What is “Animal” anyway?

via Discover Challenge: Animal

Some draw a clear demarcation between “animal” and “human.”  Knowing that humans are in fact animals and there’s no getting around that, I usually draw my line between sapience and non sapience – the ability to think, and not.

Even that is a sliding scale.  Emotion is experienced by most mammals and even some reptiles.  I read an article that used sensitive microphones to listen to lab rats while they were being tickled, and it caught a laughing sound and reflex.  Elephants communicate over long distance using subsonics.  Female cougars sometimes bequeath areas of land to their female cubs when they get old enough to need a territory but can’t find their own.  Tigers have been found to engage in long disstance communication.  Certain prides of lions in Africa have learned to hunt cooperatively with the local tribesmen.  I’ve known cats who are self aware.  I’ve seen parrots who speak cognitively and some can even read and spell simple phrases.  Chimps and gorillas can learn sign language.  Dolphins and bonobo apes have sex for fun.

With all these things that are true and verifiable (the cat facts especially in a wonderful book called “The Tribe of Tiger,” by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, then is there even a dividing line?  I think it’s all a sliding scale of different levels of ability.  My cat, for instance, has an amazing social intelligence, and good hunting ability.  She can understand language, she obeys customs taught to her by another cat that are different than feline norm, prefers Japanese to English, and tells me when to go to bed and when to get up each day.  Yet, her planning ability still isn’t the best.  She’s definitely intelligent, but in a different way than I am.

Sometimes the line of demarcation between human and animal, or sapient and non sapient, is merely how much we see and notice.

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