Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Sunday, August 13, 2006


I stopped by a cemetery this afternoon to visit the grave of an old pal. Paying one of these visits always leaves me in a slightly disturbed state of mind--not that I have a problem with death--quite the reverse, actually. It's the complete sanitization of death in the cemetery that brings me down. When I finally go poikilothermic, I sure don't want to be crated in an expensive box and, as one last insult to the Earth, pumped full of toxins before returning to it. I prefer the Zoroastrian tradition of the Dakhma-Nashina, where bodies are placed atop Towers of Silence, to be picked clean by vultures. The thought of being divided up to nourish a large number of spectacular birds and being flown off in countless directions is far more beautiful to my mind. If I start feeling terribly ill, I should emigrate to South Asia, and hope to delay the inevitable long enough for the vulture population to rebound from the recent die-off from Diclofenac poisoning.

Unlike previous ones, today's graveyard call was far from sanitized. Just inside the entrance, an epidemic had obviously hit a little duck pond. Several dead ducks floated on the water, and the rest of the population writhed in various stages of malady, although two large domestic geese showed no outward signs of illness. I suspect the culprit is Avian Botulism, a common disease that usually shows up each summer in Utah. An outbreak in the Great Salt Lake killed over half a million birds about ten years ago. The disease is caused by Clostridium botulinum bacteria that have been infected by a virus that causes them to produce a toxin. Seven different types of C. botulinum have been identified; Avian Botulism is usually caused by Type C bacteria, which commonly occur in wetlands. Hot, dry weather and stagnant, shallow, oxygen-poor and protein-rich water are the conditions necessary for the bacteria to proliferate and produce toxins. Birds that ingest the poison gradually lose motor control, and usually die from drowning once they lose the ability to hold their head above water. The corpses provide more good C. botulinum habitat. Around here on Sundays there aren't many people available to help with these sort of situations, so I'll wait for morning to call the DWR. I was able to fish the dead ducks out of the water and dispose of them. They say that Type C botulism isn't much of a health hazard to humans. Still, I rode straight home from the graveyard and took a long bath in Hydrochloric Acid, just to be sure.
UPDATE-8-15-06: It appears that there was indeed an outbreak of Avian Botulism here. The ducks have been removed and are being rehabilitated by somebody (I'm told that domestic geese don't seem to be affected by the toxin), and the pond is being cleaned.
photograph of dead and dying ducks taken by CPBvK in Salt Lake City, Aug. 13, 2006


Anonymous Anonymous said...

" Still, I rode straight home from the graveyard and took a long bath in Hydrochloric Acid, just to be sure."


9:45 AM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

Okay, I didn't really do that.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Well said, Carel. Actually, I came upon this post just after having a similar conversation with my co-workers. They were surprised by my statement that, for me, being stripped and dumped in a ditch might be as good as it could get. (Once dead, anyway. Otherwise, it's not at the top of my list!)

10:58 AM  
Blogger Carel Brest van Kempen said...

HA!! A good friend of mine claims that when his time's up, he'll drive up to Alaska and find a Grizzly to feed himself to, all of which sounds like lots of work for a guy at death's doorstep.

7:08 AM  

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