Solitude

 

If I were in any way inclined to go back to school and study something wildly different from the world of biology I already know I would study – in a heartbeat – human behavior.  The longer I work with the public the more fascinated I am by the misconceptions, preconceptions, and projections that people bring to the table whenever wildlife and biology are up for discussion.

One of the most fascinating phenomenons I’ve observed is a generalized and often acute aversion to solitude.  Whenever single animals are on display in exhibits people seem to have strong reactions.  They are often convinced that these animals are lonely, depressed, angry, or are in some other state of discontent because they are alone.  It doesn’t seem to matter even if they know, or are told, that the animals in question are primarily solitary in nature and that a solo exhibit is the most natural situation for them.  For whatever reason many people believe that animals, if alone, cannot possibly be as happy or as healthy as animals that have companions. 

It reminds me distinctly of the story of Noah and his ark in the Bible where all of Noah’s animals are escorted on to the vessel “two by two” or in pairs.  But the fact is, for many animals, such paired situations would be incredibly unnatural.  Many predators in the wild cross paths only during mating season, and usually remain paired for a very short time.  Many prey animals live in large groups or herds where several males will preside over a large number of females. 

Which reminds me, many people also have strong reactions when they learn that animal “fathers” often have no impact or place in their offsprings’ lives.  I will never forget when the birth of a jaguar at a local zoo prompted relative outcries because the male was kept apart from the new mother and her cub.  But in the wild, males simply have no place in the rearing of many species of offsprings.  Male parental involvement is a rather rare technique in the life histories of animals.  Parental care itself is completely nonexistent in many species. 

I understand where these ideas of solitude and loss and “shock” originate in the minds of people.  I understand that we are extremely social animals with very well developed lifestyles that require us to rely upon others of our own kind for many things beyond simple survival.  Yet, I find it so interesting that many people have such strong reactions to the plain truths that not all animals behave as people behave and not all animals experience lifestyles that are in any way similar to our own. 

It raises so many questions in my mind about the nature of the human lifestyle and how it is that we – as a species – came to adopt all these interesting social interactions that are so uncommon among other animals here on the planet. 

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