Are animals socially aware?
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!