Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Stalking, Hunting, Stress, and Emotion

Stalking is very stressful to animals

Let's face it, "gone huntin'" and "gone fishin'" usually mean "gone killin'."  But death is often a blessing, a relief from the pain and suffering of being stalked, crippled or mutilated, and dying agonizingly slowly.              

 Hunting and fishing get millions of people "out in nature" and may provide quality time with family and friends. According to Mark Duda and his colleagues (in Wildlife and the American Mind) "To a large extent, hunting represents the embodiment of family values."  There's also an emotional component (often reported as erotic) indicated by elevated heart rate, that's unique to the human predator-prey encounter.  This excitement might also serve as a strong motivator - stalking and hunting are arousing and enjoyable.

 Occasionally, hunters stalk but don't shoot animals, or anglers catch fish and toss them back, weak and injured, with mutilated mouths. They're proud for not killing the animals.  Nonetheless, many animals, including fish, experience significant pain and suffering.  The stress responses of fish that lead to anxiety and fear closely mimic those of other vertebrates, including humans.  And while it's not known how many fish die after being caught and tossed, about five to ten percent of trout die from the stress of merely being handled. 

 So, what's it like to be stalked?  Even if people stalk animals but don't try to kill them, animals suffer greatly.  Just seeing a potential predator is stressful.  Patrick Bateson, at the University of Cambridge in England, found red deer stalked by dogs showed stress responses similar to those experienced when animals were anxious and scared.  Deer showed high levels of cortisol and the breakdown of red blood cells, indicating extreme physiological and psychological stress. Stalked deer also displayed excessive fatigue and damaged muscles. Non-stalked deer and those shot without prolonged stalking didn't show similar stress responses. 

 Clearly, animals don't like the emotional distress, anxiety, and fear of being stalked and neither do humans (www.antistalking.com).  Stalked animals may also spend less time feeding, resting, and protecting young.  More studies are needed concerning stress responses associated with eco-touring and photographing animals, activities supposedly morally superior to hunting.  The stalker's intentions, malevolent or not, seem unimportant.  It's reasonable to believe that animals will show fear and anxiety responses to human stalkers that are similar to those shown to non-humans stalkers. 

Hunting and fishing are sanctioned assaults on numerous animals' lives.  Huge industries are devoted to making them easier.  In many states wildlife agencies spend more money promoting hunting and fishing, including killing predators to enhance hunting opportunities, than on protecting wildlife, including imperiled or endangered species. 

Some who hunt and fish truly enjoy the richness of the experience, but they don't want to make animals suffer.  Perhaps if they fully realized the intense pain and suffering for which they're responsible while stalking, they'd forego the emotional rush of the experience.  And, there are lots of ways to experience nature and have quality time with family and friends without intruding on, and stressing, injuring, or killing, other animals.

 

 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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