“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”
— Alice Walker
Like us, animals have biological needs and experience pain, stress and discomfort. Many are intelligent and feel complex emotions like joy, happiness, depression and distress. Studies show that they have family bonds and feel true compassion for each other.
But what they can't do is speak for themselves. So humans feel justified in treating them as mere objects.
By pretending that animals don't suffer, that they can't feel pain, that they have no real need or desire for freedom, it is easier for people to use them purely as commodities and ignore their suffering.
So every year billions of them are captured, imprisoned, neglected, abused and slaughtered for human ends. They are used for everything from entertainment and sports to consumer product testing and food.
If animals don't have a say in their treatment, then it is up to all caring human beings to give them a voice, speak up on their behalf and end their abuse.
For years, those who have worked and lived closely with animals have strongly believed that animals feel a whole host of emotions, just as keenly as we humans do.
However, it wasn’t until the 1960s and Dr. Jane Goodall’s pioneering work with the wild chimpanzees of Gombe in Africa, where she began to see and write about each chimpanzee as a true individual with a unique character, that the emotional lives of animals began to become known to the wider world.
These days, the amazing world of animals and their complex lives and emotions has been opened up to us by the work of scientists and others working with animals, and stories abound which make it hard to argue that animals are anything but truly sentient beings.
Of course, the fact that animals undeniably feel physical pain is enough to make any form of animal cruelty unacceptable. But the fact we know, as far as we possibly can tell, that non-human animals feel emotions, means that we must give regard to their emotional as well as phyiscal well-being too and inevitably start to question the many ways that humans use animals for our own ends.
You can read some incredible tales of animal sentience at
There are also some wonderful books about animals and their emotions; some you might like to check out are: When Elephants Weep: the Emotional Lives of Animals by J. Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy, The Emotional Lives of Animals by Marc Bekoff and Jane Goodall and The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.
As a taster, here are some remarkable true stories and examples which show that animals really are complex, emotional beings, and more like us than we may realise!
Pandas and brown bears have been observed repeatedly rolling down hills, apparently just for the fun of it!
Young Japanese macaques have been seen to make and throw snowballs, just like we do!
Otters are among the most playful creatures on Earth, and families of otters can be seen playing together for hours on end- a favourite game is sliding down the riverbank into the water!
Chimpanzees laugh and giggle when they are happy and having fun.
Animals including deer, sheep, mice, rats and chickens, have been observed leading blind companions to food, water and out of danger. This extraordinary behaviour has even been observed crossing the species divide. An African wildebeest, whose eyes were swollen shut by a snake bite, was seen being guided to a waterhole by a small antelope. The antelope would gently guide the wildebeest by nudging his neck.
One member of a group of meerkats was badly injured by a jackal. The other meerkats, even though they were hungry and needed to move on to find food, moved very slowly so wounded one could keep up. The meerkats seemed to comfort the injured one, gently laying their heads on her body in turn, and stayed with her until she succumbed to her injuries.
An injured bird fell into a chimpanzee enclosure at a zoo. Chimpanzees sometimes eat birds, but incredibly the chimpanzees carefully passed the bird among themselves, then gave him to a zoo worker.
A three year old boy fell into a gorilla enclosure at a zoo, hit his head and became unconscious. A young female gorilla, called Binti, walked up to him, picked him up gently, and put him in a place where keepers could easily reach him.
Washoe, a captive chimpanzee who was taught sign language, was expecting a baby, as was her caregiver Kathy. Sadly, Kathy had a miscarriage and was away from work for a few weeks, during which time Washoe lost her baby too. When Kathy returned to work, Washoe, noticing that Kathy was no longer pregnant, signed to Kathy “Where’s baby” and Kathy signed back “Baby died”. Washoe’s response was “Come hug”.
Two pigs called Hope and Johnny lived at an animal sanctuary near Sacramento, California and developed a strong friendship. Hope was rescued from a stockyard, destined for slaughter, and had a severely injured leg, which greatly restricted her mobility. Johnny, who was much younger than Hope and fully mobile, spent a great deal of time tending to Hope, day and night. At night, Johnny slept next to Hope. Every morning, Johnny stayed with Hope so she could eat and drink without interference from the other pigs. When Hope died of old age, Johnny also died suddenly and unexpectedly within a couple weeks.
Aggie was a chicken who was rescued from a sad life as an egg-laying hen on a factory farm. Because of the terrible living conditions on the farm, Aggie had become blind. In her new home at an animal sanctuary Aggie had a best friend- a male chicken- who would look after her and keep her safe and never left her side. They did everything together- they slept together, ate together, scratched in the dirt together, and at the end of every day Aggie’s friend would put his wing around Aggie and lead her back to their shed to sleep. When Aggie passed away, her companion pined away and died shortly afterwards- so strong was their friendship.
Cows are seen to have distinct preferences for certain other members of the herd and will hang out in certain social groupings, shunning cows they do not like.
Geese are very loyal animals and will never abandon an injured member of their flock. If an injury causes a goose to leave their flock, others will stay with the injured bird until he or she gets better.
Many species of whales live in groups, called pods. In some species, such as bottlenose whales, scientists have observed that if a whale becomes injured, the rest of the whales will stay with the injured whale until he or she recovers, even if it means they risk getting stranded on the shore.
A pair of swans- a male and a female- were resting on a river on a very cold night when the water froze over. The male was able to free himself, but the female was stuck. After a few days some people rescued the female and took her away to look after her, as she was very weak and sick. It took four weeks for her to recover, but the male stayed nearby in the icy river, waiting for his mate, even though it was so cold. When the female was well enough to be returned to the lake, the male greeted her, and they flew away together to a warmer place.
Four captive chimpanzees, including a female called Washoe, were moved from an indoor cage in a laboratory to an outdoor enclosure. Once outside in their new home, Washoe ran over to a caregiver who was standing on the other side of the fence and held her face gently through bars. She also “kissed’ her caregiver through the glass.
Chimpanzees, like other primates, groom each other as a sign of affection and as a way of forming and reinforcing social binds. When captive chimpanzees are given good food, they will be more likely to share with others who have groomed them, seemingly repaying the favour!
Elephants are well known to rally around a baby elephant (calf) in trouble, for example if a calf is stuck in mud or threatened by predators. Elephants will do all in their power to protect their young, and when a baby is rescued all members of the herd will take it in turns to sniff the little one over and check that he or she is ok.
A female stork built her nest on top of a building. One day the building caught on fire, but the stork refused to leave her babies, who were too small to fly. As the fire came closer, she covered her wings to protect them, and wildly beat her wings to keep the smoke away. When the fire was finally put out, the mother stork was black from smoke and soot, but her babies were safe!
In a wild troop of rhesus macaques that was being studied, the leader was overthrown and killed in a fight by a rival male. All members of troop were seen to come to seemingly pay their respects at the body. The new self-appointed leader treated the others badly and ruled the troop by fear. One day, the females got together and attacked the new leader and overthrew him. Another male became the new leader of the troop and treated the others well.
Wolves will mourn the death of another pack member, even the lowest member of the pack. Wolves have been observed in an apparent somber mood, with no playing seen, for up to six weeks after the death of a pack member.
Elephants have been observed apparently mourning for dead elephants. Upon finding bones of dead relatives, elephants have been seen spending hours gently and quietly sniffing and touching the bones.
According to their handlers, dogs used for rescue work (for example following earthquakes) can get depressed when all they find are bodies all day. Sometimes, a rescue of a live person is staged at the end of a day when only dead bodies have been found, to keep the morale of the rescue dogs up.
Sheep react to facial expressions and, like humans, prefer a smile to a grimace! Scientists presented sheep with two doors that they could push open to gain food. One door had a picture of a smiling human or a happy sheep and the other had a picture of an angry human or a stressed out sheep. The sheep vastly preferred to press the doors with smiling human or the happy sheep!
Some animals are known to enjoy things like music, or a beautiful scene.
Did you know that pigeons have been known to enjoy some kinds of music- even moving in time to the music!
It seems that animals enjoy beautiful sunsets too- for example chimpanzees and bears have been seen to sit watching sunsets. Chimpanzees have even been seen holding hands to enjoy this beautiful sight!