Stories about how animal behavior resembles that of humans are being reported almost daily. More than 70 years after Konrad Lorenz, the Austrian zoologist and father of ethology (the study of animal behavior) who received the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1973, first wrote about the similarities between animals and humans from the standpoint of their mental states, scientific evidence is starting to prove him right.
A research study at the University of Vienna indicates that dogs are fully capable of displaying envy. The basis of the experiment was simple: two dogs were taught to “shake hands” without receiving a treat as a reward. However, if one of the dogs was given a piece of bread, the other would give up on the newly taught trick. Could this prove that dogs feel a sense of jealousy or mistreatment when they witness another receiving a reward?
A Seeing Eye Elephant
Mae Perm is an elephant that lives at an open-air sanctuary in Thailand. Mae Perm’s closest friend, Jokia, is another elephant that happens to be blind. When Jokia would begin to display fear and distress, Mae Perm was often observed rushing to her side and placing her trunk in the other elephant’s mouth. By doing so, it is believed that she was offering guidance to a companion that she sensed needed it.
A Protective Baboon
Similar to Mae Perm and Jokia, employees at the San Diego Zoo took note of an alpha male baboon who was insistent on protecting a group of young bonobos that the workers didn’t even know were in danger. After draining the mote for maintenance around their enclosure, they were about to refill it with water when the alpha baboon began frantically waving his arms at the workers. He was trying to tell them not to drown the young primates who were trapped in the dry mote. This is a prime example of the protective senses that most animals feel, especially towards their young.
As Prof. Van de Waal, a Professor of Ethology at Emory University recently stated in an article he wrote for the Daily Mail “scientists are gradually beginning to accept that humans are not the only species with the capacity to feel emotions.” He continues “after four decades of research into animal behavior, including thousands of hours watching chimpanzees, the question for me has never been whether or not animals have emotions, but how science could have overlooked them for so long. I believe that many emotions long-thought to be uniquely human can be found in all mammals, from voles to elephants, dolphins and whales”.
Given this growing body of scientific evidence, and daily observations most humans make about emotions displayed by their animal pets, is it time to totally reconsider the relationship between humans and animals? Is it tolerable and ethically acceptable given what we know of animal emotions to house animals in incredibly tight quarters for their entire lives before sending them to the slaughterhouse? Is it even ethical to eat animals?
The debate will continue as more evidence about animal emotions and feelings emerges from research laboratories around the world but as Konrad Lorenz himself stated in “So Kam der Mensch auf den Hund” published in 1950, he would not “eat any animal with an intelligence greater than a fish, or at most a frog, if he had to kill it himself”. Maybe we should heed his advice!