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Years ago, we believed that we weren’tanimals and that animals were here solely for our use. Indeed, a cow was just awalking burger, steak of Sunday roast, keeping itself fresh and tasty ready forwhen we were hungry.


(译注:在英国,除了圣诞大餐外,最深入人心的大概要数那SUNDAY ROAST(星期日烤肉)了,系该国炸鱼薯条之外的传统名菜。据说起源于工业革命时代的约克。只在周日供应。)

Luckily, for their sake, things haveprogressed significantly from then and now we recognise that animals (includingour “superior” human selves in that category) can experience emotions from moresimple ones such as happiness and sadness to more complex ones such as empathy,jealousy and grief. Animal sentience is defined as the ability to feel,perceive and experience subjectively. In other words, it’s about emotions andfeelings and in some respects, having an awareness that “you are you”.


In fact, the scientific evidence foranimals being sentient is vast – so clear that three scientists read 2,500papers studying sentience in non-human animals and concluded confidently thatsentience does indeed exist.


If you saw Blue Planet II recently, forexample, you’ll have seen the footage of a pilot whale carrying around her deadcalf. For most humans, this clearly demonstrates a form of grieving,particularly given the behaviour changes in the wider family pod.


The evidence for sentience


Studies have shown that sheep are able torecognise the faces of their sheep friends even after being separated for twoyears. Elephants from strong family groups with immense memories and they crywhen they are hurt (both physically and emotionally). Capuchin monkeys knowwhen they are receiving unequal pay (grapes vs cucumber) and Macaques developindividual cultures, particularly when it comes to how one should wash apotato.


Chimpanzees like to keep the peace byredistributing bananas if someone complains that their share is unfair and evenrats have been shown to demonstrate empathy by giving up their favourite snackto save a drowning friend. They also giggle when being tickled.


Fish use tools and octopus weigh up whetherthe effort needed to gain a food reward is worth it depending on the type offood. There is also plenty of evidence on how animals have individualpersonalities and indeed how some are a glass half full type while others aremore glass half empty.


But it isn’t just from watching theirbehaviour that we can say animals are sentient. When we examine the brains ofspecies (and indeed individuals), we can draw parallels from what we know abouthuman brains and start to make assumptions.


Emotions mainly stem from a part of ourbrain called the “limbic system”. Our limbic system is relatively large andindeed humans are a very emotive species. So when we come across a brain thathas a smaller limbic system than ours, we assume it feels fewer emotions. But,and here’s the big but, when a limbic system is comparatively much bigger thanours, we don’t assume it feels more emotions than us. Most likely because wecannot imagine something that we do not feel or even know about.


The act of killing


In some marine mammals, their limbic systemis four times larger than ours is. In addition to this, some marine mammalshave spindle cells, which we originally thought were unique to humans, allowingus to make rapid decisions in complex social situations. Arguably, would theseevolve if they weren’t used for the same (or at least similar) purposes.


One potential reason why we don’t likethinking too much about animal sentience is because we like to kill animals.Some to eat and some, quite simply because we do not like them. Look at thosepoor spiders in autumn, coming in to find some shelter, only to meet their endbeing smacked by a slipper wielding human. We also turn a blind eye tosystematic cruelty on an mass scale to ensure we save some money on meat at thesupermarket. It’s far easier to pretend these animals don’t have feelings oremotions so that we can enjoy a cheap dinner without the emotion of guiltcreeping in.


So is animal sentience a big deal? Yes, itis. We need to ensure we include it everywhere to safeguard the welfare of allanimals, not just our pets. We live in a world where a lady putting a cat in abin causes immense public shaming, yet we’ll pop down to the nearest fast foodoutlet and eat meat that has lived the most abhorrent life ever withoutthinking twice. It really is time that we spent more time thinking about thethinking beings around us.