THE WHIS­PERER

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - PETS - Anne Box­hall Email abox­hall@big­pond.com

DO an­i­mals feel em­pa­thy? To vary­ing de­grees, most peo­ple can un­der­stand what oth­ers are feel­ing be­cause they’ve ex­pe­ri­enced it or they have the abil­ity to put them­selves in some­one else’s shoes.

When it comes to an­i­mals, the ten­dency is to as­sume they don’t have this abil­ity.

It’s quite an as­sump­tion, con­sid­er­ing most an­i­mals are so­cial crea­tures who form bonded re­la­tion­ships.

In her book, How An­i­mals Grieve, author and pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy Bar­bara King ar­gues re­searchers are gath­er­ing ob­ser­va­tions which sug­gest an­i­mals mourn in ways peo­ple can recog­nise.

An­i­mal grief may not be as com­plex as hu­man grief, but re­searchers have seen an­i­mal be­hav­iour that mir­rors hu­man re­ac­tions to loss, in­clud­ing symp­toms of de­pres­sion.

Some species of an­i­mals, such as ele­phants, en­gage in fu­neral- type rit­u­als when a mem­ber of their herd dies.

They ap­pear deeply af­fected and have been known to stay with an ele­phant’s body for a week af­ter death, as part of a kind of ex­tended wake.

It is tricky to es­tab­lish ex­actly what goes on in­side an an­i­mal’s mind when one of their group dies, but pre­lim­i­nary ev­i­dence sug­gests grief re­sponses.

It is not un­com­mon to hear of cats and dogs who go off their food or let out an in­tense, eerie howl when one of their pack passes on.

Many have wit­nessed the sor­row­ful scenes on dairy farms when cows have their calves taken from them – when calves are re­moved, mother cows will fran­ti­cally bel­low for their off­spring.

Chimps, ba­boons and bono­bos carry their dead ba­bies for a week or more, with one recorded case of a mother pri­mate car­ry­ing her dead baby for 68 days.

As em­pathic hu­mans, it shouldn’t be so hard for us to ac­cept the idea that an­i­mals also suf­fer.

Maybe they do it dif­fer­ently, maybe it’s less pro­found, but in their own par­tic­u­lar way they are likely to mourn and grieve their losses too.

How An­i­mals Grieve ( 2013), by Bar­bara J. King. RRP: Hard­cover, $ 28.35

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