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Wednesday 25 November 2020

Remembering the shooting of Harambe the Gorilla

The shooting of Harambe the gorilla at Cincinnati Zoo in May 2016 on the premise that he might have harmed a human was proof that human life will always takes precedence over that of an animal.

Harambe died through no fault of his own.

On the afternoon of 28 May 2016 a three-year-old boy fell into the moat of the gorilla pen at Cincinnati Zoo in the USA, which at the time contained three gorillas. The two females were tempted from the pen, but Harambe, a 17-year-old male endangered lowland gorilla, was fascinated by the child splashing about in the water and went over to investigate. The screaming crowd of onlookers agitated and confused Harambe and he dragged the child through and out of the water.
Zoo officials were afraid for the child’s life and so the zoo marksman was called and Harambe was shot dead. Although the zoo was criticised for not doing more to save the child and Harambe, Mr Holloway, a zoo spokesman stated, screams from the crowd further agitated Harambe and it’s a horrible call to have to makebut human life will always take precedence over the animal.’ The incident became headline news worldwide and caused considerable controversy and a year after his death he had become the biggest meme of the year with memorials held all over the world.

We prefer animals to entertain us rather than seriously conserve them

Harambe died through no fault of his own, but because he fell foul of our human precedence belief and because we like to treat animals as objects of entertainment. Had his enclosure been designed for the safety and interests of the gorillas over that of the public or better still excluding the public to allow Harambe and his mates to get on with conserving their species undisturbed, he would still be alive.
If we can kill such an endangered animal as a gorilla in a breeding programme doesn’t all this make a mockery of our supposed serious intention to preserve animals for the future.
Harambe RIP
So the moral of the story is that although gorillas are sentient, are an endangered and protected species, are closely related to us and disappearing at an alarming rate in the wild and that Harambe was doing his bit for conserving his species by being part of a breeding program, none of this saved him or was of any consequence.  I suspect that even if he had been the last male gorilla on the planet, his life would not have been  considered more important than that of a human.  Animals will unfortunately always come second to humans whatever the situation or circumstances as we could never bring ourselves to perhaps save an animal at the expense of a member of our own species.

Monday 9 November 2020

In it together. The bond between the men and the war horses.

three world war one soldiers treating a war horse's injured leg.
Caring for a wounded WW1 horse.

They fought together, rested and ate together and ultimately died together.

It is that time of year when we remember the fallen in wars, particularly those in the Great War. Last year, being the 100th. anniversary of the armistice, I was prompted to try and discover more about the role one of my grandfathers played in the war. His name was Edwin Clark and I was only four years old when he died so knew little about him. I soon discovered that he had a full on war in the Canadian Field Artillery and it came as a pleasant surprise to find that he had the dangerous job of a “driver” looking after and riding the horses that pulled the guns.

I gathered so much information that I decided to write a book about his eventful personal war. But during my research I was so intrigued with the men’s obvious emotional relationship with their horses, the story became as much about the heroics and deprivations of the horses as the men.

The men spent most of their waking hours caring for them often under almost impossible conditions. They fought together, rested and ate together, often slept together and ultimately died together. There is no getting away from the fact that their lives were unforgiving and unremitting, but at the same time the men responsible for them lavished as much care as they could to alleviate their suffering and formed incredible bonds with them.

She is very stupid but I love her – a soldier wrote this on the back of the photograph. Credit: National Museum of Scotland.

The men were devoted to the horses.

The horses and mules became friends, confidants, fellow comrades and pseudo counsellors with who the men could air their grievances, discuss their suffering and help alleviate their depression and melancholy. Without their companionship the physical and mental well-being of the men would have been worse than it was. The relationship is probably one of the ultimate examples of man’s dependence on animals for solace.

Their devotion to the horses is evident by how an officer responsible for censoring their letters home to mothers, wives and girlfriends stated:

“Drivers almost wept as they wrote of their faithful friends – the horses – wishing so much that they could be given more feed and better shelter. Such care and attention they gave these dumb animals. When nothing else was available an old sock was used to rub them down or to bandage a cracked heel while breast collar and girth were eased by wrapping light articles around the harness to keep it from rubbing the sore spot”.

Legitimate targets

The horses and mules were viewed as legitimate targets by both sides. They faced being shelled, bombed, gassed, sometimes shot and suffered horrific shrapnel injuries. Many suffered shell shock and remarkably others learned to lie down and take cover when under fire.  Like most of the human recruits, the horses had never experienced such noise, chaos, smells, violence and hardships and they did not have the capacity to realise what was happening to them or likely to happen to them. So everything occurring around them was terrifying until they became accustomed to it.

There are no exact statistics on the average lifespan of a World War One horse arriving at the front, but for most of them it was very short. They died in large numbers daily and were replaced by new recruits. Very few managed to survive the whole war. The few that did manage to see it through to the end were shown no compassion and were just slaughtered for meat or sold to work on farms, being logistically too difficult and expensive to repatriate. Their suffering was immense and unlike the men, none of them returned home.

I find it rather poignant that when Edwin, my grandfather was severely wounded for the third time and invalided from the war, just four weeks before it ended, he was tending to the horses. He was giving them their nightly feed, water and grooming a mile behind the front line when an enemy plane flew over and dropped bombs in the midst of them killing and wounding many drivers and horses. Edwin did thankfully make it back, but after three years continuous action in most of the major battles on the western front he returned both physically and mentally scarred. We owe them all so much.

Tuesday 21 July 2020

Condor of the Humane

A Tribute to an extraordinary dog who died forty years ago but is not forgotten.

Black Labrador with head out of Bahamas Humane Society car window
Condor was a soulmate, friend and protector and without her I could not have done my job.
Photographs: John Brookland 1976.]

In September 1975 and I found myself sitting in a bungalow beside the Bahamas Humane Society compound in Nassau having just arrived on a flight from the UK to take up the position of chief inspector. As often happens in these situations when you are exhausted and suddenly find yourself alone far from home, what seemed a good idea at the time was now losing its appeal and I was full of misgiving as to whether I was up to the task.

It was at this point that the back door into the kitchen, which I had left ajar, was pushed open and I was just thinking I couldn’t face any visitors when I heard the tapping of nails on the tiled floor and a sleek black female padded nonchalantly into the sitting room. She wore a red collar and had a three-inch excuse for a tail probably nipped off when a pup and had the appearance of a crossbreed black Labrador.

She stood in the doorway staring at me with soulful eyes. I waited to see if an owner appeared, but she was alone, and after a few seconds she walked further into the room flopped onto the cool tiled floor and made herself comfortable. There was no attempt to come over to introduce herself and although I made polite conversation with her, it was obvious I was being thoroughly scrutinized as though a great decision was being made. I watched her and she stared at me and from that moment on she never left my side during the time of my residence and a special relationship was born.

I could forgive her anything when she looked at me with her sad eyes.

Although it was our first date she spent the night.

I had no idea who owned her, what her name was or where she had come from, but on that first evening I was extremely glad of her company and she appeared happy to listen to all my concerns. Although it was only our first date, she stayed the night lying across the doorway to the bedroom as though instinctively on guard. In the weeks and months that followed I found she was a dog with attitude and several bad habits but a real darling when you got to know her. It proved to be a case of role reversal with her adopting me rather than the other way round.

I discovered next day that her name was Condor and that she was technically one of the “yard dogs” but it seemed that she was a lady quick to change allegiances when the fancy took her, and possibly spotted a relationship with better opportunities. I was unable to move or go anywhere without her as my permanent shadow, and on occasions she proved a good protector when I was so pleased to have her by my side. She came out on all my work visits, social visits (she hated missing a party) and even insisted on coming to the drive-in movie although she would sleep through the film on the back seat. She was also very vain and hated being left out of a photograph and always found a way to muscle her way in.

She was at her happiest out on the road.

My most precious times with her were when we patrolled the island together speeding to incidents and singing along to the radio. Like all dogs she adored hanging her head out of the passenger window and she liked it even more when I would occasionally stop at a sheltered deserted beach and allowed her to swim or chase or retrieve a bit of driftwood. She loved the sea, a true water dog, but it played havoc with her ears with constant ear infections and irritations which I had to treat.

We loved our afternoons off at Paradise Island Beach

We both enjoyed our downtime together particularly my weekly afternoons off when we usually went to the western end of Paradise Island beach which in the 1970’s was often deserted (no Atlantis, Club Med or marina at that time) and we swam and snorkelled, finishing the day with a stroll to the lighthouse and back when she would trot in front with the driftwood firmly lodged in her mouth. I enjoyed snorkelling, but Condor had difficulty understanding the concept and I could only ever see her four legs thrashing back and forth in front of me often ramming me and tipping me over. It was a time to escape all the stress and trauma of my challenging work for a while and it was extremely idyllic.

                   Walking a deserted Paradise Island Beach in 1976 with Condor.

She did come with many bad habits though, her most worrying being her dislike of certain Bahamian men wearing straw hats which was quite a problem in sunny and hot Nassau. It may have been a throwback from some earlier event of ill treatment. I discovered this aversion the hard way while snoozing one afternoon on Paradise Island beach when I was rudely awoken by Condor kicking sand in my face as she hurtled off growling menacingly. By the time I lifted my head she was chasing a poor terrified man in a straw hat out to sea. By the time I got to her, the frazzled man had completed a nifty 30-yard swim out to sea. I apologized profusely to him and half-heartedly admonished my bodyguard, but the incident had worried me, and from that moment on I had to shout at any men in straw hats that crossed our path and quickly restrain her whenever I heard a rumbling growl and raised hackles.

Her other problems included severe flatulence mainly caused by pigging any food material she came across either fresh or decomposing. Her stomach would often worryingly bloat to the size of a beach ball to the point of exploding and she would lie on a cold floor moaning. But she never learned the lesson and wherever we went, her search for edibles was always her focus. My long-suffering friends, when I was invited to dinner parties, were very tolerant of the occasional stench emanating from wherever she lay and to their credit carried on conversing without pause.

She was an old sea dog.  

She also had the less than endearing hobby of either eating or rolling in horse manure and as I spent a lot of time dealing with abandoned and ill-treated horses, she had plenty of opportunity. I tried in vain to stop this habit to no avail, but fortunately her rolling preference was for dried dung which was easy to brush off her. At every opportunity she would squirm on her back while uttering groans of ecstasy and having shouted at her she would always accept the scolding in good spirit and carry on. But her penchant for eating fresh dung was a no-no and I did have to stop her in her in her tracks.

First thing every morning I had a routine of touring the Humane Society compound and clinic inspecting the animals and Condor insisted on and enjoyed accompanying me. She would watch me pick up my keys from the kitchen table and grab my mug of tea (I am English after all) and she would lazily heave herself up, stretch and make sure she was out the door before me with her stump of a tail wagging enthusiastically. She liked these early morning walkabouts as it gave her a chance to meet and greet the animals and more importantly search out any discarded or uneaten food.

Condor the Black Labrador looking out over Nassau harbour
Condor spots something going on in Nassau harbour 

She enjoyed speeding to emergency calls.

Our day would then start, and we would have no idea what to expect not that Condor cared as long as she was along for the ride. I enjoyed patrolling the island attending incidents and stopping off at local villages to chat to residents about their complaints and worries over animals. Condor particularly loved speeding to emergencies sometimes with my blue light flashing and she enjoyed leaning from side to side as we turned corners at speed. (I was also a district constable in the Royal Bahamian Police Force (RBPF) so allowed to do it. Condor liked children and the attention she got from them which was a bonus for me when on school visits. She became a mascot, a favourite with the children who would wave at her as we drove past with her head out of the window benignly accepting the adulation.

We had three vehicles two of which were Volkswagens with bench seats and obviously Condor always wanted the window seat which wasn’t a problem unless I had a colleague with me.  Then there was a lot of pushing and jostling to make her sit in the middle of us. Even if you managed this, she would lean heavily against you or lean over and drool while standing painfully on your groin until you gave up and let her have her own way. Then with the seating arrangements organized we could get under way. She often tried to pre-empt this problem by getting into the vehicle we were going to use before we arrived (she cleverly knew which one it was as we usually left the doors open to air it out) and we would play a rotten trick on her by getting into a different one.

Condor always had to be the first into the ambulance. Photo: John Brookland 1975

My work often placed me in sticky situations. On many occasions I was threatened with a knife, cutlass, broken bottle or aggression, but the presence of Condor barking and growling and the implied threat of letting her out of the vehicle often had a calming effect on the situation. It was a bluff on my part as I would never have put her in danger, but I discovered there was a certain amount of black dog syndrome on the island or a wariness of dogs of that ilk. I am sure that having her as a sidekick prevented me from receiving serious injury and gave me confidence.

I could always rely on her to cheer me up.

Near the end of my tenure everything began to fall apart. My personal car was stolen and I was insured for theft so it put me in debt, relations with my employers were at an exceptionally low ebb, I was beginning to feel homesick and I was suffering from work overload and intense emotional and physical strain with the amount of animal cruelty and suffering I was witnessing and dealing with. It came to a head on evening when I just walked out of the house in a daze not knowing where I was going. A concerned Condor tagged along as always, and I eventfully found myself sitting on a deserted Saunders beach a mile or so from home having a good cry with Condor leaning against me. She did her best to cheer me up without success, so she sauntered to the water’s edge, grabbed a piece of wood, came back and threw it at my feet. She returned to the water and barked encouragingly until I got up, smiled and started playing with her. It seemed she was trying to say that life was just a beach so let's forget everything else and just get on with it and we did. I could always rely on her to cheer me up.

Condor's favourite pastime of retrieving driftwood. Photo: John Brookland 1975

Coinciding with this I was offered out of the blue an extremely interesting job back in the UK and decided for the sake of my sanity I could not pass it up. Immediately my main concern was what to do about Condor. I cannot explain how reliant and emotionally connected I was to her at that juncture and to leave her behind was unthinkable. I owed her so much as I know I could not have survived my time in the Bahamas without her.

At the time dog quarantine had just been introduced in the UK under new Rabies Laws (which coincidentally I was about to enforce in my new job at Heathrow Airport) and I knew that she would have to undergo six months solitary confinement in a kennel. She was not a young dog and was accustomed to so much freedom and life in a hot climate. I wasn’t sure it would be fair to take it all away from her, but I didn’t think I could give her up as we had formed such an incredible bond, so I started applying for the required import license and quarantine space.

She needed a clean bill of health and the Society veterinarian volunteered to do all the necessary tests. It was at this point that he gave me the devastating news that she was suffering from the latter stages of heartworm which was not treatable even though she was not showing any outward symptoms. He advised that it would be unfair and selfish to put her through such a traumatic journey and change of lifestyle when her days were numbered. I was heartbroken at having to make the terrible decision to leave her behind, but everyone promised to look after her for me and she would remain as the Society mascot.

I shall never forget my day of departure when she trotted out to the car with me and sat by my side with an enquiring look. I had tried to say my last emotional goodbyes to her in my house but gave her a last cuddle. As we drove away, I looked back to see her sitting in the middle of the car park with a resigned look on her face and I was absolutely devastated.


I kept in touch and was informed that she soon settled into her old routine. She survived another eighteen months and I did see her again on a return visit a year later but kept my distance and I was pleased to see that she appeared happy with life. She was an amazing dog and I talk often of her particularly when I see a black Labrador on a beach with a red collar, which is often.

I was chief inspector of the Bahamas Humane Society in Nassau from 1975-77 during which time I faced almost overwhelming incidents of animal abuse.