A group of more than 80 scientists including researchers on animal cognition have signed “The New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness,” first presented at a conference at New York University on 19th April 2024, in which they declare that more non-human animals than previously thought may have consciousness, including fishes, lobsters, octopuses, and insects.

The declaration states, “Which animals have the capacity for conscious experience? While much uncertainty remains, some points of wide agreement have emerged. First, there is strong scientific support for attributions of conscious experience to other mammals and to birds. Second, the empirical evidence indicates at least a realistic possibility of conscious experience in all vertebrates (including reptiles, amphibians, and fishes) and many invertebrates (including, at minimum, cephalopod molluscs, decapod crustaceans, and insects). Third, when there is a realistic possibility of conscious experience in an animal, it is irresponsible to ignore that possibility in decisions affecting that animal. We should consider welfare risks and use the evidence to inform our responses to these risks.”

More and more evidence has been discovered that suggests that most non-human animals are sentient and possibly conscious. In the last five years alone, scientists found that bees play by rolling wooden balls, cleaner wrasse fishes appear to recognise their own image in an underwater mirror, and octopuses seem to react to anaesthetic drugs. They will avoid settings where they likely experienced past pain. 

Among the signatories of this declaration (which progresses from The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness published in the Proceedings of the Francis Crick Memorial Conference in 2012 in the sense that it now includes insects), we find Lars Chittka, Professor of Sensory and Behavioural Ecology Queen Mary University of London; Nicola S. Clayton FRS, Professor of Comparative Cognition of the University of Cambridge; Irene M. Pepperberg, Research Professor of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences of Boston University; Narayanan Srinivasan, Professor of the Department of Cognitive Science of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur; and Mirjam Knörnschild, Professor of Evolutionary Ethology of the Humboldt University of Berlin.

Jonathan Birch, a professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics and a principal investigator on the Foundations of Animal Sentience project, also signed the declaration. He said, “This has been a very exciting 10 years for the study of animal mind. People are daring to go there in a way they didn’t before and to entertain the possibility that animals like bees and octopuses and cuttlefish might have some form of conscious experience.”

“Originally from Catalonia, but resident in the UK for several decades, Jordi is a vegan zoologist and author, who has been involved in different aspects of animal protection for many years. In addition to scientific research, he has worked mostly as an undercover investigator, animal welfare consultant, and animal protection campaigner. He has been an ethical vegan since 2002, and in 2020 he secured the legal protection of all ethical vegans in Great Britain from discrimination in a landmark employment tribunal case that was discussed all over the world. He is also the author of the book, ‘Ethical Vegan: a personal and political journey to change the world’.