Trinity University Press

Jane Goodall-Naday Levy

Ethics, Emotions, and Animals

Nadav Levy

    When humans first domesticated animals, they have showed affection for them. Then along came Dr. Goodall, directing our attention toward obtaining a better knowledge of the ecosystem, wild animals, and conservation.

    The ancient Jewish sources disapproved of pets. Feelings for animals were considered a “beastly” insult to man’s pre-eminence. Nonetheless, rabbinical authorities forbade the killing of a pet (and the Halakha forbids the killing of wild sentient beings such as apes, dolphins, and so on). Ethics demands that we not only refrain from cruelty to animals, but that we demonstrate responsibility towards them--as Dr. Goodall taught me. Her work with apes reflects a salient example from the Bible--Nathan the prophet’s simile of “the poor man’s lamb”:

    The poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children, it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him a daughter (II Samuel, XII:3).

    As a child, I envied Dr. Goodall her pioneering position as one of Dr. Louis Leakey’s “Trimates” carrying the first field-studies of apes. Although I was a birdwatcher, I dreamed of studying social mammals, investigating matters of animal intelligence, communication, and cultural transmission. During my work on a M.Sc. in zoology I researched the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus), and thus became fascinated by Jane's published account of their tool-use. That piqued my interest in the subject, and later on her work moved my attention to aspects of love, wisdom, mutual relationships, and so on, among animals.

    About twelve years ago, I and my late father, Professor Emeritus Ze'ev Levy, a philosopher, wrote a book on animal ethics, morals and emotions. Our joint interest in those issues, as seen from zoological, anthropological and philosophical perspectives, derived from a long-term desire to understand the diverse zoological and psychological aspects of animal behavior. But we were also interested in the ethics of human relationships with animals and the problem of preserving nature--concepts explored by ethologists like Dr. Goodall and others, those who not only study animals but also support animal welfare and animal rights. Since Goodall's early studies at the Gombe Stream National Park, animal researchers have made much progress in understanding and communication with animals.     

    We now recognize that mammals, birds and even some invertebrates, reptiles, and amphibians exhibit learning capacities that until recently were not thought possible. Animals are capable of learning, using tools, of “speaking” to each other--and perhaps also to us--and experiencing emotions. As Jane Goodall has shown, animals possess consciousness and some degree of self-awareness, as well as the ability to solve complicated problems. Jane has been the role model for me in moving from classical zoology to the understanding of psychological, anthropological, and ethical issues associated with animal welfare and rights.

    Nadav Levy is an Israeli biologist, zoologist, ethologist, ornithologist, researcher, freelance lecturer, and a safari guide in Africa for 30 years (about 100 safari-tours). He has written several books and articles and taught at several colleges in Israel.