Do animals have empathy and do they display emotion?

I am unsure whether all animals have the capacity for empathy and emotion, but there are sufficient examples to demonstrate that in certain animals it is true. Anecdotally there are sufficient examples to validate this supposition even with one’s own pets. The death of one dog will not affect all of one’s other dogs equally but generally there is one which displays which is equivalent to pining or even grieving. The symptoms that they manifest are akin to a human’s grief. Their actions usually include a regular inspection of their sleeping quarters. As it would a Herculean task to prove this hypothesis, this blog is merely a collection of stories from the web.

 Main picture: The owners let this dog loose with his chain still on due to a house fire. The dog rushed into the fire and ran out with this kitten…

Continue reading

How will we cope when the world warms up?

An indifferent or facetious response would be “Turn up the Air Conditioner.” Maybe it is possible for those of us who are office workers but what about the animals and the vegetation. How will they cope? For instance would it require that huge shade nets be strung across the fields, orchids and pastures? Would our pets be required to wear “shoes” to prevent their feet from being scorched on the hot surfaces? Would geo-engineering on a global scale come into vogue or gain acceptance? What form would it take? Currently all but the prognosticators of the future are cogitating such questions but another five years of unprecedented hot years, will in all likelihood force the climate change denialists into a corner.

  Continue reading

A Highly Unusual Animal Friendship

It goes without saying that for a Belgian Shepherd and an Owlet to be friends is highly unusual. For me, there is something intriguing and possibly even compelling about inter-species friendships. This is due to my fascination with what sparked the decision to become friends and how they handle the fact that their behavioural cues are so vastly different.

Main picture: Ingo the Belgian Shepherd with its avian friend Napoleon or Poldi as its owner Tanya Brandt of Germany affectionately calls him

Continue reading

In Celebration of Dogs

The one stern injunction that my mother made when I was a child was never to own a German Shepherd as a pet. The reason that she advanced was that ultimately their wolf like nature would be exhibited at some point in time and would attack somebody. Personally I believe that her misunderstanding arose as the next door neighbours – the Lotts’s – bred GSDs. In their tiny backyard, they kept 50 Alsatians chained up. Probably what happened was that at some point, a frustrated dog attacked Mr Lotts. For most of my life in Joburg, I have owned at least one Alsatian and never have I experienced a problem either with the children or the other animals.

Continue reading

Parenting in the Wild

All babies are cute particularly those of wild animals. This blog depicts the young of wild animals in various poses. The perils of living in the wild are numerous. All animals especially the young are prey for an array of predators. With most not expected to reach adulthood, most of these parents would witness the death or disappearance of 50% of their offspring.

Continue reading

Nature is Triumphant

Nature is fragile. An oil spill at the coast can result in the deaths of millions of sea creatures. The destruction of the animal’s natural habitat is a habitual concern of conservationists. The population explosion brings the wild animals into conflict with human needs. A tense standoff between conservationists and human needs will throw this conundrum into sharp relief. In one aspect, nature is resilient. Nature can be triumphant and that relates to vegetation. Left untended, vegetation will reclaim even the most obdurate surfaces and areas. This series of photographs highlights this phenomenon.

Main picture: Angkor in Cambodia

Continue reading

Mother’s Love in Animals

A picture of the bond between mother and child is particularly endearing especially in newly-born animals. The look of utter contentment and tranquility encapsulates the sublime moment. But the world of animals is a tough place. Most animals are not afforded the luxury of a joyful childhood. Instead literally within minutes they could face ferocious predators and other hazards of life. In this blog, I contrast the extremes from a foal which finds peace and contentment with its mother to the other extreme where a barnacle goose mother coerces her day old chicks to take a leap of faith which many will not survive.

Main picture: The newly born foal seeks solace, contentment and reassurance with its mother

Motherly love: Reciprocity of love and need

The first vignette depicts one of these precious moments. It relates to a newly born offspring of Taskin, a Gypsy Stallion owned by Villa Vanners of Oregon.

Newly born foal#3

This series of pictures were taken immediately after his birth on April 6. The mare lay down to give her new baby the love and comfort that he needed. The baby then trotted around and crawled right up into her lap. Talk about true love!

Newly born foal#4 Newly born foal#2

Tough Love: No time for tenderness

This idyllic situation is distorted picture of the reality of life in the wild. In the first episode of the Natural History series Life Story, narrated by the inimitable 85 year old David Attenborough, he deals with the travails during the first footsteps in the life of various wild animals.

The cup indicates the size of the ducklings

The cup indicates the size of the ducklings

In a cogent fashion he deals with the perils of childhood in the wild. In the extreme case such as Wildebeest, the newly born animal is given only a few minutes to grasp the concept of balancing upright on four legs before they are expected to be able outrun a lion in full charge.

Wildebeest and its calf

Amazingly the BBC Natural History unit captures just such an event. From being literally unceremoniously dropped into the world head first, the bewildered young animal was given no more than five minutes to comprehend the world before the lions, sensing an easy meal – a hors d’oeuvre – charged at the herd.

With my heart in my throat at the fragility and mercilessness of life in the wild, this inexperienced animal galloped two mouthfuls ahead of the lioness.


It was a near-run thing but it survived.

Apparently even at that tender age, this animal has the endurance to outrun a lion.

What a traumatic introduction to the world?

Only then, the near escape forgotten, could the young wildebeest nuzzle up to its mother for the very first time. With formalities over and having shared greetings such as “Hello mom!” it took its first sip of mother’s milk.


Tough Love: An appalling decision

In a heart breaking vignette, David Attenborough captures the harsh death defying start to life of Barnacle Geese in Greenland. Of all the animals, these goslings must face the most perilous start in life. In order to protect their chicks against the numerous predators that abound in the area such as wily Artic foxes, the adult Barnacle Geese have evolved an effective deterrent: building their nests on the edge of a 400 foot sheer cliff face.

Barnacle geese nest on these pinnacles of rock

Barnacle geese nest on these pinnacles of rock

The problem is that the parents cannot feed them. At two days old, they have to feed themselves. In excruciating detail this documentary reveals how the parents coax these reluctant chicks to jump off the edge of the cliff. With only down as “feathers”, they can barely glide let alone flap. This results in a series of bumps as they slam into the cliff face on their descent. Cartwheeling through the air, they make their way downwards. The ultimate deciding factor whether they will live or die is whether they land on one of the small patches of grass instead of a sharp rock. Their chances of survival are 50:50 at best.

The trusting chick follows its mother instruction to jump over a 400 foot precipous

The trusting chick follows its mother instruction to jump over a 400 foot precipitous

The camera shows one landing badly and never even stirring. Its parents accept the inevitable. It has not survived the fall. The next also lands awkwardly. It lies on some grass not stirring. Finally it shakes its head and gradually stands up and then waddles across to its anxious parents waiting nearby. This poignant scene transmogrifies into cheery optimism as it seemingly has beaten the odds and survived. For good reason its parents are still anxiously waiting for it further below. Until they are safely down and together, it still faces a daunting challenge. The forlorn hope turns into dread as an Artic fox appears. With a final goodbye – an adieu – in the form of a nervous tweet-tweet, the fox clamps the chick in its mouth.


The Artic Fox captures a snack - a Barnacle Goose chick which survived it s base jumping attempt

The Artic Fox captures a snack – a Barnacle Goose chick which survived it s base jumping attempt

Without an expression of regret, the parents focus on the survivors. They quack punctiliously to alert the remaining chicks to their whereabouts.

A Baracle Goose at Svalbard

A Barnacle Goose at Svalbard

Of the five chicks, three have survived.


The last chick base jumps without a parachute

The last chick base jumps without a parachute

Once fully grown, these geese will have to re-enact this traumatic event. They will experience the mixed emotions of pathos, forlorn hope and relief as they too will enter into a Faustian Bargain with their newly born chicks.
Base jumping Barnacle Goose chicks:


Baby elephant Brown bear cubs Deer Lion cubs Lioness and cub Sleeping lions

When a Coalition of Cheetahs comes for a Closer Investigation

What happens when a coalition of cheetahs takes the injunction to do some of their own game viewing to a new level; except that in this case the animals which they wish to perform a closer inspection of, are humans. Bereft of options, the human animals had the presence of mind to remain calm and rather to shoot them – on camera of course. The expression of one of the human under surveillance is indicative of both surprise and anxiety.

The real reason for the cheetahs clambering upon the land rover become instantly clear. It was not hostile intent or to satisfy their hunger pangs but rather to use the height of the vehicle as a vantage point to perform some game viewing of their own.

If these photographs had not been taken, none of the individuals would have been believed when they returned with tales of having a tet-a-tet with a coalition of cheetahs.

Main picture: An anxious moment is shared with no amicable wave
Continue reading

Lions retreat before an indomitable foe

Sometimes even the mighty lion is intimidated by another animal. In this case it was the pesky fly. Due to the recent rains in the Serengeti, the grass was an ideal breeding area for these annoying creatures. The pride of lions was literally forced to pocket their egos together with ferocious mein and retreat to the sanctuary of the tree.

As many as 15 lions can be seen in the tree with some of these animals precariously balanced in the branches. Way above the ground based flies, the pride of lions could resume their sophorific activities while whiling away the time during the heat of the day.

Continue reading

Ring side seats at a lion kill

Thursday night was one of those nights when one despairs about South Africa. Before the 5km Randburg Harriers Time Trial, I listened to the action in the Houses of Parliament. Fortuitously it was question number six; the issue relating to Zuma and Nkandla. It was less a reasoned discourse than a puerile series of inane points of order. It was South Africa’s very own impromptu soap opera at work. If it were not so serious, it would be entertaining, but it is indicative of paralysis and lack of leadership that pervades South Africa in general and the ANC in particular.

Abject failure abounds. South Africa is trapped in a quagmire of corruption, ineptitude and kleptocracy with Zuma leading the pack. Zuma might not be well qualified, having only a standard three certificate, but he is extremely astute. The sum total of his response to the EFF as they fulminated against him having benefitted from the Nkandla upgrades, was to calmly state that the matter is in the hands of the Parliamentary Select Committee.

Continue reading