Nocturnal Treasures

This blog has reported about squirrels, aardvarks, hedgehogs, moths, fairies, snakes, ghosts, oak and willow trees, dragons and knights, aardwolves, raccoons, hyenas, cats and bats, goblins and all manner of other creatures of the night.

While the supernatural ones can undoubtedly take care of them selves, Willow the Vampire has made it her business to defend the natural world and its denizens against mankind’s thoughtlessness, cruelty and plain stupidity. In Willow’s quest for allies to help her rescue Earth from dark forces of the underworld, my eleven-year-old heroine has already shown herself to be a staunch defender of the rights of animals.

Who could forget her making a smorgasbord of the research staff at Stinkforthshire’s very own Cosmetic Lab, where animal testing took on a new meaning, once Willow had sunk her fangs into the security guard?

Every day somewhere in the world some nocturnal treasure trove is plundered and its contents spoilt forever. From the rainforests in South America to the ancient woodlands of Britain, commerce and greed will always find an excuse to plunder nature’s treasure chest.

Once a species is lost, there is little we can do to get it back, be it a wildflower, a rare newt, a strange looking toad or a Red Panda. In J K Rowling’s series of Harry Potter books Hermione rightly spoke out for the rights of elves, the much put upon servants of wizards and Hogwart’s School of Wizardry. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy the Shire’s natural world is defended by the Hobbits, who’d give their lives to protect what truly matters in this world. In T H White’s The Once and Future King the young King Arthur is taught by Merlin what it takes to be another being, a different creature, seeing the world through somebody else’s eyes.

What seems to make sense in literature and what we agree is right and proper is just that much harder to follow in real life. Seeing an appeal on my Facebook account from Compassion in World Farming I feel ashamed that I frequently forget the cows in the fields, the chicken in the coop, the geese in their pen, the lambs being led to the slaughter.

Willow the Vampire might ask herself often, how she’d survive, if bloodsucking was no longer an option and humans became extinct – or were at least off the menu on moral grounds.

Why are we humans still eating meat, when our insatiable appetite for flesh forces poor farmers to clear more and more land so cattle can graze, fart and pollute the very air we breathe, only to be shipped in horrific life transports to the other end of the world, where animals are slaughtered under the most barbaric conditions?

Various experiments have shown that we can exist far more healthily on a meat free diet. Do we fear our blood will became even tastier for vampires, if we “taint” it with carrots, broccoli and all the other 5 healthy elements we’re supposed to have every day?

Admittedly, we would once again be a lot shorter, once the over-supply of protein stops. Monk-y-monk-boys from the 14th century were an awful lot smaller than the average Welsh woman is today – crusading knights would probably fit into a hoodie made for a ten-year-old today. The average Hollywood hunk would suddenly retail at just 5 ft, while the starved bimbos treading the Paris cat walk would look like every other vertically challenged dumpling the rest of us females see in the mirror every day.

Our obsession with meat-munching has reached such levels that celebrities drape themselves in raw flesh to gain attention and whole nations have become so fat they can no longer leave the house. Will we all start eating each other after Armageddon or Ragnarök has happened, like the French black comedy Delicatessen suggests (1991, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro directed)?

What will happen to vampires, if humans start eating humans and we return to our cannibalistic ways? Will a future encyclopaedia of animals mark them out as being extinct, along with the oak trees, the Red Pandas, the moths, the foxes, the aardvarks, the hedgehogs, the raccoons and even the snakes?

Adam and Eve have so much to answer for – not because they sought knowledge, but because they used it to exterminate the world.

(original artwork copyright Maria Thermann, animation: heathersanimation.com)

Why is Big Brother getting all the Attention?

Having established that Willow the Vampire is going to learn how to magically transform into a bat, an owl, a mole and a raccoon, possibly a beaver and a water vole, I’ve been looking around for something a little more exotic that would provide me with a good sub plot bubbling under the main thread of my story.

Only very skilled vampires – usually quite old ones – know how to transform into larger animals without a hitch. Wolves may be beyond Willow’s capabilities, but smaller creatures are fair game, if you pardon the pun!

Unfortunately, Willow didn’t pay a great deal of attention when she was taught at vampire infant school, what vampires need to do to shed their bodies and become another being without losing themselves in the animal’s own personality and its distinct characteristics. As you might expect there will be some fun moments in her journey of discovery, where things don’t go according to plan.

While moles and raccoons are rather cute, they are, however, fairly mundane as animals in the rural Stinkforthshire landscape go. Today’s candidate for Willow to try out her magical vampire transformation techniques is something rather special: the Red Panda. I’ve yet to come up with a good reason for her to meet a Red Panda in Stinkforthshire-upon-Avon, a village with just 5,000 inhabitants, but something will spring to mind, no doubt.

The Red Panda is not so famous as its black and white, much larger “brother” who’s always in the limelight. Every zoo in the world with the necessary £1,000,000 of cash required to maintain a Giant Panda in the style it’s become accustomed to, is trying to persuade China’s government to part with one of these cuddly celebrities – but who is paying good money to see the gorgeous Red Panda, the only bear with a long tail?

Unfortunately, my stupid camera ran out of batteries just when I was trying to take pictures of the cutest little Red Panda at Leipzig Zoo, so I’ve had to substitute pictures from two of my encyclopaedias (picture credits: DK Children’s Encyclopaedia of Animals and The Encyclopaedia of Animals – A Complete Visual Guide, Weldon Owen).

Doesn’t he remind us of our little friend, the raccoon? The Red Panda has similar black and white markings in his face and sports a coat of long, coarse hairs that are augmented by an extra dense undercoat to keep the little guy from freezing in the icy cold weather of its mountainous habitat, where he lives at high altitude in territories stretching from Nepal to Myanmar and West China.

Their superficial resemblance to raccoons once placed them into that family grouping, but the Red Panda, or Ailurus fulgens as its officially known, belongs to the bear family (Ursidae) as one of its smallest members and it’s genetically closest to the Giant Panda.

The Red Panda is nocturnal and sleeps during the day high in the trees, before coming down at night to munch on bamboo shoots, birds’ eggs, roots and fruit he finds on the ground. Sometimes the Red Panda even hunts for very small mammals.

Red Panda

Red Panda (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Red Panda b

Red Panda b (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He has long and very sensitive whiskers, so he can move easily in the dark and find his food more quickly in the dense bamboo forests. He’s a very good climber and has long, sharp claws with which to hold on to branches and snuggle down for a long day’s snooze.

From paw to shoulder Red Pandas stand 65 cm tall and can grow up to 48 cm in length with a weight of around 6 kg (12 pounds) each, not much heavier than my fat cat used to be! Just like his much bigger “brother” the Giant Panda, the Red Panda is sadly also on the endangered list, mostly due to loss of habitat.

Red_Panda

Red_Panda (Photo credit: anirbanbiswas_c8)

If you had your own private zoo of nocturnal animals, which one would you make the star of the show?