I recently read the excellent book, Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, MD, & Kathryn Bowers.
The book fascinated me because it highlighted and clarified why We are Just Talking Apes and how There is Only US, There is no Them, as I attempted to suggest previously. I loved Zoobiquity because it documented how similar all living things are on earth and that “we should be looking at the overlap rather than the differences” between species due to our shared ancestry.
I was fascinated as they demonstrated how other animals also have foresight, regret, shame, guilt, love, and revenge. I thought I saw these things in our dogs, but I thought I was anthropomorphizing their behaviors. I guess I was not.
Examples of similarities in the book included how all animals, like humans, can Faint when scared. This led to a better explanation of our instincts that are generally only described as Fight or Flight. An accurate description of our reactions is “Fight, Flight, or Faint” when startled. As they documented, faking death, like when we Faint, had survival benefits and may be why it lasted through our evolution.
I thought most interesting was how they showed behaviors that many attributes to bad character, which also exist in the animal kingdom. For instance, a section describes eating disorders in the animal kingdom that mirror human eating disorders. (see Intriguing links between animal behavior and anorexia nervosa by Treasure, Janet & Owen, John) Other behaviors such as homosexuality, trans sex, and even sex between species exist in other animals, meaning they evolved for survival and are still in our DNA.
In other examples, they document the proliferation of STDs in the animal kingdom. After all, they don’t have antibiotics or any type of protection. In another similarity, they demonstrate how teenage animals act similarly to human teenagers. The similarity relates to their behaviors. As explained, adolescent brains don’t register danger as adults do, and this may be why they take what seems to be “stupid” or unwise actions. They, however, explain, “These risky behaviors can encourage encounters with threats and competitions that may hurt them but actually end up being helpful for success later in life.” They even suggest it may be more dangerous when adolescents don’t take risks than if they do. If risks are avoided, they are not prepared for life.
Overall, these many comparisons and similarities indicate that what happens are not necessarily flaws or problems of humans; it is hard-wired into us. These actions are just part of our shared DNA. Those actions, however, can also be influenced by our environment.
Sex, Drugs, &…
They also showed how animals in the wild sometimes get hooked on drugs. Who knew? They also explained that animals have varied sex drives, high or low, and some animals even use some of the same techniques to attract mates, as seen in humans. It was amazing to learn. They even suggest that an “Orgasm is not the byproduct of sex, it is the bait from erotic ancestry” that enables or supports reproduction.
There were some unpleasant things in the book. A disturbing section explained humans believed animals did not feel. This existed until fairly recently — though some still believe this, especially about fish. Humans had a false belief that animals could not feel because we could not understand how they thought. Animals react differently to pain. Some withdraw rather than vocalize it, at least that we can hear. They relate this to how many thought babies did not feel pain until the 1980s.
The author’s discussion of pleasure and then drugs was also enlightening. They explained how pleasure and rewards initiated behaviors that helped us survive, and negative emotions altered behaviors when survival was threatened. They then relate this to drugs by explaining people become addicted because drugs can falsely signal we are doing something beneficial to our fitness that helps our survival. They also provide an enlightening discussion about how this relates to and feeds addictions.
Nature or Nurture??
An insightful point they demonstrated was that it is not a Nature or Nurture answer but a dance between each. As was explained, Nature & Nurture are not a divide but an endless feedback loop of information enabling adaptation. For example, they document that animals, like humans, can get fat when there is abundant food and no predators. They also note that animals, like humans, will consume processed foods to their detriment because of the false signals created by these ultra-processed foods.
Overall, again and again, from drugs to sex, to relationships, they document how these are issues for all in the animal kingdom, not just for humans. It had a copyright of 2012. However, it is very current. The most current part was how it seems to have led to the developing of the new World Health Organizations initiative, “One Health.”
WHO One Health
According to the WHO Website:
‘One Health’ is an approach to designing and implementing programmes, policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better public health outcomes.
The areas of work in which a One Health approach is particularly relevant include food safety, the control of zoonoses (diseases that can spread between animals and humans, such as flu, rabies and Rift Valley Fever), and combatting antibiotic resistance (when bacteria change after being exposed to antibiotics and become more difficult to treat)..
Why do we need a One Health approach?
Many of the same microbes infect animals and humans, as they share the eco-systems they live in. Efforts by just one sector cannot prevent or eliminate the problem. For instance, rabies in humans is effectively prevented only by targeting the animal source of the virus (for example, by vaccinating dogs).
Information on influenza viruses circulating in animals is crucial to the selection of viruses for human vaccines for potential influenza pandemics. Drug-resistant microbes can be transmitted between animals and humans through direct contact between animals and humans or through contaminated food, so to effectively contain it, a well-coordinated approach in humans and in animals is required.
We can Do More
One Health is a great start. However, it seems to only focus on how to avoid, treat, or prevent problems. I believe it does not emphasize how health is created and improved.
From my reading, it became even more vital to work towards generating comprehensive improvements by creating net-positive, pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and EVERYTHING benefits. All living things are connected, and the aim of all living things must be to live in a way that makes life more livable.
Natterson-Horowitz & Bowers seem to agree. In the end, they explain:
The fate of our world health doesn’t depend solely on how we humans fare, rather it will be determined by how ALL patients on the planet live, grow, get sick and heal.Natterson-Horowitz & Bowers in “Zoobiquity”
Let’s create all good. We can’t wait for people or animals to become patients. We must proactively work to make life more livable and better for all.
Craig M. Becker, PhD
Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!
Please share your thoughts and questions below.
Contact me: BeWellr@gmail.com