Posts Tagged Animal Welfare

Bongo Congo

I am currently reading “Congo Journey” by Redmond O’Hanlon. Redmond and his travelling companion, Lary, journey through the Congo from Brazzaville in the south to Lake Tele in the north in search of the mythical mokele-mbembe, a kind of Congolese Loch Ness monster. They are accompanied on their travels by several local Congolese who “assist” them to navigate the maze of Congolese politics, villages and pygmies.

It is an interesting, thought provoking and, at times, hilarious read. One of the points the book touches on is the way people’s relationships towards animals differ. This is illustrated in an exchange between Redmond and Nze, one of the local Congolese who is about to kill a chicken for dinner. Redmond expresses concern and asks Nze to make sure he despatches the chicken quickly and humanely. Nze, puzzled, says, “It’s a chicken.”

There is no “fluffy bunny” syndrome in the Congolese jungle with animals divided roughly into two groups: useful and not useful. Those that are useful fall into that category because they provide meat, eggs or milk. The not useful group can be further subdivided into benignly not useful i.e. they have no discernible human use but they are not harmful either e.g. many of the birds, frogs, etc., and not useful but harmful, such as leopards, cobras and Driver ants.

The “human-animal” bond, as Redmond and Lary would understand it, appears not to exist. Presumably this is because, in a society where each day is a struggle for human survival and death an ever present possibility, the luxury of wasting food and emotions on non-human individuals that do not contribute physically to that survival cannot be afforded. This is not to say that they do not understand the animals that surround them. I would say they have a much better understanding of human-animal interdependencies than either Redmond or Lary. For the Congolese it is important to know how the natural world functions, not out of abstract scientific curiosity, but because everyone’s survival depends on it. There is no room for sentimentality over other species when human life is lived so precariously and human death occurs so frequently.

Much of what occurs in people’s lives on a daily basis is mired in superstition and magic with pygmies singing songs to ensure hunting success and sorcerers placing spells and curses on people for all sorts of bizarre purposes. The reasons behind these superstitions and religion in general are summed up in this elegant exchange between Lary and Redmond.

“God damn it all to hell and back twice,” announced Lary, outwardly peaceful, lying straight out on the groundsheet. “What’s the point, that’s what I want to know, what is the point of all this sorcery? What is the psychological and social function of all this fear? Why live in terror of all this magic and bullshit and spells for this and spells for that when you don’t have to? Why not say to Dokou (the sorcerer), “Dokou, old man, I’m sorry, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but with all due respect for your great age and wisdom and authority in this village, why don’t you just take your mumbo jumbo and stick it up your ass and turn it sideways?”

“I don’t know,” I said. …. “The usual answer is that it gives a structure, a meaning to life, and that you certainly need one when all your thinking is pre-logical, when your idea of nature makes no distinction between subjective and objective impressions and thoughts –  when your inner and outer worlds are all mixed up, when there’s no obvious dividing line between your own mental reality and that of a passing leopard, or a bat over the hut, or a bamboo clump that’s holding a party for Driver ants. I imagine we all think like that for at least a fraction of each day, some more so than others, and more at some times of our life than at other times – when we’ve had a setback or a shock or when someone dies or when we’re ill or in love –  and more often at night than in the daytime. But here the nightmares never get an enclosing line drawn round them, they never get bagged up and thrown away – they just hang around out there, you meet them when you go for walks in the forest, they come at you between the trees, they get you after dark.” ….

“But the real point of it must be simple – you know the big fear is out there, waiting to bust in through your hut wall: you can be sure that two or three of your children will die as children, that you’ll get ill, that you’ll die young. So you give yourself lots of little fears, fears you half-know are not serious, to diffuse the big horror into the landscape. It’s a bit like the psychological bargain Christians and Muslims strike with themselves: you agree to abandon for life your ability to think straight; you accept a job-lot of fairy tales, all kinds of absurdities; and in return for the effort it costs to push your intellect back in to bed every time you get up in the morning, you’re released from the big one, the fear of death. You can really start to tell yourself that you’ll see your dead mother and father again, that your dead children are not dead, that your dead friends are still sitting drinking round the fire, and, maybe, even your favourite dog is waiting for you, fast asleep.”

“Put like that,” said Lary quietly, “it’s not such a bad bargain.”

Dr. F. Bunny

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Feed Me Part III

I can see this post is going to have more sequels than Rocky. If it’s not enough that rainbow lorikeets are dying in droves around Melbourne because people are feeding them, Blue Cross Aged Care Facilities (http://www.bluecross.com.au/bluecross-tvcs) are running an ad showing an aged gentleman feeding seed to rainbow lorikeets! He seems happy and so are the birds. Why not? With all those sunflower seeds in the mix it’s like being fed a family sized bar of chocolate each day.

Dr. F. Bunny

 

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Feed Me!

People like to interact with wildlife, whether they’re holding it, cuddling it, having their photo taken with it or even shooting it. In order to facilitate this interaction people draw wild animals to their gardens with food. Unfortunately providing artificial food is never a good idea and can never be done properly. It occurs primarily because people only value wildlife for the warm and fuzzy feeling interacting with it gives them.

One of the problems with providing artificial food is that it temporarily increases the stocking rate and density of wildlife in a given area. After the Black Saturday fires of 2009 it was very popular for people to put food out for wildlife because much of the surrounding vegetation was charred and burned. Rather than allow nature to return to a balanced state after such a catastrophe this had the short term potential to artificially increase survival, stocking density and reproduction leading to more animals than the environment could realistically cope with. Unless we enter a farm type scenario, which typically operates with elevated stocking rates, by providing supplementary food ad infinitum populations will eventually crash and animals starve. Unfortunately this occurs some time after the event when the people who mistakenly believed they were helping the wildlife have forgotten about their commitment, lost interest and moved on, leaving the wildlife to fend for itself.

The largest and most obvious ongoing wildlife feeding problem focuses on the provision of bird feeders. All over the world people put seed out to attract birds to their gardens. This is not a balanced diet. Seed mixes contain a high proportion of sunflower seeds, which are palatable to birds because of their high fat content. Most seed is also low in calcium, zinc, Vitamin A, B vitamins and Vitamin E. Birds are as lazy as the rest of us. Why spend all day looking for food when it’s available free of charge? Birds become reliant on this unbalanced diet which results in malnutrition. This is also a problem for carnivorous birds such as magpies and currawongs because people like to feed them mince meat. Every year juvenile birds are presented to veterinary clinics suffering multiple wing fractures and deformed bones because they have grown up on a calcium deficient diet. Affected birds are in considerable pain and usually end up being euthanased (See the attached photo of a young magpie fed a calcium deficient diet. Beaks really should not bend like that).

Bird feeders obviously attract large numbers of birds. All these birds congregating in a small area squabbling, sneezing, and defaecating on each other provides a fantastic opportunity for disease transmission. In fact outbreaks of mycoplasmosis in the US (Ley et al 1997), salmonellosis in New Zealand (Alley et al 2002) and psittacosis in Australia have all been directly linked to bird feeders. Not only are the birds at risk but human cases of salmonellosis in New Zealand and psittacosis in Australia were also traced back to the feeders.

Unfortunately hygiene is not a high priority for many people who put out bird feeders and seed is often left to go mouldy in the rain. A recent study found fungal toxins in the feeders. If consumed in large amounts these toxins can cause kidney damage and death (Oberheu and Dabbert 2001).

The irony is that the people who are so desperate to help and encourage wildlife are also directly responsible for its demise. It’s time people realised that wild animal stocking rates are determined by available resources and any manipulation of these resources will have long term deleterious effects. If there aren’t enough birds around to keep you happy plant some native bushes. If that still doesn’t do it for you and you desperately need to see massive flocks of birds go to a zoo, but if you really care about wildlife please don’t feed it.

Dr. F. Bunny

References

Alley, M.R., J.H. Connolly, S.G. Fenwick, G.F. Mackereth, M.J. Leyland, L.E. Rogers, M. Haycock, C. Nicol, and C.E. Reed. 2002. An epidemic of salmonellosis caused by Salmonella Typhimurium DT160 in wild birds and humans in New Zealand. New Zealand Veterinary Journal 50:170-176.

Ley, D.H., J.E. Berkhoff, and S. Levisohn. 1997. Molecular epidemiologic investigations of Mycoplasma gallisepticum conjunctivitis in songbirds by random amplified polymorphic DNA analyses. Emerging Infectious Diseases 3:375-380.

Oberheu, D.T., and C.B. Dabbert. 2001. Exposure of game birds to ochratoxin A through supplemental feeds. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 32:136-138.

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Religious Slaughter

The Dutch parliament is to be congratulated for its ban on religious (halal and kosher) slaughter of livestock. This practice involves cutting the animal’s throat without prior stunning in the mistaken belief that this allows all the bacteria in the animal’s blood to flow out of the body, thus making the meat healthier. The problem with this superstitious nonsense is that the blood of a healthy animal contains no bacteria. When bacteria are present in the blood, a condition termed bacteraemia; the animal will be very sick indeed and unlikely to be submitted for slaughter. The second concern rests with animal welfare considerations and the humaneness of this procedure. While it is theoretically possible to kill a sheep reasonably quickly by cutting its throat this is not the case for cattle. Cattle have an additional blood vessel within their spinal column which continues to deliver blood to the brain after the throat has been cut. Consequently cattle do not lose consciousness from a drop in blood pressure nearly as quickly as sheep do. Unfortunately the various religious groups who are affected by this ban conveniently ignore the animal welfare reasons and instead starting accusing animal welfare advocates of restricting their religious freedoms. I am not sure what is so special about religious freedoms that they should take precedent over animal suffering. I am perfectly happy for everyone to have their own special imaginary friend but when the dictates of that imaginary friend affect human or animal welfare it is time to draw the line and toss them in the basket with our many other discarded superstitions. As well as Holland, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland have also banned religious slaughter. I look forward to the day when science, logic and compassion take precedent over superstition throughout the world.

Dr. F. Bunny

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