Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Emotions and Perception in the Animal World - Part 2

There had been a death in the family recently. Though death is perceived as "Sad" and "This should not have happened to him/her" by us humans, for me it is a good time to observe the emotional expressions of both humans and animals alike. For a long time there has always been that question that has been running in a researcher's mind - can animals perceive death? and how do they perceive it?
The death in this family came suddenly on sunday morning - a morning specifically kept for getting up late and spending the rest of the day virtually in bed. I am usually not the type who would go for a funeral, but this sunday was different [ EVER in my LIFE]. I was the FIRST ONE to reach the home of the deceased! Well, I went in rather sheepishly putting my head down, for I have one crazy nature. I smile or laugh whenever I see someone I know. Now, this comes out so spontaniously, that I smile and then realise that im at someone's funeral !
Well, getting away from the lighter note, I also realised that this was a good time to seriously look at peoples' faces and see what they might be going through. I was doing this initially, when I realised that the house dog was also around lying down at one corner of the room. Looking at the dog's sleeping face, I went into the great thought of whether the dog knew that one of the hands that raised it from a pup was suddenly gone? and went furthur to dwelve into how the dog percieved the dead body and the unusually large crowd that had gathered in his masters house bawling their hearts out on the floor?
For a moment there, I focused so much on observing the dog that I did not hear people chanting various hymns, ladies crying their hearts out, and the people moving around me. As for the dog, for quite some time he lay on the floor with his eyes closed like he was having his morning siesta. Later, he opened his eyes, looked around and nudged the servent maid to take him outside so that he could relieve himself. He did not seem to be bothered about the crowd at all. He just strolled out, finished whatever he wanted to do and strolled back in just as before.
Once he stepped back into the house, his behaviour changed a little. He seemed to have understood that something was wrong. He kept looking towards the servent maid repeatedly [ who had been crying for sometime now]. He went upto his master, who politely, took him and locked him up in a room. On his way to the room he saw the body of the deceased [ and im sure he would have sensed the familiar scent]. He did not do anything much except get into the room. But once inside the room, the fellow began to bark and howl. Well, the first thought that came to my head is that he may not be the type who would like to be locked up in a room. After 10 minutes he was allowed to come out again.This time, he hung his head low, and I could see a tear drop in his eyes. He quietly came out and settled in a corner, put his head down, and kept looking around at the faces closest to him.
As far as my "observations" were concerned, I feel that the dog could sense that someone from the house is the center of attention and that the person showed no signs of being the center of attention. It might have understood that the deceased will not be coming back. At the same time, it might take him some time to actually understand that the person is actually missing from his daily life, and after a couple of days he might just forget the person. The sadness and the sense of questioning in his eyes told me that he knew the end was here for the deceased even before his master did, and that he was trying to convey the message that he too like the rest of the family was sad about the demise.
I shall not generalize the conclusion to all animals, but elephants are as close to humans when it comes to percieving death. They too mourn at the death of one of the members of the family, get spooked by skeletons of one of their kind and CRY ! Dogs on the other hand, realise and are sad when one member is gone from their pack, but they soon get used to the member not being around and soon forget about it.