Are humans more human or animals

Just as animals differ from one another, humans also differ in many characteristics from other animal species. In order to justify the fact that one can take their life from animals in order to satisfy one's own taste buds, the difference between humans and animals is often emphasized. But what exactly are these differences? And how big are they really?

The animal kingdom

Today one can learn in every biology class that the human body is assigned to the animal kingdom. Genetic research makes it increasingly clear how little humans differ from other animals. The differences are so minimal that it has long been planned to replace defective human organs with animal organs (e.g. from pigs). Physically or genetically, the differences between a butterfly and an elephant are much greater than between a human and a chimpanzee. Therefore, from a biological point of view, it makes no sense to separate humans from the rest of the animal world as much as some would like to.

Physical superiority

Man has a very universally usable body. Man can do a little of everything, but he does not master anything better than all other animals. The cheetah runs much faster, the eagle sees better, the dolphin swims better, the birds can fly, dogs smell better, a gorilla is much stronger, etc. In no area of ​​physical abilities is humans superior to animals.
One might argue here that, thanks to their technology, humans can now fly and move faster than any other animal. But most of these technical achievements have only been developed in the last decades or centuries. But man was already a man before that. After all, nobody claims that 1000 years ago people weren't really human because they didn't have the technical means they have today.

Communication skills

But haven't humans developed a highly complex language? Surely no other animal has this ability to communicate?
This myth has also been put into perspective by research in recent years. It was found that whales can communicate over many kilometers. Human language, on the other hand, reaches a few hundred meters at best.
The language of some animals is so complex that it has not yet been fully deciphered. On the other hand, it is not even that difficult for some animals to learn parts of the human language. In July 2004, a science magazine featured the Border Collie Rico, who understood 200 words.1 In a scientific experiment, after mentioning the names of 40 new toys only once, he was able to correctly assign 37 of them to 37. Try to do this once. Remember 37 out of 40 words in a foreign language after hearing it only once. This achievement is now topped by Chaser, a border collie lady. Within three years she learned the names for over 1000 toys. She also understands the meaning of the various main categories, for example “Ball” stands for a total of 116 soft balls and “Frisbee” for 26 different throwing targets. With this top performance even the animal psychologists working with her reach their limits, because sometimes the bitch can identify the objects more reliably than the scientists working with her. 13

This showed that not only great apes, parrots, dolphins and sea lions have such remarkable language skills. The more animal species you study intensively, the more you are surprised by their abilities.
A major problem in researching the communication skills of animals is that they do not have a larynx like humans and most therefore cannot make the same sounds. In experiments with monkeys, this problem could be avoided by communicating with them using symbols that were displayed on blackboards. The bonobo monkey Kanzi was able to use around 200 symbols correctly, for example. Not only did he use it to form predefined sentences, but he also invented his own sentences using the symbols available.2 At the beginning of the experiments, the scientists still thought that the symbols should have a relation to the corresponding expressions. But later it was found that completely abstract symbols can also be learned from him.

There is also increasing evidence that most animals can communicate telepathically.3 This would be far superior to acoustic human language, since telepathy is distance-independent and much faster. In addition, the Babylonian language confusion of the people would also be resolved ...
So there is still a lot to be researched in this area. With every new knowledge, however, the predominance of people also seems to wane in the area of ​​communication.

Culture / tools

A cultural tradition could also be established within the species, especially among different groups of monkeys. Which also brought down this privilege of the people. At the same time, such different cultural manifestations also show that the animals do not only react genetically to environmental conditions. For example, the use and manufacture of certain tools within a group are passed on from generation to generation.4 Just a few decades ago it was thought that the manufacture of tools only occurs among humans. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have shown that crows are true masters at handling tools. The animals are able to skillfully bend a wire into a hook in order to fish a small container of food from a larger container


Being aware of yourself and being able to think about yourself. This has long been seen as a major difference between animal and human consciousness. Today we know from many psychological studies that in this respect, too, human consciousness differs little from animal consciousness. In particular, monkeys and dolphins undoubtedly showed a self-confidence.
The question often asked in the past, whether animals can recognize themselves in the mirror, could already be definitely answered in the affirmative, at least for the great apes


But humans are clearly more intelligent than animals !? Intelligence is usually understood to be the ability of the logical intellect. No animal can solve a complex integral equation, but neither can many humans. An adult chimpanzee would do better than a newborn human child on an intelligence test. Is that why the chimpanzee is more human than the human infant?
Since humans develop more slowly after birth than many other animals, even apes of the same age are intellectually superior to them in the first few months.7 And chimpanzees work faster and more precisely on computers than humans. This is the result of a study by Japanese researchers at the University of Kyoto, in which it was in an experiment with students to reproduce series of numbers that only briefly flash on the test monitor.
Intelligence is also not suitable for drawing the boundaries between humans and animals.

Pigs are at least as intelligent as dogs. Yet people treat them very differently.

Sense of justice / fairness

In order to be able to judge whether something is fair, one must be able to make comparisons and put oneself in the shoes of others. For a few years it has been scientifically proven that this ability is not reserved for humans alone. The English-language science magazine "Nature" reported in September 2003 on an experiment with capuchin monkeys: 8 They were able to exchange game pieces for cucumbers. Everyone was satisfied until one of the monkeys received the much more popular grapes instead of the cucumber. This was felt to be so unfair that the others spurned their otherwise coveted cucumber, and in some cases even threw away their game pieces as long as the other received more for it. Equal pay for equal work seems to be a requirement that also applies to apes. The sense of justice has also been demonstrated in chimpanzees. 9

Humanity and compassion

The word humanity or humanity already shows that it is believed that only people have the ability to act humanely. In the meantime, however, we know that humanity and charity are not the exclusive privilege of human beings. Compassion and solidarity can often be more pronounced in groups of animals than in many groups of people.10 (More on this in the section "Compassion: Selfless Action in the Animal Kingdom")

Superiority of animals

Not all differences between humans and animals are positive for humans. This was once again seen in the tsunami disaster in southern India: the wild animals all got to safety in good time. There were hardly any injured or dead wild animals.11 For people, however, the tsunami came as a complete surprise.
Since we humans do not have such abilities, it is particularly difficult to accept them in animals or even to research them. Nevertheless, there is always evidence that humans can be inferior to animals in some ways.

Superiority of man

In spite of everything, people have "made the earth under their control". However, this was not done on an ethical, moral basis, but on the simple right of the strongest, since humans are far superior to all animals in the manufacture of weapons to kill. In addition, no animal is as flexible in thinking and acting as humans.
But to use this as a justification for the treatment of our fellow creatures today requires the suppression of all those qualities that are repeatedly claimed to put humans above animals: compassion, charity, morality. If these characteristics, which humans deny to animals and do not want to give them, were developed, a new coexistence between humans and animals could arise from which both sides would benefit greatly.

To stop treating animals as mere food and killing them as suppliers of meat would be a first and necessary step towards harmonizing the human-animal relationship. For this it would suffice to acknowledge that the ability to suffer between humans and animals does not differ fundamentally.

Renato Pichler

Book tip
A new book by Jonathan Balcombe is available for anyone interested in learning more about the intelligence and feelings of animals. In «Animal pleasure», the animal behavior researcher shows that animals are quite capable of expressing positive feelings such as joy.
The book is also available in German:
ISBN 1403986010


  1. Collie dog’s word power impresses, BBC news, July 11, 2004
  2. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and Roger Lewin: Kanzi, the speaking chimpanzee: What distinguishes the animal from the human mind, Droemer-Knaur-Verlag, 1995
  3. J. Allen Boone: Kinship with all Life - Simple, challenging, real-life experiences showing how animals communicate with each other and with people who understand them.
    And: "Testing a Language - Using a Parrot for Telepathy" by Rupert Sheldrake
    More books on this topic: Interspecies Communication
  4. Michael Krützen: Guardians of Knowledge - Dolphins' knowledge is passed on from mother to daughter, 7.6.2005
  5. National Geographics News: Crow Makes Wire Hook to Get Food, 8/8/2002
  6. Volker Arzt and Immanuel Birmelin: Do animals have consciousness? - When monkeys lie, when cats think and elephants are sad, Goldmann-Verlag, 1995
  7. Der Spiegel: Brother Affe is sometimes smarter, February 13, 2005
  8. Sarah F. Brosnan: Monkeys reject unequal pay, Nature 425, 297-299 (September 18, 2003) and:
    Der Spiegel: Sense of Justice: Monkeys do not want to trade in cucumbers, September 18, 2003 and: Stern: Behavioral research: Monkeys have a feeling for justice, September 17, 2003, ORF: Monkeys have a sense of justice
  9. Hamburger Abendblatt: Monkeys' sense of justice, February 1, 2005
  10. Die Welt: Mourning elephants attack a village, May 24, 2004
  11. EVANA: After the tsunami: Animals fascinate people, January 18, 2005
  12. Animal parenting, personality and pair-ups
  13. Video:

Smart animals:


  • Chimpanzees have managerial qualities, Spiegel Online, 2.3.2006
  • Great Ape Trust: Language of the Bonobos
  • Chimpanzees act unselfishly, Spiegel Online, June 26, 2007
  • Orangutans use water as a tool,, 4.7.2007
  • Memory test: great ape beats man, Spiegel, December 4, 2007
  • Monkey beats humans - Study: Chimpanzees have a better memory for series of numbers than students,, December 4, 2007
  • Monkeys have better memory than humans, Speigel Online, February 15, 2013
  • Conversations among relatives: Chimpanzees from the "Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute" (CHCI) talk in sign language and speak 240 characters. Spiegel Online, December 17, 2007
  • You can count on monkeys: rhesus monkeys can count too,, December 18, 2007
  • Trapping termites with a brush: Chimpanzees make tools for themselves,, March 4th, 2009
  • A Voluble Visit with Two Talking Apes, National Public Radio, July 8, 2006
  • Monkeys are also just puzzling for fun, scinexx, 26.2.2013
  • Cooperation: Chimpanzees are real team players, Spiegel Online, March 19, 2013
  • Compassion among chimpanzees: yawning is contagious - not only among people, Spiegel Online, March 12, 2014

Birds / chickens:

  • Songbirds remember melodies like we do, Scinexx, 6.2013
  • A tool for the tool for the food (crows),, August 17, 2007
  • Jackdaws have a feel for human gestures, 3.4.2009, Bild der Wissenschaft
  • The supposedly stupid chickens can count, April 1st, 2009, Bild der Wissenschaft
  • Crows use proper tools without training, 7/8/2009
  • Starlings understand nesting sentences, April 27, 2006, Spiegel online
  • Clever corvids: crows can use tools depending on the situation, April 21, 2010, Bild der Wissenschaft

Mice and rats:

Sea animals:


Other animals:

  • Meerkats are good teachers: teachers who actively take care of their students were previously only suspected among humans - and among ants, Spiegel Online, July 14, 2006
  • Elephants recognize their reflection,, October 31, 2006
  • Oscar the cat recognizes when someone dies: relatives are given time to say goodbye, Spiegel Online, July 2007
  • Bees can read too,, December 17, 2009
  • Behavioral research: Elephants recognize people by their voice, Spiegel Online, March 11, 2014