BY E. L. EIDOLON
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) had been trying unsuccessfully
to “ban” sea otters from most California waters for years. They did that
to appease the fishermen who saw the otters as competition.
Photo by Laura Martin,
They would relocate sea otters only to have them return. One otter
named Phokey is a legend in the annals of this relocation scheme because
no matter how far they sent him by boat or plane, no matter how
disoriented they themselves would have been, it never took Phokey long to
find his way back.
In recent days in California, biologists have admitted defeat (by the
otters) and have thrown in the towel. They are on the verge of allowing
the sea otters to swim free again, instead of moving them far away. It was
about the only smart move made by the FWS because, though it took awhile,
they are now aware that the otters continued to return to the place where
they wanted to be. “Otter does not live by bread alone,” one might say.
They want to be happy and it means exactly the same for them as it does
for us. Why does the FWS find that so difficult to understand?
Why do the people who have control of wildlife insist on ignoring the
fact that wild animals are the result of thousands of generations of
development? These agencies are blinded to the animals’ emotional facet;
not wishing to recognize that, along with the physical and mental
components, the emotional component is an essential part of who they are.
It’s easy to see and share happiness with your household pets and only
a fool would suggest that dogs and cats are without emotions or incapable
of pain. So, why is there a denial of this by wildlife agencies and why is
this obvious fact ridiculed by them?
Anthropomorphism (identifying with or finding human-like aspects in
animals and birds) had a famous early adherent who justified it and
expanded on it. In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals,
Charles Darwin proposed not only physical evolution but emotional
He suggests (for lack of a better term) a tribal memory built into
animals and birds within a species and that includes man. He described it
as the carrying over into the next generation certain emotional and
behavioral patterns which define a species. He described emotions which we
share, man and beast.
The proposal adds a dimension to the lives of animals most of us only
acknowledge when we can identify with some element of it, such as
mother/child affection, bravery, protection, etc. but clearly animals are
capable of these feelings and more. Acknowledging this often comes at a
time when the sameness overcomes the differences in life and can no longer
be ignored. Often, it results in hunters putting down their guns and
picking up cameras.
Mute swans wag their tails like a puppy when they approach their family
or human friends. They raise their heads slightly in greeting. Elephants
cry. Parrots use words such as “ sad “ appropriately, evidencing that they
read facial expressions.
Research reinforces the observations of Konrad Lorenz, the highly
regarded 20th Century Austrian ethologist. Theodore Xenophon Barber, a
behavioral scientist, wrote “The Human Nature of Birds, A Scientific
Discovery with Startling Implications,” in which he discusses not only the
communication and understanding skills of many bird species, but their
emotional realm as well. He noted their mourning, happiness and joy not as
instinct or reflex, but as emotional episodes. Communication is not just a
sound, it fits within a context and has relevance to the listener. Birds
are capable of that.
I wonder how many grants were given and birds were killed, to
“discover” in the laboratory what many bird fanciers have known all along.
I have researched the Trumpeter Swan Society papers recently and found
many, many instances where so-called “experts” suggested these birds were
stupid. They discussed the mishandling of hundreds of birds, resulting in
many deaths, as though they were talking about a chair or stone. This is,
unfortunately, not unusual in the field of wildlife management;
denigration and denying the substance of animals is in fact encouraged.
Seeing wildlife agents refute the intelligence and sensitivities of
animals should not be so great a surprise when we see this attitude
displayed against fellow humans as well. Our own species seems to be
comprised of individuals who possess varying degrees of emotional and
intellectual capacity; indeed some seem to be devolving. Our species’
valuing of all life is a work in progress that sadly few have attained.
I urge you to read or reread The Expression of Emotions in Man and
Animals by Charles Darwin and gain strength from the sensitive,
intelligent descriptions of the whole range of emotions we all carry and
share with our non-human relatives. It is at once both ennobling and
We don’t have to look out at a vast dark sky and say “We are not
alone.” We are, here on earth, surrounded by non-human intelligent life.
E. L. Eidolon may be contacted through C.A.S.H.