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ILA FRANCE PORCHER
Ethologist, wildlife artist, author
Having observed wild animals as a wildlife artist all my life, I am now working full time to establish the sentience of animals in the literature. I have known a range of species very well, and often made copious notes about their daily actions. These actions seemed to leave no doubt that the animal, no matter which one it happened to be, was thinking.
Cognition, or thinking in animals, is shown when an individual must have thought about a situation and come to a conclusion, or decision, instead of using trial and error.
Every species I have observed so far, including sharks, has not only shown nearly continuous evidence of cognition, but was able to hold an idea in mind for long periods while working towards a goal. Such intentional behaviour by an animal, assuming a future in the making and demonstrating learning from the past, suggests the presence of an over-seeing, self-serving awareness, or consciousness, that manipulates the mental concepts (thoughts), makes moment-to-moment decisions, and keeps its purposes in mind as it pursues its life.
After all, for an animal to survive in this world, it must be able to comprehend reality accurately enough to respond to it appropriately, or it will go straight into evolution’s garbage can.
My books reflect my approach of watching the actions and interactions of individuals, and showing how these actions reveal animals to be sentient, intelligent beings, pursuing lives that very much matter to them.
My latest book:
The SPIRIT OF wILD DUCKS
Though until now I have written mostly about sharks, when I was not with them, I was studying birds, and in publishing my bird material I begin with the story of a flock of ducks that lived upon the river Yerre in France. Their story is complicated by the hunting season which devastated them, and the pollution of their river which caused them to fall ill every few weeks. The accounts of the events in their lives are supplemented by a generous photo-documentation inserted into the text which transports you into their intimate company. This is the first such in-depth documentation of duck behaviour.
In knowing the cognitive abilities, social natures, and spirit of these unusual birds, you will never think about ducks in the same way again.
The True Nature of SharkS
This timely book will make the mysterious world of sharks come alive for you. On meeting reef sharks, I saw immediately that they are very different from the mammals and birds we are more familiar with, so launched an intensive study of their behaviour, their social structure, and their daily lives, which lasted for seven years. These observations were supplemented with shorter periods of underwater observation of wild tiger, bull, and lemon sharks. I was credited with finding a way to study sharks without killing them, and yet no one from the marine science community has done any comparable studies of wild sharks underwater. Shark science has underestimated these maligned animals, and this failure of biological inquiry is examined too, in this ground-breaking book.
It includes the findings of other researchers to lay out a full-scale study of shark behaviour.
The Shark sessions
The True Nature of Sharks lays out the findings of my ethological study of reef sharks, and The Shark Sessions tells the story of the study. Isolated in Tahiti, I tried to understand these unusual animals and soon identified 600 blackfin reef sharks; I could recognize 300 on sight. Other species also used the lagoon. The book includes the visit of a BBC film crew after my findings that sharks were using cognition were announced at a conference at the Max Planck Institute. For by then they were being massacred for the shark fin soup market, and I wanted to get the news of their plight out of the country. I wrote down their story so that the world would find out what they were like, and the strange and startling things that happened, for when when shark finning came to those innocent islands, they were lost...
Merlin: THe Mind
of a Sea Turtle
While the intelligent awareness, and consciousness of our pets is increasingly accepted in our society, a strong prejudice lingers against the idea that animals considered "cold" and "low," such as fish, sharks, amphibians, and reptiles, could be sentient. This book shows how mistaken such an attitude really is. The lives of sea turtles in the context of a society that hunts them are revealed in vivid words in this account of what happened to four sea turtles in Tahiti.
Their actions in different situations provide a revealing glimpse into their minds. They could plan ahead, cooperate against their own instincts and use deceptive strategies. They remembered abuse and tried to avoid more suffering, and their behaviour was flexible according to the circumstances.
This evidence of their conscious approach to life provides another reason to insist on their protection.