Animal Emotions

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Animals In the Media: Flagrant Misrepresentation

Norah O'Donnell and Anthony Mason laugh as a raccoon is tormented by chimpanzees

While things seem to be slowly getting better, nonhuman animals (animals) often get a bad rap in the media (see also). A sensationalist video of chimpanzees tormenting and tossing around a raccoon at the St. Louis Zoo is a good example of just what we don't need on television, namely, the flagrant misrepresentation of what's actually happening and the fear and stress the raccoon is clearly feeling.

To begin, news anchor Norah O'Donnell laughs about the "monkey business" that's occurring seemingly ignorant of the fact that chimpanzees are not monkeys. Sure, the lead-in to the story is cute, but chimpanzees and monkeys are taxonomically quite distinct and chimpanzees do not have tails.

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But it gets worse when both O'Donnell and Anthony Mason giggle at the torment and the fear that the raccoon is clearly displaying, and Mason laughingly says at the end of the video, "I've wanted to do that to some of the raccoons in my backyard." I'm glad that he seems not to have had the opportunity and joy of tormenting the animals into whose home he moved. 

I have a good sense of humor, as do the people who alerted me to this story, but I didn't find the coverage of this encounter to be especially humorous. Indeed, while it appeared that the chimpanzees might have at first been playing with the raccoon, if it had gone on longer their excitement could easily have escalated into a full-blown attack. And, if the raccoon were a dog, I assume/hope O'Donnell and Mason would have had a different reaction although raccoons are no less sentient than dogs or other mammals. And, neither are raccoons rag dolls to be flung here and there to be laughed at. 

The media should cultivate respect, compassion, and empathy for other animals

Animals depend on our knowing about who they are and what's happening in their lives and I found this video to be rather troubling not only because of the danger to which the raccoon was subjected but also because of the cavalier - some might say arrogant - attitude of the news anchors. High profile people should set clear examples of generating respect, compassion, and empathy, rather than disrespect, for other animals. That's not really asking too much.

An animal fearing for his or her life and animal suffering in general are not entertainment and should never ever  be ridiculed. 

You can watch a video about this horrific incident here. This truly is no laughing matter. 

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

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