A monstrous Creature suited for a Cull?

Badger

Badger (Photo credit: Tatterdemalion!)

We are back to strictly nocturnal animals, creatures of the night, which Willow the Vampire might encounter on her nightly ramblings through rural Stinkforthshire. Another member of the mustalid family, the badger, is a natural follow-on from my last blog post, since Badger is, of course, a heroic creature in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows, my favourite English language book.

The usual governmental idiots, who are quick to rush through new legislation, but much slower on the uptake of facts, tell us – without any evidence to prove their assertions – that badgers are harmful to cattle because badgers have nothing better to do than lurk outside a farm, sneak into cowsheds and fields the moment the farmer’s back is turned and pass on bovine TB to cows. Could perhaps bad livestock husbandry on the side of the farmer be blamed for cows contracting the illness?

No matter how many vets sign petitions and state categorically that badgers are not to blame, the monstrous creatures that are politicians threaten a mass cull of badgers in the UK to take place this autumn.

When one complains to an MP, all one gets back in response is a letter with nonsense from the Ministry of Fools, which typically doesn’t know which day of the week it is, let alone know anything about animals or care about their welfare. Given the EC subsidies rammed down the pockets of farmers when they lose livestock, one would have thought they’d be quite content with a badger conspiracy to wipe out cows. They have in fact, made around £1 billion in compensation in a decade – so one could allege it has been in farmers’ interest to manufacture evidence against badgers!

Badgers spend most of the day underground, where they live in setts or burrows. Their diet consists mostly of small animals, fruit, roots and earthworms. They have excellent sense of smell, can dig well with their powerful fore-paws and claws and have powerful jaws with which to crush and munch their food.

Title: Badger Baiting, London, circa 1824.

Title: Badger Baiting, London, circa 1824. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Badgers are also known for being courageous and ferocious fighters, which brings us to the other monstrous creature that should most definitely be culled: the disgusting people who delight in badger baiting with dogs, despite the fact that this has been against the law since 1835. Every year, many setts are wiped out, dogs are killed and badgers horribly maimed and tortured before they finally die a miserable, painful death.

Convictions of such people are few and far between and even when they do get caught and convicted, the punishment reflects in no way the suffering they caused to dogs and badgers. Put such cowardly men in a pen with a few hungry vampires and see how they’d like it to be ripped apart!

All badgers have a small head, which is typical of the mustalid family, and a squat, stocky body with short legs. Their outer fur is rather coarse and their heads are market with black and white stripes that are meant to protect them at night, when they come out to forage. Far from being grumpy and unsociable as portrayed by Kenneth Grahame, badgers are sociable and playful animals. Adults and their young come out at dusk to play at the entrance of their sett, which makes dusk the perfect time to go badger watching with kids.

American Badger

American Badger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These rather large mustalids can live up to 12 years and their habitats stretch from Europe to China and Japan. The Eurasian badger has a short, stubbly tail, but the Chinese ferret badger sports a long, bushy tail. The American badger has unaccountably large ears at the front of their head, while the other members of the badger family have far smaller ears that are set back from the forehead. The American badger is typically a solitary creature of the night, less inclined to fight, since it can dig itself a tunnel with lightning speed and vanish underground.

The Hog badger distinguishes itself by an elongated snout that has pig-like nostrils. In its habitat in North East India, China and South East Asia the Hog badger is sometimes killed by leopards and tigers, but it doesn’t go quietly and puts up quite a struggle, making them perhaps not the most favourite of prey for said cats!

The smallest, and probably cutest, member of the badger family is the climbing badger or Chinese ferret badger that comes out at night to forage for insects, frogs, fruit and small rodents. During the day it hides in rock crevices and underground burrows, but its long claws also allow it to climb trees and make a comfortable nest between branches.

Rat, Mole, Toad and Badger from Wind in the Wi...

Rat, Mole, Toad and Badger from Wind in the Willows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While Kenneth Grahame’s Badger helps his friends Mr Toad, Ratty and Mole to regain their self-confidence as well as Toad Hall, the wild badger living in forests and grasslands doesn’t make friends easily with other animals or humans, since it is rather shy. I’ve been fortunate to watch badgers in the wild on a number of occasions and have also seen badgers come into people’s gardens, when the homeowners left food out for the animals to find. It’s an amazing sight to see them snuffle up bread and fruit, chase each other playfully around the garden and have mock fights with each other (the badgers, not the homeowners, although on occasion…).

Willow the Vampire and her family wouldn’t think twice about culling people who treated animals like the badger with cruelty and prejudice. Perhaps we should think of culling monstrous politicians at the next ballot box…unless any of you know a few vampires who can do it for us before autumn 2012?

Who’s that Weasel?

I’m not a fan of Madonna but when trying to come up with a title for today’s blog, I just couldn’t help myself paraphrasing one of Madge’s song lyrics (Who’s that Girl).

Least weasel, stoat and European polecat

Least weasel, stoat and European polecat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the series headed Mustalids, the weasel features in this blog not just because my favourite English language book happens to be Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows!

You will probably recall how Mr Toad’s troubles worsened when he encountered ferrets and weasels and Toad Hall fell into their paws – no, I’m writing about the smallest of all mustalids, because just like the irrepressible spammers who have sent close to 600 spam messages to this blog site in less than a month, the weasel is a mysterious creature to whom we attribute all sorts of ill-spirited mischief.

Wikipedia tells me that in early modern Mecklenburg German people carried around weasel amulets believing such items had exceptional magic qualities and that weasels were best slaughtered between the 15th August and 8th September.

Well Wiki, I don’t know where you got this data from…but I grew up just around the corner from Mecklenburg and this is the first I’ve heard of it. There was no ritual weasel-slaying in our patch and my Dad, who was born in Mecklenburg and who’s not normally known to shrink away from a good, utterly idiotic superstition, has never worn or owned a weasel amulet either.

Caniformia

Caniformia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Never has one animal had so many roles to play as the much-maligned weasel! In some countries the weasel represents good fortune, in others it’s a sign of evil before a girl’s wedding or the bad omen that signifies sudden death, while in most farming communities weasels are regarded as chicken-killing-machines, vermin and thieving little so-and-sos. My Willow the Vampire thinks weasels are cute and are the victims of bad press, just like the blood-sucking fraternity.

So who’s that weasel, when it’s at home?

Weasels are carnivores like all other mustalids. Their coat is typically reddish to brown in colour, although the Malaysian weasel is unusual in its colourings: its body fur has a slightly darker colour than its head and it’s more golden in hue than red or brown.

Weasels grow to between 12 to 45 centimetres in length with elongated, agile bodies that have long tails. Weasels are very good at leaping and scampering about, given they have very short legs. Some weasel family members even sport a white winter coat in regions with regular snowfall. Weasels are exceptionally persistent hunters and will follow their prey into underground burrows und pursue them under snow. The only habitats they haven’t conquered so far are Australia, Antarctica and a few islands.

Despite their slight weight and slender bodies, weasels are remarkably strong and can carry up to half their own body weight in food. The smallest member of the Least Weasel family can weigh as little as 35 Gramm, while the largest weasel still only weighs in at 250 Gramm.

Weasels hunt mostly voles and mice. Although technically in competition for food, the weasel will often share its territory with larger members of the mustalid family like the stoat for example. By concentrating on food sources the stoat isn’t so keen on, the weasel has carved out a niche living for itself. Larger weasels might even tackle rabbits and generally won’t say no to Rat Alfresco either.

Long-tailed weasel ladies can give birth to at least six babies, typically in May, when there’s plenty of prey about. The mother teaches her offspring how to hunt and when they’re just 8 weeks old, they are ready to go out hunting for themselves. The weasel lives mostly a solitary life, only getting together with other weasels at mating time.

Writing this, it strikes me how often we use animals to describe people in a negative way: He had a ferrety face – what a weasel! – he weaselled out of the deal – he behaved like a pig – she looks like a warthog – he dances like a hippo on ice – did you see that dog on his arm?- what does the old cow think she’s doing?- you sly old dog – why are you so ratty today?

Why exactly do we attribute negative human character traits to animals – is it so the “human” in us doesn’t get too upset when others hold up a mirror and we don’t like what we see?

Just like we’re seemingly unable to decide what role we want the weasel to play – good or bad – we don’t seem to be able to make up our minds about vampires and werewolves either lately.

Having just read various review blogs on the subject of vampire romance and werewolves’ redeeming qualities, I feel our old perceptions of fantasy creatures are undergoing a renaissance-type enlightenment…perhaps good and evil isn’t quite as clear cut as we’ve been led to believe by our aged aunties, Sunday-school teachers and a staple diet of John Wayne westerns?

Do weasels ever get to wear the white Stetson or have humans condemned them to wear the villain’s black hat forever? Are weasels friend or foe?

Whatever the answer might be to the vampire/werewolf conundrum, the weasel cannot be either good or bad. It’s not a mustalid with a mission to devour or save Earth; it’s not a weasel with an attitude stealing the farmer’s chickens, because chicken rustling is all the rage in Wildwood Forest these days; nor is the weasel vermin to be exterminated simply because it’s in our way –

A stoat in winter pelage guarding a mountain h...

A stoat in winter pelage guarding a mountain hare carcass from a pair of least weasels (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, who’s that weasel? It’s a splendid little creature just trying to survive in an ever shrinking habitat.