Author Peter Wohlleben says animals are watching us, too
While his hypotheses are backed by research, author of Inner Life of Animals is both a reader favourite and a pest to the scientific community.
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Around 200 adventurous yogis planted their mats at Toronto’s Royal Agricultural Winter Fair on Nov. 3 to downward dog while energetic goats frolicked around, begging for treats and head scratches. Hardly any yoga was practised; most participants were too busy cajoling the animals into posing for photos.
Goat yoga is new to North America, but the trend hasn’t arrived in Germany, says Peter Wohlleben, who chuckled at the idea. However, Wohlleben, a career forester who owns a hobby farm with goats, horses and other beasts, does understand its popularity. His new book, The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion, makes a convincing case that many species share common emotions, from shame to desire.
“When we watch animals, most people don’t realize that they are also watched by the animals, and that there is communication happening,” he says. “It is very often overlooked because we tend to view nature, whether it’s trees or animals, like things in a museum.”
Wohlleben believes it’s not a lost connection to the environment that makes urbanites want to exercise with goats or share videos of animal antics. He suggests we’re witnessing flaws in an antiquated educational system based on a scientific view that dismisses nature as a soulless engine.
“That means that beside humans, no other being has fun or a happy life, and now we see more and more that isn’t true. When you have a pet dog or cat, most people know it’s not a machine, they’re like a family member,” Wohlleben explains with an example from his farm.
“Our horses can read our body language. They can see little changes of tension in our muscles, and when we’re in a bad mood. They won’t work properly with us because when someone is not in a good mood, they know this person will not be a good boss.”
The Inner Life of Animals began with Wohlleben’s personal observations, his hypotheses backed by research. He shares tales of his rooster lying about food to gain the amorous attention of chickens, and research that suggests fruit flies dream. While his storytelling has made him a reader favourite, there are those in the scientific community who aren’t fans. In his last book, the international bestselling phenomenon The Hidden Life of Trees, Wohlleben suggested that trees not only have personalities, but enjoy friendships and even sex, which caused furor among a group of German scientists who petitioned against his writing. But Wohlleben remains undeterred, his goal simple: “I would like people to have more fun with nature.”
Although it’s hard to imagine eating pork after learning how pigs demonstrate empathy, Wohlleben isn’t judging those who enjoy bacon. He hopes to inspire readers to find balance in their consumption habits with simple changes like choosing ethically raised meat. “It’s better to not to aim at the mind, but at the heart,” he says. “My expectations aren’t too high that the book will change big things, but nature also walks in small steps. And if this book is one small step, than I’m happy.”
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