Four Things Your Kids Can Learn from African Mammals

Four Things Your Kids Can Learn from African Mammals

March 8, 2016
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Deep in the behaviour of African mammals lie hidden lessons our children can learn. We pick the top four.

1. How to be comfortable with who you are.

Hyenas may not win fashion contests (although we think they’re perfectly beautiful) or enjoy the fanatical following that the cats command.  But they don’t know that, and crucially, don’t care.  Nor do they suffer from depressing pangs of self doubt over their purpose in the cosmic equation or rankle endlessly from a feeling of inadequacy born out of comparison and self-criticism.  ‘Dignity of labour’ is an ingrained idea in their psyche, and they simply do what they have to, without colouring it with judgement or bias or paralysis of analysis.  And that’s just as well, for if scavengers stopped what they were doing, carcasses would putrefy and spread disease.  Predators, without pressure from scavengers to protect their meal, could relax and lose their edge, and without predators, whole ecosystems could crumble and fall.  So hyenas teach us that we’re important exactly as we are.  And unique, just as everyone else is.

2. How to be graceful.

There is much to be learned from giraffes.  Their enormous height is suggestive of a great wisdom, as though they can ‘see’ a lot more than us from the vantage points of their highly hoisted eyes. The elegance and dignity with which they move despite their exceptional proportions symbolises a profound inner balance and harmony.  They seem to have their head in the clouds all the time, and yet they’re grounded firmly – a bit like a moving tree.  And when they stoop to drink, which they must, a ‘device’ in their head prevents the brain from being flooded by blood, demonstrating it’s important to a rush of blood to the head if not stopped only gets you to your grave.  Indeed giraffes show us that keeping calm and taking it slow is really cool, and no matter how much you grow, letting the head be snugly fixed to the neck at all times is the way of the wise.

3. How to stand up for your mates.

Buffaloes are often derided as suffering from “herd mentality”, but when adversity strikes, the hardier side of this psychology shows up as fervid solidarity for one another, and even in the face of grave danger and stress, it’s only the idea of desertion that’s abandoned.  Under an attack, usually from lions, buffaloes will stand their ground and defend their comrades against their predators with considerable tenacity and ferocity, often trying to gore the aggressor out of the way with their formidable horns, while it’d be perfectly easy for them to turn an apathetic eye to the proceedings and only preserve their hides.  There is much in this spirit of ‘one for all and all for one’, which is admirable and worth emulating, and would make even Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade swell with pride and roar a hearty approval!

4. How to deal with bullies.

Cheetahs have it rough on the savannah.  Infernally rough.  Lions will kill them at sight given half a chance, and leopards are no more accommodating.  Hyenas will drive them from their kills and appropriate their hard-earned meals.  Consider that baboons too will kill their cubs and sometimes threaten adult cheetahs as well, and the whole situation looks worse than being stuck in Mr Creakle’s school.  But all this bullying doesn’t mean they sulk and let themselves be run over, because  sulking simply doesn’t help.  Instead, they use their intelligence to adapt.  They hunt mostly during the day, when lions and leopards are less active, and as soon as they’ve recovered from the chase, they engorge their food at the fastest possible, before it can be usurped.  All of which shows that quiet smartness is probably better than ballistic bravado when dealing with bullies, and in fighting back, grey cells can be a better weapon than muscles.

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