Reflecting On The Year In Animals

Dec 31, 2014
Originally published on December 31, 2014 2:34 pm

As a writer, my main beat is animals. Yes, I take up all kinds of science-and-society issues rooted in anthropology and psychology, ranging from human evolution to contemporary health, fitness and parenting, to rights for those who express their gender identity or sexual orientation in diverse ways. But animals are at the core of what I care about most intensely — and 2014 has been a fun year for conveying, here at 13.7 and elsewhere, what I have learned.

In April, for the Times Literary Supplement in London, I enthused about a book by anthropologist Eduardo Kohn called How Forests Think. Kohn explains how tropical forests and their inhabitants — especially the animals who reside in the Ecuadorian forest he knows best — "amplify and thus can make more apparent to us, the ways life thinks."

In October over at TIME Ideas, I explored the Nonhuman Rights Project's campaign to seek personhood for the chimpanzee Tommy. Held captive in New York in extremely poor conditions, Tommy is clearly suffering. His owner has refused deals for his release to sanctuary; lawyer Steven Wise is arguing in the courts that Tommy deserves — and is capable of — some degree of self-determination. (Since I wrote that post, the court ruled that Tommy is not a person, and the appeal process has begun).

Also at TIME Ideas, I indulged in a bit of self-reference. In reviewing The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014, edited by Deborah Blum, I allowed myself to note how fabulous it feels that a piece of mine on animal emotions, "How Animals Mourn," from Scientific American, was chosen for inclusion in that volume.

And here at NPR, I've celebrated wild turkeys, discussed dog-rescue projects in Puerto Rico, agitated for a laboratory that's part of the National Institutes of Health to stop depriving baby monkeys of their mothers in terrifying experiments, and led with my heart in writing about the loss of one of my most special companions.

I also had fun here with animal videos, regarding topics ranging from octopus sex to dogs who (safely) eat ice cream cones.

Now, as the year wanes, it's time to choose five outstanding animal videos from 2014 (note: I count videos that I first watched in 2014 — the origin date may be older). I've said it before (see my end-of-2013 post here): Visuals that get across vividly the thoughts or feelings of other creatures bring together new knowledge — and are just plain fun.

Here's my list:

5. The fish who plays with a person (1:57)

4. The boxer dog who, running on two legs, takes the beach by storm; kudos to Panda Paws Rescue (2:14)

3. Ninita the pygmy marmoset, who was born deaf, rejected by her parents and hand-reared by humans in adorable ways (2:56) (I very much appreciate the Rare Species Conservatory Foundation's clarification that she is not a pet.)

2. The giant tortoise who rescues his overturned friend (0:45)

1. This year, my top pick is this clip (4:46) showing what happened when 752 hens, rescued by Edgar's Mission in Australia, encountered freedom for the first time. Yes, there's a sentimental soundtrack added to the visuals here. I don't mind; for me it only heightens the joyous emotion we may feel in empathy with these animals.

I offer this list to you with all my best wishes for a happy new year.


Barbara's most recent book on animals was released in paperback in April. You can keep up with what she is thinking on Twitter: @bjkingape.

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