What is the most intelligent species on Earth? Most of us will obviously say it’s us.
But is that right? Are animals not as intelligent as humans?
Animals too, display intelligence on par with humans. We have seen many instances where animals exhibit human—like behaviors, with or without human training. Here’s a list of animals, that have fascinatingly shown their intelligence.
Kanzi, a 39-year-old Bonobo, can communicate- using symbols that correlate to words. It uses hundreds of symbols to communicate! This is an example of language skills in the animal.
A group of monkey species- Marmosets, in south America, are highly cooperative; to keep track of everyone in the group, they call out to each other at regular intervals, and they share food among members of this group.
Orangutans use leafy branches as temporary umbrellas. They can also talk about the past. A research result has proven that, orangutans show displaced reference – the ability to transmit information about something that is not present. Orangutans can inform other members of the group about predators, after they leave the vicinity. Displaced reference is one of the defining features of a language. This ability of orangutans is something very advanced and using this ability, it is possible to educate baby orangutans.
Ravens can plan for the future. It is proven that they have cognition on par with humans. On an experiment done, where they had to choose between cheap rewards for the present and worthy rewards for the future, 70% of the ravens chose worthy future rewards whereas human children and great apes chose he other quick reward. This shows that ravens plan for future benefits. Also, it is proven that ravens are more skilled than human children. Formerly, it was believed that only hominids had this capacity of planning for the future.
The scrub jay, native to western north America remembers more than 200 different spots where it saved food, as well as the item in each place. Similarly, African grey parrots can use abstract reasoning methods in search of food.
Crows are highly capable of tool making.
Cockatoos can sync their body movements with music being played.
The migration of birds is also an interesting phenomenon, where birds migrate and return back to the same place the ancestors visited, every year.
Dolphins are highly intelligent; they can mimic, solve problems, socially interact- express grief and joy and even play is one of the social activities of dolphins. Not just individual learning, dolphins can also impart these skills to the future generation.
African cichlid fish, native to Lake Tanganyika in East Africa are able to distinguish familiar fish from strangers by facial recognition. They keep in mind the facial patterns of fish they meet and remember them. Sheep also have a similar face recognition ability.
Octopuses exhibit high levels of cognition; they can open jars, mimic other octopuses and also solve mazes during lab tests.
Many other animals like pigs, dogs, elephants also have human like cognition in many aspects.
So, how are these animals recognised to be intelligent?
There are a few tests to find whether an animal is intelligent. The common test done is the mirror test.
An animal is made to stand in front of the mirror. If it can recognize that the image is itself, it passes the test. Species like bottlenose dolphins, magpies and manta rays have passed this test.
But this is not applicable to all species. We are species predominantly relying on our sense of vision. Many species use other senses predominantly (e.g. swine and dogs use their sense of smell for recognition).
Hence this method cannot be effectively used as an indicator of self-recognition among species.
All methods we use for spotting intelligent species, depends on the way our senses work. So, a species is considered intelligent, if it can exhibit human-like characteristics.
Consider a pig and a sheep. Pig, is an opportunistic omnivore like humans. It deceives competitors from the food source to get its food. According to human perception, this is considered to be intelligent. On the other hand, sheep are herbivores. They do have intelligent attributes, like the ability to remember the place where grass is abundant. But since, they are not human-like, they are considered less intelligent.
In general, all animals have the cognitive abilities that are required for its survival.
Setting human abilities as the benchmark for defining intelligence is a drawback in itself, as our sensory abilities are confined.
“One of the biggest challenges is our inability to comprehend how other species process information,” says Kristina Horback, an assistant professor in the Department of Animal Science at the University of California, Davis, who studies the cognitive abilities of livestock animals.
There are numerous species that have sensory abilities better than us.
“Our vision is good, but not as good as hawks. Our hearing is good, but not as good as rats,” says Edward Wasserman, a psychology professor at the University of Iowa who compares cognitive abilities among species. Our sense of smell, he says, is on the poor side, “and dramatically outclassed by dogs.”
Species like sharks can sense electric currents; insects can see Ultraviolet lights. These are abilities we can neither attain nor examine. So, there are aspects of animal intelligence that cannot be sensed by a human.
There are instances where animal instincts and intelligence have left humans awestruck. How can animals sense something that humans cannot sense, with all these advanced technologies? This is one unanswered question we are trying to answer.
Clearly, animals know more than we think and think a great deal more than we know.