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8 March 2016

News from New Zealand: 

New Zealand has just set a great example to the world by recognizing what animal lovers have known forever- that our furry friends are as sentient as we are, and (obviously, dur) they have feelings just like we do. It’s a theme we have covered time and again here at True Activist, but this landmark ruling by NZ is the first time this shift in perception and policy has been extended to all animals, not just chimpanzees, orangutans, or dolphins.

The Animal Welfare Amendment Bill, passed last month, aims to make it easier to prosecute people in animal cruelty cases, as well as banning animal testing and research.

Animal rights activists have celebrated the decision. “To say that animals are sentient is to state explicitly that they can experience both positive and negative emotions, including pain and distress,” said Dr Virginia Williams, chair of the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee. “The explicitness is what is new and marks another step along the animal welfare journey.”

The sentient-ness of animals has been an interest of mine ever since I read that Alec Ramsey and The Black could communicate on a non-verbal level in "The Black Stallion" back in grammar school.

In Catholic school we were always taught that only humans could really think and feel.  We were the higher species because we could use tools.  But ever since Jane Goodall moved in with the chimps, we have learned that not only chimps but lots of other animals use tools.  No one watching movies of Goodall with her chimps or Dian Fosse with the mountain gorillas could deny that these were sentient beings.

I started following the tales of Koko the gorilla, originally the project of then-Stanford PhD candidate Penny Patterson in 1972.  It was to be the first ever project to study linguistic capabilities of gorillas.  Koko's story is incredible, her ability to learn sign language and to begin to communicate with humans, not only displaying, but expressing her feelings.  There is nothing sweeter than her desire for and her delight in getting a kitten she named "All Ball." 

The history of Koko is nothing short of amazing and she has made friends with countless celebrities in her life, including Robin Williams, who made her smile for the first time since the death of her partner, Michael, 6 months prior to her meeting Williams.  When the news of Williams arrived and Koko understood that he was gone, Koko cried.

It's no secret here of my love for and fascination with elephants and learning all about them.  I am presently reading "Elephant Memories, Thirteen years in the life of an Elephant Family" by Cynthia J. Moss.  It's not the first book about elephants I have read, nor will it be the last.  Moss's observations of elephants in Amboseli Natural Park leave no doubt about the intelligence of these animals, their ability to form close family connections, their feelings of joy and sadness.

And the latest book I read is called "Alex the Parrot" and details the 30+ year relationship between an African grey parrot and the scientist, Dr. Irene Pepperberg, who chose to work with him  At the time of his death, Alex not only had a speaking knowledge of more than 100 words, but was able to express himself, to make up his own words for things (would not say "apple," for example because it tasted to him like a combination of a banana and a cherry, so he called it a "banerry").  He was labeled "the smartest bird in the world" and at the time of his death, there were obituaries world-wide, including a full page in the New York Times.

Reading the extraordinary reports such as those I mention here, but just looking at my dogs, who know when I am going to leave the house while I am still sitting at my computer typing shows that, really, there is no such thing as a "dumb animal."

And then I watch Republican television debates and wonder.....


Alex, the parrot

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