A fascinating study of animal behavior that reveals them to be as sentient and self-aware as we humans are.
In What Do Animals Think and Feel? biologist Karsten Brensing has something astonishing to tell us about the animal kingdom: namely that animals, by any reasonable assessment, have developed the sophisticated systems of social organization and behaviour that human beings call "culture."
Dolphins call one another by name and orcas inhabit a culture that is over 700,000 years old. Chimpanzees wage strategic warfare, while bonobos delight in dirty talk. Ravens enjoy snowboarding on snow-covered roofs, and snails like to spin on hamster exercise wheels. Humpback whales follow the dictates of fashion and rats are dedicated party animals. Ants recognize themselves in mirrors and spruce themselves up before they return home. Ducklings can pass complicated tests in abstract thinking. Dogs punish disloyalty, though they are also capable of forgiveness if you apologize to them.
Brensing draws on the latest scientific findings as well as his own experience working with animals, to reveal a world of behavioral and cognitive sophistication that is remarkable similar to our own.
Biologist and behavioral scientist Brensing examines in this dense but rewarding study the "incredible social lives" animals have among themselves, filled "with colleagues, friends, relatives, enemies and strategically planned territorial wars." Early chapters examine mating rituals and sex, in sometimes graphic detail. Brensing covers masturbation, "widespread in the animal kingdom," both for recreation and, for animals that only mate at certain times of the year, to ensure "a constant supply of young, fresh semen." He also talks bluntly about rape, among animals as different as the hyena and the red-sided garter snake both of whose females have evolved protective "chastity belts." Later sections examine learning, some "genetically preprogrammed," as when, in one generation after another, young birds learn from their parents how to fly. Other cases represent original learning taking place: after one orca in a marine park discovered how to use bait to catch seagulls, the others quickly learned how to do the same. Thoughtful and comprehensive, Brensing's survey will leave readers well-informed about animal thought and behavior.