AS WE ARE WITH ANIMALS
Robert D. Rossel, Ph.D.
I remember years ago standing on my back deck holding out a hand-full of sunflower seeds to our resident Chickadees to see if one would flutter down and eat the seeds out of my hand. We had many Chickadees, attracted to bird feeders hanging from a rope on a pulley stretching from our house to a large pine tree in our back yard. I absolutely loved those birds. They were very persistent and verbal in reminding me to fill the cylindrical bird feeders when they got low on seeds. I loved their playfulness and good humor. At times they would be willing to eat sunflower seeds out of my hand. I noticed that it would only happen if I was willing to wait and was exceedingly calm and centered. They became my teachers in mindfulness and presence and were unerring and reliable in giving me good feedback.
Within our species dwells an amazingly wide range of capacities for connection and cruelty. What is it that will awaken the capacities for connection and compassion that I assume lie dormant in all of us? In this context I was wondering how things would be between humans if we could learn from some recent examples of extraordinary contact between humans and animals that have been on the Web this year.
I was very inspired by the story of the encounter between scuba divers and the Humpback whale ensnared and drowning while trapped in crab fishing gear in the Farallon Islands near San Francisco. When the divers finally were able to cut the lines away and rescue the whale, they reported that she swam around them in an expression of exuberance and joy, nuzzled each one in gratitude for rescuing her, and then after about a half an hour, swam away. One diver who was cutting lines away from her mouth and looking directly into one of her eyes reported a profound experience of intelligence, and connection in that encounter. Have any of you ever had the experience of looking directly into the eye of a whale? I did while on a whale watch off the coast of Boston, Mass. It was truly amazing! If you haven’t learned of this amazing encounter, check it out HERE.
My son Greg also shared a beautiful story of his encounter with an elephant in Sri Lanka. He was a guide and host to Joyce Poole, the well-known pioneer of African elephant communication, on her trip to Sri Lanka in 2003 to study differences between the communication patterns of African and Asian elephants. You can see a full description of her work HERE. Please take the time to explore her web site. It contains fascinating information about progress that is being made in establishing lines of communication with these amazing creatures.
Greg’s somewhat humorous story of an elephant human encounter took place on a trip through the Uda Walawe Transit Home in Sri Lanka with Joyce and his friend Lalith Seneviratne. They went to a large “tank” where elephants tend to gather for water and food in one of Sri Lanka’s larger game preserves. Joyce Poole was in one of the Land Rovers as they made their way through the preserve. Joyce reported, “. . .a large matriarch separated from the group and followed by two other adult females (and a juvenile female and calf or two), she moved rapidly toward this car with her head held extremely high. We would have said this was an aggressive stance initially, but as she reached the car and she and the other two females pressed close to it and with heads high the rumbled loudly, ear flapped and touched–or rather embraced— one another with their trunks… The matriarch lifted a leg off the ground and urinated. From our perspective/experience with African elephants, this appeared to be a full-fledged bonding-type ceremony and any trace of aggression seemed to have disappeared. They gathered around the car, pressing closer and literally peered into the car and continued rumbling. Some minutes after they ‘discovered’ us, in the second car, and began rumbling afresh as they moved to gather around us. They rumbled softly to one another and then began to feed. After ten minutes or so a group of juveniles and calves came over from the main body of the group and gathered around the car as well…. They pressed up to the body of the car. . . two or three at the back and another two at the front and with their eyes wide they began to push, shove, bite (something African elephants don’t do!) and step on the car bumper. We had to repeatedly lean out of the window and say “no” in a loud voice–they backed a few steps only to return to their antics. [All participants] had the very strange sensation of feeling that the tables had been turned and that the animals were having fun with us, that the animals had “captured” us, they we were in the cage this time, that we were the fish in the tank being poked, taunted and gawked at! We had the strange sensation that the elephants ‘were keeping us as pets’. . . .we had been a kind of plaything for them, a form of entertainment, and if they had their way they would have ‘enjoyed’ us (as we say in Kenya) all day.& As their captive, their plaything, we delighted them!!!”
I invite you to share stories of interesting human/animal encounters you have had. Together perhaps we can awaken to the truth that… as we are with animals, and as they are with us, so we can be with each other.
Remember the heartening connection between Christian the Lion and his human friends:
Video posted to YouTube by aga919507.
African elephant in Botswana – public domain photograph courtesy of Wikipedia.
Black-capped Chickadee eating seed, – public domain photograph courtesy of Talshiarr via Wikipedia.