Let's stop pretending we don't know what animals feel
August 17, 2012 by
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
and there are stories about this wonderful reunion
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
Anthropomorphism is not anti-science.
Animals are also
Recently, a group of renowned scientists meeting
at the University of Cambridge seemingly reinvented the wheel by declaring
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.
image is from