Conservation and Wildlife

Animals Do Cry

*By David Lawal

I watched as they got into upheavals that caused such a ruckus that the keepers and tourists all rushed to take in the spectacle. What tourists saw as a chaotic melee of 20 hairy beasts running about hollering and screaming, was in fact a highly orderly community of Chimps. A keeper at the Jos Wildlife Park, Ben had told me in a side discussion during my visit in 2019 that they recognize every Chimp by face, even just by voice, and know what to expect.


Explaining further, he said that looking beyond the central scene is important. If one male chimpanzee intimidates another by throwing rocks or charging closely past the other, you need to deliberately take your eyes off them to check where new developments arise. That the threatened male’s best buddy is asleep in a corner doesn’t mean you should ignore him. As soon as he wakes up and walks toward the scene, the whole colony knows things are about to change. A female gives a loud hoot to announce the move, while mothers press their youngest offspring close for protection.

Very interestingly, further straddling the study of our very distant animal relatives may present more interesting facts than anticipated. It is also able to foster our relationship with animals and make us think of them differently. When we see a cat purring or a dog wagging its tail, some of us can quickly ascribe such to emotional expressions of joy. Perhaps, if you understand the emotions of a Rooster for example or a Mother hen (often called old layers locally), you may rather not harm any Chicken this Christmas.

That said, no one can ever tell your emotions and how well or badly you express them better than the people who spend time with you. This goes to say, people who keep pets would disagree if you say their animals don’t cry. Ben, the Zoo keeper opened my eyes to a side of Chimps I never understood. It is observed that animal scientists are usually friendlier with animals than regular people by virtue of relationship.

animals cry

As humans, we have many similar characteristics with our nearest relatives, the apes. We share large body size, brains size, prolonged childhoods and long lives among others. In the same vein, we share similar emotional characteristics with other mammals and we express these emotions to different degrees. Even amongst human beings, there are people who hardly laugh, cry, smile, rejoice, and so on.

It might interest you to know that long ago, Pythagoreans came to a conclusion that animals experience similar range of emotions as humans do, and a very recent research by Joseph LeDoux, a neuroscientist at New York University, provides compelling evidence that at least some animals likely experience a full range of emotion, including happiness, love, shame, crying, resentment, jealousy, rage, anger, etc, as much as humans.

A hurt rabbit pins back its ears and narrows its eyes—part of a grimace scale. People can understand it when fellow humans express emotions in tears, but animals sometimes have a tougher time communicating their discomfort with humans. Most times for animals, it is observed as a pattern of emotional reactions expressed over a period of time.

A fact that cannot be disputed is that all land animals have the physiological ability to produce tears to lubricate their eyes. Lower or higher animals, regardless. A lot of people today seem to believe that animals, especially their pets, can and do weep. So, we can think of crying as an expression of one of several emotions in man and animals.

Anecdotally though, when you harm animals, do they not bark, quiver, whine, moan and/or bray? Among humans, intense fear may cause vomiting and diarrhea—we say we “pee in our pants” when we’re frightened. That’s also a common occurrence in apes, minus the pants. Bodily excretion communicates critical information. “Long after a skirmish has ended, you may see a male chimpanzee casually stroll to the precise location where his rival had been sitting, only to bend down and take a sniff,” Ben told me.

Consequently, you may want to agree that crying is not the only way animals including humans express emotion. Either by the wagging of a tail, barking or whining, braying or bellowing, these emotions come from the same basic “survival circuits” in the brain, which are the same in all mammals. But by a process of association, any kind of pain became connected with tears.

This is why you may not be quick to understand that the trumpeting, the braying, the moaning and the quivering are some of the ways animals express emotion that humans may shed tears over. Hence, animals do cry.

David Lawal writes from Abuja, Nigeria



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