Animal Wise by Virginia Morell- 5 Stars

Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel

Click on the cover to visit book’s Goodreads page.

      Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.
      They also asked that I share the following two links with you all.

Click here to visit author’s page over at Random House.

Click here to purchase the title from Random House Publishing.

Book Synopsis from Goodreads:

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a fish? Or a parrot, dolphin, or an elephant?  Do they experience thoughts that are similar to ours, or have feelings of grief and love? These are tough questions, but scientists are answering them. They know that ants teach and rats love to be tickled. They’ve discovered that dogs have thousand-word vocabularies and that birds practice their songs in their sleep. But how do scientists know these things?
   
Animal Wise takes us on a dazzling odyssey into the inner world of animals and among the pioneering researchers who are leading the way into once-forbidden territory: the animal mind. Morell uses her formidable gifts as a storyteller to transport us to field sites and laboratories around the world, introducing us to animal-cognition scientists and their surprisingly intelligent and sensitive subjects. She explores how this rapidly evolving, controversial field has only recently overturned old notions about why animals behave as they do. In this surprising and moving book, Morell brings the world of nature brilliantly alive in a nuanced, deeply felt appreciation of the human-animal bond.

I don’t venture into Non-Fiction very often, but when I do books about animals is one of the subjects I will pick up.  Those of you that know me, or follow me on Instagram, know that I share my life with quite the menagerie of furred and feathered creatures.  And this book wasn’t quite a stretch for me personally, or would it be for any animal lover/pet owner really.  IF you share you life with animals you have no doubt what so ever that animals are intelligent, feeling creatures, filled with their own wants, dislikes and agenda.  When I requested it for review I hoped this book would be an interesting look into how the scientific community was proving what many of us lay people already know.

The book was a little slow to start off, I already read non-fiction at a much slower pace than fiction, but the introduction was bogged down with a lot of technical information about the history of research involving animals.  How the scientific community has historically viewed animal’s intelligence and emotions.  In my opinion its kinda insulting and the disregard they showed the animals in their care was horrific at times to read about.  It was also very dry reading and I struggled to push on.  I understand and appreciate the need for this background information, especially since I am coming at this book with little foreknowledge, but that still didn’t make it any easier to get through.  I made it though, and encourage you to stick with it if you want to know more or skip it and get into the different studies about the various animals featured in each chapter.

After you get past the history lesson on scientific study of animals you get to the most interesting part of the book, or what you probably signed up for when you decided to read this book.  There are ten chapters each featuring a different a type of animal or a different approach to studying them.  For example there are two different chapters talking about dolphins, one focuses on animals in captivity the other on animals studied in the wild.  The chapters are filled with delightful observations and antidotes that the researchers shared with the author as well as her observations from her visits to the different studies.  These sections gave me quite a bit to think about, even though I am an animal lover I still hadn’t thought much of why ants or fish do the things they do.  While in the middle of this book I visited the vet for my cat and as I sat there in the waiting room I noticed a fish tank with two large fish of some sort inside.  The book made me take a closer look at them and I wondered what would their world be like for them.  Do they notice the clients that come and go, bringing different animals in for care?  Are they here for our entertainment or are we theirs?   Also make me rethink any future fishing trips we might have planned…

It wasn’t all fun stories from field and lab studies.  Some aspects of how animals are still treated in studies upset me while reading this book.  I had a particularly difficult time with the chapter on rats.  Hopefully through learning more about animals and their feelings  future projects will be more like the Japanese program for studying chimpanzees were the animals are treated more as partners than experiments.  Still it important to read about the bad along with the good.  We will not change if we shy away from things that are unpleasant.

I wanted to share with you some of my favorite observations or quotes from the book.  They are all near the end and I don’t believe I am going to be spoiling anything for you, after all this is not a story. I’m not giving away a plot by sharing these lines.  Still if you don’t want to know, stop reading here.

The first quote is from the Japanese scientist, Tetsura Matsuzawa, that works with chimpanzees:

” I really do not understand this need for us always to be superior in all domains.  Or to be separate, so unique from every other animal,” he said. “We are not. We are not plants; we are members of the animal kingdom.”

I so wish more people thought like this.  We are not above animals or below them, and we are not all that different either.  We have just evolved differently, adapted differently to fit our environments and needs.   There is much we can learn from the fellow creatures that share this planet with us.  Maybe we would not feel so isolated if we realized this or perhaps we’d be much humbler.  I definitely think animals would be better off as well if more people thought as Mr. Matsusawa.

Which leads to another passage written by the author:

“We were wrong about why these animals behave as they do, in part, I think, because most of us do not grant animals even the simplest form of thought, or recognize that they do things intentionally.”

Again animals are not so different from us.  I love spending time with my birds (peafowl, chickens, guineas, and a very affectionate turkey), and I see this everyday.  I love watching the drama that plays out in my coop.  They have very strong reasons behind their behavior and hierarchy, and you only need to pay attention to realize this.  Is it so hard to see that a cow just turned out to pasture after a long winter is experiencing joy.  Or that a peacock that lost his mate to a raccoon attack is mourning her loss.

One more and then I’m almost done, if you’ve managed to stay with me this long…  This is perhaps one of the most tragic ideas in the book and I hope it makes you think as it did me.  The author writes:

“I once suggested to my editor that we keep a weekly or monthly tally box, announcing that such-and-such a creature has just gone extinct – its behaviors, mind, thoughts, and ways, its beauty vanished from our planet.”

Once these animals are extinct they are gone forever, (yes, I know about cloning but that isn’t necessarily a solution) and our world is a poor place for their absence.  Every animal has a purpose on this planet and we need to find a way to protect the animals that share our home instead of causing them to disappear.

Wow, perhaps I should not have gone on so long…  Bottom line this is a good book and I hope you read it.  I hope it makes you think.  I hope it changes you.

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2 thoughts on “Animal Wise by Virginia Morell- 5 Stars

  1. This was a really good review of an interesting book. My wife and I watched Blackfish, the documentary about killer whales in captivity, and it was heartbreaking. I will at some point check this book out. But next to you I read at the speed of a third grader who just had a stroke, so, I have a pile of books to get through before I can get anything new.

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    • As long as your reading. That all that matters… It is an interesting book and it wasn’t until I was finished that I realized how much I enjoyed it. I read a lot of fluff, so this one made me work. I hope you like it when you get around to it. Will check into the documentary you mentioned.

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