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ILA FRANCE PORCHER
Ethologist, author, and wildlife artist
Shark Behaviour Specialist Advisor
SHARKS EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTE
THE SPECIAL ISSUE ON ELASMOBRANCH BEHAVIOUR AND COGNITION can be accessed here:
As a wildlife artist I have observed a range of wild animals during my life, and made copious notes about them. 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.
And every species I have observed so far, including sharks, has not only shown 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. And no brain is simple, as anyone who has observed the actions of a spider will appreciate. 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.
Ila has a rare talent. It is, I suspect, an artist's eye applied to writing:
the acuteness of detail; the consciousness of context and proportion. Her clarity of intent is stunning, and beautiful. Each word is a brush stroke consciously applied. As a wordsmith, I recognise and acknowledge rare mastery. And three chapters into a subject I am not especially interested in, I am waiting with a low, gnawing hunger for more. That alone tells me I have found something special. I have been lured to the doorstep of a Tolkein-esque world and primed, ready to meet an array of inhabitants I have barely imagined yet know I will come to love.
--Allan Baddock, film maker, New Zealand
BIRDS ARE IMPOSSIBLE
The Supernatural Ways of the Fliers
This latest work examines the mystery of birds through the presentation of a variety of individuals of many species. It goes farther than illustrating how their actions and abilities reveal their consciousness; it shows that they are a transcendent life-form very different from us. Though we have always considered ourselves to be superior to all, around the world birds fly beneath our gazes, build houses using local materials, talk, sing, dance, and love, even in regions that humans have been unable to conquer. Though often small, flying is not the only thing they do that defies human abilities. They see more colours, sharper and better than we do; they see light in more frequencies. They can see the magnetic field of the earth. Without training they exceed us in the powers of navigation. Their memories for countless tiny details are better than ours, and they communicate about everything of concern to them. Birds live at a faster rate than we do, as if they inhabit a heightened vibratory space beyond human imagination. . .
Outwitted by Chickens
The Bird Who Killed the Tiger
I have written before of the strange way that the reality we find as adults fails to correspond to what we were taught as we were growing up, and this book brings us face to face with that phenomenon again. Taken from eight years of detailed notes on the behaviour of the birds in the flock of junglefowl living in our garden, and of the birds living in wild flocks on the slopes of the mountain beside us, it presents an in-depth look at the true nature of this living ancestor of the domestic chicken. One of the rescued birds actually is a domestic chicken and she is just as sensitive and intelligent as the wild race with which she integrates. We find that chickens are super-birds who should have received the media attention currently being given to crows and ravens, for they are just as intelligent if not more so. Indeed, during a life-time of studying wild animals, often as individuals, the one who stands out now, in my mind as the brightest creature, was a chicken.
The SPIRIT OF wILD DUCKS
This book provides a glimpse into the lives of the individuals 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, and through the detailed accounts of the actions of the hens, drakes, and their offspring, you will understand much about their difficult lives.
In knowing the cognitive abilities, social natures, the sensitivities, and the spirit of these unusual birds, you will never think about ducks in the same way again.
The True Nature of SharkS
This book is based on a seven year study of shark behaviour through underwater observation. When I first met 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. These observations were supplemented with shorter periods watching wild tiger, bull, and lemon sharks, with the result that I was credited with finding a way to study sharks without killing them. My study also revealed the first evidence of cognition in sharks, which was presented, by Arthur A. Myrberg, at the Max Planck Institute in Germany in 2003. I have included the findings of other shark ethologists, to lay out a full-scale study of shark behaviour. Shark science has been very influenced by fisheries science, which has muddied the waters concerning their true natures. So this book is important in that it presents sharks as the ordinary, intelligent animals that they are. Decorated with plenty of illustrations and photographs, it will make the mysterious blue realm of sharks come alive for you.
The Shark sessions
My Sunset Rendezvous
This is the story of my ethological study of reef sharks--when you are spending a lot of time underwater with a community of sharks after sunset, alone a kilometre from shore, surprising and unexpected things can happen! Isolated in Tahiti, I recognized immediately that shark behaviour was unlike that of other wild animals, so I launched a full scale study to try to understand them. Soon I could recognize 300 blackfin reef sharks on sight. There were also 4 other species of sharks in the lagoon. When I contacted ethologists in the USA, I was able to present the first evidence that they are thinking instead of running on instinct, so a BBC film crew came to film them. But by then they were being massacred for the shark fin trade, and I tried to get the news of their plight out of the country, only to learn that TV was not interested in conservation. So I wrote down their story in this dramatic book, so that the world would find out what they were like, and the strange and startling things that happened. For when shark finning came to those innocent islands, they and their community 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 this attitude 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.