Friday, June 23, 2017

Slow Loris: Experiencing the World of Smell

The Slow Loris (Nycticebus coucang) moves at a leisurely pace through the forests of Southeast Asia. With her slow and steady hand-over-hand movements, Slow Loris deliberately goes from tree top to tree top. Since She often hangs upside down as well, naturalists first believed that Slow Loris was a relative of the sloth of the Americas. Instead, She is a prosimian, a forerunner of monkeys.

As an omnivore, Slow Loris feeds on leaves, insects and small lizards. Using her keen sense of smell, She hunts at night for insects that are poisonous to many animals. Following the scent trail, Slow Loris tracks the insect. Moving unhurriedly, She sneaks up on her victim unnoticed. Then holding onto one branch with her hind foot, Slow Loris quietly reaches out and grabs her prey with her fingers.

Slow Loris communicates to other slow lorises using scent. To leave a message for them, She will urinate on her hands and wipe them on branches. The other slow lorises read her scent markings, and leave messages of their own. Scent acts as a language between these prosimians.

Besides her acute sense of smell, Slow Loris is also known for her toxic bite. First, She licks her scent gland on her upper arm, which produces a toxic secretion. Mixing the secretion with her salvia, Slow Loris grooms her baby for protection. When She forages at night, She will park her infant and leave. Furthermore, when She is threatened, Slow Loris will bite. The toxin from her bite will cause painful swelling and death.

Most people have seen Slow Loris in videos being tickled. What these videos do not tell anyone is that She is reacting from fear. Furthermore, shining a light into her large eyes hurts Slow Loris, since She is a nocturnal animal. Because of her cuteness, Slow Loris is a the victim of the illegal pet trade. Before selling Her, traders will pull her teeth out. Because of this, She dies a slow painful death. To help to stop the illegal pet trade, it is better to work to keep her home forests intact and educate people about her inability to live in captivity.

People can learn from Slow Loris how to fully experience the world of smell. She shows them how to communicate by smell. Imagine the smells of coffee, rotten eggs, baked breads, and then feel what each conveys. Go through your day noticing the smells of your life. Ponder what they tell you. Experiences will become more memorable with smell.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Warm-Blooded Ones: Friendship and Nourishment

My latest at Witches and Pagans is up:

Of all the animal groups, most people feel the closest to the Warm-blooded Ones. People have a natural kinship with these animals, since as humans, we are fellow mammals. Warm-blooded Ones live invited in people’s homes as companions and members of the family. They are raised by people for food, clothing, and shelter. People have been nourished by their friendship with Warm-blooded Ones for ages.

Read more at Witches and Pagans: Animal Wisdom

Friday, May 05, 2017

Toola, the Southern Sea Otter

There are individual animals who have had a profound effect on humans and on animals. Toola the Southern Sea Otter is one of them.

Toola, the first sea otter ever to foster stranded pups, is one of the Mighty Dead. She persevered, in spite of her daily seizures, to pioneer the rehabilitation of sea otters back into the wild. Moreover, Toola inspired important legislation for sea otter conservation. Most importantly, she fostered thirteen stranded pups who now have successfully raised families on their own in the wild. Toola is considered, by many, to be the otter who saved the southern sea otters from extinction in the wild.

"Toola with Pup," by Randy Wilder, Monterey Bay Aquarium
Before Toola, the Monterey Bay (California) Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation Program (Sea Otter Program) could not successfully release stranded pups to back into the wild. Raised by humans, these sea otters were too accustomed to people to survive on their own. The Sea Otter Program, which was started in 1984, was failing in its main mission. Then Toola was rescued in 2001.

Found on a beach, suffering from seizures, Toola, who was pregnant, was taken to the Aquarium. The vets determined that she was suffering from toxoplasmosis, a parasite spread by cat feces. Toola could never be returned to the wild, since she needed daily medicine to contain her seizures. Adding to her woes, Toola lost her pup.

The Aquarium was now faced with a dilemma – what to do with the grieving Toola and a weakened pup who had been stranded. They decided to see if Toola would nurse the young pup. No aquarium or sea rescue group had ever thought of having sea otters as foster mothers before. Toola took to mothering as her mission in life. She became the first of many sea otter mothers to foster pups. Toola taught the pup, now her foster son, how to dive, how to crack open clams, and how to successfully eat crabs. Her pup is now the head of a pod of otters, and the father of many pups himself. Since her arrival, the Aquarium has had a successful release rate, now they had Toola teaching them.

Toola raised awareness of the human impact on the environment for sea otters. Since her deadly toxoplasmosis could only be abated by daily doses of medicine, Toola had to remain at the Aquarium. This parasite found its way into the watershed system by the careless dumping of used cat litter. Assemblyman Dave Jones (D. Sacramento) enacted legislation to place warnings on kitty litter bags about the proper disposal. He also set up a donation box for the California Sea Otter Fund on income tax forms. More funding also was allocated to saving the southern sea otters.

Toola died of old age (about 16 years old) in March 2012. Dr. Mike Murray, the Aquarium’s veterinarian, said “I will argue that these is no other single sea otter that had a greater impact upon the sea otter species…” He joked that she ruled the Aquarium with an iron webbed fist. Dr. Murray said of her passing, “Toola did what she has always done. She went out her way on her terms. May we all be blessed to go out the same way.”

"Toola with Pup," by Randy Wilder, Monterey Bay Aquarium

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Sea Otter: Second Chances

When people think “otter”, they often imagine Sea Otter with her cute face, floating on her back, holding a clam. The most aquatic of Otters, Sea Otter spends most of her life at sea. Since She likes to be in the water near the shore, Sea Otter prefers living along coasts instead of the open ocean. During rough weather, Sea Otter will seek shelter in a rocky cove.

Unlike other Otters, Sea Otter will catch fish in her clawed forefeet. Other times, She dives to the sea bottom, snatches a tasty clam, and returns to the surface. Swimming on her back, Sea Otter uses a rock and bangs open the clam on her chest. She eats crabs, being careful not to get her nose pinched.

Sea Otter is a keystone species since She maintains the health of the near-shore ecosystem. Sea urchins which attack kelp are her favorite food. Since She maintains the kelp forest, many species have their homes there. Places where Sea Otter has been reintroduced has rebounded in health and been restored.

From time to time, Mother Sea Otter will gather with other mothers and their pups. While her pup is playing with the other pups, Mother Sea Otter grooms herself to keep her fur clean. As her pup has fun with his playmates, Mother Sea Otter rests with her friends. Usually, She has her pup rest on her stomach as they float in the estuary. The bond between mother and pup is so close, that a mother will carry and mourn a dead pup for days.

Because She lives in the cold waters of the Pacific, Sea Otter has the thickest fur of any mammal. To keep her fur in prime condition, Sea Otter will lay on her back and blow air into her under-fur. To clean Herself after eating, She will somersault and twist and turn to get the debris off her fur.

Sea Otter’s history with people is a sad one. Russians and Americans hunted Her to near extinction for her fur. What saved Sea Otter were other, more thoughtful people. When the hunters thought that there were no more sea otters, other people knew where sea otters were hiding and kept the place secret. After laws were enacted to save the sea otter, her numbers slowly recovered.

Today, sea otter populations face other problems. Coastal pollutants and habitat degradation limit the number the survival of the adult otters. Used cat litter has infiltrated the watersheds bringing with it lethal parasites. Every sea otter counts to the people of California who are doing their best to keep these mammals from going extinct.

Sea Otter once trusted people before they hunted Her. After about a hundred years, Sea Otter is willing to trust again. As people are working to give Sea Otter a second chance to thrive, so She is giving people a second chance. Learn from Sea Otter when to trust and when to walk away.

Updated and revised version of a blog posting in 2010.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Relating to The Tarot and Me

For me, the best method for relating to the Major Arcana of the Tarot is the character sketch. Creating a character from each card, and then melding this character into a story is challenging. Doing this makes me look deeper into each card. For example, The Hanged Man presents me with the following: Why is he hanging upside down? Who is he? How does he relate to others? The second part of creating a short story with random cards further cements the meanings of the cards for me as a reader. Writing a story using The Hanged Man, The Sun and The Chariot challenges me to see how they flow together. How does The Hanged Man relate to The Sun, and what do they have to do with The Chariot? This to me is the core of reading the Tarot – the story that the cards tell.

 Aligning the Tarot with the Tree of Life of the Qabalah reminded me why I detest the Tarot. The focus became for me one of organizing the Tarot into a system of redemption and unification with God. This runs counter to what I believe, as a Roman polytheist. I do not regard the Tarot as a tool to relate to various energies of the Universe. For me, the Tarot is simply a divination tool.

Finding patterns in the cards is the most helpful for me to connect with the Tarot. The most common pattern that people see is grouping the cards into aspects of The Hero’s Journey. Finding other patterns became a mnemonic for remembering the essence of each card in a group. I set up a pattern of the Journey to the Dark Goddess and the Return. Each card now fits into a “family relationship,” which aids in a reading. When certain cards appear, I can interpret them by know where the questioner is on this journey.

The constant repetition of learning different methods of how to relate to the cards has made me more confident in my ability to interpret the Tarot. As I worked with each method, I encountered different aspects of each card. Therefore, my reading of The Hanged Man (or any other card) becomes richer by knowing the subtext. Furthermore if I cannot relate The Hanged Man to the other cards in one way, I can employ another method. The repetition and review increased my ability to interpret a spread holistically.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Types of Animal Teachers: Introduction

My blog at Witches and Pagans: Types of Animal Teachers

A part of working with animals is learning as much about them as you can. Since common names are confusing, scientists will use taxonomic names for each animal. In taxonomy, animals are separated into various groupings according to their DNA and biological characteristics. Therefore, every animal has a scientific name based on where they fit in the Web of Life. Taxonomy (this scientific classification system) is essentially the animal’s name, rand, and serial number.

Read more at Animal Wisdom blog

Friday, March 24, 2017

AYE-AYE: Self-Determination and Magic

One of the most bizarre mammals, Aye-aye of Madagascar can frighten people by pointing her spectral middle finger at them. With her large pointed ears, blood red eyes and large bushy tail, She is a figure from a nightmare. Aye-aye looks so supernatural that people on Madagascar believe Her to be capable of great magic.

Even for naturalists, Aye-aye has been a nightmare. When they first encountered Her in the 18th century, nobody could determine what Aye-aye was. Because of her bushy-tail and chisel-like teeth, Aye-aye was believed to be a squirrel. Later naturalists said that She was marsupial, although they could not find a pouch. Finally, scientists determined that Aye-aye was a specialized lemur, the only survivor of her family – the Daubentoniidae. (This makes Her a prosimian, a forerunner of monkeys.)

On Madagascar, Aye-aye takes the role of a woodpecker. (Among the mammals, only She and the striped possum uses percussive foraging.) Tapping with her long bony finger, Aye-aye searches for beetle larvae moving about in the tree bark. No one is sure whether the tapping disturbs the beetles or simply allows Her to locate them. Once She finds the grub, Aye-aye chisels a hole with her rodent-like teeth. Then inserting her middle finger, She scoops out the bug and eats it.

Building nests at the forks of trees, Aye-aye will have several throughout her territory. Although She lives by Herself, Aye-aye will tolerate other aye-ayes whose territories overlap Hers. When She is not using her nests, other Aye-aye may sleep in them. This makes it difficult for naturalists to determine the actual population of aye-ayes.

Many stories abound about how Aye-aye received her distinctive name. Some claim that it comes from one of her distress calls. Others say that it is her Malagasy name, “hay-hay,” which is probably Malagasy for “I don’t know.”

Because the people of Madagascar believe that Aye-aye can be an evil presence, they dislike saying her name. Whomever She points her middle finger at will die. A fearless animal, Aye-aye spooks people by simply walking into the middle of their villages. They usually respond by killing Her and hanging her corpse as a warning for other aye-ayes.

However, there are Malagasy people who believe that Aye-aye brings good luck. Since She was once human, Aye-aye will bless people. Sometimes, She will make a grass cushion for a sleeping village. Placing the pillow under their head, She brings them wealth.

Aye-aye has always been a puzzle for people. Few could figure out what She is or how She came to be called “Aye-aye.” She confounds people and their expectations. Therefore, they have opposite reactions to Her. Aye-aye lives by her own rules of self-determination and magic.

Drawing by Joseph Wolf