Bittersweet in Borneo

 

Babysit­ter Sri playing surro­gate Mom.

 

I recently had the most delight­ful and heart­break­ing experi­ence in Borneo .  For one week I photographed the rescued orang­utans who live at the Inter­na­tional Animal Rescue’s center there.  Of the 48 orang­utans housed there most of them are babies, quite possi­bly the cutest babies of any species, anywhere in the world.  Their incred­i­ble and irresistible appear­ance is sadly one of the elements that contributes to their suffer­ing.  Every­one seems to want one as a pet because they are so damn cute .  I can vouch for the fact that seeing these babies stirs an invol­un­tary urge to cuddle and kiss them.  But I refrained and tried to keep a distance as I photographed them.  The truth is that they are wild animals who belong in the jungle with their mothers.  Sadly, all of these babies most likely watched their mothers being murdered by humans.

 

Pedro

 

 

 

Lady

 

 

 

Noel

 

 

 

Cemong

 

 

 

Cindy

 

 

The most common story that is heard from people who hand over these illegal babies is that they were found alone in a village or on a palm oil planta­tion.  This is not the reality.  I know from seeing wild and rehabil­i­tated orang­utans living within national parks that mothers would never allow their babies to wander off.  I have seen dozens of wild mother orang­utans and none ever let their babies venture out of arms reach.  There­fore, to acquire posses­sion of a baby orang­utan the mother must be killed.

The biggest threat to the orang­utans in Borneo is the devas­tat­ing defor­esta­tion and destruc­tion of habitat that is sweep­ing through the island, mostly due to palm oil planta­tions.  As the rainfor­est is removed to make room for the massive palm oil produc­tion the orang­utans are left with no home and nowhere to go.  Workers kill the adult orang­utans found on the planta­tions and keep the babies in hope of selling them as pets.

 

 

Karmila

 

 

 

Gunung

 

 

 

Desi

 

 

 

Ujang and Sigit

 

 

 

Monty

 

 

When the new babies arrive they are almost always terri­fied of humans.  We are not their family.  In fact, it is at our hands that their families were brutally killed and their homes destroyed.

The saddest part for me was witness­ing how many of the babies were initially scared of me.  Most would hide their faces from me and some would show signs of aggres­sion, raising their arms and throw­ing things at me.  Their fear of me was a heart-breaking reminder of what these poor babies must have gone through to end up here.  The trauma that they have experi­enced so early in life has scarred them, but these orang­utans living at IAR they are the lucky ones.  They have survived and they are being cared for by kind, loving people. They will not spend their lives tied up or in a cage in someone’s backyard.

In my attempt to spread aware­ness through my photog­ra­phy I find myself feeling uneasy.  I confess that spend­ing time around these sweet babies and photograph­ing them was a guilty pleasure.  I loved being around them and watch­ing every cute move that they made but not without the feeling of dread and guilt that comes with knowing that this is not where they belong.  I feel privi­leged to have had the oppor­tu­nity to spend time in their presence but not under these circum­stances.  Even now, as I write this blog and look through my collec­tion of sweet photos I strug­gle with a deep rooted sadness.  Wild animals are not ours to have as pets, to steal their habitat, nor to kill.

 

Our world is an unfair and imper­fect one.  It’s organi­za­tions like Inter­na­tional Animal Rescue that are fight­ing to make it better.  I can only hope that my photog­ra­phy will help in that fight rather than contribute to the urge that we humans seem to have to call every­thing our own.

Please go to Inter­na­tional Animal Rescue’s website to learn more about the plight of orang­utans and IAR’s incred­i­bly hard work to help animals around the world.

 

Huta

 

 

 

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Heroes in Hogtown

 

A wise friend recently said, “it doesn’t matter to me what people protest or which cause they fight for, when I see people out on the street speak­ing up I applaude them”.

It is these types of heroes who are driven to speak out and stand up who actively make our world a better place, whether it be for workers rights, gay rights, or those trying to save the rainforest.  Our world is far from perfect and those that exercise their freedom of speech are coura­geous and essential.

Fight­ing for human rights should come somewhat easily to many of us since we are human and we want a better life for ourselves and our families. Unique are those that work so hard for others that are the most differ­ent from themselves. I find these selfless individ­u­als that are driven to create a better world for other genders, other nation­al­i­ties and other species extra special. To stand up and fight for animals when there will be no personal gain, only fight­ing for what is fair and what is right creates heroes to a remark­able degree.

In Toronto there is a group of people that push the limits of compas­sion.  “Toronto Pig Save” was started by one woman who lives near a slaugh­ter house called, “Quality Meat Packers” where 7000 pigs are slaugh­tered every day. Overwhelmed by the number of helpless pigs that pass through her neigh­bour­hood each day to their deaths, Anita Krajnc feels that she must speak up for these innocent animals. She began holding regular vigils on the street where the trucks pass on their way to slaugh­ter. She strives to bear witness, to pay respect to the thousands of innocent animals who loose their lives every­day near her house. Anita’s crusade to bear witness certainly does not make her one of the 99%. In a city that bears the nickname, “Hogtown” and where most people think of pigs as a strip of bacon on their plate, she is not in the major­ity. However, she is not the only one’s heart which quietly brakes at the sight, smell, and sounds of the pigs passing by each day. Within a year over 500 people have joined Toronto Pig Save. Some of them are not yet vegetar­ian but know that what is happen­ing to these animals is not fair and that things need to change.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I admit that it may be much to expect. To ask that we find it in our hearts to stop killing and eating animals when the major­ity of us do. There is much opposi­tion and resis­tance on the road ahead but each great movement must start from somewhere and those at Toronto Pig Save certainly have a dream. To me they are all heroes.

It is simple to stay at home where it is safe and warm hoping for our world to get better, but without bold vision­ar­ies that push for justice nothing ever has nor will progess. I don’t believe that Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi were thrilled to spend each day and night strate­giz­ing for a better world but there was a need to. For those that I have heard yelling “get a job” out of car windows passing by Toronto Pig Save vigils I respond by saying, the time and passion that these tireless activists put in is so much more impor­tant than the typical 9 to 5.

 

 

 

 

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Seeing Past the Romance: The Pushkar Camel Fair


 

In Novem­ber of last year I visited the incred­i­bly roman­tic Pushkar Camel Fair for my second time.  This yearly event is proba­bly the most fasci­nat­ing way to experi­ence authen­tic and tradi­tional Rajesthan culture.  Each year thousands of villagers come together in this other­wise mellow Indian town.  Along with them comes a sea of camels and other “livestock” to be bought and sold.

For one week the town comes alive with bursts of colour, vibrant folk music, dancing, magic shows, acrobats, hot-air balloon rides, endless shopping and spicy local cuisine.  The fair is a hub of the local culture with the main attrac­tion being the camels, who are native to this arid desert environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Each year this tradi­tional fair grows as a tourist attrac­tion bring­ing with it bus loads of tourists from around the globe anxious to experi­ence this sensory overload.  For thousands of tourists the Pushkar Fair is a once in a lifetime, unfor­get­table adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As someone who loves to travel and experi­ence the lives and tradi­tions of others, I can under­stand the draw to the Pushkar Camel Fair.  It is a truly extra­or­di­nary and enlight­en­ing experi­ence for the visitors but for animals, it’s hell.  The condi­tion of almost every one of these gracious camels is horri­ble but even more troubling is the endless stream of jolly tourists seemingly unaware of the suffer­ing around them.  I was stunned at the hordes of people not even notic­ing the condi­tions the animals.  All of whom were anxiously await­ing their turn to hand over their money, get their camel ride and finan­cially support this abuse.

Is it possi­ble that so many people do not notice the condi­tion of almost every camel at the fair? Or are these tourists choos­ing to turn a blind eye to blatant animal cruelty and neglect? Maybe the masses of camel riding tourists feel that they are mere visitors in a strange land and that it is not appro­pri­ate to inter­fere.  Well we already are inter­fer­ing.  It is a result of the high volume of foreign tourists that flock to the Pushkar Fair and pay for these camels rides that there is so much demand and in turn supply of suffer­ing camels.

I am sure that at home these crowds would not toler­ate such abuse and neglect.  But here, on a once in a lifetime trip we choose to finan­cially praise the owners of these animals by taking camel rides which will only make matters worse for the animals.

No matter where in the world we may find ourselves we have every right to stand up for animals that are suffer­ing at the hands of humans, we especially should not be paying for it.  I ask those with plans of travel in their future to refuse to contribute to the exploita­tion of animals in the name of tourism.  Each of us have the power to prevent these practices from flour­ish­ing rather than encour­ag­ing them. Please don’t think that I want to extin­guish the magic of the Pushkar Camel Fair and harm the liveli­hoods of the local people, I don’t.  I merely want them to learn that tourists will not pay for abuse and neglect and that they must find kinder ways of profit­ing from tourism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please pass this blog onto anyone that may be planning a trip to India, or anywhere else for that matter.  Also please share this blog with those that work in the travel indus­try and help spread the word that support­ing animal abuse for tourism is not accept­able.  As travellers we need to open our conscious­ness and stop finan­cially support­ing abuse, in every corner of the world.

 

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A Compassionate 2012

 

2012 is here and along with it came many resolu­tions.  The resolu­tions this year seem to have some common themes.  It appears that 2011 has encour­aged us to act.  2011 was a busy year with people making waves and making changes all over the world.   From the protests in the middle east to the occupy movement, to a list of new animal protec­tion legis­la­ture in the west, it was an action packed year.  Is it possi­ble that the event­ful year behind us has inspired us to be better, to love more, hate less, and to stand up for our rights as well as the rights of others?  The resolu­tions that I have overheard others (and myself) making for the coming year are less about making money and acquir­ing more stuff and are more about being better people.  Being a better husband, volun­teer­ing, compost­ing, consum­ing less, being less judge­men­tal and being kinder are all examples of resolu­tions that are popular for this year.  Just in the nick of time!  If the Mayans are correct, this year’s resolu­tions will be our last, so we had better make them good!  I can’t think of a more fitting time to start caring for one another and our planet.

The Mayan prophe­cies predict that something big is going to happen and if not the end of the world then a trans­for­ma­tion into a new age.  While the world coming to an end can be a little dark and gloomy, I think that the sound of a trans­for­ma­tion into a new age is thrilling.  Its time to jump on board.  Let’s stop allow­ing our tradi­tions and old habits from holding us back and let’s create a new, more compas­sion­ate world in 2012. We must work to heal each other, the planet, and animals.  It is time to make things right in the most caring and conscious way that we can.

 

We might as well start with breakfast!

 

When I was younger I regularly went out for Sunday break­fast with friends.  Especially, after a night out it was so much fun to review the crazi­ness that had taken place the night before.  These famous break­fasts were always full of hearty laughs, cups of coffee and eggs.  I will forever miss these moments but never again the eggs.

Of the foods that I don’t eat these days I find eggs the most offen­sive. There once was a time that I loved eggs.  I think mostly because I associ­ated them with these good ol’ days. This trans­for­ma­tion didn’t happen overnight.  As I began to learn of the horri­ble lives that chick­ens endure to produce my eggs I found myself craving them less and less.  Eventu­ally, my tastes and habits changed and adjusted, like they all can after time.  Of all of the animals that suffer for our food, egg-laying hens may suffer the most.  Their lives are long and drawn out. They are kept impris­oned until their bodies and minds are so defeated that their egg produc­tion drops and finally then they are slaughtered.

 

 

These photos were taken inside of a small-scale egg farm.  These hens are typical examples of the billions that live under the same condi­tions around the world every single day to produce eggs for our consump­tion.  They spend every minute of their lives within these small spaces, never able to feel the ground beneath their feet nor spread their wings. Although the living condi­tions of these hens is one full of only abuse and distress these hens may actually live in better condi­tions than many. They have access to sunlight and have not have their beaks trimmed which is standard in chicken farming practices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I still love to get together with good friends over a chatty Sunday brunch.  A few things have changed however.  The nights before don’t seem to go as late as they once did.  I guess those are the sad facts of getting older.  Also, the food on my plate no longer contributes to cruelty.  I admit that it can be a hassel sometimes to find a dish without eggs, especially at brunch.  I regularly find myself wishing that more chefs would use more creative alter­na­tives.  Luckily there is a shift happen­ing all around us.  More and more people are resolv­ing to live in a more compas­sion­ate way and stand up against the injus­tices that others are forced to endure.  2012 is the year to follow through with our resolu­tions.  Let’s follow our dreams, be kind to our neigh­bors, be gentle on the planet and let’s live as compas­sion­ately as we can.

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To Love and Hate India in 5 Minutes

 

 

In India there is always a friend nearby, someone to pass the time with.  Its the animals that fill the streets in India that cause me to never get lonely in this country.  As I walk through the streets my eyes are always alert for animals to play with, give food to or just to admire from a far.

Recently I was strolling through a popular market in Delhi.  I spotted a limping dog making her way through the vendors.  I could see that she wasn’t putting weight on a back leg.  I instinc­tively kept my eye on her as I walked towards her.  Just as I was about to start making my typical cooey-kissey-doggy noises and hold out my hand to see if she would accept a stroke on the head, a man selling bread kicked her in the side.

She squawked and ran off.  I knew that the kick wasn’t hard enough to hurt her seriously but it sure scared her.  It was enough to set me off.  I lost my temper.  Within seconds he had a crazed white woman shout­ing insults at him in a jumbled mix of English and Hindi.  After a few minutes of being publi­cally embar­rassed by my high volume rant question­ing his charac­ter in front of his customers and neigh­bours, he quietly mumbled “sorry madam”, I shouted back “don’t apolo­gize to me! Apolo­gize to the poor hungry street dog you just kicked for no reason”.

With nothing else left to say I turned and left.  I couldn’t shake my anger.  My heart thumped in my chest as I marched through the market mumbling and cursing to myself.  Gritting my teeth I cursed this man, this country and the entire world for being such assholes to animals.

Soon enough my eye again caught sight of some more dogs in the distance.  There appeared to be a small pack of about 6 or 7 happily jumping about with their tails wildly wagging.  I kept my eye on them as I wandered over to take a closer look.  I saw a guy stand­ing near them and feared that I was about to witness something ugly again.  But this time instead of a man selling bread and kicking dogs, it was a man who had a big bag of bread that he was distrib­ut­ing to the dogs that were clearly his good friends.  He was happy to have them jump up on his legs and was gently scold­ing them for fight­ing with each other over the bread.  My heart floated back up from the dark depths into which it had sunk.  With a big smile on my face and a slight tear in my eye I approached the man.  If the bread vendor in the market deserved my temper then this one certainly deserved my praise.

It took him a minute to under­stand what exactly I was trying to say.  I told him the story of the man that I just saw kick the dog and how horri­ble it made me feel, and now just 5 minutes later how thank­ful he had made me for his kindness and compas­sion for these dogs.  I could be wrong but I think that I saw a slight tear is his eye too.  We spent a few more special moments together as friends, giving the dogs the rest the bread. We thanked each other, shook hands and I walked away.  Again I had a pep in my step.   Loving life, loving India, her animals and her people.  I contin­ued on.

 

 

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For Love Not Money

 

The Pushkar Camel fair is a yearly event that brings thousands of camels, horses, and cattle to be traded in the dusty fairgrounds outside of the picturesque and other­wise tranquil lakeside town.  For one week Pushkar is absolutely swarm­ing with nearly 100,000 animals for sale, enter­tain­ers, vendors, crowds of tourists, and tribal people from all over Rajasthan.  From sunrise to long after sunset the town is thump­ing with activ­ity.  The sounds, smells, sights and crowds are overwhelm­ing and typical India at its most extreme.  Animal abuse neglect and cruelty is unavoid­able.  However the hordes of tourists (western and Indian) taking camel rides seem to be ok with it.  I will save that story for another time.  This one has a happy ending and is about one beauti­ful horse that I found at the fair named Patrick.

At the begin­ning of this month I spent a few days at the Camel Fair volun­teer­ing with Help In Suffer­ing who had set up an emergency clinic for camels needing treat­ment at the fair.  It was early morning and I was making my way through the campgrounds towards the HIS clinic.  The traders and their families were waking up and making morning chai over fire outside of their tents.  As usual my eyes were on patrol for animals in need of medical treat­ment.  I noticed a white horse in the distance cease­lessly swaying from side to side.  His movement was definitely abnor­mal and reminded me of the stereo­typ­i­cal behav­ior of a caged animal driven mad by his imprisonment.

With each step closer the sever­ity of the horse’s condi­tion became clearer.  His swaying was relent­less, his bones were protrud­ing, and he had a mass on his penis that looked to me to be a tumor.  He was stand­ing in such an awkward way I feared that he had deep-rooted psycho­log­i­cal problems or maybe he was just too weak to stand properly.

As I got close enough to touch him it was plain to see that he was terri­fied of people and had obviously endured a lifetime of abuse and neglect.  I immedi­ately asked his “owners” who were very poor and unedu­cated villagers to bring him over to the clinic for free treat­ment.  They refused.  They said that he was too danger­ous to handle and repeat­edly smacked him in face the to prove their point.  I pleaded with them to stop hitting him and get him some help.  They laughed at my poor attempt to commu­ni­cate with them in Hindi, and insisted that he was a very aggres­sive animal and hitting him was the only answer.  My blood was boiling.  I walked away to get some help.  But before I left I looked into the sad, and defeated eyes of this beauti­ful boy and promised him that I would be back and somehow get him out of this situation.

 

 

The Brook Hospi­tal for Animals who special­izes in equine care also had an emergency clinic set up beside the HIS clinic to treat horses.  With a veteri­nar­ian from Brook, 2 volun­teer veteri­nar­i­ans visit­ing from the UK, and a team of trans­la­tors, we went back to see the horse.

The tribal family was surprised to see me back so soon and with my posse.  The vets got right to examin­ing the horse.  His condi­tion was definitely serious, and he was immedi­ately given some vitamins and pain relief.  Again the doctor from Brook asked the family to walk the horse the 200 meters over to the clinic for more treat­ment but they refused.  Every­one took a turn explain­ing that the condi­tion of the horse was serious and his life was at stake but his owners didn’t care.

I needed to figure out a way to save this horse.  Since I don’t live perma­nently in India nor have property here, there was no way that I could person­ally take the horse.  I had to find someone else to take him.  I decided to call a nearby shelter Tree of Life for Animals (TOLFA).  I knew that the founder of TOLFA was temporar­ily in England and that she had someone manag­ing the shelter in her absence.  I had never met this woman before so I figured that calling her out of the blue and asking her to adopt a stallion was a long shot but I had to try.  When I finally got Jemma on the phone I quickly explained the entire situa­tion without letting her get a word in.  As I reached the end of my story and plea for help I took a deep breath and waited for her to speak.  I was ready to start think­ing of a plan B when her reply brought tears to my eyes and goose bumps to my arms!  Jemma’s words were “we absolutely need to save this horse, without question we will bring him to TOLFA and figure out the details later.”

My faith in human­ity was restored.

It was time for me to make another visit to the white horse and his soon to be previ­ous owners.  This time I meant business.  I knew that they would never surren­der the horse without profit­ing from him, so I had to buy him.  I didn’t exactly want to give my money to those people but getting him away from them was the only thing that mattered.  I did manage to barter them down to a fraction of the price that they first asked.  5 hours after I first laid eyes on the swaying horse, I bought him for $50 and calmly walked with him away from his tortur­ous past.

 

Once back at the HIS/Brook clinic he was flooded with atten­tion and care.  He was immedi­ately given all of the food and water that he could handle, Brook gave him on-site medical treat­ment, Jemma and I gave him his new name, Patrick.

It took mere minutes for to him to shed the scared and tense posture that he had for so long.  As his belly filled up he stopped swaying and he welcomed affec­tion.  Patrick never once tried to bite any of us.  He had clearly been starved and abused for most of his previ­ous life.  He will never know these things again.  From now on Patrick’s life will revolve around love, food, and kindness.

HIS loaned us their camel ambulance and driver to trans­port the beauti­ful white stallion to the TOLFA shelter 20kms away.

It was such an amazing rescue.  It’s not very often in India that so many wonder­ful organi­za­tions get to come together to save the life of one animal.  I am so thank­ful to the folks at Animal Aid for teach­ing me that every life is worth saving, Brook for provid­ing medical treat­ment, HIS for trans­port­ing Patrick, and TOLFA for not even think­ing twice about provid­ing Patrick a safe and happy home.   Each one of these organi­za­tions is doing outstand­ing work in India to help suffer­ing animals.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You too can be apart of making Patrick’s future a bright one.  If you want to help Patrick please donate to TOLFA .  All funds received in his name will go directly to the food, medical treat­ment, and loving care required to keep him happy and comfort­able for the rest of his days.  Since his rescue Patrick has completely stopped swaying from side to side.  He has had surgery on his penis (which was not a tumour), he has put on weight and is feeling great.  TOLFA also rescued a mare named Penny on the same day as Patrick! Now they are talking of expanding!

 

For many people all over the world, keeping animals without finan­cial gain is a foreign concept.  After buying Patrick several confused local people came up to me and asked, “but what are you going to do with him?”  My response was “love him” and the love that I feel in return is greater than anything that money could buy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To watch video footage shot on the day of Patrick’s rescue please click here!!!!

 

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Caring for Cats in Kenya

 

One of inter­est­ing places I visited in Kenya is the beauti­ful and ancient town and island of Lamu.  Lamu is an island not far from main land off the coast of north-east Kenya.  The old city is inscribed on the World Heritage List as “the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settle­ments in East Africa”.  Up until 1907 Lamu was the hub of all Arabian trading includ­ing the slave trade, adding to its fasci­nat­ing history.  Today its narrow streets weave through elegant Swahili archi­tec­ture, full of charm and charac­ter.  Since there are no cars on the island the alleys are constantly full of children playing, Muslim men chatting over chia, and CATS!  The old town has a very dense popula­tion of street cats.  Since it is a port town, fishing is big business here and there are lots of scraps for the kitties, there­fore they continue to repro­duce and quickly.

 

While in Lamu I had the oppor­tu­nity to spend time with the dedicated people from the Lamu Animal  Welfare Clinic. This grass roots organi­za­tion conducts an ABC (animal birth control) program for the stray cats that fill the island.

I was impressed with the deter­mi­na­tion of this organi­za­tion to continue their work in spite of the opposi­tion from many locals.  Much of the Muslim commu­nity of Lamu does not gener­ally support steril­iza­tion of any kind and many would rather see the cats killed.

There is clearly an over popula­tion of cats on the island of Lamu and this organi­za­tion is working to avoid a cruel and waste­ful cull.  We don’t always realize that stray animals exist as a result of other problems that occur in the commu­nity, such as inade­quate waste disposal.  Stray cats tend to populate areas where there is a lot of trash/scraps avail­able. Cats also play a vital role in keeping the rat popula­tions in check, and the diseases that often come with an over popula­tion of rats.

The caring people at Lamu Animal Welfare Clinic are often faced with hostil­ity from the commu­nity over their work.  Despite all finan­cial and commu­nity challenges this NGO contin­ues to devote their lives to helping these beauti­ful cats.


At the time of my visit there also happened to be 2 visit­ing vets so the organi­za­tion took advan­tage of their visitors by holding a spay/neuter blitz. Over the span of 3 days we managed to catch, steril­ize, treat and release 220 cats.  The cats which fill the streets of this enchant­ing Africa island live in close proxi­mately to people because they rely on human scraps for food, but they are in no way domes­ti­cated.  They are all wild, extremely clever and quick.  Catch­ing them was a challenge and that took all the smarts we had and a lot of patience.

 

 


 

It was an excit­ing and reward­ing few days of covertly snatch­ing feral cats while attempt­ing to keep out of sight of too many local people.  Although we didn’t receive many thank yous from the jungley felines, it was extremely reward­ing to release the steril­ized cats back into their home on the streets knowing that they now had a better chance at long healthy lives, with no more babies on the way.

 

 

 

For even more viewing pleasure click on the link below to watch a short video from the streets of Lamu includ­ing some of the photos seen here and a few more.  Special thanks to the wonder­ful Patrick Murphy for creat­ing this “catchy” video of our time at the  Lamu Animal Welfare Clinic.

Click here to watch a video of catch­ing cats in Lamu!

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Why Vegan?

As a vegetar­ian I often faced questions such as “what about chicken?” or  “you don’t even eat fish?”  I would appease those question­ing my actions by saying, “well at least I am not VEGAN!”.   I tried to reassure those around me that I wasn’t one of those freaks.  Those extrem­ists that spent their time reading labels and judging others.  I didn’t want to be too differ­ent; I still wanted to be invited to sit at the table with the cool kids.

So for years I happily refrained from eating anything/anybody who had to die for my dinner, but ate as much cheese as I could get my hands on.  I knew very little about vegan­ism and why some chose that lifestyle.  But I knew that “Vegans” were social outcasts who only wore black and had lots of pierc­ings.  Way too extreme!

It’s not diffi­cult to under­stand why some abstain from consum­ing the flesh of an animal, but to not want to consume animal byprod­ucts is a little harder to grasp.  One day I met lovely family who had chosen to devote their lives to saving animals.  I immedi­ately looked up to this family and was impressed with the good that they were doing in the world.  They were smart, funny and saving animals!  How cool!  Suddenly I found out that they all were vegan!  Such commend­able, intel­li­gent, and civilized people, VEGAN?  I decided that maybe it was time for me to do a little research and find out what caused some people to go to such extremes.

I wasn’t surfing for very long before I was overwhelmed with horri­ble facts, figures and images of the animals that produce dairy and eggs.  My eyes were wide and my heart sunk with all of this new infor­ma­tion before me.  To eat an animal meant that someone had to be killed, but to eat the byprod­ucts of an animal required that someone had to live a long hard life as a slave.  The mothers that produce milk and eggs for us have drawn-out lives filled with entrap­ment, mutila­tion, and rape.

The hens who produce our eggs are confined to a tiny cage in a dark build­ing for their entire lives; until their bodies are so worn out they can produce no more.

For a female cow to produce milk she must be kept in a constant cycle of being impreg­nated, giving birth, having her baby taken away, and then having her milk drained.  These mothers are treated like nothing more than milk making machines.  Nothing about their lives is fair nor natural.  They are artifi­cially insem­i­nated, caged, and hooked up to a machine that takes their milk.  Their tails are often cut off so that they don’t get in the way or conta­m­i­nate the milk.  After several years like this, once they are physi­cally and emotion­ally spent these mothers are also sent to slaugh­ter. Their broth­ers at least would have been put out of their misery years before.

All of this so that we can drink the milk what is naturally intended for baby cows.  Now I ask myself which is really the extreme?

In north India there is a holy city called Rishikesh.   It is a paradise for yoga loving vegetar­i­ans.   The respect for cows fills the air here.  As they roam freely, visitors and residents alike gently stroke their foreheads and offer them treats of fruits and vegeta­bles.  Through the streets traffic patiently waits for the noble beasts to pass.

Here especially, the cow is consid­ered sacred and no meat is allowed in the entire city!  But plenty of milk is consumed.  I decided to pop into a small family run dairy just off of the main drag in Rishikesh. I figured that if anywhere in the world mother cows would be treated well it would be here.  If there was anywhere that I could have a guilt free cheese sandwich it should be here.  The follow­ing photos are from this small family run dairy.

Inside the barn 40–50 dairy cows spent their days.

 

 

This handsome bull is respon­si­ble for keeping all of the females impreg­nated. The family is very proud of him. They keep him safely in this spot, never letting him move freely.

 

Young females are kept in this pen until they are old enough to start produc­ing their own young.

 

 

This baby boy was just few days old. He was clearly under­weight and weak stand­ing in the middle of the barn, not allowed to go near his mother.

 

A devas­tated mother watches from afar as her baby boy starves to death. Since he is male he is of no use. The milk that his mother produces will be consumed only by humans.

 

 

The panic in this mothers eyes is clear, but she is tied and unable to get near her dying son

 

 

The workers at the dairy keep a close watch on the baby bulls as they perform their other duties. Making sure that the bulls and mothers stay separate.

 

 

There was nothing to be done for this little boy. He had no value and is only a byprod­uct of the dairy industry.

 

Why Vegan?  Now a days vegan­ism is gaining popular­ity.  Celebri­ties, business people, and rebel­lious teenagers alike are choos­ing to abstain from animal products.  Most people are turning to vegan­ism for health reasons.  For me, I am vegan for them.

 

 

 

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A Dream of Gorillas


 

“When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concen­trate on the preser­va­tion of the future.”– Dian Fossey


 

For my grade 10 english class we had to read one autobi­og­ra­phy and two biogra­phies on one person that we admired.  I chose Dian Fossey.  The film “Goril­las in the Mist” had recently come out and I figured that I could find a way of taking the content from the movie to replace one of the books.  I wasn’t fond of school work and was always on the prowl to cut corners.

I can not take credit for this one. I believe that it belongs to National Geographic.

Little did I know of the immense inspi­ra­tion that this assign­ment would bring me.  I watched the movie, whizzed through the autobi­og­ra­phy (of the same name), and read the required 2 biogra­phies.  I couldn’t stop there though and contin­ued to read anything else about Dian Fossey that I could get my hands on.  I had found an absolute heroine!  Her drive, passion and tragic life thrilled me.  I wanted to be HER!

 

 

Dian Fossey was a feisty woman who cared so deeply for the lives of mountain goril­las that she left her “life” behind to live in the mountains of East Africa where she could study and protect them.  In 1967 she founded the Karisoke Research Founda­tion which contin­ues today to study the physi­ol­ogy and behav­iour of mountain goril­las.  Along with study­ing these majes­tic animals she fought endlessly to protect them from environ­men­tal and human dangers.  She dedicated and eventu­ally lost her life to saving the goril­las that she loved.  Dian Fossey did every­thing in her power to protect the animals from game wardens, poach­ers, and govern­ment officials who wanted to convert the gorilla’s habitat into farmland.  A few weeks before her 54th birth­day she was murdered by machete in her Rwandan forest camp on Decem­ber 26th 1985.  No one was ever prose­cuted in her murder.

 

In that grade 10 english class I swore that I would find a way to help animals and someday I would get myself to Africa and get a glimpse of those gentle giants for myself.  It took me 20 years (did I really just write that?) but I finally got there!

Once in East Africa you can go “gorilla trekking” from three places, Uganda, Rwanda, or the Democ­ra­tic Repub­lic of Congo.  No matter which trek you take the fee is a hefty one of $500 for 1 hour spent observ­ing the goril­las.  This at least was the cost when I was in Africa, and its sure to continue to rise since there will always be people like me willing to hand over all of their savings for this once in a lifetime experience.

The night before the trek we camped at the bottom of the volcanic mountain so that we could get an early start in the morning.  With two armed guards and a guide leading me through the jungle that had once been the stomp­ing ground of my idol, my heart felt like it was going to beat itself right out of my chest.  That added with the climb straight uphill, through thick jungle for five hours made it hard for me to think straight.  I was out of breath and over heated.  With walkie-talkies the guide was commu­ni­cat­ing with the track­ers up ahead looking for the goril­las.  I was shaking with exhaus­tion and fear that this would be the day that they couldn’t find any goril­las.  Suddenly our guide turned to me and signaled to be silent, and before I could compre­hend what was happen­ing I was stand­ing a few meters away from an amazing family of eight majes­tic, beauti­ful mountain goril­las. I instantly felt nothing other than pure love and appre­ci­a­tion for this incred­i­ble dream come true. The stopwatch started and I had one hour (which felt like two minutes) to admire these incred­i­ble animals in their home.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have always questioned if these visits by humans were good for the goril­las.  Now after doing it myself I feel a little more at peace with inter­rupt­ing their lives.  I think mostly because if these goril­las did not want us there we wouldn’t have been there. They say that a Silverback’s punch is about six times the strength of a heavy weight boxer.  But they never choose to inflict pain upon humans, unless of course we threaten their family. At times I almost felt welcome. They were curious about us too, moving closer to get a better look, and when they had seen enough they simply walked away. They are incred­i­bly gentle, peace­ful beings who happen to be vegetar­ian!  Doesn’t that say it all?

I believe that without the income that these goril­las gener­ate for the African govern­ments their popula­tions would have been wiped out a long time ago.  There are only approx­i­mately 780 mountain goril­las living in the world today.  I feel so incred­i­bly blessed to have gotten to witness them living naturally.

 

While still high on the thrill of the entire experi­ence I got the oppor­tu­nity to spend time at the Mountain Goril­las Veteri­nary Project and to meet the present day version of Dian Fossey, Dr. Jan Ramer!

In the mid– 1980’s only 248 mountain goril­las remained in the world.  These low numbers where in large part due to respi­ra­tory illnesses and life-threatening injuries caused by traps and snares.  A small veteri­nary center was built to provide medical care to goril­las that had sustained human-caused illnesses or injuries.  As the years passed, the veteri­nar­i­ans treat­ing the mountain goril­las realized that more than medical care was needed to save these animals from extinc­tion. As a result, the center expanded its scope in the mid-1990’s.  Today MGVP is the only organi­za­tion that provides wild mountain goril­las with direct hands-on care, inter­ven­ing to save sick and injured goril­las.  But this is just one portion of the work that they do.  MGVP also keeps data and records on all the exist­ing goril­las, educates locally and inter­na­tion­ally on the plight of these animals, and has an orphan­age for young goril­las who are victims of the illegal poach­ing and gorilla trade that still exists today.  The Mountain Gorilla Veteri­nary Project has helped the overall mountain gorilla popula­tion to increase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Jan Ramer is the incred­i­bly dedicated veteri­nar­ian who manages the regional office in Rwanda.  My day spent with Dr. Jan at MGVP was equally as thrilling as my day trekking through the Virunga Volca­noes in search of the remark­able goril­las themselves.  After­all, Dr. Jan is contin­u­ing the work that my lifelong heroine Dian Fossey started years ago and is respon­si­ble for the health, wellbe­ing and survival of the mountain goril­las.  Unsur­pris­ingly, Dr. Jan is a beauti­ful, warm, and strong woman who quickly slid into heroine status in my books.

 

 

 

 

 

I am so INCREDIBLY THANKFUL for having had the oppor­tu­nity to witness these beauti­ful animals in their home, as well as to witness the work that MGVP does on a daily basis to protect them.  Please visit their website, consider making a donation to help them to continue their work, and check out MGVP’s infor­ma­tive blog to keep up to date on what’s happen­ing with the mountain goril­las in Africa.

 


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Rats And Religion

“Thou shall not kill any living thing, for life is given to all by God,
and that which God has given let man not taketh it away”
- Jesus, Gospel of the Holy Twelve

 

It fasci­nates me how our small world is filled with such vast beliefs, tradi­tions and religions.  But what intrigues me more than the differ­ences are the similar­i­ties.   Take religion for example, whether it be the Koran or the Bible all religions preach to be kind to each other, to animals and the planet.  The common thread of compas­sion runs through all religions.

Although, I don’t person­ally follow one organized religion I appre­ci­ate elements of several.  I used to be on a search for the religion that suited me most, I now acknowl­edge that my religion is truly my own.  It’s an individ­ual belief system that combines many aspects of differ­ent religions with some of my own.  Much of it is about peace, respect, and animals!  For me “God” repre­sents love, purity and nature.  Who fits this descrip­tion better than animals?  I can’t count the number of times that I have looked into the eyes of an animal and could see an angel looking back at me.

Animals live their lives innocently, purely, for their families, and for love.  So many of us turn to religion for answers, I believe that if more of us were to turn to nature and to animals we just might find what we are looking for.

All faiths and religions include animals and nature in their doctrines.

In Chris­t­ian faith it is stated that we are the stewards of nature and animals.  The Bible says that God expects, even demands that we respect and take care of ALL of his creations. Saint Francis of Assisi, one of the most popular saints of the Catholic Church felt at one with animals.  Not only did he preach that animals should be treated with respect, but he preached directly to the animals.  There are several famous stories of him speak­ing directly to birds, rabbits, fish and wolves.

In Chris­t­ian belief the most innocent and perfect place is the Garden Of Eden.  In the Garden of Eden before the fall, animals and humans lived together in utter peace, both eating only vegeta­bles and no one was ever killed nor harmed.

In Buddhist thought animals are sentient beings, differ­ent from humans in their intel­lec­tual ability but no less capable of suffer­ing. Animals possess an equal poten­tial to become enlight­ened. There­fore, any human could be reborn as an animal, and any animal could be reborn as a human. An animal might be a reborn dead relative, and if you looked far enough back into one’s infinite series of lives you would eventu­ally find every animal to be related to you in some way.

Within Native Ameri­can beliefs every­thing is sacred from the largest mountain to the small­est plant and animal.  In Native legends animals are frequently gifted with the power of speech and other human attrib­utes. Animals are consid­ered equal to humans sometimes even superior. For example, eagles fly the highest of all living beings, and have eyesight that can see into the soul.

Of all religions I find myself repeated drawn back to Hinduism.  Animals play a huge role in their culture and religion. Through­out India animals can be seen living on the streets among people, as well as appear­ing in decora­tive art on temples and homes. Animals also play a very impor­tant role in Hindu belief.  Animals are frequently mentioned in Hindu myths and legends.  Spiri­tu­ally, there is no distinc­tion between human beings and other life forms, all are manifes­ta­tions of God and possess a soul.  The Hindu god Buddha declared that all beings currently living in an animal form have been our mothers, broth­ers, sisters, fathers, children, and friends in past rebirths. One could not, there­fore, make a hard distinc­tion between moral rules applic­a­ble to animals and those applic­a­ble to humans; ultimately humans and animals were part of a single family. We are all interconnected.

I just love this idea.  Animals in Indian society is one of the main elements that constantly pulls me back to India. Mix animals together with the utterly bizarre and I’m there.  This is exactly what I found at the “Rat Temple” just outside Bikan­ner.  It’s actually called the Karni Mata Temple, and was constructed in the early 1900’s as a tribute to the rat goddess Karni Mata.  It is a beauti­ful build­ing constructed primar­ily with intri­cate marble panels and decorated with splashes silver and gold.  It’s quiet and peace­ful inside just as any temple should be.  Out of respect each visitor (thousands of Hindus travel from all over India to visit each year) must remove and leave their shoes at the door.  It looks similar to all of the other immac­u­late Hindu temples that can be found through­out India, except that this temple is home to around 20,000 rats!

While rats are seen as dirty and diseased pests in most circles, inside this Hindu temple they are sacred. In fact, to have one touch you or to scurry over your foot is a blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since I visited the “Rat Temple” I have spent alot of time think­ing about the concept.  It warms my heart.  If we can have respect and even worship a rodent that is commonly thought as of a dirty scoundrel, then just imagine what is possible!

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