Yes, the Animals
I 1 Understand • • THE extent to which animals can he taught to understand human speech has for long been a matter of intriguing interest to a number of people. The horse and the elephant are known to be among the most teachable in this respect, but almost any mammal and a great many birds can be taught to recognise a certain vocabulary, provided it is carefully selected.
My own experience with domestic and some farm animals is that vowel sounds are the most important and should always be stressed, and that whenever possible a single word should he used. If these are repeated in the same connection every day, short sentences will very quickly be recognised. And in the training of domestic animals a word of praise is much more effective than some tit-bit.
Conversely, to ignore a dog that has done wrong drives his guilt home far more effectively than would a scolding. ' He just can't bear it.
Cats, of course. know when they are being talked about, but this, I am sure, is not a matter of intelligence but of that sixth sense that they possess to such an uncanny degree.
INSTANCES of this kind of thing are the experience of anybody who studies even the most ordinary farm or domestic animals, but in " Seal Morning " (Hutchinsons, 15s.), Rowena Farre, who has collected a number of unusual pets and studied them closely, gives an account of her various experiments.
Miss Farre lived with an aunt in a lonely croft in Sutherland in conditions so primitive that housing a seal and a couple of otters, together with squirrels and a tame rat. was merely a question of adjustment. The seal learned to recognise 35 words, including the names of various people. The female otter learned 18, though her mate could memorise only 16. Her dog responded to 12 different words and the rat to five, while the two squirrels managed only five.
Seals. of course, are known to be of almost human intelligence, and this particular one. Lora, was a lady of outstanding charm and ability. She " made " her own bed (a low bamboo couch on which a macintosh had to he spread when she came in dripping from the nearby loch). She met the postman and took the letters from him; played the mouth-organ and xylophone and blew ear-splitting blasts on a top trumpet. and from a concert platform in Aberdeen she responded so warmly to the applause of her public that she insisted on gate-crashing the entire
bill. The evening," writes her
embarrassed owner, " ended with a sing-song in which, I need hardly say, Lora outsang the rest of us."
IT is surprising in a book of this
sort, written with so obvious a love for and understanding of all forms of wild life, to find an account of the caging of wild cats, known to be among the fiercest of our native mammals. Although these two were caught as kittens, they never accepted as friends their human captors, but snarled and bit to the end. They fell sick eventually and had to he set free. The male went off but the female was too weak to follow him very far and was found dead the next morning.
Miss Farre does not spare herself or her reader in her description of this harrowing experience, which had the effect of confirming her in the opinion that "for no purpose whatsoever should a bird or animal be caged except for the briefest periods."