Monthly Archives: September 2015

Do Human Behaviors Mirror Animal Behavior?

Lately I’ve been pondering how animal and human behaviors mirror each another. My curiosity on this was prompted by an amazing experience Trudy and I had while in Kenya.

While visiting a chimpanzee conservancy, we viewed two populations of chimps divided by a river. Since chimps don’t swim, the populations remained separated and suspicious of one another.
One group of chimps on the right bank approached the river bank where on the left side another population of  chimps lived. This led to a rapid escalation of tension and an aggressive display. The outburst consisted of one group rallying their fellow chimps and racing full bore through the forest, vocalizing loudly and shaking trees wildly. On reaching the river bank the charging chimps hurled branches far into the river to intimidate the opposing band of chimps on the opposite bank.DSC_3532

DSC_3550This brought to mind the admonition by Colin Powell regarding the lead up to the Iraq war. He maintained that “shock and awe” would play a big part in any subsequent battle and, indeed, it did. The Iraqis quickly abandoned their positions. Aggressive displays in chimps and man?

Lately I’ve taken special notice of my horses’ feeding behavior. Fancy, our mare, always stops at the end of the trough nearest to our slow-footed, approaching gelding, Doc. There she will eat as much as equinely possible in the brief time before Doc arrives and chases her to the other end of the trough.

While Fancy schemes, he still gets his share.

While Fancy schemes, Doc still gets his share.

Fancy uses a strategy to consume as much food as possible given her smaller size but faster pace. This got me to reminiscing about my own upbringing.

I recall growing up and eating (dueling might be more accurate) with my two hungry brothers. We brothers would each mound up our potatoes and vegetables as high as possible, conserving space on the plate before one of our parents served our portions of the tasty entree.  We all took care to leave a large vacant and inviting spot on our plates to suggest the need for a generous serving of meat.

Seems to me something of a commonality exists between horse and human eating behaviors. Both in these instances sought to game the system in order to gain as much food as possible at the expense of either the other horse or a brother.

What do you think? Any instances where you see similar mirrored behavior between humans and animals? Would love to learn your thoughts.

Cover Release



My book, Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales, will be released mid-November by Texas Tech University Press. The cover design for the book is above. The design is simple and immediately conjures up a physician with his black medical bag and dangling stethoscope. I believe the cover describes what the book is about, a memoir detailing patient stories that tell of courage, pathos, and humor.

I welcome your thoughts on the book cover. My book is intended for a popular audience. It shares  stories of brave individuals living with and thriving despite their neurological illnesses. All of us at some time will likely face a chronic illness in ourselves or loved ones and this book will assist in preparing for this challenge. It also should benefit health care professionals and serve as a reminder of the wonderful opportunity we have to involve ourselves so intimately in the lives of those for whom we care.

The book is dedicated to those who trusted me enough to share their personal stories of courage, pathos, heroism, and inspiration.

Do Animals Mourn?

Not long ago my wife, Trudy, and I returned from an Kenyan safari. The trip was wonderful in so many ways, and one of the many amazing stories was how elephants mourn. When an elephant dies, the rest of the herd stands around the body for up to three days without eating or drinking. They then push over trees to cover the body of the deceased elephant, in effect performing a burial. Even years later when returning to the site they stop and stand silently, as if remembering their fallen family member.

I found this story engaging. It made me wonder if elephants engage in the same emotions of mourning as do humans. These elephant behaviors look like they are mourning the deceased.

Then a couple of days I saw something in my herd of cattle that called me up short. Tragically a calf of about a month of age died. I found it dead without obvious cause. The mother had wandered off by then to feed with the herd.CALVES IMG_0191

When I rolled the dead animal over, inspecting it for signs of predators or other hints as to why it  had died, I was surprised to look up and see the mother trundling hurriedly for where I stood. The mama cow maintained her protective instinct for her deceased calf, and I felt sure she would have defended the carcass. Needless to say, I quickly took my leave.

Admittedly, protectiveness of the calf’s body is different from mourning but still projects an awareness of concern and affection for the deceased calf. Watching mother cows cleanse, feed, and protect their calves has convinced me that these mothers feel strong emotions for their offspring. Even the bull on occasion ends up calf-sitting and demonstrates surprising patience and protective instincts for his offspring.

I have believed for years that human psychology could be better informed if we better understand the behavior of other mammals, especially those closest to us on the evolutionary scale.

Would love to hear your thoughts. Do you think animals mourn? Do your pets show emotions?