An­i­mal kind­ness

Can na­ture be kind?

World of Animals - - What's Inside - Words Vic­to­ria Wil­liams

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.

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