Animal Rights and Wrongs


| September 7, 2000


Animal Rights and Wrongs

Many mainstream scientists still bristle at the thought, yet the evidence is mounting that animal intelligence is more than just anthropomorphic fantasy. 'Koko the gorilla has a sign vocabulary of 500 words and does Internet chats. Alex the parrot knows the names of more than 100 different objects, seven colors, and five shapes; he can count objects up to six and speaks in meaningful sentences,' writes Steven Best in Britannica.com.

Best reviews the spate of recent books on the new discipline of 'cognitive ethology'-- the study of animal intelligence and consciousness -- and the ethical implications of the emerging new paradigm.

'Only in the 1960s . . . when Jane Goodall went to Gombe National Park in Tanzania, did human beings learn that chimpanzees make and use tools,' Best writes. 'Not until 1983 did researchers discover that elephants communicate with ultrasound. New studies suggest that rats dream when they sleep and that the 'great apes' (chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas) have 'self-awareness neurons' responsible for self-consciousness.'

Best traces the roots of the discipline to Charles Darwin, whose theory of natural selection showed 'that the difference between nonhuman and human animals was one of degree, not form.' For instance, George Page, author of Inside the Animal Mind' 'cites experiments where adult chimps use analogical reasoning better than children and some adults,' while another researcher 'found cases where pigeons performed better on categorization tests than his own undergraduates.' -- Leif Utne
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