It was a touching scene and one that belies the old theory that nonhuman animals are unthinking, emotionless machines that react to situations with preprogrammed instincts. Primatologist Frans de Waal disproved that belief, when he learned about a dying chimp being visited by biologist Jan Van Hoof who had known her for more than 40 years.
Mama's Last Hug
Documented in his recently released book, Mama's Last Hug, Waal takes us on a heartfelt journey, as he details the last days of a chimp name "Mama," when her old friend biologist Jan van Hooff came to visit.
Van Hoof upon seeing the listless chimp, immediately knelt down and stroked her arm. When Mama looked up, her vacant stare broke out into a loving smile. She then reach out to van Hoof, and patted his face and neck.
For primatologist Frans de Waal, this touching scene was not difficult to interpret. It just came down to Mama elated to see her dear old friend of 40-plus years. But according to de Waal, such a belief has been taboo among many behavioral scientists, who have claimed nonhuman animals do not engage in emotional responses.
His sensitive rendering in Mama’s Last Hug discredits that view all together. He reports that there is evidence animals are emotional beings. The book is a companion to other tome: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
According to de Waal, an animal's emotions makes absolute sense from an evolutionary perspective. The basic physiology and brain chemistry that gives rise to emotions in humans is present in other members of the animal kingdom. And emotions offer an amenable way to evaluate and respond to events in an ever-changing environment than instincts do.
In my 2016 post, "Do Animals Mourn, Or Do We Anthropomorphize," as funny as it might sound, even birds and fish are known to grieve. Of course, other animals' emotions are not the same as human emotions, de Waal notes. There are differences “in the details, elaborations, applications and intensity.” And whether other animals are aware of their emotions, what de Waal defines as “feelings,” is still up for debate.
Science News contributor Erin Wayman notes in his post, "‘Mama’s Last Hug’ showcases the emotional lives of animals," thought some of his [de Waal] writing was moving and funny at the same time. "Though some of his claims are more persuasive than others, it’s hard to walk away from Mama’s Last Hug, without a deeper understanding of our fellow animals and our own emotions," notes Wayman.
Primary Source: Science News