Sunday, March 03, 2002

Animal's Love

This morning's edition of the Asahi Shimbun had an article regarding how it's possible for a lion and a herbivore to have a "parent-child" relationship. Although I think this type of relationship is quite rare, I was surprised to hear that it really does happen. It all occurred at a wildlife preserve in central Kenya, where someone saw a 5-6 year old lioness walking alongside a newborn oryx (an antelope, belonging to the cow family, an herbivore). The lion wasn't thinking about "eating it", but would lie next to the oryx when it was sleeping, and, in order to protect her "child", she did not eat anything for about ten days. However, on January 6th of this year, other lion, attacked the oryx and ate it, while the "mother" was taking a drink of water. They say that for some days afterwards, the lioness would not get up and appeared to be mourning the death of her child.

This lioness didn't give up here. In the middle of February, she again accepted another oryx "child." But this second child was so weak that it couldn't stand. Seeing this, the Kenya Wildlife Service, which maintains the national parks in Kenya, moved the oryx to an animal hospital in Nairobi. According to the newspaper article, this lioness lost two cubs of her own last year, got separated from her herd and was living on her own.

Both male and female oryxes have long, spear-like horns, and are about as big as a cow--about 47 inches at the shoulder, weighing anywhere from 250 to 390 pounds. They live in the deserts and savannahs of Arabia and Africa. Their diet consists of grasses, buds, leaves, and also eat roots and tubers, that have a lot of moisture, digging them up with their front legs. They usually give birth to one calf, but, in rare instances, two. They leave the herd to give birth and hide the calf for 2 or 3 weeks. That's probably when the mother oryx was killed by a carnivore. Since their "natural enemies" are lions, panthers, and wild dogs, it seems that its "natural enemy" was playing the part of the "parent."

Whether or not "animals have (the ability to) love" is sometimes a topic of debate amongst biologists. This example effectively illustrates how different types of animals can establish a "love-like" relationship. In his book, When Elephants Weep, Freudian scholar and psychoanalyst, Jeffrey Masson introduces some examples of how a "parent's love" can transcend species. In one experiment, a rat which had children, was given baby mice and rabbits. Not only did the rat take them in as her own, but also "adopted" a kitten. When scientists tried to separate it from the rat, the "parent" showed signs of resistance. And, while cats lie on their side and feed their young, rats feed their young while on all fours. This rat tried desperately to feed the kitten in a standing position. Fascinated, the scientists decided to give the mother rat a Japanese bantam chick. There was a lot of excitement when the rat tried to hold the neck of the chick in its mouth and bring it into its nest.

These experiments, however, are conducted with a lot of human intervention, so, when one considers that the "minds" of the humans and animals are intermingling, one can't say necessarily that it's a "natural state" of things. But, in the first case with the lioness in Kenya, it was something that happened in the wilds, without any human involvement at all. One can feel the strength of a "higher power", and one would have to be pretty brave to call it "coincidental." One might also call this type of behavior in animals, "instinct", but then we should also call "love" that we humans feel "instinct" as well.

In Hindu and Buddhist teachings, it is said that, "Animals are reborn as humans, and humans are also reborn as animals." In the Jataka stories of Buddhism, there are examples of Shakyamuni Buddha, in his previous lives as an elephant or monkey, appearing as a Bodhisattva and performing altruistic acts of love. Many people may think that these are "pretend stories" written to support the teaching of reincarnation, but, when there are examples such as these where this lioness loves a baby "cow", I'm probably not the only one who feels that this type of "high spirit" lives on amongst the animals to this day.

While romanticizing, I also thought of something else, and that is what was written in The Book of Isaiah of the Old Testament. In Chapter 11, there is the following reference reminiscent of the "Final Judgment", describing a time when carnivore and herbivore would eat and sleep together:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed;
their young ones shall lie down together:
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
And the suckling child shall play on the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den.

It's true that people have wanted this kind of world for many a year. However, it's difficult to explain why this is true.

- MT

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