Saturday, February 27, 2010

Brett the Vet - While the Sun Shines

There is great relief in the Karoo when February is over. The longest, hottest month of the dozen in our cycle takes no prisoners, or does it? Appropriate behaviour in the heat can be gleaned from free nature. Misguided people wish everyone they see a happy Valentine’s Day. Fires in the hearts of lovebirds; fires on parts of the mountain; no fires for the people of Klaarstroom where there is no more wood to collect from the usual places. Burning feet and faces, melting asphalt, frazzled veld, and ostriches dying in concentration camps en masse, from hyperthermia, because nobody can be bothered to provide shade.

Zero shade for ostriches is the policy. Hell’s mirage on a sizzling rocky patch of earth is abandoned at midday by those who can escape to the cool. People in the business laugh at the suggestion of providing shade for the magnificent flightless birds.

Some farmers even ensure there is no shade because the odd tree would attract too many shade seeking ostriches that may smother each other to death in the struggle to get out of the baking sun. Like the victims who swamped the limited lifeboats when the Titanic sank: a potential life saving feature is always in great attraction.

Confining people in the blazing sun is a well-documented form of torture. The effects on the body, and mind, are the same for ostriches. When body temperatures become abnormally high, the birds also start to show symptoms of heat illness – nausea, headache, dizziness, followed by hallucinations, delirium, convulsions, shock and cardio respiratory collapse; then coma and death.

Ostriches are very well adapted to hot dry conditions. They have loose feathers, ample bare skin, and are capable of gullar fluttering, a breathing technique used to cool down the body through evaporation. But even the toughest bird would move out of the direct sun as a natural survival instinct. Those that live through extreme heat are taken to the brink, dancing with death, regularly. Only the slaughterhouse provides the ultimate relief

So why bother with shade? It is simple really: Ostriches are sentient beings therefore they are capable of feeling pain and suffering. It is inhumane (and illegal) to impose cruelty on one and all on this scale. These wild animals crowded into tiny camps in large numbers, eating unnatural food are already stressed, which leads to health problems. Losses incurred through unnecessary deaths and poor weight gains associated with daily heat stress would cover the expense of shade cloth. In the meantime seeds from indigenous trees could be propagated to eventually plant out in all camps to make them more habitable.

Using animals for our pleasure should not be taken lightly. The shame of institutionalized cruelty to animals disturbs our society by encouraging aggression and reflecting the lack of love. I am advocating compassion in farming for the animals that often have to endure miserable lives. If one farmer can stand up and say that he or she genuinely cares for animals and demonstrates compassion through decisive action to alleviate routine suffering, hallelujah!

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