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     Volume 4 Issue 62 | September 9, 2005 |

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Food For Thought


Farah Ghuznavi

As humanity continues to cut a swathe through the natural resources of the planet, driven by the desire for short-term gains (the recent decision to open up natural reserves in Alaska for commercial purposes being one classic example), some of us have little doubt that we are already "reaping the whirlwind". Among other things, the wanton exploitation of our common resources is resulting in an ever-greater occurrence of "unnatural" incidents related to global warming.

Since we do not take the time to consider the long-term effects of our misbehaviour on ourselves, it is hardly surprising that we don't care about the effect on the other species that co-habit the earth; hence, the ever-growing list of endangered animals. To be honest, it's almost too depressing to think about. So, focusing instead on absurdity (escapism!), let us examine some of the more bizarre ways in which human behaviour is affecting our animal friends.

Take the case of the bear that left its habitat in the California mountains, and gate-crashed a family party in a Los Angeles suburb. The 140lb adult female bear wandered into the garden of a family, where children were swimming in the pool. The children were quickly pulled out, and the barking of the dog attracted their mother. Fire authorities cordoned off the area and the bear was taken away after being tranquilised. Before that, however, not satisfied with crashing the party, she jumped into the pool and began to swim about. Clearly, it is not only immigrants who arrive in L.A. in search of the American dream…

Nor is it only North American bears that are behaving oddly. An even more peculiar story has emerged from Croatia, where a 35 stone brown bear is creating alarm amongst his human neighbours. This bear has learnt to knock on the door! The Loknar family in Gerovo have had their door knocked on three times by the bear, and unsurprisingly, they are now refusing to answer the door…

Human food habits are also beginning to influence the animal kingdom in somewhat undesirable ways. In some cases, the influence is deliberate, in others less so, but the results are almost invariably absurd.

Animals in an Israeli Safari Park are being given a purely kosher diet over this year's religious festival of Passover. The Safari Park is feeding its animals with matzos (a brittle, unleavened bread customarily eaten at Passover), rather than the large quantities of normal bread regularly consumed by elephants and apes at the Park. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Park authorities have stated that they are doing a thorough cleaning - as in every Israeli home - so that the Safari Park is "kosher", and that the animals will receive a "kosher for Passover" mixture of food and matzos, so that at the time of Passover, there is not a single crumb of leavened products anywhere near the animals.

This was allegedly required by the religious authorities, as some animal food comes from tithes (the tenth of crops given to priests and the poor), but it is also because of the sensitivities of religious Park visitors who - it was feared - could be offended if the elephants eat bread right in front of them during Passover. Not only is this is completely ridiculous "ahladipana", it borders on offensive. And it could well be viewed as cruelty to animals to force them to change their diets because of human religious practices - which should surely remain limited to humans!

Another example of human beings unnecessarily meddling in the food habits of other species comes from foolish tourists who fed monkeys in the Indian city of Shimla snacks and alcohol (!). Unsurprisingly, they have unleashed a whirlwind. The addicted monkeys have left the jungles of Himachal Pradesh province in their thousands and have invaded the town, pillaging bars in search of liquor, seizing food from passers-by and causing accidents by jumping on cars.

Local wildlife experts have so far tried a feeding ban (too late), deportation (too difficult to implement - anyway, where would you deport them to?) and sterilisation (too long-term). Now they are trying to lure them back to the forest with fresh fruit, but since the crazed monkeys have discovered the equivalent of fast food they cannot be persuaded - as the health-food industry has already discovered to its cost, it is much easier to get people to eat chips than apples…!

Speaking of fast food, a related concern is that North American bears have become increasingly confident about entering urban areas, and are not always satisfied with the occasional dip in a swimming pool. It seems that like many Americans, some bears are actually suffering from obesity - as a result of eating fatty food from rubbish bins!

Nowhere is the danger of feeding animals "unnatural" foods more evident than with the pigeons of Trafalgar Square. The Mayor of London has made it a personal crusade to rid the square of the pigeons, and there are very few pigeons to be seen around now, and no seed-sellers - much to the disappointment of some tourists.

However, it appears that pigeons are once again beginning to return to the square. Except that these are "super-size" pigeons, which have grown abnormally large as a result of feasting on the remains of junk food left around the area. This has been a veritable pigeon feast - with burgers, fries and the dregs of Coca-Cola having had the same effect on them as they have on us: excess weight! Let's hope there is no horror movie scenario à la Hitchcock's "The Birds", otherwise we might have some real problems…

With all this weirdness going on, it is hardly surprising that concerns have emerged (in Somerset), that the food chain may actually be running back to front. In Shepton Mallet, a rooster has successfully attacked a fox that invaded Mr Tim Stone's hen-coop. Mr Stone, a farmer, awoke as a result of a commotion in the barnyard, and upon inspection, discovered a blizzard of feathers and fur. He also saw a badly battered fox limping away.

Meanwhile, the 3 foot high rooster was "strutting around like a boxer after a fight and crowing like mad". This has raised expectations among some that we shall soon see flies attacking lizards, field mice savaging hawks and the zebras chasing leopards across the savannah…

Finally, not satisfied with destroying the natural order of things in the animal world through our bad habits, we are now trying to put the blame for our problems squarely on the animals!

Local authorities in the smog-ridden San Joaquin Valley in California blame the smog not on the exponential growth of construction projects and motorised traffic in the area, but on cows. According to the report by the SJV Unified Air Pollution Control District, the biggest problem is the gas produced by the region's 2.5 million cows! US scepticism on climate change is well-known, but anyone who wants to test the truth of this can just enter an enclosed space with a cow, while someone else enters a similar enclosed space with a car or truck engine running, and compare notes on damage. I know which I'd prefer…!

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