Biologist pushes animal ethics
Animals have feelings too, expert says
By Jenny Dai
Friday, September 24,
Everything we know about animals demands that we treat
them better, University of Colorado professor Marc Bekoff said at a
talk Thursday sponsored by the Yale College Student Animal Welfare
Before an audience of 18 in Branford College ,
Bekoff spoke about his research on animal emotion and cognition.
While evidence suggests that animals experience emotions such as
pain and joy, he said, it has yet to stop researchers from using
animals in laboratories or factory farmers from slaughtering them.
“People think that pain doesn’t matter to [the animals] as much
as our pain matters to us,” he said.
Bekoff’s research in cognitive ethology, or the study of
animal minds, has taken him around the world. Working with orphaned
elephants at a rehabilitation center in Kenya , he said elephants
who see family members being killed suffer from post-traumatic
“They are just emotional wrecks,” Bekoff said. “I’ve seen these
elephants, and they are really screwed up.”
Bekoff has also
worked with the Hong Kong-based charity Animals Asia Foundation to
rescue moon bears, who are farmed for their bile, used in
traditional Chinese medicine. Moon bears, he said, are kept in cages
for up to 30 years, with catheters threaded into the gallbladders to
collect bile. In addition to emotional trauma, Bekoff added that
some bears arrive at the rescue center with serious diseases such as
Bekoff became so close with one of the moon bears, Jasper, that
he tried to teach Jasper to send e-mails, he added. “I miss him when
I’m not in China ,” he said.
Bekoff also talked about his experiences as an activist for
treating animals humanely, which he said has been frustrating.
People distance themselves from animals’ emotions, which allows
people to continue abusing them.
“We are an amazing species,” said Bekoff. “We do amazingly great
things and we do amazingly horrible things.”
Whitney Barlow ’11 said she enjoyed how Bekoff interacted with
the audience. Toward the end of the talk, Bekoff asked everyone in
the audience to introduce themselves.
“I learned as much from
him as I did from the audience,” she said.
Elsa Cardenas, a
research technician at the Yale School of Public Health, said while
she herself would never be a vegan like Bekoff— she said she eats “a
lot of meat”— she respected his work.
Katharine Konietzko ’14 said she was disheartened to see few
people at the talk.
“[Animal ethics] is like this muffled scream,” she said. “Why
isn’t this on the front burner for everyone?”
spoke at Quinnipiac University later Thursday.