neel after 2 days

It is quite remarkable how an infant is reared to adulthood. A baby at birth looks so fragile that parents hardly believe that it could survive from one day to another. We have most of us known or are in the process of experiencing the challenges which parents face when a baby is brought back home from hospital care – the cradle, the frequent changing of diapers, the feeds, the allergies, the fevers and constant threat of infections. The odds appear insurmountable. Yet as if possessed by some superhuman maternal and paternal powers they are up to the challenge. Parents become dedicated slaves to a natural force, from wakefulness to slumber and the process never ends, continuing from stage to stage, from rocking in a cradle to crawling, to a toddler, to teaching linguistic skills and imparting learning. Each walking adult represents the miraculous outcome of that enormous dedication of decades of unrelenting care and meticulous rearing which we take so much for granted when looking at a crowded street of ‘self reliant’ grown ups. It is simply amazing if we sit back and think about it.

myna with youngWalking in a park I happened to see three Starlings (Mynas) together. The chick now nearly adult would scramble up to one parent and opening its beak wide, flutter its wings to arouse sympathy, begging for a feed.

The parent, ignoring this  normally irresistible pleading, just walked ahead foraging in a pile of rotten leaves and earth for worms. I noticed that it was not actually foraging but putting up a mock show to teach the youngster what needed to be done beyond demanding a feed beak to beak. I also noticed that slyly it was looking back from the corner of its eyes to see if the message had penetrated the thick avian skull! Before long the little Myna began to imitate the process, not very clear what it was looking for. Days later I saw a happy threesome foraging away for worms. The young bird had come of age in nature’s fast-forward for the animal kingdom.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAgain I observed how my pet Budgies diligently reared their young in the nest box. Both parents taking turns would gently pry open their tiny beaks and proceeded to regurgitate processed seed. I also saw how the father later began to feed the mother who now never left the nest box regurgitating into her beak so that she would be fed and be able to feed her chicks as well. Later again when the chicks developed feathers and left the nest both parents would be on either side showing the chick how to pick up seed on its own, by demonstrating through mock pickings with a stern eye on the chick to see if it followed suit.

beta with spawnThen in my fish tank, the Siamese Fighting fish Beta Splenden, after wrapping himself sensuously around the female forced out her eggs, fertilizing them instantly by spewing out his seminal discharge and as the eggs rained down both male and female forgot their sexual antics and quickly began to pluck them as they fell to rush up to a bubble nest created by the gorgeous male, to deposit them one in each bubble of sticky saliva. Then the lady was chased away after a night of orgiastic embraces had exhausted her of all her eggs. If she was not then removed she would have been killed by her paramour. The male considers himself the sole caretaker of his brood. He then kept tending the eggs, mending his nest and diligently picking up falling eggs to replace them in the nest. When the fry burst forth from the eggs he would chase them and gulp them up and returning to the nest spit them out into it. Once they were freely swimming his work was done and then he would allow himself proudly to be surrounded by them. Until this stage was reached he would be fasting. Later when it was time to feed the fry with dry fish food a problem arose – they refused to see it as food. I was then advised to introduce smarter fry of another species the Platy who readily accepted fish food from birth. Once these were introduced the Beta fry learnt from them how to snap up the fish food.

Credit : africanmemories.com

Credit : africanmemories.com

The point here is how every adult whether man, lion, eagle, whale horse or whatever needs instruction on what it can feed on. and where to find it. What may take years to learn through instinct or a process of hit and miss, is quickly grasped in moments through emulation, imitation and duplication. The acquisition of skills can only take place when there is instruction, which the word education encompasses in a larger context. The knowledge that we acquire through a liberal education, learning about skills, acquiring abilities and scientific knowledge in a matter of years, what it has taken mankind millenia to acquire. The specializations that combine to create human technologies, culture and civilization are skills that have to be imparted from generation to generation.

A bird will never know what and where to forage and would die of starvation if the parents died before it could learn those skills. A lion cub would never survive if it never learnt to hunt. The most helpless  of them all, yet the most intelligent, the human child, requires decades of learning to become more than a mere savage.

Instinct is important, it teaches the bird how to make a nest ( there is no school for this) but before that instinct can come into play the rearing is vital for survival – nurture precedes nature. Every generation will require that nurture. But equally Nature will ensure nurture – the maternal or paternal instincts which drive us frantically to provide progeny with nurture, care and protection even if it were to be at the sacrifice of ones life. So in the end Nature ensures nurture and nurture ensures survival.

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