BOOK REVIEW / Pet subjects: Jan Morris on dogs and dolphins

BARKING and miaowing, hissing and growling, this is the time of year when the animal books come into the open, and six of them have found their way through the undergrowth, past Jenks the cat, to the sanctuary of my desk. They illustrate almost the whole range of emotions, sentimental to exploitative, patronising to ga-ga, with which the human animal regards his fellow creatures.

It is true that few respectable publishers nowadays would dare issue a coffee-table book about big game hunting - it would take courage even to publish one about the Quorn. Even the anthropomorphic approach to animals, except in children's books, is likely to raise critical sneers. Nevertheless, my six books show how slowly, how equivocally, how timidly mankind is evolving its attitudes to the rest of the creatures.

Take Elliot Erwitt's handsome photographic album To The Dogs (D A P Scalo). The president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says on its jacket that the book 'uncovers the absolute wonder' of the dog, and there are certainly some pictures here which show animals of dignity. But there are also dogs hideously prettied up for shows, demeaned by over-breeding, made fools of, made slaves of, stuffed, pictured in moments of defecation or used as advertising props. The real wonder is the creepy hold the human race has established over this long-degraded species, an ascendancy breezily skirted around in Erwitt's introduction.

Then there is Into the Blue (Aquarian / Thorsons pounds 20), a book about dolphins by the altogether admirable Virginia McKenna. I have no complaints about this beautiful book's attitude to dolphins. It is straightforward in its belief that they should be left alone, and that their contacts with humanity, which have brought such delight to so many thousands of people, should be at the will of the dolphins themselves. Yet even here the human self-deception shows. Why is it always dolphins? What's so special about them? It is only because they are friendly, intelligent and seem always to be smiling that we lavish such care upon them, as against the rat or conger eel.

Candace Savage's book Peregrine Falcons (Robert Hale pounds 16.95) is also Species Correct, the worst it sanctions in the way of human interference being the tracking of falcons for protective purposes. The book is brave enough to admit that the techniques of the old falconers have been invaluable in saving the peregrine from extermination, and is properly angry about the wicked over-use of pesticides. It is a manual, in fact, of benevolent human intervention in the affairs of the animal kingdom: like a Great Power's intervention in - well, in Somalia, say.

Yet most of us probably cherish an atavistic yearning for the truly wild, where man does not intervene at all. Unfortunately there are no such worlds, but there are places where we are still far from omnipotent, and where the rest of creation is unfamiliar still.

Lake Baikal, for instance, may be frightfully polluted, but it still contains (so I learn from Realms of the Russian Bear by John Sparks, BBC Books pounds 18.95) 1,200 species of animal that are found nowhere else, including its own particular seal and a kind of shrimp that sometimes congregates in fleets of 25,000 to the sq yard. The superb picture book Ngorongoro, by the German photographer Reinhard Kunkel (Harvill pounds 40) gives the illusion that the rhinos, elephants, wild dogs and servals of northern Tanzania are still stomping about, eating each other or picking ticks out of each others' hides without reference to Homo Sapiens.

Finally, yowling, chuckling, cackling and yapping louder than any, along comes Lucinda Lambton's Magnificent Menagerie (HarperCollins pounds 20). Lambton is, I have always assumed, the person Dorothy Field the lyricist had in mind when she wrote about keeping one's breathless charm, and this highly engaging anthology of animal anecdotes shows that she is successfully following the advice. In its irrepressible pages we learn how to walk like a chamelon, we hear of a clergyman whose pet mouse's ears suggested to him the Gates of Heaven, we are told the price of a rat-pie (assuming four rats to a pie), we read of a baboon working railway signals, a bird which could stand on its head, and a cotamundi which, having roasted its own tail in a fire, ate it with enjoyment. Between the lines we see entertainingly illustrated every aspect of the relationship between man and the other creatures, except only one: absolute, unquestioning equality of rights.

This is the great challenge which the human race is approaching with such equivocation, unable to believe that man himself is no more than another animal, with no more soul than a slug, no more claim to privilege than a wart-hog. We lord it over the rest by force majeure, just as not so long ago the imperialists lorded it over the hapless subject peoples. In Magnificent Menagerie Kipling indulges himself in some sickly stuff about an ever-faithful dog following its master into heaven; how I wish he could have followed his instincts for racial equality into species equality too, and written something like this: But here is neither patron or pet, culling or conservation, when man and beast stand face to face, though they come from the ends of creation.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence