Anthropomorphism and Monster
Anthropomorphism – “the attribution of human traits, emotions, and intentions to non-human entities (like animals).” During animal behavior classes in undergrad I remember hearing a lot about anthropomorphism, so much so that I remember getting into arguments with other people because I insisted that animals had emotions and they thought it was impossible to prove and thoughts like that were only from our own bias. Sadly, undergrad was a very long time ago, however, gladly now non-human animals having emotions is widely accepted. But Anthropomorphism is still discouraged and I myself am usually pretty good with not inferring meaning onto any one behavior, I try to stay objective. In fact I also realize the dangers of anthropomorphizing animal behaviors. For example, the selfie craze with wildlife is partially because people actually think the animals like it! The latest abusive sloth photo was taken with the idea that the sloth was participating in the photo somehow and was “chilled out” and happy to be a part of some random man’s selfie, the sloth’s arm was raised because he was trying to defend himself not because he wanted to create an epic selfie! If anyone stopped and really thought about it they might realize that sloths do not raise their arms for selfies nor do they raise their arms for yoga poses, they might realize that there are other reasons a sloth would raise it’s arm and then maybe just maybe they would realize the stress they were causing to that animal.
So it is with full knowledge of the dangers of anthropomorphizing, that I am about to do just that. However, I do have proof to support my claims.
Monster wants to be FREE, Monster is happy as a FREE sloth, and even: was Monster thinking about freedom before her release?
During the course of a soft release, the sloths have access to the cage any time they want it. It also means that if we need to do a health check (weights, measurements etc) we can do this inside the cage. After the first 36 hours of Monster’s release she came down to poop in the middle of the night around Midnight. I came out to check her over and make sure her collar was still secure. Everything looked great but a big storm was starting and the wind was blowing hard. I was also surprised that Monster hadn’t wanted to come back inside the cage at all, I was a little worried that maybe she didn’t remember how to get back. I decided to put her back in the cage so she could get better protection from the storm and also a refresher on where the cage was and how to get back incase she needed anything. It was already after Midnight at that point and I was supposed to be back there by 6am for my Monster tracking shift, so we shut the sloth sized door to the cage knowing I would be back in a few hours to open the door and see if she wanted to leave. By then Monster was already eating from one of the feeding hangers inside of the cage. She seemed happy inside and I needed some sleep!
At 6am the next morning I arrived at the cage to an image that still gives me chills! Having spent almost 6 months in the pre-release cage preparing for her release, Monster had many different favorite sleep spots. We knew her favorite locations within the cage and we knew her regular routine. One of the areas where we never ever saw her was near the sloth sized release door, in the entire 6 months of observations leading up to her release we literally never once saw her on or near that door. That is, until this morning. I walked into the cage and Monster was quite literally hanging on the sloth door. She knew that door meant her freedom, she knew that door was a way out of the cage and she also knew that she wanted out. I immediately grabbed the ladder so I could climb up and open the door and I apologized over and over for locking her inside. As I opened the door and she immediately climbed right past me, I made her a promise that I would never lock her inside a cage against her will, EVER again.
As a scientist I am supposed to feel silly saying that I made a promise to a sloth, I am supposed to feel silly saying that Monster has the desire to be free just like me. But I don’t feel silly at all and in fact I feel like I want to shout it from the rooftops. Monster WANTS TO BE FREE! Monster LOVES her freedom!!! Freedom is important to her and it makes her happy!
Check out this video of Monster at the cage door!
Since that morning, a few weeks later, Monster was briefly in the cage for another health check and she did the same thing, she went straight to the door and actually grabbed at it as if she was trying to open the door. I immediately climbed the ladder and opened it for her because her health check was done and I told her yet again as she climbed past, ”Don’t worry baby girl, I’ll never lock you up again”.
By Sam Trull