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.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Emotions and Perception in the Animal World - Part 1

People have always thought animals to be without the sense of emotions, with only "barbarism" and "brutality" in their blood. Everyone has conveniently overlooked the fact that we - Humans, have done nothing different when it comes to "brutality".
I was watching a documentary on elephants in Africa. The scientists there were getting puzzling stories and evidences about elephant attacks in certain parts of game reserves and national parks. Some elephants were found to be killing rhinos in certain areas and in other areas, some were seen killing cattle belonging to the tribes there. I will not go into the complete details of the film itself... but will give a brief outline of the outcome.
Well, upon good investigation, it was found out that the elephants killing the rhinos were all young males that were reaching maturity or that have just passed the initial phases, where as the elephants killing the cows were found out to be females, some young adults and some old. Upon thorough scrutiny of the killings, one startling conclusion was reached.
It was reported that those particular " deranged" males found in the reserve had a very shocking common history. All of them were rescued as babies and relocated into newer "elephant un-inhabited" areas of the park a very long time ago, during the civil wars. Due to the wars, people had wiped out patches of elephant population in parts of Africa. After the wars, the government decided to "distribute" the remaining populations all over.
PROBLEM - They could not transfer the adults with just man power present just after the wars. so they relocated the babies only. During this time some of the adults were killed in front of the kids, and the kids were left to fend for themselves in a completely new environment without their close knit family.
EFFECT- The elephants had no parental care and teaching, and upon losing their close knit family, they went into shock. They did grow up very well, but had signs of aggression, Post traumatic stress [PTS] etc. Besides that, upon reaching sexual maturity, the males did not know a female elephant let alone how to woo her. They tried bonding with what ever was alive. Rhinos were all around. The rhinos that refused the advances of the elephants would be killed. Not only that, the male rhinos were killed first [to reduce competition presumably].
For many years, people wondered why things like this were a common occurance. After trying quite a bit to understand, and finally understanding it, they tried an experiment.

They brought in older males from other parts of the continent and left them in the same reserve as the traumatised elephants. Within a year, the number of deaths became negligeble, and the "deranged" elephants were becoming less aggressive and more "normal". Soon all the elephants were calm and went about doing their normal jobs or walking and eating and mating with females of the same species. Though this result was significantly good in terms of "behavioural rehabs", many elephants still showed signs of aggression towards people.

The female elephants on another part of the continent were also found to have a shocking common history. They had all lost their calves to humans. The problem started off when the elephants walked int the villeges and ate everything there is. The tribes had to shoo away the elephants.There were casualties from the humans side.Many times the shooing away would go too far. The men followed the herd and speared the elephants. For the sake of revenge over losing their own young the men killed the elephant calves. The females, went into shock and PTS and began to attack anything with a human scent on it. The easiest targets were cattle that would go to the grass plains to feed along side the elephants.
This so called War would have gone on and on if the scientists had not interviened. Different methods were sought after to keep the elephants out of the village and to keep the villagers safe. On the same lines, the tribes were convinced not kill little calves again.

VERDICT - The bull elephants got back to normal in some time in the presence of older elephants, while the females took some more time. Some of them did not make it actually. They were so stressed that it took a toll on their lives.

BEHAVIOURAL OBSERVATIONS - Elephants, unlike previously thought, are very much like humans. They are at the apex of their evolutionary line. They are highly evolved beings, having complex social stuctures, immense emotional values, a unique way of communication and much more. They too undergo stress as much as we do. and show the same symptoms if left unchecked.

Only after such incidents do we find that we are not AS different from animals as we thought we were. We can be equally barbaric and brutal just as the animals can be emotional and caring. It is high time we came out of our " Ignoramus Shell " and realised that we belong as much as they belong on this planet and all of us are an intricate, intertwined strand in the web of life.