=1 "I became an animal"

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I became an animal

The Listener


In a recent interview in the European English Service, Nicholas Lloyd asked Dr. Desmond Morris, Curator of Mammals at the London Zoo, to explain a zoologist's attitude to animals. Dr. Morris said that when he was a student, studying animal behaviour, he looked at animals objectively, not a caricatures: “Most people look at animals as if they are caricatures of people. I had to become the animal I was studying.

“The first animal I was studying at Oxford was a fish called the stickleback. This little fish has a very strange world in which it lives, a complicated sex life, complicated parental duties; and I had to find out exactly how this world of the stickleback was formed, what were its problems, what were its solutions to its problems? I had to become a stickleback; and for three years I sat in front of a hundred tanks filled with sticklebacks. I wrote my thesis on stickleback behaviour, and during that time I really became that fish. If I put my human problems on to that fish, then my study was worthless; what I had to do was really get inside the skin of that fish, and to see the world through its eyes, and to smell the world through its nose, and to feel myself beating the water with its fins.

“Through a period of five or six years doing research at Oxford I became one animal after another. Each time I moved on to a different kind of fish and then to various kinds to birds and mammals – I had to put myself in its position and to judge the world through its standards. This is the important attitude which the student of animal behaviour must have.”