Just ten years ago most scientists believed that animals lacked a moral compass. Thankfully, times and attitudes change. When Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce wrote their book "Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals" six years ago, they reported that "the staggering amount of information that we have about animal intelligence and animal emotions" now leads more scientists to say that animals can act with compassion, altruism, forgiveness, trust, and empathy. "In humans," say the authors, "these behaviors form the core of what we call morality."
I don't always associate the words "compassion" and "empathy" with wolves and coyotes. Sometimes when I observe these two essential predators, I see a Darwinian dog-eat-dog world: an alpha puts an upstart in its place, two packs battle over territory, a coyote dies trying to share in a wolf pack's feast.
But wolves and coyotes live in tight social groups - in families - built on a network of relationships that depends on trust, reciprocity, and flexibility, just as human relationships do. Animals in such groups, say Beckoff and Pierce, live according to a code of conduct that prohibits some kinds of behavior and encourages other kinds.