Saturday, January 31, 2009

Recognizing the Intelligence of Crows

Here's a very entertaining and informative video on how people are recognizing the intelligence of crows--using tools, learning about traffic patterns and machines--with a very refreshing point of view of how people can learn to live together with them. It runs 10 minutes (I know it says 11:33, but the last 1:33 is a commercial), but it's the weekend so hopefully you have the time to watch it.

Friday, January 30, 2009

More Cat Language

I can attest to the fact that the blink works with big cats as well as with house cats, since I used it to help me get familiar with several lions and tigers. Of course it helped that the environment they and I were in was conducive to starting a relationship. More on that in a bit.

Tigers have been given the reputation of being solitary cats, so it is interesting to learn that they actually have a simple vocal greeting that they use with each other. It's called a "chuff", and you can hear an example of it here:  .

It's easy for a human to imitate this sound; just say, f-f-f-f-f-f, and put a lot of air into it, and don't be afraid to spray a bit.

Tigers are very responsive to this sound; even a poor imitation of it will usually get a positive response. And if you should ever find yourself face to face with a tiger, wouldn't you want to know how to say, "hello, friend"?

Tiger chuffing brings several stories to mind. One concerns the movie "Two Brothers"--when the two cubs see humans for the first time, they are curious, and one of them chuffs at the humans. Writer/director Jean-Jacques Annaud earned my respect forever for getting tiger vocalizations right, not only in that cute little scene but throughout the movie.

Another story is about me, several years ago, when I was all full of myself for knowing how to chuff. I went to the local zoo and chuffed at the tiger there. This obviously caught her by surprise--how often would she have heard a chuff from the people that pass by? Then, with the most eloquent display of body language, she told me that for her own sanity she had to ignore the people that passed by her cage, even if they did know how to say hello. I respect that, and it makes me sad that it has to be that way.

And so we return to the concept of "aloof, loner" cats, and environments conducive to establishing a relationship. The local zoo is not such an environment.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

(time out for a commercial)

As you may know, this blog is part of my pair of sites devoted to Kimba The White Lion. I depend on sales from The White Lion Shop to keep everything going. I have just lowered the prices on every Kimba collectible item in the shop, and on the manga, in addition to the previously lowered prices on everything else. Nearly every item on the collectibles page is one-of-a-kind, and changes to consumer product laws may make it very difficult to get vintage items like these in the future, so I hope you'll take a look and find something to your liking.

Paying Attention

One of the most common things you hear about cats is that they're aloof, they don't care, they don't listen.

That's not been my experience at all. I frequently have difficulty using the computer because one of my cats is "requesting" my attention. They will bring a toy to me so that I will play with them. They are very responsive to everything I say; even a little "tsk" when something annoys me.

I think the difference between my experience and some other people's experience can be explained by cats' intelligence and by how much attention people pay to them. Cats are flexible; they can be sociable or they can be loners, depending on the situations in their lives. If they learn at an early age that the people around them are not "connecting" with them, ignoring them, they will eventually stop putting forth the effort themselves. Hence, aloofness.

Many years ago when I was a kid, my family was not very tuned in to the pets in the house, and so neither was I. But one day I noticed my cat in the next room looking at me and doing a slow blink. I realized this was not just a mere blink but a deliberate gesture, so I did the same sort of slow blink. She did it again, so I did it again. Then she ran to me, stood up on her back legs, and hugged my leg. She could not have said, "At last! Somebody gets it!" any clearer if she had spoken English.

The slow blink is one of the most basic items of cat language. It has many meanings, depending on the situation. It can mean something similar to blowing kisses. It can de-fuse a potentially bad situation: My kitten knocked something over right in front of me. He froze, wondering if I was angry. I blinked. He blinked in return. No worries.

So basically the blink is an amiable kind of sign, ranging from non-aggression to love. As you pay attention to your cat and the various situations of each day, the blink becomes second nature to you and you become aware of its many shades of meaning. You also won't ever think your cat is aloof and unresponsive to you.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Here's another article by Edward Willett, this time on the subject of emotions in animals. He says that, thanks largely to Jane Goodall's convention-breaking research on chimpanzees, scientists are more willing to allow that animals feel emotions.

Like any astute observer needs scientific proof, but it is good that the walls of blindness are crumbling.

It is interesting how, in the article, there are numerous attempts to weasel (my apologies to weasels) out of ascribing a full emotional life to animals. He suggests that people are having fewer children, turning to animals for companionship, and hoping the animals have feelings for them. I suggest that if people are turning to animals for companionship, they are paying attention to them.

That reminds me... tomorrow I should post a story of the rewards of paying attention.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Intelligence of Bees

I think that in school everyone was likely introduced to the "bee dance"--the discovery that bees can, in a sense, draw a map to a source of food that they've found, by doing a meaningful "dance" to be observed by the other bees in the hive. What is odd about the way this fact is usually told is that it is presented as purely instinctive behavior; somehow we are supposed to believe that the steps and their meanings are hard-wired into the bees' brains. I've never seen an explanation of how this hard-coded programming manages to cope with the infinite number of variables in the real world.

But that's old news. More recently, scientists have been able to train bees to detect bombs, scientists have been able to determine that bees can count and, in my favorite of these types of stories, that bees can learn to recognize human faces... even in a crowd of strangers.

Not bad, considering that bees naturally have no real need to recognize human faces. And not bad considering that for the movie "Marley and Me" 22 different dogs were used to play the part of Marley--and I haven't heard one person complain about the differences.

Yes, I do think the ability to recognize facial features of a different species should work in both directions.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Love, altruism, problem solving...

The video below comes from an incident in Chile. You can make a long list of the qualities the hero dog exhibits, but there is no way you can explain away his actions as mere instinct.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Time out for thoughtful fiction.

Since, as Gareth Patterson pointed out, the perceived differences between human and animal are fiction--not based on actual facts--today I turn to a work of fiction that turns human/animal relationships upside down to illustrate how our perceptions work.

The movie, "Rat", is a Kafka-esque story that is also a very intelligent study of human nature. Pete Postlethwaite stars as a middle-aged Irishman who magically turns into a rat one day. The basic question of the movie is, How do people act and react to someone whose appearance of humanness has been removed? No one in the film doubts that the rat is the same person/personality that once was a man, but without his human appearance, he no longer is a person to any of them.

It's a very funny film, because it is so intelligent in portraying basic human nature. It speaks volumes about human/human and human/animal relationships.

Sometimes it's good to look at things from an inverted perspective, to better understand how things really are.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Even though some cling to the idea that language is unique to humans, there has been a lot of proof over the years that it is not--a wide range of animals, from gorillas to bees, have been proven to have language.

Most studies focus on primates, because their methods of expression tend to be very human-like. That makes the study involving prairie dogs all the more remarkable, because the researchers not only were able to recognize the presence of language, but also decipher it, and show that prairie dog language involves nouns and adjectives and the ability to coin new, meaningful words.

I refer you to this page: Prairie Dog Language? because it not only describes the study and includes links with more detail, but it also deals with many of the objections and false explanations people raise to try to cling to the idea that language is unique to humans.

As always, I hope to receive your comments on this subject or any of the issues raised on that web page.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inter-Species Friendships

In a comment to yesterday's post, we are introduced to the story of a strong bond of friendship between an elephant and a dog. Now this next may seem a strange statement for me to make, but I think it's safe to say that no one would raise an objection to the friendship these two animals enjoy.

But there is a vocal group of people who vehemently object to inter-species friendships when they involve humans and non-humans. They want to use our legal system to erect a wall that will prevent all contact between humans and all other forms of life.

This is incredible to me because it violates the basic nature of life--which is inclusive, not exclusive, and the basic nature of our spirits (no matter what species they may be in) which is to love. The web of life includes all creatures, and the more connections we experience, the closer we get to our true natures.

Don't we already have enough walls around ourselves, trying to shut out reality?

I return again to the statement that what we do not understand, we destroy. Separation is the enemy of understanding. The more contact we have, the more alive we all are, and will be.

I do think most people get this idea.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Love, Care, Thoughtfulness, Altruism...

This story has made the rounds, but it's worth repeating...
Cashew, a yellow Labrador Retriever, gradually went blind and deaf. As it became more difficult for Cashew to get around, Libby, an orange tabby cat, started to help Cashew more and more. Libby would lead Cashew to the food dish, guide the dog around obstacles and tag along on walks to keep her friend safe. The two would sleep together and Libby would watch over Cashew.
How many tests of intelligence and self-awareness has Libby cleared with her behavior? Altruism is obvious, often claimed to be a higher human-only trait. Not to belittle wonderful Libby's help for her friend, but there are many other similar stories out there that people need to pay attention to.

You can read more about Libby and Cashew at the ASPCA blog and at a newspaper site, The Daily Item.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I was thinking some not-very-kind thoughts about SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, as I approached today's blog post. I mean, imagine looking in vain for other humans on an unknown, unreachable planet when we are surrounded by other societies right here on Earth.

So, I went to the SETI web site to see if my perception was correct. Imagine my surprise when I found that they had a very recent podcast titled "You Animal", that was described with a blurb that said, "Maybe Dr. Doolittle was on to something; animals are smarter than we think."

So I listened. I learned that we are indeed still battling the assumption that all non-human animals are dull-witted creatures and only humans have the ability to think. I learned that scientists still try to explain animals' behavior with the concept of instinct, that they want to explain away such events as whales and dolphins rescuing people as mere instinctive behavior, that they believe that creatures (non-human, of course) can be "pre-programmed" to face all of life's challenges.

The African gray parrot, Alex, described in the March 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine, made spontaneous, intelligent, and relevant comments on what was going on around him, and yet the scientists are very reluctant to talk about intelligence and not willing to admit self-awareness in the bird.

It was interesting that the National Geographic writer said that her experience with the bird made her think about how little space we allow for other species on our planet and that it would be ethically correct to find ways to share the planet with them--and then the scientist in the conversation totally rejected the idea of such ethics.

I found the whole show very condescending and very mired in the "ladder" model of evolution. I buried my face in my hands in embarrassed despair a couple of times during the show.

And I'm still left wondering what would happen if just a fraction of the time and money that is poured into SETI -- the search for other-worldly humans who just happened to create earthly-human-recognizable signals in the same technology currently used by humans on this planet -- would be put into Tiger Touch, where they claim to not only have discovered other intelligent life, but the means for two-way communications with it.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Tiger Touch

I love the people at Tiger Touch. Their basic driving idea is that if the animals of the world are going to survive, people have to learn to live with them, not separate from them. This is a beautiful way of restating what I said a few days ago, because it implies an action plan. Click on the Tiger Touch link above for their statement of principles, and here are a few extra words from John Williamson of Tiger Touch:
I believe that the cultural move toward the awareness required for validating life's inter-dependence can be hastened and supported by the charismatic animals who, given the chance, can show us the way through their choice to bond with people. What we are all fighting for is the abandonment of the artificial schism which now separates "man" from "animal." And I could go on and on in this vein.

I'll also contend that inter-species communication is the key to understanding inter-species bonding. Our Directors and consultants have researched along these lines, approaching the issues with their science and their hearts. Much has been contributed by our own cats, wild wolves, bear, and, not surprisingly, children.

Enough has been accomplished to demonstrate true, effective cross-species communication and that has been mind blowing in itself. The goal now is to take the universal inter-species language which is emerging and reduce it to a set of teachable protocols.

Germane to our research is a study by Steven Reiss, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Ohio State University. He spent five years developing and testing a new theory of human motivation. The result of his research is published in the book "Who Am I? The 16 Basic Desires That Motivate Our Action and Define Our Personalities". Reiss has found that 16 basic desires guide nearly all meaningful behavior. The desires are power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical exercise, and tranquility. This study illuminates much of what Tiger Touch has concluded from our own research with respect to the cats.
Humans and animals motivated by the same desires. And this is supported by scholarly scientific research. Why isn't Tiger Touch better known?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Chipping away

It's time to talk about one of the ideas behind this blog. The title of the blog, Intelligent Life Is All Around Us, is a line from a song by Peter Gabriel, "Animal Nation". It's such a great distillation of what I'm trying to say for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it's exactly what I hope people everywhere will realize. The creatures that are ignored and abused are just as intelligent, emotional, and alive as we are.

Second, it chips away at a barrier of loneliness that humans have placed around themselves. They ask, are humans on earth alone in the universe? They look in vain to other planets to find some sort of connection to a larger view of life. That connection is right here, all around us, but our society trains us to ignore it, to actively discount it, to think only in terms of uniquely human forms of expression.

It takes a bit of openness, it takes true observation, it takes a sudden realization that expressions of the same emotions can take different forms, to break down the barrier and begin to realize that humans are not alone.

It takes someone famous to distill the idea and set it to music so that it may spread and gradually introduce some light into our society's blindness. That it was included on the soundtrack of a movie aimed at kids gives me a lot of hope.

Thank you, Peter Gabriel.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Affection Based

There's a book that came out a few years ago, called "Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived". Initially I was disappointed in the book because the book isn't all about Zamba the lion himself. But then I realized that for a number of reasons, this is an important book. I especially wish people who think that "wild" animals are purely instinct-driven and cannot be socialized would read the true stories presented in the book.

Ralph Helfer revolutionized the training of animals a half a century ago. His "affection-based training" has become the norm (in spite of what certain money-hungry political action groups would have us believe). Having spent time with both lions and tigers, I can say with complete confidence that what Helfer says in this book is correct: of course animals respond well to affection. I proved this myself with the wonderful experience of becoming good friends with a tiger that had been very afraid of people.

Zamba is another in a long line of animals that have become famous enough to help prove that there is no such thing as an inherently "wild" species of animal. How an animal behaves toward people depends largely on how well that individual animal has been raised and how well it knows people. This has been shown over and over: see also such books as "A Lion Called Christian" and "Little Tyke".

Just as early childhood development is so very important for people, the socialization of animals depends on the way the animal was raised. If they don't know people and don't know what to expect from people, then they are dangerous. Of course, uneducated people are dangerous to the animals as well. For example, no one should be allowed to approach a tiger without being taught how to say "hello" in tiger-ese. (It's really not that hard, and really very effective.) The artificial categorization of animals into "wild" and "domesticated" has to do with the level of ignorance or familiarity people have with the animals.

In our times, when people are more isolated from the rest of the animal kingdom than ever, and laws are constantly being passed that put more and more barriers between people and animals, our whole society needs the kind of education that Mr. Helfer is offering in this book. Just look at that cover picture. Really look at it, and think about the far-reaching significance of it.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Things We Can't Hear

How long have humans and elephants shared the same geographical spaces? But it wasn't until 1984 that someone finally noticed that there were strange vibrations coming from the elephant cage at a zoo. As it turns out, elephants use infrasonic sounds (sounds lower than the deepest bass note we can hear) to communicate. Researchers have since identified around 300 distinct infrasonic calls that elephants make to each other. Their massive bodies provide the resonance to generate such low frequencies, and these sounds can travel many miles through the earth. Elephants can detect these sounds through the sensitive pads on their feet.

It's also known that another set of massive animals, whales, also use infrasounds to communicate. Their deep sounds, inaudible to us, can travel across an entire ocean in an hour. Not only do they use their ability to hear at these low-frequencies to communicate, but to locate food. Then along comes the US Navy with sonar that uses the same type of sounds. But the Navy sonar emits sounds at 235 decibels--equivalent to the noise from a space shuttle launch! Sounds this loud are not merely noise pollution for the whales, they are unbearable and can even be deadly. Ever wonder why you hear reports of whales beaching themselves? Omitted from the reports is the fact that they are often bleeding from their ears and eyes. They beach themselves to get out of the water that is carrying sounds that torture them, sometimes literally to death.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

...and there was no difference.

In the very earliest time,
When people and animals lived together on earth,
A person could become an animal if he wanted to
And an animal could become a human being.
Sometimes they were people,
And sometimes animals,
And there was no difference.
All spoke the same language.
--Netsilik Eskimo Song

We are not much different in fact to many other forms of animal life;
and it is because of subtle human conditioning
-- not the actual facts --
that we are raised to believe there is a wide gap between
what is human and what is animal.
--Gareth Patterson, the "Lion Man" of Africa

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Right Town, Wrong Hospital

This story at the BBC web site is not recent, but the poignancy of it has made it stay fresh in my mind:

An otter escorted its injured mate to a hospital on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. But in spite of the bloody footprints it was leaving, the hospital workers only locked the doors until the otters left (this last point, omitted in the BBC report linked above, was reported by other sources at the time).

Personally, I can't believe the callousness of locking the doors and hoping the otters went away.

What makes the story even more poignant is that the same town on the Isle of Skye is home to the International Otter Survival Fund, which has a hospital for injured otters.

I have not found any report that says these otters made it to there.

Monday, January 12, 2009

In Sync

When trying to decide on a topic for a new post here, I often get bogged down in "scientific" research papers on animal cognition and such. They usually take the form of 'can we really ascribe emotions to animals?'

My question is, how can any true observer, who is not hampered by fear of offending the establishment status quo, not come to the conclusion that animals are just as rich and deep mentally and emotionally as we are?

And to forward the idea of first-hand observation, I offer to you this web address for a wonderful place called In-Sync Exotics, or even better, a direct link to their Visit the Cats page. It's been several years since I've been able to visit there, but In-Sync still stands out in my memory as home of some of the happiest big cats I've had the pleasure to visit. I would say the people who run the place truly are "in sync" with their animals. If you look through their newsletters, you'll see an emphasis on play. It is indeed a wonderful sight to see adult lions and tigers lose themselves in play like kittens.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Here's a good little article on animal intelligence, consciousness, and self-awareness: Animal Intelligence by Edward Willett. There's a lot of different topics touched on there.

One pet peeve of mine that he mentions is the pseudo-science known as "behaviorism", based on the "biological machine" view of animals. The Animal Behavior course I had in college was probably the worst class of all; the narrow-minded view of the world just did not allow for all the things I already knew.

Read that article, and I'll be happy to respond to any comments you may have. I'll close with one simple question: If animals are not self-aware, why do predators hide from their potential prey?

Friday, January 09, 2009

Cats That Fetch

Both our kittens-- one boy, one girl, both about 8 months old-- love to play fetch. The girl started it, and the boy picked up the idea from her. Each one will initiate a game by bringing me a toy when they're in the mood to fetch.

But if you tell people this, they don't believe you...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

What does Christian The Lion mean to us?

At a time when Christian the lion was completely forgotten by the world, I put up a detailed page about him, complete with the "reunion video" that has since moved millions of people around the world. I had to bring his story to the world; that reunion scene is so very touching, so very explicit in revealing the emotional life of an animal.

But I don't think I've seen or heard anyone explore why the reunion of Christian with John and Ace touches us so deeply.

My explanation is that the pain of separation is the deepest kind of pain we experience. We all experience the pain, whether it's as "separation anxiety" as a baby or because of the death of someone we love dearly. With Christian, the separation from John and Ace was the result of their altruistic love for him, to give him the best life they knew how to give. To add to the mix is the communications barrier that separates human and animal: he can't send a postcard, we're not sure what he's thinking. To see so clearly that after such a long time of separation that his love for the two men was as strong as ever gives us all hope. It is visual proof that love can transcend all barriers--time, space, language, species...

Love is universal.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


If you talk to the animals, they will talk to you, and you will know them.
If you do not talk to them, you will not know them.
And what you do not know, you will fear,
and what one fears, one will destroy. --Chief Dan George
I cannot emphasize enough how important that idea is. What a person does not know, he fears. What a person fears, he destroys. This explains so well the general pattern of human society vs. animal societies. This is why it is so vital that people be exposed to as much truth about animals as possible. Too many people simply do not realize that each and every animal is a thinking, feeling, loving being with a life as rich as their own. And once a person does realize this, his life is forever changed for the better.

One thing not made explicit in Chief Dan George's words above is that you have to listen to the animals, too. Once they know you are listening, they will talk to you even more. As I was writing this post, my youngest kitten brought a toy to me, thus telling me very eloquently that she wanted to play with me. I was happy to oblige, and as a result, it was a long time between when I started and when I finished, but we both had a good time and she lifted me out of my despair over the idea of people destroying what they don't understand. I was glad I listened; I needed that. (Someday I will have to elaborate on the importance of not postponing joy.)

When you come down to it, joy is the basis for all my posts and all of my site: surely you know what I mean if you've also come to the realization that intelligent life is all around us.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Intelligent Life is All Around Us -- Re-Launching This Blog, With a New Purpose

To me, one of the most important aspects of Kimba The White Lion is the gateway it provides for awakening people to the intelligent animal societies that exist throughout our world. To promote that aspect, one of my favorite pages on my site, and one that I desperately need to expand, is the one bearing the title Intelligent Life Is All Around Us. Toward that goal, I will be posting examples here.

On today's morning edition of Paul Harvey News And Comment, we heard the story of the Phillipine man who was saved by dolphins and whales. You can read the full story at this link: The gist of the story is that the man's boat capsized far from shore, he was bleeding and later passed out, and a pod of dolphins pushed him to shore while a pair of whales helped keep sharks away. I think no one can deny the intelligence and benevolence shown by these animals.

Strangely, on the radio Paul Harvey Jr. portrayed the man as an enemy of dolphins, emphasizing that he was a tuna fisherman, and that dolphins frequently die in tuna nets. In the newspaper story linked above, it says that the man is “a dolphin warden and a spotter who locates the presence of dolphins whenever there are guests on dolphin-watching tours, and he is involved mainly in collecting garbage in the areas frequented by dolphins, to prevent the animals from eating these and being poisoned by the plastics floating around.”

Does it make the story more amazing if the man was an enemy? Would it be more amazing if we were told he worked to help the dolphins? Isn't it enough to be aware that an act of love and kindness is possible from the intelligent life all around us?