- Carnivore Minds: Who These Fearsome Creatures Really Are by G. A. Bradshaw
Gay Bradshaw's latest book provides a welcome new perspective on predators as she attempts to understand these fearsome animals from the inside. Nonhuman animals in general, and predators in particular, are often examined via the distorting lens of human fear and projection. Bradshaw attempts to understand these animals from a different point of view to make a case that they are more than the mindless killers they are often portrayed to be. She draws on a range of scientific disciplines, particularly neuroscience and neuropsychology, to explore the complexities of their emotional, [End Page 229] cognitive, and social natures: their fears and anxieties, the factors that influence their emotional development, and the difficulties they must negotiate in order to survive. She argues that science "compels us to step beyond dualism's demand for black-and white" (p. 17) so as to recognize the similarities, as well as the differences, between ourselves and other animals. It is we humans, after all, who are "the most dangerous predator" (p. 17). By embracing, rather than shunning, our kinship with other animals, Bradshaw hopes to "open up an opportunity to find out who our species can become" (p. 17). This book is about ourselves as much as it is about predators.
Each chapter of the book is devoted to a specific predator: white sharks, grizzly bears, orcas, crocodiles, rattlesnakes, pumas, and coyotes. It is impossible in a review to do justice to Bradshaw's discussion of each, but I shall highlight some of the interesting insights she shares with the reader. In her discussion of grizzly bears, for example, she draws on psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth's work on attachment theory, which illustrates how different ways of mothering impact infants' emotional development. Arguing that psychological symptoms such as stress and anxiety have neurobiological effects, Bradshaw claims that we can apply many insights gained from attachment theory to nonhuman animals. Because grizzlies begin their lives during maternal hibernation, "infant bears nurse on their mother's rich milk and remain in this hermetically sealed world until they emerge in late spring to early summer" (p. 73). Bradshaw notes the complexity of the grizzly mother-infant relationship and remarks that mothers must respond appropriately to their offspring's needs; she surmises that stress caused by human interference has impacted bears' emotional development. Since bears "pass down their fears to their cubs for several generations" (p. 82), it's likely that these stressors may be causing bears to deviate from their predictable rules of engagement—"the mind of the grizzly today is not the grizzly mind of the past" (p. 82).
The chapter on orcas focuses on their highly organized societies, which Bradshaw argues are akin to cultures. There is also complexity and diversity among pods of whales within populations; pods are matrilineal, and "matrilines within a pod are related by a common maternal ancestor and often span five generations" (p. 93). Each orca is born into a complex community, with highly evolved social and cultural patterns; natal relatives have very strong bonds and are "never apart for more than a few hours" (p. 94). Orca clans have distinct dialects, and orcas use different modalities of communication via a range of acoustic signals, "depending on the need at hand" (p. 101).
Even reptiles are treated sympathetically; Bradshaw argues that both crocodiles and rattlesnakes exhibit highly developed cognitive and emotional capacities and do not deserve to be labeled as mindless cold-blooded killers. Noting the symbiotic relationship between ground squirrels and the rattlesnake, Bradshaw writes that the rattlesnake is "a psychologically attuned individual who feels … and thinks … in empathic relationship with his prey" (p. 162). She cites evidence that rattlesnakes seem to prefer the company of conspecifics, even to the point of assisting former mates in times of illness. Bradshaw urges us to transition to "a new, social snake paradigm" (p. 189) that dispels the myth that rattlesnakes are antisocial and mindlessly aggressive...