephants for a little respite from the incoming summer, to settle the dust and clean the air. The weather is cooler today, and Asha and the other elephants seem calmer, though Asha still lets out the intermittent sigh or rumble.

It will take time for the sadness to lift, and for any semblance of normalcy to return to our lives here. We mourn Lakhi, the kind soul that defined so many of our lives. Coco mourns the mother she was to her. The other elephants mourn their fellow elephant. And Asha, mourns everything that made her life at the Rescue Centre complete – her touch, her smell, her joy and sadness and fear, her very presence, and her unwavering friendship that has so defined Asha’s life here.

We know you are all mourning her too, and we ask that you keeep Lakhi in your thoughts always – but remember her free and happy, surrounded by elephants that were her family.

—  Rhea Lopez, Wildlife SOS Campaign Manager

 

Support the work of Wildlife SOS here

Petitions to sign

Thomas Cook, Stop Selling Elephant Rides

Elephants Are Being Abused for Trekking Vacations – Demand TripAdvisor Stop Promoting & Profiting from Cruel Tourist Attractions

Urge These Travel Companies to Stop Offering Cruel Elephant Rides TODAY

No One Needs to Ride an Elephant – Support a Ban on Elephant Ride Attractions across the US

Elephants Beaten With Bullhooks for Thailand’s Annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament – Take Action

This elephant was starved to death – Take Action

And Please – Take the pledge

If you can hug, ride, touch or take a photo with an elephant, the chances are that it has gone through some kind of cruel training.

Baby elephants taken from their mothers, beaten, chained, deprived of sleep and denied food and water in a horrific ordeal known as “the crush”  –  and then face a lifetime of suffering, just to entertain tourists.

Please don’t look away. Take the pledge with World Animal Protection

 

 

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Snorting, Barking Trains in Japan Save Animal Lives!

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.

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Cows spotted on Hever station platform CREDIT: LUKE RYAN

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.

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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.

The ideas

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:

  1. The spraying was very labour-intensive, impractical on a larger scale
  2. It got washed away in the rain
  3. 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 terrible assault 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.

Network Rail, are you listening?

 

Sources

¹Analysis of the risk from animals on the line

In Japan, custom trenches help turtles cross railroad tracks with ease

Japanese trains save deer with sound effects

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