Do Animals Punish?

I don’t think they do. I think punishing is the human difference, the human genius – as well as the human madness.

I think animals teach their children by example.

People have told me that animals punish, that that’s what they’re doing when for example, a lion or lioness snarls and yells and swats a cub, or maybe bites a cub when the cub tries to eat the food the adult is eating.

Now if the adult cat here is trying to teach the cub to wait its turn, or just not to try to take the adult’s food, maybe, but I doubt it. I think this is a case of teaching by example. I think the adult is teaching the cub, by example, to protect its share of the food. This is an important, real life lesson for a lion. The lion that doesn’t do that will be starved out.

If this is an example of punishing, I have a few comments:

1. Is this the only thing lions do that looks like punishment?

– yes, I think it is. I don’t think they punish their kids for other things cubs do wrong, like wandering away into trouble, bothering the alpha male, not learning how to hunt, or just lazily not hunting. I think for wandering, mom might bring them back, but that’s all. I think they let the alpha male look after his own peace of mind, or the cub gets eaten, and I think a lion that won’t hunt or can’t learn may eventually be exiled and starved, but I haven’t ever seen on TV that a cub is beaten for refusing to learn.

(If anyone has seen that, if there are animal behaviourists in the house, please, let me know.)

2.  Teaching by punishing is a human thing. As another example, how does a prey animal, a deer or a rabbit “teach” its young to run and hide from the predators? By example – because, let’s turn that upside-down: does anyone think a deer or a rabbit hangs around to punish a child who doesn’t run while the wolves approach?

No, doing the wrong thing while simply telling your child to do the right thing and punishing him when he doesn’t – say, abusing your child about smoking and/or drinking when those are things you do – is a luxury animals can’t afford. The deer, the rabbit, they teach by example, and hope to stay alive to do it again tomorrow.

2 thoughts on “Do Animals Punish?

  1. April 9, 2014 / 5:03 am

    An e-book could also serve as a possible advertising tool for any profitable website or blog. Writing skill, like every skill improves with learning and practice.


    • neighsayer April 9, 2014 / 7:00 am

      yeah, I have a sort of un-polished textbook I put together on this subject that will never get published. I plan to offer it free on here as a PDF file, once I finish giving up on it . . .

      Also, believe it or not, I think I have begun to improve, I’ve been writing more for a few years now . . .


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