Archive for November, 2012

All Imaginary Friends Are Created Equal

At least that is what the Dutch have decided ( by scrapping their archaic blasphemy laws, which have not been invoked for over fifty years. Now we can poke fun at everyone’s imaginary friends equally. It is still illegal to poke fun at the police and Queen Beatrix. However, they, at least, exist. I only hope the Dutch don’t back down when the superstitious zealots start making a fuss, the way the Germans did over circumcision.

It is difficult to believe that we could have had two common sense decisions in the one week, but that does appear to be the case, with the United Nations recognising Palestine as a non-member observer state ( Predictably the US and Israel boycotted the move but this will hopefully edge the Palestinians slightly closer to having their own country. I find it ironic that when a country like Israel, whose people have been persecuted for eons, finds itself in a position of power over another people it persecutes them in exactly the same way. Perhaps it is similar to the phenomenon where the child of abusive alcoholic parents becomes an abusive alcoholic parent themselves? I dare say the Arab nations are no happier about the existence of Israel than the Israelis are about the existence of the Palestinians. It is not, however, possible to avoid the reality that they do both exist and the only way forward is to accept and acknowledge that and allow them both to have their own countries where they can sell felafels and enjoy their imaginary friends in peace.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Still Thundering Down The Straight

Many moons ago, when I was still working in private practice, a fellow entered the clinic and asked if we had any elephant juice. Elephant juice is one of the colloquial names for etorphine. Etorphine is a narcotic several thousand times stronger than morphine. It was developed by the South Africans to immobilise elephants, rhinos and other large difficult to handle animals. The drug is so potent that a scratch from a needle dipped in the stuff is potentially fatal.

Interestingly, while a standard dose results in immobilisation a reduced dose causes excitation. This manifests itself as compulsive walking or running. The affected animal appears oblivious to its surroundings and continues to run until it drops from exhaustion, meets an immovable object or receives veterinary intervention. It has been used in the horse racing industry when a bit of illegal zip is required. In Australia zoo vets are generally the only ones with legal access to it. As it was illegal to import etorphine into the US the Americans produced their own version, called carfentanil, which is even more potent.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Thundering Down The Straight

And so we bid a fond farewell to another Spring Racing Carnival. Good riddance, I say. Flat races are at least somewhat less lethal than steeplechases which see an average of six horse deaths for every 1000 that take part (six deaths per 439 horses between 2000 and 2010 for the Grand National ( Still 1.5 dead horses out of every 1000 that start a flat race in the US ( is nothing to be sneezed at.

Personally I can’t derive any excitement from watching a bunch of horses running around in a circle. The excitement must come from the betting, I suppose. I also fail to understand how normally sane people come out of the closet at Melbourne Cup time every year (the race that allegedly stops the nation) just to throw money away betting on something they know absolutely nothing about.

However, it is the horse welfare aspect that concerns me the most. Race horses are like elite human athletes and, although human athletes don’t die with the same frequency (0.75 per 100,000 for male athletes and 0.13 for female athletes:, they both suffer elite athlete injuries: shin splints, fractures, bone chips, strained tendons and ligaments, arthritis, etc. The trouble is that racehorses are all inbred and have been selected artificially to run faster than is physiologically sustainable (See “Do I Hear Banjos?” for more information on inbreeding). As with most things we have tampered with we are not happy unless we’ve taken things beyond the extreme.

Today’s racehorses are extremely large, 450-500 kg, by equine standards. If you look at wild equids, such as Przewalski horses and zebras, they weigh around 350 kg. Horses run on their toes. That hoof you see at the end of their leg is actually their third toe. All that weight as they come thundering down the straight is borne on four toes. And, because horses are generally raced before they are mature, that equine skeleton has not finished developing, which further predisposes them to injury. Horses, like most athletes, are pushed to the very limit of what they can physically do, so it should come as no surprise that virtually every horse suffers from exercise induced pulmonary haemorrhage following a race, basically bleeding into the lungs.

When you take that artificially selected enormous amount of weight, support it on four tiny limbs and push it further than nature intended it is no wonder that as many horses break down as they do. What does come as a surprise is that they don’t all crumble into a heap of broken muscles and tendons. But, with so much money at stake and people taking such a perverse delight in seeing animals running around in a circle with people on their backs, it seems unlikely to change any time soon.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Up, Tiddly, Up, Up

What bothers me is the “Down, Tiddly, Down, Down”. Flying and I have never been fast friends, or even distant acquaintances. No matter how many times I fly, and I do fly a lot, I cannot come to grips with it.

Whenever I book a flight I spend days, if not weeks, beforehand consulting the weather forecast hoping there will be clear cloudless skies for my next adventure into the heavens. I try not to think about clear air turbulence. Once aboard I do all the usual superstitious things. I actually pay attention to the safety briefing, read the card in the seat back, and count the seats to the nearest exit, which is always behind me as I always get a seat as close to the rear of the plane as possible because that is the safest place to be (69% survival rate compared with 56% over or ahead of the wing and only 49% in first class: Makes you feel better about those cheap seats, doesn’t it?). Ironically it is also meant to be the bumpiest. I reassure myself with the Mythbusters episode demonstrating that the brace position is more effective than jumping up and down, screaming or standing on the seat.

I always prefer a window seat as I like to see what is happening if I am going to die, and I have to admit that the scenery does look pretty spectacular from up there, especially if we are bouncing over the mountains. And that is the stupid thing. My rational brain tells me that this is fun and exciting and that we are exceedingly unlikely to crash. Apparently I would need to fly every day of my life for nineteen thousand years to be sure of dying in a plane crash ( This represents odds of 1 in 1.3 million up to 1 in 29.4 million (, depending on whether I am on one of those dreadful Russian or Chinese things or a lovely QANTAS jet that only occasionally drops bits of its engine on Singapore.

Those weird noises the engine makes, the strange whirring sounds, the way I can feel the plane slowing down: all that happens every time I fly. They are all normal. When I am really concerned I try and find a flight attendant to stare at. If they appear unconcerned then whatever noise or focus of turbulence we have just hit is probably nothing to worry about. Years ago I was flying over mountains in Alaska in an ancient jalopy that had an image of a dancing chorus girl painted on its tail, wishing very much that I was in the saloon she came from. Every time we hit a seat jolting bump one of our group would whoop and cheer and think it was great fun. Oddly enough it made me feel quite a bit better about it all.

Travelling with my kids has always been a mixed experience. At least when I travel alone I am the only one who will die if the plane goes down. Now my entire family’s lives will be extinguished as well. However, when the kids were younger, they at least gave me something to do to take my mind off the flight. A particularly memorable trip found us island hopping over Vanuatu when my son was two. As he had a history of earaches and travel sickness my wife expected the worst and made sure to pack a change of clothes for him. Sure enough, when things got rough he lived up to expectations and vomited profusely, all over her. Unfortunately she had neglected to pack clothes for herself. This little drama did, however, keep me quite occupied and I barely noticed the way we jiggled all over the sky.

Most of my flights are like monitoring anaesthesia: 90% boredom and 10% total panic. If the weather is unfavourable this ratio quickly reverses, at least until I get some alcohol, valium or preferably both in me. Then I can die in peace. I generally avoid taking sleeping pills. After all I want to be awake when I die.

I understand the physics of flying, Bernoulli’s principle, the safety record of planes and have flown without dying in everything from helicopters to Cessnas to A380s. Unfortunately, no matter what I do, I cannot get the rational part of my brain to override the emotional side that gives me sweaty palms, a racing heart, a pounding in my head and a grip so strong it threatened to break my daughter’s hand on one flight. At least that’s what she told me after she was able to extract it from my vice-like grasp.

I tried my own version of exposure therapy. This is the treatment where the person with the bird phobia is shown a picture of a bird. When they can cope with that, without screaming and running from the room, they might be shown a real bird that is a safe distance away. Slowly the bird is brought closer until it is within touching distance. Eventually the person becomes desensitised to the point where they can pick it, put it on their shoulder and teach it to speak. The same principle should apply to flying. Right? In an attempt to desensitise myself I took 33 flights the year before last, mostly work related. All that happened was that the increased anticipation of what I knew was to come made each flight worse than the one before. In the end I think I must have exhausted my body’s adrenalin supply as each plane became harder and harder to board until I finally quit the job.

I was on a plane again last week and nothing had changed. I talked to myself and told myself it would be fine but, as soon as we hit a bump, I still went completely to pieces. At least on the inside. I pride myself on having a fantastic poker face. I am sure the other passengers had no idea that the figure slumped in the chair beside them gazing fixedly out at the clouds, and leaving clench marks in the seat had the slightest concern about flying.

I have thought about taking a fear of flying course and even filled in the enrolment form, once. What stopped me from sending it in was the fact that I would have to take a flight at the end of the course.

Perversely I actually feel quite proud of myself because I have travelled the world and have refused to allow the terror of flying to stop me from doing the things I enjoy. Until the day it all gets to be too much for me I guess I will continue to force myself into these metal tubes and count the nanoseconds until I am on solid ground again. Looking back on it I don’t think I have regretted any of these flights or the destinations they have taken me to, or the things they have allowed me to do, even that one in Fiji where we flew under a thunder cloud that dropped torrential amounts of rain on the plane, rain that somehow managed to pour down the INSIDE of the plane’s wall next to my seat.

And don’t get me started on public speaking.

Dr. F. Bunny

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Don’t Fence Me In

Farm fences are a fact of life. No one wants to hit an angry bull at 100 km/h. However, while fences are necessary to protect both motorists and livestock they also need to allow wildlife to move freely in order to feed, find mates and exchange gossip.

As a veterinarian I have seen many fence injuries. A lot of these involved kangaroos presumably trying to leap over the fence that caught their feet between the top two strands. The strands twisted around the kangaroo’s feet and held them fast. The more the kangaroo struggled, the more the wire cut into the limb. Eventually a farmer, member of the public or wildlife carer would find the kangaroo and cut it out of the fence. If it hadn’t been in the fence for too long the chances of recovery were reasonable. Unfortunately many of these animals were hanging for 24 hours or more, before they are found. By this time the constant struggles resulted in a massive build up of lactic acid in the hindleg muscles, which lead to capture myopathy. Even if myopathy had not occurred the pressure of the wire acted like a tourniquet severing or compressing the tendons and blood vessels supplying the foot. What looked to be a minor cut through the skin would eventually lead to the death of the limb and with it the kangaroo.

Apart from kangaroos I have also seen a lot of flying foxes and various gliders wrapped up in fences. I have come across the occasional kookaburra or other bird species, but they are not as common as the mammals. Presumably they don’t see the strands when they fly or glide and become tangled the way kangaroos do. In their cases they are usually wrapped up by the wings or gliding membranes. As these structures are quite elastic they are difficult to repair and the individuals often end up with permanent holes. If these are small enough the animal can be rehabilitated and released. Otherwise euthanasia is necessary.

The vast majority of these individuals, especially the gliding and flying ones, are caught on barbed wire fences. Were they to crash into a non-barbed strand they would be more likely to bounce off and fly away. Unfortunately the barbs catch in the skin and the struggle to get free only hooks them into the fence more completely.

After our fences were burned in the Black Saturday fires we decided to do away with barbed wire and replaced it with plain strands. I frequently see the local kangaroos sharing the paddock with the horses, as they are able to pass through the fence by going under or between the strands without fear of being snagged by the barbs.

If you are also concerned about the possible negative effects your fences could be having on the local wildlife assistance may be at hand. A group called Wildlife Friendly Fencing provides practical advice on how to keep your livestock in and your wildlife tangle free by using plain strands instead of barbs, covering hire risk areas with plastic piping to make the fence more visible, or using electric fencing. Check out their website at Your bats, roos, gliders, and birds will be glad you did.

Dr. F. Bunny

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