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Current Update as of April 08, 2002

Inspired by The Edgar Cayce Institute for Intuitive Studies

Edited by HENRY REED, Ph.D.

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My Goats Bedevil Me
by Henry Reed

I suspect that my goats have me figured and are now trying to outsmart me. Apparently they don't think it's very hard. Because of the steep hills, hollows and giant boulders here at Flying Goat Ranch, the goats' territory is not securely fenced. Down by the road, where there’s little to entice a hungry goat, there's just a wire to let them know their boundary. If I appear when they are outside this line, they crawl back under the wire and scoot up the hill. On the other hand, at the upper end of the ranch, the neighbor's fence is more substantial, but quite old and full of holes. I've tried to patch them, but the goats always find a new outlet so they can explore those greener pastures. If I confront them outside of this fence, they play dumb and wander back down along the fence line toward the front of our place, as if they don't know how to get back inside. Even if I approach them sounding the dinner bell (in response to which they normally fly straight to their food area), they will still take this indirect and ineffective route, rather than take the quickest way to the food--through the opening of the fence. I suspect they don't want me to know their secret outlet, So I hide while I ring the bell and trick them into taking the quickest way back--the fence hole they came through--and from my hideout I discover their secret opening.

A recent book has collected many stories better than to demonstrate that animals possess several aspects of intelligent awareness, including a sense of humor as well as the ability to deceive. The Parrot's Lament and other true tales of animal intrigue, intelligence, and ingenuity (Dutton) gets its title from a story about a African Grey parrot, Bongo Marie. Its owner had a number of birds at her house, including an Amazon parrot, Paco, that Bongo Marie especially disliked. One day, the owner was removing a roast Cornish game hen from her oven when Bongo Marie flew over and shouted, "Oh no! Paco!" in an excited tone. When the owner produced Paco to show he was still alive, Bongo Marie responded in a disappointed tone, "Oh, no!" and then broke out into raucous laughter. The author of the book, Eugene Linden, an award winning science writer, has collected many of his stories from professional animal handlers (zoo keepers, animal researchers, etc.) and has included research studies, both of which provide a factual and intellectually curious tone to balance the natural sentimentality.

Escape stories involve not only animal cleverness, but also deception. In one case, for example, Fu Manchu, a male orangutan, baffled zoo keepers by his ability to open a door that allowed regular escape. Surreptitious observation revealed that he kept hidden in his cheek a secret tool: a wire he used to pick the lock.

A story of double deception among the animals themselves comes from an observation station created by Jane Goodall in the wilds of Tanzania. Just at the moment that one chimpanzee found a cache of food, a more dominant chimp appeared on the scene. The first chimp walked away from the cache and acted nonchalantly until the second chimp left the scene. When the coast was clear, the first chimp went over to the food and began to eat. However, the second chimp had only appeared to have left. He was observed to have hidden himself in the bushes and spied on the first chimp to learn of its deception. When the secret was exposed, the dominant chimp returned to the scene and claimed the food for himself.

Pet owners often attribute to their animals more intelligence, awareness and cunning than psychologists think they deserve. In the academic community, animal awareness is still as much an anathema as ESP. I don't think the church is as against animal awareness as much as is the university, even though it was the church who invented animal dumbness to create a spiritual gap between them and us. But evidence is mounting to force a conclusion that animals do think, have feelings, and are creative. Some animals, such as chimps and parrots, are even able to learn how to use symbolic language intelligently. Their ability to deceive, as cute or unattractive as it may be, is a quite important clue about their minds. The act of deception shows an awareness of the mental states of others and an understanding of how those mental states can be misled. My goats seem to assume that as long as I don't see them walk through the fence, I won't know there's a hole in it, so they seem to act so as to plant a false belief in my mind.

At a time when threats to the welfare of animals abound, it’s good to hear stories that speak to us about their recognizably human qualities. When we empathize with them, it helps us connect to them as beings like us. In that way they become as our teachers, inspiring us to develop a more sensitive and caring relationship with the critters with whom we share this planet.


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