BOOKS: The Exultant Ark
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2011:
The Exultant Ark
by Jonathan Balcombe
Univ. of Calif. Press
(2120 Berkeley Way,
Berkeley, CA 94704), 2011.
214 pages, hardcover. $34.95.
Jonathan Balcombe begins The Exultant Ark by examining the range and depth of animals’ feelings.
That animals feel pain, though disputed by some people in animal use industries, is well studied and documented. As Balcombe summarizes, animals in pain “shriek or bellow, they avoid and retreat from the sources of pain.”
Less understood is animal pleasure. The pleasure of animals obviously differs in some ways from what we experience while laughing through a funny movie. Yet animals do experience pleasure, Balcombe explains, supporting his contentions with stunning color photographs. Eight sections cover play, food, touch, courtship/sex, love, comfort, companionship, and a variety of other pleasures. An interpretation accompanies each set of photos.
In the food section, a hoary marmot ambles through a patch of flowers, sniffing each one before digging in for a bite. Balcombe presents two arguments. Perhaps the marmot merely obeys a survival instinct to ensure that the flowers are edible. But from Balcombe’s experimental viewpoint, the marmot is “savoring the aroma of his next meal.”
Which view is accurate? Or are these possibilities intertwined, with the pleasure of savoring the scent of the flowers serving to reinforce behavior with survival value?
Macaws, members of the parrot family, may live for decades, forming close and long-lasting relationships. In Balcombe’s section on touch, two macaws preen each other. Are they expressing affinity? Another picture captures a stray dog in India, surrounded by gray langurs who appear to be grooming the dog, perhaps picking off parasites. Two horses caress each other’s neck and withers. Are these animals each enjoying affection from a loved one? The section on companionship features a sweet photo of two cattle caught in a gentle moment. Later in the chapter three macaques are pictured kissing and hugging, as if at a family reunion. Two chimps at a sanctuary appear to be good buddies.
Noting that animals are not “rigidly fixed in their prescribed ecological roles,” Balcombe argues that it is time to change our viewpoints about animals. Cows in line at the slaughterhouse may sense their impending death. Chickens packed into factory farms seem to communicate with each other. Maybe they are clucking about pain and discomfort.
Will this book halt the wholesale slaughter of livestock or end animals in research? Not yet. But The Exultant Ark will intrigue readers with pictures and stories about animals once thought of mostly as dinner, or as winter coats. Those with open minds may begin to see animals differently, whether they want to or not. –Debra J. White