'YE DARE NOT LOOK HIM BETWEEN THE EYES' (The Jungle Book, p. II)
Professor Aubrey Manning, Professor of Natural History in the University of Edinburgh, writes ( 4 April 1986): 'In the strict sense I have to say that Kipling was wrong. Animals will easily make eye contact with humans under many circumstances. One can check this out easily with our pet cats and dogs. Yet behind the strict interpretation Kipling was, perhaps intuitively or perhaps from his own observation, right to lay stress on the power and emotional content of eye-to-eye contact.
In general with carnivores and primates . . . eye contact is highly significant. During encounters which may develop aggressively, subordinate animals will not make eye contact -- at least more than momentarily -- with animals they regard as superior in the hierarchy. A cringing dog averts its gaze -- often turns its whole head away -- from its angry master. It behaves in just the same way towards a higher ranking animal in the pack. Battles between cats (or symbolic battles between lion-tamers and their animals) involve prolonged staring -- the lion often averts its gaze as it finally submits to the threat of the whip. In primates direct gaze is widely regarded as a threat. The stares of dominant animals are often enhanced by the fact that upper eyelids and orbits are pale-coloured, often very conspicuously, so that you can easily tell if a rival is staring at you -- he flashes his eyebrows. The people who work with gorillas and have managed to accustom them to human presence know never to look directly at one of the apes -- it must always be sideways glances . . .
Perhaps the point Kipling misses is that there can be friendly eye contact as well as aggressive. Dogs wanting to be taken out for a walk do not avoid the eyes of humans; nor monkeys who hope you will feed them a grape. I had to spend some time watching caged domestic cats with their kittens. The mothers were absolutely delighted to see me, and I sometimes found it impossible to make good observations of their maternal behaviour because they paid more attention to me than to their offspring. In such cases it was essential to avoid eye contact. If