Saturday, March 19, 2005


Farm Animals 'need emotional TLC'
By Julianna Kettlewell BBC News science reporter

Cows enjoy solving problems, according to researchersFarm animals have feelings which should be respected and catered for, academics at a London, UK, meeting have said. They believe animals should not be dismissed as simple automatons - cows take pleasure in solving problems and sheep can form deep friendships. Delegates from around the globe were speaking at the Compassion in World Farming Trust (CIWF Trust) conference. They shared ways of exploring the minds of animals, as well as monitoring their suffering and alleviating their pain.
We have to understand we are not the only beings on this planet with personalities and minds
Jane Goodall"The study of animal sentience is one of the most exciting and important in the whole of biology," said Professor Marian Dawkins, of Oxford University. "My plea is that, when we make decisions and regulations about animals and campaign for them, the animals' voices should be heard and heard strongly." For whatever reasons, we humans tend to draw a charmed ring around ourselves - we suppose we are the only ones that think thoughts and feel feelings. We are happy to ascribe emotions to a tiny flailing inarticulate baby, while denying them in a sheep or even a chimpanzee. Talk of animal sentience is often brushed off as fluffy and sentimental - not the stuff of science or the real world. But perhaps we have been too hasty in our dismissal - perhaps consciousness does not peer through our eyes alone.
Farm animals are more productive if they are treated well"They are not unfeeling objects," said Professor Marc Bekoff, of the University of Colorado, US. "And what animals feel matters very much as they try to negotiate their lives in a human-dominated and often abusive world, in which they are mere pawns in our incessant and obsessive attempts to control their lives for our and not their benefit. "I am incredulous that some sceptics actually question whether animals feel anything."
Now there is a growing weight of evidence to suggest animal minds probably do house emotions quite similar to our own. Professor Donald Broom, from Cambridge University, studies the behaviour of cows. His team put them in a special pen which had a lever that, when pressed, would release the cows into a field with lots of delicious food rewards. Non-human animals probably feel emotions like fear and anger. The researchers found that when the cows finally "clicked" and worked out how to press the lever to reach the food, they showed signs of delight.
"When they learnt it they showed an excitement response," Professor Broom told the BBC. "Their heart rates increased and they were more likely to jump and gallop when they went down towards the food.
"It was as if the animals were saying 'Eureka! I've found out how to solve the problem'."
He continued: "We need to have a certain amount of respect for these animals, and I think most people have more respect for an animal if they feel it's aware of what's going on."
Being kind to farm animals isn't just a moral duty - according to the CIWF Trust delegates; there is something in it for us, too. Cows, for example, produce significantly more milk if their handlers talk to them gently rather than shouting and pushing them around.
"The handlers don't have to be really mean and hit the cows," said Edmund Pajor of Purdue University, US. "It's just a slap on the rump in the way that many farmers would. But the cows don't like it and it makes a real difference. Talk about animals' feelings is often brushed off as fluffy and sentimental"It helps send a message about treating animals in a proper way. A number of dairy farms now have signs up saying 'please don't shout at the cows'."
The famous chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall, in her opening speech at the conference, said we needed to re-define the way we viewed animals, both tame and wild. Dr Goodall, 71, who has spent 45 years studying chimps in Africa, told the CIWF Trust delegates that humans and chimps were strikingly similar - that both shared a capacity for barbarity but were also capable of great altruism. She described how she had seen chimps come to the aid of others who had been frightened, orphaned or injured, demonstrating "a care and compassion indistinguishable from our own". She said: "We have to understand we are not the only beings on this planet with personalities and minds."


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