When Peter Wohlleben released his book The Hidden Life of Trees, it changed what many of us see during a walk in the woods. And in much the same way, his new book, The Inner Life of Animals, will likely change the way many of us look at animals.
The Inner Life of Animals is a science book that doesn’t read like a science book, likely due to Wohlleben’s personal anecdotes. And while animal lovers might already know some of the facts presented in this book, there is still much for us to to learn. Did you know, for example, that horses feel shame, rats regret bad choices, and butterflies choose the best places to raise their kids?
But make no mistake: The Inner Life of Animals isn’t about giving animals human characteristics or personalities. As the author says:
“The goal is not to anthropomorphize animals but to help us understand them better. More importantly, these comparisons serve to point out that animals are not dimwitted creatures clearly stuck a level below us on the evolutionary scale, creatures that experience only pale imitations of our rich range of sensations for pain and other such feelings. No. People who understand that deer, wild boar, and ravens lead their own lives, perfect in their own way, and have a lot of fun while they’re at it, might even respect animals as insignificant as the tiny weevils that rummage around contented and happy in the leaf litter of ancient forests.”
One of my favourite chapters in the book is “Animal Oracles”, because, like the author, I’ve always been interested in the idea that some animals have a sort of sixth sense that can allow them to pick up on clues relating to natural disasters. As I discovered, it might not be that animals are better at sensing things than we are. Instead, we might just be suffering from sensory overload from our modern way of living, and we just aren’t capable of picking up on changes the way we used to.
The chapter “Artificial Environments” started off with a grim statistic: “We have already cleared, built on, or dug up an unbelievable 80 percent of the Earth’s land mass. Animal senses, however, are not configured for concrete and asphalt, but for woods, moors, and intact waterscapes. Artificial light is just one example of the many ways we confuse them.” But the chapter ended on a positive note by saying that “urban areas do not necessarily exclude animals,” and taking a look at some of the species that have done a good job of adapting, like foxes and pigeons.
It’s hard to imagine that someone wouldn’t look at all animals a little differently after reading this book. And yet, even despite books like this one, there will always be those who resist the idea that animals experience emotion. I agree with the author when he says that this might be because if we acknowledge the fact that animals experience many of the same emotions that we do, that also means acknowledging that humans aren’t as special as we’ve been led to believe, and that would in turn make it harder for us to justify exploiting them for food and clothing. “When you think how sensitive pigs are, how they teach their young and help them deliver their own children later in life, how they answer to their names and pass the mirror test, the thought of the annual slaughter of 250 million of these animals across the European Union alone is chilling.”
The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion—Surprising Observations of a Hidden World by Peter Wohlleben is a thought-provoking and engaging read, and would make a great gift for the animal-lovers in your life. It’s available in bookstores and online today.