Be modest, homo sapiens! 10 fascinating facts about other intelligent species

For most people the evidence is clear: humans are the peak of evolution. Our intelligence is justified by certain criteria, such as our ability to use tools, solve riddles or fulfill complex tasks. Today, research has proven that many animals can keep up with humans on different levels. Just have a look at our collection of 10 facts that prove the intelligence of animals.

1. Animals can remember faces

The expression “dumb sheep” is definitely wrong. Photo credit: Wikipedia

Everybody knows people who struggle to keep in mind faces and names: you greet them and they have no idea who you are – or vice versa. Well, even “dumb” sheep manage this task perfectly. As gregarious animals they can remember up to 50 faces – both of other sheep and people. Keith Kendrick and his research group from Babraham Institut, Cambridge, showed photos of sheep to others. They also discovered that sheep can even recognise familiar sheep after two years. By the way, ravens are proven to remember faces even after five years of not seeing.

2. Animals can call each other by names

To call other by their names was thought to be exclusively human. Rather true is the saying to err is human. Researchers from the Scottish St. Andrews University found out that also dolphins can call each others by names. They recorded certain whistles, and when playing back the sounds only one dolphin reacted whereas the others didn’t respond. Scientists from Konrad Lorenz Research Centre in Grünau, Germany, made similar observations with geese.

3. Animals can beat humans at logical reasoning

Seal tongue

Seal tongue (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

The German researcher Guido Dehnhardt once tested seals on their ability to think logically. In the test the seals had to distinguish an in space rotated figure from a rotated but slightly altered form. Not even did the seals succeed in this task, but the seal Tommy even achieved better results than a colleague of Dehnhardt, the behavioural scientist Dr Immanuel Birmelin. “He was so fast at rotating and comparing figures in his mind that I had to admit defeat,” said Dr Birmelin towards dogs-magazin.de.

4. Animals are aware of themselves

Several test have shown that certain animals recognise themselves when placing a mirror in front of them, such as dolphins, apes and elephants. To distinguish it from the presumption that they just react to “another” of their kind, scientists marked animals with colour on a part of their bodies that they couldn’t see themselves. When investigating the area in the mirror these animals started to clean the spot. The mirror test is interpreted as a sign of self-awareness.

5. Animals can communicate in our language

Koko was born in 1971. Her name is short for Hanabi-Ko, Japanese for “fire works child” – her birthday is the 4th of July. Although she is unable to speak, she is fluent in English because she understands about 2000 words and can “say” about 1000. Francis Patterson and other scientist from Stanford University taught her the American Sign Language and “chat” with her regularly. The most fascinating fact about Koko is that she is a gorilla, and probably the most famous example of a “talking” animal.

Bildschirmfoto 2013-09-13 um 00.48.11

Koko with her kitten. Photo Credit: Ron Cohn

Critics say she has just learned that she gets rewarded for doing the right signs in certain situations. However, the research has shown that she understands the meaning of the sign and uses them in a creative way. For example, she never learned the sign for “ring”, so when she referred to that item Koko signed “finger” and “bracelet”: finger-bracelet. Pretty clever, isn’t it? You can take part in her life in her website.
Koko also owned a pet. Once she chose a grey Manx from abandoned cats and named the tailless kitten “All Ball”. Francis Patterson reported that Koko was very gently and loving towards this cat. One day All Ball escaped and got hit by a car. When her trainer told Koko hat her pet won’t come back she signed “Bad, sad, bad” and “Frown, cry, frown, sad”.

Koko could even comment on abstract ideas, as shown in a scientific paper by Francine Patterson and Wendy Gordon:

  • When Koko was seven, one of her teachers asked, ‘When do gorillas die?’ and she signed, ‘trouble, old.’ The teacher also asked, ‘Where do gorillas go when they die?’ and Koko replied, ‘comfortable hole bye.’ When asked ‘How do gorillas feel when they die – happy, sad, afraid?’ she signed,’sleep’.

Koko is often discussed by philosophers, especially about the questions of extending the definition of human rights. In the paper the Stanford scientists state:

  • Does this individual have a claim to basic moral rights? It is hard to imagine any reasonable argument that would deny her these rights based on the description above. She is self-aware, intelligent, emotional, communicative, has memories and purposes of her own, and is certainly able to suffer deeply. There is no reason to change our assessment of her moral status if I add one more piece of information: namely that she is not a member of the human species.

For the German scientist Dr Birmelin thinks the reason humans have a bias against the idea that animals are intelligent is the egoism of our species. He says to dogs-magazin.de:

  • We don’t want to consider animals as personalities, because if that was the case, we couldn’t treat them the way we do now.

Please comment and share your point of view on how intelligent animals can be.
What do you think about Koko? Have you heard of other interesting animal stories?

Have a look at part two of 10 fascinating facts about other intelligent species!


6 thoughts on “Be modest, homo sapiens! 10 fascinating facts about other intelligent species

  1. “When Koko was seven, one of her teachers asked, ‘When do gorillas die?’ and she signed, ’trouble, old.’ The teacher also asked, ‘Where do gorillas go when they die?’ and Koko replied, ’comfortable hole bye.’ When asked ‘How do gorillas feel when they die – happy, sad, afraid?’ she signed,’sleep’.”

    Holy shit. Reccing this for this bit.

    • Thanks, Agnophilo! Indeed, Koko is very fascinating and wise. You could have a look at some of her videos on the website. I hope people see that animals are very similar to us in many ways and we need to rethink how we see / treat them!

      • Oh I agree. I’m a huge science nerd and argue with creationists all the time. One of the biggest objections I hear to evolution is the demand to see one species turn into a “completely different” species. I have to explain that there is no such thing in all of nature. We are astonishingly similar to other species even cats and dogs, both genetically and anatomically. It only stands to reason that we wouldn’t be the only species that is intelligent or creative or moral, and modern studies are bearing that out. We simply have the combination of traits to make good use of our mental abilities.

  2. Pingback: Speak Up and Open Your Thoughts to the Right People | People and Hearts

  3. Pingback: Be modest, homo sapiens! Part two | Natural Close-ups

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