697 Interview with Marc Bekoff, Pt. 2: Crowing the news!

Corvus corax (Northern Raven). Within the crow family, this is a first cousin to the news-making corvus moneduloides (New Caledonian Crow).

Read the entire series on Marc Bekoff’s “Animal Manifesto”:

  1. Excerpt of “Animal Manifesto” including the 6 main principles in Marc’s work.
  2. Highlights of interview with Marc Bekoff, Part 1.
  3. Highlights of interview with Marc Bekoff, Part 2.

DAVID: You’re scientist, Marc. But, as a journalist myself, I’d say: You’re a newsman, too! Your book is packed with news items about animals—fresh insights into their behavior and treatment. Some sections of your book read like little newspapers! Why did you choose that format? Is it because so many other news sources are vanishing these days?

MARC: That’s part of it, yes. And, I really do think of myself as bringing people the news in this book. That’s how so many people help me. They send me news stories they’ve found. I’m regularly searching major news sources like the New York Times, the BBC, the Economist and other places. The Economist recently had a great article on grief in elephants. The New York Times often has articles about animal cognition. The Times also has published investigations on things like conditions in slaughterhouses. Then, many people send me news stories, as well.

These days, I’m publishing more myself. In March, Scientific American Mind ran an essay I wrote called “The Ethical Dog.” Now, think about that. Several years ago, they wouldn’t have considered an article like this for publication. Now, there is so much news about these issues that they are interested.

Eight Belles racing before the fatal Kentucky Derby in 2008.DAVID: Back in the early 1980s, I reported for the Lexington Herald-Leader newspaper in the heart of Kentucky’s Bluegrass. So I was struck by one of the first negative news stories you cite in your book, the tragedy of Eight Belles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The horse ran very hard, then suffered bad breaks in two legs plus other injuries when she fell. Rather than moving the horse’s body away from the track, she was euthanized right there in public. People were shocked. For at least a while, Eight Belles’ death raised all kinds of questions about breeding and racing of thoroughbreds. You include this in the book to point out that the treatment of animals now is a matter of global concern. Tell us a little more about this.

MARC: The impact of stories like Eight Belles is huge. That story ran all around the world and it exposed things that usually go on behind closed doors. I was flying home from a meeting when it happened. That kind of story continues to raise concern for animals. I make my living studying animals and I know a lot about these kinds of issues. I’m aware of the good and the bad that people do with animals. But some people aren’t aware of these conditions at all. When they learn about things like this, they become very frustrated. They’ll ask me: How could someone do that? Why aren’t more people aware of this? They want to spread the word.

DAVID: I don’t want to leave readers with the impression that your news items in this book are all horrible. Most of them are fascinating and they make you want to keep reading. Here’s another example from early in the book: You describe a “magpie funeral” you observed. You describe it this way: “Individual magpies paid tribute to their dead friend by standing silently around her, touching the corpse lightly, and flying off and bringing back grass that was laid down by the body.” That section is moving. I had no idea birds might have that sophisticated level of compassion. You really witnessed this “funeral”?

MARC: Absolutely. Yes, that’s real. Everything in the book is real. Critics used to say that these observations are just anecdotal—insufficient data for good science. But I’ve found the plural of anecdote is data and what I mean by saying that is: After 50 or 100 emails describing a particular phenomenon, even one that hasn’t been studied systematically and scientifically, I have to begin seriously considering this accumulation of observations. People say that animal cognition is a soft science. They say: Oh, it’s all driven by personal stories. It’s not scientific.

But I say: As people are reporting these things—like observing whales hunting in coordinated groups or mice showing empathy or New Caledonian Crows manufacturing and using more sophisticated tools than we’ve seen with some primates—well, we’ve got to pay attention. That’s why I have all these various sections throughout my book that give readers one story after another. I want them to have this experience of seeing the stories accumulate.

Photographs like this illustrate the New Caledonian Crow’s talent for finding, gripping and effectively using tools like this twig.

DAVID: One of the most important phrases in your new book is on the front cover: “Compassion Footprint.” You explain in the book that you like this phrase because you’ve seen the power of phrases like “carbon footprint” spreading around the world. Tell us more.

MARC: I came up with that phrase like I come up with a lot of other things—while out cycling or walking the dog. I was thinking about “carbon footprint” as giving us a good visual image for how we step on the earth in relation to carbon. So, why not envision our impact, our steps around the world, in relation to compassion. We all need to step more kindly, more gently, more compassionately. Now that the phrase is out there, I’m inviting people to play with this phrase and learn from this phrase. I’ve heard from people that they are ready to embrace an idea like this. One reason is that it’s simple. We need clarity.

DAVID: You’re so optimistic. That’s refreshing. We seem to be recommending a number of books this spring by optimistic writers. We just featured Mpho and Desmond Tutu’s new book, “Made for Goodness.” So, let’s close our inteview with this question: Why are you so hopeful?

MARC: I am able to hold onto my own dreams because I see people all over the world working hard to make the lives of animals better. I’m not a blind optimist. I know what’s going on out there and I know about all the bad things that are happening, but personally I don’t need that to be thrown in my face over and over again. I’m more interested in finding new ways we can come together to make a difference in the world.

Right now I’m writing a new book that I’m calling “Re-Wilding Our Hearts.” In that new book, I’m proposing corridors of compassion, which will connect human communities with animal communities, and animals to animals, and humans to humans. We need opportunities to actually get out there and stroll together. If we can begin strolling together as a real community, then we will make a difference. We have to try to do that, really. We must. If we give up, we’re screwed.

Read the entire series on Marc Bekoff’s “Animal Manifesto”

  1. Excerpt of “Animal Manifesto” including the 6 main principles in Marc’s work.
  2. Highlights of interview with Marc Bekoff, Part 1.
  3. Highlights of interview with Marc Bekoff, Part 2.

Care to read more? Today, Dr. Wayne Baker and his OurValues.Org online magazine tackle the thorny issue of American values and the BP oil spill. Stop by and add your thoughts!

You can order “The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint” from Amazon now.

We welcome your Emails! Email [email protected]. We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, Huffington Post, YouTube and other social-networking sites. You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed. Plus, there’s a free Monday-morning “Planner” newsletter you may enjoy.

(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email