Being sentient means to have the capacity to have positive and negative experiences, such as feeling pain and pleasure. This applies at the very least to all animals with centralised nervous systems. Sentient beings have their very own unique personalities. We should refer to them as “he/she”, “them/they” or by species. The words “it” or “thing” should not be used to refer to an animal, and “who” is used rather than “that”. If you do not know the gender, then choose one: “he” or “she”. Even if your gender choice is wrong, it is more respectful than “it”. This is an important way of demonstrating the respect we ask others to afford all animals.
Before we look at possible answers, we should try to establish an ethical baseline we all can agree on and work with. Most but not all people will accept that it is wrong to intentionally inflict harm onto others with the exception of acting in self defence. Intentionally harming other people is morally seen not acceptable. Violence is generally not regarded as normal behaviour, as it obviously can cause harm. It seems natural to most of us to help others, who have been harmed or are about to be harmed. But what drives us to help? And where does empathy and compassion come from?
Many people have a naive and rosy view regarding the kind of lives animals are living in the wild. Some of those people strongly believe, and this includes even sometimes wildlife rescuers and rehabbers, conservationists and people, who think of themselves as nature or animal lovers, that non-human animals living in the wild live in some kind of paradise. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Animals living in the wild live lives that are far from idyllic, and most of them have to deal with the reality of constant threat of tremendous suffering. Although many people accept the fact that animals experience suffering, the willingness to help, to minimise or eliminate suffering, remains rather an exceptional act of kindness. Also, for reasons remaining mostly unclear, many people assume that wild animals do cope better with suffering than domestic animals or our beloved pets. However, there is no reason or scientific foundation for this assumption.1
Imprinting of rescue bird is an often hotly debated topic amongst bird lovers, wildlife rehabilitators and rescuers, where voiced opinions range considerably. One extreme approach to this topic suggests that imprinted birds are principally unreleasable, and that once a bird is imprinted that this situation cannot be reversed. The other extreme opinion considers all imprinted birds as releasable and implies that these birds have similar survival chances in the wild compared to birds who have not been imprinted. However, own experiences and those of fellow rehabbers have shown that, and this should actually not be unexpected, the truth lies neither in the middle nor is it to find in one or the other extreme. To find an answer, it seems worth to explore some basic underlying processes, like imprinting, learning, conditioning and habituation.
This short videoclip shows one of those beautiful occasions, where we were privileged to be part of the daily lives of our wild non-human animal neighbours. Just by chance we have been able to document and record a fascinating playful interaction or variation of social play occurring between a wild young rook and a mixed group of rooks and jackdaws as well as a small flock of residential pigeons circling the area. Just a few seconds after the rook had drawn the attention of one of the approaching jackdaws, the rook decided to disengage and to follow the leaving birds.
” Social play is an excellent example of a behavior in which many animals partake, and one that they seem to enjoy immensely. Individuals become immersed in the activity, and there seems to be no goal other than to play. As Groos (1898) pointed out, animals at play appear to feel incredible freedom. “1
Social play observed amongst non-human animals including corvids plays an important part in the emotional lives of many non-human animal species. During our daily interactions with our corvid patients, residents and visiting wild birds, we are frequently able to observe many of these intricate nuances of their fascinating emotional lives, and even get sometimes involuntarily involved in their playfulness and cheekiness. Although many encounters we are able to witness may serve a specific purpose, a purpose we may or may not fully understand, some incidents like the playing rook in the video clip, might just be what it seems – a bird having a bit of fun, nothing more and nothing less.