And The Animals, 1

Dear children, today’s sermon is about the animals of the Earth. For I’ve walked among them as one, and it’s been good. (To clarify, we ALL walk among them, you’re never more that a few metres from a rat or a spider or any of up to several hundred creatures, even in the metropolitan areas.)

But I’ve seen my share of the wildlife close up, and even when I’ve had a rifle in my hand, I’ve more often observed them than killed them out of hand. And word gets around. More animals stop still when you appear and let themselves be observed. I know it’s a hackneyed saying but the best hunters are naturalists and observers, people who become one with their world.

I’ve sat and watched animals come up to me and study me in their turn. And they weigh us up just like we weigh them up, and most of them can recognise and tell us apart in their way. I’m not just saying this. For some species, it’s been proven scientifically that they can identify and differentiate between literally thousands of individuals and remember salient facts about them. And not just their own species – their recognition extends to recognising individuals of other species as well.

The Australian white Cockatoos form huge groups. They have a smaller family group that they can recognise from their screeches in a whole cacophony of screeches when roost time comes, although they may not roost with them they know they survived another day. They have a HUGE (over a thousand) community that mostly flies together and roost in the same general area.

They have smaller feeding groups that go feeding together. They have a group of BFFs to that they spend time with other than feeding or flock time. They have, as said, a knowledge of their family members and spend time in that group. And they form small special purpose groups for various objectives. They are taught various calls including BFF calls, family calls, and flock calls.

To us they’re a screeching pandemonium of white bodies, but to the scientists that tagged and identified them and first observed those behaviours, those patterns stood out as a shocking revelation. They have a complex series of relationships and even a culture.

I’ve had Australian Ringtail possums stand beside me and use me trousers cuff to keep themselves upright to scout the land. I am not kidding. I fed my rabbits fruit and noticed that possums came down the tree and tried to get at the fruit so I left some fruit for them. They started waiting for me to put out fruit so I started handing fruit to them. Next thing I was part of the troupe.

And cats. I’ve always loved cats because THEY chose US not the other way round as with dogs. Most of my cats have been brought up in an environment where they get treated at least as though they were human children. They get spoken to in normal tones, included in whatever activities we’re doing, and treated as though they know what’s expected of them. And they respond well.

One of my favourite cats was mildly disabled at birth but recovered because we kept him rather than put him down. He was my kitchen familiar, from when he was a few weeks old and able to move around, he sat on a barstool in the kitchen and watched me cook. EVERY evening. For the first eight years of his life. The mooon, stars, and Sun in his sky were perfect when he was helping me to cook. When he saw me in the shower one day, he miaowed, caught my attention, looked from me to the shower head and then to himself, and washed himself a few times, made sure I’d seen it, and wandered off.

I kept rabbits in above ground hutches and he “helped” me as I went around. When the cages were opened for cleaning he’d pop in there and check the rabbits and any new kittens they’d had, washed a few of them even. And the possums. He just sat there while they scurried around him and took fruit from my hands. And one day as I was filling the rabbit food pellet dispensers, he went to the bucket and picked out a pellet as I watched him, then dropped it into the hutch. He’d made eating movements and was telling as plain as day “You feed them like you feed me, this is what you cook for them.” He was pleased with himself and wandered off after that, mission accomplished…

When I met my soon to be wife and brought Ghostie with me, he immediately realised what was going on and she became his second favourite person in the world. (to be continued)