38. Swings and Roundabouts (12/2010)

by brettthevet

In the natural world life is fair. The concepts ‘you reap what you sow’, and ‘you get what you deserve’ are self-evident. Cause and effect preside within limited and unrestricted scenarios. Logic dictates that the manifestations of nature are arbitrary and specific.

Interpreting nature rationally requires science, common sense, acute observation, and vivid imagination. Knowledge reveals the implicit order that connects everything, which means that nothing happens in isolation. The slightest movement affects the entire web of life. But our fear and love of irrationality make us religious, fly to the moon, eat poisoned food, breed indiscriminately, take out insurance, fantasize, create conspiracy theories, love the dog, brutalize the pig, break the horse, milk the cow, and pity the panda.

When there is a birth or death in the family, relatives who know respond in a variety of ways. When another species is introduced in the form of a puppy or kitten there are reactions among family members that range from joy to despair. When a beloved or not so beloved pet is lost, human emotions can vary from indifference, to grief, relief or even happiness. It is also true that domestic animals mourn or celebrate the loss of their owners, depending on the nature of their relationship. Sometimes sorrow can turn to jubilation only after the full impact of the change is realised. In non-human animals false revelations of emotion rarely occur knowingly.

Animals react in similar ways to the arrival of a new animal with jealousy, hatred or enthusiasm. They can feel saddened, or comforted by the loss of another animal, subject to the degree of kinship. This applies to pals or true family situations. For example, visible displays of joy and pride seen in a cow after the birth of the calf she has carried for nine months are contrasted with the very vocal and prolonged anguish she endures after her infant’s abduction year after year. Miserable orphaned calves compound the sadness. Inherent sentience elicits a range of predictable conduct in every living thing.

Wild animals experience losses or gains within groups or of a lifelong partner. There have been documented cases of bereavement observed in zoo animals and creatures in their natural environment. It may not be immediately apparent to the untrained human eye that animals are emotional, or whether they are acting on impulse or consideration. Usually animals’ actions convey what they are feeling, as they are open, honest, and react out of sincerity. Delicacy of subtle expression is sometimes still a mystery for the well initiated within a given species, let alone the scope for misunderstanding between species. Effective communication requires being receptive, and having heightened awareness.

Good memory in elephants and camels is notorious. Effects of even a single act of violence against a puppy or a kitten are manifest throughout a lifetime. Leopards are more shy, and scarcer than ever. Some kudu hurl themselves at moving vehicles on the web of disruptive roads that run thick with the blood of innocent creatures. Certain jackals mutilate multitudes of unprotected newborn lambs. Imprisoned lions and tigers regularly bring down their handlers. Hippopotami defending their territory crumple trespassing tourists. Sharks eat live human bait that doesn’t have a protective cage. Individual experience moulds a particular view of the world. The accumulation of extreme stress is released with extraordinary impact with human intrusion on the natural world. As we cringe through the era of ‘what have we done’ we still have the power to look at what we could do (or avoid), to allow peace and harmony.