One plausible explanation is that people, at least some of the time, look at animals – non-human primates in particular – as reflections, albeit distorted, of themselves.
This suggests some of the evolutionary underpinnings of the human penchant for animal-watching. First, that we are living, breathing, perspiring, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, eating, defecating, urinating, copulating, child-rearing, and ultimately dying animals ourselves. It is plausible that deep in the human psyche there resides the simple yet profound recognition of a relationship between Us and Them. ‘We be of one blood, ye and I,’ was the incantation taught to Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling’s memorable Jungle Book collections (1894-5). It confirmed the jungle boy’s connection with his non-human caretakers, friends and relatives. Perhaps it is ‘only natural’ that we, animals ourselves, reach out to other creatures. Even if we can’t talk to them à la Doctor Dolittle, or share the most intimate aspects of our lives, like Mowgli, at least we can lose – more likely, find – ourselves in watching them.This is a fascinating scientific explanation, in that by looking and observing animals we can see various human behaviours, some of which are preferable to the ones we often now find normative in human society. It might well be that by observing animals we adults catch a glimpse into our better more naturalistic selves. And for both children and adults, animals represent the type of freedom and lack of restraints that humans rarely have. I suspect that our fascination with animals will only increase in the coming years.
You can read the rest of the article at [Aeon]