Our Seminars in the Sun group experienced a rare aspect of the human-animal bond as we walked and swam past wildlife that had no fear. Every veterinarian is really an environmentalist and a naturalist and would revel in this feeling. Experiencing animals without fear is a big treat awaiting those who venture to the Galapagos Islands.
Having no fear is an interesting behavioral trait. It is almost magical yet is natural for the animals living in Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands to lack the flight reaction when they see humans.
What is this behavior all about? Is it genetic? Is it cultural or instinct or learned? Do the endemic species not know danger? Did the animals learn they are safe and hand that information down for generations?
The sea lions and marine iguanas resting on land don’t move out of the way as people walk past them. In fact, some of the land iguanas approach people and seem to pose for pictures. The blue-footed and red-footed boobies (Spanish for “clowns”) are content to stand on rocks and preen and socialize and not fly away as boats approach their rocky dwellings.
On the Water
We saw an early morning fishing show as thousands of blue-footed boobies darkened the sky, flying in every direction, dozens diving in synchrony for fish. The sharks, sea rays and turtles did not fear our boat as we floated over them to take pictures in a beautiful mangrove cove.
Curious young sea lions swim and play with humans. One day about 30 young sea lions approached our boats to play in the wake and then beached with us and played with each other. We felt sad for one very thin, forlorn pup as he pitifully cried, waiting for his mother to return and feed him. He did not join the sea lions his age as they played and fished in the bay. Our guide said this thin sea lion was lazy and a late learner, and since his mom is probably already pregnant, she would depart for a week to feed and not pay much attention to him upon her return.
Nature is tough!
We snorkeled with many beautiful fish and the famous Galapagos sea turtles who had no fear as well. The fish are complacent around swimmers and divers, allowing us to move through their schools. One curious sea lion insisted on playing with my bright blue fins and tried to taste them a few times! It was amazing to see marine iguanas and sea lions sunning themselves at our landing sites. They could not care less if we needed the right of way, so we climbed around them to get on the island.
The red-breasted frigate birds landed on our boat and took a ride with us for some time.
The human-animal bond is a way of life for the 200-plus indigenous Andean tribes that settled in Peru and Ecuador. The Andeans kept their cultures, music and dances despite conquest by the Incas and Spaniards. They blended imposed religions into their own belief systems.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Alice Villalobos.
A marine iguana catches some rays in the Galapagos Islands.
The Andeans domesticated llamas and alpacas and developed fine methods for spinning, dyeing and weaving wool for colorful garments and hats, which varied from town to town. Andeans rounded up the wild vicuna and sheared them for the finest wool, then let them roam until the next season. They domesticated guinea pigs for food, and today many families keep guinea pigs at home as a delicacy to be offered to special friends and guests.
The dogs appeared cheerful and well fed, wandering off-leash, playing in parks and rummaging through trash. Dogs go home at night to guard their families. Many dogs were unkempt, but their coats were healthy because there are no fleas at high altitude. We saw a few dogs on-leash.
We visited the largest known Inca cemetery and learned that noblemen were mummified in the fetal position, placed in a basket with gold and silver ornaments and laid to rest with their mummified dogs.
They believed that their dogs would help guide them across the river into the spiritual world.
The Inca Empire ranged from Ecuador through Peru and down to Chile. The Inca army conquered towns and tribes of ethnic diversity along the coast and into the highlands of the Andes. They built impressive roads and cities with palaces and temples and had a mail system of young runners who made a rest stop every six hours.
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Many towns were perched along agricultural and anti-erosion terraces on highland areas such as Machu Picchu, which was peacefully abandoned and kept secret to escape plunder. The capital, Cusco, located near the fertile Sacred Valley, was at 11,000 feet altitude and was famous for its mild weather.
The Inca religions favored worship of the sun, moon, lightning, rainbows and stars and respected Mother Earth, animals and nature. Incas used no monetary system; instead they had a redistribution system for their agrarian society. The authorities taxed their towns for goods and exacted labor in shifts for mining, building, farming, fishing and military service. People bartered their products at marketplaces. The Incas did not view gold and silver for monetary value but used themmore for ornamentation.
Pre-Inca and Inca cultures developed astronomy, solar clocks and calendars that observed seasons, climate, solstices and equinoxes to help predict farming success or prepare for famine. They had wise men, doctors, engineers and agriculturalists and conducted research in agriculture, astronomy, medicine and surgery—all with no formally written language. They used coca leaves as chloroform for surgical procedures, and their surgical instruments were made of gold and silver.
The Incas used the decimal system and geometry in architecture and the Khipus (a series of knots on a string) to calculate and keep records of crops, census and events similar to the Khipus used in early Chinese culture. Recently, a sacred code has been deciphered that has consonants, numbers and colors. This may bring to light some of the mysteries of Inca culture, such as the amazing engineering and stonework that rivals the pyramids in Egypt.
The Incas mined huge mountain stones weighing up to 128 tons. They moved these with manpower, using levers and stonerollers to slide them down the mountainside and then uphill to create their terraces, cities and temples.
Egyptian pyramid stones generally were under 60 tons, with some up to 90 tons. Inca engineers and stone cutters developed complex foundations and convex and concave joints and special door and window jams that withstood South America’s earthquakes. Japanese engineers are studying this technology.
We found the human-animal bond at Machu Pichu among the llamas that live on the terraces. Guess what, they had no fear!
Alice Villalobos is a past president of the American Assn. of Human-Animal Bond Veterinarians and is president of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics.
This article first appeared in the August 2010 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Click here to become a subscriber.