Saturday, May 22, 2010

Joyful Pandas and Brilliant Bees....

I am working on my book that includes lots of stories of animal intelligence. It is pretty shocking that most humans still think that we are the intelligent species and other species are just sort of animal machines without feelings, thoughts, desires, language, etc. I was reading about animals reveling in freedom. in the book When Elephants Weep. I read this book when it first came out and just pulled it out to re-read some sections today. If you haven't read this book, you are missing out.

Zookeepers, scientists who keep animals in cages in labs and others who make a living from captive animals, usually say/think that the animals just want food and a comfortable place to be, but do not care if they have freedom. In the book there is a story of a two-year old panda at a Chinese breeding center who lives in a dark cage. When she was given a chance to go into an outdoor enclosure, she ran out into the outdoor space, trotted up a hill and again and again somersaulted down the hill. The scientist observing the panda said that she exploded with joy.

It is obvious that zoo animals want more than just food and a roof over their head when they try to escape time and time again.

What is less obvious, and most scientists will argue against, is that all species want the ability to control their own destiny. One study with mice first proved that they had preferences. When given a dimmer switch to control their own lighting, they would turn down very bright lights to a more comfortable level. When left alone they would adjust the lights to their own preference. The mice would also often choose the opposite of the scientist's choice. If he turned the lights on bright, they would darken them and if he turned them off completely they would turn them on very bright. If this same scientist disturbed the sleeping mice they would come out of their nesting boxes and immediately return to their cozy spot. But if he put them back into the nesting boxes, they would come back out immediately and would not stay in no matter now many times he put them back in. This and other studies have shown that they (and other species) care more about choice than comfort.

There is a division in the animal rights/animal welfare community. Some animal rights groups are joining in the fight for "better conditions" for farmed animals. This is a welfare issue, not a rights issue. While I would be happy if the animals we keep captive had better lives, my job, and the job of all animal rights activists is to work for the abolition of this type of slavery. The backlash of the new "happy meat" products is that many people are going back to eating meat and dairy who had once boycotted it. The reality is that there is no such thing as humane slaughter. There is no such thing as happy meat. The animals are all killed before they are old or sick. And even those farms calling themselves "organic" "humane" or "free-range" include practices that no peaceful non-violent person would want to support if they saw the reality. (For more information on this issue, go to My reason for bringing this up is the connection to animals wanting choice more than comfort. Even if the reality was that "humane" farming practices were really humane, this important element would still be absent for the animals. Like slaves getting nicer living quarters and better food, they still do not have free-will.

We know so little about other mammals. We know even less about insects.

There is no way that humans could recognize individual bee's faces. But, bees, sheep, fish and other non-humans have no trouble recognizing human faces and remembering them later.

One study in Australia found that bees could remember human faces even days after they were trained. The scientists would show the bees the very same series of black-and-white photos of faces (the same ones that are often used to test human memory). The bees got sweet rewards for choosing correctly and sour rewards for choosing incorrectly.

Just more proof that we have barely tapped the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding our big animal family. what I am sure of is that they can comprehend our language and our culture much more than we can theirs. Just ask your dog or cat.

(For the full bee story, go to:

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