About the Author

Dean de la Rey

Alumni Ranger

Dean was a guide at Londolozi from 2018 to 2022. He grew up in Johannesburg and it was from his very first trip to the bush at the age of two that he was captivated by this environment (he claims he can remember ...

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on A Rangers Discussion Continued: Do Animals Have Emotions?

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Lovely interesting blog Dean. I believe animals do have emotions. Observing my house cats over many years I realuzed that they do show emotion and mourn when one of them died. I have seen many animals in Kruger mourne the loss of their young. The emotions that the cat display after we rescued a bird that he caught. They definitely “feel” something.

Hey Dean, I was intrigued by Josh’s piece, yours has its points. Thinking out aloud, for emotions to be detected they need to be behaved, visually through body language. That would be the rational way to approach this. That opens a whole new kettle. Behaviour is either learnt or instinctual and my view is instinctual behavior is learnt behaviour over generations. Same learnt behavior repeated and re-enforced untill is becomes instinctual. Certain animals have a greater capacity to learn and others not so much (thinking Gnu) … so with those thoughts, emotions would be more visible in animals with a great capacity to learn, Human, apes, elephants, dogs, …etc. just my 5 cents. Regards to the team, hopfully I will come and visit this year once the choas subsides. Regards Etienne

I’m with you Dean–instinct is fully on display.

Dean, I loved the elephants🤗

Dean, thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking post. Our spin on the emotions of the wildlife that we have seen or enjoyed through the Londolozi stories goes like this. We think that most animals have short memories, but based on their own experiences, those memories become learned behaviors ingrained in their minds as they mature.

One example is watching lion families as they reunite, clearly showing that they are happy to see each other. However, their instincts or learned behaviors drive much of their actions when they need to hunt or protect themselves.

Very well written and yes,I feel animals feel emotions. Not as deeply as we humans feel as it is instilled in us from a baby. Religion is a part of our emotional baggage, so to speak.
Very nice discussion and well done. Thank you for the great job you rangers,and guides are doing.
My question is how many poachers to you catch each month? How many snares do you repair and save of your wild life? Thanks! Be safe.


Man is so presumptuous. In the Bible it says that man was created in the image of God. Its the reverse. God was created in our image.
Why would we have emotions and animals not. Are we that vain that we think that we are the only ones that have them. It seems that we discard anything we can not measure. I find the discussion insulting for the animals.
Hope to see you in September
Roger Giraldeau

I witnessed a gorilla mom in Rwanda carrying and cuddling her dead baby. Apparently, they can do this for up to six days. They she would lay it behind a bush or tree and move on. The beautiful thing is the rest of the family accepts this as normal. We were all in tears – emotions all around.

Hello Nick! As an ethologist I suppose that animals have primitive emotions generally speaking and they may evolve to more complex emotions when animals are selected by humans and live different lives (our domesticated dogs and cats for example show different levels if emotions from their ancestors). But also animals are individuals like us, genetic and much more the environment may play a role in forging them both physically and emotionally. As females bear offsprings they usually seem more empathic . But this is no general rule of course

Thought provoking and well researched post. Thoroughly enjoyed both sides of the discussion and one, I’m sure, will continue forever. Thank you for your opinions and studies. Such a lovely respite to help cope with continued isolation. Much appreciated.

I really do think that animals feel and have emotions. To give you two examples:
Jane Goodall describes how a chimpanzee female died. Her at that time already 8-year old son had never become fully independent and mourned his mother so much that he stayed where she died, didn’t eat anymore though his sister tried to help him, and died only a few months later.
Another example is about a dog whose master had to have an operation in a Spanish hospital. This dog went to the hospital every morning and stayed there the whole day, went home in the evening, came again next morning a.s.o. till the master left hospital himself. At that occasion he showed great joy.
Our dog when I was a child was always overjoyed when we returned home from a holiday. He was cared for by a friend. However, after the big “welcome home” show he went to his bed and sulked a few days because we had left him alone. And there are x more stories I could tell. Also about wild birds and other animals.
So, yes, animals to have and show emotions. Their life is so much shorter than ours, so they cannot spend as long mourning e.g. as we do. But if you live only for 15 years, maybe 6 weeks mourning or so is a lot.

How do you explain separation anxiety in dogs then? Do they not keep a watchful eye out for any hint of their owner leaving and fear their owner will not come back once they’ve left? That seems to be not “in the moment” but anticipating the future, right? Best, Wynn

In my opinion, animals do have feelings. They can be of sadness, fear, happiness, pleasure and even mourning. When Kinky tail and Mr T were attacked by the Manjigilanes, and Kinky tail died, Mr T felt his brother’s death very much, it was clear that his appearance has changed, there are even videos of him roaring, as if in honor of his blood brother. In the same way it happens when lost lions meet with their partners, are happy and their bodily actions demonstrate this. It was just an example I used. Greetings to everyone on the blog.

Definitely a conundrum at best … I come down on your side!

I absolutely agree. Good description of the different nuances of “emotion”. Separating the feelings into primary/instinctual and secondary/learned is an apt description. Excellent. And yes… I do firmly believe that they experience the primal emotions.

I believe this debate will never be decided as long as individuals perceive that animals demonstrate emotions or hold on to beliefs that animals react to situations with instinctive behavior. I’m not an expert in animal behavior, nor am I viewing animals almost everyday but I have to admit that after several safaris of watching animals in life/death situations, it seems there are signs of love, anger, aggression, joy,
and curiosity. Am I imprinting my own feelings? I don’t think so , when I’ve watched a lion cub leave its siblings and come to check me out, those eyes reading curiosity as I moved the long black lens. A secondary emotion for sure……. perhaps?

Dean I think you are totally right in your concept of emotions for animals. We have often seen animals die or been eaten by a predators, the remaining animal goes through a mourning peroid and calls for the cub or fawn that has gone. Sometimes it is heartbreaking for us as humans to see this. For them, they mourn and get over the loss quicker than people. They do show their emotions, look at the elephants when playing in water, they are happy and playfull. I think to an extent, animals do show emotions, to different situations. If I look and hear the birds around me in my yard, they make an alarming call which tells me there is a snake , or owl is in the tree. Fantastic how nature reveals it’s inner beauty, feelings and hardship. We must just learn to take note, listen and learn. Nature has so much to give.

I think that wild animals have emotions, that we have a lot to learn from animals. The things I have learned about different species when I read about their behaviours is that they also are working as a group to survive, to be alert, to watch out of danger but also to relax, play, express joy and to show love and feel love etc…
We don’t understand their language then we can only quess what they are thinking but I think they are intelligent, some more and some less, but for me yes they do have emotions. Thank you and Josh for an intresting and importent discussion.

Thoroughly enjoyed your take on this growing topic …. I’m sure there will be options that criss cross and divert but for sure most will agree that they have as much emotion as we do, just tweeked a little differently…..as nature intend.

Thanks for this discussion, I really love it. I do think that animals have emotions. As stated, not like ours, more basic. And they do not have short memories, otherwise elephants would not go back to a place where a family member died, even years later. But I do think they live in the moment. They will learn from past behaviour and use this information. Which is remembering…… Like using tools, but also like ‘I will not use this den because it is not safe’. Which is caring for your little ones. Which could be emotion, but could also be seen as something else. Like making sure your line continues and that stuff? You can also see that they enjoy play. Little ones, but the mums and dads at times as well. That is enjoyment, and feeling joy is an emotion. There are countless other examples, but for the discussion, this should suffice.

Great post Dean, and an interesting thought exercise! There isn’t enough space to do this justice, but here’s a thumbnail sketch:

All sentient beings with a nervous system are capable of receiving stimuli and react/respond accordingly. Humans, due to the plasticity of our nervous system and the manner in which we’ve evolved over time, are capable of producing language, which is how we distinguish, comprehend, and explain the reactions/responses we call “emotion.” What we perceive as emotions in animals is actually our human understanding of what we are seeing/hearing etc. and distinguished in language – as evidence, I offer you’re and Josh’s linguistic posts, and the equally linguistic reactions/responses in the “Comments” section… as well as mine, of course!

So to the question “Do animals have emotions?” We will never objectively and definitively know, because they don’t have language to tell us.

That said, my vote is absolutely and solipsistically, YESSSS!!!

Senior Digital Ranger

I think animals emotions are far more complex then we are capable of understanding, unfortunately some people believe that not understanding and not being there are the same. Just because we don’t understand does not mean it’s not there and would it matter. We know animals feel pain yet we continue to kill them for no reason at alk

I think animals and humans have emotions. What humans have that has us stick with ours, remember them more, etc. is STORY. We have language and make up stories about everything and reinforce those stories with more stories, whether they are true/accurate or not. We have a mind and, at the same time, we think we are that mind. Mr. Giraldeau, I think is almost correct in saying we’ve made God in our own image, because we have really storied God. When, if we read the book really closely, before God spoke, there was nothing. But, we would have a really hard time owning and being accountable for being nothing. If we werre nothing, how could we account for our stories, which are totally invented from nothing, though it seems like they are not made up at all.
So, since animals don’t make up stories, there’s nothing to hook them and they just move on to the next living moment, because they didn’t make what just happened MEAN anything to them. However, sometimes they do remember and you will observe that and make it mean something.

Thanks Dean.

I like your take, Dean. Animals are what fully present and conscious humans aspire to be…aware of fear and love while not creating stories (secondary emotions) around what happens in life.

An instinct is one thing, emotion is a different one, how am i supposed to mix one with another “from my own limited perspective”? An instinct is a trigger for a routine action, while emotions are based on feeling… Strange article.

Valid points Dean! I enjoy your take on the matter. I definitely think they do experience emotion. Perhaps not the same emotion humans do, but the can be expected given our different survival modes. I like the term primary emotion – I absolutely believe they experience joy, love, sadness. fear. Perhaps they don’t have time for secondary ones – like regret, they are to busy living in the moment. Maybe we can learn something there.

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