• DAY 338: ANOTHER PIG DISLIKES ME..BUT I FEEL I’M GETTING A LITTLE CLOSER NOW

    Aug 31 2013

    Before I go undercover into intensive pig farms I decided I ought to meet some pigs that are a little closer to be farm animals – and yet still treated as individuals.  

    So I went to visit Gill Coleman, a woman just outside London who has three rare-breed pigs that she keeps on free-roaming land and which she leaves alone to just … be pigs. 

    Would these pigs like me any better than Snout and Crackling?

    Would I get a little closer to understanding what pigs ARE REALLY LIKE?

    Would I have a pig epiphany?

    Would I be attacked again?

    Hmmmmm….

    Three little piggies (that in fact weigh 75 stone in total)

    Gill Coleman keeps three fairly large pigs, of which two are Oxford Sandy and Blacks and the other is a Kunekune who, a little like Snout from my  last pig visit, took a bit of a dislike to me. See the video above.

    What is it with me and kunekunes?

    These pigs are kept with a lot of love – Gill  treats them for any ailment, washes them regularly, feeds them fresh vegetables and fruit and lets them have the run of some small forested land, rich in smells and texture. They are too old to be eaten and she keeps them purely for enjoyment. If I was to be a pig I’d want to live here.

    But I’m interested in the cross-over between animal as pet and as food.  Eating dogs is a huge taboo, at least in the West, just as eating horses is – see the recent horse-meat scandal. But how does someone who looks after pigs for the love of it feel about eating pork?

    Gill is not vegetarian, although she is a very conscientious meat-eater, only eating the best reared meat.  A while back Gill slaughtered one of her younger pigs and although she found it incredibly difficult it was not as distasteful as she thought:

    ‘At first it was awful. I cried and cried outside the slaughter house. But we have an image of the slaughter houses being so bad and actually this one was on an organic farm and It was over very quickly and I am sure as humanely as possible. I did try some of the pork but I can’t say I enjoyed it. But I don’t have a problem with eating meat occasionally as long as it is high welfare and organic.’

    I found this both reassuring and also a little confusing for my small moral mind. Gill is about as likeable and compassionate as a person can be, these pigs are incredibly well cared for, and yet I’m not sure how I would feel about slaughtering an animal I had got to know on a personal level. Nevetheless its clear, if we had more people like Gill, the world would be a much better place.

    After a short chat Gill left me alone with the pigs.

    Gill Coleman and one her three pigs that she keeps on some land outside of London

    Gill Coleman and one her three pigs that she keeps on some land outside of London

     

    Pigging out.

    I stayed with them for a number of hours and  did something I rarely do. I just sat. Doing nothing. Pigging out.

    When the pigs slept I stared at them, watching their bodies rise and fall, their heavy breathing disturbing the hay under their snouts.  I watched them like a baby sitter watches an infant in its bed.

    When they arose I followed them from a small distance as they explored for food using their snouts to inspect every square inch of the rough ground. I watches as they pushed up against a tree to scratch themselves. I watched as they looked for physical comfort and watched as they interacted with each other – sometimes lying face to face, sometimes getting mad at each other when they had to share the water bowl.

     

    What did I learn?

    I can safely say I made NO scientific discovery whatsoever about the life of pigs. They breathe, they eat, they sleep.

    But I found the process, nevertheless, strangely educational. Moving also.

    These pigs were alive just as I was alive and… that was that.

    They behaved very much like my dogs do when they are a little calmer and more tired and do not notice I am there. They behaved a little like I do on a Sunday morning, looking for food, snoozing, scratching. They behaved naturally.

    If I had never seen an animal before in my life and I met these pigs, aside from being fascinated and scared I believe I would consider them as a young child might, knowing that they are another being and that  should I stick a sharp stick in their back I would be causing them pain just as if I did the same to my own arm.

    One does not need to be an expert in nature to know this. But one needs to be a natural human to understand this. And sometimes I think we lose what is natural about us and relation to animals. There is a lot to said for just BEING with animals and accepting our shared experience. Breathing the same air so to speak. Oink to that.

     

    Jude sleeps:

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  • DAY 333: TAKING PIGS FOR A WALK IN LONDON IS HARDER THAN YOU THINK

    Aug 26 2013
    Antonia Pugh-Thomas with her two kunekune pigs, Crackling (left), Snout (right)

    Antonia Pugh-Thomas with her two kunekune pigs, Crackling (left), Snout (right)

    Antonia Pugh-Thomas is a typical middle-class West-Londoner:  well spoken, stylish, mother-of-three and when she’s not riding a motorbike she’s walking her two large pigs in the local park.

    ‘I have a full licence for Snout and Crackling. I carry it with me at all times when I’m out.’ she says.

    She walks her two adorable Kunekune pigs (which is Maori for ‘fat and round’)  using large dog leashes and a certain amount of determination. Both pigs weigh in at over 100kg and have an independent spirit.  ‘I have  toned arm muscles’ she says. Antonia is a likeable, lively pesonality.

     

    Antonia-pugh-10

    Antonia walks her pigs with a licence, regularly going to the local park

    Antonia-pugh-11

    I’m here to meet these two pigs because I want to understand the emotional life of pigs.

    If they are so intelligent, sensitive and emotional why don’t more people have them as pets?

    Will getting to know them make me more empathetic to them as a species?

    And can you even get to know a pig?

    ‘They make perfect companions’ says Antonia who keeps them in fenced area in the garden with fresh hay and a home-made shelter system. She has trained them to sit on command and she  feeds them fruit and fine vegetarian food.  They are both beautiful creatures, with fine, clean hair and an ease about them.

    ‘One of my favourite things is to come back from work, pour myself a beer and lie on top of them whilst reading the newspaper’.

    ‘On top of them?’

    ‘They love to be close’

    Snout (left) and Crackling (right) get very excited when they know they are going for a walk

    Snout (left) and Crackling (right) get very excited when they know they are going for a walk

    Antonia and Crackling clearly have a close relationship

    Antonia and Crackling clearly have a close relationship. But can I get I make my own emotional connection?

    Antonia-pugh

    Snout sits for food

    Snout sits for food

    Snout doesn’t like me too much

    While I’m taking photos Antonia is cautious to protect me.

    Crackling, the one with black spots is less of a problem but Snout, very regal and fine in his beige coat is more dominant and naturally wants to protect his area. He is keen to show me who is boss and regularly nuzzles me. No doubt I would be unsure if he also walked into my house too.

    ‘They have quite a bite so you have to be careful.’ I had no ideas pig BIT but I was soon to find out otherwise. Perhaps that’s why they clip pigs teeth in intensive farms (without anaesthetic) ‘But they are not aggressive creatures,’ she continues. ‘Snout got attacked in a park by a dog and  just squealed in fear and it took fifteen minutes to get the dog off. He needed many stitches. Pigs are hunted not hunters.’

    I find myself rather jealous of Antonia’s bond with her pigs. They seem very unimpressed by me. Not like a dog would be. But perhaps this is exactly why pigs are smarter than dogs – they don’t blindly accept strangers.

    Antonia and Snout in the back yard

    Antonia and Snout in her back yard / garden. Hay is one of the most effective ways to give a pig comfort and stimulation.

    Antonia-pugh-15

    Cracking

    Crackling

     

    ‘Do they show their emotions?’ I ask.

    ‘oh yes,’ says Antonia, ‘they recognise me when I come back, they get incredibly excited for food, they know when they are going for a walk and they are incredibly affectionate. Crackling looks like Gordon Brown when he is mad. But they are as personable as dogs. And I’ve had dogs with them too’

     

    Walking a pig turns you into a celebrity - of sorts

    Walking a pig turns you into a celebrity – of sorts

    You'll need a licence if you want to get your own pig to walk in the park.

    You’ll need a licence if you want to get your own pig to walk in the park.

    The pigs have a fairly strong will - and weight to back it ip

    The pigs have a fairly strong will – and weight to back it ip

    Snout ignoring the dogs and joggers in the park

    Snout ignoring the dogs and joggers in the park

    Walking the pigs

    The problem is that in a short amount of time it’s not easy to immediately…. connect with a pig. Clearly Antonia has a special bond, but the barrier to friendship is not as low as with a madly waggy tailed dog.

    Antonia walks down the middle of the road with her pigs, conscientiously cleaning up the kilos of poop and stopping to speak to every incredulous passer-by. I imagine this is what it is like to be famous – apart from the public crapping.

    She lets them off at the park and they run to the grass. Joggers stop, kids scream in delight, local dogs come and sniff but the two kunekune are oblivious, they just want to eat STUFF.

    ‘Could we take a photo over here?’ I ask Antonia

    Although the pigs didn't like me too much they were very happy to hang out with kids.

    Although the pigs didn’t like me too much they were very happy to hang out with kids.

    pigs in a passage

    Pigs in a passage. I have slightly knocked knees. Someone once said the only downside of this is that you ‘can’t stop a pig in a passage’

    Crackling has a mind of his own

    Crackling in the flowerbed – he has a mind of his own

     

    Crackling has a melt down

    ‘OK, maybe you could try and get Crackling’

    I reach for the leash and try and gently pull her over.  Crackling starts to resist and whine. I know not to put up wiht this from my dogs so I pull harder. Except its not that easy with 105 kilos of pig. Crackling starts to scream and pushes his face to the ground so that I can’t take him any further. People look at me like I’m a pig abuser.

    ‘Oh, he thinks you are taking him home. He knows it’s too soon, we’ll have to keep going forward’

    What I am witnessing is a pig STROP. I’ve read that pigs have the mental age of a three year old. I didn’t realise that at times they behave like one too. This is extraordinary. But I feel like I’m seeing something here – a little of their fears and desires.

     

    Antonia-pugh-19

    Walking picks requires very large bags

    Walking picks requires very large bags

    Later on I make the mistake of trying to pose with both pigs. I feel that at 100kg myself I should be able to manage their weight. How wrong I am. I am tied in knots as they pull in different direction and then walk circles round me.   I try and give Snout a firmer tug but he shows me he’s not to be pushed around and sinks one of his teeth into my leg. Ouch.

    This is not what I had hoped for but I certainly made a connection. Of sorts. These pigs are very much alive – independent, determined, emotional and smart. They know what they want: walks, emotional closeness, apples. They just don’t want me.

     

    Controlling 210KG on string is not easy

    Controlling 210KG on string is not easy

    Personality goes a long way

    In the movie Pulp Fiction the character of Jules claims he wouldn’t eat dog because  ‘a dog’s got personality. Personality goes a long way’.

    Vincent replies ‘Ah, so by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he would cease to be a filthy animal. Is that true? Jules then says, ‘Well, we’d have to be talkin’ about one charming motherfucking pig.’

    Antonia is a special breed of human – she sees that these creatures as so much more than units of production and rather as emotionally rewarding individuals. But as smart and likeable as they are I don’t feel immediately charmed. However, this is less to do with the pigs and more to do with my own expectations. Why should an animal have to dance like a puppy to win us over?  I’ve no doubt if I spent more time with both animals I would bond infinitely more.

    I need to spend more time with pigs…perhaps I need to be the one charming them

    NEXT: I’m off to a small pig sanctuary outside London to ….just hang out. 

     

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  • DAY 328: AND THE MYSTERY ANIMAL IS…..

    Aug 20 2013

    pig_diagram_resize

    Four legs, oink oink, ketchup, british policeman

    Not so mysterious at all.

    Or is it?

    How much does the average person know about the average animal that they eat so regularly for their average breakfast?

    I’ve decided that over the next few months I will tell the life of a typical pig from birth to death and the welfare issues associated with it. At this point I hear the click of departure to other blogs and to more entertaining animal fodder. Kitten dances to ABBA. Monkey sticks finger up bum.

    What a smell....

    What a smell….

    But pigs can be sooo cute too...

    But pigs can be sooo cute too…

    mini pigs

     

    But I want to strike a deal. If its true that the prevalence of intensive farming depends largely on ignorance (or denial) of what happens behind closed doors then the last thing I want is to make you turn  away. You clearly CARE. Who will listen if not you?

    pigs_2063244b

    I’m not travelling to India to see pigs attacked with hammers. I’m not going to tiny farms in remote Laos. I’m heading to good upstanding EU countries that are subjected to strict welfare laws far more rigid than in China or India or Brazil (where they kill far more pigs than in Europe). In return I hope you’ll carry on reading.I don’t want to seek out gore, I don’t want to show pictures of death or slaughter or one in a thousand cruelty. I want simple truths about what happens to a  EU pig from birth to death. Should we not know?

    Every year around 1 billion pigs are killed. Nearly half are killed in China but a large proportion of the rest in Europe, with Germany being the biggest consumer.

    I will witness for you the life of one of the many millions of EU pigs. I will describe my emotions with honesty and I will show the good side of European farms as well as the not so good.

     

    Two problems

    1) The first problem is that 90% of pigs that are farmed in Europe are intensively farmed. Which means living their lives indoors for a few months before they meat, I mean meet, their end. I’ve no doubt that many of you are vege/vegan or organic meat eaters. But clearly if I’m to do justice to a TYPICAL EU pig I have to spend a fair amount of time looking at typical intensive farms.

    2) The second problem is:  how on earth do I get access?

     

    Happy Pigs

    But first I’m going to go and meat, I mean meet, some happy pigs. I’m off to visit a wonderful woman in London who has two pet pigs and who knows about the animals and also abotu farming.

    This may sound ridiculous but I figure if I don’t know pigs as individuals – what they are LIKE, then how can I begin to understand their emotional journey? A pig in Fulham is not an intensively farmed pig – but that is the point.

    Come with me as we get to know pigs in all their guises.

    If he thinks he's going to get access to me with that business card he's having a a laugh.

    If he thinks he’s going to get access into intensive farms he’s having a laugh

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  • DAY 323: DOES VEGETARIANISM MATTER? SOME VAGUELY INSULTING Q&As

    Aug 15 2013

    Vege-martinusborne_1

    How many animals does one ‘save’ (or not kill) by being vegetarian?

    What would happen to all the cows if the whole world went vege over night?

    Does it really matter?

    Is vegetarianism healthy?

    And will I really never be able to lick the hot grease off a fine  piece of morning bacon again? (I can hear the vegetarian’s vomiting over their keyboards)

     

    I’ve come to the conclusion that there is simply no argument against vegetarianism.

    Not one.

    It is more compassionate than a meat diet, healthier (in almost all cases) and far more ecologically friendly. Those that argue against it are either wrong or foolish (there is the odd person that physically can not deal with it, granted). And yet … I’ve eaten meat most of my life, even for most of this year of so called ‘help’. This is what interests me. When there is so much wrong with meat why is there so much meat eaten? Are we all bastards?  I don’t think so.

    Right from the start of this project everyone on my blog kept hounding me to become vege. But I resisted. I didn’t want it to be an intellectual decision which I’d later reverse but something that came from my heart – that beating pound of flesh in my  meaty chest.

    After seeing enough suffering the transition happened, rather undramatically, and meat fell off the menu like a leaf  in autumn. And now that I’ve been vegetarian for a  while I feel very different. Not in my body :  that still creaks and farts, but rather I feel more sane in my mind. Dare I say it, I feel more at peace? It’s been surprisingly easy to adapt.

    But why is it so hard for the wider society to accept the change?  As China and India become more economically powerful their meat consumption goes up (in the main cities of China people eat as much if not more than in Europe). The number of farm animals being killed each year is rising rapidly (only 15 years ago it was some 10 billion less at 50 billion)

    Let’s look at some basic Q and A’s about vegetarianism.  Forgive the cursory, sometimes stupid glance, but a blog demands tofu to be cut into bite-sized chunks.

     

    Vege-martinusborne_number

    1. How many animals a year does one ‘save’ by being vegetarian?

    According to a scarily nerdy website called countinganimals (‘where nerdism meets animal rights’) the number of animals ‘saved’ by being vegetarian (or more accurately, the number of animals NOT killed) is rated incredibly high.

    My jaw has hit the floor. If these numbers are right I would have done more good by working as a banker for a year but eating tofu than doing this year to help.  Calculations are not just based on how many animals we eat but how many animals die as a result of the farm industry. Many citations are given and the calculations are in depth. However, the data is from the US (where they eat almost twice as much meat as in Europe) and by an animal rights person so the numbers might well be skewed upwards. They are:

    30 Land animals

    225 Fish

    151 Shellfish

    = A vegetarian saves more than 406 animals a year. MORE THAN ONE A DAY.

    Other estimates put the number at a lower figure of 100 animals a year. I will go into this in much more detail in my book but nevertheless the impact of changing diet is clearly huge on the farm population. For the weeks that I have been vegetarian I am going to afford myself a conservative number of animals saved on the right hand panel.

     

    Vege-martinusborne_planet

    2. Why does vegetarianism matter?

    Ok here are the basics.

    ENVIRONMENT

    1) cows and other farm animals fart out more harmful gasses than ALL transport  in the whole world, including aviation. And I thought I was bad…

    2) meat is an inefficient way to feed the planet. It takes over 12 times more grain to produce enough meat to fill a person up than it does to just feed the grain to the same human. Cut out the middle-cow. Keep in mind, however, that food quantity is not the only cause of poor nutrition, lack of access and political nonsense gets in the way too. Still – meat cost the planet.

    3) One of the key factors in the extinction of species by man is our need for more land for farming and the resulting habitat destruction for other animals. The destruction of wild land for farm grazing is a cause of extinction in the listing of 171 species.

    4) It takes 2500 gallons of water to make a pound of beef. It takes 220 gallons to make a pound of tofu. Do vegetarians get to miss a hose-pipe ban?

     

    WELFARE

    1) 75% of all the 67billion farm animals killed each year in the world are in intensive farm systems. That means they are over crowded, under-cared for, separated from mothers at a young age, killed often brutally.  There is a temptation, if you are middle class and western, to think that the nice local organic butcher reflects a global shift towards local compassionate food. Bullocks. Intensive farming is on the up and as long as profit and unit cost are pitted against animals and suffering, the latter loses. More animals killed in less time with less resources. The cry of pain from those billions of animals, even if you consider all animals as massively inferior to humans, dwarfs any single event of human misery.

    2) Do we have the right to kill ANY animals for our pleasure?

     

    HEALTH

    See below

     

     

    Vege-martinusborne_cows

    3. What would happen to all the cows if we went vege over night?

    They would go insane and take over the world. This is a stupid hypothetical question which isn’t worth indulging. It won’t happen. If we went vege less demand would mean less intensive breeding. A more relevant question might be ‘if we are all vege none of those animals would have existed, therefore we should eat meat, no?’.

    Ah…but considering that 90% have a crap life in intensive farm systems then that’s not so persuasive There is a more reasoned argument for the existence of animals that are kept on good organic farms with high welfare standards. But does this mean we have a right to kill and eat them? Read Peter Singer.

     

     

     

    Vege-martinusborne_time

    4. But we’ve been eating meat for 2.3 million years!

    We’ve also been without electricity, the wheel or shower gel for most of those 2.3 million. Just because we’ve done something one way for a long time don’t make it right.

     

     

    Vege-martinusborne_dead

    5. But it’s dead already!

    So is your grandmother. This is not an argument to eat meat. It might have 2% validity if you find some roadkill and decide to make mole-soup.  It doesn’t wash with farm animals. No, you don’t kill the lamb with your bare hands but buying it from the supermarket still causes – …oh this is stupid point, I’m not continuing.

     

     

    Vege-martinusborne_hunt

    6. Many animals hunt other animals. Eating meat is natural!

    Aggression, rape and murder are also prevalent in the natural world. So, for that matter, are earthquakes and genital warts. Nature doesn’t always know best or else my car would stop rusting. The point of civilisation is to widen our circle of compassion and act more, er, civilised. We no longer need to kill our neighbour if he steals our land. We simply go to the police and then pee through his letterbox.

     

    Vege-martinusborne_protein

    7. We need protein!

    This is a  myth. Hardly anyone, at least in Britain, suffers from protein deficiency caused by lack of meat. Even meat eaters get most of their daily required protein from the vegetables and grains that they eat. Meat does give protein, but vegetarians can easily get what they need

     

    Vege-martinusborne_ill

    8. Vegetarianism is unhealthy!

    There’s mounting evidence that eating meat, especially red meat and processed meat can contribute to heart disease and some cancers. There’s also ample evidence that many vegetarians are totally healthy, if not more so. Many experts claim that vegetarianism can make you thinner and live longer. But others argue against it.  You have to accept that many vegetarians are hippies too. Because vegetarians tend to be morally aware they are also more likely to be smarter about their food, better at exercising and less likely to inject heroin which skews the picture. This last bit is not science. Some vegetarians could do with eating vitamin B12 and some people probably don’t do well on the diet, just like some people don’t do well with wheat or reading The Guardian.

     

    Vege-martinusborne_farm

    9. Can’t we just have happier farms?

    Ultimately farming – however well managed –  rests on the assumption that humans have a right to eat and therefore control and abuse animals. That right is born out by power not by logic. No animals have a say in this. However, as long as farming exists we must demand that it is compassionate. This is why organisations like Compassion in World Farming both exist and are essential, and why so many people that work there are vegan.

     

    Vege-martinusborne_nometa

    10. OK. You are persuading me. Do we have to give up all meat?

    Meat eaters tend to be binary. It’s either 80 hamburgers a week or nothing. You are either a vegetarian or a meat eater. (And people who eat fish are fake vegetarians). This is nonsense. It’s as valid to cut down your meat as it is to cut down your smoking. Try and eat less if you can.

     

    Vege-martinusborne_bacon

    11. Will I really never lick a piece of bacon again?

    Never again. Meat tastes damn good. But I bet human flesh does as well if its in a fine burrito with a deceptive label. Just call it horse meat or something. People will gallop to it.

     

     

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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…

    blog3-8

     

    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 273: AND THE MYSTERY CREATURE IS….A PANGOLIN!!!! (never heard of it??)

    Jun 26 2013
    The young pangolin. Why do so few people care about these incredible creatures?

    The young pangolin. Why do so few people care about these incredible creatures? I am in Vietnam to find out.

    At a fairly young age we learnt that a good way to deal with misery in the world was to crawl into a ball. I guess we can blame our mother’s womb.

    But not much later we also learnt that crawling into a ball was not a good long term solution. There are still days when I’m tempted to roll under my duvet and look at my navel but I’ve learnt  that it is always more productive to get up and face the world.

    The pangolin never learnt this lesson. It is a small scaly anteater that looks much like a pine cone on legs and which has the dubious title of being the the world’s most illegally traded mamal and a creature you may never have heard of.

    A perfect ball!

    A perfect ball!

    Although Pangolins have nice wide eyes they mostly use their noses to find their way and food.

    Although Pangolins have nice wide eyes they mostly use their noses to find their way and food.

    That is because for 70 million (70 million!!) it has been gloriously successful at defending a solitary ecological niche by using its unique scaley armour to fend of all manner of attacks…yes, by crawling into a perfect ball. It is a marvel of survival. It has been around even longer than the Apple 1 computer.  Until now. While it’s defence mechanism is perfect against tigers it is not so good against poachers with a simple plastic bag. The creatures have no teeth and are completely defenceless against being picked up, put in bags, then traded and killed for their meat and scales.

    Pangolins are incredibly agile and strong and can hang from their tails whilst looking for food.

    Pangolins are incredibly agile and strong and can hang from their tails whilst looking for food.

    Pangolins are being decimated by the illegal wildlife trade at such a rate that David Blaine could well hire them for a vanishing act. Although the Chinese (yes, those pesky Chinese) have always had a taste for pangolin meat and held a belief that their scales (which are made of keratin, essentially no different from our fingernails) can cure all manner of ills, including DEATH, in the last ten to fifteen years the trade has boomed due to ease of international travel and communication.

    Baby pangolins already have very well developed protection and tails

    Baby pangolins already have very well developed protection and tails

     

    The baby pangolin will live on its mother's back for a number of weeks before being able to travel on its own

    The baby pangolin will live on its mother’s back for a number of weeks before being able to travel on its own

    Giddy-up!

    Giddy-up!

     

    Even if pangolin trades are intercepted they have very little chance of survival as the stress of the travel and their unique diets make them extremely vulnerable

    Getting into a ball does little to stop the traders picking you up. Even if pangolin traders are intercepted the pangolins have very little chance of survival as the stress of the travel and their unique diets make them extremely vulnerable to stomach ulcers and fatigue

     

    Out in Vietnam

    The pangolin is totally f**cked. Excuse my Swedish, but this is real bad.

    And I am out in Vietnam, one of the natural habitats and hotspots for illegal trade, to find out more.

     

    A VERY ROUGH MAP!! VIETNAM AT THE HEART OF THE PANGOLIN TRADE

    A VERY ROUGH MAP!! VIETNAM AT THE HEART OF THE PANGOLIN TRADE (and me lost somewhere in the middle)

     

    Experts that I have spoken to fear that some of the Asian species, of which there are four (there are four in Africa too) may become extinct in the next decade or so and that trade is now so unsustainable that it is moving to Africa where new flight paths can ship these defenceless creatures to….yeh, you guessed, it China.

    I’m totally enchanted by Pangolins. I hope you will be too after the next few days. They are the unsung hero of the wildlife trade. Curiously one of the main reasons they suffer is because no-one cares about them so there is very little public and therefore poltical will to stop the trade. They are not as sexy as Tigers or as grand as elephants or as charismatic as rhinos but …

    THEY ROLL INTO A PERFECT BALL.

    What’s not to like?

    Pangolins are often caught in a trap that consists of bamboo sticks that lead them into a net. Once they are in a ball they net is shut tight and they are transported - living - like this for days.

    Pangolins are often caught in a trap that consists of bamboo sticks that lead them into a net. Once they are in a ball they net is shut tight and they are transported – living – like this for days.

    Boiled

    Boiled

    Their name Pangolin comes from the malay word for ‘Roller’ in fact. And damn, are they cute too. They have no teeth, are deeply shy, come out at night, only eat termites and ants, climb trees, hang from their tails upside down, have little black eyes and get scared real easy.

    But when they are caught they don’t survive for long. They are driven across borders alive (living animals are always valued more), often injected with water to increase their weight or force fed the wrong food. They normally perish in a few days because of a)stress b)they can’t go to the loo when they are rolled up c) they can’t drink…

    (excuse me for a second while I take a breath…I’m sitting in a Vietnamese restaurant outside Hanoi eating spinach and rice and my neighbor just ordered a chicken. I suddenly heard the chicken squawk with a cut to the throat…phew, I’ve gone meat-free just in time)

    In China - and in Vietnam - pangolin meat is considered a delicacy especially amongst the business community. This is a rich person's past time with a kilo or live pangolin reaching up to 500USD on the market.

    In China – and in Vietnam – pangolin meat is considered a delicacy especially amongst the business community. This is a rich person’s past time with a kilo or live pangolin reaching up to 500USD on the market.

    The scales of Pangolins are stripped for use in Chinese medicine even though their efficacy has not been proved. Their meat is prized for food.

    The scales of Pangolins are stripped for use in Chinese medicine even though their efficacy has not been proved. Their meat is prized for food.

    A very silent pain

    OK…back to the pangos. The pangolins are suffering a vast and deeply SILENT pain that is getting worse by the moment. This is our last chance to try and save them and we can all play a part. While they may seem prehistoric or even mythical these are beautiful creatures and campaigners admit that a key issue is raising awareness amongst the public

    I want you to knock on your neighbours door and tell them that ‘Pangolin’s are bloody amazing’ and then get into a perfect ball and roll back to your house. We HAVE TO GET THE WORD OUT. Please…KEEP READING OVER NEXT FEW DAYS.

    I’m out here in Vietnam for two weeks to do my bit.

    What can I do? I have NO IDEA!!!! I’m really at a loss (ask Ann who I wailed to on the phone the other day saying I had no idea what I was doing)

    But I’ve come to a sanctuary in Cuc Phuong National Park where they have a wonderfully named ‘Pangolorium’ to meet some of these creatures and then follow my nose from there. They only have a handful of these creatures because they are so hard to keep in captivity but many many pangolins are harvested from or travel through Vietnam and Laos. If I don’t get anywhere I can always climb into a ball and I know I’ll be safe.

     

    MORE ABOUT PANGOLINS:

    A nice website

    http://savepangolins.org/what-is-a-pangolin/

     

    More specialist info:

    http://www.pangolinsg.org/

     

    WATCH DAVID ATTENBOROUGH LIST PANGOLINS AS ONE OF HIS TOP TEN CREATURES TO SAVE:

     

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  • DAY 270: I’M OFF TO VIETNAM

    Jun 22 2013
    Ahhh...ain't it cute. Found tiny fledgling that had apparently fallen from tree on main road. Ushered him back to the tree.

    Ain’t it cute. Found tiny fledgling in East London that had apparently fallen from tree on main road. Ushered him back to the tree where he seemed fine.

    Ahhhhhh…. I’m rushing. (as always)

    Too little time to write now but tomorrow I’m off to Vietnam to work with a very unusual animal that is more threatened than almost any other on the planet.

    It can defend itself perfectly against tigers with huge claws but not a poacher with a plastic bag, it has been around for 70million years but is about to go extinct, it is  fascinating, charismatic and unusual and yet it is hardly understood at all.

    More on this wonderous creature that has the dubious honour of being the most illegally traded animal in the world. All will be revealed. When I even find some internet connection out there.

     

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  • DAY 261: 24 HOURS FROM DEATH AND NOW BRITAIN’S CUTEST STAFFY?

    Jun 13 2013

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    It’s been quite a while since I ran the campaign to find Britain’s Cutest Staffy with the wonderful All Dogs Matter charity. Finally… I have some images of the winner, Jess, a gorgeous black staffie that visited the studio recently.

    It so happens that Jess is a rescue staffie.

    Her story is typical of so many like her. Kate, her owner, describes it in her own words:

    “Jess was on death row, 24 hours away from being put to sleep before she was rescued by the charity. We lost our previous Staffie after 13 years so was looking to adopt when Jess came along. After having her for 48 hours she was rushed to the vets and underwent an emergency operation for Pyometra. The vets removed 2 kilo of womb and infection from her and said it was the worst case they’d seen. She is now the Mascot for Room for One More Staffie Rescue, and we would not be without her.”

    4Y1A7931

    Kate and partner with Jess – one very happy dog.

    4Y1A7947

    4Y1A7838 4Y1A7869

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    Looking back on that campaign I realise it was a bit of a shambles. My fault entirely.

    I had no idea what I was doing and consequently raised almost no money for the wonderful All Dogs Matter charity and I never even got the number of the winner of the puppy section (whose dog is no probably big enough to pull a truck). I  wonder too if I have changed anyone’s minds about these beautiful dogs. Except my own. Which is something. Through meeting many of them I’ve come to know them as gentle, warm creatures. I really hope more people realise that too.

     

    4Y1A7399 4Y1A7450 4Y1A7442 4Y1A7526

    4Y1A7512 4Y1A75104Y1A7643 4Y1A7674

     

    Jess is right there at the top in number 1 position!

    winners

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  • DAY 219: JUST WHEN I THOUGHT I COULD RELAX… LOST PUPPY IN DELHI FOLLOWS ME

    May 05 2013

     

    I’m now back in Delhi and just when I thought I could relax this puppy would NOT leave me alone.

    I’ve got him into a sanctuary after I saw he had a small but nasty cut on his thigh. He should find a new home. This one for all you dog lovers out there. I just can’t leave them alone…

    Lost delhi puppy-2

     

    Lost delhi puppy

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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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