Animal Magnetism: Why we love watching animals…

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Animal Magnetism

Humans are fascinated by our fellow animals – is that just an evolutionary hangover or something more profound?

by  –  an evolutionary biologist, aspiring buddhist, and professor of psychology and biology at the University of Washington. His most recent book is Buddhist Biology.
At the zoo. Photo by Lisi Niesner / ReutersAt the zoo. Photo by Lisi Niesner / Reuters

 

I like zoos. Really I do. I applaud today’s zoological parks for their increasing emphasis on naturalistic exhibits, their breeding programmes for endangered species, and their efforts to educate the public about wildlife conservation. But the truth is, I mainly like zoos for the same reason that other people do: because I love watching animals.

Animals in captivity might satisfy our desire to cross the existential barrier that separates us from other creatures. Yet the sad reality is that, for the most part, zoo animals have become, as the art critic John Berger put it in 1977, ‘a living monument to their own disappearance’. The greatest pleasure of animal-watching still comes from observing free-living creatures in their natural environment. With enough disposable income, you can go to India, South America or Antarctica on animal-watching trips, ‘bag’ a view of the African ‘Big Five’ (elephant, rhino, lion, leopard, and buffalo), or take a boat to admire great whales exhaling geysers of salty breath.  Read Full Article…