There is nothing quite like seeing a family of animals playing. This year I have wtinessed rabbits, geese and deer all enjoying (I'm sure they do feel this emotion) interacting with each other in a playful way. Two days ago I caught this family of deer enjoying their freedom, the space and the fence.
In one of those interesting coincidences, the day I made this movie of the deer playing in the garden, I watched a BBC2 programme called ‘Animals at Play’ which demonstrated that many different species engage in play defined as: voluntary and repetitive behaviour, when the reward is the activity itself rather than trying to achieve a goal like feeding or breeding. When undertaken when the animal is young it is often a prelude to serious (adult) behaviour - like fighting or fleeing. Play is undertaken when the animal is healthy, and when they feel safe and relaxed (unstressed).
The programme makers claimed that play prepares animals for the unexpected, it enables animals to develop the neural pathways that enable them to react quickly when it is necessary for their survival. Play is also an important social process enabling families to sustain their relationships and perhaps, like when we play, it releases hormones like dopamine that make them feel good.