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Can animals think and feel in the way humans do?

The dolphin keepers thought they had come up with a clever wheeze. The Marine Life Oceanarium in Gulfport, Mississippi, was open to the public and, inevitably, litter found its way to the bottom of the pool. Fishing it out was difficult so the staff decided to save themselves some work by training the dolphins to do it for them. Each time a dolphin dived down and brought up a crisp packet or a drinks can, it was rewarded with a fish.

At some point, they noticed that one dolphin did a lot better. Kelly was getting a lot more fish. Odder still, her scraps of rubbish were smaller than the other dolphins’. They investigated. Kelly, it turned out, was playing them. When Kelly found a bit of litter, she hid it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. Then when she was hungry she tore off a bit and traded it for a fish. In this way, she turned one fish into many.

The keepers’ wheeze had been clever. Kelly’s was cleverer still. Anyone who has worked in, or reported on, animal behaviour has their favourite story. There’s Santino the chimpanzee who stores up rocks in a pile during the night then flings them at visitors to the zoo in the day. There’s Inky the octopus who escaped his aquarium and reached the Pacific. There’s the crows that have learnt to drop nuts on a zebra crossing, using the passing cars as automotive nutcrackers.

 

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