This week I met a Roe deer on my wanders through the woods. We looked at one another – me with wonder and appreciation of the beauty of this gentle-faced wild animal and she with what appeared to be simple curiosity. She didn’t leap off into the trees as deer often do, but ambled away after a long ear-twitching gaze in my direction.
An animal’s eyes have the power to speak a great language
Do you ever look into a creature’s eye and wonder what they are thinking? What they would say to you if they could speak in words that you could understand? I need to guard myself from projecting my all-too-human perspective on the animals and birds I encounter, presuming to know what they must be thinking or feeling. Yet I believe that we often underestimate the comprehension and emotional depth of so-called dumb animals, wild or domestic.
Clearly, animals know more than we think, and think a great deal more than we know.
Irene M. Pepperberg
For instance, Otters have a pouch on their bodies where they store their favourite rock. Male Adelie and Gentoo penguins ‘propose’ to prospective mates by offering them the gift of a pebble which, if accepted, means they will mate for life. The pebble is then guarded fiercely. Dolphins call each other by name. The brilliance of corvids is well documented between tool making and recognising human voices. Great white sharks meet in large groups annually deep in the Pacific Ocean but for what purpose? No one knows. And so on.
Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem
We are constantly learning new things about the animal world – not least their ability to form close bonds with their own kind but also with other species as well. There are many accounts of such inter-species bonds but one of my favourites is from the photographer Lassi Rautiainen who recorded the friendship between a bear and a she-wolf in northern Finland. He observed how, at the end of each day, they would meet to share their hard won food with one another. Rautiainen has no idea how or when this partnership was made but he says “It seems to me that they feel safe being together”
He could tell by the way animals walked that they were keeping time to some kind of music. Maybe it was the song in their own hearts that they walked to.
Laura Adams Armer
There are many reasons why I abhor hunting but the overwhelming evidence of an animal’s capacity to feel, understand and indeed suffer is a primary one. Looking into the eyes of an animal, such as the deer I met, it is impossible for me to comprehend how anyone could find pleasure in hunting down and causing terror and pain to such a creature.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
It’s good to understand our world through in-depth study, scientific exploration and documentation but perhaps we need to guard against losing our wonder and awe at the beauty and mystery of creation. And maybe if those people who enjoy making sport of wild creatures could catch a glimpse of how truly wondrous our wildlife is then they may be less inclined to harm them.
Animals are more than ever a test of our character, of mankind’s capacity for empathy and for decent, honourable conduct and faithful stewardship. We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us.
A note about the artwork:
I don’t usually paint from real life encounters; rather they inform and inspire my work. But I have made an exception for the deer – a tribute to the privilege of a few moments spent in silent wonder and the ponderings inspired by our brief meeting. This 7″ x 5″ portrait was painted in acrylic and, unlike my usual acrylic work, was sketched out in pencil first – a rough outline to try and capture the moment.