Curious as a Cat?
Isn’t it amazing how the simple addition of a caption can connect what some would consider uniquely human emotions to an animal?
Anthropomorphising animals, or in other words, imparting human characteristics on an animal, is common place and an everyday occurrence in most cultures. We’re all guilty of it, pigs are often considered slobs, cats are private and a little bit pompous, while dogs are friendly and impulsive (not that I’m taking sides). Comparing and blending the qualities of animals and people has proven crucial in conveying the morals of many fairy-tales and even some religions. However, in zoology, and science more widely, personifying animals is deemed a big no no.
It is exceedingly difficult to know what an animal is thinking without any form of mutual language. Therefore as scientists who place our faith in evidence we cannot assume the thoughts or personalities of the species we may study. As a zoologist (albeit a newly inducted one) who studies mating behaviour in fairy-wrens, the most promiscuous birds in the world, I often find this difficult. I have a tendency to relate the social relationships of the charismatic species’ to those of humans, and am constantly censuring myself when collaborating with other scientists. However with an increasing volume of literature which explores personality and intelligence in animals, the line between animal and human is forever being weakened.
I’m writing this blog contribution in the hope of starting a revolution. Why can’t we anthropomorphise animals in science? By ascribing the poor birdy above feelings of gloom, the image (hopefully) conjures a visceral emotion in you, either sadness if you’re the empathetic kind or amusement if you’ve got a dark sense of humour like me. Either way the personification of animals can be a very powerful tool which connects mankind to the other creatures we share the Earth with.
By destroying the distinction of us and them perhaps the wider community (those who are not already animal lovers) will have a greater respect for the nature that surrounds us. Anyway, if zoological research is lucky enough to make it to the media more often than not it is given some kind of human twist. This only makes sense, humans are a selfish bunch who want to read about science that relates to them. Anthropomorphism is one means in which to make this certain.