As animals who prize our capacity to think (Homo sapiens), we tend to judge other animals based on how smart they are. Instead, researchers say, it may be their capacity to feel and express feelings that is truly essential. Emotion is displayed by animals all around us. Dolphins and orcas demonstrate playfulness and loneliness, cheerfulness and affection. Elephants, who also live in close-knit groups, are often seen expressing joy and sorrow. Baboons can become depressed, monkeys angry, pigs and calves terrified, and parrots cranky. But many scientists are now considering that animals may even have perceptions we would recognize as spiritual, in the secular sense: beholding others as individuals who have value, understanding and acting on the deep connectedness among living creatures, and being able to transcend everyday existence through a sense of awe or beauty. As we learn more about the world around us and become aware that non-human animals are individuals who “have biographies, not merely biologies”, it is perhaps time to move past the presumption that we are the pinnacle of evolution, separate from all other emoting creatures. Engaging our compassion to preserve and protect nature’s other emotional and spiritual beings is surely the way forward.

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