Ethology, Ecology and Critical Anthropomorphism
©2000 Melissa Kaplan
It is a human peculiarity, occasionally endearing but more often maddening, that no amount of proof suffices to convince those who simply do not want to know or accept the truth. - George Gaylord Simpson
Knowing how to care for an animal in captivity is more than just learning about the basics such as temperature requirements, the right substrate to use, what type of food they eat, and how to offer water. To really care for any animal in captivity, we need to know about how that species lives in the wild, how they make use of their environment, and the signs that indicate when we are doing it wrong.
Classical Anthropomorphism ("Bambi-ism" or "Disneyization"):
The Disneyized version of the pet keeper's observation shows a complete lack of knowledge about iguana biology and a lack of common sense in failing to recognize that a burn is a burn, and even if it doesn't hurt, the wound itself requires treatment and an immediate change to keep it from occurring again. Keeping reptiles in shoe-box rack systems, or housing them within line-of-sight or chemosensory range of what they perceive to be predators or prey are other examples of herp keepers either not knowing or understanding the species' natural history and pathophysiology, or ignoring it for the sake of convenience in how they maintain their collection.
It is certainly a lot easier to keep herps if one just ignores things like natural history and biology. Espousing the use of ethology and critical anthropomorphism is certainly not a popular stance. I wrote a letter several years ago to the editor of Reptiles magazine, asking why they accepted so much advertising for products that were worthless or injurious to herps. I never received a reply. A couple of years later, a copy of a newsletter I edited for a nonprofit herp conservation organization was sent to this editor by one of the organization's directors. The editor called him and went on about how dangerous it was to have me associated with his organization - didn't he know I was an animal rights activist who might try to sabotage the organization's goals? This incident just underscores the point that, when it comes to business, money talks, and any concerns about animal welfare - their health and maintenance in captivity - is dismissed as some sort of Pollyana claptrap.
What follows are links to articles and books dealing with ethology and critical anthropomorphism. Many of them helped shape - or reaffirm - my own beliefs and understanding of the role of natural history and biology play in the care and understanding of captive animals. Some of the books are about animals other than reptiles, but are included because they are darn good reads as well as giving you an idea of what it's like to study animal behavior at the source: in the wild.
chemosensory range: within smelling distance, keeping in mind that reptilian tongues and vomeronasal organs are far more sensitive to what are commonly called pheromones and other biochemical markers than is the human sense of smell.
Ethology and Critical Anthropomorphism
Assorted Summer Musings: Anthropomorphism and Reptiles, by Melissa Kaplan
Classical vs. Critical Anthropomorphism, by Melissa Kaplan
Observations on disease-associated preferred body temperatures in reptiles, by Clifford Warwick
Related Articles and Sites of Interest
Animal Consciousness - from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Cognitive ethology: slayers, skeptics, and proponents - from Anthropomorphism, anecdotes, and animals: The emperor's new clothes?
Bibliography For Additional Reading
Life in a variable world - Behavior, welfare and environmental-design. Appleby MC. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 1997; 54(1): 1-19
Organizations and University Centers
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