Every month, new scientific discoveries blur the line of differences between man and animals. Now we know that not only dolphins but cows and rats also empathize, love and grieve. Yet animal cruelty is still legal for farm animals.
Many animals are known to grieve; elephants, chimpanzees, dolphins, sea lions and even magpies. Gana, a captive gorilla, clearly grieved the loss of her infant and the image of her carrying her dead baby was shown around the world. Jane Goodall tells the story in her book, Through a Window of Flint, of a young chimpanzee who died from sadness soon after his mother, Flo. “Flint became increasingly lethargic, refused food and, with his immune system thus weakened, fell sick,” she wrote.
Marc Bekoff describes in the Newscientist, a magpie ritual he witnessed a few years ago in Boulder, Colorado. “A magpie was lying dead on the side of the road, probably hit by a car, with four others standing around it. One after the other, two of them approached the corpse, gently pecked at it and stepped back. One of the birds flew off, brought back some grass and laid it by the corpse. Another did the same. Then all four stood vigil for a few seconds before flying away one by one.”
The sweetest kiss ever
Holly Cheever tells the incredible story of a dairy cow hiding one of her calves after giving birth to twins. It was her fifth birth; she knew that her babies were going to be taken away. Think for a moment of the intelligence and care this mothering cow displayed. She first remembered the pain of losing her child, and then she formulated a plan to keep one of them. The most amazing part of this story is that instead of hiding both calves, which would have aroused the farmer’s suspicion, she gave one away.
Though, it does not mean that animals experience feelings the same way than we do. The Australian sea lions in the video seem deeply in love, happy and excited, they give each other the sweetest kiss ever. Though, they certainly not experience love the same way than we do as males may keep harems of around 4 to 6 females.
According to the free dictionary, “empathy is the power of understanding and imaginatively entering into another person’s feelings”. We should probably update this definition, as not only people, but chickens also feel for one another.
Studies published in the Journal of Science in December 2011 have shown that rats and chickens display empathy. According to Inabal Ben-Ami Bartal, Jean Decety and Peggy Mason at the University of Chicago; untrained laboratory rats will free companions rather than selfishly feast on chocolate. “When liberating a cage mate, was pitted against chocolate contained within a second restrainer, rats opened both restrainers and typically shared the chocolate”.
Those studies reveal that humans and nonhumans are inherently compassionate. “When we act without empathy we are acting against our biological inheritance … If humans would listen and act on their biological inheritance more often, we’d be better off,” says Peggy Mason. This should make us think twice about the way we treat laboratory rats or farm animals.
Cruelty on farms animals is not happening just in America.
Some critics would call those observations, anthropomorphism, which is the attribution of human behavior to animals, and argue it is not real science. Though, Allan and Bekoff explain that by using human terms to illustrate animals’ emotions, humans make the animals’ worlds accessible to themselves. “Emotions serve as a “social glue” to bond individuals with one another and to catalyze and regulate their social encounters”. Charles Darwin himself advocates that differences among species are in degree rather than kind.
Research from the University of Toronto shows that morality and empathy are not some kind of higher reasoning created by humans but survival instincts. It could simply be the result of evolution determining that morality and compassion are beneficial to the survival of species. What about empathy toward different species?
For the ones still not convinced that animals feel, here is “real science”. A recent study by Patrick Hof and Estel Van Der Gucht of the Mount Sinal School of Medicine in New York found specialised neurons, called spindle cells linked, in humans, to emotion, speech, social skills empathy and ‘gut’ intuition, in the brains of humpback, fin, killer and sperm whales. In fact, whales were found to have three times as many of these cells proportionally as humans do. Since our brains work in the same way as animals’, it makes sense for similar things to be happening.
Humans now know, that cows and chickens feel, at least in the same way as dogs and cats. We pride ourselves on being a species with higher moral senses. Yet, farm animals have been excluded from the animal cruelty laws that protect dogs and cats so that they can be exploited for human consumption. I guess, suffering in the name of profit has become socially acceptable in our society.