Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Exultant Ark

The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure

Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Exultant Ark
    Book Description:

    Nature documentaries often depict animal life as a grim struggle for survival, but this visually stunning book opens our eyes to a different, more scientifically up-to-date way of looking at the animal kingdom. In more than one hundred thirty striking images,The Exultant Arkcelebrates the full range of animal experience with dramatic portraits of animal pleasure ranging from the charismatic and familiar to the obscure and bizarre. These photographs, windows onto the inner lives of pleasure seekers, show two polar bears engaged in a bout of wrestling, hoary marmots taking time for a friendly chase, Japanese macaques enjoying a soak in a hot spring, a young bull elk sticking out his tongue to catch snowflakes, and many other rewarding moments. Biologist and best-selling author Jonathan Balcombe is our guide, interpreting the images within the scientific context of what is known about animal behavior. In the end, old attitudes fall away as we gain a heightened sense of animal individuality and of the pleasures that make life worth living for all sentient beings.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94864-8
    Subjects: Zoology

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-v)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vi-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
    (pp. 1-19)

    Each winter, throngs of crows gather at the shopping plaza near my home in suburban Maryland. These birds have a lust for life; on the most bitterly cold mornings, I walk briskly to the bus stop in multilayered winter clothing while the crows, garbed in the same outfits they wear in summer, flap about and cavort boisterously as if the chill were nothing. Some mornings two hundred or more of the lustrous black birds are drawn to the Dumpster at one end of the parking lot. They loiter there like spectators at a sporting event, keeping a close eye on...

  5. Play
    (pp. 20-39)

    Of all the behaviors animals engage in, play is the least controversial in its suggestion of feelings of pleasure. Animal play has an unmistakable quality. The whole comportment of the participants exudes joie de vivre. Playing has an important role in survival. When animals and humans play games such as chasing, wrestling, or tug-of-war, they gain or maintain physical strength and learn important survival skills or proper social behavior. This is probably why play is more prevalent in younger animals: they are growing and have more to learn. But although it is important, play is not indispensable to survival. It...

  6. Food
    (pp. 40-61)

    Feeding oneself is one of life’s basic assignments. Living requires energy, so bellies need filling. It takes a lot of nectar to fuel a hummingbird, a mother tern needs many fish meals to grow her eggs, and a busy mouse may make two hundred or more foraging trips in a single night. But securing nourishment is not all work and no play. In fact, the fundamental importance of food is a strong driver of food-associated pleasure systems. We know from personal experience that the pleasure of food includes anticipation, consumption, and (provided we haven’t overstuffed ourselves) the feeling of satiation....

  7. Touch
    (pp. 62-81)

    My home in the suburbs of Washington, DC, is situated about seventeen miles from a sanctuary for formerly abused or neglected farmed animals. Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary occupies four hundred acres of beautiful rural countryside abutting the Potomac River. Walnut and persimmon trees dot the winding, mile-long gravel driveway. A pair of bald eagles has nested for twenty years high atop an oak tree near the original homestead, which dates to 1760. In its ten years of operation, Poplar Spring has flourished in the capable hands of its founders and full-time residents, Terry Cummings and Dave Hoerauf. Among its four...

  8. Courtship and Sex
    (pp. 82-101)

    Few people are acquainted with much scientific information about animal sexual behavior. And the chances are good that whatever you may have learned wasn’t about pleasure. It’s a recurring theme in this book that science rarely places animal behavior in a pleasurable context. And sex is no exception. As a rule, scientists treat animal sex in strictly evolutionary terms. It’s not that a scientist would necessarily deny that animals may enjoy sex. Rather, it’s just that the sensual—dare I sayerotic?—nature of reproductive biology usually goes unexamined.

    There are some notable exceptions. I remember well a lecture given...

  9. Love
    (pp. 102-121)

    Love is any of various emotions that relate to feelings of strong attachment to another. The origin of such feelings probably lies in their benefit to inclusive fitness—the sum of an organism’s reproductive output and that of relatives with shared genes.1 Love motivates individuals to care for and protect one another, which in turn confers a survival advantage. For example, parents who are emotionally attached to each other are more likely to cooperate effectively in raising young. But while love has origins that may be ultimate and evolutionary in nature, it is also an emotion felt by individuals.


  10. Comfort
    (pp. 122-141)

    Comfort is something we usually associate with leisure or luxury. Settling into a soft chair, pressing one’s face into a hot face towel, or bedding down for a good night’s sleep—these things feel good. It’s as if our bodies were saying: “Ah, that’s better.”

    Actually, feelings of comfort are the product of one of nature’s most basic and important requirements: homeostasis. Homeostasis is about maintaining a stable, constant internal condition. If an animal feels too cold, she seeks warmth. Too hot, and she will act to make herself cooler.

    Hunger is relieved by the pleasure of a meal, thirst...

  11. Companionship
    (pp. 142-163)

    Even the most solitary of animals must at some point consort with members of their own species—that is, if they expect to reproduce. Among the more social species, companionship is part of everyday life.

    Social living is a triumph of cooperation over competition. Companionship has numerous benefits. Congregating with others permits the sharing of information, such as where to find food or a good roosting site. Groups may also be able to secure food that a single individual might not. The success of lions, hyenas, and wolves lies in their ability to subdue large prey that an individual alone...

  12. Other Pleasures
    (pp. 164-184)

    The sources of pleasure so far covered—play, food, touch, courtship and sex, love, comfort, and companionship—are not exhaustive. There are many other experiences that may inspire good feelings. Animals might, for instance, take pleasure in aesthetic beauty. Some might be thrill seekers. Others might have a sense of humor or mischief. We might include curiosity on the list of emotions that may be a source of animal pleasure.

    Evolution has forged diverse paths to aesthetic beauty. Flowers and fruits evolved specifically to attract animals, whose ability to move from one place to another facilitates the dispersal of a...

    (pp. 185-196)

    When I set out to write this book, I considered whether it should be just a feel-good book or whether it should say something more. I soon decided on the latter. There is nothing wrong with feeling good for its own sake, and I hope people derive much pleasure and joy from this book. But, as the moon bear on page 177 reminds us, all is not well in the human relationship with animals. Change is needed.

    This closing chapter is less focused on pleasure as such than on its significance to our appreciation and understanding of the animal kingdom....

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 197-199)
    (pp. 200-206)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 207-214)