Kangaroo hopped through the scrub when a desperate sound reached her ears Echoes of loss and hopelessness so sad her eyes pricked with tears She followed the sound of anguish to a baby kangaroo Hunched over the form of a mother, now gone One heart split into two Kangaroo knew by the musk on the wind the foundling wasn’t her blood Survival of the fittest whispered its cold should but the universe is woven with threads of soul and heart Kangaroo bent low her arms began to part The joey turned his head met her eyes, saw her pouch wide open Waves of compassion rolled on the breeze from a gesture so loudly unspoken He nuzzled his Mama goodbye for what he knew was the final time Told her not to worry things would turn out just fine Then in one great bound he jumped from all that he'd ever known Trusting the weave of an unseen net to catch him in seeds of chance long sown Knowing for the first time a truth most only see at the end love runs through more than body and blood and open hearts hold the power to mend
I came across an article about kangaroo adoptions recently and scientists were marvelling at the discovery that some kangaroo mothers adopt joeys that aren’t their kin. Yet despite this amazing discovery, the general consensus was that it was a mistake: the mother got confused and identified the joey as her own.
I was surprised that empathy or an emotional response wasn’t even considered as a possibility, despite the fact we know animals are sentient beings who experience emotions: elephants grieve their dead, dogs comfort their owners when they’re distressed, rats have been shown to help a drowning friend even when offered a treat to do otherwise, suggesting they value friendships over food.
I experienced animal empathy first-hand as a child on a visit to sea world: at the end of a show children from the audience were invited to gather around a pool of dolphins while the dolphins threw balls to them. When the time was up and the dolphins began swimming away, the people dispersing, I was the only child who hadn’t been thrown a ball and I started to cry. A departing dolphin threw one of the remaining balls to me and I stopped crying immediately. I’ve never forgotten that feeling of surprise and wonder: the dolphin saw I was upset and knew how to make it better.
Survival of the fittest as a story of competition pervades our culture. It’s a story that’s based on individualisation and cut-throat competition, yet there’s another story that exists in the natural world: one of cooperation and helping each other. This story doesn’t seem to get as many headlines or as much screen time, it doesn’t dominate our culture or pervade our systems and institutions in the same way as the story of competition. But which story is likely to lead to the kind of future we want to see?