“The Internet of Animals” and Earth’s Collective Intelligence

“The Internet of Animals” and Earth’s Collective Intelligence

Many people, including scientists, have argued that all life is somehow interconnected. While some write off these ideas as “fluff” and “unscientific,” there is accumulating evidence from detailed scientific studies that many animals know many things that we don’t and are communicating in ways that we don’t understand. These are among the reasons that I was attracted to a book titled The Internet of Animals: Discovering the Collective Intelligence of Life on Earth by Dr. Martin Wikelski, founder of the International Cooperation for Animal Research Using Space (ICARUS) program, in which he describes animals’ sixth sense first-hand.

As researchers tag animals around the world with minuscule tracking devices, they link their movements to The International Space Station, now even a new micro-satellite constellation, which taps into the “internet of animals”: an astonishing network of information made up of thousands of animals communicating with each other and their environments. Wikelski writes about how farm animals become restless when earthquakes are imminent, how animals on the African plains sense when poachers are on the move, how frigatebirds in South America depart before hurricanes arrive, and other amazing examples of interconnectedness among diverse animals.

Wikelski himself is deeply involved in this research, and when he responded to me with answers to the questions I sent to him, he told me he was preparing for the tagging of 1500 animals of 20 species in Kruger National Park and Namibia. Here’s what he had to say about his and his colleagues’ groundbreaking forward-looking research that will undoubtedly tell us much more about how animals are locally and globally interconnected and communicating with each other, either intentionally or unintentionally.

Source: Greystone Books/with permission.

Marc Bekoff: Why did you write The Internet of Animals?

Martin Wikelski: Wild animals are far removed from most people. They see them on TV, or in a National Park, but they don’t understand how much we can learn from them. Animals have a 6thsense (their collective interaction) and we can finally tap into the knowledge of animal life on the planet by using electronic means. The interaction of the most intelligent sensors in our universe, animals, creates an emergent, novel source of knowledge helpful to save us and our planet.

MB: Who do you hope to reach in your interesting and important book?

MW: Our research offers a novel appreciation of the intrinsic value of wild animals that will ultimately protect them because we know how valuable they are for all of us.

Siena Ramsey/Pexels.

Source: Siena Ramsey/Pexels.

MB: What are some of the major topics you consider?

MW: All animals are individuals, as humans are. Animals interact all the time with each other and with humans. By supplying animals with “wearables for wildlife,” we can give animals a voice on planet earth.

The symphony of migrating birds from the night sky is as beautiful as the symphony of radio waves from the universe. But unlike the symphony created by waves from space, which follows the laws of physics, this ancient organic symphony is created by animals as they exchange information across species and continents, and it follows biological laws we have yet to uncover. The Indigenous people living on the prairies before the Europeans must have been attuned to what these birds had to say. The time has come for everyone else to tune in, as well.

In literature and popular writings, it is always clear that humans domesticated animals. There are specific times and places where this supposedly happened, be it in Mesopotamia, where people tamed animals for meat, milk, and hides; in ancient Egypt, where dogs and cats, baboons, fish, and gazelles shared homes as pets; or fifteen thousand years ago when nomadic hunter-gatherers first domesticated the gray wolf—perhaps.

But animal tracking sometimes tells a story that should make us rethink our hubris that humans are the ones in charge and that animals are just the recipients of our domestication efforts. If we listened to how animals told their stories, we might learn things that would change our perspective.

Down on the ground, I observed animals’ sixth sense first-hand. On Africa’s Serengeti plains, I watched migrating wildebeests and zebras stretch 50 miles long, with each animal knowing the quality of grass consumed at the front of the line—even those who are straggling behind. In South America, flamingoes head south just when they sense the weather changing thousands of miles away in the Andes. And in Angola, a flock of cuckoos meet only to separate—one going to the UK, one to Western Russia, and the other to Mongolia—based on unique information about each destination.

MB: How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

MW: It’s an individual account of what I learned from animals around the world. The Internet of Animals is a novel concept. It’s hopefully exciting to many people trying to understand how much we can learn from animals.

MB: Are you hopeful that as people learn more about this topic they will treat animals with more respect and dignity?

MW: Absolutely, this is the main aim of the book.

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