Friday, February 29, 2008

Brett the Vet - The Heat is on

The Heat is On

Summertime and the living is queasy for many a hot dog, cool cat, or ostrich with no sun day hat. Intolerable heat imposed on live animals in cold blood through ignorance, greed, or negligence causes thousands of avoidable deaths every year.

Two years ago nearly 5000 ostriches were reported to have died in the Karoo during a heat wave. The birds baked to death because no shade had been provided. Farmers know that ostriches are well adapted to hot, dry conditions, and tolerate temperature extremes. Their comfort zone, however, is roughly between 4-25 degrees Celsius.

The birds seek shade when the ambient temperature rises too much (late morning in February in the Karoo). The majority of ostriches are kept in crowded, dusty, feedlot camps without a tree in sight. When there is a sliver of shade available it is occupied by the toughest birds - the rest are seen gullar fluttering in the simmering sunshine.

Even in the most publicly visible camps no attempts appear to have been made to alleviate this problem, even though there is a clause relating to provision of shade in the animal protection act. With the impact of global warming experts predict increased likelihood of deaths from heatstroke. Despite the potential economic loss, very little is being done about this animal welfare aspect by the SPCA, the Co-op or the majority of farmers.

Livestock like cattle and sheep with no refuge from the sun in the height of summer seem to be able to survive without shade. But the stress effects of heat influence success and profitability: Reduced feed intake, reduced lactation, reduced fertility levels, reduced activity, shade seeking, increased respiratory rate, increased sweating, and increased mortality. It is not unusual to see a flock of sheep all trying to cool down in the shade of one another when there are no trees.

The benefits of trees are many. Trees provide the most effective cool shade. They are used to create wind barriers. Species, like carob also provide a source of food for livestock. Others whilst giving shade produce crops of nuts or fruit. The flowers of eucalyptus are a major source of pollen and nectar for bees.

Trees recycle carbon and produce oxygen. They create conditions for rain. A different school of thought destroys every living tree that happens to be from another continent, no matter how useful, shady or reproductively inert.

Hot cars turn into ovens after only a few minutes for dogs trapped inside. Symptoms of heat exhaustion ensue quite rapidly starting with panting, followed by hyperthermia, congestion of mucous membranes, diarrhoea, stupor, coma, and death.

The primary therapeutic objective in all cases of heatstroke is to reduce body temperature by immersion in cold water.

Cool cats are the creatures to watch. On a hot summer’s day they would offer their throats to the woof with the red noses if he could find them in the deepest shade splayed. Cats are more likely to gravitate to a comfort zone simply because they can. The more relative freedom a creature has, the more naturally it will be able to cope with temperature fluctuations.

Non-human animals share with humans a capacity to suffer, and this means that they, like us, have interests. Domesticated animals whether they are farm animals, or pets, require us to take care of their interests. If we discount or ignore their interests we are guilty of cruelty, which apart from being morally reprehensible, is against the law.

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