By Shriya Roy
Did you know that rodents practice monogamy, or that chimpanzees mourn the death of their dear ones, or that tiny wasps enslave the mighty spiders to weave for them, or that the dragonfly feigns death to avoid sex? Sounds almost bizarre, doesn’t it? Author and journalist Janaki Lenin in her book Every Creature Has a Story, explores the bizarre and the human-animal connection, telling readers about fascinating parallels and traits that are similar to human beings.
The book is a compilation of 50 essays that dig deeper into the unique patterns of behaviour found in the wild. Lenin closely observes and explores the workings of those in the wild, the different animal species and their connection with humans. Lenin underlines the fact that much like human beings, animals and other creatures in the wild evolve over time and develop unique characteristics and habits which set them apart. For example, female nightingales in order to decide which male will share the burden of parenthood with them, listen to prospective candidates’ songs to test the waters and gauge if they would make good fathers.
Lenin wonderfully weaves science in a fable form in the narrative, making it more relatable. Lenin engages with scientific studies around animal behaviour and critically analyses them in her essays.
In one of her essays, she explains how every member of a pack of African wild dogs has to agree to do the same thing at the same time. If one goes to sleep, the rest do too. And what’s interesting is that they have discovered a way to communicate their intentions as well.
Not just animal life, Lenin also explores the world of plants in her book. The essay, Plants with Private Armies, looks at how, when in distress, several species secrete sugary liquids to attract ants. She beautifully explains how plants are not helpless but have their own defence mechanisms in place. Through her book she aims to enable us humans to forge a new and unique bond with nature.
The variety of life forms that surround us is a magical world in itself, and Lenin draws her readers towards that wonder. She uncovers the surprising, weird, bizarre, and amazing ways in which creatures breed and survive, from spiders salivating during sex and snails entombing their parasites into their shells to elephants developing immunity to cancer. She makes her readers look at the world of the wild as not quite different from their own.
Lenin is based in Chennai and has worked with National Geographic Television to produce wildlife documentaries. Janaki served as coordinator of the Agumbe Rainforest Research Station from 2005 to 2009. In 2007, she co-authored an action plan for easing conflict with elephants in farmlands across India. Some of her other notable works include My Husband & Other Animals and A King Cobra’s Summer.