Germantown man publishes third book on animal emotions
Author hopes his work will change readers' behavior regarding nature
Jonathan Balcombe's first childhood memory involves a hippopotamus.
He was 3 years old, staring into a hippo's mouth as the animal crunched a head of cabbage.
"It stuck with me," he said.
Since that moment in a British zoo, Balcombe has dedicated his life to studying, writing about and advocating for animals.
His third book, "The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure," was released May 9.
Large color photos of animals playing, eating, hanging out and having sex are intended to illustrate the pleasure they experience, and their naturally altruistic behavior.
Using his knowledge of animal behavior, Balcombe writes in captions and chapter summaries why marmots sniffs flowers before eating them, why birds kiss and sing, why squirrels chase one another, and more it is not merely to survive, he explains, but to feel good.
"I have a bit of a gripe with science for being so dogmatically exclusive about animal behavior," he said. "That's why I write about pleasure, because pleasure is being neglected."
He sold about 30,000 copies combined of his first two books, "Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals" and "Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good."
He expresses similar ideas about animal behavior in his new book, but uses photos to get his point across.
He wants to show that animals are emotional, hoping readers will be influenced to change their behavior specifically, by becoming vegan or vegetarian.
Theories that animals are not simply guided by their instinct, but experience emotion, were once taboo but are now emerging in the scientific field, said Martin Stephens, vice president of animal research at the Humane Society and Balcombe's friend.
"[Balcombe] is pioneering in the sense that he is trying to popularize these notions getting average people to appreciate the complexities and the richness of animal life," said Stephens, of Clarksburg.
Balcombe's wife, Marilyn Balcombe, who is president of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, said her husband has an innate love for animals.
He is enraptured by them, she said, and was so even on their wedding day.
"We were talking about how beautiful the ceremony is, and he could tell me the exact bird that was singing at the time [of our vows]," she said. "He wasn't paying any attention he was listening to the bird call."
He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in biology in Canada, as well as a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in ethology, the study of animal behavior.
Balcombe has long been an animal activist.
As a teaching assistant in graduate school, he convinced a professor to offer students an alternative to dissecting pig fetuses.
When he was 24, a group of men threatened to kill him at a beach in India after he told them to stop beating a dog.
Balcombe, 52, has been vegan for about 10 years.
Balcombe has worked for PETA, the Humane Society and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in D.C.
He is now a private contractor and a professor at Humane Society University, an online institution offering degrees in fields such as humane leadership and animal policy and advocacy. On book tours, he speaks in hopes of changing human behavior.
"Cultural evolution happens," he said. "It gives me some hope that people will come to their senses that eating animals is neither ethical nor sustainable."
BUY THE BOOK
To order Jonathan Balcombe's books about animal behavior, visit www.jonathanbalcombe.com/books. He has written three books: "Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals," "Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good" and "The Exultant Ark: A Pictorial Tour of Animal Pleasure." "The Exultant Ark" was released May 9.