Every being has an intense will to live. Make a hostile move towards a bedbug and it runs for its life and crawls into a hole. Therefore the act that requires the most thought and decision is that of suicide. Suicide is an act of hopelessness. This means that the being has to have a memory of past and present and to visualize his/her future and feel/realize that it has no joy in it and will not get any better. The next step would be to gather up one’s courage and step into an unknown state by putting an end to this life. Suicide ( I am not talking about a drug/ alcohol induced state of artificial hysteria)  means a perception of what is “good” , what is “joy”, what is “misery”, what is “hope” and “despair”. And most importantly, the awareness of death.

For an individual to attempt to take his own life he would first have to possess some consciousness of the meaning of death. And fear the consequences of living above that of dying. All these sensitivities are what human beings think they have the only claim to. But animals commit suicide as well. How many times have you heard of leopards who have been captured from the wild, deliberately beating their heads against the wall till they mash themselves to death. Imagine the desolation of such a shy animal finding itself in a cage. An animal mother defending her children against much bigger opponents would count for me as a being that decides that love is more important than life and is prepared to be killed to prove it. Can an animal terminate its own life?

Five years ago, sheep being taken to slaughter in Mongolia jumped into a lake and drowned. Any effort to rescue them simply made the rescued sheep do it again and again till they died. In 2009, in Switzerland, 28 cows leapt off a cliff over the course of three days. In California, dozens of squids beached themselves. Every year in Jatinga in Assam, hundreds of birds of several species dive into the ground to kill themselves. The Assam Tourism website asks people to come and watch the annual suicides.

How many times have you heard of dogs starving themselves on the death of their human companion? How many go into depression when their dog companions die. How many old dogs stop eating and die if a young dog is introduced into the household. If scientists debate that as suicide (considering it simply the after-effects of depression) and only want to consider behaviour that would obviously lead to the animal’s demise, like throwing themselves under cars or running off cliffs, then they have to simply look at the Overtoun Bridge near Dumbarton in Scotland which has earned the reputation of being "The Dog Suicide Bridge." Since the 1950's it has been the scene of at least fifty suicides where dogs have inexplicably leapt to their deaths.

In recent years the number of deaths has risen dramatically, with five animals jumping in six months. Tarsiers intentionally injure or kill themselves due to unhappiness or stress of being in an enclosure. In captivity, the tarsier can be so distressed they smash their heads against objects resulting in fatality. Because of this reason they are not in zoos. When scorpions find themselves in very physically painful situations, they will commit suicide by repeatedly stinging themselves in the head. Whales beach themselves regularly. This is not a result of losing their way: no animal has been found to be blind/deaf or disoriented. The whale has no known sources of food that it is chasing onto land. So why does the whale come to die on land? And when pushed into the ocean by human volunteers, it simply does it again on another beach. The suicides are not related to quakes, tsunamis or even underwater cables. There are no explanations that scientists can give.

For years they have been saying that the Jatinga birds lose their sense of direction and crash into the earth. But every year, in the same place??? Or that one bird is followed by other birds just as some pack leaders get lost during migration and end up leading a massive amount of birds in the wrong direction. That might explain one mass suicide, but those cows killed themselves during the span of three days. There was no leader being followed, solitary cows separately jumped off on their own accord. When there is a population boom of lemmings (small arctic rodents) there is a massive surge into the waters nearby in which thousands die. Scientists say that this is not suicide, jut an urge to find a new home. But do rats, normally so smart, not know the difference between land and water? Where did the vultures go? The sparrows? The bees? One day they were there and then they disappeared.

In 2006, millions of able bodied bees all over the world left their hives and never came back. No explanations work: mite-spread viruses, poor nutrition, pesticides, cell phone radiation, cell phone towers. This case was seen in a natural reserve in Zimbabwe: two old hungry male lions chased a warthog who escaped in a den. One lion tried to follow it, but got trapped in the narrow hole. His partner tried to help him, pulling him out with the paw, but when the trapped lion started roaring of pain, he stopped. The trapped lion died asphyxiated. The second lion was found dead next to the body of the other. He had refused to go hunting, and died of hunger.

In Lucknow zoo a few years ago, one of a pair of elephants died of old age. Her adopted daughter stopped eating. Any attempt to feed her forcibly failed and she died a month later. So many zoo animals from monkeys to giraffes commit suicide like this. Forty years ago, Richard O'Barry watched Kathy, a dolphin in the 1960s television show Flipper, kill herself. She looked at him, sank to the bottom of the tank and stopped breathing. The moment transformed the dolphin trainer into an animal-rights activist and his role in The Cove, the Oscar-winning documentary about the dolphin-meat business in Japan, has transformed him into a celebrity.

Says O'Barry, “We don't want people to think dolphins are capable of suicide, but these are self-aware creatures with a brain larger than a human brain. If life becomes so unbearable, they just don't take the next breath." Duncan Wilson of the University of Manchester has co-authored a study in the March issue of Endeavour on the history of self-destructive animals, ranging from dogs, canvasback ducks to cats, pelicans and insects. It is indeed terrifying to acknowledge that dozens of animals can be so fed up of living on a human dominated planet that they consciously choose death. Doesn’t that make you feel a little guilty? 

Maneka Gandhi

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I was at a dinner given by a boy whom I have seen grow up from a very troubled childhood into an assured and sensitive designer of considerable talent. While the dinner was for me, he served caviar. I was appalled and said that for someone who had suffered as much as him and had come out so bravely why would he take a pregnant fish, slit her stomach, take out the eggs and throw her still alive back into the river. He clapped his hands to his ears “Maneka Aunty, Please don’t tell me. I don’t want to know.” 

This is such a common reaction – people just don’t want to know what suffering they cause when they eat an animal. It’s as if they are happy to imagine that each animal they eat was just a lump of unfeeling flesh created for their enjoyment. But animals have lives and loves and relatives and children and traumas and happiness just like us. When you are celebrating the end of the year, remember animal celebrate life as much as we do – and in the true fashion, not by killing and shopping and overeating and drinking, but by dancing and singing and breathing and laughing and loving. Here are some of the ways in which animal love and mate. 

Squids begin mating with a circling nuptial dance, revolving around across a `spawning bed' 200 metres in diameter. At daybreak, they begin having sex and continue all day long --they only take a break so the female can drive down and deposit eggs. When she returns to the circle, the two go at it again. As twilight falls, the pair goes offshore to eat and rest. At the first sign of sunlight, they return to the spot and do it all over again. 

The male penguin makes his intentions known by laying his head across his partner's stomach. The male penguin selects his mate by rolling a stone at the female's feet. Stones are scarce at mating time because many are needed to build walls around nests. It is commonplace for penguins to steal them from one another. If she accepts this gift, they stand belly to belly and sing a mating song , heads thrown back, singing loudly, with outstretched flippers trembling,. Male Masked Boobies also offer gifts to the ladies but these are feathers which they pluck out of their own bodies (Imagine your boyfriend plucking out his hair as a present). 

When porcupine males choose their females they start singing. If she is in the mood, they both rear up and face each other, belly-to-belly. Then, males spray their ladies with a tremendous stream of urine, soaking their loved one from head to foot - the stream can shoot as far as 7 feet. Hippos attract mates by urinating and defecating at the same time. Then, an enamoured hippo will twirl its tail like a propeller to spread this delicious slop in every direction. This attracts lovers, and a pair will begin foreplay, which consists of playing by splashing around in the water before settling down to business. 

A male peacock will spread out his glorious fan and dance before his lady love. But he is nothing compared to the frigate bird. The male frigate bird has a throat sac that takes twenty minutes of huffing and puffing to inflate into a giant red, heart-shaped balloon. He then waggles his head from side to side, shakes his wings and calls the females to check him out. A female frigate bird will mate with the male with the biggest and shiniest balloon. During mating, the male bird will put his wings over her eyes to make sure she doesn’t get distracted by other males with even bigger balloons! 

The Red Velvet mite releases its sperms on small twigs or stalks to make a "love garden" and then lays down an intricate silken trail to the spot. When a female stumbles upon this trail, she will follow it to seek out the "artist". If she likes his work, then she will sit on the sperm. However, if another male spots the garden, he will trash it and lay his own instead! The Blue Bird of Paradise hangs upside down from a tree branch, while rhythmically enlarging and contracting a patch of feathers on his chest. At the same time he spreads his violet-blue plumes, swaying back and forth, arching his tail feathers, and then calling to his lover softly in a low, sultry, sexy voice. 

The South American Songbirds not only sing they use their feathers to make orchestral violin like sounds by vibrating a club-shaped feather against a ridged feather to make sweet music to woo their mates. From the love songs of the Mexican free-tailed bat to the dangerous, seductive dance of red-back spiders, the language of love rings loud and clear in the animal world. 

Can we consciously be mean to such amazing animals? Yes, if you choose to remain ignorant of what the other inhabitants of this planet do. But please do not confuse ignorance with innocence. Osho says “Ignorance is rich, it is full, it is pure. Ignorance is a beggar – it wants this, it wants that, it wants to be respectable, it wants to be wealthy, it wants to be powerful. Ignorance moves on the path of desire. Innocence is a state of desirelessness.” But shutting your ears to what people tell you when they talk about animals feeling and suffering, you simply reinforce your ignorance.

Maneka Gandhi

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This article is a paean of love to the koel (cuckoo). I have survived the disappearance of the vulture which was an elegant, spare, bird that looked like a Roman patrician. I have survived the disappearance of the sparrow, which was the friendliest sweetest bird ever and a part of all the homes I have lived in. I have survived the disappearance of bees which came as a gift to the few flowers I grew in winter and whose steady drone always made me drowsy. But I think that if the koel disappeared, I would just give up the will to live. 

I have not seen the koel in my garden. She is very very shy and any attempt to seek her out would driver her away. But she wakes me up in the morning and her infrequent kuhu during the day keeps me alert. Hard at work on the computer or on the phone or meeting people, her call causes my heart to skip a beat and I ask everyone with the pride of a mother: did you hear that, did you hear that??? 

My house, which used to be a parking lot, has become Delhi’s only house-forest and it has all sorts of birds in it. During the monsoon, we rise to the dawn chorus and the evening is heralded by the crows cawing their way home. The koel is obviously here to find a nest for her eggs. The Asian Koel is the Eudynamys scolopacea. The first name comes from a nymph of the sea and Scolopacea means stripe-backed. 

The Indian name Koel comes from the Tamil kuyil. Three types of koels are found in this part of Asia. The scolopacea is found in Pakistan , India , Nepal , Sri Lanka , the Maldives and Laccadive Islands . Our koel is the smallest of all. The upper part of the female is black to blackish brown. It has little spots on the back and white bars on the wing and tail. Some of its feathers are reddish or light brown with whiter spots on the ends of feathers. Its underparts are dirty white to pale buff, throat and fore neck is a paler streaked blackish-brown with narrow blackish-brown bars on lower belly, thighs and flanks. The male is entirely black with dark metallic blue gloss, appearing purplish at times. It looks like a crow with a very long tail. When in moult, some old feathers fade to reddish-brown.. The nestlings are uniformly black at first but moult quickly to look like adult females, Young males are dull slate with buff tips on feathers of breast, belly and wing. The eye irises are bright red, bill dull yellowish-green, the inside of the mouth is red.

The koel is found in orchards and lightly wooded areas in parks and gardens in towns and villages. It is a shy bird and easily overlooked during the winter months when it remains silent and unobtrusive. It walks along tree branches. It is rarely found on the ground, and only briefly seen in the open, when furtively dashing from cover to cover. It can sometimes be seen sunning itself on top of a tree early in the morning. During the breeding season the koel becomes obvious. Its loud, melodious and penetrating call is usually the first to be heard at dawn, while it is still dark, late into the night. 

The koel eats the berries of the Neem tree (Azadirachta indica), Peepal or Sacred Fig (Ficus religiosa), Banyan (Ficus benghalensis), Camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora), Ber or Indian Plum (Zizyphus mauritiana), Mulberry (Morus), nuts of the Fishtail Palm (Caryota urens), the poisonous fruit of the Yellow Oleander (Thevetia neriifolia) and nectar from Coral Tree (Erythrina indica), Guava (Psidium guajava), Brazilian cherry (Eugenia uniflora), Wild Caper (Capparis sepiaria), Tamarind (Tamarinda indica), Wild Jujube (Ziziphus oenoplia), Pepper (Piper nigrum), and nuts of Oil Palm (Elaeis guineensis), Alexandra Palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae) and the fruit of the Bakul (Mimusops elengi) tree.It also eats caterpillars, snails, mantids, stick insects and other insects. The koel is an amazing strategist. She refuses to build her own nest. Instead, she lays eggs surreptitiously in the nests of several host species, the choice of victim varying from location to location. She usually chooses crows but other species like Common Mynas, Golden Orioles and Common Magpies. 

Her eggs are very much like those of the crow, but slightly smaller. They come in varying degrees of green, from pale greenish-yellow to greyish-green, profusely speckled and blotched with reddish-brown. Bird intelligence shows: The koel varies the colour of her eggs to match that of the hosts' eggs. Can a human mother manipulate the slightest thing in her unborn child? Not only does this show the magic in the koel but recent studies have shown that colonies of birds that find themselves the victims of koels do some magic as well. Dr. Claire Spottiswood from the University of Cambridge describes a continual evolutionary arms race between the host birds and koels: "As the cuckoo has become more proficient at tricking its hosts, hosts have evolved more and more sophisticated ways to fight back. One strategy of combating the brood parasite is for the females of the host species to each lay eggs of different colours and patterns. So from nest to nest, the eggs of the host birds look different. This means the cuckoo parasite is far less able to lay a counterfeit egg that matches the host eggs.” To enable the Koel to lay an egg within a crow's nest, the couple devise a clever plan: Firstly, the male Koel stations itself very close to the crow's nest, calling loudly and boldly to advertise his presence. The male and female crows promptly chase the intruder. The female Koel, lurking nearby under dense cover, quietly waits until the crows are far enough away, and then slips in to lay her egg into their nest. The female usually lays just after the host has laid her first egg. The Koel's breeding season usually corresponds with that of its usual host and, during a single season, the female lays one egg each in several nests. Does the koel destroy her host’s eggs? Sometimes, if there is no space for hers. But many observers have seen young crows and koels in the nest together. The nestling period is 19 to 28 days and newly fledged young cuckoo are fed by its foster parents for another two to three weeks. Birdwatchers used to insist that the host birds were so stupid that they did not know the difference between their own and the koel’s young. Now, it has been discovered that the females, after laying their eggs, stay in the vicinity and if the hosts do not feed her young, they get attacked by the koel pair. When the young koel is ready to leave the nest, they take charge of the youngster directly. In India , the koel is part of Kamadeva’s armoury of seduction along with the scented breeze, the mango, the jasmine flowers and dolphin. Here is a lovely haiku type poem - A koel and the spring,

I wait under a mango tree

For a promise to be fulfilled.

Maneka Gandhi
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In my garden we grow bhang, marijuana. The bees love it. I wonder if they are just taking the nectar from the flowers or whether they are there to get a feeling of well being. From reindeer to elephants, the animal kingdom is filled with animals who deliberately consume plants, bugs and other substances that offer hallucinogenic chemical highs A reindeer’s drug of choice is the Amanita muscaria mushroom, a psychoactive red with white spots fungus which is also known as the fly agaric. According to experts, they prance around gaily and feel a sensation of flying while they trip out in the forest. 

Locoweed is a group of about 20 types of weed in the western United States. It grows through the winter, making it an attractive food for free-ranging horses. After they've tasted it a few times, they come back again and again. It's addictive, and what's more, it's poisonous. Horses will literally eat themselves to death over the course of a few years. Locoweed makes them neigh and open and shut their mouths. Those that eat too much get diarrhoea and show signs of depression or paranoia. Owners detoxing horses are to keep the horse sedated to keep it from hurting itself or others. 

Bees and wasps drink alcohol from fermented fruit. Drunken bees are violence-prone, anti-social and less likely to fly. The more drunk ones lie down on their backs and put their legs up. According to Animal Planet, black lemurs will gnaw on the heads of giant millipedes, even though the millipedes are poisonous. The millipedes get their heads bitten and excrete a cocktail of defensive toxins, including cyanide. These will hurt the lemur if they ingest them, but will get them high if they just rub them on their bodies. The chemicals act as a narcotic, so whenever the lemurs are stressed or bored, it's time to get an insect buzz! 

Villagers in India are familiar with elephants that break into their illegal stashes of locally made brew and drink it noisily. In 2007, a squadron of nearly 40 drunken elephants uprooted telephone poles in a village in Assam after fuelling up on rice beer. In Africa , elephant groups will gather around the iboga plant, a powerful hallucinogenic. They all feed off of it and get spaced out. Since elephants are generally led by their oldest and most experienced members, they have a teaching society. The young ones will learn from the old, and in this case, they learn how to get high. 

A certain type of lichen is extremely rare and very slow growing, sometimes just found on a single mountain rock in the Rocky Mountains . Despite the fact that it is dangerous to get at and contains no nutritional value, the sheep will risk life and limb to get some. Once they reach the lichen, they will rub their teeth down to the gum line to scrape off every last bit of it. 

Poppy farmers started noticing strangely damaged crops. Their fields of poppies had circular crush marks in them. It was wallabies. They broke into the fields, ate a lot of poppies, and then got so high that they could only hop in circles. The drugged-out marsupials returned for the high again and again. The Australians who kill all non human species, of course shot them. Birds like jays, ravens, blackbirds, and parrots squash ants and push them into their plumage. After they've covered themselves with dead ants, they spin around for up to half an hour before shaking the ants off. 

Scientists once thought they used the formic acid that the ants secreted to clean off parasites - that is until they saw domesticated magpies roll their bugs in tobacco ash before placing them on their bodies, and guessed there was a little more to it than that. Birds as a species use a lot of different compounds, but scientists observe that individuals never change their compounds because the addiction has set in. 

When the marula fruits ripen in Africa, all of nature flocks to the trees. Not to eat the ripened fruit, but to let the fruit drop and ferment on the ground. Elephants, monkeys, and all kinds of mammals then feast on the fruits and fight, have sex, and then lie around drunkenly till the effect wears off. Goats enthusiastically eat coffee beans and pigeons space out after eating cannabis seeds. Jaguars hallucinate after eating a certain vine. The acacia tree has herds of ants that protect it. Why? Because it feeds them a sugary syrup. At first it was thought this syrup was just nutritional. Recently, researchers have found out that it is also severely addictive. The ants, needing to feed their addiction, will attack anything that threatens the tree, including large animals. 

Cats gets high eating a plant called catnip and then and running around crazily. Considering the kind of world they live in, I am not surprised that animals take their pleasures where they can get them. And if that means eating something to get an altered state of consciousness, so be it. The awful part however is when humans deliberately make animals drunk. 

Many monkeys (and previously bears) are forcibly fed alcohol till they become addicts. In that awful place run by Sahara, Aamby Valley in Maharashtra, they kept two chimpanzees for many years in a small dirty cage. When I got to know and started the procedure to have them removed, they quickly made a walled enclosure which was so stupidly made, like the rest of that ghastly place that the chimps kept jumping over it. While trying to get one back, they strangled him with the rope they tied round his neck. The female was then enticed with alcohol. They regularly fed her alcohol until she was removed to Mysore Zoo where they have had to detoxify her. Aamby Valley should have been shut down years ago and its managers jailed under the Wildlife Protection Act. Perhaps it will happen one day.

Maneka Gandhi
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Memory is something we all take for granted. Our ability to learn, retain information for short- or long-term periods, recognise individuals, objects, and to recall previous events or learning experiences, all depend on memory. It has been thought till recently that memory starts at birth and then develops as the individual matures. But it is now established that memory begins prenatally and the period of birth merely marks a transition from memory functioning in-utero to memory functioning ex-utero.  

Studies of classical conditioning of the foetus, date back to the 1930s. Auditory stimuli – the repeated playing of the same music, for instance gets a response from the human foetus. There are now trainers like Brent Logan director of Prenatal Institute in Seattle who teach you how to stimulate babies in the womb. ’Brave New Babies,' an hour-long documentary about Baby Plus, Learning Before Birth, the author's prenatal enrichment system has aired in many countries. 

When a human has problems dealing with his life and goes to a psychiatrist, one of the tools used is regression through hypnosis. The person, in a hypnotic state, relives his past till he finds the incidents and relationships that have caused him to be what he is today. Some hypnosis takes you back to the womb and people have been known to have dated their learning experiences from inside their mother’s bodies. Are humans the only ones that start their learning before being born? What humans can do, animals can probably do better. 

I have often wondered how an animal abandoned at birth by its parents, like a snake, turtle or worm for instance, knows what it knows without guidance. How does a butterfly know what to eat and what to avoid? Could it be that knowledge is passed on to them while in the womb? Now, finally, scientists are beginning to recognise that animals too have memories and learn even before they are born. In fact they are much sharper than humans. 

Kindergarten starts early for many animals. Researchers of the University of Saskatchewan in Canada report that frogs and salamanders can learn to be wary of enemies even before they are born. After all, learning from the safety of an egg is a huge survival advantage. Salamanders hatched from eggs that have been doused with predator-scented water showed reduced activity—a common defence mechanism—compared with those from eggs in odourless water. The biologists taught frog embryos to fear the fire-bellied newt, a potential predator, by exposing frog eggs to the newt’s scent combined with that of crushed tadpoles. Other unborn animals have shown similar intelligence in recent experiments. 

Zebra fish learn to recognize kin by scent six days after fertilization. Those not exposed to family during this period will never identify them. Foetal rats can detect the food scents that their mother has eaten and show a marked preference for this food shortly after birth. Obviously, for animals with a short life span, it is never too early to start learning. Animal embryos are known to able to pick up chemical and auditory cues - unborn gulls, for example, learn to recognise the alarm calls of their parents whilst still in the egg. But until now, no one has looked at whether unborn animals can also learn visual images. In a novel experiment Ludovic Dickel and his colleagues at the University of Caen Basse-Normandy, France studied embryos of the cuttlefish Sepia officinalis, a mollusc closely related to squid and octopus. 

The scientists placed crabs alongside cuttlefish eggs in clear glass laboratory tanks so that the crabs were in plain view of the eggs. The embryos could not smell or hear the crabs. Once the cuttlefish embryos hatched, they were instantly moved, to ensure they could not glimpse the crabs, and were not exposed to any other prey until they were seven days old. They were then set free in a lab tank full of crabs and shrimp, another cuttlefish delicacy. Cuttlefish embryos not exposed to crabs preferred to hunt shrimp which are their traditional prey, once they were born. But those embryos exposed to crabs much preferred to hunt crabs after hatching. And the clearer the view of the crabs they were given, the greater their taste for it. Obviously the young embryos must be able to see through their translucent egg case and learn which animals are worth hunting even before they have hatched. 

Studies done in Japan on learning and memory in a chimpanzee foetus show that it has as good a foetal memory as human babies, reacting to sounds after birth that it had heard in the womb. What a magical world animals live in!

Maneka Gandhi

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