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Philosophy of AR > Morality > Speciesism
Gorilla Joy Without a Doubt

Let's stop pretending we don't know what animals feel

 August 17, 2012 by Marc Bekoff, Ph.D. in Animal Emotions

Here's a wonderful story that'll make your day. After three years apart, two gorilla brothers, Kesho and Alf, were reunited at Longleat Safari Park in the UK. They were separated when Kesho was sent to London Zoo to breed. Their reunion has hit the press because it's so clear what Kesho and Alf are feeling--deep and uninhibited joy. A series of photos of the reunion can be seen here and there are stories about this wonderful reunion here and here. As someone who's studied nonhuman animal (animal) behavior and animal emotions for decades I'm thrilled to see the press feature these sorts of events showing just how emotional other animals truly are.

Gorilla joy with a capital J

In her wonderful story about Kesho and Alf, accompanied by photographs and a video, biologist and gorilla researcher Dr. Charlotte Uhlenbroek nicely sums up this wonderful reunion: "The photographs in yesterday�s Mail of two gorilla brothers hugging each other in delight at being reunited after three years apart are deeply moving. The affection is unmistakeable. They react just as human brothers might. It�s heartwarming but not at all surprising to me. Many years spent working in the wild with these beautiful animals and their close cousins the chimpanzees have convinced me that the great apes have a range of powerful emotions identical to our own." This is joy with a capital J.

Dr. Uhlenbroek's concluding sentence says it all: "Deep emotion is invisible, intangible . . . but whatever it is, our cousins have got it too."

I like to say that emotions are gifts of our ancestors. And, paraphrasing Charles Darwin's arguments about evolutionary continuity, I offer that "If we have something, 'they' (other animals) have it too." So let's stop pretending we don't know what these brothers and other animals are feeling when they so clearly display a wide range of emotions.

Critics often say something like "Oh, you're just being anthropomorphic" when we speak about animal emotions. However, it's not being anthropomorphic to say we know other animals have deep and rich emotional lives because we're not inserting something human into animals. Rather, we're identifying commonalities and then using human language to communicate what we observe. It's simply bad biology to rob other animals of their emotional lives. Anthropomorphism is not anti-science.

Animals are also conscious

Recently, a group of renowned scientists meeting at the University of Cambridge seemingly reinvented the wheel by declaring that animals are conscious. Of course we've known this for a long time but perhaps their endorsement of the obvious will help the plight of other animals who are abused by the billions in a wide variety of venues.

Let's hope that the recognition that other animals are conscious and feelings beings isn't just grand-standing. What they want, need, and feel is deeply important to them as it should be to us and we should use what we know about them to give them the very best lives we can.

The teaser image is from here

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