Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Wild Moments...

The great outdoors has an effect on the soul, like nothing else... except true love. Some cocktails require a little more earthiness than others... perhaps leaning towards the raw and thrill - inducing side. No alcohol needed, just pure adrenalin and passion...
 It seemed as though my eyes were being opened for the very first time in The Serengeti National Park, Tanzania. Although tired and quite exasperated after a very long journey, I remember the elation and breath - taking joy of looking out at this Jurassic environment. The aroma that filled me with splendour as I breathed in and announced..."I'm here". Furthermore, as the sun was on the verge of setting and we were nearing the end of a long day, something caught my eye in the distance... I couldn't make it out at first, but held the camera in position at its longest focal point and clicked. This turned out to be the first and only sighting of a leopard. A childish grin stretched across my face... my arrival, confirmed, with the blessing of nature.

 We set up camp, lit a fire and ate a hearty supper, before retiring. The first night was pretty scary in
the wild. The night was filled with unrecognisable sounds. When I finally began to drift off to sleep - to my own wilderness of dreams, I sensed a strange presence outside the tent. Silencing my breath, I listened intently, then opened my eyes - my body, motionless with fear. A shadow swelled across the canvas... sounds of snuffling, snorting and groaning, likened to an old man clearing his throat, filled my acute ears. I listened and watched as the shadow became smaller and disappeared. We awakened at dawn, only to discover paw prints outside my tent. Apparently, a lion had been curiously sniffing around in the night.
 First light painted a scene of tremendous colour and life. The turquoise and orange starlings began twittering and a couple of impala grazed in the morning dew. The sky was clear and a soft blue, and an air balloon drifted over the plains...

We arrived at a watering hole and watched hippos enjoying their cool morning bath. Then, a little further, by a clump of trees, we were brought to an abrupt stop. An elephant appeared in front of the truck, she seemed distressed. She flapped her ears and raised her trunk, in an arresting manner. I was standing on the top deck, face to face with her. Slowly, instinct kicked in, and, lowering myself, I realised that she had felt threatened by my apparent height. I quietly told her that it was alright... Then, she relaxed and gently backed away. We waited. Suddenly, there was movement in the trees and two baby elephants stepped out, followed by four adults. She had just been protecting the young and quite rightfully so. This was their kingdom and their rules.
 I love giraffes, with their long eyelashes, huge brown eyes and elegant physique. Gracefully, passing the day munching on acacia and basking in the glorious sunshine. What happened next was mesmerising... We came across a small patch of jungle, and decided to stop for lunch, along the edge. Whilst admiring the luscious view, a giraffe stepped in to the frame. I could not believe my luck. It must have been sheltering or snacking quietly behind the trees and curiously came out to see...

Jungle Giraffe
Later, that day, I began to walk along a dusty track, blocking out all distraction from my mind and embracing the wildness that surrounded me. I remember a voice calling, not to go too far. I continued walking. I had an overwhelming desire to keep moving forward. I believe to this day, it was a true sense of touching freedom. It was like remembering a past life, and this took a hold on the very core of my psyche. My heart lifted and a gentle breeze was coaxing me further and further. Unseen danger filled me with with a thrilling surge of energy. Then, something rustled in the bushes. I stopped. My heart pumping... adrenalin rushing. Footsteps were nearing behind me, but I could not move. the bush rustled again. I was breathing rapidly but quietly, as a cold sweat moved across my brow. Turning around slowly, to head back to the guide,  a small animal stepped out beside me... Kirk's dik dik... phew! This little fella was a lovely surprise.
 That said, perhaps this had been divine intervention. Just a little further along the track, we observed a pride of lions. Perhaps they had been watching and the little dik dik came as a warning. Clearly saving me from a bigger surprise. As I looked on, I noticed a cub playing in the grass. resembling an over sized kitten. He was hiding and seeking, attacking small bushes... Then, he let out a yawn and bounded back to mum.



As each day came to an end, a happy and delirious state of mind would soon disperse in to relaxation and complete wonderment. The meals were hearty and warm, with mango served on the side with every dish. We would light a fire, talk about the days events and swap stories, whilst gazing up at the starlit sky. Shortly, before turning in for the night, everything was locked away, to prevent the hyenas steeling from us. Hyenas are famous for watching unsuspecting campers at night time. All you needed to do, was shine your torch out towards the bush and be amazed by all the reflected eyes peering back... these cheeky hyenas, were known for running off with items of clothing and saucepans. So long as the fire was still alight, we felt safe from prying eyes. Then, we would snuggle down, before the last ember went out.
 Each day would bring more delight. The call of the wild was demanding our attention. The road became more rugged and the land more remote. Thick, dense and endless reeds, hanging from branches, perfect for swinging through the trees... Yes, my thought exactly... Tarzan. Every shade of green, luminous and succulent. Intoxicating pure deliciousness...
 To this day, the greatest highlight of my life, has been standing in The Ngorongoro Crater. Over two million years a go, the top of a volcano fell away, creating a crater floor around one hundred square miles. Over the years, life evolved. The rains formed watering holes and the land became nourishing grassland to hundreds of animals. The wildlife thrives within this natural phenomenon. Mother Nature's amphitheatre of the most abundant, exotic and marvellous animals on earth. This was one of the very few places where black rhinos were free to roam safely from poachers. Sadly, there were only nine counted. I am not sure of the numbers presently, but this trip was taken a good ten years a go. Although distant, I was blessed with a sighting of the endangered black rhino...
Critically Endangered, The Black Rhino
Still water ran deep with activity. Wildebeest roamed across the terrain in many numbers, uttering grunting sounds as though chatting amongst themselves. Zebras casually walked by like extras on a film set. There was no centre stage, the whole terrain was performing - no rehearsal, just evolution. My heart was racing consistently at the entirety of this all consuming production. Sienna - coloured landscapes, with brush strokes of yellow and green... A stunning backdrop to the greatest show on earth. Glorious!
 Time for a light snack. We parked up, but were quickly warned to keep an eye out for black kites. Very large birds, which, like the hyenas, were on the constant look out for innocent munchers. Sure enough, someone popped open a sandwich, only to have it snatched from their hand in a split moment. After the initial shock, we laughed, a lot. Later, that same day, we witnessed a little monkey doing the same. He snatched a bar of chocolate off the dashboard in the jeep. He then proceeded to find a comfortable position on an out - of - reach branch and, intelligently, unwrapped the foil from the bar and tucked in.
 Twilight brought a heavenly sky. As I remember, looking out over the crater, it was like heaven's brush had painted subtle tones of green and lilac. The soft colours were mixed from the sky's palette, enhancing the beautiful sight which had been bestowed upon me.
The glow of the camp fire was inviting, and during supper, we exchanged conversations about a new - found knowledge, concerning the Masai Tribe. The men, dressed in red, walked a long side the wild animals, in the crater, with only spears to protect their best asset - their cattle. Lions had learnt, over time, to leave well alone. A herdsman would not hesitate to use his spear to protect his herd ( I believe now, they are protecting lions from poachers in Kenya). His wealth and status was measured by how many cattle he owned. We were also informed that if a spear were to pierce the canvas, at night, do not challenge. Hand over any possessions that you may have with you. However, this was a considerably rare occurrence. But, they were not afraid of using a spear to get what they wanted. Ironically, I had more comfort with the memory of the lion sniffing outside my tent, on the first night in The Serengeti.
 The Olduvai Gorge was an important archaeological site, where our ancestors had lived in small hunting communities. It was a magical place, where, in fact, the first man stood. A volcano had fossilised this former life, yet now it resembled a forgotten garden of Eden, holding many secrets of a previous civilisation. Secrets of survival and evolution. A beautiful and peaceful landscape, which I found both evocative and humbling. A yellow bird sang mellifluously and provided the enchanting soundtrack to this thought provoking moment. To stand on this pure earth was a privilege. This was the 'Mother' earth.
 This place, in Africa, had me feeling emotionally saturated. I had always dreamt of visiting and this had been a dream realised. I have a passion for animals and gravitate towards natural spaces. I wanted to understand what it felt like to be in a completely, unspoiled and raw environment. With the untamed. Upon realising this dream, I had a taste of completion and nourishment like never before. These animals, and this experience, helped me to find something within my self. Furthermore, It showed me a world that needs to be considered, preserved and respected. These animals are the most awe inspiring and incredible creatures.
 Where else in the world, or in a life time, could you watch a lion walk across the plains with a sure purpose. His eyes fixed in front, as he pursues and pounces effortlessly... although, this particular lion had merely rumbled a stork. He took a swipe with his paw, missing by inches, as the stork launched itself in to the air... The lion composed himself and continued forward, in pursuit of another snack.
 The plains stretched out for as far as the eyes could see. Buffaloes were observed by a lioness, taking  shade under a tree. A warm breeze gently rustled the leaves and there was a calmness in the atmosphere. Then, by a small watering hole, there was a splash of commotion. Whereupon a crocodile was crawling out of the water to bask and take in a little sunshine. He lent himself well to this Jurassic vision. This truly was a place that time had, thankfully, forgotten.
 Recently, there has been disheartening amounts of press, related to the declining numbers of wild animals. Species which will never be replaced. These animals have become endangered because of humans. Poachers and hunters encroaching on their territory and flushing them out... blaming them for killing the livestock, hitting them with bullets and cars. Stripping them of their fur, their horns and tusks. Crowding them with selfish endeavours and destroying their natural world. The list goes on and on. However, if we do not stop the killing of our beautiful wildlife, they will cease to go on and on.
 I mentioned at the beginning, that the effect of the great outdoors, nurtures the soul and that true love was the only equal comparison. Well, needless to say, I did, indeed, fall in love. Yet, no romantic experience has ever moved me in the way that these animals in their natural habitat did. Perhaps some of you may be saddened by that comment. Don't be. I have experienced one of the greatest loves. A part of my heart will always be devoted to preserving wildlife. I will always cherish the wild moments I had, in the presence of such magnificence and grace. May these animals continue to live on... for it is their right and our privilege.

 To be continued... one day.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Feeding Feline...

Supper? Photo by Helen Ratcliff
How we love to exchange kitty eating habits in the cat food section at the supermarket. I have just been sharing thoughts and advice with a lady who is the proud owner of a rescued Maine Coon female. She was describing a 'larger than life' (6.5kilos) cat with extraordinary food specifications. "Aren't they fussy and dont we spoil them." Yes, thats a comment frequently heard by all us cat owners. There are always little tips about weekly fresh fish or chicken treats... And... the cost to keep them accustomed to their needs. But, we love our cats and continue to stroke their egos.
 So... there I am sifting through the brands and new 'hand made' products, with beautiful, earthy packaging, when it occurs to me that this is nonsense. Cats are obligate carnivores, they just want meat and this has me asking myself, why do they put vegetables and herbs in cat food? Cats aren't interested in herbs (unless it is catnip), this is clearly to benefit the human consumer.  Ok, so possibly this is about adding vitamins and minerals, however, I believe it is more about the brands competing for the most interesting recipes and colourful aesthetics. This is not related to the health of the cat but the health of the brand and how it shines on the supermarket shelf. 
  Well, that got me thinking all the more and I decided to do some research on the matter... Cats have been around for thousands of years, yet it wasn't until 1837, that the idea of cat food being a saleable product came to the fore. Previously, tamed cats were considered self reliant on feeding themselves, i.e. hunting and killing mice or rats to sustain their wellbeing. Then, an observing French writer, acknowledged, that cats that were not given food (scraps), were feeble and untamed in their appearance. Although, at that time, it was widely understood that a hungry cat would hunt further. The writer suggested that a well - fed and nourished cat would be more awake, diligent and agile. The fitter the cat, the more successful the hunt. An alert and 'full' cat would then satisfy his natural taste and instinct. (1)
 In 1844, Another French writer expanded on this idea... As a rule, in the country, no care was taken to feed the resident cat.  But, when the cat was hungry it would raid the pantry, more so than go out to hunt and catch a mouse. A cat prefers to catch a mouse through instinct and attraction - not by need through hunger. So... to neglect a cat, was to render him useless and harmful, while with a few scraps properly given, say, twice a day, the cat will never do any damage (steeling from the pantry) and will serve you greater - keeping the home free of vermin. He then went on to explain that cats take mice more for amusement than to eat. "A good cat takes many, and eats few." (2)
 By 1876, Gordon Stables emphasised the need to give cats food. To make a cat more successful as a vermin - killer, she needs to be given her own dish of food each day, then, without delay, remove the dish when she has finished. An attempt at disciplining the moggy. Furthermore, he suggested giving her porridge and milk for breakfast or broken bread, steeped in milk, with a little sugar. This was deemed an excellent breakfast for puss. (Otto, one of my cats, loves porridge). Then, for supper, she must have an allowance of flesh. Boiled lights are better than horse meat, but occasionally, let her have a piece of fish. To that end, teach your cat to wait patiently until she is served - a spoilt cat is as disagreeable as a spoilt child! Sadly, my cats bang on their food cupboard until I give in... so much for discipline. Also, if you want your cat to to be nice and clean, treat her to a square inch of fresh butter. (Otto was caught licking my freshly opened butter the other day - I was not happy) - Butter acts as a gentle laxative for cat. Grease combining in her mouth, with alkalinity of saliva, forms a kind of natural 'cat soap' and she will commence washing herself. If you wish to have your cat presented at her best (for guests arriving), using a sponge, dab bits of fresh cream on her coat and she will clean it off, and then, be beautifully conditioned.
 Too much fleshy meat, especially liver, can induce a troublesome diarrhoea - do not give too many titbits from the table and, above all else, never neglect to give your cat her two regular meals. (3)
 During the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, meat for cats and dogs, in London, was sold from 'hand - carts' by intinerant (travelling) traders, known as 'Cats Meat Men'.(4) Frequently, this would have been horse meat, a staple diet for domestic pets, at that time. The meat would have been boiled before consumption. Interesting how it has crept back in to our freezer sections.... and begs another question - is horse meat used in our pet products? Although, personally, I do not eat cat food. Morally, my conscience would decline on purchasing cat food which had horse meat in its ingredients... sorry, puds!
 In the wild, a cat's diet would consist of small rodents, rabbits, birds and insects, taking most of their moisture from the rodents. A mouse contains 65 - 70% moisture. On this diet, a cat would obtain 2% of its calories from carbohydrates. That is all a cat needs because they have a physiological decrease in the ability to utilise carbohydrates. So, why do certain brands bulk out cat food, especially dried, with corn, wheat and rice? Most dried cat food contains 50% carbohydrate - that is enough to turn your cat in to an obese monster and could ultimately be fatal. Also, cats have evolved to take the moisture they need from their meat and dried food can leave puss detrimentally dehydrated. This can also accelerate diabetes. Clearly we are all told to leave a bowl of fresh water out daily, but cats really do prefer to take moisture from their food. On occasion, my moggies love a bowl of (lactose - free) milk. The creamier the better.
                                               Otto and Jaffa love their milk...

Then, there is the matter of the essential part of a cats diet, protein. So, forgetting the herbs, vegetables, corn, wheat, rice, colourings and flavourings, I suggest looking for named meat, fish and poultry. These are the basic nutritional ingredients that puss needs. However, a balanced diet would also contain taurine, which is an essential amino acid and certain other vitamins, minerals, enzymes and fatty acids. Yet, there can be downsides to too much of any one thing. Cats need variation, it's not just about them being fussy. My Mother use to boil up (daily) fresh liver or cod for the cats. They would then wash it all down with a bowl of full cream milk. They all lived long, healthy lives, but became accustomed to fresh food rather than 'tinned' cat food. Hence, my Mother had to commit to this for the duration of the cats' life. When her life was busy, she would try to feed something more convenient, but the cats would just throw it up! Apparently, those fed exclusively on liver can develop vitamin A toxicity, too much fresh water fish can induce a thiamine deficiency and exclusively meat diets may contain excessive protein and phosphorus - whilst being deficient in calcium, vitamin E and minerals such as copper, zinc and potassium. Energy density must also be maintained relative to the other nutrients. Studies have shown that cats eat what they require to receive their nutritional needs. So, it pays to spend a little more on the brand, checking ingredients for essentials. Cheaper brands tend to bulk the food out and the cats need more of it to feel satisfied. That said, my cats throw up or walk away. They seem to know what their faves look like. Not sure how, but they recognise packaging and how fully stocked up the cupboard is. The more stocked, the more fussy they become. This is called 'cat manipulation'. They are far from stupid and embrace the skills learnt from their ancestors of the 19th century. May be I was wrong, perhaps brands do package for cat consumers.
 Whilst researching this essay, I stumbled across something very interesting. It is regarding Otto's behaviour. He has always been a little fickle, but as he has become older, in some ways there is a fragility in his movement and eating habits which have given rise for concern. Sometimes, its like there is a link missing, from brain to muscle. He stands motionless, as if thinking about where to place his foot... This can be quite irritating, especially when he is settling down on your lap - it can take a good while. On occasion, it is like he forgets where he started... like I said, a missing link. He also can appear quite untamed, physically. If I do not brush him, he has the appearance of  a small, wild, wolf. Furthermore, he throws up alot and I worry that he is not getting nourishment. Well... I believe I may have found the reason, purely by accident.  It could be a lack of vitamin D and possibly vitamin B1. Less sunshine in the winter can cause strange behaviour in animals (like humans), And, lacking in these vitamins can cause the above mentioned behaviour... neurological impairments, altered reflexes, unconditioned coat (tufts), slightly under weight appeareance and pathological changes in nervous system... that explains alot. Perhaps mackeral is on the menu tonight. Another observation, recently, is his new desire to lap up porridge and eggs. I call these comfort foods - Otto, it would seem, is seeking out nourishment to settle his stomach and possibly the feeling of being hugged... awe!
 Jaffa, his brother, loves a slice of tongue, fresh prawns, raw steak and petit filous. Hmmph... spoiled? I am afraid so. Oh, and copious amounts of cuddles... 
 Something which also came to light recently, was the way that Otto and Jaffa run out to the garden, after the rain. I have noticed how they love a graze on grass, especially when the grass is wet. I realised that this could be a way of hydrating, naturally. But, it does beg yet another question. Why do cats eat grass? We, cat people, have all pondered on various theories, but with the knowledge that cats are unable to digest vegetation, what could be the answer? I believe it is to do with moisture. However, cats are generally sick after grazing, which suggests grass is a natural remedy for cleansing. Fur and bones (from rodents) stay in the stomach of a cat. Also, when grooming, the little spikes on the tongue, grab the loose fur and the fur is swallowed. The grass wraps around the stomach contents and the cat regurgitates the parcel up. Together with these benefits, grass provides small traces of vitamins A and D, aiding recovery for sick cats. Grass can also relieve stomach pain, skin diseases, infection and ulcers. Jaffa was bitten by a strange cat recently, and thereafter, he slept for four days - only waking from time to time for a small pot of (spoon fed) Petit filous. Once the abscess erupted (sorry), I bathed the area with sterile water and savlon, in between growls of dismay, where upon he would stagger outside to eat some grass. This was repeated continuously, until his wound healed.
 So... our feline friends are fussy about what they eat, but with good reason. They are intelligent animals that have evolved to understand what their body requires. They would prefer an easy existence and will sooner raid the larder than allow nature to take its course. However, when the chips (mice, fish, steaks) are down, you can be sure that they will go forth and kill... You have to take your hat off to our obligate, manipulative, spoilt, little carnivores. They are in tune with their wild side, yet know how to make a home a home...


1 - Mauny de Mornay, Livre de L'eleveur et du proprietaire d'animaux domestiques, 1837

2 - Nicolas jean Baptiste Boyard, Manuel du bouvier et Zoophile ou l'art d'elever de soigner les animaux, 1844

3 - Gordon Stables, 'Cats'. 1876

4 - 'Cats Meat Man' C. 1901. Museum of London (retrieved October 02, 2012)

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


Otto's Eyes by Helen Ratcliff
"As wise as an owl", the old saying goes... But why is an owl wise? Is wisdom something that we all have? Are we born wise? Or, do we need to mature in age to obtain it? Is it nature or nurture? Is wisdom something passed down through generations? Say, for example, that I was related to Mozart (which I am not, as far as I am aware), would this mean that I would inherit the natural ability to compose music? Err, no. I do remember sitting on a stool next to my Dad, as he played 'Moonlight Sonata' on the piano -  over and over... okay, so that was Beethoven - however, I did not learn how to play myself. That said, I am not a composer, sadly. But... I do appreciate music. This is also greatly owed to having two brothers, both of them having endless musical knowledge and, you could say, expertise. They have influenced me massively. Consequently, because of nurture, I have the experience of listening to music which would make me wise. As spoken by Jimi Hendrix, "Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens".
 Wisdom is something that is supposed to prevent us from making further mistakes, prevents us from suffering and enables us to appreciate what we have. A wise person is always learning consciously and applying their knowledge. It seems that people who have more difficulty in life and more challenges to face, are in a process of learning about themselves and their reactions to situations. This process is the pathway to wisdom of the self. But, one still needs a good analytical mind to understand what it is that they are learning. Well, that would suggest that the more life experience you gain, the wiser you become. However, you can only grow by engaging and feeling - not just by watching your experiences. Furthermore, getting older does not necessarily mean getting wiser. Many folk use age as an excuse and in my eyes are merely wiseacres. Knowledge, and understanding of that knowledge, is a sapient quality earned through experiences and learning. knowing why you know something, rather than just knowing.... that is true wisdom. 
 Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, was the author of the original book of proverbs, inspired by God ( I kid you not), and, through his wisdom he turned to nature for guidance. I am not wishing to compare myself to Solomon, but have been inspired and guided by nature, as I am sure many of you have, also. Anyway, Solomon studied the small creatures and realised their principals and learned wisdom. They were as follows:
"The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer".
"The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks".
"The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands" 
"The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings's palaces".
 According to Solomon, the ants showed application of preparation, the conies (mountain mice and rabbits) exemplified solidity, the locusts, unity and the spider, tenacity. Solomon wanted to share his understanding of principals and, thereupon, wrote the book of Proverbs so that mankind would grow in wisdom.
 Wisdom is a deep understanding of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. So the principals of the universe such as reason and knowledge, prevail, so that we may determine actions. This is insightfulness, an optimum judgement leading to the comprehension of what is true.
 The Roman Goddess, Minerva, represented knowledge and was said to have been born from Jupiter's brain. Her symbol was the owl. Yes, indeed, the wise old owl. Why? Because it can see in the dark. Cats can also see in the dark, therefore, as far as I am concerned, that would make them pretty wise too. After all, the cats' eyes inspired someone to put reflectors in the roads so that we may define our path at night. I call that wise.
 Furthermore, The Native Americans' philosophy about being part of the natural world, in contrast to the European's culture, which was more about conquering nature's gifts, was the wisdom of knowing and understanding the importance of maintaining an ecological balance. They possessed a natural common sense related to conserving the resources within their environment. 
 Then, there is non other than the great Michelangelo. Someone everyone has connected with at some point in their life. He was a genius. A painter, sculptor, architect and poet. Rays of light, symbolically represented as horns on the head of Michelangelo can be a graphic symbol of wisdom. He also tried his hand at engineering. What a pioneer. He exerted an unparalleled influence on the development of Western art as we know it. He pursued many disciplines and greatly deserved his title of the archetypal Renaissance man. His passions for art and knowledge were surpassing and reflected considerable wisdom. 
 Inside all of us, there is a wistful desire to gain wisdom. It is the key to life and can only be obtained through a hunger to learn and wilfulness to embrace new knowledge. We are not born with wisdom, yet it begins with the earliest stages of our existence. Our nature has the ability to facilitate and our nurture is the beginning. Starting with the self, the rest is learned. "knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom" - Aristotle.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Our Fine Furry Friends...

Yesterday, my brother shared a link to footage of a fur farm in China. It came with a warning... Not for the faint - hearted. As usual, curiousity took over and I tentatively clicked on play. The first few seconds were showing thousands of cramped, caged animals such as Arctic foxes, rabbits and raccoons. Then, one of the farmers (not really sure what else to call them, without being abusive), opened a cage door and with a long pole and noose, slung the noose over the head of a little fluffy, white fox and began to pull. The farmer then put the little, innocent, petrified fox on to a block. The fox kept struggling and rolling, trying desperately to escape its fate. One of the farmers, without any remorse, held tightly, whilst the other one stuck two pins in to the fox's chest and rear. I believe these were electric shocks. The little fox became still. Soon to become a bag, scarf, pair of gloves or part of a coat.
 More footage had me choked. I then pressed pause to breath for a moment and collect my courage for the next sequence. Large cages, again, rammed with animals such as dogs and cats. Some had collars on and had clearly been stolen off the streets. These were peoples' pets. Like my Otto... The cages were thrown off the backs of trucks, so carelessly that some of the animals were shattering, bones snapping and breaking. Then, scenes of live animals, being hung by their back legs in preparation for skinning. Animals were openly being bludgeoned to death, kicked and beaten. Absolutely no shame. A festival of slaughter - screaming, calling, yelping. Animals in sheer excruciating pain and unimaginable fear.
 I pressed pause. The tears were welling and my stomach was tightening... I take a breath. Why am I allowing myself to endure this agonising film? I begin to suspect that this is part of the process of understanding and acknowledging the cruelty that continues. I have written about poaching, hunting, 'canned' hunting and this is an extension of that research. Some how, though, as much as it devastates to see an animal shot... nothing could have prepared me for what came next...
 A pile of skinned raccoons... lifeless and raw. I felt nausea creeping up to my throat. Then... as the camera scanned across the bodies... there was a slight movement. One raccoon slowly raised its head to face the camera. Its last breath was taken. This little creature had survived being skinned alive. Although just for a moment. Who could possibly imagine the final thought going through its naked skull. So... at that moment, I literally gagged. Their tortured little souls left me deeply distressed.
 This is not about culture or tradition. It saddens me beyond words to think of the killing of tigers, snow leopards and lions for their body parts. The suffering of elephants for their ivory or rhinos for their horns. The majority of this poaching is down to Chinese cultural beliefs. They insist on certain animal parts aiding good health and well being. Not so. It has not been scientifically proven. This is folklore. That said, the fur trade is business. Another day at the office. The demand is still overwhelming, beyond belief. As I mentioned in my 'Save The Lion' blog, where there is money - animals will die. This is supply on demand. The Chinese are the largest exporters of fur. Sadly, I feel that our efforts to preserve wildlife from the Chinese unethical and disgraceful murdering, could be futile, unless steps are taken to lay down laws which prevent people from buying fur. Boycott anyone who trades or farms. The farming of non - endangered species is thriving also, in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Holland. The government, here in the U.K., banned fur farming in 2003, but still allows importing of fur. The fur trade is worth up to £500 million a year to the U.K.  - Mink and Fox amongst the most popular. So, this begs yet another question. Who is buying and why? How, in this day and age can anyone wear fur from any animal whether endangered or not? I wonder if they have seen the writhing of a hopeless animal, hanging by its hinds and screaching out in pain, whilst the farmer peels away its beautiful fur. Would the buyer still wear the coat with pride? Do they have a conscience? Clearly not. Ignorance is bliss.
 CITES (Convention on International Trade In Endangered Species) of Wild Fauna and Flora, will give some hope. As a country, we could stop the importing of fur, but to ban International fur farming would take years. Let us not forget that the foxes, raccoons and rabbits are not endangered, but they still feel pain. Cat and dog fur is legally sold in the U.K. - It is all a shambles. These helpless little animals, our 'fine furry friends', are being slaughtered. Skinned alive.
 I placed a photograph of one of my cats to make us think about the suffering. It is only by reaching in to emotional attachments, with our animals, that changes are ever going to occurr.
 In recent years, furriers have reported a surge in sales. The International Fur Trade Federation says global sales have increased from £5billion in 2000 to £6.6billion in 2012. That is shocking! The BFTA say that sales have risen by a third in the past year, both support CITES and say... "As an industry, we are against any form of animal cruelty..."
 So... As said before, I am a blip on this Universe. However, I have a voice, albeit quiet and unheard most of the time... but, I have passion, heart and faith. I am passionate about animal welfare, have a heart full of love for innocent beings and faith in the human race. The human race that wants to make a difference. The humans who have intelligence and the strength of will (just like the wilful little raccoon) to pass on this message and keep raising awareness. STOP THE KILLING, STOP THE FUR TRADE, STOP THE SLAUGHTERING OF INNOCENT AND BEAUTIFUL ANIMALS...