Sunday, February 05, 2006

On Roman Auguries & Moroccan Egrets

Those clever Romans of yester-millenia used to routinely perform auguries - the act of identifying and interpreting signs (auspices) from the gods as evidenced through the flight patterns or calls of birds - when a question needed answering or approval sought. "Do I really need a new toga?" - let's see what Mr. Owl has to say. The magistrate or auspex, from which we get the words "auspicious" and "inauspicious" (and they said Latin would be useless - that was for you Dad!) would set the parameters of that day's birdwatch (dilineating the sky with his magic wand) while the auger did the actually interpreting. I'm hoping that I don't have to tell you what words we derive from auger. Anyway, they also indulged in haruspicy by which animals were sacrificed for the expressed act of having their entrails (usually the liver) prodded and peered at. Luckily in Morocco, these 2 ancient and seemingly defunct practices have been combined in time: birds are falling out of the sky.

Yes, over 300 cattle egrets were found dead a few days ago in the area of Lake Daït Roumi (east of Rabat), attributable says the High Commissioner for Waters, Forests and the Fight against Desertifcation to "collective intoxification". Collective intoxication - an interesting phrase, no? It smacks, if not of consent on the part of the birds, then some level of informed consent. As if 336 egrets chose Lake Daït - an otherwise "haven of peace & transquility" as guidebooks rhapsodise - as their personal shooting gallery and all accidently OD'd. Did I mention that over half of them were found in a public dump? And of course there was that nasty incident 2 weeks ago when 120 plowing birds went tits-up in the same area and, needless to say, no explanation has yet been offered for this apparent mass suicide. Shades of Jim Jones? Unlikely.

The Arabic daily Al-Bayane has suggested that insecticide poisoning, bird flu infection, or possibly a ferocious cold snap killed the plowing birds. Strange, as we experienced rather warm weather last week. As for the egrets, authorities are positing death by mass poisoning (pesticides & phytosanitary products). Phew! - at least it isn't bird flu! - I should feel better, right? Aviary flu has not even been officially whispered in connection with these birds, although "tests" are being conducted by some government haruspex and the results should be available in a few days.

Concerned? Kinda. Morocco, home to over 460 species of birds, is a veritable eden for bird-watchers and a much-welcomed layover for migratory birds - oh yeah, and people live here too. Whatever the results of the tests are (assuming that authorities don't come up with a giant goose egg), the signs aren't very good - the death of over 450 birds within 2 weeks does not auger well. The gods are clearly pissed.


Blogger knarf said...

Latin rocks!

7:57 p.m.  
Blogger Cat in Rabat ( كات في الرباط) said...


8:03 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have linked to your post and to your site. I really enjoy your writing.

11:43 p.m.  

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