The peacock is the Indian National Bird. People and nations make a symbol after great thought. The peacock is unique to India and for centuries it has been revered. That we should allow its trade when trade in all other wild animal and bird parts is forbidden should be strongly condemned. That it has been put into a Wildlife Protection Act and allowed to stay there for 30 years since 1972 is even more reprehensible.

Man’s understanding of nature grows from year to year. Till some years ago it was believed that the shahtoosh shawl was made from the shed hair of a goat. Only now has it been proved that the hair is obtained by killing 8 chiru antelope for one shawl. Likewise when the original Act was made it was believed that the trade in peacock feathers could be allowed because all the feathers were obtained from naturally shed peacock feathers. It is true that the peacock sheds its feathers as all birds do but, like all birds, these feathers are only for one month, in early August till September and that too one at a time.

Also bear in mind that the peacock is a solitary bird during the day. It does not fly as a rule, it lives in a small group of a few birds in the same tree as it never changes its nest. It lives around human settlements. Therefore it is easily accessible.

What bearing does this have on the feather trade?

For one, because it is a solitary bird, it drops its feather in a solitary place. No one who has a shop of feathers is going to send someone looking for the single dropped feather. Secondly, because it cannot fly long distances, or very high, it is easy to catch, and because it roosts in the same branches, it is a very easy target. So the trade has never bothered with the single dropped feather: it has always gone for the bird. A bird so tame that it is easy to have it eating out of your hands.

The peacock is trapped, killed and then the feathers are plucked out and sent in sackloads and truckloads to the shops and trading centres. Poachers simply follow the track that the peacocks use to get water or to roost, shine bright lights on them to blind them and then throw a net over them. Most poachers say that caching a peacock is easier than catching a hen. If even catching is difficult, mass poisoning takes place of peacocks by luring them for food and then mixing poison with the grain. Everyday there is a report in the papers. While drought in Rajasthan and Gujarat has almost wiped out the peacocks, in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh they are being killed in the thousands every day. Even a place like Morena, named after the peacock, has weekly reports on peacock poisoning. Reports stream in every day: 50 dead in Bubkiya village in Ajmer, 70 dead in Matauli in Madhya Pradesh, 40 killed in Yamunanagar, 15 killed in Ambaji ( near the temple)…

How can it be proven that the trade does not rely on shed feathers? Quite simply. There is a simple test which the Wildlife Department promised to carry out regularly when they granted permission for the trade – but never did. The shaft of a peacock feather taken from a killed peacock has traces of blood inside it. The naturally shed feather does not. People in the trade immediately cut off the shaft of the feather about 20mm so that no tests can be done. Look at the feathers in the market. Every single one has been cut. Would they have done this if they knew it was a naturally shed feather?

The peacock feather is a useless item for the human being: You cannot eat it, wear it or even dust with it. All you can do is to buy and put it in a vase at home or in a mandir or make a fan with it. 80-90 % of the trade concentrates on foreign tourists. The Department of Foreign Trade banned the export of peacock feathers 2 years ago. (Till then the Ministry of Commerce was licencing 20 lakh feathers a year! Considering that a peacock has less than 100 feathers, how many peacocks would have been killed? ) But thousands of foreign tourists come into India every year and buy suitcases full. Hotel shops carry peacock feathers so do all tourist based curio shops. Shall the national bird be turned into a fan when it is now an endangered species?

The peacock itself is in Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act : severe penalties are possible for anyone caught hunting and trading in it. Has a single person being caught trading in the body? No. Because the feather is allowed to be traded. Do these two provisions in the Act not contradict each other? I am punished for hunting a peacock – but the only reason why I hunt it is because I sell the feathers which are allowed to be sold.

I would like the Government to delete the following provision in Section 44 clause (c):

“Provided further that nothing in this subsection shall apply to the dealers in tail feathers of peacocks and articles made therefrom and the manufacturers of such articles “, and Section 49A(b) should be amended in conformity with that.

Dozens of questions have been asked in Parliament on whether the Government is aware that the Act has serious loopholes that contribute to the killing of the National Bird and whether the government is going to amend the act or whether the government is going to issue a notification imposing a ban on the feather trade. The answer is always a noncommittal “we are looking into the matter.” The Ministry for Environment and Forests has already reached the conclusion – as its internal files show- that the peacock is doomed unless this ban comes, but do you think that this Minister would do anything about it?

Not only are the fans being sold in India in the thousands but they are being smuggled across to Bangladesh where foreign trade in fans is allowed. Bangladesh Exporters such as A.K.Enterprises of Mission Road, Gopibagh, Dacca , openly advertise the export of Indian Peacock feathers

Remember: the drought in Rajasthan and Gujarat has already destroyed entire populations in those states (North Gujarat is now completely peacockless). The indiscriminate use of the banned pesticide DDT and other insecticide treated seeds (specially tomatoes) planted carelessly on the ground surface by farmers are killing thousands. As the old growth of clumps of trees with their bushes go, there are no breeding grounds left as peacocks lay their eggs on the ground. Dogs attack their eggs and the small peafowls, and the tribals and poachers who supply to VIPs kill it for meat … all this and then the trade as well. Give the peacock another 10 years and then, like the vulture, you will never see it again.

The bird with a hundred eyes that represent the stars, the sun, moon, the universe and the vault of heaven. The symbol of compassion, empathy, the incorruptible soul. According to Sufi legend the Original Spirit was created in the shape of a peacock. When it saw itself in the mirror of the Divine Essence, it was so overwhelmed by its beauty that great drops of sweat flew from its body and all other living creatures were formed from these. The guard of the Greek goddess Hera, the Roman Goddess Juno, the Christian symbol of omniscience, the Babylonian Phoenix, the emblem of Heliopolis, the Chinese symbol of rain and fertility, the representative of the Buddhist Wheel of Life and the Ming dynasty. The bird of Skanda and the killer of earthly attachments, the symbol of Krishna, the bird of immortality…. in every religion the peacock is sacred. This is the bird that the Government and you are allowing to be killed and turned into two things: fans and brooms, and in the process showing the Indian ability to turn the truly magnificent into the completely trivial.

Maneka Gandhi

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Have you ever wondered why the brightest or the strongest do not make it to the top? I am always amazed when the most mediocre individuals do so well. Most of the time, when I see I have to compete with someone with absolutely no ability, I give up because I know I cannot win. Conversely, I have no aptitude for politics as it is practiced in India and yet I do better than people with a real talent for it. Perhaps that is the reason the human species has done so well on the planet; because we are not the best at anything. 

Look at our senses. Do we have the sharpest hearing? Nowhere near it. We come way down from bats and dolphins who find their way in complete darkness, or murky waters, using a biological sonar system called echolocation. This involves emitting ultrasonic chirps (or clicks) and interpreting the echo the sound waves make after bouncing off objects and other creatures in their vicinity. With each chirp, a bat or dolphin can tell the location, size, direction and physical nature of an object. A dolphin can detect a 2.5 cm object such as a coin, from 70 metres away.

Owls, in complete darkness take less than 0.01 of a second to assess the precise direction of a mouse. Elephants can hear at frequencies twenty times lower than us.  Their exceptional hearing ability helps them ‘tune into’ things such as thunderstorms. Their low rumble calls can be picked up by other elephants 6 km away.  Practically every animal and insect hear better than us.

Can we do anything with our noses except get colds? Most animals can smell their way out of danger. Dogs can sniff bombs, pigs can sniff mushrooms. Even an animal as small as the honeybee can detect land mines. Male emperor moths can detect a female from almost 11 km away. Mako sharks can smell blood in the water from 500 metres away. Polar bears can detect a seal or whale carcass from a distance of 32 km.

Do we have the best colour vision ? Less than the mantis shrimp. The greatest range of vision? Nowhere near the giraffe. It also has the longest and most mobile tongue. The loudest voice? The howler monkey’s voice can be heard 3 miles away. The Blue whales' low-frequency pulses are as loud as 188 decibels—louder than a jet engine—and can be detected more than 500 miles away. The toughest skin is the whale shark’s, up to 6 inches (15 cm) in thickness. Would we win a spitting contest? The archerfish can spit water 1.5m through the air to hit insects with deadly accuracy which would be like us trying to spit across a football field.

Are we the largest animals in the world? Inspite of Macdonald’s burgers we are nowhere near. The largest mammal in the world is the blue whale at 30 meters (98 ft) in length and 180 metric tons (200 short tons) or more in weight. The biggest land mammal is the African Elephant with the male 3.2–4.0 m (10–13 ft) tall at the shoulder and weighing 4,700–6,048 kg (10,000–13,330 lb).

Do we have the strongest muscles? Nope. Much weaker than the mussels we eat which use their muscles to cling to rocks. Most muscled? Nope. An elephant's trunk alone contains around 100,000 muscles and can lift up to 600 pounds (270 kilograms).  The strongest bite belongs to the crocodile. The strongest arm wrestler is the gorilla. The best weight lifter is the dung beetle which can lift 1141 times its own bodyweight on its back. That would be like us trying to lift a double decker bus.

The froghopper, or spittle bug, is the insect world's greatest jumper. This tiny insect is a mere 0.2 inches (6 mm) in length but can catapult itself up to 28 inches (70 centimeters) into the air. A human with this ability would be able to clear a 690-foot-tall (210-meter-tall) skyscraper. Even the flea can leap 20cm. and long jump over 30cm. Which is like us leaping over a skyscraper and long jumping over eight buses. The impala, an African antelope, bounds up to 33 feet (10 meters) and soars some 10 feet (3 meters) in the air. 

Can we run the fastest?  The best sprinter is the cheetah which can accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds - quicker than most Ferraris. It can hit nearly 70 mph. The fastest animal is the Peregrine Falcon reaching speeds of over 320 km/h (200 mph) during its dive. The fastest land animal over a sustained distance is the pronghorn or American antelope at 56 km/h mph for 6 km. A Sailfish swims at 110 km/h (70 mph). Even an Ostrich can run upto 45 mph. We are not even as fast as insects. The American cockroach can go to 5.4 kilometres per hour, about 50 body lengths per second, which would be comparable to a human running at 330 km per hour. The fastest flying insect is the Southern Giant Darner, a dragonfly that flies at 97 km/h. Hawk moths fly at over 50 km/h. A kangaroo can hop faster than we can run and can do so for hours. 

Can we swim the best? Porpoises can swim upto 55 km per hour. Elephants can swim for as long as six hours and 50 km without stopping. Humpback whales win the long-distance event by travelling more than 16,000 km each year. Even birds swim better :The Gentoo Penguin can swim underwater up to Kmph. Leatherback turtles and Emperor penguins take home gold for the deepest dive reaching depths of 1,200m but the best diver is the gannet who dives head-first into the sea at a skull shattering 60mph.

Can we dig the fastest?  The aardvark can dig a burrow several metres long in less than five minutes. The highest living mammal is the yak which reaches 20,000 ft. The most heat-tolerant animal is Cataglyphis bicolor, a scavenger ant which lives in the Sahara desert. We are not even the stinkiest. Rotting human cadavers, garlic breath, feces and urine. These are nothing compared to the spray of the Striped Polecat or zorilla, the worst smelling animal. 

Do we live the longest? If we did not kill them a tortoise could go up to 200 years and an elephant would easily surpass our average lifespan. Best boxer: Any young male kangaroo can outbox our best heavyweight champion. Best wrestler? Cockroaches often wrestle each other to death. The winner is the first to flip his opponent onto his back. Are we the most fearless? No way. The honey badger is. This little rodent takes on the deadliest animals on earth without fear. Scorpions, porcupines, tortoises, cobras, gazelles, crocodiles, horses, cattle, buffaloes. It will steal from leopards and lions.

Meet the honey badger, named “world’s most fearless animal” by the Guinness Book of World Records. Its ferocious reputation stems from the fact that the honey badger doesn’t hesitate to attack animals larger than itself. Scorpions, porcupines, snakes, young gazelles, lions and even small crocodiles - everything’s fair game. No surprise then that it is rarely preyed upon.

If intelligence is to be judged by language, using tools, and advanced problem solving: chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants are much smarter. They are also able to learn sign language to communicate with humans and can remember individuals they have not seen for several years, understand symbols for objects and complex ideas. They are extremely caring and empathetic to other members of their group and to other species, which is a highly advanced form of intelligence.

Even in the fine arts, a humpback male’s song can last 30 minutes and is more complicated than a human’s. The Olympics are coming up this year. Can any of our athletes hold a candle to these wonders of the natural world? We are not even the best at killing other humans, even though we try very hard. The anopheles mosquito kills more than a million humans a year with malaria!!

Maneka Gandhi

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The human being is possibly one of the weakest creatures on earth. That is probably the reason why we rely on weapons and machines. And, as time goes on, the sedentary life style and filthy eating habits have probably made us even weaker as our bodies pile on disease after disease. Take a look at strong animals and bless your gods that they have pure hearts without malice and no wish to control the planet. Because given their strength, they could easily do so. 

The grizzly bear lives in western North America. They are solitary non-threatening animals, who congregate along streams and lakes when the salmon come in to lay eggs. They feast on the fish. Every two years the female gives birth to two tiny babies of one pound each and protects them till they grow up and are shot by American sportsmen who come at the ages of 13 upwards to the salmon areas, hide near their cars and shoot the bears long distance.  The bear can lift 80% its own body weight. Their weight is 1500 pounds and they can lift 1200 pounds. I have a fit if I am asked to pick up 5 kilos which is about a millionth of my body weight.

The green anaconda is a large, non-venomous snake found in South America. It is one of the largest snakes in the world and can squeeze something weighing its own body weight to death, roughly about 550 pounds. Stronger than both is the mussel, a clam, a creature that lives in its shell and is caught in the rivers or sea shore and eaten in the millions. The small creature can hold something twice its body weight.

The castrated bull known in India as the bullock is used to pull carts in India. In fact, even today, 70 % of people and goods are pulled by him. He is used for ploughing, transport, threshing grain and for powering machines that grind grain or supply irrigation among other purposes. A pair are yoked together in the cruellest fashion possible, by putting a heavy wooden stick across their necks and then attaching that to a cart, so that in effect they are pulling heavy loads with their neck muscles. They can pull and carry 1.5 times their body weight across rugged terrain. Their weight is 1300 pounds but they pull and carry 2000 pounds.

The tiger reaches up to 11 ft. in length, weighing up to 660 pounds. It can carry something twice its own body weight up a ten foot fence. A tiger can carry a small cow in its jaws and still climb a tree. Eagles can lift something four times their own body weight during flight. From mammals that are over 100 pounds, no one beats the leopard pound per pound. Not only can they pull with seven times the force of a human, but they are capable of preying on animals ten times their body size.

Gorillas are the largest species of apes that inhabit the forests of central Africa. The DNA of gorillas is similar to that of a human, between 95% and 99% and they are the next closest living relatives to humans after the two chimpanzee species. Of course that does not stop us from hunting them, experimenting on them or even eating them. If they were as destructive as us, imagine the consequences: They can lift something over 10 times their body weight. Their weight is 450 pounds and can lift up to 4600 pounds or 30 adult humans. Gorillas have much larger muscles in their arms. They use their tremendous arm strength for bending and gathering foliage and, when called upon, for defence.

Even the Leafcutter ants, any of 47 species of leaf-chewing ants in South and Central America are stronger than us. They can lift something 50 times their own body weight - Imagine a baby lifting a truck. Next to humans, leafcutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on Earth. They live like us, grow food, wage war, have servants, nurse babies, and build bridges and skyscrapers. Imagine if they were even half our size. We would be serving them.

Elephants are the largest land mammals. They have no natural predators but are endangered due to poaching. They are as intelligent as humans (and in many ways more intelligent) but they are gentle and sensitive; Lucky for us. An elephant weighs 12000 pounds and can carry 20.000 pounds or 130 adult humans. Imagine if they wanted to stamp on us.

However the title for the strongest animal in the world is held by the dung beetle. Even if a grown man could pull 95,000 kilograms, he still would lose to the world’s strongest insect—proportionally speaking. The dung beetle male can pull some 1,140 times its own body weight; Consolations to the rhinoceros beetle, which comes in second for pulling 850 times its weight. The strongest animal in absolute terms of strength has to be the blue whale which is vegetarian and has never attacked a human.

The Saltwater crocodiles can inflict a bone-crunching bite that is around 3-4 times stronger than a lion. The force of this bite is a bit like having a car fall on top of you! Scientists argue that the world’s strongest animal is the copepod barely 1 mm long. It is also the world’s fastest animal and the most abundant animal on the planet. Copepods are crustaceans found in the sea and freshwater habitats ranging from swamps, to stream beds. They are eaten by fish, whales, seabirds and other crustaceans. They attach themselves to fish, sharks, marine mammals, and invertebrates such as molluscs or corals. Copepods have a teardrop shaped body with an armoured exoskeleton. Their strength lies in being able to flee from predators. Their escape jump is hugely powerful and effective. They jump at a rate of half a metre per second, and that’s within a few thousandths of a second, making them stronger than even manmade motors.

How did we get to be kings? Through sheer viciousness.

Maneka Gandhi

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I thought Hinduism was the last of the religions that venerated every animal and stone (Please note I say Hinduism and not Hindus) as a manifestation of God. Miracles never surprise me; I expect them daily from all the creatures and plants surrounding me. I expect the wind to carry magic – and it often does. Christianity is so resolutely human oriented that it has lost its ability even to entertain the possibility that divinity may lie in an elephant or an ant or even a tree. But even they, by mistake – their Church insists – made a dog one of their saints. And one of their most popular saints is dog headed. Saint Guinefort was the patron saint of children who could not walk properly. Miracles were reported at his grave and he was duly declared a saint. In the 13th Century, the Church discovered that he was a dog. When I read this, I laughed out loud. What a shock it must have been to the Roman Catholic Church. Guinefort the greyhound belonged to a knight who lived in a castle near Lyon . One day, the knight went hunting, leaving his infant son in the care of Guinefort. When he returned, he found the nursery in chaos – the cot was overturned, the child was nowhere to be seen and Guinefort greeted his master with bloody jaws. Believing Guinefort to have devoured his son, the knight slew the dog. He then heard a child crying; he turned over the cot and found his son lying there, safe and sound, along with the body of a viper. Guinefort had killed the snake and saved the child. On realizing the mistake the family placed the dog in a well, covered it with stones and planted trees around it, setting up a shrine for Guinefort. Guinefort became recognised by locals as a saint for the protection of infants. The local peasants began to visit the place. and a cult grew up which recognised the dog as the protector of infant and  a saint who helped heal children with walking problems.

An inquisitor of the Roman Catholic Church, Stephen of Bourbon (1180-1262) was travelling in the French countryside. During his travels, he began hearing accounts of devotion to a new saint. This saint was very popular and all the children of the region were taken to his shrine to be blessed.

Having never heard of Saint Guinefort and hearing the many reports of physical healings that were said to have occurred at his shrine, Stephen of Bourbon decided to visit the shrine for himself and learn more about this holy man. When he arrived there however, he found that the saint was not a holy man at all. St. Guinefort was, in fact, a dog!

Steven of Bourbon was outraged and called St. Guinefort's followers "pagan devil worshipers" and he had the shrine of St. Guinefort destroyed. He didn't stop there however. He ordered the remains of the dog Guinefort dug up and he had the sacred grove of trees cut down. Then he had everything burned to the ground.

The Inquisitor secured the cooperation of the local authorities, who agreed to keep watch and to confiscate the possessions of anyone going near the shrine. He assumed that he had done away with this evil pagan idolatry and devil worship. Little did he know that Saint Guinefort would remain popular.

The Catholic Church was up in arms about people worshipping a dog, let alone calling him a saint. Catholic commentators declared that the locals sacrificed babies and threw them down the well, but this didn't stick. The cult of Saint Guinefort the Greyhound continued for almost 700 years. Despite the best efforts of the church to stamp out all references to this beloved dog, Saint Guinefort remained popular until the 1940s. In 1987, St. Guinefort was the subject of a French film. His Saint Day is August 22. There are ruins of a chapel dedicated to Saint Guinefort the Greyhound at Trevon in Brittany, France . We have much to learn from animals. The courage, faithfulness and loyalty shown by this martyred greyhound is a far better example of Christianity than was shown by Inquisitor Steven of Bourbon, who destroyed the bones and shrine of Guinefort and had all of Guinefort's followers punished. The dog Guinefort's example surpasses that of the Catholic Church, who initiated the rumour of children being killed at Guinefort's shrine, and tried to wipe out all memory of this dog saint. One of the most popular saints in the Christian religion is St Christopher. An image of Saint Christopher is worn or is placed in a vehicle, for protection on journeys. He protects against lightning, pestilence; epilepsy, storms, toothache and sudden death. In England , there are more wall paintings of St. Christopher than of any other saint. The oddity is that he is dogfaced.  Saint Christopher was a Christian saint and martyr of the 4th Century and is said to have been a member of the North African tribe of Marmartae. According to the eleventh century Old English Passion of St. Christopher, he came from a race of people that were half hound and had the face of a dog. Early Orthodox icons depicted him this way literally: as a dog-headed saint.

St. Christopher was said to have been a giant with enormous strength. He devoted himself to helping others. Among other things, he was said to have carried many travellers across a wide river, getting them safely to the other side. One day a small child asked him to carry him across. According to the legend, this Child felt extremely heavy and Saint Christopher used all his strength to cross the river. When they arrived safely on the other side, the child identified himself as Christ, and the heaviness was the weight of the world.

The giant was baptized and given the name "Christopher," meaning "bearer of Christ.

He was rewarded with a human appearance, whereupon he devoted his life to Christian services. Christopher became a martyr under a Roman Emperor. Christopher was first asked to renounce Christ. When he refused, he was beheaded at Antioch in Syria in 308 A.D. His festive day is May 9 and July 25. Christianity becomes more interesting when it includes non humans. I am sure if I dig further I will find a couple of cat and horse saints as well.

Maneka Gandhi

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Last week I read about a Border Collie dog that has learnt the names of 1022 things and can retrieve them on command. His owner taught him after he read somewhere that a person had taught their dog 200 words.  I am not surprised – for years I have observed the easiness with which dogs master human languages and learn their own names. But I am a bit irritated at the 29 dogs in my house who refuse to learn anything. In fact, my ability to communicate my needs and wishes to them is quite limited.

I am sure many dog owners are looking at their dogs and wondering, how many words they know?  How much do you teach your dogs? It took John Pilley, a psychology professor four hours a day to teach Chaser the names of 1,022 objects.

Is his dog smarter than mine?  I don’t think so. Most of my dogs have been smart enough to attract attention to themselves on the street when they were wounded and unwell and get someone to care for them. Dogs are really smart and sometimes they learn the wrong things.

Someone has written that his dog didn’t like to come inside when they called. So every time he came in they gave him a biscuit. What he learnt instead was to run outside at every opportunity so that he would get a biscuit to come in. I have a sneaky feeling all of them know exactly what I am saying to them when I say, get off the bed, get out of the room , leave the food alone, don’t jump on me, stop fighting, don’t come in, no, go away, be quiet. They just don’t want to listen. Does that make them smart or me stupid? Do we train dogs or do they train us?

My dog Jairam who wants to go outside twice a night has trained me to get up at 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. to let him out.  Gudiya whines loudly at shut doors and has trained me to come running from wherever I am. Devi has trained me to shift off my pillow by jumping on it at night and growling when I change directions in my sleep. Bahadur has trained me not to pat any dog in his presence because he starts shouting and running about in anger. Kajal has taught me to only scratch the base of her tail because she offers it to me and shifts away if I touch any other part.  Rishi has taught me to come and stand by him while he eats so that other dogs do not steal his food. Bhim is teaching me to play tug of war. He has a toy in his mouth, ears up, head cocked, paws down and a grumbly throat noise. I have to respond by trying to take the toy from him.

Each dog is in the process of teaching me to interpret every bark, whine, ear twitch, needy moan and shift in posture, and to respond accordingly. To learn Dog. I suppose when I learn my tenth word, some Dr Dog will write a paper on me and circulate it to his four legged students.

Pilley’s technique (he is 82 years old) for teaching dogs has been published in the current issue of the journal Behavioural Processes. He shows Chaser an object, says its name up to 40 times, then hides it and asks her to find it, while repeating the name all the time. She is taught one or two new names a day, with monthly revisions and reinforcement for any names she had forgotten.  That makes her smarter than most two year olds.

I have an adult nephew whose vocabulary is probably half of that – the only words I ever hear him say is O.K, No and Gimme. Ideally, by the time children leave school, they should know around 60,000 words. Chaser’s job is much harder: Each sound was new and she had nothing to relate it to, whereas children learn words in a context that makes them easier to remember. For example, knives, forks and spoons are found together. Not just 2000 nouns, Dr Pilley has taught the dog verbs. “Throw a ball” is separate from “fetch a ball”. Dog psychologists say that Chaser is not exceptional. Her knowledge is a result of the attention that has been lavished on her.

Parents of new born babies should learn from that. When my husband died my son was 100 days old. I spent all day, every day with him, showed him books, pointed out objects, and sang to him. He was reading at 7 months and at 11 months my mother in law and I put him into a school – before he could walk. His IQ was measured later in Mensa tests at 160 but I like to think that it was the attention he got in his first two years. Some knowledge, as the snake taught Adam, can be dangerous.

In 1941, the Nazi authorities received a tipoff that a businessman named Tor Borg, of Tampere, Finland had a dog, Jackie, which he had taught to raise his paw every time the owner said Heil Hitler. Borg, a pharmaceutical manufacturer, was summoned by the German Embassy in Helsinki where he admitted that on a few occasions his wife called the dog “Hitler” and that on a few occasions it did respond with a raised paw.  But, he said, the episodes had taken place in 1933 and the dog had since died and he had no ulterior political motives whatsoever. The case went right up to Hitler and was dismissed for lack of evidence!!

Maneka Gandhi

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