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Breaking species barrier

A 130-year-old Aldabra tortoise Mzee and a young hippopotamus, Owen (both in picture), of the Haller Park Animal Sanctuary, Kenya were inseparable for two years until Owen grew larger and became a threat to old Mzee. Such strange yet sweet pairings have been subject of children’s books, movies, documentaries and YouTube videos.

Jennifer S. Holland popularised this subject in her books beginning with Unlikely Friendships.

In many images of interspecies bonding, we can observe a melancholy with the yearning for intimacy. Many of these images are interpreted with a hope of bridging differences and creating bonds.

George Romanes, Darwin’s follower and author of Animal Intelligence (1882), argued that the psychological character of dogs in particular was “moulded by human agency and dogs take on human characteristics”. Romanes claimed that the result of cross-species contact was emotions crossed from human to non-human species.

The impulse of humans is to capture the inner being of other species and ascribe humanly values to it. In many animal portraits, the gaze of these animals is not flattering but one that disturbs the human sense of exceptionalism as proposed by John Berger.

Robotic reproductions of animals don’t pretend to be realistic. Mental commitment robots (MCRs) made in the form of a seal with enormous eyes and blinking eyelashes were extensively used after the tsunami in Japan among retirement communities and used to provide comfort for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

And studies showed that non-human and robotic companions do improve the quality of people’s lives.

And it makes us question whether interspecies bonding needs reciprocity.

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Printable version | May 19, 2021 5:26:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/breaking-species-barrier/article32758892.ece

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