For my final post of 2011, I want to share some of the best animal video clips of the year. I've made my choices in a time-honored category: "clips that increase our scientific understanding of animal behavior and are fun to watch, besides."
These five mini-movies offer a new appreciation for the behavior of tool-using wild monkeys; stone-stealing wild penguins; fluid and fluent wild dolphins; one mourning, rescued elephant; and newly liberated laboratory chimpanzees.
In a nod to the season, I close with a bonus clip, starring a blind cat and a Christmas tree.
Let's jump right in. Choose your favorite species, or enjoy all six.
Tool-using wild monkeys (00:21) A research team led by Freya Qing Liu at the University of Georgia shows in this BBC report how wild capuchin monkeys in Brazil select tools to crack open nuts. As this monkey experiments with different stones to find the perfect hammer for the nut-smashing job, we can almost see the mental gears turning.
Stone-stealing wild penguin (2:03) David Attenborough's The Frozen Planet on the BBC, coming soon to the United States, includes this amusing bit starring a thieving male penguin. In Antarctica, Adelie penguins construct nests of pebbles to attract females, a task that requires just the right small stones to pull off. Some males resort to looting other males' nests.
Fluid and fluent wild dolphins (8:03) Longer than the others, this clip is mesmerizing for its scenes of dolphins' grace in the water. The science comes in when Denise Herzing discusses her 25-year-long research project in the Bahamas. Especially notable are the scenes about wild dolphin communication, starting at 2:58.
A mourning elephant (2:11) This one is the exception to my rule, in that it isn't a fun topic. At Tennessee's Elephant Sanctuary, elephant Tarra was famous for her friendship with Bella the dog. This fall, Bella was killed, probably by coyotes. Sanctuary workers believe that Tarra discovered Bella's body and, using her trunk, transported it back to her barn. This is a sad story, but also a beautiful one; I believe that, just as in humans, the flip side of animal grief is the love animal friends may feel for each other.
Liberated laboratory chimpanzees (1:53) Never mind that the narration here is in German (a language I neither speak nor comprehend). It's easy to read the emotion on these faces as chimpanzees first experience sun, and grass, after 30 years' laboratory confinement. Notice the role of touch as the chimpanzees help each gather their courage and explore what is, for them, a new universe.
And finally, the bonus clip (3:13) Here's Oskar the blind cat, born without formed eyeballs and adopted by a loving family. Oskar plays in unexpected and humorous ways with a Christmas tree. As a cat rescuer, I have watched this clip more than once. Those of us (and there are many) who care every day for animals just that little bit different in sensory or cognitive ways, are gifted back with much more than we give.
Whatever holiday you may be celebrating, or may be about to celebrate, I send a heartfelt seasonal wish: may we all savor the gifts in our lives. See you in '12!
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