Ha, wildlife observer

Ha is a nature observer, and his field is alternately listed as animal behavior and psychology.  His passion is foraging by crows, though he has studied killer whales, whales who will soon be studied to find if they have higher thinking abilities helped by the newly discovered spindle neurons.

"I know of no anecdotal evidence of higher emotions in animals below great apes, it's as elusive as measuring dreams in animals."  (Ha, from Seattle Times)

He openly discredits observations of animal behavior showing empathy, his phrase for animal empathy, because as he says observers can be guilty of anthropomorphism, or the projection of human emotions onto animals as they are being observed.  But he admits that

 "'to a degree' scientists can see animal brains respond the same way human brains respond in similar situations. But high-resolution brain scans only capture simple, physiological emotions that involve the release of specific brain chemicals."  (Ha, from Seattle Times)

The article citing Ha in the Seattle Times implied that there is  definitely disagreement in the field and that Ha may be outnumbered by other scientists.  Also he mentioned other reasons for the lack of data on animal emotion: low funding.  His reasons for discrediting research showing animal empathy simply were too many and too varied; I especially noted the comment about funding.  I found an article by him describing his favorite research which is observing crows eating.

"To understand crow behavior, the UW researchers captured and banded 55 birds enabling the researchers to identify individual crows. DNA analysis of the blood allowed the Has to determine which of the banded birds were related.  The researchers observed the crows looking for instances of thievery involving two banded birds.  When the birds are related a crow will use a passive strategy and "walk up to or kind of sidle next to the bird with the food. Often the second bird will give up the food to the scrounger," said Renee Ha, his wife and co-researcher."  (Ha, from University of Washington News)  

Ha did in fact find empathy among birds (or technically his wife did), a family connection between crows, commonly thought of as probably the least empathic of birds.  My personal opinion of crows is that they are highly intelligent; I see them in the road constantly eating animals killed by cars, but I have never seen a crow killed by a car.  Crows seem to have a need to communicate.  They will make crowing noises at each other for endless hours as part of their socialization, verbal communication I think not, empathic communication, probably.

He does not see how researchers can see emotions in animals, yet he can find that in crows: family relationships that induce generosity between birds.  Crows, from my observations, are highly intelligent, but I have never seen them behave in a way I would describe as caring, clearly a higher emotion, yet Ha has found this in them.  Despite finding evidence of empathy in nature, in the form of generosity, he denies empathy exists in animals.  He may very likely be from the class of people who don't feel empathy themselves. He is certainly what I would describe as a cold scientist.

It seems to me that empathy is something everyone can see them in their pets, especially dogs, where longing is an emotion easily can be easily observed.  In the case of a young coyote brought to a wildlife rescue center, it could hardly be ignored:

"A coyote pup was brought to the center. The two month old, male coyote pup had been found and taken in by a man in Framingham, Massachusetts, and had lived in his rescuer’s house for a week. He arrived at the center totally focused on people. He wagged his tail and licked the staff during his intake examination and any time he saw a person. He was healthy and acted like a domesticated dog."

"He was introduced to the older coyotes in hopes of him bonding with the three females The next few days were particularly difficult for staff as there was one unhappy coyote pup who was not afraid to express himself. He cried for hours, stopping only from exhaustion or when someone came to feed and clean the enclosure. Then he clung to the pant legs of the staff person and even tried to climb up their legs to be held. He cried for days—it was heartbreaking to hear him and know no one could go and comfort him. It was a difficult but necessary process to break him of his dependence on human companionship."

"The little guy was accepted into the pack. The pack is led by an alpha female, who has been in control right from the beginning."  (Fund for Animals)

This shelter belonging to the Fund for Animals provides well observed and documented research showing warmth, caution, suspicion, and other societal traits in coyotes.  It was published, not in the thin air of the research community, but on the Internet where it can be attacked by anybody who thinks there may be misrepresentation.  The data shown here is acceptable for developing the understanding that there is empathy in nature.

Personal observations of wildlife in Northwest Connecticut

I have had a strong personal relationship with a forest in Northwest Connecticut that also straddles New York and Massachusetts.  With the help of the frameworks provided by constructivism, I conceive of the forest as having a community of knowledge that includes not only the individual mammal groups, but in a greater sense, includes also information such as the DNA in plants.  This type of information is used by the animals indirectly when they pursue, say, nuts to save for the winter.

I am reflecting three examples of these personal observations.  Two of the recollections are tainted in the sense that I fed the animals on my patio.  One is a remarkable turkey flock, and another is an even more remarkable animal, a chipmunk I have named "Dominant."  The third encounter was accidental; I disturbed a nursing mother mouse when I was rearranging stored hardware.  That observation is more relevant, in my opinion, in that I only represented a predatory threat to her; I could not possibly have influenced her to alter her natural behaviors.

All three encounters point to empathy in wild animals not known to have mirror or spindle cells.  In my opinion these encounters show a presence of mind and social organization in the animals that most animal researchers apparently think only exists for humanity, and now possibly for some primates, elephants, and whales.  With my new knowledge of wildlife observation strategies, I am being critically careful when recycling my experiences so as to categorize conclusions as being possible, probable, and definite by using a scale with unusual and speculative at the low end, and repeated and obvious at the high end.

In the northwest Connecticut area, I had a friend who was a ranger who has since passed on.  He confirmed for me a behavior in wild ducks that I had seen, where a pair of ducks, male and female would gently quack at each other when alone.  I can confirm this with two observational experiences.  At the time we concluded that ducks talk to each other, indicating the existence of a duck language.  Now, of course, I don't say that there is a duck language, but the gentle mutual quacking is very likely empathic communication.

In my own life in the woods, I personally felt a relationship with the forests, knowing that all the animals have families and are loyal to them, working hard to make them healthy and happy, often under stressful conditions.  Besides predators, wild animals have to contend with the weather; it is hard for humans to comprehend living out in the snow, or being home bound for months at a time as wild animals are during the winter hibernation periods.

Dominant, the chipmunk, became an interesting cabin-mate when a family member of mine had put a twenty-five pound bag of bird seed into a large Rubbermaid storage bin.  Dominant, being a resident of the yard, wasted no time in chewing a hole into the bin, moving much of the seed to his burrow two cheekfuls at a time.  He also then became a fixture within the cabin since he learned he could easily get in through holes in the basement.  As time went on, he began to see the house as his, and communicated this to me by making loud squeaky tones while wiggling his tail: a typical expression of territorial bravado by chipmunks.  I have seen this expression by chipmunks when passing though their territories while hiking.  At one point, Dominant stood on top of the bird feeder as it lay on the picnic table half empty, and squeaked at me like this, which indicated to me that he felt this was his bird feeder, and his food.  Truth is, he spent more time at the cabin than I as I have traveled a lot over the past few years, and in a sense the cabin was more his than mine.

In past years, Dominant lived close to the house and dug several burrows as my generosity with seeds created a need more and more food storage.  This year (2006) I had difficulty locating him as he was not in residence near the cabin.  Finally I found him in a neighbor's yard, and recognized him by his aggressive squeaks, and his unique long periods of staring.  I think he recognized me as a friendly human, as he didn't run away as quickly as every other chipmunk would have done.  I knew he would be over at the house as soon he had some time to put all his recollections together, so I gathered for him corn that had been left behind by the farmers harvesting a nearby field.  Corn on the cob is an excellent food source for the chipmunks, and their antics of the tiny chipmunks wrestling the much larger cobs are entertaining: yet another reason I like having Dominant and his family around.  Another chipmunk had joined Dominant in the corn fest one day, as had a squirrel.  At one point, all three were in the patio, blissfully ignoring each other while filling their cheeks with corn.  This co-mingling was as unusual for any wildlife, let alone Dominant who is not shy about expressing displeasure to others, even those many times larger than he is.

In the early autumn, when I was walking across the neighbors' field were Dominant now lives, I saw a bird of prey fly away, and heard squeaking coming from the direction of the bird of prey.  A hawk or owl had caught a rodent, and I thought it might have been Dominant.  I was relieved to see him at the house again the next day though he was not his usual self; he had completely lost his aggressive character, though he still stared at me for long periods.  He was also more cautious-- he kept close to the wood pile near the patio.  My opinion is that he had been personally affected by the loss of a neighboring rodent, which may have been a relative, or even his mate.  He seemed to have become far more cautions.  He comes over less often now, probably because his burrow is full, but I speculate also maybe because of the loss of part of his community.

The other significant visitors were the turkeys who came around as a single flock.  They were also at home in the area, as a neighboring family has been feeding them, probably for decades.  Behind the house is a state park, where the turkeys have many square miles to live freely.  Earthworms are a part of their diet; a hill sloping down to a river bank on my property is an excellent place for them to scratch the earth pulling out the worms.  The flock was quite large, about fifteen birds.  There seemed to be three generations in the flock: very young birds, older ones who were almost three feet tall, and three who seemed wiser then the rest, whom I assumed to be the oldest.

The turkeys typically got their early meal from the neighbors, and then came to my yard for a later meal.   Then, having eaten their second meal, they would peck at the grass, eating insects, making themselves very valuable visitors.  The poisonous Lyme tick, which transmits bacteria capable of debilitating the joints, is a constant hazard in this area, and I connect the disappearance of the Lyme ticks with their arrival.  When the Turkeys came to the yard, I did notice that three of the turkeys would look at me with what appeared to be recognition consistently.  I felt that these three trusted me more than the other birds.  Since these animals are genuinely wild, it is not tameness that they were reflecting.  They knew, through experience, that they could benefit their flock by reducing their natural suspicions so as to get more food.

There was an incident that convinced me that the older turkeys had an understanding of who I am.  Some noise scared the younger birds while they were eating one afternoon; first the fledglings ran off in the woods; they were then immediately followed by many of the adults.  Three remained and they seemed to be genuinely perplexed, they seemed not to know why the younger ones were fleeing.  To these turkeys I was a trust-able and nonthreatening, as well as a good food source.  To them, whatever noise scared the fledglings could be ignored; there was no reason to flee the yard.  The three, in near-unison, looked at me, then made noises to the younger ones to come back, then looked at me again.  This looking back and forth was repeated a few times until finally the three older birds did the responsible behavior, which was running off to catch up with the rest of the flock.  They seemed to consider the situation, tried to reason w/ the spooked younger birds, considered the situation a little more and then realized that the situation was hopeless so they ran off too.  The afternoon meal would have to be cut short.

Another observation I made of the flock while driving down the road was, to me, also remarkable.  The flock wanted to cross the road, a road that is busier than mountain roads typically are.  Roads crossed by animals, as any driver can assume, must be a dangerous part of animal's lives; collisions with animals can be dangerous to drivers as well.  What I saw was a well coordinated attempt to cross the road, planned and led, I am assuming, by the three smartest turkeys.  They walked out into the road, acting as crossing guards, and then after a short period the younger ones ran across the road.  They crossed the road just as a human family would; these birds dealt with their environment intelligently and adaptively and consistently demonstrated family values as high as humans.

My observations were made in 2005; in the summer of 2006, when I returned to the area, I looked forward to the turkeys' daily visits.  But I only saw one adult with two chicks pass through once, hurriedly, and only a few scratch marks in the side of the hill, where in the past much of the hill's earth had been overturned by the Turkeys' the search for worms.  Needless to say, I felt sad; I assumed that they had been killed by hunters, or hit on the road by a car.  The Lyme ticks that they ate were back in numbers, so I also missed that service they provided.

I then found that the flock is doing well; I was driving around the opposite side of the state park that they range, where I saw them in a farm field.  Their numbers were good, probably as many if not more were marching across the field as had visited my cabin in previous years.  I pulled over and watched them for a few minutes; they gave an air of confidence and they looked very alert, sure signs that they are experiencing health and comfort where they are now living.  Their tick eating habits are pretty widely known now, especially since the Internet is being used to advertise the benefits they provide; I believe it has become taboo to hunt them, at least in this area as the Lyme tick disease is epidemic with many people suffering from it.

Mice are widely used in animal research; much of the research is highly sadistic to the mice, and all of it removes the study mice from their natural habitats.  In their natural habitats, I have found, they can act very responsibly towards their young.  One summer before the one during which I had been observing the turkey flock, I encountered a mother mouse with two very young babies, one slightly older than the other; in fact, one may have been still being born.  I had been storing hardware under a tarp where many of the smaller parts were stored in open jars.  The mother mouse had made a nest in one of the jars to have her family; I was rearranging the stored parts collection when I disturbed her.  She ran away under a shed that is next to where I found her; very likely to a burrow that she had made before.  She was dragging a baby between her legs, making me think that the baby was suckling, or that she was in fact giving birth when I disturbed her.  When I looked in her nest in the jar with the spare parts, I noticed another baby mouse-- eyes still shut.  I thought about what to do to save the baby, and was at a loss.  I didn't think the mother mouse would have the presence of mind, or an advanced enough sense of empathy, to retrieve her baby.  After some thought, I took the jar that had the nest with the baby in it, and placed the mouth of it over a hole into which the mother mouse had disappeared to go under the shed, and left for the area.  About a half an hour later, I went and looked in the jar that had the baby mouse, and the mouse was gone.  I was worried that some other animal may have gotten the baby mouse, but I concluded that that was impossible, especially in the time frame.  There were no other animals in the shed area besides the mice; there never have been any other animals in that area besides passing birds, as most of the burrows are much nearer to the patio.  The mother mouse had escaped from me to another spot that was familiar to her, where she probably put baby attached to her and then had gone back out the hole to retrieve her other baby.  Going through the hole she would have had to have entered into the mouth of the jar, where her baby was.  I did not think she would retrieve her second baby, but to my surprise she was organized, and cared enough about both of her babies to bring them to safety.  The way she dealt with what was a dangerous situation to her surprised me; there definitely seemed to have been rudimentary thinking behind her actions, she had the presence of mind and the parental commitment to retrieve her other baby.

Knowing that probably all information about the empathy of mice developed by research scientists is done in laboratories --at least all of the research that I have seen has been-- I have strong doubts that full effect of the development of mice is common knowledge to researchers.  It is possible, though unlikely, that researchers are studying mice in the wild, but the presence of humans in the forest is noted by all animals, and especially having seen how cautious the mother mouse was, I feel certain that human observation would alter mouse behavior.  The mouse seemed to me to be intelligent, and concerned about her babies in a way that can be described as empathy, but no study that I have seen gives mice much credit beyond behavioral conditioning by scientists influenced by BF Skinner.

The laboratory mouse study cited in this paper really only proves sadism in some researchers, and ambivalence in many others.  If thinking about the animal research community as a culture, then it is an unenlightened culture that is not predisposed to design experiments that can rapidly move science forward.  Because it is bigoted against the research subjects, the animals, it will therefore produce skewed results-- if in fact the scientists pursue useful knowledge in the first place.  From reading Ha's studies, I could not see even the remotest practical use for most of his research, and when he did find information useful to understanding if the roots of empathy are in the animal world, as Darwin and so many others have suggested, he ignored its implications.

Only the most recent of my observations are described here, there have been many and they have as an entirety helped me conclude for myself that there is as Darwin says responsibility and community in nature.  When living in a forest, the feeling that life is well organized and that sense that animals need to feel responsibility beyond the activities of rodents and birds, generally considered somewhat insignificant animals, to the whole of the forest.  Within the forest is vast information, some of it communicated as part of community lives of animal families, and much of it is the plan of the forest, especially how the plants have grown to shape the forest providing food and shelter for the animals, and also the vast repository of information in the DNA of the plants; and some of this knowledge is known to the animals; they have an awareness of when food will become available as a resource for them.  While my observations are important to me, and others have shared observations as well that I add to my knowledge, they would not be considered so significant.

There are events happening now in animal groups which are dramatically bringing humanity to the realization that many animals live much as humans do, and react in ways that humans do to both good events and bad.  Unfortunately, as destruction of the environment becomes more accepted by humanity as a way to accelerate the economy, the events are bad.  The results of these events are in the form of conflict; humanity is now forced to accept that the animal world can be affected just as humans are, because one of the species being negatively affected is actually large and intelligent enough to defend itself, and retaliate against attack.  This is the elephant.