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Science Develops Method of Communicating with Animals

In recent years, researchers have been exploring methods of interacting with animals in an attempt to understand how they really feel about their lives.

Dr. Ian Duncan, emeritus chair in animal welfare at the University of Guelph, Canada, claims to have developed a system that allows him to ask questions of and receive answers from animals. Years of research using a variety of subjects, from livestock to domestic pets, has allowed him to develop the process, which he says is purely scientific.

“We are devising ways of ‘talking’ to animals and putting questions to them about their welfare and happiness," said Duncan.“Each species has to be treated differently but the common factor is to devise tests where the animals are offered a choice. If they make the same choice repeatedly . . . it shows what they want from us.”

Dr. Duncan has been a campaigner for animal rights for many years, voicing strong opinions on the subject of religious slaughter for halal and kosher meat, and conducting research which has led to positive improvements in the methods used to intensively farm chickens and pigs.

He said he believes that all living creatures have a personal perspective on their surroundings and living conditions, even farmed fish like trout or salmon.

“It used to be thought that animals were ‘dumb’, driven by programmed instincts and responses, but now it is clear they live a much richer life than we ever realised and can remember the past and think about the future. We can use that knowledge to ask questions about their care and then improve it.”

Duncan originally hails from Scotland but now lives in Ontario; his new theories on the science of animal welfare and sentience are to be presented at a conference in Washington. His views are shared by Con Slobodchikoff, an animal behaviorist and professor emeritus at Northern Arizona University, who has also devoted much of his career to the pursuit of enhanced communications with our four-legged and feathered friends.

Though his research has encompassed a broad range of species, Slobodchikoff has chosen to focus on the prairie dog because he has determined that these creatures use a very sophisticated form of language. Using complex statistical analyses of their cries, taking into account the acoustic qualities and the context in which they were uttered, Slobodchikoff believes that he has been able to perceive the meaning of each call. A video of prairie dogs communicating accompanies this article.

" I started looking at the social system of prairie dogs -- and prairie dogs have a very complex social system. They have alarm calls, which they give when they see a predator. And the alarm calls turned out to be a Rosetta stone for me, in the sense that I could actually decode what information was contained within the calls," he said.

" The animals have word-like phonemes, combining those into sentence-like calls. They have social chatter," he explained." They can distinguish between types of predators that are nearby -- dogs, coyotes, humans -- and seem to have developed warnings that specify the predators' species and size and color."

Slobodchikoff is certain that many other species, including whales and dolphins, will also be found to use very advanced forms of communication, but it is far more difficult to study them in such detail.

"That's a problem with studying things like whale and dolphin calls, because they occur below the ocean surface where we can't really see what's going on," he commented. " So we can hear their vocalizations, but we aren't really sure what their context is. And you need to have the context in order to crack the code -- it's the context that allows you to decipher the meaning of the message."

Slobodchikoff has used artificial intelligence techniques to record prairie dog language, and computer programmes can now analyze the calls and convert them into English. The technology can also convert English into "prairie dog" language. It is hoped that eventually, small devices could be developed that would allow people to converse with their own pets in the same way.

"I think we have the technology now to be able to develop the devices that are, say, the size of a cellphone, that would allow us to talk to our dogs and cats," revealed Slobodchikoff." So the dog says "bark!" and the device analyzes it and says, "I want to eat chicken tonight." Or the cat can say "meow," and it can say, "You haven't cleaned my litterbox recently."

For those of us who have always believed in the sentience of all living things, this is very welcome news. Treating our fellow creatures with greater respect, and understanding their unique perspective on the cycle of life, has to be a positive step for the human race towards greater enlightenment. To be able to communicate with and comprehend the needs of animals, birds, fish and insects would surely expand our consciousness to new levels, and unveil a whole new world here on earth.

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Yahoo!!! It's about time! Get ready for signs and t-shirts saying the like of "My pet calf hates McDonald's!" or "My morgan cries when he smells glue."

Jesus was right (of course) and so was Einstein: Vegetarianism is Humanism.

Maybe we will uncover a growing plot against humans for our inhumane and brutal treatment of them, but be able to turn the tide in time and all live in love.

Chris71, you're spot-on. I know I could not eat something I could communicate with, even in a rudimentary language.So maybe I won't order those steaming fajitas today for lunch and instead get a vegetarian bean burrito. If scientists ever figure a way to communicate with vegetables and plants, I'm in big trouble, tho!

I agree, this is very powerful stuff. If we can talk to them, over time it is going to profoundly change us, and very much for the better. I was eating a lamb chop last night when that thought crossed my mind. Wow. No more higher animals for me.

So, we should limit our consumption to beings that we can't understand? Addressing Mish's comment on vegetables, the vast majority of creatures, even plants, can communicate in some form or fashion. Where would one draw the line? Frankly, I think using whether or not scientists have decoded a particular species' language to be a poor metric for that...

Earlier article on Slobodchikoff's work:

"The ability to speak does not make you intelligent." ~Qui-Gon Jin

Intelligence doesn't matter either way, and pain and suffering doesn't hurt any less if you're stupid. Besides Im pretty sure Qui Gon was talking about people, not animals. Being human shouldn't make us think we're entitled to do whatever to whoever we please. Maybe we should do our best to ensure the food we eat has a healthy happy life before it gets to our plates. For no reason other than they are alive and deserve that right as much as we do.

The quote was meant to be facetious, my apologies for forgetting the appropriate emoticon. ;)

And I took that to be the point behind Duncan's research Chuck, he dosen't seem to be telling us not to eat critters, but seems to be trying to ascertain their more immediate welfare. Death isn't so much the problem, it's how we treat life that's important...

I agree Matt. No need for the emoticon, I should lighten up a little.
The subject of food and animals has been on mind quite a bit recently, and Ive recently given up eating meat. The way we treat the animals we eat discusts me and I just feel like theres no way to stop it. I think this is most upsetting to me because I dont understand why most people have to identify with something in order to have compassion for it. Hopefully this research will help to change something for the better.

Sometimes I feel that how we feel about what we eat is more important than what we are eating. I mean this in the context of appreciating the plant or animal, and also acting as humanely as possbile towards other living things. Ancient and indigenous peoples often considered plants and animals that gave them sustenance as sacred. The problem today is that life in general is not considered sacred and is cheap, except in terms of human life, and we also tend to fall short there as well.

Whether you are vegetarian or omnivore, give thanks for those living things that help you to thrive and be healthy to live your life.

We're not really even very good at listening to and understanding what other humans speaking the same language are saying. People get conned all the time by smiling faces telling lies. It's great there are people attempting to understand other animal communications but our human world is chock full of deceivers. The best at that are the ones that have the lion's share of the money and rule our countries because the rest of us aren't discerning enough to know when we're being conned. I'd love to have a computer device that would tell us what other people are really saying when they speak.

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