So how about the animals: do they hate something too?
Somebody recently told me a vulgar joke about why cats hate dogs and dogs hate cats, but since I hate vulgarity I neither found the joke funny nor will I retell it. However, what the joke did, was to make me think whether animals can indeed hate and express such an emotion usually associated with human behaviour. Obviously, animals can express affection: the cat rubbing its head against your leg (or another cat’s head), dogs licking your hand, baby mice snuggling up to their mother and even a tame koi carp turning on its side to have its belly scratched. But is that love and if it is, is there also the opposite, namely hate?
Preferences and dislikes between species do exist, but often an explanation eludes us. The dogs’ “hate” of postmen is proverbial, even if a postman has never harmed a dog. The fear (not hate) of vets by dogs is obvious to anyone who has taken his pet to a vet’s clinic. And the relationship between dogs and cats? It’s obviously a different category of “dislike”, seemingly a form of “hate” for no apparent reason. The two species do not usually compete for the same food, occupy different environmental niches and look different. Could different body smells be involved? Unlikely, because dogs will chase a cat even if the latter is a long distance away and its smell could not have reached the dog’s nose. Could it be that once a cat has run away, the dog regards chasing cats a game, a joyful distraction? But why did the cat run away anyway?
Mobbing owls by small songbirds seems another case of “hate” between species for no immediately obvious reason. Smaller birds belonging to a variety of species seem united in their dislike of owls and will gather around noisily, sometimes performing mock attacks, until the owl has had enough and flies to a more peaceful place to doze the day away. Once again there cannot be any competition for food, for many of the owl-haters amongst the birds are daytime active seed eaters, while owls are nocturnal rodent catchers. Could it be that songbirds mistake an owl in a tree for a cat, their major foe? I doubt it for mobbing exhibited towards owls is quite different from the reactions of the birds to a prowling cat. Another example are lions and hyaenas, but their dislikes of each other can be explained by their competition for space and food. Simply expressed: lions kill and hyaenas steal. But observations indicate that frequently it is also the other way round: hyaenas kill and lions steal. The habitat both share is the savannah and confrontations between them are common. There are reliable reports of hyaenas killing lion cubs (and vice versa) when the opportunity arises.
And what about the watery realm? It’s often been said that killer whales (= orcas) hate sharks and chase them like dogs chase cats – a kind of game, a sport, entertainment? Who knows. Big sharks may bother adult orcas by stealing their food but that they would attack an adult I’ve never heard. Orcas do, however, not only chase sharks, they might also kill and eat them, something a dog chasing a cat would almost never do. So, is the term “hate “ justified? We can’t be certain of the animal’s feelings, emotions and state of mind. I don’t even understand my daughter’s dislike of small insects or why some people hate spiders when they’ve never been bitten by one. So, how am I to understand an animal’s frame of mind?
I therefore conclude that even if we were to identify the region of the human brain that is involved in the feeling of hate and then exposed animals to the same analytical routine and located the equivalent region in their brains, we would not be able to say that the animals’ hate is identical to that of a human: “dislikes”, acquired or innate, yes; but “hate”, I hate to say, no!
© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2017.
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