Carl Safina, an award-winning environmental writer, has a new book out about the emotional lives of animals called “Beyond Words: How Animals Think and Feel.”
Speaking from Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York, the author explained how elephants routinely display empathy using a touching story…
Check out a partial transcript courtesy of National Geographic:
It’s important to know who we are here on Earth with. We talk about conservation of animals by numbers, but those are just numbers. Watching animals my whole life I’ve always been struck by how similar to us they are. I’ve always been touched by their bonds and been impressed—occasionally frightened—by their emotions.
Life is very vivid to animals. In many cases they know who they are. They know who their friends are and who their rivals are. They have ambitions for higher status. They compete. Their lives follow the arc of a career, like ours do. We both try to stay alive, get food and shelter, and raise some young for the next generation. Animals are no different from us in that regard and I think that their presence here on Earth is tremendously enriching.
It is incredible to me there is still a debate over whether animals are conscious and even a debate over whether human beings can know animals are conscious. If you watch mammals or even birds, you will see how they respond to the world. They play. They act frightened when there’s danger. They relax when things are good. It seems illogical for us to think that animals might not be having a conscious mental experience of play, sleep, fear or love.
Many people think that empathy is a special emotion only humans show. But many animals express empathy for each other. There are documented stories of elephants finding people who were lost. In one case, an old woman who couldn’t see well, got lost and was found the next day with elephants guarding her. They had encased her in sort of a cage of branches to protect her from hyenas. That’s seems extraordinary to us but it comes naturally to elephants.
Elephants have been undergoing a tremendous slaughter since 2009, when the powers that be decided China could import ivory from dead elephants. As a result, elephant populations are being devastated by poachers throughout Africa and Asia.
Do you believe elephants have
inner experiences like we do?
What about your dog or cat?