In my previous column, I reviewed Peter Wohlleben’s 2016 international bestseller The Hidden Life of Trees and learned that trees care for their young, take care of others that are sick, and communicate with each other to warn about threats. In Wohlleben’s latest book, The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion – Surprising Observations of a Hidden World, he turns his trademark blend of anecdotal evidence and scientific research from flora to fauna, giving readers a fascinating look into the lives of our fellow animals.
By focusing on the inner lives of animals, Wohlleben is contributing to a popular trend in our culture: books such as Julie Klam’s You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secret of Happiness, Jonathan Balcombe’s What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins, and movies like The Secret Life of Pets and March of the Penguins are just a few examples. Readers and audiences are drawn to this theme because it reinforces what they may already experience with their own pets: “Who, living with a dog, or cat, or parrot, could ever doubt that these animals feel as much as we do?”
Wohlleben extends this research to the animal kingdom at large, probing the depths of animal experience and attempting to understand their lives from their point of view. And just as he did with trees, Wohlleben unearths some fascinating discoveries: fish feel pain and fear, hedgehogs and red deer have the ability to turn off the sensation of hunger when it is disadvantageous to them, bees dance to communicate information about nectar sources and how far away they are, ravens have individual “names” or personal identification calls that they use to greet each other, butterflies detect a plant’s age and health with their feet, chickens dream, and rats have the ability to reflect on their actions and regret what they have done.
Every chapter uncovers captivating and magical facts about the inner lives of animals both large and small, domesticated and wild. But there is an underlying message in the book beyond the cool facts. If we understand more about animals, then we may change our actions towards them and the environments they call home. “We have cleared, built on, or dug up an unbelievable 80 percent of the Earth’s land mass,” disrupting ecosystems and displacing animals whose senses are not configured for concrete and artificial light. We must also take a look at the harsh practices of factory farming in light of this compelling information into animals’ ability to experience joy and suffering. Above all, Wohlleben suggests that “we infuse our dealings with the living beings with which we share our world with a little more respect, as we once used to do, whether those beings are animals or plants.”
The Inner Life of Animals (released Nov. 7th, 2017) is available at Coles in the Cornwall Square, and online.
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