Inside Animal Hearts and Minds: Bears That Count, Goats That Surf, and Other True Stories of Animal Intelligence and Emotion By Belinda Recio
From Book, CD and Video Review Guide

Author: Belinda Recio

Reviewed by: Robert Ellwood,

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Belinda Recio
Inside Animal Hearts and Minds: Bears That Count, Goats That Surf, and Other True Stories of Animal Intelligence and Emotion
Available at Good Reads


This large-format, lavishly illustrated book has it all in one place for those who are fascinated by all of the new information that has been coming out about the ways animals, like humans, can think things through, show complex feelings, communicate, enjoy humor, use tools, even create art and display apparent religious activity. While there may still be some holdouts, long gone are the days when animals could be regarded simply as machines guided by "instinct." Instead, in the words of Henry Beston cited near the beginning, words like a keynote for this book, "They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth."

So it is that we read in Inside Animal Hearts and Minds of Derek, a crow who visited Amanda, a wildlife rehabilitator, nearly every morning bearing gifts of leaves, acorns, even a key the woman had lost long before. Amanda had once done Derek a favor, and it was not forgotten. Nor are such interactions limited to humans. We learn about Shooter, a giant elk in the Pocatello, Idaho, zoo, who went to considerable trouble to rescue a marmot in danger of drowning in his water trough.

We observe an experiment by the eminent primatologist Frans de Waal that involved giving food to two capuchin monkeys in exchange for stones. One received a grape, the other a piece of cucumber; the grape was clearly far more desirable from the primates' point of view. The animal who got the cucumber immediately saw this as unfair and went into a tantrum, throwing the undesired vegetable back at the experimenter. What is of still more interest is that when this experiment was performed with "higher" subjects, chimpanzees and bonobos, even those who got the grapes were clearly uncomfortable with the obvious unfairness, sometimes refusing a grape for themselves if the others of their species present did not receive one as well.

The remarkable caring behavior of elephants is becoming increasingly well known. We read that if a member of a herd is evidently in distress others will come over to that companion, caressing her with their trunks and vocalizing softly. Female elephants will care for one another's calves, and support the old and injured. When a fellow elephant dies, or even if a pachyderm's body is found, others will sniff and touch the remains, and stay quietly as a group for a time. Those who are able to go to one of the celebrated elephant graveyards to leave this life.

Primates also appear to have awareness of death; they will remain with the body of a deceased comrade as if holding a wake, gently touch the remains and just be there. Koko, the celebrated gorilla taught sign language by Penny Patterson, was once asked by the trainer, "When do gorillas die?" and got the response in sign, "trouble, old."

When Penny persisted in asking how they feel about death -- happy, sad, or afraid -- the animal responded, "sleep"; and when further asked where they go when they die, Koko signed, "comfortable hole, bye."

Nor should it be thought that such aware and caring behavior is limited to birds and mammals. Rattlesnakes are not generally considered warm and cuddly, yet they seem to develop friendships, visiting certain other snakes apparently for no reason other than that they enjoy the other's company. Females will even babysit another's young. There is also mention of the remarkable accomplishments of that unexpected high intelligence of the deep sea, the octopus with its eight brains in its eight arms.

This is only the merest sampling of the scores of such accounts in Recio's volume. While the stories are told simply for the general reader, it is important to note that all are documented at the end of the book in the form of specific scientific books and articles for each case, all so far as I can determine from highly respected journals and publishers in the field. I have no doubt Recio's examples are as reliable as could be expected.

Finally we should mention evidence of spirituality among animals, something that also might not have been expected some years ago, yet is there. Primatologist Barbara Smuts, who lived with baboons in the wild for two years, once observed a group coming back home to their sleeping trees and encountering pools of still water. Without any particular sign, they stopped all together and sat on the edge of those ponds gazing at the water for about half an hour, all quiet, even the juveniles. Then they got up and proceeded on. Smuts called this a "baboon sangha," from the Buddhist term for an assembly that engages in meditation together. But it seems to me, given the spiritual background of The Peaceable Table, that it could equally well be called a baboon Quaker meeting.

Inside Animal Hearts and Minds is, frankly, a book everyone in our society should read. We desperately need its perspective. I cannot imagine anyone normal person who could read it and still countenance killing, eating, enslaving, or abusing members of those wonderful other nations sharing with us the splendor and labors of the earth, whom we need to get to know better and better. Read it, give it to others, recommend it, above all take it to heart. --Robert Ellwood

About the Author:

Belinda Recio is a recipient of the Humane Society’s Award for Innovation in the Study of Animals and Society, and a contributing editor for Organic Spa Magazine, where she writes the “State of the Ark” column on animals. She has developed science curricula for educational television, museums, and publishers; and has authored books on a variety of subjects, ranging from animals and nature to sacred arts and symbolism. You can keep up with her reporting on animal behavior on her blog, Animal Hearts and Minds.

Return to Book, CD and Video Review Guide