Saturday, October 29, 2011


Without going into details, I am facing a very bad situation and I am in a very bad state, emotionally. But when I got up this morning, I saw that our bundle-of-boundless-energy cat had placed two of her favorite toys, including her favorite toy of all, in front of my chair. I recognized this for what it was, a very sweet and loving gesture and she was trying to cheer me up. It helped.

Monday, September 26, 2011


Dealing with the subject of human-animal interactions often inspires anger in me. I want to stay positive, but the examples of unspeakable callousness--such as, dogs thrown out of high-rise windows or Navy sonar experiments driving whales to suicide--seem to overwhelm the stories of a Christian or Zamba. I don't want to be an angry person, but I often feel lost in anger.

I found the following in the book "Animals in Spirit" by Penelope Smith. Ms. Smith relates the experience of fellow animal communicator Teresa Wagner, who received anger management counseling from a whale she was familiar with.

What follows is paraphrased from the book. I figure re-telling it in my own words will help me assimilate it.
Your anger is leading you down the wrong path. There is a better way, a way out of your outrage and grief, and a way to help everyone involved.

Take a deep breath and fill yourself with love. Get back in touch with that limitless love that you know is within you. Support your own broken heart.

Remember that you are never helpless to shower someone who is suffering with love, even when you cannot physically help. Send your love to the soul of the animal that has suffered. If he has died, ask for blessings for the journey of his soul through time and space.

Then send the same love and comfort to the ones who loved the animal. Whatever hurt you feel, they grieve even more. Surround them with love and compassion.

Then you must send the same love and compassion to those who caused the suffering or death. Anger at them gets you stuck in anger and does no good. Send love to those known or unknown to you who caused the suffering because it is only with love and compassion that their consciousness will expand to see the souls of animals and their hearts will understand and direct their actions. Compassion will help them to grow.

After this, you must tend to your own grief and sorrow. Honor your feelings even if they are dark and confusing. Ask for help to understand and release these feelings. There is always enough love and support for everyone. Reach out for help. Your own heart is as important as the suffering of others. Tend to yourself with great compassion and love.

This process is about acknowledging the overwhelming energy of your feelings and turning it into something positive for everyone, rather than allowing it to trap you.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

It feels so good to be free...

This is a true story. Since the tiger I'm going to tell you about was not owned by me, I have changed her name here.

I met Kefira at a big cat sanctuary far from where I live. She was a wonderful, huge, perfectly gorgeous Siberian* tiger. I was told to walk slowly and quietly past her cage because she was "a real bitch" and would snarl, roar, and lunge and anyone who came close. But the way things were arranged, a person had to walk past her cage to get to other animals. There was a sign on her cage warning of her dangerous personality. When I saw that sign on her cage I just felt so very sorry for her, like everyone had given up hope for her.

But I watched this tiger as she performed as advertised and I was sure that her actions arose from fear, not meanness. For reasons unknown to me, she had a tremendous fear of people. Whenever anyone got near her cage, she got very actively defensive. And when a full-grown tiger gets defensive, she can be very scary. Poor thing, trapped in a world of fear...afraid of the people who were scared of her. And I decided I wanted to relieve her fear.

Later, when my escorted tour was over and I could visit whomever I chose, I went back to see Kefira. I approached slowly, determined not to upset her. I found the edge of her personal safe space, which was some 20 feet away from her. I stayed there, close enough that her attention was fixed on me, but she didn’t get defensive. Then I did something that may sound strange: I envisioned a 'bridge' extending from my mind to hers, to carry one thought--"I love you". In my visualization, the bridge slowly grew, from my mind to hers. At the exact moment I envisioned the bridge reaching her mind, she jumped back, like she had been physically hit in the head. I then chuffed at her, and she stood up and chuffed back at me. Having exchanged proper greetings, I knew that I could now approach her, and I did. She started to rub against the near wall of the cage. She paced around, looking intently at me and rubbing against the wall as we repeatedly exchanged greetings. I moved over to the door, where we would be separated by two layers of wire fencing--no contact was permitted with her--and she reared up, with her paws on the wire, and rubbed her face against it. I tried to put my hands opposite hers, but she wanted to sniff them. I moved close and she tried to rub her face against mine. More than just contact, I had made a friend. I never saw her scared and defensive side directed toward me at any time after that.

The next day, as soon as Kefira saw me [and the intensity of her look really sticks in my mind] she jumped up and started chuffing to me. Again she rubbed affectionately against the wall and came to the door to be close to me. I wished she could keep that attitude all the time, but she still snarled and hissed at others (there were many other people at the sanctuary that day).

Kefira pointed out to me that her water bowl was empty (tigers [and lions too] use a great deal of body language, including eye motions), and the sanctuary workers were glad to allow me to fill it, with a hose, from outside the cage--she was considered a very dangerous tiger. But she and I enjoyed each other's company on that day, and on the third day of my trip as well. At the end of my visit I made sure to go back to her to say goodbye, and she came up to the door for a face-to-face, close as possible sendoff.

My next visit was a year later, and I went straight to see Kefira. As I got near, she went into her defensive position, ready to try to frighten me away. I stopped, and said, "Kefira, it’s me." Right away she stood up and chuffed at me. I went to the door of her cage, and she stood up with her front paws on the wire, to look me in the face just like before. But this time, the extra layer of wire had been taken down, and we got to touch noses! She was such a sweetie! I called dibs on her at feeding time, and the workers were glad to let me take the "chore" of feeding her... and so was I.
As I said, this sanctuary is far from where I live, but I kept in email contact. Two years after I last saw her, Kefira developed severe medical problems; her back half became paralyzed, and no one knew why.

They did everything that could possibly be done for her, but from my distant position I felt I needed to do something, but there was nothing for me to do. All I could do was send my loving thoughts to her, putting as much energy as I could into healing rays.

Notes from the sanctuary were frustratingly brief, but seemed encouraging. Kefira’s spirits were up; now she could move her tail; now they had hopes for her recovery.

One night, as I was again concentrating on her, I saw her in my mind's eye. She was there with me. This had never happened before. And she was smiling. She was so very happy, practically bursting with energy and joy, and I was happy to see her. She told me how much my love meant to her, and how good it felt to be free from the sickness in her body. I should have known what that meant, but I wanted to interpret it as meaning she had made a sudden recovery.

In the morning, when I got my email, I read that Kefira had died during the night, put down by a vet after everyone had given up hope for her recovery.

I had been so focused on her recovering that I had not thought that's what she had told me about. But I will never forget that final meeting with her, a meeting of our minds.

This experience taught me the reality of what others have said: that our spirits live on, that death is a natural process, that we leave behind our pain and suffering but not our love. And should someone say that animals have no souls, I can try to correct them with the utmost confidence.

I have just started reading a book titled Animals in Spirit: Our faithful companions' transition to the afterlife written by animal communicator Penelope Smith, and already I have read several accounts of animals who had died or been put down and they all include the sentiment of how good it feels to be free of their illness. A lot of people don't believe in telepathic communication with animals, and so may not accept the idea of joy after passing, but I experienced the same sentiment from my tiger friend, spontaneously, without pre-conceived expectations, and I am convinced that it's true.

*Yes, I am aware of the term Amur tiger for this subspecies. Call me old-fashioned, but the name Siberian is more attractive to me. Just so long as you know that Siberian tigers are not white tigers...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A Tragic True Story

Making the limited-engagement rounds of select theaters is a movie called "Project Nim", a documentary that is also a tragedy, an indictment of academia, and a loud cry for people in general to wake up and think about how they treat other living beings.

Project Nim was supposed to be about raising a chimpanzee in a human-oriented environment to see if he could acquire skills in using human language; American Sign Language to be precise, since chimpanzees are physically incapable of speaking English words.

It is important to note that it is the learning of human language at the center of the project, since no one involved seemed to consider that animals can have languages of their own.

A chimpanzee was chosen as the subject since chimps are so much like Us. But the insanity of the researchers' unexamined preconceived notions about non-human animals is revealed right at the start: The days-old baby chimp is ripped away from his mother, after she had been paralyzed (but still conscious) with a tranquilizer dart.

So, are chimps like us, or are they not? Why is it so convenient to shut out any thought of chimps having an emotional life while contending that they are intellectually similar to humans? This isn't just insanity, it's wanton insanity.

As the high-profile experiment proceeds, it becomes clear that those in charge had no idea of how to proceed, and seemingly no desire to come up with an idea. The chimp is raised without structure or discipline, which does nothing to promote learning. At the end, the head of the project proclaims that the chimp did not really have language skills; all the chimp ever communicated was immediate wants. But the same thing would happen with a human child raised in the same way--a completely free-form upbringing induces a detachment from all others, and no desire to communicate anything except immediate wants. I've seen it happen.

What happened to the chimp after the conclusion of the project is horrifying at best. It's a real shame that there is a high-profile fictional movie about chimps in theaters at the same time. "Project Nim" needs to be seen, discussed, and taken to heart because it is true, and so revealing about our society and its detachment from all other forms of life.

Also this week is an article in the Washington Post about a possible end to medical research on chimpanzees. The United States is one of only two countries in the entire world that still allow such things (the other is Gabon). This change is, of course, a good thing, if too slow in coming about. The end of this legal torture is presumably the result of a growing recognition among some that chimps are like Us. It's also due to the fact that genetically-altered mice and rats are taking over from chimps in medical research projects.

We've got a long way to go before people start thinking that mice and rats might have enough of an intellectual and emotional life that they should be spared torture, too.
“We wouldn’t be having this meeting if ethics wasn’t an issue,” Frans de Waal told the Institute of Medicine committee. The Emory University researcher, whose pioneering studies with captive chimpanzees have revealed their human-like empathy, continued, “We don’t have this kind of meeting about rats.”

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Reality... What a Concept

Have I gone in the wrong direction with my posts to this blog? I have tried to present socially-acceptable arguments to persuade people that all living things are intelligent, and it is our perception--or lack thereof--that causes us to imagine that they are not.

But is such constrained logic good enough? This is a highly emotional issue, after all. We have seemingly insurmountable cultural indoctrination to overcome if we are to expand our collective perceptions to embrace reality.

One of those problems is religion. Religion controls such a huge part of our society and shapes so much of the way we think--and that applies even to those who consider themselves outside of any religion. Now, I have to speak in generalities to keep this topic manageable, but religion doesn't make any allowance for considering animals to be different yet equal beings. The Christian Bible even contains a story of Jesus unnecessarily killing an entire herd of animals.

The scientific side of our society is another problem. In the name of learning and exploration, valid ideas are suppressed and valid observations denied in order to protect established dogma. Yes, I do believe it is correct to use the term, dogma. The concept of animals being "biological machines" lives on and is actively taught despite the fact that any reasonable attention paid to actual observations absolutely destroys the concept.

I have avoided writing about much of what I know to be true, because my experiences and my methods are not acceptable to either religion or science. But both of those are rigidly constructed to protect themselves from change, so maybe I've been too concerned about how my own experiences will be viewed by those with religious and scientific points of view.

After all, I knew in my heart that the Christian the Lion "Reunion Video" had the power to demonstrate the loving side of an animal to people. Some prefer it with the added emotional tug of the Whitney Houston song, others prefer it the way I first posted it back in 2002: silent, so that all attention can be focused on the very demonstrative body language, from the moment of first recognition that Christian's friends had returned after a year's absence, to the explosive joy of being in contact again. This is real, this actually happened.

And still some people argue that a lion can't feel love.

I can't be concerned anymore about those who refuse to see what's real.

Expect more personal, and maybe outrageous, articles here in the future.

Discussion, both pro and con, gratefully received via the comments box that accompanies each article.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

They All Look the Same... To Us

An article at the Live Science site tells us that French researchers have come to the conclusion that feral, untrained pigeons can recognize human faces.

This is based on an experiment in which two similar people behaved differently toward pigeons, after which the pigeons avoided the person who had been antagonistic, even when the people exchanged clothing, thus changing most of their physical appearance.

While I don't wish to denigrate the pigeons' intelligence, the description in the article leaves the findings open to other interpretations, such as perhaps the pigeons may recognize people by their smell rather than their looks. I'm just saying it's a possibility.

Which reminds me of another, oft-repeated experiment, in which scientists try to prove whether an animal is self-aware, by using the mirror test: can an animal use a mirror to detect an unusual mark that has been added to its face? Many animals "fail" this test, leading scientists to conclude that they don't have self-awareness. But many animals are more scent-oriented than vision-oriented, and a mirror has its own scent that is clearly not the animal's own. So it's not a matter of not being self aware, it's a matter of the mirror not providing the proper cues.

I contend that any animal that stealthily stalks its prey, or that hides from a predator, demonstrates self-awareness. But somehow that bit of logic escapes the researchers.

Back to the pigeons. I won't say that they can't recognize human faces. A bird's life requires well-developed abilities to see and process visual cues. But it hasn't been proved that they don't use some other means to recognize people. Smell is only one possibility. It's even possible they use some other cues that we don't know about. We are limited by our own senses and our own views of the world. I am reminded that it is only recently that people became aware that elephants use infrasound to communicate (sounds pitched so low that we can't hear them).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thought Provoking

One article that gets a lot of attention here is Are Insects Conscious?, so I thought I would highlight it again; click the link to go to the article.

And since I have a silly sense of humor, I thought I would add a little something you can hum for the rest of the day: Hymn to Cockroaches. There should be a little "Play" button there for you to play the song.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Is it real?

This short video has been getting a lot of attention. Taken at face value, it's pretty funny--a cat is barking like a dog until he realizes that he's being watched, then he reverts to meowing like a "normal" cat.

One of the most frequent comments people make is to question whether the sound has been altered--whether the cat could really make such barking sounds. In my opinion, the pitch of the barks sounds correct, and the transition from barking to meowing is convincing, but I don't know for sure.

There are other YouTube videos of "barking cats", but they merely show cats making the short staccato noises cats make when they see birds (that's a subject for another time). This cat appears to be truly imitating a dog.

What do you think?

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Tale of Two Kitties

I just read a new (it's to be released this coming Tuesday) book in which some Ph.D. goes to great lengths to explain how human brains are the most superior of all and no animal can possibly think or react with the same sophistication that humans can.

Rather than bore you with that nonsense, I'm going to tell you one of my favorite stories about my cat, Spike.

This incident involves a laser pointer. The fascination most cats have with the little red dot of light is well known. Spike was no exception, at first. He was a big cat, and seeing his eyes get big, his whiskers point forward and his ears go erect was a joy, as he chased the dot around. Then, one time, and I'm not sure what diverted his attention (maybe it was my laugh), he looked over and saw me holding the laser, saw the red light at the end, and realized that I was controlling the dot. The look on his face changed to one of hurt and dismay, as if he felt tricked and betrayed by me. He stopped chasing the dot immediately, and went into the next room and laid down. From that time on, he never chased the dot of light again. In fact, he would leave the room when I started playing with the other cats with the laser pointer.

Another cat, Arnie, has also made the connection between me holding the laser device and the fascinating dot of light. In fact, since the pointer is attached to a key ring that makes a distinctive sound when moved, no matter how quietly I try to pick it up, Arnie hears the sound and comes running, ready to play. He knows I am in control, but he doesn't mind that, he enjoys the fun of the chase.

As I said, I don't know what triggered Spike's reaction--I probably laughed particularly loud, and Spike never liked being laughed at--but he was obviously hurt by what he perceived as deviousness on my part and he never got over it; he never went back to playing that game. Arnie, whom I know keeps a mental catalog of past wrongs (that's a story for another time), knows the facts of the game and loves it anyway.

Conclusion? They're all individuals with their own personalities.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Cats aren't really from hell, and he'll show you why.

The Animal Planet channel has hit a grand-slam home run with a series that has the unlikely title "My Cat From Hell", featuring an unlikely-looking guy with the unlikely name of Jackson Galaxy.

Jackson is called upon by various people who have serious problems with their cats. And this guy is really good at understanding cats and teaching people how to understand their cats. He stresses paying attention to cats' body language, and even teaches the slow blink, so essential to gaining a cat's trust and so very seldom mentioned by people talking about cats.

I've embedded a couple of short instructional videos by Jackson below. You can see his case studies on the Animal Planet channel now; they're currently running new episodes as well as repeating past episodes. You can also see some case study videos on their web site,

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cute furry animals for Easter!

This weekend cute bunnies and cute ducklings will be everywhere. So here's a video of foxes having fun. (Me? Go against the flow?)

And a bear enjoying some backyard relaxation...

Hammocks are not just for bears...

And what could be cuter than a lion on his birthday?

Alright, alright, here's a video of bunnies. At Christmas. Nyah! ;)

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fear of losing credibility

Found on the interwebs:
For years now I have lived in the deep wilderness with the grizzlies, wolves, elk, moose, eagles, etc. and many times I feel like I am the student and they are the teachers. I am always so awestruck by the intelligence I see in many different animal species. In one close encounter several years ago with a grizzly, we both stared into each others eyes with only 75 feet between us. Afterwards the grizzly and I went our respective ways in peace. Since then I have seriously doubted if we are even really the most intelligent species on this planet. When I looked into that grizzly's eyes, it was such a profound experience, beyond words that I can express, and I could sense such a deep and profound intelligence. I could go on and on about what I have observed with many different species, large or small. I am always just so awestruck in what I see and experience in living with the other lives we two-legged humans share this planet with. I have no doubt that different animal species can reason and think like we do, have emotions, etc. Lately I tend to keep my mouth shut on this topic for I think that many might not be able to handle such information.

That contrasts starkly with other things I've been finding on the 'net, namely a string of reviews of the recent movie The Last Lions, and these reviews all have one thing in common. Here are some examples:
...There is a certain amount of anthropomorphizing going on here, a determination to give human characteristics to animals who may or may not have them....
...The one genuine problem with The Last Lions is its blatant anthropomorphism, which occasionally gets a little over the top. Nearly all of the movie is like this, presenting lions as capable of character development. ...
...“The Last Lions’’ tips into an anthropomorphism as unnecessary as it is absurd....
...But the lioness' biggest war is against the filmmakers, who consistently demean the proceedings with laughably anthropomorphic tropes like giggle-worthy narration lines regarding the lioness' mental state....

Now, I'm going to generalize and assume that those movie reviewers have not had the privilege of a close encounter with a grizzly, shared a snooze with a lioness, or any such experience. And yet they feel compelled to point out and decry "anthropomorphism" in the film--even though the filmmakers themselves said:
We’ve been as careful as we always are, through the rigorous fact-checking process at National Geographic, to avoid anthropomorphisms in the script.

I think this illustrates a real cultural problem. Dereck & Beverly Joubert have produced a powerful, emotional movie about the life of a lioness. These two people have lived with and photographed wildlife for decades, and they say they have produced a movie that tells a realistic story. They should know what they are talking about.

But people who do not have experience with animals feel they need to decry "anthropomorphism" in the film, as if their credibility depends on them doing so.

And the top quote, from an "amateur", yet seemingly very experienced with wildlife, reveals someone who feels caught in the middle--she knows of the intelligence and emotional lives of animals, but feels that such information is not acceptable to most people.

It is true that our society values what we believe to be "scientific" over what individuals have experienced. Truth is not served by this. And ultimately animals suffer for it.

The Last Lions is a powerful movie--almost too powerful. But I say that if you can look at the lioness as she has to leave her wounded cub and you don't see and feel the pain in her face, then you are much too worried about your "credibility" and you're not really living.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Escaped cobra didn't really escape

This cartoon is by Bill Bramhall and was published in today's New York Daily News:

The story of the cobra that didn't get far is also on the New York Daily News site.

Monday, March 28, 2011

One of the Pride

"From the moment Christian sat on my feet and licked my hand on my second day at Kora, I was hooked for life. I soon discovered that
if you treat lions with respect, understanding, and love,
they respond with their trust and affection.
Once they've given you that,
they don't take it back
and neither should you."
--Tony Fitzjohn
in his new book, Born Wild
I think that applies to all animals.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Satire... Or Too Real?

The Onion is probably the top source of cultural satire in America today. It is said that satire has its origins in anger, and that may be why a recent article on The Onion's site cuts so deep. Following is a condensation of that article (full article can be found here), which I feel compelled to post since Easter is approaching.
Darien, CT -- In a familiar sign that spring is just around the corner, animal shelters across the nation announced this week that they have put down the last batch of dogs that were given as Christmas gifts in 2008.

"It's that time of year again," said animal control specialist Erica Tierney, throwing the carcass of yet another 2-year-old Labradoodle into an incinerator. As soon as the weather starts to warm up, we find ourselves administering pentobarbital injections to those final few puppies who were once a welcome Christmas gift, but who gradually became less adorable until they were no longer able to elicit the sympathy of their owners.

"Two years ago we bought Lisa a puppy for Christmas," said Jason Hutton of San Diego, who quietly abandoned his daughter's Lhasa apso by the side of a road when he grew weary of family arguments over whose turn it was to feed it. "And there came a point where it just wasn't a puppy anymore, you know?"

According to animal control officials, the breeds of the dogs they are most commonly obliged by mercy to kill vary as fads and fashions change from year to year. "There must have been a movie with chihuahuas in it a couple years back because half of these little guys are chihuahuas," said veterinary anesthesiologist Leonard Noonan, strapping a gas mask to the muzzle of his 11th small, round- headed dog of the day.

While animal shelter employees said they were relieved that dog-euthanasia season is over, many reported they were already preparing for the massive influx of Easter rabbits that will signal the transition from spring to summer.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

We, the family, shout our anger

From one of the great men of our world, Gareth Patterson:

Golden Lost Souls

We the lions of the past,
Today's ghosts,
Roamed endless plain and wide mountain range
Before man became man, before
Man stood upright, peering with curious eyes--
Fuelled by a mind that in time destroyed much. Man
Today, it seems destined, will destroy that
Very same one with curious eyes and mind
Who rose upright from the plains.

Us, ghosts today, the lions of the past
Lived throughout much of this ancient continent, Africa
And beyond.
From harsh mountain range north at night caressed by winds
From where the blue meets the blue,
The forests' dark depths
And eastern plains dotted with our abundant prey,
Decorating the land like a moving mosaic of flowers.

We, the children of the lions of olden times
On these same eastern plains
Were born within grassy gulleys
And within bushy banks of streams.
Secret nursery places chosen with care
By our mothers.

Life in the beginning for us children of the lions
Was an unclear place of shapes.
Some dark, some light, as we peered
With barely opened eyes.
Our golden mother's tongue, again and again
Would clean our spotted backs
And we,
The children of the lions, would
Clamber about on unsteady legs.
Our golden mother would protect us as best she could--
But some of us died,
Killed by leopard, hyaena or by fierce other golden fathers,
Having chased away our own.

We would grow, taste meat for the first time
And tumble, tumble, tumble
Upon grassy endless plains.
Our childhood is long, a learning time,
Learning from our golden mothers, aunts and benign golden
Always togetherness in our golden lion families,
Making us lions.

We would, as children of lions, learn
to hunt with the family.
In time be the one who seized those
Of stripes, those with horns, those we must kill
To in turn enable us to live.
Our urge to kill is not fuelled by a malevolence, or hate
But by a spirit to live, a spirit of life.

Feast, then days of fast,
The pendulum constantly alternating
With the rhythm of the seasons
and migrations.
We, with seasons passing, we the children
of the lion
Feel the change within us, no longer children,
Then copulate for days--then stop.
One day we would enter that grassy gully
Or that bushy bank by the stream
In which we too had been born,
To give birth to children of the lion of our own.
We would do as our golden mother did,
Caring, protecting,
Raising beloved children of the lion under
An African sun and staring moon.

With these children grown, with now
Our own mothers, old golden mothers,
Again we would give birth, to care, to teach and hunt
With more beloved children of the lion,
We too became old golden mothers.

In that time the children of the lions
are the ones we are dependent upon,
Dependent upon their hunts,
Their care.
We, with teeth now worn, weary eyes, loose bellies
and creaking backs,
Walk within the family with new golden fathers,
New tumbling children of the lions on endless plains.

Like a great setting golden sun
We too reached our own farthest horizon
Life slips away
Leaving golden forms to be consumed,
To give life to others of the African plain,
and those of the sky blue--and exchange of life.
We, the old golden ones, would leave behind
Our living, tumbling, hunting, caring, copulating,
Fighting, feasting legacy.
We would be content golden ghosts of endless plains
Remembered by our ancestors in heaven.

Today the pads of our feet no longer walk
Forever endless plains, mountain range wide.
We live in pockets of land, no longer free spirits.
Like many of the old wilds, we now live in twilight times.
We are born in the twilight of the life of lions--
Our life is much altered.

Some of we children of the lion
Die before we are born into that twilight.
A bullet may crash into golden mother's head,
Then another into where we lie within her--unborn.
Men then appear, gloat and stand above golden mother's
Us, within her, dying unborn,
And with sweaty faces, the men smile.

We die as wire traps encircle our necks.
The wire tightens, we fight.
The wire eats into our golden fur
Then into red flesh, choking us.
The light turns to red, blood red,
Then before our eyes there is only

Man will again appear as our
Spirits watch from secret shadows,
Us watching our dead, crumpled, gold
Man then strips our gold from our bodies
And then we are left,
Our spirits watching the grotesque red
Forms, us.
The bloated eyes, protruding, but unseeing. Us.

Children of the lion tumble on restricted plains
When golden mother falls dead after the crash,
Another bullet, another death.
Children of the lion run terrified to nowhere,
Then wait for their mother's return
Only she never returns.

The children of the lion no longer tumble but lie
Now less their golden mothers,
And wait and wait till we, the bone jutting, tawny
Children of the lion
Here, there, almost everywhere
Where lions can still walk upon pockets of plain,
Forest depths, mountain range.

We lions die living, die eating.
We kill a cow, the cow kills us.
Its flesh will be anointed by man with poison.
We feast, our stomachs writhe like snakes in pits of coals.
We vomit, we defecate, retching, shitting,
Then die with our excrement around us, on us.
Others come to eat--the chain of life
needs to continue.
The links are eroded by the poison.

The jackal moves away from the circles of excrement
Around us,
Vomits and shits.
The vulture rises into the sky to feel the thermals,
Then sinks, madly flapping, flapping in its madness
Before hitting the ground.
It shits, vomits
and dies.

The hyeana by night lopes forward,
Biting and swallowing what he finds,
Then slinks away to rest.
The raging thirst begins, then the raging madness
Of pain.
He dies alone on the plain.

Children of the lion are today in
Some places bred by man,
And man delionises the children, humiliates
The children to make them perform feats in
Front of crowds and crowds of watching,
Laughing, squealing, shouting people.

After the tricks, the children are prodded
into small cages to await the next time.
What misery, what despair as the children of the
Lion stare with unblinking amber eyes
Out into a changed world,
Head resting on paw, cramped within a cage.
Now sad, a sad, sad facsimile of his proud ancesters
of endless plains, forest depths, mountain range.

Man has taken our land.
He has destroyed what we are dependent upon--
The other old ones, the denizens of a shrinking,
Ancient world,
Those of stripes, those with horns, those we must kill
To enable ourselves to live.

Man will kill us with mad malevolence
Lusting particularly to kill the golden fathers
with their fine heads.
We, the family, shout our anger
After man shoots the golden father dead.
As droplets of his rich blood drip onto sand, leaf or stone,
We flee.
Without our golden father, the security he gave,
We flee.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Domestication: Real, Myth, or Syndrome?

There is an utterly ridiculous article in the current National Geographic magazine. In short, the article says that any "wild" animal can be made into a "domesticated" animal by selective breeding; that "domestication" is determined by genes.

The writer goes so far as to use Biblical terminology to describe man's creation of domesticated species. And we are told that there is a domestication gene in humans that makes us so special.

The whole article is so ridiculous that I have a hard time keeping myself from accusing National Geographic of deliberate misinformation.

I will promise you this: If you have anything to do with animals and you don't want to be hurt or killed, you need to forget the myths of "wild" and "domestic" and think in terms of "socialized" and "non-socialized".

The article deals with animals in terms of stereotypes, apparently ignorant of real life. In real life, more people are killed by horses (a "domestic" animal) than by pet tigers, a stereotypically "wild" animal--and that's on a per-animal basis (you can't just use raw numbers since there are so many more horses). Cows, stereotypically not merely "domesticated" but downright docile, also kill large numbers of people. I can point out any number of dogs you wouldn't want to go near.

On the other side of the coin are the many so-called "wild" animals that people have as pets, that they have properly socialized and live happily with. Even foxes, the central example of the magazine article.

A key flaw in the "domestication is all in the genes" argument is actually pointed out during the course of the article: In comparing wolf and dog genomes, there appeared to be a link to a gene called WBSCR17, which in humans causes Williams-Beuren syndrome, characterized by "elfin features" (ties in with the author's statement that "domestic animals are cuter than wild animals") and "exceptional gregariousness—its sufferers are often overly friendly and trusting of strangers."

Note that humans with this syndrome are called "sufferers" while at the same time we are told this is something we can breed for in animals.

Anyone with any animal experience knows of the chronic medical problems that some breeds have because of selective breeding for various traits. Now they are going to go after other animals and alter their mental states.

If you want a good relationship with an animal, you have to work to establish that relationship. You don't go about it by warping its brain.

The NatGeo article centers around a breeding program that has produced foxes that cry for companionship. Is that domestication or a personality disorder? It sounds to me like something humans would get psychotropic medications to treat. Here's a story of a family that took in a baby fox and get along with her very well, even though she was "wild".

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Eyes of a Wolf

When Bruce Weide was growing up, he considered wolves a menace. He was told a wolf once tried to kill his grandfather, and was convinced wolves regularly ate people. To him, it seemed only natural that Alaska would offer a bounty on dead wolves, and killing a wolf was a service to his community.

When he was a teenager, he went moose hunting with his father and friends. While searching for moose, Weide spotted a wolf a hundred yards away. As Weide sighted the wolf in the scope of his rifle, the wolf turned his head.

"The wolf's amber-green eyes stared at me.... I felt as if the wolf's eyes peered into my soul. I felt exposed and naked before a primal and enduring force.... The eyes reflected an intelligence that I couldn't come close to comprehending at the time."

Weide could not bring himself to shoot that wolf.

For years Weide felt foolish and did not speak of the incident. But he pondered it continuously and he changed from wolf hater to wolf protector. Years later, he would make a film titled The Wolf: Real or Imagined? that looks at how stories about wolves shape our attitudes and perceptions. He and his wife, wildlife biologist Pat Tucker, founded Wild Sentry: The Northern Rockies Ambassador Wolf Program, an educational organization dedicated to correcting misperceptions about wolves.

And it all started by looking into a wolf's eyes. I mean, really looking and paying attention.

You can read more about Weide's ambassador wolf here.

(Most of this post is paraphrased from the introduction to Chris Palmer's book, Shooting in the Wild: An Insider's Account of Making Movies in the Animal Kingdom.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Totally Silly

Here is a music video/cartoon. Sometimes just plain silliness is a good thing.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Breaking Points

I received the following story in an email a couple of weeks ago. I don't think I could summarize the story any better, so I will quote what I was told. It refers to an incident at Palmetto Ridge High School in Florida on January 24:
On Monday of this week a 14 year old student killed a 16 year old during a fight when they got off the bus. Stabbed the older boy some six times after being hit in the face and gut at least four times. Why he retaliated as he did is now coming out. The older, and much bigger, boy had been bullying the other kid all school year, including beating on him a whole lot. It wasn't a secret either; other students as well as the 14-year-old had told the school authorities, who, of course, did nothing. Even the bus driver had reported attacks, and nothing was done. The younger kid's parents knew, they reported it, nothing was done. Seems the bully was a BMOC, important jock, and his parents didn't want anything done. So, nothing was done. The 14-year-old even tried to not go to school, but because of Florida law his parents had to get him there or they'd be jailed. Two weeks ago the savagely bullied kid refused to go, the cops were called, they took him to school in cuffs. That afternoon the bully hammered on him again. All this was in the reports, all of which were ignored studiously by the school authorities. Then came Monday.

BTW, all of the management of that high school are now in deep doo-doo. There will be changes over there. From what I've heard some 95% of the student body are very happy about that.

photo by Leslie CohelanNow, what has that got to do with the general topic at hand here? It seems to me that there are definite parallels between that story, and the story of Tatiana, the tiger at the San Francisco Zoo that the world heard about in December 2007.

The main question surrounding Tatiana was whether she was provoked by the three people she attacked. A couple of weeks ago I took the author of the book "Fear of the Animal Planet" to task for not presenting a convincing overview of Tatiana's story--anyone researching the story would be knee-deep in conflicting accounts. Now, the Associated Press has provided a key piece to the puzzle. It took a Freedom of Information Act request to get this piece of information, because it had been stricken from the official record. As reported in today's Washington Post:
"With my knowledge of tiger behavior, I cannot imagine a tiger trying to jump out of its enclosure unless it was provoked," Laurie Gage, a tiger expert who investigated the incident for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, wrote in a Dec. 27, 2007, draft of her report.

The documents, provided to AP three years after a Freedom of Information Act request, offer the first public glimpse into the findings of the federal investigation. Whether the tiger was provoked has long been a point of contention.

Gage's statement about provocation was stricken from the final version of the report because it was "irrelevant from an Animal Welfare Act enforcement standpoint," said David Sacks, a spokesman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which oversees the nation's zoos.
The Lafayette Journal & Courier has more to the story. The tiger killed one of the tormentors, then,
After sitting with its prey for a short time, Gage wrote that Tatiana likely followed the Dhaliwals' blood trail for about 300 yards to where it resumed attacks. Photographs show blood-smeared asphalt where the tiger apparently dragged Sousa's body.

"After a kill, I find it interesting the tiger would leave a kill to go after something else unless there were a compelling reason," Gage wrote. "The tiger passed exhibits with warthogs which it ignored as it followed [the blood trail] of the two brothers to the Terrace Cafe outside the dining area."

USDA's investigators said they found "some sticks, foreign to the exhibit, and at least one pine cone inside the tiger exhibit indicating that someone may have thrown these items into the enclosure at the tigers."
So, the evidence is now clearer to support author Jason Hribal's contention that the tiger was provoked into action and that her actions were directed and focused. Not mysterious and random ("Keep in mind these are animals: Who knows why they do anything?" said one of the 'victims' attorneys).

Sympathy runs high for the boy in the first story, who was provoked past his breaking point. He will receive a fair trial. In supposedly less enlightened times, Tatiana would have been given similar consideration.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thick as Sheep

Most people would probably say that sheep are stupid. Nothing but a herd instinct with wool on.

But the people who study sheep are finding that they are very intelligent, even able to master tests that are used to measure human intelligence.

Sheep can not only recognize different plants, they can generalize about them and categorize them by family. This represents thinking beyond the "here and now" that we're told dominates animal thought.

Sheep have been shown to recognize and remember many dozens of faces not only of other sheep, but of humans, too. Watch any animal-themed movie that uses multiple stand-ins for the star and you realize that most people can't distinguish between the faces of different animals.

Sheep can also memorize the routes through mazes (an ability that has many real-life benefits). And while rams fighting with each other may make for good video, they actually form long-term friendships and help their friends in fights. This article in New Scientist magazine also describes how sheep can master a test that it was previously thought only humans and primates could master, a test that requires such complex thinking that it is used to detect the onset of dementia.

What I would like to see, though, is proof of the reports that sheep have learned to lie down and roll over cattle grids that are meant to keep them fenced in. This would be a brilliant maneuver, but there's no video or photo of such a thing. Sheep can jump over 5 foot fences or even squeeze through gaps as small as 8 inches wide, but think what a YouTube sensation it would be if someone could record this rolling maneuver. I'm not saying it's impossible, but seeing it would remove any doubt.

Until that video shows up, here's one smart individual:

Thursday, February 03, 2011

History lesson, and a review of the book it came from.

coverIt is still being taught in universities that animals have no mind, no consciousness. Rene Descartes' despicable, insane notion that animals are nothing but "biological machines" has that deep a hold on our society.

What's interesting, though, is that if you look back before Descartes, back to early colonial America or Medieval Europe or before, you find that people not only believed that animals were conscious beings, they should be considered members of the community. This is most obviously evidenced by judicial trials in which animals, from termites to bears, were accused of committing crimes, from trespassing to murder. They were accorded equal rights under the law, and humans and animals could even be tried together as co-conspirators. Animals were assigned public defenders for these trials.

Underlying all this was the assumption that animals possessed rationality, free will, moral agency, motivation, and emotions.

Then came the "great" philosophers. Descartes took away animals' souls and minds. John Calvin declared that God made the world and its animals for the benefit of humans. John Locke declared animals were "perfect machines". The separation of man from the rest of the world became an unchallenged notion in our society.

Since you are reading this blog, I assume you know how wrong that notion of separateness is. I thought it was interesting to look back in time to when society at large did not have that idea. That history lesson comes from an essay by Jeffrey St. Clair that serves as the introduction to a new book called "Fear of the Animal Planet", by Jason Hribal.

The premise of Hribal's book is that when an animal "attack" makes the news, we should look for and consider the circumstances that led the animal to do that, that the animal was provoked in some way. I don't disagree with that idea; I already held it long before this book appeared.

The book itself is, unfortunately, not going to persuade anyone who doesn't already have that opinion. Most of the book is little more than a listing of various incidents at zoos and theme parks. Hribal doesn't provide the necessary details of what led up to each incident. He needed to provide definite sources and evidence, and he does not. This hurts his effort a great deal. He seems to work on the assumption that ALL zoos, and ALL theme parks, and ALL animal handlers are necessarily and inherently evil; and with this view, providing details becomes unnecessary. This is not the way to get people interested and involved.

The book overall is a slapdash production, which will also put people off. Besides missing details, wrong dates are given, the author rambles off in odd directions, and even falls into incoherency at times. A good editor would need more than one red pencil to take on this book.

Animal attacks make news. The idea that the animal was acting in self-defense or was goaded into such action does not make the news. Bringing the idea of animals as intelligent emotional creatures to the forefront of our societal thinking is a very vital necessity for them and for us. This would be a major paradigm shift, and it's going to take a better effort than what was put into this book.

The first three-quarters of Jeffrey St. Clair's introduction is actually the most compelling part of the book. Maybe he should take on the job of producing a second edition.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Bear Society

Ben KilhamBen Kilham has a knack for bears. North American black bears, specifically. He loves them, he understands them, he spends many days with them each year, he has raised orphan cubs. Most importantly, he pays close attention to them.

By paying attention, he has come to know, and has described, bear society. Bears are social animals, he says, and have a complex society based on altruistic sharing of food. He knows at least some of their language and he has observed their interactions.

But while Ben Kilham may have a knack for bears, he does not have "scientific" credentials. So, those who do have such credentials feel free to ignore him and what he says. Never mind that what he says makes sense. Never mind that his observations are so thorough and astute that he discovered something that no scientist ever knew before: that bears have an olfactory organ in the roof of their mouths (similar to the Jacob's Organ in cats, for example).

What's incredible to me is that scientists cling to their conclusion that bears do not interact socially; that they are solitary animals. This is based on nothing more than the fact that no scientist has observed bears closely enough to notice their society. Anyone with any interest in logical thought knows that lack of evidence is not proof of anything. Science has jumped to a conclusion about bears' behavior based on lack of evidence.

Ben Kilham has the first-hand evidence, and it makes sense. Science tells us that many different animals live solitary lives, but I believe that if these animals were really and truly observed it would be discovered that they actually have complex societies. Take tigers. "Everybody knows" that they live solitary lives in the wild. But they are extremely difficult to observe in the wild and of necessity have extremely large ranges. They have a complex vocal language, they get along well with each other in captivity--why should anyone conclude that they do not naturally have their own society?

Thankfully, Ben Kilham is not daunted. He is willing to give lectures on what he has learned about bears. He continues to observe, and film, and write about them. He's doing what he can to improve the world's knowledge of bears. Let's hope science one day will decide to pay attention.

Ben Kilham has his own site at

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Fox Hunting

The Reuters news agency reported that in the Republic of Belarus, a wounded fox shot its would-be killer. The man tried to finish off the fox by beating it with the butt of his rifle, but the fox managed to pull the trigger, wounding the man in the leg. The hunter was hospitalized. No word on whether the fox sought treatment.

(Belarus is a country bordered by Russia, Ukraine, and Poland.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Born Free Legacy

If you have any interest at all in PBS's "Elsa's Legacy" (part of their "Nature" series), then you owe it to yourself to forget all about it and watch the BBC version of the same show, which is titled "The BORN FREE Legacy". The difference is beyond belief. Fortunately, some very nice person has placed the BBC version on YouTube, and I have placed all 4 parts of it below. The BBC got it right, and they even live up to the "legacy" aspect of the title. So far, only 339 people have watched it all the way through on YouTube; but this is the version of the show we should have been shown on PBS. Please watch and recommend this BBC show to everyone you know.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Elsa's Legacy

Elsa & Joy AdamsonPBS is running a show this week (the exact day depends on where you live) called "Elsa's Legacy", Elsa being the lion made famous by "Born Free".

I can't go on without giving a too-brief critique of the show. I have serious doubts about whether whoever wrote the script of the show (there is no writer credit given) ever saw the movie or read the book. Over and over, "Born Free" is referred to as a "fairy tale" and a "myth". Why? The writer seems to be of the opinion that "Born Free" presented some phony view of Elsa and the whole process she and the Adamsons went through in teaching her how to live in the African bush. The examples used to illustrate this point were, in actuality, all dealt with in both book and movie. I don't understand the cluelessness of the narration. (And very laughable was the picture used to illustrate the dangers of wild lions when they encounter an intruder: two lions mating.) Christian playing soccerThey also mixed pictures of the lion Christian (ca. 1971) in with the recounting of the making of the movie "Born Free" (ca. 1965)--but I suppose one lion is interchangeable with any other to most people. This is all the more a shame since one of the points they hammer home is that "Born Free" was the first time anyone considered that animals were all individuals with unique personalities.

Naturally, it wasn't the first time anyone had that idea, but it may be that the movie "Born Free" brought that idea to more people than anything that came before. The show ends by asking the question, can we rekindle the passion for lions that the movie instilled in people?

Christian & Tony FitzjohnStrangely, given the show's title, they never really explore Elsa's legacy. And it is a great legacy. Not merely the Born Free Foundation but also the George Adamson Wild Animal Protection Trust (which was not mentioned). Many people are carrying on George Adamson's work in rehabilitating animals to a natural life, and not just lions. And there is the story of Christian the lion, which set the world on fire just a couple of years ago, and which would have turned out very, very differently had it not been for Elsa.

Elsa and the Adamsons have made a change in the world, and all for the better. The reaction to Christian's story shows that people can get passionate about lions, and "wild" animals, thus continuing the good that Elsa started.

ChristianPeople need more opportunities to see more animals as they actually are, and observe their natures for themselves. I believe the passions will then arise naturally.

Born Free BookBorn Free DVD

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Life, and Consciousness, and Equivalency

I got to thinking about the physical sciences and our ingrained worldviews.

Physical sciences tell us that all there is is matter and energy (and Einstein told us that the two are actually the same).

Take carbon: Coal - Graphite - Diamonds - Whatever its appearance, no one will tell you that it is alive. Nor is oxygen. Carbon and oxygen do not willfully combine to form carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide, or anything else. The same things can be said for hydrogen, nitrogen, or whatever element you choose.

These elements are not alive, but put them together in the right combination and you get Life.

How does Life happen? There is no physical answer for that. But we know what Life is; we recognize when something is alive. Alive means consuming, growing, reacting, reproducing. And we have no problem allowing that a butterfly is just as alive as a human.

We also know what "consciousness" is (never mind philosophical attempts to obfuscate the idea). You know you are conscious, or else you wouldn't be translating the pixels on your screen into words and those words into concepts that I'm trying to communicate.

But for some reason society, and science, and religions all want to put a fence around consciousness, and not allow it to any other life, just humans. All those defining forces of our lives constantly beat this idea into our heads, that only humans have conscious intellect.

Yet, those people who have first-hand experience with animals know differently. They know that the animals they interact with are just as capable of thinking, feeling, and loving as they are. And yet the concept of a barrier between conscious and non-conscious life is so ingrained that it doesn't usually disappear completely, even for such people. The barrier gets stretched, pushed outward, to allow some animals in, but not all of them.

In his book Kinship with All Life, J. Allen Boone describes how he established a relationship with a house fly. He and the fly had a real responsive relationship. No one can reasonably deny that this is true--to do so would be to deny this man his own experiences when he gives no evidence of being other than intelligent, reasonable, and articulate. So to deny what he says about the fly and its ability to have a relationship with him would be to say that you know more about his life than he himself did, which is simply ridiculous.

So if the barrier that allows consciousness can be stretched so far as to allow house flies into the exalted realm, surely by that point it must be stretched so thin as to fall apart completely.

In the light of all the experiential evidence that exists, would it not be more logical to assume that all forms of life have consciousness than to assume they don't?

Then why is the idea of the separateness of humans from the rest of nature so very difficult to shed?