The more we learn about non-human animals, the more we try to find things we have in common. Are they controlled by instincts or do they consciously make decisions? Do they feel emotions? Do they have hobbies, jobs, or even passions? Humans are learning more and more about the complexity of some animal’s communication and expression. One that hits home for me is that scientists are discovering some animals know how to dance. That’s right, dance. It doesn’t mean that these animals move rhythmically, but actually match their movements to music.
For instance, a Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo named“Snowball” shocked the world in a YouTube video where he danced to the Backstreet Boys song, “Everybody.”
The scientists couldn’t help but wonder, did he mimic a trainer? Is he just moving rhythmically? Or does he actually feel the music, which causes him to want to express himself with movements matching the flow of the music? Scientists decided to put Snowball in a room where humans sat motionless in the corner and proceeded to play 11 different versions of, “Everybody”, all at different tempos. Apparently, Snowball was “off-beat” 75% of the time, but the point is, he was “on-beat” 25% of the time. Which in their words means, “Snowball was finding the beats on his own. He was no Michael Jackson. He was more like Elaine from Seinfeld (terrible), but what he was doing was good enough to be called Dance.” Does this mean he is expressing himself through dance by picking up on the beat and matching it? Does snowball “feel” or “enjoy” the freedom, fulfillment, or passion that I feel when I dance, or is he just matching movements to music? After looking deeper into this study, scientists found that there are fourteen species of parrots and both Asian and African elephants that also simultaneously moved to a beat. Although the scientists still have many questions about this uncharted territory, they are pondering and asking creative, yet bold questions.
This is a breakthrough! There is more to animals than we can understand. While most people are not yet comfortable with comparing non-human animals to human animals, that doesn’t mean we should completely discredit animals and their abilities. Wouldn’t you prefer a world where we acknowledge and celebrate animals for expressing their own emotions, passions, and hobbies? I know that trying to empathize with animals makes me a more compassionate human, and as a result, I practice to improve my own actions in order to make their lives better both in captivity and in the wild.