10 Instances Proving Animals Are Emotional Beings

In the middle of January, the social world became obsessed with viral photographs appearing to show a male kangaroo grieving for his dead female. The Guardian called the moment heartbreaking and the image a capture of a 'marsupial family's grief, while the Mail Online called the images 'heart-wrenching'. However, our anthropomorphisation of these creatures was quickly struck down by experts claiming that it was more likely the male kangaroo was simply attempting to raise the female so he could mate with her, and was most definitely not grieving for her.

According to The Washington Post, University of Sydney's senior lecturer in veterinary pathology, Derek Spielman, said that if the kangaroo was taking an aggressive and protective stance over the dead female, it was not because it was being sentimental - it was just part and parcel of male kangaroos' general aggression during courtship, where the female can sometimes accidentally be killed.

It may be that the sentimentalisation of the moment stemmed from photographer Evan Switzer's own interpretation of what was taking place, but scientists and researchers are determined: "This is a male trying to get a female to stand up so he can mate with her," Australian Museum principal research scientist Dr Mark Eldridge told ABC, and wildlife rescue officer Leonie Petrie added to the paper that while it was a nice thought that he realised the female was dying, us humans were doing nothing but putting our own feelings onto these animals' actions.

So the brunt of the argument, then, is that it is simply not possible for animals to show grief because they just do not have the same emotions we do, despite studies that show that animals do indeed have a depth of emotion that we humans can relate to, though we cannot actually know what they are feeling for certain (just as we cannot know how our fellow man is feeling).

It is with this in mind that I want to share some affirmations that animals do indeed have feelings: they grieve, they sob at rejection, they elate at freedom. While I will not disagree that the male kangaroo was attempting to mate with the female or that he was perhaps the cause of her death in the first place, it is just like us to claim that he was just being an animal.

1. Relief

Raju, an elephant held captive and abused for 50 years, was rescued by Wildlife SOS UK. The rescue team claimed to have seen "tears roll down his face during the rescue".

2. Rejection and Sadness

Zookeepers at a Chinese zoo had to intervene when newborn elephant Zhuangzhuang was stomped on by its mother after she gave birth. When baby was returned to the mother two hours later, she started to stomp on him again and keepers claim he cried for five hours because of her rejection.

3. Joy

Cows meant to be sent to the slaughterhouse are released into an open field, jumping and running and playing in a certain display of joy.

4. Fear

Dairy cow Emma was put on a strange trailer headed for a strange place. She can be seen crying during the journey, certainly tears of fear, and when she is released into the pasture she is greeted with friendliness by the other cows.

5. Friendship

This dog waits by the body of his dead friend.

6. Love

A cat jumps into the arms of a soldier arriving home.

7. Jealousy

A Great Dane is upset that his master is giving another dog attention.

8. Excitement

A dog gets too excited when visiting the petstore

9. Anger

A cockatoo really doesn't want to go the vet.

10. Empathy

Animals helping animals...

Or Koko the gorilla responding to a sad film.

To me, this handful of instances shows that we cannot merely condemn animal actions of empathy and emotion to the table of coincidence, simply because they are animals and cannot express feelings.

To really gain some insight into animal emotion, I suggest you watch the series, "Animal Emotion: Why Dogs Smile and Chimpanzees Cry".

What are your thoughts about this concept? Let me know in the comments below!

{Image credit: By Alfred Edmund Brehm [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons}


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