Marc Bekoff on animal joy, animal sorrow

“Animals are just so there in the moment, perhaps their joy is richer than human joy and their grief is deeper than human grief.” said Mark Bekoff, evolutionary biologist at University of Colorado. Bekoff talked to EarthSky about animal joy and animal sorrow.

Marc Bekoff: I’ve been trying to ask the questions about whether animals feel joy, sorrow, grief, embarrassment or resentment. But the question that I entertain isn’t if they do, it’s why they do.

Marc Bekoff is an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado. He’s spent 4,000 hours observing the behavior of wild coyotes and hundreds of hours with captive wolves, coyotes and dogs.

Marc Bekoff: Watching them and then mixing the observational data with the neuroscience, really makes for a pretty tight story about the different emotions animals have and the evolution of these emotions.

EarthSky asked Bekoff if he thinks we humans might just be attributing our own emotions to animals.

Marc Bekoff: As a biologist, I say that’s just not so. So if you follow Charles Darwin, you see he said that ‘the differences among species are differences in degree, rather than differences in kind.’ One of the things that I think is that, because animals are just so there in the moment, that perhaps their joy is richer than human joy and their grief is deeper than human grief. And I think that is a possibility. They just don’t perhaps know what’s going to happen to relieve the grief.

Bekoff also said that he believes animals, some of the time, know right from wrong and behave that way. His book, Wild Justice, will be on bookshelves in 2009.

Our thanks to:
Marc Bekoff
Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of Colorado
Boulder, CO

Lindsay Patterson