October 4 marks World Animal Day, set aside to consider how animals enrich our lives and how we can be in a respectful relationship with them. The day was created in 1931 at a convention of ecologists in Florence, Italy, who wanted to draw attention to endangered species.
I’ll be thinking of the earth’s animals and the role of pets that have enriched my life and become members of my family. The connection between human and pet can mirror the connections between humans and the natural world.
As early as the second century, many Roman philosophers, Claudius Aelianus among them, were obsessed with documenting animal characteristics. The conclusions Aelian comes to in On the Nature of Animals are sometimes humorous, sometimes fanciful and disproven by modern science, and sometimes insightful. His book constitutes an early encyclopedia of animal behavior, affording unparalleled insight into what ancient Romans knew about and thought about animals—and about animal minds.
Below are some of the descriptions I found especially amusing and interesting. Many species Aelian catalogs are now endangered, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.
“Though they are without reason, animals do not bother one another and are frequently clement. I once heard this story: A hunter had a LEOPARD that he had found as a cub and raised since then, caring for it as he would a friend. He loved the leopard dearly. One day he brought it a kid to eat. The leopard had already eaten and was not hungry, so it left the kid alone. On the second day, though it needed to eat, it left the kid alone again. On the third day, even though it was plainly hungry—even its voice sounded hungry—the leopard did not harm the kid, for they had been together three days, and the kid was now its friend. The leopard ate another kid, though, that was brought to it. Yet men betray their brothers, their parents, their lifelong friends. We know of many examples.”
The Amur leopard is critically endangered.
“Indians and Libyans tell different stories about animals, based on what they have seen. In India, if an adult ELEPHANT is captured, it is usually very hard to tame and so bent on regaining its freedom that it becomes quite bloodthirsty, and if you try to tie it down it will only make the elephant angrier. The Indians try to placate such an elephant with nice food and treats, but the elephant will have none of it. So the Indians do this: they take an instrument called a skindapsus and play music, and the elephant listens, and in time its anger subsides and softens, and it takes notice of the food and eats. When this happens the elephant’s bonds are loosened, and it eats and eats and has no thought of running away, because elephants love music.”
The Sumatran elephant, Asian elephant, Borneo Pygmy elephant, Indian elephant, Sri Lankan elephant, and African elephant are all endangered or vulnerable species.
“The DOLPHIN is said to love its own kind, and here is proof. A dolphin was captured at Aenus, in Thrace, and wounded in the process. Smelling its blood, other dolphins came racing into the harbor and jumped around, subtly threatening the fishermen. The people of Aenus, frightened, freed the captive, and the other dolphins escorted it out of the harbor. People, on the other hand, will barely lift a finger to help a relative, man or woman, in need.”
The Ganges river dolphin, Hector’s dolphin, and Indus river dolphin are all endangered species.
Many of us can recognize the human-like emotion and intelligence in animals that Aelian notes. What animals have touched your life or reflect the qualities we ascribe to the human world?