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WHY PANDAS DO HANDSTANDS: And Other Curious Truths About Animals, by Augustus Brown, is a 265-page trivia book about the oddities of nonhuman animal communication, dietary choice, mating habits, social habits, ways of movement, and parenting. I say "oddities" because we humans tend to compare everything to how we do things, and of course consider ourselves as some kind of normal baseline.  Everything unlike us then becomes weird, curious, bizarre, and often unbelievable.

I get feeds from dozens of newspapers and magazines each day, and each day there’s at least one story about some strange but true fact about nonhuman animals. Chimps use weapons to hunt, hundreds of species of animals are gay, and there’s a parrot with a sense of humor and has a vocabulary of 1,000 words. Those stories were within weeks of one another, and we all gave a collective "No way! That’s crazy!" But that’s only because we don’t expect animals to exhibit "human" behavior (and especially human behavior that some have deemed aberrant).

Rather than using WHY PANDAS DO HANDSTANDS as a vehicle for oohing and aahing about all the nonsensical behavior of animals (after all, we’re not sure why they do some of the things they do), I’d rather see it as a book that can help humans realize how much we have in common with other animals.  We aren’t the only ones who can:

  • be bad parents
  • get drunk and fall down
  • obsess over finding the right mate
  • establish systems of governing and policing
  • decorate our homes
  • romance and settle down with members of the same sex
  • play tricks on each other
  • mate for life
  • cheat on our spouses
  • use herbal remedies
  • get acne

When we see the similarities between humans and nonhuman animals, it becomes more difficult to justify treating them . . . like animals.

The only difficulty I have with this book is the many animal facts that were gleaned because of laboratory research. For instance,

Being exposed to marijuana in the womb makes young rats hyperactive and forgetful when they are born (51).

Studies have show hamsters can develop a taste for alcohol with a tolerance that is 40 times greater than human’s in proportion to their body weight (53).

Too much running on a wheel makes mice stupid. Tests have shown that hyperactive mice who run compulsively around and around on wheels and elsewhere are slow learners (206).

If you shave a bat’s wings it will lose its power to navigate safely in the dark (222).

I’d rather see more facts discovered without breeding or taking animals from their families to manipulate them in a laboratory or anywhere else.

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