Wild Ideas

People can apply some lessons from the animal kingdom to their own lives, says television host Jeff Corwin; here are his five favorites

12-01-2004 // Doug Donaldson

Wildlife biologist Jeff Corwin has blazed trails, been bitten by snakes and stung by scorpions. He also knows that tapping into animal instincts can guide two-legged mammals through rain forests and urban jungles. As a wildlife expert who’s worked around hundreds of different kinds of critters, Corwin often is asked if he could be any animal, which would he choose. His response: “Human, of course. I wouldn’t trade being human for any fur or feathers, but other animals can teach us a few things.” Here, the Emmy-winning host of the Animal Planet series The Jeff Corwin Experience shares his five favorite lessons from the natural world:

Fish for protein: “In nature, you are what you eat,” Corwin says. “Brown bears that root through garbage cans gain weight. But a bear that fishes and eats fresh salmon will be more fit than the trash eaters.” To eat like a healthy bear, your diet should include 10 percent to 35 percent protein, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Like bears, observes Corwin, you need to work a little to get the right fish. The Monterey Bay Aquarium recommends avoiding farm-bred salmon because of environmental problems caused by such farming. There’s also concern about the potentially dangerous contaminants found in such fish. Instead, ask your grocer for wild Alaskan salmon.

Run with the pack: “African wild dogs hunt in a pack and kill food they wouldn’t get alone,” Corwin says. “They also bring back food for weaker dogs. Trust is an important part of canine packs, and their social hierarchy provides survival and security.” For humans, running with a pack of friends has many benefits. Maintaining a social network, the American Psychological Association reports, may slow age-related cognitive decline.

Stay in the nest: “Bald eagles have enough strength in their claws to fly away with a small deer,” Corwin says. “But they’ll painfully curl their talons and walk around the nest on knuckles to avoid harming eggs or fledglings.” The feathered lesson here: Family matters. Human statistics back that up. For example, children who live apart from their fathers are on average more likely to experience educational, health and emotional problems, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative.

Roar into speed: “Male lions that lose fitness will become marginalized, starve to death and not have access to females,” Corwin says. “The fastest lion gets the food and attracts mates better.” An easy trick to speed up your running: Add intervals—periods of hard effort alternating with easier rest periods. Hard-running periods can last from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Rest about the same time. You’ll be ahead of the pride when you cut the rest intervals to half the time of the hard-run intervals. Corwin also recommends exercising whenever possible. He’s been known to jog around airports while waiting for flights.

Preen like a pretty bird: “Bright colors mean good genes and sexual viability,” Corwin says. “Birds such as the cock of the rock also constantly groom themselves to advertise their health. In the bird world, more vibrant colors and symmetry means more fit.” For humans, dressing sharp may boost your salary and enhance your career and advancement, according to a survey by For Men Only.

Pennsylvanian Doug Donaldson formerly was an editor of Bicycling.

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