Even Cows Get the Blues

Earlier this month a young bull escaped from a slaughterhouse in Brooklyn and ran for his life through the streets of NYC. He ended up two miles away in a field in Prospect Park. The bull, nicknamed Jimmy K, was taken to the Skylands Animals Sanctuary in East New York, Brooklyn.

Jimmy K’s desperate effort to live is characteristic of what all cows feel on their way to slaughter. And a new peer-reviewed paper in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition, entitled “The Psychology of Cows” authored by Dr. Lori Marino and doctoral student Kristin Allen, provides the scientific evidence to support this conclusion.
Cows share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, and humans.

The authors reviewed dozens of peer-reviewed studies of cognition, emotion, personality and social behavior of domestic cows. They found that cows possess surprisingly high emotional sensitivity, including the ability to “catch” each other’s feelings. This sophisticated capacity, known as “emotional contagion,” occurs when one individual experiences an emotion by witnessing that emotion in another individual. Shown in many socially complex species, including humans, this adaptive ability to share the feelings of others allows both cows and humans to use social cues to deal with challenging situations.

In addition to their empathic qualities, cows are also deeply affected by their own emotions, resulting in a cognitive effect on decision making akin to what we call “pessimism” and “optimism.” For example, the emotional and physical pain of early separation from their mothers and dehorning – two common practices in the dairy and beef industries – can result in a negative feeling that can last for days and impact their willingness to play or take on a new challenge.

With intriguing examples based on an extensive review of the scientific literature to date, the authors conclude that “Cows lead rich and intense social lives; experience a range of emotions; and rely on one another for comfort.” For example, they:

  • ABC_Cover_Nov-2017-smShow excitement and signs of pleasure when they master intellectual challenges, suggesting that cows have a keen awareness of the consequences of their own actions
  • Differentiate between individual humans, other cows, and members of other nonhuman species
  • Possess long-term memories
  • Can navigate complex mazes
  • Love to play with objects and one another
  • Experience judgment bias, a cognitive effect on decision-making analogous to what we call “pessimism” and “optimism”
  • Experience emotions, exhibit emotional contagion, and show some evidence for feeling empathy
  • Stay calmer and less stressed when accompanied by fellow cows even during stressful situations
  • Form strongly bonded social groups, with mothers and calves sharing an especially powerful emotional connection
  • Learn from each other
  • And have distinct, individual personalities.

Dr. Marino explains:

“We have shown that cows share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, and humans.

“The capacities explored in this paper also emphasize the need for additional non-invasive comparative behavioral research with cows in natural settings.

“At present, the available research on cows focuses overwhelmingly on how these animals can be used to maximize the profits of farming industries. Consequently, most studies explore questions such as: “How can we make cows grow bigger bodies in smaller spaces?” and “How quickly after her calf is taken away can a mother cow be re-impregnated to maximize her efficiency?”

“We want to encourage future research to shift away from a focus on how to use cows. Until then, we hope that insight into the feeling, thinking lives of cows inspires a future in which cows are not used as commodities but, rather, celebrated for the individuals they are.”

This is the fourth paper produced with grant money from Farm Sanctuary’s The Someone Project, an endeavor aimed at using scientific evidence to raise the public’s understanding of farm animal cognition and behavior. The first three papers focused on the cognitive and behavioral complexities of fish, pigs, and chickens respectively, and generated international attention.

A white paper based on this publication is also available. Also, the paper is reviewed at Newsweek magazine.

Historic Win for Nonhuman Rights Project

In an unprecedented decision, Judge Barbara Jaffe of the Supreme Court of the State of New York has signed a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of two chimpanzee plaintiffs of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), Hercules and Leo.

These are the first two nonhuman beings to be considered legal persons under the common law.

Hercules and Leo, who have been used in research for years, are currently held at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and are “owned” by The New Iberia Research Center in Louisiana. The court case, which was originally dismissed in Brooklyn and then recently re-filed in Manhattan by the NhRP, means that the judge ruled there is sufficient cause for Stony Brook to appear before a court and explain why they are keeping Hercules and Leo captive.

The scientific evidence used by the NhRP for this and the other chimpanzee cases was compiled by The Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy.

There is still a long way to go in the battle to free Hercules and Leo, the other two plaintiffs Kiko and Tommy, and all other chimpanzees being held against their will in captivity. But if the NhRP prevails, Hercules and Leo will probably be ordered to be sent to sanctuary at Save the Chimps, where they will lead lives that are as close as possible to their natural life in the wild. No longer will they be manipulated and constrained for human curiosity. Instead they will be free to make friends and the kinds of decisions all autonomous beings – all persons – want to make about their lives.

This decision has broken through a legal wall that has remained shut tight until now. It sets a precedent which can only facilitate the work of the NhRP and others who know that real cultural change will come when chimpanzee (and other nonhuman animal) rights are acknowledged and respected.

2013 – The Year of the Nonhuman Person

Happy New Year, readers! Like you, I am hoping for a year of progress for all nonhuman animals. It will be momentous for at least one reason: This year, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) will go to court to establish legal personhood for someone of another species – an elephant, dolphin or whale, chimpanzee or other great ape. And Kimmela continues to work closely with the NhRP to provide the scientific evidence and expertise crucial to their legal arguments that will bring one of these individuals to “legal life,” as NhRP President Steve Wise describes it.

Only after you’re recognized by the courts as being a “legal person” can you have the capacity to possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty. So let’s take a look at what it would mean for a nonhuman animal to be recognized as a person, and at what we mean by the right to bodily integrity and bodily liberty.

These fundamental rights are immunities against the most basic forms of harm. They include the freedom to live in one’s natural environment and not be captured and/or confined; the right to not be used, manipulated or experimented upon; and, of course, the right to not be killed. Asusbrechunres .

These very fundamental rights would protect first one and then many elephants, dolphins, and great apes (at least in this country) from being exploited and harmed in zoos and circuses, in military exercises, in laboratories, and, of course, in fisheries and slaughters.

Only after you’re recognized by the courts as being a “legal person” can you have the capacity to possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty.The concept of legal personhood for nonhumans is so new to many people that they often get confused and think you’re talking about human rights. But human rights are, by definition, for humans. Other animals need to be recognized as having rights that are specific to their species. Experts in personhood often equate rights with basic needs – what we need at a basic level in order to thrive. An elephant, for example, has the basic need, and therefore the right, to live her life as part of a family group in her natural habitat.

But before anyone, human or otherwise, can be recognized as having rights, they have to be recognized legally as a “person” with the capacity for a legal right. And that’s what the NhRP lawsuits will be setting out to accomplish. It’s all about giving other animals what they should have in the first place: a chance to live their lives unburdened by our exploitation. Such a small thing is such a big thing for them.

It seems so obvious to most of us that all animals have the need, and therefore the right, to live their lives in a natural setting unfettered by human manipulation and abuse. Kimmela’s work with the NhRP focuses on taking the first steps in accomplishing this in relation to those animals for whom the scientific evidence is abundant in terms of their intelligence, emotional sensitivity and social complexity.

This year, 2013, is the beginning of a process that will involve many lawsuits and appeals in courts all across the country. Some we will win and some we will lose. But in every case, the effort will be groundbreaking. And it seems that others agree. According to the magazine Popular Science, the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project will be one of the top science stories of 2013.

Perhaps, in the future, we will look back on this year as having been the year of the nonhuman person. And I wouldn’t be surprised if, sometime down the road, an elephant, dolphin or great ape graces the cover of Time magazine as their Person of the Year!