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animal violence, by Temple Grandin: People who love animals often think of animals as being aggressive but not violent. Only humans, theyíll tell you, commit rapes, murders, or wage wars. But that turns out not to be true. Some chimpanzees actually fight what Jaak Panksepp calls mini-wars. This is organized, violent behavior. Two groups of males from rival troops will meet at the border between their territories and fight. So many chimpanzees die in these mini-wars that in a lot of places the ratio of adult females to males is two to one.

K-Dog, a bottlenose dolphin

K-Dog, a bottlenose dolphin belonging to Commander Task Unit 55.4.3, leaps out of the water in front of Sgt. Andrew Garrett on mineclearance operation in the Persian Gulf. Attached to the dolphin's pectoral fin is a locator beacon.

US Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 1st Class Brien Aho; Mar 18, 2003. 

Many animals can be horrifically violent for no reason, it seems, other that the sheer desire to kill and maybe even to torture. It took many, many years for people to finally realize that dolphins, for instance, arenít benign, perpetually smiling sea creatures they look like to us. Instead, dolphins are big-brained animals who commit gang rape, brutal killing of dolphin "children", and the mass murder of porpoises. [...] With dolphins, researches have pretty much reached the conclusion that much of the killing they do serves no evolutionary purpose. Dolphins will slaughter hundreds of porpoises at a time. The only imaginable evolutionary reason for this would be if porpoises compete with dolphins for the same scarce resources, like food. But they donít. Porpoises eat different food than dolphins do. Killing a porpoise doesnít increase a dolphinís chances of surviving and reproducing in any way. The only conclusion is that dolphins kill porpoises because they want to.

I donít know why animal violence happens, but when I read through the research literature Iím stuck by the fact that animals with the most complex brains are also the ones who engage in some of the nastiest behavior. I suspect people and animals probably pay a price for having a complex brain. For one thing, in a complex brain there may be more opprtunities for wiring mistakes that will lead to vicious behavior. Another possibility is that since a more complex brain provides greater flexibility of behaviors, animals with complex brains become free to develop new behaviors that will be good, bad, or in between. Human beings are capable of great love and sacrifice, but they are also capable of profound cruelty. Maybe animals are, too.

Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson: Animals in translation, Simon&Schuster, New York, 2005.

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