Tigtog tagged me…
An interesting animal I had
When I was about eleven, my best friend and I decided to keep rats. Our parents were soooooo forbearing. Mine was called (unimaginatively) Ruth, and I can’t remember my friend’s rat’s name. They were white albino rats, and they had gentle and patient personalities- putting up with being carried everywhere, for instance. I only ever got bitten once, and that was my fault.
Our school had a St Trinian’s-style blazer and one day we thought it would be fun to take our rats to school in our pockets. We took them out halfway through a class, and cleared the classroom. What brats. I don’t remember how much detention we got.
When the fashion for keeping rats surfaced in the punk era, I felt gently nostalgic, but my ratty days were over.
An interesting animal I ate
If reptiles count, Snake soup, in a spooky little alleyway in Taipei. It was supposed to be for men, but I tried some anyway. As they always say, it tasted like chicken.
I’ve got to defer to Bora, though, who passed this meme on – I’ve never gelded a horse and eaten the, er, results.
An interesting animal in the museum
When little I was taken to the Adelaide Museum quite often and I loved the giant whale skeletons which at that time filled the large windows in the front facade of the building (My memory might be quite wrong, but that’s how I remember it.) We had a copy of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories at home, an old edition with spoooooky illustrations. The whale skeletons reminded me of those illustrations, especially in the story How the Whale got his throat.
Googling, I find that “The South Australian Museum has the most technologically advanced facility for the preparation of animal bones in the Southern Hemisphere.”
An interesting thing I did with or to an animal
This heading sounds vaguely indecent. Can I count birds? As a child, I became obsessed with falconry after reading The Once and Future King and a little-known, fascinating american children’s book called My Side of the Mountain. There was as much opportunity to learn falconry in 1960s Adelaide as there would be to fly to the moon, but one year my father had a temporary job change which meant that we spent the best part of the year in rural Oxfordshire. Touristing about, we happened to visit Chilham Castle in Kent, where Alan Oswald kept the art of falconry alive and gave public displays. That led to three wonderful weeks learning to handle hawks, a very sweet owl, a Wahlburg’s eagle called Wally, and (once) a terrifying spanish Imperial eagle called, unromantically, Bugsy. I loved the technicality of it; the gloves, the jesses, the complicated rules.
Wally belonged to a little girl called Emma who went on to make falconry her profession and went to the Emirates to handle the princelings’ hawks for them. I lost interest in later life after thinking through the animal welfare issues, both for the captive predators and their prey, and the impossibility of maintaining this demanding pursuit in a busy urban working environment (Kes notwithstanding).
An interesting animal in its natural habitat
When do we get to see animals in their natural habitat? Ususally only in documentaries, because when I see them in the flesh it’s usually in the interstices between the natural, the natural-corrrupted-by-urban, and the man-made habitat. The beautiful chocolate-coloured wallabies in our local Organ Pipes national park are hopping around an environment that was degraded in the twentieth century and has been restored to a simulacrum of its natural state from the 1970s. There is the echidna which grumpily digs itself straight down into the sandy soil in the car park of the surf beach, as you scrabble for your camera to try and capture it. There are the possums and bats who argue and bicker in the gum trees next to our suburban house at night. There’s the wombat who calmly stumps around the campsite at Wilson’s Promontory. And what about the peregrine falcons who live in the concrete-and-glass canyons of the CBD, nesting in the tops of skyscrapers and feeding on the pigeons which are themselves brought there by the human activity? Some animals and birds eat scraps from the humans’ diet, and almost all of them live in a habitat which has been shaped by people. Logging, land clearing and development destroys more of their “natural” habitat every year.
The line between natural and man-made, after all, has always been blurred in a country which until 220 years ago, had an indigenous culture living off the land for tens of thousands of years.
So with all those hedges and caveats, as an-interesting-animal-in-its-natural-habitat, I recommend the dingo, Australia’s largest carnivore, a native dog who may have come to this country thousands of years ago in canoes from the Indonesian archipelago; a ghostly creature who will follow you just out of sight, a presence felt rather than seen in the landscape. If you camp out in the inland, they howl in packs together at night, an eerie sound which amplifies the loneliness of that country. They are also very likely doomed, as the burgeoning population of feral domestic dogs can’t be prevented from diluting their gene pool.
It would round off this post nicely to mention that my rat-owning friend Anne (Annie) Taylor grew up to study and make art about dingoes. I can’t find much more about her work on Google to show you; sadly, she didn’t have much of a web presence when she died. Dingoes are more appreciated now, I think, rather than just treated as baby-eating vermin- although we might not be able to save them, unless by some high-tech DNA saving technique – and I like to think she played some part in that.
They’ll hate me for it, but I’m tagging Link, Barista and Bernice.