Can Animals Commit Suicide?

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I’m not sure what inspired this blog, I was just considering the implications of consciousness and intelligence in humans & animals…

If humans are at such an advanced level of self awareness that they are able to decide whether to continue to live, or make a conscious decision to end their own lives… what are the implications of that for the rest of the animal kingdom?

Essentially what I’m asking is: Can animals commit suicide?

There appears to be quite a contentious debate over this. It reminds me of something I once read about a captive dolphin looking its trainer in the face for the last time before drowning itself.

I think it is quite a mind blowing concept, because it has all sorts of implications as to the level of intelligence of other animals. E.g. dolphins, dogs, cattle etc must have a very high level of self awareness if they are to react to situations on a purely emotional level.

Some research suggests that animals do not commit suicide, but simply act in a way that we interpret as suicide. E.g a whale “beaching itself”, where in reality it has done so by accident on a quest for food that is too far inland (counter arguments were that whales where “sympathy beaching” in a mass suicide style event) . Or a dog going off its food after its master has died- argument here is that the dog has gone off its food, not consciously connecting the refusal of food to equal eventual death.

I don’t like these arguments for several reasons, but mostly because there is a huge arrogance behind them…i.e that as humans, we are alone in our ability to have such deep emotional understanding. When it comes to it, these behaviours are something we still struggle to recognise in each other, never mind animals.

There is also a case that is often cited in these studies, this one I found in http://news.discovery.com/animals/zoo-animals/animal-suicide-behavior.htm It states that:

“In 1845, for example, the Illustrated London News reported a “Singular Case of Suicide” involving a “fine, handsome and valuable black dog, of the Newfoundland species.” The dog had for days been acting less lively than usual, but then was seen “to throw himself in the water and endeavour to sink by preserving perfect stillness of the legs and feet.”

The dog was rescued and tied up. But as soon as he was released he entered the water again and tried to sink himself. This occurred several times until at last the dog appeared to tire and “by dint of keeping his head determinedly under water for a few minutes, succeeded at last in obtaining his object, for when taken out this time he was indeed dead.””

 

This particularly got me, as there doesn’t appear to be any motive for the dog to behave in this manner… other than to kill itself. However, for this to be the case to be genuine suicide, the dog would:

A. Have to be aware of the potential harmful consequences of water

B. Would have to understand that  holding its head underwater would result in death.

And C. Have a sense of appreciation of its own mortality… I.e. understand what it meant to die.

It is the link of understanding the act itself and the consequences that then defines something as suicide.

And this is then an argument into the intelligence of the dog [which we will not even attempt to delve into!]

 

This article is an interesting test of your own opinion on the subject I think. You can go through each case and decide whether you think it is a suicide, or whether there are any other factors that haven’t necessarily been considered which may result in the animal behaving in such a way. http://news.softpedia.com/news/Do-Animals-Commit-Suicide-63441.shtml

Any opinions on this would be welcomed! I think my personal opinion would have to be that yes, animals can commit suicide…but I’m not necessarily convinced that all of the anecdotes that are raised in some of the articles I have read are examples of that.

Looking forward to hearing from you 🙂

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