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Animal cognition and awareness

Knowledge of how animals perceive and react to their environment is essential when considering their welfare and management. The anthropomorphic approach cannot be assumed to be best for either domestic or wild animals.

Procedures such as the de-oiling of sea birds, transportation and incarceration of wounded or sick wild animals and the relocation of hedgehogs should be assessed on the grounds of what is best for the animal in question not by what man might imagine for himself.

Huge advances in cognitive neuroscience in recent years, particularly with the arrival of magnetic resonance imaging have shown just how different man is from other animals in his powers of cognition and awareness (see review by Dr.I.E.Addison below)

Most significant is the ability of man to be conscious of a 'self' that thinks in time and space. This derives from enormously enlarged frontal lobes of the brain (the thinking part of the brain) which collaborate with a unique neurological circuitry that collates all sensory data into an extended area, on one side of the brain cortex, called the insula, which neuroimaging in humans shows to be maximally active specifically when reflecting on what is happening to oneself.

Thus although the behaviour of non-primate mammals suggests they experience feelings from the body in the same way that we do, the neuroanatomical evidence indicates that they cannot, because the phylogenetically unique pathway in man that conveys primary sensory data from within the body (afferent homeostatic activity) directly to the cortex of the brain is absent.

These fundamental differences between man and non primate mammals have far reaching implications for our understanding and handling of wild animals. Thus the sea bird undergoing the de-oiling process experiences only the trauma of the event, the wounded or sick wild animal and the relocated hedgehog perceive only the immediate disturbance of capture and transportation.

For more information please see the following links to downloads of the documents (PDF format):

“Don't regard animals as second class humans” - Letter to Veterinary Times May 16, 2016 on the fallacy of an anthropomorphic view of animal reactions

Even less like a human in 2006 than in 2002” - a review by Dr.I.E.Addison on advances in cognitive neuroscience presented to the Symposium: The Welfare and Management of British Wildlife, London, November 2006
Full paper

The Animal Welfare Ratchet” – a vet’s eye view of animal welfare science by Dr. D.R.Wise, 2005.

The five freedom folly” – a discussion document by Dr. D.R.Wise, 2005

Symptoms or signs”– letter to the Veterinary Record, August 6, 2005 by L.H.Thomas, I.E.Addison and D.J.Renney comparing human and non primate mammalian awareness.

Poster presented at: UFAW International Symposium on Darwinian selection, selective breeding and the welfare of animals, Bristol, June 22-23, 2009
download the summary
download a copy of the poster.



The Quarry Species