Saturday, 23 April 2016
Friday, 22 April 2016
Veterinarian & human extraordinaire.
50 years of true service to the animal world, the animal people, and to his animal-loving family. Four siblings all who care significantly for animals as a result of the way we were raised. To respect life. Because that is who our father his.
Our father is more than a vet. He is a compassionate man. A vet who took his oath to care for animals to the greatest level, inspiring those close and around him to do the same. Caring so deeply. Working so hard. Ensuring that he always did his best. He has such depth and wisdom. He has always had a following of people in his life who he wisely guides. His generosity is boundless.
He has inspired his children way more than can be imagined. We are pretty sure there are not many people who are so fortunate to have this example of humble love to follow. We are equally unsure whether we can truly honour his example by duplicating his consistently magnanimous actions.
We have incredible memories of my father’s career. He never separated his work from us. We just went along for the ride. We were a part of his journey. We never felt excluded. We felt able and enthusiastic. These feelings do not come from nowhere. Enthusiasm is God-like energy which we only experience in the presence of another who is feeling the same. Our father is an enthusiastic man.
Here are just a few of the rich memories of our father working as a vet and a father at the same time. Looking over his shoulder from the back seat of his car while he drove on a bumpy farm road towards an ailing cow, pig, horse or sheep. When the telephone would ring there was always the possibility of climbing into his car and accompanying him on a call out. When we had reached the farm we would be told to sit on his black suitcase while he worked. And we would respectfully listen. Sometimes he would don his overalls and black boots and we would watch the miracle of an assisted birth. Sometimes have the good fortune to dry off the new-born with hay while he scrubbed clean in a bucket of soapy water that a farmer’s wife had delivered. Picking blackjack off his socks at night while we listened to the radio in front of the fire. Seeds he had collected as he tracked through the veld to look after farm animals. A subtle smell of cowpat melding into the heat. Sitting on fences watching herds of cattle being tested for TB. One at a time. All day we would be entertained with his calm methodical workings. At home, doorbell ringing from the bottom of our home signalling a pet in need at his surgery which is attached to our home. We would follow him like his puppies. Sometimes all four of us. He would patiently work with his family surrounding him while he gently attended to the animals. Without fail either the doorbell would ring or he would be called out to a farm every Christmas morning as we were about to open our Christmas presents. We would anticipate the interruption with light humour, ever increasing the gift excitement. And when it happened, the tending to the animal would once again be a family affair. Scoffing cold Christmas dinner on return as a satisfied result.
And that is just a small part of the legend of our father. An inspirational man because there was never an expectation of glory or affirmation. Make no mistake he is no pushover. He has a very strong sense of justice. And this is why he never ever turned a client away. When they knocked on his door in the late nights after being turned away by other vets for a lack of funds he graciously did what needed doing for the patients in pain.
An old school vet. No fancy equipment. But reputable gut instincts that honed as a result of needing to be intuitive. His humble manner and ability to diagnose with his hands are noteworthy to this day. Other vets have turned to him when their modern day ultrasound equipment has failed and he has effectively diagnosed the concern. Certainly this is a result of his extensive experience, but that kind of insight only comes to one dedicated to his vocation.
We had the richest childhoods possible. And for some of his grandchildren he has served as the same example. Living next door, they would disappear to spend time with John. In the blessed company of animals.
We all inherited his love for animals and all have conservation duty running in our veins. Inbred. He would come home with "surprises" - holding his hands behind his back – and out would come a rescue; whether it was a tortoise he'd picked up in the road, a hare, an abandoned kitten needing to be hand-reared, a bird. The presentation was accompanied with a feeling was that he was presenting us with an amazing gift. Which of course he was - he transferred that compassion to us. We would all chip in to raise or nurture the little animal. Dogs and cats became a part of the family. Or he would identify that compassion in many of his clients as well - and matched dogs and cats that were destined for euthanasia with the perfect new home.
That's all about work. The man is a legend in so many more ways. He is an example to us, his kids, in so many more ways. A beacon. An example to aim towards. We may never achieve his generosity. His principled real honesty. His humble graciousness. His unconditional care. His enormous undented work ethic.
How does one thank someone for something that is a part of them? How does one acknowledge the good that we have only learned to appreciate since we have left home. We were so fortunate to grow up in a place where the world was simply respected – without question. There is no greater gift that one can be given at a foundation level. And we know there are many many people who he has touched in the same way. His accounts are testament to this. So many people owe him money over the years. He cared for their animals over and over even though they owe him money. He was not working for people. He was working for love.
Thank you Dad. On behalf of every animal you have touched. Thank you for being the guiding light. It is time to celebrate an incredible dedication. It is time that you are thanked. And we know that you care so much, so we know that the four of us combined with all the others in the world could possibly match the amount you have given. So energetically, we all thank you. With all the love possible. Your retirement is blessed.
The penguins are now back home in the nest after a lovely long rest out at
After two months of feeding the chicks around the clock, the adults were
exhausted and under-weight. So for the last few weeks Promises and the other
adults have been out at sea eating as much food as they can catch to recover
the weight they lost.
Now that they are fully rested and fattened up, the penguins have returned
back home to the nest where Promises will remain for the next month or so.
Really Promises would prefer to be heading off to Brazil for the winter
migration, but first the penguins have to change their feathers, and they
have to remain out of the water for three to four weeks in order to do that.
All penguins change their feathers once a year. The feathers are very
They keep the cold seawater away from their skin so that the penguins do not
freeze to death in the cold seawater. But to work properly the feathers have
to be in good condition, and during the year the feathers gradually get
damaged and eventually need to be replaced.
Juveniles and adults that have not reared chicks change their feathers in
January, and leave the colony for their winter migration during February or
March. Adults that have successfully reared chicks, such as Promises, are
considerably delayed in changing their feathers because they first have to
finish rearing the chicks.
They then have to spend time recovering their weight in preparation for a
long period without food.
Recovering weight first is very important, because the weight that they gain
and loose is body fat, which is the penguins' energy store. People and
domestic animals, such as dogs and cats, are virtually unique in gaining
In the wild gaining weight is an important aid to survival. Animals gain
weight when there is a surplus of food, so as to provide a reserve of energy
for times when food is difficult to find. This is especially important for
penguins that go through periods without food each year as part of their
The change of feathers takes about three weeks in all. During that time
Promises cannot go into the water at all, so the penguins have to go without
food for at least three weeks.
It is not just a case of three weeks without food. The penguins also have to
use up valuable reserves of protein, energy and minerals in order to
synthesise the new set of feathers. If the penguins were not well fed prior
to beginning the process, they would be at risk of starvation before the new
feathers had finished growing.
Thankfully that rarely happens. Penguins instinctively know to build up
their body weight prior to changing the feathers, and penguins are used to
going through natural cycles of increasing and loosing weight. It is all
part of the life of a penguin.
The new feathers begin growing underneath the old feathers, and push the old
feathers out, rather like our teeth do. The old feathers fall out, leaving
the penguins looking like worn out soft toys (see the attached photo).
In the photo you can see how the old feathers fall out, and the new feathers
grow underneath where the old feathers have been lost. The new feathers are
not yet fully formed, so they are still short and fluffy, but when they are
fully grown the new coat is sleek and shiny.
The old feathers usually fall out around the chest and tummy to begin with
because that is where the penguins can reach easily with their beaks to
preen. Preening means grooming the feathers, and it helps the old feathers
to fall out and helps to reduce the itching. It also helps to align the new
feathers so that they lock together to form a tight waterproof layer.
The penguins have a gland near to the tail that produces a waterproof wax,
and during the preening the penguins spread this wax through the feathers to
make the feathers waterproof. That is why the fully grown penguin feathers
look shiny, and why water runs off the penguin instead of soaking into the
The penguin behind the bush in the photo has lost virtually all the old
feathers, except for the top of his head and around the neck. These are the
areas where the penguins cannot reach with their beaks to preen, and so they
are the last areas to loose the old feathers.
When the new feathers have finished growing, Promises will set off on the
winter migration up the coast of Patagonia towards Brazil. I will write to
you again when the penguins leave.
Our work to protect penguins in the Falkland Islands is featured in a new
film that premieres on 14th April. Until the release I only have a link to
the Spanish trailer
Later this year the film will be shown to a wider audience on public and
cable television, and it should then be possible to view the complete film
I will let you know when I have news about that. Other documentaries about
our work by Paramount Pictures "Wild Things" (2000), BBC TV "Explore" (2009)
and Mare TV "Feuerland" (2005 in German) are shown at the bottom of our web
Thanks to all our supporters for making this work possible
Best wishes from Mike