Two rats unknown to each other were kept together in a large cage. One rat was trapped in a small restrainer -- a closed tube with a door that could be nudged open from the outside. The second rat roamed free in the cage around the restrainer, able to see and hear the trapped cage-mate. The free rat hearing distress calls from its compatriot became agitated and learned to open the restrainer, and did so with greater efficiency over time with no expectation of a reward. Though slow to act at first, once the rat discovered the ability to free its companion, it would take action almost immediately upon placement in the test arena. If given access to a small hoard of chocolate chips, the free rat would save some for the captive.

To discover whether the rat was actually reacting to his fellow prisoner’s stress, the experimenters used a stuffed toy mouse. The rat did not open the door.

In another variation, as soon as the rat in the restrainer was opened, he was allowed to go free whereas his rescuer was not. Even so, the free rat continued to save his companion.

In yet another experiment, chocolate chips were put in a corner of the cage. The free rat had the option of eating chocolate or freeing his unknown cellmate. In every case, the rat first freed his companion and then started to feed.

The researchers came to the unavoidable conclusion that what they were seeing was empathy and selfless behaviour.

Anyone who has ever dealt with animals, knows they are capable of doing for each other without any selfishness, and that they not only have deep emotions but feel them in others. So many times scientists have found “emotional contagion” in animals - a situation in which one animal’s stress worsens another’s. Scientists tried to limit this to animals that they felt were “intelligent” or large brained- apes, whales. But, this study on rats done by University of Chicago neuroscientists, on December 8th in Science magazine, showed that all animals have pro-social helping attitudes. "There are a lot of ideas in literature showing that empathy is not unique to humans, and it has been well demonstrated in apes, but in rodents it was not very clear. We put together, in one series of experiments, evidence of helping behaviour based on empathy in rodents, and that's really the first time it's been seen" says Jean Decety, co author of the study.

Mark Rowlands, professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, whose latest book is Can Animals Be Moral?, gives some examples. One of them was how his two dogs, a ferocious German shepherd/Malamute cross and a wolf-dog mix, looked after his baby son “ during the year or so that their old lives overlapped with that of my son, I was alternately touched, shocked, amazed, and dumbfounded by the kindness and patience they exhibited towards him. They would follow him from room to room, everywhere he went in the house and lie down next to him while he slept. Crawled on, dribbled on, kicked, elbowed and kneed: these occurrences were all treated with a resigned fatalism. The fingers in the eye they received on a daily basis would be shrugged off with an almost Zen-like calm. In many respects, they were better parents than me. If my son so much as squeaked during the night, I would instantly feel two cold noses pressed in my face: get up, your son needs you.”

This is available on You Tube: A dog had been hit by a car and lay unconscious on a busy motorway in Chile . The dog’s canine companion, at enormous risk to its own life, weaved in and out of traffic, and eventually managed to drag the unconscious dog to the side of the road.

 “The old elephant Eleanor, the matriarch of her family, is dying. She is unable to stand, so Grace, a younger unrelated elephant, attempts to help her, lifting and pushing her back to her feet. She tries to get Eleanor to walk, nudging her along gently. But Eleanor stumbles, and falls again. Grace appears very distressed, and shrieks loudly. She persists in trying to get Eleanor back to her feet, to no avail. Grace stays by the fallen figure of Eleanor for another hour, while night falls.” Grace is not unusual among elephants. Crippled elephants are protected by the rest of the herd which often slows down to accommodate them.

De Waal relates the story of Kuni, a female bonobo chimpanzee at Twycross Zoo in England . One day, Kuni encountered a starling on the ground. She picked up the starling with one hand, and climbed to the top of the highest tree in her enclosure, wrapping her legs around the trunk so that she had both hands free to hold the bird. She then carefully unfolded the bird’s wings and, spreading them wide open, threw the bird as hard as she could towards the barrier of the enclosure.

In 1959, the experimental psychologist Russell Church demonstrated that rats wouldn’t push a lever that delivered food if doing so caused other rats to receive an electric shock. Likewise, in 1964, Stanley Wechkin and colleagues at the North-western University in Chicago demonstrated that hungry rhesus monkeys refused to pull a chain that delivered them food if doing so gave a painful shock to another monkey. One monkey persisted in this refusal for 12 days.

Kindness and patience are widely spread throughout the animal kingdom. And why should they not be? According to philosophers and scientists from David Hume to Charles Darwin, morality is not an intellectual addition but a basic part of our nature. The empathy and sympathy we have for those around us are basic components of our genetics and biology, traits that help forge social bonds that aid in the survival of individuals and groups, and is sub-cortical behaviour - closer to a reflex than a thought, and driven by ancient parts of the brain. In which case how simple it is to understand why animals also have kindness and compassion. After all they are the same as us in terms of their evolution, their genetic structure, the structure of their brains, and their behaviour. There is this illusion that humans have some exclusive qualities that no other living creature possesses. That is why scientists feel compelled to constantly put animals into laboratories to see if they have any emotions or intelligence.

Empathy is not unique to humans – in fact, I see it far less in humans and more in animals all the time. If humans had this quality we would not have armies and wars, guns and violence. If one human had the ability to put himself in another’s place and feel for him, the world would be an ideal place. There is a law of nature. The scum always gets to the top. Is that why humans rule the planet?

Maneka Gandhi

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,

Spindle neurons, also known as VENs, were first discovered in the 1990's. Spindle neurons are long, large spindle-shaped brain cells that are responsible for humans being able to feel emotions and suffer emotionally. They are called the cells that make us human and make us superior to other animals. The cells occur in parts of the human brain responsible for social organisation, empathy, intuition about the feelings of others.

“Spindle cells are like the ‘express trains' of the nervous system that bypass unnecessary connections, enabling rapid communication across the brain for us to instantly process and act on emotional cues- what is known as a gut reaction.”

“Spindle neurons play an important role in many cognitive abilities and disabilities generally considered unique to humans, ranging from perceptiveness and perfect pitch to dyslexia and autism. They are found in the anterior cingulated cortex (ACC) and the fronto-insular cortex (FI) of human brains.”

During difficult tasks, or when experiencing intense love, anger, or lust, the activity of the ACC increases. In brain imaging studies, the ACC lights up, for instance, when mothers hear infants cry; the picture of a loved one; scenes of others suffering; feelings of personal embarrassment, or guilt, or self-consciousness.

The FI is closely connected to the insula, a region that is the size of a thumb in each hemisphere of the human brain. The insula and fronto-insular cortex are part of theorbitofrontal cortex, associated with spatial awareness and where self awareness and the complexities of emotion are generated. By combining efforts from different and specialized parts of the brain, spindle cells help us conceptualize, make decisions, learn, remember, and recognize the surrounding environment.

These are the unique abilities of humans.

Or are they?

Now it has been discovered by Patrick Hof of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, and Estel van der Gucht of the New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology that whales- humpback, fin whales, killer, sperm, beluga, bottlenose dolphins and Risso’s dolphins - have exactly the same spindle cells in the same brain areas. For centuries we have known that whales sing and feel joy and love and move in families. They communicate through huge song repertoires and make up new ones. They form coalitions to plan hunting strategies, teach these to younger individuals, and have evolved social networks similar to those of apes and humans. And now there is proof even for the hardest hearted scientists to show that whales are as human, sharing our intelligence and emotional maturity. In fact they are probably much more intelligent and sensitive. Whales appear to have had these cells for at least twice as long as humans, evolving them as far back as 30 million years ago and they have three times as many spindle cells as us. In addition, unlike in humans, the researchers also found spindle cells in the frontopolar cortex at the back of the brain, and they were sparsely dispersed elsewhere.

Should we not now put enormous pressure on the Japanese and the Norwegians to stop being cannibals – killing and eating their own kind? Spindle cells are also found in bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and elephants; animals that we cage, experiment on and kill in huge numbers. Animals that are just like us – minus the viciousness. Just as spindle cells let us create the idea of our individual selves and our relationship with the world, each of these animals feels as unique and special. Research has also shown that elephants have a huge hippocampus, a brain structure that's important in processing emotions. We know that elephants suffer from psychological flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Emotions have evolved as a social glue to bond animals with one another. Emotions regulate social encounters and permit animals to protect themselves using various behaviour patterns. Is it only spindle cells that create emotions? Can anyone say that dogs don’t feel jealousy, love, motherhood, anger, pain or are not socially aware? Stories about emotions abound from crows to snakes and now there is enough scientific evidence about animal emotions that comes from behavioural and neurobiological studies  According to Prof. Marc Bekoff who heads the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado “the obvious conclusion is that at least mammals experience rich and deep emotional lives, feeling passions ranging from pure and contagious joy shared so widely among others during play, that it is almost epidemic, to deep grief and pain. There are recent data that show that birds and fish also are sentient and experience pain and suffering.

It's likely that if we seek the presence of spindle cells in other animals we will find them. Many highly intelligent but smaller cetaceans examined by Hof and van der Gucht did not have the spindle cells. The explanation could be that these smaller cetaceans, including dolphins, evolved different but equally complex alternatives to the spindle cells. All mammals (including humans) share neuro-anatomical structures (for example, the amygdala and hippocampus) and neuro-chemical pathways in the limbic system that are important for feelings.”

What makes an intelligent being? That he learns and revises his earlier knowledge and acts upon his new knowledge. This new scientific data must force us to revise our behaviour towards animals. We must accept that there are compelling reasons stemming from scientific research to stop inflicting cruelty on animals. The philosopher Jeremy Bentham makes a case out for us to stop killing animals “The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?” Now we know they can reason and they can talk. Should they suffer at our hands? Research has shown that mice react emotionally after they see other mice in pain and it turns out that they are fun loving and great jokers as well. But mice are misused in the millions in schools and laboratories.

As Bekoff says “Recognizing that animals have emotions is important because animals' feelings matter. Animals are sentient beings who experience the ups and downs of daily life, and we must respect this when we interact with them. Emotions are the gifts of our ancestors. We have them and so do other animals. We must never forget this.

What we already know should be enough to inspire changes in the way we treat other animals. We must not simply continue with the status quo because that is what we've always done and it's convenient to do so. What we know has changed, and so should our relationships with animals.”

Maneka Gandhi

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,

Today I am not in a good mood.  I have spent the last week throwing out papers from my house and I have removed two truckloads or so it seems without making the slightest difference. The government has decided to paint the walls of the compound round my house and the painters have trampled on and destroyed most of the bushes and removed the vines on the walls. Ten years of greenery gone in a week. Most Indians have such little respect for flora that I am surprised that even one tree exists in this country.

If only I could be sure that dogs and cats would get along I would immediately bring 5 cats home from my shelter. For one thing, they would drive away the rats who have now taken their toll of my clothes and books and who seem to have made friends with my dogs. But my dogs fight so much among themselves to get close to me, that I doubt if they would let a cat survive.

The colder it grows, the more I want a cat to sit on my lap and another to let me bury my toes in her fur.

My thoughts turn to the most influential person on Earth, the Holy Prophet Muhammad, the founder of the most widespread religion on Earth, Islam.

The prophet was a great cat lover. Muezza was the name of his favourite cat.

As the legend goes, Muhammad awoke one day to the sounds of the Azaan, the Muslim daily call to prayer. Preparing to attend, he began to dress himself; however, he soon discovered his cat Muezza sleeping on the sleeve of his prayer robe. Rather than wake her, he used a pair of scissors to cut the sleeve off, leaving the cat undisturbed.

Another version is that the Prophet was reading from the Qur’an to a group of listeners in the desert. A sickly cat walked up to Muhammad, sat down on the hem of his very precious robe and went to sleep.  The day passed and no one stirred. The cat, snuggled in the robes of the Prophet remained asleep. As evening fell, all were to return to their dwelling places.  Silently, the prophet took a knife, cut off the hem of his robe on which the sick cat still lay sleeping, destroying the finest of robes, and left the cat undisturbed.

The Prophet was so attached to his cat that when he gave sermons he let Muezza rest on his lap and he also drank from water previously drunk by his cat. The Prophet of Islam was once performing ablution for prayers from a pot of water. A cat passed there and turned its eyes at the pot of water with a thirsty look. The Prophet realised at once that the cat was very thirsty, so he stopped the ablution and placed the pot before the cat. Only after the cat had fully quenched its thirst, did the Prophet resume the ablution. Legend holds that the 'M' marking on the forehead of the tabby was created by the prophet as he rested his hand lightly on the brow of his favourite cat.

Abu Hurayrah, famous as a companion of the Prophet and a major narrator of his sayings was given the affectionate nickname Abu Hurayrah (literally father of kittens) by the Prophet because he used to care for a small male cat.

There is also a legend in which a cat saved the Prophet's life from a deadly snake. The story is narrated by Annemarie Schimmel "There are variants of the story of how Abu Hurayra's cat, which he always carried in his bag, saved the Prophet from an obnoxious snake, whereupon the Prophet petted her so that the mark of his fingers is still visible in the four dark lines on most cats' foreheads, and, because the Prophet's hand had stroked her back, cats never fall on their backs”.

Due primarily to the love Muhammad displayed for Muezza, Muslims are traditionally encouraged to cherish cats. The Hadith, which are the oral tales of the life of the Prophet, have recorded that the Muslim will be punished who mistreats a cat.  Al-Bukhari reported a hadith regarding a woman who locked up a cat, refusing to feed it till it died. The Prophet Muhammad said that her punishment on the Day of Judgment would be torture and Hell.

In another story from the Hadith, Dawud ibn Salih ibn Dinar at-Tammar quoted his mother as saying that “her mistress sent her with some pudding to Aisha, the Prophet’s wife, who was offering prayer. She made a sign to me to place it down. A cat came and ate some of it, but when Aisha finished her prayer, she ate from the place where the cat had eaten. She stated: The Messenger of Allah said: It is not unclean: it is one of those who go round among you. She added: I saw the Messenger of Allah  performing ablution from the water left over by the cat.”

Islam teaches Muslims, in relation to a cat, that: the cat should not be sold or bought like traded goods. That is because of the hadeeth of Abuâl-Zubayr who said:  “when asked Jaabir about the price of dogs and cats. He said, The Prophet forbade that. (Narrated by Muslim, 1569).

Cats’ saliva is harmless unless the cat has "visible impurities" in the mouth; that Muslims are free to live with cats but they must treat cats well, providing the cat with enough water and food and giving "roaming time" 

Thousands of Sufi stories include cats. Sheikh Ashraf's Madrasa cat, who helped the teachers to bring order to the school, even sacrificed itself for the sake of the disciples, or the tale of the Sufi master from Baghdad, Shaikh Abu Bakr al-Shibli (d. 945) who was seen by one of his friends in a dream when he passed away, On being asked what Allah had done to him, he said that he had been granted admission to Paradise, but was asked by Allah if he knew the reason for this blessing. Shaikh Shibli enumerated all his religious duties but none of his acts of piety had saved him. Finally Allah asked him, ‘Do you remember the cold day in Baghdad when it was snowing and you were walking in your coat when you saw a tiny kitten on a wall shivering with cold, and you took it and put it under your warm coat? For the sake of this kitten We have forgiven you.’

If every Muslim would just take a cat and treat it well, we might see more. As it is, they are being killed in the thousands and their meat sold as chicken and their fur commercially. That is why the rats are so many. Remember this:

"Those who are kind and considerate to Allah's creatures, Allah bestows His kindness and affection on them. Show kindness to the creatures on the earth so that Allah may be kind to you." Hadith - Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi

Maneka Gandhi

To join the animal welfare movement contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,


As I write this article I have five dogs sleeping around my chair. They will wake when I go for a walk, when the food is to be served or if we have guests. The rest of the time they are dead to the world.

Sloth is considered one of the seven deadliest sins. It is associated with wickedness. An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop is such a common saying – especially by parents and teachers to their wards.

The whole purpose of our lives seems to be to work really hard in order to be idle at some point. The idea of heaven in every religion is to lie around, eating, drinking, playing harps. I dream of lying on beaches or in flower filled meadows and never having to see another human again.