Animal Suicide, By Lindsay F. Mineo (imported article)

Animal Suicide, By Lindsay F. Mineo (imported article)

A Chapter by snickerdoodle

Animal suicide is a topic that sparks robust debate among scientists and animal behaviorists. Obviously people have the ability to end their own lives voluntarily, but do animals? When animals go off to die is it suicide or some instinctual habit of sickness or old age?

Why would an entire pod of more than 60 whales beach themselves? One whale might be sick and dying and unable to support himself in order to breathe, leading him to travel to shallow waters and eventually (purposefully or accidentally) end up on the beach, but dozens at the same time? Barring some unfortunate contamination in the waters, animal suicide doesn't quite make sense.

The reason animal suicide doesn't quite make sense is that scientists and animal behaviorists don't attribute human emotions to animals. It's called anthropomorphizing and it's a big no-no (except most people do it anyway). Attributing human emotions to animal behaviors can make studying animal behaviors complicated, especially behaviors that appear to be suicide. Human suicide is an intensely emotional act. If animals are committing suicide it means several things:

1) Animals have an awareness of themselves, including that they're alive.

2) Animals recognize that a specific act or series of events will end their lives, it's not just an instinct.

3) Animals have the emotional and/or cognitive ability to make a choice between life and death.

So, do animals have these abilities? If might be easy for us to recognize the difference between dolphins (which can voluntarily stop breathing and drown) and ants (which will leave a colony if they contract a communicable disease), but are either of them "committing suicide?" It's difficult to say for the same reasons it's difficult to say what animals are feeling or thinking on a day to day basis. Do they really know what they're doing and what the implications are? The problem lies within our wording: suicide is an inherently human word. But then again, all words are human words. Many animals will end their lives when they contract a disease, particularly when those animals are part of a group or a hed and the disease can devastate that group, which leads scientists to believe that it's not suicide as we know it. But don't many human individuals with neurological or physical disorders commit suicide? Seems like a fine line that straddles little more than connotation and may perhaps be a natural reaction for all animals.

Lindsay writes her animal loving blog Miniature Mastadon and, right up until her senior year of high school, was going to work with animals. After changing courses and getting a degree in writing, she ended up working in a zoo for a little more than a year. Being face to face with rhinos, giraffes, ostriches, gaur and even super close to an elephant herd (faves) dawned the realization that she can't quite ignore the need to be involved in some way. The Miniature Mastadon is an outlet to write about animal news, triumphs, discoveries, and even some sadness. All discussion, thoughts, questions and stories are most fully welcome so come chime in!


© 2012 snickerdoodle

Author's Note

Actually skimmed title, some content and was thinking "funny".. reconsidered perspective after really reading article. since animal intelligence challenges human understanding. Animal assisted therapy, therapy for animals are mainstream, perhaps in therapeutic beneficial partnership between people and pets, not just all about people. Inexplicably, pets in nursing homes point out the ill and those dying, dogs ...and other animals not human challenge human presumptions and prejudices about their capabilities not only with affection, love...but maybe death. It had never occurred to me that there was ...even an issue let alone possibility of free will of that grim act. Live and learn. We don't know it all. Life is learning.
visuals inserted on my end, not author's
free images courtesy of morgueFile, any use, non-attribution required
free article from

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Added on January 12, 2012
Last Updated on January 14, 2012
Tags: animal suicide, animal instincts, depression, Bizkit,, morgueFile, BrainyQuote, illness, suicide



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