Whatever you may think of PETA, this is a genius move IMHO. By honoring Naruto, the crested black macaque with a famously goofy grin, as “Person of the Year” the organisation is emphasising that “he is someone, not something”. And what a person he is! I only wish he were able to revel in this accolade – though as long as he is safe and happy…. Go Naruto!
“For nearly 30 years, reptile enthusiast and punk musician Steve Ludwin has been injecting snake venom—a practice that almost killed him.”
Steve was only 10 years old when his strange obsession with reptilians first took hold. He was on a visit with his dad to Bill Haast’s Serpentarium in Florida. “Bill Haast* came out and draped an indigo snake around my neck. I was aware that he had been injecting himself with snake venom and I just thought it was the wildest thing I had ever heard.”
A decade or so later and Ludwin was heading up the American band “Carrie”, part of the early ’90s grunge scene (he claims to have dated Courtney Love before her relationship with Kurt Cobain). Between tours he began gargling snake venom, a preventative against throat infections – the singer’s curse. And it worked.
Nowadays Steve shares his London flat with 18 snakes, a number of rare lizards, a cat – oh yes, and his presumably very understanding girlfriend. While a journalist watches, Ludwin extracts the venom from a green Pope’s tree viper by making it bite down on a film-covered glass. He then takes a syringe and injects the fluid into his arm.
The first time Ludwin injected himself with snake venom, he described it as feeling like, “battery acid”. His heart started to race uncontrollably and his arm swelled up and turned a strange shade of green.
“It’s extreme pain”
This is very much a case of ‘Do not try this at home dear readers’. “It’s a very very dangerous thing to do, I don’t encourage people to do it”, he toldAFP. Steve has found himself in hospital more than once, including a 3-day stay in ICU “following an overdose” – a cocktail of 3 different snake venoms. The doctors told him he would probably die. After 3 days and still swollen he discharged himself, and a week later was fully recovered. This is one seriously tough guy!
For Steve, a wide variety is definitely the spice of life. He has given himself doses of venom from the most dangerous snakes to be found around the world, including cobras and the black mamba.
So far, it’s not sounding fun. So why has Ludwin put himself through this for the best part of his adult life? It’s definitely not for the trip: “The sensation of injecting snake venom is not pleasant at all…it’s not like a Jim Morrison trip. You don’t trip—it’s extreme pain.”
Bizarre as this activity seems, there’s a long history of people like Steve deliberately exposing themselves to poisons. All with the same intention – building up immunity to the substance. Cruel King Mithridates (120-63 BC) was so paranoid about being assassinated by poisoning, he fed poisons to ducks, and drank the blood of those who survived. So there is actually a name for Ludwin’s strange habit – it’s called mithridatism. Happily in his case, without the intermediary ducks.
Steve is enthusiastic about the benefits of his strange habit. For one thing, he reckons the fact that he hasn’t had a cold in 15 years is proof of how much it has boosted his immune system against infections. (Hmm, which would I prefer, I wonder, a sniffle or a poisonous snake bite?) And, he says, for 6-8 hours after injecting he gets a huge energy boost.
He also claims it slows the ageing process. He’s taken to adding venom to a moisturiser for his own anti-ageing cream. His girlfriend uses it, gets lots of compliments and swears by it. Maybe it’s true, because Ludwin at 51 years certainly looks a lot more like 30. John Lewis must believe it. They sell their own ‘anti-ageing’ snake oil – a mere £70 for 30ml. Or perhaps they simply have no scruples about creaming off surplus cash from the credulous rich?
Snake oil has a long history. But in America’s Wild West for instance, the peddler of ‘snake oil’ (made of camphor and turpentine, and remarkable only for the absence in it of anything remotely snake-related) assured gullible townsfolk of its potency to cure all ills. Then scarpered with the ill-gotten proceeds before he was found out. That’s how snake oil became synonymous with quackery.
But what Steve Ludwin has flowing around his veins and arteries is the real deal. And this is where the animals – other than the snakes** of course – come into it. For the last 3 years, Steve has been helping Danish scientists and a startup company VenomAb with a view to creating a new venom antidote from his self-immunised blood.
The normal method of creating anti-snake venom serum (ASVS) involves injecting dilute venom into an animal, usually a horse, and 8-10 weeks later ‘harvesting’ his/her blood. Of course, for every different species of snake, a separate antidote has to be extracted from animals. And the lengthy and expensive process has to be repeated over and over to maintain a supply.
One would hope Vahini’s story (below) is not typical. Even so, what goes on behind closed doors is so often found to fall disturbingly short of best practice.
“Vahini couldn’t tell them she was pregnant when they injected potent snake venom into her. Barely a month later, the mare gave birth to a young one with a suspected limb disorder. Soon after the delivery, Vahini went blind in the right eye and her left eye was partially damaged.
“At least 60 other horses have died at the state-run King Institute in Chennai in the past seven months due to improper treatment during the manufacture of anti-snake venom serum.
“Most of the animals at the Institute are ailing – horses and mules housed there for experiments and production of serum. It seems that ‘good clinical practices’ and ‘ethical conduct’ are unknown phrases at King Institute. ‘The potency of the venom, the frequency of shots and duration of bleeding are all beyond the permitted limits,’ says an insider.” India Today
Around 5.4 million people across the world get bitten by snakes every year, and roughly 100,000 of them die. Effective treatment relies not only on identifying which snake did the biting, but on the availability, and affordability, of the correct serum. Typical cost in hospital around £2000, but can be as much as £11,700.
The ASVS collected from Ludwin will be unique. No other serum in the world will contain antibodies to such a wide-ranging variety of different snake poisons. Who knows how many animals he will liberate from the cruel ASVS harvesting process.
VenomAb expects the research to be completed a year from now. Their intention, with the support of governments or NGOs, is to distribute the new all-purpose anti-venom in the countries where it is needed, free of charge.
Many human lives will be saved. And so hopefully will many nonhumans’.
In Steve Ludwin’s words:
“If I’m the person that makes it so that those horses get put out to pasture, I will die with the biggest f—— smile on my face.”
If you’re in London in the next 6 months, you can see a short film about Steve at the Natural History Museum’s newly opened exhibition Venom: Killer & Cure
It features some of the 200,000 venomous creatures in the world. And it seems Ludwin has an almost equally foolhardy comrade-in-venom: For exhibition purposes, Justin O Schmidt allowed himself to be bitten or stung by more than 80 different species of ‘Nature’s nastiest’, “to establish a scale of pain.” What can I say?
*Bill Haast incidentally, who ‘milked’ the venom from 100 snakes a day, lived to the ripe old age of 100, having survived 172 bites from some of the world’s deadliest snakes. He flew around the world donating his blood for direct transfusion to bite victims, in this way saving 21 lives.
**Whether Ludwin should be keeping snakes captive and ‘milking’ them for their venom is another matter. But snakes are already kept captive for the production of ASVS. And since he has been doing this for 30 years or more anyway, isn’t it a good thing that he chooses to use himself – not horses and mules forced to have their bodies turned into ASVS factories?
To see photos of Ludwin and his snakes, click on one of the first two sources below
The African Grey Parrot, prince of prattle, pre-eminent among a small bevy of birds with the ability to speak the language of humans.
Occasionally when one of these awesome birds is thrown into the human mix, strange things happen. And so it was that in one utterly bizarre murder case that involved a crossbow, psychics, and mysterious death threats between members of the victim’s family, the bizarrest element of all was the key witness to the crime – an African grey by the name of Bud. What began as a domestic dispute in the home Bud shared with his humans, ended with a 48 year old woman shooting her husband.
After the calamitous incident, Bud was heard saying in a deep man’s voice,”Get out,” followed by the woman’s voice saying, “Where will I go?” The man’s voice answered, “Don’t f—ing shoot.” Extraordinarily, Bud appeared to be repeating the couple’s final argument.
Damning evidence in the case? “The case’s prosecuting attorney said he wasn’t aware of a precedent allowing a parrot into a trial, but would look into whether Bud could serve as admissible evidence.”In the event, Bud wasn’t called to take the stand. After all, who’s to know if he was giving testimony to that tragic event, or simply imitating a TV show he’d once seen? Despite the lack of testimony from the crime’s only witness, the woman was convicted.
Experts, acknowledging the incredible brain power of these birds, admit it is possible Bud could verbally re-enact an incident observed just once – but unlikely. The fact remains though, these birds are truly remarkable mimics. Not only can they produce the sounds of human words, but they can even imitate to near perfection different voices and tones of voice, a feat that is pretty exceptional among their fellow avians.
How do they do it?
Like most other birds, parrots have a syrinx above the lungs for producing sound. But what’s unique to them is the complicated set of muscles controlling the syrinx that give them enormous versatility in sound production
Like human use of tongue and mouth, parrots use their tongues and beaks to speak
What they can’t use like us, are lips and teeth, so they use the esophagus to ‘burp’ their Ps and Bs, and press their tongues against their beaks to make L (with us it’s tongue and teeth)
Cognitively? An extra layer, literally, of grey matter inside the little psittacine skull.
Why do they do it?
In the wild, a lone parrot is a dead parrot. Learning new songs and sounds helps them bond with their mate and fit into the flock. In captivity, by learning to speak like us, the parrot is saying to its humans “Please let me be in your flock”.
Now to another member of the clever parrot family showing off its talents
The Goffin’s cockatoo. A study reveals that these cockatoos who are not tool-users in the wild, can learn to create tools to solve a problem reaching food. If that doesn’t seem surprising, we should take into account that these birds had never experienced this kind of test before, and yet actually performed in it better than many 8 year old children.
In one test the cockatoos were shown a tiny basket with a handle containing food inside a vertical tube, and a straight pipe cleaner. To get the food the birds needed to bend the pipe cleaner into a hook that could lift the basket by the handle out of the tube. The second test involved a piece of food lying in horizontal tube, with a bent pipe cleaner. This time the birds needed to straighten the pipe cleaner to poke out the food. Many of the birds managed one of the tasks, and one little genius managed both!
Of course it’s not just the parrots’ cheeky personality, startling ability to mimic us, and sheer brainpower that make these animals so appealing. Their plumage makes a vivid splash of colour in their forest habitat, and sadly it’s that very plumage that puts them in jeopardy. It seems humans suffer from feather envy and covet that finery for themselves. In the 19th century, thousands upon thousands of these dazzling creatures were killed so their gorgeous feathers could decorate fashionable ladies’ hats.
Today in spite of CITES they are still – illegally – being plucked from forests and jungles, with the result that 66 parrot species out of 375 have been put on the Endangered Red List. The South American Blue-throated Macaw is one of the rarest – there are only about 250 birds left.
And the beauty of this parrot creates a particular problem. On the Moxeño plains of Bolivia ‘macheteros’ (meaning anything from ‘cane-cutters’ to ‘revolutionaries’ – take your pick) hold fiestas where they dance to the music of bongos and flutes in celebration of the colours of nature – the colour that ironically by this very celebration they are causing to disappear. Because macheteros traditionally wear brilliantly coloured headdresses made from the feathers of 4 types of macaw, including the Blue-throated.
But there is good news. The Asociación Armonía (BirdLife Partner in Bolivia) has come up with the ‘Alternative Feather Programme’. It involves workshops held in local schools to teach the macheteros to create their own ‘feathers’ out of organic materials found locally. Since each headdress is made of approximately 30 central tail feathers, “one headdress of artificial feathers saves at least 15 macaws,”explains Gustavo Sánchez Avila, Armonía’s Conservation Programme coordinator for the Blue-throated Macaw.
In 6 years this program has saved 6000 individual birds of the 4 macaw species, involved thousands of local people in the conservation of Bolivian nature, and provided work and income for locals selling their vivid headdresses of hand made ‘feathers’ to tourists.
And more good news for Blue-throated Macaws: conservationists from Asociación Armonía discovered an entirely new roosting site of this rare bird. Hopefully a sign that these gorgeous creatures are making a comeback.
We already know why all the colours and patterns in birds’ feathers. They serve one of two purposes: camouflage as protection from predators; or finery to attract a mate. No-one knew where the colours came from until a recent study undertaken by Dr Ismael Galván and his team.
melanins provide the range of blacks, greys and browns in birds’ plumage
carotenoids taken up by specialised feather structures create the brighter shades
Interestingly, birds cannot themselves produce carotenoids. So if they want bright feathers, they have to eat foods rich in the stuff. The carotenoids are carried in the bloodstream to the feather follicles. Melanins on the other hand are synthesised in birds’ bodies by cells called melanocytes.
One third of the 9,000 species of bird studied had complex plumage patterns, most of which are produced by melanins. So the rule is, patches of bright colour – carotenoids. Subtle and complex patterns – melanins.
Some Canadian woodpeckers are seeing red – that is if they’re looking at each other, because their feathers have taken on an inexplicable rosy hue. It’s like this: the Northern Flicker woodpecker has two populations, the “yellow-shafted” in the east and the “red-shafted” in the west. The shaft is of course, the feather’s central ‘spine’.
Where the two different populations cross paths in the middle of the country, you get a blend of both colours. But for years ornithologists have puzzled over the ‘yellows’ that are too far east of the hybridization zone to have picked up the genes of the ‘reds’, yet also sport a blend of both colours.
Well, now the puzzle is solved. In the autumn the eastern birds feast on a bounty of bright red honeysuckle berries. It turns out that the red of the western birds does indeed come from carotenoids, but the red in the eastern birds comes courtesy of the berries, from another compound altogether – rhodoxanthin. That to me has a toxic ring to it, but clearly the Flickers are not getting poisoned.
There is a downside. The berries in question are the fruits of two invasive species of honeysuckle. And because the new red hues they are creating in the birds come from rhodoxanthin not the usual carotenoids, other Flickers could be bamboozled into picking the wrong mate. Normally, bright colours equals plenty of carotenoids. equals a well-fed bird, equals a fit and healthy prospective partner. It “could have major implications for mate selection if plumage coloration no longer signaled a bird’s body condition.” Who knows how that could affect the population long term.
And it’s not just the Flickers. Cedar Waxwings’ feathers are turning orange too. Dr Hudon of the Royal Alberta Museum is afraid this is not the last we will see of birds displaying unexpected colours.
We all know that animals’ fur or feathers is often the perfect camouflage ‘design’ for concealing them in their own habitat. Some are hiding from predators, and others are concealing themselves from their prey. And as we also know, though all tigers have stripes, no two tigers’ stripes are quite the same.
But what scientists from Exeter and Cambridge Universities discovered about animal camouflage is mind-blowing. In this instance they were looking at not a predator like the tiger, but 9 species of birds who, as ground-nesters, have a particular need to mitigate their chances of being prey. And they found that not only are those species wonderfully camouflaged for their habitats, but individuals within a bird species choose a place to nest that best matches their own individual colours and markings.
“This is not a species level choice.” Prof Martin Stevens tells us. “Individual birds consistently sit in places that enhance their own unique markings, both within a habitat, and at a fine scale with regards to specific background sites.”
And even more amazing, the individuals are tailoring their choice of nesting sites to the visual systems of their main predators! Like seeing themselves through the predator’s eyes. Isn’t it remarkable? How do they do it? How do they even know what they look like? As yet no-one knows, so exciting as this is, there could be more to come.
Looking back, it seems we have travelled quite a distance from Bud the African grey, witness to murder. But from each little piece of this post (for me, and I hope, for you) emerge two common take-aways – the ever-amazing genius of birds, and the wonder of Nature. The mysteries and marvels of Nature we will never fully fathom. Nature is an irreplaceable treasure, and to lose even the smallest scrap of it is tragic beyond measure.
If we want to help stem the loss, here are 50 Easy Ways to Save the PlanetAlthough this list dates from 2002, it’s still entirely relevant. We can all make a difference.
The single biggest adjustment we can make to our lifestyles though, is missing from that list – cutting back on meat and dairy. “Human carnivory—and its impact on land use—is the single biggest threat to much of the world’s flora and fauna.” Science
Picture Jeremy, looking for his next juicy leaf, quietly going about the ordinary everyday business of your regular suburban snail. Without warning, a hand descends from above and plucks him from obscurity. And so Jeremy is launched on a trajectory to super-stardom.
To my untutored eye, one snail looks much like any other. So what makes Jeremy the One in a Million?
Simply that this snail’s shell, funkily, spirals to the left. Anticlockwise. Not the usual clockwise, like the other 999,999 snails we encounter daily here in the damp northwest of England, munching their way through our garden plants.
Is that really much to get excited about? All it took to qualify J for stardom? Dr Angus Davison at the University of Nottingham’s School of Life Sciences thinks so. In his 20 years of studying the genetics of snails he’d never come across a lefty like Jeremy.
But how on earth was this super-special snail even discovered? If Jeremy had taken up residence in my garden, there’d be no way I would ever have noticed his extraordinary-ness. I didn’t even know that a garden snail’s shell (almost) always coils clockwise. Fortunately for him, or maybe unfortunately, who knows, Jeremy had chosen a very particular compost heap for his chomping that day. The compost heap was in the garden belonging to – what are the chances – a retired scientist from the Natural History Museum. And not just any old NHM retired scientist either, but one who already knew about Dr Davison’s work. Jeremy was discovered, and soon found himself on his way, first class, to Nottingham and fame.
But fame, even the kind that extends no further than the Nottingham School of Life Sciences, has its drawbacks. Jeremy was all alone. Now we must get down to brass tacks: it wasn’t just shell-wise that Jeremy was a lefty. His leftward inclination ran right through all his major organs including his genitals. No common or garden righty snail was going to be a good fit for him, IYKWIM.
If you’re one in a million, how do you find your match, your perfect other half? Dr Davison set out on the improbable search for a snaily suitor, another lefty just like J. The good doctor’s intent, if truth be told, was less about providing congenial company for the super-snail, and more about creating the opportunity to discover whether Jeremy’s mutation was a quirk in his development, or a genetic inheritance. And for that he needed Jeremy to make babies.
So the doc went on national radio appealing for help in finding a suitable snail mate. And that’s when Jeremy the lefty snail went stratospheric! Almost overnight, the new ‘shellebrity’ gathered over a thousand followers on his Twitter account @leftysnail, and became an international media sensation. One of his many fans even penned a tragic love ballad about his lonely plight, and posted it on YouTube.
His meteoric rise to stardom reaped rewards in the shape of two prospective consorts, Lefty from Ipswich and Tomeu from Spain, the latter having a lucky escape from the cooking pot on a snail farm in Mallorca. Both were duly despatched to Nottingham.
Now before we come to the tragic twist in the super-snail’s story, there’s something you need to know about snails. We have dogs and bitches, sows and boars, stallions and fillies, lions and lionesses, cows and bulls, and so on. But snailsdon’t do male and female. They conveniently encompass both sexes in one glutinous body. They are among the select group of creatures, nearly all slimy and slithery, proud to call themselves hermaphrodites. (Which means I probably should have been referring to Jeremy/Jemima as she/he all through this tale. I refuse to call him/her ‘it’ – she/he is so much more. Please accept ‘he’ and ‘him’ as shorthand.)
In spite of the exciting arrival of the new lefties, Jeremy’s troubles were far from over. Maybe the two newbies hadn’t been properly briefed about what was expected of them. For once nicely settled in their new quarters, Lefty and Tomeu barely cast a glance in the direction of our lonely mollusc, and instead only had eyes for each other. And to add insult to Jeremy’s injury, their love match engendered 300 plus baby snail-lets.
And now it is with sorrow that I have to report, last Wednesday, Jeremy the super-special garden snail shuffled off his mortal coil and slid his way to snail heaven. I can’t tell you if his life was long as snail lives go, or happy, but there is one sweet final twist to his story. Shortly before Jeremy breathed his last, Tomeu produced another 56 babies, a third of which J could be reasonably satisfied were ‘the fruits of his loins’. (The remainder were Lefty’s, ‘fathered’ before he returned to his home in Ipswich.)
Jeremy’s babies? As with their 300 half-siblings before them, there’s not one lefty to be found among them. But Dr Davison lives in hope. He thinks he may well find what he is looking for in the next generation, a lefty like Jeremy.
So Rest in Lettuce, Jeremy. May you dwell forever where no scientist is seen, and only compost heaps and lefties abound.
No apologies will be made for the shameless anthropomorphism. It’s just my way of saying, a snail, even if not a rare lefty, is a person too.
I will be looking at the snails in my little patch with new interest. But I have to tell you Dr Davison, if I do find a Jeremy/Jemima, there’ll be no Nottingham for him/her. She/he will live out his/her days right here in quiet obscurity.
If you want to see a pic of the real Jeremy, and find out what Dr Davison has discovered about snail genetics, you will find it here: RIP Jeremy the lefty garden snail
Louie the giant lobster, who is probably 132 years old, spent 20 years in a tank in a restaurant in Long Island, New York.
It seemed like Louie would meet the same fate as all the other lobsters in the restaurant. But the owner, Butch Yamali, realized that he just couldn’t put Louie in the pot.
When Yamali purchased Peter’s Clam Bar in Hempstead, Long Island, four years ago, Louie the giant lobster was already there. No one knows for sure how old Louie is, but past reports indicate that he is probably 132 years old this year.
The world ‘s oldest lobster in captivity was probably 140.
Two weeks ago, a customer offered Yamali $1,000 to buy Louie the giant lobster, who weighs 22 pounds, and eat him at a Father’s Day feast.
But Yamali just couldn’t let anyone eat the tenacious crustacean. He decided to free him instead.
Yamali organized an official ceremony to return Louie to the wild. The town supervisor of Hempstead, Anthony Santino, attended the ceremony to grant Louie an official pardon. After Santino said a few words, Louie was released into the water near Atlantic Beach reef.
So, will Louie live happily in the wild for many more years?
Bob Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute in Maine, thinks so. Bayer said, “He’ll be just fine. There aren’t many predators who want to eat a big old lobster like that.” (Except humans of course)
How long can lobsters live?
Scientists don’t actually know how long lobsters are capable of living, but they do know that very large lobsters show no signs of aging. Theoretically, if a lobster never ran out of food and never got eaten by a predator, it might be able to live forever.
The largest lobster ever caught was 44 pounds. If Louie was only 22 pounds and 132, who knows how long he might live? Lobsters also retain their fertility well into old age.
So Louie may be able to find a mate and live happily ever after.
A heart-warming story! I wonder if Mr Yamali will make the connection – the other lobsters are just the same as Louie, persons not property, even if they haven’t attained Louie’s venerable years. Let us hope so.
As for Louie receiving an official pardon, the boot should be on the other foot – shouldn’t he be the one pardoning the humans for his capture and 20 years incarceration? Well who knows, maybe he did.
If you’re curious like me how they know Louie is a male, apparently it’s all to do with the swimmerets, otherwise known as pleopods. You already knew that of course! Other fascinating facts about the male and female of the species in this article. Which also gives us a tantalisisng insight into what adventures of love may be awaiting our Louie.
Bon voyage Louie. May you enjoy endless years to come in the freedom of the ocean, and live to watch your crusty little offspring grow up into magnificent creatures just like you.
“Polish born Dr Alex Hershaft believes he survived the Warsaw Ghetto in order to commit his life to stopping the oppression of animals in the meat industry. Speaking at the final leg of his European tour at the Jewish Museum in London this week, 82-year-old Alex told the astonishing story of how his harrowing experience resulted in a lifelong passion for animal rights.”
Last week the London Evening Standard featured the story of Dr Hershaft, one of the few Jewish survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto.
To put the miracle of his survival in context:
400,000 Jews were trapped inside the ghetto (1940-1943)
245,000 of them were sent to Treblinka concentration camp
In all 300,000 Warsaw ghetto Jews died in concentration camps
A further 92,000 of them died of mass shootings, starvation and disease, in the valiant uprising against the Nazis, and the final destruction of the ghetto
Estimates of the total number of Jewish people annihilated by the Nazis in World War II – between 6 – 11 million.
Each one was not of course simply a statistic, but a real person with a life of his/her own. And mere facts and figures cannot convey the unspeakable horror of the World War II Holocaust. So it’s even more inspiring that Dr Hershaft, this incredible man, channeled his years of suffering and trauma into compassion for other sufferers of oppression – those others now confined just as he was then, often brutally treated, robbed of dignity, and denied their basic rights as sentient individuals – the animals that humans farm for ‘food’.
Estimates of animals killed in the world every year? More than 56 billion, and tragically rising. That is even without counting fish and other marine animals.
The dictionary definition of ‘holocaust’ is ‘destruction or slaughter on a mass scale.’ Yet if we dare to apply such an emotive word to the monstrous flood of life blood flowing from the bodies of those billions of individual cows, pigs, chickens and sheep, slaughtered (like Hitler’s victims) by human hands, we are swiftly shouted down with cries of outrage. But is there a better word to describe what is happening behind closed doors this very second? Click here and I can guarantee you some surprise, if not downright disbelief, at the numbers of different species being stripped of their lives second by second so humans can eat their bodies.
Is this not holocaust on an unimagineable scale, passing unseen, unremarked, and mostly unprotested, right under society’s collective nose? A horror of dystopian inhumanity, insanely become acceptable, for which society at large feels no compunction or concern.
It’s not using the H-word in this context that’s an outrage. This present day holocaust itself is the outrage. So good people, let us close our ears to those cries of indignation, and let’s not stop using the H-word. The outraged will just have to suck it up, because there can be no more authoritative validation for its use in this context than from a Jewish survivor of the Nazi holocaust himself. Dr Hershaft likens “the treatment of animals in the meat industry to his experience within a concentration camp, including the use of branding and witnessing piles of body parts on a regular basis.”
“Following a successful career as an environmental chemist, a work trip to a slaughterhouse made him realise his true vocation. As a result in 1976 he co-founded the Farm Animal Rights Movement (FARM) and became a vegan in 1981.”
Dr Hershaft with fellow survivors on a boat to America
Dr Hershaft says of his experience:
“This is when I finally realised that there was a valid reason for my surviving the Holocaust and a valid way to repay my debt for surviving. This is when I resolved to spend the rest of my life fighting all forms of oppression.”
Ever since, Alex has spent his life campaigning for the rights of farm animals; as a member of the Advisory Council of Jewish Veg in America, Patron of the Jewish Vegetarian Society, and the current President of FARM.
Libby and Louie’s story is a remarkable true tale of profound love and devotion, as told by an equally remarkable human – Joanna Lucas, creator of the Be Fair Be Vegan social justice campaign responsible for the recent high-profile billboard display in Times Square & Javits Center NYC. As well as being a person of incredible vision, Joanna has a deeply empathetic insight into an animal’s heart and soul, which she beautifully reflects in her luminous writing.
It took extraordinary events – a shattering blow, like the loss of her right foot to the wire floor of the “cage-free” egg farm where she was rescued from, or a rapturous release, like her arrival at the sanctuary, or a seismic shift like Louie’s absence – to shake, charm, or punish a sound out of Libby. It’s not that her voice was frozen in fear, like so many of her fellow refugees. It’s not that she was shy, feeble, injured, or ill. She was quiet. And, unlike so many of her kin, she did not enjoy, or need to, commit her inner experiences to the stream of constant humming that often fills chicken communities with the music of their thoughts. Libby’s thoughts were silent. Silence was her nature, her disposition, her remedy, her talent, her power, her gift, and her pleasure. She looked at the world in soundless wonder – her thoughts, streaming and darting, swelling and swarming in the dark pools of her eyes – and filled it with the hush of her mind.
In the blush of her first weeks at the sanctuary, when everything astonished her – the open sky, the endless fields, the scent of rain, the feel of straw underfoot – we thought we heard her voice a few times: small, joyful cries coming out of nowhere, seemingly formed out of thin air, the musical friction of invisible particles, not the product of straining, vibrating, trembling vocal chords, but a sound of pure joy coming from the heart of life itself. But, after she paired up with Louie and became his sole partner, Libby turned so completely quiet, that we began to wonder if the voice we had heard in the beginning was truly hers.
Louie’s delight in the sound and functioning of his own magnificent voice, his pleasure in putting sound faces on everything – their finds and failures, their contentments and complaints, their yearnings and fears, their joys and hopes, the major, minor or minute events of their daily lives together – gave Libby the improbable ability of being heard without making a sound. For the first time in her life, she could enjoy the bliss of silence and the full power of voice at the same time. Her thoughts, her needs, her feelings, her pleasures and displeasures, were all there – perfectly voiced, perfectly formed, perfectly delivered in Louie’s utterings – each experience, captured in the jewel of a flawlessly pitched note. And in these notes, you could hear the developing musical portrait of Libby’s inner happenings.There was the sighed coo for Libby’s request to slide under his wing, the raspy hiss for her alarm at OJ, the “killer” cat’s approach, the purred hum for her pleasure in dustbathing, the bubbling trill for her enjoyment in eating pumpkin seeds straight out of the pumpkin’s cool core on a summer day, the grinding creak for her tiredness, the rusty grumble for her achy joints.
There was the growing vocabulary of songs used to voice their shared moments of delight – the lucky find of the treasure trove hidden in a compost pile, discovered by Libby and dug out with Louie’s help to reveal a feast of riches to taste, eat, explore, investigate or play with; or the gift of walking side by side into the morning sun and greeting a new day together; or the adventure of sneaking into the pig barn and chasing the flies that landed on the backs of the slumbering giants.
Occasionally, there were the soundbursts for their shared moments of displeasure, hurt, sadness, fear, or downright panic, such as the time when Libby got accidentally locked in a barn that was being cleaned and Louie, distressed at the sudden separation, paced frantically up and down the narrow path on the other side of the closed door, crowing his alarm, crying his pleas, clucking his commands, flapping his wings, showering us with a spray of fervid whistles, following us around, then running back to the barn door, clacking at it, knocking on it, then running back to us, whirring his wings, stomping his feet, tapping the ground with his beak, staring intently, and generally communicating Libby’s predicament in every “language” available to him: sound, movement, gaze, color, and certainly scent too. But, for all of their panache, Louie’s most spectacular acts of voice were not his magnificently crafted and projected vocal announcements but his quiet acts of allegiance, his tacit acts of devotion, his daily acts of restraint. The things he did not do.
There was the silent song of giving up his treasured roost in the rafters, his nest in the sky where he had bunked every night of his years before Libby, the space where he felt safest surrendering to sleep, strongest entering the night. Happiest. The spot closest to the clouds. His personal Olympus.
But, in her lameness, Libby couldn’t join him there. She managed to climb next to him a few times but, with only one foot to grip the perch, she kept losing her balance and fell to the ground and, after a while, she stopped trying and just stayed there, grounded, anchored to the earth. So Louie quietly descended from his blue yonder and settled next to her in her terrestrial roost – a long, narrow tent created by a leaning plywood board – and he slept near the entrance, exposing himself to the intrusions of curious goats, wandering cats and restless geese, the better to protect Libby from them.
There was the soundless song of limiting the sport of his summer days to fewer and fewer hours when the stiffness in Libby’s stump increased with age, and the effort of following Louie in the fields, hobbling and wobbling behind him, turned from tiring to exhausting in fewer and fewer steps, and she started to retire to their nest earlier and earlier in the day. At first, she was able to make it till 6 in the evening, but then 6 became 5, and 5 became 4, and then it was barely 3 in the glorious middle of a summer day when she felt too weary to go on. The day was still in its full splendor, there was still so much more of its gift to explore and experience, and there was still so much energy and curiosity left in Louie to explore with, but Libby was tired, and she had to go to her tent under the plywood plank, and rest her aching joints. And Louie followed. With Libby gone from the dazzling heart of the summer day, the night came early for both of them.Then there was the tacit song of forfeiting his foraging expeditions and his place in the larger sanctuary community only to be with her. When Libby’s advancing age, added to the constant burden of her lameness, forced her to not only shorten her travels with Louie, but end them altogether, and when her increased frailness forced her to seek a more controlled environment than their plywood tent in the barn, she retired to the small, quiet refuge of the House. And Louie followed her there, too, even though he still enjoyed the wide open spaces, the wilder outdoors, the hustle and bustle of bunking in the barn. But Libby needed the extra comfort of the smaller, warmer, more predictable space inside the House and, even though Louie did not, he followed her anyway. And, when she started to spend more and more time indoors, curtailing her already brief outings, Louie did too.
And there they were. Just the two of them in the world. A monogamous couple in a species where monogamy is the exception. Determined to stay together even though their union created more problems than it solved, increased their burdens more than it eased them, and thwarted their instincts more than it fulfilled them.
It would have been easier and more “natural” for Louie to be in charge of a group of hens, like all the other roosters, but he ignored everyone except Libby. He paid no attention to the fluffy gray hen, the fiery blonde hen, the dreamy red hen, the sweet black hen dawdling in her downy pantaloons, or any of the 100 snow-white hens who, to our dim perceptions, looked exactly like Libby. Louie, the most resplendently bedecked and befeathered rooster of the sanctuary, remained devoted only to Libby – scrawny body, scraggly feathers, missing foot, hobbled gait and all.
It’s true that, with our dull senses, we couldn’t grasp a fraction of what he saw in her because we can’t see, smell, hear, touch, taste, sense a scintilla of the sights, scents, sounds, textures, and tastes he does. But, even if we could see Libby in all her glory, it would still be clear that it wasn’t her physical attributes that enraptured Louie. If he sought her as his one and only companion, if he protected that union from all intrusions, it wasn’t because of her physique but because of her presence.
It would have been easier for Libby too – so vulnerable in her stunted, lame body – to join an existing chicken family and enjoy the added comfort, cover and protection of a larger group, but she never did. She stayed with Louie, and followed him on his daily treks in the open fields, limping and gimping behind him, exhausting herself only to be near him.
What bonded them was not about practical necessities or instinctual urges – if anything, it thwarted both. Their union was about something else, a rich inner abundance that seemed to flourish in each other’s presence, and that Libby nurtured in her silence and that Louie voiced, sang out loud, celebrated, noted, catalogued, documented, expressed, praised every day of their 1,800 days together.Except today. Today, it was Libby who “spoke” for both of them. And, this time, there was no doubt whose voice it was, or what it was saying, because it not only sounded off, it split open the sky, punctured the clouds, issued forth with such gripping force and immediacy that it stopped you dead in your tracks. It was a sound of such pure sorrow and longing, hanging there all alone, in stark and immaculate solitude, high above the din of sanctuary life, like the heart-piercing cry of an albatross. She had started to cluck barely audibly at dawn, when Louie failed to get up and lingered listlessly in their nest. She continued her plaintive murmur into the afternoon, when Louie became too weak to hold his head up and collapsed in a heap of limp feathers. And then, when we scooped him up and quarantined him into a separate room for treatment, her soft lament turned to wrenching wail.
The next morning, she was still sounding out her plea, her love, her desperation as she feverishly searched every open room in the house, then wandered out into the small front yard, then the larger back yard, and the small barns behind it. Soon, she left the house and the fenced yard and took her search to the open fields, cooing, calling, crying like a strange sky creature, using her voice as a beacon, it seemed, a sound trail for Louie to follow back to safety, and roaming farther than she had in months, stumbling and staggering on a foot and a stump, the light in her being dimming with every solitary minute, her eyes widened as if struggling to see in dark, her feathers, frayed at the edges, as though singed by the flames of an invisible fire, their sooted ends sticking out like thorns straight from the wound of her soul, her whole being looking tattered and disoriented, as if lost in a suddenly foreign world.
And, for three excruciating days, we didn’t dare hope she’d ever find him alive again. Louie was very weak, hanging to life by a thread that seemed thinner and thinner with each passing hour. He didn’t respond to the treatment we were advised to give him and, after three days of failed attempts, we were beginning to accept that there was nothing more we could do except to keep him comfortable, hydrated and quiet until the end.But we underestimated both his strength and her determination. Libby did find her soul mate again. We don’t know how she managed to get into the locked rehab room, but she did. We were planning to reunite them later that day – going against the Veterinarian’s advice, as we sometimes do out of compassion for the animals – because it had become clear to us that Louie’s ailment was not contagious, it was “just” a bad fit of old age. But Libby beat us to it. She found her way into his room, only she knows how, and Louie found his way back to life too, seemingly at the same moment. There he was, looking up for the first time in days, life flaring in his eyes again, and there she was, huddled next to him, quietly sharing his hospital crate. And there they still are, Louie, slowly recovering, and Libby, blissfully silent again. She hasn’t moved since. She won’t leave his side now that she’s found him again, she refuses to even look away from him, as if he might disappear in one blink of her eye, as if the force of her gaze alone can keep him anchored in life.
She beholds him with her deep, dark eyes, thoughts streaming and darting, swelling and swarming in their inky pools, and she envelops him in her symphonic silence, which – you hear it now! – is not really a silence, but a space in which Louie’s voice may shine, a protected space where his voice may grow stronger, vaster, freer – not because it can boom against her muteness, but because it can speak for someone other than himself and, in so doing, it may grow from an instrument of self expression to an instrument of grace. Not the abstract concept of grace that we like to discuss and dissect, but the daily practice and experience of it.
They are both quiet now – Louie, exhausted from his ailment, regaining his strength, Libby, exhausted from her dark journey, gazing steadily at him. Both, brimming, basking in the rich silence that is so alive with voice and flowing conversation, that it glows between them like a strange treasure. And it shines.
8 Things Everyone Needs to Know About Hens
________________________________________ Libby and Louie were extraordinarily lucky to survive the human demand for eggs. Virtually every one of the billions of chickens who are born into egg production does not come out alive. Egg production on ANY scale, from hobby farms to factory farms, is predicated on the mass killing of the “unproductive” birds—the male chicks (roosters), who do not lay eggs, and the hens themselves when they become “spent” (unable to lay eggs at a profitable rate), at 1.5 to 2.5 years of age, a fraction of a chicken’s lifespan. The day-old roosters are killed by suffocation or maceration at the very hatcheries that supply laying hens to backyard egg enthusiasts and big producers alike. If the roosters are hatched on the farm, they are killed on the farm, usually as adolescents.
Sad news indeed this Sunday morning. Flaviu is back in captivity at Dartmoor Zoo after walking into a ‘humane’ trap. The only blessing is that a farmer or hunter didn’t get to take a pot shot at him during his three weeks of freedom.
But it’s impossible not to wonder how much harder his captivity will be for him now after his taste of what life should be like for a lynx, a life in the wild, a life where he got to hunt for his food, stalk prey, climb trees, hide in woodland, drink from streams and pools, sleep under the stars.
Please never go to a zoo. Never take your children, your nephews and nieces.
When I read about a team of therapy dogs sent to comfort victims, survivors and families after the tragic Orlando massacre, I felt a warm glow inside. This story had THE biggest feel-good factor. Twelve golden retrievers right there with those in need to offer their therapeutic doggy affection, of which they have oodles and more to spare. The twelve are just a few of the one hundred and twenty dogs the American Lutheran Church has in its Charities K-9 Comfort Dogs team which has been helping human victims through difficult times for the best part of 20 years.
“Just the simple act of talking to the dogs is where the real therapy comes. People dealing with tragedy and grief in their life want somebody to talk to and need someone who will listen to them without any form of judgement – and dogs are the perfect listeners. As the victims tell their stories and let out all their anguish, they can gently stroke the comfort dog and that’s when the healing takes place.”
Tim Hetzner president of the charity explains “The dogs help provide a feeling of security to the victims they visit. Many of the people who stroke the dogs break down, having a moment of vulnerability, which is vital during these devastating situations.”
“Dogs show unconditional love”
Four words that say it all.
The dog’s best-friend status with humans reaches back into the far mists of time, but the first person recorded putting the bf concept into words was 18th century King Frederick of Prussia who apparently described one of his Italian greyhounds as his “best friend”. Wise man. And his contemporary, French philosopher Voltaire wrote that the dog, “C’est le meilleur ami que puisse avoir l’homme” – the best friend man could have.
It’s so true. No-one needs to tell a doggie’s human that they are the most loyal, devoted, loving, trusting, forgiving and patient of creatures. They shower you with excited doggy kisses when you walk through the door. They never get out of bed the wrong side and they’re always happy to see you, which is more than can be said of most humans. They are known to reduce anxiety and depression in their human companions, bring down blood pressure, lower heart rate, relieve symptoms of PTSD, and induce the release of oxytocin, the love hormone, in both human and dog. Dog-love comes with no strings attached.
That’s why they’ve proved so beneficial for the sick, the dying, the traumatised and the lonely. “People dealing with tragedy in their lives need this more than anything: uncomplicated affection.”
Ideally, the dog/human relationship is symbiotic – they get as much out of their relationship with us as we do with them. Which is quite unlike our relationship with most other animals whom generally speaking, we make useful to us, while we are harmful to them in varying degrees.
The Lutheran Church’s comfort dogs are called K-9s, because they are ‘service dogs’ used for a particular task that benefits humans. K-9 service dogs are trained as K-9s so that humans can use them for some specific task they want done, but that may not necessarily be in the canines’ best interests.
They are given a wide variety of tasks to perform in the service of man, and many of those tasks are dangerous: guarding people, property and places; attacking and subduing offenders; searching and rescuing; sniffing for drugs and explosives, for live people and for dead people.
Service K-9s are known as ‘partners’ by their human handlers, and on the whole they are loved and well-cared for, though sadly not always. Their ‘working life’ is however only 6-9 years, and then they are retired – if they are still alive, that is. What happens to them then? The Daily Mail reported that the UK police destroyed at least 84 of their ‘retired’ dogs in the three years leading up to 2013, in spite of a long list of people waiting to adopt them. One was just a pup, only 4 months old. And the Ministry of Defence destroyed 288 service dogs in the ten years to 2013, including two RAF dogs that guarded Prince William, Brus and Blade, who were destroyed just days after he quit the service.
The point is, service dogs have no say in their ‘working life’, or what happens to them after, any more than do greyhounds or foxhounds who are just fodder for human ‘sport’, dispensable and replaceable commodities. Yet K-9s are routinely put in harm’s way by their human handlers. They are being used against the best interests of their own lives.* We know all too well from the sad story of beautiful Diesel the French police K-9 (pictured here) who was shot by a terrorist in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, what can happen to these trusting and utterly trustworthy animals. It’s just hypocrisy to award them medals for ‘bravery’, and heap praise on them after they’ve been killed ‘in the line of duty’.
So, as always when it comes to the human/animal interface, it’s still all about humans usinganimals for human purposes. It comes from an assumption that animals’ lives have little or no intrinsic value, and exist for human use. Those lovely golden retrievers deployed to Orlando are being used by humans for humans. Hopefully, they do benefit from their work themselves, if not as much as the humans on whom they lavish their love. Hopefully they have a good doggy life. Compared with most animals being used by humans, they are privileged. But is it stressful for them being shipped wherever their services are needed, all over the States? Is it stressful for them constantly being taken into strange places to meet strange people? We don’t even know if and how they themselves are affected by the emotional distress of the people they go to heal.
And there is another issue. Have these dogs been bred, or purchased from breeders for this task they have been set to? Judging from their webpage all the Lutheran Church’s comfort dogs are golden retrievers. Are any of them rescue dogs? It seems unlikely. How sad is that, when thousands upon thousands of wonderful loving dogs are languishing in rescue centres, and many get put down because there’s no space.
I started to have doubts about that warm glow I experienced reading the ‘dog doctors’ heartwarming story. Should they be ‘working’ for us at all? Should they be used, even if in a seemingly benign way? Is it right, or is it wrong? I don’t know.
The very first time dogs were used by the police here in the UK was in the hunt for Jack the Ripper in the 19th century. Sir Charles Warren then Commissioner of the Met, was being savaged in the press for failing over and over again to catch the serial killer. So hoping to silence the hostile press, he made the decision to get two bloodhounds trained up, and use them to track the murderer from the scene of his latest crime. Unluckily for him, it didn’t quite go to plan. Not only did the hounds fail to find the Ripper, one of them, less than lovingly, bit the Commissioner himself. Then both ran off. They had to launch a police search to find their own dogs. Oops! I imagine Sir Charles was less than eager to open the morning papers over his breakfast toast after that little debacle.
*Neck-break police dog Nero home from hospital German Shepherd Nero jumped over railings in Watford which, unknown to his handler, had a 12ft (3.5m) drop on the other side. His neck was broken in two places. Glad to say, he is recovering well.
The lovely young person in this picture – no, I don’t mean the piggy one, though she is gorgeous too – as I was saying, this lovely young person and I have two things in common. First of all we are both committed vegans for the animals, the environment and the planet. And second, like many others we both draw inspiration from Albert Schweitzer. For her, “Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace” and for me his philosophy of “Reverence for Life” – one and the same thing of course.
Sadly for me, there the resemblance ends. Because this teenager is a wonder and has already accomplished more in her 14 years on the planet than I have in my … well, I don’t think I’ll divulge just how many years.
So meet Lila Copeland. At 8 years of age, already an activist, Lila’s CV included marching with fellow activists for GMO transparency and animal welfare, working to pass Prop 37 “California’s Right to Know” Act, as well as protesting factory farming.
By 10, this vegetarian-from-birth went vegan. And what a vegan she is, with a passion for sharing information with her peers, on “factory farm cruelty on animals, the cruelty of slaughter, the viability of living vegan, and how important that is to the planet.”
Age 11 she set up the Earth Peace Foundation. We can certainly see the influence of Dr Schweitzer in its mission statement:
We are for achieving peace between all species and preserving the earth’s ecological soundness for future generations
On the EPF’s website, informative videos, a reading list and useful web links. Best of all, “A Guide for Young People Going Vegan (and how to help your parents chill)”
Watch the video she made for Al Gore, Kevin Wall and the United Nations when she (then 13) discovered from Morrissey that unbelievably, animal products were on the menu at the climate change event Live Earth last year.
2016 sees Lila working on her latest project, the Healthy Freedom Campaign, to get vegan meal options in Los Angeles schools five days a week. No need for her to rely on just words for the benefits of the plant-based diet. As a Junior Olympian in long distance running and a keen surfer, shes’s the perfect demonstration of the fitness and energy vegan foods provide.
This is Lila with guess who addressing the LA schools board just last month, in her bid to get vegan meals into school cafeterias.
As well as Pamela Anderson, she brought into the meeting Cowspiracy’s Dr Michael Klaper, athlete Torre Washington, and some notable health experts to explain the connection between animal products and heart disease, cancer and Type 2 diabetes. But what is more persuasive than vegan talk? Why vegan food of course. The schools board were treated to some tasty hot food samples, and were in Lila’s words, “blown away”.
Her ambitions are not small. (I guess we could have worked that out from the Earth Peace Foundation!) From LA to nationwide – Lila wants to see her Healthy Freedom Campaign taken up at federal level by 2020. And with a video like this, how can she fail?
This is how Lila shares her recipe for success with other young activists:
Be prepared “to be told no 100 times before you get a yes. If you get fatigued, just think about the animals who are dying every minute of every hour of every day against their will and you will have the strength to keep going.”
If there are inspiring passionate young vegans like Lila in the next generation, there’s hope for planet Earth yet.