Brittany's Reviews > The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy - and Why They Matter

The Emotional Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff
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's review
Dec 11, 13

liked it
bookshelves: anthrozoology
Read from April 26 to May 01, 2012

This was a remarkable and important overview of the emotional lives of animals, what they mean for our worldview and human society. It included some wonderful, touching stories, and some very interesting points.

The book was hampered by the lack of a defined structure, but was readable and enjoyable for all that. The occasional spate of weak writing crept in (and there was some abuse of exclamation points).

The main flaw is that the author seems to suffer from black-and-white vision and an superabundance of naivete. I, too, firmly believe that non-human animals have complex emotional lives and that this is a fact that's of vital importance to all decisions we make about animals and their lives. However, I do not think that the simple recognition that animals are complex emotional beings is going to miraculously stop all research on animals, all poor treatment of animals, and all abuse everywhere. I recognize there are fuzzy areas, and shades of gray, and that there's not always a simple answer. If there were, we'd already have chosen it. We humans take the easy paths.

A good example is Bekoff's treatment of the dolphin-safe tuna issue. He describes it very well, but fails to note that some research indicates that "dolphin-safe" tuna is actually worse than the environment. In that case, how do you make decisions? When it comes down to animal testing saving other (animal and human) lives (and sometimes it does no matter how creative you get with the solutions), how do you decide then? The simplicity of Bekoff's assumptions made his arguments weaker, and leaves them open to attack by those who have a stake in the belief that animals are automatons. A more nuanced exploration of the issues would have benefited everyone, including the animals.

This is especially true when it comes to his discussion of zoos. I am trying hard (VERY hard) not to take it personally that he chose to cherry-pick facts (some of which were false) from a dark period in my zoo's own history and use them to support his argument that zoos are cruel and ineffective. He condemns all zoos with one brush, without taking into account the (HUGE) recent developments in the past 10-15 years and the amazing affects zoos have on conservation attitudes (well supported by research he chooses to disregard or of which he is unaware.) He fails entirely to even try to take an unbiased look at the subject. This late-in-the-game curveball really soured the book for me. My prior complaints (see above) weren't ruining my enjoyment of the book, and I was looking forward to passing it on to others. Now, his carelessness in this area has highlighted his naivete in others. He appears to think that all animals would be better off in the wild, without even touching upon the issue that there's not enough wild left for them to go back to, or the fact that animals in the wild struggle increasingly with disease, starvation, poaching, and habitat loss from an ever-encroaching human populations.

Obviously, he's touched a nerve. It's a good book, really it is, but I'm disappointed at the shallowness of his arguments and evidence on a topic that's dear to my heart. This book is probably better than no book at all, but I'm left wishing it'd been better.
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04/27/2012 page 22
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Laura (new)

Laura Oh man. That's tough. I am willing to stipulate that elephants would be better off roaming the fjords or whatever rather than living in zoos. But the fact is, the choice is not the freedom of the fjords or zoos; the choice is zoos or likely extinction. We cannot hold the better hostage for the best or we get only the worst.

message 2: by Roger (new)

Roger Bailey One very important reason that recognizing the emotional lives of animals would not stop animal abuse is because there are entirely too many people who once they recognize it will not care.

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