Do Animals Really Cry?

Humans are pretty fond of giving voices to animals. Squeaky voices. Excited voices. Princess voices.

But do we give them our emotions, too? More specifically, do animals actually cry tears of sorrow?

It's a question as old as our relationship with animals themselves.

But first, we need to understand the difference between shedding tears and crying. From a strictly scientific perspective, a tear is simply liquid emanating from an eye.

Toronto Pig Save

Toronto Pig Save

For years, science has maintained sad tears were an exclusively human indulgence.

In his book, "Why Only Humans Weep: Unravelling the Mysteries of Tears," Dutch scholar Ad Vingerhoets writes, "In the sense of producing emotional tears, we are the only species."

But producing tears is actually common in many animals including dogs, cats and elephants, according to perhaps the most famous scientist who ever lived.

In Charles Darwin's 1872 page-turner, "The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals," he wrote about an unhappy elephant he had been observing:



"When overpowered and made fast, his grief was most affecting; his violence sank to utter prostration, and he lay on the ground, uttering choking cries, with tears trickling down his cheeks."

And more than a century later, another elephant broke the world's heart with what seemed very much like tears of sorrow.

In 2013, baby Zhuang Zhuang appeared to weep uncontrollably when rejected by his mother. Well, not just rejected, but also nearly stomped to death.

At the time, a zookeeper with the Chinese wildlife shelter where Zhuangzhuang was kept told reporters, "He couldn't bear to be parted from his mother and it was his mother who was trying to kill him."

Those tears must be as sad and salty as any shed by humans. Mustn't they?

The trouble is, most of our evidence only comes from visual cues. The animal is in a situation that would, by human reckoning, make someone sad. The animal is emitting water from his eyes.

If it walks like a duck ...

Lisa Burchell

Lisa Burchell

So, how much more evidence do we need?

If anyone has experience with animal emotions, it's Toronto activist Anita Krajnc, who has stood with them, literally, at death's door.

Krajnc, founder of Toronto Pig Save, is facing criminal charges for giving water to parched animals on their way to a slaughterhouse.

While visiting a local meatpacking plant in 2014, she heard a crushing chorus of emotions.

"Cows bellowing and roaring like elephants," she tells The Dodo. "They cried in distress in the deep cavity of the pen area. They bellowed, warning others and moo'd in solidarity in their outside pens."

Anita Krajnc

Anita Krajnc

Perhaps she couldn't see the tears of emotion. But isn't that beside the point? When you harm them, do they not bray and moan and quiver?

Tears are hardly the only way to express pain, but from a human perspective, we rely on them as its most obvious indication.

Anita Krajnc

Anita Krajnc

"One black and white baby cow licked me repeatedly," Krajnc recalls. "I felt I betrayed them when I left."

Perhaps, it's time we stopped looking to science to tell us if animals can emit tears of sorrow and, instead, look to our hearts.