"Nature Guide Journal"
The image of nature as wholly dictated by tooth-and-nail aggression
is not accurate. Animals often cooperate with others of their
species–and sometimes with other species–by sharing resources or
even committing considerable effort to help.
For most species, altercations between rival individuals, such as
bull elk, are demonstrations of status, strength, or endurance that end
when one of the individuals gives up. Though there are occasional
injuries, death in such instances are rare.
Even strongly territorial animals that defend against members of
their own species from different social groups almost always drive off
trespassers rather than kill them.
Death through altruism appears to be more common in the world than
death through aggression by a member of the same species.
Biologists usually define "altruism" as behavior of an animal
that is risky–perhaps deadly–for that animal, but benefits other
members of its community.
Clearly, a mother bird diving at a dangerous predator to protect her
young at the nest would be considered altruistic behavior. As
would crows in a scattered family group calling out a warning to the
others at the risk of being located by the predator at large.
Although there are differences in opinion, it is generally believed
that animal altruism exists and survives as a behavior pattern because
there is some reproductive advantage to the group.
Altruism has been working well for ants for over 100 million
years. Rising to an astonishing level of specialization, there are
species of ants in which castes of individual members function as
farmers, nannies, warriors, builders, even storage containers, walls,
and bridges. Individuals whose specialized role requires them to
leave the nest do so at grave risk on behalf of the colony.
Certain worker ants have an average a life span of only a week. In
effect, huge numbers of worker ants trade their individual reproductive
opportunities for the improved success of the entire colony of their
Like other social insects, ants readily sacrifice their individual
lives in ways that benefit the group. Bees die in the attempt to
sting, wild dogs hunt to feed the puppies of their pack's lead female,
lone baboons will charge an attacking lion while the troop escapes to
safety—in fact, most social animals exhibit some level of instinctual
altruism that serves the economics of reproduction.
There are countless examples of human altruism: sacrifice for the
greater good is deeply embedded in our mores and cultures.
Reflecting on the events of September 11th, it seems to me
that the underlying questions we're presently grappling with aren't
limited to, "How can I act for the greater good of my
community?" but includes, "What is our community?"
The over-riding power that culture has in our species gives us
control over what constitutes a human community. With high speed
travel and easy access, rapid, world-wide communications, our species
has become a global one. I, for one, think remembering that is vital to
It is as natural for social animals to collaborate and assist as it
is to confront and attack. Humans included.
Wavecrest Discoveries can craft your personal
discovery of this delightful part of our world by customizing one of our
distinctive guided excursions. Our walks,
tours, and special
activities are wonderful ways to explore this fascinating region—and
are the perfect entertainment for guests.
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