Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Stopping Animal Cruelty

Is this really necessary? At the Yulin Dog Festival dogs are beaten to improve the tenderness of their meat and sometimes boiled or skinned alive
(This image is from a now closed petition on If the owner doesn't want me to use it, please let me know and I will happily remove it)

Ending the dog meat trade

I have been thinking about animals this week because there have been some very sad stories in the news lately. The first was the one about the Yulin Dog Festival in which thousands of dogs are eaten in an orgy of summer ‘fun’ which involves unspeakable suffering for these animals before they are eventually consumed.  The second was about the mine detector dogs in Afghanistan having to be euthanized because they were being replaced by robots. Last night there was one about a racehorse having to be shot due to a fall, and yet another was about a 'great white hunter' boasting about his 138 elephant kills. To me, the way we treat animals- and our fellow humans for that matter, is a measure of how evolved and successful a society is. Today, I just want say a bit about the first two, with more on the others later.

What goes on at the Yulin Dog Festival is not confined to China. Eating dogs (and cats) is traditional in many other countries including The Philippines, South Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and some parts of India as well. However, tradition alone is not a good reason to keep doing something. After all, we no longer think it’s a good idea to bind feet, keep slaves or wear whalebone corsets, although all of these were once common practice in one culture or another.

The good news is that things are starting to change. Surveys have shown that 64% of  Chinese people, especially young people, would much rather have a dog as a pet than eat dog meat and following on from a ban on the dog meat trade in Shenzhen province which introduced the ban because of concerns about the spread of diseases such as Coronavirus and rabies, China is now attempting to have dogs reclassified as pets rather than livestock. Taiwan, where dog meat was also eaten, has now passed stringent laws banning the practice and other forms of cruelty to animals with heavy fines and even prison sentences. Siem Reap in Cambodia has also passed laws banning sales of dog meat, though I fail to see how effective they will be when they only involve a perpetrator signing a document promising not to do it again. Much will depend on adequate oversight and enforcement. I'm not sure if they are still going but click here for a links to petitions about banning the dog meat trade in Indonesia. If not, there maybe some other way to help via the links on that page to end this barbaric practice.

While it's hard to break with tradition and this usually requires generational change, Westerners should be aware that much of the outrage they feel about such practices is also culturally determined, though in this case because of long dependence and association with “man’s (sic) best friend.” Dogs were important for hunting and protection and were valuable companions in what were often remote and dangerous locations. Where would the Australian shepherd have been without his trusty blue heeler to round up his scattered flock, or the Antarctic explorers without sled dogs which not only provided transport, but eventually saved Mawson's life.  

However, we also have our own blindspots, especially where people’s livelihoods are concerned. The animals which we consider merely as "food" or livestock have not always been treated well either. Whether it is the conditions under which chickens and pigs have traditionally been kept, or the cruel conditions under which live cattle transport continues to the Middle East today, we are asked to look the other way in the name of the economy. However as changes in the poultry industry have shown, it is possible to do things differently, in a way that’s both kinder to the animals but still makes a profit for their owners. Australia now has 47% of its egg production coming from free range birds, which not only allows them to lead a more natural life but has been found to keep them healthier as well. In the UK that figure is now 51%.

This has not come about by accident. It has taken decades of campaigning and the public not only demanding change, but also being willing to pay a little more for free range eggs. It would be good if people refused to buy dog meat, live cattle and fur for instance, but if not, let us at least ensure such animals are kept without undue suffering and if they must be killed, that this is done as humanely as possible.

Allowing "working dogs" a happier 'retirement'

I can't find the article now, but I was also sorry to read that those dogs which had until recently been used for mine detection in Afghanistan were to be destroyed after having been replaced by robots. I don’t see why these dogs couldn’t be sent to Cambodia, where there it's been estimated that there is at least one piece of unexploded ordinance per person still lying around, resulting in a large number injuries and permanent disabilities. Despite logistical difficulties and the possibility that they may not be suited to being pets, it seems to me that particularly those dogs which have rendered long and valuable service to humans deserve a long and happy retirement.

 While there may be some justification for allowing people to exploit animals in order to make a living until better ways can be found or legislated into being, then there is absolutely none for animals to be used for entertainment or killed for sport. By this I mean activities such as horse racing and big game hunting. We’ll talk a bit more about those next time.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Let's Go Fly a Kite

The dream
Image by Sven Lachmann from Pixabay

It was momentarily sunny today, so my friend Jane and I went kite flying. Kite flying fits neatly into my idea of exercise. You race around because it’s fun, unlike forcing yourself to do ten laps on a treadmill or riding a fixed bike. The Weather Bureau said that winds of 25 – 40 kmh were expected so it sounded promising. What I didn’t understand was that sometimes it would blow at 25 kmh and at other times it would be 40. 
Our kite - Thanks for the photo Jane!

We have lift off -            Another Jane Photo

Incoming       -Jane's Photo

Jane’s very expensive kite shot straight up and then came crashing down, breaking one of its struts. My $10 polyester raptor did a bit better, doing graceful arcs for at least ten minutes, before it got hopelessly tangled in its own string.  After about twenty minutes of unravelling we had another few moments of glory during which it looked like a real raptor soaring into a now leaden sky. Then the wind changed and it too dashed to the ground, but not without twisting multiple times and wrapping itself around my legs, my camera bag and the cords on the front of my jacket. Fortunately, you don't have to be good at kites to have fun. 

The end

It took me a week to untangle this 

Did you know that more adults than children fly kites? Kites aren't just beautiful toys. They have a long history and were first used for military purposes. Apart from being important in the development of aviation and by Benjamin Franklin to test his theories about electricity, Marconi used them to transmit the first radio signals. Many Asian countries use them for more spiritual purposes such as sending offerings or prayers up to the heavens. See more facts about kites here or or learn to make the simplest of kites below.

There are also lots of kite clubs and festivals. Unfortunately, this year’s One Sky One World International Kite Fly for Peace normally held on the second weekend in October, has had to be cancelled because of COVID 19, but perhaps we’ll have better luck on International Kite Day on January 14th. Click here for other festivals.

Aussie Kite Clubs

Or the USA and 25 other countries

Monday, July 13, 2020

A Good Catch

At an unamed bay, somewhere south of Hobart, Tas

I went fishing on Thursday. I know I should have been finishing my paperwork, but did you know that nearly all Tasmanians are Vitamin D deficient?  Every sunny day in winter ought to be a public holiday. Besides, my friend had been begging me for ages to take her fishing. Not sure why. I know as much about fishing as I do about quantum physics, but I did have a small fishing rod lying around and I did like the idea of catching something fresh from the sea, rather than down in the supermarket.

We found ourselves a spot along the lower Derwent where it opens out to the sea. The good thing about fishing here is that you don’t need a licence, though you still need to be aware of catch numbers and sizes. There's a board with that information at the wharf . It was a superb day. Neat fishing boats were tied up at the wharf, gulls wheeled around and occasionally people with dogs wandered by to buy from a fisherman at the far end of the wharf. It looks like an ideal lifestyle, yet the licence fees are high, the fishery is in decline and there are very few fishermen like him left.

A Pacific Gull stops by looking hopeful

No fish were harmed in consequence of our fishing. I think of it more as meditation by the water. Small fish nibbled daintily on the chicken I had brought as bait but very carefully avoided the hook.  I pricked myself with it at least once, caught the wharf once and then lost hook and sinker to the deep. The fisherman took pity on us and gave us some tuna scraps to try, but it didn't help. By this time four pleasant hours had gone by with not so much as a bite, so we threw in the towel and bought half a kilo of tuna from the fisherman so as not to go home empty handed. Son was very impressed, but not convinced that it was all our own work.

Josh the fisherman looks like a member of that rare breed - a happy man. Not that it's all been plain sailing lately. He lost a lot of his regular business - restaurants, a bit of overseas trade, due to the pandemic, but he's done quite well today. Alas, you do need a fishing boat and all that gear to catch fish like this, but on good day, you might catch a flathead or two off the pier