Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
Zebras drinking from a river

Scientists declare animals are conscious beings, and they should be treated as such


The Cambridge Declaration of the Consciousness of Non-Human Animals could go down in history.

The human being may appear to be the only animal capable of examining its own consciousness, but is it really the only conscious animal on the planet? The question has a long history in science. Darwin pondered about it when he studied evolution, but his ideas on the continuity of evolution indicate that differences in consciousness are differences in degree, not in class. That is, if we have some sort of consciousness, other animals probably do too.

Recently, we have proved that several species — bottlenose dolphins, chimpanzees, elephants, even magpies— are capable of recognizing themselves in a “mirror test”. The latter, together with a growing awareness of animal rights and different neurological tests, inspired renowned scientists to thoroughly discuss the subject during the most recent Francis Crick Memorial Conference. The result was the Cambridge Declaration of the Consciousness of Non-Human Animals, presented by three eminent neuroscientists: David Edelman, Phillip Low and Christof Koch.

This historical announcement states that:

Non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.

The declaration is directed to the general public more than to specialists. According to Phillip Low, for scientists, animal consciousness might be obvious, however, many people in the world are not aware of it. The idea is that the declaration can help prevent the abusive treatment of animals, helping them gain more rights, like humans. For example, around 25 million animals, many of which are conscious according to the declaration, are used annually for invasive scientific studies in the United States alone.

Related Articles