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.

Imagine this scene: Inside a cave in Spain, a group of people gather around the grave of a toddler. Hearths with lit fires, marked by 30 horns of animals including bison and red deer, surround the grave. A rhinoceros skull is nearby.

At a conference this fall, archaeologist Enrique Baquedano and his colleagues described this scene as a probable funeral ritual held 40,000 years ago by Neanderthals.

Birdsong is music to human ears.

It has inspired famous composers. For the rest of us, it may uplift the spirit and improve attention or simply be a source of delight, fun and learning.

But have you ever wondered what birds themselves hear when they sing?

On this day of giving thanks, I've put together a list of animal-related things for which I'm grateful. Here they are in no particular order:

10. This half-minute duck-chases-dog video. It brings a smile every time I watch. Don't miss the moment when the chase reverses direction!

When I give public talks about animal intelligence and emotion around the U.S., I'm struck by one thing: a big audience response to the behavior of octopuses.

A friend posted a query on Facebook: "Please name some movies/TV shows that make you feel more optimistic/positive about life."

Immediate resonance! I've never been one for dark, broody and violent visual arts. During my husband's avid watching of TV shows like Breaking Bad or The Walking Dead, I flee the room.

Last month, Australian surfer Jade Fitzpatrick sustained three bite wounds to his thigh from a great white shark as he waited for a wave on his surfboard off the north coast of New South Wales.

As the Guardian newspaper reported, he was helped out of the water by a friend, received medical treatment and planned to surf again in the same waters within 10 days.

When you're trapped in an airport, relax and have some fun.

That's one possible takeaway from this small bird filmed earlier this year, riding the handrails of an airport's moving walkway.

The bird swoops in the air, lands on the handrail and repeats the whole sequence. Doesn't that look playful? Play isn't an outlandish explanation, in fact, because animal-behavior scientists agree that different species of birds do play in a variety of ways.

Some 56 years after Jane Goodall began long-term research on wild chimpanzees at Gombe, Tanzania, primatologists are still uncovering fascinating new facts about these closest living relatives of ours.

What lurks beneath?

Beneath the water, we find luminescent vampire squid and weighty blue whales. We find super-heated hydrothermal chimneys, sonar-pinging submarines and scientists who roam the watery terrain in submersibles.

Beneath the ground, we find a realm of geysers, volcanoes and tectonic plates. Here also dwell giant earthworms, warthogs and deep roots of wild fig and camel thorn trees. In the subsurface world, humans mine and tunnel and excavate to unleash bones and fossils.

Are free-ranging cats pint-size murderers who need to be removed from the landscape because they critically decrease bird and small-mammal populations?

Or is the estimation of free-ranging cats' impact on birds exaggerated, so that we'd do better to rein in the anti-cat hype and to focus on our own actions toward wildlife?

Are these the only two possible positions? Or is this dichotomy itself a kind of hype?

Last week, The New York Times described "a new category of Digital Detox trips in which participants pledge, in writing, to swear off all digital devices including cellphones and cameras" for 8 to 10 days of travel.

If you sign up, you get a notebook to record memories. Travel leaders will even send email updates to your family, if you'd like.

Sounds virtuous, doesn't it? Shouldn't we all be disconnecting more, especially on vacation?

In England's Northumberland area, at the Alnwick Castle, you can tour a locked patch of ground where killers reside.

This is the section of Alnwick Gardens dedicated to poisonous or narcotic plants. Once you find a garden keeper to let you through the locked gates, plants — some so toxic they are caged — come into view. They range from strychnine to poppies and hallucinogenic mushrooms.

The Kingdom of Speech by Tom Wolfe is book situated at the intersection of inflammatory and ignorant.

Best known for his novels — perhaps especially for The Right Stuff and Bonfire of the Vanities, both made into major films — Wolfe offers his readers a non-fiction account of the evolution of speech in his latest book — or rather, its non-evolution, because Wolfe denies that speech has evolved.

Eight yellow garden spiders, also called writing spiders or Argiope aurantia, set up shop at various locations around the exterior of my house this summer.

A dog video popped up in my Facebook feed this week that I'd never before seen, though it was originally posted late last year. It's clearly a home video, not always perfectly in focus, but in just two minutes tells an intriguing story.

A young girl, engrossed in an art project, dips the family dog's tail into shallow little cups of paint, then brushstrokes across her paper with the tail tip.

Sure, it's a cute video.

People, I have noticed, get very excited about eating pigs and pig products. Bacon mania has been going for a while now, and the well-established cult of barbecue continues as strong as ever.

Overwhelming hard data from biology, geology and anthropology — gathered with a firm grasp of the workings of evolution — prove false the claims made by creationists.

The Earth is not 6,000 years old and it wasn't shaped by a great flood 4,500 years ago. (The Earth is 4.5 billion years old.) Humans and dinosaurs did not coexist. (These life forms missed each other by many millions of years.)

When creationist claims are put forth as science in museums or taught as science in schools, our children lose out because their science literacy is diminished.

Wednesday night, the BBC documentary Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks premiered on U.S. TV.

The program tells the story of how Koko, age 44, one of two gorillas living at The Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, Calif., began to learn as an infant to communicate with humans through use of American Sign Language (ASL). She went on to become the most famous gorilla in the world.

Watching the NBC Nightly News broadcast on a Friday earlier this month, I gaped as the last segment aired.

Smack in the middle of this summer of American political and societal turmoil, I'm hearing a lot about how important it is to seek out and listen to people whose ideas diverge from one's own.

None of us should want to dwell in an echo chamber. Taking up this philosophy, today I embark on a series of conversations (to appear about once a month) with people whose ideas diverge significantly from my own.

The goal? To get past hard-and-fast assumptions, to open up a space for dialogue, and see what happens.

First up: hunting.

Last week, The Pokémon Co., Nintendo and Niantic Inc. jointly released the augmented reality game Pokémon Go.

As parents, it can be natural enough to conclude that when our kids act up or act out — at home, at school, away at the beach or park on family summer vacation — we should tell them to calm down and be sure they follow through.

After all, isn't it our job to teach our kids to learn some self-control?

After 140 years in operation, the Buenos Aires Zoo in Argentina's capital plans to move almost all of its 2,500 animals to natural reserves.

Those animals too old or infirm to make the move will stay, but will no longer be kept on public exhibit. The zoo will become an educational eco-park where animals rescued from the illegal-trafficking trade may be helped and housed.

A slim volume arrived in the mail this spring and captivated me because the author's joy in doing science and experiencing nature spills out on every page.

Now the book is published, with a pretty nifty title: The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected: A Natural Philosopher's Quest for Trout and the Meaning of Everything. Its author is Marcelo Gleiser.

Nearly 40 percent of the residents of Nantucket Island in Massachusetts have had Lyme disease.

I was shocked to read this statistic in The New York Times last week — and fascinated, too, to learn that MIT evolutionary biologist Kevin Esvelt suggests that letting thousands of genetically engineered white-footed mice loose on the island might provide a solution.

How would such a project work?

It's an all-too-familiar practice.

Families go to see movies that feature fun, friendly animals on the big screen. Then they rush out to buy one of the very same type of animal, to keep as a pet. Before long, the cute new member of the family becomes too much trouble, or isn't cared for properly; the animal dies, is abandoned, or is surrendered to overwhelmed rescue groups.

Worldwide reaction continues in the aftermath of last Saturday's tragic incident at the Cincinnati Zoo in which the 17-year-old western lowland gorilla Harambe was shot to death by zoo personnel.

The National Park Service turns 100 this summer, and I've been thinking about how all of us might celebrate this milestone.

I encounter claims that humans were designed to eat meat — that it's in our genes, that we have teeth made for eating meat, that we need meat to get all the right nutrients — all the time in casual conversation and in media in stronger and weaker versions.

The Slow Food movement, founded in 1989 with the aim of restoring a healthy relationship between people and food, embraces a celebration of local, environmentally responsible food cultures. The movement's snail logo reminds us to slow our pace and take time to savor as we grow or purchase, prepare and eat our food.

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