Anthropology, Archive, Biology, Books for the News

How Animals Grieve (for Howard Stern)

9780226436944Barbara J. King is having quite a week—at least in terms of traversing brave new (pop-cultural) frontiers for the scholarly pursuits of animal intelligence and emotion. First came an excerpt from King’s latest book How Animals Grieve in a recent edition of the New York Post—noteworthy enough; so noteworthy, in fact, that it led to a mention of the book and King’s work on an episode of Howard Stern’s syndicated SIRIUS radio show (Stern, who along with his wife, is an animal rights advocate, experienced the traumatic loss of his English bulldog Bianca just a year ago; he even gave the book a plug via his Twitter feed). As if all this weren’t enough to render a tear in academic publishing’s space-time continuum, King herself made an appearance on Stern’s show, evidencing some of the ideas surrounding animal mourning that her book draws upon.

In How Animals Grieve, King considers a recent shift in anthropological attention to our companion species, which recognizes our long-chided tendency to anthropomorphize animal emotions might instead hold grains of truth. She tells of elephants surrounding their matriarch as she weakens and dies, and, in the following days, attending to her corpse as if holding a vigil. A housecat loses her sister, from whom she’s never before been parted, and spends weeks pacing the apartment, wailing plaintively. A baboon loses her daughter to a predator and sinks into grief. In each of these instances, King—just as she did in her appearance on Howard Stern’s radio show—helps us understand this animal grief properly, as something neither the same as nor wholly different from the human experience of loss.

Caveat emptor: you might need to sonically surf a few minutes of dialogue about someone named Bigfoot and his search for kinship/lunch sandwiches/an exercise regimen to reach King’s appearance at the 2:27 mark, but perhaps this is not entirely unrelated the subject of animal emotions? We recommend a listen regardless.