About the Author

Pete Thorpe

Alumni Ranger

Pete was a Field Guide for Londolozi for 4 years, contributing to the blog as a fantastic writer as well as photographer. Right from his very first bush trip at the age of four, Pete was always enthralled by this environment. Having grown ...

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on Do Animals Really Have Fun?

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Interesting blog Pete. I definitely think animals have fun or maybe it is that they experience pleasure? When my cat gets attention and love from us, he purrs and you can see that he is content. Children learn having fun, so why not young animals.

Hi Marinda,

Yes I agree, with domestic animals there are some clear examples of basic emotions!

Most definitely yes! Animals experience all the emotions that humans do, including happiness, sadness, jealousy, frustration, and ambivalence. The only difference being humans are not perceptive enough to distinguish among the spectrum of emotions they display.

From what I read, it seems that the general belief is that animals do experience what are termed ‘basic emotions’, and not other more ‘complex’ emotions. As you said though, we are not able to perceive what exactly the animals are feeling and have no common language with which to communicate this.

Thanks for the reply, Pete. Not entirely sure what “they” mean by complex emotions. Not too long ago a colleague of yours wrote a blog about buffaloes and empathy…was what they experienced empathy or just an instinct to survive? I think we will have to debate this topic, while sitting around a boma fire on our next trip to Londolozi. Cheers and keep the blogs coming!

The notion, ‘As animals cannot speak,’ is not so. As my son said when he was 10 years old and we were looking at Bonobos – and someone in our group said that they can’t speak – he quickly said that they can speak, it’s that we as humans just can’t understand what they are saying.

I agree with you Jeff, animals do communicate, however not in a language that we as humans can understand. If we were able to ‘speak’ a common language then we would be able to decipher what emotions these animals are experiencing. However for now, we are analysing mostly visual and audible cues from animals and deciphering them in our own way, particularly relating these cues to our own human emotions and mannerisms/ body language. Maybe one day we will breach the animal-human ‘language-barrier’?

I really do think animals have emotions and show them. If they didn’t, they would not take good care of the babies, for instance……….. They would drop them and would not be interested to see what and when. As far as I know, they sort of have the same kind of hormonal thingies going on. They are not so different from us!

Hi Irene,

Studies are definitely starting to reveal that animals may just have the same sort of hormonal thingies going on like we do, for sure. It is a fascinating field to follow!

Absolutely I believe that animals have fun! If you have ever watched lion cubs (and you probably have hundreds of times!), you see pure joy in their playing with each other! And wild dogs have such a social interaction with each other, you have to believe they have fun with each other. Such an interesting topic and the photos are beautiful! Loved the giraffe photo and I swear the male lions were sharing a good joke! ? Thanks for sharing!

Thanks for the comment, Darlene. And no, I haven’t seen lion cubs playing hundreds of times – it is always a treat! I’m glad you enjoyed the images.

Given the definition of fun in your blog, I’d say it’s absolutely true that animals have fun! Watching dogs cavort in the park, young ellie’s rolling around together, cubs batting mom’s face seemingly just to get a reaction, young hyena chasing each other, play-fighting for a stick – yup, I do believe that animals have fun!!

Ever since writing this I have seen more and more animals acting playfully… It’s hard to believe that they aren’t having fun!

Perhaps I am simple minded but when I see enjoyment and fun in animals, I take it at its face value without even trying to analyse it. I have often played with cats, dogs, calves, and once even a pride of lions on a rainy day. We were doing a self drive in a game reserve. There was a pride of lions lying in the bush and mud just the other side of a wire game fence. We were in a car and I stupidly perhaps opened the car window a bit and broke off a long stalk of Khakibos which was growing just outside – and stuck it through the game fence. The lions were looking totally miserable in drizzly rain which dripped off their noses and whiskers. I played with them as I did our Siamese at home and dragged the stalk of Khaki-bos over their paws and they immediately perked up and started chasing it. Then they would pick it up in their mouths and I would pull it through their teeth. Then the big boy, the male lion, stood up to see what his ladies were doing and he too pounced on the end of the stalk and I dragged it through his teeth. By this time the whole pride was looking a lot more cheerful and seemed to be enjoying themselves a lot – just with an old stalk of weed! What they did was similar to what they would do when hunting, but they and I knew that they weren’t hunting. It was a game. Better than just lying in the mud, looking bored and depressed, with dripping rain and nothing to do. I am not saying where this happened because I could get into huge trouble! I am 80 now and this happened many years ago anyway. But those lions had FUN and certainly looked a lot happier and more interested in life by the time we drove off. Wendy M

Hi Wendy,

I’m not sure we would get the same response with the lions out here! But at least you triggered a positive response amongst them. Thanks for sharing the story!

Enjoyed all these images. Especially the one of the playful Hyena cubs. And do I think animals play? Absolutely!

I agree. If anything I think wild animals (am including humans in there) think, feel, and communicate in ways we are only beginning to understand. Think how difficult it is for one human to understand another human who speaks an unknown language; animals (and trees, birds) just speak another language.

This is a really thought provoking essay. I read and re-read it. To put it simply, in my limited experience of observing wild animals from Kenya to RSA and even India, I believe animals do have fun in addition to exhibiting a range of emotions. It is true as humans we do not understand animal talk but that is not to say their language is unintelligible. It is to them.

I travel extensively and I don’t speak or understand the language of many of the countries I’m visiting, yet I do understand the emotions exhibited, including fun, inclusion, frustrations, etc.

There is something special about watching animals play: elephants spraying each other, wild dogs chasing each other’s tail, cubs playing hide and seek…..

I’m looking forward to observing more “play” within the Bush.

Thanks for sharing your observations, Denise. It’s great to hear your perspective and how you linked this back to humans that speak different languages. It is a similar scenario I suppose, although at least in humans, things like body postures, facial expressions etc. can portray a lot about emotion.

Very interesting read, I’m 100% sure that animals can have fun.

Every living creature has its own fun; and or way of having fun. To us is if we can tell that fun.

I read a book titled The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wohlleben. It has personal observations like the ones you’ve described in this post along with the results of several published papers on the subject. He has forever convinced me that animals do feel joy, sadness, surprise, fear, love, even empathy. I highly recommend his book — it’s chock full of citations.

What a wonderful blog. We watched young monkeys and a young grey duiker chasing each other around bushes in front of our house. The play was initiated by both species at different times. They were definitely having fun! And so were we watching them! We have watched similar behaviour between banded mongooses and monkeys.

Very interesting blog. I think the problem of knowing wether animals have emotions (basic or complex) lies within our brains. Even scientists are most of the time not capable of seeing things other than from a human perspective. We are not capable of stepping in another world like the animal world. I think that animals are capable of much more than we humans recognise and in the future we might be able to see more of their capabilities, but we have to open our minds to other worlds like Jane Goodall did years ago when she recognised chimpansees as individuals and gave them a name. We must stop underestimating animals. They live in a different world with other requirements. If we had to live in their world we would be having trouble being recognised as complex beings.

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