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.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Leela and the dead penguin

If you've been following Leela, Rishi and Sipho's story, you may have read The Burial, posted a year ago. Yvonne recorded Leela's mysterious burial of dead creatures she finds on the beach: seals, penguins, other birds.

There is absolutely no indication that she thinks of these species as food. She never tries to hunt them when they are alive. In fact she has tried to play with live seals.

She never digs up the corpses she buries.

Here's a recent video of her "last rites" for a dead penguin.

Eyebrows are sometimes raised when the topic of animal consciousness is brought up. We may never really know why Leela does what she does. But is it really scientific to assume that humans and other animals are totally unlike each other?

"It's bad biology to argue against the existence of animal emotions," writes renowned scientist Mark Bekoff in his book The Emotional Lives of Animals. "Scientific research in evolutionary biology, cognitive ethology, and social neuroscience supports the view that numerous and diverse animals have rich and deep emotional lives...Charles Darwin's well-accepted ideas about evolutionary continuity, that differences among species are differences in degree rather than kind, argue strongly for the presence of animal emotions, empathy and moral behaviour."

Empathy...isn't it a short step from empathy to awareness of death in another animal? Unlike many of her breed, Leela does not have to live as a scavenger or a carrion eater (just as we no longer have to live as hunter-gatherers). Wouldn't this change her attitude to what she might earlier have viewed as "food?" Just as we have moved on from the hunter-gatherer mindset, could Leela have moved on from the scavenging/carrion-eating mindset?

I mean, at some point of time early in human civilization, we would have looked upon dogs as "food," as in fact some tribes and other cultures still do. Whereas others among us have evolved along a different path, to look at dogs in a different light...in other words, with empathy.

Video: Yvonne de Kock
Cape Town
South Africa


georgia little pea said...

this is a most interesting post. have gone back to read The Burial as well.

btw, your blog is one of the stand out discoveries for me in my 1st year of blogging! so i thought i'd provide a link [in my last post]. please don't expect a stampede since only a few people read my blog!! but yours is too interesting not to share :)

have a great christmas and new year ms khalap! xox

Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking! If human consciousness is even today a 'black box' I guess we are ill-qualified to pass judgment on animal consciousness...and therefore, on the existence or lack of empathy.
Thank you Leela;-) for opening the windows of our mind and heart to something higher!

Rajashree Khalap said...

Thanks Georgia :-)Your blog is one of the best I've ever come across, please keep blogging! Happy new year to you too.

Rajashree Khalap said...

@Anonymous: So true about human consciousness - when you look at humans too, it's actually unscientific to generalize about our capacity for empathy isn't it? I mean, there are humans and humans. Some of us can't even empathize with other members of our own species, and some of us lack much sense of moral behaviour.