From the time of our earliest childhood encounters with animals, we casually ascribe familiar emotions to them. But scientists have long cautioned against such anthropomorphizing, arguing that it limits our ability to truly comprehend the lives of other creatures. Recently, however, things have begun to shift in the other direction, and anthropologist Barbara J. King is at the forefront of that movement, arguing strenuously that we can—and should—attend to animal emotions. With How Animals Grieve, she draws our attention to the specific case of grief, and relates story after story—from fieldsites, farms, homes, and more—of animals mourning lost companions, mates, or friends.
King tells of elephants surrounding their matriarch as she weakens and dies, and, in the following days, attending to her corpse as if holding a vigil. A housecat loses her sister, from whom she’s never before been parted, and spends weeks pacing the apartment, wailing plaintively. A baboon loses her daughter to a predator and sinks into grief. In each case, King uses her anthropological training to interpret and try to explain what we see—to help us understand this animal grief properly, as something neither the same as nor wholly different from the human experience of loss.
The resulting book is both daring and down-to-earth, strikingly ambitious even as it’s careful to acknowledge the limits of our understanding. Through the moving stories she chronicles and analyzes so beautifully, King brings us closer to the animals with whom we share a planet, and helps us see our own experiences, attachments, and emotions as part of a larger web of life, death, love, and loss.
Anthropology professor King (Being with Animals) shares facts, anecdotes, and thoughts about rela-tionships throughout the animal kingdom, from birds that return to each other year after year to a baby elephant that mourns its mother. King defines the conditions necessary for animal love to include ani-mals actively choosing to be together and the suffering of the animal when its partner is no longer pre-sent. When these conditions are met, "Grief blooms because two animals bond, they care, maybe they even love because of a heart's certainty that another's presence is as necessary as air." King's thoughtful, warmhearted prose will raise awareness and amaze readers as they learn about a dog who rescued his canine companion from being buried alive; a baboon's stages of grief and apparent depres-sion following the loss of her adult daughter; and a dolphin that committed suicide, witnessed by her trainer. Though many observations support the concept of grief among animals, King also discusses situations that do not indicate grief and concludes that, though it may be an individual behavior, its significance is not diminished for those mournful individuals. As for humans, "We grieve with human words but animal bodies and animal gestures and animal movements."