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Desmond Morris

(b. 1928)


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(1928– )

British zoologist, whose work has brought to the fore developments in the study of animal behaviour and their possible implications for the human condition.

Interested in animals from childhood, Morris received a BSc in zoology from Birmingham University in 1951. Moving to Oxford University, he studied the courtship and other behaviour of the ten-spined stickleback under the tutelage of the famous ethologist Niko Tinbergen and received his DPhil in 1954. In the late 1950s, as presenter of the popular television series Zoo Time, Morris became a well-known personality; subsequent TV series included Life in the 1960s and The Animals Roadshow in the 1980s. He was appointed curator of mammals for the Zoological Society of London (1959–67), served as director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (1967–68), and was research fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford (1973–81).

Morris is best known for his books. The Naked Ape (1967) aroused controversy because of Morris's interpretation of many aspects of human behaviour in terms of that exhibited by our ape relatives, including such phenomena as hunting instincts, pair bonding, mutual grooming, and territoriality. Contentious, provoking, and best-selling, it was seen by some critics as simplistic. It was followed by The Human Zoo (1968), in which Morris drew parallels between the symptoms of stress shown by animals in overcrowded conditions and the social problems associated with life in crowded cities. His other books include Intimate Behaviour (1971), Manwatching (1977), The Book of Ages (1983), Bodywatching (1985), Animal-Watching (1990), and The Human Animal (1994).

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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