Their inability to see the obvious might be amusing if the consequences weren't so serious. Torturing rats or rabbits in scientific research wouldn't be so easy if you looked into their eyes and recognized a fellow being who experienced the same pain and fear you would feel. Because they're "just dumb animals," not capable of thought or feelings, we can harm animals to benefit human society, exterminate those who inconvenience us, and frequently treat intentional cruelty to defenseless animals as nothing more serious than property damage.
Following are reviews and comments on four wonderful books that discuss animal intelligence and consciousness.
The Parrot's Lament,
by Eugene Linden,
New York: Dutton, 1999
Harriet adapted successfully to the wild and soon gave birth to two cubs of her own. Everything went well until floods came, threatening Harriet's den.
In need of a safe place for her cubs, she remembered Singh's compound on high ground and carried her two cubs, one by one in her mouth, across the river to the safety of Singh's kitchen. Once the floods receded, she began moving the cubs back home but found the flooded river current was dangerously strong. After returning for the second cub, Harriet stepped into Singh's boat, in which she had ridden many times as a cub, and waited patiently for Singh to step in and ferry her and her cubs across the treacherous waters.
One African grey parrot named Jimbo loved to visit his owner's parents who she identified as Poppa and Peekaboo.
Whenever his owners started to get ready to go to their parents' house Jimbo would call out "Can we go to Poppa's and Peekaboo's for dinner, okay? Come on!"
One day while looking out the window, Jimbo spotted a roadrunner and called out "Momma, look! A bird!" Then turning to the bird, she said, "Hi, bird. Are you hungry? Do you want to go to Poppa and Peekaboo's for dinner?"
The Parrot's Lament is filled with stories of animal humor, treachery, heroism and compassion, and inventiveness. Several chapters are devoted to primate intelligence.
The stories range from amusing and sometime baffling tales of famous gorilla and orangutan escape artists at seemingly escape-proof zoo facilities to experiments in which orangutans and chimps thought through a complex engineering problem, determining the tools they needed to solve it, and finding the right materials in their environment to make those tools.
The Compassion of Animals,
by Kristin von Kreisler,
Prima Publishing, Rocklin, CA, 1997
When Kristin von Kreisler took the stories of animal courage, kindness, and self-sacrifice she'd collected in researching her book to seven "animal experts," only one agreed that animals are capable of compassion. The others went to great lengths to prove that animal altruism is really self-interest, "hard-wiring" for protection of the pack, or attempts to solicit reciprocal care - all of which is just as easily applied to human acts of compassion and bravery.
If that's not love or compassion it probably comes as close to the real thing as most of use are likely to experience in our own lives.
The Soul of Animals,
by Gary Kowalski,
Stillpoint Publishing, Walpole, NH, 1991
Chimpanzees have been observed using stick tools, which they poke into termite hills to reach the tasty residents. They had to use reasoning to develop the technique, finding objects around them to manipulate into a useful tool.
Dolphins and elephants, among many other species, have been seen to protect their injured and sick colleagues, and even vampire bats are known to share their food with others in the community. Every species has its own language, but primates who learn to communicate using human sign language or computers show a great depth of feeling and understanding.
When All Ball was killed by a car, Koko at first acted like she didn't hear the news. Then she sobbed, and expressed sadness at her loss. For a week she cried whenever anyone talked about cats. Koko understood that gorillas, too, die when they are old, sick, or injured. When they die, she believed, they don't feel happy, sad, or afraid, but simply "sleep."
The Emotional Lives of Animals
When Elephants Weep:
the Emotional Lives of Animals,
by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson & Susan McCarthy,
Delacorte Press, 1995)
When Elephants Weep is a powerful, carefully reasoned assault on scientists' stubborn insistence that animals are nothing more than instinct-driven automatons, incapable of reasoning or emotions. But considering some of the horrific experiments conducted in the name of science, it's easy to understand why some researchers prefer to believe animals can't feel or experience pain, emotional or physical, as we do. How else could anyone conduct experiments like the one described by Martin Seligman:
. . . a wild rat, being held in the hand of a predator like man, having whiskers trimmed, and being put in a vat of hot water from which escape is impossible produces a sense of helplessness in the rat.This experiment in learned helplessness is quite tame compared to others conducted on monkeys and other animals to study fear, aggression, and social isolation. But the appalling abuse of animals in the name of science is not the focus of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson's book.
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