New Year’s Eve Letter from Priscilla Feral

I arrived in Dakar, Senegal and then went out on the road for my visit to Friends of Animals’ projects protecting antelopes and chimpanzees. These are my thought on the first part of this journey.

On Wednesday I was leaping for joy at the sight of patas monkeys running through a 700-hectare reserve in northern Senegal. I photographed lots of scimitar-horned oryxes, gazelles of three species, and desert tortoises. Also got full of cactus prickers. Ouch! Patas monkeys eat the cactus flowers, so the cactus spreads. Catherine Podojil responded to my Facebook update: “Apparently the patas monkeys know how to avoid the cactus prickers as they eat.” They’ve got us beat in the pricker-avoidance department for sure. The patas are so huge and fast! Somehow, they peel the cactus fruit, eat the flowers, and don’t suffer with the prickers. Now that’s amazing.

I covered more than 1,500 miles in the first two days. Next stop: the semi-desert Ferlo National Park for more oryx-watching.

Arrived in Saint Louis and headed to Dakar for more meetings with National Parks. Janis Carter is here with me, having arrived from The Gambia. We are spending New Year’s eve talking about chimpanzees. I’m eating wonderful melons, salad and bread.

I counted 30 to 40 scimitar-horned oryxes going into Ferlo National Park, and a dozen or more dama gazelles! I’m pleased to see the oryxes so healthy. We set up a fund to help provide more water for antelopes inside Ferlo as the Parks Department’s new budget starts in February and water is needed – especially in the month ahead.

Everyone here, as you know, speaks French and a tribal language. So I’m in my own world with English and a bleeding heart that wants to correct every wrong as I pass through this life.

I have e-mailed Max at CBS to report the new oryx count: more than 175. There have been calves born in Ferlo and the vet here gave me a new count. Sixty Minutes is about to cover our efforts to protect these antelope – here, and where they are subjected to confined hunts.

I’ve had two meetings with government people. The Deputy Minister thinks it ridiculous that the U.S. would ever allow trophy hunting of oryxes at recreational ranches, for these are the very same animals Senegal is trying to save in their homeland. And now the Safari Club is upset that Friends of Animals stopped this practice? Absurd and appalling.

I want to say something as a vegan. We’re so removed in the U.S. from this landscape of goat, sheep and cow raising. How tied it is to villagers – people all over Senegal and much of the world! I see an animal who moments later is carried to a slaughter room downtown or in a village. This is so harrowing. Horses are transportation. Same with donkeys for people who can’t afford cars. And public transportation is unsafe.

Some of our rights theorists are so removed from the way of life of people who not only will never hear their names and couldn’t make sense of theory anyway. Arriving at the New Year, I would say that global culture is a mess. I’m trying to make a small part of it sensible, at least to me. My nerves are pretty shot now after thousands of miles of travel: hot, dusty, landscapes; goats, sheep, cows carried to slaughter in a market and much of this is smack in your face. We’re so removed from it in the U.S.

Slogans such as Meat Is Murder amongst ourselves in the US and Europe are not changing anything in the world. Explaining my “strict vegetarian/vegan” diet with people in person is accepted and treated as the most fascinating message most everyone here has heard. This has been harrowing; haunting. I’m consumed with it and try to focus on the animals who are not someone’s food. More later,