I just came across The Exultant Ark, by Johnathan Balcome in my Uni Library. The pictures are stunning. The text however, leaves a lot to be desired. I have been a biologist for over twenty years. I have worked with animals from protists to primates. I rescued three cats, who are at the present moment asleep on my bed.
Can animals feel pleasure? Certainly the mammals can. I know my cats do, and they get jealous, and communicate their moods and desires quite well, thank you. I’m not sure who is training whom, but no matter. The old-school view of animals as unthinking machines acting on hard-wired instinct has long since been discredited.
Balcome, however, goes overboard. There was a picture of a marmot sniffing a flower before it ate it, with a caption suggesting the animal was savoring the aroma of it’s meal, not just testing to see if it was ripe and good to eat. I’m thinking Balcome was giving the marmot (an animal with a brain smaller than a walnut) too much credit. Another caption implied amazement that a sow, isolated by flood on a levee, would make a nest “out of whatever was available” (to protect her piglets). Well, if she didn’t she wouldn’t have piglets for very long. I don’t think that was deep maternal love as opposed to what an organism needs to do to survive.
Animals, particularly predators, do have to be smart, if they hope to be successful predators. Frankly, I hope scavengers like Turkey Buzzards don’t savour their meals, I’m glad they consume them but I’ve been around roadkill too much to enjoy it. I really don’t discern any deep mental processes in a lot of prey mammals (sheep and alpacas are cute, but they are no mental giants.) Not to mention the reptiles, whom are successful but there’s not a lot of deep thought going on in them.