Saturday, February 27, 2010

Remembering Daddy

Daddy and Cesar
Photo by Mark Theissan

At my house, Friday night is "Dog Whisperer" night and watching Daddy assist Cesar Millan over the years has been a constant delight. This year, in the midst of grieving for my own longtime animal companion, Rachmaninoff, I was all too aware that Daddy's time was coming. Even so, news of his death last Friday, February 19th, took me by surprise. I had recently read Cesar's touching post, "Breakfast with Daddy," written some months ago, and had immediately recognized his anticipatory grief. The fact that Daddy lived to age 16 is truly amazing for a dog, but not surprising when you consider how beloved he was.

Though Daddy lived a wonderful life and was loved by many, his death still hits us hard because we know how special he was, that he was the ambassador for a breed much maligned and poorly understood, and that he helped his fellow canines regain calm and stability even though many humans had given up on them. Daddy lived with the Millans since he was four months old, and so the long and deeply meaningful bond forged between them makes his loss keenly felt.

Click here to read: In Memoriam: Daddy the Pit Bull

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Captive + Isolated = Snapped

Wild Orca, Photo by Gerard Lacz

Tilikum, the Orca that killed his trainer at SeaWorld Orlando yesterday, was doing what his kind do naturally. Had he not been taken as a captive and kept isolated for so many years ― he was captured near Iceland in 1983 and kept in small tanks from the beginning of his time in captivity, essentially, confined to a cement box filled with water ― such a tragedy would not have happened. Dolphins and Orcas are driven mad in captivity, in part due to the lack of freedom to swim as they can in the wild and the deafeningly loud noise levels in those parks. SeaWorld Orlando acquired 'Tili' in January 1992, and put him in a breeding program shortly thereafter. Over the years, Tilikum sired at least 17 calves, 10 of which are still alive, making him the most "successful" orca father in captivity. He is also the only captive killer whale to become a grandfather. Imagine what his life in the wild would have been like!

Marine biologist Nancy Blake, said: "He was used a lot [by SeaWorld] for mating, and could have even been enacting a mating behavior during the incident," explained Blake, a leading expert on killer whales who runs California's Monterey Bay Whale Watch.

His captivity, frequent breeding and the fact that Tilikum was caught in the wild could all have contributed to Wednesday’s fatality, Blake believes.

"It is my understanding that he is often kept by himself," she said. "That is not natural. Males in the wild generally live with their mothers and other family members. Such social contact is critical to their development."

She said he may even have "lashed out" at Brancheau due to "stress and boredom."

Richard Ellis, a marine conservationist at the American Museum of Natural History, agrees that the whale "was not trying to eat the trainer," but believes the marine mammal's actions were "premeditated" and intentional.

"He decided to do this as opposed to keep swimming around in circles," Ellis said in a televised interview with the Associated Press. Ellis would not speculate, though, on what the whale actually intended.

Captive killer whales are fed 140 to 240 pounds of food, mostly fish, per day, according to the Orlando Sentinel. It is therefore unlikely that the whale would have suddenly viewed the trainer as prey, especially as hunting is a learned and repetitive behavior, Blake said.

Killer whales in the wild also do not target humans as prey. In fact, "there are no documented cases of killer whales attacking a human in the wild," according to an American Cetacean Society fact sheet. An ACS spokeswoman said that society does not believe killer whales should be kept in captivity.

For more about what life is really like in captivity for Orcas and Dolphins, click here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Love Never Ends

Photo: Caters News/Zuma Press

Love Week concludes with a tribute to these friends: A baby elephant and a sheep may not appear to have much in common, but at the Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa these two animals became the best of pals.

Two years ago, eight-month-old orphan Themba the elephant (the name means 'hope' in Xhosa), struck up a friendship with wooly Albert after arriving at the reserve's animal hospital when he was just six months old.

Themba's mother had fallen off a cliff and died. The loving friendship that developed between Themba and Albert became known around the world. Sadly, on February 5, 2010 Themba died unexpectedly, and Albert misses his good friend.

Visit this link to read Themba's story.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Young Love

Photo by Sascha Schuermann

Love Week (see post on February 14) for Saturday: Manni, a five-week-old young boar, enjoys playing with Candy, a Jack Russell terrier, in Ehringhausen, Germany. Manni, who was found abandoned in the forest, is hand-fed now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hippo and Tortoise

Photo: Earth Pictures

Perfect candidates for Love Week are: A baby hippo named Owen walking along with its "mother," a giant male Aldabran tortoise, at the Mombasa Haller Park in Mombasa, Kenya. The odd couple stayed together after the Asian tsumani reached the Kenyan shore and separated the young hippo from his mother.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dachshund and Tiger

Photo by Philipp Guelland

Love Week for Thursday: Female dachshund Bessi lays in a basket with a 5-day-old baby tiger at the wild animal park in Stroehen, Germany.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Love Week continues

Photo: Inje Municipal Govt./EPA

Love Week continues with more to come:
A female dog cuddles with a young elk, which was rescued from a flooding river by a farmer in Inje, Gangwon Province, South Korea. The dog nurses and guards the elk.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010



More Love Week tributes:

After meeting a week earlier, five week-old Anastasia, a Siberian eagle owl crossed with a Turkmanian eagle owl, and four week-old fluffy white barn owl, Pudge, became inseparable at Silverwings Falconry at Haytor in Devon, England.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Two Souls Singing Together

Photo by Igor Torgachkin

"Love is the harmony of two souls singing together.”
~Gregory J. P. Godek

Love Week continues with these two Marsh frogs at Lake Abrau, near Novorossiysk, Russia.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Love Week

Photo: EPA
Two endangered Miligold Macaws in Calcutta, India

In honor of Valentine's Day, I am posting a series called LOVE WEEK to celebrate love and affection between animals. Those of us who have the privilege of sharing our lives with animals and have long observed them as sentient beings who feel love, loyalty, pain and grief, know their capacity for love is often as deep as ours, and sometimes deeper. This week, let us remember to love one another and to love animals. Join me in honoring the love and friendship animals have for each other and for us.