ANIMAL TEACHERS: The human animal is only interested in eating them, beating them, or running from them
EVERYWHERE she went, the brood would follow. She would scratch the ground with her claws, then cluck boisterously to signal that breakfast or lunch was ready. And the chicks would scramble to the spot and peck and scratch furiously. Then the hen would move to another spot, and the chicks would follow. And the ritual would be repeated.
My family reared chickens right up to my teenage years. I loved to watch hens lay eggs and would do my best to make it comfortable for them, by placing lots of straw, when they were ready to hatch the eggs.
What a joy it was to see the little fellows hatch. The mother was always protective. She would cluck at anyone who went too close to her children, often extending her wings to push them underneath, away from harm. As long as they were little, she would never allow them off on their own.
I was reminded of this when I read of the recent cases of three children going missing.
Five-year-old Nurul Nadirah Abdullah, or Dirang, went to a grocery shop beside her flat at Bandar Seri Alam, Johor, on March 1 and never returned. Her charred remains were found in Masai, about 20km from her flat, on March 8.
On March 10, Wan Hazim Mohd Khadhir, 7, wandered out of his house in Bandar Sunway, Selangor, unnoticed by the adults. Fortunately, he was spotted wandering along the Kesas Highway about eight hours later by an alert driver, Y.P. Chong.
Irfan Danish Rosdi, 2, was not so lucky. His family had taken him for an outing at Taman Titiwangsa on March 14. He had wandered off and fallen into the lake.
I won't blame the parents, for no parent would want his or her child to die. We all want the best for our children. However, things can and do go wrong.
Parenting calls for vigilance. And it is this very trait that chickens -- which are more intelligent than we assume -- can teach us.
Many urban children today know only one chicken -- Kentucky Fried Chicken. They have not held a live chicken or heard the squawk of a hen in distress or even the crowing of a rooster.
There is much we can learn from chickens, and other animals too.
Unfortunately, the human animal is only interested in eating them or beating them or running from them.
For instance, animals in the wild kill only when hungry or when they think they are in danger.
Humans kill for the pettiest of reasons: out of jealousy, out of anger, for revenge, for family honour, for sport, and worse, over whose religion is mightier. Surely homo sapiens are the laughing stock of the animal kingdom.
Perhaps we can mitigate this by picking up parenting tips from animals. How many of us have seen a baby monkey clinging to its mother as the seemingly unconcerned senior simian swings from tree to tree? It's a fascinating sight.
And have you seen a dog or a cat lift its baby in its mouth, ever so gently, as it moves from one place to another?
The kangaroo comes equipped with a pouch for carrying its baby for up to nine months; and it rarely leaves the Joey alone.
Wild animals, as you would discover if you watch Discovery Channel or National Geographic, usually take their children along with them. A wolf pack keeps its young in the centre for protection; female elephants help take care of the calves; dolphin calves swim very close to their mother; rhinos take their calves along wherever they go, until the mother is about to give birth again; and bear cubs remain with their mother until the mother is in oestrus again.
I am not advocating a rush to the zoo to copy the parenting behaviour of animals. No. But there are aspects of animal behaviour that can remind us of our natural instincts, much of which has been numbed by the cacophony of modernity and the scramble for economic survival.
Certainly I wouldn't want anyone to emulate a mother panda, for a panda which gives birth to two cubs abandons one so that she can nurture the other and ensure it survives. And I know I would face the wrath of men if I were to suggest that they look to the seahorse for guidance, for it is the male that gets pregnant and gives birth.
But if you have observed animals, you would know that they are almost always alert to danger, even when supine. Let's learn vigilance from them. After all, humans have something in addition to instinct: the brain. And since it seems to be underemployed in most spheres of our life, perhaps we should use it more, at least in parenting.
"Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals." -- George Orwell