More amazing stories of friendship, grief and gratitude
By Marc Bekoff (Adapted, with permission, from his original article at “Yes” magazine)
Scientific research shows that many animals are very intelligent and have sensory and motor abilities that dwarf our own.
They also display wide-ranging emotions, which is not surprising in that we also share brain structures that are the seat of our emotions. Here are some more anecdotes collected by Marc Bekoff that are consistent with research on the emotional lives of animals. Bekoff is a former Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a Fellow of the Animal Behavior Society.
A Grateful Whale
In December 2005 a 50-foot, 50-ton, female humpback whale got tangled in crab lines and was in danger of drowning. After a team of divers freed her, she nuzzled each of her rescuers in turn and flapped around in what one whale expert said was “a rare and remarkable encounter.”
James Moskito, one of the rescuers, recalled that, “It felt to me like it was thanking us, knowing it was free and that we had helped it.” He said the whale “stopped about a foot away from me, pushed me around a little bit and had some fun.”
Mike Menigoz, another of the divers, was also deeply touched by the encounter: “The whale was doing little dives, and the guys were rubbing shoulders with [her]. I don’t know for sure what [she] was thinking, but it’s something I will always remember.”
Shirley and Jenny: Remembering Friends
Photo by Evan Long
Elephants have strong feelings. They also have great memory. They live in matriarchal societies in which strong social bonds among individuals endure for decades.
Shirley and Jenny, two female elephants, were brought separately to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., to live out their lives in peace, absent the abuse they had suffered in the entertainment industry.
When Shirley was introduced to Jenny, there was an urgency in Jenny’s behavior. She wanted to get into the same stall with Shirley. They roared at each other, the traditional elephant greeting among friends when they reunite. Rather than being cautious and uncertain about one another, they touched through the bars separating them and remained in close contact.
A search of records showed that Shirley and Jenny had lived together in a circus 22 years before, when Jenny was a calf and Shirley was in her 20s. They still remembered one another when they were inadvertently reunited.
Dogs Sniffing Out Disease
Paul Jackson has Type 2 diabetes. Paul’s family noticed that whenever he was about to have an attack, his dog, Tinker, would get agitated.
Paul said, “He would lick my face, or cry gently, or bark even. And then we noticed that this behavior was happening while I was having a hypoglycemic attack, so we just put two and two together.”
Dogs appear to be able to detect different cancers – ovarian, lung, bladder, prostate, and breast – and diabetes, perhaps by assessing a person’s breath.
Compared to humans, dogs have about 25 times the area of nasal olfactory epithelium (which carries receptor cells) and many thousands more cells in the olfactory region of their brain. Dogs can differentiate dilutions of 1 part per billion, follow faint odor trails, and are 10,000 times more sensitive than humans to certain odors.
It’s OK to Be a Birdbrain
Crows from the remote Pacific island of New Caledonia show incredibly high-level skills when they make and use tools.
They get much of their food using tools, and they do this better than chimpanzees. With no prior training they can make hooks from straight pieces of wire to obtain out-of-reach food.
They can also add features to improve a tool – a skill supposedly unique to humans. For example, they make three different types of tools from the long, barbed leaves of the screw pine tree. They also modify tools for the situation at hand, a type of invention not seen in other animals. These birds can learn to pull a string to retrieve a short stick, use the stick to pull out a longer one, then use the long stick to draw out a piece of meat. One crow, named Sam, spent less than two minutes inspecting the task and solved it without error.
Caledonian crows live in small family groups and youngsters learn to fashion and use tools by watching adults. Researchers from the University of Auckland discovered that parents actually take their young to specific sites called “tool schools” where they can practice these skills.
An Embarrassed Chimpanzee: I didn’t do that!
Embarrassment is difficult to observe. By definition, it’s a feeling that one tries to hide. But world famous primatologist Jane Goodall believes she has observed what could be called embarrassment in chimpanzees.
Fifi was a female chimpanzee whom Jane knew for more than 40 years. When Fifi’s oldest child, Freud, was five and a half years old, his uncle, Fifi’s brother Figan, was the alpha male of their chimpanzee community. Freud always followed Figan as if he worshiped the big male.
Once, as Fifi groomed Figan, Freud climbed up the thin stem of a wild plantain. When he reached the leafy crown, he began swaying wildly back and forth. Had he been a human child, we would have said he was showing off. Suddenly the stem broke and Freud tumbled into the long grass. He was not hurt. He landed close to Jane, and as his head emerged from the grass she saw him look over at Figan. Had he noticed? If he had, he paid no attention but went on being groomed. Freud very quietly climbed another tree and began to feed.
Harvard University psychologist Marc Hauser observed what could be called embarrassment in a male rhesus monkey. After mating with a female, the male strutted away and accidentally fell into a ditch. He stood up and quickly looked around. After sensing that no other monkeys saw him tumble, he marched off, back high, head and tail up, as if nothing had happened.
Jethro and the Bunny
After I adopted Jethro, I noticed that he never chased the rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, or deer who regularly visited. He often tried to approach them as if they were friends.
One day Jethro came to my front door, stared into my eyes, belched, and dropped a small, furry, saliva-covered ball out of his mouth. I wondered what in the world he’d brought back and discovered the wet ball of fur was a very young bunny.
Jethro continued to make direct eye contact with me as if he were saying, “Do something.” I picked up the bunny, placed her in a box, gave her water and celery, and figured she wouldn’t survive the night, despite our efforts to keep her alive.
I was wrong. Jethro remained by her side and refused walks and meals until I pulled him away so he could heed nature’s call. When I eventually released the bunny, Jethro followed her trail and continued to do so for months.
Over the years Jethro approached rabbits as if they should be his friends, but they usually fled. He also rescued birds who flew into our windows and, on one occasion, a bird who’d been caught and dropped in front of my office by a local red fox.