An­i­mals are watch­ing us, too

Au­thor ar­gues for the In­ner Life of An­i­mals

StarMetro Vancouver - - BOOKS - Sue Carter Sue Carter is the ed­i­tor at Quill & Quire mag­a­zine.

Around 200 ad­ven­tur­ous yo­gis planted their mats at Toronto’s Royal Agri­cul­tural Win­ter Fair on Nov. 3 to down­ward dog while en­er­getic goats frol­icked around, beg­ging for treats and head scratches. Hardly any yoga was prac­tised; most par­tic­i­pants were too busy ca­jol­ing the an­i­mals into pos­ing for photos.

Goat yoga is new to North Amer­ica, but the trend hasn’t ar­rived in Ger­many, says Peter Wohlleben, who chuck­led at the idea. How­ever, Wohlleben, a ca­reer forester who owns a hobby farm with goats, horses and other beasts, does un­der­stand its pop­u­lar­ity. His new book, The In­ner Life of An­i­mals: Love, Grief, and Com­pas­sion, makes a con­vinc­ing case that many species share com­mon emo­tions, from shame to de­sire.

“When we watch an­i­mals, most peo­ple don’t re­al­ize that they are also watched by the an­i­mals, and that there is com­mu­ni­ca­tion hap­pen­ing,” he says. “It is very of­ten over­looked be­cause we tend to view na­ture, whether it’s trees or an­i­mals, like things in a mu­seum.”

Wohlleben be­lieves it’s not a lost con­nec­tion to the en­vi­ron­ment that makes ur­ban­ites want to ex­er­cise with goats or share videos of an­i­mal an­tics. He sug­gests we’re wit­ness­ing flaws in an an­ti­quated ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem based on a sci­en­tific view that dis­misses na­ture as a soul­less en­gine.

“That means that be­side hu­mans, no other be­ing has fun or a happy life, and now we see more and more that isn’t true. When you have a pet dog or cat, most peo­ple know it’s not a ma­chine, they’re like a fam­ily mem­ber,” Wohlleben ex­plains with an ex­am­ple from his farm.

“Our horses can read our body lan­guage. They can see lit­tle changes of ten­sion in our mus­cles, and when we’re in a bad mood. They won’t work prop­erly with us be­cause when some­one is not in a good mood, they know this per­son will not be a good boss.”

The In­ner Life of An­i­mals be­gan with Wohlleben’s per­sonal ob­ser­va­tions, his hy­pothe­ses backed by re­search. He shares tales of his rooster ly­ing about food to gain the amorous at­ten­tion of chick­ens, and re­search that sug­gests fruit flies dream. While his sto­ry­telling has made him a reader favourite, there are those in the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity who aren’t fans. In his last book, the in­ter­na­tional best­selling phe­nom­e­non The Hid­den Life of Trees, Wohlleben sug­gested that trees not only have per­son­al­i­ties, but en­joy friend­ships and even sex, which caused furor among a group of Ger­man sci­en­tists who pe­ti­tioned against his writ­ing. But Wohlleben re­mains un­de­terred, his goal sim­ple: “I would like peo­ple to have more fun with na­ture.” Al­though it’s hard to imag­ine eating pork af­ter learn­ing how pigs demon­strate em­pa­thy, Wohlleben isn’t judg­ing those who en­joy ba­con. He hopes to in­spire read­ers to find bal­ance in their con­sump­tion habits with sim­ple changes like choos­ing eth­i­cally raised meat. “It’s bet­ter to not to aim at the mind, but at the heart,” he says. “My ex­pec­ta­tions aren’t too high that the book will change big things, but na­ture also walks in small steps. And if this book is one small step, than I’m happy.”


Peter wohlleben ar­gues many an­i­mals share com­mon emo­tions.

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