Animals everywhere, some on two legs, but also furred, feathered, finny, and we are so like all of them….
Forester Peter Wohlleben is clearly a lovely being, and no wonder the wild animals birds and insects in his forest allow him to come close and observe
This book is subtitled Love, Grief and Compassion, Surprising Observations of a Hidden World. Its tenet is that we are not as different from other life forms as we may think. And I must say the ‘Observations’ wonderful and fascinating as they are have never really seemed ‘Surprising’ ones to me
Those of us who do take delight in the natural world and perhaps thought a bit about evolution have probably pretty much suspected that if physical structures take millennia to evolve – for example, from light sensitive simple organisms to the complex structures and variations of the eye – then ‘feelings’ ‘instincts’ and, yes ‘reason’ intelligence, self-awareness and language itself did not just arise with homo sapiens.
When those of us who ascribe quite complex emotional nuances to non-human animals, are accused of anthropomorphising, it has always seemed to me that those who make that accusation are guilty of a solipsistic, rather arrogant view of the world. Not to mention, a simplistic one, separating Homo sapiens from other species. Perhaps one could say that it is precisely that kind of disconnected attitude which leads to us thinking the planet is ours to abuse. (End of Rant)
Wohlleben is a connected-to-other-living-forms type of person. Some of them quite surprising. He even find such lowly creatures as weevils worthy of respect and consideration.
His writing style (translated from the German) is wonderfully down to earth and engaging, but he’s doing far more than telling delightful encounters of clever, grumpy, courageous, faithful, altruistic animals he has observed and loved. He is citing a lot of scientific studies that have been made, which show evidence of the complex emotional lives of other species – 100 papers are cited and referenced.
The challenge, of course, for us is a moral one. Much of our behaviour towards other animal species is predicated on our own sense of difference and superiority. Not to mention holding similar views about other members of our own species, with all the sorry history of slavery and exploitation that led to
So many little and big snippets to enjoy in this – I was probably more delighted to find complexity of emotion in much simpler animals than mammalian and avian (I’m afraid I’m remarkably species favoured towards the feathered and the furred)
For example, that hormone oxytocin, which has been described as ‘the love hormone’ – levels of which rise in pregnancy, and also in sex, and increase when people touch each other with good intent – for example, hugging increases it – well, here’s a thing – oxytocin is also produced by fish!
What about altruism in bees? Bee colonies need to keep themselves warm over winter
If it gets really cold, the insects huddle together and form a ball. It’s warmest, and therefore safest, in the middle – and, of course, this is where the queen must be. But what about the bees on the outside? If the exterior temperature drops below 10 degrees Celsius, they would die of cold in just a few hours, so bees inside the ball are kind enough to take it in turns to give the outsiders the opportunity to warm up again in the dense, seething mass
Some might scoff at that ‘kind enough’ but Wohlleben is not one who thinks that mankind alone shows complex connections, behaviour and ‘emotion’
This is a delightful, light-hearted, but intensely serious book.
When people reject acknowledging too much in the way of emotions in animals, I have the vague feeling that there’s a bit of fear that human beings could lose their special status. Even worse, it would become much more difficult to exploit animals. Every meal eaten or leather jacket worn would trigger moral considerations that would spoil their enjoyment……I am suggesting that we infuse our dealings with the living beings with which we share our world with a little more respect, as we once used to do
I received this from Amazon Vine UK
It has been ably translated from the German by Jane Billinghurst, who also translated Wohlleben’s earlier bestseller, The Hidden Life of Trees