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Empathic chickens and cooperative elephants: Emotional intelligence expands its range again

Chickens feel one another's pain and elephants know when they need help

The more we actually study animals the more we learn about their emotional lives and cognitive skills. A few years ago a prestigious research group discovered that mice displayed empathy but caused a good deal of pain to the mice being studied. Now we've just learned that chickens also feel one another's pain. A research group at the University of Bristol, using non-invasive methods, showed for the first time that "domestic hens show a clear physiological and behavioural response when their chicks are mildly distressed." Mother hens and their chicks were exposed to puffs of air. "When the air puff was directed at the hens, they reacted with signs of fear, becoming more alert and preening less, and their eye temperature decreased. When their chicks were exposed to the puffs of air, the hens showed all these signs but in addition, their heart rate increased and they made more clucking calls to their chicks - strong signs of their concern." (see also)

Previous research has shown that chickens are very intelligent so this new discovery is not all that surprising. For years, Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, has been telling us how smart and emotional birds are and that they deserve far better treatment then they receive in food processing facilities, truly torture chambers, around the world. Accumulating data from research on chickens (and other birds) support her views. Chickens kept in horrific conditions in battery cages on factory farms don't like it and they also feel the pain and suffering of other chickens who are crammed into these incredibly inhumane prisons. If you're eating chickens you're eating pain and misery and it's not a matter of WHAT'S for dinner it's a question of WHO'S for dinner because billions of sentient animals are slaughtered and tortured for unneeded meals.

Elephants also are making news once again. We all know how smart and emotional these amazing beings are and now we've learned that they will cooperate to pull two ends of the same rope to get obtain a reward and also that an elephant will wait for another elephant to come help knowing that there is no point to pulling the rope alone. "These findings suggest that the elephants had not simply learned to pull on the rope after their partner arrived at the apparatus. They seemed to understand that the cooperative task involved both animals pulling on a rope simultaneously. This puts their performance on a par with that of chimps and bonobos."

Stay tuned for more on the amazing world of animals ....

More from Marc Bekoff Ph.D.
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