Monday, March 30, 2009

Parrot Raises the Alarm for Toddler

A Quaker parrot was recently honored by the Red Cross for saving the life of a toddler. It was Willie's cries of alarm which alerted his owner that the toddler was choking on her breakfast. Megan Howard had left the room when the parrot noticed the toddler was choking and yelled "MAMA, BABY" over and over.

Megan then dashed back to find the little girl turning blue and performed the Heimlich maneuver. Hannah is fine today, thanks to the alarm cried out by Willie.

Video story is at this link:

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Something Silly for Thursday

Just something silly, but really, with a title like that, it's a natural...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reunion: A Soldier and Her Dog

Read the full article in the Star-Tribune...

Ratchet, the dog from Iraq, welcomes the soldier who rescued him.

Army Specialist Gwen Beberg fought the military to get the dog out of Iraq. Beberg had adopted Ratchet after fellow soldiers rescued him from a pile of burning trash. The pet's unconditional love proved a comfort to Beberg during a difficult stretch.

The two were reunited in Minnesota when Beberg completed her tour of duty, and their happy reunion made it clear that the bond that helped each survive Iraq was mutual.

Friends, family and supporters gathered at the VFW Post to witness the reunion, as well as to pay tribute to Beberg for her service. "I wish every soldier in the world, past, present and future, came home to a welcome like this," she said.

Then she made a pitch for supporting Operation Baghdad Pups, a branch of SPCA International that rescues dogs and cats adopted by U.S. military personnel. More than 50 pets have been relocated to the United States.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Guest Speaker

Words are failing me today, so I will turn to an audio segment by Jack Paar, from 40 years ago...   

From Jack Paar and His Lions. (Still looking for this film!)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Why I Do It

I was recently asked, since you are against bans on "exotic" pets, what do you feel a "wild" animal has to gain by being made "domestic"?

What do I think the animals have to gain? A place to live, mostly. There just isn't that much "wild" left anymore. Siberian tiger numbers in the wild are down to what, 400 now? There used to be 13 times that many tigers owned by people just in Texas!

A place to live and a loving environment is my vision. Just as important is education of our general society. Look at the story of Christian, how much good that has done. If the ban on owning a lion had been put into place 4 years earlier, none of it would ever have happened.

Bear in mind that my point of view includes the idea that an animal should not be treated as a mere possession. People should be educated and qualified to take care of any animal. I can point out plenty of people who really shouldn't own dogs, but they do. But that's OK in society's eyes because dogs are common animals and therefore acceptable. But when people regard a dog as just a thing, or just a burglar alarm, or something that is supposed to switch off when they want it to, the dogs suffers for it--and so do people. When I started researching dog attack statistics the other day, I was really surprised by the extent of the problem.

I believe the terms "domesticated animals" and "wild animals" are based on myths. There are plenty of dogs I wouldn't get within 20 feet of, and lions and tigers I would gladly hug. The proper terms are "socialized" and "not socialized". There is work that must be done to socialize any animal, even the ones labeled "domesticated": the work of establishing a proper relationship. When you look at the details of the lion Christian's life in London, you see that Ace and John socialized this lion very well, without taking away any of his natural personality (George Adamson later remarked that they had not "de-lion-ized" him). And when they brought Christian to George Adamson for a life in Africa, Adamson had to "socialize" Christian in the ways of lions' society. Christian was neither wild nor domesticated; he was socialized in the ways of two different societies.

I have talked firsthand with people who have lions, tigers, cougars, or other big cats. Their love and devotion to their animals is obvious, and the animals return the same. This is what I want to stress in my articles here--that animals think, feel, and love just as strongly as you do. If you treat them as a fellow personality, they will respond.

I don't even think performing animals have it bad. I talked with a lady who performed in a small circus with several leopards--by reputation, a difficult cat to handle--and her love of the leopards was obvious and the cats seemed happy. Even old Clyde Beatty seemed to be attuned to the personalities of his lions and tigers. "Facing the Big Cats" is a very interesting book. As has been said many times by people who know, you cannot mistreat these animals and then go in to perform with them unless you are suicidal.

In one of my earliest articles here I included this quote:

If you talk to the animals, they will talk to you, and you will know them.
If you do not talk to them, you will not know them.
And what you do not know, you will fear,
and what one fears, one will destroy. -- Chief Dan George

Our society today seems to be based on fears of something bad that might happen. But when you legislate away the chance that something bad might happen, you also take away the opportunity for something good to happen. As I said, Christian's story had to happen 40 years ago; it's not allowed to happen today. And as people separate themselves more and more from animals, animals become expendable, unimportant to their lives. For most people, "common" is the only thing that's acceptable, and as they are exposed to less and less, then less and less of the real world is common to them, and more and more is unacceptable. In this article I showed that there are a wide variety of "uncommon" service animals--with very good reasons behind them--that are very close to being taken away from people and the only reason is that they are uncommon and some people feel uncomfortable just seeing them. (Seriously, this is a federal ban that is still in danger of being enacted.)

So how can people begin to care about how many tigers are left in the world if "tiger" is just a vague concept to them?

Should everyone own a lion? No. A lion shouldn't be kept in a garage all his life, as some have. But a human girl shouldn't be kept in a basement all her life either, and yet no one proposes a ban on people having children. Education, personal responsibility, and animal welfare laws are what's necessary. I'm trying to provide some of the necessary education, by showing that animals are far more than the mere instinct-driven "biological machines" that people usually take them for.

I'll give an example of what I would like to accomplish. This is a moment of reality in a work of fiction: In the movie "Fierce Creatures", watch the scene in which Jamie Lee Curtis' character makes eye contact with a gorilla. She realizes there is a person behind the gorilla's eyes looking back into her eyes, and her whole outlook is transformed. The zoo's keepers see this transformation and say, "You've made contact." (The scene runs from 4:20 to 6:40 in this clip.) This sort of transformation is real, and it is what I wish I could bring to the entire world.

This transformation, or awakening, will make the uncommon become real in people's lives and that is the only way people will allow animals to survive.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Kevin Richardson on the Today Show

No, this isn't a rerun post from yesterday. Kevin Richardson got a short segment on Today this morning, but he managed to say a lot. I wanted to report on some of it here.

When asked if his lions would remember him after a year of being apart from each other (as in the story of Christian), Kevin Richardson said,
Absoulutely. Christian's story is an example of the fact that these are not just mindless killers. They actually do have a brain, they do have a sensitive side to them, they do have a social nature, and they do form intimate bonds with people. And the relationship I have with Meg has grown over several years of working together, doing commercials and a movie; the bond that we have with each other is just unbreakable. So I am sure that after a year apart she would remember me and we would have just as intimate a bond.
He stressed the importance of knowing the "back story" behind the remarkable pictures of him with Meg the lioness (see yesterday's post to this blog). They have been together for a long time, he has treated her with respect and love, and they have formed a loving bond.

As for these bonds surviving the test of time, I can tell you about a tiger that I spent just a few days with, but in that time I 'got through' to her (she had been very afraid of people) and we were quite happy to be with each other. Since her home was far from mine, it was a year before I could see her again. When I showed up, I stood at the edge of her personal space and she became defensive (she was still afraid of other people). But I called her name and just said, "It's me", and she immediately chuffed--calling me over to her. And she was very happy to see me again.

I hope Mr. Richardson continues to educate people. These animals are not just "mindless killers". They do have a sensitive side. They are thinking, feeling, loving beings.

Here, as promised, is the full segment from the Today show in which Mr. Richardson appeared:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Kevin Richardson Alert

The Today Show kept up the "lion hugs" theme this week with a segment Thursday morning on Kevin Richardson, aka "the lion whisperer".

Kevin Richardson achieves some remarkable things with the lions he works with, because he pays attention to them and connects with them as persons. I already wrote about him here, and if you click the picture at the left you can read a short article about him from the Australian newspaper, the Melbourne Herald-Sun. (Thanks to Harvey Francis for sharing the newspaper clipping.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Christian the Lion Alert

Updated: John Rendall and Ace Bourke have been on US TV several times this week. Their TV appearances are part of their tour to promote their revised edition of their book, A Lion Called Christian.

The love shared by these two men and their lion became famous with the "reunion clip" from the 1971 documentary about Christian. This reunion showed that even after a year apart, with Christian starting a new life in the African wild, their love was not forgotten.

What is not as well known is that Ace and John went back to Africa another time, after another year had passed. Christian showed up to meet them again. (George Adamson said that lions have a sort of telepathy that lets them know when their friends are near.) On Wednesday's TV appearance, Ace and John hope to show more clips filmed during that second reunion visit.

Christian was much larger at this time, as you can see in the first picture, and his mane was coming in nicely. He still was just as loving toward Ace and John, although more mature and independent.

This second picture shows Christian's face in 1972. It seems to me you can see his greater maturity, but still the same happy personality is very much evident.

Below is over 6 minutes of film from their 1972 reunion visit (there is no sound for this film). On my original page about Christian, you can see Ace and John's appearance on the Today show on March 18.

John Rendall recommends that anyone who wishes to contribute to Christian's legacy can make a donation to the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust. In the US, go to Outside the US, go to The charity is hoping to raise funds to restore the Kora preserve where Christian was rehabilitated.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Affection from a Top Predator

The subject of Christian the lion came up when talking with folks this weekend, and we got to thinking about other shows of affection from lions that we've seen. I think I may make this a theme for this week.

So, assuming you've seen the fabulous reunion-after-a-year-in-Africa between Christian and his former owners John Rendall and Ace Bourke...

And assuming no one has yet turned up a copy of the film Jack Paar and His Lions, which features an after-a-year-apart reunion between the Marchesa Sieuwke Bisleti and her lions... (Anyone have a copy of this film? Please let me know!) ...

I turn to Jupiter the lion, and his benefactor, Ana Julia Torres.

This picture shows Jupiter reaching through the bars of his cage and clasping Ana Julia Torres in his huge paws to hug her and give her a kiss.

Ms. Torres earned the affection of this lion by nursing him back to health after rescuing him. He is one of nearly 800 rescue animals at her Villa Lorena animal shelter in a suburb of Cali, Columbia.

Ms. Torres is a teacher who began caring for abused animals about 10 years ago. She says that she takes in everything from limbless flamingos to blind monkeys.

Ms. Torres funds the sanctuary with her teaching salary along with donations. She will not open the sanctuary to the public. She says she wants the animals to live in peace.

This clip simply shows the lion and Ms. Torres:

This clip has more:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thursday Lite

When seagulls go bad. Kids, don't be like this seagull. Those snacks are too salty.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tiger Touch

Today's post is borrowed from some of the text at I simply admire these people and agree with their philosophy so much, that I wanted to share their ideas in their own words with you.
The cats came here needing sanctuary. Yet it was the cats who extended sanctuary to us, inviting us out of mankind's self-imposed exile from nature. Their beauty is compelling, and their enthusiasm for life and spirit of fun is infectious. Each night they make strange music, the ancient calls that tell the world, "This is MY territory." What a joy it is to give these noble cats both the room and the reason to be proud of their own special kingdom.

The Problem: Even in today's enlightened world, the great carnivores and their habitat are being destroyed at an alarming rate. Conventional wisdom touts Species Survival Plans (SSPs) and the US Endangered Species Act (ESA) as the one-two combination punch to stop extinction. However the ESA cannot protect many critical habitats found in the world's poorest countries. Local governments are often powerless to do more than create preserves in name only. Furthermore, the majority of poached animal goods are sold outside the United States, making US laws far less effective at curtailing poaching. SSPs rely on leftover money from cash-strapped zoos and rarely accomplish more than impressing zoo visitors. The number of animals needed to preserve genetic diversity is higher than the shrinking wild can protect or zoos can house. Without a diverse network of responsible private owners allowed to operate unhindered by animal rights activism and ban laws, large carnivores will become victims of conventional wisdom.

Conflicting Ideals: Some well-intentioned people believe humans should enter a self-imposed exile from nature. At Tiger Touch we believe it is the nature of all living things, including man, to enter into vital relationships with other species. Severing our connection with nature wounds our spirits and limits our options in saving Earth's grandest treasures. We reject the charge that all forms of captive management are cruel. Large carnivores, like most animals, are held captive by territoriality and burdened by parasites, diseases, accidents, and starvation. The tradeoffs of enlightened captivity are outweighed by the benefits; kept with plenty of love, education and caution, exotic animals can live good lives in the human habitat while maintaining a reasonable degree of self-determination. Our work to improve animal husbandry can be read in detail in The Library.

Our Solution: By carefully re-examining conventional husbandry practices, we have identified a number of important lifestyle issues that go beyond the conventional wisdom approach often called "enrichment." To be happy and fit, animals need touch, not toys. They need a combination of proper diet (including often-overlooked micronutrients) and handling practices mandated by science and guided by Maslovian principles of psychological development that reduce aggression and deepen the human-animal bond. We recognize four forms of fitness:
Physical Fitness is more than basic life support; meeting animals' whole spectrum of needs makes their life longer and better.
Mental Fitness is as important in captivity as it is in the wild, promoting natural parenting and avoiding stereotyped, neurotic behaviors.
Emotional Fitness is the cornerstone of a compassionate, trusting partnership between humans and cats.
Moral Fitness is a clear understanding of rules and expectations that promote trust, minimize stress, reduce accidents and enhance cooperation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Non-Verbal Communication

Do I need to comment on what's going on in this clip? Probably not. I do see more than "just a cute clip", though.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Learning a Foreign Language

Not too long ago, the scientific establishment was rocked by a border collie named Rico. Rico demonstrated knowledge of the meaning of 200 words, and the ability to rapidly learn new words. The remarkable things, according to the scientists, were that he showed "fast mapping", reasoning, and memory.

(Betsy, another border collie, has been shown to have a vocabulary of over 340 words, but we'll stay with Rico's story for now.)

Fast mapping, as referenced above, is the ability to immediately assign meaning to a word never heard before. Rico is the first animal that has passed that test, previously thought to be possible only by human toddlers. Fast mapping is not merely a function of memory, it shows logical thought as well.
"It's like he's saying to himself, 'I know the others have names, so this new word cannot refer to my familiar toys. It must refer to this new thing.' Or it goes the other way around, and he's thinking, 'I've never seen this one before, so this must be it.' He's actually thinking." --biologist Julia Fischer, quoted in the Washington Post
Studies done with Rico were specifically designed to eliminate the "Clever Hans" effect, and Rico passed without a problem. (Clever Hans was a horse who was supposed to be able to do arithmetic, but was actually picking up subconscious body language from his trainer. His story is always brought up whenever a new example of animal intelligence is discussed.)

Why does Rico have such a large vocabulary and an affinity for words? The reason is probably that his owners started to teach him the names of toys and various everyday items at the age of 10 months. At that time Rico was ill and unable to get exercise. They started the mental exercises to keep him from getting bored. Games were developed based on retrieving toys from a box or locations in other rooms. In other words, somebody took the time to pay attention to this dog and actively engage his mind. It obviously paid off.

In the same issue of Science magazine in which Rico's story was first published, Paul Bloom tries to disparage the dog's achivements. He writes:
Rico is 9 years old and knows about 200 words, whereas a human 9-year-old knows tens of thousands of words. And children can speak; Rico cannot.
That sounds like frantic desperation to cling to the erroneous notion that only humans have language. A human 9-year-old may know thousands of words in English, but how many does he know in dog-ish? I know I was all full of myself when I learned one word in tiger-ish--how brilliant does that make me in comparison with a tiger?

And to say that a dog cannot speak just means that Mr. Bloom isn't listening.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Of Course: Watch What You're Assuming

In his afterword to the book The Cognitive Animal, Donald R. Griffin spends several paragraphs trying to sound all scientific and neutral as he discusses the difficulties in fully understanding the consciousness of animals--The difficulty of knowing what they think, what they are aware of, and so on. He even allows that consciousness varies widely even among humans.

Then he says that animal consciousness "of course does not include the more complex levels of human thought". Of course? How can there be an "of course" kind of statement when you just explained so many reasons you can't make any conclusions?

"Of course [animal consciousness] does not include the more complex levels of human thought" merely says that even as this person is trying to be scientific, his mind is already made up. That statement is just a fractional level removed from "of course animals don't think", "of course animals aren't aware", or "of course animals don't feel pain".

While researching for today's post, I ran into a lot of people who cling desperately to the notion that only humans have language. Fortunately, we have real scientists reporting on prairie dog language, gray parrots and their use of spoken language, and the more famous Koko and Washoe and others. Now we need some open minds to go with the facts. These are real examples of real language usage, with complex thoughts behind them.

Griffin goes on to mention that human communication involves not only spoken language but body language as well. This is another barrier toward understanding animals, since their bodies are different from ours (as well as their societal influences being different). I was lucky (?) to notice that a lion was indicating, with body language, that humans standing up made him nervous. How many other people had seen that same body language and not recognized it? How many body language cues are being given to what animals think that no human ever notices?

Griffin concludes by saying "cautious scientists have a strong tendency to avoid this question [of animal consciousness], and some insist that such questions are inappropriate for scientific inquiry... But the tentative assumption that some animals experience simple levels of subjective awareness often enables us to make sense of their behavior."

My question is, Is it necessary to include the word "simple" in that last statement?

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cute Thursday

Thursday. Time for too much cuteness. This slide show was put together by a friend of mine and is perfect for a Thursday.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Bringing Back the Magic

I am going to quote Margaret T. Wright, publisher of the on-again, off-again magazine "Nature's Corner", and I am not going to comment on the quote. I hope that anyone reading this blog will leave a comment (click on the Comments link at the end of this post). I need to know what people think.

In Ms. Wright's book, Bringing Back the Magic, she talks about the worldwide reaction to the death of Alex, the African Gray parrot:

Why? Why were so many people so traumatized and saddened by the death of a parrot... a little bird that was no larger than a pigeon? His scientific accomplishments were astounding and he had been a trailblazer, proving beyond a doubt that animals are intelligent. But he represented something even more profound... something even more important. Alex was the "quintessential talking animal". He tapped into the primordial memory of our collective unconscious that remembers a time when animals physically talked to man... a time when man and animal lived together and shared mutual respect for one another. Some people may call that time the Garden of Eden when the animals talked to Adam and Eve, and others may call it the magical Land of Pan (Pangea). Whatever it is called, it did happen and it was real. Alex represented the possibility that we could get back in our hearts to that place of mutual love and respect, before evil and destruction separated us: Humankind from Nature. He was the archetypal talking animal that exuded unconditional love, and he captured our hearts and provided a loving place and a memory to which we could return within our own primordial souls.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What Do Animals Want?

Once, at an animal sanctuary, I met a very engaging lion. (That is him in the picture.) One thing this lion loved was to have his shoulders scratched. But the people who had been around him cautioned, watch out, he will turn and snarl at you. And sure enough, he did. But he did more than that. He also made a motion with his head, a significant motion. He was trying to tell people with this head motion that he felt nervous when people stood up close to him.

Now, conventional wisdom is that you should never get down at eye level with a lion. My own wisdom is that you need to pay attention to each animal as an individual and never assume one rule applies to everyone. So, I squatted down as I scratched his shoulders. And he never once turned and snarled at me.

This lion also had quite a reputation for spraying people. And sure enough, when I was paying attention to one of his lionesses, he assumed the position. I jumped up out of the way in time and I looked at him square in the eye. And he looked at me square in the eye and I will tell you his look was apologetic. He never tried his spraying trick with me again during the many happy hours I spent with him and his two lionesses.

I don't know how most people look at animals or what they see when they do. I believe that what the animal is hoping for is that you will see another person behind their eyes. If you can connect with them person to person, you will have a friend.

All the animals at that sanctuary were adults, and some had had hard lives when they were younger. Some of them had been hardened to never expect a one-to-one connection with a human. What made my lion friend special was that he was still open to trying, and receptive when he met someone who was also trying.

Those who saw just an animal, and not a personality, needed an umbrella.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Attack Animals

Animal attacks make news. Take the case of the police officer, merely escorting a teenager home, savagely attacked by several pets owned by the boy's family. These animals have been known to take on pit bulls, even hold their own against a mountain lion, and here this family had a pack of them, and they attacked a police officer, requiring his hospitalization, for no good reason.

After the chimpanzee attack that made the news recently, people are clamoring for new ban laws. NO ONE, they say, should be allowed to have such animals.

But what about the case of the attack on the police officer? Shouldn't we ban those animals, too?

Oh, wait--I haven't told you what kind of animals I'm talking about.

They're Chihuahuas. That's right, little Paris-Hilton-type dogs. They're also number 7 on the Texas Department of Health list of most dangerous breeds.

Now, just to be clear, I am NOT advocating banning Chihuahuas, even though they appear quite high in lists of "severe animal attacks". What I am advocating is that people think about things.

ONE animal attack is supposed to indicate that ALL such animals must be banned. This is pure and utter non-thinking nonsense.

The impetus behind such nonsense is that the chimpanzee is not a "common animal". Arguments for a ban are simply hide-under-the-Snuggly unthinking fear of something different.

And if we can turn ONE attack into a ban against ALL such animals, how long before statistics like these:
The most recent official survey, conducted more than a decade ago, determined there were 4.7 million dog bite victims annually in the USA. A more recent study showed that 1,000 Americans per day are treated in emergency rooms as a result of dog bites. In 2007 there were 33 fatal dog attacks in the USA. Most of the victims who receive medical attention are children, half of whom are bitten in the face. Dog bite losses exceed $1 billion per year, with over $300 million paid by homeowners insurance.
turn into the government taking away all our pets?

There are people that desperately want that.

You have to think about these things.

Update, from later the same day...
I see I'm already too late to ask people to THINK for a change; our lawmakers are too busy trying to look good to bother to think... Article in Scientific American.