• DAY 396: THE END

    Oct 26 2013

    Martinmango

    This year is now over.

    It has been horrific, sad, inspiring and deeply transformative. I can say with hand on fast-beating heart that you readers and supporters have helped hugely on an otherwise exhausting journey.

    It may seem strange that a year of (trying) to help animals takes 396 days but to delve into the world of suffering means the earth moves around the sun ever so slightly slower.

    The days have been long, the nights, dreaming of pigs in spanish intensive farms, longer.

    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    In the past 396 days I have (tenuously) saved:

    16 domestic animals (dogs mainly – UK, India, Philippines)

    18 farm animals (by not eating meat)

    22 fish (as above including some interventions in Vietnam

    7 birds (it would have been more if I hadn’t killed a few. Bugger)

    12 weird and scary animals (you’ll have to read the blog)

    255 insects, slugs, snails (do these count? Well, they are sentient)

    If you want to see more about how this might not be entirely true…but actually could be, please click here

    My total haul is fairly small. I am left with a pig’s bite mark in my leg, an even larger hole in my wallet and a sadness that trails me like a winter shadow.

    But then there is Mango –  the dog who you will be glad to know is coming home from the Philippines in three weeks thanks to your support.

    Hooray!

    Mango - rescued

    Mango – rescued

    Since the beginning of this year around 65 billion animals have been consumed by humans and many many more killed by us through other means: hunting, city expansion, pollution, global warming, neglect, simple cruelty – the list goes on.

    And yet there are people working against this, so much more bravely than I ever could –  the likes of Trevor, Avis, Kartick, Gheeta, Ira, Charlotte, Liz, Julia and Alberto as well as  organisations like  Network for Animals, Compassion in World Farming and WSPA and so many more who I can’t mention here – they  show us that there is hope. I want to thank all of these people and those I can’t mention from the bottom of my heart. And then I want to thank you for your generous support – emotional and financial. But also of course Ann – who has stood by me so patiently and with so much love and who tomorrow I marry (again!) in our US wedding (her family is from America so this is where the big ceremony is)

    An ex-dancing bear at the wonderful sanctuary of Wildlife SOS in India

    An ex-dancing bear at the wonderful sanctuary of Wildlife SOS in India

     

    My efforts during this year – misguided at times, naive at others, indulgent perhaps but always heartfelt I hope – are my own small attempt to swim against a  tide. I don’t feel I have done much but then I never expected I would. But I also feel I have done what is more important than anything. I have had the opportunity to reconnect with animals. This has been a luxury but a necessity too. My guiding mantra – which will accompany me to my grave  – is E. M Forsters:  ‘only connect’.

    That connection is most easy to make in the eyes of the animals I have photographed. Images of suffering speak directly to us in a way that logic and argument don’t. Many of us know that animal suffering is wrong. But most of don’t KNOW it deep down so that we act on it. Until we see it. Until we really SEE it.

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    The eyes have it

    Wildlife SOS

    Wildlife SOS rescued monkey

    Mango

    Mango

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    A chained monkey in India

    A stuffed leopard in unceremonious garb and elephant tusk - seized contraband at the Wildlife Crime Unit

    A stuffed leopard in unceremonious garb and elephant tusk – seized contraband at the Wildlife Crime Unit

    Galgo against a wall

    A rescued Galgo in Southern Spain

    Many people will say – why animals? What about the starving children in Syria (you f**cking wanker)?

    But , as you know, it is neither one, nor the other. It is both. We are all animals and we all suffer. But we humans have done our best to forget this, and so have denigrated the other animals to a position where we repeatedly abuse them. For that reason my mission has been to help  those OTHER animals. While the separation between us and other human groups can be devastating, it is of a different order entirely to the rift we feel (or don’t feel) to other animals.

    It goes without saying there are a huge number of people on this planet who love and care for animals.

    Charlotte with Ete. From a hunter's hands to a carer's, thank you Charl!

    Charlotte with Ete. From a hunter’s hands to a carer’s, thank you Charl!

    Steve Trewhella and Derek Davey, two people more skilled than me at saving wildlife

    Steve Trewhella and Derek Davey, two people more skilled than me at saving wildlife

    The wonderful Avis from ARK, in Kerala, India, doing so much for street dogs.

    The wonderful Avis from ARK, in Kerala, India, doing so much for street dogs.

    The dog sanctuary in the south of Corfu. Those that don't fight each other are allowed to roam free, the others are kept in well managed enclosures.

    The dog sanctuary in the south of Corfu run by Marjorie

    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    Peter Singer, philosopher on animal rights

    Peter Singer, philosopher on animal rights

    But there are too many that don’t.

    bear paws are especially prized in the illegal wildlife trade.

    bear paws are especially prized in the illegal wildlife trade.

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    The overwhelming consensus is that animals are for us to USE and it will, I fear, be many centuries before this filters down. It is NOT simply because most countries cannot afford to be compassionate. It is the new found middleclass in India, for example, who are often treating their dogs the worst.

    Cordelia - the 'cow-dog'. She was almost totally blind

    Cordelia – the ‘cow-dog’. She was almost totally blind

    Perhaps the most shocking realisation over this year, aside from understanding the sheer scale with which we humans abuse other animals, is the power of normalisation.  

    The way in which are culture tells us it is NORMAL to think of animals as separate and lower. This process is our greatest and most silent enemy. It is so NATURAL to eat meat.  The fridge with the bacon is SO NICE AND WELCOMING.

    BHEM41 / Iceland

    If you accept your culture, as we normally all do in one form or another, you have to accept that in another culture you might be a wonderfully charming sexist and racist that thought Jimmy Saville a  good TV presenter. This is neither bad nor good. We are all products of our upbringing and to generate the escape velocity to free ourselves from the gravitation pull of the norm requires considerable energy.

    shelf

    You can argue about many of my actions or opinions in this blog but you cannot argue with the transformation I have felt. At times the process has been sad, often it has been painful,  but I have felt a strangely subtle shift towards a greater connection and openness that is ultimately rewarding. I feel more content with myself in a way that I only hope will feed into my recovery from a life-long lingering depression.

    With Charlotte's wonderful galgos

    With Charlotte’s wonderful galgos

    Who knows.

    But the transformation is not complete and will probably be a lifetimes work. I am stepping onto the path of veganism but without the certainty I feel about vegetarianism.  I am ashamed to even admit it. Why? Why am I not more certain?

    I have also learnt that the process of reconnecting with animals is neither linear or logical. It is a heart unfolding, and we each have different folds made over many years. Yes, you can read Peter Singer and understand the logic, yes,  you can watch Earthlings and see the horror,  but ultimately the shift comes from a complex combination of your beliefs, your culture, your compassion, your independence, your lifestyle and many other unknown factors.

    This little pup was too terrified for me to touch it. He was found abandoned and we can only guess about his life before rescue.

    This little pup was too terrified for me to touch it. He was found abandoned and we can only guess about his life before rescue.

    What about us?

    What about us?

    Baby hedgehogs suffer too. Me holding a rescued hedgehog in the centre

    Baby hedgehogs suffer too. Me holding a rescued hedgehog in the centre

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    The purpose of this year was not to moralise or even persaude. It was certainly not to prove myself a worthy person. I had thought it was simply to tell you my story in the hope it might enlighten your own.

    But if I am being brutally honest, the purpose of this year was to save something of myself. If I had gone to my grave not trying to do something very small to help animals I would have lived an un-whole life. To connect with animals is also to connect with ourselves.

    I love animals a little bit more. I think I even love myself a little more too.

    Grrrrr!

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    Get moving!! Bug and moose enjoy the snow.

    Get moving!! Bug and moose enjoy the snow.

    Moosebrocolli bugfaceBug the dog

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  • DAY 346: GOING UNDERCOVER INTO A SPANISH PIG FARM – PLEASE PASS THESE IMAGES ON.

    Sep 08 2013

     

    A sow in a gestation crate singing opera. Actually...being fairly miserable

    A sow in a gestation crate singing opera. Actually…it’s a fairly sad song I think

    Oh dear, I feel my blog has failed again. The photos are looking grim, very grim, and I fear I may lose you my dear readers.  Are you still there?

    Hello? (echo….echo).

    So far the trip to Spanish pig farms has been revealing, depressing and down right terrifying. The only time I normally go undercover is to pull the duvet over my eyes. This time I have a walky-talky, dark clothes, a satellite map and a  nervous tick in my heart.

    The photos you will see and the words you will read over the next few days will be an honest reflection of the conditions in many modern Spanish pig farms – and many places in the rest of Europe for that matter . This is because the farms I am visiting are entirely picked at random and I have no idea what is what.

    I would like to you to pass these pictures on to as many people as possible. This is the life of the vast majority of pigs in Europe – and much better than many pigs in the rest of the world. Awareness is our best ally.

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    Google Maps are a Spanish pig’s friend

    Manuel, my friend and assistant, has an astute plan to penetrate the intensive farms dotted around Catalonia.

    Some farms have been contacted by phone and we have asked if we can write an article about ham for an airline magazine  – the ones that agree are more likely to be the better farms – for others Manuel has scanned google maps and found thousands upon thousands which we can visit ourselves.

    In other words, make our own way in.

    It is truly astonishing just how many farms  are ‘secretly’ in the hillsides. One of the wondrous feats of modern farming is the sheer quantity of animals that we eat yet don’t see. Every year, billions upon billions of creatures slip silently to slaughter as we sleep.

    These are just a FEW of the pig farms we quickly located on google maps. Google maps are an invaluable way of locating farms from satellite imagery. The data can then be plugged into a GPS device.

    These are just a FEW of the pig farms we quickly located on google maps. Google maps are an invaluable way of locating farms from satellite imagery. The data can then be plugged into a GPS device.

    Manuel – who, on account of having bright blue hair and being only three inches tall (see last blog) – isn’t keen to come into the farms himself so has suggested that he keeps watch while I go in through the window or side door. If I am caught walking through the darkness on my own I have my defense ready : ‘hello, I’m a British fellow and I’m looking to buy some ham.’ But the other option might be better:  run fast – the fine for getting caught can be extremely serious and I’d like to stay living in the UK.

    Pig farms are fairly easy to spot from satellite:  a long shed (or sheds) housing the pigs, a round  grey object indicating the silo storage for feed, a winding dusty farm track connecting this to the road and an open pool of some kind where the shit is dumped out. Often this looks green. Just like my own .

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    Our first undercover visit

    However, our first farm is a fairly straight forward outing. It’s an arranged meeting with a fairly large farm comprising many thousands of pigs. I pose as a journalist, Manuel as my interpreter.

    The farmer meets us by a rusting gate and is fairly likeable and keen to tell us about his farm. He soon complains bitterly about the new ‘green’ EU laws that forbid him making too much profit. ‘How will we stop competition from China and India where they don’t have such strict rules? The EU regulations are killing us’ It’s good to hear this,  but nevertheless I nod sympathetically.

    It’s not long before we’ve earned his trust and we are shown inside.

    Don't step out of line...

    Don’t step out of line…

    Capture the eyes Martin...

    Capture the eyes Martin…

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    pigs are normally very clean creatures that like to go to the toilet away from where they sleep. This is not possible in the confined crates.

    pigs are normally very clean creatures that like to go to the toilet away from where they sleep. This is not possible in the confined crates.

    The long sheds are rich with the smell of pig shit and chemicals and so humid that sweat pours down inside my shirt. Rows upon rows of sows (I assume) are held in tight crates. Unable to move to go to the toilet they simply off load under their back legs. They stand, or try and lie down, on hard concrete floors with small slat that inefficiently drain urine and faeces.

    New legislation pushed forward by Compassion in World Farming has just come into effect and it is now illegal to hold a sow in a confined crate for more than 4 weeks but apparently all these pigs are here because they’ve been vaccinated. I wonder how long they will stay. Who checks the rules are not being broken?

    There are no immediate signs of acute pain or suffering – no screams, no blood, no wounds – only a muffled sense of meaningless, confined existence. These pigs are units or production. End of story.

    A sow in a farrowing crate. She has more space here than in the gestation crate (when she is preparing for pregnancy)

    A sow in a farrowing crate. She has more space here than in the gestation crate (when she is preparing for pregnancy)

    Don't forget that pigs are sociable, smart, exploratory creatures.

    Don’t forget that pigs are sociable, smart, exploratory creatures.

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    So much fun in here!

    We go into a smaller room where we are shown, with great pride, new born piglets .

     

    Fresh. Young. Clean. Open eyed and ready for their new life.

    There is less light here and the ceiling is lower and the heat higher as if we are descending into a moral cellar. Here there is new life but already they are on hard ground.

    This is one of the better farms. 

    In the next blog: I slip into my first farm unannounced….

     

     

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  • DAY 305: HAVE I FINALLY LOST IT? RESCUING FROGS WHILST AVOIDING TINY DANCERS IN HANOI

    Jul 26 2013

    The start of this video is a little grim but don’t worry, it quickly fades into farce. At the time of making this I was all enveloped – now looking back on it I worry for my sanity.

    There is a lake in central Hanoi which is ‘protected’ from fishing. It lies serene in the heart of the old town amidst the incessant urban busyness around it. I have just released some fish and frogs into this lake from a rather brutal market. This sounds reasonable enough but I found myself walking round and round this lake, through dancers, badminton players, tourists, street vendors, tai-chi experts, all the while carrying a bag of frogs and live fish, panicking about where was best to release them.

    The street markets in Vietnam are fairly grim. I never thought I would wish death upon a creature like I have just done now. But seeing the way they kill – or rather don’t kill – the fish to keep them fresh right up until cooking is heartbreaking and makes me what to end it for them sooner rahter than later.

    It’s clear to me, as it shoudl have been a long time ago, that the suffering of fish is no different than the suffering of other creatures. Any distinction was in my mind, caused by a segmentation of compassion that I see echoed throughout the word: some creatures we care about, other creatures we don’t and the reasons and the reasons are never based on logic but prejudice instead.

    Vietnam is over and I feel empty-handed. How many pangolins did  I save?

    Zero.

    But how many could I have saved. I suspect zero .

    This is a global fight, and it begins in the hearts and minds of all of us.

    If you would like more information about pangolins or what you can do then see below:

    1) If you visit LAOS, VIETNAM, MALAYSIA, CHINA, CAMBODIA be aware that you are in pango territory. You might want to read up about them (see below), visit some conservation centres or make your feelings known to other travellers.

    2) Donate  money to the very small and  frugal pangolin research centre that I stayed in (click here for the CPCP) who don’t yet have a web site and are not government supported. $1 cares for Lucky or any other pangolin for a whole day.  Send money to myself marked PANGOLIN and I will pass it on. Like their facebook site here

    3) Support any of these with pangolin conservation programmes

     

    FINALLY – PASS ON THE LINK TO THIS BLOG.

    GO PANGOLINS!!! We have only a few years left to save them. WE CAN’T CRAWL INTO A BALL AND IGNORE THIS.

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  • DAY 297: A SMALL THOUGHT ON KINDNESS

    Jul 18 2013
    Roger Ebert, the US film critic that recently passed away. His blog moved me.

    Roger Ebert, the US film critic that recently passed away. His blog moved me.

    Today I read a  blog entry by Robert Ebert , the Pulitzer winning film critic who recently passed away. It was written in 2009 and discussed his thoughts on death a number of years before he reached his own end. The post is called ‘Go Gentle into that Good Night’ and  it touched me deeply. Here is a small excerpt:

     

    ” I drank for many years in a tavern that had a photograph of Brendan Behan on the wall, and under it this quotation, which I memorized:

    “I respect kindness in human beings first of all, and kindness to animals.I don’t respect the law; I have a total irreverence for anything connected with society except that which makes the roads safer, the beer stronger, the food cheaper and the old men and old women warmer in the winter and happier in the summer.”

    For 57 words, that does a pretty good job of summing it up. “Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.”

    I’ve been struggling for a while to connect the dots in my head. For all the philosophy and psychology I have studied some of the simplest things in life have alluded me

    I know that being kind to others is important. I know that being kind to yourself is important. I know that caring about animals is important.  But just how all the pieces fitted together is tricky. And dammit, its so BORING to be kind. No one PAYS you. Much better to eat a steak and laugh at the man who slips on the banana skin.

    But I have fought a lifetime to stop that terrible critic in my head that says I am not much good. Maybe it is many lifetimes. I have tried to heal the fight between the soft part of me that  cowers in the corner of the room and without words, and the dominant part that screams at it from the other side on an extremely big tall chair.

    And amongst the screaming I have always understood that those that are kind are the ones that come into the room and speak to all sides equally.

    Somewhere in that mix is my love of animals.  I don’t want to spend a year helping animals so much as I must because I can’t bear the outrage.

     

    pigs awaiting in the market

    pigs awaiting in the market

    But how does it all fit together?

    Now my thoughts are becoming clearer.  The divide in myself, the divide between people (myself and others, others and others) and the divide that humans have from animals, they are one and the same. Healing one, heals the other. This wound is all of our wounds.

    The danger is  that these things sound so trite when written down. We hurt another and we hurt ourselves.  Yeh yeh yeh. Eat a steak and you might as well eat your own face…errrr….

    But this is NOT an intellectual exercise.

    The oddest thing about this year journey is discovering that the simplest concepts – kindness, connectedness, death, cruelty – can not be understood in our heads alone but only with our bodies also, our action. Experience is the best guide. Picking up the animals that suffer, experiencing the suffering first hand, responding with action and then absorbing this experience – this is necessary. That is why  short phrases like ‘only connect’ (EM Forster) can be so easy to understand on one level and so hard to …. put into action.

    A buddhist once explained the idea of compassion to me in very simple terms. We don’t hit our right hand with our left hand. If we hold a piece of fruit in our right hand our left hand does not try and steal it.  Our left hand does not feel jealous of our right if it touches something warm and squidgy. This is not because our hands are kind to each other or have christian beliefs or were bought up by good daddy and mummy hands. This is because they are connected through our being. In one sense, there is nothing particularly moral or kind about compassion, it is the only thing to do when the connection between two apparently disparate entities is laid bare.

    We have become separated. From ourselves, from others and from animals. We see the hands but not the arms. One hand is hurting the other.

    Only ‘connect’ …. ‘Only connect’…if that is all you do in life, only connect.

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  • DAY 276: ANTS WILL TAKE OVER THE WORLD AND EAT OUR FACES…unless we save the pangolin

    Jun 29 2013
    Pangolins are in a terrible hole? How can we help?.... read on...

    I shall save you from the ants…but you must save me. Pangolins are in a terribly dark place at the moment. How can we help?…. read on…

    For the last few days I’ve been living in a crappy bedroom by the forest spending much of my time clearing baby frogs from under my bed (WHERE DO THEY COME FROM??) and reading about pangos, photographing pangos and hanging out with LUCKY as though we might elope together. 

    We're off to tenerife to get wasted together

    We’re off to tenerife to get wasted together

    Here are some more essential pangolin facts including the little known notion that if they die out we may just be taken over by face-eating termites. Nevertheless, on a daily basis pangos are dying in bags rolled into balls staring at their own tiny penises ….not a way to go for such an important little creature.

    one of eight frogs I have now found under my bed and 'rescued'. What can I say, everyone wants to sleep with me...

    one of eight frogs I have now found under my bed and ‘rescued’. What can I say, everyone wants to sleep with me…

     

    ants will take over the world and eat your face...unless we save the pangolin

    ants will take over the world and eat your face…unless we save the pangolin

    1) WHY SHOULD I CARE? WHICH PANGOLINS EVER WROTE GREAT LITERATURE OR HELPED OLD PEOPLE ACROSS THE ROAD?

    Cuteness aside  pangolins are a vital part of the ecosystem. Kill them and the ants take over the world. Well, to be fair, we dont’ quite know but pangos do eat A LOT of ants and termites.

    But actually – forget that. Let’s be honest. As much as it matters, I don’t care about ants making lots of babies in the jungle and nor do you. If you were as eco-aware as that you’d sleep in a hemp bag and never read this blog because after all, electricity kills. Nevertheless the ants COULD get you.

    Well …how about this. A 70-million-year-old really cool species will go extinct, maybe in a decade or two.

    Actually – forget that too.

    Terribly controversial but I’ve never been as worried about extinction of a species as extinction of an individual. Shoot me now. Its not the idea of Pango as a taxonomic unit in a reference book with a latinate description that worries me as much as the thousands/millions of creatures that are utterly defenceless being killed in the most cruel way possible

    Pain is what hurts. Pain is what matters.

     

    I suffer

    Lucky again…

     

    2) OK, IF WELFARE IS THE ISSUE, HOW BAD IS THE SITUATION?

    Every day tens or even hundreds of pangolins are thought to be smuggled across the borders of Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and China. Exact numbers are not known but we can make a good guess: SHIT LOADS.

    Conservative estimates assume that seizures represent 10% of the total haul. And in 2011 a single seizure of a boat caught 17tonnes of the meat. The zeros in the death toll are too big to fit in my brain. The senseless slow deaths are are horrifying as they are totally SILENT.

    'Lucky' occasionally gets pissed off and sulks in this corner, clinging to the fence. ..but not for long

    ‘Lucky’ occasionally gets pissed off and sulks in this corner, clinging to the fence. ..but not for long

     

    3) BUT YES, HAVE PANGOLINS EVER WRITTEN GREAT LITERATURE OR MUSIC? WHY SHOULD I CARE??

    Actually, yes.Listen to Life’s a Ball and Roll with me (by Adam and the Ants) or try reading…er…that really amazing book with a pangolin pun in the title that I’ve forgotten but is great.

    Lucky takes a while to wake up in the morning (which is his evening) but he gets there in the end...

    Lucky takes a while to wake up in the morning (which is his evening) but he gets there in the end…

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    4)  ALRIGHT, ALRIGHT…SO EXACTLY HOW ARE PANGOLINS CAUGHT?

    These are the nets they now use to catch which are considered more ‘humane’ (ie. the pangos die eating their own shit rather than being shot or hung with razor wire). This is not because the traders care about pangolins but because living pangos are worth more.

    They then inject them with water – or if they are lucky, excuse the pun – with rice starch to make them weigh more to sell on the market for profit.Pangolins often die of stomach ulcers caused by stress or the wrong food.

    I repeat – no pangolin has ever bitten anyone. No pangolin ever fought back or swore at anyone. They are innocent.

    The wonderful Phoung of the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) in Cuc phoung national park showing the nets that are used to 'humanely' capture the pangolins for the illegal trade

    The wonderful Phoung of the Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Program (CPCP) in Cuc phoung national park showing the nets that are used to ‘humanely’ capture the pangolins for the illegal trade

     

    Fattening up pangolins by holding them down and force feeding rice starch through a pipe. If the pipe goes down the windpipe they die

    Fattening up pangolins by holding them down and force feeding rice starch through a pipe. If the pipe goes down the windpipe they die. Courtesy of ENV vietnam, see link below for the story behind this image…

     

    read this:

    http://envietnam.org/E_News/Daily_News/Fattening_up_pangolins_to_earn_billions_of_VND.html

     

    5) WHY AREN’T THE VIETNAMESE DOING ANYTHING?

    They are.

    A fair bit. But its not making enough of a difference.  There are a huge number of protected parks and there are laws and there are great organisations like the rescue centre I visited (CPCP) or ENV (click here). The problem is that a) the wildlife trade is getting rampant because winnings are high and punishment is low b) the country is somewhat corrupt and politically sticky. We need global support for the current vietnamese efforts (as well as other countries)

    For example, when pangos are confiscated at the border a loophole in the law allows guards to sell them on for ‘sicentific benefit’, which ends up meaning to restaurants or back into the trade. Pangolins are saved and then sold back to the enemy. We hope for this loop hole to close very soon but it could take years.

    When we visit Lucky at night he hears us coming and sticks his snout through the door.

    When we visit Lucky at night he hears us coming and sticks his snout through the door.

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    6) WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT PREACHER MARTIN?

    Look, I know, I know. I feel like a chanting girl at a murder scene waving fluffy things around while crimes are being committed. And if you touch a pangolin it pretty much dies so what hope do I have? Elope with Lucky to a remote island and live off ants?  I’m trying damn hard: I’m going to try to get into the poaching areas or to the smuggling routes to at least witness the trade, but as one of you reminded me, this is a huge international criminal affair that doesn’t offer tourist sightseeing trips. And I’m not vietnamese – I’m 6’4″

     

    Food is stuffed and hidden in bamboo to make the pango work a little...

    Food is stuffed and hidden in bamboo to make the pango work a little…

    or put high up in containers covered with heavy stone...

    or put high up in containers covered with heavy stone…

    ...or stuffed away...

    …or stuffed away…

    7) IS ANYONE THAT IS MORE TALENTED AND POWERFUL THAN YOU, MARTIN, DOING ANYTHING USEFUL?

    For the first time ever, there is a world conference on pangolins happening RIGHT NOW (I think it actually finished today) . 50 of the top pangolin experts are rolling into Singapore to scale up their conservation efforts. The strange thing is WE STILL DON’T MUCH ABOUT THESE CREATURES so don’t think it’s all under control. It isn’t. But its a wonderful start. Dan Challender, Chris Shepherd et all – go protect!!

    http://www.pangolinsg.org/news/

     

     

    8) WHAT CAN I, THE BLOG READER,  DO TO HELP? 

    Strange as it sounds start by

    1)simple caring. Engage your head and heart. It does matter.

    2) Then tell others about it. Pass on this blog, read more about them

    3) Finally stop eating that pangolin burger and curing your baldness by balancing pangolin scales on your head. IT WON’T WORK. Go and pray to the moon – that will.

    4) If you visit LAOS, VIETNAM, MALAYSIA, CHINA, CAMBODIA be aware that you are in pango territory. You might want to read up about them, visit some conservation centres or make your feelings known to other travellers.

    5) donate  money to the very small and  frugal pangolin research centre that I stayed in (CPCP) who don’t yet have a web site and are not government supported. $1 cares for Lucky or any other pangolin for a whole day.  Send money to myself marked PANGOLIN and I will pass it on. Like their facebook site here

    6) Or support any of these with pangolin conservation programmes

     

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  • DAY 263: ANT ATTACK STRETCHES MY COMPASSION TOO FAR

    Jun 15 2013
    'Is that you little brother?' Bug looks at the bugs.

    ‘Is that you little brother?’ Bug looks at the bugs.

     

    ‘Have they come to your house yet?’ asked our neighbour whilst standing in the street a few days ago. She had just emerged from spraying her house with bleach. 

    Yesterday they appeared at ours.

    A swarm of black dots from under the skirting board. Attack of the ants. These things don’t make the headlines but they do in our house.

    Our dog, Bug, was amazed to see something smaller and blacker than him (‘we’re wearing the same dress to the same party!’ said Bug with silent fury, ‘yeh, but at least we ARE bugs’ said the ants with pride) and so Bug pawed at the floor repeatedly and the ants did their little dance.

    ‘I’ll deal with it’ said Ann briskly

    At first I quickly agreed. Urgh bugs…etc. But then, realising I am meant to be compassionate (and sometimes I forget) I asked later, sheppishly, ‘Can we kill them humanely?’

    Ann’s shoulders sunk in a now familiar way. ‘They are ants.’

    We’d been over this territory many times now  – spiders, slugs, flies, and I was beginning to see her point better than the insects’: how far can this compassion thing go? Do I not fart in bed for fear of killing a bed mite?

    ‘I don’t know,’ I said,  ‘but perhaps we could put some food somewhere else… or put a sign up and ask them to leave?’ Ann looked at me unimpressed. ‘Or…’ I said having a proper idea ‘ could we get the sexiest ant and take it outside so they all follow’ That’s what they do with bees right?

     

    The hoardes

    The hordes arrive. It really was more scary in real life.

     

    Spray time

    ‘I’m getting some spray’ she said.

    Then I did what I always do when I’m morally confused. I went online. I’d advise it next time you aren’t sure of your life’s true direction.

    Healthypages.co.uk had a forum about humane disposal of ants…naturally enough

    Someone called ‘Nishira’ wrote (with what appears to be a catholic icon/photo above her name…or was it Buddhist?):

    “I tried to do some mental praying to the ants to let them know that danger lay ahead and that they are not welcome, and if they don’t leave – i’ll have to spray and bomb the area – and if they don’t  heed my mental warnings i’m afraid i’ll have to resort to killing them’

    I wondered what Nishira looked like. Perhaps it was a man. Other comments were on similar  lines of ‘either we pray or we murder them’. Maybe it was a catholic thing but I felt there ought to be a middle ground between godliness and global destruction. Nevertheless only one other person had another suggestion on the forum and that involved scattering polenta on the floor .. although apparently this mande the ants stronger and come back for more.

    I too like polenta.

    And so does Bug.

    I sat in the other room and winced a little as I heard Ann spray the area next door. But truth be told …I have to tell you, I don’t find it easy to care for ants. Especially if they emerge in their hundreds from the floor screaming your name with blood in their voices. OK…they emerge from the floor.

    My compassion stops short at flies.

    This is probably a weakness but it I feel it illustrates an important point: we all have a boundary to our compassion. That is not right or wrong, it’s just the way it is. No doubt I should extend mine but for now the elastic has stretched as far as it can go and if I go all the way to ants I fear it will snap back into my face.

    I’m with Ann on this one. Hate me if you must but I am but weak.

    Ant burger anyone?

     

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  • DAY 221: UPDATE ON DELHI STREET PUPPY

    May 07 2013
    Tammy with new bandage who is now safe at the Frendicoes rescue centre in Delhi.

    Tammy with new bandage who is now safe at the Frendicoes rescue centre in Delhi.

    I wanted to check up on the little Delhi street dog with the leg scar that had followed me the other day.

    ‘Tommy’, (who is in fact a girl – let’s call her Tammy for now) ended up being taken to a charity shelter called ‘Friendicoes’, which happens to be the dog shelter started and run by Kartick’s working partner at Wildlife SOS, Geeta Seshamani

    I went to visit the shelter and Tammy bounded up to me perfectly happy despite the large strapping on her legs that had been put on to treat the wound.

    'Tammy' rushes to play with me. Puppies seem to be immune to a certain amount of misery.

    ‘Tammy’ rushes to play with me. Puppies seem to be immune to a certain amount of misery.

    Tammy posing

    Tammy posing

    Friendicoes, a dog sanctuary/charity in Delhi

    Friendicoes, the dog sanctuary/charity in Delhi

    Geeta Seshamani, who runs the dog sanctuary Frendicoes and also co-runs Wildlife SOS, posing with some of her rescued dogs

    Geeta Seshamani, who runs the dog sanctuary Frendicoes and also co-runs Wildlife SOS, posing with some of her rescued dogs

    People waiting to be seen at Frendicoes

    People waiting to be seen at Frendicoes

    The enthusiasm of youth seems to immunise puppies from a certain amount of pain. And now her life had changed completely and she didn’t seem too fazed – from a dirty car park to a rescue centre and soon…she’ll be going to a new home.

    While I was at the centre I looked around at the other dogs there. Whereever you go in the world there is a level of brutality to some dogs that is hard to understand.

    Another dog that came in with severe burns. Sometimes people throw battery acid over dogs they don't like.

    Another dog that came in with severe burns. Sometimes people throw battery acid over dogs they don’t like.

    This dog was attacked multiple times with a knife. Who knows why...

    This dog was attacked multiple times with a knife. Who knows why…

    This dog had his lower jaw totally crushed in an accident but is now already able to eat again thanks to the help of Frendicoes

    This dog had his lower jaw totally crushed in an accident but is now already able to eat again thanks to the help of Frendicoes

    Tammy is going to be cared for until she recovers and then they’ll look to find her a new life.  I’ll try and keep up with her story but if anyone wants to donate directly to the centre they are desperately in need of cash (or to me, marked ‘TAMMY’ and  I’ll make sure its passed on to her directly)

    Tammy with an old man hanging outside the rescue cetnre

    Tammy with an old man hanging outside the rescue cetnre

     

    A dog watches the scenery outside the rescue centre

    A dog watches the scenery outside the rescue centre

     

    As per usual you can buy any prints from this blog according to the sizes of the prints here, marking your donation TAMMY so I can make sure it gets to them.

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  • DAY 207: A SHOCKING READ ON FLIGHT TO JUNGLE GIVES ME MOTIVATION

    Apr 24 2013
    A recently released photo of a cheetah hunt in 1891. Wildlife hunting and abuse has a long history in India

    A recently released photo of a cheetah hunt in 1891. Wildlife hunting and abuse has a long history in India. Courtesy of the BBC.

    I’m on a plane to Bangalore to visit Kartick’s rescued bears.

    His sanctuary is some way into the jungle beyond the city. I like the idea of a jungle being just outside the city. It makes a change from Surrey.

    I’m flicking through a book that he gave me: ‘Handbook on Wildlife Law enforcement in India’.

    It is not something I’d buy for a beach trip but it makes uncomfortable reading.

    This is partly because I’m in a really small seat.

    This is ‘Spice Air’ (India’s answer to Ryan Air but with less room and more chilli in the food) and as the person in front leans back my knees fold towards my chest. I’m feeling terrible anyway –a cold from the UK along with all this insipid heat along with unmarked street food from the night before leads to some strange energy moving through my body.

    Not a snappy title but the book has bite.

    Not a snappy title but the book has bite.

    But it’s uncomfortable reading for two other reasons

    Firstly, for just how NASTY the illegal wild life trade is. And secondly, for making me realise I knew next to NOTHING about it.

    The illegal trade in wildlife is the third largest illegal trade in the world after drugs and arms. Estimates value the annual haul at $20 billion USD or even more. That’s a lot of money and a load of death. How exactly did a BBC-news-skimming liberal like myself know so little?

    Perhaps because the trade is fairly complex. Perhaps because the effects are not as vividly felt as bombs or as newsworthy as heroin.

    But the effects are just as deadly.

    The wildlife trade is not only the story of ivory and tiger skin. It is the story of peacocks being killed for their feathers, of owls being sold for witchcraft, of sharks being destroyed for their fins, of tigers being embalmed for wine, of baboons being slaughtered for bushmeat, of bears being sold for the ‘medicinal’ quality of their penises. It is a collection of stories that make up one terrible tale of animals being abused for man’s superficial ends: ornamentation, taste and (so-called) health.

    Man smuggles live eggs

    Man smuggles live bird eggs

    Depressing read

    The list of ways in which animals are killed – guns, pits, electric wires, nets, poison, leg traps, snares, is matched only by the list of animals that are killed – tigers, bears, elephants, rhinos, peacocks, leopards….and on and on.

    And it’s all getting so much worse.

     

    An elephant killed by electrocution. Grim

    An elephant killed by electrocution. Grim

    With increasing globalization (poachers can coordinate by phone and sell online) and better technology (easier international travel, better killing techniques) and relatively weak punishments for those that are caught (trading in narcotics or arms leads to much heavier penalities), more and more organized criminals are turning to the joys of stuffing pangolin scales down their knickers.

    Very little illegally traded wildlife is for the Indian market - it all goes abroad

    Very little illegally traded wildlife is for the Indian market – it all goes abroad

    Conservation vs welfare

    Many people argue against the wildlife trade on conservation grounds. I don’t see it that way. Although the pangolin itself is traded so ruthlessly that it is fast on the way to extinction I care more about the suffering of the individual. The pain of the pangolin forced into a plastic bag, transported inhumanely, killed brutally is what should upset us most. That pain multiplied many thousands of times over is more concerning than a statistic or downward graph in a newspaper of the whole species.

    Welfare is what upsets me. The eyes of this bird are sewn shut to stop it flying away.

    Welfare is what upsets me. The eyes of this bird are sewn shut to stop it flying away.

    Now I understand why Kartick dedicates his life to busting the criminal networks involved in wildlife crime. Although India doesn’t consume wildlife like China does, this countries need for money along with its criminal and corrupt underclass means that wildlife here are suffering grotesque levels of misery.

    From BBC

    From BBC. My camera is better than this.

    Maybe I should man-up and join Kartick on a rescue after all. He keeps whispering to me that a bear cub will need rescuing in a few days. ‘when we have all the intel together’.

    I’m ready.

    Except I think I have bronchitis.

    Rhinos can bleed to death after losing their horns to poachers.

    Rhinos can bleed to death after losing their horns to poachers.

    NEXT BLOG: MEETING HUNDREDS OF RESCUED BEARS. BUT HOW AM I MEANT TO HELP?

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  • DAY 198: WE DID IT! MANGO IS FLYING BUSINESS CLASS TO THE UK

    Apr 12 2013

    rescuemangodone

    MANGO IS COMING TO THE UK! 

    thank you…once again

    We’ve hit the target…and shot over it

    £1300 raised

    A new life for a small dog. The donations were going up nicely when we got blasted with a £750 donation from a pet lifestyle site called Petspyjamas in the UK taking us WELL OVER the target.

    Mango can now fly business class!

    Thank you to each and everyone one of you. Whatever your donation, big or small, you made this happen. I’m so incredibly touched. And a big  thank you to Petspyjamas, please take a look at their lovely site here, a totally unexpected donation.

    The royal reaction has already been positive

    The Queen is reportedly delighted

    Costs covered

    This money will now cover all of Mango’s medicals in Manila, the customs checks, her crate, the flights to London, the UK customs checks AND give Mango a lovely bed and toys in London.

    Any left over, if there is some, will be given back to Network for Animals who are doing amazing work trying to rid the Philippines of the dog meat trade. We are currently investigating if it might even be viable for me to go out again to escort her back safely…

     

    Mango is doing really well in Manila

    Mango is doing really well in Manila but looking forward to a new life in Britain.

    Here she is at her temporary residence with the mother of Network for Animals’ resident vet.

    She’s put on some serious bulk in a few weeks (gulp – we may need to get her a bigger crate still – check out those paws), apparently she has really come out of her shell and she’s had her full medical done and will be microchipped shortly.

    I’ll give you an update as to her health and expected return time soon. We expect it to take another few months

    THANK YOU SO MUCH AGAIN. YOU’VE GIVEN THIS DOG A NEW LIFE.

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  • DAY 196: A (slightly late) HALF YEAR REVIEW – part 1

    Apr 09 2013

    Its (a little over) 6 months since I started this year-long project and I want to report on how things are going.

    Have I helped any animals? What have I learnt? Do you even care?

     

    Helped

    1. HOW MUCH HAVE I REALLY HELPED?

    According to my own statistics… (as Robert Mugabe said when counting his votes)… I have so far saved…

    12 dogs, 10 fish, 3 birds (9 rescued and 6 killed, oops), 255 snails and slugs.

    (for a detailed breakdown click here)

    It doesn’t sound like much. A man in China may have eaten this last month.

    But it IS positive and does prove that individually you can make a difference.

    Or does it?

    Everywhere I go I need the access, the help, and not least, the inspiration of others. People like Charl and Trevor et all. And, of course, all the money raised has come from YOU. (thank you)

    Unless you are administering mouth to mouth resuscitation to a polar bear on an empty ice floe its almost impossible to help without the help of others. We’re all interconnected. A butterfly flaps his wings in Hackney and a Big Mac collapses in Beijing

    The central premise of this book, then – how many animals can ONE man help in one year – is kind of screwed.

    BUT, paradoxically, the central premise of this book still stands. Precariously, but gloriously, like a tower made of Jell-o.

    We must INDIVIDUALLY go out and help so that TOGETHER things might get better. And if that sounds obvious then so be it. With others’ help I’ve helped and that feels wonderful – like a big group hug.

     

     

    Touching

    2. WHAT’S THE BIGGEST LESSON I HAVE LEARNT?

    It’s this: that it’s vital touch upon suffering. Strange as it sounds. We must expose ourselves to the problem.

    When you see a dog getting hit by a car you instinctively help. When you hear the whines from the next door street you stop to listen. When you read about it in the local papers you turn the page and eat some bacon.

    In the West it’s easy to protect ourselves from the harsh realities of animal suffering by distance and duvets. Out of sight, out of heart. In some ways the avoidance of suffering is

    But this can have it’s own painful consequences.

    It is terrifying the speed at which, on returning to England I retreat back into comfort and then the fridge and then emails and then a sort of moral standby mode.

    We calcify in everyday air.

    Conversely, when I’ve been confronted by the suffering of a puppy out in India or the death of a deer in Sussex it’s truly horrifying but it’s also motivating – life swings a great big foot in my butt and says: do what’s important. Help.

    If you care about something then the key requirement seems to be this: only connect. The rest will follow.

     

     

    Helping

    3. HAS HELPING CHANGED ME AS A PERSON?

    I’m financially poorer.

    But am I emotionally richer?

    To my surprise I don’t feel a build up of horror or outrage (as much as I have felt those things). Instead, the sadness has led to some sort of softening. It’s not fireworks but I feel a shift.

    For a start I have a greater sense of alignment with the world (like the alcoholic who finally admits there’s a problem it feels weirdly helpful to face the issue of animal welfare straight in the eye). I have also become incrementally kinder to others and not just animals ( I actually help old people in the street rather than being amazed by their swollen ankles) and most vitally I feel more love for myself.

    What??

    I spent a number of years doing a Buddhist practice that involved telling myself I was loveable. I found it impossible. After three years I gave up

    I don’t think I’m a bad person at all but I seem to suffer from that strangely common affliction in the West where we think that loving yourself is akin to masturbating in the bushes.

    Last month I did the self-love practice again and a strange thing happened: I dissolved into tears. As I wept, I felt a tiny rush of love run through me. Perhaps it was my breakfast repeating on me but just perhaps, perhaps, it was because giving out something gives you back something.

    It does beg the question though – am I doing this year for me or for the animals?

    Both, I think.

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