Sunday, November 6, 2011

Some Musings about Creatures Great and Small (Feb. 5, 2009)

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my! That's what Dorothy, Scarecrow and Tinman were worried about on the way to the Emerald City as they ambled through the creepy forest before encountering the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz."
Recently, there have been news reports about horses and elephants and geese. Those species are a heckuva lot cuter and some people think they need to be better protected.
I like some animals and I frequently watch nature TV shows and movies, and, once in a while tune in to the Animal Planet channel. However, my up-close-and-personal contact with domestic pets has been few and far between.
Years ago, I briefly adopted two abandoned street kittens. I was forced to give them away six months later when I discovered I was VERY allergic to felines and they aggravated my asthma.
I used to love to go horseback riding when there were stables in Bergen Beach, but soon found out they also affected my allergies.
After the recent ditching of the U.S. Air jetliner in the Hudson River, which was apparently caused when a flock of Canadian geese got sucked into the plane’s engines, resulting in their failure, some state lawmakers proposed creating a geese reduction program.
While PETA and other animal rights groups were dismayed by the plan, which could include an effort to humanely reduce the fowl population near local airports. Some gun advocates, undoubtedly would like nothing better than the opportunity to shoot the migrating geese, which stopover here on their way south for the winter, out of the sky. (The internal GPS of the geese may be out of whack this year since they seem be lingering in the dead of winter, instead of heading to warmer southern climes.)
Last week, a Queens City Councilman chaired a hearing to call for a ban of horse-drawn carriages in Central Park, reviving the same prohibition he sponsored two years ago after a horse was killed in a collision with a car. He and a local animal rights group, call it "oppressive and inhumane treatment" of the animals, including an eight-hour workday and terrible stable conditions. (Probably not fit for pigs either.) He also cited an increase in the number of accidents (seven) involving the equines over the last 18 months, adding that those were "the only ones we know about," obviously implying others are never made public.
I agree with the protesters, though it's unlikely there'll ever be a law to ban them. Though it's kind of cruel to see carriage drivers lose their job in this bleak economy, it’s even crueler to think of horses pulling carriages around Manhattan simply for the enjoyment of a handful of tourists and couples seeking a brief romantic memory. It wouldn't be much of a loss to the city's economy (there are less than six dozen now operating) and the animals could be put out to pasture for their remaining years, while the horsemen might try driving tourists around in licensed taxicabs, which can be brutal on 12-hour shifts in congested Manhattan traffic.
While we're on the subject of horses, this year's Budweiser ad with the majestic Clydesdale horses was once again selected as the best in a survey of viewers who responded to a poll about commercials during Sunday's Super Bowl. It's highly doubtful anyone would object to those ads, unless someone actually believes the beer conglomerate hitches the iconic equines to a wagon to deliver its product.
What would the circus be without elephants? After eight years of legal battles that's exactly what's being debated this week in a Florida courtroom before a federal judge in a suit brought by a collation of animal rights groups, including the ASPCA, against the venerable Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus.
In a situation similar to the carriage horses, protesters claim the iconic Asian elephants are kept in cramped, filthy quarters and are routinely prodded with "bull hooks" (a wooden or fiberglass club with a steel hook on one end) that sometimes leave them with bloody sores. They are seeking an injunction barring the circus from engaging in "certain cruel practices," including chaining the animals for long periods, based on the Endangered Species Act, which does not apply to animals in captivity.
Naturally, circus owners deny all charges and insist the elephants are "healthy and well cared for," and under watchful eyes of veterinarians 24/7, and are asking the judge to dismiss the case.
They also said the elephants are a favorite attraction, but audiences never see what goes on behind the scenes. I once witnessed celebrated circus trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams kick and slap a Bengal tiger backstage while working at Madison Square Garden. I presumed the docile animal may have been drugged or it would have torn him to pieces. Nonetheless, I was startled, so I can imagine what happens to the elephants.
In minor animal protest on Monday, radio talk show host Don Imus blasted practically everyone involved in the annual Groundhog Day ritual in Pennsylvania. The curmudgeon ranted about how Punxsutawney Phil is drugged to make him come out of his hole for the ceremony.
I'd never previously heard that complaint and doubt it's factual because, you know, animal lovers would be all over it every February 2nd.
Heck, it's not like they yank the woodchuck from its burrow. The little renowned rodent probably comes out to see what the fuss is all about!
Nevertheless, the world's most famous groundhog saw his shadow, predicting, as legend has it, that this unusually cold winter will last six more weeks. This year it may also mean another six months (more or less, I hope) of a badly bruised economy!
In contrast, when Chuck, the Staten Island Zoo groundhog, failed to emerge on his own in the local ritual, Mayor Bloomberg reached into the rodent's shelter and pulled him out for waiting the media and onlookers. The annoyed 10-pound creature promptly bit Hizzoner on the hand, piercing a leather glove. Fair is fair, the mayor took a bite out of the zoo's funding in recently announced budget cuts.
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Mahatma Gandhi — Hindu spiritual leader.