There might, in fact, be a number of emotions that humans share with other animals. This article from Yes Magazine, seems very sympathetic to this idea "Many animals also display wide-ranging emotions, including joy, happiness, empathy, compassion, grief, and even resentment and embarrassment." But, there is still the danger of over-interpretation. For example, there is evidence showing that the evident "guilt" shown by dogs for their misbehavior might simply be a response to scolding.
A similar problem to anthropomorphizing emotions is to try to superimpose human standards of intelligence on animals. This article examines the challenges of studying crow intelligence. Are humans less intelligent than birds because we might be challenged to build a nest? It has been shown that some dogs can be trained to identify traces of cancer in human urine. I can't track down the quote (I think it was E.O. Wilson), but to paraphrase, "When it comes to the sense of smell, compared to dogs human beings are idiots."
Another anthropomorphic "trap" is to try to apply human morals to animals. Here is a list of 11 animals that, like many humans, tend toward monogamy. But, I think, it is important to note that monogamy or polygamy are probably just different survival strategies, not extensions of morality.
Given the complications of evaluating animals on the basis of emotions, intelligence, or morality, how does one prudently examine animal behavior? I think the best approach is to fall on fundamental evolutionary principles and objective laboratory instrumentation. Do these, often ritualized, animal habits or learned behaviors confer some reproductive or survival benefit? How can this be understood? How could this be measured? What I like about the UW crow project is that it utilizes scans (I believe they are Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans.) to try to identify which areas are activated, although I have some qualms about whether a laboratory study is truly representative about what might happen in the field.
A few years ago I was surprised to observe a leucistic crow in my neighborhood of West Seattle. Leucism, which is a rare mutation in a variety of different animals, results in "paleness," that is, diminished pigment, in contrast to albinism, another mutation resulting in the complete absence of pigment, i.e. white animals with pink eyes. The local leucistic crow, dubbed "Leucy" by the local media, died in a heatwave a few years ago.
I have some personal history regarding a bird behavior study from my undergraduate years. At Southern Illinois University there was a fairly eccentric professor who developed this hypothesis that owls engage in what he described as "prey-thawing." His belief was that owls use their body heat to thaw out frozen road kill, and thus were distracted by this task enough to often become road kill themselves. The Professor proposed this to me as a potential grad school thesis project. Unlike the UW project, he seemed uninterested in trying this in a laboratory setting. My response: "Lessee, you want me to kill a rabbit, freeze it, and put it on the side of the road, wait for an owl to happen by, who 'might' sit on the dead rabbit, and then I should wait for a passing truck, who 'might' kill the owl, and you want me to do a statistical evaluation of this phenom? His response: "Yep." My response: "Well, Professor, if I find anyone interested in this kind of project, I'll be sure to send them your way." As soon as I left his office I couldn't contain my laughter. I could just imagine myself, sitting in my car at the side of the road in freezing cold...staring at a dead bunny for hours at end ...waiting ...waiting...waiting--I don't think so. Maybe in my next blog entry I'll consider why owls are considered wise, or why swans are considered symbols of enduring love. But for now, let me leave you with the promotional video from the UW project and a couple of vids reputing to show magpie and raven funerals.
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