The Internet is decorated with all kinds of animal photos and videos, but one in particular captured my attention recently.
A photographer took a picture of a giraffe with a dying 54-year-old man named Mario, who had worked as a maintenance man at Diergaarde Blijidorp, a zoo in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
An organization called Ambulance Wish Foundation, which grants dying people a final wish before they pass away, had wheeled Mario into the zoo so that he could bid his co-workers and the animals farewell.
Mario, who is mentally challenged, has a brain tumor. He had worked at the zoo almost his whole life.
The photo shows the giraffe kissing Mario, as if the creature knew his human friend was ill and would not be back.
Are we just arrogantly attributing human qualities to a lower species because we feel superior?
Or do animals sense things on some level of consciousness in their encounters with humans that just can’t be explained by calling it “instinct?”
This isn’t about the animal rights movement. This is sheer scientific and sociological curiosity flavored with a longtime pet owner’s love for critters.
In addition to sharing my residence with a cat, I marvel every day on my drive to work at the neighborly dog, the exquisite horses, the gentle deer and the flocks of wild turkeys I view from the road.
On more than one occasion, I have been lifted out of a glum mood by the sound of a bird singing outside my window.
How are we to explain Capitan, a dog who returned to the grave of his deceased master, Miguel Guzman, in Villa Carlos Paz, Argentina, at 6 p.m. every day for at least six years without human transportation or coercion?
Perhaps you recall the image of Hawkeye, a dog belonging to U.S. Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson refusing to leave his master’s flag-draped casket following Tumilson’s 2011 funeral in Rockford, Iowa.
Researchers at the University of Rennes in France have found that horses remain loyal to their human companions for a long time and that they remember the people even after long periods of separation.
Their paper, which was accepted for publication in the peer-review journal “Animal Behavior,” was based on a trainer’s relationship with 20 Anglo-Arabian and three French saddlebred horses.
They attributed the horses’ demeanor to the social bonding horses engage in among their own kind and probably is an extension of the way they behave in the wild, according to a 2010 story at news.discovery.com.
James Herriot, the Scottish veterinary surgeon who wrote “All Creatures Great and Small,” is quoted as saying, “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”
Coming from a man of science who has cleaned up dog vomit, scooped cat poop, saved ailing animals’ lives and ended their lives humanely when all hope was gone, that statement has at least as much credence as any academic study could ever have.