Book Review: The Secret Language of Animals by Janine M Benyus

Book Review: The Secret Language of Animals by Janine M Benus


An exquisite reference guide to the behaviour of animals, written without clinical distance but instead a warm, familial, empathic understanding of our sentient non-human cousins. This is an emotional journey of discovery as well – once you realise how similar we all are. 5 stars.


Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Genre: Non-Fiction, Reference Guide, Animal Psychology, Ecology, Zoology.

Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.

Review in one word: Kind

If you are a passionate advocate for animals or simply love your pets and you happen to be a non-scientist, then you will adore ‘The Secret Language of Animals’.

The storytelling and illustrations are totally gorgeous and rich with detail. The book combines imaginative details with clear-eyed scientific information in an accessible way for anyone to understand common animal behaviours. Many animal behaviours are similar across mammalian species, and they should be recognisable to you if you have cats, dogs or horses. Likewise bird lovers will be familiar with these behavioural signals.

Illustrations by Juan Carlos Barberis

The sepia tinted illustrations are beautiful in a retro style and capture perfectly the movements, behaviour and facial expressions of the animals.

However, there is much to learn here, particularly about lesser known species like large crocodilians, giraffes, large reptiles, cetaceans, penguins and more more.

This book is a treasure for people who value and appreciate animals as sentient intelligent beings with their own emotions, reasoning, memories and perspectives of the world – albeit non-human perspectives on the world.

If you want to understand more about the ethics and morals about why humans should care more about animals – this book is a great start because it allows you to see the full spectrum of emotions, social behaviour and intelligent solutions that animals have created for themselves while relating to each other.

These animal worlds exists independently of the human world and evolved millions of years before we hairless upright apes even traversed the earth. Up until quite recently, these animal worlds existed in harmony with human worlds, although (as you likely already know) most animal worlds are now poised to be expunged completely out of existence by the human world.

If you don’t care or feel indifferent to the lives of animals, you won’t enjoy this book at all.

Wild animals are fascinating, soothing and calming to watch – preferably in the wild, but failing that by digital means – technobiophilia. This is an armchair look at the strange and beautiful ways that animals relate to each other, if you can’t go on wildlife tour in their natural habitat to see them for yourself.

One thing didn’t sit well with me

As an animal advocate constantly educating myself about animals, I have come into the knowledge from many sources that the majority of Zoos and animal parks that claim to “look after” animals frequently do nothing of the sort. Instead these are places of cruelty and imprisonment. Animals there (most of the time) have short, miserable, often solitary lives.

Many of them are pumped with hormones and forced to breed to propagate their species and ensure the survival of their kind.

In the cases of large carnivores, herbivores, great apes, or cetaceans – if a Zoo or aquarium doesn’t have enough room for a new enclosure for a burgeoning population, and a suitable alternative place isn’t found for them, individual animals will be killed.

Shortly after the death of this majestic, rare animal – a weak and pathetic excuse will be issued out of the facility via a media release. This will say something like: ‘They weren’t able to socialise well with other animals’, they had ‘behavioural disturbances’. That’s total bullshit.

In general if any animal (even humans) is kept in an unnatural environment (i.e. a prison) they will have ‘behavioural disturbances’.

The author here Janine Benyus does a great job of explaining animal behaviour, but she advocates for these horrible places where animals are kept living boring, tiny, miserable lives instead of the lives they were meant to live – being wild and free.

chimp and gorilla
Am I the only one who can’t unsee these two rolling a joint?

What can you do?

If you happen to go to a Zoo and see animals kept in miserable tiny cages, take photos and then call them out on social media about it and leave a review on Google telling people to not go there.

Chester Zoo keeps orangutans in alien looking green cages devoid of any plants and looking not in the least bit homely or comfortable. All the while they take money from rainforest destroyers like Ferrero and greenwash to school children in the UK about “sustainable” palm oil – which is a total lie. More about this here.

Images by Craig Jones Wildlife Photography.

If you are an animal advocate, animal lover and/or a vegan then I recommend that you get this book, you will love it.


Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

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