How deeply do animals feel emotions?

 February 11, 2010 - 6:49 PM CST

Cub sightings are becoming more common.  The cub is climbing around more now that she’s getting fur and temperatures are up to 20F.  The ‘Lily & Cub Show’ will just get better and better. 

The vocalizations are so basic to humans and bears, we all sense the cub’s emotions and intensity even if we don’t know the exact situation.   It’s interesting to see how Lily deals with the cub’s moods.

Watching Lily reminds us of a mother and cubs that made us ask: How deeply do animals feel emotions?  It was May 30, 1992.  The state was moving a wild mother bear far away.  The mother and one cub had been captured and put in a pen.  Two cubs were still free.  The mother wailed—sometimes softly, sometimes louder—as she sat disconsolate, holding and nursing the lone cub.  The plaintive sounds continued for two days until the moment the two missing cubs were put in the pen with her.  We never heard the sound again.  When we play the taped sounds to school classes and ask what the mother was feeling, the kids all say she was sad and crying.  It’s unmistakable.  It brings tears to one’s eyes.

Donald Griffin, a professor friend who specialized in animal emotions at Harvard, said it’s difficult to prove what animals feel, but that we err more in denying their emotions than admitting to them.

We love your comments in Facebook.  Your excitement is contagious and makes us proud to be part of the most knowledgeable group of cub observers ever.  We have to find a way to have a den cam next winter.  Technology is making more possible.

Thank you again for your donations to help us grow and spread the word.  New Lily memorabilia is coming.

—Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, Biologists, North American Bear Center