Could a mockingbird mimic the strains of “Jupiter: Bringer of Joviality,” or any other section of “The Planets,” that whimsical set of tone poems composed by Gustav Holst? Imagine the morose tune of “Mars: Bringer of War” issuing from the throat of a bird. Though such complex mimicry may be beyond the abilities of birds, animals frequently amaze and amuse us with their behavior, sometimes mistaken as antics.
Why do these behaviors hold such charm for us? Is it the recognition of our own triumphs and foibles when we look at them? We see ourselves in their behavior, and even their anatomy. The bones of a bird’s wing are those of a human hand, revealed in the glow of an X-ray. The same is true of a whale’s flipper, which moves them through the ocean in tandem with the thrust of a tail.
Humor vanishes and we gasp when hearing of how a captive killer whale, incarcerated for years, bit more than the “feeding hand” and took the life of its keeper. Intelligent beings, they learn tricks rapidly, but intelligence makes them dangerous captives. For millennia, killer whales have survived in ocean currents, but escape becomes a “current event.”
We forget that they are killers, able to take a seal or a man in a fast attack. Charm ends here, for they have become too much like us. We too kill to survive. Whether dining on wild harvested venison, or range fed beef, we sacrifice other lives on the altar of our continued existence.
This is also true for wild killers. They are not meant to perform for our amusement let alone on a regular schedule. Such shows may be said to generate respect for our wild kin but do they really. We will only make peace with our animal neighbors when we see them in us, just as we see ourselves in them.