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A wildlife expert explores what science tells us about animals as unique individuals and why animal personality matters for the human-animal bond and for adaptation in nature.
Why are some cats cuddly and others standoffish? Why are some dogs adventuresome, others homebodies? As any pet owner can attest, we feel that the animals we've formed bonds with are unique, as particular (and peculiar) as any human friend or loved one.
Recent years have brought an increased understanding of animal intelligence and emotion. But is there a scientific basis for animal personality and individuality, or is this notion purely sentimental? It turns out that science has been reluctant to even broach the subject of individuality until recently. But now, a fundamental shift in scientific understanding is underway, as mainstream scientists begin to accept the idea that animals of all kinds – from beloved beasts like apes and birds to decidedly less cuddly creatures like crabs and spiders – do indeed have individual personalities.
In Mousy Cats and Sheepish Coyotes, veteran wildlife expert John A. Shivik brings us stories from the front lines of this exciting new discipline. Drawing on his scientific training, as well as his storytelling gifts, Shivik serves as an accessible, humorous guide to the emerging body of research on animal personalities. Shivik accompanies researchers who are discovering that each wolf, bear, and coyote has an inherent tendency to favour either its aggressive nature or to shyly avoid conflicts. Some bluebirds are lovers, others are fighters. And some spiders prefer to be loners, while others are sociable. Unique personalities can be discovered in every corner of the animal kingdom – even among microscopic organisms. The array of personality types among all species is only beginning to be described and understood.
As Shivik argues, animals' unique personalities are important not only because they determine which animals we bond with. Individual animal traits are also fundamental but still inadequately understood drivers of evolution, adaptation, and species diversity. Ultimately, Mousy Cats and Sheepish Coyotes offers insight into the similarities humans share with animals and presents evidence of an unbroken biological connection from the smallest organisms to Homo sapiens.
John Shivik has served as a federal researcher, state predator biologist, federal regional wildlife program manager, and search-and-rescue dog handler. He has worked with wild and captive wolves, bears, and coyotes across North America, studied the sensory biology of brown treesnakes on Guam, and assisted with carnivore management in Europe. Throughout his career, Shivik has studied, applied, and written extensively on the discipline of animal behavior. He has published widely in numerous scientific journals and the popular press, including the book The Predator Paradox: Ending the War with Wolves, Bears, Cougars, and Coyotes.
"Anyone who's had the pleasure (or not) of spending time with other animals, ranging from insects to reptiles to fish to birds to big-brained mammals, knows they're unique individuals with a wide variety of personalities. In this important book, Dr. John Shivik combines cutting-edge science with wonderful stories and shows that a wide variety of nonhumans are neither mindless nor all the same. Rather, they're fascinating beings who can be timid, bold, shy, outgoing, and, on occasion, downright obnoxious. And it's their unique personalities that bond us to them, because in so many ways they display the same range of personalities as do we."
– Marc Bekoff, author of The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age
"Dr. John Shivik relates his personal conversion to the viewpoint that each animal has his or her own personality, an idea that scientists have resisted until recently. This enjoyable book is loaded with fun personal anecdotes, as well as solid scientific information. I highly recommend it."
– Con Slobodchikoff, author of Chasing Doctor Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals
"I'll tell you what's rarer than a mousy cat or a sheepish coyote: a behavioral scientist who's gutsy enough to admit he had animals pegged all wrong! Brave, funny, honest, and insightful, John Shivik's new book chronicles his transformation and the revelations that come with understanding that, like people, all animals are individuals. From cats to coyotes to guppies to bees, the individual animals you'll meet in these pages will blow your mind, warm your heart, and make your hair stand on end. This important book heralds a scientific revolution. Don't miss it."
– Sy Montgomery, author of The Soul of an Octopus