Do Wild Animals Have Emotions
Botswana Wildlife Guide

Many people like to attach a romantic element to animal behaviour. Elephants are said to mourn over a dead member of their species. It is true that they will touch and scent a carcass - and even old bones.

By Leigh Kemp

Animal Emotions

They have been observed mounting a carcass of recently dead Elephants. This mounting behaviour is ascribed to a show of dominance by one male over another. The touching and scenting of bones is said to be a mourning behaviour. If this is so the question needs to asked, 'Is it only Elephants that mourn?'

Mourning in Animals

We have all heard or read the stories of Elephants that mourn their dead and seen images of the interaction at a carcass. We are told that this demonstrates an Elephant's intelligence. It adds to the romance attached to the largest land mammal in the world. For those who think this is the sole preserve of the intellectual giants - it is not.

I have experienced numerous incidents where behavior of animals could be construed as mourning the dead. Images of Baboons carrying their dead babies for days are well recorded. I have watched a Zebra reacting to its deformed newborn foal and have photographed a Bulbul 'grieving' its mate lying dead after flying into a glass wall.

I have observed a male Buffalo, in a show of dominance, mount a near-to-death adversary that had been mauled by Lions. It is however not romantic to believe that these species were mourning as it 'cheapens' the Elephant mourning idea and are generally explained away as 'it's not the same thing'.

Emotions of Lions

Watching a Lion pride where the male interacts with the cubs can provide some food for thought on the animal emotions issue. One pride that I observed at Mombo in the Okavango had ten cubs of differing ages and the interaction of the cubs with the pride male was interesting.

Two cubs in particular held my attention. The youngest cub of the group had an attitude. He would sidle up to the male, rub himself against the male's mane and then copy every move the male made.

He was not bowed when the male growled irritatingly at him. The second cub, one of the older ones, employed a completely different demeanor in his attitude to the male. This cub had a floppy ear making his acts seem more pathetic.

Whenever he was in close proximity of the male the cub would almost cower and his facial expression were very different to the younger cub. The difference in 'attitude' between the two cubs was very noticeable in their actions and facial expressions.

Celebrating the Rain and the Sunset

Watching animals after a rain storm gives explanation to the theory that animals can show emotion. The sheer energy of antelope running around shows an unbounded joy in the moment. A Lion in a rainstorm provides evidence of an animal feeling sorry for itself. It is difficult at times not to attach an emotional tag to animal behaviour.I have heard it said that Baboons have the same reaction to the sunset that humans have - a slowing down and appreciation. I have often observed Baboons behaving in a manner that would give substance to this statement.

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