Kiss the Critter, “Cheap Laughs, and Bullying”. Nobody Who Cared about an Animal Could Ever Submit It To a “Kiss the Critter” Event.

Sweet, Gentle, Trusting Capybara

Sweet, Gentle, Trusting Capybara

In the summer of 2012 an animal that I care very deeply about was subjected to a “Kiss the Critter” event. At the time I was heartbroken and horrified. I expressed my concerns very forcibly. I couldn’t watch the video, I was in tears. The animal looked so confused and distressed. How could anyone do this to a sweet, gentle, loving animal.

At one point one of the men smeared his face with lipstick and kissed the animal, covering the animal’s face with lipstick. It was grotesque, and crude and horrible. Nobody who cared about their animal could possibly subject them to this heartless and demeaning experience.

Last night I came across this article in Psychology Today by Marc Bekoff. In it he condemns everything that I was horrified by.

What depresses me is that we live in an age where people pretend to be animal lovers, but in reality they view animals as entertainment, and very often the animals suffer as a result.

Animals experience very similar emotions to humans. In the part of the brain which processes emotions, the limbic system, all mammals (humans and animals) have the same structures. Mammals also share the same neurochemicals that are important in processing emotions.  We should treat them with respect and love. No human should cause suffering to an animal in the pursuit of their own interests.

Animals experience very similar emotions to humans. In the part of the brain which processes emotions, the limbic system, all mammals (humans and animals) have the same structures. Mammals also share the same neurochemicals that are important in processing emotions. We should treat them with respect and love. No human should cause suffering to an animal in the pursuit of their own interests.

Kiss the Critter and Kiss a Pig Contests, “Cheap Laughs, and Bullying”

As Marc Bekoff  says, and he says it applies to other animals as much as pigs “These inane contests demean everyone involved and should be stopped right now… Stunts based on contempt and ridicule…. These sensitive {animals}… Surrounded by shrieking…. promoting animal exploitation for cheap laughs. The animals have no understanding of what is happening to them. {Animals} are sentient beings who are capable of experiencing fear and pain. Just as none of us would appreciate being held up in front of a jeering crowd, neither do animals. Bullying is bullying, no matter who the victim is.”

Animals suffer when their needs and expectations and desires are not met. All mammals (humans and animals) have the same structures in a part of the brain called the limbic system, which appears to be primarily responsible for our emotional life and the formation of memories. Mammals also share the same neurochemicals that are important in processing emotions, so these arguments from analogy, as scientists call them, are extremely strong and valid ones. I.e. any differences between humans and animals are differences of degree rather than kind. And animals may well experience some things more strongly than humans.

Animals are not objects. We do not own them. There has been a paradigm shift among scientists who study ethology, animal behaviour. Scientists have come to understand that animals have emotions and feelings and are intelligent. We should treat them with the love and respect they deserve.

This is an article that Marc Bekoff wrote for Psychology Today:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/animal-emotions/201311/kiss-pig-contests-cheap-laughs-and-bullying

“Kiss a Pig Contests, Cheap Laughs, and Bullying

These inane contests demean everyone involved and should be stopped right now

Published on November 8, 2013 by Marc Bekoff, Ph.D. in Animal Emotions

Given that schools rightfully aspire to zero tolerance of bullying, they should be at the forefront of encouraging students to be respectful to each other, to their teachers and to all those around them, human and nonhuman alike. So, why are schools (and other organizations) holding events such as “kiss a pig” contests to reward students for reading or to motivate them in their fundraising? These spectacles send the reckless message that stunts based on contempt and ridicule are not only condoned but also encouraged.

Whether or not a student or teacher is well liked, it’s clear that the person who gets the most votes and has to kiss a pig is considered a “loser.” In “kiss a pig” contests, these sensitive animals are surrounded by shrieking kids and the pigs have no understanding of what is happening to them. The piglets often scream in fright, urinate and struggle to escape.

Schools should recognize that these kinds of incentives encourage students to be openly disdainful of their teachers and also foster derision and disrespect toward both educators and pigs. Instead of mocking pigs, students could learn a lot of positive lessons about kindness and compassion from them.

Pigs are loyal friends and amiable companions. Smart and inquisitive, they enjoy exploring and uncovering new and interesting things. They dream and also enjoy listening to music and getting back rubs. Calling someone “a pig” should actually be a compliment.

Pigs are sentient beings who are capable of experiencing fear and pain. Just as none of us would appreciate being held up in front of a jeering crowd, neither do pigs. Bullying is bullying, no matter who the victim is. The teacher who would stop a child from being picked on should extend the same compassion toward animals. Educators must recognize the danger of instigating group antipathy (the so-called “mob mentality”) and how doing so prompts otherwise kind people to behave badly.

If students were taught how personable pigs really are, I feel certain these contests would be stopped once and for all. Young people can learn to appreciate pigs for the truly remarkable beings they are. Pigs offer valuable lessons in forgiveness, resilience and confidence, and I know this firsthand from a pig I met a few years ago named Geraldine.

Geraldine was a rescued potbellied pig living at a lovely sanctuary called Kindness Ranch. Although she had known nothing but cruelty before being rescued, she was personable and clearly interested in assessing me for acceptance as a new friend. Once I passed muster and she trusted me, she demanded nothing but companionship and belly rubs. Geraldine had every reason to be hostile and fearful, but she put her bad past behind her and moved forward with optimism and cheer. The idea of subjecting Geraldine or any of her kin to derision or discomfort is utterly unthinkable.

Links between animal abuse and human abuse are well-known

In light of the devastating consequences of bullying, schools are doing the right thing to take steps to curb anti-social behavior. And those steps must include extending kindness to everyone, including other animals, as there are well-established links between abusing nonhuman animals and bullying humans (see also and “Animal Cruelty and Antisocial Behavior: A Very Strong Link“).

With so many innovative and humane ways to motivate kids, schools are failing themselves and their students by promoting animal exploitation for cheap laughs. These sorts of events should be stopped immediately and the reasons for doing so should be made very clear. Both humans and other animals will benefit from these discussions.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Marc Bekoff is a former Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and is a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society and a past Guggenheim Fellow. In 2000 he was awarded the Exemplar Award from the Animal Behavior Society for major long-term contributions to the field of animal behavior. Marc is also an ambassador for Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program, in which he works with students of all ages, senior citizens, and prisoners, and also is a member of the Ethics Committee of the Jane Goodall Institute. He and Jane co-founded the organization Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: Citizens for Responsible Animal Behavior Studies in 2000. Marc is on the Board of Directors of The Fauna Sanctuary and The Cougar Fund and on the advisory board for Animal Defenders, the Laboratory Primate Advocacy Group, and Project Coyote. He has been part of the international program, Science and the Spiritual Quest II and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) program on Science, Ethics, and Religion. Marc is also an honorary member of Animalisti Italiani and Fundacion Altarriba. In 2006 Marc was named an honorary board member of Rational Animal and a patron of the Captive Animals’ Protection Society. In 2009 he was named a member of the Scientific Expert Advisory Panel of Voiceless, The Animal Protection Institute and a faculty member of the Humane Society University, and in 2010 he was named to the advisory board of Living with Wolves and Greenvegans and the advisory council of the National Museum of Animals & Society. In 2005 Marc was presented with The Bank One Faculty Community Service Award for the work he has done with children, senior citizens, and prisoners. In 2009 he was presented with the St. Francis of Assisi Award by the Auckland (New Zealand) SPCA. Marc is also on the Board of Directors for Minding Animals International.

This is a link to Marc Bekoff’s homepage:

http://www.literati.net/authors/marc-bekoff/

 

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Poor Momiji Capybara… Being A Mother Capybara Can Be Very Stressful もみじカピバラ…母カピバラは非常にストレス

Poor Momiji. Being a mother capybara can be very stressful. The last two capybaras to give birth at the Biopark have both died.

Momiji and Doughnut

Momiji and Doughnut

On July 12 Momiji gave birth to two baby boys, Choco and Doughnut. Three days later when the keepers arrived at the Capybara enclosure first thing in the morning they were amazed to discover a tiny little baby capybara wandering around amongst the herd. After inspecting all the adult female capybaras they concluded that Ayu was the mother (there was a drop of blood on her bottom). Ayu was not producing any milk so little Macaroni, as he was named, was put into Momiji’s enclosure for her to look after.

In the wild capybara mothers go in for “alloparenting” (communal nursing). This means that all the mothers are happy to suckle any of the babies. So it was quite natural for Momiji to take over mothering Macaroni.

Momiji Nurses Choco, Doughnut and Macaroni on Capuchin Island

Momiji Nurses Choco, Doughnut and Macaroni on Capuchin Island

We spent six weeks visiting the capybaras at Nagasaki Biopark every day… all day. Capybaras are exceptionally intelligent and emotionally very sensitive and sophisticated. They are extremely affectionate and gregarious.    In their behaviour and their relationships they remind me so much of humans. I hope they don’t mind the analogy!

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Momiji

Momiji

On our first day at the Biopark the afternoon was punctuated by a succession of thunderstorms. And it rained heavily… all day.   Capybaras hate rain.

Momiji was in a small enclosure on her own with the babies near the entrance to the main capybara petting enclosure. She had been taken out of the herd some weeks before she gave birth, and she would spend a further six weeks in this separate enclosure after giving birth. This practice is intended to protect her and her babies from any attacks by other capybaras.

Doughnut

Doughnut

But Momiji frequently missed the company and support of the herd. There were days when she called and called and called for the herd. Our first day at the Biopark was one of these days. She found the thunder and lightning deeply unsettling, she hated the rain but most of all she missed the herd. She needed their company and their support in this disturbing and upsetting weather.

Choco, Macaroni and Doughnut on Capuchin Island. September 2013

Choco, Macaroni and Doughnut on Capuchin Island.
September 2013

Donguri, number one in the Biopark hierarchy came to visit her at least twice a day.   She would stay for long periods lying as close as she could get to Momiji, against the fence, or if it was very hot she would stay in the pond adjacent to Momiji’s enclosure, half out of the water with her forepaws resting on the bank, looking at Momiji and softly calling to her.

Donguri Guarding Momiji's Enclosure

Donguri Guarding Momiji’s Enclosure

Donguri is the matriarch of the herd and a very wise and caring capybara. She is the most important capybara in Japan because everyone wants to breed to her in the hopes that her offspring will inherit her exceptional character and personality. This doesn’t always work out!   Kaede, Momiji’s sister, is one of the naughtiest capybaras and has been sent to another zoo, because she was always fighting.   Momiji has also not inherited Donguri’s character;  where Donguri is very calm, Momiji is very restless and intense.   Donguri is Momiji and Kaede’s mother.

Momiji is very intense, she does everything to the best of her ability. She is an exceptional mother always acceding to the demands for milk of her babies, no matter how demanding they are. By contrast Maple frequently refused her babies’, Butter and Cookie, demands for milk. In 2014 Momiji’s baby, Aoba, was the size of a 5 month old when she was only 2 months old, and noticeably larger than Butter and Cookie. She is a wonderful lover, making herself instantly available, and very intense in her lovemaking. Inevitably she is a favourite of all the male capybaras.

On our first day Momiji was very anxious, she felt threatened by the continual thunderstorms. She called the herd again and again throughout the day.

Poor Momiji was also often very hungry. Feeding three babies takes a lot out of any mother. She soon came to see me as her guardian angel and food provider as I had noticed how hungry she was and was concerned about her.   She let out a very cute, soft chuckling sound of gratitude as she started to feed, and looked up at me happily with her soft brown eyes.

The keepers sometimes very kindly gave me extra bamboo, yam plant and pellets to feed her;  Momiji and I were both very grateful.

 

Momiji and Choco Eating Hay. Only the hungriest capybaras ate the hay. In the afternoon the only other food available was the bamboo bought by the visitors. Unfortunately Momiji often missed out on this as people preferred to feed her cute little babies.

Momiji and Choco Eating Hay. Only the hungriest capybaras ate the hay. In the afternoon the only other food available was the bamboo bought by the visitors. Unfortunately Momiji often missed out on this as people preferred to feed her cute little babies.

The feeding mechanism for visitors who wanted to buy pellets and feed Momiji was not very efficient. The Biopark does not like visitors to hand feed the capybaras so in Momiji’s enclosure you had to drop the pellets down a long tube. Unfortunately the tube frequently became detached at the entrance point to the enclosure so many of the pellets fell outside her enclosure (towards the end of our visit this was remedied). However even then those pellets that did make their way into her enclosure frequently bounced off the receptacle that was their intended destination and ended up on the floor of the enclosure. Anyone who has ever fed pellets to a capybara will have discovered that capybaras do not find it easy to locate pellets that have fallen on the ground.

Momiji and The Babies Share Bamboo

Momiji and The Babies Share Bamboo

To get round this I hand fed Momiji through the bars of the fence. She soon came to recognise my smell.   Later on when she was released into the main petting enclosure she continued to view me as her friend and provider. As she was usually hungry she would come over to me pointing her nose up at me and sticking her  little pink tongue out hoping for a food reward. She had cleverly learnt that humans love to see cute little pink capybara tongues, and by sticking her cute tongue out she was able to encourage visitors to give her extra food rewards.

Momiji Sticks Her Tongue out at Marc

Momiji Sticks Her Tongue out at Marc

She would often come and sit behind us with her babies when the petting enclosure was full of people.

From my diary, Friday, September 6: At breakfast only four troughs are used. There were nine troughs available, although frequently fewer than nine were used.   Using fewer troughs leads to more competion for the food, and a lot of extra agonistic behaviour, conflict and fighting.

Macaroni is pushed into the pond, Momiji gets hardly anything to eat. Even Maple is now challenging Momiji for her position in the hierarchy. Poor Momiji went from trough to trough getting pushed away. Even Donguri tried to nip her and gnashed her teeth.

I asked if I could pick up some pellets which had fallen on the path, and give them to Momiji to eat. I was told “No”.  I was in tears. I had only asked because I was certain the answer would be “Yes”.   It made no sense that I couldn’t give the pellets to a very hungry capybara who was nursing 3 baby capybaras and desperately needed more to eat. Later when no one was looking I gathered up all the pellets that I could find on the path and gave them to her. Then I moved the trough so she could eat the pellets that were hidden underneath.

 

Momiji

Momiji

Another clever little strategy Momiji had worked out was to jump up onto a bench and sit there looking so endearing and expectant. This immediately brought her to the attention of visitors and made her stand out as a very attractive and lovable capybara to feed. She frequently came and sat on the bench beside us, and on one occasion she was so hungry that as soon as I put a pellet in my hand she jumped in my lap!

Momiji and Doughnut

Momiji and Doughnut

When Momiji suckled her babies she went into a trance like state. Her eyes would glaze over, and she made this beautiful, quite magical sound and her nose vibrated. On several occasions when she was suckling/nursing she looked a little restless and uncomfortable, shifting her weight from foot to foot as if she would rather be doing something else. After a short while she would go into this trancelike state and from then on she was happy to stand there forever, well for at least 12 minutes.

“Momiji Suckling Baby Capybaras. Beautiful Vocalisation, Nose Vibrates”:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i2M63phyWmo

The sound quality is better in this video, but the video is only in close-up of Momiji’s head (the close-up is in order to improve the sound quality). “Capybara Momiji Beautiful Vocalisation As She Suckles”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnoD08LKtko

She won my heart… The way she looked to me for nourishment and protection.  She was just such a wonderful mother always putting the needs of her babies first.

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