Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Endnotes: What Lingers from My Reading

This is the beginning of a new series I’ve been noodling on for some time. It’s a compendium of the facts, events, and ideas from my nonfiction reading that I believe deserve a larger audience. For those of you without the time or inclination to read the books from my lists, “Endnotes” will give you an inkling of what stands between the boards.

Considering my current reading theme, the posts will most likely be animal-related. There’s a wealth of information out there that the general public isn’t aware of (and in some cases, even the scientific community isn’t sharing with one another) and should be—about animal behavior, intelligence, emotions, and compassion. What we don’t know can hurt us, and our ignorance most assuredly hurts nonhuman animals.

These posts may or may not include commentary, may or may not be short, may or may not appeal to you. Even so, when you see the word Endnotes in the title, you at least know what lies ahead. And so we begin…

Bad News for Bears
Bears aren’t the only animals who become sobriety-challenged* periodically, but black bears’ benders were noted in Massachusetts one year and the hunting season was put on hiatus until they recovered. Apparently, after gorging on apples, the cider left in the bears’ stomachs fermented and caused the critters to stumble around in a stupor.
—From John McPhee’s Table of Contents

* I realized this morning after reading Sally Roth’s Attracting Songbirds to Your Backyard that I’ve come across downed birds before who had probably had a few too many berries. They looked sick, stunned, in need of help. And then suddenly, as I was anxiously thinking through what to do next, they’d fly off. Silly me: They didn’t require rescue; they just needed to wait out the hangover.

A Different Kind of Dairy Farm

When visitors to Kite’s Nest Farm are invited to try milk from the farm’s dairy cows, people get more than a mouthful. They learn firsthand that cows allowed to live freely and raise their calves naturally produce milk that even lactose-intolerant folks can tolerate, milk that varies in taste according to the breed it came from and according to each animal’s eating and drinking preferences. They learn that dairy farming doesn’t have to be cruel to be profitable.
—From Rosamund Young’s The Secret Life of Cows

A Hippo Driven by Compassion
Separated from her herd, a tiny impala escaped into a nearby African river as a pack of African wild dogs chased her. They ceased their hunt at the water’s edge, though, for they were outmatched by a formidable predator the young impala hadn’t noticed: a crocodile.

Nearby, another creature was watching as the drama unfolded, and though she was no enemy to crocs, she took action when the reptile grabbed the impala in his vise-like jaws. The hippo charged the croc, which likely astonished him more than roughed him up, and his prey flew out of his mouth.

The hippo nudged her rescue out of the water and the baby struggled to move to firmer ground. The hippo stood over the impala, slowly and repeatedly blowing air into the little one’s airways and across her body, trying to strengthen and warm her. But the croc had been too much for the babe. In spite of the hippo’s efforts, the impala perished.

Why is this anecdote important? Typically this kind of cross-species compassion in the wild is not believed or is rationalized or ignored altogether by the scientific community. However, this particular event—showing not only compassion, but swift decision-making and noninstinctive behavior—was caught on film. Similar events may happen in the wild far more frequently than we’re aware of.
—From Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s Dogs Have the Strangest Friends

[Bear photo by Jim Blackwood; cows photo by Rosamund Young; impala photo by Rebecca Conroy.]

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