By Jenny Moxham
When humans describe another human being as a rat, they usually mean that the person is totally contemptible or despicable but a recent scientific study has proved that rats certainly don't deserve to be maligned this way.
The study showed that, far from being contemptible, rats have extremely worthy and meritorious attributes. They are, in fact, compassionate, selfless and caring individuals who put the welfare of their fellow rats ahead of their own personal enjoyment.
In the study at the University of Chicago, same-sex rats were housed in pairs in the same cage for two weeks.
After this time one rat was allowed to run free, while the other was
trapped in a plastic restraining tube. The restraining device was designed
so that the free rat could liberate the trapped one, if it could figure out
how to tip over the door.
Most of the free rats circled their imprisoned peer, gnawing at the cage and sticking their paws, noses and whiskers through any openings.
After a week of trial and error, 23 of the 30 rats in the experiment learned to open the cage and free their peers by head-butting the cage door or leaning their full weight against the door until it tipped over. (The door could only be opened from the outside.)
The rodents showed no interest in opening empty cages or opening the doors of cages containing toy rats, indicating that rescuing their friends was their only goal.
Neuroscientist Peggy Mason decided to give them a tougher test. She
placed rats in a Plexiglass pen with two cages.
One cage contained another rat. The other contained five milk chocolate chips - a favourite snack of these rodents.
The unrestricted rats could easily have eaten the chocolate themselves before freeing their peers or been so distracted by the sweets that they would neglect their imprisoned friends. -but they didn't.
Instead, most of the rats opened both cages and shared in the chocolate
If one of the rats had chosen to he could easily have blocked the opening of the cage containing the chocolate and devoured it all himself - but this never happened.
They all shared the food with their pals. Mason said that the free rats typically took the chocolate out of the cage before eating it and that sometimes the free rats placed the chocolate chips in front of, or very near, their recently sprung peers, as if offering it to them
Surely now that we have this proof that rats are kind and compassionate individuals who will do all in their power to prevent the suffering of their peers we cannot possibly justify continuing to use them as mere "research tools" in our laboratories.
If we continue to deliberately and heartlessly inflict pain on them despite this new awareness, perhaps it's proof that these so called "lower" animals are more kind hearted and altruistic than we humans are.