The human-animal divide

In a class discussion in Animals and Society (SOC 285W) we tried to figure out if there were any qualities that set humans apart from all other nonhuman animals. Students brainstormed a list of qualities that might only belong to humans, then spent the week researching if any nonhuman animals had these qualities also. Here is the list of the qualities we thought of and what we learned.

Abstract Thought

In October 2001, researchers were able to determine that Baboons can think abstractly. The experiment showed that the baboons were able to use “analogous thinking” to match symbols. Two baboons were trained on 16 different pictures of daily objects. The baboons were then presented two pictures from the sixteen and when the pictures matched, they were rewarded. The YouTube video shows how Baboons work together to avoid getting stuck in a man-made trap.   -Jimi Onadipe

American Psychological Association. (2001, October 14). Baboons can think abstractly, in the first study to show that a non-human, non-ape animal shares a central aspect of human intelligence. Retrieved January 25, 2017, from

Using Tools

I found that some scientists where testing cognitive abilities of birds and testing if tool using birds had more cognitive abilities than non-tool using birds. I chose this journal article because it documents the tool use behavior incredibly well. The bird develops a behavior of flying to the edge of a branch or to the ground to find or break off a short stick. The bird the uses that stick to poke into holes of dead tree limbs or sumps using the stick as a probing device. Here is a picture I found of the bird Cactospiza pallida displaying such a behavior as shown in the article. I also found videos of other types of finches showing tool use behavior.    – Ian Brickley

I. Teschke, E.A. Cartmill, S. Stankewitz, S. Tebbich, Sometimes tool use is not the key: no evidence for cognitive adaptive specializations in tool-using woodpecker finches, Animal Behaviour, Volume 82, Issue 5, November 2011, Pages 945-956, ISSN 0003-3472


Animal morality is constantly being argued over despite there being several recorded cases of animals showing some form of morality. The example I found was about a gorilla named Binti Jua, who made headlines in 1996 when a little boy fell into the gorilla cage at a zoo in Illinois. This particular gorilla defended the little boy with her own young clinging to her back. She brought the little boy to an emergency door and handed him off to the zoo staff. This gorilla showed empathy towards the human that unexpectedly intruded into their territory. – Matthew Heald


Using Other Animals

Imagine a cow with an infected hoof, struggling to walk around comfortably.  A farm dog licks this cow’s hoof twice a day every day until the farmer notices that something is wrong with the hoof and treats it, ultimately sparing the cow’s life.  Whether it is a symbiotic relationship or my cats using each other for protection or seeking out food, we certainly are not the only type of animal that uses others for a wide array of reasons.  Symbiotic relationships can be categorized into three groups which are commensalism, mutualism, or parasitism.  Commensalism is when one of the two species benefits from the relationship without harming or positively impacting the other species (University of Utah).  In the case of my two cats, this would be a mutualistic relationship because if Teddy Bear bothers my parents for food, both her and Rascal win by getting their fed which is ultimately a win-win for both of them.  There are many examples of parasitism in animals such as fleas in dogs and cats.  Fleas are able to complete their lifecycle while harming the dog or cat, as an example.  The ways in which animals use each other is endless whether it is positive, negative, or neutral.    – Krista Wermerskirchen



Elephants have shown themselves to be empathetic on many occasions.  Researchers have seen them pull tranquilizer darts out of one another, pull one another out of the mud, and even empathize with humans by protecting an elderly woman from hyenas.  Some scientists debate that animals aren’t empathetic because their behaviors cannot be repeated as they occur in the wild.  Many observations of empathy in elephants are observed in Minkebe National Park in Gabon, Africa.  Numerous articles regarding empathy in elephants mention the method of emotional contagion, which is when emotions in one being are present in another, through the process of transference.     – Kallie Wolseth

1721577-10816667 - Kallie Wolseth- Jan 22, 2017 435 PM - az_african_elephants.jpg
Elephants playing


War is considered a state of competition, conflict, or hostility between different people or groups, usually with the use of armed forces. Now how does war relate with non-human animals? Animals don’t have guns, reasoning, or desire to start war, right? Well according to many studies done on ants it shows that they to, just like humans, wage wars on other groups.  “When it comes to war-fighting, ant species are more similar to humans than most other animals, even primates,” ecologist and photojournalist Mark Moffett states. Ants with their organization and deceptive behaviors has lead them to become pros at taking over other ant colonies. Ants deploy their troops when there is a need for a resource, like food or workers. Ants use chemicals, biting, and pure strength to overtake the colonies. The ant’s use their abundant troop size and the element of surprise to take the colony by storm. They will send out expendable-weak ants first to weaken the raided colony, then the solider ants will come in to finish it off. They will then take the food or workers that they desired. When there is a need for workers a colony will raid an opposing colony to steal their eggs and raise the young as workers in the raiding colony. The workers, or as many call them slaves, do not know that they were born into a different colony. Ants have been around for hundreds of years and have perfected their war-waging behaviors in order to survive and thrive within their ever changing world.  – Chelsea Zblewski

Drummond, Katie. “Looting, Cannibalism and Death Blows: The ‘Shock and Awe’ of Ant Warfare.” Wired. Conde Nast, 3 Aug. 2010. Web.
O’Donnell, Sead. “Ant Wars.” Serious Science. Serious Science, 25 Aug. 2016. Web.

Killing for Fun

Before researching this topic, I was brainstorming about how to start my search for scholarly articles on animals that kill for reasons other than food. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this happens all the time with domesticated outdoor cats. There are many cats out there that have only eaten cat food their whole lives but they still hunt other species such as birds and bunnies. They may not even recognize that the catch is food and they just leave it on the doorstep of their human-owned residence. I still wanted to research other nonhuman animals who engage in this behavior and I came across as article about dolphins of the coast of Scotland who were killing porpoises for reasons unknown. I found a video of the odd behavior and although it isn’t the best video, you can tell what is going on. It can be argued that they fight over territory but the journal article I found says that dolphins can easily chase away a porpoise and they have been seen chasing down porpoises and attacking them. the article also states that many porpoises have been washed ashore uneaten but with signs of dolphin attack such as teeth marks.  – Sam Orinstien



An example of animals show signs of spirituality in terms of some sort of death ritual a good example is of the elephant Eleanor. She collapsed one night and another elephant had stopped and tried to save her. Eleanor ultimately died but after her death came a herd of elephants to visit her carcass. Over the next few days 5 other herds of elephants with no connection to Eleanor came and visited her body. They poked at it and stood around it and displayed a sort of funeral like gathering around her body.  – Michael Maaninen


elephants mourn.png

Use of Technology

In the English language technology is defined in the simplest terms as “the use of science in industry, engineering, etc., to invent useful things or to solve problems” (Merriam-Webster). When I think of technology I tend to think of machinery and electronics, incredible inventions that are part of everyday human life. We utilize technology to help us meet our needs. However, humans are not the only animals that create tools to help solve problems. No, there aren’t squirrels updating their status on Facebook or black bears riding snowmobiles (yet), but there are critters who are problem solvers and inventors of their own helpful devices. In 2009 Live Science Contributor, Charles Q. Choi, published a list of 10 non-human animals that develop and use technology. Among this list was chimpanzees—our closest relative, crows, orangutans, elephants, sea otters, gorillas, octopus, macaques, and rodents. Chimpanzees use unique tools for obtaining food. They can make spears for hunting enemy primates, tools to scrounge for ants, and rocks as hammers for cracking open nuts. Crows have been found to create tools from twigs, leaves, or their feathers. They also have used stones to raise water levels. Orangutans use whistles made from leaves to communicate and keep predators at bay. Elephants whittle tree branches to slap at insects on their backs. Dolphins have been seen carrying and using sponges to unearth organisms in the ocean floor. Sea otters use stones as hammers for cracking open shells to access the prey inside. Some rodents use rake-like tools to comb through the soil for food. The list of animal tool users could go on and on. Many human technologies have been inspired by non-human animals. Humans do not give the animal kingdom enough credit. They, too, are scientific thinkers.   – Megan Serratore


Abstract Thought

Do animals have abstract/critical thought? Critical thought is used when problem solving, categorizing, identifying patterns, and reason, whereas abstract thoughts are intellectual ideas or concepts such as death, empathy, time, and lying.  Apes are able to identify similar animal groups such as reptiles or birds. This shows their ability to identify patterns and categorize them. (

Elephants are able to find lost people. Humpback whales have helped seals who are being hunted ( These both show the ability to understand and use empathy. A duck named Harper witnesses the necessary euthanasia of his best duck friend Kohl and mourns for weeks later. Showing he understands the concepts of death ( Thoughts and consciousness in itself is a confusing topic that humans don’t have a full understanding of but it is apparent that animals share aspects of these with us.   – Hannah Mielke

Use of Money

I was assigned a quality that nonhuman animals take part in or use in their day to day lives. As humans we use money in exchange for a specific good or service. Nonhuman animals also use a symbol to exchange for a good or service. Animals symbols aren’t necessarily money but their symbols do have the same value as money. Animals have been known to exchange food for services such as sex. They also have been known to exchange certain objects for food or services. Animals use this trading system very regularly. Many people have observed and noticed these behaviors in the wild and in captivity. One study that was performed showed that male chimpanzees exchange meat for sex. Male chimpanzees exchange meat to female chimpanzees to receive sex as a payment. Female chimps want the meat so that they can become healthier so when they go out and hunt it is easier for them. The male chimps take advantage of that and give the females the meat that they have hunted and expect something in return. Another study showed that female penguins in Antarctica exchange sex for rocks from male penguins to help build their nests. The video attached explains how female penguins use calls and body language to help reel in the male penguins.   – Kaylie Bozell



Male Bowerbirds in the wild display creativity in order to attract potential mates. The males will build a small ‘archway’ made up of two stick walls in their ‘bower’, while the courtyard, or ‘gesso’ viewable from it they fill with objects of a specific color. The objects are organized from smallest to largest, creating a forced-perspective work of art that makes the objects look like the same size. This confuses and mesmerizes the female, if done correctly. The male will readjust his space to look less sloppy and disorganized, displaying a creative intent rarely seen so well-displayed by species in the wild. Males also create individualized mating ‘dances’, hoping to attract females drawn by the ‘gesso’. Location: New Guinea and Australia   Classification: Songbird  – Maggie Waters

Reference: Kelley, L. A., & Endler, J. A. (2012). Illusions Promote Mating Success in Great Bowerbirds. Science, 335(6066), 335-338. doi:10.1126/science.1212443


In the 1950’s Ecologist Kinji Imanishi studied macaque monkeys in Koshima, Japan. Imanishi and his group of scientists feed the monkeys sweet potatoes and observed their behavior. Instead of eating the sweet potatoes as it was given, one monkey washed hers off in a river before eating it, simply to get rid of the sand. A domino effect was created when other monkeys began to dip their sweet potato in the river as well. Within a decade, the island’s macaque colony all practiced the act of potato washing. This is believed to be the one of the first observations of nonhuman animals showing what was then thought of as behavior only humans have — culture. New studies have shown that monkeys and whales are evidence to confirm the 1950’s research. From psychologist Andrew Whiten observing South African monkeys who learned conformity by eating certain dyed corn based on their peers to marine biologist Luke Rendell witnessing humpback whales using different techniques of fishing based on association with another whale. The evidence is there. Now, whether this is considered adaptive behavior or culture is debated to this day. – Jenna Thompson


moneky washing potato.png


Are humans different from animals because we make decisions based off of social relationships instead of instinct? Diving into the research on altruism, it appears that’s not that case. In fact, many animals perform acts that endanger their personal well-being to help others.  While there are many animals that do so, one of the most common species to act in such a way is the Vampire Bat. Vampire Bats require ingesting blood of animals every 36 hours, otherwise they starve to death. Biologist Gerald Wilkinson discovered that female bats share their blood with family members or friends that weren’t successful in their hunt for food. They are in no way required to share their feast, yet female vampire bats give up food needed for survival to other bats because of their social ties.  – Amanda Glowa