Saturday, March 24, 2012
Smarter Than We Think
Anyone who has ever shared life with a pet knows animals are smart. I never realized how intelligent they really were until I recently completed a research project with some of my students.
For example, the New Caledonian Crow solves problems, creates things, and uses tools. This talent was once thought to be reserved for the domain of primates. One fish, the African Cichlid, determines its social rank through observation, which is actually the initial step toward logical reasoning.
Elephants, apes, and dolphins have proven cognitive enough to recognize themselves in mirrors. Another bird, the African Gray Parrot, has learned to count as well as a Ring-tailed Lemur, and can identify colors, shapes, and sizes, and understands the concept of zero. A Black Leicester Longwool sheep is able to differentiate faces, much like the Giant Pacific Octopus (which also uses tools), and retains facial recognition into the future.
I have always loved dogs, and I knew they were smart creatures, but I was unaware that Border Collies possess the vocabulary recognition of toddlers. According to the National Geographic Society, the Bonobo, or Pygmy Chimpanzee, not only acquires language skills spontaneously, but also makes tools at the same rudimentary level as early human beings.
There are many amazing animal skills most of us would never have envisioned. Marmosets imitate and learn from one another. Western Scrub Jays not only recall the past, but plan for the future! However, my favorite discovery during my research was the ability of the Orangutan.
With about the same intelligence as the African ape, Orangutans possess a cognitive complexity similar to that of the Chimpanzee. They even maintain unique cultural traditions! They make logical choices, construct useful tools, and in some cases, twist leaves into bundles to form dolls to caress and cradle.
As an animal lover, I have confirmed through my research my lifelong belief that animals are amazing creatures of Nature deserving of respect. In fact, I don’t think I have ever met one I didn’t like.