Spend time with a living pig, and you’ll quickly find they are curious, affectionate and sentient animals. They are also intelligent! In fact, studies have proven that pigs outsmart most dogs, chimpanzees and even human toddlers.
In a report published by the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, researchers Lori Marino and Christina Colvin demonstrated that pigs possess cognitive capabilities similar to domesticated animals and young children. They proved that pigs show self-awareness (including what they like and dislike,) enjoy creative play, and experience emotions similar to our own.
“We have shown that pigs share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and even humans. There is good scientific evidence to suggest we need to rethink our overall relationship to them,” stated Dr Marino.
What are domestic pigs capable of?
Through their research, Marino and Colvin discovered a level of cognitive complexity which indicates pigs are not altogether different from dogs, cats, and even ourselves. In fact, domestic pigs are capable of exhibiting the following:
- Excellent long-term memory
- An understanding of symbolic language
- A sense of time (including remembering specific episodes from their past and anticipating future events)
- Ability to navigate mazes
- Creative play
- Ability to distinguish others (pigs and humans alike)
- Ability to understand other perspectives
- Empathy and emotions
- Distinct personalities
This list does not differ greatly from what our canine companions are capable of. In fact, the only notable difference between a pig and dog is simply the way each of these species is perceived by humans.
Pigs also have complex social lives, and their own means of communication. Recent research by the University of Lincoln revealed the ‘grunts’ made by pigs vary depending on their individual personality, and can convey important information about their experiences.
“The sounds [pigs] make convey a wide range of information such as the emotional, motivational and physiological state of the animal. For example, squeals are produced when pigs feel fear, and may be either alerting others to their situation or offering assurance. Grunts occur in all contexts, but are typical of foraging to let other members of the group know where they are,” stated principal researcher, Dr Lisa Collins.
Pigs as individuals
When we stop thinking about pigs as food, we can see that these animals are gentle and inquisitive individuals – with their own personalities, communities and sociality. Browse the internet and you’ll find plenty of anecdotal accounts about pigs who are quirky and accomplished in their own special ways. For example:
– Amy, a pig in Seattle, who was dubbed “top dog” in her canine agility class
– Moritz, a pig in Berlin, who completes children’s’ puzzles unassisted
– Esther the Wonder Pig, whose fun-loving behaviour has been delighting fans online for years
We also know that pigs, like countless other vertebrates and invertebrates, are sentient beings. In 2012, a leading group of scientists signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, affirming that animals are conscious. This means they are sentient, can experience what happens to them, and have mental states which can be positive or negative for them as individuals.
This is relevant because the capacity of an animal (in this instance, a pig) to have both positive and negative experiences is what makes them vulnerable to harm. As Animal Ethics remarks, “there are powerful reasons to conclude that this is what should matter when it comes to giving someone moral consideration and not discriminating against that being”.
The problem with speciesism
As vegans, we firmly believe that all animals should be free and safe, no matter their skills or abilities. However, the question of our differential treatment of pigs and dogs (for example) is particularly thought-provoking. If pigs are sentient, intelligent animals with their own emotions and individuality – why do we eat them? The answer is partly to do with ‘speciesism’.
Speciesism can be described as a form of discrimination where one species (humans) favours certain species over others. This leads to the exploitation and mistreatment of animals by humans.
Most people would feel sick to their stomach at the thought of serving dog for dinner, but wouldn’t think twice about eating pork chops. Some people might justify these food habits with the notion that pigs are bred for consumption, and yet they may still baulk at the idea of deliberately farming dogs. And, in any case, our exploitation of the species does not change a pig’s ability to think, to feel, or to experience fear and suffering.
In fact, animals bred for consumption suffer immensely, particularly within harmful factory farm
conditions. The best way we can help all animals (including pigs) is simply to stop eating them.
You can help end the suffering of pigs and factory farmed animals today. Take the pledge to ‘try vegan’ for Lent, and discover how joyful and rewarding a vegan diet can really be!