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ALTRUISTIC ARMADILLOS, ZENLIKE ZEBRAS: A Menagerie of 100 Favorite Animals (Ballantine, 2006), by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson is a dream book for someone who already knows way more than the average person about many animals, is interested in language and naming, and likes to consider what we humans do with and to animals in the name of, well, whatever we want (because we’re the boss of them). But there’s also a lot of fascinating material for the meat-eating, cat and/or dog lover.

Masson explores not only the emotional lives of animals, but his emotional experience of them. This isn’t merely a book of facts and statistics about animals; it’s a window into the life of the author, who reveals himself by describing animals.

ALTRUISTIC ARMADILLOS, ZENLIKE ZEBRAS is especially pertinent for the Animal Person or Animal Person-in-Training, as it raises issues that most people, even vegetarians, don’t necessarily concern themselves with. For instance,

  • From the Australian Magpie: "I long ago decided that buying birds and keeping them in a cage was not something I wanted to do. But when we have no choice, as when the bird would otherwise perish, this is a different story. Still, can birds ever have the same quality of life in captivity that they would in the wild? The answer must be no" (8).
  • From the Bald Eagle: "How can birds, with the entire sky as their home, ever be happy in confinement?" (15). And regarding falconers, "The birds are not cooperating–they have no choice–and the training invariably involves food rewards" (16).
  • From Bison, referring to a story about a rancher who raised a buffalo since he was a calf, and until the buffalo killed the rancher. An expert on Buffalo said, "We need . . . to appreciate what they really are, rather than what we want them to be. . . . The hardest thing for us humans to do, but perhaps the most valuable, is to leave other species alone" (35).
  • From Butterflies: "I am completely opposed to collecting . . . . Isn’t there a better way to celebrate nature than killing spectacular creatures?" (59).
  • From Ducks and Geese (in reference also to wetlands): "[E]verything deserves to live, and not simply because we want the freedom to go there to slaughter whatever species takes our fancy. Surely this is the more evolved moral position" (101).

There are many, similar examples, in addition to descriptions of what separates vegetarians from vegans: items such as honey, royal jelly, silk, pearls, mother-of-pearl and other by-products of some form of use and abuse of nonhuman animals.

For the meat-eating, cat and/or dog lover, Masson provides insight into the lives of animals that you ordinarily aren’t privy to. From chickens to lobsters to pigs to turkeys to red foxes to wolves (and I thank the author for alluding to the reality that wolf-hybrids shouldn’t be pets), there’s a lot to learn about the animals we take for granted, and often assume were put here primarily for our use.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Lenore #

    Thank you so much for recommending this book. I'm sure it would not have turned up on an "animal rights" topic search on amazon but it should. I'm in the middle of reading it and it's wonderful. Lately, I've thought about how much reading I do about animal rights issues but know so little about the animals themselves (and the lives they should be living). Also, I want to add a general thank you for your insightful blog which I look forward to reading every day.

    March 25, 2007

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