Historically, there has been the rare individual who, feeling some strong sense of connection to animals -- or lack of connection to humanity -- decides to re-identify. Consider Dennis Avner, better known as the Stalking Cat, who transformed his entire face to resemble a feline, reportedly in accordance with Huron tradition. More recently, body modification artists like the Lizardman Erik Sprague and Katzen the Tiger Lady (both from Austin, Texas) have taken to tattooing their bodies heavily to resemble their animal inspirations, in the same vein as Tom Leppard, a.k.a. The Leopard Man, who was named "Most Tattooed Man" by the Guinness Book of World Records for the hundreds of leopard spots covering his body.
But thanks to a string of technological developments, identifying with animals might go from being relegated to circus sideshows to the most sensible option for people with disabilities. In a recent piece for the BBC, Frank Swain explores the ways in which certain non-human abilities are inspiring some people to adapt to be more like animals, augmenting senses they might have lost or never developed.
First there's Nadya Vessey, a New Zealand woman who was born with a condition that prevented her legs from developing. At age 16, Vessey had both of her legs amputated, and has relied on prosthetics since. But, several years ago, when Vessey was in her fifties, she was struck with the idea to get a dolphin-like tail, which would allow her to swim as she hadn't before. "I never had a fantasy to be a mermaid," Vessey told the Telegraph. "[But] a prosthetic is a prosthetic, and your body has to be comfortable with it and you have to mentally make it part of yourself."
Other adaptations don't require physical additions so much as manipulation. Daniel Kish, who spoke with Swain, lost his vision when he was a year old to a form of cancer that affects the eyes. Since then, he's relied on his own two forms of echolocation, which is commonly used by bats, dolphins and whales to get a sense of the surrounding environment. Kish seems to have developed his echolocation skills on his own, relying on two different types, according to Swain:
Kish identifies at least two kinds of echolocation he uses – the active clicking which he calls "flash sonar" (in reference to the illuminating flash of a camera), and passive echolocation which relies on paying careful attention to the acoustics of the immediate environment. Together, they form a small subset of the skills he uses to compensate for his lack of sight.
"There's a misconception out there that you have to be gifted to develop this skill," Kish said. "I would say that's not true. You get ranges of ability, but it really has most to do with the motivation one has and the opportunity to implement the skill." According to Kish, who now teaches echolocation to the blind, it can be difficult for sighted people to channel their animal instinct. Perhaps they haven't evolved quite enough.
Photo by Weta Workshop via the Telegraph.