News Stories

Animal Morality

Biologists who study animal behavior are becoming convinced that all mammals have a moral code of conduct, not just primates (like us) and more advanced species. Anne Strieber can attest to this! And why have some animals traditionally become tamed, while others haven't. It turns out our pets have a "tameness" gene.

US ecologist Marc Bekoff believes that morality is "hard-wired" into the brains of all mammals and are the "social glue" that allows aggressive and competitive animals to live together in groups (even humans can't always do that!)

In the May 23rd edition of the Telegraph, Richard Gray quotes Bekoff as saying, "The belief that humans have morality and animals don't is a long-standing assumption, but there is a growing amount of evidence that is showing us that this simply cannot be the case. Just as in humans, the moral nuances of a particular culture or group will be different from another, but they are certainly there. Moral codes are species specific, so they can be difficult to compare with each other or with humans."

In what could be a breakthrough in animal breeding, an international team of scientists have discovered a set of genes responsible for animal tameness. This discovery should help animal breeders, farmers, zoologists, and anyone else who handles and raises animals to more fully understand what makes some animals interact with humans better than others. Biologist Frank Albert says, "I hope our study will ultimately lead to a detailed understanding of the genetics and biology of tameness. Maybe we'll then be able to domesticate a few of those species where humans have historically not been successful like the wild African Buffalo."

Geneticist Mark Johnson says, "For thousands of years, humans have domesticated animals, and all during this time, much folklore and mythology has surrounded the process. But of course genetics plays a large role in the process, and this research provides a solid scientific explanation of this phenomenon, and offers clues about how genomes can be manipulated to breed tame animals of species once believed to be untamable."

Some human beings seem pretty untamable, while some animals may even be able to show empathy for members of other species. According to Marc Bekoff, "There are cases of dolphins helping humans to escape from sharks and elephants that have helped antelope escape from enclosures. While it is difficult to know for certain that there is cross species empathy, it is hard to argue against it."

Art credit: Dreamstime.com

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