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The Thoughtful Animal

The Thoughtful Animal


Exploring the evolution and architecture of the mind
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The Animal Lover’s Gift Guide

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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“Two chimps had been shut out of their shelter by mistake during a cold rain storm. They were standing dejected, water streaming down their shivering bodies, when Professor Köhler chanced to pass.” Upon opening the door for the two chimps, Dr. James Leuba recounts, “instead of scampering in without more ado, as many a child would have done, each of them delayed entering the warm shelter long enough to throw its arms around his benefactor in a frenzy of satisfaction.”

Gratitude is not unique to our species, but the trading of gifts other than food, grooming, or sex might just be. Even though Chanukah has ended, we still find ourselves firmly within the “holiday season,” so I thought I’d take a moment to share some of my favorite gift ideas this year for the lover of non-human animals in your life.

Or for yourself. Go ahead. You deserve it.

Everybody’s favorite purveyor of adorable squee-inducing baby animal photos wants you to put one of their best images onto your iPhone and so do I. The ZooBorns iPhone Case is available for each of the different iPhones, the iPod Touch, and the iPad 2.

And if you, like me, don’t have an iPhone, you can still enjoy ZooBorns all year long with a 2014 calendar.

The Symbol: Wall Lizards of Ibiza and Formentera by Neil Losin and Nate Dappan is the first-ever book about the Ibiza wall lizard. The photos are absolutely beautiful. Even a mammal and bird lover such as myself couldn’t help but be drawn into the world of herpetology after thumbing through this book. Buy it here if you’re in the US and here if you’re in the UK or elsewhere.

Animal Wise by Virginia Morell was easily one of my favorite animal cognition books of the year. In my review for Conservation Magazine, I wrote:

“What do the minds of animals tell us about ourselves?” Morell asks in the final chapter of Animal Wise. She responds that “they have moments of anger, and sorrow, and love. Their animal minds tell us that they are our kin.” Instead of simply relying on animal cognition research to drive better or more effective conservation efforts, Morell argues, by studying animal cognition we will better understand our own place within the broader animal kingdom.

Animals grieve for their dead. Animals play. Animals teach. Some animals even seem to imagine. By peering into the minds of crows, monkeys, dolphins, or dogs, will we see our own reflections staring back? And if we do, will that spur us to treat our nonhuman cousins with empathy and compassion?

Buy it from Amazon here.

I’ve just finished The Infested Mind: Why Humans Fear, Loathe, and Love Insects by Jeffrey Lockwood. By combining evolutionary biology, psychology, anthropology, and a fair amount of his own personal experiences (including being caught in more than one insect swarm!), Lockwood takes the reader on a grand tour of various insect phobias, exploring the various reactions from fear to disgust that we might have when encountering wasps, bees, roaches, maggots, and other bugs, and asks readers to reconsider their own emotional and physiological reactions to insects.

And speaking of insects, fellow SciAm blogger Alex Wild is running a holiday sale of his own stunning insect photos – some items as much as 70% off of their normal prices. Head on over to AlexanderWild.com to snag an insect (or lizard) print of your own. Actually, I wouldn’t mind putting these honeybees on my own wall…

I’ve only just started Dragon Songs by Vladimir Dinets, but I already love it. Part adventure, part romance, and part science, it’s a masterclass in infusing narrative into science (or vice versa). If you liked reading about tool use in gators and crocs, you’ll love Dragon Songs.

One of the most thrilling books I read this year was High Moon Over the Amazon by Patricia Wright. It’s a memoir about Wright’s dissertation research in the 70s and 80s chasing after owl monkeys – and her young daughter – in the Amazon jungle. At the time, science knew basically knowing about these monkeys outside of their existence. What did they eat? What was their social structure? Most importantly, why are they alone among monkeys in being nocturnal? After grad school, Wright went on to become one of the world’s experts on lemurs and co-founded Madagascar’s Ranomafama National Park. Like most of my favorite science books, it’s part adventure story, part memoir, part science. If you liked Bonobo Handshake or Pink Boots and a Machete you’ll love this book.

Elana Joelle Hendler isn’t just an old friend of mine, she’s also a very talented artist who happens to focus on wildlife – like this chimpanzee. You can get one of her striking black-and-white sketches as a print, or you could gift one of your friends with a candle, pillow, or stationary. All the materials she uses are sustainable or recycled, so you can both decorate and feel good about the environment. As a bonus, use the promo code JGSAVE15 and get 15% off your order, and free shipping if you spend more than $150.

Want to put your gift money instead towards wildlife research and conservation? Here is a necessarily small and incomplete, somewhat arbitrary list of organizations that can use your help:

  • Friends of Bonobos is the charity that supports the Lola ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • If you enjoyed my article on how chimpanzees play differently after becoming orphaned, you might want to donate to Zambia’s Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, where that research was conducted.
  • If you’ve enjoyed the camera trap imagery I’ve been posting lately, you might donate to the Wildlife Conservation Society. The scientists and conservationists with WCS work on four continents and in all the world’s oceans to understand and protect the animals we share our planet with. And they send me lots of awesome camera trap photos and videos.
  • Ninety-Six Elephants are killed every day in Africa. The WCS, with with Association of Zoos and Aquariums, has launched a campaign called 96 Elephants. The effort is focused on bolstering protection of African elephants and educating the public about the link between the ivory trade and elephant poaching. (Read SciAm Editor Kate Wong’s report from last month’s ivory destruction event in Colorado.)
  • Give to your local zoo or aquarium. There are 223 zoos and aquaria accredited by the AZA. If you’re near one of those institutions, consider becoming a member, or gifting a membership to someone else. Because they’re affiliated with the AZA, each accredited zoo or aquarium participates in a variety of conservation-related efforts, both within their facilities and in the field, for local and for exotic species.
  • The Okapi, or “forest giraffe” – like the bonobo – is found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are only some 10 to 20 thousand individuals left in the wild, and they’re in trouble. In June 2012, rebels attacked the headquarters of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve in Epulu. They took 28 women as hostages, burned buildings, killed six people, and slaughtered all fourteen captive okapi, who were used as “wildlife ambassadors.” The Okapi Conservation Project is currently accepting donations.

Did I miss anything? What would you recommend as a gift for an animal lover?

Note: I received no compensation for promoting any of these items; I did, however, receive review copies of The Infested Mind and Dragon Songs from their respective publishers.

Jason G. Goldman About the Author: Dr. Jason G. Goldman received his Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at the University of Southern California, where he studied the evolutionary and developmental origins of the mind in humans and non-human animals. Jason is also an editor at ScienceSeeker and Editor of Open Lab 2010. He lives in Los Angeles, CA. Follow on . Follow on Twitter @jgold85.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. tuned 1:51 pm 12/13/2013

    I neither love animals too much nor too little.
    I love them in nature, but when they become real pests around the house they gotta go.
    I don’t bother them out there,but I give them several warnings around the people tank.

    Link to this

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