One of my Facebook friends has the distressing habit of posting photos of mutilated animals and of hunters posing with animals they killed for the fun of it. My friend does this in protest to widespread human mistreatment of animals in hopes that the photographs will help change human tendencies before it it too late.
It is already too late for many species that have crossed paths with ours, at least too late for them to thrive anything like they once did. And it’s not so much much because of intentional killing as because of habitat destruction. Humanity has gradually taken over most of the habitable areas of the planet and the momentum continues. Scientists warn us that our course ultimately threatens our own survival.
But what about the creatures themselves? Why is it that we have to talk in terms of human survival to get human attention? Early societies recognized the “soulfulness” — for lack of a better word — of the birds and beasts and fish, but to civilized humanity they are largely just objects. Americans prattle about the personalities of their beloved cats and dogs but have a hard time making the emotional connection to creatures that are demonstrably as intelligent and feeling as our pets.
We have a lot of books at ACPL about the personalities of animals. One of the newest — which I found very interesting and informative — is Virginia Morell’s Animal Wise: The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures. She reports on the work of scientists investigating several species and makes a strong case that many species have self-awareness and other kinds of thinking and feeling that civilized humans have long insisted were ours alone. Animals may lack language in the human sense, but there is much in our own personalities that is not based in language.
One of the breakthrough books in this field, and still sadly relevant in the face of poachers, is When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy. If you like to read animal stories, you might try Beauty in the Beasts: True Stories of Animals Who Chose to Do Good by Kristin von Kreisler. Or, if you prefer straight science, we have Cognition, Evolution, and Behavior by Sara J. Shettleworth.
The implications on human behavior of recognizing animal intelligence would be profound. But not recognizing it has already been profound in its own unintelligently destructive way.