Select one of the keywords
Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras: A Menagerie of 100 Favorite Animals    by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson order for
Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras
by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson, author of When Elephants Weep, tells us that 'All animals are as intelligent as they need to be to survive in the ecological niche they occupy; all animals are beautiful, certainly to the opposite sex; and no animals, including the human animal, should have to justify their existence in terms of how useful others find them.' In Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras, he shares with readers his wonder at the attributes of a hundred different critters, presenting a few descriptive pages and a black and white photo for each one.

Masson tells us about the armadillo's unusual jump reflex, that 'a reproducing female armadillo can delay implantation for several months', a handy ability, and how these generous animals willingly share their burrows with other species. Did you know that almost every fourth mammal is a bat, and that the common vampire bat 'is one of the planet's most altruistic animals'? Read on and learn about the extensive cities and social life (including greeting with kisses) of the black-tailed prairie dog, the matriarchal organization of the bonobo, who are neotenic like humans (that is extend childhood play into adulthood) and highly sexual.

Of dolphins, he tells us that 'Some juveniles and a few older dolphins do sometimes seem to want to be around humans, but the better their acquaintance with large numbers of humans, the less they seem to desire our company' - and who can blame them? He shares with us a wonderful poem, lamenting the loss of a gibbon by Chinese writer Wen T'ung. I learned that beavers mate for life and the males help rear the young, that the octopus has three hearts, that sea otters use tools while foraging, how pearls are produced, that pigs dream, that rat mothers raise their babies communally, and that a pregnant female polar bear can go for eight months without eating!

Masson says, 'I don't see anything we can give a free-living animal that could possibly replace the life evolution designed' and advocates for leaving them alone in their natural surroundings. By summarizing what has been learned about these hundred animals, he also makes clear how little we still understand most other species (there's a bibliography at the back of the book for anyone interested in further reading). I recommend Altruistic Armadillos, Zenlike Zebras as a fascinating resource to anyone interested in the living, feeling creatures who share our world.

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