Do animals feel and show emotions? These stories make us think so


It happened to Barnstable. An injured goose was brought to the Birdsey Cape Wildlife Center. They named him Arnold. Almost fatally lame, the bird was going to need intensive care. And then his mate showed up, literally knocking on the door for admission. They let her watch while they prepared Arnold for the surgery. Soon they decided the visitation rights were in order, and Arnold’s companion looked after him lovingly. It turns out that geese choose mates around the age of three and mate for life… with illness and health, it turns out.

We have to be careful with stories like this. Cynics will remind us that geese have brains the size of a marble. And they can be very mean. Years ago we had a neighbor in Hyannis. She had raised a large offspring of children and loved them all. But the last one she lost as a toddler. The children were playing in the front yard and for the sake of the little ones it was important that they keep the door closed. There was a pond nearby.

One morning, she glanced outside and, as usual, did a tally. The toddler was missing… and the gate was open. She flew to the door and found her child floating face down in the shallows of the pond, surrounded by honking geese. Were they protective – or were they mean enough to drag him into the water – to drown the child on purpose?

She picked up her child, limp and dripping, and went home. Before reaching the yard, she told me, she already knew she could never ask her surviving children who had left the door open. It was a burden she should carry alone. Such is maternal love. She would cry the rest of her life.

Can we imagine animals having emotional lives like this? Do they remember? Are they in mourning? Can they really love?

Koko, the talking gorilla had learned sign language and had an active emotional life with her trainers, some of whom had been with her since childhood. She wanted a baby but just raised a kitten. Then, in a crushing embrace, she accidentally killed the kitten – and cried a lot. Eventually, she got a second and raised him lovingly.

When Koko was little, her trainer would snuggle up to her at bedtime with picture books. She would learn to sign the different animals on the pages. When they got to a domestic cat, Koko signed [[bad]]cat. “Why a bad cat? »Signed the trainer. “Kill the birds,” Koko signed angrily. “I see… through the window. ”

Here is a question for Darwin. Since gorillas do not sign with each other in the wild, where does the ability to communicate in such detail come from? before any natural pressure to do so? And conscience? How did Koko know killing birds was wrong?

Franz de Wall tells us in “Mama’s Last Hug” the story of a chimpanzee who wanted to be a mother but could not. When another deaf chimpanzee gave birth, she couldn’t care less. I didn’t hear his screams. Very slowly, the zookeepers arranged an adoption. The new mother learned to use a bottle and quickly learned when the infant needed time to breathe and burp. From then on, she would gratefully throw her arms around the coach who had taught her and loved the woman the rest of her life.

An African lion killed and ate a female baboon, leaving her baby to howl in grief and horror. so what did she do? Eat the baby too? She kissed the affected baby and licked him tenderly for a moment, then left him alone. Compassion in lions?

Our dogs and cats are fed for sure. They know which side of the bread their butter is on. But they also know when we are sad or in pain. They huddle, purr, lick their hands, stay very close. Ask anyone who has one. They like. Google “animal friends” for countless videos on how love flourishes between species. Someone films a deer frolicking with a rabbit in his backyard… playing. When FOX and CNN have too much to take, check out these videos: Animal Friends, Animal Love, Animal Gratitude. In its simplest form, love is just wanting to be with someone. We are not alone in feeling it. Just ask at the Birdsey Center.

We sit at the top of a continuum of animal sensitivity. It is not up to us alone. To the extent that the natural world can think, suffer, know itself, the morality that we regard as human demands compassion and respect, the recognition that the natural world belongs to itself, not to us.

Stories of cute animals make us smile. Then they ask us to think.

Lawrence Brown is a columnist for the Cape Cod Times. Email him at [email protected]

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