Blanes is a popular seaside resort on the Costa Brava of Spain. I’m lucky enough to be staying here while I work as an English conversation assistant in the next town, Palafolls. As you can see, the town centre of Blanes is a bustling metropolis. The farmers’ market takes place every morning but is particularly busy on Saturday.
In contrast, where I live, on the outskirts of town near the Camping Grounds, winter is coming and the shops are shut. Most of the apartments are empty and the hotels are boarded up.
I should add I took these photos on a Saturday at lunchtime.
The built environment and the blustery day of Blanes in winter
There is one population though, that owns Blanes in the chilly temperatures.
To the extent that some animal lovers have created Gatolandia – a cat hotel – to feed and provide shelter to our feline friends.
Gatolandia Birthday Celebrations
The area is very quiet. I am exceedingly lucky. Here is my apartment block. I think about half the flats are inhabited.
My flat is the top right hand corner. The sea view is the bottom left hand corner.
This is the view from my little clothes-drying balcony looking back towards the sea. I think about four of these flats have people living in them at the moment. The others are locked up tight.
In the other direction, looking toward the Tordera River and Palafolls, you can see the empty caravans of the Campings and the hills of the Parc del Montnegre i el Corredor, one of the national parks of Barcelona province. This ever-changing landscape is swept by winds from the Bay of Biscay. The cloud formations can be spectacular, or absent! On the point of the closest hill is Castell de Palafolls, now a ruin, which some of the young people at my secondary college have promised to show me.
My view in the morning
My view in the evening
Even though there’s nothing very natural about these built up areas, I’m sure there’s something still untamed up in them there hills …
Our courtyard borders a revegetated bluestone quarry, Cruikshank park. It’s with some sadness I have to report the death here of a native bush rat. Given its proximity to the water we suspect it may have been poisoned. I understand most popular rat poisons dehydrate the small creatures and drive them to seek water at all costs. This beast was in the open, vulnerable to inspection by a small dog and for a nocturnal creature, awake at the wrong time.
We could tell immediately it was a bush rat by the round ears. Although the long tail does give the impression of being rattus rattus, imported from Europe, and the scourge of human habitation around the world, this animal is closer to a possum. When you look at that adorable little face …
What is amazing about the presence of the creature is that they are not normally found in urban areas and we live 7 km from the city centre. So the revegetation is working. Up to a point, of course, for whoever bought the poison to knock out the population of rats they thought were dirtying up their precious lifestyle, couldn’t have been aware they were actually being visited by someone all too rare in our city life.
Had a fun chat with Leisa at Ratsak. I uploaded the above pictures and she agreed bush rats were lovely and ate insects. So, perhaps if you live near a park or reveg site consider the rats you are about to kill, in a painful and tortuous way, might be shy, nocturnal native creatures contributing to our environment by pollinating flowers and nibbling on insects. Our bush rats are probably not to blame for scuttling in the roof, climbing vines or stealing food from your cupboards.
I COULD NOT PASS THIS UP!! A Southern Corroboree Frog! Rob!
Melbourne Arts Centre Sunday Markets Fundraising Efforts
Not sure if you can read the sign? It encourages by-passers to kiss and or hug the large stuffed frog for the chance to donate money. Who would not want to kiss this gorgeous creature?
Here are the organisers and I was remiss in that I did not find out their names. I’m very sorry for they were devoted to their task. They told me they had raised over a hundred dollars! That’s pretty good going for 50 cents a pop. The frog is somewhat bigger than the real creature but that’s okay. Look at their cheery faces!!
The Three Frog Fans!
As readers of Man of Clay will know, Chapter 14 is imbued with the corroboree frog and what a delightful little creature it is. The colours and pattern influence Connie’s party platter. But my main relationship with a corroboree frog is in Ektek. Bash, a determined pilot, is one of these fancy chaps. (See, party platter? Bash? All about the corroboree, eh!)
Tim Flannery has a new book. It’s called Atmosphere of Hope; searching for solutions to the climate crisis. I’ll have a bit more to say about this next time because I went to a Book Club where the man himself spoke and it is full of interesting hopeful ideas. However, this quote is worth noting:
‘There is one facet of the sixth extinction where climate change is not the sole culprit. Among the most dismal catastrophes to have struck the natural world in recent decades is the disappearance of many species of frogs and toads. About one third of all known 4740 species of frogs and toads are under threat, and in 2010 the International Union for the Conservation of Nature red list reported 486 species as critically endangered. Up to 122 species are likely to have become extinct since 1980. Back in 2005 the cause of this calamity was unclear. Today, courtesy of new research, we know the spread of the chitrid fungus, which attacks the skins of amphibians, was the primary cause of many, but not all, amphibian declines. In The Weather Makers, I said that the extinction of Costa Rica’s golden toad (Bufo periglenes) resulted from climate change. The latest studies support this, indicating ‘medium confidence’ (better than even chance) that climate change was the prime cause in this instance.’ pg 54
Couple of things about this quote. The uncertainty of science is a language matter. For Tim Flannery to talk about an ‘even chance’ does not mean there’s much debate about it at all. In fact, according to my research, the fact that chitrid spread so quickly is not only due to a feral species being introduced to waterways – probably a frog commonly used for human pregnancy testing – but also the conditions were nice and warm for the fungus to grow. So, we can trace frog disappearances back to humans which ever road we choose.
Of course, for the corroboree frog, it’s climate change that will get the survivors now. They are mountaineers, nestling into spagnum moss, needing snow and ice for their lifecycle to keep spinning. A few of them have gone because of ski resorts but that whole global warming thing, well, doesn’t bear thinking about it, does it.
As far as EKTEK goes, you can find it on Amazon. Thank you to the very kind readers who have supplied reviews. I am so grateful for your feedback. I’m working on the print version – the cover might have an issue so I’m waiting for a proof copy from Createspace before it’s clear for you to buy. While you wait, however, Bash has a number of adventures in his short life. Here’s an exerpt from ‘Out of Spite, Out of Mind’ you might like:
—Gidday, Bashy boy, came a deep, greasy voice from the dim low shadows of the tunnel—Long way from home, aren’t you? All alone in the dark, poor little creature… It was Spill, the diamond python. Spill was large for his size and Bash stared into his glittering eyes as though he’d been pinned to the ground. Bash wasn’t scared of many things but pythons were up there with the most scary things of all. Well up there. Pythons were never conducive to a frog’s feeling of good health, especially when that frog had recently been staring into a dark pit of despair. Suddenly Bash’s pit seemed very deep and very dark and there was absolutely no way out—Hi, Spill, didn’t see you there, in the dark… How have you been? How’s the family? Busy?
—Not as busy as you, Bash, from all accounts. I hear you’ve been very busy, Bashy boy. You’ve been up to some particularly interesting dealings, young Mr Frog, haven’t you, hmmmmm?
Bash nodded, following Spill’s every head sway, every movement, gently hypnotised into staying put while Spill slid just that little bit closer … —I admit, I did make a banner to encourage everyone to vote for the corroboree frog. We’ve got a lot of friends and I thought I could do my bit for the family but I haven’t done anything else, I swear, just the banner and I know that wasn’t right but corroboree frogs are in with a good chance, don’t you …
—What did I hear? Old growth forests, wasn’t it? Pulped? Was that you, Bashy? Pulping habitat. Ummm … That’s a naughty no-no, isn’t it. I would have thought you’d know better … Spill moved closer to the little frog who, in turn, moved back hard into the wall of the cave. So hard he could feel grit cutting into his thin frog skin. Spill was so close, Bash could feel the breath puffing out of his mouth. He turned his mouth to the side to suck clean air into his froggy lungs—Nothing to do with me, Spill. I swear …
—Swearing’s a nasty habit. Those poor little whales. I really feel for them. Gone for munchies. Makes me hungry just thinking about them. All I’d need would be one little morsel, maybe a little dorsal morsal, and I’d be satisfied …
—You were listening …
—Hey, froggie, the walls have ears around here. You should know that. Just happened to be passing. Fascinating the titbits that fall in one’s path, ain’t it.
Bash swallowed hard.
—The things you learn, continued Spill—Makes you think, don’t it. Makes me think; that’s for sure, about all sorts of things; like, you. I’ve been thinking about you, Bash, ol’Basheola, Bashy boy; do you think you deserve to live? Or would you say I deserve a snack? A little Bashy-nashy snack?
—Spill, I didn’t do it, I really didn’t do it, whatever you’ve heard, Spill, honestly, it’s all lies. Bash became louder and louder as Spill got closer and closer. Bash was shouting for his life—Really. I don’t know what’s going on. It’s complete fabrication and I can’t imagine why anyone would want to ruin me like this. I’ve never done anything to hurt anybody …
Who is to say what might have happened if, suddenly, like super heroes, Torque and Spark had not flown down the tunnel towards Bash and Spill at that very moment with Bash stuck, hard and squealing, in Spill’s hypnotising eye beam.
—Hi-ya there, Bash, all right, then? said Torque cheerfully—Evening, Spill. How’s it hanging?
—Come to see you home, Bash, said Spark—Need a lift?
Without waiting for discussion, Torque and Spark flew down to either side of the little frog and lifted an arm of black and yellow each. They flapped their flight wings as hard as they could and, before the amphibian had any idea of what was happening, got purchase and winged that little black-and-yellow corroboree frog out of there as fast as they could carry him.
Spill slid round and watched the bizarre trio fly erratically down the hallway. He sneered and had a quiet little chuckle deep down in his long scaly throat before moving quietly on his way.
Settling into the restaurant. Over by the window? Charming wait staff. Comfortable? Open the menu.
zomato but anon restaurant because why?
Something a little bigger? Something a little endangered! ‘Grilled roughy – crumbed and grilled new zealand orange roughy fish fillets w cartarni chips, dressed salad + tartare sauce’. Delicious. (What’s a cartarni chip?) Although by any other name, slimehead for instance, maybe not so marketable?
Greenpeace points out orange roughy is known by quite a few other names:
Orange roughy. ‘Orange roughy’ (Hoplostethus atlanticus) is very sensitive to overfishing and has been overfished in the past. Environment groups advise against eating it but conscientious consumers can’t do the right thing because it goes by a number of names on restaurant menus, including ‘deep sea perch’ and ‘sea perch’.
You’re comfortable. Nice table with a pleasant vista. Jolly company. We’ve seen the roughy. Now, are you going to make a fuss? At least ASK about the roughy?!!
Greenpeace are behind a new movement called ‘Label My Fish‘ which was due to report late last year. Greenpeace quotes this chef:
Gourmet Farmer, chef and former restaurant critic Matthew Evans said, “Imagine a menu that offered ‘mammal and root vegetable’, or ‘bird and green leaf’. It would be considered ridiculous. In Australia you can simply write ‘fish’ on a menu, without much of a problem.
This menu only features the one fish option. The menu hasn’t changed for a couple of years. Can it really be orange roughy? And what of others? We’ve all been to restaurants that celebrate the tuna. Could be yellow fin, could be blue fin. Why don’t we say anything about that? Is it just because it’s tasty?
You know they’re one of the last ones evs. Having written a book called Last Chance to Eat, I’ve got an interest in these matters. Just in case you’re interested in all things EKTEK, you might like to know I’m putting the three books together as one.
It will be called, of all things, EKTEK! It will be available on Amazon as an ebook and in print (730ish pages!) and it will be on Smashwords as well if you’ve got a Nook or something outlandish. The process has begun!
And now back to our menu. This restaurant smells fantastic. You are really hungry. So what are you doing? Did you point these delicacies out to your dining companions? Are you shifting uncomfortably in your seat?
Greenpeace asked me to do the following to help. Maybe I can encourage you peeps to do the same? And next time we go to that restaurant, maybe we might just ask about the roughy.
Thanks for sending a message to the Federal Government urging a reform to Australia’s seafood labelling laws.
The more people that email the Federal Government today, the more likely we are to make a real difference. Can you help once more by bringing your friends and loved ones on board? Here’s how:
FORWARD the text below the dotted line to your friends by email
SHARE this link on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/1sGlBg1
TWEET this: http://bit.ly/1QAjxDN
Ask your local seafood retailer to support clearer seafood labelling: http://bit.ly/1rtR7bP
Thanks for being part of this.
From everyone at Greenpeace Australia Pacific
Tell the Australian Government: I want to know what seafood I am eating – and demand accurate labelling.
Australian seafood labelling laws are weak. They do not provide adequate information that tells consumers exactly what seafood they are purchasing.
We are calling on the Federal Government to develop new laws which require labelling of: what fish it is, where it was caught and how it was caught or farmed. Improved labelling laws will help consumers make informed choices about what seafood they eat and support sustainably caught fish from Australian fishers.
Winning awards and getting into the front window of Readings means Success in Australia and, given the Animals in the title, a must read for me. I’ve been meaning to blog about this book for a while but I couldn’t because Anson Cameron‘s book was trapped in a cardboard box in storage. Stay with me, I mean well. Now freed, shelved and at home in the new house, Pepsi Bearsis also an award-winning collection of short stories, which I need to consider while thinking about Only the Animals.
Only the Animals is a beautifully presented book. The cover is sparse grey with a grim domestic picture of radiated cats glowing green and streaming about a human couple made of some kind of modelling clay in a horrid kitchen. The slim line of the pale title font continues into the front pages and arrives at two illuminating quotes, one of which is: “On one side there is luminosity, trust, faith, the beauty of the earth; on the other side, darkness, doubt, unbelief, the cruelty of the earth, the capacity of people to do evil. When I write, the first side is true; when I do not the second is.” Czeslaw Milosz, Road-side Dog. Portentous, no?
So, once in the door, forewarned, we see the collection is ironed, folded and separated out into time and place and souls of different animals.
There’s a lovely picture at the head of each story, based on seeing the animal of the moment in the stars. The first story is for a camel from 1892 and Henry Lawson and the camel tells ‘a good story about death in the wastelands’. The next, a story about a cat, opens with constellation and quotation, like a dramatic chord in preparation, decorating the mantle and introducing us to Collette, who apparently owned the cat of the story. Most of the stories have one or two such defining moments from the pens of others on the headstone and as we delve further into the stories we realise the quotes are a key. We’re hearing echoes of other writers through the sculptured stories. Collette stains the voice of her cat (mimicry? catticry?) and style of whimsy. Back to the first story, and yup, there’s the soul of Henry Lawson knocking on the table. Only the Animals is in fact a séance of dead writers – not only the animals!
The unseen energy drives the empty glass fast across the ages, chimpanzee followed by dog, followed by mussel, swerves relentlessly through bear and dolphin to end in parrot in 2006. “If nothing else, you could at least say she’d been perspicacious.” Certainly clever, witty and erudite, Dovey’s stories are wonderful creations. I read on, filled with admiration for the architecture, the structure of the tales, the clean organisation and the orderly manner these blocks of civilisation arise into an elegant edifice.
I had a similar experience when visiting the Victorian National Gallery to see one of the Top Arts exhibitions. As I wandered, seeing colourful sculptures and dramatic paintings, I turned a corner to face an extraordinary pencil drawing, larger than life, of some young person’s grandfather, done over the course of a year, in such incredible detail that one’s mind convulses with the effort, the concentration and devotion it must have taken to create that piece in the final year of school. And so I gazed at the Souls, glimpsing the homage and the heritage inherent, particularly evident in mussel’s soul of the beat poets (thinking well, I just don’t know enough, maybe there’s more fossils of interest embedded in the strata) and I yet I yearned for more, I longed to be, well, pushed, surprised, angered …
None of these cut-glass images etched by stars managed to lodge in my heart (they’re called souls not hearts after all) and I kept recalling a story called ‘A zebra in no-man’s land’, which could well have a place in this cosmology, from Pepsi Bears, the recently-shelved-in-my-new-house, award-winning collection of stories about animals. (Okay, shortlisted in the 2011 APA Book Design Awards – obviously another good-looking book!) But, you know, these stories have heart.
I don’t think Anson Cameron evoked so many writers or floated souls into his designs but he is certainly another witty human being who enjoys an earthiness alien to Ceridwen. There are stories in Pepsi Bears about shit and vengeance and a zebra accounting for a ceasefire in the First World War. Anson’s opening chord is: “In which the nature of mankind is cruelly illuminated by various beasts”.
I’m all for stories about animals – for animals that can read – although personally I find them an acquired taste. If you do not fancy reading either of these tomes, try one for yourself. Perhaps you too might find ‘luminosity, trust, faith, the beauty of the earth’. I encourage you to head to your favourite writing method, seek your muse and imagine what life might be like for another species. But take it easy, lest the construction of the cage stills the beating heart within.
How can you have a relationship with nature when you are part of nature? Is it like having a relationship with your relations? You’re part of your family and you relate to all the other parts? Or you have a relationship with your knee? It’s part of you?
When you watch the film The Cove, you see the fisher-folk protecting their (profitable) livelihood of capturing and/or slaughtering dolphins and porpoises. And these guys, all with their own families and knees, bark at the observers and activists like guard dogs. They snarl and growl and a chap nicknamed Private Space taunts the camera operator and the guilty dolphin trainer, Ric O’Barry (who stole the original Flippers from their mothers), trying to make those bleeding-heart liberals strike him. Only, it’s his taunting that’s recorded in The Cove, we never see him struck. (Of course, that does not mean it did not happen.)
So how are all us keen film-goers related to these beastly fisher-folk? As we chow down on our steak sandwiches and our lamb chops (the lamb ads repeated in every ad break on SBS-on-demand). You’ve heard of it, I take it? The Cove? This film that sneaks undercover to film the unwatchable? It’s about a town in Japan called Taijii that thrives on its proximity to the annual migration of dolphins. The film is made by Louie Psihoyos, the same director/photographer who made Racing Extinction (coming soon to a screen near you).
The Cove is the big undercover, under-rocks, under the law, covert filming adventure. Dolphins are traded to become performers (Traditional? Boats with engines? Seaworld?) and the rest are killed for meat which no-one likes very much anyway. Which also just happens to have a very high mercury content. So high that bargin-hungry schools are now refusing to feed the tainted meat to children at lunchtime.
Ric O’Barry with dolphin meat. savejapandolphins.org
The blood in the water and it still continues and it does not seem the world cares very much. Or at least, it seems our human relatives are more concerned with matters closer to home, like their relationships with their own mortgages, careers and genitalia. The USA enthralled by their relationship with their guns and their own personal arms race. Their President sadly expecting to offer condolences to the next grieving families because the beastly Congress has ‘politicised’ (as if it hadn’t already) the industry of arms manufacture and dealing. If we can’t deal with the millions of displaced persons, thousands of gun deaths and desperate refugees left to rot forever in concentration camps because they fled persecution in their own countries how can we deal with a mere 23,000 dolphins and porpoises killed annually in Taijii?
Can’t last, can it. If the dolphins don’t work out that this is a place to be avoided every year and change their own migratory path, they’ll just get wiped out, won’t they? So if we did want to have a relationship with any of them, we couldn’t. They’ll be gone. Is that what we wait for? Problem gone.
As for Blackfish, well, Free Willy it ain’t. There are a few similarities of course. Again, you’d think as a result of watching a story about a particular infamous orca called Tilikum the more vociferous of peeps with those caring activist relationships to nature would have strong-armed Seaworld into giving the kid a break. Recently, there has been movement in preventing Seaworld from breeding orcas, which I suppose means they’ll just go out and catch more from the wild. OH&S say humans can no longer risk their lives going into the same ponds as the potential killers (ie crazed, imprisoned orcas). But Tilikum is still on show. So again, we protect humans and their investments while some of us pathetically dream of lovely sanctuaries for sea creatures driven nuts by solitary confinement in a bath.
Sometimes flashbacks to books I’ve read about slavery – and I didn’t pay much attention at the time – those relationships, those attitudes – those poor dumb brutes – they were people, sentient beings – bought and sold for market, just like orcas, dolphins and racehorses. And cows, of course.
How dare economists say the market will save the environment? How can it, possibly? All the market can save is itself. Some rich bastards, their bank accounts and their property. If the property happens to be alive, so be it. If it be better dead, so be it. If it be in pain, then, so be it. That’s our favourite relationship. Not to nature. Does the fish know it swims in water? No. Our favourite and most assumed relationship is to a fiction. To money. It doesn’t even exist. Can’t eat it. Can’t sleep under it. Can’t even shoot it. But it will buy you a performing dolphin. Or an orca.
George spoke about his film, SnowMonkey, and his work with The Yellow House, Jalalabad. He believes that documentaries are applied art, not fine art. He spoke of his horror of war and the never-ending personal effects of witnessing the Rwandan massacre in the 90s. His biography is fascinating and I remember hearing about the Sydney Yellow House in the 70s, and I saw it when they rebuilt it at the Gallery of NSW in the 90s.
Louie, the director of The Cove and Racing Extinction and the Executive Director of The Oceanic Preservation Society, began by reminding us we are either activists or non-activists. He makes films that are weapons of mass construction. He says he’s not making a movie, he’s making a movement. (According to Paul Hawken, he’s one of many but that’s quibbling!) At the screening of Racing Extinction, Louie spoke of wanting to increase the circle of compassion and recommended Saving Species.
Racing Extinction will play to over a billion people on December 2nd 2015 via the Discovery Channel just prior to the
in the hope people will contact their politicians and make a difference.
Racing Extinction has been on my radar for months. From my jaded perspective of reading and writing about endangered species for over twenty years (Polyglot Puppet’s Not the end of the world premiered in 1995) I have to admit to slight disappointment in the film itself, mainly because of its lack of focus. The three acts could easily have been three films; the first an eco-thriller about undercover photographers in clandestine operations to expose illegal marketing of threatened species. Secondly, the story of an Indonesian fishing village encouraged to transform into a shark whale tourist destination and, finally, the brilliant story of passionate photographers projecting ghostly images of endangered (or extinct) animals across the landscape of New York.
Whatever, Racing Extinction is a wonderful film and I urge everyone to see it. It reminded me of another ambitious film, The Age of Stupid, which I also encourage you to see, despite its title. Both films, intensely entertaining and engaging, suffer from the makers trying to do too much. However, because I am aware of the issues (I am the choir) I may not be able to judge effectiveness in changing audience’s hearts and minds.
Tyke, Elephant Outlaw is a smaller film with one clear viewpoint and one leading character. One of the co-directors, Susan Lambert, spoke in the forum about the need to engage the audience’s hearts. Sometimes the film brings tears, sometimes it makes you laugh but if the makers can’t engage the audience, she suggested trying something else!
Tyke, Elephant Outlaw certainly engages, perhaps even too strongly. Perhaps we might have been spared some of the analysis, perhaps some of the more graphic footage might have been trimmed, but as Lambert describes their aim, the film wants to explore mankind’s relationship to other species through the story of one creature and they clearly succeed. The story of Tyke is grim viewing, a Blackfish for land animals. But that is our relationship to elephants, to other species, and the film makes it clear that that relationship is changing. Has to change.
For George Gittoes, man’s inhumanity to man is at the heart of the battle but I believe all these great artists, Gittoes, Psihoyos, Lambert and Batsias are fighting the same war, trying to raise awareness of man’s essential destructive abandon. I think George can reassure his daughter he is working with Louie.
On mass, humans don’t know, don’t care and we are, beyond a doubt, destroying our only home and endangering the human race. The rock that is the Earth will survive us, of course, but there is no doubt, we are in a war, a war with ourselves as the enemy. Our ignorance and blindness to the effects of our actions on our neighbours is now, with over seven billion people on the Earth, completely catastrophic.
Will we wake up in time? Can the forces of captialism, corporate greed and elitism be splintered into individual beating hearts by the use of art?
Subtitled What Animals can Teach us about the Origins of Good and Evil,Beasts explores what humans have in common with animals, myths about the relationship between humans and animals and starts to suggest what might be a way forward.
The passage about bullfighting that Jenny alludes to describes the way the beasts are prepared for the ‘fight’.
‘To create the show of a fight, the bull is wounded and disabled before entering the ring, and is given large amounts of salt to make sure he drinks to the point of being bloated and will move slowly. On the day of the “fight”, Vaseline is rubbed into his eyes so he cannot see clearly, and newspaper is stuffed into his ears so he cannot hear properly. Horns are shaved to make them less dangerous and to throw the bull off balance. The muscles in his neck are cut so that he cannot raise his head in a normal fashion, wich would allow him to see his adversary. His kidneys and testicles are beaten. He is given laxatives, tranquilizers and drugs to induce paralysis, and other drugs to disorientate him. He is kept in a tiny cell for at least twenty-four hours, dazed and confused, without food or water (except sulphates, which give him severe diarrhea).’ pg 71
As readers of the previous blog may note, the book that inspired that post, Death in the Sun by Edward Lewine, corrects our notion of the bullfight. Clearly the bull has no chance. It’s not a fight in Spanish eyes. In that book, Lewine denigrates horn shaving, as casting aspersions on the skills of the toredor, and I wonder if this sort of bull tampering is done in less salubrious places where the condition of the bull is not so closely examined as it was in the corridas of the famous bullfighter, Francisco Rivera Ordonez, featured in the book. There’s nothing in the Appendices or notes of Beasts to say from where this information was gathered so I’m assuming it’s not commonplace – I may be wrong.
Doesn’t matter, really, does it? The bull suffers. Lots of animals (billions … ?) suffer at the hands of humans. But that’s a taste of Beasts, provoking and sometimes untrackable. Luckily, there is plenty of thoughtful, attributed information to consider.
The preface kicks off with a quote from Stephen Hawking, ‘We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.’
Masson returns again and again to the self-destructive violent behaviour of humans. Why are humans so keen to find ‘the other’ in our own species and kill it? He points out that although there might be evidence of other species (chimpanzees, elephants, wolves… ) attacking one another, those examples are generally proven to be in the context of human-induced stresses (capture, torture, loss of habitat, interference in food resources, pollution etc etc) Even Jane Goodall admits that fighting and battles she witnessed amongst chimps may have started when her staff set up a banana feeding station. (pg 60)
So why did humans start their own violence against each other? Perhaps because they interfered with their own lives when they stopped being nomadic and started agriculture? In the notes (pg 188) Jeffery Moussaieff Masson says,
‘My friend Sherry Colb reminds me that Plato predicted this in The Republic, where Socrates responds to Glaucon’s insistence that the ruling class must eat animals. Then, said Socrates, there would have to be armies, to guard the large amount of land needed for livestock, and the lawyers for disputes surrounding land boundaries, and the doctors to handle the sickness that comes from eating that way!’
Good old Plato! And so it seems that what we gained when we stopped being hunter-gatherers was violence, disease and suffering. Not only for humans, but also all the other species. GREAT!!
Jeffery’s Appendices are informative. Human traits unique to us include: animal sacrifices, blood feuds, unbridled greed, mass murder, suicide and threatening the survival of all life on earth. (pg 163) Traits humans have in common with animals (pg 169) include: sexual infidelity, compassion, dignity, gentleness, protectiveness of young, yearning for freedom.
Many times throughout the book Masson states that predators do not choose to hate, hunt or hurt humans (unless as previously stated, stressed/maddened by us). But what do humans do to animals? (pg 174)
We raise them for food.
We experiment on them.
We use their fur and skin.
We take their eggs.
We take their children.
We use their milk.
We hunt them.
We lock them into cages.
Let’s add, we use them for entertainment. The chapter on ‘Hatred’ begins with this quote: ‘I couldn’t possibly write Jaws today. The notion of demonizing a fish strikes me as insane.’ Peter Benchley.
How many other animals? Cows? Pigs? Sheep? Is any of this killing necessary? Jeffery says,
‘My position is that we no longer need to kill animals at all, whether for food or for any other reason. Today we can recognise that whether we kill with reverence or with indifference, the result to the animal is the same. In the past we would justify this killing as necessary for our survival. No longer.’ pg 101
So in conclusion, I think Jeffery Moussaieff Masson in Beasts is telling us that animals are not moral creatures. They do what has to be done, mostly avoiding human contact when they can, not seeing good or bad in killing for food or protecting territory. Humans, it seems, have come up with evil all by ourselves.
According to wikipedia, Doctor Dolittle first appeared in letters written by Hugh Lofting from the trenches of WW1, ‘when actual news, he later said, was either too horrible or too dull.’ Of course, Doctor Dolittle could communicate with the animals, a fact made even more famous in song (either Rex Harrison 1967 or Eddie Murphy 1998 plus sequels). Or Sammy.
I came across this next video and have to ask you, how it is that this woman could possibly have the gift of being able to communicate, in pictures and images, with other species? (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvwHHMEDdT0) One of my neighbours has a friend who chats with animals. I have to say I did look askance, and some of the comments on the following vid are a bit askance, but you have to ask, why not?
Amazing story nonetheless.
Here’s ‘Like Animals‘ (https://vimeo.com/43919210) wherein Dolittle asks the court, ‘Why do we treat animals like animals?’
Up to you to decide.
As Doctor Dolittle says, ‘But man is an animal too.’