Select one of the keywords
Becoming a Tiger: How Baby Animals Learn to Live in the Wild    by Susan McCarthy order for
Becoming a Tiger
by Susan McCarthy
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Becoming a Tiger, Susan McCarthy, co-author of When Elephants Weep, explains to us, with wit and humor, how animals learn to be what they were born to be. How does 'a fuzzy, stumbling tiger kitten' become 'a monstrously efficient killer'? McCarthy tells us that the learning required 'is the ultimate combination of nature and nurture'. She cites research involving a wide range of critters, organizing it into different aspects of learning, such as 'Learning Your Species', 'How Not to be Eaten', and 'How to Pass It On'.

We read about otter experimentation; trial and error learning in young herring gulls; imitation amongst cats, dogs and dolphins; play behavior in keas; signing and nonvocal communication amongst chimps, gorillas and orangutans; personality variation amongst octopuses; elephant self-medication and midwifery; bonobo invention of rain hats; innovations developed by apes digging for termites; song fads amongst humpback whales; bowerbird artistic expression; a cultural cooperation in a human-dolphin fishery that has gone on since 1847; and much, much more. Did you ever wonder how an elephant learns to use its trunk properly? It's described in this book, and the mostly serious material is lightened by accounts of various comedies of errors, from 'Mafia cuckoos', to the lioness who persisted in raising an oryx calf, or the ravens who mimicked explosions and flushing toilets.

Many examples underline the importance of active learning in different species, and there is a fascinating discussion of teaching amongst nonhumans - 'opportunity teaching, coaching, and active teaching.' I enjoyed reading about 'Macchiavellian Intelligence' and also about different animal cultures, noting that 'The shortcut that is culture allows animals to learn things their predecessors have learned without having to take as much time or run as many risks.' The final chapter on 'What Learning Tells Us About Intelligence' is especially intriguing, including chimp Koko's consistent score of 70-90 on age-graded (human) IQ tests. McCarthy talks about repeated failures to find unique rules that differentiate Man from other animals, suggesting that perhaps instead 'what's different about us is quantity. We're unusually smart, we're really chatty, and we've taken the tool thing to ridiculous extremes.'

Reading Becoming a Tiger, one feels that the author is cheering all the animals on, in their learning and self-expression. Susan McCarthy's detailed accounts of animal behavior will fascinate, delight, and entertain both animal lovers and students of animal psychology.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews