Scientists are often quick to discourage the anthropomorphising of animals. In the scientific world, attaching human qualities to non human species can be limiting, resulting in a lack of understanding. While I do agree that the majority of us are guilty of viewing wild animals through rose tinted glasses, I believe that there is so much evidence of animal emotion, that a refusal to investigate due to a fear of anthropomorphising is even more damaging.
Most of us have our own examples of displays of animal emotions. I've had many pets over the years, each with their own unique personalities. At times they've seemed unfathomable, yet at others they seem so like us, that it becomes ridiculous to dismiss their capacity to feel. In her latest book, anthropologist Barbara King, explores the concept of grief within the animal kingdom, showing that mourning isn't uniquely human.
Whenever people talk about animal grief, the first thing that comes to my mind is how when one of my cats died, the others entered the room one by one in order to smell her body. To me this seems like their way of acknowledging her death, and in essence, saying their goodbyes. From case studies examined throughout her book, King demonstrates that animals (like humans) seem to do better when they're able to say goodbyes to their companions. She highlights the obvious sense of loss that some animals feel upon losing their families or playmates, both in the domestic and wild. From the elephants who caress the bones of their kin, to the dolphins who helplessly try and keep their deceased young afloat, there seems to be an unrelenting mass of evidence that supports the theory of animal grief.
Perhaps it's our desire to demonstrate our dominance over animals that leads to the belief that they're incapable of sharing emotions that we recognize as our own. This book certainly goes a long way in opening eyes to the contrary. It's sensitively written, showing a real respect for the animals mentioned. It's also not too scientifically overwhelming, seeming beautifully poetic in places. With chapters on animal suicide, and passages detailing extreme cruelty, this is at times a heartbreaking book that seems to demand further introspection. It's a fantastic read, highly recommended.