Friday, 21 January 2011

Shaballala's Final Request...

New Hope has been up and running for one year now, and while we have Thank God had some truly wonderful experiences with our "Guests", most of which have either been released into the wild or sanctuary enclosures as close as possible to that ideal , we have also had certain heartbreaking losses. While it is much nicer to read stories with " Happy endings", I do feel that the creatures who did not have that privilege-at least not during their earthly existence-also deserve to be mentioned here, for they were also players in this story and worthy at the very least of our acknowledgement and thanks for the lessons they left with us.

Our first loss was a beautiful little bulldog puppy, one of the batch of ten puppies and kittens mentioned in our blog under "The Terminal". They all arrived dehydrated and chilled right through. In spite of all our efforts she was the one who did not 'make it', drifting away the following morning. We comforted ourselves with the knowledge that she died after a night of love and nurturing, and not in fear and stress in a freezing hangar at the airport. Her group was just one of the hundreds of shipments of animals bred in puppy mills-in this case Eastern European - from probably unhealthy unvaccinated parents, weaned far too young, often themselves not vaccinated either with little inherited immunity and sent in internationally unacceptable ways to pet shops and dealers around the world. They arrive often without correct paperwork, either sick or susceptible to picking up disease, spend some time in an unsuitable pet shop and then are bought either out of pity or by someone who does not know better- spread their diseases like Parvo virus, and cat flu, and often die within days, breaking the heart of a child who was so thrilled to have this pet. PUPPY MILLS and the illegal trade of animals NEED TO BE STOPPED.

We also lost three striped hyena, who had been sent to another wildlife centre to be rehabilitated and released. Sadly, they were clearly not regarded as worthy of the care they deserved, one had to be euthanised due to an injury and two others we brought BACK to New Hope to be treated by us-sadly both were too far gone and also died, but again, amid warmth and respect and truly great efforts from our staff-Dr Hussein sat with one hyena's head in his lap for one whole night giving it strength and support. We are VERY grateful that six of these truly amazing creatures WERE released into the wild-one, a pregnant female, we HOPE delivered her litter safely as the RSCN reported that cubs tracks were seen shortly after in that area; we pray that this means her babies WERE "Born Free!" Our three AFRICAN (spotted) hyenas were returned to Africa, thanks to Vier Pfoten (and GREAT thanks to ARAMEX) and they now also run in a large natural enclosure in Lionsrock sanctuary visited by the occasional babboon brave (or silly) enough to climb inside! Most of us ,even the more experienced wildlife members of our teams, had to acknowledge that the Hyena in particular did much to alter our awareness: this species is normally NOT well regarded by humans- ( portrayals such as in The Lion King do not help) and are thought to be nasty, treacherous, cowardly, and in many places are also endowed with supernaturally negative folklore. From spending time around those in our care, we must speak up for them and say that they are courageous, adaptable, clever (NOT sinister) and POLITE. Yes POLITE! In the zoos here , they were among the most terribly frightened creatures, cowering in terror but snarling in defiance as keepers would show off by going in to take photos- thinking that it is "macho", to have a reputedly dangerous animal cringe at the sound of your voice. It is time we stopped stereotyping ANY species. The Universe is a WHOLE and EVERYTHING has its place. We owe it to the future health of the WORLD not to ignore, underestimate, persecute or neglect OR EVEN MISUNDERSTAND any part of it willfully. I recall one of the visiting sanctuary guests saying she felt, "a little bit ashamed", at having had a neutral or slightly negative idea about Hyenas, having now interacted with them. THAT is someone with SENSE and HEART. Ok, most of us don’t know about MANY MANY creatures and plants and insects but none of us have the right to say "Ugh", or "Yick", could well be playing a very specific and necessary role in the cycle of the Universe!!!

When we first established New Hope, we were amused to be greeted daily by a beautiful white and tan wild dog. She evidently roamed the area around there, but would come almost flying across the fields when she saw any of us arrive. She became a kind of mascot, eventually staying almost all the time around the centre, a happy presence and wonderful with new "guests",(particularly the wolves) who she seemed to have a way of reassuring by her presence. One visitor actually referred to her as, “Staff", which in a way she WAS. One day she did not come out of her outdoor kennel. When she did, it was clear that she had either been injured-hit by a car? Hit on the head? -or was suffering from some problem possibly a stroke. She fought for weeks, pottering about and eating and still trying to do her 'rounds'. She did not seem ready to give up, and we did not feel it right to take that decision -then one day she disappeared. We searched in vain for days, but it was not until a couple of weeks later that her body was found at the edge of the sanctuary land near a bush. I like to think she took herself off to die in her own place and time. She contributed a lot to New Hope, and even when her cheerful presence and fluid beauty of movement changed, she was still very much part of things-an example of loyalty and somehow responsibility. Jordan's wild dogs are WONDERFUL pets, brave, clever, loyal, and it is a real shame that because they do not have a ' fashionable', breed name they are less in demand than the poor creatures that flood in from puppy mills because of their BREED NAME and are often even if they survive their handicapped past, totally unsuited to our weather or the domestic situations in which they are landed.

Another sad episode was the batch of Cheetah cubs. They were intercepted by customs officials and sent to us by the RSCN to take care of. They appeared to do well for a couple of days, eating ravenously and chirruping like birds. There were four of them, and had been brought in two apiece in plaited rope sacks. They were cold and terrified (it was still winter) when they arrived but we were fortunate in having (again thanks to Vier Pfoten) a team including a big cat vet here at the same time as the cubs, and their collective concern from day one was that these four were much too young to be weaned. Cheetahs are in great demand as exotic pets for they are relatively easy to handle and 'safe', but they are also highly endangered and they are very FRAGILE internally, for all their speed and elegance. These little ones were no exception, and succumbed one by one to stress and lack of immunity. The last one died during the visit of yet another expert who did all humanly possible, including an operation at HCAW whose director and staff were truly helpful. The little cub had by then been fighting to survive for ten days, and was revived three times, causing real heartbreak and a sense of "what did we do wrong", but the post mortems of all showed the same thing-the cubs had suffered from very long-term stress and lack of immunity and had no chance. More recently, a good friend in Kuwait contacted me in search of help/advice for a cheetah cub which he had rescued and had as a pet. Sadly this one did not survive either in spite of many experts' assistance and cohesive input, and again the verdict was that these creatures must simply NOT be weaned too young, they have delicate systems made for THEIR lifestyles and the minimum chance we as humans should concede to them is a good START, enough time with mother to be strong, develop well and be confident enough to face the world without her-not stuffed into a shop or a zoo or circus too young, scared bewildered and already PHYSICALLY compromised.

Among the most dramatic patients at New Hope were two Bengal tiger cubs who were again confiscated by customs authorities and delivered to us by the RSCN, cramped together in a small wooden crate and reportedly intended (illegally) for a local zoo. They did have papers and were apparently siblings bred in a zoo in Syria. We named them Voovoozella and Shaballala- Vier Pfoten had again kindly agreed to home them at Lionsrock and as the World Cup was much in our minds when they arrived, South African names seemed suitable. Voovoozella's was particularly apt as in spite of their small size (yes-they were TOO YOUNG TO BE WEANED - AGAIN) both had unbelievably resonant deep roars and while the male was more inclined to trust humans after realising that we were not going to intentionally pressure or intrude on them, the young lady had clearly decided that humans were not creatures she wanted anywhere NEAR them-and indeed she would growl if any of us had the great honour of a friendly look from Shaballala, or the temerity to stroke him with a cautious finger through the bars- and having had the human offender back off apologetically she would then go over to her brother and cuff him or tell him off.

The two of them seemed to be doing well enjoyed swimming in their little pool, grew big and played and reassured a third tiger who was rescued from a local zoo in a state of dehydration malnutrition and great stress. They were due to leave for Lionsrock in early February, CITES permits done, and Aramex again kindly assisting. Then Shaballala began to walk strangely, as if he had a back problem. A vet from Germany flew over to see him and took blood tests which showed that he had suffered from some infection but he apparently responded to medication which our selfless vet Zein travelled by car to and from Beirut in one day just to obtain for him as it was not available here. We became very sanguine , but he relapsed and became in a very few days much weaker and unable to move much behind. Vier Pfoten once again rose to the occasion and altered their plans, obtaining permission for him to go to a specialised clinic in Germany. The two nights prior to departure, he had evidently been moving in and out of his night room ,and the MORNING of his departure he was on his feet walking, albeit weakly on his wasted hind legs-we were overjoyed.

Shaballala arrived in Austria and travelled to Germany. Sadly although he arrived safely, the news was not cheerful. The special scans showed tiny breakages in all his limbs, his pelvis, one in his spine. How could he have improved, and walked? Apparently tigers DO -they are floored by the first pain but struggle and appear to improve-then they collapse again with a new breakage...and what is the reason???? Large strong creatures like tigers, and also elephants, NEED ENOUGH MOTHER'S MILK to be viable adults; otherwise their system turns on itself and extracts calcium FROM THEIR BONES, however much we supplement from other food. He was weaned too young, and he didn’t really have a chance. The clinic in Germany were very kind, considerate, and understanding, and they let him go peacefully with our permission last night.

What does one say? How many more animals are we going to snatch and smuggle and breed in unsuitable conditions to satisfy our blind selfishness? Even I not so long ago, would have been thrilled at the thought of a cheetah as a pet, for example-and I say" even I", not because I am especially bright but because I actually HAVE tried to consider "the other", a little more, be it human animal or mineral, of recent years. But these creatures need to live THEIR lives, not just fulfill some silly image or whim of ours- our 'coolness', or 'majesty', at having SUCH a pet! Human beings far from home want to go back-even ones who have emigrated for whatever reason-they can be wealthier, healthier, freer, and mixing with others of the human RACE who speak the same language-but HOME is HOME. What makes us think that these creatures can be content in zoos, bullied in circuses, stared at with no privacy- exercised when it suits US? That is aside from the ghastly abuse of tigers and rhinos and other species for aphrodisiacs and folk remedies -hyenas are in demand for some part of their bodies to be used for WITCHCRAFT for goodness' sake!!!

It is time we realised that we are NOT in any way enhanced as individuals by these practices-we in fact are smaller, poorer, in our foolishness and arrogance. On behalf of brave Shaballala the little tiger who had to give up his dream of freedom in a big open sanctuary with his sister for the hopefully greater freedom of whatever tigers become after they leave their physical bodies, and who wanted to leave a message of hope for his species and ALL hunted persecuted and misunderstood BEINGS the world over- we in PAF do urge everyone to act, DO something-not just sign a petition, wear a T shirt, and forget about it until someone else touches you with a sad tale or photograph. Sign the petitions, wear the T shirts by all means, but we must all do MORE for the future of the creatures, this planet, and our own humanity, because what is being done is wonderful but IT IS SADLY NOT ENOUGH.

For those who love Disney's version of Tigger ... wake up or you may well find that you have no way to show your children the majesty and beauty of a tiger ....because Tigger may really become "The only ONE"!!!!!!