The animal hierarchy

26 April 2018

The animal hierarchy

Image credit: Daniel Stockman (Flickr)

Animals have played an integral part in the lives of humans since the beginning of time. We have since learnt to domesticate and live alongside some animals, and many households today couldn’t imagine their lives without the companionship of their family pets. According to Canstar Pet Insurance, over 62% of Australian households own some kind of pet, whether it be a cat or a dog, a bird or a rabbit.

It is no surprise that we value these animals, and naturally, grow upset if they are mistreated or harmed in any way. But why is it that we value the lives of some animals over others? Why is it that we so often see issues concerning the welfare of animals cause a significantly larger outcry from communities than issues concerning humans?

It is as if there is an unspoken hierarchy of animals that determines the value of said creatures. For example, we often see mammals such as dogs and cats being held to a very high esteem, with many people going above and beyond to secure the welfare of them. We have shelters and hospitals dedicated to these animals we view as pets, valuable members of our families.

However, we then have insects and fish, which, although they are also sometimes kept as pets, have significantly less value held towards them. People who openly protest against the consumption and hunting of animals will often feel no remorse at the killing of an insect such as a fly or mosquito.

This demonstrates that it is almost as if the closer an animal is to being “human”, like ourselves, the more connected we feel to it and the higher its value. Generally speaking, as a society we tend to care for the welfare of cute, furry mammals over other species.

Many people tend to be somewhat familiar with the meat industry, and the often terrible treatment of the animals we consume on a regular basis, but many of us tend to not feel the need to take action. However, most of us could not fathom the thought of killing and eating animals like dogs or cats.

Perhaps an animal’s intelligence also plays a role in the way we value them. People tend to view insects as simple lifeforms that are merely acting off of instinct with no real thought process; maybe this is why we show little remorse at the killing of pests.

We can look at our cats and dogs, and see that these animals are clearly capable of reciprocating a love for their owners when they are well cared for. This is a quality that we find extremely valuable within these creatures, and drastically alters the way we view them compared to other animals.

Regardless of any of these factors, of course there are many people dedicated to the absolute protection of all animal rights and lives. However, the majority of the population subconsciously adhere to some form of animal hierarchy when faced with dilemmas concerning the well-being of animals.

If we assume that an animal’s ability to reciprocate human emotions and appear as “human” as possible is truly a major factor in the way we care for them, why is it that many people tend to be more negatively effected by news of animal abuse over news of abuse concerning humans?

Perhaps this is simply because we live in a society run by humans, we are saturated with news concerning humans, and our everyday lives are filled with human interaction. This could simply be resulting from a desensitisation to human issues. It is rarer to see a story reporting on the extreme abuse of an animal than that of a human, and once we see such stories it tends to provide more of a “shock factor”.

Despite any of this, it is clear that some animals are treated with higher esteem than others. With so many different types of species on this planet, all serving different purposes and leading drastically different lives, this is something that is very unlikely to change. We will always hold some creatures closer to our hearts than others; we will always be a society using some animals for the benefit of our own lives; and we will always hold different individual opinions on what is right and what is wrong when it comes to the welfare of animals.