Has Consciousness Lost Its Mind

Amid the human crush of Old Delhi, on the edge of a medieval bazaar, a red structure with cages on its roof rises three stories above the labyrinth of neon-lit stalls and narrow alleyways, its top floor emblazoned with two words: birds hospital.

On a hot day last spring, I removed my shoes at the hospital’s entrance and walked up to the second-floor lobby, where a clerk in his late 20s was processing patients. An older woman placed a shoebox before him and lifted off its lid, revealing a bloody white parakeet, the victim of a cat attack. The man in front of me in line held, in a small cage, a dove that had collided with a glass tower in the financial district. A girl no older than 7 came in behind me clutching, in her bare hands, a white hen with a slumped neck.

The hospital’s main ward is a narrow, 40-foot-long room with cages stacked four high along the walls and fans on the ceiling, their blades covered with grates, lest they ensnare a flapping wing. I strolled the room’s length, conducting a rough census. Many of the cages looked empty at first, but leaning closer, I’d find a bird, usually a pigeon, sitting back in the gloom.

The youngest of the hospital’s vets, Dheeraj Kumar Singh, was making his rounds in jeans and a surgical mask. The oldest vet here has worked the night shift for more than a quarter century, spending tens of thousands of hours removing tumors from birds, easing their pain with medication, administering antibiotics. Singh is a rookie by comparison, but you wouldn’t know it from the way he inspects a pigeon, flipping it over in his hands, quickly but gently, the way you might handle your cellphone. As we talked, he motioned to an assistant, who handed him a nylon bandage that he stretched twice around the pigeon’s wing, setting it with an unsentimental pop.


Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature'

Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature' © Getty Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature'

The bird hospital is one of several built by devotees of Jainism, an ancient religion whose highest commandment forbids violence not only against humans, but also against animals. A series of paintings in the hospital’s lobby illustrates the extremes to which some Jains take this prohibition. In them, a medieval king in blue robes gazes through a palace window at an approaching pigeon, its wing bloodied by the talons of a brown hawk still in pursuit. The king pulls the smaller bird into the palace, infuriating the hawk, which demands replacement for its lost meal, so he slices off his own arm and foot to feed it.

a graffiti covered wall: Jainism’s highest commandment forbids violence not only against humans, but also against animals; at a bird hospital in Old Delhi, vets treat broken wings, administer medicine, remove tumors, and more. (Hashim Badani) © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. Jainism’s highest commandment forbids violence not only against humans, but also against animals; at a bird hospital in Old Delhi, vets treat broken wings, administer medicine, remove tumors, and more. (Hashim Badani)

I’d come to the bird hospital, and to India, to see firsthand the Jains’ moral system at work in the world. Jains make up less than 1 percent of India’s population. Despite millennia spent criticizing the Hindu majority, the Jains have sometimes gained the ear of power. During the 13th century, they converted a Hindu king, and persuaded him to enact the subcontinent’s first animal-welfare laws. There is evidence that the Jains influenced the Buddha himself. And when Gandhi developed his most radical ideas about nonviolence, a Jain friend played philosophical muse.

In the state of Gujarat, where Gandhi grew up, I saw Jain monks walking barefoot in the cool morning hours to avoid car travel, an activity they regard as irredeemably violent, given the damage it inflicts on living organisms, from insects to larger animals. The monks refuse to eat root vegetables, lest their removal from the earth disturb delicate subterranean ecosystems. Their white robes are cotton, not silk, which would require the destruction of silkworms. During monsoon season, they forgo travel, to avoid splashing through puddles filled with microbes, whose existence Jains posited well before they appeared under Western microscopes.

Related: Ultra-rare black leopard spotted for first time in 100 years

© National Geographic

Jains move through the world in this gentle way because they believe animals are conscious beings that experience, in varying degrees, emotions analogous to human desire, fear, pain, sorrow, and joy. This idea that animals are conscious was long unpopular in the West, but it has lately found favor among scientists who study animal cognition. And not just the obvious cases—primates, dogs, elephants, whales, and others. Scientists are now finding evidence of an inner life in alien-seeming creatures that evolved on ever-more-distant limbs of life’s tree. In recent years, it has become common to flip through a magazine like this one and read about an octopus using its tentacles to twist off a jar’s lid or squirt aquarium water into a postdoc’s face. For many scientists, the resonant mystery is no longer which animals are conscious, but which are not.

No aspect of our world is as mysterious as consciousness, the state of awareness that animates our every waking moment, the sense of being located in a body that exists within a larger world of color, sound, and touch, all of it filtered through our thoughts and imbued by emotion.

Even in a secular age, consciousness retains a mystical sheen. It is alternatively described as the last frontier of science, and as a kind of immaterial magic beyond science’s reckoning. David Chalmers, one of the world’s most respected philosophers on the subject, once told me that consciousness could be a fundamental feature of the universe, like space-time or energy. He said it might be tied to the diaphanous, indeterminate workings of the quantum world, or something nonphysical.

These metaphysical accounts are in play because scientists have yet to furnish a satisfactory explanation of consciousness. We know the body’s sensory systems beam information about the external world into our brain, where it’s processed, sequentially, by increasingly sophisticated neural layers. But we don’t know how those signals are integrated into a smooth, continuous world picture, a flow of moments experienced by a roving locus of attention—a “witness,” as Hindu philosophers call it.

Hashim Badani © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. Hashim Badani

In the West, consciousness was long thought to be a divine gift bestowed solely on humans. Western philosophers historically conceived of nonhuman animals as unfeeling automatons. Even after Darwin demonstrated our kinship with animals, many scientists believed that the evolution of consciousness was a recent event. They thought the first mind sparked awake sometime after we split from chimps and bonobos. In his 1976 book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes argued that it was later still. He said the development of language led us, like Virgil, into the deep cognitive states capable of constructing experiential worlds.

This notion that consciousness was of recent vintage began to change in the decades following the Second World War, when more scientists were systematically studying the behaviors and brain states of Earth’s creatures. Now each year brings a raft of new research papers, which, taken together, suggest that a great many animals are conscious.

It was likely more than half a billion years ago that some sea-floor arms race between predator and prey roused Earth’s first conscious animal. That moment, when the first mind winked into being, was a cosmic event, opening up possibilities not previously contained in nature.

Related: Close to extinction: Critically endangered animals (Photos)

  • Slide 1 of 41: PRIMORYE TERRITORY, RUSSIA  NOVEMBER 18, 2017: A female Amur leopard called Rona walks in the snow in Primorye Safari Park. Yuri Smityuk/TASS (Photo by Yuri Smityuk\TASS via Getty Images)
  • Slide 2 of 41: Undated handout photo issued by BirdLife International of a Spixs Macaw, which is one of 47 long lost species of bird, that Birdlife International are attempting to find.
  • Slide 3 of 41: Chinese giant salamander
  • Slide 4 of 41: FILE - In this Wednesday, May 3, 2017, file photo, Sudan, the world's last male northern white rhino, is photographed at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia county in Kenya. Researchers say Sudan has died after
  • Slide 5 of 41: Το δέρμα τους είναι γκρι και δίνει την εντύπωση πανοπλίας.
  • Slide 6 of 41: A black rhino browsing in Masai-Mara National Reserve
  • Slide 7 of 41: In this April 14, 2015, photo provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society, a pair of infant lowland gorillas sits with their respective mothers at the Congo Gorilla Forest exhibit in New York City’s Bronx Zoo. The zoo is introducing two new baby western lowland gorillas to the public. (Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society via AP)
  • Slide 8 of 41: new caption
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  • Slide 11 of 41: This photo taken in 1993 and released by WWF shows a Saola in Vietnam when it was captured. It was one of two Saola captured alive in central Vietnam, but both died months later in captivity. Saola, one of the rarest and most threatened mammals on earth has been caught on camera in Vietnam for the first time in 15 years in September in central Vietnam, renewing hope for the recovery of the species, international conservation group WWF said Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013. (
  • Slide 12 of 41: MODEL RELEASED Young female scuba diver observing a Hawksbill Turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Caribbean, Honduras, Central America
  • Slide 13 of 41: In this photo supplied by Save China's Tigers two newly born tiger cubs play in the bush in the Laohu Valley Reserve near Philippolis, South Africa, Thursday Aug. 28, 2008.  The critically endangered South China tigress named Madonna, unseen, in an innovative re-wilding and breeding project in the country has given birth to the two cubs - a boy and a girl. The cubs were born during the Olympics on August 18, 2008 in dense bush. These were the first cubs to be born in the Save Chinas Tigers project under completely natural conditions without observation or any human intervention.
  • Slide 14 of 41: Native to the cross river area on the border of Cammeroon/Nigeria, the Cross River Gorilla is considered to be one of the most endangered primates and one of the rarest. Approximately only 300 left in the wild, and just one in captivity at the Limbe Wildlife Centre, Limbe, Cameroon. This lady gorilla is called Nyango.
  • Slide 15 of 41: A baby Sunda pangolin nicknamed 'Sandshrew' feeds on termites in the woods at Singapore Zoo on June 30, 2017. Sandshrew was brought to the Wildlife Health and Research Centre on January 16, reportedly found stranded in the Upper Thomson area by a member of the public. Sunda pangolins are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). / AFP PHOTO / ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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  • Slide 19 of 41: In this Saturday, June 23, 2012 photo released by International Rhino Foundation, female Sumatran rhino named Ratu walks with her newly-born calf at Sumatran Rhino in Way Kambas National Park in Lampung, Indonesia. Ratu, a highly endangered Sumatran rhinoceros, gave birth to the calf Saturday in western Indonesia, a forestry official said. It is only the fifth known birth in captivity for the species in 123 years.
  • Slide 20 of 41: In this photo provided by Smithsonian’s National Zoo shows a rare Guam rail chick that hatched at the National Zoo in Washington.  National Zoo officials say two rare Guam rail chicks have hatched there.  The small, flightless birds hatched March 3 and 4. The total population of the birds is now 162. In several weeks, zookeepers will perform routine medical exams and take feather samples to determine the birds' sexes. (
  • Slide 21 of 41: In this undated photo made available by journal Nature on Jan. 15, 2015, a northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita) flies in Tuscany, Italy. A new study released Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014 says the birds choreograph the flapping of their wings, getting a boost from an updraft of air in the wake of the flapping wings by flying behind the first bird and off to the side. When a flock of birds take advantage of these aerodynamics, they form a V.
  • Slide 22 of 41: This Mountain Pygmy Possum is part of a breeding program at Healesville Sanctuary, 10 March 2007. (Photo by
  • Slide 23 of 41: SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 17:  Athlete Jana Pittman and a zookeeper pose with a Wombat during a fundraising event to save the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat at the Australian Museum November 17, 2004 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by
  • Slide 24 of 41: In this photo released by the Zoological Society of London, the pygmy three-toed sloth is shown. International conservation groups have unveiled a list of the earth's most threatened 100 animals, plants and fungi and say urgent action is needed to protect them. The groups identified the species Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2012, in a report presented to a global conservation forum on the southern South Korean island of Jeju. The species live in 48 countries and include the Tarzan's chameleon, the spoon-billed sandpiper and the pygmy three-toed sloth. (
  • Slide 25 of 41: In this Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 photo provided by the Chicago Zoological Society, Mona, a 15-year-old addax stands with her unnamed calf at the Brookfield Zoo in Brookfield, Ill. The calf, born Sept. 4, is the fourth male addax born at the zoo this summer. All the births are important for the species, which is near the brink of extinction in the Sahara deserts of Africa.
  • Slide 26 of 41: A caretaker shows a Philippine crocodile as it hatches from an egg at a crocodile farm in Manila July 28, 2011. The Philippine crocodile, also known as the Mindoro crocodile, is a freshwater reptile considered to be among the endangered species.
  • Slide 27 of 41: Visitors take pictures of an angel shark using their mobile phone as it passes above them during the public opening of The Manila Ocean Park, the country's first oceanarium, Saturday, March 1, 2008, in Manila, Philippines. (
  • Slide 28 of 41: Lord Howe Isalnd Stick Insect, Melbourne Zoo, Australia - 11 May 2007
  • Slide 29 of 41: A Hula painted frog is seen at a protective facility in the Hula Valley Nature Reserve in northern Israel November 17, 2011. Missing for a half-century and listed as extinct in 1996, the Hula painted frog has been spotted again in northern Israel, its only known habitat.
  • Slide 30 of 41: common skate
  • Slide 31 of 41: Razor-billed or Alagoas curassow (Mitu mitu mitu or Crax Mitu mitu), a large frugivorous bird. It is
  • Slide 32 of 41: Eel or European Eel (Anguilla anguilla), Anguillidae.
  • Slide 33 of 41: A captive Hawaiian crow carrying a stick tool to a wooden log where food is hidden in drilled holes is shown in this image released on September 14, 2016. Courtesy Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Global/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVI
  • Slide 34 of 41: Members of a scimitar oryx (Oryx dammah) heard grazing on hay
  • Slide 35 of 41: Malayan Tiger prowling
  • Slide 36 of 41: A close-up of the very handsome (and endangered) Wyoming toad.
Credit: Ryan Moehring / USFWS
  • Slide 37 of 41: Zenaida graysoni
  • Slide 38 of 41: Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus)
  • Slide 39 of 41: Three young Russian sturgeon in the Volga River wildlife.
  • Slide 40 of 41: Staghorn Coral
  • Slide 41 of 41: Totoaba is an endangered fish from the upper Gulf of California in Mexico.
>Full Screen 1/41 SLIDES © Yuri Smityuk/TASS via Getty Images

Many animals are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss, poaching or changing environments. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) maintains the IUCN Red List that tracks critically endangered species and those that are already extinct in the wild. Take a look at some of the world's most threatened species. 

(Pictured) A female Amur leopard in Russia.

2/41 SLIDES © Luiz Claudio Marigo/BirdLife Int/Press Association Images

Spix's Macaw

Made famous by the 2011 animated musical-comedy “Rio,” the Spix’s macaw has teetered on the edge of extinction for over two decades; it has been listed as “Critically Endangered” by the IUCN since 1994. Hunted for the illegal live bird trade, this macaw has also been hit by loss of its woodland habitat and the introduction of aggressive African bees in what remains of its range. The species has been declared extinct in the wild. There are between 60 and 80 individuals alive in captivity.

3/41 SLIDES © Best View Stock/Getty Images

Chinese giant salamander

Native to China, this giant salamander can grow to nearly six feet (two meters) in length and is regarded as the world’s largest amphibian. Current population trends indicate decreasing numbers for a species that was quite common even as recent as 30 years ago. The major threats facing the species are commercial exploitation for human consumption and habitat destruction due to mining.

4/41 SLIDES © STR-File Photo/AP Photo

Northern white rhino

Also called the Northern square-lipped rhino, they used to be found in several east and central African countries before going extinct in the wild. The world's last three, a male called Sudan (pictured), his daughter Najin and his granddaughter Fatu, were kept at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. On March 19, 2018, 45-year-old Sudan died from multiple age-related issues, leaving only two females to save the species.
5/41 SLIDES © Mary Plage/Getty Images

Javan rhino

These rhinos are dusky gray in color and have a single horn of up to about 10 inches (25.4 centimeters). Their skin has a number of loose folds, giving the appearance of armor plating. Habitat loss and poaching over the years have drastically reduced their numbers. The estimated population size is 40-60, found at the Ujung Kulon National Park in Java, Indonesia.

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Black rhino

One of the oldest mammals on Earth, black rhinos were once found extensively along the eastern coast of the African continent. Rampant hunting and poaching have led to a sharp decline in their numbers over the last few decades. Data from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) indicates there are approximately 5,000 individuals left today.

7/41 SLIDES © Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society via AP

Western lowland gorilla

The most common gorilla subspecies in the Congo Basin, their population has decreased rapidly due to poaching and disease, and according to WWF, currently about 100,000 of them remain.

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Amur leopard

Found in the Russian Far East, Amur leopards are solitary hunters. Nimble-footed and strong, they carry and hide unfinished kills so as to not attract other predators. Loss of habitat due to rampant human activities is threatening their existence. As per WWF, only around 70 leopards remain today.

9/41 SLIDES © Suzi Eszterhas/Getty Images

Sumatran elephant

Feeding on a variety of plants and depositing seeds, Sumatran elephants contribute to a healthy forest ecosystem. Civil conflicts, hunting and poaching for tusks have reduced their population to just 2,400-2,800, as per WWF.

10/41 SLIDES © San Diego Zoo/AP Photo

Sumatran tiger

With a population of 400-500, according to WWF, Sumatran tigers are on the watch list of animals that need protection. Found in patches of forest on the Sumatra island, these tigers are threatened due to rampant deforestation and poaching.

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Saola was discovered in Vietnam in 1992, after the recovery of a skull with unusually long horns, at a hunter's home. It was one of the most spectacular zoological discoveries of the 20th century and is one of the world's rarest large animals. Hunting, poaching, habitat fragmentation and snares threaten their existence, and their population is estimated to be less than 750, according to IUCN data.

12/41 SLIDES © Wild Horizons/UIG via Getty Images

Hawksbill sea turtle

Found throughout the world’s tropical oceans, hawksbill turtles have inhabited the planet for over 100 million years. A vital link in marine ecosystem, they help maintain the health of coral reefs and seagrass beds. They are extensively poached for their colored and patterned shells, which are sold in the market at high prices as "tortoiseshells." According to IUCN, their population has declined by over 80 percent in the last century.

13/41 SLIDES © AP Photo, HO)

South China tiger

These tigers were hunted in thousands before a ban was imposed by the Chinese government in 1979. According to WWF, about 30-80 tigers were estimated to be existing in 1996, but no sighting in the wild has prompted scientists to consider them as "functionally extinct."

14/41 SLIDES © Julie Langford-Limbe Wildlife Centre/Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons

Cross river gorilla

Very similar in appearance to the western lowland gorilla, these gorillas live in the Congo Basin and face poaching and habitat loss due to human encroachment. WWF data suggest that not more than 200 to 300 of this species exist in the wild.

15/41 SLIDES © Roslan Rahman/Getty Images

Malayan pangolin

Also called Sunda or Javan pangolin, they are found widely in Southeast Asia, from southern China to Borneo, and are known for their protective, scaly body armor. They are killed increasingly for their flesh and scales, resulting in the elimination of more than 80 percent of the population over the past 21 years, as per IUCN 2014 data.

16/41 SLIDES © Jerome Delay/AP Photos

Mountain gorilla

Found in forests high in the mountains of the Congo basin, mountain gorillas have thicker fur as compared to other great apes. Civil conflict, loss of habitat and poaching pose threat to their population, which currently stands at 880, as per WWF.

17/41 SLIDES © China Photos/Getty Images

Yangtze finless porpoise

Found in the Yangtze River and known for their mischievous smile and an intelligence level comparable to that of gorillas, this aquatic creature is threatened by human activities and pollution. According to WWF, only 1,000-1,800 of these dolphins survive today.

18/41 SLIDES © Fiona Rogers/Getty Images

Sumatran orangutan

These orangutans are fruit eaters and play a vital role in the dispersal of seeds over a huge area. Once found across the Sumatran island, they have now been reduced to pockets of the island's northern part due to poaching and illegal pet trade. A 2016 survey by Hjalmar Kühl, a researcher at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, revealed their population to be around 14,600.

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Sumatran rhino

In the last 15 years, only two captive female Sumatran rhinos have given birth. There are three known subspecies: while two of them are found on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo, the third is believed to be extinct. Poaching poses the greatest threat to these animals. IUCN reports show their estimated population to be 275.

20/41 SLIDES © G Ronald Austing/Getty Images

Guam rail

These flightless birds once inhabited Guam in large numbers before the island was invaded by brown tree snakes, which led to their predation and plummeting in number. Today, they are confined to a captive-breeding facility in Guam and across 14 zoos in the U.S. In the last couple of decades, efforts have been made to release small batches of rails in a controlled environment to help promote their breeding. According to IUCN, they are extinct in the wild.

21/41 SLIDES © Markus Unsöld/AP Photo

Northern bald ibis

According to a 2015 IUCN report, only 580 of these birds are left, confined to parts of Morocco and Syria. Though the birds have been marked critically endangered, there has been an increase in their number in the last few years.

22/41 SLIDES © Andrew De La Rue/The Age/Getty Images

Mountain pygmy possum

These mammals, found in alpine and subalpine boulder fields and rocky scree in south-eastern Australia, were believed to be extinct until 1896. However, the rediscovery of a single living specimen in a ski club lodge on Mount Hotham, Victoria, in 1966 revived hope for their survival. There were around 2,250 of them as per a 2008 report. Destruction of their habitat is the major reason for their dwindling numbers.

23/41 SLIDES © Mitch Reardon/Getty Images

Northern hairy-nosed wombat

Indigenously Australian, these shy animals had completely disappeared in the early 20th century after the loss of their only two known habitats in southern Queensland and New South Wales. In the 1930s, a small population was spotted in Epping Forest National Park in Queensland. According to a 2013 census in the park, 196 of these wombats were estimated to be alive.

24/41 SLIDES © Craig Turner/The Zoological Society of London/AP Photo

Pygmy three-toed sloth

They are known to be one of the slowest animals in the world – so slow that algae grow on their back, giving them a natural cover from predators. Found only in Isla Escudo de Veraguas, an isolated Panamanian island in the Caribbean, their population has suffered due to destruction of habitat.

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Also known as white antelope or screwhorn antelope, these animals thrived in the extreme climate of the Sahara Desert for thousands of years. However, destruction of habitat and frenzied hunting have forced them to the verge of extinction. As per a 2016 IUCN report, there are less than 100 of them left in the Termit Massif Reserve in Niger.

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Philippine crocodile

This freshwater species is on the verge of extinction due to habitat destruction, hunting and dynamite fishing. As per the 2016 IUCN report, less than 200 adults survive in the wild, and aggressive conservation efforts are on to protect them from going extinct.

27/41 SLIDES © Pat Roque/AP Photo

Angel shark

They are commonly found in northern European waters: in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Intensive fishing in those waters has led to them being declared locally extinct in large swathes of the Mediterranean Sea.

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Lord Howe Island stick insect

Commonly referred to as "land lobster," these nocturnal insects were primarily found in Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea. However, in 1918, the introduction of black rats by a ship that had run aground near the island led to their massive predation. They were believed to be extinct until they were rediscovered on a nearby island in 2001.

29/41 SLIDES © Nir Elias/Reuters

Hula painted frog

In 2011, a park ranger in Israel found one specimen of the Hula painted frog, considered extinct since the 1950s due to the draining of the 15,000-acre Lake Hula — their natural habitat. The discovery of a second specimen a few days later revived the hopes of their survival.

30/41 SLIDES © Paul Kay/Getty Images

Common skate

The common skate has become uncommon across northwestern Europe and the Mediterranean and Black Seas. They are often caught accidentally in fishing nets, and their repopulation is difficult because they are long-lived and slow to mature.

31/41 SLIDES © Kenneth W. Fink/Getty Images

Alagoas curassow

Locally called mitu mitu, the Alagoas curassow was found in the forests of northeastern Brazil. Last seen in its natural habitat in the late 1980s, there are only 130 of them in two aviaries, according to a 2008 IUCN data. They were lost due to deforestation and hunting.

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European eel

Since the early 1980s, an almost 90 percent decrease in the population of the European eel has prompted a ban on their export throughout the European Union. Water pollution, changes in climate, dams, overfishing and parasites are probable causes of its decline.

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Hawaiian crow

Found only in Hawaii, U.S., the last known crow disappeared from the wild in 2002 — making them extinct in the wild. According to 2011 IUCN data, there were only 94 Hawaiian crows in captivity, since they are especially susceptible to environmental fluctuations and avian malaria.

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Scimitar oryx

Once commonly found across North Africa, scimitar oryx have been extinct in the wild since 2000. They are kept in protected areas because they are prized by game hunters for their horns and the local population used their flesh and hide. According to 2014 IUCN data, only a few hundred survive in captivity and they are extinct in the wild.

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Malayan tiger

Found only in the southern tip of Thailand and the Malay peninsula, only about 250-340 of these tigers still survive, as per 2013 IUCN figures. Illegal hunting for parts used in folk medicine and loss of forests have caused their population to decline by more than 25 percent in the last generation.

36/41 SLIDES © Ryan Moehring/USFWS Mountain-Prairie/Flickr via Creative Commons

Wyoming toad

There are no self-sustaining Wyoming toads in the wild and they are only found in the Mortenson Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the U.S. According to 2002 IUCN data, only 128 remain, with their number slowly declining due to diseases and droughts in parts of the Laramie River basin.

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Socorro dove

These birds were last sighted in their natural habitat — Socorro Island, Mexico — in 1972, making them extinct in the wild. There are around 150 of them in captivity, as per 2016 IUCN data.

38/41 SLIDES © Daniel Ferryanto/Getty Images

Bornean orangutan

Destruction of forests in the island nation and hunting have led to a decrease of 50 percent in their population over the last 60 years, making them critically endangered. According to IUCN, about 104,700 of them remain.

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Russian sturgeon

Overfishing for caviar and loss of spawning sites due to construction of dams have led to a 90 percent decline in their population. These fish are found in the Black Sea basin and the Caspian Sea but are estimated to go extinct soon due to illegal fishing.

40/41 SLIDES © Robert Fournier/Getty Images

Staghorn coral

A branching, stony coral, it is found throughout the warmer Atlantic waters, the Great Barrier Reef, the western coast of South America and Southeast Asia. Over the last 30 years, 80 percent of their population has been lost due to climate change and diseases.

41/41 SLIDES © Richard Herrmann/Getty Images


These fish were initially found in the Colorado River delta and in the Gulf of California around Mexico, but river degradation has left them endemic to Mexican waters.

They have been extensively fished since the 1940s, as their swim bladder is a delicacy, further reducing their number. Commercial fishing of the species was banned in 1975 and the Mexican government has started a program to rescue and conserve them.

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There now appears to exist, alongside the human world, a whole universe of vivid animal experience. Scientists deserve credit for illuminating, if only partially, this new dimension of our reality. But they can’t tell us how to do right by the trillions of minds with which we share the Earth’s surface. That’s a philosophical problem, and like most philosophical problems, it will be with us for a long time to come.

Apart from Pythagoras and a few others, ancient Western philosophers did not hand down a rich tradition of thinking about animal consciousness. But Eastern thinkers have long been haunted by its implications—especially the Jains, who have taken animal consciousness seriously as a moral matter for nearly 3,000 years.

Many orthodox Jain beliefs do not stand up to scientific scrutiny. The faith does not enjoy privileged access to truth, mystical or otherwise. But as perhaps the world’s first culture to extend mercy to animals, the Jains pioneered a profound expansion of the human moral imagination. The places where they worship and tend to animals seemed, to me, like good places to contemplate the current frontier of animal-consciousness research.

a group of people walking in front of a red building: Hashim Badani © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. Hashim Badani

At the bird hospital, I asked Singh whether any of his patients gave him trouble. He said that one refused to be fed by hand and sometimes drew blood when he tried to pick it up. He led me to another room to see the offending bird, an Indian crow whose feathers were record-groove black but for a sash of latte-colored plumage around its neck. The crow kept fanning one of its wings out. Light from a nearby window filtered through the feathers, as though the wing were a venetian blind. Singh told me it was broken.

“A few days after the crow arrived, it started using a special call when it wanted food,” Singh said. “None of the other birds do that.” The bird’s call was not an entirely unique case of bird-to-human communication. A grey parrot once amassed a 900-word vocabulary, and in India, a few have been trained to recite the Vedic mantras. But birds have only rarely assembled verbal symbols into their own, original proto-sentences. And, of course, none has declared itself conscious.

Related: Incredible animal snaps that will make your day (Photos)

  • Slide 1 of 75: A mounted lion cub on display in the specimen pavilion on April 15th, 2012 in Beijing, China. The National Zoological Museum of China opened to public in Beijing in 2009, with a showcase of more than 5,000 specimens of animals could be found within the territory of the country.
  • Slide 2 of 75: Polar bear sow and cub relax in the snow, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Arctic, Alaska.
  • Slide 3 of 75: Baby Elephant Charging, South Africa
  • Slide 4 of 75: Koala sunbathing
  • Slide 5 of 75: Two penguins look troubled in Peter Odeh's 'Trouble In Parad'ice' on December 13, 2011 in Antarctica.
  • Slide 6 of 75: Alison Buttigleg's photo of a monkey channeling his inner John Travlota was highly commended at last year's awards on October 06, 2013.
  • Slide 7 of 75: 2 groundhogs (prairie dogs)in a pose that looks like they are holding hands and dancing
  • Slide 8 of 75: Jim Zuckerman caught his dog taking a leap in'Jumping For Joy' in Franklin, USA, Date Unknown. Brace yourself for a giggling fit because the finalists of the inaugural Comedy Pet Photography Awards have been revealed.
  • Slide 9 of 75: YUNNAN ZOO, KUNMING, YUNNAN PROVINCE, CHINA - 2015/11/29: A three year old baby lion lies on a wooden table, basking in the sunshine.
  • Slide 10 of 75: Stella the kinkajou peers out of her bed, taken in Florida, United States. DESPITE her long curly tail and excellent climbing skills, this animal is neither a monkey or a lemur. Stella from Florida, USA is a kinkajou, a rainforest mammal native to Central and South America.
  • Slide 11 of 75: Peggy VanSickle snapped a donkey having a giggle in 'Laughing Burro' in Custer State Park, USA. Brace yourself for a giggling fit because the finalists of the inaugural Comedy Pet Photography Awards have been revealed.
  • Slide 12 of 75: Barclay smiles for the camera as Rudy rests his beak protectively on his head in Orange County, California, 2016.
  • Slide 13 of 75: An Indri flashes the A-OK sign in Yamamoto Tsuneo's 'I'm OK', on July 25, 2012 in Analamazaotra Special Reserve, Madagascar.
  • Slide 14 of 75: AGRA, UTTAR PRADESH, INDIA - 2011/12/15: Monkey mother breastfeeding her baby at the outer walls of the Taj Mahal.
  • Slide 15 of 75: Lobstah the cat hiding under a rug in San Francisco, California, November 2015.
  • Slide 16 of 75: An owl struggles to keep his grip as his owl friends look the other way in Tibor Kercz's 'Help!!!', on June 1, 2017 in Opusztaszer, Hungary.
  • Slide 17 of 75: A Humbolt penguin is swims at London Zoo in London, Britain, June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville
  • Slide 18 of 75: A long-tailed macaque plays at a zoo in Chengdu, Sichuan province, Southwest China on 17th May 2015.
  • Slide 19 of 75: Simon DeKnock captures his dog Maui the minpin chilling on the way back from the shops in 'Chilling' in Cheltenham, United Kingdom, 2014.
  • Slide 20 of 75: Three-Toed Sloth, Amazon, Brazil, South America.
  • Slide 21 of 75: Five month old panda in Schönbrunn Zoo on 5 January, 2017 in Vienna, Austria.
  • Slide 22 of 75: Kittens
  • Slide 23 of 75: An African lion looks like she finds something hilarious on September 18, 2011 in Maasai Mara, Kenya.
  • Slide 24 of 75: A red squirrel answers the telephone as photographer Geert Weggen captures one of his perfect moments in Sweden, November 2015.
  • Slide 25 of 75: Adelina, a baby Western Lowland Gorilla, is cradled by her mum at Little Rock zoo in Arkansas. ADORABLY lying on her mothers chest, this is the touching moment a mother bonds with her newborn. Adelina the three-month-old western lowland has been inseparable from her mum ever since she was born on August 19. So close were the pair, keepers at Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas, USA, were unable to determine her sex as they couldn't get close enough. Her 21-year-old mother, Sekani, and father Fossey, 26, have had their hands full with the energetic youngster. But now, after showing a real lust for life, keeper Catherine Hopkins has begun documenting the cute gorilla's upbringing - even launching her own dedicated Facebook page.
  • Slide 26 of 75: A wild owl appears to be marching in a very serious manner on June 11, 2011 in Lancashire, England.
  • Slide 27 of 75: A dog wearing a headdress, taken in El Dorado, Arkansas, December 2016.
  • Slide 28 of 75: Luigi Maestro dons a hoodie and gets behind the wheel on November 25, 2016 in New York City.
  • Slide 29 of 75: Baby Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) from Agashya Group sucking his thumb in Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans).
  • Slide 30 of 75: Juvenile Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) standing on ice, Weddell Sea, Antarctica
  • Slide 31 of 75: Orphaned piglet Elsa wears a jumper to keep her warm in April, 2015, in Dillenburg, Hesse, Germany.
  • Slide 32 of 75: Brown and white dog licking tabby cat
  • Slide 33 of 75: Weimaraner dog, puppy, sleeping in a hammock, North Tyrol, Austria 2008
  • Slide 34 of 75: Bear cub appears to do a Gangnam Style dance Jul 2013
  • Slide 35 of 75: Eurasian Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) adult, feeding on hazelnut, sitting on stump in coniferous forest, Cairngorms N.P., Grampian Mountains, Highlands, Scotland, February 2013
  • Slide 36 of 75: Animals playing amongst autumn leaves, Britain - Oct 2011
  • Slide 37 of 75: Three red eyed tree frog (Agalychnis callidryas) sitting on green plant stem, close-up
  • Slide 38 of 75: Baby Golden-headed Lion Tamarins (leontopithecus Chrysomelas) Hold on to Their Mother As Their Father Looks on in Their Enclosure in Tropicarium Zoo in Budapest Hungary 30 March 2009 the Twins of the Golden-headed Lion Tamarin Couple of the Zoo Were Born Around Three Weeks Ago This Highly Endangered Species is Native in the Rain Forests of the Eastern Brazilian States of Bahia and Minas Gerais Hungary Budapest
  • Slide 39 of 75: Pocket Pigs 2013 calendar by Richard Austin, Britain - 2012
  • Slide 40 of 75: An Impala (Aepyceros melampus) drinking at watering hole, South Africa
  • Slide 41 of 75: Meerkats at Knowsley Safari Park, Merseyside, Britain - Mar 2012
  • Slide 42 of 75: 3-6 month old Bornean orangutan baby being groomed by it's mother 'Gina'
  • Slide 43 of 75: Common Raccoon (Procyon lotor), three young, at den entrance in tree trunk, Minnesota, USA
  • Slide 44 of 75: A small tortoise and a white rabbit on the grass.
  • Slide 45 of 75: Miniature pigs enjoy a game of football at Pennywell Farm, Devon, Britain - 15 Sep 2009
  • Slide 46 of 75: Horses kissing, a white stallion and a mare sharing breath in a mating and courting ritual while standing a snowy field, Pennsylvania, PA, USA.
  • Slide 47 of 75: A Bengal Tiger Cub Which Was Born in Moscow Zoo Recently Looks at Visitors From Its Enclosure in Moscow Russia 03 July 2008
  • Slide 48 of 75: A cheeky little Squirrel monkey, Dorothy, enjoys a delicious egg made of beetroot in the Monkey Business enclosure
  • Slide 49 of 75: Two Meerkats (Suricata suricatta), young, captive 2014
  • Slide 50 of 75: Three frogs sitting on rock
  • Slide 51 of 75: Japanese Macaque (Macaca fuscata), close-up of young in hot spring, Nagano, Honshu, Japan, Asia
  • Slide 52 of 75: Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua), Volunteer Point, East Falkland, Falkland Islands
  • Slide 53 of 75: Fawn And Dog Sitting On Grass
  • Slide 54 of 75: black Hovawart and two chicks, animal friendship
  • Slide 55 of 75: "Mike" dressed in a boxer costume, takes part in the "Blocao" dog carnival parade in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017. Carnival goes to the dogs as pet owners take to the streets for their own party, with their four-legged friends in ornate costumes.
  • Slide 56 of 75: Leopard (Panthera pardus) lying on log, Mashatu Game Reserve, Northern Tuli Game Reserve, Botswana
  • Slide 57 of 75: A lion cubs explores its enclosure at Monarto Zoo on July 8, 2013 in Adelaide, Australia. Three Lion cubs, born April 24, 2013 made their public debut today at Monarto Zoo. Monarto Zoo is also celebrating two new Lion cubs to its African Lion family, a male and female cub, born June 18, 2013.
  • Slide 58 of 75: One of the twin giant pandas plays during the twins' 1-year-old birthday party at Chongqing Zoo on July 11, 2017 in Chongqing, China. Twin giant pandas Yu Bao and Yu Bei celebrate their 1st birthday at Chongqing Zoo on Tuesday.
  • Slide 59 of 75: 14 week-old twin polar bear cubs play during their first presentation to the media in Hellabrunn zoo on March 19, 2014 in Munich, Germany. The male and female twins were born on December 9, 2013 in the zoo.
  • Slide 60 of 75: A bonobo reaches for something in the stream on March, 18, 2012, at Lola Ya Bonobo, Democratic Republic of Congo. ACROBATIC bonobos roll about in the water and play fight with each other in a stream. The boisterous primates went ape at the Lola Ya Bonobo sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In one photo a bonobo seems to pull a funny face as it looks through a gap in its own legs. In another two apes hold hands and appear to be dancing.
  • Slide 61 of 75: A meerkat appears to look like its just remembered it needs to be somewhere on May 27, 2015 in Little Karoo, South Africa.
  • Slide 62 of 75: Dema (male) the 26-day-old endangered Sumatran Tiger cub cuddles up to 5-month-old female Orangutan, Irma at the 'Taman Safari Indonesia' Animal Hospital, on February 26, 2007 in Cisarua, Bogor Regency, West Java, Indonesia. Irma and another orangutan have been rejected by their mothers while two Sumatran tiger-cubs (including Dema) also born in the hospital, have also been rejected by their mother Cicis and are being looked after by staff at the Animal Hospital.
  • Slide 63 of 75: 1994/01/01: South Georgia Island, St.andrews Bay, Elephant Seal Pup On Beach, Close-up, Yawning.
  • Slide 64 of 75: Two giraffes in Serengeti.
  • Slide 65 of 75: Baby Opossum Hanging from Branch
  • Slide 66 of 75: Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Elephants are gregarious animals that live in herds of 10-20. Females mate for the first time during their 15th-16th years. Gestation period is 21-22 months. Calves suckle for 2 years before being weaned.
  • Slide 67 of 75: Agalychnis Callidryas Tree-frog from Costa Rica (removed object).
Photo Shows: Mother Harp Seal and Harp Seal Pup 
Ellen Cuylaerts, a Belgian underwater and wildlife photographer based out of the Cayman Islands made a trip to the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada to witness and photograph Harp seals. With a prior visit to the location in 2015, Ellen had been planning to revisit over the last few years, but the weak and bad ice in the previous years made it unsafe. It was only this year that she managed to go back and shoot a breeding site of the seals, with pups as young as one day old.  I travelled to the Gulf of St. Lawrence early this year as Harp seals females give birth late February to early March on the breeding grounds where natural predators like polar bears and orcas are not around. I was specifically focussed on the gulf herd that breeds near the Magdalen islands, Ellen says. Harp seals are highly migratory and can usually be found in the North Atlantic and Arctic oceans where they live on pack ice and hunt for capelin and cod fish. The newborn pups are fed on very high fat milk for 12 days and they stay on the pack ice for 6 weeks and molt different times, without food. Ellen says,  These pups can loose up to 50% of their bodyweight gained in the first few days during molting, which is basically when they lose their old skin and hair with replace them with new fur. 30 percent of the pups will die during this process and in years where the ice is too thin, these numbers are much higher, which is one of the consequences of global warming. The pups essentially live in very harsh weather conditions and sleep, feed and grow fat. Moms and pups recognize each other by their squeals. The pups are fed around 6 times a day.  It is truly beautiful to watch the little ones at first very cosy on the ice, shuffling around, just resting, then starting to squeal because it's feeding time, the moms getting on the ice and the feeding itself, she says. Staying on a fishing vessel, also called an ice breaker, Ellen was able to stay close to the breeding grounds for four continuos days and observe and photograph the seals. Being on the boat enabled her to step out and photograph the mammals during different times of the day.  Reaching the breeding grounds took almost 30 hours. But To be there, in the middle of their habitat, a different stage in their lives and seeing many newborns was really a great experience and a total bliss. Once the trust was gained between us and the moms and pups, we could get within a meter or 2 on the ice, Ellen says. The biggest threat for harp seal population are humans as the act of hunting and sealing is still happening. Most of the commercial hunting of seals happen during the molting period of the pups. Ellen says, The pups are defenceless, not able to swim away or get away. The moms might still be nursing. Sealing is the biggest slaughter of mammals in the world and the Canadian seal hunt is a big part of it. There is a difference between the commercial hunt and the hunt by indigenous people, which is a subsistence hunt. Despite the decline in demand for seal products and the ban in many countries, the commercial hunting of these animals is still taking place. And although the hunt is supposed to be well monitored, the area is simply too vast to control, Ellen says.

PHOTOGRAPH BY Ellen Cuylaerts / Barcroft Media (Photo credit should read Ellen Cuylaerts / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
  • Slide 69 of 75: SHEFFIELD, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 01: The cute grey squirrel using a miniature supermarket trolley whilst gathering up nuts to eat at Sheffield Botanical Gardens on January 1, 2017 in Sheffield, England.

PHOTOGRAPH BY Fortitude Press / Barcroft Images (Photo credit should read Fortitude Press / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
  • Slide 70 of 75: dpatop - Emma the hen standing with four runner duck chicks in a field in Altheim-Waldhausen, Germany, 16 August 2017. Emma brooded the eggs and is now raising the ducklings. Photo: Thomas Warnack/dpa (Photo by Thomas Warnack/picture alliance via Getty Images)
  • Slide 71 of 75: VAN, TURKEY - MARCH 29: A rabbit is seen in front of the almond tree blossoms at Akdamar island in Lake Van during spring time in Turkey's Van province on March 29, 2018. Dozens of animal species that live in the island and almond tree blossoms become a tourist attractions as spring comes to Van district of Turkey. (Photo by Ali Ihsan Ozturk/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
  • Slide 72 of 75: Monkey Orangutan Nature Hairy Baby
  • Slide 73 of 75: HEILIGENBLUT, CARINTHIA, AUSTRIA - 2017/08/04: Two Alpine marmots (Marmota marmota) are eating a carrot on a rock, the mountain Grossglockner in the distance, at Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe. (Photo by Frank Bienewald/LightRocket via Getty Images)
  • Slide 74 of 75: funny kitten playing with big leaf
  • Slide 75 of 75: Monkeys  in the nature.
>Full Screen 1/75 SLIDES © Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The curious cat

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Be my pillow

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Sunbathing in style

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Nap time

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Trouble in paradise

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Shake a leg

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Slow dance

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Jump of joy

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Basking in the sunshine

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Sneak peek

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Unlikely buddies

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All OK!

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The warmest embrace

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Find me if you can

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Let's not get carried away

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Let's swim

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Of young and old

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Riding in style

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Slow yet sweet

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Love knows no color

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You crack me up

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Hello there!

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Mama’s little girl

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Deep in thought

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Size don't matter

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A different view

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I'm the king of the world!

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Learning to fly

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Whole lotta love

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Sleeping beauty

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Oppa Gangnam style!

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Nutty by nature

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Quite a feast

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High four!

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Family time

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Say what?

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Flower whisperer

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Grooming time

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Hitchin' a ride

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Here's how it's done

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Courting ritual

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Monkey business

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I'll be there for you

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A time to reflect

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See me freestyle

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Wait for me!

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See that, buddy?

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A rare friendship

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Ready for the bout

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(Not) a time to kill

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Territorial patrol

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Hanging around

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Almost there

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How on earth did I miss that?

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You're the best

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Huge hug

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Hang in there!

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In perfect harmony

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Sealed with a kiss

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Lunch time

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Hello spring

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Sniff sniff!

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Total relaxation

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That’s too bad, because philosophers tend to regard such statements as the best possible evidence of another being’s consciousness, even among humans. Without one, no matter how long I stared into the crow’s black pupil, wishing I could see into the phantasmagoria of its mind, I could never really know whether it was conscious. I’d have to be content with circumstantial evidence.

Crows have an unusually large brain for their size, and their neurons are packed densely relative to other animals’. Neuroscientists can measure the computational complexity of brain activity, but no brain scan has yet revealed a precise neural signature of consciousness. And so it’s difficult to make a knockdown argument that a particular animal is conscious based strictly on its neuroanatomy. It is suggestive, though, when an animal’s brain closely resembles ours, as is the case with primates, the first animals to be knighted with consciousness by something approaching a scientific consensus.

Mammals in general are widely thought to be conscious, because they share our relatively large brain size, and also have a cerebral cortex, the place where our most complex feats of cognition seem to take place. Birds don’t have a cortex. In the 300 million years that have passed since the avian gene pool separated from ours, their brains have evolved different structures. But one of those structures appears to be networked in cortexlike ways, a tantalizing clue that nature may have more than one method of making a conscious brain.

the inside of a building: At the bird hospital in Old Delhi (Hashim Badani) © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. At the bird hospital in Old Delhi (Hashim Badani)

Other clues can be found in an animal’s behavior, though sifting out conscious acts from those that are evolved and mindless can be difficult. Tool use is an instructive case. Australian “firehawk” raptors sometimes fly bundles of flaming sticks out of forest fires and into neighboring landscapes, to flush out prey. Maybe that means the raptors are capable of considering a piece of the physical environment, and imagining a new purpose for it. Or maybe something more rote is going on.

Crows are among the most sophisticated avian technologists. They have long been known to shape sticks into hooks, and just last year, members of one crow species were observed constructing tools out of three separate sticklike parts. In Japan, one crow population has figured out how to use traffic to crack open walnuts: The crows drop a nut in front of cars at intersections, and then when the light turns red, they swoop in to scoop up the exposed flesh.

As Singh and I talked, the crow grew bored with us and turned back to the window, as though to inspect its faint reflection. In 2008, a magpie—a member of crows’ extended family of corvids, or “feathered apes”—became the first non-mammal to pass the “mirror test.” The magpie’s neck was marked with a bright dot in a place that could be seen only in a mirror. When the magpie caught sight of its reflection, it immediately tried to check its neck.

Singh told me this crow would soon move upstairs, to one of the roof’s exposed cages, where the birds have more space to test their still-fragile wings, in view of an open sky that must surely loom large in a bird’s consciousness. With luck, it would quickly return to the spirited life preferred by wild crows, which sometimes play like acrobats in high winds and ski down snowy surfaces. (Birds that die at this hospital are buried along a riverbed outside Delhi, an apt touch in the case of the crows, which sometimes hold funerals—or, if not funerals, postmortems, where they gather around their dead like homicide detectives discerning cause of death.)

I asked Singh how he felt when he released birds on the rooftop. “We are here to serve them,” he said, and then noted that not all the birds leave right away. “Some of them come back and sit on our shoulders.”

a man sitting at a table in front of a building: According to the Jains, all animals are conscious beings, capable of experiencing emotion. (Hashim Badani) © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. According to the Jains, all animals are conscious beings, capable of experiencing emotion. (Hashim Badani)

Crows are not among the shoulder-perchers, but Singh sometimes sees former crow patients hovering around the hospital. They might be looking for him. Crows recognize individual human faces. They are known to blare vicious caws at people they dislike, but for favored humans, they sometimes leave gifts—buttons or shiny bits of glass—where the person will be sure to notice, like votive offerings.

If these behaviors add up to consciousness, it means one of two things: Either consciousness evolved twice, at least, across the long course of evolutionary history, or it evolved sometime before birds and mammals went on their separate evolutionary journeys. Both scenarios would give us reason to believe that nature can knit molecules into waking minds more easily than previously guessed. This would mean that all across the planet, animals large and small are constantly generating vivid experiences that bear some relationship to our own.

The day after I visited the bird hospital, I left Delhi by car, on a road that follows the Yamuna River south and east, away from its icy source among the serrated ridges of the Himalayas. Delhi’s sewage has blackened long stretches of the Yamuna, making it one of the world’s most polluted rivers. From the road, I could see plastic bottles floating on its surface. In India, where rivers have a special place in the spiritual imagination, this is a metaphysical defilement.

Millions of fish once swam in the Yamuna River, before it was desecrated by the human technosphere, which now reaches into nearly every body of water on Earth. Even the deepest point in the ocean is littered with trash: A grocery bag was recently seen drifting along the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Related: 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year winners (Photos)

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>Full Screen 1/14 SLIDES © Marsel van Oosten - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition showcases the best nature photography from around the world. This year, the annual competition, developed by the Natural History Museum in London, England, attracted over 45,000 entries from across 95 countries. The winners were announced on Oct. 16, 2018. Let's take a look at some of the winning entries of this year.

Pictured: The golden couple, photographed by Marsel van Oosten (Netherlands) — Grand Title Winner and winner of the Animal Portraits category.

Following are the winners of other categories.

2/14 SLIDES © Skye Meaker - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Lounging leopard

Photographed by: Skye Meaker (South Africa)

Grand Title Winner; 15-17 Years Old

3/14 SLIDES © Michael Patrick O'Neill - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Night flight

Photographed by: Michael Patrick O’Neill (U.S.)

Under Water

4/14 SLIDES © David Herasimtschuk - Wildlife Photographer of the Year


Photographed by: David Herasimtschuk (U.S.)

Behaviour: Amphibians and Reptiles

5/14 SLIDES © Jan van der Greef - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The vision

Photographed by: Jan van der Greef (Netherlands)

Black and White

6/14 SLIDES © Georgina Steytler - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Mud-rolling mud-dauber

Photographed by: Georgina Steytler, Australia

Behaviour: Invertebrates

7/14 SLIDES © Jen Guyton - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Desert relic

Photographed by: Jen Guyton (Germany/U.S.)

Plants and Fungi

8/14 SLIDES © Marco Colombo - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Crossing paths

Photographed by: Marco Colombo (Italy)

Urban Wildlife

9/14 SLIDES © Orlando Fernandez Miranda - Wildlife Photographer of the Year


Photographed by: Orlando Fernandez Miranda (Spain)

Earth’s Environments

10/14 SLIDES © Michel d'Oultremont - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Dream duel

Photographed by: Michel d’Oultremont (Belgium)

Rising Star Portfolio Award

11/14 SLIDES © Cristobal Serrano, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

The ice pool

Photographed by: Cristobal Serrano (Spain)

Creative Visions

12/14 SLIDES © Arshdeep Singh - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Pipe owls

Photographed by: Arshdeep Singh (India)

10 Years and Under

13/14 SLIDES © Alejandro Prieto - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Signature tree

Photographed by: Alejandro Prieto (Mexico)

Wildlife Photojournalist Award: Story

14/14 SLIDES © Javier Aznar González de Rueda - Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Mother defender

Photographed by: Javier Aznar González de Rueda (Spain)

Wildlife Photographer Portfolio Award

The winning images and other entries can be seen at the exhibition that opens at the Natural History Museum on Oct. 19, 2018.

14/14 SLIDES

We last swam in the same gene pool with the animals that evolved into fish about 460 million years ago, more than 100 million years before we split from birds. The notion that we are kin across this expanse of time has proved too radical for some, which is one reason the ever-changing universe described by Darwin has been slow to lodge in the collective human consciousness. And yet, our hands are converted fins, our hiccups the relics of gill-breathing.

Scientists have sometimes seemed to judge fish for their refusal to join our exodus out of the water and into the atmosphere’s more ethereal realm of gases. Their inability to see far in their murky environment is sometimes thought to be a cognitive impairment. But new evidence indicates that fish have minds rich with memories; some are able to recall associations from more than 10 days earlier.

They also seem to be capable of deception. Female trout “fake orgasms,” quivering as though they’re about to lay eggs, perhaps so that undesired males will release their sperm and be on their way. We have high-definition footage of grouper fish teaming up with eels to scare prey out of reefs, the two coordinating their actions with sophisticated head signals. This behavior suggests that fish possess a theory of mind, an ability to speculate about the mental states of other beings.

A more troubling set of behaviors has emerged from experiments designed to determine whether fish feel pain. One of the most intense states of consciousness, pain is something beyond the mere detection of damage. Even the simplest of bacteria have sensors on their external membranes; when the sensors detect trace amounts of dangerous chemicals, the bacteria respond with a programmed flight reflex. But bacteria have no central nervous system where these signals are integrated into a three-dimensional experience of the chemical environment.

a flock of seagulls flying over a large body of water: Delhi’s sewage has made the Yamuna, once home to millions of fish, one of the world’s most polluted rivers. (Hashim Badani) © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. Delhi’s sewage has made the Yamuna, once home to millions of fish, one of the world’s most polluted rivers. (Hashim Badani)

Fish have many more kinds of sensors than bacteria do. Their sensors flare when the water temperature spikes, when they come into contact with corrosive chemicals, when a hook rips through their scales and into their flesh. In the lab, when trout lips are injected with acid, the fish do not merely respond at the site. They rock their entire bodies back and forth, hyperventilating, rubbing their mouths against their tanks’ sides or gravel bottoms. These behaviors cease when the fish are given morphine.

Such actions call the ethics of the research itself into question. But the experiences of lab fish are nothing compared with those endured by the trillions of aquatic animals that humans yank, unceremoniously, out of oceans and rivers and lakes every year. Some fish are still alive, hours later, when they’re shoveled into the sickly lit, refrigerated intake tubes of the global seafood supply chain.

Fish pain is something different from our own pain. In the elaborate mirrored hall that is human consciousness, pain takes on existential dimensions. Because we know that death looms, and grieve for the loss of richly imagined futures, it’s tempting to imagine that our pain is the most profound of all suffering. But we would do well to remember that our perspective can make our pain easier to bear, if only by giving it an expiration date. When we pull a less cognitively blessed fish up from the pressured depths too quickly, and barometric trauma fills its bloodstream with tissue-burning acid, its on-deck thrashing might be a silent scream, born of the fish’s belief that it has entered a permanent state of extreme suffering.

The Jains tell a story about Neminath, a man from deep antiquity who is said to have been sensitive to the distress calls of other animals. He developed his unusual fondness for animals while tending cattle in pastures on the banks of the Yamuna River, in his home village of Shauripur, which I reached four hours after leaving Delhi.

Neminath is one of 24 Jain “Fordmakers,” prophetlike figures who crossed a metaphorical river, freeing themselves from the cycle of birth and rebirth, before showing others the way to enlightenment. The Fordmakers’ life stories tend to emphasize their nonviolent natures. One is said to have floated perfectly still in the womb, sending not so much as a ripple through the amniotic fluid, to avoid harming his mother.

Only a few Fordmakers are confirmed historical figures, and Neminath is not one of them. The Jains say Neminath left his village for good on the day of his wedding. That morning, he mounted an elephant, intent on riding it to the temple where he was to be wed. On the way, he heard a series of agonized screams, and demanded to know their origin. Neminath’s elephant guide explained that the screams came from animals that were being slaughtered for his wedding feast.

This moment transformed Neminath. Some versions of this story say he freed the surviving animals, including a fish that he carried, in his hands, back to the river. Others say he fled. All agree that he renounced his former life. Rather than marry his bride, he set out for Girnar, a sacred mountain in Gujarat, 40 miles from the Arabian Sea.

a group of people walking around: Jain pilgrims climb Girnar, a sacred mountain in Gujarat, 40 miles from the Arabian Sea. (Hashim Badani) © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. Jain pilgrims climb Girnar, a sacred mountain in Gujarat, 40 miles from the Arabian Sea. (Hashim Badani)

My own ascent up Girnar began before dawn. It followed the usual topography of enlightenment. I was to climb 7,000 steps, all built into the mountain, by nine in the morning, so as not to be late for a ritual at an ancient temple near the peak.

The trail was only 50 miles from Gir National Park, where, the day before, I’d seen two Asiatic lions, nearly indistinguishable cousins of Africa’s lions. Once the region’s apex predator, the Asiatic lion almost went extinct during the British empire’s colonization of India, when no viceroy could visit a maharaja’s palace without a hunt in the local forest. Even today, the Asiatic lion still ranks among the rarest of the large feline predators, rarer even than its neighbor to the north, the snow leopard, which is so scarce that a glimpse of one padding down a jagged Himalayan crag is said to consummate a spiritual pilgrimage.

I did my best to put the lions, which have recently expanded to Girnar’s forests, out of my mind as I passed small huts and tents in the dark, at the trail’s base. Daylight brought langur monkeys onto the trailside boulders. One watched a vendor set up his stall to offer food and water to passing Jain pilgrims. The monkey waited until the man’s back was turned, at which point he scampered in to grab a banana. In Gir National Park, I’d seen deer using these monkeys as a treetop surveillance system. The monkeys sat high in the trees, keeping watch for leopards and lions, which blend into the woodland’s pre-monsoon palette of amber and gold. Monkeys that spotted a stalking cat let out a specific call. Deer weren’t the only ones that recognized and used these calls; the lion tracker who had been with me in the park did too.

On the hike up Girnar, barefoot women kept passing me, wearing iridescent saris in bright shades of orange, green, or pink. Their delicate silver anklets tinkled as they went. When I reached a trail marker that said I was still 1,000 steps from the temple, I removed my pack and hopped up onto a wall, letting my legs dangle.

a group of people walking down a road: ​Hashim Badani © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. ​Hashim Badani

Two switchbacks below, an aged Jain monk in a white robe was struggling up the steps. He looked lonely, and seemed to be having trouble breathing. When Jain monks and nuns renounce worldly life, they sever all family ties. They embrace their children one last time, and vow never to see them again, unless chance brings them together on the rural back roads where the monks and nuns wander for the rest of their lives, carrying all their possessions on their back.

The monk and I had the trail to ourselves for a moment. All was silent but for a buzzing sound that I traced to a spindly black wasp bobbing above a dense clump of bougainvillea. The last ancestor this wasp and I shared likely lived more than 700 million years ago. The insect’s appearance reinforced this sense of evolutionary remoteness. The elongated shape and micro-tiled matte finish of its eyes made it seem too alien to be conscious. But appearances can deceive: Some wasps are thought to have evolved large eyes to observe social cues, and members of certain wasp species can learn the facial features of individual colony members.

Wasps, like bees and ants, are hymenopterans, an order of animals that displays strikingly sophisticated behaviors. Ants build body-to-body bridges that allow whole colonies to cross gaps in their terrain. Lab-bound honeybees can learn to recognize abstract concepts, including “similar to,” “different from,” and “zero.” Honeybees also learn from one another. If one picks up a novel nectar-extraction technique, surrounding bees may mimic the behavior, causing it to cascade across the colony, or even through generations.

In one experiment, honeybees were attracted to a boat at the center of a lake, which scientists had stocked with sugar water. When the bees flew back to the hive, they communicated the boat’s location with waggle dances. The hive’s other bees would usually set out immediately for a newly revealed nectar lode. But in this case, they stayed put, as though they’d consulted a mental map and dismissed the possibility of flowers in the middle of a lake. Other scientists were not able to replicate this result, but different experiments suggest that bees are capable of consulting a mental map in this way.

Andrew Barron, a neuroscientist from Macquarie University, in Australia, has spent the past decade identifying fine neural structures in honeybee brains. He thinks structures in the bee brain integrate spatial information in a way that is analogous to processes in the human midbrain. That may sound surprising, given that the honeybee brain contains only 1 million neurons to our brains’ 85 billion, but artificial-intelligence research tells us that complex tasks can sometimes be executed by relatively simple neuronal circuits. Fruit flies have only 250,000 neurons, and they too display complex behaviors. In lab experiments, when faced with dim mating prospects, some seek out alcohol, the consciousness-altering substance that’s available to them in nature in broken-open, fermenting fruit.

Many invertebrate lineages never developed anything beyond a rudimentary nervous system, a network of neurons dispersed evenly through a wormlike form. But more than half a billion years ago, natural selection began to shape other squirming blobs into arthropods with distinct appendages and newly specialized sensory organs, which they used to achieve liberation from a drifting life of stimulus and response.

The first animals to direct themselves through three-dimensional space would have encountered a new set of problems whose solution may have been the evolution of consciousness. Take the black wasp. As it hovered above the bougainvillea’s tissue-thin petals, a great deal of information—sunlight, sound vibrations, floral scents—rushed into its fibrous exoskull. But these information streams arrived in its brain at different times. To form an accurate and continuous account of the external world, the wasp needed to sync these signals. And it needed to correct any errors introduced by its own movements, a difficult trick given that some of its sensors are mounted on body parts that are themselves mobile, not least its swiveling head.

The neuroscientist Björn Merker has suggested that early animal brains solved these problems by generating an internal model of the world, with an avatar of the body at its center. Merker says that consciousness is just the multisensory view from inside this model. The syncing processes and the jangle and noise from our mobile bodies are all missing from this conscious view—some invisible, algorithmic Stanley Kubrick seems to edit them out. Nor do we experience the mechanisms that convert our desires into movements. When I wished to begin hiking up the mountain again, I would simply set off, without thinking about the individual muscle contractions that each step required. When a wasp flies, it is probably not aware of its every wing beat. It may simply will itself through space.

If one of the wasp’s aquatic ancestors experienced Earth’s first embryonic consciousness, it would have been nothing like our own consciousness. It may have been colorless and barren of sharply defined objects. It may have been episodic, flickering on in some situations and off in others. It may have been a murkily sensed perimeter of binary feelings, a bubble of good and bad experienced by something central and unitary. To those of us who have seen stars shining on the far side of the cosmos, this existence would be claustrophobic to a degree that is scarcely imaginable. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t conscious.

a large building with a mountain in the background: A Jain temple near the top of Girnar, the mountain where an ancient “Fordmaker” is said to have achieved total consciousness, with access to all animal minds. (Hashim Badani) © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. A Jain temple near the top of Girnar, the mountain where an ancient “Fordmaker” is said to have achieved total consciousness, with access to all animal minds. (Hashim Badani)

When the monk arrived at the wall where I was resting, the wasp flew away, rising up toward the sun until I lost it in the light. The monk was wearing a white mask like those that some Jains wear to avoid inhaling insects and other tiny creatures. I nodded to him as he passed, and lay back against the warm stone of the mountain.

The monk was a white dot some six switchbacks up by the time I hopped off the wall and continued the climb, my legs stiffened by the break. I reached the entrance to the temple complex with only 15 minutes to spare. Its marble courtyard shone brilliant white, as though bleached by the mountain sun.

Ducking under a row of elegant golden medallions, I entered the temple’s interior chamber, where dozens of candles flickered in intricately carved wall niches, and on platforms that hung from the ceiling on chains. The stone ceiling was carved into a lotus flower, its delicate unfurling petals symbolizing the emergence of a pure, ethereal soul from the Earth’s muddy materials.

a person standing in front of a mountain: A Jain temple near the top of Girnar (Hashim Badani) © Provided by Atlantic Media, Inc. A Jain temple near the top of Girnar (Hashim Badani)

Forty Jains were sitting on the floor in neat rows, their legs crossed in the lotus position. The women wore fresh saris they’d carried up the mountain for the occasion. The men were dressed in all white. I wedged into a spot in the back.

We faced a dark, tunnel-like space lined by two sets of columns. At the far end, candlelight illuminated a black marble statue of a seated male figure. Its barrel chest was inlaid with gemstones, as were its eyes, which appeared to float, serenely, in the dark space, inducing a hypnotic effect, broken only when the man sitting next to me tugged my shirt. “Neminath,” he said, nodding toward the statue.

It was here on this mountain that Neminath is said to have achieved a state of total, unimpeded consciousness, with perceptual access to the entire universe, including every kind of animal mind. Jains believe that humans are special because, in our natural state, we are nearest to this experience of enlightenment. Among Earth’s creatures, no other finds it so easy to see into the consciousness of a fellow being.

The pilgrims started singing, first in a low hum and then steadily louder. One wheeled a giant drum next to the tunnel’s entrance and struck it with a dark mallet. Two others bashed cymbals together. Men and women walked in from opposite doors, converging, in two lines, on either side of the tunnel. A woman wearing an orange sari and a gold crown crossed in front of Neminath, lifted a vessel over his black-marble head, and poured out a mixture of milk and blessed water. When she finished, a white-robed man from the other line did the same.

The singing grew louder until it verged on ecstatic. The pilgrims raised their arms and clapped overhead, faster and faster. A climax seemed to loom, but then it all dropped away. The drums and the bells and the cymbals went quiet, leaving a clear sonic space that was filled by a final blow on a conch.

The shell’s low note was long and clean. It rang out of the temple and over the ancient peaks. As it trailed off, I wondered whether, in the centuries to come, this place might become something more than a Jain house of worship. Maybe it will become a place to mark a moment in human history, when we awakened from the dream that we are the only minds that nature brought into being. Maybe people will come here from all corners of the Earth to pay their respects to Neminath, who is, after all, only a stand-in for whoever it was who first heard animal screams and understood their meaning.

This article appears in the March 2019 print edition with the headline “What the Crow Knows.”

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/techandscience/scientists-are-totally-rethinking-animal-cognition/ar-BBTuiFd

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