Studies show animals have more cognitive and emotional lives than humans believe
A recent study conducted at Harvard University (scientific paper) to examine working visual memory found that an African grey parrot was able to outperform 6-8-year-old human children. That might not be so amazing on its own — research has already shown various bird species to perform on par with human children — if it weren't for the third group in the comparison. The parrot also performed equally or better than a group of 18-30-year-old undergraduate students in 12/14 trials.
This is just one in a long list of studies showing that animals have vastly more complicated intellectual and emotional lives than they have traditionally been given credit for. Previously, Flayrah has also covered how Chaser, a border collie, learned over 1000 words and was able to understand them in complex ways, how dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia, demonstrate not only tool use but cultural transmission of tool use and advanced communication abilities in corvids. Recent work with Chimpanzees has shown not only the extent of their tool use but also how techniques for fishing out termites are culturally transmitted and that chimpanzees that move to a new group, adopt the techniques of the new group rather than their old method.
Despite this, we see alarming stories of callous and cruel treatment of animals. Lynley Tulloch writes that, during lockdown, "it would seem that ‘kindness’ did not cross the species barrier like Covid -19 did." This is as she talks about how, partly guided by the words of the New Zealand government, people have been killing various animals, particularly those seen as pests or invasive. Despite it being illegal, there are many reports of people drowning various animals, ostensibly to help wildlife. A video actually demonstrated this by drowning a rat.
At this point, I feel it necessary to remind everyone that rats are intelligent, highly social animals. Not only is there evidence of empathy in rats, they will take action to assist fellow rats in distress, but they will also modify their own behaviour to avoid harming other rats. Last year, scientists demonstrated that rats would learn to play hide and seek, not for a food reward but to be tickled and just for the love of playing with humans. We may not always get along but these are not mindless creatures that we can just drown because we don't like them.
At times, animals are not only mistreated but their ability to think and feel is dismissed entirely by people who should know better. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture recently made a submission to the government that claims we do not know if animals are capable of reasoning or cognitive thought. This is in direct opposition to what the science shows. It's been eight years since an international group of neuroscientists signed The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness which explicitly stated that "non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses" possess everything necessary for consciousness.
Members of the furry fandom should have a greater connection to animals than the average person. Animals are an intrinsic and essential aspect of the fandom. I feel that we cannot just appropriate their appearances and then turn our backs when they are suffering. We do a great job in donating to various animal charities but I feel that we should also speak up for them and defend them when they need us. We can not continue to view animals as inferior or lesser creatures whose lives and suffering count for less than our own whims. We must look at them as intelligent and emotional beings who may be different but who are just as valuable in their own way. Our fellow passengers in the journey of life.