Why Boris should study an ant colony

Why Boris should study an ant colony! Fascinating nature book shares unique discoveries about the animal kingdom – from ‘calm and purposeful’ insects to how a desert mouse conserves water

  • Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Stone explore nature in fascinating book AnimalKind 
  • British authors examine ant colonies and reveal that swans mate for life
  • PETA founder Ingrid, aims to convince readers to become completely vegan 



by Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Stone (Simon & Schuster £16.99, 304 pp)

Many of us have shed tears recently at the thought of the countless millions of wild creatures, both large and small, killed by the apocalyptic fires raging in Australia.

Of course the loss of humans and their property is a real cause for grief — but there is something about the plight of the helpless that touches a chord within our souls.

Noah was compelled to save two of every species within his ark, and the idea that we merely share this world with animals is surely at the heart of true civilisation.

Therefore Animalkind — subtitled ‘Remarkable Discoveries About Animals And Revolutionary New Ways To Show Them Compassion’ — is welcome, providing evidence that not even science can explain the miracles we see in this ‘other’ world.

Gene Stone and PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk explore nature’s fascinating creatures in new book Animalkind (file image) 

Author Ingrid Newkirk is the founder of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) — and naturally her aim is to convince us all to become completely vegan.

Do she and her co-writer succeed? Certainly their celebration of animal talent leaves you wanting more.

It’s delightful to learn that swans mate for life, that a collie dog called Chaser learned the names of more than 1,000 toys, that sheep recognise each other, that the social life of an ant colony displays more calm and purpose than any bunch of politicians, that a tiny desert mouse knows how to conserve water and (of course) that the navigational skills of birds defy all rational explanation. 

This is one of those books that make you interrupt whatever your partner is doing with a constant stream of ‘did you know?’ anecdotes: arctic terns hold the record for the longest bird migration, cheetahs don’t roar, they cheep, bees can find their way home from two miles away . . . and so on.

As for animal emotions, the many examples here are very touching. If I cry watching a sad film, my dog will nudge me anxiously — and the authors emphasise that such behaviour is extremely common.

ANIMALKIND by Ingrid Newkirk and Gene Stone (Simon & Schuster £16.99, 304 pp)

They cite famous footage of a rescued chimpanzee released by Jane Goodall returning to hug her in gratitude.

Gorillas and elephants mourn the deaths of old and young alike: one research team concludes this shows how elephants ‘have an awareness of and interest about death’.

Anthropologist Dr Thom van Dooren argues that ‘human exceptionalism’ — the belief that humankind is superior to other creatures — has harmed our understanding of ‘animalkind’. Who can possibly disagree?

But when the authors leap from asking us to marvel at the talents and beauties of animals to suggesting it is wrong to use them in any way for our purposes (and this goes beyond vegetarianism, of course; it means no milk, cheese, eggs, yoghurt — or wool, leather shoes or sheepskin coats), some readers may find its certainties bordering on the sentimental as well as messianic.

For me there is no contradiction in loving animals and choosing to eat organic meat (although not every day) and enjoying other by-products of farming. Surely you can at once loathe all cruelty and support charities such as Compassion In World Farming?

Whatever conclusions you are led to by your conscience and taste, ‘Animalkind’ must be welcomed for its plethora of facts as well as an abundance of emotions.

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