January 21 is Squirrel Appreciation Day. It was established by Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator from North Carolina, to draw attention to the importance of these remarkably widespread creatures. Native to five continents and currently living on six (there’s no Antarctic squirrel), there are about 285 species of squirrels in the world, ranging from the tiny African pygmy squirrel to the Bhutan giant flying squirrel (when in Bhutan, be ready to duck).
Like most squirrels, the Eurasian red squirrel pictured here eats primarily nuts and berries. It also has a habit of burying caches of food for later consumption—and even ‘pretending’ to bury food to mislead other animals that might be watching. But squirrel brain capacity being what it is, the squirrel inevitably forgets where some of the food has been buried. Out of that grows one of the humble squirrel’s most important roles in the forest ecosystem: It’s an inadvertent planter of new trees and bushes. Three cheers for the squirrel!
The Squirrel Story that I am sharing is about the fact of Squirrel’s Conscious behavior and actions. While the Squirrel could be forgetful, my memory of events in Chakrata, Uttarakhand, India are still alive.
A SQUIRREL’S CONSCIOUSNESS AND DISPLAY OF MATERNAL INSTINCTIVE BEHAVIOR LEADS ME TO EXPLORE CONSCIOUSNESS.
IRATE MOTHER SQUIRREL ATTACKED A VISITING TEACHER ON UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN CAMPUS:
The Ann Arbor News reported this story about a mother squirrel’s angry attack. A 52-year-old Detroit Public School teacher was with a group of students touring the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor on Thursday, April 23, 2010. She had spotted some baby squirrels that were outside of their nest. The teacher had tried to alert the mother squirrel that was at a distance about a baby squirrel that was left alone. The mother squirrel could instantly recognize that the teacher was giving unwanted attention to her baby. The mother squirrel was instinctively aroused, turned on the teacher. The teacher tried to run away from the angry mother squirrel. She slipped and fell on the ground and injured her ankle. Seizing the opportunity, the mother squirrel bit the teacher on her leg. The teacher managed to escape and went to the Hospital Emergency for treatment.
PARENTAL CARE IS AN INSTINCTIVE BEHAVIOR:
Parental care is an aspect of social behavior exhibited by all animals. This is a complex unlearned or innate behavior that is influenced by heredity(genetic basis) as well as experience. The study of behavior provides valuable information about relationships among animals. No animal is ever completely isolated from some kind of environment. Animals exhibit social behaviors and form parental societies to care for their offspring. This parental care/maternal instinctive behavior is highly organized amongst mammals. The young are part of the mother while growing inside the mother and are nourished before birth by the ‘placenta’ of the mother. After birth, the young still seek nourishment from the mother and suck or lap milk produced by the mammary glands of the mother. This ensures that there is a strong family association between the mother and the offspring.
BEHAVIOR AND CONSCIOUSNESS:
The mother squirrel while displaying its maternal instinctive behavior has demonstrated that it is a ‘CONSCIOUS’ entity. Consciousness is defined as the state of being ‘conscious’ which has two components. 1. Being ‘conscious’ means being aware or recognizing the fact of one’s own existence. 2. Being ‘conscious’ also means being aware of our natural environment and it represents the state of knowing what goes on around one. Being conscious gives us the ability to interact with our environment and display appropriate behavior.
In higher animals, this consciousness or awareness is also characterized by the presence of mental activity which includes an awareness of our own thoughts and emotions. A living entity is always conscious of its own existence. A living entity always exists in a state of consciousness.
We identify a person as ‘UNCONSCIOUS’ if the person is not spontaneously interacting with his environment. There are several medical conditions that alter and affect our state of consciousness. Several drugs and intoxicants such as alcohol and poisonous agents like carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide cause drowsiness, stupor, and various levels of semiconscious to deep unconsciousness. Consciousness is very important in evaluating people with head injuries and neurovascular accidents such as ‘stroke’. While a person is unconscious of his environment, he is still aware of his existence. This fact could be easily demonstrated by conducting tests. A living organism or a living cell responds when exposed to a stimulus. For example, an unconscious individual is evaluated by testing to see the response of the pupil of the eye which reacts by constriction of its size on exposure to a light beam.
A LIFE-THREATENING CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING INCIDENT AT CHAKRATA MILITARY HOSPITAL:
An organism uses its awareness to survive in the environment. I could illustrate this by narrating my personal experience.
On January 21, 1974, I was the Duty Medical Officer at the Military Hospital Wing, Establishment No. 22, Chakrata. We were using the buildings and the living quarters of the British while they ruled India.
On that cold winter night, after finishing the midnight round of the hospital wards, I arrived at the Duty Medical Officer’s Room along with the on duty Medical Nursing Assistants. The Duty Medical Officer is allowed to get some rest as the Duty Officer returns to regular working schedule at 7.00 A.M. at the end of the night duty. All other night duty personnel remain alert for they just work during their night shift. When we reached the room, I found a charcoal ‘sigri’ that was just lit a few moments before my arrival at that room. This type of cheap charcoal burners are used by the poorer working class Indian families to provide warmth during cold winter nights. It is not uncommon to hear about carbon monoxide poisoning associated with the use of such charcoal burners. However, in the Chakrata Military Camp, we were not using charcoal as a heating fuel and during the official inspection tours of the Camp I never discovered the use of the charcoal sigri for heating rooms. Some buildings such as the Officers’ Mess have fireplaces with chimneys and use firewood and not charcoal which poses the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning.
I was surprised to encounter a charcoal sigri for the very first time after arriving at Chakrata in 1971. The night duty personnel were not sure as to who placed the sigri in the Duty Medical Officers’ room. I never tried a charcoal sigri for room heating purpose while many Indians including my own family used wood coal for cooking purposes in the kitchen.
The Duty Medical Officer’s room at Chakrata Military Hospital is a small room that was not heated by any electrical space or personal heater, and the room had no fireplace or a chimney. I permitted the coal burner to remain in the room. The charcoal burns very slowly giving heat and it lasts for several hours and once the coal is lit, the burner needs no further attention. On that particular night, I did not recognize that the coal was of poor quality and it was not burning as expected and was giving away smoke while I turned off the light and resting in the bed. As the door and the windows of the room were shut, the smoke started filling up the room. The smoke is odorless and is lighter than the room air, and it slowly went up filling the room from the top without alerting me.
I was fully asleep in that dark room, unaware as to what was going on around me. I was suddenly alerted when I experienced ‘palpitation’, a consciousness of the beating of my heart (Heart palpitations, pal-pih-TAY-shuns, are the feelings of having a fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heart). I awoke but still could not see the smoke in the dark room. I evaluated my condition to understand my rapid heart rate. I was in good health and there was no reason to experience an increased heart rate. I decided to investigate my problem and walked up to the door to turn the light switch on. The moment I had turned the light on, I could immediately see the smoke-filled room and the fresh, clear layer of room air was below my bed level. I immediately left the room to get fresh air from outside and saved my life. I was feeling very nauseous and threw up while a fainting spell forced me to hit the floor. The hospital Duty Nursing Officer who was on her rounds watched it and rushed to me to provide assistance. She alerted other night duty staff. I recovered very quickly with the intake of fresh air. The Staff took out the offending charcoal sigri and fully ventilated the room driving away the smoke. With the charcoal sigri gone, the room became safe to be reoccupied. I returned to the room and returned to my morning work schedule at 7.00 A.M.
In my analysis, the charcoal sigri was intentionally planted in the Chakrata Military Hospital Room to harm and endanger my life. I make that claim as no person came forward to apologize to me for placing the charcoal sigri in the duty room. In my view, only an enemy agent would have the motivation to conceal his involvement in the unexpected appearance of a charcoal sigri at our Military Hospital.
Many people are not that fortunate, and we read about entire families losing their lives while sleeping in rooms that are heated by improper burners. I was not conscious of what was going on around me while I was sleeping. However, my body was aware and conscious all the time. The chemical sensors in my body worked alright, they sent signals to my brain centers, which in turn sent signals to increase my heart rate to improve the oxygen delivery. It, fortunately, worked like an alarm for me. Very often, people become more drowsy, become fully unconscious, and lose life while asleep in smoke-filled rooms.
THE SQUIRREL IN THE STORY OF RAMAYANA:
Three-striped Indian Palm Squirrel, natives of India, and Sri Lanka are mentioned in the epic poem of Ramayana. All living entities are conscious. Just like the mother squirrel in Ann Arbor which demonstrated its consciousness, in the epic poem of ‘RAMAYANA’, the awareness and the behavioral response of a squirrel are described. The story narrates the construction of what is popularly known as “SETHU” or a bridge across the sea from the southern shores of Indian peninsula to the island of LANKA. The squirrels were apparently conscious of their environment. The Squirrel(s) observed the activities of thousands of monkeys throwing stones to build the ‘ADAM’S BRIDGE’, and recognized the presence of LORD Rama who had initiated the effort to build the bridge. The Squirrel(s) volunteered to help and in its behavior, it showed attributes of devoted service. The abilities of the Squirrel(s) are very small and yet it won the favor of the LORD and is blessed. The LORD is pleased with the Squirrel’s conscious efforts to offer devoted service and as per the Indian legend the stripes on the back of the Three-striped Indian Palm Squirrel represent the markings of blessings given by LORD Rama.
Special Frontier Force-Establishment No. 22-Vikas Regiment