I haven’t had time to write very much on Sparrow Chat of late as I’ve been busy on other projects. That will soon be rectified. I have managed to keep track of your comments and other writing.
One of my good blogging pals today sent me an article from a British newspaper. It concerned a young heifer found wandering round a field with the drum from an old washing machine stuck over her head, no doubt the result of natural bovine curiosity as to what was inside, and whether it was edible.
While the story undoubtedly has its lighter side, one has to stop a moment and consider what would have happened to the beast if human intervention had not come to the rescue? It may well have died.
After many years with the British RSPCA, it became second nature for me to wash out, or crush, old food cans before discarding them. Taking a pair of scissors to the plastic rings used for holding six-pack drink-cans is also a habit I developed, having seen the havoc wreaked on wildlife by such items.
Human society has become very sophisticated over the centuries; all our food comes pre-packed, refuse disposal trucks remove our garbage almost without us noticing. No wonder we spare little thought for what happens to all those items no longer serving a purpose in our lives, confined to the trashcan – out of sight, out of mind.
Much of our waste ends up in landfill sites. Anyone who’s been to a municipal tip knows the majority of its occupants are wild animals and birds. The landfill provides a ready food supply for wild creatures, but along with its bounty comes a dreadful price in suffering and death. Our used food tins are lethal to those mammals with heads just big enough to fit inside an empty bean or meat can. Dense fur acts as an effective seal. It takes no more than three or four breaths before the air in the bottom of the tin is exhausted and the animal suffocates. It’s not just wild animals that are effected. Over the years, I saw numerous examples of domestic pets whose lives ended in this manner. Cats are frequently victims of the menace.
While a loose can is unlikely to cause problems, those on a landfill are often half buried in debris, making a more secure container that won’t roll around; much easier for an animal to get its head inside. When the can is originally opened, often the lid is only partially cut around with the opener, bent upwards to pour out the contents, then pushed back down inside before being discarded. This allows an animal’s head easy access inwards, but acts as a razor-sharp barrier, cutting into the creature’s head and neck when it tries to withdraw itself.
There are two simple remedies; wash out cans to remove all trace of food before we discard, and, when possible, crush the container. If not, at least remove the lid completely.
We all buy canned drinks that come in a handy six-pack. Whoever invented the flexible plastic device that neatly holds the cans together probably made a fortune. Unfortunately, the rise of the six-pack has been responsible for the demise of thousands of animals and birds.
The plastic holder comprises not only six flexible rings, but a number of other, smaller, holes as well. Altogether, the device is fiendishly efficient at trapping many species of animals, birds, and even fish. As an RSPCA inspector, I soon lost count of the number of occasions I was called to assist creatures caught up in these things, or the many different species I encountered. The list seemed endless. Swans, or other waterbirds, secured around the neck or bill; small mammals, their heads through one of the holes, and a foot (or feet) caught up as they struggled to get clear. Hardly a week went by I didn’t encounter problems from this one piece of deadly plastic, and while freeing one creature brought immense satisfaction, the lingering question was always how many never got rescued and died a lingering death?
Preventing this large-scale suffering is so very simple. A few moments spent snipping through the plastic with scissors, until no holes remain, is all that’s required.
We’ll all find it hard to resist smiling at the sight of the British heifer above, in such a ludicrous predicament. Yet, she was one of the lucky ones. The next time you’re about to throw some packing material or other garbage into the trashcan, just pause for a moment. Stop to consider whether you’re throwing away an item that could prove lethal to any animal. If so, ask yourself how it can be rendered safe.
Often, it only takes a moment, but that moment of your time could save a life.
 “Cow who got into a spin” Daily Mail, September 1st 2008
Filed under: Animal welfare