ellenhighwater

The Naming of Animals

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It seems more and more I'm reading reports here and articles online that refer to specific animals, most often big cats, by a given first name. "Cecil" "Eleanor" etc. I have mixed feelings about this practice. On the one hand it's so enjoyable to find out the life story of a specific animal - its lineage, territories and behaviors and by attaching a name to a specific individual it's easier for guides to recall these histories. Naming animals can bring public attention to issues of conservation as it appeals to the emotions. On the other hand, this feels like fairly radical anthropomorphism and I worry that naming only the 'sexy' animals such as big cats does a disservice to the other wildlife.

 

In general I feel a bit uneasy about this practice, though I can't exactly pinpoint why. Perhaps it's from my own uneasiness around the fact that I feel issues of conservation most often make the news when it's an emotional rather than intellectual issue and that is what's driving some of the conservation issues of today. Thoughts guys?

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I don't mind it. Most tigers in India are named (sometimes a T followed by a numerical suffix)- atleast ones in tourism zones and are more famous. It has kind of helped me to tie up the family trees for example and also made more people excited about these mega fauna. As has been proven, saving them potentially saves habitat and hence the lesser fauna + flora too. However, it also sometimes leads to over fixation with specific individuals like it happened with a tiger named Ustad in India which had to be translocated due to attack on humans. (Against which there were many misplaced protests and criticism of field personnel and forest department by media and general public)

This fixation could sometimes harm the larger and more critical endeavor of species and habitat protection. But net-net Im ok with the naming !

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@@ellenhighwater

Since I started as a guide in 1990, it has been considered unprofessional to name wild animals. At my first private reserve in the Sabi Sands it was strictly verboten to refer to an animal by its nickname over the radio or even in conversation that may be overheard by the guest. Did that stop us? Hell no! Territorial animals, in particular the cats, become exceptionally well known as individuals. Their personalities (despite that anthropomorphic connotation) are distinct and one gets to know them rather intimately. It is not only cats, but other distinct individuals attract our propensity to name. Nelson (one eye, one tusk) is an extremely gentle elephant bull that roams across northern Botswana - his tolerance and acceptance belies his enormous and intimidating bulk. Light Bulb (distinct ear notch) was another elephant with a mischievous humour that earned him a rather infamous reputation. He would ambush game drive vehicles and give them a full blooded charge that soiled more than a few trousers of learner guides - never once carrying it through, but I suspect he got a great chuckle out of it.

Anthropomorphism is something I feel we should not shy away from. The more we are a part of nature rather than apart from it, the better are the chances for its survival. 'Anthropomorphism' implies that we are separate, unattached, above, etc. and I believe that is the root cause for so many conservation issues.

Excuse me now - my resident bushbuck, Droopy Lip and Greylash are staring at me through the kitchen window hoping for some stale bread.

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Posted (edited)

I'm not a safari guide or an environmentalist or a wildlife conservationist. I'm just a safari tourist who wants to keep updated about what is going to happen to wildlife, animal welfare and its management in the macro broader eco-system.

 

For me, naming of animals allow us to hear their stories and help us realise that animals are not just a group of creatures, but with personalities. whether the anti-tree huggers and anti-anthropomorphic will cringe at "identifying" an animal or not, there is no denying that naming an animal which then becomes familiar to a broader audience draws in the crowds. Perhaps too much of a crowd in certain places, but nevertheless it still raises the awareness of wildlife and related issues. documentaries or nature shows that focuses on a story of an animal is a big promoter for safaris.

 

at the end of the day, what does conservation want to achieve? a broader recognition and awareness of wildlife and fauna issues, or keep that confined only to the researchers? if the latter, where are the tourism revenues, needed to keep the parks alive, going to come from other than hunting? researchers also depend on donation, and donations will come from people who are sympathetic to the issue, and that could come from recognising and identifying the individual animal. And it's not only the big charismatic animals that will benefit surely. that enjoyment of wildlife cascades downwards to the smaller and no less charismatic creatures as well.

 

I wish I had a droopy lip and greylash to attend to too :blink:

Edited by Kitsafari
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I'm still ambivalent about the naming of 'wild' animals.

I can understand that giving a frequently seen animal a nickname denotes familiarity but who chooses the nickname?

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I really appreciate when a big cat/famous elephants have names. I don't care if it is an actual name or something like M017 or two-two (e.g. for leopards). I just want to be able to know an animal's history and to be able to find about these animals when I am home through internet updates done by camps or/and research groups. It also doubles my enjoyment when returning to same place I can find all updates on animals I saw during previous safaris and can see them again.

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I told this story in my last TR, but even the guides use the names amongst each other. We had a sighting one night on the way back after dark, and my guide picked up the radio and shot off some rapid fire Swahili that I didn't understand, except for "Acacia, Acacia" with the same response coming back from his fellow guides on the other end of the line. It turns out we'd happened upon the leopard called Acacia, whom they hadn't seen in some months and presumed dead at that point. It ended up being the talk of the camp that night, that she'd finally reappeared. But I wonder how they would have identified her to each other had she not had a name? If nothing more, it's convenient.

 

I'm more like bettel in wanting to be able to keep track of the animals (mainly on social media and TRs here) I saw when I get home. It's more an attempt at self-preservation and motivation when I return to harsh reality but an enjoyable "hobby" nonetheless.

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Posted (edited)

When the whole Cecil the Lion affair blew up in the media, people on the pro-hunting side of the argument and those who don’t feel strongly about animals, suggested that naming animals was ridiculous and that Cecil was a silly name for a lion. In another thread I stated that Cecil the Lion was first seen at place in Hwange called Magisihole Pan “Whiteman’s Waterhole” I found out later that it is more correctly “Englishman’s Waterhole” the researchers from WildCRU seeing two magnificent young male lions named one Cecil after Rhodes the most famous Englishman in the country’s history and the other Leander after Cecil Rhodes’s right hand man Dr Leander Starr Jameson. Leander was killed in a fight with another lion so he’d died well before the killing of his brother Cecil hit the headlines. So in Cecil’s case he was named by scientists working for WildCRU’s Hwange Lion Project not by safari guides or film makers, if you are following lions around and studying them it makes sense to give them names. I have to say that anyone stating that Cecil is a silly name for a lion is demonstrating that their knowledge of Africa or at least of Zimbabwe is a little bit limited if they couldn’t work out who he might have been named after.

 

Originally scientific researchers studying animal behaviour gave their study animals numbers rather than names because they believed this would ensure that they remained objective and did not anthropomorphise the behaviours that they observed. When the primatologist Jane Goodall started researching the chimps of Gombe Stream in Tanzania in 1960 because she did not come from a scientific background she threw this rule out of the window and gave her Chimps proper names. This was seriously frowned upon at the time and a lot of proper scientists were very critical however given everything that she and others have revealed about chimps we might well now think it somewhat ridiculous not to give them proper names. When chimps behave in a way that is similar to humans it is reasonable to assume that they are doing it for the same reasons we would behave that way and we probably wouldn’t now consider it anthropomorphism to say so. The fact that we give them names does not mean that we see them as more human and misinterpret their behaviour as a result.

 

Now it is common practice for researchers to give animals names or they may give them both a number to be objective and scientific but also a nickname because that’s easier to remember.

 

Safari guides and camps or filmmakers giving names to animals is a slightly different matter. I remember being told many years ago at Kwara in Botswana that they didn’t name camp bull elephants because although the animals appear tame they of course aren’t, giving them names could give their more foolish guests the wrong impression. Whether they seeing these elephants all the time did in fact give them names but just didn’t tell the guests what they were I don’t know it would seem surprising if they didn’t name them at all. With film makers certainly with the BBC they may have been given an outline of the story they need to tell before they start filming and they have to then try and obtain the necessary footage to tell that story. I’ve no doubt on more than a few occasions this has meant that what we are led to believe is one cheetah is actually several different ones, though these days when they do that they would have to make it clear at some point that it was more than one animal. I seem to recall that when Disney made a film about lions in the Mara they gave them completely different names to the ones they already had, the ones people would have been familiar with from watching the BBC’s Big Cat Diary. I'm not quite sure what was wrong with the original names I guess they weren't as it were 'Hollywood' enough.

 

Unless you are a scientific purist who believes that Jane Goodall should not have named her chimps I don’t think one can really object to scientists naming animals and suggest that the researchers from WildCRU were wrong to give lion a name. As Cecil was a very well known lion it’s only natural that local safari guides and then tourists would learn that he had been named Cecil and would then use the name when they saw him. Maybe the fact that he had a name coloured how we saw his death maybe we wouldn’t have paid so much attention if he was just another ordinary nameless lion. His death has raised the question of whether lion hunting is sustainable and also brought the plight of lions generally in to the media spotlight. Creating awareness of the fact that lions are disappearing whether trophy hunting is a significant part of the problem or not is surely a good thing, maybe lions should be thankful that a researcher named one of their kind Cecil.

Edited by inyathi
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it is necessary to be able to identify individual animals for field zoological research

 

the longer term practice was to use letters and numbers

 

Iain Douglas Hamilton for his Lake Manyara research started to use names, other early examples of this include Cynthia Moss at Amboseli and Diana Fossey with her mountain gorilla work

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~ @@Kitsafari, @@amybatt and @@bettel

 

Thank you for your posts which I found helpful.

I'm not at all inclined to bestow names on anything.

When I joined Safaritalk last year I was puzzled by the references to specic big cats by names, as I hadn't encountered that during the safaris in Kenya.

Over time I've understood what underlies naming animals.

All three of you have persuasively explained how naming animals facilitates ongoing appreciation of a given animal's life.

In all candor, without any intention to be ironic or jocular, I've often wondered if animals ever name us...

Tom K.

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I prefer no names personally since I am just a tourist and don't plan to be visiting somewhere often enough to actually follow individual animals like guides or researchers do. They can be very useful though. I always preferred the old style of Pumphouse Male or Skimmer Pride Females as a compromise.

 

And calling a lion Cecil or Bob or Mary is a bit weird to me. It might be more appropriate if they were called things like Atilla, Rosemary and Fred, the Kalahari Strangler, the Ruaha Ripper, Bundy, Hades, Custer, Ol Nick, Kali and so on. :)

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As we rarely get to be introduced, we tend to call animals and birds we see by their surnames -so Hello Mr Gnu, or Mr Magpie.9under our breaths if other safarigoers are in the vehicle).It did get a bit tricky when we saw the migration though. Still as me and the human female no 1 that I share a territory with say ( as I like to call her) , it takes all sorts.

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I prefer no names personally since I am just a tourist and don't plan to be visiting somewhere often enough to actually follow individual animals like guides or researchers do. They can be very useful though. I always preferred the old style of Pumphouse Male or Skimmer Pride Females as a compromise.

 

And calling a lion Cecil or Bob or Mary is a bit weird to me. It might be more appropriate if they were called things like Atilla, Rosemary and Fred, the Kalahari Strangler, the Ruaha Ripper, Bundy, Hades, Custer, Ol Nick, Kali and so on. :)

 

~ @@pault

 

Thank you for an apt suggestion. Your alternative brought a smile.

If a lion were inept on kills, why not “Beelzebub the Bumbler”, or the like?

At Porini Lion, from which I returned last evening, such conventional names are in use.

However, my guide — Meshack — used Maasai names for individuals or prides, which I appreciated.

Tom K.

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As we rarely get to be introduced, we tend to call animals and birds we see by their surnames -so Hello Mr Gnu, or Mr Magpie.9under our breaths if other safarigoers are in the vehicle).It did get a bit tricky when we saw the migration though. Still as me and the human female no 1 that I share a territory with say ( as I like to call her) , it takes all sorts.

 

~ @@Towlersonsafari

 

It does indeed take all kinds to make a diverse and mirthful world.

That includes the carelessly unaware...such as yours truly.

On the Kenya safari from which I returned last evening, there was invariably a brightly red and blue agama stationed on a rock in a river crossing where we passed every game drive.

For whatever inane reason I slipped into mumbling “There's reliable Hortense on guard” each time we passed by.

However, as was pointedly noted, it was a male agama, not a female. Yet “Hortense” stuck as the name of choice throughout my stay.

How foolish these mortal safari tourists be!

Tom K.

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Posted (edited)

I came across this issue in the Pantanal, where local guides despised the habit of naming the Jaguars. I see no harm in naming the animals - I think it makes the people empathize with them more which surely can't be a bad thing? I for one like to know some background about the animals I am seeing and enjoy following up on their story when I leave. I think some people read too much into this - like it's like a sense of ownership or something which is really not the case. For research purpose animals need to be studied as individuals so why not also treat them as individuals (with a name given for ease of reference) when shown to tourists? Tourists learn more about the typical lives of a species when for example a cheetah named X missed a meal yesterday but got one today, that she had 4 cubs but lost 2 etc - it's an insight into their fascinating lives and the challenges they constantly face. Perhaps if more people realize that animals are not "all the same" we would do a lot more to protect them.

Edited by cheetah80
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Perhaps if more people realize that animals are not "all the same" we would do a lot more to protect them.

 

~ @@cheetah80

 

That's a perspective which I've never considered.

Highlighting the reality that individual animals have individual characters through naming them — very interesting.

Thank you for bringing this up. I appreciate such fresh perceptions!

Tom K.

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we had a wolf in the Lamar Pack in Yellowstone that got an unfortunate name. People were watching the wolves one day and somebody stated "she would be a pretty wolf but for her face", after that she was always called Butterface.

 

Many animals here are named, it makes it easier to keep track of them and tell their story to others. It does help people feel a connecting to the named animals and helps raise awareness of how poorly our wildlife tends to be treated.

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I feel strongly that by naming animals we all grow closer to them and take more interest in them. We feel much greater affinity to them. All of us felt closer to Cecil the lion because he had a name,as well as big tuskers in Kenya and Zimbabwe which were the victims of poaching because they had names. I not only hope that this practice continues-I hope that it grows and expands.

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Another yes for names!

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As long as they are living a wild existence unmolested by human activity than I don't really have a preference one way or another. I've heard the opinion that naming animals somehow makes them less wild because they are in regular contact with humans. I do agree that by naming an animal it can change some people's perception of an animal being truly wild or not. I understand this point of view but don't know that I completely agree as they are still roaming free and fending for themselves.

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The only thing I have about naming is that, people starts to think of animals as humans or with human feelings and desires. This is not especially good and it is not doing the animals a favor instead it makes people think of animals from a Disney perspective.

Lions kill and sometimes even eat animals while there are alive other predators do the same, not to talk about what goes on among insects, this is not cruel it is the way of nature. Cruel is a human felling it does not exist in the wild no animal’s except a few like the apes has anything close to human feelings! Animals are not humans we are alike in many ways but so very different in others and again animals are not humans.

So if it was not that so many people think human when they hear a wild animal being named I would have nothing against it.

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@@Tomas Humans (as well as lions) kill. It is nature (as you say) and humans are animals.

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@@Tomas Humans (as well as lions) kill. It is nature (as you say) and humans are animals.

Can you develop on that what do you mean?

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@@Tomas You state that to name an animal makes people think that they have human feeling & desires. I don't think that at all. By naming an animal it allows others in a discussion to know which particular individual you're talking about. I don't care whether a creature is called Fred or 'M1' but i still may want to know who it is.

 

You then stated that lions kill as if that has relevance to naming a creature. Yes they do (for many reasons) and I just said that humans kill as well. It was a round about way for me to say that all humans are animals but we name each other so we know who we are talking about.

 

As for what feelings a wild animal has... Humans are not smart enough to know what emotions they do and do not feel.

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@@Tomas You state that to name an animal makes people think that they have human feeling & desires. I don't think that at all. By naming an animal it allows others in a discussion to know which particular individual you're talking about. I don't care whether a creature is called Fred or 'M1' but i still may want to know who it is.

 

You then stated that lions kill as if that has relevance to naming a creature. Yes they do (for many reasons) and I just said that humans kill as well. It was a round about way for me to say that all humans are animals but we name each other so we know who we are talking about.

 

As for what feelings a wild animal has... Humans are not smart enough to know what emotions they do and do not feel.

Your first statment that you dont think that people look on an animal like a human if it gets a human name I think othervise, ofcourse not everyone but many tend to do so, If not I dont have any real problems with naming animals.

 

Your other statments I dont understand at all maybe you missunderstod me.

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