By Martin Leduc
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“What is animal welfare? You know, an animal, it can reproduce, it can eat, and that’s it. We will still limit things. This claim comes off the set of the channel LCPthis Friday, May 6, 2022, during the broadcast Politics at the table.
It is more precisely the president of the National Hunting Federation, Willy Schraen who says so. And he affirms it: “God knows that we know them, us, (the hunters editor’s note) the animals. »
But in fact, does an animal, whether wild or domestic, content itself, throughout its life, with eating and reproducing? Details.
Do animals have a conscience?
Being able to feel emotions is have a conscience.
“Whether we’re talking about a sponge or a jellyfish, I don’t know, but for most animals, all you have to do is see an animal report to realize that Willy Schraen’s assertion is false”, settles everything Cédric Sueur, professor of ethology (the scientific study of the behavior of animal species, editor’s note) at the University of Strasbourg, contacted by news.fr.
Many animals associated with hunting, such as deer and hinds, for example, live in groups.
However, a collective scientific expertise of the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA) explains that “the structuring of these groups presupposes social cognitive capacities”.
Through a wide variety of experimental protocols, it is widely believed that animals use their past social experiences and current relationships to adjust their behavior and achieve their goals. This requires the mastery of sophisticated means of perception, integration, planning and communication, which are presumably linked to consciousness.
In their interactions, therefore, animals raise awareness, and are therefore far from simply “eating and reproducing”.
“We see it very well in elephants, great apes, or ungulates (animals whose feet end in hooves, like cows or deer, Ed) for example,” adds Cédric Sueur.
Animals know how to recognize each other, know the hierarchy, etc. “The notion of morality is very present there. When an animal is injured, the rest of its group will protect it,” he says.
Other rather remarkable elements have been observed in birds. Clark’s Nutcrackerfor example, hides seeds permanently to prepare for winter.
“And we are talking about more than 30,000 seeds per year, in 5 to 6,000 hiding places. And this little animal remembers more than 80% of the places, even more than nine months later”, raves Sébastien Moro, who runs the Youtube channel for popularizing ethology bird brain. “Man would simply be unable to do so,” he assures us.
Laughing and Frowning Animals
“In most vertebrates, we observe a change in behavior that seems to corroborate their state of mind. A cow that is happy to find its meadow will jump in all directions”, gives Cédric Sueur as an example.
According to the professor, it is not insignificant to see an animal playing: “To play is to appreciate what you are doing. The animal knows that it likes to play, and therefore, either asks to be accompanied (human or congener) or will do it alone. »
“It’s a bit more complicated than that, but it’s not entirely wrong to say that some animals smile when they’re happy,” he says.
Monkeys, for example, laugh. “Not peals of laughter like humans, but they have their mouths open, their faces spread. Conversely, they frown when they are displeased. »
Another element that allows scientists to define animals as being relatively conscious: “They can, like us, be optimistic or pessimistic. If the animal experiences positive situations, it will be more inclined to discovery, curiosity. Several tests have demonstrated this,” says Sébastien Moro.
And this observation, he holds it experiments carried out by researchers on pigsanimals very close to wild boars, which are naturally associated with hunting.
More than just a reflex
In the full interview with the president of the Hunting Federation, Willy Schraen assures us that the behavior of the animals is “a simple reflex. A flight after a fear for example”.
However, in the various studies that have been carried out, “the animals have demonstrated very great capacities”. Cédric Sueur says, for example, that animals are aware of their existence and that of others.
In a group of great apes, two individuals have been observed to hide from the dominant male to exchange tenderness. They knew the chef wouldn’t like it, and made arrangements so they wouldn’t have a problem.
We have also been able to study that animals have an awareness of equality and balance. “Take two capuchins. Give a cucumber (food he doesn’t like) to one, and grapes (food he likes a lot) to the other. You will see that the first one will throw the cucumber in your face,” says the professor.
Moreover, we now know that certain specimens of birds are able to balance their food. “Give several types of food to a jay (a species that is not protected in France, and therefore huntable, Editor’s note), it will dig into all the plates to make a meal that it appreciates. A being devoid of conscience would just eat what he had under his nose, right? asks the popularizer.
And then beyond that, “we remember the gorilla Koko, who had mastered sign language. It’s not just anything”.
Are animals conscious, then? “Difficult to answer this question, because we are not in their head, even if many elements tend to validate this hypothesis”, according to Cédric Sueur.
“Let’s just say that they have a different intelligence than ours. Their subjective reality is not the same as us. And so, it can be difficult to perceive it with our prism of being human,” concludes Sébastien Moro.
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