Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lessons From Other Mammals

I saw a headline last week that struck me as one that could be in every paper, every day until early 2017. It read "Obama Acts, But GOP Dissatisfied".

Last week had two, let's not call them "big events", but bigger happenings than most weeks include. I had a tooth extracted. It came out pretty easily, and I haven't yet needed the pain-killer drugs they ordered me to buy. And our group of readers drove to a place called Petrolia to perform before a tiny group of schoolchildren and adults. It has a name which sounds like an environmental hell hole, but it's actually quite beautiful, backing up right to the ocean. There was some oil found there once, but not enough to justify the cost of extracting and transportation. It's pretty isolated. Even the road to reach there is a nasty little trail, paved but rough, called "Wildcat Road".

I watched a DVD last week, a short documentary about two places dedicated to helping baby wild animals survive, thrive and, eventually, regain their status as unsupervised "wild" animals. A group in Kenya works with orphaned elephants, while one in Borneo undertakes the same function for little orangutans. The elephants are no taller than an average man's ribcage. The orangutans are just slightly larger than human babies and are covered in orange hair.
There isn't great detail in this DVD, entitled "Born to be Wild", but it's easy to see that years of trial and error went into making these two facilities enjoy as much success as they do. Both species get lots of playtime and are fed  by bottle and by mixing solids together as the babies grow.
The decision on releasing individuals into the wild are based on different criteria. The orangutans live alone in the jungle. Elephants are usually in herds and are known to be happiest around each other.  A committee has to evaluate each orangutan to try to determine which have the best chance of success in the wild.
The elephants live, when they are thought to be ready, in a kind of "halfway house" prior to their final release. The DVD's most amazing scene took place there, showing a group of former orphanage elephants ambling out of the jungle to meet the little ones and offer them affection and support. It was meant to be reassuring to the little guys. It absolutely was to me.
We will probably never know exactly what these animals think or why, and who could blame the elephants and orangutans if human beings remain a mystery to them. But it was good to see people acting as helpers instead of exploiters, taskmasters or hunters. And may these two sets of orphanage graduates enjoy long, peaceful and wild lives.             



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