Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Archive for the ‘Primates’ Category

Monkeys, Marsupials and Emus on Superbowl Sunday: A Salon with Sy Montgomery and Dale Peterson

Posted by lisagbrown on February 7, 2010

While the rest of Boston was glued to Superbowl Sunday TV, a small group of animal-minded individuals gathered in the brick annex of Newtonville Books to chat with authors Sy Montgomery (Walking with the Great Apes) and Dale Peterson (Elephant Reflections). The Pen/New England event wasn’t a typical book reading. In fact, no one even cracked open a book. Instead, the two authors casually entertained the group with stories of how they began writing about animals. And when that was through, the group of us stood sipping wine and eating cheese, chatting up the charmingly humble authors in the tradition of an old fashioned “salon.”

Dale shared a story about how he used to do carpentry for Steve Jobs in the 80’s, and how he found his voice while travelling the world in pursuit of the 10 most endangered primates. Sy extolled her love of Emus, and explained the depression she endured when she left her six-month stint in the outback of Australia. Even though both Dale and Sy have books coming out soon, neither read passages from their books. Instead, they shared a little of themselves: their writing process, their personal relationships with animals, and their experiences with publishers. “When you can’t believe in yourself, and I often can’t, you can believe in the animals you apprentice yourself to,” explained Sy.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Conservation, Extinction, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Photography, Primates, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Animals on the Internet

Posted by lisagbrown on August 27, 2009

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Animals are everywhere on the internet, and it seems that every day there are more and more viral stories, videos and photos about animals! In order to accomodate the rapid influx of news and links, I’ve started a Facebook page where I can quickly post these items when I don’t have time to write a blog entry. Here’s a sampling of what you’ve been missing, if you’re not a fan of Animal Inventory on Facebook!

  • Monkey Herds Goats; Farmer Approves: An amazing National Geographic video of a monkey in India that herds goats! She has received no training, and does it on a completely voluntary basis — she was set free by the people who tended to some wounds she had gotten in the wild, but has chosen to stay with them and herd their goats!
  • Green Porno: Isabella Rossellini and Sundance channel team up to create very short films about the reproductive habits of marine animals. GREEN PORNO is scientifically accurate yet extremely entertaining.
  • Chimp Outtakes: Adorable outtakes from footage shot by the Jane Goodall Institute of the chimps in Gombi.
  • Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me: The NPR news quiz show hosts an episode that’s all about animals!

And there’s so much more! Articles about: a giraffe and an ostrich that are best friends, how Barry White might help sharks mate, an elephant and a dolphin getting prosthetic limbs. Introductions to cool artists who are inspired by animals, like Jen Mastre’s pencil sea urchin sculptures.  Plus I’ve begun highlighting the animal-related work of Animal Inventory’s fans themselves, an astonishingly talented and prolific group of people: for example, the comics of Nick Abadzis, the artwork of Jessica Joslin, the writing of Leslie Irvine.

There’s much more to come. Don’t miss out on your daily dose of Animal Inventory on Facebook!

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Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Comics, Conservation, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Primates, Public Policy, Representations | Leave a Comment »

Low-Calorie Monkeys and Roger Cohen’s Meaning of Life

Posted by lisagbrown on July 18, 2009

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In the July 15, 2009 New York Times, op-ed writer Roger Cohen responds to a recently published study that claims that ingesting one-third fewer calories may slow the aging process. The study draws this conclusion based on the controlled eating habits of a group of monkeys where half the monkeys have been denied one third of their regular caloric intake. 37% of the control group, fed a normal monkey diet, have died of old age, while only 13% of the underfed group have passed away.

In his article “The Meaning of Life,” Cohen introduces a new perspective to this story — one that the mainstream media hasn’t considered in its flurry over finding a potential fountain of youth. As he explains, “the issue arises of how these primates… are feeling, and whether these feelings impact their desire to live.” In this short but succinct statement, Cohen has turned the tables on the experiment and the resulting press coverage. Not only is he questioning the validity of the study’s conclusions, he is also asking his readership to consider the experiences of these monkeys as individuals. In wondering about the monkeys’ desire to live, he pointedly forces the reader to examine not just the food intake of the animals, but also their living situation, social structure and enrichment needs, as well. While other media outlets see hope for humans waistlines reflected in the photo of the monkeys, Cohen brings attention to everything in the photo around the monkeys — the sterile cages and metal mesh flooring, and the stark contrast of the brightly colored toys that seemed decidedly un-fun and untouched. Cohen seems to ask his readers whether this looks like a life worth living.

Yet Cohen goes on to dissect the expressions of the pictured monkeys, claiming that the larger simian, Owen (above, right), has a “wry smile” and the slender monkey, Canto (above, left), looks “miserable in his thinness,” and here is where I have to diverge with his line of thinking. It’s difficult to know from a single photograph the lifelong mood or feelings of an animal — or, well, of anyone for that matter. And as some of Cohen’s readers point out in the online comments section of the article, there are other photos of the monkeys in which the thin monkey looks perfectly content, and the plump monkey looks unhappy. It is a fair assumption that Cohen knew about these other photos when he wrote his article. Which begs the question: If pictures are worth 1000 words, then whose thousand words do these photos reveal? The scientists’ thousand? Cohen’s thousand? Certainly not the monkeys’ thousand.

As I read the rest of Cohen’s article, it became clear to me that Cohen was, in part, using these monkeys as a literary device; a means to get to the heart of what he really wanted to discuss — the meaning of happiness in life. He praises the merits of red wine, the pleasures of eating rich foods, and the enhancing benefits of love, all while using plump Owen’s wry smile as an example of the happiness that living lushly can produce. But there’s an uncomfortable dissonance to his point, because despite Cohen’s intentions, his idea of a life fully lived doesn’t remotely resemble the realities of Owen’s captive life — regardless of whether or not Owen has access to an all-you-can-eat buffet.

It is the prerogative of a writer to find alternate meanings in otherwise commonplace events, or to find the common threads in disparate stories in order to bring greater understanding to a theme. This is what Cohen strives to do by pairing the evocative monkey portraits with his musings on living happily. But when I first started reading Cohen’s article, I did not think that the monkeys were a literary means to an end. And for all the obvious reasons, Cohen’s article does not dissect the lives of these monkeys as deeply as I hoped he would.

On July 6, 2009, Cohen wrote an extraordinarily moving article for the New York Times about the tyranny in Iran called, “A Journalist’s ‘Actual Responsibility’.” He uses the disturbing events in Iran to define his purpose as a journalist. He explains, “In the 24/7 howl of partisan pontification, and the scarcely less-constant death knell din surrounding the press, a basic truth gets lost: that to be a journalist is to bear witness.”

Cohen defines “bearing witness” as a physical presence: to bear witness a journalist must actually see something with his or her own eyes, be present for the smells, sights and sounds of a story. But in my mind, and I think Cohen intended this as well, bearing witness is also the revolutionary act of seeing what others refuse to see, hearing what others refuse to hear, and documenting, for all posterity, what others refuse to document. And in this sense, physical presence is secondary to emotional and intellectual presence.

When I began to read Cohen’s article about a new fountain of youth — delivered on the backs of underfed and under-enriched monkeys — I saw that he was bearing witness to this story in a way that no one in the mainstream press had; everyone else saw their own fears of aging, but he saw a suffering that was going unnoticed. He was bearing witness to stark metal cages and sad thirty-year lifespans. He seemed to be acknowledging a truth that many members of the media ignore — monkeys (and all animals) live lives that are worth witnessing. But Cohen’s reliability as a witness fell just short of the mark when he supplanted his own meaning of life over the faces of monkeys whose lives are defined by what they have or have not eaten.

Perhaps Cohen has cracked open the door of Pandora’s box (aside from the obvious dogs and cats, mainstream media still has a difficult time acknowledging that animal well-being matters), and so, in that context, Cohen’s stance is actually somewhat brave. But those two monkeys — even the very thin one — can’t fit through a door that’s only open a sliver. They need a door that’s thrown wide open, and a witness who is focused on the meaning of their lives, not his own.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Ethics, Human-Animal Studies, Literature, Primates, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

What about Michael Jackson’s Chimp, Bubbles?

Posted by lisagbrown on June 29, 2009

bubblesI guess I imagined that Michael Jackson’s chimp Bubbles still lived at the Neverland Ranch, that he was a member of MJ’s menagerie, or maybe that he had an enclosure in the King of Pop’s house.  To be honest, I never gave the matter much thought until Michael Jackson died last week and I found myself thinking, what about Bubbles?

It could be said that Jackson’s purchase of Bubbles (at age 3) in 1985 marked the beginning of Jackson’s decline into increasingly eccentric behavior. Bubbles made appearances in Jackson’s videos; he was present in the recording studio as Jackson recorded his album Bad; he even accompanied Jackson on a tour of Japan and they reportedly shared a hotel room.

By Jackson’s own account, he gave up Bubbles when his son was born, fearing that the chimp may become aggressive. But the real story is less clear. Some people report that there were many young “Bubbles'” over the years, or at the very least, there were a number of different apes that lived with Jackson. According to reliable sources, the reality is that the original Bubbles actually lived for most of his life with a trainer in California. And what is clear, is that in 2005 Bubbles was moved to the Center for Great Apes sanctuary, where he currently resides.

Last week I posted an interview with Charles Siebert whose book, The Wauchula Woods Accord, chronicles the sad lives of former entertainment chimps living in America. Siebert’s chimp friend Roger lives at the same sanctuary that Bubbles does, along with more than 40 other apes. To describe the story of Bubbles is to rehash the same heartbreaking tale that has been recounted again and again and again. Adorable baby chimps are purchased by the rich and put to work as actors and entertainers. They become adult chimps very quickly who are too strong to be around humans, and are then forced to spend the rest of their 50-55 years behind bars. I can’t help but wonder what will cause these stories to change.

The photo above shows a very young Bubbles with Michael Jackson in the mid 80’s. The photo below is by Joe Zammit-Lucia (whose work I highlighted in a blog entry a few weeks ago), and shows Bubbles as he is today. Joe is offering fine archival prints of the photo for purchase, and proceeds from the sales will go directly to The Center for Great Apes, where Bubbles lives. If you are interested in purchasing a print, click here to go to Joe’s web site. Alternatively, you can make donations directly at the sanctuary’s web site. To take care of all of their apes, it costs the sanctuary $16,000 per year, per chimp ($43 per day, per chimp).  

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“Bubbles” by Joe Zammit-Lucia

To learn more about The Center for Great Apes, please click here.

To specifically learn more about Bubbles, click here.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Ethics, Human-Animal Bond, Photography, Primates, Representations, Television | 1 Comment »

An Interview with Writer Charles Siebert about His New Book, The Wauchula Woods Accord

Posted by lisagbrown on June 22, 2009

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Charles Siebert has made his name as the New York Times Magazine animal writer. In the past several years he has written articles about animal shelters, elephant culture, chimp behavior, and humans’ relationship with the natural world. He has also written several books about animals and nature (for a complete bibliography of Siebert’s work, click here).

Now, Siebert adds to his impressive body of work with the book The Wauchula Woods Accord, in which he explores the lives of retired chimps living in America. Siebert takes us on a coast to coast trip as he visits a number of sanctuaries and zoos that house former chimp actors (and retired medical research subjects, as well). Building upon carefully compiled scientific, historical, biographical and cultural research, Siebert paints a vivid portrait of a species in crisis. In a style that has become Siebert’s signature, he ties this story together through the lens of his own personal experiences, and encourages his readers to see these animals as he sees them: as “primatological doppelganger[s]” of ourselves.

Perhaps most compelling is his relationship with Roger, a chimp who takes an immediate liking to Siebert, and whom Siebert is convinced he met at some point in his life. The quiet and profound friendship that grows between them fuels this book, as much as it fuels Siebert’s desire to see these apes living lives more befitting such intelligent, sensitive beings.

Recently, Siebert very graciously answered my questions about his relationship with Roger, and about his new book.

Animal Inventory: Much of the time you and Roger spend together you simply stare at each other. And yet, it seems that much occurs between you in the course of your endless gazing. At one point you say, “You can learn a lot, I’ve found, from just daring to remain within a chimpanzee’s stare. Far more than you can from a fellow human’s (p 5).” How so? What do you think was happening between you two during those times?

Charles Siebert: The very dynamic, if overtly static, process of daring to stay within another animal’s gaze (especially one as close to us in body and mind as the chimpanzee) is one of escaping the relentless keeper of human consciousness; a process of getting past my restrictive and seemingly exclusive identity as a human and thus throwing open the doors on all the other creatures that I know myself to be, or to once have been, biologically, evolutionarily, and intuitively. That all may sound like some horrible mish-mash of Walt Whitman, Transcendentalism and Buddhism, but there it is. I often feel I’m traveling in place when I look into an animal’s eyes, whereas with another human one has to get past all the self-conscious and pre-possessive entanglements that obtain your own brain. I’m not saying that the inscrutable muteness of an animal and its otherness allows me to endlessly project my thoughts and ideas and will upon them. I’m saying that animals allow me to divest myself of all those things and, to paraphrase Emerson, resign myself to the common biology that breathes through all beings and accompany that.

9780609804681AI: I thought a lot about your book Angus as I was reading Wauchula Woods – mostly because of the contrast in how you communicate animal sentience in each. In Angus, you write the book as a memoir from your dog’s point of view. In Wauchula Woods, you rely on observation, context and history. The circumstances – not to mention the species – in each book are quite different, but did you ever consider writing Roger’s story from his point of view?

CS: In Angus I was more or less operating on the premise that (and now I’m channeling Bogart in Casablanca) it is not an anthropomorphizer that I mind so much, it’s a cut-rate one. All I know is that I kept trying to write that book from my point of view, but the writing seemed horribly bland and flat. And then one day this voice came into my head that sounded to me like the essence of the spirit of Angus: daring, edgy, all attitude and aggression. As the book opens, he’s lying there at the edge of the woods, near death from a coyote attack, and so the sense I try to instill in the reader is that the actual Angus has been somehow transformed by the experience of the attack into a suddenly far more sentient, knowing rendition of his former self, a kind of wry Rilkean dog angel, hovering somewhere between life and death, and seeing both of those anew. With The Wauchula Woods Accord I knew I already had in Roger such an advanced intelligence (and this is based on neurological research into the chimp brain, not anthropomorphic conjecture) that to attempt to write the story from his point of view would have resulted in the very bathos and cartoonishness that I decry in the book with regard to our typical treatment of our nearest biological relative. Thus, it seemed to me the simple and often stark juxtaposition of my expressed thoughts and emotions with Roger’s unspoken ones, would be far more powerful.

AI: You posit that, despite the cages that usually restrict nonhuman apes, humans are “by far the more imprisoned species (p 44).” Can you explain what you mean by this?

pppCS: Well, this goes back to the relentless keeper’s consciousness, and the awkward and often beastly ways in which our own self-awareness causes us to behave, the very need we have, for example, to take a creature like Roger and dress him up as a cellist in an all-chimp orchestra at Ringling Bros., or to simply put him and any number of other creatures behind bars in order to stare at them. I think we do such things, on one level at least, because we’re lonely. We sense that we’re at once a part of, and apart from, other animals and so we want to bring them into our context as coerced companions, ongoing, living glosses on who we are. It’s a primal urge in its own right. Our brain’s added neurons, the ones that allow for our so called higher cognitive functions, are also what give us that sense of isolation from the rest of being. Why, we’ve long wondered, are we the only ones who can turn around and call all other things names? This sense of isolation is, of course, at the heart of all creation mythology, the notion that we humans went astray somewhere, committed some sin and so got ourselves expelled from the rest of nature. But as I say someplace in the book, we were never expelled from anywhere. We walked out: the first upright forays toward new environments and challenges that our earliest primate ancestor made, new environments and challenges that spurred, in turn, the growth of those same added neurons that have since contributed to our sense of isolation. Still, one great source of absolution—and I use that theurgically tinted word in the context of the above creation mythology rap—is now being offered to us by of all things science. More and more studies of other animals—fellow primates like Roger, elephants, whales, dolphins, and certain species of birds—are revealing that they, too, possess in varying measures many of the same highly specialized neurons and attendant behaviors, such as communication skills, social interactions, tool use and cultural transmission of knowledge, that we once thought to be exclusive to us humans. We are not alone after all. We just have no way, at present at least, to speak other creatures’ languages.

AI: In the course of your book you often suggest that our fraught relationship with chimps is partly due to how they remind us of the animality we deny in ourselves. Can you envision a way for humans to accept our own animality? What would that look like? And do you think that chimp welfare is dependent on our ability to accept our animality?

CS: Hmmm, I ponder that one often. One answer, I believe, and it may be somewhat pie-in-the sky, both literally and figuratively, is that if we humans could, in our ongoing need to apprehend the infinite and the spiritual nature of our existence, could learn to redirect our gazes downward rather than skyward, if we could come to better know and embrace the billions of years of biology that it took to go from the one common ancestor of all life to life as it is today in its myriad of forms, we would discover that the infinite, somewhat paradoxically, inheres in the minutae of all life’s making. “God”, in that sense, truly is in the details. I think we as a species are either far too oblivious or dismissive of the wonders of the actual story of life’s emergence. Science doesn’t dispel our wonder. It merely reinvents it. As for how such a new embrace of our own animality and common biology would affect the fate of other species such as chimps, I suppose I could quote the very words of The Wauchula Woods Accord that Roger and I arrive at by the end of our time together: “The degree to which we humans will finally stop abusing other creatures, and for that matter, one another will be measured by the degree to which we come to understand how integral a part of us all other creatures actually are.”

AI: At one point you explain, “Science has obviated anthropomorphism – the crime of projecting our stories upon the animals – by, of all things, repeatedly pointing out to us just how uncomfortably close to our stories so many aspects of theirs actually are (p 134).” By contrast, you seem to embrace a kind of anthropomorphism that uses human perspective as a tool toward a greater understanding of other animals. How have the scientists that reject anthropomorphism responded to your work?

sc0009c0b1CS: I’m not sure I can answer that one except to say that I’m always as careful as I can be in my research, and my interviews with scientists, and in my actual writing, about the so called “spectre of anthropomorphism”. I try to let the science lead my imagination and these days that’s a very effortless dance indeed. Ultimately, however, all we humans have is anthropomorphism. We have to, by the very nature of our own biological alignment, project upon and conjecture about what might be going on within the bodies and minds of biology’s other alignments. What science has forever changed, however, is the substance and tenor of our projections and conjectures. Whereas once we had to proceed from the inherently unanswerable question: what it is like to be in Roger’s day, or a whale’s, or a dolphin’s or an elephant’s, now science has told us enough about the behaviors and the brain structures of these other creatures to allow us to conclude that they all clearly have their own parallel days, ones that are in many ways as complex and woundable as ours, and therefore as commanding of regard and respect.

AI: You cite the work of Eve Abe and Gay Bradshaw, two scholars who suggest that wild elephants are experiencing a collective psychological and cultural breakdown of epic proportions, caused by human interference (habitat destruction, poaching, culling, translocation, etc.). What can we draw from these findings that will inform us about the future of wild chimps?

CS: Wild chimps are experiencing the same encroachment, habitat destruction and attendant breakdown of their society that elephants are. The future of both species, and that of any number of large land-based animals with whom we share the planet, is more or less entirely up to us. We are the ones who’ll have to determine how important it is to us to keep these animals around, how impoverished we’d be without them on the earth. And then we have to make the effort to preserve enough extant wilderness in which those animals can prosper. That, of course, involves very complex, geo-political maneuvering and cross-cultural co-operation and negotiation.

AI: Towards the end of the book, you state that we need “to finally get past ourselves and our story and, through acts of deep, interspecies empathy…to become a part of [other animals’] story (p 175).” On the one hand this seems like a simple request, but on the other hand this requires a radical shift in perspective. Can you explain what you mean by this?

CS: In one sense this involves us human beings collectively coming down off of our high horse, if you’ll excuse the old expression. The more we begin to see and understand ourselves as one more extension of the greater biological forces that created and control all life on earth, rather than as beings apart, entities anointed by some higher authority, the more the “inter-species empathy” I speak of, or what Gay Bradshaw calls the “trans-species psyche”, will be allowed to flourish. This will all still bring us to the same tough decisions and compromises that I alluded to earlier, but what a better premise it is to approach them from such a new collective interspecies empathy, as opposed to the ongoing parochial factionalism rooted in old rival religions and the false notion of human exclusivity.

AI: Finally, do you have any new projects in the works that we can look forward to?

CS: I’m currently completing an upcoming July 12th cover story for The New York Times Magazine about whales and all the amazing new things that we’re learning about them and their culture. I’ve also got a number of new books in the works, one about the hopefully doubtful future of the zoo; a novel about a hardware shop owner who happens to discover the common ancestor of all life on earth; and, finally, a collection of poems.

Image 1: Cover of The Wauchula Woods Accord

Image 2: Cover of Angus

Image 3: Siebert’s new friend, Roger

Image 4: Engraving by Nicolaes Tulp (1641). An image of an ape who is thought to be the first live chimp brought to Europe

Special thanks to Kate Bittman at Scribner

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Conservation, Ethics, Extinction, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Primates, Public Policy, Representations, Theory | 6 Comments »

The Photography of Joe Zammit-Lucia

Posted by lisagbrown on June 2, 2009

“Portraits celebrating the animal as individual, not as mere specimen of species…”

 Photos and text by Joe Zammit-Lucia

 

ZammitLucia-Joe_Resignation

“Resignation”

“In the world of animal portraiture I would like to explore the narrow space between the animal as an object … and the animal as human property or as anthropomorphized or aesthetic object. A space where the conversation is about mutual respect between the subject and the viewer.”

  

Hunted

 “Hunted”

“Some scholars see wildlife photography as the modern equivalent of Victorian big game hunting and the colonial attitudes that went with it. We ‘shoot’ and ‘capture’ animals and display the resulting images as trophies — the proud acheivement of an intrepid photographer ‘hunting with the camera.'”

 

ZammitLucia-Joe_Pride 

 “Pride”

“In some wildlife images, the animal, while visible to the eye, may not be visible to the mind. It is objectified or hidden in the blaze of color or the abstract pattern or the species behavior or the romanticized magnificence of Nature that is the true subject of the image.”

 

poise

“Poise”

“The use of the collective [term] ‘wildlife’ leads us to view animals not as individuals but rather as specimens of species.”

 

For more information on the work of Joe Zammit-Lucia, click here to visit his website.

 

All text and images are by Joe Zammit-Lucia. Text is from the artist’s statement. The artist donates all profits from his photography to environmental causes.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Conservation, Ethics, Human-Animal Studies, Photography, Primates, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Do Animals Have Emotions?

Posted by lisagbrown on April 19, 2009

facial-expressions1My blog entries are inspired by many things: movies, books, news stories, and sometimes, conversations. Recently, someone asked me “how we can know that animals have emotions?” As I began to answer, I was reminded that nearly a year ago I wrote a blog post called Can Animals Think? That post was also inspired by a conversation. On the surface, these two questions — “do animals have emotions” and “can animals think” — are very similar. And on reflection, I realized that at their core each of these queries is rooted in one larger, more philosophical question — how can we prove anything about animals if we can’t ever get inside their heads?

The obstacle of inhabiting the mind of another species is one that has long been a source of both friction and inspiration for animal studies scholars. We may never have the technology to know what is inside the mind of another species, but we seem to forget that we can’t achieve such a feat with other humans either. Yet we rarely cast doubt on the ability of other humans to feel emotions or to think. The only way I know for sure that a person is happy, sad or thoughtful is if they tell me they are, or if I manage to read their behaviors well. And with the absence of language, there is no reason not to similarly interpret some animal behaviors as emotion, as well.

There is a wonderful story about Washoe, one of the first chimps to be taught sign language. The popular event has been recounted many times — One of the women who worked with Washoe had been pregnant and then was absent for a few days. Washoe was upset with the woman for her apparent abandonment, and did her best to ignore and snub the woman upon her return. However, when the woman finally got Washoe’s attention, the woman signed to her, “my baby died.” Washoe, who had lost several babies herself, simply signed the word “cry.”

Rarely has something occurred in human-animal communication that so clearly and evocatively lays to rest the question of whether animals experience emotions. Further still, this example demonstrates Washoe’s ability to empathize — that is, she appears to experience, understand and expect the emotion of her human friend, because Washoe herself had experienced a similar tragedy.

We humans rarely trust her own interpretive skills when it comes to animals, accusing ourselves and each other of anthropomorphism (assigning human qualities to nonhumans), so one reason why this story is so important is because Washoe herself tells us what she is thinking and feeling. We do not have to guess.

There are examples of emotion all around the animal kingdom — mourning in death, laughter in play, fear, jealousy, affection, pride. Some people argue that what we perceive as emotions in animals are merely behavioral manifestations of instinct. But couldn’t we say the same for own behaviors and emotions? If we are to assume that what we perceive as animal emotions are merely instinctual behaviors, then we must turn the lens back upon ourselves. We don’t know to what extent our behaviors are driven by instinct, but that doesn’t make the emotions we feel any less powerful, palpable, or real.

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Primates, Theory | 2 Comments »

New York Times writer Charles Siebert: The Complete Works

Posted by lisagbrown on March 12, 2009

To read my interview with Charles Siebert, click here.

06oped1901One of the challenges of writing with an agenda — that is, writing for the purpose of helping animals, or bringing greater awareness to animal issues — is that sometimes it seems as though lyricism and the beauty of words must be sacrificed. It can be difficult to imbue the language of public policy, welfare and rights, with the cadence of poetry.  I started my career as a writer — not as an animal advocate, that came later — and so the weight of words matters to me. I am as much concerned with how I say something, as I am with what I am saying.

Therefore, when I find someone who manages to advocate on behalf of animals, while also creating worlds of imagery with his words, I become … shall we say … enthralled. Charles Siebert is becoming increasingly well known for his New York Times Magazine editorials, and below I’ve gathered a bibliography of his writings. Within each article, book and radio piece, you’ll find a searing analysis of human-animal relationships that is hidden inside the folds of personal, accessible, and above all, poetic writing. He manages to educate readers about the plight of animal sheltering in the United States, the inherent conflicts in caring for adult chimps, and the complex relationships between humans and the environment, all in the context of visceral autobiographical writing that engenders rawness and self-discovery, without becoming remotely saccharine. Enjoy the works below, and don’t forget to check out my interview with Siebert

BOOKS:

2009 The Wauchula Woods Accord: Toward a New Understanding of Animals (Scribner)

2004 A Man After His Own Heart (Three Rivers Press)

2000 Angus: A Novel (Three Rivers Press)

1997 Wickerby: An Urban Pastoral (Three Rivers Press)

 

ON NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO:

7/21/09 Charles Siebert: The Wauchula Woods Accord The Diane Rehm Show

6/13/09 The Surprisingly Social Grey Whale Fresh Air

3/06/09 350: Human Resources, Act three. “Almost Human Resources” This American Life

10/06 Are Humans Causing Elephants to Go Crazy? Day to Day

 

ARTICLES:

06/09 Watching Whales Watching Us New York Times Magazine

03/09 Something Wild New York Times Magazine

05/07 Falling Down Green New York Times Magazine

 04/07 New Tricks New York Times Magazine

10/06 An Elephant Crackup? New York Times Magazine

01/06 The Animal Self  New York Times Magazine

06/05 Planet of the Retired Apes New York Times Magazine

09/04 The Genesis Project New York Times Magazine

03/03 Making Faces New York Times Magazine

 

Click here to see four articles by Siebert published in Harper’s Magazine:

(Please note: You must be a Harper’s subscriber to access the full text.)

05/97 Our Machines, Ourselves

02/93 The Artifice of the Natural

05/91 Where Have All the Animals Gone? The Lamentable Extinction of Zoos

02/90 The Rehumanization of the Heart: What doctors have forgotten, poets have always known

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Cats, Conservation, Dogs, Ethics, Fish, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Literature, Primates, Public Policy, Radio, Representations, Theory | Leave a Comment »

Chimp Stones Visitors at Zoo — by Guest Blogger Katie McCabe

Posted by lisagbrown on March 10, 2009

I’m pleased to introduce a new Animal Inventory guest blogger.  Katie McCabe has worked with marine animals for the past seven years, and has experience in marine mammal behavior, training, rescue, and rehabilitation, as well as educational outreach. She also examines the ethics and policies surrounding human relationships with other animals. She has a Master’s in Science from Tufts University’s Center for Animals and Public Policy.

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Chimp Stones Visitors at Zoo — by Katie McCabe

Over the past couple of days, there have been several reports from various news outlets about a chimpanzee named Santino in a Swedish zoo who is known to throw rocks at zoo guests.

Santino gathers the stones in the morning before the zoo is opened (presumably in an un-agitated state) and collects them in a pile. Throughout the day he adds to this stockpile by chipping away at some of the concrete in his enclosure to create more objects he can throw. When zoo visitors arrive in the afternoon, Santino becomes “agitated” and begins throwing rocks towards them. Santino only throws these rocks during the summer when visitors are present at the zoo.

All of the accounts I have read about this focus on the idea that this situation presents new, and possibly the first concrete, evidence that animals other than humans demonstrate planning and forethought.

Personally, I have never questioned that chimpanzees are quite intelligent and have the capacity both to strategically plan and to later implement these plans. What I have questioned, however, are the ethics surrounding keeping such an intelligent animal captive in a zoo environment. In addition to being evidence of advanced intelligence, doesn’t this say something about a chimpanzee’s experience in a zoo environment – or, at the very least, about Santino’s experience in the Swedish zoo?

Santino has been engaging in this behavior for ten years. Maybe in the midst of all of this research, someone should hypothesize about what Santino might be communicating through this behavior. I sincerely doubt his primary goal was to demonstrate to humans that he is capable of forethought and planning.

Oh, and anyone concerned about the welfare of the humans in this situation should rest assured because the zoo officials maintain that chimpanzees don’t have very good aim.
 

For more information, read Discover Magazine’s article, “Chimp Gathers Stones for ‘Premeditated Attacks on Zoo Visitors.”

(Katie McCabe)

Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Ethics, Guest Blogger, Primates, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »

Best of the Blogs…

Posted by lisagbrown on December 7, 2008

There is nothing I love more than perusing my favorite blogs. Too often, the medium of blogging gets a bad rap because anyone can have a blog (and almost everyone does!) But that’s not the medium’s fault. Just like there are terrible and wonderful books, movies and art, there are terrible and wonderful blogs, as well. You just have to know how to sift through the bad to find the good, and this can be an intimidating endeavor. I highly recommend every single one of the blogs listed on my blogroll, but I thought I’d highlight the ones I’ve been completely addicted to lately. Enjoy!

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Antennae isn’t actually a blog (it’s a journal), but it’s full of fascinating articles, interviews, art and tidbits by many of the most influential contemporary animal/nature writers and artists. Download the current issue “Botched Taxidermy” as a PDF on their website.

This blog is authored by Vanessa Woods, a Bonobo researcher who is stationed at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Congo. Her blog is full of vibrant color photos, descriptions of her relationships with the bonobos and a no-holds-barred personal account of the politics of bonobo protection.

You may have noticed my previous enthusiasm for this blog, but it bears repeating. Daily Coyote is the day-to-day account of Shreve Stockton’s efforts to raise an orphaned coyote pup. Not only are her photos breathtakingly beautiful, but Shreve’s determination to chronicle this adventure responsibly (i.e., to reiterate that she will never again undertake an experience like this, and that coyotes are not meant to be pets) is commendable.

For a more intellectual and theoretical perspective on animals, check out the blog of Boria Sax, one of the stand-out powerhouses in the burgeoning field of human-animal studies.

Red Star Cafe is undoubtedly one of my all time favorite blogs. I like to imagine that I’m the only one who knows about this amazing treasure-trove of writing. I’m only sharing this little secret with you because I know you won’t tell anyone else about the intelligence, insight and originality with which they write about animals and nature in culture. Shh. Don’t tell. Our secret.

This blog is the ‘notebook’ of Boston-based writer and professor Steve Himmer. Steve posts his favorite highlights from blogs, books and more, and all of it is about nature, animals and writing. It’s a great source of inspiration, and a way to find hidden gems.

In the past, my own blog has been called, “wonderfully specific,” a compliment that I’d like to pass on to Taxidermy: Ravishing Beasts. It is a smart, engaging blog about the beauty, controversy, and power of taxidermy.

This bilingual blog by a Columbia University doctoral student combines her love of 18th century literature, contemporary American popular culture, and razor-sharp autobiography, into one big, diverse, delightful read.

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