Friday, 10 February 2012

Cleverest Animals

Following my last post, I watched the two episode of Super Smart Animals and was completely blown away.

I knew that some animals were very intelligent, more than we give them credit for.  I had already heard about elephants amazing communication skills and being able to recognise themselves in the mirror and about dogs and parrots being able to learn so many human words.  I also already knew that jays and crows were incredibly smart, along with ravens and magpies.  I’ve watched my friend have a conversation with a raven named Beena.

To see it on screen though, to not just read about it and hear about it, was amazing.  I loved watching the bull elephant testing the mirror and his reflection, staring at his beautiful tusks and twisting his trunk into different shapes.  The other elephant gazing at its reflection and spotting the cross of white painted on its head, raising its trunk to rub at it and then tasting it.

The mother grey whale pushing her calf up to say hello to the humans on the boat made my heart break.  How can an animal of such beauty and depth still act with kindness around us after everything we do to them?

It was fascinating to watch a dolphin come up with its new routines and show imagination and for the beautiful old collie to learn, in front of the camera, a new toy called ‘Meow’. 

I have to admit though, my favourite part was comparing the animals intelligence to our own.  That was when it really struck home just how clever these creatures are, perhaps even more so then humans.  To watch an orang-utan figure out how to get food out of a tube using water first time, without any failures, was breathtaking.  Especially when none of the humans tested could do it. 
To then watch young children figure out how to use heavy balls to make the sweet float to the top of a tube and succeed after much trial and error and then watch a jay bird solve this problem through much less trial and error was extraordinary.

I can’t forget the sea lion, though, who has learnt the different between letters and numbers.  Or the sea lions and elephants who quickly learn the rules of a game and use team work (the elephant waiting for his friend to be released in order to solve the problem together).

The prize, however, goes to the great apes.  Of course, how could it not?  I don’t believe that their intelligence is any greater than the elephants, sea lions, whales, dolphins , dogs or birds.  I do believe that it is more astounding because of what we are capable of together.  Watching the presenter of this programme have an actual conversation with an ape and the ape to show a wonderful mischievousness, no aggression and complete understanding was mind blowing.

This programme, while awe inspiring and uplifting, also left me with a deep feeling of guilt.  How dare we capture, kill, scare and hurt animals, whether they show the capacity for emotion or not.  How dare we be so egotistical to think that we are the only intelligent life on this planet and, considering how much we have damaged this planet and its creatures, just how intelligent are we?  Really?

I would like to end by saying that I was disappointed to see that guinea pigs were not featured in Super Smart Animals.  During the second episode of this programme, our oldest guinea pig Mumm-Rah, who in his youth was known for escaping, jumping onto bookcases and climbing stairs, worked out how to escape from the locked fence of his playpen.  We carefully made sure he couldn’t climb over or simply lift it off the latch.  So clever little Mumm-Rah lifted the fence and crawled underneath.

Never underestimate the cunningness of an animal!

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