For some time, I was planning to write about psychiatry, the profession which paid for my upbringing and education but ultimately, and ironically, ‘destroyed’ the person who had made it his life’s work. It is a subject about which I feel strongly and whose modern day practice I, justifiably, regard with great cynicism but I have it on hold for the future when I am in the right frame of mind.
My views on social media I have made all too clear whilst reneging in terms of facebook – purely for reasons of my blog! However, when logging on, I do find it far too easy to be ensnared by the ‘feed’ which, lately, has included many posts from The Born Free Foundation. Not only am I happy to see them but glad, too, to be able to share them.
As I’m sure I have mentioned before, The Born Free Foundation grew from its roots as Zoo Check, a charity started in 1984 by Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers and their son, Will, as a voice for those who cannot speak: wild animals in captivity. At its very heart, the aim to prevent the inevitable suffering of these creatures subjected to a life behind bars under the guise of education and conservation – for those two words, substitute ‘exploitation and greed‘ – and the phasing out of the very vehicles enabling such cruelty, namely zoos and circuses.
This year, Born Free is focusing on that which drives it in the name of a campaign called ‘Beyond the Bars‘. The quotes and videos posted are, therefore, very much related to zoos and captivity … hence the clip of the reunion between Christian, now wild, and John and Ace who reared him. A massive YouTube hit, I wonder how many of the millions who watched it were inspired to find out more about the back story to the clip? An incredible one, involving several key players, the ending of which must go some way towards silencing those arrogant enough to believe animals to be inferior. If you haven’t already, please go to The Born Free Foundation website and key in Christian: http://www.bornfree.org.uk/.
Well, had to take a break, there, to watch the end of the Masters in Augusta! Tears streaming down my face as Garcia beat Justin Rose in the Sudden Death Play Off to win his first ever Major on what would have been his hero’s 60th Birthday. Yes, Seve was watching over him! Perhaps, sometimes, good guys do win. Back to the tears streaming down my face? Just memories of my childhood and my Pop … growing up with golfers and loving every minute of it!
So, not prone to wandering from the subject in hand … much! Apologies. I mentioned Christian, though, because, in many ways, he is not unique; animals have proved again and again that they experience emotions, just as we do. They feel happy, sad, love, fear and they remember. Take elephants, for example, whom John Donne described as ‘Nature’s great masterpiece‘: one need look no further than Heathcote Williams’ magnificent homage to this giant of a creature in his book, ‘The Sacred Elephant‘ which was published in 1989 and bought for £9.95! Through his collection of photographs, verse and prose, one bears witness to the demise of an animal historically revered, throughout the world, as a symbol of might and wisdom … ‘First worshipped, then sacrificed …’ then reduced to nothing more than a source of ivory butchered into the likes of trinkets on a coffee table or imprisoned for our entertainment.
‘With its tusks sawn off
And a ring through a piece of flesh
Sensitive enough to read Braille.‘
I wish everyone could read ‘The Sacred Elephant‘ and learn what these magnificent, sentient creatures are capable of: an elephant in distress will weep salt tears; they mourn their dead and have been known to bury them, returning later to draw the tusks and remove them some distance away where they shatter them into pieces as if to defy man … the arrogant being whose brain is four times smaller than theirs! It is all there. Sadly, most people have no interest preferring to dismiss animals as nothing more than a food source or a form of entertainment. As Heathcote Williams puts it:
‘In the mind’s eye of a child
Should now be more accurately depicted
As a mutilated corpse.’
Sadly, ‘The Sacred Elephant‘ is no longer in publication. Ironically, it should be a compulsory read for all.
It is frustrating that the majority of humans choose only to consider the capabilities of animals when faced with undeniable evidence – such as the film of Christian rushing to greet his human friends after living wild for a year. He loved them and he remembered them … but how can that be? He was just a lion!
In July of last year, I recorded a short series on television called ‘Wild Animal Reunions‘, once more confirming that the bond between animal and human can endure the lapse of time; that animals do remember … One such film followed the reunion of Damian Aspinall and Kwibi, a gorilla raised at Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent for the first 5 years of his life before being returned to the wild in Gabon. Damian had that special bond with Kwibi but hadn’t seen him for more than five years when he got word that the gorilla was being uncharacteristically aggressive. He returned to Gabon in the hope of finding him but with obvious trepidation. He needn’t have worried and the film shows the reunion as it happens. Like that of Christian, it was a huge hit on YouTube as, once again, ‘our‘ belief in the limitations of animals was challenged. If you haven’t seen it, please google ‘Damian Aspinall and Kwibi‘ and witness it for yourself.
Another clip featured on ‘Wild Animal Reunions’ was that of Dr Jane goodall and Wounda. Jane Goodall is renowned the world over for her ground-breaking study of chimpanzees in Gombe, Tanzania and for The Jane Goodall Institute which she, subsequently, established as an organization working both for the protection of her beloved chimpanzees and towards the conservation of the natural world. Wounda was one of the lucky ones, found injured and nurtured back to health courtesy of Jane and her team, and the film clip captures her extraordinary display of ‘gratitude’ just before she is returned to the wild: free to go, she turns to Jane, puts her arms out and embraces her for several minutes. An extraordinary piece of film, once more, silencing those who feel more secure in the belief that animals are not capable of the emotional spectrum of man.
Lastly, there is Bella, the one-eyed lioness rescued by The Born Free Foundation after years of misery in a run-down zoo in Romania. After the closure of the zoo, it took two years and the removal of one of her eyes before Bella was fit to travel back to her rightful place … Africa. She was taken to Malawi and Llongwe Wildlife Centre where she will live out the rest of her days and, now, with the companionship of Simba, another lion rescued by Born Free. A huge, costly rescue operation but so worth it! As Bella emerged from her crate into the African sunshine for the first time in her life, she paused and lifted her head to stare right at Virginia McKenna, standing behind the fence. There were others witnessing this moment but Bella seemed to single out Virginia and, as though lost in time, the poignancy was tangible. That look transcended all prejudice and, instead, here was one living creature acknowledging the kindness of another …
Finally – that supercedes ‘Lastly‘ – Iet me leave you with, perhaps, one of the reasons why none of this surprises me; I have always known that we share emotions with animals. Growing up, I was surrounded by them and lucky enough to have my own pony. Teasy – or Mr Teasy Weasy – was a ‘hand-me-down’ from my sister and how I loved him. Life today is so stressful, for everyone, and I often think back to when I used to go out riding on my own, just me and Teasy; the sound of his hooves clip-clopping along the country roads with nothing but fields for miles, cars a rarity, and space and time to breathe; to feed the soul. I would talk to him as we went, all the time content that he was listening – I could tell from the way his ears pricked up! We had an unspoken bond. No mobile phones, in these days, and I didn’t wear a hat but I just knew that I was safe on the back of my four-legged friend … Halcyon days but, at 17, I went off to university and there was no one to ride Teasy, regularly, so my mother decided to sell him to a family in Bridge of Weir who were friends of my Aunt and Uncle. She didn’t tell me until the day he was to be taken to his new home and I was there when he arrived. I shall never forget it. He looked at me, as he came out of the trailer, and I felt nothing but shame. I had betrayed his trust.
A year later, I went back to see him with Pop. I remember it vividly: it was a dark, winter’s evening and we were allowed to go and see him on our own. As I walked down the field, I called him using one of his silly nicknames, as I had always done … he lifted his head and, immediately, acknowledged my voice with a familiar low whinny. He remembered me … and he forgave.
The world in which we live is a scary one and, as we continue to destroy this beautiful planet – and all those it nurtures – in the name of ‘progress‘, I cannot help but think that we have got it so wrong. Fuelled by our own arrogance, we dare to believe that we are the superior race but superior in what sense? These amazing creatures whom we strive to dominate, ironically, could teach us so much. Humility, perhaps?
‘What happens to beasts will happen to man. All things are connected. If the great beasts are gone, man would surely die of a great loneliness of spirit.’
Chief Seattle of the Nez Perce,1884.
I, for one, need no convincing.
Wise words and note to whom they are attributed … How much we could have learned from the American Indian but, instead, all we did was steal their land. I have always been drawn to the American West and have a book – yet another – by my bed, ‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee‘ by Dee Brown.
For anyone who has made it thus far – Dylan? – I have a sad addendum. There was footage on the BBC News, last night, of the Queen and Prince Phillip at Whipsnade Zoo feeding elephants bananas! They were there to open the new Elephant Care Centre costing two million pounds. I can only shake my head. Can you imagine the difference that money could have made had it been used for the protection of these animals in their natural habitat; in the wild. Have we learned nothing? Shall greed forever cloud our vision?
The pulpit beckons …
This is Trish, signing off.