The Mystery of Animals

It seems that bipolarity is a significant element of human nature, mental as well as emotional.  Human beings tend toward extremes in both thought and feeling, never more than when the subject of either is the animal kingdom with which we share our world.  Most of mankind differentiates among animals as ferocious beasts, objects of sport, utilitarian biological machines, and pampered pets.  Mankind itself is divided pretty much between humans who hate or fear animals and humans who have a genuine love for them, with only a small percentage in between who are indifferent to animals whether as a congeries of species or as individuals—largely because, living in an urbanized world, they know nothing of them.  And, among those who love animals and have an interest in them, the division is equally stark.  As someone with a wide familiarity with zoological parks, animal sanctuaries, their staffs, and their collections, I can say confidently that a great divide exists between zoo people who adopt a self-consciously “scientific” view of animals and others who take the “sentimentalist” one—those who feel an emotional attachment to individual animals, over and above a zoological interest in the species to which they belong.

“We do not know what animals are,” C.S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain, “or why they are.”  Seventy years later, we still don’t know. ...

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