Saturday, May 28, 2005

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Steven Best on the 'burning house dilemma':
Too often, animal rights advocates (ARAs) are challenged with the hysterical hypothetical of the “burning house dilemma.” It runs something like this: If you were caught in a burning house, were running out the door to save your life, and only had time enough to save a dog in one room and a human being in another, which would you choose?

Invariably, the question is asked with the intent to find an inconsistency in the value scheme or commitments of the ARA, such that for all their talk about animal rights or species equality, they would still save the human. Deep down, therefore, the ARA is like everyone else and a speciesist at heart. When faced with the burning house question, you are always damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If you answer that you would save the human being, your interlocutor glibly and gleefully derides you as a hypocrite. If you answer you would save the dog, you are vilified as a miscreant and deviant misanthrope with warped values.

In November 2004, during Martin Luther King Jr week, Best had said that he would save his dog over a human stranger: a reply that provoked much furore. Now, amplifying his response, he lays out an interesting list of scenarios: dog or family member; family member or family member; baby harp seal or sealer; and so on. But his conclusion is the most interesting part of this essay:

I think the burning house scenario is an empty, sterile, and hypothetical question that is completely useless and raised disingenuously by vapid fools who do nothing to help the planet, but carp on those who do. Its academic nature distracts from the all-too-real and concrete issues every person faces concerning how to live a life that does not cause harm to animals and the earth.

The real issues people have to face are not what will they do when they find themselves in a burning house with choices to make and lives to save, but what type of clothing do they put on their back, what kind of food do they put on their plate, what type of products do they use, and what kind of transportation do they choose.

When asked the burning house question again in the future, I think I will simply reply, “When I am in a burning house and have to choose between an animal and a human, I will let you know what I do. In the meantime, I have some serious ethical choices to make every day.”

Read the whole thing here.

Travelling? Make arrangements for your pet

This dog was left hungry, thirsty, and without fresh air by his human family. The neighbour who was supposed to have looked after the animal obviously hadn't done so. Animal welfare activists rushed the dog to medical help.

“There are several centres and hospitals that take care of such dogs whose masters are on vacations. I have registered a case against Capt. C M Shrivastava under Animal Cruelty Act 1960 at the Dindoshi police station and the pet will only be handed over to the family after all the legalities are taken care of,” stated animal welfare officer Bhavin Gathani of Karuna Parivar, Goregoan.


If you're going on a road trip to a dog-friendly hotel or house, consider taking your pet along. If you're taking the train, you can take your pet along in a first-class coupe or a first AC coupe; if not, the animal will have to travel in the guard's van. If you're travelling by flight, Indian Airlines allows only lapdogs inside the cabin with you; if your dog is bigger than a lapdog, he or she will go into the hold, in a cage. Ask your vet about a suitable sedative.

If you're leaving the animal at home to be looked after, please make sure you leave him/her in the care of an animal-lover/trained professionals.

The Good Doctor

This veterinary surgeon i Bombay has sterilised over 45000 stray dogs. Meaning, he has saved their lives: because the earlier policy was to kill stray dogs.
Several animal welfare associations and NGOs that he works for reveal that he charges a paltry Rs 100-150 as fees. Mrs Fizzah N Shah, honorary vice president of In Defense of Animals (IDA) says, “Private veterinary surgeons in Mumbai can charge even Rs 4,000 for sterilisation operations. NGOs don’t have much financial strength; we pay Dr Ghanwat a pittance in comparison. Sometimes, we are forced to pay him in installments, but he doesn’t complain. Also, the mortality rates, post-surgery, are negligible in Dr Ghanwat’s cases. We really need more vets like him.”

It’s passion, rather than money, that sustains Dr Ghanwat’s livelihood; unsurprisingly, he’s always harboured an enormous love for animals. “I grew up on a farm near Baramati. While other children would play once classes were over at school, I would visit the animals, wash them, feed them. It was fun, because there were 40 cows and 10 buffaloes, among other animals!” he laughs

Sterilisation, rather than killing, is the only humane and civilised answer to the problem of the stray dogs living on our city streets. Sterilisation, and good doctors.

Friday, May 27, 2005

And thousands of cattle slaughtered

In China, thousands of cattle have been slaughtered at dairy farms outside Beijing in an effort to stop an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease. Here's the entire report.

Four million sheep and cows were slaughtered in Britan during the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak. Was slaughter really necessary, when foot-and-mouth is not fatal to animals, and most recover within two weeks? "On animal and human health grounds, almost certainly not. 95% of animals will recover within 2 weeks with little or no treatment. There is virtually no risk to human health," says Abigail Woods, who is working on a Wellcome Trust funded research project on the history of animal plagues.
Slaughter as a means of FMD control entered almost by the back door, as it was applied to a small number of outbreaks in the 1910s during a period of relative disease freedom. The rationale here was to quickly stamp out the disease before it took hold. Only later, during the huge 1922-24 epidemic, was slaughter adopted as the normal policy, though in these years pedigree breeders were exempted and allowed to isolate their valuable herds.

Criticisms of slaughter have accompanied every outbreak of FMD in Britain and intensified following the discovery and continental application of a vaccine. However, economically speaking, slaughter is more justified today than at any point in the past, when only the interests of a select group of pedigree breeders were served by this policy. Then, farming productivity was not as important as it is today and the export market was markedly smaller and less valuable than at present. The irony is that Britain encouraged the world to impose import prohibitions upon potentially FMD infected products and now finds itself at the receiving end of this policy.

In short, slaughter wasn't necessary, isn't necessary, except on 'economic grounds'...

Harvest: the donor debate

The problem with most of the debate surrounding medical research on animals is that it's always presented as an "us versus them" issue, the implication being that only people who secretly hate their fellow humans would vote for the welfare of animals over the potential benefit to humankind.
This is how this debate is being presented:

"Stem cell research is underway in Reno that could someday revolutionize the now clogged organ transplant industry. Scientists are attempting to "grow" humanized organs. The use of animals has some saying that it's just wrong. Others disagree.
...There is the possibility that in the future other organs, including humanized hearts and kidneys, could be grown in the animals and harvested as needed. Dr. Zanjani says this would ultimately have an unlimited potential for providing a variety of organs for transplant purposes.
Scientific gain at the animal's expense does not appeal to everyone. Jane Greenspun-Gale is Chairperson for the Lied Animal Foundation in Las Vegas. 'If an unborn, microscopic baby can have rights, why can't a living breathing animal.'"


The news story format doesn't allow the complexities of the debate to unfold. The position that Dr Zanjani takes explicitly is that there's a desperate shortage of organ donors and that new medical research must address this need. What isn't being aired is that stem cell research in human beings has become a politically rather than medically controversial issue, which is why stem cell research is being carried out on other animals instead. Humans vote, animals don't.
On the subject of legal rights for animals, Steven M Wise makes a powerful case in his book, Drawing The Line. He mentions the particular cases of humans who have "little or no autonomy but [do] have legal rights": a 67-year-old man with an IQ of ten, a 10-month-old girl born into a permanent vegetative state. Then he mentions Koko, the gorilla who can sign "SIT KOKO LOVE YOU", "SMOKE MOUTH" for cigarette and lots of other things.
"Compare our baby girl to Koko," he writes. "On what nonarbitrary ground could a judge find the little girl has a common law right to bodily integrity that forbids her use in terminal biomedical research, but that Koko shouldn't have that right, without violating basic notions of equality? Only a radical speciesist could accept a baby girl who lacks consciousness, sentience, even a brain, as having legal rights just because she's human, yet the thinkingest, talkingest, feelingest apes have no rights at all, just because they're not human."

How can we insist on compassion for one and only one animal, the naked ape, and ignore all the rest?

Over 1,000 birds dead in China

The sad thing is that the biggest reason this story made the headlines is because of human fears that we might be exposed to bird flu, not because of concern for the birds themselves.
"More than 1,000 migratory birds have died of avian flu in western China, but no human cases of the disease have been found, the country's chief veterinary official said Friday.
The dead birds were found in Qinghai province and included bar-headed geese and great black-headed gulls, Jia Youling, director of the Ministry of Agriculture's Veterinary Bureau, said at a press conference. On Thursday, the ministry said 519 dead bar-headed geese and other birds had been found in a nature reserve. Jia did not say where the other birds were found."

Why lab rats don't make good crystal balls

"I think animal testing is a terrible idea; they get all nervous and give the wrong answers."--anonymous.
Oh, there's also this:
"Pregnant women may unknowingly be putting their unborn children at risk of birth defects by taking over-the-counter medications and prescription drugs, and using common household chemicals, according to a new study published in the May issue of the research journal, Biogenic Amines.
“The Future of Teratology Is In Vitro” shows that many common drugs and household chemicals have been certified as safe for humans on the basis of animal tests that are accurate on average slightly more than half the time.
Potential teratogens-drugs and chemicals that can cause birth defects during pregnancy-are tested on animals, including mice, rabbits, dogs, and monkeys. None of these animal tests can accurately predict how the substances will affect humans, said Dr. Bailey. “There are simply too many differences in physiology and biochemistry,” he noted.

Going to bat for vegans...sort of

From ABC Sport:
"Australian cricket legend Greg Chappell has begun his stint as India's national coach with a public plea against killing animals and eating meat, saying the secret of good health is to become a vegetarian.
Chappell, 56, teamed up with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for an Indian ad campaign that promotes veganism - a diet free of meat, eggs and dairy products.
The advertisement shows a fighting-fit Chappell holding a bat below the tagline: "Don't settle for less than a century. Go vegan"."


Update:
Chappell today clarified that he had not teamed up with PETA.
"PETA had issued a statement a few days back, saying Chappell recommended vegetarianism in his book titled 'Health and Fitness'.
The former Australia captain said PETA was wrong to use his name for their 'wider campaigns'."

'One Humanity Now'

I can't seem to link to this (does this work?), but here's a moving and thought-provoking post from an Animal Rights forum on Salon's Table Talk. It's by Joeman. You can find the entire forum under 'Social Issues' - it's the discussion on animal welfare.
A few years back, I was desperately torn between supporting my Makah relatives (of Neah Bay) in pursuing their ancestral whale hunts AND supporting the whale people who were slaughtered to near extinction in the past couple of centuries.

Yeah, I realize how un-PC such a stance was, but I was trying to unravel the complexities of being a "native" person with a terribly unjust history living in a pre-dominant culture that does not seem to honor anything except money and psychopathically cruel men.

I ended up writing nasty letters to Greenpeace for being arrogant white assholes who could not reckon with their own history -- after all, it wasn't the Makah who decimated the gray whale population.

But then one day, standing on the peninsular isthmus of Point Reyes, California, I looked down below at the wind swept bay below me, and I saw families of gray whales swimming free and playfully. It just struck me at how pitiful all humans are, and I was reminded of all the songs I've heard that ask the universe to take pity on humans, because without the "blessing" from the animals who we prey on, we're really helpless, naked, big-headed weaklings.

I just wept and wept, and since then, I've supported the whales' cause...

Every strategy counts

I had pulled off the following post, "Setting free the ants", yesterday because I got a sense, from a comment, that such 'sentimentalising' might actually harm the animal rights movement.

Erm: I've thought about it, and I don't see either how it's 'sentimentalising', or how it could harm the effort. It's an honest post. If it's emotional, it's because my decision isn't coldblooded and unsentimental: it's driven as much by what I feel about animals as by what I think about equality and rights. I think every strategy counts, every effort is important, whether it's about wildlife or vegetarianism.

So I've put the post back.

Setting Free the Ants...

Thanks for this anonymous comment (scroll down); and Hurree, thanks for your excellent post too. It’s strange, but writing about why I have chosen to be vegetarian feels even more personal than if I were to write about my religious preferences. Yet it’s something that I feel is important to share, because it’s the same thing that makes me do my tiny little bit for animal welfare too.

You see, I wasn’t always a committed vegetarian. Of course my upbringing, in a Tam-Brahm family, was vegetarian, as may be expected. But we studied at mixed schools where there was much passing around and sharing of lunchboxes. The taste of meat was a little like the taste of raw tamarind that we picked up from the ground and peeled to suck at the fruit inside: not wholly pleasant, but strange and vaguely forbidden, and therefore exciting. On the few occasions when we went out from school to Casa Piccola’s or Indiana’s, it was generally the chicken cheeseburger that I ordered. Why? For the usual reasons why any Tam teenager would do so: partly rebellion, partly peer pressure, partly plain curiosity.

At the same time, I was never comfortably non-vegetarian. At our Mussoorie Academy, I shunned the sea of yellow and orange that was the non-veg food and opted for the bland sambhar instead. But it really started, for me, after I went to work in the district. Some of the staff had become used to assuming that the way to make officers happy was with some pet-puja. Plump young chickens were brought round, glossy young goats with trusting eyes were led to the garden. It was always a feast when anyone came to the tehsil on an inspection.

I gave up meat: I almost gave up lunch itself. The sight of feathers on the ground, the sound of the bleating goats, was enough to turn my stomach. It had been easy to laugh over the anthologised account of Gandhi’s meat-eating: but now, I didn’t want an animal inside me asking to be let out. It had been easier in those cafes, when the slaughter happened elsewhere and the meat came to me on a plate, sandwiched between two pieces of bread; but now, seeing the animals just moments before their death, I didn’t want to hear that whimper in my dreams, or see those anguished eyes in my mind.

I know what Hurree means when she writes about the friend who followed chicken trucks and didn’t want to be part of the slaughterhouse cycle any more. I’ve moved along, too, I hope, on my personal journey. What was it that changed things for me? Getting our first dog, definitely: with an animal in the house, I realised how much of an identity animals have. I didn’t think I could really play with my dog in the evenings and then go off and make chicken vindaloo for friends. Do animals think? Do they feel pain? Do they feel? I’ve cared for enough animals and birds to realise that these questions don’t matter. They aren’t even the right questions. Of course they think, and feel, and feel pain: who are we to assume otherwise? But not necessarily in the ways that we do, or even in ways that we might recognise. I have taken enough cats and kittens in a wicker basket, all the way to Pune, listening to them whimpering every now and then: I know that they feel afraid, and want their freedom, and their life. And then I think to myself: those chicken trucks, those squawking chickens, those feathers…

At Jeev Raksha, I’ve seen the vet and his assistants remove maggots from the nostrils and flanks of a bungalow dog; bandage the multiple fractures of a dog who had been chased off the fifth floor of a building; build a mechanical walker for a dog whose hind legs were paralysed. I’ve seen them leave food for the rats, and for the crows too. It’s humbling to see them work as they do.

I ask myself: can I really upbraid a tonga-walla for whipping his pony outrageously, or prevent young boys from tying firecrackers to a puppy’s tail, if I’m on my way somewhere to eat an animal that someone else has killed and cooked for me? For me, there are degrees of violence in all these acts. I haven’t found my way out of this thicket of questions, but I’m trying.

I do agree with what you’re saying: nothing’s really black and white, it’s all about different shades of grey. But (and there’s always a but, isn’t there?) it’s also a matter of perspective. Those shades of grey aren’t one uniform shade. There are lighter and darker shades, and it’s a whole continuum from black to white. For example, I do not eat meat; my partner gave it up of his own accord, without persuasion from me, five years into our marriage. It would have been an act of violence for me to force him to give up meat without his being personally convinced of the reasons for doing so.

To sum up: being vegetarian is, for me, a way of not losing sight of that little black ant. Of practising what I’m talking about. Of throwing that single starfish back into the sea. We know so well that it’s only one little starfish, while thousands lie stranded on the shore; but for that one starfish it’s life, and who am I to take it away? I know that there are harder, more complex questions, such as medical testing: and I have no answers to those questions yet. But one way in which I have resolved this is the following: while I may not be able to give up the use of medicines that might save the life of someone dear to me, I can give up meat without a pang. So I have.

I don’t have a problem with other people eating meat. I mean, I do have a problem, but you know what I mean: it’s for each person to find her or his own comfort matrix. This matrix can include any or all of the following, and so much more: protecting tigers and elephants; giving up silk and leather; caring for a wounded stray animal; giving up meat altogether; giving to animal welfare organisations; teaching your child not to go to a circus where animals are made to perform. I like to think that every little bit counts. That every little bit is a tiny black ant that we’re setting free.

And so, to add to Hurree's welcome: welcome.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

'They almost always sleep free of charge'

Italy gets pet-friendly. Four "paws" for, erm, homemade dog food and vet service.
In a bid to crack down on pet owners who abandon some 150,000 dogs and 200,000 cats every year, parliament approved a law last year to slap fines of up to 10,000 euros on offenders.

Now if only we could raise our fines too. That would make people think twice before they threw puppies and kittens out of moving cars, or tying them up to the gates of animal shelters... and going away.

Get eye surgery, get a makeover

This gorilla, the first to have had eye surgery in Europe, is so happy with her new personality that she's...had a baby.

Zoo authorities are delighted too:
"This is absolutely fantastic news for Romina, who underwent major cataract surgery three years ago, and also for the conservation breeding programme, of which we are a part.

"Before the operation she had only peripheral vision and so was very shy. Now she is much more sociable and a part of the group. She has really taken to motherhood, which is amazing because before the birth she had not even seen a baby before."

What the cows foretell

I'm still not sure what to make of this one, but as a ritual involving sacred animals, it certainly beats animal sacrifice:
"Cambodia's royal cows have signalled bountiful harvests of rice, beans and corn this year in a traditional ceremony marking the start of the ploughing season...
The royal cows were led to seven dishes -- rice, corn, beans, sesame, grass, water and alcohol -- laid out on trays.
"The royal cows ate 90 percent of the rice offered to them, meaning the rice harvest this year will be good," chief astrologer Kang Ken declared before thousands of onlookers.

15000 animal, plant species under threat

...mainly due to us humans. More here.

Dog saves baby

In Kenya, a stray dog has rescued an abandoned baby.
People have been calling the hospital, say reports, to enquire about adopting the baby; I wonder if anyone adopted the dog.

The Welfare of Stray Dogs

The Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD), a non-profit trust, runs this health centre that carries out sterilization and vaccination of dogs...They have the Stray Dog Adoption Programme and the Indian Pariah Dog Club, both meant to help those dogs who normally get picked up for their looks...
The organisation aims to eradicate rabies in the city, control the dog population and promotes the adoption of dogs. The premises that was earlier used by the BMC to kill stray dogs, was taken over by the WSD in 1993 an since then, they have been sterilizing dogs all over the city.

More, including how you can help, here.

Do they sweat? Or perspire? Or glow?

Did you ever wonder whether animals sweat like humans? The answer here.

A bankrupt zoo, and our bankrupt ethics

This zoo in China watches helplessly as its animals starve to death.
A bankrupt zoo in central China has watched helplessly as dozens of its animals, including at least eight lions and 12 ostriches, have starved to death, domestic media said on Thursday.
Zoos have sprung up across China in the past decade to meet a growing appetite for entertainment among increasingly affluent Chinese, but many provide wretched conditions, inept management and cannot draw enough visitors to cover their costs...
The zoo had more than 500 animals when it opened in October 2003, but only three lions, one tiger and some other animals were still there, the paper said without elaborating.

Read the whole thing, and it's not pretty.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

And Yet Another Tiger Down

Bhubaneshwar's Nandan Kanan Zoological PArk loses a fifteen-year old white tiger to the heat wave. Read more here.

Abandoned Labradors

Two beautiful Labs get a fresh start after abuse and neglect by their previous owners.

'Culling'...or blood bath?

Thousands of wild camels in the Australian outback are to be killed by marksmen shooting from helicopters. These animals were first introduced in Australia as desert transport. "You cannot cleanly kill, instantly kill, humanely kill a moving animal from a moving platform," said Hugh Wirth of the SPCA.

Elephants, villagers, elephants, villagers...

In Assam, this is how it goes. In the last five years, 150 people are said to have been killed by elephants; 200 elephants have been killed during the same period.

Lassie comes home..again

Three dogs to play Lassie, while Peter O'Toole plays the baddy, the Duke of Rudling.

And in Seoul, an eatery 'where elephants have been' decides to capitalise on the event.

Some Happy News

for 'Tsunami cats and dogs'...
Hundreds of such pets were saved by officials and animal rights activists while rescue workers were scouring the Andaman Sea coast for the victims of the Asian tsunami that left 230,000 people dead or missing along the Indian Ocean rim.

Read about it here.

'The Highest Principle of Keeping Life in Continuity'

for Mathew Kurian, providing food and shelter for stray and abandoned animals is an "act of saving lives." Popularly known as `Patti (dog) sir,' this 70-year-old former Catholic priest, who underwent his laicisation (return to the lay state) "due to a personal reason," says that by caring for the animals he is working on the "highest principle of keeping life in continuity."

The rest about this remarkable person here.

Some More Numbers

40000 dogs were killed in Mumbai in one year.

And One More Tiger Down

In Mumbai, three persons have been held for smuggling a tiger skin. Incidentally, I'd like to see the authorities question all the so-called 'holy men' who sit on tiger skins.

Monday, May 23, 2005

How veggie are we?

We got an anonymous comment on the blog today that's worth sharing:
"Btw: I would like to know, do you mind a helping hand (links/articles...etc) from a non-veggie himself? I know I sound like a full-time hypocrite, but I do care for torture of animals, and whenever I find a hungry dog staring at me outside a bakery or a shop, I do feed em sometimes....
Just want to know the editorial stand of this blog. Is this a strictly black-n-white blog ? or any help/pointers you get from shades of grey is welcome ? You might want to write up a post on it, and keep it permanently in your sidebar, so as to allay such fears. Coz most often than not, such forums rapidly turn into a sharp Us-v/s-Them divide, and soon enough you'll see non-veggies - even if they are reading this blog - refraining from sharing their thoughts or input."

I know Uma will want to come in on this, but here's my two bits. First off, the editorial policy: this blog is open to anyone who cares about animals, regardless of where you are on the learning curve. It's not open to carnivores who want to lecture vegetarians on the necessity of eating meat, it's not open to vegetarians who want to lecture carnivores on how meat is murder. It is open to different points of view, however, so long as you keep it polite.
When I started it off a few months ago, I was deeply uncomfortable about whether I qualified to do this at all. I've been a practising and very happy carnivore for 30-odd years, and am becoming a slow convert to vegetarianism, with Uma and other friends offering me a helping hand on the way. (Uma, on the other hand, is a committed vegetarian, but she might want to tell you about her decisions herself.) The reason I decided to go ahead and do this was simple: no one else was doing this, and I believed that if you do care about animals, your progress down the path to enlightenment has to begin somewhere. This is one of the places where it begins for me; if I'm still eating meat a year down the line, go ahead and call me a hypocrite.
Two things: one is the fact that if you do care about animals and think they should have rights, sooner or later you might end up not wanting to eat them. In my case, I'm a fairly reluctant herbivore. I love vegetables, but no, my stomach does not automatically turn at the sight of a plate of butter chicken. But everybody seems to have their personal moment of truth. For a friend of mine who gave up eating meat a few years back, it came because he used to follow chicken trucks--the ones with crates of chickens stuffed into the back on their way to the market--on his way to work, and he decided that he didn't want to be part of the slaughterhouse cycle any more. For me, it's realising that there was something schizophrenic about being willing to eat goats and chickens whom I don't know but absolutely unwilling to eat cats and dogs whom I see as friends. I'm still an occasional carnivore, but it's getting harder to eat guilt-laden meals!
And two, I don't think that the animal rights movement should be about lecturing people; making them aware of the connections between the actions they take in their lives and how it affects other species, yes, but it makes me feel terrible that anyone who wants to make a start on working with animals or working for animal rights should feel that they're not pure enough to qualify.
On this blog, you have the benefit of two perspectives. I'm the unenlightened beginner working my way up the learning curve; Uma, on the other hand, has gone through her own process of learning already. There's a sometime carnivore and a practising vegetarian here, and we'd both like to think that food choices are one part, but only a part, of the entire animal rights movement. So: no attacks on Maneka Gandhi or PETA, please, no sniping at vegans, and welcome.

Crows dying in Mumbai...

The Times of India, Mumbai edition has a report about the death of over 100 crows in the city, of no discernible cause:
Naturalist Sunjoy Monga was the first to raise the alert...As Monga pointed out, the dying out of the city's vultures must have started in an equally inconspicuous manner..."The number may not be alarming, but what is worth noting is that none of them have died due to injuries," said Monga. There are around half a million crows in the city.

If you come across any cases of crow deaths, please contact Sunjoy Monga at 9323799988, or Dr Milind Gore of the National Institute of Virology, Pune at 09890127936.

Ina, Mina, Dika, Dai

Four kittens and their mother who found a home at Jeev Raksha, an animal welfare centre and hospice at Pune.

We never met an animal we didn't like

I loved Disney's Fab Four take on vultures, but outside The Jungle Book, vultures have had to grapple with a serious image problem. It's always easier to drum up support for saving cute, furry animals or the king of the jungle over scavenger birds. But wildlife conservationists in India have been worried for a while over the disappearance of vultures; this Independent story explains why.
"Indian ornithologists announced they would be carrying out a census of vultures across the subcontinent. They will be assessing the damage done by the astonishing collapse of India's vulture populations over the past 10 years, in which it is estimated that tens of millions - that's right, tens of millions - of the birds have died...
The great Indian vulture crash was a complete mystery at first; enormous though it was, there was no discernible cause - just as there is still no discernible cause for the disappearance of the house sparrow from the streets of London. It was thought that a mysterious virus was probably responsible.
Last year, however, the mystery was dramatically solved: the culprit was found to be not a virus at all, but a veterinary product, a painkilling drug given to cattle, diclofenac. Scientists found that the drug, which was harmless to humans and to cattle themselves, was highly toxic to vultures of the genus Gyps.

Dalai Lama to the rescue

The conservation movement gets a shot in the arm from...His Holiness.
From The Bangkok Post:
The WTI and the UK-based Care for the Wild International recently launched a groundbreaking ``Tibetan Conservation Awareness Campaign'' to make Tibetan expats in India realise the importance of protecting endangered species of animals and to wean them off participation in the illegal trade in animal parts. The campaign has received the full support of the Dalai Lama.
"Tibetans are basically Buddhists in the Mahayana tradition and we preach love and compassion towards all other living beings on Earth. So, it is our responsibility to realise the importance of wildlife conservation," the Tibetan spiritual leader said at the campaign launch in New Delhi.
In Tibet, some people use fox tails to decorate their head gear and this forms a part of their tradition. We must realise that because of our own follies a large number of our animals are getting killed or destroyed and we must stop this. The message of mahakaruna has clearly asked us to follow and preach love and compassion for all living beings."