Tag Archives: animals

The Story of SusieJ – A Tiny Tigre de la Calle

By Deborah Van Hoewyk

Much to the displeasure of the two cats we bring from Maine, many a Mexican street cat has tried to enter – over the wall, through the gate – our house in Santa Cruz.

But one of those Maine cats is supremely ungracious to the street cats, given that she herself was born in Santa Cruz, apparently in a giant pothole up at the end of Calle Huautla.

A Determined Tiny Tigre

SusieJ arrived like others, hopping up from the sidewalk and through the ironwork gate into a planter. And there she stayed, peeking out from the plants at the front of the patio. A few days later, however, there was another, smaller face beside hers. Apparently SusieJ had gone back up to Calle Huautla and brought her kitten to live in the planter as well.

Of course, a few days after that, there was another small face at the front of the yard. And once, again, a few days after that – another small face. This third kitten looked nothing like SusieJ or the other two, and was a good six weeks younger. Then SusieJ though it would be better all if they moved into the house. First we just thought they’d left, until we discovered them curled up on the chairs shoved under the dining room table.

We fed them and “fixed” them – the kittens went off to live in Pluma Hidalgo. As were preparing to leave at the end of the season, SusieJ was adopted by a woman who lived in Hache Tres. All was quiet, stuff was getting sorted for packing, we were looking forward to the cool weather of Maine. At 11 pm, three days before we were to leave, hubby comes in carrying SusieJ. Although he believes cats do no such thing, SusieJ had found her way back from Hache Tres.

SusieJ was replaced by two new, younger bonded (and fixed) cats; SusieJ spends her summers in Maine and her winters in Mexico.

The Sad Short Lives of Street Cats

SusieJ lucked out. This is not the fate of the overwhelming majority of street cats in Mexico. They are run over by cars (atropellado), torn apart by dogs, starved, felled by disease, poisoned intentionally or accidentally, and have hard short lives – most last less than a year.

Street cats (gatos callejeros) live in concert with humans – they are not entirely feral. Most would make happy house cats if they got the chance. They are in the street because, historically, Mexico has not had a “pet culture” – cats and dogs have been seen as utilitarian. Cats do in the rats, mice, and other small vermin, while dogs guard property and people. It is thought spaying and castrating a dog or cat would prevent it from being fierce enough to do its job.

This is changing, however. According to U.S. animal behavior consultant Steve Dale from Chicago, Mexicans, “often influenced by European, American and Canadian pet ownership in the community,” are increasingly thinking of cats and dogs as pets, and with this change of mind, sterilization of pets and strays is increasing across Mexico.

The Solution? Sterilization

Sterilizing dogs and cats that roam and street animals is the only proven – and humane – way to control these populations. The Oaxacan coast has a strong contingent of spay-neuter organizations. The first volunteering we ever did in Huatulco was at one of the earliest clinics put on by Snipsisters, an organization formed by Canadians who had homes in Salchi, the next beach town after Cuatunalco. (Cuatunalco is west of Huatulco, before Pochutla/Puerto Ángel, and has hosted multiple Snipsister clinics.)

Snipsisters has encouraged other organizations to conduct spay-neuter campaigns. In Bahías de Huatulco, that organization is the Mexican nonprofit Palmas Unidas de Huatulco; Snipsisters has supported many of the Palmas Unidas clinics. There is a Snipsisters chapter in Puerto Escondido, where they also support TNR (Trap Neuter Release) Puerto Escondido. Altogether, Snipsisters has sterilized over 5,000 cats and dogs in coastal Oaxaca. The independent organization Terre Xtra serves Pochutla and Puerto Ángel, as well as lending a hand with Palmas Unidas and anywhere else they are needed.

Palmas Unidas de Huatulco conducts 6 – 9 free sterilization campaigns a year. Last month, Palmas Unidas held a clinic in Hache Tres in La Crucecita, scheduling 154 surgeries – working into the dark, the surgeons sterilized 159 animals. Those slots were all taken and people were being turned away – unacceptable to Palmas Unidas. Overnight emergency fundraising funded a second clinic with 60 more sterilizations, for a total 0f 219; funds raised will cover another clinic to be held early in the new year.

It costs approximately 300 pesos (currently about $15 USD, $20 CDN) to sterilize a cat or dog. Long-time Huatulco resident Fran McLaren is the driving force behind fundraising for Palmas Unidas; if you are interested in helping, contact her at franmclaren@gmail.com.

Once They’re Gone, They’re Gone Forever

By Kary Vannice

As we come into a new year, many of us get rid of or eliminate things in our lives that no longer have a purpose to make room for the new. We’ve become accustomed to lightning-paced technology turnover as we willingly and regularly upgrade to the latest and greatest smartphone on the market.

We, in our plastic and metal world, have become so used to “planned obsolesence” that we now simply accept that in a few years, most of our everyday objects will be outdated and worthless. And we’ve started to see it as a sign of progress … out with the old and in with the new.

Unfortunately, in the natural world, there is no research and development team working on new species to replace the many that are rapidly being extinguished from our planet. New mammal, amphibian, and insect species are not coming online as fast as Apple comes up with a new version of the iPhone.

No, once a species is lost to us, it is gone forever, and with it a critical piece of biological biodiversity, which upsets the balance of an ecosystem forever. There are no replacements or upgrades in the natural world. Each species is integral to the healthy functioning of the whole.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publishes a yearly “Red List,” which lists most of the threatened and endangered species on the planet.

According to the IUCN, “Currently, there are more than 142,500 species on The IUCN Red List, with more than 40,000 species threatened with extinction, including 41% of amphibians, 37% of sharks and rays, 34% of conifers, 33% of reef-building corals, 26% of mammals and 13% of birds.”

In 2015, IUCN listed Mexico as the country with the most threatened or endangered mammals globally – 101. And of course, that number didn’t include any insect, amphibian, bird, plant, reef coral or reptile species, all of which are included in Mexico’s top threatened species.

In recent years, studies conducted in Mexico have confirmed the vulnerability of the monarch butterfly (insect), the leatherback sea turtle (reptile), the Mexican axolotl salamander (amphibian), the scarlet macaw (bird), elkhorn coral (reef coral), the white nun orchid (plant), in addition to several mammal species including the Mexican grey wolf, the jaguar, the ocelot, the Mexican long-nosed bat, along with dozens and dozens of other lesser-known mammal species here in Mexico.

Just a few months ago, The New York Times ran an article online titled “Here’s the Next Animal That Could Go Extinct,” and yes, that animal only exists in the waters of Mexico. It’s the vaquita, a small ocean porpoise. Only ten are known to be living in the wild, in the waters off the coast of San Felipe, a small fishing village on the Gulf of California.

One of the main reasons Mexico has so many threatened and endangered species is that its diverse landscape translates into high biodiversity. Mexico is number four in the world for the highest number of mammal species, boasting over 500 species. But the sad fact is, nearly a fifth of them are in trouble. Most are threatened because of habitat loss due to clearing to create agricultural land or commercial development.

Many of the species on the “Red List” are collateral damage from commercial activity, such as farming or fishing. Of the 101 species listed in 2015, 60 were rodents. At that time, the San Quinton Kangaroo Rat had not been seen since 1986 and was declared possibly extinct in 1994. However, in 2017 researchers caught one in a survey trap, proving that, while their numbers are small, they are still surviving on Baja California’s coast. That is encouraging news, but one species among nearly 100 just doesn’t seem like a big enough win.

Eighty percent of the threatened or endangered species on the IUNC’s “Red List” for Mexico are endemic, meaning that they do not exist anywhere else in the world in the wild, which means if they go extinct in Mexico, they are gone forever.

In nature, there is no such thing as planned obsolescence; all species strive to survive. It is only a system out of balance that causes extinction. And right now, man’s manipulation of nature is the number one cause of species loss both on land and in the sea. If you’d like to do your part to prevent extinction in your area, support local land conservation efforts and pitch in to keep green spaces clean and safe for all species.

Editor’s Letter

By Jane Bauer

“Cows are amongst the gentlest of breathing creatures; none show more passionate tenderness to their young when deprived of them; and, in short, I am not ashamed to profess a deep love for these quiet creatures.”
Thomas de Quincey

Hello 2021!

As we have done for the past four years, the theme for our January issue follows the Chinese New Year. We are entering the Year of the Ox, which hopefully will be better for humanity than 2020’s Year of the Rat.

When I was in India last year, cows wandered the streets as stray dogs do in Mexico. They would approach me and nudge my hand with their head to be petted. These encounters filled me with a strange combination of bliss and sadness. When I returned to Mexico, I went to see some land with a man from my village. There were three cows there and, fresh from my India experience, I approached one and placed my hand on its forehead. Our eyes met and the cow responded to my touch by moving its head towards me. The man who had brought me there looked on quizzically; it was clear he thought I was ridiculous.

So often we overlook the charms of animals that have been domesticated for consumption. As we do with humans, there is a definite hierarchy when it comes to how we dole out our concern for animals. Afterall, I have often made the sassy comment that when people come to a Mexican village and ‘rescue’ a dog, why do they leave the chickens behind? I am being facetious, of course, and this is not a plea that everyone should stop eating meat and welcome chickens into their living rooms (don’t- they are very messy!). I just find it interesting to contemplate how we collectively seem to decide on this hierarchy, and also how it differs from culture to culture.

While I was growing up my mother had a painting that hung in the kitchen of a woman with her hand extended to a cow. Perhaps that is where my fascination came from.

I hope you enjoy this issue. Putting out the magazine has been such a gift during this season when we are separated from so many of our loved ones.

Thank you to the amazing writers, contributors, advertisers and readers who make this possible!

See you in February,

Jane

How Cattle Survive Canada’s Harsh Climate

By Jack Vander Byl

Reading the title, you’re probably thinking about the severe cold weather we Canadians get in January and February, and how cold it must be for cows to be outside. Not so. On a cold, clear, sunny day in January at 30°C below 0, our beef cows are happily lying on the snow chewing their cuds. Their protection from the cold comes with their birth. Calves born in the late fall arrive with a thick hair coat and ready for winter. The rest of the cattle in the herd also grow a thick hair coat for the winter. In the spring, the cattle start rubbing against whatever they can find to slough off this winter coat: fences, trees, buildings, etc. Then they are ready for summer.

Calves that are born in the springtime, however, come with a very slight haircoat to help them cope with the severe heat of plus 30°C summer days. And how do cattle cope with those very hot summer days? They do their grazing early in the morning and in the evening, spending the rest of the day lying in the shade of any big old tree they can find and chewing their cuds. Yes, everything a cow eats, she regurgitates and chews it 70 more times to break it into smaller particles that get passed on down to her other 3 stomachs.

On cold, clear winter days cattle cope very well as long as there is no wind. But if you add some strong wind, cold rain or a severe snowstorm to the cold, the cows eat quickly and head to shelter to chew their cuds. In our case – we’re in eastern Ontario – we have a lean-to on the south side of the main barn so the cows can get out of the wind and snow. A windbreak will also do nicely. If they don’t have a building they can shelter in, they will head to the bush, preferably a cedar bush which gives excellent protection from the wind. If nothing is available, the cattle will form a circle with the calves in the centre to protect them and cows around the outside packed in close together so only their behinds are exposed to the wind, taking turns being on the outside of the ring.

When I joined a veterinary practice in 1975, the dairy cattle in eastern Ontario were all housed in barns of 30 to 70 milk cows. The barns were all packed tight with cattle and not very well ventilated. Cows give off a lot of heat and the barns became too hot for the cows. As a result, we treated a lot of pneumonia in our dairy cows. The farmers were happy because the barns were very comfortable to work in, but the cows are very comfortable at 0°C.

During the summer, the cows had gone to pasture every day during the summer but spent most of the day lying under the trees to get shade. If they were left on pasture too late in the fall, they started to grow a winter hair coat and then the farmers had a big job to clip all the hair off so they wouldn’t overheat in the warm barns.

Gradually, things changed. Ventilation in the barns improved, and milk production improved as the cows were kept in a cooler environment. So now, all new barns have open sides with a curtain that can be pulled up in the worst of winter; the barns are generally just above freezing – good for the cows but not so good for the farmers and veterinarians who have to work with them. During the summer, these barns have massive fans that move air through the barns very rapidly and cool off the cows. Dairy cows do not go outside anymore.

So, even though the Canadian climate may be harsh, cattle will adapt, as long as they have water to drink and enough food to eat.

Jack Vander Byl is a retired large animal veterinarian who now enjoys helping out at his son’s beef cattle farm in Eastern Ontario.

When is an Ox Not an Ox?Meet the Musk Ox!

By Susan Birkenshaw

Dating back to the days of the sabre-toothed tiger and wooly mammoth, the musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) can be traced back over 600,000 years. In the northern tundra culture of the Inuit, the musk ox has been revered as a gift from their gods and protected as a strong source of food (from the meat), warmth and protection (from the wool and hides), and weapons (from the horns and bones). As strong and respectful hunters, the Inuit have used every part of their hunt.

Distinctly identifiable by the musky odor of males during mating season, the musk ox bears little resemblance to the bison or the ox as we know them today. In fact, they are more closely related to mountain goats and bighorn sheep, with their cloven hooves and an astonishing nimbleness on the icy terrain that they call home. Much warmer and softer than sheep wool, musk ox wool (qiviut) is also simpler to harvest, done by brushing the loose hairs from the hide or collecting the commonly dropped patches around their habitat. This wooly Qiviut has been measured as eight times warmer than the sheep and much more waterproof, all the while being lighter per weight. It is stronger than sheep wool and surprisingly finer than cashmere, produced by Kashmir and pashmina goats.

In the wild, these majestic animals are smaller than their bison cousins. They have large dish-like hooves with two toes, which can spread across the ice and rocky terrain for better footing. This is an excellent adaptation to their environment, as they live commonly at the very northern edge of the Arctic lands in the Northwest Territories and the northeast coast of Greenland. They most commonly roam in herds of two to three dozen, but as the world overtakes them these numbers are dwindling.

In this Year of the Ox, we should not err in disregarding the musk ox, just because it is not genetically linked to the oxen we see on farms in 2021. Highly valued because of its contribution to successful farming, the musk ox has had many positive characteristics attributed to it. It has survived through its resilience and protectiveness, which leads to an image of being steadfast, reliable, hardworking and honest. In today’s environment, I have decided to choose this particular “ox” as my new best friend.