I was asked this question a few days ago, and I must say the answer has eluded me. I have discussed it with my colleagues, and everyone seems to have their own good reasoning. Every living thing needs water and we all drink it, but why is watching animals do it so intriguing? After much thought, I have come up with some of my own reasoning to this question.
Firstly – and most people who I have spoken to agree on this one – is the fact that the animals are in an anomalous position; one which we are not accustomed to seeing them in. The sighting is by default filed in the “Unusual” category in our subconscious.
A good example of this is the Giraffe. Due to the size of their neck, they have to bend their legs to drink, which looks very strange compared to the tall elegant animal we usually observe. Another example would be leopards and in fact most cats, who get on their haunches and lap up the water with their tongues. Regardless of the animal, if they’re drinking we all tend to sit there mesmerized whilst our camera shutters snap away.
Secondly I believe it is because of the animals own vulnerability whilst performing this simple act. There is something about vulnerability that humans find appealing. Research has shown that there is an intriguing mismatch in the way we take a more negative view of our own vulnerability than we do of other people’s. We live in a vulnerable world and one of the ways we all try and deal with this is to numb that feeling. We love observing the raw truth and openness in other people but what if we like to see this in other species as well?
Vulnerability is something humans can be afraid to let anyone see in them but are enthralled by vulnerability in others. So, for that moment where that animal is in the vulnerable position of bending down to take a drink, is that what we are captivated by? Without realising it, we are seeing that everything can be potentially vulnerable, even the mighty 6 ton elephant and 200 kilogram lion.
“Vulnerability is courage in you and inadequacy in me.” – Brené Brown
Lastly, the suspense we feel.
Suspense keeps everybody on their toes. So, in tying in with vulnerability comes the moment of suspense that some action is about to happen, whilst that animal – no matter if it’s predator or prey – gets into the awkward position to drink. We sit and wait in anticipation. Will they perhaps fall in? Is there a crocodile lurking in the shadowy waters below? Is there a leopard hiding in the nearby thicket? Is that elephant going to spray some of that water on all of us on the vehicle?
I am sure everyone can think of many other reasons why, and I would love to hear them, but next time you have the pleasure of viewing any animal take the time out of its day to rehydrate at a water hole, it’s worth taking a moment to think about why the sighting has so much appeal…