Thursday, November 08, 2012
Science Lays Down with Lions and Lambs
Last night, I sat down and took in Animal Odd Couples on PBS. As with most PBS Nature shows, the cinematography was outstanding, and the subject matter, cross-species relationships, was a subject matter of interest to a large swath of individuals. Especially those of us who have pets. The show is described as follows.
Despite the odds, there are countless stories of the most unlikely cross-species relationships imaginable: a goat guiding a blind horse; a doe who regularly visits her Great Dane surrogate mother; a juvenile gibbon choosing to live with a family of capuchins, and so on. Instincts gone awry? The subject has mystified scientists for years. Now, NATURE investigates why animals form these special bonds. Informed by the observations of caregivers and noted scientists Temple Grandin and Marc Bekoff, the film explores what these relationships suggest about the nature of animal emotions.
While I have no doubt that special bonds can form between cross-species; I reference the closeness of the bond between myself and my critter Elsa; what I find troubling about Nature’s presentation of the subject matter, and the “scientists” gathering the alleged quantitative data on cross-species relationships displayed in the show, is, that in large part these scientists were projecting human traits unto lesser mammals in a manner that would lead the average viewer of this particular show to come to the conclusion that hey, wow, the members of the animal kingdom are just like us humans, maybe I should go out and get a cheetah to be my dog’s best friend, or some such nonsense.
In each of the cross-species relationships reported on in the show, every one dealt with animals which had been raised in a domesticated environment, whether originally from the wild, or from the long line of previously human domesticated animals. To be fair, the show did include one cross-species relationship between a dog and a wild deer, but even that relationship began with the humans involved in the story taking the deer initially into a domestic environment, though the deer seemed to “choose” to go back to living the wild life rather than being domesticated.
Overall, the gist of this show seemed to imply that somehow these particular examples of cross-species relationships were natural, and that this “scientific” analysis of the relationships somehow, some way, implies a coming Dr. Doolittle life for the members of the human species with members of the animal kingdom. That if humans would just attempt to talk to the animals, whether that be verbally or via proper displays of posture, they would reach a higher plane of experience, pulling the animals up to that higher plane right along with them. To which I say, well, if you believe cross-species relationships can spontaneously form, take your domesticated pet and put them in the midst of a wild and thoroughly undomesticated pack of lions, or wolves, or what have you, and see how that turns out.
Something tells me, that this particular Nature show will become part of the curriculum of Lewis & Clarke Law School’s Center for Animal Law Studies. Perhaps, also, the scientists involved in these cross-species relationship studies should go and have a talk with the ‘serial killer’ leopards of Nepal.