Are an­i­mals so­cially aware?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Pets -

THERE’S a strong theme in many hu­man con­ver­sa­tions that an­i­mals are bet­ter than us be­cause they don’t live in so­cial units that are strictly gov­erned by im­plicit rules of be­hav­iour. An­i­mals, th­ese themes sug­gest, are purer than us con­niv­ing and cal­cu­lat­ing hu­mans.

Of course, any­one who has spent any time with an­i­mals knows this is non­sense.

Ants are highly or­gan­ised into strict ranks, with work­ers, sol­diers and queens – and they hunt and cap­ture ants from other colonies to work as their slaves, too!

Cows will line up for milk­ing every morn­ing, each tak­ing her own place in the queue – and woe be­tide the new cow that tries to “break in” and up­set the ac­knowl­edged or­der. Farm­ers will tell you it takes days of ne­go­ti­a­tion to in­te­grate the new girl.

Our own close rel­a­tives, the chim­panzees, have an ex­tremely com­plex so­cial sys­tem that in­cludes cur­ry­ing favour with gifts, mak­ing your way up the so­cial lad­der by clever strate­gic al­liances, and even mur­der.

Ex­am­ples of co-op­er­a­tion, al­tru­ism and selfishness are rife in an­i­mal be­havioural science but, in all th­ese ar­eas of re­search, con­flict res­o­lu­tion is one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing.

All an­i­mals have tiffs, just like us, and many paw over gifts, groom each other, and of­fer apolo­gies in all kinds of ways, just as I did with the cats. Such be­hav­iour has been recorded in sci­en­tific pa­pers on bot­tlenose dol­phins, spot­ted hye­nas, pet dogs, feral sheep, lions and other species.

So if you have a pet, and you are get­ting the back of dis­ap­proval or a flat­tened ear, don’t try and bluff your way out of it. Soothe your furry friend’s feel­ings just as you would any other loved one. I’m sug­gest­ing com­plete hum­ble apolo­gies, and if you want some advice on guilt gifts, e-mail me!


– Ellen

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