So you’ve just arrived home after a long day at uni to find your carpet shredded, the cupboard pillaged and dog kibble scattered all over the kitchen floor. Your dog, you note with certainty, has a “guilty look” on her face because she knows she’s done something wrong. This is a perfect example of anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism is ‘the showing or treating of animals, gods, and objects as if they are human in appearance, character, or behaviour’ (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.).
Similarly, have you ever seen a monkey smile? Or even a rabbit check the time in horror, realise it’s late, put its pocket-watch back in its waistcoat, and run down a rabbit hole to a magical land? Some of these are more likely to be seen than others, but we’ve probably all seen them on the screen or novels at some point. Disney is a major contributor to the anthropomorphism of animals in their movies as seen in The Lion King, Bambi, and Dumbo just to name a few.
Apparently a biologist actually sued Disney for defamation of character on behalf of hyenas after they received the Disney villain treatment and ‘were made out to be stupid, evil and a risk to the sovereignty of any nation because of their treasonous natures’ (Frontler, 2017). Whether the truth of this lawsuit is justifiable or not, it does highlight a real problem that we need to be aware of. Disney are not the only ones who have portrayed hyenas this was; it’s common in many cultures that hyenas are projected as senseless and deceitful animals, thus spilling over into mistreatment. The International Union of the Conservation of Nature claims ‘the persecution of hyenas based on an anthropomorphised persona is a considerable threat to the species’ (Scientific American, n.d.). Hyena’s in fact have a unique immune system of great scientific interest and may be very valuable to us in the future, so do they really deserve the villain character after all? If the world doesn’t start seeing the hyena positively, rather than a humanised Disney style villain with character trait animals can’t even have, they we could lose something of great instrumental value.
Furthermore, the bees were for a long time seen as annoying insects that sting you and many people were okay with killing them due to this reason. It now turns out that ‘they are one of the most important species for pollination and our very existence depends on them’ (Frontler, 2017). After hearing this news, I’m certain that most of you will now be able to put up with the annoying buzzing next time you’re walking through the park. We have to remember that it is not the animal being deliberately mean, so let’s not punish animals for our own species’ attributes mirrored through them.
Our human biases make us prefer certain animals to others, which are fine for pets, but not a good idea when it comes to the conservation and protection of endangered species.
Cambridge Dictionary. n.d. ‘Meaning of “anthropomorphism” in the English Dictionary.’ Available from: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/anthropomorphism [Accessed: 23 March 2017]
Frontler. 6 January 2017. The Huffington Post. ‘Is Anthropomorphism Bad For Wildlife Conservation.’ Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/-frontier/wildlife-conservation_b_8921734.html [Accessed: 23 March 2017]
Scientific American. n.d. ‘No Laughing Matter: Unlovable Hyenas Are Threatened in the Wild.’ Available from: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/earth-talks-hyenas/ [Accessed: 23 March 2017]