Peace Crane by Hilary Taylor

Peace Crane by Hilary Taylor
Picture by Justin Wyatt
To read Hilary's story buy this special book...

This magical story has a touch of the supernatural. When an injured crane is found and nursed, something happens, something magical and inspiring...

Gentle Footprints launched- AS SEEN ON TV

Gentle Footprints was officially launched Fri June 4th at the Hay Festival with guest speaker Virginia McKenna and some of the authors

Buy from Bridge House Publishing by clicking on the link BUY:


Virginia McKenna at Hay Launch

Virginia McKenna at Hay Launch

Animal Anthology To Raise Funds for Born Free

Bridge House Publishing announce new book coming Spring 2010. For more about Bridge House please see their website.
This book is the annual charity book for Born Free...if you want to get involved with promoting and selling this book- email me!

Visit the Born Free Website to find out more about their valuable work...

Visit the Born Free Website to find out more about their valuable work...

Monday, 29 March 2010

Week of the salmon - day 3

The salmon is a truly extraordinary animal. Here is a description of the life and times of the pacific variety, some of which are pictured here.

Salmon eggs are laid in freshwater streams typically at higher latitudes. The eggs hatch into alevin. these alevin quickly develop into parr which stay for one to three years in their natall stream. They then become smolts, distinguished by their bright silvery colour. Only 10% of eggs survive to this stage. The smoly body chemistry slowly changes allowing the fish to move from fresh to brackish to sea water.

Salmon, depending on the species spend from one to five years in the ocean, where they become sexually mature. Almost all return to their natal stream to spawn, though they can colonise new streams as glaciers retreat. The mechanism that enables them to find their home stream is not undertsood but salmon are known to have a very powerful sense of smell.

As they prepare to spawm most salmon darken in colour, some becoming deep pink or even red. They move upstream against strong currents sometimes travelling hundreds of miles. Chinook and Sockeye salmon from Idaho, for example, travel 900 miles and climb nearly 7000 feet. The longer the fish remains in fresh more the more its condition deteriorates. After spawning it deteriorates very quickly indeed and nearly all die.

To lay her roe, the female salmon uses her caudal fin to create a low pressure zone, lifting gravel to be swept downstream. This leaves a shallow depression into which she lays about 5000 eggs, ranging in colour from orange to red. One or more males will then deposit their milt over the roe. The female then swims upstream and disturbs more gravel which then settles over the redd, thus protecting the eggs. Remarkably the female will make as many as seven redds before she is exhausted.

Feshwater streams and estuaries provide important habitat for many salmon species. They feed on terrestrial and acquatic insects, amphipods and other crustaceans while young, and primarily on other fish when older. Mortality is high to natural predation but also to human induced changes in habitat, such as silting, high water temperatures, low oxygen, loss of stream cover and reductions in flow. estuaries and their associated wetlands provide vital nurseries for the salmon as they adapt to salt water. they also provide important feeding and hiding areas.

More on the human threat to salmon tomorrow.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Salmon - Day 2

What made me write a story for an animal anthology? Good question. I've never had a pet. I've never campaigned to save the whale or preserve the polar bear. I'm not an animal person really. In fact the very idea of an animal story seemed anathema to me. I thought so much romantic nonsense had been written about cuddly this and fluffy that. But as Bridgehouse had called for submissions (how nice of them) I gave it some further thought.

First of all I decided to try and tell it like it is. Animals are not sweet. They eat each other. I also decided that I would be shamelessly anthropomorphic. I have no idea how animals feel, least of all fish. So trying to get inside the head of a salmon was a non-starter. Effectively Liberty and Acquiescence are humans inside fish bodies, but humans who have no knowledge of any other physical state. Sounds weird? Read the story in June.

Let me return to the eating thing. Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite 'em. Little fleas have littler fleas and so ad infinitum. There is a balance in the world, or at least their was once. Nature was, and indeed is, red in tooth and claw. Salmon eat herring. Bears eat salmon. I can accept that this balance will change over time as animals evolve and the world's environment changes over millions of millenia. But the change we at the top of the food chain have managed to engineer in a tiny fragment of geologic time seems to me to be a radically new phenomena.

Man succesfully eradicated the large mammals from America. It was too soon for the modern environmental groups to mount a campaign to protect them. About 10,000 years too soon. Now we do at least have a choice. We can takes steps to allow animals their freedom and let them get on with their own lives, eating and being eaten.

Will it stop me enjoying a rich salmon fillet tomorrow evening? Certainly not. But I will try and ensure that my salmon has been sustainably fished and not caused damage to other wildlife, or for that matter to me, through the excessive use of antibiotics. Keep reading the blog and you might be rewarded with a delicious salmon recipe.

I hope that the money made and the awareness achieved through this book, of the richness and diversity of wildlife will encourage us all to keep it wild, to treat it with respect and to leave free what was born free. I also hope too that the human content inevitably contained in each story will remind us that stories help us to examine our own condition and to reflect upon our own values. Maybe, once in a while, it helps us change them too.

Tomorrow - a little more about the extraordinary journeys of the pacific salmon.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Hi, I'm Mark and I'm a blogger. But not a very experienced one. In fact- this is my first blog. Seems pretty straightforward so far. I am the author of the Salmon story in Gentle Footprints, and I'll start by telling you a little about myself. First of all - I'm not really a writer. I'm really a father, a husband, a son and a health service manager. I only tell my friends that I write a few stories and poems from time to time. So don't let on - please.

It all started last year when I woke up one morning imagining I'd had a major stroke in the night and would die later that day. I didn't. But I did write a story about about it which has never been published. It is written in the first person but the protagonist dies at the end. This is never quite satisfactory. It certainly wasn't in the 'Lovely Bones' either. But it whetted my appetite for trying a little more.

I think it is the sheer escapism of writing your very own story. I enter a cloud of concentration and have been known to forget to eat and drink for hours as my characters lead me along a path I could only guess at when I started. Despite being busy being all those things I mentioned earlier I try to write two stories every month. I even had a go at a ghost story last year and it was accepted by Bridgehouse for publication in 'Spooked'. It is impossible to convey the simple joy that comes from having your own personal creation published and read by others. Magic.

I have also started a novel. It's hit a bit of a snag after 40,000 words. For a start the characters in the first two chapters are far too recognisable. My friends would never forgive me. And now I have a new job for which I have to travel half the length of the country. So it needs re-writing and finishing. One day.

I also have to find time for a number of other thrilling activities. If you've never sung in a choir before - have a go. I hadn't until ten years ago but now I'm a regular in two. I didn't read music and had never played an instrument. I won't say there havn't been some scary moments but it is superb fun most of the time. My novel is about singing.

Golf occupies some time too but I never play enough to become good. I keep trying to think up stories based around golf but have never come up with anything remotely readable so far. I've never heard of a 'great golf novel' either! Any ideas?

Ah! And then there's poetry. If only I could write it. The swing and rhythm of words arranged to tell a story by their sound and cadence as much as by their meaning. A hard trick to pull off but one I'd like to do much more off. Bridgehouse should try a poetry anthology shouldn't they?

So - why write for an animal antholgy? And why salmon? Log in tomorrow.

Friday, 26 March 2010


Here are some pictures of Badger playing with our dog, Nandi. These games would sometimes last for hours, until one or the other collapsed with exhaustion.
The following is an extract from wildlife artist Vic Guhr’s book The Trouble with Africa. To his horror, he has just found his dog, Baked Beans, in a tussle with a couple of wild honey badgers.
“My first impulse is to run to his rescue, save him from a mauling by these two savage creatures. But instead I stand and watch the game they are playing. A badger pounces on Baked Beans and pins him to the ground. The dog wriggles out from underneath and drops into a crouch. His curly tail is erect now, his head low, ears flattened against his skull. The badger stands still and waits for the dog to catapult himself towards him. They engage for a brief moment, then the dog breaks loose and runs as if in flight. But he stops in mid-stride, spins around and launches himself like a missile at the other cub. The first cub jumps high in the air and lands on both their backs, and they roll in the dirt again in a tight knot.”
Right from the start, we treated Badge with love and respect and in return we received his complete trust and devotion. Apart from the in-depth study by Keith and Colleen Begg (see below), little is known about this small, secretive animal. We were lucky enough to spend over 3500 hours following our cub on his journey back into the wild, and he kept us constantly fascinated by his intelligence, his versatility and his humour.
As a nocturnal animal, Badge was at his most energetic when we were ready for bed. So when he was about a year old, he began to spend more nights out on his own. We couldn’t keep him against his will, nor did we want to – a badger’s home range is huge, in the Kalahari around 600 – 800 square kilometers, and all his instincts were taking him out into his own world. We had to let him take his chances with other badgers, with hunters and their guns and snares, with leopards and with snakes, no matter how large or nasty.
By sharing his world with us, we were able to see it through Badger’s eyes. And he proved to us, time and time again, that far from being the meanest animal in the world, he had all the attributes we most admire in another human being – courage, loyalty, humour, determination and absolute honesty.
Robert Ruark got it horribly wrong, as have all the other so-called experts who have perpetuated the myth over the years. Honey Badgers don’t go for the groin, instead they capture your heart, and once you have got to know this charismatic little animal, you will never, ever forget him.

Website: - Colleen and Keith Begg

Books: Wild Honey by Bookey Peek published in the UK and Max Press; in South Africa by Penguin Books – and elsewhere: a sequel to All the Way Home by Bookey Peek - published in the UK by Max Press; in South Africa by Penguin Books – and elsewhere.
Films/DVDs: Honey Badger - Raising Hell by Richard Peek - distributed by National Geographic TV International Snake Killers: Honey Badgers of the Kalahari by Keith and Colleen Begg - distributed by National Geographic and Badger Quest: Honey Hunters of Niassa by Keith and Colleen Begg

Next Week: The Week Of The Salmon

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Bad Bad Badger


Author Robert Ruark described the HB thus: “It kills for malice and for sport and it does not go for the jugular – it goes straight for the groin.” According to one famous old story, a badger will bring down animals as large as buffaloes by biting them in the genitals until they bleed to death.
As I wrote in my diary the night before we brought the baby Badger home: “What little sleep I had that night was punctuated by nightmares. Our poor old Nandi dog torn to ribbons in her own house, the bushbuck flying through the fence with a salivating badger on their tails – and, worst of all, my husband and son leaving home to joining the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir. I’ve really done it this time.”
We were regaled with horror stories by our friends and the staff at Stone Hills. Honey badgers rumbling in to steal the barbequed steaks from under the noses of a bunch of terrified picnickers. And the badger who attacked the back wheel of a car in the Kruger National Park. When the growling finally stopped, the couple took off at high speed, stopping only when they reached a picnic spot a good few kilometers further down the road. But when the driver’s wife went to open the boot, she met an enraged badger, covered with dust, who had been bumping along behind them, his teeth locked onto the rubber flap over one back wheel.
‘Did you know that honey badgers can count?’ Scout Richard Mabhena asked me one day.
I said that I didn’t know but I wasn’t at all surprised.
‘If you watch while he is raiding a beehive,’ he went on, ‘you will see that he takes the combs and keeps hiding them close by. When the pile gets big enough, you can go in quietly and steal a couple; but you can only do this twice before you must run away. Mantswane will soon ask himself: why is this pile not getting any bigger? And he will count the combs and know that you have been stealing. If he finds your tracks, beware! He’ll catch up with you wherever you are!’
‘And then what happens, Mabhena?’ I asked.
‘There’s war!’
Is this the truth? Well, let’s say partially. Badgers may be affected by rabies and this could account for some of very uncharacteristic behaviour. Stealing steaks off the barbeque? Certainly. A badger’s determination to get his own way can be compared with that of a two year old in a sweet shop.
But “treacherous”, “attacks without provocation” and similar descriptions from the reference books? Absolute nonsense.
We know better than that!


Wednesday, 24 March 2010


He quickly became a celebrity, particularly amongst the children at our local primary school. We give weekly conservation classes to the Grade 6’s and 7’s and they knew all about Mr. Badger’s adventures, even though he was almost always fast asleep somewhere amongst the kopjes when the kids visited Stone Hills. At the farewell dinner for the Grade 7’s at the end of each year, each child receives a certificate with the words: Zimbiwe Ngulinda: Be like the Badger – be strong, be brave, be clever.
People would visit us just for the privilege of getting to know him. But they tended not to stay around for long thanks to Badge’s foot fetish, as it’s hard to get going with a furry 10kg lump wrapped tightly around your ankle. And of course Badge had his own agenda, when you lifted your foot to try and dislodge him, he would quietly slip his claws into your shoe and then whip it off and disappear at a gallop. As well as shoes, he loved hats, gloves, jackets, anything that belonged to someone else, who would be sure to make a satisfactory fuss when he stole it. The only way to retrieve such an item was to ignore him, but then he would try and trip you up with it, or run backwards in front of you, waving it up and down like some demented cheerleader, and challenging you to try and get it away. And these were the only occasions that you had to be a bit respectful of those formidable teeth.
Most of the time we spent laughing. One of Badge’s favourite tricks was to tiptoe up to the back of a warthog hole in the early morning, when they were still asleep. He’d go right to the edge, and push a little bit of soil into the entrance – then wait, and if nothing happened, he’d do it again. And again, till the poor hogs burst out of the hole convinced that something was about to eat them.
And then there were his hunting techniques – if he was after a rodent with a few escape holes at his burrow. Badge would lie down and put his muzzle at the main entrance, with his back feet dangling over the other holes. Then he would begin to wag his tail and wiggle his feet, to try and panic the unfortunate rodent into rushing out – straight into Badge’s mouth. Sometimes he got so excited that he would eat them whole.
Every day with Badge was an adventure.

Tomorrow Bad bad badger stories!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Growing Up

A badger cub may stay with his mother for up to two years. Why? Well, for his first three months, he is utterly weak and helpless, so his mother keeps him hidden in the den. But even after that, he’s still hopelessly wobbly and takes months to become coordinated. He has a lot to learn – snakes climb trees, so Badger must too, and this doesn’t come naturally to a clumsy cub. Rodents live in holes, so he must learn the techniques of trapping them and digging them out. Lizards and scorpions must be winkled out from under rocks and this takes patience and skill.
Then there are other predators like lion and leopard who are quick to take advantage of his small size and poor eyesight.

As human foster parents, we couldn’t teach Badge a thing, but we could protect him during this very vulnerable time, which meant catching him as he fell out of trees, often headfirst, and snatching him away from particularly dangerous snakes till he was ready to take them on.
We could be a part of all his early adventures as we followed him back into the wild, but what we couldn’t provide was interaction with his own kind. And that’s where he would be at his most vulnerable. Young males have to be taught to know their place and this
is not an easy lesson for someone with a big ego and plenty of attitude.
Even as a tiny cub, our young badger seemed determined to grow into his fearsome reputation, but there are good reasons for this. Read on to find out more!

Extract from my book “Wild Honey”:
“I was sitting in the shade abluting the baby Badger a few days after he had arrived, while Rich was paying the staff.
‘Ruthie!’ I called, spotting our cook at the garden gate. ‘Could you sit with him while I go inside? He’s very nervous if he’s left on his own.’
Moments later, I heard an escalating roar as though someone had fired up a Harley Davison in the backyard. Hell’s Badger, who could barely stand, was up on trembling legs quivering with fury. Eyes popping, pink mouth wide open, tail up and bristling like a toilet brush, he bawled his rage inches away from a grey-faced Ruthie. And there was an appalling smell around him as Badger’s anal glands kicked in for the first time. It was one of those paralysing moments when something totally unexpected happens and no one knows how to react. Bank notes blew off the veranda table as Rich sat open-mouthed staring at what we had believed was our helpless orphan. It was a bit like tiptoeing into the nursery to visit your newborn, only to discover Dracula waiting in the cot.
Eventually, when he didn’t show any sign of tiring, I squatted down next to him and very gingerly put out my hand. Only when it was right by his nose did the roars begin to subside into growls and finally into pathetic squeaks. Then suddenly Baby Badger was with us again, collapsed and shuddering in my arms. The huge surge of adrenalin was spent and so was he.

“Honey Badgers don’t like surprises”, I read in one of our many reference books. We could vouch for that. Never again did any of us approach Badger without first calling his name and then slowly putting a reassuring hand to his nose.
The only way to understand this Jekyll and Hydish behaviour is to consider what the HB lacks. As a youngster, and except at very close range, his eyesight seems pretty hopeless. He is small and far less powerful and swift than lion and leopard, his traditional enemies. And he’s generally solitary: apart from females and their cubs, the badger can’t rely on anyone else to look out for him.
However, despite all these shortcomings, the Badger trots brazenly through the bush as if he’s invincible. Why? Because he’s got attitude - and plenty of it.
Badgers don’t run, they confront, and through sheer nerve, very often put their enemies to flight. They’ve even been seen squaring up to sinister looking tree trunks that weren’t there when they last looked.”

Tomorrow Life With A Badger

Monday, 22 March 2010


1. Thick skull and dense bones: An HB is built for punishment – Mr Badger waskicked on the head by a giraffe when he was very young. The blow that wouldhave killed any other animal left him with a slight headache and a lesson learned.When Badgers climb trees, often they don’t bother to climb down again. It’s muchquicker to fall straight out and usually onto your head. Strong bones are essentialwhen dealing with large and strong mammalian prey like hyrax, and the young of porcupine and warthog.

2. Loose, thick, rubbery skin
that fits a bit like a wetsuit: A great defence. A badger can turn almost 180 degrees within his skin. And when he is attacked, the HB will offer his foe the back of his neck where the skin is thickest, enabling him to swivel within his skin and deliver a nasty bite to the attacker’s throat.

3. A natural resistance to poisons:
Essential when his favourite food could otherwise either bite or sting him to death. For reasons that are not clearly understood, honey badgers (and some of their relatives) are able to recover from the bites of deadly poisonous snakes, like the puff adder and the cobra. They can also sustain numerous bee stings, but have been know to die when trapped in a commercial hive. They are also capable of dealing with scorpions, even the most poisonous types.

4. Focus and determination:
A badger’s motto is : If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again. Nothing can deter him once he has made up his mind. Failure is not a badger option.

5. Courage: An HB will think of nothing of appropriating a leopard or lion kill, and fights between leopards and badgers are not uncommon. Sometimes the badger is the winner!

6. Other defences: A large, crushing jaw and strong teeth, plus formidable, 4cm long foreclaws. Ideal for digging, ripping into beehives and tearing up the furniture in your house or the upholstery of your car. We speak from experience…

7. An awesome sense of smell:
A badger is able to detect prey like beetle grubs or scorpions 40 cm below the ground.

8. An awesome smell of his own: Like his relative the skunk, a frightened or defensive badger may release a foul-smelling secretion from his anal glands.

9. Intelligence, of the highest order:
HB is a lateral thinker. When hunting rodents, he fills in all but one of their escape holes either with earth or leaves, then waits in ambush at the one he has left open. To catch a scorpion or a lizard hiding under a stone, he will carefully lift one side of it and then drop it onto his prey to stun it. If one technique doesn’t work, he’ll stop, sit back and work out an alternative. For instance, when Badge couldn’t get a tortoise of out its shell, he tried drowning it instead (which didn’t work!). And as a last resort, he was never averse to asking for our help.

10. A sense of humour: Something that was always evident in Badge’s relationship with us and with our dog Nandi. He adored being the centre of attention. And he always loved to play, even when he was on his own.

A little chap with the heart of a lion!

Tomorrow: Growing Up

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Born Free Event, London March 18th

I had the opportunity to meet Lauren Smith (pictured here) who is my marketing contact at Born Free and who has been wonderful in providing all the information about the featured animals for the book and checking out all the organisations we have contacted. We discussed various things including that the book will be on their website and we hope to have a feature about the book in their newsletter that has a huge distribution.

Pictured here is the cover artist Colin Wyatt with Virginia McKenna

And me, Debz next to the wonderful Virginia McKenna (I'm looking fat as usual and with red wine in my hand! I hate pictures of me!)

About Us By Bookey Peek

We are presently hiding away amongst the great granite kopjes of our wildlife sanctuary in Zimbabwe’s north-western Matobo Hills, hoping that the current wave of land invasions will pass us by. We have lived in this magical corner of Africa for twenty years and every day is an unending source of wonder and joy, despite the constant uncertainty about the future. In another life, I trained and practiced for a few painful years as a solicitor, but my real love is the bush and writing, for which our sanctuary Stone Hills has given me endless material. My first book, All the Way Home was published in the UK and elsewhere, and its sequel Wild Honey was released in 2009.

Richard, my husband, is a biologist, photographer and latterly, a film maker. His film Honey Badger: Raising Hell was distributed by National Geographic TV Int. in 2009, and he is now working on the sequel. We are both professional guides. Throughout the years, we have raised numerous orphaned and injured animals, and we’ve discovered that every one of them, no matter how small or apparently insignificant, will teach you something, once it opens the doors to its own world. But you can’t just march in uninvited, you have to earn the keys to that door with love, understanding, respect - and patience, lots of it. And when you are rewarded with the trust of that animal, there is no greater privilege on earth.

Two particularly notable personalities have been our warthog, Poombi, whom we raised and successfully released back into the wild (much to her indignation). The other was Mr. Badger (or Badge) an orphaned honey Badger - a species with an horrific reputation. One writer called them “the meanest animals in the world”, and in African tradition, Mantswane is more to be feared than a leopard or a lion. In fact, we found the exact opposite. No one could have been more loveable or devoted to his foster family. These days, we share our home with an ancient banded mongoose, two baby squirrels, two eagle owls and a family of bushbuck, with plenty of other non-human visitors who wander in and out of the house at will. Humans have to wait to be invited!

Like the Born Free foundation, we too believe very strongly that wild animals belong in the wild – and that the preservation of their habitat is as crucial as the preservation of the animals themselves.

Life in Africa:

Tomorrow what makes the Honey Badger so special...

Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Week of the Honey Badger hosted by Bookey Peek (posted by Debz)

“The most fearless animal in the world” – according to the Guinness Book of Records”

Description: A small, mainly nocturnal mammal, powerfully built, with no external ears, a broad muscular back, bowlegged front legs and formidable foreclaws that may grow up to 40mm in length.

Colouration: Black below with a mantle of white to grey grizzled thick hair extending from the tail base to a cap over the top of the head. Two whiter stripes underlining the sides separate the black underparts from the white or grey grizzled mantle.

Breeding: cub is usually reared in the wild, two have been recorded in captivity.


Family: Mustelidae – related, amongst others, to the otter, marten, polecat, skunk, weasel and other badgers.
Scientific name: Mellivora capensis (honey eater of the Cape)
Other common name: Ratel – an Afrikaans name that probably refers to the rattling roar made by an angry badger. Mantswane or Ulinda - Nbebele.
Size: total length: 780 to 1020mm; shoulder height: 230 to 300mm
Weight: Male: 9.0 to 14.0 kg; female: 5.5 to 10.0kg
Pound for pound, badgers are reckoned to be the most powerful creatures in Africa.

Diet: An opportunistic carnivore, with a passion for bee larvae, honey, scorpions and snakes, no matter how dangerous. Will, however, take on and kill much larger prey that burrow or use existing holes, like porcupine or warthog, exploiting opportunities where their young may be left unattended. Hyrax, leguaans (monitor lizard) and all reptiles including tortoises, toads, many insect species and dung beetles in their brood balls, some fruit, birds’ eggs. Carrion, scavenged from lion, leopard and cheetah kills also forms a large part of their menu.

More Photos:

General distribution: The greater part of sub-Saharan Africa through the Middle East to southern Russia, and eastwards as far as India and Nepal.
Habitat: Wide tolerance from semi-desert to rainforest.
Status: Near threatened in southern Africa and Morocco. Endangered in Saudi Arabia, protected in India. CITES App.III in Botswana and Ghana.

Directly persecuted by bee-keepers, poultry and sheep farmers. Indirect persecution through indiscriminate poisoning and trapping for jackal and caracal and by hunters. Trade for traditional medicine. Bushmeat in Zambia.

More tomorrow...

Friday, 19 March 2010

Animals and the Travel Industry

I strongly urge anyone who cares about animals to think very seriously about how animals play a role in your holiday experiences. Zoos? Wildlife parks? Posing for photos (animals as props), animal shows, animal attractions, animals in casinos, sea world... we've all done it and we've all read that they have the animal's interest at heart, the zoo says it does loads for conservation. DON'T BE FOOLED.
What about wildlife holidays? Is it okay for loads of jeeps to get really close to wild animals- take the perfect photo... that's okay though right? These are not captive animals... but what are you doing to the environment? Affecting the animals? There are good and bad tours and we have to be responsible and consider this aspect.

Born Free are worling very closely with ABTA for the sustainable holiday. They want to rule out the kind of animal attractions we have all seen and dare I say it even enjoyed. But at what cost?

Last night I attended a debate hosted by Donnal McKintyre (in the finals of the ice dancing last year) with panelists that included Patrick Woodhead (Antarctic explorer), Simon Calder travel TV writer and writer for the Independent, The ABTA CEO and the CEO ot TUI the travel company... oh and of course Virginia McKenna with a video link to her son, CEO of Born Free Will Travers who is currently at CITES fighting for rights for animals.

The message is very clear- it's about education. I know all of the authors and I should imagine the readers of GF will consider themselves animal lovers as I do very very much. But only last year I paid to go into the animal exhibit at the Mirage Hotel in Vegas. Sure I knew they were caged animals but I love animals and I wanted to see them. Besides they say they are conservation minded. The dolphins are not performing ones... yes but the animals are caged. The tiger paces (displacement behaviour) and the dolphins live in swimming pools. I won't go again. Not now. But millions do.

And yes I stood and gawped at the lion in the MGM grand. I knew it was wrong. I said it but I watched anyway- why? Because I am an animal lover. Hmmm...

And to top it all on the same trip I went to San Diego Zoo- it's huge, it does loads for conservation... it's okay because I love animals. Hmmmm... these are caged animals and I saw some of them pacing too. Maybe we all need to re-educate.

We think it's great to teach kids about animals... but as Virginia McKenna has said...and I quite agree "You do not learn about human behaviour watching a man in a prison cell."
You do not expect the Statue of Liberty that you are dying to see to be built in Manchester... London... Bangor... you go to it. I think we need to think the same about animals. But if we go to them- we have to do it responsibly.

In a survey by the BBC in 2004 the question was posed what the is the biggest thing you want to do before you die? Top answer: Swim with dolphins. I feel the same. But what Born Free pointed out that even swimming in the sea with dolphins these animals are being exploited and have been trained by food rewards. So perhaps this isn't good either. What sick children benefit from by the close contact with these animals might just be the feeling we all get being close to animals and maybe a relationship with a dog or a cat will be just as theraeutic.

I guess what I'm saying is we need to think.
My feeling is if you can't see an animal in the wild, best not to see it at all.

I was very moved by what was said last night and it really made me think about how this message needs to get across.

Rant ends but it is important so I wanted to share.

To find out more check out

And on a nice note Virginia McKenna said lovely things about the book and the diversity of the stories and is looking forward to meeting those of you that will be at Hay! I will upload a photo from last night when I get back to Wales!

Please do post your comments and get some thoughts going on this. Pass the link on to everyone! Debz
Although the horse, as a mammal, follows the basic design of all mammals and vertebrates, it evolved certain physical features ideally suited for its life on the high plains and steppes. Its specialities are lightning standing starts to escape sudden danger, speed, stamina, and the ability to rest, and even sleep, standing up.

The legs are proportionally long and light relative to the body size. There are no muscles below the knee and hock, and the feet are fairly small and light, particularly in fast types. Muscle is heavy, so the nearer it is to the source of movement (the shoulder and hip), and the less weight there is to be moved in those parts moving furthest (the lower limb), the faster the horse can go with the least energy consumption.

Rather like our own toenails, the horse’s hooves protect the delicate structure of the foot from injury. The horn of the hoof grows from the coronet down, and it takes roughly a year to grow from coronet to ground at the toe. Regular trimming is essential as many horses’ feet become soft in the field and can crack on hard, rough ground.

The horse has a crucial adaptation that enables it to rest and sleep, quite relaxed, while standing up, usually resting one hind leg at a time, with joints flexed, and weight on the toe. It has been shown that a horse uses about 10 per cent less energy standing up than when lying flat out.

Horse Needs

A horse’s personal wants are reasonable and simple. It wants to be physically comfortable and mentally content – and that is it.
Physical comfort depends on protection from the elements, lack of hunger and thirst, freedom of movement and lack of prolonged pain, discomfort, or sickness. Mental contentment results partly from feeling physically comfortable and partly from feeling safe, which involves social acceptance and space.
Although horses evolved as ‘outdoor’ animals, many show clearly that they do not want to be exposed to extreme weather. Horses vary from the thin-skinned, fine-haired to thick-skinned, woolly coated. All, however, use natural or artificial shelter when they need to – as long as they are not frightened off by, say, a bullying herd mate, a muddy or stony approach to the shelter, or a small, dark entrance or interior.
As well as meeting horses’ immediate personal needs, humans must attend to a number of other factors that contribute to horses’ longer-term, overall well-being. Horses need to be groomed, their shoes need to be checked daily, they need to be kept free from flies and their manure must be cleaned away.

Some pics to end:

Essential Features of Horses

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