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 Alliance.
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.
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“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 stress disorder.
“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, usedin 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 liver cancer.
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?”
Bekoff also spoke at Quinnipiac University later Thursday.