Whoever first floated the concept of ‘dumb animals’ was, well, dumb. Sure, they probably meant ‘dumb’ as in ‘speechless’. That’s even dumber. Cows moo, sheep bleat, crows caw and lions roar. Pigeons, Pomeranians, puff adders and porpoises coo, yap, hiss and squeak respectively. The fact that humans can’t speak their languages doesn’t make them speechless.
As for evidence of intelligence, how about a candidate that raises armies for war, builds bridges and vast labyrinths, keeps slaves, raises herds for milking and employs chemical warfare to defeat its enemies? That would be the ant — which also employs child labour and attacks all trespassers on sight. Nope, animals are neither voiceless nor stupid and there’s evidence that they’re getting a little fed up with people.
The animals are revolting.
Strictly anecdotal evidence so far — a random incident here and there. Like the one that befell Jerry Barnes and his sailboat off the coast of Oregon last month. There was Jerry, in an offshore race, when suddenly, something very like a slimy railroad car rose out of the water … then turned and fell.
On Jerry Barnes’ sailboat.
The boat required a tow to shore. The whale — a Humpback, they think — swam away. No one on board was hurt, but the cetacean’s point was emphatically made: get the hell out of my back yard.
Then there was the guy who got knifed by a chicken in California. Jose Luis Ochoa was attending an illegal cockfight and got stabbed in the calf by the knife/spur of one of the fighting roosters. It wasn’t Jose’s day. A cop raid followed; Jose took off and bled to death while hiding in the woods.
Not that humans are going down without a fight. Erin Sullivan proved that by his encounter with a police dog in Glendale, Arizona. Sullivan was burgling a home when he was interrupted by a four-legged member of the Glendale police department. The dog bit Sullivan. Sullivan bit the dog. Now Sullivan is suing the police department. The fact that Sullivan filed his lawsuit from a prison where he’s serving eight years for the Glendale burglary does not enhance his chances.
But when it comes to the animal world one should never be too quick to judge. Witness the case of David Bowering, of Toronto. Bowering spent six months as a volunteer in Kenya back in the ‘60s. One day, he came upon a young bull elephant standing apart from the herd, one front leg raised awkwardly in the air. The animal was clearly distressed.
Bowering approached and carefully knelt down before the beast. He could see a jagged splinter in the bottom of the elephant’s foot. Bowering opened his pocket knife and gingerly worked the splinter out. The elephant put its foot down on the ground and stared at Bowering for what seemed an eternity. Bowering didn’t move. He knew he could easily get trampled.
Instead, the elephant lifted its trunk almost in a salute and slowly walked into the bush. Bowering learned not to talk about the encounter. No one believed him.
Forty-five years later a retired Bowering was walking through the Toronto zoo with a group of colleagues. When they approached the elephant enclosure, one of the older bulls seemed to be looking at him.
Slowly the elephant detached himself from the herd and came over to face Bowering at the railing. The old bull stared, then slowly lifted its front left foot. Up, down, up, down, up, down — three times, never taking his eyes off Bowering.
Could this be the same elephant he’d helped in Kenya all those years ago?
On a hunch, Bowering climbed over the enclosure, walked up to the elephant and stared into its eye.
The bull elephant trumpeted loudly, wrapped its trunk around Bowering and slammed him into the railing, killing him instantly.
Probably wasn’t the same elephant.
Arthur Black is a regular columnist for the Parksville Qualicum Beach News. He lives on Salt Spring Island