An influx of news headlines today give food for thought over the way we conceive (and treat) animals. One can only wonder at how continued research in these areas might change the status of animals in future centuries – note the tone of the linked PDF in the story directly below.
Elephants cooperate to solve problems. Chimpanzees teach youngsters to make tools. Even octopuses seem to be able to plan. So should we humans really be surprised that “consciousness” probably does not only exist in us?
This privileged state of subjective awareness in fact goes well beyond Homo sapiens, according to the new Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (pdf), which was signed last month by a group of cognitive neuroscientists, computational neuroscientists, neuroanatomists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists who attended the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals at Cambridge University in the U.K.
“The weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness,” the scientists wrote. “Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
Kanzi the bonobo continues to impress. Not content with learning sign language or making up “words” for things like banana or juice, he now seems capable of making stone tools on a par with the efforts of early humans.
A curious incident of a deceased giraffe has reopened the question of whether animals mourn their dead.
Zoologists have witnessed a giraffe mother investigating and refusing to leave the body of her dead calf, the third such incident on record.
Other social animals such as elephants and chimpanzees are known to investigate their dead, especially the bodies of their close relatives.
Such behaviour raises the prospect that animals have a “mental model” of death.