About Me

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Mumbai, India
I'm a landrace dog fancier, birder and amateur arachnologist. Founder of the INDog Project (www.indog.co.in) and the INDog Club. Before that, worked with urban free-ranging dogs of Mumbai from 1993-2007. Also a wildlife conservationist working in the tiger reserves of central India with Satpuda Foundation.

This blog is for aboriginal breed enthusiasts. It is part of the INDog Project www.indog.co.in. Only INDogs (Indian Pariah) and INDog-mix mongrels are featured here. The two are NOT the same, do please read the text on the right to understand the difference. Our aim: to create awareness about the primitive natural breed called the Indian Pariah Dog/INDog. I sometimes feature other landrace breeds too.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Burial

These beautiful pictures record a strange event Yvonne witnessed, involving her dog Leela and a dead seal.

Here is Yvonne's account of what happened:

Walking along the beach early this morning, Leela, Rishi and I came across a dead seal that had washed up on the beach overnight. I quickly put Leela's leash back on because I wasn't sure how they would react or whether Rishi (with his very high prey drive) would want to fight over it and he wouldn't come near me to put his leash on.

The most fascinating thing transpired.

Leela very gently and gingerly circled the seal and I thought it best that she at least investigate but if she thought of taking a bite I could get hold of her leash and move her away. That is not at all what happened. She became very serious and immediately began systematically covering the seal with sand.

Rishi stayed on the periphery and the dynamic between them was very very different. He didn't come close nor did he investigate. Instead he began to play with and bark at a piece of pineapple in the waves.

You can see Leela burying the seal. There was no hint whatsoever that this seal was food.

She made very sure to cover the seal's glassy eyes.

Every now and then she would nudge the body with her nose and then cover it again.

Rishi continued to bark at his pineapple.

When she was done she simply left and appeared content that she had done what she needed to. It was a sacred moment for all!!

I have observed it with numerous other seals that have washed up since. Leela appears very concerned, prods them, tries to roll them over, whimpering as if it is her own puppy that has died. Same this weekend when a baby seal washed up. It was still so perfect, very thin though, and she sniffed it and tried to 'get it to live' and when she realized it was dead she started covering it with sand again.

Rishi as usual kept his respectful distance. If it was any kind of prey for them, he would try to get in there first and own it and/or run away with it.

Maybe because a seal is so much like a dog? They do try and chase and play with the ones having fun in the shallow waves. I put them on leash because the seals will bite them badly!! They both love to eat dead crabs and fish,
but leave the deceased penguins be.

Yvonne de Kock
Cape Town,
South Africa

Rajashree's note: I think incidents like this show us what a vast gap there is in our knowledge of animal consciousness. This is a topic that has hardly been researched. The scientific community constantly warns us not to "anthropomorphize" animals or jump to sentimental conclusions about them, and to a large extent I agree. But I can't quite go with the commonly held belief that non-human animals have no concept of death. Here is an interesting New Scientist blog on this topic.

I also believe most human behaviour is instinctive or emotional, and not based on rational "human" thought, so the gulf between us and other animals isn't all that huge - but that's a different topic and doesn't belong in this blog.

If you have ever witnessed anything similar to this incident, or if you can shed any light on this behaviour, please write in or post a comment here.


Veera said...

I am all goosebumps after reading this post - it's just so amazing!

doggylove said...

do u think female dogs are more sensitive when it comes to pups, kids, death?chinky many times went and slept, sat beside blacky in his last days, but tommy sat near him only on 2 occassions, she used to come running and greet him lick him, everytime we returned from the vet, more so, would sniff the spot where he were given iv or some injectible.chinky kept a low profile on the day blacky expired, while tommy was his usual.dead animals dogs do understand, in my walks with my pets for 7 yrs now, my dogs used to sniff the dead animal and immediately start their walk showing no interest.be it a dead cat or rat or even a dead dog on one instance.late blacky and chinky liked to roll over the area where an animals dead body might be lying for a while.i could make out from the dried blood spots.leela's act was just amazing, thanx to youvanne she took snaps.bye.

Veera said...

I don't remember anymore in wich country this occured but I remember reading about a hospital or other similar place for terminal patients where they had a cat. The cat would always go and lye next to a person a few days (or hours - I don't remember all details) before the person's death and he would not leave this persons side until his moment had come. The personnel would always know by the cat's behaviour when somebody was going to pass away and they had enough time to call relatives to spend their last moments with the person. The cat never failed. This story was a news item, not just an urban legend!

doggylove said...

i too have read abt this incident, may be on animal planet.blacky himself howled in the night in mid july(first time in his life a month before he passed away), and during that time tommy howled 3 times in the night and once in day time while he was fully awake?!! my relatives say dog howl is a sign of some bad thing to occur in future.

Rajashree Khalap said...

I've read about this cat too. Perhaps the best explanation of Leela's behaviour is that she thinks of seals as some kind of dog - Yvonne mentions that they try to play with live seals - and she wanted to bury it to prevent other animals from eating it? But do dogs bury other dog carcasses? I've never heard of any such thing so far. Dogs are such a mystery.

Rajashree Khalap said...

Manik, re howling - in 2001 I brought a puppy to my apartment to look after, when she got distemper. Her mother and siblings lived on the other side of our building compound wall. After 10 days the pup died and all night the mother howled outside. I feel she knew what had happened somehow, though she couldn't see her daughter. She was otherwise a very silent dog. There was also something strange about Lalee's behaviour when her friend Lucy died. Lucy was in Nagaon and Lalee in Mumbai, but my husband told me that Lalee walked around the house quite a lot the evening before Lucy's death, and more strangely she sat near the front door. She never behaves like that normally. When we next went to Nagaon I expected her to look for Lucy, but she didn't react in any way to Lucy's absence.

I know scientists would be very sceptical about such incidents, but all the same I think they deserve more research.

Anonymous said...

Animal consciousness is underresearched, but not unresearched. Please do read an article named 'Do Animals Have Souls?" Very interesting data on the subject.

Kiran Khalap

Anonymous said...

yes...animals and death and supernatural stuff is something well-known....atleast i have known about it since childhood because people, friends and families always knew it and took it for granted (grandma's tales)

in delhi, there used to be 2 sparrows, male and female who used to come and sit at my window daily. one day the female flew inside the room, got struck by the fan blades and died. next day, the male sparrow came, sat at the window for quite some time, kept looking at the fan and then flew directly in it. i felt he knew what had happened and what he was just about to commit. i buried them together.

what leela did is so thoughtful and touching. animals are amazing!


longblackveil said...

This is a beautiful post. Sweet Leela, well done.
There's probably something in the dog-seal connect Yvonne writes about.
Thanks for sharing, Cats.

Yvonne said...

Thank YOU all for sharing in this and in Leela and Rishi's lives here!! I will keep observing and keep you in the loop from the southern tip of Africa.

Pirjetta Kesseli said...

Dogs are wise. They initually can bury a dead animal (prey) to cover it from insects like flies. Especially, as you told, the eyes are the places where the flies go first.