Faithful unto…

Here’s one of those faithful dog stories you all love so much. This one’s in Argentina. The dog is Capitan.  Read all about him in the Mail here.

Who Killed Cock Robin?

Posted by Vale


Who killed Cock Robin?
“I,” said the sparrow,
“With my little bow and arrow,
I killed Cock Robin,”

Who saw him die?
“I,” said the fly,
“With my little eye,
I saw him die.”

Who caught his blood?
“I,” said the fish,
“With my little dish,
I caught his blood.”

Who’ll make his shroud?
“I,” said the beetle,
“With my thread and needle.
I’ll make his shroud.”

Who’ll carry the torch?
“I,” said the linnet,
“I’ll come in a minute,
I’ll carry the torch.”

Who’ll be the clerk?
“I,” said the lark,
“If it’s not in the dark,
I’ll be the clerk.”

Who’ll dig his grave?
“I,” said the owl,
“With my spade and trowel
I’ll dig his grave.”

Who’ll be the parson?
“I,” said the rook,
“With my little book,
I’ll be the parson.”

Who’ll be chief mourner?
“I,” said the dove,
“I mourn for my love,
I’ll be chief mourner.”

Who’ll sing a psalm?
“I,” said the thrush,
“As I sit in a bush.
I’ll sing a psalm.”

Who’ll carry the coffin?
“I,” said the kite,
“If it’s not in the night,
I’ll carry the coffin.”

Who’ll toll the bell?
“I,” said the bull,
“Because I can pull,
I’ll toll the bell.”

All the birds of the air
Fell sighing and sobbing,
When they heard the bell toll
For poor Cock Robin.

I came across some beautiful Victorian illustrations of the nursery rhyme on the Daily Undertaker The full set can be found here.

Animal wakes and funerals

Posted by Vale

When Dorothy the chimp died at the sanctuary in the Cameroons, other members of her troop looked on as she was buried, comforting each other with touches and caresses.

Animals don’t just grieve; new studies suggest  that they might mark a passing too. Mark Bekoff of Colorado University has written that:

I once happened upon what seemed to be a magpie funeral service. A magpie had been hit by a car. Four of his flock mates stood around him silently and pecked gently at his body. One, then another, flew off and brought back pine needles and twigs and laid them by his body. They all stood vigil for a time, nodded their heads, and flew off. I also watched a red fox bury her mate after a cougar had killed him. She gently laid dirt and twigs over his body, stopped, looked to make sure he was all covered, patted down the dirt and twigs with her forepaws, stood silently for a moment, then trotted off, tail down and ears laid back against her head.

In another study reported on the BBC Nature website, when Western Scrub Jays:

‘spied a dead bird, they started making alarm calls, warning others long distances away.

The jays then gathered around the dead body, forming large cacophonous aggregations. The calls they made, known as “zeeps”, “scolds” and “zeep-scolds”, encouraged new jays to attend to the dead.

The jays also stopped foraging for food, a change in behaviour that lasted for over a day…

The results suggest that “without witnessing the struggle and manner of death”, the researchers write, the jays see the presence of a dead bird as information to be publicly shared, just as they do the presence of a predator.’

The reason suggested for the birds’ behaviour is that by broadcasting and marking the death, the flock is alerted to danger. Sounds fair, but the fasting as well?

The more you search the more you find. It isn’t safe or sensible for us to imagine that on this multitudinous planet we are alone in our feelings of grief or gladness, or in what seems to be a common need to mark a passing.

Grief in animals

Posted by Vale

The photo shows a swallow grieving for its mate who had been killed in collision with a car. In a series of shots (see them here) we see him first try to feed his mate and then, when he realises that she is dead, seems to cry out. But how can an animal ‘realise’ that another bird has died? can it know itself; can it comprehend death?

Rooting around I came across this on a site called Animalwise. It’s a description of a dolphin and a calf that has died:

‘…it was quite clear that the mother was mourning. She seemed to be unable to accept the death, and was behaving as if there was any hope of rescuing her calf. She lifted the little corpse above the surface, in an apparent late attempt to let the calf breath. She also pushed the calf underwater, perhaps hoping that the baby could dive again. These behaviours were repeated over and over again, and sometimes frantically, during two days of observation.

The mother did never separate from her calf. From the boat, researchers and volunteers could hear heartbreaking cries while she touched her offspring with the rostrum and pectoral fins. Witnessing such desperate behaviour was a shocking experience for those on board the research boat.’

In truth there is a huge amount of evidence that animals know death and grieve when it touches them. It’s not just the obvious ‘intelligent’ animals – the elephants, the dolphins or the primates – either. Conrad Lorenz, the naturalist, noted that:

A greylag goose that has lost its partner shows all the symptoms that [developmental psychologist] John Bowlby has described in young human children in his famous book Infant Grief … the eyes sink deep into their sockets, and the individual has an overall drooping experience, literally letting the head hang …”

A fascinating and very moving article in Psychology Today asks – with descriptions of grief amongst elephants and seals, magpies, llamas and wolves – not whether animals grieve, but why they should. I know it’s unscientific of me, but I find the question shocking. It springs, I suppose, from the view of animal behaviour that assumes that every action must have an evolutionary (selfish?) purpose.

I was relieved and comforted when in the end no explanation was offered, only the reflection that for all us animals:

“grief is the price of commitment, that wellspring of both happiness and sorrow.”

Worth reading the whole article.