Before we can ask this question, perhaps, we need to start by defining what love really is and that is a hard task in and of itself. Some say, it is a powerful neurological condition like hunger or thirst, only more permanent.
In true love, the brain can release a whole set of chemicals: pheromones, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin. However, from an evolutionary perspective, love can be viewed as a survival tool – a mechanism we have evolved to promote long-term relationships, mutual defence and parental support of children and to promote feelings of safety and security.
In other circles, love is a kind of passionate commitment that we nurture and develop, even though it usually arrives in our lives unbidden. That is why it is more than just a powerful feeling. Without the commitment bit, it is mere infatuation. Without passion, it is mere dedication. Without nurturing, even the best can wither and die.
And finally the most commercial definition of love is that it depends on where you are in relation to it. Secure in it, it can feel as mundane and necessary as air – you exist within it, almost not noticing. Deprived of it, it can feel like an obsession; all consuming, a physical pain.
Love is the driver for all great stories: not just romantic love, but the love of parent for child, for family, for country. It is the point before consummation of it that fascinates: what separates you from love, the obstacles that stand in its way. It is usually at those points that love is everything.
But even with all these definitions of love, most of us find it very hard to quantify what love really is. It is like an illusion blinding us from a simple truth.
But using the examples above can we be able to tell if there is love in the wilderness? Is the purpose of mating purely to bring forth the next generation or is there a deeper meaning to what we see in the wild during the mating season?
Looking at various characters in the animal kingdom, can we be able to conclusively say that animals do fall in love? A while back, I was watching a documentary called ‘The Last Lions’ and it featured a lioness that went to hell and back literally, just to keep her cubs alive.
It got me thinking. Do animals have any emotions and more importantly, do they fall in love? In this documentary they showed the lioness going through a phase of mourning after losing one of her cubs to a raging buffalo ambush.
The more I thought about it, the more it started to look like a reality. If you look at the lions for example, the dominant male takes over a pride and gets cubs.
But there comes a time that he is challenged by another male for the right to be the pride leader. To cut the long story short, a vicious brawl ensues and the current pride protector is willing to fight to death to keep this intruder from attacking his family and killing his kids.
Let us look at this from a human perspective. Imagine a stranger came to your home and threatened to beat your wife and kill you and your children so that he can lie with her to start a family of his own.
What would you do as the head of the home? As the wife, would you watch your kids go through that? I do not think so. The affection we have for our loved ones drives us to protect and provide for them at any cost.
I find myself asking this question, is it the same case with the lions? Does the dominant male put his life on the line for the females and the cubs because he has this overwhelming desire to protect his loved ones?
Is this defiance to the intruder an act of love? If you look at another character not far away from the king of the jungle; the buffalo, you start to see almost the same traits as the lion when it comes to those it loves, so to speak.
When lions capture a buffalo and it happens to call for help, in most cases, the herd comes charging to the rescue of their fallen comrade. Why is this? Is it because they have this hidden ploy to starve the lions or is there an overwhelming urge to protect and defend those close to them, a kind of love in the wilderness?
In most cases, you will find that this rescue mission is not necessarily led by the alpha male. Could the leader of this suicide mission actually be the lover of the fallen buffalo trying to save the love of his/her life? Could this be an act of love?
All we know is that love is purely instinctual; it does not originate from a train of thought or an experiment in a lab somewhere. We humans rely on brain power, animals rely 100% on instinct. We find ourselves unable to understand love because it is instinctual; it is part of our unexplainable behaviour.
The question that still lingers then is, if in the animal kingdom (not in the scientific sense) instinct is everything, is love in the wilderness possible? I guess we will never find out until the day we get a talking animal and if I were you, I would not hold my breath.