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Wise words on an emotive subject

Writing about animal emotions after enjoying the London pantomime, “The Jungle Book”, the other week it seemed appropriate to reflect on the thoughts of two very special people who have championed animal emotions for decades.

Virginia McKenna OBE founded the Born Free Foundation in the UK together with her husband Bill Travers and has highlighted time and time again how and why animals suffer emotionally – just like us – and why we must now give them the benefit of the doubt. Here’s what Virginia has to say about animal emotions:

How many more tests and experiments must be carried out to “prove” that animals have emotions? Recently, some scientists have stated, evidently with some degree of astonishment, that yes, they do – fear, jealousy and the rest.

Don’t any of these experts have a dog or a cat? Don’t they watch serious wildlife programmes? Or look on as some circus animals are forced to perform although they are consumed by fear (as I have done in China)?

Of course animals have emotions. They feel affection, anger, protectiveness, fear, pleasure – just like us. We don’t need scientists to tell us this. The animals do it themselves.

Similarly, animal ethnologist and author Professor Marc Bekoff (who has visited our bears in Chengdu) feels strongly about this subject too. During a recent radio interview Marc, who wrote “The Emotional Lives of Animals” told the interviewer that if someone said he was behaving like an animal, he’d simply say “thanks”. Here’s what Marc has to say:

Animal emotions are public affairs, not private matters. Emotions function as social glue and are important for forming and maintaining social bonds among individuals, motivating them to do one thing or another, and insuring that there is flexibility in behavior so they do what’s appropriate in a given situation with friends and competitors. Emotions allow individuals to move through the world with likes and dislikes, just as we do.

Does anyone really not believe (as Marc also says) that while animals may not have the same emotions as us, they do indeed have "their" version of emotions.

Surely we must challenge so-called science, which currently insists that we must "prove" that animals feel misery and terror. Shouldn't we be asking those scientists why they think that they don't?

Photo of Virginia: Copyright M. Haines

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