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Nature Documentaries and Injured Primate Mothers

January 30, 2012

Last night, we watched a documentary called Dogs Decoded. Did you know that most people can discern the meaning of a dog’s bark, simply from listening to a tape? Did you know that dogs really can read our emotions? They always look to the left of our faces as apparently we show our emotions unevenly. I’m not quite sure why they look to the left or why this matters, but it does. We met a border collie who knows more than 300 words. She was equivalent, the researchers said, to a small child, a two-year old. We also saw the difference between a dog skull and wolf skull. Dog skulls are rounder. Wolf skulls are flatter. Again, I am not sure what the significance of this is, but it is significant.

I liked watching the researchers themselves, but mostly I liked watching the dogs. In our family, we turn to nature documentaries for solace. My favorites are Earth: A Biography, with that Scotsman Iain Steward who clambers down volcanoes and slides around in the Arctic. And anything with David Attenborough, especially Life. We scream when the shark eats the baby seal and cry (at least I do) when the zebra father stays behind the herd to help his injured son, even though this is his death warrant, and worse, when the mother reindeer searches for her dead baby. My son watches these before school while I make pancakes, which makes pancake making far more dramatic. Sometimes, I try to narrate our life like I am David Attenborough. “Most of the primate mother’s day is devoted to providing her hungry offspring with adequate nutrition.” Or, currently, “The injured primate mother is unable to provide her hungry offspring with the nutrition he needs for the day and tries to introduce him to the mysteries of food production.”

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