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Animals have intense will to live like humans

Maneka Gandhi Column

Maneka Gandhi Column

By Maneka Gandhi

Every being has an intense will to live. Make a hostile move towards a bedbug and it runs for its life and crawls into a hole. Therefore the act that requires the most thought and decision is that of suicide. Suicide is an act of hopelessness. This means that the being has to have a memory of past and present and to visualize his/her future and feel/realize that it has no joy in it and will not get any better.

The next step would be to gather up one’s courage and step into an unknown state by putting an end to this life. Suicide ( I am not talking about a drug/ alcohol induced state of artificial hysteria) means a perception of what is “good” , what is “joy”, what is “misery”, what is “hope” and “despair”.

And most importantly, the awareness of death. For an individual to attempt to take his own life he would first have to possess some consciousness of the meaning of death. And fear the consequences of living above that of dying. All these sensitivities are what human beings think they have the only claim to. But animals commit suicide as well.

How many times have you heard of leopards who have been captured from the wild, deliberately beating their heads against the wall till they mash themselves to death. Imagine the desolation of such a shy animal finding itself in a cage. An animal mother defending her children against much bigger opponents would count for me as a being that decides that love is more important than life and is prepared to be killed to prove it. Can an animal terminate its own life? Five years ago, sheep being taken to slaughter in Mongolia jumped into a lake and drowned. Any effort to rescue them simply made the rescued sheep do it again and again till they died. In 2009, in Switzerland, 28 cows leapt off a cliff over the course of three days. In California, dozens of squids beached themselves.

Every year in Jatinga in Assam, hundreds of birds of several species dive into the ground to kill themselves. The Assam Tourism website asks people to come and watch the annual suicides. How many times have you heard of dogs starving themselves on the death of their human companion? How many go into depression when their dog companions die.

How many old dogs stop eating and die if a young dog is introduced into the household. If scientists debate that as suicide ( considering it simply the after-effects of depression) and only want to consider behaviour that would obviously lead to the animal’s demise, like throwing themselves under cars or running off cliffs, then they have to simply look at the Overtoun Bridge near Dumbarton in Scotland which has earned the reputation of being “The Dog Suicide Bridge.”

Since the 1950′s it has been the scene of at least fifty suicides where dogs have inexplicably leapt to their deaths. In recent years the number of deaths has risen dramatically, with five animals jumping in six months. Tarsiers intentionally injure or kill themselves due to unhappiness or stress of being in an enclosure.

In captivity, the tarsier can be so distressed they smash their heads against objects resulting in fatality. Because of this reason they are not in zoos. When scorpions find themselves in very physically painful situations, they will commit suicide by repeatedly stinging themselves in the head. Whales beach themselves regularly. This is not a result of losing their way: no animal has been found to be blind/deaf or disoriented. The whale has no known sources of food that it is chasing onto land.

So why does the whale come to die on land? And when pushed into the ocean by human volunteers, it simply does it again on another beach. The suicides are not related to quakes, tsunamis or even underwater cables. There are no explanations that scientists can give. For years they have been saying that the Jatinga birds lose their sense of direction and crash into the earth. But every year, in the same place??? Or that one bird is followed by other birds just as some pack leaders get lost during migration and end up leading a massive amount of birds in the wrong direction.

That might explain one mass suicide, but those cows killed themselves during the span of three days. There was no leader being followed, solitary cows separately jumped off on their own accord. When there is a population boom of lemmings ( small arctic rodents) there is a massive surge into the waters nearby in which thousands die. Scientists say that this is not suicide, jut an urge to find a new home. But do rats, normally so smart , not know the difference between land and water ? Where did the vultures go ? The sparrows? The bees? One day they were there and then they disappeared.

In 2006, millions of able-bodied bees all over the world left their hives and never came back. No explanations work: mite-spread viruses, poor nutrition, pesticides, cell phone radiation, cell phone towers .This case was seen in a natural reserve in Zimbabwe: two old hungry male lions chased a warthog who escaped in a den. One lion tried to follow it, but got trapped in the narrow hole. His partner tried to help him, pulling him out with the paw, but when the trapped lion started roaring of pain, he stopped. The trapped lion died asphyxiated. The second lion was found dead next to the body of the other. He had refused to go hunting, and died of hunger.

In Lucknow zoo a few years ago, one of a pair of elephants died of old age. Her adopted daughter stopped eating. Any attempt to feed her forcibly failed and she died a month later. So many zoo animals from monkeys to giraffes commit suicide like this. Forty years ago, Richard O’Barry watched Kathy, a dolphin in the 1960s television show Flipper, kill herself. She looked at him, sank to the bottom of the tank and stopped breathing.

The moment transformed the dolphin trainer into an animal-rights activist and his role in The Cove, the Oscar-winning documentary about the dolphin-meat business in Japan, has transformed him into a celebrity. Says O’Barry, “We don’t want people to think dolphins are capable of suicide, but these are self-aware creatures with a brain larger than a human brain.

If life becomes so unbearable, they just don’t take the next breath.” Duncan Wilson of the University of Manchester has co-authored a study in the March issue of Endeavour on the history of self-destructive animals, ranging from dogs, canvas-back ducks to cats, pelicans and insects It is indeed terrifying to acknowledge that dozens of animals can be so fed up of living on a human dominated planet that they consciously choose death. Doesn’t that make you feel a little guilty?

About the author: Maneka Gandhi is an animal rights activist and you may contact her at gandhim@nic.in

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