It’s not enough that the oft-times irrational leadership of China feels it necessary to tightly control the human population, they’re now similarly controlling — or trying to- simians. Albeit for a good cause, though.
In anticipation of the September 3rd celebration of the end of World War II in Asia — though what the Chinese had to do with that is, like much that’s Chinese, inscrutable — when 12,000 troops, an untold number of military vehicles of all sorts, and a military fly-over involving some 200 fighter jets, the country’s supremely wiser minds elected to employ a band of macaque monkeys to help guard the parade periphery.
As The South China Morning Post observed, “you can pay them peanuts” and they do what they’re told to.
What they were trained to do, via assorted whistled commands, was to climb trees (a natural, task for them), then destroy birds’ nests and keep the birds from returning, or remaining in areas where they might pose a hazard to overflying jets, which have an unfortunate tendency consume birds in their jet engines, sometimes with fatal results for the planes. (A bird’s future, once it is sucked into a jet engine, extends only a few more seconds, if that.)
As there were no reported incidents of bird ingestions by jets during the Sept. 3rd parade, one might assume all participating monkeys were given military honors or, at the very least, ample quantities of their food of choice.
(The ‘you can pay them peanuts’ line fits appropriately in situations where an employer is seeking, or has taken on, workers who are, unfortunately, underpaid. The saying is, ‘You pay peanuts, you get monkeys’. ‘Sounds good, but the least bit of research reveals that these usually-not-terribly-unfriendly creatures are better fed a more varied diet.)
Animals of various sorts have been trained to perform assorted physical tasks for thousands of years. We’ve all heard about lions ‘trained’, in the vaguest of ways, to provide entertainment during the Roman Empire as they toyed with, then killed, hapless individuals in Rome’s Colosseum and similar settings. Many of us also have heard of ‘dancing bears’ and other beasts being used in circuses to provide pleasure to animal-insensitive audiences.
The history of dancing bears was, if not extended, at least placed as long ago as Byzantine times, when an undertaking a few years ago set about tunneling under the Bosphorus, the strait that separates the Asian and European parts of Istanbul, Turkey. The skulls of many of them were uncovered, with “cubs’ skulls showed compression fractures, from having been hit during training; The adult skulls had marks on the muzzles, from having been bound shut,” a recent New Yorker article reported. It added: “Dancing bears had been a popular Byzantine entertainment. Empress Theodora’s father was a bear trainer.”
That massive dig also uncovered huge numbers of horse heads (and, no doubt, other horse bones) as well as bones of elephants and horses “with unmistakable marks of butchery.” It had been known that bears and donkeys were eaten by people in those days, but evidence from this dig showed that horses were, too. (Evidence also suggested that, when they were too old or exhausted to be made to work anymore in the circus at the hippodrome, “the thrifty Byzantines had fed the elephants [upon their retirement] to the lions.” the New Yorker article noted.)
We’re also familiar, today, with how dogs can be trained to function as the ‘eyes’ of sight-impaired people. Most of us have no clue how they are so-trained.
It starts, when a dog viewed to have the right aptitude, takes up a temporary residence with someone trained to provide simple ‘basic training’: How to walk on a leash, how to obey basic commands, how to heal (walk neatly at the side of a person), and a good deal more.
A hard thing for the not-involved to understand about a ‘seeing-eye dog’ is the fact that, for far more hours than people are asked to work daily, it is ‘on duty’ and dedicated to not being distracted by anything that might interfere with its protection of its person.
If it’s ‘owner’ — the human depending on it, and with whom it shares life — allows you to pet the dog, you shouldn’t expect a response, as you might from a house pet. These ‘helper dogs’ are anything but housepets — though they can perform that role, too, when they’re ‘off duty’.
Dogs aren’t the only animals trained as helpers for blind humans. Take the case of Cali, a chestnut brown horse, the near-constant companion of Mona Ramouni, of Williamston, Michigan. Given that, as a horse working as a personal assistant, Cali can be expected to get the absolute best of care, there’s no reason she shouldn’t life out in full her potential life of 50 or so years. And there’s no reason, because she’ll be so well-cared-for, Mona won’t live even longer (given her potential life of 81.2 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics).At some point, she may need to find a new Cali.
To provide miners an opportunity to live to a ripe old age, it was long the practice, before more reliable (and humane) means became available, to place caged (but hardly trained) canaries deep in mines where they, but not the miners, could detect the presence of natural gas (which is naturally odorless). Unfortunately, for the canaries, their discovery of the presence of gas was almost immediately followed by the bird’s death — serving as a warning to the miners to high-tail it to higher, safer ground.
Dolphins. Who can forget dolphins, one of the most intelligent of non-human mammals? A sizable number of them have enjoyed — at least we can hope they’ve enjoyed — a trouble-free but busy career as performers in zoos and other types venues where wildlife is put on display. There’s a good chance, though, that despite not having to hunt for food and really only needing to ‘work’ a few hours a day, many of those beautiful creatures would prefer taking their chances as what they are supposed to be — creatures in the wild.
That may or may not be the case, as well, with homing pigeons which, like the likely-to-die canaries, spend a sizable portion of their lives caged. But homing pigeons can win awards: One named Cher Ami was awarded France’s prestigious Croix de Guerre for its heroic service in delivering, despite being injured, a dozen important military messages during World War I. Like when it was wounded, the bird probably never knew what hit it when the award was presented.
That’s the sad, and the magical, thing about animals enlisted to assist humans in one way or another: Most of them — dogs being a notable exception — probably have no clue that  they’re being singled out from others of their species for special tasks, or  why they are, among other things, enjoying so steady a food supply — and of such superb quality!
At some level, pet dogs clearly understand the special roll they play in their people’s lives.