How Animals Grieve

How Animals Grieve

Barbara J. King

Language: English

Pages: 208

ISBN: 022615520X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

From the time of our earliest childhood encounters with animals, we casually ascribe familiar emotions to them. But scientists have long cautioned against such anthropomorphizing, arguing that it limits our ability to truly comprehend the lives of other creatures. Recently, however, things have begun to shift in the other direction, and anthropologist Barbara J. King is at the forefront of that movement, arguing strenuously that we can—and should—attend to animal emotions. With How Animals Grieve, she draws our attention to the specific case of grief, and relates story after story—from fieldsites, farms, homes, and more—of animals mourning lost companions, mates, or friends.
King tells of elephants surrounding their matriarch as she weakens and dies, and, in the following days, attending to her corpse as if holding a vigil. A housecat loses her sister, from whom she's never before been parted, and spends weeks pacing the apartment, wailing plaintively. A baboon loses her daughter to a predator and sinks into grief. In each case, King uses her anthropological training to interpret and try to explain what we see—to help us understand this animal grief properly, as something neither the same as nor wholly different from the human experience of loss.
The resulting book is both daring and down-to-earth, strikingly ambitious even as it’s careful to acknowledge the limits of our understanding. Through the moving stories she chronicles and analyzes so beautifully, King brings us closer to the animals with whom we share a planet, and helps us see our own experiences, attachments, and emotions as part of a larger web of life, death, love, and loss.

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in character from the quiet, still, one that formed around Storm Warning’s grave. Here, the horses made a blur of motion, some moving clockwise, others counterclockwise. “Trotting, wheeling, kicking, galloping hoofed chaos,” Helling recalls. She is certain that no predator, or person, could have breached that moving circle. Could the protective intent of this horse circle suggest a new possibility in relation to the geldings who surrounded Storm Warning? Perhaps they had intuited a connection

the Elephant Sanctuary, Sissy made a choice that surprised the people who witnessed it. She placed her beloved tire, her security blanket, on her friend’s grave. There she left it, an elephant memorial offering, for several days. 6 DO MONKEYS MOURN? Toque macaques on the island of Sri Lanka live in a visual paradise. The green tree canopy stretches far, and in it the monkeys use their grasping hands to reel in tasty caterpillars suspended from the trees on long, thin threads. The forest

perfunctory, the reproductive imperative carried out in the absence of anything that looks (at least to a human eye) remotely affectionate. By contrast, Malena and Rodan behave toward each other in ways that may further their common reproductive goals but are not necessary for successful mating. The drive to produce offspring is fixed and the result of mating is inevitable, but the sharing of affection between any two birds is anything but. And love between long-term partners? It’s a trade-off

a situation in which a response of grief would be highly predictable for the surviving partner. Yet one final detail of the sanctuary’s report deserves attention. After Bella went missing and before her body was found, Tarra’s caretakers already judged her to be depressed and grieving. The elephant ate less and behaved in atypical ways. Because of the timing, Tarra was at that point upset about an absence, not a known death. We have grappled with this distinction before: How to distinguish an

Do animals kill themselves? And if they do, is grief ever the probable motivation? In 1847—a dozen years before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species with its theory of evolution by natural selection—that question was alluded to in the pages of Scientific American. The animal under consideration was a gazelle in Malta, but in some ways the story parallels what we know about the mother bear in China. Here is the brief item, published over 160 years ago under the headline “Suicide by a

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