Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Corucia Psychology

Been ruminating on zoology, zoos, natural history... We spent the last two days on our vacation going to every used book store in San Diego. Every store we went to I gravitated to the Natural History section. One book I didn't buy, but it looked very interesting, called Man and the Natural World: A History of Modern Sensibility.

I am going through an intense learning period right now. So I am rehashing all my ideas. And part of that is thinking about my slaves, my lizards. I am a slave-keeper. An overt slave keeper. Why? Because I tell myself that they would die in anyone's care sooner or later, so why not mine and I try to make it later. These animals were not brought here by me. But they exist here and if not in my home than in someone else's. So why not mine? Some of them may have been intentionally hunted, like the Schneider's skinks, I think. The Corucia were born in captivity, but their parents were probably byproducts of the logging (and possibly mining) industries. The Egernia were also born in captivity, but their parents were possibly collected by herpers and smuggled into captivity??? I believe I was told by the seller that his friend smuggled some back from Australia. Wow! And now they live in my house. In conditions that are so different from the outdoors.

Their only predator now is microbes and possibly a broken heart. It seems as though some animals can just get depressed in captivity and die as though of a broken heart. It think it was in that book, Man and the Natural World, the author, Keith Thomas, writes about how in zoos of the early 20th century, gorillas would often die within a week or two of being caught from extreme depression. There were accounts of gorillas just sitting in a corner of their enclosure, occasionally nibbling on a blade of straw, but refusing all food and drink and shielding their eyes from the stares of the people or just looking wistfully up at the sky and one morning being found face down dead. He notes a contrasting account from fifty years prior of a white hunter in Africa shooting his first gorilla. The hunter writes the description of the gorilla as if it were a devil. The might of the ferocity is impressed upon the reader and just before the gorilla mauls the hunter, he victoriously shoots the beast in the chest, whereupon it groans and grunts as it collapses, twitching for a minute even as the hunter is already upon it examining the face.

The author writes of the two accounts to illustrate how society's attitudes toward gorillas had changed so drastically in fifty years, but perhaps it also illustrated the devastating effects of captivity upon wild animals' brains, and thus the animals themselves. It seems as though the gorilla in captivity died of a broken heart. An immense loss, an immense grief. Captivity.... does that. Would a wild gorilla ever exhibit such behavior? Shutting down and not eating? It almost seems as if the ones that eventually "thrived" in captivity suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. Perhaps, they believed, since their captors fed them and interacted with them that they actually cared about them. Perhaps since they didn't kill them, they actually liked them. Gorillas have been killed by humans for hundreds of years, probably. So they were probably expecting to die. But when they were kept alive, did they feel grateful to their captors?

Cats and dogs generally choose to be captive. So when they get abused it is sad because they continue to stick around. Most reptiles do not choose to be captive. Very few will stay if given the opportunity to leave. I think snakes will leave because their brain is always on search mode. Lizards are on search mode too, but flight mode is a powerful motivator in lizards. I think once a lizard loses flight mode then it has chosen to live with you. As long as they have flight mode I think more about their separation from the homeland. Many lizards die in captivity without ever having moved beyond flight mode. Their brains are so simple and yet the emotional base of the brain is so basic, tied in with the olfactory part of the brain. I think the more relaxed we are the more relaxed they are. It's like a test, with a flighty lizard, how calm can you be. I think the lizards assume that all humans are hasty and will always make the first move. I like to stand next to the Corucia (the cage is at eye level) and just watch them until they flick a tongue. I find that the best way to do this is to act calm and curious myself. If I just think the word "curious" with a blank mind it is often enough to induce tongue-flicking. I picture the cascade of neural chemicals in their brain that is required for a tongue-flick and that usually produces a response. Often during these conversations I find myself imagining the Solomon Island rain forests, like a picture slide show in my mind. I find myself asking the universe, "Why? Why these animals? Why these creatures? Why Corucia zebrata? Thank you! Why a lizard keeper? Why a slave keeper? Were some slave keepers nice? Could a slave keeper die a happy man?" And I wonder if the Corucia will ever forgive humans for what they have done to their home and their families. Or is forgiveness just a human illusion? If it is a form of emotion, then it seems that there would be a root of that in the reptilian brain. Will the reptiles work with me to build a monument to skinks?

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