I have covered a wide range of topics throughout my Biomedical Science degree: but one thing that really sparks my interest that isn’t really biomed related are studies involving animal behaviour.
Animal rights have recently been a hot topic, especially due to the viral article recently informing about the dolphin killing ritual in the Faroe Islands, which have shocked many. One main reason underlying animal cruelty may be because their value is often under appreciated, their intelligence overlooked, as it is not apparently obvious. Animals are able to show emotions and even compassion for their own species, as well as inter-species.
Whether it’s little zebra fish showing aggressive behaviour with a mirror test, or elephants for their caring behaviours, all sorts of animals are capable of actions that are similar to many types of human emotional behaviour.
Everyday birds that are seen as an annoyance on the streets, for example pigeons are often underrated for their abilities, normally as they are viewed as vermin. A well-known instinct is for very accurate homing ability. This ability may be due to their sense of smell, by spatially mapping ‘olfactory positions’ of locations, or past suggestions of magnetic field detection, a theory less well received.
Pigeons can also show other characteristics e.g. choosing a preference of two options, tested with a string test using a touchscreen:
The test involved choosing between string attached to an empty animated box (red string), and a box that looked like it had food in it (green). This demonstrated pigeon’s ability to learn, and make associations with a preference and food reward.
They are also able to pass the mirror test as they have the ability to recognise their own reflection. However this is being argued against, as the pigeons in the original experiments were trained to respond to a mirror. Although simple, passing these tests shows a lot of potential.
Crows are able to take certain faces that are associated with negative emotion/danger to memory, and other crows are called to the proximity to learn and ‘mob’ the dangerous face. These memories may last a lifetime, so are able to spread widely in the community through social learning.
Other such species, like primates and cetaceans are fairly well known for their ability to shown complex behaviours.
Capuchin monkeys are known for displaying playful and lively behaviours to attract a mate. A recent amusing article has shown how females can be seen throwing stones at males, as a form of ‘flirtatious’ behaviour. It is one of the only ways they can attract a mate, as there is no physical characteristics shown in this species before copulation. For males, it is much easier; rubbing their bodies with urine is effective in attracting females.
Dolphins are able to show complex behaviours, e.g. being able to communicate through their own series of clicking/whistle sounds, each having different interpretations. Another very interesting learnt behaviour is protecting their young’s snout with a sponge, when teaching foraging techniques. Although, recently people have started to consider whether they are really as smart as they are put up to be, as they can show some of the same social characteristics as chickens e.g. roaming in large groups, empathetic responses, so may be on the same intelligence wavelength, which in my opinion should not be any more of a reason for their abuse. This had lead to suggestions, which I do agree on, that animals should be appreciated for their different types of intelligence, rather than put on a hierarchy- type scale.
This may rule out possible ‘classification’ of dolphins as ‘non-human persons’. The Cetacean family, to which whales and dolphins belong, are highly respected due to their complex intelligence, to the extent that some countries decided to ban captivity, and the use of dolphins for entertainment purposes, as their intelligence is up to the level that they could have the same rights as a ‘non human person’.
In many species of varying family and size, there is an abundance of complex behaviours that are analogous to human behaviours, some being a caring thought, to heart-wrenching empathy behaviour, even towards other species.
With many different animals, research and analysis will continually reveal that there is more than meets the eye. Behaviour is a very complex topic, with opinions coming from many different perspectives, leading to differing definitions of the term intelligent.
Image taken is a screenshot from video: TrendVideos32. 2013. Pigeons master touchscreen intelligence test. [Accessed 06 Feb 2014] from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEVUD9UM-FA