‘Inside Animal Hearts and Minds’ by Belinda Recio Is About Animal Intelligence, Emotion, and Humanity

inside animal hearts and minds

“Inside Animal Hearts and Minds: Bears that Count, Goats that Surf, and Other True Stories of Animal Intelligence and Emotion” by Belinda Recio is a wonderful read filled with lovely photos of animals and information about how animals have many, many abilities of which most humans are unaware.

Part One is about the heart. She begins by explaining how animals laugh and express humor just as we do. Did you know that rats laugh and are ticklish? They will even perform tasks — not just for food — to get tickled. Included in this chapter is information about Koko, the signing gorilla who definitely has a sense of humor, and other gorillas who enjoy a good prank. Dolphins, too, have exhibited a sense of humor. There are many more animals whose behavior makes them, at least when it comes to humor, very human-like.

Another chapter gives examples of animals’ generous nature: crows and cats who bear gifts, and a female leopard seal who tried to gift a photographer with a meal — penguins. Alive and dead. When the photographer wanted no part of the penguins, she didn’t take it personally. Animals also have a sense of fairness and will stop cooperating if they feel that they are being treated unfairly.  Ironically, the animals to whom we are closest, dogs, are the least likely to care if they are treated unfairly. If one dog gets a piece of steak and another is given a biscuit, the biscuit-boy doesn’t really care. But try that with other animals and they will stop working for less reward than their partner.

Animals just like to have fun, and Recio provides examples galore of animals like dolphins, bears, fish and goats having a good time. A Russian crow was caught on video “snowboarding” on a roof with the lid from a jar. He slid down the roof again and again — with no practical purpose except to have fun.

The second part of the book is about the minds of animals. Readers will learn which animals are self-aware; that is, which animals look in a mirror and know that they are looking at themselves. Recio also provides information about the language of animals. Prairie dogs have very specific language abilities and use them to describe humans passing through “their” territory.  Many animals have the ability to do simple math and count things. Even baby chicks can tell which of two groups has the greater number.

Part Two also includes information about how animals use tools. We used to think that what separated humans from animals was that humans use tools and animals don’t. But animals — including ants — do use tools. Some of the ants even keep aphids as livestock and clip their wings so they can’t escape.

At the end of the book are notes about sources for the information. This book is a fabulous read full of fascinating information about the animal world around us. It’s a perfect gift for animal lovers or students who would like to learn more about the creatures who share our world.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Skyhorse Publishing for review purposes.

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