Book Review: ‘When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals’

Posted on by Ashley Fruno

Mali, Manila ZooElephants are some of the most emotional beings on Earth. They love, they play, and they grieve. They seek out friends and thrive in the company of their family. This we all know. But when Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals was published in 1996, it was considered groundbreaking research, albeit controversial.

The book’s title is a tad misleading, because Masson doesn’t focus only on elephants but chronicles the emotional lives of others, including Moja, a playful mongoose who waltzes with squirrels; Toto, a chimpanzee who nursed his malaria-stricken human observer back to health; and Alex, an African gray parrot with an impressive vocabulary, who, when left at the veterinarian’s office, shrieked, “Come here! I love you. I’m sorry. I want to go back.”

The book combines scientific evidence as well as anecdotal accounts from zoologists, biologists, animal trainers, and the like that make it unequivocally clear that animals experience joy, grief, excitement, loneliness, jealousy, empathy—the entire emotional range that we humans experience.

Masson discusses how the scientific community’s loathing of anthropomorphism makes it easier to support animal experimentation, particularly experimentation involving pain, loneliness, and mental anguish.

Masson also notes that a common refrain is that animals in zoos are happy if the young play and adults breed, yet most zookeepers would not accept this standard of happiness for themselves. Dr. Jane Goodall astutely notes, “Even in concentration camps, babies were born.”

Masson closes by saying, “Scientific humility suggests that complete understanding of other animals may be impossible. But we will come far closer if we do not begin by insisting that we already know more than we do about what characteristics they do not have … To conclude without study that (an animal) has no feelings or cannot feel is to proceed on a prejudice, an unscientific bias, in the name of science.”

Every day, millions of animals who are used in experiments, held captive in zoos, and intensively raised on factory farms have their feelings and their ability to experience mental suffering completely disregarded. We can help one such animal: PETA Asia has been campaigning to have Mali, the Manila Zoo’s lonely and ailing elephant, transferred to a sanctuary. Take action to help her now!

Posted by Jason Baker