Activism Updates: How Animals Grieve, by Barbara J. King

Barbara J. King, Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William & Mary, presents an elegant survey of a difficult topic in How Animals Grieve. In a tone both measured and sympathetic, King asserts that animal grief is a strong indicator of animal love, that 'animals grieve when they have loved'. Evidence for this assertion ranges from accounts of dolphin mothers mourning their deceased infants to captive bear murder/suicides, and in each case she demonstrates that while their expressions of grief might vary, animals do respond emotionally to loss.

As an anthropologist with extensive field experience, King is able to effectively articulate the reticence of scientists to discuss animal emotion and the reserve in their approaches to the subject in scientific literature. She writes that "the whole arena of animal emotion is tough enough to study in the wild, and the old bugaboo of anthropomorphism still prevents some scientists from even trying to collect the needed data." Indeed, she herself is careful not to anthropomorphize the emotion she discusses and further treats each account of grief within a species as unique to the animal who experienced it, thus encouraging the reader to see animals as individuals, which is refreshing.

At the same time, King is unflinching in her empathy for these individuals. In some cases, she critiques the cruel methods employed in obtaining the data she uses (her discussion of lemmings is especially heartbreaking). In others, she rebukes humanity altogether for its treatment non-human animals:

"We humans don't just study the phenomenon of animal grief. In a sense, we cause animal grief as well. We bring about conditions in the wild and captivity that lead animals to feel a sort of self-grief, and at times to feel empathy for others' suffering. Whatever caused that mother bear on the Chinese bile farm to run into a wall, in the end, it was human behavior - human greed twinned with an insensitivity to animal suffering, that murdered her."

Not since When Elephants Weep has there been such an approachable and educational discussion of the emotional lives of animals. How Animals Grieve belongs in the hands of every person who has mourned; both for their sakes and for the sake of their non-human kin. Very highly recommended.

You can find Barbara J. King on the Internet here: