Barbara J. King

Barbara J. King is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos & Culture. She is a Chancellor Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary. With a long-standing research interest in primate behavior and human evolution, King has studied baboon foraging in Kenya and gorilla and bonobo communication at captive facilities in the United States.

Recently, she has taken up writing about animal emotion and cognition more broadly, including in bison, farm animals, elephants and domestic pets, as well as primates.

King's most recent book is How Animals Grieve (University of Chicago Press, 2013). Her article "When Animals Mourn" in the July 2013 Scientific American has been chosen for inclusion in the 2014 anthology The Best American Science and Nature Writing. King reviews non-fiction for the Times Literary Supplement (London) and is at work on a new book about the choices we make in eating other animals. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in 2002.

This week, Switzerland's Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the Indian sprinter Dutee Chand may race as a woman in international competition.

This decision is significant because, just last year, Chand was denied by track and field's governing body (the International Association of Athletics Federations or IAAF) the right to compete against women because her natural levels of testosterone were considered too high for a female athlete.

Cecil the lion's slaughter at the hands of trophy hunters in Zimbabwe has lit up the Internet and social media with protest and outrage in recent days.

The methodology described in a recent study, a peer-reviewed paper on animal behavior — in which biologists Tina Peckmezian and Phillip W. Taylor of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, worked with 56 female jumping spiders — is fascinating.

Here's what the biologists did:

The Appalachian Trail (AT) runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, crossing 14 states for a total of 2,189 miles. This past Sunday, ultramarathon runner Scott Jurek completed a thru-hike of the AT in record-breaking time: 46 days, 8 hours and 7 minutes.

In an episode of the Netflix program Sense8, the character Capheus suddenly finds himself an aircraft passenger alongside Riley, another "sensate" to whom he is mysteriously connected emotionally. Flying from London to Reykjavik, Riley is bored, her eyes dulled even as spectacular white clouds drift past her window. Capheus, who lives in Nairobi and has never before traveled by air, is thunderstruck by Riley's refusal to grasp how lucky she is to be dwelling in these skies.

Last Thursday, boat captain Giancarlo Thomae — flying in a helicopter over the Aptos, Calif., coastline — spotted and photographed what he called a "once in a lifetime event." There were 15 great white sharks swimming within a quarter-mile radius of the grounded SS Palo Alto ("the cement ship") just offshore.

"In my 20-plus years at sea, I have never seen anything like this," Thomae noted to media.

Once a month, The New York Times Book Review includes animals as a category in its best-selling books list. This past Sunday, an invertebrate cracked the top group.

Coming in 10th — after books about birds, dogs, wolves, sheep and elephants — was Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration in the Wonder of Consciousness.

Earlier this month, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia delivered a commencement address to the graduating class of the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md.

In 1982, anthropologist Adrienne Zihlman, now professor emerita at the University of California, Santa Cruz, published The Human Evolution Coloring Book.

May was an exciting month for new discoveries that add to our knowledge of human evolution during the period around 3 million years ago. This is before the origin of the genus Homo, 2.8 million years ago, and during the time when Australopithecus afarensis (the famous "Lucy") lived in East Africa.

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, crafted in 2012 by a group of international scientists, states that octopuses — the only invertebrate animals mentioned — are conscious animals capable of intentional behavior.

America's ongoing war on fat, which aims to save this country — and especially its young people — from a costly and damaging epidemic of obesity, turns out to be dangerous all on its own: It exacts a severe psychological and physical toll on the very individuals it purports to help, according to an upcoming book.

Last Friday in the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer asked which contemporary practices will be deemed "abominable" in the future, in the way that we today think of human enslavement.

He then offered his own opinion:

Starting around 35,000 years ago, our ancestors painted — with accurate lines and glorious colors — images of lions, bison, mammoth, rhinoceroses, horses and even an owl on the walls of what is now called Chauvet Cave in south-central France.

"Women are not equal to men; they are superior in many ways, and in most ways that will count in the future. It is not just a matter of culture or upbringing. It is a matter of chromosomes, genes, hormones, and nerve circuits. It is not mainly because of how experience shapes women, but because of intrinsic differences in the body and the brain."

In a radio interview with WBUR's Tom Ashbrook on March 26 , dinosaur paleontologist Scott Sampson, who's also the author of How to Raise a Wild Child, said that the average child in the U.S. today spends between 4 and 7 minutes outdoors daily — a 90 percent drop from the time spent outside by their parents.

"Outside of humans, the most complex alliances known are found in a population of bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops cf. aduncus, in Shark Bay, Western Australia."

At the Monkeyland Sanctuary in South Africa, an 8-year-old white-handed gibbon walks the tightrope of a suspension bridge with admirable nerve and skill:

Imagine that in a discussion with friends, the talk turns to invasive species and the cascading changes they cause in the ecosystems they colonize.

In a new paper published in the journal Primates, author William C. McGrew, a former professor of evolutionary primatology at the University of Cambridge, reports a high rate of venomous snake encounters by his team of primatologists seeking to observe unhabituated wild chimpanzees in Mount Assirik, Senegal, West Africa.

More people are moving toward a plant-based diet, owing in part to evidence about human health and environmental sustainability, and in part to the emerging scientific consensus on the breadth and depth of animal consciousness and sentience.

We are about 15 days away now from the spring equinox — but winter is not yet done with us.

Writer Michelle Goldberg published an op-ed piece last week in the Washington Post with a headline that conveys, in microcosm, an arresting story: "Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire."

Last week, South Florida's nature came alive for me as much through sound as through sight: the flapping of wings as a great blue heron soared up over a river; the plashing of water when an alligator slipped off the riverbank to swim away; the huffing of a manatee taking a breath at the water's surface before she slowly sank again to the river bottom to munch grass.

This past weekend, when I visited my mother in her assisted living home as I do once or twice a week, I brought along a present. That's not unusual: She and I share a craving for chocolate, and I often bring her new varieties of dark chocolate, her favorite, and other little gifts from my travels.

Some 55,000 years ago, a person — whether female or male, we don't know — lived in Manot Cave in the western Galilee area of what is now Israel. Judging from the partial skull recovered from the cave, and described in Nature last week by Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University and his co-authors, the person was anatomically modern and closely related to the first modern humans who went on to colonize Europe.

Earlier this week, three scientists, a famous actor-activist and a congresswoman spoke on Capitol Hill about why maternal-deprivation experiments conducted on infant rhesus monkeys at an NIH lab in Maryland do not represent ethical or effective science in the 21st century.

I was one of those scientists.

Babies "social reference" by checking out their parents' facial expressions and voice tones when they encounter a new or strange object or event in their environment — then base their own reactions on mom's or dad's. They look to their parents as they wonder: Is it OK to stay calm, or is it time to worry?

When the British newspaper The Mirror reported in late December that a UK mother named Denise Sumpter was still breast-feeding her daughter Belle, who is 6 and a half years old, two experts were invited to weigh in on the practice.

What was the top word of 2014?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary says it was "culture," based on increased frequency of use. "Of the top 10 words in the running for the honor, culture had a 15% year-over-year increase in look-ups on the dictionary company's website and in its app."

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