Can nature be kind?
Kindness in animals is something that has been debated for a long time, and the argument isn’t likely to be settled any time soon. ‘Altruism’ is used to describe behaviour that decreases the fitness of an individual but benefits another. While this isn’t uncommon, there are often ulterior motives when animals act kindly towards another.
Animals are most likely to behave altruistically when they stand to reap the benefits in the future. This is most common with kin, because keeping relatives alive or allowing them to produce offspring continues the family genes into the next generation.
Another motive for lending a hand is one common in our own species – expecting to receive something back in return. This tactic is known as ‘tit for tat’, and it’s an important feature of many social systems. Animals form relationships of different strengths based on their history together, and they’re often more inclined to behave ‘kindly’ to those animals who have done the same to them in the past.
While altruism can often be explained by animals playing the long game and secretly behaving in their own interest, there are examples of animal behaviour that really do seem genuinely kind. We may never know the true thought processes behind these actions, but, in a world of ruthlessness and selfish survival instincts, the stories are heart warming.